FILM REVIEWS: Civil War and Back to Black

The Amy Winehouse story is on the silver screen at both Cineworld Broad Street and Odeon Broadway Plaza.

And if you fancy a glass of wine indoors or out after watching the biopic, then you are in the right place now that the incredible seven months of predominantly wet weather has finally improved.

Westside is packed with bars, pubs and restaurants where you can relax and literally reflect on the film. That’s because many have canalside views, too, from the Tap & Spile and The Botanist overlooking Gas Street Basin to the Pitcher & Piano and the Malt Shovel along the Main Line Canal on the other side of Broad Street, a calm stretch also known as Waters Edge, Brindleyplace.

Or for a giant beer garden, just head to JD Wetherspoon’s Figure of Eight on Broad Street.

CIVIL WAR (15, 109 mins). The US president is struggling to hold on to power. A group of journalists and press photographers try to drive from New York to Washington DC for a possible interview, but the horrors they capture en route are truly disturbing.

Kirsten Dunst (below) is outstanding in the leading role of war photographer Lee, with the deceptively young-looking Priscilla star Cailee Spaeny’s character Jessie determined to follow in her tracks no matter how great the risk.

The verdict: **** Last week, Dev Patel followed up his breakthrough role in Slumdog Millionaire by starring in and directing the ultra-violent revenge thriller, Monkey Man. Now another former Danny Boyle collaborator is back with a road movie that’s more cautionary tale than thriller.

Alex Garland, screenwriter of 28 Days Later, follows up his own self-directed films like Ex Machina with a brutal, near-future study of the United States under attack from within.

Instead of relying on fantasy and special effects like Independence Day (1996) and the escapist Marvel canon which have stymied Hollywood for far too long, the horrible beauty of this picture is that it often feels terrifyingly real. Garland takes his time even during the action sequences and uses big, fat lenses in the style of the late Tony Scott.

There’s a good use of music and silence, too, but the gunshots – especially in IMAX at Cineworld or iSense at Odeon Luxe – are clear warning signs of the destruction that urban warfare can bring.

Stephen McKinley Henderson is particularly good as the ageing but worldly wise writer Sammy, and Dunst’s real-life husband Jessie Plemons again proves he’s the most reliably brilliant young Hollywood actor since Leonardo DiCaprio.

A writer first, Garland takes no sides and doesn’t fully explain what’s going on in a bid to ‘start a conversation’ – though one hopes this is not a precursor to reality in the way Executive Decision (1995) and The Siege (1998) were prior to 9/11.

He doesn’t plan to direct a film again any time soon, which is a shame as he’s a talent in the way that Ben Affleck proved himself with The Town and Argo.

But after the 2021 Capitol Hill riots, and with the current wars in Ukraine and Gaza dominating the news, the graphic violence here is of the kind you wish had been given an 18-certificate, if human brains really don’t mature until they are 25 years old.

BACK TO BLACK (15,122 mins). Here’s another London-born director filming more photographers running in a pack – this time as bullying, showbiz paparazzi with no real criticism to fear, never mind Civil War’s snipers.

Sam Taylor-Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey) directs talented newcomer Marisa Abela in the lead role of the Grammy-award winning singer who died in July 2011, aged just 27.

The verdict: *** Unlike Sid & Nancy – tagline ‘Love Kills’ back in 1986 – this story is too one-paced and reverential to Amy’s free spirit to turn her toxic relationship with Blake (Jack O’Connell) into a truly memorable drama worthy of competing with Asif Kapadia’s 2016 Oscar-winning documentary, Amy. 

It’s perfectly watchable and better than expected, but even fans might find going over old ground like this a touch dull, when it could so easily have been set on the day the brilliant song was written and recorded.

Senna director Asif said of his Amy film: “I treat documentaries like dramas.” Back to Black is neither. The song itself is wasted in the context of the star’s unfolding personal tragedy, here with the lyrics reminding viewers that she’d already “died a hundred times” before it was even released. ‘Nuff said.

PICTURE CREDITS: Back to Black, Studiocanal; Civil War, Entertainment Film Distributors. 


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