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last update 2.Oct.18
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dir-scr Robert Siegel
prd Alex Garcia, Scott LaStaiti, Holly Brown, Laura A Walker
with Spencer Boldman, Emily Ratajkowski, Lucas Salvagno, Noah Robbins, Gino Cafarelli, Kathrine Narducci, Sebastian Maniscalco, Peter Gaudio, Al Linea, Carmine Famiglietti, Jesse Comitor, Lauren Cipoletti
ratajkowski and boldman release US 28.Sep.18
18/US 1h30
Cruise Set in an Italian subculture that seems trapped in a 30-year time loop, this film is a retro romantic drama with a heavy whiff of nostalgia. Writer-director Robert Siegel creates lively characters and situations. The film is shot and edited skilfully, but the plot kind of stumbles along, tracing a rather predictable path that feels under-developed and unconvincing.

It's the summer of 1987, and Gio (Boldman) is cruising the streets of Queens with his pals (Salvagno and Robbins), flirting with girls in the other cars, hanging out and challenging each other to drag races. They also break into cars to steal radios, and when Gio's parents (Cafarelli and Narducci) excuse him from a family meal, he and his friends eat the same cheeseburger at the same diner. Then he meets Jessica (Ratajkowski) from Brooklyn. She initially brushes him off, which only makes him chase her more diligently. And she begins to change him.

Aside from the vintage music, cars and video rental shop, this could easily be set in the late '50s. The boys may swagger through the streets, but the women are actually in control. Gio realises that he is attracted to Jessica's "bad girl" persona, but she's actually a nice Jewish college student. As he falls for her, she introduces him to art, new music and rom-com movies. And his friends start to wonder if he's lost his mind. So far so good. Then their relationship gets stuck in a movie-script formula.

Boldman is hilarious as Mr Cool, who is sure no woman could resist his charms. With his greased-up hair, waxed torso and tight jeans, Boldman also reveals Gio's underlying insecurities. Ratajkowski's Jessica is a trickier character, a smart girl who is tempted by her darker side. She's solid in the role, even if it ultimately feels somewhat thinly written, leaving Jessica feeling oddly unsubstantial compared to the more soulful Gio. The supporting cast adds colour and energy, although no one seems to have a life off-screen.

Siegel fills the movie with lively sequences that burst with youthful energy, and indeed these characters all seem to be enjoying life before it turns too serious. The film nicely conveys the way Gio and Jessica have very different ambitions for their lives, and how their collision during this particular summer affected their future. So it's a shame that this intriguing theme kind of gets lost in the increasingly overwrought final-act plotting. Although at least the conclusion is thoughtful.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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Kill the Monsters
dir-scr Ryan Lonergan
prd Ryan Lonergan, Ian M White
with Jack Ball, Garrett McKechnie, Ryan Lonergan, Zuhairah McGill, Julia Campanelli, Careena Melia, Anna Myrha, Sydney Sainte, Laura Brocca, Eve Grissinger, Elizabeth West, Ellen Etten
mckechnie, ball and lonergan release US Jun.18 fff,
UK Sep.18 rff
18/US 1h17

raindance film fest

Kill the Monsters Subtitled "An American Allegory", this black and white satire sticks a little too closely to this premise, which leaves the story struggling to take hold. It's actually an involving narrative that might have had some comical and emotional kick without carrying the heavy weight of US history on its back. This continually distracts the audience from what's happening. But it's fiercely well shot, edited and played.

In New York, young Frankie (Ball) has become a third boyfriend in the relationship between Sutton and Patrick (McKechnie and Lonergan). And they're blissfully happy until a mysterious illness hits Frankie. Thinking California would be healthier, they embark on a cross-country road trip, stopping to see the sites along the way and taking a break to make (and lose) some money in Kansas with dodgy cousin Edith (McGill). In California, they get increasingly involved in the politics of their condo block, jostling with a bold German (Campanelli), Russian (Melia) and Iraqi (Myrha).

The chapter titles inform us which era is depicted, using years from American history. So 1776 becomes a break from the status quo, 1865 is a breakdown in the relationship, 1943 finds them working with Russians to usurp the Germans, and 2017 sees them seeking advice from a clown (Etten). Through all of this, their three-way relationship is symbolises American's unique brand of democracy, which this trio continually suggests to others. Lonergan edits this himself with a skilful snap, catching the essence of a scene and leaping into the next with a smile.

Thankfully, the actors are easy to identify with. McKechnie and Lonergan bring an earthiness to their roles as experienced gay men seeking a better life, initially concerned about Ball's eager Frankie, but later letting him fend for himself. And they're genuinely sexy together. The women in the film are gay as well, and each actress brings smart energy to her scenes, generally stirring trouble for the boys and forcing them into tricky decisions.

In other words, everything is so specific in its meaning that the audience will spend much of the time seeking the meaning of each action and reaction. But the film would clearly have been much stronger if the story itself was able to make us forget about the deeper meaning, allowing the ideas to seep through in more profound ways. As is, this feels like an experimental movie, a bit of an oddity that's also a strong calling card for actor-filmmaker Lonergan and gifted cinematographer Andrew Huebscher.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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Love Possibly
dir-scr Michael Boccalini, Che Grant
prd Michael Boccalini, Che Grant, Arabella Burfitt-Dons
with Steve Hodgetts, Anna Danshina, Julie Nesher, Louis Beaufort, Michelle Thomas, Greg Seago-Curl, Gabriel Constantin, Dean Kilbey, Nicola Wright, Lana Welch, Rachael Grace, Edoardo Pascale
hodgetts and dancina release US 16.Sep.18,
UK Oct.18 rff
18/UK 1h23

raindance film fest

Love Possibly A mock-documentary about a socially anxious young man in London, this film uses the stages of the standard rom-com to trace a rather ridiculous love story. It's all rather predictable, but each of the actors find some hilarious moments in their improvisational performances. The steady parade of embarrassing situations is a little exhausting, but the film is likeable and occasionally very funny.

Nervous in social situations, 20-something Alex (Hodgetts) is pushed into speed dating by his mother Trish (Thomas), who is worried that he'll never lose his virginity. The speed dating event sparks a panic, but he hears about a website for Russian mail-order brides. Helped by neighbour Natalie (Nesher), who speaks Russian, he connects online with Lana (Danshina). Heading to Moldova to meet her, he cheerfully engages in conversation even though she's clearly not thrilled by any of this. Relenting, she later joins Alex in London with her young son Ivan (Beaufort).

Alex's favourite film is Sleepless in Seattle, which he of course sees echoed in the whole mail-order process. But then he thinks true love always progresses according to the formula of a romantic-comedy. The shooting locations (often guerrilla-style) are an excellent rom-com tour of London, and filmmakers Boccalini and Grant make solid use of the doc format (including GoPro and drone footage), catching scenes in loosely offhanded ways that continually veer in awkward directions. Some of these are amusing, while others are painful to watch.

Hidgetts plays Alex as a relentlessly nice guy who is easy to sympathise with, even though he's fairly insufferable in most situations. He has a nice awareness of the camera crew following him, catching his most humiliating moments as well as his triumphs (well, he briefly thinks of them as triumphs). Danshina is hilariously deadpan as the mercenary rent-a-fiancee who might actually be falling for Alex. And Nesher is earthy and natural as the only person who grounds him.

There's a level of mystery in here, as it becomes clear that Lana is up to something in London. And there are some offbeat comments about relationships along the way that at least add an undercurrent of meaning to the comical set-up. So as the story grows warmer and happier, it actually manages to get under the skin. As the wedding day approaches, it's difficult not to know that everything has to go horribly wrong. Thankfully, as a romantic-comedy, it also has to end happily.

15 themes, language

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Strangeways Here We Come
dir-scr Chris Green
prd Raiomond Mirza
with Elaine Cassidy, Ania Sowinski, Oliver Coopersmith, Lauren Socha, Stephen Lord, Michelle Keegan, James Foster, Perry Fitzpatrick, Saffron Hocking, Chanel Cresswell, Mark Sheals, Nina Wadia, Peter Caulfield
Caulfield release UK 5.Oct.18
18/UK 1h26
Strangeways Here We Come An odd mix of broad comedy and darkly violent mayhem, this British film never quite finds its tone. The cast is up to the challenge, investing texture to bring the characters to life in a way that's engaging and sometimes entertaining. But it's difficult to connect with Chris Green's uneven writing and directing. And even though the running time is mercifully brief, the movie wears out its welcome.

On a Manchester housing estate near Strangeways Prison, the residents struggle to pay their bills, brutally menaced by loan shark Nolan (Lord). Single mother Jean (Sowinski) has been forced into a relationship with him, and he coerced three young women (Keegan, Hocking and Cresswell) into making a porn film. He also menaces stroke victim Brian (Foster), meth-cookers Shelly and Marvin (Socha and Fitzpatrick) and cabbie Max (Sheals). Then one night at a party organised by the goofy Aaron (Coopersmith), everyone decides to kill Nolan. But what will they do about his equally aggressive wife (Cassidy)?

It's a risky proposition to make jokes about things like drug addiction, child abuse and rape, and yet Green dives in on all three with extended running gags that get queasier as the movie progresses. He then stirs in mental illness, benefit fraud, blackmail and murder. The breezy-bristly tone helps, as do some nicely observed character moments, but frankly after about half an hour of this it's impossible to laugh at it any more.

All that's left is to watch the actors and hope they emerge with some dignity. Thankfully, they dive full-on into the roles, investing this scruffy gang of idiots with enough detail to make them recognisable and, in a few cases, likeable. Only Coopersmith has a role that could be considered sympathetic, and Aaron even takes a few jarring turns. Sowinski's Jean is more complex than most, and Keegan's Demi is someone you'd want to help. But most of these people little more than abrasive bravado.

In fact, many make us actively flinch from the screen. They're so cartoonish that the plot quickly loses any semblance of logic. Nothing that happens seems remotely believable outside of the characters' fantasy lives. And filmmaker Green doesn't quite have the courage of his convictions, indulging in lots of superficial crudity but poking fun at any true ugliness or menace. In other words, the film leaves us wondering how we should respond. It's not badly made, but it's too vile to laugh at, and too ridiculous to take seriously.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality, drugs

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