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Little Women
Film

Little Women

Greta Gerwig has directed only two films that are solely her own but she’s already become a brand. That’s in evidence within the first five minutes of ‘Little Women’, a huggably self-deprecating take on the Louisa May Alcott classic. Brashly confident Jo (Saoirse Ronan, from Gerwig’s debut film ‘Lady Bird’, still uncorking those soulful stares that outclass the competition) sits in the office of a New York publishing house. Because it’s the 1860s, she has to pretend she’s trying to sell the work of a friend. But a parental editor (Tracy Letts, also from ‘Lady Bird’) sees through this and has mercy on her. He reads, pencil in hand. ‘Make sure she’s married at the end – or dead,’ he concludes, somewhat approvingly. Jo, elated, runs down a city block, just like Gerwig did in ‘Frances Ha’. If this isn’t the ‘Little Women’ you remember, either on page or screen, that’s understandable. But it’s likely the one you felt, and that’s more important. Gerwig, who should be celebrated as both an evolving screenwriter (the bold adaptation is hers) and a shrewd formal stylist, cuts to the thematic essence of the novel – sisterhood and coming of age, but also nostalgia and mourning your own past – and finds a visual language for it. Alcott’s saga of the four March sisters has been divided and restitched by Gerwig into two interwoven halves. Girlish energy suffuses the warmly lit scenes of their Massachusetts teenhood (Daddy’s away, fighting the Civil War), days chockablock with attic theatr

Time Out says
5 out of 5 stars
The Gentlemen
Film

The Gentlemen

Guy Ritchie has gone back to his roots, or at least backwards. After a run of big-budget blockbusters – most recently this year’s $1 billion-grossing ‘Aladdin’ – the director has returned to the world of fast-talking British gangsters, the milieu that launched him in ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ and ‘Snatch’. This film will be popular with fans of both, but it paints a strange and regressive picture of a world where white straight men are all morally superior to everyone else, even if they’re murderers, thugs and drug dealers. The title should be a blackly comic joke, but the plot seems to take it seriously. The film centres on Matthew McConaughey’s Mickey Pearson, a former Rhodes scholar who became a drug dealer to the upper classes while at Oxford and built a billion-dollar empire on weed. Now he wants to sell to Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong) and retire with wife Rosalind (Michelle Dockery) – but rival gangster Dry Eye (Henry Golding) could scupper the deal, while private investigator Fletcher (Hugh Grant) threatens to expose them all. The story is largely told via flashback, as the flamboyantly pervy, ferret-like Fletcher visits the gorgeous home of Mickey’s right-hand man Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) to explain how much he knows and how he knows it. Grant’s scenes with Ray are immense fun, but the flashback structure doesn’t work as well. We don’t get much of a look inside Mickey’s head even when he’s on screen, just his operation, and despite McConaughey’s charis

Time Out says
2 out of 5 stars
Honey Boy
Film

Honey Boy

Written by Shia LaBeouf as a rehab task, ‘Honey Boy’ is both a frank self-appraisal and a public apology from someone seeking to start over. Entrusted to the right director in Alma Har’el, it’s gruelling yet disarming. She gives his vulnerable exercise an unruly shape and maps the chaos of addiction with guts and style. It kicks off with impressionistic recreations of a stunt from some massive tentpole movie circa mid-2000s (presumably a ‘Transformers’ film) alongside off-set misdeeds perpetrated by LaBeouf, here renamed Otis and played by Lucas Hedges. Otis is soon in therapy, revisiting a boyhood that’s tinged with neglect – and worse. Those memories lead to a different, ’90s-set plot strand: LaBeouf plays his own cruel father, an alcoholic Vietnam vet, convicted sex offender and ex-rodeo clown called James. Working on the set of a TV production with his lonely child-actor son (Noah Jupe, dazzling), he spends his days failing to stay sober and feeling inferior to Otis, who technically maintains their livelihoods. Har’el toggles smartly between the two eras. In numerous face-offs between the manipulative James and the mature yet helpless Otis, writer LaBeouf earns the audience’s compassion for his younger self. He’s taken on this tricky and no doubt painful subject matter with gravity and depth, and ‘Honey Boy’ can’t be dismissed as yet another LaBeouf caper. It’s a reminder of a talent that, despite LaBeouf’s own worst instincts, refuses to be snuffed out. 

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Dark Waters
Film

Dark Waters

Inspired by a shocking true story, a tenacious attorney (Ruffalo) uncovers a dark secret that connects a growing number of unexplained deaths due to one of the world's largest corporations. In the process, he risks everything - his future, his family, and his own life - to expose the truth.

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
Film

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

Little good came out of 2016’s ‘Suicide Squad’, but one of its few bright points was Margot Robbie’s anarchic Harley Quinn. Now she gets another shot at the spotlight in this spin-off directed by Cathy Yan (‘Dead Pigs’), who lets her heroine’s mania guide her through a story that’s scrappy, weird and ultimately fun as hell. Quinn has broken up with her long-time beau, the Joker, and now faces a seething Gotham underworld unprotected. She must scramble to survive her enemies, particularly crime kingpin Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), aka Black Mask, and his right-hand man (Chris Messina), introduced via a scene of shocking sadism. She makes a deal with Roman that should keep her alive but it puts her up against disillusioned cop Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) and the idealistic Danah Lance/Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), a singer at Roman’s club. They’re all after a young orphan (Ella Jay Basco as the character who, in the comics, becomes Batgirl). Oh, and someone’s shooting mob guys with a crossbow. The mysterious Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) may or may not be involved. You’ll need that deep breath you just took, because the film’s first act mirrors Harley’s incoherent, time-hopping narration in its explanations of who’s who and what’s what. But once that is untangled, ‘Birds of Prey’ is wildly entertaining. McGregor goes full psycho as Black Mask, a foppish ‘trustafarian fuckwad’, all Elton John suits and Skeletor masks. But it’s really the ladies’ show. Robbie’s tur

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars

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Mary, Queen of Scots
Film

Mary, Queen of Scots

How much fun would it be to watch an alternate version of ‘Game of Thrones’ in which all the boring men cowered behind trees while two female dragons circled overhead? You may be wondering about that while taking in ‘Mary Queen of Scots’, visually dull and intriguing in only the most generic sense, but still a showcase for the twin talents of Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie. For their royal viciousness alone, the movie is almost worth seeing, even if the backbiting is nowhere near as killer as ‘The Favourite’ (it’s a good time to be an onscreen monarch). Technically, this is Ronan’s movie: She plays the titular role, Mary Stuart, estranged from her native Scotland, reared Catholic in France and already widowed as a teenager. In 1561, Mary is returning home to a mess of competing claims to power. For all the soulfulness Ronan has summoned elsewhere – her performances in ‘Brooklyn’ and ‘Lady Bird’ are worthy of the silent era’s most iconic turns – she’s a little stiff here, uneasy in the saddle, and wasted on moments of grandeur and hot-blooded pronouncements. Fortunately, ‘I, Tonya’s Robbie is happy to pick up the slack as England’s ruling Elizabeth, cursed with bad skin, worse wigs, defective ovaries and a scheming cousin in Mary. They’re rivals, but the script (by Beau Willimon, based on John Guy's 2004 biography) awkwardly constructs only one scene for them to play against each other. No matter: Long before the verbal fireworks of that final showdown, Robbie is exuding lo

Time Out says
3 out of 5 stars
Creed 2
Film

Creed 2

The word ‘yo’ has a near-sacred status in the lunkheaded ‘Rocky’ universe; it can be soft or hard, gentle or a throwdown. In ‘Creed II’, it comes reverently, with a marriage proposal and, later, the birth of a child. That’s not an accident: As with 2015’s affecting ‘Creed’, the sequel wants to consecrate every verse of Stallone scripture, bowing deeply to Rocky ‘IV’s clash of superpowers (both Dolph Lundgren and an icy Brigitte Nielsen are back), and evangelising on behalf of the franchise. The people making this movie know all the beats they have to hit, and hit them they do, jab by jab. If the results aren’t as artful as those by ‘Creed’ director Ryan Coogler (Steven Caple Jr. steps in), they still feel earned. That’s chiefly due to actor Michael B. Jordan, the linchpin of the rebooted series, who again makes hay with the role of rising young boxer Adonis Creed, rife with daddy issues. Last time, Jordan leaned hard into the story of a humble son chasing a ghost, Apollo Creed, gone before his child could know him. Now, Adonis is all but avenging him, confronting his father’s murderer in the ring in the form of Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the hulking progeny of Lundgren’s iconic Russian heavyweight Ivan. (‘It all feels so Shakespearean,’ articulates one commentator for the cheap seats; the script is sometimes coarse.) You won’t need to refresh on the ’80s films to know that the bout doesn’t go well: Adonis lets the mojo go to his head and his pre-fight entrance into Bro

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Escape Room
Film

Escape Room

The current craze for escape rooms – in which groups solve puzzles to be released – was bound to inspire a horror film, so it’s gratifying to discover that ‘Escape Room’ is more than just a cheap teens-in-peril cash-in. Six strangers – shy physics student (Taylor Russell), shelf-stacking slacker (Logan Miller), escape room addict (Nik Dodani), long-distance trucker (Tyler Labine), smarmy stockbroker (Jay Ellis) and Iraq war vet (Deborah Ann Woll) – receive mysterious invitations to an exclusive escape room, unaware of something else they have in common. At first, the apparent danger of the traps seems to be part of the experience – but before you can say ‘The figure in the painting is pointing at the book!’, the players realise that they’ll be lucky to escape with their lives.Adam Robitel, director of 2014’s underrated supernatural horror ‘The Taking of Deborah Logan’, gets the blood pumping right from the off, trapping the audience in a room with one of the contestants as the walls close in, splintering furniture and shredding nerves with equal gusto. This scene acts as something of a spoiler for what follows, as we know – or think we know – who’s going to make it and who isn’t. But the tricksy screenplay stays one step ahead and is smart enough that, while the audience can’t participate in the physical puzzles – each staged as an elaborate and impressive set piece – it can still try to figure out what’s going on behind the screams. There’s more than a measure of ‘Saw’ abou

Time Out says
3 out of 5 stars
The Upside
Film

The Upside

It’s déjà vu as the life-affirming hit French comedy-drama ‘The Intouchables’, the true story of a bromance between a wealthy quadriplegic man and his black live-in carer from the projects (aka the American version of a council estate), gets the Hollywood treatment. This really is an incredibly cheesy remake – and the original was already pretty cheesy – starring ‘Breaking Bad’ actor Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart, doing their best with a script that cracks out all the odd-couple movie clichés.  It’s nicely acted though. Cranston plays billionaire investor Phillip, paralysed from the neck down after a paragliding accident. When his secretary (Nicole Kidman) advertises for a carer, Phillip hires the least qualified candidate Dell (Hart). Not long out of prison, Dell only shows up at the interview to keep his parole officer sweet. Is Phillip charmed by his humour and realness? Or because he suspects that Dell won’t ignore his Do Not Resuscitate order? A good deal of seen-it-before buddy comedy follows, as Phillip introduces Dell to highbrow culture, while Dell gets his boss high on marijuana. The script even nicks that bit from ‘Pretty Woman’ where Julia Roberts cries at the opera. That’s not to say The Upside is a complete write-off. The two actors bounce off each like ping-pong balls. Cranston in particular, acting only with his face, brings humanity and intelligence to a flimsy part – and it’s pretty funny in places. But there’s no ignoring the fact that the characters are

Time Out says
2 out of 5 stars
The Sisters Brothers
Film

The Sisters Brothers

You don’t need a deep love of westerns to get a kick out of Jacques Audiard’s (‘Dheepan’) wry, surprising, and often plain hilarious frontier story set in 1851 Oregon and California. Sure, there’s all the shootouts, smoky saloons and liquor-soaked gunslingers a genre aficionado could ask for, but at its generous heart, the Frenchman’s first English-language film is a road movie about a pair of bickering siblings who just happen to be bounty hunters. The emotional beats are deep-felt and the one-liners come thick and fast. It’s contemplative at times too, taking time to chew over its characters’ hopes and dreams. Imagine ‘Midnight Run’ with saddle sores and you wouldn’t be too far from the mark.Audiard immediately establishes the lethal bona fides of the brothers, Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix) and Eli Sisters (John C Reilly) – and their odd-couple chemistry – with a striking nocturnal gunfight. It begins with distant muzzle flashes and a bullet-ridden cabin and ends, like so many of the scenes to come, with the pair grousing enjoyably at each other. This job, it turns out, was on behalf of the pair’s paymaster, a malicious and mostly unseen figure known as ‘The Commodore’. Soon he has another one for them: to trek across the state and kill a man by the name of Hermann Warm (Riz Ahmed), a guileful chemist with a new formula for refining gold. To make things easier, Jake Gyllenhaal’s detective, John Morris, will have him apprehended and ready to turn over. At least, that’s the theor

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars