‘Mystic River’

An intense crime thriller adapted from Dennis Lehane’s bestseller, Mystic River is both raw and uncompromising in its Boston-set narrative.

A tough, strutting Sean Penn (21 Grams, Milk) is queen bee in his working-class neighbourhood, so when his teenage daughter is found murdered in a local park, the community is left reeling. Former schoolfriend, Detective Sean Devine (Kevin Bacon – Footloose, Black Mass) is placed in charge of the case. Tensions, antagonisms and a demand for justice, local-style, quickly rise to the surface – with the third boyhood pal, Dave (Tim Robbins – Marjorie Prime, The Player), firmly centre stage.

A brooding drama of tragic proportions, grief and anger is palpable in Penn’s performance as Bacon and Robbins are drawn into the maelstrom of determination around him. The result is a compelling, character-heavy texture of a film from director Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven, Gran Torino) at the top of his game.

Nominated for 6 Oscars in 2004 including best film, director, supporting actress (Marcia Gay Harden) and adapted screenplay; won 2 – best actor (Penn), supporting actor (Robbins).

Rating: 74%

‘White Hot: the Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch’

Abercrombie & Fitch is the brand seen as more or less responsible for the change in millennial fashion. Preceding the likes of The Gap and Banana Republic, the clothes were nothing remarkable, promoting the casual, jock look. It was all about the marketing – and the brand. But the latest Netflix documentary chooses to sidestep this, instead focussing on the history of the toxic work culture of the brand.

Sex sells and the sexualisation of the brand was at the forefront – as it is ironically pointed out, marketing sold the clothes with male models wearing very little. In the US, promotional policies were firmly targetted at Ivy League, jock-culture. In other words, white, Aryan policies. But it went beyond marketing to include staffing in the 000s of outlets across the US. A hiring handbook (‘no dreadlocks’) provided guidance, with less attractive staff confined to the backrooms.

Whilst shocking, it’s ultimately a lightweight, repititious expose of interviews and archival material along with invasive animated graphics. Director Alison Klayman (Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, The Brink) barely scratches the surface of the controversies surrounding A&F (the sexualisation in marketing of pre-teens; pumping harmful chemicals into stores through automated cologne dispensers are just two left out). Ultimately, White Hot.. is as guilty of superficial sexualisation and body beautiful imagery to promote itself as the A&F company.

Rating: 50%

‘Kingsman: the Golden Circle’

A sequel to the tongue-in-cheek Kingsman: The Secret Service, this particular offering goes seriously awry.

Taron Egerton returns as Eggsy, but the charm of the Cockney Chav into the world of gentlemen spies loses its magic in this turgid sequel as, with London HQ destroyed, the action moves to Kentucky and Central America. A sister organisation – Statesman, headed by Champ (Jeff Bridges – Crazy Heart, The Big Lebowski) – is discovered alive and kicking, impervious to the destructive forces of the Golden Circle and the crazed Poppy (Julianne Moore – Far From Heaven, Boogie Nights). The two organisations need to combine.

Chock full of names, this is undoubtedly a cynical move by the creative team of director Mathew Vaughn and writer Jane Goldman to cash in on the American market and the success of the first film. It’s dire with a surfeit of embarrassments.

Rating: 20%


A quiet, understated love story with the tinge of a thriller, Jerichow is spare in its loose adaptation of The Postman Always Rings Twice as a dishonourably discharged Afghanistan veteran Thomas (Benno Fürmann – In Darkness, Farewell) returns to his home village of Jerichow in the former East Germany.

Offered work as a delivery driver, Thomas finds himself attracted to Laura (Nina Hoss – Barbara, Yella), wife of the boss (Hilmi Sözer – Brother & Sister, Die rote Zora). Games of power and trust slowly unfold as the ebb and flow of the narrative shift between the three.

Somewhat flat as a love triangle but more successful in its suspense, this early film sees director Christian Petzold explore the position of an outsider in isolated society, a theme he more successfully returns to in later films ((Phoenix, Barbara, Transit).

Rating: 58%

‘All the Old Knives’

Sitting across a restaurant table from each other, two former lovers and CIA operatives discuss a failed rescue attempt of a hijacked plane years earlier.

The reveal of a suspected mole in the Vienna office eight years after the hijacking has resulted in Henry Pelham (Chris Pine – Star Trek, Wonder Woman) being tasked to find the identity. Celia (Thandiwe Newton – Crash, Solo: A Star Wars Story) is a likely suspect. As the two discuss the present and the past, and as a glorious Californian setting sun is juxtaposed with an icy Viennese winter, lines are blurred between the personal and the professional.

Directed by Janus Metz (Borg vs. McEnroe, TV’s ZeroZeroZero) from the book by Olen Steinhauer, passion, betrayal, truth, All the Old Knives is a wordy but intriguing, slow-burn relationship tale as Pelham looks to understand what happened in Vienna.

Rating: 62%

‘Mysterious Skin’

Unflinching, incendiary yet sensitive, Mysterious Skin is an early film from Queer Cinema autuer Gregg Araki (The Living End, Kaboom) and presents a tale of sexual abuse in the American heartland.

Adapted from the 1995 Scott Heim novel, the narrative follows, over the years, two very different young men. Events from when they were eight years old continue to haunt. Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt – Inception, Looper) has become a smooth-talking, swaggering hustler. Exhausting Kansas, he moves on to New York and a serious coming-of-age quickly follows. Shy Brian (Brady Corbet – Clouds of Sils Maria, Melancholia), who remembers little of the disturbing night, is obsessed by UFOs.

Gritty and disturbing, Mysterious Skin is honest, profound with, at its core, two very different but equally stunning central performances.

Rating: 68%

‘Rust & Bone’

Intense drama as, heading for his sister’s home in Antibes in the south of France, Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts – Bullhead, Red Sparrow) becomes involved in a relationship with a woman badly injured in a workplace accident.

With his young son in tow, Alain is unprepared for fatherhood, reliant upon his sister for support. Dead end jobs lead him to meeting Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard – La vie en rose, Annette) but a tragic accident leads to her losing both legs. Unexpectedly, Alain steps up and, through success as a bare-fist boxer, finds self-respect and hidden reserves to support Stéphanie.

Director Jacques Audiard (Dheepan, A Prophet) looks for tenderness in the angry depiction of sex and violence in his narrative. Schoenaerts with broken hands and spirit, and Cotillard without limbs are both powerful in a grim tale of love and redemption.

Rating: 71%

‘The New Wilderness’ by Diane Cook

Urgent, prescient, imaginative, Diane Cook’s engrossing debut novel sees a world ravaged by climate change and overpopulation. In the States, polluted cities, vast industrial areas and an ever-diminishing preserve known as the Wilderness State are all that remain. Bureaucratically controlled, overseen by wardens, it is in this wilderness among a community of strangers where The New Wilderness is set.

A choice was made by each. Living as nomadic hunter-gatherers as part of an experiment to see if humans can live in nature without destroying it, they must leave minimum impact as they traverse the inhospitable environment. It’s unquestionably preferable, no matter how difficult, to life in the poisonous city. Initially twenty, numbers have diminished through accidents and illness but the group has adapted to the harsh conditions. They are survivors as they to trek from post to post, destinations determined by the wardens and the experiment.

Power struggles within the group have been an inevitable part of survival, battles for power and control as they betray and save one another. Bea volunteered to be on the group to save her young daughter, Agnes. The city air was tearing apart the child’s lungs. Now fit and illness a distant memory, Agnes embraces the wild freedom of this new existence. But as time passes, connection to the old way of life becomes tenuous as the mother/daughter bond becomes increasingly tested.

Relationships ebb and flow within the group and among the wardens as shifts in the outside world impact on the experiment. Instructions become more and more difficult as the group are forced to trek to further points within the wilderness, spending less and less time in one place. When wardens are spotted away from their administration centres, the group is aware things are changing.

The New Wilderness is gripping in its fierceness of its message but which avoids heavy-handed polemic. Instead, it’s a humane and moving lament of our contempt for nature and, simultaneously, a moving portrayal of motherhood. Shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize, Diane Cook’s novel lost out to Douglas Stuart and Shuggie Bain.


Cracking performances with a rich, dialogue-heavy narrative (director John Patrick Shanley – Under the Volcano, Wild Mountain Thyme – adapted Doubt from his own stage play) combine in an enthralling issue-based verbal fest set in a 1960s Catholic elementary school.

Headed by the much feared Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep – The Post, Silkwood), the Bronx school serves a poor, predominantly Irish, neighbourhood. Abetted by an idealist novice, Sister James (Amy Adams – American Hustle, Arrival), she looks with concern to the ambiguous relationship between the parish priest, Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman – Capote, The Master) and a troubled student.

As the boy’s mother, a brief but exceptional Viola Davis (Fences, Widows) is memorable in a film of powerhouse performances as the line between guilt and innocence is crossed by all on numerous occasions.

Nominated for 5 Oscars in 2009 – best actress, supporting actor, supporting actress (Adams), supporting actress (Davis), adapted screenplay.

Rating: 68%

‘Deep Water’

A trashy, brash erotic thriller, Deep Water is strangely alluring as Adrian Lyne, the director who brought us Fatal Attraction and Nine and a Half Weeks, returns with his first film in 20 years.

With a narrative based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith, amoral behaviour is inevitably writ large. It’s Melinda (Ana de Armas – Knives Out, No Time to Die) who behaves badly as she flaunts her sexuality and infidelity in front of her wealthy dullard of a husband, Vic (Ben Affleck – Gone Girl, Argo). But maybe Vic is not as dull as his collection of snails (!) suggests, a view shared by new-to-town crime writer, Don Wilson (Tracy Letts – Lady Bird, Little Women).

A flat, emotionless delivery from Affleck is oddly appropriate in a silly but entertaining loose adaptation of the novel’s suburban commentary.

Rating: 60%