Mulan
2020
**½
Director: Niki Caro
Cast: Yifei Liu, Donnie Yen, Tzi Ma, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An, Ron Yuan, Gong Li, Jet Li

When Rouran warriors, assisted by a powerful witch, attack the forces in the north, the Emperor of China orders every family to contribute one man to the fight. Hua Mulan is a young free spirited woman who runs away from home and disguises herself as a man in order to join the imperial army. Much like her breakthrough feature Whale Rider, Niki Caro’s live-action remake of the 1998 Disney animation tells a story of a young woman who has to be better than anyone else just to be accepted as she is. This is a well-staged and visually rich but oddly lifeless and joyless spectacle, which lacks the required sense of wonder to lift is above passable entertainment. The flat performances and clunky dialogue do not help.


Don’t Look Up
2021
***
Director: Adam McKay
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Timothée Chalamet, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande, Scott Mescudi, Himesh Patel, Melanie Lynskey, Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep

Two astronomers discover that a massive comet will end all life on Earth in little over six months unless the nations of the world act immediately, but they struggle to make anyone take them seriously. Adam McKay’s long and bombastic satire offers a dark and cynical look at today’s polarised America, where facts are a matter of opinion and the traditional and social media churn out an endless cycle of polished snapshots of reality. The film is clearly a commentary on the climate crisis, where the world experts have noticed that no amount of scientific data on climate change is enough to make some people believe in it. The resulting comedy is bold and thought-provoking but often more cringey than funny. The cast is impressive, even if many of the characters are broadly drawn and played. Scripted by McKay and David Sirota.


Dolemite Is My Name
2019
****
Director: Graig Brewer
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Epps, Craig Robinson, Tituss Burgess, Wesley Snipes

Inspired by the local Los Angeles street poets, a wannabe comedian Rudy Ray Moore creates a stage persona named Dolemite, whose foul-mouthed rhymes become a hit. To introduce his character to a wider audience, Rudy bets his financial future on a Dolemite movie. This very enjoyable and refreshingly light-hearted autobiographical comedy does not tell your typical tale of a show business star who succumbs to a life of excess. I don’t know how close to the truth this is, but Rudy is portrayed as an extremely driven but warm-hearted and unselfish entertainer, who never forgets where he comes from or who helped him get to where he is. As a filmmaker, Rudy is enthusiastic but untalented, much like Ed Wood, whose story was also written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who have scripted several biographical stories. The cast is excellent: Eddie Murphy gives one of his best performances in the lead and Wesley Snipes appears in a hilarious cameo as the movie’s director D’Urville Martin.


Da 5 Bloods
2020
**½
Director: Spike Lee
Cast: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen, Jean Reno, Chadwick Boseman

The Three Kings meets black history week in this entertaining but preachy and endlessly long drama about four black veterans who travel to Vietnam to bring back the remains of their fallen comrade and a crateful of gold bars they buried during the war. Spike Lee and Kevin Willmott rewrote an old spec script, and to be frank, the resulting story feels somehow out of whack, like it was originally set in the 1990s. This first manifests itself in the opening 30 minutes when one of the Bloods tells that his son just graduated from high school and another one discovers that he fathered a child 50 years ago who now looks like she’s 30. Credibility is further stretched when this group of 70-year-olds trek through the hot jungle with incredibly heavy backpacks. In any case, the performances are solid.


The Power of the Dog
2021
**½
Director: Jane Campion
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Thomasin McKenzie, Genevieve Lemon, Keith Carradine, Frances Conroy

Brothers Phil and George Burbank run a ranch together in 1920s Montana. When George marries Rose, a widow with a teenage son, Phil is determined to make their lives miserable. Jane Campion’s psychological drama is subtle and beautifully shot (in New Zealand), which is another way to say that its long and slow-paced story left me unsatisfied. The characters are difficult to grasp. Phil is a cruel and petty bully, until one moment he isn’t. George is mostly off screen but so oblivious to what’s happening that he has to be told that his wife has become an alcoholic. The performances similarly range from great (Dunst and Smit-McPhee) to typecast (Plemons) and mixed (Cumberbatch). Looking back, the story elements do add up, but the climactic twist doesn’t feel earned and it makes the whole feel less than the sum of its parts. Based on Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel.


The Kingmaker
2019
****½
Director: Lauren Greenfield
Cast:

An entertaining and captivating documentary on the stranglehold the Marcos family has on the Philippines, with the focus on Imelda Marcos, an almost comically unrepentant and oblivious prima donna. After 21 years as president/dictator, Ferdinand Marcos and his family fled the country in 1986. Five years later, the widowed Imelda Marcos and her children were welcomed back to the country, despite stealing an estimated 10 billion dollars of the state’s money. The family’s story comes full circle in 2016, when Imelda is campaigning for her son Bongbong, who is running to become vice president.


Wild
2014
***
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Keene McRae, Michiel Huisman, W. Earl Brown, Jan Hoag, Gaby Hoffmann, Kevin Rankin

Following the death of her mother, Cheryl Strayed’s life and marriage fell apart. In 1995, without any prior experience, she embarked on a gruelling 1,100 mile solo hike from the Mojave Desert to the Oregon–Washington state border along the Pacific Crest Trail. This autobiographical drama is based on Strayed’s book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, which Nick Hornby adapted to the screen. On a conceptual level, the film delivers a fascinating journey into self-discovery. In practice, however, it depicts a long and slightly underwhelming walk, which occasionally moves as slow as the protagonist. The story sadly cannot offer the dramatic impact and spiritual weight of Into the Wild. Reese Witherspoon gives a brilliant performance, though.


Dune
2021
****
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Zendaya, Chang Chen, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem

Duke Leto of House Atreides accepts the stewardship of the harsh desert planet Arrakis, the sole source of the most valuable substance in the universe. For some time, the Duke’s specially gifted son Paul has been haunted by grim visions of the future on Arrakis. Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965) is the first novel in a highly regarded but challenging science fiction series. David Lynch’s 1984 film adaptation was a dull and incomprehensible mess, which was liked by no one, and that includes the director. Denis Villeneuve’s version doesn’t let its audience off easy either. There is plenty of mythology and worldbuilding to get through in 150 minutes, and I’m not sure if all the numerous characters get their fair due. And this epic only covers the first half of the book. Where Villeneuve does excel, however, is in staging some mind-blowing set pieces, which are on a scale I have never seen before and feature amazing cinematography, music, sound design, and visual effects.


Red Notice
2021
**
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, Gal Gadot, Ritu Arya, Chris Diamantopoulos, Ivan Mbakop, Vincenzo Amato, Rafael Petardi

FBI profiler John Hartley assists Interpol to catch Nolan Booth, the world’s second best art thief, but they end up working together to reunite the mythical three eggs of Cleopatra before they get snatched by the world’s best art thief, the Bishop. This thoroughly forgettable heist/con movie cost 200 million dollars, which buys you a terrible script, second rate CGI and performances which look like they were phoned in. Thurber’s formulaic script introduces a new twist or double-cross every few minutes to keep the narrative in motion. This has a dual effect: every new twist reduces the element of surprise for the next one and every new double-cross reduces my sympathy for the two-faced characters. When it’s time for the final big reveal, the preceding 110 minutes stop making any sense. Ryan Reynolds appears as the same wisecracking character he played in Deadpool and Free Guy, Dwayne Johnson plays the same likeable hulk he always does, and the wooden Gal Gadot brings back the Themysciran accent she perfected in Wonder Woman.


Jungle Cruise
2021
**½
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Édgar Ramírez, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons, Paul Giamatti, Veronica Falcon

During the First World War, Dr. Lily Houghton and her brother McGregor travel to the Amazon, where they hire riverboat skipper Frank Wolff to take them to the mythical Tree of Life. However, they are not the only ones trying to find it. Disney’s big budget adventure is silly and entertaining but terribly unoriginal. It starts as a combination of The African Queen and The Mummy. As the trio travel further down the river, the whole thing turns into a Pirates of the Caribbean on the Amazon. Incidentally, this franchise is also based on a Walt Disney theme park ride. The movie relies too heavily on CGI, especially in the second half, and some of it (for example, the jaguar) looks pretty awful. Johnson and Blunt have good chemistry, though.


The Fault in our Stars
2014
**
Director: Josh Boone
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern, Sam Trammell, Nat Wolff, Willem Dafoe, Lotte Verbeek, Mike Birbiglia

Hazel’s thyroid cancer has spread to her lungs and Gus has lost his leg to osteosarcoma. As Hazel falls into depression, Gus deals with the situation with a devil-may-care attitude. These two teenagers meet in a support group and gradually fall in love. In this 21st century Love Story, both of the star-crossed lovers are seriously ill. This set-up should provide plenty of material for a moving tragic romance, but this derivative film left me cold, perhaps because everything feels so inevitable. Shailene Woodley is very good, but Elgort lost me in the first few seconds with his annoyingly flippant performance. Adapted from John Green’s 2012 novel


Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made
2020
**
Director: Tom McCarthy
Cast: Winslow Fegley, Ophelia Lovibond, Craig Robinson, Wallace Shawn, Kyle Bornheimer, Ai-Chan Carrier, Chloe Coleman, Kei, Caitlin Weierhauser

11-year-old Timmy Failure and his mom live in Portland. Instead of focusing on school work, Timmy runs a detective agency with Total, his imaginary polar bear. Tom McCarthy’s previous film, Spotlight, was a brilliant grown-up drama. This follow-up seems like a potentially entertaining family movie, but ultimately it has very little to offer to both parents and children. The detective agency turns out to be a metaphor rather than a plot device, and Timmy is a less than sympathetic protagonist. On the one hand, he is a true original who refuses to fit to the norm (his catchphrase is “normal is for normal people”). On the other hand, he is a rude, uncompassionate, and delusional little brat. Or he has high functioning autism, which is never clearly stated. Based on a novel by Stephan Pastis.


The Trial of the Chicago 7
2020
****
Director: Aaron Sorkin
Cast: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Sacha Baron Cohen, Daniel Flaherty, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Michael Keaton,
Frank Langella, John Carroll Lynch, Eddie Redmayne, Noah Robbins, Mark Rylance, Alex Sharp, Jeremy Strong

In August 1968, thousands of anti–Vietnam War protesters come to Chicago for the Democratic National Convention, where they inevitably clash with the police and National Guardsmen. Seven leaders of the organising groups (and one Black Panther) are tried for inciting riots. Aaron Sorkin’s fact-based drama sheds light on this biased political trial, which made a mockery of justice. The resulting film is gripping, shocking, and bitingly funny. The cast is excellent and Sorkin’s dialogue is reliably sharp.


Eternals
2021
**
Director: Chloé Zhao
Cast: Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Don Lee, Harish Patel, Kit Harington, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie

About 7000 years ago, Eternals, immortal superpowered beings, were sent to protect the population of Earth from monsters knowns as Deviants. After 500 years of peace, the Deviants return and the Eternals must regroup. Chloé Zhao earned a deserved Academy Award for her intimate drama Nomadland. Her follow-up is something totally different. This is the 26th Marvel Cinematic Universe release, and one of the weakest in the series, thanks to a combination of messy script, non-existent characterisation, and forgettable special effects. The story drags in many places. Every time the narrative begins to flow, we get another extended flashback or a massive exposition dump to keep us on track with the events and the world building. The Eternals are a racially, sexually, and physically diverse group of superheroes, so much so that they could’ve been created by a committee. Their movie is way too long, but not nearly long enough to give adequate screen time to ten individual characters.


Hunt for the Wilderpeople
2016
****
Director: Taika Waititi
Cast: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rhys Darby, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, Oscar Kightley, Stan Walker, Taika Waititi

Ricky Baker, a troubled 13-year-old moves in with new foster parents in a remote corner of New Zealand. After tragedy strikes, Ricky and his grumpy foster father end up at the centre of a national manhunt. Taika Waititi’s delightful comedy drama is based on Barry Crump’s novel Wild Pork and Watercress, but the film has the director quirky humour all over it. The script feels fresh and the characters are broadly but wonderfully drawn. Sam Neill and Julian Denison make a terrific odd couple.


Generation Wealth
2018
***
Director: Lauren Greenfield
Cast:

During her 25-year career, photographer Lauren Greenfield has documented the lives of the rich and famous and the wannabe rich and famous. In preparation for a book release, she looks at her back catalogue and discovers the dark underbelly of the American Dream, blind pursuit of wealth by any means necessary. Greenfield’s documentary starts as a captivating depiction of consumerist decadence. She then veers off to look at topics like sexualisation and plastic surgery, and then comes around to focus on herself, her relationship with her parents and her children. The resulting film is interesting but unfocused and overlong.


The Suicide Squad
2021
**
Director: James Gunn
Cast: Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Sylvester Stallone, Viola Davis, David Dastmalchian, Daniela Melchior, Michael Rooker, Jai Courtney, Peter Capaldi, Alice Braga, Pete Davidson

Amanda Waller assembles two new Task Force X teams for a suicide mission in the island nation of Corto Maltese. The first team is sacrificed as a decoy, while the second team attempts to enter a Nazi-era laboratory and destroy all evidence related to Project Starfish. Suicide Squad is so far the messiest and dullest release in the DC Extended Universe. For this sequel/reboot, DC have added a definite article and recruited James Gunn, whose light-hearted Guardians of the Galaxy became a massive MCU fan favourite. Gunn applies the same irreverent formula and adds a generous serving of carnage, but the whole thing feels forced and uninspired. I didn’t laugh at the jokes or gasp at the violence. All in all, I don’t see much improvement on the 2016 version. Comic book movies often end in a bloated and overlong fight between the hero and the villain, but this time the final 20 minutes are actually the best part.


Venom: Let There Be Carnage
2021
*
Director: Andy Serkis
Cast: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris, Reid Scott, Stephen Graham, Woody Harrelson

Just before he is to be executed, serial killer Cletus Kasady meets Eddie Brock, bites him, and accidentally absorbs part of Venom. This transforms him into Carnage, another symbiote monster, which means that this is yet another Marvel feature where the hero gets to battle an evil version of himself, and the two inevitably face each other in an overlong CGI climax. Venom was an uneven but partly enjoyable origin story. This follow-up is an absolute mess from start to finish, and one of the worst acted movies I can remember. The script by Kelly Marcel (and Tom Hardy) would fit on a postage stamp, and Andy Serkis rushes through it with breakneck speed and zero coherence. The interplay between Eddie and Venom, which was the best part of the original, now only produces some uncomfortably unfunny scenes. There is a lot of action, but not one memorable set piece. The movie is very short, which is something.


Zathura / Zathura: A Space Adventure
2005
**½
Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Josh Hutcherson, Jonah Bobo, Dax Shepard, Kristen Stewart, Tim Robbins

Danny and Walter are two bickering brothers who must learn to pull together when their house ends up in outer space after they start a game of Zathura. If this story sounds awfully familiar, that’s because it is based on Chris Van Allsburg’s book, just like Jumanji. Although Jon Favreau’s family movie is somewhat likeable and entertaining, I could not get past its lack of fresh ideas and the infuriating main characters.


A Most Violent Year
2014
***½
Director: J.C. Chandor
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Alessandro Nivola, Albert Brooks, Elyes Gabel, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Ashley Williams, Jerry Adler, Christopher Abbott

J.C. Chandor’s understated New York drama tells a fictional story, which feels totally authentic. It’s set in 1981, which had one of the highest crime rates in the city’s history. Against this backdrop, Oscar Isaac gives a commanding performance as an idealistic heating-oil dealer whose entire livelihood hangs in the balance when his fuel trucks get repeatedly hijacked. Like All Is Lost, Chandor’s previous film, this is another tale of one man against the elements, which in this case are crime, corruption, and prejudice.


No Time to Die
2021
****
Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Cast: Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes

Daniel Craig’s final appearance as 007 brings closure to the series, but most importantly to Casino Royale and Spectre. Craig’s movies have not all been great, but they have been unlike anything else in this franchise. The flippant and detached super agent of old has been replaced with a human-like character with personal stakes, and the dramatic events in one movie have carried over to the ones that followed it. In Craig’s fifth feature, James Bond reluctantly returns from retirement when a deadly bioweapon is stolen from a secret MI6 laboratory. He must reconcile with his girlfriend Madeleine Swann and confront his arch-enemy Blofeld and the villain of this piece, Lyutsifer Safin. This is a gripping and moving finale with some first class action set pieces. This is the longest release in the entire franchise, but it doesn’t really feel like it.


Free Guy
2021
**½
Director: Shawn Levy
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Lil Rel Howery, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Joe Keery, Taika Waititi, Britne Oldford, Camille Kostek

Guy is a lonely bank clerk who lives a mundane and repetitive life in Free City. Just when his luck is about to turn, he learns that he is not even a real person but a non-player character in a video game. This fantasy comedy is energetic, entertaining, and visually vibrant. What it is not is original or technologically believable. The script is a concoction of past movies. Guy’s story starts as mix between Groundhog Day and The Truman Show. When the movie delves deeper into the gaming world, I was regularly reminded of Ready Player One, Wreck-It Ralph, and its sequel Ralph Breaks the Internet.


Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
2020
***½
Director: Cathy Yan
Cast: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco, Ali Wong, Ewan McGregor

When the Joker breaks up with Harley Quinn, every wronged person in Gotham City wants to settle their personal score with her. This includes crime boss Roman Sionis, who agrees to spare her life in exchange for a diamond stolen by a teenage pickpocket. Harley Quinn was the sole bright spot in the utterly forgettable Suicide Squad. Nominally, this is the origin story of the Birds of Prey, a team of female superheroes, but really this is Harley’s movie. Apart from Shazam!, the DC Extended Universe has not become synonymous with fun and entertainment. However, Cathy Yan’s movie is pumped up with Harley’s insane, anarchic energy, and the outcome is either wacky and unpredictable or all over the place. In any case, it is enjoyable. Margot Robbie is excellent in the lead.


Meek’s Cutoff
2010
**
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Cast: Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Bruce Greenwood, Shirley Henderson, Neal Huff, Zoe Kazan, Tommy Nelson, Will Patton, Rod Rondeaux

In 1845, a wagon train of three families are heading towards the green valleys of Oregon. Without water in sight for weeks, the settlers become divided on who to trust to guide them out of the desert, their boastful guide or the native they captured. Kelly Reichardt’s snail-paced feminist Western has no beginning and no end. We don’t know where these people are coming from or where they end up. We see the middle part where they slowly trudge through the desert to the tune of the squeaky wagon wheel. It doesn’t sound terribly exciting, and it certainly isn’t at any point. The unforgiving Oregon landscape is the film’s biggest draw, although Reichardt has bafflingly decided to shoot it in the 4:3 aspect ratio.


Wind River
2017
****
Director: Taylor Sheridan
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Graham Greene, Kelsey Chow, Gil Birmingham, Julia Jones, Martin Sensmeier, Althea Sam, Teo Briones, John Bernthal

The past comes back to haunt a seasoned game tracker when he discovers the body of a teenage girl in the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. The FBI sends an inexperienced agent to investigate the murder. Taylor Sheridan’s fictional story sheds light on a real-life tragedy, namingly the high rate of missing and murdered indigenous women. This is a gritty, captivating, and nicely paced neo-Western where the harsh landscape is one of the main characters. Jeremy Renner gives a gruffy and wonderfully understated lead performance.


Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
2021
***½
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Cast: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Florian Munteanu, Benedict Wong, Michelle Yeoh, Ben Kingsley, Tony Leung

Shang-Chi has led a low-key life in San Francisco ever since he ran away from his brutal father, who trained him as an assassin. In the present day, he travels to Macao to protect his sister, but is forced to confront his old man, the wielder of the mythical ten rings. Shang-Chi, the Marvel comic book character who was created by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin in 1973, joins the MCU with this entertaining origin story. The main characters are well drawn and the first half delivers two terrifically physical action set pieces, on board a bus and on top a scaffolding. Awkwafina and Ben Kingsley provide the comic relief. However, the climactic showdown with the two massive CGI creatures is disappointingly messy and formulaic.


Marriage Story
2019
*****
Director: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Julie Hagerty, Merritt Wever, Azhy Robertson, Wallace Shawn, Martha Kelly, Mark O’Brien

In The Squid and the Whale and The Meyerowitz Stories, Noah Baumbach told partly autobiographical stories about broken families. Now he deals with the actual breakup, and it results in his most powerful film so far. Nicole is an actress who put her own Hollywood career on a backburner when she married Charlie, a renowned New York theatre director. Now the couple are breaking up and Nicole moves to Los Angeles with their 8-year-old son. The divorce proceeding begin amicably, but turn nasty, petty, and personal when lawyers get involved. Baumbach’s brutally honest and heart-breaking drama has utterly believable characters and a finely nuanced script. Johansson and Driver both give amazing performances, and Laura Dern won an Academy Award for her delicious supporting role as Nicole’s affable but conniving lawyer.


Spies in Disguise
2019
***
Director: Troy Quane, Nick Bruno
Cast: Will Smith, Tom Holland, Rashida Jones, Ben Mendelsohn, Reba McEntire, Rachel Brosnahan, Karen Gillan, DJ Khaled, Masi Oka

When Lance Sterling, a cocky super spy, is framed for stealing an attack drone he was supposed to retrieve, he must go on the run. He seeks help from Walter Beckett, a nerdy science wiz, who accidentally turns Lance into a pigeon. This unusual but entertaining animation offers a combination of The Incredibles and Valiant, if you will. The end result is not as clever and original as some of Pixar’s best work, but neither is it as formulaic and predictable as many other movies in the animation genre. Based on the 2009 animated short Pigeon: Impossible.


The Big Sick
2017
***½
Director: Michael Showalter
Cast: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff, Adeel Akhtar, Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant, Kurt Braunohler

Kumail’s traditionalist Pakistani-American parents want him to go to college and marry a Pakistani woman. What Kumail wants is to make it as a stand-up comedian and date whomever he wants. Things come to a head when his white ex-girlfriend Emily falls seriously ill. This comedy was scripted by its star Kumail Nanjiani and his real-life wife Emily V. Gordon. Although their script is highly autobiographical, the romantic twists seem somewhat formulaic. The more original and interesting part of the story is Kumail’s relationship with his own parents and those of Emily, warmly portrayed by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano.


The Meyerowitz Stories
2017
****
Director: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Elizabeth Marvel, Grace Van Patten, Candice Bergen, Adam Driver, Sigourney Weaver, Judd Hirsch, Rebecca Miller

Harold Meyerowitz has not been a great success as an artist or as a father to his three grown-up children. Danny and Jean are dedicated to their father, but get nothing in return. Their half-brother Matthew gets more love but resents his old man. Like in The Squid and the Whale, Noah Baumbach’s cinematic breakthrough, this dysfunctional family feels painfully real and bitingly funny. The performances are very enjoyable, especially Dustin Hoffman as the amusingly self-centred father and Adam Sandler as the shiftless but loving Danny. My only major complaint is that Jean’s part in the Meyerowitz stories is disappointingly brief.


Pelé
2021
***
Director: Ben Nichols, David Tryhorn
Cast:

Pelé is one of the most highly rated footballers in the history of the game. This informative matter-of-fact documentary focuses on the four World Cups in which he played for Brazil, winning three of them. The story starts in 1958, when a 17-year-old boy became a global football star, and ends in 1970, when Brazil were at their freescoring best. Outside the football pitch, Pelé provided little controversy or dissent, especially compared to Diego Maradona, but he did get some criticism for not using his power and position to speak against the dictatorship in Brazil.


The Intern
2015
***½
Director: Nancy Meyers
Cast: Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway, Rene Russo, Anders Holm, Andrew Rannells, Adam DeVine, Zack Pearlman, Jason Orley, Christina Scherer

Ben, a bored 70-year-old widower, joins a senior intern programme at a booming fashion e-commerce company, whose overstressed founder and CEO Jules attempts to juggle the demands and needs of her work, husband, and child. Nancy Meyers’ romantically flavoured feelgood film begins as an amusing fish out of water story but quietly evolves into a heart-warming comedy about friendship, respect, and empowerment. The two hours offer undemanding but entertaining wish fulfilment.


In the Heart of the Sea
2015
***
Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland, Ben Whishaw, Brendan Gleeson, Michelle Fairley, Gary Beadle, Frank Dillane

In search of inspiration for his novel Moby-Dick, Herman Melville interviews the last remaining survivor of Essex, a whaling ship which was sunk by a sperm whale in the southern Pacific Ocean 30 years earlier. Ron Howard’s historical drama is heavy on CGI, but it offers some gripping and believable depiction of life at sea. While the second half is the more harrowing part of the story, it does drag a bit. Charles Leavitt’s screenplay is based on Nathaniel Philbrick’s non-fiction book, although this Essex crew is curiously full of stock characters.


Rocketman
2019
****
Director: Dexter Fletcher
Cast: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Gemma Jones, Stephen Graham, Steven Macintosh, Tate Donovan, Charlie Rowe, Tom Bennett

In the late 1960s, a young piano prodigy named Reginald Dwight meets his life-long song-writing partner Bernie Taupin, changes his name to Elton John, and becomes one of the most recognisable pop stars of the 20th century. If last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody was a likeable but very formulaic pop star biopic of Freddie Mercury, this entertaining biographical drama offers something more interesting. This is not really a depiction of the life and career of Elton John, but an intimate and subjective portrayal of a successful but increasingly lonely man who must come to terms with his emotionally distant parents, sexual identity, drug and alcohol addiction, and self-loathing before he can find happiness. We hear many of his best known tracks, but they are staged as musical numbers and cleverly used to illustrate his emotional state at any given time. A new cut named (I’m Gonna) Love Me Again won an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Taron Egerton gives an excellent performance in the lead.


Luca
2021
***½
Director: Enrico Casarosa
Cast: Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Saverio Raimondo, Maya Rudolph, Marco Barricelli, Jim Gaffigan, Peter Sohn, Manna Massironi, Sandy Martin, Sacha Baron Cohen

For years, there has been unfounded fear between the people in the Italian coastal town of Portorosso and the sea creatures who live below the surface. A young sea creature named Luca runs away from home after his new friend Alberto shows him that he can transform into a human boy on dry land. This light and breezy Pixar animation is not original like Wall-E, groundbreaking like Inside Out, or irresistibly entertaining like Finding Nemo, but its writing and visuals maintain the studio’s high quality standard. The heart-warming story tackles familiar but important themes (dealing with loneliness, overcoming prejudices, and being true to yourself). The wrap-up may be a bit too neat and swift, but it’s good fun along the way.