Friday 20 September 2019

Movie reviews: Gemma Bovery - Luchini's turn is worth the ticket alone, Theeb, The Wolfpack, Sinister 2 and Vacation

Rural ripples: Neils Schneider and Gemma Arterton appear in Gemma Bovery
Rural ripples: Neils Schneider and Gemma Arterton appear in Gemma Bovery
Beautifully shot: Theeb
Sinister 2

Hilary A White and Aine O'Connor

Reviewed this week are Gemma Bovery, Theeb, The Wolfpack, Sinister 2 and Vacation.

Given the alignment of English Rose Gemma Arterton, graphic novelist Posy Simmonds and a plot concerning rural romantic farce, Gemma Bovery looks to be little more than a Gallic transplant of Stephen Frear's uninspiring Tamara Drewe (2010).

The similarities go further. Arterton plays another gorgeous English anti-heroine relocating to the countryside (this time with husband Charlie, played by Jason Flemyng) to do up an old house and upset the understimulated locals. Rendezvous are eavesdropped upon in the manner of a Thomas Hardy novel, and everything ends with a calamitous full stop.

What lifts this above that other Simmonds adaptation is Fabrice Luchini. The hang-dog French actor is cringefully brilliant as Martin Joubert, a literary Parisian who has settled in Normandy with his wife and teenage son to run the family bakery. Like his character in The Women on the 6th Floor, he is a henpecked husband who embarks on a flight of fancy when the Boverys arrive. Enchanted by her beauty and the similarities to Flaubert's tragic Madame Bovary, he becomes fixated with Gemma and watches her extramarital affairs with a mix of jealousy and concern.

Coco Before Chanel director Anne Fontaine does a fine job of painting French whimsy as something more substantial, even if Gemma Bovery is horseplay for the most part. Always more than just a pretty face, Arterton evokes both the universal object of desire as well as a far-from-perfect human being. But this is Luchini's show, and his turn is worth the ticket price alone.

Hilary A White

IFI and selected cinemas


No Cert

Theeb, which means 'wolf' in Arabic, is the young boy around whom Naji Abu Nowar's very assured, and beautiful, debut film is based. Nowar has called it a "Bedouin Western" and because it is told from the child's very localised perspective it has a timeless quality in its tone-setting scenes.

Theeb (Jacir Eid) is learning about life and goat-herding from his older brother Hussein (Hussein Salameh). They are the youngest sons of the dead tribal leader and life is simple, it is about here and now, chores, nature, food and sleep. The first hint for Theeb, and the audience, that something bigger is going on comes in the form of a British Army officer (Jack Fox) who arrives seeking a guide who can take him to his destination without missing any of the wells along the way. Hussein is selected as the guide but the journey is deemed dangerous, and so Theeb is left behind. However, unable to bear being separated from his brother, he sneaks after them, and all too soon it becomes apparent that the dangers are very real.

Because it's seen through the eyes of a child it is never stated clearly in the film, but the year is 1916, World War I is in full swing and in the Hejaz Province of the Ottoman Empire the Turks and British are at war. There are also local politics at play and bandits, swarthy Arab cliches that Nowar carefully dismantles. The film is beautifully shot in the striking desert landscape of Jordan, in which much of Lawrence of Arabia was made. The blond-haired blue-eyed English Army officer is also reminiscent of Lawrence, so while not exactly a riposte to David Lean's classic, it offers a different angle.

It also gives a real sense of life encroaching on childhood, albeit in a particularly brutal way and of one lifestyle forcing another out. The largely non-professional cast work really well, Nowar lived with the Bedouin on and off for eight months, and set up workshops to train them for acting. Many of them had never seen a film so were not that excited at the prospect. The real star is Jacir Eid, aged 12 at the time of shooting, a wide-eyed, wild-haired first time actor whose understated emotion works well in the many close-ups.

Theeb will have limited appeal, but it is a great piece of work.

Aine O'Connor


The Wolfpack

Cert: 15A

The 16th floor of a Manhattan public housing development was for years the scene of a bizarre family set-up. The Angulos comprise six brothers and a sister who weren't allowed to interact with the outside world and got to leave the confines of the flat only on a handful of occasions.

The lion's share of their education came via a huge DVD collection, all pored over and re-enacted with the aid of elaborate home-made props that would put Blue Peter to shame. The only keys to the front door were under the control of their Peruvian father, Oscar, who wanted to establish his own family "tribe" inside the cramped household. At night, they piled on to mattresses with mother Susanne.

Crystal Moselle's Sundance-winning doc follows the six teenage brothers - nicknamed 'The Wolfpack' - as they take fledgling steps beyond their hall door. It was Makunda who was the pioneer, venturing out into the neighbourhood at 15 against his dad's wishes. The floodgates opened.

The subject of Moselle's debut is undoubtedly exceptional but there is an unfinished feel to The Wolfpack, as if it's too soon to be telling this story with any lucidity. Obvious question marks hover in the wings - the big elephant in the corner is their father and the consequences of his parenting style - but there is too much of an anthropological love-in happening to push for the hard answers.

You also start to wonder are parts of it scripted, but this may be due to the siblings' cognitive attunement to cinema speak.

Hilary A White


Sinister 2

Cert 16

Dublin-born director Ciaran Foy credits Twitter with getting the job directing Sinister 2. Scott Derrickson - who co-wrote and directed Sinister, the sneakily successful horror film of 2012 - tweeted praise for Foy's debut film Citadel. Foy thanked him, a Twitter friendship developed and Foy ended up getting the directing job on Sinister 2, which Derrickson was also co-writing.

Paid work is paid work, but a horror sequel is not statistically a route to glory. A lot of horrors hit speed bumps because they're based on essentially stupid premises, or at the very least that someone will do something endlessly thick.

This sounded like the case here, where a single mother (Shannyn Sossamon) moves her twin boys (Robert and Dartanian Sloan) into a remote house where there has been a murder. Cue another cliche - one boy is very sensitive to the atmosphere in the house, he can see things others can't and is regularly visited by a group of spooky dead kids led by Milo (Lucas Jade Zumann.) Fortunately, or not, some years after his involvement in the events of the first film, ex Deputy So & So (James Ransone) is on a mission to block any access points that might be used by the evil spirit Bughuul (Nicholas King).

So far, so predictable, except that the film manages to do a little dance around each cliche in a series of genre convention-tweaking moves that make it feel much cleverer than the premise would suggest. There are little meanders that keep it interesting, there is a simple but discernible plot, real characters, not bad performances and it has a sense of humour. And it's not as annoyingly darkly lit as the first film. It's gruesome without being gory, there are a few jumps and Foy does an assured job on the direction. Way better than expected.

Aine O'Connor



Cert: 15A

No matter how high-brow you fancy yourself to be, a point will come in Vacation where you simply have to give in, deposit your intellect in the seat beside you and roll with the low-brow wit.

This sensation of being overpowered by toilet humour and the general air of gaudy immaturity in this latest addition to the long-running comedy franchise is potent, and makes it tricky to totally dismiss, try as you might.

Children of the eighties who recall yucking along to National Lampoon's Vacation should feel at home here with this new generation of Griswolds. Rusty (Ed Helms) is now all grown up and the consummate family man. He decides an epic roadtrip with wife Debbie (a game Christina Applegate) and their two sons could be just the tonic for a bit of bonding. Writer-directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley have other ideas, and decide to throw a range of unfortunate events their way, with public humiliation, excretion and anatomical horrors high on the list.

Helms's is an effective revision of Chevy Chase's plucky buffoon. Chris Hemsworth and Leslie Mann turn up for one particularly strong act as the customary insufferable in-laws, and a barely recognisable Chase and Beverly D'Angelo make an appearance for old time's sake. Much is a retread of old devices (Walley World remains the Mecca) and a strong stomach is needed throughout, but the silliness hits the target, by and large.

Hilary A White

More reviews:

The Wolfpack movie review: 'it has to be seen to be believed' Sinster 2 movie review - 'chock-full of schlocky laughs and so-bad-it’s-brilliant cringes' Vacation movie review - 'despite an all-star cast, it's low on laughs' Movie reviews: Vacation, Sinister 2, Theeb, Gemma Bovery

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