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  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Film
  • Drama
This is playwright debbie tucker green’s second feature, although unlike 2015’s second coming, which starred Idris Elba, it’s an adaptation of one of her own plays, the extremely powerful ear for eye (tucker green prefers lower case), which premiered at London’s Royal Court in 2018. It’s not a film of the production, but it’s unashamedly filmed theatre: people and words, caught in a black box. Here, language is everything: language as a weapon; language as an oppressor; language as a mask for racist laws; language as a divider of generations, a divider of family, even a divider of comrades with similar aims who disagree over the means of achieving them. It’s presented as three parts, with the theme of racist violence running through them all – in the USA, but also in the UK. The first part gives us moments in conversations between many older and younger Black men and women, parents and children, but also between peers too, on the subject of how to deal with racist violence – how to avoid it, how to protest it, how to exist within and around it. The style of tucker green’s dialogue is distinct and stylised: sentences chopped up halfway through; interruptions; a poetic, cut-up back and forth. The second part is a two-hander in which a young Black woman (Lashana Lynch, seen recently in No Time To Die) confronts a white academic about the terminology used to describe, or explain away, a racist mass murderer. For the final part, we see snippets of people, all white, reading out va
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Film
  • Action and adventure
There is segregation in this raucous cowboy flick, but not the kind you expect. The black towns are entirely black, and the white settlements are white. But unlike just about every other western under the baking frontier sun, The Harder They Fall has only a passing interest in the latter. It’s into the rarely-seen lives of the old west’s Black heroes and villains that this violent, extrovert and radically fresh-feeling addition to the genre gallops.Writer-director Jeymes Samuel keeps his audience in on the joke (that white town is rendered in blinding alabaster shades), but doesn’t linger there long. This is an almost entirely Black wild west, given a pop-culture makeover with quickfire modern dialogue – including some disses Tarantino would be proud of – Baz Luhrmann-esque costumes and a crate load of reggae and hip hop cuts. It’s a western with a soundsystem hitched to the back: The monster reverb on Barrington Levy’s heavily used ‘Here I Come’ alone may blow your cinema (or TV) speakers, never mind producer Jay Z’s collaboration with Kid Cudi.Crucially, its fictionalised and ruthless world is populated with real historical characters. The opening chyrons pointedly note that: ‘These. People. Existed’. And Samuel reassembles them to empower not just Black cowboys but female ones too, like Stagecoach Mary (Deadpool’s Zazie Beetz) and Regina King’s tough-as-nails Trudy Smith. Here the women fight as hard or harder than the men, and kill with the same ease.And the killings are
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  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Film
  • Documentaries
It’s a tough gig to tackle the myth of the Velvet Underground. That myth says that classically trained son of a Welsh miner John Cale met troubled Dylan wannabe Lou Reed in New York and formed the most influential/unsuccessful band of all time, under the dubious auspices of Andy Warhol. Todd Haynes manages to do much more than tease that story out, though. His documentary is a lyrical and visual paean to the idea of what makes great art.Supposedly, this is the first proper film ever about the VU, and thank God. Unlike, say, the Beatles Anthology, there are no contemporary TV interviews, press conferences, airport arrivals. Basically, no one gave a shit about the Velvet Underground. There are no boring music historians here. Instead, Haynes marshals some choice talking heads – surviving members Cale and drummer Moe Tucker, and dancer Mary Woronov – and gorgeous, gorgeous footage, largely from the ever-spooling cameras of Warhol’s Factory. He makes a virtue of the band’s predicament as the catspaw of the artist to investigate their position as outsiders who found themselves insiders trying to break out.  Haynes devotes a lot of time to find out how the VU became the myth of the VU. He examines the NY scene of the early ’60s: the art, the gay clubs, the socialites. Right at the beginning, Cale is shown on a TV gameshow, I’ve Got a Secret. His secret is that he was part of an 18-hour concert performing a short Erik Satie piano piece 840 times. ‘Why would anyone ask you to perform
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Film
  • Drama
Never has the thrum of distant lawnmowers taken on such inherent menace as their wasp-like buzzing in director Justin Kurzel’s latest Australian nightmare, Nitram. Tracing the disastrous spiral towards the infamous Port Arthur shooting massacre, it begins, much like his debut Snowtown, with the humdrum normality of suburbia tilted at a disorientating angle. Australian acting royalty Judy Davis (The Dressmaker) and Anthony LaPaglia (Lantana) portray the on-edge parents of the man who will soon commit a crime so previously unimaginable that it famously changed the country’s gun laws in 12 days flat. The film does not glorify his murderous act or even depict it. Nor does it name him. What it does, with bone-shuddering brilliance, is reinforce why those reforms were necessary – and why they must be defended from potential watering down in what feels like an increasingly fraught world. Texan Caleb Landry Jones, then, is an intelligent casting choice. Hailing from a US state wedded to the second amendment, he grasps the shape of the shadow cast by such monsters. He brings a sketchy kind of chaos, hovering at school gates, obsessing on surfers and dangerously grabbing the wheel while his father is driving. We aren’t asked to sympathise with this figure, only to fear his grim potential. Particularly because so few figures around him seem able or willing to recognise his barely restrained mania. His parents are worn thin from it, and they turn away. It’s in this disturbed space that t
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  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Film
  • Action and adventure
Deviating from a formula as well-ironed as one of its hero’s tuxes, No Time to Die bids goodbye to Daniel Craig with so many surprises, it’s tough to know where to start. There are big, unprecedented storytelling decisions; Bond relates to not one, but several women as equals; and at one point, he makes pancakes for a small child.  The nicest surprise of them all, though, is just how good it is. Much-delayed, not least by a switch of directors when Danny Boyle left and Cary Fukunaga stepped in, it finally arrives as a reminder of the big-screen power of a blockbuster franchise firing on all cylinders. It’s the funniest Bond in forever, too, with a zingy script (quite possibly due to Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s contributions) delivered by Craig and co with aplomb.  Bond’s opening reintroduction – involving a town square, his DB5 and half of Spectre, as he’s pulled out of a romantic reverie with Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) – is an all-timer that shakes the cobwebs from the franchise in ten crunching minutes. From dapper and loved-up, Craig is soon back to how we know and love him: bruised and battered and heeding the siren call of duty, as the CIA and MI6 joust over a missing nanoweapon.Fukunaga and his cinematographer Linus Sandgren (La La Land) find visual grace notes everywhere. One sequence set in a Havana hacienda might be the most offbeat thing seen in a franchise that, let’s not forget, has also featured a crocodile submarine and Christopher Walken. It has Bond and Ana de A
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Film
  • Action and adventure
Men hacking at each other with swords in front of a baying crowd and a capricious ruler in a Ridley Scott period movie. Sounds familiar, right? And sure enough there are moments in The Last Duel that do call Gladiator to mind – especially in the crunching battle scenes that decorate the first half of the film in interesting shades of blood and gristle. But this bleak, wintry retelling of a real historical episode in fourteenth-century Normandy is nothing like as satisfying as that Ancient Rome epic.  At the heart of its storm of vain, egotistical and abusive men is Jodie Comer’s smart, courageous noblewoman, Lady Marguerite de Carrouges, whose rape at the hands of scheming Jacques LeGris (Adam Driver) leads her husband, lunkish warrior Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon), to challenge him to France’s last officially sanctioned duel. Adapted loosely from Eric Jager’s ‘The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat in Medieval France’, it opens with the first exchanges of the duel – a little chainmailed ankle meant to tantalise an audience about to be plunged back in time to investigate its thorny causes.Intriguingly, The Last Duel frames its story in three chapters and through the prism of the three characters’ recollection. This Rashomon-splaining yields intriguing variants in narrative viewpoints but few surprises. There are tiny divergences to look out for: in his wife’s memory, Jean grows a beard that is absent from his recollections. Even the cold he brings
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  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Film
  • Thrillers
There is snobby idea that US remakes of European movies invariably represent a step down in quality, but The Guilty captures the absolute thrill ride of the 2018 Swedish film of the same name, lit up by a bang-on-form Jake Gyllenhaal. With its one-room set up and a supporting cast that’s heard but not seen, it leans hard on the actor’s screen presence and he doesn’t disappoint. Gyllenhaal plays Joe, a cop who has been removed from active duty for reasons we are not immediately privy to. None too happy about the situation, he’s passive (and not so passive) aggression personified in a 911 call centre during the California wildfires. A social distancing film for our times, there are few other on-screen roles to pull focus from Joe. Instead, we are drawn into a kind of filmed radio drama as a whispering caller (Zola star Riley Keough) gets through in a state of panic and distress. Her plight somehow manages to pull Joe out of his worst tendencies. He goes above and beyond the call of duty – obsessively so – to piece together what appears to be a horrifying unfolding case of domestic violence. To say too much more would be to spoil the film’s savage twists and turns. So, is it the superior spin? Let’s put it this way, if you come to this Netflix remake first, you are going to be blown away by a hurricane-force performance from Gyllenhaal. He’s great as this not entirely likeable man who may even have ulterior motives for riding to the rescue. It’s a role reminiscent of other class
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Film
  • Drama
This is the only time in almost four decades of movie-making that writer-director Joel Coen has made a feature without his brother Ethan. It’s also the first time that he’s adapted Shakespeare: the pair more often than not opt for original stories like The Big Lebowski and Inside Llewyn Davis, although they won the best picture Oscar for the Cormac McCarthy adaptation No Country for Old Men in 2008 and they’ve never been afraid of remakes or homage, or a mixture of the two. If Joel Coen had picked Shakespeare’s existential fratricide drama Hamlet for this first solo outing and first stab at adapting the playwright, alarm bells would have rung. Instead, he’s made this ravishing, shadowy, eerie and often gloriously weird monochrome take on Macbeth, and in doing so rescues the label ‘theatrical’ from being a dirty word when describing movies. It’s stage-bound in all the right ways, reminiscent of a much earlier cinema, when filmmakers barely stepped outdoors and wielded magic with shadow and light on soundstages. It’s short, sharp and savage. Rendered with extreme creativity in blacks and whites and greys – there’s so much fog you can imagine this is set on a purgatorial cloud somewhere – The Tragedy of Macbeth sees Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand slip into the sort-of-medieval robes of theatre’s most famous murderous couple. Yet the filmmakers resist any concrete sense of time and place. If there’s a Scottish accent among the cast, I can’t recall one; the approach to ch
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  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Film
  • Musical
The reception that the movie musical Dear Evan Hansen has received so far, on social media and in the press, might make you feel a little protective of the young man at its center: Not Evan himself, a painfully awkward high schooler who rises to popularity over the dead body of a fellow student, but Ben Platt, the talented actor who plays him. Platt delivered a truly exceptional performance in the 2016 Broadway musical on which the film is based. Now he is giving the same star turn, and that’s the problem.  Platt’s fluid, emotional tenor voice is as beautiful as ever, and it’s easy to understand the desire to preserve his original performance. But the very mannerisms that were well scaled to a 1,000-seat house – the hunched posture, the tics, the blurts of speech – are off-putting in cinematic close-up. That’s exacerbated by styling and cinematography that (as has been widely noted and mocked) makes Platt look too old for the role. What the actor needed was a director who could either tone down his stylisation or create a world around him that matched it, but Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) does neither. The film goes beyond preserving Platt’s performance; it mummifies it.  The disconnect between Platt and his surroundings decreases as the movie goes on, but by then the damage has been done. Dear Evan Hansen has an almost farcical set-up: The lonely Evan writes letters to himself as a therapy exercise, and one of them finds its way into the pocket of a distu
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Film
  • Drama
As Britain wrestles with the fate of teenage jihadist Shamima Begum, currently marooned and stateless in Syria, French-Arab journalist-turned-filmmaker Dina Amer dramatises the life of another jihadist to deliver a searing corrective to anyone whose solution involves some variant of ‘let her rot’. It will, no doubt, stoke heated debate in France, but its message of reconciliation and understanding across racial and cultural lines is applicable just about anywhere. It has a scrappy, throat-grabbing energy and a sincerity that never feels hectoring. Amer has reported for the New York Times and CNN and her journalistic instincts underpin the film’s central question, one that is literally ripped from the headlines: who was Hasna Aït Boulahcen? The French-Arab supposed suicide bomber was killed in the aftermath of Paris’s 2015 Bataclan attacks when an explosive vest went off in an apartment block. The press condemned her as a terrorist. You Resemble Me reclaims her humanity in all its messiness, complexity and sadness. Essentially, the story works backwards to dramatise the life that led to that point. As part-fictionalised here – albeit with a script built on expert testimony from family and friends – it is more The 400 Blows than The Battle of Algiers. A young Hasna and her sister knock about their Parisian estate, free spirits suffering under the malign spell of a mum who has half given up on them. Foster homes – separate ones – await. A jump forward in time has a now twentysom
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