Salmon Fishing in the Yemen * * *
Cert 12A, 106 mins
At 41, Ewan McGregor should be at the peak of his work – but this eclectic romantic drama proves that he remains something of an enigma of British cinema.
A clown prince, still waiting to be king.
Similarly, this National Lottery-financed BBC Film doesn’t quite know whether it wants to be a full blown romantic drama, a geo-political commentary, a satirical comedy like The Thick Of It...
Or, indeed, anything but a film which appears to be caught between a rock crab and a hard ‘plaice’.
It’s closest cinema companion this year is another British movie abroad The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
But whereas the closing credits of John Madden’s older-generation, India-based comedy leaves everyone with a spring in their step, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen feels like a comparatively youthful but more contrived attempt to bolt romantic dilemmas on to the top of an already implausible story.
The noble idea that taking fly fishing for salmon to the Middle East would be a good way of illustrating how a peaceful existence could be achieved by non-military means doesn’t really work.
Any more than my heart was leaping for any of the cast.
But it’s still an enjoyably watchable film with McGregor typically proving that he remains the leading man of choice if any director wants to hire a handsome, older-than-he-looks hunk to take off his shirt.
He still has a boyish twinkle in his eye, an aptitude for comedy and an endearing tendency to offer a little smirk even when he ought to be doing nothing of the kind.
Perhaps he is too talented for his own good, in need of more discipline and direct competition than can be provided by his main UK peers working on other movies.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen sees McGregor’s fisheries’ expert Dr Alfred Jones freewheeling at the heart of an all too-predictable love triangle story.
Emily Blunt is a consultant called Harriet who recently met new boyfriend Capt Robert Mayers, a soldier played almost anonymously by One Day star Tom Mison. In total comparison, Kristin Scott Thomas is a strident hoot as the prime minister’s press officer Patricia Maxell, displaying all of the rapier wit, intelligence and appalling insensitivity of an Edwina Currie as she attempts to put some unnecessary top spin on to any old story simply because she discovers that two million people enjoy fishing. Her F-words, though, put paid to the theory that you’re allowed one offensive curse in a 12A movie.
And her early line mentioning Vera Lynn and suicide belt in the same sentence is crass in the extreme.
The script is by The Full Monty’s Simon Beaufoy, more recently an Oscar-winner for Slumdog Millionaire and nominated again for 127 Hours, two movies by Danny Boyle who launched McGregor’s career with Shallow Grave and Trainspotting.
Pitching Beaufoy in with The Cider House Rules’ veteran Swedish director Lasse Hallström sounds like an odd combination on paper and so it appears on screen with a story involving London, Scotland, Afghanistan and the Yemen.
Despite some good landscape cinematography by Terry Stacey (Dear John), just like the drive towards multiculturalism risks diminishing what makes each individual community special, this Salmon feels as if it’s been a little bit lost in a Hollywood blender.
Gone * *
Cert 15, 95 mins
When women star in psychological thrillers they are very often the victims. Gone turns this theory on its head by making Jill (Amanda Seyfried) go hunting alone to try find out what has happened to her sister, Molly (Emily Wickersham).
To a degree, the idea works. Jill is haunted by the belief that she was once left down a hole by a psychopath.
And, after she escaped, that he came looking for her when he kidnapped Molly instead. If you like your thrillers to be shot in the dark, then this will suit.
It adds a sense of claustrophobia to Jill’s determination to do anything – even if it means driving out to a remote site alone in pursuit of a potential serial killer.
The script has been written by a woman, Allison Burnett, who reworked Fame for the recent remake, so Gone doesn’t feel as gratuitous as many films of this ilk. Just very silly. Any impending horror we might feel is always watered down in equal measure.
Elfie Hopkins *
Cert 15, 89 mins
The only reason this sorry film has had any publicity at all is that it stars Jaime Winstone in the lead role, with her dad Ray Winstone dropping by to play a butcher.
That he wears the most unflattering headgear seen on a cinema screen since the peerless Meryl Streep put on a bonnet for Doubt, is just one of the reasons why this film will stick long in the memory.
But for all of the wrong reasons. It’s cheaply made, shambolically written, diabolically acted, badly directed and excruciatingly awful.
The plot, if you can call it that, is about a wannabe female detective discovering that her village includes a family of cannibals. The BBFC has chopped out six seconds of violence to bring the film in at a 15. But when other stabbings have been retained, a woman is shot through the neck with a crossbow, a man is shot in the head and a woman has her throat slashed do those six missing six seconds really make any difference at all?
When you think about it, they work out at two seconds per year between viewers aged from 15 to 18.
As for me, as an over 18-year-old I’m looking on the bright side. I might have lost 89 minutes of my life, but the BBFC gave me six seconds of ‘cashback’.
Babycall * * *
Cert 15, 96 mins
If last week’s Delicacy proved that 35-year-old French star Audrey Tautou is perhaps becoming a little too short of capriciousness for her own good, then perhaps Sweden’s Noomi Rapace will more than fill the gap in the years to come.
Best known for playing Lisbeth Salander in the original Dragon Tattoo trilogy, the 32-year-old Rapace plays a mother of a young boy here. In order to escape from his violent father, she has taken residence in an high-rise apartment and relocated son Anders (Vetle Qvenild Werring) to a new school on the edge of Oslo.
Social workers are keeping an eye on the pair, and she strikes up a timid friendship with a shop assistant who sells her a baby monitor so that she can listen out for Anders’ welfare. Still she remains afraid...
Veteran Norwegian director Pål Sletaune (Budbringeren, 1997) doesn’t quite manage to tie the film’s various threads together as a meaningful whole.
But as a portrait of a scared-stiff mother trying to do her best for her child, Rapace again proves herself to be a fearless actress, especially when Babycall is delivering elements which are as unsettling as something like Robin Williams’ One Hour Photo (2002).
Although it is ‘only’ being given a one-off screening by the Birmingham International Film Society (http://www.birmingham-film.org) at the Birmingham Library Theatre from 6.15pm on Tuesday, April 24, it has more memorable highlights than any other film out this week, with one scene in particular one of the most shocking in recent memory. I hope nobody copies it.
Titanic Love * * * *
Made in and around the Jewellery Quarter, Titanic Love is a short film which tells the amusing story of Lucy (Susannah Felicity Wells) who is obsessed with the ship and boyfriend Jack (Alex Edwardson) who isn’t. Once the penny finally drops in Jack’s brain why she adores it so much, the pair end up on a Birmingham canal boat called Titinic, recreating the famous love scene from the James Cameron film.
Produced and directed by Mark Pressdee from Macoy Media in the Jewellery Quarter, Titanic Love also makes the most of the region’s industrial and heritage links to the Titanic especially as two of the companies are still trading and the sinking sequence is inspired reverence to the genius of our canal builders.
The public’s first chance to see Titanic Love will be a Departure Lounge screening at the MAC in Cannon Hill Park from 8pm tonight (£7/£5).