And the rest
Wendy Ide Pearl (102 mins, 15) Directed by Ti West; starring Mia Goth, David Corenswet, Tandi Wright With its lush, sumptuously sweeping score, saturated Technicolor photography and kitsch wipe edits, Ti West’s Pearl would be a dead ringer for a 1940s melodrama were it not for all the axe violence and hayfork skewering. A prequel to West’s previous picture, X, it was co-written with star Mia Goth during a Covid quarantine period. The result of this meeting of twisted minds is a gloriously demented homage to old Hollywood. West combines witty cine-literacy with a flair for explosive bursts of deranged bloodshed. Just call him Douglas Sirk-opath. The year is 1918. The first world war rages and a flu pandemic is claiming casualties on the home front. But Pearl (a phenomenal Goth) has big dreams that extend far beyond her life of joyless drudgery on her parents’ farm in rural Texas. She wants to dance, and plans to hoof her way out of Texas and into adoration and movie stardom. When she learns of an audition at the local church, she realises that this is her chance to escape her overbearing mother once and for all. The full-blooded, gleefully lurid tone of the film-making demands an oversized performance to match, and Goth is more than up to the job. She peels back the skin of the character and fills it with kittenish cruelty and the creeping rot of madness, all topped off with a monstrous, distorting need to be loved. Goth is riotously entertaining throughout, but two specific scenes, in both of which the camera rests solely on her face for an extended shot, capture the full force of her unnerving talent. Other People’s Children (104 mins, 15) Directed by Rebecca Zlotowski; starring Virginie Efira, Roschdy Zem, Chiara Mastroianni; in cinemas and on digital platforms The biological clock, so often used as a blunt weapon to bludgeon women for their various life choices, is here handled with delicacy, intelligence and warmth. This elegantly bittersweet French-language drama by Rebecca Zlotowski has much to recommend it, but foremost is a radiant Virginie Efira in the central role. She plays Rachel, a 40-year-old teacher who is fulfilled and happy in her life, and who is newly in love with Ali (Roschdy Zem), a fellow student in her guitar class. To an effortlessly sophisticated score of bustling chamber music, Rachel fully embraces the romance and all that comes with it – including a growing relationship with Ali’s young daughter. But this serves to alert her to the fact that she too would like to be a parent. And as her gynaecologist (veteran documentary film-maker Frederick Wiseman is unexpected in the role) tells her, time is running out. Deftly written, directed with a light hand and acted with honesty and heart, the picture captures moments of acute sadness without ever sinking into sentimentality. Winners (85 mins, PG) Directed by Hassan Nazer; starring Hossein Abedini, Mahmoud Jafari Nine-year-old Yahya (Parsa Maghami) and his best friend, Leyla (Helia Mohammadkhani), scramble over the local rubbish dump, foraging for recyclable plastics in exchange for a handful of change. When he’s not grafting to support his widowed mother, Yahya is passionate about movies, devouring the bootleg DVDs lent to him by Saber (Hossein Abedini). Then he makes two discoveries: one is an Oscar statuette, mislaid on the outskirts of his village. The other is the secret cinema history of the owner of the recycling business, once a globally recognised actor. The Persian-language film is set in Iran but is a British production – director Hassan Nazer lives in Scotland – and was the UK submission for the international category of the Oscars last year. Storywise it’s a slip of a thing, but it gains considerable appeal from its young, non-professional cast. Shazam! Fury of the Gods (130 mins, 12A) Directed by David F Sandberg; starring Zachary Levi, Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu The sequel to the likable 2019 kid superhero adventure Shazam! rejoins the six Philadelphia foster children gifted with magical powers, but argues that the real super-strength is family. It’s a corny message, but the film acknowledges this with a sly nod to The Fast and the Furious franchise. Rejected by his mother and father, Billy Batson (played by Asher Angel as a kid and Zachary Levi in his super-incarnation) clings a little too tightly to his foster family. It’s causing friction with his best friend, Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer/ Adam Brody). But adolescent social angst turns out to be the least of their problems when they learn that Billy has inadvertently unleashed a trio of vengeful gods, the daughters of Atlas, into the human realm. Billy’s inane babbling gets a little wearing, but the action sequences, featuring dragon-based mayhem, cyclopes and an army of formidable hell unicorns hopped up on candy, are pacy and fun. Allelujah (99 mins, 12A) Directed by Richard Eyre; starring Judi Dench, Jennifer Saunders, David Bradley Adapted by Call the Midwife creator Heidi Thomas from the 2018 play by Alan Bennett, set in a geriatric hospital unit in Yorkshire populated by lovable eccentrics and starring a formidable selection of seasoned British acting talent (Judi Dench, Jennifer Saunders, David Bradley and Derek Jacobi star), Allelujah should be a slam dunk of a crowd-pleaser. Unfortunately, Richard Eyre’s film is jarringly uneven: such a collision of tones and conflicting messages that it undermines its own earnest coda in support of the NHS. The hospital is threatened by penny-pinching government officials. The medical staff struggle on, undaunted. But what seems to be a stirring tale of a community standing up against the powers that be takes a darker turn as the story swerves unexpectedly – and rather clumsily – into thriller territory.