Thursday 25 August 2016


Always dreaming of becoming a famous musician, David Brent has decided to use his life savings to take his makeshift band on tour. Stopping off at working men's clubs and student union "shite nights", he's hoping the chance of bagging a record contract is a "foregone conclusion".

It's been more than a decade since the British iteration of The Office left our television screens, and in that time its co-creator and lead actor Ricky Gervais has brought us other shows that tap into his 'comedy of embarrassment' style, such as Extras and Derek. Both proved to be popular shows, but neither managed to have anywhere near the same impact of The Office and Gervais's character David Brent. He's an indelible character who is clearly an exaggerated composite of some of Gervais's most unforgettable character traits, but is he one who warrants his own feature length spinoff?

Picking up the action a decade down the line, Brent's fleeting fame has now all but disappeared and he is back working as a salesman in an office whilst pursuing his musical aspirations in his spare time. He's willing to spend thousands of pounds to embark on this tour, hopefully become a rock star and regain that sense of camaraderie that's been missing from his life; something the film could desperately do with. There's a number of interesting additions to the cast including Roisin Conaughty and Diane Morgan (perhaps better known as Philomena Cunk), but their roles are far too small and a wasted opportunity. Thankfully Ben Bailey Smith (aka Doc Brown) has returned to Brent's world after appearing in a Comic Relief sketch a few years ago, and is able to provide a welcome break from Brent's bravado.

What's missing from Life On The Road is anyone else to take any heat off Brent. There's no Gareth to have his stapler put in jelly, so Brent has to relentlessly endure people's scorn and refusal to interact with him (reducing him to paying for the band's time to have a "social" drink with him). The constant battering of his character is hard to watch, as for all his faults Brent is still a likeable guy. Gervais is still a master at creating audience empathy when these incidences occur, but to see Brent treated this way doesn't always strike the heart plus comedy equation that it hopes to.

It's a disappointment that Gervais employs some unnecessarily broad comic situations with jarring and ill-fitting flourishes to tell Brent's story. A dodgy tattoo? The Hangover films did that. Driving down the motorway singing songs? Alan Partridge did that. Flashbacks to when the character was depressed and overweight? Yep, Partridge did that too. It's hard not to compare Brent's big screen outing to other recent sitcom expansions, and whilst the absurd siege scenario of Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa would not have fit with Brent's style, in comparison Life On The Road seems formulaic and disappointingly televisual.

Life On The Road does miss the old crew, and Gervais's direction misses the presence of Merchant's level head; but if there's one thing that Gervais has managed to master over the years it's the triumphant upswing at the end, and in that respect Life on the Road doesn't disappoint. However, when viewed as a whole journey with this character, it's a bit like sitting quietly in the passenger seat and watching whilst someone continually punches the back of Brent's headrest for 90 minutes. Devout fans of The Office will find moments to cherish, but they're also the ones who'll feel the most let down too.


Sunday 21 August 2016

NERVE review

The premise is simple enough. People decide if they want to be a watcher or player of Nerve, performing increasingly stupid and dangerous tasks to gain money and followers until they're the last one standing.

Emma Roberts stars as Vee, a shy teenager who is too scared to approach the boy she likes at school and takes a passive role in life. When she is embarrassed by her Nerve playing friend Sydney (Emily Meade), Vee decides to sign up to Nerve as a player, quickly hooking up Ian (Dave Franco) a player with a mysterious past whose daredevil antics have seen him end up near the top of the leaderboard.

Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman who gave us the original Catfish film and later directed some of the Paranormal Activity sequels, this film unsurprisingly taps into a world where everything is documented on cameras and phones and put onto the Internet.

Tapping into that thirst for fame through exhibitionism that defines the snapchat generation, it's here that Nerve finds its strongest element. There's something that feels so very current about this film that even in this fantastical reality where things can shift from having no consequences to deadly consequences, Nerve barely seems like fiction. It's completely plausible that some of these stunts could happen, and that there would be people with camera phones lining the streets eager to document it and prove they were there when it happened.

It's not all about adrenaline junkies and exhibitionists, though. Whereas Limitless posited the idea that we only use 10% of our brains, Nerve finds its narrative by using the same statistics about the Internet. The shadowy world of the 'dark web' is casually explored here, digging into the sinister motives behind the entire Nerve game. The film also attempts to throw shade at the anonymity of the Internet, with some degree of success at highlighting the problems that give cause to issues such as Gamergate.

Largely the success of the film can be attributed to its two leads, as Emma Roberts and Dave Franco are an extremely likeable pairing that you want to see succeed. Both actors have previously been weighed down by familial expectations (a headline on Vee's laptop screen cheekily asks, "is James Franco too smart?"), but both are quickly coming into their own as charming and successful movie stars.

Liberally borrowing elements from The Running Man, The Game and Limitless (with a bit of Hackers thrown in), Nerve nevertheless manages to be a consistently entertaining romp through NYC.


Friday 19 August 2016


Taking place over a couple of weeks each August, Film4 returned to Somerset House's grand courtyard for its annual series of Summer Screen films. With premieres of Pedro Almodovar's Julieta and Viggo Mortensen's Captain Fantastic alongside classics like Robocop and highly regarded future classics like Ex Machina, this offered something for all cinematic tastes. Personally, I opted for the Saturday night double bill of Galaxy Quest and The Final Girls, two films that encapsulate the self-referential film geekiness that I love.

We arrived at 7pm to find a DJ in full swing playing retro pop classics and a great atmosphere all around (the group next to us brought Uno and I saw Trevor or Simon, but I'm not sure which one) as people gradually turned up and slotted themselves into every nook and cranny possible on the seating area, like some sort of picnic blanket Tetris. The courtyard really is something to behold, and there was a bar area and appropriately themed print gallery to explore before the sun went down and the first screening started.

This was my first experience of Film4 Summer Screen at Somerset House, largely because I had no idea such a place existed right in the centre of London. Operating as some sort of stately home/art gallery for most of the year, it's also host to some incredible looking audio visual extravaganzas, such as the upcoming Bjork Digital virtual reality exhibition, and uses its unique space as an ice rink during winter. Frankly, it's a little bit amazing, despite the entrance to the toilets looking like the setting for a sequel to Hostel (they were surprisingly clean inside).

In attendance were The Final Girls (not named specifically after the film that was being screened that night, but more so the theory behind it), a film group aiming to highlight feminist texts within modern and cult cinema. They handed out cool little booklets that helpfully broke down the rules of surviving a horror movie, and had screened a collection of new short films before the double bill that explored the tropes of horror movie conventions.

Before the first screening, organiser David Cox gave a lovely tribute to Alan Rickman, who had long been a supporter of the Somerset House screenings and had previously appeared before the screenings of Die Hard and Sense and Sensibility. It was revealed by David Cox that Rickman had agreed to return to introduce Galaxy Quest should they screen it, and after his unfortunate passing earlier this year, it was decided that the film should be screened in his honour. And a fitting tribute to his immense talent it was.

I hadn't seen Galaxy Quest for a number of years but remembered it fondly (particularly when so many people chose to discuss and recommend it after Rickman's death), and it was a joy to see projected in 35mm onto Somerset House's giant screen. The film holds up incredibly well with top performances from Rickman, Sigourney Weaver and Tim Allen, and can rightly be considered as a forebearer to the meta-textual narratives that were to come, including The Final Girls.

It seemed that I was in the minority, but when this season of films was announced, it was the screening of The Final Girls that got me the most excited. A delightfully clever journey through horror movie tropes, I've been a huge fan of it since it arrived on demand late last year, and the chance to finally see it on the big screen was not one to miss. I say that I must be in the minority, as once the crowd had arrived en masse it became clear that people might make the stupid mistake of leaving before The Final Girls even hit the screen. Perhaps I was being naive, but it never crossed my mind that people would buy tickets to see a double bill and then skip out halfway through. Increasing the awkwardness was that director Todd Strauss-Schulson was on hand to introduce his film, and although he urged the audience to not leave and give his film a chance, large swathes did anyway.

I think it's great that so many people came out to celebrate the work of Alan Rickman on the big screen, but whether it was to catch the last tube or just due to sheer ignorance, those who left after Galaxy Quest missed out on a great film that played really well on the big screen. The audience laughed and jumped at all the right beats, and it was a rewarding experience for those that decided to take a chance on this little, under-appreciated film that I genuinely believe in fifteen years time will be held in the same regard as Galaxy Quest is now. Seriously, The Final Girls may not be the most widely known film, but it is the perfect choice for a double bill with Galaxy Quest, and with its subversion and celebration of what makes cheesy horror films so fun to watch, it is exactly the kind of film that is a joy to discover and brag to your friends about seeing it before them. I can understand how some of the audience would have a necessity to get home due to babysitters, travel arrangements, etc, but the entire Film4 Somerset House event has been carefully and lovingly curated. They wouldn't be showing this film unless it meant something.

Watching a film outdoors was a new experience for me, and seeing airplanes fly overhead is a distraction that makes for a nice change to seeing people play on their phones. Thankfully it didn't rain as I hadn't really planned for bad weather, but I was enjoying the screenings so much I don't think a torrential downpour could have shifted me from my spot (I'm basically cursing myself for next year now). Hopefully the introduction of the night tube will solve a lot of problems with early leavers (sadly, launching the weekend after this double bill), and I'm looking forward to finding out what premieres, re-appraisals and crazy double bills Film4 have to offer next year.

Wednesday 10 August 2016


After the events of Batman Vs Superman, government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) puts together a task force of criminals and sociopaths that she believes can do some good in the fight against these new unknown entities.

In the long fought war between Marvel and DC, two things have become abundantly clear; Marvel make the better cinematic versions of their characters, and DC have all the best bad guys. Put those two things together and Suicide Squad was always going to be a risky project. From the title alone this film was different, and the first of the current wave of superhero films to ask the audience to directly identify with the bad guys (Guardians of the Galaxy were always more charming rogues, so they don't count). Of course, bringing in film stars such as Will Smith, Jared Leto and Margot Robbie all but guarantees a high level of exposure, but apart from the Joker, who are these characters?

Leading the pack is Will Smith's Deadshot, a deadly assassin with a code of ethics and a daughter who gives him a reason to live. He's not a widely known character outside of the comics, but provides Smith with enough internal conflict to make his choice of this film over the Independence Day sequel an easy one. The poster girl for the group is Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn, delivering the first live action iteration of Joker's former Arkham Asylum psychologist turned girlfriend. All agreed, with her impossibly wide smile and manic eyes she's perfect casting for the role, and brings a lot to a character that is severely under-written.

Keeping Waller's team in check is Joel Kinneman's Rick Flag; a soldier who has been brought into the fold thanks to his romantic interest in Cara Delevigne's June Moon (aka Enchantress). Flagg is sadly quite a one note character, obeying his orders dutifully and having zero reaction to witnessing his employer murder a bunch of innocent agents; but he's Liberace in comparison to the other soldiers (including Scott Eastwood's GQ), who are so bland they could have been rolled into one character and still be lacking. The most interesting thing about Flagg is that he appears to stop and get a drastic haircut once the shit starts to hit the fan, although this may be explained away by the extensive reshoots and new material that make up the first act.

But, I suppose this is a film about the bad guys, and that it does have. There's something quite hypnotic about Leto's Joker, although that may just be that there's so much dazzle about his appearance it's hard not to stare at him whenever he is on screen, which isn't much. Unlike the much lauded big screen interpretations that have come before him Leto ups the gangster aspect of the character, depicting him as a crazy gangland kingpin/club owner. It kinda works, but the character needs to be better explored when he inevitably reappears to face off against Batman.

Joker's relationship with Harley Quinn provides ample opportunities for some lovestruck lunacy, but their scenes together are mostly limited to flashbacks (oh god, there's far too many flashbacks) and do little to flesh out their connection. It's a shame as there's clear chemistry between the actors, but little chance to let it develop. The same goes for Joker and almost all of the cast. For all the highly publicised disturbing artifacts and live rats Leto sent to his co-stars, he spends almost zero screen time with them. Again, it's a shame, as there appears to be an interesting dynamic between him, Harley and Deadshot that will have to wait to be explored another day.

As for the rest of the Skwad, they're a collection of poorly drawn caricatures and borderline racist stereotypes that know their place is to stand behind Smith and Robbie as they walk down the street in their (anti-)hero poses. Some characters are introduced purely to be killed off or be a walking weapon, whereas others such as Jai Courtney's Captain Boomerang are left with nothing to do but tick a number of bogan stereotypes of the list. Boomerang is a jovial presence and is honestly the best Jai Courtney has ever been; but he's sidelined by the finale and not given much to do.

The most pleasant surprise of the film is Jay Hernandez's Diablo, who despite barely appearing in the trailers and also conforming to a whole checklist of unfortunate stereotypes, ends up being the best character in the entire film. He's the only one with any fire to him, and has a backstory that has given him real conflict about his abilities. The quiet man of the group, he has the depth that characters like Killer Croc and Slipknot could only dream of from their cells.

Having too many characters and not enough 'character' is not Suicide Squad's only issue. Once again the world is threatened by an underwhelming big bad that turns their mission into a game of capture the Flag as it descends into generic action (there are THREE separate helicopter crashes that people walk away from unharmed) and CGI madness. Edited to within an inch of its life, it's clear that Suicide Squad has gone through a few changes on its journey to the big screen; but with his background writing films like S.W.A.T. and Training Day and directing End of Watch and Fury, David Ayer seemed like the perfect director for this film. If he couldn't bring Suicide Squad to us unscathed by the negative response to Batman Vs Superman, no-one could.

Yet, despite all the negative reactions this film has garnered from critics and some audiences, it would be wrong to say I didn't still enjoy it as a generous helping of dumb popcorn entertainment. A masterpiece? No. A let down to everyone who thought this could be the film to put the DCEU finally on the right track? Undoubtedly. But it's still a fun but heavily flawed film, and without the weight of an entire cinematic universe on its shoulders, it could have been brilliant.