Two comic books, two novels, a computer game, a children’s toy, a world war and three original ideas make us the source material for this month’s movies, but which will be movie of the month? Here are the contenders:
Stalingrad: Russian war film. A small group of Russian soldiers come together to defend a strategic building in the ruins of Stalingrad during World War II. The action scenes are well constructed and choreographed but overwhelmed by CGI. It also suffers from thinly sketched characters but is still worth seeing if only to see a war film a slightly different prospective.
The Lego Movie: Animated movie based on the building block toy. How do I reconcile my love of Lego and my apathy for animation? What could have been safe and dull is actually utterly bonkers and all the better for it. The end/payoff will divide opinion, but it worked for me. The greatest success of the movie is the way it actually understands what it is to be a kid playing with Lego.
300 Rise of an Empire: Both a prequel and a sequel to 300 (2007), it ticks all the boxes, bigger, longer and dumber. The action is both as brutal and as overly stylized as you would expect, It doesn’t always work but when it does it makes for a fun movie. Lena Headey makes a welcome return but like everyone else in the movie is overshadowed by the fantastic Eva Green.
The Grand Budapest Hotel: Wes Anderson’s most Wes Anderson movie. Using two framing mechanisms, we are watching a story heightened by and filtered by two potentially unreliable storytellers. Although the film masquerades as a murder mystery it is more a cross between a farce and a caper. Anderson’s usual cast is on display but Ralph Fiennes is revelation.
The Zero Theorem: One man’s utopia is another man’s dystopia in Terry Gilliam near-future London set sci-fi. The plot is indecipherable but the existential subtext surprisingly obvious. The cast including Christoph Waltz, Matt Damon and David Thewlis are all good and look like they are having fun.
Need For Speed: Movies based on computer games have a reputation for a lack of plot, if anything Need for Speed has more plot than it needs. The basic story is a chase across country followed by a race, it doesn’t actually need more than that and it certainly doesn’t need to be over two hours long. Having said that, it is a largely fun film and the racing scenes are well shot.
Under The Skin: With no back-story or explanation we only find out what is happening as it happens, or do we? The plot is relatively simple on the surface but without any exposition it isn’t totally clear but is all the more interesting for it. Scarlett Johansson is unrecognisable in look at performance from Captain America but equally as brilliant.
Starred Up: A powerful and gritty British prison drama about a young offender who is moved to regular prison as he institution he was in couldn’t handle him. Things are complicated by the presence of his farther on the same wing. Well acted and starkly believable story that does the impossible, make the audience care about characters who initially without redemption. Expect to see a lot more of Jack O’Connell.
A Long Way Down: I watched this adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel almost exactly three years after suggesting it should be adapted for the screen. The casting is perfect and all the actors give good performances particularly Pierce Brosnan but the script and direction fall a long way short of the source novel.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier: It’s not The Dark Knight, but this movie represents a deeper more grown up movie than we expect from Marvel. Combining an old fashioned thriller with an allegory of our time without losing the fun we expect from a comic book movie. It descends into explosions and people hitting each other as you would expect but it earns the right to do it before it gets to that point. A truly accomplished movie.