The best films out now
From Dev Patel playing Gaiwan in the medieval fantasy film The Green Knight to the long-awaited Sopranos prequel The Many Saints of Newark, here are the best films in cinemas this weekend
This century birthed a new era for on-screen epic fantasy: the 2000s opened with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Game of Thrones came 10 years later. However, it’s rare to find anything in the genre that isn’t transparently derivative – as good as the stories may be. Cue David Lowery, best known for A Ghost Story – his experimental, $100,000 rumination on grief.
For his new film The Green Knight, based on the 14th-century epic poem, Lowery has $22 million to play with. This could be one of the most original fantasies made in a long while.
The story follows Gawain (Dev Patel), a knight at King Arthur’s Round Table and a potential heir to the kingdom. He’s a lost and hedonistic soul, despises the fact that he has no story to tell. But his magical mother (Sarita Choudhury) cures that by summoning the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson), a tree-like humanoid who proposes a very existential quest.
Although it’s impossible to match the greatest show ever made with a movie prequel, The Many Saints of Newark comes close. Set during the childhood and adolescence of the infamous Tony Soprano – the Italian-American mob boss in The Sopranos – the film examines his crime-family environment at the end of the 60s.
However, Many Saints is more about Tony’s mentor Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola) and his moral dilemmas. Despite being an often aggressive mobster, he still has scruples. The teenage Tony, here played by Michael Gandolfini (the late James Gandolfini’s son), absorbs Dickie’s ways of doing things.
What Culture Whisper says: 'an enticingly cinematic affair'.
Often movies don’t need a lot to be cinematic. Stripping everything to the bare bones encourages an isolated, claustrophobic experience – wrapped in a tight and rewarding package.
The Guilty embarks upon the same constricted journey, set mostly in a 911 dispatch centre in Los Angeles during wildfire season. Jake Gyllenhaal plays the central officer Joe, who doesn’t really want to be there and resents many of the calls he receives. That is, until Emily calls him. It transpires that Emily has been abducted, and gains access to a phone. From his desk, Joe spends the entire film trying to find and save her.
Since the surge in popularity of RuPaul’s Drag Race, drag queens have become mainstream. And deservedly so. Tom MacRae’s West End show Everybody’s Talking About Jamie was key to that growth: following a 16-year-old boy desperate to be a drag queen, despite the pushback at school and at home.
Now, a movie version is in cinemas. Newbie actor Max Harwood plays Jamie, who wants to wow everybody at the end-of-year prom in the most flamboyant way possible: in drag. The film also stars Sharon Horgan (This Way Up), Sarah Lancashire (Happy Valley, Talking Heads), and Richard E Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Withnail and I).
As a film historian and critic, Mark Cousins is up there with the best. Not only does he have an encyclopaedic knowledge of film, culminating in his 2011 magnum opus The Story of Film, but his soothing Northern Irish tones lull you into a deeply educational space. Watching one of his documentaries is close to a spiritual experience.
In his new film The Story of Looking, he documents his recent cataract operation – ruminating on a potential life without sight. Diving into the history of art and movies, Cousins examines the art of looking rather than simply seeing.
Photo: Modern Films
Despite being mostly produced by British companies, Herself has taken a deplorably long time to reach UK shores. The film premiered at a pre-pandemic Sundance in January 2020 and screened later at the London Film Festival, where Culture Whisper gave it four stars. Now, it's finally in UK cinemas.
The story follows Sandra (Clare Dunne), a survivor of domestic violence, who manages to escape her fraught living situation and takes the kids with her. After she’s refused a new home, she decides to embark on an unusual project: building her own house. Seeking help from charitable hands, Sandra begins to construct her dreams.
What Culture Whisper says: 'Herself demolishes and rebuilds your faith in humanity.'
In recent months, there’s been a sharper focus on the Black women who reshaped music. Just this year, we’ve had a Billie Holiday biopic and an in-depth documentary about Tina Turner. The BFI Southbank even reopened its doors with a film season dedicated to Black female musicians. A new biopic about Aretha Franklin, coming three years after the acclaimed concert film Amazing Grace, was only inevitable.
In Respect, Jennifer Hudson plays Aretha – tracing her affluent origins and early talents, especially in the church. You see her difficult childhood, giving birth to her first child at 12 years old and facing the abuses of a patriarchal world. Even after she’s grown up and made several albums, she still can’t make a hit. Then Respect comes along, shooting her to stardom.
Producer/director James Wan is the man behind some of the most popular horror franchises in this century. He tangled moral philosophy with torture porn in Saw, followed souls across different realms in Insidious, and hunted real-life ghosts (allegedly) in The Conjuring. It’s safe to say that any James Wan project has the potential to fill our dark hearts for the next few years.
Malignant is his latest effort, following a woman who’s paralysed by bloody visions of murder victims. Reality and fantasy splatter into each other as she realises these murders have actually happened.
Photo: Warner Bros.
Ron and Russell Mael, who together make up the pop-rock duo Sparks, have been making music for six decades. Their story was recently captured in Edgar Wright’s energetic documentary The Sparks Brothers. But Sparks' new movie musical Annette marks their first successful foray into narrative filmmaking, after failed efforts with Jacques Tati and Tim Burton.
Collaborating with the French arthouse director Leos Carax (Holy Motors), Sparks composes a dark and tragic love story. Annette follows the relationship between a provocative stand-up (Adam Driver) and a well-respected opera soprano (Marion Cotillard), which slips between sensual and toxic. They conceive a child, Annette – portrayed in the film in puppet form – who displays an unexpected talent. The film opened this year's Cannes Film Festival.
What Culture Whisper says: 'Annette stretches over a laborious 130 minutes with few musical numbers that stand out, yet proceeds with stunning unpredictability.'
Yes, that movie title is a mouthful in a franchise that’s also – let’s face it – too long. But this newest entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe ticks off another first: an Asian-American superhero. Despite many, many, many films over 13 years, it’s only recently that Marvel have deigned to be diverse in the stories they tell. The Oscar-nominated Black Panther, which introduced the first Black superhero, was a crucial turning point and Shang-Chi aims to be another.
Simu Liu plays the titular character, known as Shaun at the start. He works as a parking valet, not really the stuff of superheroes, and hangs out with his best mate Katy (Awkwafina). But then his familial, inter-dimensional martial-arts history comes and finds him. His father Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung) is a crime lord who wants to recruit his children into the Ten Rings terrorist organisation, so named because of the powerful ten rings he wears on his arms.
On the face of it, with Pig, the debut feature film from Michael Sarnoski, you might expect a John Wick-type thriller – only with a pig instead of a dog. What else would you expect from a bloody and bearded Nicolas Cage? Well, it’s not that. Pig is much more subtle and touching and weird, showing the potent impacts of grief and how it turns men into shells and monsters. This small, secluded tale hits you, comforts you, and makes you a delicious meal by the end.
Cage stars as the isolated truffle hunter Rob, who lives in a wooded wilderness searching for expensive truffles with his pig. He sells them to the rich and suited millennial Amir (Alex Wolff), who cares very little about Rob's wellbeing. But when Rob is knocked out in the night and wakes up to find his pig stolen, he stops at nothing to find her – re-entering the dizzying city with Amir’s reluctant help.
On paper, the premise of Another Round seems like a second-rate studio comedy. But Danish director Thomas Vinterberg creates a brilliantly existential tragicomedy, following four teachers who experiment with drinking every day.
They test a theory by a Norwegian psychiatrist that suggests the human blood-alcohol content is too low. In a drunken effort to escape their everyday mundanity, they find new leases of life, but this has funny and dire consequences. Mads Mikkelsen stars.
What Culture Whisper says: 'Similar to when you watch Bake Off and want to consume every cake in sight, this drunken Danish odyssey – embarked upon by four depressed and dissatisfied teachers – makes you crave a good drink.'
The Fast and Furious movies have changed a lot in 20 years – beginning way, way back in 2001. The team of ultra-experienced drivers has gone from racing rivals and evading police cars to stealing from bank vaults and flying from skyscrapers. It’s now exploded into the most ridiculous, fantastical franchise in movie history and shows no signs of stopping.
In this ninth entry, Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) travels across London, Tokyo, Central America, Edinburgh and Azerbaijan to put right the sins of his past. A highly skilled assassin, who also happens to be a proficient driver, is plotting something huge and terrible. But he also happens to be Dom’s brother, Jakob (John Cena). Michelle Rodriguez, Helen Mirren, Kurt Russell, Charlize Theron and Cardi B also star.
The pandemic has snatched away that sense of cinematic spectacle, but In The Heights brings it back. Based on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s pre-Hamilton Broadway debut, this musical is set in the thick of the Latin-American community of New York City. Most of the residents have big dreams, but they’re up against racism and gentrification.
Anthony Ramos stars as the
central character Usnavi, a bodega owner who fancies the aspiring fashion
designer Vanessa (Melissa Barrera). Meanwhile, the Stanford student Nina (Leslie Grace) returns to the Heights and is having doubts about her studies.
What Culture Whisper says: 'an undeniably dazzling, if overly long, return to that form of cinematic spectacle.'
Photo: Warner Bros
For his role in The Father, Anthony Hopkins became the oldest winner of the Best Actor Oscar. And it’s easy to see why. Florian Zeller’s daring dementia drama, based on his own play, is a complicated journey through a labyrinth of memories – all bumping into each other.
Hopkins plays Anthony, a retired engineer, who roams around his flat in a state of constant confusion. Names, faces and corridors shift around. He tries to grasp a consistent reality via his daughter, played by Olivia Colman (The Crown), but past, present and future meld into one: creating an emotionally surreal experience.
What Culture Whisper says: 'Hopkins is a perfect fit for Anthony’s fusty, elderly intolerance, proficiently writhing and wriggling through the contradictions in his character's perceptions.'
In the week of cinemas reopening, the delayed sequel to the live-action Peter Rabbit has triumphed at the box office. The film has risen to the UK’s top spot, predicting a profitable summer for the movies.
James Corden returns to voice this troublemaking version of Beatrix Potter’s literary creation. Peter and the other rabbits have negotiated a truce with former nemesis Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson) and children’s author Bea (Rose Byrne). But Thomas still treats Peter badly, causing the latter to fall in with the wrong crowd.
Photo: Sony Pictures Releasing/PA MediaRead more ...
Another key cinematic postponement, Black Widow was meant to kick off Marvel’s latest cycle of movies last year – before a blockbuster-worthy pandemic struck the world. Now, it’s finally hitting cinemas and dropping on Disney+ as a premium release. But this thrilling superhero spectacle really deserves the biggest screen with the biggest speakers.
Scarlett Johansson stars as Natasha Romanoff, an Avenger who was trained in a Russian brainwashing facility led by the evil misogynist Dreykov (Ray Winstone). With her assigned ‘sister’ Yelena (an always vivid Florence Pugh), Natasha aims to bring down Dreykov’s operation.
What Culture Whisper says: ‘Marvel excels at these specifically cinematic experiences, even if the intrusive CGI removes much of the suspense’
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