GET SANTA REVIEW

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Get on it!

Jim Broadbent dons the red suit and white beard and leads a sterling British cast in this fun (but flawed) Christmas cracker.

Writer/director Christopher Smith has taken the same old Santa spiel and re-worked it into something quite different and entertaining.

So what’s it all about? (Besides the obvious implications of the title) A father (Rafe Spall) and son (Kit Connor) team up to save Christmas after discovering Santa Claus (Broadbent) sleeping in their garage and on the run from the police.

A breath of fresh air! I was surprised at how little this film was marketed at the cinemas. It’s not without it’s imperfections but I can certainly commend it’s originality. Execution on the other hand? Ho, ho, ho, here we go.

Broadbent brings St Nick to life brilliantly and delivered the charm by the stocking full. He was everything I expected. Funny, endearing and entertaining. It always helps in these family holiday films to have a likeable cast.

Connor (An impressive debut from the little chap) and Spall (X + Y) were fantastic together. They played the parts well and made the father/son dynamic work.

Spall’s dead pan delivery certainly made for some cracking one liners. His reaction when Tom tells him he’s found SC in the garage; “Are you in the garage with a man? Pass the phone to your mum”. Priceless.

The prison angle was a fresh take. Recently released from prison, Steve is desperate to be a good dad. Little does he know that his prison ties will be more important than ever. His quest for redemption certainly had a little more substance to the usual Christmas father/son squabbles.

The idea of SC incarcerated was a perfect platform for some fun gags. I smiled a lot more than I expected and was surprised at the stars that popped up in this.

Matt King (Super Hands from Peep Show) featured as a miserable and unsatisfied prison guard. To be honest, his character was nowhere near as good as I hoped. If anything, he was a little flat. Even the OTT comical punch up between him and Warwick Davis (Harry Potter) left little to be desired.

Davis, on the other hand, was quite good. Of course, lazy elf gags galore were thrown at the poor chap but his retorts and sarcastic jibes made up for it.

And what was Combo from This is England doing in this?! Stephen Graham’s turn as The Barber was an unexpected delight. Good to see he can still have a laugh and that he’s not too big for the small Brit pics. His tough guy training sesh with Broadbent was almost worth the ticket alone.

I was in stitches watching ol’ SC strutting around the gaff with corn locks. Throw in a cheeky slow mo tough guy montage to a bit of Ice Cube for good measure? Yes please.

Joanna Scanlan (Stella) played the delightfully unpleasant parole officer with aplomb. BUT apart from stomping about and carrying a toad in tow (You read that right), she didn’t really do much else.

Jodie Whittaker (Broadchurch) was wasted in her role. Apart from a few awkward exchanges (and rightly so) between her character and Steve, she didn’t really pop back up until the final moments.

The reindeer were quite funny for the little ‘uns. Especially the deceptive Dasher (who manages to break into vans without explanation). He can’t talk but he can communicate. And of course being a children’s movie, he does so by farting. That’s right. Communicating through farts (Come on, we’re better than that).

Although Spall trying to remain serious as the furry critters trumped away was quite funny.

Ewen Bremner (Trainspotting) was really irritating as the over-enthusiastic and deluded PC Finkerton. He did my nut in.

Unfortunately, for every clever little prison gag, there were a dozen recycled ones. BUT there was still fun to be had. A cheeky Shawshank Redemption reference shouldn’t have worked but it got a little nod from me.

For the little ‘uns, you have Big Nick firing a tommy gun of reindeer droppings in a high speed police chase.

The animation was a little cartoony for me. Especially in the letter tunnel when Steve and Tom are transported to Lapland. BUT their sleigh ride was brilliantly captured. Santa’s gadgets were quite cool. His slinky/chimney expander was a nifty little trinket.

I know it’s a Christmas film BUT it skimmed through a number of plot holes. Look, I’m prepared to except all the rubbish about SC and the reindeer flight paths (It’s a kids film after all) BUT breaking out of secure prisons so flippantly? Come on now.

It wrapped things up a little too quickly. For a moment, I wondered if Smith was going to play on the “Is he/isn’t he SC?” spiel a little more as Steve fears that he’s helping a chap who is nothing more than a petty criminal.

I loved its originality but was a little disappointed in its execution as it raced to its shamefully predictable, corny and rushed finale.

BUT I had a lot more fun than I expected and it wasn’t the worst way to kill 90 minutes.

2.5/5.

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STARRED UP REVIEW

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Scum, this ain’t san. A slow hard boiled film that doesn’t deserve to be locked up and is reprieved by an unexpected brutal climax and a very talented cast.

It’s great to see low budget British films like this getting recognized and put out on the cinema circuit. We follow the incredibly volatile Eric Love (Jack Connell) as he is transferred to an adult prison and ends up in the same wing as his old man, the even more explosive Neville Love (Ben Mendelsohn). Director David Mackenzie excels at providing a grim look at the prison system. What starts as a good opener as we go through the check in procedure (strip search, etc) at the prison soon meanders along, bordering on a Porridge parody. I mean once Eric walks through one walkway, we don’t need to see several. Connell is fantastic and gives a stellar performance. His character to start with is very unlikeable as he goes out of his way to make trouble. But through his bravado and dominance, you can’t stop watching him. And once he meets his father, a fantastically creepy Mendelsohn, we soon get a better insight into Eric and see why he is the way he is. The only problem Connell has always excelled at playing the hard man. You can only worry that he will be type cast but if he plays the part so well, does it matter.

Starred Up is gritty, violent, at times brutal but beneath that, Mackenzie does try and make a statement about young offenders and the inner workings of the prison, providing an all too realistic insight. This is demonstrated perfectly in the “anger management” class sessions led by posho volunteer Oliver (another stand out performance from Rupert Friend – Quinn from Homeland). His unique style and questionable motives make for good viewing as he desperately tries to help the offenders, a well acted bunch of British bandits; David Ajala, Anthony Welsh, David Avery, Ashley Chin and Gershwyn Eustache Jnr. This is where the film stood out from all the usual Scum spiel that has been ripped off endlessly. Eric’s erratic behaviour is crazy, at times brutal and at one point, hilarious. But once he flies off the handle, the more times he does it and effs and blinds with some (granted) memorable quotes, it gets irritating but that is the point. That is why he is here. The sessions allow us to see his vulnerability and makes for some great moments and banter as he bonds with the class.

As we delve deeper into the prison, you see that not even the powers that be are any better. Sam Spruell (The Hurt Locker) and Sian Breckin (recently featured in BBC’s Truckers) playing the shifty governors working and undoing Oliver’s work. However, where it excels in violence, testosterone, good characters and great acting, the film lacks in pace and stutters along. The hype helps draw attention but the first hour doesn’t justify it for me. However, the last half hour makes for crucial watching and redeems a film that was starting to lose my attention and questioned whether this should have been put on FilmFour as one of their TV movie premieres. However, it all seemed to be brewing up for one big climax (steady now) that is brilliantly done, compelling and endearing. All in all, a mixed bag but one of the better ones. The best prison film? Not for me san. But certainly not the worst. Mackenzie is definitely going to be one to watch for me now. 3.5/5

Currently ranks #48 out of 155!