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Paul

From someone who was in his element at a recent Dr. Who convention, it’s safe to say I’m a sci-fi fanatic.  I wear my ‘sci-fi geek’ badge with pride and so too it seems do actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost who have a grand time skewering the genre in Paul.  It’s all done with affection walking the tightrope between satire and broad comedy with skill.  Unlike recent celluloid mirth makers it’s actually funny and pays tribute to fans who relish the chance to escape to interplanetary dimensions.
 

Having enjoyed the fantastical wonders of Comic-Con, friends Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost) travel America in search of famous landmarks supposedly inhabited by aliens.  Their trip takes an unexpected turn when they discover Paul, an alien who has escaped the confines of a top secret government facility.  Well versed in the ways of humans, the extra-terrestrial’s wise-cracking demeanor is not what they expect.  Nor are the agents on the hunt for Paul, led by Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman) who tests the mettle of the unlikely trio as they attempt to send Paul back home amongst the stars.
 

Subtly layering their tale with their brand of quirky English humor, Frost and Pegg’s screenplay is perhaps not as hilarious as it could have been.  Whilst its look at various culture clashes is often very funny, its impact is lessened by its adherence to conventional American style slapstick.  Even though these scenes take away some of its charm, there is still much fun to be had.  The ‘mysterious world’ of sci-fi fandom is one ripe for the picking – an opportunity this film mostly succeeds at grabbing.
 

What’s clever is how the alien is used to show the strangeness of humanity.  The creature almost seems the most normal person in the entire story, as the human characters are full of the foibles and worries the alien doesn’t have to endure.  Although it becomes a little sentimental and occasionally suffers from sluggish pacing, the actors’ fun performances carry things through until the rousing finale.
 

Amongst the expected crude jokes and outlandish plot, Paul has some good moments to linger in the memory.  Science fiction fans should be amused by the carry-on and still be proud their passion has been reasonably conveyed on the big screen.
 

Rating out of 10:  6

Brighton Rock

The original 1947 Brighton Rock was famous for catapulting a young Richard Attenborough to world fame.  Playing a young gangster protecting his turf, images of his youthful visage have lasted decades.  Whether this remake will do the same for star Sam Riley remains to be seen.  It seems he may have an uphill battle in an uneven adaptation of Graham Greene’s still stirring book.
 

Steeped in the echoes of a bygone era, Brighton in the early 60’s seems a municipal paradise.  Ambitious gangster Pinkie Brown (Sam Riley) puts paid to this notion when he determines to stop rival gangs taking over his patch.  After killing one of them, evidence that could implicate him falls into the hands of waitress Rose (Andrea Riseborough).  Charming her with his words, his shady ways catch the attention of her employer Ida (Helen Mirren).  Caught in a quagmire of mistrust, Pinkie tries any method to prevent death from knocking at his door.
 

Brighton Rock is a great source novel which has been poorly adapted for screen.  Whilst the Attenborough original is regarded as a classic, this remake botches nearly every dramatic cue.  The tale of a gangster desperate to trust anyone is quite interesting but in the hands of screenwriter/director Rowan Joffe, the lack of clear character motivation drags the storyline into a confusing muddle.  It needn’t have been like this as some elements work very well with some stunning cinematography making Brighton and its surrounds characters in themselves.
 

Not helping is the acting which is uniformly awful.  Riley and Riseborough are extremely wooden and fail to convincingly convey the differing emotions tearing them apart.  One has to have empathy for their characters and this never materialises.  Only Mirren emerges relatively unscathed with a clearly defined role seemingly suited for another film altogether.  In many ways this remake states why certain stories shouldn’t be re-told, with the sinister mood of the piece only occasionally coming across.
 

A very disappointing film, Brighton Rock is a grab-bag of incidents failing to gel.  Frustrating due to some poor direction and dire performances, those wanting to find the definitive version of this tale should read the book to discover how good stories should be told.
 

Rating out of 10:  5