Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly cling onto love through the ages in the romantic drama A New York Winter’s Tale
A NEW YORK WINTER’S TALE (12A)
Love never dies.
Nor do stories of good versus evil, screenwriters with a burning desire to sit in the director’s chair or high-profile actors with a dubious ear for Oirish accents.
We’re treated to all three plus Will Smith as the human manifestation of Lucifer and a white horse with wings in the fantastical romance, A New York Winter’s Tale.
Akiva Goldman’s film is based on the novel Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin but has been re-titled for the UK, presumably to avoid any confusion with Shakespeare’s 17th century problem play.
In truth, no one is likely to confuse the Bard’s impeccable verse with Goldsman’s shambolic script, which includes such gems as “Nothing seems to break [the human] capacity for hope – they pass it back and forth like flu at a school fair”.
Or when the terminally ill heroine tells her ardent suitor, “If you don’t make love to me right now, nobody ever will,” and he lustily responds, “Then that’s exactly what I’ll do”.
Narrative threads unfold in 1916 and present day Manhattan.
In the past, petty thief Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) breaks into a house and is instantly bewitched by a flame-haired stargazer called Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay), who has consumption.
“I’m pulled to her, like air when I’m under the water,” Peter swoons to a pal (Graham Greene).
So Peter spends every waking minute with Beverly, charms her younger sister Willa (Mckayla Twiggs) and father Isaac (William Hurt), and prepares for a beating from sadistic Irish gangster Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), who wants Peter dead and happens to be an earthbound demon on a mission to restore Lucifer (Smith) to power.
Meanwhile, in 2014, Peter (Farrell again) is alive but not so well.
He has no memory of the past but is haunted by visions of a girl with red hair.
The quest to repair his fractured memory magically leads him to a newspaper food writer (Jennifer Connolly) and her spunky daughter (Ripley Sobo).
A New York Winter’s Tale has too many elements competing for our attention, and none of them gel.
The titanic battle between angels and demons sits awkwardly with the rose-tinted central romance and the tear-filled histrionics of the final act.
Farrell is unremarkable in an undernourished lead role but he does catalyse a handsome screen pairing with Brown Findlay.
Crowe’s accent is a treat, becoming as thick as mud without warning in pivotal scenes.
Finding one word to succinctly sum this disjointed mess seems unlikely but as Goldsman’s film teaches us, the secrets of the universe twinkle in plain sight.
And so it is here: Beverly gazes at the heavens and is bewitched by the constellations that she believes represent the fluttering wings of angels.
“Pollux,” she whispers dreamily. Everyone’s a critic.
STALINGRAD 3D (15)
The highest grossing Russian film of all time replays one of the bloodiest chapters of the Second World War through the eyes of German and Soviet soldiers involved in the stand-off.
Stalingrad is the first project of its kind shot using IMAX 3D technology and Fedor Bondarchuk’s epic certainly looks spectacular in the eye-popping format.
Ash flutters down over the embattled city, bullets whizz out of the screen and several pivotal action sequences are breathlessly choreographed to take full advantage of depths in perception.
Audiences get plenty of bang for their buck and eye strain is minimal, despite a running time that exceeds two hours.
Scriptwriters Sergey Snezhkin and Ilya Tilkin choose a clumsy framing device: the efforts of a Russian crew to rescue five German teenagers from the rubble of the 2011 earthquake in Tohuku, Japan.
As the youngsters lay gasping for oxygen, one Russian rescue worker distracts the quintet with his remarkable family history.
“I had five fathers. They’re all dead,” he claims.
The rescuer’s anecdote harks back to September 1942.
Captain Gromov (Petr Fedorov) leads a small troop of soldiers against the Germans, storming buildings one by one.
The men include sniper Chvanov (Dmitry Lisenkov), who doesn’t believe in mercy, and boyish radio operator Sergey (Sergey Bondarchuk).
Having stormed one building, Gromov and four surviving soldiers discover a terrified 18-year-old woman called Katya (Mariya Smolnikova).
Her humanity touches the military men and they become her protectors, which poses a problem for Gromov.
“They’re not fighting for their country, they’re fighting for you,” the Captain warns Katya.
However, his own feelings cloud his judgement even as the German troops begin to swarm, and when Sergey spirits Katya away to a hideout and dreamily professes, “I’ve loved you for two days now”.
On the other side of the town square, German Captain Kahn (Thomas Kretschmann) is infuriated by his inability to overwhelm Gromov’s close-knit team.
He takes out those frustrations on a blonde woman called Masha (Yanina Studilina), who submits to the officer’s will.
Sadistic Nazi Colonel Khenze (Heiner Lauterbach) eventually goads Kahn into drastic action, lighting the fuse on an explosive final showdown between the two sides.
Stalingrad is an unapologetically patriotic spin on history that papers over the cracks of a lightweight script with stunning visuals, stirring performances and Angelo Badalamenti’s heart-tugging score.
Bondarchuk’s directorial brio holds our interest rather than the simplistic narrative, aided by an ensemble cast, who hunker down for the film’s big set pieces.
Digitally enhanced skirmishes between German and Soviet troops look stunning, bringing home some of the sound and fury of that ill-fated autumn.
THE INVISIBLE WOMAN (12A)
In Greek mythology, the Muses were nine goddesses, who embodied the source of knowledge and the arts.
These heavenly creatures inspired great poetry and literature, and were summoned by Chaucer, Homer, Milton, Shakespeare and Virgil in their texts.
In modern times, a muse has been a collaborator, usually a woman, whose presence has provided a creative spark for artists to produce some of their greatest work.
French director Jean-Luc Godard famously fell under the spell of Anna Karina and eventually took her as his wife, while model Edie Sedgwick entranced Andy Warhol.
Singer Patti Smith was a constant companion to gay photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and petty criminal George Dyer incited Francis Bacon to create some of his most emotionally powerful paintings.
Based on the book by Claire Tomalin, The Invisible Woman charts the fragile relationship between one of the titans of English literature and his muse.
Oscar-nominated actor Ralph Fiennes juggles responsibilities behind and in front of the camera, opening in 1885 Margate, where Nelly Robinson (Felicity Jones) is a school teacher with a doting husband (Tom Burke).
He is powerless to stop Nelly taking long walks on the beach, wrestling with the ghosts of her past.
The film rewinds to 1850s Manchester, where Nelly is an aspiring actress in a family of performers headed by her domineering mother, Mrs Frances Ternan (Kristin Scott Thomas).
“The rewards of our profession are rarely monetary,” confides the widowed matriarch, “but I would not have it any other way.”
Frances keeps a close eye on her daughters Maria (Perdita Weeks) and Fannie (Amanda Hale), and the least talented of the brood, 18-year-old Nelly.
Mixing in the theatrical circles, Nelly encounters socially awkward writer Charles Dickens (Fiennes), who neglects his long-suffering wife, Catherine (Joanna Scanlan).
Dickens’s fascination with Nelly develops into something far deeper but she is forced to lurk in the shadows for fear of tainting his reputation.
When Nelly talks about the impossibility of Dickens marrying her, Mrs Ternan is quick to snuff out that smouldering ember of romanticism.
“I have been married and it was at times, the loneliest place,” she counsels.
The Invisible Woman is a well-crafted if emotionally stifled account of doomed love and its manifestation on the pages of Dickens’ works.
Fiennes and Jones deliver solid performances but their on-screen chemistry is almost as muted as the colour palette, while Scanlan is magnificent as the wife, who begs her husband to come to his senses.
“Don’t be foolish. You cannot keep her a secret,” she snaps.
A quotation from A Tale Of Two Cities, displayed at the beginning of the film, argues otherwise, confirming that Dickens was a man who revelled in the “profound secret and mystery” of his fellow man.
If only Fiennes’s film revealed a few more of them.