Wednesday 26 June 2019

Film of the week: The Old Man & the Gun

Cert: 12A; Now showing

The Old Man and the Gun: Hollywood rarely does curtain calls this elegant
The Old Man and the Gun: Hollywood rarely does curtain calls this elegant

With a customary double-take and a handsome twinkle in the eye, Robert Redford, the Sundance Kid himself, takes a bow in this deeply nostalgic love letter to old-school values and ageing gracefully. Writer-director David Lowery (A Ghost Story, Pete's Dragon) is charged with helming the film icon's supposed final screen outing, and understands that there is no point trying to separate the 82-year-old from the character he's essaying.

Redford plays Forrest Tucker, a serial bank robber and jail-breaker who was part of a small crew of grey-flecked scoundrels dubbed by the media at that time as the Over-The-Hill Gang (here completed by Danny Glover and Tom Waits). Renowned for his awfully nice manners with the tellers he holds at gun point, Tucker and his team also love the thrill it brings as they shuffle through the winter of their lives, something that hasn't escaped the detective and family man (Casey Affleck) pursuing them.

Central to Forrest's arc is Jewel (Sissy Spacek), whom he comes to the roadside assistance of immediately after a bank robbery, in order to shake off the cops. Over that great American tradition of coffee and pie in a diner booth, romance blooms between the seasoned birds.

You'd need to be made of stern stuff to resist the aura of vintage cool that surrounds this affectionate, assured 90 minutes. Not a note of Lowery's film feels laboured, from the effortless appeal of the ensemble cast to Daniel Hart's mellow jazz score. While set in 1981, grainy film stock and bold intertitles knowingly nod to Redford's Butch Cassidy.../The Sting crime-drama heyday a decade previously.

Hollywood rarely does curtain calls this elegant.

★★★★★ Hilary A White

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Cert: PG; Now showing

The plan was this: Avengers: Infinity War was to hold sway over 2018, with every other caped crusade or super-powered escapade doomed to be swept aside by the $2bn-grossing awesomeness of that behemoth.

No one told Sony, however. Just as the year draws to a close, it slips in an animated offering made for a fraction of the budget that is the most entertaining, dynamic and innovative superhero release in yonks.

We meet young Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), an Afro-Latino teen and science whiz living in Brooklyn who is bitten by your typical radioactive spider. His world is naturally turned upside down by the new powers, and following a chance encounter, he is taken under the wing of the real Spider-Man (whose mojo has deserted him).

Looming in the underworld is hulking crime boss Kingpin, whose tamperings with a portal zaps in a small and intriguing variety of Spider-Man equivalents from other dimensions. Miles needs to get up to speed quick on the Spider-Man game if he is to help them defeat Kingpin and get home.

Neither a spin-off nor a shameless jumping-off-point to some franchise assault, this is that rarest of things - a replete, self-contained Marvel film that dazzles with wit, ingenuity and heart. An all-star voice cast includes Lily Tomlin, Mahershala Ali and Nicolas Cage. Visually, this is a major spectacle of 2018 that brings us to new territory. ★★★★★ Hilary A White

White Boy Rick

Cert: 15A; Now showing

The difficulty with any stunning debut is how to follow it up. Yann Demange's debut, '71, was widely acclaimed and deservedly so. Four years later his second feature, White Boy Rick, is perhaps suffering in comparison, but I believe it is also paying the price for its subject matter.

Logan and Noah Miller have written the film based on the true story of Rick Wershe Jr who was 15 when he was recruited by the FBI as an informant. It was Detroit in 1985 and the height of a crack cocaine epidemic against which Nancy Reagan was spearheading a moral crusade. Rick (Richie Merritt) lives with his gun-dealer father (Matthew McConaughey) and, until she runs off, his drug-addicted sister Dawn (Bel Powley). His nickname comes from being one of the few white kids in the gang led by Johnny Curry (Jonathan Majors). FBI agents (Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rory Cochrane) recruit Rick by threatening to jail his father. They later set him up as a dealer and although he gets out, going straight doesn't offer many lucrative options for blue-collar workers in depressed Detroit.

It is a bit long and the pacing is off in places but the characters are realistic and the performances really good. Criticism of the film's apparently ambiguous morality about drugs to me misses the point because the film instead looks at how drugs-are-bad moralising conveniently bypassed all other moral issues like class, race and recruiting children whose childhood decisions would affect the rest of their lives. ★★★★ Aine O'Connor

Sorry To Bother You

Cert: 16; Now showing

A Faustian tale for the times we live in, with all the prisms of modern racial dynamics (in the US, it must be stressed) at the forefront. This is the pitch behind this dark satirical debut from rapper-turned-filmmaker Boots Riley, who brings some of his experiences of working in telemarketing during his music/political activism years.

Lakeith Stanfield (Get Out) stars as Cassius, who fashions his own CV to get a crumby job in telesales.

There, he's advised to adopt a "white voice" to snag potential customers. Once he masters this, Cassius eventually becomes a "powercaller", and is moved upstairs to a lavish department populated by beautiful, successful types. His performance artist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) fears all this is coming at a cost, an irrefutable fact when faced with Armie Hammer's Mephistophelean CEO.

Visually and tonally, Sorry To Bother You is a one-off, and hopefully heralds the arrival of an unorthodox new talent. The relentless fizz of absurdism might be too much for some palates, however. ★★★★ Hilary A White

The Belly of the Whale

Cert: 15A; Now showing

Ronald (Pat Shortt) has put the last of his cash into a lame horse and is now out of ideas on how to raise money for his wife's medical treatment. Joey (Lewis MacDougall), is an aloof teenager who's returned to his grimy seaside hometown to reopen a caravan park. They hatch a plan to rip off the local amusement arcade run by dodgy politician Gits Hegarty (Michael Smiley).

Irish cinema deserves to be held up to a very high level considering our talent pool as well as success on the international stage. For this reason, it is perplexing to see the release of lacklustre fare such as this dull, uninspired, and incomplete caper that does no one any favours, not least debutant director Morgan Bushe nor otherwise fine actors such as Smiley and Shortt. ★★ Hilary A White

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