Movie reviews: Whip It, No One Knows About Persian Cats, Shelter
WHIP IT * * *
Cert 12A, 111 mins
Drew Barrymore makes an impressive directorial debut in this fun, if predictable, film about a small-town girl who gets her kicks on roller skates.
Pushy mother Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden) is a former beauty queen who wants her daughters to follow in her footsteps.
Bliss (Ellen Page), though, isn’t exactly the pageant type. She wears chunky boots and dyes her hair blue. So she’s thrilled to discover the exciting world of roller derby, where girls dress in short skirts and fishnet tights, give themselves names like Jabba the Slut and Eva Destruction and race around a track in roller skates, crashing into each other.
She tries out for the Hurl Scouts in Austin, Texas, lead by Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig) and Smashley Simpson (Barrymore).
She’s very fast on skates and is signed up, after changing her name from the far-from-intimidating Bliss to Babe Ruthless.
The Hurl Scouts have fun but are always last in the league, particularly losing out to arch enemies the Holy Rollers, led by Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis).
Still, with Bliss on board, what’s the betting they start to listen to coach Razor (Andrew Wilson, big brother to Luke and Owen) and win for a change?
Bliss keeps her new activity a secret from her parents, but they’re bound to find out eventually. As will the team when they discover she’s been lying about her age.
You have be 21 to be elbowed in the face and pushed over, but Bliss is just 17.
Ellen Page seems to be getting younger on screen – the 23-year-old shot to fame playing a pregnant 16-year-old in Juno, and here she’s aged just a year.
There’s also a sweet sub-plot involving Bliss falling for musician Oliver (Landon Pigg), and Barrymore comes up with an original and well-shot (if physically unfeasible) underwater love scene.
She also adds excitement to the roller derby matches. Thankfully the rules, unlike for American football, are fairly simple – basically a bunch of girls skate round while barging into each other and trying to stop the ‘jammers’ from getting through the pack.
The sport has been going since 1922 but was revived in its modern form about 10 years ago, and we even have a local team, the Birmingham Blitz Dames.
By the way, the title comes from a roller derby move – “nothing gives you speed like The Whip” says commentator Johnny Rocket (Jimmy Fallon).
The script is pretty sharp and performances good, especially from Harden and Alia Shawkat as Bliss’s best friend.
Sure, Whip It is clichéd, slight and formulaic, but it still has enough charm and wit to keep us entertained. And it’s packed with girl power. RL
NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT PERSIAN CATS * * * *
Cert 12A, 107 mins
Bahman Ghobadi’s heartfelt story from Iran’s culturally-supressed streets won the Special Jury Prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Forbidden from playing their music, talented musicians Negar (Negar Shaghaghi) and Ashkan (Ashkan Koshanejad) trawl the streets for fellow musicians to form a band which could play in Europe.
Money and passports are just two of their problems – finding a decent guitarist is another.
The line ‘Dreaming is my reality’ is almost Black Sabbathesque and there’s a theme about how struggles can sap the human spirit.
But, in the age of the internet, it will surely become harder and harder for repressive regimes to remain impervious to the more enlightening aspects of western culture.
And so Persian Cats is also a fine, optimistic companion piece for the Irish film Once, which won Glen Hansard the best song Oscar in 2008.
The film makes its Midlands bow at the Stratford Picture House from Sunday to Tuesday. It’s also on at Leicester Phoenix from April 12-19. GY
SHELTER * *
Cert 15, 112 mins
As she reminded us opposite the Oscar-nominated Colin Firth in Tom Ford’s debut film A Single Man, Julianne Moore is a fine actress when she’s on song.
And when the backbone of the movie has a decent script.
Having foolishly signed on the dotted line here, though, there’s nothing she could have done to make this film any better than what it is – a profound disappointment from a star with four Oscar nominations.
Directed by Swedish duo Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, Shelter starts off well and there’s one clever scene that will have most viewers jumping out of their seats. Part of the trick is an aural one, so when it increasingly dawns on you that the sound engineers seem to have been on some sort of overkill bonus the film’s prospects quickly diminish from bright to dull.
Moore plays a forensic psychiatrist called Cara whose father introduces her to a male patient who appears to have multiple personality disorders.
With references to classic horror films clearly including Silence of the Lambs, the scenes where Cara is alone with Adam (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) lack tension simply because of their implausibility.
Especially when she meets Adam in a remote place and then turns her back on him.
When a plot has this many gaping holes, the film’s title is something of a joke. GY