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The Lady In The Van Review

Excellent

Maggie Smith couldn't be more perfect for the title role in this film if it were written for her. But the most astounding thing about this story is that it's true, an event from playwright-screenwriter Alan Bennett's own life. The film cleverly plays with the idea of a writer telling his own story. And it also gives Smith an unforgettable role in a movie that's both entertaining and sharply pointed.

It happened in 1970 Camden, as neighbours worried about a homeless woman parking her van in front of their houses. She turns out to be Mary Shepard (Smith), and resident Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) offers to let her park her van in his driveway for a few months. She stayed there for 15 years, during which Alan refuses to pry into Mary's personal life and she turns a blind eye to the steady flow of young gentleman callers at his door. Even so, over the years Alan learns some details about Mary's past as a musician, ambulance driver and nun, and that she became homeless because she was on the run from the police.

Bennett takes a cheeky approach to the script, writing two versions of himself: one who lives his life and one who writes about it. The interaction between the two is cleverly played by Jennings and directed with offhanded hilarity by Hytner, who shot the movie in the actual street and house where the events took place. Jennings also adds some emotional interest in Alan's relationship with his mother (Gwen Taylor), who ironically has to move into a nursing home. Opposite him, Smith is as magnetic as ever, reeling off each pithy one-liner with impeccable timing. The role may not seem like much of a stretch, but she delivers it with a prickly mix of attitude and humour, plus a strong undercurrent of pathos.

Continue reading: The Lady In The Van Review

Le Week-end Review


Extraordinary

Like a 20-years-later sequel to Before Midnight, this sharply observant comedy-drama follows a couple through a soul-searching weekend in which they evaluate their relationship with real wit and emotion. And transparent performances make it something to savour, as it offers us a rare grown-up movie about real issues we can identify with.

As the title suggests, the weekend in question takes place in France, and it's a 30th anniversary treat for Nick and Meg (Broadbent and Duncan). They can't really afford a trip to Paris, especially after ditching their dodgy pre-booked hotel in lieu of something far nicer, but they figure out ways to make their time special. Meanwhile, they talk about their years together, and the hopes and regrets that are haunting their thoughts. There are some hard questions to ask about their future, even as they haven't lost that spark of sexuality. Then they run into Nick's old Cambridge pal Morgan (Goldblum), who invites them to a party where they meet academics and artists just like them. Which only makes them think even more.

The key issues for them include Nick's early retirement (for an ill-timed comment to a student) and Meg's desire to change her life completely. As they consider the options, their conversations drive the film forward forcefully, flowing through cycles of flirtation and laughter to bitterness and cruelty. The depth of their love is never in doubt, even as they wonder how secure their relationship actually is. Broadbent and Duncan play these scenes effortlessly, taking our breath away because it's all so honest, often both funny and scary at the same time.

Continue reading: Le Week-end Review

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa Review


Extraordinary

In bringing his iconic 1990s radio and TV character to the big screen, Coogan refreshingly refuses to play to American audiences: this film is purely British in its story, setting and characters. And as it gleefully redefines almost every action movie cliche imaginable, it's also one of the funniest films of the year. This is party due to the hilariously astute script, but also because Alan Partridge is both riotously embarrassing and utterly loveable.

As we meet him this time , Alan (Coogan) is trying to save his job at North Norfolk Digital when the radio station is bought by a corporation and turned in to Shape ("The way you want it to be"). In the process, Alan gets his colleague Pat (Meaney) sacked, and at the Shape launch party Pat goes postal with a shotgun, taking the staff hostage. As the police close in around the station, Alan becomes the chief negotiator, realising that this can only help boost his fame. But as he works on increasing his own publicity, Pat is menacing his on-air sidekick Simon (Key), while his offbeat security guard friend Michael (Greenall) finds a place to hide and his assistant (Montagu) has her own encounter with the media.

After all these years, Coogan is able to completely vanish into Alan's distinctive personality, saying all the wrong things at the wrong times while constantly getting distracted by irrelevant details. He only ever does the right thing by mistake. Yes, Alan is a buffoon, but he isn't stupid. Coogan plays him so perfectly that we can't help but like Alan even with his distinctive flaws. And the film actually generates a real sense of menace in this mini-Die Hard siege scenario, blending real danger with inspired physical comedy. And virtually every line of dialog has a joke in it.

Continue reading: Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa Review

Hyde Park On Hudson Review


Good

The breezy, entertaining tone of this historical comedy-drama kind of undermines the fact that it centres on one of the most pivotal moments in US-British history. Director Michell (Notting Hill) knows how to keep an audience engaged, and yet he indulges in both tawdry innuendo and silly cliches, never giving the real-life events a proper sense of perspective. Even so, some terrific performances make it enjoyable.

The events in question take place in 1939, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Murray) invites Britain's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (West and Colman) to visit Hyde Park, the upstate New York residence he shares with his mother (Wilson), while his wife Eleanor (Williams) lives down the road with her "she-male" friends. Roosevelt knows that George is here to ask for help against the growing threat of Hitler's Germany, and as a result of their talks a "special relationship" develops between America and Britain. Meanwhile, the womanising Roosevelt is not-so-quietly having an affair with his distant cousin and confidant Daisy (Linney).

Essentially there are two films here fighting for our attention. Much of the story is seen through Daisy's eyes, complete with an annoyingly mousy voiceover that never tells us anything we can't see on screen. Linney underplays the character to the point where we barely notice that she's in the room, and the depiction of Daisy's romance with FDR is often squirm-inducing. By contrast, the other aspect of the plot is fascinating, with West and especially Colman shining in their roles as witty, nervous Brits trying to make the most of the first ever visit of a British monarch to America. Their steely resolve is brilliantly undermined by their brittle nerves and endless curiosity. 

Continue reading: Hyde Park On Hudson Review

Wuthering Heights Review


Excellent
Emily Bronte's novel is one of the most unsettling books you'll ever read, so it's about time a filmmaker made a darkly disturbing movie out of it. And Arnold's movie is like no other period adaptation we've ever seen: gritty, messy and thoroughly involving.

When the farmer Earnshaw (Hilton) brings a street urchin (Howson) home after a trip to Liverpool, he adopts him as a son and has him christened Heathcliff. He bonds quickly with Earnshaw's daughter Catherine (Beer), but her older brother Hindley (Shaw) continually abuses him. This only gets worse after Earnshaw's death, and when Cathy decides to marry the rich neighbour Linton (Northcote), Heathcliff runs away. Years later, he returns (now Howson) to confront Cathy (now Scodelario) about her true feelings.

Continue reading: Wuthering Heights Review

Nowhere Boy Review


Extraordinary
This beautifully written and directed biopic has a strong ring of truth to it, mainly due to Taylor-Wood's artistic approach to filmmaking. It also features extremely complex characters and a remarkably vivid collection of events.

In 1955 Liverpool, John Lennon (Johnson) is a troubled 15-year-old, raised by his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George (Scott Thomas and Threlfall) without knowing that his wayward mother Julia (Duff) lives just around the corner. But everything's going to change, and while he tries to balance these parental relationships he's also discovering rock 'n' roll. He teams with his pal Pete (Bolt) to form a skiffle band called The Quarrymen. And interest in the band heats up when talented musicians Paul and George (Sangster and Bell) join them.

Continue reading: Nowhere Boy Review

In The Loop Review


Extraordinary
Frankly, it's a stroke of genius to play a tense political thriller as if it's a raucous satire. Slicing straight through any over-seriousness, this film keeps us laughing loudly as it tells a story that's probably far truer than we'd like to believe.

Malcolm Tucker (Capaldi) is the acerbic communications director for Britain's Prime Minister, and right now he has to put out a fire started by Cabinet Minister Foster (Hollander), who called war in the Middle East "unforeseeable" in a radio interview. Foster's aides (Addison and McKee) are working to keep him on the crest of a tidal wave of attention after some American politicians (Kennedy and Rasche) take an interest in him. In Washington they also meet a tough Pentagon General (Gandolfini), while unseen forces seem determined to rush to war.

Continue reading: In The Loop Review

Brideshead Revisited Review


Excellent
The palatial estate sits languid against the landscape, the massive family home looking as much like a museum as a manor. Within its walls are secrets kept silent for far too many years, a lineage forged in lies, deception, and an unflappable faith in God. For the Flytes, Brideshead reflects their own insular existence -- self contained, complete with its own ornate chapel and religious iconography. But for anyone outside the clan, such opulence shields wealth of a different, disturbing kind. And should one revisit the famed locale, they too will find themselves lost in its amoral allure.

When we first meet middle class student Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode), he is leaving his distant father for Oxford. Instantly, he is thrust into a world of privilege, and the seedy sphere of influence surrounding fey fop Sebastian Flyte (Ben Whishaw). Over the course of the school year, they become inseparable in ways that suggest something other than simple companionship. Fate finds the pair spending the summer at Sebastian's family home, known as Brideshead. There, Charles meets two women who will figure prominently in his future -- the staunchly Catholic matriarch Lady Marchmain (Emma Thompson) and Sebastian's glamorous sister Julia (Hayley Atwell). Over the next few years, everything about Brideshead, from the people to the place itself, will haunt Charles' attempt to forge an identity for himself, as well as guide what he really wants out of life.

Continue reading: Brideshead Revisited Review

Venus Review


Excellent
Not since Harold and Maude has there been an intergenerational love connection as intense as this. In Venus, rapidly deteriorating 75-year-old Maurice (Peter O'Toole) is infatuated by the tough-talking 19-year-old country girl Jessie (Jodie Whittaker), the grand-niece of his best friend Ian (Leslie Phillips). When she arrives in London from the sticks to act as a nurse/babysitter for her uncle, she disrupts both of their dusty lives with all sorts of fascinating unintended results.Maurice and Ian are both actors of some renown, and Maurice still works, although he's been reduced mainly to playing dying men and corpses. A quick wit who enjoys a sip of whiskey as he amuses himself with the unpleasant details of his own decline, the sullen (and lovely) Jessie fascinates him. She, of course, is repulsed by both men and is mainly looking for free London lodging and a job "modelin'." She only takes interest in Maurice when he says he can get her a job.The job turns out to be modeling in the nude for an art class, but Jessie reluctantly goes along with it, convinced when Maurice takes her to the National Gallery to look at a particularly beautiful painting of a nude Venus.Though the skittish Ian remains terrified of this new disruptive presence, Maurice, who has always been a ladies man and isn't about to change now, becomes increasingly enamored of her, and she grows fonder of him, although her motives are always in question. What, exactly, Jessie is up to, becomes an important question as she begins to let Maurice kiss her shoulders (only three times) or smell her neck. She also lets him buy her gifts, including a tattoo, and Maurice, for his part, sees himself playing a Henry Higgins sort of role. Can he turn this bumpkin into a lady? A lady who might actually love him?Peter O'Toole takes this excellent opportunity to remind us what an incredible actor he is. It's been decades since he's been given a chance to shine like this, and he blows the doors off in a part that seems to have been custom-made for him. Stripped of all vanity (Maurice even submits to a prostate exam), O'Toole delivers a master class, submitting to lots of invasive close-ups that highlight those inextinguishable blue eyes. His brief scenes with his ex-wife, played by Vanessa Redgrave, should be studied by acting students. They're two geniuses at work. Equally important is Whittaker, who shows no fear as she acts with these legends.Roger Michell and Hanif Kureishi teamed up three years ago on The Mother, another interesting look at age gaps and attractions. Venus is lighter fare and rather more pleasant to watch, but most important, it gives Peter O'Toole an opportunity to do what he does best. One wonders if this may be his last truly grand performance.I'm your Venus, I'm your fire, your desire.

The History Boys Review


Very Good
Plays do not always make the transition well from stage to screen - they can come off too talky or stagnant, mannerisms that work well on a far-off stage sometimes appearing stilted on a big screen.

Fortunately, thanks to the rambunctiously energetic performances and Nicholas Hynter's equally jaunty direction, The History Boys looks right at home on screen; what poses a larger problem is whether it will translate as fluidly from Britain to America.

Continue reading: The History Boys Review

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Kevin Loader Movies

The Lady In The Van Movie Review

The Lady In The Van Movie Review

Maggie Smith couldn't be more perfect for the title role in this film if it...

Le Week-end Movie Review

Le Week-end Movie Review

Like a 20-years-later sequel to Before Midnight, this sharply observant comedy-drama follows a couple through...

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa Movie Review

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa Movie Review

In bringing his iconic 1990s radio and TV character to the big screen, Coogan refreshingly...

Hyde Park on Hudson Movie Review

Hyde Park on Hudson Movie Review

The breezy, entertaining tone of this historical comedy-drama kind of undermines the fact that it...

Wuthering Heights Movie Review

Wuthering Heights Movie Review

Emily Bronte's novel is one of the most unsettling books you'll ever read, so it's...

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In the Loop Movie Review

In the Loop Movie Review

Frankly, it's a stroke of genius to play a tense political thriller as if it's...

Brideshead Revisited Movie Review

Brideshead Revisited Movie Review

The palatial estate sits languid against the landscape, the massive family home looking as much...

Venus Movie Review

Venus Movie Review

Not since Harold and Maude has there been an intergenerational love connection as intense as...

The History Boys Movie Review

The History Boys Movie Review

Plays do not always make the transition well from stage to screen - they can...

The Mother Movie Review

The Mother Movie Review

I feel as if I've seen The Mother at least five times since 2001. A...

Enduring Love Movie Review

Enduring Love Movie Review

Picnicking in a brilliantly green field on the outskirts of London, a couple's afternoon meal...

Captain Corelli's Mandolin Movie Review

Captain Corelli's Mandolin Movie Review

Captain Corelli's Mandolin is one of those films that most people can't in good conscience...

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