Out on Friday 30 September
Tim Burton gathers up Eva Green and a few Peculiar playmates. An Iranian horror to treasure. A flatulence-themed indie-comedy-musical-drama. The true tale of an oil disaster.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Under the Shadow, Swiss Army Man, Deepwater Horizon, Kickboxer: Vengeance, Southside With You, Free State of Jones, Urban Hymn, The First Monday in May, The Fencer, Courted, and Tharlo.
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Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
A match made in Hollywood heaven, surely, pairing the Godfather of Gothic Fantasy with Ransom Rigg’s eccentric YA mega-bestseller, in which a houseful of mutant children battle monstrous adversaries? Yet Tim Burton’s charmingly creepy take on this time-travelling tale is less a marriage, more an enchanting high-end makeover.
For there’s so much here that resonates with Burton’s back catalogue. Alienated suburban teen hero Jake (Asa Butterfield) who flees Florida for a remote Welsh island at the story’s start, is your classic Burton boy. His grandfather Abe’s been mysteriously murdered, and the timorous Jake is determined to find out if the Peculiar children he spoke of are an old man’s fairy tales (remember Big Fish?) or a vital clue.
When Miss Peregrine’s mutant charges whisk him back to 1943 (they live in a one day time-loop, Groundhog Day-style), their plight, as well as their turreted mansion echoes Edward Scissorhands. Despite the ‘Junior X-Men’ vibe of their hidden-away life and freakish powers (including fire-starting, invisibility, and a human beehive), they’re clearly vulnerable kids.
Jane Goldman’s script is a bit of a mutant too, since Rigg’s book is a genre-crossing, quirky emo-quest. As Jake takes up Abe’s challenge to protect the Peculiars from the monstrous Wights who seek to suck out their immortality, it throws in YA emotional angst, Hugo-style retro innocence, and dark Harry Potter-ish scares.
But Burton’s rich style, and surprisingly sincere tone draw it all together skilfully. Unlike Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which brought wild fantasy, surreal colour, and OTT performances into classic kid-lit, this film creates a real-world feel alongside its fantastical episodes. Jake’s tentative first-love with the feisty, free-floating air-controlling Emma (Ella Purnell) has proper teen awkwardness. Its heightened reality neatly balances out the film’s weirder black comedy, like the murderous gladiatorial doll battles of Enoch the re-animator.
Rationing the glimpses of the horror at the film’s heart, the towering, tentacled Hollowgasts (‘Hollows’ for short), also keeps the scares fresh till the final confrontations. Till then, the film is busy creating some stunning set pieces showing off Peculiar skills, like the vast underwater den that Emma’s breath creates from a sunken WW1 steamship. Or time-manipulator Miss Peregrine’s gleeful nightly re-setting of a fiery German air-raid, where the whirling slo-mo bombs rewind along with the hands of her clock.
VERDICT: Hugely charming if somewhat cluttered, Burton’s horror-spiked YA freaks-and-a-geek fantasy proves a Home run for Asa Butterfield. There’s nothing sleepy about these ‘Hollows’…
Director: Tim Burton; Starring: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Samuel L. Jackson; Theatrical release: September 30, 2016
Under the Shadow
You wait 119 years for an Iranian horror movie, then two – both excellent – make their presence felt in a couple of years. After hyper-stylised vampire flick A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, comes the more realist-flavoured Under the Shadow, set in a haunted Tehran apartment during the Iran-Iraq War. Along with the Iraqi missiles there arrives, it seems, a more ancient force, as Shideh (Narges Rashidi) and her young daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) are plagued by a malevolent djinn.
Writer/director Babak Anvari blends war, patriarchal rule, folklore, spooky kids and one of the best jump scares since Carrie’s hand burst from the grave, into a startling debut. The grafting of fantasy onto authentic situations recalls Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, but could almost be an Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) film, chronicling familial breakdown in an oppressive culture – Shideh flees the house without her chador and is threatened with the lash for her immodesty.
Shot in bleary browns and beiges, the camera gets increasingly jittery as nerves fray, and the ominous sound design – bass rumbles, shrieking winds, authoritative voices on TV and radio – truly unnerves. Seek it out
THE VERDICT: Full of shivers and subtext, this is scarily good. One of the films – horror or otherwise – of the year.
Director: Babak Anvari; Starring: Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi; Theatrical release: September 30, 2016
Swiss Army Man
Swiss Army Man premiered at this year’s Sundance, there were reports of walk-outs. It’s not a bad film – far from it – nor is it an offensive one. The only possible explanation is disbelief; the shock of seeing Harry Potter’s farting corpse leading a castaway back home with his compass-point erection. Any way you cut it, Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s debut feature is pretty strange. It knows it, too, wearing its weirdness on its sleeve and snapping a cold, dead middle finger up at anyone who doesn’t like it.
Putting Daniel Radcliffe’s carcass aside (even though there’s a lot more to his performance than just playing dead), it’s Paul Dano’s film. Dano plays oddball Hank, the sole occupant of a desert island who’s on the verge of ending it all when he finds his Wilson in the form of washed-up cadaver Manny (Radcliffe). Kwan and Scheinert mix tones and genres with startling confidence and surprising sensitivity.
True, it does sometimes feel like the diary of a sixth-former crossed with an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants. But it’s all so genuinely heartfelt, beautifully inventive and utterly, wildly, original, you’ll find its flaws easy to forgive.
THE VERDICT: Juvenile? Weird? Gross? Yes. But also the best flatulence-themed indie-comedy-musical-drama you’ll see this year.
Directors: Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert; Starring: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe; Theatrical release: September 30, 2016
The 2010 BP oil disaster receives stirring, pyrotechnic if somewhat un-nuanced treatment in Peter Berg’s latest, which replays one of the worst environmental catastrophes of recent years as a straightforward salute to courage under fire.
In the thick of it is Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), a technician on the Deepwater Horizon rig who realises first that multiple safety failures have left the offshore platform vulnerable to a blowout. And what a blowout it turns out to be, Berg bombarding us with a barrage of flame, noise and jagged debris that’s the very definition of bang for your buck.
That’s the good part. Less successful is the initial build-up, a dull prelude that overdoses on confusing jargon, doom-laden portents and Mrs. Williams (Kate Hudson) looking fretful back home. The long-term consequences of the spill also get troublingly short shrift, its toxic legacy limited here to a solitary distressed gull.
Still, given that several lives were lost trying to contain the calamity, there’s certainly cause to play up the human angle. And, however you might yearn for a bit more complexity, it’s a far classier disaster flick than Berg’s Battleship.
THE VERDICT: As crude as the oil it revolves around, Deepwater provides combustible entertainment without leaving the shallows.
Director: Peter Berg; Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell; Theatrical release: September 30, 2016
This limp reboot of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s 1989 ‘classic’ sticks a fedora on his head and relegates him to the trainer role. Front and centre is lithe, square-jawed, oh-so-bland Alain Moussi, out to avenge the death of his brother at the shovel-sized hands of Dave Bautista’s Muay Thai champion Tong Po.
The many fights are pieced together in the cutting room – staccato, graceless and lacking oomph – and Gina Carano is sidelined as a fight promoter. Still, the requisite training montage is half-decent, and the split-screen end credits replay Van Damme’s infamous dancing in the original, with Moussi mirroring his every bad move.
Director: John Stockwell; Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Alain Moussi, Dave Bautista, Gina Carano; Theatrical release: September 30, 2016
Southside With You
As the US presidential race picks up pace, Southside goes pleasingly easy on the politics, focusing on a date between young Barack (Parker Sawyers) and Michelle (Tika Sumpter) in what’s effectively Before Sunrise with the Obamas.
First-time filmmaker Richard Tanne conjures an effective sense of time and place – Chicago, 1989 – and the leads are a real find, radiating authority, charm and chemistry. The flow of the date doesn’t roll as smoothly as Linklater’s best walk-and-talkers, but that doesn’t mar the effectiveness of this refreshingly smart date movie.
Director: Richard Tanne; Starring: Tika Sumpter, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Parker Sawyers; Theatrical release: September 30, 2016
Free State of Jones
Matthew McConaughey doesn’t lack intensity as bedraggled freedom fighter Newton Knight, a Confederate deserter who rallies fugitive slaves during the American Civil War. Writer/director Gary Ross (The Hunger Games) has also clearly put in the research, footnoting the whole film online. Shame, then, that this fascinating true story is so dry on screen.
After a visceral opening battle, endless speeches dull good intentions, and the characters lack depth: McConaughey just feels like a cipher for an ideal, and clunky flashforwards illustrating how racism lived on after the war are jarring.
Director: Gary Ross; Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Keri Russell, Gugu Mbatha-Raw; Theatrical release: September 30, 2016
Set against the backdrop of the 2011 England riots, Michael Caton-Jones’ hard-hitting melodrama follows the fates of tearaway teens Jamie (Letitia Wright) and Leanne (Isabella Laughland). It’s heavy-handed, but with such fine performances from the youngsters, aided by the ever-reliable Shirley Henderson (as a social worker), that it’s hard not to get sucked into this tragic tale.
Director: Michael Caton-Jones; Starring: Shirley Henderson, Letitia Wright, Isabella Laughland, Ian Hart, Stephen Mackintosh; Theatrical release: September 30, 2016
The First Monday in May
Following preparations for the Met’s 2015 exhibition ‘China: Through the Looking Glass’, this modest doc asks: can fashion be art? The answer is ambivalent. There’s no doubting the sincerity of curator Andrew Bolton’s love of Chinese fashion without appropriation. But aesthetics go out the window with the opening night’s self-absorbed celebrity fundraiser.
Director: Andrew Rossi; Starring: Andrew Bolton, Anna Wintour; Theatrical release: September 30, 2016
Klaus Härö’s film borrows a sports-underdogs template, but its political dimension and basis in reality lend emotional heft. Real-life former champion fencer Endel Nelis (Märt Avandi) teaches PE in a small Estonian town. We’re in Stalin-era USSR; Nelis has good reason to lay low, but his pupils are eyeing a championship in Leningrad. Dare he take them there? Acutely acted, The Fencer strikes home.
Director: Klaus Haro; Starring: Mart Avandi, Ursula Ratasepp, Hendrik Toompere; Theatrical release: September 30, 2016
Fabrice Luchini plays a tough judge with a soft centre in this unsatisfying trifle. Luchini’s court president Racine is shocked when an anaesthetist (Borgen’s Sidse Babett Knudsen) he met years earlier turns up as a potential juror. Racine breaks rules to meet her, but his romantic daydreams are at odds with the courtroom drama. Luchini’s excellent, but this is guilty of gross tonal uncertainty.
Director: Christian Vincent; Starring: Fabrice Luchini, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Eva Lallier; Theatrical release: September 30, 2016
Tibetan auteur Pema Tseden’s festival fave focuses on a shepherd (a winning Shide Nyima) called to town for an ID card. Losing locks and flocks, our titular hero’s left in a tailspin after a hairdressing encounter with a modern city woman. Torn between mountains and karaoke bars, Tharlo looks as lost as his lamb: a parallel delicately developed in this warm, wise fable of uncertainty.
Director: Pema Tseden; Starring: Shide Nyima, Yangshik Tso; Theatrical release: September 30, 2016