Cert 12, 105 mins, Warner Home Video, Comedy/Action, also available to buy DVD £19.99/Blu-ray £26.99)
Starring: Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, Alan Arkin, Terence Stamp, Dwayne Johnson, Masi Oka, Nate Torrence, James Caan.
MAXWELL SMART (Carell) is a surveillance expert for secret US agency CONTROL, monitoring and deciphering conversations between counterparts from the Russian agency KAOS. He is keen to prove his worth in the field but the Chief (Arkin) values Maxwell’s talents too much to let him stray from headquarters. When the secret identities of CONTROL’s operatives are compromised, the Chief has little choice but to promote Maxwell and to dispatch the new operative to Russia under the guidance of mentor Agent 99 (Hathaway). With geeks Bruce (Oka) and Lloyd (Torrence) providing technical backup and buff Agent 23 (Johnson) as additional muscle, Maxwell and Agent 99 uncover a dastardly plot hatched by Siegfried (Stamp) to kill the American president (Caan). Based on the madcap ’60s television series, Get Smart is a comic caper about an accident-prone yet sensitive secret agent who might just be mankind’s last, great hope. Peter Segal’s film incorporates many familiar characters and gizmos from the TV series including the shoe phone and so-called Cone Of Silence, but the director focuses too intently on big action sequences rather than slapstick, burdening the film with a split personality, which the screenwriters are unable to resolve. Carell embraces the film’s peculiar brand of unabashed silliness without restraint. He catalyses a pleasing screen chemistry with Hathaway, who has nothing to do apart from keep a straight face as her co-star goofs his way out of trouble. Supporting performances are largely forgettable and Bill Murray shines in a brief cameo as stir crazy Agent 13, who is stuck inside a tree.
City of Ember
Cert PG, 91 mins, Entertainment In Video, Family/Drama/Action, also available to buy DVD £19.99/Blu-ray £24.99)
Starring: Harry Treadaway, Saoirse Ronan, Bill Murray, Tim Robbins, Toby Jones, Mackenzie Crook, Martin Landau, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Liz Smith, Amy & Catherine Quinn.
For the past 200 years, the subterranean metropolis of Ember has survived with the help of its massive generator but as food stores dwindle and machinery fails, this microcosm of life threatens to slip into eternal darkness. Graduate student Doon Harrow (Treadaway), the son of noted inventor Loris (Robbins), and feisty classmate Lina Mayfleet (Ronan) resolve to find a solution to the nightmare. Lina stumbles upon the answer when she finds a metal box containing badly torn, cryptic instructions. With the help of greenhouse keeper Clary (Jean-Baptiste), Lina and Doon attempt to decipher the instructions while outwitting self-serving Mayor Cole (Murray) and his lackeys Barton (Jones) and Looper (Crook). Based on the novel by Jeanne DuPrau, City Of Ember feels a tad sluggish even at 91 minutes, with just two action set pieces (a close encounter with a giant tentacle-nosed rat at the midway point and a high speed, log flume finale) to quicken the pulse. Director Gil Kenan (Monster House) works closely with production designer Martin Laing and cinematographer Xavier Perez Grobet to realise DuPrau’s vision of an entire city, laid out in concentrate circles. Created in a hangar in Belfast and bathed in light from hundreds of bulbs to mimic the sun, the sets are truly spectacular. Digital effects are used sparingly, but are noticeable by their clumsiness against such impressive production design. Ronan and Treadaway are both endearing but we don’t spend enough time with either of their adventurous urchins to feel we know them before the grand adventure begins. Murray plays his corrupt official so low key, he’s almost lifeless.
Cert 15, 102 mins, Pathe Distribution Ltd, Drama, also available to buy DVD £19.99)
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Stuart Graham, Liam Cunningham, Brian Milligan, Liam McMahon.
Turner Prize-winning artist Steve McQueen recreates the hunger strikes of the early ’80s in the Maze Prison just outside of Belfast in this harrowing narrative feature film debut. The story begins with prison officer Raymond Lohan (Graham) who is part of the team in charge of the infamous H-Blocks. He arrives at work to welcome new inmate Davey Gillen (Milligan), who is flung into a cell with fellow non-conformer Gerry Campbell (McMahon). At Sunday Mass, Davey is introduced to H-Block’s leader, Bobby Sands (Fassbender), to whom all the other inmates turn for guidance. Like his fellow prisoners, Bobby is brutalised by the guards and after one particularly vicious encounter that renders him conscious, he resolves to protest by starving to death. A confessional with priest Father Dominic Moran (Cunningham), captured in a bravura, 22-minute, single take conversation, poses difficult questions about the nature of sacrifice. “Putting my life on the line is not just the only thing I can do, it’s the right thing,” responds the prisoner defiantly. Hunger is a breathtaking, impressionistic portrait of a time in history when ten men effectively declared war on their bodies as the ultimate act of defiance against the Thatcher government. It’s an immersive and disorienting piece of cinema, awash with haunting images, like the anguish of an inexperienced riot officer crying his eyes out to beg forgiveness for his part in the brutality. Fassbender is mesmerising, literally wasting away before our tear-filled eyes until every rib threatens to tear through his translucent, ulcerous skin. Violence begets more violence and nobody emerges from the melee with a clear conscience.
(Cert 15, 92 mins, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, Comedy/Romance, also available to buy DVD £19.99)
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Kat Dennings, Robert Downey Jr, Hope Davis, Tyler Hilton.
Deeply troubled teenager Charlie Bartlett (Yelchin) has no paternal influence to guide him (the old man is in prison for tax evasion) and a wealthy mother (Davis) who spends entire days in a drug-induced haze. Craving affection and attention, Charlie rebels against authority at his high school. At first, he is a prime target for bully Murphy Bivens (Hilton) but the new boy soon realises he can turn his outsider status to his advantage, doling out second-hand psychiatric advice and psychotropic drugs to fellow students from his ’office’ in a cubicle of the boys’ toilets. Charlie’s popularity soars and he woos classmate Susan (Dennings), whose father is Principal Gardner (Downey Jr). However, when the covert counselling service inspires students to rebel against Gardner and his edicts, the youngster realises he may have gone too far. Charlie Bartlett is a timely rites of passage story, sweetening the bitter pill of the laconic hero’s journey of self-discovery (“My family has a psychiatrist on call. How normal can that be?”) with droll humour and tender romance. Jon Poll’s film recalls Ferris Bueller’s Day Off but screenwriter Gustin Nash’s peculiar perspective on life sets this teen misfit apart from the self-absorbed crowd. Yelchin delivers a winning lead performance as the loner in charge of his own destiny. He forges wonderful screen chemistry with Downey Jr whose tour de force portrayal of a self-loathing alcoholic tugs the heartstrings. Beautifully scripted scenes, in which the two actors bare their characters’ damaged souls, are deeply moving.