Wednesday 18 September 2019

Film of the week: Wildlife

Cert: 12A; Now showing

Carey Mulligan, Ed Oxenbould and Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Wildlife’
Carey Mulligan, Ed Oxenbould and Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Wildlife’
(Imperial War Museum)

Sometimes the kitchen sink is all you need for riveting drama, as some of the greatest directors have shown us. At 34, Paul Dano, the actor who set fire to the screen in There Will Be Blood and Love & Mercy, equips himself with this knowledge as he steps behind the camera for the first time to adapt Richard Ford's 1990 novel.

Ed Oxenbould plays Joe, a 14-year-old in small-town Montana in 1960. When father Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) loses his job as a greenskeeper at the local golf club, he slumps into a depressive stupor that cannot be shaken off despite the best efforts of wife Jean (Carey Mulligan). Jerry gets it in his head that he must enrol to help fight the huge seasonal wildfires that loom on the smoky horizon and heads off to scratch that itch.

Jean and Joe are left behind as he indulges himself, both forced into the workplace and made to examine the particulars of their family unit. Seeking her own outlet, Jean embarks on an affair with a prosperous local business owner, unravelling Joe's world further.

There is a lot going on in this kitchen-table battleground and its startlingly young soldiers. Apple Pie America is dismantled, and an unemployed man becomes so untethered that he runs to an inferno to retrieve his masculinity. Jean sings even louder in the screenplay, a typified domestic pillar allowed to become as flawed as the rest of us.

Co-writing with partner and fellow actor Zoe Kazan, Dano italicises the distant fires, the Hopper-esque listlessness of the post-war years, and a bright young boy's loss of innocence. Mulligan is imperious in an excellent three-way cast, as woodwinds and setting sunlight float through the frame. ★★★★★ Hilary A White

The Grinch

Cert: G; Now showing 

With a head like a furry green teardrop and a wicked grin, the image of Dr Seuss's humbugging Grinch will be better known to lovers of the classic book more so than Ron Howard's quickly forgotten 2000 film version starring Jim Carrey.

This animated version will probably prove most effective at introducing what is essentially an updated Dickens standard to a new generation, while chucking in all the giddy frills that children today presumably demand, such as hip-hop music and technology gags.

And yet at its heart, it is an old-school sheen that is to thank for the "Christmas feels" this Grinch is able to send you away with. A sprinkle of Nick Park here (see the Wallace & Gromit nods). A dash of Nat King Cole there. The jokes might not floor adults as Pixar can but it might just get the greenest of grumps in the mood for festive frolics.

With a name like something from Dr Seuss itself, Benedict Cumberbatch is a fitting voice talent for the Grinch, scowling down at the cheery village of Who-ville and venturing down from his mountain only for supplies. Plans for Christmas celebrations are swelling this year by several degrees, so the Grinch hatches a scheme to steal every trace of Christmas from each house in a reverse-Santa caper. Meanwhile, little Cindy-Lou wants to trap Santa to thank him for his good work. A collision course is set in motion.

A giddy sugar-rush that slows to reveal its big charms. ★★★★ Hilary A White

Good Favour

Cert: 12A; Selected cinemas

A gaunt, translucent teenager staggers out of the woods surrounding a religious commune somewhere in deepest, darkest central Europe. Covered in scars and barely able to speak, Tom (Vincent Romeo) is reluctantly taken in by village alpha male Hans (Alexandre Willaume) and his family out of a sense of Christian duty.

The young stranger's presence starts to change certain dynamics at play in the community, with some believing that a threat has been invited in that could ultimately bring ruin. Others are more intrigued, however, namely Hans's beautiful teenage daughter Shosanna (Clara Rugaard) and his wife (Victoria Mayer).

These feelings are accelerated in the community when it transpires that some bizarre things are happening when Tom is around. A cat is among the pigeons, but the question is whether or not it is malevolent.

On the back of The Other Side of Sleep (2011) and the superb Mammal (2016), Irish director Rebecca Daly continues to amplify the mystique by keeping the viewer at arm's length. As such stories tend to, Good Favour makes us think more about the weirdness of Tom's hosts rather than the slightly otherworldly interloper himself, a trick Daly and co-writer Glenn Montgomery also pulled off in Mammal.

Newcomer Vincent Romeo is a striking screen presence, hovering between vulnerable and predatory throughout. Mayer stands out in the supporting ensemble. ★★★★ Hilary A White

They Shall Not Grow Old

Cert: Club; Limited release

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(Imperial War Museum)
 

The back and forth about the poppy, let alone much of the other noise of modern life, pales into triviality when the full scale of wartime sacrifice is taken into account. Commissioned to mark today's centenary, this doc from Peter Jackson uses recoloured and restored footage from the Great War along with testimonies from servicemen to strip away the sanitised distance of grainy black-and-white and evoke the grim reality for a new generation.

In the unnervingly chirpy cadences of the era, we are told of rats, filth, and mutilation in the trenches, but also the emotional strain and dehumanisation that took place as pimply young men were isolated in a world that stank of death. Unlike today, virtue and heroism weren't crowed about back then. "We didn't complain, we just got on with it," as one voice says. ★★★★ Hilary A White

Overlord

Cert: 16; Now showing

You can do as you like with the Nazis in movieland. If ever bad guys are needed to raid lost arks or give Captain America a reason for being, the Third Reich is on hand as a versatile villain for whatever you're having yourself.

Thus, no one really bats an eyelid when spaceships (Iron Sky) or, in the case of this ravishing action-horror from producer JJ Abrams, zombies are plonked in reach of Herr Hitler. Overlord is no silly-season carnival, however, and under the helm of Abrams and director Julius Avery (Son Of A Gun), attention has been paid to ensure that a solid foundation is firmly in place before the brain-eating fun can commence.

Jovan Adepo is Boyce, a US paratrooper jumping into hell on the eve of D-Day. Under Cpl Ford (Wyatt Russell), his team must take out a radio tower in a French village ahead of the allied invasion. There, with help from Mathilde Ollivier's local rebel, they find Pilou Asbæk's evil Nazi boss overseeing zombie-tastic experiments on villagers.

From band of brothers to chamber of horrors, this is an oddly effective night out. ★★★★ Hilary A White

Sunday Independent

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