‘Somewhere Boy’

There’s undeniable charm to Somewhere Boy, an eight part British miniseries. But, understated and nuanced, a lack of grittiness undermines it’s dramatic impact.

As a baby, Danny’s mother was killed in a car crash. Overcome by grief, dad Steve (Rory Keenan) disappears off the grid with his son. Holed up in an isolated, rural house, Steve protects Danny from the horrors of the outside world, convincing his child of monsters roaming outside. The two live a solitary life.

Shown in flashback over the eight episodes, the socially awkward 18 year-old Danny (Lewis Gribben) now lives with his dad’s sister, Sue (Lisa McGillis) and her family. The teenager is desperate to fit in, trying to befriend his same-aged cousin Aaron (Samuel Bottomley), himself shy and struggling to make meaningful friendships. It’s this relationship that is the indomitable core to the drama where one boy, almost smothered by love from his father, seemingly adjusts easier to the outside world than the other as Aaron struggles with the rejection by his father who walked out on the family.

Gentle humour abounds alongside a family struggling to cope with the everyday – social services are more than happy to see Danny living with Sue and her new family. As the teenager is now 18 years-old, there’s little they can do. Sue herself certainly struggles personally, and her character is underwritten to be sufficiently assertive. But things come to a head when Danny discovers the cause of his mother’s death.

With a heartbreaking Gribben as the lonely, trusting, confused Danny mourning the death of his father along with the equally dysfunctional Samuel Bottomley as Aaron, Somewhere Boy is a beautifully written drama of friendship, love and support. But, whilst the wider plot lines are in themselves engaging enough, the writing struggles with these narratives and are generally left unresolved.

Rating: 67%

‘Burn After Reading’

Oddball black comedy from the Coen Brothers (No Country For Old Men, Fargo) as stolen worthless data escalates into a perceived security risk.

Quitting his job as a CIA analyst rather be demoted due to excessive drinking, John Malkovich (RED, Dangerous Liaisons) writes his memoires – with his wife (Tilda Swinton – I Am Love, Snowpiercer) inadvertently responsible for the loss of the disc. Cue an extraordinarily convoluted plot as the disc falls into the hands of gym co-workers Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand – who promptly try to sell the information to the Russian embassy. Adultery, paranoia, murder and mayhem follow as misinformation is piled up on misinformation.

The all star cast (add George Clooney, Richard Jenkins, J.K.Simmons) is somewhat wasted in this patchy, supercilious comedy. There are the occasional sublime moments (an incredibly dumb Brad Pitt in particular) but sadly Burn After Reading is far from the duo’s best.

Rating: 54%

‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’

A Tennessee Williams’ potboiler as emotions run high in the 1950s Mississippi cotton plantation as Big Daddy Pollitt awaits his test results.

Former sports star and favoured son Brick (Paul Newman – Hud, The Hustler) and wife Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor – Cleopatra, Suddenly Last Summer) are not getting on too well, not helped by his love of the bottle. As tensions rise in the heat, older brother Gooper (Jack Carson – A Star Is Born, Mildred Pierce) uses this to his advantage as far as positioning himself in his father’s favour – more than helped by his deeply unpleasant wife, Mae (Madeleine Sherwood – Sweet Bird of Youth, The Changeling) and their six young children.

In the course of one night, the Pollitt family are rent apart by the ambitions of various members of the family with Big Dady (Burl Ives – The Big Country, Our Man in Havana) a towering force responding to each and every one of them. The tension crackles in director Richard Brooks’ (Elmer Gantry, In Cold Blood) adaptation of a humid and suffocating southern birthday celebration.

Nominated for 6 Oscars in 1959 – best film, director, actor, actress, adapted screenplay, cinematography.

Rating: 79%

‘The Bear’ (Season 1)

Gritty, loud and confronting, season one of The Bear finds renowned young chef Carmen ‘Carmy’ Berzatto leaving the world of fine dining to run his family’s popular blue collar diner.

Following the suicide of beloved brother Michael, Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) returns to Chicago to the chaotic world of the family business and a popularist, starch-based menu. Any attempts at change are initially met with hostility, particularly from volatile manager Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) who feels displaced by Carmy’s return. Staffing issues, supply issues, financial issues, menu issues, family issues all confront chef as he tries to turn the business round – and come to terms with his grief and understanding of Michael’s suicide. Personality clashes abound in the small, claustrophobic kitchen where resistance is the norm and even potential support in the form of new sous chef, Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) or wannabe pastry chef Marcus (Lionel Boyce) is not always recognised or appreciated.

The fast-paced eight episodes of The Bear are take no prisoners, no holes barred. It’s a visceral confrontation of Chicago energy with its frenetic editing that adds to the emotional investment of this totally believable and authentic series.

Rating: 81%

‘The Colony’ by Audrey Magee

Arrogant and pompous, London-based artist John Lloyd has booked the summer on the isolated island off the coast of Ireland. Expecting solitary wanderings and studio time with little interrupt, he has yet to discover the equally arrogant Frenchman, Masson, is returning to the island to continue his study of the fast disappearing language. Just three miles long and half-a-mile wide, few people live on the rock.

A colonialist allegory, The Colony is a vivid tale of truths and untruths, of the new accommodating tradition, of change as Masson and Lloyd clash in their expectation of what the island and its few inhabitants should be. Set in 1979, its population is now down to double figures.

Both men object to each other’s presence. Lloyd has come to paint the cliffs and revive his flagging, no longer in demand London career. Masson has been based on the island for the past five summers charting and recording this surviving outpost of spoken Irish with Bean Uí Fhloinn, the 92-year-old matriarch, speaking not a word of English. It is she in particular who Masson spends time with, concerned as he is with the dilution of the language by the generations who follow her. Great grandson James (who Masson insists on calling Seamus) is of particular concern, a teenager who refuses to fish (the main source of income) following the drowning of his father, uncle and grandfather at sea, and who wants to leave to settle on the mainland. It is he, speaking English, who acts as guide and support to Lloyd.

Cultures clash as the Gauguin-like Lloyd discovers his Tahiti is not the paradise he expected. Change is slow in the making yet James, it turns out, is a dab painter himself, with Lloyd impressed enough to support this dormant talent. Suspicious at first, James’ mother, Mairéad eventually succumbs to her curiosity of the painter and, like so many nineteenth century Tahitians of Gauguin, finds herself the subject of canvas or study. Her mother, Bean Uí Neill, is less than impressed.

There are no men who live permanently on the island. Micheál, who rows the currach between the mainland and the island, has rented Lloyd one of the cottages he manages for his brother, who now lives in America. Those with good English have left he tells the artist. Micheál makes a better living supplying the residents and occasional tourists with their needs than he ever could living permanently on the island – and the same can be said of Francis Gillan, who is trying to persuade his widowed sister-in-law, Mairéad, to become his wife.

Beautifully and engagingly written with a lightness of touch, fully rounded characters and truthful dialogue, Magee chooses to intersperse humorous banter between James and Lloyd or angry exchanges between the two interlopers with stark, single-page reports of 1979 atrocities in Ireland. Cold and objective, the name of the individual (catholic or protestant) is stated along with their family status and short, matter-of-fact details of their death.

It’s effective in its message as a father of five or a recently married man is gunned down whilst those on the island merely pass comment (if at all). Masson uses such reports to comment on British colonialism in Ireland, for which Lloyd responds of French colonialism in the likes of Algeria and Cameroon – highlighting the globalism Magee is exploring in this haunting, powerful novel.

‘Barking Dogs Never Bite’

The feature debut from South Korean Oscar-winning Bong Joon Ho (Parasite, Okja), Barking Dogs Never Bite is a mordant social satire that is both absurd and visceral.

Driven crazy by the constant yapping of a dog in the housing complex in which he lives, out-of-work academic Yoon-ju (Sung-Jae Lee – Art Museum by the Zoo, Carter) decides to do something about it. Somewhat dopey and controlled by his pregnant wife (the breadwinner in the house), by taking the wrong canine, Yoon-ju sets in motion a series of events that sees a non-too-bright housing estate clerk (Bae Doona – Cloud Atlas, TV’s Sense8) become something of a crusader.

It’s uneven and a little too reliant on slapstick for its comedy, but there’s plenty of early flourishes in evidence to point the way to the classic Parasite. With his trademark deft sense of observation and characters full of contradictions, Barking Dogs Never Bite is a satisfying oddity of a debut feaure.

Rating: 64%

‘Operation Mincemeat’

First-class in terms of cast and production values, the World War II based-on-true-events Operation Mincemeat is, however, somewhat dull.

With the invasion of Sicily the only foreseeable option for the Allies, the Germans need to be convinced plans are through Greece and focus its defences in the eastern Mediterranean. An audacious plan to use a corpse and false papers, washed up on the shores of a neutral Spain, is meticulously plotted to outwit German spies. Headed by Lt Commander Ewen Montagu (Colin Firth – A Single Man, Empire of Light), a small team creates a traceable personality for their corpse – and hope the plan works.

The ticking of Admiralty clocks in basement offices, the ticker tape messages, the phone cutting through tense silences – we’ve seen it all before. In-house petty jealousies are mirrored by the interest shown by (the married) Montagu and his number two Cholmondley (Matthew Macfadyen – TV’s Spooks, Succession) in colleague, Kelly Macdonald (T2 Trainspotting, I Came By), which adds frisson to the story. But with Cholmondley continuing to live at home with mummy and internal Admiralty politics, even the brief foray to Spain to follow the documents fails to enliven proceedings. Directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel).

Rating: 57%

‘Miss Congeniality’

Congenial and unassuming as an FBI agent goes undercover at an American beauty pageant.

When the annual televised Miss America is believed to be a target for a terrorist attack, the FBI step in to protect the contestants. The klutzy Gracie Hart (Sandra Bullock – The Blind Side, The Proposal) is not the first choice but she eventually lands the undercover position as Miss New Jersey. As hosts Candice Bergen (Sweet Home Alabama, Let Them All Talk) and William Shatner (TV’s Star Trek, Boston Legal) try to run the show to order, Gracie relaxes her feminist politics and pizza and fun become the order of the day.

Silly, convivial fun directed by Donald Petrie (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Mystic Pizza) Miss Congeniality is the perfect star vehicle for the comedic side of Sandra Bullock. It’s when she’s not on screen the feature struggles.

Rating: 53%


With his sense of aimlessness, there’s a level of inevitability that leads Cherry to the military. But there’s an even greater level of inevitability to his drug addiction on returning from Afghanistan with PTSD.

Based on the book by Nico Walker of his own experiences, Cherry is a grim narrative peppered with humour as a never-better Tom Holland (Spiderman: Homecoming, The Devil All the Time) descends into addiction with girlfriend, Emily (Ciara Bravo – TV’s Big Time Rush, Wayne). Struggling to cope with wartime experiences and the death of his friends in particular, Cherry becomes addicted to prescription drugs and, eventually, heroin. Dragging Emily with him, crime – and robbing small town banks in particular – becomes the only way to finance their addiction.

Directed by Antony & Joe Russo (The Gray Man, Avengers: Endgame), Cherry is a solid, well acted take on one man’s personal experiences. It’s standard genre drama but the performances alongside the flashes of subversive humour tease out the empathy of the storyline.

Rating: 60%

‘All Quiet on the Western Front’

Visceral and lyrical, the horror and inhumanity of trench warfare cruelly unfolds in this extraordinary adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s seminal anti-war novel.

Patriotic fervour sees four schoolboy friends lie to enlist in the German army. But they are quickly confronted by the brutality of life on the front as Ludwig is killed on their first day. As the narrative hones in on Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer in his film debut), the three are befriended by the older, seasoned Stanislaus ‘Kat’ Katczinsky (Albrecht Schuch – Berlin Alexanderplatz, Lieber Thomas). Bäumer and Kat become inseparable as the war ticks slowly by and negotiations begin by Matthias Erzberger (Daniel Brühl – Rush, Woman in Gold) for a speedy armistice.

Perfectly capturing the chaos and futility of war, All Quiet on the Western Front, directed by Edward Berger (Jack, TV’s Deutschland 83), is a powerful sweep of history, a dour, deeply moving, visual excess of a feature. Bleak it is – bleak it needs to be.

Nominated for 9 Oscars in 2023 including best film, adapted screenplay, visual effects – won 4 for best foreign language film, cinematography, original score (Volker Bertelmann – Ammonite, Lion) and production design.

Rating: 88%