POP diva Madonna’s second film as a director, W.E. (15: Studio Canal), is certainly not a masterpiece, but it’s a much better movie than its reputation suggests.
Her handsomely staged picture cleverly defies the history books with some provocative points about the price American socialite Wallis Simpson paid for her notoriety.
It takes place in two timeframes, the first involving a modern-day woman, Wally (Abbie Cornish), who becomes obsessed with the scandalous love affair that led to the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936.
But W.E. excels mostly in the period scenes, which reconstruct the passionate relationship between the besotted king (James D’Arcy) and the brash Simpson (Andrea Riseborough).
While the parallels drawn with Wally’s struggle to free herself from a bad marriage feel clumsy and make the ambitious two-hour running time drag, it’s an intriguing romantic curio that benefits from some terrific performances and an eye for detail.
Certainly an improvement on Madonna’s little-seen 2008 directorial debut, Filth And Wisdom.
> Sean William Scott has matured as an actor since playing the sex-obsessed Stifler in the hit American Pie series and he’s very likeable in GOON (15: Entertainment One).
Also likeable is the film itself, which may not be a life-changer but is an unexpectedly pleasant surprise.
Scott plays Doug, a dim bar bouncer and the black sheep of a family of doctors, whose fight skills land him the job of “enforcer” with the struggling local ice hockey team.
Although Doug can hardly skate, that’s of little consequence in this slapstick comedy as his job is just to protect the side’s star scorer by knocking seven bells out of opposition enforcers, including old ice hockey pro Liev Schreiber.
Despite his lack of sporting prowess, deadly Doug’s ability to beat up the opposition leads to a successful career – and a violent showdown – in a film with surface brutality, but a warm heart.
> Take Free Willy, multiply by three and you have wildlife adventure BIG MIRACLE (PG: Universal), which focuses on a family of grey whales that become trapped by ice in the far north of Alaska.
The plight of Fred, Wilma and Bamm-Bamm becomes a global cause celebre, prompting a race-against-time rescue involving the United States’ and Russian militaries, a conservationist (Drew Barrymore), an oil tycoon (Ted Danson) and Alaskan locals, including a scoop-hungry reporter (John Krasinski).
Inspired by a true story, Big Miracle is unashamedly corny and manipulative, but the whales are appealing and the fight to free them from their ice prison helps the viewer put aside any cynicism, making for very decent family entertainment.
> The full-blooded contemporary restaging of Shakespeare’s Roman tragedy CORIOLANUS (15: Lionsgate) is set in a conflict-ravaged city.
Shot in Belgrade, amid all the explosions, tanks, riot shields and rolling news bulletins (featuring an unintentionally comical John Snow), there’s often more style than substance.
But Ralph Fiennes, making a strong directorial debut and playing the title role of Caius Martius ‘Coriolanus’, ultimately drives the story home.
Having previously performed the part on the stage, a brooding and imperious Fiennes sports shaven head and military fatigues as the wartime general who seeks political office, is forced into exile and grows “from man to dragon”.
Brian Cox strikes the right note as an influential senator and Jessica Chastain brings tenderness to Virgilia, Coriolanus’s spouse, but Vanessa Redgrave, as his controlling mother, and Gerard Butler, his blood enemy, are less convincing.
> My problem with football drama PAYBACK SEASON (15: Revolver) is that it’s strangely football-free.
Rising star Adam Deacon, who did far better work in Kidulthood and Adulthood, is the hotshot striker for a top-flight club whose council-estate roots come back to haunt him in the form of the bullying leader of his former gang.
As he deals with being blackmailed by drug dealers, he must also prevent his younger brother from pursuing a life of crime.
It’s hard to believe in Deacon as a Premiership star when you never really see him kick a ball, not even in training, and difficult to credit that such a valuable asset would have a protective entourage consisting of just his trainer and his agent (a brief appearance by soccer legend Geoff Hurst).
> Westerns are rarer than hen’s teeth these days, but genre fans should seek out BLACKTHORN (15: Chelsea Films), which takes up where Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid left off.
Sam Shepard is a grizzled, bewhiskered Butch, who escaped the Bolivian shootout in which he was reported killed. Twenty years later, he’s living quietly as James Blackthorn, but takes up his guns again when he crosses paths with a Sundance-style kid with stolen money in his saddlebags and half of Bolivia hot on his heels.