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The 13th review: Ava DuVernay doc shows prisons are the new plantations

5 hours ago

DuVernay’s incendiary film, which world premieres at the New York film festival, is a wakeup call that steers clear of broad brush Michael Moorisms to offer a brutal analysis of race and the law in the Us

Like most middle-class white liberals, I am concerned with the issue of racial inequality, but tend to assuage my feelings of anger, guilt and impotence with the sentiment that things are getting better. I mean, we have a two-term black president, right? Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th is an articulate, no-nonsense cup of iced water splashed in my face telling me to wake the fuck up.

“Prisons are the new plantations!” may seem like sloganeering from a far-left protestor, but DuVernay’s effective film draws a strong, straight line from the abolition of slavery to today’s mass incarceration epidemic, explaining its root cause: money. Cheap prison labour is knotted up in »

- Jordan Hoffman

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Deepwater Horizon review – Bp oil spill drama captures heroics and heartache

9 hours ago

Mark Wahlberg stars in Peter Berg’s excellent nail-biting drama about the 2010 disaster that cost 11 lives

The spirit of Irwin Allen is revived for the 21st century in this terrifically tense and exciting real-life disaster movie, directed by Peter Berg. It comes complete with the time-honoured figures: the action-man tough guy, the grizzled old-timer whose warnings on safety are tragically ignored and the contemptible corporate drone who is doing the aforesaid ignoring to save money.

Related: Deepwater Horizon review – Mark Wahlberg v Bp in angry disaster movie

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- Peter Bradshaw

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Free State of Jones review – Matthew McConaughey rages through civil war

9 hours ago

This audacious, visceral, beautifully shot story of a real-life outlaw in Louisiana’s swamps is one to watch out for in awards season

Matthew McConaughey stars in this startling, fiercely violent, superbly photographed and structurally audacious civil war drama, directed by Gary Ross. McConaughey plays the real-life Confederate soldier Newton Knight, who leads a band of deserters and runaway slaves to form a Robin-Hood outlaw group in the Louisiana swamp and attempts to make Jones county secede from Mississippi and the confederacy to form the “free state of Jones”. He allies himself with slave Moses (Mahershala Ali), marries freed woman Rachel (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and after the war takes a lead on democratic reform: this legendary figure has already been the subject of a 1948 movie, Tap Roots, with Van Heflin and Susan Hayward.

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- Peter Bradshaw

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Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children review – amiable Tim Burton fantasy

9 hours ago

Terence Stamp, Samuel L Jackson and Eva Green battle time loops in this adventure adapted from the bestseller by Ransom Riggs

Everything but the kitchen sink goes into this buoyant fantasy-adventure from Tim Burton, adapted by Jane Goldman from the 2011 bestseller by Ransom Riggs. It rattles amiably along, although it’s a little overextended and loses something of its control and focus by the end.

This is a sort of classic time-travel mystery: shades of Tom’s Midnight Garden and When Marnie Was There, with a touch of X-Men. There’s a nice pipe-smoking turn by Eva Green as Miss Peregrine (although like all smokers in the movies, she abandons her habit after the first few scenes) and some very creepy monsters who appear to be modelled on Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for Figures at The Base of a Crucifixion.

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- Peter Bradshaw

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Under the Shadow review – supremely scary horror from Iran

9 hours ago

Babak Anvari’s disturbing ghost story, set in Tehran during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, is a brilliant parable of supernatural invasion

Sixteen years ago, with movies such Audition and The Ring, we saw the birth of J-horror: horror from Japan. And who knows? Maybe this smart, claustrophobic picture will herald the beginning of I-horror: scary movies from Iran. Babak Anvari’s Under the Shadow is an extremely disturbing ghost story set in Tehran during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war: a parable of supernatural invasion that has something to say about national vulnerability and women’s condition under the veil.

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- Peter Bradshaw

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The First Monday in May review – saucer-eyed fashion documentary

10 hours ago

There’s star power aplenty in this documentary/promotional video chronicling the Metropolitan Museum of Arts’ hit exhibition China: Through the Looking Glass

Related: Met's China: Through the Looking Glass show presents a fantasy of the far east

The Met Gala, otherwise known as the “fashion Oscars”, is the annual super-glitzified fundraiser, packed with A-listers, in aid of the Costume Institute of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Arts; it is effectively run by Vogue’s Anna Wintour and has entered the laity’s consciousness via the novel and movie The Devil Wears Prada, which may now be influencing the behaviour of the people it was respectfully lampooning. This glossy, but frankly somewhat saucer-eyed documentary/promotional video is about its colossally successful China: Through the Looking Glass event, all about western responses to Chinese culture – an exhibition on which Wong Kar-wai and Baz Luhrmann served as consultants.

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- Peter Bradshaw

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The Fencer review – Touché! Swordplay drama is directed with vim

10 hours ago

Klaus Härö’s tale of a champion fencer on the run from the Kgb who winds up teaching schoochildren has strong performances and is luscious to look at

This Finnish-Estonian-German co-production, directed with vim by Klaus Härö, unfolds in the early 1950s, a period that’s still a raw wound for many who survived Soviet oppression under Stalin. Endel (Märt Avandi), a champion fencer quietly on the run from the secret service in Leningrad, manages to get a post teaching at a provincial Estonian school. Before long, he’s developed a deep affection for his charges, mostly war orphans, and starts coaching them on foil control and legwork at an afterschool club. When several kids show promise and skill, Endel must decide whether to risk taking them to Leningrad for a competition. The set-up is a bit schmaltzy and the only guesswork is how bitter the bittersweet ending will be, »

- Leslie Felperin

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Tharlo review – serviceable arthouse glimpse of life in Tibet

10 hours ago

Pema Tseden’s monochrome fable about an innocent shepherd coming to town is packed with familiar devices but none the worse for that

In a remote region of Chinese-controlled Tibet, innocent shepherd Tharlo (Shide Nyima) comes down from the mountains to get an ID card at a police station. He needs a photograph, and the local photographer insists he gets tidied up, so he visits hairdresser Yangsto (Yangshik Tso) across the street, a femme fatale in a sequin-covered blouse, a suspiciously modern short haircut, and a seductive way with a bottle of dry shampoo. Director Pema Tseden, who made the touching if likewise strongly literary parable Old Dog a few years back, doesn’t miss a single arthouse cliche here. If this were part of a drinking game, you’d be truly sloshed after you’d ticked off all the tropes here: Bressonian fable that illustrates the corruption of city life – tick! »

- Leslie Felperin

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Kickboxer: Vengeance review – lean remake doesn't disappoint

10 hours ago

Jean-Claude van Damme returns in a smarter than necessary reboot that’s full of plenty of physical heft, if not thespian clout

In 1989, the oft-rented, rarely rewound Kickboxer introduced many to Jean-Claude van Damme and Muay Thai martial arts. This remake proves smarter than was strictly necessary: capable journeyman John Stockwell (Blue Crush) busts out the helicopter shots to oversee boyish Alain Moussi’s progress through Thailand to avenge his brother’s death at the extensively tatted hands of former WWE heel Dave Bautista. The performers bring more physical heft than thespian clout, but genre nostalgists should appreciate the refreshingly uncomplicated manner in which Stockwell frames their dust-ups, displaying a sure editorial feel for the landing of foot or fist on face or torso. (They’ll be doubly delighted when a fugitive Moussi and pupil-turned-master Van Damme encounter workmen carrying glass panes across a busy street.) Semi-disposable VOD fodder, then, »

- Mike McCahill

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Urban Hymn review – UK riots drama learns to sing a better tune

10 hours ago

Michael Caton-Jones’s film about a delinquent diva, starring the excellent Letitia Wright, works towards a place of quiet power

This year will go down as the one British cinema began to wrestle with the 2011 UK riots. Set against July’s documentary The Hard Stop, Michael Caton-Jones’s drama risks appearing a perilously soft option the moment juvenile care worker/keen chorister Shirley Henderson overhears delinquent diva Jamie (My Brother the Devil’s excellent Letitia Wright) singing Etta James in her bedroom. Thereafter, committed actors nudge Nick Moorcroft’s scenario away from a very familiar, naggingly complacent groove. The riot backdrop recedes, a convenient prompt for teaching the world to sing anew, yet a stronger second half pushes in unexpected directions. Jamie struggles to disentangle herself from damaged roomie Leanne (a snarling Isabella Laughland) – and Caton-Jones’s achievement is to make this a greater challenge than any a cappella arrangement of, »

- Mike McCahill

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Courted review – French legal drama with an Altmanesque drift

11 hours ago

Fabrice Luchini and Borgen’s Sidse Babette Knudsen star as judge and juror in this brisk, engaging study

Eavesdropping on minor officials in the toilets, loitering with the jurors as they spar over lunch, but most especially drawn to Fabrice Luchini’s cold fish of a judge – there’s a soothing Altmanesque drift about this French drama orbiting a St Omer trial. The matter under consideration is grim – a man accused of kicking his seven-month-year-old daughter to death – but writer-director Christian Vincent has a gift for notching up comic detail in the margins: the flu-ridden judge being injected by his doctor in the buttock; his insistence on the proper courtroom terms of address. Luchini, in a deft performance, almost renders his character’s prissy demands and brushoffs heroic – the flourishes of a man busy conducting the ensemble of judicial impartiality. This brings Courted close to the socially conscious docudrama of »

- Phil Hoad

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The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga review – bewitching nature documentary

11 hours ago

Jessica Oreck brings sylvan stories of the Slavic forests to life in this part-animated meditation on haunted woodlands

New York documentary-maker and animal-keeper Jessica Oreck manages a well-attuned act of cultural ventriloquism in this nutritious cine-essay looking east for inspiration. Just as the majestic course of the Danube prompted a search for the roots of western culture in The Ister (2004), here the vastness and darkness of Slavic forests draw Polish-narrated reflections on the nature-culture boundary, interspersed with animated segments from the Baba Yaga fairytale. Dampening the recorded sound on the real-life excerpts (lumberjacks, Soviet-style towerblocks, a wedding) that are used as visual wallpaper, Oreck makes eastern European – or rather, human – life seem otherworldly. Occasionally, this hauntological stream flows too quickly, and the insight gets diluted. At its best, however, the imagery cleanses and reinvigorates the ideas in play: a sequence in a headstone-filled forest seems to touch on the defeat »

- Phil Hoad

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Johnny Depp and Judi Dench hop aboard Murder on the Orient Express

12 hours ago

The embattled actor and Oscar winner will star in Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of the Agatha Christie novel alongside Michelle Pfeiffer and Daisy Ridley

Johnny Depp and Judi Dench are set to headline Kenneth Branagh’s upcoming remake of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Branagh has also enlisted Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley and Michael Peña to feature in the thriller.

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- Nigel M Smith

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Roy Orbison 'triumph and tragedy' biopic in the works

15 hours ago

Texan singer’s surviving children will collaborate on The Big O: Roy Orbison, bringing pop star’s tumultuous story to the screen

Following recent films chronicling the lives of Hank Williams, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, the career and tumultuous private life of Roy Orbison is to be turned into a movie.

According to Deadline, The Big O: Roy Orbison will be produced by two of Orbison’s surviving sons, Alex and Roy, with another, Wesley Orbison, one of the executive producers. The script will be written by Ray Gideon and Bruce Evans, who collaborated on 1985’s Stand by Me, Starman and Mr Brooks.

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- Catherine Shoard

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David Mamet to direct movie version of his play Speed-the-Plow

16 hours ago

The playwright is to return to big-screen directing duties for the first time in eight years as he takes over from Michael Polish

David Mamet is to take charge of a big-screen transfer of his 1988 Hollywood satire Speed-the-Plow. According to Deadline, Mamet – whose last movie as director was little-seen drama Redbelt (2008) – has taken over from Michael Polish as director of the project.

Related: Need for Speed the Plow: David Mamet to adapt stage satire for big screen

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- Catherine Shoard

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Amanda Knox review – intriguing but flawed Netflix documentary

16 hours ago

The American student wrongly convicted of murder speaks for the first time on film in a survey that questions most of the main players

Film-makers Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn got a scoop in persuading Amanda Knox to speak for the first time on camera. This was the Us foreign-language student in Perugia, Italy, who with her boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito was wrongly convicted of murdering her British flatmate Meredith Kercher in some supposed kinky sex game fantasised by the prosecution.

Related: Inside Netflix’s Amanda Knox: ‘She was cast as a she-devil’

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- Peter Bradshaw

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Terror in Tehran: Under the Shadow and the politics of horror

16 hours ago

Babak Anvari’s debut Under the Shadow evokes his fear-ridden childhood in Iran – and is being hailed as a horror classic. Here he talks about his mother’s inspirational courage – and the nightmares that still haunt him

Ever since he can remember, Babak Anvari’s nightmares have always been the same. “I wake up shouting at someone in the corner of the room,” he says. “I can feel someone there, and I’m so convinced of it. It takes me 30 seconds to realise we’re alone. My girlfriend is usually very patient, but I think it drives her crazy.”

His sibling, Kiarash, five years his senior, is similarly haunted by night-time visitors. “My brother and I have grown up being scared of everything and anything,” says Anvari. “We’ve both grown up with night terrors, being afraid of being left alone, of being in the dark for too long.”

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- Tom Seymour

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Mark Wahlberg: ‘I played golf with Donald Trump. He was very Donald Trump-like’

16 hours ago

The Deepwater Horizon star’s career has spanned pop fame as Marky Mark, dozens of blockbusters, reality TV and even a walk around the greens with the Republican terror. No wonder he still relies on his entourage to stay normal

His arms are still absurdly muscular – his T-shirt sleeves straining over his biceps, Popeye-style – but Mark Wahlberg’s handshake is gentle. “Hey,” he says, slumped in his chair in a central London hotel, looking an unpromising mix of bored and glum. The glumness is because his wife and four children are flying back to their home in Los Angeles as we speak. Also, at the age of 45, he is only “just coming round to London”, he says in a tone that strongly suggests this acceptance of the city is, at most, at the mid-point stage.

“The first time I came here, I just couldn’t …” he trails off, before citing »

- Hadley Freeman

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Southside With You review – likable account of the Obamas' first date

16 hours ago

This story of Barack and Michelle Obama early romance – complete with meet-cute, breakup and makeup – is a bit too dreamy to be true, but it tackles wider political issues with admirable subtlety

The representation of Us presidents on film has had a patchy history, recently. Oliver Stone put George W Bush on screen in W, and Tricky Dicky is almost a rite-of-passage for male American character actors, like Richard III for Shakespearian Brits: there have been scowly-jowly turns from Frank Langella, Kevin Spacey and John Cusack. Throughout the 1990s, though, we saw a different phenomenon – the quasi-Clinton fictional president, a mature yet credibly foxy C-in-c inspired by Bill, like Michael Douglas in The American President, Bill Pullman in Independence Day, Harrison Ford in Air Force One and more.

Related: 'History will be kind to him': Obama biopic bodes well for president's legacy

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- Peter Bradshaw

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Masterminds review – a tortuously dull theft of time

20 hours ago

Kristen Wiig and Zach Galifianakis cannot redeem this asinine heist caper that trades wit, style and excitement for wacky outfits and crazy hair

When I got up this morning I didn’t think I’d go to bed with a vision of Zach Galifianakis sharting in a swimming pool. There’s nothing in my medicine cabinet or on my liquor shelf that can help me right now.

In December 2015, I reviewed Jared Hess’s Don Verdean and, after suffering through it and his previous catastrophe, Gentlemen Broncos, I vowed I would never see one of Hess’s movies again. Had I known Hess was the director of Masterminds when my editor gave me this assignment, I would have fibbed and said I had an evening dental appointment. Frankly, a tooth extraction without painkillers would have been far more enjoyable.

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- Jordan Hoffman

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