David Brent: Life on the Road 4/5
Blinky Bill The Movie 3/5
Ricky Gervais wrapped it up nicely in 2003, giving his desperate office manager some modicum of popularity (and romance) at the close of the Christmas specials. But Gervais must put that aside here if his most enduring character in David Brent: Life on the Road (16) learns a life lesson over the course of these cringe-inducing 96 minutes.
Here, Brent (Gervais, who also writes and directs) is back to being sad and needy, working as a lowly salesman in a tetchy office environment. Still hungry for fame he spends his savings to take his band, the right-on Foregone Conclusion, and a documentary crew on a ruinous tour with rapper Dom (Doc Brown in the Martin Freeman role) in tow.
Brent’s loneliness and desperation to be liked was always in the background of the series but it’s pushed to the fore here: he’s had a breakdown, has been on Prozac, and must pay his band members to join him in a post-gig drink just to have some company.
It’s an altogether darker outing, but it’s Gervais’s skill as a writer and actor that ensures that even the saddest moments are a hoot.
On the Road might stop some way short of a new Spinal Tap (songs like ‘Equality Street’ and ‘Please Don’t Make Fun Of The Disableds’ call to mind the metal rockers) but fans of the original Office won’t be disappointed with Gervais still able and willing to curl those toes into unnatural rigid whorls.
Viva (15A) stars Héctor Medina as Jésus, a make-up artist for a troupe of drag artists in Havana. Jésus finally gets the break he’s been dreaming of, and dances on stage in drag whilst miming to torch songs, but his perfect moment is shattered when a stranger emerges from the crowd to punch him in the face.
Worse is to follow, however, when Jésus realises that the man is his estranged father, Angel (Jorge Perugorría), a former boxer and ex-con who violently disapproves of Jésus’ life and sexuality.
Written by Mark O’Halloran and directed by Paddy Breathnach, Viva is an absorbing drama about fathers and sons, masculinity in all its forms, and a celebration of life’s diversity.
Héctor Medina and Jorge Perugorría are excellent as the leading duo, a pair who share the same flesh and blood but very little else: Medina is fragile, delicately handsome and sensitive, while Perugorría is a grizzled brute with a once-bright future long since behind him.
Nevertheless, O’Halloran’s script is so empathic and nuanced that the tentative rapprochement that evolves between Jésus and Angel feels almost inevitable when it first appears — although O’Halloran, who previously scripted Garage and Adam & Paul, never allows the story to tip over into sentimentality.
Instead we get a bracing account of confrontation, rejection and acceptance, with Breathnach’s direction superb in the way it vividly contrasts the glamour and style of Jésus’ fantasy world with the squalor and emotional poverty of his reality.
It’s a bittersweet story, and one that refuses to offer pat answers to complex questions; even so, and despite its setting, Viva has a strong claim to the most affecting Irish film of the year to date.
Blinky Bill The Movie (G) is an animated movie that follows the adventures of an irrepressible koala bear, who is something of an institution in his native Australia.
When his father, a famous explorer, heads for the Outback in search of the mythical Sea of the White Whales, Blinky Bill (voiced by Ryan Kwanten) is disappointed to be left behind.
A year later, with his father still missing, Bill packs up his swag and sets out to find the Sea of the White Whales himself, little realising how much a young koala has to learn about the dangers to be found in the big wide world, not least of which is a homicidal, koala-hating cat called Sir Claude (Rufus Sewell).
Adapted by Fin Edquist from the children’s books written by Dorothy Wall and directed by Deane Taylor, Blinky Bill The Movie is aimed at a very young audience.
The animation is rather straightforward by comparison with the work being done by Pixar and Disney, for example, but the filmmakers make terrific use of the topographical extremes to be found in the Outback, as Blinky Bill moves from lush jungle to desert, and on to the mountains.
The story is as straightforward as the animation, as Blinky Bill encounters a series of outlandish animals on his travels — including the zoo-bound koala Nutsy (Robin McLeavy), a bonkers wombat (Barry Humphries), and a pair of twin emus, both voiced by Toni Collette — but there’s an endearing quality to the eternally optimistic Blinky Bill that ensures even the most cynical adult will wish him well on his quest.
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