There were several starry films shown to critics in London this past week, as many of our colleagues were still in Cannes watching things we won't see here for a few months. The best one was Slow West, a beautifully shot, cleverly paced drama set in the Wild West and starring Kodi Smit-McPhee and Michael Fassbender (above). Melissa McCarthy reunites with The Heat filmmaker Paul Feig for Spy, a raucous action comedy that's profane, violent and utterly hilarious. I see a franchise brewing. Dwayne Johnson tackles the biggest earthquake ever in the rather ridiculously over-the-top disaster movie San Andreas, which opens this week. Rosamund Pike is terrific in the rather underdeveloped post-attack drama Return to Sender. And Guy Pearce and Coby Smulders play duelling personal trainers in the witty but ultimately thin Results.
Off the beaten path, we had the beautifully shot Eden, which traces France's club music scene authentically but without much in the way of character or plot. Also from France, the even more loosely structured Love at First Fight (Les Combattants) at least traces a strongly involving personal journey in two young people who join the army to get away from their boring homes. From China, Black Coal, Thin Ice is a gorgeously artful police thriller that leaves its twisty, surprising mystery plot in the background where it belongs. Oriented is a groundbreaking documentary about three gay Palestinians in Tel Aviv that has a lot to say about Israel's political situation. And finally, The Human Centipede 3 (Final Segment) is the conclusion of Dutch filmmaker Tom Six's insane gross-out trilogy, this time set in an American prison. It's over-the-top, clumsy and frankly awful, but makes some strong points with its satirical-comedy tone.
I also caught up with Bessie, the biopic about the iconic blues pioneer Bessie Smith, played beautifully by Queen Latifah. It's a remarkably tough story, directed with flashes of real insight by filmmaker Dee Rees and featuring superb supporting turns by the unstoppable likes of Khandi Alexander, Mo'Nique, Michael Kenneth Williams and Mike Epps, all of whom make their characters startlingly complex. In the end, the structure is a bit tricky to make much sense of, but the characters are so strong that we don't mind much. And the music is simply divine.