I went into Fisherman’s Friends expecting nothing much. On the face of it, the tale of the real-life Cornish fishermen who rose up the British charts with their sea shanties and ultimately played the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury is a pretty straightforward underdog tale. And that’s true. But that description does not explain how much heart director Chris Foggin has managed to imbue in the way he tells the story.
Daniel Mays plays the big city record exec who attempts to sign the titular singing fishermen when he visits their home of Port Isaac, Cornwall on a stag do. He struggles to win over de facto group leader Jim (James Purefoy), while also falling for his guest house manager daughter Alwyn (Tuppence Middleton). It’s a charming journey, helmed with sharp lashings of city versus country humour and the genuine soul behind the traditional shanties, which you will be humming for days after you’ve seen the film.
It’s true that this is undemanding cinema and that it treads over some pretty clichéd ground. However, when it’s this lovely and this delightfully British, there’s no reason to complain about that. Sometimes it’s enough for a movie to just make you smile.
VERDICT: Whether you’re a born and bred Cornish person, or a filthy emmet like me, there’s plenty in Fisherman’s Friends to enjoy. This isn’t a mould-breaking classic of the future, but it’s as British as a seagull swooping down to nick a cone of chips.
(Dir: Chris Foggin, 112 mins, Cert: 12A) [MY FULL REVIEW AT FLICKERING MYTH]
Ben is Back
Earlier this year, Beautiful Boy provided the world with a maudlin spectacle about addiction, in which weird timelines and an over-bearing musical score muddled the very real message the story should have been able to communicate. Thankfully, director Peter Hedges – and his son Lucas – do something far better with Ben is Back.
The younger Hedges is the titular Ben, who returns to his family home just before Christmas. His mother, played by Julia Roberts, rolls out the welcome wagon, but is also seen hiding away the contents of the medicine cabinet and the valuables from her jewellery box. We quickly learn that Ben is a recovering drug addict, and his past actions have soured his relationship with his family. When their dog goes missing almost immediately after Ben’s arrival, the drama becomes a road trip thriller.
Hedges Sr is thankfully able to marshall these changes of tone pretty well, helped by excellent performances from his two leads. Roberts, in particular, does some tremendous acting with facial expressions, while Hedges knows exactly when to dial everything back to avoid becoming a caricature. It has issues with some generic drug dealer characters in the third act, but still finds its emotional punch.
VERDICT: It’s by no means a perfect take on the difficult topic of addiction, but Ben is Back is a well-acted drama that really gets under the skins of its characters. When compared to Beautiful Boy, it’s a genuine delight.
(Dir: Peter Hedges, 103 mins, Cert: 15) [MY FULL REVIEW AT FLICKERING MYTH]
Under the Silver Lake
In the years following the game-changing horror It Follows, the world has been anxiously waiting to see what director David Robert Mitchell would do next. The answer, as it turns out, is construct a legitimately bonkers neo-noir thriller that wanders down so many blind alleys that it’s impossible to get a handle on anything that’s happening. By the time you reach the end of Under the Silver Lake, though, it becomes clear that it’s not really about very much at all.
Andrew Garfield plays a pop culture obsessed LA slacker, who finds a new outlet for his mania when he spends a romantic day with a gorgeous neighbour (Riley Keough), only for her to disappear the next day. He follows a series of esoteric clues in unusual places and wanders around beating up kids and dealing in casual misogyny. Garfield’s character is almost certainly a commentary on toxic masculinity, but the film seems to indulge as much as it satirises.
There are some intriguing ideas in Mitchell’s new movie, and it’s in a similar mad noir world to the far superior Inherent Vice, but the ideas never coalesce into something with a coherent thesis. It feels like an indulgent outing for an auteur whose ambition exceeds his sense of coherence on this occasion.
VERDICT: There’s an undeniable sense of unhinged invention to Under the Silver Lake, but it’s a film that doesn’t know how to communicate its ideas through the medium of a story that actually works. Garfield’s character is all at sea, and so is the audience.
(Dir: David Robert Mitchell, 139 mins, Cert: 15) [MY FULL REVIEW AT FLICKERING MYTH]
What Men Want
In 2000, Mel Gibson played a character who was able to hear the inner thoughts of the opposite sex in What Women Want. The movie has now been remade, with the genders reversed, as What Men Want. Taraji P Henson plays an ambitious sports agent who is continually passed over for promotion as a result of the macho mediocrity that seems to dominate her industry. When she gains the ability to hear men’s thoughts, she begins to turn things around.
Henson’s performance is the epitome of big and broad, as if she knows the script isn’t up to snuff and is hoping her sheer comic energy will help it over the line. To an extent, she succeeds, but the film is a largely humourless affair, particularly given the fact it stretches to almost two hours.
What Men Want has a smattering of laughs, but it’s never able to deliver on the potential of its idea or even the zany commitment of Henson’s performance. It’s a bit damp. I’m more interested to see what happens if we keep remaking Gibson movies with female leads. I really can’t wait for the Braveheart remake with Karen Gillan. That’ll be legitimately brilliant.
VERDICT: With a grotesquely inflated running time and a shocking lack of jokes, What Men Want requires an astonishing amount of patience from its audience. There are laughs, but the movie makes you wait for them.
(Dir: Adam Shankman, 117 mins, Cert: 15) [MY FULL REVIEW AT FLICKERING MYTH]
Simon Amstell has talked about Benjamin as being a reflection of the person he used to be – someone incapable of maintaining a healthy relationship as a result of myriad insecurities. His cinematic equivalent is Colin Morgan‘s titular filmmaker, struggling to nail his next project after a relatively well-received first movie. When he begins to pursue a romance with a beautiful French musician, he’s not sure he’ll be able to hold it all together.
Benjamin is at its strongest when Amstell is able to double down on his greatest strength as a writer – disarmingly honest self-deprecation. The first half of the film is a very well-observed and sharp satire of the film industry and the world of pretentious artists in general, peppered with quotable lines and scenes of exquisite awkwardness. Things get a little more sentimental in the third act, and it’s not always a great fit.
But the film is often a delight to watch. Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo play themselves in a delirious cameo, while there are engaging supporting performances across the cast. Morgan is very much the star, though, in what might well be his best ever performance.
VERDICT: Colin Morgan’s performance as an Amstell surrogate gives Benjamin a considerable heart in amongst 90 minutes of expertly delivered cringe comedy and wry jibes at the nonsense of the film industry.
(Dir: Simon Amstell, 83 mins, Cert: 15) [MY FULL REVIEW AT VULTUREHOUND]
With a B-list cast and a rather generic bout of ‘creepy kid’ marketing, my hopes were not exactly high for The Prodigy. However, I was pleasantly surprised by this genuinely scary thrill ride, which was able to weave its way under my skin with its excellent array of scares and alarming nasty streak.
Director Nicholas McCarthy previously made the terrible horror The Pact, but shows real scare credentials this time around. His story follows a preternaturally gifted youngster, whose penchant for aggression and ultimately violence begins to unnerve his parents. When a psychologist suggests something supernatural might be at play, their suspicions seem to be confirmed.
It’s standard Hollywood horror fare, but enhanced by some excellent performances and by the film’s willingness to delve right into the dark heart of its central idea. The script is a little clunky, with some awful third act exposition threatening to sink the entire vessel, but it’s the scares that stay with you for a long time after the credits roll.
VERDICT: With a seriously terrifying child at the centre of the story, and a pitch-black edge that arises when necessary, The Prodigy is more than just a standard multiplex horror flick. It has moments that are strong enough to chill anyone to the bone.
(Dir: Nicholas McCarthy, 92 mins, Cert: 15) [MY FULL REVIEW AT FLICKERING MYTH]
Lukas Dhont’s debut feature has become a very controversial one. It premiered to prizes and acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival last year, but has since then been criticised in a number of very eloquent pieces, for its grasp of trans issues. The central character Lara – played by cis male actor Victor Polster – is going through her transition at the same time as trying to catch up with the other girls at the prestigious and demanding ballet school into which she has enrolled.
The film certainly reflects Lara’s obsession with her body, and that can feel like a cis-washing of a trans story, though it’s worth noting that the movie has the support of Nora Monsecour – upon whose life the movie is loosely based. This is a tricky and complex issue, with which the film doesn’t always grapple perfectly, particularly in one late scene that tends towards the lurid over the real.
Polster’s performance, though, is elegantly managed and spotlights him as an actor worth watching in the years to come. His delight during a scene in which Lara’s brother’s teacher identifies her, without question, as his sister is one of the most powerful moments in the entire movie. It’s not always perfect, but it’s largely a sensitive take on a difficult story.
VERDICT: Given the prominence of cis people at all levels of its creative journey, it would be wrong to call Girl a triumph for representation. However, it is an elegant and powerful movie that serves as a well-acted character study of a young woman who is desperate to fit in.
(Dir: Lukas Dhont, 106 mins, Cert: 15) [MY FULL REVIEW AT FLICKERING MYTH]
Jessica Hynes has been a stalwart of British comedy acting, on both the big and small screens for years. Until now, though, she has yet to take the step behind the camera. The Fight is her first movie as director, and it’s a charming little drama with moments of the director-star’s trademark sense of humour.
It has been marketed as a boxing movie but, much like Paddy Considine‘s brilliant recent effort Journeyman, there’s very little actual fighting going on. The conflict is largely metaphorical, with Hynes’s central character suffering as bullying enters her life from all angles. Her elderly father moves in after suffering abuse from his wife, while her eldest daughter is being bullied at school by a child whose mother is a face from Hynes’s past.
There’s a slightly scrappy feel to The Fight and it could’ve done with a little more focus – I’m not actually sure the boxing plot was necessary at all – but the performances are ace across the board. Alice Lowe, in particular, deserves credit for a hilarious cameo as a home-schooler who has some imaginative ways for advocating her unconventional choices.
VERDICT: Jessica Hynes has made a strong directorial debut with The Fight, which takes the idea of a ‘boxing movie’ in a very different direction to tell an emotionally resonant story about bullying, even if it doesn’t always land the blows it hopes to hit.
(Dir: Jessica Hynes, 91 mins, Cert: 12A) [MY FULL REVIEW FROM LFF]
With expectations set up in the stratosphere after the legitimate masterpiece level of Jordan Peele‘s feature debut Get Out, Us was always going to be an uphill struggle. The film is a much slipperier satire than its predecessor and, although Peele has conjured something impressive again, he’s not immune to a bit of a sophomore slump.
The less you know for this one, the better. Trailers, though, show couple Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) and Gabe (Winston Duke) trapped in their home, along with their kids, by a family of doppelgangers. The shit soon hits the fan in bloody fashion, while Peele throws a number of intriguing allegories about modern America at the audience. The scares come thick and fast also, with additional comedy that feels awkwardly crowbarred as opposed to the organic laughs of Get Out.
Nyong’o holds the entire film together with a mesmerising double performance as Adelaide and her strangle-voiced double Red. She’s sinister and driven in both performances, with the line of light and dark continually blurring as Peele plays the audience like a fiddle. It’s possible this is a film that’s more enjoyable to discuss than it is to watch, but Peele’s horror is designed to start debates – and this certainly succeeds in doing so.
VERDICT: This latest scary satire from the mind of Jordan Peele might lack the quite incredible laser focus of Get Out, but it has plenty to say about modern society and it does so through the prism of Lupita Nyong’o’s stunning central performance.
(Dir: Jordan Peele, 116 mins, Cert: 15) [MY FULL REVIEW AT VULTUREHOUND]
The White Crow
The opening titles of The White Crow state that those words mean someone who is “unusual, extraordinary and not like any other”. We next see a dance teacher, played by director Ralph Fiennes, state that Rudolf Nureyev “likely had an explosion of character” during his decision to defect to the West in 1961. The film spends the next two hours showing us just how ridiculous the expectations set by that opening are.
Professional dancer Oleg Ivenko plays Nureyev, whom we meet across various timelines in a structural device that simply robs the film of any pacing or coherence. We’re repeatedly told that he’s impetuous and rebellious, but other than occasionally staying out for a drink too many, there’s never much of an image built for him as someone living outside the system in any way. As Fiennes plods through Nureyev’s achievements and his life, the audience is never given a sense of why he was deemed to be a “white crow”.
The dance sequences feel organic and intense, with Ivenko’s movements transforming into an almost inhuman glide when he’s on stage. None of this energy transfers to the rest of the movie, though, which is a desperately irritating trudge through the twin tediums of ballet and the Cold War. Sorry folks, not for me.
VERDICT: Despite its twinkle-toed lead, The White Crow gets too bogged down in being stately and respectable to ever provide an impression of Nureyev as a politically-charged rebel. Instead, this is a dull slog that is altogether far too polite for such a controversial figure.
(Dir: Ralph Fiennes, 127 mins, Cert: 12A)
Five Feet Apart
Since the literary and box office success of The Fault In Our Stars, teen weepie romances based around illness have become an unlikely cinematic sub-genre. The latest is Five Feet Apart, in which Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse play polar opposite cystic fibrosis patients who bond in unlikely fashion when they share a hospital for a number of months. Due to the weakness of their lungs, they must stay six feet away from each other – the discrepancy from the title becomes significant – to avoid exacerbating their terminal conditions.
Sprouse is solid here, but this is Richardson’s film and she’s a luminous presence. She’s instantly likeable and that makes her sadness a dead cert to instigate a tear duct workout from the audience. Moisés Arias, who stole the show in the excellent The Kings of Summer, is again brilliant here as a gay CF patient who has been Richardson’s character’s best friend since childhood. Initially comic relief, he definitely plays a part when the emotion of the story goes into high gear.
There’s nothing big or clever about Five Feet Apart, and the third act is a mad onslaught of credibility-stretching plot turns, but I’d be lying if I said the emotion didn’t land on me like a tonne of bricks. For what it was aiming for, it worked like a charm.
VERDICT: It’s as melodramatic and ripe with cliché as you’d expect from a teen weepie of this type, but Five Feet Apart creates likeable characters and has the power to extract tears even when its narrative keeps tumbling over its own shoelaces.
(Dir: Justin Baldoni, 116 mins, Cert: 12A)
What did you think of this week’s film releases? Let me know in the comments section and also take a look at last week’s review round-up.