The Screen Critic: A moving portrait of the King’s wife, a glorious Old Hollywood musical and a miniseries about World War 2 bomber crews

Feb 02, 2024
Source: Eric Bana in Force of Nature: The Dry 2 (Roadshow); Cailee Spaeny in Priscilla (A24); Austin Butler in Masters of the Air (AppleTV).

The life of the wife of The King is brought to luminous life in Priscilla, an understated, intimate portrait revealing how marriage to history’s biggest pop icon gradually turned sour via drugs, ego, and way too much fame.

Anchored by a richly nuanced lead performance by Cailee Spaeny – with Jacob Elordi showing the softer and darker sides of Elvis – the film, written and directed by Sofia Coppola (her best film since Lost in Translation), stands in stark contrast to Baz Luhrmann’s flashy Elvis biopic.

Graced by some beautiful, glowing photography, Priscilla offers a quieter ride through a tumultuous life, its emotional strength no doubt aided by the real Priscilla serving as an executive producer.

There’s no better way to put it: The Color Purple is an absolutely marvellous cinematic treat.

Drawing on the classic 1985 Steven Spielberg film and the hit 2005 Broadway musical of the Pulitzer Prize winning 1982 Alice Walker novel, the film takes us through the life of shy black girl Cellie (Fantasia Barrino), who survives an abusive childhood and a violent marriage in the post-slavery American south.

The story is bittersweet, yet the tone is uplifting, and the style of its fabulously filmed musical numbers inspired by the best of Old Hollywood.

Sensationally entertaining, moving and lovely to look at, the film was produced by Spielberg, legendary music producer Quincy Jones and the ubiquitous Oprah Winfey, who was in the original.

In Force of Nature, the much-anticipated sequel to the hit 2020 Australian film The Dry, detective Aaron Falk (Eric Bana) heads into the dank foreboding forest, along with the rest of the police force, to investigate the case of a missing person.

A team of five white-collar women have trekked into the wild for a team-building exercise, but only four return. What happened to the unfortunate fifth? Therein lies the mystery. Unfortunately, the mystery turns out to be far- from-gripping, despite good performances (especially from Deborra-Lee Furness) and strong atmospherics.

Again directed and written by Robert Connolly from a novel by Jane Harper, the film doesn’t generate the same degree of tension as The Dry, and has quite a few plot holes. Still, Force of Nature is that rarest of beasts – an Australian film people have actually been looking forward to. (Opens 8 February.)

Laconic, stone-faced muscleman Jason Statham kicks, grunts, punches, stabs and shoots his way through The Beekeeper, the latest in a long line of perfectly serviceable action films starring the world’s most reliable score settler.

Custom-built for Statham’s huge fanbase, the film – already a sizeable box office hit – casts him as a retired government assassin who embarks on a blood-soaked, bone-crunching quest for vengeance when his only friend commits suicide after she is fleeced by online scammers.

There’s lashings of good quality action, with Statham spending a surprising amount of time using his bare hands to bring down the bad guys before he finally picks up a gun. The party also stars Josh Hutcherson and veteran Jeremy Irons as a father-and-son team of corrupt corporate types.

Lovers of intriguing courtroom dramas will find themselves well-served by Anatomy of a Fall, an engrossing crime mystery (nominated for five Oscars) designed to keep you guessing.

At a remote chalet in the French alps a famous writer (Sandra Hüller) has her world turned upside down when her husband is found face- down in the snow, dead.

She’s distraught, of course, yet the slow reveal of details suggests that she might have had just enough motive to push him off the house’s top balcony. But did she?

There are a lot of extended flashback scenes during the extended courtroom interrogations, and while the film does feel a tad too long, it is held together by an exceptional lead performance from Hüller. You’ll be seeing her again soon in the mesmeric Holocaust drama The Zone of Interest, which is also up for five Oscars.

The extraordinary courage and enormous sacrifices made by those dauntless young bomber crews who took the fight into Hitler’s face is at the patriotic heart of Masters of the Air.

A sprawling, magnificently mounted, often frighteningly realistic account of how gruelling and costly the air war over Europe was, the nine-part miniseries is the third superlative World War 2 drama from uber producers Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, who gave us the superb Band of Brothers in 2001 and its worthy follow-up The Pacific in 2010.

Firmly fixed on the terror and huge human toll of aerial combat, the initial focus is on two American best buddies (Austin Butler from Elvis and Callum Turner from The Boys in the Boat) who pilot giant B-17 Flying Fortress bombers from their base in England.

Shot in widescreen with cinema-standard visual effects, no expense has been spared in the vivid recreations of the daring daylight missions these crews flew deep into the belly of Nazi Germany.

The upside of daylight raids was that they allowed the Americans to conduct precision bombing runs against high-value targets. The downside, of course, was that it made them vulnerable to volleys of accurate anti aircraft fire from the ground and swarms of killer fighter aircraft.

By any fair measure, Masters of the Air is an outstanding series that anyone with even a passing interest in World War 2 will find enthralling.

New episodes drop each week on AppleTV+, so let’s revisit the show in mid-March once the whole thing is streaming.

Also from Apple is the espionage action-comedy Argylle, a fun, clever, twist-laden romp about a spy novel writer (Bryce Dallas Howard) whose fiction becomes reality.

Loads of well-staged action bounce off an increasingly loopy plot where things constantly change. Director Matthew Vaughn (King’s Man) has done a swell job, even though things do get a bit too silly at times.

The film is screening in cinemas to build up word-of-mouth before promptly heading over to its ultimate home at AppleTV+.

For more visit and @jimschembri on X for updates.

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