Out on Friday 12 August
Pete brings some furry, anti-blockbuster charm. Greta Gerwig rescues a dog. Blake Lively swims with a shark.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of Pete’s Dragon, Wiener-Dog, The Shallows, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, Nerve, Valley of Love, The Wave, Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words, ID2: Shadwell Army, The Confession: Living the War on Terror, and The Idol.
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Largely dismissed as an artistic and commercial disappointment – despite landing a Best Song Oscar nod for Helen Reddy tearjerker ‘Candle On The Water’ – 1977’s Pete’s Dragon might seem an odd choice to receive a CGI makeover. But not half as odd as the Mouse House handing the directorial reins to David Lowery, the indie darling best known for Malick-esque crime drama Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.
Yet on closer inspection, connecting tissue can be seen between that 2013 noir and this wholesome tale of an orphaned boy who finds a protector in the form of a giant fur-covered dragon called Elliott. Both radiate a quiet air of homespun Americana, root their storytelling in a pared-down simplicity and make use of dialogue sparingly. Both films take their time, too: an aesthetic decision that, while crucial to Saints, ensures Pete is rather more plodding than a story involving an invisible fire-breathing wyvern really should be, all things considered.
Having lost both his parents in a car crash that simultaneously stranded him in the forest, Pete (Oakes Fegley) has evolved into a feral, loin-clothed tyke not a million miles from The Jungle Book’s Mowgli. (An early sequence in which Pete climbs trees, leaps across branches and takes a ride on his guardian’s back inevitably recalls Jon Favreau’s recent Kipling re-do.)
It’s only a matter of time, of course, before our hero’s existence becomes known to the world – or at least Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), a kindly park ranger whose rash decision to offer Pete a home soon brings a curious Elliott into her backyard.
For all its faults, Don Chaffey’s original at least had Jim Dale, Shelley Winters and some toe-tapping musical numbers to embellish its slender narrative. Lowery’s version, in contrast, has only Star Trek’s Karl Urban as a logger determined to make Elliott a trophy, the prompt for a Free Willy-style second half in which Howard, Fegley and Robert Redford’s grizzled old-timer seek to spring him from captivity.
A fiery finale on a disintegrating bridge quickens the blood, as does a coda that makes fine use of the flick’s New Zealand locations. The fact that one key player spends much of the last third in a tranquillised slumber, though, is indicative of a yarn whose eagerness to sidestep generic fantasy clichés is likely to inspire a similar listlessness in its target audience. And that’s despite the glee they’ll feel elsewhere seeing Fegley cavort on the roof of a moving school bus.
Those with fond memories of a gentler era of boy-and-his-insert-critter-here heartwarmers are bound to welcome Dragon’s old-fashioned vibe. But it still feels almost perverse to place all of Weta’s hi-tech wizardry at the disposal of a film so stubbornly, studiously lo-fi.
THE VERDICT: For all its charm and anti-blockbuster mentality, there is no getting away from the fact that this Pete’s draggin’.
Director: David Lowery; Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, Karl Urban, Oakes Fegley; Theatrical release: August 12, 2016
After so-so outings Life During Wartime (2009) and Dark Horse (2011), Todd Solondz is back to his scabrous best with Wiener-Dog. By turns savage, playful and hilarious, this compendium of short stories linked by the adventures of an oh-so-cute sausage dog will delight the Solondz faithful while further winding up non-converts to his pessimistic worldview.
Solondz’s characters are, typically, targets for his ire. The first are the foul parents (Julie Delpy, Tracy Letts) of the eponymous pooch’s wide-eyed owner; then comes Welcome to the Dollhouse loser Dawn Wiener (Greta Gerwig), all grown up and working in a vet’s (never mind that Solondz held the character’s funeral in 2004’s Palindromes).
After a hilarious musical intermission, a Benji-style travelogue cut to ‘The Ballad of Wiener-Dog’, our dachshund is taken up by Danny DeVito’s failed screenwriter/academic (with Solondz really barking at the film industry) before we switch to Ellen Burstyn’s cantankerous grandmother.
True, Solondz doesn’t always twist the knife; there’s a gentler development involving Kieran Culkin’s ex-bully. But this most acerbic auteur hasn’t lost his ability to kick us in the nut-sack. Musing on life, death and all the nasty bits therein, it’s comedy at its most brutal.
THE VERDICT: Spot-on Solondz, full of his trademark bite and bile. Dog lovers beware, though: this one’s not for you.
Director: Todd Solondz; Starring: Greta Gerwig, Danny DeVito, Kieran Culkin; Theatrical release: August 12, 2016
Nancy (Blake Lively) is a medical student whose grief-fuelled pilgrimage to a secluded Mexican beach takes a turn for the gory in this taut, resourceful B-movie. Director Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan, Non-Stop) wastes no time showing us our heroine sans wetsuit, but then takes a sharp turn into hardcore gore, as Nancy is attacked by a shark and ends up stranded and bleeding on a coral reef.
Lively’s is a physically demanding turn in every sense, but more impressive than her physique is her commitment to the psychological trauma of it all, as Nancy talks herself through sewing up her leg wound with jewellery. Collet-Serra is a dab hand at building suspense; it’s fortunate, though, that Lively’s frequent scene partner is a seagull, because dialogue is the weakest link here.
We hear countless times how Nancy’s late mother “taught her to be a fighter”, as though her courage needs explanation. Still, a surreal edge creeps in as a half-deranged Nancy bonds with her new bird pal, threatening to move The Shallows away from simply being survival schlock towards something weirder, wilder.
But any echoes of Castaway or Gravity are short-lived; soon enough, the film spirals into an ending so brilliantly OTT you’ll be hard pushed not to love it a little.
THE VERDICT: A likeable, efficiently executed popcorn thriller with no pretensions. More fun than Sharknado.
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra; Starring: Blake Lively, Oscar Jaenada, Brett Cullen; Theatrical release: August 12, 2016
MIKE AND DAVE NEED WEDDING DATES
If it seems impossible that this ramshackle sex comedy is based on a book, it might help to know that the book is based on a Craigslist ad. Brothers Mike and Dave Stangle (played by Adam Devine and Zac Efron) really did place an ad for wedding dates and they really did end up with two out-of-control BFFs, but real life cannot be stranger than watching Aubrey Plaza chew through an ‘urban’ accent for 90 minutes.
There are glimmers of Efron’s sweetness and Devine’s screwball intensity, but it’s mostly a fumble of lame gags.
Director: Jake Szymanski; Starring: Zac Efron, Anna Kendrick, Adam Devine, Aubrey Plaza, Stephen Root; Theatrical release: August 10, 2016
Catfish directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman return to the perils of the internet with this lean teen thriller. Emma Roberts is Vee, a timid high-schooler who gets dragged into playing Nerve, an online game in which ‘watchers’ pay money to dare the ‘players’ to do more and more crazy things (ride a motorbike blindfolded at 60mph!).
Costarring Dave Franco as a fellow competitor, it’s a glossy, pacey time-passer that muses, for a few nanoseconds, on the voyeuristic dangers of the web. It gets increasingly silly, but it’s a short, sharp ride that’ll keep you logged on.
Director: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman; Starring: Emma Roberts, James Franco; Theatrical release: August 11, 2016
VALLEY OF LOVE
Reunited for the first time since Maurice Pialat’s Loulou (1980), Isabelle Huppert and Gérard Depardieu headline this parched psychological walkabout. Written and directed by Guillaume Nixloux (2013’s The Nun), it casts its leads as actors called Isabelle and Gérard: long since divorced, they are brought together by the suicide of their adult son in Death Valley, California.
It’s an oddball spiritual odyssey, playful but thinly etched (apart from Depardieu’s physique, which is shown in all its gargantuan glory). For all its undoubted curiosity value, this Valley runs dry too quickly.
Director: Guillaume Nicloux; Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Gérard Depardieu; Theatrical release: August 12, 2016
Roar Uthaug’s nerve-shredding disaster pic dumps a 300ft tsunami on a Scandinavian town in the shadow of a landslide-prone mountain. With just 10 minutes to find higher ground, there’s genuine peril for the residents of Geiranger. But Uthaug only cares about four of them – doom-foreseeing geologist Kristoffer Joner, his hotelier wife Ane Dahl Torp and their two children.
Despite flaws – plotting and characterisation are template; skater Jonas Hoff Oftebro is insufferable – it’s easy to see how this might have scored Norwegian director Uthaug’s next gig: the Tomb Raider reboot with Alicia Vikander.
Director: Roar Uthaug; Starring: Kristoffer Joner, Ane Dahl Torp, Jonas Hoff Oftebro; Theatrical release: August 12, 2016
INGRID BERGMAN: IN HER OWN WORDS
Long before Ingrid Bergman became a star, she was captured on film in her dad’s home movies – fostering, Stig Björkman’s documentary suggests, a relaxed ease before the camera and an insatiable craving for its attention.
The latter, her kids reveal, saw her largely absent from their lives, a constant refrain in a film that, in celebrating her achievements, doesn’t ignore her shortcomings. With Alicia Vikander reading her diaries and Michael Nyman providing a typically florid score, the portrait that emerges is that of a mercurial talent who would not be pinned down, even by a film as adulatory as this one.
Director: Stig Björkman; Starring: Ingrid Bergman, Sigourney Weaver, Isabella Rossellini; Theatrical release: August 12, 2016
ID2: SHADWELL ARMY
This belated sequel adds racial and political tension to what’s essentially a retelling of the 1995 footy-fan drama. Simon Rivers plays Mo, an undercover officer investigating extremist behaviour within the Shadwell gang. Mo’s religious beliefs add weight to the question of how far he’ll go to blend in, but the hooligans’ mob mentality feels as dated as the original film.
Director: Joel Novoa; Starring: Simon Rivers, Linus Roache, Paul Popplewell; Theatrical release: August 12, 2016
THE CONFESSION: LIVING THE WAR ON TERROR
Director Ashish Ghadiali’s fascinating history lesson debut interviews Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanmo Bay detainee who confessed to membership of Al-Qaeda, but who has never been convicted of any crime. Far from being a shock exposé, the film sees Moazzam argue his beliefs with intelligence, compassion and valuable insight.
Director: Ashish Ghadiali; Starring: Moazzam Begg; Theatrical release: August 12, 2016
Based on the true story of Palestinian pop star Mohammed Assaf, this may be another talent-show rags-to-riches tale – but the feelgood pay-off feels more well-earned when set in the ruins of a demilitarised zone instead of a Carphone Warehouse (see One Chance. Actually don’t). Director Hany Abu-Assad skips through all the usual hoops, while mostly managing to keep sight of the bigger picture
Director: Hany Abu-Assad; Starring: Tawfeek Barhom, Ahmed Al Rokh, Hiba Attalah; Theatrical release: August 12, 2016