Films of the week: Desperation driven by deep emotion
(Bong Joon-ho, 2009) This brilliant South Korean crime melodrama is about the mother of a slow-witted 27-year-old charged with the murder of a local schoolgirl, and the lengths she'll take to prove his innocence. It has a dark wit, and its measured pace makes you feel its characters' mounting desperation all the more, but it's also deeply sympathetic in its treatment of its characters. Hye-ja Kim heads the cast. *****
(Eran Creevy, 2008) Shifty (Riz Ahmed) is a smart, funny and engaging young Muslim drug-dealer who is reunited with his former best mate (Daniel Mays) for the 24-hour period covered by this gripping and slowly darkening slice of urban drama. A character piece with an assured tone and an unforced naturalism, it's more reminiscent of Shane Meadows or even Mike Leigh than other films about similar material. ***
The Portrait of a Lady
(Jane Campion, 1996) Nicole Kidman's first opportunity to prove how capable and subtle an actress she can be came when she was cast as Isabel Archer, the spirited American heiress of Henry James's 1881 novel who "affronts her destiny" and travels to England and Italy, where she falls victim to the machiavellian Gilbert Osmond (John Malkovich). Jane Campion's adaptation is richly cinematic. ****
The Big Lebowski
(Joel & Ethan Coen, 1998) The impossible-to-follow story has to do with bowling, a kidnap plot gone wrong and a nihilist krautrock group and their marmot. But, as with The Big Sleep, the film on which it's very loosely based, the genius of the Coen brothers' comedy is in its dialogue and incidental detail. And Jeff Bridges's "the Dude" may well be cinema's coolest loser. *****
Dr Strangelove – or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
(Stanley Kubrick, 1963) Deciding that the doctrine of mutual assured destruction was an absurd basis for peace on Earth, Kubrick called in Terry Southern to rewrite the serious Cold War drama he was drafting, cast Peter Sellers in three of his most memorable roles, and created one of cinema's most perfect black comedies. *****
(Takashi Miike, 1999) No torture-porn movie of the past 10 years tested its viewers' nerve more, nor made them care as much for the victim, as Takashi Miike's horror-satire about a middle- aged widower and the younger girlfriend he chooses for himself after a faux movie audition. It toys with the audience's sympathies, and deconstructs gender stereotypes and genre conventions, with devious precision. Eihi Shiina stars. ****
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
(Woody Allen, 2008) In one of his most charming recent romantic dramas, Woody Allen orchestrates a ménage à quatre involving two young American women (Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson) spending the summer in Barcelona, and a pair of fiery Spanish artists (Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz). It may only be slight but it is also sunny and sexy, and rounded out with wistful undertones. ****
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