Swimming with Men


Rob Brydon is reaching for something.

(2018) Comedy (Sundance Selects)  Rob Brydon, Rupert Graves, Thomas Turgoose, Jane Horrocks, Adeel Akhtar, Jim Carter, Daniel Mays, Nathaniel Parker, Ronan Daly, Chris Jepson, Spike White, Robert Daws, Charlotte Riley, Aschlin Ditta, Harry Demmon, Andrew Knott, Christian Rubeck, Orlando Seale, Luca Ribezzo, Margot Przymierska, Denise Stephenson. Directed by Oliver Parker

 

We all need to blow off steam. Some do it by playing video games. Others do it with hobbies like cooking, gardening and so on. Some self-medicate while others go the sporting route. Some prefer physical exertions; running, working out or swimming.

Eric Scott (Brydon) is an accountant who is spiraling into crippling depression. His job is as boring as you might guess it is, his teenage son Billy (White) has little use for him (as teenage sons will do) and he suspects his wife Heather (Horrocks) who recently was elected to the borough council of having an affair with her obsequious boss (Daws).

Eric waits for six o’clock to check out of life for a little bit, heading down to the local municipal pool to swim laps and sometimes slip to the bottom to drown out the noise of his phone ringing endlessly, no pun intended. There he meets a group of seven men who get together to practice a sport men generally shy away from: synchronized swimming.

Yes, it’s an Olympic sport but only for the ladies. I think men are mainly confounded by the concept of working and moving in unison to create something beautiful. For the most part, the guys that Eric hooks up with – depressed Kurt (Akhtar), confidence lacking Luke (Graves), petty convict Tom (Turgoose), recently widowed Ted (Carter), non-talkative Silent Bob (Jepson), The New Guy (Daly) who refuses to give his name, even though he’s been part of the troupe for more than a year, and frustrated Colin (Mays).

Pool manager Susan (Riley) who knows something about synchronized swimming since she’s dating the captain of the Swedish team, sees something in these middle-aged, paunchy non-athletes. She endeavors to train them, thinking that they can represent Great Britain at the unofficial world championships (and yes, that’s really a thing) in Milan. The men other than Luke (who has a sweet on for the taken Susan) are a bit reluctant but they decide to go for it.

There’s nothing easy about it though and the men find themselves suspecting they are in over their heads. In the meantime, Eric’s marriage is continuing to crumble at an accelerating rate and work has gone from boring to irrelevant. Still, now he has something to believe in – if only his team can believe in each other.

Brydon is in many ways a poor man’s Hugh Grant; he’s a very handsome man who somehow manages to project an almost hangdog expression. He’s the anchor for the movie in more ways than one. I’ve enjoyed him as Steve Coogan’s second banana in the Trip movies but he’s not here doing impressions or wacky voices but relying on his charm and his comic ability and there’s more than enough here to carry the film. That’s a good thing because for most of the first part of the film Eric is quite the jerk.

The rest of the cast, mainly acclaimed British character actors and veterans of British television, acquit themselves well although their parts are mainly one-dimensional. It’s actually a little comforting that sort of thing happens in the UK as well as here. Anyway some of the characters could have done with a bit more depth.

Not all the comedy works and the end is more than a little bit predictable but this is a movie with a whole lot of heart and charm and while critics tend to grouse about movies like this being emotionally manipulative (which never fails to amaze me – all films are to some extent), this one found it a nicely made movie that gave me enough of the warm fuzzies to make it more than worthwhile.

REASONS TO GO: The concept is really nice. The ending is not a shocker but still heartwarming.
REASONS TO STAY: The supporting characters lack depth even though they are well-acted.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, some brief nudity and sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Swedish men’s synchronized swimming team was played by the actual Swedish national swimming team. This film is loosely based on their story.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/8/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 47% positive reviews: Metacritic: 44/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Man on the Dragon
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Snowflake

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Kingsman: The Golden Circle


Being a superspy can go right to your head.

(2017) Spy Action (20th Century Fox) Taron Egerton, Julianne Moore, Mark Strong, Channing Tatum, Colin Firth, Michael Gambon, Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry, Thomas Turgoose, Sophie Cookson, Elton John, Pedro Pascal, Poppy Delevingne, Bruce Greenwood, Emily Watson, Hanna Alström, Edward Holcroft, Keith Allen, Tom Benedict Knight, Samantha Coughlan. Directed by Mathew Vaughn

 

The first film in this nascent franchise, Kingsman: The Secret Service was a thinly veiled satire on spy film tropes and class warfare that included some fairly spectacular action set pieces and a notorious denouement in which a beautiful Swedish princess rewards the hero for saving her life by consenting to butt sex.

Critics of course took great umbrage to the latter and labeled it crass (which it was) and sexist (which it clearly wasn’t; women should be allowed to enjoy sex – even in the posterior – without it being some sort of political statement). There were some issues  revolving around an overabundance of gadgets and gimmicks but it was a solidly entertaining film that left the viewer anticipating a sequel.

So here it is; now that Vaughn has gone to the trouble of setting up his world of gentlemen spies, he decides to tear it all down by having the Kingsmen wiped out in the first act, leaving surviving hero Eggsy (Egerton) and gadget guru Merlin (Strong) asking the American counterpart – the Statesmen – for help (read into that what you want, politically inclined viewer). The agency works out of a Kentucky bourbon distillery and has agents with names like Whiskey (Pascal) who has a way with a whip, Champagne (Bridges) who is the agency head, and Tequila (Tatum) who has suspicions about the Brits. There’s also Merlin’s counterpart Ginger Ale (Berry) who suspects not all is morning in America.

They are up against a vicious, ruthless drug lord with a lavish jungle base. Now, you might have a vision in your head of a Latin hacienda but what Vaughn came up with is Poppy (Moore) who has a fixation on Happy Days-era America and has a bit of an inferiority complex. Lonely and bored in her jungle Main Street lair, she fills her days with vicious robotic dogs and Elton John (playing himself) whom she kidnapped to put on nightly concerts exclusively for her.

Vaughn has always excelled at action set pieces and he does so again here, but the camera work is highly kinetic and as a result many of the sequences are vertigo inducing and may work better for viewers susceptible to such things on the small screen. Still, he has no compunction about going way over the top and so he does here.

In my review of The Secret Service I maintained that the journey was out on Egerton who was lost among the gadgets a bit and here that is not so much the case. He comes off as smarmy and a bit superficial, a change from his cockney street kid turned gentleman spy in the first. It is not, I should say, a welcome change. Here Eggsy is trying to balance his relationship with the Swedish princess with his job as suave superspy. We rarely get a glimpse of his good heart that made him more palatable in the first film. This is what I would call a mistake in direction.

Moore is a talented actress but even she can’t elevate this role above the cookie cutter villain that Poppy turns out to be; all gimmick and no growl. She has her own plan for taking over the world and it’s a fairly clever one but it’s been done before both in Bond and in other imitations. While she has some fun interactions with the most venal President (Greenwood) ever, at the end of the day she lacks the spice to make her a truly interesting villain.

Most of the fun here comes from the supporting performances; Strong makes Merlin the heart of the Kingsmen and he gives the role more nuances than it probably deserves. Berry also shines as Merlin’s counterpart. I loved Elton John here as a kind of venomous caricature of himself, turning out to have some surprising ninja skills in the climactic fight. Never underestimate a gay pop star who has spent a career fighting for the lives of his fellow gay men during the AIDS crisis.

This simply isn’t as good as the first movie. While there are plans for a third film in the franchise and possibly a Statesmen spin-off film, I’m not looking forward to them as eagerly as I did this one. Once bitten twice shy when it comes to movie franchises and I suspect a lot of you out there feel the same way.

REASONS TO GO: Elton John is terrific in an extended cameo and Strong is equally so as Merlin. The fight scenes are hyperkinetic.
REASONS TO STAY: This is really not as good as the first movie. Egerton is too smarmy and Moore too generic.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a lot of violence, some drug use, a bit of sexuality and plenty of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: There are five Oscar winners in front of the camera: Moore, Firth, Bridges, Berry and Elton John, who won for Best Song.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Fios, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Movies Anywhere, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/2/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 52% positive reviews. Metacritic: 44/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Austin Powers in Goldmember
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Blade Runner 2049

Eden Lake


Eden Lake

Kelly Reilly gets a different kind of facial.

(2008) Horror (Third Rail) Kelly Reilly, Michael Fassbender, Tara Ellis, Jack O’Connell, Finn Atkins, Jumayne Hunter, Thomas Turgoose, James Burrows, Thomas Gill, Lorraine Bruce, Shaun Dooley, James Ghandhi, Bronson Webb. Directed by James Watkins

We are trained from birth to jump at things that go bump in the night. We give form to our fears in all sorts of monsters from Godzilla to Dracula. The true horror however lies in the human heart.

Jenny (Reilly) and Steve (Fassbender) are a couple who are taking a weekend trip to an idyllic lake in rural England, a place Steve has happy memories of from his childhood. However when they get there, they discover that an impending development has closed off the lake. Disregarding the “Keep Out” signs, Steve drives into the park-like setting.

The lake doesn’t disappoint – it’s beautiful and placid. However, the couple’s peace and quiet is shattered by a group of teen hoodlums. Led by Brett (O’Connell), they’re mostly obnoxious and a bit intimidating. Rather than moving elsewhere, Steve decides to stay because “they were there first.” Not very mature and not very smart.

Things begin to escalate. The kids steal their car and their things. There are confrontations. They get physical. Brett’s beloved dog is accidentally killed. Things are about to get seriously ugly, and it will be up to Jenny to save them after Steve is seriously injured. Between her is a pack of rabid dogs in kid’s bodies that are baying for her blood.

Watkins makes a film that is a worthy successor to Straw Dogs and other 70s survival movies. Once things get rolling, you will be cringing in your seat and almost begging for the couple to make it. Steve and Jenny are extremely likable and the kids so utterly horrid that there is an easy rooting interest.

Fassbender has come on in recent years to be poised on the edge of stardom, but this movie was made before his higher profile roles of late. His role here is much more of a supporting part; for most of the second half of the movie he is essentially immobile and has few lines. Still, he has an innate likability and it shows onscreen here.

Reilly is really the star of the movie. Jenny is really put through the wringer here – dragged through the mud, burned, stabbed, beaten and betrayed – she is pushed to the limit and beyond. Reilly plays her as a fragile woman who has an inner strength that comes roaring out when cornered. She’s a likable heroine who can also be fierce, pushed to do things that are she must in order to survive.

O’Connell makes for a vicious and brutal gang leader, one of the nastiest to ever be seen on screen. When things get violent, he gets out of control, savaging his own gang members when he doesn’t get his way. O’Connell doesn’t make him sympathetic but he does make him human and not just a cartoon character. The brutality may be extreme but it comes from a realistic place.

This may be an extreme case but there have been reports of incidents of people being set upon by youth gangs in Britain. As things escalate to their conclusion, we can view this as a morality tale that leaves us with a few lessons. First, never underestimate the danger that comes from a pack of people; no matter how young they are. Second, it is a bad idea to stay somewhere when there are clearly dangerous people around, no matter how much it wounds your macho pride. Finally, never come between a boy and his dog. It can only end badly.

WHY RENT THIS: An excellent thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. The leads are attractive.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The brutality can be off-putting.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a great deal of brutal violence, some nudity and sexuality, a whole lot of foul language and a brief bit of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Turgoose first gained critical notice for the movie This is England.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $4M on an unreported production budget; I’m thinking this probably made a little bit of money.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Other Man

This Is England


Stephen Graham needs a big, fat hug.

Stephen Graham needs a big, fat hug.

(IFC) Thomas Turgoose, Stephen Graham, Jo Hartley, Andrew Shim, Vicky McClure, Joe Gilgun, Rosamund Hanson, Andrew Ellis, Perry Benson. Directed by Shane Meadow

In July 1983, England stands at a crossroads. Embroiled in a war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands, suffering massive unemployment, the young people of the UK are looking for answers that are not forthcoming from their government or traditional institutions.

Shaun (Turgoose) is an unhappy 12-year-old boy whose father recently died in the war. When a classmate cracks a cruel joke, Shaun gets into a fight with him, forcing his mum (Hartley) to the school to bail him out. On his way home, he meets a group of skinheads led by Woody (Gilgun), who sympathizes with his plight. In turn, Shaun finds a group of misfits much like himself, angry and frustrated at the way things are.

Shaun finds acceptance within this group and at first things go well. He cuts his hair short and dresses like his new friends – a sort of rite of passage for him. He even develops a romantic relationship with Smell (Hanson), a New Wave girl who hangs with the group. Things change, however, when Combo (Graham) returns to the group after a stint in jail. He is far more politically oriented, blaming many of his country’s troubles on the immigrants from Pakistan, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean, particularly those with darker skins. His beliefs split the group in two. Although Woody wants Shaun in his group, Shaun feels more kinship with Combo.

Through Combo’s now-racist skinhead faction, Shaun gets to express the anger and frustration he feels, and finds scapegoats for his fury. While things never get violent, there’s always violence lurking just below the surface. When Combo severely beats up Milky (Shim), the only black member of Woody’s skinhead group, Shaun’s eyes get opened to the consequences of hatred.

Some of this material is semi-autobiographical. Writer/director Meadow (Shane/Shaun, get it?) grew up in a similar environment and many of the incidents were anecdotal to his own childhood. Given the economic climate here in America, it is a little easier for us to relate to what was going on in England 25 years ago then it probably was three years ago when this movie was first released in the UK.

Graham is incendiary as Combo. He is not really a bad guy, but he has allowed hate to take him over, and that hatred drives him. When it is finally unleashed on Milky, he feels genuine remorse afterwards, horrified and sickened that he was so brutal on a friend. Turgoose does a capable job as Shaun. The movie really turns on having a decent actor in the role, and Turgoose manages to make Shaun a believable character without being overly annoying.

The soundtrack is authentic classic ska, rocksteady and reggae, the kinds of things skinheads actually listened to back in the day. As the group moves into more aggressive behaviors, so the music gets more aggressive. It’s hard to be hateful and violent with a Bob Marley soundtrack, after all.

This is a movie about the evolution of a gang from a benign, harmless group of misfits who hang out because they don’t want to fit in into a violent, racist group looking to enforce their dominance through violence and intimidation. In some ways, it reminded me of the soccer hooligan movie Green Street Hooligans although that movie was less concerned with the evolution of violence more so than the effect of violence on its members. In many ways, This Is England is more horrifying though less visceral; even though there are fewer acts of violence depicted in the movie than in Green Street Hooligans, the effect of watching a fairly normal 12-year-old boy metamorphose into a hateful, prejudiced kid is all the more chilling because it’s the kind of thing that happens every day.

WHY RENT THIS: Graham and Turgoose are both special in their roles. The evolution of the skinheads from benign social outlet into hate-mongering racists is chilling to watch.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: This is very UK-centric and those who are not interested in the world outside their own may have little fondness for this.

FAMILY VALUES: The language is blue throughout, and there are some racially motivated hate crimes depicted. There is also some brief sexuality between a young kid and a somewhat older girl.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Turgoose had never acted professionally before and demand five pounds to audition; he had been banned from his school play for disruptive behavior. The film is dedicated to his mother, who died shortly before filming.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Sleepwalking