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X-Men-style psychic thrills

X-Men-style psychic thrills

What to watch: from an “X-Men”-style thriller to an Eeyorish animation

What to watch: from an “X-Men”-style thriller to an Eeyorish animation

April/May 2016

Midnight messiah

Jeff Nichols’s weighty backwoods dramas “Shotgun Stories” and “Take Shelter” established him as one of the most distinctive writer-directors in American independent cinema. And by casting Matthew McConaughey in his Huckleberry Finn homage, “Mud”, he had a hand in the “McConaissance” which transformed the actor into an Oscar-winning A-lister. Nichols’s new film, “Midnight Special”, is bound to introduce his intense work to a whole new audience. Almost an unofficial offshoot of the “X-Men” franchise, “Midnight Special” is a gripping nocturnal-chase thriller about an eight-year-old boy (Jaeden Lieberher) with burgeoning and potentially devastating psychic powers. A religious cult sees him as a messiah, while the government sees him as a weapon, so it’s up to three loyal adults (Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton and Kirsten Dunst, all on top form) to help him discover who he really is. The story is borrowed from “Starman” and “E.T.”, but Nichols retells it with his signature mix of scratchy rural authenticity and dread-tinged mythic grandeur – plus dazzling demonstrations of superpowered shock and awe which even “X-Men” fans will applaud. ~ nicholas barber
First release US, Mar 18th

A sweet, sweet ache

The painstaking nature of stop-motion animation makes it a natural fit for comedy with an Eeyorish streak: the gags of Nick Park’s “Wallace And Gromit” films were dropped into living rooms whose wallpaper seemed to peel in real time. A similar mixture of anarchy, mordancy and drabness envelops screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s latest, “Anomalisa”, a wistful stop-motion oddity about an exhausted motivational speaker named Michael (David Thewlis), who breaks free of the Marriott herd to pursue an affair with a shy, oddly cheerful lonely heart voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh. All the other characters – a prickly, passive-aggressive throng of cab drivers, hotel clerks and waitresses – are voiced by the monotonic Tom Noonan. It’s a puppet show about the banal surrealism of everyday life, as you might expect of Kaufman, who is best known for his screenplays, like “Adaptation”, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Being John Malkovich”. The results can feel overly dolorous, but there’s a sweet ache to it, too – “Eleanor Rigby” in plasticine. ~ tom shone

First release UK, Mar 11th

Tour of hell

With his debut feature, “Son of Saul”, Hungarian filmmaker László Nemes delivers a searing demonstration of the power of point of view in cinema. The film, which won the Grand Prix at Cannes, practically comes down to a single face: the drawn, handsome features of Hungarian-born actor Géza Röhrig, who plays a member of the Sonderkommando, the special group of death-camp prisoners spared in order to dispose of the bodies of their own people. The horrors of the camp are glimpsed only peripherally – a blue-grey blur of limbs and torsos, an accompaniment of infernal hisses and muffled screams – as Saul barters his way to giving one of the bodies a decent funeral. Röhrig’s haunted features anchor the film – a tour of hell, but one rendered with a mixture of moral focus and visceral cinematic technique. ~ts

Out in US; UK release, Apr 29th

Soulful savagery

It’s not easy to make an elegant, soulful film about a punk band defending itself against a pack of bloodthirsty skinheads, but Jeremy Saulnier has managed it. His new thriller, “Green Room”, has a classic siege premise: the innocent young musicians (Anton Yelchin included) are locked in the dressing room of a neo-Nazi bar, and the skinheads (led by a gruff, matter-of-fact Patrick Stewart) are on the other side of the door. But although “Green Room” doesn’t stint on gore, jokes and whiplash twists, it also has real sensitivity. That won’t surprise anyone who saw Saulnier’s acclaimed revenge chiller, “Blue Ruin”. In both cases, he takes a scenario from a bargain-basement genre, and then invests it with melancholy, while poking quiet fun at its clichés. Essentially, Saulnier has made a quirky and insightful indie drama about life on the bottom rung of the music industry. It just so happens that it’s a life that may well be cut short by thugs with machetes and slavering dogs. ~ nb

First release US, Apr 29th

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