A lot of cinema viewing entails going over old ground, revisiting bodies we’d thought long buried, but surely it’s not the Tina Turner story again?
The title is old but the concept is novel: a cross-cultural romantic comedy about a modern arranged marriage. Everybody secretly wants to have their life turned into a movie, and in her first screen script Jemina Khan, who is divorced from former Pakistani cricketer and Prime Minister Imran, has morphed that experience into a Richard Curtis romcom about an English rose and the dashing Asian doctor she grew up next door to.
Produced by Working Title (Four Weddings, Notting Hill), it follows most of the standard Curtis moves, taking a safe and familiar path across new territory.
Zoe (James) is a kooky London singleton living on a boat on the Thames with a Bridget Jones-style disaster of a love life involving lots of one-night stands with unsuitable bad boys. She is also a successful documentarian.
Actually, she’s quite a brilliant filmmaker – does it all on her own, no crew, no sound recordist, just her and her little camera. (The credits on her films must last about ten seconds.) When childhood friend Kazim (Latif) announces that he’s asked his parents to find a wife for him she is shocked, but not too shocked to immediately suggest making a film about it.
It’s always nice to see a plucky unknown break through the ranks of the British film industry and that being a well-connected millionaire’s daughter who was close to Princess Diana and Hugh Grant is no longer a barrier to getting ahead. Still, all chippiness aside, Khan’s script comes with plenty of interesting perspectives and really funny lines – to appease two clueless producers, Zoe suggests Love Contractually as a title. Against that, a lot of the subsidiary comic characters (a great Curtis strength) are thinly written with Emma Thompson largely wasted in the embarrassing mum role.
To entertain and enlighten is not the usual credo of a romcom but its examination of assisted matrimony and Muslim culture is eye-opening, thought-provoking and balanced. The question in the title is posed and seriously discussed but, this being a romcom, there are limits to the kind of answer it can come up with.
Directed by Kapur Shekhar. Starring Lily James, Shazad Latif, Shabana Azmi, Sajal Ali, Asim Chaudhry and Emma Thompson. In cinemas Feb 24. Running time: 109 mins.
Being the current kings of all media – telly, pop and movies – everybody wants to get in on the Korean thing. After a fairly disastrous bash at being a French director with The Truth, current Japanese No 1 auteur Hirokazu Kor-eeda (Shoplifters), turns up in the land of Squid Games and BTS to work with the star of Parasite. It’s a new location, for him to revisit familiar territory about family relationships and parenting.
Song Kang-ho and Dong-won Gang run a scam selling babies that have been abandoned at a church drop-off point. When the mother of their latest find (Lee Ji Eun) returns the next day, they form a rag-tag family travelling up and down the peninsula trying to find someone to buy her baby.
To the subtitle-reading viewer, the unhurried pace, gentle touch and intense focus on character seem just like his masterly Japanese films. But where his homemade films successfully disguised the melodramatic nature of his plots, this is like some Hollywood road movie caper where a group of mismatched desperate individuals slowly bond while being followed by the police. It’s tastefully done, beautifully acted, but just a bit facile.
Directed by Hirokazu Kor-eeda. Starring Song Kang-ho, Gang Dong-won, Bae Doona, Lee Ji Eun and Lee Joo Young. Korean with subtitles. Running time: 129 mins.
Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania (12A)
I’ll take a Quantumania if that’s all you’ve got but I’d have preferred a Quantumphenia: lots of little Mods on little scooters plummeting down into the cracks of a Brighton pavement. To be honest, as far as an Ant-Man film goes, anything other than quantum would be good.
The thing I always liked about Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man is that he was a little bloke. Ok, sometimes he was a very, very big bloke, and a lot of the time he was a normal-sized bloke. But in terms of the Marvel cinematic sprawl, he was a little guy. Granted, he would always get invited along to the end-of-phase Avengers gang shows, but his own standalone instalments were always pitched on a smaller, more human scale.
Of course, all that is lost by the decision to set almost all the film in the itsy bitsy, teeny weeny, sub-atomic quantum realm. The production design includes lovely bits of lava lamp psychedelia, but overall this quantum realm turns out to be just another CGI splurge where there is a cruel ruler and oppressed masses waiting to rebel. It’s proficient but dull; another whirl around the Marvel Cinematic Rut.
Directed by Peyton Reed. Starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Jonathan Majors, Kathryn Newton, Michelle Pfeiffer, Bill Murray and Michael Douglas. Running time: 125 mins.
Go to http://www.halfmanhalfcritic.com/ for a review of the Arrow Films UHD blu-ray release of The Last Emperor