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There’s a bit of something for everybody this week with recent genre hybrids, absurd action flicks, and an incredible music documentary that has to be seen (and heard) to be believed.
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Summer of Soul - Disney+
Summer of Soul immediately ranks among the most breathtaking concert films ever made. The directorial feature debut of Ahmir-Khalib “Questlove” Thompson shows on film for the first time the events of the forgotten Harlem Culture Festival. The free community music and arts festival took place during the same summer as Woodstock, by which it was eventually overshadowed. But over 300,000 people attended the Harlem Cultural Festival, celebrating African American music and culture, and promoting Black pride and unity. The footage from the festival sat in a basement, unseen for over 50 years, and director Thompson took it upon himself to publicise the footage, and gain perspective on the festival and its significance to the performers and the audience alike.
Its grasp on the emotional and sociopolitical importance of the festival is shown with extreme flair from the beginning. In a manner appropriate for Thompson — a drummer for Philadelphia hip hop group The Roots — it opens with a raucous drum solo. That solo is from none other than Steve Wonder, and the intense and hypnotic beat setting the pace for a montage of newsreel footage illustrating what this time period meant for African Americans and other black and brown communities living in Harlem.
Watch a preview for Summer of Soul
The editing is marvellous throughout, particularly in a segment that mirrors reactions to the Moon Landing — which happened during the festival — from white interviewees, and black interviewees, the latter of whom of course highlighted that while whitey is on the moon, their communities suffer.
It’s a documentary that encompasses large swathes of the sociopolitical history of Harlem and tells it with surprising precision and an exciting and propulsive rhythm — it’s stylish, galvanising and simply breathtaking filmmaking. Some might argue otherwise, but the decision to have the interviewees directly respond to the archive footage actually enhancing the experience of each song rather than distracting from the performance. It’s a seemingly small choice of huge emotional importance, a simple and perfect illustration of how much this festival affected people, and how mystifying and even painful it is that it essentially disappeared.
Also new on Disney+: Jungle Cruise (Premier Access), Stuntman, Playing With Sharks
Knives Out - NOW with a Sky Cinema Membership
After making the exciting and (somewhat) subversive Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson picked up an all-star cast and placed them within a classic, Agatha Christie-style whodunnit, while taking some cues from the likes of the Clue movie. The setup is this: when the renowned crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (the late Christopher Plummer) is found dead at his estate in an apparent suicide just after his 85th birthday, Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, overjoyed to be free from James Bond for a bit) is enlisted to investigate, by a mysterious, unknown client.
From Harlan’s dysfunctional family to his devoted staff, Blanc sifts through a web of red herrings and lies to unpack the truth behind Harlan’s untimely death. Johnson’s tight scripting remains a step ahead at all times, and at one point even tips its hand in such a deceptive manner that the very conventions of the whodunnit genre become a threat and source of tension.
Watch a trailer for Knives Out
It’s a delightful mid budget film full of fun visual tricks and heightened performances from a very talented cast - particularly a Chris Evans playing against the wholesome image built by the Captain America films, again performing as the kind of cocksure bully that he often used to.
Also new on NOW: Cats & Dogs 3: Paws Unite
Time and Tide - Netflix (from 1 August)
Following a run of Hollywood action films starring Jean-Claude Van Damme (including Double Team and Knock Off), legendary Hong Kong filmmaker Tsui Hark returned home to make 2000's Time and Tide. It’s an incredibly, delightfully 2000s film, from the dark sunglasses and leather jackets, to the Trainspotting poster on the wall of protagonist Tyler’s flat.
Tyler (Nicholas Tse, who also sings the end credits song) — a young man and a bartender — meets and impregnates Ah Jo (Cathy Tsui), a cop with whom he has a drunken one night stand. Tyler becomes a bodyguard to score quick cash, befriending a disillusioned mercenary named Jack (Wu Bai), who's determined to make a fresh start with his pregnant wife Ah Hui (candy Lo). Although the two men first work together to stop an assassination attempt, they soon find themselves on opposite sides of a deadly confrontation.
It’s a woozy and noir-infused spin on the kind of action film Hark helped to pioneer as a producer, while recalling the youthful provocations of his work during the Hong Kong New Wave. It’s also a heightened cops-and-criminals stories of brotherhood, shot with verve, with neon-drenched freewheeling camerawork.
This is all to say that the action sequences are bold, funny and ultimately extremely cool. Whenever its participants aren’t leaping and abseiling down multiple stories of an apartment building or parking lot, Hark’s action sequences frequently take a turn for the impressionistic, or the ridiculous.The resultant narrative structure becomes perhaps overly complicated as a result of his willingness to throw in everything he can, but Time and Tide is more about playing with form than functional plot anyway, an allegorical action work that you intuit and feel your way through.