The Sweeney * * * *
Cert 15, 112 mins
Like Sean Bean before him, Ray Winstone is one of Britain’s finest screen actors in grave danger of prostituting his talents through too many commercials.
It’s been impossible to watch a football match in recent years without him waddling on to the screen offering betting odds.
Nor can you currently go to the cinema without getting the (best ever) Orange advert which features Winstone sending up his own role in The Sweeney almost as if it’s an EastEnders’ spin-off.
Jack Regan (Winstone) and George Carter (Ben Drew) are also certainly not the characters we knew and loved when John Thaw and Dennis Waterman were in their collar-feeling, kipper-tied, 1970s’ pomp.
Now a fully-weathered 55, Winstone looks old enough to be the grandfather of the thoroughly likeable 28-year-old Drew, aka rapper Plan B.
And audience groans of self-fuelling disbelief during Regan’s utterly gross love scenes will come, in part, from your eyes telling you that he could actually have fathered his own in-force lover Nancy, gamely played by brilliant 30-year-old Captain America star Hayley Atwell.
This new version of The Flying Squad has a ridiculously high tech office.
Its officers willingly ignore the law like bandits and the reprehensible violence includes an oft-repeated scene which will shock anyone who thought this was ‘only’ going to be a 15 certificate.
With so much contamination and foul language swirling around in a glass of the hard stuff, it’s astonishing that The Sweeney is as good as it is.
But The Football Factory director Nick Love has achieved miracles on another modest budget, with every drop of his energy again up there on screen.
A full-throttle, Birmingham-built Jag adds an extra beast to proceedings in a thriller which feels like it’s the result of our collective, pent-up frustration with a generation of political correctness.
The Sweeney is the best London thriller since Eastern Promises (2007) and The Bank Job (2008).
So, enjoy it for the nonsense that it is. And, after a brilliantly-inventive, trailer-smash finale, dare to hope for more. GY
Hope Springs * * *
Cert 12A, 99 mins
Not a lot happens in this drama about a marriage, but what does unfold will strike a chord with many in the audience – especially couples who have been together a long time.
Kay (Meryl Streep) cooks her husband Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) eggs and bacon every morning while he reads the newspaper and ignores her, before heading off for his job as an accountant.
They sleep in separate bedrooms and haven’t had sex for five years – Arnold is far more interested in watching golf.
After 31 years, Kay still loves Arnold but craves the intimacy they once shared and fears he doesn’t find her atractive any more. So she spends $4,000 of her savings on booking an intensive counselling course with therapist Dr Bernard Feld (Steve Carell).
Stubborn, grouchy Arnold is deeply affronted at the prospect but, when she sets off for Maine anyway, he reluctantly joins her.
Comedian Carell is deeply serious – and rather smug – as he encourages them to open up.
Director David Frankel was also behind The Devil Wears Prada and Marley and Me and takes a simple but effective approach to Hope Springs.
Everything is subtle but highly realistic – uncomfortably so at times as the squirming couple try to talk about sex.
It’s drily amusing but not obviously played for laughs. The script is good and, best of all, two fine actors are just allowed to act.
Witty, heartbreaking and touching by turns, it’s a great little film with a strong message, of not giving up on a relationship because that’s the easy way out. RL
ParaNorman 3D * * *
Cert PG, 92 mins
Norman (the voice of Kodi Smit-McPhee) can see dead people. At first it’s amusing that he has conversations with his grandmother while watching zombie films – “Why is he eating her head? He’s going to ruin his dinner” – until we realise granny (Elaine Stritch) has passed on.
No wonder he’s called a freak and laughed at at school, forced to hang out with fellow shunned boy Neil (Tucker Albrizzi).
Then, just before popping his clogs, Mr Prenderghast (John Goodman) tells Norman: “The witch’s curse is real and you have to stop it.”
Only he can stop zombies over-running the town, as his task involves finding the grave of a witch that was hanged and reading her a story.
Feeling like cross between a Tim Burton animation and the Oscar-nominated 2006 film Monster House, ParaNorman is quirky but clever and weirdly fun.
Boasting a voice cast that includes Bernard Hill, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, I particularly liked the character of Neil. He has some cracking lines like “Don’t make me throw hummus, it’s spicy!” and revealing that his pet dog was run over by the animal rescue van – “tragic and ironic”.
It’s rather gross in parts and a bit scary, but kids aged about eight and up will love its dark, ingenious humour and impressive stop-motion animation. RL
Dredd 3D *
18, 95 mins
Like The Amazing Spider-Man, The Bourne Legacy, The Expendables and Total Recall et al, this is another summer of 2012 re-tread with little new to say.
Originally launched in a 1977 edition of the comic book 2000 AD, we’ve already had Sylvester Stallone’s 1995 Judge Dredd version of the law enforcement character.
So Hollywood is not only losing the art of surprising its audiences and of how to deliver tension, but it’s also this kind of dispiriting vision which illustrates why the US box office is in a slump this month.
Still, if you’ve always wanted to watch bullets go through someone’s face in slow motion, Dredd is for you.
The cinematography is by Anthony Dod Mantle (28 Days Later, Millions, Slumdog Millionaire) and the script is by fellow Danny Boyle regular Alex Garland (The Beach / 28 Days Later / Sunshine), but the 3D alone will feel like a criminal waste of your money.
As he proved with Vantage Point (2008), director Pete Travis has form for going round in circles and, with his helmet firmly on, leading man Karl Urban (Star Trek) is scarcely able to do much with his chin.
Dredd’s trainee Anderson is also up against bad girl Ma-Ma, but neither Olivia Thirlby nor Lena Headey make much of an impression in a tower block drama lacking the kinetic energy of The Raid (2012). GY
That’s My Boy *
15, 114 mins
I suffered this film solely to try to understand how Adam Sandler could have persuaded greats like James Caan and Susan Sarandon to embarrass themselves even more than Al Pacino did in Jack And Jill back in February.
Truthfully, I have no idea.
They can’t all need the dosh. Or the work. Surely things can’t be this bad in Hollywood, can they?
There are moments when everyone is clearly having a good time in an ensemble way that reminded me of Spanglish (2004), for my money Sandler’s best film.
But the script, which resorts to incest for laughs, is utterly puerile.
As a waster called Donny, Sandler’s teenage self got his predatory teacher pregnant; now he’s all grown up and at the wedding of the son.
Even without the filth, I was already sated with 2012 wedding movies after The Wedding Video and A Few Best Men. GY
Flowers of War * * *
15, 142 mins
After taking more than $1 billion worldwide, The Dark Knight Rises is now the tenth highest grossing film in history – just ahead of The Dark Knight in 13th place.
Yet star Christian Bale’s other summer movie, Flowers of War, had just TWO screenings at Empire Great Park.
Now, the most expensive Chinese blockbuster ever made is at Warwick Arts Centre on Friday, Saturday and Wednesday and at Bromsgrove Artrix on Sunday and Monday – and worth a look.
Directed by Zhang Zimou (House of Flying Daggers), the action is set in 1937, when the invading Japanese Imperial Army overruns the Chinese capital, Nanking.
Bale’s mortician character John Miller pretends to be a priest ready to help young schoolgirls and a group of prostitutes to survive against rapacious males and overwhelming odds.
After the Welshman made his name as a boy in Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun (1987), this film could be seen as another China v Japan companion piece of sorts.
The filming techniques cross Saving Private Ryan with Zimou’s own Hero and other dynastic, martial arts-driven Chinese epics.
The slow motion can be distracting, but girls are terrific, the violence sometimes terrifying and Bale is good enough to overcome the oddity of a having an American white man as the focal point of 75-year-old Chinese-Japanese history. GY
Take This Waltz * * *
Cert 15, 116 mins
Michelle Williams will one day win a best actress Oscar. Or two.
This isn’t her best work – see Brokeback Mountain, Blue Valentine and My Week With Marilyn instead – but she still helps to make it an interesting take on how relationships flatline.
Margot (Williams) is married to food writer Lou (Seth Rogen) but tempted by rickshaw-pulling artist Daniel (Luke Kirby) across the street.
This is writer-director Sarah Polley’s second film after her Alzheimer’s drama, Away From Her (2006) and, in a sweltering summer in Toronto, she resists the temptation of easy answers.
Like its title, Take This Waltz is sometimes conceptually awkward – but it’s also occasionally funny, steamy and always well photographed.
It won’t resonate as much as Revolutionary Road (2008), amuse like this year’s overlooked My Sister’s Sister (2011) or be as convincing as the German food film Mostly Martha (2001).
But it’s also not an Adam Sandler film any more than it’s offering Nicholas Sparks’ slush, so we should all be truly thankful for that.
Showing at the Warwick Arts Centre from Friday until Tuesday and at the MAC until Monday. GY