Out on Friday May 26
Studio Ghibli and Dudok de Wit’s pan-continental marvel. A rollicking romp from the Pirates franchise. Arthouse hero Aki Kaurismäki’s long-awaited return.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of The Red Turtle, Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge, The Other Side of Hope, I Am Not Madame Bovary, Spark, Detour, McLaren, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul, and It Was Fifty Years Ago Today… Sgt. Pepper and Beyond.
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The Red Turtle
Did the Oscar presenters double-check the envelope? With no disrespect to Zootropolis, this collaboration between Dutch animator Michael Dudok de Wit and resting-but-not-really Japanimation house Studio Ghibli was the real standout in 2017’s nominations for Best Animated Feature. And it’s also a stand-out in modern animation as a whole, with any echoes of Ghibli the work of a kindred, freethinking spirit rather than a studio-steered hired gun.
The studio/director pairing followed a singular pattern: impressed by Dudok de Wit’s Oscar-winning 2000 short Father and Daughter, Ghibli’s Isao Takahata and Toshio Suzuki gave him free rein, rather than pushing a ‘House of Totoro’ style. Though Dudok de Wit shares Ghibli’s love of 2D animation, his clear-lined style is Euro-influenced – if his castaways had quiffs, they’d be doffed to Tintin’s Hergé. Any advice Ghibli did offer, though, proved wise: making the film wordless came from a Suzuki suggestion.
The resulting fable unfolds with the timeless resonance of myth. A man is washed up on a tropical island after a ferocious storm, where his attempts to escape on a makeshift raft are thwarted by an irascible, out-sized turtle. When the man finds the creature beached, he exacts revenge, turning it upside down and leaving it for dead.
Then something magical happens: after death comes a new beginning, the nature of which shouldn’t be spoiled, except to say that it pitches an entertaining survivalist fable into deep allegorical waters. What started as a strong, silent spin on Robinson Crusoe evolves into a profoundly philosophical meditation on fate, family and companionship, steered by the strange emergence of a red-haired woman.
Although some might find the contemplative shift a struggle, these island lives are never dull. Drama, dread and wonder course through this Dutchman’s take on nature, which rejects the anthropomorphic and prettified in favour of humbled respect and awe. It’s almost alarming to see an animal film in which the critters don’t speak. The turtle is as unnerving as a bear in a Werner Herzog doc, while little crabs move in mysterious ways. And they’re pretty funny.
Climate and environment also present their own challenges. The sun isn’t just beautiful, it’s brutal. When clouds gather, they crowd in like a looming apocalypse. Deep swims through caves inspire swoons and terror. The leads seem dwarfed amid these vast land/sea-scapes, a sense encouraged by the director’s stress on long shots over close-ups.
This is not a world that can be owned or tamed, and adjusting to that fact is the test faced by the characters travelling through it. In the acceptance that nature’s enigmatic rhythms cannot be solved, only lived, an experimental film turns into a richly experiential one with a deep emotional core.
Bonds are formed, children born, years pass, and people who had to learn how to hold on must discover how to let go. No exposition is needed and the quiet eloquence of the allegorical arc is heartbreaking. The Red Turtle may play simple, but surrender to it and all of life seems to float in on its lapping currents and elemental tides.
THE VERDICT: Dudok de Wit and Ghibli have birthed a pan-continental marvel: a fable-cum-fantasy of a life adrift, aching with tender beauty and awed by nature’s extremes.
Director: Michael Dudok de Wit; Theatrical release: May 26, 2017
Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge
Six years since we last rode the high seas with Cap’n Jack Sparrow in On Stranger Tides, Johnny Depp returns to his signature role. With his ship the Black Pearl now shrunken inside a tiny bottle, he’s even more hapless than usual, in charge of a bare-bones vessel named the Dying Gull. This is not a bad omen, as Salazar’s Revenge is a hugely enjoyable ride.
With the (Disney-friendly) theme of parenthood woven throughout Jeff Nathanson’s (Catch Me If You Can) script, Revenge introduces new directors, new heroes and one of the best Pirates villains the franchise has seen in the shape of Javier Bardem’s titular seaman. Stuck in the Devil’s Triangle, this ghostly captain – brilliantly augmented with CGI – seeks vengeance on Sparrow for reasons that become clear later on. “He took everything from me and filled me with rage and pain,” he spits, lashings of black goo coming from his mouth.
Also entwined in the story is Henry (Brenton Thwaites), son to Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, who is desperate to unlock his father (Orlando Bloom) from his below-sea curse. When Henry encounters Salazar, it leads him to Sparrow, as well as Kaya Scodelario’s orphan astronomer Carina, “a woman of science” who is probably the only one smart enough to find the Trident of Poseidon, the ocean-controlling, curse-lifting MacGuffin everyone’s after. And in case you were missing him, Geoffrey Rush’s now-wealthy rival pirate Barbossa gets roped in, too.
Norwegian directing duo Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (2012’s seafaring epic Kon-Tiki) nail their first major blockbuster with some aplomb. The pacing is spot-on, the set-pieces memorable and all the characters are allowed to shine, without it ever becoming The Johnny Depp Show. Standout moments include the opening bank robbery (with horses towing an entire building away), an execution scene complete with swinging guillotine and Salazar unleashing some ghostly sharks (super-scary in 3D).
Led by Depp, the humour is salty (jokes about a one-legged man with 18lb balls and Carina being a horologist) but not to excess. Thwaites and Scodelario are quite watchable, with their 12A romance bubbling under, and Bardem, if not let fully off the leash, à la Skyfall, still has a ball as the baddie.
With a couple of neat cameos too, including a certain musician who rivals Keith Richards’ turn in the earlier Pirates movies, it’s certainly the most enjoyable entry since 2003 series-starter The Curse of The Black Pearl. Factor in a surprisingly satisfying finale – emotional, romantic, swashbuckling – it’s everything you could want from a Pirates movie.
THE VERDICT: A rollicking romp, with everybody on top form, this is a summer blockbuster par excellence.
Directors: Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg; Starring: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem; Theatrical release: May 26, 2017
The Other Side of Hope
A refugee (Sherwan Haji) arrives in Helsinki on a mission to find his missing sister in a wry offering from Finnish miserablist Aki Kaurismäki.
As blackly comic as you’d expect from the director of Le Havre, it’s also full of humanity and anger, as Kaurismäki lays bare the bleak system faced by asylum seekers. A compassionate comic masterwork from a veteran still on song.
Director: Aki Kaurismäki; Starring: Ville Virtanen, Kati Outinen, Tommi Korpela; Theatrical release: May 26, 2017
I Am Not Madame Bovary
This inventive social satire stars Fan Bingbing as Li, who takes on the Chinese legal system when her ex-husband slanders her good name.
The labyrinthine plot mines absurdist comedy centred on the world of government bureaucracy, but drags into a repetitive and overlong running time. Visual pizzazz and Bingbing’s terrific turn make the going easier.
Director: Xiaogang Feng; Starring: Chengpeng Dong, Bingbing Fan, Wei Fan; Theatrical release: May 26, 2017
It Was Fifty Years Ago Today… Sgt. Pepper and Beyond
The Beatles’ story is so familiar that this doc celebrating Sgt. Pepper’s half-century struggles to dig up anything new. Insightful talking heads cover familiar flashpoints like the “bigger than Jesus” scandal and Brian Epstein’s death, but the structure is uneven.
There’s a decent hour-long TV special here, but indulgent editing has buried it beneath rambling digressions.
Director: Alan G. Parker; Starring: Pete Best, Freda Kelly, Ray Connolly; Theatrical release: May 26, 2017
Student Harper (Tye Sheridan) buddies up with crim Johnny Ray (Emory Cohen) and stripper Cherry (Bel Powley), hitting the road to Vegas on a mission to kill Harper’s stepdad (Stephen Moyer).
Severance director Christopher Smith delivers fun twists in what could be a spiritual successor to Doug Liman’s Go, but the result – one death-by-truck moment aside – is ultimately forgettable.
Director: Christopher Smith; Starring: Tye Sheridan, Emory Cohen, Bel Powley; Theatrical release: May 26, 2017
Kiwi director Roger Donaldson’s conventional sports doc pays tribute to fellow New Zealander Bruce McLaren, the F1 driver and pioneering car designer who founded the McLaren team in the ’60s, only to die while testing a vehicle, aged just 32.
Donaldson does a fine job of celebrating his subject’s many achievements. Yet compared to, say, Ayrton Senna, McLaren himself doesn’t cut a compelling figure.
Director: Roger Donaldson; Theatrical release: May 25, 2017
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul
Knowing winks to Psycho and The Birds enliven what’s otherwise a straight retread of National Lampoon’s Vacation, with Alicia Silverstone and Tom Everett Scott cast in the harassed parent roles.
This sequel’s cartoon recreations of Jeff Kinney’s stick drawings are a highlight. The road-trip section, though, can’t end soon enough.
Director: David Bowers; Starring: Jason Drucker, Alicia Silverstone, Tom Everett Scott; Theatrical release: May 26, 2017
An impressive cast, including Patrick Stewart and Hilary Swank, lend their voices to an animated intergalactic ‘tail’ with plenty of humour, but not enough heart.
When teenage monkey Spark (Jace Norman) discovers evil ruler Zhong’s plans to harness a giant space kraken, he sets out to save the universe. There are great gags, but it struggles to find a balance between epic space opera and fun kiddie caper.
Director: Aaron Woodley; Starring: Jessica Biel, Susan Sarandon, Patrick Stewart; Theatrical release: May 26, 2017