GEORGE MacKAY is a mesmerising presence in the apocalyptic Aussie Western True History Of The Kelly Gang. US telly ‘classic’ Fantasy Island gets a madcap horror reimagining, and Tom Hanks radiates his trademark amiable decency in A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood. And Brit brawler Scott Adkins brings a sweary, stubbly sincerity to his latest dopey actioner.
DVD OF THE WEEK: TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG (18)
(125mins, out now)
DARING, draining and ultimately devastating, this hallucinatory outback saga based on Peter Carey’s novel is one of the best films of last year, or any year — as much Apocalypse Now as any Western you care to mention.
George MacKay is mesmerising as Ned Kelly, the mythic Aussie-Irish outlaw who emerges as the most honourable and likeable character in a real rogue’s gallery.
Russell Crowe alternately twinkles and terrifies as a larger-than-life father figure but there are powerhouse turns across the board, from Game Of Thrones’ Essie Davis as the Kelly clan’s feral matriarch to Nicholas Hoult, in career-best form, as the truly odious copper with a grudge.
There are moments of tenderness, poetry… and shocking violence. Tension builds, at times almost unbearably, towards a surreal release of epochal savagery.
With a jangling score and a unique aesthetic that makes Van Diemen’s Land look like another planet, this is a haunting, hypnotic epic.
Barring one faintly unnecessary title card at the end, a near-perfect cinematic experience. The bigger your screen at home, the better.
A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD (PG)
(107mins, out now)
TOM HANKS radiates his trademark warmth and decency as American telly legend Fred Rogers, whose show ran for more than 30 years.
If this story carries greater resonance for American viewers, this is nevertheless a rewarding and occasionally moving examination of family tensions that steers clear, for the most part, of easy sentimentality.
It is nicely played all round, with The Americans’ Matthew Rhys a fine foil for Hanks as Lloyd Vogel, the angry sad-sack journalist assigned to profile Rogers and who cannot accept the “hokey kids’ show guy” is truly as wholesome as he seems.
The arc is easy enough to predict, charting Rhys’ reconciliation with his obnoxious father (American Beauty’s Chris Cooper, who does obnoxious like nobody else).
The drama is low-key for the most part but acutely observed, with moments of gentle humour — not least Hanks introducing Rhys to his suitcase of unintentionally creepy puppets on the way to some serious emotional healing.
A positive, reassuring watch that never gets cloying.
BLUMHOUSE’S FANTASY ISLAND (15)
(109mins, out Monday)
MADCAP horror reworking of the Eighties US telly series, with Michael Pena slipping into Ricardo Montalban’s famous white suit as Mr Roarke, the mysterious host of an idyllic island paradise.
Winners of a contest find themselves whisked to Roarke’s island then, in a fairly significant departure from the original concept, fall prey to various forms of ironic butchery, psychological, physical and possibly metaphysical.
Think Saw meets The Prisoner meets Lost meets 21 Jump Street, but not nearly as coherent as that might sound.
Along the way, this takes satirical stabs at various sitting ducks — reality shows, cancel culture, millennial self-obsession.
Crucially, it does a decent job of making you dislike the victims.
There are some sharp lines too, with those easy targets effectively skewered.
Pena is a fine comic performer and brings a nervy intensity to the dramatic stuff here.
Is the mayhem all in the victims’ heads? Are their fantasies actually nightmares? Does anyone care? Possibly, perhaps, and probably not.
But it is watchable throughout, at least until an end that drags on somewhat.
A silly, jarring, borderline-nonsensical mishmash… but rather fun all the same.
(97mins, out now)
DON’T expect a nuanced exploration of guilt, loss and the dehumanising effects of violence. This dopey actioner is as uncomplicated as the title suggests, reuniting Brit brawler Scott Adkins with stunt ace turned visionary auteur Jesse V Johnson, who helmed last year’s enjoyably bonkers Avengement.
As with that movie, Adkins is the by far the best thing on show here. He brings a stubbly sincerity to his sweary bouncer, ironically called French, dragged into a sort of bloody-nosed road-trip through the grimy recesses of a gaudy Trumpland probably less disturbing than the real thing.
It is tempting to say Adkins is the only good thing on show. Some of the supporting turns are astonishingly poor, notably Marina Sirtis (Star Trek’s Deanna Troi) as an underworld matriarch.
But the roughhousing hits hard and has bags of energy, with a few visual flourishes and a couple of genuine laughs thrown in too, not least Adkins getting goaded as “Harry Styles” by a redneck who soon comes to regret it. Passes the time… and not too much of it.
DARK WATERS (12)
(124mins, out Monday)
MARK RUFFALO deploys his trademark rumpled decency in this occasionally shocking tale of real-life tale industrial chicanery in the American Midwest.
He plays corporate lawyer Robert Bilott, the initially reluctant crusader taking on chemicals giant DuPont, which just happens to be a major client of his firm as well as the state’s biggest employer.
It is patiently constructed and nicely played all round, while never quite hitting the heights of Spotlight, say.
Anne Hathaway, as Ruffalo’s predictably long-suffering wife, has little to do except stand around looking bereft.
Though the palette is as murky as the polluted waters into which DuPont is dumping its toxic C8, Dark Waters is more cinematic than you might imagine, with a handful of genuinely sinister moments and noirish flourishes.
That the conclusion is so muted speaks more to the grisly reality of the situation than any shortcoming in the filmmaking.
THE INVISIBLE MAN (15)
(119mins, out now)
UNFAIRLY maligned upon its cinematic release — or simply ignored — this radical reworking of HG Wells’ sci-fi classic is actually rather enjoyable, even in the ethically iffy moments when it probably shouldn’t be.
It is certainly timely and topical, adding modern notions of gaslighting, abuse survival and coercive control to the source material (of which little more remains than the title).
Elisabeth Moss is as brilliant as ever as Cecilia, whom we meet while fleeing her tyrannical if apparently gifted husband.
Aldis Hodge lends very creditable support in a thankless task as her cop pal and walking plot-device.
For an hour or more, we get a surprisingly thoughtful examination of the corrosive effects of fear.
Thereafter, some near-nonsensical inconsistencies threaten to derail things (not least an apparently magical disappearing Doberman) but given this is a movie about an invisible man, they are just about forgivable.
Even the final third of cartoonish supervillainy, in which the inevitable violence veers close to accidental comedy, is fun in a guilty-pleasure sort of way.
(107mins, out now)
AN elusive, enigmatic curio from Pablo Larrain, the Chilean filmmaker behind No and Jackie.
Mariana Di Girolamo plays Ema, the wilful dancer and mother of an adopted son, Polo, from whom she is forcibly separated.
Her jousting with Gael Garcia Bernal as Gaston, the other half of a wildly dysfunctional marriage, forms the narrative backbone.
The dance sequences have echoes of Suspiria, minus the witchcraft, though Di Girolamo’s apparent obsession with flamethrowers points to her simmering appetite for destruction.
A strange, occasionally surreal watch, intriguing throughout but perhaps too opaque to be ultimately satisfying.
MERRY CHRISTMAS MR LAWRENCE (15)
(117mins, out now on Blu-ray)
DAVID BOWIE gets top billing in this 1983 POW drama set in the jungles of Java, Indonesia, during World War Two.
He delivers a quietly magnetic performance as Major Celliers, the soldier tried as a spy and subjected to increasingly extreme indignities by his captors.
If his portrayal of composed defiance provides the main interest, Tom Conti is more convincingly human as the Lawrence of the title.
His senior officer provides a flimsy barrier between the prisoners and the worst excesses of their captors’ cruelty.
A punishing, sometimes disturbing but thought-provoking watch, overlong but with moments of warmth, humanity and compassion amid the chaos.
The Great Escape this is not.
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