THE dizzying documentary Free Solo takes you places no person in their right mind would want to go… to stunning effect.
If you missed Slaughterhouse Rulez at the cinema, along with everyone else, now’s the time to take a look. And Eddie Redmayne returns as Newton Scamander in the so-so second Fantastic Beasts.
DVD OF THE WEEK — Free Solo
(12A) 100mins, out now
DIZZYING, Oscar-winning documentary about ace climber Alex Honnold and his bid to scale Yosemite National Park’s fabled El Capitan cliff face . . . without a rope. This is a compelling study of obsession at the outer limits of human endeavour – and an intimate portrait of the demands it puts on his new relationship.
Unless you have seen the film, or stood at the top of El Capitan yourself, it’s hard to get across just how bonkers his ambition is. Honnold is a fascinating subject, effortlessly charismatic, often charming and naturally modest. He lives in a van and eats dinner straight from the saucepan with a wooden spoon. Then again, he must be near-impossible to live with.
Free Solo catches Honnold at a pivotal time in his life. He is a natural loner embarking on a new relationship, with all the added pressures and distractions that brings. A single slip could mean death… and now he’s climbing for two. Amusing as often as it is astonishing, this is truly inspirational stuff, with the stunning Yosemite scenery a bonus.
For a nerve-wracking, vertigo-inducing double bill, pair this with 2008’s Man On Wire, about Philippe Petit’s equally insane tightrope walk between the Twin Towers in 1974. Just don’t look down.
(15), 103mins, out now
THIS Simon Pegg-Nick Frost production sunk without trace from cinemas last Halloween — but unfairly so.
It’s a gory comedy-shocker that lampoons the excesses and horrors of boarding school, sharing DNA with Monty Python, Lindsay Anderson’s If… and, most obviously, Pegg and Edgar Wright’s Cornetto trilogy. The script is not nearly as sharp but still delivers plenty of laughs, especially early on. The gags dry up rather in the final third as the splatter-count soars — a weakness it arguably shares with Cornetto closer The World’s End.
Pegg, Frost and Michael Sheen display their usual comic mastery in this tale of a sinister goings-on in a posh boarding school, though there isn’t enough Sheen as the school’s shady headmaster. (Can there ever be enough Michael Sheen?)
But the young cast deliver too, with Finn Cole (Peaky Blinders), Hermione Corfield and Asa Butterfield all superb (though only Butterfield looks anything other than an adult playing dress-up in school garb). Cole brings barrels of easy charm as the unassuming Northern lad pitched into this very particular kind of hell — he’s a more likeable lead than Taron Egerton in Kingsman: The Secret Service, which did some similar things to much (much) bigger box-office business.
The horror is too extreme for youngsters and director Crispian Mills — who directed Pegg’s little-loved A Fantastic Fear Of Everything but is still best known as the bloke from Kula Shaker — doesn’t always seem sure what kind of movie he’s making. But there are plenty of memorable moments. Very nearly brilliant.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald
(12A) 131mins, out March 18
CARRIED along by Eddie Redmayne’s easygoing lead turn as “magizoologist” Newton Scamander, this plot-heavy second-of-five in the Fantastic Beasts franchise only occasionally gets bogged down in its own mythology.
The Twenties evocations of New York, Paris and London are very nearly as spectacular as the wizarding, of which there is plenty. And there’s no shortage of beastly exotica to gawp at. Perhaps most remarkable is the restrained performancer from Johnny Depp, who mercifully resists giving it the full Captain Jack as villainous Grindelwald.
Your personal investment in JK Rowling’s ever-expanding universe will determine whether you greet the twisty, turny, very talky finale with a gasp or a shrug.
(18) 110mins, out now
THE less you know in advance about this D-Day genre-hopper, the better.
The opening plays like a Call Of Duty cut-scene (although Wolfenstein might be more apt). But if calling the soldiers’ feeble banter “video-game standard” does the games industry a disservice, there’s an arresting, uncanny aesthetic right from the off — including a truly haunting image of dead paratroopers dangling from burning trees. And director Julius Avery’s fondness for jump-scares hints further at the grisly weirdness to come. Suffice to say, this isn’t a meat-and-potatoes war movie.
Soon the paratroopers tasked with taking out a German radio mast are up against something even nastier than regular Nazis. It’s as subtle as tracer fire and a sour note is struck by an unnecessary sexual assault (just in case we weren’t sure which side to root for). But the sillier the mayhem gets, the more entertaining this becomes. A rewardingly gruesome romp.
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The Nutcracker & The Four Realms
(PG) 99mins, out now
CHAOTIC, confused headache of a movie set in a magical kingdom where respected British actors pocket (presumably) hefty pay cheques for hiding their collective embarrassment.
Keira Knightley delivers a remarkably grating turn as the Sugar Plum Fairy, channelling Blackadder’s Queenie in a pointed reminder of good she can be in things that aren’t this. Helen Mirren and Richard E Grant are merely forgettable, while Morgan Freeman crops up to deliver exposition in a sleepy impersonation of Morgan Freeman in Batman.
It looks fantastic, there are some highly controversial messages about working as a team and being true to yourself (gasp!) — and it might just turn on some youngsters to the classical music it sweatily ransacks for inspiration. That at least would justify its existence to some degree.