Friday 23 March 2018

Film review: It does feel like David Brent is not just on the road but further down it

David Brent Cert: 16. Now showing

Ricky Gervais in David Brent: Life on the Road
Ricky Gervais in David Brent: Life on the Road

Ricky Gervais has been very clear that David Brent: Life on the Road "is not an Office film". But it is not unrelated. It's been thirteen years since the iconic, game-changing BBC mockumentary series in which Gervais played David Brent, office manager with delusions of popularity.

The film begins with Brent (Gervais) introducing his new workplace, still in Slough,  but instead of manager at Wernham Hogg he is a rep at Lavichem, purveyors of all things hygiene. He is still missing a few vital parts when it comes to social interaction, he is much disliked by some colleagues, tolerated by others and hero worshipped by one (Tom Bennett), or two (Jo Hartley).

Cashing in some pensions, savings and unpaid leave he is about to follow his dream of stardom and embarking on a world tour of Berkshire hoping to get signed as a musician. He has assembled a band of session musicians and a rapper, Dom Johnson (Ben Bailey Smith), who doubles for Brent as street cred and proof of diversity. Brent's tragedy was always that he knew the theory to being popular, he just couldn't manage the practice.

As the tour progresses inevitably miserably and the band won't even be nice to him when he pays for their company, there are plenty of funny moments and lines, political correctness providing much of his ammunition as always. But Brent, who it emerges had a very hard time after The Office, getting a lot of stick and having a breakdown, becomes an almost Shakespearean tragic figure. He is admirably relentless in pursuit of his dream, he's a trier but he fails at everything, especially life, and he knows it. You really start feeling sorry for David Brent, which is a tone change from The Office when he defied sympathy. The ending that provides the arc makes it feel like a fable in ways. Gervais writes and directs this and it does feel like David Brent is not just on the road but further down it. 3 Stars

Aine O'Connor


Cert: 15A. Now Showing

Two Irish men making a film in Spanish about the drag scene in Cuba is an excellent start. And while the story is one oft told, the moral never ceases to be true and Viva has a heart and spirit that makes it something lovely.

Paddy Breathnach directs Mark O’Halloran’s screenplay (O’Halloran also has a small role) in which hairdresser Jesus (Héctor Medina) does the wigs (some courtesy of national treasure Panti) in one of Havana’s drag clubs. Club boss Mama (Luis Alberto García) looks out for Jesus, a gentle soul with no family and few friends. Jesus dreams of being on stage so when the chance comes he takes it, becoming ‘Viva’, a very raw but enthusiastic talent. Encouraged to pick one punter on whom to focus her miming passion, Viva chooses an unfamiliar face at the bar and her efforts are rewarded with a beating from what emerges is Jesus’s long-lost father Angel (Jorge Perugorria), a former boxer, just out of jail and looking for somewhere to live.

Alcoholic, brutal and a shadow of his former local-hero self, Angel has no option but to live with Jesus where he immediately lays down the law. He can just about handle his son’s homosexuality but refuses to tolerate his burgeoning drag career. Fearing more trouble, Mama won’t let Jesus work secretly either so having had a tiny taste of his dream, Jesus has to find his way through a nightmare.

Great performances all round, Cathal Watters’s fantastic shots of Havana and the torch songs that make up the soundtrack all add up to make this love story between father and son more special, spirited and sparkly than it might have been as a plain redemption melodrama. 4 Stars Aine O’Connor

Childhood of a Leader

Cert: 15A. Selected cinemas.

Seven-year-old Prescott is starting a war with his parents. At the same time, his American diplomat father (our own Liam Cunningham) is overseeing the end of one with the Versailles peace treaty while his German mother (Berenice Bejo) presides over their large chateau. Their authoritarian style of parenting is starting to bring out the worst in Prescott (Tom Sweet) who resents their lack of attention and business-like manner with him.

US actor Brady Corbet’s first outing behind the lens is an oddly chilling study of the conditions that can create a fascistic ego. Beneath peering camera direction, chiaroscuro cinematography and Scott Walker’s seismic score are ominous discussions on control and rebellion that are handled with Michael Haneke-like poise belying the 27-year-old’s lack of film-making experience. He secures superb performances from his cast (including Robert Pattinson), most impressively that of his smouldering young lead.

Excellence is also displayed by the costume and set-design departments in this bold and brilliant debut that heralds a major new talent. 5 Stars

Hilary A White

Lights Out

Cert: 15A. Now showing

Although it could have been conceived at a red light, this rather effective horror debut from one David F Sandberg gets great mileage from its thin premise. The Swede came to notoriety in 2013 with a two-and-a-half-minute horror short about a woman who sees a gruesome figure in her hallway when she switches out the light. She switches it on and the figure is gone. She checks it again with the light on and there the ghoul is again. And so on.

With the big studios on board, Sandberg here gets to expand his brainchild to a trim and flab-free 81 minutes, an elongated bump in the night that puts the effort in places where many horror films skimp (anchoring performances, real dialogue, credible protagonists).

Kristen Stewart lookalike Teresa Palmer (Triple 9, Warm Bodies) is granite-strength in the lead as Rebecca, a gothy twenty-something who discovers that young half-brother Martin is experiencing similar visions and nightmares to the ones she was once beset with in the family home. Their mum Sophie (Maria Bello) has a history of mental illness, and is acting very strangely indeed following the opening murder of Martin’s father. Rebecca is certain the family home is hosting a grisly lodger, one that likes curtains drawn and lights switched off.

None of this is new territory – Lights Out works best as Rebecca investigates the ghoul while protecting Martin and facing her own demons too. You wouldn’t call it the most original piece of horror cinema but it is admirably inventive in those spaces between the obligatory generic tropes of shrill sound design, creaking hinges, and the inevitable descent into the basement. 3 Stars

Hilary A White

Swallows and Amazons

Cert PG; Now Showing 

Arthur Ransome agreed with the criticism that the children he created in Swallows and Amazons were too nice. With that and changed times in mind, Andrea Gibbs has written liberties into her adaptation of Ransome’s book. Including one that makes the character he wrote to represent himself, Jim Turner/Capt Flint, more like the author than he himself did. Ransome was a gentleman spy whose MI6 codename was S76. This is the codename of Turner/Flint (played by Rafe Spall) in the film which adds Russian spies (Andrew Scott and John Henshaw) and reduces the children’s super niceness.

In 1935 Mrs Walker (Kelly McDonald) takes her five children to the Lake District for their annual holiday with the Jacksons (Harry Enfield and Jessica Hynes in taciturn yokel mode.) Daddy Walker is off in his ship in the South China Sea so cannot hold good on his promise to take the kids on a boating expedition to an island in the middle of the lake. But following a cryptic telegram which basically says “ask your mother” the four eldest children are allowed to sail Mr Jackson’s beautiful boat, Swallow, and camp out on the island.

The novel children were good at everything as well as being super nice, but this lot are less competent and more moody. John (Dane Hughes) is a pain, but they’re still game for an adventure. Their island has already been claimed by the Blackett sisters on their boat, Amazon.  However, that battle pales into insignificance when it emerges there is proper serious spy business to be attended to.

Philippa Lowthorpe’s feature debut is pretty, CGI-free and slightly tame, but sweet and nostalgic fun. 3 Stars

Aine O’Connor

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