September 8, 2014, Posted by Beau Merchant in Film & TV, Reviews, Sport

Next Goal Wins review: What the beautiful game’s about

With the game of football gradually becoming more about the money, the diving and the prima donna attitudes of the star players, it’s sometimes hard to remember why it was ever called ‘the beautiful game’. Next Goal Wins goes a long way to reminding you.

In 2001, following a record 31-0 defeat to Australia and being ranked bottom in the FIFA world rankings, the minnows of American Samoa are the laughing-stock of international football. A decade later they are still rooted to the bottom, not winning a single match and scoring twice in seventeen games. Things are not looking good.

With qualification for the 2014 World Cup looming, they place an ad for a new coach to improve their chances. They have one application. Enter Dutch madman Thomas Rongen.

Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 10.50.29

What follows is one of the most surprisingly touching and moving documentaries you’ll see this year. As the rag-tag bunch (including the game’s only transgender player, and Nicky Salapu – the goalkeeper who let in the 31 goals) go through the rigorous and frantic sessions under Rongen, we see the group gradually grow in confidence and ability. There are some truly wonderful and heartbreaking moments and Rongen’s personal story will especially pull the heart strings.

Everyone should watch this film, whether fan, non-fan, player or coach. This is what the beautiful game’s about.

Next Goal Wins is out on DVD now. Find out more here and on Twitter: @NGW_Movie

July 10, 2014, Posted by Tom in Film & TV, Reviews

Mistaken For Strangers review

It’s no secret that we’re big fans of The National. Each of their six studio albums have been widely praised by critics and fans alike, and they have a reputation as one of the finest live acts on the planet. They seem like pretty sound guys too. But what would it be like to join them on tour as a roadie? To work as part of their crew, day in day out, in cities across the world? And what if you were actually there to make a documentary about them? Oh, and you were also the frontman’s brother?

That’s the premise behind Mistaken For Strangers, a music documentary film by Tom Berninger, the younger brother of singer Matt . Hilarious, insightful and often quite moving, it shows the band on their 2010-11 High Violet world tour and the often strained relationship between the siblings.

Tom and Matt Berninger (© Dogwoof)

Tom and Matt Berninger (© Dogwoof)

As the rest of The National are comprised of brothers (drummer Bryan and bassist Scott Devendorf, and twin guitarists Aaron and Bryce Dessner), bringing Tom along to help out and make his film initially seems like a great idea, allowing a notorious underacheiver to finally complete a project and escape the shadows of his famous and successful older brother.

However, adding this extra element to the mix causes Matt some headaches, as Tom’s shambolic attempts at organisation, his bizarre interviewing technique and over enthusiasm for partying leads to tension with the band’s management.

Far more than just a tour documentary, it’s a study in family and differing levels of success. Matt’s the star of the Berninger household; adored by critics and fans alike. Tom is a 30+ guy who doesn’t even own any plates, and doesn’t want a girlfriend as he doesn’t feel he has the right clothes to wear on a date. But the project brings them together in a way that is both poignant and amusing.

Whilst some scenes may feel a little staged, on the whole this is a fascinating portrait of a band on the road, and some of the live footage is excellent. Despite Tom’s somewhat unorthodox style, it’s beautifully put together, making Mistaken For Strangers well worth a watch, even if you aren’t a huge fan of the band.


Mistake For Strangers is out now on DVD and on demand. Watch the trailer:

Find out more about the film here:

July 1, 2014, Posted by Beau Merchant in Film & TV, Reviews

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared film review

Already a huge box office smash in its native Sweden, where it opened on Christmas day last year, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared is the big-screen adaptation of the beloved (and over 3 million copy selling) book of the same name.

Allan Karlsson (brilliantly played by Swedish comedian Robert Gustafsson) is due to celebrate his 100th birthday at the retirement home where he’s holed up. He decides he doesn’t fancy a party so climbs out of the window and gets on a bus with a suitcase stuffed with a drug dealer’s money. We follow Allan as he makes his way across the country followed by the police and the skin-head biker gang who want their money back. As you can imagine, madness and hilarity ensue…

Parallel to the main narrative, we glimpse into Allan’s younger years and how he ended up being the man the man he is today. From joining the revolution in Francoist Spain, dancing with Stalin and knocking back drinks with Harry Truman after the first successful testing of the atomic bomb, he lived an extraordinary (and booze filled) life. These past exploits recalled the similar scenes in Forest Gump which no doubt served as an inspiration.

After a chaotic opening, the film eventually finds it’s feet and the warm humour shines through. The plotting and the nicely-played coincidences are handled well, and although the musical score every so often hints that the film’s about to go all slapstick on us, it never does.

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared is one of the warmest, most feel-good films this summer and the performances and vivid direction stay with you long after you’ve climbed out of your chair.  A delight.


Watch the trailer here:

April 28, 2014, Posted by Beau Merchant in Film & TV, Reviews

Locke film review: Tom Hardy goes for a drive

Locke is a 90 minute car journey on the M6, with just one actor on screen for the duration making a series of phone calls. Oh, and half of the conversations are about concrete. Sold? I’m guessing probably not. You’ll be surprised to hear then that Locke is one of the most gripping, absorbing and unique cinema experiences you’ll have this year. It’s best to go in knowing as little as possible, so I’ll be brief on details. Tom Hardy plays Ivan Locke, a construction worker who, on the eve of the biggest job of his career, makes a decision that will change the course of his night (and life) forever. For the next hour and a half we are in Locke’s car, experiencing every hands-free phone call, bump in the road and changing of lane with him. There are no car chases or explosions. No bad guys making threats or demands. The tension and dread all come from the excellent screenplay by writer/director Steven Knight and of course the monumental performance of Tom Hardy. This is Hardy’s film. His Locke is the calm and gentle Welshman, a bread and butter family man with his ‘Help for Heroes’ tax disc holder and the charity’s blue and red band around his wrist perhaps hinting at a military past. Whilst others on the end of the phone are losing their composure and temper it is Locke who keeps it together. You hang on his every word, you want everything to work out for him and as the film ends you’ll feel like you could spend another hour in his company. Hopefully we’ll see Hardy in similar roles now. It’s beautifully shot, with the lights from the M6 slowly dissolving in over the action and the reflections of other cars on the windows giving the film a dream-like feel. As a kid I always felt removed from reality on long motorway night journeys and Knight captures those feelings perfectly with his framing and direction. The excellent and haunting score by Dickon Hinchliffe (founding member of the Tindersticks) should also be applauded. This is satisfying, fresh and brave film making from the UK. Superb. Locke is out in cinemas now. Beau 8 / 10

April 15, 2014, Posted by Ben Willis in Film & TV, Reviews

Why Breaking Bad is awesome

***WARNING: Contains spoilers (and slight pretentiousness)***

‘I am the one who knocks.’

And with that line, Walter White completes his extraordinary transition from mild-mannered, nerdy chemistry teacher to ruthless criminal and drug baron, as his alter-ego ‘Heisenberg’.

As Breaking Bad starts its concluding series today, legions of fans are wondering how the show’s creator Vince Gilligan will bring the curtain down on one of the most ingenious TV series ever created.

For those unfamiliar with the show, the central conceit is that Walter (played by the extraordinary Bryan Cranston) is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and with a son and pregnant wife to support, he turns to New Mexico’s burgeoning Crystal Meth business using his chemistry smarts to cook the purest product on the market. So far, so dark.

Enter his accomplice, and former high school student, Jesse, played equally brilliantly by Aaron Paul. (Magnets!) As odd couples go, they take the meth-covered biscuit.

What sets Breaking Bad apart from most TV dramas is Walt’s transformation, and the effect this has on you as a viewer. Homelandhas been rightly praised (at least for Season 1 before it did a Dexterand went all rubbish), for the fact it eschews the black-and-white, good guys vs bad guys premise that most of these big budget dramas go for; Don Draper and Tony Soprano fall into the classic anti-hero set; but nowhere has there been the journey of Walt.

He was never the most likeable of characters, but as long as his motivation was helping his family before he died, he could be forgiven some of his darker actions. But as soon as we know he’s doing this for himself, for the love of money and outwitting his opponents, that sympathy starts to evaporate. Innocent people start to die, Jesse (who as Walt’s foil is almost consumed by guilt for every immoral action) starts to suffer. In short, Walt needs to be stopped.

So why do we find ourselves watching through our fingers at any moment it looks like it’s over for him? We’d like to think it’s because we know underneath Heisenberg and his hat there’s the good man we saw at the start. But maybe, just maybe, do we actually want the bad guy to get away with it for once?

David Chase, creator of The Sopranos, was always keen for the audience to make up their own minds about his characters, even going as far as to saying he didn’t want to show that ‘crime doesn’t pay’. Vince Gilligan has got a similar dilemma on his hands in how to end Breaking Bad.

So how is it going to finish? If I had to guess I would say that Jesse will end up getting away, and that Walt will finally come to his senses but die in the act of putting things right. But maybe that’s too neat, too simple. What’s for sure is that in around eight weeks the curtain will have come down on one of the greatest dramas of all time.

You can watch BREAKING BAD on Netflix

April 14, 2014, Posted by Richard in Film & TV, Reviews

5 Reasons why ‘The Trip to Italy’ is awesome

Four years after their first foody adventure, Michael Winterbottom has persuaded Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon to swap Coleridge, Wordsworth and the Yorkshire Dales for Bryon, Shelley and a slice of Italy. Here are five reasons why we’re loving series two, The Trip to Italy:

1.  The impressions are back

Caine, Moore and Bennett have once again joined us and are glorious, but Coogan’s Morrissey was a particular highlight of episode one. Also, Brydon’s faultless generic newsreader was used to spectacular effect in episode two: ‘The actor and comedian Steve Coogan…’

2.  The comic chemistry is even sharper

Moments in life where you find yourself helpless with laughter are, more often than not, when you are with friends and are sharing a naturally hilarious ‘you had to be there’ episode. With Coogan and Brydon having such brilliant comic chemistry, their riffs have that freewheeling, joyously spontaneous and organic quality which makes it feel like you’re there with them, sharing one of those moments yourself.

3.  The blurring of fact and fiction

In series one the dramatic conceit was that Coogan was having issues juggling his girlfriend, children and acting ambitions. In Italy, whilst there does appear to be some issues with Pathology, Coogan’s drama which supposedly saw him working in LA, he seems largely content. Brydon, on the other hand, (if episode two is anything to go by) is having a bit of a midlife crisis. In series one he would be doing his Hugh Grant impression down the phone to his wife, in episode two this series their phone conversation is forced, and Brydon ends up flirting with a woman he meets on a boat trip, giving her his best Grant instead. This dramatic element is one of the reasons the show works so well. Without the serious side the whole thing would verge too much into self-indulgence, but these hints at something darker and troubling provide the backbone of the show, and gives that light and shade.

4.  It’s easy on the eye

Michael Winterbottom has some eye for beautiful scenery. In season one it was the rolling English hills; now we are transported to the exquisite Italian coast. Coogan and Brydon’s Michael Hopkins is even more enjoyable with them not even in shot, just the boat rolling in the waves with the spectacular cliffs in the background.

5.  The music and poetry

One of the great things about the show is that one minute the two are in full Cane mode, laughing and generally having a good time – then after a few glasses of wine they become more reflective. Aging seems to be the themes this time round, as they muse on how they’ll be remembered. Of course this melancholia will be exaggerated somewhat, but Michael Nyman’s piano is always a welcome extra touch.  Add to that a sprinkling of Shelley:

My soul is an enchanted boat, / Which, like a sleeping swan, doth float / Upon the silver waves of thy sweet singing;

and even though it’s recited in Anthony Hopkins’ voice, it’s really quite stirring.

So there we have it. Two blokes larking around eating and drinking and doing funny voices – and we could watch it for hours.