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Aussie director David Michod made his mark with 
his outstanding 
2010 debut Animal 
Kingdom. Based on real events, it told the story of a Melbourne crime family with a gritty realism which took the breath away and featured excellent performances from Guy Pearce, Joel Edgerton, Ben Mendelsohn and Jackie Weaver, the latter receiving an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of the gang's sinister matriarch. Well, he's 
reunited with some of that team for The Rover and the results are frequently spectacular.

Based on a story co-written by Michod and Edgerton, The Rover is set in rural Australia ten years after 'the collapse', a catastrophic but unspecified economic or environmental event which has left society in tatters. Law and order exists to a certain extent but in the dusty outback the survival of the fittest is essentially the order of the day.

It's here that we meet Eric (Pearce), a taciturn loner who'll be familiar to anyone who's seen Clint Eastwood's early screen outings, as he stops at a decrepit store to stock up on what supplies are available. While he's there a gang on the run from a robbery crash their pick-up, steal Eric's car and head off into the distance, prompting a chase that forms the central core of the film's plot.

Gang leader Henry (Scoot McNairy) can't understand Eric's seemingly irrational determination to get his vehicle back and, following a violent encounter, the latter 
is left bruised by the 
roadside. The odd element into the mix comes when Eric encounters Rey 
(Robert Pattinson), 
Henry's slow-witted 
younger brother who'd been left for dead at the robbery site and who he reluctantly takes along with him.

While The Rover may appear slight in terms of story it certainly doesn't lack for atmosphere or tension. The evocation of civilisation left to run on its basest instincts is marvellously invoked, with a gruesome visit to a grim brothel one of the most unforgettable images I've seen this year.

If anything, the film suffers from its echoes to other movies. Any feature involving cars and the Australian outback automatically brings Mad Max to the table, while the raw violence as people travel through a disintegrating culture also sparks comparisons to The Road and the tense filial bond between Rey and Henry has a parallel in The Proposition, another film with a similar location and also featuring Pearce. For all that however, The Rover is a meaty, if occasionally frustrating piece of work, cementing Guy Pearce's credentials as a 
compelling leading man and 
marking David Michod as a 
director to be reckoned with.



Drama/animation. Starring Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Danny Huston, Jon Hamm (voice). Directed by Ari Folman. Cert 15A)

Having gained deserved attention for 2008's Waltz with Bashir, a strange blend of live action and animation based on his experiences with the IDF during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Ari Folman has taken his time developing his follow-up and he's delivered a very, very peculiar proposition indeed with The Congress.

If ever a film could be described as fragmented then this is it. It begins with an opening act which is fascinating and borderline brilliant, as Robin Wright, playing herself, gets a pep talk from her agent Al (Harvey Keitel) about how her career is effectively down the pan. He berates her for making 'the wrong choices' but dangles the prospect of 'one last contract' in front of her.

In a meeting with 'Miramount' executive Jeff Green (a superb Danny Huston), she's told that the actress the public loved in The Princess Bride and Forrest Gump can be preserved for ever by a combination of computer effects and motion capture, on the proviso that she never act again, the studio being able to manipulate her image and voice into any project of their choosing. It's a fascinating premise which asks all sorts of interesting questions about the nature of acting and the morality - or otherwise - of the movie industry and gives us a fabulous scene as Wright agrees to the offer and Al pours out his heart to her as she's being captured for future use.

Unfortunately, after that peak we flash to '20 years later' as Wright's contract is up and she's driving to a mysterious 'futurological conference' to be held in an 'animated zone'. Suddenly the movie switches into psychedelic cartoon mode, with all semblance of regular storytelling dismissed as fantasy characters morph into one another and we're faced with a labyrinthine head-wreck which makes Yellow Submarine look like a documentary about bee-keeping. After 20 minutes of this whatever goodwill had been earned by the stunning opening was well and truly squandered in an orgy of bizarre images and indulgent plotting, all of which goes to make The Congress one of the most frustrating films of the year.


(Documentary. Directed by Todd Douglas Miller. Cert PG)

This interesting documentary tells the strange story of how in 1990 a group of palaeontologists discovered the mostly intact skeleton of a T Rex in South Dakota, only to land themselves in a minefield of legal wrangling which lasted for more than a decade and even saw one of them go to jail.

Disputes over ownership, whether a man whose land where the fossil was discovered even had the right to sell it on and what at times appears to be the malicious nature of the federal authorities all combine in a film which is probably more suited to TV than a cinema screening but is well worth a look.HHHHI


(Action. Starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Antonio Banderas, Jet Li, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kelsey Grammar. Directed by Patrick Hughes. Cert 12A)

Dear God, this joke is wearing particularly thin. The first film in the Expendables franchise was pretty decent fun, taking the 'I'm too old for this shit' line Danny Glover used in Lethal Weapon to its logical conclusion by building an entire movie around the premise and recruiting an array of 80s action stars to get the older punters back into the cinemas, alongside some fresh blood to do the heavy lifting and high-kicking.

However, by the second film Stallone, 
Bruce Willis and the rest were clearly 
taking the mick, lobbing in bizarre 
appearances from Chuck Norris into the mix 
just to hammer the point home. 
Unfortunately, the third time round merely feels like a dreadfully cynical exercise.