Out on Friday May 5
Julian Barratt leads a daffy feast for the eye. Noomi Rapace kicks ass in a misfiring spy thriller.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of Mindhorn, Unlocked, The Journey A Dog’s Purpose, Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, Harmonium, Whisky Galore!, Burden, and Sleepless.
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Back in the days when there were but three (!) channels, telly watchers loved nothing more than curling up on the sofa to watch such homegrown detective shows as Bergerac, Shoestring and Hazell.
Mindhorn, in which a former MI5 operative equipped with a robotic eyepatch that enables him to genuinely “see the truth” becomes a plain-clothes crime-solver on the Isle of Man, could have quite easily sat among their comfortingly corny ranks.
Bruce Mindhorn, of course, is merely a concoction of Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby, the Mighty Boosh cast members behind this hilarious throwback to the telly of yesteryear. But it’s a testament to their comedic vision that you can imagine their film spawning a retrofitted makeover, not least given the Isle of Man’s current status as a go-to location for cost-conscious movie shoots.
For now, we’ll have to content ourselves with Mindhorn’s opening salvo: a scratchy behind-the-scenes ‘Making Of’ that establishes actor Richard Thorncroft (Barratt), the show’s moustachioed leading man, as a preening paragon of cocksure ’80s sexism.
Cut to the present, and we see a very different Thorncroft: a debauched has-been who, having petulantly walked away from his signature role, has spent the last quarter-century in cash-strapped obscurity, now making a living promoting orthopaedic socks (a gig he’s about to lose to John Nettles).
After botching up an audition for Kenneth Branagh (gamely contributing a cameo as a favour to director Sean Foley), an invitation to negotiate – in character – with a deranged murder suspect (Russell Tovey) offers him a belated shot at redemption.
No sooner has he set foot back on Manx soil, alas, than Thorncroft finds himself assailed by fresh humiliations, not to mention a former co-star slash girlfriend (Essie Davis) who’s now married to his erstwhile stunt double (Farnaby, shporting a densh Dutch akshent).
Casting Steve Coogan as another ex-colleague of Thorncroft’s (who’s since found fame through a Lewis-style spin-off) highlights Mindhorn’s debt to Alan Partridge, another blinkered egotist with delusions of competence. Barratt and Farnaby are also far more assured writing male characters than female ones, with both Davis and Andrea Riseborough (phoning it in as an Isle of Man policewoman) having little to do but look on dumbfounded.
Yet Foley’s comedy still heaves with belly laughs, notably in an inspired third act in which Barratt’s character becomes literally incapable of separating himself from his smallscreen alter ego. Anybody who liked Life on the Road, meanwhile, is certain to appreciate ‘You Can’t Handcuff the Wind’, Thorncroft’s doomed stab at musical stardom.
THE VERDICT: A rib-tickling homage to the gumshoe shows of yesteryear, with an endearingly daffy mindset.
Director: Sean Foley; Starring: Julian Barratt, Simon Farnaby, Essie Davis, Andrea Riseborough, Russell Tovey, Richard McCabe; Theatrical release: May 5, 2017
Fancy watching Noomi Rapace kicking ass, punching face and, yes, stabbing balls as a London-based lady Bourne? Well, you’re only human after all. But Michael Apted’s spy thriller is so far from the film its synopsis describes, it warrants a secret services investigation of its own.
Since failing to stop an attack in Paris years before, Rapace’s CIA interrogator is embedded in the political hotbed of East End local government. But when word spreads of a biological terrorist threat, she’s called back into the fray for some desperately uninvolving spy games.
Frankly, despite a few bouts of crunchy, punchy fisticuffs, it’s nothing you couldn’t see – and feel inclined to switch off – on a big-budget British TV show. The plot is leakier than the CIA itself, and almost foiled by a stray football. Character development, meanwhile, is slim to none. And the greatest mystery of all is how Apted corralled a cast of such high quality.
Toni Collette and Michael Douglas are wasted as Rapace’s handlers. Orlando Bloom doesn’t overly convince as a Cockney hardman (especially when claiming “I love a tagine!”). And when big boss John Malkovich raises a wry eyebrow at the line, “You’ve been penetrated!” you’ll know exactly how he feels.
THE VERDICT: Fizzling at the first, and limping to the last, this misfire is obsessed with “assets”, yet squanders its own.
Director: Michael Apted; Starring: Noomi Rapace, Orlando Bloom, John Malkovich, Toni Collette, Michael Douglas; Theatrical release: May 5, 2017
Rendered topical both by the ongoing stalemate at Stormont and the recent death of one of its protagonists, The Journey is unusually fleet-footed for a film about Northern Ireland’s 2006 power-sharing agreement.
That’s because it boils the landmark peace accord down to its bare essentials: two intractable opposites, staunch unionist the Reverend Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall) and former IRA commander Martin McGuinness (Colm Meaney), thrashing out their differences after decades of mutual loathing.
Nick Hamm’s drama imagines them doing so inside a car taking them from peace talks in St. Andrews to Edinburgh Airport. It’s as good a place as any for them to bury the hatchet – with a little prodding from Jack (Freddie Highmore), an MI5 plant masquerading as a driver.
With Tony Blair (Toby Stephens) and Jack’s boss (John Hurt) listening in back at HQ, Colin Bateman’s screenplay conceives a détente being forged during an eventful trip that has them interacting in an unlikely palette of set-pieces, which include getting stranded in a forest, haranguing a petrol station attendant, and weeping in a graveyard.
It’s all supposition of course, and as far from reality as Ulster is from Westminster. Yet the leads lend it gravitas, grace and a welcome sprinkling of humour – no mean feat given the horrors of The Troubles.
THE VERDICT: Irish politics made accessible with the help of a playful script, two fine performances and 11 years of hindsight.
Director: Nick Hamm; Starring: Toby Stephens, Freddie Highmore, John Hurt; Theatrical release: May 5, 2017
A Dog’s Purpose
Thought all dogs go to heaven? Not according to this canine curio, in which one plucky pooch – voiced consistently by Frozen’s Josh Gad – has four reincarnated lifetimes to ponder the meaning of his existence.
Directed by aptly named Lasse Hallström (revisiting the pet-centric territory of Hachi: A Dog’s Tale), it’s a bemusing crossbreed of sentimentality, Buddhist philosophy and poo jokes.
Director: Lasse Hallstrom; Starring: Britt Robertson, KJ Apa, John Oritz, Dennis Quaid, Josh Gad; Theatrical release: May 5, 2017
Citizen Jane: Battle for the City
A compelling, if niche, account of how tenacious ’50s journo Jane Jacobs battled planning supremo Robert Moses to keep Greenwich Village, Soho and Little Italy from being wrecking-balled.
Wry but not dry, its nimble use of archive footage and chewy interviews expands the film into a thoughtful examination of what (and who) cities are for.
Director: Matt Tyrnauer; Theatrical release: May 5, 2017
Kôji Fukada’s Cannes award-winner charts the domestic discord in a Japanese family when house guest Yasaka (Tadanobu Asano) comes to stay. Initially unassuming, Yasaka gradually exposes faultlines in the family, to devastating effect.
Building on the themes of his Hospitalité (2010), Fukada contrasts understated realism with haunting, dreamlike images. Unsettling and morally complex.
Director: Kôji Fukada; Starring: Mariko Tsutsui, Tadanobu Asano, Kanji Furutachi; Theatrical release: May 5, 2017
Gillies MacKinnon (Small Faces) remakes the 1949 Ealing classic about Scottish islanders plundering a stranded cargo vessel laden with whisky.
Gregor Fisher stars as the postmaster who masterminds the boozy heist, with Eddie Izzard the law-abiding fuddy-duddy wanting to stop the hedonism. Despite lashings of old-fashioned whimsy and Izzard’s fine turn, belly laughs are in short supply.
Director: Gillies MacKinnon; Starring: Gregor Fisher, Eddie Izzard, Sean Biggerstaff, Ellie Kendrick, James Cosmo; Theatrical release: May 5, 2017
Described as a trickster and an art martyr, Boston sculptor Chris Burden’s shocking performance art set headlines ablaze in the ’70s, whether he was being shot at or stuffing himself in a locker for five days straight.
Those stunts and more feature in this engaging if straightforward doc, which catches up with Burden before his death in 2015 to uncover why he went to such extreme lengths in the name of art.
Director: Andrew Heckler; Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Forest Whitaker, Garrett Hedlund; Theatrical release: May 5, 2017
An Americanised (louder) remake of the 2001 French action-thriller, this unfolds more or less in one long and chaotic evening at a glitzy casino.
Slowly bleeding to death from a knife wound, Vegas vice cop Vincent Downs (Jamie Foxx) tries to return a pile of drugs to a vicious mobster (Scoot McNairy), who kidnapped his son for ransom. Blood-soaked, action-packed and delightfully single-minded.
Director: Baran bo Odar; Starring: G Jamie Foxx, Michelle Monaghan, Dermot Mulroney; Theatrical release: May 5, 2017