DVD review: The Inbetweeners 2

It’s usually a risk for popular television programmes to make the jump to the big screen but in 2011, The Inbetweeners made it look easy. Would a sequel have the same outcome or should they have quit while they were ahead? Three years later, but set only a matter of months after the predecessor, the boys are back for another outing. University life hasn’t been all that it was cracked up to be for Will (Simon Bird) and Simon (Joe Thomas), meanwhile Neil (Blake Harrison) is missing the friendly camaraderie, or the ‘epic bantz’ as he would put it. To escape what has become a mundane existence, the three decide to take a trip down under to visit their friend Jay (James Buckley), who is knee-deep in clunge as one of Sydney’s premier DJs…or so he says. With more immature gags than you could shake a knob at, this British comedy brings us more of the same.
  As well as the humour, the key to the success of The Inbetweeners is how relatable the four central characters are, despite the cringeworthy situations they regularly find themselves in. Out of school, you would think it’d be a challenge to maintain this but by tapping into the travelling culture, and the snobbery around it, it is an intelligent step forward. Many of us lucky to be in our early-to-mid-twenties will be all too familiar with the pretentious, ‘spiritual’ types who take a gap year to find themselves, only to return and tell us about the amazing vibes that we wouldn’t really understand.
  The writers clearly know their target audience and get this satire spot on, down to the last dreadlock. Will’s clashes with backpacker Ben provide highlights as they vie for the attention of Will’s old school friend Lucy. In terms of plot development, a lot is left to be desired as the story moves from one embarrassing set piece to the next, before spending a little longer in the outback than the scene deserved. While there are probably less big laughs than the first film, there are still a lot of chuckles, particularly down to the gormless idiot Neil who enjoys most of the best one-liners.
  It’s the norm in teen-comedies for the actors to be older than the characters, and though this is no different, they have kept up a youthfulness to get away with it. All four are around a decade older than their alter-egos, yet the evident friendship off screen helps this come across on screen as they wind each other up with typical antics such as name-calling, nudging and announcing your pal as a paedophile at a children’s water park ride. Not all typical then, but undoubtedly the connection between the famous foursome is as close as ever, and actually offers up a few nearly touching moments as they share their tales of woe.
  So what’s next for The Inbetweeners? Will we see them complete their transition to adulthood with marriages and kids like the American Pie lot, churning out countless unnecessary instalments and spin-offs? I sincerely hope not. If this is to be their last hurrah, they will bow out on a deserved high point. The latest effort is unlikely to bring an abundance of new fans aboard, but for us existing ones, it’s a must-see.
yellow_staryellow_staryellow_starhalf star
See the trailer:

DVD review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Three years ago, the long-running apes franchise underwent a series of tests, receiving a prequel injection to bring it into the modern day. The sequel to the prequel, set a decade later, is ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’. A simian flu virus born from scientific experimentation has spread across the globe, causing widespread destruction and the collapse of human civilisation. With earth’s resources running out, time is limited and man’s desperation threatens to lead to war with an army of apes who have formed an organised ‘ape not kill ape’ democracy since they were liberated by their leader Caesar, the key survivor from the original. Directed by Matt Reeves, this blockbuster is packed with action and stunning special effects but also has bags of intelligence, making it not only a hugely entertaining but thought-provoking follow up.
  The conflict simmers quietly for a while as we are welcomed into Caesar’s carefully constructed environment in the opening section of the film. We are introduced to his friends and his growing family, and simply marvel at the highly impressive CGI work on display as the apes learn the lingo and ride around on horses. It’s a while before we are confronted with a human face, which is unimportant due to the fact that the apes arguably have more character, each of the new characters stamping their own identities in the story and proving to be much more interesting than the humans.
  The expected man vs. ape dynamic is implemented, triggered by fear of what harm the other race could do to their chances of survival, but this dynamic cleverly twists to become less straightforward when morals come into play. Very soon it’s man vs. ape, man vs. man, ape vs. ape and it’s difficult not to have ounce of sympathy for each and every one of them at one point or another, no matter how skewed their views become.
  Andy Serkis is known for bringing big screen computer-generated creatures to life, highly thought of for his work as Gollum in Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth epics, and with Caesar, he puts in another astounding performance. Nods to his past are touching without being overcooked, and Serkis deserves heaps of credit for the portrayal. Likewise is Toby Kebbell, the man behind Caesar’s tortured adversary Koba; an ape with nothing but hatred for humans who lashes out when Caesar offers them a helping hand. The apes really do outshine the male counterparts, and while Jason Clarke and Gary Oldman aren’t bad in their roles, they ultimately fill the places necessary to carry the plot forward.
  With good and bad on both sides, ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ refuses to offer up the easy choice between man and ape. Instead, we are asked to identify with both through the exploration of families, friendships, loyalties and perhaps most importantly fear. It’s a complex battle which is set to kick off in the next instalment. In terms of entertainment value alone, the apes reign supreme in this visually impressive picture. At the end of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, we had tracked a lovable chimp’s development to intelligent ape. Now he is a fully fledged hero. All hail Caesar.
See the trailer:

Top 5 Tom Hardy Performances

On the back of his latest portrayal in The Drop, proving himself yet again as one of the greatest actors of his generation, I remember my top five Tom Hardy performances. Click the images to see the trailers!
5. Locke
 In Stephen Knight’s car drama Locke, there is only one actor on-screen throughout the whole film. When that actor is Tom Hardy though, it doesn’t matter. He went on to work with Knight again in BBC gangster series Peaky Blinders as the terrifyingly brilliant Alfie Solomons.
My review: Locke
4. The Take
Based on a novel by crime writer Martina Cole, the Sky series helped spring-board Tom Hardy to the maniacal film roles he has become known for. This was the first time I witnessed his work and I instantly became a fan.
3. The Dark Knight Rises
 In a mainstream turn, Tom Hardy took the part of Bane in his stride. His crazed eyes and unique voice as the Batman villain probably makes this his most iconic performance to date.
2. The Drop
 In The Drop, directed by Michaël R. Roskam, he plays bartender Bob Saginowski in a subtle, measured performance. Alongside the late great James Gandolfini, the film showcases the art of acting at the highest level.
My review: The Drop
1. Bronson
Tom Hardy has had his fair share of psychopathic characters to get his teeth into but none more nuttier than notorious prisoner Charles Bronson. Directed by the auteur filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn, the film is a whirlwind and Hardy is at the core.
Notable omissions include Inception, Lawless and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Tom Hardy is soon to star in a Mad Max reboot, a Kray twins biopic where he will play not one but both brothers, and is also in talks to play Elton John. Diverse!

Director interview: Jamie Adams – ‘A surrogate family emerges almost organically – you can’t escape it at Christmas!’


At the 2014 Glasgow Film Festival, I was lucky enough to be introduced to the work of writer director Jamie Adams (pictured above right) when I watched indie gem ‘Benny & Jolene’. His latest feature ‘A Wonderful Christmas Time’, starring Laura Haddock and Dylan Edwards (pictured above left and middle), follows similar themes and Jamie Adams kindly agreed to discuss these with me. See it on-demand from Monday 24th November.

It’s exciting to see that films can now avoid the standard route of distribution, and ‘A Wonderful Christmas Time’ is to be available on demand first and in cinemas after. How did this decision come about and do you see it happening more in future?
 ‘These are digital new wave movies so it makes complete sense that our path would lead to on-demand platforms in the first instance, where a good percentage of our audience will discover the movie. Hopefully it will be backed by decent word of mouth and positivity and the movie heads into selected indie cinemas. This system has been working brilliantly in America this year especially and so to bring this idea to the table in the UK and to be the first to distribute a movie this way in the UK is exciting, and also what we’re about. For our next movie we’re looking at BitTorrent bundles for example. I love going to the cinema and believe it’s where movies come alive but that doesn’t mean both platforms can’t work together and compliment one another, to co exist and actually support one another.’
Your new film clearly looks at the Christmas spell through a perspective we are not used to seeing on-screen, highlighting the loneliness that some face at the time of year. Personally, are you a festive-fanatic or are you a bit of a scrooge?
  ‘I can see there’s a loneliness there sure, but I think that’s because there’s a pressure to spend Christmas with your family and friends – for it to be a collective experience as much as possible. It’s also the time of year where we take stock as individuals and reflect on where we are in our lives and where we want to be so even though we tend to be surrounded by people, close relatives, loved ones, we are all essentially more alone than ever as this introspection seeps into our thoughts. Having said all that family is important to me, it’s the time of year geared toward bringing family to the fore and as such I love Christmas, I have three children and a beautiful wife that get incredibly excited about the festive season. I think in the movie we see that a surrogate family emerges almost organically – you can’t escape it at Christmas, somehow a family environment, and all that entails will emerge somehow! It’s the domestic detail of Christmas and the tension all the traditions bring to a family environment makes me smile! So much opportunity for awkward moments between relatives that hardly talk to one another all year!’
From the films you have written and directed to date, you have pulled in an impressive cast for both, having the brilliant Craig Roberts in ‘Benny & Jolene’ and Laura Haddock in ‘A Wonderful Christmas Time’. Tell us a little about the casting and how these big names got involved…
 ‘Craig (Roberts) noticed that this filmmaker from South Wales was making an improv comedy and that Charlotte Ritchie and Rosamund Hanson had got involved. He got his agent to get a message to me that he wanted in – I sent him a tweet and that was that he was in! Charlotte was the first on board she contacted me via Facebook to say she really enjoyed this short film I’d made with a mutual friend of ours and that she’d be up for making a short together. I then built the story around Charlotte being this Laura Marling type and I contacted Rosamund via Facebook and she called me while I was at work as a Park Attendant (!) We talked about how we’d be in a motor-home travelling into North Wales to a music festival and we’d improv all the way there and back and she loved the idea!
 With ‘…Christmas Time’ I saw Laura (Haddock) in Inbetweeners Movie and thought she was fantastic – the best thing about what is an awesome movie. I found out who her agent was and sent him a long email explaining who I was and that I needed to chat with Laura about making a movie. Again it was the five day improv idea that caught her imagination and after a two hour conversation at Soho Theatre she was in! Actually this is how I discover the actors I would love to work with – I see them in a movie or TV show or play and “fall for them” in a ‘I really want to create a character with them type of feeling ‘… That sounds a bit rude! It’s true though that making indie movies is incredibly difficult so you have to be excited about creating characters and stories with your actors – especially with improvisation. Then I watch them in an interview situation on YouTube, so Laura on a red carpet somewhere being interviewed, and I’ll be closer to knowing whether or not they can improv in the way I’ll need them to. Sometimes it’s award speeches like Sean Harris at last years Baftas – what a speech – so natural and funny – so I’m currently chasing him! To make a movie with him is high on the agenda. Then I contact them via any means necessary that falls short of stalking! Digital platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have really been such a useful communication took for these movies. It’s all about how you approach people though – it’s not as simple as messaging someone and they’ll jump at being in your movie! Agents are really helpful too and they want their clients to be involved in a range of projects and so something like the experience we offer is exciting to a lot of actors. There are so many factors with casting, especially on indie pictures as you don’t have the finance to entice. Your picture isn’t going to raise profile necessarily and for me I don’t have scripts.
 I have stories and character sketches and now I have a few movies to show as examples of my work – it’s a real passion thing – you have to work hard at setting up the projects in such a way that you can juggle actors other commitments so that come your shoot dates they can all be there with you and in the moment. Sometimes you’ll lose one or two along the way because you simply can’t keep all the balls in the air at once – there are too many variables – so I have yet to work with Tuppence Middleton, Sally Phillips, and Alexandra Roach all of whom I’ve come very close to working with on various movies but in the end it hasn’t worked out. Nine times out of ten if you believe in your movie and share that enthusiasm, communicate that enthusiasm using the appropriate form of communication for that particular actor and it’s something they are interested in doing. It doesn’t really matter that there’s no money or profile raising involved – for most actors it’s about being involved in a movie they believe in. That could be as much about the challenge of making it as it is about the final movie. That said having your best work at hand to present as an example of what you do is helpful, enthusiasm will get you through the door but it’s your previous work and the way in which you communicate your passion for the story /character that will attach your chosen star(s)!’
The dialogue in both films has succeeded in coming across very naturally, and the actors have gelled well to the improvisational approach. How much of ‘A Wonderful Christmas Time’ is scripted and how much comes in during production process?
 ‘Thank you firstly! We work hard on achieving a sense of naturalism, especially with the dialogue, which is created over the course of production. In the scriptment (a detailed scene by scene account of the film) there are a few lines of dialogue here and there to give a sense of how a character might talk. I discuss the characters with the actors and these discussions feed into the creation of the characters and how they talk is a part of this. During the shooting of the scenes they reveal their characters in the moment and between each take I might say I liked this or that or didn’t like this or that and the actors readjust accordingly. We go again and again until it’s as good as it can be and I have what I need and then in the edit we make choices on what pieces of dialogue to use where – so in a way we are writing right through from inception of the idea through to the edit and sound mix.’
Following on from the last question, do you have tight storyboards and a polished treatment laid out before you start shooting, or do you let the improvisation take over to tweak and transform parts of the story as you go?
 ‘Storyboards are too rigid and too restricting for me as are treatments in their most polished form. I work hard on creating and writing a good story with great characters full of potential and strong relationships to explore. I begin conversations with the actors – sometimes about the characters – sometimes just about things that are interesting me leading up to the shoot. Then we shoot, and it’s here that I’m guiding the improvisation, always tweaking and leading the talent around me into the unknown and it’s there that we find the gold. Each take is different and builds on the last and  as long as we are staying true to the relationships we are moving through our acts and gathering the material to create the story.
 It’s there that the writing takes place and I truly believe the best cinema allows for freedom of expression in the first instance and that you have to be present during the shoot and in the edit to have the confidence in the talent to express themselves – and to be open to the film presenting itself. It’s difficult to put into words but anyone that’s shot a film will recognise that moment in the edit where the film they were making becomes the film they have made. It’s at this moment that you have to stay strong and react in a positive way to this film that isn’t the film you imagined for years during its formation. That’s where improvisation led movies come into their own because you are always aware that the film will constantly shift and struggle. In being prepared for that I know I’m in the best position to recognise the version of the movie that will play the best with our target audiences, which remain forward thinking, honest and sincere, hopeless romantics with a great record collection and an even better sense of humour!’


From my research, I know you started out as an editor and have documentary experience before you made your own features. Have you always wanted to direct or did the appetite for this come through being involved in previous projects?
‘Since I made my first movie on super VHS back when I was fourteen years old in 1994, I have been a filmmaker, director. I trained under a great documentary maker at Royal Holloway University – Gideon Koppel who made the brilliant Sleep Furiously recently – and I recognised early on that I gravitated to the work of the great improvisers. The French New Wave, Mike Leigh, the 1970’s independent cinema gang of Scorsese, De Palma, Coppola, Altman and more. I mean Woody Allen writes his scripts very quickly in an almost stream of consciousness and encourages the actors to improvise all the time. His camera may be fixed and behaves traditionally but his actors are free to express themselves and that’s why they get award season recognition because they embrace the freedom.
 Improvisation to me doesn’t mean shooting without a script – it means being prepared to live in the moment and make choices in the present not the past. I have worked with some of the best editors we have in Britain and learned so much about pace and rhythm and keeping your audience at the forefront of your mind at all times. This sense of confidence in the edit comes from many years seeing movies emerge as an editor. I’ve also worked as a lecturer in film and as a parks attendant, a shelf stacker in a supermarket, a finance assistant at a holiday park, a fruit and veg shop assistant and more, which have all influenced my approach to film making!’
I’ve seen ‘B&J’ and ‘AWCT’ described as the first two parts of the Jolene Film’s modern romance trilogy. With the former looking at the music industry and the latter at Christmas, can you provide us with any exclusive insight as to the direction of the third?
‘Well it’s called ‘Black Mountain Poets’ so we can assume we’re looking at the world of poetry and poets in some way and I can say that it looks at relationships and romance. I can also say that we have the best cast with Alice Lowe, Dolly Wells and Tom Cullen, amongst others including Josie Long making her feature film debut. Dolly and Alice play sisters Claire and Lisa and Tom Cullen plays Richard, a poet that hasn’t written anything decent for seven years!’
My review – ‘A Wonderful Christmas Time’

DVD review: 22 Jump Street


 After the huge success of 21 Jump Street in 2012, it came as no surprise that developments were soon underway for a sequel. Would it live up to the original or will it be doomed to become yet another unimaginative paint-by-numbers comedy follow-up? In a way, both boxes are ticked but the self-awareness of repeating the formula cleverly causes the audience laugh at and with the film simultaneously. The first saw cop duo Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) go undercover in a high school to investigate a drug problem, based on a 1987 television series. This time around, they do the same, but in a college! Hardly a leap forward in plot development, as the writers and characters will be first to admit, but there are more than enough big laughs to make it work.
  The budget thrown at a second go becomes a recurring joke and despite the gag, the stronger product value is evident in the film itself also. Proceedings open with a hilariously exhilarating chase sequence and a lot of fun has been had with the freedom of milking the profits of the predecessor. Flavours of other recent pictures of the same ilk are to be found, with the frat-pack humour of Bad Neighbours and a finale in Spring Breakers territory, so it seems the Apatow University alumni still don’t mind referencing the work of friends and collaborators. The directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, are known mainly for their work in animation, such as the Lego Movie, and this unrestricted manner lends a playfulness and creativity to their work. Inventive cuts and transitions often add to the amusement, juxtaposing the styles and statures of the leads, and a whacky split screen trip segment involving a fashionable new drug known as WHYPHY is among the highlights.
  Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are both on spectacular form, as Tatum again adapts seamlessly into the improvisational approach to comedy that Hill is associated with. Their partnership, on paper, shouldn’t really be as natural as it appears on screen but you get the feeling that their friendship is genuine which helps the humour on its way. They are joined by a solid supporting cast including Ice Cube who is fantastic as crazed police chief, Dickson. The sub plots are typical but well judged, as are the cameos which get better continuously until the brilliant closing credits which carries the franchise longevity joke further than you could imagine. The magic of ’22 Jump Street’ is that it doesn’t try to be anything it’s not, and because of this, it doesn’t overreach. It already has a winning formula so simply repeats itself, and self-parodies with the wit needed to get away with it, making it the funniest in-joke of the year.
See the trailer:

Film review: A Wonderful Christmas Time


  Christmas films are typically full of schmaltz, sentimentality and festive cheer, building up the hype for yet another fun-filled day spent with family, playing games, eating and drinking to excess and telling bad cracker jokes. To combat this idealised depiction of 25th December, writer-director Jamie Adams continues his indie-rom trilogy of sorts to bring us ‘A Wonderful Christmas Time’, which comes closer to capturing what the time of year can really be like for the single twentysomethings of the modern age. Noel (Dylan Edwards) has returned to his hometown of Porthcawl in Wales after splitting up with his long-time girlfriend to find that his parents are going away over Christmas. This leaves him alone with his thoughts, reminiscing and reflecting over where it has all gone wrong and what to do next. In an attempt to move on past this grey period, he turns to old friends, the local pub and a therapy which involves primal screaming at the edge of a cliff. Here, he meets Cherie (Laura Haddock) who tells him that ‘everything is going to be OK’.
  The improvisational style implemented into the script, as well as the documentary-esque camera work means that the story, and the few characters within it seem incredibly natural. We can relate to Noel as he stumbles his way through uncomfortable conversations and scenarios and this appeals to the very British downtrodden sense of humour where we quite happily cheer for the misfits or losers of society. Because of the free-flowing dialogue, the jokes filter in seamlessly and laughs come both in the deliberately cringey lines and attempts at freestyle rapping, and in the moments of awkward silence. The realism techniques are continued on from the Adams’ last project ‘Benny & Jolene’ which used the music industry as its platform for a dysfunctional love story, and music works its way into the narrative again as well as cinema when Noel and Cherie bond over their shared tastes.
  At the heart of the piece is the forced preconception that everyone should be happy at Christmas and should be having ‘a wonderful time’, despite what they may be going through for the other 364 days of the year. Noel and Sherry’s friendship tackles this idea as well as the emotions we go through at the end of romantic relationships, both wanting to be together but neither wishing to be seen as nothing more than a rebound. Their despair is disguised by alcohol and good company, and the highs are accompanied by an upbeat indie-laden Christmassy soundtrack. Dylan Edwards is superb, a natural at appearing unnatural with his equally impressive co-star Laura Haddock, best known for her roles in Guardians of the Galaxy and The Inbetweeners Movie.
  ‘A Wonderful Christmas Time’ brilliantly sidesteps the notions of joy and celebration surrounding the end of the year, poking fun at traditions to illustrate the true, if pessimistic, sense of the holiday, where we can escape the mundanities to drink and be merry until the hangover sets in and we’re back to the daily grind. That might seem a negative prospect but it is refreshing to see the genre handled in this way, dragging it into the 21st century. The aforementioned indie-rom trilogy from the Jolene production team is two down with one to go, going from strength to strength to reinvent the worn-out formula, presenting the rom-com from new angles with a quirky twist in an ultimately more satisfying way.
See the trailer:

DVD review: An Alternative Reality: The Football Manager Documentary

  A film about a computer game in which you manage a football club might seem like a strange concept but when said game is so integrated in the sport’s language and culture across the globe, it is more than justified. It changed the way fans talk about football and I, like many others – some featured as the talking heads of this insightful documentary – lost hours upon hours of my life to choosing tactics, wages, formations and more for a virtual squad of players. The game has a knack of pulling you in to the point that it nearly takes over everything else. ‘An Alternative Reality’ examines it in great detail, documenting its humble origins through to its current status, finding a satisfyingly healthy balance between being both fun and informative.
 Fans of the game are full of anecdotes, and talk passionately about past glories and near misses. We also like to reminisce over the must-have midfield marvels such as Mark Kerr and Renato. An amusing extremist trend has emerged which involves comically suiting up for those all important cup final days. It is this aspect of the film that provides the most entertainment as from musicians such as Jon McClure and Paolo Nutini to players and coaches, everyone has their fond memories. Ex-Cardiff City manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær was an avid enthusiast back in his glorious Man United days and used to battle it out with Jordi Cruyff on their many away trips. After this film, you’ll find yourself recalling your own beloved eleven or feeling right in the mood to create new memories as soon as you get the chance.
  On a more serious note, the technology and vast research behind the database is discussed at length as well as how the graphics have been improved and enhanced. These sections occasionally verge into dull territory but for die-hard stats fans there is a lot of data to get excited about. Listening to the founding brothers Paul and Oliver Collyer talk about the game alongside studio director Miles Jacobson is fascinating and it is evident that real passion for football as well as the loyal fan base has driven the game forward. Interestingly, Jacobson described the bizarre wonder-kids that never amounted to anything in real life as ‘glitches’ in the abnormally accurate engine but for super-fans, these were gems to behold. In recent times, the developers Sports Interactive have become involved with the real game, allowing clubs to take advantage of the colossal database and precise filters to discover the players with the correct attributes to slot in to vacant positions.
  One of the most decorated managers in football history, Bill Shankly famously said ‘Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that’. It is this dedication towards the ‘beautiful game’ that brings supporters together, and a very similar sense of adulation echoes throughout this funny and enlightening cult film. Whether your old favourite side used wingbacks, a playmaker, a false nine or you preferred the classic 4-4-2, prepare to dust off your disc and go back to the drawing board to become addicted all over again…