In The Heart of the Sea 2015

IN THE HEART OF THE SEA

Another expensive-to-realise, hard-to-relate-to premise is featured in Ron Howard’s seafaring adventure; who wants to hear the true story that inspired Moby Dick? But Howard is a craftsman, and even his weaker efforts have some fun elements. A framing story, featuring Herman Melville (Ben Wishaw in a stuck-on beard) interviewing Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) about his past, is complete gibberish, but has a lovely background of a New England town. Things perk up when Liam Hemsworth swashbuckles his way centre-stage as Owen Chase, whose ship is sunk by a giant white whale, and then tail off into a unsatisfying story about cannibalism. But where In The Heart of the Sea fails as drama, it gets points for originality; it’s as high, wide and handsome as the hero, and evokes the spirit if not the letter of Melville’s work.

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Allied 2016

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Despite the star-power on offer, Robert Zemeckis’ WWII thriller seems to be destined to be a flop. That’s a shame, because it’s a reasonable shot at reviving some old-school melodrama, garnished with the director’s typical visual tricks. Brad Pitt is Max Vatan, a Canadian paratrooper who falls for Marianne (Marion Cotillard) while on an assassination mission in Casablanca. Back in Blighty, the two agents set up a chicken-coop in Hampstead, but suspicions are raised that Marianne might be a Nazi agent and Pitt is charged with setting a trap for her. The look of Allied recalls late 70’s WWII dramas like Eye of the Needle or Yanks, and Pitt and Cotillard certainly look the part. But unlike Pitt’s war-comic Fury, Allied seems determined to play the war-is-hell card in a revisionist way, with cocaine-snorting officers, openly lesbian couples and all kinds of odd details along the way to the startling if hardly pleasing conclusion.

Truth 2015

truthThe most notable quality of Truth is that nobody seemed interested in seeing or screening it; despite top talent in the form of Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford as 60 Minutes producer and star Mary Mapes and Dan Rather, this tough-minded drama found few takers. Truth takes on a thorny topic; how tv investigative journalists discovered discrepancies within, and then were investigated themselves, over George Bush Jr’s military record. Perhaps Spotlight stole their thunder in terms of the awards race, but more likely, the subject matter seemed to be cold potatoes to the audience. In the ‘post-truth’ debate after the 2016 election, Truth seems a more significant film than before, and is well worth exhuming from the growing pile of worthy, politically minded flops over the last decade.

Welcome to Me 2014

welcome-to-me-reviewKristen Wiig’s choices post-Bridesmaids have defied any attempt to categorize her as a light comedienne. The lengthy scenes of dog-castration in Welcome to Me are only part of a sustained attempt to avoid cuteness in this very off-beat drama about Alice Kleig (Wiig) who wins the lottery and decides to host her own chat show. The result is a debacle, but one which lines the pockets of her bosses. As Kleig’s show gets progressively weirder, the exposure also threatens her mental health, and Wiig impressively immerses herself in her character’s downfall. In spite of the oddness, there’s not many laughs in Shira Piven’s film, but that’s not the point; in examining how media exposure might engage and divert the attentions of a fragile-minded woman, Welcome to Me can make some claims to being the Network of the social-media era.

Bridge of Spies 2016

bridgespies1044A well-upholstered thriller from Steven Spielberg, Bridge of Spies deals with a real-life Cold War drama as James B Donovan (Tom Hanks) gets lured into the murky business of spy exchanges. After a successful courtroom defence of Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), Donovan tries to broker a deal in East Germany to exchange the enigmatic Abel for two other spies. Bridge of Spies is packed with absorbing details, and the atmosphere of East Germany is well caught. But it’s the acting that elevates the material; Rylance is electric in a showy role, but Hanks’ contribution should not be overlooked; he brings an everyman quality to his well-spoken lawyer, and provides a happy and empathetic centre even when the diplomatic and espionage twists get very complex indeed.

Room 2015

roomBrie Larson makes the jump to big league acting in Lenny Abrahamson’s intense drama about the relationship between Ma, a kidnapped girl and her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay). Both are held in captivity for years, and Ma and Jack come to form a unique bond as she seeks to protect him from the squalid truth about the room they share. They captor is barely seen, and the abuse he foists on Ma is hinted at rather than seen graphically, but after an intense escape scene, Room settles to examine the damage done to Ma, and how Jack manages to rescue his mother just as she cared for him. Wrongly marketed as a feel-good drama, Room is a dark story about abuse and recovery; it may go to a very dark place indeed, but the two final scenes are life-affirming and incredibly moving. Based on the book by Emma Donoghue.

Brooklyn 2015

50-brooklyn-lionsgateJohn Crowley’s adaptation of Colm Tóibín ‘s novel is a simple and wonderfully prescient film about immigration. Saoirse Ronan plays Eilis, the Irish girl who takes a chance to leave behind provincial small-town attitudes and move to Brooklyn, where she encounters a gallery of character from her tough department store boss to Julie Walters as a scatty landlady. Romance blossoms with a local plumber, but when tragedy strikes back home, Eilis is forced to return to Ireland and suddenly NYC seems like a long way away. A timely reminder of the immigration experiences that America is based on, Brooklyn is an affecting and thoughtful drama that never slips into melodrama. Like it’s determined heroine, Brooklyn plots a careful course on the way to a rewarding end.