Sunday 16 June 2019

Film of the week: Everybody Knows

Cert: 15A; Now showing

Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem in 'Everybody Knows'
Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem in 'Everybody Knows'
Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges in 'Ben Is Back'

Ah, the arbitrariness of taste. Iranian auteur Asghar Farhadi has been a critical darling since About Elly appeared in 2009. His latest offering, Everybody Knows (Todos Lo Saben) is proving his least popular with critics - who, although still fans, like it less than they do his previous work.

The Spanish setting and cast unquestionably hit a soft spot for me so perhaps that is the difference, I loved it. It's especially great to see Javier Bardem, who is somewhat typecast in English speaking roles, show his impressive acting chops in his native language.

Laura (Penelope Cruz) arrives in her family home in Spain from Argentina, bringing her two children but not her husband (Ricardo Darín). They have come for a wedding and Laura's ex, Paco (real-life husband Bardem), still very close to the family, is at it with his Laura lookalike wife (Barbara Lennie).

Laura's 16-year old daughter Irene (Carla Campra) is wild to the point of ADHD. When she passes out at the wedding she is put to bed. When Laura goes to check on her, Irene is missing and it soon becomes clear that she has been kidnapped.

The family is warned not to go to the police and a ransom is demanded. In the hell of fear and uncertainty suspicions grow, fuelled by old rancour. The dramatic baton passes from Cruz to Bardem who, in a really solid cast, steals the show.

Director Farhadi always favours questions over answers - and the kidnap thriller aspect takes second place to the family drama it allows to unfold. The story is good but there are no huge surprises, the devil however is in the detail - and the characters, observations and performances make this film shine. ★★★★★ Aine O'Connor

 

Ben Is Back

Cert: 15A; Opens Friday

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Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges in 'Ben Is Back'
 

It's Christmas Eve in up-state New York. Holly (Julia Roberts) arrives home to find son Ben (Lucas Hedges) at the door. However despite the season of goodwill, she can't fully celebrate his return - as he should be in rehab for drug addiction.

He swears blind that the treatment is working and he has the blessing of his sponsor for a short trip home during the holidays.

Holly agrees on condition he take drug tests and stay in sight at all times. But sister Ivy and stepdad Neal (Kathryn Newton and Courtney B Vance) are miffed, and for good reason, we see.

Peter Hedges (father of Lucas) writes and directs this family drama with mixed results, its sturdy and observant opening half giving way to tail-chasing. Roberts (who must have a painting of herself in the attic) and Hedges spar well in this macro version of Beautiful Boy. ★★★ Hilary A White

The Kindergarten Teacher

Cert: 15A; Now showing

There are actors who are so talented, appealing, interesting or even just likeable that their presence is enough to make you watch a film. For me Maggie Gyllenhaal is one of those actors and here she delivers once again. She produced and stars in director Sara Colangelo's rewrite of an Israeli film of the same name. Shot in just 22 days, the result is unsettling, fascinating and multi-layered.

Staten Island kindergarten teacher Lisa Spinelli (Gyllenhaal) is apparently happily married to a nice man (Michael Chernus), she enjoys her job, she is taking a poetry class.

The first chink in her apparent life comes via that class when her teacher (Gael Garcia Bernal) doesn't warm to her work. Her relationship with her teenagers is distant, her husband is not a source of excitement. That changes when one of the five-year-olds in her class spouts a poem. Jimmy (Parker Sevat) apparently does this relatively often but Lisa believes it is pearls to swine so makes Jimmy her mission. She also passes off his poetry as her own, getting the attention of her teacher and a spark in her life.

But this is more than just middle-aged angst, this is a woman unravelling, a complex mix of dissatisfaction and projection, failed boundaries and obsession that loosen her grip on reality. The whole cast is great, the little boy is remarkable, and Gyllenhaal in the lead pulls this unnerving watch together brilliantly. ★★★★ Aine O'Connor

Border

Cert: 16; Selected cinemas

Tina (an excellent and heavily made-up Eva Melander) works at customs control at the Swedish border. Although physically strange in appearance, Tina's excellent sense of smell makes her unmatched at her job, something that her peers realise when she helps crack open a child pornography ring.

Everything - her work, her relationship with good-for-nothing boyfriend Roland (Jorgen Thorsson), and her horizon in general - changes when she encounters Vore (Eero Milonoff) at work. Sharing the same physical characteristics as her and carrying the scent of something strangely familiar, Vore begins to move into Tina's sphere of being with, well, let's just say revelatory results.

Blending body horror, realist drama, black comedy and coming-of-age saga, Iranian-Swedish filmmaker Ali Abbasi's curio is not soon forgotten, both for better and worse. Ugly and twisted though some of it is, there is something bold, confident and wholly compelling about this Cannes-winning blizzard of odd that deserves praise and attention. ★★★★ Hilary A White

Captain Marvel

Cert: 12A; Now showing

Poor old Captain Marvel. Before she ever screened the trolls attacked from their parents' basements, how dare wimmin think they can be superheroes, let's show them who's boss. Or something. And now since she screened, some critics are bemoaning an absence of the much vaunted feminist agenda. I'm not sure if they were expecting her to quote de Beauvoir or the plot to be a rewrite of the Fear of Flying, but sometimes a change up in representation is feminist agenda enough. This is only the second female superhero led movie ever.

Vers (Brie Larson) is part of a unit of Kree warriors led by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). But she is unlike her green-eyed com-planet-iots in temperament and because she has super powerful electro hands. She cannot remember why or who the strange lady (Annette Bening) who appears in her dreams is. On a mission to fight their mortal shapeshifting enemy the Skrulls, led by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), Vers is separated from her team. She ends up on Earth in 1995 where she joins forces with fledgling S.H.I.E.L.D agent Nick Fury (Sam Jackson with CGI anti-ageing) and a cat, their mission evolves and they are great together.

Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck co-write and direct this fun and funny, clever, diversity-embracing episode. Captain Marvel enjoys her powers, Larson brings warmth to the ass-whooping. There might be no de Beauvoir quotes but the 1990s soundtrack works. ★★★★ Aine O'Connor

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