A UNITED KINGDOM REVIEW

A Very Good Film.

Two stellar turns and a surprising true story makes this one to watch.

The story of King Seretse Khama of Botswana (David Oyelowo) and how his loving but controversial marriage to a British white woman, Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), put his kingdom into political and diplomatic turmoil.

Hazaar! Rejoice! A film I actually enjoyed!

The film chugged along at an easy going pace as the couple first met and the inevitable romance ensued. Dancing the night away and playing jazz LPs.

It wasn’t long before Seretse revealed his royal bloodline and put Ruth in an impossible position. I really felt for the pair as they suffered abuse, judgement and ridicule from their friends and family. And that was just from Britain!

Danny from Spooks has come a long way. I’ve always found Oyelowo an underrated actor BUT if he keeps delivering performances like this, it won’t be long before he bags an Oscar.

That speech alone with the kgotla (a public meeting, community council or traditional law court of a Botswana village) was something else. Goosebumps. You really felt for him. A man torn between the love of his life and his duty to his people.

“You belong with the whites and even they don’t want you”.

In all fairness, you felt just as much for Ruth as she faced public scrutiny on both continents. Even the South Africans refused to help her during a particular difficult period of her pregnancy after collapsing in the shanty town.

I couldn’t believe the red tape and hypocrisy of it all as Seretse battled exile and banishment by the British government from his own country.

And who better to play the slimy hypocritical British bureaucrats than Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) and Norrington from Pirates of the Caribbean?! Jack Davenport was particularly brilliant as the delightfully smug diplomat Alistair Canning.

Accusing the pair of sabotaging the plans of the British Government. Plans that involved illegal mineral digging!

There was a decent supporting cast at the helm. I couldn’t believe ol’ Rodders Nicholas Lyndhurst was in this as Ruth’s intolerant father. Laura Carmichael (Little Edith from Downton Abbey) played the shy little sis well.

It helped that Oyelowo and Pike had fantastic chemistry as Seretse and Ruth’s relationship was put to the test. The racial tension could have been cut with a knife. I couldn’t believe how many times Seretse was called back and forth to Britain to stand trail for his exile leaving a heavily pregnant Ruth struggling in Botswana.

I was mortified at how Churchill (Well, his “advisors”) handled Seretse’s situation. Promising to send the troubled king home if the party won the 1951 election; only to banish him from returning home after winning office.

Of course this is a drama and you have to take the facts with a pinch of salt. BUT this story made me want to know more.

I was engrossed and engaged. There was even a little lump in the throat when Seretse missed the birth of his own child and had to talk to his baby over the phone. The tide turning as Seretse’s uncle publicly shared his disapproval of Ruth. Demanding that he abdicate.

Everything riding on one speech. One last chance to prove his dedication to his wife, to his uncle and his people. It was a nice touch in the closing credits when archive footage was shown of the pair.

I can’t believe this nearly slipped my radar. I’m surprised that there wasn’t more of a buzz around this film. Shame.

It wasn’t without its imperfections BUT you can’t fault an endearing and wonderfully acted little drama. Worth your attention.

3.5/5

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SPOOKS: THE GREATER GOOD REVIEW

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One of the best British dramas takes to the silver screen? Was it needed? Did it succeed? Or should the BBC have let old dogs lie?

I won’t hide my bias. I am a huge Spooks fan. It came around the same time as 24, managed to stand its own, and became one of my favourite TV shows. But very much like 24, it was never afraid to wipe out main characters, deliver twists and turns every week, tense cliffhangers and nail biting cryptic dialogue between fellow spies and high ranking officials.

It may have lost the battle with 24 but certainly lasted the war. 24 stumbled at series 6 and never really recovered. It improved. While Spooks only really tested me at Series 8 of a 10 series run!

The last two series did feel like old hat. What was hard hitting soon became predictable and a retread of stronger story lines from earlier series. I guess there is only so much you can do with a spy drama. But the final series delivered a heartbreaking and satisfying finale.

Four years after the hit series came to a close, we have a movie. A close that was long overdue as the show seemed to be heading down the road of mediocrity. A fitting ending that wrapped things up but subtly suggested that a return wasn’t out of the question.

So here we are. Did I sigh? Denounce the movie gods? Nope. I felt excited. My love for Spooks not quite over and after watching this film . . . I can firmly say it’s still not.

The opening sequence set the tone. Tension bubbling on the back burner. Even if I found the dialogue a little flat and cliched. Spies ironically playing the game ‘I Spy’ while the “cocky” CIA operatives chat up the only British totty (Tuppence Middleton) in the surveillance squad.

However, my little niggles were soon pushed to the back of my head (momentarily) by the introduction of one of my TV icons, head of MI5 security services, Harry Pearce (Peter Firth).

As soon as Firth entered the scene, the fan boy excitement was back. Offering a pillow to a systems analyst who had time to rest his feet on his desk.

It wasn’t long before something was afoot and we were thrown straight into the action as a terrorist (Elyes Gabel) escapes custody during a routine handover.

Racy, tense and very much in the style of the Bourne films. But let’s not forget Spooks were there first! They even threw in the infamous TV title sequence.

I will emphasize that the pace really is put on the back burner. It seemed to chug along after a promising opening and Pearce facing termination after making a judgement call.

The bureaucratic sniping and dealing with the “red tape” spiel did feel like the Spooks of old. Unfortunately, that meant it was dreadfully predictable. However, that was all relieved by some cracking performances from some old faces (Oh yes) and a lot of new ones.

Tim McInnerny (Blackadder) was superb as Mace. Just as callous and manipulative as ever. The introduction of David Harewood (Homeland) and Jennifer Ehle (Zero Dark Thirty) was a mixed bag for me. Harewood played the uptight Warrender perfectly. A weaselly two faced mediator desperate to keep both agencies at bay.

The only cast member that annoyed me was Jennifer Ehle. Normally I don’t mind her but what the hell was her accent supposed to be? Her twang (even though she was meant to be English) really grated against me. It was like she was trying to do an impression of the Queen. Terrible.

Disgraced, Pearce must look to the only person who can help him. The agent who he removed from MI5. Cue . . . No, not Matthew Macfadyen! I know. Gutted, too.

It’s only Jon Snow, of course. Kit Harington literally hits the ground running making a memorable entrance into the mix. Smashing through a cafe window to escape some Russians. Never found out why he was running? A passing comment would have been nice after an entry like that.

Harington was very good. The sulky scorned spy role suited him and he worked well with Firth. Their relationship may have been a little cliched (and strikingly similar to Kingsmen) as Pearce knew his father who died in a botched operation.

BUT it was still interesting to see their already fractious bond tested to the max. And yes, Harrington’s character knows nottthhinggg. One for the Game of Thrones fans.

Harington was the much needed catalyst to jump start this spluttering slow burner. Once he begins Borune-ing the place up in a dangerous game of cat and mouse, I was hooked.

The airport rendezvous with Pearce was superb. Tense, suspenseful and every thing that won me over with Spooks the first time round. The numerous drop off points, the items of clothing with cryptic cards and the time frames. Brilliant.

At it’s best, it’s tense, dramatic with the odd shocker. But at it’s worst, it’s a little predictable and slow. The problem with Spooks is that you always know there is a bigger play. And the cogs are always turning. You can call things before they happen. That’s the problem after 10 series. It does kill the tension and some of the bigger reveals.

Firth was excellent as HP. Despite being integral to the plot, he does seem to be pushed into the background. A little disappointing. Harington’s Holloway is always at the forefront. Not a problem as he proves to be a worthy addition to the Spooks set.

However, Firth still gets his moment to shine and when he does, it’s great. After all the sorrow and tough decisions the man has to make, you really hope that there can be some solace for him.

I don’t think it’s a must for people who haven’t seen Spooks. There are a lot of new faces. When the old ones appear, you get the picture. I won’t say who, Spooks fans. Don’t worry. But there isn’t as many as I hoped.

And Guppy from Casualty has come a long way. Game of Thrones, A Most Violent Year and now this? He was brilliant as the maniacal Qasim. His American accent was impeccable. Take lessons, Ms Ehle. Tuppence Middleton showed potential. I just wish her character wasn’t so bland. But then again Spooks fans, who will ever top Ros?

The film may have been patchy but the last 20 minutes still had me trying to connect the dots. Even if some twists worked and others didn’t, the closing scenes still got me. And Firth stole the show, allowing HP to show a little vulnerability. Cracking his cold demeanour for a one moment before shaking it off and vanishing like a ghost. A spook. Proving once again why his character will always be one of my favourites.

The ending may have been ambiguous but it confirmed one thing for me. I’m still not quite ready to let Spooks go just yet. The film format certainly didn’t kill the franchise. If anything, it has given me hope. A few tweaks on the plot and pacing and I’m happy for it to continue. Cue freeze frame. Black and white.

3.5/5

Also did anyone else feel the title made you want to do this?

SELMA REVIEW

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David Oyelowo delivers an outstanding performance in this highly watchable biopic.

So what is it about? Selma is a chronicle of Martin Luther King’s campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.

I am a little ashamed to say that I knew nothing of the Selma March. I know who Martin Luther King is and what he stood for. BUT I didn’t really know the full extent of what the man accomplished. Other than deliver the “I Have a Dream” speech.

Farewell, Danny from Spooks. I was afraid that David Oyelowo would never be able to shake off that iconic TV role for me. BUT in the last two years, I have seen him popping up in films more and more with his performances getting better and better; Jack Reacher, Interstellar, The Butler.

I was waiting for him to get a meatier role to sink his teeth into and nothing could be bigger than the role of Dr King.

He was fantastic. I went back to watch the infamous speeches of Dr King and Oyelowo captures his posture, his voice, the little pauses and tone perfectly.

I am surprised that he didn’t at least receive a BAFTA nod for his performance.

I mean if Laura Dern could get a Best Supporting Actress nod for Wild, then the man definitely deserved one. No disrespect, Miss Dern.

The opening sequence surprised me in which we see Dr King receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. Another fact I did not know. This is soon followed by the unexpected (No, seriously. I jumped out of my seat) and harrowing 16th Street Baptist Church bombing.

Director Ava DuVernay handled the material delicately. Four little girls killed through brutal ignorance. Subtle but tough viewing.

To be honest, Selma was a little slow to get going. Considering the powerful opening, the drama seemed to be put on the back burner. The back room politics was interesting enough with King attempting to peacefully negotiate the black vote.

BUT the constant flicking back and forth soon put me into a lull.

Tom Wilkinson played LDJ brilliantly. The very definition of a politican. Promising to do his utmost but afraid to make any drastic changes as *cough* another election *cough* is on the cards.

Giovanni Ribisi wasn’t bad. The only thing that was bad was his combover.

The conspiring between LDJ and Edgar Hoover was unsettling. It will always remain suspect what happened to Malcolm X and Dr King. Allowing Dr King to continue to be the face of black rights until he began to challenge everything.

While this is happening, we see the treatment of black voters in the southern states as they try and register.

Oprah Winfrey was very good as Annie Lee Cooper. She wasn’t in it enough to be frank. Her treatment was unnecessary. Having to learn and recite the constitution. Fill in every detail of her form. Quizzed on how many members in a particular state and their names. Doing everything within their power to stop her getting the register to vote.

King soon focuses his attention on Selma. A hot spot brewing with racial tension. The place where he will hold a peaceful march.

The fact he was put under heavy surveillance by the government was shocking stuff. Branded as an agitator for failing to listen to reason and disrupting the peace. A joke.

I thought King’s phone call with singer Mahalia Jackson was a little strange. Calling her in the middle of the night to hear a little gospel? BUT the stranger revelation out of the scene that it was logged in a surveillance report!

I always thought Malcolm X and Dr King were not just fighting for the same thing BUT fighting the same way.

I didn’t realise that King detested X’s violent methods and refused his help during the “peace” protests.

Mr X even tried to rationalize with King. Trying to offer his militant ways as a distraction. To stop the wrong attention being focused on King’s cause.

Tim Roth was very good as Governor George Wallace. He carried the accent well and brought a subtle menace to the role. Not enough of him to be honest.

BUT of course the real battlefield was on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Truly horrific stuff. The riots that ensued before and after the incident were bad enough but the attack on the Bridge was tough viewing. The sequence meshed in actual footage which really brought it home. Knowing that this actually happened. Shot for shot.

However, in between these horrific moments, there wasn’t much else.

It felt like they tried to piece more around the events of Selma.

The dynamic with King and his wife wasn’t explored enough for me. The threatening phone calls and the constant fear of what would happen was certainly a catalyst.

BUT there was a scene in which the government are desperate to destabilise his marriage by sending a recording of King with another woman. He doesn’t deny it very well. A mild insinuation that I wanted explaining.

No one is perfect BUT was it mind games? Or did the government find something on the pastor?

It was great to see Cuba Gooding Jr. and Martin Sheen in this BUT the roles they took on were so unmemorable and small that anyone could have played them.

The sermons, although brilliantly executed by Oyelowo, were a little long at the tooth for me and didn’t hit home as much as I had wanted.

Don’t get me wrong. Selma is still worth investing.

There were some interesting developments that I didn’t know about. The constant mind changing of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) who supported the cause when the odds looked good. Only to pull out when King and the protestors decided to take on the Bridge a second time.

The closing credits around particular protestors had some shocking revelations that I did not anticipate.

The march itself was tense to watch. BUT it just wasn’t quite as hard-hitting as it could have been. I understand that it is based on true events.

BUT it felt like something was missing. The length was a little long for my liking. The politics and sermons seem to kill the tension and pace that was spurning Selma on for me.

However, that doesn’t stop a sterling performance and interesting if (in parts) brutal re-telling of a crucial moment in history.

3/5

A MOST WANTED MAN REVIEW

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Philip Seymour Hoffman was definitely a most wanted man for this drab moody political thriller. A showcase and a reminder of the loss of a talented actor. The film will certainly not soil’s Hoffman’s prestigious reputation. But Anton Corbijn on the other hand . . . not so much.

A drawn out and needlessly complicated thriller that proves to be oh so simple and tedious that the 127 minute length just doesn’t justify itself or keep you engaged. It was always going to be tough to do a spy film these days, especially after nine series of Spooks, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Homeland.

The opening score and the subtle title sequence was nostalgic of the 70s political thrillers. A good sign. The moody overtone captured perfectly against the Hamburg backdrop by the cinematography of Benoit Delhomme. The story was typical John le Carre. Spies lurking in the shadows. The inevitable waiting game as a mystery man washes up on the banks of Hamburg after evading capture from Russia. Is he a terrorist? A man sneaking refuge from a torturous nation? Or a distraction for a bigger play?

The inevitable chess game as each agency fishes information out one another waiting to see who makes the first blunder or bluff revealing their intentions. Each move carefully analysed and discussed. Cryptic references and stories that are saying something without saying something. Grigoriy Dobrygin plays the mysterious Issa very well and will certainly be one to watch. However, the main scene stealer was (and was always going to be) Mr Hoffman. The opening half hour was PSH chain smoking and walking a lot of steps. It was a waiting game and believe me you felt like you were.

Hoffman is a fantastic presence along with a flawless accent. He doesn’t break out of his German twang once. The same cannot be said for Rachel McAdams who certainly gives it a punt but dips in and out. Not everybody can do it. Willem Dafoe was surprisingly good but his character was wasted as the film churned along.

The mystery soon borders on pretentious and just plain dull. Maybe Andrew Bovell and Anton Corbijn should have taken some lessons from The Lives of Others. Slow burning but tense, intriguing, hypnotic with a nail biting finale. This was just slow. Corbijn had impressed with his previous efforts: Control and, more importantly, The American. Suspenseful, tense and brilliantly shot. I understand it was adapted from Le Carre. But even some of his weaker and less renowned works still had some intrigue. The hour marker allowed Hoffman to shine and show what we will miss from him and that is his acting prowess. Delivering lines with tenacity and conviction. Pumping some life into this lead balloon.

The sense of paranoia and fear against the post 9/11 backdrop certainly provided a suitable catalyst. Robin Wright playing the American envoy who gate crashes the party was good. Sweet and supportive in one second, cruel and commanding the next. Typical. Some will smile. The fractious tension between the Americans and Germans is set up perfectly in the relationship between her and Hoffman. The film finally appears to be getting somewhere, setting things up for a tense finale, only for it . . .  to fizzle away abysmally, becoming a lazy statement that is all so predictable. Commentary that has been made time and time again.

A look into the inner working of politics between the agencies was interesting if void of suspense. PSH didn’t look particularly well. He looked rough. I mean he never was the epitome of physical health but it certainly puts an air of darkness around the film, especially knowing that this was his last film to grace the silver screen. Daniel Bruhl was completely wasted in the role. A nothingy supporting role, a mere cameo that didn’t do him any justice, especially after the prolific year he has had appearing in Rush and The Fifth Estate. Anyone could have played him.

It is a good a send off as we will get for the man. The problem with these slow burning poker games, I’ve seen them done so much better. I have patience for pace if the characters are interesting enough to keep me peaked. We were watching one man as Hoffman spurned cryptic babble to a number of agencies trying to enforce their own method of politics in the veil of “counter terrorism”. Homeland proved that watching one man could be interesting but here’s the thing the man actually did something. Not hang around in a bedsit praying, whining and trying to pull a Mean Girl. (Okay, Homeland did do that too).

Dull, drawn out and desperate. For every little move, a nightclub chase here, it was crushed with one chess piece, being endless dialogue and conversation that went no where. It certainly captured the look and had a prolific star that will certainly be missed but had to little in terms of suspense and intrigue for me.

2.5/5