Booked Out DVD Review 1 80


From first time writer/director Bryan O’Neil we have Booked Out, a ridiculously charming and loveable little film about human connection, the lasting effect an event can have on someone and the general quirks of everyday life.

Nowhere are those quirks manifested more than in Ailidh (Mirren Burke), an artist who loves taking Polaroid photographs of her neighbours. One of the people she spies on his Jacob (Rollo Weeks), a young man who keeps visiting a mysterious and seemingly disturbed woman across the hall from her. Ailidh tries to get close to Jacob and all the while the two of them help an upstairs neighbour, Mrs Nicholls, to cope with the death of her husband.

Bolstered by a terrific, upbeat original score by Derek Yau and Mark West, Booked Out is quirky and off-beat but in an honest way. Its charm comes inherently from its characters and the witty script, moving effortlessly from delightful small-talk and small adventures – such as when Ailidh and Jacob go to a fancy dress party as “animals that doesn’t exist” – to actually being about something deeply real.

The latter aspect comes in two forms; Jacob dealing with a girl, Jacqueline, we don’t really know much about who doesn’t say much and appears both absent and clingy at the same time (achieved by an enigmatic performance from Claire Garvey), and the two leads helping out the lovable but troubled Mrs. Nicholls (played wonderfully by Sylvia Syms) who still believes her husband is alive. One scene in particular personifies the nature of the film as a whole in which Jacob has to speak French (the little of it he knows anyway) to an empty armchair which Mrs Nicholls believes her husband is sitting in. Ailidh keeps up this charade because she has a fondness for her upstairs neighbour, while Jacob seems to do it out of politeness more than anything else.

The two leads are great to watch together, Weeks’ awkwardness and shyness as Jacob off-set by the burst of energy and the ray of sunshine that is Burke’s Ailidh (Burke’s first feature performance here definitely makes her one to watch for the future).Their opposing natures which are somehow perfectly matched evokes Harold and Maude – whether that was international or not, that’s how it comes across.

The cinematography by Jordan Cushing gives the film a Summery feel for the most part, only changing to a dimmer, bleaker view whenever Jacob goes to visit Jacqueline or in some scenes with Mrs Nicholls. In this way we have a “mood stone” effect where the look and feel matches the tone of the scene at hand.

Although it takes a little while to find its feet, once it starts to mingle together its quirkiness with genuine heart, scratching away at the surface of what we assume is going on from the start, Booked Out really works. Sure to be one of the most charming indie movies of 2012, this is the type of intimate, funny and subtly involving film that gives the British film industry a good name.


The DVD doesn’t exactly contain an exhaustive amount of special features, however there’s enough there to add to the experience of the film. Along with the usual audio commentary (with the director and Director of Photography) and trailer, we also have a series of short interviews with the cast including Mirren Burke, Rollo Weeks, Claire Garvey and Sylvia Syms, though it would have been nice to have one with writer/director Bryan O’Neil himself as well. There’s also some deleted scenes (with optional commentary with O’Neil) adding up to around 18 minutes – one scene in particular entitled “Treacle seduces Bookwork-man” I actually felt could have stayed in the film.

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Booked Out is out on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on March 12th.

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I’m a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features.

I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

1 Comment

  1. Congratulations Ross,
    Thoughts On Film gets a well deserved quote on the Booked Out Film’s Facebook page and the Booked Out website poster.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 420

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 452

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10