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Paddington 2 (2017)
For once a sequel that doesn't disappoint
I was hugely surprised at just how good the first film was and was tentatively cautious when this sequel was green-lighted that perhaps it might cheapen Michael Bond's beloved family friendly creation.
However, fear not, for this sequel is absolutely terrific on all levels. Firstly it is as funny and witty and as brilliantly animated as the first film. The excellent cast from the first film is also enhanced by a superb turn from Hugh Grant, who hasn't been as good as he is here in a long time. In fact it is quite clear to the viewer that Grant is thoroughly enjoying himself by playing against type and sending himself up as a faded egotistical actor and total cad who sets Paddington up to be the fall guy (or should that be Bear?) for a dastardly deed. There is a touch of the pantomime villain to his performance, but it works splendidly and it fits his character perfectly.
All the wit and heart of the first film is still evident here and in some ways, built upon. Brendan Gleeson is also excellent as an old lag and prison cook who loses his angry nature when he succumbs to Paddington's charms and talents in the kitchen. There are also loads of great jokes too, some pitched at younger children and some deliberately aimed at the more adult viewer.
All in all this is a worthy sequel and a great memorial to Paddingtons creator, Michael Bond, who died whilst this sequel was still being filmed. It is full of laughs, thrills, action sequences, great characters, some wonderful animation (one scene is an obvious nod to the 2D paper cut-outs of the human characters in the 1970s children's TV show) and you would have to have a hard heart indeed to not burst into tears at the wonderful ending. Also, don't leave the film until you watch Hugh Grant gloriously send himself up with a musical song and dance act as the end credits roll.
Thoroughly recommended to anybody who wants to see 100 minutes of family friendly fun that isn't either sickly sweet or too dark for youngsters and still thoroughly watchable to adults too. Great fun and a worthy sequel to one of the best British films in recent years.
Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017)
More than just about Winnie the Pooh
I watched this wondering if it was going to be a dull, forgettable period piece or a tedious biopic and was very surprised just how good it actually was.
This is a really solid film with good performances and nicely directed. The plot concerns the true story of the life of the young Christopher Robin and the changing relationship he has with his parents in the 1920s.
It blends the mental trauma his father has been living with since his WW1 experience, and Christopher Robin's own traumatic childhood, both of witnessing his own parent's fractious relationship and then the deep unhappiness of having his life turned upside down when his fathers book, Winnie the Pooh, becomes an enormous and unexpected worldwide hit and inadvertently makes a celebrity of Christopher Robin.
This is a film primarily about family relationships and it is extremely well written too. Will Tilston, who plays Christopher Robin at 8 years old, puts in an exceptionally competent and sweet performance that makes you genuinely feel for the character.He finds the only person who actually understands and shares his anguish is his nanny, Olive (Kelly MacDonald). Olive too notices how unhappy Christopher Robin becomes but her pleas fall on deaf ears.
The only real flaw in any of the characterizations is Margot Robbie's turn as Daphne, Christopher Robin's mother. Whilst Domnhall Gleeson's AA Milne at least has some back story to explain why his mentally tortured writer is struggling to shake off his demons and thus oblivious to his son's reluctant celebrity status, Daphne comes across as somebody who is a bit cold and shallow and has no problems with watching her son get exploited to make the book a success. This may of course be what she was really like but the film doesn't dig very deep into her character. However this is a minor quibble in an otherwise well made film.
There are moments of humour in the script and no bad language so I expect this film will appeal to older audiences as well as families. The film is also just about the right length too if you like a good old fashioned biopic/drama. There is also a moral at the heart of this tale about the need to let children have a normal childhood, which is very much applicable even now.
Despicable Me 3 (2017)
Not bad but not enough Minions (and no bananas!)
I have to say I was slightly disappointed with DM3. Whist it was amusing enough it lacked the spark that made DM1 & 2 so enjoyable. Whilst the Minions movie showed that the Minions really needed Gru to bring out the best comedy in them, DM3 showed just how thin a character Gru is without the Minions constant rudeness and slapstick to effortlessly carry things along (and I missed Dr Nefario's drollness to slow things down compared to Gru's constant showboating). There was also a feeling of compromise with several of the famous 80s pop songs in the soundtrack finishing just before the vocals started, showing the producers clumsy attempt to save money on the production budget. After the heady high of the Village People ending in DM2 I felt a bit short changed this time round and it kind of ruined the fun.
Whilst I suspect the film will do great box office and a DM4 is almost inevitable I really hope that the writers and producers look at the comments here and realise how close they came to a misfire with this film. The writing was lazy, the fun music soundtrack was poorly done and the minions were badly missed for the majority of the film.
DM1 was an unexpectedly massive hit when it first came out and it led to a superb sequel and a spin off that wasn't bad but could have been better. Unfortunately I feel DM3 is going to be a turning point, either it is the start of a decline in the material and writing or it will give Universal studios a massive kick in the butt that they could do better next time round if they want to keep the quality in the franchise. I really hope they take notice.
A Street Cat Named Bob (2016)
A film with loads of heart despite it's limitations and small budget
There is much to like about this film. For a start Luke Treadaway does a solid job as James Bowen, the lead character. But let's be honest, Bob (as himself) totally steals every scene he is in. A gorgeous ginger Tom, he is adorable and just oozes charm despite not having any dialogue. You could almost hear the audience warm to him from the first time we see him, helping himself to a box of cereal. Bob needed a home and someone to look after him and James needed Bob to find the strength to save himself and a sense of purpose in life.
The film is based on a true story and yet weirdly it suffers a bit from being too adult (in parts) to be a real family film yet it almost comes over as a severely compromised view of the world of drug addiction and thus will be a bit of a disappointment to those expecting a deep character study. In the UK the film is rated 12 so it is neither a kiddies film about a cute cat nor is it quite the Trainspotting style view of a man trying desperately to kick his drug dependency. In this regard the film falls between two stalls and despite trying hard, can never quite make up it's mind what it purports to try to be.
Roger Spottiswoode is a talented director (just look at his CV) and yet he feels a strange choice to direct this. He made the Tom Hanks comedy Turner & Hooch a long time ago so he has form of working with animals and humans but this film is a million miles (and millions of dollars) away from that Disney crowd-pleaser. Here we have a small story that must have been a very delicate balancing act to get right at the script stage, a mixture of comedy & pathos that has to be able to not offend a family audience and yet deal with a serious subject matter and the huge uphill struggle James has to deal with, his desire to get clean of addiction for once and for all. And some credit must go to the screenwriter for showing the degrading and tragic side of drug addiction without making it too overtly harrowing. If this film inspires one other person to turn their life around like Bob motivated James to do, or even stops one person turning to drugs as an escape then it will have done its job.
I should point out that the film also has a light side too, with touches of comedy alongside the seriousness. The supporting cast are all fine too, although the neighbour 'Betty' seems a little too kooky and convenient for my liking. James's support worker Val is wonderfully played out by Joanne Froggatt from Downton Abbey and fans of Mike Leigh films will also recognise Ruth Sheen popping up too. And let's not forget Anthony Head (who is always immensely likable) as James's dad and has a wonderful scene towards the end of the film when he finally shows his true feelings.
So then, this is a worthwhile film providing you aren't expecting to see a) a Garfield film or B) a Trainspotting expose of life as a drug addict. There is almost no bad language to speak of so it ticks that box too. Like I said earlier, there is a feeling of compromise to this, like the story was edited for a younger audience but that isn't necessarily a bad thing and it certainly helped James Bowen's book reach out to a mass audience and rightfully become a best seller. If this was set in the US it would certainly have a glossier feel and maybe it's touch of grittiness (partly as it was filmed on location in a grey, drab London during November-December 2015) will harm it's box-office, but as a true life human drama of inspiration with a dash of charm and loads of character then do give it a try.
Swallows and Amazons (2016)
A pleasant, inoffensive and very British film for all ages
In a summer of mostly disappointing blockbusters, this small British film sneaked in without much fanfare and is probably one of the best family films of 2016 so far.
Yes it's a remake of the 1974 film but don't let that put you off. The story has been tightened up slightly to appeal to 21st century tastes and it's all the better for it. I'm not dissing the original but audiences have changed over the last 40+ years and this film is technically well made using modern techniques but with an involving old fashioned kids spy drama at the heart of it. The film is neither puerile nor patronising and it's script is involving but relatively easy to follow. Sure, there may be some questions left unanswered for the pedantic but considering it is a PG certificate intended to appease adults and pre-teens I think it did a good job at the pacing of the story and keeping it taut.
Modern filmmaking techniques on a story set in the 1930s don't always work but here they keep the visuals flowing smoothly without being obvious and the Lake District (or should that be North Yorkshire where most of it was supposedly filmed!) looks as pretty as ever. I also found all the acting unobtrusive and competent even though Harry Enfield seemed an unusual bit of casting. Kelly Macdonald did a fine job of playing the mother, a role played by Virginia McKenna in the original but to be honest the acting all round was solid if unshowy by the cast. So then, a well scripted, well acted and well directed small scale British film that will appeal to young and old alike (with no bad language of note). Admittedly there is a bit of fisticuffs towards the end and some mild threat as would befit a story involving foreign spies with guns, but it was all good PG rated fun. It felt about the right length too, which shows it wasn't boring or an editing mess.
On the whole I can't really think of a bad thing to say about this film. I felt it was at least the equal of the original, if not a slight improvement. Maybe the viewer should watch them back to back and make up your own mind. This film may not set the box office alight and it may struggle to get a cinema release outside of the UK due to it's small scale and strong British identity, but I suspect it will turn up regularly on television for many years to come.
X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
I think the critics have been way too harsh in this case - It's actually rather good.
As you can probably gather I thought this was another very good addition to the X-Men franchise. Whilst it doesn't hit the heady heights of Days of Future Past it still is a really good watch and I fail to see why it has had a mixed press.
Firstly I found it to have a perfectly serviceable story, with Apocalypse and his followers recruiting the very vulnerable and angry Magneto as part of his plan to destroy civilisation and rebuild it in his image. Fassbender turns in another solid performance and you really feel his pain and confusion for the Erik/Magneto character. I also thought all the supporting cast were absolutely fine in their roles, and to me Evan Peters as Quicksilver really stole the scenes he was in and makes a fine addition to the cast. The same also goes to Tye Sheridan as Scott/Cyclops, whose back story is filled in better and with more depth than it was in the Wolverine origins film.
I see the critics have been moaning about having too many characters in the film, yet I actually think it was handled better than it was in the Captain America: Civil War film. In Apocalypse the large cast do actually have something to do and contribute to the story, whereas the Captain America film felt like some were shoe horned in, which I felt made that film feel bloated and repetitive whereas this one at least get the storyline moving. I felt that Civil War felt way too long because of all the story padding yet Apocalypse, whilst also a long film, kept my interest to the end (and yes there is a post credits scene that I suspect is setting up Wolverine 3). I should also add that Apocalypse, despite it's bleak story, does have some moments of humour and wit that went down well with the audience.
I also felt the surprise appearance of Wolverine fitted in nicely with the back story that we already know, particularly the one told in X Men 2 and the Origins film, nicely closing that particular characters story arc and fitting in perfectly with the circumstances surrounding his appearance in the very first X-Men film of 16 years ago. If this is to be Wolverines final appearance with the X-men then they have given him a lovely send off.
I did find some minor flaws with the film though, particularly with the visual appearance of some of the characters and how their ages don't compute when the first X-men film of 2000 is taken into account. However, asides from that I thoroughly enjoyed X-Men Apocalypse and thought it was a solid & worthy addition to the other X-Men films. The films had spectacle, action, laughs and carried on with the journeys of the characters we have got to know and love over the past sixteen years.
The Man on the Eiffel Tower (1950)
A flawed yet hugely interesting crime thriller
I found this film a real mixed bag. Firstly there is the jaunting use of colour. It has been well documented that the negative is long lost and only two 35mm film prints of varying quality are known to have survived (the DVD is made from the best elements combined from both these prints). The film print is still quite scratched and dark in places and could probably do with a proper digital restoration but at least it is watchable, if not as easy on the eye as technicolor is.
I'm not going to go into plot details as others have already done that but I did find the film starts off quite well before the plot starts to sag quite badly in the middle and gets overly complicated, although it does pick up again towards the end when Maigret's plan starts to come together leading to the action packed finale. Also, despite receiving a major credit, Wilfrid Hyde White is in the film for one scene only so its more of a cameo than anything else.
I found the dialogue to be hugely artificial at times making it sound like bad acting rather than decent actors trying to say some rather wooden lines. Yet Maigret himself is quite wonderfully acted by Charles Laughton who plays the role just right. Whereas some of the other characters seem very contrived, Maigret has a wonderful sense of humanity and believability as a middle aged, rather rotund detective who is actually smarter than he lets on. In fact Laughton's interpretation is not a million miles away from Michael Gambon's portrayal for television 40 years later. His sense of calm and intelligence, patiently waiting for his arrogant suspect to make a mistake, is reminiscent of Peter Ustinov's unruffled Hercule Poirot.
A final word should go to the production values. Shot on the streets of Paris this film is an interesting view of how post war Paris looked, showing both the beauty of the city and the damage from the war that had finished 4 years earlier. Burgess Meredith was asked to take over directing the film three days into filming and to be fair he does a decent job, keeping the camera moving when it needs to and ensuring the audience know this is not filmed on a backlot in Hollywood. The sound is also beautifully clear too, a hard job when you consider the amount of location work involved.
All in all this film falls short of being a genuine classic due to a muddled and flabby script, bad dialogue (in places) and some overacting by some of the supporting cast. However its still has a lot going for it and is well worth a watch for Laughtons performance alone.
A slight disappointment but might please the kids
The Horrible histories series is not only very educational but also good fun. However what works in a half hour TV show is a huge struggle to work in a feature film. Whilst there are some good gags in the script, a lot of them fall very flat too and in this respect I couldn't help but compare it being like a PG rated the 'League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse' from about a decade ago. The cast try hard but apart from Damian Lewis (who seems very comfortable in a classic Errol Flynn type role) the rest of the cast do sometimes overact, mugging at the camera slightly too much for my liking. It's a shame but not a surprise because the film cannot seem to decide if it is an extended episode or going for a Blackadder style take on history and the script reflects this, as it is neither one nor the other.
Like I said, there are a few good laughs for kids and adults alike but it could have done with a few more as well. The idea of the story, of Shakespeare's pre-fame career, is a novel one and could have been a Monty Python style film for kids but somehow this effort feels a bit flat despite the best efforts of the cast. In this respect some of the blame must go on the script which sometimes lacks in places. Maybe youngsters will like it, fart gags and all, and it does make good use of its locations and period detail but it was not memorable which is a shame. However I hope the Horrible Histories team do get the chance to make another better film as this is isn't a disaster, more of a near miss.
Painted Boats (1945)
Historically important view of a way of life now long gone
There isn't much of a plot to this slightly unusual but fascinating and quite well made film that is part documentary and part soap opera. However that isn't really the point here as the film has far more worth as a snapshot of life for those families who worked and lived on the British canals in the 1940s.
Whilst the film used (mostly) professional actors, the backdrop was real and utilised lots of location filming . As I said there isn't much of a story beyond the lives of a family who live and work on a canal barge and the world they live in. The story concerns the character Mary (Jenny Laird) and her love of life working the canals as generations before her have done. She is engaged to fellow bargee Ted Stoner who dreams of putting down roots and living in a house (unlike Mary). He hopes the army will call him up and offer him a way out and a trade even though he is is supposedly exempted from the draft as well as being illiterate. His younger brother Alf (Harry Fowler) finds life on the canal exciting yet his fractured education and that of others who live like him is also very prominently addressed.
Although there is a certain amount of a 'rose tinted' view of the lives of these gypsies of the river, the film doesn't shy away from the harsh realities of their life either, especially the scene where a contract is signed but the women in the scene cannot write their name so just sign it with an 'X'.
This film works as a glimpse of a way of life that existed for the best part of 200 years. However even in 1945 the film makers could see that the writing was on the wall for the bargee way of life. The importance of the railway network and the improvement of the roads and the rise of the HGV are all addressed. The second world war was probably the last hurrah for the canal network and those who worked on it for industrial reasons. In fact the war itself may very well have prolonged its importance and therefore its existence for a few extra years as trains were needed for things like troop transport and petrol was in short supply for road vehicles because of the war effort. However by the 1950s the wide scale commercial use of lorries, the nationalisation of the railways and the post war social changes in areas such as improved housing, education and healthcare all but effectively sounded the death knell for this way of life and by the end of the 1960s the canals were of little commercial importance anymore . In this respect the film offers us an invaluable look into the final few years of life on the canals and the people who worked them.
Woman in Gold (2015)
Why all the criticism?
I fail to understand the criticism levelled at this worthy legal drama, particularly Peter Bradshaw's scathing review for The Guardian newspaper.
Helen Mirren again turns in another good performance although the real surprise is Ryan Reynolds turn as her naïve but well meaning lawyer, in over his head (just as Matt Damon was in 1997's The Rainmaker) against the state of Austria.
That this is based on a true story seems to have been overlooked by the critics. The concept that Mirren's character was trying to retrieve a famous piece of art, a painting of her aunt, that was stolen by the Nazi's and ended up in a Viennese museum resonates as just a small piece of the injustices dealt to the Jews. That the museum refuses to hand it over by trying every excuse possible resulting in a David vs Goliath showdown and the animosity that gets built up just adds to the flavour.
Yes, maybe the story has been oversimplified for the purposes of the film, and that for the sake of the story 2 years is very conveniently squashed down into a few minutes, but this is still a decent legal drama with a human interest story (told partly in flashback). I certainly enjoyed the film and so did the audience.
Perhaps the critics didn't like it because it lacked any car chases, is fairly pedestrian in its pacing or that it demonises at least some of the Austrian people, for both being complicit in pre-war anti Semitism and the lack of acknowledgement to her plight. I cannot argue with these points but then again it isn't trying to be Schindlers List either. It was probably no coincidence that the vast majority of the audience was an older audience but there should always be a place in cinema for human interest stories too. This is a film about one woman's experience of what the Nazi's did to her, her family, her friends and her attempts to at least try and redress some of the injustices dealt to her. Maybe it won't win any Oscars but I would certainly recommend it for those who like old an fashioned drama based on a true story.
Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015)
Shaun the Sheep - a film that the whole family will enjoy
I considered Aardmans last stop motion effort 'Pirates - in an adventures with scientists' to be a bit of a let down when it was released three years ago and wondered if they had gone off the boil a little bit by trying to appeal to the mass market and thus diluting their witty humour as a result. However after 80 odd minutes of Shaun the Sheep I am happy to report that they are back on track.
Shaun is extremely well animated and manages to keep the story ticking along and funny enough to keep your interest without really feeling stretched. Considering as the film has no real dialogue to speak of that is no mean feat, and is reliant on top notch production design, expressive animation and a script that is entertaining and funny without being overly ridiculous. Whilst the Shaun the Sheep/Timmy Time TV shorts are aimed at young viewers, there is a decent amount of underlying humour here that adults will also engage with and thus it doesn't insult your intelligence the way some films do.
After Aardmans infamous falling out with DreamWorks (who wanted them to Americanize Wallace & Gromit) I did wonder if Aardman had sold out for the mass market after feeling the Sony Pictures distributed Pirates had a whiff of compromise to it, and that's partly why I felt Pirates fell a bit flat. However Aardman have teamed up with an independent European distributor for Shaun and as a result it seems they were allowed to make the film they wanted to make this time round. In effect I was not disappointed with Shaun, the simple but hilarious premise of the TV show is expanded successfully to the big screen with no noticeable compromises for the mass market. That the film is also dialogue free should make it an easy sell abroad too and I'm glad to see the film has been well received.
So well done to Aardman for making one of 2015's most enjoyable, entertaining and amusing films so far.
The House of Magic (2013)
Much better than i expected
Most European animations intended for the mass market are often very disappointing either in a lame script or bland animation. Usually it is Hollywood that rules the roost here, but The House of Magic was a pleasantly surprising film released (in the UK) in a summer already overcrowded with family fare.
Admittedly this film is aimed at a much younger market than say, the Marvel Films but nonetheless it is still doing the rounds where other animation like The Nut Job, How to train your dragon 2 and Planes 2 are also on release. I am a little surprised the distributors put it out during the summer because it obviously won't have the same kind of publicity as those big American productions but nonetheless I am glad to see it has been reasonably well received because it is actually quite watchable and likable. Although I saw the film in 2D I could see the scenes designed for the 3D release and can quite understand those that think its is one of the better 3D releases.
The story is not terribly sophisticated, an abandoned little ginger kitten wanders into a spooky house and ends up fighting a greedy real estate agent who is trying to sell it behind his elderly magician uncle's back. After a sub plot involving the Rabbit and a mouse trying to get rid of the kitten the kitten ultimately ends up teaming up with the other inhabitants of the house (Rabbit, mouse, two lovebirds and various sentient inventions) plus two sick children to thwart him. The film does drag in a few places and is quite predictable but is extremely well animated, has fun with it's music cues (watch out for some classic British pop music from the 1980s) and will ultimately leave children and adults with a big grin on their face as the end credits roll. The script could have done with a few more laughs but anybody who has ever owned a cat will recognize how well translated the mannerisms of 'Thunder' the kitten have been done.
Ultimately I found this to be an undemanding, very well animated and perfectly serviceable little film that has no offensive elements (although I agree with a previous reviewer who found the callous way the kitten is abandoned by its original owner to be a little bit upsetting). Nonetheless the film moves on quickly from that start and the reasons why he was abandoned are briefly addressed in the story (economic recession).
I was going to give this film a 6 but 'Thunder' is such a cute creation and probably the most lovable cat in a film since Puss in Boots from Shrek that I gave it a 7.
Gagarin. Pervyy v kosmose (2013)
A pleasantly well made biopic - flag waving from the Russians for once.
The move into space is one of mankind's greatest achievements in the 20th century and this biopic is a worthy addition to the more commonly found fare us in the west are exposed to.
In a way this could be seen as the Russian equivalent of the excellent 1983 Hollywood film 'The Right Stuff'. It celebrates the putting of the first man into space, Yuri Gagarin of course. The film is told in a way that details his famous flight in 1961 with flashbacks to key points in his life, his childhood, his romance with his soon to be wife, his joining the Soviet Air Force and the trials and tribulations of the journey that resulted in him eventually making history.
As the film is less than two hours long it does have a feel of a carefully put together and slightly hurried celebration of an authentic Soviet hero. Gagarin is made out to be the nicest man in the world who was a model poster boy for the Soviets, and it does gloss over his life and stops conveniently before his faults as a human being (particularly his later alcoholism) became apparent. However that is my only grumble because this is a meticulously well done film with top rate effects and beautifully filmed. Yes it has a certain propaganda value (as do a great many American films on similar lines) that a cynic might try and pull apart. The re-enactments of the Soviet people celebrating his achievement do have a slight cheese factor when viewed from a modern perspective, but these are minor criticisms as the film is not intended to be a warts and all look at Major Gagarin's life, but a celebration of what he achieved and the fearlessness of a man who knew that to make history he had to knowingly take risks, with a brief explanation at the end of his life beyond his famous flight and his tragic death at the age of just 34.
Becky Sharp (1935)
A technicolor curiosity
My memories of this film are a little jaded because its been years since i saw it and its never been released in the UK.
However what i do remember of it is how good Miriam Hopkins is in the lead role. Although the direction is a little staged and awkward, the experienced cast do help to keep this film watchable. This was the first full length three strip technicolor feature film so kudos to the studio for taking the gamble with making it. It is no great surprise it is studio bound because of the amount of lighting that was needed on early technicolor. Also the technicolor cameras were bulky too making the directors job pretty difficult too. The Art department must shoulder some of the blame for the mixed results though. I seem to remember their colour scheme was really uninspired. They could have used nice bright primary colours to show off the system but they erred on a colour set up that made you feel was lacking in courage. However on a critical note, Becky Sharpe was a decently made costume drama that was fairly average with good performances. However its is interesting to note how quickly technicolor improved after 1935. Check out 'Wings of The Morning' from 1937 to see a film that may have had a bad script but made excellent use of external location filming and the colours were a lot more naturalistic.
Another Year (2010)
I enjoyed it, although some people here obviously didn't.
Mike Leigh is a director that usually polarises people. You either like him or you don't and this film epitomises his style. As with many of his other films the film centres around characterisation rather than plot. The story of a year in the life of the two main protagonists isn't especially interesting but then again other Leigh films like High Hopes and Naked have very little happening in the way of actual plot. The real interest is in watching the characters develop and how it is done in a snapshot of their lives. So the people who are writing their reviews of this film and using words like 'boring' really need to familiarise themselves with the Leigh back catalogue because plot development was never something his films were usually terribly concerned about.
All the main cast are, as usual, excellent. Leigh really knows his actors hence why he is fond of using many of them again and again in his films. Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen do a great job and are always believable. Lesley Manville is also well used as the lonely and slightly mad friend whose life appears ready to fall apart like a house of cards. There are other good performances too numerous to mention and this is where Leigh excels, as an actors director. I am slightly surprised that the production budget was £10 million though (assuming IMDb is correct) as that is a considerable amount of money for one of Leighs films.
On the whole this is a decent offering from Leigh. It's not as pretentious as Topsy Turvy but its certainly not a bad film. It epitomises his style which is not to everyones taste admittedly. My favourite Leigh work is Career Girls, Meantime, High Hopes, Life is Sweet and the TV movie Nuts in May, however Another Year lacks the black humour of those films hence why i only gave it 7/10. However its certainly easier to watch than the likes of Vera Drake and is well worth viewing.
Burke and Hare (2010)
Like a Hammer film played for laughs
It is good to see a John Landis film back on the big screen but i feel he missed a trick or two with this average effort. Firstly, for a film set in Scotland i found it odd that the cast was almost entirely English, betraying the roots of the story (and of the English cast only Tom Wilkinson ,a splendid actor, managed to give a good approximation of a Scots accent).
This film felt a bit of a homage to the Hammer films, a point made when a certain Hammer Icon makes a cameo appearance (i won't name the individual as i don't want to add a spoiler). I am guessing Landis is a Hammer fan and to be fair to him the sets and locations work quite well, giving Edinburgh a spooky feel to it. Both Pegg and Serkis are OK in the lead roles and do their best to sound Irish. It was also good to see Jenny Agutter make a brief appearance too, especially as she is invariably remembered for appearing in Landis's American Werewolf in London nearly 30 years ago...a nice touch by the director. In fact there seems to be quite a lot of casting British film and TV icons in this film (Ronnie Corbett being another) so i'm guessing that maybe Simon Pegg or Andy Serkis only agreed to do it if certain British childhood icons of theirs were also given parts.
To be honest the Burke and Hare story has been better done before but this film puts a comedic twist on it that doesn't always work. The bad language feels unnecessary for a start and the gore isn't as bad as i thought (certainly not on the levels of the Hostel or Saw films...and not even as graphic as the Final Destination franchise). There are some genuine laughs to be had but usually when Pegg and Serkis are on the screen. The story itself also swings back and forth between gruesome and the unexpected romantic angles that may have been intended to show Burke and Hare as committing their crimes for something other than just greed.
Basically this is a reasonably graphic horror story with heart and morality that has some good laughs but falls flat in a few areas. The cast give it their best shot and whilst it has an old fashioned feel to it in many ways, it is the unnecessary post-modern touches, the inconsistent rate at which the comedy comes and the rather odd casting that jarred me. However do keep an eye out for the odd cameo appearance from some famous actors and comedians.
Micro Men (2009)
The rise and fall of the UK computer business
Just saw this on BBC4. A very interesting take on how close the UK came to dominating the world computer development and manufacturing industry in the early 80s, only for it to all fall apart just 5 years later.
Despite some garish and unconvincing make-up, Armstrong shows he can do serious drama in his portrayal of Sir Clive Sinclair, the man who brought affordable computing to the masses. Martin Freeman is good (as always) as the confidante in Sinclair's company who, unable to understand Sinclairs bloody mindedness over what to concentrate their efforts on, leaves and sets up arch rival 'Acorn Computers' with an Austrian business partner.
The production team have done a solid job in displaying the drabness of the era. The mix of archive TV footage of the time inter-cut with this filmed TV drama works quite well. The background story of how the UK became a world leader in the home PC market, and then blew it, is a fascinating tale for anyone interested in recent history. At one point Freemans character turns to Sinclair and says 'We could have been the British IBM but you wouldn't listen to me' is very apt. Sinclairs obsession with the notorious C5 is also addressed. It does make you wonder what would have happened had there been more cohesion in the industry at the time rather than the arrogant self interest of the industry that resulted in the UK losing such a massive foothold.
A thought provoking drama that has just enough momentum to keep itself interesting despite some flaws.
Looking for Eric (2009)
A flawed masterpiece....just like Cantona himself.
Man Utd fans will obviously love this and I'm not a Utd fan. However i have to say this is the most entertaining film of Ken Loach's since Bread & Roses nearly a decade ago. It has a good story and is realistically acted by a cast of unknowns and semi-familiar faces. For a film about a legendary and iconic footballer it doesn't ram football down the throats of the non-fans. What the film does do is bring up just how important football is for many people, the way it can unite and connect them in a way that has otherwise disappeared in Britain.
I won't give any of the story away but this film drags you down to a point where you wonder how the protagonist will get out of a very dire dilemma. Yet the ending is so well written you are guaranteed to come out of the cinema smiling at the way just desserts are dished out. The film is brutal in places and the language strong yet the excellent acting keeps it watchable and Monsieur Cantona himself seems very comfortable in front of a film camera (although sometimes his accent makes his dialog a little hard to understand). Cantona plays with his image wonderfully, being both self important and yet always likable and sometimes quite happy to deflate his own ego, being respectful about how lucky he was to have had such a memorable and legendary career without ever being truly arrogant (a fact a certain Mr C Ronaldo could do well to absorb) and acknowledging the role of the fans in his career. Lets put it another way, King Eric will always be remembered and respected in this country by all supporters for his great ability and the respect he had for the game and his club. Ronaldo will just be remembered as a talented but greedy young man who left probably the biggest club in the world for a larger pay packet.
Its difficult for me to say any more without giving away the plot but lets just say this is a film about never giving up hope when all seems lost because sometimes help will come from the most unexpected sources.
Wings of the Morning (1937)
A slightly odd but historically important film
This is the first true technicolor feature to be made in the UK. The story concerns a beautiful young Spanish gypsy woman (French actress Anna Bella) who flees to England where she falls in love with a Canadian horse trainer (Henry Fonda) against a back drop of the UK's premier horse race, The Derby.
The story is a bit unoriginal and the dialogue extremely clunky in places. There is also an element of tweeness to the depictions of gypsy life. Yet despite the so-so plot and (at times) wooden acting there is a certain charm in the film. The Technicolor photography is gorgeous and it provides a very rare colour record of what England & Ireland looked like prior to the second world war. The scenes on Epsom downs are also remarkably well filmed (considering the technical limitations of early technicolor filming on location) and the colour really brings an otherwise very average film to vivid life. There are one or two moments which would make the politically correct viewer squirm, such as the depiction of black & white minstrels.
If this film had been made in black & white i suspect it would have been long forgotten now, but as a curio it is a fascinating insight into another era. The photography is beautiful at times and make the film watchable. If only the same care had been taken with the script. Its a shame that this DVD only seems to be available in the U.S. though as i think it is calling out for a decent release.
The Tony Hancock Special (1972)
How sad to see the great man reduced to doing this rubbish.
Tony Hancock - possibly the first UK television comedy superstar (and comparable in stature to Phil Silvers for comic greatness). Yet by the time he made this show for Australian TV the magic had deserted him (as had Galton & Simpson). Hancocks best work was made 5-10 years before this stinker.
This show was intended to relaunch Hancock in Australia where he was already well known because of his BBC work. Written, produced and filmed in Oz this show has a great concept (Hancock emigrates down under to inflict his values and opinions on another culture) but is poorly executed. The scripts just didn't shine and the lad from East Cheam himself had lost his comic touch. Tony was intending to make a whole new series but died from a mixture of drink and prescription drugs during production of the series and only a handful of these Australian shows were completed. To be honest they just aren't funny and are a pale imitation of his hilarious BBC radio and TV shows. Hancock was a wonderfully droll and pessimistic comic but this series shows that without Galton & Simpson's brilliantly funny scripts (written specially for him when he was at the BBC) as a platform for his talents he was very much lost.
This series does have the novelty value of being made in colour (prior to this his TV shows were black and white) which was what pricked my curiosity to watch them. However there is also a sadness in watching a great comic actor struggle with such second rate scripts. Hancock died in 1968 so i'm not sure why IMDb has this series listed as 1972 (unless it wasn't transmitted until then).
Do yourself a favour and avoid this series. Get the CD's and DVD's of his BBC radio & TV shows instead. Even his films (The Rebel / The Punch & Judy man), despite being relatively mediocre are more watchable than this painful and sad attempt.
Hughie Green, Most Sincerely (2008)
Absolutely spot on portrayal of a TV legend
Trevor Eve's portrayal of this most complicated of TV celebrities is just incredible. Hughie Green always had a reputation as not the nicest of men (off screen) but this drama really helps to flesh out his personality and bring him back to life.
Eve immerses himself in the role in a piece of method acting that would run Robert De Niro a close race. He totally nails all the mannerisms and characteristics that made Green such a memorable character. His appalling treatment of his wife and children is addressed (the scene where he shows his son a train set but won't let him play with it is both blackly amusing and yet hints at the monster within) and yet the scene when he comforts a child contestant who has been sick through nerves, or standing up to a racist TV producer shows that he wasn't totally without redeeming qualities.
The support cast are all wonderful although Mark Benton looks nothing like Jess Yates, and he has a very obviously fake bald pate on. In fact i found myself wondering just how Green managed to become such a firm favourite when he did so many awful things to people, including helping to ruin Paula Yates already damaged life. And yet somehow Green was never short of female admirers. He seemed to live a wonderfully weird life, with sex and alcohol very much at the forefront (and some of the sex scenes are quite graphic)and yet the script has its moments of bizarre black comedy (the scene where Yates and Green sing on national TV is an example of this). Also i should say the period detail is spot on (right down to smallest detail like recreating a period Thames TV studio and an audience looking like they really had stepped out of 1972).
This excellent little film shows that the BBC can still produce excellent drama when its not showing reality show rubbish.
The Curse of Steptoe (2008)
Well acted and made, even though it could have dug deeper.
Steptoe & Son (remade in the U.S as 'Sanford & Son') was one of the seminal British TV sitcoms of the 1960s, and owes a lot to the 'Angry young man' style of theatre and film that came the decade before. Out of that theatre came a slew of gifted actors like Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay, Richard Harris, Richard Burton, Laurence Harvey and the underrated Harry H Corbett.
That Corbett's career never reached the heights of the others is the subject of this solid and extremely well acted drama about how he found such success in the BBC sitcom that he was forever stereotyped and unable to break the mould or be accepted as the accomplished stage actor he was. 'Curse' is indeed apt to this predicament, the shows immediate success destroyed any chance he had of regaining his serious career. As he so poignantly states in one scene (and i admit i'm paraphrasing here) "I will forever be known as a rag and bone man".
Jason Isaacs does a splendid job as Corbett, his optimism slowly wearing away as his TV star shines. Trapped by immediate success he rues the day he agreed to do the show. At first the resemblance between the younger Corbett and Isaacs is superficial but once the show reappeared after a 5 year break in the 1970s, the resemblance between the two is striking, and the mannerisms are uncanny too (even the voice). Praise too for Phil Davis for his excellent portrayal of the sad and lonely Brambell, a man who also rues the day he did the show, but for very different reasons.
I cannot fault the two leads and all the actors are marvellous as is the period detail. My grumble is that this could have been a much better drama if the script had been longer and taken the film to a more logical conclusion (Corbetts death in 1982). It is well known that Corbett or Brambell didn't really get on (amazingly Brambell was only 13 years older than Corbett)so a deeper insight into that conflict would have been good. It would also have made more sense to show the ill fated tour of Australia and their post-Steptoe careers, and oddly no mention is made of the two Steptoe feature films they did in the early 1970s.
However this drama shows that Isaacs is a much better actor than his Hollywood career has so far shown. Phil Davis is also still one of the best supporting actors in Britain.
Black and Blue: Secrets (1973)
Interesting and entertaining from 2 ex-pythons
Around the time the Monty Python material was coming to an end and they decided to move on to other things, Terry Jones & Michael Palin were able to get the BBC to produce a series of scripts they were working on into TV movies. SECRETS is one of those, from 1973, and is a black comedy about a manufacturer of boxed chocolates in England who find themselves trying to retrieve a consignment of their product that have been contaminated when some workers fall into the machinery and their remains end up being accidentally put into the fillings. Panic ensues as the factory boss (Warren Mitchell) desperately tried to recall the product on the quiet (the accident is hushed up) but unfortunately the new and unusual taste becomes a hit with the unsuspecting British public.
SECRETS was an experimental script that was turned into the film CONSUMING PASSIONS many years later. It's quite well written by Jones & Palin, and although it is just a TV film, it is an interesting watch with Warren Mitchell producing another solid performance. Unfortunately the BBC no longer have the master copy of the tape (presumably it was wiped many years ago) and the only known existing copy is from a 30+ year old home videotape. This tape was cleaned up as far as is reasonably possible and the programme was added as an extra feature onto the RIPPING YARNS DVD released by the BBC (thats where i found out about it). RIPPING YARNS was a great show anyway but putting SECRETS as an extra is a nice little bonus for fans.
Parting Shots (1998)
Truly Dreadful black comedy
I saw this film on its UK cinema release and couldn't believe just how stupendously bad it was. I'm not saying its the worst film i've ever seen but i can't believe it was ever given a theatrical release.
Chris Rea gives it his best but he's a pop star, not an actor and it shows. Somehow Michael Winner squanders an otherwise very good cast (Oliver Reed, Ben Kingsley, John Cleese, Felicity Kendall, etc etc etc)in what could have been a half decent film if the script had been better. It doesn't help that the directing is dreadfully clumsy at times and the film obviously had a very tight budget. There are continuity errors galore, and an appalling scene where a major character is shot but the sound has obviously been dubbed on as there is no muzzle flash, no smoke and no 'kick' from the obviously empty prop gun (maybe the budget wouldn't run to a blank firing pistol!).
To Winner's credit, he's tried to do a sort of 1990's Ealing comedy type film but he's made a dreadful hash of it. He's managed to persuade a top draw cast of famous and talented actors (look how many MBE's, OBE's, Knights and Dames are in the cast list) but has failed to give them a finished film that justifies the talent on show. At the time of writing, this was the last film that Winner directed (and that was 7 years ago!). If this does turn out to be Winner's swansong then it would be a sad footnote to what was once a promising career.
Overall this film wastes the opportunity it was presented with but it might have some curiosity value for people who thought 'Bullseye' was Winner's worst film.
The Adventures of Twizzle (1957)
Re; These episodes are available
If Gerry Briley is correct then for reasons of posterity, someone from Gerry Andersons production company or someone like Carlton Video (who own most of the distribution rights to Andersons works in the UK) should get out to Saudi Arabia and locate these missing episodes. failing that, if Gerry Riley can locate those betamax tapes then he could approach Anderson or Carlton and offer to sell them. It'd be a shame to miss this opportunity to preserve these episodes ( i for one have never seen this show as it was made years before i was born) and i'm sure someone will make Mr Riley a handsome offer for those tapes. If anyone knows how to contact Gerry Anderson maybe they can make him aware of this?