OFFICIAL SECRETS

Cert15 111mins Stars 4

Keira Knightley’s talent shoulders this gripping, articulate and hugely relevant real life political thriller.

As a GCHQ translator who leaks top secret documents regarding government shenanigans in the build up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Knightly excels in a well chosen role which is tailor-made to utilise her strengths.

She plays a solidly middle class professional whose conscience demands she become a whistleblower, but who quickly regrets her impulsive behaviour.

Her life begins to unravel when a national newspaper runs her story, allowing Knightley to be terrified yet resolute, and principled as she suffers investigation and intimidation by the bullying apparatus of UK government.

And with the unscrupulous secret services determined to make an example of her, it’s not a great time to be married to a Kurdish muslim Turk of uncertain UK residential status.

An excellent script expertly navigates the murky waters where the security service, law and media mix, and the tone is high in paranoia with secret meetings in underground car parks, urgent whispered phone calls and angry meetings in newspaper offices.

As the repercussions of his governments actions continue to make headlines in the Middle East today, Matt Smith and Rhys Ifans are the smooth and rough edges of journalism, among whose company Ralph Fiennes gets in the final word as a sympathetic lawyer.

MYSTIFY: MICHAEL HUTCHENCE

Cert 15 102mins Stars 3

Fans of 1990’s Aussie rock band, INXS, will enjoy this sympathetic and generous documentary of their late frontman, who died aged only 37, in 1997.

As so often the case, objectivity and criticism is sacrificed for access, which means those queuing up to offer an opinion are his nearest and dearest who unsurprisingly only praise his sensitivity, showmanship and talent.

They also offer excuses for his poor behaviour which included drug use, temper tantrums and popularising lycra board-shorts as fashion wear.

Ex-squeeze, Kylie Minogue makes a sweet and fresh-faced contribution, and Irish rocker Bono crowbars his way in to offer no great insight.

Former supermodel and ex-girlfriend Helena Christensen offers the only surprise, explaining how a random assault on Hutchence led to brain damage, which is suggested contributed five years later  to his depression and death, officially recorded as suicide by hanging.

His music career was already in a funk by the time his traumatic relationship with married TV presenter Paula Yates dominated the headlines, and for all their success, INXS only made one great album, Kick, a song from which gives the film its name.

ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP

Cert 15 99mins Stars 3

Ten years after Emma Stone gave life to the undead fun in the first infectious zombie comedy, the Oscar winner reunites with her original co-stars in this equally knockabout and sarcastic sequel.

Once more Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg ride shotgun as the bickering trio race from the White House to Elvis Presley’s Graceland mansion in pursuit of Abigail Breslin.

She’s run away from home with Avan Jogia’s hippie, and there’s romance to spare with Rosario Dawson’s gunslinger, and a perky in pink airhead, Zoey Deutch.

There’s a new mutant strain of super strong zombies to deal with, plus also coming back from the dead is Ghostbuster Bill Murray, who has another cameo as himself, despite being killed in the first film.

Billed as from the writers of Deadpool and the director of Venom, it certainly shares those film’s DNA, with gleefully bloody violence, an irreverent tone, pop culture jokes and a love of muscle cars and monster mayhem.

MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL

Cert PG 119mins Stars 4

Angelina Jolie swoops back into cinemas in her irresistible dark witch persona in this gorgeous blockbuster fairytale, the fourth live-action Disney film of the year.

The Hollywood royal is captivating as the magical Maleficent, a role which allows her to be glamorous, powerful, conflicted and regal, and have great fun being puzzled by the ways of ordinary mortals.

Five years after her original film saw Maleficent save her forest realm, she is once again considered a danger to any human who dares venture into her lands.

Elle Fanning as the sweet Princess Aurora knows better, but she antagonises her fearsome fairy god-mother by accepting the marriage proposal of Harris Dickinson’s handsome and harmless Prince Phillip.

Michelle Pfeiffer is icily authoritative as Maleficent’s rival, Queen Ingrith, who sees the impending marriage of her son not as losing a child but an opportunity to gain a kingdom and wipe out Maleficent’s woodland folk.

With an army of heavily armed henchmen and a scientist in a secret underground laboratory, Ingrith is more akin to a James Bond villain than a medieval queen. She even has a pet cat.

As ever with Disney fantasys there’s no lack of spectacle on screen, with the costumes, make-up, and locations breathtakingly rich in detail, and should be up for all the major awards.

Newcomers such as Chiwetel Ejiofor and Ed Skrein play members of a threatened race, whose presence suggests a wider world for future films to explore.

The first half scene-setting of politics and social oneupmanship may pass over the heads of very little kids, but there’s always something great to look at, and the smaller woodland creatures are distractingly funny and super cute.

Plus the second half is an exciting colourful battle which swoops about the turrets of a glorious castle, and the ending is everything you’d expect from a Disney family movie. Awww.

 

 

 

 

THE IRISHMAN

Cert 15 209mins Stars 5

Robert De Niro  and Martin Scorsese return to the mean streets of mafia movies with this definitive final word on epic crime dramas.

This ninth feature collaboration is their first since 1995’s Las Vegas classic, Casino, and it sees a road trip across the US to Detroit begin an exploration of the second half of the 20th century from the viewpoint of a Second World War veteran.

Irishman Frank Sheeran kills on command without question, has a working knowledge of explosives, and speaks Italian after serving overseas, making him a perfect recruit for the mafia.

Robert De Niro takes centre stage as Sheeran, who’s looking back on his career as a hitman for the Bufalino crime family, and his friendship with Jimmy Hoffa.

Al Pacino delivers acting fireworks as Hoffa, infamous boss of the powerful Teamsters Union, who went missing in 1975 and was eventually declared dead seven years later.

Hoffa frames social conflict as one of blue collar workers against big business and government. I haven’t heard the word ‘solidarity’ so often since Polish union leader Lech Walesa was challenging Communism in the 1980’s, as Hoffa’s rallying cry in the capitalist US it seems even more incendiary.

Pride, greed and incompetence variously account for the downfall of many mob members, but Sheeran’s tragedy is he’s unable to fathom his own responsibility for his final circumstance.

This sprawling epic soars with artistic brilliance on every level, is superbly acted, rich in period detail, gorgeously photographed and has a tremendous soundtrack.

With death very much on its mind, it’s a reflective, sometimes somber experience, punctuated by shocking moments of murder, several beatings and occasional vehicle explosions. Plus at times it’s very funny.

After several years making less than stellar movies, there’s a sense of De Niro and Pacino rousing themselves for one last majestic effort to consolidate immortality as the greatest screen actors of their generation.

Being a student as well as a scholar of filmmaking, Scorsese continues to experiment with technology, and the deep pockets of Netflix has allowed him to extensively use state-of-the-art CGI to make his stars look decades younger in certain scenes.

This pays off by maintaing the integrity and strength of the performances, which include a career best turn by Joe Pesci, and a small role for Scorsese regular Harvey Keitel.

Unusually for Scorsese movies the women exist in the margins, with Anna Paquin acting as a silent witness to events and as a proxy conscience of the audience.

Plus we see Brit actor Stephen Graham alongside Ray Romano in supporting roles, and Jack Huston playing assassinated US politician, Robert F. Kennedy.

Based on the 2004 memoir, ‘I Heard You Paint Houses’, by former investigator Charles Brandt, this is in tone, length and quality a companion piece to and no less of a masterpiece than Sergio Leone’s 1984 mob epic, Once Upon a Time in America, but with greater colour and energy.

That film also starred De Niro in a role in which he needed to be aged, though at a time when he needed traditional techniques to age him upwards.

There are few actor/director partnerships whose careers and reputations have influenced each other to such an extent as De Niro and Scorsese, and if this is to be capstone for their remarkably long-lived professional relationship, then it’s a more than fitting monument to their work.

Three times Oscar-winner editor, Thelma Schoonmaker,has worked with Scorsese for over fifty years and has edited all of his films since 1980’s Raging Bull, and is unequalled in mastery of her craft.

Crucial to holding our attention during the daunting running time she controls the tempo, generates tension and heightens the drama, especially in the key later stretch of this marathon watch.

Another returning collaborator is scriptwriter Steve Zaillian, who earned an Oscar nomination for Scorsese’s 2002 Gangs of New York, and provides plenty of meaty dialogue for the actor’s to chew on, as well as being fluent in the coded criminal language of threats and favours.

Plus there’s’ cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, who shot Scorsese’s last two films, the brilliantly unhinged, The Wolf of Wall Street, and the masterful religious period drama, Silence, and here he turns Scorsese’s love of classic cars and clothes into a fetish.

Scorsese has made fewer gangster films than his reputation suggests, and this could easily have been a safe and nostalgic return to his old stomping ground – but he retains a remarkable fire for storytelling and the talent and vision to craft an exemplary piece of work.

Not only does he reference his previous work such as Goodfellas, but also daringly offer a commentary on Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather.

The Irishman confirms the blistering creative hot streak the 76 year old director has been on since finally winning the best director Oscar for 2006’s The Departed.

The big question surrounding not how many Oscar nominations The Irishman will garner, but how many wins.

SKYFALL IN CONCERT @ THE ROYAL ALBERT HALL

Cert 12A 142mins Stars 5

There are no more thrilling guitar riffs in cinema than the James Bond theme and it was an extraordinary experience to hear it played live in sync to Skyfall, the greatest 007 film and Daniel Craig’s third appearance as the British super spy.

Far grander than the private movie screening room at Buckingham Palace, the The Royal Royal Albert Hall is a perfect venue to watch a movie released during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee year which seemingly saw Her Majesty skydive alongside 007 into the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony.

Composer Thomas Newman conducted his BAFTA-winning score, and director Sam Mendes turned up to introduce the film to the loudly appreciative audience who watched projected onto a giant screen hanging above the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra.

Screened as part of the Hall’s ongoing Films In Concert series, whose upcoming events include E.T. the Extra-terrestrial, it’s an exhilarating night out and a perfect treat for the wannabe 007 in your family.