Based on Joseph Heller’s best-selling novel and adapted by Australians Luke Davies and David Michôd, Catch-22 is a six-part miniseries that follows airman John Yossarian (Christopher Abbott) and colleagues at an American airbase in southern Italy during World War II.

Having joined the airforce in the belief that, with the required longer training, the war might be over before any active service is an indication of where Yossarian is coming from. The inane, soul destroying boot camp under the control of the (to the men) sadistic General Scheisskopf (George Clooney) provides an early introduction to the razor-sharp, humour-laden dialogue of the Clooney-produced miniseries.

But Catch-22 doesn’t dwell on US soil and the men (minus Scheisskopf) find themselves, M*A*S*H-style, encamped in military quarters close to enemy lines. They do have the glorious beaches of the Mediterranean to distract them. But that proves to be of limited benefit for the likes of Yossarian. Looking to reach the required service quota of airstrikes so he can be sent home, he becomes more and more desparate as Colonel Cathcart (Kyle Chandler), head of the base, simply increases the number.

The ensemble cast of young male flyers and older, seasoned military authority meld perfectly in this mix of (exaggerated) comedy and pathos (it’s a war, remember. Yossarian loses a few too many colleagues – and some in the most shocking, unexpected ways). It doesn’t always work – the lengths Yossarian will go to sometimes sits badly with the bravery of others and the airstrikes themselves are invariably less than convincing. But when the humour hits, it hits hard (try dealing in the military with someone named Major Major Major) and there are a number of extremely likeable characters on the camp – which makes their loss even harder to bear.

And why Catch-22?

Every time Yossarian gets close to his requirement, his sanity begins to crack and he lashes out to get relieved from duty. But this puts him in violation of the sadistically bureaucratic rule of Catch-22 — where a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions but a request to be removed from duty is evidence of sanity and therefore makes him ineligible to be relieved from duty.

You just can’t win – as Yossarian keeps on discovering.

Rating: 62%

‘The Mauritanian’

Bleak and unforgiving, The Mauritanian, directed by Kevin MacDonald (One Day in September, The Last King of Scotland) is based on the true story of Mohamedou Ould Slahi (a superb Tahar Rahim – A Prophet, TV’s The Serpent), imprisoned at Guantánamo without charge by the US government.

Suspected of links to Bin Laden and the recruitment of those involved in 9/11, Slahi was spirited away from his Mauritanian home during a family wedding, disappearing without trace for three years. He reappears at Guantánamo as General Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch – Doctor Strange, The Imitation Game) is assigned to prosecute. Feelings are high, post 9/11, but defence attorney Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster – Silence of the Lambs, Flightplan) refuses to allow emotions to get in the way of the rule of law.

Told in current time and aided by flashbacks, The Mauritanian is the story of Slahi’s incarceration and battle for freedom. A victim of ‘enhanced interrogation’ (euphomism for extreme torture), Slahi’s humanity shines through in spite of the extremities of the American military. It’s confronting. As Hollander wades through boxes of redacted evidence and confronts the establishment, so Slahi must deal with his day-to-day of deprivation and uncertainty.

Rating: 69%

‘A Family Tour’

Something of a film festival favourite (including Melbourne in 2019), A Family Tour is a poignant tale based on director Ying Liang’s (The Other Half, I Have Nothing to Say) own personal experiences of asylum.

A successful Hong Kong-based director, Yang Shu (Zhe Gong – You & Me), is invited to the Formosa Film Festival in Taiwan. Having fled China five years earlier, it is an opportunity to meet up with her ailing mother (Nai An – Blind Massage, Girls Always Happy). Although seriously ill, the two women plan to meet through an officially-sanctioned holiday package tour to the island. She can be reunited with daughter, son-in-law (Pete Teo – Papadom, Ghost in the Shell) and meet her grandson for the first time.

Gently exploring the inseparability of the political and personal,  A Family Tour is a quiet family drama as Yang Shu looks to persuade her mother to travel to Hong Kong rather than return to China. But she must also deal with the over-officious tour guides.

Rating: 60%

‘The Last Vermeer’

Based very loosely on a true story, director Dan Friedkin’s debut feature had a blank canvas with thrills, spills, courtroom drama, illicit love affairs, spies and wartime resistance at its disposal. Sadly, the resultant mess is stolid storytelling, stilted dialogue and unconvincing performances.

Post-World War II Amsterdam and art dealer Han Van Meegeren (an effete Guy Pearce – Memento, LA Confidential) is charged with collaboration with the Nazis and selling a valuable Vermeer painting to Goerring for enormous personal gain. Captain Joseph Piller (Claes Bang – The Square, The Girl in the Spider’s Web), a former Dutch Resistance member, finds himself investigating the case. Emotions are high in the city where collaborators are publicly executed on the streets. The blood of the overly-privileged Van Meegeren is demanded. But things are not necessarily what they seem.

A mostly wasted, multi-national (but no Dutch!) cast struggle with a bland and stoic telling. It looks good in the decadent and tasteful Van Meegeren chambers, but as the seeming truths unfold, so opportunites with courtroom grandstanding and exploration of ethics are diluted, losing any impact. A damp, oily rag.

Rating: 40%

‘Let the Great World Spin’ by Colum McCann

A grand opus, a (predominantly) 1974 New York-set novel as Frenchman Philippe Petit undertakes his tightrope walk between the Twin Towers. As the city holds its collective breath (or at least those who witnessed it), so McCann spins several fictional tales taking place at ground level along with Petit’s preparations for his illegal act.

Non-linear, Let the Great World Spin is narrated by several characters, each with their own story to tell. As the novel unfolds, so connections are revealed, some obvious, some less expected. Their lives may be woven together or determined by the actions of others, but in many instances they never know or even meet each other.

First up is the arrival of Ciaran from Dublin, arriving to see his younger brother, Corrigan, a devout Jesuit monk who has moved to the projects of the Bronx. Surrounded by poverty, prostitution and addiction, Corrigan has overcome deep suspicion and, whilst living in virtual destitution within his apartment, has befriended the prostitutes working the streets in the immediate vicinity. Recounting their childhood in Dublin (the only significant time the novel leaves New York), Ciaran is disturbed but not surprised by the conditions his brother has chosen to live.

Claire is a wealthy Park Avenue resident grieving the loss of her son in Vietnam. With husband, Solomon, as a judge tied up with work, Claire is lonely and dealing with grief in her own way. Atypically, she has responded to a newspaper advert for mothers who have lost sons in Vietnam. A small group, they meet for coffee and doughnuts or bagels at each other’s homes. Having met previously at Gloria’s high-rise in the Bronx, it’s Claire’s first time to host.

Ciaran’s and Claire’s tales provide the context to the majority of those told by the other characters. Tillie and her daughter Jazzlyn are both prostitutes who work the Bronx and have befriended Corrigan. The Jesuit himself, having met Guatamalan refugee Adelita and her two children, is undergoing a crisis of faith. Solomon is the judge who presides over the arraignment of Petit and negotiates the deal that has such an unforeseen impact on the lives of all the Bronx residents featured in Let the Great World Spin (no spoilers). Gloria and Claire become great friends and it is this friendship that provides the finale two decades later.

McCann weaves these stories together as time and the separate narratives unfold over a period of several days. It’s a slow build. In creating layers from which to grow, Let the Great World Spin occasionally loses focus with the Corrigan tale arguably too long, a little indulgent. But, whilst using Petit’s dangerous and potentially lethal act as the framework, McCann is also looking to highlight the tensions of the everyday

an invisible tight-rope wire that we all walk, with equally high stakes, only it is hidden to most, and only 1 inch off the ground.

It’s all a balancing act. Petit’s mantra by which he lived, NOBODY FALLS HALFWAY, is apt and appropriate for McCann’s big and ambitious novel. Characters come, characters go, the symbolism of the solidity of the two towers (and the irony of knowing their terrible future fate) with the insignificance of one man precariously balanced between them perfectly rendered. That slow start builds beautifully to its redemptive conclusion.

‘White Lines’

Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll (well, House to be more accurate) on the Spanish island of Ibiza as Zoe (Laura Haddock) tries to understand what happened to her brother, Axel. Missing for 20 years, torrential rain has revealed his mummified body.

With its split timeframes, White Lines simultaneously weaves several narratives.

Twenty years earlier, Axel (Tom Rhys Harries) left his Manchester home with best friends to make his fortune. Ibiza proved to be his making – and his undoing. A successful DJ in the early years of House and raves, Axel and Marcus (Daniel Mays) are the toast of Ibiza. But the wealthy and powerful Calafat family are less than impressed.

The present day sees the arrival of Zoe on the Spanish island. Now married with a teenage daughter, she was deeply affected by the disappearance of her older sibling, attempting suicide and spending many years in therapy. But with many of Axel’s friends still on the island, she wants to know what happened.

An indulgent White Lines takes everything to excess. Axel was murdered – but why and by whom? Home truths shock Zoe as she discovers more and more about her beloved brother. Sex, drugs and music whether 20 years ago or now are the centre of the action as Zoe hooks up with hunky Boxer (Nuno Lopes), bodyguard to the Calafats, in her search. Along the way we are ‘treated’ to Romanian drug dealers, orgies, raves, family feuds, incest, violence, police chases and the occasional sunset.

It has its moments – primarily in the first two or three episodes, but White Lines becomes repetitive – including the dullard Zoe. Ten episodes are, like the storyline(s), too much.

Rating: 50%

‘True History of the Kelly Gang’

A surreal, nightmarish vision of the legend that is Ned Kelly (George MacKay – 1917, Pride), from the outset this is anything but true. Based on Peter Carey’s Booker Prize winning novel, director Justin Kurzel (Snowtown, MacBeth) takes even bolder, stylised steps in its telling.

Narrated as a long letter by Kelly to his unmet daughter, the anachronistic psychodrama chronologically follows Ned from childhood to death by hanging at the age of 25. Yet there’s little in terms of straightforward narrative. Early scenes show the Kelly family targeted and exploited (sexual favours from the Kelly women demanded by Sergeant O’Neill (Charlie Hunnam – The Gentlemen, King Arthur), Ned himself is sold off by his own mother (Essie Davis – The Babadook, Assassin’s Creed). But on reaching adulthood, there’s a significant change in True History of the Kelly Gang. A potentially straightforward and violent ‘western’ becomes something psychologically darker. Intense use of strobe; distant tracking shots of lone horse riders galloping across barren landscapes; disconcerting, waivering homoeroticism; a brazen, occasionally jarring soundtrack of punk to country – all combine to unnerve, to challenge.

It’s beautiful if difficult to watch (the strobe is extremely challenging). But it’s all a little too fragmentary, a little too messy, dream-like and based on the assumption the legend is known by all. Yet, even if this thrilling ride doesn’t ultimately quite make it, MacKay is mesmerising and individual scenes memorable.

Rating: 60%

‘Three Colours: Red’

Third and final chapter in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s trilogy following the tricoleur of the French flag and the concept of liberté (blue), egalité (white), fraternité (red). 

Having accidentally injured his dog, Valentine (Irène Jacob The Double Life of Veronique, Au revoir les enfants), living alone in Geneva, meets a retired judge. A successful model, she is shocked when she discovers the old man – Jean-Louis Trintignant (Amor, Un homme et une femme) – listens to his neighbours telephone calls. With Valentine herself restricted to a relationship by telephone (a man, possibly married, living in England), she understands the vulnerability and invasion of privacy by such an act. Yet a friendship and camaraderie evolves between the two.

Weaving numerous seemingly minor narratives and characters in the ‘ordinary’ and ‘everyday’ is a Kieslowski trademark as Red begins quietly and builds as the themes of liberté, egalité and fraternité are explored in the final film not only of the trilogy, but of the director himself who died a couple of years later at the tragically young age of fifty four.

Nominated for 3 Oscars in 1995 (best director, cinematography, screenplay).

Rating: 85%


An oddball confusion of a feature as director Lars von Trier (Dancer in the Dark, Melancholia), in (predominantly) stark black and white presents a murky post-Second World War Germany of politics, corruption and greed.

Visually stylised (a singular character of soft colour picked out in a crowded station platform; collaged images; model buildings and trains), Europa sees Leopold Kessler (Jean-Marc Barr – The Big Blue, Lovers) travel from the States and take a job on the German railways, helped by his overly-efficious uncle. Privately-owned by the Hartmann family, Zentropa Rail traverses the country where Kessler finds himself used and at the centre of too much political attention for his liking.

A noir tale, Europa is more pseud than profound, obscure rather than engaging, a Kafka-esque take that looks stunning but where even the seduction of Kessler by the Hartmann daughter (Barbara Sukowa – Hannah Arendt, Lola) is pure artifice.

Rating: 41%

‘Lad: A Yorkshire Story’

With its stunning barren, isolated backdrop of the north Yorkshire Dales, writer/director Dan Hartley’s very personal film looks to the friendship between a teenage boy and a National Park ranger following the sudden death of the boy’s father.

Young Tom (Bretten Lord) reacts badly to the sudden loss, particularly as the family struggle financially and older brother Nick leaves to join the army. Truancy from school leads to trouble with the law and a spot of community service. Meeting Al Thorpe (Alan Gibson), a practical, down-to-earth, no-nonsense ranger helps point Tom in the right direction.

Dedicated to the memory of Al Boughen, the real-life ranger who mentored the teenage Dan Hartley, Lad: A Yorkshire Story is an utterly compelling simple tale simply told: full of pathos, wry humour, natural performances, a lot of heart – and that landscape.

Rating: 74%