Category Archives: Entertainment
When I first met Marcus Preece in Birmingham in the mid-1980s it was rare to find an aspiring author among ska and punk musicians. But he produced screenplays and short stories and eventually earned his living as a writer in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Marcus, who has died aged 53 after suffering from a series of blackouts, was born in the town of Mount Isa, north-west Queensland, Australia, to which his parents, Bevan Preece, a builder from Malvern, Worcestershire, and Phyllis (nee Bracken) a secretary from Dublin, had moved the year before, so that Bevan could work in the copper mines. In 1970, the family returned to Britain because Phyllis’s father was unwell and the family settled in East Grinstead, West Sussex.
What are the ingredients of a smash movie or track in 2017? Embrace nostalgia, follow the superstars, and piggy-back on the social networks …
How do you make a hit? This is the question I have posed to dozens of entertainment executives, pop-culture historians and academics over the past few years. Some of them claimed to know. Others maintained that such knowledge was impossible. But the most interesting things I learned weren’t the variables of some mythic formula, but rather how the shifting rules of cultural popularity are a window into the way the world works, and how it is changing.
If the media revolution of the past generation could be summed up in one word, it would be “more”. The number of opportunities for artists and creators has soared as the internet opened new markets around the world and made possible new media, such as self-published ebooks, and technology, such as ever-cheaper cameras and video-editing software. But the sheer supply of creativity has made breakout success more difficult in just about every industry. In 2000, more than 90% of new television shows survived to year two; today, 50% of shows are cancelled before their second birthday. Despite the surge in new films – which have increased by a factor of seven since the early 80s – Americans bought 200m fewer movie tickets in 2016 than in 2002. Little surprise, then, that we are living in a heyday of flops: 27 of the 30 biggest box-office bombs in Hollywood history have come out since 2005.
Barry Jenkins’s Oscar-nominated coming-of-age film is a heartbreaking, uplifting, minor-key masterpiece
“Who is you?” This question echoes throughout Moonlight, the breathtaking second feature from Medicine for Melancholy director Barry Jenkins. A coming-of-age story about a young man from a hardscrabble Miami neighbourhood, this kaleidoscopic gem focuses on three periods of its subject’s life, chaptered by the different names and identities he assumes, or is given – “Little”, “Chiron” and “Black”. Lending heartfelt voice to characters who have previously been silenced or sidelined, Moonlight is an astonishingly accomplished work – rich, sensuous and tactile, by turns heartbreaking and uplifting. The first time I saw it I swooned; the second time I cried like a baby. I can’t wait to see it again.
Inspired by playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney’s postgraduate theatre project “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue”, Jenkins’s film opens with a scrawny kid nicknamed “Little” (Alex Hibbert) being chased into a derelict house from which he is rescued by Juan (Mahershala Ali). Imposing yet gentle, Juan is a drug dealer whose addicted clients include Little’s increasingly bedraggled mother, Paula (Naomie Harris). Aided by his nurturing partner, Teresa (Janelle Monáe, who also co-stars in Hidden Figures; see review overleaf), Juan takes a parental interest in this lost boy, who forlornly asks: “Am I a faggot?”
Andrea Arnold’s skewering of the American dream gains extra resonance from recent events, while Matthew McConaughey’s career comeback stumbles
At one point early in American Honey (Universal, 15), Shia LaBeouf’s midwestern misfit ringleader gestures to his baggy flannel trousers with broad, garish braces and asks if they’re “too Donald Trumpish”. What may once have been conceived as a throwaway cultural reference is now gasp-inducingly on the nose. British director Andrea Arnold’s wild, whirling, furious American road movie is a pre-emptive vision of Trump’s America, gazing upon the red state poverty and pride that enabled the orange one’s presidency and will be further disabled by it.
Following the misadventures of Star (the remarkable newcomer Sasha Lane), a young, directionless woman of colour, after she falls in with LaBeouf’s magazine-hawking cult of doomed youth, it’s a vividly impressionistic film rather than a rhetorical one. But its political undertow is brash. From the Confederate flag bikini worn by Riley Keough’s spite-fuelled queen bee to the white good guy stetsons worn by a crew of aged, sexually predatory cowboys, to the sprinkler-soaked suburban lawns that put a civil front on toxic white prejudice, Arnold twists age-old iconography into a contemporary reflection of the tainted American dream. She’s not afraid to be unsubtle, and her boldness reaps exhilarating rewards over nearly three hours. We’ve seen a lot of this landscape on screens, yet rarely painted with such hot, fervid visual and sonic imagination.
Even Anna Chancellor can’t rescue this dire dramedy about a woman with five days to live
Exactly zero of the jokes land in Joan Carr-Wiggin’s comedy-drama about a woman who finds out she has five days to live. Grace (Anna Chancellor) vows to finally read Middlemarch (out loud, no less) and enjoy her last few days with her teenage daughters and sweet, bumbling husband (The Vicar of Dibley’s James Fleet). Chaos ensues when her Pulitzer-prize winning ex-husband (John Hannah, doing his best Peter Capaldi impression) shows up to “win Grace back”. Yes, the exposition is that blunt.
Unfortunately, even Chancellor, so brilliant and sharp as Lix Storm in BBC2’s newsroom drama The Hour, can’t save this undignified affair, gritting her teeth through writer-director Carr-Wiggin’s cringeworthy script.
Michael Keaton stars as Ray Kroc, the man who turned McDonald’s into a global force, but this is flavourless stuff
If Morgan Spurlock’s gross-out documentary Super Size Me exposed the dangers of the McDonald’s Big Mac, The Founder is the fast-food franchise’s wholesome origin story. An attempt to recast its Henry Ford-style speedy system and memorable golden arches as hallmarks of all-American decency (and capitalist efficiency), John Lee Hancock’s bland biopic offers a sanitised and sympathetic take on the burger chain’s beginnings and the man who turned it into a multimillion-dollar enterprise.
Michael Keaton stars as Ray Croc, a persistent, Machiavellian salesman weaned on self-help tapes, who rebranded and franchised the San Bernardino burger bar started in 1940 by brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch respectively). “Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent,” says Keaton’s Croc to the McDonalds, though the opposite seems to be the film’s ominous kernel of truth.
This drama about a trio of African-American women doing maths wonders for Nasa has few subtleties, but is done with such verve it’s hard to dislike
Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe are Katherine Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, a trio of Nasa scientists who each played their part in sending astronaut John Glenn (the first American to orbit the Earth) into space in 1962. These three are fun, fast-talking and fabulously coiffed (thanks to costume designer Renee Ehrlich Kalfus). They’re also African American women, which perhaps explains why this nugget of history has remained untold until now. Sure, some of it feels a little obvious, but with its “based on a true story” title card, cartoon palette and bouncy Pharrell (co)-penned soundtrack, this splashy, feelgood period piece is every bit as enjoyable as a best picture Oscar-nominated blockbuster could hope to be.
The genius of Theodore Melfi’s film is not in the originality of the script – as far as prestige pictures go, its dramatic and comedic beats are easy to anticipate – but in the novelty of the story and the liveliness of the performances. Each leading lady gets her own arc, though we mostly stick with Katherine, a brilliant mathematician and mother of three with excellent cat-eye glasses, who must brush off everyday office racism in order to prove herself to her stern but otherwise tolerant boss Al Harrison (Kevin Costner). This is Henson’s film, though the supporting cast are uniformly excellent, in particular Moonlight’s Mahershala Ali as Katherine’s dashing love interest, a gentle, serious man impressed and only a little intimidated by her intelligence.
The country’s most expensive co-production to date is a visual treat, complete with a grizzled Matt Damon, but don’t expect any complex plotting
On the hunt for precious “black powder”, rogue mercenaries William Garin (a grizzled-looking Matt Damon) and Pero Tovar (Game of Thrones’s Pedro Pascal) are captured by The Nameless Order, an ancient military operation occupying the Great Wall of China. The order are preparing to battle the mythical Tao-Tie – giant, green, lizard-y looking monsters that are resurrected every 60 years to teach the Chinese a lesson about unchecked greed and swarm the wall in their millions.
Commander Lin (the film’s sole speaking female character, played by Jing Tian) takes a shine to William, pointing out their similarities. However, though both are dab hands with a bow, the two fight for different reasons; he for food and money, she for trust and honour, a lesson William inevitably learns by the film’s conclusion (perhaps making an oversimplified case for Chinese communism).
Keanu Reeves is back in full force for an elegantly violent sequel
“John Wick is a man of focus, commitment and sheer will. The stories you hear about this man, if nothing else, have been watered down”, or so the legend goes. In the follow-up to the slick 2014 action-thriller, former hitman Wick (Keanu Reeves, more magnetic than ever) is ushered out of retirement once again. Attempting to find peace as part of his new life in upstate New York, he is forced to honour the blood oath he once made to Italian playboy Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio).
Wick’s bounty lives in Rome, the perfect setting for a Bond-style montage of Reeves trying on tailored suits and meeting a “sommelier” who deals firearms instead of fine wines, and a breathlessly violent chase through the catacombs, complete with thrashing heavy metal soundtrack. With their jewel-toned neon lighting and often elegant settings (look out for an art gallery cameo and a gorgeous ancient Roman bath), there’s poetry and pathos in the film’s balletic fight sequences, even if the body count begins to become difficult to stomach as the film races towards its bloody climax.
Sally Potter’s The Party, Gurinder Chadha’s Viceroy’s House and a magical refugee story from Aki Kaurismäki stood out. But this year’s real Berlinale finds came from Chile and China…
The Berlinale has always had a reputation as a festival that takes its politics seriously, but this year the politics were bound to be a little more urgent than usual. This was, after all, the first A-list European festival to happen since the Trump inauguration. As competition jury member Diego Luna, the Mexican star of Rogue One, pointed out: “There’s no better place to send a message than Berlin” – a city that knows its fair share about the futility of walls.
The jury – headed by director Paul Verhoeven and including Maggie Gyllenhaal and artist Olafur Eliasson – may or may not choose the most political films in contention, but they will have noticed how many films seemed to use the metaphor of a social event to make a point about the state of the world. The strategy worked beautifully in The Party, by British writer-director Sally Potter. Simple and concise, this chamber comedy, shot in black-and-white, is set at the London house of a woman (Kristin Scott Thomas), who has just been named shadow health secretary. As her husband (Timothy Spall) mooches around ashen-faced, friends – played by, among others, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy and a supremely acidic Patricia Clarkson – arrive, and the revelations start pouring out. It’s brittle, intelligent stuff, like Pinter crossed with Feydeau farce, and one of the most enjoyable things here.
A nostalgic look at Glasgow’s Chemikal Underground, complete with interviews with key players from the Delgados, Franz Ferdinand and more
Intercut with VHS and Super-8 archive inserts, Niall McCann’s documentary is part concert film, part nostalgic love letter to Glaswegian indie record label Chemikal Underground and the Scottish socialism of its 1990s heyday. Members of the Delgados, Franz Ferdinand and Bis offer colourful anecdotes, though even superfans may find their patience waning when Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite starts spouting platitudes about how music “can’t be quantified”.
Far more interesting than their personal ruminations are the musicians’ reflections on Glasgow as a post-industrial creative hub and their memories of the welfare state that once enabled the scene to thrive. “Nobody I knew was idle,” remembers Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos, in a reminder that it was dole money that allowed artists to “resource themselves” and labels to take risks.
The American director on real-life cases of mass psychogenic illness that inspired her debut feature, The Fits
The Fits is the debut feature from American director Anna Rose Holmer. It follows 11-year-old boxing enthusiast Toni as she attempts to join her local Cincinatti all-girl dance team, which then begins to be affected by a mysterious outbreak of fainting fits. The film is in cinemas from 24 February.
How did you get the idea for the film?
I was producing a documentary, Ballet 422, where we followed a young choreographer and watched dancers learn their moves with this unspoken body exchange. I started thinking about adolescence as a choreography that we learn in a similar way, by body mirroring, by looking at others to define how we move, how we talk, how we think about ourselves. I’d always been fascinated by cases of mass psychogenic illness, and something clicked.
She is the darling of independent French cinema who’s also been a Bond girl. On the eve of her latest film – and as she becomes a mother for the first time – she tells Will Lawrence how she balances her crippling anxiety with an exhibitionist streak
A cold and overcast day in London suddenly feels a little warmer thanks to an impromptu interlude from Léa Seydoux. The French actor, who is heavily pregnant when we meet, has just broken into song, filling the room with lyrics from Down Here I’ve Done My Best by American gospel group Take 6. There’s no R&B swagger in her version, mind you – she whispers the words rather than belts them out – but she feels that their content is apt. “The guy who is singing,” she tells me once she’s finished her recital, “he is saying that he’s done his best and right now he has no regrets. I feel like that now. I don’t feel like a victim and I like that.”
I have got lighter as I’ve got older. I know you have to enjoy the moment
The Trump travel ban has led to outcry and rallies for Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, nominated for an Academy Award
In a normal Oscars week, Jeremy Zimmer would expect to be wearing his best tux, rubbing shoulders with the biggest stars in Hollywood and grabbing canapés with one hand while holding a glass of champagne in the other. This year he expects to be holding nothing more glamorous than a placard.
“Don’t get me wrong, I like lobster rolls and handfuls of lamb chops as much as anyone, and more than most,” Zimmer – the head of United Talent Agency, which represents the cream of Hollywood, from Angelina Jolie to Will Ferrell – told his staff in an email. “However, this seems like a moment for us, at UTA, to speak up and put our money where our mouth is.”
He always seems coiled and controlled, fleshing out minor TV and movie roles until he fills the screen
In Hollywood, as in life, there are “overnight successes” that closer inspection reveals have been years in the making. Oprah wasn’t born Oprah, you know? It takes time to become fully formed, and no US actor embodies that more than Mahershala Ali. This is his moment.
Ali, 42, is the hot favourite to win the best supporting actor Oscar next weekend, for his role in Barry Jenkins’ masterpiece Moonlight (he won the SAG award last week, delivering an emotional acceptance speech touching on the perils of persecution). But not everyone has seen him in that movie (a deeply nuanced performance), so thank heaven for Netflix. Ali starred in House Of Cards (as Frank Underwood’s former chief of staff, Remy Danton) and more recently in Marvel’s Luke Cage.
The third and final Wolverine film is a poignant study of ageing and infirmity, as the arthritic mutant holes up in Mexico with a declining Professor Xavier
Superpowers are one thing, but no-one said they were immortal. What happens when superheroes get old? Actually, what happens when, like many non-superheroes, they arrive at late middle-age without a partner, in ill health, and with an ageing parent to look after? Or parent-figure anyway. You find yourself asking these questions watching this surprisingly engaging, but downbeat – and also violent – X-Men movie from the Marvel stable. It is more like a survivalist thriller than a superhero film, and signals its wintry quality with the title itself. It’s like seeing a film entitled Banner or Parker or Kent. With the approach of death, maybe super identity is cast off. Superpowers start to fade along with ordinary powers.
Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, cooking for the Governors Ball afterparty for the 23rd year in a row, unveils his luxurious menu
Oscar nominees Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep will tuck into lobster corn dogs, spicy tuna tartare and baked potatoes with caviar at the ceremony’s official afterparty.
Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck unveiled the luxury food to be served at this year’s Governors Ball in Hollywood, where the menu also includes gold-dusted truffle popcorn, spiced Wagyu short rib, and smoked salmon in the shape of Oscar statuettes.
Europhile film-maker David Wilkinson hopes Postcards from the 48 will tell story of those who voted against Brexit
As if to prove history is not always written by the victors, a group of Europhiles have started filming a new documentary on resistance to Britain’s departure from the European Union.
Postcards from the 48 is a feature-length film by British film-maker and distributor David Wilkinson. It will include footage from the upcoming march against Brexit on 25 March as well as interviews with campaigners and voters from the referendum.
Denzel Washington’s adaptation of August Wilson’s Pulitzer-winning play about race, family and dysfunction is real, raw and deserves recognition
Troy Maxson could have been a contender. He was, in his mind, destined for the Major League had his career not been cut down by racism. His ambition thwarted, he went on to become a garbage collector trying to eke out an honest, quiet living with his family in a Philadelphia suburb. His trajectory was a lesson in realising the limits placed on his life by the colour of his skin, a bitter knowledge that he doesn’t so much imbue upon his sports-mad son Cory as he does suffocate and stifle him with it.
In its way, Fences is 2017’s perfect Oscar bait following the whitewash of last year’s ceremony. Here is an adaptation of a prizewinning play written by the canon’s most celebrated African American playwright without a single white character, that is about and for showing black lives matter. August Wilson famously refused to let his Pulitzer-winning piece be adapted for screen by a non-black film-maker (when he was alive, he also insisted no major productions of his work be staged by white directors) and it’s under Denzel Washington’s respectful custody that the project has made it to the screen.
Fewer than 12% of characters in last three years’ best film nominees 60 years old or more, university paper shows
The Academy Awards might be making progress on race and gender equality, but a new report into the ages of characters in best picture nominees suggests that representation of the over 60s still lags behind.
A new paper by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism has studied the spread of ages in characters over the 25 best picture nominees from the past three years.