Monday 11 December 2017

Movie reviews: Legend, The Visit, Everest, Irrational Man


Tom Hardy is on the double in Legend, The Visit has a few scares, Everest is a sky high thriller and Irrational Man is a return to form for Woody Allen


Legend Biography/Crime/Thriller. Starring Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Taron Egerton, Paul Bettany, Christopher Eccelston, Colin Morgan, Tara Fitzgerald, Duffy. Director: Brian Helgeland. CERT: 18

There was something about Peter Mendak's 1990 biopic of the Krays that both provided a compelling snapshot of the fearsome twin gangsters, even if it raised more questions than it answered.

With Gary and Martin Kemp taking on the roles of Ronnie and Reggie Kray, there was little flesh under the gloss and the hair pomade. Ironically, it took one actor playing both parts (and, weirder still, the production company that gave us Notting Hill and Four Weddings & A Funeral) to bring the grisly tale of the East End monsters to light. The film opens with the Krays already wielding chaos across London. Straight in, no kissing.

It takes an actor of considerable skill to inhabit not one, but two complex characters; to provide the inner workings of two people, especially two who were often lumped in together. Armie Hammer did it impressively in The Social Network, and with the help of David Fincher's impressive effects, albeit in a minor role. Tom Hardy has already shown considerable range (not to mention his menacing chops in Bronson).

He was the sole heartbeat in 2013's Locke. Could any other British actor play the Krays? It's doubtful.

And so in Legend, Reggie is the glamorous, devil-may-care underworld kingpin, while Ronnie (who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia) is a remorseless, malevolent sociopath.

Make no mistake, for all the grittiness, Legend still bears a reassuring Hollywood sheen. Rather neatly, and no doubt to appeal to a wider demographic, Reggie's romance with his wife Frances is fleshed out, by turns heady and torturous, proving their marriage to be more multi-faceted than most knew.

A spirited and slick retelling, Legend's glamour soon fades to black, with a caption card reminding us that - spoiler alert - both brothers went to prison and died there. The legends, in other words, failed to live on. But Tom Hardy's eye-popping performance may well go down as the stuff of Brit-flick lore.

Rating: ***

The Visit


Comedy/Horror. Starring Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanne Dunagan, Peter McRobbie, Kathryn Hahn, Celia Keenan-Bolger. Director. M. Night Shyamalan. CERT: 15A

M. Night Shyamalan has already been hailed as the high priest of the highbrow supernatural thriller, but even he has described The Visit as his 'comeback film'. While he might have had a fallow few years of late, his producer Jason Blum certainly hasn't (he has a staggering 17 films on the slate for the next 12 months). Shyamalan is in safe hands… but is it a case of quantity over quality for Blum?

The Visit is small in vision and scope, centring on a pair of siblings (Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould) who visit their grandparents (Peter McRobbie and Deanna Dunagan). Tyler is a typical teenager (meaning, he is an arse); Rebecca, a would-be auteur, is filming the visit. A week in Grandma's is always good cinematic fodder: more so when the woman who is claiming to be your relative is (a) a bit unhinged and (b) not quite who she says she is.

Shyamalan has always been a fan of the mid-plot twist, and it's certainly present and correct here. What is slightly more discombobulating is his insistence on shoehorning comedy into the mix. It rarely works, and only serves to make The Visit look disjointed and contrived.

Shyamalan is very evidently trying to resuscitate his career and widen out his cinematic approach. Alas, The Visit is not the film that will revive his career. Better luck next time.

Rating: **




Adventure/Drama. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Elizabeth Debicki, Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Josh Brolin, Emily Watson, Robin Wright, John Hawkes. Director: Baltasar Kormakur. CERT: 12A

"Human beings aren't built to function at the cruising altitude of a 747. Everest is another beast altogether." Everyman-following-impossible-dreams alert: it takes a brave director to take on the cinematic tale of mountaineering after the experience was definitively captured in Touching The Void… but Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormakur has proven that fortune favours the brave.

Not that the same can be said for the mountaineers who get caught on a climbing expedition gone wrong. The film is based on a troupe of adventurers who got caught in this scenario on their climb back down from the peak in 1996.

Everest is chock full of brilliant acting talent and while it will likely do plenty to get bums on seats, the star power is woefully underplayed.

Robin Wright Penn is underused, as is the incredible John Hawkes, who plays a mailman/father determined to do something spectacular with his life. There is an attempt to put some meat on the bones of the climbers and create a human angle. Certainly, they're a diverse bunch: a Japanese woman (Naoko Mori) hoping to scale Everest to finish off the set of mountains she has climbed, to the Australians (headed by Jason Clarke) running the expedition.

Their prep is fastidious, their climb is cautious, and the audience gets a real feel for the expedition culture. Still, where the star power falls a little short, the mountain, and the might of a particularly merciless Mother Nature, are front and centre.

More than once, you will feel deeply grateful that you're in a cinema. A deeply uncomfortable and gruelling watch, for all the right reasons.

Rating: ***


Irrational Man


Comedy/Drama. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey, Joe Stapleton, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Ethan Phillips, Jamie Blackley. Director: Woody Allen. CERT: 15A

Perhaps by dint of his illustrious repertoire, Woody Allen is one of those filmmakers that gets forgiven for an awful lot by modern audiences. They turn a blind ear to the jazz soundtrack, indulge Allen his neurotic, unlikeable anti-heroes, stifle a yawn when yet another relationship falls apart because of infidelity.

They ignore the fact that whatever lead is ostensibly playing the 'Woody Allen' character seems to adopt the director's very mannerisms. A singular style is all well and good but… please.

In Irrational Man, Joaquin Phoenix is up for the Allen-isation treatment playing Abe, a very fragile and depressed philosophy professor who encounters Jill (Emma Stone), one of his students.

She is charmed by every one of his many neuroses; turns out that being neurotic is also deeply sexy to Abe's colleague Rita (Parker Posey), too.

There is something so careworn of Allen's devotion to the troubled, bourgeois, intellectual male, but credit where it's due, Phoenix manages to imbue some sort of vulnerability, charm and likeability into Abe. It's easy to see too why Emma Stone is Allen's muse du jour… in this film in particular, she is a welcome palate cleanser.

Irrational Man occasionally veers off-piste, but Joaquin Phoenix keeps the show on the road, for better or worse. If you can stomach yet more typical Allen fare, knock yourself out. But will someone tell the director that delivering the same film year in year out does more to sully a brilliant cinematic legacy than enhance it?

Rating: ***

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