Maggie Smith and Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince / image courtesy of Warner Bros
Our weekly round-up of cinema reviews
It must be the school summer holidays: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is here. This is the one where Harry has to get some memories that reveal the secret of Voldemort's immortality. Ron plays Quidditch. There's some teenage hormones, and someone dies. "Where the devil is Basil Exposition when you need him?" cries Empire (3 stars), perhaps justifiably. The Times clearly needed no helpful reminders, however: "The strangest thing about the new Harry Potter movie is not that it's unusually good, which it is, but that it unequivocally illustrates just how poorly we've been served by the previous five instalments in the franchise" (4 stars). The series has grown "epic and dark... [and] Daniel Radcliffe has grown marvellous in the central part" (Evening Standard, 3 stars). Of course, not everybody's happy. "Once, I believed that the films could theoretically convert newcomers to fanhood, but they are actually for signed-up fans only: competently managed big-screen renderings of a lucrative brand" sighs the Guardian (2 stars), while the Independent compares the film to "a summer cold: you just have to sit there while it runs its course" (2 stars). But is it even necessary to review something like Harry Potter? This is the sixth one ferchrissakes; if you buy a ticket, you must surely have an idea of what you're getting by now. So let's move on.
Moon is the Edinburgh-winning debut from Duncan Jones (yes, yes, Zowie Bowie; again, let's move on). His sci-fi film is "an affectionate throwback to the Blade Runners, Outlands and Dark Stars of the genre, not just in terms of the way it looks, but the way it feels and thinks" (Empire, 4 stars). The incomparably good Sam Rockwell plays a man coming to the end of a three year solo Moon mission with only a Kevin Spacey-voiced computer for company. Understandably, he's starting to crack up. "With its measured pacing, melancholy tone and eye for prosaic details, Moon is very different from the glossy sci-fi blockbuster - and far more satisfying" says the Times (4 stars). The Independent (3 stars) thinks that "in its insistent focus upon a single actor it scores a bull's-eye for daring", while the Guardian believes that "the strength of Moon is also, paradoxically, its weakness: its evocation of loneliness and the vast, silent reaches of outer space" (3 stars). The Evening Standard calls it "a good-looking, claustrophobic piece" (3 stars) and here's another reason to see it: it also stars Matt Berry. We're sold.
When the monks led the ultimately doomed Burmese protest in 2007, foreign reporters were immediately kicked out of the country. Burma VJ comprises of footage shot on the streets and smuggled out, at intense personal risk to the ordinary citizens who did the filming. "The Danish director Anders Østergaard shapes the material with dramatised reconstructions... but it is the events themselves, seen through the shaky lens of panic and outrage, that resonate" (The Times, 3 stars); "with visceral power, they show how the support of Burma's monks gave vital authority to the protests" says the Guardian (4 stars). Empire is in awe of how "'Joshua' and his small network of undercover journalists constantly risk their lives to prevent a terror greater than the authority that oppresses them" (5 stars), and the Telegraph believes the film "is crucial testament to the will of a suffering people to ensure the world does not forget them" (4 stars).
Frozen River caught everyone napping at this year's Oscars by securing nominations for best original screenplay and best actress for Melissa Leo. The story concerns two hard-up women who realise they can make ends meet by smuggling illegal immigrants across the icy US-Canada border. "With awful clarity, Ray (Leo) sees how she has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make serious money, exploiting people even worse off than she is" (Guardian, 4 stars). "The film covers a lot of issues - the economy, racism, crime, the perils of necessity - in a very tight space" says The Independent (4 stars), while the Times thinks that "despite the contrivances, this suspense-driven film feels rooted in a real place and real economic hardships" (3 stars). The Telegraph (3 stars) however, hands all the plaudits to Leo, who "with her pained and battered magnetism... shakes the film out of its occasional glibness, notching up the performance of her career in thrilling, hungry style".
Two kids from a tough Irish housing estate run away for a day of Dublin freedom in Kisses. "Undeniably artful but wildly disingenuous" says the Times (2 stars), while Empire is entranced by a "captivating and poignant portayal of life on the edge for the disregarded of our societies" (4 stars). The Guardian (3 stars) finds it "always warm and engaging" but also cautions the film is "probably best regarded as an extended short".
"Threesomes, drug abuse, indifference to random death, everyone wearing shades... it's another attempt to film Bret Easton Ellis" sighs the Telegraph, wearily (2 stars). This will be The Informers, based on a short story collection, starring Kim Basinger, Winona Ryder, Mickey Rourke and the late Brad Renfro, and apparently cut to shreds. Although "the film will fascinate those who love to see the tormented lives of those who seem luckier than the rest of us" says the Evening Standard (3 stars), it seems to be "aiming for the LA rondeau of Altman's Short Cuts but missing all the vital ingredients - wit, humanity, charm, nuance and meaning" (Independent, 1 star).
Next week: Lars von Trier's ultra-controversial Antichrist and Sandra Bullock vehicle The Proposal.