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Home News Stories Charlize Theron film The Old Guard is reviewed by BRIAN VINER

Charlize Theron film The Old Guard is reviewed by BRIAN VINER

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The Old Guard (Netflix)

Verdict: Unwittingly silly 

Rating:

Greyhound (Apple TV)

Verdict: Hanks for the memory  

Rating:

Even before The Old Guard has settled into its stride as a fantasy thriller of cherishable silliness, the action has shifted from Marrakesh to Afghanistan and a ‘hostage situation’ in South Sudan.

Later it will ping between rural France, Central London and a few places not so easy to find on a map, such as ancient Scythia.

But it isn’t geography keeping us on our toes here, it’s history. Charlize Theron plays the leader of a quartet of soldiers of conscience, hardened not by years or even decades of warfare but centuries.

They are all immortal, you see. They have no superpowers except that fatal wounds incurred in battle quickly heal over and they jerk back to life, like special effects king Ray Harryhausen’s skeletons in Jason And The Argonauts.

In The Old Guard, Charlize Theron plays the leader of a quartet of soldiers of conscience, hardened not by years or even decades of warfare but centuries

In The Old Guard, Charlize Theron plays the leader of a quartet of soldiers of conscience, hardened not by years or even decades of warfare but centuries

They are all immortal, you see. They have no superpowers except that fatal wounds incurred in battle quickly heal over and they jerk back to life, like special effects king Ray Harryhausen's skeletons in Jason And The Argonauts

They are all immortal, you see. They have no superpowers except that fatal wounds incurred in battle quickly heal over and they jerk back to life, like special effects king Ray Harryhausen’s skeletons in Jason And The Argonauts

This is less of an asset than you might think. Theron’s character, Andromache of Scythia, is suffering an existential crisis, having fought the good fight for several millennia only to realise that ‘the world isn’t getting any better, it’s getting worse’.

Conveniently known as plain Andy, she is the oldest of the gang of four. She found Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) during the Crusades, while the most recent addition was Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), picked up during the Napoleonic Wars.

None of them knows why they ended up as an immortal — and now there is a fifth recruit, a young U.S. Marine (KiKi Layne) ‘killed’ in 21st-century action.

In the meantime, the rapacious founder of a pharmaceutical empire (Harry Melling) has heard about our super troopers and wants to harvest their DNA to make an unimaginable fortune.

His guileless sidekick is a former CIA man played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, who seems pretty bright yet evidently hasn’t worked out that the weaselly little guy with the big ears, mad eyes and English accent might be a baddie.

Theron's character Andy is the oldest of the gang of four. She found Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) during the Crusades, while the most recent addition was Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), picked up during the Napoleonic Wars. None of them knows why they ended up as an immortal — and now there is a fifth recruit, a young U.S. Marine (KiKi Layne, above with Theron) 'killed' in 21st-century action

Theron’s character Andy is the oldest of the gang of four. She found Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) during the Crusades, while the most recent addition was Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), picked up during the Napoleonic Wars. None of them knows why they ended up as an immortal — and now there is a fifth recruit, a young U.S. Marine (KiKi Layne, above with Theron) ‘killed’ in 21st-century action

All this is made watchable mainly by Theron, so revelling in her sweaty-yet-serene alpha-female persona (see Atomic Blonde, see Mad Max: Fury Road) that the film begins to look like a two-hour deodorant commercial — less The Old Guard than The Right Guard.

But she is also a terrific comic actress when she’s allowed to be. Alas, director Gina Prince-Bythewood and writer Greg Rucka, adapting his own graphic novel series, miss the opportunity to make The Old Guard deliberately funny.

It’s still a hoot, but unwittingly. So when Booker remarks of Andy, ‘that woman has forgotten more ways to kill than entire armies will ever learn’, we’re really not meant to snigger, still less when Andy hunkers down in a remote French cave that she says she stumbled on around 1150, meaning the 12th century, not ten to twelve.

There’s a lot more po-faced action in Greyhound, a taut World War II thriller starring and written by Tom Hanks, who adapted it from C.S. Forester’s novel The Good Shepherd.

Hanks plays decent, god-fearing Captain Ernest Krause, whose first command, a U.S. destroyer codenamed Greyhound, must undertake the perilous task in 1942 of accompanying a large convoy of merchant vessels across the North Atlantic to Liverpool.

Once the ships enter the so-called ‘Black Pit’, beyond the range of air protection, they are especially vulnerable to raids by packs of German U-boats.

There's a lot more po-faced action in Greyhound, a taut World War II thriller starring and written by Tom Hanks, who adapted it from C.S. Forester's novel The Good Shepherd

There’s a lot more po-faced action in Greyhound, a taut World War II thriller starring and written by Tom Hanks, who adapted it from C.S. Forester’s novel The Good Shepherd

That’s what happens, repeatedly. In truth, much of the action is a little samey; there’s only so much tension you can squeeze out of umpteen U-boat attacks.

But it’s always a pleasure to see Hanks in roles like this. We already know from films such as Apollo 13 (1995), Captain Phillips (2013) and Sully (2016) that he’s Hollywood’s ultimate captaincy material. 

And while he is often described as a latter-day James Stewart, this is more of a Henry Fonda part — dependable, courageous, noble and, ultimately, just too wholesome to lose to those darned Nazis.

Hanks plays decent, god-fearing Captain Ernest Krause, whose first command, a U.S. destroyer codenamed Greyhound, must undertake the perilous task in 1942 of accompanying a large convoy of merchant vessels across the North Atlantic to Liverpool

Hanks plays decent, god-fearing Captain Ernest Krause, whose first command, a U.S. destroyer codenamed Greyhound, must undertake the perilous task in 1942 of accompanying a large convoy of merchant vessels across the North Atlantic to Liverpool

Can a boy’s hairy pal save the day?

Think Like A Dog (Various VOD platforms)

Verdict: Pretty paw 

Rating:

The barking — or maybe not-so-barking — premise of this saccharine children’s comedy is that if only humans thought and behaved more like dogs, instead of complicating things with impulses more sophisticated than love, loyalty and bottom-sniffing, the world would be altogether a better place.

Gabriel Bateman plays a 12-year-old science whiz (disconcertingly, for a British audience, called Oliver Reed) who has developed a way of communicating with Henry, the family dog, voiced by Todd Stashwick.

Together, Oliver and Henry must plot a way to stop Oliver’s squabbling parents (Megan Fox and Josh Duhamel, both on autopilot) from separating, while also outwitting a fiendish foreign entrepreneur (Kunal Nayyar) and stopping a cyber-attack on the White House.

The comedy gets terribly strained after a short while but under-12s might like it, as long as they are fairly undiscerning.

Cake tale more soggy than sweet

Love Sarah (cinemas nationwide, 12A)

Verdict: Half-baked 

Rating:

In Her Hands (Curzon Home Cinema)

Verdict: Hits the right notes

Rating:

There is nothing wrong with the ingredients in Love Sarah. This bittersweet British ‘feelgood’ film about a Notting Hill bakery features the ever-dependable Celia Imrie, with Bill Paterson as her love interest. But it’s still a soggy-bottomed let-down.

Sarah, a baker of rare talent (fleetingly played by Great British Bake Off winner Candice Brown, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it in-joke), is cycling through London on the way to open her new shop when she dies in a road accident. 

Imrie plays her uptight mother, Mimi, from whom Sarah was estranged, and Shannon Tarbet her daughter Clarissa, a dancer.

There is nothing wrong with the ingredients in Love Sarah. This bittersweet British ‘feelgood’ film about a Notting Hill bakery features the ever-dependable Celia Imrie (above), with Bill Paterson as her love interest. But it’s still a soggy-bottomed let-down

There is nothing wrong with the ingredients in Love Sarah. This bittersweet British ‘feelgood’ film about a Notting Hill bakery features the ever-dependable Celia Imrie (above), with Bill Paterson as her love interest. But it’s still a soggy-bottomed let-down

Following poor Sarah’s untimely demise, grandmother and granddaughter patch up their own differences and go into business with Sarah’s work partner Isabella (Shelley Conn), hiring Sarah’s old flame, a Michelin-starred chef (Rupert Penry-Jones) who might or might not be Clarissa’s biological father.

They call their bakery Love Sarah, specialising — sweetly, if rather implausibly — in giving London’s many immigrant communities a Proustian taste of their homelands.

It’s a confection I very much wanted to enjoy but a leaden script is compounded by some half-baked acting and an almost total lack of dramatic tension. A flavourless sponge of a film.

In Her Hands is also about triumph against the odds but has all the warmth, heart and conviction that Love Sarah lacks.

It’s a French-language film starring Kristin Scott Thomas as a fierce piano teacher whose uniquely gifted charge is a young Parisian, Matthieu (Jules Benchetrit), who comes from an underprivileged background and has a disreputable set of friends.

When Matthieu is arrested for burglary, the director of the Paris Conservatory of Music (Lambert Wilson), having spotted him playing one of those railway-station pianos, arranges for him to do community service at the Conservatory.

From there the film follows a fairly predictable course, but it’s done with considerable panache.

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