Film Review: The Daughter (2016)

Australia/95 minutes/4 stars

Henry (Geoffrey Rush), a man in his 60s, is the patriarch of a family who runs the sawmill in a small NSW town. Everyone in the district knows his family and most are employed at the sawmill. Henry is soon to be married to his former housekeeper, Anna (Anna Torv) who is thirty years his junior.

The wedding is a large affair although the only people invited from the town itself are Charlotte (Miranda Otto) a teacher at the local school, her husband Oliver (Ewan Leslie) a mill worker and their 16-year-old daughter Hedvig (Odessa Young). Their connection to the wedding is Oliver’s friendship with Henry’s adult son Christian (Paul Schneider). The pair were at university together twenty-years ago and Oliver is excited to be catching up with his old friend. Christian has been working in the USA and when he flies in for the wedding, it rapidly becomes clear that he has spent so many years abroad because he is estranged from Henry.

Christian puts everyone on edge. His is a restless presence and it seems he has scores to settle and is not too worried about collateral damage. Charlotte doesn’t trust him but says nothing. Largely oblivious to all of this is Hedvig. She concerns herself with her school friends and the menagerie of birds and rabbits that her grandfather (Sam Neill) keeps. The two families are opposites socially and financially, but their past and future are bound together by a secret.

THE DAUGHTER is a loose adaptation of Ibsen’s 1884 play, The Wild Duck. This is writer-director Simon Stone’s first feature. He directed a theatrical version five years ago for Belvoir St Theatre. Apparently the feature takes some elements from that production but is more naturalistic (the default mode of Australian film). It is completely unrelated to Henri Safran’s Edwardian-set Australian version of THE WILD DUCK (1983) starring Liv Ullman, Jeremy Irons and John Meillon

The strength of Stone’s modernized version is in the writing and performances. Despite some minor missteps towards the end, the director rarely puts a foot wrong in this impressive feature debut. The solid cast had two standouts, Ewan Leslie as Oliver and Paul Schneider as Christian. Despite his extensive theatre and television credits, I have somehow missed seeing Leslie in anything. I imagine he will be seen in higher profile roles after this. Schneider, who played Mark Brendanawicz on the first two seasons of Parks and Recreation (and always seemed miscast) is perfect as a neer-do-well, damaged son. When you realize what kind of pain the character is harbouring, you have concerns for the others. Odessa Young’s engaging performance as Hedvig has also garnered strong notices.

THE DAUGHTER is about the ways wealth and power can insulate people from the consequences of their actions. The movie is in Australian cinemas now in limited release. This is a well-made adult drama with an excellent cast.

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Film Review: Brooklyn (2016)

Canada/Ireland 112 minutes/3 stars

Ireland, 1952. A young woman called Eilis Lacey works part time in a shop. She despises the owner the poisonous Miss Kelly, but there is no work in her small town of Enniscorthy. The lack of opportunity leads her older sister Rose to arrange for her passage to the United States. As reluctant as she is to leave her mother and her sister, Eilis makes the journey. On her way over, she finds herself in a cabin with a more experienced woman who informs her of the mysterious land to which they are heading. She tells Eilis that she wished she had never returned to Ireland. Eilis can’t imagine what her new life will be like. She can’t imagine thinking of America as home.

When she arrives in the USA, Eilis is helped by Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) who emigrated years previously. He arranges for her accommodation at a women’s boarding house run by the matronly Madge Kehoe. He also finds her a job at Bartocci’s department store. Eilis has to find her way in a new culture and overcome her small town shyness in the giant city she now calls home.

And then an earthquake hits which precipitates a tsunami…kidding! There are big events in Eilis’s life, but this is a small story set in a time of relative (American) prosperity. It is precisely the ordinariness of Eilis Lacey’s existence, that makes this a feat of storytelling. Nothing huge happens in BROOKLYN, but director John Crowley and screenwriter Nick Hornby bring out the nuance and commonplace drama of Colm Tóibín’s award-winning novel. Audiences with long memories might be put in mind of the kitchen sink realism of 1950s British film, theatre and literature. The images themselves are more beautiful than that would suggest, but the interaction between characters is at a personal and intimate scale.

Saoirse Ronan puts in a beautiful, restrained performance as Eilis. Emory Cohen is faintly anachronistic as Tony Fiorello, an Italian who likes Irish women. Julie Walters is robustly amusing as Madge Kehoe and Jim Broadbent, who often likes to go big, chews no scenery in this outing. There are times when the computer-generated version of old Brooklyn seems a little too clean, which at a guess, probably reflects the film’s very tight budget. That being said, the 1950s look and feel of the movie is mostly convincing.

BROOKLYN is near the end of its Australian run and should be seen by anyone who is interested in a story about leaving home and building a life elsewhere. This is a simple tale, satisfyingly told.

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Film Review: Zootopia (2016)


In a world of talking mammals where humans do not exist, there is a rabbit called Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) who dreams of being a police officer in the city of Zootopia. There has never been a rabbit cop before, but Hopps is determined. She eventually becomes the first rabbit to make it through the police academy, but she discovers that her fellow officers do not take her seriously. She is sneered at for her small stature and the fact that she isn’t a predator. Years ago, the creatures of this world decided that predators and prey had to make peace in order for society to thrive, however there are still many animals who don’t accept this new world order.

Her boss Bogo, a giant buffalo, won’t give Judy an opportunity to show what she is capable of until one day she elbows her way into a missing persons case. She also crosses paths with Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a fox and a con artist. Through a complex series of events, the fox and the rabbit form a reluctant team and go on the hunt to discover what is happening to the missing animals.

The conception of Disney’s ZOOTOPIA is in part inspired by the studio’s 1973 version of ROBIN HOOD. That was also a world entirely peopled by animals. Co-director Byron Howard took this concept to Disney’s animation supremo, John Lasseter who loved the idea. Nick Wilde’s design is clearly inspired by the Robin Hood fox. At this point, Wilde was the central character in the narrative, but as the development process wore on, it became clear that Judy Hopps, the rookie cop from the sticks, was going to be the best way to tell the story.

Prejudice and diversity are the currents running near the surface of ZOOTOPIA. Numerous gags deal with the differences in size, speed and powers of the the animals. The message does not overwhelm the story-telling. Directors Howard (TANGLED) and Rich Moore (WRECK-IT RALPH) are smart enough to lead with the action and comedy and the result is a sophisticated entertainment aimed at family audiences. The main story has the familiar structure of a police procedural, but there is enough colour and movement to keep the kids engaged. This was certainly the case at the screening I attended.

The story also tugs at the threads of popular culture. It has elements that remind one of CHINATOWN (1974) or WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (1988). Judy Hopps is an echo of Clarice Starling from 1991’s SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (rest assured parents, none of these animated carnivores devours a victim with a side of fava beans). Hopps and Wilde’s relationship is (in a G-rated way) patterned after material like television’s Castle. However, there isn’t that wall-to-wall pop culture referencing that sometimes mars big studio animated features. ZOOTOPIA is substantially its own thing; it’s not a sequel, not a reboot, nor is it based on an existing comic or novel.

The animation and voice performances are top shelf. Goodwin and Bateman are excellent as the leads. They actually have chemistry. Which is a little weird to see on screen and to write in a film review. I wasn’t in love with the character design and animation as I was with Disney’s BIG HERO 6, but that’s me nit-picking. This production has all the polish and talent that big studio bucks can buy, right down to the theme song sung by Shakira and written by Sia and Stargate.

USA | 108 minutes | (8/10)

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Is It Biscuit Tin-able?

Pro_HartLook, I don’t know anything about Art, but I do know what I like. And I like biscuits, especially ones that come in fancy tins. Flash bicky tins have been with us for more than a century. Often they simply depict the brand’s name or perhaps a litho’d portrait of the Royals or a random dignitary (there is more than one Winston Churchill tin out in the world). I am here to argue that the great biscuit tins come with a lid that reproduces great art. It’s a marriage baked in heaven.

NV_Biscuitfabriek 1950
Although I am very impressed with this embossed reproduction (above) of the detail from Rembrandt’s The Night Watch (1950s for NV Biscuitfabriek), I favour something more toned down like this Louis Garin tin (below) from Bicuiterie St Michel (also 1950s).

St Michel_1950s
Arnott’s Bicuits Limited has had plenty of Australia artists on its tins like Maynard Waters, Brian Baigent and Pro Hart (top of this post) especially during the 1970s and ‘80s. I believe now is the time for them to get contempo and cook up an appealing matrix of rising dough and social media. For example, how about slapping the annual Archibald prize winner on a tin?


Even though we’re not telepathically linked, somehow, I can hear you putting the question: Do we necessarily want to see Nigel Milsom’s 2015 Archibald winning portrait of barrister Charles Waterstreet gracing the top of a special edition Assorted Creams tin, Phil? I mean it’s rather foreboding an image–it’s not exactly biscuit tin-able, is it?

Well, if there’s anything I have learnt from the BBC’s Fake or Fortune, it’s that in Art and Cultural circles, it is no rare thing for a group of people, who regard themselves as experts, to gather about a table in a room, in closed session and pronounce the authenticity, or excellence, or award-worthiness, of a cultural artifact.

So what I’m saying is this: if, in future, an Arnott’s Biscuit Tin Art Selection Committee deems any painting to be biscuit tin-able, then by the expert power invested in them by themselves, biscuit tin-able that artwork shall be.

Even if we don’t like it, Art will be the winner and we can always push down any negative feelings with a delicious mouthful of Arnott’s Monte Carlos.

Monte Carlos

Film Review: Calvary (2014)


2014/UK-Ireland/101 minutes

Father James Lavelle is the priest of a small town in County Sligo. One day while taking confession, a man tells Lavelle of how he was raped by a priest numerous times from the age of 11. The Father’s attempts to deal with him are futile because the man isn’t looking for absolution from his sins, rather he is there to make a statement. No one cared about his plight during his childhood or since. He was ignored by the Church. Since the priest who committed the sex crimes has died, the man believes the only way to bring attention to his sufferings is by killing another priest, in particular, a good priest like Father Lavelle. He tells Lavelle he has a week to get his affairs in order. He intends to carry out the execution the next Sunday.

From this point, the story counts down until the confrontation. At first, Lavelle thinks he might know the man from his voice, but as the days pass he becomes less certain. He reports the threat to the police. He worries about what will happen and imagines how he might talk the man out his plan when they meet face to face. The audience is left to sort through the potential suspects of this future murder. We become acquainted with the townsfolk and are given a profusion of clues and red herrings. The parishioners are an unsettled group. Almost everyone has an axe to grind. The town’s atheist doctor (Aidan Gillen) delights in poking at the Father with a metaphorical stick, but none of the believers seems to care too much for the Catholic Church, either.

CALVARY is director John Michael McDonagh take on the state of contemporary Ireland. It is an impassioned film that attempts to portray the depth of disillusionment with the Catholic Church after the numerous investigations into child sexual abuse crimes by priests and nuns. The transferring of known abusers to new parishes, and the years of denials of wrongdoing, has substantially damaged the public’s trust in the formerly revered institution. In the movie, it seems all the townspeople have negative things to say to Lavelle; to them, he is the representative of an organisation that has not yet answered for its sins. Does the Church have any moral authority of any kind, anymore? This is the big question that Lavelle struggles with as Sunday approaches. McDonagh’s last feature was the critical hit, THE GUARD. It also had things to say about Ireland, but it used comedy and satire to make its points. CALVARY is different in that it’s a drama with comedic moments. It is an angrier film, that exists to deliver a stinging rebuke to the Church and its attempts to silence the victims of clerical sexual abuse of children. The other institutions of the land don’t escape McDonagh’s attentions, either.

Brendan Gleeson is powerful as Father Levelle. He plays a good man who thinks he can make a difference to the world. He has come by this idea through the hard knocks of his former life. The rest of the cast is also top notch. The excellent cinematography reveals the wild beauty of the landscape that serves as the main release from the tension of the story. Although the script loses some steam towards the end, McDonagh has crafted a serious film that packs a hefty emotional punch. (3.5/5)

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Content Sponge #8

In which I briefly review the telly what I watched this year so far, on various platforms. In this edition: Deutschland 83, The Honourable Woman, Agent Carter, The Fades, Love, Jack Irish and Fake or Fortune.

This irregular feature Content Sponge returns to after a long slumber. Blinking the sleep from its eyes to discover a new world where Malcolm Turnbull is Australian PM, iPhones are the size of mini iPads, Australia has an entrant in the Eurovision Song Contest and Donald Trump is the Republican front runner for Presidential nominee. So many changes. Disoriented, Content Sponge looks to the past, specifically back thirty-three years…



This eight-part television series is the creation of a German and American couple Anna and Joerg Winger and co-produced with German and American investors. It tells the story of Martin Rauch an East German border guard in 1983. The Cold War is still being fought. In East Germany the Stasi (secret police) have a comprehensive spying program operating in West Germany. One Stasi operative, Leonora Rauch (Maria Schrader), realises her nephew Martin would be an effective choice to go under cover in West Germany and pose as the new aide-de-camp to a Major-General Edel (Ulrich Noethen). This would give them a conduit to NATO and its operations.

Jonas Nay, the young actor who plays Martin, does a terrific job as the series’ lead. In the beginning, he has some belief in his mission and wants to impress his family and his superiors. As time goes on, when he has to perform more morally questionable tasks, he begins to question what he is doing. The series veers from the comedic differences between East and West into the serious consequences of constant deception. This is the thematic counterpart to the US series THE AMERICANS. It begins brighter than that show, but becomes bleaker as it moves towards its season 1 conclusion. Some of the interiors for the Stasi HQ were shot in the actual building itself (it is now the Stasi Museum in real-life). This gives those scenes a certain visual authenticity.

I found the series compelling. I enjoyed seeing actors I didn’t know from numerous other television shows. The tone is uneven at times, but the historical details are fascinating. The series is in German with English subtitles. Oddly the German version has New Order’s Blue Monday as its main theme music. The UK/US version has the rather catchy Euro-hit Major Tom (Coming Home) by Peter Schilling. Remember him? Me neither.


The Honorable woman blog

Memory and history are also at the forefront this next series. The story begins with a senseless killing many years ago in London. It is the death that shapes the worldview of Nessa Stein (Maggie Gyllenhaal) a wealthy English woman who has recently been elevated to the peerage. She is the head off her family business, a telecommunications company with an international reach. They are working on a controversial West Bank optical fibre project that involves Israelis and Palestinians. The Steins’ Anglo-Jewish heritage means they are constantly accused of betrayal and favouritism. Nessa considers her business to be integral to the Middle East Peace process. Two major events, another murder and a kidnapping throw her project and her worldview into question.

This eight-part BBC series written and directed by Hugo Blick has great ambitions that are thwarted by its overly complex plotting and a severe lack of characters one can care about. Veteran actor Stephen Rea gets to be rumpled and pathetic in the Le Carre-esque spy part of the story. Unfortunately this also involves a wonky characterisation from the usually great Janet McTeer. She play’s Rea’s scheming boss with a lot of unconvincing sex-talk sprinkled among the hip and equally unconvincing spy-lingo. Nessa Stein is a fairly terrible creation, too, moving uneasily between unpleasant A-type assertiveness, dazzling people skills and complete emotional surrender. Gyllenhaal does all of this brilliantly, nails the accent flawlessly and deservedly won a Golden Globe for her pains. The series is hard work, though, and the occasional good bit of drama did not make up for its confusing storytelling and unlikeability.


Agent Carter

The diametrically opposite on the likeability scale is AGENT CARTER. The series is spun off Marvel’s Captain America movies and focuses on the character of British agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). For two seasons, the show has run during the midseason break in Marvel’s AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. (AOS) Carter is a mostly straightforward two-fisted hero differentiated mainly by being in a woman in a man’s world. She is constantly underestimated by her enemies and her brother agents. Carter works for the S.S.R., a forerunner to S.H.I.E.L.D. and her allies include Iron Man’s dad Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) and the original Jarvis (James D’Arcy). She fights the rise of Hydra and various other post-war criminal conspiracies.

The feel of the series is very like its Captain America source material and other adventure entertainment of the 1940s. Carter could stand with The Phantom and early Batman. She uses cunning and subterfuge when necessary but is just as likely to choose a frontal attack on an enemy. In comic book terms, this story is pre-X-Men, pre-Watchmen and pre-Dark Knight. It is also set in a pre-Civil rights, pre-E.R.A., pre-Watergate world where the study of psychology is not yet a commonplace. Carter relies on her unerring sense of integrity to get her through any situation. The makers of the show have chosen the lens of old-fashioned heroism with a feminist twist and it works surprisingly well.

I note that Peggy Carter may be turning in her badge and Walther PPK. Hayley Atwell has apparently signed on to a US procedural drama called CONVICTION.


The fades_blog

Jumping sideways and tangentially to the 2011 six-part UK supernatural drama series THE FADES. I came across this because certain AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. fans reference it constantly because it stars AOS’s Iain De Caestecker (Leo Fitz).

It’s a basic hero’s journey for De Caestecker’s Paul character. Only he starts way behind Paul Atreides, Luke Skywalker or the Matrix’s Neo, socially speaking. By the way, the series knowingly and annoyingly name-checks other geekery in a similar fashion. It does however have a Buffy-esque sense of humour (I will stop, promise) and a surprisingly offbeat dark tone. De Castecker and Daniel Kaluuya (SKINS) are a comically co-dependant duo of geek buddies. GAME OF THRONES’ Natalie Dormer also makes an impact here.

Paul is a bed-wetting teen who flies way under the radar, but he has been having dreams about the Apocalypse. And they’re turning out to be premonitions. The vengeful dead (fades) are rising and there’s seems to be no one who can stop them. The series was penned by Jack Thorne and it won a BAFTA, but somehow couldn’t get renewed for a second season. That’s a shame, because it deserved a second bite of the cherry.

LOVE (Season 1)

Love the blog

Man, I binge-watched the hell out of this ten episode Netflix comedy series. I almost can’t tell if it was good or not. This, by the way, is how I feel about Aziz Ansari’s recent Netflix comedy series MASTER OF NONE. I certainly liked some of that, but the bingedness of my watching, simply downloading into my eyeballs like others might ingest a can of Pringles, makes me wonder if I missed certain nuances of performance and theme. Or perhaps entire plot strands. I should probably start pacing these out a little, like a mature adult might do; which is the other way to Netflix and chill.

As for the boldly named LOVE it is the creation of the ubiquitous Judd Apatow, working with husband and wife team Leslie Arfin and Paul Rust. Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) and Gus (Paul Rust) meet and feel some kind of attraction and then NOTHING happens between them for a number of episodes. We, the audience, get to know them better. They start off stereotypically enough; Gus, a put upon nice guy, Mickey a self-entitled screw up, but as episodes pass we see more of what is behind their facades. Both behave deplorably in their respective media jobs and in their friendships and when they get close enough to each other, the bullshit and game-playing is on in earnest. Both are so full of their own fears and deeply ingrained defences that they never get close to getting close. This is frustrating for anyone after a simple rom-com, but potentially fascinating for anyone who can travel with this couple on their cringe-inducing, maddening journey.

True things are observed in this series, and if you are prepared to wait, you may enjoy the exploration of these adult themes. Rust is a successful stand up whose work I didn’t know. His acting is solid enough and he goes all in when showing Gus’s dorkiness and awfulness. Gillian Jacobs is best known for her six seasons playing Britta Perry on COMMUNITY. Her talent was clear in that show and LOVE gives her the opportunity to play a more rounded character with some serious issues to overcome.  Season 2 has been ordered by Netflix.

JACK IRISH (2016 series)

Jack Irish_Blog

After three outings as telemovies for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Peter Temple’s private investigator character Jack Irish (Guy Pearce) returns in a series of six one-hour episodes. Written by Andrew Knight and Andrew Anastasios (who also wrote Russ Crowe’s THE WATER DIVINER) the series is the first not based on a Temple book. This has perturbed some of the writer’s fans. I felt the new format had a lot more breathing space for character development and was a better fit for the humour that Knight and Anastasios have considerable experience in writing.

Apart from Leonard in MEMENTO (2000), I don’t think Pearce has had a better role than the self-effacing, alcoholic PI who prefers to stay out of other people’s business right up until the moment that he has to stick his nose in. Brooke Satchwell, Marcus Graham, Sacha Horler, Shane Jacobson, Roy Billing and Aaron Pedersen are some of the new and old faces that pop up here. Claudia Karvan has a terrific role as a woman whose spiky artist persona is cover for being the privileged daughter of a judge (memorably played by New Zealand’s John Bach, great to see him back on Australian telly). Monarch of the ABC and Janet King of all she surveys, Marta Dusseldorp, also returns as Linda Hillier and has a separate storyline that takes her to the Phillippines.

Although the series loses a little puff towards its conclusion, this still seems like the better way to present the adventures of Irish.


Fake or Fortune Blog

Not a drama, but a hyped up BBC reality-esque documentary series starring journalist Fiona Bruce and art historian Philip Mould. Not being a Brit I knew of these two only from The Antiques Roadshow, but here they couldn’t be further away from the dusty genteel world of Clarice Cliff knock-offs and Uncle Hugo’s reproduction Queen Anne Furniture. (They probably could be further away, but bear with me.)

In each episode, a punter brings Mouldy and Brucey a painting that is supposed to be the work of a great artist but because it is unsigned or has no paper trail (provenance) proving its origins, the artifact is worth 3 quid rather than 3 million. Fiona and Philip, whom I like to think of as the Emma Peel and John Steed of arts telly or perhaps the Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin of cultural programming, then go on a hunt across Europe (and sometimes North America) to establish the painting’s bonafides. They are aided immeasurably by another, even posher, younger, art historian Dr Bendor Grovesnor whose only television analog is from the 1970s British sci-fi series Blakes Seven. He is FAKE OR FORTUNE’s super-computer Orac. This trio of authenticators is assisted by various boffins from places like Aldi or The Tate using techniques that are way beyond me, but which I will now lazily portray as kirlian photography, gas chromatography and electronic microscopy.

By episode’s end they are either telling the painting’s owner the good news or gravely informing them that their masterpiece isn’t worth the canvas it’s painted on.
The only thing that could possibly improve this program for me is if they somehow shoehorned Grand Designs’ Kevin McCloud into an episode.

Film Review: Grimsby (2016)


What do we expect of comedians? To make us laugh, obviously. To make us think? Sometimes. George Carlin moved from being a slick nightclub style comedian in his early days to a more anti-establishment voice. Sometimes comedians move the other way, they become more about the laughs and less about a clever take on the world. This is more or less where Sacha Baron Cohen is with his latest movie GRIMSBY.

In ALI G INDAHOUSE (2002), BORAT (2006) and BRUNO (2009) it could be said that the characters he played always had some satirical point to make. When he played Ali G and Borat on television and film, Baron Cohen chose the device of ambushing unsuspecting dupes in character.  Ali G and Borat had a limited world-view and Baron Cohen would use their apparent innocence and lack of sophistication to draw out real life interview subjects and and expose the contradictions and darkness in their point of view. This is a reality-show version of cringe comedy that some people regard as unfair because it relies on the interviewee being the patsy of a set up. (God knows what line of super-persuasive chat producers had to come up with to get those release forms signed.) Bruno, Borat and Ali G were all retired because the public became too familiar with the characters and Baron Cohen lost the element of surprise.

In GRIMSBY (also known as The Brothers Grimsby in some quarters) Baron Cohen plays Nobby Butcher, a football hooligan and father of 11. The ambush comedy is gone. This is a straight-down-the-line spy action spoof. Nobby is a poorly educated man who loves his family and football. His greatest regret is that he was separated with his younger brother Sebastian during childhood. Unbeknownst to Nobby, Sebastian has become MI6’s top spy. Sebastian is everything that Nobby isn’t; intelligent, capable, well-travelled and in top physical condition. It has been Nobby’s life quest to reunite with brother Sebastian (Mark Strong). When he eventually tracks him down, Nobby ruins a carefully planned top secret operation. Sebastian is accused of being a double agent and goes on the run. The only way he can clear his name is with the dubious help of his long-lost brother.

Director Louis Leterrier whose work includes, UNLEASHED (2005), THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008), CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010) as well as two of the Transporter films delivers some amazing action sequences here, far above the standard required of a comedy. The flash-backs to young Nobby and Sebastian’s life as orphaned children are also better done than is usual for the genre. These scenes don’t fit comfortably alongside the barrage of crass sight gags and crude sexual slapstick that make up most of the film’s laughs.

Critics have called the comedy juvenile and over-the-top and indeed there are gallons of bodily fluids spraying everywhere. I wasn’t too bothered. I seem to remember all of Baron Cohen’s other films had plenty of schoolyard smut and tastelessness. That said, there is nothing clever and satirical going on here. It’s base level, but it made me laugh. Mark Strong plays through all the indignities visited upon his character. He’s not funny but he’s game for anything. The rest of the international cast is largely wasted, including Isla Fisher, Ian McShane, Rebel Wilson, Penelope Cruz, Gabourey SibideRicky Tomlinson and Johnny Vegas.

GRIMSBY is a non-demanding piece of entertainment. Those who expect Baron Cohen to say more comedically will be disappointed. Those who think genitalia props and inappropriate insertions are hilarious, will find this laugh-out-loud funny. (2.5/5)

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Film Review: Lawrence and Holloman



Holloman is a loner who works in a department store. He looks after an ailing mother, but otherwise has no-one in his life. He has become despondent about the state of his existence and is having suicidal fantasies. He has a gun and is about to use it on himself when he is diverted from his mission by the appearance of Lawrence.

Lawrence is a fellow worker at the store. He is a salesman who has won employee of the month twice.  As he explains to Holloman, their boss says Lawrence has a future.  There is something compelling and annoying about the man. Where Holloman is pessimistic to a fault, Lawrence is a complete optimist. Everything has a silver lining. There is no bad luck. Even when things are down, one will eventually be able to look up. Holloman has met his spiritual opposite, his reverse doppelganger and all of a sudden, he has a reason to live.  There is something about this confident character that Holloman needs to understand. He has a great job, the faith of his employers, a beautiful girlfriend, other women he is having affairs with and not a care in the world. As he says, “I’m happy. I’m joyous.”

The salesman takes Holloman under his wing. He freely gives out advice, which proves to be a patchwork of half-baked thoughts and malapropisms. The more time Holloman spends with Lawrence, the more affronted he is by Lawrence’s idea that people have the lives they do because of destiny. And then one day, Lawrence’s luck begins to turn. And so does Holloman’s.

LAWRENCE AND HOLLOMAN is a Canadian film based on the play of the same name by award-winning playwright Morris Panych. Director Matthew Kowalchuk and his co-writer Daniel Arnold (who also plays Holloman) have adapted what was a two-hander into a fully-fledged feature. Despite the Odd Couple feel of the set up, Panych’s characters do not have a Neil Simonesque relationship. Holloman is envious of everything that Lawrence has. He thinks that if he had the same luck and advantages, then his life would have been a happier one. At a certain level, that he is barely aware of, he covets Lawrence’s essential self. This is where the comedy gets dark and twisted.

Ben Cotton does a fine job playing Lawrence. Daniel Arnold is also good in the more difficult sad-sack role of Holloman. Neither actor is particularly well known outside of North America. Perhaps the best-known member of the cast is Katharine Isabelle who played Ginger in the GINGER SNAPS trilogy. Here she plays Zooey, an old high school friend of Lawrence’s.

This is a black comedy that veers into absurdism as it progresses. The story asks us to consider why some lives seem fortunate and others are cursed. A certain amount of punishment is meted out in order to make that point, so audience members who like their laughs light and easy might find this movie tough going. If however, you find humor in the darkness and like a misanthropic take on humanity, then you will appreciate the pains taken by Kowlachuk and company to get us to laugh at this deeply flawed duo.

LAWRENCE AND HOLLWMAN runs for 95 minutes. I rated it 2.5/5


This review can also be found at It was originally posted on 7th July 2014.

The Science of Silkening Our Language

Focused senior life science professional pipetting solution into the pettri dish.  Lens focus on the red droplets on the glass.

If you’re a Generation X-er like myself, you may remember the above headline as a parody of the slogan of a shampoo called Silkience. The Science of Silkening Your Hair was the promise with every bottle. I guess the name itself was a portmanteau word that shoved silk together with science in an unholy humentipeding of the two commonly used dictionary terms. The sharp-eyed amongst you will recognisehumentipede as a portmanteau neologism recently invented by me in the previous sentence. And yes, I have sewn together the word human and centipede and thus blatantly ripped off the rather repellent concept invented by Dutch filmmaker Tom Six for his series of Human Centipede movies.

I come neither to praise Tom Six nor mention his work any further, I am here to discuss words and the writing of same.

The science of silkening one’s hair sounds good. It is supposed to bring on thoughts of dedicated lab technicians testing myriad emulsions in different quantities on dry, normal and greasy strands of hair. Like Thomas Edison experimenting with 1600 materials to find the perfect lightbulb filament, the dedicated women and men of the Silkience Institut de Cheveux no doubt worked tirelessly to create the perfect shampoo and conditioner. And who’s to say in the months leading up to the Silkience launch in April 1979, that isn’t exactly what happened behind the scenes at the Gillette company?

The reason I am name-checking Silkience is that the word rubs me the wrong way. It’s taken me thirty-five years to say it, but there it is!  It annoys me as much as the terms advertorial, infotainment or cosmeceutical. These humentipedazzled words are the invention of those who think the language needs more sizzle. And that’s because the people who most enjoy pormanteau neologisms work in advertising where selling sizzle is what they do. There’s a bit of sleight of hand involved in the term advertorial for example. It’s advertising in the form of an editorial. The form gives the advertisement the authority that an editorial has theoretically, although it could be argued that it has, in fact leached editorials of some of their legitimacy. Infotainment. Information and entertainment. Actually, it’s neither. No one in the civilised world has ever sat back and stated, “Well, I was thoroughly infotained!”

I am suggesting, in an English teacherly way, that our language needs extra sizzle like Bernard Tomic could do with more confidence. It’s got sizzle to burn, baby! Many pormanteau words are faddish and therefore date poorly ( just like: “insert topical celebrity reference here”.) Having said that, I will go to war Snake Plissken style with any mofo who tries to remove “brunch” either from the dictionary or the menu.

Film Review: Under The Skin


(2013) UK/USA, 108 minutes

DIRECTOR:Jonathan Glazer | CAST:Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams | RATING: 4/5

“Alien disguised as attractive young woman seeks unattached young Scottish men. Object: to harvest their life essence. Mostly based in Glasgow, but prepared to travel. Has own windowless van.”

This is more or less the story of Jonathan Glazer’s new feature UNDER THE SKIN. Obviously there is no fourth-wall breaking personal ad. tipping off the male population of Glasgow. UNDER THE SKIN is not a gender-switched remake of the musical comedy EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY (1988), as much as I want such a thing to exist.  It is instead a science fiction art film that drip-feeds its story to the audience. It is adapted from a novel of the same name by Dutch-Australian-Scottish writer Michel Faber.

Scarlett Johansson plays the unnamed extraterrestrial. We, the audience are almost always with her as she travels through the countryside, suburbs and city. None of these environments is particularly inviting. There’s a harshness about this world. The Alien is ever watchful as she scans the streets for her next victim. She stops and asks for directions and establishes whether these men are expected anywhere, if they have a family or partner who might miss them, then she offers them a ride in her van. The suggestion is clear. There could be sex in the offing. Many men get into the van. They are never seen again.

This unsettling tale is made even more so by the abstractness of the storytelling. The Alien is mostly an observer who speaks hardly at all. There is nothing explained in dialogue, everything the audience learns is through observation. This is a tale of how rather than why. Beneath the surface story, there are ideas about sex, loneliness, gender, communication and family. It is ridiculously easy for the Alien to find victims. There are many men who are unmoored from ties to others. She needs to find men whose disappearance won’t raise the alarm immediately.

Director Glazer usually works in commercials and music videos. We have him to thanks for Jamiroquai’s 1996 Virtual Insanity clip. He also directed the critically acclaimed features SEXY BEAST (2000) and BIRTH (2004). He has brought that experience to bear in all departments of his new film. He has given us beautifully composed images skillfully blended with top-notch visual effects. The cinematography often presents scenes in wide shots that force us to observe events unfolding, rather than relating to the emotions of the participants. We are detached from getting too emotionally involved. Remarkably, the close-up footage shot in the van, involves mostly untrained actors. Glazer placed a dozen small cameras in the cabin and had Johansonn drive around Glasgow genuinely attempting to pick up men. So the casual responses, chit-chat and flirting are all the more fascinating for not being scripted. This element of the movie plays almost like a documentary or perhaps like reality TV (Snog, Marry, Harvested?).

Johansonn puts in a solid performance as the Alien. She has not been this interesting onscreen for some time. Earlier in her career, when she appeared in movies like GHOST WORLD (2001), LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003) and GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING (2003) she seemed to be mixing it up between the indie and the mainstream. Lately her roles have been mainly in bland big budget pictures. Sure, she’s good as Romanoff in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but this new film reminds us that she is an actor capable of more.

UNDER THE SKIN is repetitious in parts and does not reveal itself fully at any point. It’s a movie for those who want to put together the story themselves and then dwell on what they have seen afterwards. It’s a slow-burn with some lovely visuals, disturbing moments and excellent music by Mica Levi.

This review originally appeared in on 6th July 2014