Out on Friday 15 April
Helen Mirren plays a game of drones. God is alive and lives in Brussels. Hirokazu Koreeda returns with a tender family story. Yes, here's this week's new releases.
Click on for our reviews of Eye in the Sky, The Brand New Testament, Our Little Sister, Despite the Falling Snow, Eisenstein in Guanajuato, and Criminal.
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EYE IN THE SKY
Drone warfare has never quite felt so real or as nerve-shredding as it does in Gavin Hood's excellent drama. True, it's a topic that's been explored recently – but while Andrew Niccol's Good Kill concentrated on one man’s redemption, Eye in the Sky takes a more complex look at modern warfare. Set across four continents, it plays out in boardrooms as much as battlegrounds.
Leading the line is Colonel Katherine Powell (a no-nonsense Helen Mirren), who's overseeing an operation to bring in a radicalised English woman, Susan Helen Danford (Lex King), who's joined up with Al-Shabaab terrorists. Scripted by Guy Hebert with both intelligence and patience, the story avoids any sort of Michael Bay-hem.
Rather, it cuts back and forth as various politicians pass the buck when it comes to making the decision to bomb the safe house where Danford and others are currently holed up.
In London, we meet Lt. General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman), who agrees an attack must take place but is left frustrated as decision-makers "refer up" the chain of command. Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) is responsible for flying the drone, but faced with a very real moral dilemma in his crosshairs, one that gives the narrative a potent tick-tock tension.
Hood, who has toyed with political subtext in movies from Tsotsi to Ender's Game, here crafts a film that raises huge moral questions about the validity of drone warfare. Factor in Mirren and Rickman, in one of his final roles, and you have a highly impactful drama.
THE VERDICT: Tense and thought-provoking in equal measure, this is first-rate – a modern-day Dr. Strangelove played out on video screens.
Director: Gavin Hood Starring: Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Aaron Paul, Lex King, Jeremy Northam Theatrical release: April 15, 2016
THE BRAND NEW TESTAMENT
Why does toast always fall jam side down? Blame God, says Belgian fabulist Jaco van Dormael (Toto the Hero), whose warm, cheeky, inventive satire proves Monty Python don't hold the patent on God-coms. With Benoît Poelvoorde's God imagined as a grouch, his daughter Ea (Pili Groyne) visits earth to gather fresh apostles for a brighter Testament.
As she unites all humanity, a winning mix of madcap wit, invention and open-armed warmth compensates for sketchy plotting. Even the devout, surely, will warm to Dormael's alt-gospel: one of compassion, oddball fish gags and cheerier skylines.
Director: Jaco van Dormael Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Benoît Poelvoorde, Pili Groyne, Yolande Moreau Theatrical release: April 15, 2016
OUR LITTLE SISTER
There's endless charm but less chewiness than you might expect in this sweet if episodic manga adap from the director of Nobody Knows (Hirokazu Kore-eda). A femme-filled family melodrama, it introduces tween half-sister Suzu (Suzu Hirose) into the seaside home of three sisters after their father's funeral.
Filled with cherry-blossom gorgeousness and sentimental homages to small-town Japanese life, it's a film of quiet, telling moments, even when big revelations surface. Big sister Sachi (Haruka Ayase) stands out, but otherwise the film's sheer delicacy keeps us at a distance.
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda; Starring: Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa, Kaho Suzu Hirose, Ryo Kase, Ryohei Suzuki; Theatrical release: April 15, 2016
DESPITE THE FALLING SNOW
As with 2007's The World Unseen, Shamim Sarif adapts/directs her own novel, a 2004-penned story of defection, betrayal and long-lost love. Set in 1959 Moscow, it stars Rebecca Ferguson as Katya, a spy who falls for U.S. official Alexander (Sam Reid) who she's been instructed to shadow.
Less compelling, however, are the scenes four decades on with Charles dance as Alexander and Ferguson playing his niece. The 'dual roles' conceit doesn’t quite work, despite Ferguson's best efforts. But, while it struggles to find rhythm, you can't fault Sarif's ambitions.
Director: Shamim Sarif; Starring: Rebecca Ferguson, Sam Reid, Charles Dance, Anthony Head; Theatrical release: April 15, 2016
EISENSTEIN IN GUANAJUATO
Sex and death – two Peter Greenaway perennials – get an airing in this return to form for the veteran British director. Focusing on Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, the 'granddaddy' of montage who brought us Battleship Potemkin, this is no dry treatise about film theory. Rather, it tells of "10 days that shook" Eisenstein, as he heads to Mexico and loses his anal virginity at 33.
Our hero is played with utter commitment by Finnish actor Elmer Bäck, giving a delightfully unfettered performance that matches Greenaway's gusto for his subject. Beautiful and bold, rebellious and riotous, its sexual frankness puts E.L. James in the shade.
Director: Peter Greenaway; Starring: Elmer Bäck, Luis Alberti, Maya Zapata, Lisa Owen, Stelio Savante, Rasmus Slätis, Jakob Öhrman; Theatrical release: April 15, 2016
Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman and Tommy Lee Jones together again? No, this isn’t the JFK reunion you’re looking for. Director Ariel Vromen fumbles this appalling thriller in which Costner’s psycho receives memory implants from Ryan Reynolds’ early-exiting CIA agent in order to finish a mission.
It’s both horribly violent and laughably written (“who punches someone in a patisserie, you animal?”). Jones and Oldman are on autopilot, while Costner grizzles like a sore-headed bear. Only Gal Gadot, as Reynolds’ widow, has any cred in this utter pap.
Director: Ariel Vromen; Starring: Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, Alice Eve, Gal Gadot, Tommy Lee Jones, Ryan Reynolds; Theatrical release: April 15, 2016