*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

MR HOLMES REVIEW

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Can one of Britain’s biggest screen icons take on one of the most iconic literary figures? The answer is elementary, my dear movie minions.

Sublime. From the moment, the stern sleuth corrected a child on his error for mistaking a wasp for a bee, I knew I was for in a treat. A superb performance from Sir Ian McKellen.

An aged, retired Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) looks back on his life, and grapples with an unsolved case involving a beautiful woman (Hattie Morahan).

I’m not the world’s biggest Sherlock fan. The endless entries and reboots in both TV and film, despite having two charismatic leads, in Robert Downey Jr and Benedict Cumberbatch were overlong, over-hyped and needlessly complex. Watchable enough.

However, this take on the man behind the myth made for good viewing. McKellen’s charisma really carried the film as Mr Holmes attempts to recollect the details of his last case. The case that he never solved and forced him to exile to the pastoral countryside.

If you’re expecting an affair like the RDJ movies and Cucumberbatch TV series, you may be left disappointed. This is very much a slow burning yarn as Holmes must re-evaluate his life’s work and come to terms with his own mortality.

They really made McKellen look old and haggard. I mean obviously the screen icon is 76 but it’s mad how a few more lines and a hunched posture can change everything.

The story line flicks back and forth. Each flashback a little disjointed piece of a bigger puzzle. The only niggle I had with the continuity is that McKellen only looks a few years younger when the case is supposed to be 30 years old. Tut tut tut. McKellen can act as spritely as he wants. He can’t hide those greys. But only a niggle.

The structure worked really well as each development of the case coincided with a development in Holmes’ condition.

The case appears relatively simple. A suspicious husband curious of his wife’s activities. BUT of course in typical Holmes fashion, not everything is as it seems.

Hattie Morahan (The Bletchley Circle) played the wife well. BUT the case, for all its anticipated mystery and suspense, was a little disappointing. The puzzle solving was fun enough. BUT the unravelling wasn’t really that riveting or as rewarding as I hoped.

I was left wanting. There was one sobering moment that did surprise me. BUT the fantastic supporting cast were not used to their full potential and that was down to their poor characters.

Frances De La Tour (Rising Damp) certainly did a better job at a German accent than she did an American one in Survivor. BUT for all her flamboyance, the character was merely a weak red herring.

Roger Allam (The Queen) did the best that he could with his stoic doctor role and Philip Davis (Vera Drake) was merely a passing cameo with his detective. Shame.

What did stand out for me was the myth breaking of the man. The jokes about his deer stalker hat and pipe were brilliant. Merely for McKellen’s reaction. “I don’t smoke a pipe! I like the occasional cigar”.

I did get a chuckle as the miserable mystery man laughed at one of his latest screen offerings at the local pictures. Tutting and sighing away at the stupidity and inaccuracy of it all. His constant complaining of Watson’s exaggerations on his appearance, cases and life were entertaining.

Holmes’ memory loss made for sombre viewing. Forced to write dots in a diary when he forgets a name, place, date. It really hit home when Holmes couldn’t even remember the name of the housekeeper’s son Roger (Milo Parker) whom he had grown fond of. Quickly looking to the name he had written on his cuff.

McKellen and Parker were brilliant together. A stubborn old man versus a deductive, energetic fan. Parker will certainly be one to watch for the future. A strong performance. I really liked their relationship and it lightened the tone of a very serious case. A surrogate Watson, if you may.

Unfortunately, I can’t say I was too impressed with Roger’s mother. Laura Linney’s housekeeper was a mixed bag. I loved her in The Big C and I certainly felt for her character as she struggled to keep up with her son’s developing intellect. BUT what didn’t help was that her accent was so muddled. She really couldn’t grasp it and you could tell. It really grated against me. Each line felt like the bellow of a strangled cat. Well, maybe not that bad.

The story did lag in places and dither into random tangents which did have me questioning, “Where was this going?”. A quest for a miraculous herb known as ‘Prickly Ash’ in Japan felt a little out of place. BUT it allowed for a harrowing, if brilliantly shot sequence as Holmes ventures through the aftermath of Hiroshima.

It also unearthed Holmes’ desperation to fight his ailing condition. Hiroyuki Sanada (The Last Samurai)’s herb finder role seemed too tame and a thin subplot involving his father didn’t seem to make much sense.

However, the final quarter was unexpected. And all the little questions I had soon fell into place rounding everything perfectly. I went in expecting nothing and was rewarded with something more. I just wish that Holmes’ last case was much more memorable for the cast and the man. BUT the closing moments were written brilliantly and acted to perfection.

McKellen is everything you could imagine. The cast did their best. The case left little for desire.

BUT I would still recommend.

3/5

SURVIVOR REVIEW

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I don’t think anyone is going to survive from this tepid terrorist thriller.

An explosive and fiery opener certainly grabbed my attention. Shame, the rest of the film couldn’t keep that momentum. Thinking back. The opening didn’t really bear much significance to the story. Shame.

Corny, cliched, slow, boring and from the director of V For Vendetta? Words . . . Sigh . . . Escape me.

So what’s it about? A Foreign Service Officer (Milla Jovovich) in London tries to prevent a terrorist attack set to hit New York, but is forced to go on the run when she is framed for crimes she did not commit.

It really is as predictable and dull as you can imagine. No surprise, no twists and no thrills. The film meandered along and never really got going.

Jovovich has never been renowned for her extraordinary acting ability but I really thought this could have been the platform to show that she can do more than Resident Evil movies. Shame. Her acting was more wooden than an IKEA table. It didn’t help that her character was so bland and one dimensional.

The story was a pale imitation of a weak 24 story line that never made the cut. What infuriated me more was the British talent involved in the film that were playing Americans and . . . doing it badly!

Antonia Thomas (Alisha from Misfits) may have fared better with the American accent but her character was so minor and unmemorable. It was shocking.

And Frances De La Tour (Rising Damp), what on Earth was she playing at? Her accent was horrific. She seemed to give up 30 minutes in. Then realise “Oh, my character is in the American Embassy” and try and do her best John Wayne impression. Chloe from 24, she ain’t!

It was all so slow. The visa process may have been interesting for 30 seconds but after 15 minutes, I could feel my eyes wandering towards my watch.

Roger Rees did his best as the shady decoy that sets Jovovich’s character in play. Anyone who watched Warehouse 13 (Anybody? No?) will know he can play a shifty sod well.

Inevitably, not everything is as it seems (Go figure) and Jovovich snoops in all the wrong places. Cue a botched assassination attempt and Pierce Brosnan in a bad tash and a variety of terrible wigs. The Watchmaker? More like Inspector Clousseau.

The backstabbing and “twists” were so weak. You could call them from the opening five minutes. Jovovich’s introduction was so cliched. Hyped up as Washington’s top expert and some lazy and unnecessary reference to 9/11 to validate her integrity just hammed things up a treat.

Brosnan is looking old. I mean, come on, he is in his fifties but it has definitely caught up with him. The whole Bond gone bad spiel has been ongoing for some time. He does his best but his character is so laughable. The lines and his delivery really didn’t do him any favours.

However, every time he wasn’t in the film, I did miss him. Only because things seemed to happen when he was about. Silly, if racy, chases reprieved the film’s lumbering pace for a few minutes. Plus your attention on the poor plotting was distracted by a big explosion from the BIG BAD BOND. Even if it wasn’t necessary or relevant.

Dylan McDermott (Stalker) did the best he could but he was just running around aimlessly. Attempting his best Jack Bauer impression and delivering really cliched exchanges with Jovovich. Did their characters have a past? Don’t know. Don’t care.

James D’Arcy (Broadchurch) and Angela Bassett also tried to do what they could with their bland characters but it just didn’t work. The bureaucracy scenes have all been done before time and time again in numerous thrillers. Writer Philip Shelby didn’t even try to make them a teeny tiny bit interesting.

One thing I could commend was the flip reversal with the English refusing to help and hiding their intentions. Shame their intentions were really petty and stupid. Nice one, Shelby. Bassett’s ambassador was so weak. How much authority does an embassy ambassador have? For all the comments about red tape, they were obeying her like she was the bloody President! Hmmm . . .

Jovovich may be easy on the eye (What?) but her delivery was so lifeless. A zombie could have done a better job. Just watch when Brosnan first points a gun at her. I was in tears . . . Of laughter.

Considering her character was presented as America’s best, she wasn’t very clever. Didn’t even think that the Watchmaker may have put a tracker on her as he was always hot on her trail. One particular highlight for me was when her character was wandering around a park with a gun in her hand while people took pictures. And in one of the UK’s biggest CCTV hotspots?

America’s top security expert? Yeah, I can see why she was shipped over to handle border patrol.

It just chugged along like any old TV thriller. It didn’t try to anything different. By the numbers and formulaic. And the finale was a joke. As if to add insult to injury, the “action” hots up in New York during a New Year’s Eve celebration at Times Square (New Years Eve in a June movie? Really?).

As Jovovich battled the Watchmaker for the umpteenth time and delivered one of the stupidest one liners, I gave out an exasperated sigh. Defeated. Normally I’m one to commend a pun but the film had infuriated me that much.

(SPOILERS) As Brosnan’s badly CGI’d Watchmaker fell and Jovovich mouthed the words, “Time’s up” (Ah ha!), I said the same thing. James McTeigue must have needed the money. That’s the only conclusion I can come to. To go from an ultra-violent but clever political action thriller to this 24 hack job? Shame on you!

And the pretentious terrorist attack stats during the end credit sequence were completely unnecessary. Just like the film, really.

1.5/5