Things to do this month
The annual exhibition provides a new and vital platform to show the work of emerging artists who have graduated from the region's five university art schools - Birmingham City University, Coventry University, Staffordshire University, University of Wolverhampton, University of Worcester - and for the first time Hereford College of Arts.
Films showing this month
It may have been a bleak period in human history, but the Second World War was a golden age for British cinema, as filmmakers discovered purpose and commitment in stories of resistance, fortitude and togetherness. 'An Education' director Lone Scherfig's witty, sophisticated and unexpectedly sober romcom pays tribute to those artists – writers, actors, directors, producers, even agents – and slips in a spry, timely investigation of women's roles in cinema for good measure. Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) comes to the attention of the Ministry of Information as a copywriter for newspaper cartoons. They're looking for someone to script a series of propaganda short films urging the women of Britain to work in factories and grow vegetables, and she's looking for a way to support her moody artist boyfriend Ellis (Jack Huston). But it's not long before Catrin is assisting writer Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) on an inspirational feature film script inspired by a pair of Southend sisters who stole their father's boat and headed to Dunkirk to assist in the evacuation. The story is largely bunk, the Ministry brass are always lurking and washed-up leading man Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy) is forever sticking his oar in. But Catrin and Buckley get stuck in, transforming this simple fable into a rousing tribute to everyday British pluck. Like its film-within-a-film, 'Their Finest' might so easily have been sentimental hogwash, a jolly, stiff-upper-lipped love story set against the picturesque
Decadence is both the subject and the style in ‘Oldboy’ director Park Chan-wook’s elegant, intensely romantic adaptation of Sarah Waters’s spicy bestseller ‘Fingersmith’. Shifting the action from Victorian England to pre-war Korea under Japanese rule, Park has created a film that delights in ornate furnishings, flowing gowns and sensuous sexual imagery, but reminds us that these things are just surface – the stuff that really matters is always kept hidden. Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri) is a proper Dickensian orphan: raised by a Fagin-like madam on the streets of Seoul, she’s an experienced thief and con artist. So when smooth huckster Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo) needs an eager young crook to impersonate a lady’s handmaiden as part of a scam he’s planning, Sook-hee steps up. Her mission: to encourage the innocent, unworldly Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) to disobey her cruel uncle Kouzuki (Jo Jin-woong) and run away with the dashing Fujiwara – bringing her fortune along with her, of course. And then Sook-hee starts falling in love… The cinematic equivalent of drinking three glasses of champagne in the bath, ‘The Handmaiden’ is a film to luxuriate in. Park has always been a visual master – even his infuriating American debut, 2013’s ‘Stoker’, had that going for it – but he’s outdone himself here. Waters’s labyrinthine plot is handled with the utmost care, and the characters – particularly the seemingly fragile Hideko – are beautifully sketched and performed. But it’s in probing beyond the pre
Luke Skywalker should count himself lucky – his dad only wanted to rule the universe. When Peter Quill aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt) finally catches up with his old man, Ego (Kurt Russell), in this sequel to 2014’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, he’s up to a whole lot worse. We find our heroes up to their necks in trouble after Rocket the Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) steals a satchel-full of alien batteries from a warlike, golden-skinned Priestess. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) has been reunited with her evil-ish sister Nebula (Karen Gillan); Groot (Vin Diesel) is still an adorable baby tree; and Drax (Dave Bautista) is still flummoxed by everything. When Ego shows up, he seems like a saviour – but in space, fathers always have secrets. After the sugar rush of the first film, recapturing the magic was always going to be an uphill battle. But for all its wit, speed and wacky cameos (Howard the Duck! Sylvester Stallone!) this second instalment still feels like a disappointment. Until well past half way through, it doesn’t even have a plot, just a bunch of amusing scenes strung together. And when the story does arrive, it’s fairly half-arsed: big villain, universe in danger, loads of explosions. The characters are still fun to be around, the one-liners are still sharp (‘My turds are famously huge!’) and the soundtrack is, of course, terrific. But there are only so many times you can slap on a Fleetwood Mac toe-tapper and expect it to paper over the cracks.
The virtue of courage is high up on the list of Disney princess must-haves (just below kindness, beauty and a strapping prince in tight trousers). And three cheers for director Bill Condon and star Emma Watson for having the courage to make a live-action musical adaptation of the adored 1991 animation with 2017 gender politics and a diverse cast. Not only is Belle the most feminist Disney princess ever, 'Beauty and the Beast' also features the first (and second) ever interracial kiss in a live-action Disney movie and the first openly gay character in a Disney movie fullstop. And it's all done with a lovely feeling of integrity too.This is a lavish pull-out-all-the-stops musical. Watson brings sincerity to the role of Belle, the only bookworm in the village in eighteenth-century France. (Her singing isn’t bad either). Luke Evans is hilarious as her sexist meathead suitor Gaston, whose charming chat-up lines include: ‘Do you know what happens to spinsters in the village when their fathers die? They beg for scraps.’ Josh Gad (Olaf the snowman in ‘Frozen’) is his adoring sidekick Le Fou. The pair’s get-a-room bromance is a highlight.Belle’s inventor dad (Kevin Kline) is on his way to market when he takes a wrong turn and finds himself locked in the gothic castle belonging to Beast (Dan Stevens from ‘Downton’, hiding behind a furry face). Of course, the Beast is actually a dashing prince, transformed by a kind witch as punishment for his cold-heartedness. Only true love – as Célin
Masterfully addressing the American racial divide – past and present – director Raoul Peck’s six-years-in-the-making documentary, ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ thrums with a sense of history repeating itself. It’s inspired by 30 pages from the writer and intellectual James Baldwin’s unfinished final book, ‘Remember This House’. Before his death in 1987, Baldwin intended to tell the story of being black in America through the lives – and deaths – of three of his friends, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers. Peck does a magnificent job of honouring Baldwin’s concept in the film, counterposing images from the civil rights movement with clips from today’s protests and police beatings. Bringing a sense of gravitas to Baldwin’s words is Samuel L Jackson, whose non-furious narration is his finest performance to date – his almost resigned delivery deepening the emotional frustration. We do actually hear from Baldwin too, in some calmly defiant footage from a late ’60s talkshow, as he drags on a cigarette and speaks truth to power. ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ joins a handful of recent documentaries exploring the history and legacy of slavery, along with evolving ideas of African-American identity – notably Ava DuVernay’s prison exposé ‘13th’ and Ezra Edelman’s eight-hour ‘OJ: Made in America’. But there hasn’t been as concise, targeted and rigorous an examination of the problems of being smart, outspoken and black, until now.
Julian Barnes’s 2011 Booker Prize winner is a tricky book to bring to screen. But this thoughtful adaptation by Indian director Ritesh Batra (‘The Lunchbox’) and British playwright Nick Payne (‘Constellations’) does a compelling job of bringing the novel’s first-person, interior musings to life. Its fragmented story moves fluidly between the present and the 1960s as slightly curmudgeonly, middle-class Londoner Tony Webster (Jim Broadbent, and Billy Howle as his younger self) is forced to reflect on his youth when a letter arrives from the executors of an old acquaintance’s will. Until this point, Tony had carried in his mind one version of his student romance with Veronica (Freya Mavor): where it went wrong, and how it might have influenced the suicide of an old school friend, Adrian (Joe Alwyn). However, a drip feed of new information over the course of the film raises intriguing questions about how and why we write our own history and just how flawed we are as our own personal chroniclers. ‘The Sense of an Ending’ is comparable to 2015’s ’45 Years’ in that this is also a film about reconsidering everything one thought to be true, and only being able to do so when a certain amount of experience has passed. Both films feature Charlotte Rampling: here, Rampling plays the grown-up Veronica and offers a mid-film dose of cold, hard reality. As films they’re similarly open-ended too, although this seeks a lot more optimism and resolution at its close than either ‘45 Years’ or Ba
We’d do anything for our kids, wouldn’t we? Romanian director Cristian Mungiu (‘4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days’) understands that, he gets it. But with this bruising, powerful drama he also asks the question: what if the broken social, political and judicial culture around you literally allowed you to do anything for them, without any regard for right or wrong? The anti-hero of this intense, talky, busy and completely compelling morality play is Romeo Aldea (Adrian Titieni), and he’s far from an obvious villain, if indeed he’s a villain at all. Romeo is a well-regarded local doctor in a Transylvanian town who is determined that his daughter Eliza (Maria Dragus) does well in her exams so that she can study in the ‘more civilised’ UK. Romeo has clearly given up on the idea of Romania being part of the ‘better world’ he dreams of, and he’s quietly complicit in various local corruptions without always realising it. He’s also having an affair with Sandra (Malina Manovici), a recent patient 15 years younger than him who has a young son. When his daughter is attacked on the eve of her exams, he’s ready to act to win her the grades she needs. Mungiu doesn’t explicitly judge Romeo; he simply presents this brief, exposing and perhaps defining chapter of his life in captivating detail. He also makes clear that, although Romeo is a man of considerable influence, able to pull strings here and there, emotionally he’s very much on the edge and liable to fall apart any second. How Mungiu e
This brilliantly feminist British indie film plunges a cold, sharp knife into the back of bonnet dramas. ‘Lady Macbeth’ is like a Jane Austen story with a dash of sex and murder and a nineteenth-century heroine who might have swallowed the works of Caitlin Moran and Gloria Steinem. Confusingly, it’s got nothing to do with Shakespeare. The script, by playwright Alice Birch, is adapted from an 1860s Russian novel by Nikolai Leskov, ‘Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District’, and it was shot by theatre director William Oldroyd. The pair relocate the book to Victorian England where Florence Pugh (the spit of a young Kate Winslet) plays Katherine, a teenager in northern England whose father has married her off to a rich miner’s son. Humiliatingly, she is part of a two-for-one deal, thrown in with a plot of land. Worse, her husband (Paul Hilton) is a seething mess of pathetic inadequacies. This is a pure feminist parable. We watch as her maid, Anna (Naomi Ackie), yanks Katherine’s corset ribbons agonisingly tight. And just as the patriarchy is deforming her body, so too it is twisting her soul. When her husband leaves the family pile on business, Katherine ends up in bed with a cocky servant (indie singer Cosmo Jarvis). A killing spree follows. Newcomer Florence Pugh is like a lightning bolt, totally electric as Katherine, who’s up there with Madame Bovary or Anna Karenina in the literary heroine stakes. She has the innocent face of an angel but she soon begins to live up to her Sha
America lies on the brink of ruin in this bleak and bruising comic-book road movie. It’s 2029 and Logan aka James Howlett aka The Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is working as a limo driver in El Paso, Texas, occasionally hopping over the Mexican border to deliver much-needed pharmaceuticals to his Alzheimer's-stricken former mentor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). The mutant race has been all but wiped out thanks to a combination of shady government interference and Charles's own inability to control his powers. But when Logan is tasked with looking after Laura (Dafne Keen), the first mutant child born in decades, he's forced to make a decision: keep running, or gear up for one final stand. Jackman has repeatedly suggested that 'Logan' will mark his farewell to a character he's been tied to for 17 years and seven films. If so, it's a fitting swansong: in stark contrast to most Marvel movies, particularly last year's peppy but pointless 'X-Men: Apocalypse', this feels more like a wake than a party. The colours are muted, all rust-red and glowering grey, and the themes are weighty: loss, ageing and deep, almost unbearable regret. We're never given a full picture of how the world got so messed up, just glimpses of institutional brutality and corporate power, of ordinary people ground under the heel of an increasingly uncaring system. Given that the film went into production well before the earth-shaking events of November 2016, it all feels frighteningly prescient. It's also, with
This American horror film has more fun playing with racial tensions than with scaring us to death, which for some will be a bit of a letdown. The problem with ‘Get Out’ is that it is perhaps a touch too in love with its big idea: that for a young African American man, meeting your white girlfriend’s parents might be hazardous to your health. (Even if they do say that they ‘would have voted for Obama a third time’). Serious young photographer Chris (British actor Daniel Kaluuya), clearly adores Rose (Allison Williams, Marnie from ‘Girls’). Still, their trip out of the city to her family’s secluded mansion in the suburbs fills him with dread. That deer they crash into on the drive up doesn’t help Chris’s fraying nerves – and the way the animal stares him down during its last gasps feels like a warning. ‘Get Out’ is sharp and cutting during its build-up. Rose’s parents (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford) are awkwardly ingratiating, making a comic meal out of white liberal privilege (‘Hug me, my man!’ Rose’s neurosurgeon dad exclaims meeting Chris). Meanwhile, the family’s black servants disquietingly look on like wide-eyed zombies. The writer-director of ‘Get Out’ is Jordan Peele, one half of the defunct Comedy Central show ‘Key & Peele’. While you can’t help but cheer his debut film’s ambitions, the discipline he found in skit-writing is lost here. Many of the brightest moments in ‘Key & Peele’ were miniature nightmares in themselves – like their classic sketch ‘Continen