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last update 15.May.16
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Beautiful Something
dir-scr Joseph Graham
prd Leilani Goode
with Brian Sheppard, Zack Ryan, Colman Domingo, John Lescault, David Melissaratos, Grant Lancaster, Matthew Rios, Carlo D'Amore, Themo Melikidze, Peter Patrikios, Clinton Jack Hill Jr, Shay Brown
release UK Mar.16 flare, US 6.May.16
15/US 1h32

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Beautiful Something Strikingly introspective and honest, this multi-strand drama is set amongst gay artists from various strata of society over the course of one night. Writer-director Joseph Graham invests the film with a poetic sensibility that taps in to deep feelings that will resonate with anyone in the audience. Although the structure feels artificial, the emotions are truthful.

In an empty bar, blocked writer Brian (Sheppard) seduces the only other customer, the nervous, curious Chris (Melissaratos), who flees ashamed after sex. In the street, Brian meets the actor Jim (Ryan), who models for his boyfriend, the lusty photographer-artist Drew (Domingo). But Jim can only express his feelings of discontent to his ex Dan (Lancaster), who now has a girlfriend. After Brian and Jim hook up, Brian stalks Jim as he has a drink with Tony (D'Amore). Jim flees, meeting talent agent Bob (Lescault), who's cruising around in his limo unsure what he wants.

All of this culminates with a burst of poetic inspiration at dawn. The film is nicely shot and edited, with an intense physicality in sexual encounters that bristle with lust, yearning and most notably loneliness. The structure may feel like a porn movie without the truly explicit bits, but the emotional approach makes it resonate. Some scenes feel somewhat theatrical, with long speeches about lost love and aching regret. These men are grappling with big questions about what they want out of life and relationships.

The naturalistic acting depicts realistic men who are struggling with dark emotions. Sheppard's Brian thinks he's destined to be alone, while Ryan's Jim feels like a prisoner in his relationship with Domingo's Drew, who seems oblivious to the strain between them. Domingo gets a big monolog about the demands of being an artist and how it takes a toll on the rest of your life. Lescault has a speech about past longings. Sheppard waxes eloquently about taking control of the future.

These artistic speeches allow the actors to externalise inner thoughts, touching on deeper themes like self-hatred and repression. And Graham directs sex to make it urgent and expressive, transformative in both positive and negative ways. This is an astute depiction of how sex connects with other people but doesn't solve the more fundamental need for companionship, security or self-respect. Some plot elements feel contrived and rather too pointed, but the observations are authentic and often haunting. Most of all, the film reminds us that sometimes we just need to be held.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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The Call Up
dir-scr Charles Barker
prd John Giwa-Amu, Alan Martin
with Max Deacon, Morfydd Clark, Ali Cook, Tom Benedict Knight, Christopher Obi, Boris Ler, Douggie McMeekin, Adriana Randall, Parker Sawyers, Greg Kolpakchi, Jaimi Barbakoff, Gary John Barber
the call up release UK 13.May.16
16/UK 1h30
The Call Up There's an intriguing idea at the centre of this nasty little thriller, but the filmmaker seems uninterested in properly exploring it. Instead, this is merely another gimmicky, contrived exercise in pointless brutality. And there's a gaping hole at the centre of the premise. But at least the bright young cast is watchable.

Eight gamers get the call-up to go to the 25th floor of a Manhattan office block for the ultimate virtual reality competition. There's nice guy Carl (Deacon), tough girl Shelly (Clark), posh Edward (Cook), macho Marco (Knight), nervous Zahid (Ler), nerdy Adam (McMeekin) and timid Taylor (Randall). Once in their special suits, they find themselves in an astonishingly realistic game, pushed by a cruel Sargent (Obi) to work down the floors clearing the building of terrorists. But they soon discover that there is genuine peril here.

The clever question is when a game ceases to be a game, although writer-director Barker isn't terribly interested in this, putting all the focus on grisly violence. Genre fans may enjoy this superficial approach, which like a videogame opts for simplistic nastiness while avoiding thoughts about genuine horror or loss of life. Barker has a strong visual style, from the sharply rendered digital effects to the cool battle suits the players wear. And while this level of virtual reality is definitely in the sci-fi realm, the story's logic at least holds water.

The best thing here are the young actors, who are engaging even without complex characters to play. The edgy, likeable Deacon and Clark quickly rise to the top of the ensemble, and Deacon even gets a feeble back-story. Ler is apparently haunted by his past growing up in war-torn Sarajevo (although at about age 25 he would have been an infant). Knight and Sawyers are alpha males who love having big guns in their hands. McMeekin is the token chubby dork. Randall has little to do but cry uncontrollably, and not very convincingly. And so on.

Each person has exactly one characteristic that fits into the screenplay's structure, but there's not a moment of complexity to bring them to life. So as they begin getting fatally knocked out of the game, this becomes little more than a vacuous slasher movie with a Saw-like sadist who revels in watching people die horribly. So as the countdown begins, literally, to the climactic conclusion, it's painfully obvious where this will go. And only those who enjoy this kind of mindless brutality will be interested.

15 themes, language, violence
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dir Gerald McCullouch
scr Dan Via
prd Allison Vanore
with Gerald McCullouch, Dan Via, Jaime Cepero, Tamlyn Tomita, Scott Henry, Mackenzie Astin, Brooke Anne Smith, Richard Riehle, Jay Jackson, Leslie Easterbrook, Fred Ochs, John Rubinstein
mccullouch and via
release US 8.Apr.16,
UK 9.May.16
15/US 1h29
Daddy As this well-made film veers sharply from a snappy rom-com into a much more serious drama, it touches on several enormous issues. But as it progresses, it becomes increasingly obvious that a plot point is waiting to pounce, which distracts from an otherwise enjoyable story and threatens to turn the movie into a contrived dramatic thriller. Fortunately, where it goes has some genuine meaning.

In Pittsburgh, journalist Colin (McCullouch) has just launched a successful political TV chatshow with his colleague Mike (Henry), taking opposite sides of the issues. An unapologetically flirty gay man in his mid-40s, Colin's lifelong best pal Stewart (Via) lives next door, but two things are threatening their friendship. Not only is Stewart applying for a job in Los Angeles, but he also struggles with the fact that Colin is falling for his new 21-year-old intern Tee (Cepero). And it's not just Tee's age and job that are the problem.

The film has a superbly earthy honesty to it, with situations that feel realistically complex. There are all kinds of layers to the various relationships, most notably in the super-close connection between Colin and Stewart, with its wafts of both personal and professional jealousy. But very early on, the script hints that Tee might be up to something, and not just because Cepero played a duplicitous queen on the TV series Smash. And the way the script drops that other shoe begins to feel like it will be rather corny.

Thankfully, the actors maintain a natural approach, adding throwaway details that provide context to each relationship. Even after the story's central twist, these people never feel like the usual movie stereotypes. They're recognisably real with complex opinions and emotions. This allows Via's script to tackle big issues like gender equality, race, ageism, family pressures and organised homophobia in ways that are never remotely cliched. Even when these supposedly smart, sharp people begin to wallow in their own melodrama.

The more serious topics also add plenty of provocative interest even as they undermine the otherwise breezy comical tone, adding sinister undertones that gurgle up to the inexorable explosion. Of course, all the audience wants is for these people to be happy and funny. But the filmmakers decide to instead challenge us by inserting shadows and surprises that strain the relationships. And while the shocking narrative feels somewhat contrived, at least it pulls back from the hysteria to resolve the story in a thoughtful, deeply involving way.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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dir-scr Andrew Steggall
prd Pietro Greppi, Cora Palfrey, Guillaume Tobo
with Juliet Stevenson, Alex Lawther, Phenix Brossard, Finbar Lynch, Niamh Cusack, Patrice Juiff, Danielle Catala, Guillaume Tobo, Frederic Arsenault, Mathilde Arsenault
;awther and stevenson release UK 15.Apr.16
15/UK BFI 1h49

london film fest
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Departure Dark and introspective, this drama isn't always easy to watch, especially with its sometimes overpowering sense of impending doom. But the performances are so astute that it's impossible to look away. And with his first feature, writer-director Andrew Steggall shows remarkable skill at bringing universal experiences to vivid emotional life.

After selling their holiday home in the French countryside, Beatrice (Stevenson) and her teen son Elliot (Lawther) travel there to pack up the house. But both of them are struggling with much bigger issues. Beatrice sees this as the end of her marriage to Philip (Lynch), who's arriving later. And Elliot is wrestling with his unspoken desires, which are emerging in a crush on local mechanic Clement (Brossard), with whom he forms a warm friendship. For each of these people, personal issues are preventing them from seeing what those around them are going through.

Stevenson and Lawther deliver beautifully transparent performances as a mother and child who quite naturally fail to notice that the other one is struggling too. Each is raw and difficult, stubborn and selfish, but thoroughly sympathetic. It's easy to understand exactly how each of them feels, and to hope that they will figure out a way to communicate before they both fall off the edge. Meanwhile, Lawther's interaction with Brossard is packed with both possibility and danger. All of this is impossible to predict, layered with personal details and utterly riveting.

Steggall creates such a portentous atmosphere that every scene seems to suggest the possibility that things might turn horrible at any moment. Sustaining that tone kind of wears out the audience, although it's lightened by a continual stream of brittle humour. All of this cleverly helps us find each glimmer of hope, which inversely reminds us how these kinds of profound emotions often leave us feeling like the end of the world is nigh. When of course it isn't.

The film has a darkly beautiful production design that brings out these ideas. Some elements push the themes a bit too far, such as the repeated underwater imagery that both reminds us of the obvious (Elliot feels like he's drowning) and hints at something to come. But the way Steggall and his cast depict two people acknowledging that they're at a major crossroad is hugely moving: Elliot coming to terms with his sexuality and Beatrice facing the truth about her marriage. And the film leaves us wishing that we paid a bit more attention to the people around us.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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