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Monday, 26 September 2016

Imperium, Love & Friendship, and The Nice Guys: Your Week In Film (September 26-October 2)

Whiteout: Daniel Radcliffe on the march in Imperium

I've taken the odd potshot at Daniel Radcliffe's acting in this column but, credit where it's due, he is very good in Imperium (cinemas and VOD) WWW. The former Harry Potter plays Nate Foster, a nerdy FBI agent who goes undercover in a bid to prevent a terrorist plot hatched by American neo-Nazis. Unusually for this type of film, Foster doesn't inveigle himself into the sieg-heilers' inner circle by being a badass prepared to break a few heads but by using his superior intellect and extensive research to say the right things at the right time. Brute force might hurt white supremacists, Imperium seems to suggest, but it takes guile and genuine smarts to properly take them down.

Yes, there are several elements in Daniel Ragussis's film we've seen before - the close shaves where Foster's identity is almost compromised, the bad guy with whom our protagonist strikes up an unlikely bond - but the repetition of such tropes is easily forgivable. Apart from a couple of bonehead caricatures, it refuses to present the Nazis as cartoon monsters. These deeply flawed and thoroughly hateful people don't just have a world view but one they have thought about, read about and can properly articulate. What's more, they could be the woman next door (the wife of Sam Trammell's head honcho bakes cakes decorated with swastika icing), the bloke behind the bar in your local or even your new workmate - shaved head or not, the hatred burns just as intensely. 

Toni Collette as Foster's ruthless FBI handler is reliably superb if somewhat under-utilised, while Radcliffe himself gives easily his most nuanced performance to date. Foster is by turns scared, frustrated and even conflicted and Radcliffe sells all of that most convincingly. It all adds up to an intelligent, impressively researched and realised crime thriller that is one part entertainment, another part wake-up call.

Normally, I'm no fan of costume dramas either but thoroughly enjoyed Whit Stillman's deliciously spiky Love & Friendship (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WWW, an adaptation of the Jane Austen novel, Lady Susan. Kate Beckinsale is Lady Susan Vernon, a high-maintenance Machiavelli who, following the death of her husband, is reduced to 'visiting' (moving in with) any friend or relative foolhardy enough to put up with her constant schemes, indiscretions and betrayals. Prepared to ride roughshod over anyone who gets in her way, she pursues her goal of netting wealthy husbands for herself and sappy daughter Frederica. In truth, the woman is utterly dreadful but Beckinsale's arch performance and Whitman's hilarious writing conspire to make Lady Susan someone you end up rather liking (although you'd trust her about as far as you could throw her). Her scenes with co-conspirator Chloë Sevigny are a delight but it's Tom Bennett who comes closest to stealing the entire film as Sir James Martin, perhaps the finest screen idiot since Tim McInnerny first pulled on a doublet and hose to become Lord Percy Percy in Blackadder.

Unfriended: Lady Susan is trouble with a capital T

Not quite in the same league laughs-wise is The Nice Guys (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WW. Ryan Gosling (a boozy private eye) and Russell Crowe (an unreconstructed thug) are terrific in Shane Black's retro buddy comedy set in 1970s Los Angeles, but are let down by a half-baked plot that isn't so much confusing as downright uninteresting. Kim Basinger – '80s stalwart of 9½ Weeks and Batman – is criminally underused.

Amazon Prime Video is making three of the year's most eye-catching films available to watch from Friday (Sept 30), including Spotlight WWW½. Tom McCarthy's Best Picture Oscar winner focuses on the Boston Globe newspaper's 2001 investigation into the local cover-up of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests. The film's absence of directorial flashiness or melodrama allows an excellent ensemble cast (including Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton), sharp writing and methodical plotting to shine. Amazon also has Trumbo WWW, a thoroughly entertaining biopic of 1950s Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Roman Holiday, Spartacus), who was blacklisted and jailed for being a communist. Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston is on fine scenery-chewing form as the titular character. Last but not least from Amazon is Youth WWW. Paolo Sorrentino's follow up to The Great Beauty stars Michael Caine as a retired composer waiting for the end at an exclusive Swiss spa. A tragicomic meditation on old age, grief and regret, Youth also contains a generous helping of eccentricity (like the moment Paloma Faith turns up, playing a singer called... Paloma Faith).

Sorrentino's oddness is small potatoes when set against Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York (Tuesday, 00:55, Film4) WWW. The much-missed Philip Seymour Hoffman is lugubrious threatre director Caden Cotard, a man in the throes of a permanent midlife crisis. Obsessed with death and illness - but still somehow able to form relationships with a string of absurdly attractive women (Michelle Williams, Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton) - he buys a vast warehouse and commences work on a hugely ambitious new play. As his creation grows bigger and bigger - spreading out into other warehouses, its own self-contained world - fiction and reality merge. Suddenly, there isn't just one Caden but several, including a version played by actress Deirdre O'Connell. It's surreal, funny, maddening and occasionally quite brilliant.

Rather more conventional, Steven Spielberg's Cold War thriller Bridge Of Spies (from Friday, 14:20 and 20:00, Sky Cinema Premiere/NOW TV) WW½ is a perfectly likeable advertisement for liberal decency, with Tom Hanks all effortless charm and unflappable resolve. Hanks plays James B Donovan, an insurance lawyer pressed into defending a captured Russian spy (Oscar winner Mark Rylance) and then travelling to communist Berlin in a bid to exchange the man for a downed airman and incarcerated student. Based on a true story, it's good solid fare but, in truth, lacks a sense of real jeopardy and both Spielberg and Hanks have done much better work.

WWWW - Wonderful
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Monday, 19 September 2016

Everybody Wants Some!!, Green Room and The Hurt Locker: Your Week In Film (September 19-25)

Motor mouths: Jocks go wild in Everybody Wants Some!!

Films to look out for in the coming seven days on DVD, Blu-ray, VOD and TV...

Everybody Wants Some!! (out now on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WWW is Richard Linklater's spiritual sequel to his 1993 coming-of-age classic, Dazed And Confused. This time the Boyhood director focuses on the members of a 1980 Texas college baseball team. Beer is downed, weed is smoked, trash is talked, and occasionally these likeable jocks get around to hitting a ball or two. 

There is little in the way of plot  this is very much a character piece. Jake (Glee's Blake Jenner) is a freshman at a fictional Texas university on a baseball scholarship. His team is put up not in dorms like the other students, but in a ramshackle old house. They are unsupervised by the college authorities and, despite warnings not to consume alcohol on the premises or permit female guests upstairs, their domicile very quickly becomes party central. In the brief period before the start of the new college year, Jake grows closer to his new team-mates (male bonding and the urge to compete are the film's main themes), while striking up a relationship with performing arts student Beverly (Zoey Deutch).

Occasionally, you think the plot is going to move in a more dramatic direction but Linklater is keen never to make confrontation a focus of his story. He wants you to like his characters and you do, especially pipe-smoking gadabout Finn (Glen Powell), cologne-drenched uber-competitor McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin) and stoner-with-a-secret Willoughby (Wyatt Russell). It's all good clean fun, albeit bathed in enough rose-tinted nostalgia to float a battleship. (You can read my original review of the film here).

Blast from the past: Linklater waxes nostalgic

There is nothing 'rose-tinted' about Jeremy Saulnier's brutal horror/thriller Green Room (out now on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WW½, in which a US rock band – The Ain't Rights – finish up an unsuccessful tour with a gig at a backwoods club whose clientele Dead Kennedys once wrote a song about - 'Nazi Punks Fuck Off'. 

The group – which includes Arrested Development's Alia Shawcat and the late Anton Yelchin – stumble in on a murder scene and the rest of the film sees them desperately trying to escape before the club's nasty-bastard owner (Patrick Stewart, clearly relishing a turn for the villainous) and his mob of sieg-heilers can silence them. It's tense, intermittently thrilling, and vicious enough to make you flinch, but somehow feels a bit lightweight and straightforward when set against the perceptive exploration of revenge the director offered in Blue Ruin, his far better previous film.

Chronic (from Monday, Amazon Prime Video) WWW sees Tim Roth consign the likes of United Passions and Grace Of Monaco to the dustbin of history as he turns in his finest performance for many years. In Michel Franco's powerful but off-kilter character study, the Reservoir Dogs actor plays a palliative care nurse working with patients in Los Angeles. He's an odd, and clearly disturbed man, who gets altogether too close to those he looks after, whilst struggling to forge meaningful relationships in his personal life. It's this dislocation that Roth and writer/director Franco are keen to poke about in and they do so very effectively.
Gérard Depardieu is another veteran actor who has enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent times and he is simply immense (in so many ways!) in Welcome To New York (from Wednesday, 22:05, Sky Cinema Premiere) WWWW. Depardieu plays Devereaux, a thinly-disguised version of disgraced former head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, in what is a horrible, unflinching, forensic examination of a powerful sociopath whose every act is steeped in misogyny and selfishness. Abel Ferrera's underrated movie is hard going at times but well worth sticking with.

A monster calls: Depardieu in Welcome To New York

The Big Short (from Friday, Netflix UK) WWW also has the behaviour of the one per cent firmly in its sights. Adam McKay's dramedy is a breathlessly entertaining dissection of 2008's global financial meltdown, seen through the eyes of the men who knew it was coming and got filthy rich as a result. Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling are all great and McKay must be applauded for the inventive, fun ways in which he explains some pretty tricky concepts. Smug? A bit. Smart? Most definitely.

Wading into the pit of vipers that was the Iraq War rarely ends well for American filmmakers and so it proves for director Kathryn Bigelow in The Hurt Locker (Sunday, 23:05, Channel 4) WW. Jeremy Renner is Sergeant First Class William James, a member of an elite bomb disposal unit based in Baghdad after the US invasion. And guess what? Yes, he's a bit of a maverick, happy to put himself and his comrades at risk as he goes into battle against IEDs, snipers and other evil Johnny Foreigner tricks designed to drive him and his brave comrades out of the country.

Clichés abound but there is still much to admire here: the 'man v bomb' scenes are powerfully shot and every bit as intense as you'd hope, while Bigelow's decision to eschew going big on plot to focus on these men's extraordinary day-to-day lives pays dividends. James and Co are, quite literally, one mistake away from being blown to pieces and Bigelow sells that fear-cum-thrill with real aplomb. It served her well, as The Hurt Locker won six Oscars and she became the first woman to emerge victorious in the Best Director category.

Unfortunately, the film really comes a cropper in its treatment of the Iraqi people themselves. Almost to a man, they are depicted as little more than terrorists, idiots or aliens in their own country. Gee willikers, don't these ungrateful wretches appreciate the freedom Uncle Sam has handed them, even though Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction and sod all to do with 9/11? Invasion of a sovereign nation without proper UN authorisation, you say? Shut up and accept your 'liberation' or you'll end up in Abu Ghraib.

Blow-up: Stakes are high in The Hurt Locker

Bigelow apologists might argue the Iraqis are being depicted precisely as they appear to the US soldiers themselves and there is certainly evidence for such a view contained within the film. However, when you characterise victims as little more than bystanders or aggressors in what should be THEIR OWN STORY you are doing them  not to mention reality and history  a huge disservice. 

As Frankie Boyle had it, "Not only will America go into your country and kill all your people. But what's worse, I think, is they'll come back and make a movie about how killing your people made their soldiers feel sad." That's The Hurt Locker all over, I'm afraid.

WWWW - Wonderful
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Thursday, 15 September 2016

Review: Not even Jake Gyllenhaal can paper over the cracks in Demolition

Falling down: Gyllenhaal has done far better films than Demolition

Demolition (2015)
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Judah Lewis
Running time: 101mins

Jean-Marc Vallée's follow-up to Wild is a companion piece of sorts. The earlier film saw Reece Witherspoon desperately trying to find herself after a family tragedy sent her spinning off the rails. Demolition sees Jake Gyllenhaal desperately trying to find himself after a family tragedy sends him spinning... you get the picture.

Thing is, while Wild was gutsy and raw (helped enormously by a bravura turn from Witherspoon), Demolition is quirky and contrived. We understand that Gyllenhaal's dull investment banker, Davis, is left numb after the death of his wife in a car accident but a character wandering through the rest of the film in a daze of stunned silence and existential crisis is not exactly the stuff of box-office success or awards-season nods. 

Instead, we get Gyllenhaal – playing a grieving widower for the second time recently following the dreadful Southpaw – engaging in several different flavours of quirkiness. He totally dismantles various objects, including his entire house and contents (he needs to destroy his old life so he can build a new one, you see), dances like no one's watching in a crowded street to the tunes on an iPod and, most importantly to our plot, writes endless letters of complaint to the vending machine company whose faulty appliance swallowed his change at the hospital just after his wife passed away. It's through this latter contrivance he meets Naomi Watts's customer service rep who, as is the way with such things, is touched by his story and, despite already being in a relationship, offers him friendship and ultimately salvation. 

Despite my reservations, Demolition isn't bad – it just isn't nearly as good as either the under-appreciated Wild or Vallée's best-known film, Dallas Buyers Club. Gyllenhaal and Watts turn in perfectly solid displays but have both been better in vastly superior films, the former as recently as 2014's Nightcrawler, the latter in the likes of While We're Young and Eastern Promises (although her last truly great role was well over a decade ago in Mulholland Drive). In fact, the film is stolen from under the noses of its stars by young Judah Lewis, who plays Watts' gay 15-year-old son. The teen's struggle with, and ultimate acceptance of, his sexuality is one of the few elements that rings true in the entire movie. Rating: WW

Demolition is available now on VOD

Pure mourning: Gyllenhaal plays a grieving husband... again

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Monday, 12 September 2016

Don't Breathe, Embrace Of The Serpent and The Measure Of A Man: Your Week In Film (September 12-18)

Breathless: Fede Alvarez cranks up the tension in Don't Breathe

Films worth checking out at home and in cinemas over the next seven days...

Stéphane Brizé's incredibly powerful
 The Measure Of A Man (DVD) WWWW didn't receive anything like the attention it deserved on its UK cinema release back in June. The film uses France's economic downturn to explore the effects of austerity on the male psyche; specifically how it can emasculate, humiliate and ultimately dehumanise even the most resolute. 

Veteran French actor Vincent Lindon (who I last saw a couple of years ago in Claire Denis's excellent Bastards) is Thierry Taugourdeau, a former factory worker struggling to keep his family's head above water after two years of unemployment. But even when he finally lands a job as a security guard at a supermarket, he struggles with the compromises his new position forces him to make. 

Comparisons to the Dardenne Brothers' Two Days, One Night and, I suspect, Ken Loach's forthcoming I, Daniel Blake are inevitable as all three films explore the human cost of the financial crisis. Lindon is quite brilliant here (he deservedly won the Best Actor award at last year's Cannes) and the whole enterprise is shot through with both authenticity and anger.

Measuring up: Vincent Lindon is down on his luck

Embrace Of The Serpent (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WWWW is a foreign language picture of a somewhat different stripe. Colombian director Ciro Guerra's film is a hard sell  it's subtitled, black and white and contains two separate but linked story strands that run alongside each other. But please don't let any of that put you off. It chronicles the relationship (sometimes friendly, sometimes not) between a shaman, Karamakate, and two European scientists  40 years apart  as they descend into the Amazon's heart of darkness searching for a mythical plant with great healing properties. 

Big themes, rich cinematography and moments both disturbing and thrilling make for an intoxicating brew indeed. It's been compared to Herzog and Coppola, but I'm not sure I've ever seen anything quite like it. You'll start off intrigued and end up fully mesmerised.

Amazon prime: Ciro Guerra's film is worth embracing

Half an hour into Don't Breathe (cinemas) WWW, I'd decided it was going to be one of those modern horror films with an intriguing premise and a couple of decent jump-out-of-your-skin moments but little else to write home about. Then director Fede Alvarez delivered a nasty little surprise which elevated the whole thing and at no point did it look back thereafter. 

Rocky (Jane Levy), Money (Daniel Zovatto) and Alex (Dylan Minnette) are three unlikeable young Detroit criminals who burgle the homes of people for whom the latter's oblivious father is supposed to provide security. Receiving a tip-off from an underworld acquaintance about a Gulf War veteran (Stephen Lang), who lives alone with $300,000 on the premises, they decide to pull off one last job before legging it to California. It's a big mistake because, while their intended victim may be totally blind, he is also strong, ruthless and, following the death of his daughter in a car accident, quite mad.

I really didn't care for Alvarez's entirely unnecessary Evil Dead remake but this is substantially better as the director keeps the tension bubbling, slathering on a whole variety of twists, turns and fake-outs for good measure. 
It helps enormously that Lang's The Blind Man – despite having few lines – is such an impactful character, his relentlessness, viciousness and sheer physicality imbuing him with a touch of the supernatural that makes a sequel featuring more of his backstory inevitable.

Blind fury: Stephen Lang terrifies in Don't Breathe

Since Sky Movies rebranded as Sky Cinema, it has really made an effort to broaden the range of films it shows on its main channel. The fact something as eccentric and 'difficult' as Rams (from Wednesday, 22:00, Sky Cinema Premiere) WWW is given house room is proof positive of that. Grímur Hákonarson's film is an Icelandic oddity, concerning two elderly and long-estranged brothers forced to put aside their differences when disease threatens their livelihoods as sheep farmers. At times bleakly funny, at others just plain bleak, this is a tragicomic character study that invites you to root for its sibling protagonists however unreasonable and cantankerous their behaviour. Ultimately, it's also rather touching. 

Less obtuse but only slightly is Welcome To Me WWW½ (from Sunday,10:55 and 20:00, Sky Cinema Premiere), which features an outstanding turn from Kristen Wiig (Ghostbusters) as a bipolar woman who scoops $86million in the lottery and uses the cash to buy her own (bizarre) talk show. It's surreal, sad, funny and human but most importantly refuses to patronise or infantilise its protagonist.

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Saturday, 10 September 2016

Review: Jane Got A Gun is an overcooked misfire

Just shoot me: Natalie Portman fails to convince

Jane Got A Gun (2016)
Director: Gavin O'Connor
Starring: Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton, Ewan McGregor
Running time: 98mins

Behind-the-scenes upheaval – original director Lynne Ramsay (We Need To Talk About Kevin) and Jude Law (Black Seaboth quit a few days before shooting was due to begin  isn't always the kiss of death for a film but in this case it clearly hasn't done the project any favours at all. Even then, the fact the title directly homages the Aerosmith song Janie's Got A Gun is at least promising, suggesting we might be in for wild ride full of heart and soul. Unfortunately, Gavin O'Connor's Western is more anodyne Adele album track than sassy, rock 'n' roll experience.

Natalie Portman (Black Swan) plays the titular Jane, forced to seek out the one-time love of her life (Joel Edgerton) for help when her badly-wounded current beau (Noah Emmerich) is in imminent danger from a band of wrong 'uns (led by Ewan McGregor). 

It's a potentially interesting set-up but one rendered largely lifeless by a screenplay determined to cram great big bits of plot in at every opportunity. There are multiple flashbacks, clumsy twists and turns, people explaining things to each other a lot – plot, plot, plot all over the place. You barely get a chance for any real character moments or reflective beats before we're flung headlong into another cack-handed chunk of exposition. A simple premise quickly becomes fussy and overcooked.

Mild, mild West: Jane Got A Gun is bland and laboured

It doesn't help that Portman's character has so little personality or any perceivable chemistry with either of the two men in her life (Emmerich's the best thing here and he spends most of his time semi-conscious). You look at Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in Tarantino's flawed but ferocious The Hateful Eight and she's someone you have no trouble believing in. Daisy's an entirely unpleasant creature, full of bile and racism, but the kind of life she's led is observable in every line on her face, in every twisted word out of her mouth. Portman's Jane – perfect teeth, flawless skin and bland personality – looks like she's just stepped out of a Vanity Fair photo shoot rather than a humble 1840s homestead in the middle of nowhere. 

With its cool title and Portman's starring role, it would be easy to mistake Jane Got A Gun for a modern 'feminist western' in the mould of Meek's Cutoff or The Homesman (both of which also boast very believable female characters), but that idea doesn't really fly either. The height of Jane's resourcefulness is recruiting a man to help her when the other man that had helped her gets shot up. In the hands of a better director and screenwriters, it could have been something special – big, bombastic, badass; a Shakespearean tragedy with six-shooters. As it is, the entire enterprise feels laboured, its ending far too neat. At least the photography's impressive, although it's difficult to go wrong in so picturesque and evocative a setting as Santa Fe, New Mexico. Rating: W½

Jane Got A Gun is available now on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD

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Thursday, 8 September 2016

Review: A fantastic cast brings the funny in Bad Moms

Return of the mummy: Kunis and Co are breaking Bad

Bad Moms (2016)
Directors: Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
Starring: Mila Kunis, Kathryn Hahn, Christina Applegate
Running time: 100mins

Mila Kunis, Kathryn Hahn, Kristen Bell, Christina Applegate, Annie Mumolo and Jada Pinkett Smith is one hell of a cast list and this enjoyable feelgood comedy certainly does it justice. Kunis is Amy, an overworked, taken-for-granted wife and mother who, when she isn't running around like a blue-arsed fly after spoiled kids, is bailing her lazy boss out of the mire and doting on man-child husband Mike. Driven to distraction by the 24/7 demands on her time and energy, plus the fact hubby has been having a weird online affair, Amy and a couple of new pals (Bell and Hahn) resolve to slack off and have some fun – a decision that brings her into bitter conflict with Applegate's control-freak PTA president. 

It takes a while to warm up and there's schmaltz aplenty but, once Bad Moms finds its rhythm, the gags come thick and fast. Kunis (Jupiter Ascending) does the 'nice girl with a side order of devilry' better than anyone while Hahn (We're The Millers) – as the sexually voracious, up-for-anything Carla – pretty much steals the whole film. Besides serving up consistently filthy laughs, it also has plenty to say about the ridiculous and harmful expectations modern life places on women and children to be perfect and successful, which for a mainstream Hollywood comedy is pretty radical. Plus, Kunis gets a great mini-rant about 'white dude entitlement' and the film's take on family life (kids are rotten little "shit faces" but you love them anyway) is honest and refreshing. 

Written and directed by two men  Jon Lucas and Scott Moore  you'd have a hard time making the case for this being a feminist movie but its heart is certainly in the right place with a six-strong female cast who are front and centre at all times, their male counterparts for once having to make do with far smaller roles as 'cheating husband' and 'beefcake love interest'. And although there are parts of the film that are pure fantasy and wish fulfillment, it does have at least one foot in some kind of recognisable reality, one where divorce is a reality and someone can express their sexuality (Carla is clearly bisexual) without it having to be a major talking point. Rating: WWW

Bad Moms: Consistently filthy laughs

Bad Moms is in cinemas now

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Monday, 5 September 2016

Captain America: Civil War, Suburra and Room: Your Week In Film (September 5-11)

Super friends: Captain America and his team prepare for battle

What's worth a look on TV, DVD, Blu-ray and VOD in the next seven days?

It's little wonder Captain America: Civil War (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WW cleaned up at the box office as fans of superhero movies seem to be on a permanent war footing. Whether they're chasing down critics and review aggregation sites, such as Rotten Tomatoes, for failing to hold the latest super-flick in high enough regard or squabbling with each other over which company - DC or Marvel - is best, aggro of one sort or another never seems far away. I find it all rather perplexing as I've grown increasingly ambivalent about this particular sub-genre with Civil War illustrating many of the reasons why. 

The Russo brothers' film - the year's most successful on either side of the Atlantic - sees a super-team led by Captain America (Chris Evans) battle another helmed by his Avengers comrade-in-arms Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr). The pair have fallen out following a bitter argument over whether the group should come under the jurisdiction of the US government or remain independent - Iron Man says yes, Cap says no. It boasts a couple of cracking set-pieces - one at the beginning, when various members of the team pursue a bad-guy and the biological weapon he has stolen through a crowded marketplace in Lagos, and another towards the end when both teams kick spectacular CGI lumps out of each other at an airport. The latter sequence is particularly impressive as the likes of Ant-Man/Giant-Man (Paul Rudd) and the new Spider-Man (Tom Holland) join the fray in the most inventive screen punch-up I've seen all year.

Unfortunately, the rest of the film simply can't measure up to these two stand-out moments. There are too many characters, many of them only of interest when they're hitting each other. Otherwise, they're either dull (Black Panther), not given much to do (Scarlet Witch), or both (The Vision). The villain of the piece - Daniel Brühl's Zemo - is similarly underwhelming (a persistent problem in recent MCU films) and the whole thing is too long and too packed with plot and incident to ultimately be anything other than a slickly-produced disappointment. 

Criminal minded: Italian mob thriller Suburra

War of a rather nastier variety is the subject of Suburra (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WWW½, an Italian mob thriller set on the mean streets of Rome. The city may be eternal but its criminal element are all too mortal as gang rivalries raise their ugly heads when an ambitious - and entirely crooked - plan to turn the waterfront area into the new Las Vegas causes friction for gangster and politician alike. The first half-hour is a hyper-stylised blast of torrential rain, flickering neon, brutal violence, hard drug use and explicit sex, all set to an intrusive synth score. At times it's like Nicolas Winding Refn having a seizure. Thankfully, it soon settles down into a densely-plotted, utterly gripping and splendidly operatic piece of work in which vengeance is the order of the day and a scrap of decency or morality seems impossible to find. 

Stefano Sollima (Gomorrah) turns the bombast up to 11 as he cleverly plays with themes of apocalypse and judgement, while extracting terrific performances from a very fine ensemble cast, most notably Pierfrancesco Favino as corrupt politician Filippo Malgradi and Claudio Amendola as the enigmatic godfather figure 'Samurai'. It's all about as subtle as a brick but, if you're a fan of classic mafia films such as The Godfather trilogy and Goodfellas, I have every confidence you'll love it.

Childhood's end: Jacob Tremblay is superb in Room

My main problem with Steve Jobs (Friday, 13:45 and 20:00, Sky Cinema, also available on NOW TV) WW½ has nothing to do with the directing, acting or script and everything to do with the titular character himself who, as Alex Gibney's Steve Jobs: The Man In The Machine documentary makes clear, was deeply dysfunctional. Unpleasant to his employees and colleagues, horrible to his estranged partner (Katherine Waterston) and daughter, perhaps some of his appalling behaviour may have been forgivable if the late Apple co-founder (played here by Michael Fassbender) had been a great leader of men or wonderful philanthropist. But he wasn't - he was little more than a savvy salesman with a genuine flair for marketing computers. Director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin are happy to explore Jobs' myriad flaws but, this being Hollywood, can't quite resist giving him a largely unearned final-act redemption. All that said, there is still a lot to like here, particularly some terrific performances (Seth Rogen, of all people, is the stand-out as Steve Wozniak) and its unusual structure (three separate parts, each one set behind the scenes at the launch of a different Apple product). Sorkin's screenplay, meanwhile, is probably the best thing he's written since The West Wing. Unfortunately, I couldn't shake the feeling all that talent may have been better employed on a biopic of someone both more interesting and deserving.

Brie Larson deservedly won this year's Best Actress Oscar for Room (from Friday, Amazon Prime Video) WWW, but it was quite dispiriting that her child co-star, Jacob Tremblay, didn't get so much as a nomination nod from the Academy in the Best Actor category. Larson plays 'Ma', a young woman who, some years before, has been kidnapped and held prisoner by a Fritzl-esque middle-aged man who uses her for sex. The fruit of their forced union - Jack (Tremblay) - is now five years old and Ma, increasingly concerned for her son's future in their garden-shed prison, concocts an escape plan. It's very much a film of two halves - both very good. The first part explores Ma and Jack's lives in their cell and the ingenious but heartbreaking way in which his mother has tried to keep the horror of their situation away from her son. The second part is set post-escape as Ma suffers with PTSD and young Jack struggles to come to terms with his new life. Lenny Abrahamson's film is about hope and escape but its spine is the superhuman strength of the mother/son bond which Larson and Tremblay sell so beautifully. To give a performance as emotionally rich and believable as this at eight years old (the age Tremblay was when Room was filmed) is truly something special. Alas, Eddie Redmayne's cack-handed turn as transgender pioneer Lili Elbe and Leonardo DiCaprio wrestling a pretend bear were clearly far more impressive... 

Your best bet on terrestrial TV this week is United 93 (Saturday, 22:45, ITV) WWWWPaul Greengrass's 9/11 drama focusing on the hijacking of United Airlines flight 93 out of Newark by members of Al Qaeda. An astonishing film about bravery and sacrifice, the Bourne supremo delivers an incredibly tense cinematic experience even though we all know how the story ends. I remember seeing the film on its original release back in 2006 and, when it was over, realised I'd been gripping my seat's armrests for dear life. Hopefully, ITV won't screw it up too much with endless ad breaks.*

WWWW - Wonderful
WWW - Worthwhile
WW - Watchable
W - Woeful

* They will, so maybe rent it or buy it instead, eh?