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last update 2.Aug.14
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Hide Your Smiling Faces
dir-scr Daniel Patrick Carbone
prd Daniel Patrick Carbone, Jordan Bailey-Hoover, Matthew Petock, Zachary Shedd
with Ryan Jones, Nathan Varnson, Thomas Cruz, Colm O'Leary, Christina Starbuck, Chris Kies, Andrew Chamberlain, Clark Middleton, Ivan Tomic, Annaliese Jorgensen-Lockhart, Chris Auer, Courtney Hanks
varnson and jones
release US 25.Mar.14,
UK 1.Aug.14
13/US 1h21

BERLIN FILM FEST london film festival
Hide Your Smiling Faces A lush sense of the setting and a sharply introspective filmmaking style help this low-key drama grab the attention and hold on tight. It's a remarkably involving film for one that has little dialog and virtually no plot. But the characters are so vivid that they are impossible to forget.

It's summertime, and teen Eric (Varnson) and his little brother Tommy (Jones) don't have much to do but hang out in the forest, wrestling and swimming with their friends or playing on an abandoned railway viaduct. The adult world is still a mystery, but not for long. When Tommy's friend Ian (Tomic) is found dead at the bottom of the bridge, the community goes into shock. Confronting his mortality, Eric's best friend Tristan (Cruz) hints that he'd like to die, while Eric and Tommy begin a quiet feud with Ian's troubled dad (O'Leary).

The title refers to how we obscure our inappropriate responses to serious events, like stifling laughter at funerals or pretending like we never think about death. Without ever pushing the point, filmmaker Carbone is exploring that point in a young person's life when he or she first has to face this reality and all of its ramifications. So the film's depiction of these boys' fateful summer is often startlingly realistic, developing relationships with the smallest glance and offhanded touch.

Carbone and his cast build a lovely sense of physicality as the characters interact with each other and their environment. By never overstating anything, the scenes are warm, funny, scary and sometimes deeply troubling. The loose approach also allows sequences to drift and meander aimlessly, which adds to the realism but can also make watching the film somewhat frustrating since there's no real sense of pacing or momentum.

But then the plot isn't the most important thing here. As a collection of short glimpses and a few longer moments, this is an observational film capturing a pivotal period of time in these young boys' lives. In this sense, it's beautifully shot and edited against the usual grain, as filmmaker Carbone draws out earthy performances from young actors who force the audience to remember that moment when life seemed to stop being quite so carefree and everyday problems started to feel rather trivial in the grand scheme of things.

15 themes, language, violence
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dir-scr Hong Khaou
prd Dominic Buchanan
with Ben Whishaw, Cheng Pei-pei, Andrew Leung, Naomi Christie, Peter Bowles, Morven Christie, Peter Hopkins, John Matthews, Leila Wong, Shane Salter
cheng and whishaw
release US Jan.14 sff,
UK 8.Aug.14
14/UK 1h31

Lilting With the same delicate approach to character interaction as he showed in his shorts Summer and Spring, British filmmaker Khaou creates a drama that skims right along that line between brittle denial and uncontrollable emotional catharsis. It's an astonishing drama that carries us deep into the situation, forcing us to think both about the details and the much bigger picture.

After the sudden death of her son Kai (Leung), Junn (Cheng) feels trapped in her nursing home, having never learned English during all her years living near him in London. Then Kai's still-grieving boyfriend Richard (Whishaw) reaches out to her, hiring an interpreter (Naomi Christie) to help her communicate both with him and with Alan, (Bowles), a man Junn's been flirting with in the home. But Kai had never come out to his mother, and as he gets to know Junn, Richard tries to respect Kai's secret as long as he can.

This is a film about two people struggling to find a way to connect, all while skirting around the truth between them. Both Whishaw and Cheng deliver staggeringly revelatory performances that let us see their thoughts and feelings in every scene, even though they're incapable of expressing them. The emotions sit right on the edge of each scene, strongly felt but never remotely sentimentalised. And the interaction between these strangers reflects the awkward bond that draws them together.

Meanwhile, Khaou frequently stirs in seamlessly lyrical flashbacks that reveal other sides of the characters, including their interaction with Kai. These scenes add a remarkably realistic physicality to the relationships while adding a effortless lightness to the entire film. It may be about coping with grief, but the film is never maudlin. There are also some more comical scenes involving Junn's meetings with Alan.

With award-winning photography by Urszula Pontikos and fluid editing by Mark Towns, this is a strikingly beautiful film that gently carries us through the story using earthy humour and raw emotions that refreshingly never get mawkish. It remains resonant and sharp from start to finish, tapping into something deep inside that makes us see our relationships from a slightly new perspective. In other words, this is a stunning debut for a filmmaker who clearly has a lot more to say.

15 themes, language
20.Mar.14 flare
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Love or Whatever
dir Rosser Goodman
scr Dennis Bush, Cait Brennan
prd Rosser Goodman, Gio Messale, Camillia Sanes Monet
with Tyler Poelle, Jennifer Elise Cox, Joel Rush, David Page, Jenica Bergere, Fay DeWitt, Kate Flannery, Julie Goldman, Justin Ross, Michael Carbonaro, Edmund Entin, Gary Entin
rush and poelle release UK 28.Jul.14
12/US 1h24
Love or Whatever Rather cheesy plotting undermines the nicely off-handed tone of this gay romantic-comedy. It still feels fresh, simply because the protagonist is so oddly unsympathetic, but the screenwriters seem unwilling to break the formula, forcing everything into predictable directions.

Just about 30, Corey (Poelle) feels like his life is perfect. He loves his job as a therapist and is about to pop the question to his hunky personal-trainer boyfriend Jon (Page). But Jon freaks out and launches into a relationship with a woman (Bergere), leaving Corey stunned that his carefully planned future is collapsing around him. He turns to his lively lesbian sister Kelsey (Cox) for help, and throws himself into his work, but that brings other complications. Then he discovers that the sexy pizza man Pete (Rush) is interested in him.

Relaxed performances make the dialog feel off-the-cuff, even though it's often over-written. Some jokes sneak up on us, but most of what's said is so generic that we can recite lines before the actors do. And the plot boils over into several farcical collisions that don't feel remotely realistic. At one point, each character in the story just happens to wander into the same room at the same time for the big climactic moment, which feels ludicrously silly.

At the centre, Poelle is solid as the obsessive, dorky Corey. A hint of intelligence offers a clue as to why these gorgeous men fall for him, but it's implausible that he's unable to see himself with even a hint of honesty. And Cox's Kelsey isn't much better, running a business without understanding basic accounting (oddly, Corey turns out to be a whizz at it). Rush does a nice job as a genuine guy trapped in a male stripper's body. And Page has the most complex role as a guy who hasn't a clue who he is.

This is one of those movies in which people don't seem to have friends outside the main cast. So in a city as vast as Los Angeles, they constantly run into each other accidentally, discover unexpected connections and feel trapped simply because they don't bother to look outside their tiny circle. Yet even if it doesn't make any sense, the film is awash in generous charm that keeps us smiling and rooting for Corey to sort out his mess.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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Tiger Orange
dir Wade Gasque
scr Wade Gasque, Mark Strano
prd Wade Gasque, Mark Strano, Paul Della Pelle
with Mark Strano, Frankie Valenti, Gregory Marcel, Vincent Duvall, Ty Parker, Adrian Delcan, Tara Samuel, Shaun Cozzens, David F Park, Loanne Bishop, Tara Hunnewell, Steve Humphreys
valenti and strano release US 25.Jul.14
14/US 1h15
Tiger Orange An unusually strong script confronts some darkly resonant issues in a simple story about two brothers working out who they are both together and as individuals. The low budget may make it look simplistic, but the characters have an unusual complexity, and the themes are provocative and important.

In rural California, Chet (Strano) takes on the family business after his father's death. Then his lonely-busy life is disrupted by younger brother Todd (Valenti), back from a wild life of sex and drugs in Los Angeles. Now homeless, Todd joins Chet in the family home, sparking conflict on all sides, partly because both brothers are gay, and their disparate lives are a result of the different ways they faced this fact. Indeed, Chet has chosen to be responsible but secretly wishes he had sowed some wild oats himself.

The story is intercut with childhood flashbacks showing compliant Chet and the rebellious Todd (Parker and Delcan) dealing with their demanding father (Duvall). Years later, Chet has suppressed his true self. He's still haunted by his father, trying to live up to expectations at the expense of personal happiness. No wonder Todd's open-handed approach to life drives him around the bend, stirring the homophobia sitting right under the surface of this small community.

Filmmaker Gasque uses warm cinematography to get under the skin of the expressive actors. So even if the editing sometimes feels choppy, the emotions resonate strongly. The nicely shot flashbacks add some nostalgia, but are essentially unnecessary, since the actors convey their thoughts without a need for explanation. Strano and Valenti are a fascinating double-act, bringing a strong sense of realism to both humorous and darkly intense moments. And side characters have their own issues, adding weight to the whole film.

The movie is an involving exploration of the tension between giving in to the status quo and standing up to be yourself. So even if Chet seems too uptight and insecure, it's moving to see the way he sabotages his life simply because he can't let himself live it. Meanwhile, Todd also has to discover some self-worth after years of indulgence. These themes are explored with remarkably honesty, echoed by the title, which refers to a colour that's the "loudest thing on the block". Perhaps it's not so bad to stand out from the crowd.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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