Thursday 21 June 2018

Cinema: A Quiet Place - intense, terrifying and tidy

Cert: 15A; Now showing

Ex-cell-ent: Dafhyd Flynn stars in Michael Inside
Ex-cell-ent: Dafhyd Flynn stars in Michael Inside

A husband and wife (John Krasinksi and real-life partner Emily Blunt, pictured) walk through an empty and silent rural dystopian landscape with their three young children and a few supplies. They communicate only through sign language and tread barefoot along carefully placed pathways of sand that dampen the noise of their footsteps.

All bets are off from the very start, we quickly learn. An all-pervading and shockingly efficient threat exists out beyond the trees surrounding their farm that will come for them if it hears them. To make matters even more interesting, daughter Regan (teenager Millicent Simmonds in her second big-screen showing this week) is deaf while mum Evelyn is expecting any day now.

After a thankless few years of cheap recycled tosh, horror films have picked up of late thanks to cerebral and sensory masterworks such as The Babadook, It Follows and Get Out. A directorial debut for Krasinski (who came to our attention as Jim in the US version of The Office), A Quiet Place fits neatly into this latter-day canon because of its fresh, economical approach, relatable characters and its well-mapped undulations of tension and relief.

The excellent core cast - Blunt and Simmonds (who is deaf in real life) are outstanding - and the light touches throughout the screenplay (co-written by Krasinski with Bryan Woods and Scott Beck) give off a very strong sense that this is an otherwise normal family unit. This is key.

While the actual design of the monsters themselves is slightly shoddy looking - think something picked up from the Resident Evil cutting floor - in a way it doesn't really matter so much.

It is more about what they represent and the dynamics that this danger places in front of the small family. Only by sticking together will they survive the perils of this world - not a particularly original moral but here delivered in unforgettable style.

So while A Quiet Place is intense, terrifying and tidy - it clocks in at a merciful 95 minutes - it has, like all the best horror outings, something utterly human to leave you with after the lights come up and the demon is put back in his box. ★★★★★ Hilary A White

Michael Inside

Cert: 15A; Now showing

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Ex-cell-ent: Dafhyd Flynn stars in Michael Inside
 

Writer/director Frank Berry collaborated with Pathways, the service that works with former prisoners, to write this short, sharp and incredibly moving film. At the risk of sounding like a dope, the end result is almost Shakespearean and on a second viewing, I found it even more effective, and affective than the first time. It's a very complete story, it tells itself and explains itself and the performances are all-round excellent.

Michael (Dafhyd Flynn) is 18 and lives on an estate in Dublin with his grandfather, Francis (Lalor Roddy). He hasn't had a start full of aspiration but things can still go either way for Michael, he has been in trouble but he also has plans to train in social work. When he gets caught holding drugs for his friend's brother, he is sent to prison for three months. It's a tough environment and the protection he receives from David (Moe Dunford) is not without conditions. Life on the outside is not easy for Francis, either, but he tries so hard to make sure that once out of prison Michael will still have his chances.

Newcomer Dafhyd Flynn didn't know what scenes he would be shooting from one day to the next, he was learning the lines and his story as he went along and Berry's technique pays off.

Flynn is excellent, there's a great supporting cast, Dunford is his reliable self but Lalor Roddy almost steals it.

It's insightful and compassionate without ever being mawkish about people we perhaps all too easily choose to write off. ★★★★★ Aine O'Connor

The Hurricane Heist

Cert: 12A; In cinemas and Sky Cinema

Often an issue with the "big, dumb fun" genre is that they nail the first two parts but not the third. Your brain needs a couple of hours off in a room with  pretty faces and loud explosions but emerges the other side feeling unamused and irritable.

Rob Cohen is at home in these waters, his CV pock-marked with schlocky popcorn-spilling actioners such as Daylight and xXx (he is also to blame for the Fast and Furious franchise).

Despite some clanging dialogue and ludicrous plot developments, this daft-as-a-brush amalgam of Twister and Hard Rain just about gets the balance right.

A high-tech team of robbers led by Ralph Ineson's Irish baddie look to use a Category 5 hurricane as cover for a major hit on a US Treasury facility. What they didn't bank on was Maggie Grace's ass-kicking Treasury agent and Toby Kebbell's meteorologist (who by the end is leaping on to speeding trucks, etc).

All the while, clouds form skull shapes, houses are tossed about like plastic bags, and, somehow, the whole thing manages to keep you tuned into its silly frequency for 100 minutes.

A future guilty pleasure. ★★★ Hilary A White

Love, Simon

Cert: 12A; Now showing

Love, Simon is the latest in a long line of American teen coming-of-age comedy dramas, it even has a whiff of genre icon John Hughes. It has one important difference, however, in that in this big studio movie the hero is gay and it manages to avoid the cliches attached to stories of coming out. It's about identity, not just sexual identity and it's light, easy and often funny.

In one of the film's best scenes Simon (Nick Robinson) imagines what it would be like if straight kids had to land their parents with the shock of being hetero. Yet Simon knows his impeccably liberal parents (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel) will have no issues with his sexuality. His issue is with assimilating what he imagines 'Out' him should be with who he has already become.

It's something he discusses in an anonymous email friendship with a fellow student in a similar situation, the joy of which is tempered when unpopular Martin (Logan Miller) blackmails Simon. Director Greg Berlanti does a nice job of a story everyone can understand - why is so much of who we are tied up in who we fancy? ★★★★ Aine O'Connor

120 BPM

Cert: 16; Now showing

When HIV and Aids first became well-known, the half-knowledge around them inspired a kind of hysteria. Conveniently dismissed as an issue for the male gay community, prevailing attitudes to homosexuality meant it could be treated as a moral issue which affected both education and treatment.

Change was brought about by one of the most effective protest campaigns in recent history and this award-winning French film documents that time.

The film begins as a look at the mechanics of the ACT UP campaign in Paris.

Newcomer Nathan (Arnaud Valois) meets the established members Thibault (Antoine Reinartz), Sophie (Adele Haenel) and Sean (Nahuel Perez Biscayart).

Their current target is a big drug company and, over time, differences in personality, protest style and politics take their toll on the campaign.

As the campaign hits bumps, so does the health of Sean, so the story goes from the bigger picture of the campaign to the detail of what they were fighting for, the political becomes the human and, although it's too long, Robin Campillo's film works well on both levels.

★★★★ Aine O'Connor

Thoroughbreds

Cert 15A; Now showing

This is a good week for that proud and important genre, the teen movie. Love, Simon adds to the comedy drama division whilst playwright Cory Finley's debut film Thoroughbreds is a slim, but effective addition, to the darker division in the vein of Heavenly Creatures, Stoker and Heathers. The film begins with a scene that suggests, rather than shows, an unfortunate end for a horse.

It then switches to Amanda (Olivia Cooke) being deposited at the enormous Connecticut home of Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy). To Erik Friedlander's jaggy cell score, Amanda, apparently the bad girl, waits for a nervous Lily, apparently the good girl. Lily, the overachiever, will be tutoring her former friend who is clever, but could not care less, for a fee. During the lesson they meet Lily's stepfather (Paul Sparks) who is wealthy, health-obsessed and less than delighted with his stepdaughter.

In a story told with incredible assurance, not a huge amount happens - but it is all told very well. Cleverly shot, there are also great performances and dialogue, it's got dark humour and sneaks a look at class, truth and human nature and is dedicated to Anton Yelchin, who makes one of his final appearances in the film.

★★★★ Aine O'Connor

Ghost Stories

Cert: 16; Now showing

A good old supernatural portmanteau, buoyed by the spirits of MR James with added Martin Freeman? Why not, especially when the source UK stage play written by Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson was such a success when it debuted in 2010.

Nyman stars again this time around as Prof Phillip Goodman, a psychologist and sceptic devoted to exposing con-artist clairvoyants and other hokum as part of his TV documentary show. Three cases in the north of England have pricked his interest as being ripe for a debunking.

The first involves a night watchman (Paul Whitehouse) on duty in a disused factory. The second tells of a teenage boy (Alex Lawther) who ran into trouble after taking his parents' car for a spin without their permission.

The third deals with a high-flying businessman (Freeman) who was awaiting the impending birth of his first-born when things began to go a little funny at home. Despite an old-school, straight-to-TV sheen, Ghost Stories packs a mighty bump-in-the-night with less resources than the bigger-budget fare we're used to. Phillip's every-man demeanour and the overcast skies bring a chilling banality to these hauntings before a clever sting in the tail ties everything up. ★★★★ Hilary A White

Wonderstruck

Cert: Club; Selected cinemas

Bar exceptions, generally authors are kept at arm's length from screen adaptations of their own novels, and now and again you're reminded why. Films and books work differently, and succeeding at one doesn't necessarily qualify you for the other.

Todd Haynes (Carol, I'm Not There) is very much a filmmaker with his own views on how things should be done. It is understandable that he might be attracted to Wonderstruck, Brian Selznick's time-bending illustrated novel for younger readers, but it becomes apparent early on in this outing that perhaps an outsider should have been brought in to reconfigure Selznick's bestseller rather than have Selznick take on the task himself. Ponderous, meandering and lacking any oomph or momentum, it never takes off.

Ben (Oakes Fegley) and Rose (Millicent Simmonds) are two youngsters living in two very different eras of US history. The former has lost his hearing through a freak accident and is searching for his absent father in the cultural cauldron of 1977. Running parallel are the fortunes of Rose, a deaf girl in 1927 who, beset by vivid dreams, leaves her father's home and sets out in search of Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore), a celebrity she has become obsessed with.

Just as one storyline begins to catch fire, we swap to the other. A converging of the threads is obviously on the cards by the end of this two-hour trial but it's hard to maintain much interest that long. A decent cast and a strong sense of the two eras are really the sole saving graces. ★★ Hilary A White

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