HALF OF A YELLOW SUN (111 minutes) M★★★★
In the Nigerian civil war of 1967-70, starvation was used as a weapon against the Biafrans. The images that reached Australia were horrible. Half of a Yellow Sun uses real TV news reports to background political events, but sparingly and threateningly. While Kainene (Anika Noni) takes over the family business, her twin sister, Olanna (Thandie Newton), goes north from Lagos to teach sociology at the university town of Nsukka, where she has fallen in love with Odenigbo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a radical professor. By delaying the intrusion of politics, the film establishes a sense of what is about to be lost, and how easily things can go bad. The turmoil closes in on the characters almost without their noticing. We see almost no films from this part of the world. This is a UK-Nigerian co-production filmed in the country, with a rare degree of passion and commitment. It is a superb piece of work. PBSelected release
MR PEABODY AND SHERMAN(97 minutes) PG★☆
There is nothing wrong with children’s entertainment having an agenda, but big-screen Hollywood animation seems to be getting too sophisticated in the worst ways. Take Mr Peabody and Sherman, directed by Rob Minkoff from a script by Craig Wright, known for middlebrow soap operas such as Six Feet Under. Wright has been encouraged to stay true to himself as an artist, with tiresome results: there are jokes about Philip Glass and the Oedipus myth, dialogues sodden with subtext, and a story that serves as a barely veiled allegory about the struggle of non-traditional families to win acceptance. The film appears to be marketed mostly at parents, for few children are likely to recognise the central characters, who first appeared half a century ago in sketches on The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. Peabody, voiced by Ty Burrell from Modern Family, is a gifted dog whose inventions include a time machine that allows him to tour the hot spots of history with his young protege, Sherman (Max Charles). Good intentions aside, Mr Peabody and Sherman is a chore to sit through. The jokes are bad, whether or not they are supposed to be, and the time-travel plot has a pointless intricacy that recalls Disney’s forgettable Meet The Robinsons. JWGeneral release
THE RAID 2(148 minutes) R★★★☆
In plot terms The Raid 2 has little more than a nominal connection to its predecessor, but the fight choreographer Iko Uwais makes a return appearance as the hero Rama, an unassuming yet exceedingly agile Jakarta cop. This time he goes undercover in jail, where he befriends Ucok (Arifin Putra), the son of the mob boss Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo). After his release, Rama starts working for Bangun, while striving to keep a rein on Ucok, a hothead keen to stir up trouble with the gang’s Japanese competition. The dialogue scenes have an exaggerated stillness and stiffness, with lots of symmetrical head-on shots; when chaotic violence breaks out, the camera too goes crazy, flailing to keep up. For some viewers, it will all be too much. There are times when the phrase ”the pornography of violence” applies rather too literally, such as the bloodcurdling scene in which Ucok casually slaughters a row of bound prisoners. Yet even these sadistic touches are mandated by genre convention: it is doubtful that Evans himself has anything whatever to say. At most, he seems to comment on his own blankness. JWSelected release
ROMEO AND JULIET(113 minutes) M★
This new Romeo and Juliet is supposedly a traditional adaptation, but something feels amiss right from the opening, set at a jousting tournament found nowhere in Shakespeare. Shooting on location in Verona and elsewhere, Italian director Carlo Carlei supplies swaggering youths, candlelit revelry, and a gloppy score (by Abel Korzeniowski) ladelled indiscriminately over the images. Douglas Booth as Romeo is bland, and Hailee Steinfeld as Juliet, who was so effective in the Coen brothers’ True Grit, strikes moony poses and rattles off her speeches as if she is afraid that slowing down might make her forget them. Of local interest is the fact that Romeo’s sidekick, Benvolio, is played by Australian Kodi Smit-McPhee, who has grown up considerably since his child-star period, but not even he can do anything to redeem the embarrassing ending. Never was there a tale of more woe. JWSelected releaseThis story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.