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. ■
Natalie Portman as damaged singer Celeste in Brady Corbet’s