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IN CINEMAS/ Streaming Now
Directed by Cathy Yan.
Starring Vivian Wu, Haoyu Yang, Mason Lee, Meng Li, David Rysdahl and Zazie Beetz. Streaming exclusively on MUBI.com. 121 mins.
Though we tend to view China as an oppressive authoritarian regime, on the ground the reality of Market Socialism is a light touch authoritarianism; a Big Brother more Davina than Orwell. This look at the Have's and Have Nots in Shanghai shows a society in the thrall of consumerism and a rat race propelled by the same hot air blandishments as the West: You can do it! You are unique! The World is your Oyster! Work hard to get ahead!
News of the World. (18.)
Directed by Paul Greengrass.
Starring Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel, Mare Winningham, Elizabeth Marvel, Michael Angelo Covino and Bill Camp. Streaming on Netflix from Feb 10th. 118 mins.
Though Disney and Warner have allowed a few big titles to slip out onto their streaming services, the other major studios continue to hoard up their precious things, holding them back for some future damburst of normality. But for Universal the cost of keeping James Bond clutched to its breast is the sacrifice of some lesser projects. Thus this Tom Hanks western, a reunion with his Captain Phillips director Greengrass, has been abandoned in the dark forest of Netflix with no trail of breadcrumbs to lead it to an audience.
A Glitch In The Matrix. (15.)
Directed by Rodney Ascher.
Featuring Nick Bostrom, Emily Pothast, Eric Davis, Joshua Cooke, Jesse Orion and Chris Ware. Available from Dogwoof on Demand and other VOD platforms from February 5th. 108 mins.
Released in 1999, The Matrix would prove to be the 20th century's most pernicious film. Crossbreeding wide eyed post-war counterculture delusions with dead eyed Guns & Ammo fantasies and a touch of Lewis Carroll whimsy, it was a trojan malware planted into the circuitry of the American and western psyche. Once triggered by 9/11, the gradual traumatic unhinging took hold and and spread unchecked. As the events on Capital Hill demonstrated, The Matrix took escapist fantasy to undreamt-of levels.
Directed by Ryan White.
Featuring Siti Aisyah, Doan Thi Thong, Anna Fifield, Hadi Azmi. Partly subtitled. Available on VOD from January 29th. 105 mins.
Kim Jong-nam, the overlooked older half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un cut a striking figure during his latter years. Exiled from the homeland for trying to visit Disneyland in Tokyo, he shuffled around Macao looking like a scruffbag bachelor uncle, one who after early promise had ended up in a dead-end accountancy position and arrives at family occasions with a plastic bag of Lidl booze. He only gets invited as a cautionary example to the kids: he could've been the dictator of a totalitarian state, now look at him.
The Dig. (12A.)
Directed by Simon Stone.
Starring Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, Lily James, Johnny Flynn, Monica Dolan, Ken Stott and Ben Chaplin. On Netflix from January 29th. 111 mins.
A vaulted assemblage of British thespian faces, many of whom you will be able to put names to, have been busy excavating a hole Suffolk: Netflix hopes you'll look into it. It's an eve of war piece drama, a popular British costume drama subgenre. You'll be familiar with the summer of 1914 being represented by public schoolboys playing cricket on village greens, a lament at what a terrible waste of all that fagging the First World War would be. This though has various strands of the British class system being snobbish and sexist and ruminating on the fleeting nature of existence in the summer of 1939 as they dig up a 6th-century burial mound. All against a backdrop of a nation preparing to take on the Nazis.
One Night In Miami.
Directed by Regina King
Starring Ben-Adir Kingsley, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr, Lance Reddick and Michael Imperioli. Streaming on Amazon Prime from January 15th. 111 mins
The night is February 25th 1964 and Cassius Clay (Goree) has just become the World Heavyweight champion by pounding Sonny Liston into submission. Sam Cooke (Odom) and legendary NFL running back Jim Brown (Hodge) are there to celebrate with him. For this one night in Miami, the world is their oyster. Unfortunately, the victory party is being thrown by teetotal Nation of Islam bore Malcolm X (Kingsley) who wants to throw a great big wet blanket on the euphoria and have these four prominent black men discuss their position in the struggle. The only indulgence is vanilla ice cream, presumably ironic.
Directed by Gabriel Range.
Starring Johnny Flynn, Marc Maron, Jena Malone, Derek Moran and Anthony Flanagan. VOD from January 15th. 108 mins.
A film about a pre-fame, pre-Ziggy, David Bowie touring America with Johnny Flynn as Bowie – that sounds good. An unauthorised film about a pre-fame, pre-Ziggy Bowie without the rights to use any of his songs – ah, maybe not. Bowie himself refused to let Todd Haynes use any of his materials for Velvet Goldmine, a celebration of 70s glam rock, but that did at least have Roxy, Bolan, Slade and the Velvets to fall back on; for this the Bowie estate wouldn't even let Range use The Laughing Gnome.
Directed by Pete Docter and Kemp Powers.
Starring Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Richard Ayoade, Alice Braga and Angela Bassett. Available to stream on Disney + from Christmas Day. 100 mins.
That the last Friday of the year sees the new Pixar film arriving not in cinemas but on television is a sadness made more poignant by this being their first film in a decade to recapture what once made their work almost transcendent. I know that many of you adore Inside Out and Coco but for me, Pixar hasn't been Pixar since Up. A Pixar return to form would be a marvellous spirit lift at the end of a drudge of a year but, for the time being, the social distanced audience that saw its world premiere at the London Film Festival will be the only people to see it on a big screen.
Wonder Woman 1984. (12A.)
Directed by Patty Jenkins.
Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Pedro Pascal, Kristen Wiig, Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright. In cinemas, somewhere. 151 mins.
Having sent out Tenet to try and save cinemas in the summer, for Christmas Warner Brothers are putting their hopes on Wonder Woman.* She'll have her work cut out what with all of London's cinemas being forced to close on the very day it opens. But, it wouldn't be the first time she has coming riding to the rescue. After the disappointments of Man of Steel, Batman vs Superman, Suicide Squad and Justice League, Wonder Woman was the first Warner DC superhero movie to be fully enjoyed by audiences since the Dark Knight films. It turned the tide and Warner enjoyed billion-dollar hits with Aquaman and Joker. Granted, Shazam! didn't quite take off at the box office, those that saw it enjoyed it.
Raya and the Last Dragon. (PG.)
Directed by Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada.
Featuring Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, Sandra Oh and Alan Tudyk. Available on Disney + with Premier Access. 114 mins.
It's a Disney animation unlike any before it, and just like all the others. It initially seems unfamiliar but you just have to get your bearings. Which isn't easy because the film doesn't tell you where it is set. Asia clearly, but beyond that no hints. Once it's established that Disney isn't sucking up to China again, my wife hazarded a guess that this might be set in Indonesia. Close but too specific.
Directed by Sia.
Starring Kate Hudson, Maddie Ziegler, Leslie Odom Jr, Hector Elizondo, Ben Schwartz and Mary Kay Place. 107 mins.
Sia's musical drama about autism and recovering from addiction is bold, daring and foolhardy. But if you're going to crash a car why gently deposit it into a country verge when there is a perfectly good wall to aim for?
Directed by Kevin Lewis.
Starring Nicolas Cage, Emily Tosta, Ric Reitz, Chris Warner, Caylee Cowan and Beth Grant. Available on demand. 88 mins
The path trodden by Nicolas Cage isn't always a particularly fruitful or dignified one, but it is his path and his alone. Right from the very beginning he has pushed and wriggled to expand the boundaries of acting and take it beyond the diktats of realism. For the last decade or so he's more or less shunned the mainstream and become his own genre. Like a Drunk History, he'll be the rogue element in a small budget genre piece. The films would sometimes play along with him, but that would usually end badly with them sprawling in the ditch of wacky. Willy's Wonderland might be the first film to externalise the Cage aesthetic, translating his impressionistic anti-realist acting style into a form of anti-drama.
Or maybe it is a cry for help.
PVT Chat. (18.)
Directed by Ben Hozie
Starring Peter Vack, Julia Fox, Buddy Duress, Keith Poulson, Nikki Belfiglio and Kevin Moccia. VOD from Vertigo Films. 86 mins.
I'm so gauche and innocent that I thought a PVT Chat might be a discussion on a product from Homebase. The actuality is a little bit racier, but in many ways duller: the interaction between a cam girl and her customer. Hozie's low budget film is a fantasy about a fantasy, the moment when pornography and reality overlap. One night, after months of online rendezvous, Jack (Vack) sees his preferred online dominatrix Scarlet (Fox) in a corner shop in New York's Chinatown. It's the pornographic equivalent of the time you saw Brucie prodding the broccoli at M&S.
Directed by John Suits.
Starring Cody Kearsley, Bruce Willis, Rachel Nichols, Kassandra Clementi, Timothy V. Murphy and Thomas Jane. Out on Digital platforms 12th February and DVD Feb 15th. 92 mins.
I wouldn't say he was quite Anti-life, but there is definitely a cavalier nihilism to the joyless work ethic of Bruce Willis. He's got money and he doesn't seem to enjoy the work, yet this major motion picture star still feels compelled to keep making movies with no seeming regard for their likely quality. Which is why he finds himself stuck on a Space Ark travelling to New Earth, 200 years in the future, cast again as the archetype of cynical bald embitterment and playing second fiddle to the janitor (Kearsley) in the battle against a pesky non-terrestrial parasite.
76 Days. (12.)
Directed by Hao Wu, Anonymous and Weix Chen. Available on VOD. Subtitled. 96 mins.
When my esteemed features editor forwarded the PR bumpf for this fly-on-the-wall documentary about life inside four Wuhan hospitals during the two and half months of the world's first Covid lockdown, she added the comment, “Christ, who's going to watch this?” Well, with China hampering access to a WHO investigation team, my curiosity was peaked. While every non-tropical Northern hemisphere country – even the proper ones, with grown-ups in charge – struggle with a crippling second wave, the originators of this global franchise have moved on. Like Robert Altman's film version of M.A.S.H and the long-running TV programme it spawned, they have disavowed their legacy. Seems to me we've missed a trick somewhere.
Blithe Spirit. (12A.)
Directed by Edward Hall.
Starring Dan Stevens, Isla Fisher, Leslie Mann, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Emilia Fox and Judi Dench. In cinema and Sky Cinema from January 15th. 94 mins.
Not ten minutes before this started I was thinking to myself how long it's been since I heard anyone being called a "blithering idiot" on screen (or in real life for that matter) and how regrettable that was and then, with perfect serendipity, that's the first line out of Dan Stevens' mouth. So it's got that going for it. After that it's all steadily downhill for this version of Noel Cowards' 1941 play in which the marriage of writer Charles (Stevens) and Ruth Condomine (Fisher) is disrupted when a séance inadvertently beings his late wife Elvira (Mann) back from the afterlife.
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. (15.)
Directed by George C. Wolfe.
Starring Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman, Glyn Turman, Coleman Domingo, Michael Potts and Jeremy Shamos. On Netflix from December 18th. 95 mins.
Boseman's final screen vehicle is a cracking film... for about five minutes. The opening scenes of blues legend Ma Rainey (Davis) performing in a tent in the deep south, followed by old black and white photos that suddenly spring into life crackle with energy and invention. But then we're in Chicago in 1927 with four bickering musicians, yakking away in the rehearsal room of a recording studio waiting for the star to arrive and the encroachment of those four walls communicate that the play is about to begin and the entertainment has ended. From now on, everybody is going to be a wind instrument.
Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds With Shane MacGowan. (18.)
Directed by Julien Temple.
Featuring Shane MacGowan, Gerry Adams, Siobham MacGowan, Victoria Mary Clark, Bobby Gillespie, Nick Cave and Johnny Depp. Out in cinemas Dec 4th/ VOD Dec 7th.124 mins.
To your first question: No, he isn't dead yet. God only knows he doesn't look well these days, but then he never did. Today he resides in a wheelchair and his face has the ghostly white pallor of someone in a Roy Andersson film. Subtitles accompany his every utterance and usually his head rests on a shoulder while his wary eyes scan the face of his current interlocutor evaluating if this is someone he should bother remaining conscious for. He looks like he might be a heavily made-up Paul Whitehouse playing a particularly degenerate caricature of Stephen Hawking.
Directed by David Fincher.
Starring Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Tuppence Middleton, Tom Burke, Arliss Howard and Charles Dance. Black and white. Streaming on Netflix from 4th December. 131 mins.
That's Mank as in Mankiewicz and it's Mankiewicz as in Herman J. Mankiewicz and if you try typing that name into the Internet Movie Database by the time you have completed Herman it will fill you in “J. Mankiewicz, Writer, Citizen Kane, (1941.)” So, clearly there's a pressing need for a film about how he really wrote Citizen Kane. Fincher's project is many things: a loving evocation of 30s/40s Hollywood; a reopening of a tiff in '70s New York critics circle and a portrait of an alcoholic self-destructive genius. But, above all, it's yet another immaculately pointless David Fincher picture.