Movie reviews: The Promise, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Suntan

Here are the top three films you don’t want to miss this week, writes Declan Burke.

Movie reviews: The Promise, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Suntan

The Promise 5/5

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 3/5

Suntan 4/5

The Promise (12A) opens in 1914, just as the Ottoman Empire begins to break up and pharmacist Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac) moves from his small Armenian-Muslim village in southern Turkey to Istanbul to continue his medical studies.

There he meets Ana (Charlotte Le Bon) and her lover, the American journalist Chris (Christian Bale); and it is in Istanbul that Mikael first encounters the anti-Armenian racism that will culminate in the genocide of the Armenian people.

As World War I rages about them, Mikael, Ana and Chris join forces to tell the world about the horrors of genocide… Director Terry George, who co-writes with Robin Swicord, previously directed Hotel Rwanda (2004), and The Promise shares many of that film’s qualities: epic in scope as it conveys the scale of the atrocity visited on the Armenian people, it is rooted in the very personal experience of Mikael, a man wholly out of his depth but prepared to go to the very limit of his endurance on behalf of his fellow man.

It’s a complex tale, one which deftly weaves the political history of a turbulent time and place into a love triangle (Mikael and Chris vying for Ana’s heart), but it’s equally effective as a pacy thriller as the trio put their own lives on the line to save as many Armenians as they can.

Isaacs is phenomenally affecting in the lead role, the personification of outraged humanity confronted with the devastating consequences of untrammelled evil, and he gets very strong support from Le Bon and Bale in a film that eloquently engages with the gruesome realities of genocide without brutalising its audience.

The brief for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (12A) was simple: more of what made the first instalment work. More laughs. More action. More Groot. More Seventies soft rock. And more Kurt Russell.

The latter makes a welcome appearance here as Ego, the father of Peter Quill/Starlord (Chris Pratt), who wishes to bestow some secrets of the universe upon his son.

With the chuffed Quill off playing catch with dad, Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Baby Groot (Vin Diesel), Drax (Dave Bautista) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) contend with an alien race chasing them across the universe to retrieve the batteries that light-fingered Rocket may or may not have relieved them of (he did), while scavenger Yondu (Michael Rooker) suffers a mutiny and needs the help of his former enemies.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 sets out its stall out from the opening credits: after teasing the audience with an incoming battle with a giant inter- dimensional slug-type creature, director James Gunn decides to focus his camera on Baby Groot dancing to ELO’s ‘Mr Blue Sky’ while the action gets underway just out of focus in the background.

The message is clear: with its Flash Gordon meets The Fifth Element array of bizarre aliens, vibrant special effects and eye-popping landscapes that could adorn a Yes album, this movie is about computer game fun, listening to music whilst zapping the bad guys.

The irreverent tone proves detrimental to some of the big dramatic moments, but the underpinning theme of the importance of family comes to fruition for the epic action finale, rendering it all surprisingly moving.

The Greek island of Antiparos offers little opportunity for a Suntan (15A) when mild-mannered doctor Kostis (Makis Papadimitrou) arrives in mid-December, but the arrival of Anna (Elli Tringou) and her hedonistic friends the following summer sends Kostis into a tailspin.

Soon the shy, introspective Kostis is shedding his inhibitions as quickly as his clothes as he joins Anna in riotous, booze-sodden anarchy, but as their initial flirtation deepens to mutual attraction, Kostis finds himself slipping into the uncharted waters of obsession…

Written and directed by Argyris Papadimitropoulos, Suntan is an engrossing character study in nature versus nurture, as the instinctively conservative and orderly Kostis is exposed to the exhilarating chaos of Anna’s world, and finds himself revelling in an unexpected and belated sense of finally belonging.

Whether he is built to live the life fantastic is another matter entirely, and despite the blazing sunshine and glorious backdrop, Papadimitropoulos’ is pervaded with a sense of doom — it is only a matter of time, the audience understands, before Anna and the young holidaymakers tire of tolerating the presence of the balding, fat Kostis, and begin humiliating him.

Elli Tringou is a vibrant ray of sunshine in her provocative role as Lolita to Kostis’s Humbert Humbert, but the movie belongs to Makis Papadimitrou, whose remarkably expressive eyes convey the heart-breaking desperation of a lonely older man grasping after one last chance of happiness.

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