Our weekly round-up of film reviews
Going into (500) Days of Summer, the Telegraph figured "any film starring hipster princess Zooey Deschanel is likely to have the words fey, quirky and insouciant written all over it in swirling pastels" (3 stars) and they're not wrong. Deschanel is the eponymous Summer, Joseph Gordon-Levitt the guy who falls in love with her, and the film is a non-chronological tale of their relationship, complete with the occasional split-screen and other odd gimmicks. It's a deliberately artsy style likely to divide the audience, as the reviews show. The Independent wants to "head-butt both the leads" (1 star), and the Times says "taking the best bits from other movies and rearranging them in a non-linear sequence does not make for an original film" (3 stars). On the other hand, Empire thinks it's "perfectly played, simultaneously serious and light, endlessly inventive" (4 stars). If you like The Smiths, you'll probably love this film.
What to do when a knackered spaceship comes to a halt over Johannesburg with a load of refugee aliens inside? Put them in a slum by the name of District 9 and watch the inter-species tension and hatred ratchet up. "The battle between corporate jobsworths and an alien species with an unfortunate resemblance to prawns draws parallels with apartheid. This is not a subtle allegory" says the Evening Standard (2 stars); the Guardian agrees "the movie's satirical status was a little too easily assumed: basically it's a third-person-shooter-game-cum-action-fantasy" (3 stars). The Telegraph, however, was blown away, claiming it's "the most imaginative, resonant and dramatically turbo-charged work of science fiction for many a moon" (5 stars); a "thundering blitzkrieg of seat-rattling entertainment with a sociopolitical message" says the Times (5 stars). Blimey.
Martin Strel claims to be the most famous man in Slovenia; we're told this is for long-distance swimming but the guy's overweight and borderline alcoholic. Big River Man, about his attempt to swim the length of the Amazon, "seems like a spoof at first... It gradually dawns on you that this is all supposed to be taken straight" (Times, 3 stars). "The monsters Strel encounters on his world-record attempt ultimately exist in his head" says Empire (3 stars), leaving the Guardian to ponder whether "someone experiencing psychological breakdown [is] a fit subject for entertainment" (3 stars).
"Rooted in humdrum realism, but riven with wit and fantasy" (Empire, 4 stars), Tricks is the tale of young Stefek, who thinks a businessman in his small Polish town might be his estranged father. Director Andrezej Jakimowski "is obsessed with the peculiar magic of fate and coincidence" (Evening Standard, 3 stars), but the film he has created is a "squib of humdrum life [that] hides a yearning heart" (Independent, 3 stars).
Surfing seems to inspire more than its fair share of documentaries but, as the Times points out, "slow-motion shots of lean, wild-haired figures gliding through a roaring tube of raging blue water are always going to be more exciting than footage of someone in slacks teeing off" (3 stars). Bustin' Down the Door actually has a story to tell, too. In the 70s a bunch of Australians and South Africans pitched up in Hawaii: "they thought they were the outsiders, the underdogs, and thought they were therefore allowed to gloat at how they were better than the former surf-masters, the Hawaiians" (Guardian, 3 stars). But as the Evening Standard points out, "they come across as a bunch of borderline racist loons" (3 stars). Only Edward Norton's narration seems to mar the story, using "all the nuance of an I-Speak-Your-Weight machine" (Independent, 2 stars).
Paul Gross (yes! Him from Due South!) writes, directs, produces, stars and probably sings the theme tune to Passchendaele, a Canadian film examining Canada's contribution to World War One. Gross "may have noble intentions, but his film is plodding, to put it kindly" says the Guardian (2 stars), though the Times has no such scruples, complaining about it being "littered with cloth-eared dialogue and execrable performances, this is a shoddy TV movie that has no place filling up our already overstuffed cinemas" (1 star). The Independent, at least, feels the "performances are altogether superior" (2 stars) and there's a switch from the home front to the Western Front at the end to keep you awake.
Sticking with WWI but switching sides is The Red Baron. One of the most expensive German films ever made, and weirdly filmed in English with German accents, Time Out describes how this biopic of German flying ace Baron von Richthofen "opened last year to poor reviews and disastrous box office in its home country. Cut by almost 30 minutes, it limps on to our screens as an intriguing curio" (3 stars). The Guardian notices the cuts as "the film appears to leap suddenly and bafflingly ahead to the baron's death in its final act" (2 stars) while the Independent finds "the stodgy comic-book dialogue keeps shooting plausibility down in flames" (2 stars). Meanwhile the Times is really not having much fun with these war films, declaring "never in the field of human film-making was so much money wasted on so little" (1 star).
Greek Pete is a Soho rent-boy, new in town and not afraid to show us exactly what he gets up to. "It's basically a porn movie, though with slightly more developed characters than normal" (Times, 2 stars), while the Guardian says there's "a kind of upfront honesty about this film, but also a sinking feeling that there is no real point to it" (2 stars).
Tim Rice paired up with Benny and Bjorn from ABBA to create Chess, released In Concert tomorrow. It's a recording of a 2008 performance at the Royal Albert Hall, and while the musical might never have become that popular it's got some proper 80s nostalgia with One Night in Bangkok, I Know Him So Well and an appearance by Marti Pellow. "Whether that makes this an overlooked masterpiece or fans-only experience is thus the question... but at two hours plus, it's a real stretch" says the Guardian (2 stars).
Next week: Oscar Wilde's masterpiece Dorian Gray and the cooking / blogging / life affirming Julie & Julia.
Image from (500) Days of Summer courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox