After Gillian Flynn gave the world a spine-tingling good thriller in 2014’s Gone Girl, she’s now back as a screenwriter with the bone-chilling new movie, Widows. Elsewhere, our favourite video-game characters from Wreck-It Ralph are making a grand return, and if you’re a fan of Steve McQueen, https://www.timeoutdubai.com/film-tv/389621-scene-stealing, check out his latest movie too.
The weekend's here, it's time to go to the movies.
(15+) Director: Steve McQueen
Cast: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki
Released: Nov 22
After such imposing movies as Hunger, Shame and 12 Years a Slave – those titles are punishing enough – you’d be forgiven for assuming British director Steve McQueen had a mean streak, if not toward his audiences, then his actors. Now comes Widows, which also has its fair share of suffering, mainly on the haunted face of Viola Davis. But McQueen has discovered something new. Should we call it fun? Let’s not get carried away. Still, Widows, a supercharged Chicago-set caper of consummate skill, zooms along in a way that feels peppier than usual, McQueen brewing the action and ominous municipal intrigue like he was trying to outdo The Fugitive. He comes frighteningly close.
Three women dominate the film, delivering it to a poise that Ocean’s 8, a high-collared pretender, can only dream of. They’re all the recent widows of a freshly deceased gang of high-stakes criminals, men who barely get any screen time. In their absence, Veronica (Davis) floats around her white-walled penthouse like a ghost, Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) gets her thrift store sold from under her, and Alice, a blonde trophy wife (Elizabeth Debicki, running away with the movie via skittish fragility and, later, pure nerve), is urged by her own mother to explore a darker career path. As if economic freefall and grief weren’t enough, their husbands’ unfinished business shows up on their doorsteps, demanding payment or else. To watch them coalesce into a hard-nosed crew of heisters is the year’s most purely pleasurable piece of transformation. McQueen, adapting a 1983 British TV miniseries with Gone Girl screenwriter Gillian Flynn, peppers the flow with spikiness, mainly involving a vicious, unpredictable enforcer (Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya) and – this being Chicago – the stench of dynastic political corruption, embodied by Colin Farrell’s up-and-coming alderman. It’s a lot of plot for one sitting, but Widows will remind you of how massively entertaining crime movies can be, especially when they’re animated by cool-headed capability, on and offscreen.
(PG15) Director: Otto Bathurst
Cast: Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn
Released: Nov 22
“This isn’t a bedtime story”, a narrator insists early in Robin Hood. It certainly feels like one, in terms of snores – hopefully your seat doesn't recline. Several dueling shades of dull, this umpteenth retooling of the outlaw legend is desperate to convince viewers that Christopher Nolan had something to do with it (he didn’t). It’s drenched in one of those pound-ing Dunkirk-like scores (this one’s by Joseph Trapanese, doing his best Hans Zimmer), and the script stresses the Dark Knight-ish dual nature of its hero: Sometimes Robin of Loxley is a Crusades-era version of billionaire jerk Bruce Wayne; elsewhere he’s the “Hood,” a mysterious archer causing panic among the ruling class. Both personas are embodied by the charisma-free Taron Egerton, who’s got much work to do, chops-wise, before he portrays Elton John in next year’s Rocketman.
Making sense of the busy plot – involving villagers in revolt and a scowling Sheriff of Not-tingham (go-to bad guy Ben Mendelsohn in a slick grey coat that seems to be wearing him) –is a fool’s errand. But even as your eyes dull at the listless action scenes, there’s distraction to be found in marvelling at all the anachronisms. Eve Hewson’s Marian and Jamie Foxx’s John (no Little, please) are too modern-feeling to be persuasively medieval—and what’s with all the fitted leisurewear? Was that a T-shirt we just saw? Are we in a desert, a fortress or a video game? Some people may appreciate the creative license, but that’s a thin thread to hang two hours of entertainment on. It’s a Robin Hood that steals from the rich and the poor, time-wise.
Ralph Breaks the Internet
(PG) Director: Phil Johnston, Rich Moore
Cast: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot
Released: Nov 22
Not one of the most revered animated movies of the past decade (unlike Up, for example) but certainly one of the most loved, 2012’s Wreck It Ralph worked because of the brilliant cast, the super computer-game world it created and its total lack of cynicism.
Now Ralph (John C. Reilly) is back and leaves the video arcade behind to search the internet for a essential piece of tech that will save his fellow misfit Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman).
The plot, however, is not really why we’re here. It’s all about the in-jokes, the performances and the Easter eggs hidden throughout the film referencing other Disney, Pixar and Marvel movies. One for the kids, but does enough to keep the parents interested.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
(PG13) Director: David Yates
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Johnny Depp
Released: Nov 15
The first movie in the Fantastic Beasts franchise had a lot of heavy lifting to do. It needed to establish a world connected to the Harry Potter universe, but also one that was self-contained. It had to introduce several busloads of new characters and kick off a story complex enough to sustain another four movies (at least). With all that done, the second instalment should have earned itself some breathing room: a bit of time to cut loose and enjoy the possibilities of a new magical universe. But as beautiful and inventive as it is, The Crimes of Grindelwald often feels like we’re starting the world-building all over again.
Trying to establish where everyone is at the beginning of this sequel without giving too much away is going to get confusing, so sorry about that. Anyway, fascist wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) has broken out of jail in London and fled to Paris to lay the groundwork for a wizard uprising. In order to stop him, the wizarding government approaches Grindelwald’s ex-friend Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), who refuses the mission but enlists the help of animal-lover Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) for a more secret version of the same mission. There are about eight other major characters involved, but we’ve only got so much space. Short version: a wizard war is a-brewing.
Moving most of the action to Paris gives the film’s creative team the opportunity to run wild with some gorgeous production design. Visually, the world couldn’t be richer. Our progress through it, though, feels sluggish. As a screenwriter, JK Rowling is ambitious. She wants to pack in huge amounts of story – and there will be revelations that send dedicated fans back to the novels to re-evaluate certain events – but she plots for books, not for the screen. There are so many characters to service and so many rugs to pull that momentum can only ever be slow.
The Crimes of Grindelwald has bags of charm, but too many characters and too much plot are weighing this beast down.
(15+) Director: Mélanie Laurent
Cast: Ben Foster, Elle Fanning, Jeffrey Grover, Christopher Amitrano
Released: Nov 15
A southern film noir from the man who wrote the True Detective novels, this movie is full of potential. From the writer to the leading man Ben Foster (hot from last year’s Hell or High Water) and director Mélanie Laurent, a star of many a French film, there’s lots going for it. However, it looks like it's h eavy going.
Foster is a hitman who’s been set up by his boss (a welcome return for Beau Bridges). He finds Elle Fanning’s Rocky captured and takes her with him on his big escape. All, as you might expect, does not go to plan.
Early reports make the whole thing look a bit of a slog, but it has the makings of a cult classic. Here’s hoping...
Last Chance to See
(15+) Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Ben Hardy
Released: Nov 8
Since passing away in 1991, Queen frontman Freddie Mercury has been busy. First came Wayne’s World, with Mike Myers head-banging along to the band’s 1975 hit Bohemian Rhapsody. Then came a massive tribute concert in 1992 and a globetrotting stage musical, We Will Rock You, in the 2000s. Now, 27 years on, comes the authorised movie biopic to push the Freddie Mercury legend even further into the realm of the unreal.
Bohemian Rhapsody is as brash, loud and mask-wearing as Mercury at his most playful. Another movie would try to get behind the legend or play with the idea of it but this does nei-ther. Instead, it grabs the legend by the neck and gallops recklessly through the movie on it, climaxing in a wholesale extended recreation of one of the most famous rock gigs of all time: Queen at Live Aid.
It boasts a film-stealing, possessed performance by Rami Malek, who pouts, struts and quips as Mercury, turning the rest of the cast into bit-part players. The energy of Malek’s imitation helps to bind what amounts to a series of gossipy but harmless rock-world anecdotes into something vaguely coherent.
The story starts and ends with Queen playing Live Aid at Wembley in July 1985. In between, we see how Farrokh Bulsara, born in Zanzibar, became Freddie Mercury and helped to trans-form a student band into a stadium rock behemoth.
The movie, though catchy, is an act of brazen myth-making. Facts and chronology are tossed aside.
It is part-produced by Queen’s long-time manager Jim Beach and two of Mercury’s band-mates, Brian May and Roger Taylor. Which is another way of saying: don’t expect anything more than a safe gloss over the Queen tale.
Luckily, the music wins out over and leaves a lively, uncomplicated jukebox movie, which is surely what the band prefers.
This is a feature-length earworm that leaves Don’t Stop Me Now, We Are the Champions and the rest wriggling in your cochlea.
(18+) Director: Julius Avery
Cast: Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier
Released: Nov 8
Operation Neptune is in full flow as Allied troops storm the beaches of Normandy. Overhead, the US is flying in air support. One misfit team, led by a grizzled commander (Wyatt Russell), is tasked with destroying a radio transmitter located at a fortified building behind enemy lines. When their plane is shot down, though, the bruised and battered troops scramble to the creepy building only to discover that, beneath its foundations, the Reich has been busily amassing a freakish, super-human army of undead mutants.
On paper, Overlord sounds like a run-of-the-mill midnight movie. In reality, it has much more going for it, most significantly the talented young cast – including British actor Jovan Adepo as the capti-vating lead. Admittedly, the characters are thinly-written clichés – the brooding man-of-few-words commander, the wise-cracking crack shot, and the heart-of-gold newbie. But these simple arche-types are forgivable, especially in the case of the gloriously-over-the-top-jack-booted antagonist, played by Game of Thrones actor Pilou Asbæk.
Meanwhile, Mathilde Ollivier impresses as a tough-as-nails villager who would be a worthy addition to the French Resistance.
The story is also much more artful and narrative heavy than the premise suggests, playing with the concept of monstrosity and asking what separates good from bad in times of war.
And how far are each side willing to go? Or rather, who are the real monsters here? Well, aside from the actual monsters that terrorise the unit, picking them off in horrifying ways.
Be prepared for blood, guts and gore. Don’t be fooled by its B-movie credentials – amid the carnage, Over-lord has surprisingly more to say than you might think.
It’s Saving Private Ryan meets the over-the-top, action heavy videogame Wolfenstein.
(G) Director: Yarrow Cheney, Scott Mosier
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rashida Jones, Tristan O'Hare
Released: Nov 8
The Grinch is back, free of the grip of Jim Carrey, voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch and, in Grinch terms, a bit less grinchy (ungrinchy?) than you might expect. Unlike the 2000 live-action Carrey movie, this new spin on the Dr. Seuss tale is computer-animated by Illumination, the same studio behind Sing, The Secret Life of Pets and the Minions movies, so by design it feels a little closer to the slim, hand-drawn 1957 book that bore it. (The Grinch’s green colour, meanwhile, has another source: the 1966 Chuck Jones cartoon that first brought the character to screen.)
British actor Cumberbatch plays the Grinch as a grouchy American, all prissy and nasal and mischievous, but with a sad, soft aspect too – a side of his character amusingly winked at in a scene where he plays “All By Myself” at home on a huge organ. He’s a grump, of course, but this is the 21st century, so he’s a grump with issues and a bit of a backstory. There’s not much psychological exploration, though (fine by us); the film is mainly a series of slapstick episodes, not always neatly hung together, and with barely any memorable side characters. Even the Grinch himself fails to make a massive impact at times.
This new version features the voice of Pharrell Williams as the narrator, dipping in and out of Dr. Seuss’s warming rhymes. That binds to the film to its authentic source, but the gaps between the spoken verse still remind us that this is a slender story s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d into a feature. That said, it’s likable enough—short and snappy. The Grinch should play well with little kids, and it has enough inbuilt seasonal cheer to semi-defrost the hearts of more demanding adult filmgoers.