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last update 4.Aug.13
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Bula Quo!
dir Stuart St Paul
prd Tim Major
scr Jean Heard, Stuart St Paul
with Francis Rossi, Rick Parfitt, Craig Fairbrass, Laura Aikman, Jon Lovitz, Matt Kennard, Jean Heard, Andy Bown, John (Rhino) Edwards, Matthew Letley, Tim Major, Leo Richmond
parfitt and rossi release UK 5.Jul.13
13/UK 1h45
Bula Quo! The members of iconic 1970s rock band Status Quo hit the big screen for a action-comedy that takes place as their world tour lands in Fiji. Alas, they're no longer in their 20s, and 60-something men on a madcap tropical romp look more than a little desperate. Especially when the writing, directing and editing are this choppy.

In between performing gigs in Fiji, Status Quo frontmen Francis and Rick mischievously try to ditch their manager Simon (Fairbrass) and his intern Caroline (Aikman). But when they stumble across a Russian roulette game organised by local mobster Wilson (Lovitz), they find themselves in big trouble: Wilson chases them while local journalists (Kennard and Heard) try to figure out what's going on. And Simon and Caroline just try to keep everyone alive.

Wacky comedies about murder are difficult to pull off, and filmmaker St Paul never really tries, avoiding even a hint of black humour. He cuts away from anything grisly, leaving gaping holes everywhere. And the indulgent wacky slapstick is staged without pace or energy. Clearly the cast and crew are having a great time shooting this silly movie while holidaying on a gorgeous South Pacific island, but their fun is never infectious, and St Paul only barely manage to catch the scenery and culture on camera.

Fans of the band will probably enjoy seeing their heroes running around like lunatics, even if it's impossible to ignore the amateurish filmmaking. Everything is accompanied by Status Quo's biggest hits, some performed live on stage while others are used as backing tracks for the corny action sequences. And there are nine new tracks that the film is clearly designed to sell.

But no one involved seems to have noticed that it's not the 1970s anymore. Back then, this might have been a spirited romp along the lines of The Beatles' Help or The Monkees' Head. But those were made by skilled filmmakers who knew how to create characters from band members and comedy from the silly situations. St Paul merely flails, and it's made worse by amateurish editing that misses every comical beat and most of the action too. So in the end, even fans will wish they just bought the music and skipped the film.

12 themes, violence, some language
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dir Megan Griffiths
scr Megan Griffiths, Richard B Phillips
prd Jacob Mosler, Colin Harper Plank
with Jamie Chung, Matt O'Leary, Beau Bridges, Jeanine Monterroza, Eddie Martinez, Roman Roytberg, Tantoo Cardinal, Naama Kates, Scott Mechlowicz, Ernie Joseph, Laura Kai Chen, Joseph Steven Yang
o'leary and chung release US 20.Mar.13,
UK 19.Jul.13
12/US 1h38
Eden Based on a true story, this harrowing human trafficking drama is important enough to be worth a look, even if the storytelling is somewhat pedestrian. Everything on-screen is so matter-of-fact that the movie never captures the terrifying feeling of being trapped in a nightmare with no escape. But the issues it raises must be addressed.

In 1994 New Mexico, 18-year-old Hyun Jae (Chung) is kidnapped while on a date with a seemingly nice man (Mechlowicz) and sold into black-market slavery, where she's renamed Eden and forced to work as a prostitute alongside girls much younger than herself. Moving from warehouse to warehouse, the girls are watched over by bent Marshall Bob (Bridges). After being brutally punished for trying to escape, Eden realises that her only hope is to befriend their pimp Vaughan (O'Leary), a young veteran with a drugs problem.

Eerily, Eden becomes so attached to Vaughan that she's willing to do his dirty work. And she starts to care for him too, until an event snaps her back to reality. All of the actors are excellent, and Chung beautifully captures Eden's internal struggles, while most of her physical ones remain off-screen. We never see how she reacts to being forced into this kind of work, other than one scene in which she uses role-play to distance herself.

With most of the squalid details left off-screen, this seems like a remarkably clean stable of hooker-slaves with regular medical check-ups and mandated twice-daily showers. And these kinds of details continually catch us off-guard, refusing to paint the usual picture of degradation. Instead we get villains who are complex and real: Bridges gives Bob a blithe charm, while O'Leary reveals Vaughan's need to trust and engage with someone. This makes it believable that he never abuses Eden sexually, and challenges the audience too.

Filmmaker Griffiths refuses to sensationalise the situation or exploit the topic. She keeps every scene grounded in small dramatic moments rather than sweeping cinematic momentum. Along the way there are confusing editorial decisions that make us question the sequence of events and feel like we've missed something. But the fact that this kind of thing goes on every day in America and has never been depicted quite so vividly on-screen is what's really shocking.

15 themes, violence, language
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A Field in England
dir Ben Wheatley
scr Amy Jump
prd Claire Jones, Andrew Starke
with Reece Shearsmith, Michael Smiley, Julian Barratt, Richard Glover, Peter Ferdinando, Ryan Pope, Sara Dee
pope and ferdinando
release UK 5.Jul.13
13/UK Film4 1h30

east end film fest
A Field in England Drawing on everything from Samuel Beckett to Monty Python, Wheatley and Jump create a bonkers thriller that's virtually impossible to make sense of. But the absurdity is infectious, and we can't help but be caught up in the humour, horror and riotous chaos.

During the 17th century English Civil War, the scholar Whitehead (Shearsmith) escapes through a hedgerow after his master is killed. Away from the battle, he runs into a pair of dopey deserters, Friend and Jacob (Glover and Ferdinando), who decide that the best option is to find a pub. Then they meet the more savvy Cutler (Pope) and things start to get strange. Especially after their stew is laced with magic mushrooms and they encounter the necromancer O'Neil (Smiley), who tricks them into searching the field for buried treasure. But they just find more mushrooms.

Yes, this is a head-trip of a movie, which resolutely rejects logic as it spirals through scenes with free-spirited anarchy. This is a point in English history when organised religion collided with superstition and paganism, so all of these men have a twisted spirituality as they confront the possibility that maybe God doesn't exist. Wheatley captures all of this with bristling black and white cinematography, a freak-out sound mix and trippy visuals that make us as confused as the characters themselves. Most striking are the moments when they freeze into into creepy tableaux poses.

The actors dive headlong into their roles, which are never remotely straightforward. Smiley is terrific as the Irishman who's apparently in control of the madness. And as his chief victim, Shearsmith is hugely engaging as a man struggling to maintain his superiority and independence even as he's subjected to indignities and unwanted revelations. But if he was a master instead of a servant, would it change the way he behaves?

Wheatley and Jump infuse this film with their typical dose of black comedy, including smart banter and sharp jabs ("It does not surprise me that the devil is Irish"), wildly noisy off-camera horror and a couple of folk-music interludes. Wheatley is a filmmaker who refreshingly refuses to follow any rules, which can be disorienting to audiences that cling to familiar structures. This ramshackle, sometimes ghastly romp is far more bewildering than anything he has done before. And it's eerily magical.

15 themes, language, violence
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Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang
dir Laurent Cantet
scr Robin Campillo, Laurent Cantet
prd Caroline Benjo, Julien Favre, Barbara Letellier, Carole Scotta, Simone Urdl, Jennifer Weiss
with Raven Adamson, Katie Coseni, Madeleine Bisson, Claire Mazerolle, Rachael Nyhuus, Paige Moyles, Lindsay Rolland-Mills, Alexandria Ferguson, Chelsee Livingston, Tamara Hope, Rick Roberts, Briony Glassco
foxfire girls release Can Sep.12 tff,
UK 9.Aug.13
12/Canada 2h23

Foxfire Joyce Carol Oates' novel is adapted into a sprawling, overlong drama by French filmmaker Cantet. It's a fascinating story packed with vivid characters, but the pacing is so meandering that the story never builds any momentum at all.

In 1955, 14-year-old Legs (Adamson) and her best pal Maddy (Coseni) form the secret society Foxfire with Rita, Goldie and Lana (Bisson, Mazerolle and Moyles). Determined to stick up for each other, their first action is to publicly humiliate a sexist teacher. And their actions grow more brazen as they attack Maddy's abusive uncle and challenge the school bullies. But they run afoul of the law, forcing them to regroup in a farmhouse out of town, where they struggle to make ends meet on their meagre pay. So they plan an audacious kidnapping.

Cantet is so skilled that he gives the fictional story the ring of truth, creating authentic characters and situations while exploring politics to gender equality. These girls are from broken homes, clinging together to overcome the obstacles in society. So we root for them to succeed, even when their tactics include assaulting predatory men. But when they prey on more innocent targets, it's impossible to see them as different from the opportunistic thugs they despise.

This wouldn't be a problem if we connected with the characters. Coseni has the tricky lead role, narrating the story in hindsight while playing the gang's most thoughtful member. Bisson is terrific as the feisty Rita. And Adamson has her moments as the idealistic Legs, although it's hard to see why everyone follows this rather slight drama queen into increasingly messy situations. It's a demanding role that has a touch of theatricality about it, and is perhaps the only false note in the film.

All of this realism creates a few potent emotional scenes. But over two and a half long hours, the film never gathers much steam. It presents each sequence expertly, holding our interest because of the big ideas and vivid interaction, but we just watch it without feeling emotionally invested. So by the time the story arrives at its soft-spoken final scenes, we just shrug and sigh. And nothing lingers at all.

15 themes, language, violence
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