A MILLION LITTLE PIECES

Cert 15 113mins Stars 2

This dreary drug rehab drama is based on an 1990’s memoir by James Frey which achieved infamy when it’s accuracy was challenged.

Creative couple Sam and Aaron Taylor-Johnson wrote the screenplay with Sam directing and Aaron playing the lead role of James, who begins the film being dragged into a Christian rehab clinic.

Although at times Sam directs with a visual inventiveness which would make a Trainspotting-era Danny Boyle envious, and her husband commits to his part with a swinging physical performance, for the greatest stretch this is dull slog.

Plus for a character who we’re told has destroyed his innards and is one alcoholic drink away from death, there’s no disguising Taylor-Johnson still has the buff body from his Marvel superhero days.

Fellow inmates Billy Bob Thornton and Giovanni Ribisi do their best to maintain morale with homilies and camp humour, the former as a gangster with a unique dress sense, the latter as a self-styled sexual ninja. But the drama and the comedy jar instead of complementing each other.

A low key Juliette Lewis offers empathy as a counsellor, and as older James’ brother, Charlie Hunnam once again demonstrates how dynamite on set can translate to a damp squib on screen.

We’re offered romance, some effective dental torture scenes, and a positive message, but due to the lead character’s lack of personal hinterland, the finale fails to land the emotional punch it aims for.

 

THE INFORMER

Cert 15 113mins Stars 3

This hard-edged old school crime thriller is a resolutely grim and increasingly violent affair, and holds your attention with to a hardworking cast, decent production values and a twisty story which holds its best tricks until the end.

Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman scowls and growls through the mean streets of New York as Pete, for all the world a heavily tattooed Athena poster wrought to rippling life, and a ‘soldier’ in the Polish drugs cartel who are importing huge quantities of heroin into the US.

Though Kinnaman is far from miscast, he’s the most Scandinavian looking Pole you’re ever likely to encounter.

Pete’s also working as an informer for the FBI in the hope of leaving the criminal life and making a fresh start with his adorable daughter and loving wife. The latter is played by Cuban actress Ana de Armas, who’s soon to appear in the next James Bond film, No Time to Die.

But when a drug deal goes wrong and leaves a New York cop dead, Pete is forced to take the fall, and he runs in ever decreasing and desperate circles trying to escape of the clutches of the Feds and the mobsters.

Rosamund Pike is an American-accented agent with a conflicted conscience, whose boss is another Brit star, Clive Owen. A veteran of twisty Hollywood movies such as 2009’s Duplicity, his casting is significant in a small but pivotal role.

Filling the plot with corrupt ambassadors, foreigners flooding the US with drugs, wronged army veterans and honest blue-collar cops, the script unashamedly
leans into the political narrative of the current US administration.

It’s adapted from a Swedish crime novel, and though Italian director Andrea Di Stefano, is more comfortable giving the violence a bloody realism than offering depth to the few domestic scenes, he delivers a dry but effective entertainment.

MRS LOWRY AND SON

Cert PG 91mins Stars 4

A dream team of British acting talent combine to create a moving portrait of an artist as a middle aged man, in this achingly melancholic biopic of ‘matchstick men’ painter, L. S. Lowry.

Having won awards for playing another great artist in Mike Leigh’s 2014 film, Mr Turner, Timothy Spall carries himself with a sad, quiet dignity while being dominated by his bed-ridden, self-pitying and snobbish mother.

She’s played by the grand dame of English acting, Vanessa Redgrave, she relishes the dialogue of Salford screenwriter Martyn Hesford, whose lines have the comic observation of playwright, Alan Bennett.

A thwarted concert pianist, the embittered woman tries to persuade her son from pursing his passion for painting, while he earns money as a rent collector.

Director Adrian Noble provides a claustrophobic canvas for his stars to bring a testy and tender relationship to full drawn life.

DORA AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD

Cert PG 102mins Stars 4

Isabela Moner makes for an agreeably cheerful heroine in this breezy live action adaptation of long running animated kids TV series Dora the Explorer, a smart, brave, and relentlessly optimistic soul, who finds herself in the South American jungle looking for her missing parents.

She’s accompanied by an inclusive trio of squabbling students who she meets while dog eat dog world of US high school, and is chased by bad guys looking for a fabled city of gold.

A cute and mischievous monkey called Boots is rendered in not great CGI, while much better are the hallucinogenic plant spores which allow for a trippy old school cartoon throwback to Dora’s animated roots.

All the more fun for feeling like a kid friendly caper version of classic action adventure, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, stuff about teamwork, eco-awareness and education is hidden among the tunnels, traps, and poisonous frogs, but it doesn’t slow down the often rollicking fun.

GOOD BOYS

Cert 15 90mins Stars 3

This hectic tween comedy is a shameless riff on 1986 classic caper Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but without the invention, charm or musical numbers.

Armed with a suitably juvenile sense of humour, Jacob Tremblay, Brady Noon and Keith L. Williams play the 12 year old boys who bunk off school to shout and swear their way across town in order to replace a damaged drone, while chased by a pair of older teen girls whose drugs they’ve inadvertently stolen.

Plus they have to get back in time for a party at the cool kids house, where they anticipate the momentous life events of trying a sip of booze,and having their first kiss. With an actual girl.

With the majority of the jokes involve the boys being exposed to sex toys and misunderstanding their purpose, this will undoubtedly appeal to teenagers, but you’d best drop them off rather than watch it with them to spare anyone a dose of cross-generational embarrassment.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

Cert 18 161mins Stars 5

No modern director can excite and confound an audience the way Quentin Tarantino does, and he returns to cinema in a playful mood with this outrageously confident, tartly funny, and occasionally graphically violent comedy-drama.

As the title of his bold and ambitious self-penned script suggests, this is a fable set in Los Angeles of 1969’s turbulent summer.

It’s an intoxicating mix of history and hearsay along the lines of Tarantino’s 2009 fictitious war drama, Inglourious Basterds, a world where fictitious characters rub shoulders with portrayals of real people.

A typically excellent soundtrack has a cast to match with the ‘A ‘ list double act of Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt offering a finely judged chemistry.

The former offers a compellingly sympathetic performance as he sets himself up for another Oscar nomination in his first film in four years, while the latter is equally great in a more relaxed comic role.

DiCaprio stars as a washed-up TV cowboy with Pitt as his longstanding stuntman and gopher, while living next door is real life actress Sharon Tate, murdered that year by followers of cult leader, Charles Manson.

Despite little dialogue, Margot Robbie is electric as Tate, who’s dressed in a costume obsessively reminiscent of Tarantino’s former muse Uma Thurman, in his Kill Bill films.

Tarantino suggests Tate’s murder is symbolic of the point ‘old Hollywood’ died and was replaced by the violent drug-drenched New Wave films such as Easy Rider, as well as actors such as Al Pacino, who is entertaining here in a small role.

But this glorious combination of horror, dance, and kung fu film claims evolution not revolution, should have been the way forward.

Most welcome is Tarantino’s new found humility in recognising cinema can be dangerous and exploitative for all involved, on either side of the screen.

And I loved every richly evocative, shamelessly entertaining and nostalgia-riven minute of it.

BAIT

Cert 15 89mins Stars 5

I was utterly hooked by this startlingly unique British drama which deploys an arresting visual style to catch the deep social currents of a contemporary Cornish fishing village.

Edward Rowe is a force of nature as a proud, determined fisherman who dreams of owning his own boat and maintaining his family’s seagoing tradition.

But an inexorable tide of middle class tourists are sinking the prospects of the locals, creating a conflict which is to have tragic consequences.

Remarkable for its consummate editing, economical storytelling, compelling humanity, salty dialogue and dry humour, it thrillingly mixes cutting social observations and elements of folk horror with an almost documentary air.

Harking back back to post war cinema via being filmed in black and white on old fashioned 16mm film stock, the stark photography is full of gnarled textures and lends a timelessness to this very modern tale, which is the best British drama of the year.