Out on Friday 21 April
Lone Scherfig’s well-crafted WW2 story. Warren Beatty’s sleek but scrambled passion project. Juho Kuosmanen’s delightful boxing debut.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of Their Finest, The Zookeeper’s Wife, Rules Don’t Apply, The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki, Clash, The Belko Experiment, The Transfiguration, Letters from Baghdad, Bunch of Kunst, Finding Fatimah, Unforgettable, and Molly Monster.
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From An Education to The Riot Club and even the misguided One Day, Lone Scherfig’s films are always a mix of bitter and sweet. So it proves with this wartime adaptation of Lissa Evans’ novel Their Finest Hour and a Half, a film that deftly blends love and laughter with the cruel realities of conflict and life itself.
Gemma Arterton plays Catrin Cole, who’s hired by the Ministry of Information Film Division during WW2 to work with fellow writers Tom (Sam Claflin) and Raymond (Paul Ritter) on a feature based around twin sisters embroiled in the Dunkirk evacuation. Starring in the film is Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy), a vain old ham past his sell-by date.
With Catrin struggling against the era’s ingrained sexism, Their Finest starts out as a tale of proto-feminist glass-ceiling shattering, seasoned with gentle humour courtesy of Nighy (in a role he was born to play) and Jake Lacy as war hero Carl Lundbeck, drafted into the film despite zero acting ability.
While there’s a rather unsatisfying sub-plot involving Catrin’s artist husband (Jack Huston), it does allow for romance elsewhere in the story and a late-on development that will shock, adding some real poignancy. Scherfig subtly prepares us, though that isn’t enough to stop the triggering of tears.
THE VERDICT: Funny, tender and touching, this is a well-crafted story with plenty to offer. Bill Nighy scene steals for England.
Director: Lone Scherfig; Starring: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, Jack Huston, Paul Ritter; Theatrical release: April 21, 2017
The Zookeeper’s Wife
Here is a gorgeous and dutifully sombre film that tells the (mostly) true tale of Warsaw zookeepers Jan and Antonina Żabiński, who kept 300 Jews hidden in their zoo’s labyrinthine grounds during the Nazi occupation of Poland. Played by Johan Heldenbergh and an achingly radiant Jessica Chastain, the Żabińskis find their lives turned upside-down when the Nazis bomb the town and leave the zoo in disarray, with bewildered animals running amok in downtown Warsaw.
Former colleague Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl) is the film’s resident villain, a Berlin zookeeper recruited as Hitler’s personal animal caretaker with a lurid interest in both Antonina and animal husbandry. Antonina must find some way to save her animals, the Jews and her marriage, as the Nazis turn her beloved zoo into a grunting pig farm.
Drawing on the non-fiction book by Diane Ackerman, New Zealand filmmaker Niki Caro (Whale Rider) attempts to cram seven years’ worth of high drama into two hours, and while it is a visually delicious ride, we never get close enough to the characters to understand their intentions. A pity, as the real story deserves more emotional impact.
THE VERDICT: Emotionally distant but visually compelling, it sheds light on the fascinating story of a lesser-known WW2 heroine.
Director: Niki Caro; Starring: Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, Daniel Brühl; Theatrical release: April 21, 2017
Rules Don’t Apply
Warren Beatty’s passion project about Hollywood billionaire Howard Hughes is more snapshot than biopic.
For one thing, Hughes (Beatty) is a supporting player in a sleek but scrambled ’50s romcom following the cute but flimsy romance between newbie actress (Lilly Collins) and her ambitious driver (Alden Ehrenreich). Beatty’s fine, but this is no Hail, Caesar!.
Director: Warren Beatty; Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Lily Collins, Warren Beatty; Theatrical release: April 21, 2017
The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki
Based on a true story about a Finnish boxer, Juho Kuosmanen’s delightful debut is as far from Raging Bull as a B&W fight movie can get, with Mäki (Jarkko Lahti) keener on local lass Raija (Oona Airola) than training.
Shot with a retro chic, their courtship is crisp, but there’s enough grit in this Cannes prize-winner to stop it floating away.
Director: Juho Kuosmanen; Starring: Jarkko Lahti, Oona Airola, Eero Milonoff; Theatrical release: April 21, 2017
Cairo 2013: the army has ousted the Muslim Brotherhood regime. The streets are awash with rioters, pro-MB and anti, with riot police brutally cracking down on everyone.
Mohamed Diab’s tour de force is shot entirely within a police van as cops chuck some 20 people – journalists, rioters from both sides and mere bystanders – into the claustrophobic space. The sense of angry desperation overwhelms.
Director: Mohamed Diab; Starring: Nelly Karim, Hani Adel, El Sebaii Mohamed; Theatrical release: April 21, 2017
The Belko Experiment
Written by James Gunn and directed by Greg McLean (Wolf Creek), this Battle Royale/Die Hard/Saw patchwork sees US office workers confined to their tower block, as kill-or-be-killed instructions come through the tannoy.
A white-collar horror that’s fun while it lasts, Belko is tense and inventively gory, but lacks substance and characters to root for.
Director: Greg McLean; Starring: Adria Arjona, David Dastmalchian, Tony Goldwyn; Theatrical release: April 21, 2017
Michael O’Shea’s debut focuses on a lonely youth (Eric Ruffin) who obsesses over realism in vampire movies – he’s a bloodsucker himself. The endless discussions of Near Dark, Nosferatu, Twilight and more, many more, soon grow tiresome.
But this is a downbeat character study that scratches at Brooklyn’s underbelly. The most pertinent nod is Romero’s Martin.
Director: Michael O’Shea; Starring: Eric Ruffen, Xhloe Levine, Jelly Bean; Theatrical release: April 21, 2017
Letters from Baghdad
Following Werner Herzog’s underwhelming Queen of the Desert, British adventurer Gertrude Bell receives more just treatment in this doc.
Sabine Krayenbühl and Zeva Oelbaum’s elegant mix of voiceover, archive footage and talking heads lets “the female Lawrence of Arabia” largely speak for herself, illuminating the pivotal role she played in shaping today’s Middle East.
Directors: Zeva Oelbaum, Sabine Krayenbühl; Theatrical release: April 21, 2017
Bunch of Kunst
The rise of Midlands punk-hop duo Sleaford Mods gets docu-treatment, as director Christine Franz follows them from pub gigs to Glastonbury in knuckle-close detail.
Any shortfalls in narrative drive are offset by Jason Williamson’s vocal tirades and bandmate Andrew Fearn’s DIY beats. Iggy Pop’s droll cameo and the Mods’ affable humour make a thrillingly unlikely success story more appealing still.
Director: Christine Franz; Starring: Sleaford Mods; Theatrical release: April 21, 2017
Oz Arshad’s directorial debut centres on Shahid (Danny Ashok), a young Muslim struggling to find love due to the stigma of being a divorcee. But then he meets Fatimah (Asmara Gabrielle).
There’s real chemistry between the leads, and Arshad’s script evokes the Brit-pic charms of vintage Richard Curtis. But despite strong messages of tolerance and some great gags, a small-screen feel prevails.
Director: Oz Arshad; Starring: Danny Ashok, Asmara Gabrielle, Nina Wadia; Theatrical release: April 21, 2017
A psycho ex-wife makes trouble for her replacement (Rosario Dawson) in a silly thriller that marks both the big-screen return of Katherine Heigl (amusingly cast against type as a well-heeled bunny boiler) and the directorial debut of producer Denise Di Novi.
That’s as remarkable as this forgettable nonsense gets, content as it is to rely on predictable jump scares, story-serving mock sites (BackgroundProbe.com, anyone?) and a depressing surfeit of violence against women.
Director: Denise Di Novi; Starring: Katherine Heigl, Rosario Dawson; Theatrical release: April 21, 2017
This pre-school adventure is adorable in attempting to prepare young children for the arrival of a sibling. While awaiting her parents’ new egg to hatch, Molly Monster embarks on an epic adventure, and in doing so undertakes a journey of personal growth, confronting feelings of insecurity and jealousy.
The result is a surprisingly sweet and relatable parable, if sorely rough around the edges.
Directors: Matthias Bruhn, Michael Ekbladh; Starring: Tom Eastwood, Stefan Fredrich, Denise Gorzelanny; Theatrical release: April 21, 2017