Wondering what to watch this weekend? Before the first week of May promises a busy cinema calendar, the last few streaming releases of April is something of an eclectic grab bag of films.
The highest profile new release of the week is Disney’s latest live-action remake of their animated back-catalogue, this time with the fairy tale Peter Pan & Wendy. David Lowery, also responsible for Pete’s Dragon, one of the better efforts from the studio’s continuing live action project, directs again (making for amusing contrast with his last film, the much more adult The Green Knight).
Meanwhile, MUBI continues its season of Steven Soderbergh films with Traffic, and also adds to its expansive international library with Zama, a surreal and absurdist take on colonialist malaise from Lucrecia Martel.
On BBC iPlayer, Ridley Scott’s easygoing crowdpleaser The Martian — a survivalist science-fiction film about an astronaut who gets stranded alone on the surface of the red planet — makes for solid weekend viewing.
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Peter Pan & Wendy (2023) | Disney+
Out of all the films resulting from Disney’s venture of rebooting every animated film in their library as a live action film, David Lowery’s Pete’s Dragon is the one that felt the most real.
Its emotional arc felt like it came from people and not from cynical leveraging of its audience’s nostalgia. Peter Pan and Wendy, another live action remake directed by Lowery, isn’t quite up to the standard of the The Green Knight director’s last effort for the House of Mouse, but it does at least have an energy that their other remakes have lacked.
Yahoo's review of Peter Pan & Wendy: A marked improvement on Disney's recent live action remakes
Like with Pete’s Dragon there’s a winsome earnestness here, never shying away from its nature as a children’s fable, though it does have some neat and even hallucinatory visual concepts about the boundary between the real world and the eternal playground of Neverland — a porous boundary that Wendy touches, before it turns into the ocean.
Watch: The stars of Peter Pan & Wendy talk to Yahoo about growing up
Even though its ideas around visual effects are often fun, there’s no getting around the awkwardness of leaving behind the expressiveness of animation for flesh and blood actors: there’s immense uncanniness with a real actor playing Tinkerbell (Yara Shahidi, of Black-ish fame, stranded in a silent role). The usual pitfalls still appear too: as ever, there’s a murkiness to its nighttime scenes that will provoke questions about what is lost — rather than gained — in the move from animation to live-action.
Read more: The Lost Boys are not all boys any more
At least Lowery’s camera feels animated as it chases characters through each space or prowls around along with Jude Law’s crazed take on Captain Hook (the pirates are the more enjoyable part of the film, a cartoonish bunch of rogues bringing some more energy to proceedings through sea shanties and other songs).
The precociousness of the children of Neverland can be charming too, and it’s all playful enough to not feel like wasted effort, although this also feels representative on how the bar for Disney remakes lowers all the time.
A pretty solid children’s film, though it’s hard to say what it offers beyond its original.
Also available on Disney+: The Predator (2018)
Zama (2017) | MUBI
Lucrecia Martel’s woozy, nightmarish and tragicomic Zama adapts the existentialist novel by Argentine novelist Antonio di Benedetto into a sprawling dual critique of colonialist and masculine pride, following the continual humiliations and gradual deterioration of Don Diego de Zama, an 18th-century Spanish magistrate. Zama essentially exists in purgatory, stranded in a remote outpost in Argentina while waiting for a transfer that seems perpetually around the corner.
Martel tracks Zama through a variety of absurdities, and eventually to an ill-advised expedition to catch a mythic outlaw named Vicuña Porto. It's a decision made out of impotent rage and sexual repression (Martel also observes the perversions and voyeurism that emerge from Zama’s lonely posting).
As a figurehead of colonial oppression there’s no really feeling bad for the white man, as put-upon as he may be. And so Martel mines his story for all the hallucinatory absurdity it’s worth: take a moment when a llama intrudes into the frame, or the way that his long periods of waiting at the outpost are characterised by sleepy island rock.
Also on MUBI: The Warrior (2001)
The Martian (2015) | BBC iPlayer
Ridley Scott has settled into something of a journeyman role in later years, taking on a number of different stories across a breadth of genres and building them with nothing short of professionalism.
The Martian is no different, perhaps standing out amongst Scott’s filmography — an uplifting sci-fi film, from the guy who made Alien –— even with its basic “Cast Away, in space” premise, as astronaut Mark Watney is forced to survive by himself on Mars.
Matt Damon (who would play another space castaway in Interstellar) suffuses the role with charming can-do spirit, bringing the personality the role requires as the film’s almost singular focus, making all of Watney’s neuroses and even his lowest moments feel eminently relatable.
The Martian unfolds with the breeziness of a feel-good biopic, tracing the collaborative effort that it takes to bring Mark home as well as his own perseverance in making it long enough to be retrieved: even going so far as to grow crops.
Scott’s desolate but gorgeous rendering of Mars’s surface is winsome, and though it’s far from his best work it’s easy and inviting weekend viewing; it can feel like something of a relief to see the filmmaker tackle science fiction without the misanthropic terrors of his Alien series or the existential misery of Blade Runner (as incredible and foundational as those two films are).
Also on iPlayer: Stan & Ollie (2018), Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark (2019)