Sunday, February 21, 2016


FREEHELD is a well-meaning and earnest film based on the true story of New Jersey cop Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore). She was a very carefully equivocal lesbian until she met her younger partner Stacie Andree (Ellen Page) who was openly out. They fell in love, moved in together, and Laurel came out to her partner of many years, Dane Wells (Michael Shannon). And then Laurel was diagnosed with stage four cancer and realised that her partner would not be eligible for her pension because they couldn't be married, and so Stacie would not be able to afford to stay in their home after her death.  Laurel and Stacie's case sat before the Freeholders of Ocean County, New Jersey - five men who were worried about their re-election prospects in a conservative county had they used the latitude accorded to them by state law in allowing Laurel to assign her rights to Stacie.  But not to fear.  Steven Goldstein (Steve Carrell) a politically savvy campaigner who clearly but openly wanted to use this case to promote his agenda for marriage equality, drummed up enough publicity to shame the Freeholders into giving in.  

It's a simple story, but an important victory on the road to equality.  Not sure it's entirely enough meat on the bone to be a feature length movie shown in cinemas. It sounds like more of an hour long TV drama and sadly that's what this film basically is, despite an all star cast.  It's just a big enough, conflicted enough story.  The characters don't grow. The lesbian couple are perfect and in love. The conflicted counsellor was always a good guy. The conservative counsellors aren't one over by argument or humanity but are rail-roaded by publicity.  And so it all feels a little thin and static and inconsequential which is a terrible shame for such an awful story of basic inhumanity.

FREEHELD has a running time of 103 minutes and is rated PG-13.  The movie played Toronto 2015 and was released last year in the USA, Canada, Italy, Israel and Hong Kong. It is currently on release in France, the UK, Ireland and Taiwan. It opens on March 24th in Portugal, April 7th in Germany, May 6th in Spain, May 12th in Chile, May 19th in the Netherlands, and July 22nd in Sweden.

Sunday, February 14, 2016


DEADPOOL is the most knowing and self-aware comic book movie to date. It satirises the conventions of the genre, breaks the fourth wall, and has its characters refer to actors in other comic book movies in media res.  This is meta-film-making beyond anything WATCHMEN or KICK-ASS have attempted.  The result is a movie that is hilariously laugh-out loud funny, but much much darker than the typical Marvel fare. Because Deadpool/Wade is NOT a superhero. He starts off as a mercenary who's suckered into trying a weird experimental treatment to cure his cancer.  But it turns out an evil villain called Francis aka Ajax is going to torture Wade to the point where his genes mutate and then sell him as an evil super-soldier.  Wade does mutate and assume awesome healing powers and ninja skills but his whole body also gets fried.  He escapes, becomes Deadpool, and goes on an epic vigilante killing spree to find Francis, in the hope that he will reverse the pizza-face side-effects so that Wade can be reunited with his fiancee.  

Throughout all of this, Wade/Deadpool chats to us directly and gives us a witty commentary on all his actions. He continuously declares that he isn't a superhero and refuses to become an X-Man despite being an artificially created mutant.  And the comedy is crude to say the least.  What's really amazing - and kudos to the writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (ZOMBIELAND) - is that despite all this meta-comedy the movie still has heart.  Despite all the rude jokes, I absolutely cared about Wade, and felt sympathy for his predicament and believed in the love story that motivates him. 

So kudos to all involved. Most especially the writers, but also director Tim Miller in his debut feature for pulling off some fantastic action set-pieces but also committing to the gonzo dark comedy in the first place.  But ultimately this is a Ryan Reynolds movie.  And just like Robert Downey Junior in IRON MAN one can't imagine this movie without his Van Wilder patter.  The supporting cast is also very able including a number of unknowns - from the original Daario Naharis Ed Skrein as Ajax, to Brianna Hildebrand as Negasonic Teenage Warhead.   I can't wait to see the film again and catch up on all the jokes I missed on the first viewing.

DEADPOOL has a running time of 108 minutes and is rated R. The movie is on global release.

Sunday, February 07, 2016


Feature length versions of successful TV shows, let alone those originally created decades ago, are never entirely necessary.  And many, including a previous film version of the British comedy DAD'S AMRY, are a failure.  However, for those of us with fond memories of watching this gentle wartime comedy, this new film offers a chance to walk down memory lane with a movie of reassuringly gentle humour and pace, and a surprisingly nuanced expansion to feature length.

The concept of the original show was to focus not on the derring-do of our troops fighting Hitler overseas, but on the rather pitiful men left behind. Too old, too young, flat of feet  - these left-behind men formed the part-time Home Guard, who really were part of Britain's home defences.  The joy of the original show was seeing the clash between the earnest good intentions of the men in doing their bit for the war effort, and the reality of their menial and apparently pointless manoeuvres. No less joyous was the clash of personality and class within the corps - from Captain Mainwairing's rather pompous middle class solidity to Wilson's Oxbridge educated charm to Private Pike's juvenile incompetence and Private Jones' panicking.  

I can report with no little relief that this new cast is absolutely up to the challenge of resurrecting those much-beloved characters without pastiching them.  Toby Jones is brilliantly self-important but also heartbreakingly earnest as Mainwairing. Bill Nighy is tragic as Wilson.  THE INBETWEENERS' Blake Harrison is charming as the infantile Pike.  Daniel Mays is suitably oily as the wartime black marketeer, Wilson.  Bill Paterson is suitably grim as Fraser and Tom Courtenay's Jones gets the best comic moments. But perhaps best of all is Michael Gambon as the flappy wittery adorable Private Godfrey.  One might wonder what such a sterling cast is doing in a rather dusty TV remake, but I feel it's testament to the fondness with which this show is remembered that such acting greats were willing to take on small parts in a low budget film.

This isn't a movie with many laugh out loud moments, though it does contain those. Rather it is a bittersweet gentle comedy about ageing men trapped in decisions made long ago, longing for glory but frightened and overlooked.  When Catherine Zeta-Jones glamorous German spy waltzes into town, there isn't much tension around whether the platoon will triumph. But in a handful of small delicate ways we realise why they would be so easily duped.  This delicacy also extends to the introduction of the platoon's wives and girlfriends - referred to but never seen in the TV show.  There are some clever and gentle digs at the misogyny of the times, but this remains a feel-good film in which Britain will triumph through unspoken friendship and common decency.   Director Oliver Parker and screenwriter Hamish McColl also rather cleverly withhold some of the famous lines and the iconic theme tune to the very end, giving us a satisfied warm feeling as we leave the cinema. Delightful!

The movie is on release in the UK, Ireland and USA. It opens in the Netherlands on April 28th and in Brazil on May 5th 2015.