Film review: Downton Abbey (2019)

Baron Fellowes of West Stafford stretches not a single muscle in pumping out more of the same in the tiresomely dull Downton Abbey the movie

“I want everything to stop being a struggle”

To crib the tagline of a certain jukebox musical (here we go again…) you already know whether you’re a fan of Downton Abbey the movie. By any stretch of the imagination, it is just an extension of the TV series and so is guaranteed to maintain that same level of comfort that you have always got from the Granthams et al, whether that’s good or bad.

For me, it means a thoroughly unchallenging film and one which proves increasingly dull. (For reference, I’ve only ever seen (some of) the Christmas Day episodes as my parents are fans.) The hook of the film is that it is now 1927 and King George V and Queen Mary are coming to stay for the evening and heavens to Betsy, we’re all of a dither. Continue reading “Film review: Downton Abbey (2019)”

Film Review: Fisherman’s Friends (2019)

Based on a true story, the heart-rending Fisherman’s Friends is entirely sweet-natured good fun

“I’m Bonio.
‘It’s Bono, you pillock’.”

Despite being a fan of a Brit-flick, I don’t know if I’d’ve ventured to Fisherman’s Friends if it weren’t for the presence of a certain Mr Swainsbury in the cast. But I’m glad I did, as it proves a rather sweetly good-natured film that passes the time most amiably.

Based on the true story of The Fisherman’s Friends, a Cornish all-male a capella vocal group whose renditions of sea shanties scored them a record deal and a top 10 hit album, the film recounts how such a thing might have come about, as music executive Danny winds up in Port Isaac for a stag do and finds himself bewitched by the group, and the place, and a girl, natch. Continue reading “Film Review: Fisherman’s Friends (2019)”

12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 2:2

“How do you like it?”

On the fifth day of Christmas, Black Mirror gave to me…justice. Rough justice.

White Bear feels like one of the sharpest, fiercest critics of the society we could become, or maybe that we are becoming, that Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror has given us thus far. Lenora Crichlow’s Victoria wakes up disoriented and unable to remember anything about herself, the evidence at her feet suggesting she’s just tried to take her own life. On leaving the house, people are around but don’t respond to her cries for help, just stand there filming her on their mobile phones. Then a masked man appears and starts firing his shotgun at her…

Increasingly haunted by images of a young girl – her daughter? – and a man, Victoria flees her attacker with the help of a young couple Jem and Damien (Tuppence Middleton and Ian Bonar) who are also immune from whatever has taken over the majority of the population. And White Bear tracks their journey to try and stop the transmission of the signal that is causing this change. Yet there’s so much more to the story which I don’t want to reveal here, but rest assured it is another astonishingly assured entry into the Black Mirror canon.

Film Review: Jupiter Ascending / Seventh Son, or ‘What you had to do to win an Oscar in 2014’

“What in the hell is going on?” 

It could just be a matter of coincidence but it does rather seem that the deal with the devil in order to get the Best Actor and Best Actress Academy Award was to also play a camp villain in a middling sci-fi/fantasy film. Eddie Redmayne’s cape-swirling alien aristocrat Balem Abrasax threatens the earth’s very safety in Jupiter Ascending and in Seventh Son, Julianne Moore plays cape-swirling uber-witch Mother Malkin who probably also threatens the earth although I have to admit I’m not entirely sure what her endgame was. There’s something rather hilarious about watching these performances in light of the Oscar bait that was The Theory of Everything and Still Alice, which is kind of necessary as neither is particularly great shakes.

 

Jupiter Ascending sees the Wachowski siblings eschew the profundity of much of their oeuvre delve into the realm of the straight-up blockbuster or space opera, but without sacrificing any of the complexity of the cinematic universes they love to create. Problem is though, it’s all rather dense and dull despite the visual grandeur of the special effects – the Wachowskis’ screenplay is complex and unwieldy and frankly just not that interesting. The only thing that kept me going was the bizarrely theatre-friendly supporting cast and cameos – blink and miss Vanessa Kirby here, wonder if that is Tim Pigott-Smith there, ponder if Bryony Hannah’s presence is a nod to Call the Midwife and marvel too at the randomness of Samuel Barnett’s arresting turn(s).

And then there’s Redmayne, oh Eddie Redmaybe with your lovely Oscar. His villainous Balem is a bizarre confection and marked by a vocal delivery that sounds like he’s receiving a blowjob, all the time (or so I would imagine) it is hypnotically so-good-it’s-bad. But it’s not enough to save the film, which relishes its laborious set pieces far too much with over-extended chase sequences put in to show off the VFX rather than serve the story. For my money, Seventh Son was a more effective piece of fantasy storytelling, based as it is on the first book in Joseph Delaney’s The Wardstone Chronicles (retitled The Last Apprentice in the US) although Matt Greenberg, Charles Leavitt and Aaron Guzikowski’s screenplay similarly turns its potential into tedium.

Continue reading “Film Review: Jupiter Ascending / Seventh Son, or ‘What you had to do to win an Oscar in 2014’”

Film Review: The Imitation Game

“Alan, I’ve a funny feeling you’re going to be rather good at this”

As Hollywood gears up for another Academy Award season, the early frontrunners are starting to appear in our cinemas and chief amongst those is The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, one of the more criminally maligned and under-appreciated figures in British history. Responsible for heading up the team that built the machine that was to crack the Nazi’s Enigma code thereby changing the course of the Second World War, his life ended in ignominy as the Official Secrets Act shielded his achievements from public knowledge and a conviction for gross indecency unimaginably marred his final years.

But this being prime Oscar-bait, the film is a lot more perky than that. That’s perhaps a tad unfair as this is a genuinely good piece of cinema but one can’t help but wonder what might have been had Morten Tyldum’s direction and Graham Moore’s script been a little braver in exploring Turing’s homosexuality and how that shaped his interior life, especially in those later years. It’s the one major weakness in an otherwise fully-fleshed characterisation of an awkward genius. A man who can crack codes but not jokes, respond to complex formulae but not to simple lunch invitations, can detect Soviet spies but not the gently breaking heart of his friend Joan. Continue reading “Film Review: The Imitation Game”

DVD Review: Chatroom (2010)

“We can get him online”

After watching The Nether at the Royal Court, a chat with a colleague about other plays that effectively depict the internet threw up Enda Walsh’s Chatroom which played at the National Theatre a few years back (and featured both Doctor Who (Matt Smith) and Spiderman (Andrew Garfield) in its cast. It was slightly before my time of insane theatre-going so I was glad to see that I could catch a film version, adapted by Walsh himself and directed by Japanese maestro Hideo Nakata.

The story concerns five teenagers in various states of unhappiness who find succour in online chatrooms. Disillusioned model Eva, anti-depressant taker Jim, unhappy daughter Emily and inappropriately flirtatious Mo are swept up by highly-functioning sociopath and self-harmer William in a room he’s created called Chelsea Teens! At first they just talk smack about those they don’t like but William soon manipulates them into acting on their feelings, with devastating consequences. Continue reading “DVD Review: Chatroom (2010)”

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”

Review: The Living Room, Jermyn Street

“You won’t believe what a bad little sweetheart she could be”

Celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, Graham Greene’s first play The Living Room hasn’t been revived in the UK since opening in 1953 so Primavera’s revival for the Jermyn Street Theatre offers a rare chance to experience Greene the playwright. After the death of her mother, 20 year old Rose Pemberton is taken to live with her deeply Catholic elderly uncle and aunts by a 45 year old friend of her long-dead father, a married psychology professor named Michael. An illicit affair has started between the pair which throws them into direct conflict with the traditional views of her new household and the repercussions of the actions of all concerned result in catastrophic consequences.

At the heart of the story is the newly orphaned Rose, an accomplished stage debut from Tuppence Middleton with a lovely blend of cut-glass properness and spirited rebelliousness as she strains against society’s conventions in the single-minded pursuit of her ill-starred affair yet not so devoid of emotion that she disregards her only remaining family completely. Christopher Villiers as the professor feels a little miscast as he never really brings to bear any sense of what it is that might have ensnared Rose’s affections so, but his attempts to rationalise the behaviour around him and justify his own using the psychology he teaches have a pugnacious persuasiveness.  Continue reading “Review: The Living Room, Jermyn Street”

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”