All this week's cinema releases reviewed

The Descendants, The Grey, Like Crazy, A Monster In Paris, Intruders, House Of Tolerance, Mercenaries

The Descendants – 4/5

Oscar nod... The Descendants


In short:

After a boating accident leaves his wife in a coma, absentee dad Matt King (George Clooney) is forced to rebuild his relationship with his daughters. Scottie (Amara Miller) is a precocious 10-year-old but it's 17-year-old Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) who is going to prove to be the biggest problem. As Matt struggles with his kids, he is hit by the devastating news that his wife was cheating on him. He decides to confront the other man, and sets off to Hawaii. The land around him holds a special significance to his family, and Matt is also in the process of giving it all up for a healthy profit.  Is Matt going to destroy his legacy or is he securing the future for his daughters?

What we think:
Clooney is irresistible in this quiet comedy-drama that captures the best of director Alexander Payne's style and spirit. There's nothing  original on offer, but it has undeniable honesty and a subtle sense of humour.

The word out there:
The Guardian: Payne has found his softcore style, and it's fluent and persuasive, but I preferred the earlier voice: comic, lacerating and unflinching.
Empire: There are few filmmakers out there as incisively and entertainingly intelligent as Alexander Payne, and he makes few films. So, like Sideways before it, The Descendants is something to be cherished.
Scotsman: The Descendants is a heartfelt and tragic piece, but it’s also mature and very funny.
Sky Movies: Seven years after his last outing, Payne - neatly subverting the idea of Hawaii as an untroubled island paradise - shows he can still steer a sure path between humour and heartache.

Release date: 27 January
Runtime: 115 mins
Rating: 12A


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The Grey – 4/5

Liam Neeson in The Grey


In short:

Having spent several months drilling for oil in Alaska, a group of men head back to civilization. On board their flight home is a mysterious loner who is going through a personal crisis, but John Ottway (Liam Neeson) is about to face an even bigger problem. A rough storm downs the plane and only a handful of survivors are left in the wilderness, and to top things off a savage attack from a pack of wolves reduce their number even further.  Ottway knows the animals well, he had been recruited to protect the oil workers from them, but this time things are different. There are no guns. The men are outnumbered. And the wolves can smell blood...

What we think:
This pared down survival thriller with an ethereal quality is a welcome return to form for director Joe Carnahan. It might not sound like much on paper but on film it's a great experience.

The word out there:

Total Film: Supremely led by Liam Neeson, The Grey may be a wilderness tale, pure and simple, but it’s as compelling as they come.
TimeOut: Big Liam: sharp, surly and mean as hell, he’s as close as we’ll get to a modern John Wayne – and who saw that coming?
Radio Times: This works better as a horror film than a character study, though Neeson's air of abandonment certainly cuts deep.
Entertainment Weekly: Winter-release slot + travel budget + Liam Neeson = slightly preposterous, routinely violent, apparently lucrative action movie...

Release date: 27 January
Runtime: 117 mins
Rating: 15


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Like Crazy – 3.5/5


Like Crazy


In short:

Anna (Felicity Jones) is a UK student studying over in America. While she's there, she takes a shine to independent-minded classmate Jacob (Anton Yelchin), and after a few dates they're totally smitten and embark heart-and-soul into a relationship. But when Felicity decides to overstay her visa to spend a bit more time with her lover, she incurs the wrath of US immigration control. Back in the UK, she is forcibly separated from her soul mate. Now the pair must fight tooth and nail to keep their relationship together as bureaucracy, temptation and loneliness threaten to derail their love story.

What we think:
What might seem like a textbook Valentine's Day date movie is actually an absorbing indie that delivers a powerful emotional punch through quality acting, achingly real dialogue and vibrant imagery.

The word out there:
Rolling Stone: Jones is a marvel. Sundance couldn't get enough of her. You won't, either. Her performance grabs hold and won't let go.
TimeOut: Doremus gently braves some bittersweet truths. Is it true love? Or is the reality less like the movies: a fantasy of being in love that Anna and Jacob can’t let go of?
Sky Movies: It’s like being trapped in an improv workshop run by people who share too much on Facebook.
UltraCulture: As good-intentioned as the film is, there’s something quite irritating about its stubborn refusal to really do anything, instead opting for a sort of vague ‘atmosphere’...

Release date: 27 January
Runtime: 90 mins
Rating: 12A



A Monster In Paris – 3.5/5


In short:
When a wacky inventor and a filmmaking cinema projectionist accidentally spill a potion in a professor's laboratory, they unleash a monster in Paris.  However, this beast also has a heart and soon the friends that created him end up protecting him from an over-eager commissioner who sees a chance to win the public over and run for Mayor.  Aided by a talented singer, whose beautiful voice is second only to that of the Monster, the scene is set for an epic story involving music, monkeys and mayhem. And all in glorious 3D!

What we think:
A surprisingly sharp animation which suffers from the unnecessary 3D curse but excels as a musical with heart. Some of the songs are staggeringly good, even if they are merely translated from the original French versions.

The word out there:

Empire: 3D fun for all the family with impressive visuals and some catchy tunes.
Total Film: It’s hard to fathom who this 3D combo of horror, musical and twinkly retro nostalgia is aimed at.
Birmingham Post: It is clever, quite funny and beautifully animated, with lovely Parisian scenes, though the 3D version is pointless.
ViewLondon: Despite its flaws, A Monster in Paris is an entertaining and frequently charming animated adventure that succeeds thanks to likeable characters, catchy songs, a handful of nice ideas and some gorgeous animation.

Release date: 27 January
Runtime: 90 mins
Rating: U


Intruders – 3/5


In short:

A young boy living in an apartment block in Spain is haunted by the recurring appearance of a hooded intruder. His mother (Pilar López de Ayala) desperately tries to find help, but it seems like they are on their own. Hundreds of miles away in London, a young girl begins to find herself experiencing the same nightmare. A shadowy figure, she labels as 'Hollow Face', begins to stalk her and worried father John Farrow (Clive Owen) is powerless to help. After a brutal altercation with Hollow Face, a shocking truth is revealed and the families involved have to find out who the mysterious intruder really is.

What we think:
The performances are generally excellent, but a lacklustre finale to an interesting set-up seriously undermine this occasionally effective chiller.

SkyMovies: Ultimately expecting too many allowances from its (ostensibly mature) audience, Intruders undoes a stealthy entry by tripping over its twist.
The Guardian: This highly conventional supernatural thriller by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo pales next to his earlier film Intact.
The Express: Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo favours creepy suspense over gore resulting in a polished psychological drama.
The Metro: More creeping than creepy, as this handsome haunted house story limps towards the climax, Fresnadillo parses out the scares with inadvisable prudence.

Release date: 27 January
Runtime: 100 mins
Rating: 15


House Of Tolerance – 3/5

In short:
It's 1899, and a new age is about to dawn in Paris. The changing times are being felt everywhere, but we are primarily concerned with the fortunes of a group of prostitutes in a high-class brothel. The madam (Noemie Lvovsky) runs the place as a secretive and detached world in which her clients can indulge their carnal desires away from the judging eyes of conventional society. In return, their hefty fees put food on the table for her young children and pay off the debts of her girls. But it's not so simple. When one client brutally assaults the beautiful 'Jewess' (Alice Barnole), it heralds a slowly dawning change. The rhythm of this sexual hub gradually shifts from controlled debauchery to terrifying and inexorable decline, one from which it seems no-one can escape unscathed.

What we think:

This grim period drama cousin of Steve McQueen's 'Shame' is a fin-de-siécle misery-fest that aggressively reminds us of the dangers of unchecked sexual appetite. It's also a curiously mesmeric portrait of a remarkable brothel.

The word out there:
Empire
: Erotically charged but overlong and untroubled by too much plotting.
TimeOut: Seductive on the surface, steely underneath, this is an angry, fascinating, highly political film all wrapped up in costumed frilliness.
Little White Lies: Expend some intellectual elbow grease on decoding the various sounds and images, characters and relationships, motivations and plot mechanisms, and you’ll discover one of the most enlightened and adventurous films released in cinemas for some while.
Film4: Bertrand Bonello's atmospheric, poetic film seduces you with all the skill and subtlety of the courtesans it depicts.

Release date: 27 January
Runtime: 126 mins
Rating: 18



Mercenaries – 1/5

In short:
There's been a coup in the Balkans. Notorious general/war criminal Olodan (Antony Byrne) has taken control of, presumably, the Bosnian government and his cronies are brutally enforcing his rule across the country. NATO command, led by Colonel Torida (Billy Zane), are powerless to intervene. But the US ambassador (Danny Sapani) has been captured by the rebels and they are not willing to let him go quietly. And so, a plan is hatched to get him back. Enter ex-SAS soldier Andy Marlow (Robert Fucilla) and his crack team of mercenaries, a group of elite soldiers who will undertake any mission for the right pay. Will it all be too much for this small band of warriors?

What we think:
Balkan baddies, hideously ill-conceived action sequences and banter that barely qualifies as dialogue characterise this cynical attempt to lure in action-starved film fans in the run-up to awards season. Evasive action has never been more necessary.

The word out there:

Empire: All the fire power but with no substantial plot, this film will leave you feeling highly unsatisfied.
Total Film: Gunshots sound like they were sampled off a videogame, muzzle flashes make the whole screen flash white and they somehow managed to convince Billy Zane to briefly appear as an exasperated American colonel. He’d have been better off in panto.
Shadows On The Wall: Sadly misguided from the start, this violent war-zone adventure suffers from both a very low budget and a script that seems to have been written by someone who has never been outside Great Britain.
Dan's Movie Report: Overall this is an decent film, not great, but worth a rent.

Release date: 27 January
Runtime: 97 mins
Rating: 18