New to watch: Away, One Night In Miami, Blithe Spirit, WandaVision, Bulletproof...
AWAY (Cert U, 75 mins, Munro Film Services, Animation/Fantasy/Adventure, available from January 18 on Amazon Prime Video/BT TV Store/iTunes/Sky Store/TalkTalk TV Store and other download and streaming services)
A NAMELESS boy dangles from a tree, the canopy of his parachute snagged on gnarled fingers of a sun-scorched branch. He tumbles to the ground and runs into a cave to escape a shape-shifting giant with glowing white eyes.
This behemoth relentlessly pursues the child after he stumbles upon a rucksack and motorcycle and follows a trail marked on a map that leads back to humanity through a series of primitive stone archways along the spine of an island.
Away is a mesmerising computer-animated odyssey that nods affectionately to puzzle-solving video games including PlayStation adventures Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus.
Latvian animator Gints Zilbalodis directed, wrote, edited, produced and composed the score for this wildly ambitious trek through a dreamlike world not far removed from Studio Ghibli, where wide-eyed cats congregate around a geyser sinkhole awaiting a thunderous gush of refreshment.
Animation on the central character’s face is predominantly restricted to altering the shape and size of his brown eyes, which peer out beneath a jumble of hair that resembles a mound of dark chocolate-coloured cheese puffs.
Zilbalodis orchestrates some impressively elaborate sequences, including a vertiginous walk along a rotting wooden bridge and a hair-raising mountain descent in the shadow of an avalanche.
Ambient sounds ebb and flow with an evocative soundtrack, which draws inspiration from Max Richter and Sigur Ros. Spellbinding.
ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI… (Cert 15, 114 mins, streaming from January 15 exclusively on Amazon Prime Video, Drama/Romance)
ON FEBRUARY 26 1964 four men congregate in Room 245 of the Hampton House Motel & Villas. Two bodyguards, Kareem (Lance Reddick) and Jamaal (Christian Magby), patiently stand by the door, alert to possible threats.
Inside, cocksure boxer Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) celebrates victory over Sonny Liston (Aaron D Alexander) and pokes fun at his defeated opponent: “I told you he’s ugly, you should see him up close!”
Flanked by good friend Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Clay is poised to publicly confirm his allegiance to the Nation of Islam by changing his name to Muhammad Ali.
The impending declaration comes as a shock to the other guests, singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr) and American football player Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge).
Inspired by true events, One Night In Miami… floats like a butterfly and occasionally stings like a bee.
Oscar-winning actor Regina King’s directorial debut is an elegantly choreographed verbal boxing match, which trades barbs between the men as they debate their responsibility to the black community to use their platforms for meaningful social change.
Kemp Powers’ assured adaptation of his 2013 stage play expands beyond the four walls of a motel room to give a vibrant sense of the passionate activism of the era.
The intentionally languid pace allows the four actors to savour Kemp’s dialogue as they wrestle with a place in history.
BLITHE SPIRIT (Cert 12, 96 mins, streaming from January 15 exclusively on Sky Cinema, Comedy/Drama/Romance)
CHARLES Condomine (Dan Stevens) has been in the grip of writer’s block since the death of his first wife Elvira (Leslie Mann) five years ago. The creative impasse is an unfortunate consequence of “borrowing” Elvira’s brilliant plot notes, character design and dialogue, then passing off her genius as his own work.
Charles hopes to reinvigorate his career by adapting one of his books as a script for the movie mogul father of his second wife, Ruth (Isla Fisher).
“You’ve been commissioned to write a 90-page screenplay, not War And Peace,” she calmly reminds him.
In the grip of self-doubt, Charles invites “world renowned spiritualist and medium” Madame Arcati (Dame Judi Dench) to conduct a seance at his home, attended by Ruth, good friend Dr Bradman (Julian Rhind-Tutt) and his wife Violet (Emilia Fox).
The ritual unexpectedly summons Elvira from the dead and the capricious spirit, which only Charles can see, wreaks havoc.
Based on Noel Coward’s celebrated 1941 farce, Blithe Spirit exorcises Arcati’s delicious scene-stealing theatrics – Dench plays the signature role largely straight with a tragic back story – and focuses instead on a battle of spooky sexes that threatens to put half the characters in an early grave.
Edward Hall’s handsomely dressed film is certainly blithe when it comes to landing laughs in the right places, relying heavily on Fisher’s natural gifts as a physical comedian.
Embedding the story firmly in Tinseltown’s first golden age (Greta Garbo, Clark Gable and director Cecil B De Mille enjoy cameos in Charles’ rise and fall) doesn’t add the sparkle that this version desperately needs.
OUTSIDE THE WIRE (Cert 15, 115 mins, starts streaming from January 15 exclusively on Netflix, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Action/Thriller)
DRONE pilot Harp (Damson Idris) breaks the chain of command during a top-secret mission and is reassigned to Leo (Anthony Mackie), a prototype android officer who needs a human companion to “think outside of the box” in the field of battle.
Man and machine join forces in a militarised zone to locate a doomsday device before it falls into the hands of insurgents.
As the brothers in arms face hostile threats and learn to fight side by side, they gradually trust each other and realise their greatest enemy may be uncomfortably close to home.
Swedish director Mikael Hafstrom orchestrates the futuristic carnage based on a screenplay penned by Rob Yescombe and Rowan Athale.
BOX SETS / SERIES
WANDAVISION (9 episodes, starts streaming from January 15 exclusively on Disney+, Fantasy/Comedy/Drama/Romance)
FOLLOWING the cataclysmic events and tragic losses of Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home, Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe kicks off with the off-kilter TV series WandaVision created by Jac Schaeffer.
Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany reprise their roles as super-powered sweethearts Wanda Maximoff and Vision, who seem to be enjoying idealised suburban lives not too far removed from classic sitcoms such as I Love Lucy.
The couple conceal their abilities from the close-knit community of Westview, including their nosy neighbour Agnes (Kathryn Hahn).
Wanda and Vision begin to suspect that everything is not as it seems in their white picket-fenced paradise but the truth is far stranger than either of them dare imagine.
The first two episodes will premiere on January 15, with seven further weekly instalments.
BULLETPROOF: SOUTH AFRICA (3 episodes, starts streaming from January 20 exclusively on NOW TV, Thriller/Drama/Romance)
Sky One’s police drama starring Ashley Walters and Noel Clarke as gun-toting best friends returns for a special three-part adventure filmed on location in South Africa.
National Crime Agency cops Ronnie Pike (Walters) and Aaron Bishop (Clarke) holster their weapons in London and head for sunnier climes for a much-needed holiday.
On one of Cape Town’s sun-drenched beaches, they befriend fellow holidaymakers, whose daughter is kidnapped by local thugs.
The perpetrators demand a preposterous ransom for the girl and Pike and Bishop agree to assist South African police.
Although they are only supposed to observe, Pike and Bishop become active participants in the hunt for the missing girl, doing whatever it takes to crack the case.
THE SIMPSONS – SEASON 32 (22 episodes, starts streaming from January 15 exclusively on NOW TV, Animation/Comedy/Romance)
SPRINGFIELD’S most dysfunctional animated family returns to Sky One this week and streams exclusively on NOW TV.
Trials and tribulations abound plus memorable appearances by vocal guest stars Dan Aykroyd, Jason Bateman, Olivia Colman, Morgan Fairchild, David Harbour, Ellie Kemper, Joe Mantegna, Michael Palin, Ben Platt, Paul Rudd and Stellan Skarsgard.
This series, doughnut-guzzling father Homer (voiced by Dan Castellaneta) is inspired by the tale of a Roman gladiator named Obeseus the Wide.
Also, dutiful wife Marge (Julie Kavner) and daughter Lisa (Yeardley Smith) become obsessed with true crime podcasts and skateboarding son Bart (Nancy Cartwright) pursues dreams of Hollywood stardom.