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Monday, 5 March 2018

Oscars post-mortem, plus Veronica: Your Week In Film (March 5-11)

Actually, Sally, The Shape Of Water won four Oscars...

Due to post-Oscars fatigue and the fact I have deadlines looming elsewhere, it's a shorter column this time. Things should return to normal next week with a bit of luck...

The 90th Academy Awards your esteemed winners...
Best Picture: The Shape Of Water
Best Director: Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape Of Water)
Best Actress: Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Best Actor: Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
Best Supporting Actress: Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
Best Supporting Actor: Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Best Original Screenplay: Jordan Peele (Get Out)
Best Adapted Screenplay: James Ivory (Call Me By Your Name)
Best Score: Alexandre Desplat (The Shape Of Water)
Best Song: "Remember Me" (Coco)
Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049)
Best Visual Effects: Blade Runner 2049
Best Editing: Dunkirk

Best Animated Film: Coco
Best Documentary: Icarus
Best Foreign-Language Film: A Fantastic Woman
Best Production Design: The Shape Of Water
Best Sound Mixing: Dunkirk
Best Sound Editing: Dunkirk
Best Costume Design: Phantom Thread
Best Make-up And Hair: Darkest Hour
Best Documentary Short: Heaven Is A Traffic Jam On The 405
Best Live Action Short: The Silent Child
Best Animated Short: Dear Basketball

And 11 takeaways...

1. In the end, it was all rather predictable. No shocks, no surprises. For once, it looks like the tipsters and pundits called it right.
2. Despite my antipathy for Three Billboards, ultimately I was rather glad Frances McDormand won Best Actress. Her acceptance speech was extraordinary – "I'm hyperventilating a little bit, so if I fall over, pick me up, because I've got some things to say."
3. The Shape Of Water isn't Guillermo Del Toro's best film and it really isn't in the same league as fellow Best Picture nominee Get Out. But its simple, hopeful message of inclusion clearly chimed with the Academy in these troubled times. It's also the first sci-fi film to take home the top prize.
4. On the subject of Del Toro, he becomes the fourth Mexican to win the Best Director award in five years, following Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity) and Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu (Birdman and The Revenant).
5. British cinematographer Roger Deakins finally won his first Oscar after 13 previous nominations (for Blade Runner 2049). Some of the movies he didn't win for? The Shawshank Redemption, No Country For Old Men, and Skyfall.
6. Quote of the night? Get Out's Jordan Peele, after triumphing in the Original Screenplay category (the first black person ever to do so), tweeted: "I just won an Oscar. WTF?!?"
7. It seemed rather appropriate that Netflix's Icarus a film about doping in sport should win in the Best Documentary category on the very same night Team Sky and Sir Bradley Wiggins were hauled over the coals for "unethical behaviour" in a new report.
8. Two former members of the Hollyoaks cast are now Oscar winners. Yes, really. The Silent Child – which won for Best Live-Action Short – was written by and starred Rachel Shenton (Mitzeee Minniver in the Channel 4 soap) and was directed by Chris Overton (Hollyoaks' cage-fighter Liam McAllister). 9. That's three nominations in the Visual Effects category for the Planet Of The Apes prequel movies now, complete with Andy Serkis's stop-motion acting magic... and not a single win.
10. Despite all the talk of "inclusion" and "diversity", CNN's Gene Seymour attempted to inject a little reality into the back-slapping. In an article entitled, "Oscar's More Woke – But Winners Still So White", he wrote: "To be clear: things haven't changed THAT dramatically yet. We're still waiting for the first African-American best director – and, for that matter, the second woman best director. The fact is, most of the award winners remained white."
11. I wonder if Harvey Weinstein watched the ceremony?

Just the one review this week...

The first thing to say about Veronica (Netflix) WWW is that, contrary to certain reports last week, it really isn't the scariest film ever made. However, this Spanish horror – written and directed by Paco Plaza, who gave us the [Rec] trilogy – is definitely a creepy cut above most modern chillers.

The story is simple enough. Set in Madrid during the early 1990s, it sees the 15-year-old titular character (Sandra Escacena) holding a 
séance with a couple of school friends, hoping to contact her late father. Unfortunately, as per usual, meddling with supernatural forces turns out to be a very bad idea, and it isn't long before a sinister creature from the "other side" is menacing Veronica and her cute brood of young siblings.

A good deal of the film's success is down to its setting – a cramped, narrow apartment with plenty of nooks, crannies and small rooms that are ideal for all manner of jump-scares and fake-outs. These are just decoration, though, and what Plaza is more interested in is building tension and unease, something he does quite masterfully. There's a palpable claustrophobia to many of the spookiest scenes here, like everything is happening right next to you and all around you. He's got a good eye for a visual flourish too and his film is peppered with them, one scene involving something as seemingly innocuous as some mattresses actually gave me goose-bumps.

Mirrors and other reflective surfaces are a long-standing horror-movie staple but Plaza makes excellent use of them too, dropping hints as to his creature's true nature and, in one superbly delivered moment during a manic climax, dropkicking your heart right into your mouth with a single, spine-tingling image. He even finds room for a bit of fun – the blind nun nicknamed "Sister Death" is so gloriously over the top she could have stepped right out of The Omen, and I loved the fact Veronica gets all her information about the arcane not from some cursed, ancient Necronomicon, but from a few tatty issues of an occult part-works collection. Only the over-familiarity of its premise – teen summons monster, monster comes after her – prevents Veronica getting top marks.

Running scared: Veronica has summoned something very nasty indeed

Also out this week
  • Luca Guadagnino's Best Picture nominee Call Me By Your Name (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WW is a gorgeous-looking love story, starring Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet. I appreciated the sumptuous visuals, and James Ivory's Oscar-winning screenplay certainly has its moments, but I struggled to care for either of the main characters.
  • The Killing Of A Sacred Deer (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WW convinced me co-writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos peaked with Dogtooth and the first half of The Lobster. Discomfiting and original at times, profoundly silly and irritating at others.
  • For reasons I will never understand The Florida Project (VOD) WWWW failed to pick up a Best Picture nod, despite being a substantially better film than almost everything else nominated. Sean Baker's hilarious, heart-breaking tale of a struggling young mother and her precocious daughter is a must-see.
  • On Body And Soul WWWW may not have won the Foreign-Language Oscar for which it was nominated, but is well worth checking out nonetheless. To celebrate its nomination, Mubi UK have added Ildikó Enyedi's offbeat romance to their catalogue for the next month. You can read my longer take on the film here.
What I will be watching this week: Due to last week's snow madness, I still haven't got round to Red Sparrow.

This week's Top 10 UK DVDs and Blu-rays (movies only)

1. Thor: Ragnarok*
2. Jigsaw
3. The Death Of Stalin*
4. Goodbye Christopher Robin
5. Geostorm
6. Blade Runner 2049*
7. Kingsman: The Golden Circle
8. Victoria And Abdul
9. Thor/Thor: The Dark World/Thor: Ragnarok
10. Breathe

* = Recommended

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Everyone is talking about the Oscars, why should this blog be any different?

Wrong arm of the law: Rockwell and McDormand face off in Three Billboards

This year's Academy Awards ceremony takes place tomorrow (Sunday, March 4), so I thought it might be fun to take a look at which movies, actors and directors are being tipped to pick up the Oscars. Rather than rely only on my own prejudices and predictions, I've also taken a look at what people who know what they are talking about reckon, and have presented the results below. There's nothing scientific about it, the 10 websites/publications I chose to feature here were randomly selected, but paint an interesting picture of where the smart money in each category is going. Featuring every one of the Oscars' 24 different categories would take all day, so I've chosen just 13 to talk about (not all of our tipsters made predictions in every category). Before diving in, you can check out all this year's nominees here.

Best Picture
Variety: Get Out The Shape Of Water
USA Today: Three Billboards
Vanity Fair: Get Out
Hollywood Reporter: The Shape Of Water
Den Of Geek: The Shape Of Water
Deadline: The Shape Of Water
New York Times: The Shape Of Water
Daily Telegraph: Get Out
The Playlist: The Shape Of Water

Of the "big six" categories, this is the only one that our tipsters can't seem to agree upon. It looks like a three-way tussle between Get Out, The Shape Of Water and Three Billboards, with Guillermo Del Toro's Cold War fairytale having the edge. The fact Martin McDonagh didn't pick up a Best Director nomination is not a good sign for Three Billboards' chances – only four films in Oscars history have won Best Picture without an accompanying Best Director nod. The last time it happened was in 2013, when the mediocre Argo somehow took the top prize, while helmer Ben Affleck was left out in the cold. On the other hand, the Academy are not exactly the biggest fans of sci-fi/fantasy or horror, which seems to count against Get Out and Shape. I reckon Del Toro's film might just take it, although it wouldn't surprise me if Three Billboards repeated its success from the Baftas and Golden Globes. A win for Shape, Lady Bird, Phantom Thread or would make me most happy.

Gone fishing: Sally Hawkins stars in Guillermo Del Toro's The Shape Of Water

Best Director
Variety: Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape Of Water) Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape Of Water)
USA Today: Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape Of Water)
Vanity Fair: Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape Of Water)
Hollywood Reporter: Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape Of Water)
Den Of Geek: Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird)
Deadline: Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape Of Water)
New York Times: Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape Of Water)
Daily Telegraph: Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape Of Water)
The Playlist: Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape Of Water)

Bless Den Of Geek for trying to make this category's potential outcome a little more interesting, but our other tipsters all seem to think there's only one horse in the race. The Shape Of Water isn't perfect, nor is it even Del Toro's best film, but he looks a shoo-in. As the New York Times pointed out, a Del Toro victory would mark the fourth time in five years a Mexican has won the Best Director Oscar. This is a very strong category and I'd be delighted whoever won.

Drive angry: Ronan and Metcalf feud in Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird

Best Actress
Variety: Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
USA Today: Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Vanity Fair: Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Hollywood Reporter: Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Den Of Geek: Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Deadline: Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
New York Times: Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

Daily Telegraph: Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
The Playlist: Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

One thing I think we can all agree upon is that The Shape Of Water's Sally Hawkins hasn't got a prayer here. In the year of #MeToo and #Time'sUp, there's no way the Academy is going to give its Best Actress gong to someone playing a mute woman. Thing is, I'm not sure McDormand should be carrying off the award either. Three Billboards' grieving mother Mildred Hayes might seem fearless and righteous but, once you recover from the initial shock of her behaviour, you realise she's incredibly one-note. Angry and mean, angry and mean, rinse and repeat. McDormand couldn't turn in a mediocre performance if her life depended on it and she rises impressively to the challenge of her thinly-written role, but, if we're discounting Hawkins, there's one place and one place only this award should be going. Saoirse Ronan's performance in Lady Bird turns what would be a very good coming-of-age movie into a great one.

Life during wartime: Kristin Scott Thomas and Gary Oldman star in Darkest Hour

Best Actor
Variety: Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour) Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
USA Today: Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
Vanity Fair: Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
Hollywood Reporter: Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
Den Of Geek: Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
Deadline: Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
New York Times: Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
Daily Telegraph: Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
The Playlist: Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)

Gary Oldman it is then. Helped by some fine prosthetic work, he is terrific as Winston Churchill, but I have a preference for actors who create their characters from scratch, rather than turning in impersonations, however impressive and eye-catching they might be. I shall be rooting for Daniel Day-Lewis, and not just because his turn as dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock in Paul Thomas Anderson's sublime Phantom Thread supposedly marks his acting swansong. His character is a difficult and complicated man, and Day-Lewis captures every infuriating nuance of him. It is the best performance in this category by a considerable margin, and Day-Lewis fully deserves another Oscar to go with the three he has won already.

Bird is the word: Allison Janney as Lavona Golden in I, Tonya

Best Supporting Actress
Variety: Allison Janney (I, Tonya) Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
USA Today: Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
Vanity Fair: Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
Hollywood Reporter: Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
Den Of Geek: Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird)
Deadline: Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
New York Times: Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
Daily Telegraph: Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
The Playlist: Allison Janney (I, Tonya)

Another category in which the victor seems nailed on, with Den Of Geek's alternative suggestion one surely born of hope rather than expectation. Allison Janney is a terrific actress with a glittering CV but, like Frances McDormand in Three Billboards, her character in I, Tonya disgraced ice-skater Tonya Harding's mother, Lavona is extraordinarily one note. She's a pantomime villain in a cartoonish film and Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread) and Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird), for their far subtler work, would both be far more deserving victors.

Maniac cop: Harrelson tries to keep Rockwell out of trouble in Three Billboards

Best Supporting Actor
Variety: Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
USA Today: Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Vanity Fair: Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Hollywood Reporter: Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Den Of Geek: Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Deadline: Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
New York Times: Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Daily Telegraph: Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
The Playlist: Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

After winning a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and a Bafta, it would be a shock of seismic proportions if Sam Rockwell didn't clean up here too. As you may have gathered, I'm not a big fan of Three Billboards, so find it impossible to share the enthusiasm for either the film or his performance in it. I didn't believe in Rockwell's character racist cop Jason Dixon for a single second, least of all his "redemption" of sorts towards the end. Woody Harrelson is better in the same film, while Christopher Plummer surely deserves some sort of medal for stepping into Kevin Spacey's shoes at very short notice to portray John Paul Getty so vividly in All The Money In The World. Personally, though, I'd like to see Willem Dafoe win for his warm-but-increasingly-exasperated turn as motel manager Bobby, in The Florida Project, a wonderful film that has been all but ignored by the Academy. 

Dear white people: Get Out is in the running for the Best Picture Oscar

Best Original Screenplay
Variety: Jordan Peele (Get Out) Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Vanity Fair: Jordan Peele (Get Out)
Hollywood Reporter: Jordan Peele (Get Out)
Den Of Geek: Guillermo Del Toro and Vanessa Taylor (The Shape Of Water)
Deadline: Jordan Peele (Get Out)
New York Times: Jordan Peele (Get Out)
The Playlist: Jordan Peele (Get Out)

As much as I adore Lady Bird, if Get Out doesn't win here there should be some sort of lengthy and far-reaching public inquiry. Jordan Peele's script manages to mix comedy, drama, horror and biting social satire to extraordinary effect. Some reports have suggested older members of the Academy have refused to even watch Get Out because they don't consider it an "Oscar film". These are probably the same people who voted for Argo...

Apes of wrath: Andy Serkis and Co are back for the prequel trilogy's climax 

Best Visual Effects
Variety: War For The Planet Of The Apes
Vanity Fair: War For The Planet Of The Apes
Hollywood Reporter: Blade Runner 2049
Den Of Geek: War For The Planet Of The Apes
Deadline: War For The Planet Of The Apes
The Playlist: War For The Planet Of The Apes

The final part of the Planet Of The Apes prequel trilogy would be a worthy winner here, with Andy Serkis and his motion-capture acting troupe once again knocking it out of the park. Blade Runner 2049 boasted some superb visuals, but was surely torpedoed by that one scene towards the end featuring a returning character from the original film. It looked every bit as convincing as the Grand Moff Tarkin CG creation did in Rogue One. So, not very then.

Orange crush: Will it be 14th time lucky for Blade Runner 2049's Deakins?

Best Cinematography
Variety: Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049)
Vanity Fair: Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049)
Hollywood Reporter: Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049)
Den Of Geek: Dan Laustsen (The Shape Of Water)
Deadline: Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049)
The Playlist: Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049)

After 13 previous nominations, his first for The Shawshank Redemption back in 1994, this is surely the year when Roger Deakins finally breaks his Oscars duck. Blade Runner 2049 is a deeply flawed film, its merits almost entirely down to Deakins' DP work. The astonishing sequence set in what used to be Las Vegas, with the former casino capital swathed in bright orange fog, is the stuff of pure cinema. Could anything stop him? Indeed. As Variety points out, it’s rare for the cinematography prize to go to a film that isn't nominated for Best Picture. Plus, his rivals – which include Mudbound's Rachel Morrison, the first woman ever to be nominated in this category – would hardly be undeserving winners either. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed though.

Wonder Woman: Daniela Vega shines in Sebastián Lelio's film

Best Foreign-Language Film
Variety: A Fantastic Woman
Vanity Fair: A Fantastic Woman
Hollywood Reporter: The Insult
Deadline: The Insult
New York Times: A Fantastic Woman
The Playlist: A Fantastic Woman

There's a split here between Chile's A Fantastic Woman (directed by Sebastián Lelio) and Lebanon's The Insult (helmed by Ziad Doueiri). This is a strange one for me as I'm yet to see the latter film (it doesn't seem to have a UK release date yet). And while I enjoyed A Fantastic Woman and it would be a worthy winner, I'll be cheering for off-beat romance On Body And Soul (from Hungary) and excoriating missing-child drama Loveless (from Russia). The Square, last year's winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes, is also nominated, but didn't deserve that award and doesn't deserve to triumph here either. (Oh, and BPM's omission from the final shortlist looks even sillier now, after Robin Campillo's film bagged six awards at the Césars).

Summer nights: Call Me By Your Name was one of 2017's most passionate love stories 

Best Adapted Screenplay
Variety: James Ivory (Call Me By Your Name) James Ivory (Call Me By Your Name)
Vanity Fair: James Ivory (Call Me By Your Name)
Hollywood Reporter: James Ivory (Call Me By Your Name)
Den Of Geek: James Ivory (Call Me By Your Name)
Deadline: James Ivory (Call Me By Your Name)
New York Times: James Ivory (Call Me By Your Name)
The Playlist: James Ivory (Call Me By Your Name)

I'm surprised Call Me By Your Name is seen as such a dead cert here because it's the film's languid pace, winning performances and sumptuous camerawork that are its selling points, rather than any sparkling dialogue or innovative storytelling. Still, no one would begrudge James Ivory – who adapted André Aciman's novel for the big screen – a first Academy Award at the age of 89, after being nominated on three previous occasions as Best Director. However, for my money, this award should be going to Dee Rees' Mudbound, which makes good use of multiple narrators to tell an ambitious tale of two families – one white, one black – in the American South, post-World War II. In two hours and change, Rees' adaptation of the Virgil Williams novel covers an awful lot of ground and does so powerfully, economically and poetically.

What not to wear: Another Woodcock "classic" is unveiled in Phantom Thread

Best Costume Design
Variety: Mark Bridges (Phantom Thread)
Vanity Fair: Mark Bridges (Phantom Thread)
Hollywood Reporter: Mark Bridges (Phantom Thread)
Den Of Geek: Jacqueline Durran (Darkest Hour)
Deadline: Mark Bridges (Phantom Thread)
The Playlist: Mark Bridges (Phantom Thread)

One of Phantom Thread's best jokes is that Reynolds Woodcock's dresses are all fairly horrible and the rich, indolent fools who troop through his palatial London fashion house have terrible taste. The idea Paul Thomas Anderson's film should therefore find itself nominated in this category is something I suspect the director finds genuinely amusing (not to mention ironic). The way things are shaping up, it's likely to be the only Oscar the film takes home, so I'm nevertheless hoping for a win.

The great escape: Nolan's Dunkirk expertly recreated Operation Dynamo

Best Original Score
Variety: Alexandre Desplat (The Shape Of Water)
Vanity Fair: Alexandre Desplat (The Shape Of Water)
Hollywood Reporter: Alexandre Desplat (The Shape Of Water)
Den Of Geek: Alexandre Desplat (The Shape Of Water)
Deadline: Alexandre Desplat (The Shape Of Water)
The Playlist: Alexandre Desplat (The Shape Of Water)

The Shape Of Water is again the frontrunner here, but I hope this is one category where it doesn't emerge victorious. Alexandre Desplat's score is perfectly lovely, fitting both the film's romantic and fairytale themes, but it simply isn't in the same league as at least two of the other nominees. Hans Zimmer's score for Dunkirk is an exercise in tension. Start listening to it and I guarantee that, within five minutes, you'll be biting your nails, tapping your foot and feeling decidedly on edge. Of all five scores nominated in this category, it is the one that fits the film's visual and storytelling elements most perfectly. Jonny Greenwood's score for Phantom Thread is far more decorative, a sumptuous, lavish creation recorded with a 60-piece orchestra. Simply put, it's beautiful. Zimmer or Greenwood would be very worthy winners here.

The 90th Academy Awards, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, will be shown live in the UK on Sky Cinema Oscars tomorrow night (Sunday, March 4). Red carpet coverage commences at midnight (so, strictly speaking, that's Monday morning), with the ceremony itself kicking off an hour later at 1am.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Mute, Marshall, and Thor: Ragnarok: Your week in film (February 26-March 4)

Muted reception: Duncan Jones' latest has been met with critical hostility

The best and worst of this week's UK home entertainment releases on DVD, Blu-ray and digital. All the films mentioned are available to buy, rent and/or stream now, unless otherwise stated.

Ratings guide: WWWW - Wonderful  WWW - Worthwhile  WW - Watchable  W - Woeful

Mute (Netflix) WW has been eviscerated by critics (it's currently at 10% on Rotten Tomatoes), but Duncan Jones' fourth feature (after Moon, Source Code and Warcraft: The Beginning) is a far stranger and more interesting piece of work than it's being given credit for. Granted, its subject matter and setting are a little too familiar, but, somehow, the film's faults and off-kilter vibe ultimately work in its favour. It's a bit of a head scratcher and I'm not sure there's anything wrong with that.

Leo (Alexander Skarsgård), a mute barman brought up Amish back home in the States, searches for his missing girlfriend Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh) in a cyber-punky future Berlin. During his quest, he butts heads with a variety of ne'er do wells, including a pair of Brit goons (Noel Clarke and Robert Kazinsky), local gangster Maksim (Gilbert Owuor), a hostile sex worker (an unrecognisable Robert Sheehan), and two rogue surgeons, Cactus Bill (Paul Rudd) and Duck (Justin Theroux). Cactus channelling MASH's Hawkeye Pierce at one point, complete with scrubs and a martini glass is desperate to get himself and young daughter, Josie, out of Berlin, but can only do so once Maksim comes through with phony IDs. As it turns out, Cactus a nasty piece of work effectively essayed by Rudd is every bit as crucial to the narrative as Leo, their stories dovetailing nicely.

Apparently inspired by his late father David Bowie's seminal '70s 'Berlin period' (Low, "Heroes", and Lodger), Mute borrows from lots of other sources too, especially Blade Runner, Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, and Luc Besson's The Fifth Element. But this is one neon-noir detective story that, despite taking visual cues from elsewhere, manages to just about hang on to its own identity. Jones gives us plenty of world building, some of which is successful (communism seems to have made a comeback, or perhaps never been vanquished, in this version of Berlin), some of it less so (the weird sex robots are astoundingly unerotic, like someone has just stuck some dildos onto a couple of old Doctor Who monsters). It also takes place in the same universe as Jones' debut feature Moon, which means Sam Rockwell's character(s) pops up on TV screens now and again, although, it has to be said, to no great purpose.

There's a lot going on – perhaps too much – but all the characters are interesting in some way, even Clarke and Kazinsky's laddish yobs. You feel for Leo – an innocent who progressively becomes rather less so, and are initially drawn to Cactus's anti-heroic ways, before realising his roguishness actually hides an infinitely darker side. Jones handles the mystery element well, keeping his cards close to his chest, and introducing one or two red herrings as Leo's search for the missing Naadirah deepens.

Originally mooted to be Jones' first film, and 16 years in the making, the director has talked about how Mute explores "aspects of parenthood", and it does that impressively. It's dedicated to Bowie and Jones' former nanny, Marion Skene, but neither of the characters we see here as kids are treated well. Young Leo's religious parents refuse to allow him an operation, which would restore his ability to speak, while Josie is dragged from pillar to post by Cactus. Maybe what it's really about is finding the strength to forgive your parents and guardians their imperfections. And, God knows, there are a few on display here. 

The quiet man: Alexander Skarsgård stars as Leo in Mute

After the interminable and patchy Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2 (congratulations on killing off your best character, dummies), I was just about ready to give up on Marvel superhero movies. I wouldn't say Thor: Ragnarok (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WWW entirely restored my enthusiasm (it took Black Panther to do that), but Taika Waititi's film certainly put a big smile on my face.

This third and easily best instalment of the Thunder God's adventures sees death goddess Hela (Cate Blanchett) launch a decidedly hostile takeover of Asgard, with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) ending up cast out into the void, eventually coming to rest on a planet ruled by bad guy du jour, the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), who puts him to work fighting in a gladiatorial arena. As luck would have it, Thor's evil(ish) step-brother Loki (Tom Hiddlestone) is also on hand, as is old Avengers buddy the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). They team up with boozy warrior woman Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), with a view to escaping the Grandmaster's clutches and heading back to Asgard to deal with Hela and her minions. 

Ragnarok sets off at a cracking pace, contains an endless supply of sharp one-liners, and boasts eye-popping visuals that look like they've leapt straight out of the pages of the Thor comic-books (the good ones by Jack Kirby and Walt Simonson). The comedic tone fits the material perfectly and the cast is terrific, but the whole thing is probably stolen by an hilarious rock monster, called Korg, voiced by Waititi himself. The director serves up a final half-hour that is thrilling, heartbreaking and entirely satisfying. Less positively, the decision to split the story into two separate strands (Hela in one, Grandmaster in the other) means there isn't quite as much Blanchett as I'd have liked, and just occasionally the need to cram as many gags in as possible wears a bit thin, particularly in the scenes featuring just Thor and Hulk. That said, this is one of Marvel's better movies, and I shall certainly look forward to seeing Valkyrie and Korg again. 

Rok and a hard place: Thunder God Thor fights evil on two fronts

On the subject of Marvel superheroes, fans of the company's latest blockbuster, Black Panther, will surely be interested in seeing that film's star, Chadwick Boseman, in a very different but equally heroic role. In Marshall (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WW½, Boseman plays the titular – and very real – Thurgood Marshall, a celebrated NAACP lawyer, who went on to become the first African-American Supreme Court Justice.

Reginald Hudlin's film – set in the early 1940s – focuses on one of the cases that made Marshall's reputation, in which a black chauffeur (Sterling K Brown) is accused of raping the wife (Kate Hudson) of his employer. The Judge (James Cromwell) in the case refuses to allow Marshall to defend his client (because he's from "out of state"), so a reluctant local attorney, Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), is drafted in instead. The only problem is that Friedman – an insurance lawyer by trade – has no experience of defending such cases and has to be heavily coached by his NAACP counterpart.

It's good to see the talented Gad finally getting meatier roles, after slumming it in the likes of Pixels and The Wedding Ringer, earlier in his film career. He's great here as a decent Jewish family man, torn between doing the right thing and really not wanting the aggravation he knows the rape case will bring to his door. The way Hudlin develops the friendship between Friedman and Marshall is especially satisfying, and the film makes a point of drawing specific parallels between the prejudice shown to those of the Jewish faith and people of colour in the US at the time. Dan Stevens (who also appeared with Gad in Beauty And The Beast) is perfectly loathsome as a prosecution lawyer, who will stop at nothing to achieve victory, while Boseman continues his march to superstardom with a winning turn as a complicated man.

Marshall – who travelled the country defending African-Americans who could not afford legal representation – is, in many ways, just as ruthless as Stevens' character, the film even suggesting he sometimes put the NAACP's agenda ahead of what was necessarily best for his clients. As Friedman tells him,"You just sweep through town, stirring up all kinds of ugliness, then move right on. No one will ever even remember you were here."

Hudlin evinces its '40s setting subtly and convincingly but, if the film has a shortcoming, it's that it all feels a little too familiar and predictable. Even if you've never heard of Thurgood Marshall, after the first five minutes you have a pretty good idea how this is going to end up, and what kind of scenes are going to play out. And although having Friedman defend Marshall's client is an unusual twist on the usual courtroom drama proceedings, it robs us of seeing the titular character in action, which, because the film is supposedly about him, seems an odd decision. Over the course of a glittering career, Marshall took up many cases – including several in the Supreme Court, segregation in public schools famously being one of them – and I don't understand why one of these couldn't have been the focus of the movie instead. Maybe they're saving it for a sequel...

Marshall law: Boseman is in fine form as the famous US lawyer

Finally, a film I first mentioned here back in October, after seeing it at the London Film Festival. Norwegian director Joachim Trier's Thelma (DVD, Blu-ray, and Mubi) WWWW, is a supernatural coming-of-age story with shades of Brian De Palma's Carrie.

It sees the titular character, played by Eili Harboe, leaving her devoutly religious parents for university in Oslo, where she meets and falls in love with Anja (Kaya Wilkins). But the onset of a series of debilitating seizures threatens to end Thelma's new life of freedom, especially when they lead her to manifest strange and terrifying psychic powers.

This is no mere super-powered CG fest, as Trier (Louder Than Bombs) focuses as much on Thelma's angst and awkwardness at growing up and coming out as he does on her burgeoning and possibly malign abilities. Like Mute, it's a film that directly addresses parent/child relationships, in this case how a repressed upbringing can spectacularly and permanently screw someone up. It's a haunting, occasionally horrific, piece of work and I really can't recommend it enough.

Carrie-d away: Thelma owes a debt to De Palma's horror classic

Film of the week: Thelma

What I will be watching this week: Snowmageddon permitting, it'll be Red Sparrow and Lady Bird.

I've written a few words about Bedknobs and Broomsticks for Film Inquiry's feature on sentimental childhood favourites. Check it out here.

Due to deadlines elsewhere, there won't be a new column next week, but I will probably pop by to post something Oscars-related after Sunday's ceremony.

This week's Top 10 DVDs/Blu-rays (movies only)
1. Geostorm
2. The Snowman
3. Blade Runner 2049*
4. The Ninjago Lego Movie
5. Kingsman: The Golden Circle
6. My Little Pony: The Movie
7. Happy Death Day*
8. Victoria And Abdul
9. Brimstone
10. Dunkirk*

* = Recommended