When Jennifer Hudson made her feature film acting debut as Effie White in the 2006 musical Dreamgirls, the American Idol alumnus overshadowed Beyonce and deservedly won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress.
She still has the voice of an angel in director Liesl Tommy’s overlong biopic of Aretha Franklin, covering a bewildering array of the queen of soul’s hits including Chain Of Fools, I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You), I Say A Little Prayer, Natural Woman, Think and the empowering title anthem.
If Respect were simply a concert film to showcase Hudson’s mastery of her instrument, it would be a bona fide chart-topper.
Unfortunately, Tommy’s picture requires meaty verses to support the rousing choruses and Tracey Scott Wilson’s screenplay is more reverential than revelatory, following an achingly familiar narrative arc from abuse (sexual, domestic, alcohol) and manipulation to tear-stained emancipation.
The script tends to Franklin’s psychological wounds purely at surface level and doesn’t spend enough time dissecting the scar tissue to manifest an unbreakable bond to the lead character.
“Wait until your demons come back,” violent husband Ted White (Marlon Wayans) seethes during one altercation.
“After living with you, I’m ready for them,” coolly retorts Aretha.
So are we but Tommy’s film repeatedly keeps the darkness at bay.
From an early age, formidable Baptist minister CL Franklin (Forest Whitaker) showcases the soaring vocals of third child Aretha to friends and family including singer Dinah Washington (Mary J Blige), creating tension with his estranged wife Barbara (Audra McDonald).
“Your daddy doesn’t own your voice. Nobody does… but God,” the mother tenderly reminds Aretha.
Barbara dies of a heart attack and Aretha relies on sisters Carolyn (Hailey Kilgore) and Erma (Saycon Sengbloh) and her grandmother (Kimberly Scott) for emotional ballast.
As Aretha’s grief subsides, supplanted by devotion to her father’s flock at New Bethel Baptist Church, CL takes a deep personal interest in his daughter’s contract with Columbia Records.
None of her singles are hits and smooth-talking ladies’ man Ted White (Wayans) persuades Aretha to let him manage her career inside and out of the bedroom.
CL is apoplectic (“You are going to beg me to take you back, but I won’t!”) as his daughter begins her turbulent yet fruitful journey at Atlantic Records under Jerry Wexler (Marc Maron).
Galvanised by Hudson’s radiant performance, Respect wins what the title politely demands but unabashed adoration is harder to come by.
Whitaker radiates righteous indignation but Wayans is an ill fit for a hot-headed brute, not that the script gives him a great deal to work with beyond a couple of fist-pounding outbursts.
Musical sequences are orchestrated with aplomb including a 1968 Madison Square Gardens concert where Aretha preaches the title track to her congregation.
“What you want, baby I got it,” she trills. Not quite.
Small-town police are caught in the crossfire of an all-guns-blazing assassination attempt in a propulsive action thriller directed and co-written by Joe Carnahan, who previously helmed Narc and the 2010 remake of The A-Team.
Wily con artist Teddy Murretto (Frank Grillo) knows that professional hitman Bob Viddick (Gerard Butler) is on his trail and will stop at nothing to terminate his target.
Travelling through the Nevada desert in a bullet-riddled Crown Vic, Teddy hatches a hare-brained plan to avoid an early grave.
He attracts the attention of rookie officer Valerie Young (Alexis Louder) to secure a cosy holding cell at the local police station.
The scheme backfires when Viddick is placed in detention in an adjacent cell, within touching distance of his prey.
A bad situation deteriorates at speed with the arrival of rival assassin Anthony Lamb (Toby Huss), who intends to kill Teddy and everyone inside the station.
As bullets fly and the body count rises, officer Young contemplates an unlikely alliance with Teddy and Viddick to outwit and overpower Lamb.
MALIGNANT (15 TBC)
Malaysian-born filmmaker James Wan has an enviable track record with the horror genre.
In 2004, he made his feature film directorial debut with the first instalment of Saw, expanded from an earlier short film, giving birth to one of the highest grossing horror sagas of all time with worldwide box office takings in excess of one billion dollars.
Subsequently, he helmed the opening chapters of Insidious and The Conjuring, sowing the seeds of new franchises which continue to unsettle cinema audiences.
Malignant is Wan’s latest exercise in big screen terror based on a screenplay by Akela Cooper.
Madison (Annabelle Wallis) is plagued by harrowing visions of grisly murders including the death of Dr Florence Weaver (Jacqueline McKenzie) in her home.
Her sense of unease grows when Madison discovers that these blood-soaked waking dreams are terrifying reality.
She confesses to closest confidante Sydney (Maddie Hasson) that she is seeing crimes as they are happening.
Convinced that she has an emotional connectional to the culprit, Madison looks back through videotape evidence of her troubled childhood and recalls that she invented an imaginary friend called Gabriel to help her cope.
This invisible presence seems to be connected to Madison’s macabre premonitions.
In present-day Dublin, Sandra (Clare Dunne) is trapped in an abusive marriage to her husband Gary (Ian Lloyd Anderson).
She secretly amasses cash to flee with her two daughters, Emma (Ruby Rose O’Hara) and Molly (Molly McCann), but Gary discovers the plan and stamps on Sandra’s hand in rage.
Prompted by her mother’s code word, Emma sounds the alarm while youngest child Molly witnesses the brutality from a hiding spot in her playhouse.
With police and lawyers involved, Sandra moves into temporary accommodation with the girls and makes ends meet as a cleaner in a city-centre bar and at the home of doctor Peggy O’Toole (Harriet Walter).
During one visit to Peggy, Sandra watches an instructional video about how to build a home for £35,000.
The medic responds with unimaginable kindness – “I want to give you the land and lend you the money to build your house” – and Sandra persuades building contractor Aido (Conleth Hill) to oversee the project.