Grudge Match (12A, 113 mins)
Director: Peter Segal
In what seems like a dream pairing, Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro come together for this somewhat tired comedy as a pair of former boxers who were big rivals in the 80s. They'd won one fight each but Stallone retired before they could have the decider, something De Niro is still bitter about 30 years on. When the chance for a rematch comes up, these two 60-something guys try to get back into shape, with the joke writers making a dash for the fat-and-old well much too often. For large stretches it's the only joke, and you'd be hard pushed to call the dialogue sparkling, but it finds its feet a little in a midsection that throws in a few nice Rocky and Raging Bull references and a handful of chuckles. And Stallone and De Niro are a solid pair of stars who, while hardly gifts to comedy, are entirely watchable, and could have been more so if only they were served by a stronger script. Squeezing in a subplot involving Kim Basinger, an old flame of both men, does rather pad out the build-up to the fight, but it's just about worth it in the end.
See it if you liked: Rocky, Raging Bull, Last Vegas
Inside Llewyn Davis (15, 105 mins)
Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
The latest from the Coen brothers is another of their cruel but darkly witty experiments in throwing a character into increasingly difficult circumstances and seeing how they handle it. It's 1961 and we're following the travails of Dylanesque folk singer Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), who has talent but is barely more than a bum, broke and forced to crash on friends' couches. Among these friends are fellow singers Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan, who's pregnant and Llewyn might be the father, just one more stumbling block in his ramshackle personal life. His career isn't going great either, with gentle folk songs played out in smoky, cavernous clubs as he tries to scratch a living. The film plays like a folk song too, all hard luck and poverty, as the Coens never flinch from piling misery onto their leading men, yet remain empathetic enough to recognise the toll this has on him. Llewyn is hardly sympathetic, but his misadventures are gripping, and Isaac is great, with a real Pacino thing going on. Only an extended road trip where he tries to get a record deal loses a little momentum, although there's compensation here in a thunderous John Goodman cameo. As is the Coen way, a glorious parade of characters light up the screen, people who they just need to put a camera on and they look right. Crisp interactions and a beautifully recreated period make it a joy to watch, and it's only once we get towards an end that hits hard that the real genius of what the Coens have done here becomes apparent.
See it if you liked: A Serious Man, Barton Fink, Crazy Heart
August: Osage County (15, 121 mins)
Director: John Wells
Tracy Letts adapts his own stage play with this often very silly drama that works mostly as a showcase for its amazing star, Meryl Streep. As the extended Weston family gather at the Oklahoma home of volatile matriarch Violet (Streep) during a sweltering summer, tensions between her and her three daughters (Julia Roberts among them) run high. They're not pleasant people on the whole, which isn't fatal, but what does hurt is that they're not especially interesting people, with no real shape to their dynamics. When it all kicks off though, there's certainly some fun to be had, and a big dinner scene where some truths come out and tempers spill over is the centrepiece. A pilled-up Streep carries it for long stretches and watching her go toe-to-toe with everyone is the film's strongest card. Showing her incredible range (she's picked up yet another Oscar nomination, her 18th, though she won't win this time), she's on grandstanding form, sometimes fire-breathing, sometimes sad, and while rarely subtle, it's almost always entertaining. With so many actors stuffed into the cast though, many of the rest seem lost at sea compared to Streep. The Brits fare particularly poorly, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Ewan McGregor largely just standing there. In its less hysterical moments, issues of family and responsibility are touched on, suggesting there might be something interesting going on somewhere. But, oh man, does Letts like to pile on the melodrama and the revelations, making the overwhelming feeling one of ridiculousness before it ultimately runs out of steam.
See it if you liked: Nebraska, Fireflies in the Garden, The Royal Tenenbaums