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last update 4.Jan.17
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The Eyes of My Mother
dir-scr Nicolas Pesce
prd Max Born, Jacob Wasserman, Schuyler Weiss
with Kika Magalhaes, Diana Agostini, Flora Diaz, Paul Nazak, Will Brill, Clara Wong, Olivia Bond, Joey Curtis-Green
magalhaes release US 2.Dec.16,
UK 24.Mar.17
16/US 1h16

london film festival
The Eyes of My Mother This unsettling dramatic freak-out defies genres as it tells a darkly moving story set in a corner of America that time forgot. First-time filmmaker Nicolas Pesce shows considerable style in every frame of this black and white movie, although he refuses to make it easy on the audience, taking a resolutely arthouse approach to both the characters and the narrative.

As a young girl on a farm, Francisca (Bond) listens with rapt attention as her mother (Agostini) tells stories about her former life as an eye surgeon in Portugal. When a stranger (Brill) kills her mother, Francisca's father (Nazak) exacts horrible revenge. When he dies years later, he leaves Francisca (now Magalhaes) alone to clean up the mess. And Francisca carries on in the same vein as she tries to replace her missing family, first with a woman (Wong) she meets in a bar and later with a young mother (Diaz) and her infant son.

Pesce's script plays eerily with our innate desire to help strangers, which in this case continually leads to extremely grim outcomes. He also tells the story obliquely, cutting away from important events and leaving several key details undefined. This forces the audience to lean into the story, digging around for clues we don't really want to find, especially as things get increasingly grisly. Francisca is basically a nightmarish serial killer, and yet she doesn't have the ability to see that about herself.

Magalhaes plays the role with a chilling childlike quality that makes it difficult to vilify her. Even her most nightmarish actions have an innocence about them, and the actress finds ways to layer each scene with bleak emotional yearning. But then the relatively minimalistic script forces everyone on-screen to find subtle ways to convey their deeper feelings and intentions, which creates a relentlessly unnerving experience for viewers who can't imagine what might happen next. The clever filmmaking makes us suspect things will get even worse, but we have no clue how that's possible.

Pesce sometimes over-works the artful photography and editing, deliberately blurring events or misleading the audience. But the crisp monochrome imagery is mesmerising, largely because of the enormous sense of emotion that surges right through even the most gruelling scenes. This is a stark exploration of how isolation from broader society breeds potentially dangerous ignorance, but it's also hopeful in its depiction of the resilience of the human soul. Even so, few movies have the ability to leave audiences this freaked out.

15 themes, violence, nudity
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The Falls III: Covenant of Grace
dir Jon Garcia
scr Jon Garcia, Rodney Moore
prd Jon Garcia, Martin Beaudet, Robin Vada
with Nick Ferrucci, Benjamin Farmer, Curtis E Jackson, Bruce Jennings, Harold Phillips, Malaya Garza, Alexandra Spadoni, Rebecca Karpovsky, Andrew Bray, Audrey Walker, Stephanie Leppert, Darrell Salk
mcgrath release US/UK 6.Dec.16
16/US 1h42

See also:
The Falls (2012) The Falls II (2013)
Boys in the Trees The third chapter in this remarkably sensitive film series gets even more serious about the struggle between two Mormon guys to work out their attraction to each other. The key question here is whether you can be both gay and a man of faith. So while the on-off angst is a little exhausting this time, writer-director Jon Garcia brings the story to a deeply engaging conclusion.

In Seattle, RJ (Ferrucci) is struggling to move on after rejecting his faith, but after a year apart he's looking forward to seeing his long-time friend and lover Chris (Farmer), who is travelling from Utah to visit him. Their reconnection is intense, but both have doubts about where to go from here. When Chris' mother dies unexpectedly, RJ heads to Salt Lake to offer support. But the Mormon church leaders continue to create problems as RJ and Chris try to define their relationship. There has to be a way to unite these disparate elements.

Garcia continues his gentle approach to this hot potato topic, focussing on the interaction and emotion rather than the plot, which gets a bit melodramatic here and there. It's important that this story refuses to take the easy way out, never letting RJ or Chris simply reject their faith so they can have an easily romantic happy ever after. Instead, the film centres on what it means to be a good human being, to follow your heart and to be true to your nature.

Ferrucci and Farmer have terrific chemistry in these roles. RJ's Mormon friend Ryan (Jackson) finds hope in seeing RJ and Chris together, but also has the hots for RJ. Chris' stern father Noah (Jennings) is a church leader who takes his own epic journey over the course of this film, while his other son Greg (Bray) sticks to a rigid hardline approach. By contrast, RJ's parents (Phullips and Walker) make the effort to be understanding.

This third film is more fragmented, leaping around as various characters push their interaction further and grapple with the ongoing issues, all under the spectre of religion-fuelled homophobia. "Where's our spirituality, where's our response to the love of God?" asks Noah of his fellow leaders. "This doesn't feel like love." This trilogy is a lovely exploration of the dangers of forcing people to change or rejecting loved ones without compassion. The journey may be rocky, but where it ends up is genuinely moving.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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Kiss Me, Kill Me
dir Casper Andreas
scr-prd David Michael Barrett
with Van Hansis, Gale M Harold III, Brianna Brown, Yolonda Ross, Jai Rodriguez, Craig Robert Young, Matthew Ludwinski, Kit Williamson, DJ 'Shangela' Pierce, Jackie Monahan, Allison Lane, Michael Maize
hansis and harold release US 5.Dec.16
15/US 1h41
Kiss Me, Kill Me A deliberately cheesy tone kind of undermines the serious edges to this noir-style mystery. There's plenty of wit in this exploration of show business duplicity and tortured ambition, so the trashier elements of the story keep us entertained, even if the film never quite settles into its own groove.

When he gives a TV gig to his ex Craigery (Ludwinski), producer Stephen (Harold) placates his jealous, ambitious boyfriend Dusty (Hansis) by proposing marriage. Then Stephen is killed in a robbery, leaving Dusty and Craigery at each others' throats. For two sardonic detectives (Ross and Rodriguez), everybody looks suspicious, but Dusty seems like the obvious killer. And everyone around Dusty has an opinion about what should happen next, including his lawyer hag (Brown), his shrink (Young), a stoner pal (Williams) and some lesbian friends (Monahan and Lane). Then the body count starts to grow.

The film opens with a superb depiction of the queeny party scene, as preening show-biz wannabes jostle to get what they can from anyone who seems even vaguely well-connected. Director Andreas shoots everything with a West Hollywood sheen, playing on the idea that in this community you can't tell the difference between a smackdown and a seduction. Here, every encounter leads to a moment of potential passion subverted by a bit of suggested intrigue. "Men are always guilty," sighs Ross' Det Riley about her beat, "and always naked!"

Performances are bright and catty, matching the film's snippy tone. These men are all ridiculously beautiful, and they know it. And they're also so superficial that it's difficult to care what the truth might turn out to be. At the centre, Hansis is engaging as Dusty. He's hilariously on edge with all of the other characters, even when he's snogging them. And even though he's just as vacuous as everyone else, it feels unfair that he's being targeted by the cops when he's clearly innocent.

A steady stream of gratuitous flashbacks and visions muddles the plot so hopelessly that it's impossible to worry about where all of this might be heading. Frankly, it all feels a bit obvious, so we can only hope there will be some clever surprises along the way. The mix of comedy and thrills never quite gels, and infuriatingly never gets even remotely sexy. And it's especially uneven in the final act when everything starts violently twisting and turning. Even so, it's fun while it lasts.

15 themes, language, drugs
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dir-scr Nick Corporon
prd Sean Mandell, Collin Brazie, Nick Corporon
with Tuc Watkins, Devon Graye, Derek Phillips, Sydelle Noel, Kit Williamson, Andrew Asper, Jody Jaress, Miller Tai, Malcolm Bowen, Todd Stroik, Clint Clark, Rod Harrel
graye and watkins
release US 6.Jan.17
16/US 1h38
Retake Dark with an intriguing hint of melancholy, this road movie maintains a level of mystery as two strangers get to know each other while travelling across the American west. Even with the somewhat enigmatic set-up, there's a raw, earthy honesty to the film that's deeply involving. And it's beautifully shot and edited.

While kerb-crawling in San Francisco, Jonathan (Watkins) picks up Scotty (Williamson) and takes him back to his hotel room for some awkward roleplay. Unsatisfied, he tries again the next night, picking up a guy (Graye) he insists on calling Brandon. This goes much better, so Jonathan asks him to drive with him to the Grand Canyon. Along the way, Jonathan coaches Brandon in the character he needs to be playing. But as they get to know each other, secrets begin to emerge and both men take a journey that forces them to see themselves honestly.

The premise is intriguing, as it keeps the audience guessing about Jonathan's motivations. Is he trying to recreate something lost? Or acting out a fantasy? Who is the real "Brandon" and what happened to him? To make this work, writer-director Corporon puts us in Brandon's position, going along with the game while waiting for the other shoe to drop. Clues emerge along the road, but it's clear that the only way these guys will ever move forward is to discard the pretence and be themselves.

Since he's playing a man who holds his cards very close to his chest, Watkins is not easy to identify with. Still, he gives Jonathan an engaging earnestness, the sense that there is a deeper, emotional meaning to everything he does. Opposite him, Graye creates a relaxed, intriguing guy who gains confidence as he discovers more about Jonathan and what this trip means. The chemistry between them is very strong, subtly playing out on a variety of layers as the real men emerge from the artifice.

All of this feels somewhat elusive, as Corporon delays revealing the key facts, but it's fascinating to watch these two guys circle around each other and almost inadvertently become closer. Essentially this is a film about looking beyond your circumstances to see what's right in front of you. It's about the importance of not getting trapped in some sort of a construct, but instead being open to the possibilities. And thankfully Corporon never pushes any of this, delicately floating these resonant messages through every scene.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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