Friday 28 July 2017

The Secret Scripture - enjoyable if you view it separate from novel

Cert: 12A; Now showing

Rooney Mara and Jack Reynor in 'The Secret Scripture'
Rooney Mara and Jack Reynor in 'The Secret Scripture'

The reaction so far has not been positive, but critics are a fussy lot and to write The Secret Scripture off as something no-one will enjoy is foolhardy. Although there are unquestionably issues with Jim Sheridan's version of Sebastian Barry's novel, there is still a lot to like and plenty of people, in Ireland especially, will really enjoy it.

The film opens with psychiatrist Dr Grene (Eric Bana) visiting elderly psychiatric hospital patient Rose McNulty (Vanessa Redgrave) to assess her sanity. Rose has been a resident for more than 40 years for killing her baby, but she remains adamant that her son lives. The story then moves back and forth to Sligo in the 1940s where young Rose (Rooney Mara) has recently arrived and caught the eye of every man in town, including the local priest Fr Gaunt (Theo James). That does not go well for Rose.

Main criticisms are that the film focuses on the novel's pot-boiler elements yet still manages to feel a little passionless. It's not ideal that the main roles are filled by foreign actors while well-known Irish ones are cast in cameos. There are some dodgy, pat plot solutions and also some frankly baffling scenarios that are never fully explained so it feels messy and as if there were re-writes and edits. For instance how are most audiences to understand the issue the local IRA (it is to be supposed) man (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) has with Michael McNulty (Jack Reynor)?

However it is beautiful, the performances (and accents) are good and the story very engaging. In its portrayal of female sexuality it is also shockingly pertinent. It could have been better, but many people will still enjoy this a lot, especially if you view it separate from the novel.

★★★

Aine O'Connor

Life

Cert: 15A; Now showing

Despite penning such goof-balling romps as Zombieland and Deadpool, the writing team of Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick unleash their darker side by taking a bunch of astronauts up to orbit Earth, handing them some life from Mars and keeping schtum about a film called Alien.

Ridley Scott's seminal space horror classic is not the only obvious signpost. The way Life delights in the logistical nightmares thrown up by travelling inside a pressurised tin can suggest Reese, Wernick and director Daniel Espinosa have also seen 2013 multiple Oscar-winner Gravity.

But while it therefore mightn't be the most original science-fiction release this year, it is a highly effective one and just about succeeds in forging its own identity out of a multitude of tropes. The International Space Station crew takes delivery of a Mars probe bearing field samples from the Red Planet, including mitochondrial life whom they cheerily name 'Calvin'. Calvin duly grows in bulk, cunning and appetite, and quickly develops a taste for petrified crewman. The dwindling team must kill the monster before it kills them and hitches a ride down to Earth.

Life is blessed with a fine cast led by Rebecca Ferguson's plummy science chief and Jake Gyllenhaal as a glum medic. Espinosa gets straight down to establishing characters, ship and stakes before unleashing taut, heart-stopping mayhem at the screen with the help of Irish cinematography genius Seamus McGarvey.

Remember to breathe.

★★★★

Hilary A White

CHiPS

Cert: 15A; Now showing

It feels like only weeks ago we saw Michael Pena in a boorish, foul-mouthed cop-buddy film (last year's hideous War on Everyone). And yet here he is again; still firing quips, still exasperated by his partner and still not playing by the rules. 

CHiPS is not quite as mean-spirited as War on Everyone but it sure will test your patience in other ways. Writer/director/star Dax Shepard is known for being a petrol-head and motorcycle enthusiast, and here flexes his nostalgia for the eponymous motorbike cop show that gave the world Erik Estrada.

Shepard is Jon, an ex-motorbike stuntman looking for a fresh start as his marriage to Karen (real-life partner Kristen Bell) flounders. He's paired with Ponch (Pena), a mouthy FBI agent working undercover in the CHP (California Highway Patrol) to crack Vincent D'Onofrio's badge-wearing criminal gang.

In a nutshell, Shepard is the nerdy one, Pena is the cocky one. They don't like each other, then they do. Bad guys get taken down while witless wisecracks are yelped and a rickety plot staggers about the place.

★★

Hilary A White

Aquarius

Cert: 18; Now showing in IFI

The idea that a building or room contains the essence of people who once dwelled in it is brought to mind by this generous and expansive drama portrait from Brazil. Sonia Braga will be most famous as the eponymous enchantress from Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985) but Aquarius finds the 66-year-old summiting loftier dramatic peaks.

She is luminous and vital as Clara, a retired teacher and free-spirited grandmother, who is the sole remaining occupant of a beach-front apartment block in Recife. The flat has been the stage of many beautiful family events (some seen through flashback here) so when she is leaned on to vacate by money-hungry developers, she won't hear of it. However, as Kleber Mendonca Filho's film unfolds itself over 140 minutes, its thematic reach widens spectacularly.

★★★★★

Hilary A White

Sunday Independent

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