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CINEMA Film round-up

Van Connor and Maria Duarte review Dear Comrades!, Blithe Spirit, Outside the Wire, Stardust, and Imperial Blue

Dear Comrades!
Directed by Andrei Konchalovsky
★★★★

RUSSIAN film-maker Andrei Konchalovsky’s historical drama takes a meticulous and commanding look at one of the Soviet Union’s darkest chapters: the Novocherkassk massacre of 1962, in which more than 25 unarmed people were reportedly killed, and more than 85 injured, by Soviet troops.

Russia’s official entry to this years Academy Awards explores the carnage and the following cover up — decades-long, as it transpires — through the eyes of a devout party activist Lyuda (played superbly by Konchalovsky’s wife Julia Vysotskaya, born in Novocherkassk) who only begins to question her blind patriotism and loyalty when her own family becomes involved.

Shot in striking black and white, and in a documentary style, the film depicts with candour how unarmed workers striking over the government’s raising of food prices and the lowering of their wages were ruthlessly gunned down on June 2 1962.

Everyone else in the town was then forced to sign agreements banning them from ever revealing what had transpired, on pain of death. Konchalovsky’s frank and gripping drama does justice to their story, bringing it to a wider audience.

Maria Duarte

Released on Curzon Home Cinema

Blithe Spirit (12A)
Directed by Edward Hall
★★

NOEL COWARD’S 1941 classic comic play has been given a bit of a stylish makeover in this new film adaptation by TV-turned-film director Edward Hall, which sadly shows that some works just don’t age well.

Set in the England of 1937, it centres on a crime novelist with writer’s block, Charles Condomine (Dan Stevens hamming it up), who invites eccentric medium Madame Arcati (Judi Dench) to stage a seance for the purposes of his research.

Unfortunately, she summons up the ghost of his dead first wife Elvira (Leslie Mann) — to the consternation of his present spouse of five years, Ruth (Isla Fisher), causing a complicated love triangle.

The story, and Coward’s witty but dated dialogue, have been retweaked to appeal to a more modern audience — all of which seems laboured and forced and would no doubt would have sent Coward into a frenzy. He reportedly complained bitterly when David Lean changed the ending for his 1945 film version of Blithe Spirit, starring Rex Harrison and Margaret Rutherford as the unforgettable Madame Arcati. Sometimes it’s best to let sleeping dogs — or spirits — lie.

MD

Available only on Sky Cinema from January 15

Outside the Wire (15)
Directed by Mikael Hafstrom
★★

ESSENTIALLY Training Day by way of Neill Blomkamp’s Chappie, Escape Plan director Mikael Hafstrom swings for a biting sci-fi statement on drone warfare with the decidedly ropey Outside the Wire, the latest handsomely produced but ultimately hollow feature exercise from Netflix.

Damson Idris is the drone pilot sanctioned for a failed mission and sent to serve as sidekick to an experimental android soldier (Anthony Mackie), tasked with policing a new European front and bringing renowned terrorist to justice.

Though brilliant on a technical and stylistic level, there’s a noticeable lack of resonance or engagement to be found in a screenplay, which has the feel of a sizeable 11th-hour change-up.

Mackie’s natural likability sits this one out — the Avengers star more reliant on his action chops instead — while Idris isn’t offered anything in the way of memorable material.

Hafstrom’s got the goods behind the camera, but everything in front has presumably been left on the other side of the wire.

Van Connor

Available on Netflix

Stardust (15)
Directed by Gabriel Range
★★

HAVING clearly learned nothing from John Ridley’s failed Jimi Hendrix biopic debacle in 2013, director Gabriel Range attempts to bring the story of David Bowie to the screen in Stardust — a story that chronicles the icon’s journey of self-discovery despite noticeably lacking key elements, such as any events of interest, or even the rights to its subject’s music.

Despite that, Beast and Emma standout Johnny Flynn is, true to his musical roots, exactly as enjoyable as you’d expect as Bowie — here paired with Marc Maron as his begrudging tour manager — while the pair traverse the United States of the early-1970s attempting to make a name for the then-struggling musician. Again, without using his music.

Beyond merely being ill-advised on principle alone, Stardust digs its own grave further by lazily doubling-down on the musician’s biopic checklist.

The “greatest hits” are played ad nauseam — the “eureka moment” of self-realisation, the flashbacks to past family trauma, the endless proclamations of “nobody cares about [the thing you’ll become known for]!” The result feeling far more flaccid a venture than even Bowie’s own Dancing in the Street period.

Ground control can sit this one out, Major Tom’s not even getting off the ground here.

VC

Available on demand

Imperial Blue (15)
Directed by Dan Moss

ONE of the more forgettable films you’ll encounter as we enter what’s set to be one of the most packed film years of our history, Imperial Blue — the feature debut of director Dan Moss — is sadly too dismissible to even serve as a reminder that a meaningful production certainly doesn’t guarantee a meaningful film.

Lead Nicolas Fagerberg proves an absolute non-entity as the low-level drug mule sent to Uganda to procure a street drug that grants its users the ability to see the future — a narcotic from which the film’s production would certainly have benefitted.

Shoddily directed, with no semblance of visual storytelling, Imperial Blue reportedly amounted to a community project for aspiring Ugandan filmmakers.

Given how thunderingly uninteresting, poorly realised and disappointingly its squanders a promising concept, this is a shame.

The only prediction you’ll take from this future-gazing snooze fest is one of counting sheep.

VC

Available on demand

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