Out on Friday October 13
A Shaw Brothers-influenced Lego movie. The first ever fully painted film. Rafe Spall has a bad trip. A spry comedy of manners from Sally Potter. A horror skewering the nightmare of dating.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of The Lego Ninjago Movie, Loving Vincent, The Snowman, The Ritual, The Party, Double Date, 6 Below, and Hellraiser: 30th Anniversary.
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The Lego Ninjago Movie
It’s both amusing and ironic that a key scene in The Lego Ninjago Movie, the third film in as many years to showcase Denmark’s expansive line in children’s construction toys, should take place in ‘The Temple of Fragile Foundations’.
Because this latest attempt to cash in on the minifigures, interlocking bricks and other plastic paraphernalia behind this global success story is indeed on shaky ground, with neither the novelty of 2014’s The Lego Movie or the familiarity factor of this year’s The Lego Batman Movie to save it from tottering.
That’s not to say there isn’t much to enjoy in this tale of a put-upon high-schooler (voiced by Dave Franco) whose ninja alter ego helps him deal with the ignominy of being the son of his city’s most persistent assailant (volcano-owning baddie Garmadon, voiced by Justin Theroux with more than a suggestion of Will Arnett’s Dark Knight).
Having established the ‘Ninjago’ universe, however – a pan-Asian chop suey of Chinese, Japanese and Korean influences, lent semi-legitimacy by the presence of Jackie Chan in both a Gremlins-style live-action prologue and as the voice of beard-stroking sensei Master Wu – the film quickly runs out of both ideas and steam, despite having three directors and no fewer than six credited scriptwriters calling its shots.
TLNM opens strongly with an all-out attack on Ninjago City that’s fended off by Franco’s Lloyd and his five ninja buddies, each of whom has the power of a different element (water, fire, lightning etc) to draw on in a clinch.
When Lloyd’s use of an “ultimate weapon” results in a new menace coming to town, however, he’s forced to team up with Garmadon to find a solution – at which point the film ceases being a tongue-in-cheek parody of Tokyo-stomping monster movies and becomes a sappy story of father-son reconciliation, complete with sudsy flashbacks and plenty of hugs and learning. Imagine the Buzz-Zurg subplot from Toy Story 2 (“Good throw, son!”) drawn out to feature length and you’ve basically got the idea.
The meticulous detail you expect from a Lego movie is certainly much in evidence: scenes involving mass destruction, mighty ‘mechs’ and fleeing civilians make you wish your cinema seat came with a freeze-frame or slow-motion control. (This extends to a Shaw brothers-style opening credits sequence and a montage at the end showing all the times Mr. Chan got a stunt wrong.)
Yet there’s no escaping the fact that TLNM isn’t as funny, engaging or conceptually coherent as its predecessors, resulting in a product you’d be tempted to put back in the box and return to the shop once the initial thrill has waned.
THE VERDICT: Tots will enjoy, but there’s no denying the pieces don’t quite click together. Best giant moggy since The Goodies, mind.
Directors: Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan; Starring: Dave Franco, Olivia Munn, Justin Theroux, Jackie Chan; Theatrical release: October 13, 2017
An animated film like no other, Loving Vincent is a staggering visual achievement. Directed by Hugh Welchman and Dorota Kobiela, this unique project cunningly weaves a story about Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh using some 130 of his paintings and the characters within them as inspirations. Its 65,000 frames were rendered with oil paints by more than 100 artists to create a living, breathing canvas.
Set a year after his death, the story is a murder-mystery as Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), a regular sitter for van Gogh, investigates the final days of the painter. Travelling to Auvers-sur-Oise in France, where van Gogh died of a (possibly) self-inflicted gunshot, Roulin talks to characters famed from his paintings – including Dr. Gachet (Jerome Flynn) and his daughter (Saoirse Ronan).
Keeping van Gogh (Robert Gulaczyk) in the shadows as Roulin questions why the artist would take his own life, the conspiracy theories are interesting only to a point. Likewise, the contemporary flashes of dialogue and incongruous accents grate. But as you’re immersed in van Gogh’s tortured existence, the cumulative effect is melancholic and moving. Hugely impressive.
THE VERDICT: Despite dialogue and accent issues, this is a breathtaking homage to van Gogh. There has never been a film like it.
Directors: Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman; Starring: Jerome Flynn, Saoirse Ronan, Aidan Turner; Theatrical release: October 13, 2017
All the signs pointed to a hit chiller: great cast, a director with fantastic form and a celebrated Jo Nesbø novel to draw from. So it’s a huge shame, then, that The Snowman is a bit grey and slushy when it should have been cool and crisp.
Michael Fassbender plays down-on-his-luck detective Harry Hole, a gifted investigator whose struggles with alcoholism mean he’s frequently found passed out on the snowy pavements of Oslo. His latest case involves the disappearances of several women, and the mysterious snowmen left at the scene of each crime.
But despite the gravitas that Fassbender brings, we’re never really shown what makes Hole a remarkable detective. Rebecca Ferguson is similarly engaging as Hole’s new partner, but she’s let down by a faintly ludicrous backstory. And if the variety of supporting accents don’t distract you, Val Kilmer’s odd cameo will surely pull you out of the moment.
The three credited screenwriters never quite make the central mystery truly gripping or satisfying. Director Tomas Alfredson has previously delivered bold genre reinventions, but The Snowman feels more stilted than stylised, with the killer’s calling card raising more titters than shivers. The final scene hints at expansion, but it’s hard not to imagine that this potential franchise will be put on ice.
THE VERDICT: This intro to a new big-screen detective never quite gels, despite Fassbender’s best efforts. Too unremarkable to leave you anything but cold.
Director: Tomas Alfredson; Starring: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Val Kilmer; Theatrical release: October 13, 2017
The key to crossover horror is that you care enough about the characters to follow them anywhere. And that’s where The Ritual really works. Recalling The Descent in its keen grasp of group dynamics, this wilderness chiller from David Bruckner (The Signal, VHS), adapted by Joe Barton from Adam Nevill’s novel, simply doesn’t put a foot wrong.
Too old for Ibiza and too young – just – for brunch, former uni friends Rafe Spall, Robert James-Collier and gang are planning a lads’ holiday when tragedy strikes. In penance, they end up hiking in northern Sweden. “This is awful in every conceivable way,” complains Sam Troughton.
But they don’t know the half of it. Soon they’re lost in the woods, with gutted animals hanging from the trees. When they stumble upon a deserted hut, Phil (Arsher Ali) pipes up, “Well, this is clearly the house we get murdered in.”
While the film’s fantastic elements are painstakingly established (with some pretty beautiful SFX), the characters’ simmering relationships are just as compelling. The cast are great, particularly James-Collier and the haunted Spall. And, as with all the best horror films, you could lose the horror element and still be hooked. But then, why would you want to do a thing like that?
THE VERDICT: Entertaining, engrossing and at times genuinely unnerving, Bruckner’s bad trip is one for horror fans to relish.
Director: David Bruckner; Starring: Rafe Spall, Robert James-Collier, Arsher Ali; Theatrical release: October 13, 2017
Filmed in just 14 days, British writer-director Sally Potter’s spry comedy of manners unfolds over the course of a farcical evening at the home of a politician (Kristin Scott Thomas), who’s celebrating her ministerial promotion with her husband (Timothy Spall) and friends.
Enjoyably acted by a fine ensemble cast, it crisply skewers the hypocrisies of its left-liberal, middle-class characters.
Director: Sally Potter; Starring: Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones; Theatrical release: October 13, 2017
Comedy and horror don’t always get past first base, but debut director Benjamin Barfoot and actor/writer Danny Morgan are capable match-makers in this hilarious skewering of lads-on-the-pull culture.
Morgan plays virgin Jim, set up by Alex (Michael Socha) with sexy sisters – but when Lulu (Georgia Groome) and Kitty’s (Kelly Wenham) intentions become clear, the dream becomes a ’mare.
Director: Benjamin Barfoot; Starring: Danny Morgan, Georgia Groome, Michael Socha; Theatrical release: October 13, 2017
Scott Waugh’s (Need for Speed) survival film/faith flick stars Josh Hartnett as real-life Olympian Eric LeMarque, who in 2004 spent eight days lost in the frozen Californian wilds.
Despite some appealing lensing and an edgier tone than a lot of Christian dramas (nudity, swearing, and in one memorable moment, self-cannibalism), this is a movie with zero subtext and even less subtlety.
Director: Scott Waugh; Starring: Josh Hartnett, Mira Sorvino, Sarah Dumont; Theatrical release: October 13, 2017
Hellraiser: 30th Anniversary
Clive Barker’s feature debut gets a digital restoration and will also tour in an original 35mm print. Beneath the spectacular gore unleashed by Pinhead (Doug Bradley) and his Cenobite chums is real meat: moral ambiguity, S&M fetish play, heaven and hell.
Some of the FX haven’t aged well, and nine more Hellraiser movies flayed the franchise, but this is a key ’80s horror.
Director: Clive Barker; Starring: Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence; Theatrical release: October 13, 2017