Movie reviews: The Secret Scripture, Life, CHIPS

CHIPS

Here are the top three films you don’t want to miss this week, writes Declan Burke.

The Secret Scripture 3/5

Life 3/5

CHIPS 3/5

 

The Secret Scripture (12A) stars Vanessa Redgrave as Lady Rose, a long-term resident of St Malachai’s Mental Hospital in rural Ireland believed to have murdered her baby decades before. 

Assessed by psychiatrist Dr Grene (Eric Bana), Rose begins to open up about the reasons for her incarceration, reading from her ‘secret scripture’,

the diary she wrote as a young woman in the margins of her Bible. 

Adapted by Jim Sheridan and Johnny Ferguson from Sebastian Barry’s novel, with Sheridan directing, The Secret Scripture takes us back to 1942, when the younger Rose (Rooney Mara) returns home to her small Sligo village, where her luminous beauty generates unwanted attention from a number of men, including the parish priest, Fr Gaunt (Theo James).

The story brilliantly evokes the suffocatingly patriarchal society, as the forthright, independent Rose finds herself demonised and persecuted when she refuses to play the role expected of her. 

It’s not often a single character is so superbly brought to life by two distinctive performances, but Rooney Mara’s spirited younger Rose and Vanessa Redgrave’s hauntingly damaged older incarnation combine to create one of the most memorable characters in recent memory.

Unfortunately, the film’s middle section veers into the realms of implausible pot-boiler, when the young Rose seals her fate by falling in love with dashing RAF pilot Michael Eneas (Jack Reynor), a sub-plot in no way enhanced by Reynor’s curiously flat performance and one which serves only as a distraction from the film’s sensitive handling of the horrors to which Rose is subjected on her incarceration.

Set on an international space station orbiting Earth, Life (15A) opens with Dr Derry (Ariyon Bakare) discovering a microscopic life-form in a sample taken from Mars. 

The ramifications of resurrecting an extra-terrestrial being are mind-boggling, but even before the space station’s crew have begun come to terms with their historical achievement, the rapidly growing creature — dubbed ‘Calvin’ — starts to wreak havoc.

Written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, and directed by Daniel Espinosa, Life develops along broadly the same lines as the original Alien, as Calvin, maturing into a lethal squid-like creature, goes hunting its human prey through the claustrophobic corridors of the space-station and the crew — among them Miranda (Rebecca Ferguson), David (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Roy (Ryan Reynolds) — scramble to save their own lives and prevent Calvin from reaching Earth. 

Calvin may not be as terrifying a creation as the nightmarish creature from Alien, but Life certainly pounds along at a relentless pace, a rollercoaster ride in which the crew members, trapped on the crippled space-station and with no way of contacting Earth, are helpless in the face of the creature’s unprecedented combination of strength and intelligence. 

It’s not particularly original, but Life is an inventive sci-fi horror which trades on audience expectations to provide its fair share of surprises and twists, not least of which is the order in which the crew fall foul of the insatiable monster. 

Effectively performed by a B-list ensemble cast, and directed with panache by Daniel Espinosa, this is as solidly satisfying as Friday night popcorn-fodder gets.

A feature-length version of the American TV series that ran from 1977 to 1983, CHIPS (15A) stars Michael Peña as Frank ‘Ponch’ Poncherello and Dax Shepard as Jon Baker, new recruits to the Californian Highway Patrol who quickly find themselves embroiled in an investigation into a series of highway robberies executed by rogue members of the CHP.

Written and directed by Dax Shepard, the movie is a standard buddy-buddy cop movie, in which the mismatched duo — Ponch is a rule-breaking undercover FBI agent with sex addiction issues, while Jon is a former motorcycle trick rider determined to succeed in the CHP in order to win back his estranged wife, Karen (Kristen Bell) — reluctantly join forces to take on villain Ray Kurtz (Vincent D’Onofrio). 

It’s a crudely comic version of the Fast and Furious franchise, with souped-up motorbikes this movie’s horsepower of choice, the story progressing by way of a series of hi-octane chases along LA’s freeways linked by Ponch and Jon’s gradual bonding, a bromance fuelled by frat-boy humour and a belated appreciation of one another’s foibles. 

That said, and despite an ill-advised crass ‘joke’ about the murder of Reeva Steenkamp in the early stages, Michael Peña and Dax Shepard make for a likeably offbeat pairing as they bumble and bicker their way through proceedings, in the process spoofing many of the conventions of the buddy-buddy movie and the original TV series itself.


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