Flowers – TV Review

The idea of a family in crisis is hardly new, but even so, Flowers, Channel 4’s new comedy drama, isn’t your usual family comedy. Set in a shambolic country home filled from floor to ceiling with well-worn clutter and rickety inventions, the non-specific time and place makes this show feel both otherworldly and oddly familiar – like coming home after a long holiday.

Written by the infuriatingly talented Will Sharpe, who had never written anything for telly before, this dark – and I mean dark – comedy about an eccentric family struggling to hold themselves together possesses an intoxicating blend of twisted whimsy and crushing pathos. Think Wes Anderson directing an episode of the Addams Family.

Olivia Coleman plays music teacher Deborah, the desperately lonely wife of depressed children’s book writer Maurice (Julian Barratt). As their marriage quietly crumbles, they seek solace in the lives of their maladjusted twins Amy (Sophia Di Martino), an unhinged composer of piano ballads, and Donald (Daniel Rigby), the world’s most useless inventor, both of whom still live at home at the age of 25.

Also living in the creaky house is Maurice’s eccentric mother Hattie and a Japanese illustrator named Shun (Sharpe himself), who Deborah suspects is having a secret gay relationship with her distant husband.

Both Colman and Barratt play their roles superbly – the former pasting on a chirpy smile to mask her despair, the latter overwhelmed by sadness and confusion. Barratt’s raw depiction of depression is particularly impressive, with Maurice trapped in his shed staring despondently into a void in the bleak hope that inspiration will strike. It’s his emptiness and apathy that repeatedly derails Deborah’s attempts to save their relationship, leaving them both stuck in an open marriage neither of them truly wants to be a part of anymore.

If that all sounds terribly bleak – it is, but Flowers is still not without its moments of levity. Full of bizarre and flawed characters who are drawn into darkly funny scenarios – Maurice’s attempts to conceal his botched suicide resulting in him being suspected of child abuse, for example – the show has the murky and surreal tone reminiscent of the likes of The League of Gentlemen and Black Books.

That’s what is so good about the show – it finds the laughter in the grimness of life. It’s a series that swings from misery to joy to fear within the space of one scene, humorously exposing the pain of loss as the family and their friends come to terms with an unexpected death without ever making light of its characters’ sufferings.

Flowers may be bleak, off-kilter and plainly risky, but it’s also clever, funny and deeply affecting – not the sort of thing you usually get with a family comedy.

Click here to watch a trailer for Flowers

The Jungle Book – Film Review

You could be forgiven for approaching this latest rendition of The Jungle Book with a sense of trepidation. Jon Favreau’s CGI-drenched reimagining of Rudyard Kipling’s classic tale is just the latest in a long line of Disney remakes. Until now it has been a disappointing list, the likes of Maleficent, Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland failing to inspire the same love as their parent animations.

The Jungle Book, though, may finally be the one to break that mould. As charming and vibrant as the cartoon you remember, but with an extra dose of depth and soul, this lively and engrossing tale may be the first remake that actually improves on the original.

For those who are somehow unfamiliar with the story, here’s the low down. After being found seemingly abandoned in the jungle by Bagheera (Kingsley), man-cub Mowgli (Sethi) is entrusted into the care of a wolf pack who attempt to raise him as their own despite his distinctive lack of wolf-like qualities.

But when vengeful tiger Shere Khan (Elba) returns to threaten the boy’s life, Mowgli is forced to flee his home, embarking on a journey of self discovery that will lead to innumerable encounters with creatures both friend and foe.

One of the most delightful things about this film is its impeccable casting. Bill Murray, with his treasured laid-back persona, is a perfect fit as the cheeky but endearing Baloo, while it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Scarlett Johansson’s rasping vocals bringing to life the equally seductive Kaa. And who better to voice the wise and regal Bagheera than Sir Ben Kingsley and his cut-class intonation?

It’s the same with the film’s more dangerous jungle creatures too. Edris Elba’s raw, East End accent helps to make a fierce and imposing Khan that much more menacing, while Christopher Walken somehow turns King Louie into a hybrid of the Godfather and Gollum as he tries to entice Mowgli into giving him the power of the ‘red flower’ with an offer he can’t refuse.

Unfortunately, the sole human performance is somewhat hit-and-miss. Though Neel Sethi certainly embodies the kindness, courage and resourcefulness of Mowgli, his interactions with the CGI characters are often clunky and awkward – which is perhaps unsurprising given the young actor only has a green screen and styrofoam to play off.

The performers are aided by Favreau’s decision to stick closer to Kipling’s original stories than the animation, which means the anthropomorphised characters can be fleshed out in greater detail. We therefore learn more about the motivation behind Khan’s hatred of humans and get to see much more of Mowgli’s wolf mother, Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o), who adds an extra layer of emotional resonance to the story.

And while it’s inevitably darker than the Disney original, depicting the jungle as a far more dangerous and frightening place, Favreau ensures there’s just the right amount of levity too. Fresh renditions of The Bare Necessities and I Wanna Be Like You are fun call-backs to the animated classic – though the latter doesn’t quite fit here – and Baloo’s Huckleberry Finn-esque attempts to dupe Mowgli into stealing honey are an absolute delight.

Most striking of all, though, are the impressive visuals on show. While creating a whole world out of CGI can lead to a disjointed experience, here it works perfectly, the blend of exquisite detail and hyper-real vistas perfectly suiting Kipling’s dream-like creation. From the blindingly vibrant flora and fauna to the richly defined CGI creatures, every inch of every frame is bursting with life.

In short, The Jungle Book is by far the best live action remake yet, its enticing visuals and outstanding performances resulting in an engrossing watch that sets a new standard for others to follow. Take note Beauty and the Beast – this is how it’s done.

Runtime: 105 mins; Genre: Adventure; Released: 15 April 2016

Director: Jon Favreau; Writer: Justin Marks, Rudyard Kipling;

Cast: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Edris Elba, Ben Kingsley

Click here to watch a trailer for The Jungle Book

Midnight Special – Film Review

If you paused when you heard writer-director Jeff Nichols’ next movie was an ambitious sci-fi about a boy with superpowers, bear in mind that he is no stranger to the supernatural. His last film, Mud, teased that its titular fugitive (played by a resurging Matthew McConaughey) might be a little more than human. The film before, Take Shelter, conjured apocalyptic visions of plagues and destruction in the warped mind of its protagonist (played by Michael Shannon). It should hardly come as a surprise, then, that Nichols fourth film, Midnight Special, is not a superhero movie in the DC/Marvel sense of the term; the director’s blend of subtle filmmaking and powerful performances resulting in a grounded, emotionally-driven domestic drama about a father and his son, who just so happens to have special abilities.

Shannon reunites with Nichols for a fourth time to play Roy, a desperate dad who goes on the run with his eight-year-old son, Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), to protect him from the clutches of a religious cult drawn to the boy’s special powers. Exactly what these powers are is not initially clear, with Nichols drip-feeding only the barest information to keep us intrigued by the mystery from start to finish. Things are complicated further when news of Alton’s abilities sparks an NSA manhunt, led by nebbish investigator Paul Sevier (a superbly empathetic Adam Driver), leading to a propulsive road-chase plot that gives the movie the feel of a tense thriller as Roy and Alton race against time to reach a mysterious location before their hunters can catch up.

Through both his lens-flaring visual style and the uplifting mood he creates, Nichols evokes the tone of 80s’ Amblin movies – John Carpenter’s Starman and Spielberg’s-own Close Encounters of a Third Kind are definite touchstones here. Yet it remains distinctly a Jeff Nichols film, with its grubby, dust bowl setting and economic camera work grounding the story firmly in the mundane. A reminder that this is a film about human beings and not the powers they posses.

Which isn’t to say things don’t get batshit crazy at times. Nichols mounts some impressive set pieces, including one breathtaking sequence that sees a petrol station being pelted with the flaming debris of an exploding air-force satellite. But the film’s real power is drawn from its humanity rather than its super-humanity. From Joel Egerton’s endearing turn as Roy’s efficient, virtuous getaway driver and Driver’s understated performance as the curious Sevier, to Shannon and Lieberher’s rawly emotional chemistry as father and son, this film is driven by excellent performances. Only Kirsten Dunst feels underused, her role as Alton’s mother, while adding a welcome female presence in an otherwise male dominated film, adds nothing to the story other than stealing focus away from the father-son dynamic at its core.

For all the well-crafted action sequences and exquisitely shot visuals, it’s the moments of subtlety where Midnight Special packs its biggest punches. One such scene sees Alton reassure his dad that he doesn’t have to fret over him anymore, to which Roy replies: “I’ll always worry about, that’s the deal.” Because this is really just story about the joy and pain of parenthood, one that’s more powerful and affecting than any superhero movie DC and Marvel could possible muster.

Runtime: 112 mins; Genre: Sci-fi/Drama; Released: 8 April 2016;

Director: Jeff Nichols; Writer: Jeff Nichols;

Cast: Michael Shannon, Adam Driver, Joel Edgerton, Jaeden Lieberher

Click here to watch a trailer for Midnight Special