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Archive for August, 2011|Monthly archive page

Toast (2010)

In BBC, feel good, film, period drama, Recommendation on 27/08/2011 at 3:52 pm

Toast is the only thing Nigel’s mum makes well. All other edibles come from tins as she’s a disastrous cook with a fresh food phobia. Nigel loves his mum all the same, but goes through his early years yearning for proper food  and an eagerness to learn how to cook.

This very well made coming-of-age story, based on real childhood memories (I won’t say whose, it’s more fun that way), slaps the viewer around a bit, making you happy one moment and intensely sad the next. They did an amazing job at finding two young actors to play the ten-year-old boy and the sixteen-year-old boy so well, hardly noticing the change of cast even though Nigel has a very outspoken character. Also, Helena Bonham Carter does a wonderful viscous slag of a stepmother.

I’ll say no more about this wonderful film. Enjoy it, and don’t watch on an empty stomach!

(trailer contains spoilers)

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The Hour (2011-2012)

In Amazing, BBC, Crime, new, period drama, political, Recommendation, Review, romantic, series, Uncategorized on 25/08/2011 at 8:37 pm

The expectations were high when The Hour was announced in 2011: a 1950s journo-political thriller drama with Romola Garai (The Crimson Petal and the White) in the lead. Wow… and the general consensus was that we’re all very much looking forward to the next series. Well into season 2 in 2012, The Hour has only got better.

This is what I said about the first series:

The Hour does what I think BBC (mini)series are getting uniquely good at: combining several serious real-life topics with very good acting and real suspense. No lazy cliff-hangers, but a story that needs unfolding. By serious topics I refer to how the media were controlled by government and how difficult it was for journalists to break free, the unpopular UK war over the Suez canal, women’s emancipation, and finally, the ever returning class differences in England.

Romola Garai is Bel Rowley, the producer of the fictional first ever BBC background news programme The Hour. She is brave in taking the challenge, as she’s constantly patronised for being a woman. Bel is strikingly real: she shows her insecurities yet has her strengths. She also has doubts, passions, modesty and falls in love with ‘the wrong man’. She is adored by her good friend Freddy (Ben Wishaw), who is a truly idealistic and passionate journalist who’d do anything to get to the truth, even if it costs him his life. Freddy naturally frowns upon the handsome, upper-class presenter of the show, Hector Madden (Dominic West), who needs to prove himself to be more than just another pretty face. My favourite character has to be Lix Storm (Anna Chancellor). This woman embodies all the clichés of a devoted journalist, complete with drinking whisky from tea cups and sleeping in the office, whilst maintaining professionalism, witty wisdom and charm.

The most gripping part of the first series was the fight of the few true journalists against the politically suppressive system of the time.  Then there is romance, there is a Soviet spy to be uncovered, a mysterious murder to be solved and a controversial war breaking out. Too much? Nah. They pulled it off.

In 2012 I can but add that The Hour continues to be driven by its strong points: exploring the idealism of the time, power play and intriguing personal dynamics. The characters all got more interesting, and the plot is engaging as ever. The Hour is easily one of this year’s absolute best dramas. Oh, and Peter Capaldi is in it too!

 

 

Crime and Punishment (2002)

In Amazing, based on novel, BBC, Crime, film, period drama, Recommendation, Review on 14/08/2011 at 5:11 pm

Too many film makers do horrendous adaptations of classic novels. Very rarely, someone does a brilliant one. I’m a great supporter of good adaptations of classic stories; it’s the greatest means of keeping them alive. Not everyone is going to read Dostoyevsky, but this way we may all know what was great about what he created, at least in part.

This is an honest BBC masterpiece. It’s a two-part (200 min) film, giving the story just enough time to unfold and the characters enough room to come to life and engage you. The part of lead character Raskolinov is masterfully portrayed by the talented John Simm (Life on Mars, Exile, Doctor Who), but I shan’t fail to mention that the entire (quite starry) cast is impressive. As far as I can judge, for my knowledge of Russian culture is negligible, the customs, prejudices and humour of the time are incredibly well done.

Perhaps needless to say, Crime and Punishment is a story about a man who commits a crime and is later torn by an urge to try to get away with it and guilt. The reader, or viewer in this case, is left torn by not wanting to like a murderer but doing so anyway. That’s the genius bit.

 

 

 

 

The Infidel (2010)

In film, political, Rant, Review on 13/08/2011 at 11:36 pm

This supposed comedy’s story sounds intriguing: A very moderate English Muslim has a son who wants to marry a girl with an extremist Muslim stepfather – and then he finds out he was adopted as a baby and is actually Jewish. For some reason, it got praising reviews all round, while this is one of the most disappointing and mediocre British productions I’ve seen in ages.

The plot sticks to the typical Hollywood curve (all the foreseeable obstacles and the obvious happy ending) so strictly that it becomes utterly predictable – which consequently makes it humourless too. The writing is too simplified and over-explanatory to be even mildly funny and the acting is generally mediocre. Because of the lack of laughs and the bad lines, all the drama becomes highly melodramatic (i.e. making you think: FFS, what’s all the bloody fuss about?). On top of all this, the Muslim and Jewish clichés are exaggerated in way that it makes me as a non-religious viewer feel stupid. Imagine what that makes someone of either faith feel like.

Yes, I’m ranting, I know. The only reason for this exception on my blog is that I believe it should’ve never received the credit it did. To say one nice thing about it: I liked the dancy bit at the end (albeit another big fat cliché). Oh, and it could be good for educational purposes, enhancing understanding amongst cultures and all that. Still doesn’t make it a good film, mind.

 

Single Father (2010)

In Amazing, BBC, Recommendation, Review, series on 13/08/2011 at 6:03 pm

Another amazing BBC miniseries was made last year, and this one is seriously heart-shredding. Actor David Tennant, perhaps feeling he needs to prove himself as more than ‘just’ the greatest Doctor in history, has you glued to the screen even though the story itself has all the ingredients for a soppy cliché-ridden girlie tear jerker. Instead, it’s pure stupendous acting and writing. Torn between love and grief, Single Father shows nothing less than all that is insanely and beautifully human. This is one of those productions that proves that British TV drama has never been as good as it is today.

I chose to share this clip below rather than the trailer, because events are best kept unknown (I’m advising against watching the trailer anyway and reading reviews full of spoilers here). Just watch it.

Oh, yes: grown men might need tissues too.

Not Only but Always (2004)

In Amazing, film, hilarious, Recommendation, Review on 03/08/2011 at 5:01 pm

Suppressing the urge to now switch on Caps Lock and just blurt out over the page how I adore Rhys Ifans (in general, as an actor, don’t know the guy, mind) and as Peter Cook (more specifically, after watching this film) is, I can honestly tell you, quite difficult.

That said, it’s a good thing Ifans got a Bafta for this part.

Not Only but Always tells the life story of the late comedy genius Peter Cook. It’s presented as a film biography about Peter Cook and his partner Dudley Moore (Aidan McArdle), but that’s a bit of a lie. Not only does Cook’s personality overshadow Moore’s, but it’s written to tell Cook’s story: his rise and fall, the women he loved, his children, his drinking habit, his death.

Channel4 shouldn’t have bamboozled us about this, indeed. What remains, though, is a magnificent film brimful of comic cleverness about a beautiful, extraordinary, yet terribly tragic figure. Ifans does the hazy look in Cook’s eyes perfectly, as well as his arrogance and rage.

Cambridge Spies (2003)

In Amazing, BBC, LGTB, period drama, political, Recommendation, Review, romantic, series on 01/08/2011 at 11:06 pm

Four Cambridge friends in the early 1930s. We choose to forget, but this was a time that Nazism, with all its xenophobia and ideas of a ‘higher race’, was actually the rule rather than the exception amongst the English educated classes. Guy Burgess, Kim Philby, Donald Mclean and Anthony Blunt did more than disagree: they were secretly recruited as communist spies by Moscow. This is a true story, which the BBC fictionalised in a most marvellous four-part miniseries.

If I had anything to complain about this production it would be that they could have stretched the story out over five or six episodes. That’s actually a compliment. The four friends ( a beautiful cast by the way: Tom Hollander, Rupert Penry-Jones, Toby Stephens and Samuel West) are all in their own way contagiously idealistic and hopelessly romantic. They managed to spring to life and befriend me in just a few hours. Now, that must be brilliant acting and writing, because that hardly ever happens.

The story doesn’t only deal with the great ideologies of the time, racism and class discrimination, it also (necessarily) includes homosexuality, as two of the four friends are gay. Additional kudos to the creators for not letting one theme overshadow any other. A good dose of both charm and humour simply made this miniseries one of the most enjoyable productions I’ve seen over the past years.

 

 

 

 

The Disappearance of Alice Creed (2009)

In Crime, film, Recommendation on 01/08/2011 at 10:06 pm

Three people in a house. Two are abductors, one abducted. The two crooks kidnapped the girl for being a rich person’s daughter and they demand a two million pound ransom. The question is, will they succeed, and will Alice live?

Sounds dull?

It isn’t. The disappearance of Alice Creed pulls it off and then some. Intriguing characters, surprising twists and compelling drama in general make this a thrilling watch indeed.