Thursday, 21 July 2016

LETTERS OF NOTE: Tom 'Bango' Hanks

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My first post back from honeymoon finds me returning to the deep well of inspiration that is Letters of Note, Shuan Usher's outstanding online library of correspondence which has already produced two highly compelling books (three if you count its sister website, Lists of Note). And what better way to kick things off again than with a huge dose of (over-)confidence on the part of a young Tom Hanks.
In 1974 Hanks was a 17-year-old unknown, still six years away from getting his first acting break on the low-budger slasher He Knows You're Alone. 1974 was also the year that The Sting, the renowned caper film which reunited Paul Newman and Robert Redford, won seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director (for George Roy Hill) and Best Original Screenplay (for David S. Ward).
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Hanks promptly wrote to Hill, with a precocious mix of self-confidence and self-deprecation, asking for the director's help in 'discovering' him - something which Hanks considered would be "all together fitting and proper". He speculates about being cast as a stand-in whose lucky break comes when the star of Hill's next picture (which would be The Great Waldo Pepper, also starring Redford) breaks his leg. He uses the word "bango" a surprising amount, and concludes (with some irony) that he doesn't want to be "some bigtime, Hollywood superstar".
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You can read Hanks' full letter to Hill here. You can find my thoughts on The Sting here, and can also check out my thoughts on Redford's career in this article I wrote for WhatCulture! back in 2014.

Daniel

Friday, 8 July 2016

ANNOUNCEMENTS: I'm Getting Married in the... Afternoon

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So, here we are. Tomorrow is the big day, when I will be getting married to my wonderful soulmate Aimee, in the company of family and friends. We'll then be on honeymoon for a week in Snowdonia - and while there is WiFi where we are staying, I'm not going to be so antisocial as to spend my honeymoon blogging.
In short, you won't see any more posts from me until July 18 at the very earliest. I have a few things in the pipeline, including my review of Hard Candy, but I shall be stepping away from the laptop as much as possible while I'm over the border in Cymru. No doubt you'll cope well in my absence, and we can catch up again soon.

God bless,

Daniel

Saturday, 2 July 2016

DRAMA: Juno (2007)

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Juno (Canada/ USA, 2007)
Directed by Jason Reitman
Starring Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman

One of cinema's most endearing and important qualities is its ability to stimulate debate about the important issues of the day. Films can hold a mirror up to society in a manner which resonates like no other, using a variety of visual and verbal languages to shed light on injustice, hypocrisy and absurdity, and reveal more about ourselves in the process. In an age where the default setting for our culture would seem to be mindless escapism, films which can provoke such a reaction should be encouraged and promoted at any cost.
 
The downside to such an attitude, however, is that sometimes the controversy can overtake or overshadow the quality of a given film as a piece of art or entertainment. Whether it's a given filmmaker pushing the boundaries of taste with how much he or she chooses to show, or simply the inflamatory nature of the subject itself, a film can quickly accrue a reputation which is increasingly far removed from the content therein. We find ourselves in that position with Juno, which when stripped of all the arguments about the whole nine months has held up pretty well after a whole nine years.
 
When Juno was first released in America, much of the attention focussed around its treatment of abortion - an issue which, while far from being a moot point in Britain, doesn't attract the same gulf of opinion as you often find in the States. Both the pro-life and pro-choice communities were quick to defend and criticise the film; the former latched onto Juno's decision not to abort her baby, while the latter - like Lou Lemenick in The New York Post - argued that this was Juno's choice as a free agent with control over her own body. But whatever arguments you most gravitate towards, for whatever reasons, to come down firmly on one side or another is to miss the point.
 
It's tempting when you look at Diablo Cody's later work, like Jennifer's Body, to assume that she is primarily interested in female empowerment and that logically the film is therefore pro-choice. The argument goes that you cannot have a 'strong female character' (itself a dangerously loaded phrase) who isn't in control of her own actions. In fact Cody's writing, at least here, is far more ambivalent, reflecting the indecision and lack of grounding exhibited by the generation she writes for - a generation which picks and chooses the values which suit it at the time, and which struggles with any concept of absolutes or a higher moral standard.
From this point of view, Cody isn't nailing her colours to the mast so much as encouraging a discussion about what values we should uphold and how we should arrive at those decisions. While she has come out as pro-choice outside of her screenwriting, here she is immensely keen for her audience to think for themselves about this complicated, thorny issue.  Her even-handedness has sometimes resulted in films which are conflicted, as was the case with Jennifer's Body; it was torn between being a smart horror film about the sexual power of woman and a scuzzy slice of tittilation for teenage boys. This is where the director comes in, with Jason Reitman displaying a steadier hand here than Karyn Kusama did, reining in Cody's few moments of indulgence and working hard with his compositions and editing to keep the characters focussed and likeable.
 
Juno is not so much a film about abortion as it is about the need to be responsible and mature.   It shares with John Hughes' back catalogue, particularly The Breakfast Club, the notion that children are more able to figure out their problems than adults - or at least, are more willing to openly discuss them. Where a weaker film would have got bogged down in the awkward conversations between Ellen Page and Michael Cera, whose relationship is largely meandering, Cody and Reitman contrast the young lovers with a series of different adult relationships, all of which are dysfunctional in some way. Juno arrives at her decision not because of social attitudes or direct pressure, but from a rejection of the attitudes exhibited by the worst of these people.
The key dynamic in Juno is not between Juno and Paulie, but Juno and Mark, played with unusual reserve by Jason Bateman. Juno is drawn into liking Mark by their mutual taste in music, a frequent jumping-on point in teen dramas and coming-of-age films. She begins to build up a picture of him as a creative, fun-loving would-be parent, but this image is soon challenged by his misplaced ambition to become a successful musician. Mark's failure to put childish ways behind him and take on the responsibility that comes with fatherhood have a huge effect on Juno, leading her to question the loyalty of those she cares most about, and the role of men in her life as a whole.
 
But for all the best efforts of Bateman, very little of this would work without the great central performance of Ellen Page. Having made a name for herself in the terrific Hard Candy and made the best should could of her character in X-Men: The Last Stand, Juno sees her cement her status as one of the best actors under 30 working today. Her character manages to be hip and contemporary without feeling like a caricature of modern hipsterdom; she puts meat on the bones of Cody's language, bringing out the character's anxieties and indecisions without ever over-egging it. Her energy throughout provides a big lift for the other actors, particularly Cera, whose timid and uncertain performance is a million miles from his later work on Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
Credit must also go to Reitman for maintaining such a steady and naturalistic hand behind the camera. Unlike his father Ivan Reitman - still best known for directing Ghostbusters -, the comedy in Jason Reitman's films has never felt forced. You never get the sense that he is contriving a given situation, or rocking back and forth behind the camera praying that something funny will happen. He trusts the performers to get the best out of the material, and his role is to make them feel as comfortable as possible.
 
Juno also manages to retain an indie sheen on a visual level despite looking incredibly glossy and polished. Eric Steelberg has worked with Reitman for most of the latter's career, as well as lensing the overrated (500) Days of Summer two years after this. After the comic-book panel-style opening, which just screams "Sundance Film Festival", the visual style settles down nicely, with emphasis on earthy colours like greens, browns, ochres and deep reds. With such a zinger-laden script, the natural temptation would have been to make the visuals as off-kilter as, say, Ghost World, but Steelberg and editor Dana E. Glaubermann hold their nerve, to their credit and to the film's benefit.
 
Because the film feels so independently spirited despite its professional finish, the pace at which Juno unfolds is likely to divide audiences. It is a much better disciplined film than Little Miss Sunshine; as well as having a better plot from the outset, it avoids both repetition and unnecesary longeurs for the most part. But even at 96 minutes long, it doesn't feel like a brisk, well-refined 96 minutes, and you can sense both the actors and director being tempted to drag their heels at certain points when they really should be getting a move on. The entire scene with the pro-life campaigner is pretty unnecessary; the character is thinly written and Juno already understands what she's up against without it being shouted at her (and us).
 
The one weak link in Juno from a production point of view is some elements of the soundtrack. Many of the soundtrack suggestions for the film came from Page, and for the most part the artists and songs she has put forward are very fitting. The little snippets of punk rock that we get in the second act, including Patti Smith and Iggy Pop and the Stooges, gel really nicely with Juno as a character and counterpoint the incidental score by Mateo Messina. The real howler, however, is the inclusion of The Moldy Peaches, with 'Anyone Else But You' coming to epitomise the film. Without wishing to tar the whole anti-folk scene with the same brush, the song is atonal rubbish which cheapens the ending and makes the film in that moment far too self-conscious and shoegazing for its own good.
 
Juno is a very good second offering from Reitman which soars on both the maturity of its script and Page's gripping central performance. Unlike many films about serious social issues, it avoids being overly preachy or histrionic for the most part, giving its audience plenty to chew on and ponder while constantly making them chuckle. While it isn't perfect, it is a more rounded and satisfying work than Jennifer's Body, and is the yardstick against which all of Cody's subsequent output should be measured.

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NEXT REVIEW: Hard Candy (2005)

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Dumbshow in Dorset

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It's been all quiet on the Dumbshow front for the best part of a year - just as it's been rather too tranquill on the blog as a whole since my review of The Breakfast Club. But now one of my favourite theatre companies, formed out of the genius of Clockheart Boy at the University of Warwick, are bringing their acclaimed creation Electric Dreams to (roughly) my part of the UK.
For those of you who didn't read my preview of the original run of Electric Dreams in 2014, its return to Camden in 2015 or its subsequent appearance at the Edinburgh Festival, the show is inspired by Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine. The play revolves around Rose, who inexplicably has no recollection of the first 18 years of her life. Aided by a group of librarians whose premises are facing imminent closure, she begins a journey of discovery spanning 1950s mind control experiments, the erosion of the welfare state and the second Iraq War.
Before you accuse me of just giving a plug to my fellow Warwick alumni, I'm not the only one who's been singing the show's praises. Lyn Gardner of The Guardian called it "an ambitious piece of political theatre", while Dominic Cavendish of The Daily Telegraphy said that it was "told with conviction, theatrical ingenuity and a touching central performance." In an era of big-bucks escapism, political theatre of this intensity and calibre should be celebrated in Britain, and Dumbshow's track record for quality is impeccable.
Electric Dreams will be playing at the Dorchester Corn Exchange on July 6 from 8pm, at the Marine Theatre in Lyme Regis on July 7 from 7.30pm, and at Bridport Arts Centre on July 8 from 8pm. If you seriously cannot be bothered to come to the West Country (goodness knows why, it's beautiful), the show will also be performed for six nights at Battersea Arts Centre in London between July 12 and 16. To get tickets follow the links embedded here or visit www.dumbshow.org for more details.

Daniel

Monday, 30 May 2016

250TH REVIEW: The Breakfast Club (1985)

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The Breakfast Club (USA, 1985)
Directed by John Hughes
Starring Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall 

In my now-antiquarian review of Gregory's Girl, I spoke about how coming-of-age films often become indelibly tied up with the people whose careers they helped to launch. Even before thousands of lazy "where are they now?" articles appeared on the internet, it was common for film stars to be born from a single role and then live forever in its shadow - Phil Daniels from Quadrophenia being a good example. 
 
Of course, this phenomenon is not something that's unique to film in general, or this sub-genre in particular. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never truly shook off the mantle of Sherlock Holmes, just as A. A. Milne failed to divorce himself entirely from Winnie the Pooh. But the effect is more pronounced here, given the strong generational identity of coming-of-age films and the speed at which such a reputation can be accrued. It is within this heightened context that we must approach The Breakfast Club, a good-natured and heart-warming film whose shortcomings have long been masked by nostalgia and the passage of time.
 
It's very difficult to tackle The Breakfast Club critically without in some way offending a vast swathe of one's potential audience (or at least a section which is of a certain age). In the 31 years since its release, it has become the poster child for the Brat Pack group of actors, the gold standard of 1980s teen comedy-dramas, the yardstick against which all of John Hughes' work is measured, and a by-word for insight into the teenage condition. That's a tough reputation for any film to live up to, and to expect one film to succeed at all that is to set ourselves up for a fall.
 
The truth is that the teenage condition - in fact, the human condition as a whole - is such a diverse subject that no one film can never successfully epitomise a generation. As much as I have praised Heathers - and will continue to do so - I would be both a liar and a fool to claim that its pitch-black humour and playful violence were wholly characteristic of the 1980s. 'Definitive' is a very dangerous word, and it's important that a reviewer's personal opinions do not become either conflated with or inflated into any wider pronouncement about a whole culture - especially when such a judgement is made on the basis of the reputation of a work, rather than the work itself.
 
In the case of The Breakfast Club, there are two ways in which Hughes' film can be enjoyed or appreciated. One is as a total throwback, in which we pretend that Simple Minds are still in the charts, enjoy the characters on their own terms and emerge from the darkness back to our own, complicated lives once the school day is over. The other is to delve deeper for something approaching universal insight within what the characters say and do, trying to downplay or ignore the period details. As someone who has long been opposed to escapism for its own sake, it should come as little surprise that I find the latter approach to be more effective and worthwhile.
 
If we choose to see this film in purely escapist terms, then it's really no better or worse than anything else Hughes put out during this period. Its storytelling style may be more understated than Ferris Bueller's Day Off, but it shares the same carefree optimism that Heathers would later tear to shreds. The fashions, particularly those exhibited by Judd Nelson, look ridiculous, even by some of the more bizarre trends being exhibited today. The music is apt in places, but Hughes' choices are still relatively safe; the cinematography is tender and understated, but nothing massively remarkable; and the script has its fair share of gems but also sections which are too slow or somewhat clunky.
 
If we choose the second, more analytical approach, the most curious thing which emerges about The Breakfast Club is that its character conventions are very much out of their own time. David Ansen, former film critic for Newsweek, summed it up best in his review from 1985: "Hughes obviously remembers his own adolescence, for the stereotypes he employs are virtually unchanged since the 1960s, give or take a marijuana cigarette. Parents are still the root of all evil, surly rebels hide sensitive hearts, and no problem is so great that an honest heart-to-heart won't fix it."
 
Hughes has always taken a warm, rose-tinted view of adolescence, but it is particularly marked in this film; Ansen even carped that he "deserved more plaudits as a social worker than a filmmaker". It may be a feature of not having grown up with the film, but by tarring all the grown-up characters with the same brush it actually serves to make the children's concerns and reactions to their problems less nuanced. Rather than just turn the principal into your standard narky bad guy, Hughes could have used his character as a mirror, showing not just what the children could grow into, but that he secretly harbours the same concerns as them (or at least once did).
 
Having built slowly and meandered along pleasantly for most of its running time, The Breakfast Club truly begins to justify itself at the very point when it should become most hokey - when the characters all sit down and talk about their problems. There are still little irritations along the way - Nelson's punk would never be that eloquent in real life - but the combined likeability of the performers lend this an air of credibility. Whatever generation the concerns emanate from, the fears and hopes they have are pretty universal, and the film has the confidence to be open-ended where a less confident writer-director would have opted for pat sentimentality.
 
The biggest emotional pull of The Breakfast Club - the element which still resonates most strongly with young audiences - is the fear of being pigeonholed or abandoned. The characters at the start of the film appear to have been painted with pretty broad brushstrokes, but as the film winds on they feel like three-dimensional people who aren't completely comfortable in their own skins. Hughes beautifully captures the way in which teenagers use fashion trends, clothing, hairstyles or even speech patterns as defence mechanisms, means to protect themselves in a society where showing your true feelings or celebrating who you really are is either discouraged or dismissed as unhelpful by those in authority.
 
In a way, there are six main characters in The Breakfast Club; our five protagonists, and the oppressive silence of the school itself. Hughes is clever to leave long gaps between sections of dialogue before the final act, making the school feel more like a prison; not only are the children being punished, but their surroundings act as an institutional standard against which they are being silently and implicitly judged. There is a comparison here with Jean-Paul Sartre's seminal play No Exit, which postulated that "hell is other people"; the characters' struggle is not just against each other, but against the absurd and arbitrary standards of the adult world which they are destined to enter whether they like it or not.
 

The Breakfast Club is a charming teen comedy-drama which retains some but not all of its punch after 31 years. Hughes' warm direction and nostalgic writing will not be to everyone's tastes, particularly to those who like their comedy on the spikier side, and both the pacing and characterisation are a little lax in the early section. Ultimately it's still watchable fare - something that certainly can't be said of every coming-of-age film - which succeeds and earns what reputation is deserves on the strength of the performers and the substance of its final act. Our memory may play tricks about how good it really is, but we certainly shouldn't forget about it any time soon. 


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For more information on Gregory's Girl, Quadrophenia, Heathers, check out the archives of The Movie Hour from my time on Lionheart Radio. Click here to see the breakdown of episodes or visit www.lionheartradio.com.

NEXT REVIEW: Juno (2007)

Saturday, 28 May 2016

ANNOUNCEMENTS: Apologies (again)

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Things have been a little quiet around here since I posted my review of Tammy, and many of you who do not follow my other exploits on the internet and elsewhere may feel that you are overdue an explanation for my absence. Rather than run the risk of letting this blog become slowly mothballed by default - by way of not posting anything new until no-one is reading it anymore - I think it's best that I clear the aor and give you all an update.

The reason for the pause in posts is threefold. Firstly, and most importantly, I am in the final stages of preparations for my wedding to Aimee Braunton on July 9th. We are both really excited by the big day but there is still a lot that remains to be sorted out, and so I have had to devote all my spare time to helping out (Aimee, to her eternal credit, shouldered much of the preparatory burden during my exams and so it's only fair that I muck in more now). I had already planned a small hiatus from blogging during the month of July for my wedding and honeymoon, but for the sake of the wedding actually going ahead in the first place, film reviews have had to take a back seat.

Secondly, there have been a lot of changes at work recently to which I and my colleagues at the Western Gazette are still adjusting. Since Trinity Mirror took over Local World, we have been substantially reorganised to turn us more into a "digital first" operation, with reporters now having little or nothing to do with the print edition which appears every Thursday. We've had a number of redundancies across the group, and I've been moved to a different patch as our new website, Somerset Live, prepares to take flight on June 13. It's been a difficult and at times traumatic process, and I have often had no energy or enthusiasm left for my film reviews after spending the whole day at the local news coalface. I hope that as things settle it will become easier to balance the two, but in terms of the long-term future of this blog, we will have to see.

Thirdly, there is the simple matter of writers' block. I'm more than halfway through my review of The Breakfast Club - which will be my 250th here on Mumby at the Movies - but I've hit a John Hughes-shaped brick wall. My imagination has somewhat diminished in recent times with the demands of my job; journalism and creative writing should not be mutually exclusive, but deadlines by their nature demand simplicity, and I sometimes wonder whether my intellect is becoming exhausted. I do not say this to disparage either my job or the people who pay me to do it; it is simply a reflection of how my brain has changed. There is only so much inspiration I can have to go with my finite amount of perspiration, and often that means there is nothing left for the blog when the working day is done. So rather than fill these pages with hackneyed guff which is beneath both me and my audience, I sometimes think it best to write nothing at all until something good comes along.

All of which is a protracted and long-winded way of saying: sorry that there's been no content on the blog for a while. I will try and do better in the future, and will have more content for you very soon. Thanks for bearing with me, and God bless you all.
Daniel

P. S. I'm also attempting to revive The Goon Show Guide within the new posts - watch this space...

Monday, 2 May 2016

DEBUT FEATURES: Tammy (2014)

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Tammy (USA, 2014)
Directed by Ben Falcone
Starring Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Kathy Bates, Allison Janney

It's frequently the fate of Saturday Night Live comedians to follow a successful television career with an immensely underwhelming one in film. The number of SNL cast members who have successfully transitioned to the big screen is relatively small, and the number of successful films based on SNL material is even smaller. For every effort like The Blues Brothers or National Lampoon's Animal House, there are pathetic failures like McGruber, Coneheads and It's Pat! which fall well short of the required standard.
 
What is ultimately required for any SNL cast member seeing to making the leap is to find the right vehicle, something which can showcase their comedic talents while allowing them to break out of the confinements of TV sketches and demonstrate their potential range. Melissa McCarthy may have already found considerable commercial success since Bridesmaids, but she has yet to find a leading vehicle which genuinely plays to all her strengths. The kindest thing you can say about Tammy is that it isn't the vehicle she needs - though given how trashy mainstream taste has become, it is probably the one we deserve.
 
Like We're The Millers from the year before, the central problem with Tammy is a total lack of effort on the part of the director in the face of half-decent material. The fact that Ben Falcone is married to his main star may lead to any number of snide remarks about Hollywood relationships, but the problem goes much deeper than any nepotistic tendencies. Falcone's track record in TV is hardly inspiring, helming the Friends spin-off Joey and odd episodes of New Girl - both shows which think they are a great deal funnier and cleverer than they ever had any hope of being.
 
McCarthy is a talented screen presence, and on a shallow level it's gratifying to find a woman succeeding in Hollywood without being stereotypically skinny. But try as she might, Tammy is a film which constantly conspires against her attempts to bring depth and likeability to her character. It may be more cinematic than a direct spin-off from SNL, insofar as it doesn't overtly feel like a drawn-out series of sketches, but it fails by constantly going for the cheap, low-end gag when it could achieve something funnier and more meaningful with just a little more effort.
 
Buried somewhere within the misplaced (or misjudged) comic intentions of Tammy, there is a potentially tender and pathos-ridden drama. The lynchpin of the film is the relationship between Tammy and her alcoholic, diabetic grandmother, played with cantankerous glee by Susan Sarandon. Her character takes heavily after Maude in Harold and Maude, being an elderly person definitely not acting her age, and their interplay is the only thing that manages to hold our attention throughout.
 
Had Falcone and McCarthy, who wrote the script together, had the confidence to play to an audience's patience and intelligence, this could have been a touching comedy-drama about women struggling to find their place in a society where men don't accept them for who they are, and where superficial appearances count for far too much. There are substantial sections of the story where we feel story for Tammy as a character: for all her grotesqueness, rough edges and bad decision-making, she's someone who doesn't deserve many of the problems which befall her. The opening act, involving her husband cheating on her, is a scene that could easily have ended up in The First Wives Club.
 
But whether through a lack of confidence, studio pressure or a simple failure in judgement, this is not the film which has resulted. Instead these patches of decently-constructed drama are interspersed with asinine, three-rate gross-out set-pieces. Under these circumstances the central relationship between McCarthy and Sarandon becomes like the Werner Herzog sequences with the nuns in Harmony Korine's Mr. Lonely: a diverting dramatic interlude with narrative gravity, punctuating an aimless, unfunny and poorly constructed mess.
 
Even by the low, throwaway standards of SNL, most of these sequences would have ended up on the cutting room floor. The bee routine is lazy and goes nowhere, and the arguments which Tammy gets into make too little sense to either be funny or advance the plot. The scene where Tammy robs a fast food outlet is badly paced and shambolically assembled, with lots of needless pauses as though McCarthy was waiting for the audience to laugh. Watching these sequences not only gives you the dull, depressing ache which comes from not laughing during a comedy: you also have a solid pang of disappointment in the knowledge that, on the form of Bridesmaids at least, McCarthy can and should do so much better.
 
McCarthy comes across as our generation's equivalent of John Candy - not only in any form of physical comparison, but also their ability to match a goofy sense of humour with genuine pathos. Both Candy and McCarthy take heavily after the world of clowning, following on the legacy of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin of marrying physical pandemonium with an underlying melancholy. In the hands of a good director, both aspects are balanced, but here McCarthy is all energy and no foundation, resulting in a performance which is increasingly aimless and arbitrary.
 
Sarandon's presence in the film may lead us to make a comparison with The Lovely Bones, Peter Jackson's admirable but heavy flawed attempt to adapt Alice Sebold's equally problematic novel. Purely on a like-for-like basis, Sarandon's 'crazy grandmother' here is better than her performance in Jackson's film, and the moral choices that the characters make, while still questionable, are not actively reprehensible. Both films also have uncomfortable tonal lurches, with the shifts from silly and serious seeming random and incongruous.
 
In the midst of all this disaster and wasted opportunity, there are a couple of redeeming features which prevent Tammy from being a total waste of time. Some of the supporting cast do very well with the limited material presented to them, particularly Kathy Bates in a role which brings fond memories of her appearance in About Schmidt. Dan Aykroyd's brief cameo is all pretty good fun, or at least a lot funnier than many of the projects to which he has lent himself over the last few years.
 
Tammy also looks pretty accomplished from a visual point of view. Russ T. Alsobrook is in familiar territory, having worked with Falcone on New Girl and lent his cinematographer's eye to the likes of Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Paul Blart: Mall Cop. If nothing else, he makes Tammy's trashy beginnings look believable, and while his compositions and lighting choices are nothing special, he does provide some form of continuity to prevent the film from feeling too episodic.
 
Tammy is a disappointing outing for McCarthy which plays to too few of her strengths and fulfills on far too little of its potential. The central relationship, when it can get a word in edgeways, and the performances of the supporting cast prevent it from being an unmitigated disaster. But while it's basically watchable, there's precious little here to make it memorable or to generate a hearty recommendation. McCarthy remains a talent to keep on one's horizons, but this is not the project she deserves. 

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NEXT REVIEW: My 250th review on Mumby at the Movies!

Saturday, 23 April 2016

LETTERS OF NOTE: Charlotte Brontë

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Apologies again for a brief hiatus from content - things have been extremely busy with work and organising mine and Aimee's wedding. My review of Tammy is slowly coming together, and I certainly hope to have it out before the end of the month. In the meantime, hopefully this literary Letter of Note will fill the void.
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In 1848 Emily Brontë, author of Wuthering Heights, died of tuberculosis at the tender age of 30. Her family was greatly affected by her untimely passing, with her younger sister Anne succumbing to the same disease the following year. Charlotte, the oldest and most widely-read of the Brontë sisters, wrote to her publisher shortly after Emily's death, describing her fears for Anne and their father. It's a sad and touching read, as she struggles to reconcile her despair at her sister's passing with the knowledge that she is now at peace and safe from all the ills of this world.
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You can read Charlotte's letter in full here. If you're still needing a dose of classic literature afterwards, you can check out this little morsel about Jane Austen here. Failing that, may I suggest you check out the classic 1939 version of Wuthering Heights, starring a young Laurence Olivier at Heathcliff. Check out the trailer below:
Daniel

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

The Soul in the Machine

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It's been quite a long time since I've blogged on here about the excellent work of Exeter YMCA. With me now firmly settled in Yeovil, my trips to Exeter have become sporadic at best, but I do my utmost to keep at least faintly in touch with what the charity is up to. And their latest big event, which happens next month, is something I strongly recommend you check out.
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On May 21st, Exeter YMCA will be welcoming the Saltmine Theatre Company to perform The Soul in the Machine, a new production about YMCA founder George Williams. The play traces Williams' own life, from his early childhood in Bridgwater to his education in Tiverton (where I used to work) and his formative years in London. Here his exposure to the great social deprivation, lack of support for young men and the need for Christian renewal in Victorian Britain led him to found the Young Men's Christian Association in 1844.
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Today the YMCA's activities are broader and different in shape in many respects compared to Williams' original vision, but at its heart its mission and values are the same: to heal this broken world through God's work, and to help people where there is neither help nor hope to be found. While Williams' own words resonated strongly in the age of steam and coal, they speak every bit as powerfully to our society. His fears for a world where people are slaves to mechanisation, a world which crushes and eradicates any sense of purpose as opposed to function, point to what is needed in our own society: a realisation of just how crucial the spiritual dimension is to understanding our world, our role in it and how to help each other.
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I've had the pleasure of seeing Saltmine perform on stage only once: a production of C. S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, adapted by Riding Lights Theatre Company's brilliant playwright Nigel Forde. While my familiarity with Saltmine's work is therefore less so than that of Riding Lights, this is a production that will inspire and challenge you. Like all the best theatre, it will bring forth ideas which you never considered in depth before and leave you changed as a result. Check out the trailer:
The Soul in the Machine will be perfomed at Belmont Chapel in Exeter on May 21st from 7pm. Tickets are £10 and can be booked online here; for more information call Bethan Spencer on 01392 410530 or email Bethan.spencer@ymcaexeter.org.uk. If you can't make the Exeter show, don't despair: the production is touring from May 5th, including a date in London on May 14th, and will be heading to the Edinburgh Festival in August. You can find all the details for future dates on the Saltmine website here.

Daniel