Out on Friday 19 August
Ricky's office boss goes big screen. A tickling endurance competition gets even weirder than it sounds. Arthur Ransome’s outdoor novel receives the film treatment.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of David Brent: Life on the Road, Tickled, Swallows and Amazons, The Childhood of a Leader, Almost Holy, 400 Days, Cosmos, Blinky Bill, Lights Out, Black, Nine Lives, Behemoth, and Asterix: The Mansions of the Gods.
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DAVID BRENT: LIFE ON THE ROAD
It takes a brave man to make a feature film out of a British sitcom – and a braver one still to make one out of a British sitcom that hasn’t been on TV for 13 years. Thankfully, David Brent: Life on the Road gives Ricky Gervais’ monstrous middle manager a decent curtain-call – even if it is a decade too late.
Embracing the cult of non-celebrity that’s ballooned since The Office first poked fun at it in 2001, Gervais finds his alter ego pretty much unchanged. Still trying to be a weekend rock star and still stuck in a dead-end desk job, he jumps at the chance to bring a reality-TV crew along on his first music tour (around Slough).
Operating without his old Office co-stars and attempting his own This Is Spinal Tap (opens in new tab), Gervais shows almost as much moxy as Brent. The result is a corrosively funny but blatantly overstretched musical spin-off that feels a lot like an off-cut from the show.
As a comedy creation, David Brent is still a masterwork, and the film works best when the pathos hits as hard as the punchlines. But Life on the Road should probably be the leaving party we all thought had been thrown a few times already.
THE VERDICT: Brent’s big comeback won’t disappoint fans, but would’ve worked fine as another Christmas special. In 2004.
Director: Ricky Gervais; Starring: Ricky Gervais, Ben Bailey Smith, Tom Basden, Tom Bennett; Theatrical release: August 19, 2016
It turns out that tickling is no laughing matter. At least, not when young men are recruited to appear in tickling fetish videos only to be later blackmailed and threatened by an elusive production company, as New Zealand journalist David Farrier discovers in his intriguing debut doc.
Farrier doesn’t overlook the amusing oddness of such a strange corner of the internet, but treats the subjects of the videos respectfully. Ultimately, his mission is to expose how little legal protection vulnerable people possess in terms of online privacy when up against the rich and powerful.
Directors: David Farrier, Dylan Reeve; Starring: David Farrier, Dylan Reeve, David Starr; Theatrical release: August 19, 2016
SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS
Renaming Titty ‘Tatty’ isn’t the only change made to Arthur Ransome’s kid-lit fave here; director Philippa Lowthorpe also introduces an espionage subplot that sits uneasily with the novel’s Boys’ Own celebration of outdoor activities.
At least it invigorates this old-fashioned tale of children boating in the Lake District, as well as allowing Rafe Spall to play action man on the exterior of a locomotive. There’s an undeniable charm here that, allied with the picturesque locations, results in a nostalgic throwback to a gentler age. No self-respecting young ’un, alas, would pick this over a videogame.
Director: Philippa Lowthorpe; Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Andrew Scott, Rafe Spall; Theatrical release: August 19, 2016
THE CHILDHOOD OF A LEADER
Inspired by Mussolini’s boyhood, among others, actor Brady Corbet’s directing debut recasts 20th-Century history as a baroque horror – think Downfall (opens in new tab) meets The Witch (opens in new tab). In France, 1918, US diplomat Liam Cunningham works on the Treaty of Versailles, leaving his distant wife Bérénice Bejo and disturbed son Tom Sweet to rattle around their mansion scaring each other.
With expressionist leanings, bilingual dialogue and Scott Walker’s strings, it may leave some cold, not least Twi-hards (Robert Pattinson co-stars). But submit to Corbet’s vision and you’ll find something original and unsettling.
Director: Brady Corbet; Starring: Bérénice Bejo, Liam Cunningham, Robert Pattinson, Stacy Martin, Tom Sweet; Theatrical release: August 19, 2016
“I don’t need permission to do good deeds,” declares Gennadiy Mokhnenko, the complex subject of a sombre documentary whose producers include Terrence Malick. A Ukrainian pastor from industrial city Mariupol, this dog-collared vigilante is on a mission to round up its drug-addicted street kids and take them to his ‘Pilgrim Republic’ rehab facility.
The stories heard in Steve Hoover’s film are as harrowing as the track marks on their arms. For all his noble intentions, though, ‘Crocodile’ Gennadiy sure loves the limelight, forcing us to speculate whether he works for God’s glory or his own.
Director: Steve Hopper; Starring: Gennadiy Mokhnenko; Theatrical release: August 19, 2016
If a mystery needs judging by its pay-off, Matt Osterman’s low-budget SyFy sci-fi sadly fumbles any early promise. Thudding dialogue aside, the suspense stews well at first, helped by sound work from the lead quartet (including Brandon Routh and Arrow’s Caity Lotz) as would-be astronauts locked into a 400-day space-travel simulation.
Spooky twists test the astro-hopefuls’ handle on reality – and Osterman’s plot purchase slips. If the final third’s sudden, Twilight Zone-lite genre relocation seems desperate, the hollow climax confirms suspicions: vital supplies of narrative oxygen are lacking here.
Director: Matt Osterman; Starring: Brandon Routh, Dane Cook, Caity Lotz; Theatrical release: August 19, 2016
The final film by director Andrzej Zulawski (1981’s Possession), who returned after a 15-year absence, follows student Witold (Jonathan Genet), who becomes obsessed with the discovery of a bird hung by the neck. Bursts of poetry, characters suddenly freezing, bees flying out of a priest’s crotch: there’s rarely a dull moment, but when it comes to explanation, the sparrow’s not the only one left hanging.
Director: Andrzej Zulawski; Starring: Sabine Azéma, Jean-François Balmer, Jonathan Genet; Theatrical release: August 19, 2016
The conceit of David F. Sandberg’s innovative debut (based on his 2013 YouTube-sensation short) is simple. Lights on, you’re safe. Lights out, something’s gonna get you. Yes, it’s basically 81 minutes of the same gimmick, but with characters you care about – principally Teresa Palmer’s appealingly edgy, cliché-bucking Rebecca – and a poignant denouement, this is horror with guts as well as gore.
Director: David F. Sandberg; Starring: Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Maria Bello; Theatrical release: August 19, 2016
This Brussels-set Romeo and Juliet riff is a bruising dispatch from directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah. Black initially bursts with vim: powerhouse scoring, snappy dialogue. As star-crossed lovers, Aboubakr Bensaihi and Martha Canga Antonio add a sweetness that turns sour with two difficult rape scenes. But direction and cast pack a wallop: here’s hoping it holds for the directors’ Beverly Hills Cop 4.
Directors: Adil El Arbi, Bilall Fallah; Starring: Martha Canga Antonio, Aboubakr Bensaih; Theatrical release: August 19, 2016
A mix of kooky cat video and ’80s body-swap comedy, Barry Sonnenfeld’s movie is about a billionaire real-estate mogul (Kevin Spacey) who falls into a coma and, somehow, ends up trading his consciousness with a cat named Mister Fuzzypants. Since he loathes cats, it’s a real insult-to-injury situation. So is this movie. By the end you will quite possibly hate cats, Spacey, and the ’80s.
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld; Starring: Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Garner, Christopher Walken; Theatrical release: August 19, 2016
Zhao Liang’s potent doc lays bare the environmental devastation caused at an Inner Mongolian coal mine. Drawing on Dante’s Inferno, sporadic narration complements the nightmarish visuals (scorched earth, exhausted bodies of workers) with poetic, proverbial warnings as Liang travels deeper into the belly of the beast. Living up to the imposing enormity of its title, this doc stimulates both conscience and senses.
Director: Zhao Liang; Theatrical release: August 19, 2016
ASTERIX: THE MANSIONS OF THE GODS
After too many live-action turkeys, it’s a pleasure to have the Gauls back in ’toon form, as one of their more satirical stories is recreated with its waspishness intact: Caesar’s plan to crush Asterix’s village by building an apartment block. Jack Whitehall, Nick Frost and Jim Broadbent adorn a chatty over-dub that marginally detracts from the 3D visuals.
Directors: Louis Clichy, Alexandre Astier; Starring: Jack Whitehall, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent; Theatrical release: August 19, 2016