DVD Review: Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000)

“I feel so absolutely stumped on the floor”

Proving that not even Kenneth Branagh is infallible when it comes to Shakespearean adaptations, this musical version of Love’s Labour’s Lost sees him really come a cropper. Relocating the story to 1939 on the eve of the Second World War and swapping out three-quarters of Shakespeare’s text for a handful of Cole Porter songs to evoke the feel of a classic Golden Age musical, it is a curiously insubstantial enterprise and at its worst, somewhat smug.

It doesn’t help that the play itself ain’t a classic, as evidenced by the rarity with which it is produced but still, the approach here just doesn’t work. There’s a game cast of actors who are clearly up for it but their every weakness in singing and dancing is left exposed, there’s a paucity of triple threats here which just leaves you wondering why bother? And when you see the amazing moves of Adrian Lester or the sweet tones of Alessandro Nivola’s voice, you get hints of what might have been. Continue reading “DVD Review: Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000)”

DVD Review: My House in Umbria

“There are, naturally, laughter lines”

As with Ladies in Lavender (which also starred Dame Maggie Smith), early 2000s film My House in Umbria has the distinct air of talcum powder about it, a fustiness that comes its uninspired and frankly tedious ‘niceness’. Richard Loncraine made this film for US cable channel HBO and so some of its overly manneredness could be forgiven as a sop to that market, but it doesn’t change how terribly dated it feels.

Based on a short story by William Trevor, Hugh Whitemore’s screenplay does little to inject any kind of life into the tale, happy instead to potter around lackadaisically. Smith plays Emily Delahunty, a writer of pulpy romance novels who has decamped to the Italian countryside with faithful pal Quinty (Timothy Spall). La bella vita is interrupted though when a bomb explodes on a train she’s on but after she escapes unscathed, she invites the rest of the survivors to recuperate at her villa.  Continue reading “DVD Review: My House in Umbria”

DVD Review: Lucky Break

“When everyone is taking their bows, you and me exit stage left”

Lucky Break is the type of slight and inoffensive film that makes you wonder how on earth it got made yet at the same time makes you glad for its lazy Sunday afternoon viewing potential. Director Peter Cattaneo also helmed The Full Monty (which might answer the first point) and though there are similarities between the two – putting a certain type of British masculinity under the microscope – Lucky Break pulls back quickly from any real emotional depth or societal analysis in favour of popcorn-led entertainment. And as long as you go in fully aware of this, you might find yourself enjoying it.

Jimmy is a repeat offender who finds himself in prison once again after a particularly botched bank job but soon spots an opportunity to make a break for it. Prison warden Mortimer is keen for the inmates to put on a production of his newly-penned musical and as it will be performed in the old chapel that offers the easiest route out of the clink, Jimmy persuades his buddies to join in the amateur dramatics fun of Nelson – The Musical and allow him to jump the wall. Nothing is ever quite as easy as all that though, not least his budding relationship with prison psychiatrist Annabel. Continue reading “DVD Review: Lucky Break”

Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)

“There’s no room for cynicism in the reviewing of art”

One might equally say there’s no room for cynicism in my reviewing of Mike Leigh’s work, such a fan of his oeuvre am I and the laidback, gruff charms of Mr Turner are no exception, confirming the iconic director in the full flush of his prime. Timothy Spall has already been deservedly rewarded for his wonderfully harrumphing performance of the last 10 years of the life of this most famous of painters and it is a compelling portrait, of a man established in his world as a bachelor, a master painter, and later a lover. Leigh’s episodic style fits perfectly into this biographical mode, dipping in and out of his life with the precision of one of Turner’s paintbrushes, colouring in a captivating collage of his later life.

Spall is excellent but around him, the women in his life provide some of the most hauntingly beautiful moments of the film. As Sarah Danby, the mistress and mother of the two daughters he would not recognise, Ruth Sheen is piercingly vivid, her barely contained fury resonating deeply. As Hannah Danby, her niece who was Turner’s long-suffering and long-serving housekeeper, Dorothy Atkinson is painfully brilliant as a woman subjugated and subdued by his wanton sexual advances, the psoriasis that afflicted her, and her deep love for the man. As “self-taught Scotswoman” and scientist Mary Somerville, Lesley Manville near steals the film in a simply beautiful self-contained vignette. Continue reading “Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)”

Film Review: The Love Punch

“It’s all gone. Let’s get drunk”

There’s something hugely likeable about the amount of fun The Love Punch is. It is at times ridiculous and downright barmy but it always has such a cheerfully warm-hearted glow – no doubt helped by the French Riviera sunshine – that made it an irresistible silly pleasure to watch. Emma Thompson and Pierce Brosnan play a (relatively) amicably divorced couple whose retirement nest egg has been smashed by a hostile takeover of his company and its pension scheme by an avaricious French hotshot. So naturally they set about trying to get revenge.

And it is this wonderfully batty scheme that makes up the most of the movie. After spotting that the Gallic gazumper (a tragically beardless Laurent Lafitte) has purchased a vastly expensive diamond to give to his fiancée, Kate and Richard decide to steal it in retribution, calling on friends and neighbours Penelope and Jerry as they impersonate Texans, infiltrate hen parties and weddings, and don wetsuits and climbing gear to break into a private residence, amongst a ton of other unlikely activities. But Joel Hopkins imbues everything with such warmth and not a hint of seriousness, it’s best just to crack open a can of Kronenbourg and enjoy the ride. Continue reading “Film Review: The Love Punch”

Short Film Review #14

An Irish short from 2009 written and directed by Hugh O’Conor, Corduroy is a simply gorgeous piece of film. Inspired by a charity that teaches autistic children to surf, we dip briefly but powerfully into the life of Jessie, a young woman whose Asperger Syndrome has left her deeply depressed. With gentle encouragement from a support worker, she is introduced to the sea and all its power and possibly, just possibly, begins to hope that life might get a little brighter.

It’s extraordinarily acted by Caoilfhionn Dunne as Jessie, movingly understated and painfully authentic in its awkwardness, the glimmers of connection with Domhnall Gleeson’s Mahon are played just right. But it is O’Conor’s direction which is just superb, adroitly suggesting the different way in which people at different points on the autistic spectrum might see and hear the world – audio and visual effects employed with intelligence and compassion to offer insight, understanding, appreciation. Highly recommended. Continue reading “Short Film Review #14”

TV Preview: Sinbad

“Are you running to, or from, something?”

I’ve never been to the cinema to watch a TV programme before but there’s always a first time for everything and last Sunday we found ourselves in the midst of hordes of children during a family film funday to preview the new Sky 1 series Sinbad. The most expensive show Sky have ever commissioned in the UK, it was filmed over 9 months in Malta and marks a determined attempt to capture the family-friendly Dr Who/Merlin market from Impossible Pictures, who also produced Primeval.

As you may have deduced from the pictures, my motives were not entirely artistic, as the show also marks the return of one of my favourite actors, Elliot Cowan, to the screen (plus introduces another nice-looking gentleman called Elliot into the bargain). And as I don’t have Sky and will have to wait for the DVDs to come out at the end of the 12 episode run, this seemed like too good an opportunity to miss to catch the first episode and attend the subsequent Q&A session. Continue reading “TV Preview: Sinbad”

DVD Review: Nicholas Nickleby

“You must bear up against sorrow my dear”

Douglas McGrath’s adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby manages the not-unimpressive feat of condensing Dickens’ weighty novel into a two hour film, and whilst much must have been jettisoned (I’ve never read the book so I couldn’t tell you what) it still hangs together as a cohesive story with much to recommend it. McGrath also directs and remains very much faithful to the spirit of Dickens with a straightforward aesthetic that takes a few artistic liberties but whose heart is very much in the right place.

After the death of Nickleby senior, Nickleby junior is thrust into the role of head of the family but with the dastardly deeds of their unscrupulous Uncle Ralph, Nicholas has to work extremely hard and keep his wits about him in order to protect his friends and family from the misfortune around them. Those misfortunes are many and varied but entertainingly portrayed here as there’s a good deal of humour and pathos mixed in with the grimness. Continue reading “DVD Review: Nicholas Nickleby”

DVD Review: All or Nothing

“Love, it’s like a dripping tap”

First up was 2002’s All or Nothing, though it was a little of an inauspicious beginning, as I’m not sure how much I actually liked this film in the end. Set on a modern-day London council estate, it circles the fortunes of three working-class families and their everyday lives, so far so Leigh, but it doesn’t really develop into anything that gripped me. There are several outstandingly strong elements in here, but they never really coalesce into an effective whole but rather remain too separate and thus end up losing some impact.

The focus settles on one of the families: Phil, Timothy Spall, is a taxi driver who has long lost ambition for life and is reduced to scraping pennies from his family in order to pay his retainer for the taxi firm; Penny, Lesley Manville, works the checkout at a supermarket and is struggling to remember what it is she ever loved about Phil. Alison Garland plays their daughter Rachel who works as a cleaner in an old people’s home and is being semi-stalked by Sam Kelly’s much older colleague and James Corden is their unemployed and belligerent son. There’s a whole lot of misery, which is then alleviated by tragedy, which ultimately suggests that life might hold something more. Continue reading “DVD Review: All or Nothing”