Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Critical Week: Talk to the hand

Spike Lee's 2015 Chi-Raq, a rap-musical take on an ancient Greek play, finally makes it to the UK this year. After screening at the London Film Festival, it's being shown to press before its release in December. Packed with social relevance, it's a hugely engaging look at race, gender and violence in America. But of course this week's biggest press screening was for Marvel's next blockbuster Doctor Strange, a massive crowd-pleaser that gives Benedict Cumberbatch one of his best roles yet. It's a heady concoction of trippy action and witty characters.

A little off the beaten path, there was Idris Elba and Gemma Arterton in the British indie drama 100 Streets, which is strongly shot and acted but has a rather clunky plot; the delayed UK release of the choppy drama Burning Blue, exploring the issue of Don't Ask/Don't Tell; and Werner Herzog's brilliant documentary Lo and Behold, looking at the internet from angles we never thought were possible.

I also caught a couple of gay-themed plays showing on the London fringe over the weekend. The HIV Monologues (at Ace Hotel in Shoreditch until 28 Oct) is another collection of dramatic speeches by Patrick Cash (The Chemsex Monologues) that coalesce into a moving story. It's beautifully played by a sharp four-person cast, and carries quite a kick. And 5 Guys Chillin' (at King's Head in Islington until 5 Nov) is a revival of Peter Darney's v erbatim play taken from interviews about drug-fuelled post-club hangouts. It's presented in an almost unnervingly offhanded way - it feels improvised, never performed. It's a bit moralistic, but strikingly well-staged to force the audience to get involved. Both plays tackle seriously important issues in complex, challenging ways.

This coming week we have Ben Affleck in The Accountant, Hailee Steinfeld in The Edge of Seventeen, the British comedy-drama The Darkest Universe, the British sci-fi horror The Darkest Dawn and, just in time for the US election, something called Ron and Laura Take Back America.

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