In the Heart of the Sea — film assessment: ‘Spectacular’

Chris Hemsworth in 'In the Heart of the Sea'

Chris Hemsworth in ‘In the Heart of the Sea’

“A dead whale or a stove boat!” was Captain Ahab’s cry in Moby-Dick. It echoes haunting and unheard via In the Heart of the Sea, a whaling adventure — a horror adventure genuinely — about the accurate events that inspired Melville’s masterpiece.

It is a thrilling watch. Director Ron Howard and screenwriter Charles Leavitt harpoon the story, primarily based on a book by Nathaniel Philbrick and the memoirs of two survivors, and drag it thrashing and flailing through imagery livid, vivid and spectacular. The prodigious Anthony Dod Mantle (Festen, Slumdog Millionaire) is the cinematographer. The editing, barely less bravura, is by Ron Howard veteran Dan Hanley (Apollo 13).

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Nigel Andrews

The Nantucket whaling ship Essex was stove and sunk in 1820, if not by a white whale, then by a single mysteriously gigantic, and seemingly single-minded. The beast followed the surviving crewmen, in their fancy at least, when they undertook one of these longboat journeys whose achievement bankrupts belief. (See Bligh from the Bounty, Shackleton from the Endeavour.)

First comes the maelstrom of destruction then the days, weeks, months at sea. It’s a Hollywood film in the ideal sense, unsparing with spectacle, a-roar with conviction and cast, if not with superstars, then with voices and faces that turn into indelible. Chris Hemsworth, barely a lot more than a himbo hunk for some directors, keeps transforming himself for Howard. He was superb as motor racer James Hunt in Rush . Right here, as very first mate Owen Chase, he gets the Fletcher Christian part, simmering, righteously indignant, prepared to rebel against Benjamin Walker’s Captain Pollard, a bookish boy martinet.

The frictions aboard ship may be much more fiction than fact. But it’s drama we’re watching, not documentary. Provided the Essex catastrophe’s hazy history — 1 survivor’s memoir, believed lost, only surfaced in 1960 — conjecture is component of recreation. The whale itself, less white than piebald, mottled, lichened, is an evanescent monster, its CG-conjured close to-ghostliness best for the component. If it isn’t Moby-Dick himself, it may well be. As if to bestow blessing, Melville himself (Ben Whishaw) seems in framing scenes, a young author interrogating, for his book, the ship’s now grown-up cabin boy (Brendan Gleeson in close-ups bulging with pent emotion).

Soon right after this sea tragedy in the quest for fuel (then whale oil’s prime use), someone says of a new energy locate: “Oil from the ground. Fancy that.” It’s a peep by means of time’s curtain. It’s a spying out of the next saga of adversities to be set in motion by humanity’s need to light its flames, fill its lamps, fire its endeavours.

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Section: Arts

Star Wars: The Force Awakens — spectacular, entertaining, flawed

Captain Phasma in Star Wars: The Force Awakens© 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd

Captain Phasma in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

As quickly as I left the cinema following Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a star war scarcely much less momentous started up in my film critic’s brain. “I feel it need to be four stars,” mentioned 1 hemisphere. “No, 3 stars,” stated the other. “Why? It is a spectacular, dramatic and entertaining film,” argued H1. H2: “Yes, but it is fundamentally 1 Damn Point After One more.” H1: “Well, aren’t they all?” H2: “Aha! Is that your case? Then there is validation, is there” — turning to the jury — “in common result in catchpenniness and lowest-denominator derring-do?”


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Nigel Andrews

Properly, no. There isn’t. So it is three stars. But let me say this. I enjoyed the seventh Star Wars film much more than any since The Empire Strikes Back and significantly much more than — yes, reader, I was there, for this newspaper, reviewing it — the now 38-year-old saga start-up. I even remember (shimmer and lap-dissolve) the Ivy Restaurant press luncheon afterwards. Throughout it Sir Alec Guinness, seated at my table, cast a censorious glance at my asking R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) if I could have the rest of his uneaten main course. I had it. The moral: when two or much more dimensions are gathered with each other after a historic (to-be) film screening, Manicheism parochial recapitulates Manicheism aetiological.

So I know my Star Wars. Its two strengths have often been spectacle and fun. Spectacle, exciting and a wild interplanetary heroism. Three strengths. And its weaknesses have always been kindergarten mythmaking, boy-scout ethics and a practically certifiable obsession with parenthood. “You are my father” “You are my son.” We get that in the new film. It provides an electrifying moment late on — the film’s greatest scene — but it seems, like significantly of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a reinvocation, a re-litanising, of what went ahead of: an echoing sometimes suspiciously much more (to the suspicious) like the ringing of the money register than the tolling of a mythic crucial.

But there is so significantly excellent in JJ Abrams’ direction and script, co-written with Michael Arndt and Lawrence Kasdan. He provides the Millennium Falcon, decaying in a scavengers’ desert, a thrilling resurrection and aerial exercise. He strews the landscapes, and tavern-ish scenes at a picturesque brigands’ castle on Planet Somewhere, with mutants and monsters in greatest Lucas tradition. I loved the unclassifiable pachyderm slopping water at a trough, and the wrinkled visionary crone with a face like a sliced butternut squash. It is wonderful as well to have Harrison Ford bringing Homeric heft, and humour, to the older Han Solo. He is the triumph of the casting, closely followed by Adam Driver as warrior prince to the baddies, a victim of moral torment with a touch of Milton’s Satan. His extended, gothic-Byronic attributes and de profundis baritone give ballast to the last reel’s speech-ballooning comic book escapades.

But — and there constantly is 1 — what specifically is it we are watching? Is it any a lot more, in substance, than “this bit’s fun” and “that bit isn’t”? A teasing quest objective (no spoilers) just about gives path to this movie’s plot. But I spy no longer-variety story location for Disney’s Star Wars reboot, apart from far more clusters of baddies going up against much more clusters of goodies.

The goodies are fronted by two new leads, each British unknowns, who require more detail and finish. Daisy Ridley cuts a fetching figure as a striding scavenger heroine, bearing a staff and dressed in pleats like a thrift-shop Artemis. But five minutes soon after seeing the film I couldn’t don’t forget her face or voice. Black actor John Boyega, who has been trolled by imbeciles for extending the saga’s racial acoustic (no a single remember Billy Dee Williams?), is likeable, open-featured and puppyishly hyperactive. But even he wilts, like a flower in excess sunlight, in the presence of Ford, who wipes competition with a single look or a one-liner. There was a little cheer for Carrie Fisher’s very first look as “General” Leia. She plucks old-timers’ heartstrings and bats nonetheless-fairly eyes. But she appears, here, to be acting on an power-saving bulb.

What troubles most is that Star Wars is beginning to appear like every single other franchise epic. Is that the expense of something-is-possible stories set in elastic universes? I kept getting flashes of The Hunger Games and The Lord of the Rings. The characters costumed in quasi-timeless garb (neo-Grecian the favourite). The PlayStation plots with their gauntlets of danger and games of survival. The weirdos and wackos wall-to-wall in the supporting cast. And the sense that in our gaming generation a “next level” awaits, eternally or recurringly, in the spiralling cycle of good versus evil: although we really feel a lot more and much more that the subsequent level is anything an anxious film sector can think up to keep audiences on the current level of emptying their pockets whenever The Movie Force needs.

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Section: Arts

Madonna, O2 Arena, London — ‘A spectacular show of strength’

Madonna on stage at the O2 Arena. Photo: Neil Lupin/Redferns©Neil Lupin/Redferns

Madonna on stage at the O2 Arena. Photo: Neil Lupin/Redferns

Of the two sides of Madonna revealed on her most current album Rebel Heart — a single a lachrymose balladeer pleading “Just hold me although I cry my eyes out”, the other an imperious sex-crazed queen snarling “Go difficult or go home” — which would predominate at the O2 Arena?

The phalanx of men kneeling on the stage in Game of Thrones warrior garb at the start, every single holding a cross and bowing as they awaited her entrance, was a hint of what to anticipate. And so it proved, with Madonna descending from on high in a suspended cage, singing the blaring dance track “Iconic” with unblinking iciness, wearing a red outfit with black fake fur lining that gave her the look of a ninja-educated tsarina.


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IN Music

  • The Fiery Angel, Nationaltheater, Munich — ‘Savage, gripping’
  • Chvrches, Alexandra Palace, London — ‘Muscular, expansive’
  • Aghet-Ağıt, Radialsystem V, Berlin — ‘A howl of protest’
  • Tavener, Pärt and Adams, Kings Place, London — ‘Mystical and visceral’

What followed was a show of superstar invincibility. It was a U-turn of sorts, ending the efforts that Madonna has made in middle age to craft a far more sympathetic, human character for herself, as with Rebel Heart’s weepy ballads. That campaign reached an inadvertent nadir at the Brit Awards earlier this year, when a botched try to get rid of a cape triggered the dazed singer to be dragged down a staircase. Tonight’s show, at the extremely very same venue, identified her coming to her senses. Fallibility is for civilians.

The two-and-a-quarter-hour concert was incident-packed and superbly executed. Higher production values palliated the regal ticket rates the singer charges. Her choreography with 17 backing dancers was expertly detailed, from the Japanese-themed moves that added lethal grace to the crude snarl of “Bitch, I’m Madonna” to a sacrilegious pole-dancing nuns routine in “Holy Water”: salacious but impeccably timed, like the Las Vegas theatrics that the show so effectively mines.

The highlight was “Music”, set as a 1930s Busby Berkeley musical, with the backing band neatly switching in between jazz and thumping beats, and Madonna in a sparkly flapper’s minidress interrupting the song to execute a witty burlesque routine. Self-pitying tear-jerkers had been recast as acts of resilience, such as “Heartbreak City”, which ended with the singer pushing a villainous man off the top of a spiral staircase with the diva’s cry of “You abandoned me!” The model was the indomitable Edith Piaf, to whom Madonna paid tribute with a boldly warbled version of “La Vie en rose”.

Old hits had been imaginatively overhauled. “Burning Up”, from her 1983 debut, an early instance of her unabashed nature (“I have no shame!”), became a wild rocker, Madonna on her knees pretending to shred a guitar. “Material Girl” was rebooted as hard-edged electro. A straight rendition of “Like a Prayer” followed an emotional but defiant speech about Aids: “We shall overcome!” So, in a various context, she did tonight. The Rebel Heart tour turns a muddled album into a spectacular show of strength.

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Section: Arts