3:10 TO YUMA * * *
Cert 15 122 mins
Having drawn inspiration from the 1957 Glenn Ford/Van Heflin Western for 1997's Cop Land, director James Mangold's follow up to the Oscar winning Walk The Line now revisits it for a gritty, thoughtful remake starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale.
Based on Elmore Leonard's 1953 short story, the basics remain the same but the narrative's been opened out and there's significant differences to the original in the new screenplay; not least a completely revised ending.
It's late 1800s Arizona and, notorious scripture-quoting outlaw Ben Wade (Crowe) has, through his own casual arrogance, been captured in a small town. Now, Grayson Butterfield (Dallas Roberts), the Pinkertons man retained by the Southern Railroad Company on which Wade regularly preyed, intends to take him to nearby Contention and put him on the titular prison-bound train. What he needs is an escort.
To which end, up steps Dan Evans (Bale), a lame Civil War veteran now struggling to make a go as a rancher, beset by drought and a hefty debt to the businessman who wants him off the land in order to capitalise on the new railway.
With Wade's right hand man, Charlie Prince (Ben Foster), having vowed to free his boss, the journey is going to be dangerous, but the money Butterfield's paying could save his ranch and family.
Getting Wade there might also help Dan win back the respect of teenage son Will (Logan Lerman), an ardent reader of magazines about such outlaws, who regards dad as a weak loser. As Wade wryly notes when Evans orders his son home, "He ain't following you. He's following me."
With the escort, which includes gentle town vet (Alan Tudyk) and leathery bounty hunter Byron McElroy (Peter Fonda) gradually whittled down and Wade and Evans discovering an unlikely mutual respect for each other, the film slowly becomes a metaphorical as well as a literal journey towards the two men's entwined destinies.
This is very much a classic morality play Western as both Wade and Evans come to look inside themselves, surprised at what they see and how it relates to each other and the world in which they exist.
Although Gretchen Mol and Vinessa Shaw give solid turns as, respectively Evans' wife and the saloon girl who catches Wade's attention, this is firmly masculine territory.
Crowe is excellent, bringing complex depths and sly charm to a man who can kill without a second thought but is also a razor sharp judge of character with a sense of honour as well as an accomplished artist.
He's well matched by Bale in yet another intense performance that makes the dynamic between them crackle with electricity while Foster's career making turn subtly suggests Charlie's devotion is driven by more than mere gang loyalties.
There's plenty of gunplay action, but it's the psychological and philosophical bullets that really hit the target.
SUPERBAD * *
Cert 15, 113 mins
After The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, the Judd Apatow express keeps rolling with this high school gross out comedy aimed squarely at 15-year-old boys. Apatow hasn't directed but he did co-write it with Knocked Up star Seth Rogen who also turns up alongside Bill Hader as a couple of nerdy cops.
Also recently seen in Knocked Up, Jonah Hill elevates the fat kid from sidekick comic relief to leading character as Seth, a sex-obsessed motormouth whose swaggering bluster hides a well of adolescent insecurity.
He's best mates with the quieter, shy, gangly Evan (Michael Cera) but their friendship's about to be sundered because they're both going to different colleges, something Seth regards as a betrayal. However, before they separate, he's determined they're going to get laid, storing up experience for the wild rides ahead.
Of course, being a couple of geeks, the chances are slim. Or so it would seem until they're invited to a party being held by hot chick Jules (Emma Stone). Better yet, Becca (Martha MacIsaac), for whom Evan nurses a crush, will be there too.
Seth's plan? Get them drunk and in to bed. However, all this depends on coming up with the alcohol. Enter Fogell (Christopher MintzPlasse), the school's Napoleon Dynamite figure who's got himself some fake ID which will enable him to buy the booze. Inevitably, given the ID has only a surname, McLovin, that the liquor store's robbed while he's making the purchase, the cops arrive and Seth panics, things don't go as smoothly as hoped.
And so it goes, with Fogell hanging out with his new cop buddies while Seth and Evan are plunged into a stew of misunderstandings and lowlifes that will prompt confessions and test their friendship, either breaking it or reaffirming it.
It's formulaic crude teen comedy that goes on far too long - especially the interminable Rogen and Haden scenes - and features more F words and talk of sexual organs than your average Roy Chubby Brown show.
There's the obligatory gross out moment while, after testing your patience, the characters prove ultimately sweet, vulnerable and likeable, finally able to express their true feelings.
Some of it's funny, some of it's insightful but in the end it's really just reheated American Pie with all of the vulgarity but little of the charm.
IN THE HANDS OF THE GODS * *
Cert 15, 106 mins
How far would you go to meet your hero? Last year, five urban British teenage freestyle footballers went to Argentina to seek out mutual inspiration, Diego Maradona, blagging food and accommodation and putting on street demonstrations of their skills to raise money for travel and subsistence.
They were a mixed bunch of likeable individuals. Danny and Maradona obsessive Woody were failed footballers who'd blown their chances of making it professionally.
A childhood mate of Wayne Rooney, Mikey was a cocky Liverpudlian from a broken home, Jeremy a Born Again Christian and Sami, a Somalian refugee from Leeds whose experiences had left him psychologically troubled, with a criminal record and thrown out of home by his widowed mother.
Along with a love of freestyling and Maradona, they also shared common personal issues, lack of self-esteem and a desperate desire to prove to themselves and their families that they weren't failures
Unfortunately, their back stories remain mostly in the production notes rather than on screen, along with how they persuaded Gabe & Benjamin Turner, producers of Sky TV's The Freestyle Show, to film the trip and what happened afterwards.
Consequently, while their journey is an amusing, at times affecting (especially as Sami seeks to regain his mother's respect), coming of age tale of self-discovery and sacrifice, the documentary itself quickly becomes repetitive.
They arrive somewhere, they hustle, busk, and bicker, there's some confessionals and some more self-realisation. Then its on to another destination and the same thing.
The eventual PR-engineered meeting with Maradona is genuinely touching, but you're constantly left wondering how much is staged. And just what support they received from what, given the split into three strands as two continue the quest while the others try and raise their own ticket money, must have been a fairly large crew.
An inspirational tale, but a rather dull documentary.
THE SERPENT * * *
Cert 15, 121 mins, Subtitled
If Tell No One whet your appetite for French film noir, then Eric Barbier provides a tasty second sitting with similar ingredients.
Another tale of a wrongly accused innocent man having to clear his name, it's heavily indebted to Hitchcock. Indeed, given a psychotic villain and the embalmed corpse of an old woman in a glass coffin, it's hard not to think of Norman Bates and his mother.
A middle class fashion photographer with a marriage heading for divorce and messy child custody, Vincent (Yvan Attal) is taken aback when a photo shoot replacement model accuses him of sexual assault. Then she withdraws the charges and asks to meet, saying she was being pressured into blackening his name on his wife's behalf. But, with audiences already privy to the fact she's working a blackmailing scam with private detective come professional extortionist Plender (Clovis Cornillac), it's obvious there's another set-up in the works.
However, things go awry with the girl winding up dead. At which point, enter Plender who, it transpires, is actually one of Vincent's old classmates. Their meeting not as coincidental as it appears, the film takes on a touch of Harry, He's Here To Help as Plender disposes of the body and covers up the evidence. Only to then start demanding hush money.
Not wishing to reveal more of the serpentine plot, suffice to say a little digging around by Vincent's lawyer, reveals Plender's true motives involve events from the past and his dead mother for which he's seeking misguided revenge. The next thing you know, Vincent's on the run, wanted for murder and trying to get help from another of Plender's victims.
While the title refers to Plender's tattoo, it's not difficult to read more metaphorical subtexts about evil seeking to destroy bourgeois Edens, a theme it also shares with Tell No One and Harry as well as Hidden.
It's not quite in their league, but it's an undeniably compelling thriller.
ALMOST ADULT * * *
Cert 12A (TBC), 89 mins
Set and shot in Birmingham, co-financed by Screen West Midlands and written by Ken Loach collaborator Rona Munro, Yousaf Ali Khan's compelling film has a one-off screening next Thursday at the Mac, followed by a Q&A, prior to, I suspect, ending up on Channel 4.
Evoking Pawel Pawlikowski's Last Resort and referencing Hansel & Gretel, it's the compelling story of two teenage African asylum seekers.
Arriving from the Congo without passport or documentation after a series of traumatic incidents and the never detailed loss of her sister, Mamie (Victoire Milandu, remarkable) befriends Shiku (Ann Warungu), a younger Kenyan who's suffered similar abuses.
Split up by the authorities, Mamie is at first housed in a run down hostel but eventually finds warmth and support in a community house of other refugees, but, taken in by foster parents, Shiku is treated as little more than a skivvy.
It suffers slightly from the split narrative focus, but comes together strongly in the final act with an unlikely but satisfyingly ironic upbeat twist that serves to underline the bureaucratic failures and inefficiencies of the system of care at the film's heart.
That Milandru and Warungu are themselves non-actors from the refugee community, drawing on their own experiences, adds a hefty extra emotional punch. Not to be missed.