Archive for March, 2011

In a nutshell: Coming-of-age neurosis

Popcorn rating: 3.5/5

Submarine, the directorial debut of TV uber-geek Richard Ayoade, isn’t heavy on plot. Neurotic misfit Oliver Tate falls for his classmate Jordana and worries his parents might split up. That’s pretty much it, but executed with such off-kilter, awkward charm that I really didn’t mind.

Craig Roberts makes Oliver, who could easily have been just another Adrian Mole, believable and endearing even when his behaviour is morally questionable. Yasmin Paige as Jordana strikes the right balance between bravado and vulnerability, hiding behind a scowl and a power-bob. There are great supporting roles from Sally Hawkins as Oliver’s brittle mother and Noah Taylor as Lloyd, his depressive Open University lecturer father. Oliver seems far more like Lloyd than he realises, right down to a burgeoning tendency towards depression, and some of their scenes together are among the most touching in the film.

As a comedy, Submarine is low-key – the best lines are pin-sharp passing observations, rather than jokes. Oliver’s sole remark about his mother’s job – that she works in the sort of office where the person who’s having the birthday is the one who provides the cake – tells us everything we need to know about it; his description of his father’s clinical depression is rendered crystal clear by explaining that he ‘just sat there all day drinking hot lemon from the same mug without ever washing it up.’

My problem with Submarine is that it’s nostalgia that doesn’t know what it’s nostalgic for. There’s a reference to going to see Crocodile Dundee, which would place it in 1986. And sometimes it looks like that. But sometimes it looks like the 70s, all dingy and brown. Sometimes it’s closer to the early 90s.

Ayoade says this was deliberate, that he didn’t want to set it in a specific period. Which is fair enough: who remembers their childhood as it really was anyway? If you’re any older than 30, your memories do look suspiciously like old ciné footage, colour-saturated slides or bleached-out Polaroids, and this is what Submarine looks like too: a scrapbook of photos from different decades jumbled with endless arthouse movie homage in-jokes.

It’s obvious what Ayoade was trying to do with the nostalgia – Oliver more or less spells it out in his voiceover at one point. And sometimes it succeeds. But after 90-odd minutes, the visuals began to grate. Overall, Submarine is thoughtful, gently funny, well-acted and pleasingly unsentimental. It really didn’t need to look like someone playing with the filters on a retro photo iPhone app.

Reviewer: JoSheppard

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The Model Agency

Posted: March 18, 2011 by josheppard in Telly
Tags: , , , , ,
In a nutshell: “I’m not even being sarcastic.”
Popcorn rating: 4/5
Channel 4’s The Model Agency is a fly-on-the-wall documentary about Premiere, run by ‘creative’ Carole White and her boorish brother Chris Owen.
As the founder of a modelling agency, Carole’s business consists of judging people on their looks, which is odd for someone with a face like an empty scrotum. Perhaps she’s subconsciously aware of this – something’s riling her, anyway, because her principal hobby is jangling her chunky Chanel bangles while bullying the bookers.
What do the bookers do, exactly? After watching them for an hour I’m none the wiser. They have job titles like ‘Head of New Faces’ and they argue a lot about ‘cards’. I don’t know what ‘cards’ are for, just that while it’s OK for the female models’ cards to show them full-frontal, skeletally nude, Carole wants the boys covered up. Despite this, whenever a new boy arrives, he’s immediately asked to take off his shirt. “You might need to eat differently,” says a scout in as significant a voice as he can muster, aiming a predatory Polaroid camera at a scrawny whippersnapper.
“I haven’t eaten bread for like two weeks!” the boy assures him. “I’m not even being sarcastic.”
He doesn’t need to explain. Nobody in The Model Agency is ever sarcastic. This vapid bunch of irony-free oxygen thieves lack the depth for that.
Unaware of their own absurdity, they see nothing ridiculous about representing people with names like Sian O, Texas and Cocoa and have earnest conversations about the acceptability of breasts. Senior booker John says that D’s the limit unless you only want to be in Bravissimo catalogues. A small B would be better. “OK,” says his colleague, who has a particular model in mind. “We’ll get her in shape and see what we can get her down to. She’s 17.”
When not conspiring to starve away a teenager’s tits, John spends most of his time crying. Nathan, on the other hand, a sullen pretty-boy model, spends most of his time complaining that he’s scared of rejection and not turning up for work.
Nathan was 15 when he was scouted. “I was skateboarding,” he explains. “That’s my real profession. Well, it’s not. But it is. I mean, it can’t be. But I see it like that. I treat it like that.” He pauses. “Except obviously I mustn’t fall on my face.”
Simultaneously horrific and hilarious, it’s hard to believe The Model Agency’s not a spoof. Matt Lucas and David Walliams, take note: when there are real people on our screens like this, no amount of fat-suits and comedy voices are going to save you.
Reviewer: JoSheppard

In a nutshell: Watchable sure, but could have been so much better.

Popcorn rating: 3/5

Loosely based on a Philip K Dick short story, The Adjustment Bureau has at its heart one of those brilliant ideas that you’d like to pretend was yours – albeit, you just hadn’t thought of it yet. It’s so simple, it’s great. Give people free will and they mess up – it was free will which led to all those wars and depressions and stuff. So, with people no longer trusted to have free will, the Man Upstairs has created the Adjustment Bureau – a secret organisation working undercover to keep everyone on their predestined paths in life, meeting the right person, taking the right job, making the right decision. Because if we don’t do as we should, who knows where we could end up.

Hence, when up and coming congressional candidate David Morris (Matt Damon, in the the kind of role he could play in his sleep ) falls in love with the wrong woman, namely dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt), the Adjustment Bureau must step in to ensure they never meet again. But will true love win out against the unseen bureaucracy?

It’s no surprise that the best thing about The Adjustment Bureau are the agents, looking as if they have stepped straight out of Mad Men. While not quite as chilling as they might be (and a tad short on full explanations), the agents are intriguing and surprisingly believable, considering. Terence Stamp as the “hammer” Thompson, in particular, is obviously enjoying himself and there are some lovely elements – the fedoras, the books and their destiny diagrams, the network of doorways across the city. Splendid.

And, with Damon and Blunt providing a real onscreen rapport, what could go wrong? Well, there’s just one hitch, and it is a biggie. Exactly why does the Bureau go to so much effort and time and risk to – let’s face it – break up a couple? It’s never made fully clear, sure there a reason briefly mentioned but it all seems just a little flaky, as if the writers just tacked it on at the end.

The Adjustment Bureau is an interesting film but you can’t help thinking that there is a better, more thought provoking thriller hiding somewhere underneath – if only it had the courage of its convictions.

Reviewer: Curlyshirley

In a nutshell: Aliens attack, shit gets blown up, random bunch of US marines save the world. Seen it, done it, played it, bored of it.

Popcorn rating: 1.5/5

If you think the plot of Battle: Los Angeles sounds familiar, that’s because it is. This kind of battle story has been doing the rounds since before I was born. The only difference this time, being that Battle: Los Angeles is utterly and uncompromisingly shit.

It opens within the midst of a battle, attempting to whet taste buds with lovely big explosions and scary “meteors” searing through the sky. And it all looks like sterling stuff, the action nonsense fanboy wet dreams are made of in fact.

But just as quick the action is over and we skip back 24 hours to meet the main protagonists – the same old group of Marine stereotypes you have seen (and probably liked) in numerous other military flicks. You got your ethnic minorities (including the de rigour mouthy Latino), your soon to be married bloke and his best bud, your fresh-outta-college  lieutenant, your virginal newbie and your jaded, battle scarred Staff Sergeant. There’s even a feisty military bird. Yawn, yawn, yawn. Are we seriously supposed to give a flying f*ck about these people? The only reason I didn’t want the aliens to win was because they were actually more pointless and derivative than the humans.

Anyway, after being dropped into Santa Monica for no apparent reason, the Marines are tasked with simply getting to safety. Tactical. On the way they chance upon the last remaining civilians in LA (which got evacuated incredibly quickly but hey, who am I to judge, what with my damn logic and all). This motley crew then proceed to the safety zone by battling rubbish aliens, defeating airborne drones, emoting embarrassingly (“He was a fine Marine and he was my friend.”) and whooping self congratulationarily every time someone successfully ties a f*cking shoe lace. Whoop, yeah, wow, thanks man, you saved my life, whoop, whoop. Puke.

As if the shoddy script wasn’t bad enough, every single piece of this film unfolds via nausea-inducing close-ups and shaky camera work, trying and failing to make the audience feel like they are “really there”.

The only reason I didn’t give Battle: Los Angeles a big fat zero was for the final battle which, while the premise is as laughable as everything else in this piece of puff, did at least have the decency to look like a video game.

If you want to see a good on-the-ground war flick, watch Black Hawk Down or The Hurt Locker, or, if you have a few days to spare, Band of Brothers. And if it’s aliens you like, then District 9, instead of this utter pants.

Reviewer: Curlyshirley

In a nutshell: Contrived kitchen crises don’t get much dafter than this…

Popcorn rating: 3/5

BBC1’s MasterChef is a bafflingly long and slightly hysterical series in which mostly middle-class contestants battle it out in the kitchen. As well as studio cook-offs, the would-be chefs also cook in real restaurants and take part in ‘surprise’ challenges… except they’re not a surprise, because they’re essentially the same every bloody series and one of them always involves catering for an event in a field (this year, a Highland Games; brilliantly, the only Scottish contestant disgraced himself by cutting his finger and whimpering like a girl).

I like watching over-confident fools wilt under pressure – a ‘deconstructed trifle’ that ended up looking like a selection of bodily fluids splattered on to a plate was a particular treat in episode one, for example. On that score, MasterChef pleases me. And I’ll freely admit that I find watching anyone cook interesting. Unfortunately, the programme-makers apparently don’t: this is surely only explanation for surplus melodrama they’ve shovelled on. The voiceover is delivered in the style of a judge passing a death sentence. An inexplicably blindfolded contestant sniffs a flabby lump of raw meat to music you’d expect to accompany Jack Bauer defusing a bomb.

Presiding over this laughable nonsense are John Torode and Gregg Wallace. Torode is the Ronseal-faced Aussie who used to cook horrid 90s ‘fusion’ food on This Morning With Richard & Judy. Wallace is… a greengrocer.

Yes. A greengrocer.

So how this gurning barrow-boy is qualified to judge a cookery competition is beyond me. He talks like your nan addressing someone foreign, and his witless appraisals generally amount to saying he likes puddings or simply listing the ingredients he’s just stuffed in his gob. Last night, he critiqued a dish with: “Yeah. Oh yeah. It tastes nice.”

But my most pressing complaint about MasterChef is the contestants. These smug bastards don’t need to become top chefs: they already have cool jobs. ‘Kennedy’ is a professional cellist. Alice is a model. Last year’s winner was a paediatrician – albeit captioned as a ‘children’s doctor’, presumably to ward off torch-wielding mobs of Sun readers confusing paediatricians with paedophiles. This country doesn’t need qualified paediatricians (or indeed qualified paedophiles) dicking about in a kitchen smearing artful apostrophes of celeriac purée on a square plate. I vote that next series, all the contestants are council workers made redundant to make way for the Big Society. Then I might bring myself to give a toss who wins.

Reviewer: JoSheppard

In a nutshell: A lovely step back in time, which is over far too quickly

Popcorn rating: 4.5/5

Let’s face it early evening telly is fairly abysmal. Thankfully, that has all changed with the arrival of BBC’s frankly marvellous Royal Upstairs Downstairs. As I had suspected, the show has proven to be a delight – so much so that I look forward to this dip into England’s architectural and food heritage with something akin to the happy glow a child on being told that sorry, no school today, the teachers are all snowed in.

It is a beguilingly simple premise – two likable experts,  moustachioed Antiques Roadshow primo Tim Wonnacott and Ladettes to Ladies cookery teacher,  Rosemary Shrager take a step back in time, revisiting the houses, castles and stately homes Queen Victoria stayed in during her life. Cue lots of grand old houses surrounded by acres of lush greenery, lofty rooms bedecked in sumptuous antiquary and culinary delights made out of (dare I even say it) full fat cream and other similar stuffs.

Tim and his endearingly posh accent guide us around the upstairs, delivering an enthusiastic peek into how the residents once lived and dealt with the impending horror/privilege of a visit from Her Nibs. Rosemary sequesters herself in the downstairs where, with the help of food historian Ivan Day, she recreates some of yesteryear’s marvellous grub (ice cream moulded to the shape and colour of a pineapple, anyone?).

But – and there is always a but, isn’t there – trying to pack so much into a piddly half hour show is not only frustrating, it is downright shameful. Royal Upstairs Downstairs is quite simply too short and if Queen V were alive I am sure she would agree. We want more! Tim in particular doesn’t have enough time to adequately reveal the joys of the upstairs while sharing his extensive knowledge of past times while poor old Rosemary and Ivan cook a single dish then are left wittering on about how a ten course menu would have been served up, without having enough minutes to give us a fuller flavour of the dishes.

Royal Upstairs Downstairs is a worthy celebration of the UK’s many wonderful county piles and I hope it is only the beginning of many similar shows to come, with or without the royal angle. The lovely Ivan could even have his own show where he recreates historic feasts, which would surely be a wonderful respite from the glut of same old cookery dross currently trotting across our screens on a weekly basis (excepting of course Nigel Slater’s Simple Suppers).

Reviewer: KateKearney