Despite his long sojourn as Wolverine, we have always suspected that Hugh Jackman had some dramatic talent. Prisoners is a fast-paced police thriller about a father (Jackman) who is not content to leave the investigation into the abduction of his daughter in police hands. How far is he prepared to go? This is not exactly an original movie scenario, and the development is rooted in the grand tradition of the exploitation genre, but director Denis Villeneuve gives the film a poetic intensity that draws comparison with the likes of Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River. Villeneuve, who hails from Quebec, is making his English-language debut with Prisoners. Jackman plays against Jake Gyllenhaal, the cop who is handling the case, and the two develop a powerful dynamic that survives the 146-minute running time. Despite the length, Prisoners maintains a pace and power that rarely slackens.
Alfonso Cuaron, who established his arthouse credentials with the Spanish-language film Y Tu Mama Tambien and his Hollywood stature with arguably the best of the Harry Potter movies (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), is back after a long hiatus following on from the workmanlike Children of Men (2006). Many critics see this new work as a candidate for the best film of 2013. There is much talk about Gravity restoring faith in big-screen moviemaking as something more than just special effects gimmicks. The story is simple: Two people try to survive in the vast airless expanse of space after an accident leaves them adrift. Curaron is working together with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, and together they walk a dangerous line between art house minimalism (echoes of Silent Running) and big budget effects. The general consensus is that Cuaron has succeeded in finding a balance, though some purists have suggested that the spirit of existential dread that drives the film is tainted with a compassion that drifts into sentimentality.
It is an indication of how far Robert De Niro has fallen as a serious actor that this Luc Besson comedy-slash-mob flick provides one of his meatiest roles in years. Unfortunately, Besson tries yet again to pack too much into a single film and The Family never manages to settle down, veering from comic family drama, slapstick action, to brutal violence. There are some beautifully entertaining moments, and the cast of De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, together with Glee cast member Dianna Agron and John D’Leo — who make up the wife and two kids set up — works well. De Niro’s mob boss, now relocated to Normandy under the witness protection plan, and his family, don’t settle well into small town French life, and they have their own ways of reacting to the not always welcoming local folk. But it is not long before old colleagues get wind of De Niro’s new identity, and genial xenophobia gives way to big time action.
Rhythm of the Rain (聽見下雨的聲音)
Debut feature by director Vincent Fang (方文山), best known as a lyricist, particularly for hits by Jay Chou (周杰倫). The film offers yet another reprise on the theme of young love and rock ‘n’ roll, telling the story of Ah Lun (played by Alan Ko, 柯有倫), a young band leader who is trying to take his motley crew of rockers to their first record deal. On the way he falls for Yu Jie (played by Ginnie Han, 韓雨潔), but in the band’s struggles in the face of their first success, the flame of passion with Yu Jie sputters, and as cinema convention will always have it, he then meets up with old flame Sharon (played by Vivian Hsu, 徐若瑄), and new sparks are rekindled. There are plenty of opportunities for rousing Mando-pop performances, talk of rock cred versus financial success, and the usual rifts off themes like friendship, love and regret. Fang has brought in plenty of cameos from the entertainment industry, so for those in the know, there are many opportunities for celebrity spotting as well.
My Lucky Star (非常幸運)
Chinese romantic comedy starring Zhang Ziyi (章子怡) and Leehom Wang (王力宏), among other A-listers, that has more to distinguish it than just its superstar cast. Zhang has executive producer credits for the film, her second following Sophie’s Revenge (非常完美：奪愛大作戰) in 2009, to which it also serves as a prequel. Sophie (played by Zhang) is a telephone operator who loves to daydream, and one day she wins a luxury visit to Singapore. She meets the most amazing man (played by Wang), who happens to be a secret agent, and Sophie inevitably gets caught up in a complex deal over stolen diamonds. With location shoots all over Asia, including luxury locations in Singapore, Macau, Hong Kong and Beijing, the film offers a wish fulfillment fantasy in its purest form. The humor is also more accessible to Western audiences, a fact that may be explained by the presence of Dennie Gordon in the director’s chair. Gordon has credits in television for Chicago Hope, Ally McBeal, The Practice and 30 Rock, and with My Lucky Star becomes the first US director to helm a production targeted at a domestic Chinese audience.