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last update 4.Dec.16
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The Falls II: Testament of Love
dir-scr-prd Jon Garcia
with Nick Ferrucci, Benjamin Farmer, Hannah Barefoot, Thomas Stroppel, Bruce Jennings, Mercedes Rose, Harold Phillips, Audrey Walker, Andrew Bray, Stephanie Leppert, Trish Egan, Keith Swallow
farmer and ferrucci release US 11.Dec.13
13/US 2h03

See also:
The Falls (2012) The Falls III (2016)
The Falls II With big themes and complex characters, this sequel carries on the thoughtful, provocative story about the clash between religion and sexuality. Relatively simple production values and heightened drama are easily overcome by compelling actors who bring edgy passion and honesty to each scene. Filmmaker Jon Garcia has such a sensitive approach that it cuts right through every surface.

It's been five years since RJ and Chris (Ferrucci and Farmer) separated when their relationship was discovered. And they drifted apart. Haunted by his Mormon faith, RJ and his boyfriend Paul (Stroppel) live in Seattle. Chris is back in Salt Lake, increasingly devoted to the Mormon church, marrying Emily (Barefoot) and having a child. Their first reunion is at their old friend Rodney's funeral, and both are shaken, although Chris hides it well. But going back to his life isn't easy, so RJ dumps Paul and pays a surprise visit to Chris.

Where this goes is wrenching, as RJ and Chris struggle to do the right thing. The unspoken question is why God would create gay people if their lives were going to be this difficult. The film is packed with superb scenes that touch on these issues with humour, compassion and also heartless cruelty. As the film continues, conversations between these men and their friends and family get more truthful, hidden feelings are revealed and everything is called into question. As RJ says, "We haven't done anything wrong, we're just trapped in a culture that hates us."

Ferrucci gives RJ a superbly haunted sensibility: he can't get Chris out of his mind. Meanwhile Farmer's Chris is trapped between his very real instincts and his love for Emily and their daughter. Their reconnection is difficult but real, cutting through expectations. And Emily's journey is intense as well. Side characters are naturally less detailed, mainly only required to watch and react, often in confusion. But all of them feel realistic, which makes family scenes particularly riveting, highlighting each selfish, fearful reaction.

Garcia's writing and directing continually catch the audience off guard, refusing to stereotype either Mormons or gay men. The film is a little over-serious, which sometimes makes it feel somewhat melodramatic. It also feels long. But the driving theme is resonant, noting that images of how life should be are artificial, but accepting things as they come isn't always easy. And anyone who has ever tried to live a lie will instantly understand every emotion rumbling through this powerful, beautiful film.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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Fire Song
dir-scr Adam Garnet Jones
prd Laura J Milliken, PJ Thornton
with Andrew Martin, Jennifer Podemski, Harley Legarde-Beacham, Mary Galloway, Brendt Thomas Diabo, Ma-Nee Chacaby, Alexis LeGarde, Krsyten Flett, Misty Dore, Shirley McLean, Tom Lylas Polson Jr, Morteesha Chickekoo-Bannon
hughes and greenwell release Can Sep.15 tff,
US/UK 8.Nov.16
15/Canada 1h36

Fire Song A sensitive story from an indigenous community in rural Canada, this film touches on huge themes like sexuality and suicide. It's a delicate interweaving of old traditions (including the native concept of two-spirited people) and the darker sides of modern society. And while the plot itself seems a little pushy, the film is involving and moving.

In northern Ontario, Anishnabe teen Shane (Martin) is worried that his mother (Podemski) is being consumed by grief after the suicide of his sister Destiny (Chickekoo-Bannon). Shane's girlfriend Tara (Galloway) tries to comfort him, but he finds more solace with his secret boyfriend, medicine man David (Legarde-Beacham). Hanging out with bigoted slacker Kyle (Diabo) and his drunken young crew certainly doesn't help. Shane just wants to get through the summer before heading off to university in Toronto. But first he'll need to settle things with Tara and David, and make some extra cash.

Writer-director Jones tells this story quietly, keeping scenes introspective and personal, which adds weight to Shane's and Tara's perspectives on the layers of interaction around them, especially the clash between the drunken youth culture and the natural local traditions. Everything is played with remarkable subtlety, including the haunting presence of Destiny as Shane cares for his mother. Even the endemic homophobia is realistic rather than over-dramatic, as is the boys' yearning hope for a place where they can live honestly.

Still, the various potential clashes add tension in the hint that tragedy is around the corner. So performances have an earthy and raw undercurrent. Martin and Legarde-Beacham are strong as two guys dealing with their personal issues in very different ways, from Shane's attempt to maintain a girlfriend to David's desire to live honestly even if it means being marginalised. Both are caught between the expectations of their culture and their deeper feelings for each other. Galloway's Tara brings a powerful dynamic to the situation, while Podemski adds some tough-skinned emotion.

There are other nice touches as Shane reluctantly works through his feelings amid the pressures from his friends and family. Tinged with sadness, the film has an emotional edge that constantly threatens to erupt into melodrama (there's a drug dealer with a gun!). But the hard truths about this community resonate strongly: the inability to accept people outside the mainstream, the dead-end lifestyle that causes people to give up or get involved in dodgy activities. But in this seemingly dead-end place, the film offers hope.

15 themes, language, violence
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I Am Not a Serial Killer
dir Billy O'Brien
scr Billy O'Brien, Christopher Hyde
prd James Harris, Mark Lane, Nick Ryan
with Max Records, Laura Fraser, Christopher Lloyd, Christina Baldwin, Karl Geary, Dee Noah, Raymond Brandstrom, Lucy Lawton, Anna Sundberg, Michael Paul Levin, Vincent Risso, James Gaulke
lloyd and records release US 26.Aug.16,
UK 9.Dec.16
16/Ireland 1h44

London film fest
I Am Not a Serial Killer Irish filmmaker Billy O'Brien brings a snappy sensibility to this drama set in Middle America, never allowing the larger issues to become bigger than they need to be. It centres on a sociopathic teen trying to live a "normal" life, but there's also a subtle supernatural plot element that adds a whiff of horror. And while the pacing is too artful for the mainstream, the film is fresh and original enough to hold the interest.

At 16, John (Records) works with a therapist (Geary) to control his sociopathy. But becomes difficult when an actual serial killer starts preying on his small town. Obsessed with the grisly details, John shadows the town undertakers, who happen to be his mother and aunt (Fraser and Baldwin). Alert and observant, the only person John has anything in common with is his bizarre 70-year-old neighbour Crowley (Lloyd), who lives quietly with his wife Kay (Noah) but is sneaking out at night, suspiciously right around the time each murder is committed. But then, so is John.

Records is terrific as this thoughtful teen, cynically rising above the merciless bullying he receives at school. He knows he has the key predictors to become a serial killer and is determined to fight the urge to become one. The characters around him are deliberately more sketchy, simply because that's how John sees them, but each actor adds subtext to bring them to life, most notably Fraser as his caring but distracted mother and Brandstrom as his clumsy best pal.

Intriguingly, the film blends the characters Michael C Hall played in Six Feet Under and Dexter using morbid humour to knowingly explore psychological profiling. O'Brien lets the story unfold at a gentle pace as winter sets in around the characters, watching each scene with the same attention to detail that John has. So when it begins to become clear who the killer might be, we are thrown in to the conundrum right alongside the characters. And then there's another twist.

The drym blackly comical approach creates wonderfully awkward moments (the Christmas dinner is amazing), while letting things turn genuinely freaky. The slow pace sometimes becomes murky and confusing, but the knotted plotting and morality add a real kick. And along with a surprisingly sweet romantic sideroad, the climax also finds a genuinely nasty use for embalming fluid, throwing the movie into a different genre altogether and making it unforgettable.

15 themes, language, grisliness
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Shared Rooms
dir-scr Rob Williams
prd Rodney Johnson, Rob Williams
with Christopher Grant Pearson, Alec Manley Wilson, Ryan Weldon, Alexander Neil Miller, Justin Xavier Smith, Robert Werner, Daniel Lipshutz, David Vaughn, Eric Allen Smith, Christopher Patrino, Enzo Nova
Smith and Miller release US 15.Nov.16,
UK Dec.16
16/US 1h15
Shared Rooms With a collection of gay-themed plotlines, this holiday comedy is broad and silly, and only occasionally funny. With an amateurish tone, the writing and editing push the comedy rather than letting it flow naturally. But there ares some charming moments, and underlying honesty to the connections between the characters makes the film worth a look.

On Christmas Day, Laslo and Cal (Pearson and Wilson) are wondering if maybe it's time to adopt a child, just as Cal's 17-year-old nephew Zeke (Weldon) turns up after his parents threw him out for being gay. Julian (Lipshutz) is lusting after a bed-and-breakfast guest Frank (Vaughn) when his travelling flatmate Dylan (Werner) arrives, wondering why someone's in his room. This forces Julian and Dylan to awkwardly share a bed. And using a phone app, Sid (Smith) meets Gray (Miller) for a hook-up that leads to an extended conversation as they lounge around the house naked.

All three strands build to Laslo and Cal's New Year's Eve party, playing with the premise that during the holidays our friends become our families, and the tricky thing about these families is that they're susceptible to change. This helps writer director Williams infuse strong ideas throughout each of the three plot threads, including the desire to be a parent, the harsh realities of homophobia, suppressed romantic feelings, unexpected connections and hypocritical attitudes towards sex.

There's a very nice sense of body consciousness among the actors, each of whom are a bit too fit, but at least they're relaxed in their skin. Still, these good-looking actors overplay their roles, struggling to make the dialog sound natural. But they're likeable and watchable, and the themes they're exploring are packed with meaning that resonates at various levels. As it continues, connections emerge between the strands. Dylan and Gray are exes; Cal and Julian are colleagues; Cal is Sid's AA sponsor; and there's an unexpected link between Frank and Gray.

The film has a rather low-fi aesthetic, with very basic sets and lighting. There isn't a subtle moment in the film, as each message is loudly announced, usually with comical intent. Thankfully, the themes are strong enough to give depth even to the more clumsily staged scenes. And there are personal moments that add a touch of strong emotion. Although in the end, the movie becomes nothing more than a charming little fable that spreads some queer holiday cheer.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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