Monday, 16 November 2015

Stop Making Sense

STOP MAKING SENSE (Jonathan Demme, US, 1985)

Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, the seminal concert movie Stop Making Sense filmed at Patanges Theatre, Hollywood in December 1983, the film is released by Second Sight on DVD and Blu-ray on 16th November.

Conceived by front man David Byrne, the film begins with him entering the stage with a boom box and a guitar. He presses play, and begins a stripped back acoustic performance of Psycho Killer. Afterwards, one by one a member of the Talking Heads come to join him onstage as they play through their remarkable back catalogue.

Embracing the greatest of Hollywood musical conventions - let's put on a show in a barn - the concert starts with the hero alone performing and then one by one the troupe emerge to join him and embrace what he is doing. Byrne realises that the gig is one of of momentum and upwards to a crescendo, starting with slow songs and as the band gets bigger the sound gets bigger.

Rightly, this film is heralded as one of the great concert movies of all time. Oddly, there is another 1980s concert film in any list, that of Prince’s Sign O’ The Times from 1987, and in part you can see the influence of this film upon the purple wonder.

Gone are the silly backstage documentary and instead there is a determined focus on the performance and the performers.  If you have a front man, as intelligent as Byrne or as magnetic as Prince, who can hold the attention of an audience through any solo or dance number, backstage footage is redundant and unnecessary. In part, the dominance and ubiquity of Prince in the early 1980s has an influence on Talking Heads’ live performance.

The influx of funk and soul is epitomised by the cover of Al Green’s Take Me to the River, and the introduction of Tom Tom Club’s Genius of Love with the hip hop jam along with the shout out to James Brown makes sense and gives credence  to wearing your influences proudly due to the attempted band choreography and in unison harmonies.

There is an overriding sense of euphoria and joy in the concert from the performers across the board. It is helped by having in Byrne, a wonderful leading performance both artistically and vocally.

Byrne channels the great silent comedy performers of Keaton and Chaplin when he does his dance asides such as with the lampshade during This Must Be The Place, like Chaplin’s potato dance in The Gold Rush, it is seemingly a throwaway moment that is both special and hypnotic. Tellingly, during the same song the back projection behind the band has imagery on to it, was this the first time a band put up imagery as they played live making it a multi-platform event, check out U2’s Rattle and Hum for further evidence and influence.

Director Demme proves a useful foil for Byrne eliciting differing moods for certain songs from the
athletic Life During Wartime to the fear and horror of What a Day That Was, where the lighting of Byrne’s face paints him as a pastor giving a deranged sermon, earmarking his own Academy award winning work on Silence of the Lambs eight years later.

The film is not only the vanguard of filmed concert movies, it is a touchstone of influence and ideas. It remains seminal and memorable.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

In praise of..Back to the Future

Today is October 21st 2015, the furthest day in the trilogy of Back to the Future films. Things are not quite what they seem or how Robert Zemeckis imagined they would be through 1989 eyes or 1985 eyes to be more exact as Marty McFly, his girlfriend Jennifer and Doc Brown take off in the DeLorean outside of his house and travel into the future to save Marty's children.

The 2015 envisioned by the filmmakers is nothing like now - no flying cars, no hoverboards, no self-tying shoes - the closest thing they got right is the Chicago Cubs being close to the World Series, the baseball team are currently in the semi-finals versus the Kansas City Royals.

But why is there all this fandom about this date? Why is it holding its own two days after the release of the final trailer for Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens.

Whereas Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Star Trek have fans who are close to the point of feverish delirium and hysteria, the Back to the Future (BTTF) fans are not like that considering it was a huge box office success.  In some ways, the BTTF trilogy is a set of films held in great affection due to the passion it was made with by Robert Zemeckis starring one of still most under-rated Hollywood stars of the late 1980s and a perfectly cast film.

The film is reliant upon the characters of Marty (Michael J. Fox) and Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) and their friendship is prevelant across the trilogy, in essence a bromance more than a paternal relationship, Marty and Doc are best friends. Yet we are never told how they first met, we just believe that they are best buddies so it incorporated the buddy action genre of Lethal Weapon by taking two different strands of society - young and old - and bonded them together. Usually someone like Doc would be an outsider to a youth like Marty, a person you avoid instead Marty embraces his eccentricities.

The film was somewhat under the radar in 1985 with not a lot expected due to the lack of success for Zemeckis' previous films although Romancing The Stone did do a dent and gave the greenlight to BTTF. Yet it shot out of the gate and was a blueprint for forthcoming blockbusters; high concept, fast cars, funny scenes, action scenes, music and a kick ass theme tune in Huey Lewis and the News' The Power of Love, a seminal track of that summer and a song they are defined by.

The film is one of those that you can watch again and again, and still be struck by the freshness and zest of the production; the attention to detail in the production design of 1950s Hill Valley, the care in the script to poke fun at science fiction in that era (My name is Darth Vader! I come from the planet Vulcan!) and how Marty ends up teaching his parents how to be better people and not turn into the alcoholic Mum and stepped upon Dad they are in 1985 at the film's beginning.

The film is probably held in such esteem and appreciation by the film going public because it is a stand alone trilogy. There are no prequels, no sequels forthcoming. The destruction of the DeLorean at the end of BTTF3 is a knife through any notion of there being a reboot or reimagining. We do not need it, we are happy with the three films we have; unlike say Star Wars and Trekkie fans who are constantly salivating at the thought of something more to add to the universe.

Where those fans want an ever-expanding universe, the BTTF universe is restricted to a three film, five year span that was glorious, funny, spell binding and set the trend for what you can do if you get it right and have the right amount of faith put into you.

It remains one of my top 3 films of all time, and will continue to be so as it stars one of my favourite actors at the height of his powers in a seminal sort of role. And who would not want to be Marty McFly on his skateboard in 1955 avoiding Biff and his cronies.

Its a film full of dreams and showed you that dreams can come true. Marty dreamed of a better life, a chance to play on a stage in front of people and a better homelife. By chance by going back in time, he achieved that. And oddly in the aspirational 1980s of Greed is Good era, all Marty wanted was a family full of affection, his dreams become a reality but the film is fittingly shot like a dream.

Life Or Death - Book review

Life of Death UK cover

It is rare to write a book review for a book that has already been published in both hardback and paperback, yet for this reader and writer it is pleasing to write a heartfelt passionate review of a pleasing read without the necessity of having to beef up words for a pre release review.

The book I am reviewing is entitled Life or Death and is written by Australian author Michael Robotham and won the 2015 CWA Golden Dagger for Best Crime Novel of the Year.

Michael Robotham: "I truly believe that <i>Life or Death</i> is the best one I've written."
Michael Robotham - 2015 CWA Golden Dagger Winner
I was given the book as a gift by my girlfriend and it took me a while to get round to it due to other reading commitments. However, once I started reading the novel I must have read the entire 500+ pages in less than two weeks.

The reason for this gulping down of the book is a testament to the quality of Robotham's write which is brisk, gripping and page turning much like his contemporary Lee Child.

The comparison between Robotham and Child is interesting in that there works are predominantly based in America yet neither man lives in America. Child lives in the UK and Robotham resides in Melbourne, Australia; yet both use their vast wealth of research to base their stories in the heartland of America, with great detail paid to the interstates the characters drive upon, the dingy motels they sleep in and the way people live in these small towns.

Life of Death cover US
Life of Death - US cover

Robotham uses two locations - California and Texas - in this story across two different chronological times, a challenge for any writer to maintain the intrigue and suspense wanted for this story. In this story we meet Audie Palmer, a man who has been imprisoned for armed robbery for the last 10 years, who chooses to escape from prison on the day before his release.

We follow Audie as a fugitive trying to maintain his anonymity whilst trying to clear his name through the back woods and high rise of Texas, the chances Audie takes in the face of his pursuers is not so much death wish but come and get me mentality.  This narrative is coupled with the storyline as to Audie's background 11 years previously and how he came to be imprisoned.

As Audie takes chances so does Robotham withholding certain information here and there using Special Agent Desiree Furness as his investigating conduit, when she discovers something so do we. This is further enhanced by the character Moss Webster, Audie's closest friend in jail who is picked by the conspiring group to find Audie before the cops; Moss also acts as gumshoe in finding little tidbits here and there like Furness.

The moment when the reveal came to this reader produced genuine goosebumps on my arms as the realisation of Audie's involvement in the armed robbery became clear and how the life and love he made in California is something he would never return to.

All in all the book is written at a whipcrack pace, forcing you to keep reading to find out not only what happens next but how Audie got into this mess.  We have had a trend of page turning frenzy in the last 15 years led by Lee Child and Dan Brown, but while Brown was devoid of intelligent writing in spite of conveying a smarter than the reader subject matter, treating the reader as stupid whereas Robotham treats his readership with affectional respect.

Lee Child's books use Jack Reacher as the smartest guy in the room, always one step ahead of the rest. In this novel, we have a character Palmer who might not be able to clear his name due to the powers conspiring against him in a quest for justice.

A thriller in the same vein as The Fugitive and the wrong man thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock, this book could easily translate to the big screen if done correctly and does justice to the characters.

Life or Death was a joy to read from beginning to end and this reader will seek out the other novels of Robotham, because if this first encounter is anything to go by he will not fail to disappoint.

Life or Death is published by Sphere in the UK
Follow Michael Robotham on Twitter @michaelrobotham

Friday, 16 October 2015

NFL 2015 Week 6 preview

Week 5 was a mad slate of games, with tight encounters, overtimes, upsets and teams making statements. None more so than the Cincinnati Bengals who defeated the Seattle Seahawks 27-24 at home to remain at 5-0 and in command of the AFC North, with a career best performance by Andy Dalton along with big days by Giovanni Bernard and Tyler Eifert (90 yards, 2 TDs).

The addition of Eifert back to the roster following his season-long injury last year, has added another dimension to the Bengals offensive output which seemingly was restricted to the two heading rushing monster of Bernard and the now quiet Jeremy Hill, and the down field threat of AJ Green.  With Green getting most of the attention from the Seahawks secondary on Sunday, this allowed Eifert to get some targets and he took advantage. 

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Is Dalton the 2015 MVP?

The victory also showed a grit and desire rarely seen by the Bengals in this Dalton era; they were 17 points down entering the fourth quarter yet there was little panic, the defence got some stops on Seattle who apart from Thomas Rawls (169 rushing yards, 1 TD) failed to get first downs when necessary, Jimmy Graham again restricted to a low day of 30 reception yards.  Seattle fall to 2-3 and have a lot of work to do make the playoffs due to the tough division they are in; yet they need to get more production from Graham, get Marshawn Lynch fit again and firing, and also protect Russell Wilson a bit better so he has time in the pocket, something he could not afford against the Bengals D-line led by Geno Atkins.

Three other undefeated sides, the Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons, all had a few slips in wins to maintain their perfect records.  The Broncos won 16-10 in Oakland despite no passing touchdown by Peyton Manning (226 yards) and again no rushing option.  Their defence made the plays with Chris Harris Jr. returning an interception by Derek Carr for a TD, can this defence keep saving Peyton's bacon throughout the season. A tough road test this week versus an equal defence in Cleveland with Joe Haden back is of interest.

Green Bay's victory of 24-10 at home to St. Louis looks convincing but Aaron Rodgers had two
interceptions, his first picks at home in nearly 4 years and the Rams gave Rodgers all he could handle but they won out despite Todd Gurley having 159 yards on the ground, the Rams failure was Nick Foles who had four interceptions on the day. The Packers defence is very unheralded currently.

Atlanta had the closest call needing overtime to defeat Washington at home 25-19, a pick six return by Robert Alford off Kirk Cousins ended the game. The Falcons needed all of Davonte Freeman 153 yards and the TD in the final minute to take the game to extra, but the Falcons survived despite a quiet day for Julio Jones and Matt Ryan who had two INTs. Washington are not as bad as people suspect, but these constant Kirk Cousins turnovers are proving the difference between their current 2-3 standings and being over .500

The New England Patriots came off the bye and rode into Cowboys Stadium and left undefeated with a 30-6 victory over a depleted Dallas Cowboys side.  After initial effort by the Cowboys defence with the now eligible Greg Hardy and returning Rolando McClain, they pressured Tom Brady a lot but once they got the looks right Brady found Edelman (120 yards, 1 TD) and the dimension offered by Dion Lewis in the backfield is proving a difference maker as he scored another TD, one that caused 5 Cowboys defenders to miss him.

Byes: Dallas, Tampa Bay, Oakland, St. Louis
ATLANTA @ New Orleans
DENVER @ Cleveland
CHICAGO @ Detroit
Kansas City @ MINNESOTA
Washington @ NY JETS
ARIZONA @ Pittsburgh
Carolina @ SEATTLE
San Diego @ GREEN BAY
NEW ENGLAND @ Indianapolis
NY GIANTS @ Philadelphia

Match of the Week
Arizona Cardinals (4-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2)
There are a few good games on paper. The division rivalry that is the Giants at Eagles on Monday night; with the Giants seemingly trying to lose games always yet still winning against the now working offence of the Eagles. And the Bengals in another test of their resume versus the Bills in Buffalo; yet I am picking this as my match of the week.

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Will the Bell toll for Arizona?

The Cardinals took no pity in picking on the remaining bones of the Detroit Lions last week going on
the road and winning 42-17 is as dominant a performance as you can imagine. Carson Palmer was the picture of efficiency 11-14, 161 yards and 3 TDs (to Darren Fells, John Brown, Larry Fitzgerald).  Palmer even sat out the fourth quarter and the welcome return of Andre Ellington (3 carries, 63 yards, 1 TD) along with the continued resurgence of Chris Johnson (11 carries, 103 yards, 9.4 ypc) means the Cardinals are possibly the best team in the NFC West with a two game cushion over the Seahawks.  Their defence made a regressing Matthew Stafford even worse with three interceptions and restricted them to only 57 rushing yards.

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Palmer's experience is key for Cardinals
That last number is key to this match up as the Cardinals go across country to Pittsburgh who
somehow won at San Diego as time expired thanks to a Le'Veon Bell wildcat touchdown that barely broke the plain to get a 24-20 victory on the road. Bell had 111 yards and that touchdown. The key could be that with Michael Vick still trying to embed himself in this offence, Bell is the staple of the offence and if the Cardinals can keep the bal in Vick's hands perhaps the Cardinals will get the victory; and if they can get pressure to Vick and force him out of the pocket and create mistakes and/or turnovers perhaps they can leave Pittsburgh with a big win.

Upset of the Week
Baltimore Ravens @ San Francisco 49ers

If you are considering an upset this week then consider the 49ers at home to the Ravens one, albeit two 1-4 teams facing off against each other. The Ravens have probably been the biggest disappointment this season - considering I picked them for the Super Bowl - and the lack of deep threat means that Joe Flacco is limited in his play and there is no pass rush due to the season ending injury to Terrell Suggs.

That lack of pass rush gives an opportunity to Colin Kaepernick to continue his return to form, gives him time in the pocket and a chance to make decisions. His deep ball connected well with Anquain Boldin last week and oddly if Kap is in the groove, Carlos Hyde reciprocates.  Last week, the Browns dual threat of Crowell and Duke Johnson had big days so expect more of the same; and for the Ravens to be 1-5, unheard of in August

Fantasy Advice
- Roddy White (Falcons) with injury concerns over Julio Jones and Leonard Hankerson, and in a good match up versus the sorry Saints, is this the week Roddy gets his groove back?
- Anquain Boldin (49ers) the weak Ravens secondary bodes well in this match up
- Andre Ellington (Cardinals) slowly getting back into the line up; the fact he can catch and run provides ample PPR dividends
- LaGarrette Blount (Patriots) in the rematch of DeflateGate, the Patriots will not take their foot off the throttle and Blount can wreck havoc on the poor Indy D-line

(Please note, last week's fantasy advice was Antonio Gates, Larry Donnell, Doug Martin and Duke Johnson - all had double digit fantasy days. Gates was the No.1 ranked Tight End and Martin a Top 5 running back)

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The Endless River

Oliver Hermanus’ third feature film tells the story of two different people who are wandering souls following the death of loved ones in modern day Cape Town, South Africa.

Gilles (Nicolas Duvauchelle) is a Frenchman recently moved to South Africa, who flirts with Tiny (Crystal-Donna Roberts) at a roadside café over lunch. That night there is tension at his home with his wife over the dinner table. In a huff he drives away from their farm, whilst out his wife and two sons are murdered by three masked men, his wife was raped, shot and stabbed repeatedly.  Gilles becomes a ghost of the man we first see, his quest for justice is seemingly not heard by the local police led by Groenewald (Darren Kelfkens).

Tiny is married to Percy (Clayton Evertson) who has been released from prison after four years for his criminal activity in local gangs.  Percy reintegrates with his gang friends, who we are led to believe killed Gilles’ family.  Percy is asked to go back to the farm to rob what is left to steal, in that process he is run over by a car. Tiny is beyond grief having waited for him to get released.

The two lost souls of Gilles and Tiny forge a bond together to get thorough their grieving which culminates in a road trip to beaches, restaurants and hotels. The film ends with a denouement of someone's guilt and the trip continuing.

Hermanus has made a film that is both gripping and enchanting to look at, the sumptuous photography by Chris Lotz is at times mesmerising and goes hand in hand with the wonderful sound design and lush score written by Braam du Toit.

The director attempts to evoke the codes and conventions of 1950s Hollywood melodrama especially the work of Douglas Sirk, from whom he borrows he omnipresent camera angles such as when we first meet Gilles in the roadside café. He is shot from overhead and not head on as is usually the norm, this gives the impression of the director as God, overseeing all he has created and making it assured.

Hermanus has a sure hand of mise-en-scene and shot composition, and the Steadicam work during the family murder is startling; he also borrows from Nicholas Ray who also used doorways and closed doors to convey foreboding and doom.

The acting is melodramatic but expected in a narrative such as this and while the film is genuinely tense for most of the keys scenes, it is a shame that the admission through a supposed flashback is somewhat confusing considering the honesty displayed beforehand.

Initial reaction at the LFF this year has been low key but perhaps a following can be built up while Hermanus remains a young director with a bright future, and you can perhaps see a future Hollywood remake in the offering if he talent is formed correctly.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

NFL 2015 Week 5 preview


Very pleased with my predictions in Week 4, going a strong 12-3 for the week getting the Arizona, Chicago and Giants victories incorrect, which is odd considering I have been high on the G-Men since the beginning of the season although that was more a match-up versus Buffalo on the road that put me off. But a great win for the Giants as they get back to 2-2 and essentially should be 4-0 and running away with the NFC East. With injuries taking over in Dallas - add Lance Dunbar to the injury table - and general dysfunction in Philadelphia, there is a chance for the Giants to win that division with a 9-7 record.

Elsewhere, the Miami Dolphins pulled the trigger on coach Joe Philbin following their awful 27-14 defeat in Wembley Stadium to the New York Jets. The performance was devoid of personality and a microcosm of their season thus far, no pressure on the opposing quarterback, they could not stop Chris Ivory running over them and when the only chance you have of scoring points is via Jarvis Landry's kick off returns then the offence is to blame.  

 Image result for joe philbin images

Miami had gone all in during the offseason signing Suh as their big free agent, coupled with the big contract given to Ryan Tannehill last year but failing to give him any viable receiving options and still no positive rushing from Lamar Miller, and you get a franchise in somewhat disarray.  My belief was that the constant turnover of personnel would stifle the team and putting your eggs into the Tannehill basket was a mistake, he is not a great quarterback; whilst he may have a big arm he cannot show composure required during games nor manage the line effectively.  Tough times in South Beach ahead.

Byes: Carolina, Minnesota, NY Jets, Miami

SEATTLE @ Cincinnati
Washington @ ATLANTA
Cleveland @ BALTIMORE
St. Louis @ GREEN BAY
BUFFALO @ Tennessee
ARIZONA @ Detroit
DENVER @ Oakland
San Francisco @ NY GIANTS
Pittsburgh @ SAN DIEGO

Match of the Week 

Denver Broncos (4-0) at Oakland Raiders (2-2)
This could be a great divisional match-up. Last week I was talking about how the Denver Broncos defence could be the reason to take Peyton Manning to his swansong Super Bowl, and last week the defence again stood up to a test by nullifying Adrian Peterson in their 23-20 victory at home. Peterson had 81 yards off of 16 carries, not bad looking but that is massaged by his 48 yard touchdown run making it 33 off 15 carries for the best running back in football.  Denver were never behind in the game and controlled the tempo. 

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The Oakland Raiders will provide a far sterner test for the Broncos, this time in the air as the Raiders possess two wide receivers in rookie Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree who could give the secondary fits. A lot will depend on how well sophomore quarterback Derek Carr deals with the pressure from DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller who are eating up QBs this season; and if Latavius Murray can provide ball security and enough rushing yards to not put pressure on the Raiders passing game.

The Raiders were unlucky in Chicago last week as they made enough plays to win the game, and they will feel unfortunate to leave without the W from the Windy City, it is that desire that will make them get up for this home game versus the division rival and if their O-line can get pressure to Manning then their secondary led by the eternal Charles Woodson will be their to take advantage.

Fantasy Advice
- Larry Donnell (Giants), with Odell Beckham Jr suffering with injury expect Manning to find his safety blanket for the home game versus 49ers.
- Antonio Gates (San Diego), is back from suspension a Hall of Fame signing back in partnership with Philip Rivers versus an ageing Steelers defence.

 Image result for Antonio Gates images

- Doug Martin (Buccaneers), with Jameis Winston suffering in the passing game (4 INTs last week) expect Lovie Smith to revert to a better balance and the muscle hamster back to the fore.
- Duke Johnson (Browns) a viable running back versus a Ravens defence who are leaking points

Follow me @JamieGarwood

Monday, 5 October 2015

Danny Collins

Image result for danny collins image

Out on DVD from Monday 5th October from Entertainment One, Danny Collins stars Al Pacino as the eponymous Danny, an ageing rock star who had higher aspirations when younger as the next big voice of popular culture like his idol John Lennon, before a smash global hit renders him necessary to give into those aspirations and become a joke in his senior years much like Tom Jones, Rod Stewart and Neil Diamond - still touring but with nothing original to perform.

We first encounter Danny on the evening of another triumphant gig in Los Angeles, the night before his birthday. At the same birthday, his manager Frank (Christopher Plummer) gives him a gift, a handwritten letter from John Lennon to Danny, that he never got delivered to him.  This sets off something inside Danny prompting him to leave his young fiancée at his huge LA mansion and leave for New Jersey to work on music and attempt to reconnect with his illegitimate son, Tom (Bobby Cannavale) and his wife Samantha (Jennifer Garner)

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Danny pops up at the Hilton Hotel where his illustrious name and recognisable face get him attention from the valet and reception staff who all love his music, mostly because they grew up with their parents playing it. Collins is charming and beguiling to the hotel manager Mary (Annette Bening), and a nice back and forth between the two commences ending in a wonderfully handled drunk scene in the hotel bar where warmth blazes off the screen.

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Pacino returns to form as Danny Collins
The writer/director Dan Fogelman has form with this elderly match making having written Last Vegas, the best bits being when Michael Douglas and Mary Steenburgen were flirting in a lounge bar.  Fogelman has a good ear as to how people flirting talk to each other over drinks or just willing to say what they want to at an advanced age because life is too short.

The scenes involving Danny and Tom, are handled delicately and does not force the issue when issues of health are brought up, but you feel the resentment from Tom towards Danny and the guilt inside of Danny for having abandoned Tom's mother and not supporting him through his formative years; credit here to the often under-valued Cannavale (The Station Agent) who is one of those faces you may have seen before in other films but here more than holds his own opposite the mighty Pacino, who is good to see does not overegg his portrayal of the washed up star and instead plays him for laughs rather than being laughed at.

His role as Danny Collins completes an ageing trilogy for Pacino who also starred in the well received Manglehorn and The Humbling; it has shown a return to form for Pacino who is settling into the twilight of his career by selecting roles that put his age front and centre but more importantly shows his range as one of cinema's greatest actors.

In general, Danny Collins is a delightful film - the sort of well meaning positive film they do not make enough of nowadays full of good intentions and good humour supported by some fine ensemble acting.  The film does not force your emotions and does not demand your attention, but should you watch it you will be relieved and thankful for the time spent with these characters on their journey.

Danny Collins is out on DVD from Entertainment One on Monday 5th October

Follow me on twitter @NextToTheAisle