A new teacher arrives in a classroom full of pre-teen students, but instead of asking each of the children about themselves, she asks them about their parents. What do they do for a living? What follows in microcosm is a satire of how the communist state worked in Eastern Europe, the teacher asks for favours from each of her students, simply based on the nature of their parents’ employment. Director Jan Hřebejk and writer Petr Jarchovský follow up their previous Czech-language dramas Divided We Fall and Kawasaki’s Rose with this darkly comic film that Indiewire’s David Ehrlich says is “A sardonic, richly seriocomic morality play that uses a delicate touch to explore why communism never seems to work out in the long run.
American Made is played by Tom Cruise and it centers on a true life thriller were he plays Barry Seal, an airline pilot asked by the CIA to run covert missions in Latin America who then becomes a drug courier for Pablo Escobar’s cartel before ultimately becoming a DEA informant to avoid jail time. So he’s a triple agent? Cruise reunites with Doug Liman, his director on the underrated Edge of Tomorrow, for this 1980s period piece that’s already getting strong reviews. Of particular note is the cocky swagger that Cruise brings to the character, something he’s been delivering on screen since Risky Business in 1983. American Made is more interesting as a showcase for the dateless elasticity of Cruise’s star power. It feels, for better or worse, like a film he could have made at almost any point in the last 30 years.”
Stronger stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Jeff Baumann, a real life survivor of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing who lost both of his legs and then struggled with his very public role as the face of the victims of the tragedy, he was honored at sports events, appeared on TV, and was lauded as a hero even as he struggled to deal with his own emotional trauma and bristled at the idea that anything he had done was particularly exceptional. The film is based on Bauman’s own memoir about his ordeal and Gyllenhaal became proficient using a wheelchair in an attempt to capture his experiences.
REBEL IN THE RYE
JD Salinger remains the great literary enigma of the 21st Century. Why did this author of such prodigious talent ultimately choose to release only one novel and three short story collections in his lifetime? Why did he stop publishing 45 years before his death and become a virtual recluse? Rebel in the Rye attempts an answer. It shows Salinger, Nicholas Hoult as he hones his craft at Columbia University in the late 1930s and develops the phony-hating character of Holden Caulfield before then fighting in World War Two for three years – an experience that profoundly unsettled the young author and cast a shadow over his subsequent work. Kevin Spacey plays Whit Burnett, the Columbia professor and editor of Story magazine who helped shape the young Salinger’s prose style, while Sarah Paulson is the literary agent who championed his work. Rebel in the Rye is the directorial debut of Danny Strong who cut his teeth writing films about recent history such as Recount, Game Change and Lee Daniels’ The Butler.
For many Stephen King fans, the definitive portrayal of It’s Pennywise, an evil clown that’s really a malevolent spirit that feeds off fear, was by Tim Curry in a memorable 1990 TV miniseries. So Bill Skarsgård has big clown shoes and pantaloons to fill. In this film version of the 1986 novel, It is much more clearly a metaphor for how powerful forces can divide and destroy a society, in this case the small town of Derry, Maine, by playing off people’s greed, ambitions, and fears as the evil spirit that manifests as Pennywise only appears to people in the form of something that will scare them the most. So for a group of children in Derry, the thing that scares them the most is an evil clown. And, like the children in Stranger Things, a TV shows clearly influenced by the original It novel and miniseries, these kids have to fight back against the evil facing them. If that sounds vague, it’s because twists abound, which are best left unspoiled here.
Mother! stars Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as a married couple who, at any superficial glance, appear to be enjoying connubial bliss. But then the husband invites another couple, played by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer to stay with them, and things go badly wrong. Things go very, very wrong. Mother! appears to have as many frights, if not more so, than Aronofsky’s previous foray into horror, Black Swan. Since that film was released in 2010, he’s only made one other, Noah (2014), an adaptation of the Biblical tale that polarised critics. What both of those films had in common was characters cast adrift by primordial forces over which they have no control and barely understand – and for at least Jennifer Lawrence’s ultimately suffering wife character in Mother! it appears to be much the same.
KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE
Matthew Vaughn won over critics with his spy thriller Kingsman: The Secret Service in 2015. Starring Taron Egerton as a street punk recruited by an elite covert intelligence agency dedicated to protecting Britain and wearing suits from Saville Row’s finest tailors, the first film managed both to send up spy film conventions (particularly Roger Moore-era Bond) and be an enthralling, suspenseful action film in its own right. In its sequel, Julianne Moore plays a criminal mastermind obsessed with the 1950s and dedicated to replicating that era’s aesthetic in her fashion and the design of her lair: a small-town Eisenhower-era ‘main street’ that just happens to be in the middle of a remote jungle. She’s part of The Golden Circle, a Spectre-like organization that wants to remake the world. This time Egerton and his fellow Kingsmen team up with their US counterparts, the Statesmen, including Halle Berry and Channing Tatum, to take on this threat to the global order.
THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE
The Lego Ninjago Movie is an elaborate homage to Asian cinema, whether the swords and sorcery wuxia films of Hong Kong, kung fu movies, ninja thrillers from Japan, or Godzilla-style kaiju monster films. Whether that means the attitude of the film will be more loving, as opposed to the slightly acidic, satirical takes of the other Lego movies, remains to be seen. Jackie Chan is onboard voicing Master Wu, the leader of a band of warriors who are taking on the evil Lord Garmadon, played by Justin Theroux. Dave Franco voices Lloyd Garmadon, a young warrior who is trying to escape his vile inheritance as the son of the villainous Lord and wants to make a stand against his father. Whether it will succeed as well as the first two films, both with critics and at the box office, remains to be seen.
A full year after it played at the Toronto and London film festivals in 2016, Una is set to arrive in cinemas. Ben Mendelsohn plays a convicted paedophile, Ray, who is confronted by Una (Rooney Mara), now grown, who he abused when she was 12 years old. He’s changed his name and has abandoned his old life, taken a well-paying job and moved to the suburbs with a wife who’s totally unaware of his criminal history. Una wants to figure out what her abuse meant and whether or not Ray feels remorse. Theatre director Benedict Andrews makes his film debut with Una, an adaptation of David Harrower’s 2005 play Blackbird, which most recently ran on Broadway in 2016 with Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams playing Ray and Una. The film does feel stagebound as a result, with many dialogue-heavy scenes set in and around the labyrinth of an office/factory complex where Ray now works.
GAGA: FIVE FOOT TWO
In this stripped-down, decidedly un-glam look at the personal life of Stefani Germanotta, the woman who would be Gaga. Directed by Chris Moukarbel, Gaga: Five Foot Two follows the popstar as she recovers from the mixed reviews critics gave her album Artpop and prepares to turn 30. The documentary will also explore Gaga’s interest in politics and her effort to create music that says something and is personally meaningful to her legions of fans, or “little monsters” as she calls them. And it gets dishy too, with Gaga talking about her tense relationship with Madonna, who she initially saw as a mentor but turned on her after Madonna, and many music lovers, noted the similarities between Express Yourself and Born This Way. How Moukarbel presents all this should be fascinating, his 2012 debut documentary Me @ The Zoo used found footage taken from social media to tell a story about connection in the age of Twitter and Instagram