Saturday 20 April 2019

Film review - Hampstead: worth it for the two heavyweights centre-stage

Cert: 12A; Now showing

Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson in a scene from Hampstead
Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson in a scene from Hampstead
Transformers is one for fans of robots and CGI
Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft star in the comedy

It can be hard to forecast where Brendan Gleeson will turn up next. In the last couple of years alone, the burly giant of Irish acting has narrated a feature documentary and appeared in a video game adaptation, not to mention everything in between. Hampstead, a rom-com based in the leafy London suburb, finds Gleeson wading into lighter territory and showing there is very little the 62-year-old can't pull off.

Modest to a fault, he'd probably put much of the effect down to his opposite number here, Diane Keaton, and he'd be partly right. The pair make for such an unlikely duo - Gleeson as Donald, a man living off-grid in a shack on Hampstead Heath, Keaton as lonely local divorcee Emily - that a gently bubbling chemistry takes hold, a kind of Beauty and the Beast for the bus-pass generation.

Director Joel Hopkins plays up to this all the time as he plonks the two leads in a very Richard Curtis-esque environ of gushing window boxes, cheery shop assistants and hoity-toity busybodies who can't see what matters in life.

Emily, recovering from a philandering ex-husband and low on true friends, locates exactly what she needs in Donald, whom she notices one day from her loft window. That Donald is facing eviction by dastardly developers only quickens Emily's sense of fulfilment. Love blooms and all sorts of snobby sensibilities fire off around the couple.

With the arrival of summer, there is very much a place for light, breezy saunters such as Hampstead that won't trouble the awards season but are filled with twinkling smiles, reliable tropes and jaunty music. It's cloyingly cute and idyllic at times - but worth it for the two heavyweights centre-stage.

★★★ Hilary A White

Twice Shy

Cert: 16; Now showing

It's way past the time that someone should have made a film about abortion. The topic that has bubbled under and over for decades has remained remarkably undiscussed in Irish cinema.

Until now. Tom Ryan directs his own screenplay, a short, sweet and to-the-point drama that handles a potentially difficult topic really well without fuss or melodrama.

Maggie (Iseult Casey) tells her dad (Pat Shortt) that she is heading up to Dublin with Andy (Shane Murray-Corcoran) and they take the scenic route from Tipperary to Dublin via their entire back-story.

Shy Andy fancied Maggie long before inviting her to the debs' but the wait was worth it and in college in Dublin they enjoy a happy relationship. But Andy has issues to deal with in his father (Ardal O'Hanlon), issues about which he doesn't confide in Maggie and the secrets don't lead anywhere good.

The sheer smoothness of the older actors does highlight a certain stiltedness in some of the younger performers but otherwise it's a very feasible, believable depiction of the potential reality for many people.

The relationship between Andy and his dad is perhaps the most affecting one in the film and there are lots of layers even though it comes in at under 90 minutes.

Interestingly, it felt like it could have been set anywhere in the last 30 years and I really liked the tone of the film and how it dealt with the subject.

★★★ Aine O'Connor

From the Land of  the Moon

Cert 16. Now showing in IFI

Nicole Garcia's tremendously French version of the Italian novel Mal di Pietre (the literal translation, 'Kidney Stones', lacks romance) trades heavily on the notion of great love equals great pain. And who better to channel a love-tortured heroine than Marion Cotillard?

Gabrielle (Cotillard) is a young woman (MC looks too old for this part) in rural Provence in the 1950s. She has a huge crush on the local married teacher and when he doesn't reciprocate, she reacts melodramatically.

Sensing her daughter's impetuousity will lead to the worst possible outcome, sexual expression, the mother pays a Catalan labourer Jose (Alex Brendemuhl) to marry Gabrielle, who agrees, because her choice is Jose or an institution.

Gabrielle's trade-off is that there will be no sex, so Jose frequents prostitutes instead, until she decides she can do the same job for the same fee.

Unfortunately, and to its detriment, the story abandons this rich potential in favour of a love story with a dying man (Louis Garrel) who fulfils every tragic hero cliche. Also, Gabrielle is essentially selfish, and exploring her addiction to being a tragic heroine might have been more interesting than studying her actually being a tragic heroine. The ending is pretty ridiculous but overall it's engaging if taken as melodrama.

★★★ Aine O'Connor

Slack Bay

Cert: 15A; Selected cinemas

Rarely does a film see-saw between tedium and inspiration quite as wildly as this truly original Cannes contender from writer-director Bruno Dumont.

Just as you near the end of your patience with an item of slapstick farce, something weird and wonderful straight out of a Kevin McSherry painting comes into the frame to transfix you.

Indeed, you'd never confuse Slack Bay's aesthetic for any other. Dumont bleaches the colours slightly and exaggerates the smallest idiosyncrasies of his dotty cast of caricatures by the summery sand dunes of northern France in 1910.

The bourgeois Van Peteghem family - husband and wife Fabrice Luchini and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, ex-wife Juliette Binoche and her cross-dressing son - are on summer holidays.

Two detectives (a more surrealist take on Laurel and Hardy) have also come down from Calais to investigate disappearances that may or may not be linked to a twisted local rural family.

The shenanigans oscillate from dark and distorted to joyously daft but they may prove too wilfully eccentric for some viewers. Others, however, may find delight in such gay abandon.

★★★ Hilary A White

Transformers: The Last Knight

Cert: 12A; Now showing

Transformers is one for fans of robots and CGI

It's frightening to think that Michael Bay's Transformers films have had a total box-office take of nearly $4bn.

They are the movie equivalent of a bag of tangled-up Christmas lights - all soul-destroying untidiness and faulty circuitry. And Bay is nothing if not consistent with his fifth (and supposedly final) limp to the merch stand.

This film is devoid of basic movie-making criteria - such as a narrative course, engaging dialogue, characters that trigger our empathy and so on. Instead bitty robots whirl about like scrapheap gyroscopes, walloping each other and reciting action-figure one-liners as the camera pans nauseatingly around them.

While all this meaningless CGI gloop is smeared about the screen, Mark Wahlberg, Laura Haddock and Anthony Hopkins duck and dive about. Haddock, to boot, would seem to be poured into a tight dress solely so the camera can ogle her.

Hilary A White

Also showing: The Graduate

Cert: Club. Now showing

Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft star in the comedy

Remastered for its 50th anniversary, here is a great chance to see Mike Nichols's iconic comedy on the big screen - and it has real magic that stands the test of time.

Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) arrives home in 1960s southern California after graduation. His parents (William Daniels and Elizabeth Wilson) throw a party for their friends - but Benjamin is worried about his future.

Bored neighbour Mrs Robinson (Anne Bancroft) makes him drive her home where she tells him she is available to him - and it's a sign of the times that a woman coming onto a young man like that is comedy. An initially shocked Benjamin takes a few days to change his mind. But summer gets complicated with the arrival of Mrs Robinson's daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross).

Although it is very much of its time, it remains relevant today, none of the characters, bar the somewhat gormless Elaine, are nice - but the cast is fabulous and it is really funny. If you have never seen it, go; if you have, go again.

★★★★★ Aine O'Connor

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