Bill Maher and friend in Religulous / image courtesy of Momentum Pictures
Our weekly round-up of the week's film reviews
Richard Curtis has been suffering cinematic diminished returns for some time. Four Weddings, Notting Hill, Love Actually - and now The Boat That Rocked. Set on a Radio Caroline-type pirate radio boat in the 60s, we get "a kind of free spirits versus anti-libertarians comic farrago in which the government of the day and the BBC are the villains and the heroes are fighting for everyone’s right to enjoy themselves" (Evening Standard, 2 stars). It's got a stellar cast that includes Bill Nighy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rhys Ifans, Chris O'Dowd, Kenneth Branagh and Rhys Darby, and a fantastic 60s soundtrack. "As [the music] sets your toes tapping and your head spinning you think: must look out for the soundtrack. Keep thinking that, and give the movie that's attached to it an almighty body swerve" says The Independent (1 star). "There is no map or compass" agrees The Times (1 star), "the episodic plot seems to be determined entirely by whoever Curtis happens to bump into on his trips to the galley." The Guardian declares "it's a great cast... but they are almost never given any honest-to-goodness funny lines, just warm-hearted, decaffeinated dialogue and opportunities to laugh uproariously with and not at each other" (2 stars). Even Empire, which finds it "bursting at the seams with salty fun" and gives it 3 stars, thinks Curtis "creates too many characters for any to take hold". Diminishing returns indeed.
American comedian Bill Maher travels the world (and particularly America) trying to find out what's so great about faith in Religulous. "Like a cross between PJ O'Rourke and Richard Dawkins, he seeks out a variety of the faithful and asks them to explain precisely how their beliefs tally with science, history, statistical probability, etc" says The Independent (2 stars). "What he singularly fails to do, though," says The Times (3 stars) "is engage with anyone sensible. By mocking the loonies he squanders the precious high ground." Empire believes "these are nits to be picked rather than gaping flaws... It’s a rare film that can simultaneously crack you up and send a chill down your spine" (4 stars).
Monsters Vs Aliens is here in time for the Easter holidays. Hurtling out of the Dreamworks studio, this is the animated tale of a girl who is hit by meteorite on her wedding day, grows to 50 feet tall and is sent to a government facility with a bunch of other 'monsters' to battle an alien invasion. It "has all the stuff missing from The Boat That Rocks - charm, invention, surprise and some terrific laughs" says The Independent (4 stars). The Times (3 stars) believes "engagingly nerdy movie in-jokes are clearly a step in the right direction for DreamWorks after the rather crass and bombastic approach of the Shrek movies". Featuring the voice talents of Reese Witherspoon, Hugh Laurie, Seth Rogen and Arrested Development's Will Arnett, we'll give Empire (4 stars) the final word: "Yayyyy, monsters!"
Waveriders is a history of surfing from director Joel Conroy and features "sensational footage of surfers barrelling through 50ft waves" (The Times, 3 stars). "Yet however much you admire the daring of these young surfers, you soon realise that listening to them yarn on about the sport can become very, very boring" is the conclusion of The Independent (2 stars).
"Anyone who enjoyed Nicolas Philibert's Etre et Avoir will want to see" Modern Life (La Vie Moderne), says the Guardian (3 stars). Director Raymond Depardon completes "a trilogy about the decline of farming in la France [and] catches a poignant sense of lives, and livelihoods, inexorably dwindling" (The Independent, 3 stars). Empire calls it "visually evocative and deeply moving" (4 stars) while The Times finds "the pastoral beauty of the scenery and the lyrical journey of Depardon’s camera are underscored by a sense of acute melancholy and hopelessness in this affecting film" (3 stars).
Cherry Blossoms is a modern homage to Ozu’s masterpiece Tokyo Story. "This lovely update is not quite in the same tragi-comic league, but it’s authentic enough to prick tears" says The Times (4 stars). The plot revolves around a middle-aged civil servant visiting his son in Japan and learning more about his recently deceased wife. Empire (4 stars) finds it "unpredictable and compelling, drawing parallels between Japanese and German cultures in interesting and moving ways". "This is a sweet-natured piece," thinks the Guardian (3 stars) "and though the final section in Tokyo itself is sentimental and over-extended, there are poignant, mordant insights."
The World Unseen, a "tale of forbidden love in the early days of apartheid South Africa suffers from heavy-handed direction and stodgy exposition, but it is made tolerable by its two central performances" declares The Independent (2 stars). The Guardian thinks that "director Shamim Sarif adapts her own novel with a kind of cringing deference... this winds up as a curiously strait-laced, timid and self-conscious affair" (2 stars).
After The World Unseen, I Can't Think Straight - from the same director - has similar themes, as noted by The Times: "You wait all year for a lesbian comedy drama with the production values of a 1980s TV movie and the acting standard of a carpet shampoo advert, and then two come along at once... spectacularly dreadful" (1 star). This time set in the Middle East, the Guardian finds it "looks more like Dynasty, with some very broad, soapy acting, coy sex scenes and some airily conspicuous wealth" (2 stars).