Tuesday 23 July 2019

Mildew and misery in 1940s Ireland

  • The Secret Scripture (12A, 108mins), 2 Stars
  • CHiPs (15A, 101mins), 2 Stars
  • Aquarius (No Cert, IFI, 146mins), 5 Stars
  • The Lost City of Z (15A, 141mins), 3 Stars
Flashback to the 1940s: Rooney Mara and Jack Reynor in The Secret Scripture
Flashback to the 1940s: Rooney Mara and Jack Reynor in The Secret Scripture

God Ireland must be an awful place to live: all that rain and mildew and public drunkenness and street fighting, not to mention the sadistic, predatory clerics. This relentlessly gloomy and, one would have to admit, partly accurate vision of our country has been peddled internationally in countless films, but rarely more depressingly than in The Secret Scripture. Jim Sheridan's adaptation of Sebastian Barry's novel is set in Sligo and stars Vanessa Redgrave as Rose McNulty, an elderly inmate at a run-down mental hospital that's about to be demolished.

Rose doesn't want to go, and a prominent psychiatrist (Eric Bana) is called in to help. She shows the doctor a diary which takes us back to the 1940s, when a young Rose (Rooney Mara) falls foul of a local priest who considers her insufficiently modest. He also has the hots for her - everyone has the hots for her! - and when Rose gets pregnant after falling in love with a dashing airman (Jack Reynor), the full force of a vengeful theocracy is brought to bear.

There's a dizziness to Sheridan's cinematic storytelling here that at times makes the film hard to follow. It's hard to take seriously too: the dialogue is ropey, the acting oddly stiff, the scenarios frustratingly shaky. And the constant coincidences are maddening: after Rose's airman flies off to war and is shot down, where does his parachute flutter to earth? Only right outside Rose's cottage, of course.

I never really saw CHiPs, the 1970s TV series following the exploits of a group of winsome Los Angeles highway patrolmen, but I'm told it was an amiable, innocuous show. Nothing amiable about this obnoxious update written, directed by and starring Dax Shepard.

Because the 1970s is now seen as an essentially ludicrous decade, all these antique TV show remakes are played for laughs. In CHiPs, Michael Peña plays a Miami FBI man who's sent to LA to uncover a criminal gang run by a corrupt cop. He's paired with a hapless rookie (Shepard), who annoys the life out of him but knows how to ride a motorbike.

You just know they're going to become buddies, but meanwhile there's a baddie to apprehend, and numerous women to demean and offend.

Shepard strikes me as a cut-rate Owen Wilson: same drawling persona, just not half so charming, nor quite so funny. This film is not funny at all, but it is misogynistic - profoundly, obnoxiously, and needlessly so.

Mired in controversy from the moment of its release, Kleber Mendonca Filho's drama Aquarius caused uproar in Brazil when the government blocked its selection for the Best Foreign Language Oscar this year, and I think it might well have won because it's excellent. A resplendent Sonia Braga plays Clara, a writer who refuses to sell her seafront apartment when a property developer buys everyone else out. She won't move, they resort to dirty tricks, and a gruelling battle of wills ensues. It's a fine film, lush, evocative and beautifully made.

The Lost City of Z is so reassuringly old-fashioned it might have been made 80 years ago, and starred Robert Donat or Leslie Howard. It's based on a true story, and stars up-and-coming English actor Charlie Hunnam as Colonel Percy Fawcett, an early 20th century soldier who becomes obsessed with discovering a mythical ancient city in the Amazon. Sienna Miller plays his sainted wife, and James Gray's long but very entertaining film reminds us of the derring-do that once drove Britons to overrun the globe.

- Paul Whitington

Irish Independent

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