Eco terrorists, murder and a comedy with real brains - reviews of Obvious Child, Night Moves, Sin City, As Above So Below, and Mystery Road
Obvious Child is that rarest of beasts, a comedy with a brain. Gillian Robespierre's film uses wit and heart to address a very delicate subject and stars the excellent Jenny Slate as Donna, a gloriously messed up New York Jewish stand-up.
On stage she moans excruciatingly about her personal life, but ends up with something big to complain about when she gets unexpectedly pregnant.
Donna decides to have an abortion, and Ms Robespierre's fine film follows her journey without judgment or melodrama. It's pretty funny too: when Donna's friend asks her how the accident happened, she's philosophical. "I remember seeing a condom," she says, "I just don't know exactly what it did."
In films like Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy, Kelly Reichardt has examined the tough rhythms of ordinary American life and painted an unsentimental picture of a not very caring society. Her movies are simply shot and daringly thin on plot, but this last tendency becomes problematic in a thriller.
Night Moves stars Jesse Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning as Josh and Jenna, two woolly-headed members of new age eco sects that grow their own in the Midwestern wilderness. Josh and Jenna have decided more radical action is called for and plan to blow up a nearby dam.
As as they gear up for their big moment, underlying tensions and muddled motives emerge. Night Moves works best in its tense and lean opening 40 minutes or so, but Ms Reichardt's stubborn insistence on slow plotting ensures that Night Moves fails utterly to fulfil its early promise, and descends into blurry paranoia by the end.
Ivan Sen, on the other hand, builds his tension very nicely in Mystery Road. Aaron Pedersen plays Jay Swan, an Aboriginal cop who returns to work in the rural Queensland shanty town where he grew up. He's greeted with suspicion by his old neighbours and steps on lots of toes when he investigates the murder of a local teenager.
Mr Sen directs, writes, edits and scores this brooding contemporary western and even does his own cinematography. His film looks pretty good too and though Mystery Road's plot runs out of steam a little during the middle third, it rouses itself for a blistering climactic shoot-out that really is something special.
There's absolutely nothing special, meanwhile, about Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, a tardy sequel to Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez's 2005 pastiche thriller. That film ambitiously transferred Mr Miller's nihilistic graphic crime novels to the big screen using real actors and animated backdrops. It looked smart and left me cold, but was Citizen bloody Kane compared to this mess.
Like its predecessor, Sin City 2 tells a series of interlocking crime stories inspired by the great noir thrillers of the 1940s. It's crude, humourless, dimwitted and violent, and no one emerges from it with very much credit.
Nor do the unfortunate cast of As Above, So Below, a daft horror romp starring Perdita Weeks as a kind of female Indiana Jones in search of the legendary philosopher's stone.
She becomes convinced it's stowed in a hidden passage beneath the Paris catacombs and persuades a group of foolhardy local spelunkers to accompany her. Beneath the City of Light they find trouble and plenty of it, as spooky music and hooded figures emerge from the shadows to scare the Jesus out of them.
It's tiresome stuff, though a certain claustrophobic panic is cunningly induced in the viewer.
No Cert, IFI, 121mins
Sin City 2
As Above, So Below
Out Sept 5: A Most Wanted Man (Philip Seymour Hoffman), The Guest (Dan Stevens), Sex Tape (Cameron Diaz), Life of Crime (Jennifer Aniston, Tim Robbins).
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