Monday 17 June 2019

Review - 'Can You Ever Forgive Me?': all round it works on many levels

Cert: 15A; Now showing

Getting audiences to side with an essentially unlikeable and morally dubious character is no mean feat, but when it works it really works and that is the power of Can You Ever Forgive Me?

The power comes from both the writing of Nicole Holofcener and direction of Marielle Heller who seem to empathise with their subject and trust in that enough to largely avoid emotional manipulation in the storytelling. The power also comes from a pitch perfect performance from Melissa McCarthy. You mightn't especially like her as Lee Israel, but you understand her.

The film is based on the true story of Lee Israel whose moderately successful biography career stalls with her latest project on actress Fanny Brice. She blames the world and digs her heels in, a tactic that pays off, if not in the way she expects. While researching Brice, Israel stumbles upon some letters, decides to steal them, discovers there is a lucrative fan market in author correspondence, and in that a means to solve her financial woes. What begins as an almost accidental crime escalates to become quite a spree which also involves her drinking buddy Jack Hock (Richard E Grant).

It's a great story, the book about it was ironically Israel's bestseller, and it translates really well into film. But it's also very much about the human condition and manages to offer insight into loneliness and connection, invisibility and importance while still offering lots of humour. McCarthy's great turn is beautifully matched by Grant, and all round it works on many levels. I loved it and believe it will hold some - to lots - of appeal for almost everyone. ★★★★★ Aine O'Connor

Green Book

Cert: 12A; Now showing

Bouncer Tony 'Lip' Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) is jobless after the nightclub he works at closes. After being interviewed by the great concert pianist Dr Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) for a position as private driver, the casually racist Tony finally accepts even though it will involve opening doors and carrying bags for "a negro".

The job will entail a tour of the Mid-West and Deep South that will see the doctor play venues right up to Christmas Eve. Given that it is 1962, the cultured, urbane musician has picked an interesting time to tour the notorious segregation stronghold.

It begins as an uneasy professional relationship that sees the Italian junkyard dog and the refined classicist spark off one another about matters of diction, snobbery and race. But soon, Tony becomes more than a driver and uses his muscle and street smarts to keep his employer out of harm's way.

Once half of gross-out comedy kings the Farrelly Brothers, Peter Farrelly here steps into straighter drama territory with fine results.

Although at times unable to hide its sermonising, for the most part Green Book is a sturdy chalk-and-cheese road movie about two men in an evocative era meeting each other halfway and perhaps laying out a blueprint for a brighter future.

A portly Mortensen just about shaves Ali with a transformative performance but they make a nifty double act regardless. Shame its festive hue is wasted on a January release. ★★★★ Hilary A White

Escape Room

Cert: 15A; Now showing

The entertainment to be had watching people younger and prettier than yourself being tormented on the big screen will never tire. In this vein, Escape Room has more to do with Vincenzo Natali's 1997 cult sci-fi horror Cube (1997) than anything as bludgeoning as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

While not quite as gory as Cube or, say, Saw, Adam Robitel's film does imbue its torture with a cruel computer-game angle, where an agonising thread of hope exists should victims solve their way out of a series of murderous puzzles.

Six strangers from various walks of life receive mysterious invitations to an escape room facility (The Crystal Maze type that has recently become popular with corporate team-building and stag weekends). Among them are a high-flying financial trader (Jay Ellis), a young veteran (Deborah Ann Woll), a quiet science whizz (Taylor Russell), a store clerk (Logan Miller), a blue-collar miner (Tyler Labine) and an escape room fanboy (Nik Dodani) whose sole purpose seems to be clueing us in to where we're at in the story.

They meet in the waiting room which subsequently turns into a rotisserie oven, and the first of six dastardly levels they must complete with their lives and team ethic in tact.

Dumb, throwaway genre kicks ahoy, as dim characters die agonisingly amid lots of shouting and the odd lull in momentum. By the same token, you could never accuse it of not doing what it says on the tin. ★★★ Hilary A White

 

Burning

Cert: 16; Now showing

Lee Chang-dong's Burning has wowed critics the world over, being hailed as one of the films of 2018.

This is one of those occasions where I wonder if I saw the same film.

It is interesting and it looks good but it is not involving enough to sustain its 148-minute run time and despite its unusual storytelling the ending proved strangely predictable.

There is a lot of detail in the film but in short when delivery man Jongsu (Ah-in yu) meets Haemi (Jong-seo Jun), she says they grew up together. But he doesn't recognise her because she had surgery as he once said she was ugly. Over the course of the film Haemi and her new boyfriend Ben (Steven Yeun) feed Jongsu's sense of inferiority, and he lets them.

Then Haemi goes missing and Jongsu, convinced Ben is a serial killer, sets about proving it.

It's good on obsession, class and envy, collusion in feeling bad, about double standards for gender and sexuality and as a view into a different yet strangely similar world. But for me it was too long, too detached and a bit self-indulgent. ★★★ Aine O'Connor

How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Cert: PG; Now showing

This much-loved franchise offers a third and final instalment of Nordic dragon tamers which are beautiful to look at and fittingly grown-up in emotional tone.

Although it is perhaps a bit heavy on the dragon romance for your average nine-year-old boy, it works very well and fans should be pleased.

Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) has grown up and become the leader of his band of Vikings. Their harmonious existence with the dragons is under threat so defying his self-doubt, Hiccup seeks refuge in the potentially mythical Hidden World. Growing up can feel bittersweet but is ultimately nothing to fear and this beautiful animation gathers a starry cast to make that point in what is a spectacular sequel and finale. ★★★★ Aine O'Connor

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