Paul Greenwood's movie reviews - Grace of Monaco, Benny & Jolene, Fruitvale Station

Grace of Monaco arrives fresh (or perhaps not so fresh) from the Cannes Film Festival with the kind of negative notices that are likely to drive people into cinemas to discover for themselves if it can really be as bad as all that.

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Nicole Kidman in Grace of Monaco
Nicole Kidman in Grace of Monaco

But though many will turn up for the voyeuristic pleasure of witnessing a true stinker, the disappointing news for them is that rather than arriving as an out-and-out disaster that courts can't-miss status, it's simply a bit of a pudding.

In telling the story of Princess Grace of Monaco, nee Hollywood royalty Grace Kelly, it plods through scene after lifeless scene that amount to not very much at all.

But it's not a life story, which is a blessing, wisely focusing on a specific period in her life rather than trying to pack it all in.

It opens to a disclaimer saying that it's a work of fiction that is merely inspired by actual events.

It also opens, like last year's ruinous Diana, with the camera trained only on Grace's back for the first couple of minutes, as though we're being led to believe it's the real person and not just some actor.

To be fair, in the title role, Nicole Kidman looks just like Kelly from the rear, in hair anyway.

It's 1956 and she has just finished shooting her final film, High Society.

She's an Oscar-winning star, but she's about to achieve a new level of worldwide fame with her marriage to Prince Rainier of Monaco.

This is mostly told through newsreel footage, from which we make a leap to 1961.

Alfred Hitchcock has travelled to Monaco in an attempt to persuade Kelly out of retirement and come back to Hollywood to star in his new film, Marnie.

The bigger picture going on around this is Monaco's, and Rainier's, ongoing quarrel with France, which is unhappy with their status as a tax haven, putting the sovereignty of Monaco and the future of the principality in doubt.

On a personal level, the central thrust for Grace is that being a princess isn't the fairytale it's cracked up to be.

That's a perfectly valid thing for a film to explore, and there are moments when this offers some interesting drama.

She's painted in a flattering light, winding up politicians with her plain-spoken ways and, like Diana, she wants to do good for those less fortunate through her humanitarian work, working to build hospitals and haranguing her wealthy associates for donations.

Also in its favour is the fact that more or less everyone in Monaco talks with the actor's own English or American accent, which at least gives it a level of consistency.

Yet even this is almost derailed by the ludicrous decision, for reasons that are never clear, to have French characters played by French actors, complete with Allo Allo pronunciation.

This is the sort of thing that only occasionally elevates the movie into silliness, yet it's never high camp enough to actually be enjoyable.

If anything verges on the hysterical, and the element most likely to push it towards accusations of incompetence, it's the truly horrendous camera-work, which delivers punishing close-ups, mostly of Kidman.

More often than not it's to be found trying to conjure drama from thin air, never more so than the scenes between Grace and Father Tucker, the Grimaldi family priest (Frank Langella), where she seeks his counsel for her woes.

The scenes of political wrangling mostly go nowhere through dull dialogue and extremely clumsy explanations, as characters introduce themselves with lines like "I am so-and-so, and because I am so-and-so, I think this."

Princess lessons with Derek Jacobi are a low point and go some way to explaining the reactions out of Cannes, as Grace puts on a series of facial expressions as she learns to comport herself.

It's scenes like this that threaten to engulf what is actually a perfectly decent performance from Kidman, who is let down by most things around her.

Grace of Monaco is strictly TV movie fare, with writing, directing and tech specs on that level. As such, it's not really worth getting exercised about.

It's not a disaster, it's just clunky and misguided, and in the end while it may well be rubbish, it's perfectly presentable rubbish.

Director: Olivier Dahan

Running Time: 103 mins

fruitvale station (15)

The real-life event at the centre of Fruitvale Station took place in the San Francisco Bay area on New Year's Eve in 2008, some of it captured in the mobile phone footage that opens the film.

The dramatisation of the days leading up to this introduces us to Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) and the time taken to establish this character reaps rewards down the line when the situation takes a turn for the shocking at Fruitvale as Oscar and his friends take the train home.

It's a balanced portrait of a young man with a troubled past who is intent on a brighter future, and we see his life as he tries his best for his girlfriend and young daughter.

A fine, nuanced performance from Jordan ensures audience empathy, and he's given first rate backup by Octavia Spencer as his long-suffering mother. For all that the way the story develops rightly provokes indignation and anger, it's avoids sensationalism, yet with enough emotional impact to ensure that it hits hard and lingers long.

Director: Ryan Coogler

Running Time: 85 mins

benny & jolene (15)

The ghost of Spinal Tap haunts this low budget British comedy that makes up in charm and light chuckles what it lacks in originality and depth.

Submarine's Craig Roberts and Fresh Meat's Charlotte Ritchie play the titular indie-folk duo who have released their first album and are trying to organise gigs and promotional appearances.

Charting their Spinal Tap-style catastrophes in the face of idiocy and incompetence from everyone around them, it's worth a few laughs, many of them coming from Jolene remaining oblivious to Benny's feelings for her.

Though not in a mock-documentary format, it looks likes one, with the semi-improvised set-ups often loose.

Holding it together is the likeable combination of Roberts and Ritchie, but there's no disguising that this would be more at home on a late night BBC3 slot.

Director: Jamie Adams

Running time: 86 mins

Arts and Entertainment

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