Review: The big screen has a rich tradition of sporting underdogs who secure hard-fought personal victories against the odds in a boxing ring (Rocky, Million Dollar Baby), ice hockey rink (The Mighty Ducks), baseball park (Moneyball) or on the high-velocity banked turns of a bobsleigh track (Cool Runnings). Golf has teed up its fair share of unlikely champions including Caddyshack, Happy Gilmore and The Greatest Game Ever Played. Director Craig Roberts’ life-affirming and warmly sentimental comedy drama, adapted by Bafta winner Simon Farnaby from a book he co-wrote with Scott Murray, comfortably achieves par in such crowd-pleasing company.
The Phantom Of The Open lovingly dramatises the true story of a crane operator from Barrow-in-Furness who entered the 1976 British Open without any previous experience on a golf green. Mark Rylance imbues his portrayal of Maurice Flitcroft with a twinkly-eyed innocence and unpolished charm, wrong-footing pompous golfing club authoritarians with old-fashioned pluck, determination and the unerring support of his family. The script confidently sinks earthy one-liners as an unlikely folk hero cheerfully holds firm to his personal mantra (“Practice is the road to perfection”) in the face of ridicule. Roberts’ picture doesn’t take any big swings with plot or characterisation, charting a safe, predictable route to the clubhouse alongside Rylance’s blissfully optimistic protagonist that includes a running battle with Rhys Ifans’ coldly dismissive club secretary.
Forty-six-year-old shipyard worker Maurice Flitcroft (Rylance) is facing redundancy after years of dedicated toil to provide for his wife Jean (Sally Hawkins) and three sons. Eldest boy Mike (Jake Davies) has corporate career goals and twins Gene (Christian Lees) and James (Jonah Lees) nurture dreams of becoming disco-dancing world champions but Maurice desperately needs a fanciful pursuit to spark him back to life. That spiritual awakening arrives during televised coverage of the 104th Open Championship at Carnoustie where Tom Watson beats Jack Newton by one shot after a tense 18-hole playoff.
“I’m going to take a crack at the British Open,” Maurice casually proclaims. The complete novice earns his place at Royal Birkdale in 1976 by falsely claiming to be a professional golfer on the entry form. Maurice practices with borrowed clubs ahead of a first appearance in front of officious Keith Mackenzie (Ifans) and underling John Pegg (Tim Steed). While 19-year-old Spaniard Seve Ballesteros (Marc Bosch) cards an impressive three under par to share the lead, Maurice achieves a record-breaking 121… over par.
The Phantom Of The Open is an unabashed love letter to eccentrics and dreamers, following Flitcroft’s journey through subsequent tournaments, which he entered under amusing aliases including Arnold Palmtree. Rylance birdies his central performance and catalyses pleasing chemistry with Hawkins. Director Roberts is heavy-handed with the schmaltz down the back nine but a couple of dropped shots don’t hurt his film’s chances of winning our hearts.
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Review: In swashbuckling yarns like Robert Louis Stevenson’s 19th-century adventure Treasure Island, X scrawled on a map marks the spot where brave explorers should dig to unearth lustrous riches. In writer-director Ti West’s gore-slathered horror set on a remote farm in 1979 Texas – five years after Tobe Hooper revved up The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – X marks the spot where audiences can unearth a knowing homage to Leatherface’s murderous rampage threaded with a multifaceted study of female sexuality.
Full frontal nudity and wince-inducing violence abound, beginning with the stomach-churning image of disembowelled livestock on a sun-scorched highway – the unfortunate consequence of a head-on collision between a wandering beast and the front grill of a speeding lorry. That ill-fated bovine isn’t the only creature to suffer a grisly demise in West’s nostalgic script, which telegraphs its sadistic intentions so there is ample time to glance away before a sharp object like a knife or pitchfork pierces unsuspecting flesh in lurid close-up. X doesn’t skimp on viscera – sound effects editor Pascal Garneau has a symphony of squelches at his disposal to complement the icky make-up and prosthetics – and the film’s casting coup de grace is in plain sight throughout, confirmed rather deliciously, without fanfare, by the end credits.
Low budget film producer Wayne (Martin Henderson) bankrolls x-rated fantasy The Farmer’s Daughters starring Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow), who performs at Bayou Burlesque in Austin, his fame-hungry girlfriend Maxine (Mia Goth) and bona fide porn star Jackson Hole (Scott Mescudi). It’s 1979, the dawn of a VHS revolution, and Wayne hopes his homemade titillation will be a licence to print money and soften the financial blow of an earlier failed project, The Topless Car Wash.
The three actors and Wayne bundle into a van, scripts in hand, with boom operator Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) and her director boyfriend RJ (Owen Campbell), an independent cinema aficionado who intends to prove that “it’s possible to make a good dirty movie”. The excitable sextet venture into the countryside to shoot on location at a farm belonging to elderly couple Howard (Stephen Ure) and Pearl, who are oblivious to the salacious subject matter of RJ’s magnum opus. As night falls, someone stirs, sparking a bloodthirsty battle for survival that will eventually warrant the attention of Sheriff Dentler (James Gaylyn) and his officers.
X is a deranged throwback slasher of steadily creeping dread, which opens with Snow’s plain-talking starlet likening herself to “a foxy car crash” because viewers of The Farmer’s Daughters won’t be able to tear their eyes from the screen. It’s also an apt description for West’s picture, which trades enthusiastically in sensuality and slaughter, punctuated by macabre humour that veers towards the ridiculous in a frenetic final reckoning.
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