Sunday 19 November 2017

Movie review -Their Finest: Sweet, cameo-laden and really enjoyable

Cert 12A; Now showing

Gemma Arterton and Bill Nighy in a scene from 'Their Finest'
Gemma Arterton and Bill Nighy in a scene from 'Their Finest'
Katherine Heigl and Roasario Dawson overacting earnestly in 'Unforgettable'

In a great week for enjoyable, easy viewing Their Finest is well, one of the finest. It's about a young woman in London, 1940, the height of the Blitz, employed to write films that would galvanise the spirits of the British cinema-going public, a plotline and setting that might have strayed into jingoism.

But this adaptation (by Gaby Chiappe) of Lissa Evans's novel is bang on tone. Director Lone Scherfig gives more An Education than One Day to deliver something engaging, enjoyable and really well-played.

Catrin (Gemma Arterton) almost accidentally gets a job writing films whose official brief is to be "authenticity informed by optimism". It's a brief that hard-nosed writer Buckley (Sam Claflin) believes impossible and he is initially dismissive of the inexperienced Catrin's ability, assigning her to write what was referred to as "slop", women's dialogue. But Catrin proves her worth, coming up with a storyline based, loosely, on a real girl power story. When the brief for the film grows to include appealing to women and inspiring the US public to get behind the war effort, Catrin becomes indispensable. But whilst she earns grudging respect in work, at home her artist husband (Jack Huston) resents her superior income. On set outside London there is liberation from both her husband and from the constant threat of bombing and our heroine proves a dab hand at managing the difficult male lead (Bill Nighy) and incorporating the US appeal (Jack Lacy).

There is lots going on but it works very well. Nighy's schtick is more nuanced than usual and Arterton and Claflin are great, individually and together. Sweet, cameo-laden and really enjoyable.

★★★★ Aine O'Connor

The Zookeeper's Wife

Cert 15A; Now showing

Quiet heroism often goes unnoticed and Niki Caro's film, based on Diane Ackerman's book of the same name, aims to correct that.

Based on the true story of Antonina Zabinska (Jessica Chastain) and her husband Jan (Johan Heldenbergh) it looks at several years of extraordinary bravery that saved many lives.

Well-intentioned and interesting, it doesn't blast home the horrors of the Holocaust - but is effective in its understatement, offering a film about the goodness that can be evident in wartime more than about the evil.

The Zabinskas and their son Ryszard, all deeply involved with the animals, are living in the grounds of Warsaw Zoo when Germany invades Poland in 1939.

Antonina has attracted the attention of Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl), the man who will become head of Hitler's selective breeding programme and he offers to take their best stock to Berlin, saving it from the war.

He also enlists Antonina to help him attempt to rebreed an extinct Germanic ox.

It means a constant Nazi presence and frequent visits from Heck, factors which make the Zabinskas's decision to aid and shelter Jews fleeing from the Warsaw Ghetto all the more remarkable.

The horrors of the time are insinuated rather than graphically portrayed.

Although not as emotionally involving as it could have been, Chastain is as wonderful as ever as the plot revolves around her.

★★★★ Aine O'Connor

Rules Don't Apply

Cert 12A; Now showing

Warren Beatty doesn't make films very often - but when he does, he does it all. Recently turned 80 he wrote, produced, directed and stars in Rules Don't Apply, which, while it doesn't work on every level, is very enjoyable. And Beatty's performance is the best thing about it.

The film opens in 1963, a TV broadcast is waiting for a call from reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes (Beatty) to disprove claims that he has dementia. While it looks like Hughes will not make the call, the film returns to 1958 when devout Christian Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) arrives in Hollywood with her mother (Annette Bening) to be one of Hughes's starlets. Set up in a nice house in the hills, with a driver to take care of her every need, Marla takes classes with the other starlets but never actually meets him, something which increasingly agitates her already worried mother.

One of her drivers, Levar (Matthew Broderick) is older and a bit pervy, the younger one, Frank (Alden Ehrenreich) is all handsome virtue, but is engaged. Their attraction is thus thwarted by several factors, and one more is about to happen.Hughes's strange collection of young women is clear but sugar-coated and Beatty writes and plays him as a sympathetic figure, one who overshadows the slightly insipid romance. It's too long but there is a light touch to this often funny look back to old Hollywood. Fans of nice, gentle entertainment should enjoy it.

★★★ Aine O'Connor

Handsome Devil

Cert 15A; Now showing

Writer and director John Butler's "emotionally autobiographical" second film is rather different from his first, The Stag. Set in an Irish rugby-obsessed boys' boarding school, it's a local version of stories that have been told before, unlikely friendships, bullies and belonging and inspirational teachers. Butler wants people to think about young men's place in society and make them laugh, and with the help of some great performances, two leads and excellent support, he achieves that, gently prodding gay stereotypes along the way.

Ned (Fionn O'Shea) hates the boarding school he attends since his father and stepmother (Ardal O'Hanlon and Amy Huberman) moved to Dubai.

Ned is bullied by the rugby team (whose coach is a great Moe Dunford) over his sexuality, so is not best pleased to get the team's new star, Conor (Nicholas Galitzine doing a flawless Dublin accent) as a roommate. But their English teacher (an excellent Andrew Scott) demands individuality and honesty. Unashamedly feelgood, it makes its point lightly and really enjoyably. ★★★★ Aine O'Connor

Unforgettable

Cert 15A; Now showing

There are accidentally bad films and unapologetically bad films. Accidentally bad ones are sometimes sad, often boring. Unapologetically bad ones, however, tend to be neither sad nor boring - and so it is with Unforgettable, a strange 1990s kind of throwback thriller, complete with faux Hitchcockian musical tropes and misogyny. It's ridiculous, a bit terrible, predictable but trots along nicely. If that makes any sense.

Tessa (Katherine Heigl) cannot move on when her ex, David (Geoff Stults) moves his new girlfriend Julia (Rosario Dawson) into their old home. Tessa becomes a sort of psycho Barbie, David is worse than useless and poor old Julia is left bearing the brunt of everyone's assorted issues. Everyone acts/overacts earnestly, this is a film under no illusion about its own greatness. ★★ Aine O'Connor

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