ME AND ORSON WELLES * * * *
Cert 12A, 113 mins
Based on real-life events, this film is set in 1937 when young actor and director Orson Welles staged an acclaimed modern-dress production of Julius Caesar in New York that was to set him on the path to legend.
Arriving at the Mercury Theatre is self-assured, 17-year-old Richard Samuels (Zac Efron), who bluffs his way into the cast.
Richard has a ball, skipping school to soak up pearls of wisdom from Welles and his company, including George Coulouris (Ben Chaplin), Joseph Cotten (James Tupper) and manager John Houseman (Eddie Marsan).
He’s particularly keen on spending time with beautiful and clever theatre assistant Sonja (Claire Danes). All the men want to date her, but amazingly she allows herself to be wooed by the confident teen. We get to see the great Welles at work, adding his own touches to radio recordings and smoothly chatting up women.
Director Richard Linklater has produced a mixed bag of films – he made the excellent School Of Rock and Before Sunrise, the obscure A Scanner Darkly and the frankly awful Bad News Bears.
Fortunately this one ranks towards the top end of his quality scale, thanks partly to a smart script but mainly to a bravura performance from unknown Christian McKay, who makes his film debut as Welles. The 36-year-old from Lancashire lost more than two stone to play him but gained just the right arrogant swagger.
Efron is not the “God-created actor” Welles calls Richard, but he’s pretty good and proves he can do more than sappy High School Musical-type roles.
This charming, classy and witty film features great period detail and hidden depths and deserves to be seen. RL
CRACKS * * * *
Cert 15, 104 mins
Ridley Scott (Blade Runner / Thelma & Louise) is her father and Tony Scott (True Romance / Crimson Tide) her uncle.
But Jordan Scott has still had to learn how to get out of bed in the morning.
And how! As well as co-writing and directing her debut film, Cracks, all the signs are that she has a very promising career ahead.
When beautiful new Spanish student Fiamma arrives at a remote British boarding school, she upsets the dynamic within a clique and its relationship with Miss G, feistily played by Casino Royale star Eva Green.
The story is scarcely original, somewhat overwrought and predictable.
But it’s always watchable thanks to those Scott genes.
The best compliment I can give Jordan is that I never once missed the fact that there are hardly any men in this atmospheric movie.
And, considering that the Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Viola Davis film Doubt won five Oscar nominations earlier this year, I didn’t enjoy Cracks any less. GY
THE DESCENT: PART 2 * *
Cert 18, 93 mins
The first film in this series was a surprise low-budget hit for British film-maker Neil Marshall.
Sadly, the sequel doesn’t match it, mainly because the element of surprise has gone – we now know that there are nasty Gollum-like carnivores lying in wait in a remote cave system in the America’s Appalachian Mountains (actually filmed in Ealing Studios and the Home Counties).
The story picks up exactly where we left off, with Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) managing to escape a caving trip alive, but with amnesia.
The mountain rescue team, lead by Douglas Hodge, takes her back underground in a bid to find her friends. Events unfold which prove, again, that the female of the species is more deadly – and resourceful – than the male.
Marshall is still a producer but has handed the baton on to editor Jon Harris, who makes his directorial debut.
He gives us a few scares but doesn’t match Marshall’s nail-biting claustrophobia. Attempts to make us care about the characters don’t work and you may find yourself watching the very gory scenes through your fingers. RL
PLANET 51 * * *
Cert U, 90 mins
If you want to give your primary school children a good time in the cinema this weekend, take them to see a film made in Coventry – Nativity!
If you want to give them a rather aimless, computer-generated sci-fi animation to look at, featuring creatures with what appear to be intergalactic bananas for hair, then head immediately for Planet 51.
Written by Shrek’s Joe Stillman (hence the unappetising green faces!), this is a small world designed to resemble 1950s’ picket-fence America.
Enter astronaut Capt Charles ‘Chuck’ Baker (voiced by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson) in a sort of reversal of Klaatu arriving in The Day The Earth Stood Still.
Will the natives tolerate him?
The basic idea is fine, but debut Spanish directors Jorge Blanco, Javier Abad and Marcos Martinez seem content to confuse by throwing in everything from ET to 2001: A Space Odyssey.
After Up in particular, this is a mish-mash for adults, and a missed opportunity for children. GY