Saturday, 23 August 2014


Saturday, 23 August 2014
★★ (out of five)

Nick Frost without Simon Pegg is a bit like watching Oliver Hardy without Stan Laurel. It doesn't quite work. Pegg's enough of a quirky leading man not to suffer the same analogy, although both seem to struggle when not directed by Edgar Wright, or, in Pegg's case, produced by J.J Abrams.

CUBAN FURY is an innocuous afternoon time-filler, but generally just goes through the motions (in more ways than one), following a set formula for these kinds of films, and fails in two key areas: Frost doesn't ever convince as a great salsa dancer, and has no obvious chemistry with love-interest Rashida Jones—who appears either as acknowledgement of a British rom-com trope Richard Curtis started (see: Andy MacDowell, Julia Roberts, Rachel McAdams), or a weak attempt to make this film somewhat marketable to the U.S.

Office worker Bruce Garrett (Frost) is a middle-aged loser, who was once a teenage salsa champion in the 1980s. His passion for dance is rekindled when he realises beautiful new boss Julia (Jones) enjoys dancing, but faces difficulty overcoming his own self-doubt thanks to belittling co-worker Drew (Chris O'Dowd) and macho best-friend Gary (Rory Kinnear). But if he's to win Julia's heart, Bruce has to return to the bright lights of the dance floor, under the tutelage of estranged coach Ron (Ian McShane).

There's enjoyment to be found in CUBAN FURY, but perhaps only as an hour-long drama special on ITV. Extended to film-length, the idea just doesn't have enough fuel to go the distance. And considering a lot of the comedy relies on the sight of Nick Frost doing salsa (that actually isn't very funny_, all of the dance scenes fall flat. Not helping is the fact Frost, Jones, O'Dowd and Olivia Colman barely look better than enthusiastic novices (who've mastered a few basic steps and upper-body shimmies), so there isn't much entertainment in seeing those actors perform routines. One long dance-off sequence between Frost and O'Dowd in a multi-storey car park was particularly lifeless.

Released on Valentine's Day, it's not even very romantic. Julia is the object of male attention, but she's not much more than that. O'Dowd's love rival doesn't even get involved with her romantically, he just embellishes his own manly intentions to anyone who will listen, and Frost's character doesn't strike a particularly chord with Julia until the very end of the film, after which time the credits immediately roll.

One bright spot is THREE LIONS' Kayvan Novak as an incredibly gay salsa enthusiast; who's a complete caricature but easily the liveliest thing about the movie. His scene concerning "still Fanta" provided the only real, honest, big laugh from me. I wanted more of him, less of Frost gyrating around like a gorilla in sequins.

★★★★ (out of five)

It's LIFE OF PI for those who hate fantasy and computer-generated tigers.

Robert Redford stars in this survival film about an unnamed man whose boat suffers damage to the hull, from a wayward shipping container. From there, a bad situation gets steadily worse, as the man struggles to survive through storms and shark-infested waters, with broken kit and contaminated drinking water.

Written and directed by J.C Chandor (MARGIN CALL), I found this movie to be very engaging, thanks primarily to the performance of Redford (who barely speaks throughout), and the amazing sound-mix that really places you in the action. You'll be gripping the sides of your sofa for dear life during the storm sequences, and the drip-drip-drip from my rear-speakers often tricked me into believing my own house was about to sink. As a piece of entertainment that puts you into the mind-space of a resilient man, facing terrible odds and overcoming problems that would psychological break most of us, I can't recommend ALL IS LOST enough.

The only downside is an ending that felt slightly too rushed, thus lacking the cathartic release I was primed for, but I know others will say it's finely judged. They're not wrong to think that, but for me I wasn't as moved as I wanted to be—perhaps because Redford's character is a cipher throughout. And while that helps audiences put themselves in his shoes, it doesn't help you invest in him as an truly three-dimensional person.

★ (out of five)

KLOWN is a Danish movie adapted from a hit sitcom called KLOVN, that produced 60 episodes between 2005 and 2009. Like this film, it had stylistic parallels to CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM with its cinéma vérité filming style and with much of the humour coming from mortifying social situations. I've never seen the TV series, but heard good things about KLOWN around the time it won Best Comedy at Fantastic Fest 2011. Having finally watched it, four years after it was released in Denmark, I can't say it lived up to expectations.

The story concerns two horrendous middle-aged friends, Frank (Frank Hvam) and Casper (Casper Christensen), who have planned a canoe trip that's secretly a chance for debauchery, as there's a world-class whorehouse en route that members of their gentleman's book club will be attending. Unfortunately, Frank gets lumbered with his podgy nephew Bo (Marcuz Jess Petersen) before they set off, so the two men attempt to keep their 'Tour de Pussy' experience alive while behaving responsibly around a prepubescent kid.

It sounds like a simple but hilarious set-up, but KLOWN didn't click with me. I admit to finding foreign comedies the least successful genre to translate using subtitles. You can read an English transcript to understand what's purely being communicated, but you can never really feel the spoken comedy in quite the same way. The intonations and subtleties of what the actors are doing are lost on non-Danish viewers, pretty much. I was mainly registering how many English words and phrases the Danish use, from "high five" to "pearl necklace".

But besides that, I just expected far more gut-busting laughs. The storyline wasn't particularly engaging (with a half-hearted father-son bonding theme), and the two leads were extremely unappealing. That was the point, sure, but I needed more light in this darkness. KLOWN's reputation is largely built on how outrageous and shocking some of the situations are, but I was surprised so few were actually funny. A man ejaculates on his mother-in-law's face by accident, and is cajoled into inserting a finger up a woman's bum, and those are certainly things you won't see in your standard multiplex comedy. If that's enough to keep your interest (a quest to find something new in foreign cinema), that's fine... but I was after more laughs. KLOWN was rarely funny, just awkward and—at best—on the precipice of delivering a brilliant sequence, but things just never caught fire. For long periods I was say straight-faced.

A U.S remake has been on the cards for years now, to be directed by Todd Phillips and starring Danny McBride (EASTBOUND & DOWN), and that sounds like a better proposition to me. Hvam (a lookalike of Nicholas Crane from BBC's COAST) and his cohort Christensen just aren't funny performers, and the orchestration of the movie faltered too much. I wanted a ribald, experimental, crazy and memorable comedy of embarrassments... but what I got was some ugly moments, performed by ugly men, eliciting some half-smiles.
Read my Letterboxd reviews the minute they happen by following me.