The Private Lives of Pippa Lee / image courtesy of Icon Film
Our weekly round-up of cinema reviews
Predictably, we start this week mit Bruno. Been hiding under the sofa for fear of swine flu for the last couple of months? Then Bruno is the latest creation of Sacha Baron Cohen, a spectacularly gay Austrian fashionista who arrives in Hollywood seeking fame. He meets ultra right-wing US politician Ron Paul, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and has a wrestling / make-out session in the middle of redneck America. "There are provocations here so inflammatory they make you wonder how on earth the cast and crew managed to escape with their lives" gapes the Independent (2 stars), as The Times points out that "while claims that the film is a social satire are as empty as Bruno's pretty head, there's no arguing with the fact that the film is staggeringly rude and very, very funny" (3 stars). "Bruno may not be as gasp-inducing as Borat... but this is still a ridiculously funny and at times demented romp" says the Telegraph (4 stars), but Empire "suggests that Sacha Baron Cohen's in-your-face fool routine sadly isn't working any more" (3 stars).
Rebecca Miller wrote the novel on which The Private Lives of Pippa Lee is based, and has now adapted and directed it for the screen. The Guardian clearly thinks a bit of distance would have helped "this hugely overegged pudding of a film" (2 stars), but most other critics reserve their ire for Keanu Reeves playing the titular Pippa's lover; he "moves as if he's wearing a surgical collar, and has clearly never met a line he couldn't mangle" is the Times's verdict (3 stars). Robin Wright Penn plays Pippa, a woman with a lot going on beneath the surface as she moves through her life married to the older Alan Arkin. The Telegraph believes that "for the luminous Wright Penn, awards season beckons" (4 stars), and the Independent thinks she saves the film from being merely "well-acted, sensitive, and a tad melodramatic in its lurch from one crisis to another, but you'd forgive it a lot more for Wright Penn's magnificent portrait of unaffected goodness" (3 stars).
Claire Denis's 35 Shots of Rum is "one of the most emotionally eloquent films you'll see this year" according to The Times (4 stars). Set in the Paris suburbs and concerning a widower, close to retirement, and his relationship with his student daughter, the film "is so elliptical you sometimes feel at a loss to know what's going on, but the mood - cool, meditative, unhurried - beckons you along insistently" (Independent, 3 stars). Denis "celebrates the often-overlooked traits of trust, acceptance and love" (Empire, 5 stars) with "fluency and mastery in the kind of movie-language that is rich, quietly complex and subtle" (Guardian, 4 stars).
Fired Up! is a "limp entry into the 'high schoolers getting laid' genre" (Empire, 1 star). Two guys decide to forgo football camp in favour of cheerleading camp, for predictable reasons. "A puerile, remedial class version of Wedding Crashers" snits the Independent (1 star), while The Times winces at the "actors at least ten years too old for the roles, the pair prowl the film like a couple of slavering hyenas looking for flesh" (1 star).
The Independent (4 stars) is spot on in saying that "no film this year is less likely to get a Hollywood remake" than Cloud 9, a tale of German pensioners shagging. But when Inge falls in love with another man after 30 years of marriage "passion, in this tender, intimate story, is ageless" (Times, 3 stars). It's "raw human drama, well acted" says the Guardian (3 stars), while the Telegraph finds it simply "intelligent and rewarding" (4 stars).
Six weeks before the Rumble in the Jungle there was a three night concert that brought together Southern African musicians and America's top black R&B stars. Footage has now been put together to form Soul Power. "Unseen for 35 years, its spectacle is undimmed" says the Independent (4 stars), "but just as before, Ali is the absolute star, asserting his impossibly superior charisma with casual ease" points out the Guardian (4 stars). "This is musical history that deserves to be placed alongside the best of its era" concludes the Evening Standard (4 stars).
The Zatoichi legend gets updated in Ichi, featuring "a demure little vixen, picking her way through frozen forests and embattled villages" (Guardian, 3 stars) in this tale of blind Samurai swords(wo)manship. But "the villains are from the broad "har-de-har" school of banditry, the action is mostly fudged, and the resolution achingly obvious" complains The Times (2 stars) and the Evening Standard finds it "needless to say, the fight scenes are better than the dialogue" (3 stars).
Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, Paul Schrader's 1985 film about Yukio Mishima, get a limited release at the ICA. No idea who Mishima is? Join the club: he "made a romantic cult of Japan's lost world of martial glory and spartan warrior-manhood [and] committed ritual seppuku in 1970 after a bizarre failed coup attempt" (thanks to the Guardian; 4 stars). The Times calls it "gorgeous, artsy... the best movie that Paul Schrader has yet directed" (4 stars), but the Telegraph is disturbed that Schrader "seems to swallow the entire myth of Mishima, an extreme right-wing nutjob who wanted to return Japan to samurai values" (3 stars). A matter of taste?
Also down at the ICA is Echoes of Home, a documentary that's divided critics along giggling lines - perhaps understandably when you discover it's about yodelling. "Unintentionally titter-inducing in execution, yet deadly serious in conception" chortles The Times (2 stars), whereas the Evening Standard saw "a more complex, beautiful film than one had dared to hope. I'll never giggle at yodelling again" (3 stars). But when we read the Guardian's description of a yodeller making "a weird sound like the Knights Who Say Ni in Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (3 stars), we immediately knew which side of the fence we were likely to fall. *chuckle*
Next week: Harry Potter, Harry Potter, Harry Potter and Harry Potter.