Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton, above) was driving around America in 1954, selling milkshake machines, when he arrived at a diner with a difference: every burger it served was identical, and it was handed to you in a paper bag, just a few seconds after you placed your order. The humble masterminds behind this “Speedee” system were the McDonald brothers Mac and Dick (John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman), but it was the ruthless and tireless Kroc who saw how their innovations could be the basis of a gargantuan franchise: McDonald’s. Scripted by the screenwriter of “The Wrestler”, The Founder is a bright, dynamic account of a world-changing relationship. It’s also astoundingly timely. Although the film was completed well before the election, its penetrating commentary on ambition and salesmanship has as much to say about The Donald as it does about McDonald’s.
Out now in America; opens in Britain on Feb 17th
“For better or worse, the ride had begun – and what a goddamn ride!” No actor could deliver that line with greater relish than Matthew McConaughey. In Gold, he has divested himself of his Greek-god features and sculpted abdominals to play Kenny Wells, the balding, paunchy, snaggle-toothed boss of a Nevada mining company. Times are so hard in 1988 that Kenny has to cold-call potential investors from a bar, because he can’t afford to rent an office. Determined to strike gold in an Indonesian rainforest, he risks bankruptcy and malaria to make his dream come true. Stephen Gaghan, the director, doesn’t have quite the flair to pull off his attempted Martin Scorsese imitation, but “Gold” is still a rollicking, unpredictable adventure yarn with a magnetic central performance. When McConaughey talks about going on a ride, you want to saddle up too, even as you know it’s bound to end badly.
Out now in America; opens in Britain on Feb 3rd
War of words
Lone Scherfig’s delightful second-world-war comedy is all about the compromises and accidents that go into making a film, and the magic that can result. Its heroine (Gemma Arterton, below) is a wide-eyed secretary who stumbles into a job writing a morale-boosting Dunkirk drama for the Ministry of Information, complete with “authenticity, optimism and a dog”. With a top-tier supporting cast that includes Bill Nighy, Jeremy Irons, Eddie Marsan and Helen McCrory, Their Finest is a big-hearted, romantic charmer, but it never ignores the trauma of living in a city pummelled by air raids. Any film which focuses on screenwriting is asking for its own screenplay to be scrutinised, but Gaby Chiappe’s script, adapted from Lissa Evans’s novel, is a highly polished, multi-faceted gem.
Opens in America on Mar 24th and Britain on Apr 21st
Ben Wheatley, the director of “Down Terrace”, “Kill List”, “Sightseers” and “High-Rise”, specialises in taking the snazziest of Hollywood genres – gangster saga, hitman caper, serial-killer thriller, science-fiction epic – and then squeezing them into low-budget, down-at-heel, British black comedies. The latest is Free Fire, Wheatley’s answer to a guns-blazing action movie. Somewhere between “Reservoir Dogs” and a 1970s-themed fancy-dress party, it features Brie Larson, Armie Hammer and a scene-stealing Sharlto Copley, among others, as criminals who fall out during a weapons deal, and spend the next hour taking pot shots at each other in an abandoned factory. The film is a cacophony of funny insults (scripted by Wheatley and his wife, Amy Jump) and squalling free jazz co-written by Geoff Barrow of Portishead. But there are hard truths about conflict resolution beneath the racket.
Opens in America on Mar 17th and in Britain on Mar 31st
Five years ago, if you had to predict the first American actress to win a César (ie, a French Oscar), you wouldn’t have chosen the lip-chewing wallflower from the “Twilight” franchise. Yet Kristen Stewart has reinvented herself as the darling of independent European cinema. In Personal Shopper, Stewart plays a celebrity’s assistant who fetches and carries designer dresses all across the city. But she is also a medium who is desperate to make contact with her dead twin brother. Greeted by boos and rave reviews when it premiered at Cannes, “Personal Shopper” floats weirdly between genres. But as a low-key study of someone who both dreads and yearns for the supernatural, it sends shivers down the spine.
Opens in America on Mar 10th and Britain on Mar 17th