The important and hard-hitting Katyn / image courtesy of Artificial Eye
Our weekly round-up of film reviews
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (whatever happened to just plain old 2, 3, etc?) is 147 minutes long. So you'd better make sure you really, really like the robots in disguise because, from the sound of these reviews? If you don't, you're going to be in hell. "The movie simply presumes that the enervating sight of giant metallic computer-generated robots punching and kicking each other for 147 long minutes is good enough in itself. Well, it's not", complains The Times (2 stars). The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw found himself "thinking about Hazel Blears, swine flu and whether Waitrose was going to take over all the empty Woolworths buildings" and some brilliantly weird shagging metaphors (you'll have to read the 1 star review for yourself). Derek Malcolm, he of the Evening Standard, had to ask around to have the plot explained to him (good vs bad robots is all you need to know) and eventually pronounces the film "spectacular and totally meaningless" (2 stars). But of course, Transformers is not aimed at Derek Malcolm, so what does Empire make of it? Well, they're agog over the special effects set pieces but concede that it's "a numbing, wearying viewing experience" (3 stars). Ah.
Never mind; you can always cheer yourself up by going to see Katyn, if what you want is excellent filmmaking as opposed to a gigglefest. If you're fuzzy on your WW2 history, Katyn refers to the massacre of thousands of Polish army officers by the Soviet army, their bodies dumped in mass graves in the Katyn forest, a crime that was hushed up by the Allies because they didn't want to upset 'Uncle Joe' Stalin. Andrzej Wajda's film focuses on a small group of women connected to the dead men, going through the war hearing rumours about what happened to their loved ones. "Wajda is addressing not just the pity of war but an actual war crime, and one whose afterlife became a waking nightmare of recrimination and falsehood" says The Independent (5 stars). "He has achieved something truly memorable... a story the world was waiting for" is the Evening Standard's commendation (5 stars). Katyn played at the 2007 Berlin festival, and the Guardian reports that "there were industry murmurings that audiences here would have no appetite for it. I can't agree" (4 stars) while The Telegraph simply sums it up with "this riveting and hugely important memorial-movie puts labour-camp tourism like The Reader to shame" (4 stars).
Joe Meek was the UK's Phil Spector: a "record producer who churned out a string of hits from his ramshackle flat in London's Holloway Road, before succumbing to debt, paranoia and suicidal depression triggered by a prosecution for indecency and fuelled by his addiction to prescription drugs" (Guardian, 3 stars). Telstar is his story, directed and co-written by Nick Moran. It's "clearly a labour of love... unfortunately, Moran's affection for Meek doesn't make him a particularly sympathetic central character" says The Times (2 stars). Still, The Independent thinks it has "some nice moments" (3 stars), a sentiment Empire agrees with: "a fascinating portrait in parts" (3 stars).
Zooey Deschanel can do no wrong for this particular writer, but it seems the film critics don't agree when it comes to Gigantic. Deschanel and Paul Dano have an indie-romance of the kind that makes the Guardian "break out in a rash... When those lovable, vulnerable, floppy-haired kooks are mouthing their lines of not-real-world dialogue at each other, all I can hear is one long self-indulgent passive-aggressive whinge" (1 star). The Telegraph isn't doing it any favours either: "this determinedly nonsensical American indie feels like it was assembled in an off-world quirk factory" (1 star). The Standard seems to feel guilty about putting the boot in properly, but concluding "the surreal tone of the film at least attempts something special though rarely achieving it" (2 stars) damns with faint praise. Even Empire can only stretch to "smart-ish and drily funny while overly littered with twitches and tweaks" (3 stars).
The ICA has a double bill of British cinema this week. The Disappeared is set on a London housing estate, where a teenage boy is getting over the disappearance of his younger brother. Does the boy start calling to him for help? The Guardian quite likes it - "a little rough around the edges, but [the] story delivers more than a few shivers" (3 stars) - as does The Times - "the film is let down by inauthentic dialogue and plotting... But the tension is well sustained" (3 stars). The Telegraph, on the other hand, hates both it and second film Beyond the Fire. "Dubiously overcooked... whole new level of unconvincing" (1 star for both). Ouch. Surviving rape is the theme of this second film, and The Independent feels that though the "film's message of 'healing' couldn't be more sincere, it can't cover for the awkward staging, cheap lighting and stilted script" (2 stars). It's a view shared by the 1 star Times ("if only all rubbish films could learn the value of brevity") but not the Guardian, who agrees that "there are some awkward moments. Yet its heartfelt, unironic belief in the power of love is attractive" (3 stars).
North by Northwest, that Hitchcock classic, is also re-released this week. Cary Grant stars as the advertising executive mistaken for a spy by James Mason, and pursued across America. The Guardian "can't imagine anyone now succeeding in blending thrills, spills, caresses and laughs the way Hitchcock did in this sublime classic from 1959" (5 stars), with the Evening Standard agreeing "there's nothing much better for pure entertainment than this re-released chase thriller" (4 stars). And in contrast to Transformers' plodding length, the Telegraph says "only the master... could make 136 minutes feel more like 80" (5 stars). With iconic movie imagery like the crop-dusting plane and dangling off Mount Rushmore, what more could you want?
Next week: Jack Black and Michael Cera grunt through the Stone Age in Year One and the Y Tu Mama Tambien boys are back - with interesting facial hair - for Rudo & Cursi.