Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee in The Road / image courtesy of Icon Film Distribution
Our weekly round up of film reviews
Cormac McCarthy's book The Road is beloved of book groups for its bleak, apocalyptic vision and questioning of humanity, but it's never been the kind of novel you rush to press into friends' hands, urging them to read it at their earliest spare moment. As with the film, it "offers an allegory of misery and dread that is crushing, not because it denies humanistic feeling but because it defies cinemagoing pleasure. You would have to be mad - or just morbidly depressed - to recommend it to anyone" (Independent, 2 stars). Or would you? The Times loves the "profound tension... the power of the story, of the performances and the central motif is so strong that it pulls you effortlessly through any imperfections" (5 stars). Viggo Mortensen plays the Man, travelling with his son through a ravaged wasteland, hiding from other survivors of the unnamed tragedy because they're more of a threat than starvation. Your response to the film is likely to lie in your own reactions to such dark emptiness; whether you think the "tender moments between father and son ache with emotion" (Empire, 4 stars) or whether you simply see "a one-dimensional slog though mud" (Telegraph, 2 stars).
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll "is vaudevillian, camp and hilarious, a farrago of brilliant nonsense and a surprisingly moving story" says the Standard (4 stars) of this Ian Dury biopic. In the role of the legendary singer "Andy Serkis is already being touted as a BAFTA winner... and it's not difficult to see why: his physicality, singing voice (he got to perform with the Blockheads, to his nervy bemusement) and broad rasping voice are remarkable" (Empire, 3 stars) and "his ferocious energy powers it irresistibly along" (Guardian, 4 stars). But the Times feels "you're never entirely sure where you are... there are no allusions to the empowering nature of punk that catalyses the tale; and strangest of all, there's not enough made of the funny, funky music that made him filmworthy in the first place" (2 stars).
Sometimes, internet, you can go too far. Exhibit one: a film named after a Facebook status update. It's Complicated stars Meryl Streep caught in a love triangle between architect Steve Martin and her ex-husband Alec Baldwin. The Independent calls it an "egregiously stupid comedy of middle-aged romance" (1 star). But even though it's "difficult to be overly sympathetic [to these] rich middle-class Americans who live better than 99.9 per cent of the world's population, go about in smart cars and complain about their huge kitchens" (Standard, 2 stars), the Telegraph says "Streep spins gold from straw" (3 stars) and even the Guardian admits that, "like a screenplay masterclass from Satan... this is fun" (3 stars).
"The vampire movie continues its interminable mutation through the movie schedules" with Daybreakers (Times, 2 stars). A plague has turned most of Earth's population into vampires, with the few remaining humans hunted for blood. Ethan Hawke plays a vampire called Edward (that sound, by the way, was our head hitting the desk) trying to develop a new food source, but the directors "are far keener to explode all their extras than pursue their story anywhere novel" (Telegraph, 2 stars). With "a fumbled last act and blatant appeal for a sequel, this finishes not with a bang but a whimper" (Empire, 3 stars).
Mugabe and the White African is a "heart-wrenching, enraging" (Guardian, 4 stars) documentary about Mike Campbell, a white Zimbabwean farmer experiencing the government-sponsored intimidation of the Land Reform Act. "Campbell seems like a character from a John Ford movie as he stubbornly refuses to budge" (Standard, 4 stars), while "the hate, fear and greed on show all hit you in your gut" (Times, 4 stars). The Independent admits that the film, "most of it shot covertly at great personal risk, takes an openly one-sided view of the struggle... the film's double ending still comes as a shock" (3 stars).
The Telegraph is deeply, tenderly in love with Treeless Mountain, calling it "a work of diaphanous and fugitive beauty... it feels like orphan cinema, a film that has few obvious antecedents and is the fruit of raw emotion, careful observation" (5 stars). Two little Korean girls are passed between their alcoholic aunt and country-dwelling grandparents when their mother disappears to find their father. Director "So Yong eschews drama for a quiet sensitivity" (Standard, 3 stars) as the camera fixes "upon the children's bemused expressions as they try to fathom the adults' behaviour" (Empire, 4 stars). The Guardian cautions it's "not an easy watch, but worth sticking with" (3 stars).
There are plenty of inevitable references to The Apprentice when discussing Exam, a low-budget UK horror/chiller about the Worst. Job interview. Ever. Eight candidates are locked in a room to sit an examination - but the question paper is blank, so they bump each other off one by one. "There are interesting ideas and scenes but also a shaggy-dog anti-climax" says the Guardian (2 stars) and while Empire praises Luke Mably's performance, who "somehow provides a sense of soul beneath the swagger, making his bully both abhorrent yet somehow empathetic" (4 stars), the Times finds the whole thing "fundamentally pointless" (2 stars).
Fireball is a bit more violent than the game invented on Friends. In this "preposterously idiotic Thai movie" (Times, 1 star), the illegal sport is a version of basketball where maiming and murder is all part of the fun. "There's some hastily thrown together story about a recently released convict looking to avenge his twin brother... but really this is all about glistening pretty boys laying into each other in increasingly elaborate ways" mehs the Guardian (2 stars). Really, it's just a "run-of-the-mill Thai action/gangster affair" with basketball chucked in (Empire, 2 stars).
Next week: George Clooney is Up in the Air and the Blur documentary No Distance Left to Run.