Film Reviews: Backdrop of racial injustice in 1970s Harlem

Undated film still handout from If Beale Street Could Talk. Pictured: KiKi Layne as Tish Rivers and Stephan James as Fonny Hunt. See PA Feature SHOWBIZ Film Digest. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Annapurna Releasing, LLC/Tatum Mangus. All Rights Reserved. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature SHOWBIZ Film Digest.
Undated film still handout from If Beale Street Could Talk. Pictured: KiKi Layne as Tish Rivers and Stephan James as Fonny Hunt. See PA Feature SHOWBIZ Film Digest. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Annapurna Releasing, LLC/Tatum Mangus. All Rights Reserved. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature SHOWBIZ Film Digest.

IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK (15)

Writer-director Barry Jenkins proves that Moonlight's memorable Oscar win was no fluke with his sublime adaptation of the novel penned by James Baldwin, which charts a love story against the turbulent backdrop of racial injustice in 1970s Harlem.

Masterfully constructed in fluid and visually arresting takes that make the heart swell, If Beale Street Could Talk conceals its devastating narrative blows behind impeccable production design and Nicholas Britell's swooning orchestral score.

Kiki Layne and Stephan James are a handsome pairing and they catalyse molten screen chemistry in an artfully staged sex scene that culminates in him whispering, "Just remember that I belong to you" as their naked bodies shudder together. The punctuation mark is a shocking act of violence that floors us with one of the characters.

ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL (12A)

Adapted from Yukito Kishiro's acclaimed manga series, Alita: Battle Angel is a futuristic action adventure directed by Robert Rodriguez, which sacrifices emotional storytelling at the altar of dizzying special effects.

The title character - a female cyborg with fractured memories of her shadowy past - is realised in haphazard strokes by state-of-the-art performance capture and digital effects. The fingerprints of producer James Cameron are on every Avatar-lite frame of this otherworldly origin story. His script, co-written by Laeta Kalogridis, is half-baked to familiar recipes, which tasted far sweeter when Ridley Scott was in the Blade Runner kitchen and Gary Ross was cooking up the original Hunger Games. The tug of war between spectacle and substance threatens to tear apart Rodriguez's uneven picture, which punctuates Alita's personal odyssey with turbo-charged sequences of a futuristic contact sport called Motorball, which combines a roller derby with the slam-bang destruction of Robot Wars.