Monday 20 May 2019

Film of the week: Greta

Cert: 15A; Now showing

Chloe Grace Moretz and Isabelle Huppert star in Greta
Chloe Grace Moretz and Isabelle Huppert star in Greta

There are all kinds of good and interesting ideas woven through Neil Jordan's latest film. Once again he, this time with co-writer Ray Wright, has crafted a female led story and that's always enjoyable to see too. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite deliver on its promise partly because it doesn't totally commit to being the 1990s thriller it sometimes seems to want to be, but it is entirely watchable.

Frances (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a young woman who is finding life in New York a little lonely, especially as she works through the grief of her mother's death. When she finds a handbag she seeks out and delivers the bag back to its owner. This owner is Greta (Isabelle Huppert) an elegant French widow who is missing her daughter. They each therefore have each other sized holes in their lives and a friendship strikes up.

Frances's flatmate Erica (Maika Monroe) is wary of the friendship and when something happens to prove Erica right, Frances does her best to break contact with Greta. But Greta isn't having any of it.

It's great to see a female antagonist, and the difficulty of identifying, proving and dealing with stalking is a topic very much worth exploring. So too is loneliness and isolation.

Along with talented leads there is much to like in Greta. However it seems a little torn about what it wants to be and it might have been more successful had it just gone for the complete B movie, OTT thriller vibe it embraces in its second half. The character of Frances is too passive, due to writing not acting, and is outshone by her flatmate which isn't ideal for a lead. There are also too many easy, and frankly unrealistic plot mechanisms. People get into situations all too conveniently, display remarkable lack of nous and although phone technology is a prominent feature of the story, it is also a glaringly obvious omission in a way I can't explain without committing a massive spoiler. But not taken too seriously, it is an enjoyable watch. And yes, that is Dublin you might spy. ★★★ Aine O'Connor


Cert: 18; Selected cinemas

Paolo Sorrentino is a confounding genius of European film, one whose movies are either outright masterpieces (Il Divo, The Great Beauty) or self-indulgent muddles (Youth, This Must Be The Place). Nothing succeeds like excess, however, and few do sheer cinematic spectacle quite like the Neapolitan.

The lofty silverback who is utterly dismantled by women is a stock Sorrentino protagonist, and Loro, an elegantly carnivalesque treatment of Silvio Berlusconi, feels like an inevitability.

The first act is taken up with Sergio (Riccardo Scamarcio), a Sardinian operator who pimps out working girls to get political favours. His goal is an audience with the Teflon-coated Italian premier, so Sergio throws an outrageously Bacchanalian pool party in sight of Berlusconi's villa in the hope of catching his eye.

Focus then shifts wholesale to Berlusconi (regular Sorrentino collaborator Toni Servillo) himself, who is trying to smooth things over with wife Veronica (Elena Sofia Ricci) as well as consolidate power through corrupt political manoeuvres.

Loro's narrative gaps are a result of it originally being two films that have here been condensed into one 150-minute job. But between Servillo's brilliance, the outlandish parade of sleaze, and Sorrentino's majestic scene orchestration, you may be too agog to notice. ★★★★  Hilary A White


Red Joan

Cert: 15A; Now showing

Joan Stanley (Judi Dench) is pottering around her floral terrace homestead when the doorbell rings. It's MI5, who haul the OAP away on suspicion of spying for Russia back in the day.

During interrogation, we flashback to 1938, when young Joan (Sophie Cookson) was a star physics student at Cambridge.

She falls in with exotic Eastern European cousins Leo (Tom Hughes) and Sonya (Tereza Srbova) who induct her into the social scene of the student communist society.

Both are comely and free-spirited, living the high life after escaping Germany and its rising anti-Semitism.

Following a short and heated romance with the dashing Leo, Joan finds herself being head-hunted for a job at a top-secret government facility for atomic research under Prof Davies (Stephen Campbell Moore). Just as she does, Leo pops back into her life, forcing Joan to question the implications of her association with the radicalised student. A sharp dilemma presents itself.

Adapted by Lindsay Shapero from Jennie Rooney's source novel, Red Joan's brew of spies, pretty faces, musty-aired tension is heady in a Sunday-afternoon-TV way.

It also makes interesting use of the sexual and gender norms of the era, while having something to say about the ethics of espionage and whether or not our heroine did the right thing.

The atmospherics of the wartime scenes and its plucky cast serves to highlight the mundanity of those in the present, with Dench's conflicted turn the central highlight. ★★★  Hilary A White


Dragged Across Concrete

Cert: 18; Now showing

Writer/director S Craig Zahler's caught us off-guard in 2015 with Bone Tomahawk, a Coens-esque western that concluded with shocking violence and gore.

The shapes thrown by this similarly elliptical crime saga suggest Zahler is not about to rein things in any time soon.

Ridgeman (Mel Gibson, in form) and Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn) hand in their badges after they're filmed roughing-up a drug dealer during a bust.

This is bad timing for Ridgeman, who wants to relocate his family to a safer, more upmarket neighbourhood.

He gets wind of a gang eyeing up a bank heist and ropes Lurasetti into helping him stake them out so they can pirate the spoils.

At the same time, Henry (Tory Kittles) is just out of a stretch and needs to find a way to ease the financial burden on his hooker mother and disabled little brother.

He and buddy Biscuit (Michael Jai White) get involved in the score as drivers for the gang.

A two-and-a-half hour scenic route is taken to its finale, and this unhurried pace, constant off-kilter humour, and a devil-may-care attitude to violence, won't suit everyone. Caution is therefore advised. ★★★  Hilary A White


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