LIFE OF PI

Stars 5

Treat yourself to the voyage of a lifetime with this breathtaking high seas adventure.

It begins when Rafe Spall’s nameless Writer interviewing Piscine ‘Pi’ Patel, who as an adult is played with knowing charm by Irrfan Khan, and by Suraj Sharma as a teen, who carries the bulk of the film on his young shoulders with desperate, windswept and sunburnt charm.

In flashback we discover Pi was a thoughtful innocent who was forced to become brave and resourceful when sailing from India to Canada. 

A storm cast him adrift in a lifeboat with a hungry Bengal tiger called Richard Parker. He’s the star of the show, a magnificent and menacing bloodthirsty pirate with an all too human desire to survive.

The unlikely companions have to survive storms, sharks, hunger, insanity and each other in order to reach dry land.

Adapted from the best selling book by Yann Martel, this is a film of staggering beauty, great intelligence, and no little humour. Director Ang Lee credits the audience with intelligence, dismissing the need for a huge Hollywood reveal and opts instead to protect the poetic rhythms of the movie.

At times the lifeboat seems to be cruising through the heavens as Pi undergoes a spiritual journey, with wondrous waves of fabulous images crashing across the screen in a tumultuous cascade of colour and energy.

A cinematic experience of the highest order and a towering technical achievement, this fabulous family fantasy is suitable for all but the very young who may find Richard Parker a little too wet and wild.

LEAN ON PETE

Cert 15 Stars 4

Yorkshire born writer director, Andrew Haigh, made one of this year’s best indie films with this understated and emotional coming of age drama, based on the novel by Willy Vlautin.

The impressive Charlie Plummer completes his transition from child star to adult actor as Charley, who finds work caring for an ageing racehorse, Lean On Pete. There he meets Chloe Sevigny’s jockey, and Steve Buscemi’s horse trainer.

To save Pete from the slaughterhouse, Charley leads him on a road trip across the US full of hope, heartbreak and adventure in search of a new place to live.

 

 

ON CHESIL BEACH

Cert 15 110mins Cert 3

A marriage heads for the rocks in this tasteful and thoughtful drama of love, desire and regret.

Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle play newlyweds spending their wedding night in a beachside hotel, but awkwardness in the bedroom has serious implications for their relationship.

It’s a poignant, fragile and wistful tale from award-winning writer Ian McEwan, which he adapted from his own 2007 novella.

The beautiful Dorset coast is photographed with a suitably chilly air as the story wades into strong emotional currents. It offers sympathy to the central characters while hinting at dark tides in their past. 

Recently Oscar nominated for best actress for Lady Bird, Ronan is painfully vulnerable as the reticent Florence. It’s her second adaptation of McEwan’s work after 2007’s, Atonement, for which she was also Oscar nominated.

Howle has to work extremely hard to keep up with the Irish actress, while Emily Watson, Anne-Marie Duff and Samuel West appear as in-laws who stick their oar in.

THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY

Cert 12A 124mins Stars 4

Tuck in to this crowd pleasing tasty feast of a post-war detective story. Served with a heart-warming helping of romance, it’s far more satisfying than it sounds.

Star of Disney’s live action Cinderella and formerly of Downton Abbey, Lily James takes centre stage as a successful author called Juliet.

She’s sent to Guernsey in 1946 to write about the eponymous book and cookery club, established by the locals as a self support group during the wartime Nazi occupation.

To underscore the film belongs to James, she’s given a full Hollywood entrance in a stunning yellow ballgown. Always an engaging presence, she sweeps us away with her considerable talent and charm.

Though initially welcomed by the club, its members are reluctant to discuss the whereabouts of the founder member who is mysteriously ‘off island’. So Juliet sets off to uncover the truth of her disappearance.

Very much a love letter to literature of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, so true to form our romantically named heroine is caught between the attentions of Glen Powell’s dashing American diplomat, and Michiel Huisman’s hunky book-loving farmer, called Darcy, sorry, Dawsey. 

With complex family loyalties and grief and anger for those lost in the war, the script takes a sideways glance at the UK’s torturous relationship with the European mainland.

This is an exception to the cinematic rule of thumb which says the length of a films’ title is in inverse proportion to its quality. It’s stuffed with rich characters and production design, and set on the picture postcard-pretty island.

Plus there’s great warmth and humour from supporting cast, particularly veteran stars Penelope Wilton and Tom Courtney.

Director Mike Newell is one of the great unsung heroes of British cinema, due to his unassuming signature style which always serves the audience by putting the story first.

The result is a rewarding and entertaining slice of British fare you can really get your teeth into. 

 

READY PLAYER ONE

Cert 12A 139mins Stars 5

Steven Spielberg scores a gloriously entertaining victory against the video game generation in his latest blockbuster sci-fi adventure.

Combining stunning technique and astonishing CGI effects, it rockets along like Christopher Nolan’s brainy thriller Inception remade with the manic energy and humour of The Lego Movie.

Packed with references to your favourite films, songs and games of the 1980’s, it’s based on Ernest Cline’s best-selling 2011 novel of the same name.

The narrative is streamlined but true to its source and maintains all the major characters.

Tye Sheridan is a hugely likeable lead as Wade Watts, a trailer trash youth who spends all his time in the Oasis, which in 2045 is the worlds most popular virtual reality game.

It was invented by the late James Halliday, whose will stipulated whoever could solve his grand puzzle would inherit the Oasis and its mind-boggling wealth.

Everyone uses an online avatar to protect their identity as they compete to win the prize, including Olivia Cooke’s ultra-competitive Sam, and the corporate bad guys intent on a hostile takeover.

Mark Rylance appears as Halliday and Spielberg uses the Brit actor as his own avatar, to give us a touching reflection on his own life.

And the worlds greatest living director cleverly uses cinema to reinvent a book about virtual reality to emphasise the importance of real face-to-face human interaction.

Plus Spielberg turns Cline’s homage to pop culture into a satirical swipe at the monetisation of the health and criminal justice systems. And he includes warnings about online trust and celebrity, and a critique of corporate exploitation of the young.

But none of this is allowed to weigh down the fun or the thrills and it’s full of optimism for the youth of tomorrow.

Demonstrating his enduring ability to entertain while embracing the latest technology and remaining relevant to a modern audience, Spielberg proves he’s still Hollywood’s number one player.

WONDER

Cert PG Stars 4

Young actor Jacob Trembley is on winning form alongside Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts in this uplifting adaptation of R.J. Palacio’s best selling 2012 novel. 

Ten year old Auggie has a disfiguring medical condition and so starts his first day of school wearing a spaceman’s helmet. He suffers bullying as he struggles to fit in.

It’s more sentimental and sweetly engaging than I’m prepared to admit to enjoying, and fans of the book will probably think it’s wonderful.

And in the era of cyber-bullying the film’s message of accepting people for who they are is worth repeating.

THE GLASS CASTLE

Cert 12A 127mins Stars 1

Brie Larson fails to build on her 2016 best actress Oscar success with this shoddily constructed drama.

Based on the memoir of journalist Jeannette Walls, Larson plays the New York gossip columnist forced to confront her past when her parents move to a nearby bohemian squat.

Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts wholeheartedly commit themselves to the shabby material.

There is an astonishing unintentional disconnect between what we’re told to feel and what we see, as woefully misjudged as filming Wuthering Heights as a heartwarming tale of everyday farming folk.

Walls’ journey from poverty stricken childhood to successful adulthood was an itinerant experience full of neglect and alcoholism.

Yet the film drowns the story in romanticised mawkishness and presents her father as an unconventional romantic with huge dreams.

There’s a lack of emotional truth among the appalling abuse, fear and violence. And despite being based on a real story, I didn’t believe a second of it.