You only need to spend five minutes watching the news to reconcile the fact that the world is currently full of hatred, fear and nasty people doing nasty things. So when real life starts to take its toll and get you down, there really is no better distraction and form of escapism than to head over to your local cinema and immerse yourself in the lives of others for a brief moment. This weekend there are some fine examples of films that will have you smiling and leave you feeling warm and happy.
The first example is Pavarotti, the latest documentary from Ron Howard. So it turns out that Luciano Pavarotti, the Italian operatic tenor, was the nicest man of all time. We all recognise his face, we certainly all recognise his voice, but what this film does is allow us into his life, through childhood until his death in 2007. He has a passion for food, for singing, for his friends and family, for people. His enthusiasm towards life is infectious, and it makes for such a congenial cinematic experience, to just sit back and enjoy a film that truly does celebrate humanity. But it’s not sycophantic, Howard isn’t vying to project an image of Pavarotti he wants to show, he just lets the footage do the talking, the talking head interviews, the home videos, the public appearances, and through this we come to our own conclusions; that he was a bloody lovely bloke.
See? We’re feeling better about the world already. A sentiment enriched further when settling down to watch Disney’s remake, this time of The Lion King. With Jon Favreau at the helm, who did a fine job with The Jungle Book, first and foremost this is a true feat of modern storytelling, utilising new technology to not only create a truly breathtaking visual experience, but also just to validate its very existence, to offer a counter-argument to the naysayers who feel their childhood is being trampled on. But there’s a place for both, and when treating this remake on its own terms there is plenty to be admired. Perhaps lacking a little in the same heart that came with the original, such is the nostalgic pull, and the association with our own experiences watching this when younger, there are scenes and moments that will move you to tears, though again whether that’s because of the quality of the film or just our own personal memories remains to be seen. But either way pack tissues.
Okay, so that’s two films out the way that are so pleasant to watch, and incredibly easy to enjoy. But sadly this can’t be said of all releases this weekend just gone. Which brings us to Gwen, and oh my, this is a test of one’s endurance. Now don’t be fooled, this is not a negative review, Gwen is a profound feature that is incredibly well shot by debut director William McGregor, and stars the always-impressive Maxine Peake, not to mention the quite astonishing breakthrough performance from Eleanor Worthington-Cox in the title role. But that doesn’t mean it’s not challenging, for its relentlessly bleak. Yet it has an air of enchantment about it, a very subtle one we should add, but there’s a classic folklore element that works well, and we see McGregor borrow from the horror genre in an affectionate way. It’s definitely worth catching it you can/are willing to put yourself through it.
Another film that focuses more so on the darker sides of society is The Wedding Guest, the latest film from prolific director Michael Winterbottom. The creative filmmaker sets this tale in Pakistan, of a young man – played by Dev Patel – who is travelling to a wedding with the dark plan of kidnapping the bride-to-be. What transpires is a compelling two-hander between Patel and Radhika Apte, in what is something for a departure for the former. The film is entrenched in mystery, as you’re constantly on edge, it’s like watching a game of poker unfold – and you have no idea who’s got the best hand. It’s also a fun exploration of the ‘it was supposed to be so easy’ format, as this plan our protagonist has goes terribly, terribly wrong.
Next up is Making Noise Quietly, the debut from behind the lens for esteemed theatre director Dominic Dromgoole. This triptych of Robert Holman plays carries one underlying theme which is the futility of war, and it’s what brings these tales together. While a moving film in parts, and one that you can’t fault for dialogue or acting, sadly it does just feel a little stagey, you can very much tell this has come from a director far more well-versed in stage productions. But there’s enough in here to ensure we remain confident in Dromgoole’s future in cinema, just perhaps next time veering away from such familiar and comfortable ground will challenge him to do something a little different.
Finally we have Tell It to the Bees, a period drama featuring Holliday Granger and Anna Paquin. Directed by Annabel Jankel, regrettably this title is the film we most advise skipping this weekend, for its tonally confused, it’s not particularly well-written, and has a couple of scenes that are just bizarre, and sadly, not in a good way. We usually like bizarre.