Ralph ‘Wrecks’ the Internet would’ve been a more suitable title but then the filmmakers would have missed out on a reference to a tabloid story from 2014, which is something this sequel just loves doing: making references.
Cynical cash-grab aside (c’mon, it’s Disney), there’s a lot to love in this world wide web-themed adventure. Our hero Ralph (John C Reilly) is pretty much how we left him, living out a peaceful – if not monotonous – life in the arcade with his best friend Vanellope (Sarah Silverman). They cause gentle havoc, they cameo in other games, and for Ralph that’s quite enough excitement. But young Vanellope longs for something new.
When the arcade’s elderly proprietor finally installs wifi (or ‘wee-fee’, as they pronounce it), it opens the door to a whole new online world, one that sings with sound and fury, from viral videos to vicious comment sections. While Ralph is keen to return to their old life, Vanellope is transfixed by the possibilities the internet offers, and starts to consider what life might be like outside of the arcade. Cue a slew of internet in-jokes and online based calamities. (Jack Whiting)
It had to be one year Robert Redford would be celebrated on our anniversary. So 14 years just gone.
Like a warm smile, The Old man & the Gun is an endearing caper that celebrates Robert Redford’s easy charm with effortless style.
Redford is the preposterously charming F.Tucker, a jailbird for whom ‘career criminal’ is somewhat understated. Tucker began an outlaw’s life in his teens and could never bring himself to give it up. His first escape from incarceration came when he was just 15 years old, whereupon he managed 17 further escapes (one such sees him build a kayak, ‘inside’, from scratch and paddle away in full view of the guards).
David Lowery, a filmmaker of immense diversity, gets the most out of Redford and Sissy Spacek, not to mention a scene, nay, film stealing monologue from the ever gorgeous Tom Waits. It helps that Lowery lovingly recreates the time period also, from the opening titles to the film grain, the overall feel of an early Redford picture is all over it.
For a final turn, cool and graceful, Mr Sundance does it, without a glance over his shoulder.
“It takes a lifetime of effort to look this effortless...” (Empire Dec 2018)
Condemned as a work of “revolting immorality”, the French novel was promptly banned by the very society it described, which of course didn’t stop it being voraciously devoured for the next 200 years.
One day the Marquise (Glenn Close) comes to the Vicomte (John Malkovich) with an assignment. She has lost a lover who left her to marry an innocent Cecile (a very young Uma Thurman). She wishes the Vicomte to seduce the young woman before she can bear her virginity to the marital bed. The Vicomte accepts the dare and dispatches himself to the country, where, however, he eventually sets his sights on another young woman instead, the virtuous Madame de Tourvel (Michelle Pfeiffer).
The stage version, adapted by British playwright Christopher Hampton, won the 1986 Olivier Award, and then, of course, came Stephen Frears’ film, and thirty years after release its potency still fills the air. Frears’ smoothly assured direction punches the witty lines in Hampton’s production to the big screen, and that fabulous cast doesn’t miss a single cue in its delivery. (Jack Whiting)
Rape-revenge, motherhood and ravishing beauty soak this stunning Indonesian neo-spaghetti western.
After surviving a horrifying attack on her arid, isolated farmstead from a group of brutish locals (and making short, bloody work of them in the process), recently widowed Marlina sets out on a quest for justice and retribution, turning modern Indonesia into a sprawling Wild East, where people are more likely to carry a sabre than a cell phone.
As billed in the title, Marlina’s adventures unfold over four acts; The Robbery, The Journey, The Confession, and The Birth, each blending bursts of violence and deadpan humour into a stylishly stark tale of revenge and redemption.
Aided by an atmospheric, Morricone-esque score by Zeke Khaseli and Yudhi Arfani, director Mouly Surya smartly weaves well-worn western clichés with pressing current social issues, highlighting and challenging her country’s shocking women’s rights record. Amongst a furious feminist exposé of macho brutality, the real subject here is patriarchy, and how the lowliest men still expect to get whatever they want from even the strongest women. (Research Chris Coetsee)
Bohemian Rhapsody is a foot-stomping celebration of Queen, their music and their extraordinary lead singer, Freddie Mercury,
The film traces the meteoric rise of the band through their iconic songs and revolutionary sound. They reach unparalleled success, but in an unexpected turn Freddie (Rami Malek), surrounded by darker influences, shuns Queen in pursuit of his solo career. Having suffered greatly without the collaboration of Queen, Freddie reunites with the band in time for Live Aid. While bravely facing a recent AIDS diagnosis, he leads the band in one of the greatest performances in the history of rock. In doing so, Queen cements its legacy.
Those hoping for a deep dive into Freddie’s private life may be left feeling short changed; this is nothing more than a glorified Wiki entry - covering all the basics, yet with so much pizzazz, gorgeous set design and attention to the era, it’s easy to get swept up in its kinda magic. Forget the behind-the-scenes faffing with directors etc, although Dexter Fletcher picks up the pieces nicely. This is Malek’s film. (research Jack Whiting) Malek’s film through and through. He might raise it above expectations, but he can’t polish one of the most overrated, overplayed songs and over-haired cringe-pop videos - ever.
Debut director Boots Riley pulls no punches with this scathing social commentary; a cluster bomb of biting, satirical comedy.
Lakeith Stanfield stars as Cassius Green, a jobless man in an existential crisis who yearns to provide a better life for himself and his artist girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson). After getting a job as a telemarketer, he soon realises he has a natural gift for it, thanks to a foul-mouthed Danny Glover helping him unlock his internal ‘white voice’ (hilariously materialised by David Cross). As Cassius climbs the ranks of his new profession, he’s met with resistance from Detroit and his friends, who see him compromising his integrity as he sells himself out to a greedy corporation
In a gleeful takedown of corporate America, Riley sharply tackles the lengths people must go through, particularly those of colour, to make something of themselves in our current social and political climate. Aiming for sheer lunacy and hitting the bullseye, it’s exactly what we need in our current timeline; a smart, pointed and hysterical “up yours” to the powers that be that isn’t afraid to confront its audience. (Research Chris Coetsee)
Get ready for a real cheese fest. Tulip Fever is one of those cinematic endeavours that so ferociously misses the mark it threatens to become a morbid curiosity case.
But you’re not here for high-art; this handsomely mounted, floral-scented fiasco is soap-opera pleasure at its guiltiest, and every bit a throwback to that age of Chocolat and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.
All the correct ingredients are present: a period piece about the tulip boom in 17th-century Amsterdam and based on Deborah Moggach’s 1999 novel, Tulip Fever was snapped up by the Weinsteins (before you-know-who ruined all that) and they brought in the mischievous playwright Tom Stoppard to write the script and Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl) to direct. For a much needed charge of youth and sex, Alicia Vikander plays Sophia. She’s the orphan who makes a marriage of convenience with wealthy merchant Cornelis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz). Then she falls hopelessly in love Jan Van Loos (Dane DeHaan), the starving, stringbean artist hired to paint her portrait. This one is for hardcore fans of frocks and Judi Dench. (Jack Whiting)
January is turning out to be a great month for fans of frocks and frills. Together with Dangerous Liaisons and Tulip Fever, we’re treating you to three saucy period pieces (of varying quality and tone) in one month alone.
Set in the early 1800’s, Jean Dujardin plays the outrageously mustachioed Captain Charles-Grégoire Neuville. He proposes marriage to Pauline (Noémie Merlant), but is then called away to the wars. Pauline pines away as the Captain doesn’t write, so her sister Elisabeth (Mélanie Laurent) forges ardent letters from the Captain, full of romance and heroism, to save Pauline from wasting away in melancholy.
Neuville arrives back in town alive and well, although he’s turned into a drunken lout and looking for a way to cash in on his engagement. He finds she’s married a nobleman so he crashes the family estate, boasting about his exploits, with only Elisabeth aware that he’s a con artist. But he’s onto her as well, and the rest of film consists of one long cat-and-mouse game. Return to the Hero is a frothy confection that sits somewhere between Jane Austen and a French bedroom farce. (Jack Whiting)
The ever reliable Star Wars template is applied to Philip Reeve’s steampunk adventure series and, with the guiding hand of producer Peter Jackson, receives a heavy dollop of Lord of the Rings’ aesthetic, too.
In this dystopian world, civilised society has been swept away and replaced by the principles of ‘Municipal Darwinism’, whereby densely populated, massive wheeled cities roam the earth, hunting each other for resources. Young historian Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan) is a London patriot, proud of his home and its violent exploits, many of them planned and executed by respected adventurer Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving). But when Valentine is attacked by outlander Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), Tom finds himself left behind, marooned in the wasteland with only the taciturn Shaw for company.
Warring factions; good vs evil; a young hero with a destiny; it’s all familiar fantasy fluff, and while this svelte adaptation is severely lacking in originality (and sense), its sheer scale and incredibly satisfying visual effects make it a thrilling ride of overwhelming architecture. If you want to experience our capital on giant rollers, speeding along a desolate wasteland, look no further. (Jack Whiting)
A war-hardened crusader and his commander mount an audacious revolt against the corrupt English crown. With machine gun crossbows.
Described as a dark, revisionist prequel to the historical story, this is a hyper-stylised, hyper-explosive retelling of English folklore’s best loved legend.
Taron Egerton stars as Robin of Loxley, a highborn nobleman returning to Nottingham from fighting the Crusades for God and Country, only to find his lands seized by the Sheriff (the great face of very nasty baddies: Ben Mendelsohn). Disgusted, he vows revenge. Under the mentorship of mysterious ally John (Jamie Foxx) he secretly operates as The Hood, a master thief and vigilante who will stop at nothing in his effort to relieve Nottingham and it’s people from the Sheriff’s grip.
Similar in tone to last year’s King Arthur revamp, Robin Hood has dragged it’s source material unapologetically into the 21st century. Complete with automatic weapons and fashionable battle armour, it’s effectively a 14th century Kingsman. A barrage of high-octane chases, choreographed fight sequences and slow-motion arrow dodging will give even the most seasoned action fan something to shout about this Christmas. Ho ho ho. (Research Chris Coetsee) But Eggsy as Robin the Hood? I say! And you thought Errol Flynn in rather fetching tights was ‘diversity’.
Charlie Hunnam channels ‘Cooler King’ Steve McQueen in this gritty remake of the classic prison drama.
Hunnam plays the real-life Henri “Papillon” Charrière, a safe cracker whose best-selling novel inspired the pair of screen adaptations. After pulling a job in 1931 Paris, Charrière is eager to leave the criminal world behind for the good life with his girlfriend, Nenette (Eve Hewson). When he’s framed for a mob killing and sent off to a prison hell worse than Shawshank, Papi links up with Louis Dega (Rami Malek), a speccy, vulnerable counterfeiter whom he offers protection in exchange for Louis funding his eventual escape.
Following a botched attempt to break free, the Warden condemns him to solitary confinement for two years where he is subjected to brutality and starvation. Finally released from the hole and determined to win his freedom, he makes one final play to do what no one has done before; escape Devil’s Island.
Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman brought star power back in 1973. Hunnam and Malek have a little way to go yet. However, like the best prison movies, Papillon remains a testament to the power of hope. (Research Chris Coetsee)
Virginie Efira and Niels Schneiderin astound in this accomplished and ambitious exploration of gender politics.
In 1958, 25-year-old Rachel, an office clerk living in French provincial town Châteauroux, meets Philippe, a romantic young intellectual from a wealthy family. They share a passionate but short-lived romance from which Rachel gives birth to a daughter, Chantal (impressive newcomer Estelle Lescure). Over the years that follow, their lives are shaped by the unconditional love between a mother and her daughter as they are both overwhelmed by absence, rejection and abuse.
Adapted from Christine Angot’s best-selling autobiographical novel, it is a film filled with searingly honest accounts; those of relationships, sexual experiences and psychological states past and present. Angot’s emotionally fuelled first-person confessions return time and again to the disturbing events of her youth, mirrored through the traumas of Rachel, a character played with such beauty by Belgian star Efira. Schneider is equally arresting as an elusive outsider who seems sincere in his love for Rachel, at least initially, but is unable to reconcile that with their differences in education and family standing. Hard-hitting stuff from director Catherine Corsini. (Research Chris Coetsee)
The compelling history of legal legend Ruth Bader Ginsburg is illuminated in this magnetic documentary feature.
The second woman ever confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice, she remains a progressive icon. A firebrand for women’s rights, she has been immortalised in pop culture by devotees often a quarter of her age. And at 85-years old, she shows no sign of stopping any time soon.
Using Ginsburg’s senate confirmation hearing as a central structure, directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen intersperse present-day interviews and current events with Ginsburg’s statements during the 1993 meeting. Each question and response from the hearing serve as the start of a new filmic chapter, using interviews and archival footage to explore Ginsburg’s background, family life or personal stance on myriad issues.
What results is a celebration of Ginsburg's unsinkable spirit, a portrait of an octogenarian whose family still reminds her almost nightly to put the work to one side and focus instead on the little things like eating and sleeping. Righteous, reasonable and resolved, both figure and film offer up much inspiration, whilst quietly questioning whether a new generation of activists can grow into the same confidence. (Research Chris Coetsee)
Gaga and Cooper’s raw vocals invite you into the soundscape of their characters’ sweeping love story: luminous, thrilling, and achingly moving.
It’s the fourth remake of the 1937 original and an impressive directorial debut by Bradley Cooper, well-rounded by his own leading performance as Jackson Maine. A legendary country singer-songwriter, known for his deep Southern drawl and trademark rancher’s hat, we join him looking for another drink. He finds the only a drag bar open. The spotlight is on Ally (Lady Gaga) the only non-drag performer, giving a mesmerising rendition of ‘La Vie en Rose’. Lady G, known as a shapeshifter, here presents a new side to herself, one refreshingly natural. After the show they ‘connect’ by singing together in a car park, leading Jackson to invite Ally on stage before an arena of his adoring fans, where they perform her electrifying original song ‘Shallow’. Their natural and immediate chemistry takes you with them. This Star Is Born is born to be seen. (research Rachel Williams) Inseparable from the music they make, one beautiful two-part harmony is inevitable. Moreover and so rare, it is impossible, watching these two so naturally falling in love on screen, not to fall with them. Don’t dare miss.