Movie Reviews: Hampstead, Twice Shy, Transformers: The Last Knight

Hampstead ****

Movie Reviews: Hampstead, Twice Shy, Transformers: The Last Knight

You don’t get many anti-capitalist fables masquerading as off-beat romantic comedies to the pound these days, but Joel Hopkins’ Hampstead (12A) is a pleasant confection with a chewy centre.

American widow Emily (Diane Keaton) lives a life of bourgeoise gentility (ie, quiet desperation) as she tries to meet ends meet by working in an Oxfam shop, confiding in her son Philip (James Norton) that she has ‘nothing of value to offer anyone.’

Happily, she meets Donald (Brendan Gleeson), a man whose concept of ‘value’ is so radical that he chooses to live in the splendid isolation of a jerry-rigged shack in a leafy corner of Hampstead Heath.

The story, written by Robert Festinger, echoes Hopkins’ Last Chance Harvey (2008), and offers a contemporary variation on the age-old fairytale of the frog prince, with Donald scrubbing up nicely once the princess bestows her kiss.

It’s all about as plausible as a fairytale, of course, and an absence of believable chemistry between Keaton and Gleeson means that their courtship, whilst charming in theory, fails to convince.

Indeed, it’s the sub-plot concerning Donald’s right to live unmolested on Hampstead Heath that proves far more interesting, as he defies eviction notices and finds himself the reluctant focus of a campaign to defend the rights of the homeless. It’s this element of the story — a 99%-er refusing to bend the knee to the vested interests of the 1% — that provides the movie with its feel-good factor, with Brendan Gleeson stealing the show (doesn’t he always?) as a poetry-quoting curmudgeon who only wants to be left alone to live his life in peace.

Twice Shy

Twice Shy (16s) is another unusual love story, which opens with young lovers Maggie (Iseult Casey) and Andy (Shane Murray-Corcoran) driving from Tipperary to Dublin en route to an abortion clinic in the UK.

The understandable tension in the car contrasts sharply with the free-and-easy mood of the couple’s early romance, which is fleshed out in flashbacks that chart their first year together whilst studying at Trinity College, a year punctuated with trips abroad and young love’s usual welter of joys and jealousies, break-ups and reconciliations.

Written and directed on what appears to be a shoestring budget by Tipp native Tom Ryan, Twice Shy is remarkably effective at conveying the bewildering uncertainties and ludicrous aspirations of that first earth-shattering relationship, and there’s an endearing quality to the gauche characterisations delivered by Iseult Casey and Shane Murray-Corcoran, which seem to perfectly capture the tentative, fumbling idealism of Maggie and Andy’s hopes, not least when unplanned pregnancy throws all their fairytale happy-ever-afters into sharp relief.

Tom Ryan, directing his second feature-length movie after Trampoline (2014), crafts his story with real verve, confidently juggling the vividly upbeat flashbacks whilst retaining the downbeat mood of a road-trip in which Andy and Maggie gradually renounce their illusions in favour of a bittersweet acceptance of the harsh truth of love.

Ardal O’Hanlon and Pat Shortt provide recognisable faces and invaluable experience in the supporting roles, with O’Hanlon unusually but effectively subdued in the role of Andy’s depression-prone father, but there’s no doubt that with a 25-year-old director at the helm, Twice Shy is not only a timely film but one crafted to speak to and for the New Ireland.

Transformers: The Last Knight

Opens with a gambit that could be director Michael Bay’s audition for a swords-and-sandals epic, in which Merlin (Stanley Tucci) persuades a Transformer to help King Arthur win a losing battle by lending him a staff of unlimited power.

Fast forward 1,600 years and the Transformers, in best conspiracy theory style, have secretly had a hand in every major battle in history.

Now, thanks to Anthony Hopkins’ narration, we learn that the Transformers have been declared illegal, and are being hunted down by determined task force TRF.

Optimus Prime has disappeared into space in search of his maker; John Turturro is in Havana raging against room temperature mojitos, and Mark Wahlberg is on the run, hiding Autobots in his extensive junk yard.

Then Megatron is released by the TRF to hunt down the staff of unlimited power bequeathed to Merlin that will see off the global-killing Cybertron, which is on a collision course for Earth.

The target audience may struggle to understand what’s going on, and even if they’re just here for the pleasure of watching Big Robots Hitting Each Other, Bay oddly opts to relegate series icons Prime and Megatron to bit parts. When the Big Robots do in fact get around to Hitting Each Other in Bay’s typical swirly camera style, the action lacks emotional engagement.

There are moments of fun (a submarine paying homage to The Abyss) but this is a franchise that’s crawling over the finish line.

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