*NEW* THE GIFT REVIEW *NEW*

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Joel Edgerton’s debut is a gift that needs returning.

Slow, dreary and dreadfully predictable. Disappointed doesn’t even come close.

A young married couple’s lives are thrown into a harrowing tailspin when an acquaintance from the husband’s past brings mysterious gifts and a horrifying secret to light after more than 20 years.

That synopsis makes it sound so much more interesting that it really was.

Now I’ve been a fan of Edgerton for some time ever since his turn in Kinky Boots and Warrior. I really had high hopes for his directorial debut. A great cast do their best BUT you can’t hide a lifeless thriller with a surprisingly flat twist.

The opening got the ball rolling quite early. It set up the premise within five minutes. Couple. House. Creepy friend. Excellent. Let the game of cat and mouse begin.

The first half hour I was happy to allow the characters to develop. Always remembering that the inevitable was creeping around the corner. BUT by the hour marker, I was praying for it to come quicker (Steady now).

It was great to see Jason Bateman tackle a serious film for a change. I just wish he had a meatier role. He really excelled in the darker moments (which tragically there wasn’t enough of) and had good chemistry with Rebecca Hall.

Rebecca Hall is a very good actress but has this knack of featuring in mediocre films. Transcendence, anyone? She had an impeccable accent and carried the film for me. Lucky. Considering the film was very much focused on her character. The pawn in a very boring game of chess.

Edgerton was perfect as the troubled Gordo. The film picked up every time he appeared. To be honest, his numerous drop-ins at the family home felt like a minor inconvenience more than a stalkerish obsession.

I was impressed with Edgerton’s supporting cast. It’s just a shame that he didn’t give them better characters. Alison Tolman (Fargo) was wasted as the neighbour. It was extremely annoying because there was a strange moment in which Edgerton suggested something more suspect about her.

When Robyn (Hall) first meets Tolman’s character, she notices the baby is left crying in the back of the car. Hidden behind a veil. There was a slight Rosemary’s Baby vibe. BUT in the next frame, we have Robyn cradling the baby. It could have been a play on Hall’s paranoia BUT more should have been made of it.

How did Busy Philips from Dawson’s Creek get in this? She might as well have NOT been. Wendell Pierce was pretty much playing Bunk from the Wire. The same tired face and exasperated expression. Great for a Wire fan. Poor for anyone else. And he was only it in for 30 seconds and was completely redundant.

Eduard Grau’s cinematography may have provided a murky look to this supposedly “murky” thriller. But you can’t a polish a tur- turgid drama.

I’m happy to allow a slow burning thriller to unfold. If the pay-off delivers. The inevitable creepy tension as Gordo’s numerous appearances go from annoying to unsettling was too predictable. I could feel myself ticking everything off a check list. It was too formulaic. They have a pond. He buys them fish. They throw him out. He kills the fish. Oh no, they have a dog. What’s going to happen there?

It was inevitable that Gordo was a ticking timebomb. If anything Bateman’s reaction was more questionable as he finally lets his new guest know that he has overstayed his welcome. This is where the film did get a little more interesting as Simon’s (Bateman) past is called into question.

The cheap jump out of your seat scares felt desperate as the film continued to stagger along. I thought the shower sequence was merely a ploy to make sure the audience were still awake. Quick jump. Aaah! Right. Still with us? Back to the film.

The closing fifteen minutes finally delivered what I had expected from the rest of the film. A tense slow burning stand-off with the inevitable twist rearing its ugly head. And credit where it’s due; the twist was actually an interesting one. And I did appreciate Edgerton’s little nod to the Usual Suspects.

It did leave you pondering as the credits rolled. A nice touch. But once I got out of the cinema and into my car, I realised I had still wasted two hours for a mediocre conclusion and the revelation hardly matched all the mystery and hype.

Patchy at best but very disappointing for all the promise. Mr Edgerton, spend less time on wrapping and more time on picking a better present, eh.

2.5/5

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WILD REVIEW

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Did Reese Witherspoon’s performance drive me wild with praise or RAGE?

The director of Dallas Buyers Club returns with another Oscar contender but can lightning strike twice?

Right, enough questions.

Not bad at all.

I had mixed feelings about Reese Witherspoon. I mean, Legally Blonde? No, no, no.

That was until her Oscar winning turn in Walk The Line. A complete transformation. And she delivers yet again with another solid performance.

So what’s it all about? Wild is basically a chronicle of one woman’s 1,100-mile solo hike (Short and sweet. Hey, no spoilers here).

Jean-Marc Vallee takes on another biopic but this time it just doesn’t quite feel as polished off as Dallas Buyers Club.

Understandably, they are completely different films BUT I found DBC had a lot more story and depth. This is a certainly an engaging if slow burning journey of one woman trying to find herself BUT it just doesn’t quite reach the heights that you expect.

Yves Belanger returns to deliver a visual masterpiece. The cinematography really made use of the locations.  A beautiful backdrop full of life and colour in one shot, desolate and dreary the next.

Witherspoon has more than enough screen presence to keep the film going. Crucial when she’s the main character that we are following for the next two hours!

The film flicks back and forth through Cheryl Strayed’s past as she embarks on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Vallee and Hornby cleverly juxtapose the flashbacks with the past and present well. Revealing Strayed’s demons and darker moments as the journey becomes more strenuous. The challenge continuing to test her by the day.

The inner monologues from Strayed were a nice touch. Some of her one liners were quite funny; “Morning. Cold mush. Afternoon. Cold mush. Evening. Cold mush. I love cold mush.”

Her initial struggle was quite humourous for any amateur hiker (*Cough* Me* Cough*). Wrestling with her monster backpack, failing to set up her tent, buying the wrong gas canister for her cooker.

The pace worked for the majority of the film as Strayed dealt with the ever-changing temperatures; searing heat in the desert to the sub-zero temperatures of the snowfall that was never supposed to hit.

There were some interesting revelations. Some that did surprise me. Others you could suss. As Cheryl delved further into the wild, you couldn’t help but feel an air of unease and suspense. The wildlife creeping in the dark.

The paranoia of the unknown made for a funny incident involving a caterpillar and a sleeping bag. BUT it also made for a tense one. A pair of hunters make an unpleasant and unwelcome appearance.

I loved some of the metaphorical imagery. The fact Cheryl is literally standing in the middle of a crossroads as she debates hitching a ride all the way back home was hardly subtle but nicely done.

The CGI fox was a little irritating. I mean, it was a nice moment when it first appeared but when it kept popping up, it was irritating and the CGI seemed to get worse.

Strayed certainly meets a strange bunch of characters. The only problem is that they aren’t quite as memorable as you hope them to be.

I actually had to do a quick recap by looking at the cast list. A shame.

Thomas Sadoski (The Newsroom) was very good as Paul (Cheryl’s estranged partner). I thought Sadoksi and Witherspoon had great chemistry. It would have been nice to see more of their relationship. I mean the flashbacks zip through the life cycle of the relationship quite well but a little too quickly for my liking.

Laura Dern did a good performance as Strayed’s mum, Bobbi but Oscar worthy? I’m not so sure.

She certainly played the part well and I felt for her character in the small flashbacks she appeared in BUT then again let’s not forget that Dame Judi Dench won Best Supporting Actress for Shakespeare in Love and she was only in that for 8 minutes!

However, there was one scene in which Bobbi just breaks down after hiding behind her scatty, smiley mask for so long and Dern was outstanding. But I wanted more. There just wasn’t enough of that in the film for me.

The more I thought about the story line and the characters Strayed came across, it reminded me a little too much of Sean Penn’s brilliant travel biopic (coincidentally titled) Into the Wild. The beautiful landscapes, the flashbacks, a likeable lead (in Emile Hirsch).

I mean, even the whole “meeting different people who share their stories” spiel bared a striking resemblance (but with more memorable characters). If you were unlucky not to see this; first go see it and second, Wild may fare a bit better for you than it did for me.

BUT to those who have seen the Penn pic, you may find it hard not to make comparisons which Wild falls just a little bit short.

My main qualm about the film was that despite dipping in pace, it just ended so abruptly.

A quick quote and a summary of what happened next. That’s it?! We didn’t even get to see Strayed finish the trail properly.

I just felt after all that time, it would have been nice to have a few more minutes flashing through Strayed’s life after this spiritual journey to let it come full circle.

I won’t spoil anything but as Strayed explains her life in the closing speech, I couldn’t help but notice a massive continuity error with the time frame in which the events leading up and after her trail were supposed to have happened. It just didn’t add up.

It was a bum note on a well acted and highly watchable drama.

Witherspoon certainly does enough to warrant that Oscar nod but Best Actress? I don’t know.

But if you want a well acted spiritual journey flick to break up the hum drum heading our way, then invest.

3/5

ANNIE REVIEW

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I think I’m going to like it here. Well, I didn’t like this.

A needless remake of a classic musical. OTT, ridiculously cheesy and to make it all worse, it was just rubbish.

From the opening musical number with the sassy Annie (Quvenzhane Wallis) making all the class clap and stomp in tune (The front row the rich, the rest of the class poor) I was cringing. I believe a face palm may have occurred.

Really, Hollywood? An urban take on Annie. On paper, I thought why not? There hasn’t been one BUT rehashing the classics badly with auto-tune? This could have been an opportunity to make a statement on foster care or the social care system under the veil of song but no, no, no.

A poor rehashing of the same old story line that felt even more dated and hammy than the original.

The music wasn’t bad but the “Hard Knock Life” remixed with “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” didn’t do it for me. I felt the choice of Hard Knock Life was a little lazy considering one (of a long list) of the producers was Jay Z.

The whole spring cleaning routine to it was choreographed well but it just didn’t work. “The City’s Yours” sung by Jamie Foxx and “Opportunity” by Wallis were very good.

I did warm up to Wallis by the end but I found her a little annoying and too headstrong for my liking. Look at me, I sound like an old man. But something just didn’t sit right until she was paired up with Foxx. They worked well together and made the predictable cheesy relationship a little more bearable.

Foxx delivered on the singing. Of course, he would. The man won an Oscar for Ray BUT his character Will Stacks was almost a caricature. A deluded politician out of touch with the people.

Hardly original but guzzling hand sanitizer after touching and kissing a few voters? Spitting food at the homeless? Too OTT for my liking.

The auto-tuning video of said food flinging incident did get a chuckle.

Cameron Diaz overacted to the max. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a musical but I couldn’t take her seriously as the volatile foster parent, Hannigan. I winced every time she came on wailing at the kids.

The conviction wasn’t there and she annoyed the hell out of me. That was until she sang. When she first started, I thought “Bloody hell” (Well there might have been a few other choice words) but as the song carried on, her voice got better.

And credit where it’s due. She hadn’t got a bad singing voice. One actress I wouldn’t have minded hearing sing a little more was Rose Byrne. In the scenes she supported, she had a nice voice.

I would have preferred to hear more of that than her long winded stereotypical Oxford talk about being a workaholic and having no friends. That was irritating.

Look, I know musicals are always exaggerated and in your face BUT normally you can switch off and be immersed in it. And that is because as much as the songs stand out, the characters do too but I felt they strung any old cliched character together and just thought “It’s a musical, they’ll love it”.

Let’s not forget Glee is going. The musicals losing their magic once again.

There were watchable parts and the pace zipped along for its two hour length. You could tell the cast were having fun and there were scenes where you got caught up in it NOT just poking fun at it.

The cast choices surprised me. They sung very well even if the reworkings were a little hit and miss. I think I’m Going To Like It Here wasn’t bad, bar Stephanie Kurtzuba’s ridiculous impromptu social worker performance. She did my nut in.

The cameos were a little random. Patricia Clarkson (The Maze Runner) as a focus group member suffering bad side effects after using one of Stack’s phones fell flat on it’s backside. Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje (Mr Echo from Lost) was nothing more than a smiling chauffeur. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

David Zayas (Dexter) didn’t do too bad with his flower shop mope role with a vendetta against the powers that be. Michael J. Fox popping up in a satirical PR campaign segment was a clever touch.

A mermaid movie premiere that ripped off Twilight involving Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher and Rihanna wasn’t bad. It certainly poked fun at the guff that makes money these days.

BUT the rest of the actual movie was just like it!

Bobby Cannavale was on scene stealing form until the last 15 minutes of the movie. Boardwalk Empire’s Gyp Rosetti singing and dancing?! Madness. His song and dance number with Diaz did leave a little to be desired.

But the whole PR campaign in which they used Annie as a marketing tool was a good little bit of satire. Shame there wasn’t more of that to make up for the lifeless characters. Cannavale’s ruthless PR executive certainly kept things moving.

Some of his one liners were spot on; “There have been worst politicians. I know. I got them elected. Schwarzenegger, Kim Jong-Il, that blood diamond guy”. It got one of a few chuckles.

The story was weak. Little orphan looking for parents that left her. Befriending a man out of touch and out of love. Finding each other. Yawnnn.

Plus the plot holes were terrible. Annie sings about the note left by her parents. BUT then later on, reveals she can’t read?! What?!

Granted. Someone could have told her what it said. It would have been more of a twist if the note actually said something else. OR if all the sub-plotting and twists weren’t revealed in song. Seriously you knew everything that was about to happen. Would have been nice to have a little mystery.

Still would have been predictable BUT something.

The film ended so frantically and cheesily that I was shaking my head. All logic out the window for a racy finish. It was stupid. BUT no worries. Throw in some schmaltzy dialogue and a few jazz hands and everything will be okay.

Shudder.

It will be a while before the sun will come out on messy musicals like this. Not a complete write off. There will be enough for the little ‘uns and the hardcore musical maniacs who are not deterred by this review. Sorry, it’s a no from me.

2/5

THE DROP REVIEW

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Tom Hardy’s performance certainly got the drop on me.

He proves yet again why he is one of the most versatile actors going.

So what’s it all about? Bob Saginowski (Hardy) finds himself at the centre of a robbery gone awry and entwined in an investigation that digs deep into the neighbourhood’s past where friends, families, and foes all work together to make a living. No matter the cost.

Penned and adapted from a short by Dennis Lehane, I knew I was in for a treat. Lehane has been responsible for some of the better crime dramas and thrillers of the last few years; Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River and Shutter Island.

It was also a fantastic and fitting endnote for the career of another talented actor who left us too soon. I’m looking at you, Big T. Mr Soprano himself, James Gandolfini.

BUT despite the fantastic casting, the pace leaves a little to be desired and the story? Considering the hype about killer twists. I found it all a little too simple and predictable.

Lehane’s work us very much in touch with my favourite genre, the film noir. The characters and seedy underworld were certainly captured perfectly by director Michael R. Roskam. Complimented by the grainy cinematography of Nicolas Karakatsanis.

BUT the convoluted, multi-layered story line? Not so much.

It did leave me wanting a little afterwards. All that promise and a twist that I saw coming a mile off. A shame.

BUT that’s not to say it isn’t worth checking out. Hardy is a charismatic lead, who has great chemistry with the equally talented Noomi Rapace (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo).

Rapace played the anxious and hesitant Nadia perfectly. Her role and motive questionable throughout.

The pair worked well together and I didn’t mind following them as their relationship inevitably blossomed.

Their bonding was helped by the discovery of an abused puppy that Bob finds in a trash can.

Rocco the puppy was adorable (What? He was. Losing man points like crazy). It lightened up the dark, gritty undertones bubbling beneath the surface which killed the atmosphere a little bit.

BUT if the little pup didn’t appear, there wasn’t much else going on to begin with.

It also allowed for Bob to break his shy demeanour and pry into his background a little.

Oh! James Gandolfini was superb. To be honest, there wasn’t enough of him. I couldn’t help but feel that his character Cousin Marv was nothing more than a “What If . . . Tony Soprano went in Witness Protection and became a bar owner”.

His presence and delivery stole every frame. No, not like that. His one liners just made me want to go back and watch The Sopranos all over again. Marv’s fractious relationship with Bob was an interesting one to watch.

The tension slowly building as tempers rose. The pressure mounting from their business interests under the vague title of “The Armenian Mob”.

However, as the mayhem ensued, I felt Gandolfini’s character took a back seat. Understandably to an extent, without spoiling any content BUT still a little disappointing.

Matthias Schoenaerts (Bullhead) was also fantastic. A nasty piece of work. Chewing up every bit of suspense. A ticking time bomb. His predatory stalking was a masterclass in suspense.

First toying with Bob by asking for an umbrella and gradually making his presence known more and more. The kitchen scene with Rapace was nail biting stuff.

Morgan Spector and Michael Aronov played the roles of the Armenians quite well. BUT at the same time, despite putting pressure on our sparring bartenders, I felt they were a little wooden and by the end, nothing more than stereotypical foreign mafia guys. Shame.

The closing 20 minutes HOWEVER were tense, suspenseful and brilliant. Double crossing and backstabbing galore. I just wish there was more of this throughout.

I won’t divulge too much information but perceptions are changed. The slow burning tension did meander and sizzle a little too much for the 106 minute running time.

I felt John Ortiz’s (Silver Linings Playbook) role was completely unnecessary. Nothing more than a suspense catalyst. And a poor one at that.

Re-appearing when the film seemed to lull or asking rather mundane questions after a nasty bit of business had gone down. Even his covert dark alleyway rendezvouses with fellow officers led nowhere.

Merely relaying information we already knew from Big T but with a much flatter and duller delivery.

I kept hoping his character would go somewhere (Preferably out of this movie). BUT nope! Not even the final exchanges in the closing minutes were revelatory or needed. Weak.

Suspenseful, tense and brutal (in parts) but also a little predictable and long at the tooth. However, Hardy has certainly established himself in the big leagues and with performances like these, he will continue to do so.

And farewell Big T. One final – CUT TO BLACK.

3/5

MR TURNER REVIEW

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Well, this didn’t turn me into a fan but a stand out performance from Spall certainly kept me going.

Mike Leigh takes his paintbrush to the canvas to paint the last 25 years of the great, if eccentric J.M.W (Joseph Mallard William) Turner.

I loved Leigh’s earlier efforts; Life is Sweet, Vera Drake and Another Year. However, I still found them a little overhyped. Good examinations of family, class and society but a little long at the tooth.

From the elongated if haunting opening sequence, I knew what I was in for. One of Turner’s most famous works slowly materialising and consuming the screen.

This is followed by a slow burning but beautifully captured picturesque pastoral Dutch countryside sequence as we watch Turner paint a windmill.

A wonderfully shot but slow burning examination of one man’s genius. The cinematography by Dick Pope has been commended and rightly so. A feast for the eyes.

I was not familiar with the works of Mr Turner. Firstly, I’m not a big art lover. But watching the process that he took in mastering his craft was an interesting process.

But with such genius, comes many flaws. At first, I was frowning at Spall’s delivery. Reduced to grunting and grimacing for the first part of the film. I wasn’t sure whether I liked the man.

A social outcast if ever there was one. Loved by a housekeeper (Dorothy Atkinson) he takes for granted and occasionally exploits sexually. He isolates a family he fathered out of wedlock with a scene stealing turn, by regular Leigh stalwart, Ruth Sheen as Sarah Danby.

He virtually denies their existence and doesn’t even ask of their welfare. To be honest, there wasn’t enough of Sheen or enough conflict for me. Leigh paints a rounded portrayal of Turner, capturing him at his best (or most eccentric) and his worst; he actually had himself strapped to the mast of a ship so that he can paint a snowstorm.

His relationship with his father (Paul Jesson) was done well and it added a little humanity to this strangely alien painter; completely out of touch with etiquette. Painting a picture of an aristocrat and openly spitting on the canvas to provide a better finish.

Jesson and Spall were a great pairing. I rate Timothy Spall quite highly and despite the character, I couldn’t stop watching him. A sterling performance.

The props and detail were perfect. I’m not an art lover but some of the paintings were outstanding. The Victorian dialect was a little undecipherable at first but you soon get the gist. It helped that I had studied Victorian literature back in sixth form (Oohh err). Didn’t expect to have to remember that.

I didn’t realise that Turner was both celebrated and reviled by the public and royalty. The open mockery regarding his final works was incredibly harsh. People made plays questioning that he had lost his sight if he thought he could regard such a painting as art.

When Turner does get painting and shares his views of his work, you don’t see a cantankerous recluse with questionable morals, you see a genius with an eye for detail.

An interesting scene in which at the Royal Academy of Arts, Turner appears to ruin another member’s work by smearing a red spot in the middle of the ocean. However, once Turner finishes, you notice that he has painted a buoy.

One relationship I felt was also captured quite well was between Turner and the seaside landlady, Sophia Booth (Marion Bailey). Bailey and Spall had great chemistry and I felt for the pair. I didn’t approve of the fact that they had to live incognito in Chelsea.

Look at me. Didn’t approve. I’m more Victorian than I thought. A sign of the times.

The 150 minute pace was debatable. I felt that parts dragged and that the film meandered along the waves Turner painted.

At its best, a beautifully shot travel diary as a renowned painter travels, paints, stays with the country aristocracy and visits brothels.

At its worst, a meandering pretentious if rounded biopic on an eccentric Victorian womaniser. The cast do their best BUT with the people Leigh had at his fingertips, I just wish more was made out of them.

Renowned TV actors reduced to bitty ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ cameos; James Fleet (Vicar of Dibley), Karl Johnson, Ruby Bentall (both Lark Rise to Candleford) and Lee Ingleby (Inspector George Gently).

This really is an acquired taste. Very much like the works of Mr Turner. If you’re an avid fan of Mike Leigh, Timothy Spall and the artist Mr Turner, then this is for you.

But for newcomers of any of the above, this may not be the best starter.

3/5

NATIVITY 3: DUDE, WHERE’S MY DONKEY?

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Ho, ho, ho – horrible!

Dude, Where’s My Donkey?

No, not the long awaited sequel to Dude, Where’s My Car? (Well, I liked it). I would have preferred watching an attempt at that than endure this festive fiasco again.

From the moment the first badly mimed, badly choreographed and terribly out of sync flash mob started busting shapes, I knew I was in for it. And that was just from the adults. The kids hadn’t even started yet.

Now, I hadn’t seen the previous sequels before (and after this, I won’t be) but I thought a third installment? It must be doing something right. I can safely say that this should nail that lid to the coffin.

So what’s it all about? The pupils of St Bernadette’s and the madcap Mr Poppy (Marc Wooton) are back! When their new teacher Mr Shepherd (Martin Clunes) loses his memory as well as Archie the Donkey, it’s up to them to save the day and reunite him with his fiancée Sophie (Catherine Tate) in New York.

I’m a huge fan of Martin Clunes and knew he would be up for a laugh. He applies his Doc Martin spiel with aplomb and carries the film as much as possible. He managed to make certain gags that stunk (as bad as the donkey droppings that the numerous cast members stepped on repetitively) work.

The clothes they make him wear. He looks like a real life Christmas Where’s Wally? His singing. Yeah, he sings. My lord! The man could rival Pierce Brosnan from Mamma Mia!

Catherine Tate was incredibly flat and irritating. She seemed to be doing a really bad panto impression of her Impressions show?! Terrible. I thought having the comedienne would add something to this travesty but oh no!

Celia Imrie was delightful as the stand-in headteacher Mrs Keane or Mrs Mean. Yeah, that bad. Imrie works well with the children and to be honest, I would have been happy to see more of her.

Clearly her predecessor didn’t fancy another round. A cheeky nod to Martin Freeman and David Tennant with snow globes was a nice touch. Why on Earth did they do the other films? The money must have been good.

The Ofsted inspection subplot was completely unnecessary and didn’t go anywhere. Just an excuse for more naff tomfoolery with endless farting donkey gags and the droppings. Once was enough.

Mr Poppy, well . . . where do I begin? Marc Wooton certainly doesn’t care and fair play to the chap. BUT for the one good silly one liner he does deliver, there are a thousand million (in Poppy terms) incredibly annoying and terribly unfunny ones.

The teacher’s assistant with special . . . powers. I was exhausted with him after five minutes. It was like having a kid just watching him run and flail about. I wouldn’t trust him with my kids.

The little ‘uns might find him funny but the parents certainly won’t.

Now the kids who should be the main focus of the film seemed to be pushed to the background. Dragged along for the ride to burst out into a song or dance when the lazy and placid story line is running out of gas.

I expected more of an Outnumbered approach with the kids improvising. Nope. There was one scene that showed promise when the kids try to explain the Nativity to an amnesiac Clunes. A little girl’s answer about an angel was adorable; “An angel is someone who is half bird and half lady. AND she wears a really big white wedding dress”. More of that would have been welcome.

Now the flash mob sequences in which the children are allowed to shine are actually quite good. You can allow for some of the little tykes being out of step. The costumes and props were quite good.

What infuriated me was the fact they are forced to mime to their own singing . . . and badly. Just let them sing live!

Did I mention an amnesiac Clunes? I must have forgot to mention that (What?). He receives amnesia after being kicked in the head by a donkey. Hilarious, I hear you say? No, I didn’t think so.

The plot is terrible. I tried to switch off my critic voice in a film that’s supposed to be about Christmas and fun BUT stealing kids out of school and being looked after by a complete halfwit?

I mean, the amnesia ploy was all a bad excuse for the cast to have a Christmas tour around London and New York. The only part Debbie Isitt captured brilliantly and managed to make me a feel a little Christmas-sy and not just queasy.

Clunes had amnesia. He still had a wallet. You didn’t have to do a ridiculous flash mob dance to distract our apparently oblivious and incompetent border patrol officers so the kids could steal flight tickets and passports.

The lazy explanation from the psychologist was laughable for all the wrong reasons. Let’s flood his head with warm memories? There’s no physical injury. No physical injury bar the whopping donkey footprint on his forehead? Perr-leassse.

It seemed to me that we were watching established British TV comedy personalities trying to act like big kids in a poor panto. Why? You had the children right there. I have seen more originality and humour in my little brother’s school plays and they didn’t cost me a tenner. Not good enough.

The film is on far too long. 90 minutes was a push but 110? Behave. The length should have been swapped with its superior Christmas-sy competitor, Get Santa.

Adam Garcia played the panto villain well but his dancing was terrible. What was his profession again? A renowned dancer? Not from this. Ralf Little was brilliant as his dimwitted sidekick in a somewhat small cameo. Why didn’t he have a bigger role? He was funnier than half the cast in the 30 seconds he featured?

Jason Watkins (Trollied) was terrible. Normally a funny guy in his own right. Dull as dishwasher and irritating as hell.

Lauren Hobbs was adorable and did well as Clune’s daughter. She was probably the only memorable child in it. And that’s not the kids’ fault. I mean even the songs were highly unmemorable. And to make it worse, the kids have to sing them again AND again. It was like watching a really bad school panto!

I really laid into this one, didn’t I? I apologise but just because it’s Christmas; it doesn’t mean you can slap any old thing together and expect people to pay and see it. It was lazy, unfunny and poor. At a push, worth taking the little ‘uns if they are aged to 5 tops. Otherwise, go see Penguins of Madagascar, Paddington, anything BUT this.

I’m sure it was fun for everyone who filmed it. It’s just a shame they couldn’t convey that for everybody else.

Sorry but 1/5

I didn’t get me in the Christmas spirit but it certainly got reaching for the ones in my cupboard. Should be Dude, Where’s My Money?

THE REWRITE REVIEW

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I think this needed a few more rewrites. A real shame. Hugh Grant applies his bumbling, miserable British charisma to this terribly drab yawn-com that delivered little on romance or comedy.

I know. Hugh Grant has been playing the same character for years. Why would he change? His last offerings may not have been timeless classics but they were certainly watchable. This one on the other hand is so flat and boring that if not for the cast, I honestly feel it wouldn’t have made the big screen at all.

Now Grant does deliver a sterling performance. Doing what he does best. Sleeping around and upsetting all the wrong people by doing so. However, his character is never really as sleazy or as funny as you would hope and expect.

He has enough charisma to drag this wooden cart across the finish line but boy, what a long and drawn out race. There is good chemistry between him and Marisa Tomei. The pair didn’t really grate on me as much as I thought. But it’s all so predictable and obvious.

In fact so much so that writer/director Marc Lawrence doesn’t even bother to go with an OTT corny luvvy-duvvy ending. We are just left assuming that they do with an incredibly flat and open ending.

This is Lawrence’s FOURTH collaboration with Grant (Two Weeks Notice, Music and Lyrics, Did You Hear About the Morgans?). Fans of their work may find this the weakest one yet.

The little facts about Binghamton were a nice little touch. If completely unnecessary bar the little bit of trivia about being the birthplace of the creator of the Twilight Zone, Rod Serling.

The little jibes about teaching scriptwriting brought a guilty grin to me. Merely because I have tended such classes and wondered what a lecturer could possibly teach me (At times I was right). The little things were okay but hardly that funny. Grant picking a class of beautiful ladies and ugly nerdy fellas was typical but hardly hilarious.

The supporting cast at Lawrence’s fingertips do their best to put some emotion in his leaden script but the characters are so one-dimensional, flat and unmemorable. I had to read the cast names to remember who was who.

The only lady to make a decent turn was the provocative and alluring manipulator Karen. Bella Heathcote (Dark Shadows) will certainly be one to watch for the future. Emily Morden didn’t do too bad a performance as the ditsy Andrea.

But Star Wars nerds? And emos with no emo-tion who secretly have? Annie Q (The Leftovers), I’m looking at you. Didn’t mean to rhyme with that. Alison Janney (Mom) did her best to conjure up an adversary immune to Grant’s charm in the Jane Austen junkie. But it doesn’t really go anywhere after their initial cringe-inducing but entertaining introduction. J.K. Simmons (Spiderman) and Chris Elliott (Scary Movie 2) were wasted in their roles. Two gags from the pair is all we get and even they go on far too long.

It left like it was just churned out with no real thought or research relying on the cast to attract bums on seats. Lazy, clichéd but not even watchable. Just plain dull.

Grant’s character is too laidback and smarmy to really to do anything. A moment in which one of his students delivers a stellar script could have been an opportunity to test him. I really thought he might nick it to save his flailing career to ignite a little drama in this hollow affair. BUT oh no, it’s merely a passing of the torch as he reluctantly accepts he is old hat. Aww. Yuck.

A lot more could have been made out of the big time Hollywood fish stuck in a small mid-West town. I mean Lawrence had the perfect actor to play the snobby cynic. I think Mr Grant needs to take a little break and re-assess his next project instead of taking the pay cheques. The fact he has pulled out of the third Bridget Jones film says it all. For every little titter, there were a dozen duds.

Predictable, dull and unmemorable. Grant and the cast do their best but nothing was going to save this ship sinking. I think Lawrence might want to take some writing lessons. Class dismissed.

2/5 for me.