Movie reviews: A New York Winter’s Tale

A New York Winter’s Tale ***

Movie reviews: A New York Winter’s Tale

New York, 1916. On the run from gang leader Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), petty thief Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) attempts to burgle a mansion, only to have his heart stolen by heiress Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay) in A New York Winter’s Tale (12A). Devastated to learn that the Beverly has contracted consumption and has only months to live, Peter soon realises that Fate has worse in store for him: he is a pawn in a timeless battle between Good and Evil, with Pearly Soames a demonic agent of chaos determined to hunt down Peter and Beverly and extinguish their miracle of love. Can Peter the thief steal Beverly away from Death itself? Akiva Goldsman directs his own adaptation of Mark Helprin’s novel and creates a stylish blend of romance and metaphysical warfare. Despite the patchy performances — Farrell’s wide-eyed turn is curiously flat, at least by his recent standards, Crowe’s leering thug is a hilariously grotesque caricature and the flame-haired Findlay makes for a surprisingly energetic and radiant consumptive — the movie sweeps us along through time and space, wafting us into modern New York courtesy of a blend of magic, hope and undying love. Viewers averse to whimsy may find themselves breaking out in a rash, it’s true, but those less cynical will find much to enjoy here in this enjoyably bonkers fairytale.

Brace yourself. Director Jim Jarmusch takes a rare detour into comedy with Only Lovers Left Alive (15A), and does so courtesy of the undead. Eve (Tilda Swinton) and Adam (Tom Hiddleston) are vampire lovers who have been living apart for some considerable time. She’s in Tangiers reading books and relying on Marlowe’s (John Hurt) delivery of flasks of blood to dull the urge to seek it elsewhere, while the Detroit-based former rock star Hiddleston is a recluse, holed up in his apartment recording psychedelic drone music in his home studio. During a melancholic moment, Adam calls Eve and suggests meeting up, but passion is glaring in its absence. Only Lovers Left Alive is less visually arresting than Jarmusch’s films tend to be and the little that does happen happens very slowly indeed, with Mia Wasikowska, playing Swinton’s annoying younger sister, a welcome diversion when she arrives to spice things up for the middle third. Meanwhile, Jarmusch’s quirky take on characters who hang around for centuries more than makes up for the overall lack of urgency — John Hurt’s Marlowe, for example, is the playwright Christopher Marlowe, aka the ‘real’ Shakespeare, who laments the fact that he only met Adam after he had written Hamlet. Bittersweet, funny and well worth your time.

Opening in a rather odd fashion with a contemporary rescue scene in the wake of a Japanese tsunami, in which a German aid worker attempts to calm trapped German children, Stalingrad (15A) begins properly with a flashback to 1942 and a dogged Russian platoon defending a house and the girl who refuses to leave it, Katya (Mariya Smolnikova), a fragile symbol for Mother Russia who stands resolute between the advancing Germans and the Volga behind. Meanwhile, across the square, the disillusioned German widower, Captain Kan (Thomas Kretschmann), finds himself distracted from his duties by Masha (Yanina Studilina), a woman who reminds him of the wife he lost to an air-raid back in Germany. Directed by Fedor Bondarchuk, this offers a disappointingly bombastic take on one of the most harrowing battles of WWII. The period detail is well observed, but the story is too unevenly divided between blossoming romance and impressive but sporadic battles scenes.

Francis Ford Coppola was persuaded to direct The Godfather: Part II (1974) against his better judgement, but thankfully he did. Following the fortunes of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) as he attempts to consolidate his father’s Mafia empire, the film also engages in extended flashbacks that illustrate how the young Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) established himself as a don to immigrant Italians. Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton and Talia Shire co-star, but Pacino’s descent into an obsession with preserving the dynasty at all costs is the highlight. (IFI only)

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