Wednesday 29 November 2023

Let 'em in: "Totem"

Lila Avilé
s is the Mexican writer-director who enjoyed a surprise crossover hit in 2018 with her sharp social satire The Chambermaid. Her follow-up Totem presents as cutesier on the surface. As in Carson McCullers' novel The Member of the Wedding or Claude Miller's loose film adaptation An Impudent Girl, a family gathering is observed from the kneehigh perspective of one of the younger invitees. Gradually, however, the film reveals a depth of purpose and observation. The occasion is a birthday party organised for an ailing, stick-thin young father, Tonatiuh (Mateo García Elizondo, grandson of Gabriel García Márquez, no less), whom we quickly intuit may not have many more birthdays left. Yet it's the location we're shown round by his seven-year-old offspring Sol (Naíma Sentíes) which first grabs the attention: an overstuffed bohemian retreat, crammed full of animals and antiquities, and now a ramshackle group of people who don't obviously or easily fit together. (The bathrooms are always engaged whenever someone really needs them.) They're a kooky bunch: by way of clan patriarch, a therapist with a voicebox who conducts counselling sessions with his study door wide open; three daughters with markedly disparate looks and attitudes; a medium invited in by one of the latter to purge the house of evil spirits, a process that apparently requires the burning of a bread roll on the end of a long stick. (You wonder if she didn't just mishear "barbeque" for "birthday party".) And then there are the kids, not old enough (yet) to be quite this doolally, but alert enough to sense undercurrents, shifts in mood; left to their own devices by grown-ups with plenty on their plates and minds, they roam, sometimes scurry from room to room, picking up insects, cutting up banknotes, slurping from abandoned bottles of wine, and brightly asking Siri when the world is going to end. (No answer.) Two films into this career, and it's clear: here is a director who doesn't recoil from the mess of life so much as revel in it.

This tendency manifests above all else in Avilés' often funny framing. A cherub is plonked atop a fridge so mama can get on with baking a cake. ("It's dirty up here," the kid notes, busy lacing a pet cat's coffee with tuna.) Sol's assiduously constructed pillow fort collapses after the patio door she's used as a rearguard is suddenly opened. There's a hilarious reveal around the half-hour, as our heroine breaches a hitherto unexamined room of teenagers playing video games with a giant, Digby-like sheepdog for a companion; in the context of this household, they are as the Japanese soldiers who manned the trenches long after WW2 concluded. Where The Chambermaid made its mischief in a necessarily sterile environment, Totem parachutes us into a place where there is a lot going on, not all of it visible to the naked eye. Crucially, Avilés doesn't force any of it, adhering instead to the chaotically precise conditions of a shoot that had to have been semi-improvised going by the results, with the adults snatching serious conversations about the patient's condition behind the little ones' backs. (It's one of those films I suspect you could put on and persuade an older relative was actually a documentary.) There are limitations with this particular style of looseness: Totem never quite gathers the narrative force of The Chambermaid, nor of Carla Simón's similarly framed dramas Summer 1993 and Alcarràs. Yet you might still be touched by the film's underlying generosity, and Avilés' efforts to allow each member of her ensemble a moment or two to cherish. Totem has the distinct look and feel of a post-lockdown project: inviting just about everyone in its maker's address book to turn up and give a toast before the end credits, it's a reminder of the joys of togetherness, and how important it remains to celebrate and commemorate certain milestones. The bonus is that, along the way, Avilés also captures something that hasn't often been caught on film: the distraction and displacement activity that goes on whenever we know one of our tribe is not long for this world. The true subject of Totem, it turns out, is people making the very best of a regrettable - and unavoidable - situation.

Totem opens in selected cinemas from Friday.

Tuesday 28 November 2023

Not tonight: "Napoleon"

We saw not a single frame of Stanley Kubrick's long-tended Napoleon project, and yet cinemas across the globe are currently exhibiting two hours and thirty-eight minutes of Ridley Scott's
Napoleon; the question that arises is whether or not the latter constitutes adequate compensation. Certainly Scott - too restless and erratic to have approached the pantheon of great filmmakers, the ad man-turned-businessman director forever looking for the next deal, ready and willing to squander the credit of an Alien on a Prometheus and then an Alien: Covenant - has given us a rowdier, more raucous romp than Kubrick likely would have. Sir Ridley first revealed his hand in the course of a pre-release press tour during which he told historians objecting to his movie's deviations from the established record to "shut the fuck up". Laugh at that all you like, but it strikes me as not so far from chuckling at Michael Gove's pre-Brexit remark about Britain having had enough of experts. In what proves a decidedly post-Brexit Napoleon - two fingers stuck firmly up in the vague direction of the continent - Scott gives us the Emperor as viewed from the perspective of a gruff Northeasterner who grew up on Viz and made a point of only skimreading the official biographies, giving us lots of rutting à la chienne and a devil-may-care attitude to the facts. Initially, at least, the film seems to be proposing some defence of history's Great Men (and Women): a prologue - one of Scott and writer David Scarpa's imaginings - shows the younger Bonaparte (Joaquin Phoenix) watching on disdainfully as a regal Marie-Antoinette is led to the guillotine by extremely revolting peasants. An early sequence in which our hero retakes Toulon from the Brits - by turning an occupied fort against the ships in the harbour it overlooks - betrays some measure of admiration for Napoleon's tactical nous, and reminds us of Scott's gift for onscreen strategies and logistics. Many more big battles lie ahead: there's a reason your dad and everybody else's dad is just itching to fall asleep to Scott's magnum opus several Bank Holidays from now.

Gradually, however, Napoleon shapes up as a diptych, setting its lavish portrait of the Emperor as a fighter against an altogether more withering sketch of Napoleon the lover. This Bonaparte's upward mobility in the military ranks contrasts with his rather more haphazard progress with the fabled Joséphine (Vanessa Kirby, in short, sharp locks that establish her as a comparatively modern gal): from peeping at her across a candlelit salon to pumping indifferently into her in the boudoir and retreating, wounded, as she takes another lover during his overseas campaigns. Even their pillow talk is combative. "I am the most important man in the world!," he bellows. "I am not built like other men!" "You are nothing without me," she retorts. This being un film de Ridley Scott, they're hardly subtle, but the points do land. Napoleon could command the loyalty of tens of thousands of men, but he hadn't the foggiest what to do with this one woman; Joséphine was one territory he couldn't fully conquer, to his eternal regret and chagrin. This ongoing battle of the sexes ensures there's at least one satirical note for every booming cannon. If we understand the bulk of Scott's filmography to have been in some way about the processes of business - starting with the blue-collar carnage of Alien - then Napoleon represents the filmmaker's idea of those moguls who oversee vast empires through a combination of vision, ambition and leadership, yet remain persistently hapless on the homefront. (This Napoleon's solution is to ditch the womanly Joséphine for a younger model, which in the early 19th century could be as #problematic as taking a child bride.) Napoleon is plainly the work of someone who (by Hollywood standards) has been broadly steadfast in marriage, and taken so confidently to fatherhood that several of his offspring have followed him into the family business. It is also, as a result, a rare period drama in which a director can been seen repeatedly and insistently pulling rank on his own subject: two-and-a-half hours in which the 85-year-old Scott, like a pub bore telling you What Gareth Southgate Has Got Wrong, informs us he'd make a far better general, husband and bedmate than his limp-dicked cuck of a protagonist. The prevailing air of hubris might only be admirable if the film were a better deployment of everybody's time and resources.

From its mishmash of accents to the unlikely casting of Miles Jupp as the Emperor of Austria (Brits do it better!), Scott's Napoleon is a hashjob, wilfully self-sabotaging and too restless to hold to any one editorial line for long; even the already much-memed sequence in which Napoleon whines "you think you're so great because you have boats" to the British delegation botches its own comedy by affording the bewigged posho recipient of that punchline the final word. (Here again is the Scott who bungled his way through 2006's singularly unfunny A Good Year. I mean, for heaven's sake Film Twitter: pick worthier heroes.) You spend much of these 168 minutes watching this flea-film leap around from place to place, year to year, between tragedy and farce. As with most Scott projects, there is a director's cut in the offing - some four-plus hours, headed to Apple TV+ in the near-future - and you will almost certainly be better off holding out for that than making do with the glorified trailer now playing on a screen near you: that version will almost certainly smooth the transitions, build up the supporting parts and allow more than the occasional scene to develop into actual drama. (As it is, we've been left in the same position we were in with 2005's Kingdom of Heaven and 2013's The Counselor: only a masochist could want more of what's been promised by the theatrical cut.) For now, Scott has turned in the assiduously lit auteur variant of one of those TV movies fashioned from a pre-existing miniseries: a work that charges onwards down the narrative line, jettisoning depth, weight and viewer engagement as it yomps along. Some of it (the grim spectacle of Austerlitz and Waterloo) still holds the eye, but a lot more falls flat (cf. the newspaper headline that refers to Joséphine ungallantly - and un-Gallic-ly - as "Boney's Old Bird") and the central performance never coheres because Phoenix is playing multiple Emperors simultaneously and can't connect the dots by himself. Nothing here overturns my conviction that the one masterpiece of Scott's late period has been TV's The Good Fight, to which he merely lent his name as executive producer. (Another day, another deal.) Despite his tipping of a tricorned hat, despite a lavish red-carpet premiere in Paris, it turns out even the French don't like this Napoleon that much - but then, set against Abel Gance's monumental 1927 telling of the same tale, a film such as this would only ever resemble pipsqueakery. Fuck 'em, Scott would doubtless growl. For better and in many ways worse, his Napoleon is a fuck 'em sort of movie.

Napoleon is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

Friday 24 November 2023

For what it's worth...

UK box office Top Ten (for the weekend of November 17-19, 2023):

1 (new) The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes (12A)
2 (1) The Marvels (12A) **
3 (new) Tiger 3 (12A) ***
4 (new) Saltburn (15)
5 (2) Trolls Band Together (U)
6 (new) Thanksgiving (18)
7 (new) Kevin Bridges - The Overdue Catch-Up (18)
8 (3) Killers of the Flower Moon (15) ****
9 (4Five Nights at Freddy's (15)
10 (5) Anatomy of a Fall (15) ****

(source: BFI)

My top five:

DVD/Blu-Ray/Download top ten: 

1 (new) The Creator (12) **
2 (3) A Haunting in Venice (12)
4 (2Barbie (12) ***
5 (17) Blue Beetle (12)
6 (8) Gran Turismo (12)
7 (6) The Super Mario Bros. Movie (PG)
8 (4) Expend4bles (15)
9 (10) Fast X (12)
10 (re) No Hard Feelings (15)

My top five: 
1. Oppenheimer
5. Barbie

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:
1. Passport to Pimlico (Saturday, BBC2, 1.45pm)
2. Benedetta (Thursday, Channel 4, 12.55am)
3. The Rainmaker [above] (Thursday, Channel 5, 11.05pm)
4. Whisky Galore! (Saturday, BBC2, 3.05pm)
5. Jack Frost (Sunday, Channel 5, 4.05pm)

Tuesday 21 November 2023

Predators: "May December"

The advantage
May December has in territories outside the US is that few will know the real-life events the film was reportedly inspired by. We are therefore free to give ourselves over to the twists and turns of what is, in essence, the Todd Haynes version of a Channel 5 afternoon TV movie: a knowingly soapy and sunny intrigue about the repurposing of life as art that - with a perverse elegance typical of this filmmaker - ushers us towards the conclusion that movies and moviemakers are trash and trouble. Their representative on screen is Natalie Portman's Elizabeth, a TV actress who's travelled to a quiet American backwater to stay with (and study) Gracie Atherton-Yoo and her husband Joe (Julianne Moore and Charles Melton), soon to be seen as subjects of the based-on-true-events feature Elizabeth is all set to star in. The thirty-year age gap between Moore and recent Riverdale graduate Melton hints at the film-within-a-film's sensational story: Gracie seduced Joe when she was in her mid-thirties (and married) and he was in his early teens, a source of understandable local outrage. Yet here they are, some twenty years down the line: married with children, in their own kind of love, living peaceably (despite the occasional box of shit put through their letterbox by vexed neighbours) and faced with an outsider hellbent on prying into their past. Elizabeth, for her part, is making a movie, but she's also making mischief - just playing, in two of that word's meanings: opening up old wounds, poking a well-manicured finger in, stirring things up. Long-suppressed emotions start to rise to the surface; it wouldn't be a Todd Haynes picture without them. We, meanwhile, are invited to consider what's most deplorable: the age gap between Gracie and Joe, or the vast chasm separating Elizabeth of Hollywood from messy everyday reality.

The spilling over of troubled hearts may be a Haynes commonplace, but in most other respects, this is an unusual project for the director to have taken on. May December isn't written by him (the credited screenwriters are Samy Burch and Alex Mechanik), which would normally indicate some distance from the material; and while thoughtfully framed by Christopher Blauvelt - especially so whenever mirrors come into play - it doesn't ever look like much, the movie's own way of siding with reality. What makes it seem far more than a work-for-hire is the deep engagement with the act and art of performance. Front and centre, exhibit 1a: the most assured performance of Portman's entire career, as a star trying her darnedest to make people fall for her wherever she goes. It's a performance with elements of Julia Roberts' recent public appearances in the mix - great personal charm poised atop unnervingly vast reserves of steeliness - but it's Roberts (and the stardom Roberts represents) pushed to a dangerous extreme: acting as insincerity, psychopathy and - in a case such as this - predation. Elizabeth comes this way to swallow Gracie, Joe and all of their experiences right up; she does so with a kilowatt smile, but there's still blood on her lips. Crucially, this isn't another Black Swan, where you felt the darkness being imposed on Portman by an overbearing director; instead, Haynes allows his leading lady to make choices - calculation is just what he's looking for here - and Portman makes exactly the right ones to throw us. (She and Elizabeth get their most accurate review when Joe tells them: "It's hard to tell what you naturally think about this.") Elsewhere, Haynes picks up on peculiar tremors of doubt undermining a central relationship you feel really could be interpreted any which way; what Anatomy of a Fall does for a mysterious death, May December does for a longstanding love affair/amour fou/grooming masterclass. Melton makes Joe a nice guy, but also heavy, slow and passive with it, as if still trapped beneath the puppy fat of adolescence: stunned by what happened to him at 13, and newly baffled at having to watch his own kids, who seem so much more mature than him, leaving a nest he cannot. (The caterpillars he keeps as pets appear key to his whole character: they get to evolve, where he hasn't.) The suspicion ghosting around within the film's frames thus leads us back to Gracie Atherton-Yoo: might she only have stayed with this (in most respects) mismatched partner - might she have only taken his name - solely to ward off the more unseemly accusations?

Well, maybe. The objective reality May December presents us all with is that Joe and Gracie are comparatively happy at the start of the film, and less so at the end, and that this unhappiness is a direct consequence of the renewed battle for control of their narrative they find themselves caught up in: certain parties trying to protect themselves and their loved ones, others trying to get the juice and the dirt, others still - like opportunistic local musician Georgie (Cory Michael Smith) - using the arrival of the Hollywood circus to try and negotiate a better life (or role) for themselves. Positively thumped along by composer Marcelo Zarvos's riff on the Michel Legrand score for 1971's The Go-Between, it's another of this year's movies to feel informed in some way by the bruising tos-and-fros of online reputation management: gossipy, but not idly so; spiky; entertainment with an edge, well aware that one person's story is another person's life. Haynes, for his part, appears in complete control throughout. He accepts the seriousness of the allegations these characters make about one another - and you could easily imagine a more straightforward thriller retelling of this episode, leaning into the ominously cambered roof Joe sometimes hangs out on, and the shotgun we witness Gracie the hunter taking into the woods at one point. But as a gay man working in the field of showbusiness, he too can't resist making at least a little mischief along the way. Clock homemaker Gracie telling her offspring "you try going through life without a scale, see how that works out" - campest line of the year, by several spangled furlongs - or homewrecker Elizabeth inviting Joe in to fix her broken nebuliser. As Haynes has sensed, this is an odd little story that reflects on the odd creatures we are and the odd things we do in the name of love and self-preservation. People adapt, adjust, get quietly on with their lives - but the cinema doesn't and can't: it has to turbocharge it all, make a racket, make a scene. You may well come away from May December royally entertained, but also convinced that movies and many of those who make them are uniquely ill-qualified to document anything so modest as daily reality. Thank heavens we have creatives like Haynes around to keep them on the right track, and steer them in the direction of such complex, rewarding truths.

May December is now screening in selected cinemas.

Friday 17 November 2023

For what it's worth...

UK box office Top Ten (for the weekend of November 10-12, 2023):

1 (new) The Marvels (12A) **
2 (1) Trolls Band Together (U)
3 (3) Killers of the Flower Moon (15) ****
4 (2) Five Nights at Freddy's (15)
5 (new) Anatomy of a Fall (15) ****
6 (new) Dream Scenario (15) ***
7 (5) Paw Patrol: The Mighty Movie (U)
8 (4Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour (12A) ***
9 (6) The Great Escaper (12A) ***
10 (8) The Exorcist: Believer (15)

(source: BFI)

My top five:

DVD/Blu-Ray/Download top ten: 

2 (1) Barbie (12) ***
3 (2) A Haunting in Venice (12)
4 (new) Expend4bles (15)
5 (4) The Meg 2: The Trench (12)
6 (9) The Super Mario Bros. Movie (PG)
8 (5) Gran Turismo (12)
9 (new) The Exorcist: Believer (15)
10 (13) Fast X (12)

My top five: 
1. Oppenheimer
5. Barbie

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:
1. X+Y (Saturday, BBC1, 12.40am)
2. Only You (Sunday, BBC2, 11.45pm)
3. The Day After Tomorrow [above] (Sunday, Channel 4, 5.45pm)
4. Don't Breathe (Thursday, Channel 4, 1.50am)
5. Love & Mercy (Tuesday, BBC2, 11.15pm)

From the archive: "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2"

So here we are, then: after nine hours of leaden franchise nontertainment, Katniss Everdeen - glassy-eyed, slow-on-the-uptake stooge of a drably oppressive dystopian regime - has finally clocked the grim state of things, and been primed to use her talents, such as they are, to bring down the regime's top brass. The Harry Potter and Twilight franchises only lost me in their home straights, when they retreated inside their own worlds to the detriment of basic storytelling. The Hunger Games never pulled me in, chiefly because of what it so plainly was: a grind of a formative text for a generation being schooled for a moment when the real world would mesh with our imagined dystopias, and all American event movies would be joyless and plodding. The dullness at least permits the switched-on viewer to spot how a notionally anti-capitalist text has been refashioned - made over, as with Katniss and that red dress - in such a way as to become a tool of the status quo. With the release of Mockingjay - Part 2, this series has now generated four films that have offered no escape, no relief, no nothing, really - and still tempted young adults to hand over their allowance every one or two years. Late capitalism is getting us to pay for our own oppression.

Anyway, this is the wrap-up (or footnote): Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss bursting out of the underground where she's been deprogrammed and refocused on the regime led by Donald Sutherland's ideologue President Snow. Again, everyone is terse, harried and terribly serious, the minor levity Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson lent to earlier instalments finally purged in favour of yet more internal politics; again, we're invited to invest in a YA love triangle that was sunk two films back by the thinnest characters known to man. From the perspective of a few years, what's striking is how white it all is, not just in its laser-tag-in-a-carpark aesthetic, but also in its insistence that the only alternative to a world overseen by a pale stale male is one led by an almost entirely personality-free white woman. After finally labouring through all four films, I've seen no indication that a world led by Katniss Everdeen would be any livelier; the vision of this new world that Part 2 arrives at is so bland you realise we've essentially been asked to cheer the YA equivalent of David Cameron being succeeded by Theresa May. It makes for perverse spectacle: the sight of exceptional actors (and a minor Hemsworth) attempting to free themselves from a structure that feels very nearly as deadening as the Snow administration itself - to get out of this series alive. This is the kind of childish thing Lawrence had to put away as R-Pattz and K-Stew did post-Twilight; the gap between these films and the star's next worst project is cavernous. More poignant is the fact this should have been Philip Seymour Hoffman's final film before his premature demise. There is much that is tragic about that passing, not least that a remarkable body of work - encompassing several inarguable modern classics - should have concluded with a project as rotely nondescript as this. But that's what capitalism does, even to the most gifted among us: it grinds you down.

(April 2022)

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 is available to stream via NOW TV, to rent via Prime Video and YouTube, and on DVD through Lionsgate Home Entertainment; a prequel, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, opens in cinemas nationwide today.

Thursday 16 November 2023

Curse of the cat person: "Tiger 3"

Tiger series of Hindi action films launched with Ek Tha Tiger in summer 2012, soon after Tom Cruise took the Mission: Impossible franchise to cartoonish new heights by scaling the Burj Khalifa singlehandedly. It expanded via Tiger Zinda Hai, the big Indian blockbuster of Christmas 2017, and - because everything now has to be part of some willy-waggling corporate superstructure - has since been appropriated as the foundation stone of the so-called Yash Raj Spy Universe, which has subsequently kicked out such crowdpleasers as 2019's War and this past January's Pathaan, in which Tiger star Salman Khan briefly gueststarred. Despite all the huffing and puffing and relentless back and forth, the Tiger films' strongest throughline has actually been the growing alliance between Khan's burly, bescarfed, daal-cooking special forces legend Avinash "Tiger" Rathore Singh and his sometime ISI opposite number, then sidekick, now wife Zoya (Katrina Kaif), who renounced international skulduggery for love; somewhere in series lore is the suggestion that watching one another's backs may be the ideal of a relationship for India and Pakistan. (It may be notable that the series began in a decade when Bollywood was far more interested in building bridges - as per Khan's 2015 megahit Bajrangi Bhaijaan - than waving flags or throwing rocks.) 

The most intriguing story idea Tiger 3 stumbles across comes early, with the insinuation Zoya might have been playing a very long game as a deeper-than-deep cover double agent, someone prepared to marry Salman Khan and bear him a child with the intention of undermining the fragile peace between neighbouring nations. The entire first act plays like a welcome rewrite of True Lies, one in which Jamie Lee Curtis is unmasked as a pivotal player in international subterfuge, more than ready to stick a rocket launcher up her secretive husband's backside. (You'd watch that movie, right?) Disappointingly, however, this proves to be but an opening feint. The bulk of the new film falls back on stock action sequel beats, with a new villain - Emraan Hashmi's ambitious puppetmaster Aatish Rehman - manipulating established characters. Audiences are being given more of what it's assumed they like and want; plot once again becomes pretext for a succession of varyingly spectacular setpieces.

The great virtue (perhaps even saving grace) of these films is their speed. From an early stage in their genesis, someone - most likely uber-producer Aditya Chopra, who again takes a story credit here - clearly decided the best way to proceed with this kind of profitable nonsense is to barrel onwards, chin, elbows and knees all raised. Tiger 3's globetrotting throws up copious nonsense in its wake, capably zipped through by Fan director Maneesh Sharma: a protect-the-asset pursuit through St. Petersburg (or non-hostile stand-in) during which Khan appears to have disguised himself as early 1980s Billy Connolly; a girl-on-girl fight between Kaif and Chinese assassin Michelle Lee that replays the sauna scene from Eastern Promises, and concludes with the two actresses trying to preserve the modesty of a 12A-rated action flick by grappling over the same towel; a final punch-up in a boiler room overflowing with so much dry ice it starts to resemble the set of a kids' TV music show from the turn of the Nineties. (You half-expect Gaz Top to wander on and introduce Let Loose.) Along the way, we dash through more of that backroom politicking that differentiates this series from the essentially apolitical and escapist M:I franchise: the Khan-Hashmi relationship is something like the Cruise-Hoffman business in M:I3, only if the latter had aspirations to overthrowing the democratically elected Prime Minister of Pakistan. 

Still, this remains a bro's franchise at heart, paying extended tribute to the efficacy of its leading man's leg days. Kaif is once more sidelined beyond a certain point, dressed like a stagehand when, as closing musical number "Leke Prabhu Ka Naam" vibrantly illustrates, the gal was born to dance; the most conspicuous choreography before that comes when Khan and a cameoing co-star perform synchronised forward rolls while clutching semiautomatic firearms. (The sequence yields one grace note, when the pair try to walk quietly away from an onrushing enemy chopper, hands in pockets.) As in so many of his recent star vehicles, Khan looks to have flexed his muscle at a certain juncture: supporting characters recede, leaving us to observe Tiger thumping that half of Pakistan that's been plotting against the other. (The racial politics are 50-50.) To his credit, the star appears in far better shape than he did amid the shambles of April's Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ka Jaan: if the character of Tiger continues to defy all known laws of physics, the actor at least resembles someone you might well look towards to save the day or sustain a wet Wednesday night out. But that's about all Tiger 3 does, really: dully competent in hitting its story and action beats, it makes the eruptive colour and fireworks of Pathaan seem greatly more than a year old. One of Tiger's assignments is given the codename "Mission Time Pass", which you could say is everything for which this creative team signed up. Time sure passes in Tiger 3, like the seasons, or like water after a Tango Ice Blast; the one artistic consolation is that dull competence represents an undeniable step up on some of this leading man's recent output.

Tiger 3 is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

Wednesday 15 November 2023

Nobody knows: "Anatomy of a Fall"

The French writer-director Justine Triet has dipped a toe into courtroom drama before, while concluding her 2016 film
In Bed with Victoria. There, as befitted a screwball comedy composed along recognisably Hawksian lines, the court filled up with furred and feathered friends: it was the punchline to a robust gag, a final loosing of chaos. Triet's latest Anatomy of a Fall largely resists such animal husbandry in favour of interrogating an even more compelling subject: human behaviour. Over two and a half hours, Triet and co-writer Arthur Harari lay out (and sometimes scatter) before us circumstances and clues pertaining to a mysterious death in the mountains of Grenoble: that of a sometime writer, Samuel (Samuel Theis), who either tumbled to his doom while attempting repairs in the attic of his chalet retreat or was pushed by somebody, possibly his exasperated novelist wife Sandra (Sandra Hüller). Like any real-world case worth its salt, Trier's (entirely fictional) drama has caught the popular imagination: after winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes this summer, the film has gone on to become both a critical talking point and a notable hit at a moment when arthouse crossover successes have been thin on the ground. Yet it's a deeply odd sort of film to have become a hit: not at all a murder-mystery, and not an investigative procedural in the conventional understanding of that term, which is to say a work that ushers the viewer towards easy, comforting resolution. Triet and Harari have presented us with as much of a puzzle as the case the film gets (and gets us) caught up in. Anatomy of a Fall is plainly one of the movies of 2023 - but what is it, exactly?

Here's where I can offer the one straightforward answer Triet's film led me towards: it's the most artfully constructed Rorschach blot to have come along in ages, one of very few films this awards season that will leave an audience of 500 with 500 competing responses and theories. The first major clue is the film's relentlessly shifting point-of-view. We start embedded with the grieving family - the sobbing wife and mother, trying to hold it together for the sake of heartbroken son Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner) - but as the case nears court, Triet plugs us into live media feeds in a way that suggests someone stepping back, seeking objectivity; she also cuts away to Sandra's lawyer (Swann Arlaud), obliged to deal with a client vacillating between the frosty and the flirty. Everything is left in play here. For a long while - for most of the running time - it appears as if Triet and Harari have agreed on a strict no-flashbacks rule, but then we get flashbacks all the same; there is no one line of approach - as 99% of procedurals settle into - but an openness to all approaches simultaneously. For starters, the dialogue flicks freely between English, French and German; the camera, meanwhile, abruptly shifts position mid-scene - in places, as if torn hurriedly from its own moorings - to reveal hitherto unseen parties, redirect viewer focus, or gesture towards some form of effect, as when it frantically slides back and forth in front of the partially blind Daniel as he takes the stand for the first time. (A further wrinkle: this is one of those uniquely French trials that often resembles a free-for-all, with opposing lawyers bounding around the room like Hamlet and Laertes at the RSC and even minor functionaries encouraged to interrupt at any juncture.) 

The most fraught post-screening conversations will naturally hinge on the issue of culpability for Samuel's death, but I suspect - and I suspect Triet and Harari were fully aware of this - even these will depend on where you stand on the current state of play in the battle of the sexes (and whether you believe in such a yellowing concept in the first place). Is Sandra self-absorbed, self-contained or merely self-effacing? Are we swayed by the grasping, faltering French she's obliged to use in court, very different from Hüller's steely mastery of no-nonsense German? There are legal precedents for this roomier framing: Steven Bochco's terrific Murder One on TV, and more recently Dominik Moll's expert The Night of the 12th, though even that film moved towards a very concrete conclusion, albeit one that insisted there are some cases that can never be fully resolved in a manner we might prefer. At every stage, Anatomy of a Fall leaves itself open to interpretation: what it inspires is the respectable arthouse variation of that grubby conspiratorial thinking that has taken root on the Internet these past few years. Triet and Harari offer a fur-lined rabbit hole for us all to fall down, clutching to whatever flavour truffle chips the Picturehouse currently has in stock.

Might it irritate, this absence of selectivity, this refusal of certainty? Again, I suspect this will vary on a viewer-by-viewer basis, dependent on how much closure you need from your movies, and how much work you're prepared to do to reconstruct and reevaluate this narrative in your head. (You are being tasked, in effect, with the job of summation these 150 minutes largely reject.) The thought did strike me that the details of this case ultimately matter far less than that framing: that this is one of several cold cases Triet could have refused to tie in a neat bow before us. Founded on one of the most densely written screenplays of recent times - forever introducing new evidence, further complication - those details are precisely articulated, however, and the whole especially well acted, doubly so given that these performers couldn't have known which camera was on them, and what Triet's endgame was going to be in the edit. Open to everything, including opacity, the actors successfully occupy any given position in any given scene, and convey at least as much innocence as guilt. (Even the family's collie - Messi as Snoop - is astonishing in his big scenes towards the end.) 

These characters do emerge as something more than case studies in a thesis, better rounded for being caught inside and outside the courtroom, for being observed both in carefully rehearsed flashback and jittery present moment, apparently improvising their way towards some contingent and tentative approximation of the truth. I'm not sure the film is ever as profound or searing a retooling of courtroom norms as Alice Diop's Saint Omer, which may be the movie of 2023: to some degree, the plot finally sticks at the level of intellectual exercise, a writers' problem or writers' tiff. (Triet and Harari insert a nice, self-mocking gag amid the closing statements: "There were too many words in this trial.") But it does feel like a substantial dramatic achievement, not least for slipping a multitude of questions into our pockets for us to mull as we gather our belongings and fumble our way back towards the foyer lights. How on earth can we ever really establish the facts of a matter when we weren't physically present, and those at the centre of it are so clearly flawed and fallible human beings? See Anatomy of a Fall, and pray you don't get jury duty for the next one thousand years.

Anatomy of a Fall is now playing in selected cinemas.

Tuesday 14 November 2023

From the archive: "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1"

Back in the 1970s, a film like Logan's Run could take just hours to describe its young heroes' realisation they were living in a dystopian state, their radicalisation, and the revolution they strove to bring about. The crisis in American cinematic storytelling is such that it's taken two whole films, each running two hours plus, for the Hunger Games series to reach just the first of these stages, and to have its heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) wake up to the fact the society in which she's forced to run around putting arrows through the chests and necks of her contemporaries may not be, y'know, all that. From this sorry state of affairs, we can draw three conclusions. One: Katniss Everdeen is an exceedingly dim heroine to construct a film around. Two: the core audience for these things are substantially dimmer than they once were, kids who need walking and talking through every last baby step of these plots. Three: the studio, Lionsgate, has stretched this narrative out purely for financial gain, bestowing us with four meagre films, when the material was only strong enough for one, maybe two tops. This is very different from the teensploitation of the Roger Corman era, where the producers were lucky to eke one release out of half an idea - and thereby cover their pitifully small budgets. The Hunger Games producers have merely succeeded in dolloping out some patently thin gruel, and getting audiences worldwide to hand over millions in return. It's a series governed less by sound storytelling principles than by the corporate world's abiding laws of supply and demand.

One could arguably have said much the same about the Twilight saga, a roughly contemporaneous franchise this viewer proved far more sympathetic towards than most. Yet for much of its run, that series was prepared to scratch about modestly on location, with lesser known actors. (It, too, got into trouble when it split one book into two.) In The Hunger Games movies, there has been an altogether starker contrast between the richness of the assembled human resources and the thinness of the material; barely a scene has dragged by without a familiar face or illustrious name dropping by to mouth some leaden dystopian homily. With Mockingjay - Part 1, we're finally at the point where rebel leaders Julianne Moore and Philip Seymour Hoffman are all set to face off against Donald Sutherland's tyrannical President Snow. (Even the latter's underlings are played by the recognisable Sarita Choudhary and Robert Knepper, Prison Break's infamous T-Bag.) The splurgy casting never quite takes, because teenagers aren't going to know - aren't old enough to know - Magnolia and Don't Look Now, and the actors don't have the material to work their usual nuance-locating magic. This really is a franchise where the baddies are bad and the goodies are good and everyone's set on a track that permits no deviation - which again makes one wonder just why it's taking so damn long to get anywhere. 

Any onlooking grown-ups, meanwhile, will have long been alienated by the prevailing YA-ness. To be fair, the franchise's impossibly dull and drippy love triangle, involving Katniss, a minor Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson's annoyingly named Peeta - at every point, substantially less engaging than Twilight's better acted Team Jacob/Team Edward rigmarole - is allowed to recede in this instalment; instead, we get what's effectively a two-hour sidebar on the rebranding of Katniss Everdeen, once the postergirl for conformity, now a revolutionary figurehead. All this betrays, however, is an editorial interest in positioning and image control; the revolution this series is really getting to is one of PR and marketing. And again, deprived of the wisecracks action movies usually toss their protagonist by way of light relief amid the prevailing bloodbath, Katniss is revealed as a heroine almost entirely without personality: such an effervescent performer elsewhere, Lawrence is trapped physically under a lifeless gothy dye-job and professionally beneath the most mechanical of characterisations - a cog in a machine who may at some point, we gather, throw a spanner in the works.

What's been especially frustrating with these films is that you keep catching flickers of the more economical and effective pulp this series might have generated at maybe a tenth of the budget. Having abandoned the franchise as a theatrical proposition circa 2012, I'll now concede it was strangely ahead of its time in some respects, more relevant to a post-2016 world, where the likes of Teen Vogue and the congresswomen known as The Squad led the resistance against the snowy-white President Trump. Still, I can't for the life of me see why this series took such cultural hold under the Obama administration. (It's not like The West Wing presenting a bizarro-world alternative to the Bush years - unless people wanted things to get worse.) Beyond that, any residual B-movie delights are swiftly howitzered and buried beneath contemporary event-movie excess. For much of this one, we're hunkered down in bunkers, with light relief limited to running around the rubble of massive, concrete-grey sets; even Elizabeth Banks, whose Effie Trinket brought a dash of camp colour to the first movies, has seen her costume and eyebrows removed. Via such fell swoops, The Hunger Games has shaped up not as a franchise about dystopia so much as a franchise that is dystopia: offering scant pleasure or joy, and no catharsis whatsoever in a cliffhanger ending that reminds us we've got another bloody one of these things to sit through before we can put this needless ordeal behind us. We're nearly seven hours into this tale, and still Katniss Everdeen appears no closer to achieving the necessary change to which she's just been awakened. Time is money, my dear, as your paymasters surely know.

(July 2020)

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 is available to stream via NOW TV, to rent via Prime Video and YouTube, and on DVD via Lionsgate Home Entertainment.

Monday 13 November 2023

From the archive: "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"

Though it emerged last March, it feels an age since
the first Hunger Games movie, and you sense the Hollywood studios – still mourning the loss of the Potter and Twilight cash cows, and seeing too many Percy Jacksons and Mortal Instruments vanishing without much box-office trace – praying for another substantial YA-derived hit.

That first film was a gamble, and tentative with it, choosing to tone down its Battle Royale-like scenario to secure a family-friendly rating. The two-hour, 25-minute Catching Fire, conversely, arrives as an example of what can happen when a franchise knows it has an inbuilt audience: determined to repeat its initial success, it gets repetitive and bloats out, marked by that grim, Potterish devotion to filming every last semi-colon of its source material. We’re surely heading toward that Deathly Hallows/Breaking Dawn moment when a single book will be split into two films to maximise revenue streams: this would-be revolutionary narrative has an eye on the pockets of the masses.

Where its YA predecessors were on some level timeless fantasies, The Hunger Games can be dated specifically to the reality-TV era. The first film saw Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) elevated from nobody to popular idol; here, she’s firmly installed as a celebrity, paraded before the proletariat (among whom she has inspired a fashionable haircut), forced into a stage-managed romance with unthreatening teammate Peter (Josh Hutcherson), and generally becoming the figurehead for a regime of increasingly oppressive methods.

On some level, Katniss’s predicament is meant to be enjoyable, relatable, perhaps even aspirational – and it’s here that this franchises deviates from its predecessors. For all their internal crises and conflicts, the worlds of Harry Potter and Bella Swan were essentially idylls – safe, nurturing environments in which young characters and cinemagoers develop and realise their powers.

Playing out around brutalist architecture and snowy wastelands that recall some crumbling former Soviet republic, The Hunger Games is trying to sell us a dystopia as easy-access escapism, and might only have made the money it so far has in a society that has contrived to turn the dire warning of Orwell’s Big Brother into a regular paying gig for Brian Dowling.

The new film is largely po-faced about this business – grindingly so, right through to the Coldplay song hung over the end credits like a collaborator’s corpse – yet at the same time, it’s just too timid to commit to the full horror of its own story world; given that this year’s Games no longer involves young children, but the kind of sexy grown-ups we normally see getting bashed around in 12A action-adventure vehicles, you could say Catching Fire shies even further away from it.

To make the oppression harsher or any more visible would perhaps reveal the characters’ peculiarly shrugging, often acquiescing responses to it – mirroring, perhaps, most iPhone-checking young cinemagoers’ attitude to corporate capitalism – as unheroic indeed. Though the new film’s closing moments offer a more spectacular variant of The Truman Show, exposing some of this world’s limiting infrastructure, one keeps waiting for these kids to properly rebel – and there are long, windy stretches in Catching Fire where that day still seems a long way off, or several films down the line.

Lawrence, who showed in Silver Linings Playbook that she could be a spontaneous, unorthodox presence, here reverts to the waxily inexpressive Katniss of film one, essentially playing her own action figurine, a mannequin in search of her next makeover. This Katniss apparently enjoys all the attention and pretty dresses the Games throw her way (as any young actress would) – even if these perks come at the expense of the lives of others.

She’s comprehensively shown up, this time around, by the arrival of the much-underrated Jena Malone – the missing link between Juliette Lewis and Mary-Louise Parker, a wild child with the smarts to flourish in the woods – as a rival player who happily strips naked before Katniss and Peter, and thinks nothing of swearing on live TV. Here at last is someone you could see making a decent fist of manning the barricades – and this series would, you suspect, be a great deal more fun with a 15 certificate and Malone in the Katniss role.

The Games we have can as yet only gesture in the direction of insurrection, because – as a product of the same entertainment industry it comes to mock – it seeks to make big bucks, not waves or trouble. The lengthier running time gave me additional pause to consider just why I find this franchise quite so hard to root for, and it may boil down to this: that Katniss and Peter aren’t rebels but apparatchiks, cool-headed products of the state rather than viable flesh-and-blood alternatives to it, being rewarded rather too well for assuming their part amid these circuses. They will only be truly free when the world stops watching.

(MovieMail, November 2013)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is available to stream via NOW TV, to rent via Prime Video and YouTube, and is available on DVD through Lionsgate Home Entertainment.

Enter the void: "The Marvels"

Back in 2008, Marvel launched their undeniably successful bid for movie market supremacy with boys' toys:
Iron Man and his suit, Captain America and his shield, Thor and his mighty hammer. The market was duly shored up, then saturated and finally strangulated. A decade or so later, with audience enthusiasm rapidly waning, the MCU launches its next assault on earthly multiplexes (phase, what, 5097? Who, besides the nerds and the suits, is still counting?) with a movie that marks a clear shift in strategy. The Marvels arrives care of a female director (Nia Da Costa, who did 2021's Candyman redo), with a predominantly all-gal cast and a plot that revolves around the collection and possession of intergalactic snap-on bracelets; it's the first Marvel picture I've seen to feature a mid-film song-and-dance number; and, if that wasn't cutesy enough for you, there is also a prominent litter of computer-generated space kittens to coo over. We have, I think, reached a moment equivalent to that in printed comic-book history when the head honchos of Marvel, DC and others suddenly realised there might be a whole new audience for their output: they have boobs, tend to get less sweatily agitated about plot points, and generally take better care of themselves, making them a far better investment in the long run. Women, it would appear, are the future of the MCU. Or the scapegoats. Can our plucky heroines save the day where a bunch of variably chiselled men have failed of late? All I can say is good luck, ladies; you're going to need it if the material is as nothingy as this.

For The Marvels proves to be yet another black hole: a marginally cheerier dud than this summer's The Flash, but no less of a timesuck all in all. There are reasons for this, which a more forgiving observer - possibly one who hasn't had to sit through 130 variations on the same damn bubblegum - might take for mitigating circumstances. Firstly, this is a sequel to a film (2019's Captain Marvel) that came out several lockdown-interrupted lifetimes ago: Da Costa has had to insert one of those ever-crude "protagonist wakes from a dream about the events of an earlier film" scenes in the first five minutes in a bid to get everybody back up to speed, ensuring the project feels like something of a lost cause from the off. (All we're reminded of is how little about Captain Marvel could be considered truly memorable.) Secondly, the process of storytelling has been complicated - and, I'd argue, fatally compromised - by the desire to work in characters from other Marvel formats. Iman Vellani's Kamala Khan, a.k.a. Ms. Marvel, hails from this universe's TV arm, where I'm assuming she weekly demonstrates her primary superpower of being so irritatingly perky her enemies flee the room at an express rate of knots, but I'd honestly no clue where Teyonah Parris's sidekick Monica began her MCU career, nor why Tessa Thompson (cameoing as her Thor-world avatar) should show up dressed as her character from the Men in Black reboot we've all mostly forgotten about. It's both curious and revealing that this quote-unquote plot - a clear patchwork job, cobbled together by some combination of Da Costa, Megan McDonnell, Elissa Karasik and the cards of zombified test-screening audiences - should lean so heavily on characters leaping through gaps in this universe; all it points up - and the writers have to have realised this, even if just subconsciously - is that there are now more gaps in this fraying universe than there is connecting fabric, which wasn't the case when The Avengers first set out to conquer the galaxy.

For just shy of two hours, we're presented with a serial where we don't have all the pages, followed - as talk inevitably gives way to shruggingly pixellated action - by a Lite-Brite that's been dropped onto a concrete floor from a great height and then flattened by a passing steamroller. It's characters we've barely met talking about things we don't understand and cannot care about in scenes that resemble indifferently lit television. The fonder reviews seem to me a reflection of the idea the film isn't quite as disastrous as had been muttered about in industry circles - or to what Da Costa manages on a scene-by-scene basis, having abandoned all hope the whole might hang together in any appreciable manner. There's a whole lot of these characters floating around in space, which might well play as goofy fun were it not an analogue for the project's essential weightlessness and lack of direction. (At least Tony Stark flew straight, and with propulsion: we knew where he was going, and what he was planning to do there.) Your heart might go out to the acclaimed actors forced to mouth reams of dull exposition in an attempt to explain the inexplicable - and, by extension, to Da Costa, caught up in what appears to be her second successive gig to suffer from heavy studio interference. Yet there were doubtless irresistible cheques involved, and besides, suckering folks into swallowing terminal incoherence hardly seems the wisest long-term career strategy, whatever your gender. Let the CG squid-cats take over for phase 5098, Kevin; whatever they drag in can't be that much lamer than this.

The Marvels is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

Sunday 12 November 2023

Overnight sensations: "Dream Scenario"

Twenty years have passed since Nicolas Cage last went full schlub with his double role in
Adaptation., his last great role before a spell in the DTV-adjacent acting wilderness. Dream Scenario again invites the star to accentuate the bald spot, swap leathers for woollens and rein in the high kicks in the service of a more than serviceable conceit, one you'll no doubt be fully aware of at this point: yes, this is the one about the nothingy college professor who achieves fame and notoriety overnight after he starts turning up in other people's dreams. The overarching gag here hinges on that nothingness: even in dreams, Cage's Paul Matthews is a mere bystander or passer-by, and more often than not the butt of some nocturnal joke. It's not really enough to sustain a midlife career pivot, much less make up for the snubs and humiliations of waking life, and so its net effect is to leave the real Matthews more frustrated still. It's not good for a man who is, according to an old flame, forever "searching for the insult" to have acquaintances ring him up to tell him he was the #1 topic of discussion at a dinner party to which, yet again, he wasn't invited: everyone's talking about Paul Matthews, but they're doing so behind his back. As countless commentators have already noted, this makes the activity of Dream Scenario a neat analogue for the vagaries and vicissitudes of viral fame: writer-director Kristoffer Borgli is exploring what it is to be at the centre of the cultural conversation for no good reason, and with no control over where it goes and the effect it has on you and your loved ones. From dreams, the movie means to conjure a very modern nightmare.

The Norwegian Borgli, who broke through with last year's gurgling satire Sick of Myself, is another of those anthropologically-inclined Scandie directors, doubtless pushed into executive heads by the breakout success of Ruben Östlund. He's certainly more economical than Östlund has been of late, which should work in his favour: Dream Scenario runs a brisk one hour 45, and features far more in the way of character and story development than the ungainly Triangle of Sadness. Paul hopes to leverage his newfound prominence to snag the academic publisher he feels he deserves; instead, he finds himself in the boardroom of a branding agency (a nice, Nathan Barley-ish touch: they're called Thoughts?), being pitched on the prospect of doing Sprite ads. That's one of several peculiar little truths this story kicks out: fame is largely a matter of taking meetings with people who've misunderstood where you're coming from. How, then, has Borgli used his own emergent status within the industry? Chiefly, it appears, to fashion the kind of curio he would have grown up watching the American independent sector turning out around the millennium: something at least as funny-strange as it is funny-haha, that has the freedom to be chancy and - with that - only patchily successful, that has supporting roles for Hope Davis and Dylan Baker. Borgli scatters his dream sequences like calling cards. Look, he says, I can do apocalyptic (folks falling from the sky) or merely horrific (folks pursued by bloodied men); I can do droll (Paul walking in on a woman sheltering atop a piano from alligators, then walking off with a shrug), softcore (yes, there's a sex dream) and violently disturbing (as the collective mood sours and the mob turns). I can even do something that resembles a 21st century ad campaign (as the dreams are inevitably remarketed). By that point, however, Dream Scenario has betrayed the limitations of its own ambition; the problem lies squarely within the waking world.

Borgli also turns out to be a student of cringe comedy, which means Paul's notoriety is followed by successive degrees of real-world humiliation: as is often the case with Östlund - though perhaps not to the same Oscar-nominated degree as Östlund - the main character has been conceived as a punchbag who deserves everything that befalls him, and artistic provocation soon becomes indistinguishable from trolling or bullying. (Another strange truth of this century: Ricky Gervais has an awful lot to answer for.) The movie turns out to be two movies twisted together at the centre, and we're supposed to admire that twistedness. The first, made by someone who shares Paul Matthews' passion for evolutionary biology, is commendably curious about the way the world and our heads now work, what captures the popular imagination. The second, made by someone who is extremely online, is about cancel culture, trauma and "woke" university policy, and at no point seems to have realised how tiresome these subjects have become as matters of debate. (It's what happens when people have been weaponised to argue about them 24/7 at Elon Musk's behest.) That movie provides further proof that creatives would do well to log off from time to time, rather than getting sucked into the discourse that is making everything so insufferable - and which, besides, means nothing very much to the majority of people. 

As Dream Scenario sunk further into indie-movie solipsism, sniggering at itself and its characters, I found myself dreaming of David Lynch getting on with his own thing up there in the Hollywood Hills, and coming down from the mountain with work that remains richly open to interpretation. (Borgli's dreams have uncanny and unnerving flickers of that, but then he spoils everything by namechecking Jordan Peterson.) I dreamt of The Truman Show: a mainstream production, from that last great flourish of studio craft, perhaps even a project for which Cage was in the running back in the day, but also a movie that took care to expand and expound upon its initial conceit, that encouraged further, sincere, profound rumination on how we might go about our lives in an era of mass surveillance. Cage, as committed to this pitiful bit as Joaquin Phoenix was in Ari Aster's Beau is Afraid, retains a little of that sincerity: Paul Matthews is finally a character rather than a series of poses or gestures. And Borgli can still make us titter and giggle and spit out WTFs between mouthfuls of popcorn: careers have been built on far less in the modern age. But there's one version of Dream Scenario out there in the ether that would have really made us think - and annoyingly, it's just beyond the ever-twitting fingertips of the one that's landed among us.

Dream Scenario is now playing in cinemas nationwide.