Tuesday, August 25, 2015


Posy Simmonds is well known British cartoonist known for re-intrepreting classic literature in a modern setting in serial comic strips.  Her TAMARA DREWE, a version of Thomas Hardy's Far From The Madding Crowd,  was adapted as a film in 2010 by Stephen Frears with mixed results. On the whole, I much preferred this Franco-English adaptation of Simmonds GEMMA BOVERY.  In this version of Flaubert's iconic tale of middle class married boredom, tragic love and debt, the heroine is played by Gemma Arterton (who also played Tamara Drewe).  Mrs Bovery has moved to a small town in northern France to live with her husband (Jason Flemyng), a humble decorator.  However, it soon becomes apparent that she has tastes of something grander and more sensuous.  She buys things that she can't afford on a whim, and there are hints of previous, richer lovers.  For no other reason than just to see what it's like, she cheats on her husband with the local nobleman, a rather pale imitation of the novel's Rodolphe.  

All this is observed by the town's baker, Martin Joubert (Fabrice Lucine - POTICHE).  He's a man obsessed with Flaubert's novel, attracted to Gemma, and almost willing her to re-enact the story, although not of course its ending.  The result is a wonderful performance of wry tragicomedy that sets the tone for this charming and sometimes deeply moving film.  I also love the wry social commentary that Simmonds is famous for. In this case, it's embodied in the Franco-English couple Rankin (Pip Torrens) and Wizzy (Elsa Zylberstein) - Notting Hill yuppies with a lavish second home in France. The movie perfectly satirises their social climbing and insecurity. The problem is the inevitable clash of tone, which director Anne Fontaine doesn't handle well, especially in the final act of the film. Maybe no-one could and the ultimate fault lies with Simmonds for shoe-horning in that ending....Either way this remains a charming and occasionally very clever movie, if flawed.

GEMMA BOVERY has a running time of 99 minutes and is rated R.  The movie played Toronto 2014 and was released last year in Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Greece and Portugal. It was released earlier this year in Italy, Estonia, Hungary, Norway, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Turkey and Brazil. It is currently on release in the UK and Ireland.

Saturday, August 22, 2015


One gets the feeling that FOX have never really known who to handle the Fantastic Four IP, and with any luck the poor performance of this film will prevent a sequel and allow the rights to revert back to Marvel. We've had the broadly inoffensive but unmemorable 2005 and 2007 outings starring Ioan Gruffud, a pre-Cap Chris Evans and Jessica Alba.  And now we get a reboot of actively poor quality starring a much younger cast.   This causes as many problems as it solves - sure, the movie might appeal to a younger demographic but as a result the Four meet in a kind of super-nerd school that gives the movie a feeling of ripping of the X-MEN reboot.  Worst of all, the writer-director Josh Trank massively fell out with the studio and disowned the final 90 minute cut, and the resulting film feels incoherent in its editing.

Anyways, back to basics. The movie kicks of with twenty minutes of tedious pre-amble in which a geeky young Reed Richards befriends Ben Grimm and the two work on building a teleportation machine only to be mocked by teachers and students alike. Fast forward to their late teens and Reed (Miles Teller0 and Grimm (Jamie Bell) are recruited by Franklyn Storm (Reg E Caffey) to join his well-funded research org.  They hook up with Johnny and Sue Storm (Michael B Jordan and Kate Mara) as well as the rebellious Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell) and create the transportation device.  Pissed off that pro scientists will get to pilot it, they decide to take the ship out to Planet Zero, shit hits the fan, they get their superpowers and Doom becomes a destructive comic book villain.  Thereafter we get a kind of Hulk goes to Latin America to find his soul interlude and the inevitable showdown.  

The actors are all decent, so why does this movie suck? A hammy derivative script, hamstrung by bad editing and shitty special FX. Move along, there's nothing to see here. 

FANTASTIC FOUR is on general release. It has a running time of 100 minutes and is available to rent and own.

Friday, August 21, 2015


THE BAD EDUCATION MOVIE is that rarest of things - a successful big screen adaptation of a really good TV show. In fact, it equals THE INBETWEENERS is translating the unique comic vibe of the TV show, and also, frankly, in nicking the concept of taking a schoolshow on a school vacation.

As in the TV show, stand-up comedian Jack Whitehall plays the ridiculously posh but ineffectual high school teacher Alfie Wickers.  The first twenty minutes sees Wickers take his motley crew of students on a legit school trip to Amsterdam in which the humour is gross, puerile and involves disgraceful shit happening at the Anne Frank museum. As with THE INBETWEENERS, viewers of a sensible disposition need not apply. Anyways, that helps create the plot twist in which Whickers is no longer allowed to chaperone school trips unless he goes to Cornwall and takes the fun-killing Joanna Scanlan as well. Nonetheless, the kids manage to find a local pub and Whickers ends up being mistaken for a member of the Cornish Liberation Army. Cue lots of jokes about the misogynistic in-bred yokels as led by Iain Glen.  The good news it that the writers poke fun at the posh oiks who buy expensive holiday homes on the coast too - and you get to see the heart of the show as well as the low-rent jokes.  After all, BAD EDUCATION has always been about how Whickers never really fitted in with his posh friends, and so was desperate for the friendship of his way cooler pupils. 

There's nothing not to like in this film. It's silly, occasionally very pointed in its social satire, and romps along to a highly satisfying conclusion.  One could also quite easily watch this with no prior knowledge of the show, although I'd be surprised if it worked outside the UK.

The movie is on release in the UK and Ireland. It has a running time of 90 minutes and is rated 15.

Saturday, August 15, 2015


Cricket likes to think of itself as more than a sport.  There's something called The Spirit of Cricket which is about a spirit of fairness and respect for all involved in the game - your opponents, your team, and the community in which you play.  It's a sport that brings together people around the world from backyard and beach matches to club cricketers to Test Matches at the apex of the game.  And over time, it is not too melodramatic to say that it has helped bring together and heal communities.  One of the most eloquent expressions of this is Sri Lankan batsman Kumar Sangakarra's MCC Spirit of Cricket lecture in which he tells how cricket unified a country riven by civil war.

But cricket can have a positive influence far beyond the Test playing nations, and in his new documentary, director Barney Douglas shows how cricket is helping to change lives and attitudes among the Maasai community in Kenya.  What's more impressive is that this deeply moving story is told with wit, passion and some of the most stunning cinematography seen in a sports documentary (not to mention a superb sound-track). It's a movie with an important message, but it never feels ponderous or hectoring.  The message is elegantly woven into a classic underdog story that leaves a lasting impression.


Like the directors of this documentary, I am a passionate fan of cricket, and of the highest form of the game, Test Match cricket. Like them I have watched in horror the rise of the more explosive T20 form of the game, and how it has shortened the patience of audiences and players alike.  I have also watched with horror as the power in world cricket has shifted toward the country with the largest and most passionate fanbase and the most corrupt culture of corporate governance - India - and how that power has been used to shore up the influence of the big three nations -  India, England and Australia - at the expense of the smaller and less wealthy playing nations.  For example, the cricket world cup is the only world tournament where qualifying places are carved up among the big boys.  In football, for example, San Marino qualifies in the same way as Brazil. Free market forces ensure the best teams get through.   

Saturday, August 08, 2015


INSIDE OUT is the phenomenally successful new Pixar movie from the directors of two films I really adored - UP and RATATOUILLE.  It's smart, witty and beautifully imagined and rendered. But for some reason it just didn't connect with me on an emotional level. In fact, two days after seeing it, the thing I remember most about my movie watching experience was the Pixar short film, LAVA, that preceded the feature. I can still sing that song and feel moved by the plight of the little volcano hoping for love.  INSIDE OUT was clever, and pretty, but I'm just not sure it's going to stay with me in that way.

This is often the problem with high concept film. INSIDE OUT posits a world in which our emotions are neatly split into five key feelings, and whichever of these controls our mood generates our memories and our feelings.  So, at first glance, our protagonist is an eleven year old girl called Riley, struggling with moving across country with her family, feeling pressured to keep a happy face for her stressed out dad, but inwardly hating it all.  But the real star of the show is Riley's emotion, Joy, played by Amy Poehler (PARKS & RECREATION).  Joy has, up to this point, been largely in charge of Riley's emotions resulting in lots of happy memories.  And Joy ascribes part of her success to keeping Sadness (THE OFFICE's Phyllis Smith) firmly off the controls.  So the coming of age journey is not really for Riley but for Joy, as she learns that everyone needs a little sadness to make the happier times happy by contrast. And sometimes a good cry, admitting your suffering, allows others to reach out to you and for you to resolve, rather than smother, your issues.  So in that sense, this is a radical children's movie, for while it still gives us a happy ending, that happiness is conditional on admitting that it's okay to be sad.

Friday, August 07, 2015


MANGLEHORN is a super low budget indie drama from director David Gordon Green (PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, UNDERTOW).  It stars Al Pacino as a long heart-broken local locksmith who finds late love with Holly Hunter's bank teller.

For the record, this is how you use voiceover. You use it to indicate a man out of step with contemporary life, withdrawing into himself, and melancholy for a former love, Clara.  You use it as one of many layers of sounds showing his disconnect - the incessant yapping of a former little league player he coached (Harmony Korine) - the electronic dance music in the club he's mistakenly been lured into - the melancholy piano soundtrack - and his own disoriented thoughts.  David Gordon Green's direction mirrors this aural layering, with scenes being decomposed into Manglehorn's confused face against atomised youngsters going about their lives, blending into and onto a man waking alone in a house with his beloved cat, Fanny.