JUMPCUT All The Way: Love Actually (2003)

Directed by: Richard Curtis
Starring: Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley, Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy, Colin Firth

Written by Cameron Frew

Films are a mixture of wine and perishable meats; some grow better with time, others do not age well at all. Love Actually is one such picture that has somehow fallen into both categories for the public: some praise its knowing cheese and saccharine, uplifting qualities; others (often quite furiously) criticize its mishaps and moral ambiguity, particularly among one or two of the umpteen sub-plots in this festive jamboree of laughs, sadness and joy.

Perhaps the most quintessentially British outing in the Christmas watchlist each year, the first sequence is a capture of reunions, hugs and happiness at London Heathrow airport. Then eases in Hugh Grant’s monologue, rekindling even the slightest ashes of lovesick hopelessness. He speaks, rather gently, of how love is “actually, all around”, the fact that any phone call that came from the Twin Towers on that fateful day wasn’t filled with messages with hate, but with, well, love.

Richard Curtis had long-established himself as a writer of spirited, kind-hearted comedy long before here. Four Weddings & A Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’ Diary – he wrote them all. But this was his first foray into directing, and that debutant nature flairs up occasionally with the odd overlong placeholder shot of a decorated cityscape or the River Thames. But this is generally impressive for someone on such hefty screenplay duties as well as captaining the ship.

A brisk run through of the plot then, shall we? It’s essentially similar to Crash, but a romantic comedy. We follow eight couples that are loosely connected in their own ways in the lead up to Christmas Day. New loves are found and old loves are fractured along the way, but the most important thing to remember is that all you need is — okay I’ll stop now.

There’s Bill Nighy, a faded rock star releasing a trashy Christmas single with his manager (Gregor Fisher). The former is amusingly brash and uncouth and wonderfully played by Nighy, who clearly had the time of his life with the role.

Then we have Colin Firth as a man forced out of his relationship by his adulterous girlfriend and brother (try not to cringe when you hear “hurry up big boy”), taking peaceful refuge abroad when he meets the woman who will change everything (Lúcia Moniz). For all the grander tales of affection, Firth’s is much slighter – not as easy to invest in, but by its sweeping zenith, you’ll fall head over heels.

There’s a handful of smaller, fleeting sub-plots which lack depth but pack in some great jollity. Martin Freeman and Joanna Page star as A-list stand-ins for movies; in this case, they’re in a sex scene. But nattering sparks fly and every moment they share has a cheeky, modest glee. Kris Marshall, after failing to woo the female population of the UK, decides to go to America, where he believes he will be a hit with the ladies. This is one particular instance where Curtis really invites you to be in on the joke, allowing the sort of fantasy many would probably dream of to unfold without any boundaries – and it’s hilarious.

Still in cutesy territory, there’s Liam Neeson as a recent widower, left to raise his stepson (Thomas Sangster), who so happens to have fallen for a classmate at school. She’s the cool girl, who “has no idea who he is”. In terms of bravura exuberance, this is the most effective relationship of the movie, again reaching a stunning finale that’ll have you cheering at the screen and wiping away the tears.

If you’re a Love Actually novice, get used to the idea of crying. This is not a saga free from heartbreak. We’ll start with Laura Linney’s story; she’s in love with a colleague, with whom she shares the odd flirty glance but remains to shy to do anything about it. After a push from her boss, Alan Rickman, wheels start turning. But there’s one problem; she has to always be available on the phone for her brother with special needs. Thankfully, this isn’t played for comedy at all; in fact, it’s potently bittersweet, hitting home a really selfless message where others opt for grand, romantic gestures.

The gestures are sometimes pointed in the wrong direction. The queen of queens, Emma Thompson, is Rickman’s wife. While she is self-effacing and affectionate, he is rather distant. Could be because he’s more interested in the office secretary (Heike Makatsch), who flouts decorum with her demands of “something she wants” and spreading of her legs. Rarely does infidelity evoke such rage; when Thompson realizes her husband’s dirty deeds, she shares a poignant moment with herself to the sound of Joni Mitchell (also, beautifully framed by Michael Coulter). As those tears stream, your fists tighten; it’s one of the most beautifully performed bits of acting you’ll see in an otherwise fluffy piece.

Whereas that’s a story of outright immoral actions, Andrew Lincoln’s is a bit more dubious. His best friend, Chiwetel Ejiofor marries Keira Knightley. But Lincoln is repeatedly cold to her, almost aggressively rude, like she sours his taste buds just from the mere soundbite of her voice. But the old maxim is wee boys pull girls’ hair because they like them. When this internal conflict comes to a close in arguably the film’s most iconic scene, your enjoyment is based on how well you can strip away your ethical thoughts on the matter.

But of all the aspirational fairytales, it’s Hugh Grant’s. He stars as the newly instated Prime Minister, who has an immediate fondness for one of Downing Street’s household staff, Martine McCutcheon (who has an expertly exclaimed dose of swearing: “Where the fuck’s my fucking coat?”). There’s a real charm in their growing liaison, with all their interruptions you constantly route for them. This includes the disruptive, devious President of the United States (Billy Bob Thornton), who functions as an overblown but very effective caricature of the sort of smugness in politics that seems to come with birth across the pond.

But the way they all flow together is nothing short of inspired. You can’t argue that it was a phenomenon, and is readily established as a modern classic in the December genre. For what could have been a self-congratulatory exercise in bringing together a who’s who of rising and veteran stars, Love Actually is remarkably uncorrupted (despite the problematic nature of a few plot points). It’s a thoroughly British affair; endearing, involving, witty. But it’s also an ode to outlandish acts and tolerating hardship, to the necessary evil of tough love and the reparatory nature of a softer touch. Let Craig Armstrong’s uplifting, poppy, crescendo-filled score move and enthral you, and accept that no matter how many times you watch Love Actually, your blood will always boil because of Alan Rickman.

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The First ‘Men In Black: International’ Trailer Has Landed!

The Men in Black have always protected the Earth from the scum of the universe. In this new adventure, they tackle their biggest, most global threat to date: a mole in the Men in Black organization.

Directed by: F. Gary Gray

Cast: Tessa Thompson, Chris Hemsworth, Rebecca Ferguson, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Rafe Spall, Kumail Nanjiani

Release Date: 14th June 2019

REVIEW: Johnny English Strikes Again

Year: 2018
Directed by: David Kerr
Starring: Rowan Atkinson, Emma Thompson, Olga Kurylenko, Charles Dance, Jake Lacy, Ben Miller, Adam James

Written by Chris Gelderd

This 2018 British comedy, the third installment in the Johnny English franchise, is directed by David Kerr and stars Rowan Atkinson, Ben Miller, Olga Kurylenko, Adam James, Jake Lacy, and Emma Thompson.

When MI7, and soon the whole of the United Kingdom, come under attack from a mysterious cyber-terrorist, all modern forms of surveillance and espionage is made redundant. MI7 chief Pegasus (James) and the Prime Minister (Thompson) bring an “old school agent” out of retirement.

Johnny English (Atkinson) and fellow agent Bough (Miller) are tasked to hunt down the source of the terrorist threat and find out who is behind the crippling attacks on the country. Their investigation takes them to the South of France, London, and Scotland.

English and Bough come up against the mysterious Russian Ophelia Bulletova (Kurylenko) and the brilliant techno-billionaire Jason Volta (Lacy). English must use “old school” espionage to unmask the terrorist behind the attacks and save not just Queen and Country, but the entire world…

15 years since Rowan Atkinson’s former credit card advert creation Johnny English hit the big screen going up against John Malkovich, and 7 years since his return to go up against Dominic West, now he is back to take down Jake Lacy. A real international bout of villains that continue to mirror the world of 007.

It’s clear that English returns to action as the world sniffs once more around espionage and spy films. 2003 saw the uncertain future of James Bond. 2011 was mid James Bond / Daniel Craig fever. 2018 sees ‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout‘ reignite the spy genre with new levels set on action, stunts, humour and star quality.

But they’re all so…big and bold and brutal! Rowan Atkinson brings forward his fictional MI7 agent in another round of family-friendly goofs and gags, slapstick antics, face gurning, mumbling and dead-pan comedy of which Atkinson is a master of. It’s just a shame he’s not given MORE to flex his comedy muscles because we’ve seen this all before. Not that it’s a bad thing – if you are still on board with the series for this third outing, you know what to expect and it’s not ‘Casino Royale’.

When bullets and bombs are replaced with baguettes and blow-pipe breadsticks, this is nothing but silly fun in an all too serious world we live in. Cyber terrorism is the narrative here, and perfect reasoning for a spy who uses no cellular phone, no computer chipped car or other means of technology to get in and do the job. The story is actually very well thought out but nothing too taxing. It’s very basic, not very tense, but just the right sort of global-trekking jaunt you need for 85mins of silliness. However, there are a few great set pieces such as stylish Aston Martin driving across the South of France, a well-executed Scottish finale and virtual reality chaos across London.

Atkinson and Miller return as the original duo from 2003 and work just as well together as they did then. Support comes from former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko who is a perfect “is she/isn’t she” femme fatale. Lacy is our charming and glaringly obvious villain from the get-go, and Emma Thompson does her best “not Theresa May” version of a Theresa May-inspired Prime Minister. A good cast and plot that all work much better than ‘Johnny English Reborn’.

The silly laughs come thick and fast from Atkinson, whether he’s failing as a French waiter, failing to infiltrate a luxury yacht, failing to seduce a Russian spy or failing to…well, just failing at most things! Yet it’s that lovable, bumbling but self-assured delivery of physical and verbal comedy that won’t bust a gut with laughter, but certainly have you chuckling away.

The family-friendly themes running throughout are a forgotten gem in this day and age. If something comes across like this, then it’s seen as weak and stupid, but why shouldn’t audiences of all ages be allowed to watch things without swearing, violence, sex or gratuitous action. Tone things down, have some brainless fun for a while and just giggle away as you remember real life shouldn’t always be so serious, intense and loud.

Johnny English is the antidote to in-your-face Hollywood cinema excess, doing it in the most British way possible.

CHRIS’ RATING:

3

REVIEW: The Children Act

Year: 2018
Directed by: Richard Eyre
Starring: Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Fionn Whitehead

Written by Corey Hughes

Richard Eyre’s latest film, ‘The Children Act’, is an interesting project for the esteemed director; a story of a renowned judge and her battle with hard-hitting cases and her dilapidating marriage. It’s part-drama and part-romance, a genre fusion that Eyre is familiar with, which is why it’s frustrating to see his court-room drama crumble away so easily after such a promising opening act.

Emma Thompson is Fiona Maye, a hard-headed, sophisticated, and by-the-book judge who, with her marriage with Stanley Tucci’s Jack slowly crumbling before her, must juggle morality with the law in her decision to approve a blood transfusion for a young Jehovah’s Witness (Fionn Whitehead) who refuses the procedure on religious principle. It’s a heavy topic, but one that warrants its own story; a tale adapted for the screen by Ian McEwan, the author of the source material himself.

The issue at hand is a controversial case, but both McEwan and Eyre are cautious and delicate enough to objectively depict both sides of the debate with no sense of authorial bias, with both sides of the coin being shown with no sign of villainy. Such objectivity is achieved through Thompson’s performance that remains both professional and diligent, with her trademark charm channelling a true sense of moral curiosity about the young boy and his welfare. As the film progresses her character develops in a way that is dependant on her ability to shift between professionalism and her moral obligation as a human being, a juxtaposition that Thompson handles with a great deal of maturity; which is to be expected of course. Tucci, although we don’t see enough of him, is just as fascinating as his co-star, whose scarce appearances throughout the film add an element of banality to the proceedings. His dry exchanges with his wife (“I think I want an affair”) not only perfectly capture the nature of their exhausted relationship, but also showcase his hopelessness as a character; a hopeless romantic who is secondary to his wife’s chaotic professional lifestyle. This is a film that would sink without the duality between the pair, but thankfully their combined on-screen presence maintains the film’s buoyancy.

Where the film does start to sink, however, is with its inability to coherently juggle between the main story of the case itself and the additional sub-plot of Fiona and Whitehead’s Adam’s questionable relationship. What starts as a hard-hitting court-room drama soon plays out as a messy hybridisation of ‘The Graduate’ and ‘The King of Comedy’, a surreal sub-plot that depicts Adam’s irrational romantic and spiritual fascination with the older Fiona – a fascination spurred by his ever-diminishing faith. It feels bizarrely out of place and doesn’t hit the emotional heights that it intends to, culminating in an underwhelming denouement that takes away from the film’s stunning first half.

At its best, ‘The Children Act’ is a fascinating insight into the life of a troubled judge whose marriage is incessantly burdened by her relentless work ethic. But at its most, it’s a convoluted and bizarre story of a young man’s quest for romantic and spiritual self-discovery that is as cliché and as convoluted as it sounds.

COREY’S RATING:

3

The Virtual World Is Not Enough In New Trailer For ‘Johnny English Strikes Again’

“‘Johnny English Strikes Again’ is the third installment of the Johnny English comedy series, with Rowan Atkinson returning as the much loved accidental secret agent. The new adventure begins when a cyber-attack reveals the identity of all active undercover agents in Britain, leaving Johnny English as the secret service’s last hope. Called out of retirement, English dives head first into action with the mission to find the mastermind hacker. As a man with few skills and analogue methods, Johnny English must overcome the challenges of modern technology to make this mission a success.”

Directed by: David Kerr

Starring: Rowan Atkinson, Ben Miller, Olga Kurylenko, Emma Thompson, Jake Lacy

Release Date: October 12th, 2018

Rowan Atkinson Is Back To Save The Day In First Trailer for ‘Johnny English Strikes Again’

“‘Johnny English Strikes Again’ is the third installment of the Johnny English comedy series, with Rowan Atkinson returning as the much loved accidental secret agent. The new adventure begins when a cyber-attack reveals the identity of all active undercover agents in Britain, leaving Johnny English as the secret service’s last hope. Called out of retirement, English dives head first into action with the mission to find the mastermind hacker. As a man with few skills and analogue methods, Johnny English must overcome the challenges of modern technology to make this mission a success.”

Directed by: David Kerr

Starring: Rowan Atkinson, Ben Miller, Olga Kurylenko, Emma Thompson, Jake Lacy

Release Date: October 12th, 2018