Film

Film View – January 24

Damon Smith, PA Film Critic

Damon Smith reviews the latest new releases to watch in cinemas. This week: director Steven Spielberg relives the first flushes of his love affair with cinema in semi-autobiographical drama THE FABELMANS… the pilot of a downed commercial aircraft (Gerard Butler) prepares to rescue kidnapped passengers in the action thriller PLANE… and heed the advice of superstitious locals in the British horror UNWELCOME.

FILM OF THE WEEK

THE FABELMANS (12A, 151 mins) Drama/Comedy/Romance. Gabriel LaBelle, Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, Julia Butters, Keeley Karsten, Sophia Kopera, Judd Hirsch, Sam Rechner, Oakes Fegley, Chloe East, Mateo Zoryan Francis-DeFord, David Lynch. Director: Steven Spielberg.

Released: January 27 (UK & Ireland)

In his most unabashedly personal film, Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg continues to venerate the power of the family unit to overcome adversity while reflecting on his wonder years in 1950s New Jersey and Arizona.

The first flushes of his love affair with cinema are traced back to January 10 1952, when Spielberg's six-year-old alter ego, Sammy Fabelman (Mateo Zoryan Francis-DeFord), stands nervously in front of his first cinema marquee – Cecil B DeMille's The Greatest Show On Earth – with parents Burt (Paul Dano) and Mitzi (Michelle Williams).

The bespectacled, electrical engineer father unintentionally deepens young Sammy's trepidation and fear by spouting technical jargon about persistence of vision, the trick of the mind that creates the illusion of moving pictures when 24 photographs are projected on to a screen every second.

His concert pianist mother, an undimmable force of nature, salvages the defining moment.

“Movies are dreams that you never forget,” she coos soothingly.

Spielberg never forgets his dreams in The Fabelmans, weaving narrative threads between personal recollections and his subsequent works of big screen fiction including Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and Saving Private Ryan.

He works closely with regular collaborators including Polish cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, editors Michael Kahn and Sarah Broshar, composer John Williams and Pulitzer Prize-winning screenwriter Tony Kushner, who polishes the script's dramatic licence to a beguiling lustre.

Inspired by the train crash sequence in The Greatest Show On Earth, teenage Sammy (Gabriel LaBelle) answers his creative calling with a film camera gifted by his parents and words of wisdom from his granduncle Boris (Judd Hirsch).

“We are junkies and art is our drug,” he enthusiastically counsels the boy.

Sammy's home movie of a family vacation with his parents, three sisters Reggie (Julia Butters), Natalie (Keeley Karsten) and Lisa (Sophia Kopera) and surrogate uncle Bennie (Seth Rogen) exposes deep fissures in grown-up relationships.

The fallout serves as a painful first lesson about the enduring power of cinema.

When Sammy tries to apologise, insisting that he never intended to hurt anyone, Mitzi again delivers perfect words of comfort: “Guilt is a wasted emotion.”

The teenager applies that learning to woo his classmate Monica (Chloe East) and cleverly undermine the fraternal bond between antisemitic high school bullies Logan (Sam Rechner) and Chad (Oakes Fegley).

The Fabelmans is a bittersweet portrait of a post-war family in crisis, anchored by a mesmerising performance from Williams as an emotionally brittle free spirit who won't allow her children to relinquish their dreams.

Key motifs from Spielberg's impressive back catalogue proliferate, often laced with gentle humour like when young Sammy gets a crash course in camera placement from director John Ford (David Lynch).

Persistence of vision isn't required to see the sincerity that twinkles in every lovingly crafted frame.

:: SWEARING :: NO SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 8.5/10

RELEASED

PLANE (15, 107 mins) Action/Thriller. Gerard Butler, Mike Colter, Yoson An, Evan Dane Taylor, Daniella Pineda, Tony Goldwyn, Remi Adeleke, Haleigh Hekking, Otis Winston. Director: Jean-Francois Richet.

Released: January 27 (UK & Ireland)

You won't need to fasten seatbelts during director Jean-Francois Richet's lacklustre action thriller, which pits the crew and passengers of a downed commercial flight against a sadistic militia leader on an island in the Sulu Sea.

Dramatic turbulence fails to materialise when Gerard Butler proudly retains his Scottish burr as the grizzled pilot, who risks life and limb to protect his passenger manifest of two-dimensional cardboard cut-outs including an obnoxious businessman and giggling gal pals.

The in-flight entertainment of a mid-air lightning strike quickens the pulse more than myriad gun fights or hand-to-hand fisticuffs in the jungle including a slickly choreographed one-on-one brawl between Butler and a nameless thug shot in sweat-drenched close-up.

Spurts of graphic violence (predominantly gunshot wounds to heads) guarantee a steadily increasing body count without any emotional investment in the stricken characters apart from Butler's RAF veteran, who lost his wife three years ago and is still navigating the grieving process.

Director Richet previously helmed a tepid 2005 remake of John Carpenter's Assault On Precinct 13 and his comfort zone is evidently bullet-riddled stand-offs.

A climactic shootout leaks suspense and screenwriters Charles Cumming and JP Davis neglect to give one key protagonist a fitting send-off.

On New Year's Eve, Trailblazer Air pilot Brodie Torrance (Butler) arrives in the nick of time to captain a routine flight from Singapore to Tokyo that should allow him to hop time zones and usher in the new year in Hawaii with his daughter Daniela (Haleigh Hekking).

Those plans are derailed when stern-faced FBI agent Knight (Otis Winston) escorts Louis Gaspare (Colter) onto the flight.

The handcuffed prisoner is being extradited to face murder charges from 15 years ago.

A severe weather front unnerves boarding passengers – “These planes are pretty much indestructible,” quips the captain – and a direct lightning strike to Flight 199 forces Torrance and co-pilot Dele (Yoson An) to improvise an emergency landing on a remote island close to the Philippines under the control of sadistic Junmar (Evan Dane Taylor).

His gun-toting disciples take the crew and passengers hostage except for Torrance and Gaspare, who reluctantly join forces to stage a daring rescue.

Meanwhile at Trailblazer Air HQ in New York, crisis management expert Scarsdale (Tony Goldwyn) activates mercenary for hire Shellback (Remi Adeleke) to parachute onto the island and neutralise Junmar's army.

Plane adopts the brace position then neglects to make any impact with routine action sequences and perfunctory scenes of self-sacrifice.

Butler is on autopilot as a reluctant saviour while Colter plays hide and seek with his enigmatic character's back story.

Please turn off all personal electronic devices, including mobile phones, and switch your brain to flight mode.

:: SWEARING :: NO SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 5/10

UNWELCOME (15, 104 mins) Horror/Thriller/Romance. Hannah John-Kamen, Douglas Booth, Colm Meaney, Niamh Cusack, Chris Walley, Kristian Nairn, Jamie-Lee O'Donnell. Director: Jon Wright.

Released: January 27 (UK & Ireland)

An escape to the country transplants creeping dread from concrete tower blocks to a tumbledown house in an otherworldly thriller written by Mark Stay and directed by Jon Wright.

Steeped in Anglo-Scottish folklore, Unwelcome teases murderous, pointy-teethed goblins at large in the ancient wood, which surrounds a close-knit Irish community that upholds tradition to placate “the little people”.

Two English interlopers to this bucolic idyll dismiss fanciful talk of leprechauns and magical creatures until the one-hour mark when make-up effects artist Shaune Harrison, creature designer Paul Catling and visual effects supervisor Paddy Eason collectively realise diminutive denizens of the dark.

Screenwriter Stay glosses over the most interesting facet of the lead characters' narrative arcs – the post-traumatic stress of a home invasion – to crudely shepherd most of the cast into one location for a bloodthirsty night-time showdown with the grotesque beasties.

Douglas Booth and Hannah John-Kamen gel nicely as embattled lovebirds, who pledge to support each other through thick and thin (“It's always been you and me versus the rest of the world”) but are ill-prepared to fend off monsters torn from the pages of Grimms' fairy tales.

Telegraphed scares are far milder than the film's 15 certificate promises and a protracted denouement is anticlimactic.

Expectant mother Maya (John-Kamen) and husband Jamie (Booth) are brutally attacked in their London flat by three knife-wielding thugs, who flee when they hear approaching police sirens.

Several months later, the traumatised couple gladly move to rural Ireland to take ownership of a ramshackle property, bequeathed to Jamie by his late aunt Maeve, who firmly believed in the fairies and goblins from folklore.

Local publican Niamh (Niamh Cusack) explains to Jamie and heavily pregnant Maya that Maeve left a blood offering – a plate of raw liver – on a stone altar every evening before sunset to placate the voracious redcaps that lurk in the shadows of a surrounding wood.

“She dedicated her life to keeping those monsters on the other side of the wall,” confides the landlady, who implores Maya to uphold tradition.

When Maya neglects to heed sage words, something wicked this way comes.

Meanwhile, builder Daddy Whelan (Colm Meaney) and his three reprobate offspring (Chris Walley, Jamie-Lee O'Donnell, Kristian Nairn) carry out urgent repairs to the house so Jamie and Maya feel safe in their new family home.

Unwelcome is a dawdling mish-mash of genre tropes and cultural stereotypes that loses any sense of urgency after Jamie and Maya flee their urban nightmare for a supposedly tranquil life in the country.

Booth and John-Kamen are largely reactive to the chaos swirling around them, drenched in viscous, freshly spilt crimson and viscera.

Vicious goblins, realised through prosthetics and make-up effects, animatronics and digital trickery, are impressive and enliven an increasingly silly second act.

:: SWEARING :: NO SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 5/10

also released

ALL THE BEAUTY AND THE BLOODSHED (18, 122 mins)

Released: January 27 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Shortlisted for the Documentary Feature Film category at the 95th Academy Awards in March, director Laura Poitras' picture shines a light on the unwavering activism of celebrated New York-based artist Nan Goldin.

All The Beauty And The Bloodshed is a mosaic of archive material, interviews, photographs and rare footage, which relives Goldin's hard-fought battle against the Sackler family, who she held partially responsible for the global opioid crisis.

The Sackler dynasty contributed handsomely to some of the museums and institutions that exhibited Goldin's work, creating a thorny moral dilemma for an artist who was reliant on spaces to showcase her output.

This internal struggle is neatly woven into a history of Goldin's life from her formative years in the emotionally repressed 1950s.

THE WANDERING EARTH II (12A, 173 mins)

Released: January 27 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Released in 2019, director Frant Gwo's Mandarin-language sci-fi spectacular The Wandering Earth captured the imagination of Chinese audiences, becoming one of the country's highest grossing pictures of all time.

Gwo returns to the director's chair for a lavish prequel based on the popular novella by science fiction author Liu Cixin.

Nations unite to spearhead an ambitious plan to install powerful engines on the surface of the Earth and propel the third rock from the sun away from its principal heat source before the only star in the solar system swallows our tiny planet.

Protesters plan to sabotage the Wandering Earth Project by mounting an assault on the Ark Space Station.

The fate of humankind hangs in the balance.

BILLIE EILISH AT THE O2 (EXTENDED CUT) (15, 99 mins)

Released: January 27 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

For one night only, cinema audiences are invited to a previously unseen extended cut of director Sam Wrench's concert film, which was originally livestreamed as part of the Apple Music Live series.

Captured live using 20 full-sensor cameras during the Happier Than Ever, The World Tour at The O2 in London, Wrench's picture crams 27 songs into less than 100 minutes in cinematic 4K with Dolby Atmos sound (where available).

Intimate exchanges between Eilish and the audience punctuate a set list that includes Bury A Friend, NDA, When The Party's Over, Bellyache, Ocean Eyes and Bad Guy.

BTS: YET TO COME (U, 103 mins)

Released: February 1 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

In October 2022, South Korean band Bangtan Boys – better known as BTS – performed a sold-out concert at Asiad Main Stadium in Busan in front of delighted fans.

This concert film, directed by Oh Yoon-dong, celebrates the musicianship and slick choreography of group members J-Hope, Jimin, Jin, Jungkook, RM, Suga and V as they perform a hits-laden set that includes Butter, Dynamite, Idol and Run BTS from the Proof album.

COMING NEXT WEEK…

M Night Shyamalan puts a gay couple and their daughter through the emotional wringer in the horror thriller KNOCK AT THE CABIN… Shrek's sword-wielding feline (voiced by Antonio Banderas) scratches a new fairy tale chapter in the computer-animated adventure PUSS IN BOOTS: THE LAST WISH… and Brendan Fraser bids for an Oscar as a dangerously obese man determined to make amends in Darren Aronofsky's stage-to-screen drama THE WHALE.

FILM CHART

1. Avatar: The Way Of Water

2. M3GAN

3. Babylon

4. Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody

5. Roald Dahl's Matilda The Musical

6. A Man Called Otto

7. Varisu

8. Thunivu

9. Empire Of Light

10. Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile

(Chart courtesy of Cineworld)

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