Many argue is Fellini’s greatest achievement, a film within a film, a semi-autobiographical narrative of a film director, pressured by expectation of his newest work, retreating into his memories, fantasies and fears.

Surrounded by sycophants, lovers current and past as well as his wife, Anouk Aimée (Lola, Un homme et une femme), Marcello Mastroianni (La Dolce Vita, Divorce – Italian Style) plays the director lost in the realms of dream and nightmare as his ideas and creativity struggle. Pressured by his producer, his writer for something, anything along with various actresses waiting for their promised parts, Mastroianni examines his life.

Fellini’s last black and white feature, is a fluidity of choreographed music and image looking for a meaningful sense to life. Fantasy is interspersed with realism, selective memory with a current narrative. Oft copied in style, Fellini’s indulgent arthouse success appears dated, safe rather than surreal, dull rather than cutting edge. It may be so, but many current auteurs found inspiration from this groundbreaking 1963 feature.

Nominated for 5 Oscars in 1964 including best director, original screenplay, won 2 for best foreign language film & costume design (Piero Gherardi).

Rating: 71%

‘The Ripper’

A four-part documentary miniseries, The Ripper follows the bungled investigation into The Yorkshire Ripper serial killings that took place in northern England in the late 1970s. Targetting women, Peter Sutcliffe, prior to his eventual arrest and conviction, created a deep sense of fear and unease in the industrial cities of the north.

Arrogance and extraordinary ineptitude by top brass at the West Yorkshire police force resulted in (at least) 13 murders and attempted murder of a further seven. Chance led to Sutcliffe being arrested in January 1981 – proper coppering led to his conviction rather than expensive PR campaigns and experts in dialects and accents. Sutcliffe, from the Yorkshire city of Bradford, was interviewed no less than nine times over the course of five years. Yet he was released each time, in spite of a composite photofit description by one of the early survivors an almost perfect match.

Contemporary interviews with survivors, police, journalists and activists sit alongside archival news footage in Jesse Vile/Ellena Wood’s poorly edited and researched documentary. Focussing on the sensationalism of the early cases, later victims are trotted out with the documentary failing to significantly contextualise the reactions and anger towards the investigations. What has been described as a diatribe in episode three in many reviews is a key perspective on the time – feminist anger towards misogynist police (and later the legal establishment) language and continued reference (implicit and explicit) to the victims as prostitutes alongside the threat to freedom of movement. By episode three, such arguments remain valid but out of context.

The Ripper is a missed opportunity. Many issues (no spoilers) raised in the case are not followed through (Wearside Jack hoax a prime example); the suggestion considerably more early victims are unaccounted for is left hanging; 1970s misogyny and the radicalistion of the women’s movement; class and the north/south divide in the country (London-based media hardly covered the murders until victims reached seven or eight); the highly critical Byford Report, an investigation into West Yorkshire Police’s handling, is left unmentioned. The fact it was submitted in 1981 but not released by the Home Office until 2006 is indicative that the report deserved at least some creedance in the docuseries. Context, please.

A pity – the victims deserved more.

Rating: 54%

Post Script: Peter Sutcliffe died in prison in November 2020 at the age of 74.

‘Joyful Noise’

A typical feel good Dolly Parton experience, Joyful Noise is saccharine sweet as wealthy G.G. goes head to head with her choir’s newly appointed director, Vi Rose Hill (Queen Latifah – Hairspray, Chicago).

A choir lead by Parton’s husband Kris Kristofferson until his recent death, Vi is just too traditional in her arrangements. Young star members Keke Palmer (Imperial Dreams, Madea’s Family Reunion), daughter of Vi, and G.G.’s wrong side of the tracks grandson, Jeremy Jordan (American Son, The Last Five Years) look for new inspiration as the choir head into a national competition.

Great singing and music aside, Joyful Noise is more of a dirge as a film, disingenuous and superficial, even if you find yourself rooting for the kids and the choir all the way.

Rating: 42%


An inane adaptation of the Daphne du Maurier novel, Rebecca is little more than eye candy with the love affair across class lines between wealthy Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer – The Social Network, Final Portrait) and lady’s companion, Lily James (Cinderella, Baby Driver) amidst the soft focus, autumnal hued 1920s French Riviera coastlines.

Things change when the couple return to Manderley, the ancestral home on the windswept English coast, where the legacy of Max’s deceased first wife, Rebecca de Winter, is all-pervasive. Housekeeper Mrs Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas – The English Patient, Darkest Hour) maintains the dead woman’s presence in every detail. But not all is what it seems.

Inconsistent and desparate to be liked, the Rebecca of director Ben Wheatley (High-Rise, A Field in England) falls at the first hurdle in comparison between the classic 1940 Hitchcock. In a desperate attempt to remain respectful towards the source material (the novel) but stamp his own take on the story, Wheatley has delivered a bland, albeit stylish, melodrama lacking in any suspense.

Rating: 44%

‘A Quiet Life’ by Beryl Bainbridge

An early Bainbridge novel of English post-war domestic life, A Quiet Life is a somewhat mundane expose of the aspirations, expectations and disappointments of an average, unhappy family.

Seventeen-year-old Alan is the narrator, a shy, somewhat stuffy, humourless teenager, a product of time and place. His is an unhappy lot – an ineffectual, weak-willed father, a snob of a disappointed mother and a strong-willed sister, Madge, who creeps off for night-time, beach-side liaisons with a German POW. Alan is concerned about the damage this may cause to the family’s reputation. Home, cold and damp, is physically too small for the family needs.

Bainbridge’s early fiction is bleakly comic – and A Quiet Life is loosely based on personal events of a real-life romance. But she focuses on a scandalised brother, trapped by the dull, social mores of the day who could only hope to be an extension of his parents. No flouting of the rules for him – in spite of the negative role models provided by those same parents with their small frustrations and daily occupations.

With an impressive economy of style in her use of language, Bainbridge describes a great deal in a few paragraphs, conjuring a cramped, dysfunctional family living on top of each other having known better days (pre-war middle-class comforts, including staff, are part of the mother’s post-war disappointments). There’s no domestic harmony, with many things left unsaid and a searing resentment aimed toward Alan’s father in particular. It’s all rather dull and uneventful, much like the northern seaside village, just outside Southport, the family call home. Not even Alan’s new girlfriend, Janet, offers much in the way of excitement or interest.

Bleak is the word, domestic is the setting, full of rather uninteresting characters. Ultimately, I didn’t give a jot.

‘Tiny Pretty Things’

A trashy and silly soap opera of a 10-episode series (more to come?) and set in a Chicago ballet school, Tiny Pretty Things somehow retains its engagement, no matter how ‘off pointe’ and absurd the storyline(s).

When star pupil Cassie (Anna Maiche) is pushed off the roof by a person unknown, the school becomes a focus of more than just a police investigation for attempted murder. Her replacement, sassy Neveah (Kylie Jefferson), walks into a hothouse of competitive bitchiness and internecine, board level, power struggles.

Threatened by Neveah, new queen bee Bette (Casimere Jollette) needs to score the principle role at the forthcoming showcase performance, choreographed by emerging superstar, Ramon (Bayardo De Murguia). Pressure on Bette is increased exponentially with her mother (Michelle Nolden) bidding to be president of the school AND her recently graduated sister, Delia (Tory Trowbridge), a star in ascendancy. Uptight June (Daniela Norman) also needs to score that principle role otherwise mom (Alexandra Bokyun Chun) will take her out of school and back to London.

Simple so far. Now throw in Neveah’s street-wise LA upbringing, Shane (Brennan Clost) and his struggles as a gay boy growing up in redneck country who just happens to be having sex with Oren (Barton Cowperthwaite), Bette’s boyfriend, who himself is bulimic. Star male dancer, Nabil (Michael Hsu Rosen), having been heard arguing with girlfriend Cassie, is prime suspect number one for the push – at least among the students.

Those little power plays and jealousies are nothing compared to the struggles for control of the school itself with Madame Dubois (Lauren Holly) fighting off challenges from staff, choregraphers and board members alike.

That’s episode 1 accounted for…..

All in all, Tiny Pretty Things is a crazy mishmash of ambition, dance, suspicion and competitiveness. It’s certainly beautiful to look at even if crater-sized holes can be picked in the plot lines as each of the main characters (and some less central) come under suspicion for that push. There’s lots of sex in the confines of the dorms as the young (and not so young) find release. And partners are seemingly readily interchangeable.

Overall, it’s fun and eminently watchable even if, at times, you’re left howling in disbelief at the latest plot development (and the fact the emphasis is on contemporary dance rather than classic ballet).

Rating: 60%

‘Antonio One, Two, Three’

Three different narratives of a single story involving the same named characters. As Antonio, Mauro Suares (Sol Alegria, A Portuguesa) finds himself oscillating between a successful theatre star (#3) to scumbag friend to the lighting designer of the Lisbon fringe theatre (#1) in hiding from his father. Turns out that in spite of his university fees being paid, Antonio has been nowhere near a lecture theatre in almost a year. A star Brazilian theatre director (Daniel Pizamiglio – Arrabalde) in the first narrative is a struggling performance artist to Antonio’s success.

Award-winning short-filmmaker Leonardo Mouramateus, in his feature film debut, loosely reimagines Dostoevsky’s story White Nights. It’s much more playful telling than the average adaptation of the Russian novelist! But lightweight characterisation and storytelling results in a struggle to win over the audience.

Rating: 53%

‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’

Wordy, constrained, contained, the adaptation of playwright August Wilson’s stage play is a beautifully modulated moment in time – the 1920s downtown Chicago recording studios as Mother of the Blues, Ma Rainey (a superb, deeply respectful performance by Viola Davis – Fences, Widows) and her crew cut an album.

Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther, Da 5 Bloods) is shattering in his last role as Levee, a young trumpet player daring to question Ma’s way of doing things, determined as he is to make his way in the white man’s world. But the mighty Ma ain’t gonna take no sass from anyone, black or white. It’s her way or the highway – and the other musicians know that score.

Director George C Wolfe (one of Broadway’s most respected producers and directors) teases out superb performances from his small cast – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is staged, without the feeling of being stagey, within the confines of two smallish rooms. Tensions and tempers rise as Levee threatens the status quo. But he’s got his (heartbreaking) reasons.

Expect Oscars!

(Update – nominated for 5 Oscars in 2021 including best actor and actress, won 2 – costume and make-up/hair).

Rating: 80%

‘The Fundamentals of Caring’

Manipulated we may be, but, with its intelligent, well-written script and engaging characters, The Fundamentals of Caring is a warm-hearted and funny charmer.

A bereavement has left Paul Rudd (Ant-Man, Our Idiot Brother) lost and aimless. He enrols as a care-giver and finds himself in the life of teenage Trevor (Craig Roberts – Submarine, Bad Neighbours). Wheel chair-bound and suffering from Duchenne muscular dystrophy, Trevor’s sense of humour along with an impromptu road trip changes Rudd’s perspective on life and allows him to finally find closure.

Director Rob Burnett (head writer on the David Letterman shows) allows humour and comic timing between the two to dictate the pace. Whilst hardly original, as mom Jennifer Ehle (A Quiet Passion, Zero Dark Thirty) and hitchhiker Selena Gomez (Spring Breakers, A Rainy Day in New York) add to the unfolding narrative, the soft-peddling of its serious subject results in an amiable (when is Paul Rudd not?) telling of its story.

Rating: 60%


Odd, experimental, arthouse – director Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven, Carol), in his debut feature, explores schlock ‘B’-grade horror, docudrama miracles and homoerotic, elicit love in three seemingly unconnected tales.

A series of documentary-style interviews reveal a truth (of sorts) of the boy who kills his father who then flies out of the window (according to the mother): a doctor accidentally ingests his experimental sex serum: a prisoner falls in love with another inmate (a remake of Jean Genet’s short film, Un chant d’amour, with added quotes from his novels).

The three separate narratives are odd bedfellows – the lyrical, shadowed beauty of desire intercut with grainy interviews with friends and family of the boy at home and at school whilst the rabid doctor creates fear on the streets. Poison is a feature full of ideas and technique, a quirky barrage of imagination from high contrast black and white to the chiaroscuro’ed shadows of prison life as themes of alienation, loneliness and desire are explored. Yet, for all its daring, Haynes’ feature, a surprising (and controversial) winner of the 1991 Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, fails to gel – a film made up of separate parts.

Rating: 50%