Review: The Legend of Barney Thomson

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DIR: Robert Carlyle • WRI: Richard Cowan, Colin McLaren • PRO: Holly Brydson, Brian Coffey, Richard Cowan, Kirk D’Amico, Kaleena Kiff, John G. Lenic • DOP: Fabian Wagner • ED: Mike Banas • MUS: James Horner • DES: Ross Dempster • CAST: Robert Carlyle, Emma Thompson, Ray Winstone

 

The Legend of Barney Thomson marks the directorial debut of legendary actor Robert Carlyle. The film is an adaptation of a book by Douglas Lindsay. It sets out as a barbarous black comedy which details the transition of Barney Thomson’s life as a small-time Glaswegian barber to that of a makeshift serial killer.  Barney (Robert Carlyle) is a barber. He’s a socially inept creature of habit, with his chiseled jaw, greasy slicked-back mane and polished shoes. He’s certainly fort- something; and he’s built a life of undeniable banality. Day in, day out his deft finger work tends the follicles of every last lager sippin’ stool pigeon and wrinkly old Neanderthal in the area who’s in need of a short back and sides. And this banal existence, for better or for worse, is in essence, Barney’s life.

That is, of course, until it all goes belly-up when an altercation in the shop gets out of hand and results in Barney accidentally murdering someone. With both the linoleum floor and his hands stained in blood, Barney sets out on a mission to preserve the life he’s created and decides to conceal the body.  Since cutting is his trade, it’s no surprise that he decides to cut the body up. Of course’ this doesn’t go quite as planned and when body parts start turning up, Barney struggles to evade the crafty detective Holdall, played by Ray Winstone. It’s at about this juncture that the narrative begins to descend into outlandishness, and emotional plausibility seems to totally go out the window. While the film sets out with ambitions as a somewhat cynical British black comedy it just never quite gels together. The comedy is sporadic at best, a tangle of gags, some of which work and some which don’t, and which are knotted together so tightly it’s impossible to tell which is which. If Carry On ever decided to remake the Pink Panther series as a social-realist drama this well could be the end product, a warped farce of a farce that doesn’t quite know what it is.

Carlyle clearly struggled to switch hats between his directing hat and his acting hat. His performance wanes after a while and his comedic efforts begin to feel somewhat forced. Carlyle is a proven contender in the comedy ring, but he doesn’t quite seem to cut it on this occasion, I can only put this down to him juggling duties. The film offers a fantastic supporting cast in Emma Thompson and Ray Winston. Emma Thompson is the most consistently hilarious in the entire equation as Barney’s ex-prostitute mother Cemilina, who’s glazed in more wrinkles and make-up than Dame Elizabeth Taylor’s corpse. But on the whole, Barney Thomson is a far cry from the same blackly comic halls of British cinema as Trainspotting, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and Sexy Beast, where this movie so clearly desires to be. It’s the botched haircut you’re just not sure what to with.

Michael Lee

15A (See IFCO for details)
123 minutes

The Legend of Barney Thomson is released 24th July 2015

 

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Men, Women & Children

Still from Men, Women & Children

DIR: Jason Reitman • WRI: Jason Reitman, Erin Cressida Wilso • PRO: Jason Reitman, Helen Estabrook, Jason Blumenfeld, Michael Beugg, Mason Novick • DOP: Eric Steelberg • ED: Dana E. Glauberman • CAST: Adam Sander, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer, Ansel Elgort, Kaitlyn Dever, Olivia Crocicchia, Emma Thompson

 

Men, Women & Children sees former wunderkind Jason Reitman return to a contemporary subject, after a baffling diversion into romantic melodrama with last year’s Labour Day. Unfortunately, Men, Women & Children is a far cry from Reitman’s masterpiece, 2011’s thrillingly tart Charlize Theron vehicle, Young Adult. Like Reitman’s other more successful features, Juno (2007) and Up in the Air (2009), Young Adult was a character study with a fairly narrow focus. Men, Women & Children, by contrast, is a multi-stranded portmanteau piece, in the vein of Paul Haggis’s Crash (2004) or Alejandro Gonzáles Inárritu’s Babel (2006). Although ostensibly lighter in tone than either of those films, Men, Women & Children dutifully replicates their central oxymoron – attempting to vindicate the diversity of human interaction by reducing it to a schematic.

 

Orbiting around the idea of how technology facilitates the increasing isolation of the very people it claims to connect, Men, Women & Children hones in on a selection of suburbanites in present day Texas, including a jaded married couple played by Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt, a pair of disaffected teenagers played by Ansel Elgort and Kaitlyn Dever, and two contrasting mothers, one of whom (Jennifer Garner) tirelessly monitors and restricts her daughter’s internet and phone use, while the other (Judy Greer) prostitutes her nubile daughter’s image on a subscription website. A trite framing device, in which the travails of these people are cross-cut with the progress of the Voyager satellite through space, seems to suggest that their interactions are emblematic of present day human society in general. In so doing, the film sets out to debunk the myth of the “global village”, while unselfconsciously perpetuating the false notion that new-technology communications are a genuinely global phenomenon. Emma Thompson’s narration, which sets descriptions of space exploration alongside observations of the masturbatory habits of middle-aged Texan fathers, underscores the point, although the self-satisfied smirk with which it is delivered doesn’t make the medicine go down any easier.

 

The film suffers from the curious problem of feeling didactic about nothing in particular. Many critics have read it as alarmist or hectoring, although that doesn’t seem to be quite accurate. Instead, Men, Women & Children attempts to cultivate a kind of studied neutrality, presenting its “findings” without explicit comment – at least until the very end, which wraps things up in a sentimental bow. The problem with this approach is that not one of the film’s observations is new, and its technique – in which artificial suspense is created by cross-cutting multiple story arcs in an attempt to disguise that each one is predictable as a metronome – undermines the quality of its performances. Sandler and DeWitt, particularly, are very good, given how little they have to work with; Judy Greer, likewise, makes something uncomfortably credible of a part that could easily have slid into caricature.

 

It’s a shame, however, that Reitman is more concerned with a banal thesis based on flattening the differences between people, than with the kind of drama that emerges from their complexity. Substituting characters for specimens, Men, Women & Children is as reductive as the new media it examines. There’s a certain grim irony, then, in the inevitable social media marketing campaign, which invited people to distil their inner thoughts to 135 characters and tag them with “#mwc”. Judging by the film’s disastrous performance at the U.S. box office, it seems not many people were interested. Perhaps they pre-emptively took Reitman’s message to heart, put down their smart-phones, and talked to each other instead – presumably about a film that had something more interesting to say.

 

David Turpin

16 See IFCO for details)
119 minutes.
Men, Women & Children is released 5th December.

Men, Women & Children – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Saving Mr Banks

SAVING MR. BANKS

 

DIR: John Lee Hancock  WRI: Kelly Marcel, Sue Smith  PRO: Alison Owen, Ian Collie, Philip Steuer  DOP: John Schwartzman  ED: Mark Livolsi  MUS: Thomas Newman CAST: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Paul Giamatti, Colin Farrell

Saving Mr Banks tells the story of how the very uptight author Mrs. P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson) was persuaded by Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) to allow him to adapt her most famous work, Mary Poppins, to the big screen. The film centres on the seemingly irreconcilable culture clash between the pernickety British-Australian author and the gosh-darnit informality and enthusiasm of her American wooer. Travers despises vulgarity, which, for her, might neatly be summed up as everything that Disney produces. As the insistently “Mrs.” Travers shoots down the reasonable suggestions of Disney’s long-suffering writer and composers, we discover that many of the details she cherishes in Mary Poppins resonate with her own experience growing up with her loving, but alcoholic father (Colin Farrell) in Allora, a remote town in Australia. The Disney Machine circa 2013 gets under our skin and cranks up the lump-in-the-throat factor to show how 1960s Disney got beneath Travers’ hard exterior and cranked up the lump-in-the-throat factor to win her over. The seduction of Travers makes us conscious of how we too are being seduced. It is our inescapable awareness of the calculation behind this effort to win her—and us—over that robs the film of the poignancy it longs to evoke with its flashbacks to Travers’ childhood.

Thankfully the lighter aspects of the story win out, because the grittier aspects of reality on show—Farrell’s alcoholism and Travers’ loneliness—are so filtered through coats of movie gloss as to feel quite unreal. The film stays afloat on deft performances from Thompson, Giamatti and especially Hanks, whose avuncular Disney blots out some of the more recent and less pleasant revelations about the real man behind the House of Mouse.

It’s nice to see the official Disney logo on an original drama, but it’s a shame that its backwards-harking vision—nostalgically mining Disney’s own filmography—makes it a piece of Disney’s larger project of looking the past to come up with material to fuel its dream factory today. Whether it is the purchase of Lucasfilm, the sequel (and prequel)-isation of Pixar’s earliest and best work or the Disney Infinity “multi-platform experience,” the world’s most successful film studio is no longer venturing outward in search of material, but rather has turned entirely inward, and is fracking its own landscape of licenses to generate “content.” It would be sad if this nostalgic strategy were to someday throw up a Saving Mr Hanks and the serpent choked a little harder on its own tail.

Tony McKiver

PG (See IFCO for details)

125  mins

Saving Mr Banks is released on 29th November 2013

Saving Mr Banks  – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Brave

DIR: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman • WRI: Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman, Irene Mecchi • PRO: Katherine Sarafian • ED: Nicholas C. Smith • CAST: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters

Once the epitome of originality and peerless brilliance, Pixar seems to be suffering from a lack of new ideas of late; their two previous releases were Toy Story 3 and Cars 2, and on their upcoming slate they have the 3D re-releases of Monsters Inc and Finding Nemo, with the former then getting a prequel and the latter rumoured to be getting a sequel. And now we have Brave, which from the trailers has it look like a princess-in-peril movie that would be more at home as a B-List entry from mid-80’s Disney, rather than from the people who gave us the immaculate Wall-E.

But as we know, trailers can be deceiving, with 90 amazing seconds causing us to part with our cash, only to end up watching 120 craptacular minutes. But with Brave the opposite is the case, since the trailers are dull and almost devoid of plot details, but the movie itself is full of emotion, action and visual wonder. And since Pixar decided not to reveal the major plot points of their movie, this review shall follow suit, but let’s just say that there is a lot more to this movie than initially meets the eye.

Merida (perfectly voiced by Kelly McDonald) is the daughter of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), who are in the midst of organising her arranged marriage. But Merida has other ideas, so she runs away from home and into a witch (Julie Walters), who grants her one wish to help her change her fate. But this wish comes with disastrous repercussions, and its then up to Merida to right the wrongs she herself has caused.

As per usual, the visuals Pixar provide are astonishing, from the lush vistas of Scotland to the lush scarlet vibrancy of Merida’s hair, the film is never less than beautiful. At times the film is genuinely hilarious, properly scary and truly relatable, and while the story might a seem a tad basic next to the outlandishness of Up or The Incredibles, it has the feel of a company finding its footing again after the misstep of the Cars series. Here’s hoping that their next original outing puts them right back on top.

Rory Cashin

Rated PG (see IFCO website for details)
100 mins

Brave is released on 3rd August 2012

Brave– Official Website

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Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang

Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang

DIR: Susanna White • WRI: Emma Thompson • PRO: Tim Bevan, Lindsay Doran, Eric Fellner • DOP: Mike Eley • ED: Sim Evan-Jones • DES: Simon Elliott • CAST: Emma Thompson, Ralph Fiennes, Maggie Smith, Rhys Ifans, Maggie Gyllenhaal

Emma Thompson once again pens and stars in a candy-coloured film adaptation of the children’s books by Christianna Brand, following a very strict and very ugly nanny who brings order and manners to a household full of naughty children. This outing sees the titular character nursing a farmhouse family whose father is off at war. The mother, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, is obliged the sell the land to her nasty brother (Rhys Ifans), a slimy character who will not rest till he gets his way. Meanwhile the children’s vile London cousins come to stay – two little brats who balk at the state of the earthy farm abode.

Enter Nanny McPhee – an otherworldly being who appears when a family needs her most – squashed-nosed and snaggle-toothed, she calmly teaches the children five important lessons, though when things get out of hand she must employ the same supernatural technique of setting down her walking stick as she did in her previous adventure, and to spectacular effect. Nanny McPhee attempts to set the household to rights using these very methods, while the family struggle on with their visitors and hope against hope that their father will return.

Thanks to Emma Thompson’s involvement, the film boasts an impressive array of British thespians, including Maggie Smith, Ewan McGregor and Ralph Fiennes as a senior WW2 army officer. Though characterisation is hardly profound in a story such as this, each actor has their moment to shine – and Gyllenhaal, as the young mother, sports a flawless British accent and conveys her trademark maternal emotion when needs be. Production values are stellar, with all the period details on display. The film whisks along at a nice pace and never gets bogged down in one place – Thompson’s adaptation is wrought with real warmth and wit, and once again she works wonders on-screen under layers of prosthetics, with every wry glance and raise of the eyebrow worthy of a laugh.

Setting the story of against the backdrop of World War II is very smart move – the ‘big bang’ in the title referring to the imminent threat of bombings during this time period. This gives the film a foundation of realism that the previous movie lacked…however, there’s little room left for war-time misery in the thematic threads of this story – you’re more like to find a group of piglets doing synchronised swimming than any sign of a swastika.

Ultimately, this is a family film, written for children – talking to them, not at them and carrying a very sensitive message at its heart. There are no double-entendres for the adults the snigger at; this is harmless entertainment at its best. It may not be a new classic but it’s nice to see something like this making its way to our screens during the Easter break.

Eoghan McQuinn
(See biog here)

Rated G (See IFCO website for details)


Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang is released on 26th March 2010

Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang – Official Website

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