Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. Starring Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Paul Bettany, Timoty Dalton, Steve Berkoff, Rufus Sewell.
THE PLOT: Two beautiful strangers meet on a train, both heading for Venice – recently-widowed Wisconsin maths teacher Frank Tupelo (Depp) to get over his broken heart; cunning vixen Elise Ward (Jolie) to meet her criminal lover, Alexander, wanted fourteen countries. To throw Scotland Yard and some Russian goons off her trail, Elise latches onto the somewhat witless Frank, and much hilarious double-crossing and triple-crossing ensues. At least, that’s the plan…
THE VERDICT: A remake of the 2005 French hit Anthony Zimmer, this stylish-but-flat comedy thriller is the English-speaking debut of German director Donnersmarck, and the follow-up to his 2006 Oscar winner The Lives Of Others. Throw in the two most exotically beautiful, and commercially lucrative, box-office stars, and how could you fail? Well, by being a bit dull? This is familiar territory for Jolie, but seeing Depp without his Oxfam chic is akin to seeing Chaplin without his bowler hat and cane. Depp normally looks like his young kids dress him; here, it looks like his mum has dressed him. For his First Communion. It’s reflective of a film that never feels, or looks, quite right. RATING: **
Directed by Sofia Coppola. Starring Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning, Chris Pontius, Erin Wasson, Michelle Monaghan.
THE PLOT: Opening, tellingly enough, with a fast car on an empty track, jaded movie star and committed party animal Johnny Marco (Dorff) has his high-living interrupted when he falls and breaks his wrest. Holed up in Hollywood’s exclusive Chateau Mormont hotel, even twin blonde pole-dancers can’t quite lift Johnny’s spirits, a bottle of beer and a cigarette his only constant companion. Until, that is, his ex-wife drops off their 11-year old daughter, Chloe (Fanning), their enforced quality time together gradually helping Johnny realise just how hollow the life of a loveless, listless B-lister really is.
THE VERDICT: Sofia Coppola is on similar ground here to her 2003 offering Lost In Translation, examining again the loneliness of the long distance movie star, cocooned from reality, and devoid of any truly meaningful relationship. If not exactly Rourke inThe Wrestler, Dorff perfectly fits the bill here, having once been a serious Hollywood contender with the dashing good looks to prove it. His character’s gradual awareness of the bad-air bubble he’s inhabiting leads to a realisation that his future, should he stay cocooned, is a toss-up between Mick Hucknall or Michael Hutchence (or maybe that should be toss-off?). Then again, he could always opt for real love. RATING: ***
Directed by Michael Apted. Starring Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Ben Barnes, Will Poulter, Tilda Swinton, Liam Neeson, Simon Pegg.
THE PLOT: As the Second World War rages, Lucy (Henley) and Edmund (Keynes) are none-too-happy to find themselves having to stay with their spoilt cousin Eustace (Poulter). The latter is a non-believer when it comes to magic, and is quickly given his comeuppance when the trio end up inside a painting and subsequently rescued by the eponymous ship. Captain of the ship is the Pevensie’s friend, Caspian (Barnes), the new king of Narnia on a mission to found the swords of seven presumed-dead lords – so they can finally defeat what appears to be a large green fart.
THE VERDICT: When those fine people at Disney saw the box-office take for their second Narnia outing hit a, eh, meagre $415m, they decided to pull the plug on the Bible-through-the-back-closet-door franchise. The first outing, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, had, after all, taken a much more impressive $745m. And so it was that Fox stepped in to save the Pevensie kids and their Sunday school adventures, happy to take on a snow-covered, God-loving kiddie classic that would appear to have been tailor-made – by the earth-covered, God-loving C.S. Lewis – for the Christmas market. Especially given that Dawn Treaderis one of the favourite books in the series. Only problem is, if the reviews are to be believed, Apted (who, rumour has it, wanted his name removed at one point) has given us something of a resounding dud. RATING: **
WAR OF LOVE/Sluby panienskie (Poland/12A/99mins)
Directed by Filip Bajon. Starring Marta Zmuda Trzebiatowska, Anna Cieslak, Edyta Olszowka, Borys Szyc, Robert Wieckiewicz.
THE PLOT: An adaptation of a 19th-century social comedy, Maidens’ Vows, or The Magnetism Of The Heart by Aleksander Fredro, we are introduced to attractive cousins Klara (Trzebiatowska) and Aniela (Cieslak) as they vow never to marry. Especially since their parents have lined up two smug brutes, Albin (Szyc) and Gustaw (Stuhr), as their husbands-to-be. Gradually, we also get to see the actors involved in this story, as they flitter about and argue off-camera…
THE VERDICT: A major hit in its native Poland, War Of Love is unlikely to have the same impact elsewhere, given that much of Fredro’s wordplay is lost in translation, and many of the in-jokes (some centred around familiarity with the actors involved, and their previous roles) will pass us by. That said, this is an endearing little film, even if the concept is not entirely original. RATING: ***
Ahead of its release next week in the IFI, the critically acclaimed documentary Catfish will have a special preview screening on December 14th, 6.30pm, followed by a satellite Q&A with the directors, Henry Joost and Arial Schulman. Charting a budding relationship on Facebook, and the brave new world we’re all facing, this might just make a perfect companion piece to The Social Network. Then again, maybe not. I’ll be seeing it Friday. So, I’ll let you know…