Film Reviews: Magic display by a stellar cast
Reviewed this week: Dallas Buyers Club, Robocop, The Invisible Woman, Mr Peabody & Sherman
Dallas Buyers Club
(16, general release, 116 minutes)
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée. Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Steve Zahn.
In 1985, just as public hysteria about the AIDS epidemic is beginning to reach its peak, a Texas electrician, party boy and occasional rodeo rider called Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) is admitted to hospital and diagnosed with the disease. Ron's subsequent rage is enhanced by the fact that he's profoundly homophobic, and had assumed like most of the rest of middle America that Aids was a gay plague. Condemned to share a hospital room with a pretty transsexual called Rayon (Jared Leto), Ron lets rip with all the prejudice he's got. But after he's worn himself out, he starts to wonder what to do next.
Helped by a renegade doctor in Mexico, he begins smuggling in a new drug still banned in America, and becomes an unlikely dispenser of hope to Dallas' beleaguered gay community.
Dallas Buyers Club is not a perfect film: awkwardly paced and clumsily concluded, it doesn't quite reach its lofty ambitions. But it's impossible not to like and McConaughey's Ron is a compelling screen creation, a skinny, crazy zealot whose relentless energy seems to come from nowhere.
LATEST MODEL OF CULT FILM IS NO UPGRADE
(12A, general release, 118 minutes)
Director: José Padilha. Stars: Gary Oldman, Joel Kinnaman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish.
José Padilha's dystopian thriller is a breezy remake of a cult 1987 movie with which it doesn't bear much comparison. Paul Verhoeven's RoboCop cleverly mixed action tropes with social commentary and satire, but there's less of that on display here, though Fox News does get a bit of a doing in a futuristic current affairs show that bookends the film.
It's 2028, and Detroit is overwhelmed by crime and corruption, the city is crying out for a new direction in terms of law and order. According to right wing TV pundit Pat Novak (Samuel L Jackson), Detroit's salvation is the drone robots developed by the multinational OmniCorp. The law currently prevents the armed drones from being used on American soil, but when a Detroit cop called Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is ambushed and left for dead by criminals, OmniCorp's sinister CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) comes up with a cunning compromise.
If Murphy is rebuilt using drone technology, he will be free to patrol the streets as a human-robot hybrid. And a very successful law enforcer RoboCop proves to be too, but the bits of Murphy's brain that remain soon begin to question the ethics of what he's doing. José Padilha's film plods along fairly enjoyably, but is pretty two-dimensional. Some of the acting's a bit ripe too, and the spit really flies whenever Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman meet. But it's the film's action scenes that are most disappointing, and made me feel like I was inside a video game.
A FEAST FOR THE EYES
The Invisible Woman
( (12A, general release, 111 minutes)
Director: Ralph Fiennes. Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Felicity Jones, Tom Hollander, Kristen Scott Thomas. HHHHI
Ralph Fiennes' second film as director is based on a book by Claire Tomalin and tells the story of Charles Dickens' late romance with the actress, Nelly Ternan.
That's to say it gives us the gospel according to Ms Tomalin, because Dickens was careful to burn all his correspondence with Nelly, so much of what passes for fact in this film is speculation. It is, however, a very fine film, nice to look at, sensitive to its subject and told very much from Ternan's point of view.
The pair first met in 1857, when Dickens (Fiennes) was 45 and Nelly (Felicity Jones) 18. She had a small part in a play that Dickens and Wilkie Collins were touring, and the great writer soon fell in love with the sensitive and intelligent young woman. He was married, and his loyal but frumpy wife Catherine had dutifully borne him ten children, but that didn't stop Dickens from separating from her within a year. But he kept his affair with Nelly a secret, even though according to this film it lasted for the rest of his life.
Fiennes approaches his story intelligently, and adds poetic visual flourishes to Abi Morgan's fine script. He didn't originally intend to play Dickens himself but is excellent as the nervy, chattering, profoundly restless writer, who enjoys his fame but is also oppressed by it.
And Jones is really good as Ellen, a clever girl who knows what she's getting into but can't help herself.
TWIST ON THE DOG TAIL
Mr Peabody & Sherman
(G, general release, 92 minutes)
Director: Rob Minkoff. Stars: Ty Burrell, Leslie Mann, Max Charles, Stephen Colbert.
One of the more erudite animations you'll come across, this 3D DreamWorks production is based on characters that originally appeared in the 1960s TV cartoon Rocky and Bullwinkle. Ty Burrell from Modern Family does a splendid job of voicing Mr Peabody, a talking dog who's an inventor, Nobel Laureate and all-round polymath. He lives in a gleaming glass and steel apartment overlooking Manhattan and is also a double Olympic gold medalist, but what Mr Peabody is proudest of is his human son, Sherman.
Mr Peabody adopted Sherman after finding him abandoned in an alley, and has since found ingenious ways of enhancing his education. These include a time machine that allows Mr Peabody and Sherman to make instructive but sometimes hair-raising trips to Tutankhamun's Egypt, the French Revolution, Renaissance Italy and ancient Greece. When it comes time for Sherman to go to school, his nerdish ways do not make him popular. He has a fight with a feisty girl called Penny Peterson, and when Mr Peabody asks the Petersons round to smooth things over, Penny and Sherman end up flying back through history on their own.
Full of playful wit and outrageous puns, Mr Peabody & Sherman is a charming and perfectly paced animation that should please both child and parent.