‘Downton Abbey’

The smash TV series hits the big screen with all the upstairs and downstairs characters back as the King and Queen come to stay for a night on the royal tour of Yorkshire.

It’s a straightforward, pleasant enough narrative but all a little too vanilla and over reaching. In the TV series, each ‘story’ would have been one episode: in the film, most are dispatched in 10-15 minutes. The threat to the King: a light-fingered visiting staff member: Barrow’s (Robert-James Collier – The Ritual, A Christmas Star) close call with the police. Underlying it all is the responsibility of tradition, preserving the established way of life in light of political and social changes.

The film is a true ensemble but delivers a surprise in that characters such as Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern as Lord and Lady Crawley are to be found in the background. Downton Abbey is about the past represented by Maggie Smith letting go, with the future in the hands of Mary (Michelle Dockery).

Rating: 53%

‘Ad Astra’

Cerebral, portentous, pretentious (with the occasional flash of thrilling beauty), Ad Astra finds Brad Pitt (12 Years a Slave, Moneyball), travelling across the universe to find his rogue, assumed-missing father (Tommy Lee Jones – Men in Black, Lincoln) in order to save Earth.

Muted tones, emotions and action with a laidback, sparse soundtrack (the sublime Max Richter) and Pitt’s existentialist voice-over reflecting on interstellar life, absent parents and the mission results in a cold, distant, wannabe epic from director James Grey (The Lost City of Z, The Immigrant). He mixes Conradian themes of Heart of Darkness (aka Apocalypse Now) with Terrence Malick, Kubrick’s 2001 and occasional moments of Gravity.

Joyless, with wasted cameos from the likes of Ruth Negga, Donald Sutherland and Liv Tyler, Ad Astra falls short of its own aspirations as a commentary on the human condition. But it also falls woefully short of an entertaining space adventure.

Nominated for Sound Mixing Oscar in 2020.

Rating: 48%

‘The Australian Dream’

A deeply-moving documentary exploring, on the surface, one man’s rise to hero-worshiped stardom and subsequent fall from grace following his battle with racism on and off the sports field. But as a result, the 2014 Australian of the Year, Adam Goodes, confronts his own personal identity and aboriginality.

Unique to Australia, Aussie Rules football has a central place in the cultural life of many Australians today. Double Brownlow Medal winner Adam Goodes, star of the Sydney Swans, was a hero to fans and journalists alike. Until, that is, he started challenging the deeply ingrained racism within the sport.

In the telling of the great sin—the black man who complains, director Daniel Gordon (Crossing the Line, The Fall) is guilty of occasionally sermonising. But The Australian Dream remains a film that not only presents to the world a deeply private and reluctant activist Adam Goodes, but, with contributions from friends and colleagues, journalists and fans, current and retired indigenous players alike, a concerning commentary on the overt racism within the sport and wider society as a whole.

Rating: 71%


A superb lead performance by Marcello Fonte (Asino Vola, Vivere) as Marcello, the meek dog washer living and working in a poor, run down housing estate on the outskirts of Naples is the heart and soul of director Matteo Garrone’s (Gomorrah, Tale of Tales) latest multi-award winning feature.

Exploring friendship and loyalty, the likeable cocaine-dealing Marcello tries to keep the peace between his neighbours and the violent, cocaine-addicted petty criminal Simoncino (a menacing Edoardo Pesce – Pure Hearts, Fortunata). But temptation and the chance to escape the impoverished day-to-day with his young daughter is too much for Marcello.

Violent, gruesome and intense, Dogman is a powerful yet tender portrait of a perennial victim who looks to turn the tables on his bullying oppressor.

(Marcello Fonte collected, among other awards, best actor at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival and the 2018 European Film Awards).

Rating: 71%

‘A Woman Called En’ by Tomie Ohara

Set in late seventeenth century Japan, A Woman called En is a perfectly crafted tale of an extended family confined to their home following the father’s fall from political power.

For forty years, En, her mother, brothers, stepmothers, sisters, half sisters and family retainers are held – released only on the death of the third and final brother, thus ensuring the end of the family bloodline. On her release, long dreaming of life elsewhere, En travels with her mother to settle in the town of Taso, home of the clan lord. Educated by her brothers, she finds herself at odds with social expectations, refusing to gain respectability through marriage.

Written in 1960, A Woman called En is a fascinating insight into the times and social norms of feudal Japan. Yet, in spite of the its relative shortness (119 pages), it’s a challenge. Written in the formal classical style of seventeenth century Japan, it’s a dense read, with a miasma of genealogical names, clan lords and histories going back centuries. Kinroku, Kishiro and Teishiro are En’s brothers (interestingly, her sisters and half sisters remain unnamed, with the exception of Seishichi, reflecting the position of women of the time); Kazutoyo, Tadayoshi, Toyafusa and Toyotaka are the Taso clan lords. That list alone causes some mental confusion when reading such a short tale! And there are many, many more characters featured.

‘The Nightingale’

Violent, challenging, with a smattering of tenderness and set in 1820s Tasmania, writer/director Jennifer Kent’s follow-up to the award-winning The Babadook is something of a mixed bag.

Irish convict Clare (Aisling Franciosi – Jimmy’s Hall, TV’s The Game of Thrones) looks for her rightful ticket of leave from the small, isolated military base in which she serves. Only the lieutenant in charge – a threatening Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games, Me Before You) uses her for his own personal pleasures. When tragedy strikes, Clare follows the military band cross-country with a local black tracker (first-timer Baykali Ganambarr) to seek revenge.

Superbly shot in the isolated wilds of Tasmania, Kent shines as a director. Her clunky script and plot development, however, lets her down as does the inconsistency of the acting. Claflin shines as the predominantly one-dimensional bullying drunkard but Franciosi, in a valiant attempt, cannot quite carry the hard-hitting material for the whole 136 minutes.

The Nightingale surprisingly swept the boards at the 2019 AACTA awards, winning 6 of its 15 nominations, including best film, director, actress & screenplay.

Rating: 49%