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last update 26.Oct.17
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The Boy Downstairs
dir-scr Sophie Brooks
prd David Brooks, Leon Clarance, Dan Clifton
with Zosia Mamet, Matthew Shear, Diana Irvine, Deirdre O'Connell, Sarah Ramos, Arliss Howard, Deborah Offner, David Wohl, Jeff Ward, Theo Stockman, Natalie Hall, Peter Oliver
wenham and groome
release US 16.Feb.18,
UK 8.Jun.18
17/US 1h31

london film festival
The Boy Downstairs A fairly straightforward rom-com livened up by some structural editing, this film takes the rather tired position that no young woman is complete until she finds the perfect man to grow old with. Otherwise, it's smart and engaging, with characters who are easy to identify with and a nice sense of awkward energy as they try to interact. Enjoyable to watch, and never remotely challenging.

After living in London for three years, Diana (Mamet) returns to New York and reconnects with her best pal Gabby (Irvine), who helps her find a great flat to rent in a building owned by cool landlady Amy (O'Connell). Then she discovers that her nice guy ex Ben (Shear) lives in the basement. And his new girlfriend (Ramos) isn't thrilled to have Diana around. Meanwhile, Diana is thinking about her romance with Ben, introducing him to her tough dad (Howard) and meeting his lively parents (Wohl and Offner).

Writer-director Brooks crosscuts between these timelines, essentially offering two parallel stories, both of which are tinged with waves of romance and light comedy. It's like Sex and the City with the sharp edges removed. Diana and Ben's courtship is largely untroubled, as the only issue that arises is her impending move to Britain. And in the present, the primary emotion is embarrassment, mainly because no one will dare to express how they really feel.

Mamet and Shear are solid at the centre, although the balance is thrown off since Ben is far more likeable than the dithering Diana. Their scenes together have a blast of warm, charming chemistry, so we root for them to get to the point and arrive where this story is so clearly heading. Side characters remain peripheral, with only a hint of life outside the frame. Ramos has the most fun in a one-joke role, while Irvine at least gets to flirt with a couple of other guys.

It's a shame that Brooks didn't have the nerve to make this more realistic. Diana must earn a fortune from what looks like a part-time job as a shop clerk while waiting to become a novelist. Ben doesn't seem to do anything at all professionally. And their interaction is squeaky clean, never daring to touch on any of the issues that loom up around them. So this is essentially an entertaining fantasy, a smiley escape from the real world. Just try not to think about what it's saying to young girls.

12 themes, language
12.Oct.17 lff
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I’m Fine
3/5   Season One
dir-scr Brandon Kirby
with Perry Powell, Lee Doud, Shaughn Buchholz, Richard Stokes, Ulysses Morazan, Brittney King, Christopher Lam, Nathan Streifel, Chris Lanehart, Caleb Hoffman, Dayne Catalano, Brandon Kirby
doud and powell release UK 9.Oct.17,
US 25.Oct.17
17/US Dekkoo 1h17
I'm Fine A series of eight short episodes exploring gay life in Los Angeles, this isn't much more than a trip through the usual cliches. The writing and acting are heightened into a sitcom style that's only vaguely recognisable as a variation on real life. But the characters are likeable, and their soapy gyrations relatively engaging.

The show opens with pals Nate and Jeff (Powell and Doud) criticising everyone from their party hosts to the guys on the dating apps before agreeing to meet for brunch in the morning, as you do. Then Nate gets distracted by a booty call on a phone app. "I don't really do this," he says to the guy, unconvincingly. Meanwhile, their friends Andy and Brian (Stokes and Morazan) are starting a relationship no one thinks will survive. And the main recurring fact of Nate's life is his inability to escape thoughts of and random encounters with his ex Joey (Buchholz).

There's one awkwardly staged sex scene in the opening episode, played more for comedy than either romance or eroticism. Then through the rest of the segments, their shiny gay lifestyle looks pretty miserable, with any fun resolutely off-screen. A lot of the conversations are either gossip or discussions about rumours, usually accompanied by plenty of angst. And there are very occasional forays into politics and current events, although passing mentions of Trump and PreP don't really make this topical.

The actors all look the part, but play up their roles in ways that are deliberately cute. It's the way men want to think they look and interact, rather than the reality. At the centre, Powell has an inquisitive personality that makes Nate sympathetic. But Doud's Jeff is little more than someone he banters with. His drunken confession that he really likes Nate isn't very believable, even as it leads to some ongoing issues. And ultimately, all of them reveal that they have the relational maturity of 14-year-olds.

The camerawork and editing are generally strong, with some artful touches that effectively get under the surface. A flashback to Nate and Joey's breakup is genuinely moving, even if it's shot in a murky, underlit set. There are various possibilities for each of the plot strands, but writer-director Kirby continually shies away from anything complicated or lusty. Some of the drama is surprisingly resonant, but overall this is an easy-going journey that will hopefully get seriously spiced up in the second season.

15 themes, language, sexuality

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Palace of Fun
dir Eadward Stocks
scr George Stocks, Eadward Stocks
prd David Stocks, Eadward Stocks, George Stocks
with George Stocks, Andrew Mullan, Phoebe Naughton, Holly Shuttleworth, Kayleigh Hammond
stocks release UK 23.Oct.17
16/UK 1h22

raindance film festival
Palace of Fun An offbeat tone keeps the audience guessing as this British drama gets underway, mixing black comedy with an undercurrent of suspense as three characters spiral around each other. The film is cleverly assembled by the Stocks brothers on what is clearly a limited budget, but they make the most of that with creative touches and a deranged sensibility that keeps us on our toes.

The morning after he meets Lily (Naughton) in a Brighton bar, Finn (Mullan) runs into her archly provocative brother Jamie (Stocks) in their house and is invited out for a day on their yacht. When Jamie looks into who Finn is, he realises that he's an impostor, but opts not to say anything. Instead he just launches a bizarre friendship onslaught that Finn goes along with. Meanwhile, Lily is falling in love and wants Finn to herself. So Jamie fights back.

The directorial approach is somewhat askance, and the inventively low-fi approach to sound and lighting makes scenes feel uneasy and a little disorienting, which adds further intensity underneath the otherwise breezy surfaces. For example, a friendly tennis match is played in still images with what sounds like an audio track from Wimbledon. There are also clever references to classic films like Plein Soleil and Some Like it Hot, adding extra implications to the concealed identity theme.

Performances are also intriguing, especially from Mullan, who has a giggly rapport in his scenes with Naughton, then becomes more textured in his interaction with Stocks. Through all of this, Mullan offers glimpses of the person he's trying to hide. Naughton's Lily is more of a one-note character, but she gets more interesting later on, although she's badly underused in the final act. But Stocks has a lot of fun with Jamie, a camp provocateur who likes making people squirm and rarely shows anyone who he really is. His sullen outbursts are pretty nasty.

There are several moments that are shot or edited in ways that seem to miss what's happening and leave holes in the story. This seems to be the result of inexperienced filmmaking but, whether intentional or not, it makes the story feel even freakier. So even with these blurred elements, the plot builds a strong sense of dread as it heads into what will surely be a nasty conclusion. In the end, there's not much to the movie, but it's a solid debut for Eadward, George and David Stocks, and it'll be interesting to see what they get up to next.

18 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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Teenage Kicks
dir-scr Craig Boreham
prd Annmaree Bell
with Miles Szanto, Daniel Webber, Shari Sebbens, Anni Finsterer, Charlotte Best, Lech Mackiewicz, Nadim Kobeissi, Tony Poli, Ian Roberts, Stephanie King, Andrew Lindqvist, Joshua Longhurst
webber and szanto release Aus Jun.16 sff,
US Oct.16 mifo,
UK 23.Oct.17
16/Australia 1h39

Drowning (2009)
Teenage Kicks Fairly intense right from the start, this Sydney-set drama explores a young man's odyssey through a range of heavy emotions. While there's a blast of youthful energy, with some relaxed interaction, the story becomes increasingly intense. It also turns rather preachy in the final act. But the central character's internal journey is involving and provocative.

Feeling guilty about the death of his big brother (Kobeissi), 17-year-old Mik (Szanto) sees his planned getaway with best pal Dan (Webber) put on hold because of his family duties. As Dan begins a relationship with Phaedra (Best), Mik helps Tomi's girlfriend Annuska (Sebbens) through her final months of pregnancy. But Mik can't get a grip on his emotions, picking fights with everyone. It doesn't help that his parents (Finsterer and Mackiewicz) remind him that he's useless. And as things take further difficult turns, his relationship with Dan is pushed to the brink.

Expanded from writer-director Boreham's 2009 short Drowning, which also starred Szanto, the film keeps to Mik's introspective, observant perspective. He's a young man who knows why his parents can't bear to look at him, and he's frustrated that Phaedra has complicated his deeply yearning feelings for Dan. But as Mik comes to terms with his sexuality, he's not to sure he likes himself either. So he falls into an odd friendship with a couple of sex/drug addicts (King and Kindqvist).

Performances are raw and resonant. The young actors bring a natural energy to their roles, including a terrific sense of physicality. Szanto has a thoughtful vibe that's deeply sympathetic, especially as he struggles with the way others treat him and how he sees himself. Webber, Sebbens and Best all add to Mik's journey in complex ways that are engaging and intriguing. While as his parents, Finsterer and Mackiewicz have to take a rather more melodramatic approach, including a couple of moments that oddly shift the film's point of view.

Where this goes feels sometimes a little too grim, with some overly pointed moments fuelled by drugs and alcohol. Mik's deepening sadness is overwhelming, and Boreham sometimes pushes it further with contrived plot points or encounters that feel implausible. While it's realistically portrayed, Mik's destructive self-loathing becomes oddly moralistic, shouting a series of messages about the dangers of things like drug use and repression. They're important topics, but feel too much for a film that could have focussed more tightly on the resonance in the story's positive emotions.

18 themes, language, drugs, violence, sexuality

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