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Entertainment Film reviews: Possessor | Audrey | Black Beauty | Uncle Frank

22:15  24 november  2020
22:15  24 november  2020 Source:   scotsman.com

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Brandon Cronenberg steps out of his father’s shadow in spectacular style with futuristic body horror film Possessor, while Audrey serves up a frustratingly hagiographic documentary portrait of the screen legend Audrey Hepburn

a woman looking at the camera © Andrea Riseborough in Possessor

Possessor (18) *****

Audrey (PG) **

Black Beauty (PG) **

Uncle Frank (15) ***

As first world problems go, trying to establish a filmmaking career as the son of a famous director isn’t likely to generate much sympathy. Still, it’d be a shame if Brandon Cronenberg’s second feature as a writer/director was only viewed in terms of his more famous father, Videodrome director David Cronenberg. Mixing gory sci-fi with an intriguing philosophical dimension, Possessor may operate in the “body horror” realm that his father’s films defined, but its high-concept plot – about an assassin (Andrea Riseborough) who can brain-hack associates of her targets so she can get close enough to kill them without implicating her employers – is so brilliantly realised he emerges as a bold filmmaker in his own right. It’s certainly a big step up from his 2012 debut Antiviral.

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Setting the tone with a stunning opening sequence involving an execution that doesn’t go quite to plan, Cronenberg introduces us to the mechanics of this otherwise grounded near-future world with admirable proficiency in order to focus on Riseborough’s Vos, who is starting to feel the psychological effects of her dubious occupation. Though there are aspects of the Blade Runner movies here in the way that her boss (Jennifer Jason Leigh) performs detailed Turing Test-style evaluations on her after each job, the film starts getting darker and stranger as Vos is hired to take out the head of a data-mining tech company (played by Sean Bean) but soon finds herself unable to take complete control of Colin (Christopher Abbot), the person whose body she’s hijacked to carry out the hit. Thus what starts as a kind of sci-if horror riff on the kind of body swap concept that has traditionally formed the basis for goofy comedies (but has latterly found a more inventive expression in the likes of Being John Malkovich and Get Out), gradually morphs into a twisted, psycho-sexual riff on Invasion of the Body Snatchers, one that imagines what might happen if the host body fought back against the mind now controlling it.

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Audrey Hepburn holding an umbrella © A picture of Audrey Hepburn circa 1955 from Audrey PIC: PictureLux / The Hollywood Archive

Cronenberg’s ability to visualise all this with weird imagery that neither cheats the concept nor loses us in the process is both thrilling and disturbing and he’s aided immeasurably by nuanced performances from Riseborough and Abbot, whose respective abilities to play warring factions of the same person add to the oddness. But it’s where Cronenberg takes this that really helps it stand out, transforming it into a bleak critique both of big data and it’s ability to control people, but also of the kind of corporate and technocratic mindset that sees the shedding of one’s humanity as an evolutionary step forward.

Made with the co-operation of Audrey Hepburn’s estate, Audrey serves up a frustratingly hagiographic documentary portrait of the screen legend who shot to fame with her Oscar-winning performance in Roman Holiday and cemented her iconic status with Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Repeatedly making reference to the suffering she experienced as a child living under the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, but skipping quickly over her parents’ admiration for Hitler and their support of fascist causes, the film remains oddly incurious about Hepburn’s own feelings about her parents’ political beliefs, choosing instead to locate the source of her pain-filled personal life on the abandonment issues she felt after her father walked out on the family before the war.

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On the plus side, Hepburn’s voice is ever-present thanks to extensive use of audio from an interview she gave to Life magazine a year before she died, but as the film repeatedly makes clear, she valued her privacy, so remains a fairly guarded interviewee. That leaves an array of family members, friends, fashion aficionados and various late-period collaborators to fill in the blanks, but all they really provide are glowing testimonials to her humanitarian instincts and her generosity of spirit. Which is all very lovely, but over 100 minutes it feels very thin.

Anna Sewell’s beloved Victorian era children’s novel Black Beauty gets another update, this time for Disney+. Transposing the story to contemporary America, the live action film, written and directed by Ashley Avis, features the voice of Kate Winslet as the eponymous horse (now a mustang) whose interior monologue allows the film to echo the novel’s equine point-of-view as she’s captured on the plains of Wyoming then passed from owner to owner. Interstellar’s Mackenzie Foy plays Jo, an orphaned teen who tames Beauty and becomes her most trusted friend; Iain Glenn is Jo’s rancher uncle who in turn bonds with his niece through her connection with the horse. As the episodic plot progresses, their story is gradually sidelined so that Beauty can be led into ever more precarious situations where her general mistreatment – and her feelings about that mistreatment – intensify the melodramatic pay-off for the story’s target pre-teen audience when the inevitable happy ending trots around. It’s all slickly enough put together, if hokey in the extreme.

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Oscar-winning American Beauty writer Alan Ball combines a coming-out drama with a coming-of-age drama in Uncle Frank, a somewhat contrived but well-acted film about a closeted New York literary professor (Paul Bettany) and his vivacious college-aged niece (Sophia Lillie) returning to their South Carolina hometown for a family funeral circa 1973. It’s all a little hackneyed, but Bettany and Lillie make it worth watching.

Possessor is available on digital demand from 27 November, Audrey is available on digital demand and DVD and Blu-Ray from 30 November, Black Beauty streams on Disney+ from 27 November, Uncle Frank is on Amazon Prime now.

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