Sid looks after some dinosaur eggs in Ice Age 3 / image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox
Our weekly round-up of cinema reviews
If it’s summer (and wringing out our t-shirts, yep, it’s summer) it must be time for the big, blockbuster kid’s films. So make room for Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs – in 3D! “Here we go again,” says the Evening Standard, “frolicking with a band of furry and cuddleworthy animals while well-known humans like Queen Latifah, John Leguizamo and our own Simon Pegg squawk away merrily” (3 stars). The prehistoric cuddlies have to rescue sloth Sid when he ends up in a lost world where the dinosaurs are still alive, but is the group really worth re-visiting a third time? Possibly not: Empire thinks “it’s a pacey, enjoyable yarn for the most part, but the franchise’s key strength is its characters and the relationships, tired by part two, are seriously running out of steam” (3 stars) while The Times calls in the “law of diminishing returns [for] the third and sadly anaemic instalment” (2 stars). Maybe one for the little ones, but take the older chips off the block to Harry Potter in a fortnight.
Michael Mann’s Public Enemies is definitely not cuddly, brightly coloured or in 3D. Johnny Depp plays 30s bank robber John Dillinger, pursued across America and a number of shootouts by Christian Bale’s FBI agent and Billy Crudup’s J Edgar Hoover. “It”s a great story, or would be if Mann could settle exactly which story he wants to tell and how he wants to tell it,” sighs The Independent (3 stars), a lament echoed by The Times: “it’s a sprawling period piece that blends a lot of fact and a bit of fantasy… If the film had focused on these three men and the battle of wits between them there might at least have been room to develop them as characters. Instead, Mann crams the movie with peripheral historical presences” (2 stars). But hey, it’s got Johnny Depp, and “it’s Depp who’s going to be supplying the charisma, right? Actually no… He’s bloodless, a vacuum at the centre of the film, unwilling or unable to risk any kind of emotional investment in or make a stab at interpreting his character” (Telegraph, 2 stars). It all seems a bit of a mess, but the Evening Standard reminds us that “some artists’ failures are more interesting than other artists’ successes. Michael Mann may not succeed with Public Enemies but the attempt is compelling enough” (3 stars), which may be an intriguing enough statement to justify the price of a cinema ticket.
Philadelphia soul singer Billy Paul is the subject of documentary Am I Black Enough For You? “After his super-smash hit from 1972, Me and Mrs Jones, Paul released an angry, radical track: Am I Black Enough for You? that astonished and even horrified the fans who had only recently swooned over his naughty-but-nice song of illicit pleasure” explains the Guardian (4 stars). The film tries to explore the suggestion that the song was too political for his audience, that the manager of his record label forced him into a career-killing move. Unfortunately, director Goran Olsson “doesn’t manage to resolve the questions or even convince me that they’re interesting enough to sustain a whole film (Independent, 2 stars). The Times blames “a complete lack of focus on the part of the film-makers. Not only do they fail to get their questions answered, they also run out of material so disastrously that they resort to cutting together a murky montage of Paul and his wife sleeping on a plane to accompany one of his songs” (2 stars).
Red Mist is “a very ordinary, conventional, by-the-numbers creepfest without any dark spark” says the Guardian (1 star). A coma patient is injected with a wonder drug that – oops – “jolts him into an out-of-body state which allows him to possess innocent people and use them to murder nearly everyone in sight, including lots of semi-naked girls” (Evening Standard, 2 stars). The Independent thinks “genre aficionados may have fun spotting the resonances… but taken all in all it isn’t scary enough or funny enough to be worth your time” (1 star). We have just one pressing question: what on earth is the awesome Stephen Dillane doing in stuff like this?
Re-released as part of the Barbican’s Cine Cuba season, 1993′s Strawberry and Chocolate “is as refreshing in this week of cinematic stodge as the ice cream that gives the film its title” (Times, 4 stars). It follows the relationship between young Marxist David and the gay Diego, whom David is then recruited into spying on. Tomas Gutiérrez Alea’s comedy “brings together themes of political, sexual and cultural repression… it verges on the preachy, but it’s a generous and intriguing film” says The Independent (2 stars). It was also the first Cuban film with an overtly gay character, but the Evening Standard believes “its subject now reveals itself as political and social freedom in Castro’s Cuba” (4 stars). The Guardian sings its praises for being “the kind of material that modern films from Britain and the US would never dream of giving us… a thoughtful, sensual pleasure” (4 stars).
Coffin Joe, the, ah, ‘hero’ of Embodiment of Evil, has been part of a Latin American horror franchise for 45 years, on and off. He “combines the roles of serial killer, cannibal, satanist, anarchist, and, in this third film, recidivist… someone who basically made Aleister Crowley look like Huw Edwards” (Guardian, 3 stars). Newly released from jail, Coffin Joe is determined to find a woman to bear his son, so “he haunts the favelas for luckless females to kidnap, abuse and impregnate… mostly it is about the darkly sadistic visceral pleasure to be gained from depicting the torture of women” says the horrified Times (1 star). The Independent calls it a “very peculiar film indeed” (2 stars), while the Evening Standard “particularly liked the evil laughter and practised it sotto voce all the way home on the Tube” (3 stars).
Next week: we finally get to see Bruno and a suburban nervous breakdown in The Private Lives of Pippa Lee.