FILM

Reviewed by
Tricia Youlden

Shaun the Sheep - the Movie ★★★★ G

All the familiar characters from the much-loved Aardman claymation TV cartoon are here in this feature-length film. Written and directed by Mark Burton and Richard Starzak, it literally transports all but the pigs from Mossy Bottom Farm to The City where the Farmer, Bitzer, Shaun and the flock encounter innumerable dangers and challenges.

Chased by the fearsome Animal Catcher, intimidated by hardened criminal canines in the Animal Pound, Shaun and co. deal with every challenge ingeniously and most entertainingly. Tired but triumphant, they happily return to Mossy Bottom Farm.

Despite the fact that not a word is spoken, the grunts, squeals, growls and howls emitted by the various characters are explicit in their meaning and intent. The numerous sight gags and the impeccable timing of the characters’ reactions encapsulate the distinctively British humour that has made Aardman cartoons so popular.

Shaun the Sheep — the Movie is perfect holiday fare for families.

'71 ★★★★ MA

Private Gary Hook (Jack O'Connell) in a scene from '71

Writer Gregory Burke and director Yann Demange vividly recreate the veritable war zone that Belfast had become by 1971, into which recent British Army recruit, Private Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell), and his platoon are plunged. Like their commanding officer, Lieutenant Armitage (Sam Reid), they are totally unprepared for the intensity of the hatred and violence they encounter on their first patrol into the Catholic Nationalist area.

In the subsequent retreat, Hook and another soldier, Thommo (Jack Lowden) are left behind and brutally beaten. Thommo is shot dead but Hook manages to escape the two Provos responsible, Sean (Barry Keoghan) and Haggerty (Martin McCann).

Influenced by radical Quinn (Killian Scott), these younger, breakaway members of the IRA are blatantly defying the local IRA leader, Boyle (David Wilmot).

Lost and shocked, Hook is discovered hiding by young Billy (Corey McKinley), who inadvertently leads Hook into more danger by taking him to a loyalist pub where undercover military police Browning (Sean Harris) and Lewis (Paul Anderson) are doing a shady deal. Unsure whom he can trust, the critically injured Hook is taken in by a “good Samaritan” (Richard Dormer) and his daughter (Charlie Murphy), despite the danger in which this places them.

The situation is confusing and unrelentingly confronting. Demange’s deft direction of Burke’s economical screenplay, Tat Radcliffe’s skilful cinematography, Chris Wyatt’s seamless editing and utterly believable characterisations from the entire cast sustain the tension throughout. The outcome of Hook’s tour of duty will reinforce any cynicism one may have about the nature of war and nationalism — “It’s all a lie.”

A Little Chaos ★★★★ M

It is 17th century France. Louis XIV (Alan Rickman) has begun moving his court to Versailles, where acclaimed landscape architect Andre Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts) is in charge of creating the elaborate gardens. To the consternation of her male rivals, Madame Sabine de Barra (Kate Winslet) is chosen by Le Notre to work with him.

Her initial task is to design and oversee the construction of the rock work grove, with an ingeniously engineered water feature. Just as Sabine considers Le Notre to be “the most complete person” she knows, he is equally impressed by her, both professionally and personally. He especially admires the little touch of chaos in her creations. This incurs the wrath of his wife (Helen McCrory), who joins with Sabine’s gardening rivals to sabotage her endeavours. However, Sabine proves to be as resilient and resourceful as she is beautiful.

Not only do her intelligence and lack of affectation charm the Duc de Lyons (Rupert Penry-Jones) and the Duc d’Orleans (Stanley Tucci), but even Louis XIV finds himself confiding in Sabine during a chance encounter in the orchard. The king speaks openly about his desire to marry his mistress, Madame de Montespan (Jennifer Ehle), who is not of noble birth.

Subsequently, she is invited into de Montespan’s inner circle at court, where she receives unexpected sisterly support. Like Sabine, most of these women have experienced the loss of a child, yet are forbidden to show their grief at court. Indeed, life at court is revealed to be quite restrictive, with the courtiers living like “mice in a trap”, bound to follow the King’s every command, such as relocating from Paris to Versailles.

The screenplay by Jeremy Brock, Alison Deegan and Rickman (who also directs) loosely blends historical fact with romance, humour, lashings of charm and a dash of melodrama. Although all the characters speak English throughout, this conceit is only fleetingly disconcerting. An interesting narrative, engaging characters and impeccable artistic and production values combine to make A Little Chaos a thoroughly captivating film.

x+y ★★★ M

As a young child, Nathan Young (Asa Butterfield) is diagnosed as being “on the spectrum”. He likes patterns and, above all, he likes numbers.

After the untimely death of his father (Martin McCann), to whom he is especially close, Nathan becomes increasingly withdrawn from his anxious mother, Julie (Sally Hawkins).

At school, he keeps to himself, but his aptitude for mathematics brings him to the notice of his teacher, Humphreys (Rafe Spall), under whose tutelage Nathan earns a place on the British team for the International Maths Olympiad. Humphreys and Julie become friends and provide support not just for Nathan but for one another. Humphreys is suffering from multiple sclerosis and depression. Julie is grieving the loss of her husband and her inability to reach her son emotionally.

In Taipei for training, Nathan and his fellow team members are under the care of their coach, Richard (Eddie Marsan), who helps them deal with the challenges that the gift of intelligence brings to each individual. Apart from the insertion of a rather trite teenage romance, writer James Graham and director Morgan Matthews handle this issue sensitively.

Cinematographer Danny Cohen ensures that the Taipei scenes include as many exotic sights as possible.

x+y should strike a chord with anyone who is, or has ever been, a teenager.

The Sugar Film ★★★ PG

In an experiment reminiscent of Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me, Australian film-maker Damon Gameau undertakes to eat a diet of what are marketed as “healthy” processed foods which actually contain alarmingly high levels of sugar.

The greatest offenders appear to be the manufacturers of carbonated soft drinks. In America, Gameau encounters a teenager who is addicted to Mountain Dew, created to compete directly with Coca-Cola. The poor kid is about to have the stumps of his decayed teeth extracted from his diseased gums.

Gameau’s visit to a remote Aboriginal community is particularly disturbing. Although the community has been “dry” for years, the inhabitants drink an extraordinary amount of carbonated soft drinks.

With the help of a nutritionist, these sugar-laden drinks are replaced by freely-available filtered water and the people educated to eat less processed food. Yet, despite the remarkable improvement in the community’s health, the government has cut the funding for this program!

The producers of this documentary are especially keen to get their message across to children and teenagers. Hence they are planning a schools screening program and developing a schools interactive study kit. You can check this and screening details on www.thatsugarfilm.com.

Tricia Youlden teaches Drama at Willoughby Girls High School.