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last update 23.Jul.17
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After Louie
dir Vincent Gagliostro
scr Anthony Johnston, Vincent Gagliostro
prd Alan Cumming, Lauren Belfer, Bryce Renninger
with Alan Cumming, Zachary Booth, Sarita Choudhury, Patrick Breen, Wilson Cruz, Everett Quinton, Anthony Johnston, David Drake, Justin Vivian Bond, Joseph Arias, Lucas Caleb Rooney, John Thomas Waite
booth and cumming release UK Mar.17 flare,
US Jun.17 pff
17/US 1h40

flare film festival
After Louie Big ideas circle around this earthy drama set among New York artists. The characters are bright and engaging, even as they are deeply flawed, and the talky script takes an unexpectedly honest approach to hot potato topics, exploring how nostalgia for the gay rights movement of the 1990s might not be the healthiest way to move forward. It's perhaps too deliberately provocative to be properly moving, but Alan Cumming delivers a beautifully complex central performance.

In Manhattan, Sam (Cumming) is a painter working on a video project about his late friend William (Drake). Gallery owner Rhona (Bond) isn't thrilled about this, nor are Sam's friends (Choudhury, Breen and Cruz), who aren't sure they like him taking ownership of William's memory. While out one night, Sam meets Braeden (Booth), a younger guy who goes home with him and doesn't protest the next morning when Sam pays him. Braeden has a boyfriend (Johnston) who reluctantly lets Braeden have his freedom, and they're on a collision course to Sam's 55th birthday party.

The film consists largely of intense conversations between these characters, as older ones reminisce about their heyday as Aids activists then are annoyed the new generation doesn't understand. But younger guys feel want to build on these hard-earned rights, moving forward without wallowing in the past. Obviously, these discussions have an impact on Sam's video project as well as his friendships.

Cumming gives Sam a terrific internal life. He's arrogant, but his feelings are earthy and raw, and he's not afraid to confront hard truths. His scenes with Booth are very strong, crackling with chemistry and a nice sense that these guys have more in common than they think. Side characters are a little thinner. Choudhury and Breen have some strong moments, as do Cruz and Johnston in boyfriend roles that feel oddly undefined and a bit simplistic.

The amount of dialog in this film is sometimes a strain on the audience, making it feel more like a play than a movie. And some elements feel under-developed (such as Sam's love life or why someone would take a bath at his party). But it's stylishly shot and edited with an evocative tone that draws out the emotions that gurgle right below the surface. The sheer quantity of pointed conversations may make the movie feel preachy, but the ideas raised are so rarely discussed that it's definitely worth a look.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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Against the Law
dir Fergus O'Brien
scr Brian Fillis
prd Scott Bassett
with Daniel Mays, Richard Gadd, Paul Keating, Mark Edel-Hunt, Mark Gatiss, Charlie Creed-Miles, Richard Dillane, David Robb, Claire Bond, Josh Collins, James Gaddas, Mark Holgate
gadd and mays release UK 26.Jul.17
17/UK BBC 1h23

flare film festival
Against the Law An inventive blending of period drama and talking-head documentary, this pointed film is beautifully edited to make the most of both strands. Each feeds into the other with a powerful sense of momentum, giving the final scenes a proper emotional kick. And there's also a sense of timeliness, as the story recounts events from 60 years ago that would change British law about homosexuality a decade later. And the events continue to resonate.

In 1952 London, Peter Wildeblood (Mays) is a journalist who refuses to hide his sexuality, even though it's illegal. Painfully shy, he literally bumps into the airman Eddie (Gadd) in Piccadilly Circus, and they begin a serious romance. But a detective (Creed-Miles) pressures Eddie to turn in Peter and his friend Lord Montagu (Edel-Hunt), leading to a sensational trial. The resulting Wolfenden Commission examines the issue, with Peter as the only openly gay man testifying. They recommend decriminalising homosexuality, but the government took another decade before changing the law in 1967.

The film is based on Wildeblood's eponymous book, which highlighted both the injustice of a system that persecutes people for who they are and also the dire state of Britain's prisons. It's a momentous series of events, and director O'Brien shoots the story with an artistic eye, capturing thoughts and feelings of complex characters who are sympathetic but not always likeable. He also has the nerve to present Wildeblood's testimony to Wolfenden, which recommends segmenting gay men into three groups and dealing with them differently, something that sounds shocking today.

Mays gives a wonderfully internalised performance as an understandably nervy young man who is afraid of his own shadow. His romance with Gadd's Eddie is sweet and engaging, which makes what follows that much more wrenching. Other characters flit in and out of the story, but add resonance to the bigger picture. And there's a nice cameo from Gatiss as a rather sneery prison shrink.

Crosscut into this are present-day reminiscences from men who lived through these events. Their comments are initially jarring, but as the story develops what they have to say becomes increasingly integral to the overall narrative. And by the end, both the dramatic and documentary strands carry a strong emotional kick. The film reminds us of a time before equality was taken for granted, and it also gives us a first-hand look at how it felt to be part of a persecuted minority. And how it felt to watch the world change.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality

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47 Metres Down
dir Johannes Roberts
prd James Harris, Mark Lane
scr Johannes Roberts, Ernest Riera
with Mandy Moore, Claire Holt, Matthew Modine, Yani Gellman, Chris J Johnson, Santiago Segura
holt and moore release US 16.Jun.17,
UK 26.Jul.17
17/UK Dimension 1h29
47 Meters Down There's no pretence that this is anything other than a B-movie designed to play on the audience's primal fears. Contained and claustrophobic, the bare-bones premise basically turns its two lead actresses into shark bait and watches them squirm for an hour. It's as cheap and nasty as it's designed to be, and effective at keeping us freaked out right to the nerve-wracking climax.

Sisters Lisa and Kate (Moore and Holt) are on a getaway in Mexico to cut loose. Lisa is struggling with a failed relationship, so Kate cheers her up with a night of partying and a day with two hot local boys (Gellman and Segura) watching sharks in a cage five metres under the surface. But the boat captained by Taylor (Modine) looks rather dodgy, and sure enough the winch malfunctions, dropping them to the seabed. With oxygen running out and hungry predators circling, their options are narrowing. And every attempt at rescue is failing.

The sunshiny location and beautiful cast draw us in, despite the fact that the dialog is cursory at best. Then the grinding score by Tomandandy kicks in, reminding us that this is a simple thriller set up to place two frightened young women in submerged jeopardy, surrounded by freaky digital sharks who look ready to devour anything they can get their teeth on. Once the girls are deep underwater, everything is inky and dark, and events progress in real time as they run out of air and get increasingly desperate.

In quieter scenes, Moore and Holt get to play a bit with their sibling bond. Although once encased in diving gear, they could just be providing voices and closeups while stunt performers do the diving work. Holt's Kate is the more intrepid of the two, while Moore's Lisa mainly spends her time screaming in fear before of course finding her inner resilience. Modine's casting is more than a little random, while the boys (including Johnson as Taylor's first mate) offer a bit of laddish texture.

Director-cowriter Roberts has a lot of fun quietly building the tension, dropping clanking plot points and then sending in a shark to chomp madly in the girls' direction. He also has a couple of twists up his sleeve, not all of which are satisfying. But the ticking clock and continuous action combine to make the most of the simple premise. Yes, It's contrived and gimmicky, but enjoyably so, and the intensity makes this an entertaining guilty pleasure.

15 themes, language, violence
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Killing Ground
dir-scr Damien Power
prd Lisa Shaunessy, Joe Weatherstone
with Aaron Pedersen, Harriet Dyer, Ian Meadows, Aaron Glenane, Maya Stange, Tiarnie Coupland, Julian Garner, Stephen Hunter, Liam Parkes, Riley Parkes, Mitzi Ruhlmann, Airlie Dodds
glenane and pedersen
release US 21.Jul.17,
Aus 24.Aug.17, UK 29.Sep.17
16/Australia 1h29

Killing Ground An edgy thriller set in an Australian forest, this dark, terrifying film is sharply well-made by writer-director Damien Power. The fragmented storytelling recounts the dual-strand events to create a chilling tone and reveal details about the characters. Without any subtext and only the hint of a seriously unhelpful message, the film feels rather empty, but the tension is heart-stopping.

Ian and Sam (Meadows and Dyer) are on a New Year's camping trip in the woods, celebrating Ian's new job as a doctor and their engagement. But there's an eerily empty tent at the idyllic lakeside campsite, and they soon run into an unattended toddler (Parkes). So where are his parents Margaret and Rob (Stange and Garner) and teen sister Em (Coupland)? Meanwhile, locals German and Chook (Petersen and Glenane) are hunting wild pigs, and probably willing to go much further than the petty crimes they've been plotting.

Power has a great time setting up the action, unsettling the audience with shots that induce a queasy sense of unease through imagery and sound long before anything scary happens. He also quietly establishes the two groups of campers, plus German and Chook, in cross-cutting clips that jump around in time filling in details. This allows Power to crank up the grisly suspense in both timelines, pulling us into the plight of both of these sets of victims, and keeping us surprised by the way the balance of power shifts around.

Performances are earthy and raw, with a particularly layered turn from Pedersen as the low-life who's fed up with Chook's violent tendencies, but might be worse himself. Both Pedersen and Glenane are able to seem like such nice guys that we can't imagine them capable of murder, but as the narrative continues their true colours become apparent. So what happens shifts and surprises in awful ways. By contrast, the others are believable as nice, everyday people who don't deserve this horror. They're also not mere victims, finding varying degrees of inner strength to face what happens.

Like Wolf Creek, this is one of those Australian films that doesn't seem to have a point other than as a cautionary tale about venturing out of civilisation, encountering monsters in the bush and staring down our own cowardice. When it comes, the violence is relatively restrained, but also flatly revolting in its pointless nastiness. And as things converge into a horrible climactic sequence, the film becomes seriously nerve-jangling even if where it goes is ultimately rather forgettable.

15 themes, language, violence

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