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last update 25.Jun.17
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dir Peter Mackie Burns
scr Nico Mensinga
prd Valentina Brazzini, Tristan Goligher
with Emily Beecham, Geraldine James, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Ragevan Vasan, Nathaniel Martello-White, Stuart McQuarrie, Ritu Arya, Osy Ikhile, Karina Fernandez, Sinead Matthews, Matthew Pidgeon, Timothy Innes
beecham release US Mar.17 sxsw,
UK 29.Sep.17
17/UK 1h32

Daphne While this film offers a wonderfully complex title role for Emily Beecham and provides a solid feature debut for director Peter Mackie Burns, it's far too contrived to properly engage the audience. A meandering portrait of a young woman who is resolutely unlikeable, the script's rather simplistic plot elements push her in the most obvious ways imaginable. Still, the film has a fresh tone that sharply captures society's aimless underclass.

In inner South London, Daphne (Beecham) can somehow afford to live on her own while working as a cafe cook. Bored with life, she seeks adventure through random sex while trying to dodge her touchy-feely mother Rita (James), who has cancer. Hungover most days, she only keeps her job because her boss (Vaughan-Lawlor) has a crush on her. And she's playing hard-to-get with nice-guy bouncer David (Martello-White). Then she witnesses a robbery in which a shopkeeper (Vasan) is stabbed, and it takes her awhile to realise that she's been shaken to the core.

Admittedly, there's not much left to shake with Daphne, who lives like an irresponsible 21-year-old even though she's actually 31. She snaps sarcastically at people around her, dismisses anyone who shows interest and bothers to think about her appearance, going through her daily routine out of habit ahile ignoring her deeper emotional needs. When the police suggest that she see a therapist (McQuarrie), she finds it difficult to take her sessions seriously.

Beecham offers a superbly textured performance as a young woman who is so relentlessly infuriating that it seems impossible that she would have any friends, let alone a job and flat. A sloppy drunk who can rarely remember what happened last night, she flails through every day leaving a trail of destruction. And yet all of these people persist in trying to get through to her. Each actor brings plenty of charm to his or her role, making us wish we could spend more time with them rather than Daphne.

Since it unfolds as an almost fly-on-the-wall look at this young woman's unfocussed life, the script's wispy plot points land with a loud thud. Each opportunity to learn some sort of important lesson feels insistently preachy, so Daphne's carefully orchestrated resolution scenes with each of the other characters feel implausible and sigh-inducingly corny. That said, the film is a nice depiction of multicultural London and the hapless millennial lifestyle. Those elements at least ring true.

15 themes, language, sexuality, drugs, violence
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Do You Take This Man
dir-scr Joshua Tunick
prd Eric Kops, Dave Perkal, Joshua Tunick
with Anthony Rapp, Jonathan Bennett, Alyson Hannigan, Alona Tal, Mackenzie Astin, Thomas Dekker, Hutchi Hancock, Sam Anderson, Lee Garlington, Marla Sokoloff, Adam Huber
bennett and rapp release US 7.Jul.17
16/US 1h32
Do You Take This Man Although the talky, sometimes melodramatic script makes this little film feel rather a lot like a stage play, it's packed with resonant themes that keep the interaction thoughtful and sometimes provocative. There's sometimes a sense that writer-director Joshua Tunick simply can't bear not to make an important point in every single scene, but the actors manage to bring even the most cloying dialog to life.

The night before their wedding, Daniel and Christopher (Rapp and Bennett) are hosting a dinner for their family and friends. Daniel's friend Jacob (Astin) is trying to help with preparations, while Christopher's pals (Dekker and Hancock) surprise him by bringing in his childhood buddy Emma (Tal), whom he hasn't seen since he was 16. And Daniel is a bit taken aback because he'd never heard about her before. Meanwhile, Daniel's sister Rachael (Hannigan) is nursing fresh wounds over her recent divorce. But their parents (Anderson and Garlington) have some wise words to share.

Unusually strong performances from the entire cast bring this somewhat overegged situation to life, giving intriguing edges to each of the characters. At the centre, Rapp and Bennett add layers of interest to this unusual couple, opposites in some ways but sharing a soulful connection. They even manage to make the pushier emotional scenes work, letting the audience experience their feelings rather than just playing them for all they're worth. This helps us root for them to make it through the script's somewhat contrived conflicts.

Meanwhile, the supporting cast members find ways to deepen the themes and add some side issues as well. Hannigan blends her usual comic sensibilities with more open-handed emotion as the troubled Rachael. She's a seriously likeable mess. And Tal also registers strongly as the long-lost best friend finally given the chance to work through issues she thought she'd dealt with already, and also offering a distinct outsider perspective on the unfolding drama.

While Anderson and Garlington's scenes are somewhat unevenly written and edited, they have some very strong moments, drawing on their experiences to provoke and encourage. Yes it's all fairly tidy, and badly in need of throwaway moments to better define the characters beyond this one evening. There's also a little side romance that isn't remotely convincing, plus a big crisis that feels like it arrives exactly at the moment proscribed by Tunick's screenwriting professor. So while the overall approach is too on-the-nose to be very plausible, the movie is still packed with thoughtful observations that resonate strongly

15 themes, language

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Julius Caesar
dir Phyllida Lloyd
scr William Shakespeare
prd Kate Pakenham, John Wyver
with Harriet Walter, Jade Anouka, Martina Laird, Jackie Clune, Sheila Atim, Karen Dunbar, Clare Dunne, Jennifer Joseph, Shiloh Coke, Carolina Valdes, Leah Harvey, Zainab Hasan walter release UK 12.Jul.17
17/UK Donmar 1h53

Julius Caesar The first in a trilogy, Phyllida Lloyd sets Shakespeare in a women's prison. Eerily timeless 400 years after it was written, Julius Caesar explores power and political idealism in ways that are overwhelmingly resonant. And the setting adds an unexpected punch that touches on additional issues, such as the fact that more than half of the women in British prisons are there for defending themselves against domestic violence.

After speaking to her colleague Cassius (Laird), Brutus (Walker) is increasingly worried about her close friend Caesar (Clune), a charismatic leader who is consolidating her power. With a group of conspirators, Cassius and Brutus plot to assassinate Caesar for the good of society, despite various warnings. After the violent murder, leader Mark Antony (Anouka) is devastated, and in her eulogy subtly manipulates public opinion to turn against the killers. Brutus and Cassius flee with their gang, squaring off for a big battle even as personal issues divide and unite them.

Skilfully shot in the round with the audience lurking in deep shadows, events unfolds with edgy power and a bracing lucidity. Characters emerge as full-blooded people tormented by their actions, and sure of both their friendships and political beliefs until forced to question them. The cameras move right among the actors, taking us into the middle of every encounter. And there are clever touches throughout that reflect the meta-story of the prison without changing a word of the text.

Performances are visceral and natural, packed with attitude and a striking sense of camaraderie between characters. They refer to each other as "him" and behave in the masculine ways described by Shakespeare, but are always female. This adds all kinds of unexpected subtext, and not only to elements like Brutus' and Caesar's wives (Dunne and Hasan) but also to the depiction of power, respect and military might. And a few clever musical touches further boost the story's emotional layers.

Both Walter and Laird offer tremendous performances with depth and range that's often breathtaking. And Anouka is the standout for her remarkable turn as the mercurial Antony, relishing the best speech. Other scene-stealers are Dunbar as a cheeky Casca and Atim as a Lucius who's rather dim-witted but has a surprise up her sleeve. And Lloyd keeps things moving briskly, letting the emotions carry the story while entertaining us with the meaty dialog and some witty offhanded moments. Best of all, its like seeing this often-produced play for the very first time.

15 themes, language, violence
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Patti Cake$
dir-scr Geremy Jasper
prd Michael Gottwald, Noah Stahl, Rodrigo Teixeira, Dan Janvey, Daniela Taplin, Chris Columbus
with Danielle Macdonald, Bridget Everett, Siddharth Dhananjay, Mamoudou Athie, Cathy Moriarty, Sahr Ngaujah, McCaul Lombardi, Wass Stevens, John Sharian, Patrick Brana, Ray Iannicelli, Warren Bub
ashok release US 18.Aug.17,
UK 1.Sep.17
17/US Fox 1h48

37th Shadows Awards

Patti Cake$ A loud blast of fresh air, writer-director Geremy Jasper's crowd-pleasing comedy-drama is impossible to watch without generating a huge smile and probably a few tears. It's a forward-thinking story of frustration and ambition that almost anyone in the audience can identify with, and it's populated with an eclectic bunch of messy, loveable characters. If you have the ability to find beauty in even the most unlikely places, it's pure bliss.

Patti (Macdonald) is a surly young woman desperate to escape from suburban New Jersey, where she lives with her larger-than-life mother Barb (Everett) and cranky-wheezy Nana (Moriarty), both of whom once had musical dreams. Taunted about her weight, Patti is a fiercely skilled rap artist, working with her lively buddy Jheri (Dhananjay) to get noticed as a double act. Then she meets Basterd (Athie), a death-metal anarchist who needs some convincing to come on board. Together they discover a fresh sound, but how can they get noticed by rap god O-Z (Ngaujah)?

Writer-director Jasper shoots the film in an almost documentary style, remaining close to the expressive cast. Everything is infused with a sense of musicality that spans a variety of styles, blending them together into something that's inventive and often exhilarating. All of which adds a sense of urgency to Patti's quest: she needs to get out of this place as soon as possible! And as she struggle to gain traction, or even to fail spectacularly, she worries that she might be stuck here forever.

A break-out star, Macdonald is terrific in a demanding role that requires both attitude and skill, both of which she has in abundance. She even manages to make Patti's stubbornness endearing. Her wonderful scenes with the astonishing Everett veer from bitterness to deep affection. Every actor has a complex, riveting role to play, and all of them are excellent, stealing scenes by creating a pungent sense of each person's individuality.

While Patti's trajectory might not be original, it's depicted in a way that feels refreshingly unexpected. Scenes are packed with offhanded surprises, characters do things that seem like a good idea at the time but clearly aren't, hilariously random obstacles arrive out of nowhere. And at the centre, there's a series of relationships that are involving and often surprisingly moving. Watching all of this feed into the film's musicality is simply breathtaking, leading to a final sequence that should have the audience on its feet.

15 themes, language
2.Jun.17 sffl

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