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Film Talk: Latest Movie Releases – A comedic crime caper, and chaos served in kitchen

This week, the flicks are dishing up a delicious feast of megastars.

Marcia Gay Harden as The Countess and Jon Hamm as Irwin ‘Fletch’ Fletcher in director Greg Mottola’s fizzing new crime yarn, Confess, Fletch
Marcia Gay Harden as The Countess and Jon Hamm as Irwin ‘Fletch’ Fletcher in director Greg Mottola’s fizzing new crime yarn, Confess, Fletch

From old hands to the hottest talent of the moment, Hollywood’s finest are stepping forward with new offerings to get the party season started, and the guest list is solid gold.

Lets start with the top spot. This week sees Mad Men alumni Jon Hamm and John Slattery reunited in crime comedy Confess, Fletch.

Directed by Greg Mottola, this one sees Hamm as we know and love him best – dapper to the last and dodging danger and drama at all sides. Here, Slattery once again steps into the role of a newspaper editor – though it has to be said, his foul-mouthed head hack is a little different to his Ben Bradley Jr in 2015’s Spotlight. Meanwhile, Lord Voldemort himself is cooking up quite a storm in the kitchen... Well, not quite, but what a Potter spin-off series! Ralph Fiennes however is creating a bit of culinary chaos opposite Nicholas Hoult and Anya Taylor-Joy in The Menu.

Star of sublime Netflix smash The Queen’s Gambit and, of course, the omnipotent Peaky Blinders, Taylor-Joy has seen her career fly over the last couple of years and has brought a Midas Touch to everything she’s been involved in. One of the key ingredients here, will audiences love the flavour that she, Fiennes and Hoult bring to the table?

And, perfectly encapsulating the joy of humongous talent from generations apart coming together, Sir Anthony Hopkins stars opposite teenage actor Banks Repeta in James Gray’s Armageddon Time.

A coming-of-age drama also starring Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong (Succession), this one is packing the names in, but does it deliver? There’s no mistaking folks, the gang’s all here. Let’s get this shindig started...

CONFESS, FLETCH (15, 95 mins)

Released: November 18 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Over 30 years have passed since Chevy Chase memorably portrayed Irwin Fletcher, lead character in Gregory Mcdonald’s award-winning mystery novels, in the rip-snorting comedy Fletch and its sequel Fletch Lives.

The franchise is indeed alive and well thanks to Jon Hamm, who elegantly slips into the loafers of the eponymous investigative reporter in a fizzing crime caper adapted from the second book in the series by director Greg Mottola and Zev Borow.

Opening with the dapper Mad Men star zooming around Rome on a cherry red Vespa, Confess, Fletch doesn’t cram as many gags into 95 minutes as its slapstick-heavy predecessors but Mottola’s picture lands the zinging one-liners and a central whodunnit has plentiful twists to keep audiences sleuthing until the satisfying reveal.

An appealing goofy Hamm exercises his comic chops with panache but frequently cedes the spotlight to co-stars, including Kyle MacLachlan gyrating manically to the metronomic beat of electronic dance music and Annie Mumolo preparing an unsanitary chicken dinner as her pet pooch Mignon urinates on the kitchen floor.

Dialogue is peppered with bon mots (an embittered ex-wife describes her divorce as “a harmonious disuniting”) and Mottola maintains a brisk, breezy pace that doesn’t pause long enough to seriously scrutinise the plot or Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden’s outlandish cod-European accent.

Freelance journalist Fletch (Hamm) arrives in Boston from Rome at the behest of his recent bedfellow Angela de Grassi (Lorenza Izzo).

Her father has been kidnapped by three thugs with guns and the ransom is the family’s stolen Picasso painting worth around 20 million dollars, which is reportedly in the possession of germophobic art dealer Ronald Horan (MacLachlan).

Unfortunately, Fletch’s base of operations in Boston, a rented townhouse belonging to Owen Tasserly (John Behlmann), contains a murdered woman.

Prime suspect Fletch assures investigating officers Sergeant Monroe (Roy Wood Jr) and rookie detective Griz (Ayden Mayeri) he is above suspicion – “Writing for in-flight magazines is as unsavoury as it gets” – but they tail him as Fletch gathers evidence to unmask the killer.

Haphazard enquiries lead to Owen’s ex-wife Tatiana (Lucy Punch), pothead neighbour Eve (Mumolo) and Fletch’s foul-mouthed former boss, Frank Jaffe (John Slattery), who is now editor of the Boston Sentinel.

“If you did murder that girl, do the right thing… and give me the exclusive,” growls Frank.

Meanwhile, Fletch turns on the roguish charm to curry favour with Angela’s half-Brazilian half-Italian half-French stepmother, the Countess (Harden).

Confess, Fletch is a gently effervescent tonic that skips between the murder and ransom plots with the same carefree attitude as its leading man.

Hamm exudes an old-fashioned playfulness reminiscent of Cary Grant that is difficult to resist and the script gifts him a full arsenal of bone-dry wisecracks.

ARMAGEDDON TIME (15, 114 mins)

Released: November 18 (UK & Ireland)

Michael Banks Repeta and Anthony Hopkins in Armageddon Time

Childhood and adolescence frequently leave the deepest scars – largely invisible to the eye but reminders nonetheless of traumas and triumph that shaped our awkward, messy transitions to adulthood.

Filmmakers mine these turbulent formative years as source material for (semi)autobiographical coming-of-age stories that capture the human condition in its full glory.

In Armageddon Time, writer-director James Gray rifles through his childhood in 1980s Queens, New York, to explore complex family and racial dynamics against the backdrop of Ronald Reagan’s bid to wrest the keys to the White House from incumbent president Jimmy Carter.

Pointed references to the education of Donald Trump at Kew-Forest private school – the future president is absent from Gray’s picture but his father Fred (John Diehl) and sister Maryanne (Jessica Chastain) lecture students – underlines the rhetoric of Reagan’s campaign that would prove a divisive but winning formula for the Republican Party 36 years later.

Anchored by an engaging central performance from 14-year-old rising star Banks Repeta as Gray’s on-screen alter ego, this snapshot of middle-class angst and the loss of childhood innocence feels overly familiar and allows its piercing lens to mist up with nostalgia. Jewish-American 11-year-old Paul Graff (Repeta) attends Public School 173 in 1980 New York where sixth grade dreams of Nasa and space rockets are a distraction from the teachings of ill-tempered Mr Turkeltaub (Andrew Polk).

Consequently, Paul becomes a target for humiliation in class alongside African-American student Johnny Davis (Jaylin Webb), who is repeating the year.

The boys become friends but prejudices repeatedly test their bond and Paul’s parents Irving (Jeremy Strong) and Esther (Anne Hathaway) elect to send him to Kew-Forest instead, where older brother Ted (Ryan Sell) is making his mark.

The threat of change sends Paul into an emotional tail-spin but his grandfather Aaron (Anthony Hopkins) has the right words to console and soothe.

THE MENU (15, 107 mins)

Released: November 18 (UK & Ireland)

The Menu: Ralph Fiennes as rock star chef Julian Slowik and Anya Taylor-Joy as the straight-talking Margot

The lofty pretentions of modern cuisine, which might reinvent the humble chip as a triple-cooked golden baton of Maris Piper dusted with nine-times roasted Korean bamboo salt, are gleefully skewered in a treacle-black satire concocted by screenwriters Seth Reiss and Will Tracy.

Morally corrupt and repugnant characters choke on just desserts, garnished with stomach-churning horror, as director Mark Mylod assembles a mouth-watering ensemble including Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult for a feast of lip-smacking cruelty.

The price of entry to the banquet of barbarity is four figures per head, promoting one shocked patron to snort: “What are we eating, a Rolex?” Superstar chef Julian Slowik (Fiennes) is a rock star of molecular gastronomy.

Up to 12 patrons per sitting each pay $1,250 for an immersive, theatrical experience at his exclusive island restaurant Hawthorne, which is accessed via private ferry.

The immaculately presented menu is savoured at a leisurely four hours and 25 minutes – overseen by clinical hostess Elsa (Hong Chau) – using fresh, seasonal fare including succulent scallops caught close to the shore and a dizzying array of reductions, foams, purees and emulsions.

Tonight’s patrons include waspish food critic Lillian Bloom (Janet McTeer) and her editor (Paul Adelstein), married couple Richard (Reed Birney) and Anne (Judith Light), egotistical film star Mr Diaz (John Leguizamo) and his personal assistant Felicity (Aimee Carrero), a trio of unapologetically capitalist bros (Arturo Castro, Rob Yang, Mark St Cyr), and effusive foodie Tyler (Hoult) and his last-minute date Margot (Taylor-Joy).

Following an artful amuse bouche, Slowik tenderises his customers’ preconceptions and the heady aroma of violence hangs in the air.

Bookmarked by prosaic descriptions of each course, The Menu leaves an appealingly bitter taste in the mouth as Mylod marinades fatally flawed characters in guilt and dishonesty.

Fiennes’ cool, crisp delivery is beguiling, convincing us to swallow some of the script’s outlandish components in direct opposition to the logic of Taylor-Joy’s straight-talking interloper. Take it all with a pinch of that Korean bamboo salt.

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