Out on Friday 14 August
Amy Schumer teams up with Judd Apatow. Simon Pegg joins a sort of Monty Python reunion. Greta Gerwig is kooky step-sister in a kooky adventure. Yes, heres this weeks new releases. Click on for our reviews of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Trainwreck, Absolutely Anything, Mistress America, Precinct Seven Five, Unity, Captain Webb, Pleasure Island, Theeb and The Confessions Of Thomas Quick. For the best movie reviews, subscribe to Total Film (opens in new tab).
THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.
Things could get kind of messy, end of the world, you know, warns spy Napoleon Solo early on in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. They're apt words for a film that busily jets around the globe while chucking in car chases, femme fatales, Nazi scientists, clashing anti-heroes, a nuclear bomb and more innuendo than you can shake a meat truncheon at. Oh, and it all takes place in the 1960s, so trippy fashion, low-fi tech and retro automobiles are also added to the mix. Yes, things get kind of messy in Guy Ritchie's long-in-the-making TV update, but thanks to the Brit director's clear love of vintage Bond, the manic hodgepodge is often accompanied by winning nod-winks to the golden era of spy thrillers. We kick off in 1963 East Berlin, where CIA Agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) enlists the help of German auto mechanic Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) in tracking down her missing father, Dr Udo Teller, who was Hitler's favourite rocket scientist. When they're busted by Russian KGB Agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), the pair manage to escape over the Berlin wall, only for Solo to discover he's been partnered with Kuryakin to take down an international crime organisation hell-bent on trashing the world with nuclear weaponry. Naturally, the pairing doesn't go down well with these alpha males, and the next 100 minutes finds the traditional enemies squabbling over game-plans, testing each other's limits, and grappling with the very real possibility that either could double cross the other at any moment. If Ritchie's (Sherlock Holmes films were optimistic buddy movies, U.N.C.L.E. (short for United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) is the anti-buddy movie. It's an enticing prospect, especially as the film imagines an origins story for Solo and Kuryakin that the '60s TV series (starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum) never bothered with. The problem is, (Sherlock had Robert Downey Jr., and U.N.C.L.E. doesn't. So while Cavill and Hammer are capable action men, the tight-wound rivalry doesn't always work. Cavill's blue-eyed and uber-coiffed, his Superman physique straining inside tailored suits, but he's little more than GI Joe crossed with 007, his art thief backstory acknowledged then dismissed. Meanwhile, Hammer's Red Peril, as Solo calls him, is prone to rages and can take out an entourage of armed cops without breaking a sweat even though he's sort of dressed like Del Boy. Your balls are at the end of a very long leash held by a very short man, he growls at Solo. The pair's tug-of-war is played for laughs early on see cute running gags about their fashion sense and competing tech but a lot of the quips feel stiff as an iron curtain, and it's unclear if some of the wobbly banter (I'll take top, you take bottom) is knowingly homoerotic or just a little bit lame. It's a relief, then, when the film's first-half preoccupation with OTT action and double entendre mellows into a more subdued and interesting paranoid thriller a holdover, perhaps, from Steven Soderbergh's pass at the script in 2012. It's here that the relationship between the duo shows any real edge, and builds to a surprisingly poignant moment involving a wristwatch. Not that this is a film particularly interested in edge. Ritchie who has a co-writing credit for the first time since 2008's (RocknRolla prefers the gold-hued kitsch of '60s Bond to the Cold War paranoia of (The Ipcress File or (The Manchurian Candidate. He revels in the period detail (split-screen, Nina Simone on the soundtrack), and it's a canny move to locate U.N.C.L.E. in the same period as the original show, setting it apart from franchises like (Bourne, (Mission: Impossible and even contemporary Bond. There are times Ritchie's film really feels like it's been sprung from a time capsule witness a remote mansion segment steeped in browns and burnt orange. Elsewhere, an underused Jared Harris as Solo's handler seems to have stepped off the set of (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, grumbling his lines (Inside every Kraut there's an American trying to get out) and emboldening some of the film's best scenes including a lovely moment in which every person in a busy lakeside cafe gets up and leaves at the same time he does. Meanwhile, Hugh Grant is a jovial addition as the titular Man, clearly having fun doing something different, though like Harris and the hugely likeable Vikander, he's ultimately little more than window dressing. Coming in the wake of battier Bond hat-tip (Kingsman: The Secret Service and just two months ahead of (SPECTRE The Man From U.N.C.L.E. can feel oddly tame. While it lacks a memorable villain, and the central pairing fizzes but never sparks, the film gets by on its vintage charm and a third act upswing and, for all its messiness, it'd be a shame not to see Solo and Kuryakin rutting horns again. THE VERDICT: When it takes a breather from the OTT action, Ritchie's period caper revels in double (and triple) crosses, Cold War intrigue and vintage kicks. Fun, but not quite the old-school Bond it wants to be. Director: Guy Ritchie Starring: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Hugh Grant, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Jared Harris Theatrical release: 14 August 2015 Josh Winning
If you hadnt heard of Amy Schumer pre-2015, it wouldnt have been a pop culture faux-pas. Now, shes grown in popularity to the point where barely a week goes by without one of her sketch-show clips going viral. And as soon as she was tapped up to write and headline Judd Apatows latest, superstardom was pretty much a given. Its hardly surprising that the comedy kingpin gravitated towards Schumer: like him, she blends crude, gross-out gags with acute observations and moments of vulnerability. And where Apatow often casts his own wife and kids in his films, Schumer similarly puts her life on screen, her sketch-show persona a heightened version of herself, also named Amy. In Trainwreck she again plays Amy, a magazine journalist enjoying a monogamy- free lifestyle in New York. A prologue sets up Amys philandering fathers excuses as the cornerstones of her attitudes, but who cares? Shes enjoying her life, career and sexual freedom. When shes assigned to profile sports doctor Aaron Connors (Bill Hader), a relationship blossoms and she starts to question her commitment phobia. The film is at its funniest during the first half when Schumer unapologetically cuts loose. Theres filthy dialogue and racy humour aplenty, not least between Amy and her semi-regular fling Steven (WWEs John Cena). A foulmouthed force of nature and likeable with it, Schumer also has decent dramatic chops. Threatening to steal the show from under her is basketball player LeBron James, happily skewering his image by playing himself as a Downton Abbey superfan, and an unrecognisable Tilda Swinton is sensational as Amys ghastly editor. Like Schumers sketch show, Trainwreck is peppered with great moments, but some jokes work better on paper. The second half is less satisfying, as Amy and Aarons budding relationship hits the rocks according to standard-issue romcom formula, and the tone becomes uncomfortably judgemental of Amys previous ways. And as with all Apatow films, its simply too long given its on such a predictable path: losing 20 minutes might have alleviated the dips for a steadier stream of laughs. The pace picks up for the final act, with a painfully hilarious sequence involving Ezra Millers intern, and a glorious, grin-inducing feelgood climax thatll leave you beaming. Once that feeling wears off though, youre left with the disappointment of such a bold, interesting character going down such a conventional route. THE VERDICT: Amy Schumer is a force to be reckoned with but despite some belly laughs Trainwreck doesnt quite transcend the romcom formula like the best of the genre. Director: Judd Apatow Starring: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, LeBron James, Tilda Swinton Theatrical release: 14 August 2015 Matt Maytum
With great power comes total irresponsibility, learns jaded schoolteacher Neil (Simon Pegg) when he is granted God-like powers. Its a lesson played out with glee in Terry Jones charmingly silly Britcom, but one the Monty Python veteran should perhaps should have heeded himself: with a fantastically talented supported cast at his disposal, the director neglects his duty to set them free to allow them to create something far funnier. Semi-delivering on its promise of reuniting the Pythons on screen, Absolutely Anything has them voicing the cartoonishly CGI-ed Intergalactic Council: a group of bickering aliens who set out to determine the worthiness of the human race by granting one randomly chosen person the power to make anything they wish come true. If they use this ability for good, Earth can join the ranks of the Council; but if the power is used selfishly, the planet will be destroyed. And so it falls to Peggs hapless loner Neil Clarke to unwittingly decide the fate of humankind, something that seems far less secure once Neil discovers his new gift and immediately uses it to get closer to his neighbour Catherine (Kate Beckinsale) and to give his dog Dennis the voice of Robin Williams. Theres fun to be had watching Neil bumble his way through the unfortunate consequences of his magical mischief not least when his wishes end up being interpreted slightly too literally (Give me the body of a great man, Neil says, shortly before transforming into... Albert Einstein). Throughout, Pegg is on fine form, with exaggerated reactions and comic exasperation all dialled up to levels that meet the films audaciously absurd plot. Sadly, while Beckinsale is commendably committed as Neils bemused love interest, other big-name co-stars get short thrift. Robin Williams in particular with this being sold as his final film, its sad to see a comic genius end his career with more of a good-hearted chuckle than an uproarious belly laugh. Voicing Neils suddenly cognizant and articulate pooch Dennis, Williams offers some of the best scenes, but it always feels like the great improviser is being forced to stick to the script rather than being allowed off the leash (so to speak). As such, its all on Pegg and his goofy charisma to keep things moving. He may not be omnipotent, but hes gifted enough to save the day. THE VERDICT: Pegg works wonders, but youll wish the concept had been pushed further, that there was more to the Pythons reunion and that Robin Williams had found a funnier swansong. Director: Terry Jones Starring: Simon Pegg, Kate Beckinsale, Robin Williams, Rob Riggle, Sanjeev Bhaskar Theatrical release: 14 August 2015 Matt Looker
Rarely has a film promised so much and delivered so little. Appealing to retro-gamers who grew up on arcade staples like Pac-Man and Space Invaders think Independence Day crossed with those 80s coin-op classics Pixels is all high concept and hot air. A race of attack-minded aliens decides to invade Earth after intercepting a time capsule blasted into space back in 1982; inside were some of the aforementioned games, seen by these E.T.s as a declaration of war. The aliens shape-shift into giant, marauding game characters, challenging humanity to a winner-takes-the-planet contest. Manning our defenses is one Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler, in major autopilot mode), a flatscreen TV installer who, back in the day, was the master at videogames. Hes called to arms by his old pal Will Cooper (Kevin James), who happens to have risen from watching his friend play Donkey Kong to, er, President of the United States. Yes, Paul Blart: Mall Cop is now leader of the free world, a notion thats so ridiculous, its almost funny. Except it isnt. Joined by geeky friend Ludlow (Josh Gad), Brenner is soon blasting giant Centipedes from the sky while trying to romance Lt. Col Violet Van Patten (Michelle Monaghan), one of several two-dimensional military types (Brian Cox, Sean Bean) barely fleshing out the background. Also joining the fight is Brenners childhood gamer-rival Eddie Plant (Peter Dinklage). Armed with a mullet, a self-appointed nickname (the Fire Blaster) and lines like, Its totally tubular, hes the films saving grace. From the arrival of Q*bert to the sight of a giant Pac-Man chomping New York, director Chris Columbus smoothly integrates the visuals, even if these pixilated characters of old rather jar with their sleek surroundings. Theres a neat idea involving the aliens communicating via old videos (Hall and Oates, Fantasy Island, Madonna), but it turns what was meant to be a nostalgic look at old-school games into a lazy free-for-all blitz on 80s pop culture. THE VERDICT: Any goodwill generated by all the 80s callbacks is soon zapped away, leaving a witless mess that gives geeks a bad name. Director: Chris Columbus Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Brian Cox, Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage Theatrical release: 12 August 2015 James Mottram
Writer/director Noah Baumbach is mellowing into middle age, his recent pictures (Frances Ha, While Were Young) infused with more warmth and laughs than his earlier, bleaker work (The Squid And The Whale, Margot At The Wedding). Hes also beginning to tip his hat to cinematic forebears as surely as Ben Stiller tilts his trilby in While Were Young: Woody Allen and the French New Wave have been major influences of late, and now, in Mistress America, hes fashioned a screwball comedy built around a glorious performance from Greta Gerwig. Also not bad at all is Lola Kirke (the trailer-trash woman in the motel in Gone Girl), here playing a freshman student, Tracy, who aspires to be a writer. Upon the advice of her soon-to-be-remarried mom (Kathryn Erbe), Tracy hooks up with Brooke (Gerwig), her stepsister-to-be, and the pair connect as they ricochet through the New York night or rather Tracy is in awe of Brookes crazed energy and the older woman feeds off the admiration. Events escalate towards an extended showdown in one location that also involves a small crowd of supporting players buzzing in and out, with Baumbach hitting the farce-forward button. Its all rather affected and there can be no doubting that Brooke is just too perfect a kook in her carefully crafted follies and foibles unable to enter her loft apartment through the front door, she must repeatedly climb out of her neighbours window to clamber up the fire escape but its all beautifully played. And, crucially, Baumbach and Gerwig dont forget to keep a finger on the emotional pulse. Even better, this is a film centred on two women that dont behave like every other woman written by men in Hollywood. Mistress America might cleave to an established sub-genre and be very much a writers creation, but theres no telling where these leading ladies are heading or how theyll get there. THE VERDICT: Heart-racing stuff, this is a doc that plays more like a thriller. It may make you feel queasy, but youll be hard-pressed to tear your eyes away. Director: Noah Baumbach Starring: Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke, Heather Lind, Kathryn Erbe Theatrical release: 14 August 2015 Jamie Graham
PRECINCT SEVEN FIVE
Addictive from first til last, Tiller Russells documentary dishes an extraordinary tale of unbridled police corruption. Chief culprit and the movies main motor is Michael Dowd, an NYPD officer so brazen, bad lieutenant barely covers it. The film begins with Dowd at the Mollen Commission, set up back in 1992 to investigate corruption in Brooklyns 75th Precinct. Already regarded as a hotbed for crime in New York City, with Dowd on the beat, it soon got worse. As he admits in front of the panel, his crimes theft, extortion, drug trafficking numbered into the hundreds. Largely using fresh to-camera interviews, Russell builds up a potent picture of how an ordinary cop became so corrupt he was pocketing $4,000 a week on the payroll of a local drug kingpin. A crook who ended up wearing a cops uniform, as were told, Dowd didnt do it alone, of course. His partner Kenny Eurell, reluctantly at first, gradually became lured into this world of shame. Others along the way included the violent ex-cop Walter Yurkiw and Henry Chicky Guevara, who wisely resigned from the 75th before things got out of control. Then there was Adam Diaz, the dealer with whom Dowd was in cahoots (and who appears in the film like a vision of pure evil). But the star is undoubtedly Dowd himself, who appears entirely unremorseful for his wealth-building crimes. Director Russell who keeps the pace ticking like a time bomb does seem to admire this crooked boy in blue (and his associates) a little too much; as such Precinct Seven Five is arguably guilty of glorifying its subjects. Despite or maybe because of that, its a highly compulsive watch. THE VERDICT: Heart-racing stuff, this is a doc that plays more like a thriller. It may make you feel queasy, but youll be hard-pressed to tear your eyes away. Director: Tiller Russell Starring: Michael Dowd, Kenny Eurell, Walter Yurkiw, Adam Diaz Theatrical release: 14 August 2015 James Mottram
Itd probably be quicker to name the stars who didnt sign on as narrators for this film essay than those who did; indeed, this seven-year labour of love from director Shaun Monson could be the most stellar eulogy to vegetarianism ever committed to film. The question, of course, is whether it should have been: theres little in Monsons sermon that his 100-strong celebrity tag-team can energise. The conclusion? That wed be nicer to each other if we were kinder to animals, a message that could have been conveyed equally well without screen-saver visuals and gratuitously emotive stock footage. Director: Shaun Monson Theatrical release: 12 August 2015 Neil Smith
Now that kids, OAPs, paraplegics and David Walliams have swum the English Channel, it doesnt seem that much of a big deal. But back in 1875, no one had managed it, earning Captain Matthew Webb the title of the greatest Englishman when he flopped onto a French beach after 22 hours in the open water. In the context of Justin Hardys film, its a dubious title, with Luther s Warren Brown playing Webb like a dead fish in a docudrama that flounders through a sea of flashbacks, boring conversations about cramps and shots of moustached men standing in ponds. Director: Justin Hardy Starring: Warren Brown, Steve Oram, Terry Mynott, Georgia Maguire, Hannah Tointon, Tom Stourton Theatrical release: 14 August 2015 Paul Bradshaw
A soldier (Ian Sharp) returns from Afghanistan only to find a new war against the dealers and pimps that run his native Grimsby. Pleasure Island is, essentially, Dead Mans Shoes, but Mike Doxfords film packs nowhere near the power of Shane Meadows; the storys trite and the characters underwritten. Its a shame, as this British indie is not badly made. Doxford drapes Grimsbys seaside theme park in mood and menace, and the cast deliver especially Gina Bramhill, who is far better than the role of Jess, a stripper turned damsel in distress. Director: Mike Doxford Starring: Ian Sharp, Gina Bramhill, Rick Warnden, Nicholas Day, Michael J Jackson, Samuel Anderson, Conner Chapman Theatrical release: 14 August 2015 Stephen Kelly
Or, Theeb Of Arabia. An answer to David Leans classic, Brit-Jordanian first-timer Naji Abu Nowars controlled epic tethers monumental vistas to a boys and a cultures seismic growing pains. As Bedouin sibling guides Hussein (Hussein Salameh) and Theeb (Jacir Eid) become entangled with a Brit soldier during WWI , ambush and death follow. Universal themes of brotherhood, conflict and change emerge, their punch drawn from historical specifics and a taut cast focus: its remarkable non-pro lead Eid who dominates a lean survival story told with tremendous emotional clout. Director: Naji Abu Nowar Starring: Hussein Salameh, Jacir Eid Theatrical release: 14 August 2015 Kevin Harley
THE CONFESSIONS OF THOMAS QUICK
A Nordic noir set-up swerves into something like The Imposter via a Gone Girl-ish twist in Brian Hills promising but patchy crime doc. When Sture Bergwall confessed to multiple murders in the 90s, police welcomed the plea. We had our own Hannibal Lecter, somebody gloats but a mid-film shock says otherwise. A rigorous psych profile emerges, but what lets Hill down is his failure to develop key implications (no spoilers) in favour of weak re-enactments: a long, wrong way of proving that truth is stronger than fiction. Director: Naji Abu Nowar Starring: Hussein Salameh, Jacir Eid Theatrical release: 14 August 2015 Kevin Harley