Out on Friday September 29
An engrossing biopic with Domhnall Gleeson as A.A. Milne. A diverting social comedy with Reese Witherspoon on top form. Michael Winterbottom goes on tour with Wolf Alice.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of Goodbye Christopher Robin, Home Again, Brimstone, On the Road, Daphne, Young Frankenstein, Zoology, Killing Ground, Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards, The Marker, Pecking Order, The Road to Mandalay, and Black Sabbath: The End of the End.
For the best movie reviews, subscribe to Total Film.
Goodbye Christopher Robin
One of the most famous children’s characters of all time, the honey-stealing bear Winnie-the-Pooh is beloved the world over. Far less is known about his creator, A.A. Milne, whose life was shaped by trauma in the trenches and drama on the home front: Milne had difficult relationships with his wife, Daphne, and son Christopher Robin, the inspiration for Pooh’s boyhood friend
Scripted by Simon Vaughan and Frank Cottrell Boyce – the latter’s past biopics include the out-there Tony Wilson story 24 Hour Party People and the more conventional Jacqueline du Pré tale Hilary and Jackie – Goodbye Christopher Robin begins with Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) returning from World War 1 to London high society to join his spirited spouse, Daphne (Margot Robbie).
Soon pregnant, Daphne endures a difficult birth with Christopher Robin, whom they nickname Billy Moon. As Billy (Will Tilston) gets older, his father – in search of tranquillity – moves the family to the Sussex countryside. While Billy settles in nicely with the help of family nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald), Daphne’s adjustment to this rural retreat is anything but smooth.
Not that Milne notices: still shell-shocked by his wartime experiences, he resolves to write an anti-war piece. But with Daphne taking an extended trip to London, abandoning her duties to party with whomever she can, the frustrated author is left to bond with Billy, whose strongest emotional ties are to Olive.
Amid this, the toy bear given to Billy by his parents – not forgetting the donkey Eeyore, the tiger named Tigger and others – become inspirations for Milne to create his 1926 collection of short stories Winnie-The-Pooh, featuring illustrations by his friend Ernest Shepard (Stephen Campbell Moore), which becomes a bestseller.
Directed by Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn), the film’s emotional grist arrives as Billy becomes an unwitting celebrity. With the boy who inspired Christopher Robin now an unfortunate PR tool, Billy’s search for his own identity is confused with that of Pooh’s fictional friend. Only as he becomes a young man (Alex Lawther) does this childhood trauma become clear.
Curtis’ work isn’t perfect. Milne’s PTSD is poorly represented, notably in the scene where he and Billy are in the woods and buzzing insects bring back memories of bombs. But a restrained Gleeson does his best playing a man who isn’t easy to like. Robbie, with a faultless English accent, and the ever-reliable Macdonald, are also credible, helping build towards a moving final chapter.
THE VERDICT: An engrossing biopic. More than just another author/creation story, Curtis’ film has things to say about celebrity, wartime and family.
Director: Simon Curtis; Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Kelly Macdonald, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Will Tilston, Alex Lawther; Theatrical release: September 29, 2017
“Seems like you’ve got it all,” Alice Kinney’s envious best friend tells her, “child care, tech support and sex.” Alice (Reese Witherspoon), recently separated from her NY husband (Michael Sheen), has moved back to her native LA with her two young daughters and is trying to launch her career as a designer.
Out celebrating her fortieth with two girlfriends, she encounters three young, aspiring filmmakers newly arrived in the city – and soon, with a little nudging from her mum (Candice Bergen), all three are installed in her summerhouse.
It doesn’t hurt that the actor Teddy is an IT whiz, the writer George is great with kids and the would-be director Harry – well, the age difference between him and Alice doesn’t seem to worry either too much. So, it’s all hunky-dory until her husband shows up, suitcase in hand…
This debut feature from Hallie Meyers-Shyer (daughter of It’s Complicated writer/director Nancy Meyers, producing) showcases a neatly gauged performance from Witherspoon, not least in her sparring with Bergen. Sheen is excellent as always, while there’s fine support from the younger guys – especially Jon Rudnitsky as George. The only disappointment is the glib ending, which wraps things up rather too neatly.
THE VERDICT: A diverting social comedy with a hint of depth from debut director Meyers-Shyer, with Witherspoon on top form.
Director: Hallie Meyers-Shyer; Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Michael Sheen, Candice Bergen; Theatrical release: September 29, 2017
With more hellfire, bloodshed and damnation than a Nick Cave album, Martin Koolhoven’s gothic western is closer in tone to Se7en than The Magnificent Seven. At its centre is the epic battle between mute ex-prostitute Dakota Fanning and creepy preacher Guy Pearce.
With slaughtered lambs, dead babies and prostituted children, it’s Old Testament to the core and handsomely, if heavy-handedly, executed.
Director: Martin Koolhoven; Starring: Kit Harington, Carice van Houten, Dakota Fanning; Theatrical release: September 29, 2017
On the Road
Released in time for indie-rockers’ Wolf Alice’s second album, prolific Brit helmer Michael Winterbottom’s latest fact/fiction rock ’n’ roll hybrid works better as a tour-bus doc-rocker than a semi-improv romance.
The blistering live Wolf footage offers a thrilling snapshot of a ripping group’s rocket-fired blast-off, uniting band and fans in tight, sweaty moshpit communion.
Director: Michael Winterbottom; Starring: Shirley Henderson, Paul Popplewell, James McArdle; Theatrical release: September 29, 2017
Emily Beecham stars in Peter Mackie Burns’ intriguing tale of a London waitress adrift in an unforgiving city. Boozing, taking drugs and sleeping around, Daphne isn’t far removed from most aimless youngsters until she witnesses a violent crime and gradually goes off the rails.
The results aren’t startlingly original but Beecham is terrific: a real human portrait of a woman on the verge.
Director: Peter Mackie Burns; Starring: Emily Beecham, Geraldine James, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor; Theatrical release: September 29, 2017
Mel Brooks has Gene Wilder to thank for this loving homage to Universal’s horror cycle, the actor having pitched the project during a break in shooting on Blazing Saddles.
Only Brooks, though, could have infused it with such unchecked anarchy or conceived such an unhinged notion as Peter Boyle’s Monster ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’ in top hat and tails. Well worth a watch.
Director: Mel Brooks; Starring: Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman; Theatrical release: September 27, 2017
Move over Catwoman: the frumpy cat lady in this Russian fable has an actual tail. Natasha (Natalia Pavlenkova) is a bullied office worker who inexplicably sprouts a dangler, prompting a makeover of the body and soul as she rebels against her dowdy existence.
Pavlenkova mesmerises as the unorthodox creature of the night, but the story is just a little too scatter-brained to become a true body-horror classic.
Director: Ivan I. Tverdovskiy; Starring: Aleksandr Gorchilin, Masha Tokareva, Natalya Pavlenkova; Theatrical release: September 29, 2017
Australian Outback horrors are so effective because, well, everything there will kill you. So it proves for smug couple Harriet Dyer and Ian Meadows, who encounter an ominously empty campsite and hunters Aaron Pedersen and Aaron Glenane.
It’s familiar territory – and no Wolf Creek – but tensions run high as it crosscuts between different timelines, creating scenes of sometimes breathtaking cruelty.
Director: Damien Power; Starring: Harriet Dyer, Tiarnie Coupland, Mitzi Ruhlmann; Theatrical release: September 29, 2017
Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards
Fashion veteran Michael Roberts’ portrait of shoe-designer Manolo Blahnik is a visual feast but a banquet of clichés. Ravishing shoe close-ups and endless praise for the celebrity cobbler get repetitive.
However, the playful use of archive, animation and dramatised snippets of Blahnik’s hard-partying past give the film a fun, fizzy feel.
Director: Michael Roberts; Starring: River Hawkins, Rick Kissack, Manolo Blahnik; Theatrical release: September 29, 2017
A criminal tormented by the ghost of the woman he killed sets out to protect the daughter he orphaned in a sombre British noir with more on its mind than the usual gangster clichés.
Writer-director Justin Edgar establishes a bleak mood from the off, while the Tom Hardy-like Frederick Schmidt brings a brooding purposefulness to his role as the redemption-seeking Marley. (Yes, as in Marley’s ghost.)
Director: Justin Edgar; Starring: Ana Ularu, John Hannah, Ian Sharp; Theatrical release: September 29, 2017
Power, politics and poultry drive Slavko Martinov’s eye-opening doc about competitive chicken pageantry in New Zealand. As eccentric breeders compare their hobby to alcoholism, it feels like a real-life Best in Show, with crazier characters and more quotable lines than most 2017 comedies.
Yet, as feathers are ruffled by ego and envy, the film doubles as a surprisingly affecting fable of fun turning fowl.
Director: Slavko Martinov; Starring: Doug Bain, Sarah Bunton, Bob Dawber; Theatrical release: September 29, 2017
The Road to Mandalay
Taiwanese director Midi Z pins docu-style heft to a resonant character drama about Burmese migrants in Bangkok. Lianqing (Wu Ke-Xi) is ambitious, Guo (Kai Ko) isn’t: but evocative images – looming cranes, webbed silk – show them equally entrapped in a potent tale of desperation and exploitation, steered to a stinging climax with taut emotional purpose.
Director: Midi Z; Starring: Kai Ko, Ke-Xi Wu; Theatrical release: September 29, 2017
Black Sabbath: The End of the End
Black-metal progenitors Black Sabbath return to Birmingham for a farewell gig in this devilishly disarming doc. Between Ozzy Osbourne’s cracked clown persona and the bluff address of some genuinely moving material, the veterans present winningly earthy faces.
Yet it’s on-stage where they shine, as the gig honours the Sabs’ looming legacy.
Director: Dick Carruthers; Starring: Black Sabbath; Theatrical release: September 28, 2017