Director: Rupert Sanders.
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Juliette Binoche, Michael Wincott, Pilou Asbæk. USA 2017. 107 mins.
Scarlett Johansson gives a riveting performance in this breathtaking sci-fi thriller with shades of Blade Runner. Ghost In The Shell is the long-awaited live-action spectacular set on a future Earth that will already be familiar to fans of the phenomenally successful manga and anime productions of the same name. Johansson plays the Major, an advanced cyborg who heads an elite counterterrorist task force known as Section 9. Devoted to stopping the most dangerous criminals and extremists, Section 9 is faced with an enemy whose singular goal is to wipe out cyber technology. But the Major also has a mystery of her own to solve. Director Sanders (Snow White And The Huntsman) and a starry international cast make the most of the dazzling visuals and extraordinary plot, but it’s very much Johansson’s film.
Filmed over three years by first-time director Jenny Gage, this empathetic and incisive documentary follows a group of Brooklyn teenagers as they make the sometimes uneasy transition from late childhood to womanhood. Sweet, shy Lena has to fend for herself owing to a troubled family life, while her best friend, Ginger, becomes besotted with make-up, clothes and partying. The girls’ changes in character and physicality remind us how rapidly life can progress, often with awkward or unexpected consequences.
Director: Kleber Mendonça Filho.
Starring: Sônia Braga. Brazil /France 2016. 146 mins. Portuguese with English subtitles.
A tale of individual resistance in the face of rapacious corporate greed, Aquarius takes its title from the Recife apartment block that has been home to widowed music critic Clara (Braga) for close to 40 years. Situated overlooking a popular beach, Aquarius has been earmarked by a slick property developer as an investment opportunity. His determination to turn the aged apartment block into luxury flats is matched by Clara’s refusal to be ousted from a place that, to her, is rich in memories and secrets. Giving one of the year’s very best performances, Sônia Braga is outstanding as the feisty, proud but vulnerable Clara.
Kleber Mendonça Filho’s 2012 feature debut, the slow-burning thriller Neighbouring Sounds, boldly announced a major new voice in Brazilian cinema, and Aquarius is every bit as impressive as its acclaimed predecessor.
Director: Bill Condon
Starring: Emma Watson, Luke Evans, Stanley Tucci, Ian McKellen. USA 2017. 129 mins.
Back in 1991, the Walt Disney Company released Beauty And The Beast, an exquisitely drawn feature animation that became a gargantuan hit, delighting both audiences and critics and spinning off a blockbuster Broadway musical. So who better to breathe new life into the beloved French fairy tale – with its very modern message of not judging people by their appearance – in a live-action telling than the studio that made it a movie classic in the first place? Veteran director Bill Condon (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Parts 1 & 2, Dreamgirls, Mr Holmes) has refashioned the characters for a contemporary audience but stayed true to the animation’s music, with several new songs and an amended score by the original composer, Alan Menken. Get ready to be wowed all over again.
Director: Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford . USA 2017. 104 mins.
American sitcom star Jordan Peele turns writer/director for this smartly observed, almost Hitchcockian comedy thriller concerning Chris (Kaluuya) and Rose (Williams), who’ve reached the stage in their relationship when it’s time for him to meet her parents. Unfortunately, it doesn’t pan out as planned: Rose hasn’t told her parents that Chris is black, and despite their best efforts to appear liberal, her somewhat creepy mum and dad are revealed as being anything but.
Director: Asghar Farhadi.
Starring: Shahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidoosti. Iran/France. 2016. 123 mins. Farsi with English subtitles.
Critically acclaimed Iranian director Asghar Farhadi came to international prominence with a trio of elegant dramas: About Elly (2009), A Separation
(2011) and The Past (2013). Empathetic and even-handed, Farhadi places life in modern Iran under the microscope, with socially divisive issues surrounding class and gender especially prominent in his narratives. In his quietly powerful new feature, Farhadi turns his attentions to an acting couple forced to relocate to a new apartment. Wrapped up in a production of Arthur Miller’s Death Of A Salesman, Emad (Hosseini) and Rana (Alidoosti) accept the offer of an empty apartment from a fellow thespian when theirs falls into disrepair. Morality, a desire for justice and social pressure come to the fore when Emad and Rana make a troubling discovery about the previous occupants and are forced to deal with the aftermath of a violent attack. The Salesman won Best Screenplay, and Best Actor for Shahab Hosseini, at this year’s Cannes.
Director: Barry Jenkins.
Starring: Alex Hibbert, Naomie Harris, Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders. USA 2016. 111 mins.
Ambitious in so many ways, Moonlight is the story of an African-American gay man growing up in a USA that is perhaps even more intolerant than ever. In only his second feature after the brilliant but undervalued Medicine For Melancholy, writer-director Barry Jenkins successfully employs three different actors to portray the same character at three different ages.
Charismatic newcomer Alex Hibbert plays the young, naive schoolboy living with his emotionally unreliable addict mother (Harris, Our Kind Of Traitor); Ashton Sanders (Straight Outta Compton) is the bullied teenager fully discovering his sexuality; and American football star Trevante Rhodes gives a breakout performance as the confident drug-dealing adult, a tribute to the role model who helped him endure his difficult upbringing. Never less than riveting, Moonlight is already being showered with richly deserved awards.