The Master * *
Cert 15, 144 mins

Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s fifth film is of interest chiefly because many are predicting at least a best actor Oscar nomination for star Joaquin Phoenix.

Please spare us!

But if you like to beat the bookies, perhaps it’s worth having a flutter on Anderson also being nominated for best screenplay, given that script nods for three out of his four films to date makes him seem like an Academy Awards’ favourite.

While Anderson works hard to do something different, he’s not exactly prolific.

It’s 15 years since Mark Wahlberg was extending himself in the auteur’s Boogie Nights (1997) and 13 years since frogs were memorably raining down in second film Magnolia (1999).

Three years later, Punch-Drunk Love (2002) saw Anderson inevitably missing the Academy Awards’ radar entirely after attempting to give Adam Sandler a serious career fillip akin to Jim Carrey’s The Truman Show.

Returning to his senses, There Will Be Blood (2008) then sealed Daniel Day-Lewis’s second best actor Oscar award.

Nearly five years on, The Master is a serious film for cinephiles which left me cold.

The enigmatic Phoenix might be acting well after his own ‘funny spell’ a couple of years ago, but too often I couldn’t hear what he was saying, nor did I always care.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, who has starred in all of Anderson’s movies save for There Will Be Blood, plays Lancaster Dodd, the leader of a strange cult-like organisation called The Cause. Phoenix is Freddie Quell, a vulnerable alcoholic Naval war veteran who makes love to sand castles shaped in the feminine form.

The cast includes David Lynch’s old favourite Laura Dern and an unusually downbeat Amy Adams (Peggy Dodd), whose decision not to bare all when many others are shedding clothes suggests she thought this film wasn’t worth exposing herself for.

The score by violinist Jonny Greenwood is thankfully much less scrapy than There Will Be Blood, but still recognisably his, especially as one of the film’s most interesting facets is its similar fascination with industrial processes.

The Master is well shot by Mihai Malaimare Jr (Tetro) – this was the first 70mm since Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet (1996) – but the 144-minute running time ensures you won’t get to the top and bottom of what it’s really all about in a hurry beyond trying to see if Dodd and Quell are two sides of the same near-worthless coin.

Like its unspecified inspiration, L Ron Hubbard and Scientology, The Master is all a bit of a mystery as to what’s the point.

Certainly the interrogation scene is nothing like as much fun as the similar one with Daniel Craig in Skyfall.

And the motorcycling sequence is a reminder of how Anthony Hopkins got no recognition for starring in Roger Donaldson’s underrated The World’s Fastest Indian (2005). GY

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 * *
Cert 12A, 115 mins

The concluding chapter of the outlandish fang-tasy series based on Stephenie Meyer’s best-selling books delivers a master class in constructing CGI mountains out of molehills.

The Twilight Saga: Treading Water would be more apt, considering how scriptwriter Melissa Rosenberg manages to expand 30 minutes of plot into two hours of anticipation and dread.

A climactic battle royale between the diabolical Volturi and the Cullens is certainly spectacular and director Bill Condon, who also helmed Part 1, orchestrates this special effects-heavy mayhem with verve.

Airborne vampires and snarling werewolves tumble acrobatically across the screen while locked in mortal combat, their desperate struggles ended with a sickening snap of a neck or crude decapitation.

Were these brave warriors anything but otherworldly creatures, which miraculously don’t bleed when injured, the relentless on-screen carnage would merit a 15 certificate.

Before all of the slavering jaws and severed limbs, the fifth instalment in the series doesn’t justify the decision by film-makers to cleave Meyer’s final book in two a la Harry Potter.

Substance is woefully lacking and there are only so many slow-motion smooches that can paper over the cracks before the most ardent members of Team Edward and Team Jacob will start to look nervously at their watches.

Part 2 begins with Bella (Kristen Stewart) re-awakening as a vampire.

Opening scenes visualise her heightened senses: the sound of a spider spinning its web, the music of a passing breeze, a trickle of a bead of water down a glass.

She sees and hears everything, contentedly falling back into the arms of lover Edward (Robert Pattinson)

Soon after, best friend Jacob (Taylor Lautner) arrives and is taken aback by Bella’s rejuvenation.

“I didn’t expect you to seem so... ‘you’... except for the creepy eyes,” he grins.

Jacob confesses to Bella that he has imprinted on their half-mortal, half-vampire offspring, Renesmee (Mackenzie Foy).

Once the young mother recovers from the shock and accepts Jacob as her daughter’s protector, Bella and Edward settle into domestic bliss with the rest of the Cullen clan.

Alas, their joy is short-lived when Edward’s cousin Irina (Maggie Grace) mistakenly identifies Renesmee as an immortal child - an abomination under ancient vampire law.

She reports her fears to the Volturi, the vampire counsel led by Aro (Michael Sheen).

Aside from the impressive final showdown, Breaking Dawn - Part 2 feels like the dying breaths of a cash cow being milked dry.

Stewart and Pattinson stare dreamily into each other’s eyes to an angst-heavy soundtrack of Green Day, Ellie Goulding, Christina Perri and Feist, and make gushing declarations - “I’m never going to get tired of this!” - that inspire wry smiles in light of tabloid revelations.

Lautner appeases fans with another scene of gratuitous nudity, while Sheen devours the very expensive scenery as the bloodsucking elder with an unquenchable thirst for slaughter.

A protracted montage of the leading couple in clinches is yet more filler but Condon does deliver one nice touch by individually honouring actors from all five films as he fades to black.

Credit where it’s due. DS

Beasts of the Southern Wild * * * *
Cert 12A, 93 mins

It doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, but Quvenzhane Wallis – or Nazie to her friends – is a name to look out for, as she has a promising future in film.

She was just five when she fibbed about her age – the minimum age was supposed to be six – and auditioned for the part in this acclaimed independent film.

She puts in an extraordinary performance as Hushpuppy, who lives with her ailing, hard-drinking father in a ramshackle community in the southern bayou.

The few people who live in what they call The Bathtub are self-sufficient and happy to be cut off from ‘the dry world’ by a levee.

“They think we’re all going to drown down here but we ain’t going nowhere,” narrates Hushpuppy.

Her father Wink (Dwight Henry, another newcomer to acting) isn’t the most paternal of characters, leaving her alone to fend for herself, but he’s all for toughening her up.

They manage to survive a Hurricane Katrina-style storm and a huge flood, but then they have to face the authorities wanting to ‘help’ them by forcing them into a shelter.

The film becomes fanciful at times as Hushpuppy imagines huge prehistoric creatures, in surreal scenes which are beautifully filmed by Benh Zeitlin.

It’s all to do with thinking about the ice age and the fact that the sea levels are rising. There’s a message here about global warming, with Hushpuppy wisely pointing out that “the entire universe depends on everything fitting together just right”.

On the downside, the thick southern accents aren’t always clear.

This is a simple, low budget film, but one that’s poetic, interesting and unusual. It’s quite amusing at times before building to a touching and uplifting ending.

It’s already notched up 13 award wins, including four at Cannes and two at Sundance, and will no doubt feature in next year’s Oscar nominations.

It’s a human drama which stays with you for quite some time afterwards.

After a fleeting stay at Cineworld on Broad Street, it has returned to the city for a week at MAC in Cannon Hill Park and is well worth seeking out. RL

Elena * * * *
Cert 12A, 109 mins

Only director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s second film since his brilliant study of two brothers in The Return (2002), Elena illustrates the gulf in modern Russia between those who have money and the flat-bound who do not.

Nurse Elena (Nadezhda Markina) is bitter that after his heart attack, her older and richer second husband wants to leave most of his money to his own estranged daughter – while she will only get an annuity.

Which means, effectively, that she won’t be able to pay for her grandson not to be in the army.

Though very Russian, there is an extremely universal story at the heart of this film – that parents often want to do the best they can for their own children, even if, as per one of the curses of modern Britain, it means trying to fund a ‘thick’ child into university at any price.

There’s also a deep flavour of Alexander Payne’s 2002 film, About Schmidt, in which the newly-retired Jack Nicholson wonders about his rediscovered wife of 42 years: ‘Who is this old woman who lives in my house? Why is it that every little thing she does irritates me...‘...I hate the way she sits. And I hate the way she smells’.

The intrigue here is that when two adults abhor each other’s children, then second-time marriages can create genuine hidden depth charges that can go off at any time.

One scene, when Elena is trying to resolve her situation with patient turned partner Vladimir (Andrey Smirnov), is as good as any I’ve seen all year.

The same goes for the now 53-year-old Markina’s remarkable performance which will root you to your seat just as much as any of those big action sequences in Skyfall.

A bonus here is that the Russian language is one of the softest on the ears in world cinema.

Throw in a score by Philip Glass – a triple Oscar-nominee for Kundun, The Hours and Notes on a Scandal – and this is one of the year’s highlights at the MAC in Cannon Hill Park where it’s playing from Tuesday to Thursday next week. GY

My Brother The Devil * * * *
Cert 15, 112 mins

Winner of the Best British newcomer award at the London Film Festival, Egyptian-Welsh screenwriter and director Sally El Hosaini’s debut feature opened at Showcases last week with no regional press previews.

But from tomorrow (FRI), this story of two Egyptian brothers coming of age moves on to the Odeon Broadway Plaza where it deserves to be seen.

Based in Hackney, El Hosaini’s film is as often as raw as some of the young actors who have clearly been drawn from all sorts of cultural backgrounds.

The violence, is, at times, horrific, too.

But if you look at that kind of thing in a Shakespearean context, in this instance, then the good news is that My Brother The Devil is head and shoulders above many films of this nature, including Adulthood and Kidulthood.

As the siblings Rashid and Mo, there are fine performances from James Floyd (The Infidel) and debut star Fady Elsayed (Mo).

The talented David Raedeker won the cinematography prize at Sundance.

My Brother The Devil certainly won’t solve youth crime, but as well as touching upon everything from homophobia to terrorism and the merits of bacon, it delivers a heart-touching degree of optimism that’s all too rare for this genre. GY

Here Comes The Boom *
Cert 12A, 105 mins

This alleged ‘comedy’ bears the fingerprints of Kevin James’ regular co-star Adam Sandler (Grown Ups / Hotel Transylvania).

Sandler merely has an executive producer credit here and thankfully doesn’t add to the agony by appearing on screen himself.

Directed by Frank Coraci, who made Sandler’s The Waterboy and The Wedding Singer, the story is about Scott Voss, a 42-year-old biology teacher who decides to start fund-raising in a bid to keep a colleague in a job.

Fair enough, but none of the background elements make sense.

The paternal thread for the ageing, long-haired fellow music teacher Marty Streb (Henry Winkler) is ludicrous.

As is the reason for the cuts at their school which sends Voss into a kind of good samaritan apoplexy.

Why else would he voluntarily become a cage fighter in a bid to earn money?

Here Comes the Boom has a few moments of It’s A Knockout-style slapstick stupidity, but never threatens to become a Rocky-fied cross between Mr Holland’s Opus and School of Rock.

It is, in the end, merely the kind of film that once it’s on DVD will end up as necessarily mindless fodder for bench-pressing numbskulls to watch in a gym. GY