Sunday 23 April 2017

Film review: Viceroy's House - informative and enjoyable

Cert: 12A; Now showing

Hugh Bonneville and Gillian Anderson in Viceroy's House
Hugh Bonneville and Gillian Anderson in Viceroy's House

Director Gurinder Chadha dedicates Viceroy's House to her grandmother whose baby daughter starved to death on the side of the road as a result of the events it describes. Clearly then it is not the classic posh folk, poor folk, nice clothes, politically light standard of British period drama. It is the story of the transfer of power in India, and a timely, as so much seems to be, reminder of the cost of hatred.

In 1947 Lord Louis Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville) was dispatched with his wife Lady Edwina (Gillian Anderson) and their 18-year-old daughter Pamela (Lily Travers) to oversee the transfer of power from Britain to Indian self-rule. He had a tight deadline and it was a tough task in a country as populous as India, especially in the divided religious atmosphere of the time.

Mountbatten therefore had not only to oversee the transfer of power, but to negotiate the potential division of the country.

Chief civil servant General Ismay (Michael Gambon) regarded Mountbatten's bonhomie as a great virtue to soften relations between Muslim political leader Jinnah (Denzil Smith) who wanted an independent Pakistan and almost all other Indian leaders, including Gandhi (Neeraj Kabi), who wanted unity, but hidden forces made negotiation more difficult than Mountbatten knew.

Meanwhile there is a somewhat sub-plot box-ticking R&J love between Aalia (Huma Qureshi) and Jeet (Manesh Dayal). Chadha's most ambitious project tells the story well but lacks tension. I'm not a Bonneville fan and thought Anderson more impressive (there is no mention of Edwina's alleged affair with Nehru (Tanveer Ghani). It's informative and enjoyable.

★★★

Aine O'Connor

Logan 

Cert: 16; Now showing

Apologies for making you feel old but it's 17 years since Bryan Singer's X-Men gave the world Hugh Jackman with retractable claws. The Australian hunk has made the gruff Marvel fan-favourite known as Logan (or Wolverine) his own through appearances in nine films in the franchise. While the quality of the releases has varied, you can't deny Jackman has consistently done right by the role.

So just think then how old the character of Logan himself must therefore be feeling. James Mangold's film - apparently Jackman's last in the part - gives this dark and combustible anti-hero a fittingly violent, coarse and world-weary send-off.

With his healing powers fading, time and illness are catching up with Logan. He is holed up in a not-too-distant-future El Paso, driving a limo for cash and hiding a very frail and confused Prof Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Mutants are all but extinct, and Logan, when not hitting the bottle, keeps the prof and his uncontainable powers sedated. When a young mutant girl turns up in need of help, something reawakens in him.

Forget lasers and spandex; this is savage stuff in parts, with foul language and skewered baddies aplenty. The tonal shift for Marvel, however, is welcome, and no character from its stable better suits the Western mould (the 1953 classic Shane is referenced heavily). Conventional as it is, overall Mangold finds room for more strikingly inventive set pieces.

★★★★

Hilary A White

Trespass Against Us

Cert: 15A; Now showing

English director Adam Smith has looked to these shores for a cast worthy of playing a clan of law-breakers terrorising the Cotswolds and each other. Even after Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson had been secured, Killian Scott and Barry Keoghan, two of our better up-and-comers, were brought on board to lend some feral energy. 

Via a script by Alastair Siddons based on a real-life itinerant family that rampaged through Gloucestershire some years back, Smith portrays a rift within the caravan-dwelling Cutler family. Led by slippery patriarch Colby (Gleeson), they lie at the edge of society. Well, all except son-and-heir Chad (Fassbender), who along with wife Kelly (a fantastic Lyndsey Marshal) has aspirations of a better life for his kids. Colby won't tolerate dissent and could be as much of a threat to Chad as PC Lovage (the routinely excellent Rory Kinnear).

Implausible as the idea of Fassbender being Gleeson's son is, the pair spark well off one another. The latter is filled with dogma and treachery as he slumps on a tatty chair in his little kingdom of filth. The former wrestles visibly with the social conflict within him. He is a prince of thieves but wants to step closer into a world that despises him for preying upon it.

Smith's feature debut has a rawness that is fitting, even if the finale seems to run out of road. Fassbender and Gleeson gnash through the mangled "Cheltenham backstreet" accent with vim and eat up one or two jaw-clenching scenes.

★★★★

Hilary A White

Tomato Red

Cert: Club; Selected cinemas

The curve that began with Oscar-nominated short The Door (2008) and on to the acclaimed 2010 war drama As If I'm Not There continues to ascend for Dublin filmmaker Juanita Wilson. Based on Daniel Woodrell's eponymous 1998 novel, Tomato Red brings us out to the fringes of US society in the Ozarks, the gritty region where Debra Granik's Winter's Bone - another Woodrell adaptation - was also set.

Sammy (Jake Weary) is on parole and drifting aimlessly from mishap to misdemeanour. An encounter with Jamalee (Julia Garner) and brother Jason (Nick Roux) offers him a home as well as a makeshift family led by trick-turning mother Bev (show-stealer Anna Friel). While grappling with feelings for Jamalee, the hangdog Sammy is given a jolt when violence and corruption is visited upon his marginalised adopted family.

Friel, the film's Southern-noir stylings and Wilson's stealthy composition, are the strong cards here. Its two central characters, however, could have done with a bit more narrative purchase for us to hold on to and get behind.

★★★

Hilary A White

Fist Fight

Cert: 16; Now showing

Humour, as I mention repeatedly, is profoundly personal so what makes one person guffaw might barely raise a laugh from another. Sadly I can't think of anyone who would find Fist Fight terribly funny. Despite cameos from Joan from Mad Men (Christina Hendricks) the president in Lost (Dennis Haysbert) Hank from Breaking Bad (Dean Norris) and a horse on meth this just tries way too hard. It does, however, make a point about educational cuts.

Set in a US public high school two teachers get into a feud. Mr Campbell (Charlie Day, who sounds like Casey Affleck on speed) is a nice teacher who doesn't know how to stand up to people. He ends up getting Mr Strickland (Ice Cube) fired and challenged to a fist fight after school. He does his best to avoid it and learns a life lesson.

Aine O'Connor

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