Somewhere (15)** Directed by: Sofia Coppola Starring: Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning, Chris Pontius
Thoroughly overestimating our capacity to care about the inconsequential concerns of rich movie stars, Sofia Coppola's latest is a companion piece of sorts to her wondrous Lost in Translation, revolving as it does around another actor who finds himself somewhat adrift in his life while holed up in a hotel with a young female companion (in this case, his daughter). Sadly, where Lost in Translation had Bill Murray, Somewhere relies on the never proven skills of one-time next big thing Stephen Dorff to make us empathise with the unarticulated existential malaise facing a Hollywood star whose every whim is indulged and every need attended to by a team of sycophants. Unfortunately Dorff, playing a reasonable successful mid-level movie star called Johnny Marco – he has permanent residence in hipster Hollywood hotel The Chateau Marmont and drives a black Ferrari – can't adequately project whatever internal crisis Coppola needs him to convey as he chainsmokes his way through repetitious scenes of Johnny disinterestedly watching pole dancers or hanging out with his daughter (Elle Fanning). In the end, the opening shot of a car doing laps seems unintentionally symbolic of Coppola's career. With Somewhere she seems to be going round in circles.
The Thorn in the Heart ***
Directed by: Michel Gondry
Michel Gondry's feature films (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Be Kind Rewind) tend to have a ramshackle home-movie feel to them, so it's hardly surprising that with his new documentary, The Thorn in the Heart, he's effectively delivered an actual home movie. Delving into the recent history of his extended family, the film homes in on his septuagenarian Aunt Suzette, something of a maverick teacher whose awkward relationship with her gay son Jean-Yves over the years has cast something of a pall over the family, especially since the death of his father, her husband. Though interspersed with his trademark childlike visual flourishes, Gondry's family tracks Suzette as she revisits many of the provincial schools in which she taught and contrasts the positive effect she's had on the lives of other children with the unintentionally debilitating effect her ways seemed to have on her own child. That said, this is not one of those films that points an accusatory finger at a dominant family member and tries to assign blame to them for every difficulty experienced. Gondry has great affection for Suzette; his film merely captures the complexities at the heart of any family, with great generosity of spirit.
An Ordinary Execution (12a)**
Directed by: Marc Dugain
Starring: Andr Dussollier, Marina Hands, Rgis Romele
Set in Moscow in 1952, this is a rather stately French-language adaptation of director Marc Dugain's own novel about Joseph Stalin's final months. The despot's noted mistrust of the medical profession provides the unusual background for a fictional drama based around the uneasy, chilling relationship he strikes up with a woman doctor whose service he secretly engages. Andr Dussollier is suitably monstrous as Stalin, playing him as a calmly brutish man able to inspire fear in his subjects using seemingly benign stories loaded with implicit threat. As the doctor, Hand is steely-eyed and a forceful presence, and does a good job of giving us a sense of her character's conflicted feelings towards her latest patient, especially as he seems to appreciate the apparent healing powers for which she has been shunned by her fellow medical practitioners. Despite this and the oppressive atmosphere Dugain manages to create, dramatically speaking it's a bit too flat and seems more suited to theatre, especially as the attempts to layer in extraneous subplots prove unnecessarily distracting without adding much to the central relationship.
In Our Name (15)***
Directed by: Brian Welsh
Starring: Joanne Froggatt, Mel Raido, Chloe Jayne Wilkinson
There's a distinct TV drama feel to In Our Name, a powerfully acted but melodramatically plotted effort exploring the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder among British squaddies returning from the Middle East. Haunted by her experiences in Iraq, Brit soldier Suzy (Joanne Froggatt) finds returning to life in her Tyneside estate isn't easy. Her young daughter (Chloe Jayne Wilkinson) won't communicate, her insecure squaddie husband (Mel Raido) thinks she's having an affair, and she's scared her fracturing mental state might harm her chances of promotion. With very little constructive help on offer, her combat experiences start melding with her everyday experience as she takes to defending her home and her family with the same skills necessary used to survive a war zone. Froggatt does strong, measured work here, but she's hampered somewhat by the film's unconvincing third act descent into First Blood territory as hostile behaviour from some of the locals and her husband's own dark war secrets cause her to go loco in the wilderness with her kid in tow. Until that point, though, it's gripping stuff.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (PG)**
Directed by: Michael Apted
Starring: Georgie Henley, Skander Keynes, Ben Barnes, Will Poulter
Despite being ditched by Disney after Prince Caspian earned a fraction of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe's box office-conquering gross, the world's drippiest fantasy franchise continues. The best that can be said about Dawn Treader is that it has managed to excise some deadwood courtesy of a plot that features only two of the simpering Pevensie children. Unfortunately the story ups the irritation by saddling Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skander Keynes) with supercilious cousin Eustace, whom the normally agreeable Will Poulter (Son of Rambow) transforms into one of the most irritating screen children in living memory. The plot finds all three transported to Narnia where they reunite with bland hero Caspian (Ben Barnes) to hunt down seven swords that will lift the evil gripping their former kingdom. Mild peril ensues as each of the kids are tested by darker forces. This is simply time-filling nonsense designed for those who can't yet handle the infinitely superior Harry Potter films.