Friday 22 September 2017

Review - Churchill: Britain's Greatest Briton as a man whose ego is getting in the way

Cert: PG; Now showing

Churchill
Churchill
Shauna Macdonald is left bloodied and paralysed in Nails

Jonathan Teplitzky's depiction of Winston Churchill in the 96 hours before D-Day in June 1944 is really dividing opinions. So while I enjoyed the angle it took, the performances and the overall feel of the film, it has to be said that some people hated it and others are raging, although few dispute the excellence of Brian Cox's portrayal. Writer Alex von Tunzelmann has said she "telescoped" several months of the Prime Minister's doubts into a few days, and anyway, who can really know what is in another person's head, especially someone dead and iconic, so this film is simply a version of events.

It opens with Churchill on a beach. In his eyes the water becomes filled with blood, an echo of the First World War in which he had fought. He had also been influential in the Gallipoli battle which became such a hideous loss for the Allied forces and for which, apparently, he still carries guilt. It is coming up to final decision time for Operation Overlord, D-Day, where another quarter of a million young men's lives might be lost, and Churchill is racked with guilt and doubt. The voice of reason appears in the person of his wife Clementine (Miranda Richardson), and therein lies the central dilemma. On the one side Churchill and his demons: guilt, fear, depression and drink, on the other Eisenhower (John Slattery), Montgomery (Julian Wadham) and his wife.

Telescoping his fears doesn't add to the dramatic tension. We know what happened on D-Day, but it is interesting to portray Britain's Greatest Briton as a man whose ego is getting in the way. The difficulties of war for women is also woven through what is as much character study as historical drama. ★★★ Aine O'Connor

Cardboard Gangsters

Cert 18; Now showing

Despite the name, Mark O'Connor has described this, his fourth film, as more of a hood movie than a gangster one, ie it's more Boyz in the Hood than Goodfellas.

Co-written with his frequent collaborator and the film's star John Connors, it's neat, effective, brutal, sharp and both of their best work to date.

Four friends in Darndale have different views on their world.

Dano (an excellent Fionn Walton) is all wound up and wants to be a gangster, Jay (Connors) wants to be a DJ, Cobbie (Ryan Lincoln) and Glenner (Paul Alwright) aren't that clear.

When Jay's benefits are cut off and he discovers that his mother is in debt to the local loan shark and heroin dealer Derra (Jimmy Smallhorne), and that his occasional girlfriend (Toni O'Rourke) is pregnant, he feels he has no option but to get into small time drug-dealing. Jay has a plan and for a while it works, but as with all best-laid plans, they go astray mostly because of the machismo that gets mistaken for masculinity in a world where the greatest poverty is aspiration.

From an admittedly not expert perspective, Cardboard Gangsters feels authentic. It has energy and doesn't stray from its mission. The only vaguely stilted part to my mind was the love element, it just didn't work as well as the rest of the film. But the story is very centred in its location and that really works but should not limit its accessibility to Irish audiences. A film about drug dealers isn't to everyone's taste, but this is a well-made, gritty drama that doesn't glamorise anything or judge anyone, and all to a thumping soundtrack.

★★★★ Aine O'Connor

Whitney: Can I Be Me?

Cert: 15A; Now showing

'Can I be me?' is something Whitney Houston used to say when she was feeling especially pulled around by all of the different demands on her.

Nick Broomfield's latest documentary, an unusual one in that he doesn't appear once, is a powerful and poignant look at the human side of one of the most extraordinary voices of the 20th century. The film opens with the strangely subdued call to 911 announcing the discovery of Houston's body in a hotel bath in February 2012.

It then goes back to her early days in New Jersey, her controlling religious mother Cissy, closeness with her father, drug-taking with her brothers and the beginnings of her relationship with Robyn Crawford. It moves then to her career, her packaging by record executive Clive Davis as a black artist who could appeal to everyone, ie white people.

Davis was right and Houston's record sales were record-breaking. But her success meant she was rejected by the black community on some levels, a booing at the Soul Train awards in 1989 devastated her on the very night she met Bobby Brown.

Broomfield makes no bones about Houston's sexuality, citing it and her mother's disapproval as another of the reasons why Houston felt she could not be herself. And all in the shadow of addiction. Although this doesn't include interviews with all of the main players, it paints a moving picture. A must for fans, non-fans will enjoy too. ★★★★ Aine O'Connor

Gifted

Cert: 12A; Now showing

Gifted's charm offensive doesn't mess around. In the space of just a few scenes, it looks to disarm us completely via a seven-year-old, puppy-eyed genius (Mckenna Grace) who has lost her mother; a stoic and hunky single uncle (Chris Evans, preparing for life post-Captain America) and a one-eyed cat. Throw the continually typecast Octavia Spencer into the mix and you might as well give up.

If you do manage to resist the stealthy manipulation by director Marc Webb and writer Tom Flynn, you'll notice some chinks in the armour of this sugary drama about a child prodigy at the centre of custody battle between her mechanic uncle and pushy English grandmother (Lindsay Duncan). Among these are a predictable plot, cliched characterisation and a young lead who at times skirts dangerously close to annoying.

And yet, when all is said and done, Gifted shows enough spirit to avoid all-out mawkishness.

It's easy on the eye too, thanks to The Piano DoP Stuart Dryburgh. Duncan towers over her co-stars while Evans phones it in. ★★★ Hilary A White

Nails

Cert 16; Now showing

There's a brisk trade in Irish horror at the moment and the latest addition - de-Irishified in order to be more generic - comes courtesy of Dennis Bartok, directing a script he wrote with Tom Abrams. It is based around Dana (Shauna Macdonald) a fitness fanatic left paralysed and on a ventilator in a creepy old rehabilitation centre.

She is convinced a shadowy figure visits her at night and tries to kill her but her husband (Steve Wall), nurse (Ross Noble) and shrink (Robert O'Mahoney) all disbelieve her. The poor woman is trapped in her body and their minds, and there is real horror in that. The actual spooky stuff provides a few jumps, the performances are good but overall the story is too thin, and that dilutes the impact. ★★ Aine O'Connor

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