Film Review of the Week


The Lost City (12A)

Review: Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum grumble in the jungle in a rip-roaring action-adventure comedy directed by Adam and Aaron Nee, which lovingly harks back four decades to the good-humoured escapism of Romancing The Stone and Jewel Of The Nile. Sparkling chemistry between the leads, who are unafraid to make fools of themselves for our enjoyment, enlivens a gloriously silly caper that milks laughs from Bullock’s impeccable pratfalls, Tatum’s exposed buttocks and the slow-motion hairography of Brad Pitt’s extended cameo.

A loopy script credited to the directors as well as Oren Uziel and Dana Fox strikes a crowd-pleasing balance between breathless action set pieces, including a ham-fisted fight on a moving armoured vehicle, and full-blown screwball comedy that excavates unexpectedly macabre ground. Some of the nuttier diversions, like a goofy cargo plane pilot (Oscar Nunez) whose best friend is a goat, don’t quite land and a gleefully unhinged Daniel Radcliffe with bulging neck veins vanishes for disappointingly long stretches when his maniacal menace could be sustained. However, Bullock and Tatum sell every deranged digression with aplomb, cajoling us to have as much fun in our seats as they are having together on-screen in steamy surroundings.

Five years after the death of her archaeologist husband, reclusive romance novelist Loretta Sage (Bullock) puts the finishing touches to her latest page turner, The Lost City Of D, featuring her thrill-seeking alter ego Dr Angela Lovemore and lusciously golden-locked paramour Dash McMahon. Literary publicist Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) drags Loretta on a book tour with newly appointed social media manager Allison (Patti Harrison) in tow, who blithely embellishes every post with #shawnmendes to attract a younger demographic. Beth neglects to mention that model Alan Caprison (Tatum), who portrays Dash on the book covers, will be joining them for the promotional whirlwind.

Following a disastrous Q&A session dressed in a skin-tight sequined pink jumpsuit, Loretta is kidnapped by two goons (Hector Anibal, Thomas Forbes-Johnson). Their sharp-suited master, Abigail Fairfax (Radcliffe), believes the key to a real-life ancient civilisation and its greatest treasure – a priceless ruby headdress – is hidden “amidst the pages of coital reverie” of Loretta’s latest bonkbuster. While Loretta spars with her captors, Alan recruits human tracker Jack Trainer (Pitt) to help him rescue the author, for whom he clearly holds a torch… that will come in handy when the expedition ventures into labyrinthine caverns.

The Lost City is a rib-tickling blast that gambols free of logic and realism, with a strong, resourceful female protagonist at its core (“Wait, I’m the damsel in distress?!” realises Alan during the treasure hunt). Bullock and Tatum are a winning double-act, striking gold with every verbal sideswipe and intentional tumble. They are the glittering treasures of the Nee brothers’ hare-brained horseplay.

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The Northman (15)

Review: It’s bitterly cold up north – specifically 9th-century Scandinavia – in writer-director Robert Eggers’ slow-burning and morally ambiguous thriller, inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Norse legend. Shot on location in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, The Northman reunites the American filmmaker with Anya Taylor-Joy and Willem Dafoe, stars of his award-winning films The Witch and The Lighthouse, and with regular cinematographer Jarin Blaschke. Their mastery of foreboding shadows and natural light, epitomised by a fluid single take of Vikings storming a fortified outpost and massacring menfolk, creates striking yet horrific tableaux of a torched barn filled with screaming women and children and mutilated naked bodies pinned to a hut as an omen of angered gods.

Warmer, golden hues of candlelit interiors contrast with muted earth tones of wind- and snow-swept vistas where a decapitated horse lies perpetually frozen and cawing ravens wheel ominously in overcast sky. Alexander Skarsgard and co-star Taylor-Joy are exposed in every sense, including dramatically necessary full-frontal nudity to deter an imminent sexual assault with a demonstration of menstrual blood. Mood and mythology overwhelm a simplistic revenge plot co-written by Eggers and Icelandic author Sjon to inflate the running time beyond what feels comfortable, providing us with a physical ordeal in tandem with characters’ gruelling odysseys through mud and mire.

As a flaxen-haired youth, Amleth (Oscar Novak) is devoted to his father, King Aurvandil War-Raven (Ethan Hawke), who rules with a strong hand and the unwavering support of wife Queen Gudrun (Nicole Kidman). Court jester Heimir (Dafoe) provides ribald comic relief and oversees a coming-of-age ritual to anoint Amleth as heir apparent. Treachery consigns the king to Valhalla and Amleth watches helplessly as his duplicitous uncle Fjolnir (Claes Bang) seizes the throne. “I will avenge you father, I will save you mother, I will kill you Fjolnir,” declares Amleth as he rows out to sea to escape knife-wielding assassins.

Many years later, Amleth (now played by Skarsgard) smuggles himself aboard a prisoner ship bound for Fjolnir’s fractured tribe in Iceland. En route to a destiny foretold by a seer (Bjork), Amleth meets resourceful captive Olga (Taylor-Joy) and they forge a pact to bring down his murderous uncle in the shadow of a slumbering volcano. “Your strength breaks men’s bones,” she hisses. “I have the cunning to break their minds.”

The Northman is an ambitious and technically dazzling tale of power and succession set in a time of mysticism and human sacrifice where Skarsgard’s strapping avenger meets betrayal with a sharp blade and a colder heart. A blood-soaked final act feels disjointed but Eggers powers through like his tortured protagonist. Kidman has only one meaty scene but she seizes it by the jugular, affirming King Aurvandil’s fatherly advice to always heed the power behind the glittering crown.

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Operation Mincemeat (12A)

Review: The truth is protected by a bodyguard of lies in Operation Mincemeat, a handsome dramatisation of outlandish British counter-espionage during the Second World War informed by Ben MacIntyre’s book of the same title. An extraordinary true story of subterfuge involving the corpse of a homeless man, posing as a fallen British agent in possession of classified documents, sustains bearably light tension over two hours in the assured hands of director John Madden. The upper lips of a stellar British cast led by Colin Firth, Matthew Macfadyen, Kelly Macdonald, Penelope Wilton and Jason Isaacs are visibly stiffened by Michelle Ashford’s script, which juxtaposes events in the Mediterranean in the summer of 1943 with personal rivalries and thwarted romance on blitzkrieged home shores.

A plummy voiceover from James Bond creator Ian Fleming (Johnny Flynn), a lieutenant commander in the British Naval Intelligence Division at the time, skirts solemnity and earnestness and is occasionally distracting. His prosaic narration is superfluous when Madden and cinematographer Sebastian Blenkov successfully conjure striking images of “battlefields in shades of grey” to a robust orchestral score courtesy of composer Thomas Newman.

In 1943, Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Simon Russell Beale) hopes to turn the tide against Hitler by landing 100,000 forces on Sicily’s southern shore, liberate the island then push up through Italy into occupied Europe. Unfortunately, the Germans have caught wind of the manoeuvre. British intelligence has just five weeks to play “a humiliating trick on Hitler” and avoid an Allied bloodbath by convincing the Nazis that the intended target for the incursion is Greece not Sicily. Members of the Twenty Committee, which oversees MI5’s counter-espionage operations, assemble at 58 St James’s Street to agree a daring plan of action.

Inspired by a memo penned by Rear Admiral John Godfrey (Isaacs) and his personal assistant Fleming, agents Ewen Montagu (Firth) and Charles Cholmondeley (Macfadyen) conceive Operation Mincemeat. The British will use a submarine to float the body of a drowned Allied airman into the clutches of the Fascist network in Spain. The deceased will be carrying top-secret papers about the Greek offensive. This disinformation strategy requires Montagu, Cholmondeley and their team including Hester Leggett (Wilton) and Jean Leslie (Macdonald) to invent a detailed back story for the fallen airman to hoodwink the enemy.

Operation Mincemeat stylishly evokes a period of paranoia and suspicion with pointed nods to codenames and gadgetry that Fleming would feed into Casino Royale in 1952 and subsequent 007 adventures. Firth and Macfadyen aren’t stretched by the material but they are instantly relatable brothers in arms, beset by occasional pangs of jealousy. A love triangle involving Macdonald’s spunky recruit, a ploy to forcibly insert one female character deeper into the story, is redundant and would have been acceptable collateral damage of the editing process.

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