Cinema: San Andreas
About 20 minutes and umpteen eye-rolls in, you realise all is not what it seems in San Andreas. It may star Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and have a $100m budget to blow on its dull CGI, but what is actually taking place is essentially a B movie masquerading as some kind of Roland Emmerich imitation.
Once the penny drops, you can relax in the company of Brad Peyton's preposterously shoddy disaster film, and roll with the stumbles. Of which there are very many.
Johnson flexes and ripples as Ray, a hulking rescue serviceman undergoing a divorce (why are disaster movie heroes always divorced?) from his wife Emma (Carla Gugino). She has taken up with Ioan Gruffudd's rich wimp. Meanwhile, daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) is caught in the middle of it all, but love could be on the horizon when she meets charming Brit brothers Ben and Olly.
This, and a bit of sweaty flapping by seismologist Paul Giamatti, are the dreary human-drama punctuation marks used between all-out earthquake porn as the eponymous faultline goes about flattening San Francisco.
Johnson does lots of frowning and "mansplaining" to Gugino as they set out to rescue Blake. Everyone else gets squashed and smothered in iffy science and bad dialogue.
The key problem is familiarity. We've seen tidal waves and collapsing cities in films. We've watched privileged US families being brought closer together by tornadoes, meteors and alien invasions for years. The idea is stale. It's the end of the world as we know it, and we couldn't care less.
The Connection ** Editor's pick
During his time as magistrate/inspector in charge of juvenile crime, Pierre Michel (Jean Dujardin) sees first-hand the effects of the heroin trade destroying Marseille in 1975. He takes the devastation personally, so, when promoted to head of the drugs squad, he goes after the drug lord importing heroin into France via Turkey with special zeal.
The man Michel is targeting is Gaetan Zampa (Gilles Lellouche), his mirror reflection on the other side of the law - of similar age, equally devoted to family and dedicated to success. The power struggle endures over years and becomes increasingly personal. The body count is high, but there are other prices to pay, and while the team of hard-boiled detectives learn to respect their newbie boss and his occasionally unorthodox methods, his once lovely marriage to Jacqueline (Celine Sallette) crumbles.
Written and directed by Cedric Jimenez (with Shannon Harvey and Audrey Diwan) The Connection, called La French in French, is the Gallic-eyed view of the sequel to William Friedkin's 1971 classic The French Connection. The plotting is complex but the head to head between the hero and antagonist, Michel and Zampa, feels more like Heat. It's neither original nor ground-breaking, but its 1970s styling, all nipple scratcher collars, Farah slacks, plentiful hair and endless smoking is set to a fabulous soundtrack which makes for great packaging. At 135 minutes, it is a bit long but it's slick and extremely watchable, with Dujardin turning in another mesmerising performance.
Shooting in a desert region immediately adds charisma to any drama, but it takes a maestro of the calibre of Abderrahmane Sissako to really make such a setting tremble with ambience. Sissako filmed this Oscar nominee in his native Mauritania and while the dramatic fruits of the story end in tears, you will struggle this year to find a film that sears itself into the mind's eye as robustly.
An expertly crafted human tapestry is woven into Timbuktu's foreground, ensuring the landscape's heady enigma doesn't hog the limelight. Witless jihadists impose a theocratic dictatorship on the titular Malian town, banning music, smoking and sports on pain of extreme punishment. On the outskirts, Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed) lives blissfully with his wife, daughter and small herd of cattle. A dispute with a fisherman results in an accidental shooting and Kidane is hauled in to undergo a Sharia trial by the IS tyrants.
The imbecilic hypocrisy and viciousness of Islamist extremism is quietly observed as they bend their own laws and mete out their medieval justice via stonings and shootings. You curse the inventor of the AK47 Kalashnikov and despair of man's suggestibility.
But Sissako has an eerie way of bringing warmth and humanity into the batter when it looks dried out. So while a happy ending becomes increasingly remote, there are powerful moments of defiance and spirit from the townsfolk that resonate through the disquiet.
IFI and selected cinemas
There usually comes a point in every Simon Pegg film where he overstays his welcome. It's that squirrelly mugging he insists on lacing his one-note humour with.
But the stars must have aligned somehow in Man Up, for that point doesn't arrive. There are things that will royally irk in this low-intellect Brit rom-com from Inbetweeners director Ben Palmer, but, bizarrely, Pegg is not necessarily one.
What grates most forcibly when watching this formulaic tale of perfect strangers falling in love across conceits and outside interference is that we still seem unable to shake off the ghosts of The Office. Ricky Gervais made millions out of "the comedy of mortification", where people mutter blunt truths directly and shamelessly while losers flounder with embarrassment. Man Up scribe Tess Morris feels this style marks the zenith of comedy writing. It doesn't, and didn't 12 years ago under Gervais.
Thankfully, there is enough charm in the cast to just about drag this over the line. Just.
Lake Bell (In A World) is Nancy, the archetypal manless, mid-30s ladette who stumbles into a blind date after being mistaken for someone else at a London train station. She plays along with it only to find that she and fellow singleton Jack (Pegg) hit it off like the proverbial house on fire. Into the fold come ex-partners and whistle-blowers, and Nancy's cover is blown. The big question on nobody's lips is will Jack forgive her. Oh, the suspense ...
If you're in the market for something light, unchallenging and cloyingly cute to snuggle into, look no further than Man Up. Don't, however, expect to find anything quotable or remotely original here, save perhaps Rory Kinnear's obsessed ex, who out-creeps even his grim Penny Dreadful character.
Danny Collins? Really? You would think that scriptwriter Dan Fogelman (The Guilt Trip, Crazy, Stupid Love) would have come up with something slightly more memorable for his directorial debut than this US equivalent of "Paddy Murphy" or "Bob Smith".
Monikers aside, this tale of an ageing crooner (think Rod Stewart meets Neil Diamond) rediscovering his mojo while patching things up with his estranged son is peculiarly middle-of-the-road for something with such quality resources to hand. These include some of Hollywood's more coveted senior acting talents: Al Pacino, Annette Bening and the effortless class of Christopher Plummer.
Pacino plays you-know-who, a creaking, coke-hoovering icon living opulently with a much younger trophy blonde and trotting out the old hits. His manager (Plummer), the smartest character in the film, hands him a letter penned by John Lennon 40-years previously that went missing on its way to Danny. At that time, Danny was a rising young talent with a cult hit to his name who subsequently sold out to become a glorified covers singer.
Charged by Lennon's words of approval, our hero hits the road to find long-lost son Tom (Bobby Cannavale) and try to start afresh by getting on the right side of Tom's wife (Jennifer Garner) and special-needs son. Danny's appalling track record as a father means this is an uphill struggle.
Doing a fine Diane Keaton impression, Bening, is the love interest who manages Danny's temporary hotel abode and brings some strait-laced common sense to bear.
From this point on, you will notice that Danny Collins has lost that little sparkle of wit and weary wisdom it offered so nicely at the beginning and has devolved into corny, cheesy mulch. Lennon's music soundtracks with the subtlety of an air-raid siren and every dramatic trough is detectable from a mile off.
Of course, none of this is particularly the fault of Pacino, Bening or Plummer, all of whom buttress Fogelman's film as best they can. But surely we can find better ways to employ the talents and experience of these three golden greats than beige froth such as this?