*NEW* DAD’S ARMY REVIEW *NEW*

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This was doomed from the start. PANIC, Mr Mainwaring!

The perfect cast. The wrong script. A real bomb.

The Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard platoon deal with a visiting female journalist (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and a German spy as World War II draws to its conclusion.

Dad’s Army was (and still is) one of the best sitcoms I’ve seen. I was introduced to it (ironically) by my dad and still laugh at the same old scenes and one liners despite knowing every word. It may have been a silly (and dated) show about a bunch of old boys and misfits guarding the cliffs of Dover BUT it was funny.

Not many British sitcoms have fared well making the leap to the big screen and a remake? Well, the less said, the better. When I heard that a remake was on the cards, I was puzzled. Why? Have we really run out of ideas? However, my doubts were relinquished slightly when the cast were revealed. Doubt soon turning to excitement.

BUT that feeling was soon extinguished. Tragically, this failed to stand alone as a homage to the iconic series. The frenetic opening sequence with a couple of MI5 agents chasing a German spy was hardly funny BUT got things going as a piece of important code that “could end the war” landed on the cliffs of Dover with our loveable misfits.

A training exercise to retrieve an escaped bull with the camouflaged covered codgers was hardly laugh out loud BUT it delivered a smile. It was just a shame that there wasn’t enough of those moments.

Toby Jones (Captain America) certainly looked the part and didn’t do a bad effort as Captain Mainwaring. BUT he wasn’t old enough or strong enough. He was far too high pitched and squeaky. It felt like a case of grabbing the smallest oldest British actor they could find. BUT it was always going to be tough to follow in Arthur Lowe’s footsteps.

Daniel Mays (Atonement) played the spivvy Private Walker very well BUT then for anyone whose familiar with his previous roles, this was hardly going to be a stretch. Blake Harrison, on the other hand, was dreadful. On paper, you would have put money on ol’ Neil from the Inbetweeners delivering as simpleton Private Pike. BUT he was highly unfunny and irritating as hell. A running gag involving an obsession with Errol Flynn flicks never got going and failed to deliver one funny quip.

However, plaudits must go to Tom Courtenay (45 Years) and Michael Gambon (Harry Potter). I wasn’t sure what to expect from Courtenay. He was superb and channeled his inner Clive Dunn. He was brilliant. Bumbling and fumbling away. Gambon was delightfully naïve and bashful as Private Godfrey. Standing in Hawaiian gear with a cheesy grin. A curtsy and “a thank you sir” and I was chuckling. I would have been happy to watch these two for the next hour.

However, their absence in the movie left a gaping hole for laughs and gags. What didn’t help was that we had such a dull story line with the gang chasing after Zeta Jones’ flirty journalist.

It was funny at first with every one trying to woo and impress her BUT after half an hour, I was bored. Bill Nighy was disappointing as Sergeant Wilson. There wasn’t enough camaraderie between him and Jones’ Mainwaring. There was too much time spent on him pining for Zeta Jones. Her return to town sparking old feelings.

Sarah Lancashire (Happy Valley) was wasted as Wilson’s love interest. A great actress left moping and whining. Shame. I couldn’t remember if the Women’s Front was tackled in the sitcom and it would have been a fresh angle if they had better material.

Disappointing considering the talent. A great cast consisting of the likes of Alison Steadman (Gavin & Stacey), Annette Crosbie (One Foot in the Grave) and Emily Atak (The Inbetweeners). Felicity Montagu (Alan Partridge) did her best with the terribly OTT Mrs Mainwaring. BUT we already had a bunch of old fellas fumbling and falling about to no avail, we didn’t need any more people doing it. Crosbie and Steadman’s detective solving was the only chuckle I got. The only pair who knew what was going on.

BUT then again, there really wasn’t much. The German spy twist was so dreadfully obvious that I wondered why they even bothered. Mainwaring mispronouncing German words was funny for about 30 seconds BUT died a death quickly.

The beach finale delivered a little of what I had expected from the rest of the film. Silly, stupid and funny. A case of too little, too late with Mainwaring mistaken for Churchill. The gang trying to fight with disastrous results. Bill Paterson (Outlander) only got to shine as Private Fraser in this scene. His inevitable catchphrase didn’t quite have the same gusto as John Laurie. Otherwise he was quite weak.

I really wanted this to work BUT it merely delivered moments. Dud’s Army, I’m afraid. The hammy plot bored me that much that I didn’t even clock Ian Lavender’s cameo. This was doomed from the start.

2/5

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’71 REVIEW

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A bold, visceral debut with another charismatic performance from a rising star.

BUT not without its imperfections.

Firstly, it helps to have some insight into the Troubles of ’71. Now my knowledge is sparse but despite not being alive at the time, that doesn’t mean I’m not aware of the conflict that ensued between England and Ireland.

Now writer Gregory Burke and director Yann Demange (Dead Set) leave little explanation throwing you and our protagonist into the heated confusing mess that was the conflict in Belfast. All that is established is a map highlighting the areas to avoid at all costs. The areas seized by the Irish nationalists who were perceived by the British as the enemy.

The confusion is merely one of a number of revelations. So what’s it all about? A young and disoriented British soldier (Jack O’Connell) is accidentally abandoned by his unit following a riot on the deadly streets of Belfast in 1971.

We start with a slow opening as O’Connell visits his son while awaiting his next mission. At first, I was a little unsure with O’Connell’s delivery. He seemed to mumble and mope around. But as the scene progressed, O’Connell excelled. I was afraid that O’Connell would be typecast as the cocky hot head after Skins and Starred Up but the character of Gary Cook was a complete change of tempo.

The treatment of the British soldiers as they entered Belfast was harrowing and unsettling. The children swearing and throwing excrement was an unpleasant sight. The women grabbing saucepans and dustbin lids to warn the men of the incoming troops was tense and . . . irritating as hell (What?)

The slow build up as the masses continue to grow around the military vehicles was excruciating. Excruciating in the sense that all you can do is wait for it all to go up in smoke. The suspense brewing more and more as the tension reaches boiling point. As the orders became more and more misconstrued by the inexperienced Lieutenant Armitage (played perfectly by Sam Reid – The Riot Club), you find your loyalties divided.

However, the one who are routing for is Gary as he attempts to evade capture and get home. The chase sequences were intense and frantic. At times, the shaky camerawork was a little unsettling as you couldn’t see who was where.

It’s slow burning, at times tense and suspenseful. But for a 99 minute film, it felt a lot longer. The parts in which Gary is hiding (Several in fact) seemed to hit lulls. Where I was originally engrossed and held in suspense on Gary’s fate, I felt my mind wandering as the ongoing conversations between the nationalists and the Military Reaction Force seemed to run down familiar lines.

Despite being eerily realistic, it was also very predictable with the inevitable backstabbing. A sign of the times in this current day and age with paranoia, suspicions and backroom dealing ever present in politics. One thing that I can commend Burke and Demange for is capturing the dilapidated wasteland of the captured areas in Belfast and providing the opportunity for a talented cast to bring such characters to life.

The Military Reaction Force certainly didn’t portray Britain in the best of lights but with questionable motives and hidden agendas, I wasn’t surprised. Sean Harris (Prometheus) was perfectly cast as the shady Captain Browning. If anyone can play a creepy double crosser, it’s him.

There were surprises along the way with people you wouldn’t expect coming to Gary’s aid. Corey McKinley made a memorable impression as the loyalist kid. His acting was superb and quite comical, lightening the tone. It was great to see a talented cast of British actors and actresses, who have been popping up on the telly, get the opportunity to shine; Paul Anderson (Peaky Blinders), Sam Hazeldine (Resurrection) and Charlie Murphy (Happy Valley).

The final 15 minutes came out of nowhere. Nail-bitingly tense with more ‘shoot em ups and backstabbing than The Departed and the conclusion certainly made for sombre viewing. Burke and Demange were not afraid to hold back the punches in commenting on a political minefield.

A bold, if a little drawn out, screen debut from a promising director and a stellar performance from a rising star.

O’Connell will certainly be one to look out for in the foreseeable future.

3/5

*THROWBACK REVIEW* BELLE

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Pride and Racial Prejudice or Frownton Abbey. A stellar British cast uplifts a syrupy biopic that you’d expect to see on ITV. 12 Years A Slave, this ain’t. It’s certainly watchable and zips along but it doesn’t really make full use of the cast or the subject matter and inevitably leads to the same old predictable schmaltzy finale.

So what’s it all about? Inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). The illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy captain is raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and wife (Emily Watson).

Belle’s lineage affords her certain privileges, yet the colour of her skin prevents her from fully participating in the traditions of her social standing. However, she soon falls for an idealistic young vicar’s son (Sam Reid – The Riot Club) bent on change who, with her help, shapes Lord Mansfield’s role as Lord Chief Justice to end slavery in England.

Well, at least gets the ball rolling . . . sort of, kinda.

The beautiful Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Touch) takes the fold and delivers a strong performance. One to watch for the future. Matthew Goode (Stoker/The Good Wife) applies enough charisma to make a memorable impression as Captain Sir John Lindsay, who plucks an orphaned Belle from poverty and much worse. A shame that he is only in the film for five minutes before departing on a long voyage.

To be honest, anyone could have played him. Penelope Wilton (Downton Abbey) seems to be typecast of late as the uptight old prune of an aunt but if she delivers the goods, does it matter? To me, just a bit.

Even Tom Felton is playing a Victorian Draco Malfoy, complete with “mudblood” attitude in tow. Don’t get me wrong, he plays the slick toothed snob to perfection. As does James Norton (or Tommy from the highly acclaimed BBC TV series Happy Valley) as Felton’s smug brother and partner in crime.

They are both the weasel-y twins (What?) as they try and weave their way into Belle’s fortune. Miranda Richardson (Blackadder) is also brilliant as their conniving matriarch. Emily Watson plays her part well, even if her character is completely unnecessary.

Merely, a commentator sitting on the side lines. Commentary that is self-explanatory as, to be honest, there is not a lot going on. The beautiful Sarah Gadon (Dracula Untold) is making an impression. She plays the dibby cousin Elizabeth well. You do feel for her character as she appears to be used as pawn in a game of rich chess or left lingering in the shadow of the “exotic beauty”.

I appreciate the concept and direction the film took. This is a completely different story to 12 Years A Slave that deals with the issue of race within the aristocracy. The fact that Belle was awarded the stature and position of any rich member of power and is unable to use it, says it all.

However, it all feels a little petty in comparison to the visceral gritty torture that Solomon endured. He was beaten, whipped and hung. Belle was made to eat in a separate room to the rest of the family and was perceived merely as an exhibition piece, an exotic jewel, nothing more.

Tom Wilkinson is fantastic as Lord Mansfield whose position is compromised in between fulfilling the law. The law that does not treat any person of colour with respect or even see them as people.

He works well with Mbatha-Raw which allows for some heartfelt moments. After the initial introduction and set up in an easy going half hour, the film seems to be happy to tend with the mundane gossip of petty rich Victorian folk while the inevitable romance blossoms between Belle and John Davinier (Reid). The awkward exchanges, the subtle glances and turning aways. Check, check. All there.

It all feels like by the end it is merely ticking the boxes for all the clichés of a period drama. Any chance of making statements are crushed by an inevitable corny love story. The finale is merely a revelatory court case with the verdict relying on Mansfield’s overriding decision.

A decision that is so obvious and unbelievably predictable that all the grandiose speeches mean nothing. I expected so much more.

It’s well-acted, easy going but doesn’t seem to be sure on whether to be a hard-hitting drama or a slow burning love story.

If you’re a period drama fan, then you’ll love this but it brings nothing new to the genre. Weaker episodes of Downton Abbey have done a better job (There’s never been a weak episode of Downton? That’s scandalous!)

If you’re already going in making comparisons and expecting 12 Years A Slave, then . . . watch 12 Years A Slave. Such a shame. Not bad but not great.

2.5/5