Movies to watch this week at the cinema: The Big Short, The Assassin, more...

Out on Friday 22 January

Adam McKay laughs all the way to the bank. Hou puts the art in martial arts. Yes, heres this weeks new releases. Click on for our reviews of The Big Short, The Assassin, Our Brand Is Crisis, Dark Places, The Last Diamond, Lost In Karastan, The Visit: An Alien Encounter. Attacking The Devil, Ride Along 2 and The 5th Wave. For the best movie reviews, subscribe to Total Film.

THE BIG SHORT

On paper, Adam McKay seems an unlikely choice to direct a film about the ins and outs of the recent global financial crisis. The absurd and OTT humour of Anchorman and Step Brothers doesnt immediately spring to mind when thinking about a subject thats so often dry and incomprehensible, but it turns out that his light touch and Ron burgundy-level energy were just what the sub-genre needed. Adapting Michael Lewis non-fiction book, McKay wrangles a number of A-listers in an impressive ensemble. Theres no lead to speak of, but the story starts in 2005 with Christian Bales Michael Burry (a real person, while other characters have had their names changed). A possibly autistic hedge-fund manager, his running of the numbers leads him to start betting against subprime mortgages after predicting a crash. Big-bank trader Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) and money manager Mark Baum (Steve Carell) similarly bet against the housing market. Also in the mix is producer Brad Pitts wordly economics guru, advising a couple of young guns who want to disrupt the unfair system. That the stars are hidden under bad-hair wigs and unflattering makeovers adds to the larger-than-life tone created by the restlessly energetic editing. McKay knows when he needs to grab your attention. Not only does the funnybone-tickling make The Big Short a far more inviting prospect than its serious, starchy counterparts, but if ever the minutiae of credit default swaps and the like threaten to become alienating, you can expect a celebrity cameo or fourth-wall breaking narration to pop up and simplify it. The important message at the films core is no less vital for the laughter that leavens it. It helps that the cast can switch nimbly from the broader comedic notes to genuine pathos. The acting is strong across the board, though Carell deserves special mention for averting a potential caricature with his hangdog sincerity. But be warned. For all the fun youll have in the process, the lessons youll learn about unlearned lessons will leave you fuming with righteous indignation. THE VERDICT: Slick and funny, this is the years most entertaining economics lesson, making the facts of the financial crisis easier to digest without making them any more palatable. Director: Adam McKay Starring: Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Finn Wittrock, Rafe Spall Theatrical release: 22 January 2016 Matt Maytum

THE ASSASSIN

Directing for the first time since 2007s Flight Of The Red Balloon, Hou Hsiao-hsien returns with a martial arts epic like no other. Radiant, graceful, ambiguous and artful, this idiosyncratic take on the genre is far removed from, say, House Of Flying Daggers. And its already a critics darling, having hoovered up praise and a Best Director gong when it premiered at last years Cannes Film Festival. As well as Hous first entry in the genre, its also the highest-budgeted (at $15 million) film of a career that has been around intimate chamber pieces like the aforementioned Flight, starring Juliette Binoche, and Three Times (2005). By contrast, The Assassin is lavish and lush (kudos to mark Lee Ping Bins gorgeous cinematography), yet Hou never abandons his cinematic principles. Set in 9th century china, the story follows Nie Yinniang (Shu Qi), a trainee assassin being tutored by the so-called princess nun, Jiaxin (Sheu fang-yi). Living in a world of political instability, Yinniang is sent by her mentor to murder ruler Lord Tian (Chang Chen), with whom Jiaxin has her own axe to grind. Its here where the plot becomes increasingly dense, though the wondrous presentation of the colourful court is such a distraction that the narrative tangles hardly matter. With sparse dialogue and a static camera, The Assassin is punctuated by only flashes of violence. Killings are brief and brutal; the acrobatic wire work popularised by choreographer Yuen Woo-ping is absent here in favour of a more pared-down (and far more realistic) approach. Thats not to say Hou ignores the fantasy elements that the genre can touch on; just dont expect them to swamp this slow-burner. Shot in Academy ratio yet another example of how the film disarms you The Assassin isnt for those eager for the sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Instead, its aimed at those looking for something more contemplative than kick-ass. Patience is required, but is also amply rewarded. THE VERDICT: Hou puts the art in martial arts with this ravishing but strangely authentic actioner. Some will baulk at the pacing and plotting, but this needs to be seen. Director: Hou Hsiao-hsien Starring: Shu Qi, Chang Chen, Zhou Yun, Juan Ching-tian, Sheu Fang-yi Theatrical release: 22 January 2016 James Mottram

OUR BRAND IS CRISIS

Sandra Bullocks last cinematic brush with politics, she was dolled up as a pageant queen and championing world peace. Our Brand Is Crisis sees her taking a more hardline approach as a neurotic campaigner attempting to boost the popularity of a presidential candidate, but its hard not to yearn for the comparatively sharp satire of Miss Congeniality. The ninth film produced by George Clooney and Grant Heslovs Smokehouse Pictures which has a pretty even split between the sublime (Argo, The Ides Of March) and the ridiculous (The Men Who Stare At Goats) OBIC is actually more in the vein of director David Gordon Greens quirkier comedies. Echoes of Pineapple Express abound as Calamity Jane Bodine (Bullock) is hired by Bolivian presidential hopeful Pedro Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida, oily and excellent) as his campaign leader. Spending much of her initial stay dragging around an oxygen tank (thanks to an onset of altitude sickness) before finally going toe-to-toe with Castillo, Bullock excels at the comedy, but shes better than the material, particularly when the final act calls on her to find pathos amid the preposterousness. In light of savvier political efforts like Veep and House Of Cards, OBIC feels critically lacking in wit and insight. Its a decent role for Bullock, but you get little sense that its based on actual events (depicted in the same-named 2005 doc this film fictionalises). Most frustrating of all is that it raises an intriguing question should Bolivia get the president it wants, or the one it needs? only to give more precedence to Bullocks pratfalls. Which were better in Miss Congeniality THE VERDICT: Bullocks on form in a film that takes a playful poke at political campaigning but stops short of anything genuinely insightful. Director: David Gordon Green Starring: Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Joaquim de Almeida, Ann Dowd Theatrical release: 22 January 2016 Josh Winning

DARK PLACES

If it feels like weve been waiting a while for this adap of Gillian Flynns second crime thriller, thats because we have: its filming pre-dates production on David Finchers adap of Flynns Gone Girl, to which this is inferior. Charlize Theron plays Libby Day who, aged eight, survived a family massacre for which her brother is currently incarcerated sent down on the strength of his little sisters testimony. Now in her late 30s Libbys alone, angry and skint; anonymous donations from sympathetic strangers that have kept her in booze and baseball caps are finally drying up. Coaxed with cash by Lyle (Nicholas Hoult) and his amateur detectives club, Libbys persuaded to explore her brothers possible innocence, an endeavour intercut with flashbacks to the real events. Dark Places is well placed to capitalise on the vogue for possible-miscarriage-of-justice shows (Making A Murderer, Serial and The Jinx). But while Flynns story is taut, writer/director Gilles Paquet-Brenner never quite delivers the leftfield shocks of Gone Girl. Plot is front and centre here who really did what, how and why slowly unfolding which overshadows complex characters who have space to grow in the book. Changes from the original text arent drastic, but some of the rough edges are missing the cocky coldness of the Kill Club who gaze at the goldfish bowl of Libbys life without sympathy, the underexplored cruel manipulations teenage ben faces; such absences hurry the plot along but dilute the overall picture of pain and poverty in Midwestern America. At least the supporting cast is strong: Christina Hendricks as Libbys put-upon mum, Tye Sheridan as the young Ben, Corey Stoll as the older version and Chlo Grace Moretz as Bens live-wire girlfriend Diondra. But without Finchers visual flair or careful characterisation, it feels like a so-so Sunday-night drama so maybe wait a few extra days for the DVD, out 22 February. THE VERDICT: Workmanlike, lean and diverting but ultimately lacking in key things a strong sense of place and a true feeling of darkness. Which is a bit of a blow, given the title. Director: Gilles Paquet-Brenne Starring: Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Christina Hendricks, Chlo Grace Moretz, Tye Sheridan Theatrical release: 22 January 2016 Rosie Fletcher

THE LAST DIAMOND

Freshly released from prison, con man Simon (Yvan Attal) agrees to help steal the fabled Florentine diamond. His plan involves befriending and then betraying diamond expert Julia (The Artists Brnice Bejo), who hires him as security advisor for the jewels auction following the mysterious death of her mother. What starts as a familiar, frivolous caper (complete with jazzy score) strays into noir territory as twists complicate the plot to the point of confusion. Luckily, director/co-writer Eric Barbier never forgets the vital ingredient fun even if the character interplay doesnt always sparkle like the titular gem. Director: Eric Barbier Starring: Yvan Attal, Brnice Bejo, Jean-Franois Stvenin Theatrical release: 22 January 2016 Matt Looker

LOST IN KARASTAN

A lack of direction is exactly what flummoxes director Ben Hopkins mix of culture-clashing black comedy, romcom and meta-movie. Co-writing with Pawel Pawlikowski (Ida), Hopkins gets droll work from a cast led by Matthew Macfadyen as Emil, a blocked filmmaker attending a no-budget Eastern Europe film festival. MyAnna Buring is amusingly withering as an enigmatic PR, and Noah Taylors wild-eyed actor galvanises proceedings, but laughs surrender to soul-searching and unearned darker spins. Too daft for drama and too solemn for satire. Merely lost. Director: Ben Hopkins Starring: Matthew Macfadyen, MyAnna Buring, Noah Taylor, Ali CookTheatrical release: 22 January 2016 Kevin Harley

THE VISIT: AN ALIEN ENCOUNTER

What would happen if mankind encountered aliens? Thats the poser at the heart of this cerebral doc, which explores the prospect as science fact rather than science fiction. Experts and military advisors discuss in practical terms what the protocol would be for communicating with extra-terrestrial life, but filmmaker Michael Madsen (not that one) is less interested in the response wed get and more in what wed choose to share about the human race. Would we, for example, be honest about our own violent past? With stunning otherworldly imagery accompanying the deeply philosophical debate, The Visit pleases the eye as much as the brain. Director: Michael Madsen Theatrical release: 22 January 2016 Matt Looker

ATTACKING THE DEVIL

Subtitled Harold Evans And The Last Nazi War Crime, McCullin duo Jacqui and David Morris doc is a fiercely gripping portrait of investigative journalism at its crusading best. Focusing on the Thalidomide scandal, the Morrises document Sunday Times editor Evans campaign to gain compensation from distillers, the company that marketed the sedative that damaged thousands of babies. Its heart-in-mouth viewing: the suffering, injustice and corporate dodges beggar belief. The Morrises clear-sighted thrust upholds the power, punch and potential of an honourable, determined press Directors: Jacqui Morris, David Morris Starring: Harold Evans Theatrical release: 22 January 2016 Kevin Harley

RIDE ALONG 2

Kevin Harts manic apprentice police officer and Ice Cubes scowling detective return for another round of mismatched buddy-cop antics. Olivia Munns stoic Miami cop and a nerdy hacker (Ken Jeong) help them chase down the prerequisite sinister drug dealer (Benjamin Bratt). Everyone mostly stands around while Hart gets beaten up by children and wrestles chickens. Ride Along 2 may be the first mainstream comedy in years to feature a cast this diverse and for that it deserves some sort of accolade. But thats it. Otherwise its the same eye-rolling numbskullery as the first. Director: Tim Story Starring: Ice Cube, Kevin Hart, Ken Jeong, Benjamin Bratt, Olivia Munn, Bruce McGill, Tika Sumpter, Sherri Shepherd Theatrical release: 22 January 2016 Ken McIntyre

THE 5TH WAVE

This YA sci-fier sees Earth in the throes of an alien invasion thats approaching its final, fatal phase. Our heroine is every-teen Cassie (Chlo Grace Moretz), in search of the baby bro (Zackary Arthur) whos been shipped off to military compound to join other emo youngsters being trained to fight the E.T.s. Based on the first in Rick Yanceys trilogy, this packs some decent twists, though it does feel Enders Game-lite. Moretz is typically good value, while director J. Blakeson (The Disappearance Of Alice Creed) does his best on a limited budget. Functional fun, itll scratch the YA itch until Allegiant arrives. Director: J. Blakeson Starring: Chlo Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, Ron Livingston, Maggie Siff, Alex Roe, Maika Monroe Theatrical release: 22 January 2016 James Mottram