Monday 23 October 2017

Cinema reviews - Jupiter Ascending, Selma, Love Is Strange

A GALAXY FAR AWAY: Mila Kunis and Tuppence Middleton in Jupiter Ascending
A GALAXY FAR AWAY: Mila Kunis and Tuppence Middleton in Jupiter Ascending

Hilary A White

A plot needs to be built around a core theme, a heart. It's a golden rule that the Wachowskis, Andy and Lana, seem to have forgotten in this sci-fi epic. Jupiter Ascending is a thematic recycling of the Wachowskis' own The Matrix with bits cobbled on from virtually every gigantic sci-fi/superhero film from Terminator to The Incredibles via a Terry Gilliam moment. It's got a big cast, lots of bang and bluster, amazing effects and tons of plot detail, just no big cohesive driving force.

The Jupiter of the title is not the large planet but a Russian immigrant to Chicago (Mila Kunis) who just happens to have Maria Doyle Kennedy for a mother. They are cleaners by trade so it comes as somewhat of a surprise to Jupiter to discover that she is considered a queen in other parts of the galaxy. By then she has already been rescued from murderous aliens by the balletically tough spaceman Caine (Channing Tatum) and has done quite a bit of falling from high buildings and travelling via gravity boot. They meet Stinger (Sean Bean, looking a lot healthier than he did as Eddark Stark) who reveals her queenliness.

Jupiter is a genetic match for the dead mother of three Borgia-like sibs (Tuppence Middleton, Douglas Booth and Eddie Redmayne) who lurk in a galaxy far, far away and each want to capture Jupiter for their own ends. Cue loads of explosions, CGI and action. It is not suitable for very young children but eight-to-ten-year-olds and beyond might well find this enjoyable in its spectacular and soulless way.

Now playing. Reviewed by Aine O'Connor

Selma (Cert 15A)

Thank heavens for Ava DuVernay's restraint. Selma could have been a pompous, worthy lecture designed to bestow celluloid sainthood on Martin Luther King. DuVernay - the first black woman to be nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Director - gets that the real Dr King was actually human, with flaws and insecurities behind the rousing oration and dogged determination. 

Wisely, she chooses a chapter in King's life as a character canvas, in this case the dark and difficult three-month push to secure voting rights for African Americans in those southern states sluggish to come to the idea.

As King, David Oyelowo is the dictionary definition of towering, burning more calories on poise and spirit than mere mimicry. We see him pressing hard against an unsure President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) and being less than the perfect husband to worried wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo, playing her for the second time after 2001's Boycott). Parallel scenarios burn away in the wings - Oprah Winfrey (a producer) is a revelation as activist Annie Lee Cooper, while Henry G Sanders cracks elegantly as the father of a victim of racial brutality.

Politics and unrest funnel towards the climactic 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. DuVernay splices archive footage into the set piece with silken precision, and manipulates the iconic Edmund Pettus Bridge into something between a battleground and a cradle. Bradford Young's cinematography has a bleached enigma about it.

It's all highly measured and tasteful, a rare thing when cinema and sacred cows meet.

Now Showing. Reviewed by Hilary A White.

Amour Fou (No cert)

Austrian auteur Jessica Hausner takes a less than traditional approach in her biopic of the final days of the poet Heinrich von Heist (Christian Friedlel). A devoted Romantic in the early 1800s he was so convinced of the power of passion that he believed love could conquer death. But there was only one way to find out. He first proposes his pact - I'll shoot you first then myself - to the cousin with whom he is in love but she is having none of it, or him. He next proposes it to Henrietta (Birte Schnöink), a woman who claims to be delighted to be her husband's property. The only crack in Henrietta's proud property veneer is her interest in the poet and his short story in which a woman falls madly in love with her rapist.

Henrietta is bored, her husband is very nice and likes logic and discussions about whether this plan to tax even the aristocracy will work instead of his wife's penchant for poetry. Still, Henrietta rebuffs the poet's pact. But then circumstances change.

The less traditional approach that Hausner adopts is to be rather scathing about her subject. She tells the story from Henrietta's point of view and presents the poet as a pest, a huffy little man annoyed when he doesn't get his way, and his quest as a denial of its inherent tragedy. The film looks very beautiful, austere for sure but gorgeously staged and framed. The performances are very good but although it's not very long, it does lack some punch. One for fans of austere auteurs.

Shaun The Sheep (Cert G)

It's almost as if Aardman Animations sensed that the onset of February needed to be marked with something so joyous and rib-tickling that the idea of January blues would seem preposterous. Bristol's claymation kings have always been the go-to studio for stop-motion creature comedies; playful and giddy enough for the children, intelligent and bold enough for their parents.

Shaun, the titular star of this latest masterwork, made his debut as a cuddly narrative prop in Wallace And Gromit, but the cuteness of that character always made him eligible for some feature-length spin-off treatment.

Cute, sure, but Shaun is no mug. Idyllic as life on Mossy Bottom Farm may seem, he and the rest of the flock would love nothing more than a day off from their pastoral routine. They are under the watch of the Farmer and his sheepdog Bitzer, but nevertheless hatch a plan to bunk off. The plan works a bit too well and the somnambulist farmer ends up becoming lost in the city. This sets Shaun and the flock into action, venturing off into the city to rescue their carer while avoiding the animal catcher.

The detail - from tiny fire extinguishers to concert posters for The Fall - is startling, but such technical brilliance from Aardman Animations should be no surprise by this stage. What really hits you is the persistent level of charm and hilarity as it coasts along. Language-free, expect it to conquer foreign shores too.

Now showing. Reviewed by Hilary A White

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