THE DICTATOR (USA/16/83mins)
Directed by Larry Charles. Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, Jason Mantzoukas, John C. Reilly, Ben Kingsley, Bobby Lee, Aasif Mandvi, Kevin Corrigan, Megan Fox, Edward Norton.
THE PLOT: We first meet Admiral General Aladeen (Baron Cohen) as he gives his latest celebrity conquest, Megan Fox, a good if lightning quick seeing to, the cruel tyrant ruler of Wadiya having paid for the pleasure with many of the world's most famous pin-ups. Including, as we see from his wall of Polaroid trophy fucks, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Here's a man who makes Putin look positively humble. And honest. A trip to New York for a UN conference sees Aladeen's long-suffering chief henchman Tamir (Kingsley) employing his master's latest dimwitted body double as more than just a sniper decoy. One quick beard-shave later, and Aladeen is just another bum on the streets of New York, taken in (in more ways than one) by health food store hippy chick Zoey (Faris). Aladeen must orchestrate his own body-swap before Tamir and his business associates - including a show-stealing depraved Chinese capitalist (Lee) - have a chance to announce a new democratic constitution for Wadiya. And thus turning this oil-rich country into a capitalist haven. Hey, it's the American way.
THE VERDICT: Karmic chameleon Sacha Baron Cohen abandons the candid camera ambushes of Ali G, Borat and Bruno for his latest comic creation and replaces it with a no less outrageous, politically-charged and equal-opportunities offensive outing. The surprise being - thanks to a traditional narrative script - everyone here is in on the joke.
At heart, The Dictator is an update of The Prince & The Pauper, only, in this case, the prince is a Middle Eastern despot and the pauper is the idiot goat herder enlisted as his clueless body double. Not quite as willy-wavingly hilarious as 2006's Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan but far more likeable and funny than 2009's Bruno, The Dictator simply packs its gag-filled 83 minutes with well-aimed rib-tickling PC nut-kicking. It's Chaplin with a little help from Chomsky. Or The Great Dictator for today's generation, to be more precise.
Kim Jong-Il - to whom the film is lovingly dedicated - is no doubt spinning in his air-conditioned, gold-plated, 100-acre grave. RATING: 4/5
A KISS FOR JED (Ireland/USA/15A/86mins)
Directed by Maurice Linnane. Starring Jayne Wisener, Mark O'Halloran, Lee Arenberg, Neville Archambault, Neal Bledsoe, Jay Thomas, Jojo Gonzalez, Declan Joyce.
THE PLOT: This would-be quirky little film concerns reality TV show winner Orla Cassidy (Wisener), leaving her native Antrim for New York, where she's determined to grab a kiss from US country superstar Jed Wood (Bledsoe) in time for next week's show. On camera duties is reluctant documentary filmmaker Ray (O'Halloran, of Adam & Paul fame) whilst holding the overhead mic is jaded and somewhat sleazy soundman Mike (Arenberg, Action, Pirates Of The Caribbean: Curse Of The Black Pearl), their plight, after Orla does a runner, taken up by morning radio show host Carter (Thomas). Naturally, Ray and Orla flirt with a little Woody/Soon Yi love action...
THE VERDICT: Written by Horslips founder-turned-screenwriter Barry Devlin, and directed by his buddy Maurice Linnane (who helmed 2005's TV doc Horslips: Return Of The Dancehall Sweethearts), A Kiss For Jed has been looking for a home since 2010. Back then, it was called A Kiss For Jed Wood, but a growing confusion with John and Edward instigated a change. Perhaps the producers should have stuck with the only possible carrot here for your average cinema-goer, the attraction of such a likeable if unremarkable little knockabout comedy being hard to fathom. Still, the cast - especially Wisener - give it their all, and there is the occasional zinger ("See that Angela's Ashes? That's considered a comedy in Ireland"). RATING: 3/5
NORTH SEA TEXAS (Belgium/Lighthouse/98mins)
Directed by Bavo Defurne. Starring Eva Van Der Gucht, Jelle Florizoone, Mathias Vergels, Patricia Goermaere, Katelijne Damen.
THE PLOT: 1960s, Belgian coastal town, and 10-year old Pim (Ben Van den Neuvel) spends his day trying on his single mum's old beauty queen get-ups whilst she's out playing her accordion at a local Texas bar. Next door is fellow 10-year old Sabrina (Noor Ben Taouet) and her hunky 12-year old brother Gino (Nathan Naenen) - and Pim is soon besotted with the latter. Especially when, five years later, he suggests the two of them try a little mutual masturbation out in the shed. But, eh, secret love never runs smooth. Not after you've engaged in some teenage mutual masturbation. Out in the shed.
THE VERDICT: With a lead character inspired by Andre Sollie's 2005 novella This Will Never Go Away, and the first feature from noted Belgian shorts director Bavo Defurne, North Sea Texas handles its delicate subject matter with admirable frankness. To this end, Defurne is helped greatly by not one but two leading men, 10-year old Ben Van den Neuvel and 16-year old Jelle Florizoone capturing the frustration and anger of the young Pim beautifully. Defurne isn't quite so successful, or sympathetic, when it comes to the adults here, making for a strangely disjointed film. RATING: 3/5
THE RAID REDEMPTION (Indonesia/USA/18/100mins)
Directed by Gareth Evans. Starring Iko Uwais, Ananda George, Ray Sahetapy, Donny Alamsyah, Yayan Ruhian, Pierre Gruno.
THE PLOT: Jakarta, present day, and rookie cop Rama (Uwais) is part of a special task force's dawn raid on a tenement controlled by crime boss Tama (Sahetapy) and his sidekicks, the aptly-named Mad Dog (Ruhian) providing the brawn and Andi (Alamsyah) providing the brains. From the start, we suspect there's more to this raid than a simple battle-cry of "Let's clean up this fucking city", and so it proves. Once inside, Rama and his team are soon battling for their lives as Tama sends out a call to "cut all communications and lock it down", calling on his henchmen and his neighbours to wipe out "this infestation". With one police group quickly exterminated, Rama finds himself fighting for survival. And boy, can he fight, as the night of the long machetes gets underway... But is this a mob takedown? Or a rescue mission? Or is someone simply planning on making a killing from all this killing?
THE VERDICT: Somewhere between Old Boy and Kung Fu Hustle in style, and Assault On Precinct 13 and Infernal Affairs in plotting, The Raid Redemption (the latter word added recently due to copyright problems) is a rush to the head. And chest. And groin. Welsh-born director Gareth Evans clearly knows his John Woo, his Chan-wook Park and his Sam Peckinpah - everybody here is kung-fu fighting, beautifully, Evans' regular DP Matt Flannery doing a spectacular job of capturing all the breakneck and spine-snapping thrills and spills of a well-orchestrated bloodbath. It's Bruce Lee on acid. For Mad Dog (Ruhian), guns are no fun - "Squeezing the trigger is like ordering take-out" - and so, hand-to-hand combat rules, even when your entire crew depends on each battle. The sort of movie Quentin Tarantino wishes he could make, there's already plans for sequels, and the inevitable American remake. RATING: 4/5
2 DAYS IN NEW YORK (Germany/France/Belguim/15A/95mins)
Directed by Julie Delpy. Starring Julie Delpy, Chris Rock, Albert Delpy, Alexia Landeau, Kate Burton, Alexandre Nahon, Daniel Bruhl.
THE PLOT: When we last met her in 2007, Delpy's Marion had to cope with her neurotic American boyfriend Jack (Adam Goldberg) finding life amongst the French a tad unbearable. In 2 Days In New York, Marion is now living in the US with Rock's Mingus, and their children from previous relationships, but they find their everyday life rudely interrupted by the arrival of Marion's glaringly Gallic relatives, pop Jeannot (Delpy's real-life pop, Albert) and sly sis Rose (Landeau), plus her ex-lover, Manu (Nahon). What could possibly go haywire?
THE VERDICT: The latest film from French actress Julie Delpy to deal with the sometimes wide French-American divide, this follows on from the romantic double-bill, 1995's Before Sunrise and 2004's Before Sunset, and is a sequel of sorts to the movie that kinda sent that romantic double-bill up, 2007's comedic 2 Days In Paris. That Delpy is deep in Woody Allen territory with such subjects makes her decision to set her latest outing in New York either incredibly brave or deeply stupid. I'm guessing it was a little bit of both, as the material here constantly feels like a homage to the Woodsman's glory years, but plays more like his not-so-glorious years. RATING: 3/5