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last update 18.Oct.17
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dir-scr Joe Ahearne
prd Jayne Chard
with Tom Bateman, Sean Teale, Paul McGann, Callum Woodhouse, James Tratas, Claire Rammelkamp, Alli Downing, Casper Ingram, Chris Wilkinson, Olly Mullen, Mickey Lewis, Ricky Somer
teale and bateman release US 15.Oct.17,
UK 23.Oct.17
17/UK 1h27
B&B An edgy, topical thriller with a blackly comical undertone, this offbeat little British film takes some startling twists and turns as its plot unfolds. It's tightly contained, with only a handful of characters who circle around each other in a series of increasingly intense conversations. As things turn violent, it begins to feel a little contrived, but has fascinating ramifications.

A year after suing Christian guesthouse owner Josh (McGann) for refusing to give them a double bed, Marc and Fred (Bateman and Teale) have married and provocatively return to the B&B, which now has only twin beds. Josh's 16-year-old son Paul (Woodhouse) hates this stress, because he hasn't yet come out to his strict dad. And the tension increases with the arrival of stone-faced Russian guest Alexei (Tratas), to whom Paul is immediately attracted. But Fred is sure there's something dodgy about Alexei, who has blocked in their car and is jamming mobile phone signals.

There's an intriguing texture of moral relativity here, as Marc deliberately winds up the quietly bigoted Josh. Is either of them in the right? Fred is more conciliatory, and there's also the issue of Josh's vulnerable son, plus questions about Alexei. The film is sharply shot and edited, and Ahearne's writing and directing have fun with the various interconnections, adding layers of intrigue at every turn as these five men do a kind of tantalising dance around each other.

Performances are realistic as the actors dig into their characters to create complex people who aren't always likeable. Each is goading the others in his own way, challenging beliefs and opinions. And because they're all so shaded, they're sympathetic in their own way. Bateman is particularly good as the cocky guy who knows better than to stir up trouble, but does anyway. And McGann shows unusual texture in a character who could have been simplistically narrow-minded. By contrast, Teale's Fred is caring and over-involved, a nice guy who puts himself in the wrong places.

The demands of the plot kind of overtake the intriguing characters as the story progresses, while the rather grim mystery makes the film more serious as it goes along. The climactic moment is unexpected and unnerving, leading to a final act that twists things even further, adding a layer of emotional panic that's gripping, mainly because everyone in this story is so badly compromised. And while the plot becomes somewhat muddled, what happens generates some chilling suspense as well as much more interesting questions.

15 themes, violence, sexuality
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Dark River
dir-scr Clio Barnard
prd Tracy O'Riordan
with Ruth Wilson, Mark Stanley, Sean Bean, Esme Creed-Miles, Aiden McCullough, William Travis, Shane Attwooll, Steve Garti, Una McNulty, Jonah Russell, Paul Roberson
stanley and wilson release UK Oct.17 lff
17/UK Film4 1h29

london film festival
Dark River This is another moody Yorkshire drama from Clio Barnard, and it's also one more beautifully devastating gem. Gorgeously shot and edited, and featuring raw performances from the actors, the film has a primal quality that never lets the audience relax. There may be the odd plot point (it's inspired by Rose Tremain's novel Tresspass), but the power exists in the connections between the characters and the land. Watching it is darkly moving.

After wandering the globe honing her skills as a sheep farmer, Alice (Wilson) returns home to Yorkshire after the death of her abusive father (Bean). Her brother Joe (Stanley) is annoyed that she just suddenly reappears. And he becomes downright angry when Alice applies for their father's tenancy on the land then tries to whip the drunken, bitter Joe into some semblance of shape. But everywhere she turns, she sees the ghosts of her father and herself and Joe as teens (Creed-Miles and McCollough). And since everything remains unspoken, it begins to wear her down.

Barnard digs deeply into this sibling relationship. Haunted by the nightmare of their past, Alice and Joe are like wounded animals. They have only barely admitted their father's abuse to themselves, and certainly never spoken to about it, and yet memories inform every moment, waking and sleeping. So as they come to loggerheads about what to do with the farm, their relationship can't help but take some nasty turns.

This is definitely Wilson's film, as the story is told through her eyes. The actress brings out layers of wrenching emotions beneath Alice's matter-of-fact pragmatism. She just wants to get on with the job of running the farm, but can't bring herself to go into the house and certainly not up the stairs, where memories are too strong to bear. Stanley is even more shattered as Joe, out of control of his feelings and actions. He's in so much pain that he's hard to watch.

Astonishingly, Barnard has made a rare film that's harsh without being off-putting. Watching these people struggle against themselves and each other is compelling. Instead of just wanting to turn away and let them wallow in their misery, we root for them to open up to each other and move forward with their lives. This is partly because the setting is so vivid. As photographed by Adriano Goldman, it certainly has moods of its own, and Alice and Joe's life is so tied to this place that perhaps it holds the key for their healing.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
6.Oct.17 lff

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dir-scr Paddy Considine
prd Diarmid Scrimshaw
with Paddy Considine, Jodie Whittaker, Tony Pitts, Paul Popplewell, Brendan Ingle, Matt Insley, Anthony Welsh, Francis Warren, Junior Witter, Simon Burgan, Lexi Duffy, Lainey Duffy
considine release UK 16.Feb.18
17/UK Film4 1h32

london film festival
Journeyman With a tightly focussed script, this film feels perhaps a bit slight, like a short stretched to feature length. But it skilfully captures a sense of real life for characters caught in an extraordinary situation. And it avoids the usual boxing movie cliches for something much more internalised. Considine shines as writer, director and star, but it's a striking supporting performance from Jodie Whittaker that pulls the audience in.

A British boxing celebrity, Matty (Considine) won the middleweight world championship on a technicality, something his cocky challenger Andre (Welsh) continually reminds him about as their big match-up approaches. With his wife Emma (Whittaker) and baby daughter back home, plus his closest friends (Pitts and Popplewell) in his corner, Matty feels confident stepping into the ring. But after the bout, he experiences a severe brain injury that will badly strain his relationship with both his family and friends. And as he struggles to recover, he's not quite sure who he is anymore.

As a writer and director, Considine creates realistic people and situations that zing with honest interaction. This quickly deepens the characters, connecting the audience to everything that's happening between them. The storytelling is clear-eyed and fairly straightforward, without much in the way subtext. Matty's struggle contains a compelling sense of yearning that is expressed in everything he does. But it's Emma's situation that feels far more urgent. This means that Whittaker emerges the most engaging character on the screen.

Considine plays Matty in a way that brings his journey to life vividly. A loving family man and hard-working professional athlete, he's a hugely likeable guy before his injury, and he carries our empathy through into the more difficult sequences later on. But clearly the new Matty wouldn't be easy to live with, and Whittaker brings a complexity to the film as a woman struggling to find the man she loves inside this unpredictable stranger. It's in her eyes that the film comes to life.

So it's somewhat frustrating that Emma vanishes for such a big chunk of the story, as Considine focusses on Matty's struggle to regain a sense of his identity with the help of his mates. Even the key phone call in which he first reconnects with Emma is shot completely with Matty in the frame. It's a powerful moment for Considine, but the editing choice simplifies the film's climax, because it's actually Emma's journey that's both more momentous and more powerfully moving.

15 themes, language, violence
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A Prayer Before Dawn
dir Jean-Stephane Sauvaire
scr Nick Saltrese, Jonathan Hirschbein
prd Roy Boulter, Rita Dagher, Sol Papadopoulos, Nicholas Simon
with Joe Cole, Pornchanok Mabklang, Vithaya Pansringarm, Nicolas Shake, Panya Yimmumphai, Komsan Polsan, Chaloemporn Sawatsuk, Sakda Niamhom, Sura Sirmalai, Somlock Kamsing, Billy Moore
cole release UK 20.Jul.18
17/UK 1h56

london film festival
A Prayer Before Dawn Based on Billy Moore's memoir, this is a harrowing true account of a young British man's experience in a Thai prison. There isn't much context, actually no background at all, and therefore no real sense of any of the characters. Still, the film is utterly riveting, as director Jean-Stephane Sauvaire takes the audience on a jarring, unforgettable odyssey that leaves us with some big themes to chew on.

An English boxer fighting in Thailand, Billy (Cole) is arrested for drugs and thrown into Chang Mai jail, then transferred to Bangkok's notorious Klong Prem prison. Unable to speak the language, he struggles to navigate the gang culture inside, enduring some seriously violent encounters. But he soon grasps the rampant heroin supply network. And eventually he applies his energy to kickboxing, getting off drugs and finding a team of friends. But in this extremely grisly place, any setback triggers that thirst for another high.

The film never identifies the time scale, and only a very few other inmates resolve into characters. One is Fame (Mabklang), a lady boy who cares for Billy after one of his many brutal brawls and helps him get cigarettes he can trade for things like aspirin. But mainly the prison population is a sea of shirtless, tattooed skin. In this sense, director Sauvaire is plunging us into the situation right alongside Billy.

Since Billy is a hothead who earns all of the violence heaped on him, he isn't terribly sympathetic. So it helps to have a likeable actor like Cole playing him. It's an intensely demanding role, and Cole pours his body and soul into it without hesitation. He reveals Billy's hard-headed tendencies and also the more curious, compassionate man underneath. It's a razor-sharp performance that leaves the audience feeling somewhat drained. And a sharp final cameo from the real Moore adds a nice touch.

This is immersive filmmaking, throwing the camera right into the fray and letting us feel the blood and sweat. Some scenes are shot in bravura long takes using acrobatic cinematography (during one fight we worry the cameraman might get punched), while other scenes are filmed in extreme close-up edited to make us feel helplessly out of breath. As a movie, it's a visceral experience with a pointed anti-drugs message. But more intriguing is what it says about human tenacity even in the most hellish place.

18 themes, language, violence, sexuality, drugs
9.Oct.17 lff

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