Friday 23 March 2018

Movie review: American Honey could shave off an hour of superfluous indulgence

Cert: 16. In selected cinemas.

Pat Shortt in The Flag
Pat Shortt in The Flag

Picture this: You're stuck in the back of a minibus with inebriated teenagers. They're exposing bits of themselves, blaring hip-hop songs and forcing you to holler along with the lyrics. You are all on a roadtrip in the US that will take a little under three hours. More hip-hop, more hollering etc etc.

And to make matters worse, Shia LaBeouf is sitting beside you.

If none of this is your idea of fun, then perhaps give Andrea Arnold's indie drama American Honey a miss. Between the motel stops and fraternal sing-alongs, Arnold's film goes to great pains to show you shaky, arty shots of insects by lamplight or its lead (newcomer Sasha Lane) gazing forlornly out windows.

If an hour of this superfluous indulgence was shaved from the screenplay and more focus was applied, American Honey could have struck gold as a saga from the squalid outflow of the American dream. Lane plays Star, who escapes her broken home when she happens upon Jake (LaBeouf) and his dissolute rabble of door-to-door magazine subscription peddlers. She hops aboard and passes the initiation with the iron-fisted group leader, Krystal, played by Riley Keough. Drugs are consumed, cheap booze is swigged and Jake and Star's mutual attraction is consummated. This puts Krystal's nose out of joint as the wildness of the tour escalates.

Dublin cinematography whizz Robbie Ryan (who worked with Arnold on her Wuthering Heights shoot) paints everything in sunset-lit hues befitting the teen-dream narrative. Lane is a real find and Keough (Elvis's granddaughter, in case you didn't know) just about convinces as a white-trash wagon. There are some interesting conversations broached but they are then erased by more tedium and musical numbers. As for the heinous LaBeouf, he is still as punchable on-screen as he is off. 2 Stars

Hilary A White

Kate Plays Christine

Cert: Club. Now showing in IFI

In 1974, Florida TV reporter Christine Chubbuck killed herself live on air. The severely depressed 29-year-old was only moments into her talk show on local station Channel 40 when she shot herself in the head. The act was not seen by a mass audience but news of it did seep out. Sidney Lumet's Network is said to have been influenced by the incident, and this left-of-centre documentary is one of two films about the tragic figure this year (along with a biopic starring Rebecca Hall).

Here, director Robert Greene films actress Kate Lyn Sheil going "method" to inhabit Chubbuck. We see her in character buying a gun. She talks to family and friends, finding sadness but also a moral ambiguity about what was ostensibly an act of violence.

The station is still haunted by her ghost and many speculate on the whereabouts of the tape. This adds to what is an eerie film with a transfixing coldness. While it may lack the incisive scrutiny of, say, The Act of Killing, there is little sense to really be made of what Chubbuck did. And so if this at times feels like a well-made film-school project, perhaps that is as good a eulogy as any. 4 Stars

Hilary A White

The Flag

Cert 12A: Now showing

Comedy is a question of personal taste and what makes one person roll around the floor in helpless mirth might well leave another cold. Irish comedy The Flag will prove divisive, giving fans of slapstick a hearty guffaw, while anyone favouring subtler humour will possibly be less amused. But with its 12A cert (there's a bit of bad language) it's fairly broad family fun.

Director Declan Recks and writer Eugene O'Brien have worked together on a number of projects and here team up with Pat Shortt, who plays hapless Harry Hambridge, a labourer in London who returns to the Midlands for his father's funeral.

He discovers the rumour that his grandfather had been in charge of, and signed, a pivotal tricolour in the GPO during 1916 and that this flag had been captured by the British and, despite assurances to the contrary, never returned.

Drunk and goaded by the uppity bar owner/funeral director (Gary Lydon), Harry vows to go to England and retrieve the flag to honour his grandfather and all Ireland. He is accompanied on the mission by the jockey who fell off a horse and never got his nerve back, Mouse (Moe Dunford). They enlist the help of labourers Blacksod (Brian Gleeson) and Hammer (Peter Campion), driver Charlie (Ruth Bradley) and Harry's old unrequited love and former singing partner Liz (Simone Kirby). What ensues is a tale of redeeming yourself in your own eyes, done as slapstick, heavy on the gurning and racial stereotypes Shortt fans should enjoy. For me the romance subplot was the least successful element of the story, although Shortt's tragic clown is always an affecting character. 2 Stars

Aine O'Connor


Cert: 12A: Now showing

It's been 10 years since Ron Howard directed Tom Hanks in The Da Vinci Code. Dan Brown's best-selling novels captured millions of imaginations. However, this third instalment, Inferno, proves that they were of a moment, one which has perhaps passed. Professor Robert Langdon (Hanks) is still lashing around Italy piecing together clues from art, but no amount of action, facial close-ups - I am way too familiar with Hanks's pores now - and dashing around Florence can distract from the question, "Yeah, but why?"

There is a why. Bonkers billionaire Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) has decided humanity is on the verge of extinction thanks to overpopulation. It is very probably a reasonable point of view but his solution, to unleash a plague that will halve the population, is a little extreme.

So when following an assault Langdon wakes in a Florence hospital, confused, amnesic, with a pounding headache and visions, he has little time to rest before he and the child prodigy turned doctor who is treating him, Sienna (Felicity Jones), must flee and start all that lashing around.

They only just stay ahead of an assassin working for "The Provost" (Irrfan Khan) and two separate WHO factions under Dr Elizabeth Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Christoph Bruder (Omar Sy). Even with so many doctors it takes a while for them to work out what they're running around for.

It is, naturally, a race against time. But no one's shoes are scuffed or mascara smudged even with all the running. And precisely why Zobrist added the time element rather than just unleashed hell is not clear.

It's ridiculous but watchable, if a little late to its own party. 2 Stars

Aine O'Connor

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