Film Review: Danny Collins

“He’s got a big heart, he just keeps it up his ass half the time…”

That’s Danny Collins…and… that’s Danny Collins, a film with a reassuringly big heart, too.

I suppose if you break it all down, it’s fairly standard stock.

All the ingredients are there, an unfulfilling life, the want for change, the need for redemption with those most important to you and ultimately, lessons learned and making things right; to a point.

But such a blasé summary does ‘Danny Collins’ a disservice, because regardless of the film’s complexities or lack, thereof, it works and works well.

Annette Benning plays hard-nosed, savvy-yet-sweet to perfection. Both Bobby Cannavale and Jennifer Garner turn in tender, yet weighty performances considering their relatively limited screen time. Christopher Plummer plays a wise voice of sense and reason as Danny’s long time manager and best friend and then of course, there’s Al Pacino…

I struggle to think of a single Pacino performance that hasn’t at least held it’s own over the years, no matter the script, no matter the style.

Never less than engaging, here, he near smothers us with warmth and charm, in a good way, playing Danny Collins, a ‘career successful,’ yet personally unfulfilled rock star.

On receiving an unexpected and overwhelming life changing gift from his manager, Danny Collins reassesses his drug-addled, superficial existence and decides to make some important changes; most important of all, connecting with his son and family ( Bobby Cannavale, Jennifer Garner and their precocious, yet admittedly amusing daughter).

Danny’s approach and charm offensive is predictably bold and over the top, in keeping with his superstar status, but respect and lost time cannot be bought or made up over night.

Whilst he may woo effortlessly when he has an ‘on-side’ audience, creating bonds and regaining the trust of those who would rather he didn’t exist, is quite another matter altogether.

Yes, it’s a bit clumsy at times, yes it can be a little contrived and predictable in places, but at the risk of repeating myself: Danny Collins is a film with a big heart, an excellent cast and of course, Al Pacino.

When you watch a film with no expectations and come out feeling good about pretty much everything, you know that something’s been done right. Danny Collins gets it right.

A genuinely likeable cast, laugh-out-loud moments, ‘that’ feel good factor and all carried along by the timeless music and message of John Lennon. This is great escapism and Alfredo Pacino is on top form.

Danny Collins: What’s not to like?

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Film Review: Force Majeure

The admittedly very little Swedish cinema that I have seen over the years seems to share a similar approach in its direction; a rather cold, aloof, yet intense style.

‘Force Majeure’ is no exception.

I say cold and aloof as a good thing in this instance and a refreshing antidote to the plethora of overblown CGi-fests that come spewing from the Hollywood machine with such depressing regularity.

Ironically, Force Majeure actually sounds like it should be a big budget, Hollywood action flick but the truth is far from this.

It’s a film stripped back to the bare essentials, exposing characters and their intensifying troubles, warts and all.

Tomas, Ebba and their family are taking a luxurious ski trip in the French Alps. Importantly, it’s a rare opportunity for hard-working Father Tomas, to spend some quality time with his two children, Harry and Vera.

Things don’t turn out quite as relaxing as they might have hoped for though. An apparently close brush with death in the form of an on-rushing avalanche, shakes them all up considerably, but it’s in the wake of this incident that the story starts to unfurl.

Tomas’ gut reaction in the face of this impending snowy doom is to flee rather than staying put to protect his family and it is this that plants the seeds of trouble, upheaval and doubt within the family unit.

Ebba’s faith in Tomas is potentially,  irrevocably affected, as she finds it increasingly difficult to live with this memory and stand by her man.

Tomas is insistant that the truth has simply been lost in the understandable confusion of fear and adrenalin, but with first the children’s demonstrable disapproval and then Ebba’s reluctance to simply brush events under the carpet, things are always likely to unravel… and how!

Force Majeure is expertly directed by Ruben Östlund. It’s refreshingly open and uncluttered and in Johannes Kuhnke and Lisa Loven Kingsli, there are performances of subtlety yet great conviction.

The luxurious Alpine ski resort is the perfect setting, for there is a lingering sense that whilst it’s a welcome, cosy and relaxing retreat, there is, much in the sense of Kubrik’s ”The Shining,’ also no place to go; certainly no place to which Tomas can escape, away from the festering circumstances that increasingly plague him and place him in ‘relationship dock.’

It’s a challenging piece; a film that, within the bounds of the family dynamic, investigates gender roles and more importantly gender ‘expectations’ in a world of increasingly blurred lines between the two.

It’s also a film of subtle optimism with a reassuring message that no matter how much we mess up, there’s always tomorrow and the chance that life will throw us an olive branch when we least expect it.

It’s important that we grab it and tread that unexpected yet very welcome path to salvation.

Force Majeure: Highly recommended.

Film Review: While We’re Young

I’ve long suspected that there’s more to Ben Stiller’s game than is often apparent or he is ever called upon to reveal, but here in this, Noah Baumbach’s follow up to his quirky predecessor, Frances Ha, a more mature and diverse Stiller performance is in evidence.

Yes, it’s still a comic turn of an occasionally slapstick nature and yes, Stiller still plays his stock role as the hard done by fool that life delights in bashing down and perhaps it’s down to the witty, observational script, but this comes across as one of the most diverse and accomplished performances of Stiller’s career to date.

While We’re Young is a familiar tale of middle age gone wrong. Josh (Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) play a childless, forty-something couple, tired of the baby obsessed, preachy circle of strangers that their close friends seem to have now morphed into.

A chance encounter with twenty-somethings Jamie (the Keanu Reeves-alike Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), a couple whose infectious ‘live in the moment’ attitude to everything suddenly seems incredibly appealing, convinces Josh and his wife to defy their years and dabble once again in their seemingly long lost youth.

Predictably, toe curling Tom-foolery ensues, lessons are learnt and in that way, While We’re Young is a fairly formulaic offering, but in director Baumbach’s capable hands there’s a refreshing depth to the characters and the film benefits enormously from this, not to mention a subtle handling of the humour.

This could all very easily have descended into a succession of tired and predictable set pieces, shoe horned into a production house’s template, and whilst admittedly, While We’re Young ultimately arrives at the same sort of preordained destination we might have expected from the aforementioned template, this piece has a real feel of natural development to it and crucially, doesn’t come across as just another Ben Stiller comedy vehicle.

Yes, this is indeed a surprisingly pleasing offering and one in which Stiller proves that there are more strings to his bow than perhaps we give him credit for. Time will tell whether he attempts to head full on down the Tom Hanks transformational road to ‘serious acting’ in ‘serious films’ but this is certainly a small step in that direction.

Another very watchable and likeable Noah Baumbach effort.

Recommended.

FILM REVIEW: Phoenix

Set to the back drop of a bombed out, post-war Berlin, ‘Phoenix’ is the story of a Jewish lady, Nelly, a concentration camp survivor whose simple quest is to be reunited with her husband, Johnny. His whereabouts she remains unsure of, or whether he is even still alive for that matter. To add to the intrigue, Nelly’s facial disfigurement, a legacy from her time in Auschwitz, means that following substantial reconstructive surgery, she physically no longer resembles the woman she once was.

We are never given any pictorial evidence of Nelly’s prior facial look, so director Christian Petzold assumes our faith that she genuinely no longer resembles Nelly from the past. This is a serious point to bear in mind throughout.

Lene (Nina Kunzendorf), is Nelly’s Jewish friend whose good intentions have led her to drive Nelly back to Berlin in order that she may briefly rest, heal and recuperate from all that she has been through. She informs her of her impending large inheritance and proposes that they both relocate to Tel Aviv to be part of the formation of a new Jewish state in the Palestine; Nelly’s mind however is unshakeably drawn towards a reconciliation with her husband, much to Lene’s disapproval and chagrin. There’s clearly an inconvenient truth that’s not being told and Lene is determined that Nelly should not hear it.

Nelly does find Johnny, but all is not as it was and so begins an unlikely reunion between the two; one which serves as a true wake-up call for Nelly, putting to the test her faith in people and their true intentions.

Nina Hoss and Ronald Zehrfeld are convincing in their roles as Nelly and Johnny respectively, but the film is at times a little slow in its development. That said, it’s generally a well realised and put together tale and definitely worth staying with for its genuinely powerful finale; one that sticks long in the memory.

Worth a watch.