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The Family – review | Mark Kermode

24 November 2013 12:26 PM, PST

Robert De Niro dials in his performance as a mafia boss living in witness protection in a scrappy, corny action comedy

Robert De Niro treads water in Luc Besson's scrappy, shambolic, but not entirely unlikable "dark action comedy" about an American family in witness protection who wind up slumming it in France.

He plays former mob boss Giovanni Manzoni, now renamed Fred Blake, ordered by Tommy Lee Jones's baggy-eyed federal agent to keep a low profile even as his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) blows up the local supermarket and his kids run rackets and break heads in the school. It's throwaway stuff, packed with corny gags about rich French cooking and annoying Gallic manners, in which light relief is offered by the sight of our hero torturing a plumber; think The Whole Nine Yards with cheese. Eventually De Niro winds up at the local film society watching Goodfellas – presumably »

- Mark Kermode

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Computer Chess – review | Mark Kermode

24 November 2013 12:26 PM, PST

Geeks struggle to make grandmasters out of computers, and to connect with the real world too, in an eccentric mock-doc

The fascinating spectre of the "Mechanical Turk", a chess-playing automaton that hid a real player, rears its head in the opening moments of this mock-doc-cum-existential-comedy from Funny Ha Ha director Andrew Bujalski.

Shot on authentically grainy early 80s video cameras, the film follows a conference of socially inept geeks struggling to teach bulky computers to play a game once considered the very index of human intelligence, only to discover that the machines are becoming moody.

Crossing paths with a self-awareness couples group sharing the conference hotel, the programmers are variously prodded into (artificial?) interaction with profoundly awkward results. Odd, but in a good(ish) way.

Rating: 3/5

ComedyComedyMark Kermode

theguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our »

- Mark Kermode

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Mary, Mary, quite contrary: Pl Travers and Mary Poppins | Victoria Coren Mitchell

24 November 2013 12:24 PM, PST

The Pl Travers I uncover in my documentary was a tricky busybody. Nothing like me…

The new Disney movie, Saving Mr Banks, which opens on Friday, is more audacious than any film has been for a long time.

It tells the story of Pl Travers, author of the six Mary Poppins novels that most people haven't read, and her battle with Walt Disney over the film that everyone's seen.

Travers hated the 1964 musical Mary Poppins (or, as it was officially and not wrongly called, "Walt Disney's Mary Poppins").

She had never been a fan of the great showman or his studio. In her early work as an arts critic, she reviewed Snow White and wrote of Walt Disney: "There is a profound cynicism at the root of his, as of all, sentimentality."

For 20 years, she refused to sell him the film rights to her novels, for fear that he would sentimentalise her chilly, »

- Victoria Coren Mitchell

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Captain Kirk takes command of high-tech Us navy warship

24 November 2013 10:15 AM, PST

New skipper of high-tech vessel USS Zumwalt shares a name with TV starship commander played by William Shatner

Captain Kirk's futuristic-looking ship sports cutting-edge technology, new propulsion and powerful armaments – but it isn't the Starship Enterprise. The skipper of the USS Zumwalt is Navy Captain James Kirk, and yes, he's used to the jokes about the name he shares with the TV starship commander played by William Shatner.

"I don't take any offense," he told The Associated Press. "If it's a helpful moniker that brings attention to help us to do what we need to do to get the ship into the fleet and into combat operations, then that's fine."

The technology-laden Zumwalt, which is taking shape at Maine's Bath Iron Works, is unlike any other Us warship. The navy's largest destroyer will feature a composite deckhouse with hidden radar and sensors and an angular shape that minimizes its radar signature. »

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Artist Bob and Roberta Smith and filmmaker Tim Newton on their inspiring relationship

24 November 2013 3:08 AM, PST

A friendship formed at the schoolgates became a creative turning point for artist Bob and Roberta Smith and filmmaker Tim Newton

His story

Bob and Roberta Smith, 50, artist

Tim and I met in a primary school playground in Leytonstone four years ago. My son was in his last year there and Tim's kids were just starting out. You make lots of friends through having kids, but it's great when you come across somebody in the neighbourhood who you're genuinely on the same wavelength as.

Tim invited me to be an extra in a film he was making about Picasso visiting Sheffield. I saw him directing and he has a remarkable ability to work with people and bring out the best in them. Everybody depended absolutely on him. That's something I personally can't quite cope with. He always has a plan and endless resources of good humour.

We made a film »

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Jake and Dinos Chapman head a stellar cast to tell stories of world's children in need

23 November 2013 4:15 PM, PST

The Chapman brothers head lineup of artists whose works will be auctioned to raise funds

Some of the most famous names in British art – including Jake and Dinos Chapman, Antony Gormley, Anish Kapoor and Rachel Whiteread – have stepped forward to bring the experiences of poor and abused children in South Africa and Rwanda to a bigger stage.

The Chapmans, the controversial brothers nominated for the Turner prize in 2003, were the first to sign up to help a charity set up by the film and stage director Danny Boyle. Their new image, My Father's Suicide, was created after the pair listened to a recording of a 16-year-old South African girl, Kgopotso Mere, talking about the discovery that her father, an Aids sufferer, had committed suicide shortly after being discharged from a hospital stay. Their painting will be auctioned on Wednesday, along with that of 10 other leading artists.

Recalling how happy she »

- Vanessa Thorpe

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Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor – review

23 November 2013 4:12 PM, PST

First Gallifrey is destroyed. Then it's saved. And Billie Piper rescues everyone. Clear?

Cancel all weekend plans, they said. Mark it in your diaries, they cried. For the day is nigh. "Our future depends on one single moment of one impossible day, the day I've been running from all my life. The day of the Doctor." The long-awaited, heavily hyped 50th anniversary of a peculiarly British phenomenon with 77 million viewers worldwide and the highest Audience Appreciation Index of any TV drama in the UK.

So we did cancel all our plans. We gathered round with wide eyes and hopes and fears and Tardis pyjamas and Jaffa cakes. (Not me, the children. I'm doing a sugar detox.) And we weren't disappointed. Although we did get very confused.

There had been arguments about the fact that we had no plans to see The Day of the Doctor in one of the 3-D selected cinemas across the UK. »

- Viv Groskop

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Theatre Uncut; Strangers on a Train – review

23 November 2013 4:06 PM, PST

Young Vic; Gielgud, London

Theatre Uncut's visionary series of political plays appeal as much for the ideas as the drama. And Strangers on a Train runs out of steam

What began as a hand grenade has ended up as a cluster bomb. Three years ago Hannah Price conceived the idea of Theatre Uncut, a political new writing company and different version of protest theatre. It ingeniously brings new technology to bear on traditional agitprop, combining live performance and instantaneous multiplication.

The scheme, in which Price was joined as artistic director by Emma Callender, was to commission short plays that reacted to current politics and would be free for a month for anyone to download and perform anywhere. The original spur was the coalition's public spending cuts. In 2012 work came from Egypt and Iceland, Greece and Spain. This year, having consulted its rapidly growing audience – an audience which even by Young »

- Susannah Clapp

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Is Monty Python's reunion a bit of a joke?

23 November 2013 4:06 PM, PST

The five surviving Pythons have announced a one-night reunion gig at London's O2 next summer. An unmissable chance to catch a legendary act, or are they 20 years too late?

Charlie Higson, actor, comedian and author

I vividly remember going to see Monty Python live at the Drury Lane theatre in 1974. It was one of the best nights of my young life. There they were, up on stage, right in front of me, my heroes, the most important thing in my world. The comedy that you're into defines who you are, and every generation needs its own show – the show that they feel they own, that is made only for them.

For me, and everyone at school I respected, it was Monty Python. They upset your parents, they upset the establishment, they were the biggest cult show in Britain. And they played the Drury Lane theatre. How times have changed: a »

- Charlie Higson

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Vendetta – review | Mark Kermode

23 November 2013 4:06 PM, PST

A witless sub-Death Wish thriller with a leading man, Danny Dyer, who remains hard to take seriously

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Having infamously advised readers of Zoo magazine to cut their ex-girlfriends' faces (a joke, apparently), Danny Dyer now spends much of his spare time telling journalists that he's going to break their faaakin nose for the crime of disrespectfully laughing at his risible geezer shtick.

After several years of such petulant threats, I find it harder than ever to take Dyer's hackneyed hardman act seriously, which somewhat undercuts this low-budget Death Wish knock-off. There are other problems: the script is challengingly witless ("There was a time when I would have bled to keep the red in the Union Jack!"), the politics (sexual/social/racial) tediously toxic, and the catalogue of "you burned my parents so I'm going to pour concrete dahhn your froat" murders sadistically mundane. »

- Mark Kermode

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Blue is the Warmest Colour – review | Mark Kermode

23 November 2013 4:05 PM, PST

This intense and emotionally draining story of a lesbian relationship has caused much controversy

When Abdellatif Kechiche's lengthy and "freely inspired" adaptation of Julie Maroh's graphic novel Le bleu est une couleur chaude won the Palme d'Or at Cannes earlier this year, its two lead actresses were officially recognised in the citation alongside the director, an unprecedented acknowledgement of the defining role of the key cast that flew in the face of the festival's longstanding love affair with the haughty tenets of auterism. Certainly the performances by Léa Seydoux (already an important screen presence) and newcomer Adèle Exarchopoulos are extraordinary. Their portrayal of a blossoming, fragmenting relationship is shot through with genuine grace and conviction even when the film itself descends into indulgence.

Originally titled La vie d'Adèle, chapitres 1 & 2, Kechiche's raw love story traces the formation and disintegration of a relationship so powerful that it transforms the life of its coming-of-age heroine. »

- Mark Kermode

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On my radar: Alan Davies's cultural highlights

23 November 2013 4:05 PM, PST

The actor and comedian on a duo who rap about Cornish pasties, a documentary about Israel's security service – and his total immersion in Friday Night Lights

Writer, actor and comedian Alan Davies is best known for playing the lead role in Bafta-winning TV drama Jonathan Creek and as a regular panellist on the BBC quiz show Qi. Brought up by his father in Chingford, his mother having passed away when Davies was just six, he began performing standup at the Whitstable Labour club while at university in Kent. In 1991, he was named Time Out's best young comic. His latest DVD, Alan Davies: Life is Pain, featuring his most recent standup work, is out now.

Theatre

Bryony Kimmings: Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model

Bryony Kimmings is a performance artist and this is about trying to create, for a nine-year-old girl, a credible, likable, superstar role model. As the father of a daughter, »

- Ben Marshall

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The Observer's books of the year

23 November 2013 4:05 PM, PST

From new voices like NoViolet Bulawayo to rediscovered old voices like James Salter, from Dave Eggers's satire to David Thomson's history of film, writers, Observer critics and others pick their favourite reads of 2013. And they tell us what they hope to find under the tree …

Curtis Sittenfeld

Novelist

My favourite books of 2013 are Drama High (Riverhead) by Michael Sokolove, Sea Creatures (Turnaround) by Susanna Daniel, and & Sons (Harper Collins) by David Gilbert. Drama High is incredibly smart, moving non-fiction about an American drama teacher who for four decades coaxed sophisticated and nuanced theatrical performances out of teenage students who weren't privileged or otherwise remarkable and in so doing, changed their conceptions of what they could do with their lives. Sea Creatures is a gripping, beautifully written novel about the mother of a selectively mute three-year-old boy; when she takes a job ferrying supplies to a hermit off the coast of Florida, »

- Ali Smith, Robert McCrum, Tim Adams, Kate Kellaway, Rachel Cooke, Sebastian Faulks, Jackie Kay

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Harry Dean Stanton: 'Life? It's one big phantasmagoria'

23 November 2013 4:05 PM, PST

The wine, the women, the song… The great Harry Dean Stanton talks to Sean O'Hagan about jogging with Dylan, Rebecca de Mornay leaving him for Tom Cruise and why Paris, Texas is his greatest film

Harry Dean Stanton is singing "The Rose of Tralee". His wavering voice echoes across the rows of people gathered in the Village East cinema in New York, where a special screening of a new documentary about his life and work, Partly Fiction, has just finished. You can tell that the director, Sophie Huber, and the cinematographer, Seamus McGarvey, who are sitting beside him, are used to this sort of thing from Harry, but the rest of us are by turns delighted and a little bit nervous on his behalf. Now that he's 87, Stanton's voice is as unsteady as his gait, but he steers the old Irish ballad home in his inimitable manner and the audience responds with cheers and applause. »

- Sean O'Hagan

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Gone With the Wind – review | Mark Kermode

23 November 2013 4:05 PM, PST

A reissue of the 1939 American civil war drama classic sparkles in a new digital print

Reissued by the British Film Institute as part of its Vivien Leigh retrospective (rather than as a perversely arcane counterpoint to 12 Years a Slave), Victor Fleming's sprawling Technicolor epic returns in a spanking new high resolution digital print.

Correctly presented in its original square format Academy ratio (70mm reissues were cropped to make the image appear wider), this boasts epic visuals (the civil war, Atlanta on fire etc) as sweeping as Max Steiner's score.

Rated PG for "mild violence and dated discriminatory terms", the film nonetheless takes its place in movie history thanks to Hattie McDaniel's supporting turn as house servant Mammy, which made her the first African American to win an Academy award.

DramaMark Kermode

theguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of »

- Mark Kermode

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Parkland – review | Mark Kermode

23 November 2013 4:05 PM, PST

Despite excellent cinematography and some first-class performances, this JFK assassination drama remains an also-ran

What else is there to say about the assassination of JFK? With every aspect of the case explored in both documentary (Killing Oswald also opens this week) and drama, it's hard to find an angle that hasn't been covered.

This solid but unremarkable adaptation of Vincent Bugliosi's painstaking book Four Days in November focuses on the lives of incidental characters (Zac Efron's exhausted young surgeon, Paul Giamatti's rattled Abraham Zapruder) who find themselves accidentally caught up in the whirlwind.

Barry Ackroyd's cinematography lends a typically authentic air to the proceedings and Jacki Weaver is extraordinary as Oswald's unhinged mother, Marguerite, but Parkland remains a bystander in the already overcrowded field of films about the events of November 1963.

Rating: 3/5

DramaBilly Bob ThorntonPaul GiamattiJohn F KennedyMark Kermode

theguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. »

- Mark Kermode

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Writers and critics on the best books of 2013

23 November 2013 1:00 AM, PST

Hilary Mantel, Jonathan Franzen, Mohsin Hamid, Ruth Rendell, Tom Stoppard, Malcolm Gladwell, Eleanor Catton and many more recommend the books that impressed them this year

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw (Fourth Estate) is a brilliant, sprawling, layered and unsentimental portrayal of contemporary China. It made me think and laugh. I also love Dave Eggers' The Circle (Hamish Hamilton), which is a sharp-eyed and funny satire about the obsession with "sharing" our lives through technology. It's convincing and a little creepy.

William Boyd

By strange coincidence two of the most intriguing art books I read this year had the word "Breakfast" in their titles. They were Breakfast with Lucian by Geordie Greig (Jonathan Cape) and Breakfast at Sotheby's by Philip Hook (Particular). Greig's fascinating, intimate biography of Lucian Freud was a revelation. Every question I had about Freud – from the aesthetic to the intrusively gossipy – was »

- Hilary Mantel, Jonathan Franzen, Mohsin Hamid, Tom Stoppard, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, William Boyd, Bill Bryson, Shami Chakrabarti, Sarah Churchwell, Antonia Fraser, Mark Haddon, Robert Harris, Max Hastings, Philip Hensher, Simon Hoggart, AM Homes, John Lanchester, Mark Lawson, Robert Macfarlane, Andrew Motion, Ian Rankin, Lionel Shriver, Helen Simpson, Colm Tóibín, Richard Ford, John Gray, David Kynaston, Penelope Lively, Pankaj Mishra, Blake Morrison, Susie Orbach

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Dr Who and the Daleks recap: the non-canon version with doddery Doctor

22 November 2013 11:30 PM, PST

It may be the Day of the Doctor, but over on Channel 5, at 10.05am on Saturday, they are giving Peter Cushing's 1965 film an airing. Was it as bad as we remember?

'I don't know where we are' – Dr Who

Today, as you might have noticed, is the Day of the Doctor. Doctor Who's 50th anniversary is here, and it's an event on an unprecedented scale. A special episode – an extended, all-star, 3D special episode – is being shown around the world tonight, on TV and in cinemas, as the cherry on top of an almighty celebration. The Doctor, in all his incarnations, has become a true treasure.

Well, almost all his incarnations. While we're all gasping and cheering and hiding behind our sofas at whatever Steven Moffat has planned for us tonight, Dr Who and the Daleks – the non-canon Peter Cushing feature film from 1965 – is kicking its heels over »

- Stuart Heritage

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Ask a grown-up: why do all films have to have a baddie?

22 November 2013 11:00 PM, PST

The award-winning director answers three-year-old Phoebe's question

Drama is based on conflict. Dividing characters into "goodies" and "baddies" is a crude way of achieving that. But "baddies" are also used in films, particularly American films, to show people from different countries or social backgrounds in a bad way. In the cold war – a period of political tension between America and the Soviet Union from 1947-1991 – villains were Russian or eastern European. During and after the second world war, they were German. In westerns, Native Americans were the enemy being shot by American cowboys who were, of course, the good guys.

Other baddies? Mexicans, Jews, the Chinese – all have been made into stereotypical baddies by film-makers. There is a current wave of post-9/11 American films set in the Middle East, with Middle Eastern people as the baddies. Some people – myself included – feel Hollywood tells stories like this to justify American foreign policy, »

- Ken Loach, Guardian readers

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Blue Is The Warmest Colour, Catching Fire, Computer Chess: this week's new films

22 November 2013 10:00 PM, PST

Blue Is The Warmest Colour | The Hunger Games: Catching Fire | Computer Chess : Parkland | The Family | Breakfast With Johnny Wilkinson | Flu | ¡Vivan Las Antipodas! | Vendetta

Blue Is The Warmest Colour (18)

(Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013, Fra/Bel/Sp) Adèle Exarchopoulos, Léa Seydoux, Jérémie Laheurte. 180 mins

Beyond making viewers feel lecherous, this Cannes winner's already notorious sexual frankness is just one element in an intense, sensual study of a young woman learning about love, life and, yes, sex. It's storytelling at its finest: simple but detailed, and at times unbearably emotional.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (12A)

(Francis Lawrence, 2013, Us) Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson. 146 mins

The only post-Twilight teen franchise left standing brings media manipulation and simmering revolution to its next round of youth combat.

Computer Chess (15)

(Andrew Bujalski, 2013, Us) Patrick Riester, Myles Paige, James Curry. 91 mins

The cruddy video quality and geeky insularity of the early computing era are fondly rebooted in this delightful retro farce. »

- Steve Rose

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