12 Days Remaining

Friday 30th
posted by Morning Star in Arts

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (12A)
Directed by Tim Burton
VISIONARY director Tim Burton has been more miss than hit in recent years but he has finally found his cinematic stride again with this deliciously dark and creepy tale about peculiar children with extraordinary powers.
Based on Ransom Riggs’s best-selling young adult novel it centres on Jake (Asa Butterfield) who, when his grandfather (Terence Stamp) dies suddenly, goes on a quest to an island off Wales to find his granddad’s friend Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) who runs an orphanage for “peculiar” kids.
Green is on magnificent form as the mysterious pipe-smoking headteacher who is protecting her mutant charges from hollowgasts, eyeball-eating monsters. Jake discovers they exist in a time loop, reliving the same day in 1943 continuously.
It’s a film where Groundhog Day meets X-Men but don’t try to get your head round the time travel because it will give you brain ache. With a wonderfully complex and macabre screenplay by Jane Goldman, Burton has met his perfect match.
Missing, though, are his regulars Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and music composer Danny Elfman but they’re soon forgotten as Samuel L Jackson camps it up as the evil mad scientist.
Fun, intriguing and yet disturbing this is guaranteed to scare youngsters witless. A classic Burton to go for.

Under the Shadow (15)
Directed by Babak Anvari
MOST weeks another horror film is inflicted on cinemagoers and this week is no exception.
But this riveting riff by debut writer-director Babak Anvari on the over-familiar haunted house genre is seriously scary. I haven’t been so terrified in ages.
The setting — Tehran in 1988, during the eighth year of the Iran-Iraq war — is unusual and unfamiliar.
It’s there that depressed but defiantly independent young mother Shideh (Narges Rashidi), refused official permission to continue her medical studies, is further stressed when her doctor husband Iraj (Bobby Naderi) leaves for military service and she is left in their apartment looking after their young daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi).
Frequent bombing raids are terrifying enough. But their terror escalates when a malign Middle-Eastern djinn, seeking to control Dorsa, starts stalking mother and child.
Anvari creates and sustains a near-stifling atmosphere of mounting unease and fear, all the more potent for taking place in a modern apartment rather than the usual cliched haunted house.
Special effects are kept to a minimum and the film is more effective as a result. Raspy sound effects add nerve-scraping tension, while Rashidi and Manshadi’s potent performances add impact to this fascinating, genre-stretching shocker.
Alan Frank

Free State of Jones (15)
Directed by Gary Ross
THERE’S no doubting the sincerity of writer-director Gary Ross’s American civil war drama, purportedly based on actual events.
Regrettably, his story of Mississippi farmer Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) who, helped by renegade slaves, opposed the Confederacy and created the eponymous free state is overlong and finally underachieving. The end product resembles a somewhat dull educational film.
On the credit side Ross stages some vividly convincing battle sequences where Knight serves as an army nurse, before segueing into the central storyline which sees his wife Serena (Keri Russell) flee from the horrors of war and her husband to head for the swamps. There she achieves historical, rather than cinematic, glory.
The story — a landmark fight for freedom — deserves to be told but not in such a tediously lengthy fashion. McConaughey’s talents are underused as are those of others, including Gugu Mbatha-Raw as the former slave who becomes his common-law wife.

Swiss Army Man (15)
Directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
LAST week he starred as an undercover neonazi white supremacist. This week Daniel Radcliffe is a farting corpse in a film that sent the audience running for the exit at the Sundance festival.
It certainly is one of Radcliffe’s best performances to date as a flatulent cadaver who can transmogrify into a speedboat.
One of the most bonkers films of the year, it also stars a superlative Paul Dano as a man stranded on a desert island who is about to hang himself when a body (Radcliffe) washes up on the beach.
He befriends the gassy corpse — who he calls Manny — and escapes the island with his help. The pair embark on a surreal journey together.
Is Manny alive? Is Hank having a mental breakdown or is this a survival-coping mechanism?
It’s worth a look to see whether you can figure out the answers.

Southside With You (12A)
Directed by Richard Tanne
INSPIRED by accounts of President Barack Obama’s first date with his wife Michelle in the summer of 1989, this proves to be a surprisingly charming tale which shows the First Lady in a new and powerful light.
In it, Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter) is a career-oriented Ivy League-educated lawyer, the only black woman at her law firm, whom Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers) takes out for a day trip in and around Chicago’s South Side.
Concerned about how they would be viewed at work, Robinson protests throughout that this isn’t a date while the self confident and cocky Obama  is convinced he will win her over. The rest is history.
Richard Tanne’s directorial debut, reminiscent of Before Sunset, is punctuated by strong performances from his two charismatic leads. Yet, although gentle and endearing, it does feel a little like a made-for-TV offering.

The Fencer (PG)
Directed by Klaus Haro
IF WHILE watching a film you find yourself rooting for the underdogs — even though you know a happy ending is certain — it’s clear that everyone involved on both sides of the camera have done their jobs well.
So it is with this charming feature based, though not entirely, on the life story of Estonian fencer Endel Nelis.
It’s set in the 1950s, where the young Endel (Mart Avandi), fleeing from Russia because of his controversial past, takes a job as PE teacher in a small Estonian school.
There he teaches youngsters to fence and, when they are invited to take part in a national fencing contest in Leningrad, he has to choose between their futures or his past catching up with him.
Key performances are perfectly in sync with Anna Heinamaa’s sentimental screenplay, while director Klaus Haro’s unpretentious storytelling works well.