Archive for the Romance Category

To The Wonder

Posted in Drama, Romance with tags on May 5, 2014 by Mark Walker

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Director: Terrence Malick.
Screenplay: Terrence Malick.
Starring: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Javier Bardem, Rachel McAdams, Tatiana Chiline, Romena Mondello, Charles Baker, Tony O’Gans.

“You have to struggle with yourself. You have to struggle with your own strength”.

Say what you will about the stylings of Terrence Malick but he’s undoubtedly a director that puts his own stamp on things and refuses to tell a story in any conventional sense. He’s more interested in capturing moments and subtle glances while pondering the larger themes of love, life and religious beliefs. When you look back at his older works of “Days Of Heaven“, “The Thin Red Line” or “The Tree Of Life“, for example, you’ll find these themes in abundance. From a personal point of view, I often find Malick’s approach to be highly appealing but with “To The Wonder“, I was left somewhat distant and uninterested this time around.

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(500) Days Of Summer

Posted in Comedy, Romance with tags on December 30, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Marc Webb.
Screenplay: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Geoffrey Arend, Chloë Grace Moretz, Matthew Gray Gubler, Clark Gregg, Rachel Boston, Minka Kelly.

No! Don’t pull that with me. This is not how you treat your friend! Kissing in the copy room? Holding hands in IKEA? Shower sex? Come on! Friends my balls!

Before he was given big bucks and entrusted with reinventing the franchise of “The Amazing Spider-Man“, director Marc Webb cut his directorial teeth on this highly appealing and (un)romantic-comedy. For a debut it’s very impressively handled and brings a fresh approach to the tired old boy-meets-girl formula.

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Ruby Sparks * * * * 1/2

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Romance with tags on December 12, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Directors: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris.
Screenplay: Zoe Kazan.
Starring: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Steve Coogan, Chris Messina, Elliott Gould, Deborah Ann Woll, Toni Trucks, Aasif Mandvi, Alia Shawkat.

After 6 years, husband-and-wife directing team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris deliver their long-awaited follow-up to the brilliant “Little Miss Sunshine“. It would seem that the director’s were in no rush to emulate their previous, Oscar winning, success; preferring instead to wait for the right script. It would also seem that that time has now come and it’s, certainly, been worth the wait.

Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) is struggling writer who once wrote a ‘genius’ novel when he was 19 years old. The trouble is, he’s now struggling for material and suffers from writer’s-block. On the advice of his therapist (Elliott Gould), he begins to write about a girl that has been appearing in his dreams: Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan). The next day, Ruby becomes a real person and they both strike up a beautiful and loving relationship. What Calvin then realises is, that if he can will her into existence by writing about her, then he can change her at any time and make her do what he wants by writing more.

Not many films built around romance have had the audacity to explore the very nature of love itself and the stipulations that seemingly come with it. It’s a genre I’m not fond of but that’s only because most are catered for the masses. This film dares to explore the complexities of a relationship and the stipulations that both sides make. It questions whether we can really love a person, wholeheartedly, without their indiscretions ever becoming irritating or intolerable. It also addresses the nature of dominance within a relationship and how that, in itself, is destructive.
Therein lies the beauty and honesty of this film; it’s not afraid to pose these questions and it’s also not afraid to explore the darker elements to it’s premise or get it’s hands dirty when it needs to. After a gentler, more romantic-comedy beginning, filled with wonderful touches of light and observational humour, the denouement takes a brave, impressive and twisted dramatic turn, that shows the darker side to the fantasy. Wisely, the film’s fantasy premise is never explained. This may irk some viewers but really, the film wouldn’t have gained anything by trying to break it down. Quite frankly, it just wouldn’t have worked but that’s testament to the filmmakers, the terrific ensemble of actors and most importantly Zoe Kazan’s highly original screenplay as they all have you believing in them, even when you know you shouldn’t. Once you’ve accepted the premise, you can sit back and enjoy the excellent performances all round; Dano, once again, displays his more than capable acting chops with a character that is often, and cleverly, likened to writer J.D. Salinger and wonderful comic-relief comes in the form of Bening and Banderas as new-age hippie parents. The biggest surprise is from the screenwriter and eponymous Zoe Kazan though; she brings a real warmth and creativity that manages just the right balance and allows her to flit in-between moods with ease. Without such an endearing and understanding performance, the film wouldn’t have worked as well as it does.

With excellent performances all round, and a great mixture of humour and pathos this is one of 2012’s genuinely surprising highlights. Like “Little Miss Sunshine” before it, this is a real treat.

Mark Walker

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Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World * *

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Romance with tags on November 22, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Lorene Scafaria.
Screenplay: Lorene Scafaria.
Starring: Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Martin Sheen, William L. Petersen, Adam Brody, Derek Luke, Rob Corddry, Connie Britton, Melanie Lynskey, T. J. Miller, Mark Moses, Patton Oswalt, Gillian Jacobs, Amy Schumer, Rob Huebel, Bob Stephenson.

Maybe it’s to do with the 2012 Mayan prophecy but over the last couple of years, there seems to have been a recent fad of ‘end of days‘ movies. So far, we’ve had Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia“, David Mackenzie’s “Perfect Sense“, Mike Cahill’s “Another Earth” and now this. Of the four though, I’d have to say that this is the weakest.

A 70 mile-wide asteroid named Mathilda is on a collision course with Earth with attempts to divert it thwarted. Earth will be obliterated in 3 weeks. Throughout this time, Dodge (Steve Carell) and his British next-door neighbour Penny (Keira Knightley) strike up an unusual friendship and embark on a road trip that should suit them both. Dodge wants to track down the real love of his life and Penny wants to get back to Britain to spend her remaining days with her family. Along the way though, things don’t turn out exactly as planned.

The major problem with this film is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be; it starts off with some sharp observational and gallows humour but doesn’t manage to be a laugh out loud comedy. It then delivers a serious dramatic tone – while pitching in elements of science fiction – which, surprisingly, bog it down in tediousness from which it never recovers. The genre in which it is most suited is romantic-comedy but the characters are dull and their situations even more so. It also suffers from an extreme lack of pace. You’d think that a film that delivers a premise of the entire earth having 21 days to live would have a bit of urgency about it. You’d also be forgiven for expecting some ridiculous ‘bucket list’ scenarios but it simply doesn’t provide them, despite threatening to on occasion. There are sporadic moments where it promises to get it’s groove back but ultimately falls into a slow and meandering cross country love story that, for the most part, is dreadfully uneventful.
Steve Carell is starting to annoy me in these kind of tragic, everyman, loner roles and I’m not a fan of the snobby Keira Knightley at all; I can’t get over the fact that she always comes across as if she was born with a silver spoon up her arse. There are some welcome appearances from the likes of Martin Sheen (who needn’t have bothered) Patton Oswalt and William L. Petersen – the latter in particular getting a much needed humorous scene involving the expected appearance of a hitman. It’s little moments like this that make the film all the more frustrating; it shows glimmers of great potential but doesn’t stick to what it does best and ends up being tedious and melancholic. After all this has (finally) passed by, the film almost redeems itself at the end with a lovely and touching moment between the protagonists but by then, it’s too little too late.

Despite not being a massive fan of the two leads, I was intrigued by the films premise. That being said, any potential it had was floundered by delivering scene after scene of mind-numbing emptiness.

Mark Walker

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One More Kiss * * * *

Posted in Drama, Romance with tags on October 25, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Vadim Jean.
Screenplay: S.A. Halewood.
Starring: Valerie Edmond, Gerard Butler, James Cosmo, Valerie Gogan, Carl Proctor, Danny Nussbaum, Dilys Miller, Ron Guthrie.

Over the course of the next couple of days I’ll be posting a little trilogy of Scottish films that will have, no doubt, passed many people by and are certainly worthy of some more attention. I’ll begin with this 1999 film set in the Scottish borders that although it falls into a particular romantic genre, it dares to do things differently and succeeds admirably.

Sarah Hopson (Valerie Edmond) has been living a successful, high-flying lifestyle in New York but when she finds out that she has a terminal illness, she heads back home to Scotland to prepare for her death. When she arrives, she reacquaints with her childhood sweetheart Sam Murray (Gerard Butler). Sam now runs a restaurant and has since married but Sarah approaches his wife (Valerie Gogan) to ask that she spend time with him before her death – causing everyone some mixed emotions.

The film opens with a lone female, arms aloft, teetering on the edge of a skyscraper. It’s a powerful piece of imagery and an opening scene that sets the tone of this heartfelt tale. This is not a film about death but about life, love and relationships. It explores the mistakes and regrets but also delivers a chance of redemption. It’s in the human relationships that this film finds it’s strength. It’s not just about Sarah and her need to tie up loose ends but it confidently explores the effects on the people around her; she brings both a mixture of pleasure and pain to the other characters. At times she can come across as arrogant and selfish yet she also brings hope and instills a belief in people to live their lives fully. This is a film that wears it’s heart on it’s sleeve and for the most part, the performances are great. It’s interesting watching a young Gerard Butler and Valerie Gogan as his suffering wife is fantastic. James Cosmo is also especially memorable as Sarah’s cantankerous, rough diamond father. However, Valerie Edmond as the lead, looked a little stretched at times which I just couldn’t understand; in some scenes she was absolutely superb and in others she was quite poor. This could be down to her delivery of the dialogue though. I tend to be a little harsh on Scottish performers as sometimes the dialogue isn’t delivered properly. Most Scots have a certain slang nature to their dialect and when you hear words uttered with correct English pronunciation it jars a little. Understandably this has to be the case, so as to appeal to a wider audience but as a Scotsman, it seems out of place. That being said, Edmond still gets the job done and although some of the idiom may lost, the film still retains it’s subtle Scottish humour and delivers moments of highly impressive, realistic drama.

Despite some small inconsistencies this is still a beautifully played, poignant and heartfelt life/love story. It’s not normally the type of film I’d be drawn to but I was impressed with it’s execution.

Next up… “Dear Frankie“.

Mark Walker

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Zack And Miri Make A Porno * * 1/2

Posted in Comedy, Romance with tags on May 11, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Kevin Smith.
Screenplay: Kevin Smith.
Starring: Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Jason Mewes, Craig Robinson, Traci Lords Katie Morgan, Ricky Mabe, Jeff Anderson, Justin Long, Brandon Routh, Tom Savini.

Writer/director Kevin Smith used to be a bit of an indie god. His debut “Clerks” was made on a shoestring budget and his films have normally had a real freshness and originality. His last three films; “Red State” “Cop Out” and this, are starting to show that Smith is running out of ideas though.

Plutonic flatmates Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) are cash strapped with mounting financial debts. They struggle to even pay basic household bills. When their electricity and water are cut off, they decide to embark on a money spinning idea; to make a homemade adult film. Eventually, the long-time friends will need to have sex with each other but will they be able to keep their emotions in check?

The film starts brightly and yes, you guessed it, Rogen gets to crack a few dick jokes. He’s good at it though but when it’s Kevin Smith at the helm, you expect a bit more. The writing is not as fresh as his earlier stuff and the film resorts to some cheap gags. It also strays off the path of indie comedy and treads onto the well worn one of romantic-comedy. This may be rom-com with an adult twist to it but, ultimately, it’s still part of the genre that I don’t really care for. It’s the performances that keep it tolerable. The two leads in Rogen and Banks are very endearing and they are surrounded by a great supporting cast – Jason Mewes is, as always, hilarious and there is a brilliant cameo from Justin Long as a gravelly voiced, profane, gay porn star. I found it to be a film of moments though. It has several that are very funny – including a good “Star Wars” porn scenario with Hung Solo and R2 T-Bag – but it’s just not consistent enough and then resorts to hammering the love angle. When this happens, you just know the film has muffdived nosedived and it’s very unlikely that it will recover. As expected, it doesn’t. If you’re looking for a good comedy that delivers the same premise then I suggest “The Moguls“. A little seen Jeff Bridges film released in 2005 that dealt with similar material in a more tasteful and frankly, funnier way.

Not one of Smith’s better efforts and has been the start of a three film decline for him. It does have some qualities but squanders them in favour of a formula.

Mark Walker

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Crazy, Stupid, Love. * * * 1/2

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Romance with tags on May 5, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Directors: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa.
Screenplay: Dan Fogelman.
Starring: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Marisa Tomei, Kevin Bacon, Analeigh Tipton, Jonah Bobo, Joey King, Liza Lapira, John Carroll Lynch, Beth Littleford, Josh Groban.

When the black-comedy “Bad Santa” was released in 2003, it brought some attention to it’s writers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. They went on to make their co-directing debut in 2009 with “I Love You Phillip Morris” and showed that they are as good at direction as they are with words. This one, marks their second directing collaboration together and a different change of style.

Cal Weaver (Steve Carell) is a seemingly happy husband until one evening during dinner, Sally (Julianne Moore), his wife of 25 years, tells him she wants a divorce. Suddenly finding himself on his own and struggling, Cal meets lounge lizard Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling), a young man who decides to take him under his wing and teach him the ways of being single, and how to seduce any woman he wants.

This may be slightly new territory for the directing duo of Ficarra and Requa but as they have proven in the past with “Bad News Bears” they are able to tone down their lewd humour for a more accessible audience. As a result they lose some of the risqué humour that makes their writing so appealing but another new thing is, they didn’t write this film. However, the directors still know how to deliver the laughs, even if they are toned down. Put simply, this is a romantic comedy and I’m not a fan of the genre. However, this aims a little higher than usual for the formula and hits the mark on more than a few occasions. That’s thank in large to it not being your standard boy-meets-girl scenario. Of course, it has elements of this but it’s structured in such a teasingly elaborate way that it keeps it fresh and maintains your interest. It also has a good understanding of the pathos involved with relationships, giving the actors some dramatic material to counteract the comedy. It’s finely tuned with good characterisation and handled well by endearing performances from an impressively assembled cast. With the exception of an underused Kevin Bacon, everyone else gets their fare share of screen time. Gosling shows some good comedic talents despite being better known in dramatic roles and Carell can do the tragic everyman in his sleep. The real comedy highlight though, is a scorned and neurotic Marisa Tomei. She delivers regular laughs whenever on-screen. Overall it’s a collective piece of work though and a real surprise that I enjoyed it as much as I did. Be warned though, the first half-hour is standard rom-com territory but if persevered with, it picks up after that.

It lacks the provocative and outrageous humour “I Love You Phillip Morris” benefited from but still has plenty of genuinely funny scenes. One of the better romantic-comedies.

Mark Walker

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Titanic * 1/2

Posted in Drama, Romance with tags on April 9, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: James Cameron.
Screenplay: James Cameron.
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Frances Fisher, Kathy Bates, David Warner, Danny Nucci, Victor Garber, Gloria Stuart, Bernard Hill, Bernard Fox, Jonathan Hyde, Suzy Amis, Bill Paxton.

Woohoo! “Titanic“, the 1997 romantic epic that won 11 Academy Awards, has been re-released on an even grander scale. We are, once again, treated to over three hours of the most wearisome and banal piece of cinema to ever grace our screens. But wait… it’s in 3D. I’m so happy, I could shit myself.

An old woman, Rose DeWitt Bukater (Gloria Stuart) recounts her past to April, 1912 when she boarded the most advanced liner ever built – the Royal Mail Ship Titanic. It departed from Southampton with over 2,000 passengers aboard and we are taken back to when she was a younger woman (Kate Winslet), due to be married to aristocrat Cal Hockley (Billy Zane). On board though, she meets young, adventurous artist Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) who she falls in love with. But there is trouble ahead, in the shape of a giant iceberg that forces the ship and it’s passengers into desperate survival.

This, for me, stands as the most ridiculous and overrated of films. Amongst the (unwarranted) awards it received, there is only one that it could truly justify: Best Visual Effects. How the triteness of this film could overshadow the superb and labyrinthine “L.A. Confidential” during awards season, is beyond me. Anyone familiar with British pulp romantic novels, will known what I mean when I say, this is just “Mills & Boon” on a boat – the chivalrous Jack pursuing the chastised damsel Rose. The only thing that’s missing, is the gardener with a rippling torso. DiCaprio and Winslet are fine actors and two that I admire greatly but they totally ham it up in this absolute peace of trash. It’s very stereotypical in everything it does; the impoverished Irish, dance a jig below deck; the band plays on when everyone else is panicking; the steamed-up car, were Jack and Rose consummate their relationship; even Jack’s little Italian friend get’s to shout the obligatory “Bastardo”, as the shit is about to hit the propellers. The characterisation is frankly insulting and for the most part, the film is uneventful. That is, until the long-awaited Iceberg makes a welcome appearance. When it does, Cameron’s use of visual effects really kick-in and they’re undeniably impressive but by this point, I couldn’t care less. If anything, it was quite enjoyable watching the irritating and underwritten characters plummet and drown to a slow and painful death. Shame the footage of this film couldn’t have went down with the ship also.

Originally released in 1997, James Cameron then followed it up in 2003 with documentary “Ghosts Of The Abyss” and now we get it again in 3D. Really James, let it go man… let it go.

Woefully Bad. Even the film’s caption “Nothing on earth could come between them” is misleading. For a start, a massive Iceberg didn’t find it too difficult, not to mention a makeshift raft that wasn’t big enough to hold them both. A * 1/2 star rating for the visuals and a solid supporting performance from the large glacial deposit. But being dazzled with special effects and technical achievements, ultimately doesn’t change anything. You still can’t polish a turd.

Mark Walker

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Perfect Sense * * * * *

Posted in Drama, Romance, Science Fiction with tags on February 29, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: David Mackenzie.
Screenplay: Kim Fupz Aakeson.
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Eva Green, Ewen Bremner, Stephen Dillane, Denis Lawson, Connie Nielson, Alastair Mackenzie, Richard Mack, Stephen McCole.

Director David MacKenzie heads back to the city of Glasgow with Ewan McGregor, after their first collaboration in 2003’s “Young Adam“. That was a gritty and powerful film but here, both of them have excelled themselves, in one of the years most criminally overlooked films.

Michael (Ewan McGregor) is a Glaswegian chef who falls for scientist Susan (Eva Green). She happens to be investigating an epidemic and as they are getting to know each other, people the world over, begin to develop some strange behaviour which leads to them losing their sensory perceptions. First, the sense of smell goes, then taste and so on…

This may be compared (with it’s apocalyptic theme) to the recent Steven Soderbergh, lethal epidemic, film “Contagion“, or more so, Fernando Meirelles’ similar “Blindness” but you’d be doing this film a disservice if you go into it with preconceived ideas based on those lethargic and jaded deliveries. This is a completely immersive human drama that packs some real power and has more in common with one of my favourite films of recent years – Alfonso Cauron’s “Children Of Men“. It has the same stark approach; the authentic feel for the frailty of our society and the same potential demise of humankind. If the end was indeed nigh, you’d expect a bit of chaos and people acting, more than a little, peeved but director Mackenzie and screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson never force this issue, allowing the drama to unfold at it’s own pace, with highly effective mood established by the great use of austere Glasgow locations and haunting music by Max Richter. The two leads also help by delivering believable characters with subtlety and McGregor is given a rare chance to show his range – which he delivers admirably. Fine support is also supplied around him, particularly, some slight comic-relief from his “Trainspotting” co-star Ewen Bremner. The film itself, is essentially a love story but it’s a harrowing and heartbreaking one. As the couple are getting in touch with their feelings and exploring their love for each other, they are losing their sensory perceptions one by one. It’s an intriguing premise that builds slowly and Mackenzie’s assured mirroring of the sensory perceptions waning, allow the audience to better understand how it feels, before delivering one of the most powerful and unrelenting endings of the year.

An unconventional, thoughtful and ultimately poetic, ‘end of days’ drama that deserves to find a wider audience. In a year of films dealing with the nature of our existence – “The Tree of Life“; “Melancholia” and “Another Earth“, this stands as good as, if not better. Simply magnificent.

Mark Walker

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The Artist * * * * *

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Romance with tags on February 8, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Michel Hazanavicius.
Screenplay: Michel Hazanavicius.
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Malcolm McDowell, Missi Pyle, Beth Grant, Ed Lauter, Ken Davitian, Joel Murray, Hal Landon Jr, Nina Siemazsko.

In our modern era of motion capture and CGI – controlling most of what we see on screen – it’s a bold decision for director Michel Hazanavicius to tackle the style of a silent film from the 1920’s. A bold move indeed, but it’s also a masterstroke. This is a true original.

In Hollywood, in 1927, silent movie star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is at the height of his career. He’s the toast of the town and loved by all. One day he, literally, bumps into Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo). He gives her a head start in the film business but films are changing, with the arrival of the ‘talkies’. Peppy decides to go with the change while George thinks that talking cinema is just a passing fad. Soon his career (and life) is in decline while Peppy becomes the new starlet that everyone loves to love.

Hazanavicius’ attention to detail is flawless. He has the look, the music, the feel, and overall, the actors to pull it off. He also throws in some of his own artistic flourishes along the way, which include a marvellous dream sequence where George can actually hear the cacophony of sounds around him, yet can’t hear his own voice; or the often used billboards and posters that mirror the very actions onscreen.
The performances are superb, particularly Dujardin with his big shit-kicking toothy grin and endless supply of charisma. The man gets away with the entire film by acting with his teeth an his eyebrows but he also conveys a real depth to his character, without uttering a word – not to mention an obvious allusion to classic film actor Douglas Fairbanks.
I deliberated on how I should have rated this film, considering all the hype I’d heard and read beforehand. I didn’t have to deliberate too long though. For the originality – and sheer audacity alone, in not only conceiving the idea of attempting to entertain in a fashion that’s over 100 years old but also in the execution of it – it’s hard not to give this film top marks.

Worthy of the plaudits and superlatives that’s been thrown it’s way. This is one of those films that even though you go into it looking to criticise, you find that… you just can’t.
An absolute delight.

Mark Walker

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