The Children Act Review

The Plot

A family court judge struggles with the pressures of her own faltering marriage and a complex case involving a young boy refusing lifesaving medical treatment on religious grounds. A strange and unlikely bond develops between the pair, challenging both their world views and creating considerable emotional turmoil.

The Good

Based on the book by much celebrated author Ian McEwan, The Children Act is a thoughtful and sincere adaptation of an undeniable poignant story. The fact that it is at least loosely inspired by real life legal drama and personal tragedy adds an extra dimension of credibility to an already well-crafted production. The film’s authentic legal settings and faultless production values in particular allows it to provide a compelling and immersive portrait of the stark emotional realities of family court’s often traumatic work.

Emma Thompson is an actress of singular skill and subtly. It is simply impossible to imagine anyone better suited to delivering this nuanced and achingly troubled performance. Her ability to trade swiftly in both brisk professional stoicism and evident reservoirs of deeper personal emotions enables her to deliver a performance that excels even by her own typically high standards. Few actors are so readily able to truly capture the complex layers of strength and weakness that so often distinguishes real life from mere storytelling.

Young Dunkirk star Fionn Whitehead likewise gives his character a captivating wide eyed intensity. He lurches skilfully from youthful charm to anguished uncertainty throughout a slow burning tale that injects each scene with a raw and nervous energy. It’s testament to the skill of this young star that he is capable of portraying fresh faced optimism and harrowed nihilism with equal convincing sincerity.

Supporting turns from a host of recognisable talents and a sharply precise script further helps director Richard Eyre deliver a film capable of fully investing audiences in admittedly difficult subject matter.

The Bad

While The Children Act showcases undoubtedly outstanding performances, its dark and often tragic themes will prove difficult if rewarding viewing for audiences. The film’s lack of clear messages will leave many emotionally drained by the absence of the kind of cathartic emotional triumph they will likely expect and crave from typically escapist blockbuster drama.

Irrespective of how skilled and earnest the production and its stellar cast are, the fact remains that this is a film which deals with terminal illness, the legal profession and personal tragedy. Despite the film’s commendable handling of each of these themes, their collective impact on audiences may inevitably be more downbeat and sombre than uplifting or entertaining.

Ultimately the film’s brave choice to leave much of its emotional subtext more realistically confused may prove a little daunting for more casual audiences.

The Ugly truth

The Children Act is a thoughtful and sincere adaptation of a story that deals with complex emotional subject matter, particularly through a pair of brilliant central stars. Emma Thompson is on absolutely stellar form and her five star performance largely helps carry the poignant burden such subject matter inevitably places on audiences.

Review by Russell Nelson

The Festival Review

The Plot

Nick a university graduate recovering from a humiliating breakup is reluctantly dragged to a music festival by his loyal best friend. Unfortunately the hapless pair soon lurch from one disaster to the next as they experience the very best and worst the mud drenched madness of a music festival has to offer.

The Good

Director Ian Morris delivers yet another riotously funny character assassination of adolescent shamefulness. While showcasing his proven flare for turning bodily functions and social ineptness into calamitous comedy gold, The Festival also serves as a fitting homage to the messy reality of music festivals. Many of the discomforts and misfortunes Nick and his well-intentioned friends endure will be embarrassingly familiar to anyone who’s ever popped a tent at a real life festival.

Given the combination of Morris and former cast members, it’s impossible to avoid inevitable comparisons with The Inbetweeners. While the tone and comedic tactics are undoubtedly similar it’s a compliment to the filmmaking talents that this never feels like merely an awkward attempt to recapture former glories. A host of new characters and a highly specific setting gives the film more than enough distinct personality. This film never feels like an attempt to make The Inbetweeners 3, even if it will absolutely satisfy the many fans who yearned for more of their signature comedy style.

Leading man Joe Thomas is an actor with a unique combination of endearing likeability and obnoxious cluelessness. It allows audiences to simultaneously sympathise with his character’s disastrous misfortunes and yet also joyously revel in them. It’s a comedic gift he’s employed repeatedly in The Inbetweeners or Fresh Meat and it transfers effortlessly once again to the big screen.  The Festival provides the perfect vehicle for his indignant frustration and dejected disappointment, throwing a barrage of increasingly extreme calamity against him. Thomas as always eagerly shows willingness to sacrifice both body and pride for audiences’ entertainment.

Special praise is also due to Hammed Animashaun and Claudia O’Doherty as Nick’s abundantly optimistic friends. Their characters help constantly propel the film in more absurd directions, adding even more fuel to Nick’s raging fire of shame and abject failure. Their endearing enthusiasm for situations and each other in the face of disaster helps keep the audience on their side even when Nick’s selfishly self-defeating antics test the limits of that sympathy.

Around the film’s hapless trio of heroes a line-up of familiar faces do a great job providing comedic support, with the likes of Jermain Clement, Nick Frost and Noel Fielding among them. It’s also worth noting that filming at real life festivals gives the film a sense of genuine scale far beyond the film’s relatively modest budget. It’s a clever way of making sure the film captures a credible sense of the ‘epic insanity’ of an actual music festival.

The Bad

Anyone who found The Inbetweeners trademark cringe drenched comedy exploits to be more excruciating than entertaining will likely have a similarly visceral reaction to The Festival. Not everyone seemingly finds joy so easily in witnessing the chronic failures and inevitable humiliations of hapless young adults. Those that can’t bare the sight of tortuous embarrassment will likely spend much of the film squirming with discomfort. So be warned that this is clearly and unashamedly a film for those that actually relish those feelings.

The Ugly Truth

The Festival is a five star slice of cringe soaked comedy that perfectly captures the shameful mud drenched misadventures and madness of music festivals. Likeable leads and an enthusiastic supporting cast sacrifice dignity for a steady stream of memorable laugh out loud moments. Fans of The Inbetweeners in particular will find plenty of familiar joys and some new delights in their festival experience.

Review by Russell Nelson

The Meg Review

The Plot

A group of scientist uncover a deadly secret while exploring the very deepest recesses of the ocean. Now faced with a monster shark of unimaginable proportions they have to turn to the only man who has survived a past encounter with one and is just brave enough to get back in the water…

The Good

Jason Statham has the kind of rugged charm and self-aware swagger that wins over audiences quickly and allows them to largely suspend disbelief. It’s a valuable asset indeed with dealing with unashamedly silly action movie cliché’s. He clearly does his best to deliver predictably awful dialogue and to keep this film afloat. His presence certainly enhances the film considerably even if it might not be enough to save it overall.

For those most avid addicts of the guilty pleasure giant monster genre it will be nice to watch one on the big screen rather than on late night TV. Even if the quality is sadly much the same. The Meg at least has a significant budget and a few familiar faces on show.

The Meg offer some very occasional laughs and has at least a last minute flurry of action. Which thanks to the film’s 12 rating, can be watched by less discerning younger fans. At least the film is less likely to traumatise generations of people about going in the water like Jaws famously did.

The Bad

The Meg promised so much with a well cut trailer that worked miracles in projecting the film as a shamelessly silly and action packed monster thrill ride. Unfortunately those that flock to watch the actual film, hoping for big laughs and horrified gasps will find an embarrassingly short supply of both.

Aiming for a family friendly rating has largely neutered any potential horrific delights, robbing the film of the kind of genuine terror that makes Jaws such an undisputed classic. There’s very few moments in the film that will raise adrenalin levels much beyond abject boredom. Likewise for a ‘creature feature’ whose posters shamelessly boast of the gargantuan size of this prehistoric monster shark the film largely fails to deliver anything like that sense of scale. Poorly crafted and inconsistent effects work means that the shark never feels anywhere near as impressive or fun on screen as it does in single poster shots.

It’s also a shame to have to admit that the Meg gets surprisingly little screen time in a film that seems more preoccupied for large chunks with achingly dull family melodrama.

It’s also worth noting that the internationally co-financed production makes repeated use of Chinese locations, characters and language. The pandering for Chinese box office appeal feels a little distracting at times, particularly when it seemingly forces the film to focus on the dull human characters instead of the giant monster mayhem.

Even those most determined to enjoy the film thanks to its fun concept and appealing marketing campaign will find the slow paced, badly acted, lacklustre action and effects largely frustrates those efforts to take much pleasure from proceedings.

The Ugly Truth

The Meg had so much potential to be a perfect guilty pleasure, but sadly even Jason Statham’s gruff voiced charisma can’t distract from poor effects, non-existent plot and some truly atrocious acting. Even armed with a genuine blockbuster budget this film doesn’t offer any more than the typical forgettably awful monster movie that clogs up late night TV and the straight to DVD bargain bins.

Review by Russell Nelson

Ant Man and The Wasp Review

The Plot

Scott Lang serving the final days of his house arrest finds himself once again caught up in an adventure of both miniature and massive proportions as he joins forces with Dr Hank Pym and erstwhile love interest Hope Van Dyne to tackle a mysterious new foe and solve the dangerous mysteries of the quantum realm.

The Good

Ant Man and The Wasp is a solid sequel for one of Marvel’s less mainstream heroes that keeps much of what worked about his first solo outing. The film showcases a great array of action sequences that makes the absolute best of the unique opportunities afforded by both the miniature and massive proportions offered by the Dr Hank Pym’s technology. Those flawless effect and inventive set pieces combines effortlessly with the film’s playful comedic tone.

Paul Rudd is an ageless star blessed with an embarrassing abundance of natural charisma. His famously endless supply of charming one liners and innate likeability looks in no danger of dwindling any time soon. He is able to make Scott Lang the perfect mix of endearing buffoon and faultless hero. Having done such a good job establishing the character and transitioning to being a genuine action star in the first film, he seems even more at home in the superhero suit this time around.

Likewise Evangeline Lily and Michael Douglas are on typically stellar form as Dr Pym and titular new hero The Wasp. This film even further fleshes out the emotional layers to their relationship and past that the first film did such a good job in establishing. Evangeline Lily in particular is sensational in her super suit, given even more prominent action responsibilities this time round. Obviously having At Man and The Wasp working in tandem provides even more fun opportunities for action packed fun, which the film takes full advantage of.

Michael Pena as Scott’s swift talking comedic sidekick Luis was a scene stealing delight in the first film and he is yet another welcome feature of a sequel which matches and frequently surpasses the original. The addition of Michelle Pfeiffer, Hannah John-Kamen and Laurence Fishburne to the cast is just another example of the abundant embarrassment of riches the MCU has to offer.

The Bad

Those waiting agonisingly to see the resolution of the Infinity War story arc will no doubt feel a little impatient to get to that conclusion and may have a little less initial enthusiasm for this film because of that. While perfectly crafted and self-contained it’s fair to say this is a sequel that in a wider sense very much represents treading water for the MCU. After years of seeing major character introductions and pieces of a much larger puzzle being laid in place fans may have come to merely expect those moments. That is perhaps the only film this film fails to deliver though and it is undeniably brilliant in its own right.

The Ugly Truth

After the dark and emotionally devastating climax of Avengers Infinity War this fun spirited standalone adventure serves as a welcome pallet cleanser for Marvel fans. Armed with impressive and original action, a well-crafted plot and a very likeable cast this is a perfect second outing for Marvel’s most diminutive hero.

Review by Russell Nelson

Confidence Southwark Playhouse Review

The Plot

The scheming young inhabitants of a rundown British seaside resort in the 1990s plot increasingly ill-advised pathways to quick cash and eventual escape. A heady mix of boredom, betrayal and bad behaviour combining to create frequently hilarious consequences.

The Good

Confidence perfectly captures the spirit of a young generation trapped between delusional self-confidence and more depressing realities. As illustrated by iconic audience favourites like Only Fools and Horses, clueless optimism and hapless aspiration are a particularly potent source of endearing comedy.

The production’s compact neon drenched set provides an imaginatively versatile and effective backdrop for the story. Combined with the quirky costumes it efficiently illustrates the amusing contradictions between the youthful hyper optimism of the 1990s and the languid depression of once popular seaside towns stuck in a pattern of terminable decline.

At the centre of this world Tanya Burr gives a truly great performance as Ella, the brazenly ambitious and ruthless teenage temptress determined to improve her own good fortunes at any cost. Burr’s performance has a convincingly sneering swagger far removed from her own familiar sweet nature. Ella is consistently crude and selfishly cynical with occasional flashes of desperate vulnerability. It’s an impressively foul mouthed and fragile transformation from the popular YouTube beauty blogging superstar. This bravely uninhibited performance alone should be more than enough to silence any detractors that question the commitment or talent of Tanya Burr based solely on her distracting social media success.

Around Burr’s provocative character the rest of a fantastic cast populate the seaside wasteland Ella struts around with people who are equally clueless and complicit in her dubious entrepreneurial schemes. The ensemble do a fine job of maintaining a consistent darkly comedic tone throughout.  A dead hamster and a most unlikely use for a Cadbury’s Flake are just a few examples of the play’s deliciously silly and sharp edged running punchlines.

The Bad

Overly unsympathetic audiences may find the predictably disastrous consequences of the character’s deluded antics a little less endearing. While many people gleefully enjoy watching the inevitable failings of the self-deluded, for some it’s can be more of an ordeal than amusing. For those people it’s only fair to warn that Confidence offers up cringe inducing comedic moments with shameless frequency.

The Ugly Truth

Confidence delivers plenty of laughs and scheming plot twists, propelled by a brilliant cast and Tanya Burr’s ferociously charismatic performance. The play is arguably more fun than an actual trip to the seaside.

Review by Russell Nelson