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The Scotsman - - ARTS - Alis­tair Hark­ness

Vox Lux ( 15)

With his sec­ond fea­ture, for­mer child ac­tor Brady Cor­bet es­tab­lishes him­self as an Amer­i­can film­maker as com­mit­ted as any of the Euro­pean art­house heavy- hit­ters he worked with to mak­ing sin­gu­lar films about the hu­man con­di­tion. Set­ting his sights on the anx­i­eties of the dig­i­tal age, he’s made a fas­ci­nat­ing, el­lip­ti­cal chron­i­cle of Amer­ica in the 21st cen­tury so far, one that kicks off in 1999 with a chill­ingly ren­dered Columbine- style high school mas­sacre, then uses the jour­ney of one of its sur­vivors, Ce­leste, to take the pulse of the coun­try as she be­comes a stadium- fill­ing pop­star – one we then re­join as an adult on the come­back trail af­ter she goes spec­tac­u­larly off the rails in the in­ter­ven­ing years. Played as a jaded and dam­aged adult by Natalie Port­man and as a teen by Raf­fey Cas­sidy ( who re­turns to play the char­ac­ter’s daugh­ter in the sec­ond half ) Ce­leste is an em­bod­i­ment of a messed- up coun­try’s worst im­pulses. Which sounds a lit­tle baroque and the film un­doubt­edly is, but Cor­bet’s will­ing­ness to ap­proach his sub­ject mat­ter with the free­dom of a nov­el­ist or a painter and push the form on a scale that feels si­mul­ta­ne­ously grand and in­ti­mate is thrilling to watch. Jude Law co- stars.

Tolkien ( 12A)

Disavowed by the es­tate of John Ron­ald Reuel Tolkien, this new biopic star­ring Ni­cholas Hoult as the fan­tasy nov­el­ist is a pretty dreary at­tempt to re­verse en­gi­neer as­pects of The

Hob­bit and The Lord of the Rings tril­ogy ( or, at least, vague enough al­lu­sions to Peter Jackson’s film ver­sions so as not to be ac­tion­able) in or­der to make overly sim­plis­tic cor­re­la­tions with his early life story. Jump­ing back- and- forth be­tween his trau­matic war­time ex­pe­ri­ences at the Battle of the Somme and his school and univer­sity years, the film ded­i­cates most of the run­ning time to ex­plor­ing how th­ese events shaped the imag­i­na­tion of this or­phaned scholar whose love of lan­guage would even­tu­ally lead him to write about hob­bits and elves and epic jour­neys fea­tur­ing great friend­ships and huge sac­ri­fices.

Ex­tremely Wicked, Shock­ingly Evil and Vile ( 15)

Star­ring Zac Efron as Ted Bundy and di­rected by ac­claimed doc­u­men­tar­ian Joe Ber­linger

– who also made the re­cently re­leased Net­flix doc­u­men­tary se­ries

Con­ver­sa­tions with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes – Ex­tremely Wicked,

Shock­ingly Evil and Vile feels ini­tially like an­other art­fully made se­rial killer biopic in the My Friend Dah­mer mode. Grad­u­ally, though, it morphs into a more in­trigu­ing look at the cult of per­son­al­ity that Bundy’s case seemed to gal­vanise as his crimes and sub­se­quent tele­vised trial – the first in the US – fu­elled a me­dia cir­cus in which jus­tice for his vic­tims seemed sec­ondary to his sta­tus as a rat­ings and po­lit­i­cal vote booster.

The Curse of La Llorona ( 15)

This lat­est spin- off from The

Con­jur­ing films is a fairly shod­dily ex­e­cuted ghost story, set un­con­vinc­ingly in the 1970s and wast­ing Linda Cardellini ( Avengers:

Endgame, Green Book) as a du­ti­ful cop’s widow try­ing to pro­tect her two chil­dren from an in­fan­ti­ci­dal Mex­i­can de­mon.

Long Shot ( 15)

Dis­ap­point­ingly laugh- light high­con­cept rom- com in which Char­l­ize Theron’s pres­i­den­tial hope­ful falls for Seth Ro­gen’s an­grily ide­al­is­tic jour­nal­ist af­ter he joins her cam­paign as a speech writer. Ro­gen’s de­fault schlub- with- a- heart- of- gold per­sona wears very thin, very quickly and Theron can’t do much with a role that re­cy­cles di­luted ver­sions of the rib­ald rou­tines we’ve seen in the count­less Ro­gen come­dies since Knocked Up. ■

Vox Lux

Natalie Port­man as dam­aged singer Ce­leste in Brady Cor­bet’s

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