The Fantastic Mr Fox / image courtesy of 20th Century Fox
Our weekly round-up of film reviews
We feel like mounting an argument that Fantastic Mr Fox is not actually a film for kids, despite its half-term release, but a film for those of us who grew up in the age before X-box and the internet. Wes (The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore) Anderson has taken Roald Dahl's book and made a stop-motion animation feature: "not for Anderson the clean, anything-goes digital sheen of Pixar; instead, he has opted for a more handmade, almost wheezy look that is steeped in the early 1970s, evoking the plaintive work of Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin" (Telegraph, 4 stars). It's been a while since we broke out our Dahl, but the story seems more-or-less faithful. Mr Fox (voiced by George Clooney) has been taking a rest from his chicken-stealing ways, but is drawn to 'one last job', which releases the wrath of farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean. The marriage of quintessentially English story and American director works, making something "eccentric, whip-smart and very funny" (Guardian, 4 stars), and "idiosyncratic, charming and funny" (Empire, 4 stars).
Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant is another adaptation of a successul children's book, but with less happy cinematic results. Darren Shan is a small-town kid who becomes a 'half vampire' after an incident at the circus, and ends up not only the assistant to a 'good' vampire (John C Reilly) but caught in the middle of a vampire gang war. It's "stultifying and strangely flat" says the Times (2 stars), as the Evening Standard complains it "can never quite make up its mind whether it's about the circus or the vampires and ends up a mess of its own making" (2 stars). Empire homes in on another problem: "this cluttered, wannabe Burtonesque adaptation of the first three novels is juvenile for adults and violently grotesque for children" (3 stars). Perhaps one for fans only.
Whether the filmmakers like it or not, Coffin Rock is being billed as Australia's Fatal Attraction. After a drunken one-night stand, Jessie finds herself pregnant and tells her husband the baby's his. But the Irish sperm-donor begins to stalk Jessie... ruh-oh. It's "nasty [and] intermittently effective" says the Guardian (2 stars), while the Telegraph sniggers it "could be one of the more dramatic series climaxes on Home and Away" (2 stars). The Times can't resist poking fun at the ridiculous stereotyping of the stalker who "escaped, it seems, from the Darby O'Gill and the Little People asylum for the criminally insane" (1 star).
It may play like a thriller but The Cove is actually a documentary. It uncovers a mass slaughter of dolphins in a Japanese town, government corruption, the ineffectiveness of the International Whaling Committee and the complicity of Sea World, of all places. Empire (4 stars) relates the set-up to a sting: "the tension is palpable, not least because their actions seem like a well-scored action sequence more at home in a Bond film", and this "easy relationship with the workings of cinema, as well as campaigning, has, however, also proved something of a headache" (Guardian, 4 stars) as bloggers question its authenticity. Despite this, the Evening Standard says "one would imagine, and hope, that an Oscar nomination beckons" (4 stars).
"Imagine an African Lord of the Flies pulled off with the jittery expertise of The Hurt Locker, and you're only some of the way to grasping what's in store in Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire's Johnny Mad Dog" says the Telegraph (5 stars). Set in the world of African child soldiers, the film "packs a punch that goes right through your solar plexus and out through your shoulder blades. And it carries a nauseous message: child soldiers are horrible, but they are simply the evolutionary endpoint of war" (Guardian, 5 stars). The Times is a little troubled by the setup, however: "there is an odd whiff of post-colonial bongo-bongo about it - i.e. sit back, munch popcorn and watch the natives blow holes in each other" (2 stars).
Jeremy Piven plays a hotshot car salesman in The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard. We like you, so we're going to pass on the gathered wisdom of the UK's critics to protect you. "If the idea of a gag about Smurf spunk amuses you, you may get some pleasure out of this... You might also want to consider re-evaluating your life" (Empire, 1 star). The cast "are defeated by bovine gags retrieved from a trashcan full of out-takes" (Evening Standard, 1 star). "It isn't merely bad, it makes you want to clamp your hands to either side of your face and do an impersonation of The Scream" (Times, 0 stars). Consider yourself warned.
Colin is the British micro-budget film (alleged production cost: £45) that played in Cannes this year. It's a zombie film told from the perspective of one of the undead. "Often sabotaged by maddening shakycam and crap lighting, its grimly British spirit (in the absence of guns, under-siege survivors resort to using saucepans) is likable, but honestly? It's Video Dungeon stuff" thinks Empire (3 stars). The Telegraph laments the absence of "that free commodity, narrative surprise" (2 stars) but the Times likes its "haunting quality - and subtly moving score, not often present in terror flicks - that is driven home by the pleasing, poignant final reel" (3 stars).
Made in Jamaica, a documentary about the island's music, "attempts to chart how the lolling pacificism of Bob Marley's reggae contorted into the sexualised, violent and often homophobic modern reggae scene" (Times, 3 stars). It is "unselfconsciously celebratory about a culture teeming with energy and semi-absorbed influences" (Guardian, 3 stars), but the Telegraph found it a little uncomfortable, "perhaps because of the sense that all the less savoury aspects of that culture were being softballed" (2 stars).
By the way; our LFF tip for this week is Starsuckers - for all those times you wondered where the tabloids and freebies get that sleb gossip from.
Next week: coming of age tale An Education, scary animation 9 and Michael Jackson lives again in This Is It.