Oranges and Sunshine, Jim Loach, 105 Mins (15)
Killing Bono, Nick Hamm, 110 Mins (15)
Hop, Tim Hill, 102 Mins (U)
Loach Junior's frumpy debut takes a terrific story – and flattens it
Sunday 03 April 2011
Is it wise, if you're Ken Loach's son, to open your debut film in a high-rise council flat, where a baby is being removed from its unfit mother? You're just asking viewers to compare your work with your dad's, and Oranges and Sunshine, directed by a certain Jim Loach, isn't helped by this comparison. The film dramatises the true story of Margaret Humphreys (Emily Watson), a Nottingham social worker who uncovered a scandal in 1986. Until the 1970s, she learnt, the UK government had shipped children from British care homes to their cheaper equivalents in Australia, without bothering to inform the children's relatives first.
As she investigates, there are death threats and tearful reunions, obstructive officials and personal sacrifices. Given the right director – the initials KL spring to mind – the film could have been a prestigious, award-winning smash. But Jim Loach, it seems, isn't the right director. In his hands, Oranges and Sunshine is a plodding, drab-looking chore which has facts and figures in place of dialogue, and plotlines which suggest, meekly, that they might be quite exciting, before they tiptoe away, never to be seen again. David Wenham and Hugo Weaving come across as living, breathing human beings, but everyone else is an automaton, Watson's frumpy heroine included. Rather than making you wish you were watching a Ken Loach film, Oranges and Sunshine makes you wish you were reading a magazine article on the subject. Or possibly just doing something else entirely.
Still, at least it has a meaty story behind it, and that's what's lacking in Killing Bono, the week's other memoir-based Brit-flick. The memoir is I Was Bono's Doppelgänger, which recounts how Neil McCormick, now a music journalist, tried in vain to make it as a pop star in the 1980s, his struggles rendered all the more galling by the world-conquering success of his old schoolfriends, U2. In the film version, Ben Barnes stars as McCormick, whose own bone-headed decisions are wholly responsible for his failure. Robert Sheehan plays his long-suffering brother Ivan, the guitarist in his band. And Martin McCann is so uncanny as Bono that he could stand in if the real thing ever takes a sabbatical.
It's fairly genial stuff. Its illustrious co-writers, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, provide some amusing one-liners, and Peter Serafinowicz gets laughs as a coke-addled record executive. But Killing Bono remains a string of anecdotes which could have been told by anyone who's ever been in a band. There's never any plot except when it's glaringly fictitious, and there's not much more in the way of character development. McCormick's haircut and clothes may get more ludicrous with every scene, but he's the same self-deluding, self-sabotaging twerp from start to finish.
Hop is a joyless hybrid of animation and live action from the director of Alvin and the Chipmunks – you have been warned. It's also a cynical effort to promote the Easter Bunny to Santa-level iconhood, with his own Willy Wonka-like chocolate factory staffed by chicks, and an annual trip around the world on a magic sleigh.
This commerce-driven myth-manufacturing is irritating enough; what's worse is that the film-makers have no idea what to do next. In part, Hop is the story of how the Easter Bunny (voiced by Hugh Laurie) is ousted by his ambitious right-hand chick. In part, it's about the Bunny's son (voiced by Russell Brand) going to Hollywood to meet David Hasselhoff, visit the Playboy Mansion (bunnies ... get it?), and become a rock drummer. Quite. The film's only interesting facet is how wilfilly it expunges Christianity from proceedings: Easter has been going, it asserts, for 4,000 years.
Nicholas Barber dons his 3D glasses for Rio and Mars Needs Moms
Also Showing (03/04/11)
Blooded (76 mins, 15)
Some pro-hunting toffs are chased through the Scottish hills by rifle-toting animal-rights activists. It's not a bad idea for a low-budget thriller, but the makers of Blooded squander it with Crimewatch-style reconstruction, intercut with survivor interviews. This means we know from the start who emerges unscathed, while the talking heads and voice-overs pull us away from the action.
Young Hearts Run Free (94 mins, 12A)
This creaky soap opera, set during a mid-1970s a miners' strike, is a well-meaning but dull attempt at a northern Cemetery Junction. It might have been OK if the actors hadn't left five-second pauses in every line of dialogue.
Passenger Side (85 mins, 15)
Deadpan indie comedy in which two brothers (Adam Scott and Joel Bissonnette) drive around LA being sarcastic. Fine if you're feeling laid back, but it could have done with more plot and less awareness of its own hipster credentials.
Great Directors (86 mins, 15)
An earnest Catherine Deneuve lookalike interviews some independent directors, including our own Stephen Frears and Ken Loach, but it's not clear how she chose her subjects, or what links them. "I wasn't actually sure what I was hoping to discover," she muses. Me neither.
Essential Killing (83 mins, 15)
Long-absent Polish veteran Jerzy Skolimowski resurfaces with the story of an escaped Islamic insurgent fighting for survival in a snowbound European landscape. Skolimowski tells his story with taut economy, but the distractingly manic Vincent Gallo seems to treat it as his own private Outward Bound course.
Louise-Michel (94 mins, 12A)
French duo Delépine and de Kervern are not yet cult heroes in the UK, but this scabrous black comedy sees them at their troublemaking best. Yolande Moreau plays a glum factory hand who seeks revenge for her redundant co-workers by hiring a hitman to kill their boss. Steeped in comic-book absurdism, it is often hilarious, proudly tasteless and of-the-moment in its up-the-workers bolshiness.
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