Monday 5 December 2016

Film review: The 9th Life of Louis Drax - unusual but accessible

Cert: 15A. Opens Sept 2

Published 05/09/2016 | 02:30

Sarah Gadon and Jamie Dornan in The 9th Life of Louis Drax
Sarah Gadon and Jamie Dornan in The 9th Life of Louis Drax

French director Alexandre Aja's horror pedigree is evident from early on in this strange and mostly interesting mystery/thriller based on Liz Jensen's 2006 bestseller and adapted by Jensen and Max Minghella for the screen. Stylised, like a lovechild of Hitchcock, Wes Anderson and M Night Shyamalan, it is unfeasible in details rather than plot but very watchable if not memorable.

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Louis Drax (Aiden Longworth) is a clever, unusual and accident-prone boy who, on his ninth birthday, has his worst accident yet. His father (Aaron Paul) goes missing and his devoted mother Natalie (Sarah Gadon) is left devastated. Celebrated TED Talk-giving neurosurgeon Allan Pascal (Jamie Dornan) is convinced all coma patients have more going on than it appears and he tries to "coax" them out of their silence. He begins to feel a very close (and never explained) connection to Louis and, much more morally dubiously, to his mother. Natalie is a beauty in the Hitchcockian style, right down to the 1950s clothes and Grace Kelly hair (and violin-based soundtrack) she is also perhaps not quite as fragile as she looks.

The story emerges through flashbacks, stories Louis narrates, stories he tells his therapist Dr Perez (Oliver Platt), and through his imagination as it runs through his comatose mind. At times it feels like it will become a horror but it unravels into reality, characters unfolding in reverse and expectations upset. Although I did suspect early on what the ending might be, the film did hold my attention. It feels and looks like some kind of fable about beauty and goodness.

Unusual in that it is a five-hander, it has some very good performances; Paul feels very solid, Gadon is subtle but strong, and young Longworth does a good role justice. It's an unusual but accessible film. 3 Stars

Aine O'Connor

A Date For Mad Mary

Cert: 15A. Now Showing

Everyone knows mad Mary. In fact everyone knows a version  of all of the characters in  Darren Thornton's wonderful Drogheda-based debut, but it's not just that familiarity that makes the film work so well. A simple character-based story well told and superbly acted, it's short, sweet, funny and affecting.

Mary (Seána Kerslake) is getting out of prison just weeks before her best friend Charlene (Charleigh Bailey) gets married. Mary is to be chief bridesmaid and the words she is trying out for her speech act as a voiceover to the film. Her paean to Charlene quickly starts to feel a bit sad as it is evident that the bridesmaid role is a legacy appointment, remnant of an old friendship from which Charlene seems to have moved on. In practice if not name, the charmless Leona (Siobhan Shanahan) has taken on chief bridesmaid duties and the insult is compounded when Mary is not allowed a plus-one to the wedding. Knowing she is her own worst enemy and determined to debunk the notion that she can't get a date she sets about finding one, and ends up discovering romance in an unexpected place.

Darren and Colin Thornton have done a really nice job adapting Yasmine Akram's play 10 Dates for Mad Mary, giving it a strong sense of place and time, and creating full, rich, rounded and almost exclusively female characters. There are some obvious set-up scenarios that veer off from the expected and keep it feeling fresh, and the perfectly cast actors - including Tara Lee as Jess - add another layer again. Kerslake is extraordinary lifting it beyond a link between aggression and repressed sexuality. Not to be missed (unless you're offended by swearing). 5 Stars

Aine O'Connor

Café Society

Cert: 12A. Now showing

Jazz, Jewish humour, old-school Hollywood, pretty ladies and a mild male protagonist: Now in his 80th year, on his 47th feature in 51 years, you'd forgive Woody Allen yet another film indulgence. Enter Café Society, which feels in ways like a particularly personal affair for the writer-director.

After all, like Allen himself, Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) grew up in Brooklyn, the son of a Jeweller and a nagging Jewish mother. Unlike the bespectacled filmmaker, Bobby is the younger brother of a gangster (Corey Stoll) and suburbanite sister (Sari Lennick). Times are hard so Bobby sets off for Hollywood where his uncle Phil (a winning Steve Carell) is a big-name studio agent. He agrees to give Bobby some odd jobs and introduce him around. In the meantime, he assigns lovely assistant Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) to show Bobby the sights. Naturally, he falls hopelessly for her.

Vonnie has an obstacle in the way of returning any affections for Bobby - she is having an affair with Uncle Phil. When Phil refuses to leave his wife, she runs into the arms of a grateful Bobby but it is a doomed rebound. Bobby returns to NYC where he becomes a manager of a swinging nightclub and finds joy with society beauty Veronica (Blake Lively). He still holds a candle for Vonnie, however.

With dappled golden light gilding every immaculate costume, retro backdrop and comely face, Café Society is certainly easy on the eyes. Allen's funnybone is more or less still working too, albeit with the odd recycled gag from days past. The most resounding take-away from the experience is an easy charm carried through by the human chemistry in the foreground. 4 Stars

Hilary A White

Morgan

Cert: 15A. Now showing

There are lots of things Morgan gets wrong but perhaps the biggest is that it is not Alex Garland's Ex Machina. That 2015 sci-fi chiller reconfigured the artificial intelligence premise for the millennial age while handing the world Alicia Vikander. Morgan, a vehicle for Ridley Scott's son Luke to pop his feature-debut cherry, borrows just enough from Garland's film to get airborne but can't manage to close the deal once it is flying solo

Kate Mara is the sharp-edged investigator sent by "the corporation" to a remote facility where a scientist has been injured by an artificial life form. The tender-faced Morgan (The Witch's Anya Taylor-Joy) is doted on by the various boffins studying her (Michelle Yeoh, Toby Jones, Game of Thrones' Rose Leslie) even though she is tetchy, unhinged and, obviously, lethal.

Between its daft characters (both in speech and reaction), a preposterous cameo by Paul Giamatti and a twist in the finale that will surprise nobody, Morgan had the chance to do something interesting with its sound building blocks but instead settled for punch-ups and trite hijinx. 2 Stars

Hilary A White

Things To Come

Cert 12A. Selected cinemas

Nathalie Chazeaux (Isabelle Huppert) is a proud philosophy teacher who does a very good job of looking like she's in control even when she is not entirely. Now, her handle on her own life is about to turn slippery for the married mother-of-two.

From all sides and with insidious realism, her civilised bourgeois existence is fraying and testing her robust resolve. Apart from her demanding, attention-starved mother not being long for this world, her husband (André Marcon) announces that he is leaving her for someone younger, something she initially accepts with amicable realism. She also learns that her own text books, a source of great pride for her, are being given an ugly reprint. Her children are both grown up and therefore not around to soak up some of the general upheaval.

Amid all this she finds some comfort in the company of Fabien (Roman Kolinka), a former star student who is now living on a collective farm in an Alpine vale. She embarks on a retreat there but very soon the generation gap with the pretentious graduates, all of whom have a narrow world view, becomes tryingly obvious.

At 35, Parisian writer-director Mia Hansen-Love (Eden, Goodbye First Love) shows wisdom beyond her years in this superbly scripted character portrait based on the late middle-age of her own philosophy-teacher mother. Things To Come is an example of how cinematic storytelling can leave spaces for situations to be considered in a way that is harder in reality. It is light on plot, and moves with a deceptively casual haste, much like life itself.

Huppert's turn will be listed at the end of the year as one of the finest by an actress. 5 Stars

Hilary A White

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