Reviewed this week are Horrible Bosses 2, Paddington, I am Ali, The Possibilities are Endless, Stations of the Cross.
Horrible Bosses won friends (if not outright critical acclaim) in 2011 by appealing to that nine-to-five market who wanted nothing more of a Friday evening than watching business bullies get their comeuppance at the hands of beleaguered minions like them. There were, of course, other ingredients at play, most of which have wisely been returned to the comedy batter in this uncommonly effective second outing.
Central was the clown chemistry between the three men behaving badly - Nick (the effortlessly likeable Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), the bold one, and the wondrously dim Dale (Charlie Day). They've decided to become captains of industry themselves, and start up a business manufacturing showerheads. In the process, though, they get shafted by amoral corporate investors Christoph Waltz and his obnoxious son (Chris Pine).
Debts hang over the trio (and nothing has been learned from the first film) so, naturally, kidnap and ransom is their bright idea. Distractions, obstacles and help come from return visitors such as nymphomaniac dentist Dr Harris and the dastardly Harkan (game turns by Jennifer Aniston and Kevin Spacey).
The world created by writers John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein is a rude, crude and imbecilic place, and often overpoweringly funny to be stuck in. Much of the guffaws are down the three core buffoons, who, well-intentioned and short-sighted they may be, have no one but themselves to blame.
A rare comedy win for 2014.
A childhood given over more to Batman than bears meant I came to the subject of director Paul King's family-friendly feature Paddington with much to learn. The good news about this endearing piece starring Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins is that an amusing Pathe newsreel-style prologue fills in the important blanks. "Darkest Peru" is shown as the birthplace of the lovable bear at the heart of proceedings. An earthquake in his natural jungle habitat prompts an epic journey that sees Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) pitching up in the London train station that is about to give him his name.
Paddington had been led to believe that London would be a safe haven, but he's down to his last marmalade sandwich by the time he's saved from destitution by the Brown family. Chaos soon reigns as Paddington's fish-out-of-water antics put Dad (Bonneville) on a collision course with the end of his tether. Under protest, he allows him to stay but a bad situation is made worse when Paddington is targeted by a psychotic taxidermist played by Nicole Kidman (inset). Naturally, the fur soon starts to fly, as all roads lead to a hair-raising climax at the Natural History Museum.
Sumptuous production values and pitch-perfect performances ensure that those in the market for quality kid-friendly fare are unlikely to feel shortchanged. It's taken more than half a century to get the star of Michael Bond's much-loved series of children's books on to the big screen and it seems likely to be the first of many appearances. There's more than enough here to justify the further adventures of Paddington.
For all his screen outings - from Ross Whitaker's tidy When Ali Came To Ireland to Michael Mann's pompous Will Smith vehicle Ali - there is rarely a sense of any managing to capture Muhammad Ali, as if the legendary pugilist refuses to fit inside anything as terrestrial as a movie.
Leon Gast came closer than anyone in 1996 with his majestic Oscar-winner When We Were Kings by anchoring his portrait to Ali's "Rumble in the Jungle" with George Foreman.
Sadly but unsurprisingly, I Am Ali, written and dircted by Clare Lewins, is nowhere near Gast's iconic documentary, perhaps because it takes too broad a brushstroke (rise and fall, family, Islam, politics, women and, eh, Mike Tyson). Its rambling, hagiographic tone, tacky intertitles and graphics, and dull, unimaginative score dampen the impact of archive footage and crackly audio diaries. Given Ali's extraordinary charisma, verbal capacity and looks, this takes some doing.
We learn a little - the role of his religious zeal in the ring, hints that he was a euphemistically "old-fashioned" husband, the effect of his trash talk on Joe Frazier. But structurally, it lacks its subject's lightness of foot, trundling from one friend/family member/colleague/rival to another with corny chapter headings ("A Daughter's Story" etc) that feel like the realm of some US daytime chat-show montage.
If nothing, what Lewins's film really proves is the same thing as any Ali project will - that we sure don't build our celebrities like we used to.
In selected cinemas
Converting personal tragedy into personal triumph is the preserve of the very few. In the remarkable documentary The Possibilities Are Endless, former Orange Juice frontman and accomplished solo artist Edwyn Collins delivers a moving and authentic masterclass in doing just that.
In 2005, when his best days as a solo artist were arguably behind him, Collins suffered a catastrophic double cerebral haemorrhage that left him, to paraphrase Dylan, knock, knock, knockin' on death's door. It caused him to be hospitalised for six months and left him mostly paralysed and with little vocal function. The only words he could utter initially were "yes," "no," and intriguingly, "the possibilities are endless."
Looking back now, Collins doesn't know where that last expression originated but it perfectly describes the story arc of the inspirational odyssey he was about to undertake.
Directed by James Hall and Edward Lovelace, the documentary charts Collins's epic journey back to relative normality from that personal ground zero.
Contemporary sequences are merged seamlessly with archive footage from a glittering career and scenes from the idyllic Scottish coastal town of Helmsdale where Collins grew up and now lives with his wife Grace Maxwell.
Collins's captivating voiceover is a constant throughout while the importance of the role played by Maxwell in Collins's rehabilitation is clearly evidenced.
Understandably the experience has had a dramatic impact on Collins's worldview and from his compelling insights, it's clear he views the world through a more soulful lens. He's swapped his rabid atheism for agnosticism and talks of being "deadly serious about searching for the truth." On this evidence, it's true what they say - great tragedy is often the midwife of great art.
For a combination of reasons, it's easy to forget that the Catholic church's stranglehold has been as powerful in other countries as it was in Ireland.
Germany is certainly not traditionally associated with Roman rules but Kreuzweg (Stations of the Cross) is a powerful modern drama about just that.
Maria (played by Lea Van Acken) is a 14-year-old preparing for her confirmation. Her family, however, are members of a sect that follow a particularly strict vision of Catholic dogma. Maria not only has to contend with religious bindings but with her domineering mother (Franziska Weisz), whose love and approval are very conditional.
Maria attracts the attention of a boy in her school (Florian Stetter) whose family belong to a version of Catholicism where Gospel and Soul music are permitted by the church choir.
Maria wants to be a normal - albeit a very sedate version of normal - teenager, but also to adhere in every way possible to the demands of her church and her mother. As an added incentive and source of confusion, Maria understands that via her sacrifices she might save her little brother who cannot speak.
Siblings Anna and Dietrich Bruggman write and direct what is an extraordinarily atmospheric piece of cinema. Dividing it into sections named after the Stations of the Cross could have been a form-over-substance kind of device. However, the titles are made to fit the scenes rather then the other way round so the story flows naturally and easily. Some of the takes are very long, a difficult thing for any actor, but, despite her youth, Van Acken is remarkable. Like the famous single shot scene between Fassbender and Liam Cunningham's priest in Hunger there is long close-up scene where Maria is in confession. The priest, unseen in confession but known to the audience as to Maria, is a handsome young man, who, in utterly reasonable and almost kindly tones insists on her baring her soul, her heart, her brain, leaving no place uncolonised and no part of Maria for Maria. Stripped of freedom but burdened by responsibility, Maria struggles to cope. It's powerful stuff, really well acted.
IFI and selected cinemas