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last update 8.Feb.15
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Boy Meets Girl
dir-scr Eric Schaeffer
prd Eric Schaeffer, Edward Aitken, Elisa Pugliese
with Michelle Hendley, Michael Welch, Alexandra Turshen, Michael Galante, Joseph Ricci, Randall Newsome, Christopher McHale, Elizabeth Ward Land, Rachel Racco, Robert Racco, Ethan Major, Ethan Rosero
welch and hendley release US 6.Feb.15
14/US 1h39
Boy Meets Girl A surprisingly pointed, moving twist on the rom-com, this charming and engaging drama is packed with complex, layered characters who are beautifully played by the unknown cast. The hitch is that the story is about a transgendered girl in a small town. And while it's amusing and likeable, the film also carries a powerful kick that makes it seriously important.

In small-town Kentucky, Ricky (Hendley) is a lively young woman looking for a man she can trust. And who accepts her as a pre-op male-to-female. Her best pal is Robby (Welch), a notorious womaniser who has stuck with Ricky since she was a little boy. Ricky's little brother (Ricci) is helping her run a successful fashion vlog, and she dreams of going to art college. Then she meets Francesca (Turshen) and has a spark of unexpected attraction, complicated when Francesca's bigoted fiance (Galante) returns from military service in Afghanistan.

The complexity in the plot is surprising and provocative, asking questions about sexuality and attraction that don't require firm answers. And that's the entire point. Each person in this story is just trying to live the best way they know how to live, struggling to understand each other while not quite sure about themselves. Writer-director Schaeffer keeps the dialog snarky and realistic, while balancing the sunny setting with some very dark emotional twists and turns.

The entire cast is earthy and natural, finding strong comedic energy even in the more serious moments. They also beautifully play the subtext that emerges as connections are revealed and relationships defined along the way. Hendley and Welch give their characters' deep friendship a real kick of honesty that's never simplistic, and Turshen adds an intriguingly bubbly dynamic. All of these people are straining against expectations in a community in which everyone knows rather too much about each other.

So as the story develops, the characters get more challenging and sympathetic. We root for all of them to sort out their issues. There isn't a villain here, just people who haven't made peace with themselves yet. And the script never shies away from the more awkward complications, including some barbed plot points. And in the end, aside from its message of acceptance, the film's most resonant reminder is that we make our lives difficult by taking all of the weight on our own shoulders and failing to rely on the people who love us.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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dir-scr James Ward Byrkit
prd Lene Bausager
with Emily Foxler, Maury Sterling, Nicholas Brendon, Lorene Scafaria, Elizabeth Gracen, Hugo Armstrong, Alex Manugian, Lauren Maher
Coherence release US 20.Jun.14,
UK 13.Feb.15
13/US 1h29
Coherence Astute writing, directing and acting make the most of this low-fi supernatural thriller, keeping the audience riveted through freaky anomalies complicated by relationship issues. As it escalates, the film begins to feel overly knotted and a bit nutty, but the histrionics are a lot of fun, and the premise has a sharp point.

On the night when a comet is passing overhead, eight old friends gather for dinner. They're actors and dancers, bright sparks who have all kinds of relational carnage in their past. When the comet disrupts the power, internet and mobile phone networks, they think it's amusing. Then they discover that the house across the street seems to be a copy of theirs, and things get even stranger as they begin to interact with the people there. Maybe the comet has caused a rift in space-time. Or maybe Beth (Gracen) laced their dinner with ketamine.

This plays out roughly in real time, which makes the evening feel eerily claustrophobic. Every development sends the characters into a spiral of theories and conjecture, but everything only gets more scrambled. Amid this, they're shooting all manner of glances at each other. For example, Amir (Manugian) took his girlfriend Laurie (Maher) from Kevin (Sterling). And the cast packs this messy interaction with enjoyable subtext, augmented by the easy conversational patterns of people who have known each other for years.

Writer-director Ward uses natural lighting and clever editing to make the most of these offhanded performances, so everything feels natural - relationships, tensions, paranoia, desperate speculation. This also keeps us from worrying about the undefined scientific wackiness. So comments about simultaneous realities that exist decoherent from each other actually stir the interpersonal pot. And we begin to root for the central character Em (Foxler) to find the happiest version of her life, whatever it costs.

The film is also very witty, with knowing references and hilarious theories (someone thinks it's like the movie Sliding Doors). As everything becomes increasingly convoluted, the interpersonal connections are actually sharpened. And then there are the political undercurrents. Recovered alcoholic Mike (Brendon) worries that his other self might be drunk and dangerous, so plots a pre-emptive strike. Em believes that talking to her other self will lead to a higher consciousness. But of course, each person's distinct reaction boils down to fear. And in the end, the central question is whether or not who we are now is the same person as the one who made those mistakes in the past.

15 themes, language, violence
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Snow in Paradise
dir Andrew Hulme
prd Christine Alderson
scr Andrew Hulme, Martin Askew
with Frederick Schmidt, Martin Askew, David Spinx, Aymen Hamdouchi, Claire-Louise Cordwell, Ashley Chin, Joel Beckett, Clive Brunt, John Dagleish, Ann Theato, Daniel Godward, Ribbon Ross
schmidt and hamdouchi release UK 13.Feb.15
14/UK 1h48

london film fest
Snow in Paradise Sharply put together, this film is a strong calling card for editor-turned-director Hulme, but the script simply isn't up to the challenge. Neglecting to create likeable characters, it falls back on tired genre banalities just when things are getting interesting.

In Hoxton, East London, Dave (Schmidt) talks his friend Tariq (Hamdouchi) into accompanying him on a delivery job for his Uncle Jimmy (Askew), a drug kingpin. Thinking no one will notice, Dave steals a brick of cocaine, setting into motion a series of grisly events that stir up the feud between Jimmy and rival Micky (Spinx), the best pal of Dave's late dad, a respected crime boss. Meanwhile, Dave's trashy girlfriend Theresa (Cordwell) wants to run away. But first, Dave has to find Tariq, and his search leads him to the local mosque.

The film is beautifully shot, capturing the community in slice-of-life scenes that combine cheeky banter and moody emotions. No one trusts anyone around here, and rightly so, especially in an atmosphere rampant with racism and dismissive bigotry. So fistfights break out at the flick of an eyebrow, as do lots of growly verbal showdowns. In other words, the film quickly sinks into the usual swamp of East End crime cliches. And by having such an ignorant guy at the centre, there's no one to root for.

No, Dave's not the sharpest tool in the shed, but at least Schmidt plays him as a charismatic guy who knows he's sexy. Although this smugness makes his innate ignorance that much more annoying. It's not that he's unrealistic, but he's difficult to identify with as he inevitably sinks into the hole he's digging. Dave's sudden interest in Islam is never developed beyond his desire for peace and a clearer set of rules. Which is the same reason he's attracted to Micky's suburban "paradise". And the suggestion that he's pining for Tariq like a lover is far too ambitious for such a simple-minded character (and movie).

Indeed, there's very little boldness in this script, which plots a safe path through its narrative while never exploring the bigger picture. Essentially, this is little more than another cautionary tale about a young guy who loses himself in crime and drugs. And without saying something original, it just feels indulgent. There's a lot of talent both on-screen and behind the cameras, so let's hope their next projects are more tightly focussed than this.

18 themes, language, violence, drugs, sexuality
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Two Night Stand
dir Max Nichols
scr Mark Hammer
prd Ruben Fleischer, Beau Flynn, Sam Englebardt, William D Johnson
with Analeigh Tipton, Miles Teller, Jessica Szohr, Scott Mescudi, Michael Showalter, Samuel Ray Gates, Chris Conroy, Josh Salatin, Leven Rambin, Brian Petsos, Kellyn Lindsay, Berto Colon
tipton and teller release US 26.Sep.14,
UK 13.Feb.15
14/US 1h26
Two Night Stand Even though the script is simplistic and the characters rather obvious, this film is charming enough to win over the audience. Thanks for this is mainly due to the skill of actors Teller and Tipton, who manage to find strong comical chemistry that makes them fun to watch even when their characters aren't particularly likeable.

After a run-in with her ex (Salatin), Megan (Tipton) knows that she needs to get back on the dating scene, and is urged to do so by her loved-up flatmates Faiza and Cedric (Szohr and Mescudi). So she goes online and heads to Brooklyn to meet Alec (Teller) for a one-night stand. After a nice night, she becomes super-defensive and rushes off in the morning, but can't get out of the building because of a freak ice storm. Trapped in the flat for two days, Megan and Alec decide be brutally honest with each other.

The film's central gimmick feels naive and moralistic: these two must get to know each other after sleeping together. Fortunately, the script and performances are realistic and often very funny. And Tipton and Teller are adept at playing against each other, interactiing with prickly wit and a growing surge of chemistry. No, there's never any doubt about where this is heading, but it's enjoyable to watch them try to communicate openly about things people are usually afraid to discuss.

There are also some superbly offhanded observations, such as how awkward online dating can be even when "the bar is set so very low". On the other hand, the script isn't kind to Megan, drawing her as a harsh shrew who does a series of rashly idiotic things. She only relaxes when Alec produces some pot. But thanks to the snappy dialog, Tipton and Teller still manage to make these idiots appealing, perhaps because they're both willing to look so stupid.

The film is infused with that odd American contradiction: an obsession with sex while being frightened and prudish about it at the same time. This makes the whole movie feel childish, as do the standard male-female issues. And some of the music and camerawork are eerily misogynistic, drifting dangerously close to soft-porn. If only director Nichols had concentrated on his more complex issues, like the perils of being ambitious and how difficult it is to be happy in the rat race.

15 themes, language, sexuality, drugs
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