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The Shape of Water (15.)
Directed by Guillermo Del Toro.
Starring Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer, and Doug Jones. 123 mins
The latest Del Toro film takes us to a very familiar location: the secret underground government research facility, where scientists and the military battle over what to with the secret thing that they've found/ discovered. Nothing novel about that, except in this film the focus is on the cleaning staff.
Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev.
Starring Alexei Rozin, Maryana Spivak, Varvara Shmykova, Matvey Novikov, Yanina Hope, Daria Pisareva. In Russian with subtitles. 122 mins
Loveless, but there's plenty of bile and hate and pain to fill in the space where the love should be.
The opening shots are of a wintery woodland. Snow lies on the ground and on the branches of the tree. The water in the stream hasn't frozen yet, which is about the only let up this film offers. Zvyagintsev's follow up to the mighty Leviathan could be his take on Antonioni's L'Avventura, a great search for something and someone that has been lost. But it is also a 21st century, Russian version of Kramer Vs Kramer. Zhenya (Spivak) and Boris (Rozin) are in the middle of a hateful divorce. They argue over everything, including who will get custody of their only child, Alexey (Novikov) – both of them are desperate to foist him off on the other. That would be the 21st century, Russian element.
Phantom Thread (15.)
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville, Brian Gleeson, Gina McKee and Julia Davis. 130 mins.
Writer and millionaire are professions in which Reclusive is quite an easy and appropriate stance to pull off; actor less so. But in the 21st century, a new screen performance by Daniel Day-Lewis has become an event of such scarcity and reverence, accompanied by much pomp and circumstance, they are like state visits by a distant and benign monarch. In Team America there was an ongoing joke about Alec Baldwin always being spoken of in awed tones as “The World's Greatest Actor,” but Day-Lewis has made the joke a reality. Every performance comes with stifling levels of expectancy, but especially this one as it is to be his final one. It should all have become ridiculously overwrought by now, but he wears the crown lightly.
Lady Bird (15.)
Directed by Greta Gerwig.
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Beanie Feldstein, Lucas Hedges and Timothée Chalamet. 94 mins.
Lady Bird, the given name of Christine McPherson, ("I gave it to myself"), is an ordinary teenage girl in her last year at a Catholic High School in unglamorous Sacramento, California, who believes that she is something special, even as the rest of the world conspires to persuade her she isn't. Lady Bird, the film that is Gerwig's first as a writer/ director, covers ordinary, well-explored territory – high school cliques, mother/ daughter relationship, prom, losing virginity, applying for college, etc, - in a way that is extraordinary, and not quite like anything you saw before.
The Mercy (12A.)
Directed by James Marsh.
Starring Colin Firth, Rachel Weisz, David Thewlis, Ken Stott, Mark Gatiss and Adrian Schiller. 100 mins
The world is full of people quoting Monty Python lines at you, usually to no good end. But during this telling of the story of amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst's ill-conceived attempt to compete in the 1968 Sunday Times Single Handed Round The World Yacht Race, I was constantly reminded of a lesser quoted but very poignant line from Life Of Brian: “You silly sods,” spoken by Brian on the event of his crucifixion having just seen Judean People's Front Suicide squad kill themselves at his feet.
Journey's End. (12A.)
Directed by Saul Dibb.
Starring Sam Clafin, Paul Bettany, Asa Butterfield, Stephen Graham, Robert Glenister, Tom Sturridge and Toby Jones. 115 mins.
Oh, the never ending procession of young men sent off to face senseless slaughter: will there never come a time when the drama schools of Britain are not being asked to provide thespian fodder for First World War dramas? Lest we forget, the 1814-18 conflict remains the go-to conflict for dramatists seeking the Anti-War drama to end all Anti-war drama.
Last Flag Flying (15.)
Directed by Richard Linklater.
Starring Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, Steve Carell, J. Quinton Johnson, Cicely Tyson and Yul Vazquez. 125 mins
Linklater has often been a groundbreaking director in the past – pioneering rotoscope animation in A Scanner Darkly, shooting a film over 12 years for Boyhood. Here his innovation is to make the first road movie that looks like it was based on a stage play.
The Post (12A.)
Directed by Steven Spielberg.
Starring Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Sarah Paulson, Bruce Greenwood, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons, Bradley Whitford, Michael Stuhlbarg and David Cross. 116 mins
Until now Spielberg, a buddy of George Lucas since before they were successful, has largely steered clear of the prequel business. (Well, there was Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom.) Here though he gives us All The Presidents Men: The Early Days, the story of how the Washington Post, the paper that would break the Watergate story, risked its future in the early seventies by defying President Nixon and publishing the leaked Pentagon Papers, a comprehensive government study of all the lies and cover-ups involved in the Vietnam War, going back more than two decades all the way to the Truman administration.
The Final Year (12A.)
Directed by Greg Baker.
Featuring Barack Obama, John Kerry, Samantha Power and Ben Rhodes. 89 mins
In this fly-on-the-private-jet-wall documentary about the final year of Barack Obama's foreign policy team we follow the POTUS, Secretary of State Kerry, UN Ambassador Power and Deputy National Security Adviser Rhodes (speechwriter basically) as they zip around the world espousing a policy of engagement with the rest of the world and trying to make up for past transgressions. It's a unique film in that its content is largely irrelevant. However good or bad the film the audience response is predetermined. Like Rose and Jack on the Titanic, we know all their plans and dreams are doomed.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. (15.)
Directed by Martin McDonagh.
Starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, Peter Dinklage and Caleb Landry Jones. 115 mins.
Three Billboards. Outside Ebbing. Missouri. That's a hell of a title. On paper at least; you may get tongue tied and self-conscious trying to say it to acquaintances, but seen on paper it demands attention. What kind of a film goes around calling itself that? And then you want to know if it will live up to it. Previously writer/ director Martin McDonagh has struggled to pair up titles with films. In Bruges easily outshone its title, but Seven Psychopaths lagged well behind its given name. This one is the equal of its content.
All The Money In The World. (15.)
Directed by Ridley Scott.
Starring Michelle Williams, Mark Wahlberg, Christopher Plummer, Charlie Plummer, Romain Duris, and Timothy Hutton. 133 mins.
It's a little late to do A Christmas Carol, but the figure of John Paul Getty (Kevin Spac...Christopher Plummer) offers up the perfect amalgam of Scrooge and Citizen Kane. The world's richest man, history's first billionaire, he spent extravagantly on art but was gnat’s chuff tight with other people. When his grandson (Plummer Charlie) is kidnapped in Italy in 1973 he refuses to pay the $17 million ransom.
Lies We Tell (15.)
Directed by Mitu Misra
Starring Gabriel Byrne, Sibylla Deen, Mark Addy, Jan Uddin, Emily Atack and Harvey Keitel. 110 mins.
Brought to you by the Bradford International Film Associates, this makes the ballsy move of employing Harvey Keitel and then killing him off after one scene. He plays a rich businessman driven to meetings with his Muslim mistress (Deen) by trusted employee Byrne. The film has echoes of the classic British crime drama, Mona Lisa, as Byrne finds himself trying to protect her; it even has Addy there to fill the Robbie Coltrane best friend role. The milieu here though isn't the south coast underworld but the Muslim community in Bradford.
Early Man. (PG.)
Directed by Nick Park
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Maisie Williams, Tom Hiddleston, Richard Ayoade, Timothy Spall, Mark Williams, Johnny Vegas and Rob Brydon. 89 mins.
Is he early, or late? The end of January is a damn strange time to be releasing a family animation; even stranger when the latest Pixar was released a week earlier. It isn't half term already, is it? I guess producers Studiocanal have a strategy but it looks an odd move for Aardman Animations, a brand that could do with a break.
Directed by Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina
Starring Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renée Victor and Jaime Camil. 105 mins
A film about the Mexican holiday Día de Los Muertos, Day of the Dead, has been in the works at Pixar since the turn of the decade. The time taken has probably been fortuitous as it has emerged at a time when reviewers and audiences in North America are keen to show they embrace other cultures and people south of the unwalled border. It has been the biggest film in Mexican history, and critical and audience approval is through the roof. For them, it ranks up with Pixar's greatest classics. Personally, I wouldn't fancy its chances in a struggle between The Good Dinosaur and Brave as the least energised or inventive Pixar film that doesn't have a number in its title.
The Darkest Hour (PG.)
Directed by Joe Wright.
Starring Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Samuel West, Ronald Pickup and Ben Mendelsohn. 125 mins
It's alarming, but timely, that we start the year with a pep talk on the need to fight fascism. (The subsidiary lesson - that unruly, abrasive, eccentric windbags can achieve great things if handed power - is just dangerous, wishful thinking though.) Darkest Hour covers the first three weeks of Churchill's time as prime minister: from taking over after Neville Chamberlain was forced to resign, against the wishes of most of his own party, up to the Dunkirk evacuation.
The Greatest Showman (PG.)
Directed by Michael Gracey.
Starring Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson and Zendaya. Released on Boxing Day.105 mins
Two of Hollywood's defining genres, the musical and the western, went out of fashion around the same time. In the sixties, big-budget musicals were the equivalent of comic book movies today. But at the end of that decade, they started to flop and since then, just like the western, every attempt to make one has been a revival/ deconstruction/ reinvention/ dying gasp of the genre. La La Land was a reinvention of the deconstruction of the musical, but the Greatest Showman, a musical about circus pioneer P.T Barnum is something a bit stranger and a bit bolder: it's a movie adaptation of Broadway musical, that was never a Broadway musical.
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