A bleak, wintery Ukraine set a few years into the future, post-conflict with Russia, is the setting for a surprisingly touching, humane narrative from writer/director Valentyn Vasyanovych (Kredens, Reflection).

Small in scale, big in ambition, Atlantis sees Sergey (Andriy Rymaruk – Reflection, Marija), a former soldier, survive the conflict yet remain displaced. East Ukraine is an economic and ecological disaster. The heavy industry of the region has been destroyed, mines laid, water contaminated, the landscape itself a wasteland devoid of vegetation. To cope, Sergey volunteers with a group exhuming war corpses.

In spite of its grim premise, Atlantis is both haunting and real, powerful yet hopeful. Vasyanovych finds both beauty and poetry in his narrative as Sergey and co-worker Katya (Liudmyla Bileka) find each other within the death and devastation of war.

Rating: 77%

‘The Hummingbird Project’

Unassuming and amiable, The Hummingbird Project may not be setting box-office records or pushing innovative filmmaking, but it remains an entertaining tale. And it’s not everyday you see Alexander Skarsgård (The Legend of Tarzan, Mute) play a nerd!

In the world of high-frequency trading, milliseconds can represent the difference of millions of dollars. Fast-talking hustler (when is he not?) Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network, Now You See Me) convinces his brilliant cousin Skarsgård to join him in a fibre optic cable deal that will put them in direct competition with their current boss, Salma Hayek (Frida, The Hitman’s Bodyguard). An underground cable – in a completely straight, 1000 mile line – now needs to be laid between Kansas City and New York.

Patchy it may be (writer/director Kim Nguyen – War Witch, Eye on Juliet) but in a race again time and the elements, The Hummingbird Project delivers an enjoyable odd couple story of money, greed – and redemption.

Rating: 61%

‘Mr Smith Goes to Washington’

A delightful political comedy drama, Mr Smith Goes to Washington, made in 1939, surprisingly passes the test of time as a naive new senator takes up his position at the Senate.

As the second representative of his (unnamed) State, Jefferson Smith (James Stewart – The Philadelphia Story, It’s a Wonderful Life) is appointed by the Governor based on his lack of experience. A bill in the House needs to be passed, no questions asked: long-time local Senator, Joseph Paine (Claude Rains – Casablanca, Mr Skeffington) and a group of businessmen are looking to make millions. But they hadn’t made allowances for Smith’s idealism – and cynical staffer, Saunders (Jean Arthur – You Can’t Take It With You, The Devil & Miss Jones).

Unashamedly black and white with its stance on right and wrong along with a passing comment on political interests, director Frank Capra ( It’s a Wonderful Life, It Happened One Night) paces his narrative perfectly with the weaving of comedy, romance and drama whilst barely deviating from the central narrative.

Nominated for 11 Oscars in 1940 including best film, actor, director, screenplay, won 1 for best original story.

Rating: 77%

‘Taste of Cherry’

Palme d’Or winner at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival, Taste of Cherry is a quiet, meditative experience as a man drives his Range Rover in search of someone who will quietly bury him under a cherry tree after he commits suicide.

Long, unedited takes, shot predominantly in the arid desert foothills on the outskirts of Tehran, the experential feature sees Badii (a mesmerising Homayoun Ershadi – The Kite Runner, Zero Dark Thirty) travelling round and round dirt tracks looking for the man, with a handsome payment, to help him. But each man he approaches refuses for their own reason – until he meets Mr Bagheri, a Turkish taxidermist, who agrees to help.

Strangely hypnotic, introspective, the mostly improvised dialogue gently unfolds as director Abbas Kiarostami (Certified Copy, The Wind Will Carry Us) looks to Badii philosophically gaining an understanding of life and death. The meta-ending, however, breaks the flow.

Rating: 74%

‘Without Remorse’

Overblown revenge drama as elite Navy SEAL looks to identify responsibility for his wife’s death – only to find himself involved in an international conspiracy.

With a simultaneous hit of military colleagues and the mistaken murder of his pregnant wife, John Kelly (Michael B Jordan – Creed, Black Panther) looks to the Russian hit squad out for revenge on a Middle East black op. Teaming up with high-ranking Jodie Turner-Smith (Queen & Slim, After Yang), Kelly is out to kill. With the less-than transparent CIA agent, Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot, Rocketman) along for the ride, things take many an unexpected turn.

Based on the novel with Tom Clancy’s fervent American conservative patriotism ever-present, Without Remorse, directed by Stefano Sollima (Sicario: Day of the Soldado, TV’s Gomorrah), is brutal, unpleasant and plain tedious.

Rating: 30%

‘The Piano’

Spectacular cinematography of coastal New Zealand provides the backdrop to a visual feast in the 19th century set story of love, jealousy and fear.

Arriving from a privileged Scottish background, Ada McGrath (Holly Hunter – The Big Sick, Broadcast News) is set to marry the wealthy but crude-living Alisdair Stewart (Sam Neill – Jurassic Park, Sweet Country). Travelling with her prized piano and a young daughter (Flora – Anna Paquin, TV’s True Blood, Alias Grace), she is not what Stewart or his household anticipated. But then life in the rainforests is not what Ada expected. Having not spoken a single word since she was six, things become even more complicated when her piano is sold off to neighbour and occasional employee, George (Harvey Keitel – The Irishman, Reservoir Dogs).

Writer and director Jane Campion (Angel at My Table, Bright Star) sculpts a moody, evocative tale of time and place with Ada, as her husband’s property, desperate to escape. Gothic Romanticism rules the day in a tale that ultimately settles into a menage-a-trois, albeit with excellent performances and a truly memorable soundtrack by Michael Nyman.

Nominated for 8 Oscars in 1994 (including best film, director, cinematography), won 3 (best actress, supporting actress, original screenplay).

Rating: 72%


Dull derivative dystopian sci-fi drama of seedy dark alleys, neon streetlighting and night time tones, Mute sees mute bartender, Leo (Alexander Skarsgård – The Legend of Tarzan, TV’s True Blood) searching the city’s underbelly for his missing girlfriend.

Not everything is as it seems as Leo is forced to confront sleazy undesirables – including an against character Paul Rudd (Ant-Man, The Catcher Was a Spy) and gender fluid Ruba (Robert Sheehan – Three Summers, TV’s The Umbrella Academy). In his world of silence, the gentle Leo is way out of his depth.

More drama than thriller, pace is slow, offset by Rudd as an odd, quirky villain. Director Duncan Jones (Bowie’s son) continues his interest in sci-fi and isolation (Moon, Source Code) but ultimately Mute fails to engage.

Rating: 40%

‘Tom of Finland’

Highly sexualised gay imagery may have resulted in the art of Touko Valio Laaksonen (Tom of Finland) being banned but, in time, it also made him one of the most influential and celebrated figures of twentieth century gay culture.

Furtive, illegal post-war sexual encounters by trained draughtsman Laaksonen (Pekka Strang – Dogs Don’t Wear Pants, Kites Over Helsinki) were offset by the detailed drawings of sexual fanstasies involving highly muscular, well endowed men in uniform. Encouraged by new partner Veli (Lauri Tilkanen – TV’s Deadwind, Hooked), black-market distribution in Helsinki eventually led to discovery in LA and New York. As times changed and gay liberation took hold, so the newly labeled Tom of Finland and his art came to epitomise the new sexual freedom.

It’s a respectful if slow, episodic treatment by director Dome Karukoski (Heart of a Lion, Tolkien) of Laaksonen’s life from the Finnish military to struggling with his sexuality whilst living with his sister, Kaija (Jessica Grabowsky – 8-pallo, Once Where We Walked). But, with its move to the US and English, Tom of Finland, whilst celebrating the art and the artist, becomes too rushed and superficial without any exploration of the issues of sexual politics and rise of AIDS in the late 1970s/early 1980s.

Rating: 57%


An animated personal history of a young woman growing up in the Iranian Islamic Revolution, Persepolis is a labour-of-love from writer/director Marjane Satrapi (Poulet au prunes, Radioactive).

Working with Vincent Parronaud (Poulet au prunes, Hunted), Satrapi tells herstory of the fall of the Shah and the rise of the oppressive religious regime. The disappearance of many members of her left-wing family resulted in Marjane being sent to Vienna for schooling before returning to Tehran. But restrictions were too severe: she left to live and finish her studies in Paris.

Animation and its symbolism allows the sweep of history to be compacted into its wholly engaging 96 minute runnning time. Moving yet informative, socially aware yet deeply personal, Persepolis is a humane story of power, politics and individual resilience in the face of adversity.

Nominated for best animated feature Oscar in 2008.

Rating: 75%


An origin story mirroring The Devil Wears Prada with Harley Quinn (Birds of Prey) thrown in for good measure, Estella (Emma Stone – La La Land, The Help) locks horns with the hugely successful fashion icon, the Baroness, in 1960s Swinging London.

Orphaned on her way to the city, a young Estella hooks up with street urchins Jasper (Joel Fry – Yesterday, Benjamin) and Horace (Paul Walter HauserRichard Jewell, I Tonya). A life of petty crime ensues – until a job at Liberty provides the break – and an introduction to the Baroness (Emma Thompson – Love Actually, Sense & Sensibility). Herself a wannabe designer, Estella finds out the hard way life is not always fair. Revenge is sweet for the alter ego, Cruella.

Director Craig Gillespie (I Tonya, Lars & The Real Girl) ladles the action in stops and starts resulting in a patchy entertainment – an odd tracking through the corridors of Liberty basements early in the film seems to go on forever yet the show stopping garbage truck scene is over in seconds. Emma Stone revels in the duality of her character yet Thompson doesn’t quite reach the dizzy heights of Meryl Streep in …Prada. Overall, it’s fun but shallow, visually seductive but hollow.

Rating: 52%