Eye in the Sky; Louder Than Bombs; Men & Chicken; The Huntsman: Winter’s War and others – review

Helen Mirren is formidable in a smart tale of modern warfare, but Charlize Theron and Emily Blunt are the only good thing about a flaccid fantasy sequel

Last year, Ethan Hawke and director Andrew Niccol thoughtfully took on drone warfare in Good Kill and audiences shrugged. Similar in scope and sentiment, Gavid Hood’s Eye in the Sky (eOne, 15) was a grown-up hit this spring. It’s not appreciably a better film, but call it the Helen Mirren effect: her brisk gravitas is a brand in itself and she’s on familiarly formidable form here as a British colonel commanding a missile attack on a Nairobi terrorist safehouse. Mirren’s character is merely one cog, however, in the heaving, not wholly effective international machine of modern remote warfare. From the American drone pilot (Aaron Paul) in Nevada to the Kenyan field agent (Barkhad Abdi) on the scene to a distracted British foreign secretary (Iain Glen) in Singapore, authority and accountability are dispersed in a manner that the film ethically debates with smart sobriety. Hood, the Oscar-winning South African director of Tsotsi, has made his best film here; if his style is marked by dispassionate efficiency, he’s landed on an ideal subject for it.

Watch the trailer for Louder Than Bombs.

A film that could use a little less caution is Louder Than Bombs (Soda, 15), a formally refined, emotionally intelligent, yet somehow disappointing foray into English-language film-making for Norwegian Joachim Trier, whose Reprise and Oslo, August 31st throbbed with complex, unresolved feeling. In this stricken family melodrama, pivoting on a characteristically excellent, flashback-present Isabelle Huppert as a deceased mother and war photographer, the conflicts are a little too tidy. As her weary widower (Gabriel Byrne) and respectively neurotic and withdrawn sons (Jesse Eisenberg and Devin Druid) negotiate her absence via a host of masculine insecurities, the film is certainly affecting, yet everybody hurts and heals in the precise places you’d expect.

A more manic Scandinavian-directed game of unhappy families is on offer in Men & Chicken (Arrow, 15). Anders Thomas Jensen’s kooky, black-hearted comedy follows two brothers (David Dencik and a drastically de-suaved Mads Mikkelsen) as they belatedly trace their biological roots to a grotesquely dysfunctional all-male clan on the Danish island of Ork; it’s amiably horrible, if such a thing is possible.

Female sibling rivalry provides a fleeting frisson of camp to the otherwise mechanically fantastical stodge of The Huntsman: Winter’s War (Universal, 12). As Charlize Theron and Emily Blunt’s duelling sister queens wage a brief battle of fire, feathers and ice toward the climax of this bafflingly Snow White-free prequel-cum-sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman, it’s gaudily exciting enough to make you wonder why we’ve spent most of its running time in the company of Chris Hemsworth’s mirthless title character. Otherwise, this flaccid fairytale exemplifies the sequel-for-sequel’s-sake mentality of current Hollywood franchise-building; Kristen Stewart is well off out of it.

On the rerelease front, the Criterion Collection continues its UK run with a handsome reissue of 1979’s The In-Laws (Sony, E), a chipper screwball runaround elevated by the inspired comic pairing of Peter Falk and Alan Arkin as polar-opposite paters of a soon-to-wed young couple. There are those who regard this as a classic; funny as it is, I’m not sure Arthur Hiller’s film rewards quite such lacquered preservation, though its influence on an ensuing decade or so of action-laced bristling-buddy comedies is plain.

Watch a trailer for Wendy and Lucy.

A less surprising candidate for discerning Blu-ray resurrection is The Shop on the High Street (Second Run, 15), Ján Kádar and Elmar Klos’s elegant, Oscar-winning Holocaust fable about the conflicted friendship between an elderly Jewish shopkeeper and the “Aryan controller” she believes merely to be her hired assistant. A 1965 cornerstone of the Czech new wave, it tips the tragicomic balance to gradually wrenching effect. Also worth a revisit: Luchino Visconti’s penultimate film, made in 1974, Conversation Piece (Eureka, 18). Starring Burt Lancaster as an ageing professor opening his Rome apartment to hedonist invasion, it’s an alternately stilted, seductive and (for the aristocratically reared Visconti) self-lacerating class satire, every inch the curiosity implied by its title.

Finally, with her wonderful new film Certain Women heading to cinemas later this year, American micro-master Kelly Reichardt is the subject of a deserved tribute from mubi.com, streaming four of her finely grained featuresOld Joy, Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff and her newly restored 1994 debut River of Grass – until early September. If you’re unfamiliar with Reichardt’s school of still-waters humanism, I’d suggest beginning with the Michelle Williams-fronted Wendy and Lucy, a girl-and-her-dog story of rugged individualism in the American heartland that crushes your heart in the lowest of registers; tiny and yet vastly searching, it’s among the greatest films of the new century.

Contributor

Guy Lodge

The GuardianTramp

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