Reviews: The Boxtrolls, Pride, Manuscripts Don't Burn, A Nightingale Falling
Paul Whitington gives his opinion on the rest of this week's film releases...
American studio Laika have a delightfully original and wicked take on children's animation, and fans of Coraline and ParaNorman are sure to love The Boxtrolls. This dark, beautifully designed stop-motion fairytale is set in a crowded town that clings to a vertiginous hill and is plagued by the nocturnal invasions of Boxtrolls. These impish monsters supposedly eat kids but are really harmless creatures with a flair for fixing discarded mechanical objects.
Issac Hempstead Wright voices Eggs, a human boy who grows up with them and becomes their saviour. Ben Kingsley is great fun as the villain, Archibald Snatcher, who's a kind of cross between Uriah Heap and the child-catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It's beautifully made, and lovely to look at.
Though based on a true story, Pride has the cuddly and faintly chintzy atmosphere of classic blue collar British comedies like Brassed Off and The Full Monty. And while it drifts into saccharine inanity at times, it's mainly enjoyable and funny. In 1984, as the acrimonious miners' strike was reaching its height, a small group of gay activists in London decided to raise money for the miners.
Led by rabble-rouser Mark (Ben Schnetzer), the group choose a village in the Welsh valleys at random, and take to the Soho streets shaking buckets in the faces of dubious passers-by. Incredibly, they manage to cobble together a decent sum, and a representative from the village called Dai (Paddy Considine) comes to London to thank them.
So far so good, but things don't go so smoothly when Dai invites the group to Wales to meet the miners. There they encounter hostility and ignorance, and a battle for the soul of the village begins. Seasoned hands Imelda Staunton and Bill Nighy attack their valleys' accents with gusto, and Ben Schnetzer is terrific as Mark. It's a sweet, well-intentioned film.
Manuscripts Don't Burn
No Cert, IFI, 125mins
Mohammad Rasoulof is a filmmaker on the ideological front-line, a fearless campaigner who's spent time in Iranian jails for publicly denouncing the country's rigged 2009 presidential elections. That backdrop makes his latest film all the more extraordinary, because Manuscripts Don't Burn is the most explicit critique of Iran's theocracy I've seen.
It's based on the persecution of Iranian intellectuals during the 1990s, and focuses on the grisly work of state-sponsored hit men who've been ordered to target a small group of ageing writers and recover an incriminating manuscript. They approach their horrible work with unfussy detachment, and their murderous sang-froid reminded me of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's chilling accounts of totalitarian functionaries. Rosoulof's film is shocking, relentless, a remarkable piece of work.
A Nightingale Falling
Cobbled together for half-nothing, A Nightingale Falling is to be commended for its ambition in taking on a period drama with no budget and not many extras. Set in the Irish countryside in 1920, Garret Daly and Martina McGlynn's film stars Tara Breathnach and Muireann Bird as May and Tilly, two Anglo-Irish sisters who are trying to keep their big house going.
When they find a wounded Black & Tan in their yard, they expose themselves to all sorts of trouble by taking him in. This stiff and stilted drama is weighed down by its blathering script and hamstrung by a lack of wherewithal. Ms. Breathnach is left hanging at times, and you can almost feel her pain every time her character lunges wildly for the brandy decanter.