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last update 14.Oct.13
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The Conspiracy
dir-scr Christopher MacBride
prd Lee Kim
with Aaron Poole, James Gilbert, Alan C Peterson, Bruce Clayton, Laura de Carteret, RD Reid, Melanie Scrofano, Roger Beck, Patrick Whyte, Lina Roessler, Dennis O'Connor, Ian Matthews
poole and gilbert release Can 19.Jul.13,
US 23.Aug.13, UK 11.Oct.13
12/Canada 1h24
The Conspiracy In the style of a documentary about conspiracy theories, this horror thriller plays on our suspicions that the "official" stories we hear might not be true. It's an original approach for a found-footage movie, although the climactic moments in the narrative lack the badly needed punch.

Young filmmakers Aaron and Jim (Poole and Gilbert) decide to make a movie centred on conspiracy theorist Terrance (Peterson), who sees sinister patterns the way the government erodes the freedoms of American citizens. But after shooting the interview, Terrance vanishes. So Aaron starts to buy into everything, piecing various stories together into a pattern that links to major world events. And even though they're being followed, he and Jim decide to try to infiltrate a secret society called the Tarsus Club.

The film opens as a strikingly involving look into conspiracy theories, tapping into our nagging feelings of helplessness in the face of international tensions and our own corruptible politicians. From here it shifts into a more conventional thriller following two young guys (played with offhanded charm by Poole and Gilbert) pursuing a series of leads connecting all of the biggest events in history to the Tarsus Club, which is connected the secret worship of the Persian deity Mithras.

Writer-director MacBride keeps all of this slick and very pacey, drawing us into the mystery with clever documentary touches like bleeped-out names and the obscured faces and voices of interviewees. All of this is intercut with real news footage, including speeches from world leaders that seem to echo the idea that some secret power base is working to build a new world order. Then as we travel deeper into the secret society, the film devolves into a more standard found-footage thriller, complete with silly plot twists and ambiguous jolts.

MacBride's script cleverly makes sure we have someone to identify with, as the sceptical Jim clashes with true-believer Aaron, who's planning to move to an off-grid community in rural Canada. As one interviewee pointedly notes, conspiracy theories gain traction because they are impossible to disprove. So it's rather frustrating when the film's plot turns a bit dull in the final act, complete with a couple of formulaic but undeveloped twists.

15 themes, language
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The Machine
dir-scr Caradog James
prd John Giwa-Amu
with Toby Stephens, Caity Lotz, Denis Lawson, Sam Hazeldine, Pooneh Hajimohammadi, Jade Croot, John Paul MacLeod, Helen Griffin, Siwan Morris, Nicola Reynolds, Jonathan Byrne, Alan Low
lotz and stephens
release US Apr.13 tff,
UK Oct.13 rff
13/UK 1h30

raindance film fest
the machine Making rather a lot out of a limited budget, this chilling thriller plays with the idea of artificial intelligence and what might happen if machines had the ability to create other machines. Fortunately, the story also has a strongly human component, so even if it's rather over-serious, it's provocative and involving.

In the near future, a cold war with China has sparked a race for intelligent weapons. Vincent (Stephens) is a scientist hired by the Ministry of Defence to create a sentient machine, and he's already providing robotic repairs for wounded soldiers. Then Vincent's new assistant Ava (Lotz) brings insight to his work. But she also starts nosing around the lab's top-secret areas, putting herself in serious danger. So Vincent uses her programming skills and his technology to build a thinking, feeling robot. Which his boss (Lawson) of course wants to put to military use.

Writer-director James creates an enigmatic vibe that intrigues us even though the story only scratches the surface. The film looks terrific, with continual menace in the military imagery and creepy underground bunker with its network of high-tech labs. Nobody in the film looks remotely trustworthy, and indeed there are continually shocks along the way as these shady people reveal their true colours. Meanwhile, repaired soldiers are kept in a locked-down area guarded by soldiers who have had corrective brain implants and communicate with their own electronic language.

All of these things give the actors plenty of shadows to explore, but not many lighter areas. Stephens holds our attention as a man with nightmares and personal issues, including a young daughter (Croot) who might benefit from his research. Meanwhile, Lotz is terrific in the most colourful role as the plucky scientist and the nascent machine created in her image. And Lawson is superb as a bloodthirsty hawk.

The film has a terrific visual design, with inventive touches that catch our imaginations and pull us further into the story, even if everything's rather murky. But then it's the film's moody-dreamy tone that holds our attention in even when the exploration of identity and consciousness starts to circle in on itself. No, this is essentially another thriller about the strain between military might and scientistic advancement. But an unusually stylish one.

15 themes, language, violence
5.Oct.13 rff
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The Selfish Giant
dir-scr Clio Barnard
prd Tracy O'Riordan
with Conner Chapman, Shaun Thomas, Sean Gilder, Lorraine Ashbourne, Siobhan Finneran, Steve Evets, Rebecca Manley, Elliott Tittensor, Ian Burfield, Ralph Ineson, Rhys McCoy, Mohammed Ali
chapman release UK 25.Oct.13
13/UK Film4 1h31

london film festival
The Selfish Giant After the brilliantly inventive drama-doc The Arbor, it's unsurprising to find that Barnard takes an original approach to a kids' story. This film was inspired by the Oscar Wilde tale, and the connections are askance at best. But there's such an intense blast of realism that it's utterly gripping, right to the shattering conclusion.

Cheeky young teen Arbor (Chapman) is always in trouble, usually dragging his pal Swifty (Thomas) along with him. When they're thrown out of school, they use the time to earn cash collecting metal to sell to scrapyard owner Kitten (Gilder). This also gets them out of their troubled homes for awhile. Arbor lives with his mum (Manley) and his bullying big brother (Tittensor), while Swifty's parents (Evets and Finneran) seem to do little more than shout. But while Swifty finds pleasure in working with Kitten's horse, Arbor comes up with increasingly risky ideas.

Set in working-class Bradford, Barnard goes out of her way to find the grubbiest parts of town and then imbue them them with a shabby beauty. These people may be uneducated and shady, but they have their own sort of integrity. Nobody in this film speaks in a reasoned tone of voice; there's an awful lot of screaming and punching, as everyone lets their anger boil over at whoever is nearby. As a result, they all look like they're permanently in pain even as they get on with whatever they need to do to survive.

And each character is so vividly realistic that scenes are often difficult to watch, and not just because of the high-volume voices. The adults all ooze economic desperation, as they engage in various scams to make ends meet. Evets' Mr Swift sells the family sofa, which isn't actually paid for; Gilder's Kitten puts all his hopes on a horse-and-cart race; Burfield's scavenger Mick isn't above robbing a young child.

By comparison, the constantly gyrating scams Arbor engages in seem almost naive, and Chapman plays the role like a hyperactive Dickensian urchin, diving into each situation without a thought for the consequences. Fortunately, he has Thomas' gentle Swifty to bring him back to earth. This offbeat relationship is the heart of the film, and lends the final sequence an almost unbearable kick of emotion. The film is perhaps too deliberately grubby and grim for most audiences, but it's also unforgettable.

15 themes, language, violence
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Sharknado Sharknado
dir Anthony C Ferrante
scr Thunder Levin
prd David Michael Latt
with Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, Cassie Scerbo, Jaason Simmons, John Heard, Aubrey Peeples, Chuck Hittinger, Alex Arleo, Neil H Berkow, Heather Jocelyn Blair, Connor Weil, Christopher Wolfe
ziering and reid release US 11.Jul.13,
UK 7.Oct.13
13/US 1h26

See also:
Sharknado 2 (2014) Sharknado 3 (2015)
Sharknado A micro-budget schlocker with appalling effects and a hilariously bad script, this movie is entertaining mainly because it's so jaw-droppingly inept and knowingly stupid. You could never say that this is so bad that it's good, because there's nothing good about it. But it could be the funniest awful movie you've ever seen.

After a giant shark attacks swimmers in four inches of water on a Los Angeles beach, a Mexican hurricane rolls into town with a rare water-spout carrying even more sharks into the city streets. Surfer dude Fin (Ziering) is worried about his estranged wife April (Reid) and their grown children (Peeples and Hittinger). So Fin and his surf-buddy Baz (Simmons), shotgun-toting barmaid Nova (Scerbo) and goofy barfly George (Heard) head off on a rescue mission.

Written by someone apparently named Thunder, the script mashes up every disaster movie cliche to create various tensions among the characters. Blaming global warming for the storm, there's a clear sense that Fin and his pals would rather be surfing these gigantic waves than running from flying sharks. Instead, they stage a variety of rescues as they cross the city. And these get so elaborately insane that we can't help but laugh.

The production values are riotously cheesy, with shark-movie cliches transplanted to the city streets. So sharks circle around cars on flooded streets. The rain lashes down from a blue sky while shark-infested waves sweep over the 405 Freeway. But then, there isn't a single set-piece in this film that makes sense on any level. Occasionally real underwater footage reminds us what actual sharks look like, as opposed to the cartoonish effects or rubber models.

Oddly, this rubbish is entertainingly watchable because the script is so relentlessly corny, with goofy references to Jaws and constant L.A. in-jokes, including the fact that the city is usually destroyed in movies by earthquakes or aliens ("Sharks! I never saw that coming!"). It's also relentlessly gruesome, merrily killing off either heroic or nasty characters while indulging in extended soap opera interludes. But the hysterical plot and unbelievably ludicrous conclusion make it unmissable. As do random observations along the way: "Why is there a retirement home next to the airport?" "Because old people can't hear."

15 themes, grisliness, language
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