The Happytime Murders ****

The Happytime Murders is a somewhat weird movie.

Putting Muppet style characters into real life Los Angeles and making them portray recognisable character types, familiar in so many previous genres.

However, be warned that one type of film this is not.  This is not a film for children!!!

Imagine a ‘Blaxploitation’ movie from the ‘70s, add a police procedural with a comedy buddy story and you have this film.

Such a mix with human actors alone would be strange, but with puppets basically taking the underclass character roles works rather well.

The script is tightly written, full of humour and pathos.  The human actors play their parts straight down the line.  The puppets, created by the Henson studios, have realistic bodies and can be seen walking, running and engaging in other activities in a totally realistic way.

The humour ranges from laugh out loud to schoolchild sniggering and comes in large amounts.

All this together makes for a very enjoyable adult, guilty pleasure type experience.

Although I enjoyed this film, I know it wont be for every taste, I give it 4 stars out of five.

 

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The Guernsey Literature and Potato Peel Pie Society ****

The Guernsey Literature and Potato Peel Pie Society is an absolutely charming love story.

It is set just after WWII in London and on the Channel isle of Guernsey, with flash backs to the German occupation period.

Featuring a plethora of fine British/Dutch/American acting talent, the story is told at a gentle pace, focusing on the tensions caused between natives and occupiers and the after effects in peacetime.

The story arrives at its inevitable and predictable conclusion, which is nonetheless, very satisfying.

Lily James gives a warm and believable portrayal, which leads the story.  She plays a young author and survivor of the London Blitz, struggling at times with PTSD.

The story could have degenerated into a sentimental tale but avoids this fate with careful measures of humour and grit to balance the sugar.

My only regret about the film is that it was not shot on the island.  Due to financial reasons, it was filmed in the beautiful county of Devon. Anybody expecting to see lovely St Peter Port will have to settle for a very different English fishing village. That is a minor point, but a distraction if you know the locations.

I recommend this for anybody with a love of our history and the tradition of British filmmaking.

At the time of writing, this film is showing at the Odeon for this week, and will undoubtedly moves to the Silverscreen performances in a few weeks.

I award it 4 out of five stars.

 

Darkest Hour *****

Darkest Hour is the story of the few days when Winston Spencer Churchill became Prime Minister to the end of the Dunkirk evacuation.

I found this to be one of the most enjoyable history lessons I have ever experienced.

The political machinations show that anything we see from Westminster now is nothing new.

The hype surrounding Gary Oldman’s performance is well founded, as he produces a totally convincing image of the great orator.

An outstanding technical and artistic cast supports Oldman. Together they produce a near documentary recreation of real events.

If you collect DVDs, I would recommend pairing this film with Dunkirk as a perfect evenings viewing.

This film scores on all measures that I use to rate films and fully deserves its 5 stars.

Breathe *****

This is another British period drama carrying the BBC Films and other respected logos.

It has all the cinematic beauty that you could wish for, ranging from middle class England to the coffee plantations of the African rift. The cars and costumes are sumptuous. The script is delivered like butter on a warm crumpet.   The acting, by many of our finest younger stars, is convincing.

You are made to feel the heartbreak and pain of the protagonists and supporting cast. Delicious.

The story weaves the struggles of a whole family in a battle with Polio, a once common but now thankfully almost eradicated disease. As it reaches its inevitable conclusion, we can reflect on the benefits to the whole world from that family’s troubles. This converts a tragedy into a victory worthy of recording in this film.

This film is the debut for Andy Serkis as a director, boding well for his future projects.

A very solid 5 out of five stars.

 

The Man Who Invented Christmas *****

This is a beautiful little film about how and why our most cherished author, Charles Dickens, came to write A Christmas Carol.

The cast consists of a large ensemble of top British acting talents. The script is sharp, humorous without descending into farce and very entertaining.

It does not take a straight biographical narrative but turns the story into an allegory, in the style of Dickens himself.

The fearful side of early 19th century London life is well represented, while at the same time; the viewers’ sympathetic and nostalgic emotions are gently stirred to a crescendo at the climax of the story.

I predict this film will become a staple television entertainment of Christmases yet to come, just as the Christmas Carol itself has.

First class family entertainment so 5 stars out of five for this seasonal treat.

Battle of the Sexes ****

At its heart, Battle of the Sexes is the story of a publicity stunt that went hideously wrong for its sponsor and in doing so caused a revolution in the world of women’s sport.

In 1973, Bobby Riggs, a former champion tennis player and world-class chauvinist, made a public claim that no woman pro-tennis player could beat any male pro-player.

What develops from this statement by an uncomfortably horrible braggart leads to a match between himself and Miss Billie Jean King.

Ms King was already established in the world of women’s tennis and leading their struggle for equal pay.

What follows is a portrait of institutional sexism at its most patronising insidiousness.

This story is not however crying into its hands.

Humour balances pathos and excitement balances emotion to give a well-rounded story that will educate and delight in equal measure.

Emma Stone portrayal of Billie Jean King is very believable.

Comedic actor Steve Carell gives a very controlled, reined in performance of an overconfident, addictive character as Bobby Riggs, good enough for possible award consideration.

He makes you laugh, loathe and pity this sad man, who is so wrapped up in his past glories, allowing his boasting lead him to an inevitable downfall.

As a sports movie, this is one of the very best I have ever seen.

A sporting 4 out of five stars for this biopic.

The Death of Stalin ****

The Death of Stalin has bee created by Armando Iannucci and David Schneider.  You can expect the foul language and biting dark humour of Iannucci’s various television projects for which he is MV5BMTcxMDc1NjcyNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDU0NDYxMzI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_famous.

A large cast of recognisable actors inhabit the characters at the top of Russians political and military hierarchy.   These include Jason Isaacs, Andrea Riseborough, Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambour, Michael Palin and Paul Whitehouse.

The events before and after the death of Stalin are treated as a pantomime of opposing ambitions, jealousy and incompetence. However, custard pies are replaced by copious numbers of executions. Running in parallel are stories of families torn open by divisions, massacres and exploitation.

On top of this is the paranoid fear of Stalin that is ingrained into the population, from politicians to musicians and housekeepers who looked after him.  This is made believable by not making the actors adopt stereotypical Russian accents.  Their natural voices are used to great effect to portray the mix of regions they came from within Russia.  It also makes the cacophony of arguing voices easier to follow.

In our age of less than conventional politicians, it is only too easy to suspect the events as shown in this film, may be underplaying the reality of what really happened when Stalin died.

This is a well made political satire.  Four out of five stars awarded.