Close encounter at the White House
* Elvis & Nixon (12A, 86mins), 3 Stars
* The Secret Life of Pets, (G, 91mins), 3 Stars
* Remainder (15A, 103mins), 4 Stars
* Suburra (18, 135mins), 3 Stars
In the winter of 1970, Elvis Presley was watching television, or rather a bank of competing televisions, in the basement of Graceland when he became incensed by his country's slide towards decadence and decided to offer his services to the President of the United States. Thanks to a series of lucky breaks, the King was granted an audience with Richard Milhous Nixon, and Liza Johnson's enjoyable film imagines how it might have gone.
It's based in part on the memoirs of Nixon aide Egil Krogh and Presley's friend Jerry Schilling, both of whom are portrayed in the drama. Schilling (Alex Pettyfer) is working at a Hollywood studio when Elvis (Michael Shannon) turns up and asks him to drop everything and come to Washington. They deliver a handwritten note to the White House gates, and it eventually finds it way to Egil Krogh (Colin Hanks), who endeavours to persuade a thoroughly dubious Nixon (Kevin Spacey) that meeting Presley would be a good idea.
Though not an obvious choice to play the King, Michael Shannon does a brilliant job by underplaying the Elvis clichés. Kevin Spacey is another actor who's way too good to resort to mere impersonation, and instead finds his character through his mannerisms - that obtuse, jutting head, those hunched and worrying shoulders. The film evokes its period well, but in the end can only guess as to what Presley and the President talked about, because in 1970 Mr Nixon hadn't started bugging his own office yet.
Bright and breezy, brisk and cheery, 'The Secret Life of Pets' is an amusing and whimsical animation that imagines what Manhattan's domestic animals get up to while their owners are at work. Perky Jack Russell Max is pleased with his life until his owner brings home a giant rescue dog of uncertain pedigree called Duke. Max gets territorial, Duke responds, and soon the pair have landed themselves in a right old mess, leaving Max's feline and canine buddies to attempt a rescue.
The impressive voice cast includes Lake Bell and Steve Coogan, but Kevin Hart (to whom I am normally allergic) steals the show playing an abandoned, feral bunny rabbit.
There are shades of both Alfred Hitchcock and Charlie Kaufman to 'Remainder', a chillingly atmospheric drama based on a novel by Tom McCarthy. Directed with imagination and restraint by Israeli video artist Omer Fast, it stars Tom Sturridge as a London man who ends up in a coma when he's hit by falling debris.
When he wakes he can remember little about his old life, but he's haunted by recurring visions that may be memories, and after he's given £8.5m in an insurance payout, begins using the money to re-enact these clues from his past. He buys an old apartment building, remodels it exactly as he 'remembers' it, and bullies and hectors builders and actors into doing his bidding. It's a woozy, disturbing, haunting little film, but not without a sly sense of humour.
Stefano Sollima's 'Suburra' was part-financed by Netflix and is the precursor to a streamed episodic TV crime drama. Violent, venal and opulently melodramatic, it stars Pierfrancesco Favino as Filippo Malgradi, a high-flying politician who's buying votes behind the scenes to green-light controversial plans for a tacky Las Vegas-style resort in Ostia. All is going well until an under-age prostitute dies in his arms during a drug-fuelled orgy, and he ends up in debt to some very nasty underworld types.
Everyone is 'Suburra' is corrupt, and Mr Sollima even manages to implicate the Vatican before he is finished. His baroque directorial style reminds me of early Michael Mann, and William Freidkin's 'To Live and Die in LA'. It's outrageously gloomy and self-regarding at times, but undeniably entertaining.