Here at Londonist, we don't show you enough stuff exploding / 2012, image courtesy of Columbia Pictures
Our weekly round-up of film reviews
Like, OMG! The White House is flattened by an aircraft carrier that's totally been washed in by a tsunami! California falls into the sea! That statue in Rio massively falls over! 2012 has Roland Emmerich written all over it; expensive end of the world movie where an average American Joe (or John; Cusack) just wants to save his family and learn about the true meaning of life. It's a film "full of laughs. Some are even deliberate" snits the Times (2 stars) and "the usual medley of mawkish self-sacrifice, I-love-you-dad avowals and the determination to make a new world from the ruins of the old" (Independent, 2 stars). But hang on, nobody ever said big budget schlockbusters had to be Citizen Kane. "Like all good disaster movies, is big and brash and gloriously over-the-top" says the Guardian (3 stars); "fundamentally terrible, but almost irresistibly entertaining" concurs Empire (3 stars).
Gran Torino was Clint Eastwood's recent film about an elderly vigilante, which wasn't quite as gruesome as the trailers made out. Harry Brown, on the other hand, doesn't pull its punches. Michael Caine, in a "mesmerising, tough-as-old-boots performance" (Empire, 4 stars), plays a pensioner pushed to the limit on his South London estate, and sets out to wreak vengeance on the local hoodies. "It's gorgeously shot and deftly constructed" says the Times (2 stars), but the Evening Standard points out that "you can't believe everything is this bad for a moment and [Daniel] Barber's film is merely a better version of Death Wish" (3 stars). It's probably your personal taste whether this is a good or bad thing.
"Has any director, European or otherwise, made as many top-rate films this decade as the Austrian Michael Haneke?" asks the Telegraph (5 stars), introducing The White Ribbon. Set in a small German village in the lead-up to World War One, it explores very Hanekian themes of "grotesque public violence and... emotional and sexual cruelty. Even in this apparently calm rural backwater, innocence is the exception, not the rule" (Independent, 4 stars). The matter of who's behind the acts of violence is perhaps less important to the filmmaker than his bigger theme of the state of Germany: "when war arrives in 1914, it is almost a relief: a sweeping away of all these festering resentments - like smashing the window in a stifling sick-room" (Guardian, 5 stars). The Standard lauds "an austere and fastidious masterpiece that digs deep into what remains of the souls of the children and adults without appearing to strain for significance" (5 stars).
Cold Souls is "a moderately funny film everywhere described as "Kaufmanesque"... [but this] is ripping off someone else's act in such obsessive detail that it counts as a mixture of creative larceny and stalking" says the Guardian (2 stars) of writer-director Sophie Barthes's creation. Paul Giamatti plays Paul Giamatti, an actor struggling in rehearsals for Uncle Vanya. When he sees an advert for a company offering soul removal, he thinks it could be just what he needs. The Independent thinks Barthes, despite the homage, "shows enough wit and daring of her own to mark her as one to watch" (3 stars), but the Standard still feels "the film peters out in a way that Luis Buñuel would never have allowed" (4 stars).
Hilary Swank's portrayal of Amelia Earhart is Oscar bait: "a rich, spirited rendition of a courageous, independent woman for whom even the sky wasn't the limit" (Times, 2 stars) but it's buried in Mira Nair's inert biopic. "The film feels fragmented... making you want to rush to Wikipedia to fill in the gaps" complains Empire (3 stars), while the Independent (2 stars) adds "there's another epitaph, "Amelia", on Joni Mitchell's 1976 album Hejira, which finds more poetry in Earhart's legend over six minutes ("like Icarus ascending / On beautiful foolish arms / Amelia, it was just a false alarm") than this film does in almost two hours".
Ang Lee returns to comedy with Taking Woodstock, the tale of how the festival came to be. "Lee clearly views Woodstock as a state of mind rather than a concrete event and focuses instead on a small-scale family drama within the sea of nudity and mellow vibes" (Times, 3 stars). The film is "unflinching in its conventionality" (Empire, 3 stars) and his characters are "such hammy, two-dimensional comic figures that, dramatically speaking, this doesn't pack much of a punch" (Guardian, 2 stars). But if anyone's missing E4's Important Things with Demetri Martin, this might be enough to stem the telly grief for a while.
Kazakh film Tulpan beat out Steve McQueen's Hunger for the first feature award at last year's London Film Festival. A young man needs to marry before he can become a shepherd, so he sets out to woo the only available girl for miles. It's "gorgeously shot and often funny" says the Telegraph, awarding it 5 stars, as the Times explains how the "restless camerawork flings us nose-to-nose with irritable camels; it traces every nuance of tension between the family in the womb-like space of their yurt" (4 stars). The Independent laments this same "documentary style, to the extent that it feels more like something from National Geographic than a feature film" (2 stars). We guess you can't please everyone.
"If you want to know how we arrived at Facebook and Twitter, take a look at Ondi Timoner's extraordinary documentary about the eccentric dotcom millionaire Josh Harris" says the Evening Standard about We Live in Public. Harris made his money in the internet, then spent it creating conceptual film / internet 'art'. "As a portrait of a control freak, this is frantically compelling; as a snapshot of our times, it's demoralisingly chilling" says Empire (4 stars), backed up by the Times, who calls it "a thrilling and occasionally disturbing portrait" (4 stars).
Eric Bana and his car, in a tree, K - I - S - S - I - N - G. How else to explain Love the Beast, a self-directed documentary about his 1974 Ford Falcon XB coupe? The film "shows the actor as a decent bloke who keeps in touch with his old mates from home" (Independent, 1 star) and brings in other petrolheads, including our own Jeremy Clarkson, as Bana tries to get the car ready for a five day rally. He "may not be a star exactly swaddled in charisma, but what mystique he did have is disassembled as comprehensively as that coupe's innards" says the Guardian (3 stars), while the Standard is fairly unimpressed: "he's clearly a modest man - but this is a pretty modest film too" (2 stars).
Hideo Okuda's novel is adapted here for Lala Pipo (A Lot of People). A group of people in Tokyo's red light district meet for sex in a series of intertwining vignettes, which Empire feels "actually casts a melancholic verdict on the breakdown of communication and the devaluation of sex" (3 stars). The Times, on the hand, finds it "vapid and misogynistic" (1 star), while the Standard possibly undermines the whole thing by pronouncing it "jaunty rather than erotic" (2 stars).
The Magic Hour is a collection of short films by five British disabled directors. "Some of the tales are compelling... some... need serious pruning [and] the final short... is spiteful and immature" says the Times (2 stars). The Guardian agrees: "there are interesting images and themes here, but I have to say that many ideas did not really come off and some films needed work" (2 stars).
Next week: it's auteur directors week! The Coens are back with A Serious Man, Stephen Poliakoff with Glorious 39 and Steven Soderbergh with The Informant!. Oh, and something about twilight and new moons and vampires or something.