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last update 20.Aug.18
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dir-scr Daniel Kokotajlo
prd Andrea Cornwell, Marcie MacLellan
with Siobhan Finneran, Sacha Parkinson, Molly Wright, Robert Emms, Bronwyn James, Steve Evets, Jessica Baglow, Clare McGlinn, Aqib Khan, James Quinn, Claire Hackett, James Foster
finneran, parkinson and wright release US Apr.18 wff,
UK 27.Jul.18
17/UK Film4 1h35

london fest
Apostasy Tackling an enormous issue with sensitivity and skill, this independent British drama is a terrific feature debut for writer-director Daniel Kokotajlo. It may be set within a singular religious subculture, but the story and themes have ramifications that echo widely. This is a film about how personal beliefs affect the way we treat each other, often in ways that defy logic. And Kokotajlo's knowing, open-handed approach never belittles anyone's belief system, which is no mean feat.

In suburban Manchester, single mother Ivanna (Finneran) is proud of her devout 18-year-old daughter Alex (Wright), who has held steadfastly to their faith as Jehovah's Witnesses, even though she suffers from anaemia, which required a blood transfusion at birth. Meanwhile, older daughter Luisa (Parkinson) is proving more troubling, pregnant by her non-believing boyfriend (Khan) and questioning the congregational rules. As a result, she is disfellowshipped, and Siobhan and Alex are forbidden from seeing her. In the middle of this, new young elder Steven (Emms) takes a shine to Alex.

The story unfolds quietly in the space between conversations, but the emotional intensity makes the film feel almost like a thriller. These people are grappling with big questions that challenge what they believe, and Kokotajlo is careful never to criticise anyone. Instead, he lets the dialog reveal inner motives, which are often inscrutable mainly because the people don't understand their own emotional responses. This makes the film riveting for any viewer who knows how it feels to wrestle with the truth, as opposed to what someone else tells you is the "truth".

Each actor creates such a vivid character that watching this movie is often almost overpoweringly moving. Finneran maintains a stony facial expression, but betrays Ivanna's often conflicting feelings with micro-movements. She's stern but compassionate, and often finds herself pushed into a corner in which she has to make an impossible decision. Parkinson and Wright have more openly emotive characters, but both must depict young women caught in prickly situations. And Emms provides a terrific counterpoint as a nice guy with unbending beliefs.

By presenting everything in such a straightforward, balanced way, Kokotajlo allows the issue to clarify itself. And it's simply spine-tingling. In their cozy religious bubble, life is very easy as long as everyone follows the rules. But the slightest divergence creates an existential problem: can a loving God require you to cause cruel hardship for the people you love the most? And when this means letting them die, the question becomes even more unfathomable.

PG themes, language
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Brotherly Love
dir-scr-prd Anthony J Caruso
with Anthony J Caruso, Derek Babb, Chance McKee, David Blackwell, Gerald Brodin, Brooks Ryan, Kevin Machate, Tim Mateer, Steve Uzzell, Ed Pope, Laurie Coker, Oryan Landa
babb and caruso release US 3.Aug.18
17/US 1h58
Brotherly Love Relaxed and thoughtful, this micro-budget drama is a rather scruffy and awkward, but its heart is in the right place. Actor-filmmaker Anthony Caruso is brave to set a gay story in the Catholic church, and the script is knowing and sensitive. With a stronger editing hand to focus the narrative and smooth out the rougher edges, this could have had even more impact. But for the way it explores rarely tackled issues, it's well worth a look.

While training for the priesthood, schoolteacher Vito (Caruso) is struggling with the things he will need to give up, from partying with his lively friend Tim (McKee) to flirting with men. The senior priest, Brother Mike (Brodin), is understanding, but stresses that he needs to make better choices. To help clear his head, he decides to go work for the summer at a volunteer house in Austin. There he meets gardener Gabe (Babb), and as their friendship blossoms into something deeper Vito begins to question whether he should take the vows.

Caruso's limited resources as a writer-director can be seen in the film's choppy, blackout structure. Basically, it's a series of scenes that are only loosely stitched together. Sets are a bit barren, and the music is thinly generic. But the script touches a nerve, breaking the surface to spark thought and engage the emotions. There are some overwritten moments, rather too many cultural references (most of the vintage variety) and a couple of little sermons too.

The acting is uneven, with most of the cast members overplaying their roles. But the characters themselves are likeable and worth sticking with. At the centre, the growing chemistry between Caruso and Babb that feels earthy and real, as does the sense of a long friendship between Caruso and McKee. There are also some enjoyably vivid side characters, young and older, who add spice around the film's edges, challenging Vito to work out what he truly believes.

The salient question of course is what makes you happy. Society says it's money, sex and power, but the priesthood embraces poverty, chastity and obedience. Vito wants to do something important with his life, but that leaves Tim feel insulted about his choices. And Tim also sees that the priesthood is making Vito unhappy. The other question here is about the difference between physicality and intimacy, lust and love. So as the story takes several intriguing turns (plus a couple of final twists), it remains thoroughly engaging right to the end, challenging us to explore our own feelings.

15 themes, language, sexuality

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I Am Vengeance
dir-scr Ross Boyask
prd John Adams, Diane Shorthouse
with Stu Bennett, Gary Daniels, Anna Shaffer, Mark Griffin, Bryan Larkin, Keith Allen, Kevin Leslie, Sapphire Elia, Alan Calton, Fleur Keith, Wayne Gordon, Sebastian Knapp
bennett release US 24.Aug.18
18/UK 1h33
I Am Vengeance The imagery may be slick, but this is an unusually blunt thriller. There's an edgy sense of energy to the film, but writer-director Ross Boyask plays everything so straight-faced that it's almost absurd. A couple of witty gags help, as do the whizzy fight sequences, but the film could really use more tongue-in-cheek attitude if it hopes to spin into a franchise.

After Dan (Leslie) is brutally killed by Special Forces operatives, his best friend, black-ops agent John Gold (Bennett), kicks into action. Feathers are immediately ruffled as John goes up against Hatcher (Daniels) and his goons (including Larkin, Calton and Keith). He gets some help from local junkie Sandra (Shaffer) and recordings left by Dan's late dad (Allen), leading him into a vast drug-running conspiracy. He's determined settle the score with Dan's killers. And he's ready for whatever comes, wielding axes, arrows and his even deadlier bare hands.

Everything about John is muscly, from his hulking, beefy, scarred, tattooed torso to his black, growling GTO. A notorious fixer who was presumed dead, when his targets see him coming they order more body bags. Yes, John Gold has more than a whiff of John Wick about him, emerging from the shadows to get even with a group of villains who continually underestimate him. Yet despite solid fight choreography, Boyask is highlighting cliches rather than having fun with them. And cheap touches like the bland stock-music style score don't help.

Bennett bristles with enjoyably understated charisma. A former wrestler and bare-knuckle boxer, he strolls manfully through the movie without breaking a sweat, quietly glowering at someone before casually breaking a finger or two to get an answer to a gruffly barked question. Shaffer is a nice foil as a sparky, tough girl who teases him about his caveman persona. And there's some enjoyable flirtation with Elia's feisty cafe owner. By contrast, Keith has little to do as Hatcher's second in command. Daniels doesn't get a chance to shine until his breathtaking climactic fight.

Aside from the usual thriller plot, there's little to this movie. Its setting in suburban London is nondescript, the characters are straightforward, and there's no subtext at all. But gently emerging relationships add nice touches amid the macho posturing, hails of bullets and fistfights to the death. Still, since it's clear that it has to end in a bloodbath of gunfire and rock-em sock-em hand-to-hand combat, the finale can't help but be a little dull. No matter how spectacularly violent it gets.

15 themes, language, violence, drugs
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We the Animals
dir Jeremiah Zagar
scr Daniel Kitrosser, Jeremiah Zagar
prd Christina D King, Jeremy Yaches, Andrew Goldman, Paul Mezey
with Raul Castillo, Sheila Vand, Evan Rosado, Josiah Gabriel, Isaiah Kristian, Giovanni Pacciarelli, Mickey Anthony, Michael Pemberton, Moe Isaac, Tom Malley, Amelia Campbell, Terry Holland
castillo and rosado release UK Jun.18 eff,
US 17.Aug.18
18/US Orchard 1h34

38th Shadows Awards

We the Animals Sensual and evocative, this coming-of-age drama uses colours and textures to bring its characters to vivid life. The narrative is loose, almost dreamy, as filmmaker Jeremiah Zagar captures the thoughts, feelings, hopes and anxieties of these people. It's a beautiful film, full of both giddy happiness, deeply felt emotion and that sense that, through a child's eyes, adults are a mystery.

Rambunctious young brothers Manny, Joel and Jonah (Kristian, Gabriel and Rosado) run wild in the woods around their rural home making as much noise as possible. Although they try to keep quiet at home with their parents (Castillo and Vand), whose arguments are loud enough. When Paps goes away, Ma won't get out of bed, so the boys have to find food themselves. Jonah documents their adventures in the sketchbook he hides under the bed. But this isn't his only secret, as he begins to realise that there's something different about him.

Gorgeously shot by Zak Mulligan, the film has a home-movie style to it that's both tactile and nostalgic. The household feels almost primal as the boys are almost always shirtless, their tanned bodies entangled as they play and sleep. The dialog is soft-spoken, making the interaction earthy, real and almost accidental. Along with this, Jonah's expressive drawings are beautifully rendered and animated to reveal his personal journey. His thoughts narrate the film, adding waves of meaning.

The young actors never seem like they're acting, creating a tight family connection as they interact, play and get up to various precarious activities. The balance between exuberant youthfulness and wary watchfulness is sharply well-played. Castillo and Vand are also excellent, underplaying their roles while adding telling details. Both their fights and their tenderness are strikingly realistic, evoking a superb family dynamic that shifts from joy to pain in a split second.

Underneath this skilfully lyricism is the story of a boy who isn't following the usual path: his brothers are chips off the old block, but he knows that he isn't. He's too young to understand what sexuality is, but there's enough of it within view to show him that he isn't like other boys. This is depicted subtly and carefully, never shouting the themes loudly but making them compelling and resonant, building to a stunning climactic sequence. Zagar's documentary eye and sensitivity to complex characters make a potent combination, marking him as a filmmaker to watch.

15 themes, language, sexuality, violence

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