VITA AND VIRGINIA

Cert 12A 112mins Stars 3

A former Bond girl gives an compelling turn as a predatory jazz age socialite in this real life lesbian love story.

Since her breakthrough role in 2008’s Quantum of Solace, Gemma Arteton has developed into an an authoritative and compelling big screen performer.

As Vita Sackville-West, she’s a married ‘promiscuous exhibitionist’ aristocrat who pursues a scandalous affair with famed writer, Virginia Woolf.

She’s the psychologically fragile heart of London’s racy bohemian Bloomsbury set, and Elizabeth Debicki’s ethereal presence combined with Arteton’s earthy urgency engenders their coupling with an erotic charge.

But there’s nothing gratuitous on show, instead Chanya Button’s steady-handed direction gives us an articulate and complex character study, which explores the many different forms of love and desire.

There are elements of magical realism, a strong supporting cast, excellent locations and gorgeous costumes. Plus there’s a startlingly modern electronic score by Isobel Waller-Bridge, who also provided the music for her sister Phoebe’s, Fleabag TV series.

THE HAPPY PRINCE

Cert 15 105 mins Stars 3

This handsome biopic is a tender, sympathetic and bawdy character portrait of the scandal-ridden playwright, Oscar Wilde.

The journey to the big screen has been a decade long passion project for the writer, director and star, Rupert Everett. 

He gives a terrifically complex and rich performance as the self-obsessed 46 year old dandy who is exiled, destitute and debauched in turn-of the-century Paris, following imprisonment for homosexuality.

With Wilde’s reputation, marriage, and career in ruins, and a diet of champagne, cocaine and absinthe having wrecked his health, he begins to re-evaluate his selfish behaviour and life decisions.

Suitably, the film has a visual extravagance which would seem way beyond its means, with the finance depending on Colin Firth appearing in a small role.

Everett sprinkles his script with familiar examples of Wilde’s wit and doesn’t over burden it with plot. Using Wilde’s children’s story, The Happy Prince, as an analogy for the author’s life allows Everett to create an honourable ode to his hero. 

ENTEBBE

Cert 12A 107mins Stars 3

There’s a bumpy experience awaiting you on board this down-beat real life airline hostage drama.

It’s a serious-minded look at Operation Thunderbolt, a 1976 Israeli armed forces attempt to the rescue of a plane-load of civilians.

Four terrorists diverted a Paris-bound plane to Uganda’s Entebbe airport, where they demanded the release of Israeli-held prisoners in return for the safe return of the passengers.

The country is ruled by the dictator Idi Amin, who even the terrorists consider a lunatic.

This set-up is so cinematic it has been filmed three times previously, and inspired the 1986 Chuck Norris adventure, The Delta Force.

Throw in some great performances and this should be terrific entertainment.

But the producers are best known for romcoms such as Four Weddings, and the Brazilian director Jose Padilha is best known for his woeful 2014 remake of sci-fi classic, RoboCop.

He is indulged in his almost experimental approach to the material, which means the daring military attack arrives almost an afterthought. Plus amid some decent character work, he brings in moments of contemporary dance to examine the relationship between art and war.

However the film is given an emergency airlift by stars Rosamund Pike and Daniel Bruhl, who are on strenuous form as the German members of the infamous German Baader-Meinhof terrorist group, and leaders of the hijack.

Their accomplices are a pair of thinly-sketched Palestinians whom the film has little interest in. 

However Brit actor Eddie Marsan is quietly wonderful as the poker-faced Israeli defence minister who insists there can be no negotiation.

However the passengers are anonymous pawns of politics, and the story would have been better served by a more straightforward narrative and an emphasis on action.

Steven Spielberg’s meaty 2008 thriller, Munich, and Ben Affleck’s crowd-pleasing Oscar winner, Argo, covered similar ground far more successfully.

And sadly Entebbe fails to achieve their dramatic height.

FUNNY COW

Cert 15 103mins Stars 4

Maxine Peake hammers home her status as one of Britain’s most fierce acting talents as the title role in this unforgiving comedy drama.

The star of TV’s Silk is mesmerising in the title role which charts the rise of a combative and unrepentant comic from poverty stricken childhood to TV wealth.

Known only as Funny Cow, in flashbacks we’re offered scathing insights into her life and her struggle for survival, identity and reinvention while suffering abuse, battery and alcoholism.

Carefully credited as a piece of fiction, the story bears some parallels to the life of Sheffield-born comedian and variety star, Marti Caine.

The powerful and moving story never shies from the sexist, racist and homophobic material of the smoky and seedy 1970’s northern club circuit, where women were expected to be singers, strippers, or both.

There are comic cameos by John Bishop and Vic Reeves, plus the superb songs of singer-songwriter Richard Hawley on the soundtrack strike an achingly emotional chord.

CROWHURST

Cert 12A 103mins Stars 4

This year’s second biopic of doomed British amateur yachtsman, Donald Crowhurst, is a far more compelling kettle of fish than Colin Firth’s washed out turn in The Mercy.

Following in the wake of its big budget competitor and stripped of its Hollywood gloss, this is closer to a horror film and is a dark vision of isolation, weakness and madness.

In 1968 the weekend sailor and amateur inventor took up the challenge to become the first person to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe without stopping.

As Crowhurst, Justin Salinger gives us a less sentimental and more sympathetic interpretation of the man who sails into a hell of his own creation when he resorts to cheating.

Punctuating the many eerie silences with popular song and hymns, a rendition of Jerusalem is demoniacally satirical.

Wholly nightmarish and with a touch of the supernatural, this is impressively real as it doesn’t rely on CGI waves to impress us. This really floated my boat.

 

PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN

Cert 15 Stars 4

Gal Gadot smashed the summer box office as Amazon superhero Wonder Woman last year, now this intriguing drama looks at the kinky goings-on during the creation of the comic book character.

Brit actors Rebecca Hall and Luke Evans enjoy themselves enormously as freethinking married psychologists who begin a polyamorous relationship with Bella Heathcote’s young student.

After their pioneering work which led to the invention of the lie detector, the Moulton’s use their ideas to invent a feminist superhero. But their radical lifestyle attracts some villainous attention.

For all his love of darkness, Batman was never this interesting.

 

ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD

Cert 15 132mins Stars 5

Director Ridley Scott has made his Citizen Kane with this exceptional real life kidnap thriller.

Orson Welles’ 1941 masterpiece was a scorching evisceration of the soul-rotting nature of obscene wealth. And Scott follows in the maestro’s footsteps with this fascinating and enthralling portrait of oil magnate, J. Paul Getty.

When his grandson is kidnapped in Italy, the wealthiest man in the world refuses to pay the $17m ransom, a staggering sum in 1973. This leaves Getty’s estranged and penniless former daughter-in-law to try and negotiate her son’s release.

Michelle Williams is terrific as Gail and deservedly receives top billing.

Adverse headlines were generated when original star Kevin Spacey became embroiled in the Hollywood sexual assault scandal. Even though filming had finished, his part was hurriedly and successfully reshot with the veteran Christopher Plummer replacing him in the role of Getty.

And it’s impossible to imagine Spacey could have been better than Plummer, who delivers a monstrous and intriguingly sympathetic figure.

It’s also important to not to underestimate the strength of Mark Wahlberg’s performance as a former CIA operative, employed by Getty to assist Gail.

Fittingly there is Rolls Royce craftsmanship in all departments, and we’re swept elegantly along by Scott’s accomplished driving of the story.

He confidently sculpts a typically fabulous visual texture as he moves fluidly from the US to Africa and Europe.

There’s a fist in the mouth ear cutting scene to rival the infamous one from Quentin Tarrantino’s Reservoir Dogs. And Scott has the confidence to slow the pace to create tension as the tock clicks down.

Scott, Plummer and Williams have all received prestigious Golden Globe nominations and a run to the Academy Awards is in their sights. Scott may go one better than Welles and win a long coveted and deserved best director Oscar, and that’s something all the money in the world can’t buy.