Oh, those Meerkats / image courtesy of Momentum Pictures
Our weekly round-up of film reviews
Jacques Mesrine is for the French what the Krays are for us, or John Dillinger is for Americans: an iconic criminal. The first part of his story is told in Mesrine: Killer Instinct (it's being released in two parts, Kill Bill-style), with Vincent Cassel playing the bank robber and murderer. It has "muscular, forthright storytelling, hard-smoking, hard-drinking action, horribly incorrect attitudes, brutality with a top-note of self-loathing, bushy moustaches and a cracking lead performance" (Guardian, 4 stars), while Empire believes it's "in a league with the historical gangland epics of Coppola and Scorsese" (4 stars). The Times complains that "the film lacks any real dramatic structure... [it] feels episodic" (2 stars), but the Telegraph says it "peaks with enough brute urgency to stoke your hopes nicely for part two" (3 stars).
Here come The Meerkats. Not content with infiltrating our adverts and lolcats, they're now on our cinema screens. This - documentary? wildlife film? - "places a shamelessly anthropomorphising spin on some extraordinary wildlife photography" (Times, 3 stars) while Paul Newman narrates the first year in the life of a young meerkat, Kolo. The Guardian agrees it's "spectacularly shot, but morbid stuff for youngsters, forever ramming home the perilous nature of meerkat existence" (Guardian, 3 stars), but let's face it, we'll all go for the "comical majesty of the meerkat on guard, poking his head above a hidey-hole like a periscope over a parapet" (Independent, 4 stars). Simples. (Sorry.)
Ah, time for G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra (because no action movie worth its salt comes without a colon these days). Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about the whole film is the number of credible Brits in it: Jonathan Pryce, Christopher Ecclestone, Sienna Miller (ignore the tabloid fodder and check the indie CV). What the hell? The "defiantly uncharismatic" (Independent, 1 star) Channing Tatum is Joe and he's fighting some bad guys. "It's noisy, fast-paced and stuffed with special effects. The screenplay? You've got to be joking!" is a good summation from the Evening Standard (2 stars). But Empire (2 stars) insists "there is a level on which GI Joe... is enjoyable. The way, for example, it embraces cliché" before going on to list a bunch of unintentional, and quite fun-sounding, hilarity.
The Independent finds it "hard to know what to hate more" about The Ugly Truth, a dismal romcom starring Gerard Butler and Katherine Heigl; he an unreconstructed cable TV presenter, she a control freak producer. It "redefines dire" (Guardian, 1 star), with a script which is "written, God help us, by three women - seems to hate its leading lady. That's not without good reason, given her two-dimensional character" (Empire, 2 stars). This is "a romantic comedy with a glacier where its heart should be" (Telegraph, 1 star).
Hugh Dancy is Adam, a New Yorker with Aspergers, but one "so soulful, droopy and sad-eyed you suspect a misdiagnosis" (Telegraph, 2 stars). When Rose Byrne moves in upstairs she decides he's boyfriend material, and though the film clearly "wants to be an unconventional romantic comedy, like many in that popular genre, it actually pulls out all the stops to be as conventional as possible" (Evening Standard, 2 stars). The Guardian worries that "despite obvious good intentions, this feels dishonest, and I suspect not very true to life. Worst of all, it risks trivialising mental illness into lovable quirks" (2 stars), something that also concerns the Times: "it's blandly inoffensive but also rather disingenuous, sidestepping the realities of Adam's condition by investing him with a convenient idiot savant gift for astrophysics and the eyes of a puppy" (2 stars).
An abandoned highway in the middle of rural France is suddenly reopened to traffic; fair enough, except a family has been living next to the road for years and has to deal with their new reality. Home could "easily be labelled psychological horror, paranoic sci-fi or black comedy" says Empire (4 stars). The Times feels the film would have been more effective if director Ursula Meier "had exercised less restraint and allowed her characters to spin out of control" (3 stars) while the Guardian (3 stars) can't get away from the fact that "it's hard to have sympathy for the heroine's stubbornness... why don't they just move?".
Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus is a tender, subtle exploration of the implications of... nah, just messing. It's two monsters, defrosted from an iceberg, ripping shit apart on Earth. "Daft, plain daft" shrugs Empire (2 stars); the Guardian says "it's not even funny" (1 star) and the Telegraph's entire review is "they fight, and look rubbish, and one eats an aircraft. Is bad the new good? I wish. Sometimes bad is just tacky" (0 stars). But hey, it's got Debbie Gibson playing a marine biologist.
A couple decide to adopt after the death of their stillborn third child. Shame they choose Orphan Esther, with her mysterious Russian background and strange ways. Of course, the kid turns out to be evil. It's got "a humdinger of a twist" (Guardian, 3 stars) and although "a squall of improbabilities leads to a laughable late revelation, yet somehow the film keeps a clammy grip" (Independent, 2 stars). The Times loves it, saying "horror films this skilfully made don't come along that often" (4 stars).
The Yes Men Fix The World is the second outing for Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, and sees them wipe out Dow Chemical's stock value after blagging their way onto BBC News and announcing a $12bn compensation package for Bhopal. Dow aren't the only targets for these "political activists, hoaxers, a thorn in the corporate world's side (Empire, 4 stars). The Times finds it "mildly diverting" (2 stars) and the Guardian postulates that their "preposterous presentations are like art performances as much as political interventions" (3 stars). But the Telegraph (2 stars) believes "they’re superfluous: Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have shown that it's more effective to skewer targets with incisive rhetoric than with laboured pantomime".
Beautiful Losers examines how outsider art got co-opted by the mainstream. Watching the artists in question, the Guardian feels like "an eye-rolling parent, wondering if a few of them might benefit from a proper job and a light slap (2 stars). The Times finds it "chaotic, anarchic, rambling... hipster heaven" (3 stars) which, depending on your point of view, may be the same review as the Guardian.
Next week: chrono-wanderings in The Time Traveler's Wife and award-showered Sin Nombre.