Interior. Leather Bar.
dir James Franco, Travis Mathews; with Val Lauren, James Franco 13/US ****
A fascinating exploration of artistic expression on a range of levels, this documentary is just as provocative for its cast as it is for the viewer. Although it's easy to miss the point of it all if you're not paying attention. Franco and Matthews set out to recreate the 40 minutes censored from William Friedkin's shocking 1980 thriller Cruising, in which detective Al Pacino goes undercover in New York's gay fetish scene. Franco's long-time friend Lauren plays Pacino here, and his reaction is the fascinating as he grapples with the ramifications of appearing in a project that can be defined as almost-porn. He spends a lot of time on the phone to his agent and girlfriend, and discusses it at length with Franco and his fellow actors. This behind-the-scenes footage is far more informative than the slickly produced scene fragments they come up with. But the film's real value is in how it explores the line between movie-sex and porn, and between prejudice and diversity.
dir Negar Azarbayjani; with Shayesteh Irani, Ghazal Shakeri 11/Irn *****
There's real tension in this steely, low-key Iranian drama, which outlines the moving story of two women who are struggling against the demands of their culture. Hinging on their unusual friendship, this sharply well-observed film gets deep under the skin as it traces a very difficult story to an overwhelming conclusion. The women are Rana (Shakeri), whose husband is in prison as she illicitly drives a taxi to make ends meet, and Edi (Irani), who wants to return to Germany for a sex change operation before her father marries her off. Their meeting is anything but smooth, as Rana certainly has no sympathy for Edi's situation. But both of them are transgressive in their own way, and as they begin to see things through each others' eyes, a surprising friendship develops. Officially sanctioned by the powers that be (trans-gender operations are legal in Iran), the film is impeccably written, directed and acted to draw us into a complex story with a serious punch of emotional resonance.
Jack & Diane
dir Bradley Rust Gray; with Juno Temple, Riley Keough 12/US **
Even though it's infused with moody atmosphere that captures the confusion of first love, this gimmicky romance is indulgent and infuriatingly hesitant about its plot and characters. A clever horror subtext rendered in Quay Brothers' animation helps, but it's so relentlessly low-energy that it feels like it simply won't end. The title characters are two young women played by Keough and Temple, respectively. Jack is tomboyish and quirky, Diane is sickly and quirky, and both mope everywhere they go, rarely speaking above a squeaky whisper. They're so annoying that we really don't care that Diane is about to move to Paris, certainly not because we believe they have discovered true love and don't want to be separated. Oddly, it's the fantasy animated sequences that ring truest in this mumbly, inarticulate film.
My Brother the Devil
dir-scr Sally El Hosaini; with James Floyd, Fady Elsayed 12/UK ****
Punchy and emotive, this British drama deals with intense themes in its story of two brothers caught between subcultures in northeast London. Even though it gets a bit overwrought, this is a beautifully observed film that gets us thinking... REVIEW >