Having made her name as a true-crime podcaster 20 years earlier on the back of the Warren Cave case, Poppy Scoville-Parnell (Octavia Spencer) finds herself revisiting the crime when new evidence comes to light.
The violent murder of writer and academic Chuck Buhrman in his suburban LA home resulted in the conviction of teenage Cave, next-door neighbour. Yet newly released video evidence suggests the testimony provided by daughter Lanie Buhrman immediately after the death is different to that given in court. A motion for a retrial is dismissed but Poppy’s interest is piqued.
Over eight episodes, a plodding narrative unfolds that explores events of that fateful Hallowe’en night 20 years earlier. Recognising mistakes were made in her original reportage, Poppy looks to make amends. But with Cave (Aaron Paul) now covered in prison swastika tattoos, it’s a challenge.
A deeply manipulative and unlikeable Poppy wants the truth – and she will mould what she wants to believe to fit that end. A single-minded podcaster followed circumstantial evidence 20 years ago resulting in contributing to the incarceration of an innocent man. Truth be Told shows Poppy to have failed to learn by experience as she alienates not only the Buhrman and Cave family members, but her own father and sisters, as well as husband, Ingram (Michael Beach).
Subtle it’s not as Octavia Spencer fails wholeheartedly to set the right tone for an emotionless, expressiveless dullard – not helped by a pedantic script.
An enthralling documentary exploring the Chinese birth control policy of restricting married couples to one child (two if based in a rural location but with a five year gap).
From 1979 to 2015, China enforced its social experiment. Introduced to prevent a mass population explosion in a country already struggling to feed its citizens, the policy was an unpopular one. Now living in the US and a recent mother herself, first time filmmaker Nanfu Wang returns to her village to explore its impact.
The logic almost makes sense when Wang interviews local administrators and officials. But interviews with family members, village elders, doctors reveal the full horrors of the policy. Abandoned new borns, enforced 34 week abortions, illegal and, later, legalised child trafficking, murder of female babies. It’s a litany of horrors as the deeply traumatised local abortionist acknowledges responsibility for thousands of terminations or villagers admitting selling newborns to orphanages in readiness for international adoption.
One Child Nation, winner of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize in 2019 Sundance, is powerful and thought-provoking. But it is also a little too personal and one dimensional. More insight into the official approach would have helped create a more balanced presentation.
A deeply human story in the depths of the 1930s British royal family, The King’s Speech sees the Duke of York (Colin Firth – A Single Man, Kingsman) battle with his debilitating stutter – and turn to the unconventional methods of Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue.
Logue (Geoffrey Rush – Shine, Pirates of the Caribbean) is anything but a fawning royalist – my way or no way – and gradually wins over the trust of the initially reluctant Bertie and gratitude of the Duchess of York (Helena Bonham Carter – Ocean’s 8, Howards End). It proves to be fortuitous as York’s brother, Edward (Guy Pearce – LA Confidential, Memento) abdicates from the throne and Bertie becomes King George VI.
Shot through with warmth and humour, the absorbing film, set in the decade leading up to the outbreak of World War II, pivots on the wholly convincing relationship between the two men. It’s a pleasure to watch as a cracking script (David Seidler) and indepth performances are perfectly marshalled by director Tom Hooper (Les Miserables, Cats).
Nominated for 12 Oscars in 2011 including best supporting actor (Rush), supporting actress, costume design, original score – won 4 for best film, director, actor, original script.
Hitchcock’s first American feature – and his only film to win the best film Oscar.
Monte Carlo out of season and Maxim de Winter (a dashing Laurence Olivier – Hamlet, The Boys From Brazil) is in mourning for the death of his wife, Rebecca. He takes solace in the charming company of the unnamed Joan Fontaine (Suspicion, The Constant Nymph), companion to wealthy American socialite, Mrs Van Hopper (Florence Bates – A Letter to Three Wives, On the Town). On returning to Manderley, the English family home, de Winter takes with him his new wife and the secrets of his earlier marriage – and with them comes the sinister housekeeper, Mrs Danvers (Judith Anderson – Laura, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof).
Daphne du Maurier’s novel is a splendid Gothic melodrama and perfect material for Hitchcock’s macabre psychological game playing. Rebecca is a well crafted gem with excellent performances and snappy dialogue. But, overlong, it is a victim of its time (made in 1940). The narrative is somewhat undermined by the overly timid Joan Fontaine character. A commentary on class differences it may be but, watching the film in 2021, it can be hard to stomach.
(The Hitchcock version is streets ahead of the 2020 version – Rebecca).
Nominated for 11 Oscars in 1941 including best director, actor, actress, supporting actress, screenplay – won 2 for best film and black & white cinematography.
Confined to a wheelchair, teenage Chloe (Kiera Allen in her feature film debut) has developed a close relationship with her mom. Practical, inventive and intelligent, her dream is to study at the University of Washington in Seattle. But a lack of admissions letters to UW or any other college are of concern. And, come to think of it, mom (Sarah Paulson – TV’s Ratched, American Horror Story) is starting to act a little strangely.
Written and directed by Aneesh Chaganty (the equally inventive Searching), Run is a tense new take on an age-old story that may need the occasional leap of faith but remains engaging, entertaining and more than just a little thrilling.
The breakout role for Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman, Never Let Me Go), the 1960s set coming-of-age tale is that of suburban schoolgirl Jenny tempted off the beaten track by a man twice her age.
Studying for a hoped-for place at Oxford University, Jenny is the straight As dux of her Twickenham girls’ school. But then she meets the debonair David (Peter Sarsgaard – Shattered Glass, Kinsey) who, with a life in the West End, offers glamour and excitement. He even charms Jenny’s staid parents Alfred Molina (Frida, Red) and Cara Seymour (Gangs of New York, Adaptation). But fancy restaurants, jazz clubs, shopping on the Kings Rd and trips to Paris eventually take their toll.
A reflection of time and place and a woman’s limited options in society, An Education, directed by Lone Scherfig (The Kindness of Strangers, One Day) with a lightness of touch and with an excellent cast that includes a fabulously dumb partygirl Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl, A Private War), is a thoughtful, authentic take on the personal experiences of successful British journalist, Lynn Barber.
Nominated for 3 Oscars – best film, actress & adapted screenplay (Nick Hornby – About a Boy, Brooklyn) – in 2010.
The idyllic highlands of Scotland is the setting for a deeply disturbing four part miniseries that sees the death of a mother and three young daughters. The father (Tom – David Tennant) is found unconscious in the bedroom of their burning house.
It’s a measured drama as the family is introduced within their small community with Tennant the local doctor and Kate (Anna Madeley) the principal at the primary school. Best friend and confidant Jess (Cush Jumbo) lives with local policeman, Steve (Matthew McNulty) and is stepmother to two young boys. It’s all contained and, as within every village, lives overlap and interweave. Kate is known to drink too much and is on anti-depression medication following the birth of her youngest three years earlier: Jess is undergoing IVF to have a child of her own.
But inevitably not everything is as it seems with Tennant an overbearing and controlling husband with Kate (and his mother – Maureen Beattie) obviously afraid of him. When it is revealed the family were all drugged prior to the fire, a murder investigation is put into place. Secrets are outted.
Involving current and flashback narratives, Deadwater Fell is an engrossing if sombre drama. Avoiding spoilers, suspicion inevitably falls on both Tom and Kate but the beauty of Deadwater Fell is that it builds a sense of dread through its focus on small details rather than the bigger picture.
A Hollywood debut doesn’t come much bigger than Barbara Streisand’s Oscar-winning performance as Fanny Brice. Comedienne, singer and all-round entertainer, Brice was a true early 20th century American vaudeville star. But success on stage was not mirrored in her personal life, married as she was to debonair, seductive gambler, Nick Arnstein (Omar Sharif – Lawrence of Arabia, Dr Zhivago).
A big, bold musical transferred from Broadway, Funny Girl follows Brice from early Manhattan days struggling to gain a role in a local, run down burlesque show to fame and fortune via the Ziegfeld Follies. There’s snappy dialogue and comic timing aplenty in the early home-life scenes as Streisand belts out showstopping signatures such as People and Don’t Rain on My Parade. But in its 150 minute running time, energy palls as Fanny settles into wealthy loneliness and motherhood.
A self-assured Streisand commands the screen but a miscast Sharif struggles in the later half of the film as the material wears thin and settles into biographical soap opera. But all that can be forgotten with the finale and the heart-rending My Man.
Nominated for 8 Oscars in 1969 including best film, supporting actress (Kay Medford as Fanny’s mom), musical score, won 1 (best actress).
Stark’s world is torn apart by the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley – Gandhi, Sexy Beast), a terrorist who, responding to the challenge of public arrogance of Stark, destroys the billionaire’s home and laboratory. But it’s not all that it seems as a rejected scientist from the past (Guy Pearce – LA Confidential, The King’s Speech) reappears in his life.
Bombast and tedium reunite as a potentially interesting narrative is given the MCU OTT treatment. But at least it is the best of the three Iron Man (Robert Downey Jnr – Doolittle, Natural Born Killers) movies – although that’s not saying a great deal.
Nominated for visual effects Oscar in 2014.
The separated religious beach in Tel Aviv just metres from the busy Hilton gay beach provides ultraorthodox women (on certain days) a sanctuary, a place of rest and escape. Rigid traditions of daily life and the constant presence of people at their home in the orthodox Bnei Brak is made that more bearable by a weekly trip to the beach and the sea. But, fearful of immorality, these trips are threatened by the rabbis: the women will not accept such rulings.
The women featured are remarkably candid – Dina in her unhappy marriage struggling for her three daughters’ want to live in a less repressive environment; the older Tzipora and Rebbetzin passing (at times very funny) commentary on other women on the beach; the (unexpected male) lifeguards and their support for the women; Dina’s daughters and their faith. Interspersed with humour and honesty, Karin Kainer’s film is gentle, non-judgemental and eminently watchable.