‘I Want To Live!’

Unexpectedly stylish and hip direction (Robert Wise – The Sound of Music, West Side Story) in the early scenes along with a cool jazz soundtrack (Johnny Mandel) draw you into I Want To Live!, a feature that is essentially a commentary on the death penalty and trial by media.

Living a life on the margins and on the wrong side of the law, Barbara Graham (Susan Hayward – With a Song In My Heart, I’ll Cry Tomorrow) finds herself on death row for the brutal murder of an elderly widow. With time already spent inside for drug use, prostitution, perjury, there’s little sympathy in spite of claims of innocence. I Want To Live! is a enthralling character study of real-life goodtime girl Barbara Graham – from gambling dens to whore houses, marriage to motherhood, courtroom to prison.

With its intense, claustrophobic black and white cinematography (Lionel Lindon – Going My Way, Around the World in 80 Days) and a superb, heartfelt, sassy Oscar-winning performance by Hayward, I Want to Live! is an unexpectedly gripping story – with some of the best lines ever!

Barbara Graham (on her arrest): I never even knew the dame. 

Policeman: You know she’s been murdered, don’t you? 

Barbara Graham: Yeah? So was Julius Caesar. I didn’t know him either.

Nominated for 6 Oscars in 1959 (including best director, adapted screenplay, cinematography), won 1 (best actress – Susan Hayward).

Rating: 65%

‘Bluebird, Bluebird’ by Attica Locke

Two murders in the tiny town of Lark in East Texas, the bodies found a few days apart. It’s only on the discovery of the second body that any real investigation is put into place. African-American Chicago lawyer Michael Wright was found dead in the swamp. But it’s the body of Missy, a young white woman and waitress at the ice house, the only bar in town, that results in anything more than cursory questioning.

With a population of so few, repercussions of the deaths are massive, particularly when suspended Texas Ranger Darren Mathews turns up (not that he’s revealing his suspension to anyone). Now Lark sees itself dealing with not only an African-American murder victim but also an unwelcome African-American lawman – and a Texan Ranger at that. With suspected outlawed white supremacists, the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, active in the county and likely involved in the murder of Wright, a troubled Mathews has been tipped off by friend and FBI contact, Greg. Solving this case would help both careers.

Mathews is a proud Texan and a sense of home and loyalty is integral to Bluebird Bluebird:
The badge was to say this land is my land, too, my state, my country, and I’m not gon’ be run off. I can stand my ground, too. My people built this, and we’re not going anywhere.
With both his uncles lawmen in the State, he’s the first Texan Ranger in the family, in spite of initially training as a lawyer – a decision that has put strains on his marriage. Michael Wright, too, was a local and from a couple of counties further north – yet he had left for Chicago. But he had returned.

With the comings and goings of an investigation, the main focus to the narrative is Geneva Sweet’s Sweets on the main drag of Route 59 passing through Lark – a catch-all roadhouse, diner, barbers, provisions, even a dram of illicit whisky to the right customer. Not that there was much of an initial investigation until the second body appeared. Geneva’s place is normally a safe-haven for all travellers. Yet both bodies were found in the bayou out back with evidence showing that both victims were at the diner the night before they were killed. Geneva has been on site for 40 years – she, too, was going nowhere, in spite of the death (presumed murdered) of both husband Joe Sr and son, Joe Jr.

Racial tensions are ever prevalent in Lark, a backwater darkened by poverty that was once a plantation. Characters black and white are fully formed in Attica Locke’s crime thriller – whether it’s the Texas Ranger too fond of his whisky, the wary Geneva, the lord of the manner Wally from a family too used to getting its own way in ‘their town’ or an out-of-place Randie, widow of Wright, shocked to see her worst fears of Texan racism proven true. Locke is a stylish writer and a teller of a good story who perfectly captures a sense of place – even if Bluebird, Bluebird doesn’t always ring true and slips into the occasional agit-prop. Nice ending though!


A superb central performance by Toby Jones (Captain America: The First Avenger, Happy End) among a cast of luminaries provides a strong foundation for the based-on-truth story of writer Truman Capote researching and writing his classic In Cold Blood.

The murder of a family of four at an isolated Kansas farm sends shock waves through the country. Persuading fellow-scribe Harper Lee (Sandra Bullock – The Blindside, Gravity) to accompany him, the effeminate, high camp New York socialite descends on 1950s rural America determined to write the story – and rewrite the rule book of how a true crime story is written. The arrest of the two suspects and Capote’s access to Perry Smith (Daniel Craig – Skyfall, Knives Out) in particular provides him with the perfect material: the psychological insight. Only Capote gets emotionally too close.

Infamous was sadly eclipsed by Capote with Phillip Seymour Hoffman in the Oscar-winning role and which came out a few months earlier. The latter was more academic, Infamous certainly ‘gayer’, both in terms of Jones’ performance and the central premise of the relationship between the.writer and the prisoner. Capote took years to have the book published – and he never wrote anything of significance again. Director Douglas McGrath (Emma, Nicholas Nickleby) implies that the execution of Smith was a major contributory factor.

Rating: 68%

‘The Crown’ (Season 4)

After a historical interest disconnect of the first two and a half seasons, The Crown hit its stride towards the end of season three. Whereas earlier episodes were retrogressive, suddenly there are specifically remembered events or characters inserted into the narrative. Season 4 is, for the most part, dominated by the Royal Family’s relationship with two women – Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson) and Lady Diana Spencer (Emma Corrin).

As Queen Elizabeth, Olivia Colman remains her indubitable self, faced as she is with the assassination of her uncle, Lord Mountbatten (Charles Dance) along with the challenge not only of a somewhat forceful new prime minister but the ongoing saga of Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor) and Camilla Parker-Bowles (Emerald Fennell). Not even the eventual marriage between Charles and Diana puts to rest the relationship between the two.

Written by Peter Morgan, The Crown is an enthralling, salacious royal soap opera of epic proportions as the private rooms at Buckingham Palace, Balmoral, Highgrove, Kensington Palace and the like become the settings for intrigue, domestic pettiness and full blown arguments. Charles and Diana’s marriage falls apart as both transgress outside the royal bedchambers and with the future King of England struggling with the immense popularity of his estranged wife. Service and duty at all costs is Queen Elizabeth’s maxim: she struggles to understand the personal emotional needs of her eldest son and daughter-in-law, in spite of the failed marriages of her sister, Princess Margaret (Helena Bonham Carter) and daughter, Princess Anne (Erin Doherty) in her immediate vicinity. And if her family is not enough, the Queen is somewhat concerned about Thatcher’s policies in the country and a dismissive attitude towards the Commonwealth.

It’s a fun ride as we see past the facade of public life and into the (projected) concerns and conversations of the Windsors and the government of the day. Those returning family members – and Colman, O’Connor and Bonham-Crater in particular – continue the excellence of the series’ ensemble and Gillian Anderson adds to that depth. Only Emma Corrin unbalances the whole as a somewhat simpering and petulant Lady Diana. It’ll be some time before Season 5 but Elizabeth Debicki taking on the doomed princess role will add significant gravitas to the role and series as a whole.

Rating: 75%

‘Trial By Fire’

Through the telling of a single story, director Edward Zwick (The Last Samurai, Love & Other Drugs) looks to the enactment of the death penalty in Texas and the many resulting miscarriages of justice.

Having spent 12 years in prison for the murder of his three young daughters, Cameron Todd Willingham (Jack O’Donnell – ’71, Money Monster) was executed in spite of scientific evidence and expert testimony supporting his claims of innocence. Tried and sentenced in his home town, the philandering, wife-beating Willingham was deeply unpopular, reflected in the travesty of a trial. It’s only years later when writer Laura Dern (Marriage Story, Wild) starts to visit him does the truth start to come out.

A film of two halves, Trial By Fire at its best is a well-paced family tragedy/courtroom drama but which loses impetus as the narrative settles into a (predictable) determination by Dern to see justice – even at the expense of alienating her own teenage children. O’Donnell is excellent as the wronged inmate but the film ultimately settles into an unsubtle crusade against the death penalty.

Rating: 50%

‘The Core’

Fabulously trashy disaster movie as the only way to save Earth from destruction is to drill to its core – and set it spinning again. As the surface is hit by mega electrical thunderstorms that destroy cities and animals (and people) start to behave strangely, so a team of scientists, headed by university professor Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight, Erin Brockovich), are requisitioned to undertake a last gasp mission.

Director Jon Amiel (Sommersby, Entrapment) presents exactly what is expected in a mindless, escapist disaster feature – the threat of the Earth’s destruction, personality clashes on the elite team (Eckhart with arrogant ‘go-to’ physicist Stanley Tucci – Supernova, The Devil Wears Prada), love interest (Hilary Swank – Million Dollar Baby, Amelia) and a ticking clock. All add up to a film so bad, it’s actually good! Still not sure why I like this film as much as I do!

Rating: 60%

‘Fisherman’s Friends’

Popularist, feel-good and based loosely on a true story, Fisherman’s Friends is the tale of the hairy-arsed fishermen of Port Isaac in Cornwall taking the British charts by storm.

A London stag party descends on the quiet Cornish fishing village. An impromptu live performance of local sea shanties sees an initially reluctant recording producer, Danny (Daniel Mays – The Bank Job, TV’s Des), looking to sign them for an album deal. It’s the quiet of village life pitched against the city slickers as a wary Jim (James Purefoy – TV’s Altered Carbon, The Following) needs convincing. His single-mum daughter, Alwyn (Tuppence Middleton – Mank, TV’s Sense8), is definitely convinced.

It’s light, it’s charming, it’s predictable – and the Cornish seascapes and countryside look ravishing.

Rating: 57%

‘Three Colours: White’

Following an acrimonious divorce, Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski – Three Colours: Blue, Zmruz oczy) eventually leaves Paris having failed to win back his wife, a woman he still loves. But, having been framed for arson and left humiliated, he finds a way to return to Warsaw, determined to get even.

A black comedy, Three Colours: White is director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s second of the colour trilogy, a trilogy that loosely follows the tricoleur of the French flag and the concept of liberté (blue), egalité (white), fraternité (red). Determination and some dodgy business deals help Karol and his business partner Mikolaj (Janusz Gajos – Kler, Cialo) become wealthy men, enabling a convoluted plot to entice Dominique (Julie Delpy – Before Sunset, Before Midnight) to leave Paris for Poland.

More character study than thriller, Three Colours: White is a delightful slow burn, an odd ode to a love story that is in turns wry, ironic, ingenious, captivating with an excellent, understated central performance from Zamachowski.

Rating: 71%

‘Inherit the Wind’

Full of banter and meaningful discussions, a dialogue-heavy courtroom drama sees the teachings of Darwinism put on trial in 1920s Bible-belt Tennessee.

Political heavyweights are brought in by both sides as a young teacher (Dick York – My Sister Eileen, TV’s Bewitched) is charged by the State for his satanic teachings. Former presidential candidate, the bilious Matthew Harrison Brady (Fredric March – The Best Years of Our Lives, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde) represents the State as renowned lawyer Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy – Captains Courageous, The Old Man & the Sea) is brought in to defend the teacher.

Small town religion and family drama form the backdrop but the main focus is the courtroom as the two heavyweights sound off against each other. It’s a lot more fun than it sounds with lots of soapboxing and bluster – and news reporter Gene Kelly (Singin’ in the Rain, Anchors Aweigh) on fine form with his many asides. Based on a true story and adapted from a stage play, there’s no surprises as to the outcome with the jury made up of local white males but victory ultimately sides with science and common sense.

Nominated for 4 Oscars in 1961 including best actor (Spencer Tracy), editing and adapted screenplay.

Rating: 64%

‘Sex & the City’

The cult TV series hit the big screen in 2008 with more of the same – love, heartbreak, fun and lots of shopping and glamorous frocks for Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker – The Family Stone, Failure to Launch).

Format for the feature remained unchanged – four women, best of friends supporting each other through thick and thin. And when Big (Chris Noth – TV’s The Good Wife), the on-off-on-off relationship with Carrie, finally pops the question, it looks only good. But as Big literally jilts Carrie at the (New York Public Library ballroom) altar she spirals into depression. Her frame of mind mirrors the friends’ lives as the independent women come to terms with getting older and the associated responsibilities.

New York – the city of dreams. Director Michael Patrick King (A.J. & the Queen, 2 Broke Girls) pays homage to the city as much as the friendships of the four women. It’s slight, entertaining, glamorous – and moreorless forgettable, a shadow of the earlier TV series.

Rating: 52%