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Sun sets with Magnificent Midnight

BEFORE MIDNIGHT Drama. Starring Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Walter Lassally, Ariane Labed, Jennifer Prior, Charlotte Prior. Directed by Richard Linklater. Cert 15A

God, has it really been all of 18 years since cinemagoers first encountered Jesse and Celine as bright-eyed students and backpackers spending the night wandering around Vienna talking about life, love and their hopes for the future?

Before Sunrise was a masterclass in understatement, with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy perfectly cast as a couple gradually falling for each other in the few hours they had together, their brief encounter made all the more poignant by the finale and the promise they made to meet up again at a train station six months hence.

Of course, as we know from 2004's Before Sunset, that meeting never took place, but the memory of that night in Austria inspired Jesse's best-selling novel, prompting Celine to attend his book tour in Paris where a real-time conversation and stroll led to one of the most romantic cliff-hangers in contemporary cinema. Well, here we are, another nine years on and the characters have developed more complex layers.

This time out, the setting is a Greek island at the end of a holiday where we discover that they've been a couple since that night in Paris (hooray!) but there are complications in the relationship. Jesse's son Hank is about to enter high school and he's floating the idea about them moving back to the States to be closer to him. Celine makes it clear from the off that she can't abide Jesse's ex-wife and is contemplating a career change of her own, which would necessitate their remaining in Paris.

Ah yes, that thing called life getting in the way of youthful dreams. The genius of the Before series is how writer/director Richard Linklater and his two main actors – who've co-scripted the latter two films and, interestingly enough, write roughly half of each other's dialogue – make the audience feel as if we're earwigging on a particularly articulate series of conversations. Tightly scripted and extensively rehearsed to facilitate Linklater's penchant for long, unbroken takes, these films are deceptively complicated and Before Midnight is possibly the best of the three.

Here we veer from domestic banalities to discussions about art and the nature of love to a memorable and quite gripping argument in a hotel room. The characters never feel less than real, which is a credit to Delpy and Hawke, and while the ebb and flow of the hotel scene is dramatic and at times unsettling, we never tumble over the precipice into Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? territory.

A marvellous conclusion (?) to one of the great trilogies in cinema, Before Midnight is a truly wonderful, warm and human film. As Jesse says at one point, tipping a clear nod to the series' devotees: "How long has it been since we walked around just bullsh*tting?" Too long. See you in another nine years? HHHHH

WORLD WAR Z Sci-Fi/Action. Starring Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, Peter Capaldi, Ruth Negga, Moritz Bleibtreu. Directed by Marc Forster. Cert 15A

Max Brooks' 2006 novel World War Z was a gripping tale told in the aftermath of a worldwide zombie plague, the key device being that it was conveyed as an oral history from dozens of participants from all over the globe. That a book's central premise is essentially unfilmable hasn't bothered Hollywood in the past (ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Great Gatsby) and what the writers have done here is stick Brad Pitt in a central role and let him wander around the globe trying to figure out what's causing people to start chowing down on each other and come up with a solution to the problem.

Far from the potential car crash that a ballooning budget and extensive reshoots would lead you to expect, World War Z is a more than decent summer actioner. Pitt is fine as former UN troubleshooter Gerry Lane, whose re- enlistment in order to combat the sprinting dead (these zombies bomb along) takes him from Philadelphia to South Korea, Jerusalem and, er, Cardiff. Director Marc Forster hits the ground running with a gripping opening half-hour, excellent set-pieces and a very impressive Jerusalem section.

One does get the impression that the original vision for World War Z was somewhat different from what's ended up in the final cut and a movie closer in tone and theme to Contagion might have been on the cards but, for all that, this is certainly worth a look. One word of warning: avoid the 3D version as it's absolutely pointless, makes half the film unwatchable and will cost you more money.

3 STARS

SHUN LI AND THE POET Drama. Starring Zhao Tao, Rade Sherbedgia, Marco Paolini, Roberto Citran, Giuseppe Battiston, Wang Yuan. Directed by Andrea Segre. Cert 12A

ACCLAIMED documentary maker Andrea Segre's first feature is a touching and quite moving story of Chinese migrants in the Veneto region of Italy. Shun Li (Zhao Tao) has been transported to Chioggia on the Venice lagoon where she works in a cafe and tries to work off her debt to the snakeheads who brought her there in order to bring her young son to live with her.

Her friendship with fisherman and would-be poet Bepi (Rade Sherbedgia) leads to suspicion and hostility among both the Italian and Chinese communities, but Segre handles both the dramatic and underplayed romantic themes with a deft touch.

The performances of the leads are immaculate, the undercurrent of racism from both sides is handled with great subtlety and there's a lovely warmth to a film which I can't wait to see again.

For his first feature, Andrea Segre has certainly laid down a serious marker for his future efforts.

4 STARS

SPIKE ISLAND Drama. Starring Elliott Tittensor, Nico Mirallegro, Jordan Murphy, Emilia Clarke, Matthew McNulty. Directed by Mat Whitecross. Cert 12A

The rumoured forthcoming Stone Roses gig in Marlay Park certainly has movie-makers taking care of advance advertising as, following on from Shane Meadows' documentary Made of Stone, we now have a drama centring on the efforts of a group of Manc scallies trying to get to the Roses', ahem, 'legendary' gig at Spike Island in 1990.

In truth, there's an amateurish, Grange Hill feel to this outing, with all the dramatic arcs signposted well in advance and delivered with no great conviction. There are times when director Mat Whitecross does get across the essence of what it's like to be a teenager in thrall to a particular band, but the final product here is as off-key as a typical Ian Brown vocal.

2 STARS

ALSO RELEASED THIS WEEK

Citadel (Cert 16, HHIII) is the latest addition to the 'hoodie horror' genre and while Irish director Ciaran Foy makes the most of his budgetary limitations, this veers off into the realms of the ludicrous. Dwayne Johnson stars as a construction boss-turned-DEA mole in the daft Snitch (Cert 12A, HHIII) and that's vastly preferable to A Haunted House (Cert 16, IIIII), a woeful and repulsive spoof of Paranormal Activity starring Marlon Wayans. God, how did this get a release here?


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