Our film critic reviews some of the best and worst of this week's new releases...
The Princess of Montpensier (15) ****
Directed by: Bertrand Tavernier
Starring: Mlanie Thierry, Gaspard Ulliel, Lambert Wilson
SET against the backdrop of the raging conflicts between the Catholics and the Huguenots in 16th-century France, The Princess of Montpensier manages to be that rare thing, a thoroughly modern-seeming period film that is confident that the story it's telling is compelling enough so as not to necessitate the addition of torturous contemporary parallels. Put that down to veteran French director Bertrand Tavernier, who brings all his film-making flair to bear on this story of a young woman whose beauty and intelligence send the warring men in her life into a flap. That this story – based on the 1662 story by Madame de Lafayette – has all the soapy appeal of a good bodice-ripper isn't denied by Tavernier, who revels in mounting scenes of burly men riding into battle and corseted women jumping into bed, but he tempers this with an intelligent exploration of the submissive fate of women at that time. As the eponymous heiress, Mlanie Thierry is a beautiful enigma, her character railing against the prison of an arranged marriage, but never quite able to fully escape the roles ascribed to her by the men in her life, including her tutor (played by Lambert Wilson) and true love (Gaspard Ulliel).
Hobo with a Shotgun (18) ***
Directed by: Jason Eisner
Starring: Rutger Hauer, Gregory Smith, Molly Dunsworth, Brian Downey
THE magnificently titled Hobo with a Shotgun was born out of a fake-trailer competition organised by Robert Rodriguez the year his and Quentin Tarrantino's maligned but rather ace Grindhouse experiment came out in the US. First-time director Jason Eisner's winning entry went on to play with the Canadian release of their double-bill of crazy cinema and gained a cult following online as a result. It was a cool story, and now, in the tradition of Rodriguez's own self-satisfied Machete, a self-consciously rubbish movie has been reverse engineered from something that worked brilliantly as a two-minute joke. But at least Eisner's status as a newbie film-maker makes this a less irksome prospect than Rodriguez's should-have-known-better attempt to do the same thing. There's something oddly charming about the fact that it's hard to tell whether Eisner's authentic re-creation of the kind of lurid, incoherent and sleazily violent vigilante films that filled the shelves of video rental shops in the 1980s is down to sly film-making or genuine ineptitude. As the deranged homeless hero intent on dispensing shotgun justice to save a world that has never cared for him, Rutger Hauer at least seems to be in on the joke, even if the joke wears pretty thin.
Honey (PG) **
Directed by: Semih Kaplanoglu
Starring: Bora Altas, Erdal BEsikioglu, Tlin zen
SOME films are so wilfully slow and meditative they end up exerting a hypnotic hold on you that takes you somewhere you didn't expect to go. Other films are so wilfully slow and meditative they feel like academic exercises in navel-gazing. Sadly, Honey, the latest from Turkish director Semih Kaplanoglu, falls into the latter category. Revolving around a stuttering, bullied little boy (Bora Alta) and his close relationship with his honey-collecting father (Erdal Besikioglu), it's a film in which each shot has been meticulously composed and yet remains strangely lifeless. The film is too reliant on the adorable but awkward presence of its six-year-old lead to give us a sense of the inner life of a character who refuses to speak to anyone but his dad, and his while mostly silent wanderings have a plaintive quality, none of this resonates on an emotional level. I'll concede that this might have something to do with the fact that I've not seen the previous instalments of the trilogy (Egg and Milk) that Honey apparently brings to a close, but even so, it all feels a little generic.
Bobby Fischer Against the World (12A) ***
Directed by: Liz Garbus
GIVEN that American chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer's 1972 showdown with the Russian world champion Boris Spassky occupies a large chunk of this entertaining documentary about the perturbed prodigy's life, it's perhaps unsurprising that the film has a tendency to overplay the Cold War metaphors a little. As the film reminds us, Henry Kissinger did put in a phone call to the erratic Fischer requesting he actually turn up to the heavily hyped showdown in Iceland, but the event itself is not quite the ideological East v West battle of wills some of the film's more hyperbolic talking heads seem keen to paint it as. That aside, the film works pretty well as a neat portrait of a troubled genius whose mastery of a board game that relies on paranoid thinking sadly bled into his personal life. Tracing his journey from gifted child to limelight-shirking monomaniac to reclusive anti-American conspiracy theorist, the film may stick to the standard rise-and-fall story arc, but it does pull together a lot of fascinating archival material. More importantly, it underscores the tragic irony of a man blessed with a preternatural ability to calculate every possible outcome of every possible decision being unable to function properly as a human being.
Just Do It (12A) **
Directed by: Emily James
FOLLOWING a year in the lives of a group of climate change activists as they take to the streets, chain themselves up in banks, camp on rooftops and superglue themselves to one another, Just Do It seeks to put a friendlier face on activism than the one usually perpetrated by the media – that it's a hub for trouble-seeking, riot-inducing anarchists. It largely succeeds, too: what director Emily James finds in her jaunty doc is a group of mostly passionate and committed people from all different socioeconomic backgrounds united in their desire to make the world a better place. Indeed, the only time any of them seem unhinged is when they allow the realities of a society that doesn't – and probably never will – operate in fair and harmonious way get them down: at times, even a cup of tea can't quell such feelings of impotent anger. Unfortunately, in showing how unthreatening they really are, the film also reveals them to be a fairly boring lot and with the best will in the world, that doesn't make for particularly scintillating viewing.