Out on Friday 24 March
James Gray’s visually lush jungle adventure. Kleber Mendonça Filho 5-star Brazilian drama. Jenny Gage’s dreamy coming-of-age documentary.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of The Lost City of Z, Power Rangers, Aquarius, Life, The Age of Shadows, All This Panic, The Eyes of My Mother, Another Mother’s Son, CHiPs, and All Governments Lie.
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The Lost City of Z
Anyone missing Indy could get their explorer fix from this engaging jungle adventure, featuring undiscovered treasure and close calls with indigenous people. Only this is less a Boy’s Own romp, more an elegant study of endurance and obsession, based on real events.
In fact, it’s thought the intrepid cartographer followed here, Percy Fawcett, inspired the creation of the famous Fedora-wearer – it’s easy to understand the fascination based on James Gray’s (We Own the Night, Two Lovers) evocative, immersive biopic.
We meet Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) in 1905 at a crossroads: a capable colonel in the British Army hamstrung by what an elitist old fart describes as an “unfortunate choice of ancestors”. To progress, he takes a two-year Royal Geographical Society (RGS) expedition to map the Bolivia-Brazil border, leaving his patient missus (Sienna Miller, radiant) behind and teaming up with a wookiee-like fellow cartographer, Costin (Robert Pattinson and his immense beard).
The punishing journey, both mentally and physically, is heaven/hell – complete with horrific piranha attacks, starvation, terrifying tribal run-ins and a bonkers fever dream of an opera in the middle of the jungle. And this odyssey is the nucleus of Fawcett’s lifelong passion for finding evidence of a lost civilisation he calls ‘Z’, as well as the push-pull between family life and the call of the Amazon.
Charting Fawcett’s heroic adventures over several expeditions, his involvement in WW1 and his spats with the stuffy RGS, Z muses on themes of elitism, patrimony, gender equality and destiny, via Gray’s poignant screenplay and Darius Khondji’s truly beautiful cinematography.
Aside from niggles that characters discuss world events with a knowing prescience (“There could be another war…”), Z guides viewers on their own journey through exhilaration, trepidation, wonderment and ultimately, faith.
Key to that arc is the triumvirate of Hunnam (exuding decency and charisma from every pore), Pattinson (bringing wry comedic timing and the voice of sanity to proceedings) and Miller, once again giving great wife (see American Sniper, Foxcatcher). The fact she’s a fully developed character, that family sacrifice and the resentment fostered by absentee fathers is given as much credence as the derdoing, provides refreshing modernism.
The result is an emotionally satisfying experience – and one that’ll have you googling Fawcett as soon as the lights are up. It’s those nuances of script and performance that also ensure the devastating impact of the ambiguous, beautiful finale, a sequence with Hunnam as rhapsodical as any Malick movie and a final shot with Miller that’s both haunting and strangely uplifting.
THE VERDICT: With lush visuals, intelligent performances and a lingering lyricism, this is an instant classic that cements Hunnam’s star power.
Director: James Gray; Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna miller, Angus Macfadyen, Tom Holland; Theatrical release: March 24, 2017
There’s a fundamental misjudgement at the heart of Power Rangers, the latest franchise wannabe. It takes a property that could never be cool to anyone over the age of 12, and stuffs it to the gills with Breakfast Club-style teen angst. It’s impossible to fathom who it’s actually aimed at: too dull for kids seeking superhero thrills, too lame for anyone who might actually be in a position to relate to its protagonists.
The borderline-edgy leads comprise fallen sports hero Jason (Zac Efronalike Dacre Montgomery), “on the spectrum” Billy (Me & Earl’s RJ Cyler), ostracised cool girl Kimberly (Naomi Scott), surly Trini (Becky G.) and Zack (Ludi Lin), whose characterisation extends to having a sick mother.
Jason, Billy and Kimberly meet in Saturday detention, crossing paths with the others at the site where Zordon (Bryan Cranston) – one of the original prehistoric alien Rangers from the Cenozoic era – buried crystals that’ll give the new chosen ones powers.
Reincarnated as a disembodied mentor, Cranston suffers the indignity of acting through a lousy visual effect that’s basically a large-scale version of those pin-art contraptions you pressed your face into as a kid. As well as receiving trite nuggets of mentor wisdom, the gang’s training only really covers performing suplexes.
It’s not entirely without merit. Director Dean Israelite (Project Almanac) flaunts visual panache with a spinning 360-degree view from inside a car during a chase, while the team of photogenic outcasts aren’t entirely charmless, with Cyler getting most of the laughs.
It also takes commendable baby steps towards being a more progressive superhero film, and includes a casual reference to one character’s non-heterosexuality. But any potential warmth is derailed with some misfiring decisions, including two-too-many wanking gags and an act of revenge porn that’s shrugged off as character building.
For viewers of a certain age, there will possibly be pangs of involuntary nostalgia when (finally) it’s morphin’ time: like the TV series, there’s a cheap-looking fight in a quarry. But by this point, it’s hard to feel invested in the stakes.
Elizabeth Banks’ hammy baddie Rita Repulsa feels like she’s been transplanted from an entirely different, younger-skewing film, and the mythology feels not so much half-baked as raw. When the indistinguishable Zords assemble for some sub-par Bayhem, the budget VFX struggle to conjure much excitement.
It’s a meh climax to a reboot that feels misguided: when your film has such egregious product placement that Krispy Kreme becomes the source of all power in the universe, the buck has to stop somewhere.
THE VERDICT: A handful of sparky leads can’t help this superhero reboot find an appropriate tone. No no, Power Rangers.
Director: Dean Israelite; Starring: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Becky G., Ludi Lin, Elizabeth Banks, Bryan Cranston, Bill Hader; Theatrical release: March 24, 2017
When property developers target Aquarius, the beloved seaside apartment building of retired music critic and cancer survivor Clara (Sonia Braga), she refuses to move. As fellow tenants, and Clara’s own family, get antsy about missing their big payday, the developers begin a campaign of psychological – and surreal – intimidation to force Clara to change her mind.
A major talking point in its native Brazil, Kleber Mendonça Filho’s follow-up to Neighbouring Sounds (2012) packs a punch beyond its controversial critique of how greed and gentrification have usurped community values. That’s chiefly down to a career-best Braga (Kiss of the Spider Woman), whose fearless turn as a pensionable social-justice warrior is riveting.
The film looks and feels like a disquieting thriller, with lurid imagery of orgies and infestations, and an oppressive sound design that lends a siege mentality to proceedings. Trouble is, nobody’s told Clara this is meant to be a bleak, Michael Haneke-esque genre workout. With an unquenchable, devil-may-care spirit, she steadies the tension, restores her pride, and takes back control.
For all the film’s asides about a corrupt, divided society, there’s an optimism to Clara’s stubborn defence. Through the story’s languid drift, Mendonça accumulates so many details of Aquarius’ history – as a place to live, love and laugh – that you won’t want it destroyed, either.
THE VERDICT: A timely, inspiring parable of protest, directed with sinewy style and driven by Braga’s rock-solid lead performance.
Director: Kleber Mendonça Filho; Starring: Sonia Braga, Maeve Jinkings, Irandhir Santos; Theatrical release: March 24, 2017
“That’s some Re-Animator shit!” declares Ryan Reynolds’ mouthy merc, sorry mechanic, Roy, when a team of six scientists in an orbiting space station prod a mollusc from Mars to life, while the other crew members (Jake Gyllenhaal’s world-weary war vet, Rebecca Ferguson’s pragmatist, Ariyon Bakare’s naive lab rat) coo at its ‘beauty’ and look at him blankly.
Though he’s cinema-savvy, Roy’s clearly not seen Alien, which would have certainly helped in some of the decision-making that goes awry from the moment the organism, nicknamed ‘Calvin’, starts growing at an alarming rate and is described with awe as literally being “all muscle and brain”. Yep, better be shit-hot on that quarantine procedure…
There’s no getting around that Deadpool writers Reese and Wernick are indebted to Ridley Scott’s space game-changer, from premise to unfolding death-lottery and physically invasive offings. And the fact that Scott’s incoming re-animation of the franchise looks like it’ll follow all the same beats makes Life seem largely surplus to requirement.
But in the hands of an accomplished cast (Gyllenhaal brings particular pathos), nimble scriptwriters (neither dumb nor Solaris portentous) and Daniel Espinosa’s (Safe House) brisk, taut direction, Life nips along with enough suffocating tenseness and bleak twists within an arse-friendly running time to ensure its validity.
THE VERDICT No huge surprises but finely tuned and fun, like the love-child of Gravity and Alien, with added popcorn.
Director: Daniel Espinosa; Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson; Theatrical release: March 24, 2017
The Age of Shadows
Inventive action and tangled morals are the keynotes of this thriller, set in Japanese-occupied 1920s Korea. Lee Jung-chool (Song Kang-ho) is a Korean-born Japanese cop sent to infiltrate pro-independence agitators.
Twists and betrayals add spice to a familiar cat-and-mouse tale, while director Kim Jee-woon handles spectacle and drama with equal aplomb.
Director: Jee-woon Kim; Starring: Byung-hun Lee, Yoo Gong, Kang-ho Song; Theatrical release: March 24, 2017
All This Panic
Shot over a three-year period, this fleet-footed coming-of-age documentary from debut director Jenny Gage follows the lives of a group of middle-class teenage girls in Brooklyn, as they navigate their way from adolescence to adulthood.
Avoiding the pitfalls of prurience and sensationalism, this dreamily photographed film reveals its young subjects to be vibrant and articulate individuals.
Director: Jenny Gage; Theatrical release: March 24, 2017
The Eyes of My Mother
Caught between art cinema and torture porn, debut writer/director Nicolas Pesce’s B&W horror stars Kika Magalhaes as a young woman who cuts out people’s eyes then keeps them as pets.
Immaculately poised but almost completely pointless, it moves from chin-strokingly pretentious to profoundly depressing. Only one scene with a baby haunts both mind and retina.
Director: Nicolas Pesce; Starring: Kika Magalhaes, Will Bill, Clara Wong, Flora Diaz; Theatrical release: March 24, 2017
Another Mother’s Son
This WW2 drama finds a fresh angle: it’s set in Jersey, the only British territory to fall to the Germans. The solemn score, plucky Brits and nasty Nazis are all familiar, but there’s a lived-in feel that transcends cliché.
Meanwhile, its tale of Lou (Jenny Seagrove) welcoming an escaped Russian prisoner (Julian Kostov) is pertinent in these refugee-wary times.
Director: Christopher Menaul; Starring: Jenny Seagrove, John Hannah, Julian Kostov, Ronan Keating; Theatrical release: March 24, 2017
The target audience for this infantile action-comedy, written, directed by and starring Dax Shepard has probably never seen the original ’70s-’80s TV show about California motorcycle cops.
Not that it matters, with nostalgia giving way to crotch humour as Shepard’s ex-dirt-bike star and Michael Peña’s undercover agent smoke out LAPD corruption. All hot wheels and dick jokes, it’s fun but forgettable.
Director: Dax Shephard; Starring: Michael Peña, Dax Shephard; Theatrical release: March 24, 2017
All Governments Lie
This doc exposes mainstream-media collusion with porky-telling politicians, while celebrating the rare reporters who evoke the spirit of I.F. Stone, a journo who unearthed hard facts for seven decades by chasing truth, not ratings.
The Vietnam War, Iraq, Mexican immigrants found in unmarked graves, Trump… It’s fascinating stuff, if all a little rushed.
Director: Fred Peabody; Theatrical release: March 24, 2017