Find out which movies are worth the popcorn money this week...
A Star Is Born ****1/2
Rewriting your Films of the Year is always a nice complaint to have. And sure enough, the tenth month of 2018 rolls into town with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga staking their claim for elbow room among the Top Ten. Long before December 31 they'll be in the top spot on many a person's list.
This is the best work Cooper has done as an actor since Silver Linings Playbook, and his directorial debut suggests the brightest of futures behind the lens. As for Gaga, well, she steals the show.
Their fight for love and glory sees troubles-by-the-tonne troubadour Jackson Maine (Cooper) getting another shot at life through a chance encounter with aspiring singer-songwriter Ally (Gaga). The attraction - physical and musical - is instant, with the butterflies even finding their way to the cinema seats. Read our full review here.
"Superhero fatigue" is a phrase frequently bandied around these days, for good reason, but Venom just about manages to stick its hideous head above the fray because it is, well, just plain weird.
The Marvel comic book character is one of Spider-Man’s most famous antagonists, but this movie presents a simple origins story distinct from his web-slinging foe.
Tom Hardy is on peak Tom Hardy form as Eddie Brock, a San Francisco-based investigative journalist who purports to stand up for the little guy, but who turns out to have some extremely questionable sleuthing ethics. Read our full review here.
Johnny English Strikes Again ***
With relations between Moscow and London being what they are and US tech giants going from heroes to zeroes in rapid succession, this seems a rather good time for the return of bungling British spy Johnny English in a new film which sees him grapple with a cyber mastermind and a beautiful Russian spy.
Of course, this kind of Bond send-up has been done to death, from Casino Royale way back in 1967 to Austin Powers’ more recent shagtastic adventures. But heeeere’s Johnny, the 00 - 7 of British Intelligence prat-falling back into traction-inducing action at the very time when silly questions about the "real-life" James Bond swirl like scraps of paper in the wind. Read our full review here.
There is an air of Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, of Lost in Translation and indeed Richard Linklater’s Before Triolgy about Columbus, a fine debut feature from the Japanese video essayist Kogonada.
The screenplay feels like an adapted novella, with its well-turned, smart dialogue, and its riffs on the Modernist architecture that can be famously seen at various points in the city. The young Korean translator Jin (John Cho) is in Columbus because his father, an esteemed Professor of Architecture is in a coma in a local hospital. The lecture which the academic had intended to give has been cancelled, the son has flown from Korea to be at his bedside. Read our full review here.
The Silver Branch ****
Patrick McCormack, who farms in the Burren in County Clare celebrates his native place with an extraordinary articulacy in The Silver Branch, Katrina Costello’s absorbing debut documentary.
Those of us fortunate enough to love our native heath - and there are many of us of course - but we would have to think a long while before arriving at a formulation as to just why we love our fond native place or savage shore. Think about it for a second - a couple of meagre, heartfelt sentences and you might be done and have no more to say.
You would have to do a bit of research on the quiet perhaps – pretending its your own maybe too - to come back with anything substantial by way of an extensive, illuminating paean to home. That is the beauty of it anyway, that love of native place needs little articulation and calls for no explanation, certainly to oneself. Read our full review here.
The Meeting ****
Alan Gilsenan's latest film is a tough but very rewarding watch. It tells the story of Ailbhe Griffith, a young Dublin woman who was heading home late at night, and was brutally beaten and sexually assaulted.
Her attacker was caught and sent to prison, but nine years later Ailbhe decided to meet the man who had subjected her to a vicious attack that left her both seriously injured and psychologically scarred.
This is a dramatisation of that meeting, interspersed with graphic images of Ailbhe in the wake of the attack. And what makes this film version of events truly remarkable is the fact that Ailbhe portrays herself. Read our full review here.
The Wife ****
Glenn Close is a simmering Vesuvius of contained rage in this elegant comedy-drama about deceit, pride and calculated loyalty. She plays Joan Castleman, the steely but gracious wife of man of letters Joseph Castleman, a writer who is that rarest of things - a novelist who is both commercially successful and critically adored.
Joseph (a fusty but conniving Jonathan Pryce) is about to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. When the couple first hear the news in an early morning phone call from Stockholm to their handsome lakeside home in Connecticut, they bounce up and down on their bed like children in giddy rapture. Theirs certainly looks like a blissfully contented marriage, even after all these years together.
But all is facade and artifice. Director Björn Runge and screenwriter Jane Anderson (adapting the book by Meg Wolitzer) reveal a story of conceit and the limits of loyalty, layer by stinging layer in what is a superbly paced and blackly humorous film. Read our full review here.
Night School **
In a Hollywood apartment or back office, you really hope someone is right this minute pounding the keys writing the perfect script for Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish. A comedy-drama about a thirtysomething couple trying to start a family maybe? A rom-com about two clockwatchers in going-nowhere jobs? Two suggestions; the possibilities are endless.
Fact is, when it comes to chemistry, Hart and Haddish have more together than a Salter Science set under the Christmas tree back in the day. But Night School turns out to be a lesson in the razor-sharp delivery of blunt material.
This mix of sentiment, slapstick and sauce from Girls Trip director Malcolm D Lee often feels confused - we weren't expecting The Breakfast Club or Stand and Deliver, but it's no Back to School or Old School, either - and Haddish isn't in enough scenes. Read our full review here.
The Little Stranger ****
The Little Stranger is an alluring thriller that is beguiling right to the very end and is best served if you go in with no set genre in mind - it is not a simple ghost story.
Coming out of the awards whirlwind of Room, which saw Lenny Abrahamson pick up his first Oscar nomination, there is expectation on the director to follow up with something special, and he has as he continues his pattern of selecting projects that are unique and can truly capture an audience.
The Little Stranger sees Domhnall Gleeson take the lead as Faraday, a young doctor who becomes entwined with the once-wealthy Ayres family who reside in Hundreds Hall, a manor house that has enchanted him since childhood. Read our full review here.
A Simple Favour **1/2
From the outset, A Simple Favour appears to have it all, but by the midway point its overly convoluted plot sends it crashing down into daytime soap territory, and it never recovers.
Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) and Emily (Blake Lively) meet at the school gates when their young sons insist on having a play date together. Stephanie, a mummy vlogger, has no adult friends; and Emily, a PR executive working in the city, doesn't either - but for very different reasons.
Visually, it's all stunning - from the cinematography to the clothes - and the steady pace and sharp script work in the first half, but then A Simple Favour goes off a cliff. From worn-out twists that we've seen countless times before, to over-the-top revelations, all control is lost in the second half, as is patience for the paradigm shift. Read our full review here.
Mile 22 **
Mile 22 is a peculiar beast. Clocking in at just over the 90-minute mark, it's a slickly edited, propulsively paced, shamelessly entertaining action thriller.
But it's maybe just... a bit silly?
It's the fourth collaboration between Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg (following Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day), and is their first not based on true events. Wahlberg's character heads up an elite team of undercover CIA agents who literally operate above the law. In fact, before they carry out any mission they sever all connections to the CIA or the government ("They are ghosts," John Malkovich's remote tactical commander helpfully explains). Read our full review here.
The House with a Clock in Its Walls **
It has all the appearances of being a family Halloween dream, but director Eli Roth fails to keep The House with a Clock in Its Walls ticking over.
The film tells the story of Lewis, a 10-year-old who goes to live with an uncle he has never met before (Jack Black). The uncle happens to be a warlock and is trying to track down a mysterious magical clock that is on course to turn back the sands of time to ensure human beings never come into existence.
These kinds of adventures thrive on the ability to surprise your audience, or allow them to marvel at the magic in the world of the story, but there just isn't enough originality or wonder here to do either of those things. Read our full review here.