THERE WILL BE BLOOD * * * * *
Cert 15, 158 Mins
With Daniel Day-Lewis all but guaranteed to add the Best Actor Oscar to his Golden Globe and BAFTA trophies and writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson vying with the Coen brothers for Best Film and Best Director, it's astonishing to find this is only playing on one screen in the entire West Midlands.
Not undeservedly being hailed as a Citizen Kane (not to mention Treasure of the Sierra Madre) for the 21st Century, it's loosely based on Oil!, an epic 1927 novel by Upton Sinclair about a corrupt oil family, here restyled by Anderson as a fable about the morally destructive nature of greed and power and the role played by oil and religion in forging contemporary America.
In a bold 15 minute opening sequence devoid of dialogue and soundtracked by Jonny Greenwood's ominous electronic drone, we first meet Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis) prospecting for silver around the turn of the century.
Finding black gold instead, the film fast forwards to him as a rising tycoon, the father of an unwitting adoptive son, HW (Dillon Freasier) acquired following an oil well accident.
When, in what seems intended as a Cain and Abel reference, dirt farmer's son Paul Sunday (Paul Dano) offers to sell out his family's heritage for a metaphorical mess of pottage, Plainview heads for their California ranch, HW in tow as prop, to smooth-talk the old man into selling the drilling rights at a bargain price.
However, he then finds himself backed into a corner when the other son, evangelical preacher Eli (Dano) starts talking fire and brimstone about the evils of the oil trade.
Plainview makes a deal he has no intention of keeping; one which will both come back to haunt him to ferocious effect when Eli seizes the opportunity to repay his humiliation and, years later in 1927, climax in a shocking confrontation of mutual self-loathing.
Already blinded by wealth, when an explosion robs HW of his hearing and, rendered useless to his father's plans, is summarily put on a train out of his life, Plainview slips inexorably further into the obsession, madness and misanthropy that will destroy him and those around him.
Adopting a husky but viscous voice that blends smoke, oil and treacle in its tones, Day-Lewis delivers the performance of his career, at one moment as whisperingly seductive as a serpent, at others bellowing with a rage against all humanity. It's in his voice, his eyes, even in the way he stands.
The scene where, Eli pressing his advantage, forces Plainview to confess and repent the abandoning of his child in front of the congregation, carries more electricity than the National Grid.
Overlooked by the Oscars but deservedly nominated at the BAFTAs, Dano too is sensational. Taking the intensity he showed in Little Miss Sunshine and amplifying it a hundredfold, he catches Eli's own self-serving lust for power and Elmer Gantry charalatanism to bone-shaking effect as the two men lock horns for supremacy.
With solid supporting performances from Freasier, Colleen Foy as Eli's grown sister and Henry J O'Connor as the vagrant claiming to be Plainview's long lost brother, the cumulative power - both physically and emotionally violent - is tremendous.
Stunning to behold with its stark landscapes, stripped of any hint of sentimentality, shot in mesmerising widescreen vistas and penetrating close-ups and directed with the hand of genius, this is a biblically awesome masterpiece.
THE BUCKET LIST * *
Cert 12A, 97 Mins
Films about raging against the dying of the light can be inspirational, uplifting and profoundly moving.
Or, they can wallow in maudlin sentimentality, cliches and cod philosophising about making the most of the time that's left. That'll be the latest from director Rob Reiner, then.
Two men from opposite sides of the tracks wind up in the same hospital room. Carter (Morgan Freeman) is an ageing car mechanic who put his dreams on the backburner to provide for his family and somehow never got round to turning the flame back up. Edward (Jack Nicholson) is a private hospitals billionaire who spent his life making money but neglecting the things that really mattered, like his estranged daughter.
Now both have terminal cancer. Discovering Carter's 'bucket list' of things he wanted to do before he died, Edward suggests they pair up, add his to the list and set about ticking them off on a series of globe-trotting adventures (the Himalayas, African safari, Egyptian pyramids, Taj Mahal, Great Wall of China etc) accompanied by his long-suffering trusty factotum (Sean Hayes).
Naturally, the mismatched odd couple get to learn various life lessons about themselves, their resentments and relationships and have a falling out and a reconciliation before the sun slips over the serene horizon.
Since this is all simplistic sub Capra fable with a cheap mawkish epiphany, Reiner airbrushes over the ugly facts of chemo (after which you're unlikely to want to immediately go climbing a mountain) while Nicholson and Freeman just sleepwalk through their signature characteristics of respectively scenery chewing irascibility and dignified wisdom.
The support cast, which numbers Beverly Todd as Carter's wife and Rob Morrow as Edward's doctor barely get a look in. You want to watch a film about two cancer patients squeezing out sparks in their last months then dig out a copy of Hawks, the 1989 drama with Timothy Dalton and Anthony Edwards and leave this lazy, leaden affair to wallow in its own mush.
4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS 2 DAYS * * * *
Cert 18, 113 Mins
Following on from 2006's The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, here's another harrowingly grim portrait of life in Romania.
Set in 1987 at the end of Nicolai Ceausescu's totalitarian communist regime, Cristian Mungiu's bleak story follows student Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) and her pregnant roommate Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) as they go about arranging an illegal abortion.
It's the former who does the legwork, borrowing money, contacting the abortionist, haggling over the price of a hotel room, accompanying Gabita to the appointment and then ducking out early from her boyfriend's mother's birthday party to return to ensure everything's gone ok with the termination.
It's an ugly affair with the opportunist abortionist demanding sex from the two girls as part of his price and Mungiu adopting a grim matter-offactness that cranks up the already unflinching notes of emotional torment, humiliation, exploitation and violation that accompany the girls' fear and sense of helplessness. Claustrophobic and intense, Otilia's panicked disposal of the foetus a particularly wrenching sequence.
It's powerfully acted with a strong sense of interior life and an ending that embodies a sense of loss that reaches far beyond that of the child.
ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE * * *
Cert 18, 90 Mins
It's a familiar set up. A group of teens take off for an isolated location where they plan to drink and have sex. But then along comes some mysterious psycho who starts killing them.
First time director Jonathan Levine brings a few fresh twists and, with its grainy look and hand held camera, an air of indie art house to the party.
Mandy Lane (Amber Heard) is the Texas high school virgin into whose pants all the boys want to get. Indeed, in the film's prologue one of them even dies trying to drunkenly impress her.
Cut to end of term and she accepts an invitation to join fellow cheerleaders Chloe and Marlin for a weekend with mates Bird, Jake and Red at the latter's ranch while his daddy's away.
The three boys are clearly looking to see who can be first to score with Mandy, the other two girls there to take up the sexual slack. The presence of farmhand with a past Garth (Anson Mount) initially has you jumping to conclusions, but when the gruesome killings start it's not long before the slasher's identity is revealed to no great surprise.
The real twist comes later as things take a more unexpected course.
Visually striking, suitably gory and acted as proficiently as required, it does, ultimately, wind up playing the genre game with false scares and cat and mouse chases but with a reference point that's more Heathers than Friday the 13th.
THE ITALIAN * * *
Cert 12A 99 Mins. Subtitled.
Russian orphanages get some bad press in this homegrown drama about six-year-old Vanya (Kolya Spirodonov) who has grown up in a Dickensian institution near Leningrad with its pubescent mafia and self-serving, money-grabbing drunken headmaster and adoption broker.
Things look up when he's sold off to an Italian couple, but when the mother of a boy who's already been adopted kills herself after being turned away when she comes to see him, Vanya decides to run away and find his own birth mother.
Naturally, not wishing to lose their money, the broker and her henchman set off in pursuit.
It's mix of Victorian melodrama and Italian neo-realism can be clunky, but the film's as tough as it is sentimental and Spiridonov is a winning wide-eyed little star guaranteed to melt hearts.
HOTEL HARABATI * *
Cert 15 94 Mins, Subtitled.
Wilfully enigmatic to the point of making no sense, this psychological drama fancies itself a French answer to Michael Haneke's anxiety thrillers.
Discovering a suitcase left behind at a railway station by an Arab contains a pile of cash, a Parisian couple abandon their Venice holiday plans (but mysteriously still have photos of their trip) and return home where the city is in the grip of terrorist threats.
They don't spend the money, but now their marriage starts to unravel, he becomes distracted at work and starts a gay affair with a Jewish opera singer while she becomes increasingly agora-phobic, barricading herself and her two children in their apartment.
Finally, he decides to try and find the hotel on the suitcase label and return it.
It's atmospheric and clearly wants to say something about French paranoia about Islam, but it remains defiantly impenetrable.