The Mail on Sunday - 2021-11-21


Will serves up AN ACE


With 23 Grand Slam singles titles to her name, Serena Williams is undoubtedly one of the greatest female tennis players of all time. Her older sister Venus, with a mere seven Grand Slam singles titles, including winning Wimbledon five times, is no slouch on the court, either. So it takes some front, especially when Hollywood is crying out for more films about women, and black women in particular, to decide not to make a film about either Venus or Serena but one about their father, Richard, instead. Hold the front page, it’s another film about a bloke. To be fair, though, King Richard is a pretty good one, and there will be plenty of time to make films about his daughters once they eventually retire and we gain a little historical perspective. Borg v McEnroe, one of the best tennis films of recent years, was made 37 years after the Wimbledon final it so memorably depicted. In the meantime we have this, the story of how the headstrong, unbiddable Williams Snr turned two of his daughters into the extraordinary champions they have been for the past two decades. Their remarkable athletic longevity is key to the film’s impact, because it will surely strike everyone who sees it that the maverick Williams’s unorthodox techniques – which involved taking his already talented daughters out of junior tournaments altogether – might just be the right ones. While others fell by the wayside, he moulded champions that would last. Will Smith is already garnering awards speculation for his perform ance as Richard, who came up with his ‘plan’ for his daughters before they were born (and, somewhat frustratingly, before the film begins) and drove them to the local municipal courts in Compton, California every day to practise, despite the vocal abuse and physical attacks he endured from local gangs. Yes, there’s a big chunk of impersonation, but Smith lends Williams enough charisma and paternal sparkle to get us through what might otherwise be a rather linear story, with an ending we all know. It’s a great film, but I’m already looking forward to hearing it from Venus and Serena’s viewpoint in film-making years to come. Ghostbusters: Afterlife is directed and co-written by Jason Reitman, the first sign that this latest reboot has little to do with Paul Feig’s female-led version of 2016, and everything to do with the muchloved original Ghostbusters films from the 1980s that Jason’s father, the great Ivan Reitman, directed. So it duly proves in a lightweight but immensely enjoyable, and eventually quite moving, way. This is the film that links Ghostbusters past with present; Stay Puft marshmallow men and all. A slightly ambitious initial premise unfolds in two locations. In one, a single-mother-of-two is facing eviction from her run-down city apartment while, in the other, a reclusive old man is coming under attack from some familiarlooking supernatural forces on his run-down Oklahoma farm. And so it is that Callie (Carrie Coon) and her children – 12-yearold Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and 15-year-old Trevor (Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard) – find themselves moving into that rundown Oklahoma farm and beginning a new life. Despite all the unexplained earthquakes, spooky goings-on and rusty old equipment in the barn and basement. The film is beautifully cast, very nicely acted and, with a Reitman once again at the helm, hugely affectionate towards the original. Accompanying children may have to support their emotional parents towards the end. Often, an arthouse film closes with a maddeningly unresolved ending. Not so Jane Campion’s The Power Of The Dog, a gorgeous-looking picture undoubtedly at the artier end of the western spectrum. For as the events on a Montana ranch in 1925 that have been gripping our attention for the past two hours finally come to a close, everything falls immensely satisfyingly into place. Benedict Cumberbatch is cast productively against type as a charismatic but mean-spirited and intolerant rancher, while Jesse Plemons is the quieter brother who unexpectedly brings home a new wife (an excellent Kirsten Dunst) and somewhat ‘different’ stepson (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Just don’t ask me about the dog…


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