Chico And Rita

This animated film opens in modern day Havana, Cuba, but we are soon transported back to the beautifully drawn cityscape in 1948 where Chico is a confident pianist out on a night dancing who is captivated by the beautiful singer Rita, although she is not so keen.

The film follows the story of Chico and Rita, which mainly consists of laborious cycles of Chico stalking Rita, who plays hard to get but relents and is then heartbroken by Chico’s stupid actions. Away from the main characters and about midway through the film a man called Chano Pozo appears. He is fantastic and brings a bit of comedy and a change of style, but sadly he is no more than a cameo.

The background drawings and cityscapes are beautiful. The foreground people are not quite as good: still nice but they are very strangely animated and appear to be disconnected with the backgrounds, floating around quite oddly. It’s a style that might look unique for the dancing scenes, but looks lacking elsewhere.

It’s alright.

2 on 5

Directed by: Tono Errando, Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal Starring: Lenny Mandel, Limara Meneses
UK release: 19th November 2010


Step Brothers

This film directed by Adam McKay and starring Will Ferrell and John C Reiley is barely deserving of a review.

The premise is that Brennan (Ferrell) and Dale (Reiley) are two 40-ish men living at home with their single parents. They become step brothers and room-sharers when their parents marry and move in together. It feels like a first draft rather than a finished film and it’s just not funny enough. It has two moments of inspired comedy, where there is childlike charm and naïvety (the bunk beds scene being one and the balls on the drums being the other) but for nearly all of the hour and a half it’s just like watching two rude 7 year olds arguing. Nothing other than two 7 year olds arguing. That’s not a film, that’s an impersonation.

It seems a subject that could be ripe for a good film – the number of mid-thirties childish sons and daughters still living at home with their parents, but this film is an insult to the audience’s intelligence. The filmmakers seem to be aiming for a response along the lines of “Huh! Shout a swear word again! Dat’s like I is!! Huhhhh!”

It’s just not good enough.

1 on 5

Director: Adam McKay
Starring: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Mary Steenburgen, Richard Jenkins, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn UK Release: 29th August 2008


Berberian Sound Studio

I like Toby Jones and if you can get past the inaccessible title, the premise of a film set in a post-production sound studio sounds intriguing. So does the idea of the timid, English engineer who is at home recording birdsong on the North Downs being sent to an Italian horror film studio and being asked to record sounds for the stabbings and screams of a horror flick using various vegetables appeal! The quiet Englishmen being thrust out if his professional comfort zone and into a world of Italian emotions and loyalties. But unfortunately this turns out to be a flappy, vague drama.

The film’s atmosphere is set initially and you are intrigued, but nothing is really done with it. It also plays on national stereotypes a bit too much and the characters are weak. Toby Jones’s character is too mute and the Italians are too rude and theatrically portrayed to be convincing.

It seems to be primarily a romantic nostalgia piece to analogue tape equipment. In fact the sound recording moments are interesting, but there’s just no story in particular, and certainly no ending.

2 on 5

Director: Peter Strickland
Starring: Toby Jones, Tonia Sotiropoulou, Susanna Cappellaro, Cosimo Fusco, Suzy Kendall UK Release: 31st August 2012


A story about a remarkable journey a woman called Robyn Davidson took in the late 70s crossing the desert land of Western Australia to the ocean with only 4 camels and a dog for company.

It’s a 1700 mile journey (which is like walking from London to Ankara) she undertakes in this film (played by Mia Wasikowska) partly because of her upbringing and father’s travels, but also partly because she seems to dislike modern city life in general and people in particular. Moving home to be away from the city doesn’t seem to help initially as all the men she encounters early in the film appear to be bigoted idiots, so she decides to distance herself from everyone! As we journey with Robyn on a slow meander through the countryside she just seems to get more and more miserable and intolerant.

Mr Eddy (Roly Mintuma) is the high point of the film as the cheerful babbling aboriginal elder who helps Robyn through sacred lands. However for most of the film there appears to be quite a troubling undercurrent in the way the various different groups of peoples are portrayed either all positively or negatively, but thankfully this is resolved in the last third. Robyn even smiles on at least two occasions before the film finishes!

I didn’t really like it or dislike it very much, but it is a bit disappointing that they squandered what could have been an interesting film about an inspiring woman’s story and ended up with a gloomy one that just sort of happens really.

2 on 5

Directed by: John Curran
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Adam Driver, Roly Mintuma
UK Release: 25th April 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel

I think I’ve only ever seen one Wes Anderson film before this one – The Royal Tenenbaums. I didn’t really enjoy that as I found it quite inaccessible and very flat, with lots of sitting around pontificating, but The Grand Budapest Hotel is a very different affair.

It begins with a lot of throwbacks to previous generations. The author narrating picks up the story earlier in his life (played by Jude Law) in the late 60s in the hotel, housed in the mountains in the fictional Eastern European country of Zubrowka. The hotel is introduced to us in its spectacular setting and it looks like a beautifully hand-crafted model, almost like a stylish painting. In the hotel, the author encounters the hotel owner – Mr Moustafa – and the story gets thrown back further to when Mr Moustafa was a trainee bellboy for concierge Gustave H. The story now settles on this time period and our protagonists Zero Moustafa and Gustave H are played by Tony Revolori and Ralph Fiennes.

The film really has the feeling of a novel that meets a cartoon. Initially, and especially with Jude Law’s scenes, the dialogue feels straight out of a novel, and the visual style despite being live-action on the whole is very cartoon-inspired with bright colours, fantastical settings, caricatured characters and a sense of fun.

It’s the sense of fun from early on that makes the film work so well. It makes the introduction of the settings and the characters enjoyable and funny (even though everyone has an accent from a different place it seems not to be a problem), then as it moves to a more adventurous caper you feel happy to go on the journey with them and genuinely threatened by the baddies in the tale. One of those is played by Willem Dafoe and he is a brilliantly evil creation that had me genuinely concerned. But Ralph Fiennes is the star of the show. His camp character is nostalgic for the class structures and politeness of years gone by and he maintains a level of decorum, nobility and impeccable customer service which keeps the guests returning, but this exterior occasionally cracks and he blurts out expletive-laden attacks. His comic timing is spot-on. Mr Moustafa puts it well when he says “His world had vanished long before he entered it, but he certainly sustained the illusion with a marvellous grace.”

Some of the shots are fantastic as well, reminiscent of Hitchcock’s finer moments. I particularly loved the ski-chase! The film is in different aspect ratios according to the time period: starting in 2.35:1then thinning to 1.85:1 and finally 1.33:1 (the old 4:3 of squarer tellies). Whilst this is a nice touch, it does mean the bulk of the film is stuck with 1.33:1 which feels quite constrained and limiting at times.

A satisfying if poignant round up completes the story – it’s great: I loved it!

5 on 5

Director: Wes Anderson
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Jude Law, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Mathieu Amalric, Saoirse Ronan, Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody, Harvey Keitel
UK release: 7th March 2014


So, starting on a positive – I hate 3D. To me it’s a gimmick that adds nothing to the experience of watching a film in the cinema, in fact it makes it worse. I can, however, see that there are other applications where it is suited, such as Disneyland rides and short, spectacle exhibits. ‘Gravity’ looked to me like a concept experience almost more akin to a fairground ride than a film, more like a long version of those funny moving simulators that you used to get at live events in the early 90s, so I thought I’d give 3D a try in this instance. After I’d paid for my ticket I then paid the 3D supplement (for nothing at all) and a glasses fee as well, put my 3D glasses on on top of my normal glasses and I was ready to watch.

The film starts with a wonderful, silent long shot of the earth from orbit, with the sounds of astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) talking to his companion Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) slowly and gently fading up into the foreground. It is done with confidence and restraint and it’s great. As Dr Stone works on the Hubble space telescope on her first spacewalk, Kowalski zooms around with an excellent jet-pack spacesuit on his final mission. Mission control shortly inform them of space debris heading their way and from that point it becomes a jeopardy thrill ride as they both try and get to safety.

The thing is, it still feels like a massive contrivance. Things are still constantly flying towards the screen just for the sake of using the 3D and it gets tiresome. Sandra Bullock is good as a rookie trying to control her fear and George Clooney ironically only shows his human side in the capsule! The plot actually becomes quite amusing after a while as you sit at a level of constant peril. Throughout I thought the sound was amazing and restrained, with the stereo effects adding depth and orientating you. There are no huge explosions where there shouldn’t be (like there were in the trailer for some reason).

It is a gimmicky film, but not a terrible one. It stays with you, but only in the sense that you can’t quite see properly from having worn the 3D glasses.

3 on 5

Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
Uk release: 8th November 2013


Philomena uses as it’s influence the story of an Irish woman called Philomena Lee (here played by Judi Dench) who grew up in the isolated world of an Irish nun’s home (or convent) and had her young boy taken from her. 50 years later she can no longer keep it quiet and gets her daughter involved in trying to locate him. Journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) is one of the people they ask to get involved.

The first thing you notice is that it takes a little while to get used to Judi dench’s Irish accent! Once you settle in though, the two characters do have a nice rapport and an odd-couple relationship throughout and the film is an amusing, gentle watch most of the time.

The faux home-video footage which intersperses the story is a bit silly and it does fall flat shortly after the almost expected trip to America. I loved the reference to ‘The Great Fire’ in the convent and this is pretty damning of the Catholic Church / convents / nuns homes, but sympathetic to Philomena and her faith.

3 on 5

Director: Stephen Frears
Starring: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark , Mare Winningham, Barbara Jefford UK release: 1st November 2013