David Brent: Life on the Road (2016) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes


David Brent: Life on the Road (2016)

Directed by Ricky Gervais • Written by Ricky Gervais

With Ricky Gervais, Doc Brown, Jo Hartley, Tom Basden and Tom Bennett.

Since we last met him, David Brent’s rock n’ roll aspirations haven’t waned. The multi-talented Ricky Gervais returns with his own downbeat version of Spinal Tap does Dad-rock, in this new mockumentary, David Brent: Life on the Road. Now in his 50’s, David Brent is having one last crack at the music industry. He’s working as a sales rep, frequenting the same painfully-familiar office surroundings, spouting the same old cliche, dreaming of an album deal to escape from the humdrum. He uses his pension assets to hire a band of session musicians to go out on tour, taking unpaid leave from work to pursue his dream.

Without the presence of strong supporting narratives, like those brought about by Tim, Gareth and Dawn in the series, there’s a distinct feeling of something missing. Indeed, the film as a whole seems less fleshed-out than you might hope, leaving a sense of wanting more at the end. But then Gervais (and Brent) might argue –  isn’t that what all the best entertainment is supposed to do!? Well, in this case, yes and no. Not giving us more seems to deprive the film of an opportunity to be great, even though thanks to Gervias’s strong hold on his fascinatingly contrived central character, it is, for the most part, very good.

Gervais employs the same fly-on-the-wall style of the TV show, with a tinge of cinematic expanse. We still get random inserts of unmanned photocopiers whirring away, which in the series, created a sense of dry amusement, whereas when repeated here, have the feel of a little nod to what came before. You could apply that to much of the film – David Brent is in the same place we left him, creating the same social stink for a fresh set of characters to endure in the name of our amusement.

But then, therein lies the intelligence behind this character. There are moments when Gervias makes us feel complicit in the bullying – almost like being back at school, on the fringes of playtime banter between a few kids, when gradually, the humour is taken too far and one of the kids begins to get bullied. You question yourself, am I part of the harassment if I’m still laughing!? Gervais seldom seems to do straight-up comedy, more like, he layers his films with multiple layers of it, all of which lead to side-roads of moral inquisition.

Then we have the songs. If you listen closely, you can’t deny the genius in Gervais’s achievement of writing songs that are deliberately bad, yet somehow good. They’re funny and tragic, both musically and lyrically, as Brent adopts a faux-American accent – desperately trying to bottle ‘cool’ to give himself some kind of real world acceptance. It’s immediately funny that his ability to play the guitar and sing in tune gives him the platform to do what he does, yet even with this skill, he still manages to make himself a social pariah.

There’s no question that David Brent works best in his position of office manager, but still, it’s a lot of fun to revisit the character and Gervais hasn’t lost sight of that keen sense of pathos that often exists in his best work. He achieved it brilliantly in the final few episodes of the TV series, and he repeats it here with bells – making us care about David Brent by sending him out into a world in which he is hopelessly out of his depth. He’s bullied, ridiculed and humiliated at regular intervals, and even though we know he’s often the victim of his own downfall, we can’t help but want the best for him. 3.5/5

Posted in Film Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Misery (1990) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes


Misery (1990)

Directed by Rob Reiner • Written by William Goldman • Novel by Stephen King

With James Caan, Kathy Bates and Lauren Bacall.

Based on the Stephen King novel, Misery stars James Caan as a successful pulp writer, who as we meet him, has completed his latest novel and is preparing to drive home from the wintry Colorado haven he uses as a creative retreat, to deliver the final draft to his publisher. On the way, he runs into bad weather and plants his car in front of a tree. Luckily for him, Kathy Bates’s Annie Wilkes was just passing by. Insert sarcastic emoji face.

Without any ado, the film gets its weird on. Bates’s creepy home has a Norman Bates feel, as her skew-whiff diligence toward the badly injured Caan immediately sets off our creep sensors. As he lays there, utterly dependent, the movie quickly establishes itself as a survival thriller, as Caan’s vulnerability forces him into a psychological battle of wits with Bates. On this level, the film is never less than fascinating.

Under the Hitchcockian, psycho-thriller surface of Misery, there’s a sizeable amount of black humour in both Kathy Bates’s over-the-top delivery and James Caan’s dry placation of her. It’s hard not to see the humour when Bates exclaims – “YOU! YOU DIRTY BIRD!”. Her cartoon-like demeanour is accentuated by her characteristic contradictions; she’ll smash you with a sledgehammer but heaven forbid you use a curse word.

Rob Reiner summons Alfred Hitchcock at nearly every turn, managing to create levels of threat and suspense that the master himself would have been proud of. Bates conveys great danger, finding a rare edge in her performance that makes us fear the slightest misplaced word from Caan.

In a sense, Misery is a strange little film. It’s housed within the parameters of just a few performances and feels structurally akin to The Shining, sharing the popcorn-fun repeat watch-ability of Kubrick’s classic, if not the overall sense of otherness. Bates and Caan are excellent, though, and the deep reverence for Hitchcock doesn’t hurt. 4/5

Posted in Film Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes


Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Directed by Gareth Edwards • Written by
Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy, John Knoll and Gary Whitta

With Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Riz Ahmed, Wen Jiang, Forest Whitaker and Mads Mikkelsen.

So after all the talk of 40% reshoots, #DumpStarWars and general confusion over hopping around the timelines, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story ( I always hated that subtitle) is finally here. Directed by Gareth Edwards, whose previous work has recieved lukewarm praise at best – this is the story that takes place directly before the events of Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope. Try not to be confused.

The plot sees Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) joining the rebellion with a rag-tag gang in an attempt to steal the plans for the dreaded Death Star. An earthy prologue sets the tone for the piece, as we meet Jyn as a child, living in rural isolation with her mother and father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), until, that is, the Empire come knocking in the shape of Ben Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic.

Mendelsohn brings a depth of quality to his scenes, slipping unflinchingly into the cold stream of ambition personified by the Galactic Empire as we’re introduced to a new kind of Star Wars. Indeed, there are moments when Rogue One feels more akin to Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty than Star Wars, which, for a lifelong fan of the series, makes for a curious, albeit welcome shift. There’s an inherent moral complexity that sets it apart from anything George Lucas created, while harnessing his boundless imagination as a platform to build new levels of cinematic depth and breadth into the series. In Star Wars, the lines between good and evil have never been less emphatic.

Aside from the wonderous use of CGI technology, the diverse range of ethnicity in the cast is a way in which these films have advanced. This is a universe populated by all creatures great and small, so why shouldn’t that apply to the human beings!? Felicity Jones brings pluck and guile to her leading role, which is underpinned by a tragic back story that offers fleeting insights of a kind, battle-weary soul. Anyone familiar with her work on Breathe In or The Theory of Everything will know that Jones is not the kind of actress you’d expect to see fronting Star Wars, but it’s exactly the kind of venturesome casting that gives the film its own identity.

There are many harks back to the original trilogy, but few of them feel like deliberate nostalgia – more like markers for where we are in the timeline. It’s refreshing that Disney have the smarts to licence enterprising, emerging talents like Gareth Edwards to use their multi-billion dollar investment as a playground.

There are things you will notice that are missing from the ‘Star Wars experience’, such as the lack of an opening crawl, yet somehow, the omission of certain elements creates a sense of newness. The film also has a noticiably slower pace in its first act, which seems to prefer the slow burn approach inherent in so many American westerns, a genre Star Wars is often aligned with.

For the sake of preserving the experience, there are many great things that occur in Rogue One that I won’t spoil – one of them a pure tour-de-force of modern cinema. You haven’t seen Star Wars like this before, and for the most part, that’s a good thing. Yes, there are specific technical limitations, but I defy you not to gasp at the audacity. Those who’ve seen it will know exactly what I’m referring to.

It’s a strange feeling to come away from Rogue One wanting more, as your DVD copy of A New Hope winks at you from the shelf. The hard-edged texture of the movie is far divorced from the cheerful fantasy of the original trilogy, yet it frequently extends its hand to touch 1977 in surprising ways. An early Christmas present for the fan-base, this new side-chapter is as bold as it is thrilling, complimented by genuinely touching moments of heroism that lend further emotional weight to what comes next. Take my advice, don’t dump Star Wars. 5/5

Posted in Film Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Dark Angel (1990) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes


Dark Angel (1990)

Directed by Craig R. Baxley • Written by Jonathan Tydor and David Koepp.

With Dolph Ludgren, Brian Benben, Betsy Brantley, Matthias Hues and Sherman Howard.

It might surprise many to discover that Dark Angel is a well-directed sci-fi-action flick emboldened by a sense of pace and an easy flow. Released in the United States under the shaky title of I Come In Peace, the movie is a lively recycling of better films, complete with a fun buddy-cop pairing and an early James Cameron swagger.

Dolph Ludgren plays Jack Caine, a Houston detective on the trail of a 7-foot alien with a glam-rock haircut. Complete with 3 inches of platform shoes, said alien (Matthias Hues) is indiscriminately killing people by first administering a lethal dose of heroin before voilently collecting the endorphin juice from their brains, which is to be used or sold as a rare drug on his own world. If you’re seated with low expectations and the hope of a junky time, the idea is bare-faced enough to lend a little low-rent character.

After his partner gets a bullet by some local mobsters, Lundgren is buddied-up with Brian Benben, best known for his role on TV’s Dream On. A dopey-sounding Lundgren is well-supported by Benben, who appears to embrace the daft script and goes along with it. So too does Betsy Brantley in a small role as Lundgren’s disgruntled girlfriend.

Craig R. Baxley directs well, imbuing a sense of purpose alongside the preposterousness, with some clever camera moves that allow the film to occasionally punch above its weight. Ludgren’s acting isn’t convincing, but he’s mostly excusable, given the overall tone and willing support around him.

Dark Angel boasts an array of magnificent fireworks, car chases, space guns and multiple deaths by compact disc. It’s also colourful and self-aware enough to get away with the loose abandon with which it embraces genre cliché. Dumb fun. 3/5

Posted in Film Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Up in the Air (2009) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes


Up In the Air (2009)

Directed by Jason Reitman • Written by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner.

With George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick and Jason Bateman.

Based on a book by Walter Kirn, Up in the Air is a drama-comedy starring George Clooney as Ryan Bingham – a man with more air miles to his name than Pan Am. Well, not quite, but he has a “number in mind”. Bingham is a solitary soul, flying from state-to-state, firing people from their jobs for a living, only, is he really living? What to most of us sounds like an empty life suits Ryan down to the ground, that is, until young upstart Anna Kendrick arrives with new ideas to revolutionise the company, much to Ryan’s dismay.

As the titles roll, we begin with a short collection of impressive aerial shots, emphasising the beauty of Earth from above – Bingham’s home away from home. The film explores a philosophy centering on the idea of being alone, living a life without the daily complications brought about by relationships or possessions. Aside from his day job, Ryan Bingham sidelines as a motivational speaker at conventions, giving his well-rehearsed- ‘What’s in your backpack?‘ talk between flights.

A film of smiles above outright laughs, Clooney’s collected demeanour seems, to some degree, a semi-projection of his off-screen persona. Bingham’s experience at check-in desks has taught him valuable time-saving ways to beat the queues. He asserts – “Never get behind people travelling with infants. I’ve never seen a stroller collapse in less than 20 minutes.” It’s this kind of wry humor that gives the film its stride, in the absence of a distinguishable plot.

On his travels, Bingham is joined by Natalie (Kendrick), who gets on his nerves before they begin to see the human side of each other as Natalie loses her frosty veneer and publicly breaks down in Bingham’s embarrassed arms. Their warring father-daughter simulation is sparky and although Kendrick is occasionally irritating…she’s supposed to be.

It’s only when Bingham meets a female version of himself in Vera Farmiga’s Alex Goran, that his conviction in his own theory of carrying life luggage is brought to question. Farmiga and Clooney make a sophisticated duo, sipping whiskey in airport lounge rooms while pattering like a pair of golden age movie stars. Clooney’s performance is straight out the Nespresso commercial – that dapper, oozing-confidence swagger that’s smoother than coffee and satin.

With the help of co-writer Sheldon Turner, Reitman’s film is an agreeably subtle study of self-induced loneliness. 4/5 

Posted in Film Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Sing Street (2016) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes


Sing Street (2016)

Directed by John Carney • Written by John Carney.

With Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Jack Reynor and Aidan Gillen

Dublin, 1985. Conor is a bright 15-year-old boy with a turbulent family life, who starts a band to capture the attention of an enigmatic girl he likes. To add conflict to his raging hormones, he’s bullied at his new school by fellow pupils and tutors. Luckily for him, his impassioned older brother is on hand to guide him through the world of pop music, as he sets his sights on becoming the new Simon Le Bon.

Written and directed by John Carney, Sing Street is a musical-comedy-drama dedicated to “brothers everywhere”,that speaks powerfully about being young and in love, but also about the importance of friendship, originality and the semi-parental responsibility of being an older sibling. Of Carney’s most notable films to date, the other two being Once and Begin Again, this a welcome return to familiar ground as together with the central character, we witness the songwriting evolution of music overlapping with the core central narrative. With Carney’s films, we get an album and a film at the same time.

Making his screen debut in the central role of Conor is Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, whose quiet intelligence could easily be mistaken for shyness. Despite being humiliated in public by the school bully, repeatedly threatened and physically abused by the head of the school, Conor is an inquisitive, good-hearted soul who isn’t afraid to take a plunge. His forward-thinking attitude sets him apart from his peers, and, it also allows him to meet Raphina (Lucy Boynton), a Desperately Seeking Susan type (she even looks like Madonna on the poster) who becomes his muse.

Walsh-Peelo is excellent, playing the aspirational, yet unseasoned teen with a keen understanding. As Raphina, Lucy Boynton encapsulates the embodiment of a beautiful, tortured soul in need of a new path. Conor’s fascination with her gives way to romantic moments that bring sparkle to the sedate surroundings. In the spirit of the classic romantic fairytale, theirs is a relationship we want desperately to succeed.

As Conor’s older brother and mentor, Jack Reynor brings a range of humour, warmth and a touch of that indiscernible essence of ‘happy-sad‘. It’s a big performance, sat in the middle of the film – Conor’s lifeline for doing the right thing between his band and Raphina. In one scene, he reassures Conor by saying – “No woman can truly love a man who listens to Phil Collins.”

As we know from his previous work, Carney writes the original songs for his films. With Sing Street, his songs are cleverly adapted to show Conor’s influences; Hall & Oates, The Cure and Duran Duran, to name just a few. It’s all of utterly charming, inspired and  funny, especially when the band decide to turn their first song, The Riddle of the Model, into a music video complete with thrown-together wardrobe overhaul, heavy make-up and borrowed New Romantic stylings.

By the end, don’t be surprised to find yourself chasing down people in the street to recommend Sing Street to. It is an utter delight, poured out entirely from the heart and sprinkled with magic. It’ll make you want to laugh, cry and sing-along at the same time. 5/5

Posted in Film Reviews, John Carney | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

The Nice Guys (2016) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes


The Nice Guys (2016) Directed by Shane Black. With Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley, Keith David and Kim Basinger. 

Directed and co-penned by Predator actor, Lethal Weapon writer and Iron Man 3 helmer, Shane Black, The Nice Guys is a slapstick action-comedy-cum-buddy-movie awash with some gloriously tacky nostalgia, blended with a 1970’s neo-noir thriller. Los Angeles. Russell Crowe is Jackson Healy, a tough-guy enforcer hired to beat on blokes for pestering/having innaproriate dialliances with young girls. One smoggy day, his path crosses with impecunious private eye, Holland March (Gosling), which begins one of the most organically funny screen pairings in recent years.

After initially bumping heads (actually, Crowe’s fist into Gosling’s head) – along with the help of Holland’s overly enlightened young daughter, Jackson and Holland pursue the missing case of Amelia (Margaret Qualley) a mysterious teenage runaway mixed up in bad business connected to the porn industry.

From start to finish, Crowe and Gosling are an absolute blast, tearing into each other and themsleves with aplomb as they relish sharing the screen. Gosling plays as disaster of guy; irresponsible father, con-man and bordeline alcoholic – struggling to make ends meet for his neglected daughter. Amid these character failings, he appears the most ill-prepared man to complete the job, yet it is his hapless nature that fuels much of the knockabout comedy and interplay.

There’s a The Waltons gag tied to a pivotal character which is indicative of the film’s aim to straddle demographic appeal. The fashions, music, scenery and interiors all combine to create a thick sense of character – a visual feast the like of which you might expect of Quentin Tarantino. Between the groovy sounds of Kool & the Gang and The Bee Gees, a goateed Gosling is rarely seen without a cigarette, alongside the short-tempered Crowe, looking heavyset and garbed in an oversized leather coat. In no small way, as we pass a roadside billboard advertising Jaws 2, it’s more 1970’s than the 1970’s.

While The Nice Guys might be too frivolous for some, going along with its carefree nature is key to understanding, and, more importantly, enjoying its overlying attributes. It sows a few sequel seeds towards the end, which, on the evidence of Crowe, Gosling and Shane Black’s deft grasp of the material, would be very welcome indeed…“and stuff”. 4/5

Posted in Film Reviews, Shane Black | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments