Paddington 2 *****

Most people know who Paddington Bear is; a classic childhood character that loves marmalade sandwiches and travels from Peru to London, where he comes to live with the Browns. The first film three years ago did an enchanting job of introducing the bear to the Big Smoke, complete with some fun and memorable moments (like the bathroom flooding scene) and a villain in taxidermist Nicole Kidman.

Having established the bear, the sequel ups the ante, delivering a wonderful storyline fans can really get on board with. Now settled with the Browns, Paddington decides to buy his Aunt Lucy a 100th birthday present. However, the present he wants costs too much, so he reserves it until he can collect together enough money. Sadly, the gift catches the eye of vain local actor, Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant). Then it goes missing from the shop in an apparent burglary. Paddington gets into trouble hunting the culprit, resulting in him having to clear his own name.

The excellent returning cast of Ben Whishaw (voices Paddington), Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters etc is always a positive. The location also plays on nostalgic London – the kind tourists seek out, where affluent Brits can be as eccentric as they please in their own local community, rendering a bear living in their midst as ‘normal’. There is also the introduction of an old-fashioned fun fair to enchant further in other scenes and hark back to childhood memories.

This film is better than the original because there is an actual adventure to follow and two brilliant new characters; camp Buchanan (Grant) and menacing prison chef Knuckles McGinty, played by Brendan Gleeson. Adventure-wise, the story leads us (and the bear) to all kinds of places, some you wouldn’t expect Paddington to be in. But through his impeccable manners and innocence, he wins over hearts and minds – just another part of the whole film’s charm.

Grant steals the show though – this will be sweet music to the musical-theatre-loving thespian he plays. Grant is having a ball hamming it up – so do we watching him. This climaxes in a colourful finale that will have you in hysterics, especially as the actor has proclaimed not to be too fond of dancing. In contrast to the showy Buchanan, Gleeson’s no-nonsense Knuckles goes on a personal journey, thanks to Paddington. There is even a scene straight out of a Bond/Bourne film that bonds the unlikely pair further.

Paddington 2 is good-value family entertainment, with all kinds of characters in the mix, but still enjoying the full support of the Browns – not relegated to the sidelines as the bear goes on his hunt/adventure, but still very much in action. Do catch this if you can!

5/5 stars

By @Filmgazer

Follow on Twitter

LFF 2017: The Killing of a Sacred Deer *****

It is becoming increasingly difficult to describe a Yorgos Lanthimos film to the uninitiated. The Greek writer-director first came to international attention with his odd but endearing dystopian drama, The Lobster, about people having a limited time to pair off in a hotel, before being turned into an animal of their choice. Two years on, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is equally perverse, though chillingly more sinister in nature. It also reunites Lanthimos with actor Colin Farrell who is enjoying a career-defining change with such misfit characters – and lots more facial hair.

Farrell is Steven Murphy, a successful heart surgeon married to medic Anna (Nicole Kidman). They have two children. Steven is forced to make an unthinkable sacrifice in his family, after taking a strange young man called Martin (Barry Keoghan) under his wing.

The story plays heavily on the supernatural, the fear of the unknown. It is quite clinical in its approach, from the wide vistas of the hospital to the equally lofty rooms at Murphy’s home. What makes the status quo even more absurd and detached from reality is Lanthimos’ curious script, co-written with Efthymis Filippou. Through the terse (sometimes shocking), banal chitchat – think the unfiltered subconscious having a voice – comes a wealth of emotion from the characters. They seem cold and aloof at the start, but actually, as disaster comes ever closer, there is more urgency and feeling in their rapport.

Farrell and Kidman are compelling as a screen couple – subsequently going on to film The Beguiled after this. However, credit goes to Keoghan whose ‘immortal’ Martin is the most fascinating character overall. Keoghan begins by making him vulnerable and inquisitive, until something unknown penetrates Steven’s closeted and privileged lifestyle. Then it is too late. This is a superior supernatural thriller, utterly unique in execution – even the roaming camera has a mind of its own.

5/5 stars

By @Filmgazer

Follow on Twitter

The Railway Man ***

the-railway-man

Colin Firth has done some of his finest work recently since The King’s Speech, reaffirming his dominance in British screen drama. Therefore, a film based on the memoirs of British WW2 veteran Eric Lomax, who survived the gruelling hardship of working on Burma’s railway as a POW, and starring Firth as Lomax promises another resounding screen success. Indeed, Firth makes the most of a disjointed plotline that sadly stops and starts and carves up any dramatic nature that such a real-life story should strongly and consistently evoke.

Lomax is a railway enthusiast who meets and falls in love with a fellow travelling companion, Patricia Wallace (Nicole Kidman), who later becomes his wife. However, Lomax has a dark and haunting past as a WW2 POW working on the new railway, ‘Death Railway’ in Burma. This causes him repeat nightmares and continual psychological torment, years after the war has been over.

Patricia resorts to finding out more from Lomax’s fellow former POW, Finlay (Stellan Skarsgård), after her husband refuses to talk. One day Lomax discovers his key torturer is still alive and helping run the country’s Kempeitai War Museum, dedicated to Death Railway’s fallen, and decides to confront him in the hope of ridding Lomax of his demons.

The film’s beginning promises superior and complex subtle tones and menacing unease to come, with an endearingly awkward union between Firth and Kidman. Both acclaimed actors play to their strengths in the limited screen-time they have together. However, director Jonathan Teplitzky and screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce’s script seems to keen to plunge us into the WW2 setting as soon as possible, without allowing breathing space and character empathy to first grow. There is an unsettling curiosity and delayed answers as to the root of Lomax’s temperament that do benefit from the time-jumping plot.

Indeed, Jeremy Irvine as the young soldier Lomax fares very well in this respect, giving a standout performance as the young engineer who takes the fall and the brutal punishment from his captors for trying to build communication to the outside world. Irvine, who is no stranger to wartime roles (young star of War Horse), has found his niche here in a more sobering and serious part, and gets full credit.

That said as uneven as the story flows and sometimes languid in parts, Teplitzky gives dramatic centre-stage to Firth in the present day as Lomax when confronting his tormentor Nagase, aptly played by Hiroyuki Sanada. This should be the ultimate redemption scene, full of emotive power but feels a bit of damp squib in hindsight, with the most powerful impact being the end scene on the railway tracks and subsequent real-life photographs in the end credits. It feels as though Firth is holding back in authority and vengeful nature that the whole story has been building to, which is disappointing.

What is a remarkable real-life tale feels short-changed in the hands of Teplitzky and team, even though there is just enough characterisation and unimaginable hardship to get immersed in. The lasting sentiment of The Railway Man is not as dramatically compelling as one might have hoped for, and this is probably a factor of the jumbled plotline, rather than acting ability. Still, such a tale deserves our full attention, and the cast is a stellar one to admire, as well as the stunning production values.

3/5 stars
By @FilmGazer

Follow on Twitter

Just Go With It – 3*

If there’s a romcom on the horizon, chances are it stars romcom babe Jen Aniston playing her usual tart but loveably dizzy character – not far removed from her Rachel days in fact. So, without knowing much more, the film immediately sparks interest. But Aniston teamed up with manly hunk Gerry Butler in The Bounty Hunter last year, and that stank to high heaven. So, Aniston opposite ‘asexual’ Adam Sandler (sorry, Adam) seems a little far-fetched in the chemistry stakes. Sandler may always want to come across as your average man’s man, the likeable ‘guy next door’ – a comfortable stance to take, but setting the gorgeous Aniston’s heart a flutter in a film seems a long stretch.

Well, Aniston helps by dumbing it down for starters in this, playing Katherine, a single mom with two (irritating) kids who is not only Sandler as plastic surgeon Danny’s office manager/medical assistant, but his best friend, and the one who (surprise, surprise) knows him best. After keeping the ‘downtrodden married man’ routine going when an attempt at getting hitched turns sour, Danny finds the woman of his dreams in Palmer, a stunning blonde maths teacher (played by swimwear model Brooklyn Decker) at least 10 years his junior, and tries to convince her he’s the genuine article. Along comes Katherine as the ‘fake ex’ to save the day, and help spin one big fat lie after another. As you can guess, the Doc sees sense at the last minute, and the rest is history in glorious Hawaii.

Aniston attempting to look dowdy aside – greasy hair, specs and a pashmina is not going to convince anyone, there is a warmly witty banter going on between Aniston and Sandler to enjoy that seems effortless. Naturally, neither offers anything new to their history of romcom appearances – including their bog-standard attire, with Sandler still dressed in his trademark baggy jeans as a plastic surgeon (come on), and Aniston letting those famous tanned pins out for an airing in some of the best footwear of the season.

For us females who often scowl and covet for Aniston’s toned physique, there’s an added secret pleasure. It’s the biggest question of the lot: Who’s the fittest in the itsy, bitsy bikini? Aniston or Decker? There is a Bo Derek 10 moment when bikini babe Palmer comes out of the water like a lost Bond girl who’s just gone for a quick ocean swim, so even before you get to the ‘girl pissing contest’ by the Hawaiian waterfall, Decker’s in the lead for the gong for ‘top totty’. Move over, Jen. And to add to the fortysomething’s woes, Decker is a nice surprise – yes, the model can act, and actually gets to deliver some funny lines, albeit in a goofy manner. It’s no easy feat either, considering whom she plays opposite. The only bile-inducing moment is when they wheel in her real-life hubby, Andy Roddick, for a magical meeting cameo in the Mile High club.

The comedy show stealer by far, though, is Nicole Kidman as the ultra-competitive Devlin Adams, Katherine’s acidic-tongued and insensitive school nemesis who has ‘foot-in-mouth’ disease. Kidman in a part against type is utterly hilarious and has an obvious ball in the process, so this comes across well. Musician Dave Matthews is her equally nauseating husband, Ian Maxtone Jones, supposed iPad inventor, who’s in denial of a different sort. There’s a ‘coconut decider’ that involves Devlin, Ian, Katherine and Danny that’s a real hula howler.

The film also stars Nick Swardson as Danny’s egit cousin Eddie, who comes along for the paradise ride, and pretends to be a sheep exporter and Katherine’s new flame as part of the plan. His appearances turn the film back into a Sandler schoolboy farce, but they detract some of the idiocy away from Sandler who comes across as a wiser being in this.

There are the token kiddies meant to twang the heartstrings, with Bailee Madison as a little Cockney (in the very loosest terms) haggler and Griffin Gluck as her shy brother, Michael, who wants to swim with the dolphins – queue Hawaii. As young actors go, they irritate the hell out of you as they try to be as funny and quirky as their adult counterparts, but are a necessary evil in the plot. The film also has some highly bizarre injects of ‘humorous’ scenarios or set-up shots, like the kid getting Mom with a drink in the car park as Danny’s ‘family’ stride with purpose towards the camera in the background. It’s one of the many slow-mo moments for those who haven’t quite realised how stunning Katherine/Aniston is now she’s all scrubbed up. Plus Palmer does a proper slow-mo Bo moment for sheer titillating purposes, so something for the boys to enjoy.

As the title suggests: just go with it, and take it how you think it will be – you’ll be spot on, either way. You will find some sunshine laughs, though. This isn’t a Devlin by far – you need to see the film to understand this in context, but rest assured there will be plenty using this turn of phrase afterwards, so pity any real Devlins out there. There are far worse romcoms out there at present – not looking at anyone in particular, Kate Hudson

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer