Silver Linings Playbook

Why they’ve added the word ‘Playbook’ to this film is unclear, before and after viewing in fact. What is clear from the outset is that the protagonist Pat (Bradley Cooper) is a bit of an arsehole! Pat is introduced to us as he is released from a mental health facility after his parents agree to be responsible for monitoring him. He’s determined to be well behaved, get his life back on track and get his estranged wife back, but will he be able to? It begins with a bit of a lecturing tone to be honest.

Robert De Niro plays Pat’s Father, Pat Senior, and Jacki Weaver his Mother, Dolores. They’re both great, believable characters and Rob De Niro is actually very funny. Jennifer Lawrence plays the similarly neurotic and troubled Tiffany, who is a warm and kind character and she is fantastic as always. Good casting then, but it wasn’t so clear during pre-production who was going to fill the main roles. Initially director David O Russell had Vince Vaughn and Zooey Deschanel pencilled in (Christ…) but thankfully fate intervened.

There is a big exposition scene where Pat’s parents and Tiffany meet and despite it being a little shoe-horned and false it is quite enjoyable.

As the film went on I became quite endeared to it to be honest. The logistics of the production were quite evident sometimes (close up conversation shots with obviously post-filming inserted vocals for example) and the path was clear from early on, but nonetheless it was quite enjoyable by the end.

3 on 5

Info
Directed by: David O. Russell
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Anupam Kher, Chris Tucker UK Release: 25 December 2012

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The Switch

Starring Jason Bateman and co-starting Jennifer Aniston, this film from 2010 is sold as a rom-com, but there honestly isn’t a single laugh in the film, nor even an attempt to get one really. No, this is a romantic drama. Jennifer Aniston plays Kassie Larson, an early-40s single woman in New York who decides she wants to have a baby and despite the protestations of her friend and repressed-admirer Wally Mars (Jason Bateman) opts to use a sperm donor. She throws an ‘insemination party’ to celebrate, where the donor provides his sample and the insemination takes place. If that wasn’t weird enough, Wally manages to spill the sample and decides to secretly provide a replacement.

Now, this film has all the hallmarks of an idea in a meeting which was green-lighted that has then proved difficult to pad-out to a feature film. It seems they lost interest and didn’t spend more than 5 minutes on the terrible poster and a few of the key scenes seem to be going to incredible lengths to make the conceit seem perfectly believable and normal, but it doesn’t work. Switching sperm samples without the woman knowing is disgustingly creepy and no amount of theatre can disguise that.

Wally is painted as such a feeble man that it takes him about 7 years to finish sentences, and he’s a upstaged by a child. He’s a very frustrating character to spend the vast majority of the screen time with.

Juliette Lewis and Jeff Goldblum supply the only light relief in an otherwise tedious, creepy trudge.

2 on 5

Info
Directors: Josh Gordon, Will Speck
Starring: Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Patrick Wilson, Juliette Lewis, Jeff Goldblum, Thomas Robinson UK Release: 1st September 2012

Anchorman 2

Will Ferrell and the rest of the cast return for Anchorman 2. Set around ten years after the last film, Ron Burgundy and Veronica Corningstone are still co-presenting the news and are living a happily married life with their son until a shake-up at the station causes Ron to lose his job and lay down an unrealistic ultimatum to Veronica that means he loses his wife as well. After an unsuccessful period at the local aquarium, Ron is offered a job at a rolling news channel in New York and attempts to get the old team back together.

That all happens in the first 5 minutes by the way, so no spoilers there.

So, it’s actually very funny at the start. The clips of Ron doing warm-up vocal exercises and the clips of him making on-air mistakes are very good. Once they arrive at the New York offices it’s promising initially, but it quickly loses all focus and direction. It resorts to a lot of shock and recovery just for something to do and it’s a bit like being on a fairground ride that keeps lurching up and down and up and down. It keeps leaving the newsroom, the area full of potential, for weird stretches in places like lighthouses where they scrabble around looking for the comedy.

Some of the scenes don’t work at all (the racial scenes are particularly wince inducing) and although it looks like they had a great time making it, you leave the cinema a little disappointed.

3 on 5

Director: Adam MacKay
Starring: Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Christina Applegate, Meagan Good, James Marsden, Josh Lawson, Kristen Wiig, Harrison Ford UK Release: 20th December 2013

Saving Mr. Banks

Not on my initial to-do list from the premise, I must admit, it wasn’t until hearing the music played on the piano in a scene in the trailer that my interest was piqued. The film also starts with the familiar ‘Chim Chim Cher-ee’ played just on the piano and it really reminds you how great the music is.

The story is that author of the Mary Poppins book P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson) is grappling with whether or not to take Walt Disney’s cash and allow him to make a film adaptation of her book. Financial concerns are pushing her towards accepting, but she is loathe to relinquish her beloved characters and her artistic decisions. She meets with Walt to discuss how they can proceed.

At the same time, there is a back story told in flashbacks of P. L.’s childhood which is initially confusing to people not current with their Mary Poppins knowledge. This back story actually takes up a huge chunk of the film, sometimes competing with the main story in the present and is quite jarring and broadly drawn, although one could argue that this is told as per P. L.’s slightly distorted childhood memories.

It is the music that again wins you over though. A scene with the two Disney songwriters and a scriptwriter showing P. L. Travers their ‘Let’s Go Fly A Kite’ creation is fantastic and Emma Thompson again shows how to act in a physical way that is so emotional it makes you well-up.

It’s true that the two funniest bits are in the trailer (the sliding of the music notes behind another sheet on the piano and Walt’s Disneyland bet) and it’s true that the backstory is visited far too often, but Emma Thompson gives a great performance as the cranky old fusspot in this family film which will have you humming the tunes again for days afterwards.

3 on 5

Info
Director: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, John Lee Hancock
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, B. J. Novak, Colin Farrell, Ruth Wilson, Kathy Baker, Melanie Paxson UK release: 29th November 2013

Rush

Following in the tyre marks of the excellent ‘Senna’ documentary released in 2010, this is a fictional dramatisation of the rivalry between drivers James Hunt (the British Austin Powers-esque playboy figure) and Niki Lauda (the cold and meticulous Austrian).

While the film does stop short of painting the characters as hero and villain, it certainly overestimates (or even invents) the bitterness and acrimony between them. The actors work well with what they’ve been given though, with Daniel Brühl in particular inhabiting his character fully and making an emotionally rigid man interesting and surprisingly likeable.

The film largely alternates between driver interactions and driving scenes, culminating in the infamous 1976 season. The driving sequences are actually quite impressive, with a mixture of real action, cgi, stylish close-ups and a powerful soundtrack. They do, however, leave the F1 fan with a feeling that you’re watching a film set rather than an actual race. Really this film isn’t aimed at racing fans, and the “in last week’s show” style voice-overs at each new circuit and Basil Exposition trackside reporters attest to this.

Some moments are very funny (thumbing a lift in Italy for example) and most of the supporting cast are very good too (and familiar to UK sitcom viewers). Alexandra Maria Lara plays a good, understated role as Lauda’s partner Marlene Knaus, but the film spends quite a long time on the story of Hunt’s wife Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde) only for it to fizzle out. This may well be because Russell Crowe was due to play a key role in the plot strand but ended up not being in the film, for whatever reason.

So, it’s a film for anyone, rather than specifically F1 fans, which is good fun despite shoehorning in a narrative arc.

3 on 5

Info
Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara UK release: 13th September 2013

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

Alan Partridge, for those who don’t know, is a bit of a wally. He’s the generally self concerned, insecure, moderately successful presenter and broadcaster character played by Steve Coogan (and written by himself, Armando Iannucci and Peter Baynham), whose career seems to suffer more than the average number of crushing setbacks.

Appearing on our screens first in 1994 as the sports presenter on ‘The Day Today News’, Alan has taken an upside down sort of career progression, from his own talk show on the BBC, to a military based quiz show on digital TV channel UK Conquest, to a nighttime slot on Radio Norwich and to where we find him today – a mid-morning slot on North Norfolk Digital radio station (North Norfolk’s best music mix). But there’s change afoot – North Norfolk Digital has been taken over and rebranded Shape, and some of the DJs are fearing the cut. One in particular, Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) is taking the personnel changes particularly badly and storms the offices with a shotgun.

It’s nice to see that this isn’t ‘Alan Goes to The USA’ or ‘Alan Goes on Holiday’ and that it is basically all set in the offices of a Norfolk radio station. It’s a coherent lead on from Alan’s previous work, but with a big event to shake his world that takes up a film’s run-time.

It’s also good to see that it’s very funny. From his radio phone-in ideas, to his air-singing in the car, to his boardroom-storming, to his negotiations with the police, his courting of the public and his mangina, this is all Alan Partridge and it’s all funny.

I think it works for non-Alan fans as well, because the character is one that’s not just silly but also makes you sympathise with him in the way that, say, David Brent does. As a long-term fan it’s nice to see characters like Lynn (Felicity Montagu), Sidekick Simon (Tim Key) and Dave Clifton (Phil Cornwell) appearing.

It’s all quite absurd and silly, and there’s an awful lot of rushing around and shouting, but it holds itself together for 90 minutes and it doesn’t outstay its welcome. The strange choice for me was not having an existing character as the siege-meister. Surely Dave Clifton would have made more sense than the new face of Pat Farrell?

Very funny though and sure to be watched a lot in the future.

4 on 5

Director: Declan Lowney
Starring: Steve Coogan, Colm Meaney, Sean Pertwee, Anna Maxwell Martin, Nigel Lindsay, Felicity Montagu, Simon Greenall, Phil Cornwell, Tim Key
UK Release: 7th August 2013

The World’s End

Completing the cornetto trilogy (‘Shaun Of The Dead’ and ‘Hot Fuzz’) is The World’s End from Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

Here, Simon Pegg plays Gary King, whose life seems to have peaked 20 years ago when he and his pals went on an epic pub crawl to celebrate finishing college. They didn’t quite make all 12 pubs in their town of Newton Haven, so Gary is trying to get the old gang together to have another go at it. The rest of his buddies have moved on in their life and are less enamoured with the idea.

Still, we get to Newton Haven and get things underway, and it’s a pretty funny film. The film comments on middle-England town’s homogeneity, the second pub they visit being a funny example. The cast of actors (and actresses) are all incredibly capable; Simon Pegg always is and Nick Frost in particular is very good here and plays great against type, but the rest are a little underused. Nick Frost’s line leaving the school-themed venue is hilarious and his physical comedy timing even better.

There is also a big fight scene and that is fantastically filmed. It is very easy to follow what’s going on, very stylish and all the more impressive for having long shots rather than quick edits. A later clash sees the filming in a slightly drunker manner which suits the stage of the story.

A very strange and quite long ending perhaps, and a feeling that you’ve been here before, but a funny film nonetheless.

3 on 5.

Info
Director: Edgar Wright
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike UK Release: 19th July 2012