From Columbian director Alejandro Landes, Monos might wear a dozen cultural references on its increasingly ragged sleeve but still carves a brutally distinct, and entirely unique, identity. It is surely, by that virtue alone, among the very best films of the year to date. A little bit Lord of Flies, a touch more Apocalypse Now and with nods also to all from Women in Love to Apocalypto, the film is at once dreamy and dreadful. It exhilarates and terrifies. There is tenderness in abundance but venom in every heart beat. Sensorily, it is a triumph, whilst, as far as the narrative is concerned, Monos will take a long time to exit the dark depths of the imagination.
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You can tell Amma Asante, erstwhile director of Belle and A United Kingdom, means well by Where Hands Touch. That’s why it hurts so to label it a misfire, which it surely is. Much akin to her work on this year’s mixed series of The Handmaid’s Tale, Asante displays here an evident eye for the cinematically seductive but proves less skilled in pairing such with hardline narrative. Indeed, it is a persistent niggle of the film that Nazi Germany should not enjoy so romantic a reminiscence.
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A third film about yetis in the breadth of a year? What an abominable coincidence. From Open Season director Jill Culton, this one barely stands out from the crowd of its own sub sector, never mind the broader schematic of family orientated cinema. And yet, there’s no denying the concrete surety that its heart is in the right place. Nor, that its earnest charm is a winning asset. Give or take the odd nod to modernity, this is as traditional a tale of friendship and self-discovery as ever there were. Abominable is never better than when dialogue gives way to music and melody casts aside division.
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Like much of the old Weinstein Company catalogue, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s The Current War was once notionally poised for awards season assault. Then – way back in 2017 – a rushed edit, pushed by Harvey himself into a premature Toronto festival release, dropped like a stone. Just weeks later, the Weinstein scandal saw the whole thing shelved. Now, nearly two years on, a salvaged recut comes courtesy of Lantern and Entertainment Films, quietly slipped into a Summer of big hitters. It’s an unjust fate for a film with verve enough to assuage its fair share of faults.
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The original play that inspired Judy, penned for a 2005 debut by Peter Quilter, was rather more appropriately titled ‘End of the Rainbow’. This is not to relate film and play alike to some pot of gold but instead to note the sobriety with which each characterises the later life of a star who was driven to anything but. Judy may, semantically, lay the ground for heraldic tribute to Garland as icon but it is a film that works best when it explores the desperation of a mother at sea. The tone is somber, give or take a handful of glitzy highlights, and the aftertaste embittered by a distressingly emotional crux. At the film’s core, Renée Zellweger gives the most electrically all-in performance of her career.
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Having proved herself a scene stealing, eccentric comic in last year’s Crazy Rich Asians, Awkwafina is a revelation in Lulu Wang’s intrinsically more somber new drama The Farewell. Humorous beats are perhaps inevitable where the star is concerned – such is the human condition after all – but here come deftly woven with the poignance of a funerary tone. By the coming of Wang’s final stimulating shots, there can be little doubt that The Farewell will stand as one of 2019’s most moving features. It’s another well chosen triumph for hitmakers A24.
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The ongoing ripples of Alfonso Cuarón’s stunning, technologically unprecedented, success with 2013 Oscar dominee Gravity pummel through James Gray’s latest thought provoker. Breathtaking vistas expand across the picture’s wide screen, with pitch perfect photorealism – boosted by bona fide moon surface footage in some scenes – captured on sumptuously grainy 35mm film. Amid the deep space in which Ad Astra is set, Gray has lens-eyes only for his leading man. Intense close ups force viewers right into the depressive depths of Brad Pitt’s fully engaged eyes, seeking answers, hope, resolution even, but finding despair alone. It’s a pity Gray and co-writer Ethan Gross’ arduously moribund narration rarely shuts up long enough to let us appreciate the fact.
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