Thursday 19 September 2019

Film of the week: Dumbo

Cert: PG; Now showing

Colin Farrell, Nico Parker, and Finley Hobbins are the human leads in Dumbo
Colin Farrell, Nico Parker, and Finley Hobbins are the human leads in Dumbo

Nearly 80 years on from the classic cartoon that has been a feature of millions of childhoods, there's a new Dumbo in town. The live-action version of the beloved tale arrives this week - and really, when you have a flying baby elephant and Colin Farrell directed by Tim Burton, what's not to like?

The film opens in 1919 in the American Midwest. Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) returns from war minus an arm but hoping to re-establish his career as a circus cowboy.

However, the circus owned by Max Medici (Danny DeVito) has fallen on hard times, Holt's horses are gone and his wife has recently died and he doesn't know how to deal with his children. The circus hopes are pinned on the arrival of a baby elephant - but when it is born with oversized ears it is greeted as a freak and called Dumbo. Dumbo's mother is taken away, the baby's pining is something the Farrier children understand and it is they, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) who discover Dumbo can fly.

A flying baby elephant does not go unnoticed and soon the Medici Circus is wooed by entertainment entrepreneur VA Vandervere (Michael Keaton) who wants to move them all to his mega emporium where he plans a double act between Dumbo and Colette (Eva Green), his trapeze artist companion.

What could possibly go wrong? Something has to - otherwise we'd be thin on plot.

It is sweet; the message of inclusion and understanding is strong. It doesn't really look like a Tim Burton film in any of the ways we have come to expect and (nitpick alert) for me it lacked emotional depth. The rule is 'show, don't tell' and I felt that the screenplay lacked that. The emotions ran shallow because rather than layer them up to create depth, some characters would simply say what the emotion of the piece was.

Milly, the wise child, utters many a loaded phrase. But I can't imagine the average child viewer will care - and with a flying baby elephant and Colin Farrell directed by Tim Burton, what's not to like? ★★★★ Aine O'Connor


The Man Who Wanted to Fly

Cert: 12A; Now showing 

You know how they say it is never too late to follow your dreams? Well, Frank Shouldice's documentary, The Man Who Wanted to Fly, is here to offer reassuring proof that it is indeed the case.  

The film introduces us to bachelor brothers Ernie and Bobby Coote, octogenarians (though you would never think it) who live on the family farm in County Cavan. It is younger brother Bobby who has always wanted to fly, but Ernie is benignly sceptical, even after Bobby and his friend Sean build a hangar and a runway. Not even Bobby's purchase of a microlight aircraft can convince his brother that the dream will become reality. Time does indeed pass, flightless. The grass grows over the runway, the plane needs quite a lot of work and Bobby finds reasons to put off his flying lessons. Through the film we see how the men live and interact, we learn of their past, time spent in England, their schooling, their family, their friends, the town in which they live and where everyone knows about Bobby's dream of flight. It was lovely to get to spend time with the Coote brothers, both good-natured, chatty and wise, and to see a slice of life that is not that often seen. Their story is an insight into a side of modern Irish history because it covers most of the time that the Republic has been in existence.

It is admittedly a niche market, but if people's stories and dreams and an insight into changing Ireland appeal to you, this is one not to miss. ★★★★★ Aine O'Connor


At Eternity's Gate

Cert: 12A; Selected cinemas

Of all the great luminaries of the arts, Van Gogh has always been a byword for particularly disordered emotions.

Director Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) is also a visual artist, and this passionate film about the impressionist's final years is keen to bring context to this oft-held assumption.

Willem Dafoe slips seamlessly into the veneer of Van Gogh, who is on foot to Paris with easel and canvases. There, Gauguin (Oscar Isaac) urges him to head south in search of the light that will usher in a new phase of his oeuvre. He arrives in Arles and the elation and torment begin a steady emulsification.

The beauty of south-west France is amplified through stunning, soft-edged filtering that makes the cinematography feel as if it's been rendered on canvas. Alongside Dafoe's immersive turn and an intrusive, elliptical quality that is hard to tie down, this is often a dazzlingly heady biopic that has much affection for its subject and his struggles. ★★★★ Hilary A White

The Highwaymen

Cert: 15; Now showing, Netflix

Some 52 years on from Arthur Penn's iconic Bonnie and Clyde, Netflix has produced a film about the other side of the story, the men who eventually captured the elusive outlaws. It's a good tale, slightly ploddingly told, but stars Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson add spark.

Annoyed by the outlaws' ability to not only elude capture but defy it when Bonnie breaks Clyde out of jail, Texas governor Ma Ferguson (Kathy Bates) is persuaded to call out of retirement famed Texas ranger Frank Hamer (Costner). He enlists his old ranger comrade Maney Gault (Harrelson) and together they hunt down their prey across atmospherically depicted Depression-era southern states, trying to do what the FBI cannot.

John Lee Hancock directs John Fusco's screenplay which was originally intended as a Redford/Newman vehicle.

Butch and Sundance it isn't but still, some 15 years on, the actors who fill the roles do shine, fortunately, because the pursuit is a little lacking in suspense. ★★★ Aine O'Connor

Last Breath

Cert: Club; Selected cinemas

Gas valves, pressure gauges and airlocks, all things to be left the hell alone. Add to this the crushing pressure of the ocean floor and you have a recipe for much more than burst pipes.

Filmmakers Richard da Costa and Alex Parkinson use testimony, archive footage and reconstructions to tell of Chris Lemons. In 2012, the commercial diver was doing maintenance on an oil well in the North Sea. Connecting him to the mother ship 100m up was an umbilical line supplying oxygen, power and warmth. When violent seas conspired with failure of the ship's navigation system, the huge vessel drifted away and the line snapped, stranding Chris on the ocean floor.

Last Breath milks the extraordinary drama of its real-life survival tale, but it can sometimes feel like the theatrics - cliffhangers, surging orchestration - are overdoing it. If ever there was a saga that didn't need embellishments, it's this deep-sea nightmare. ★★★ Hilary A White

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