Out on Friday 9 September
The father adventures of Viggo. Laika’s read strum-dinger. Chris Pine’s criminal enterprise.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of Captain Fantastic, Kubo and the Two Strings, Hell or High Water, Ben-Hur, Don’t Breathe, Theo and Hugo, Anthropoid, The Blue Room, The Man Who Fell to Earth, The Land of the Enlightened.
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Viggo Mortensen goes back on the road in this Sundance heartwarmer, a thoughtful drama about an unconventional father determined to raise his kids – all six of them – the way that he sees fit. Together with his wife Leslie (Trin Miller), Ben Cash (Mortensen) has created an off-the-grid utopia in the forests of the Pacific Northwest: one in which outdoor pursuits, survival skills and intellectual discussions have moulded their children into “philosopher kings” in the making.
When Leslie dies, though, Ben and his brood are forced to re-connect with a modern world their eccentric upbringing has left them ill-equipped to deal with. Not only that but Ben must also confront father-in-law Jack (Frank Langella), a stern patriarch with as much disdain for Ben’s choice of lifestyle as Ben has for the conveniences of consumerist culture.
Based on his own childhood experiences of commune living, Matt Ross’ film has lots of fun contrasting Ben’s feral offspring with their new environment. Youngest daughter Zaja (Shree Crooks) is baffled, for example, when her well-meaning aunt (Kathryn Hahn) serves a store-bought rotisserie chicken for dinner; while a first date for oldest son Bodevan (Sunshine On Leith’s George MacKay) with a girl he meets on a campsite (Erin Moriarty) leads to a cringe-worthy proposal of marriage.
Yet Captain Fantastic also has serious questions to ask, about the role of a parent and the responsibilities of fatherhood. Is Ben building a family, or a cult? Is he the hero the title suggests, or a self-deluding villain? And is there a point when sticking to one’s principles can slip over into neglect, or worse still, even child abuse?
Jack would undoubtedly say as much, though he’s no less dogged in his beliefs, what with his determination to give Leslie – a Buddhist – a Christian burial. It’s this that Ben sets out to thwart, gathering his large clan on board their battered battle bus ‘Steve’ and heading off to gatecrash a funeral he’s been forbidden from attending.
Comparisons to Little Miss Sunshine are inevitable here, but also instructive. Where that film could perhaps be accused of reducing its characters to a procession of story-furthering screwballs, Ross takes the time to flesh out his ensemble as individuals: no mean feat when two of them are twin sisters (Annalise Basso and Samantha Isler) and another sibling (Nicholas Hamilton) strikes a somewhat predictable pose of stroppy pre-teen rebellion.
MacKay, the cast’s lone Brit, is especially effective, capturing Bodevan’s feelings of dislocation and detachment perfectly. It is Mortensen, though, who holds the whole thing together, his soft-voiced demeanour and hippie tresses masking a man whose fierce devotion to his progeny doesn’t always preclude working against their own best interests.
THE VERDICT: A road movie with heart, humour and a lead prepared to give his youthful co-stars their share of the limelight.
Director: Matt Ross; Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Steve Zahn, Frank Langella, George MacKay, Ann Dowd; Theatrical release: September 9, 2016
Kubo and the Two Strings
Gawd bless Laika, America’s last bastion of mainstream stop-motion wonder. Ironing out the imperfections of curios Paranorman and The Boxtrolls, its latest is a visually and sonically sublime journey across a fantastical ancient Japan, with a story that will yank the heartstrings clean out of your chest.
Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a young boy with a missing eye and music-fuelled origami magic running through his blood. After unleashing the wrath of vengeful gods, Kubo embarks on a quest to recover an unbreakable sword and impenetrable armour, teaming up with a grumpy Monkey (Charlize Theron) and a beefy samurai Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), forming an unlikely makeshift family in the process.
Taking in encounters with Harryhausen-homaging skeletons, dizzying sword fights and battles with neon dragons, it’s hard to overstate quite how awe-inspiringly beautiful Kubo’s blend of stop-motion model-work and CG environments is.
Heartfelt and funny, the script and top-notch voice acting possess a charm that will disarm even the most cynical. Sure, it hews a faintly predictable path, but it proves there’s plenty of life in stop motion yet.
THE VERDICT: Visually astonishing and touchingly told, Kubo is utterly wonderful. If there’s any justice, it’ll be a monster hit.
Director: Travis Knight; Starring: Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara; Theatrical release: September 9, 2016
Hell or High Water
In 2013’s Starred Up, director David Mackenzie re-invigorated prison-movie conventions. Working from Sicario writer Taylor Sheridan’s snappy script, he keeps his form up in this US foray, a richly characterised and wryly stinging neo-western.
At its heart sits the ties between two pairs of men: bank-robbing siblings Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) plus the cops giving pursuit, Marcus (Jeff Bridges) and partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham).
Even if you know this won’t end well, a point achingly underlined by Nick Cave/Warren Ellis’s weeping score, the cast cuff our focus close. Bridges makes barbed work of the craggily intuitive, racially insensitive ranger; Pine, meanwhile, shows unexpected soul as the life-weathered brother to Foster’s fiery sociopath.
If these criminal bros command empathy, it’s with good reason. Poverty, property issues and corrupt banking practices motivate their actions, lending modern substance to timeless narrative pitches. The pay-off is our immersion in the heart-in-mouth climax, where a tense shoot-out comes accompanied by a quieter one-on-one: just right for a thriller so rich in dread, depth and detail.
THE VERDICT: Mackenzie goes western in satisfying style, while Bridges, Pine and Foster bring true grit to Sheridan’s tight script.
Director: David Mackenzie; Starring: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham; Theatrical release: September 9, 2016
After Exodus: Gods And Kings, Hollywood’s latest attempt to resurrect the Biblical epic streamlines its source material to death. Ramming teasing glimpses of the fast’n’furious chariot race up front, Wanted director Timur Bekmambetov stresses spectacle over subtext – and, effectively, leaves the cast floundering fast.
With the 1959 version’s enlivening homoerotic intrigues dampened, Jack Huston struggles with pared-to-the-bone scripting as the titular Jewish prince warring with adopted brother Messala (Toby Kebbell). In perfunctory support, Morgan Freeman (racing guru) and Rodrigo Santoro (Christ) phone in staid gospels.
“Give them a show,” Freeman advises: and Bekmambetov’s CGI-powered death-race centrepiece complies. But the build-up is so under-nourished, you wind up caring more about the horses than the characters.
Director: Timur Bekmambetov; Starring: Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Morgan Freema; Theatrical release: September 9, 2016
Evil Dead remaker Fede Alvarez keeps the Karo Syrup bottled for this home-invasion horror-thriller about a reclusive Blind Man (Stephen Lang) who turns the tables on three thieving teens. A suspenseful game of cat-and-mouse develops where a creaky floorboard is the difference between life and death. Lang makes an intimidating antagonist, but a silly final act ends things on a sour note
Director: Fede Alvarez; Starring: Jane Levy, Stephen Lang, Dylan Minnette; Theatrical release: September 9, 2016
Theo and Hugo
Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau’s film starts with nearly 20 minutes of explicit gay sex. But as our two protagonists (Geoffrey Couët, François Nambot) exit a Parisian club in the early morning, we’re into something different: the forging of an intense, fraught but gentle love affair. Playing out in real time, Theo and Hugo offers a warm, frank, unexpectedly romantic view of relationships today.
Directors: Olivier Ducastel, Jacques Martineau; Starring: Geoffrey Couët, François Nambot; Theatrical release: September 9, 2016
Based on a 1941 plot to kill Hitler’s third-in-command, Sean Ellis’ film stars Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan as Allied soldiers in Nazi-occupied Prague on a suicide mission. Ellis has a real flair for action – the assassination scene is heart-stopping – but patchy accents, strange pacing and an overstretched budget nearly scupper proceedings. Shame, because there are moments of chilling beauty.
Director: Sean Ellis; Starring: Cillian Murphy, Jamie Dornan, Toby Jones; Theatrical release: September 9, 2016
The Blue Room
Actor/director Mathieu Amalric’s brisk adap of Georges Simenon’s 1964 novella of infidelity gets a belated release. Amalric plays Julien, a married man having an affair with a married woman (Amalric’s real-life partner/ co-adaptor Stéphanie Cléau). He’s also, it emerges, being questioned for an unspecified crime… Amalric jigsaws the pieces, conjuring a taut, tense air of Chabrol as he does.
Director: Mathieu Amalric; Starring: Mathieu Amalric, Léa Drucker, Stéphanie Cléau; Theatrical release: September 9, 2016
The Man Who Fell to Earth
This release of Nicolas Roeg’s 1976 sci-fi sees the late David Bowie in his first lead role. The Thin White Duke (at his thinnest and whitest) is Thomas, the ethereal E.T. seeking water for his drought-stricken planet. Conveying a (sur) real sense of what sex, religion and TV would look like through alien eyes, it’s ambitious, artful and unique. As for Bowie… what a star, man.
Director: Nicolas Roeg; Starring: David Bowie, Rip Torn, Candy Clark; Theatrical release: September 9, 2016
The Land of the Enlightened
Pieter-Jan De Pue’s dazzling semi-doco follows a band of Afghan children as they roam their pitiless, beautiful country amid the detritus of Cold War and US conflict. We see them trading bullets for opium, harvesting poppies and setting off explosives as if they were fireworks – while US troops shoot it out in the hills. A unique, stunning window to an extreme world.
Director: Pieter-Jan De Pue; Starring: Gholam Nasir, Khyrgyz Baj, Noor; Theatrical release: September 9, 2016