Film releases: November 4

Boy meets boy. Boy loves boy. It is the oldest story on the human planet, coequal or coeval with the other gender combinations. Weekend, a British gay romance set in Nottingham, gives its love story novelty – a poignant, even revelatory novelty – by going for the “love”. Film-maker Andrew Haigh, writing, directing and producing, drives through the meeting-cute introductions and the medium-molten sex scenes as if they were merely marks on the map, to follow the simple, complex arc of an evolving love affair.

Russell (Tom Cullen), the stubble-bearded good-looker shy of “coming out” since his foster-home days (he never had the defining moment of telling his parents), and Glen (Chris New), the spiky aspiring artist who wields an après-sex tape recorder to interview dates for an art-and-sociology project, don’t just kiss, get naked and make love. They do that. But they also talk, talk, talk. And this is the right, Eric Rohmerish talk: the kind that defines character. Russell gradually unburdens his inhibitions. Glen, in early scenes a nagging gay-lib polemicist, lets love draw out his humanity.

Haigh, who made the gawky but honest-hearted gay drama Greek Pete, has a simple faith in simple colours. Bleak Midlands streets; flats and bedsits decorated with the shore-wrack of young lives. At the end we are on a railway station platform, as if sent there by love-movie mandate (Casablanca, Brief Encounter). But the poignancy here is particular to the sexual persuasion: to two gay lovers trying, at last, to breathe the free, simple air permitted to heterosexual romantic heartache.

Piffling idiots think every remake of a classic, minor or major, is an act of vandalism. Most of those damning the new Straw Dogs are pseudo-nostalgists too young to have reviewed Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 original but old enough to cast a veil of convenient forgetfulness over the drubbing actually meted out, by many, to that film. In a tale of ultra-violence in a Cornish village, young maths professor Dustin Hoffman one-man-massacred the yobbos who raped his wife and then attacked his home.

Writer-director Rod Lurie, setting the remake in Mississippi, puts his American hero more plausibly in America. Less plausibly and more cheesily, James Marsden’s beleaguered newlywed is no dorky mathematician but a Hollywood screenwriter, seeking rural quiet in wife Kate Bosworth’s home hamlet. That, though, is the limit of the triteness. The plot boils up nicely, warmed by Alexander Skarsgard’s sinisterly compelling thug leader and set bubbling by James Woods’ terrific turn as a semi-psychotic town elder.

“I started as Snow White,” Mae West once said, “then I drifted.” “Drifting” is one of the great rhythmic modes in cinema. Joachim Trier’s Oslo, August 31st, from Norway, does little else. Rehab-released former drug addict Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie) drifts through the titular city, ostensibly for a job interview that will reboot his life. But every tryst and talking jag with old friends – from Proust-spouting intellectual Thomas (Hans Olav Brenner) to the girls Anders grew up with and then grew out of – tells him his alienation is now a state of being.

At a café, eavesdropping on multiple conversations, he tries to relate to the world’s unrelatedness. That’s a start; but maybe Anders is in love now only with endings. The film is overlong, spinning its sequential disenchantments. But mood and place are believable. This is an Oslo of anorexic sunlight, of fleeting shows of care, of lukewarm humanity masquerading as peace and love. The fictions of Oslo, August 31st – its picture of estranged sensibilities – feel at times like a subtle, prophetic warning of the real horror events that happened in Norway on July 24 2011.

Tower Heist promises a cracking spectacle, but resembles one in the same way as an egg placed too precipitately in boiling water.

First the plot premise is presented to our gaze – ooh look, a shiny thriller about a tower-block-dwelling Madoff-like fraudster (Alan Alda) schemed against by his pension-robbed service staff (Ben Stiller, Casey Affleck etc). Then it is lowered into a saucepan of hokum and contrivance. Street crook Eddie Murphy is drafted in for criminal expertise. Multi-storey elevator shafts are shinned up as if they were kindergarten climbing frames. And to believe the climax, you need to believe that the weight of gold scarcely exceeds that of the filmmakers’ brains. NA

Raphael Abraham on the week’s other releases:

Jack Goes Boating is a coming-of-age tale in which the age is well over 40. Philip Seymour Hoffman, making his film-directing debut, plays Jack, a mild-mannered, mumbling New York limo driver who got a flat somewhere along the road of life. Under his beanie he tries to grow dreadlocks, on his cassette player he listens to reggae as he tries to maintain a positive vibe that we suspect doesn’t always come easily. Under the guidance of exuberant friend Clyde (John Ortiz) and Clyde’s forthright wife Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega), Jack is urged to step out of his severely limited comfort zone, take up swimming and embark on a tentative romance with Connie (Amy Ryan), a funeral-home saleswoman who almost matches him in awkwardness.

As they admire each other with halting, apologetic eyes, one can’t help but will them together, even if it’s clear they carry so much baggage they could use a porter. And ostensible mentor Clyde has problems of his own, not least marital infidelity, a fact he reveals – aptly enough – outside the Clinton Diner. Jack’s equilibrium wobbles – will he maintain his positive vibe? As a director, Hoffman, like Jack, rarely leaves his comfort zone, delivering a warm-hearted but unflashy film that bears the marks of its theatrical origins (Hoffman also directed for the stage). Yet with fine and affecting performances, this is an enjoyably old-fashioned ensemble piece and a solid start to a career behind the camera.

Troubled though they may be, these New Yorkers are reassuringly earthbound compared with the two Los Angeleno space cadets in The Future. Sophie (Miranda July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) are tousle-haired mid-thirties members of what was once Generation X, noses forever buried in ageing MacBooks and immaculately kitted out in vintage gear.

Such is their inertia that even the notion of fostering a cat is an unthinkable leap of commitment and they begin counting down the days of remaining “freedom” before the feline arrives. So far so irritating. But then one of them does something out of character and awful – you almost want to cheer – and suddenly there are emotions on the screen and their painfully constructed world of shabby chic threatens to fall apart. But by now writer-director July, who gave us the lovably odd Me and You and Everyone We Know, has layered on so much self-conscious whimsy – monologues from the cat, dialogues with the moon and other dashes of magical realism – that the central drama struggles to be heard.

Perhaps subtlety is too much to expect from a film called Machine Gun Preacher but even so, the extraordinary true-life transformation story of Sam Childers (Gerard Butler) from trailer trash junkie criminal to God’s gun-toting ambassador to Africa is oversimplified. One moment he is emerging from prison unrepentant to resume a life of violent crime and drug abuse, the next he is undergoing a blink-and-you’ll miss it rebirth (not to mention presiding over the briefest cold turkey scene in screen history).

When Childers takes his new mission to Sudan you half expect him to steam in and sort out the civil war in one swift montage. Here the film does introduce some complexity as the depth of the country’s conflicts becomes clear, but the African characters are never given an adequate voice and all we are left with is the hulking figure of Butler looking like a lost member of Lynyrd Skynyrd raging at the world. Despite the most worthy intentions, Childers cannot single-handedly save Sudan and Butler cannot save this movie. RA

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