The screen critic: The edgy, Oscar-worthy, and must-watch films and shows

Mar 10, 2023
Chris Rock lets loose on Will Smith in Selective Outrage (Netflix); Andrea Riseborough in To Leslie (Momentum); Bill Nighy in Living (Sony). Souce: Image supplied  

Ever since Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars we’ve all been anxiously waiting to see how the comedian would eventually address that infamous television event. Well, that time has come – and the wait has been worth it.

In his hilarious, edgy new Netflix special Selective Outrage, filmed live in Baltimore, Rock uncorks his full reaction to the assault. To say he pulls no punches is an understatement.

In a perfect example of a comic saying what everyone is thinking, Rock spouts some fairly obvious things about the slap itself before commenting on the thorny issue of Will Smith’s odd marriage arrangement with Jada Pinkett-Smith.

With the crowd totally onside, Rock is agog at how it not only permits her to have sex with their son’s friend but also sees her interviewing Smith about her infidelity on her YouTube show. It’s a bizarre set-up and Rock is relentless.

In the hour before he gets to the slap, Rock explores cancel culture, high-maintenance women, the power of female beauty and abortion, a divisive topic he speaks about with a frankness that has become his signature. 

Rock is at his best here. Don’t miss it.  

As a beleaguered woman who has sacrificed her life for the bottle, Andrea Riseborough puts in a sterling, Oscar-nominated performance in To Leslie, the latest film to dramatize the paralysing damage alcohol addiction can inflict on a person’s life.

Squandering the support and goodwill of family and friends, Leslie ends up as a cleaning woman at a remote motel where she must decide how her life is going to continue. With strong support from Marc Macron and Allison Janney, Riseborough’s portrayal shows the dark depths of addiction and the power the mere suggestion of hope can have.

Also up for an Oscar is Bill Nighy for his stirring, understated work in the British period drama Living. He plays Rodney Williams, an aloof, buttoned-down head of a London City Council department who literally runs out of reasons to live when given a cancer diagnosis.

Filled with the intent but not the will to commit suicide he finds succour in a new friendship with a former office colleague, which in turn sparks a renewed sense of a purpose in a job that, he now realizes, can achieve more than the mere pushing of paper. 

With its gentle portrait of a lonely soul transformed by his mortality, Living is a subdued, moving film about a man who learns how a big part of living is giving. (Opens 16 March)

Another wonderful performance can be found in Empire of Light as Olivia Colman (who took an Oscar for The Favourite) plays Hilary, the duty manager of a struggling seaside cinema in early-1980s Britain.

Beset with an unstable disposition that her medication barely keeps under control, she strikes up an unlikely relationship with handsome new employee Stephen (Micheal Ward).

Written and skilfully directed by Sam Mendes, the film blends the nostalgia for old-world movie palaces with the harsher realities of mental illness and the racial tensions of the time.

The film’s beautiful cinematography is Oscar-nominated though, strangely, Colman’s wonderful performance is not. Go figure.

There’s more top-quality soul-searching and face-punching in Creed III, which sees Adonis Creed (Michael B Jordan) cornered into facing his childhood friend Damian (Jonathan Majors) in the ring. After 18 years in jail without so much as a visit from Adonis, Damian has a large chip on his shoulder and a huge grudge to settle.  

Marking his directorial debut, Jordan does a very good job with a solid story that reinforces the traditional Rocky values of self-respect and courage. With only two quick references to the Rocky films and no sign of Sylvester Stallone, the film is clearly keen to break away so the sub-franchise can establish its own legacy, and the offering here is good enough to whet your appetite for Creed IV.

In Champions, a largely lame, overlong attempt at a feel-good sports comedy, Woody Harrelson plays a short-tempered basketball coach who, as part of his community service, is directed to coach a team of young people with intellectual disabilities. As well-meaning as it is, the film is full of tiresome cliches, extremely predictable and, frankly, not very funny. 

The Civil Rights drama Till recounts the 1955 murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi and the subsequent efforts to seek justice, spearheaded by his grieving mother Mamie Till-Bradley.

The opening passages of the film are quite potent and the strong lead performance from Danielle Deadwyler as Mamie is impressive.

Unfortunately, writer/director Chinonye Chukwu allows the film to slip into the self-righteous mode with the film’s politics becoming so heavy-handed Till begins feeling more like a lecture than a movie. This might account for why the film didn’t fare so well at the US box office where it fizzled despite widespread critical acclaim.

And finally, for easy-to-please horror fans Scream VI offers more of the usual fun and games as the latest incarnation of the masked Ghostface killer works through the mostly female cast, which has relocated to New York. There are a few neat surprises here and at least it’s better than the last one.

For more visit with updates on Twitter at @jimschembri

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