Dad’s Army DVD Review (The Hollywood News)

DAThere were doubts over whether the original Dad’s Army would succeed. Its subject matter of World War II and the ageing Home Guard hardly filled BBC top brass with confidence, but it went on to become arguably its greatest sitcom hit. Fast forward forty-odd years to the new movie version – naysayers said it could never work, that director Oliver Parker couldn’t possibly recapture those nostalgic past glories. This time round they were right!

Opening with a standard spy movie chase that culminates in suitably daft fashion, we’re soon transported to the action-averse setting of Walmington-On-Sea, watched over with a rod of aluminium by the stubborn Captain Mainwaring (Toby Jones) and his largely pensionable team. It isn’t long of course before they find themselves doing more than herding cattle, as the Germans infiltrate the community to retrieve information and the menfolk fall under the spell of a glamorous journalist (a well-cast Catherine Zeta Jones).

In fairness, Parker and writer Hamish McColl had an insurmountable task. As well as being a household favourite, the TV show was a period piece… the period being the 1970s, where its gentle humour felt fresher. It’s all a bit low wattage by today’s standards, and the show’s sweetness and pratfalls are replaced by lavatorial gags and laboured slapstick. Here Private Godfrey doesn’t just need to be excused, he ends up unburdening himself over Corporal Jones!

Probably sensing the national outcry over a cast facelift, Parker has gone above and beyond, hiring some unusually big names to fill the boots of Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier and co. This yields mixed results. Jones and Michael Gambon (Godfrey) are by far the best replacements but the other main performers struggle. Bill Nighy hams it up to the nines as Sergeant Wilson, in a turn that frequently puts him on a different planet. Crucially he lacks chemistry with Jones. The line up generally fails to gel, which is another great shame. Tom Courtenay takes on the fondly-remembered, dogmatic Jones, but lacks Clive Dunn‘s light touch, coming off as plain irritating.

McColl scores higher with the female contingent, promoting Mrs Mainwaring from an offscreen presence to a formidable front-of-camera battleaxe (Felicity Montagu). She’s a much better commander than her husband, shepherding the solid support of Sarah Lancashire, Alison Steadman, Emily Atack and in particular Derek‘s Holli Dempsey, who plays Frank (Blake Harrison)’s sweetheart, definitely one to watch. They display the British pluck that underpinned the series and while there’s an end battle that brings the men to the fore, writers Jimmy Perry and David Croft would have done it better and quieter. They also inserted intriguing nuggets of period detail into their scripts, something that’s glossed over somewhat in this incarnation.

It’s amusing enough, and the players provide guaranteed entertainment value (if only out of curiosity to see how they’ll measure up). As the sum of its parts however Dad’s Army is a misfire. We’re watching an elaborate recreation rather than a movie in its own right, and the producers should really have ditched the tributing and made something that marched more to its own beat.

This review first appeared on THN.

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Trash Blu-Ray Review (The Hollywood News)

Political corruption and intrigue form the backdrop to Trash, an involving action thriller set apart by two things. First, the unusual location – the slums of Rio De Janeiro, dominated by their mountains of litter. Second, the perspective – it’s seen mainly through the eyes of three kids who stumble upon a hotbed of deception that changes their lives forever.

Raphael (Rickson Teves), Gardo (Eduardo Luis) and the delightfully-named Rat (Gabriel Weinstein) earn their meagre living sifting through what society dumps quite literally on their doorstep. But when Raphael discovers an abandoned wallet pitched into a passing garbage truck by man-on-the-run José Angelo, he finds it contains a strange document. Unbeknownst to the boy, Angelo has been apprehended and murdered by the police at the behest of a prominent politician, and with no information extracted the authorities begin combing the trash heaps to recover whatever it is that holds their future in the balance.

Stephen Daldry is the director, which surprises as you don’t normally associate him with this type of movie. Even more eyebrow-raising is Richard Curtis‘s involvement, adapting Andy Mulligan‘s novel. Curtis has a well-developed social conscience but Trash is strong meat for the writer of Love Actually. The viewer needn’t worry as both men do a decent job – they’ve crafted a proper thrill ride, featuring some great chase sequences and moments of pulse-pounding suspense.

They opt to show the children commenting on the majority of the action via a video confessional made later in the movie, hence reassuring us of their safety throughout. This is just as well, as the film doesn’t do things by halves. Like with Slumdog Millionnaire the villains don’t go easy on the protagonists because they’re kids – one sequence in particular where Raphael is tortured by warped cop Gonz (Selton Mello) is very difficult to watch. Overall however the tone is well-judged, balancing pathos with a light touch (these are wayward boys after all), in numerous scenes which leap off the screen.

This is intended to be an entertainment first and foremost, so inevitably the social context fades into the background. For preference I would have liked more detail about the country and indeed the lads themselves as characters. To the filmmakers’ credit it should be noted they hammer home some stark truths in the closing minutes. Some extras about Rio’s upheavals would have been beneficial, but unfortunately the release carries just the film, which is a major missed opportunity. Another minor criticism is you don’t get a thorough understanding of what Angelo was opposing in the first place, beyond a general idea. But there’s certainly enough to go on and the piece has a strong ending, with a showdown in a cemetery as satisfying as anything from a Jason Bourne chapter.

Martin Sheen and Rooney Mara are good as a priest and a nun working in the slums, but really they’re providing support for Daldry’s trio of young actors, who are a triumph and the movie’s main selling point. By parachuting in two American faces the director has managed to realize what is essentially a foreign language film on the scale of a Hollywood outing. He could so easily have had everyone speaking English, but resisted the temptation to his credit.

Whether Trash will live on as a statement about the desperate situation in a little-seen part of the world, or if it’ll wind up as just another title on the DVD shelves remains to be seen. As an involving two hours it succeeds in spades. Its legacy on the other hand has yet to be judged.
This review appeared on The Hollywood News.