Colin Farrell

Thirteen Lives

20/11/22

Amazon Prime

I’m unfashionably late to this one. This film barely had a theatrical showing in the UK and somehow managed to slip onto streaming services without much fanfare. This is a shame, because Ron Howard’s ‘based on a true story’ feature steadfastly refuses to go down the typical Hollywood hero route, instead offering a meticulously researched account that unfolds its complex story with all the authority of a documentary.

It takes us back to the familiar events of July 2018, when Thai junior football team, The Wild Boars, accompanied by their assistant coach, decides to pay a trip to a popular tourist destination, the Tham Luang Nang Non caves in Chiang Rai Province. As they wander deep into a rocky labyrinth, they are unaware that an early Monsoon has arrived, and that flood waters are already rising with terrifying speed, to come pouring in through every crevice. When the boys fail to show for a planned birthday celebration later that day, their parents raise the alarm – but, by now, their kids are trapped deep beneath the ground – and the rain is still pouring.

Among the many volunteers who subsequently arrive to lend a hand are two experienced divers from the British Cave Rescue Council, Rick Stanton (Viggo Mortenson) and John Volanthen (Colin Farrell), who handle the ensuing search through submerged tunnels with quiet calm and determination, only pausing to squabble over which of them ate the last custard cream. Both Mortensen and Farrell do a great job of capturing the men’s distinctive Coventry accents and their bluff, matter-of-fact approach to their highly specialised work – something which has already defeated the team of Navy SEALs who were first on the scene.

Finding the boys proves to be relatively easy, but getting them out alive – well, that’s a more complicated process, which will involve thirteen individual underwater journeys, each lasting more than seven hours. The boys have no experience of cave diving – indeed, some of them can’t even swim. With this in mind, Stanton and Volanthen decide to recruit more of their cave-diving chums. Chris Jewell (Tom Bateman), Jason Malinson (Paul Gleeson) and Richard ‘Harry’ Harris (Joel Edgerton) all answer the call, but it is the latter who will give the team their decisive edge, largely because of the special skills he’s acquired through his day job…

It’s hardly a spoiler to say that the enterprise has a successful outcome – indeed, pretty much the whole world knows how that went. But this film demonstrates what a complicated and dangerous procedure it was, how fraught with the possibility of disaster – and it is to Howard’s credit that though viewers already know the outcome, he nevertheless manages to generate nail-biting suspense throughout many of the extended underwater sequences.

He’s also keen to point out that the mission’s eventual success is not just due to the divers. There’s the young engineer who, with his own team of volunteers, works around the clock to divert millions of gallons of water away from the cave – and there are the local farmers who agree to sacrifice their entire rice crop for the year, in order to help with that process. There’s a whole army of ordinary people, cooking, carrying, doing anything necessary to keep the cogs turning. And happily, there’s no mention of a certain Mr Musk and his less than helpful approach to the situation.

Thirteen Lives is a story of human endurance and a celebration of the ingenuity of the many people who worked together to bring a seemingly impossible task to fruition.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

The Banshees of Insisherin

25/10/22

Cineworld, Edinburgh

Last week, I finally managed to catch up with Martin McDonagh’s debut play, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, at the Traverse Theatre – and now here’s his latest cinematic offering, which itself started life as a play, the projected third piece in his Aran Islands trilogy. For various reasons, McDonagh wasn’t happy with it in its original form, so it was never released. He should be delighted, however, with the critical reception for The Banshees of Inisherin, where important voices have been talking about potential Oscar nominations.

It’s 1923 and the titular island is a remote and inaccessible place. Across the water on the mainland, a civil war is raging and, even from a distance, the sound and fury can be overheard. But here there’s precious little to occupy the inhabitants, who spend their days trying to grub some kind of living from the soil. Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) lives with his sister, Siobhan (Kerry Condon), and he’s a man who likes to follow a routine. Every day at 2 pm, it’s his custom to call on his best friend, Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson), and accompany him to the local pub for a couple of pints.

He’s understandably shocked when one day Colm announces that he doesn’t want to be friends with Pádraic anymore. Colm claims that his regular drinking companion is the dullest man on the island and that he wishes to devote the rest of his life to writing his music. Pádraic is never to speak a word to him again – and, if he does, there will be terrible consequences…

Pádraic is hit for six by this announcement and haplessly tries to rescue the situation – but he has no idea how far Colm is prepared to go in order that his edict is followed.

Banshee’s theatrical origins are evident from the opening scenes and it’s clear that here is a piece that could work very effectively on stage, though the beautiful rural settings do help to open the story up to wider horizons. McDonagh’s ear for absurdist black humour has rarely been better and the plot, which sounds slight on paper, is filled with fascinating nuance. McDonagh has plenty to say about the insular psyche of island communities, an unforgiving world where everyone knows everyone else’s business and is happy to discuss it in public. Both Farrell and Gleeson make the most of their acting reunion, fourteen years after In Bruges, though I would suspect Farrell’s performance as the vulnerable Pádraic is the most Oscar-worthy of the two. Both Condon and Barry Keoghan (as, respectively, Siobhan and the tragic Dominic) may be worthy of ‘best supporting’ nods.

The Banshees of Inisherin is a beautifully observed contemplation of the thankless futility of human existence. Colm is stubborn and self-aggrandising, locked in hopeless dreams of being remembered after his death. Pádraic, meanwhile, is incapable of dealing with anything that compromises his preferred schedule.

Only Siobhan has the courage to change her life, but even that simple act – it turns out – has dark consequences.

4.6 Stars

Philip Caveney

The Batman

04/03/22

Cineworld, Edinburgh

Director Matt Reeves’ modest ambition for The Batman was to make ‘the best Batman movie yet.’

Well, he hasn’t done that – but he’s certainly made the longest. Weighing in at a bum-numbing two hours and fifty minutes, it brings to mind the conviction that while ‘less’ is often ‘more’, ‘more’ usually equals ‘less’ when it comes to movies. And, while this just about scrapes four stars in its present bloated form, it would have scored much higher with some judicious editing. I mean, like, excising fifty minutes.

What is it about Batman that makes directors keep returning to that oft-plundered well? The fact that this is a comic-book hero who doesn’t have any super powers is always appealing, and there’s that delicious interplay between the vigilante who takes the law into his own hands and those misguided fools who see him as a hero. In this regard, The Batman feels a lot more nuanced than many of its predecessors, but it’s also sobering to think that the best film of the franchise is the one that he doesn’t even feature in.

Joker, thanks for asking.

Mind you if you thought Christopher Nolan’s depiction of Gotham City was dark, prepare to turn the palette down several notches. Reeves’ Gotham (shot in studios all over the UK) is filmed in tones of obsidian and anthracite. In this Gotham, it never seems to stop raining and the city is ruled by corrupt public officials, who gleefully take bribes and exploit the working classes for their own enrichment. (Remind you of anywhere?)

It’s Hallowe’en and a masked villain called The Riddler (brilliantly played by Paul Dano, though we don’t actually see his face until late on in the proceedings) is gleefully murdering those in power, who have allowed their standards to slip. Batman/Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson), though hated by most of the police force, is invited to investigate the crimes by Commissioner Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), the only cop who trusts him.

The Riddler is leaving cryptic clues at the scenes of the crime and Batman is good at deciphering them. In the course of his investigations, he comes into contact with Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz), crime kingpin, Carmine Falcone (John Turturro), and The Penguin (an unrecognisable Colin Farrell, hidden beneath layers of latex and sounding for all the world like Robert De Niro).

As the proceedings unfold, it becomes clear to Bruce that his own father, whose murder initiated Bruce’s transition into the Caped Crusader, might not have been as innocent as his son has always supposed. Batman also comes to realise that there are many people out there who follow his vigilante tactics with relish – and who would really like to be him.

And, as loyal butler, Alfred (Andy Serkis) is quick to point out, Bruce’s father might have done the wrong thing – but for very sound reasons.

There’s a lot here that I really like. It offers a much more interesting vision of DC’s premier hero than we’re used to seeing – but too much time is spent wandering along dark alleyways that don’t advance the plot enough. It’s only as I’m starting to grow impatient with the film that it finally coalesces and ramps up the suspense, as it heads into a vaguely apocalyptic climax that is weirdly prescient and also, in a strange way, uplifting. Reeves has already proven his worth with the likes of Cloverfield and his astute retooling of the Planet of the Apes trilogy – but, inevitably, The Batman just feels too long for its own good.

This is a shame because Pattinson really works in the lead role (for once, I actually believe that nobody would suspect his Bruce Wayne of being Batman, since the two personas are so different). Kravitz is also compelling in the Catwoman role, and I fully expect to see her return to it. A nifty coda shows us exactly where Reeves plans to go next and, given the projected casting for the next lead villain, I have to confess I’m suitably intrigued.

But please, Matt, next time around… can we just have a bit less?

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Ava

10/12/20

Netflix

There seems to be a trend for art-house actors reinventing themselves as kick-ass action heroes. Jessica Chastain, previously best known for floating around in chiffon in films like The Tree of Life, is the titular star of this swaggering punch-em-up, directed by Tate Taylor. Here she plays a professional hit-woman, adept at donning disguises and dispatching powerful men in the most brutal fashion, pausing only to ask them why they think somebody hates them enough to have them offed. It seems she has some Daddy issues, after the callous treatment she received from her own father as a child. Now she’s basically eradicating him over and over again. It’s complicated, but it seems to work.

Ava takes her orders from another Daddy figure, Duke (John Malkovich), her former commander in the army, who seems to be the only person in the world she actually trusts. But, when her unusual approach to killing irks another of Duke’s protégées, Simon (Colin Farrell, sporting a truly horrible haircut), she suddenly finds herself in a very tight corner as her latest mission goes ‘accidentally’ wrong. Seeking a break, she heads home to visit her estranged Mother (Geena Davies), her sister, Judy (Jess Weixler), and her old flame, Michael (Common), who has now hooked up with Judy – which is… awkward, to say the very least.

As she is pursued by former-colleagues-turned-assassins, Ava faces a desperate struggle for survival…

The film is engaging enough in a video-gameish sort of way. There are many extended punch-ups, where Chastain has ample opportunity to display all the martial arts moves she’s clearly trained so hard for. If one or two of the fights feel unnecessarily protracted, well, that’s parr for the genre, I suppose. The emphasis on Ava’s parental issues lends this a little more depth than you’d usually expect to see in a film like this and Chastain has done a pretty thorough job of making her character believable. Farrell, always an actor full of surprises, manages to give Simon as much nuance as he can with his limited screen time, speaking softly and acting violently. It’s interesting to note that he’s an unreliable father, too.

There are the usual inconstancies. How is it, after being beaten within an inch of her life, Ava can arrive somewhere ten minutes later, sporting no more than a modest bruise on her cheek? And… I’ll just put this out there… how can we possibly be expected to believe that Geena Davis is now old enough to play the invalid mum of anybody older than Stuart Little? Can this be right?

The conclusion to this bruising tale suggests that Taylor and his team may be angling for another instalment, but I can’t help feeling that this franchise may have punched-thumped-kicked itself just about as far as it can reasonably expect to go.

Still, if mayhem is your go-to, this one should do the trick.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

The Gentlemen

01/01/20

When Guy Ritchie first burst onto cinema screens in 1998 with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, his felt like a genuinely fresh voice and, two years later, Snatch served to consolidate his reputation. But his output over the intervening years has not been as assured. (Anybody who had the misfortune to witness his attempt to reinvent King Arthur as a diamond geezer will know where I’m coming from here.) While his recent box office crowd pleaser Aladdin doubtlessly put him back into the black, it could have been directed by just about anybody. So, perhaps it’s no surprise that The Gentlemen is an all too-obvious attempt by Ritchie to return to his glory days. It’s all here, complete with an 18 certificate and enough C bombs for ten films. Take that, Walt Disney!

The lead ‘gentleman’ of the story is Rhodes scholar turned pot dealer, Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey), who is the top drug baron of the realm. He mingles with the aristocracy, who cheerfully help him to grow his crop, and is rich beyond the dreams of Croesus. But he’s looking to get out and spend quality time with his wife, Roz (Michelle Dockery), so he offers to sell his business to Mathew (Jeremy Strong) for a cool 200 million dollars. As you do. But of course, other ‘gentlemen’ are sniffing around, including Dry Eye (Henry Golding) and, naturally, there are various attempts by various others to muscle in on the deal. On reflection, maybe the film should have been entitled The Scumbags, because there’s nobody here to root for, each successive character as nasty and depraved as the previous one. McConaughey, by the way,  has very little to do here except wander listlessly around in a tuxedo.

The story is related by seedy private eye, Fletcher (Hugh Grant, entertainingly playing against type) to Raymond (Charlie Hunnam), Mickey’s right hand man. Fletcher, it seems, has blackmail on his mind, and has written a ‘screenplay’ about the whole thing. He pitches it to Raymond (and the audience) as if trying to get us on side. A convoluted shaggy dog story ensues…

Sadly, Ritchie’s attempt to get back to his former strengths misfires horribly. Despite a pleasing turn from Grant and another from Colin Farrell as ‘Coach,’ this comes across as one of the most unpleasant and racist films of recent years. ‘I’m an equal opportunities offender,’ boasts one character and sure enough, all the non-caucasian characters in the film – black, Jewish, Asian – are treated with the same insulting, tone-deaf approach. Furthermore, poor Michelle Dockery, who has pretty much the only speaking role for a woman in the entire film, is horribly served, her one scene of any consequence marred by a spurious and gratuitous sexual assault. The main problem, of course, is that Ritchie is doubtless blissfully unaware of these shortcomings, a privileged white man still trying to prove his ‘street’ credentials.

Society has moved on considerably since the 1990s, but Ritchie, it seems, has not. He’s still stuck in that decade. And this is not a promising start to 2020.

Philip Caveney

2.6 stars

Dumbo

 

31/03/19

Disney’s 1941 animation Dumbo is one of the House of Mouse’s greatest achievements. The simple tale of a baby elephant with oversized ears and the mouse who gives him the confidence to fly, it’s also one of the most affecting films ever made. Only the hardest of hearts can sit through the scene where Dumbo goes to visit his captive mother, without collapsing in floods of tears. Continuing the trend for making live action versions of Disney cartoons, Tim Burton offers us a much more complex reimagining of the original, devoid of its snappy songs, its inspirational mouse and, I’m afraid, also bereft of any real sense of emotion.

It’s 1919, and the little travelling circus belonging to ‘the Medici Brothers,’ pluckily makes its way across Florida, just about managing to survive despite the economic ravages that have laid the country low. There is actually only one Medici, ringmaster Max (Danny DeVito) and he’s doing everything he can to hold things together. Former stallion-master, Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) returns from the great war minus an arm and is reunited with his children, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finlay Hobbins), who he has left in the care of a couple of other entertainers. To add to the family’s woes, their mother has recently died after succumbing to the Spanish flu.

Holt soon learns that his beloved horses have been sold and he is now expected to take control of the circus elephants, one of whom, Mrs Jumbo, is heavily pregnant. The result, of course, is her son, Dumbo, who’s oversized ears make him the subject of much derision, but who, it turns out, has an amazing skill.

Matters become even more complicated when that skill comes to the attention of V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), an entertainment entrepreneur who senses an opportunity to make some money. He swiftly incorporates Max’s circus into his unfeasibly massive Dreamland complex on Coney Island and teams Dumbo with another of his acquisitions, French trapeze artist, Colette (Eva Green). Vandevere is an interesting addition to the story.  With his fake hairstyle, his predilection for making money and the fact that he is in hock to the banks up to his eyeballs, he is the very embodiment of a certain Mr Trump, and Keaton plays the role with evident relish.

I emerge feeling strangely conflicted about this film. On the one hand, I’m delighted that Burton hasn’t produced a cut and paste imitation of the original – on the other, I fail to understand why it’s so curiously dispassionate. There’s so much potential sadness here, yet Burton and his screenwriter, Ehren Kruger, seem unable to bring it out, often having to resort to characters telling us how sad they are just to make sure we haven’t missed the point.  The problem is, I need to feel that sadness and try as I might,  I do not – and trust me, I’m usually a sucker for that kind of thing

This is, of course, by no means a complete dud. As ever with Burton, the film looks absolutely stunning and the acting is pretty good throughout. Dumbo himself is a marvellous CGI creation, cute but not sickeningly so. It should have been a contender.

But without the heart that lies at the core of the original, the film is fatally skewered. Though it occasionally flaps into life, it never really soars.

3.5 stars

Philip Caveney

Widows

07/11/18

If I’d ever been asked to predict what Steve McQueen, director of 12 Years a Slave, might choose as his next project, there’s no way I’d have come up with the suggestion that a reboot of a Lynda La Plante TV series from the 1980s might be the perfect fit. But nevertheless, here it is: a big, brash, swaggering crime drama, bearing scant resemblance to the original series, other than its initial set up. For one thing, the story, adapted by McQueen and bestselling author Gillian Flynn, has been ripped from its English roots and relocated to the city of Chicago. For another, this is rather more than just a criminal potboiler  – it’s a nuanced, amoral tale that incorporates a whole bevy of dazzling twists and turns.

McQueen sets out his stall with incredible chutzpah, whizzing us through the opening sequence at an almost breathless pace. We meet Veronica (Viola Davis), loving wife of hyper-successful career criminal, Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson). We encounter Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), rather less happily married to a gambling-addicted member of Harry’s gang; and we glimpse Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), struggling through an abusive relationship with yet another of these charmers. We also witness Harry’s attempt to steal five million dollars from rival criminal, Jamal Manning (Bryan Tyree Henry), watching agog as it all goes spectacularly tits-up, transforming Harry, the stolen money and his gang into a pile of ashes – and the three women we’ve just met into the widows of the title. And that’s just the opening ten minutes. Phew!

No sooner is the funeral out of the way than Veronica gets a visit from Jamal, who tells her, in no uncertain terms, that he wants his money back and she has just a week to get it for him. Veronica is understandably terrified. She’s not a criminal, she’s a former representative of the Teacher’s Union. How is she going to find the necessary funds? And then she discovers that locked away in his regular hideout, Harry has left detailed plans for yet another audacious robbery…

As the story stretches out, more characters enter the scenario. There’s Colin Farrell as dodgy politician Jack Mulligan, running against Jamal for re-election as a local alderman and trying to shrug free of the embrace of his racist father and political predecessor, Tom (Robert Duvall). There’s Jamal’s terrifyingly brutal henchman, Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya), tasked with the job of retrieving the stolen money that his boss was planning to use to finance his own political ambitions. And then there’s Belle (rising star, Cynthia Erivo), Linda’s muscular babysitter who is drawn into the ensuing heist when Veronica, Linda and Alice realise they need somebody to drive a getaway vehicle.

It’s all so confidently woven together that there’s barely time to appreciate McQueen’s storytelling skills – though a scene where Mulligan and his assistant drive several blocks in a car is a particular stand-out. The two characters talk off-camera whilst the audience’s gaze remains resolutely fixed on the scenery, making us appreciate what a short drive it is from the poverty stricken community that Mulligan represents to his palatial residence, just a few blocks away.

But this is only one sequence in a film that fairly bristles with invention and one where every character – politician, priest or passing person – comes complete with a hidden agenda and where nothing can be taken at face value. The action sequences are compellingly handled, and there’s a shock reveal half way through proceedings that actually makes me gasp out loud. With so much happening, the running time of two hours and nine minutes fairly gallops by, leaving me vaguely surprised when the closing credits roll.

Okay, you might argue, let’s not get carried away. After all, at the end of the day, it’s still just a crime drama, but one thing’s for certain: if other films in the genre were as assured as this one, chances are I’d be watching a whole lot more of them.

Go see.

4.7 stars

Philip Caveney

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

04/11/17

Yorgos Lanthimos’s previous film, The Lobster is a real divider of opinion. Many people love this dark dystopian comedy, while others just can’t get their heads around the surreal craziness of the plot. I suspect the same fate awaits The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which, while it heads into much darker territory than its predecessor, still offers us a story that has very little to do with any kind of perceived reality. And yet, for all that, this bizarre fable about the nature of sacrifice is a powerfully compelling tale that exerts a real grip.

Heart surgeon Steven Murphy (a hirsute Colin Farrell) enjoys a successful career. Married to ophthalmologist, Anna (Nicole Kidman), and the father of Kim (Raffey Cassiday) and Bob (Sunny Suljic), he seems content with his life but talks only in the most banal terms about the dullest subjects – an early discussion with an anaesthesiologist about a watch that Steven is thinking about buying sets the tone.  

We soon learn, however, that Steven has a secret. He is meeting regularly with teenager, Martin (Barry Keoghan) and, inevitably, we suspect that there’s something sinister going on. But the film is full of misconceptions. Martin, it turns out, is the son of a man who died on Steven’s operating table and the surgeon is simply trying to be nice to him, possibly because he feels a sense of guilt about what happened. Steven, we discover, is fond of a drink and may not have been entirely sober when he went into the operating theatre. As the film develops, Martin begins to inveigle his way more and more into the Murphy household and even insists that Steven should come to his house and meet his mother (an unsettling cameo from Alicia Silverstone), who Martin claims ‘has feelings’ for Steven. But then Martin says something that will change Steven’s life forever. It’s in the nature of a prediction – and means the surgeon having to make the most difficult decision of his life…

This is a fascinating tale, expertly told. Though it has no rational explanation, there’s a mounting sense of dread throughout and the story (co-written by Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou) seems to delight in exploding received wisdoms about how people will act under certain conditions. A mother will always put her children first, right? Siblings will always look out for each other, yes? Well, in this film’s worldview, nothing can be taken for granted.

If I’m honest, the movie overstays its welcome somewhat. With twenty minutes cut from the running time, this would have been stronger, but nevertheless there’s still plenty here to enjoy, not least Keoghan’s wonderfully dead-eyed performance as the teenage boy who comes to exercise complete control over the Murphys. Oh, that title, by the way, refers to the myth of Iphigenia, so those of you who have studied the classics might have some intimation about where the story is headed.

As I said at the beginning, some people will inevitably hate this film. For me, though not perfect, it’s even stronger than The Lobster, and I for one will be fascinated to see where this exciting and highly original film-maker goes next.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

The Beguiled

15/07/17

In The Beguiled, Sofia Coppola’s remake of Don Siegel’s 1971 Clint Eastwood vehicle, received wisdoms are questioned at every turn. For a start, we’re clearly positioned on the women’s side, with their talk of ‘our boys’ at odds with the dastardly Union soldiers and the havoc they wreak (disrupting schooling, stealing chickens, killing brothers – the list is long). It’s easy to forget, while watching, that history is on the Unionists’ side: Colin Farrell’s Corporal McBurney is fighting to end slavery. Even if he is a mercenary, he’s doing the right thing.

But this is history Jane Austen-style: the politics and horrors of the outside world barely penetrate these school walls. Oh, their impact is felt and heard: there is shooting in the distance; the girls can’t go home; soldiers pass by the house or come in to search the place – but the focus is on the interior domestic world of women, ostracised by the fighting, trapped indoors, biding their time.

Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) is the headmistress; the school is her family home. She clings to a sense of tradition in the face of uncertainty, citing the lineage of everything, even her father’s desk and gun. There might be shells exploding on the horizon, but the gates are locked and the girls must learn their French declensions. Everything is very ordered and proper, and decorum is everything.

Into this world comes the injured Corporal McBurney, as charming and handsome as, well… Colin Farrell. He’s discovered by Amy (Oona  Laurence), one of the younger pupils, on a rare and forbidden foray into the woods. She’s looking for mushrooms, but she finds the wounded and immobile soldier instead, and takes him to the school for her teachers to assess. “I couldn’t just leave him to die,” she says, seeking approval, clearly conflicted. Miss Martha agrees: “The enemy, viewed as an individual, is often not what we expect.” (The same can be said, of course, of these privileged women, whose ‘side’ is that of the oppressor, not the oppressed.) But the act of charity is doomed: the house is a hotbed of repressed sexuality, from Miss Martha’s uptight propriety to Alicia (Elle Fanning)’s burgeoning self-awareness, not to mention Edwina (Kirsten Dunst)’s blushing neediness and the little girls’ barely understood desire for male attention. These are women without men in a patriarchal world: Corporal McBurney offers them the chance to relieve their frustrations. They vie for his affections, and begin to fall apart.

It’s a tense, exciting kind of film, in the same way as The Falling or Picnic at Hanging Rock. It’s slow and sensual, forbidding and unsettling. The claustrophobia is palpable, and it’s clear that something must erupt from this seething undercurrent of repressed passion. The acting is superb, each character utterly and devastatingly believable. There’s a lovely ambiguity too: who’s really in the wrong? Does Miss Martha really have to take the drastic action she does (I can’t say more without revealing far too much), or is she acting to protect the girls and regain control? Is McBurney to blame for looking out for himself, for using what he’s got to keep himself safe? These are all flawed, credible people, acting and reacting to the cards they’ve been dealt, making mistakes and having to live with the results of them. It doesn’t pull many punches, and it’s really very good indeed. Sofia Coppola’s best director award at this year’s Cannes film festival is very well deserved – let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another fifty-six years before another woman gains this accolade.

4.2 stars

Susan Singfield

 

 

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

19/11/16

Question: how do you turn a rather slim World Book Day volume into not one, not three, but five big movies? Answer. Ring up JK Rowling. She has elaborated extensively on said slim volume to create a wizarding tale set, not in the familiar confines of Hogwarts, but in New York city in the year 1926. The more cynical amongst us will be tempted to dub this with an alternative title – Newt Scamander and the Cow of Cash – but to give the film its due, it is undoubtedly a serious attempt to step away from the path already trodden and for that, at least, it should be applauded; and the attention to detail that’s been applied to the creation of the wizard world is truly impressive. But the ranks of parents accompanied by bewildered looking youngsters as the credits rolled on the afternoon show we attended, spoke volumes. Despite that 12A certificate, this is not a film for the very young, simply because there’s no child protagonist here to fully engage their attention.

Instead we have English wizard Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arriving in New York city carrying a magical case of strange creatures with him and it’s no great surprise when some of those creatures escape and start running amok in the (beautifully recreated) city. These range from tiny, cute and obsessed with stealing shiny things, to large, rhinoceros-like and ready to mate with something (seriously – you need to prepare yourself for Scamander’s mating dance). Newt soon falls under the watchful gaze of ministry of magic jobs worth, Tina (Katherine Waterston) and things take a more complicated turn when ‘No-Maj’  (the American term for a Muggle) Kowalski (Dan Fogle) inadvertently ends up with the wrong suitcase. Much hilarity ensues, and many landmark buildings are spectacularly destroyed…

Which is all well and good, but it has to be said that something in this mix doesn’t quite work. The resulting film is neither fish nor fowl. Surely, the parade of beautifully rendered CGI creatures are aimed at children, while the human characters behave in a manner that’s more appropriate for their parents – but because neither aspect fully coheres with the other, both sides of the audience are somehow left wanting. Don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty here to enjoy, not least the delightful Queenie (Alison Sudal, channeling her inner Marilyn Monroe) and Fogle’s winning turn as the poor schlep who finds himself suddenly immersed in a world of wizarding is good too. Redmayne rather overdoes it as Scamander – sure, he’s meant to be shy and introverted but he gurns his way through this first film and I can only hope that he’ll dial it down a bit for episodes 2,3,4 and 5. Whether I’ll be watching any of them is another matter.The major villain here is Graves (Colin Farrell), a powerful wizard with a hidden agenda, but he really doesn’t have all that much to do and seems a poor exchange for the villainous Voldemort.

A lot of money and huge amounts of technical skill has clearly been lavished on this project – and it’s by no means the worst thing you’ll see this year – but for me at least, it fails to live up to its famous progenitor. And I can’t help thinking – how are they going to string this out for another four movies?

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney