What to watch this week – top movie releases
David Brent: Life on the Road
(15, 96 mins) Comedy/Drama/Musical/Romance. Ricky Gervais, Tom Basden, Ben Bailey Smith, Andy Burrows, Steven Clarke, Stuart Wilkinson, Michael Clarke, Tom Bennett, Jo Hartley, Mandeep Dhillon, Rebecca Gethings, Andrew Brooke, Nina Sosanya. Director: Ricky Gervais.
Our pleasure is Ricky Gervais’ self-inflicted pain in David Brent: Life On The Road, a toe-curling faux documentary comedy that catches up with the politically incorrect title character as he embarks on a quest for musical nirvana with his band, Foregone Conclusion.
Life and art are blurred in Gervais’ script, which plays like a cover version of his award-winning TV series The Office, replete with a wince-inducing scene of dad dancing that is supposed to attract the fairer sex.
“I’m no lothario, but he is the worst person around women I have ever seen,” confesses a pitying band mate.
Without The Office co-writer Stephen Merchant to rein in his self-indulgence behind the camera, Gervais puts his middle-aged misfit centre stage for every excruciating set piece, including a heartfelt and hilariously misguided rendition of Please Don’t Make Fun Of The Disableds.
Consequently, some of the supporting players are thinly sketched and a gossamer thin romantic subplot is almost surplus to requirements.
Music reunions are always big business, so it’s understandable that Gervais would want to revisit past glories here and resurrect a dithering everyman, whose lack of graces and self-awareness repeatedly cuts to the bone.
It has been 12 years since David Brent (Gervais) awkwardly ruled the roost at the Slough branch of Wernham Hogg Paper Company.
He’s now a travelling salesman at Lavichem, peddling sanitary products with gusto and irritating his work colleagues including office bully Jezza (Andrew Brooke) and HR manager Miriam (Rebecca Gethings).
Brent does have a few supporters, including Pauline from accounts (Jo Hartley), who has a crush on him, and receptionist Karen (Mandeep Dhillon).
“Most people don’t get him, but I do,” beams fellow salesman Nigel (Tom Bennett).
Brent takes unpaid leave from his unedifying day-to-day grind to pursue his dream of music stardom as lead singer of his unsigned band.
“The ghost of Alexander O’Neal visited me one night and said, ‘You have got what it takes’,” explains Brent, who plunders his savings to hire a despairing road manager (Tom Basden) and a quartet of talented sessions musicians, including his nephew Stu (Stuart Wilkinson) on guitar.
A rapper called Dom Johnson (Ben Bailey Smith aka Doc Brown) joins Foregone Conclusion to bolster the band’s yoof appeal as the mutinous and motley crew embarks on a tour of venues close to the Lavichem office.
David Brent: Life On The Road is peppered with uproarious one-liners and moments of skin-crawling brilliance that confirm Gervais as a master of unflattering observation.
Music performances include the stand-out track Native American and a reprise of the 2013 Comic Relief song, Equality Street.
The mockumentary conceit isn’t consistent and the sentimentality of the band’s final performance feels contrived, but it’s nice to have some sweetness to cut through the film’s acidic brand of humour.
Swallows and Amazons
(PG, 97 mins) Drama/Adventure/Action. Dane Hughes, Orla Hill, Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen, Bobby McCulloch, Andrew Scott, Kelly Macdonald, Rafe Spall, Seren Hawkes, Hannah Jayne Thorp, Jessica Hynes, Harry Enfield. Director: Philippa Lowthorpe.
Adapted from Arthur Ransome’s beloved book, Swallows And Amazons is a charmingly old-fashioned tale of messing about on the river set in more innocent times before children became zombified slaves to their parents’ tablets and smartphones.
Philippa Lowthorpe’s film is a valentine to the great outdoors and the wild, sprawling splendour of the British countryside, set in the mid-1930s against a picturesque backdrop of the Lake District.
You can almost feel the soft breeze rolling off the hills as the plucky heroes survey the undulating, verdant landscape for the first time, staring adoringly at an island in the middle of a lake that will become the scene for their gung-ho summer escapades.
If a British film is ever going to convince 21st century youngsters to stop swiping and start building dens and scavenging, this is it.
Certainly, parents will be charmed by the nostalgia-steeped narrative and fond memories of the 1974 film adaptation that arrived soon after the rousing success of The Railway Children.
While her husband is away at sea on a naval destroyer, Mrs Walker (Kelly Macdonald) spirits her four children – John (Dane Hughes), Susan (Orla Hill), Tatty (Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen) and Roger (Bobby McCulloch) – away for the summer break to stay with farmer Mr Jackson (Harry Enfield) and his wife (Jessica Hynes).
En route, the children have a close encounter with James Turner (Rafe Spall), who is being chased on their train by a man called Lazlov (Andrew Scott).
Turner escapes and the children subsequently conclude that he must be a pirate and christen him Captain Flint after one of their favourite characters in Treasure Island.
Once the brood arrives at the Jacksons’ farm, the children persuade their mother to allow them to sail over to an island and camp under the stars.
The outward journey is fraught with sibling rivalry and eldest child John considers abandoning the expedition.
“Only cowards turn back, this is our destiny John!” Tatty rebukes him.
Once the children set up camp, they discover the island has already been claimed by Nancy Blackett (Seren Hawkes) and her sister Peggy (Hannah Jayne Thorp), who call themselves the Amazons.
Meanwhile, Lazlo tracks down Turner to a houseboat close to the island and prepares to snare his slippery prey.
Swallows And Amazons maintains a gentle pace, anchored by solid performances from the young cast.
Enfield and Hynes provide comic relief, while Scott essays another boo-hiss villain from his expanding repertoire.
Lake District locations look glorious, even when storm clouds gather.
Screenwriter Andrea Gibb has made a few alterations to Ransome’s text, most noticeably rechristening the central character of Titty Walker to avoid any schoolboy and girl sniggers.
Yes, more innocent times.
Expanded from a 2013 short film, Lights Out is a horror thriller that should traumatize anyone who has ever been afraid of the dark. Paul (Billy Burke) owns a mannequin factory where one of the workers, his assistant Esther (Lotta Losten), glimpses the monstrous figure of a woman with long, deformed fingers hovering in the darkness. When Esther turns on the lights, the apparition vanishes and she shares this disturbing turn of events with Paul. His wife Sophie (Maria Bello) and son Martin (Gabriel Bateman) are estranged from Paul’s daughter Rebecca (Teresa Palmer), who is battling depression and mental illness, and lives alone. Late one night, Martin sees the same shadowy, deformed woman in the dark and he develops chronic insomnia, unable to close his eyes for fear of what lurks in the inky blackness. Rebecca invites her brother to stay with her in the hope that she can soothe his crippling night terrors. Instead, Rebecca is confronted by the mysterious figure in the dark.
A self-absorbed businessman is taught an overdue lesson in generosity and humility in director Barry Sonnenfeld’s body swap comedy. Business tycoon Tom Brand (Kevin Spacey) has a finger on the pulse of his various financial concerns, but his dedication to his job has created a gaping emotional divide from his wife Lara (Jennifer Garner) and young daughter Rebecca (Malina Weissman). He leaves buying a present for Rebecca’s 11th birthday until the last minute and hurries into a pet shop run by the mysterious Felix Perkins (Christopher Walken) to buy a cat. On his way home, Tom is involved in an accident and he is magically transported into the body of the furry feline. Felix informs the businessman that he has just seven days to reconcile with his family in his four-legged form or he will remain as a cat for the rest of his nine lives.
Blinky Bill: The Movie
A cheeky koala bear embarks on the adventure of a lifetime in Deane Taylor’s computer-animated yarn based on the Australian book series by Dorothy Wall. Blinky Bill (Ryan Kwanten) yearns to follow in the paw prints of his explorer father Mr Bill (Richard Roxburgh), who vanished in the outback. Friends and neighbours in the little town of Greenpatch believe that Mr Bill perished on his escapades, but Blinky is convinced that his father is alive and well. One day, Blinky stumbles upon a mysterious marker that points to the whereabouts of Mr Bill. Armed with this information, Blinky ventures into the outback with koala best friend Nutsy (Robin McLeavy) and a nervous frill-necked lizard called Jacko (David Wenham). En route, Blinky and his pals draw courage from gossipy emus Sheryl and Beryl (Toni Collette) and a wildly eccentric wombat called Wombo (Barry Humphries). They also clash with a feral cat called Sir Claude (Rufus Sewell), who has a personal score to settle with Blinky.
Asterix: The Mansions of the Gods
Based on the comic written by Rene Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo, Asterix: The Mansions Of The Gods is the latest computer-animated adventure for the eponymous Gaul (voiced by Jack Whitehall) and his rotund best friend, Obelix (Nick Frost), as they continue to frustrate and torment the mighty Romans. The pals are aided by magical potions concocted by druid Getafix, which temporarily imbue Asterix with superhuman strength. Julius Caesar (Jim Broadbent) is determined to break the Gauls’ resolve so he sneakily entreats his architect Squareonthehypotenuse to build mansions in the nearby forest, under the watchful eye of his trusted military captain Oursenplus (Greg Davies). Once the complex is complete, the Gauls are seduced by the extravagance and luxury of the mansions, and they reap the financial rewards from an influx of Roman tourists. However, Asterix and Obelix are wise to Caesar’s nefarious plan and they resolve to open the eyes of fellow Gauls to the hidden dangers.