A splendid melodrama with a powerhouse central role, Mildred Pierce is a film noir soap to end all film noir soaps.
Abandoned by a philandering husband, left to raise their two daughters, Mildred (Joan Crawford – Possessed, Sudden Fear) turns the tables and becomes a successful restaurant owner. But, as the film begins, Mildred is being questioned about the murder of her new husband, the suave Monte Beragon (Zachary Scott – The Southerner, Flamingo Road). A spoilt daughter (Ann Blyth – The Student Print, Kismet), unscrupulous business partners and that murder all add to a compelling narrative directed by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca, Captain Blood).
Nominated for 6 Oscars in 1946 including best film, supporting actress x2 (Eve Arden, Ann Blyth) and screenplay, won 1 for best actress.
The return of Southern detective Benoit Blanc (Knives Out) sees him travel as an uninvited guest to a private Greek island for a murder mystery weekend.
Billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton – American History X, Motherless Brooklyn) invites five friends, all of whom owe their wealth and success to him, to join him on his ultra luxurious island. But Blanc (Daniel Craig – Skyfall, Knives Out) quickly puts paid to the murder mystery game just as things suddenly begin to go awry for the guests. Former business partner Andi (Janelle Monáe – Harriet, Hidden Figures) starts to assert herself but nothing is quite what it seems.
Hysterical, over-the-top slapstick buffoonery from director Rian Johnson (Looper, Knives Out) as the narrative spirals out of control. The unexpected twist in the middle of the feature creates a momentary pique of interest, only to see the so-called ‘disruptors’ (about as effective as ignoring a ‘do not walk on the grass’ sign) and the absurd plotline waste the amazing cast. Risible.
Adapted for best adapted screenplay Oscar in 2023.
Slight but unexpectedly charming, The Noel Diary brings a level of sincerity to a seasonal Christmas rom-com.
As the sole beneficiary, successful writer Jake Turner (Justin Hartley – Jexi, TV’s This Is Us) returns to the home of his recently deceased mother to settle the estate. But an unexpected visitor, Noel Ellis (Essence Atkins – TV’s First Wives Club, Are We There Yet?) sees a normally solitary Jake agree to go on a road trip to help find her birth mother, the former nanny to the Turner family.
It’s Justin Hartley’s film as the actor exudes charm and sincerity in writer/director Charles Shyer’s (Father of the Bride, Alfie) adaptation of Richard Paul Evans’ novel. It may be somewhat twee and feels a little rushed at the end with many of the loose ends tied, but The Noel Diary is as much a story shot in the winter landscapes of Massachusetts and Vermont as it is traditional holiday fare romance genre.
Economic in word count, morally visceral in its impact, Small Things Like These places Ireland’s inhumane Magdalene Laundries under the microscope.
It’s 1985 and Bill Furlong, a coal and timber merchant, lives with his wife, Eileen, and their five daughters in a small, typical Irish town of shopkeepers, small businesses (including Bill’s), a cafe, a pub, a church – and a Catholic state-sanctioned Magdalene Laundry.
Ostensibly a home for ‘fallen women’, the laundries were found throughout Ireland where the young women experienced everything from deprivation to abuse and death. In making a delivery as Christmas approaches, Bill encounters one of the girls hiding in the coal hole of the convent, run by the Good Shepherd nuns as a training school there for girls, providing them with a basic education. They also ran a laundry business. The abuse of their charges is the worst kept secret in the town yet the laundry services continue to be used.
Bill’s encounter changes the course of his life and that of his family, but not before his wife warns him If you want to get on in life, there’s things you have to ignore, so you can keep on. It’s not something Bill can do.
Claire Keegan’s debut novel is far from being the first exposé of the abuses endemic within the laundries, but short and capacious, it is deeply affecting.
Shortlisted for 2022 Booker Prize, Small Things Like These lost out to The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka.
Richly and poignantly observed, Wild Strawberries is a coming-of-age slow burn as the widowed professor reflects upon an emotionally austere life.
A cold demeanour has seen Dr. Eberhard Isak Borg (Victor Sjöström – To Joy, Order) isolated from the world around him with only his housekeeper Agda (Jullan Kindahl – Smiles of a Summer Night, Bröllopsdagen) for company. But on being offered a honorary degree in his home town of Lund, a decision to drive rather than fly results in nostalgic reflection, helped by his travelling companion, daughter-in-law Marianne (Ingrid Thulin – Cries and Whispers, The Cassandra Crossing) and three hitchhikers they pick up on the way.
Writer/director Ingmar Bergman’s (Fanny & Alexander, Face to Face) nostalgic road trip with memory of missed love and a recurring dream with deeply disturbing surrealist imagery is earnest in its explorations yet engrossingly compelling.
Nominated for best original screenplay Oscar in 1960.
A magical yet dark stop-motion musical version of Carlo Collodi’s character from his children’s novel as a wooden marionette dreams of becoming a real boy.
Set in the early days of the rise of Mussolini’s fascism, an air of menace pervades del Toro’s film with Carlo, the woodcarver’s son, killed by the bombing of the village in World War II. Geppetto grieves for his beloved son when a kindly wood sprite brings the puppet to life to support the old man. But the cruel Count Volpe, head of a struggling touring circus, sees a fortune to be made in the living marionette…
Narrated by Cricket, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is a sumptuous telling of the tale interweaving the director’s love of the darker symbolism of fairytales and myths (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone) with the more traditional Collodi character. It’s an extraordinary achievement yet one that doesn’t quite pay off. For all it’s darkness and wry humour (the deadpan commentary from Ewan McGregor as Cricket a standout), the consistent upbeat one level shrillness of Pinocchio ultimately grates, reducing any possibilities of much-needed charm.
Nominated for best animated film Oscar in 2023
An all-dancing, all-singing, all-star version of A Christmas Carol? Visitations by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future will make a difference to the self-centredness of a controversial media consultant? Cue Spirited and the frothy, lightweight storytelling of writer/director Sean Anders (Instant Family, Horrible Bosses).
After more than two centuries, the Ghost of Christmas Present (Will Ferrell – Holmes & Watson, Eurovision Song Contest) is up for retirement. His reward? A return to earth as a mere mortal. Present is reluctant and wants one more soul to help redeem – identifiying the unredeemable Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds – Buried, Deadpool) as the next haunting. And so a magical journey ensues in the hope that Briggs’ conversion will be a force for positive change in humanity. But how come Briggs’ assistant, Kimberly (Octavia Spencer – Fruitvale Station, Luce) can see Present?
It’s a musical sugar candy ride with few of the leads being able to hold notes and Ryan Reynolds struggling with his footwork as showtime hits the screen. All singing and all singing choruses break out into tap, jazz and big musical numbers as the overstuffed narrative slips into mind-numbing tedium and awkwardness.
A solid, well-written, well-acted exploration of a little known story, Mrs Brown (also known as Her Majesty: Mrs Brown) sees the recently widowed Queen Victoria find a level of solace in the company of Scottish servant and Balmoral gamekeeper, John Brown (Billy Connelly – What We Did On Our Holiday, The Boondock Saints).
Stricken by grief at the loss of Prince Albert, a disconnected, inert Queen Victoria (Judi Dench – Shakespeare in Love, Belfast) remains out of the public eye. A former trusted servant to Albert, Brown is summoned to Osborne House. A scandal evolves over time as the plan to revive the Queen works a little too well. The brash, heavy drinking Brown soon exerts a great deal of influence and takes control of the Queen’s daily activities, creating tensions between government officials, members of the Royal Family and below stairs
Elegant to a BBC-produced tee, the John Madden (Shakespeare in Love, Operation Mincemeat) directed feature is a quiet grace, albeit somewhat understated.
Nominated for 2 Oscars in 1998 for best actress and make-up.
A dark, brooding LA crime drama from writer/director Michael Mann (Manhunter, Ali) as, like a dog with a bone, dedicated lawman Lt Vincent Hanna hunts down the highly organised crime unit headed by Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro – Mean Streets, Joker).
With a dedication that is wrecking his third marriage, Hanna (Al Pacino – The Irishman, House of Gucci) has respect for McCauley but will stop at nothing to bring him in. As heists leave dead bodies behind, even the crime boss admits the rogue Waingro (Kevin Gage – Con Air, Blow) needs to be dealt with – if they can find him.
As typical of its genre, an almost three-hour Heat is adrenalin-packed with machismo, shoot outs, suspense and violence. It’s slick, controlled and, with its plots and subplots, utterly engaging. And, whilst the depth of the cast is uniformally intense, there’s Pacino and De Niro sparring off and against each other…
A return to form by the master of gothic storytelling, Tim Burton, as schoolgirl Wednesday Addams arrives at Nevermore Academy. Having been expelled from her previous school for dumping piranhas in the swimming pool during a polo team practice (Wednesday objected to members of the team bullying her brother), Wednesday is enrolled in the school where her parents first met.
Wednesday is a glorious eight part miniseries set in a school for outcasts as Jenna Ortega looks to control and understand her evolving psychic skills whilst fitting into the social world of school. But outside the establishment’s boundaries, a number of killings are creating tension in the local town. Whilst Principal Weems (Gwendoline Christie) supports the official version blaming a wild bear, Sheriff Galpin (Jamie McShane) looks to Nevermore for answers. Wednesday, very nearly a victim, has her own opinions and sets out to prove them, no matter how unpopular it makes her at the Academy.
It’s a schlock supernatural horror tale full of humour and things that go bump in the night as, with more than a little help from Goody Addams, a deceased ancestor seen in visions, Wednesday embroils herself in the history of the town. Little is as it seems.
Ortega is a revelation as the ice-cold, emotionless Wednesday who, over the eight episodes, melts slowly whilst kookie and threatening schoolfriends alike add to general likeability of the series.