dir Jay Roach; with Bryan Cranston, Helen Mirren 15/US ****
It's a good thing this film has a sharp screenplay, since it's about one of Hollywood's most notorious screenwriters. Sharp, funny and cleverly resonant, this true drama explores a grim period in American history with intelligence and emotion. And it's packed with superb performances from a skilled cast.
dir Davis Guggenheim; with Malala Yousafzai, Ziauddin Yousafzai 15/US ****
Filmmaker Guggenheim manipulates the audience with a rather jarring story structure in this documentary, choosing to place events in order to build the maximum emotional punch. But when the subject is this strong, the audience doesn't mind too much. And Malala Yousafzai is inspirational even without all of these cinematic flourishes... MORE >
dir Pablo Larrain; with Alfredo Castro, Antonia Zegers 15/Chl ****
Exploring a topical issue with invention and insight, Chilean filmmaker Larrain tells a haunting but magnetic story about disgraced Catholic priests caught in a kind of pergutory of self-deception. It's a stunningly clever film, packed with quietly pointed commentary and darkly involving drama.
dir Cesc Gay; with Ricardo Darin, Javier Camara 15/Sp ****
With vivid characters and a superb blend of comedy and drama, this story about two lifelong friends continually catches the audience off-guard, revealing layers of resonant detail that can't help but draw out a strong emotional response. It's a thoroughly likeable film featuring spiky characters who speak their minds. But it's what isn't spoken that carries the real punch.
Blood of My Blood
dir-scr Marco Bellocchio; with Pier Giorgio Bellocchio, Lidiya Liberman 15/It ***.
Ambitious and assured, this Italian drama shifts between time periods to explore issues of morality and mortality through the filter of religion and, ahem, vampires. Using the same setting several hundred years apart, the film has an eerie, mesmerising quality that holds the attention, even if the plot isn't very easy to unpick.
Brand: A Second Coming
dir Ondi Timoner; with Russell Brand, Noel Gallagher 15/UK ****
Fast-paced and abrasively entertaining, like Russell Brand himself, this is a documentary about a man who throws himself into everything with wild enthusiasm. It demonstrates vividly how he wins over everyone he meets, against all odds. And it explores why the things everyone wants - fame, money, power - mean nothing and bring no happiness. So he has set out to disrupt the prevailing ideology.