Out on Friday 25 November
Adam Driver shows Kylo Ren’s gentler side. David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike find love and courage in Amma Asante’s romantic biopic. An inexplicable demon terrorises a Korean village.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of Paterson, A United Kingdom, The Wailing, Bad Santa 2, Creepy, Magnus, The Incident, Mum’s List, Starless Dreams, and Almost Christmas.
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Living and working in Paterson, New Jersey, Paterson (Adam Driver) is a bus driver who scribbles clear-eyed, economical poetry in his spare time. At night, he eats with his wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), then walks their wheezing bulldog to a local bar, where he enjoys a single jar while listening to others converse before returning to bed ready for the next routine day.
In other hands, this study of small-town life and shimmering dreams (Laura also has desires, including becoming a country singer) might have been mocking and mean-spirited, but Paterson has higher intentions.
Gentle and warm-hearted, it avoids being twee courtesy of beguiling performances and writer/director Jim Jarmusch’s graceful direction, which, like Paterson’s prose, is alive with patterns and rhythms but neither self-conscious or fussy.
It is rare to find a film that features a loving, fully functional marriage. It is rarer still to find one centred on a would-be artist who stands back from the world to question all that he sees, as artists must, but is content with his solitude and unscathed by demons. Such humbly exotic ingredients make for a mesmeric treat of a film – one of Jarmusch’s best.
THE VERDICT: No Kylo Ren-style anger, just the ebb and flow of daily life. And the best canine performance since The Artist’s Uggie.
Director: Jim Jarmusch; Starring: Adam Driver, Golshieh Farahani; Theatrical release: November 25, 2016
A United Kingdom
A remarkable story doesn’t quite get the film it deserves in Amma Asante’s respectable romantic biopic, adapted from Susan Williams’ book Colour Bar by Guy Hibbert. It begins in 1947, as Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), in London studying law, falls for insurance clerk Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike).
When it emerges that Seretse is heir to the throne of Bechuanaland, their marriage meets opposition from her father and the British government. Yet Asante’s polite, well-mannered film rarely raises the heartbeat. Oyelowo and Pike capture their characters’ courage, but never the romance that kept their belief burning.
Director: Amma Asante; Starring: David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Jack Davenport; Theatrical release: November 25, 2016
An outbreak of homicidal rage in a sedate Korean village fuels this pell-mell hybrid of horror and police procedural. Is a poisoner on the loose, or could the mysterious Japanese stranger in the woods really be a demon? For bumbling sergeant Jong-Goo (Kwak Do-Won), the case soon becomes personal.
Genre specialist Na Hong-jin (The Yellow Sea) succeeds through excess. Pitched at a level of hysterical intensity, Na’s frantically staged set-pieces (fights, chases, mad shamanistic rituals) are underscored by cacophonous drumming. This is a queasily funny, often exhausting but genuinely unnerving watch.
Director: Hong-jin Na; Starring: Jun Kunimura, Jung-min Hwang, Do Won Kwak; Theatrical release: November 25, 2016
Bad Santa 2
Thirteen years ago on from Bad Santa, Billy Bob Thornton’s foul-mouthed low-life Willie returns, as pee-and-puke stained as ever – not to mention politically incorrect, misanthropic and just nasty. When we meet him again, Willie’s at such a low ebb he tries to stick his head in the (electric!) oven.
Paid a visit by his old partner-in-crime Marcus (Tony Cox), he gets sucked into a Chicago-set mission to rob $2 million for a homeless charity run by Christina Hendricks’ recovering alcoholic. Well, it is Christmas, after all. Joining them is Willie’s white-trash mother Sunny (Kathy Bates), who – naturally – Willie despises.
The big mistake this Mark Waters-directed sequel makes is sacrificing the 2004 original’s underlying heart, which was rooted in the uneasy bond between Willie and the gormless snot-nosed kid Thurman. The character returns (again played by Brett Kelly), now all grown up and working in a sandwich store, but he feels shoehorned in.
True, Hendricks has fun with her role as a good girl with a bad streak, while Shauna Cross and Johnny Rosenthal’s script fires off a few zingers. But with Thornton surprisingly disengaged and the robbery plot formulaic, it’s a limp dick of a sequel.
THE VERDICT: The intent is there, but Bad Santa 2 is a tired sequel that lacks the first film’s festive freshness.
Director: Mark Waters; Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates, Tony Cox; Theatrical release: November 23, 2016
Two hot spies meet in an exotic locale for a job, trade cocky banter and end up having hot sex… if it sounds similar to one of Brad Pitt’s previous roles, it initially pretty much is. Like a WW2 Mr & Mrs Smith, Robert Zemeckis’ film trades on the beauty and chemistry of its leads (considerable in both cases) before switching into a sub-le Carre mole drama.
That much is obvious from the it’s-all-in-there trailer, as Canadian airman-spy Max (Pitt) reevaluates his entire existence when his French Resistance wife Marianne (Cotillard), is accused of being a Nazi spy. Could the woman he loves, who’s literally pushed his baby out amid a London air-raid, be working a deep deep cover?
The screenplay by Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, Locke, Peaky Blinders) competently explores some chewy themes: the complexities of matrimonial and state loyalties; the breaking point of love when tested.
All of which is perfectly diverting when it’s Pitt and Cotillard turning on the charm. Beautifully shot, immaculately costumed and seemingly CG-ed to their most perfect selves, their luminosity and star power lift potentially cheap moments (lustful looks in mirrors, English Patient-style car sex, improbable personal misuse of war-effort equipment) to classy, if glassy, levels.
THE VERDICT: Ravishing without being riveting, this is polished period entertainment in the traditional matinee sense. But Casablanca it ain’t.
Director: Robert Zemeckis; Starring: Brad Pitt, Vincent Ebrahim, Xavier De Guillebon; Theatrical release: November 25, 2016
After a violent altercation, detective Hidetoshi Nishijima swaps being a cop for a college job and the safety of the suburbs. While he’s lured back by a cold case, his wife (Yûko Takeuchi) tangles with an oddball neighbour (Teruyuki Kagawa). Could they, just possibly, be connected?
Engrossing, if a little slow, this Thomas Harris-alike thriller from Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Cure, Pulse) has remake stamped all over it. Kagawa is unnerving but expert Nishijima is frustratingly slow to catch on, reasoning: “Even the most dangerous criminals seem super nice to their neighbours, so I guess he’s safe.”
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa; Starring: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Yuko Takeuchi, Haruna Kawaguchi, Masahiro Higashide, Teruyuki Kagawa; Theatrical release: November 25, 2016
Hot on the heels of Queen of Katwe comes another portrait of a real-life chess prodigy: a documentary about Magnus Carlsen charting his ascent to world champion. Benjamin Ree’s pic has the suspense of a sports story as it shows this diffident newcomer dispensing with opponents.
At 76 minutes, however, it’s too brief to convey the intellect and almost mystical ability that underpin Carlsen’s success.
Director: Benjamin Ree; Starring: Magnus Carlsen, Garry Kasparov, Viswanathan Anand; Theatrical release: November 25, 2016
The strained relationship of a young, affluent couple (Tom Hughes, Ruta Gedmintas) is tested further by their run-ins with a tough, teenager (Tasha Connor).
The class clash is beautifully captured by cinematographer Pau Castejón, and Gedmintas gives a powerful performance of middle-class angst and guilt. But writer/director Jane Linfoot’s feature debut is ultimately too timid to be tense.
Director: Jane Linfoot; Starring: Ruta Gedmintas, Tom Hughes, Tasha Connor; Theatrical release: November 25, 2016
Adapted from St. John Greene’s bestseller, this drama recounts the real-life story of a bereaved West Country father (Rafe Spall) left to bring up two sons when his beloved wife Kate (Emilia Fox) dies of breast cancer.
It clearly aims to move, but the cutting between three timelines dilutes emotional impact. And despite Spall and Fox’s efforts, there’s something too good to be true about the characters.
Director: Niall Johnson; Starring: Rafe Spall, Emilia Fox, Elaine Cassidy; Theatrical release: November 25, 2016
Mehrdad Oskouei’s piercing documentary about teenage girls inside an Iranian Correctional and Rehabilitation Centre is both controlled and tender. Using minimal narration, it lets the girls tell their stories: as addicts, thieves and survivors of male abuse.
It sounds unremittingly bleak, but there are enough grace notes of sisterly affection, humour and humanity to hint at a happier tomorrow.
Director: Mehrdad Oskouei; Theatrical release: December 2, 2016
Recently bereaved Walter (Danny Glover) invites his four adult offspring and their families to spend Christmas under the same roof. Cue sibling rivalries, dramatic revelations and slapstick mishaps, leaving Glover to mutter his Lethal Weapon catchphrase (you know the one).
Plot predictability is offset by lively performances, with Mo’Nique shining brightest.
Director: David E. Talbert; Starring: Kimberly Elise, Omar Epps, Danny Glover; Theatrical release: December 2, 2016