Paddy Considine, 92 mins, starring: Paddy Considine, Jodie Whittaker, Paul Popplewell
Teabags feature far more frequently in Paddy Considine’s Journeyman than in most other fight films. The most shocking moment here comes not during the ageing middleweight champ Matty Burton’s final fight but shortly afterwards, when he is about to have a cuppa with his wife Emma (Jodie Whittaker).
While she is in the kitchen, boiling the kettle, Matty (played by Considine) suddenly has a flashback to the ring. We hear sickening thuds on the soundtrack and see his head being pummelled like a coconut on a stand by his young opponent. As a result of the blows, his memory is scrambled. He can’t speak or move properly.
Considine made Journeyman with support from the Wellcome Trust, which invests in films whose themes are “relevant to biomedical research”. Its plot and production history might lead you to expect an anti-boxing movie.
The storyline revolves around a brain-damaged fighter whose condition makes him behave erratically and aggressively towards those he loves. Nonetheless, Considine’s affection for the sport shines through every frame of the film.
He has been in a boxing film before (Ron Howard’s Cinderalla Man) and he fills the cast with characters from the real life fight world. Journalists like Steve Bunce and Gareth A Davies or trainer Brendan Ingle surely wouldn’t have accepted roles if they had felt Journeyman was attacking their sport.
Matty’s plight here is similar to that of real-life fighters like British middleweight Michael Watson or American Gerald McClellan, who both suffered life-changing brain injuries in their final bouts.
In spite of its very bleak themes and moments of brutality (all those slow motion close-ups of Matty spitting blood), the movie eventually turns into as much of a feelgood affair as any other Rocky-style yarn – and feels as contrived as most of them. It’s a love story in which the hero battles enormous odds to keep his family together. The main difference is that his fight is outside the ring.
Matty is an improbable figure. He’s a “journeyman,” a long in the tooth fighter who just “stands there” in the ring and doesn’t appear to have any great skills other than courage and durability.
Nonetheless, he has become world champion. His brash young opponent Andre “The Future” Bryte (Anthony Welsh) vows that he will expose Matty’s limitations. Matty takes his insults with the same equanimity he will later show while soaking up his punches.
As a fighter, he doesn’t appear to have much personality. He won’t engage in trash talk, or try to belittle his opponent or give the media the soundbites they want. He goes about his boxing as if it an everyday job.
The film becomes as much about Emma as about her husband. When he collapses, she is left with the responsibility not only for their tiny baby, Mia, but for him too. Released from hospital, the dependable, self-effacing Matty has become helpless.
He doesn’t recognise his own friends and family. He can’t even remember how to make a cup of tea. Away from the ring, he used to be a very gentle man but either his condition or his frustration at it have filled him with pent up violence.
He hits Emma, smashes up crockery and picture frames, and becomes so exasperated with his daughter’s crying that, at one stage, he locks her away in the washing machine.
Whittaker is impressive as the long-suffering wife whose bravery in dealing with her husband easily matches anything he showed in the ring. They love each other. She is determined to keep that love alive in the face of calamity.
Considine may not look especially convincing as a world champion fighter but he gives a probing, intelligent performance as a man who has mislaid his own identity. As he watches old videos of his family life and of his fights and learns by rote the names of former friends, he is like a detective desperately trying to solve a mystery.
In the recent Will Smith movie, Concussion (2015), about brain damaged former American footballers, the obvious conclusion is that the sport is damaging and destructive – and should either be banned or radically reformed.
President Barack Obama famously commented that he wouldn’t allow his son to play pro football. In Journeyman, the sport may be the cause of the protagonist’s injury but it is also his saviour. “He needs us big time.”
Matty’s former trainers say of him when they finally come to his assistance. The boxing community is portrayed in an idealised way. The gym at which Matty trains is a sacred and communal space where old and young, men and women, come together.
Everyone shares the same values of hard work and respect. Being there is better for Matty’s rehab than any conventional hospital treatment. You can’t help but think that all the life-affirming camaraderie is a little exaggerated. It risks understating the risks and brutality of the sport that had such dire consequences for Matty in the first place.
Journeyman is a well-crafted and intelligent drama. For all its clever footwork, though, it stumbles when it tries to find a rousing and upbeat ending from subject matter that is innately so grim.
Midnight Sun (12A)
Scott Speer, 91 mins, starring: Bella Thorne, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Rob Riggle
Midnight Sun is the soppiest and most shameless tearjerker of the year so far. It tells the story of a 17-year-old girl, Katie Price (Bella Thorne), who can’t go out in the sun. The beautiful redhead is suffering from ‘XP,’ a rare disease which makes her super sensitive to ultra violet rays.
To add to her woes, her mother died when she was very little. Katie has been brought up by her devoted father Jack (Rob Riggle), who has home schooled her. The other kids mock her and call her a vampire but she has one devoted friend, Morgan (Quinn Shephard) and has managed to build herself a rewarding life in spite of her condition.
Katie spends the daylight hours asleep or sitting upstairs, writing lachrymose songs which she can play on the guitar. She also likes to ogle the handsome young jock, Charlie Reed (Patrick Schwarzenegger, son of Arnold), who passes by her house on his skateboard on the way to school.
Although the film is set in the present day in a small seaside town near Seattle, Erik Kirtsen’s screenplay is structured like a classical fairytale. Katie is the equivalent of the princess locked in the tower. Charlie is the handsome prince who might be able to rescue her.
They meet by chance when she is busking outside the station. He is immediately besotted by her and can’t understand how he has lived so close to her for so long without ever seeing her before. For her part, she is swept away by him.
True love blossoms. As long as the sun is down, she can venture into the outside world with him at her side. At the first hint of dawn, she has to rush back indoors.
Over one heady summer, the young lovers help each other fulfil their dreams. Katie encourages Charlie to resume his swimming career, which he abandoned after a freakish, self-inflicted injury.
Meanwhile, he does his bit to promote her as the latest Joni Mitchell, encouraging her to perform on the sidewalk. He even arranges for her to record one or two of her very drippy songs. Thorne performs the ditties tunefully enough although her lyrics don’t always inspire much confidence. (One song rhymes a line about “being fast asleep” with “counting your sheep.”)
In Charlie’s presence, Katie relishes “being someone” for a change rather than just being defined through her disease. Early on in the film, she appears to be in rude health. Cinematographer Karsten Gopinath frames her in the most flattering light imaginable so that she always looks as glamorous as any calendar model.
Schwarzenegger smiles his cheesy, wraparound grin in pride at her beauty and talent. Alas, it’s not a matter of “if but when” the disease will kick in. ‘It’s not going to fall into remission and every year, the risk becomes more serious,” the doctor sternly warns Katie and her father.
We know exactly where the film is headed – and director Scott Speer misses no opportunity to wring out every last little drop of pathos during the voyage there.
The film borrows elements from Twilight and Love Story and every other teen romance and terminal illness melodrama that springs to mind. When illness finally hits, Katie doesn’t look any less beautiful, just a little bit more pale in an etiolated, pre-Raphaelite way.
Midnight Sun is a movie about disease, death and bereavement but no signs of real suffering are allowed to seep into it. This is escapist fantasy aimed at a teen audience. The storytelling is so soft-centred that it has melted into mush long before Katie is exposed to those lethal sun rays.
Kay Cannon, 101 mins, starring: Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz, John Cena, Kathryn Newton, Geraldfine Indira Viswanathan, Gideon Adlan
Blockers is a relentlessly crude and creepy comedy which yields far fewer laughs than might have been hoped. It is set on prom night. Three childhood friends, Julie (Kathryn Newton) Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan), and Sam (Gideon Adlon), who’ve known each other since kindergarten, are planning a sex pact.
In the course of what they hope will be a magical and transformative night, the young women intend to lose their virginity. The hitch is that their parents have gotten wind of the scheme and are determined to stop them.
Julie’s mom, Lisa (Leslie Mann), Kayla’s dad, Mitchell (John Cena) and Sam’s hapless father, Hunter (Ike Barinholtz), are the three Stooge-like adults who blunder their way into their daughters’ lives. They just can’t bear the idea of their precious kids growing up and having sex lives of their own.
The base and moronic level of humour here is set in the film’s most egregious set-piece. This comes when we see Mitchell, a hulking, muscular and very uptight figure, entering a “butt chugging” beer contest with a young hipster half his age. (The winner is the one who can ingest the most alcohol through his anus.)
As with so many other moments in Blockers, this scene is set up in random fashion. We are never quite sure why the three adults are prying into their kids’ lives in such a prurient and voyeuristic way.
In the course of an increasingly excruciating film, we see the parents hiding under beds as their daughters prepare to have sex, chasing them around town and continually getting in their way.
Some of the gags are well observed and even quite poignant. The parents are continually victims of their own paranoid suspicions about their precious kids. At one stage early on, Mitchell is rifling through his daughter’s drawers. He almost has a heart attack when he stumbles on what he thinks is a vibrator. (In fact, it’s an electric toothbrush.)
We gradually discover that Lisa’s neuroses about her daughter stem from her own experiences as a young woman.
The parents can’t leave their daughters alone. They spy on them; read their emails and text messages – and do their best to decipher the obscene messages hidden in their use of emojis.
Mann plays Lisa as a well-intentioned but deluded figure whose life revolves around her daughter. She struggles to accept that Julie is soon going to leave home and go to college, possibly as far away as California. That is what is really irking her, not the fact that Julie is about to have sex with her boyfriend.
Hunter behaves like the father from hell. He’s an absentee dad, still bitter about the break-up of his marriage, who always turns up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Barinholtz, who is at the heart of most of the funniest moments in the film, plays him in smirking, clown-like fashion. All too predictably, he turns out to be far more sensitive and perceptive than his delinquent behaviour suggests.
Most of the humour is so lowbrow that the film’s attempts to pass itself off as either a coming-of-age story or as a study in parental angst fall horribly flat. Sticky bodily fluids are to the fore. There is a lot of throwing up. For no particular reason, we get one close-up of a scrotum. Various references to Vin Diesel and The Fast And The Furious are thrown into the mix.
Blockers is directed by Kay Cannon, writer of the Pitch Perfect films. It is the latest in the ever growing list of comedies (spearheaded by Bridesmaids) in which the women behave as badly (or almost as badly) as the men.
Inevitably, the filmmakers try to have it both ways: to combine the bawdy farce with insights into the growing pains of the young protagonists and the insecurities of their parents. One moment, characters will be projectile vomiting in the back of a limousine after binging on booze and drugs. The next, they will be earnestly discussing their sexuality or what they hope to achieve at college.
“We didn’t do ‘it’ and if we did, it would be none of your business,” a daughter reprimands her father. The line sums up the central problem with the film. There is something very odd and unwholesome about the way the unhappy adults snoop on their kids. They need to get lives of their own.
The Islands And The Whales (12A)
Mike Day, 84 mins
Mike Day’s impressive documentary profiles the pilot whale hunters of the Faroe Islands. The film has an elegiac feel. It is about a way of life that is surely ending. For some, the end can’t come quickly enough.
Day’s footage of the islanders massacring whales which they’ve driven into the harbour is shocking. The water turns red with the animals’ blood. Families stand by the shore as the men folk wade into the sea to kill them.
Day shot the film over a period of five years and was clearly accepted by the islanders. He wouldn’t have been able to shoot such intimate footage otherwise. The documentary is even-handed in his analysis of the islanders’ predicament. Many are wedded to a way of life which stretches back hundreds of years.
In the past, the islands weren’t good farming land. Locals survived by culling birds and killing the whales. Now, everything is out of joint. The bird population is declining rapidly, the puffins may soon become extinct, the fish are dying and the whole ecosystem has become corrupted. Where once the islanders lived in harmony with nature, they’re now at odds with it.
Not only does the whaling provoke the fury of animal rights activists (including former Baywatch star Pamela Anderson), who descend on the island to try to stop it.
Painstaking medical research carried out over many years by a local doctor reveals that the whale blubber which still forms an important part of the diets of many of the island is contaminated. The high levels of mercury present a health threat. Some of the islanders find this very hard to accept and continue eating the whale meat anyway.
Superstition abounds. Some of the islanders still believe in the mythical ‘Huldufolk,’ who oversee the Faroes. These spirits have retreated to the hills as modernity has corrupted the old ways.
One elderly man reminisces about a time before electricity and road systems, when the islanders spent much of their lives in darkness but “heard everything.” He refuses point blank to accept what the scientists say about pollution, dismissing it as “bullshit.”
In its depiction of the islanders lowering themselves down cliffs to capture birds or going about their everyday lives, even as the world changes dramatically around them, the film has a similar feel to Michael Powell’s The Edge Of The World.
Day fills the film with beautiful imagery of seascapes and mountain ranges but the story he is telling is bleak. In future years, his documentary is likely to be regarded as a record of the final days of a way of life that cannot not be sustained.
The Bachelors (15)
Kurt Voelker, 108 mins, starring: JK Simmons, Julie Delpy, Josh Wiggins, Odeya Rush
A father and his teenage son work through their grief in Kurt Voelker’s likeable but thoroughly predictable drama, The Bachelors. The main recommendation here is another nuanced and affecting performance from JK Simmons, one of the best character actors in contemporary American cinema.
Simmons plays Bill Palet, an ageing maths teacher struggling to cope with the death of his beloved wife after 30 years of marriage. Bill’s sensitive, adolescent son, Wes (Josh Wiggins), is equally bereft and rudderless.
Trying to make a fresh start, Bill takes a new job across country at a private school in LA where his old friend Paul (Kevin Dunn) is the headmaster. Wes enrols here as a pupil. At first, they don’t fit in at all. Bill is mocked by his students for his offbeat dress sense (he always wears his belt with the buckle close to his hips). Wes is bullied by the jocks.
Father and son both have the prospect of romance. The former is befriended by a glamorous and eccentric French teacher Carine (Julie Delpy) while the latter grows increasingly close to his homework partner, Lacey (Odeya Rush), a troubled student known for her wildness, promiscuity and self-harming.
Simmons is very likeable as Bill, a far gentler and more sensitive soul than the martinet music teacher he played in the Oscar-winning Whiplash. He potters around the school campus in a Mr Magoo-like way, going through the motions, but is so weighed down by the memory of his wife that he isn’t able to move on at all.
Psychiatry sessions, pills and even small doses of shock treatment can’t shake him out of his misery. He feels that starting a relationship with Carine would be a betrayal of his marriage.
Writer-director Voelker deals with the plight of his two unhappy protagonists in humorous and perceptive fashion. We can tell, though, exactly how the story will pan out. Almost every moment here seems instantly familiar from other films about teenagers’ growing pains or about their parents’ struggles to move on from traumas in their lives.
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Film reviews round-up: Journeyman, Midnight Sun, Blockers, The Islands And The Whales, The Bachelors have 3162 words, post on www.independent.co.uk at March 29, 2018. This is cached page on Game Breaking News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.