Tuesday 12 December 2017

Russell battles sobering odds to mimic Dudley brand


MAN OF THE MOMENT: Russell Brand can draw headlines over his on-screen work, such as
'Arthur', with Helen Mirren
MAN OF THE MOMENT: Russell Brand can draw headlines over his on-screen work, such as 'Arthur', with Helen Mirren

Padraic McKiernan and Hilary A White

Arthur, Cert 15A: RUSSELL BRAND is set an unenviable task by the constraints imposed by his character in the remake of Eighties' romcom classic, Arthur.

Morphing drunk and disorderly into cute and cuddly is an art form that Dudley Moore played to perfection in the original. Set against a more sober, contemporary backdrop, however, Brand's starring role, basically a posh twit on the cusp of alcohol-induced psychological meltdown, is a proposition less pregnant with comic potential. Behaviour that once generated sympathy now seems strangely suspect.

Reprising the role that bagged Moore an Oscar nomination, Brand is Arthur Bach, a permanently sozzled, playboy millionaire who's never had to grow up or get a life. Home is a mid-Manhattan pamper palace where is every whim is catered to by his nanny, played by Helen Mirren, and a faithful chauffeur, played by Luis Guzman.

Arthur's brow is not an unfurrowed one, however. Clouds on the horizon include the reality that his inheritance is under threat if he doesn't agree to a marriage with the psychotic Susan (Jennifer Garner) that is as much a corporate merger as a meeting of minds. If that isn't enough to be going on with, a chance meeting with unlicensed tour guide Naomi (Greta Gerwig) has Arthur convinced that Cupid's scored a direct hit.

Directed by Jason Winer and boasting a number of quality performances from Gerwig and a delightfully sardonic Mirren, the set-up is a worthy star-vehicle for Brand's considerable talents. That proceedings never really move beyond the mildly amusing is as much to do with a misfiring script as it is to with a hit-and-miss turn by Brand. It's worth saying that US critics have been scathing, with one describing Brand's performance as a "career killer". I've never been a fan, but to my eyes, that seems harsh. It's not his finest couple of hours but he does have his moments and those in the market for frothy romcom escapism are unlikely to be disappointed.


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Cert: 12A

NEWS that Belfast-born Shakespeare obsessive Kenneth Branagh was to helm the latest Marvel Comics adaptation was met with raised eyebrows. Branagh, a director of dubious merit following some outright disasters (anyone remember Love's Labour's Lost?), was being handed a blank cheque to continue the success of the wildly popular Iron Man films. It could have gone horribly wrong.

Branagh, though, is somehow suited to Thor's ancient-studies bent; a superhero tale where sci-fi and Norse mythology are wed in a style that only Marvel could dream up. Bulging Aussie Chris Hemsworth is the titular god of thunder, all swagger and bellicose energy.

When his vaulting ambition awakens a dormant enemy, he is banished by his father Odin (a typically sagacious Anthony Hopkins), the ruler of Asgard. Stripped of his all-conquering hammer and made to walk among us mere mortals, Thor is discovered by scientists Natalie Portman and Stellan Skarsgard. What follows is a surprisingly well-executed act in which Thor's arrogance is taken down a few notches in some properly knee-slapping comic moments.

All the while, dastardly brother Loki (an icy Tom Hiddleston), now free of Thor's shadow, is plotting to usurp Odin. What he doesn't know is that Thor is learning a few lessons from us puny but loveable humans.

Thor may not have the slickness of Iron Man or the brooding cool of a Batman film, but it does blend the rough and the smooth in effective ratios. Amid the action and grandiose effects there's blossoming love, some sword-in-the-stone destiny and the aforementioned humour. Hemsworth's transformation from brute to hero is well mapped, even if his biceps do all the acting. He's lifted by fine supports -- Idris Elba, Hopkins and Portman -- but you still feel the big victory here belongs to Branagh.


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TT.3D: Closer to the Edge

Cert 15A

And the Oscar for most accurate film-title goes to...

Richard De Aragues's exhilarating new documentary Closer to the Edge would be a shoo-in for such a gong, if it existed. Short of something along the lines of "closer to the edge of your seat," it's difficult to imagine a title that better encapsulates the visceral experience that is this absorbing and memorable piece.

Narrated by Jared Leto, Closer to the Edge focuses on the week-long TT races festival that transforms the Isle of Man into a mecca for motorcycle enthusiasts every year. Held on a road circuit between "stone walls and hedges", these latterday magnificent men (and women) and their flying machines regularly reach speeds of 200mph in their daredevil pursuit of the TT blue riband, held on the final day of racing. But just as Closer to the Edge showcases speed's capacity to thrill, it doesn't shirk from also highlighting its propensity to kill.

The documentary follows a number of the sport's leading luminaries as they put the finishing touches to their preparations for this feast of road racing. John McGuinness and Iain Hutchinson are just a couple of those featured, but the undoubted star of proceedings is bona fide maverick Guy Martin. Notable for a wolverine meets Liam Gallagher (with added likeability) persona, the charismatic Martin has never won a TT race and the documentary increasingly focuses on his attempts to achieve TT King of the Mountain status. The results are astonishing.

Hypnotic fly-on-the-wheel footage combines with dramatic aerial shots to give the ultimate visceral experience while the reality that death lurks behind every bend heightens our sense of awe. Despite this grim reality, as evidenced in particular by a heart-stopping conclusion, the director has fashioned a compelling piece which somehow doubles as a profound celebration of life.


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The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec

Cert: 12A

BASED on a 1976 comic by French illustrator Jacques Tardi, The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec sees Luc Besson make valiant attempts to reclaim some dignity after producing little recently to qualify his standing as one of France's big-league directors.

Drawn as he is to strong female protagonists, Besson was suited to depict this derring-do fantasy tale, in which dinosaurs and mummies are spilled on to the streets of Toulouse-Lautrec 's Paris just prior to the Great War. Former weather-girl Louise Bourgoin plays the feisty Adele, a journalist-cum-detective-cum-archaeologist searching the pyramids of Egypt for a mummified doctor who may be able to help her paralysed sister. Meanwhile back by the Champs-Elysees, one Professor Esperandieu accidentally awakens a dormant pterodactyl in a nearby museum while using telepathic powers, as you do.

While the creature has a variety of splendidly buffoonish city officials in a flap, Adele returns to Paris with the mummy after a spectacular escape from nefarious tomb-raiders. She needs the professor to revive the ancient doctor, but when it materialises that his health is linked to that of the pterodactyl, she must think fast.

In keeping with France's great graphic novel tradition, the eyes and funny bone are treated to a wealth of impressive sets and a charming Gallic narrative that would connect with viewers of any age. Bourgoin is the fulcrum of the tale, and although a newcomer to the big screen she has the looks, the physicality and the expressiveness to command every scene. What acts against the film as whole, however, is the plot's tendency to wander off course -- is it a film about a dinosaur brought back to life, or French-speaking mummies? If you can suspend all disbelief, however, the current of fun is sufficiently strong to get swept away.


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