Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Critical week: Take the cake

Blockbuster screenings this week included the animated comedy-adventure The Secret Life of Pets, from the team behind Despicable Me. It's a lively, funny romp that isn't quite as original as it could have been. The 20-years-later sequel Independence Day: Resurgence provides plenty of big-scale entertainment. But it can't quite live up to memories of the first film, because of its rushed story and a lack of snappy wit. And the action-bromance Central Intelligence gives Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart roles that are enjoyably against type, including plenty of hilarious dialog.

Out of the mainstream, Key and Peele's action comedy Keanu is likeably engaging when it's witty and a bit harder to take when it's violent, but the eponymous kitten makes it irresistible. And the clever British doc Notes on Blindness uses professor John Hull's recordings, lip-synched by actors, to explore his adaptation to a life without sight. It's beautifully assembled, but somewhat gloomy.

With screenings slow at the moment, I had time for a variety of cultural activities outside the cinema. Pietro Mascagni's opera Iris (pictured right) was staged at Holland Park's open-air theatre on an enjoyably large scale. The story is rather simple, and the sets and costumes are head-scratchingly anachronistic, but the music is lovely and the cast is excellent. I also attended the Sicily exhibition at British Museum, a fascinating look at European history from the perspective of an island that has been pivotal from the ancient Greeks to the Roman Empire. And then there is The Bunyadi, an all-natural pop-up restaurant serving a tasting menu cooked without electricity - in earthen bowls on hand-hewn tables to diners who are only allowed to wear bathrobes and nothing else (crucially, no phones) - and wearing the robes is optional within the bamboo-screened booths. The food is fresh, delicious and inventive, and the service is engaging, but the price is very steep.

This coming week there are screenings of two sequels, the animated adventure Finding Dory and the magical thriller Now You See Me 2, plus Thomas Vinterberg's acclaimed drama The Commune and a post-release screening of the award-winning immigration doc Fire at Sea at the East End Film Festival. And for non-film offerings, I've got two plays, a circus cabaret and a day at Wimbledon. Plus a variety of parties to celebrate/commiserate the result of Britain's in/out EU referendum on Thursday. Reports to come...

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