Handsome, clever and rich that she is, you’re not really meant to like Emma. Jane Austen did, naturally; but her vain, spoilt heroine was always supposed to vex readers. To this end, no film nor televisual take on the novel has ever truly hit the nail on its heroine’s handsome head. Gwyneth Paltrow proved far too endearing in Douglas McGrath’s 1996 adaptation, whilst even Kate Beckinsale’s humbling just missed being worthy of it. Enter Anya Taylor-Joy and a splendidly smug showcase for the ages. Directed with verve by Autumn de Wilde – the titular full stop is intentional and referential solely to the film’s ‘period’ setting – Taylor-Joy’s Emma meddles in affairs of the heart as though to do so is her right by birth. What marvellous casting. Such fun.
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There isn’t a layer of emotional resonance within which Sam Mendes’ latest feature does not excel. A First World War thriller, boasting the dramatic surety Mendes nailed in Skyfall and all but lost in Spectre, 1917 quickly takes hostage of the heart and refuses release. It is electric, devastating and charged with a profound sense for the absolute horror of warfare. That the story comes from the original experience of Mendes’ own grandfather on the Western Front is paramount. This one matters to him sincerely.
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There may be a new sense of Hollywood swish and flick glamour to Guy Ritchie’s latest film but – make no mistake about it – The Gentlemen is a step to the reverse from the director of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Forget Aladdin, this is cockney ensemble crime caper comedy through and through. Everyone has a riot, there’s language to make a sailor blush and marijuana at every turn. Not that our heroes touch the stuff. It’s all about the dosh with this gang of upmarket renegades and each one stands to make shed loads. As per his debutant days, Ritchie writes, shoots and produces to the lowest common denominator. Devotees will lap it up, while cynics wheel out that old sub-par Tarantino jibe. In the middle is a view that The Gentlemen is smutty fun, a tad offensive and undeniably fine tuned.
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Unlike the titular nuptials, Marriage Story launches well and scarcely drops the ball. The performances are unanimously immaculate, bolstered by thoughtful and well-mannered direction from Noah Baumbach, who writes too, in his second Netflix gem. As with The Meyerowitz Stories before it, Marriage Story unreels its tale of kindly woe on the delicately handled juxtaposition of tenderest bitterness. Baumbach’s honesty in this warts and all exploration of contemporary divorce proceedings is commendable, fuelled, as it is, by personal experience as boy and adult; as third and first party.
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Greta Gerwig’s sophomore feature not only improves on her first effort – 2017 coming of age hit Lady Bird – but quickly establishes itself as the definitive adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s seminal classic: ‘Little Women’. Quite the achievement for the seventh screen take on the story. While a sterling cast and sumptuous production values do much to enhance an experience of the film, it is Gerwig’s creative certainty in reshaping the story, via astute thematic blending, that elevated the wider whole. Nuance bleeds through each and every shot, line and prop so confidently that one might almost mistake the film for an original construct. Gerwig’s understanding of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March is every bit as profound as was with Lady Bird herself. What could possibly come next?
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Though now essentially synonymous with the musical, Andrew Lloyd Webber power ballad Memory wasn’t originally in Cats. Or rather, more accurately, the T. S. Elliot poem upon which the song is primarily based – Grizabella the Glamour Cat – never made the published edition of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. It was, as history recalls, considered too sad for children. Heaven only knows, then, what history will make of Tom Hooper’s orgasmically charged film adaptation of the show. It will, at least, surely stick in the memory, for better or worse. Mostly worse.
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What once seemed like a brave new era of adventure in a galaxy far far away has rather stewed of late. While there’s no denying a franchise so casually able to earn hundreds of millions, if not billions, at the box office still holds fond regard in hearts and minds across the globe, Disney’s reborn Star Wars all too quickly shed its early sparkle. If The Force Awakens took things to light speed on the power of nostalgia, an internal failure to configure a future for Star Wars beyond the past has rendered it all rather vanilla. Rogue One had it, Solo didn’t; as for The Last Jedi, that depends on who you ask. Now comes The Rise of Skywalker – grand finale to a nonology four decades in the making – less victory lap than MOT with longevity to prove.
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