Calvary (MA15+, 101 mins; ★★★★☆) Read Paul Byrnes’ full review
John Michael McDonagh's jolting and brilliant Calvary begins with an extraordinary scene. Father Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson) is hearing confession. A man whose voice he recognises tells him of the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of a priest for five years, from the age of seven. That priest is dead, the man says, and what would be the point of killing him now? Instead, the man says, I'm going to kill you, an innocent priest, so that my actions will be noticed. He gives him a week to get his affairs in order. Gleeson's skill as an actor is hardly a surprise, but his playing of that scene, in which the camera never leaves his face, is a master class. He establishes the priest's character in a few small gestures: dry, flinty and funny, profoundly compassionate, the kind of towering spirit that every community would like as a priest. So why does this small seaside community spurn him?
After he is threatened during a confession, a good-natured priest must battle the dark forces closing in around him.
Belle & Sebastian (PG, 104 mins; ★★★) Read Philippa Hawker’s full review
Belle & Sebastian is an engaging French children’s feature, based on the children’s book of the same name, written by French actress Cecile Aubry, who had a short screen career and made a brief foray into Hollywood. In the 1960s she wrote and directed a version of her work for French TV. It was popular overseas; Belle and Sebastian, the Scottish indie-jangle band, took their name from the show. This version was shot in the Rhone-Alpes, and makes the most of its glorious location. Its director, Nicolas Vanier, whose background is in wildlife documentaries, gives us vertiginous, breathtaking scenery and regular glimpses of animal life, ranging from boar to frogs: this is the world in which the central character, six-year-old Sebastian (Felix Bossuet), is growing up in the care of his guardian, the elderly Cesar (Tcheky Karyo).
Tim’s Vermeer (M, 80 mins; ★★★☆) Read Philippa Hawker’s full review
Tim’s Vermeer is a movie about a painting of a facsimile of a room in a painting, and if that’s not Alice-Through-The-Looking-Glass enough for you, I don’t know what is. It’s a documentary about a man with an extravagant obsession and the dedication and deep pockets to carry it out, and it’s intriguing and frustrating in equal measures. The film is made by the well-known entertainers and magicians Penn and Teller, about one of their friends, Tim Jenison, a designer of video hardware and software. He becomes convinced that he knows the secret that helped the 17th-century Dutch master, Johannes Vermeer, to produce his work. Jenison’s theory is not new but he adds an extra element to it: an apparatus that uses a small, angled mirror. He sets out to prove this thesis – and this is the core of the film – in the most labour-intensive way imaginable. He’ll build an exact replica of the room in Vermeer’s The Music Lesson, and then produce an exact copy of the picture, using the optical device he believes Vermeer employed.
Beatriz’s War (M, 101 mins; ★★★) Read Jake Wilson’s full review
Beatriz's War is being advertised as East Timor's first feature film, which is tantamount to inviting critics to award some patronising points to the fledgling nation for "having a go". Thankfully, there's no need: despite some flaws, this is a real movie rather than a charity case. A fictionalised chronicle of East Timor's recent history, the film borrows a key plot device from the popular 1982 French film The Return of Martin Guerre, which was based in turn on a historical case of a 16th-century soldier returning from the war changed beyond recognition. Otherwise, the story is new. Beatriz's War is an unabashed melodrama, putting no particular value on conventions of “realism”, and in truth, the style takes some getting used to. But generally, the formalised approach of co-directors Luigi Acquisto and Bety Reis accords with their depiction of a society governed by hierarchy on multiple levels.
Rio 2 (G, 101 mins; ★★★☆) Read Philippa Hawker’s full review
Blue Sky Studios, the animation outfit that gave us the Ice Age series, is in warmer territory with Rio 2, a buoyant 3D CGI movie that juggles multiple plot lines, makes the most of the vivid colours and images that a rainforest location has to offer, and delivers a good-natured adventure comedy with a well-chosen musical base. Director and co-writer Carlos Saldanha focuses on the two central characters from the first movie, a pair of rare Spix’s blue macaws. Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) and Jewel (Anne Hathaway) are now raising a family in Rio de Janeiro, but Jewel hankers to take her family to the rainforest. Blu, born in Brazil but raised in Minnesota, is definitely a city boy, taking a GPS and breath mints to the Amazon. The film is at its most entertaining in the musical sequences, among them a giddy Busby Berkeley style extravaganza in the rainforest and a smart comic montage of auditions from jungle creatures aspiring to perform at Carnival time.