Four new films to see in cinemas this week

The Little Mermaid, Disney’s latest live-action cash grab, is nicely sung. Plus Paul Schrader’s masterly Master Gardener, Irish documentary 406 Days, and Finland’s Ramboesque Sisu

The Little Mermaid ★★★☆☆

Directed by Rob Marshall. Starring Halle Bailey, Melissa McCarthy, Javier Bardem, Jonah Hauer-King, Daveed Diggs, Awkwafina, Jacob Tremblay, Noma Dumezweni. PG cert, gen release, 120 min

Ho-hum live-action remake of the Disney animation that launched their second golden age. What’s the point bar the money? Once again, the anthropomorphic beasts lose all charm in the journey to photo-realism. Diggs, Awkwafina and Tremblay work hard at the respective voices, but it is difficult to impose emotion, wit or intelligence on characters denied facial expression. What we do get from the new version is a spirited, sweetly sung (if over-polished) performance by Halle Bailey as a less doormatty Ariel. The Afro-Caribbean ambience is also winning. The male lead is, well, there. Full review DC

Master Gardener ★★★★★

Directed by Paul Schrader. Starring Joel Edgerton, Sigourney Weaver, Quintessa Swindell, Esai Morales. Limited release, 107 min

Edgerton plays a former white supremacist working for Weaver’s rich lady in a further variation on themes explored in Schrader’s The Card Counter and First Reformed. The provocative mix of racial tensions, class struggle, and not one but two very different age-gap relationships is not for the faint of heart. The playfully probing subject matter, one wild floral-themed fantasia and a screwy interpretation of salvation ensues that the film pushes ambiguous heroism even further than Travis Bickle – another Schrader creation defined by his job – might have dared. At 76, Paul Schrader can still deliver a sucker punch. Full review TB


406 Days: The Debenham Picket Line ★★★★☆

Directed by Joe Lee. Featuring Carol Quinn, Brian Roche. PG cert, limited release, 91 min

Effective documentary on the lengthy, fraught strike at Debenhams branches in Ireland. Winner of audience prize and, from the Dublin Film Critics Circle, best Irish documentary at the recent Dublin International Film Festival, 406 Days imposes strict order – the sort you need when organising an industrial dispute – to get its narrative across with absolute clarity. The injustices are plain. The lingering anger is palpable. But the film is most notable for the warmth of its embrace. One has to keep reminding oneself that the former strikers – mostly women – are looking back only a few short years. Feels like a legend. Full review DC

Sisu ★★★★☆

Directed by Jalmari Helander. Starring Jorma Tommila, Aksel Hennie, Jack Doolan, Mimosa Willamo. 16 cert, gen release, 91 min

This storming actioner from Finland is a welcome throwback to simpler, shared swastika-slaying values. Pitching a Nordic Rambo against cackling, predatory, dog-shooting, and treasure-stealing SS troops, Sisu is mostly here for gonzo fascist killings with some insane survival set-pieces – including an insane homage to First Blood’s mud death - thrown in for good measure. To paraphrase Sly’s immortal killing machine, this is your worst nightmare. Helander, who previously scored an international hit with his Santa-themed horror Rare Exports, mines every gory set piece for squeals of delight and disgust. Full review TB

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic