Out on Friday August 4
Luc Besson’s caper fails to meet interstellar expectations. Mark Gill’s music biopic shows who’s Moz. Sally Hawkins shines as folk artist Maud Lewis.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of Valerian, England Is Mine, Maudie, 6 Days, The Ghoul, Land of Mine, and Prick Up Your Ears.
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A €200 million price tag. Avatar-rivalling visual ambition. Source material oft-regarded as an influence on Star Wars. Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets arrives with interstellar expectations. While it’s no Jupiter Ascending-style stinker, a dispiritingly conventional screenplay and miscast leads prevent this take on French comic-book series Valérian and Laureline from ever truly taking off.
Not that there isn’t innovation. An early sequence in an inter-dimensional Grand Bazaar is brain-breakingly inventive. Before that a 10-minute, near-silent vignette on a pristine Day-Glo beach planet stuns with its simplicity. And then there’s the opener – a bravura history of humanity’s first contact, from present day to the 28th Century. Taken in isolation, Valerian’s first 30 minutes are up there with the best sci-fi in recent memory. The trouble starts when the story kicks in.
Enter Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne), space agents who police the universe by day and flirt awkwardly by night. Their latest mission takes them to Alpha – a planet-sized city home to 8,000 alien species. But the megalopolis has a literal heart of darkness, where some seemingly belligerent force threatens the fabric of the galaxy itself.
Every penny of that record-breaking (and independently financed) budget has been put on screen. If The Fifth Element’s taxi skyways knocked your orange suspenders off in 1997, Valerian frequently makes Milla Jovovich’s swan dive look like a pre-production animatic. Besson hurtles his camera through a series of awe-inspiring environments, and populates them with increasingly bizarre alien species.
It’s like A New Hope’s cantina sequence stretched over two hours, with Rihanna making the biggest impression as Bubble – a meek, shapeshifting stripper – alongside a game Ethan Hawke as her pimp, (not so) Jolly. While the world often acts as little more than a backdrop, screen sci-fi doesn’t get much more optically arresting.
And yet, Besson’s rocketship is knocked off-course. Penned by the Euro auteur himself, the ploddingly predictable story, adapted from 1975 volume ‘Ambassador of the Shadows’, falls well short of the significant achievements elsewhere. The dialogue, meanwhile, feels clunky even when spoken in indecipherable alien tongues. And the leads also disappoint. DeHaan lacks the cocksure swagger of the Han Solo archetype he’s playing up to, while Delevingne is asked to do little more than be chased or deploy an endless series of exasperated reaction shots.
Besson’s world is undoubtedly ripe for further exploration. But he’d be wise to hone his storytelling, and possibly recast.
THE VERDICT: VFX Oscar glory seems inevitable, but a formulaic plot and underwhelming leads are just two of Valerian’s thousand problems.
Director: Luc Besson; Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Clive Owen; Theatrical release: August 2, 2017
England Is Mine
After soulful, stylish movies about Joy Division (Control) and Factory Records (24 Hour Party People), Manchester music’s big-screen form stumbles with this patchy Morrissey portrait. Presumably steered by rights issues, co-writer/director Mark Gill focuses on Mozzer’s early years, when the bequiffed indie hero-to-be was merely lank-haired mard-arse Steven. Although Gill mounts convincing snapshots of provincial boredom, he pitches them perilously close to boring.
Redemptive elements include Jack Lowden’s subtle study of a weary young Moz, while Jessica Brown Findlay offers enlivening back-up as his arty goth-punk cohort Linder Sterling, who struggles to jolt Mozzer to action.
If the film could use more of Linder, it could have used much more of Morrissey’s musical ties with The Cult’s Billy Duffy (Adam Lawrence) and, crucially, Smiths guitarist-to-be Johnny Marr (Laurie Kynaston). Yet as music and band drama take backseats to Morrissey’s depression, the fireworks of his incoming success only emerge in late-film glimpses.
You could call that bold, but it’s also self-defeating, especially when the tingle-inducing final shot teases a film you’d rather see. One with actual Smiths songs.
THE VERDICT: Lowden and Findlay excel in their roles, but Mark Gill’s Moz-movie needed more: both more music and more “people who are young and alive”.
Director: Mark Gill; Starring: Jack Lowden, Jessica Brown Findlay, Jodie Comer; Theatrical release: August 4, 2017
“You don’t know a click about cleaning!” sneers grumpy bachelor Everett (Ethan Hawke) at the woman he’s hired to be his live-in housekeeper. And he’s right – with her arthritic hands, hunched-over posture and total lack of domestic experience, Maud Lewis (Sally Hawkins) is hardly maid to order.
Luckily Maud has other attributes: an untapped talent as a folk artist whose playful paintings gradually change her life, Everett’s opinion of her and the shack they call home. The result is a slow-burn love story that worms its way into your heart, even in moments when it’s akin to watching paint dry.
Hawkins has been here before of course, having previously played a no-less-irresistible force of nature in Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky (2008). That film’s Poppy, though, didn’t have to deal with creeping emphysema, an abusive hubby or the biting cold of Nova Scotia – just a few of the additional challenges thrown Maud’s way in a pic that stacks its emotional chips inexorably in its plucky heroine’s favour.
Some might find Maudie as twee as the fluffy cats and songbirds that made her famous. But it’s nigh-on impossible not to be charmed by Hawkins, while Hawke certainly does his best to convince as an unloveable yokel.
THE VERDICT: Hawkins shines in a touching biopic that will make you laugh, cry and Google its subject afterwards.
Director: Aisling Walsh; Starring: Sally Hawkins, Ethan Hawke, Kari Matchett; Theatrical release: August 4, 2017
The sight of black-clad SAS members on the balcony of the Iranian Embassy in London remains one of the most iconic images of the 1980s. Echoing Paul Greengrass’ Bloody Sunday (2002) and United 93 (2006), Toa Fraser’s film studiously recreates events as six armed men storm the diplomatic building to take 26 people hostage.
Scripted by Glenn Standring, 6 Days builds the drama from several different perspectives: the SAS team, including Rusty Firmin (Jamie Bell); hostage negotiator and Met police chief inspector Max Vernon (Mark Strong); plus the BBC’s live-from-outside reporter Kate Adie (Abbie Cornish).
The Iranian-Arab terrorists, demanding the release of Arab prisoners from jails in Khuzestan, are also given a voice, with group leaders Salim (Ben Turner) and Faisal (Aymen Hamdouchi) wrestling over whether to start killing hostages or give the negotiators more time.
The peek behind events is engrossing, as negotiations ensue, plans are aborted and the SAS train for all eventualities. Bell is perfect as the coiled Firmin; ditto Cornish as the soon-to-be-famous Adie and Strong as the conflicted cop. Knowing the outcome scarcely matters here; you’ll be thoroughly stomach-knotted by the final act.
THE VERDICT: A fascinating and faithful reconstruction, impressively acted by all and drum-tight with tension.
Director: Toa Fraser; Starring: Jamie Bell, Mark Strong, Abbie Cornish, Tim Pigott-Smith; Theatrical release: August 4, 2017
Written and directed by Gog from Peep Show (aka Gareth Tunley), this lonely, London-set psychodrama follows Tom Meeten as he investigates a murder. But is he policeman, madman or both?
With an excellent cast (including Alice Lowe and Paul Kaye) and alluringly off-kilter atmosphere, it’s more successful as an exercise in style than storytelling, the circular narrative collapsing in on itself at the last.
Director: Gareth Tunley; Starring: Tom Meeten, Alice Lowe, Rufus Jones; Theatrical release: August 4, 2017
Land of Mine
Writer/director Martin Zandvliet’s gripping drama unfolds in post-WW2 Denmark, where a revenge-seeking sergeant (Roland Møller) is assigned a group of teenage German POWs. Their perilous task: to defuse thousands of landmines planted to deter a seaborne invasion.
Bringing to light a little known and far from honourable chapter of Danish history, this is convincingly acted and insanely tense.
Director: Martin Zandvliet; Starring: Roland Møller, Louis Hofmann, Joel Basman; Theatrical release: August 4, 2017
Prick Up Your Ears
Thirty years after it raised a finger to Section 28-era Britain, the tasty rising-talent mix in Stephen Frears’ study of Joe Orton holds up, while Gary Oldman electrifies as the cocky provocateur.
Alan Bennett’s script overdoes a meta framing device, but witticisms pour from Orton’s lover Kenneth Halliwell, played to perfection by Alfred Molina. Saucy, smart, deliciously snarky.
Director: Stephen Frears; Starring: Gary Oldman, Alfred Molina, Vanessa Redgrave; Theatrical release: August 4, 2017