Movies to watch this week at the cinema: Dope, Ricki And The Flash, more...

Out on Friday 4 September

A teen comedy with a dope soundtrack and dope title. A cinephile forms an emotional friendship. Meryl Streep brings out her guitar and shes not afraid to use it. Yes, heres this weeks new releases. Click on for our reviews of Dope, Me And Earl And The Dying Girl, Ricki And The Flash, No Escape, The Transporter Refueled, American Ultra, Closed Curtain, Buttercup Bill, The Second Mother, Bait, Cartel Land, Miss Julie and Building Jerusalem. For the best movie reviews, subscribe to Total Film.

DOPE

As Rick Famuyiwas festival hit reminds us right off the bat, dope can mean drugs, an idiot or something rad. Call that fair warning for a film that wont be pinned down. More than a straight-outta-Sundance drugs-n-the-hood movie, the fifth outing from The Wood writer-director Famuyiwa is also a fizzy coming-of-age geek-com, a crime caper, a romance of errors. And if that sounds like too much, think again: mixing pep and purpose, Dope lands with the punchy immediacy of its title. Shouldering the extremes lightly is Shameik Moore as Malcolm, a flat-topped high-schooler struggling to survive in Inglewood, Californias Bottoms. When Dope seems to cast around for direction, its really sticking tight to Malcolm, a one-off everydude struggling to find himself on the cusp of youth and adulthood. Head full of more pop-culture detritus than Scott Pilgrim, Malcolm loves 90s hip-hop, his Nikes, his punk band and his friends, laidback Jib (Grand Budapest Hotels Tony Revolori) and lesbian Diggy (Kiersey Clemons). What he doesnt like are the life/death choices he faces just getting to school: taking a wrong route might murder his hopes of getting laid. The plot cranks up when trouble arising from the convergence of dream girl Nakia (Zo Kravitz), tough dealer Dom (rapper A$AP Rocky), a backpack switcheroo and $100,000 of drugs forces Malcolm into a risky world of online narcotic enterprise, just when hes trying to study for Harvard. Toggling high stakes with low comedy, the ensuing farce is at risk of ODing on its supply, or on one tone at anothers expense. But Famuyiwa marshals whats needed to energise the plot and put us into Malcolms trainers. Hitting more topical pressure points (drones, phones, Bitcoin, the n word) than a Spike Lee joint, Dope also channels Lees formal flash via DoP Rachel Morrisons vibrant work, Lee Haugens quick-flip editing, a Pharrell Williams-fuelled soundtrack and sharp, slang-y scripting. Every scene brings a stylistic about-swerve, from freeze-frames to split screen to social-media montages. If the means are modern, the treatment of women is less so. Kravitz deepens an underwritten role, but Chanel Iman cameos mostly to facilitate a (funny, admittedly) sex-com set-piece. Such easy sexism is a shame, because otherwise Dope is empathetic and engaged, funny and forthright. The climax gets preachy, but a dance is also involved: a canny one-two for an indie-flip film with lots to say and an issues film galvanised by youths crossfire energies. THE VERDICT: Famuyiwas teen pic mixes a cocktail of crowd-pleasing vim and political punch, lent charm and conviction by Moore a star in the making. Director: Rick Famuyiwa Starring: Shameik Moore, Kiersey Clemons, Tony Revolori, Zo Kravitz, A$AP Rocky Theatrical release: 4 September 2015 Kevin Harley

ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL

Ive no idea how to tell this story, says Thomas Manns Greg as Alfonso Gomez-Rejons sweetly sarcastic, deeply felt adaptation of Jesse Andrews YA novel begins. And as the alarm marked unreliable narrator howls none too subtly, a sense of relief also kicks in. Too many recent coming-of-agers have spliced illness with easy arcs of romantic discovery, but Gomez-Rejons Sundance smashs sense of awkward uncertainty inoculates against the feeling of being brutalised by weaponised Hallmark cards. Youll be moved, but not to hurl. Greg certainly isnt an instrument of emotional coercion. An acutely self-aware, self-absorbed movie-nut, he makes mockmovies (example: A Sockwork Orange) and stays scrupulously low-key at high school he even calls his mate Earl (R.J. Cyler) a co-worker in his desire to go unnoticed. Greg doesnt even actively choose to befriend Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a little-noticed classmate who has leukaemia. When he acts on his mums impetus to visit Rachel, they begin a connection with more twists than expected. If the chapter headings lean to the twee, what doesnt is the study of an unlikely friendship not, note, a romance. They bond, get bored, bicker: they ring true. And when they fall out because sharing isnt like logging on, the wounds arent easily salved. If this is a story about half-formed people finding precarious common ground, whats most remarkable is how well-formed these half-formed characters are. Greg is emotionally ineffectual but full of potential and not just as a Werner Herzog impressionist. Cooke seeds depths in Rachel, a girl neither special nor sentimentalised, nor reduced to a spur for Gregs growth. Earl is more of a cypher, problematically for the films main black character, but Cyler is languidly likeable. And hes matched by Nick Offerman, Molly Shannon and Connie Britton, investing parental roles with human foibles and flaws. Not every character is as voluble as Gregs mum, but their inner lives are vividly suggested in peppy stylistic flourishes: overhead shots, talking posters. The Brian Eno soundtrack strikes some smart off-beats too, contrasted with other YA films mope-pop muzak. When Me And Earl makes us feel something, it rejects shorthand and points to the hidden lives behind surface sentiments. Other US indie weepies would favour a tidy send-off but this one serves secrets, revelations, judicious loose ends and packs a harder punch for it. Lives resist easy summary here. For all his flaws, at least Greg learns that much. THE VERDICT: Gomez-Rejons sardonic yet sensitive story of geek friendship is the best YA illness novel adap yet. And yes, you can stick that on the poster. Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon Starring: Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, R.J. Cyler, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon Theatrical release: 4 September 2015 Kevin Harley

RICKI AND THE FLASH

The prevailing wisdom from Hollywood, movie-goers and the lips of God is that Meryl Streep can effortlessly infuse herself with any character, no matter how far-flung, and bring them to flickering life. Streeps never been a guitar-slinging, middle-aged rocker before, and thats essentially why this movie exists. Spoiler alert: shes great at that, too. Ricki Rendazzo (Streep) is an ageing rock star now slumming it at a grocery store day job in California, keeping her feeble hopes alive by playing a regular gig at a local club with her band, The Flash. A charismatic Rick Springfield is her guitarist/potential love interest, although shes never been able to commit to him, or anybody else. Life grinds on until Ricki gets a call from her ex-husband, Pete (Kevin Kline), who tells her that her daughter, Julie (Mamie Gummer, Streeps real-life daughter), is suffering a breakdown after being left by her cheating husband. The wayward rocker heads to Indiana ground zero for Midwestern squares to save her family. And, you know, herself. If youre wondering where the comedy comes in, its the culture clash stuff. Director Demmes light touch thankfully smooths out screenwriter Diablo Codys usual excesses, leaving you free to enjoy the film with a minimal gnashing of teeth. Yet, interestingly, Ricki And The Flashs chewiest pleasures come not from the serio-comic narrative or the expected crying/cheering finale, but from the genuinely excellent musical performances by Streep and her band. Whether tossing out familiar old chestnuts (American Girl), new standards (Lady Gagas Bad Romance) or original songs penned for the film, Flash ultimately serves as a frequently enthralling concert film bogged down here and there by tear-jerky family drama. OK, so it isnt the best thing any of the principals have ever done, but its a sweet, melancholy little film thats the perfect antidote for a summer full of bulging blockbusters. THE VERDICT: Fantastic music from Meryl Streeps rock band (!) and a likeable cast highlight this lightweight dramedy from Jonathan Demme and a refreshingly restrained Diablo Cody. Director: Jonathan Demme Starring: Meryl Streep, Rick Springfield, Rick Rosas, Joe Vital Theatrical release: 4 September 2015 Ken McIntyre

NO ESCAPE

Doing for South-East Asia what Taken did for Europe, No Escape is Joe Americans every worst fear about travelling realised. Pop outside for a paper and youre sure to be caught up in a popular uprising against the ruling military junta. Head for the hotel and youll be followed by machete-wielding locals. Run for the roof and a chopper will be waiting to strafe you with machine-gun fire. No Escape, in short, is not a film thats afraid of reinforcing demeaning cultural stereotypes. Get past the Top Gear-style xenophobia though, and youre left with a taut, tense and sweaty thriller that barely pauses for breath once the bricks and bullets start flying. It helps that the lead is Owen Wilson, a star whose default mode of stoner befuddlement suits a character failed inventor turned water company exec Jack Dwyer whose world is imploded before hes had a chance to unpack. Theres also an undercurrent of geopolitical satire, it being Vietnam, Uncle Sams old enemy, that offers the best chance of salvation for Jack, wife Annie (Lake Bell) and their two young daughters. Quarantine director John Erick Dowdle would have done well to have reined in Pierce Brosnan, whose role as a slumming spy of no fixed accent finds him recycling the swaggering braggadocio of The Matador to wearisome effect. The helmers also rather prone to revelling gleefully in revolutionary carnage. Conversely, No Escape is more harrowing in its quieter moments, like the one where the youngest Dwyer has no choice but to wet herself if they are all to avoid detection. THE VERDICT: Though its often as ill-judged as Brosnans Hawaiian shirts, No Escape provides plenty of excitement and cliffhangers as it places Owen Wilson once again behind enemy lines. Director: John Erick Dowdle Starring: Owen Wilson, Pierce Brosnan, Lake Bell, Sterling Jerins, Claire Geare, Sahajak Boonthanakit Theatrical release: 4 September 2015 Neil Smith

THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED

Recasting its hero (goodbye Jason Statham; hello, Ed Skrein), the Transporter series breaks its own first rule: it has changed the deal. It's clear from the outset Skrein has neither his predecessor's presence or ass-kicking skills. Doesn't help that, instead on concentrating on selling this new Frank Martin to us, the film's unclear who's in the actual driving seat Frank's kidnapped dad? (Ray Stevenson) Revenge-seeking prostitute Anna (Loan Chabanol)? Despite the occasional propulsive action scene, what lingers is the dumb machismo and gross characterisation. Refuelled? If so, the series is running on much cheaper, cruder oil. Director: Camille Delamar Starring: Ed Skrein, Loan Chabanol, Ray Stevenson Theatrical release: 4 September 2015 Matt Looker

AMERICAN ULTRA

Jesse Eisenberg is Mika, a grocery store clerk/stoner/highly trained killer targeted by the CIA for permanent de-activation. Seeing Eisenberg go all Jason Statham is American Ultras ISP; and he convinces too, thanks to smart editing. The problem is that, as an action-comedy, Nima Nourizadehs film doesnt really work on either front. The humour is more miss than (bong) hit, while the fights are marred by Machete-esque CG blood spurts. Nice to see Eisenberg reunite with Kristen Stewart, but this is best approached with basement-level expectationsDirector: Nima Nourizadeh Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, Connie Britton, Tony Hale, John Leguizamo, Bill Pullman, Walton Goggins Theatrical release: 4 September 2015 James Mottram

CLOSED CURTAIN

Often when a film drastically changes direction, it can be frustrating for viewers. But in this Iranian drama it feels like an important cry for help from the filmmakers. Co-director Kambuzia Partovi plays a writer in seclusion whose peace is ruined by the arrival of the suicidal Melika. It makes for an intriguing dynamic, which then collapses as we see Partovis directorial partner Jafar Panahi on set, eating with the cast and crew, while becoming haunted by visions of Melika. It jars, but makes a powerful statement about artistic freedom not least because of Panahis ongoing Iran-imposed ban from filmmaking. Director: Jafar Panahi Starring: Kamboziya Partovi, Maryam Moghadam, Jafar Panahi Theatrical release: 4 September 2015 Matt Looker

BUTTERCUP BILL

After the suicide of their childhood friend, Pernilla (co-director Remy Bennett) seeks solace with old flame Patrick (Evan Louison), but the two soon reopen old wounds out of displaced self-loathing and a damaging shared secret. Indifferently performed and raggedly plotted, Bennett and milie Richard-Froozans self-proclaimed psycho-sexual romance never finds an emotional or dramatic hook to justify being stuck with its irritating, sullen central couple. This leaves a series of listless, semi-unintelligible dialogue scenes, punctuated by mannered tableaux of bleak sex. Directors: Remy Bennett, Emilie Richard- Froozan Starring: Remy Bennett, Evan Louison Theatrical release: 4 September 2015 Simon Kinnear

THE SECOND MOTHER

Writer-director Anna Muylaerts comedy drama about maid-life and mothering is a surprisingly thoughtful mix of heartwarmer and sharp-eyed social satire, which snagged prizes at Berlin and Sundance this year. Brazilian sitcom star Regina Case is the films motor, deftly funny and touching as big-hearted housekeeper Val whose life is upended when her estranged and highly educated teenage daughter (Camila Mardila) joins her posh Sao Paulo household. There are fewer yucks than in the similarly-themed 2009 Chilean farce The Maid but this graceful film polishes up its emotional and class tensions a treat. Director: Anna Muylaert Starring: Regina Cas, Helena Albergaria, Michel Joelsas Theatrical release: 4 September 2015 Kate Stables

BAIT

Emmerdale actor Dominic Brunt continues his peculiar transition into a horror director, here following his 2013 debut Before Dawn with an unnerving twist on the rape-revenge sub-genre. Set in a northern town, Bait sees two women (Victoria Smurfit, Joanne Mitchell) borrow cash off the wrong man (Jonathan Slinger) when the banks deny them a business loan. Smiles turn to threats turn to brutality turn to a spectacularly grisly final act. A couple of stylistic wobbles aside, this is an effectively grounded genre movie powered by a strong turn from Slinger. Director: Dominic Brunt Starring: Victoria Smurfit, Joanna Mitchell, Jonathan Slinger Theatrical release: 4 September 2015 Jamie Graham

CARTEL LAND

If we start paying attention to our hearts, well get screwed over, justifies a meth dealer in Matthew Heinemans essential, Sundance-winning doc. Yet what if that amorality is also the only way to fight the cartels? The focus here is on two vigilante groups: the grassroots Autodefensas, led by Manuel Mireles; and 1,000 miles north, U.S. militia Arizona Border Recon. Heineman rides shotgun into this modern-day wild west and finds a real-life Breaking Bad, where moral lines blur until good guys are hard to spot. Its superbly shot and full of revelations, yet what registers most is the horrific, hopeless mood. Director: Matthew Heineman Theatrical release: 4 September 2015 Simon Kinnear

MISS JULIE

This umpteenth screen adap of Strindbergs play about the love triangle between the titular socialite, her valet and his fiance has impeccable credentials; stars Jessica Chastain, Colin Farrell and Samantha Morton are directed by Ingmar Bergmans legendary muse Liv Ullmann. Trouble is, impeccable doesnt always signal insight or excitement. Its a classical, reverent restaging, with only the occasional close-up breaking up theatrical medium shots. The timeless complexity of these characters raises the actors game but the projects tasteful elegance neuters any emotional impact. Director: Liv Ullmann Starring: Jessica Chastain, Clin Farrell, Samantha Morton Theatrical release: 4 September 2015 Simon Kinnear

BUILDING JERUSALEM

With England hosting the Rugby World Cup in 2015, this celebratory doc harks back to their success in the 2003 tournament in Australia. Following the history leading up to the campaign, Building Jerusalem broadly covers the careers of its star players (Johnny Wilkinson, Martin Johnson) and the transition of the game from amateur to professional. No doubt fans will enjoy revelling in the only time a team from the Northern Hemisphere has won the World Cup the final third is devoted exclusively to the final match but theres little new or revelatory here, to even the casual viewer Director: James Erskine Theatrical release: 1 September 2015 Richard Jordan