Danny Mays and Riz Ahmed in Shifty / image courtesy of Metrodome Pictures
Our weekly round-up of film reviews
State of Play, you may remember, was originally a Paul Abbott-penned thriller for the BBC, starring John Simm, David Morrissey, Bill Nighy, James McAvoy, Kelly Macdonald, Marc Warren - we could probably fill this entire paragraph with the incredible talent; talent that was only matched by the quality of writing, complexity of plot and sheer bloody intelligence. Yes, we're rather fond of it. A politician's assistant apparently commits suicide, but her death reveals an affair, murder and conspiracy. Cal McAffrey is the lead journalist on a newspaper investigation to uncover the whole murky plot. Last King of Scotland director Kevin MacDonald had the unenviable task of transferring the whole thing to Washington and squeezing six hours of story into two: Russell Crowe now plays the journo, Ben Affleck his old mate the senator. Please please please let it be good... "Watching the enormously satisfying, quick-witted State of Play, you struggle to think of more than a handful of recent movies that are in the same deviously intelligent league" (Times, 4 stars). The Guardian (3 stars) says "the movie is an entertaining ride, with a big cast of characters whose contributions to the plot, though not strictly speaking plausible, are all cleverly managed and orchestrated by Macdonald". OK, we're feeling happier. The Evening Standard laments that the film "leaves out many of the psychological battles that made such intriguing television. There is also a finale that simply doesn’t stand up" but concludes that it "still manages to be the best US-made, British-directed thriller for some time" (4 stars), and that's a category that includes the recent Bournes. The Independent (2 stars) is less impressed, however, finding the whole thing "oddly unexciting" and not buying Crowe and Affleck's relationship: "their personalities simply don't fit with one another, and there's a palpable difference in age". We leave it up to you whether to see the film or buy the series on DVD.
We were very fond of Shifty, so it's nice to see others agreeing. Empire calls it "highly entertaining" (4 stars) and the Evening Standard praises its "authenticity and wholly natural performances" (3 stars). "Written and directed by first-timer Eran Creevy, this quiet piece is mostly convincing in its mundane details, and doesn’t feel the need to ramp up its plot too precipitately into guns and threats and spiralling vendetta" says The Telegraph (3 stars), while the Guardian muses on the maturing urban British movie: "Bullet Boy and the Kidulthood films had their points, certainly, but it seems to me that Shifty is better: more relaxed, less macho (though very male) and not so lazily reliant on the usual tragi-grandiloquent violent ending" (4 stars).
The Guardian absolutely hates Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel. "A dire British comedy, to which the only honest response is to soil and then set fire to the Union flag in the foyer of your local cinema" (1 star). Blimey. Other reviewers don't have the same problems with this tale of three blokes who find a rip in the space-time continuum and Anna Faris in the loos of their local pub. The Times compares it to "a Mini Cooper... small but nippy and... handles beautifully on the plot twists" (3 stars) and Empire found it "dark, compelling and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny" (3 stars).
If FAQ About Time Travel is a Mini, The Times reckons City Rats "is an old Trabant: depressing, prone to stall, its parts not properly welded together" (2 stars). Another tale of London's urban desperation - but unlike Shifty, it "is neither remotely real nor in the slightest bit interesting. There is lots of leaden, self-conscious dialogue and a monumentally crass and fatuous view of prostitution" (Guardian, 1 star). Danny Dyer, playing yet another geezer, is just one of a series of characters who cross paths, "a compendium of clichés hoping to amuse and move us" according to the Evening Standard (1 star). If you want urban grit, the recommendation is clearly for Shifty.
"The transformative power of the simple life is explored in the gentle drama The Grocer’s Son" says The Times (3 stars). Antoine (Nicolas Cazalé) leaves Paris for his family home in the countryside to help his mother run the family grocer's shop, bringing a gorgeous female 'friend' with him. The Guardian finds it "a sweet and engaging little film, and though it becomes more contrived and sugary as the story progresses, there is real charm" (3 stars) and though the Evening Standard agrees, argues it's "inherently a bit too sentimental to match Raymond Depardon’s recent Modern Life, a documentary that really tells the unvarnished truth about the French countryside and its inhabitants" (3 stars).
You wait ages - well, you weren't waiting at all, but go with us - for a mall security guard film and then two come along at once. A few weeks after Paul Blart: Mall Cop arrives Observe and Report, starring Seth Rogen and, for the second time this week, Anna Faris. But where Paul Blart was essentially a sad-sack nice guy, Rogen's Ronnie Barnhardt is off his bipolar medication. Whether it's this, or pure lack of funny in the film itself, all the critics seem a bit uncomfortable. "An odd one. Rogen’s latest clown is an angry, confused man who you never feel entirely comfortable laughing at" says Empire (3 stars). "Again and again, you almost laugh at something that is almost good, and then there is a clumsy and misjudged moment of crassness" agrees the Guardian (1 star) while The Times (2 stars) says it's "very nearly a great, if somewhat disturbing, film. What lets it down is not the gratuitous violence and foul language — it’s that it doesn’t go far enough".
The Uninvited is a remake of a Korean horror film but forgets to be scary. Emily Browning plays a girl traumatised after the death of her mother, and now her mum's nurse seems to be moving in on her dad. Did nursey kill mommy? "Yikes, or rather, yawn. Hokum factor - 10" says The Independent (1 star). The Telegraph takes more time to deliver a similar verdict: "like its own Asian source, this movie has a big and elaborately planted twist up its sleeve, but this time around it leaves us feeling tricked and underwhelmed - horror primly behaving itself as a peekaboo exercise in misdirection" (2 stars).
The Independent sells Encounters at the End of the World as 'Werner Herzog Goes to Antarctica': "the peerless German oddball sets out to examine nature at its most extreme and enigmatic" (3 stars). Herzog visits McMurdo Station and talks to the "crazies and restless pioneers in search of new horizons who are tempted to try to tame and domesticate wild nature" (Telegraph, 4 stars). There are some spectacular shots of the scenery, but it leaves the Guardian asking "where is the dark spark of Herzog magic?" (3 stars).
"Any idea how the Beowulf myth really came about?" asks The Times. "No? Let Hollywood enlighten you: a soldier from another planet crash-landed in Viking Norway, unleashing what appears to be the love-child of Alien and Godzilla" (2 stars). Welcome to Outlander. "We are now deep, deep, deep into nerd territory, so deep you will get a nosebleed in your diving suit" says the Guardian (2 stars) but also admits to finding it "cheerfully silly". The Independent (3 stars) concurs: "do you need to be told it's preposterous? Probably not. But you may be pleasantly surprised to hear it's also quite enjoyable".
Next week: Hugh Jackman back in the sideburns and vest for X-Men Origins: Wolverine and wig-switching fun in Hannah Montana: The Movie. Something for everyone, then?