ALISTAIR Harkness reviews the rest of this week’s film releases
Directed by: Stephen Knight
Starring: Jason Statham, Agata Buzek, Vicky McClure, Benedict Wong
Star rating: * *
Testing even my love of Jason Statham, Hummingbird is a fairly terrible showcase for the chrome-domed action star’s brand of mayhem. As with last year’s magnificent Safe, it finds him cast again as a former high-level professional reduced to living on the streets after a personal trauma. Alas, unlike Safe, what transpires in the London-set Hummingbird isn’t thrill-a-minute action, but a misconceived, honkingly executed tale of spirituality and redemption in which Statham’s alcoholic, ex-Special Forces hard-nut Joey Jones assumes another man’s identity to track down the killer of a homeless woman forced into prostitution.
Marking the directorial debut of screenwriter Stephen Knight, the film over-eggs Statham’s avenging angel status by having him engage in an unconvincing and embarrassing romantic dalliance with a Polish nun (Agata Buzek) who begins questioning her own commitment to God while urging Joey to lead a more virtuous life. Fast & Furious 7 can’t come fast enough.
Despicable Me 2 (U)
Directed by: Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud
Voices: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt, Russell Brand, Steve Coogan
Star rating: * * *
2010’s Despicable Me was a disposable piece of silliness designed to delight the younger end of the animation market, so it’s no surprise that this sequel offers more of the same. Steve Carell returns as the voice of Gru, the wannabe evil genius whose adoption in the previous film of three adorable little girls has led him to seek a less nefarious means of making his mark on the world.
Now putting his scene-stealing pill-shaped Minions to work running a jam manufacturing company, Gru is pulled back into the super-villain world by a secret government agency that needs his help to foil a new threat known only as El Macho (Benjamin Bratt). That’s really just an excuse to partner Gru up with Kristen Wiig’s Anti-Villain League agent Lucy Wilde, and the moment she arrives on screen, the film sparks to life a little as Gru’s fear of the opposite sex starts getting in the way of his ability to act on the crush he has on Lucy.
Stories We Tell (12A)
Directed by: Sarah Polley
Star rating: * * * *
Having already established herself as one of the finest actors of her generation, Sarah Polley is rapidly becoming one of its most interesting filmmakers thanks to her work on the acclaimed Alzheimer’s drama Away from Her and the infidelity-themed Take This Waltz.
Her third feature sees her changing tack a little by delving into her own personal history with a remarkable documentary investigation into her parentage told from the conflicting perspectives of those who know her best.
If that sounds like the height of narcissism, rest assured that Polley has a keen awareness of her own worth as dramatic focal point and shifts the perspective of the film quite brilliantly to the role that memory, myth and secrecy plays in defining a family and how its members relate to one another.
What emerges is a fascinating and illuminating story, one that runs the gamut from intense joy to deep sadness and features a couple of surprising twists that take proceedings off in strange and unusual directions.
The East (15)
Directed by: Zal Batmanglij
Starring: Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page, Toby Kebbell
Star rating: * * * *
Rising star Brit Marling reteams with her Sound of My Voice co-writer/director Zal Batmanglij for another indie thriller set in the world of secret cults. This time, however, they’ve traded the mystical overtures of their previous film for a more grounded, ultra-contemporary tale of eco terrorism and corporate malfeasance, one that riffs on contemporary concerns without getting too preachy.
The title refers to an Anonymous-style agitprop group determined to hold the executive class accountable for their actions by staging “jams” to give those responsible for damaging the world a taste of their own medicine (literally in the case of one pharmaceutical firm responsible for manufacturing debilitating drug cocktails).
Marling plays Sarah, a new recruit at a private security firm that specialises in gathering intel to help its clients counteract anti-corporate activism. She finds her loyalties tested almost immediately, however, when she infiltrates The East and becomes a member of the inner circle – a group of young, messed-up idealists living off the grid in a dilapidated mansion owned by the group’s charismatic leader Benjie (Alexander Skarsgård).
Shot in a crisp, contemporary style that’s notable for not referencing other movies, The East feels very now in its look, themes and ideas and Batmanglij and his cast invest the story with enough nuance and feeling to make the thriller that unfurls feel like it matters.
Stand Up Guys (15)
Directed by: Fisher Stevens
Starring: Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Alan Arkin, Julianna Margulies
Star rating: * *
Viagra jokes and hip complaints are present and correct in this latest geriatric groan-fest, which finds Al Pacino and Christopher Walken as a couple of creaky crooks facing what could be their last night on earth. Having just got out of prison, Pacino’s Val cottons on quickly to the fact that his best pal Doc (Walken) has been burdened with the task of killing him as horrible payback for a shoot-out gone wrong some years earlier. Instead of doing the deed, however, they decide to have one last hurrah and prove that getting into trouble is the best way to stay alive and remain vital.
Springing their other ageing buddy, Hirsch (Alan Arkin), from a nursing home, it’s not long before they’re visiting brothels, stealing cars and beating up kidnappers, all the while trying to stave off the inevitable moment of truth. It’s depressing to see the likes of Pacino reduced to making erectile dysfunction jokes, more so when the film labours the gag by having him overdose on Viagra. Whatever small pleasures are to be had from watching him play off Walken requires a very indulgent frame of mind. What a waste.