ALISTAIR Harkness reviews the latest film releases, including the Ron Howard-directed Heart of the Sea and Will Ferrell’s new comedy, Daddy’s Home
Heart of the Sea (12A) | Rating: ** | Directed by: Ron Howard | Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Ben Wishaw, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson
Heart of the Sea purports to be inspired by the true story that inspired Moby-Dick, but there’s nothing very inspired about Ron Howard’s film, which quaintly imagines Herman Melville (Ben Wishaw) scribbling down notes for his great masterpiece over the course of an evening spent with a drunken sailor called Thomas Nickerson. The latter, played by Brendan Gleeson, is a survivor of a whaling ship known as the Essex, which set off from Nantucket in 1819 and had a disastrous encounter with a monstrous sperm whale that left the vessel destroyed, the crew decimated and hungry, and Nickerson (then a boy of 14 and played in the extensive flashbacks by Tom Holland) haunted by the things he witnessed and the things he did to survive. As a framing device for a true story it’s already bogus given that Thomas wasn’t present for large chunks of what’s being divulged here. But even leaving aside such pedantry this is dreary stuff. Howard sets this seafaring tale up as a clunky class war, with the Essex’s appointed captain, George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), representative of the nepotism and corporate greed of America’s nascent merchant aristocracy, and its first mate, Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), the pure-of-heart, hardworking American who has pulled himself up by his bootstraps but is continually beaten down by snobbery. The obsessive drive of both is presumably supposed to be the basis for Melville’s Ahab, but Howard struggles to make us care, playing out their predictable character arcs amid incomprehensible scenes of watery action that will more likely have you rooting for the whale. It doesn’t help that Hemsworth is such a plank of wood. With his wavering Massachusetts accent and always-perfect blond locks he looks more suited to Mills and Boon than Melville, and the rest of the cast – which includes Cillian Murphy – fare no better as they’re forced to contend with a surfeit of cod historical dialogue and too much ropey CGI.
Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie (U) | Rating: *** | Directed by: Steve Martino | Voices: Noah Schnapp, Hadley Belle Miller, Bill Melendez
This CG animated update for Charles Schulz’s enduring comic strip does a nice job of modernising the style of the old cartoons without losing their ramshackle spirit. Charlie Brown is still a put-upon loser who can never seem to catch a break and Snoopy remains the weirdo canine of old, forever trying to pass himself off as human when not hanging out with that strange bird Woodstock. The film revolves around a gentle plot that sees Charlie embark on self-improvement quest to win the heart of the new girl next door. Many humiliating adventures duly ensue before he comes to learn that his good-hearted nature shines through his clumsiness. There are a few nice gags along the way and director Steve Martino has devised a lovely way of doing flashbacks that replicate Schulz’s original drawings.
Daddy’s Home (12A) | Rating: ** | Directed by: Sean Anders | Starring: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Linda Cardellini
Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg struck comedy gold with The Other Guys, but they come up empty in the mirthless family comedy about an insecure step-dad (Ferrell) who finds his desperate attempts to win the respect of his new wife’s children undermined by the return of their macho biological father (Wahlberg). Ferrell’s brand of humour is starting to look very dated at this point and while Wahlberg is still vaguely amusing in comedy mode (the bedtime story he devises for his kids raises the odd smile), the jokes aren’t really good enough and the outcome is far too predictable to cover for the lack of laughs.
My Nazi Legacy (15) | Rating: **** | Directed by: David Evans
In some ways recalling An Act of Killing, this fascinating documentary follows British human rights lawyer Phillippe Sands as he repeatedly interviews Niklas Frank and Horst von Wächter, the sons of two high-ranking Nazi officials. As the grandson of a Jewish Holocaust survivor whose family was completely wiped out by the actions of their fathers, Sands has a personal interest in the subject and this drives him to investigate how the sons of those responsible for such barbarity cope with that knowledge. The results are surprising to say the least. While Frank – who came from an unloving family – has come to terms with what his father did, Wächter – who was very loved by his father – has not. Watching him repeatedly trying to make excuses for his father, even as Sands presents him with documentary proof, is chilling stuff.