‘Sing Street’

sing_streetDelightful, feel-good and totally endearing, the latest from John Carney (Once, Begin Again) yet again presents the good in both character and narrative (and provides a ripper of a soundtrack).

A nostalgic revisit to the 80s with a story that, whilst hardly innovative (new boy at school overcomes bullying, wins the girl and gains popularity), uses music to flesh out its tale. Newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo is a convincing innocent discovering his inner Duran Duran or The Cure – and the relationship with his music mentor brother Jack Reynor (Transformers: Age of Extinction, Free Fire) adds an extra layer of oddball warmth.

Rating: 69%

‘My Cousin Rachel’

my_cousin_rachelMisunderstood innocent or scheming gold-digger? Roger Michell (Notting Hill, Changing Lanes) largely keeps you guessing about cousin Rachel (a superb Rachel Weisz – The Constant Gardener, Denial).

Intense close-ups, occasional tears, grubby manor houses, surly (and scruffy) servants all add to the uncertainties of Phillip (a doe-eyed Sam Claflin – The Hunger Games, Me Before You) for her role in the death of his guardian. Infatuation replaces revenge.

It’s a gorgeous potboiler (author Daphne du Maurier was one of Hitchcock’s favourites – that should give you a clue) with one caveat – the truly awful soundtrack that is at times cloyingly sweet and generally infuriatingly intrusive.

Rating: 64%

‘Churchill’

Churchill-Film-PosterIt’s June 1944 and just days before D-Day when the Allies plan to land on the beaches of Normandy. Only British PM Winston Churchill has become more and more marginalised from the military planning – and the splendidly bombastic Brian Cox (X-Men, The Bourne Identity) is not happy.

Director Jonathan Teplitzky (The Railway Man, Burning Man) focuses on the irascible Churchill, at odds with wife Clemmie (a long-suffering Miranda Richardson – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, The Hours) as well as President Eisenhower (John Slattery – Mad Men) and General Montgomery, head of the British forces. The result is a moderate, one-paced drama with little sign of Churchill’s famed charm or wit.

Rating: 43%

‘Viceroy House’

Viceroy's_House_(film)Lord Mountbatten arrives in Delhi as the last British Viceroy to India. He’s to oversee the transition to independence.

Director Gurinda Chandar (Bhaji on the Beach, Bend It Like Beckham) somehow manages to reduce partition and its associated violence into an episode of Downton Abbey – even casting Hugh Bonneville as Mountbatten. Lots of hooded stares and pushing among the Hindu and Muslim servants in Government House: lots of love struck stares between Jeet Kumar (Hindu) and Aalia Noor (Muslim) in the servants quarters.

In all, the film aims to be epic in its telling, but lacks emotion or authenticity. It is only Gillian Anderson (The X-Files, The Last King of Scotland) as Lady Edwina Mountbatten who stands out in what is essentially a boring and tedious film.

Rating: 40%

‘Their Finest’

6ae71bd038dd9f5e9b5981c2eb33743e_500x735Wistful and surprisingly charming (thankfully avoiding anything ‘cutesy’ or cloyingly sentimental), director Lone Scherfig’s (An Education, One Day) latest cuts deeper than the storyline suggests.

A World War II romance with a difference as Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace, Tamara Drewe) finds herself in a man’s world – that of the work place – as more than a secretary. Morale-lifting films are the order of the day – and Arterton is there to provide the ‘slop’ (female dialogue). Fellow screenwriter Sam Claflin (Me Before You, The Hunger Games) is the love interest but it’s Bill Nighy (Love Actually, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest) as the ageing thesp who steals just about every scene he’s in.

Rating: 73%

‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’

zookeepers_wifeOverly sanitised telling of the true story of Jan and Antonina Zabinski, owners of the Warsaw Zoo who saved the lives of more than 300 Polish Jews in World War II.

A leaden script and pan-European casting (along with Jessica Chastain – The Help, Zero Dark Thirty) doesn’t help a turgid, uninspiring narrative. Director Niki Caro (North Country, Whale Rider) noticeably misses the storytelling boat – somewhat unforgivable considering the source material.

Rating: 42%

‘Things to Come’

thingstocome.poster.ws_A gentle and sensitive film from writer/director Mia Hansen-Love (The Father of My Children, Goodbye First Love) sees a deft, quietly powerful performance by Isabelle Huppert (Elle, The Piano Teacher) come to terms with loss.

An academic, Huppert loses her (demanding) mother, her publisher, a cheating husband and sees a close friend (and former student) move out of Paris. Yet Things to Come avoids easy sentiment or emotional grandstanding – her marriage dissolves, her mother is simply no longer there. It’s an elegant telling of, on the surface, a minor story that explores security and complacency, the dichotomy between self sufficiency and loneliness.

Rating: 65%

‘Frantz’

Frantz_2016The latest from the prolific Francois Ozon (8 Women, Swimming Pool) is an elegiac narrative set in a small German town post World War I. A mysterious stranger places flowers on the grave of Frantz Hoffmeister, a young German soldier killed in battle.

Filmed in a mix of colour and black and white, Ozon’s film is a story of truths and non-truths, of similarities and opposites, of nationalism and love as Frantz’s fiancee, Anna (a quietly expressive Paula Beer – The Dark Valley, Ludwig II), comes to understand the stranger – a  shy, nervous French soldier, Pierre Niney (Yves Saint Laurent, Just Like Brothers).

Based on Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 feature Broken Lullaby starring Lionel Barrymore and Phillips Holmes and itself based the stage play The Man I Killed by Maurice Rostand.

Rating: 58%

‘The Innocents’

innocents_eflyerA spate of pregnancies in a post-war Polish convent, the result of Russian liberation from the German army, leads to the questioning of faith by many of the nuns. The arrival of the French Red Cross in the form of Mathilde Beaulieu (Lou de Laage – Breathe, Jappeloup) brings matters to a head.

Based on a true story, this authentic, quietly dignified telling, shot in the limited palette of a Polish winter, focuses primarily on the evolving friendship between Mathilde and Sister Maria (Agate Buzek – Redemption, The Reverse).

But the film, directed by Anne Fontaine (Coco Before Chanel, Gemma Bovary), would have been the stronger without the ‘three months later’ ending.

Rating: 68%

‘Personal Shopper’

personal-shopper-posterAs a spiritual medium, Maureen (Kristen Stewart – Twilight, Clouds of Sils Maria) refuses to leave Paris until her recently deceased twin brother gives her a sign. To help pay the rent, she takes on the role of personal shopper for high-profile super model, Kyra. Maureen finds herself embroiled in a little more than trips to Chanel and Cartier.

The latest from Olvier Assayas (Clouds of Sils Maria, Something in the Air) is measured yet something of a mess, unsure of where to position itself. Ghost story? Kitchen-sink drama (albeit in the fashion houses of Paris)? Rites of passage? Thriller? All take precedence at certain stages of the proceedings – ensuring Personal Shopper never gets boring but is far from satisfying.

Rating: 54%