Divines; Ghostbusters; The BFG; Star Trek: Beyond and more – review

Houda Benyamina adds a thrilling feminist twist to the ghetto life genre with the direct-to-Netflix Divines

It’s a big, blockbusting week on the DVD shelves, but the best new film heading to your living rooms is one you probably haven’t had the option of seeing in cinemas. Among the most exciting titles yet to receive the direct-to-Netflix treatment, writer-director Houda Benyamina’s first solo film, Divines, is a sharp, swaggering siren call to young women of colour in a France that seems increasingly weighted against them. As Marine Le Pen’s loathsome brand of bigotry gains national traction, this story of Dounia, a hard-up teenage Muslim from the outer Paris estates determined to secure herself a taste of the good life – by hook or, dangerously, by crook – plays as an exhilaratingly amoral, empathetic minority report.

In inviting audiences to hear rather than judge an angrily under-represented demographic, Divines has understandably prompted comparisons with Céline Sciamma’s more pristine Girlhood, but Benyamina’s feminist remix of the thug life genre has a strident voice all its own. It positively bristles with the restless fury and rough-and-tumble wit of its adolescent leads. In its finest moments – boldest among them a freewheeling segue into urban fantasy in which Dounia (sensationally played by Oulaya Amamra, the director’s younger sister) and her best friend steer an imagined, ghetto-fabulous Ferrari – the film cheekily corrects the macho posturing of Scarface and its ilk. Benyamina, who deservedly won the Camera d’Or for debut features at Cannes this year, looks ready to beat a boy-dominated industry at its own game. It deserved big-screen exposure, but you can hardly blame Netflix for pouncing.

Over on the supersize side of things, I’d like to say I felt similarly invigorated by the female takeover of Ghostbusters (Sony, 12), not least as a decisive up yours to the swarm of social media misogynists whose attacks on Paul Feig’s remake made headlines this summer. Well, the middle finger can stand. It turns out the female ensemble, with their collective sparkplug chemistry, is the best reason this otherwise slightly damp candyfloss has for being. Feig proved his knack for lively, personality-led farce in The Heat and Spy, but the rhythm’s just off here. The human dynamics feel plastic, the jokes not quite loose enough, as if stiffened by the pressure of nostalgia. The genial riffing of the four expert leads, particularly the sweetly spacy Kate McKinnon, seems to happen in spite of the script, rather than in tune with it. There must be a better original vehicle for their, and Feig’s, supreme silliness.

Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig and Leslie Jones in Ghostbusters.
The ‘collective sparkplug chemistry’ of Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig and Leslie Jones is wasted on Ghostbusters. Photograph: AP

Still, I’ll admit that any one of the better pratfalls in Ghostbusters raised a broader smile from me than the chilly entirety of The BFG (eOne, PG), in which Steven Spielberg’s signature earnestness and Roald Dahl’s black-edged drollery blend about as harmoniously as Nesquik and tequila. Dahl is routinely tricky to nail on screen, though many a better tailored film-maker might have struggled with his fanciful 1982 tale of loneliness, dream-weaving and infighting among giants, the most delightful virtues of which are discursive and language-based. Spielberg, propulsive storyteller that he is, struggles to keep the episodic whimsy of the film’s first half afloat; even his reliable world-building gifts falter here, hampered by coldly synthetic, textureless CGI. I yearned for the characterful angularity of Quentin Blake’s universe.

Sadly, then, the week’s most satisfactory Hollywood nostalgia exercise is its most risk-averse. There’s little to say about Justin Lin’s cheerfully pulpy Star Trek: Beyond (Universal, 12) other than its handsome functionality as fan-service fare. On balance, its throwback approach probably gets more right than 2013’s pompous, muddled Star Trek Into Darkness, but I might already recall more details from the latter. Similarly short on surprises, but efficiently meeting its on-the-tin promises, Ron Howard’s documentary The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years (Studiocanal, 12) unearths no fresh insights or information on the by now thoroughly demystified phenomenon of Beatlemania. Still, it’s brightly, cleanly assembled and packed with well-presented concert footage, the documentary equivalent of an oft-played but digitally remastered album.

‘Astonishing, sometimes thrillingly demented’: Abel Gance’s 1927 film, Napoleon
‘Astonishing, sometimes thrillingly demented’: Abel Gance’s 1927 film, Napoleon. Photograph: Courtesy BFI

Speaking of digital remastering, few classic rereleases this year can stand up to the restoration of Abel Gance’s astonishing, sometimes thrillingly demented 1927 silent epic Napoleon (BFI, PG), which roars and rages and rivets for more than five hours and somehow covers a mere fraction of the diminutive general’s made-for-cinema life. That hardly matters, however, by the time Gance pulls out all the stops for a berserk, beautiful, genuinely climactic finale, here presented in its full, long unavailable widescreen glory, across three co-ordinated panels with vivid interludes of colour tinting. It’s a spectacle at once years ahead of its time and with no direct aesthetic equal. I recently saw it luxuriously extended across the stage of the Royal Festival Hall, but a gleaming Blu-ray miniaturisation will still suffice.

Contributor

Guy Lodge

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Nocturama; Strong Island; Alien: Covenant and more – review
Bertrand Bonello’s mesmerising thriller Nocturama gets its UK premiere on Netflix, while Michael Fassbender is the saving grace in Alien: Covenant

Guy Lodge

17, Sep, 2017 @7:00 AM

Article image
The Girl on the Train; A Date for Mad Mary and more – review
Emily Blunt’s performance far exceeds the bounds of a glossy thriller, while Seána Kerslake is a perfect match for an ex-con drama

Guy Lodge

05, Feb, 2017 @8:00 AM

Article image
Children of the Mountain; Adama; Layla Fourie and more – review
There’s a wealth of African film on demand through Okiki and Mubi, from stirring drama to moral thrillers

Guy Lodge

27, Aug, 2017 @7:00 AM

Article image
Get Out; The Lost City of Z; Kong: Skull Island and more – review
Racial hatred adopts a happy face in Jordan Peele’s exhilarating horror, while an explorer’s search for a buried city is a glorious ode to failure

Guy Lodge

23, Jul, 2017 @7:00 AM

Article image
Ghost in the Shell; The Handmaiden; Viceroy’s House and more – review
Carnal pleasures and clever plotting combine in Park Chan-wook’s thrilling The Handmaiden, while Scarlett Johansson is a woman of steel

Guy Lodge

06, Aug, 2017 @7:00 AM

Article image
Kubo and the Two Strings; Anthropoid; Gimme Danger and more – review
It looks stunning, but Kubo and the Two Strings is hard to love. Still, Jim Jarmusch’s tribute to Iggy Pop rocks

Guy Lodge

15, Jan, 2017 @7:00 AM

Article image
I am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House; The Neon Demon and more – review
Hauntings and mind games provide the chills in two superior Halloween releases from Osgood Perkins and Nicolas Winding Refn

Guy Lodge

30, Oct, 2016 @7:00 AM

Article image
Victoria; Spotlight; The Big Short; The Assassin; Dirty Grandpa; Mavis!; Eat Your Bones – review
Love blossoms at double-quick speed in this amazing one-take heist thriller, while Spotlight celebrates the merits of listening

Guy Lodge

22, May, 2016 @6:00 AM

Article image
The Hateful Eight; Room; A War; Welcome to Me; Janis: Little Girl Blue; Welcome to Leith – review
Quentin Tarantino’s western locks eight of the usual suspects in a cabin together, but none can match Brie Larson for captivating viewing

Guy Lodge

08, May, 2016 @7:00 AM

Article image
Cameraperson; Trolls; We Are the Flesh; Blood Father; Cover Girl; The Demons – review
Kirsten Johnson’s remarkable debut is an intimate look at life behind the lens, while Trolls charms, briefly, thanks to its Glee-style songs

Guy Lodge

12, Feb, 2017 @8:00 AM