Paddington

Director: Paul King (2014)

In a huge bear hug of fun to warm your family, Paddington the loveable orphan bear from deepest darkest Peru makes his big screen debut.

This marvellously magical and funny adventure retains all the silliness and charm of Michael Bond’s original books. And hidden in the script is a hatful of kind messages, handed around as often as Paddington offers out his beloved marmalade sandwiches.

The computer-animated bear, endearingly voiced by Ben Whishaw, blends seamlessly into his real-life surroundings.

When a British explorer in Peru found a family of extraordinary bears, he left them with a passion for marmalade and a gramophone for learning English.

Years later an optimistic young bear stows away to find the explorer but London is not as warm and welcoming as he has been led to believe.

As in the book, he’s discovered at Paddington station by the Brown family who name him after the first sign they see and then take him home for the night.

Mrs Brown (a wonderful Sally Hawkins) and son Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) take a shine to the bear. But teenage daughter Judy (Madeleine Harris) is embarrassed while uptight Mr Brown (Hugh Bonneville) simply wants rid of him.

Mrs Brown helps Paddington search for the explorer but wicked Millicent wants to add the talking bear to her collection of stuffed animals.

She’s played by a snakeskin-clad Nicole Kidman, who’s always better when she’s being bad. There is a brief showing from Jim Broadbent as antiques dealer Mr Gruber, Broadbent channels Benny Hill’s performance as The Toymaker in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Paddington inadvertently causes mayhem in a series of imaginative stunts and the film romps along before the slapstick ending in an exciting night at the British Museum.

If young kids don’t enjoy this treat I’ll eat Paddington’s hat – and all his marmalade sandwiches.

Mr Turner

Director: Mike Leigh (2014)

Brilliant Timothy Spall was surprisingly overlooked by Oscar for his grunting, growling portrayal of superstar artist J.M.W.Turner.

This masterful biopic is a rich canvas covering the last 25 years of the genius’s life until his death aged 76.

Hangdog and whiskered, the man often hailed as Britain’s greatest ever painter is hard on his contemporaries, kind to his patrons and horrible to his servants and children.

With Spall dominant in the foreground, there is a wealth of emotional colour swirling around in the background to ponder.

Never married, Turner has complex relations with the many women in his life. He refuses to acknowledge the children he has with his former lover Sarah Danby (Ruth Sheen) despite her constant appeals.

Meanwhile the artist regularly takes sexual advantage of his devoted housekeeper – and Sarah’s niece – Hannah Danby, played by Dorothy Atkinson.

After the death of his beloved father William (Paul Jesson) Londoner Turner goes to the Kent coast to stay in the Margate lodging house of Mrs Booth (Marion Bailey), a warm, gentle and touching bond develops, accelerating on the death of her husband.

Supremely confident in his creative talent, Turner takes pains to guard his place at the top of the intensely competitive art world.

With his sketchbook for company, he strides across landscapes, walks for miles along the coast and pays prostitutes to show him their bodies for anatomy lessons, we’re left to ponder at what else he may be paying for.

He even has himself tied to a ship’s mast in a storm to study the light. As his work becomes ever more revolutionary he is mocked by satirists, which hastens his decline.

Rich and famous, Turner is still hurt when a young Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert – philistines both – are too shallow to appreciate his art.

The gentle ending, the most heartbreaking of 2014, is all the more powerful for lacking sentimentality.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Director: Bryan Singer (2014)

Hugh Jackman sharpens his claws for the seventh time as superhero Wolverine in this action-packed adventure with added time-travel thrills.

The film has exciting set-pieces, a terrific cast, some good jokes and an entertaining new angle on the Kennedy assassination of November 1963.

Yet the script struggles to find time for a plot amid the cacophony of characters – so the special effects have to do the dramatic heavy lifting.

The story begins with mutants under attack by super-powered robots called the sentinels.

Mutant leaders Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) send the mind of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back to 1973 to inhabit his younger self’s body.

He has to find the young Xavier (James McAvoy) and convince him to help recruit Magneto (Michael Fassbender).

Magneto is jailed inside the Pentagon so they recruit a lightning fast mutant called Quicksilver (Evan Peters) to break him out.

This leads to a brilliant action comedy sequence set to the wonderful music of the late singer-songwriter Jim Croce whose music was also used in Tarantino’s bloody opus Django Unchained (2012).

Next the mutants have to stop the shapeshifting Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from carrying out a revenge killing of the scientist Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage).

She decides to take direct action not realising his death could lead to the annihilation of the mutants by giving the the US government the excuse they’re looking for.

Fassbender and McEvoy have great fun in costume but neither has to squeeze himself into an unforgiving blue leotard like Lawrence.

It’s not uncanny of the film-makers to put the world’s most popular actress centre story. But even she can’t steal the show from the prowling, growling Jackman.

☆☆

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Director: Wes Anderson (2014)

Let Ralph Fiennes lead you through the lobby for a romp around the rooms of this funny and sweet comic caper.

With typically deft and deliberate sweeps of his camera, director Anderson sculpts a sweet trifle and by virtue of keeping the screen-time of his regular actors Bill Murray and Owen Wilson to an absolute minimum, he’s created his best and funniest confection yet.

In the fictional middle-European country of Zubrowka, The Writer (Jude Law) is staying in the once opulent but now rundown hotel where he meets the aged Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham).

The Writer is regaled with the tale of how as young man, Zero came under the tutelage of the now legendary hotelier Gustave H (Fiennes) and so eventually became the owner of the establishment.

Known more for his intensity of his dramatic performances, uber-thesp Fiennes shows his flair for comic charm as Gustave H – a velvet-tongued concierge and romantic adventurer with a fondness for seducing the blonde, rich, vulnerable old ladies who frequented his hotel.

We see Gustave parade through the lobby issuing a multitude of instruction, insistent on respecting the correct manner in which everything must be done. Perpetually purple-clad and poetry quoting, even his perfume is called Panache.

Young Zero is played by Tony Revolori, he and Fiennes make an unlikely but lovely double act with Gustave showering his protege with advice, not least concerning the pastry girl (an excellent Saoirse Ronan) Zero has fallen is love with.

Gustave is bequeathed a very valuable painting, Boy with Apple by Madame D (Tilda Swinton). Her family whom hoped to inherit it are outraged.

Doors are opened, windows peered through and corridors ran down as Gustave and Zero are pursued by a villainous leather-clad investigator J.G. Jopling (Willem Dafoe).

What follows is unexpected violence, an alpine chase, punch ups, murders, an interrupted game of cards, a secret society of concierges and a most unfortunate cat.

Like the hotel of the title this immaculate pink and white wedding cake of a creation is textured, rich and slightly nutty – though it may be something of an acquired taste.

 ★★★★

Dawn of the Planet of The Apes

Director: Matt Reeves (2014)

Few creatures are more terrifying than an angry ape with a grudge and a gun – and this spectacular sci-fi epic has a forest full of them.

It pits ape against human and each against their own kind in a series of hugely exciting battles.

The movie is also majestic to look at and the intelligent script touches on issues such as an energy-supply crisis and how the treatment of prisoners can lead to radicalisation.

It is ten years since super-intelligent chimp Caesar (Andy Serkis) escaped to the Californian forest.

His species has developed art, architecture and a peaceful society while a virus has devastated human civilisation.

In a sly nod to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the apes have rules marked on to a wall. No1 is: “Ape does not kill ape.”

Human survivor Malcolm (Jason Clarke) leads a recce into the apes’ domain looking to kickstart a hydro-electric dam.

There’s a bloody stand-off and in a desperate attempt to avoid more violence, Malcolm and Caesar tiptoe to a tentative truce.

In San Francisco, Dreyfuss (Gary Oldman) gives Malcolm three days to succeed or he’ll use his arsenal to annihilate the apes.

Meanwhile, the brutal Koba (Toby Kebbell) plots to overthrow Caesar, isolate his son Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston) and make war on humans.

Serkis is brilliant as Caesar. With his heavy brow and slow deliberations he echoes Marlon Brando in The Godfather – but with added teeth and muscle.

Director Reeves cleverly uses long edits to create tension and put the audience at the very centre of the action such as when an ape on horseback attacks a tank.

Marvellous visuals, engaging performances and dramatic plot twists made this one of the action movies of 2014.

Enemy

dir. Denis Villeneuve

Fantasy, identity and memory are twisted in this dark, expressionist, psychological thriller.

Sly and finely-crafted, it is based on José Saramago’s 2002 novel The Double.

There’s minimal dialogue and a mournful soundtrack while the absence of clocks and times add to the alienating atmosphere and contribute to a memorable finale.

After a chance conversation, history professor Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) is caught in an opaque web of intrigue, mistrust and betrayal.

Stuck in a failing relationship with the beautiful Mary (Mélanie Laurent) Adam is a listless drone with a life of dull routine, failing to inspire his bored students with his lectures on the political denial of self expression.

Only his mother, Isabella Rossellini is concerned or interested in him, leaving voice mails he doesn’t respond to.

One day a casual exchange with a nameless colleague leads Adam to watching a locally filmed movie ‘Where There’s a Will There’s a way’.

It’s a colourful comedy, disturbing the Enemy’s carefully established austere mood. In the background Adam sees a bellboy, played by an actor who looks uncannily similar to himself.

Intrigued, Adam discovers he’s called Anthony Saint Claire (Gyllenhaal again) and hunts down his other movie appearances.

Anthony is signed to a local agency and when Adam visits their offices he’s mistaken for his doppelganger, exploiting the mistake to pick up a parcel intended for the actor.

Behaving like an excited stalker, Adam instigates a meeting with Anthony which develops into a confrontation.

They’re physically identical but different in attitude, lifestyle and crucially in relationships. Anthony’s pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon) is suspicious of her husband – with very good reason.

With deft deliberation Nicolas Bolduc’s camera follows as character stalks character, capturing scenes in unhealthy yellow register and bold shadows.

Architecture is an oppressive character while cars are cocoons for their faceless, voiceless commuters as they drive around the stark cityscape.

Gyllenhaal’s character is a memorable addition to the cinematic gallery of actors portraying identical characters on screen, joining luminaries such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons, even Elvis has done it

Made in 2013 it’s released now to capitalise on the success of Gyllenhaal’s excellent movie Nightcrawler.

It’s hard to believe the same creative team of Gyllenhaal and Villeneuve who made this were also responsible for 2013’s preposterous  thriller, Prisoners.

★★★★☆

Prisoners

dir. Denis Villeneuve

Hugh Jackman and Terrence Howard are vigilante fathers fighting for justice in this damp, dull and silly thriller.

In this rain-drenched small town that seems to have a deranged individual twitching behind every curtain, there are a seemingly endless number of torture chambers.

Riddled with stupidity, inconsistency, alarming coincidence and a gun-toting granny, it corkscrews a path through plot-holes into a pit of preposterousness.

Survivalist carpenter Keller Dover (Jackman) and his neighbour Franklin Birch (Howard) are relaxing after sharing Thanksgiving dinner with their families.

Jackman pairs a ragged beard with a knitted frown and acts with a fist waving intensity while Howard gawps along with the audience.

As Dover’s wife Maria Bello has little to do but stagger in a pill-popping daze and Viola Davis as Mrs Birch is given less than that.

Their two young daughters fail to return home from playing outside and a desperate search begins for them.

As every cop in the state are brought in to hunt for the girls, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is assigned to lead the investigation and is known for never failing to solve a case.

Gyllenhaal is impressive as the tattooed and slick-haired cop, offering with wry humour the merest specks of light in the gathering gloom.

Keller tracks down the suspected killer himself, beating up the suspectAlex Jones (Paul Dano) and pleading with Franklin to interrogate him.

Brilliant British cinematographer Roger Deakins creates an air of bitter chill that emphasises the bleakness of tone but his talent is squandered on this material.

★★☆☆☆

Still Life

Director: Uberto Pasolini (2015)

With plenty to say about the current state of Britain this contemplative drama is a graceful reflection on the importance of honouring the dead.

John May (Eddie Marsan) is a middle-aged, mac-wearing local civil servant.

He’s responsible for contacting relatives of the recently deceased, if none can be found he must organise the disposal of the bodies.

Dedicated, meticulous and compelled to give his clients as much dignity as possible, he draws on their belongings to write eulogies, choose appropriate music and opts for expensive church services rather than cheaper cremations.

Working from a prodigiously neat basement office and living in an equally grey and organised flat, John has a quiet and unassuming life with no friends, family or social life.

Though never complaining being over-involved in his job is a clearly a coping mechanism for his loneliness.

When John recieves his notice at the council from the unctuous Mr Pratchett (Andrew Buchan) he is determined to successfully close his last case but has only three days in which to do so.

Unknown to each other Billy Stoke lived on John’s anonymous housing estate in the flat opposite, suffereing a sad, lonely and alcoholic demise.

Well-honed detective techniques sees John travel the country by road and rail, meeting family and former colleagues, trying to find Stoke’s daughter Kelly (Joanne Froggatt).

The Italian writer-director turns a coldly critical eye on contemporary Britain, seeing a land of abandoned ex-servicemen and uncaring institutions.

Among the alienation, homelessness and terrible food, we love our dogs, hate our families and neglect the elderly.

Cinematographer Stefano Falivene makes a virtue of stillness, capturing an urban landscape with a harsh, eerie beauty and adding to John’s keenly observed sense of isolation.

There are subtle suggestions John could be a modern day version of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, a good man keeping true to his personal code of honour.

Or possibly he’s a non-denominational celestial do-gooder trying to save the world one funeral at a time.

Marsan carries the film with maximum economy, conveying a variety of moods with tiny changes of expression while Downton star and Golden Globe winner Froggatt is as engaging and excellent as ever – but it would be nice to see her having on-screen fun in a glamorous role for a change.

For a moment the script seems to lurch towards a conventional conclusion instead it supplies a sweetly haunting and gently optimistic ending.

☆☆

Jupiter Ascending

Director:  The Wachowskis

There’s little that makes sense and less that’s interesting in this mega budget mess from the sci-fi siblings who many moons ago made the magnificent The Matrix.

There’s majestically designed spaceships, gadgetry and costumes but that counts for little due to flat characters, terrible plotting, woeful dialogue, incoherent action scenes and a vacuum of a performance by Mila Kunis in the title role.

Impoverished illegal immigrant Jupiter Jones (Kunis) and her squabbling comedy Russian family clean the houses of the wealthy Chicago elite.

Her cousin Vladie (Kick Gurry) – the scamp – persuades her to sell her eggs to a fertility clinic so he can buy a really big TV and she a telescope. But as she lies on the operating table she’s attacked by space imps.

Fortunately she’s rescued by a gun-toting former space legionnaire. Hunky man-wolf Cain Wise (Channing Tatum) is temping as a bounty hunter for interstellar bad guy Titus (Douglas Booth) – a member of the powerful cosmic dynasty, the House of Abrasax.

Cain and Jupiter find fellow ex-legionnaire Stinger (Sean Bean) beekeeping in a country shack. It’s these bees that identify her as a queen and she takes it in her sullen stride.

Stinger and Cain beat each other up for a bit until Stinger’s daughter is sarcastic at them. Then she’s forgotten about and there’s another kidnap attempt.

It turns out Jupiter is the reincarnation of a queen who bequeathed to herself her most prized possession – the planet Earth.

Meanwhile Titus is competing against his siblings Balem (Eddie Redmayne) and Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) to control Jupiter and her inheritance.

This trio of fine Brit actors deliver their lines with as much camp energy as they can muster – possibly out of frustration at the quality of the script.

Earth is the richest supply of raw product for the lucrative market in human genetic material, used to keep everyone in space forever young.

Jupiter Jones is a dull, gullible, joyless soul, blithely accepting of her promotion to queen of the galaxy and owner of Earth.

Alien worlds, space travel and terrifying creatures with murderous intent are all greeted with the same doe-eyed indolence.

Formalities dictate she has to truck on down to the dole office to get her stamp before she is formally recognised in her new position.

Desperate stabs at humour are provided by queues of simpering lawyers and corrupt bureaucrats, all performed with embarrassing grotesque campery which are not funny as presumably intended.

Terry Gilliam appears in cameo and must be appalled at the multi-millions of dollars squandered when he can barely scrape together pennies for his own far superior work.

This is a universe which has nudity and space orgies but no sexual energy. Kunis and Tatum share zero chemistry but she falls for him anyway, without hesitation, conviction or reason.

Tatum enjoyed a fantastic 2014 with wonderful, wildly different performances in 22 Jump Street and Foxcatcher. But here he’s lumbered with dodgy tattoos and scar tissue in a generic action role where he spends most of his time sternly whizzing about on flying space boots.

Cinematographer John Troll chooses to drown cosmic cityscapes in a honey glow which is thematically sound but wearing after a couple of hours. There’s nothing groundbreaking among the visual effects to wow us the way bullet-time did back in the day.

The orchestral score of Michael Giacchino tries manfully to suggest excitement but to no avail.

There’s battles, betrayals, kidnappings and then another battle; each more confusing, longer and repetitive than the last. Then there’s another kidnap attempt but despite how busy it all is, there’s little fun or excitement.

Not since The Phantom Menace have shenanigans in the inter-galactic stock-market seemed so dull.

☆☆

Amour Fou

Director: Jessica Hausner (2014)

Slow paced and painterly, this suicide drama is so still and composed it could be lying in state.

Set in Berlin in 1810, bourgeoisie life revolves embroidery, flower arranging, letter writing and music and poetry recitals, but there’s an alarming lack of laughter, fun, anger or any other emotion, though there are some quiet jokes.

Barking mad romantic poet Heinrich von Kleist (Christian Friedel) craves death and proposes a double suicide to married mother Henriette Vogel (Birte Schnöink).

Being a sensible if unadventurous soul she demurs, remaining loyal to her husband Vogel (Stephan Grossmann) a tax collector.

When she collapses at the dinner table, a tumour is discovered. Her family stoically receive the news and a succession of doctors and quacks recommend a series of cures. The least mad include fresh air, bed-rest, blood-letting and camomile tea.

When the highest medical authority Charite Medical in Berlin say it is terminal and she has a short time to live, Henriette reconsiders Heinrich’s offer. Such is the lack of engagement with any of the characters, we care little if the couple carry out their plan or not.

Taking inspiration from the works of Vermeer, cinematographer Martin Gschlacht use of light is terrific, adhering with patient dedication to the geometry of formal composition.

It consists of a series of tableaux where everyone acts from the neck up and every shot is arranged with immaculate formal precision. This serves to reinforce the rigid social etiquette.

With sound editing and mixing successfully evoking a wider world outside the home, it’s a shame Amour Fou has no compelling drama to support its impressive technical achievements.

★☆☆☆