Five decades in the making, this unforgettable concert film captures the magic of an artist at the peak of her powers.
Over two days at Los Angeles’ New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in 1972, Aretha Franklin recorded the legendary gospel album Amazing Grace, performing to a rapt audience, including the likes of Mick Jagger, the songs she sang in her childhood. Visionary director, Sydney Pollack had the insight to capture this truly momentous moment in musical history. His skill lay in capturing Franklin’s talent as she found herself back in an environment that nurtured her, surrounded by her real audience, moved deeper by the power in her voice.
Painstakingly reassembled by producer Alan Elliott, Aretha’s triumphant performance can finally see the light of day. At the centre of it, she seems at once completely invested and coolly removed. She pours out her songs, her voice flowing one into the next. Meanwhile her congregation sporadically throw their hands in the air, dance in the aisles, saunter in and out. Perfectly imperfect.
Amazing Grace: less a conventional documentary, more an astounding historical document, a rapturous living history to the magnitude of Aretha. (Research Chris Coetsee) Don’t miss Aretha or Ella (Wed 15th)
Nicholas Hoult’s tender portrayal anchors this fantasy-flecked account of the mind behind Middle Earth.
As a child, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (b: 3.1.1892. SA d: 2.9.1973. UK) befriends a group of fellow writers and artists at school. Their bond of fellowship grows with the years. When his mother dies prematurely, John is forced to relocate to the industrial heart of Birmingham where he is put into the care of the strict Father Francis. He meets and falls in love with Edith, said: the inspiration for Eowyn? (Lily Collins) but finds it difficult to commit to a leap of faith, turning his attention instead to his writing. When War breaks out, John’s fervent imagination turns his hellish trenches trauma into a tour of monsters and dragons as the world he knows and the fellowships he cherishes are threatened.
Tolkien wasn’t the first to unleash a world of elves and wizards, but fantasy literature, and now very firmly: film, has since leapt from minority interest to cultural phenomenon. Karukoski creatively provides a warming glimpse into the past of one of the literary world’s most successful authors, thankfully without over-glorifying him. (Research Chris Coetsee) Low key is the key to a great show from the two leads. Come.
Prepared to be wowed as Natalie Portman takes the stage, embodying a swaggering rock diva who tends to burn down everything in her path.
Raffey Cassidy plays Celeste, a teenage survivor of a school shooting. At a memorial for her deceased classmates, Celeste sings a song about her ordeal. The media attention transforms her into a star. Seventeen years later and Celeste, now played by Portman, is a pop music icon. She’s a drug-taker, day-drinking, entitled nightmare, who pretty much ignores her teenage daughter (weirdly, also played by Cassidy) and is a massive pain in the butt for her manager, played brilliantly by Jude Law.
“A Dark Star is Born” as Robbie Collin accurately coined; Bradley Corbet’s surging, shimmering music drama has all the veneer of Bradley Cooper’s Oscar swooner, but peel away the glossy finish and a far more sinister tale emerges. The film concludes with Portman singing rousing, electro anthems (all written by pop-powerhouse, Sia) as Celeste carves out a safe harbour in the blinding glare of the spotlight. This woman refuses to bear the burden of the film’s title - to be a voice of light. (Jack Whiting) Wow... over to you. See Natalie Portman’s breakout role - Leon (Sat 8th)
The fine dining of action films returns for another helping of exquisitely choreographed chaos. How can they possibly top the dizzying of Part 2 Oh boy, do they certainly try.
The man, the myth, the legend: that is Mr. John Wick is a retired hitman that strikes fear into his enemies (funny, considering how doe-eyed Keanu Reeves is naturally). Due to the escalating events of the previous chapter, concluding with him breaking House Rules, Wick has a $14m bounty on his head. Naturally, this attracts the attention of every contract killer in the area. No longer in favour with the underground assassins network headed up by Ian McShane, he must use all his wits to navigate his way out of NYC alive.
Taking cues from South Korean thrillers such as Oldboy and The Villainess, Chapter 3 is a rich, colourful spectacle. From the first punch to the final bullet, it’s truly transcendent action cinema. In an age when unconvincing computer effects and erratic camera work rule the ring, the dynamic duo of Reeves and stuntman-turned-director Chad Stahelski show us how it’s done. (Jack Whiting) Love that: “every contract killer in the area”... needs to be handy for the shops.
Laika is a name that absolutely needs to be remembered, the US cousins of Aardman are still chugging along, one painstaking stop-motion shot at a time. The degree of care that goes into every detail of these films is clear to see.
And Missing Link is no slouch. Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) plans to distinguish himself among London’s professional explorers, by procuring evidence that prehistoric beasties still walk among us. Upon receiving a letter off on spindly, stop-motion legs our hero goes, traveling to the woods where this behemoth resides. As it turns out, ‘Mr Link’ (or as he’s later called... Susan) turns out to be a very chipper mythical beast (Zach Galifianakis). He’s a gentle giant just looking for a home, and he’s surprisingly literal-minded.
This is one of those films where the destination is much less important than the journey, and the slower pacing of the third act allow us to savour the stunning vistas that establish each new setting. While not as grand or quite as exciting as Kubo and the Two Strings (their magnum opus) Missing Link is nevertheless a rare and wonderful specimen. (research Jack Whiting) Fantastic and very funny. Don’t miss.
Beanie Feldstein and Kaityln Denver deliver laugh after laugh in the best coming of age comedy since Superbad, or simply for ages, which ever rocks you.
Molly and Amy are the two no-hopers intent on making a name for themselves on the last weekend of term. Realising they should have worked less and partied more the girls set out on a mission to cram four years of fun into one last night.
Booksmart is the first major starring role for Feldstein, after scene-stealing performances in Lady Bird and Bad Neighbours 2, and she makes the absolute most of the opportunity, making every line a little bit funnier with her spirited delivery. Denver, less flashy but equally as essential, makes Amy the sturdy emotional backbone of the story. Both of them perfectly sell their half-cooked teenagers on the verge of beginning the journey of discovering the real-world is nothing like they expected…
Told from a wildly original, fresh and modern perspective, Booksmart is an unfiltered comedy about best friends and the bonds we create that last a lifetime. Capturing the spirit of our times, it’s a coming of age story for a new generation. (Research Chris Coetsee) Raise a glass to them, they’re going to need it.
The White Crow has to walk a tricky line between period drama and dance movie – think Step Up 2: The Soviets. It’s all in the execution, and thankfully, this film is more graceful than that joke.
Following the rise of legendary danseur Rudolf Nureyev and his defection from the Soviet Union to the West in 1961, the film is sumptuous in its depiction of ballet during the time period. Of course, a plié is only as good as the performer, and thankfully, Oleg Ivenko turns between earnest charm and thoughtless arrogance on a dime. Most importantly, boy can he dance.
Ralph Fiennes' ambitious third directorial effort moves between three different timelines: Nureyev’s birth on a train and his deprived childhood in Ufa, Central Russia; his ballet training in Leningrad (Fiennes also plays his mentor) and early days in the Kirov Ballet; plus his time in Paris with the Kirov on tour. All three times are meticulously reconstructed, and all the settings and interactions feel truly authentic. It’s no mean feat, but Ivenko slips into Rudolf Nureyev’s slippers with ease. A joy to watch (Jack Whiting) So... Come and watch, come dancers, come all.
The violence and dehumanisation of the drug trade collide with native tradition in directors Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra’s epic crime drama.
Following the duo’s sublime work on 2016’s Embrace of the Serpent, their latest feature is another exploration of wealth, power and the corruption they bring. Offering spirituality, intrigue and drama, this visually exquisite work chronicles a Wayuu family's rise and fall during the early days of illegal drug trafficking in northern Colombia.
Unlike many films about drug gangs, it doesn’t luxuriate in violence. It’s an unexpected take on the cartel crime thriller, concerning itself predominantly with the threat of brutality or its horrific aftermath, not the act itself. Gallego and Guerra care less about staging perfectly choreographed bullet ballets than showing the damage done to the spirit of a community.
Birds of a Passage is an emotional, searing tragedy of a society’s determination to hold on to traditional life. Framed as an elder recounting memories as a cautionary tale to future generations, it’s a powerful, innovative exploration of a profoundly beautiful culture and their pivotal time in Colombian history. (Research Chris Coetsee) Dangerous living, beautifully drawn. Don’t miss.
Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen make a surprisingly loveable double act in Jonathan Levine’s screwball, often touching comedy.
Theron plays Charlotte Field, the secretary of State to a feckless boob president who decides to make a run for the White House herself. Rogen is Fred Flarsky, a journalist who’s first seen infiltrating a white-supremacist gang and heartily shouting, “F*** (Daily Mail censored) the Jews!”
Fred bumps into Charlotte at a reception and uh oh... No? Yes! She was his babysitter when he was 13. Once the pleasantries are over, Field hires Flarsky to write jokes for her speeches on account of her needing to lighten up. Of course, he ends up charming the pants off her. But can something real develop between these polar opposites as they bond over Boyz II Men and dance to the soundtrack of Pretty Woman?
The result is a gleefully retro and raunchy funfest. That the rom and the com both land is a tribute to the leads. Sure, Rogen has played this kind of loveable schlub before, but here he hones it to perfection. And Charlize shows a cool, refreshing flair for comedy that plays effortlessly alongside Seth’s shtick. (Jack Whiting) Rom & Com indeed. Best night for miles.
If we’ve learnt anything from the insanely popular Bohemian Rhapsody, it’s that we should never take biopics for granted again.
Rocketman stars Taron Egerton as music legend Reginald Kenneth Dwight aka Elton John, Bryce Dallas Howard is Reg’s mum...!? Jamie Bell is Elton’s esteemed songwriting partner Bernie Taupin, and Richard Madden his manager John Reid. Director Dexter Fletcher, best known for taking over from Bryan Singer on the Queen biop: ‘Bo-Rhap’ (to us in the know) yet unlike the glossy Freddie parade, Dexter takes Rocketman in an audacious and unconventional direction, making it a far more satisfying and entertaining tale in the process.
Rocketman doesn’t shy away from Elton’s dark side of drug and alcohol abuse and depression, and treats his career as a surreal, out of body experience. The highlight is the piano-playing prodigy elevated high into the air during a rousing rendition of Crocodile Rock.
Egerton not only embodies Elton, but he does all of his own singing; it takes a moment to adjust your ears, but Egerton comes scarily close to the pop legend’s vocal range. I think it's gonna be a long long time before we see a biopic this flashy again. (research Jack Whiting) There is a god after all.
For fans of talking domesticated animals, it’s been a long three years since we last got to spend time with Max, Snowball, Gidget, and the gang. The wait is finally over.
Max (a Jack Russell voiced by Patton Oswalt) faces some major changes after his owner Katie gets married and now has a child, up to the point he becomes overprotective. On a family trip to the countryside, Max meets a farm dog named Rooster (voiced by Harrison Ford) and both attempt to overcome his fears.
Meanwhile, Gidget (a cat) tries to rescue Max's favorite toy from a cat-packed apartment, and Snowball (a rabbit) sets on a mission to free a white tiger named Hu from a circus.
As with the first surprisingly fun installment - not just content with slapping on the animal related gags - the sequel attempts to further explore the question every pet owner has wondered: what are my pets really up to when I’m not at home? Whether it really answers that question is another matter entirely. For now just soak up the silliness. (Jack Whiting) There’s lot’s of it, you may need a towel. Fabulous fun. Come.