Entertainment Movie Reviews

Monday 23 October 2017

Movie reviews: Cardboard Gangsters, Gifted, Whitney: Can I Be Me?

  • Cardboard Gangsters (18, 92mins) ★★★★
  • Gifted (12A, 101mins) ★★★
  • Whitney: Can I Be Me? (15A, 105mins) ★★★
Compelling: John Connors stars in Cardboard Gangsters
Compelling: John Connors stars in Cardboard Gangsters

Paul Whitington

The Dublin crime drama Cardboard Gangsters represents a huge leap forward for its director, and star. Five years back, filmmaker Mark O'Connor and actor John Connors collaborated on the gritty dramas Stalker and King of the Travellers: both felt like rough and ready works in progress, but this film is lean, polished, very much the finished article. Connors, who co-wrote the screenplay, is Jason Connolly, a Darndale drug dealer who dreams of becoming a big shot.

Jason and his crew are selling cannabis on their estate when an opportunity arises to move into the more lucrative heroin trade, but this pits them against Derra (Jimmy Smallhorne), the local kingpin. Things get even more complicated when Jason has a one-night stand with Derra's brassy wife, Kim (Kierston Wareing), but his moral compass will be well and truly skewed when he makes an even bigger mistake.

Salty, funny, and enlivened by some fantastic Dublin rap music, Cardboard Gangsters has a rare authenticity in terms of its subject matter and location. It reminded me of a classic Warner Brothers mobster picture reset in Darndale, but it never makes the mistake of glamorising the gangster lifestyle, or the likely consequences for those who choose it. The ensemble cast is excellent, and Connors is compelling as a young man whose ambition overshoots his reach.

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Gentle it may be, even slightly clichéd in its storytelling, but I enjoyed Gifted, a nicely written treatise on the mixed blessing of being a childhood prodigy. Chris Evans, a likeable actor who's been typecast as an upright stiff playing Captain America, is Frank Adler, the kindly uncle and guardian of a seven-year-old Florida girl called Mary (Mckenna Grace). He's been home-schooling her till now, and has reluctantly accepted the fact that he should now send her to school.

The reason for his reluctance is this: his sister, and Mary's mother, killed herself shortly after the girl was born; she was a mathematics genius pushed to the brink of madness by her gift, and Larry is worried Mary might be the same. She is, and when her precocious talent for maths is spotted by her teachers, Larry's mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) swoops down on Florida to claim Mary for her own.

A nasty tug of war ensues, resulting in a Kramer vs Kramer-style court battle that is a good deal of fun but not entirely convincing.

But this is heart-warming stuff, and McKenna Grace is adorable as the precocious genius who just wants to be a little girl.

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Nick Broomfield's Can I Be Me? is the first of two documentaries we'll be seeing on the life of Whitney Houston this year. But as the other one, by Kevin Macdonald, has been sanctioned by the Houston estate, this film is likely to be the more honest. In compiling it, Broomfield has interviewed some - though by no means all - of the people who knew Whitney best: her brothers, friends, bodyguards, backstage associates. And what emerges is a picture of a rather sweet and vulnerable woman who was overwhelmed by the trappings of wealth, and fame.

Central to the film's structure is previously unseen footage of Whitney's exhausting 1999 world tour. Through it we're given fascinating glimpses of Houston on-stage and off, belting out her many hits with extraordinary energy and commitment, only to collapse in a heap once she gets off.

We get insights into the poisonous relationship between Whitney's loyal friend and - rumour has it - lesbian lover Robyn Crawford, and her husband Bobby Brown.

We hear about the drug-taking, the many demands on her time and money, the rapid mental and physical decline. Whitney Houston was just 48 when she died in 2012: her daughter, Bobby-Kristina, would die in eerily similar circumstances three years later, at 22.

Also this week: Churchill movie review: Brian Cox is superb as an embattled Churchill in this solid drama

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