You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Woody Allen, 98 mins (12A)
Route Irish, Ken Loach, 109 mins (15)
The Lincoln Lawyer, Brad Furman, 118 mins (15)

Everything you always knew about Woody Allen films

Woody Allen is 75 and Ken Loach is 74, and as they both have films out this week, it would take a stronger critic than I to resist lumping them together. Besides, the connection isn't all that tenuous. Their new releases both have a rough-and-unready feel which suggests that the directors wanted to get their films finished more than they wanted to get them right.

Allen's comedy drama, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, is particularly slapdash. It's set in London – never an encouraging sign – and it cuts between several interlinked characters, à la Hannah and Her Sisters. At its centre are two unhappy couples. Anthony Hopkins has left his wife, Gemma Jones, while their daughter, Naomi Watts, isn't getting on much better with her husband, Josh Brolin. Jones finds solace in the blandishments of a fortune teller, Pauline Collins. Hopkins gets a more physical form of consolation from Lucy Punch, a caricatured gold-digger. Watts is drawn to Antonio Banderas, the owner of the gallery where she works. And Brolin's failed novelist has set his sights on a neighbour, Freida Pinto, who is flattered, bizarrely, to hear how he enjoys spying on her while she undresses.

There are a few touching, bracingly bleak moments: a drunken almost-kiss between Watts and Banderas, for instance. But that's what's so frustrating about Allen's recent output. There are always glimmers of the film he might have made, but he repeatedly sabotages it with carelessness. It wouldn't have been difficult to fix the corny plotting, the am-dram staging or the stilted dialogue, but Allen, it seems, just doesn't have the patience any more, so Naomi Watts has to slog through such lines as: "My long-standing faith in her has finally been vindicated." My own long-standing faith in Allen has finally been worn out.

Loach's new film, Route Irish, is a conspiracy thriller set in Liverpool, but concerned with some dodgy dealings in Iraq. Its hero, Mark Womack, is an ex-soldier who's now employed by a private security firm in Baghdad. His best friend has just been killed on "Route Irish", the perilous road between the airport and the Green Zone, and Womack is hell-bent on uncovering what happened.

Alas, most of his detective work consists of listening to people as they tell him their stories, usually over the phone, which is hardly riveting, especially when the audience will have solved the mystery long before Womack does. Instead of developing the plot or the characters, the film gets hung up on the message that waterboarding is a bad thing, and that it's wrong to profit from the deaths of Iraqi citizens. Even if several films hadn't made those points already, most people could have figured them out for themselves – and certainly most people who go to see Ken Loach films.

It's a relief, then, to see a movie as sleek, assured and downright entertaining as The Lincoln Lawyer. Don't be put off by the hopeless title (the hero's law office is, irrelevantly, the back seat of his Lincoln sedan) or by the presence of Matthew McConaughey. Yes, he's as smug as ever, but this time he's supposed to be, playing a fast-talking ambulance-chaser who specialises in getting guilty clients off on technicalities. Adapted from a Michael Connelly novel, it's an old-fashioned, hard-boiled LA crime story, and it's the best of its kind in quite some while.

Next Week

Nicholas Barber visits Roman Britain with Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) in The Eagle

Also Showing: 20/03/2011

Chalet Girl (107 mins, PG)

Formulaic British comedy starring Felicity Jones, above, as a working-class girl who is taken on as a maid in a luxury ski lodge. The moral is that anything is possible ... just as long as you're a skateboarding champion who gets the world's cushiest job and then sleeps with the first rich bimbo who comes along.

Ballast (96 mins, 15)

Spare indie drama set in the flat, grey-green countryside of Mississippi, where three people are rebuilding their lives following the death of the man who bound them together. It's heart-wrenching, even though what little dialogue there is is spoken in murmurs.

Benda Bilili! (86 mins, PG)

Staff Benda Bilili is a group of homeless paraplegic musicians from Kinshasa who have found success on the European festival circuit. The poverty they've endured is astonishing, and the band undoubtedly deserves its fairy-tale transformation, but this film is more like a promotional video than an in-depth documentary.

Anuvahood (88 mins, 15)

Awful British council-block "comedy". Avoid.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Shenaz Treasurywala
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect