Archive for April, 2011

In a nutshell: Keep your wits about you and immerse yourself in this vast and intricate tale.

Popcorn rating: 4.5/5

What a boring place “ye olden days” would have been if it had all been like Lark Rise to Candleford. All yawnsome drama over a missing stamp or fretting about a besmirched hem week after endless week. Luckily for viewers of a slightly more macabre bent, BBC2’s new drama The Crimson Petal and the White does to period drama what Christopher Nolan did to the Batman franchise. In other words, it gives it a much needed –and, in this case, a decidedly filthy – reboot.

Adapted from Michael Faber’s equally scintillating novel of the same name, The Crimson Petal and the White focuses on the intertwining lives of scheming prostitute Sugar (Romala Garai), her patriarch William Rackham (Chris O’Dowd) and his mad as a hatter missus, Agnes (Amanda Hale). Set in 1870s London, a vile stinking cesspit of a city, this intricate and compelling story of sex, madness, money and violent death is a hundred million miles away from Lark Rise, Candleford and Downton Abbey.

The Crimson Petal is littered with wonderfully gruesome characters, each one worthy of mention had I but the space and time. Chris O’Dowd takes a welcome step away from the comedy scene to prove his acting chops with a subtle, feckless portrayal of the bumbling Rackham while Garai emotes coldly from her green eyes to her dried lips as the serpentine Sugar, but my heart belongs to nervy Agnes, glassy eyed and swaying in her drug induced haze, and the delectably sinister, Mrs Castaway, played with aplomb by the always marvellous Gillian Anderson.

The narrative, the characters, however; are mere extras, a nothing to how The Crimson Petal and The White looks. For what a lewd and grotesque world BBC2 (yes, really, that old stalwart the BBC) has given us. A world of moody darkness, of grime and squalor, of murky greens, deep scarlets, rich, suffocating blacks; a world shared with us via cracked mirrors, off kilter angles and fuzzy, shallow depth of focus, all tinged with filth – both the metaphoric and the literal. And it is utterly absorbing.

And yet, while it looks stunning, it is also this lyrical beauty that is The Crimson Petal’s only flaw. For while visually it is enticing, the keenness to seep all in a gothic sheen means The Crimson Petal can, at times, lack humanity. For there is an air of portent in almost every sentence spoken by Sugar, and this “need” for a constant, sinister meaning in her dialogue has a tendency to detract from the narrative, leaving us, as viewers, just one step away from true empathy. A small complaint but such a pity in an otherwise excellent drama.

Faber’s tale has been likened to that of Dickens, had Dickens been writing today, had he let his imagination and pen run riot without a thought to the censor – or his intended readers’ sensibilities. It is true, there is a great deal of Dickens in The Crimson Petal and the White but there is a much, much more too and, like the wonderful horridness of Roald Dahl, it is a delight – albeit one for grown-ups only.

Reviewer: CurlyShirley

(Picture: BBC)

In a nutshell: Puzzling and disorientating but rewarding if you stick with it

Popcorn rating: 3.5/5

Colter Stevens wakes up on a train he doesn’t remember boarding and is sitting opposite a woman he doesn’t recognise. Eight minutes later the train explodes.

Stevens, a soldier, then wakes up again but is suspended in a flight suit in a strange dark cubicle. He is back, it seems, in the Source Code. Let the mayhem commence.

The film starts off as it means to go on – as a disorientating thriller that has you guessing and speculating until the end.

The first sequences are brilliantly executed as the audience shares the puzzle and anxiety with the equally confused military protagonist, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, whose only connection to the outside world is through a tiny screen, to Captain Goodwin (Vera Farmiga).

Source Code is the story of secret military technology which Colter is able to use – unwittingly at first – to prevent a crisis by accessing someone’s memory eight minutes before their death.

The idea, with this situation, is that if Colter can find the train’s bomber, he can prevent the next terrorist attack. As you might expect, nothing is ever that simple and there’s more twists than a Latin dance class – with some decent surprises along the way.

Added into the mix is Director Duncan Jones who brings his distinct visual style to the film.  As with his previous work on the excellent Moon, he successfully creates a sense of claustrophobia when it comes to modern technology.

Trying to keep up with the science may give you a headache but it’s essentially a cross between Deja Vous and Vantage Point with a little bit of Quantum Leap thrown in for good measure.

And yet, when the whole plot unfolds, it’s difficult not to feel a little disappointed.  There’s a sense that the filmmakers were trying too hard to find a happy ending which only seems to muddle things up in the closing scenes.

Reviewer: DavidMorgan

In a nutshell: A triumphant story of survival…if you can stomach the infamous penknife scene

Popcorn rating: 4/5

In 2003, Aron Ralston was literally stuck between a rock and a hard place.

While hiking in Blue John Canyon in Utah a boulder dislodged, crushing his right arm and pinning him to a canyon wall for more than five days. Ralston’s amazing story of survival  finally reached the cinemas seven years later with Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle behind the camera.

In the film, you get a sense of what a character Ralston was before the fateful incident.  He acts as a guide, flirting with two female hikers and sliding into a pool of water.  But then disaster strikes. He’s trapped. Alone.

For much of the rest of the film it’s just Ralston – his panic, his fear, his exasperation and finally acceptance of his hopeless situation.

*spoiler alert*

James Franco, from the Spiderman films, is excellent as experienced adventurer Ralston who heads out to canyon without telling anyone where he’s going.

Boyle, as always, is on top form with the sense of dread and claustrophobia from being trapped translated well on screen.  And credit must go to Boyle for making a film work with just one leading role, filling the with flashbacks, delirious daydreams and even Ralston’s premonition that he would become a father – one that came true in February 2010.

In case you don’t already know, Ralston eventually escaped after 127 Hours (which gives the film its name) by amputating his arm with a blunt penknife.  This scene isn’t for the faint-hearted but if you can stomach it, this is a inspirational story of a man’s fight to survive against the odds.

Reviewer: DavidMorgan

In a nutshell: Buttock-clenching realism played for laughs

Popcorn rating: 5/5

The mockumentary format can be tough to get right. Fortunately Twenty Twelve is more akin to The Office’s gently-paced realism than Come Fly With Me’s funny voices and fat-suits.

Writer-director John Morton has form when it comes to documentary-style comedies, having previously penned the excellent People Like Us. People Like Us starred Chris Langham – and is consequently unlikely to appear on your screens again in the wake of his prison sentence for downloading child porn, betraying aggrieved Guardian readers in the same way that legions of Sun-buyers felt cheated by The People’s Paedophile, Gary Glitter. Lucky for us, then, that Twenty Twelve is such a brilliantly-observed little treat of a satire that it more than makes up for it.

Set in the fictional Olympic Deliverance Commission, Twenty Twelve follows a team of public sector senior managers, who behave… well, like public sector senior managers. If you don’t think that would provide endless scope for absurd awkwardness, Kafkaesque dialogue and beautifully-timed farce, you’ve clearly never worked in the public sector. And now you don’t need to. Just watch Twenty Twelve instead. There’s no difference.

The meetings with blindly confident ‘Head of Brand’ Siobhan Sharpe (Jessica Hynes), in which everyone fiddles with their BlackBerry and accomplishes nothing, are devastatingly accurate vignettes of office life, as are the small failures that seem to conspire to ruin day after day for Head of Deliverance Ian Fletcher (Hugh Bonneville). A temperamental swipe-card reader denies him entry to his own office. Some unearthed bones could mean abandoning the much-hyped ‘urban water hole’ showpiece of the Olympic Aquatic Centre, already behind schedule, if they prove to be Roman remains. ‘Let’s hope it just turns out be a murder or something,’ Ian says cheerfully on his way to meet the archaeologist.

Head of Sustainability Kay Hope (Amelia Bullmore) is a particular delight as she tries unsuccessfully to explain what sustainability actually means, in between desperately begging Stratford youth groups to find a post-Olympic use for the white elephant Tae Kwondo Centre. So is Head of Infrastructure Graham Hitchins (Karl Theobald), who with only a year to go, still hasn’t worked out how London’s packed transport network will handle the Olympic traffic. Perhaps that’s why Graham rarely seems to go home – or maybe it’s just because when asked where he lives, his only response is ‘It’s got its own bathroom’.

I have just two complaints about Twenty Twelve. One is that it’s so accurate that I sometimes get confused while watching and think I’m at work. The other is that it’s shoved away on BBC4 at 10pm. This is a sharp, well-made comedy that deserves better – 9 o’clock on BBC2 for the repeat, perhaps?

Reviewer: JoSheppard

In a nutshell: Implausible, forgettable but reasonably entertaining action yarn

Popcorn rating: 3/5

I like a good unintentionally homoerotic, old school action adventure as much as the next girl. In fact, in my humble view, there isn’t enough fit men ripping off their shirts and exchanging meaningful glances on the silver screen nowadays. Luckily, The Eagle has come along to redress the balance with lots of masculine moodiness, hand to hand combat and general silliness all wrapped up in the mystery of the disappearance of the Ninth Legion in Roman-ruled Brittania.

Channing Tatum continues his line of rippling muscles masquerading as men playing Roman centurion Marcus Aquila, a young commander in chilly looking Britain living under the shadow of his father – the man who led the legendary Legion and their gold Eagle emblem into unconquered Caledonia, never to be heard or seen of again.

Honourably discharged from the army and with nothing better to do than emote meaningfully, Marcus decides to regain his daddy’s lost glory by heading across Hadrian’s Wall into Caledonia – aka no man’s land – in pursuit of the Eagle. He takes along for the ride, his young British slave, Esca (Billy Elliot sorry, ahem, Jamie Bell) whose life he saved in a gladiator bout (where else?), thus earning Esca’s apparent lifelong allegiance.

This is when the real adventure begins as the brooding duo begin their quest, along the way bumping into a Ninth survivor (a so-serious it is actually a bit funny turn from Mark Strong) as well as the hard-as-a-rock natives (they’re very scary because they wear mud and live on the coast in mud huts, oh-er). But with Esca back with his people (kind of) and the Roman master now the slave, will Marcus fulfil his mission to return the Eagle to Rome? Do you really care? Well no, probably not, but never mind.

Directed by Kevin Macdonald, The Eagle is best watched with a giant pinch of salt. Yes, its implausible (ridiculously so in parts), yes, Esca’s allegiance is inexplicable (especially after Marcus shows his willingness to off enemy children at the drop of a hat), yes, you are likely to want to scream “Oh, for f*ck’s sake, get over it” at the screen several times and yes, Donald Sutherland (as Marcus’ uncle) does look like he can’t help but chuckle at getting a wad of cash merely for showing up for any old role nowadays.

What The Eagle is, however; is a throwback to the Boys Own adventure’s of yesteryear, a diverting action adventure that won’t win any awards but may, just may, mildly entertain you for 90 minutes or so. The other 24 minutes, to be fair, could have been cut.

Reviewer: Curlyshirley