Directed by Joss Whedon. Starring Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Tom Hiddleston, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Samule L. Jackson. 142 mins.
In cinemas now
AFTER YEARS OF SUPERHERO FILM FOREPLAY, THE AVENGERS ASSEMBLE FOR A BRILLIANT CLIMAX
The Avengers, comic books, Glee – what do they all have in common? Misfits, geeks, villains, one-liners – and Joss Whedon. The Cult King of the Cool Uncool, the writer and director of Avengers Assemble combines his talent for oddball characters, razor-sharp wit and fantastical action to a superhero film that is more fun than it has any right to be.
Basically, believe the hype.
Brilliantly collecting all the loose threads from the foreplay films of the past five years, Avengers Assemble sees the Avengers join up with military law enforcement agency S.H.I.E.L.D to stop Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) brother Loki from destroying the planet.
As superhero films go, it’s got everything. Each character is given their chance to shine, and though Robert Downey Jr. shoots out his usual stream of great one-liners, Thor’s bombastic, faux-Elizabethan delusions of grandeur and Hulk’s Neanderthal mentality are also uproariously funny, and often left me literally applauding with glee.
THE CABIN IN THE WOODS
Directed by Joss Whedon. Starring Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Franz Kenz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford. 95 mins.
In cinemas now
HILARIOUS, SMART AND ORIGINAL FRIGH FLICK BRILLAINTLY UNDOES ALL TRADITIONAL HORROR TROPES
There are many reasons to think The Cabin in the Woods is a transformative horror film. It’s funny as hell, smart as sin and if the devil’s in the details, this film is overrun with brilliantly burning demons. But perhaps the most impressive feat achieved by Cabin is the almost never-experienced sense of community that’s being shared by both critics and audiences alike. There’s a deliciously reverent silence surrounding the film’s wonderfully meta plot-twists; an innate understanding that everyone deserves to experience this film in pure, unsullied, and blissful ignorance.
Basically, the first rule about Cabin in the Woods is you don’t talk about Cabin in the Woods.
Directed by Karl Markovics. Starring Thomas Schubert, Karin Lischka, Gerhard Liebmann, Georg Friedrich, Stefan Matousch. 90 mins.
In cinemas April 20
STILL AND SLOW-MOVING PORTRAIT OF A YOUNG PAROLEE STRUGGLING WITH LIFE IN FRONT OF BARS
A slow-burning, still and affecting portrait of a young man struggling to find purpose in a life defined by one action, Karl Markovics’ directorial debut is often devastatingly emotive. Thomas Schubert plays Roman, a sullen inmate at a juvenile facility who is ostracized by his peers due to a combination of fear and disgust. When he’s encouraged to take a job in a morgue to impress his parole board, Roman is forced out of his deadened institutionalized mindset, and through working with the dead, is also forced to re-learn how to cope with the living.
Roman’s plight is meticulously, stunningly observed, as simple tasks and interactions take on huge significance. Though initially rejected and mocked by his older colleagues at the morgue, the nature of their work brings them to a silent respect. Painstaking and oddly beautiful sequences showing Roman and a co-worker gently bathing and dressing the body of an elderly woman while her daughter-in-law frets outside is incredibly touching, but there are also harsher depictions of their work. The dieners’ arrival on the scene of an accident is met with vicious aggression from a relative of the not-yet-declared victim, and the men retreat – only to be told by paramedics to stay close by.
Directed by James Mather and Stephen St.Leger. Starring Guy Pearce, Maggice Grace, Joe Gilgun, Peter Stormare. 95 mins.
Rating: One and a half/Five
In cinemas April 20
ABSURDLY STUPID AND DERIVATIVE SCI-FI ACTION FLICK IS A CINEMATIC BLACK HOLE
Silly season seems to inspire a cinematic Stockholm Syndrome in critics. The deluge of films apparently released purely to assault our senses, insult our intelligence and push our patience to the limit can eventually induce a deluded, desperate desire to find anything positive to cling onto, in order to retain some sense of sanity and faith in the world. And so awful films are declared adequate, and stupid movies defended unpretentious good fun.
Not even that leniency can save Lockout.
The McNugget of films, Lockout’s marketing professes that this futuristic prison break flick is pure action entertainment, when really it’s nothing like the real thing. Instead it’s an unrecognizable mulch of the gristle and fat of every sci-fi of the last two decades, injected with testosterone, watered down with a horribly over-written script, and covered in a soggy batter of dodgy CGI. Disappointingly, given that Luc Besson (The Fifth Element) produces, there are no additional flavours to be found.
Directed by Rodrigo Garcia. Starring Glenn Close, Janet McTeer, Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Johnson, Brendan Gleeson, Maria Doyle Kennedy. 113 mins.
In cinemas April 27
JANET MCTEER BREATHES LIFE INTO AN OTHERWISE LIFELESS FILM FAÇADE
A film that’s been thirty years in the making, Glenn Close originally starred in the stage adaptation of George Moore’s short story in 1982. But despite three decades of passion driving the project, Albert Nobbs – like its titular character – remains an undiscovered cipher, corseted by its fear to explore its real potential.
Instead it clumsily tramples over the award-baiting bases of period costumes, cross-dressing and a scene of beach-inspired self-discovery worthy of only the classiest of tampon-ads, all before heading for a tragedy-stricken homerun. But in its haste, it forgets to fill up the field with a dramatic arc, clear theme or empathetic central character.
Close plays Albert, a prim and introverted manservant in a nineteenth century Dublin hotel, who –as the marketing has revealed – is in fact a woman in disguise. After decades of deceiving everyone around him, he is discovered by gruff painter Hubert (Janet McTeer) – who, as the actress’ name would indicate, is also concealing a Twelfth Night-style secret.
DAMSELS IN DISTRESS
Directed by Whit Stillman. Starring Greta Gerwig, Analeigh Tipton, Carrie MacLemore, Aubrey Plaza, Adam Brody. 99 mins.
Rating: Two and a half/Five
In cinemas April 27
GRETA GERWIG’S INNOCENCE SHINES IN QUIRKY BUT INSUBSTANTIAL CAMPUS COMEDY
Crouching yuppie, hidden WASP, director Whit Stillman is an odd creature. During his twenty-two year career, he has only come out of hibernation for four films, the last three providing sharply written observations about the urban haute bourgeoisies as they experience stylized Jane Austen-like comedies of manners. And, as a Harvard graduate and godson to the sociologist who coined the term ‘WASP’, he has a wealth of material to draw from.
However, while Stillman’s flair for sharp dialogue and wonderful whimsy has survived his thirteen year long hiatus, the target of his satire seems to have become lost in a sea of endlessly repeated jokes, impenetrably affected characters and jazzy dance numbers. Damsels in Distress is prettily quirky and distracting, but Stillman has sacrificed his trademark dark humour for a more pastel palette.
Though for pretty pastel protagonists, petals don’t come more precious than Greta Gerwig. Playing Violet, the queen-bee of a ditsy and didactic collegiate bouquet made up of wary newcomer Lily (Crazy, Stupid, Love’s Analeigh Tipton), ‘British’ Rose and naïve Heather, Gerwig is a wonderfully wide-eyed combination of affectations and eccentricities. Heading up the group’s naïve, doughnut and tap-dancing-based treatment at the college’s ‘Suicide Centre’ and their charitable ‘adopt a stupid frat-boy’ scheme; Violet’s smug, Stepford solipsism conceals a deep vulnerability.
As the young ladies navigate playboy “operators” (Adam Brody), suicidal tendencies and ambitions to create an international dance craze, Stillman piles on deadpan sarcasm and some superb one-liners, bringing into focus the girls’ youthful narcissism and delusion.
But for every zinging one-liner there are endless infuriatingly undeveloped plot points and unrealized hints at satire. The twenty-something’s insecure susceptibility to groupthink is constantly touched on, whether it be outward affectations, depression, idiotic fraternities, cultish religions or potentially demeaning sex fads, but none is explored in detail. Neither are the characters, who – apart from Violet – remain emotionless shells at best, and farcical, colour-confused idiots at worst. Even the date of the film’s setting remains vague, further adding to the confusion: who is Stillman talking to, and who about? (Or should that be about whom?)
For a film called Damsels in Distress, this light and insubstantial comedy plays it far too safe.
Directed by Aki Kaurismäki. Starring André Wilms, Blondin Miguel, Kati Outinen, Jean-Pierre Darroussin. 93 mins.
Rating: Three and a half/Five
In cinemas April 6
SLIGHT BUT CHARMINGLY IDEALISTIC TALE OF COMMUNITY TRIUMPHING OVER ADVERSITY
A master of quirky, deadpan features, Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki’s (La Vie de Bohème, The Man Without a Past) latest film combines his dry with an unrelenting empathy with the downtrodden to tell a slight but quirky and utterly charming tale of people who never hesitate to do the right thing.
Set in the free titular French port town, Le Havre’s hero Marcel Marx (André Wilms) is an aging shoe-shine so childish and financially irresponsible that not only can he not pay his bills, but his wife doesn’t trust him to deal with the news that she’s gravely ill.
But when a shipping container of African refugees is discovered, Marcel decides to take in young runaway Idrissa (Blondin Miguel.) Not only does Marcel embrace the responsible paternal side of his personality, but he manages to unite the fragmented town as they all pitch in to protect Idrissa from investigating authorities.
Kaurismäki is known for his quiet, understated style and the performances are wonderfully deadpan, both nicely playing up the emotion and humour of the piece. The director embraces the absurdity there is to be found in the midst of harrowing circumstance, such as Marcel straight-facedly telling officials that he is Idrissa’s albino uncle. Even the social undertones of the film are presented quirkily, with the characters’ names playing a huge part in portraying the director’s political beliefs.
Though the Euros used betray the film’s modern day setting, there’s a strangely timeless quality to not only Le Havre’s community triumphing adversity theme, but its warmly old-fashioned aesthetic. The 1970s style palette of dusty turquoises, mustards and browns lend an almost painterly feel to the cinematography, while the film’s score is piped through crackling old radios, adding to the classic tone.
Though unapologetically brief, crowd-pleasing and slight, Kaurismäki’s charming, idealistic view of humanity is an undeniably lovely one to bask in for a while.
Directed by Lena Dunham. Starring Lena Dunham, Jemima Kirke, Laurie Simmons, Grace Dunham. 98 mins.
Rating: Three and a half/Five
In cinemas now
SHARPLY WRITTEN BUT NARROW COMING-OF-AGE COMEDY IS A SAD PORTRAYAL OF A LOST GENERATION
We can only pray that future historians don’t look back on Tiny Furniture to understand todays 20-somethings. For this low-budget, mumblecore coming-of-age comedy about hipsters in New York puts all of the hideously indulgent, obnoxious and self-involved traits of this generation on painful display. This is a world where romantic interests are famous for being Youtube sensations called ‘The Nietzschean Cowboy’ and characters respond to meeting friends’ pets with comments like “A gerbil? How oldschool”, because apparently these days all self-respecting hipsters are taking care of ocelot-unicorn hybrids.
Written and directed by 24 year old Lena Dunham, the films’ authenticity comes from its autobiographical script, and production. Not only does Dunham play the lead character Aura, but her real-life mother and sister play her on-screen family. No doubt due to these real relationships, it’s the family interactions that are the most sharply written and effective, and Aura’s jealous bickering with her accomplished younger sister Nadine reek of the casual cruelty that occurs between siblings. It’s Nadine who points out Aura’s desperate need for validation, shown not only by her one-sided attractions to Woody Allen wannabe Jed and drug-and-woman-using co-worker Keith, but her constant need to put her body on display.
These very honest, funny and self-lacerating depictions of young, female insecurity are superbly, endearingly portrayed, while a humiliating, empty sexual encounter is a tragic display of a girl who – as she’s not afraid of yelling at her mother – is “going through a very hard time right now and is trying to figure it all out.”
But the self-absorbed, affected interactions between the over-privileged supporting players that make up Aura’s narrow world are –though being (or perhaps because of being)acutely observed – almost unbearable, and the lack of growth makes watching these characters an agonizing experience.
And while Dunham can’t be blamed for the flaws of a generation, she can be blamed for letting them detract from her otherwise sharply funny film. Because unfortunately, I don’t get to rate humanity out of five stars.
INTO THE ABYSS
Directed by Werner Herzog. Featuring Jason Burkett, Michael Perry, Werner Herzog. 106 mins.
In cinemas now
WERNER HERZOG’S DEATH PENATLY DOC IS INNATELY FASCINATING BUT SOFTLY PRESENTED
In 2001 in the Texan town of Conroe, two teenage boys were accused of murdering three people in a car theft gone wrong. Jason Burkett was sentenced to life in prison. Michael Perry was sentenced to death by lethal injection. In the weeks leading up to Perry’s execution, Werner Herzog interviews the two prisoners, their families, the families of the victims and policemen involved in the case to examine what would make a person kill someone else; and why the State would react in kind.
Herzog’s approach is a subtle one, presenting information and allowing the viewer to draw their own conclusions. Though Herzog states he doesn’t believe in capital punishment, his focus on the damning facts of the case, harrowing crime scene evidence, and harrowing, grief-stricken interviews with the victims’ families reveals why one potentially could.
But for such a huge, emotionally charged subject, Herzog seems to dance around the giant, handcuffed elephant in the room. Even considering potential legal reasons, it’s hard to forgive Herzog’s failure to push the men on the question of guilt or remorse; especially as Perry never claims to be the victim of a miscarriage of justice.
Social factors, such as the men’s family history of crime and the area’s poor education level also remain ignored. This becomes more disconcerting as Perry – though days from death – remains unbelievably chipper, answering Herzog’s soft inquiries with simplistic religious soundbites and often misunderstanding the question, leading the viewer to an uncomfortable, also unasked question: can a man – or rather, a boy – who doesn’t even understand the impending nature of his own death, really understand the impact of causing someone else’s?
In this innately fascinating, thought-provokingbut flawed documentary, it’s unclear what the titular abyss refers to – the nature of the death penalty or a mind capable of murder. Either way, Herzog seems to be circling the edges of this troublesome ravine, reluctant to dive in.
Directed by Tarsem Singh. Starring Julia Roberts, Lily Collins, Armie Hammer, Nathan Lane. 95 mins.
In cinemas now
ONCE UPON A TIME THERE WAS AN ACTRESS CALLED JULIA ROBERTS, WHO LIVED BLANDLY AND BAD-ACCENTEDLY EVER AFTER
Once upon a time, a little known actress played a beautiful prostitute who fell in love with Richard Gere, and it seemed like the actress would live happily ever after. Her incomparable smile won her adoration everywhere she went, and upon the dawning of the new millennium, her talent was rewarded with a magical golden Oscar statue.
But as we all know children, all that glitters is not gold, and this beautiful trinket was cursed. Though the actress continued to work, it was only in films written by evil, mindless, misogynistic trolls.
Tragedy struck again in her forty-fourth year when she fell under the spell of King Tarsem Singh who, while not evil, was but often misguided, such as his ruling over Immortals. And so when she agreed to play the evil queen in a retelling of Snow White, little did she know that she was doomed, not least because Singh’s magic caused the actress to forget her greatest weakness: an inability to do accents.
But the actress’s appalling “British” twang wasn’t her only problem, as Singh had also managed to cloak his entire kingdom in a thick cloud of blandness. Like its young star Lily Collins – whose bizarrely emphasized eyebrows must make her the lovechild of Colin Farrell and Frida Kahlo – his film was undeniably pretty, but stuck in an eternal state of boredom. Devoid of genuine humour, warmth or excitement, it was so insipid that it put Sleeping Beauty back into a coma.
The actress herself was unable to play evil, merely sarcastic, while Princess Lily and loverboy Armie Hammer were banished to live a passion-free existence. The seven clichéd dwarves suffered an even more patronizing fate; they were magically transformed into normally-proportioned actors during every badly-directed stunt. The desperate King Singh tried to awaken his subjects with a bizarre Slumdog Millionaire dance routine during the end credits, but to no avail.
Little did he know that he held the power to end this tedium all along – all he had to do was look deep within himself and find some originality, energy and effort. But until that fateful day of discovery, the people of Mirror Mirror would live anaemically ever after.