‘The Keeper’

Enjoyable if slight bio of Bert Trautmann, a German POW on English soil who, against all odds, became a legendary sporting hero in England itself.

David Kross (The Reader, War Horse) is the lead as, with the help of local grocer Jack Friar (John Henshaw – Stan & Ollie, The Angels’ Share) and his daughter, Margaret (Freya Mavor – The Sense of an Ending, Sunshine on Leith), Trautmann gets time off from the post-war internment camp and becomes the goalkeeper for the local St Helens football club. Scouts soon arrive and, just three years after the end of the war, Trautmann is controversially signed by Manchester City.

It takes time to win the fans over – and Trautmann faced a great deal of abuse from opposing fans when travelling to other cities – but the famed 1956 Wembley FA Cup Final with Manchester City playing Birmingham City ensured that the German ‘keeper entered the annals of footballing history.

No risks are taken by director Marcus H Rossenmueller (Grave Decisions, The Colour of Mother-of-Pearl) in telling this straightforward story of a man who overcame public hostility to become a local hero (with more than a little help from his wife, Margaret).

Rating: 61%

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‘Happy as Lazzaro’

Reminiscent of the Italian social realist films of the 1960s (and Pasolini in particular), Happy as Lazzaro is a beautiful yet odd allegory as the saintlike innocence of the young farmworker (debutant Adriano Tardiolo) – as with the film itself – initially charms but slowly grates.

An isolated tobacco estate (possibly in the 1970s/80s) sees the wealthy landowning family exploit its workers to levels of (illegal) feudalism, keeping them in permanent debt and ignorance of the world outside. Lazzaro forms an unlikely bond with the landowning son, Tancredi.

But a sudden shift by director Alice Rohrwacher (The Wonders, Corpo Celeste) sees her film head in a very different and unexpected direction. Lazzaro remains essentially unchanged – but the world around him is very different (to say more would give too much away).

The first half of an overlong film is gorgeously shot and socially real (the opening scene of virtual darkness with voices negotiating the use of the only electric lightbulb followed by an extraordinarily subdued wedding ceremony is stunning) that slips sadly into mundane obscurity.

Rating: 54%

‘Never Look Away’

A rambling, occasionally insightful and thoughtful but ultimately superficial exploration of art and life, Werk Ohne Autor (Work Without Author, a much more appropriate title) follows artist Kurt Barnert (loosely based on Gerhard Richter) from his Dresden childhood at the end of World War II, the social realism of the GDR to free expression in the west via the Dusseldorf Academy.

Haunted by the loss of his beloved young aunt under the Nazis, frustrated by the artistic restrictions of the east, confused in 1960s West Germany under the tutelage of a modernist professor (a thinly veiled fictional Joseph Beuys) and a bullying, interfering father-in-law, Barnert (Tom Schilling – Oh Boy, Crazy) plods on regardless. It’s all a bit of a slog (188 minutes!) that lacks the magic of director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s superb Oscar-winning The Lives of Others. But, having said that, Never Look Away remains readily watchable.

Rating: 54%

‘Wild Rose’

A raw, uncompromising performance by Jessie Buckley (Beast, TV’s Taboo) as wannabe successful country singer Rose-Lynn is the reason to see Wild Rose. Her attitude sucks but her voice soars as, fresh out of prison, she looks to her career rather than her two kids housed with gran (Julie Waters – Mamma Mia, Harry Potter) in a Glasgow council house.

It’s a feel-good movie as Rose-Lynn ultimately finds herself via a few home truths, the wealthy home of Sophie Okonedo (The Secret Life of Bees, Hotel Rwanda) and Nashville – but director Tom Harper (War Book, The Scouting Book for Boys) offers a mostly contrived little story of tearful redemption.

Great soundtrack though!

Rating: 60%

‘Red Joan’

An old-fashioned spy tale (based on a true story) as Judi Dench (Skyfall, Notes on a Scandal) is arrested for treason – some 50 years after the passing of nuclear secrets to the Soviets.

Set predominately in the 1940s (the young Dench is nicely played by Sophie Cookson – Kingsman: The Secret Service, The Huntsman: Winter’s War), solid performances and an intriguing insight into the oft-overlooked role women played in wartime fail to mask a somewhat dull, inert and dreary telling. Cambridge University was a hotbed for leftwing politics in the 30s and 40s, but a rare foray onto the silver screen by acclaimed stage director Trevor Nunn fails to bring one iota of spark to the intrigue.

Rating: 48%

‘Rocketman’

The rise of Elton John into pop superstardom is a magical, visual fantasy of a musical biopic – with a stand out performance by Taron Egerton (Kingsman: The Secret Service, Eddie the Eagle).

Addiction (alcohol, cocaine, sex) battles are writ large in director Dexter Fletcher’s (Sunshine on Leith, Eddie the Eagle) telling of the early days of success as a shy and withdrawn Reggie Dwight evolves into the flamboyant Elton John. And whilst there’s no claim for Rocketman to be a true telling, the solid foundation to the tale is provided by the long-term friendship with Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell – Billy Elliot, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool).

Inevitable comparisons with last year’s Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody aside, a slow, family-life start in the outer London suburb of Pinner kicks into life with the screen arrival of Egerton. His look and mannerisms are uncanny, his singing excellent – and whilst Rocketman generally avoids providing any real depth to the man himself, it is entertainment with a capital E.

Rating: 65%

‘The Realm’

A thoroughly engaging Spanish political thriller as the lid is blown on the nefarious corruption of ‘The Party’ with a focus on the arrogant, regional president-in waiting, Antonio de la Tour (The Last Circus, A Twelve-Year Night).

As financial scandal after financial scandal hits the regional office, so Madrid HQ (and his local colleagues) looks to scapegoat de la Tour. But he’s not taking the rap alone, being only too aware that the corruption is far more widespread. Evidence is what he needs – and he’ll go to any lengths to undercover it.

With its driving soundtrack, fast-paced incisive dialogue, strong performances and taut direction (Rodrigo Sorogoyen – Que Dios nos perdone, Stockholm), The Realm is a superior, tension-filled feature.

Rating: 73%

‘All Is True’

After his Globe Theatre burns to the ground (1613), William Shakespeare (Kenneth Branagh – Dunkirk, Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit) returns to his Stratford home and to a family he has barely seen in 20 years.

A strained relationship with his wife, Anne Hathaway (Judi Dench – Skyfall, Shakespeare In Love), and two daughters eventually eases as the three women come to terms with Shakespeare’s return and a few home truths bubble to the surface.

Solid direction by Branagh himself (Hamlet, Murder on the Orient Express) All Is True is a somewhat syrupy telling of the playwright’s last act, lensed through (symbolic) autumnal hues and littered with quotes from the Baird’s own writings (but then if you have Branagh, Dench and Ian McKellen at hand, hardly surprising!). It’s engaging in a small way – a period-piece family drama with some much needed zing provided by the sharp-tongued elder daughter, Judith (Kathryn Wilder – Murder on the Orient Express, Ready Player One).

Rating: 53%

‘Everybody Knows’

Beautifully shot, perfectly capturing the Spanish countryside and village life, auteur Asghar Fahardi’s (The Salesman, A Separation) latest is ultimately a deeply unpleasant narrative of revenge.

Laura (Penelope Cruz – Volver, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) travels from Buenos Aires with her two children to attend her sister’s wedding. But the kidnapping of teenage daughter Irene results in long-buried secrets, family feuds and village animosities rising to the surface with devastating results.

Former lover Paco (a solid and likeable Javier Bardem – No Country For Old Men, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) is there for a distraught Laura. But, over the course of 150 minutes, Everybody Knows, whilst eminently watchable, gradually slips into melodrama and (for Fahardi) unsubtle angst.

Rating: 54%

‘The Guilty’

A tense, riveting claustrophobia of a narrative restricted entirely to one night in a Danish emergency call centre and built around the headset of one operative, Jakob Cedergren (Submarino, Terribly Happy).

Unexpected twists and turns evolve as an abducted woman manages to make an emergency call from the vehicle heading north out of Copenhagen. A police sergeant on suspension, a concerned and flawed Cedergren is superb as the night develops and his earlier convictions and hunches are sorely tested.

Writer/director Gustav Moller, in his debut feature, builds suspense in this taut chamber drama – and, with its running time of 85 minutes, shows confidence in the art of filmmaking. The Guilty won a slew of international awards, including the Audience Award, World Cinema, at Sundance 2018.

Rating: 88%