Christine

Director: Antonio Campos (2017) BBFC cert: 15

 

Astonishingly overlooked by the awards season, Brit acting royalty Rebecca Hall gives a superb performance in this serious and sensitive portrait of a real life suicide.

Christine Chubbuck was a highly intelligent twenty nine year old American television news reporter, who had a history of depression. She shocked the nation by ending her own life, live on air, on July 15, 1974.

We see how a collision of domestic and career disappointments prompt the desperate and provocative act. Hall is tremendous at suggesting how uneasy Chubbuck is in her own skin, her life is full of prickly relations and social misjudgements.

The balanced script raises many issues relevant today, including how women best pursue a family life and a career, attitudes in the workplace, the access to appropriate health care, and much more.

Fashions are unflattering, the off-screen office politics convincing, and the attention to period detail of the analog electronics are a treat for technology nerds.

Chubbuck’s demeanour creates a barrier between herself and her acquaintances, but also between herself and the audience. So while she retains our sympathy, we remain distant to her, preventing us from engaging fully with her plight.

@ChrisHunneysett

Hacksaw Ridge

Director: Mel Gibson (2017) BBFC cert: 15

Disgraced star Mel Gibson battles his way back to career success with this storming Second World War drama which has been nominated for six Oscars.

Gibson’s well publicised personal problems seemed to have shot his Hollywood popularity to pieces. But having spent time out of the firing line of bad publicity, this is a rollicking return to the filmmaking frontline for the devout Catholic.

The Oscar winning director of 1995’s Braveheart takes a barely believable story of real life heroism and transforms it into an apocalyptic account of faith under fire.

In the first half Gibson provides a treacle coated view small town America, and in the second he blasts us with the brimstone of battle.

Brit actor Andrew Garfield carries the film with open faced charm and innocence as Desmond Doss. Despite being a pacifist Christian, the conscientious objector won the US Medal of Honour in the war against the Japanese.

After a Tom Sawyer-ish upbringing in rural Virginia, Desmond becomes engaged to a pretty nurse called Dorothy. Teresa Palmer and Garfield share a sweet rapport in sentimental scenes which seem to last too long. But the astute Gibson is simply softening us up for the fireworks to follow.

Desmond signs up as a combat medic but he refuses to learn how to shoot. On the Pacific island of Okinawa, the platoon buckle under a blistering barrage. The combat rivals the famous ferocity of the opening scene in Spielberg’s war classic, Saving Private Ryan (1998).

With Desmond’s suffering persecution for his beliefs, his air of martyrdom and determination to succeed in an overwhelmingly hostile environment, it’s hard not to read his journey as an allegory for Gibson’s personal tribulations.

And rather than being a plea by the director for absolution for his misdemeanours, this is Gibson forgiving Hollywood for casting him out. And he does it with a superbly crafted, finely acted and tremendously entertaining film.

@ChrisHunneysett

Denial

Director: Mick Jackson (2016) BBFC cert: 12A

Book yourself a grandstand seat at the Old Bailey for this courtroom drama of international importance. Smartly crafted from a real case, it provides plenty of evidence that great writing, performance and direction make for gripping cinema.

Brit actress Rachel Weisz sports red hair and a US accent as forthright Jewish university lecturer, Deborah Lipstadt. It’s an impassioned performance fuelled by an unbending sense of moral certainty, full of  sharp intelligence, wit and determination.

There’s a very American feel to proceedings, with an emphasis on the sanctity of free speech and the virtues of jogging. Lawyers of course, are celebrated.

Deborah is forced to to come to London to defend herself when she is sued for libel by British historian and holocaust denier, David Irving.

Timothy Spall is magnificent as the self-taught and social climbing bigot on the make. Endowing him with charm, dignity and sincerity, Spall makes Irving’s reprehensible  arguments appear dangerously and falsely reasonable and seductive.

The case hinges on Irving’s denial of  the true purpose of Auschwitz. He claims the death camp in Nazi occupied Poland during the Second World War wasn’t geared for industrial genocide. The cost of Deborah losing will be Holocaust denial being legitimised by a court of law, potentially allowing for a legally backed downgrading of Nazi atrocities.

Various Characters are denied their voice in court, not least the vociferous Deborah who is frustrated at having to allow her barrister, Richard, to speak on her behalf. Tom Wilkinson is wry, irrascible and fond of red wine as her much experienced advocate.

There’s a strong supporting cast throughout, even if the presence of Andrew Scott and Mark Gatiss from TV’s Sherlock occasionally lend the air of superior Sunday evening TV fare.

However a winter visit to Auschwitz offers some welcome visual gravitas and underlines the utter importance of the case. And when the verdict comes in, there’s no denying the audience is the winner.

Trainspotting 2

Director: Danny Boyle (2017) BBFC cert: 18
There’s a tremendous trepidation in returning to the Edinburgh underworld of Trainspotting twenty one years after the intoxicating original.
How could this long fermenting sequel compete with its predecessor, the defining film of the Britpop era? Trainspotting offered a startlingly stark vision of modern Scotland, a famously ferocious soundtrack and career highs from the actors.
Most sequels offer at best more of the same but bigger, or at worst, cheaper. But I shouldn’t have worried. Danny Boyle has far more ambition. Having allowed the material to seethe and stew, the director cooks up another tremendous prescription of prostitution, pharmaceutical abuse, and violence.

For all the chemistry consumed on screen, the most potent is the one created by the actors. Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle are older, heavier, sadder but not much wiser, as Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie.

All the actors bring a maturity to their work, giving their characters a beaten, weary melancholy beneath their desperate bravado. Noticeably missing from the advertising posters is Renton’s old squeeze, Diane. And her appearance in the film played by the gorgeous Kelly Macdonald, is sadly all too brief.
The most notable addition to the cast is Anjela Nedyalkova, playing a Bulgarian prostitute. The last thing this film needs is another extreme character, and the character of Veronika is continually underplayed. She is the calm centre of the dramatic storm.
After a long absence in Amsterdam, Renton returns home to Edinburgh to find his old friends. He has been living off the cash he robbed from his friends at the end of the first movie. Sick Boy has a grand scheme, Spud is still on smack and the psychopathic Begbie is out of prison and out for revenge on Renton.
Boyle uses Irving Welsh’s novel Porno as a starting point. Then filming in his typically high energy, visually dynamic and musically inspired style, Boyle creates an unapologetically abrasive tale of longevity, loyalty and friendship.
Despite topical references to social media and zero hours contracts,Trainspotting 2 understands it won’t capture the youthful zeitgeist the way Trainspotting did.
Instead it drowns in large shots of regret and guilt at their wasted lives. There is a a great deal of nostalgia also, though thankfully not for their twenties, but for their innocent childhoods and unfulfilled promise.
The sharp and funny script mixes bodily fluids with bile filled dialogue. And it chooses to honour the characters by offering sympathy as they disgrace themselves.
This richer and bleaker film speaks as clearly of the desperate disappointment of middle age as loudly as the first film did of youthful hedonism.
Take a deep breath. Choose cinema. Choose first class. Choose Trainspotting 2.

@ChrisHunneysett

Sing

Director: Garth Jennings (2017) BBFC cert: PG

This giddy animated musical comedy is stuffed with silly sparkling fun and will make you grin until the top of your head falls off.

Produced by the inspired creators of the Minions Movie and The Secret Life of Pets, it’s a gloriously mad musical mashup of TV’s The X Factor and Gene Wilder comedy The Producers.

Buster is a cuddly Koala whose theatre is going to be closed by the bank unless he has a hit show. He advertises a singing competition but a typo means the winnings are far more than he can afford.

As creatures of every stripe and hue perform a dizzying number of pop, rock and soul tunes, the story squeezes in bank robberies and car chases among the first night nerves and pushy showbiz parents.

The animals are stuffed with Judy Garland’s ‘lets do the show right here’ spirit and just about keep Buster’s show on the road. Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Hudson are among those providing the pipes.

@ChrisHunneysett

Split

Director: M. Night Shyamalan (2017) BBFC cert: 15

The master of the twist ending returns with this psychological horror. Director and writer M. Night Shyamalan made his name with The Sixth Sense but after a string of disappointing films, he is slowly rebuilding his career at the Blumhouse studio.

Better known as the makers of The Paranormal Activity franchise, the low budget horror specialists don’t care how much new age waffle about mind over matter Shyamalan squeezes into his script, as long as he includes a lunatic  terrorising semi-dressed teenage girls.

So its a win win for both parties then.

James McAvoy delivers an outstanding, showboating performance which includes menace, pathos, comedy and damaged innocence. The Scots actor  stars as Kevin, a multiple personality maniac who imprisons three girls in his basement.

Child abuse and cannibalism feature in the story which draws on Beauty and the Beast and Dr Jekyl And Mr Hyde.

The surprise at the end ties the film in with Shyamalan’s early, better work and hints at a sequel. Despite my better judgement, I’m intrigued to see what happens next.

@ChrisHunneysett

Lion

Director: Garth Davis (2017) BBFC cert: PG

This real life long distance drama covers a lot of hard miles on its struggle around the globe.

Searingly sincere and with few surprises, we follow the footsteps of Saroo, an illiterate Indian boy adopted by a wealthy white Australian couple.

Played by the endearing Sunny Pawar, the six year old inadvertently goes on an epic train journey before ending up in the claustrophobic chaos of Calcutta. There’s a touch of Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp in the sad soulfulness of the streetwise urchin.

Saroo is eventually adopted along with another boy by Nicole Kidman in a bad haircut. Suddenly it’s twenty five years later and he’s a strapping surfer dude, played by the charming presence Dev Patel.

Suffering an identity crisis at university, Saroo begins the struggle to find his birth family. Rooney Mara plays the most generic of girlfriends, forced to parachute in and out to give Saroo someone to explain himself to.

It’s a seemingly impossible task given Saroo doesn’t know his surname, the name of his home town and he has search area with a radius over twelve hundred kilometres long.

Fortunately in the intervening years some clever bod has invented google maps, which helps his quest no end. I’ve had less effective sat navs when trying to find an open garage. Too little time is spent on the detective work and the solution feels woefully under-earned.

There’s a spiritual core to the film which helps us cope with the poverty porn, the frequent suggestions of abuse and extended bouts of moping. Identity, culture and language are all touched upon but sadly not explored.

And after a sure footed sprightly start,it becomes a long slog under the weight of some heavy emotional baggage. Plus the presence of Patel reminds us another, finer film. At times it feels like we’re watching Slumdog Millionaire 2: The Backpacker Years.

Ultimately, what the film says is just because you’ve gone to Oz, there’s still no place like home.

@ChrisHunneysett