If you’re unnerved by films that exploit real-life tragedy for dramatic momentum, Hotel Mumbais is not going to alleviate your worry as armed terrorists shoot down hotel guests in India like fish in a barrel.
That said, it is an excellent white-knuckle thriller, with a Hitchcokian feel for suspense and a documentarian’s eye for detail to the events that transpired over several days in November 2008, as guests and members of staff at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel fight to survive.
An affluent couple (Nazanin Boniadi and Armie Hammer) leave their newborn upstairs with the nanny (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) to enjoy their dinner date in the hotel restaurant. A high-rolling Russian (Jason Isaacs) plans to spend the evening cavorting with local escorts. The heroic hotel employees include the head chef (Anupam Kher) and a Sikh waiter (Dev Patel) who shows up to work that day without proper footwear but begs to stay, needing the shift.
The callousness with which the terrorists operate is palpable and conveyed with a degree of verisimilitude that truly frightens. Hotel Mumbai is a clockwork thriller, but boy, is it hard to watch. (research Jack Whiting). Come and try - all the same, from the edge of your seat.
Get ready to dive into another aquatic comedy ala Swimming with Men, only French.
Already a smash hit across the Channel, this French-language water polo comedy takes the hoary cliché of the reluctant coach who is drafted in to train a bunch of charismatic no-hopers and it adds a gay twist. Swimmer Matthias Le Goff (Nicolas Gob) uses a gay slur on TV and, as public penance for his sins, is forced by the sport’s governing body to coach a largely useless gay water-polo team dubbed The Shiny Shrimps, who have no interest in winning but only in being fabulous and having fun.
These are themes painted in the broadest strokes, and are so on the nose it’s borderline offesnive, yet the film benefits from writer/director Cédric Le Gallo’s inside-track experience, with the depicted team mostly feeling like a band of actual human beings rather than a box-ticking collection of queer clichés. One of the players is married with two little kids, named Gaspard and Noé – a gag for the French-arthouse fans there. This moderate film treads water just fine. (research Jack Whiting) We hated Swimming With Men, but this is French, sharp and genuinely funny. So, safe to dip your toe in.
It’s Apocalypse Now in space as Brad Pitt goes from cool stuntman to spaceman in James Gray’s rich, contemplative science fiction opus. Prepare to go interstellar.
Gray’s films are typically detached affairs (The Lost City of Z being a tough nut to crack, but well worth the patience) however with Ad Astra, Gray and Pitt concoct an emotional, and thoroughly engaging journey into the cosmos. Pitt is Roy McBride; he is immune to fear, or maybe jaded by the prospect of pain, and so the ideal candidate to venture to a NASA communications base on Mars, and coax his missing-believed-dead father, Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones) back from the rings of Neptune and a long-term research mission named The Lima Project.
The visual ravishments are plentiful, and Gray draws new aesthetic life from the extremely well-worn iconography of space suits, satellites and star-dappled vistas of the sublime infinite. Ad Astra is a lament on the things we will never grasp in our relatively meagre lifetime. It is also a fantastic voyage into the unknown, and one of the finest sci-fi films made for modern big screen cinema. (Jack Whiting) Come in the light of Silent Running (1972) on Wednesday 9th.
From a bestselling book series by Terry Deary to a BAFTA-winning TV series, Horrible Histories challenges itself to a big-screen adaptation
Keeping the grotesque moments and toilet humour of the original stories, the film reiterates what Horrible Histories aims to do: explore the delightfully darker details of British history. The time is circa 54 AD, set after the death of emperor Claudius (Derek Jacobi, returning to the role again after the 1976 BBC series). Within the backdrop of a power-struggle between Nero (Craig Roberts) and his mother (Kim Cattrall), it focuses on our fictitious teenage protagonist, Atti (Sebastian Croft). After an unfortunate incident selling fake gladiator sweat, which turns out to be horse wee and is poured over the Emperor Nero, Atti is faced with a horrifying punishment: exile to Britain. Captured by Orla (Emilia Jones), the Celtic daughter of a chieftain (Nick Frost) who believes she is incapable of fighting in battle against the Romans, Orla uses her prisoner to demonstrate otherwise. Director Dominic Brigstocke took inspiration from Monty Python and Blackadder - believing in the “great tradition of the British making fun of their history”. Although not very cinematic, it’s certainly humorous.
It’s finally here, the film that the Rex was built to show. Julian Fellowes has visited us twice and remains a family friend of the Rex.
A few years after the acclaimed series’ end, the period drama set in the famed fictional Yorkshire country estate makes its big screen debut. With creator Julian Fellowes back on board, it’s 1927 and Downton is turned upside down when Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) is informed that King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James) will be staying the night. At first excited by the news of royal company, giddiness turns to outrage once the downstairs staff hear that King and Queen will bring their own servants with them. The formidable Countess of Grantham (played wonderfully by Maggie Smith) is also dismayed to hear that the Queen has brought her lady-in-waiting and a Crawley cousin Lady Bagshaw, (introducing the A-lister’s A-lister: Imelda Staunton), with whom she has a longstanding feud. The royal visit unleashes ‘scandal, romance and intrigue,which could leave the future of Downton hanging in the balance’. (research Rachel Williams) Oh dear... You wont miss it so the there’s no point in further encouragment. Just come and have done with it.
Romance’s brave new world is debated in a snapshot of the bohemian Parisian publishing world.
When controversial author Léonard (Vincent Macaigne) delivers his latest book to his editor Alain, Léonard’s lover, the actress Selena (Juliette Binoche) is afraid her husband, Alain, will recognise the participants of the book’s affair as “Non-Fiction.” (so far so french)
Set against the backdrop of the evolve-or-die 21st-century world of publishing where Alain presides. The film opens up beyond its world of relaxed beatnik dinner parties full of drinking and debating to examine what keeps this couple together and what may eventually tear them apart.
Hearkening back to an era of French cinema loaded with literate dialogue, Non-Fiction is not just about the publishing society, it is an essential part of it. It assumes, without prejudice, its audience has the same intellectual and cultural touchstones as its characters (so far so french). It is sharp, sly and almost old-fashioned in its narrative straightforwardness yet broad-stroked with literary layers.
Secrets and sparks a plenty, it’s a warm, humane story about the messy business of life which, every so often, reveals moments of unexpected joy. (Research Chris Coetsee) And it is gorgeous in narrative and character, so come. In fact, don’t miss.
The concept of being uprooted – be it literally or metaphorically – lies at the heart of Shola Amoo’s The Last Tree.
Femi has a peaceful life in the idyllic Lincolnshire countryside, where he lives with his white foster mother. His sense of self changes drastically when he moves to a diverse, deprived area of south London.
We leap forward a few years to find Femi (now an imposing Sam Adewumni) surly and street-hardened, if not entirely assimilated: He tells his friends he listens to Tupac, though it’s The Cure that pulses through his headphones. When small-time local gangster Mace (Demmy Ladipo) takes an interest in the rudderless teen, an age-old fork in the road is reached.
There are obvious comparisons between Amoo’s film and Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight: both focus on concepts of black masculinity and the struggle to pull away from darkness and find your own light. The lyrical style of The Last Tree, too, feels as though it has to have been inspired by Jenkins’ work, although Amoo’s film speaks to his own personal experiences. The Last Tree is a warm film with delicate performances. (Jack Whiting) Come and see.
Executively produced by the Sundance Kid himself, Robert Redford, The Mustang is a soulful drama following a prisoner’s experience training wild horses
Worth seeing for the gorgeous Matthias Schoenaerts’ performance alone, the Belgian actor plays Roman Coleman, hardened by years spent in U.S. prison (much of it in solitary confinement). “Not good with people” and better suited to solitude, Roman is disinterested in having to re-enter the general prison population in Northern Nevada. Based on a real rehabilitation program, Roman is one of a dozen inmates selected to help train wild mustangs. While shoveling horse manure, he approaches a horse furiously banging against a locked door, staring at the animal in wonder. ‘Old-time rancher’ Myles (the so too gorgeous: Bruce Dern) the stableman, and after giving him a telling off, picks up on Roman’s instinctive-connect with this horse. Pairing the two angry creatures together, Roman and the mustang embark on a journey, full of pained moments of frustration but of tender self-discovery. Lyrical and naturalistic, The Mustang explores how we heal through the process of connecting with another being, whether it be woman, man or animal. (research Rachel Williams) But not all at once...
Come for the Dern/Schoenaerts screen. It’s been dismissed - SO Don’t miss.
An illustrious cast led by Nicole Kidman and (Baby Driver’s) Ansel Elgort deliver this morose encounter with the unhappy and the unstable.
Translating a 750 page 2013 Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Donna Tartt into a 150 minute movie is no easy chore (but easier for us at 90 minutes). Some argue that bad books actually make better movies than good ones. Extraordinary novels prove particularly tough nuts to crack for adapters. Gallantly(?) taking it on is director John Crowley.
Already abandoned by his alcoholic actor father, Theo Decker is made an orphan when his beloved mother perishes in a museum bombing. With the world having stolen what was most precious to him, Theo steals something from the world. One which, by saving, keeps his mother close. It is Carel Fabritius's 17th century painting The Goldfinch. Taken in by a wealthy Upper East Side Mrs. Barbour, Theo’s life begins to unravel.
Shot in golden, burnished tones by cinematographer-god Roger Deakins, The Goldfinch is notably one of the year’s most visually gorgeous films. Yet somewhat haunting, somewhat daunting, it stutters to flight as an ambitious, dreamlike enigma. (Research Chris Coetsee) Gorgeous indeed. Breathtaking on our big screen. Come, start wide awake.
An era-defining film that Hollywood didn’t know it needed; Hustlers is female empowerment writ large as J-Lo and co. strut their stuff.
Adapted from a magazine article about a scam perpetrated by a group of dancers at a New York strip club, Lorene Scafaria’s wildly entertaining comedy offers both a welcome twist in the crime thriller genre, and a “I can’t believe this actually happened” true-story drama in one clever and subverting package.
“This whole country’s a strip club.” This is the grand philosophy of dancer Ramona (Lopez) you’re either the ones throwing the money, or you’re the ones it from a pole. The original article frames the women in a Robin Hood contest; drugging and robbing Wall Street one creep at a time to afford a better life for themselves and their families at a time of financial disarray. Here, it plays out with the slickness of a Steven Soderbergh thriller; this all sounds headier than Hustlers’ marketing would have you believe, but rest assured this is a tremendously entertaining film, and one of the year’s sleeper hits. (research Jack Whiting) We pushed to get this in the programme, so come sisters, don’t be sorry you missed it.
Dora the Explorer is a teen in this live-action adventure, brought to life by the magnetic Isabela Moner
Having grown up in the Peruvian rainforest with her archaeologist father (Michael Peña) and zoologist mother (Eva Longoria), Dora (Moner) is free spirited, extremely energetic, and up for any adventure. Aside from the one she must now embark on. Instead of bringing Dora along on a mission to uncover Parapata, the lost city of gold, her parents ship her off to school in LA (perhaps the scariest task yet). Despite only knowing her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg), Dora’s positive outlook in any situation is infectious, with her desire to learn and spontaneous singing (Moner manages to make it endearing). We don’t get to see Dora adapt to high school for long, though, as she and her fellow outcasts, Sammy (Madeleine Madden), Randy (Nicholas Coombe) and Diego are kidnapped by mercenaries. Thankfully the explorer Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez) helps them escape, and the group find themselves in a location reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The real mission begins: find Dora’s parents and uncover the lost city of gold. An unexpectedly entertaining family film. (Rachel Williams) Looks fab. Come.
Richard Ladkani's eco-thriller ventures into the front line fight to save the planet’s most endangered sea mammal.
The swim bladder of the Mexican totoaba fish is rich in collagen. In China, it is believed to possess a miraculous skin rejuvenation power to make us look younger (uh oh). On the black market, a swim bladder is more valuable than gold, and can sell for tens of thousands. Showing in Competition at Sundance, Sea of Shadows follows the attempts by a group of conservationists to stop the illegal totoaba trade in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. Fighting against this illegal multi-million-dollar business is not a healthy idea.
Peppered with smugglers, eco-warriors, the Chinese mafia and corrupt government officials, this film packs all the intensity of a Hollywood blockbuster/thriller (without The Rock’s greased pecs) into its 104 minutes. Humbling as it is heart-pounding, it’s a documentary which cuts through the walls that are so easily erected by talk about the environment, reminding us that we all might have the ability to make a difference. (Research Chris Coetsee) Brilliant Chris. Ability? Without visibility, without looking up and out, it might as well be just another precious full moon missed on night-fuelled revels. Who gives a fish…
A master class in blending, Ghostbusters is the ultimate horror comedy.
In the prime of their Saturday Night Live heyday, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis, who all contributed to the script and improvised many scenes, play three down on their luck parapsychologists. When a strange light begins to emit from Sigourney Weaver’s fridge! This turns out to be a doorway to another dimension, attracting all kinds of spooks. The team kick start the business of catching these things, practically demolishing the apartment block along the way.
It isn’t just Murray’s comic timing that holds up to this day; the special effects that bring the apparitions to terrifying life almost steal the film from under the sarcastic leads (one particular librarian still gives me nightmares). Who can forget such memorable monsters: a fifty-foot walking marshmallow, a flying booger, and a Sheena Easton lookalike in bubble wrap? Imagination on overload. (research Jack Whiting) Halloween Schmalloween. It is as fresh and as silly as it ever was. Come.
Just when the zombie sub-genre was shuffling back into the ground, hipster filmmaker Jim Jarmusch comes along and digs it up again.
Jarmusch stalwarts Bill Murray (Broken Flowers) and Adam Driver (Paterson) play Cliff and Ronnie, respectively. These two small town police officers banter amiably in their squad car and check in with their partner, Mindy (Chloe Sevigny), back at Centerville HQ. Their wake-up call happens when the globe takes a spin on its axis, night never falls and in a forever daylight the dead rise from the cemetery, demanding what they wanted most in life: coffee, WiFi and “especially chardonnay.” Two zombies, played by Sara Driver and Iggy Pop, make for stand out corpses.
The blood-filled carnage is good for business for the town’s undertaker, Zelda Winston, played by Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive) in the film’s most outrageously entertaining performance as a samurai from outer space.
The ever increasing in-jokes, and the smug, self referential, not to mention overtly deadpan tone doesn’t exactly ease in non-Jarmusch enthusiasts Undead aside, this is a Jarmusch film, for better or worse. (Jack Whiting)