Hello, and welcome to this week’s Thursday film roundup – bringing you the best of the upcoming movie releases and why you should get excited for them. This week: Spies, Nazis, Darkness and Ducks…
Usual disclaimer: unless otherwise stated, I haven’t seen these films. All of my opinions are based on trailers, early reviews and other rumours and buzz.
Argylle is the latest film by Matthew Vaughn, director of films like Kick-Ass, Stardust, X-Men: First Class and the Kingsman franchise. The plot revolves around a spy novel writer (Bryce Dallas Howard) who discovers that her latest book is closer to reality than she realised, and suddenly she is beset by secret agents trying to get her to reveal how she knew all their secrets. It sounds a little like Stranger Than Fiction from the writer’s perspective, only instead of being a sweet little indie comedy, it’s an over-the-top action film in which John Cena plucks Dua Lipa off a motorbike with one hand.
I’ve always enjoyed Matthew Vaughn’s films. They are not the sort of thing that will win any big awards, but they are always a lot of fun. They tend to be smarter and slicker than the standard throwaway action fare and feature enough heart to make them stick in your mind afterwards. This looks like much of the same – the action scenes in the trailer are exciting and colourful and clearly not taking themselves too seriously. The supporting cast is excellent – as well as Cena and Dua Lipa, there’s Henry Cavill, Sofia Boutella, Ariana DeBose, Sam Rockwell, Samuel L Jackson, Bryan Cranston, Catherine O’Hara and Rob Delaney. Plus the marketing is leaning very heavily into the film having a literal cat in a bag, implying that there may be more twists than the trailer lets on.
There are undeniably better films out this week – see the next couple of entries below – but I am nevertheless very much looking forward to this one. In the middle of awards season, with lots of weighty serious films around, sometimes you need one that will let you switch your brain off for a couple of hours. I suspect it’s going to do quite well.
The Zone of Interest
At the polar opposite end of the spectrum, we have the incredible The Zone of Interest. I was fortunate to see a preview of this a couple of weeks ago and you can find my full review here. I won’t write too much more about it now, but in summary it is a bleak and uncomfortable watch about a family of Nazis living in the shadow of Auschwitz during World War Two. The camera never looks into the concentration camp or shows you anything overtly gruesome – there is more violence in the Argylle trailer than in the whole of The Zone of Interest – but of the two films this is definitely the one that will leave you feeling the most queasy. The use of sound and dialogue to imply what’s going on across the wall leaves your imagination free to fill in the gaps. This is no fun at all, but it will definitely win awards (and has been nominated for several Oscars) and I absolutely recommend it if you get the chance. And then maybe watch Argylle straight afterwards to take the taste away…
The second of the two big awards contenders this week, and the second new release to have an author as the main character, is American Fiction. I saw a preview of this one last week and loved it. The film focuses on Jeffrey Wright’s Monk, who is fed up of black artists being expected to pander to white people’s expectations of the black experience. In protest, he writes what he sees as an overblown and ridiculous story full of racial stereotypes as a joke to make a point to his publishers, but it turns out to be a runaway hit. He then has to balance his new-found success with his artistic integrity, all while managing a variety of difficulties in his personal life.
Wright has rightly earned a Best Actor nomination at the Oscars for his performance. Monk is a grumpy loner, but Wright gives him a lot of warmth and pathos under that exterior in a way that makes him instantly and completely likeable. He sells the genuinely very funny comedic moments as well as the sadder scenes with little more than an exasperated look. Also nominated, for Best Supporting Actor, is Sterling K Brown as Monk’s brother – a recently-out-of-the-closet gay man who has grown apart from Monk but is reunited following a family tragedy. As well as the two acting nominations, the film has been nominated for Best Score, Adapted Screenplay and Best Film – I really hope it gets something as it seemingly came from nowhere to become one of my favourite films of the year so far.
Moving into kids’ films now, Migration tells the story of a family of ducks who decide to migrate and see the world, only to accidentally end up stuck in New York City being hunted by a chef. This one comes from Illumination, which is still very keen to remind you that it’s responsible for the Minions and most recently released the Super Mario Movie starring Chris Pratt. Their films can be a bit hit and miss, but they tend to be bright and colourful with enough silly jokes to entertain the little ones and a little bit of heart thrown in for good measure.
I love a good kids’ film, but the trailer for this one doesn’t grab me quite as much as I’d like it to. It has its moments – the animation when the ducks are flying through the clouds into New York is beautiful, and Awkwafina’s delivery of the line “It’s you, with l’orange on top” cracks me up every time I hear it. And it has a good cast, including Kumail Nanjiani, Elizabeth Banks, Danny DeVito and, randomly, David Mitchell (who seems so out-of-place that part of me wants to see it just to see what he’s doing there. His character is named GooGoo. How did that happen?!). But there are so many other great films to watch this week that I might leave this one to the kids. If you have kids you need to entertain then I’m sure they will love it.
Orion and the Dark
The other option for entertaining the kiddies this week looks much more up my street. In the school classroom of animation companies, Dreamworks is normally the class clown – loud and brash and more interested in pop culture references and fart jokes than anything intellectual. (In case you’re wondering: Disney is the popular jock whose dad is on the board of governors, Pixar is the artsy one, Ghibli is the cool foreign exchange student, and Illumination is the Ralph Wiggum). But occasionally it comes out with a How To Train Your Dragon or a Rise of the Guardians – something far more mature and beautiful that reminds you why it has earned its place as one of the most successful animation studios. Orion sounds like it’s much more in that vein.
In the film, a young boy named Orion (Jacob Tremblay) is afraid of everything, including and especially the dark. But one night, Dark (Paul Walter Hauser), fed up of everyone being afraid of him, visits Orion to try and convince him that he has nothing to fear. It’s the kind of high concept world building that Pixar normally specialises in, except this one’s written by Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich) and narrated by Werner Herzog. Expect it to be surreal and intelligent. The animation looks lovely too – the character design is a little simplistic but the night-time settings give a lot of scope for the animators to play around with the light, and it looks like they’ve taken advantage of that opportunity.
Unfortunately, Orion and the Dark doesn’t seem to be getting a cinema release – instead, you can catch it on Netflix. It’s not often that a Dreamworks film is the quieter, quirkier indie option of two competing kids’ films, but based on the trailers and early reviews I would recommend this over the much more heavily promoted Migration.
If you only see one film this week…
Argylle looks like fun, Orion and the Dark has a lot of heart and The Zone of Interest is very awards-worthy, but for a film that perfectly marries all three of those elements, my recommendation of the week is American Fiction.
Still in cinemas and worth a watch
- All Of Us Strangers
- The Color Purple
- Poor Things