A HIDDEN LIFE

Cert 12A Stars 2

Nothing less than the existence of god and the meaning of life are the lofty themes explored in this typically frustrating and contemplative Second World War drama by US arthouse director, Terrence Malick.

With terminal intensity August Diehl plays Franz, an Austrian farmer who in 1940 refuses to volunteer to serve in the armed forces and swear allegiance to Hitler, a decision which brings him into conflict with his community and the authorities and has fearsome consequences for his wife and three young daughters.

Malick remains defiant in refusing to engage in crowd pleasing melodrama, and his non-linear narrative, mournful soundtrack, and sparsity of dialogue is burnished by some arresting cinematography of the Alps.

This is not quite as painfully dull and self-absorbed as his recent films, Knight of Cups and Song to Song, for which he was deservedly pilloried and which failed to bother the box office.

However it’s easy to surmise what drew Malick to this tale of martyrdom in the face of an uncaring world.

JUST MERCY

Cert 12A Stars 3

Racism, corruption and injustice litter this solid, aspirational and heartfelt true life death row courtroom drama which challenges the institutions of the US to do better.

In a change of pace from playing boxer Adonis Creed, in Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky sequels, Michael B. Jordan’s articulate dignity anchors the story as a fresh young and naive Harvard lawyer who moves to the deep south of Alabama to overturn suspect convictions.

Former Oscar winner Jamie Foxx gives an impassioned performance as a death row inmate who on the word of one unreliable witness and no evidence, was convicted of killing an eighteen year old white woman.

The script forgoes grandstanding dramatics and legal trickery in favour of quiet integrity, and makes good use of the setting of  Monroeville, which boasts of being the home of Harper Lee, author of the novel, To Kill A Mockingbird.

And the film is clearly a statement African Americans no longer need white saviours such as Atticus Finch to fight their legal battles for them.

HOBBS AND SHAW

Cert 12 Stars 4

Stuffed full of slick spectacular stunts action, fans of the Fast and Furious franchise will love this petrol and testosterone-fuelled blockbuster spin-off which sees Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham star in a typically muscle bound, knuckle-headed and banter-filled bromance.

The rival agents are forced to team up to track down a stolen deadly virus, which is also being sought by a cybernetically modified enemy agent played by Idris Elba, having great fun as a ‘black superman’.

With Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, and a kick ass Vanessa Kirby who muscles in on the action.

RAMBO: LAST BLOOD

Cert 18 Stars 2

Sylvester Stallone returns in his fifth hard-hitting action thriller as the former Green Beret and Vietnam War veteran, John J. Rambo, a long suffering one-man army of revenge who faces his Alamo moment in this perfunctory and presumably final episode.

A blood bath of limited invention for the series’ the diminishing number of fans, it sees Rambo offering violent solutions to the bloodthirsty Mexican cartel from whom he must defend his Arizona ranch.

Compared to his reinvigorated boxing franchise Rocky, this is a poor send off for a one time pop culture phenomenon and a box office powerhouse.

 

UNCUT GEMS

Cert 15 Stars 4

Adam Sandler gives a dazzling career best performance as a sleazy and desperate diamond dealer in this anxiety-inducing portrait of a man trying to avoid a professional and private collapse of his own making.

Best known as a comic actor but delivering a hyper-caffeinated tour de force in a rare dramatic role, Sandler benefits from the filmmaking skills of co-director and writers, Josh and Benny Safdie.

They’ve delivered another gut-wrenching crime drama to match their 2017, Good Times, which brought the absolute best out of former Twilight star, Robert Pattinson.

At the centre of the plot is the possession of a highly valuable black opal diamond smuggled into the country into the country, and on which a number of side deals are based.

Sandler is belittled, insulted and assaulted as he frantically tries to keep one step ahead of violent debt collectors.

Violent and sharply funny with an extraordinary soundtrack, the nail-chewing finale involves a basketball game, a sport I normally avoid but here had me gripped.

 

THE RUNAWAYS

Cert 12A Stars 2

The gorgeous vistas of the North Yorkshire are the best reason to see this meandering and melancholic British indie drama, which sees three kids on the run from their murderous uncle when he returns from eight years in jail.

They take a pair of seaside donkeys with them as they set off across the moors to find refuge with their estranged mother.

As the surrogate mother to her younger siblings, sixteen year old Angie is older than her years, and  young Molly Windsor brings a stubborn reserved dignity to the role, as she tries to corral her bickering siblings, played by the game Macy Shackleton and Rhys Connor.

Mark Addy, Lee Boardman and Tara Fitzgerald play the ineffectual adults in a loosely plotted and underpowered tale of neglect, alcoholism and greed.

Sadly there’s a struggle to generate humour or tension, and the tone is unsure, getting lost somewhere between the 1970 classic The Railway Children, and the nightmare of Terry Gilliam’s 2005 dark fable, Tideland.

AMANDA

Cert 15 Stars 3

Terrorism tears a family apart in this elegant and thoughtful French drama which turns a story of loss and shock grief and loneliness into one of perseverance and hope.

David is an easy living tree trimmer who tends the city parks and gardens begins a tentative romance with his neighbour Lena, a music teacher.

Vincent Lacoste and Stacy Martin conjure up a relaxed romantic intimacy in a fresh portrayal of Paris, a city busy and lived in, but not overly glamorous or touristy as is often the case on the big screen.

His idyllic life is struck by tragedy when his sister is killed, and while dealing with his own feelings of loss, David has to learn to take responsibility for his niece, Amanda.

Isaure Multrier is sweet but never cutesy in a lovely and unaffected performance as the seven year old.

It’s a necessarily melancholy affair with enough grit to keep the drama grounded, and it makes for a fresh and soulful palate cleanser after the festive excess.