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IN CINEMAS/ Streaming Now
Licorice Pizza. (15.)
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.
Starring Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie, Sean Penn and Tom Waits. 133 mins. In cinemas January 1st.
2022 begins with its worst movie title for one of its best films. Since There Will Be Blood firmly established him as the top Hollywood film artist of his time, PT Anderson’s output has been predominantly useless masterpieces; magnificent pieces of filmmaking that most people didn’t connect with. The Master or Phantom Thread are dazzling works but you may leave the cinema thinking, “Yeah, but so what?” They've got something for sure but it’s kind of slipped right past you and it makes you doubt yourself. Is it him or me? (With Inherent Vice, on the other hand, you’re on safer ground because it clearly doesn’t work.) For an hour I thought his tale of first love in San Fernando Valley in the early 70s was going to be another one but this time PTA lets you in.
The King's Man. (12A.)
Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Starring Ralph Fiennes, Harris Dickinson, Gemma Arterton, Djimon Hounsou, Rhys Ifans, Tom Hollander, Matthew Goode and Charles Dance. 131 mins.
After Christopher Nolan, Vaughn has arguably been the most exciting, successful British film director in the 21st century. He’s made a series of audience-pleasing films Layer Cake, Stardust, Kick Ass, X-Men First Class and would rather chew his own arm off than make a costume drama. For ten years he was on a hell of a hot streak… and then he made Kingsman, his cheeky, subversive reinvention of the British gentleman spy genre. It’s probably not as good as you remember, but its reputation is based on a few stunning set pieces such as Colin Firth baptist church slaughterhouse and Michael Caine’s C-word death scene (which seems to have been edited out of the film subsequently.) If only he’d have left it at that, but since then he’s gone on to make a sequel and now this period piece prequel/ origins story. Kingsman, it’s such a strange hill to choose to die on.
Spider-man: No Way Home. (12A.)
Directed by Jon Watts
Starring Tom Holland, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Marisa Tomei and Jamie Foxx. 148 mins.
After the comprehensive decluttering exercise of Avengers: Endgame, a brief period of order and simplicity fell over the Marvel Cinematic Sprawl. Their three post-lockdown releases were relatively self-contained, straightforward affairs. Now Sony’s latest Spider-man instalment has gone about mucking it all up again. No spoilers but this is a big throwing all your toys into the pram multiverse effort, in which he has to take on some villains pulled from previous Sony incarnations of the web-slinger.
Silent Night. (15.)
Directed by Camille Griffin
Starring Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Roman Griffin Davis, Lucy Punch, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Sope Dirisu, Annabelle Wallis and Lily-Rose Depp. 90 mins
Silent Night has a lovely premise: a group of perfectly punchable middle-class brits (played by a cast of, what you may feel to be, perfectly punchable middle-class Brit actors) and their spawn, meeting up in a nice country house to celebrate Christmas; before dying in a world-ending catastrophe. The way it mimics the moves of a Richard Curtis rom-com – a group of racial and sexually diverse best friends who are exactly like each other gathering for a social occasion accompanied by cheesy music and jovially excessive swearing – just makes it that bit more adorable.
House of Gucci. (15.)
Directed by Ridley Scott.
Starring Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Jeremy Irons, Jack Huston, Salma Hayek and Al Pacino. In cinemas. 158 mins.
The second most common response to the enquiry, "Hey, how you doing?" is, "Oh, you know, keeping busy." And perhaps you are. But however much you've got on the go right now, you're not keeping busy like Ridley Scott is keeping busy. He'll be 84 years old at the end of November and has had two major motion pictures in cinemas in just over a month, to add to the numerous TV projects he produces (Raised by Wolves, The Good Fight, an upcoming Alien series) and the eight films in total he's directed over the last decade. The hours of his days are precious and used productively; the hours of his films drift aimlessly by, vaguely regretful of not amounting to much.
Ghostbuster: Afterlife. (12A.)
Directed by Jason Reitman.
Starring Paul Rudd, Carrie Coon, Mckenna Grace, Finn Wolfhard, Logan Kim and Celeste O' Connor. In cinemas. 125 mins.
Afterlife could have been the post colon title to every woe begotten Ghostbusters project since the beloved original. Closing my review of the lady Ghostbusters film of 2016 I suggested that maybe Ghostbusters only really had enough going for it to fuel a single outing: beyond the logo, the kit and the song, whattaya got? Like GB2 and Ladybusters, all Afterlife has to offer is nostalgia and a rehash of the first film. It does though definitely have life in it.
Directed by Chloé Zhao
Starring Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Angelina Jolie, Kumail Nanjiani, Kit Harrington, Patrick Keoghan and Salma Hayek. In cinemas. 157 mins.
In this year of getting back into the swing of things, cinema has been one sector making a particularly faltering return to action. (Probably the conclusion to draw from this is that 2020 would've been a lousy year for movies even without Covid.) The pandemic forced the Marvel Cinematic Sprawl into taking a two-year break. This really should've worked in its favour but absence just seemed to make the new films feel that bit more samey. Eternals is yet another of their costumed ensemble pieces much like all the others, yet actually quite different. This one may actually have ambition.
Directed by Pablo Larraín.
Starring Kristen Stewart, Timothy Spall, Jack Farthing, Sean Harris, Stella Gonet and Sally Hawkins. 110 mins.
If we're doing Spencers I'd have gone for Frank, but this big-screen Spencer is Lady Diana, enduring a diva martyrdom in her last Royal family Christmas at Sandringham. She is desperate, hysterical, self-harming and insists on being late for everything; they are cold, unyielding, emotionless and tied to tradition. What a crowd – some mothers really do have 'em.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Starring Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa, Zendaya and Stellan Skarsgard. In cinemas. 155 mins.
Ever since its publication in 1965, Frank Herbert's novel has been seen as a must-film unfilmable book: too big to ignore, too big to fit into a movie. Jodorowsky and Ridley Scott tried and failed to get it made; David Lynch succeeded but in a truncated, compromised but intermitently inspired form that was a massive flop. There's also been a faithful but meagre TV version. But now Denis Villeneuve has cracked it. (Or, actually half of it – the opening titles reveal it to be Dune Part One, though you won't see that on the poster.) His version is faithful to the book while being welcoming and engrossing to a general audience. It's so obviously good it's almost underwhelming – is this all there is to a definite Dune movie?
The Suicide Squad. (15.)
Directed by James Gunn.
Starring Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Daniela Melchior, David Dastmalchian, Viola Davis, Peter Capaldi and Sylvester Stallone. Out on Premium Video on Demand. 4K UHD Blu-ray and DVD November 8th.
I think by now we've all come to the realisation that Build Back Better just means the Same Old Shit. Oh, the joy to be double jabbed and back dealing with the familiar runaround from PR people and film companies. The Brothers Warners have been particularly hard work barely screening anything in time for my print deadline and there was no invite to see a Suicide Squad screening prior to its August release. Of course, after it underperformed in cinemas it was Oh Please come and see our Home Premiere Event. The most annoying aspect is, it's really good.
No Time To Die. (12A.)
Directed by Cary Joli Fukunaga.
Starring Daniel Craig, Ana De Armas, Remi Malek, Ralph Fiennes, Lashana Lynch and Lea Seydoux. 163 mins.
The ever retreating release date of Craig's final Bond is symptomatic of his time in the role. His fifteen years as 007 is longer than Connery or Moore, yet he's only made one more film than Brosnan did in half the time. He started with the begin again Casino Royale, his Bond new to the Double O section, and now he's retired from it. Again. It feels like a lifetime in the role.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh.
Starring Jude Hill, Caitríona Balfe, Jamie Dornan, Ciarán Hinds, Colin Morgan and Judi Dench. Black and white. 98 mins.
If at first, you don't succeed try, try and try again. A fine sentiment but the course of trial and error has rarely veered so stubbornly and relentlessly towards error as in the directorial career of Kenneth Branagh. For over three decades he has directed three kinds of films: passable; lousy or Shakespeare. He’s like a high brow Ed Wood: that a man who has perpetrated atrocities like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; Sleuth AND Artemis Fowl can still find work is a testament to the loyalty of the theatre/ film chumocracy. Here, finally, is the pay off: a touching, charming vision of the black and white remembered streets of his childhood.
Munich: The Edge of War. (12A.)
Directed by Christian Schwochow
Starring George MacKay, Jannis Niewöhner, Jeremy Irons, Jessica Brown Findlay, Robert Bathurst, Sandra Hubber and August Diehl. In cinemas, Streaming on Netflix from Friday. 124 mins.
After the hundreds of films about Churchill, here is a film about his predecessor, Neville "peace for our time” Chamberlain. It’s a largely sympathetic portrayal of a prime minister often condemned as a gutless appeaser but even in his own film he has to play second fiddle to a made-up espionage tale about two old chums from Oxford, MacKay and Niewöhner, who are now working for the opposing diplomatic services. Appropriately, for a film about Chamberlain it’s all about having in your hand a piece of paper; in this case a classified German Foreign office document about Hitler’s true ambitions.
Directed by Andrea Arnold.
Starring The Dairy Cattle and People of Park Farm. In cinemas. Streaming on MUBI from Feb 14th. 94 mins.
When I went into MUBI to pitch On The Wall, an observational documentary about a day in the life of a fly, I was swotted aside. But if you are Oscar winner Andrea (American Honey, Fish Tank) Arnold, a film following the daily routine of a cow on a farm is no problem at all. So here you have an hour and a half of Luma giving birth, being milked, eating, mooing and being forced to listen to Radio 1 in a big shed.
Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Starring Tilda Swinton, Jeanne Balibar, Elkin Diaz, Juan Pablo Urrigo and Daniel Gimenez Cacho. Partly subtitled. 137 mins.
In the Champions League of world cinema, every part of the world has its one designated auteur (apart from a few more lucrative markets such as France, Italy, Japan and Korea which may have three or four entrants) who get to battle it out every season at Cannes and the like. At these pageants, the judges mark them according to solemnity, slowness and obscurity. Representing Thailand and surrounding South East Asian territories is Apichatpong Weerasethakul. In slow and inscrutable films like Syndromes and A Century, Cemetary of Splendour and Cannes winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall Past Lives he has marked himself out as a world cinema heavyweight with an incredibly light touch.
The Humans. (15.)
Directed by Stephen Karam.
Starring Richard Jenkins, Amy Schumer, Steven Yeun, Beanie Feldstein, Jayne Houdyshell and June Squibb. In cinemas or streaming at Curzon Home Cinema. 108 mins.
Nothing spells sheer hell to me quite as comprehensively as “based on an award-winning Broadway play," especially when the writer of the play is in charge of the adaptation. And this isn’t just any old Broadway play, but a great state-of-the-nation piece, this generation’s deafovasaleman in which an ordinary family gather together for Thanksgiving and jaw their way through all the major social issues post 9/11. The thrill of the big screen version of The Humans is that its author seems to share my disdain: Karam’s approach to adapting his own play is the opposite of reverence. It’s brutal, almost dismissive, much like abandoning the family dog miles from home in unfamiliar surroundings and seeing if it can find its way home.
Directed by Julia Ducournau
Starring Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon, Garance Marillier. Subtitled. In cinemas on Boxing Day. In cinemas on Boxing Day. 108 mins.
There is one born every minute, and at least half of them pop out in France, which may explain this home spawned winner of the prestigious Barn Door prize at this year's Canz Film Festival: a bone-cracking, head-stabbing, skin-puncturing body-horror comedy in which a lesbian showgirl serial killer with a titanium plate in her head gets impregnated by a car and then violently reshapes her physique to pose as the son of a fire chief who went missing 10 years ago. Yep, and a merry Christmas to you too.
The Tragedy of Macbeth. (15.)
Directed by Joel Coen.
Starring Denzil Washington, Frances McDormand, Alex Hassell, Corey Hawkins, Kathryn Hunter and Brendan Gleeson. Black and white. In cinemas Boxing Day. Streaming on Apple + from January 14th. 105 mins.
Another bloody remake. Does no one in Hollywood have any original ideas? This Game of Thrones-style tale of regal Scottish skullduggery by wordy hack Shakespeare, previously filmed by Polanski and Welles and many, many others, gets another version from a Coen brother. Christmas and the award season is traditionally the time to milk the streaming services and here Coen gets Apple to pay for his wife to get to live out her fantasy of being married to Denzil Washington.
The Storms of Jeremy Thomas. (15.)
Directed by Mark Cousins.
Featuring Jeremy Thomas, Mark Cousins, Debra Winger and Tilda Swinton. In cinemas or streaming from Curzon Home Cinema. 90 mins.
Jeremy Thomas is one of the world's leading independent film producers. He's worked with Roeg, Cronenberg, Linklater, overseen some remarkable films (Bad Timing, Eureka, Crash, Sexy Beast, The Sheltering Sky) and picked up an Oscar for Bertolucci's The Last Emperor. His reward for this is to get the Mark Cousins treatment, spending five days in his Alfa Romeo with The Whispering Death, driving from London to Cannes and another five at the Festival for the world premiere of Takeshi Miike's First Love and various meetings to try and sell Pinocchio.
JFK Revisited: Through The Looking Glass. (15.)
Directed by Oliver Stone.
Featuring David Mantik, Cyril H. Wecht and Robert Kennedy; narration by Donald Sutherland, Whoopi Goldberg and Oliver Stone. 115 mins.
It's worth remembering that in the last century the conspiracy theory was predominantly the territory of the left. Somehow, the right has managed to convince themselves that it is they who are being lied to and misled by the government and the media, even when they are the government and the media. Tories; they've taken everything else from us, why not our sense of being oppressed?
Arsene Wenger Invincible. (15.)
Directed by Gabriel Clark and Christian Jeanpierre.
Featuring Arsene Wenger, Patrick Vierra, Ian Wright, Lee Dixon, Martin Keown and Thierry Henry. 94 mins.
In the way that it offers an intellectual surface to what is actually a straightforward film about football, this is a suitable portrait of the man who was Arsenal manager for 22 years. Arriving as an unknown French bloke in glasses and oversized suits reminiscent of David Byrne in Stop Making Sense, the bumpkins of the English football press decided he must be a deep thinker, a dangerous revolutionary. This film reveals that Wenger was actually just a nerd, an obsessive who really did live and breathe football.
The French Dispatch. (15.)
Directed by Wes Anderson.
Starring Bill Murray, Timothée Chalamet, Benicio Del Toro, Adrien Brody, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Jeffrey Wright. Partly black'n'white. Partly subtitled. 108 mins
It's been a grim and bear it kind of a year, a long slog with little to no prospect of reward. We're back after this short intermission to the realisation that our show is even worse than we remember it. And then, in a single week, two films turn up to remind you of the point; of why writing about the filums once seemed like a jolly wheeze. Other than offering a reason to believe they are totally different. Their only points of overlap are placing young Timmy fopée in a leading role and being concerned with the filming of unfilmable literature.
Prisoners of the Ghostland. (15.)
Directed by Sion Sono
Starring Nicolas Cage, Sofia Boutella, Nick Cassavettes, Bill Moseley and Tak Sakaguchi. Partly subtitled.100 mins.
Prisoners is an American/ Japanese co-production pitting one nation's wildest, most erratic actor with the others wildest, most erratic director. The hope would be that the Cagesono hybrid would be an inspired meeting of mentals. But the more probable outcome was always likely to be that they would bring out the worst in each other and that's what's happened: both deliver their Eh Game. This cross-cultural, post-apocalyptic musical western revenge fantasy addressing Japanese Atomic history in which Cage is strapped into a leather onesie that is timed to self destruct in five days if he doesn't bring back Bernice (Boutella) to the Governor (Mosely) is a selection of songs sung in the key of wack.