Sunday 18 March 2018

Movie reviews: England is Mine, Maudie, The Emoji Movie

  • England is Mine (15A, 94 mins) ★★★★
  • Maudie (15A, 116mins) ★★★★
  • The Emoji Movie (G, 86mins) ★
On song: Jack Lowden as Morrissey in England Is Mine
On song: Jack Lowden as Morrissey in England Is Mine

Paul Whitington

At one point in Mark Gill's resonant biopic England Is Mine, an admiring female tells the young Morrissey, "you talk funny, posh, like - are you from Bolton?" Born to Irish parents in a working class suburb of Manchester, Stephen Patrick Morrissey stood out like a sore thumb, felt destined for greatness but took his time figuring out how that might best be achieved. Gill's film tells the story of how he got there.

England Is Mine opens in 1976, as the 17-year-old Morrissey (Jack Lowden) fulminates on the fringes of Manchester's punk scene. A lover of poetry and pop, of Oscar Wilde and the New York Dolls, Moz dreams of becoming a rock singer himself, but is awkward, painfully shy.

Sexually ambivalent and intellectually superior, he finds comfort in the company of women, who encourage him to act on his dreams. Eventually, he and a local guitarist form a punk band called The Nosebleeds, but when a rumoured record deal falls through, Morrissey is plunged into a deep depression from which his steadfast mother (Simone Kirby) worries he'll never emerge.

As this is not an authorised biopic, we hear not a single bar of Smiths music, a shame but not fatal to this enterprise, which ends at the precise moment when Morrissey and Johnny Marr set up that iconic band. Once, their fans were legion, but I can't help feeling this well made, sensitive and funny drama has arrived a decade or two too late to interest a wide audience.

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Though Morrissey may fondly imagine he suffered for his art, Maud Lewis actually did. Born in the wilds of Nova Scotia in 1903 and crippled from an early age by rheumatoid arthritis, she became a renowned member of the Canadian folk art movement and defied her upright family by following her bohemian dreams.

Shot in Newfoundland and Ireland, Aisling Walsh's Maudie cleverly avoids mawkishness and sentiment to give us a raw and pared back version of Lewis's remarkable life. Sally Hawkins plays Maud, who's tired of cow-towing to her dictatorial aunt when she answers an ad for a live-in housemaid. It was posted by Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke), a gruff and misanthropic fish peddler who lives alone in a tiny, isolated shack and has the manners of a farm animal. Maud turns up and Everett doesn't think much of her, but she ignores his verbal and occasional physical abuse, convinced that a decent man lies beneath the fish guts and bluster.

She turns out to be right and the total lack of overt affection in the couple's dealings makes their underlying bond seem all the stronger. During long days in that windy shack, Maud decorates its drab walls with birds and flowers before branching out into boldly naive seascapes and landscapes that she sells as postcards. And when a vacationing New York woman starts commissioning her to do more, Maud makes a name for herself.

Aisling Lewis's film is as spare and lean as Maud and Everett's lifestyle, Sally Hawkins is wonderful as the fragile but irrepressible Maudie, and Ethan Hawke is, if anything, even better as a man terrified of caring.

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Some day scientists may pinpoint emojis as the straw that broke western civilisation's back. Invented in Japan, and embraced by hysterical pre-teenage girls everywhere a few years back, these cheerfully moronic pictograms are regrettably omnipresent, appear in horrifying clusters in the texts of otherwise sensible people, and now have their own film.

The Emoji Movie takes place, necessarily, inside a smartphone, where the emojis inhabit the bustling city of Textopolis. They all have specific jobs to do (be happy, frown, rain, what have you), but when a young 'Meh' emoji called Gene begins exhibiting expressions other than bored disinterest, he's declared a glitch and embarks on a personal journey of discovery.

He even visits the 'cloud', a mysterious land beyond the phone that would be a little like paradise were it not inhabited by hordes of chattering, superannuated emojis. Actual words, by the way, are openly mocked in this production, as are commas and colons - hopelessly outdated apparently.

Gene is voiced with great conviction and energy by TJ Miller, who really need not have bothered, for this is a charmless and ham-fisted production whose cynical attempt to connect with the young is surely destined to fail. Did you know there's a turd emoji? Apparently so, and the lead turd in this production is voiced by no less a talent than Patrick Stewart. Needless to say, he makes his emoji sound like King Lear.

Irish Independent

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