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Attack of the Southern Fried Zombies
2.5/5  
dir Mark Newton
scr Christian Hokenson
prd Per Ericson, Juri Koll, Mark Newton, Jason Rochelle, Laura Warner
with Timothy Haug, Wyntergrace Williams, Escalante Lundy, Susan McPhail, Megan Few, Kaitlin Mesh, Moses J Moseley, Clay Acker, Johnny McPhail, Michael Joiner, Bruce Penton, Kiyomi Fukazawa
haug and lundy release US 23.Mar.18
18/US 1h23
Attack of the Southern Fried Zombies With a gonzo hillbilly vibe, this zombie spoof playfully nods at a wide range of movies, from Alfred Hitchcock to Tom Cruise. Gleefully grotesque, the film is shot in an enjoyably amateurish, homemade sort of way, including a lot of amusingly cheap digital effects. And the screenplay is so packed with nutty details that it can't help but keep the audience entertained.

To stop the spread of kudzu, GloboBioTech has developed the Quadoxin, and is now spraying it on fields in Mississippi. And nearby townsfolk are unaware that a mutating monster (Penton) is heading their way. Cropduster Lonnie (Haug) is pining after the sexy Kayla (Williams), who's dating hotshot Trent (Acker). When things start to get crazy, they team up with Kayla's brother Robbie (Moseley) and couple Jen and Trish (Few and Mesh). And as the carnage spreads to the town fair, people start to suspect there's something wrong with Ben Johnson's (Johnny McPhail) meat pies.

The irony is that the locals kind of like kudzu, and the goats love it. The script is a hilarious mash-up of cheesy movie tropes, with soapy subplots that are interrupted by the escalating, super-grisly mayhem. Tyre-irons are the weapon of choice here, which is a refreshing change from the usual heavy artillery, although that comes soon enough, annoyingly. And as the cast quickly depletes to a plucky handful of survivors, it's not easy to work out who will make it to the closing credits.

There isn't much the actors can do with characters who are this ridiculous, but the performances are earnest and likeable. And even when the actors go broad, they're better than anyone in Sharknado, which this film most closely resembles. Anyone can turn into a kudzu-sprouting zombie at any point, so there's no one to properly care about, but the mini-dramas are fun. As the guitar-wielding mayor, Joiner has perhaps the strongest character, but others have moments along the way.

As it goes along, the movie kind of dissolves into a barrage of gunfire and blood-splattering body parts. It's all so exaggerated, and the characters so thin, that it's never remotely suspenseful. But there are some witty gags peppered throughout every sequence, and director Newton makes nice use of the lush, overgrown locations in the bright sunshine. If he had made more of the corporate greed angle, or the local racial/political situation, it might have been a cult classic.

15 themes, language, violence
18.Mar.18
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Baja
2/5  
dir-scr Tony Vidal
prd R Ellis Frazier, Justin Nesbitt, Tony Vidal, Gregory Wilker
with Jake Thomas, Chris Brochu, Arienne Mandi, Michelle DeShon, Zoe Corraface, Andres Londono, Jason Spisak, Jose Zuniga, Mark Margolis, Cynthia Stevenson, Kurt Fuller, Jose Sefami
Thomas, Mandi, Brochu, DeShon release US 13.Apr.18
18/US 1h46
Baja Cheesy from the start, this youthful adventure comedy feels oddly toothless, shying away from anything remotely edgy while relying on fairly tired stereotypes. The filmmaking is simplistic and the storytelling is often flat-out stupid, so it's never particularly involving. But the breezy, smiley tone makes it easy to watch, right to the preposterous finale.

Pushed around by everyone, Bryan (Thomas) ends up driving his parents' enormous RV to Mexico for them. His trust-funded best friend Todd (Brochu) is trying to convince him to relax a bit when they run into film student Jessica (DeShon) and Lisa (Mandi), who is frustrated by her limited life. So it suddenly seems like a great idea to travel to Baja together. But of course nothing goes as planned, as they pick up a passenger and find themselves chased by drug dealers. So they take refuge on a quirky island off the coast.

Each of the four early 20-something characters has his or her own predictable plotline, as Bryan meets a girl (Corraface) who joins them on the road, Todd plots a business deal with a local mobster (Londono), Jessica works on a student film and Lisa looks up her father (Zuniga), who will no doubt know why she looks so much like a late popstar. The romantic entanglements are obvious, as are the twists and gently amusing antics. But nothing can distract from the gaping plot-holes.

The characters are relatively grounded, although there's nothing much to them. Since they're engaging, it's not too taxing to follow them on this tepid journey. Being relentlessly silly, the actors are never stretched comically or dramatically. In the lead role, Thomas has the most thanklessly corny scenes, and just about emerges with his dignity. At least he strikes some nice chemistry with Corraface. Meanwhile, Mandi has the earthiest character (even in the film's most ridiculous moment), and her random scenes with Londono are the best in the film.

At least it looks nice, with much of the scenic coastal footage looking like it came from the Mexican tourist board. With a bit more spark, and perhaps some realistic dialog, the film would have been able to overcome its idiotic plot holes (why is there a car ferry to an island that has no roads, and how does that tiny island contain an endless expanse of desert?). Instead, virtually every scene contains something that generates an eye-roll. And the ending is so obvious that it elicits groans rather than sighs.

PG themes, language, violence
4.Apr.18

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Coffee House Chronicles: The Movie
3.5/5  
dir-scr Stewart Wade
with Luis Selgas, Darryl Stephens, Nicholas Downs, Max Emerson, Dalila Ali Rajah, Alex Genther, Cameron Ferguson, Tommy Dickie, Chris Salvatore, Drew Droege, Hunter Doohan, David Pevsner, John Suazo, Richard Bojorquez, Mark Cirillo, Damian Pelliccione, Mykee Steen, Cesar Cipriano, Trace Lysette, Ian Harvie, Eric B Anthony, Eric Colton, Najarra Townsend, Brandi Nicole Feemster
selgas and emerson release US 6.Nov.17,
UK 9.Apr.18
17US 1h15
Coffee House Chronicles A web series assembled into a short feature, this comedy is a series of dates and awkward encounters centred around apps and coffee bars. It's cheesy and fragmented, with broad performances, and the points it is making feel preachy and rather simplistic. But the multi-strand approach offers some fun along the way, as well as some sharp observations on the challenges of developing and maintaining relationships.

In West Hollywood, Eli (Selgas) consults his straight friends (Rajah and Genther) when a date planned on an app goes horribly wrong. Darin (Steen) proposes a fling with a "Latino" hunk (Cipriano). A gay guy (Ferguson) and his straight pal (Dickie) make a daring wager. Two men who are having an affair (Anthony and Colton) are startled when their wives (Townsend and Feemster) plan a lunch together. An older guy (Pevsner) hires an escort (Suazo) as an anniversary gift for his husband (Bojorquez). And so on.

There are more than 30 characters swirling around in these contained little comedy-drama sketches. And some have more oomph than others. A couple that notes they're pushing 40 is clearly closer to 50, but maybe that's the joke. Zombie makeup adds a hilarious touch to a sparky conversation between two struggling gay actors (Cirillo and Pelliccione). And there's a surprisingly nice, only slightly condescending conversation between two mismatched guys (Downs and Doohan) who feel like they're the wrong ages.

Even with the heightened comical performances, the actors find elements of authenticity here and there. In the most memorable role, which is revisited throughout the feature, Selgas has a nice variety of scenes to play, including interactions with his friends and a too-hot date (Emerson) who plans his next hook-up while in bed with Eli. The most engaging actors are Stephens and Downs,who each have an offbeat story strand.

There are issues raised along the way. One remarkable conversation explores trans identity between two people (Lysette and Harvie) with disclosure issues. A telling conversation between a hot guy (Stephens) and his best friend (Droege) touches on the difference between sex and love, while the ghost of his ex (Salvatore) goads him. And an amusingly strained chat includes monogamy and gay-for-pay pornstars. Some conversations are obvious and a little preachy, but the points made are strong, and there's a nice sense of connection between such a wide variety of people.

15 themes, language, sexuality, violence
2.Apr.18
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Gholam
3/5  
dir Mitra Tabrizian
prd Zadoc Nava
scr Mitra Tabrizian, Cyrus Massoudi
with Shahab Hosseini, Nasser Memarzia, Russell Parsi, Armin Karima, Corinne Skinner-Carter, Behrouz Behnejad, Amerjit Deu, Tracie Bennett, Lee Long, Roxy Faridany, Samuel Griffiths, Felix Auer
Hosseini
release US May.17 siff,
UK 23.Mar.18
17/UK 1h44

east end film festival
gholam This British drama by first-time feature filmmaker Mitra Tabrizian has a wonderfully atmospheric tone to it that draws the audience into an intriguing twist on the usual dark corners of London. Anchored by a riveting performance from Shahab Hosseini (A Separation), the film is a bit slow and meandering, and also rather enigmatic when it comes to plot details. But it's still fascinating.

Iranian migrant Gholam (Hosseini) works as a mechanic by day and cab driver by night. But his mother keeps calling, urging him to spend time with his shady uncle (Parsi). Or better yet, give up on Britain and come home. Then a stranger recognises him from his teen years as a soldier, and Gholam realises that he hasn't been able to escape his violent past after all. A nice guy, he takes an interest in a fragile elderly woman (Skinner-Carter). But a gangster is trying to recruit him to a life of crime.

Tabrizian has a gifted, artful eye, infusing both the visceral camerawork and the subdued performances with plenty of emotion. The film looks gorgeous, and the hypnotic approach to the narrative is darkly moving. Sometimes, the plot seems to spin in circles or stall completely, mainly because much of what happens takes place out of sight. So we have to figure out many of the details through offhanded comments. And we quickly realise that we will never fully understand who Gholam is.

Hosseini is magnetic in the role, as his alert eyes catch everything around him. His reactions are underplayed but unmissable: this is a man trying to live a quiet life unnoticed by anyone, and he certainly doesn't want to face up to what he did in his youth. He also has no interest in diving into the criminal underworld that won't leave him alone. None of the other roles are defined much at all: each of these is someone Gholam is trying to keep at arm's length.

Telling this story from such a contained perspective can be a little frustrating for a viewer who really wants to know more about this fascinating man and the people around him. By leaving things enigmatic, some of the slower scenes are hard to concentrate on, and the narrative often feels like it comes to a complete stop before slowly beginning to roll again. It's a clever approach to filmmaking that adds plenty of intrigue, and it marks Tabrizian as a writer-director to watch.

15 themes, language, violence
25.Jan.18

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