Reviews: Big Game, Girlhood, Phoenix, The Canal, Spooks: The Greater Good
Paul Whitington reviews this week's other big releases - Big Game, Girlhood, Phoenix, The Canal, and Spooks: The Greater Good.
There's a marvellous undercurrent of silliness in Jalmari Helander's Big Game (4*, 12A, 90mins) that reminds one of movies such as Snakes on a Plane and Clear and Present Danger, though perhaps the daftness wasn't so intentional in that last one. It certainly is here, and Samuel L. Jackson enthusiastically enters into the spirit of things, playing a US President who's forced to parachute out of Air Force One during an apparent terrorist attack.
He lands in the middle of a wild Finnish forest, and finds out that one of his Secret Service minders is now hunting him down. To his aid comes a spiriting young boy called Oskari, a would-be hunter who's determined to prove himself to his dad. Big Game is full of winning in-jokes and hilariously implausible action sequences, and is very careful not to spoil the fun by outstaying its welcome.
The Charlie Hebdo attacks earlier this year in Paris focused minds on the cités or high-rise slums that encircle the French capital and are largely populated by the descendants of colonial immigrants. Writer/director Céline Sciamma came from such a suburb, and in her excellent new film Girlhood (4*, 15A, 113mins) she coolly assesses the grim choices facing their inhabitants.
Karidja Touré heads an outstanding cast of first-time actresses, playing Marieme, a shy teenage girl of west African origin who's falling behind at school. Lonely and desperate, she begins hanging out with a small gang of girls led by the chippy and charismatic 'Lady' (Assa Sylla). They bully local kids and ride into Paris together on the train to engage in sprees of audacious shoplifting. But the girls quickly become a kind of family for Marieme, who toughens up with shocking speed.
Girlhood is a measured, assured and relentlessly intelligent film that offers a real insight into delinquency and gang culture, and is at times beautiful to watch, particularly during a gorgeous extended scene when the girls rent a hotel room and bond by singing along to Rihanna's Shine Bright Like a Diamond.
Christian Petzold's Phoenix (4*, No Cert, IFI, 98mins) is a wonderfully constructed noir thriller set in Berlin at the end of World War Two. Nina Hoss shone in Petzold's 2012 drama Barbara, and is just as good here playing a woman recovering from the trauma of the Nazi death camps. Nelly Lenz was once a celebrated singer, but is also half-Jewish and got deported to Auschwitz, where she ended up getting horribly disfigured.
Back in Berlin, a plastic surgeon gives her a new face, and when Nelly runs into her treacherous ex-husband Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld), he doesn't recognise her. But he does think she bears a passing resemblance to his wife, and asks her to pose as Nelly so he can claim an inheritance.
This plot within a plot is pure Hitchcock, but there's real substance to this stylishly gloomy thriller, and Hoss is exceptionally good in a hugely demanding role.
Shot in Dublin and funded by the Irish Film Board, Ivan Cavanagh's film The Canal (16, 93mins) displays some style but little originality in telling its mildly diverting ghost story. Rupert Evans stars as David, a film archivist who's just moved into a Victorian house with his family when he begins catching glimpses of a shadowy figure. Turns out the place was the scene of a dreadful murder, and David wouldn't mind only he bought it at the top of the market. The Canal borrows heavily from other horror films, and is needlessly unpleasant towards the end.
In practically every episode of Spooks, some cad tried to blow up London, and those foreign swines are at it again in Spooks: The Greater Good (2*, 15A, 104mins), a needless coda to the BBC's long-running but now defunct drama. MI5 warhorse Harry Pearce (Peter Firth) is on the run and a suspected traitor, and only a dashing young agent (Kit Harington) can save him. Does he? Take a wild guess.