Cert 12A Stars 4

Two great actresses go to war with each other in this hugely emotional and thoroughly British and uplifting feel-good comedy drama from the director of 1997’s famous British victory, The Full Monty.

Kristin Scott Thomas and Sharon Horgan play the combative mother hens scratching out battle lines as they struggle to put an all-women amateur choir through singing boot camp.

They’re attempting to to boost morale while their soldier spouses are on a six month tour of Afghanistan, but squabbling, stage fright and a betrayal of a confidence threatens their prestigious appearance at the Royal Albert Hall as part of a Remembrance Day concert.

Best known from Four Weddings and A Funeral, it’s a surprise to see the ever elegant Scott Thomas return to low budget crowd pleasing material such as this, having spent her career mixing minor roles in Hollywood blockbusters with major ones in French arthouse films.

Incapable of giving less her formidable best, she brings sharp edges and shifting emotional layers as a posh and pushy busybody who hides her grief by bullying the women into shape.

And this brings her into conflict with Horgan, who’s popular among the women for her more relaxed approach.

Inspired by a true story of singing spouses which featured in Gareth Malone’s 2011 hit BBC documentary and produced a number one single, the predictable storyline is part of the film’s charm, and allows us to enjoy the strong character work and humour as the women discover confidence and resolve.

Though the musical sequences lack the heart-racing thrills of Brassed Off, it’s full of familiar pop tunes, with the camaraderie of Calendar Girls, plenty of cross-generational appeal and a cast representative of every corner of the British Isles. 

Mercifully the script doesn’t shy away from the men risking their lives for their country, which gives depth to the drama and the songs and is surprisingly emotional.

It’s probably going to be my mother’s new favourite film.

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Stars 2

Hugh Laurie returns to the big screen as a straying suburban dad in this weak and flavourless comedy drama.

His comfortable middle class routines are destroyed when the turbulent daughter of his best friend  returns home for Christmas, with alcohol and a shoulder to cry on conspiring to make David’s rocky marriage a little crowded.

The cast work hard to make the film work but the script has them swimming in marmalade. Nina is at least a spirited presence but poor Laurie is reduced to desperate gurning as he chases laughs.

There is some mildly creative profanity but the central romance is a montage of cinematic cliches. If a plucking guitar isn’t pouring syrup over a scene then uplifting festive songs are blasted out to warn the audience that something ‘amusing’ is happening.

This fruitless lemon squeezes the last drop of goodwill long before the end, and really takes the pith out of the audience as it does so.


Cert 12A  Stars 3

Irish comic Chris O’Dowd steams into the cinema aboard the soul train in this retro feel-good slice of fun of musical comedy-drama.

In the Australian Outback of 1968 O’Dowd’s drunkard keyboard player, Dave, recognises the potential of four wannabe soul singers and appoints himself their manager.

Whisking the girls off to the Vietnam war to entertain the troops, Dave proves less than reliable when romance, rivalry, and the war itself threaten the band’s chances of success.

Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, Miranda Tapsell as the singers are attractive and nicely argumentative personalities, and if they’re not brilliant actors then at least they’re great singers. O’Dowd gives his all but is occasionally embarrassing in a thinly written part.

Budget constraints mean that the combat scenes aren’t hugely convincing but the film is surprisingly robustly effective when addressing the racism the band encounter.

The Sapphires bursts with humour and soul classics that drive the movie along. There’s not much that’s original but it’s warm-hearted and though it won’t win awards, it will win hearts.


Cert 12A 129mins Stars 3

This US road trip comedy-drama about a classical concert tour is an amiable and sentimental journey with plenty of pretty scenery, but painfully straightforward and devoid of surprises.

Astonishingly it’s scored for five Oscar nominations including nods for its stars, Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen, with the former also winning a prestigious Screen Actors Guild gong.

They play an African-American pianist and his Italian-American driver, on a tour of the racially divided US deep south during the early 1960s.

One is snobby and the other slobby and I didn’t really warm to either of the disharmonious pair, and directed by Peter Farrelly, of Dumb and Dumber fame, it feels very much a cover version of Steve Martin’s classic, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, but not as funny or as moving.

There’s no real sense of danger, and the scenes where the white guy explains African-American music to the black guy, is every bit as tin-eared and cringe-worthy as it sounds.


Cert 12A 97mins Stars 3

Dip a big toe into the feel good waters of this very British comedy.

Rob Brydon plays an accountant whose midlife crisis sees him leave his wife and teenage son, and seek refuge in the arms of a synchronised swimming team comprised of middle aged men.

Brought together by the pointlessness of existence, they find themselves unexpectedly competing in the unofficial World championship in Milan.

It’s kept afloat on bubbles of charm by the likeable and familiar cast, which includes Jane Horrocks, Downton’s garrulous Jim Carter, and This Is England’s Thomas Turgoose.

Best in show is Charlotte Riley as the team’s instructor, whose drill sergeant manner is all the more ferocious for using her native Teesside accent.

Oliver Parker’s direction keeps everything fluid, and it’s played in the same tone as his previous work such Dad’s Army and Johnny English Reborn.

So it’s heart is always in the right place, even if the chaps’ arms and legs frequently aren’t.



Cert 15 96mins Stars 5

Charlize Theron changes gear from the Fast and Furious franchise to give a first class performance in this wryly funny and gaspingly honest comedy drama.

Only last year the Oscar winner was an impressively ripped action star, now she’s believably hefty, wrinkled and worn.

She brings warmth and humour to the married forty-something, Marlo, who’s suffering soul-sapping sleep deprivation and barely coping with the her newborn, third child.

Marlo watches TV reality shows and scoffs pizza in exhausted surrender to the pressure of conforming to the impossible standards of other, seemingly perfect parents. Her husband returns from work each night and collapses each night in front of the telly.

Marlo’s wealthy older brother has hires them a night nanny, to help with the midnight feeds.

Played by Mackenzie Davis, Tully is an eager-to-please 26 year old, with a toned physique and model looks. And slowly the boundaries between employee, family and friend are blurred.

It’s directed with  sympathy by Jason Reitman and written with commendable insight by Diablo Cody. They previously teamed up for 2007’s teen pregnancy drama, Juno, and 2011’s Young adult, which also starred Theron. This is equally polished and my favourite of the three.

Cody’s script is astonishingly good at portraying the noise, frustration and physical indignities of child rearing, while people tell you how precious and fleeting those early moments are.

Painfully accurate in its depiction of domestic distress, I was suffering Vietnam War-like flashbacks to the terrible times of my son’s first years.

And then Cody delivers a perfectly flighted narrative curve ball which bowls us over with its emotional power.

But this isn’t a depressing experience, more a therapeutic hymn to virtues of sacrifice, compromise and steadfastness.

If a newborn has made you feel afraid, desperate and broken, this film will help put you back together. By the end I was crying like a baby. 



Cert 15 103mins Stars 4

Maxine Peake hammers home her status as one of Britain’s most fierce acting talents as the title role in this unforgiving comedy drama.

The star of TV’s Silk is mesmerising in the title role which charts the rise of a combative and unrepentant comic from poverty stricken childhood to TV wealth.

Known only as Funny Cow, in flashbacks we’re offered scathing insights into her life and her struggle for survival, identity and reinvention while suffering abuse, battery and alcoholism.

Carefully credited as a piece of fiction, the story bears some parallels to the life of Sheffield-born comedian and variety star, Marti Caine.

The powerful and moving story never shies from the sexist, racist and homophobic material of the smoky and seedy 1970’s northern club circuit, where women were expected to be singers, strippers, or both.

There are comic cameos by John Bishop and Vic Reeves, plus the superb songs of singer-songwriter Richard Hawley on the soundtrack strike an achingly emotional chord.


Cert 15 112mins Stars 3

Climb aboard this sentimental OAP camper van caper, in which there’s never a danger of going full throttle.

It’s fuelled by the decades long goodwill afforded to its talented actors, Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren. He hits the open road on a literary pilgrimage to the Florida Keys, and she’s riding shotgun.

They are a convincing married couple, full of affection, frustration and forgiveness. Neither are in great health, he’s losing his memory and she’s popping pills by the dozen.

As the story ambles along through some lovely scenery, secrets, lies and misdemeanours are revealed.

There’s more oomph to the story than the trailers suggest, delivering magnificent melancholy and quiet poignancy alongside some broad comedy.

And it addresses the physical infirmities of ageing, the importance of motorhome maintenance, and the terrifyingly by state of private care homes,

It’s a thoughtful journey and takes care to remind us of the importance of dignity in life and death.


Cert 15 Stars 3

This sweet natured and strangely uplifting comedy drama was one of the most enjoyably left field films of last year, despite touching on the dark subjects of kidnap, abuse and mental illness,

Brigsby is the animatronic man-sized bear is the star of a long running sci-fi TV show. When a 25 year old super-fan discovers there are no new episodes, he sets off to create his own feature length follow up.

In a small role Mark Hamill A.K.A. Luke Skywalker makes his presence felt, a fitting piece of casting in a film which celebrates the obsessive nature of film geeks.





Cert 12A 91mins Stars 2

This cross-dressing US high school comedy is a horribly heavy handed and dispiritingly joyless experience.

It’s message of inclusivity and tolerance is welcome but is sadly delivered via the catty sneering and narcissistic poor little rich boy.

English actor Alex Lowther gives his all as Billy Bloom, a mansion dwelling lonely child who’s inherited a love of sequins from his mostly absent showbiz mother, played by Bette Midler.

At a new school, the openly gay Billy faces prejudice and violence so challenges it by standing for election as the homecoming queen.

Though this explores many of the same ideas as last years Love, Simon, there is none of the humour, charm or wit.

It’s a wearying debut from director Trudie Styler, who while pop star hubby, Sting, has dabbled in acting, has amassed 30 film producing credits.

She exploits her celebrity contacts to serve up tennis ace, John McEnroe, into a small role as the sports coach. She cannot be serious.