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.

THE LEISURE SEEKER

Cert 15 112mins Stars 3

Climb aboard this sentimental OAP camper van caper, in which there’s never a danger of going full throttle.

It’s fuelled by the decades long goodwill afforded to its talented actors, Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren. He hits the open road on a literary pilgrimage to the Florida Keys, and she’s riding shotgun.

They are a convincing married couple, full of affection, frustration and forgiveness. Neither are in great health, he’s losing his memory and she’s popping pills by the dozen.

As the story ambles along through some lovely scenery, secrets, lies and misdemeanours are revealed.

There’s more oomph to the story than the trailers suggest, delivering magnificent melancholy and quiet poignancy alongside some broad comedy.

And it addresses the physical infirmities of ageing, the importance of motorhome maintenance, and the terrifyingly by state of private care homes,

It’s a thoughtful journey and takes care to remind us of the importance of dignity in life and death.

BRIGSBY BEAR

Cert 15 Stars 3

This sweet natured and strangely uplifting comedy drama was one of the most enjoyably left field films of last year, despite touching on the dark subjects of kidnap, abuse and mental illness,

Brigsby is the animatronic man-sized bear is the star of a long running sci-fi TV show. When a 25 year old super-fan discovers there are no new episodes, he sets off to create his own feature length follow up.

In a small role Mark Hamill A.K.A. Luke Skywalker makes his presence felt, a fitting piece of casting in a film which celebrates the obsessive nature of film geeks.

 

 

 

FREAK SHOW

Cert 12A 91mins Stars 2

This cross-dressing US high school comedy is a horribly heavy handed and dispiritingly joyless experience.

It’s message of inclusivity and tolerance is welcome but is sadly delivered via the catty sneering and narcissistic poor little rich boy.

English actor Alex Lowther gives his all as Billy Bloom, a mansion dwelling lonely child who’s inherited a love of sequins from his mostly absent showbiz mother, played by Bette Midler.

At a new school, the openly gay Billy faces prejudice and violence so challenges it by standing for election as the homecoming queen.

Though this explores many of the same ideas as last years Love, Simon, there is none of the humour, charm or wit.

It’s a wearying debut from director Trudie Styler, who while pop star hubby, Sting, has dabbled in acting, has amassed 30 film producing credits.

She exploits her celebrity contacts to serve up tennis ace, John McEnroe, into a small role as the sports coach. She cannot be serious.

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.

 

THE SQUARE

Cert 15 151mins Stars 3

Dominic West takes time out from Tomb Raider to appear as a famous artist in this satirical Swedish drama.

Alongside him is Elisabeth Moss, fresh from her Emmy awarding winning turn in TV’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

As a journalist she has an affair with the smooth curator of a museum of modern art in Stockholm.

Played by Claes Bang, he finds life spiralling out of control as he tries to drum up media interest in his latest exhibition.

Winner of the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, this is a lengthy exploration of contemporary Sweden society and the gap between its ideals and citizens’ behaviour.

Immaculately photographed, the script expresses its ideas through visual metaphor, but at the expense of drama. 

Mocking the moneyed metropolitan middle class, the most powerful moment comes during a fundraiser where wealthy patrons are assaulted by a semi-naked neanderthal performance artist.

I could have done with more of the monkeying about.

 

 

WONDER WHEEL

Cert 12A Stars 4

Kate Winslet has been grievously overlooked during awards season for her magnificent turn in Woody Allen’s dark period drama, his 48th film as director.

When even your leading lady distances herself from your movie for personal reasons, one suspects time’s up for Allen’s big screen career.

Allen’s work exists within its own little bubble, and it’s the small differences which separate his films from each other. For the most urban of directors, it’s almost alarming to find this one is set on the beach and filled with bold saturated colour.

In a welcome gender inversion, she plays the ‘Woody Allen’ character, a neurotic and romantically minded waitress having an affair with a younger lover.

Justin Timberlake is the hunky lifeguard on whom she projects a fantasy future together.

As ever in Allen’s films, when someone chooses to pursue a fantasy existence over harsh reality, tragic events occur. This is not one of Allen’s funny ones.