Tuesday 15 October 2019

Review: A Private War

Cert: 15A. Selected cinemas

The story of Marie Colvin, played by Rosamund Pike, befits a big-screen portrait
The story of Marie Colvin, played by Rosamund Pike, befits a big-screen portrait

It's testament to her dogged heroic determination that legendary Sunday Times war correspondent Marie Colvin filed one of her stories from a Sri Lanka hospital bed after shrapnel had blinded her in one eye (hence her iconic eyepatch).

That some of the conflicts Colvin was covering still smoulder today gives this biopic from Matthew Heineman (his dramatic debut) a level of immediacy.

And yet, Colvin, quaking here via Rosamund Pike's performance, seems of a different era in war journalism, one where satellite-phone signals were patchy and a world without the internet meant reporters had to bed-down in warzones until it was safe to contact Fleet Street with their copy. Two thumbs and a smartphone would've been the stuff of make-believe.

Based on a Vanity Fair article (Marie Colvin's Private War) that ran following her death in February 2012 while covering the Siege of Homs, Heineman shoots this complex individual warts-and-all, balancing the heroism in the field with a conflagrant side fuelled by adrenaline, nicotine and danger. We see Colvin boozing hard and cavorting in bars and bedrooms, as much to decompress as to keep judders of PTSD at bay.

Between the eye-patch, American drawl and chain-smoking rakishness, Colvin is a real-life gun-slinger who befits a big-screen portrait. The horrors that she encountered in places such as Chechnya, Sri Lanka, and across the Arab Spring are not hidden from view, but segments of nightmarish PTSD hallucination sit awkwardly in the mix.

Jamie Dornan and Tom Hollander (as photographer Paul Conroy and editor Sean Ryan, respectively) provide support. ★★★★ Hilary A White


Instant Family

Cert: 12A; Now showing 

Between its kooky poster image and wry title, this tale of a settled professional couple embarking on the rocky road to adoption could be assumed to be a wacky comedy about adult fish out of water. It doesn't take long, however, for it to become clear that Instant Family has been misrepresented by the marketing men, and has a little bit more going on than mere playing for laughs.

For starters, the meatiness of the central theme - strangers learning to trust one another and form a familial bond - is explored from a variety of angles and situations, all stemming from the personal experiences of writer/director/producer Sean Anders and his wife. The naff white middle-classness of Ellie (Rose Byrne) and Pete (Mark Wahlberg) is the central joke but one used where needed to keep an air of lightness about an emotionally wrought subject. They finally cave from childlessness, thinking that adopting up-and-running kids will make up for lost time. After thorough training with agency workers (played by Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro), they take in a surly 15-year-old (Isabela Moner) and her younger brother and sister. The learning curve is bumpy to say the least.

Lumps form in the throat and attention is held as Anders treats the issue with the dignity it deserves, even if the odd lashing of mawkishness gets through. Byrne leads the cast with hearty comedic charisma. ★★★★ Hilary A White


Happy Death Day 2U

Cert: 15A; Now showing

Mixing slasher horror, college romance and zany comedy, 2017's Happy Death Day was something of a surprise hit, falling just the right side of critical favour while taking millions of dollars from its hordes of young viewers.

With juvenile abandon, it saw a gutsy college babe (Jessica Rothe) endure her final day on earth on loop in Groundhog Day style. The difference was that a masked killer is her executioner each time, and as she gets closer and closer to unveiling the stabber, she also sorts out some personal jinks en route.

Watching this equally sassy and invigorated sequel play out, it becomes difficult to entirely justify its existence given its plot seems to be just another spin on events in the first film. As if the parts had just been reassembled to see what it would look like.

Tree (Rothe) is once again dying-waking-repeat and trying to solve the overarching riddle at the same time.

This time around, she learns that fellow students Carter (Israel Broussard) and Ryan (Phi Vu) are playing with time-loop technology that has caused the whole rumpus in the first place. Not only is the killer different in this loop, however, but other details of Tree's personal affairs are starkly altered. Christopher Landon's sequel is not guilty of lacking gusto, guffaws, or a spirited and comically spry leading lady (Rothe's ensemble co-stars deserve a mention too). It's just that it feels like we were through all this 18 months ago with the much better original. ★★★ Hilary A White

The Kid Who Would Be King

Cert: PG; Now showing

The legend of King Arthur gets a new, suburban, child-centred outing this midterm break. A simple, pleasant, live-action film aimed mostly at tweens, it works well enough but is unlikely to become a kid movie classic.

Twelve-year-old Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) lives with his mother (Denise Gough) and in defending his best friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) from school bullies Kaye (Rhianna Dorris) and Lance (Tom Taylor) makes himself their target. This in turn leads him to a sword on a building site, Excalibur.

A strange boy (Angus Imrie) with elaborate tricks and a habit of morphing via a sneeze into either an owl or an old man (Patrick Stewart) proves to be Merlin (who lodges in Boorman Street, a nod to "our" Excalibur) and warns that long dead Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson) is coming back to claim the sword and enslave humanity. Cue kids uniting for an adventure. It feels like an old school kids' adventure film, the characters are a bit bland, there is no great sense of peril and it is a little earnest, but it's fun and light and not a bad midterm outing. ★★★ Aine O'Connor

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