DANNY COLLINS REVIEW

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Brilliant!

An ageing rock star (Al Pacino) decides to change his life when he discovers a 40-year-old letter written to him by John Lennon.

There is nothing more enjoyable than when you see a film with no expectations and end up being rewarded with great acting and good writing.

Al Pacino proves at 75 that he’s still got it. I was a little anxious after his recent endeavours. Understandably, he’s no spring chicken but Pacino looked like he was sleepwalking through his latest roles. In 88 Minutes, he was a mess. A zombie. A shell of the once great screen icon.

However, this time round? How glad I am to eat my own words. The man was on fine form. Funny, charismatic and lively. A resurgent performance.

This is very loosely, and I emphasize loosely, based on a true story about a musician who discovered a letter written to him by John Lennon 40 years ago. The rest, of course, is fictionalized.

We join Danny Collins as he drinks and drudges his way through the repetitive retread of his best hits. Hits he wrote 40 years ago. Pacino’s singing wasn’t bad. A little wispy but very much in the vein of Cat Stevens. I wasn’t expecting too much with his singing, to be honest.

His stage presence, on the other hand, was another story. Embracing his inner Barry Manilow. The velvet jackets, the flamboyant get up. Having a laugh and not giving two monkeys. A perfect showman. I’m not sure if the song ‘Baby Doll’ was made up for the film but it was quite catchy.

After receiving the letter, Collins (in typical movie fashion) soon re-evaluates his life and looks backs at all his regrets. Realizing that he might not be living the dream after all. Desperate to make amends and repair burned bridges, it’s not going to be an easy task for the ageing rocker.

Annette Bening was very good as the hotel manager Mary Sinclair. Forced to put up with the deluded musician and his many advances. The “patter” between the pair was top notch. They had great chemistry and you could tell they were having fun. There were moments where you couldn’t tell whether they were improvising or not.

It was good to see Jennifer Garner in a role. There wasn’t enough of her, to be honest. Giselle Eisenberg was adorable as Collins’ ADHD daughter. She played it really well and got the balance right. She didn’t irritate and stole the scene at every chance.

Bobby Cannavale proved yet again why he is such a versatile actor. The range that the man can do. To go from Gyp Rosetti in Boardwalk Empire to the Annie remake (Okay, the less we say about that. The better. But I never expected to see the gangster singing and dancing). He was brilliant as Collins’ estranged son, Tom. He worked well with Pacino and they really made the scorned father/son dynamic work.

It was also great to see Christopher Plummer play Collin’s best friend and manager. Not enough of him, either.

I was engrossed and impressed. An easygoing, entertaining affair. BUT even though the main cast were flawless, some of the supporting characters were a little weak.

Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation) was wasted in his role (No, seriously. Was he drunk?). The opening interview scene was needed to establish the reason for Lennon’s letter but Offerman didn’t really get to shine or deliver a laugh. Shame. The scene was a little unnecessary. The tape recording of the interview would have sufficed.

Melissa Benoist (Supergirl/Whiplash) and Josh Peck (Drake and Josh) were a little disappointing. Their ongoing hotel staff romance felt forced. It was obviously an ongoing joke to break up the family stuff and Collins and Sinclair’s brewing romance but it didn’t really work and wasn’t that interesting.

The film may have been corny and a little predictable BUT there was enough charm and charisma from ol’ Scarface to breeze through it and the closing moments were tense, dramatic and uplifting.

The soundtrack was very good. And of course, it would be. You can’t have a story made around a loose John Lennon connection without using any of his repertoire. Writer/director Dan Fogelman made full use of the nine songs they were able to obtain from Lennon’s back catalogue. He incorporated every song to match a crucial moment in the film. A perfect example during a tense and awkward first meeting between Tom and Danny, the song ‘Beautiful Boy’ was playing in the background.

Why are films like this not getting enough publicity? It baffles me. The premise may seem like nothing more than a TV movie but there was enough talent and substance to make this stand out from the rest.

I highly recommend. Easygoing, funny, charming. A pleasant surprise.

3.5/5 (With room to change to a 4)

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HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS REVIEW

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Oh Hec . . . Well this is a mixed bag, isn’t it?

One thing that can be agreed is that Simon Pegg is brilliant and shows how much he has progressed from his Spaced days. Providing charisma and charm to an otherwise weak protagonist made all the difference.

The end result did leave me with a smile but the journey along the way seemed to stumble and stammer along, failing to decide on what tone to set. It teeters from feel good dramedy to hard hitting drama with the results mixed as none of them really gel or hit home as much as you’d expect or hope.

The slow burning opening does put you into a bit of a lull which is not a good start. Of course, the point is that we are supposed to see the source of Hector’s frustration as he plods on through his mundane life on auto pilot. But we get that connection in the first two minutes not twenty.

Pegg has great chemistry with the alluring Rosamund Pike but she is soon cast aside to Skype cameos as we follow Hector on his pursuit for happiness (No, different movie) after a mini-meltdown with one of his clients and Pegg’s many comedy counterparts Tracy Ann Oberman as the ill-titled Pathetic Jane.

The meltdown sequence allows Pegg to shine (with a catchphrase to remember). However, there only seems to be moments. A moment where Pegg can be funny. A moment where Pegg can act. It’s just not consistent enough.

A humourous incident in which Hector tests the versatility of the unbreakable cutlery on the first class flight was a good gag. A conversation with a cancer patient made for sobering viewing but was ignited by solid acting. We get to travel across the world(Well, China, Africa and America) to find the essence of happiness.

To be honest, the main message I got from the film was travel the world. Not just Africa. An elongated kidnapping sequence just didn’t seem to fit in the film at all and how Hector got out of it involving a pen from a drug kingpin was just stupid.

It helps that Pegg has a good supporting cast. It’s just a shame that anyone could have played their parts. Jean Reno played the arrogant and erratic drug king pin as well as you would expect but this didn’t seem like the sort of film to make satire. Satire that is not that subtle or clever.

Stellan Skarsgard was wasted as the affluent businessman who has it all. An encounter on the plane made for funny viewing as Hector irritates Skarsgard’s slumbering businessman. However, once they get into China, Skarsgard’s character is pushed aside.

At times, it was hard to feel sorry for Hector when he tends to act quite selfishly, especially when he has such a supporting and caring wife. I know, that’s life but as a film when you’re supposed to be rooting for the little guy, you end up wanting to slap him round the head and tell him to go home.

A lapse in judgement nearly leads to our “hero” sleeping with a hooker (played well by Ming Zhao). Why go out for burgers when you have steak at home? According to my brother who attended the screening with me.

Togo Igawa played the kind hearted monk well and to be honest, I wanted to see more of him. I know that this film was adapted from a book but this only spurred me to read the book to see if it is as bad as the film.

The weird cast asides and little convos with Hector’s inner child and childhood dog didn’t go anywhere and didn’t really fit. They felt forced into the film. Toni Collette played the old flame as well as she could bar one good scene in which they confront each other over their past.

Christopher Plummer makes a crazy cameo as the eccentric professor who can detect happiness in the brain. (Yeah, it really was as boring as you think). But Plummer manages to make any scientific mumbo jumbo sound believable with his dulcet tones.

It’s all hit and miss. Certainly watchable and Pegg has proven that he can act and act well. It will be great to see his next project with a better character, better story and a bit more room for him to apply his spiel.

The better moments seep through when Pegg is allowed to be . . . Pegg. It’s not bad but if you’re looking for a feel good travel movie then watch The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

It has good moments and an easy going message by the ending. That corny predictable ending.

2.5/5 for me.

Not bad not not great. Shame.