Some Kind of Heaven
The Oscar-winning Nomadland showed what’s in store for certain elderly Americans: no money, but plenty of freedom to roam the country. The lives in Some Kind of Heaven are the exact opposite, but, in their way, just as surreal. Produced by Darren Aronofsky, Lance Oppenheim’s documentary explores The Villages, the world’s largest retirement community. Nicknamed “Disneyland For Retirees”, it sprawls across sunny Florida, and offers every imaginable leisure activity and amenity. But there is something unsettling about this artificial paradise. “What Oppenheim has found, in his first feature film, is a real place every bit as art-directed as Blue Velvet or Edward Scissorhands or American Beauty,” says AA Dowd in the AV Club. “It’s like a movie set the size of Manhattan – a Hollywood facsimile of the mid-century high life you can actually move into.” Uncovering the rot beneath The Villages’ shiny surface, Oppenheim has made an “entrancing” film which is “one of the most gorgeously, strikingly shot documentaries in recent memory”.
And Tomorrow the Entire World
Few films could be more relevant now than And Tomorrow the Entire World, a German political thriller inspired by the experiences of its director, Julia von Heinz. Mala Emde plays Luisa, an aristocratic law student who moves into a grungy urban commune run by anti-fascist activists. Luisa and her comrades loathe the local far-right thugs, but their own counterattacks grow more dangerous and morally complicated with unnerving speed. “The sheer energy and sense of mission in this breathlessly-paced, intimate drama will pull audiences right along with it,” says Todd McCarthy in Deadline, “as it intently addresses the extent of personal commitment necessary for those who might want to make a difference.”
It’s probably for the best that New Order is just 88 minutes long, because it would be hard to watch for much longer. Brutally violent and harrowingly pessimistic, Michel Franco’s unflinching drama opens at a high-society wedding in a snazzy Modernist town house in Mexico. The assembled guests are sipping champagne and sniffing cocaine when a crowd of anti-capitalist protesters scale the walls of their designer enclave. A grisly home-invasion thriller follows – but that’s just the start. Franco goes on to chart the aftermath of the protests, as an amoral regime declares martial law, making the city even more dystopian than it was before. You have been warned. “Audiences might conceivably be divided on the vicious gut punch of Franco’s approach,” says David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter, “but as a call for more equitable distribution of wealth and power, it’s terrifyingly riveting.”
Army of the Dead
Zack Snyder’s directorial debut was 2004’s Dawn of The Dead, one of the films which, along with 28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead, turned zombies into mainstream Hollywood money-spinners. Snyder has spent most of the intervening years on superhero blockbusters, but he returns to his gory roots for Army of the Dead, a zombie heist movie first announced back in 2008. Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy) stars as an ex-soldier who leads a band of mercenaries into a post-apocalyptic Las Vegas to take $200 million from an abandoned vault. Sin City being what it is, they must get past an undead tiger, an undead Elvis tribute, an undead Liberace impersonator and hundreds of undead gamblers who stack the odds against them. If Snyder’s recent films, such as Justice League, have become notorious for his clashes with studio executives, he promises that Army of the Dead is different. “There are no handcuffs on me at all with this one,” he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2019. “It will be the most kick-ass, self-aware… balls-to-the-wall zombie freakshow that anyone has ever seen.”
The Water Man
It’s no accident that the young hero of The Water Man is carrying an ET lunchbox: the film’s mix of magic, derring-do and American family anxiety follows Steven Spielberg’s patented recipe. The hero in question is Gunner (Lonnie Chavis), an imaginative boy whose mother (Rosario Dawson) has leukaemia. Determined to save her, he hikes deep into a forest in search of the “Water Man”, a legendary figure who has learnt how to live forever. “It’s a tricky balancing act to take an audience from a terminally-ill mom to an avalanche of insects,” writes Alonso Duralde of The Wrap, “but director David Oyelowo (working from Emma Needell’s screenplay) gets all the tones just right in The Water Man, a kid adventure that recalls the sort of ripping juvenile yarns that Disney, and later Amblin, used to crank out on a regular basis.” Oyelowo, best known for playing Martin Luther King Jr in Selma, makes his feature directorial debut here, and delivers a “well-acted, great-looking movie”.
Riders of Justice
While he’s magnetic as a criminal mastermind in such English-language blockbusters as Casino Royale and Doctor Strange, Mads Mikkelsen is even better in Danish films – two prime examples being the Oscar-winning Another Round and his outrageous new black comedy thriller, Riders of Justice. Mikkelsen plays Markus, a bearded, crewcut soldier who is shipped home from active duty after his wife is killed in a train accident. But maybe it wasn’t an accident. A rag-tag bunch of dysfunctional middle-aged men are convinced that a biker gang was responsible, so the unstable Markus sets about getting his revenge. Written and directed by Anders Thomas Jensen (Men & Chicken), Riders of Justice “is salty, violent, transgressive, button-pushing, non-PC and laugh-out-loud funny,” says Fionnuala Hannigan in Screen Daily. “And when you’re not gasping or laughing, it’s only to wonder at the mind which pulled all of this together.”
Who was Cruella de Vil before she became the puppy-cidal maniac we met in 101 Dalmatians? It’s not a question many of us have asked, so a prequel to the 1996 live-action remake of the 1961 cartoon might not seem to be essential viewing, but Cruella is a weirdly enticing prospect. Not only does the gothic trailer make it look like a Tim Burton Batman movie, but it was directed by Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya) and co-written by Tony McNamara (The Favourite), so it should be stranger and spikier than the average Disney film. Emma Stone, the star of The Favourite, puts on her haughtiest English accent to play Estella – a punky fashion designer who is desperate for fame and fortune in 1970s London. Emma Thompson is Baroness von Hellman, whose name suggests that she could be almost as diabolical as Ms de Vil. Let’s hope that Cruella doesn’t make the mistake Maleficent did, and turn a deliciously wicked Disney villainess into a mopey, misunderstood heroine.
One of the most acclaimed films of the past year, despite being overlooked by the Oscars, Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow is a quiet, tender frontier drama set in The Oregon Territory in the 1820s. At its heart is the burgeoning friendship between the humble Cookie (John Magaro) and the ambitious King-Lu (Orion Lee), two penniless outsiders who dream of establishing a business in the green wilderness. They make a start by baking cakes to sell to passing trappers. But their secret ingredient is milk from the only cow for miles around, so they must sneak on to its owner’s farm every night. Stephanie Zacharek of Time Magazine says First Cow is a “picture that’s both tranquil and dazzling, two qualities that should be at odds with one another yet somehow bloom in tandem under Reichardt’s gentle touch.”
A Quiet Place Part II
A Quiet Place Part II – the sequel to John Krasinski’s nerve-shredding monster movie – had its premiere in March last year. Then, of course, cinemas were closed, and its release was postponed and postponed again, so we’ve had a long wait to see what happened after Evelyn (Emily Blunt) started splattering aliens at the end of A Quiet Place in 2018. But maybe now is a more suitable moment to see a film with this particular story. Having hidden away in their cosy farmhouse for years, Evelyn and her three children emerge to explore a world which has been shaken beyond recognition since they last saw it. A lot of us feel as if we are in a similar situation.
The granddaughter of Francis Ford and the niece of Sofia, Gia Coppola directs and co-writes Mainstream, a cautionary comedy drama about what happens when you prioritise your phone’s screen over the real world. Maya Hawke stars as Frankie, an aspiring filmmaker, and Andrew Garfield co-stars as a prankster she sees haranguing passers-by in an LA shopping mall. When Frankie’s YouTube video of his antics goes viral, she realises that he could be an internet sensation, but events slip out of her control when she signs up with a sleazy manager (Jason Schwartzman). According to Robbie Collin in The Daily Telegraph, Coppola’s “raucous and rickety satire of social media celebrity” is worth seeing for Garfield’s “toweringly unpleasant” character, whose “go-for-broke horrendousness is a pleasure to watch through your fingers”.