Friday's film reviews

Friday's film reviews

This week, Daniel Radcliffe unleashes the devil within in Alexandre Aja’s horror Horns, director Mike Leigh’s elegiac portrait of an artist, Mr Turner, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a loner in the gritty drama Nightcrawler and a group of friends foolishly dabble with dark forces in Ouija.

Mr Turner

Friday's film reviews

On his death bed, celebrated landscape painter and watercolourist Joseph Mallord William Turner, who was a divisive figure in the 19th-century art world, reportedly lamented, “So I am to become a non-entity.”

Mike Leigh’s impeccably crafted biopic, which concentrates on the final 25 years of the artist’s career, ensures the genius of Turner lives on.

Anchored by a magnificent central performance from Timothy Spall, Mr Turner is another glorious ensemble piece from the writer-director of Topsy-Turvy and Vera Drake.

Developed through improvisational workshops, which are the trademark of Leigh’s filmmaking process, the script melds historical fact with personal interpretation to burrow deep beneath the surface of the characters and expose the desires and fears which drove some to greatness and others to despair.

When it comes to greatness, Spall’s embodiment of an artist with few social graces and a surplus of talent is the stuff that Oscars were made of.

The London-born actor spent two years learning how to paint like Turner so he could convincingly hold a brush and palette in front of the camera, allowing Leigh to capture visceral scenes of artistic creativity in full flow.

Mr Turner is a glorious period piece that offers us a glimpse behind the canvasses of a misunderstood maverick, who notes at one point, “When I peruse myself in a looking glass, I see a gargoyle.”

Spall is imperious and Leigh surrounds his lead star with an impeccable supporting cast of familiar faces including Paul Jesson as an honest, hard-working man of the world who believed “the rain falls, the sun shines and the onions grow” and Dorothy Atkinson as the housekeeper who allows Turner to use her to sate his sexual desires.

The 150-minute running time passes too quickly, holding our attention with ravishing costumes and period detail as well as a haunting orchestral score from composer Gary Yershon.

Very nearly a masterpiece.

Star Rating:

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 94%

Nightcrawler

Set on the mean streets of modern day Los Angeles, Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut is a delicious and twisted media satire starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a ghoulish loner called Louis Bloom, who exploits human misery for personal gain.

It’s a tour-de-force and genuinely creepy performance from the handsome Oscar-nominated star of Brokeback Mountain, who has shed a significant amount of weight to portray an emaciated social limpet, who lives by the mantra that good things come to those who work hard.

In the case of Nightcrawler, this ’work’ involves monitoring a police scanner, racing to crime scenes and capturing gruesome footage of critically injured victims on a handheld camera to sell to TV news stations, who are hungry for raw footage of real-life crime.

Gilroy’s lean script doesn’t shy away from the despicable and morally repugnant actions of the bloodthirsty anti-hero, nor does it forget to remind us that we are culpable for devouring this graphic news footage.

If only we turned off, or could drive past a motorway accident without glancing at the carnage when we should be concentrating on the road ahead...

Nightcrawler is a bravura and audacious debut from Gilroy that captures Los Angeles at its most grimy.

Every crackle of Louis’ police scanner heralds potential doom and the director impresses in a pivotal action sequence, which sees Louis and Rick join a police chase in pursuit of valuable footage, regardless of the risks to pedestrians or other drivers.

Gyllenhaal distorts his screen image as a charming, buff, leading-man beyond recognition, slithering through each frame like a predator in search of the next kill.

Rene Russo is luminous in a meaty supporting role and Riz Ahmed captures the right mix of naiveté and nervousness as a fellow passenger on this sickening descent into the abyss.

Star Rating: 4/5

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 91%

Horns

Friday's film reviews

Something wicked this way comes as Harry Potter heartthrob Daniel Radcliffe becomes a horny little devil in Alexandre Aja’s quirky supernatural thriller.

Lord Voldemort would be proud of his transformation into a vengeful, flame-spewing demon, whose presence compels the damned to succumb to their most primal impulses.

Lusty work colleagues throw off the shackles of politeness and engage in frenetic sex; an exhausted mother fantasizes about inflicting physical violence on a screaming child; a recovering drug addict hungrily snorts an entire stash of narcotics – destined for the oblivion of an overdose.

Aja, director of The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha 3D, remains rooted in the horror genre with Horns, but there’s more soul-searching than gratuitous gore in this serpentine whodunit about a young man who is suspected of murdering his girlfriend in a jealous rage.

Horns is blessed with one of Radcliffe’s best screen performances.

Sporting an impeccable American accent, he teases out his character’s maelstrom of emotions, laced with mordant wit like when Ig survives a vicious beating and quips: “One thing I’ll say in my favour, I’m hard to kill!”

Anderson and Minghella offer strong performances, while Juno Temple casts a dreamy glow as the flame-haired free spirit, who drives men to madness.

Black humour walks hand in hand with brutality as Ig’s haphazard investigation twists and turns.

The blood-spattered and bone-crunching denouement can’t resist a flourish of digital effects to unleash hell, literally, on earth.

But for the most part, director Aja shows admirable restraint, revelling in the depravity and dark desires of a close-knit community, which assumes people are guilty until proven innocent.

Star Rating:

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 55%

Ouija

Friday's film reviews

On two occasions in Stiles White’s supernatural horror, ill-fated characters spell out the golden rules of how to play safely with a Ouija spirit board.

Never play on your own, never play in a graveyard, and always sign off by moving the heart-shaped planchette over GOODBYE.

It sounds simple enough but, within minutes of establishing these dos and don’ts, grief-stricken high school students are recklessly ignoring their own advice and find themselves at the mercy of a malevolent force.

“It’s only a game,” nervously whispers one girl.

The naiveté of characters in hoary horror films never ceases to amaze.

White’s film, co-written by his wife Juliet Snowden, punctuates a predictable and increasingly preposterous plot with obligatory cheap scares, which all involve a member of the cast appearing unexpectedly, accompanied by a discordant screech from composer Anton Sanko.

As a big screen Halloween haunting, Ouija is pitifully short of both tricks and treats.

Ouija follows a linear path from ho-hum to hokum and clearly signposts the characters’ demises including a dip in a swimming pool that takes almost the entire film to come to lacklustre fruition.

Olivia Cooke looks pretty while similarly attractive co-stars are content to put themselves in harm’s way.

Director White maintains a plodding pace, even during a climactic race against time to banish the evil.

We’re itching to grab the spirit board and say GOODBYE to Ouija well before the blessed relief of the end credits.

Star Rating: 2/5

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 10%

The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman

Friday's film reviews

Fredrik Bond’s directorial debut is a magical realist fable masquerading as a romance across the language divide, which takes occasional detours into brash comedy and violent crime.

The Necessary Death Of Charlie Countryman is a curious case of creative overload in desperate need of a coherent structure and direction.

Somewhere amidst the poetic slow motion chases, drug-fuelled dream sequences and Sixth Sense-style conversations with the dearly departed, there are glimmers of a poignant and life-affirming tale of loss and remembrance.

Whether audiences will have the patience to find these diamond moments in the rough is debatable.

Screenwriter Matt Drake reportedly drew inspiration from his own experiences in Romania for the disjointed script, which includes a bizarre interlude with an ambulance that seems to be a half-hearted nod to Cristi Puiu’s 2005 tragicomedy The Death Of Mr Lazarescu.

Clichés and pop culture references sporadically bubble to the surface, like when one of the film’s villains decides against a quick summation of his perplexing subplot.

“I would love to explain it to you like a James Bond movie, but I have things to do,” he growls unrealistically.

The Necessary Death Of Charlie Countryman is more of a lukewarm muddle than a hot mess.

Visually, Bond conjures some arresting sequences and he makes excellent use of the Romanian locations including the resplendent National Opera House.

Shia LaBeouf adopts a mournful gaze, one sniffle away from full-blown waterworks, even when he is kindling screen chemistry with Evan Rachel Wood.

James Buckley revisits his Inbetweeners alter ego while Rupert Grint says expelliarmus to Harry Potter as an aspiring adult film actor – nom-de-porn: Boris Pecker – who endures extreme physical discomfort after swallowing six Viagra pills.

He rises magnificently to the occasion; Bond’s film less so.

Star Rating:

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 28%

In Selected Cinemas…

The Guarantee

Based on the stage play Guaranteed! by Colin Murphy, Ian Power’s homegrown drama dramatizes events surrounding the Government’s decision to guarantee the entire domestic banking system.

The film charts the origins of the decision and the boom years, leading up the banking crisis of 2008, which thrust Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan (David Murray) and Taoiseach Brian Cowen (Gary Lydon) into the spotlight.

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: N/A

CITIZENFOUR

In 2013, Edward Snowden was named as the former CIA worker who leaked sensitive and secret material belonging to the National Security Agency (NSA) to the media, including The Guardian in London.

He subsequently fled America and settled in Russia, while the fall-out from his disclosure sparked worldwide debate about covert surveillance programmes run by global intelligence agencies.

In January that year, filmmaker Laura Poitras received her first encrypted email from someone called “citizen four”, who was poised to reveal NSA secrets.

Five months later, with a camera in hand, Poitras flew to Hong Kong with reporter Glenn Greenwald to meet “citizen four”.

Thus began a series of encounters and interviews that comprise this revealing and riveting documentary about the man behind the headlines and the risks he was willing to take to expose his nation’s secrets to the world.

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 98%

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