Films of the week

Hunky Dory (15) / This Means War (12A) (3/5, 1/5)

Starring: Minnie Driver, Aneurin Barnard, Darren Evans, Robert Pugh / Starring: Tom Hardy, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine

The long hot summer of 1976 is the crucible of romantic and familial meltdown in Marc Evans's likeable but uneven Hunky Dory. We are transported, on a wing and a flare, to a comprehensive school in South Wales (a bit Swansea, a bit Port Talbot) where the kids are rehearsing a musical based on The Tempest but set on Mars. David Bowie, as the title indicates, is a central influence, though there seems more of a determination on the film-makers' part that anything Glee can do we can do better.

Better? That would be a big call. It's certainly different from Glee's high-definition grooming and professionalism. Partly that's to do with the 1970s setting. The teenage complexions on show are pasty rather than glowing, and the school uniforms lend it a vaguely Grange Hill quaintness. The stage costumes look like they've been run up on mum's sewing machine. Yet there's an innocence about Hunky Dory and its amateurishness that feels closer in spirit to Todd Graff's delightful stage-school movie Camp (2003), whose presiding genius was Stephen Sondheim. Bowie's not a bad substitute, and what this lacks in finesse it makes up for in honest-to-god enthusiasm.

Minnie Driver takes the role of Viv, the feisty drama teacher who's so much on the side of "the kids" that her headmaster (Robert Pugh) has to keep reminding her of the necessary "boundaries" – smoking with the pupils must be discouraged. Prune-faced social-studies teacher Haydn Gwynne practically regards the pupils as criminals in waiting. Viv oversees the fractious atmosphere of rehearsals like a trouper, but she's also agony aunt to the show's lovelorn lead, Davy (Aneurin Barnard), and to sensitive skinhead Kenny (Darren Evans). Driver, not a naturally endearing presence, is good as the (go on, groan) "inspirational" teacher, and might have been even better if Laurence Coriat's script had offered more help – as it is, Viv does a lot of rolling her eyes heavenwards in that teacherly give-me-strength manner.

How Evans faked the steamy temperatures of 1976 in modern Wales is a mystery, though Charlotte Bruus Christensen's photography gets the right sun-stunned look of the era, as teenagers slyly check one another out and cool their hormonal furies with a dip in the lido. The narrative, spread thin, lacks a good deal in urgency, but it keeps springing to life with its musical numbers – not just Bowie ("Life on Mars?", "The Man Who Sold the World") but Nick Drake, the Beach Boys, and two terrific ELO songs, "Strange Magic" and a roof-raising "Livin' Thing". Again, it hasn't the note-perfect finish that an American equivalent would boast, and sometimes sounds distinctly rough around the edges; but the earnest playing of the orchestra and the lo-fi warbling touch the heart in a way that a more polished production might not. When the school concert hall burns down it seems all their efforts have been in vain. Can a last-minute venue be found for the show? It would be very wrong of the film to deny us at this stage, and, proudly unafraid of a cliché, it all proves hunky dory.

This Means War is two movies rolled into one. The first is a romantic comedy starring Reese Witherspoon. The second is a buddy movie – or bromance as we must now call it – starring Chris Pine and Tom Hardy as top CIA agents. Both of these are movies are terrible, but let's go through the set-up anyway. FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are pouty modelisers who go from dicing with death on a Hong Kong skyscraper to kicking their heels in the office: their boss (Angela Bassett) has just carpeted them for fouling up an undercover op and letting an international villain (Til Schweiger) escape. So, with time to spare, they both go in search of love and end up dating – by hilarious coincidence! – the same woman. That would be Lauren (Witherspoon), who of course doesn't know that FDR and Tuck are best buddies and now competitors for her.

What she also couldn't know is that the two men have deployed a full range of espionage technology to keep her under surveillance, rigging her apartment with spycams and tracking her with satellite. Did it not occur to the writers Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg that this stratagem might come over as a bit creepy? Apparently not, but then their entire screenplay suggests barely a passing acquaintance with what we understand by real life. I'm not sure what CIA agents earn these days, but it's unlikely they could afford Pine's bachelor apartment, wherein the glass ceiling looks up to a swimming pool. And what sort of evil mastermind goes to a Savile Row tailor with a swatch of cloth that will help him identify his prey? Isn't that what computers are for?

That director McG (Charlie's Angels) smears every scene with shouty, grinding rock is no surprise, nor that Pine and Hardy fail to raise a single laugh between them. Pine goes the extra mile into imbecility with his classic chat-up line, "I know movies and I know women." Actually, all he knows is how to behave like a git.

The one really unpleasant surprise of the movie is Reese Witherspoon. Back in 1999 she starred in Election as Tracey Flick, one of the funniest, smartest and scariest anti-heroines in all cinema. Thirteen years later she's playing the perky stooge to a couple of jerks who can barely read their own tattoos. "What's the worst thing that can happen?" asks Lauren's girlfriend of her dating two guys at once. In career terms, Reese, this is the worst thing that can happen.

Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us