Why I’m Done With Derek


I’ve given it four weeks now and I’ve finally had enough of Derek.

Ricky Gervais’ fourth sitcom centres around a care home for the elderly and the people who work in it, namely Derek (Gervais), Dougie (Karl Pilkington), and Hannah (Kerry Godliman). The show has been on the receiving end of a lot of criticism largely due to Gervais’ portrayal of Derek as a man with low intelligence, poor social skills, and lack of inhibitions. Many say that Gervais is playing a man with autism and in doing so is encouraging people to laugh at the mentally handicapped. Gervais refuses to diagnose Derek as autistic and sees Derek as a hero rather than as a figure of fun.

Mocking the disabled or not, this is not why I don’t like Derek.

Derek is billed as a comedy-drama, at least by Wikipedia, but for me it doesn’t fulfil the basic requirements for either genre. Drama requires some level of conflict or struggle and while Derek features the occasional rude visitor to the home this only provides minor friction and the occasional raised voice. On the comedy side there are the occasional funny lines but they’re much more LOL than genuine laugh out loud funny. The term comedy-drama seems to be an excuse to make a weak drama mixed with an unfunny comedy; a show than meanders through its half hour with no direction.

Funny or not, this is not why I don’t like Derek.

Where Derek really falls down for me is in how much it reveres its own characters. Not an episode goes by without one character spontaneously singing the praises of another. It is not enough for us to see Derek as a kind-hearted soul for ourselves, instead the show feels the need to have Hannah give us a brief monologue explaining just how wonderful he is and how much better he is than most people. There’s a real sense of smug self-worth about this as if just making the characters nice and selfless makes the show worthwhile in and of itself. It is also a cheat to keep the characters seemingly humble as they heap praise on one another as at the end of the day this is Ricky Gervais saying how wonderful a Ricky Gervais character is.

The clip below is taken from last week’s show, episode 4, and it is indicative of the self-reverential tone Derek takes when it comes to its characters:

[flashvideo file=wp-content/uploads/Derek.flv /]

For over a minute the show descends into an ode to a single character followed by a montage of Hannah looking sad and working hard accompanied by Coldplay of all things. The technique is heavy-handed, awkward, and should be totally unnecessary in any show where the characters are fully fleshed out and accurately portrayed. It is a classic piece of advice in writing and directing to “show, don’t tell” and Gervais could do with taking this on board. If you want us to think that Hannah and Derek are the best people in the world ever demonstrate this to us so the characters aren’t forced to stop the plot to explain it.

I loved The Office and Extras but Derek simply isn’t good enough and spends so much time admiring its own reflection that I can’t bear to watch it any longer. UK TV comedy is going through a bit of a resurgence of late with shows like Moone Boy, Fresh Meat, Him and Her, and Friday Night Dinner so there’s no need to put up with such a mediocre show.

Rust and Bone – DVD Review

Rust and Bone

I didn’t think I’d like Rust and Bone and so had been putting off watching it as long I could. Unfortunately when you write the UK’s 38th best film blog you can only put off watching a film for so long before a PR company emails you reminding you that the DVD is on release TODAY (their capitalisation). And fair enough, they sent you the DVD weeks ago and all you’ve done is left it sitting on top of a pile of DVDs waiting to be ignored.

The Film
Now I have watched the DVD and, surprise surprise, I enjoyed it. The plot surrounds Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard) a young woman who loses her legs in a horrific accident. We see her learning to deal with her new disability and tentatively start a friendship with Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts) an amateur fighter and his young son Sam (Armand Verdure). As the title suggests the film is quite raw and is all the more powerful for it. As Cotillard struggles to adapt to her new life and to let Alain get close to her the tone is relatively dark and there are few silver linings to the many clouds.

This raw emotional aesthetic makes for a powerful film and the central relationship makes for quite an unromantic romance. They are there for each other in a physical sense but are reluctant to rely on one another for any of their emotional needs. Stéphanie is a strong character and not one prone to self-pity while Alain is a generous man with a violent energy bubbling beneath the surface.

Part of my trepidation in watching Rust and Bone was caused by my previous experience with Marion Cotillard. Whenever I have seen he in English-speaking roles she has left me cold. Her performance in The Dark Knight Rises, filmed in parallel with this film, was not so much phoned in as sent via SMS with no proper punctuation. In Rust and Bone however she is impeccable and truly embodies the role she is playing.

Rust and Bone is a deeply emotional drama that veers clear of being over-dramatic and overly emotional. The performances are natural and the film is gripping because of this. It is astonishing that this film was ignored at The Oscars on Sunday.

The DVD Extras
The extras consist of an hour-long “Making Of” documentary (lovely), a few deleted scenes, and a short featurette just showcasing the special effects. It is this short featurette that most intrigued me as it allows you a quick look at how they dealt with removing Marion Cotillard’s legs and it’s not often sex scenes feature in an effects reel.

Rust and Bone is worth your money and is out on DVD and Blu-ray yesterday.

Lore – Film Review


Better late than never, Mild Concern’s review of Lore is here.

One of the less fun-filled road movies, Lore follows a family of children as they traverse a bleak post-WWII-resistance Germany to reach the safety of their Grandmother’s home 500 miles away after being abandoned by their Nazi parents. Along the way, Lore, the eldest child, attempts to deal with her newfound responsibility while also coming to realize the truth about the horrors that her parents contributed to in the War. To make things worse, Thomas, an emaciated Jew puts more stress on the group as he dubiously integrates himself into their arduous journey.

Whilst the concept of seeing the effects that the War had on the innocent isn’t new the concept of seeing those repercussions on the children of Nazis isn’t something often seen. When we are introduced to Lore and her siblings, they see their war-decorated father as a hero. Their family is honourable, wealthy and righteous, so when the children’s parents begin to burn most of the household’s documents and artefacts and move the family to a remote cabin in the woods the children are confused.

All their lives they’ve been the good guys and now people are looking at them like they would a piece of dog muck on their shoe. The confusion and angst that Lore and her siblings experience therein becomes the relatable driving force of the film’s emotion, and because audiences rarely think of such a situation the trauma that the group and Lore in particular experience is all the more compelling.

Lore 2

Saskia Rosendahl is exemplary as a leading lady. As the film progresses and the weight of the world becomes harder to bear her beauty deteriorates, succumbing to the visual and thematic hopelessness that permeates the film. Proving herself a diverse actress as the tragic Lore, she convincingly sells the horrific experiences that the film throws at her. From her newfound matriarchal woes, to awkward sexual scenarios, to exploring her own identity and worth in a world that has just been turned completely upside down Rosendahl is a diverse treat to watch in an otherwise monotonously grim film.

As a catalyst of Lore’s discovery that the world isn’t as cheery as she thought it was the film lays on its BBFC certificated promise of gore and “brief strong sex” pretty heavily. When a dog isn’t being shot in the head point blank there are bugs crawling over the parted legs of a bloodied, dead mother or recently shot out eye sockets dripping about amongst other unsightly images – and to change things up, occasionally we are treated several grim sexual attacks. Happiness is a rare novelty that cannot be afforded in Lore, and that is where the film falls short.

Whilst I admire the tale that director Cate Shortland is trying to tell, the unceasing misery of every character and plotline is just too depressing to bear. We as an audience thrive on the desolate drama that is explored throughout the film but without any hope or happiness for the characters to cling onto or aspire for Lore becomes more a film that we should punish people with than one we can maybe sit down to with our Gran at Christmas.

Lore is dark, cruel and rarely optimistic, and probably immune to Prozac too. If you’re after a film that will put a downer on your entire year Lore is for you. If not, go and see that other German film that came out last week.

Mild Concern Oscars 2013 Live Ramble


One of the film calendar’s biggest events in which the rich and famous pat one another on the back is here. We’ve prepared as best we can by watching as many of the films as possible; no fiction film in the English language not in a technical category has escaped my eyes.

It has been exhausting but not as exhausting as staying up until 5 a.m. watching Seth MacFarlane host an awards ceremony longer than any of the films nominated – and most of them were far too long. People will sing, actors will cry, and Daniel Day-Lewis will almost certainly not go home empty-handed. We are also guaranteed to slip into lunacy at some point.

I will be starting with the red carpet coverage as soon as I can bring myself to do so… and find an illegal online stream to watch. Fingers crossed I can get the live blogging software to work.

EDIT: All seems to work. If you are joining us tonight, or fancy reliving it blow by blow in the morning, then open this post in a new window and all the fun should dynamically update in-front of your eyes. If it doesn’t you’re using the wrong browser and I wash my hands of you.

EDIT: How could I forget about my old friends/alcoholism enablers at NOW TV? Legal live streaming ahoy!

Out Now – 22nd February 2013

Cloud Cloud Cloud Atlas Atlas Atlas

Cloud Atlas
Six stories spanning hundreds of years and half a dozen genres. What connects the stories? You’ll have to find out for yourself. Opinions are split but for what it’s worth I gave the film five stars.

Song for Marion
A pensioner joins an “unconventional” choir in order to honour his dead wife’s passion for performing. The film is PG so the unconventional nature of the choir is limited to pensioners singing about sex.

All I will say about this film is that its ad on IMDb keeps expanding and getting my way. You have pissed me off Mama!

Lore (limited release)
“As the Allies sweep across Germany, Lore leads her siblings on a journey that exposes them to the truth of their parents’ beliefs. An encounter with a mysterious refugee forces Lore to rely on a person she has always been taught to hate.” Stephen is totally reviewing this for us… right?

To the Wonder (limited release)
A new film from Terrence Malick which promises to have 100% fewer dinosaurs than his most recent output. The plot seems to involve people experiencing emotions and a relationship getting complicated.

Breath of the Gods (limited release)
Documentary tracing the origins of modern yoga. I wouldn’t bend over backwards to see this one. lol

Fire In The Blood (limited release)
Another five-star film according to silly old me. This documentary exposes large pharmaceutical companies protecting their patents to such a degree that they prevent access to live-saving medicines for those who can’t afford it. This is an IMPORTANT FILM™

Crawl (limited release)
“A seedy bar owner hires a mysterious Croatian to commit murder, but a planned double-crossing backfires when a young waitress is taken hostage.” Australian horror. IMDb trivia includes: “The film was shot on location in 25 days.” Truly trivial.

The Road: A Story of Life & Death (limited release)
Documentary about people who, like me, live near the A5 in London but weren’t born in the city. Is this enough of a theme to tie the film together? No. Or at least I didn’t think so.

Kai Po Che (limited release)
“Three friends growing up in India at the turn of the millennium set out to open a training academy to produce the country’s next cricket stars.” Indian cricket cinema is such an overlooked genre.

Before Dawn (limited release)
British horror about a couple whose holiday is disrupted by the living dead. Center Parcs has really gone downhill recently.

Cloud Atlas – Film Review

Cloud Atlas

You’ll have to excuse me, I’m a little confused.

I came out of watching Cloud Atlas, an epic 162 minute long exploration in storytelling consisting of six strands spanning 472 years with a cast taking on multiple roles, with my mind fully blown only to discover when researching the film online that it had been panned by the critics, ignored by American audiences, and completely snubbed by all major award ceremonies. What was going on? Did I see the same film?

Cloud Atlas 1

Recently I have been struggling to stay awake in the cinema as films constantly breach the two-hour mark without managing to keep me engaged for the duration. Prometheus, Lincoln, and Holy Motors have all been treated to the sight of me jerking awake after my brain has decided it would rather make its own entertainment than continue watching the events unfolding on-screen. Cloud Atlas is minutes away from entering three-hour territory and yet the time flew by and I was enthralled throughout. If your film’s duration equals that of The Hobbit and I manage to stay awake even after a full day’s work then you deserve an instant five stars.

Speaking of The Hobbit… In the same amount of time Cloud Atlas manages to tell six different stories whilst Peter Jackson ekes out just one third of a book. In David Mitchell’s original novel the six different plots (three in the past, one in the present, and two in the future) are each told in two parts. Each story’s first half follows another before they are each concluded in reverse order. In the film adaptation the six stories are introduced one after another and then inter-cut and overlap throughout the rest of the film.

Cloud Atlas 2

The constant swapping of storylines is disorientating at first and the film demands your full attention in order that you manage to follow all the various threads running concurrently. Perhaps it is this active engagement that had me so engrossed. I couldn’t let my mind wander for a moment for fear of losing my footing as six stories unfolded at once. Not only does the narrative sextet span various time periods; the film also encompasses every genre of film there is. Drama, comedy, romance, fantasy, thriller, mystery, sci-fi, and adventure are all represented next to, on top of, and through one another.

The monologue of a lovestruck man from 1936 will play out over footage from a dystopian future and a slave rigging the sails on a boat in the mid-19th century will smash cut into a laser fight high above a city without anything jarring. The three directors Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, and Lana Wachowski have created a superb cinematic blend of styles, tones, and genres. What ties the six threads together isn’t necessarily obvious and certainly isn’t obliquely explained to the audience; another sign that this is not a film underestimating its audience but expecting them to keep up and think for themselves.

Cloud Atlas 3

As mentioned earlier the majority of characters across the diverse plots are played by the same core cast. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, James D’Arcy, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, and Keith David all play between four and six distinct characters, often taking on various genders, ages, and races with the aid of some excellent prosthetics. Hugh Grant is frequently the first to admit that he mostly plays the same character in all his films but in Cloud Atlas he raises his game to match those around him. Everyone is on top form and it is a shame that so much work has gone into a film that has been completely overlooked.

Cloud Atlas is a visual feast filled with every genre of film and every emotion. I always hesitate to use this word but there’s no denying that Cloud Atlas truly is epic. Amazing that fantasy, comedy, drama, thriller, romance, sci-fi and period settings can all meld into the one film. Mind-blowing.

Who cares what anybody else says? I bloody loved it.

Investigative Journalism in HMV with a Bobby Moore to Spend


Following on from the slightly disastrous Bloggers’ Secret Santa in which I managed to inspire apathy in a video blogger (watch her reaction here) MoneySupermarket have a fresh endeavour for us humble bloggers. The new challenge is called What’s in your pocket? in which we are encouraged to celebrate life’s little wins by being given £20 to spend any way we like to put a smile on our faces. I could think of only one way to spend that money and that was by helping out a friend in need; HMV. Continue reading

The Race is On – DVD Review

The Race is On

Last week I mentioned the new DVD from the BFI collecting together three films from the late and great Children’s Film Foundation. Today the DVD is available to buy and I have been lucky enough to receive a copy.

Despite the three films featured on The Race is On having been made over a span of 22 years there is a clear thread tying them all together and what much have been the tropes of CFF productions becomes clear. All three centre around a race of some kind (be it running, Soapbox driving, or flying) between gangs of young boys. Girls are rarely seen and when they are it is to do some sewing or talk to a doll. Adults take the roles of either bizarrely supportive, if slightly nagging, parents or scientists who must either be fought against or helped.

These are films about boys getting stuck in, building things, getting their hands dirty, and fixating on training to build up their muscles and get fit. The films have a real charm to them as the heroes are boys who make their own entertainment and are striving to succeed at something. The bad guys are bullies and bad man (prone to spontaneous bouts of kidnapping) and often find themselves falling in mud and losing out at the end of the day. It’s all a little heart-warming.

Soapbox Derby (1957) pits the plucky Battersea Bats gang against the Victoria Victors in a race of design and speed, The Sky Bike (1967) has young Tom helping a local man with his flying machine in a competition against some dishonest engineers, and cult favourite Sammy’s Super T-Shirt (1978) features a scientist who inadvertently give superpowers to Sammy after an experiment involving his T-shirt as Sammy prepares for a race.

The really don’t make ’em like the used to. Each film is charming, funny, and have been lovingly digitised. I am too young and attractive to have seen any of the films when they were first around but the DVD is a nostalgic treat for anyone who was.

The Children’s Film Foundation Collection: The Race is On [DVD] and if you fancy winning a copy there is still time to enter our competition.