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last update 2.Jan.08
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Eternal Summer   3.5/5
Eternal Summer From Taiwan, this gentle drama about romance and friendship isn't hugely original, but more than makes up for that fact with an evocative, involving tone and strongly resonant characters.

As children, Shane (Joseph Chang) was the one who always got his buddy Jonathan (Bryant Chang) in trouble. Through the years, their loyalty is tested by differences (Shane is sporty, Jonathan is brainy) and a woman, Carrie (Yeung). And as they enter university, Jonathan can no longer cope with his biggest secret: that he's in love with Shane. Carrie understands this, and yet she can't help but be attracted to both of them. Eventually they're all going to have to sit down together and express their deepest secrets, even if it means losing their best friends.

The film's rolling piano score, gliding camera work and warm flashbacks are livened up by vivid characters who are full of personality. We can easily identify with their internal struggles, and like them we wonder where all of this might be heading; we never predict some of the things that happen along the way. This is astute, realistic filmmaking, beautifully understated and surprisingly sexy as it goes through the furtive glances, internalised longings and trial-and-error encounters. And director Chen makes strong use of colours, faces and the actors' physicality.

The central trio portray the characters' sharp interaction cleverly, building raw tensions between them and maintaining the same minimal approach as the writing and directing. Their feelings are expressed almost obliquely; sometimes it's a little too elusive, but then they are unable to admit, even to themselves, how they feel. The main question is whether best friends can ever tell each other everything. And as it progresses, the story grows into a lovely expression of loyal friendship, as these two guys stick with each other no matter what happens to them or between them.

In the end, the film is almost elegiac, told in extended flashback as we build up to a climactic scene on a beach. It's a collage of hints and suggestions, sometimes cutting away from the action with maddening evasiveness, but never afraid to send the characters into some truly dark places as they sort out their feelings toward each other.

dir Leste Chen
scr Hsu Cheng-Ping
with Joseph Chang, Bryant Chang, Kate Yeung
joseph chang release Tai 13.Oct.06,
UK 24.Sep.07 dvd
06/Taiwan 1h35

15 themes, sexuality
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Girls Will Be Girls   3/5
girls will be girls The central joke here is that men play all three female leads. But this adds to a consistently silly spoof of drama-queen cinema, immortalised by the likes of All About Eve and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane.

The surly, sex-phobic Coco (Leupp) shares a house with her old friend Evie (Plotnick), a Z-list actress famous for her role in the low-budget disaster movie Asteroid. Then Varla (Roberson) arrives at the door, the daughter of Coco and Evie's old pal Marla (also Roberson in flashbacks), who "passed herself away" years ago. An ambitious actress herself, Varla is on a collision course with Evie, even as she falls for Evie's hunky but not-so-well-endowed son Stevie (Mathews). There's a lot of history here that's all about to be dragged into the open. So to speak.

Writer-director Day fills every scene with so many wicked jokes that we only barely notice the cheesy production values and chaotic plot. The film is basically an excuse for Plotnick, Leupp and Roberson to go as far over the top as they dare in playing these three self-absorbed divas. And each one has her own hysterical running gags that continually keep us chuckling--Evie's "real" appearance in the mornings, Coco's tortured fantasies about Dr Perfect (Lindsey), Varla's ruthless drive for stardom.

Beneath the wackiness the film actually touches on some serious female issues--rape, abortion, prostitution, self-image, loneliness. Not to mention the astute look at celebrity, from youthful newcomer to has-been. None of this is examined with any depth, but the fact that Day actually faces it head-on, and dares to joke about it, is pretty impressive. Evie's climactic breakdown is actually rather surreal and moving, even if it does lead to a ridiculously cathartic finale.

The script is a shameless stream of outrageously rude jokes about sex, sexuality, drugs and fame. The central trio are hilariously catty and sassy, demanding attention and constantly upstaging each other. Coco's desperation to get pregnant again is just as manic as Varla's craving for fame and Evie's yearning for youth. Alongside them, the men who are playing men simply don't have a chance.

dir-scr Richard Day
with Jack Plotnick, Clinton Leupp, Jeffery Roberson, Ron Mathews, Eric Stonestreet, Hamilton von Watts, Dana Gould, Chad Lindsey, Greg Whitney, Mike Stoyanov, Sam Pancake, Mort Kessler
plotnick and leuppr
release US 10.Oct.03,
UK 26.Nov.07 dvd
03/US SRO 1h19
15 themes, language, sexuality, grisliness
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Naked Boys Singing!   2/5
naked boys singing For anyone who's wanted to see the notorious stage show, this captures the performance in a fairly straightforward way. But it feels like a missed opportunity.

Ten young singers and dancers perform a series of musical numbers on stage, often completely starkers. After a teasing overture, they get naked in the opening number, Gratuitous Nudity, and then in further sequences reappear with clothes on so they can do slow stripteases, or sometimes not. Some of the songs are pure comedy, others are sniggering suggestiveness and some aim for a more dramatic stage-musical scenario.

Each of the guys gets a solo scene, with dance numbers about doing things naked, like cleaning the house or being a pornstar. Other songs about issues in (mainly Jewish) gay life, including circumcision, masturbation, locker-room angst and muscle worship. There's even a silly penis song done in the style of Gilbert & Sullivan. But essentially, it's 10 naked guys and a piano. But there's no continuity or behind-the-scenes footage, and the songs aren't as vulgar or as thoughtful as they try to be.

After the opening number, the fact that these men are naked is completely irrelevant. The novelty is gone. Also, they're essentially clones of each other: fit dancers with little body hair. Despite the ethnic variety, they don't remotely represent a range of body types, so there's not much they can really say about physicality, modesty or even voyeurism. Most of the humour is kind of smirking, as if being nude is all it takes to be entertaining. And as if being innocently naked, as these guys are despite the suggestive lyrics, is in some way smutty.

At least the songs are well-written and nicely performed; these guys are talented song and dance men who find clever and funny moments in between the obvious bits. In this sense, it feels like a musical theatre compilation night. So it's a shame that the film is assembled so badly, with some appallingly amateurish editing effects and no attempt to make the show even remotely cinematic. Although it intriguingly proves that nudity on its own isn't remotely erotic.

dir Robert Schrock, Troy Christian
scr 13 credited writers
with Andrew Blake Ames, Jason Currie, Jaymes Hodges, Joseph Keane, Anthony Manough, Ethan Le Phong, Joe Souza, Kevin Stea, Salvatore Vassallo, Vincent Zamora
naked boys smiling release US 12.Oct.07,
UK 28.Dec.07 dvd
07/US TLA 1h35
15 themes, nudity, language
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The Ultimate Gift   2/5  
the ultimate gift Based on Jim Stovall's self-published mega-selling novel, this story has the potential to meaningfully examine the collision of wealth and altruism, but the filmmakers squander their solid cast for dodgy plotting and heavy moralising.

When billionaire Red Stevens (Garner) dies, his family is there waiting for handouts from his lawyer Hamilton (Cobbs). But Red has carefully plotted his legacy, and after annoying everyone, settles on his tearaway trust-fund brat Jason (Fuller) to receive the ultimate gift. This involves a series of lessons about the importance of money, family, dreams and compassion, which Jason looks like he'll certainly fail. Along the way he meets the sassy moppet Emily (Breslin) and her hot mom Alexia (Hillis), and is abducted by Ecuadorian drug runners.

A wildly uneven tone and contrived plot devices badly undermine the seriously intriguing issues in this film. McKay's script continually trivialises them with under-developed story tangents and a preachy tone that continues right through the closing credits. The romantic subplot feels corny and forced, especially when we learn that Emily has leukaemia, and the thriller sequence in Ecuador seems to belong in another movie.

This earnest attempt to convey Important Life Lessons while indulging in lame Hollywood cliches undermines any true examination of spoiled-rich America. Without any shadings, the characters just don't resonate at all. Even Jason's "worldly" rebellion is half-baked (it consists mainly of a cigarette, sunglasses and a slinky ex-girlfriend). The whole thing feels designed to preach Christian principles, but the filmmakers never bother to connect with a larger audience.

That said, at least the cast is good. Fuller actually manages to enliven Jason's journey and pull off some decent chemistry with Cobbs and Meriwether (as Hamilton's assistant). Garner is salty in his video-will segments, and Breslin does what she can to avoid Cute Dying Child Syndrome. Meanwhile, the movie has extremely solid production values. It's just a pity that the film's other values are so pushy that they feel completely fake.

dir Michael O Sajbel
scr Cheryl McKay
with Drew Fuller, Bill Cobbs, James Garner, Abigail Breslin, Ali Hillis, Lee Meriwether, Brian Dennehy, Mircea Monroe, Rose Bianco, Donna Cherry, D David Morin, Victor Lee
fuller and dennehy release US 9.Mar.07
07/US Fox 1h54
PG themes, some violence
25.Dec.07 dvd
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2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall