Streep rocks, Transporter sags, and the woes of an Iranian dissident
* The Transporter Refuelled (15A, 96mins) 1 star
* Ricki and the Flash (12A, 101mins)
* Cartel Land (No Cert, IFI, 100mins), 4 stars
* Closed Curtain (No Cert, IFI, 106mins), 4 stars
This is probably the only review where you'll read the following: what this movie needs is Jason Statham. The British action hero decided not to return for this belated follow up to 2008's Transporter 3, and his charisma and all-round cheeky-chappiness are sorely missed. Transporter Refuelled is also missing anything approaching an inventive action sequence or a coherent narrative.
In Statham's place is another London growler in Ed Skrein, who is just too much of a shaving ad to take on the rough and ready Frank Martin, a former special ops soldier-turned-driver. Frank's father (Ray Stevenson) has been abducted and poisoned, and Frank is forced to jump through hoops by a gang of beautiful women to get his hands on the antidote.
Instead of a lively reboot, producer Luc Besson and his director Camille Delamarre have delivered a reheated Knightrider episode, minus the violence and sex but with added bad acting. (Review: Gavin Burke.)
No one would be all that surprised if Meryl Streep played a tin can or the family dog in her next project, so used are we to her extraordinary shape-shifting. In Ricki and the Flash, an interesting but half-baked film directed by Jonathan Demme and written by Daiblo Cody, she plays an ageing rocker who's paid a high price for her individuality.
Ricki thumps out rock standards at a dive bar in Tarzana, California. She once dreamed of becoming a rock star, but now works days in a supermarket and lives in a poky two-room apartment. She seems happy enough, until she gets a phone call from her ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline), who tells her their daughter's had a breakdown.
Julie (Mamie Gummer, Streep's actual daughter) has just been left by her husband, and is threatening to kill herself, so Ricki travels north to Indianapolis to see if she can help. She left Pete and their three children years ago to pursue her rock 'n' roll pipe dreams, so is not surprised when she returns to a frosty reception.
Julie is particularly unfriendly, but you just know she and Ricki are going to find a way of reconciling. Because for all its posturing, Ricki and the Flash is a very conventional and old-fashioned family comedy. Diablo Cody's script runs out of ideas after an hour or so, and the film's few pleasures come from watching old stagers Streep and Kline interact with each other beautifully.
Mathew Heineman's shocking film Cartel Land feels less like a documentary and more like a crime thriller. He spent many months embedded with vigilantes on both sides of the Mexican border, filming their attempts to stop the march of the ultra-vicious drug cartels. Cartel Land focuses on two men: a Mexican doctor called Mireles who leads the Autodefensas, an armed group established to defend villagers from the barbarity of cartel reprisals, and Tim Foley, head of a vigilante patrol group called the Arizona Border Recon.
Mireles is charming, a born leader, the twitchy frontiersman Foley harder to like, but from their combined experiences it emerges that the madness of the cartels infects even those who set out to oppose it. It's a gripping film, though lacking a point of view.
In 2010 Iranian director Jafar Panahi was jailed for dissidence and banned from making films for 20 years. He had been a consistent critic of state repression, and though now a victim of it, continued to covertly ply his trade. Filmed in secret with a tiny crew, Closed Curtain tells the story of a screenwriter who arrives at his seaside villa to work, but finds his efforts impeded by visits from guests who may or may not be real.
Closed Curtain tellingly explores the despair of the caged artist, and its surreal paranoia reminded me of Beckett and Pirandello.
Legend (Tom Hardy, Emily Browning); Maze Runner: Scorch Trials (Thomas Brodie-Sangster); Irrational Man (Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone).