Dina (15) Directed by Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles 4/5
THIS uniquely intimate story of an unlikely couple, both suffering from variations of Asperger’s syndrome and preparing to marry, might have resembled Hollywood romantic fiction at its most sickly-sweet.
But this — deservedly — multi-prize-winning film following Dina and Walmart door-greeter Scott’s wedding plans is a riveting documentary. The unlikely lovers are real people, making their their fascinating progress towards their nuptials all the more compelling.
Dina — “I have an opinion. I’m a strong person” — whose first husband died of cancer, drives the story. She moves Scott from his parents’ house into her apartment while both prepare for the wedding but still find time to visit Ocean City in New Jersey where she gives Scott a copy of The Joy of Sex and intimately discusses sexual issues.
Fascinatingly, the camerawork by directors Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles is static and because they eschew intrusive hand-held tricksiness, extra realism is added to an extraordinary story.
Brawl in Cell Block 99 (18) Directed by S Craig Zahler 4/5
GRAPHICALLY violent, unrelentingly brutal and at times painful to watch — that’s just Vince Vaughn’s performance.
The comic actor gives the portrayal of his career in S Craig Zahler’s follow up to his deliciously twisted Western Bone Tomahawk.
A barely recognisable, bald-headed Vaughn plays a former boxer turned drug runner who ends up in prison. There he turns into a one-man killing machine in order to save his pregnant wife (Jennifer Carpenter) from a drugs lord.
The ex-boxer beating up and destroying a car with his bare hands to avoid hitting his on-screen wife is a sight to behold. But it doesn’t quite prepare you for the jaw-dropping violence, reinforced by OTT sound effects, his character unleashes in jail.
It is relentless and borderline comic-book brutality but Zahler again provides a fresh take on an old genre.
Be warned, though, this isn’t for the faint hearted.
The Death of Stalin (15) Directed by Armando Iannucci 2/5
BEST known for scripting the television comedies Alan Partridge and The Thick of It as well as its semi-spin-off film In the Loop, Armando Iannucci returns to the big screen as director and adequate if forgettable co-writer of this nowhere-as-clever-as-it-thinks-it-is parody. Its farcical view of political infighting following the death of Stalin regrettably resembles a forgettable undergraduate comedy revue — think The Goodies Go to Moscow or Monty Python Meets Khrushchev — rather than being as clever or amusing as it thinks it is. Which isn’t surprising, considering that the screenplay by Iannucci, David Schneider and two other collaborators is based on a French graphic novel, explaining the largely paper-thin characterisation and directorial overemphasis. Iannucci’s been lucky in assembling a far-better-than-deserved cast, headed by Steve Buscemi as Khruschov and Michael Palin as Molotov. Winston Churchill might have been speaking for the director when he wrote: “History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.” Perhaps he should be Iannucci’s next cinematic subject. AF
Marshall (15) Directed by Reginald Hudlin 4/5
THIS gripping biopic about Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, takes an illuminating look at one of his first career-defining cases. Set in 1940, it focuses on his early working life, while delivering a wonderfully thrilling old-fashioned courtroom drama which explores the racism, racial tensions and injustices at the time and the beginning of the civil rights movement.
Chadwick Boseman gives a sterling performance as the young and rabble-rousing attorney Marshall for the NAACP, while Josh Gad is superlative as the lawyer Samuel Friedman he ropes in to help him defend Joseph Spell (Sterling K Brown), a black chauffeur accused of sexually assaulting and attempting to murder his white employer Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson) in Connecticut. This case apparently helped lay the groundwork for the civil rights movement to come and it’s a compelling, nail-biting and hugely entertaining thriller.
It is also a stark reminder of how far we still need to go in the fight for civil rights and against racism.
Happy Death Day (15) Directed by Christopher Landon 5/5 THIS horror film, with an increasingly nerve-jangling story, is definitely out of the ordinary.
In it, luckless US university student Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) is subjected to repetitive nights of terror when she is hideously murdered time after time only to wake up the next day in the room of fellow student Carter (Israel Broussard).
She’s forced to die every night until finally foiling her sadistic serial killer.
Described by director Christopher Landon as “the horror-movie version of Groundhog Day,” he wastes no time in telling screenwriter Scott Lobdell’s ingenious story and delivers a sure-fire shocker, made all the more terrifying by a cast of unfamiliar faces adding credibility.
Gelbman’s terrifying nightly deaths are never repetitive and the film moves at such a brisk pace that, like the luckless victim, there’s time to try and figure out an escalating nightmare.
Destined to become a minor genre classic.
The Ballad of Shirley Collins (12A) Directed by Rob Curry and Tim Plester 3/5 The BALLAD of Shirley Collins recounts the remarkable story of one of the greatest British folk singers of the 20th century, who mysteriously lost her singing voice in 1980 and is now making a comeback.
If you are not familiar with Collins, this documentary won’t give you any idea of how significant she was or her legacy.
You do hear from the singer herself who, oddly, is interviewed by a comedian and a psychologist and, together with the use of archive film footage and audio from 1959, you get some insight into her life and work — and to hear her extraordinary singing voice.
The film concentrates largely on the making of her comeback album but I’d have liked to have heard more from her contemporaries and on how and why her voice miraculously returned.