Frida (2002)

I like you this way – you’re easier to keep up with. Young Frida Kahlo (Salma Hayek) is a rambunctious teenager who lives riotously and has an active sex life with her teenage boyfriend Alejandro (Diego Luna). When a tram accident lays her up with potentially life-threatening and crippling injuries she fights back and during all the months encased in plaster discovers a talent for painting, beginning with self-portraits. When she tries to interest people in her paintings she seeks out Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina) whom she taunted as a student. Despite his womanising ways she falls for him and they begin an affair which his wife knows about. They end up living in an apartment above hers. Rivera continues to sleep with his models and Frida paints and her surrealist work attracts attention. In New York in 1934 where Diego has been commissioned to create a mural for Nelson Rockefeller (Edward Norton) his work is censored and both he and Frida have affairs with Tina Modotti (Ashley Judd) and Frida suffers a heartbreaking miscarriage. Back in Mexico her sister Cristina (Mia Maestro) becomes his assistant and Frida finds them in bed together. She returns to her parents’ home and descends into alcoholism. After meeting Diego again at a Day of the Dead celebration he introduces her to Leon Trotsky (Geoffrey Rush) who falls for her when he moves into her house when he is granted political asylum and Frida leaves for Paris when Trotksy’s wife finds out. She returns to Mexico and Diego asks for a divorce then Trotsky is murdered … I should never have put you in a room with him. Adapted by Clancy Sigal, Diane Lake, Gregory Nava & Anna Thomas (and Antonio Banderas and Edward Norton, uncredited) from the 1983 book Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera, this is a beautiful, reverential and somewhat stolid biopic despite the talents, the artistry and the protagonist herself, memorably played by Hayek (who shepherded the production) especially as a teenager. However the episodic nature contrives to mitigate against momentum in this cosmopolitan tale, despite the wonderful aesthetic embellishments – with scenes melting out of Kahlo’s paintings, animations bringing still lifes to fast-moving existence and the use of costume as signifier. As is so often the case in these historical stories, it seems the people around the main character are more interesting and the circumstances more stimulating – and here it’s Diego Rivera who controls the narrative: Frida’s life and fate are basically a reaction to him and that both unbalances the characters and tilts the story in a different direction than it wants to go. It really succeeds as a portrait of a country in a kind of turmoil and exercising fascination for artists, bohemians and the international left. It’s not a failure but more a near miss that ironically really comes to life in the music scenes when Hayek is singing those mournful Mexican songs that make the hairs stand up in thrall to the passions this woman conjures. Beautifully shot by Rodrigo Prieto and there’s a wonderful score by Elliot Goldenthal. Directed by theatre great Julie Taymor. A communist generous enough to pay off our mortgage

The High Note (2020)

You’re not a producer. You’re not an artist. You’re not a manager. Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross) is a music superstar whose talent, and ego, have reached unbelievable heights even if she hasn’t released new work for a decade. Her overworked personal assistant Margaret Sherwoode (Dakota Johnson) is stuck running errands, but still aspires to her childhood dream of becoming a music producer after a composing course at college and being reared in a musical household. When Grace’s manager Jack (Ice Cube) presents her with a choice that could alter the course of her career, Maggie steps in with her own production of one of Grace’s songs inadvertently triggering problems for Grace who is a forty-something artist on a male-run record label that just wants her to retire to a steady gig and income stream in Vegas. Meanwhile Grace has met a talented singer songwriter, similarly motherless David (Kelvin Harrison Jr) and she pretends to be an accomplished producer, dreaming up a plan that could change all their lives forever … I am a very big draw. Make sure he’s with you for you. Casting the (admittedly) very accomplished daughters of two Hollywood stars in these roles is almost an own goal; however the screenplay by Flora Greeson sidesteps the obvious references and (most of) the music biz cliches in favour of something more inner-directed and ultimately familial (in a different way). Frankly no PA would get away with Margaret’s behaviour – she’s both too nice and too audacious – so the plot needed some more tuning. If the territory for women looks like it’s also being tackled it also sadly sidesteps much of that quagmire – when Grace emotionally admits that only four women over forty every had number one hits (actually it’s five now) and one is black, she lays out the stakes she’s facing: We could pretend we live in a magical world where age and race are not a thing. There are nice moments of acknowledgment at other levels, like when Margaret’s room mate Katie (Zoe Chao) shows her a picture from her work doing heart surgery and declares it’s not like it’s real work, like art. Ross has several moments that might strike ironic recognition from Diana Ross’ playbook not least when she appears on stage with that hair and those dresses. It’s her expressivity that controls the film’s success, she never goes full blown diva, there’s always another beat to play than the obvious. Her permanent house guest/housekeeper/moocher Gail (June Diane Raphael) has some amusing moments but she’s hardly Thelma Ritter (can I help it if I think about All About Eve or even Working Girl?). But the setup never gets vicious in the way you might expect: Margaret seems too nice for words after a few years working in this environment but after she’s fired her trip home to her DJ dad (Bill Pullman) offers us a change of both scene and pace on glorious Catalina Island, a sequence which reunites parents and children Shakespeare-style without the storm of professional ties being unchained. This is a story that’s so relaxed it’s practically horizontal. So it’s a fairy tale without true jeopardy, bringing broken families back together via romance. Not such a bad idea, as it happens but there’s a remix waiting to break loose, somewhere, dealing with midlife crises in female singers and the male-run music business. Oh, wait, this is it. There’s a stunning duet to conclude a film that’s all about performance. Directed by Nisha Ganatra. Ever since I was a little girl I dreamed of giving you an enema in Toronto

Capricorn One (1978)

A funny thing happened on the way to Mars. Three astronauts Charles Brubaker (James Brolin), Peter Willis (Sam Waterston) and John Walker (O.J. Simpson) are about to launch into space on the first mission to Mars. But when a mechanical failure surfaces that would kill the three men, NASA chief Dr James Kelloway (Hal Holbrook) removes them from the Capricorn One capsule otherwise their funding will be pulled by Washington. To prevent a public outcry, NASA secretly launches the capsule unmanned and requires the astronauts to film fake mission footage in a studio in the middle of the desert. They do so under fear of their families being killed on a plane bringing them back home. However, the plan is compromised when ambitious TV journalist Robert Caulfield (Elliott Gould) starts reading deeply into a message Brubaker has broadcast to his wife Kay (Brenda Vaccaro) after his friend at NASA Elliot Whitter (Robert Walden) suddenly disappears when he detected the TV signals ahead of the capsule transmissions. When Caulfield’s brakes are tampered with he visits Mrs Brubaker at home to watch some innocuous home movies which confirm his suspicions that the mission is faked then finds the FBI in his apartment framing him for drug possession … With that kind of technology you can convince people of almost anything. Conspiracy theories ahoy! Director Peter Hyams’ screenplay exploits the story that won’t go away about the televised Apollo moon landing and extrapolates a juicy suspenser with an amiable cast. Not in the same league as the major paranoid thrillers of the era, it’s still bright and breezy and pretty plausible given the deniability factors and the political mood. Of cult value for the (non-)performance of Simpson with Karen Black along to help the wonderfully ironic Gould (whose dialogue is superior to the rest of the cast’s) get his man. And then there’s a crop dusting scene that of course recalls North by Northwest – in reverse! With Kojak at the helm! Godalmighty this is a lot of fun but there’s one horrifying scene in the noonday sun that will make you weep. It’ll keep something alive that shouldn’t die

Kings of the Road (1976)

Aka Im Lauf der Zeit (In the Course of Time). How do you live? While travelling his route along the rural border between East and West Germany, solitary film projector repairman Bruno Winter (Rüdiger Vogler) meets depressive paediatrician and linguist Robert Lander (Hanns Zischler) when the latter attempts suicide by driving his car into a shallow lake following the breakup of his marriage. The two form a genuine friendship as Robert accompanies Bruno on the road to fix equipment in deserted and dilapidated cinemas. They discuss the decline of German film, the hegemony of America culture and their challenging relationships with women. Robert stops at his home where he discusses his unhappiness about his mother’s death eight years earlier with his printer father (Rudolf Schundler) whom he believes disrespected her. Bruno and Robert then encounter a third man (Marquard Bohm) whose wife drove their car into a tree the night before. They stay with him until the repair service turns up. Bruno decides to break off from his work to go to his childhood home on the Rhine and he and Robert take a motorbike with sidecar and a boat to get there but Bruno cannot bring himself to spend the night in the house. They return to the border where they ultimately part ways, with Bruno from his truck watching Robert on a train as their paths cross on the railway line. Then Bruno talks to a woman (Franziska Stoemmer) whose father refuses to screen new films at his cinema because he believes modern work exploits people … For the first time I see myself as someone who’s something in a certain time and that time is my history. Perhaps the quintessential Wim Wenders film, this road movie is an inky black and white portrait of the psychological state of Germany thirty years after the war, which has never really ended in its impact – empty roads, filled with signifiers of a depressed and separated nation and a people whose heads are singing along to American songs while contemplating suicide. The film ends at a border sign. For Wenders this is both an American-style film filled with air and space and music and occasional political references (including a funfair’s cigarette lighter made from a cast of Hitler’s head); and a conversation about the boundaries between geography and cinema, a dialogue about the colonising of the German consciousness, which he allows a character to state explicitly. This reflexive iteration gives the form a new European stamp, bringing it all back home, accidentally on purpose, colonising the ultimate American film form. In the end, film yields to the reality of geopolitics with American-ness a permanent inhabitant even if the troops are mostly dispersed and the Soviets are entrenched, at least for the time being. They are out of sight except as newspaper headlines. Hearts and minds:  the perverse antithesis to tourism as the uninvited guest lingers in ways that cannot be explained, only imagined. There are things that might shock, such as when Vogler defecates in the open air (an image that once seen is never forgotten) and the general sense of masculine despair. The third of Wenders’ road trilogy. Shot by Robby Muller with music by Axel Linstaedt. The Yanks have colonised our subconscious

Evil Under the Sun (1982)

Even in those days, she could always throw her legs up in the air higher than any of us… and wider. Private detective Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov) goes to an exclusive island that is frequented by the rich and famous. Fabulous actress Arlena Stuart (Diana Rigg) has alienated her latest husband Kenneth Marshall’s (Denis Quilley) young daughter (Emily Hone); is in an adulterous relationship with married gadfly Patrick Redfern (Nicolas Clay) whose jealous wife Christine (Jane Birkin) doesn’t even want to go out in the sun; and she is probably the culprit over a very valuable jewel stolen from her former husband Sir Horace Blatt (Colin Blakeley) that Poirot was hired to locate by the insurance company when he presented them with a fake. Gossip columnist Rex Brewster (Roddy McDowall) can’t get Arlena to sign off on a tell-all biography; while theatre producers Odell Gardener (James Mason) and his wife Myra (Sylvia Miles) lost their shirts when Arlena walked off their last stage show with a fake medical cert. The hotel’s proprietress, failed actress and former rival Daphne Castle (Maggie Smith) meanwhile is still brooding over their comparative successes and her isolation from the world of showbiz. When Arlena is found murdered everyone has an alibi. Except Poirot … I have a big fat motive but no alibi. Adapted from Agatha Christie’s 1941 novel by Anthony Shaffer (with uncredited work by Barry Sandler) this takes a decidedly camp approach to the material, aided and abetted by wonderfully playful costuming, classic Cole Porter songs (arranged by John Lanchbery) and an exotic location in the Adriatic in contrast with the original’s island off Devon. It plays fast and loose with the content replacing the original’s dialogue with some very amusing wisecracks and barbed exchanges, viz. Rigg’s comment about her awkward teenage stepdaughter, She runs like a dromedary with dropsy. It’s not Christie but it is funny. Ustinov had replaced Albert Finney (from Murder on the Orient Express) in the preceding adaptation Death on the Nile and delivers a different variety of flamboyance with all kinds of nice touches and humour. It gathers itself back into the author’s original mode for the last half hour with everything accounted for in a very pleasing conclusion. Great fun. Directed by Guy Hamilton in Majorca and shot beautifully by Christopher Challis. You mean nobody did it. MM #3100

Downhill (2020)

It wasn’t nothing – at all. It was something. Pete Stanton (Will Ferrell) and his lawyer wife Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) are holidaying in Ischgl, Austria with their young sons Finn (Julian Grey) and Emerson (Ammon Jacob Ford) when a close call with an avalanche brings all the pre-existing tensions in their relationship to the fore after Pete runs with his mobile phone instead of ensuring his family’s safety. Publicly, Billie says it’s because Pete is mourning his father, dead eight months earlier. Their sexually forthright tour guide Lady Bobo (Miranda Otto) makes them uncomfortable but Billie starts to feel the seven year itch. Pete is in contact with his colleague Zach (Zach Woods) who’s on a whistlestop, country-a-day trip to Europe with girlfriend Rosie (Zoe Chao) and he invites them both to visit without informing Billie who promptly tells them about how he left the family in the lurch when he thought the avalanche was going to kill them. Then she has an assignation with a very forward ski instructor … Dad ran away. The American remake of Swedish filmmaker’s Ruben Ostlund’s fantastic 2014 black comedy Force Majeure is that rare thing – it works of itself, it’s subtle, funny, striking and just the right duration. If its sketchiness occasionally lacks the dark dynamism of the original and doesn’t capitalise on Ferrell in particular, it replaces it with some obvious sexual jokes but never loses the central conceit – the total failure of communications between two grown ups who cannot face the truth of their relationship. We’re in a stock image right now. Louis-Dreyfus’ outburst in front of Zach and Rosie is astonishing – and using the kids to back her up is a step even she eventually concedes is a bit de trop. Ferrell’s riposte – going apeshit in a nightclub off his head – doesn’t play the same but he’s a simpler, selfish beast. This is real battle of the sexes territory. The conclusion – when Billie tries to make Pete look good in front of their sons – suggests that this icy marriage might not even last to the end of the credits. Directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash who co-wrote the screenplay with Jesse Armstrong. Every day is all we have

The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone (2020)

Just when I thought I was out they pull me back in. As Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) ages and has a place of respect in society having divested himself of his casinos, he finds that being the head of the Corleone crime family isn’t getting any easier. He wants out of the Mafia and buys his way into the Vatican Bank but NYC mob kingpin Altobello (Eli Wallach) isn’t eager to let one of the most powerful and wealthy families go legit. Making matters even worse is Michael’s nephew, Vincent (Andy Garcia) the illegitimate son of his late brother, hothead Sonny. Not only does Vincent want out from under smalltime mobster Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna) who’s now got the Corleones’ New York business, he wants a piece of the Corleone family’s criminal empire, as well as Michael’s teenage daughter, Mary (Sofia Coppola) who’s crushing on him. Ex-wife Kay (Diane Keaton) appeals to Michael to allow their son Anthony (Franc D’Ambrosio) quit law school to pursue a career as an opera singer.  A trip to Sicily looms as all the threads of the Corleone family start to be pieced together after a massacre in Atlantic City and scores need to be settled … Why did they fear me so much and love you so much? Francis Ford Coppola revisited the scene of arguably his greatest triumph, The Godfather Saga, with writer Mario Puzo and yet he viewed it as a separate entity to that two-headed masterpiece. That was thirty years ago. Now he’s felt the need to re-edit it and it holds together better than the original release. The beginning is altered and it’s all the better to direct the material towards the theme of faith. Pacino is doing it all for his children and it’s his legacy he cares about more than money or respect: the symbolism writ large in the concluding sequence, a performance of Cavalleria Rusticana in which the weakness of our own central Christ figure is punished with the greatest violence – the death of close family.  This story then mutates from a pastiche of its previous triumphs to a a pastiche of an opera. The shocking and intentional contrast with the Cuban sex show in Part II couldn’t be starker yet it’s there for the comparison as Michael does penance for the death of Fredo, his dumb older brother who betrayed the family. He is physically weak from diabetes and the accompanying stroke;  his efforts to go totally legitimate have angered his Mafia rivals from whose ties he cannot fully break and they want in on the deal with the Vatican where Archbishop Gilday (Donal Donnelly) is the contact with Lucchesi (Enzo Robutti) who has a strange way of getting to everyone in the manner of old school Sicilians.  The Christ analogy is also about family sacrifice as his brother Sonny’s bastard son Vincent is nipping at his heels while sleeping with his own besotted daughter; he finds he is still in love with a remarried Kay, whom he finally introduces to Sicily when Tony is set to make his opera debut;  he is in bed with God’s own gangsters and the one good man Lamberto (Raf Vallone) is revealed as the short-lived Pope John Paul I. The references to the cinema of Luchino Visconti (and The Leopard) are rendered ever clearer while Carmine Coppola’s musical phrasing even drops in a bit of a spaghetti western music. It’s a sweeping canvas which gradually reveals itself even if the setup is awkward:  we no longer open on the windows at the Lake Tahoe house with their inlaid spider webs, instead we’re straight into the Vatican deal. It takes us out of the world of Godfather II. But we still see that sister Connie (Talia Shire) is the wicked crone behind the throne in her widow’s weeds, her flightiness long behind her but her song at the family celebration echoes her mother’s song at the wedding in the earlier film. The same acting problems remain in this cut. Like Wallach, her performance is cut from the finest prosciutto as she encourages Vincent in his ruthless ride to the top of the crime world. Mantegna isn’t a lot better as Joey Zasa. The Atlantic City massacre at the Trump Casino isn’t particularly well done – we’re reminded of a cut price Scarface. Wrapped into real life events at the Vatican in the late 70s/early 80s which give Donnelly, Raf Vallone and Helmut Berger (another nod to Visconti) some fine supporting roles, with an almost wordless John Savage as Tom Hagen’s priest son Andrew, this has the ring of truth but not quite the touch of classicism even with that marvellous cast reunited, something of a miracle in itself:  it feels like the gang’s almost all here. I cheered when I saw Richard Bright back as Al Neri! So sue me! And good grief Enzo the Baker is back too! Duvall’s salary wouldn’t be met by Paramount sadly and he is replaced by George Hamilton as consigliere. Even Martin Scorsese’s mother shows up! That’s Little Italy for ya! Pacino is filled with regret in this unspooling tragedy. And there we have it: the coda to a form of Italian American storytelling, the parallels with the earlier films expressed in flashbacks, as if to say, This was a life. Scorsese’s work is acknowledged but the narrative is forced forward to the inevitable tragedy. Life as opera – filled with crazy melodrama, betrayals, love, violence and murderous death. Garcia’s role makes far more sense in this version – we meet him quicker, his relationship clearly cultivated by Connie to ensure a passing of the guard. Yet what this cut also reinforces is that Coppola’s filmmaking wasn’t as confident, there are too many close ups – where is that surefooted widescreen composition? There are some awkward transitions and frankly bad writing. It’s long but it’s a farewell to a kind of cinema. And the death of Sofia Coppola as Mary was the price she had to pay for being her father’s daughter, non e vero? Now she’s the film world’s godmother. Gangster wrap. Finance is the gun, politics is the trigger.

Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)

Aka WW84. Nothing good is born from lies. And greatness is not what you think. As a young girl, immortal Amazon demi-goddess and princess Diana (Lily Aspell) competes in an athletic competition on Themyscira Island against older Amazons. She falls from her horse, misses a stage, and is disqualified after trying to take a shortcut. Diana’s mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) who is general of the Amazon army lecture her on the importance of truth. In 1984 adult Diana (Gal Gadot) works as a senior anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC. She specialises in the culture of ancient Mediterranean civilisations and studies languages for fun. She continues to fight crime as Wonder Woman, albeit while trying to maintain some anonymity, rescuing people from a botched jewellery heist in a local mall. Diana meets new co-worker, gemologist Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) an insecure woman who idolises Diana and tries to befriend her. Aspiring businessman and charismatic TV huckster Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) visits the museum to try to acquire a mysterious Dreamstone which grants wishes to anyone who touches it. It is one of the artifacts found as part of the black market the jewellery store engages in and both of the women unwittingly use it for their own desires: Diana wants to be reunited with her dead WW1 pilot lover Steve Trevor (Chris Pine); while Barbara wants to be like Diana. She gets a makeover at a local boutique and Lord turns up at a Smithsonian gala and manipulates her in order to retrieve the stone. Once it’s in his possession he wishes to become its embodiment and gains its power to grant wishes, while also able to take whatever he desires from others: he’s been selling shares in oil without striking it yet and in a matter of days becomes a powerful and influential global figure leaving chaos and destruction in his wake. Barbara, Diana and Steve try to investigate the Dreamstone’s power further, and discover it was created by the God of Treachery and Mischief; the stone grants a user their wish but takes their most cherished possession in return, and the only way to reverse the condition is by renouncing their wish, or destroying the stone itself. Steve realises that his existence comes at the cost of Diana’s power. Both Diana and Barbara are unwilling to renounce their wishes, and try to figure out another solution. Maxwell, upon learning from the U.S. President (Stuart Milligan) of a satellite broadcast system that can transmit signals globally, decides to use it to communicate to the entire world, offering to grant their wishes. Barbara/Cheetah joins forces with Maxwell to prevent Diana from harming him. Steve convinces Diana to let him go and renounce her wish so that she can regain her strength and save the world. She returns home and dons the armour of the legendary Amazon warrior Asteria, then heads to the broadcast station and battles Barbara, who has made another wish with Maxwell to become an apex predator, transforming her into a cheetah-woman. After defeating Barbara, Diana confronts Maxwell and uses her Lasso of Truth to communicate with the world … Does everybody parachute now? What a great welcome this film deserves: a charming, heartfelt feminist superhero sequel with a message of peace, love and understanding – but not before the world comes close to annihilation. Adapted from William Moulton Marston’s DC Comics character with a screenplay by director Patty Jenkins & Geoff Johns & Dave Callaham, this starts out very well but tellingly goes straight from a prehistoric setpiece into an Eighties mall sequence and the first half hour is fantastic. Then … there’s character development when the klutzy Barbara arrives and her transformation to Cheetah takes its sweet time while odious businessman Lord is also introduced with his own backstory. The wheels don’t come off, exactly. The scenes are fractionally overlong and the two villain stories don’t mesh precisely with excursions into politics (the Middle East and a bit of an anti-Irish scene in London) which then escalates when Lord introduces himself to the US President (Reagan himself though he’s unnamed) at the height of the Star Wars policy (and we don’t mean sci fi movies). The winged one then learns the beauty of flight from her reincarnated boyfriend; while Barbara becomes more feline and vicious, an apex predator as she puts it. And Lord gets greedy while alienating his little son. So there are three somewhat diverging narrative threads. This is a structural flaw in an otherwise rather wonderful story. An exhilarating pair of back to back introductory setpieces followed by a Superman tribute that is exceedingly pleasant but doesn’t capitalise on all the characters’ considerable potential, this is a half hour too long (like all superhero outings) with scenes that need to be cut and political commentary that doesn’t sit quite right. Some of the jokes about the Eighties (in Pine’s scenes) get a little lost (directing or editing issues?) but the costuming is on the money and given that Diana lives in the Watergate Complex it’s a little surprising more wasn’t made of this or that it wasn’t set a decade earlier. Otherwise DC is nicely established in terms of geography and obviously it’s plundered for story. There are jokes that land rather well, like the Ponzi scheme; and when Steve gets into a modern aeroplane and Diana suddenly remembers that radar exists. In effect, this is a movie about the conflict in using your powers – there is a time and a place and it’s not always appropriate to get what you want because there are consequences and making a choice implies potentially terrible consequences and sometimes loss of life. It also engages with rape culture, sexism and the dangers of TV, taking down cheap salesmen and televangelists. Witty, moralistic and humane this has everything you want in a superhero movie and it looks beautiful courtesy of cinematographer Matthew Jensen and production designer Aline Bonetto. There’s a neat coda in the end credits. And how nice is it that the late great Dawn Steel’s daughter Rebecca Steel Roven is a producer alongside her father Charles Roven? You go Gal! You’ve always had everything while people like me have had nothing. Well now it’s my turn. Get used to it

One Way to Denmark (2020)

Aka Denmark. Medical reports indicate you are sick no longer. Unemployed down on his luck Welshman Herb (Rafe Spall) is broke and can’t see his son. Life in his small town is dank and miserable. He gets mugged for his rubbish phone, the neighbours are awful and he has nothing going on. After he sees a TV documentary about Danish open prisons he hits on a plan to stage a heist with a fake firearm and get himself arrested so that he’ll at least have somewhere warm to sleep and regular food. But after hitching a lift and getting smuggled in a container, when he gets there he is befriended first by a dog and then by a wonderful woman Mathilda (Simone Lykke) who brings him to her home for dinner, introduces him to her little daughter and sceptical mother and he rethinks the plan. Then he doesn’t have enough money to pay for a ticket back home … Your father was a pain in the arse tramp but you know what I think? You’ve beaten even him. The premise harks back to Ken Loach with the dole office problems, the family divisions and the general air of hopelessness – but the larkiness and the mates (including Joel Fry and Tim Woodward) enliven Spall’s performance which struggles to rise above the writing by Jeff Murphy. It feels stuck between wanting to break out as a man who potentially could stage a heist a la Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon and the tenets/constraints of social realism – when Mathilda protests Wales must be beautiful, you feel for Herb’s attempts to explain just how dreadful it really is. The juxtaposition of the ease and relative modern luxury of flat Denmark with rainy stony mountainous Wales is nicely established. There are some moments of gentle comedy and the best visual is when Herb is caught and photographed by the police – his mugshot reads ‘A. Herbert’ which raises a chuckle but generally this is as lacking in laughs and drama as the Danish scenery and the relationships don’t ring true. Directed by Adrian Shergold. Incarceration tourism – that’s a fucking new one