This week: Wallace & Gromit, Lord of War, Domino.
Well, there's not much doubt what this week's most interesting release is: Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. And despite having the best tagline of any film so far this year (Something wicked this way hops) WAGTCOTWR (as we're going to stubbornly refer to it from here on in) also get an incredibly rare five stars from the Grim Reviewer himself: Pete Bradshaw.
"It's a lovely family film packed with cheeky gags and buoyant fun," evangelises Pete, "like the best-ever Bumper Holiday edition of the Beano, with the merest hint of Viz". And as for the story: "there's pure, unpretentious joy in every minute and Nick Park never insists on any misjudged Tim Burton-ish moments of 'darkness'."
Oooh a little dig at The Corpse Bride there, more of which next week.
Over in the Independent, WAGTCOTWR keeps its star quota topped up to the brim with another five star review, this time from the pen of Tony Quinn who sums the whole thing up as "Plasticine's finest hour".
With the studio DreamWorks on board, for the money, there might have been anxieties over American influence, yet Park's sensibility stamps it as a very English comedy of character as much as a spectacle of leapfrogging invention. He knows that virtuosity, amazing as it is, would be nothing without the affectionate warmth that blooms in the mere contemplation of one man and his dog.
A little cerebral perhaps for a film which is ostensibly about a Giant Vegetable Competition, but we love a little Quinn hyperbole as much as the next person...so let's have a bit more shall we?
That relationship is the bedrock of this movie. Wallace, voiced as ever by Peter Sallis, remains the daffy, cheese-loving suburban inventor whose disaster-prone ways are held in check by his silent dog Gromit, who mixes the resourcefulness of Lassie with the impeccable sangfroid of Buster Keaton.
Who knew you could get sangfroid from Plasticine?
Unfortunately WAGTCOTWR doesn't make a hat trick of five star reviews from the broadsheets as spoilsport Jim Christopher only sees fit to award four.
"Every frame is an animated joy," apparently and we even get Christopher's thoughts on claymation sex ("I’m not sure Park’s Plasticine fantasies could possibly cope with sex. He is a shy and retiring talent who deals with the world through the tried and tested certainties of a postwar past") but his "paper-thin quible" concerns "the shelf-life of this precious franchise. How long can Park and his mystical tribe of animators keep these characters fresh and credible?"
One of the characters is a dog who can drive James! We don't think Park and his co-animators are particularly worried about 'credibility'.
Another promising release for this week is writer/director Andrew Nicol's Lord of War starring Nic' Cage.
The film gets its best review in The Times where JC gives it four stars and calls it a "a gripping fable" starring...erm, a "creamy villain".
Cage is "an icy marvel" apparently and "it’s a long time since [he] has delivered such a newsworthy performance", while Ehan Hawke reprises the 'sidekick with a conscience' role that he perfected in Training Day.
Christopher finishes his review by calling the film "an important, original, and decidedly un-American film," and that's a view echoed by Anthony Quinn in the Independent where the film is awarded three stars.
"It's an uncommonly intelligent study in the economics of modern warfare," says Quinn "and in the face of the more usual Hollywood heroics, its cynicism is almost refreshing."
However, when we get to the Guardian and Bradshaw's review, Lord of War has dropped to a decidingly unimpressive two stars.
It's not Cage's performance that's done the damge for Bradders (his performance is "watchable" says Pete, high praise indeed) but Nicol's script which is "uneven" and not all to Pete's tastes.
Finally this week we suppose we'll have to take a very brief look at the mess that is Domino.
Keira Knightley as a real life bounty hunter? It seems impossible to get wrong doesn't it? Well, only if the real life version dies of a drug overdose before the film's finished...and Keira Knightley turns in a patently absurd "bad-arse" performance as the plummy, privileged perp hunter.
Bradshaw's one star review notes all these faults and then just rubs large chunks of sea salt into the wounds:
After the traumatic death of her goldfish - and the emotional scar tissue is simply piling up - Domino grows up to be a fierce babe with attitude and that exotic first name is a token of how supercool she is. I can only say that Tony Scott here missed a massive opportunity for comedy. Would it have killed him to include a scene where she trips over and bumps into someone, causing them to topple over, hitting someone else, and they topple over, and so on?
Pete - you've missed your calling, you truly have.
The one star trend continues in the Independent with Tony Q hammering in the coffin nails a little further: " Just when you thought Tony Scott had done his vulgarian worst (Man on Fire), he gouges out a movie even dumber than his last," although he does remind us that "it is an unpleasant surprise to find Richard Kelly's name credited for the appallingly muddled screenplay. He's come a long way down from Donnie Darko."
It must be another Richard Kelly surely...well no actually. Here's Kelly calling the film "one of the most subversive films released by a major studio since Fight Club."
And just to seal the deal, The Times gives Domino one final, solitary star and yet another quote you won't be seeing on any of the promotional posters:
A jaw-dropping fiasco, even by this director’s shallow standards.
N.B. James Christopher also hopes "that Richard Kelly, the hapless author of this drivel, had the decency to toss his typewriter in the bin".
And finally some cinematic news and gossipy type stuff for the end of the week:
Hopefully you'll have been reading our London Film Festival previews over the past week, but if you need more tips on what to go and see then who better to ask than the man himself, Pete Bradshaw: here's his top 10 LFF must sees.
Want some Batman rumours? Okay then: seems that the Dark Knight may be facing up to a familiar face in the next film, if this story turns out to be true and Michael Keaton gets the Joker role (or will it be Paul Bettany?). The Batman Begins DVD comes out on the 21st by the way.
And talking of casting speculation: we were right about Bond. We don't think he'll be that good to be honest.
Simon Pegg has definitely signed up for Mission Impossible III. Which gives us a new excuse to actually go and see that film.
And talking of films that make bird flu look like a tempting option: it looks like the rumours about Rocky VI weren't a joke.
God help us all.
Trailer of the week: Clooney and Damon in Syriana.