Saturday 10 December 2016

Film review: Bridget Jones's Baby - perfect for a fluffy and funny girls night out

Cert: 15A. In cinemas from Friday

Published 12/09/2016 | 02:30

Pagtrick Dempsey and Renee Zellweger in 'Bridget Jones's Baby'
Pagtrick Dempsey and Renee Zellweger in 'Bridget Jones's Baby'
Viggo Mortensen plays a militant father raising his kids in 'Captain Fantastic'

Hard to imagine it's 12 years since we last saw Helen Fielding's flappable everygirl in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. Renee Zellweger, who'd just nabbed an Oscar for Cold Mountain the year before, has been quiet of late, with, sadly, more talk of her appearance than her acting chops taking up any column inches.

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It's thus nice to report that it's like she has never left, here slipping back into the role of the hapless singleton like a well-worn glove. Now 43, Bridget is spending her birthday alone in her flat to the soundtrack of All By Myself and passing commuter trains. Things did not work out quite so well with Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) but work as a TV news producer seems to be on the up, despite the arrival of a finger-snapping boss (Kate O'Flynn).

She is whisked off to a music festival by pushy pal Miranda (Sarah Solemani) where she ends up getting the leg over with "shiny new American" Jack ("McDreamy" himself, Patrick Dempsey) who is rich, buff, handsome and dashing. Soon after, she crosses paths with recently divorced Mr Darcy and falls into the hay with him. When it transpires she is pregnant, a question mark over who is the father draws the two chalk-and-cheese suitors together for the kind of gentlemanly rutting that British rom-coms love to serve up to squealing female audiences.

This and other things make Bridget Jones's Baby a highly effective film for those looking for a fluffy and funny girls night out. Director Sharon Maguire returns from the all-conquering 2001 original and over a brisk couple of hours locates a good balance of girly buffoonery, a few great one-liners and "what really matters" morals. Emma Thompson (who also co-wrote) is in fine form as the prim gynaecologist. 4 Stars

Hilary A White

Anthropoid

Cert: 15A. Now Showing

Getting too close to a project does not always pay off and here we have another case in point. Director and co-writer Sean Ellis (with Anthony Frewin) did enormous amounts of research into Operation Anthropoid, a covert op by the exiled Czech government during WWII to assassinate SS General Reinhard Heydrich in Prague. The resulting film is well-intentioned, worthy and historically accurate but largely lacks emotion so it deserves four stars for effort, but two for entertainment.

Josef Gabcík (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan) are parachuted near Prague, part of a team with the ambitious aim of assassinating SS General Heydrich, the man later known to have been the chief architect of the Final Solution. The plan meets with mixed responses from the local Resistance, no-one doubts that Heydrich is a worthy target, but the revenge for such an attack would be brutal. But fortunately Toby Jones, without whom no period thriller is complete, is there to put things in motion.

Whilst working out their plan the men stay with a local family and have local women as subterfuge, Marie (Charlotte Le Bon) and Lenka (Anna Geislerová). These women offer more than subterfuge and, although not much in the way of a sub plot, they do help create a sense of the fear in which occupied cities lived, the risks people took and the simultaneous need for and fear of emotional closeness. They provide the main protagonists with a humanity they otherwise lack. Both men are anxious about what they have to do, but why are they doing it? Where are they from? There isn't that much for two very likeable actors to work with. The most exciting part of the film is at the end. And yet, even without huge emotion, it is a very good story. 3 Stars

Aine O'Connor

Captain Fantastic

Cert: 15A. Now showing.

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Ben (Viggo Mortensen) is taking his role as a father perhaps a little too seriously. Living off-grid in deepest, darkest Oregon, he drills his six children each day in everything from hunting and gutting deer to sustainability and political theory and even armed combat. They are cut off from the world, which is the way he likes it, with only occasional trips in the family bus to the local village to get supplies.

In many ways, writer-director Matt Ross's creation is an extreme take on the paranoid post 9/11 father, here desperately trying to equip his children, ranging in age from pre-schooler to undergrad. The chinks in Ben's design show-up when the children's hospitalised mother takes her own life and a road trip out into the world is necessary to attend the funeral. Ben and his charges know everything but in some ways their unorthodox home-schooling has ill-equipped them to fit in. This is brought into sharp focus as they meet boorish cousins, romantic interests and their grandfather (Frank Langella) who hates Ben.

Ross stirs up some fascinating discussions in this indie drama, especially in those scenes where Ben's children are pitted beside their contemporaries. One involving his tiniest daughter (the gorgeous Shree Crooks), her older suburban cousins and education is engrossing.

This, Stéphane Fontaine's shimmering cinematography and a generally tight cast are to be commended. What ruins Captain Fantastic are its less than authentic dabbles with comedy, such as the fumbling attempts at first love by George MacKay as eldest son. Even worse is the turgid gooey tone the ending is drowned in. 3 Stars

Hilary A White

Hell or High Water

Cert: 15A. Now showing.

David Mackenzie's 2013 prison drama Starred Up was a reminder that on a good day, the Scottish director can do gritty but profoundly resonating action drama that stays in your system. For this neo-western, he teamed up with Sicario scribe Taylor Sheridan and cast young guns Chris Pine and Ben Foster beside elder guru Jeff Bridges. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis came in on soundtrack duties. Together, this dream team have delivered a certified modern classic.

Pine and Foster are Toby and Tanner, two bank-robbing brothers in dustbowl West Texas. They are on an intense 48-hour spree to relieve several banks of funds. Bridges is the grizzled Ranger Hamilton, on the eve of retirement and contemplating the winter of his years. The wise old goat needs one last rodeo and vows to bring the brothers in.

This so far sounds like your common or garden western but Hell or High Water is anything but ordinary. Around this central premise is a thematic tapestry that quietly brews away in the backdrop. Next to the idea that the unhinged jailbird Tanner and more sensible Toby have a noble family motive behind their deeds are issues of rural decline, the banking classes, Native American rights and casino culture, and gun-possession. There's nostalgia for the good ol' days when service was better, deputies smoked and the West was truly wild.

Always an actor of huge vitality, Foster gives a career best while Pine shows he's far more than just a pretty face. The landscape belongs to Bridges, however. The veteran brings much sensitivity and nuance to such a trope character, and is mesmeric when quietly observed by Mackenzie's masterful lens. 5 Stars

Hilary A White

Ben Hur

Cert 12A. Now showing.

The world has turned since William Wyler and Charlton Heston ravished the planet with Ben Hur, which in 1959 was as big and profitable as cinema got. Today's audiences are tired of swords-and-sandals epics, not to mention biblically-tinged ones.

These factors have contributed to this $100-million update flopping in the US, making just over half its budget back so far. We'd love to blame wretched millennials for sinking Timur Bekmambetov's ship but the fact is this Ben Hur is sorely lacking.

Jack Huston (son of Tony, nephew of Anjelica etc) is one of the film's few victories but you do wonder would a bigger name have carried the humongous project more sturdily. He plays the titular Jewish prince framed by adopted Roman brother Messala (a lousy Toby Kebbell) in Roman-occupied Jerusalem. These early acts carry all the sweep and gravity of a straight-to-TV folly. Later scenes with our hero enslaved at sea and rehabbing with a ridiculously dreadlocked Morgan Freeman (phoning it in) also wilt in the frame. It feels most of the budget is pumped into the full-throttle chariot race. 2 Stars

Hilary A White

The Blue Room

Cert: Club. Now showing in IFI

Mathieu Amalric and partner Stéphanie Cléau make a potent team both behind and in front of the camera in this steamy French noir that manages to get its dark thrills wrapped up in a trim and tidy 76 minutes. The pair co-wrote the tale of a married man being questioned by police for an unspecified crime and recounting a hot and heavy affair he had with a local pharmacist.

We see Julien (Amalric) succumbing to seduction by Esther (Cléau), a statuesque beauty who is married to a friend of his. Their tryst provides him with relief from his boring life with his wife (Léa Drucker) and children. The running around, signalling and track-covering become too much, not to mention the actual physical toll Esther takes on his body. All this Julien is recounting to police detectives because a murder has taken place and Julien is a suspect.

Amalric has almost two dozen films under his belt as director and shows glimmers of excellence here in how he deftly juggles back-and-forward timelines as well as framing everything with an air of enigma and dangerous intrigue. Thanks to Belgian cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne, The Blue Room is also a very beautiful film, with Julien's flashbacks being tinted with a softly lit edge that is at once unsettling and dreamy.

It would surely have been a demanding shoot for both Amalric and Cléau, what with directing, writing and full-frontal performances to contend with on set. Whether this had anything to do with its nippy running time is anyone's guess, and depending on your view, the ending will either be slightly too abrupt or deliciously moot. 4 Stars

Hilary A White

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