Tom Augustine wraps up the weekend in film
The transition from writing success in other disciplines to success in writing screenplays isn't always the easiest path to tread but New Zealand's own Eleanor Catton does
so with poise in her adaptation of Jane Austen's classic, Emma. (dir. Autumn de Wilde, PG). This adaptation of the story stars the wonderful Anya Taylor-Joy as the titular matchmaker of various denizens of the small Regency-era British town where she lives. Austen is an author tricky to translate to the screen, as the ultimately somewhat trifling troubles of her characters must be made to feel of astronomical importance to the viewer to be enjoyed at all. Luckily, Catton's patient, faithful script achieves this, particularly in later stages of the story following a slightly sluggish first act. She's aided by confident direction from de Wilde, making her feature debut here and a delicious ensemble of performers. One of the brightest young actors in the game today, Taylor-Joy imbues the famously difficult heroine with a sense of real humanity, flair and wit to rival Alicia Silverstone's iconic turn as a modern-day Emma in Clueless. Elsewhere, Miranda Hart impresses as a local busybody and Bill Nighy is predictably impish and charming as Emma's father. It's an incredibly faithful adaptation - including in dialogue, which remains commendably close to the language of the period with nary an anachronism to be found. While the film is hardly challenging in this respect - there's not a lot in the way of modern-day resonance, and there's little effort to subvert or provide different perspectives on the original story - when watching Emma is such a delectably enjoyable treat it's difficult to complain.
Rating: Three-and-a-half stars.
I'll confess to having finally succumbed to superhero fatigue. Following Avengers: Endgame, an appropriately operatic climax to an era of blockbuster film-making, it's feeling as though this kind of story has increasingly less to offer cinema even as it continues to swallow the film industry whole. With that caveat in mind, it was with great pleasure that I discovered Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (dir. Cathy Yan, R16) to be arguably the best, most surprising film of this genre since at least Black Panther. The film is now going by Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey. This spinoff, focusing on Margot Robbie's breakout starring turn as Quinn in Suicide Squad, picks up with the character after she breaks up with the Joker and is sent on a self-destructive spiral into the nasty underworld of Gotham. What follows is a gleefully ruthless, visually bombastic treat, utilizing Robbie's chameleonic talents alongside a pleasingly game cast to create something really quite spectacular. It's all down to director Yan, who brings a strong directorial flair, something sorely missing in superhero films of today. Her colourful, frenetic style brings the material to life in a way that is deliriously fun. A breath of fresh air in a genre in great need of it.
Rating: Four-and-a-half stars.