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last update 7.Oct.17
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Double Date
dir Benjamin Barfoot
scr Danny Morgan
prd Maggie Monteith, Matthew James Wilkinson
with Danny Morgan, Georgia Groome, Michael Socha, Kelly Wenham, Dexter Fletcher, Liz Kingsman, Tom Sturridge, James Swanton, Maria Barr, Dougie Poynter, Benny Bereal, Jasmine Geohagen
wenham and groome
release UK 13.Oct.17
17/UK 1h29

Double Date A bonkers comedy-horror romp, this movie is full of clever touches but goes way over the top in every scene. Director Benjamin Barfoot can't resist cranking the craziness off the scale, with loud noises, wild crash-edits and continual wackiness, all of which leaves the audience exhausted. And the real problem is that this excessive approach might have worked if there had been a little subtlety in the characterisations.

On the night before he turns 30, the socially inept Jim (Morgan) hits the clubs with his louche best pal Alex (Socha), who's determined Jim will finally lose his virginity. In the bar, they meet two hot sisters, Lulu and Kitty (Groome and Wenham) who have already killed four guys and now just need a virgin to prepare their satanic ritual. Yes, they have their eyes on Jim. Kitty is the aggressive killer, while Lulu actually begins to fall for Jim, especially when he takes her to meet his family at an excruciating birthday party.

But then, pretty much everything about Jim is excruciating, as he approaches each situation with a lack of confidence and an inability to speak coherently. But he's such an exaggerated dork, and Alex is such a hyperbolic macho jerk, that it's almost impossible to care what happens to them. Barfoot throws everything he can think of at the camera, generating plenty of laughs but absolutely no chills. It's far too silly to be even remotely scary.

The main problem here is that writer Morgan miscast himself as the protagonist. Jim needs to be much more engaging than this; he's such a soft target that the steady stream of insults just begin to be corny. And while he does slightly emerge from his shell in the gonzo final sequence, the movie abruptly ends before anything is made of this. Opposite him, Socha is far more entertaining, due to his wiry physicality, hilarious bravado and hints that there might be something else going on with him.

As the energetic vamp and the more compassionate killer, Wenham and Groome have a lot of fun in their femme fatale roles. And Fletcher has a witty cameo as Alex's trailer trash dad (Sturridge's cameo as a pompous musician isn't quite as witty). Audiences looking for lively escapism will enjoy the film's rampant grisliness, which escalates into proper mayhem. But all of the witty horror movie references can't make up for the fact that this is essentially a forgettable bit of gross-out fluff.

15 themes, language, violence
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The Florida Project
dir Sean Baker
scr Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch
prd Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch, Kevin Chinoy, Andrew Duncan, Alex Saks, Francesca Silvestri, Shih-Ching Tsou
with Willem Dafoe, Bria Vinaite, Brooklynn Prince, Valeria Cotto, Christopher Rivera, Caleb Landry Jones, Mela Murder, Josie Olivo, Aiden Malik, Edward Pagan, Macon Blair, Jason Blackwater
dafoe and prince release US 6.Oct.17,
UK 10.Nov.17
17/US 1h55

london film festival
The Florida Project Loose and lively, this free-flowing comedy-drama is set among people living just outside the main gates of Disney World. And its young cast of mainly non-actors is terrific at creating likeable characters with big attitudes. As he did in Tangerine, filmmaker Sean Baker focusses on engaging people touched by the carelessness of loved ones who think they deserve sympathy, but don't.

At a purple hotel called the Magic Castle, Halley (Vinaite) lives with her precocious 6-year-old daughter Moonee (Prince). During the day, she also watches Scooty (Rivera), the son of her waitress friend Ashey (Murder). It's the summer holidays, so the streets are full of gullible tourists ripe for Halley's various scams. Meanwhile, Mooney and Scooty run over to the Rocketland Inn next door, befriending Jancey (Cotto) as they get into all kinds of trouble. Magic Castle manager Bobby (Dafoe) tries to give Halley and the kids a break, but she's not doing herself any favours.

The film is strikingly shot by cinematographer Alexis Zabe, who mixes earthy doc-style footage with stunning wider shots that capture the absurdity of Orlando's candy-coloured architecture. This cleverly frames frazzled adults and rambunctious kids in context as normal people living in a fake fantasyland. The central themes centre on the dynamics between parents and children, and even Bobby as a son (Jones) with a perspective distinct from his father's.

Dafoe is raw in his understated role, while Vinaite bravely refuses to make Halley likeable. She never accepts responsibility for her aggressive behaviour, even if it is driven by desperation. But the stars of the film are the children, and Prince is a knock-out as the sharp-as-a-tack Moonee. It's easy to see why Bobby can't stay angry with her about her free-spirited antics. Prince is clearly a young actress to keep an eye on.

Watching this mainly through Moonee's eyes, Baker is able to avert his gaze from some harsher realities. And even Halley's dodgier money-making scams seem functional rather than outright criminal, something Moonee echoes when she hilariously begs for ice cream money. That said, there are a few moments that feel pushy, straining to make a point about the emptiness of commercialisation or the destructiveness of property development. But any film that includes a cow safari is a must-see. And the final image is smartly designed to leave us asking questions rather than feeling smug about the answers.

15 themes, language, violence

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dir Jamie Thraves
scr Jamie Thraves, Aidan Gillen
prd Phil Bowman, Jamie Thraves
with Aidan Gillen, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Camille O'Sullivan, Berry Murphy, Charlotte Gascoyne, Johnny Lamb, Sophia Del Pizzo, Chris Howitt, Amy De Bhrun, Nick Lee, Joe Murphy, Francisco Javier Diaz Izquierdo
gillen meets some teens release UK Oct.17 lff
17/UK 1h14
london film festival
Pickups A third improvisational collaboration between Jamie Thraves and Aidan Gillen, this is a playful comedy about a television star who dives into a dark role in an effort to get over his divorce. It's a meandering, relaxed story assembled from a series of lively, witty scenes, some of which tap into some surprisingly disturbing emotions. Parts of the film feel random or indulgently stretched out, but it gets under the skin.

Dublin-based actor Aidan (Gillen) has become a household name but is struggling to get over both his back-pain and the breakup of his marriage. As he heads to London to film a role as a serial killer, he's looking forward to time with his teen daughter afterwards. To get in character, Aidan goes method, stalking people around the city and squatting in his empty, still unsold former house. He also visits friends to talk about developing this character. But there are elements of this role that are still unfinished when he returns to Ireland.

To hold the loose scenes together, Thraves adds an omniscient narrator who comments on Aidan's motivation, quietly misleading the audience. There are also snippets of Aidan's thoughts in voiceover. Hilariously, everywhere he goes someone recognises him, asking odd questions, insisting on selfies and even propositioning him. And the central gag is that any of these scenes may or may not be part of the film within the film. This allows both Gillen and Thraves to have a lot of fun.

Gillen also has plenty of scope to pay around with this likeable but prickly version of himself, in both improvised scenes with actors and real-life interaction with fans. There aren't really other characters, as his one-scene costars create enjoyable encounters, from intrusive fans to a chatty masseur. Some scenes are genuinely scary, leading to another murder, while others are silly or serious. Strung together, there's an unexpected surge of emotion.

There are also intriguing themes bubbling up, exploring how an actor uses his skill to blur reality both on-set and off, which of course is something all of us do. And there are also clever ideas about friendships, relationships and the everyday collision of thoughts about past and future. While much of the film is cheeky and observational, the way scenes are assembled adds an eerily resonant undercurrent of yearning, as an actor at the top of his game distracts himself from his real-world troubles.

15 themes, language, violence, nudity
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6 Below: Miracle on the Mountain
dir Scott Waugh
scr Madison Turner
prd Simon Swart, Tucker Tooley, Scott Waugh
with Josh Hartnett, Mira Sorvino, Sarah Dumont, Kale Brady Culley, Jason Cottle, Austin Grant, Nathan Stevens, Marty McSorely, Sean Pilz, Vashi Nedomansky, Joey Miyashima, David H Stevens
bautista and snow release US/UK 13.Oct.17
17/US 1h38
6 below A remarkable true story, this film is assembled in a rather unambitious TV-movie style, stirring lots of melodrama into a story of survival against the odds. At least it's intense and gruelling, augmented by emotionally charged flashbacks. So even if the approach is somewhat pushy and obvious, there's plenty to hold the interest. And it's a truly extraordinary story that's well worth telling.

In a mountain community, adrenaline junkie Eric (Hartnett) has a week to clean up his act and appear before a judge. His mother Susan (Sorvino) can't bear to watch him throw his promising life away. To clear his head, he hits the mountain for some off-piste snowboarding. A winter storm makes things more exciting, but he gets lost as white-out conditions close in while he's on an unsanctioned run. Surviving the night surrounded by wolves, he sets out in the morning to find his way off the mountain. Eight days later, he's still lost.

The film is beautifully shot to capture both the majestic power of the mountains and the visceral thrill Eric feels on the snow. Watching the snowstorm close in is seriously shiver-inducing. But since this is based on Eric LeMarque's book, there's not much suspense. Instead, it's story of a man's journey into his own soul, with flashbacks to his demanding hockey coach father (Cottle) when he was a young boy (Culley). Meanwhile, he's having a series of dangerous adventures.

Hartnett anchors the film with a strong sense of Eric's physicality. He's also a likeable actor who can make a guy who's essentially a jerk someone worth cheering for, so Eric's astonishing ordeal is compelling and involving. Sorvino adds emotional oomph as his over-feeling mom, who refuses to give up even when all hope is lost. And the underused Dumont provides some grit as the ski patrol official who knows him and might be the key to rescuing him.

There's nothing particularly surprising director Waugh's approach, milking the drama and pushing emotional buttons to make sure the audience gets the important life messages. But the way the film is shot keeps it compelling, making the most of the spectacular locations and Hartnett's performance. So even if we never doubt that Eric will survive and turn his life around, it's exciting and sometimes very moving to get there. And the film earns it when the real Eric appears with a speech (plus a clip reel) at the end.

12 themes, language, grisliness, drugs

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