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Film round-up: July 11, 2019

MARIA DUARTE and ALAN FRANK review The Dead Don’t Die, Pavarotti, Annabelle, Kursk: The Last Mission, Stuber, Only You and Armstrong

Pavarotti (12A)
Directed by Ron Howard
★★★★★

THE GREAT Luciano Pavarotti will always be synonymous with Nessun Dorma and the Three Tenors but Ron Howard’s gimmick-free documentary provides an insightful and comprehensive look behind the man and the legend.

Through interviews with his wives, his mistresses and daughters from his first marriage, Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras and many others plus previously unseen archive footage of him singing as a teenager with his baker father in a local male choir and family videos, the film traces his life from modest beginnings as an amateur singer to the greatest tenor in the world and philanthropist.

It’s a fascinating and moving story, full of highs, lows and a few twists, in which Howard lets this larger-than-life maestro — described as the Caruso of his time — shine through, along with his joyous and infectious personality, his passion for life and the art and his determination to make opera accessible to the masses.

It’s a reminder of that extraordinary voice and how he made it look so easy while revealing why he used his trademark white hanky.

When asked how he would like to be remembered in 100 years’ time Pavarotti said as the man who took opera to the people. Hopefully, by then he will have been rediscovered by a whole new generation.

Maria Duarte

The Dead Don’t Die (15)
Directed by Jim Jarmusch
★★★

FILM-MAKERS of late have sought to inject satire and broad comedy into the horror genre, most memorably Edgar Wright with Shaun of the Dead and Sam Raimi with Army of Darkness.

Now writer-director Jim Jarmusch delivers his own corpse-strewn comedy which, while boasting some memorable enough moments and perhaps a better cast than it deserves, never really reaches the heights.

This frequently unfunny blood-and-gore show is set in the once peaceful town of Centerville, which is attacked by legions of bloodthirsty zombies, leaving cops Robertson and Peterson (Bill Murray and Adam Driver) fighting to eliminate the undead.

Solid special effects, notably zombie beheadings, add visual impact, along with crowds of shambling undead chasing luckless humans.

But, while delivering regulation horror-show goods, Jarmusch’s attempts at real humour largely fall flat.

Murray and Driver work hard, while Tilda Swinton’s cold persona underpins her appropriately charmless role in a film that’s OK for genre fans. But there’s nothing specially weird about it, except for the fact that it opened the Cannes film festival earlier in the year.

Alan Frank

Annabelle (15)
Directed by Gary Dauberman
★★★

GARY DAUBERMAN, who scripted the first two deranged demon-doll Annabelle shockers, returns with yet another basket of chills and thrills in this, his less-than-milestone directing debut.

A cavalcade of unmemorable shocks, it’s aimed at easily pleased horror-film fans in the hope, I assume, of keeping the franchise going.

This time around demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) “lock” possessed doll Annabelle behind glass in their home and, for good measure, have a priest deliver a holy blessing.

But, remember, it’s a sequel and so a year later, vividly executed in a downpour of special effects, Annabelle and her fellow evil spirits are woken by the Warrens’ 10-year-old daughter Judy (played with a commendably straight face by McKenna Grace).

She and her high-school babysitters then go on to face an onslaught of supernatural terror in what’s a loud and lurid affair. Strictly for genre completists.

AF

Kursk: The Last Mission (12A)
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg
★★★

THIS compelling drama is based on the true story of the Kursk submarine tragedy of 2000 in which 118 men were killed when the nuclear-powered vessel exploded into flames.

It comes almost two weeks since 14 Russian sailors were killed in a nuclear submarine fire near the Arctic.

The film concentrates on the 23 sailors who survived the initial fire, their families’ battle with the Russian authorities to get answers and save their loved ones, along with the Moscow government’s refusal to accept help from the British navy to rescue the men because they didn’t want the Brits to obtain intel on their flagship nuclear vessel.

Starring Matthias Schoenaerts and Colin Firth, the drama captures with great realism the harrowing ordeal the men would have gone through and the claustrophobic tension and fear inside such a confined space as they waited to be rescued.

Its gritty, deadpan tone and look is very reminiscent of the recent Chernobyl TV series.

It’s still hard to comprehend why safeguarding the secrets of a submarine was more important than the lives of 23 men.

MD

Stuber (15)
Directed by Michael Dowse
★★

PRODUCT placement is an increasingly valuable asset in film financing.

Naturally, only a deeply cynical reviewer would suggest that basing the title of this crass comedy-cum-action thriller on the real-life cab company that allows drivers ”to be their own boss“ is product placement.

In it, mild-mannered Uber driver Stu — hence Stuber — who’s played rather more vigorously than deserved by Kumail Nanjiani, faces increasing danger and daft situations when his latest passenger Vic Manning (Dave Bautista) turns out to be a Los Angeles cop chasing a sadistic, bloodthirsty terrorist.

Unfortunately for Stu, Manning’s poor sight means he cannot see the road too well, cueing increasingly loud and lurid situations which put Stuber’s life in mounting danger.

What screenwriter Tripper Clancy and director Michael Dowse along with his hard-working leads deliver is a less than convincing load of brawls, effectively decorated with well-used Los Angeles locations.

AF

Only You (15)
Directed by Harry Wootliff
★★★

A CHANCE meeting on New Year’s Eve in Glasgow as they fight for a taxi brings Jake (Josh O’Connor) and Elena (Laia Costa) together. It’s lust and fireworks at first sight.

The pair soon embark on a passionate relationship, which develops at high speed despite their age gap — he’s 26 and she’s 35 — but it goes to a serious new level when Jake sees Elena holding her friend’s baby and suggests they have one of their own.

Their relationship is severely tested by Elena’s inability to fall pregnant while all their friends are having babies. This is where Harry Wootliff’s debut feature takes a fascinating turn as it explores the rare topic of infertility and the emotions and the practicalities surrounding IVF treatment and the pressures it places on a couple.

With heartbreaking powerhouse performances from O’Connor and Costa, this proves to be a refreshingly candid romantic drama which any couple who has been through a similar situation will relate to.

MD

Armstrong (12A)
Directed by David Fairhead
★★★★

WHEN stepping onto the surface of the moon on July 20, 1977, Neil Armstrong delivered the famous quote: “One small step for man but a giant leap for mankind.”
 
Cynics might suggest that his words were scripted by a PR team to mark history in the making.

But David Fairhead’s riveting documentary — which follows Armstrong from childhood in rural Ohio, to pilot during the Korean war and experimental test pilot before becoming the most celebrated explorer in world history— needs no public-relations padding.  

The consistently fascinating story finds Armstrong spending his post-lunar days making his mark while trying to avoid understandable global celebrity and, in the process, the portrait of a man who was much more than just the first moonwalker emerges.

AF

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