Cert: 16; Selected cinemas
The surprise nomination in all this year's awards has been South Korean director Bong Joon-ho's Parasite. Co-written with Jin Won Han, it's a dark, often funny, class tale that echoes internationally, leaving us wondering who, or what, exactly is the parasite of the title. Don't let the subtitles put you off this clever, accessible, observation-rich film.
Kim Ki-Woo (Choi Woo-sik) is a young man from a poor family who describes himself as a loser. When his American friend leaves he gives him a stone carving that is meant to be a talisman and a way in to a better life. All Ki-Woo has to do is pretend to be middle class in order to become the English tutor to Da-hye, the daughter of the extremely wealthy Park family.
The gullible mother of the Park family Yeon-kyo (Cho Yeo-jeong) is then easily persuaded that Ki-woo's sister is really an art teacher called Jessica who can tap into the skills of her oddly-behaving young son. Within weeks the entire Kim family, mother, father, son and daughter are working for the Parks, pretending that they have never met before.
In order to complete this, they have to supplant long -serving housekeeper (Lee Jeong-eun) and this will prove problematic, leading ultimately to a violent conclusion.
The characters are all well-drawn and performed, the society with its profound inequalities all too familiar. Bong Joon-ho has described Korean youth as "in despair" and his film is one version of where that can lead. It is in many ways a morality tale, but it doesn't pretend to offer answers, it just asks if apparently bad behaviour is the result of necessity, amorality or simple pragmatism. Is it a plot or just grabbing an opportunity? This is something embodied especially by the female characters. The story goes back and forth and the viewer is treated as an intelligent being so not everything is over explained. It is also heavy on the knowing metaphor and some things, it seems, are open to our interpretation.
I often complain of films being too long but this film, at two and a quarter hours, does not overstay its welcome and I would in fact happily watch it again. ★★★★★ Aine O'Connor
Cert: PG; Now showing
Rewrites, reshoots, and a grumbling Robert Downey Jr. All are reported to have occurred behind this bloated re-interpretation of Hugh Lofting's post-war children's tales about a vet who can speak to animals.
Downey's role in the Avengers franchise has imbued him with box-office clout like few others, and while his turn here may be spirited and eccentric (that bizarre Welsh accent), not even he can save Stephen Gaghan's film.
Via a tasteful animated prologue, we're told about the fantastic Dolittle who shuts himself away after his wife fails to return from an expedition. He is shaken out of hermitage by news that the queen (Jessie Buckley) is ill, and sets off to find a cure with a coterie of drab CGI animals voiced by famous types; Emma Thompson's prim macaw, Octavia Spencer's loud-mouth duck, et al. Ralph Fiennes channels George Sanders as a vengeful tiger.
Any flickers of otherworldly magic are brought crashing down as they babble away in the very vernacular of US social media chatrooms we have come to the cinema to escape. They communicate with the doctor, but it's never explained how they can speak to each other.
Little ones will get a laugh or two out of it, but parents will lament a wasted afternoon.
★★ Hilary A White
Cert: 16.; Now showing
Joaquin Phoenix's turn in Joker is making him darling of awards season and glory could await him tonight in the Dolby Theatre. While not strictly a part of the problematic "DC Extended Universe", it does feel like that film is lending some credibility to DC's world at a time when only Wonder Woman seems to be holding the fort.
Suicide Squad (2016) was one of a few low points of the franchise, but out of it comes a reason to be more optimistic. Harley Quinn, the Joker's manic amour, gets her moment, and with Margot Robbie (below) co-producing as well as starring, there is a sense of affection about all this.
Having split up with Joker, Harley is in the cross hairs of every crook in Gotham. A diamond has gone missing, however, and Ewan McGregor's nasty crime boss wants her to find it, bringing her into the sphere of other vigilantes. Besides the "girl power" cheese, this is fresh, fun and furiously violent in places.
★★★★ Hilary A White
Cert: Club; Selected cinemas
Truth, as they say, is one of the great victims of war. A sharp reminder is provided by this serviceable drama about Welsh journalist Gareth Jones, who travelled to the Soviet Union in 1933 and there uncovered atrocities.
Jones (James Norton) is hoping that he will be able to land an interview with Stalin on the back of a recent scoop with Hitler. He is eager to know how destitute Russia is paying for the huge surge in industry it boasts of. Once in Moscow, he checks in with influential correspondent Walter Duranty (Peter Sarsgaard) and is brought up to speed on the Kremlin's iron grip on all media concerns.
Following a tip off, he smuggles himself into Ukraine's wheat-growing heartland. There, he finds widespread death in the very region being trumpeted as the economic engine of Russia. This is the Holodomor, Stalin's genocidal famine that wiped out some 10 million.
Oscar-nominated Polish director Agnieszka Holland hits her markers in a film that is efficiently told and occasionally striking. A concurrent strand featuring George Orwell (Joseph Mawle) typing Animal Farm is perhaps over-cooking things, especially when there is plenty served up by the committed cast and visual elegance.
★★★★ Hilary A White
Cert: 15A; Now showing
Underwater is grand. It's a perfectly good trip to the cinema for people who like monster films but suffers badly in comparison to the film it so closely emulates, and to whose fans it will nominally appeal, Alien.
A deep sea exploration rig comes a cropper and the surviving personnel are stuck more than six miles below the surface. Norah (Kristen Stewart below), the captain (Vincent Cassel) and a few others, including a rather irritating wisecracker (TJ Miller) have to walk across the seabed. But the depth is not their only problem.
William Eubank directs and co-wrote with Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad and while the directing is fine, apart from the why-is-our-heroine-in-her-knickers again? factor, the screenplay is weak. The characters are one dimensional, many plot elements are poorly explained, and it is all rather predictable with jump scares taking the place of suspense. It's not awful, it's just not very good. it's grand.
★★ Hilary A White
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