Fans of the film In the Loop and the TV series Veep will definitely not want to miss this raucously hilarious political satire from the same creator, Armando Iannucci. This time he has gone back in history to 1953, giving his snappy dialogue to the Russians jostling for control after the Soviet leader's sudden demise. The setting makes it a lot darker than Iannucci's previous work, but it's packed with unforgettable one-liners, visual gags and pointed observations on politics today.
In the wake of Stalin's death, his successors aren't sure whether they should continue with his campaign of terror against Russian citizens. Dopey deputy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor) wants to maintain the status quo, while more progressive Krushchev (Steve Buscemi) is looking for change. Their main rival is Beria (Simon Russell Beale), a thug who likes young girls. Then the enthusiastic General Zhukov (Jason Isaacs) charges in, deciding that they need to push Beria out and go in another direction. Meanwhile, Stalin's spoiled children (Rupert Friend and Andrea Riseborough) are determined that they should have a say in any new government, but everyone else knows that their days are numbered.
Continue reading: The Death Of Stalin Review
Daphne du Maurier's 1951 mystery-romance novel has been adapted for theatre, radio, TV and film, although the last time it was seen on the big screen was in the 1952 movie starring Olivia De Havilland and Richard Burton. So a new film version isn't a terrible idea, bringing some modern sensibilities to the 19th century tale of obsession and intrigue. It's just a shame that this version, while gorgeous to look at, never quite manages to generate the momentum needed to involve the audience.
It's set in the early 1800s, when Philip (Sam Claflin) has inherited a Cornish farm from his cousin, who died in Italy where he lived with his wife Rachel (Rachel Weisz). Philip is nervous about meeting Rachel, but he's instantly smitten with her dark charm. His godfather Kendall (Iain Glen) warns him to be careful, and Kendall's daughter Louise (Holliday Grainger) is even more horrified by this development, because she has always had a crush on Philip. But as Philip becomes increasingly focussed on Rachel, he offers to give her the farm to prove his love. The question of course is whether she is really in love with him.
Continue reading: My Cousin Rachel Review
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
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
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
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
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
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