*NEW* THE LADY IN THE VAN REVIEW *NEW*

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An exceptional performance from a great Dame does enough to save this mixed bag of a mostly true story.

Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) forms an unexpected bond with a transient woman (Maggie Smith) living in her car that’s parked in his driveway.

After a strong opening with a small glimpse into the past of our mysterious lady in the van, things were put on the back burner and we were subjected to the endless monologues of Alan Bennett.

And that was the problem. There was too much Bennett. I was aware of the renowned playwright but wasn’t really used to his style. The History Boys, being one of the other film adaptations I’ve seen, wasn’t my cup of tea.

Now credit where it’s due. Jennings was very good as the dithering playwright. Once I got used to Bennett’s running commentary, I was able to enjoy it a little more as the film went on. The ‘caught between two minds’ gag (in which we see two Bennetts) was a clever little skit and helped differentiate what Bennett did in real life and what he imagined. His snappy one liners and some of his monologues were actually quite entertaining as he argued and bickered with the lady in the van and himself.

The introduction of the London Borough of Camden community didn’t really bring much to the mix. If anything, they were heavily underused. Especially with the talent at Bennett’s finger tips. Jim Broadbent played the shady retired cooper in his limited role perfectly. He brought some needed suspense and drama to the mix.

Roger Allam and Deborah Findley were probably the only other characters that made an impression as Bennett’s nosy neighbours. Desperate to fish out any little bit of gossip. Frances de la Tour was completely wasted in her role. Dominic Cooper’s cameo was nothing more than an ongoing gag taking the mick out of Bennett’s promiscuity and sexuality. I couldn’t believe how many British sitcom actors popped up in this. Even James Corden turned up as a market trader.

BUT they were always going to fall short to the lady in the van. The iconic actress that is Maggie Smith. Bearing “a vagabond nobility”, the make up team really made her look rough. Her acid tongue and mad rants were hilarious. The outbursts at the sound of music. The exchanges. The looks. Brilliant.

A monster in one second. Ungrateful and using. Hurt and alone the next. Neglected by the church and left to fend for herself. When we finally got to delve into her past, you soon developed empathy towards the cantankerous old bat.

However, the main issue I had with the piece was that there was too much focus on Bennett. As much as it was a semi-autobiographical account; it would help if his life story was interesting. That’s not to say that it didn’t have its moments. Bennett didn’t exactly paint himself in the best light. His reluctance to look after his mad ol’ Mam (A sterling turn from Gwen Taylor) but acceptance of Smith’s squatter on his driveway drew a shocking, but interesting, comparison.

BUT the drama around Bennett soon dragged what was a charming little affair. The ramblings about his plays and the late night meetings with his “friends” was only really funny when Smith’s lady interrogated him. “All these men coming over at all hours of the night. People will think you’re a Communist”.

When Smith disappeared so did my interest. It’s hard when telling a loosely based true story NOT to exaggerate or guess what Smith’s character would have done or said. However, it didn’t really build up to anything that I expected. Her treatment at the monastery was ripe for more drama and confrontation BUT never amounted to anything. Neither did her back story of why she was in the van in the first place.

It was certainly watchable BUT engaging? The closing moments proved why Smith is still one of the best actresses going. The Oscar buzz might be a little premature but it was still a superb performance. The OTT ending didn’t really fit in with the tone for me. I understood why Bennett did this elaborate overture but I still wasn’t a fan.

Funny, charming, easygoing when Smith was involved. Otherwise, it just wasn’t as fulfilling or as entertaining as I expected.

3/5 (Just!)

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*NEW* MISS YOU ALREADY REVIEW *NEW*

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This cheesy little flick is one not to miss.

The friendship between two life-long girlfriends (Toni Collette and Drew Barrymore) is put to the test when one starts a family and the other falls ill.

The incredibly cheesy opening sequence didn’t set high hopes for me as we skimmed through the early years of Jess and Milly’s friendship. I wasn’t sure if my inner cynic would be able to tolerate the fluffy melodrama. Especially after watching Milly’s ‘rockstar’ wedding. However, that all changed when Milly received her diagnosis.

It was a sobering punch as we watched the doctor break the news. This completely changed the tone of the film and made for an easygoing, heartfelt and well acted drama. Collette and Barrymore were a great pairing.

The subject matter was dealt with very well. We witness Milly undergoing chemotherapy and see the toll that it takes on her body. It was a slow burning transition as the pair are all smiles and giggles through the initial sessions.

The wig sequence was a funny but touching moment. Frances De La Tour was very good in her surprisingly small role as the make up artist. Collette actually shaved her hair off for the film. Although the film offered a fluffier and funnier side to the treatment, it also showed how testing such a disease can be.

It’s always harder when family are involved. Dominic Cooper was very good as Milly’s spouse, Kit. He had great chemistry with Collette and certainly delivered a mature turn. Their relationship is soon put to the test as Kit is unable to be intimate with Milly after the chemo. The situation with the children was handled delicately. The little cartoon that Milly shows her kids to explain the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of chemotherapy was very clever.

We can relate to Milly’s struggle to try and remain sexy as her hair is starting to fall out. Desperate to keep smiling as the injections become more painful. BUT you can also despise her selfishness as she expects everyone to put their lives on hold to indulge her every whim. One particular example being an overnight taxi trek from London to the Moors.

You also feel for Jess who is desperately trying to have a baby. When she finally gets the news she’s waiting for, she is soon afraid to rub in her happiness to her best friend whose world has turned upside down.

I couldn’t believe that Tyson Ritter, the lead singer of All American Rejects was in this?! He didn’t do too bad a job with the acting as the flirty bartender.

It was also strange to see Paddy Considine in a semi-serious role after all the intense indie flicks that he has featured in. He had good chemistry with Barrymore and managed to make some of the sillier moments between them that more watchable. Especially during Barrymore’s pregnancy. Talk about cheese. No spoilers, I promise.

Jacqueline Bisset’s performance (The Deep) as Milly’s mum was a mixed bag for me. She wasn’t really as funny or as engaging as the other characters. For all the hype and in-jokes, I expected her to make more of an impression. Shame.

It was all done with a light touch BUT that still doesn’t hide what a terrible disease cancer can be and no matter how many times you’ve seen the ending, it still hits home. The closing moments certainly made for a teary finale.

Well acted, well done.

3/5

DRACULA UNTOLD REVIEW

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Dracula Now Told! And it’s still the same old predictable guff. Ah ah ah . . . I’ll get my coat. But one thing is established. Luke Evans is ready to take on the big dogs.

Yet another Dracula reboot descends upon the silver screen. Why, oh, why? Have Hollywood ran out of ideas that they must revisit and rehash (emphasis on hash) old classics.

NOW credit where’s it due. Director Gary Shore certainly makes an ambitious debut and despite its endless flaws, I did find it highly watchable and not the worst way to kill 90 minutes. Dracula Untold was also the perfect platform for two up and coming stars.

We’ve seen Dracula as a baddie. Now we have the revisionist phase in which ol’ Drac is now the good guy. Wait? What? It kinda worked with Maleficent. Why not? Did Shore not watch the short-lived TV series with Jonathan Rhys Meyers? (A shame because JRM was actually pretty good).

So what’s it all about? As his kingdom is being threatened by the Turks, young prince Vlad Tepes (Evans) must become a monster feared by his own kingdom in order to obtain the power needed to protect his own family, and the families of his kingdom.

Luke Evans has been making waves for some time and has proven that he can make incredibly tame and flat characters quite memorable. His turns in Fast and Furious 6 and the Hobbit trilogy proved that. Now he has a bigger platform and a role to sink his teeth into (What? I couldn’t resist).

His charisma and conviction certainly made the predictably bland Drac stand out. He most definitely carried the film. Something you want from a leading actor.

Evans always had a tough act to follow with Christopher Lee and Bella Lugosi taking on the historic role before him (Gary Oldman didn’t do too bad a job of it). BUT he certainly held his own.

Charles Dance brought his creepy demeanor to the fold and made a memorable impression. “Let the games begin”. A cheeky Game of Thrones nod that soon overstayed its welcome. His make up was brilliant. I only recognized him by his voice.

The special effects were very good but the overuse of CGI made it all a little too cartoony after some cracking visual battle sequences. I think they missed a treat by not shooting this in 3D. I know 3D hasn’t really hit it off (Well, did it ever?) BUT is this one film that could have nailed it. When Evans first evaporated in a dark cloud of bats, it was pretty damn cool.

But after that, it got old really quickly. Once he’s dispatched an army here. And an army there. Exploded into bats and strutted like a bad ass. There wasn’t much else. The story line was ridiculously predictable and so flat. There were no twists or turns and the concluding moments were rushed into a frenetic finale that was so abrupt and open that it left me feeling a little miffed. Putting it mildly.

It didn’t help that, despite having a talented supporting cast, the characters were highly unmemorable and undeveloped. Dominic Cooper was wasted as the maniacal Memed. Left to merely pout and frown and get a two minute scrap. A real shame.

I couldn’t take Paul Kaye seriously as Brother Lucian. I couldn’t tell if he was meant to be that laughable or was just written that way. I guess it didn’t help seeing him in Spaced and Blackball. I couldn’t take him seriously in Game of Thrones either, to be honest.

The alluring Sarah Gadon had already stolen my heart after her appearance in Belle. She had good chemistry with Evans and for a brief moment, I actually cared what happened to the pair. I expect to see more of her. No, not in that way. Come on.

The two leads will come out of this relatively unscathed and Shore will also be one to watch. Once someone gives him a fresh, original idea. But his reworking of a constantly revisited icon wasn’t the worst one I’ve seen (Dracula 2000, anyone? Sorry Gerard Butler).

If you are a fan of Dracula, then invest. If you like your action fast and constant, then again invest. But if you were expecting something a little different, then you may feel a little drained (I know not my best).

A lot more watchable than I anticipated.

2.5/5 for me.

NEED FOR SPEED REVIEW

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I feel the need, the need . . . to review this film, yo! We’ve seen the story before but where it lacks in that department (I mean, come on, it’s a car movie), it cooks up octane action and special effects with real cars in proper car chases without CGI, making this one to watch and I’m sure regardless of reviews, it will be breaking bad at the box office. What? Not subtle enough. It’s tough not to compare it to the Fast and Furious franchise and you can’t help but feel things might have been copied but it just about stands it’s ground and manages to still be an enjoyable ride. Check it out, bitch!

What’s it about then, san? Fresh from prison after being framed by a wealthy business associate (Dominic Cooper – Fleming), street racer Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul – Breaking Bad) joins a cross country race seeking vengeance. However, when said business associate learns of the plan, he places a massive bounty on his head as the race begins.

That’s the gist and you pretty much get that from the trailers. The opening 30 minutes sets up the vengeance seeking plot in which we follow Marshall, a struggling debt stricken mechanic who supes up old Gran Torinos and shows them off in street races. It’s all the same old cliched set up. Brooding shots, slow motion as he mourns father’s loss. The typical banter between his rag tag team of mechanics. The rivalry with the guy who got it all, even the girl. Michael Keaton’s irritating radio DJ narrating the obvious rivalry between Marshall and wealthy hot shot Dino Brewster (Cooper). Paul and Cooper are likeable leads and play their parts well. Cooper is exceptionally shady and sly and passes off a good accent. Marshall’s rag tag team of misfits, however, feel like a loosely based rip off of the Fast and Furious ensemble. The ultra cool Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi is really annoying, and feels like he’s trying to do his best Tyrese Gibson impression. The others, if not for a couple of moments of craziness, were hardly memorable which is a shame, considering the talent (Rami Malek – 24/The Pacific and Ramon Rodriguez – Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen).

However, the main stars are the cars. I mean Koenigsegg Agira R, Torinos, Lamborghini Elemento and a suped up Ford Mustang. Cracking cars. This is where the points are gained. The chase and race sequences are fantastic to watch. The camera angles are frantic, fast and really make you feel like you’re in the car. The build up in the opening race with the heart beat pounding, the engines revving and the first person shots are fantastic. That pause before the cars pull off or make a dicey movie. Brilliant. Waugh makes the city his playground. There were a few unexpected moments that stood out in 3D but not a huge investment. The race and chase sequences are very much faithful to the style of video game franchise; without feeling like you’re watching someone playing it. A noticeable nod to the EA franchise can be spotted, of course. I was surprised in the opening credits, they didn’t say EA Films. Challenge everything. One for the gamers.

The earlier city race sequence through the alley ways and underpasses is brilliantly done and brilliantly shot. Cudos to the cinematography of Shane Hurlbut. The earlier races are very reminiscent of the old car chase movies. A homage to the infamous Steve McQueen Bullitt chase flashes across the screen at the Drive Thru as the racers get ready. The Koenigsegg Agira R race sequence was incredible and what a stunning car. I’m not the biggest car lover but wow. A predictable and inevitable tragedy still surprises and catches your breath as Marshall is set up by Brewster, leading to a corny, OTT but thrilling ride. It can be patchy at parts (It drags). At two hours, it pushes it a little bit. However, it’s soon relieved by a thrilling chase here. A police car flagging up there. Pretty much like Need for Speed: Most Wanted. One of my favourite games.

The locations are perfectly selected for some cracking sequences. The cliff ambush being a particular highlight minus the ridiculous cliff hanger involving the Mustang and an Apache helicopter. Granted it was actually done and wasn’t CGI’d (well only to insert Paul and Poots). I didn’t think this film could deliver more cheese than the Fast and Furious franchise. It had an opportunity to be slicker and darker but went for the schmaltzy, corny route. It doesn’t spoil the sequences with chained safes, flipping oil tankers and bridge leaps as the later Furious films did but it certainly served it up with the characters. Some of the ‘banter’ comes with the odd chuckle, other moments are just stupid. The beautiful Imogen Poots manages to charm and annoy in alternate scenes leaving you on the fence about her. I think I liked her by the end. Her first meeting with Paul being a predictable corny set up, once again poking fun at the dumb posh English girl spiel. Wait a minute, she knows about cars? She said some things about engines. Shock horror! Come on guys, really? And Keaton may tried to Beetlejuice his role up (seriously) but he just recites what we’re all thinking. If it weren’t the fact, the big race was his creation, his character would have been pointless. Well, it already was.

It’s hammy, a little long, corny, OTT but despite all that, the chases are superbly shot, the action is tense, suspenseful, helped by a likeable lead. Just should have used the Fast and Furious as a guide book not a template. However, it’s all still watchable, with the odd tut or sigh. Can’t help but compare it to the F&F, it does stand along some of their weaker entries, which were still good. So 3 (just) out of 5!

Currently ranks #74 out of 153!