Monday 19 August 2019

Film of the week: Animals

Cert: 16. Now showing

Life is one big party ... Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat star in Animals, set in Dublin
Life is one big party ... Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat star in Animals, set in Dublin
The Art of Racing in the Rain
Gaza

It's always the way, people who have read the source material react differently to a film version than those who have not. And so it is for the movie of Emma Jane Unsworth's novel, Animals.

She adapted it for the screen herself, moving her (anti) heroines from Manchester to Dublin and inevitably having to scale down some of the elements that the greater scope of a novel allowed.

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Sophie Hyde directs the resulting screenplay and two impressive young actresses lead the way. The results are not entirely satisfactory, there were perhaps more interesting bits to be mined, but, especially if you're a fan of Fleabag-style observations, there is a lot to like in this.

Laura (Holliday Grainger doing a not bad at all Dublin accent) is a writer and barista who lives with her American colleague and best friend Tyler (Alia Shawkat) in glamorous squalor. Professional party girls, as their 30th birthdays approach, Laura is assailed by some uncomfortable nibbles of reality, mostly that in the 10 years she has been a writer, she hasn't really written anything. This coincides with her meeting Jim (Fra Fee) a sensitive pianist who brings out Laura's tamer side.

But Tyler is not at all keen to settle down, she somehow manages to steal a whole jar of bath salts (designer drugs) from a drug dealer with no repercussions and the consumption of this jar is like the hourglass metaphor for the film. And in Marty (Dermot Murphy), an attractive writer and salon host, she sees an accomplice, someone who might lure Laura back from death by convention.

Dublin looks great in a generic hipster-central kind of way and costume designer Renate Henschke adds a lot to the feel of the film with her wonderful garment selection. The role of Tyler is more foil than character and some elements feel awkwardly stuck in, while other bits that might have added depth are glossed over. It feels like it doesn't totally know what it wants to be, however, there are laughs, ideas and moments that make this an enjoyable watch. ★★★ Aine O'Connor

 

Blinded By The Light

Cert: 12A; Now showing

Sweet and unashamedly sentimental, this coming-of-ager from Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) brings East and West together to share a stage with the music of the one and only Bruce Springsteen.

The effect is a delirious one, even for those with only a passing affection for the blue-collar rock deity. Chadha's film typically puts issues of immigration and racism into the fold but the main focus is teenage kicks right through the night.

Based on a memoir by journalist and co-writer Sarfraz Manzoor about growing up in Luton and finding redemption via The Boss, it sees Viveik Kalra play Javed. It's 1987. Feeling the generation gap from his stern father and longing to break free and find a girl, Javed writes lyrics for local pal Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman). When a classmate hands Javed a tape by someone called Bruce Springsteen, his life is changed, changed utterly.

The music speaks to him and awakens new horizons in his worldview.

Cynics need not apply to this joyous romp through youth and rock 'n' roll from a fresh cultural standpoint. Boss disciples, meanwhile, will be relieved that he gave the project his full blessing. ★★★★ Hilary A White

 

The Art of Racing in the Rain

Cert: PG; Now showing

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The Art of Racing in the Rain
 

What do motor racing, Kevin Costner and golden retrievers have in common? This weird and not-quite-wonderful family drama adapted from Garth Stein's 2008 bestseller. Like the recent (but better) A Dog's Journey, expect tail-wagging reincarnation hokum.

Enzo the dog (voiced by Costner) is devoted to race car-driving master Denny (Milo Ventimiglia, below). The mutual adoration meets a roadbump when Denny meets Eve (Amanda Seyfried) but Enzo comes to accept the interloper and the daughter they bring into the world. As Denny struggles to break into racing's top tier, family life suffers. All the while, Enzo looks on sagely through concerned canine eyes.

While such a pitch may work in the confines of a novel, as a film this is all too eccentric to take any way seriously, no matter how often director Simon Curtis asks us to. ★★ Hilary A White

Gaza

Cert: 12A; Now showing

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Gaza
 

Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell's documentary Gaza serves as a stark reminder of just how difficult daily life is for many people. It's beautiful and emotionally powerful so as an impressionistic work, it is very effective. However, as a documentary, a vehicle of fact and information, I found it rather unsatisfactory.

Two million people live in an area that measures 365 sq km/141 sq m. Its borders are shut on one side by Israel and the other by Egypt (why?). Even their beloved Mediterranean has become a barrier. Shot during the extremely violent period of May 2018, it is based around interviews with (mostly male) residents. But why does one man have 40 children? Why is there a blockade? Why do people get money? In short, it raises more questions than it answers and for that reason, I found it frustrating. ★★★ Aine O'Connor

 

The Sun is Also a Star

Cert: 12A; Now showing

The clue, as ever, is in the title. The Sun is Also a Star is one of those things that sounds dead deep, but it's just obvious. And the film of the bestselling Young Adult book is also meant to be dead deep, but is just obvious. Granted I am not the intended audience but I am not immune to romance, I am just allergic to manipulation.

Natasha (Yara Shahidi) has spent all of her formative years in New York but is about to be deported. Her parents are resigned, she wants to fight, so off she sets in her Deus Ex Machina jacket. Daniel (Charles Melton) is a young man whose Korean parents want him to be a doctor, but he wants to be a poet. Before he heads to his college interview, he writes down the phrase Deus Ex Machina. A few coincidences later and Natasha and Daniel are wandering NY together.

All the more interesting elements of the story are used as plot devices and so much of it hinges on contrivances that just end up making the film feel manipulative. Plus the ending totally undermines the stated message. Some young romantics will enjoy this no doubt, I just think they deserve better. ★★ Aine O'Connor

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