‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’

In spite of acclaim for her celebrity biographies, the irascible Lee Israel is best known for her fraudulent writing of some 400 letters by dead writers and celebrities to help pay the rent on her New York dive. 

Director Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl) explores the psychology of loneliness as an impoverished and out-of-fashion Israel finds solace in rudeness and alcohol.

As Lee, a nuanced Melissa McCarthy (Spy, Bridesmaids) is a revelation – all bitterness, vulnerability and caustic wit. The chemistry between her and Richard E Grant (Withnail & I, Logan), user, partner-in-crime and drinking buddy, is sublime joy.

Rating: 78%

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‘Lean on Pete’

Quiet, sensitive, compassionate – director Andrew Haigh’s (45 Years, Weekend) latest is a wistful evocation of displacement and desperation.

A drifting lifestyle (from Wyoming to Portland) according to where contract work for his father is available, 15 year-old Charlie Plummer (All the Money in the World, King Jack) has no school and fills his days according to his whims. A chance meet with horse-trainer Steve Buscemi (Fargo, The Death of Stalin) leads to casual work and the befriending of the horse, Lean on Pete.

But when Pete is due to be sold off, Charlie has other ideas. And so begins an unfolding narrative that takes us to the heart of this hard-edged state-of-a-nation  observation with a raw, painfully honest performance from Plummer. 

Rating: 79%

‘Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot’

Left as a quadriplegic following a car accident, alcoholic John Callahan discovers an unknown talent in the art of satirical cartoons.

Raw yet charismatic, Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line, The Master) is the perfect fit for the complexities of an angry, cynical, addictive personality shot through with wry humour.

It’s a meandering biopic from director Gus Van Sant (Milk, My Own Private Idaho) from Callanan’s early, heavy drinking days through to finding some kind of personal redemption via support from his AA sponsor, wealthy gay Christian, Jonah Hill (War Dogs, Moneyball). 

Rating: 62%

‘Widows’

WidowsWhat it lacks in tension, Widows more than makes up for in its depth of characterisation (no surprise there – it’s adapted (and directed) by Steve McQueen (Shame, 12 Years a Slave) along with novelist Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl).

A cerebral heist movie as four women, led by the indomitable Viola Davis (Fences, The Help), look to pay off the debt incurred by their dead husbands, killed in a shoot-out with the Chicago police. It’s tough, serious-minded – and feisty, with Cynthia Erivo (Bad Times at the El Royale) as a single-mom driver the stand out.

It’s slick, it’s current – and it’s unexpected.

Rating: 71%

‘Wildlife’

Wildlife_film_posterBeautifully written and performed with a lot to admire, Paul Dano’s first attempt behind the camera is sadly somewhat dull.

It’s all text book stuff – the disintegration of a marriage as seen from the perspective of their young teenage son. Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain, Nightcrawler) is something of a dreamer, with long-suffering Carey Mulligan (An Education, Suffragette) trying to make the best of things as they move from house to house, state to state. Ed Oxenbould (The Visit, Paper Planes) looks on, bemused.

Static camerawork with an emphasis on 1960s mundane, the nuanced performances (particularly Mulligan) add weight to a minor drama that needed a little more emotional gravitas to help make a connection with its audience.

Rating: 54%

‘Beautiful Boy’

beautiful boyQuietly directed by Felix von Groeningen (The Broken Circle Breakdown, The Misfortunates), Beautiful Boy is a humane and deeply moving (true) story of drug addiction and father/son bond.

Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name, Lady Bird) embodies the tragedy of addiction and wasted opportunity as his loving father, Steve Carell (Foxcatcher, The 40 Year-Old Virgin), is forced to dig deep to continue the emotional support so desperately needed.

The support cast is forced to take a back seat in what is essentially a two-hander. And, whilst a cycle of rehab, relapse, recovery results in the emotional impact lessening as the film progresses, the two leads are riveting in their performances.

Rating: 71%

‘First Man’

first manIn spite of knowing the outcome of Apollo 11 and Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon, director Damien Chazelle (La La Land, Whiplash) and his taut telling of the historic moment teases out every thrill, tension and suspense.

Somber, claustrophobic and with a focus on the men and their families (a controlled, nuanced Ryan Gosling – La La Land, Drive – as Armstrong, a riveting, scene-stealing Claire Foy – Unsane, TV’s The Crown – as his wife, Janet), First Man is intimate and deeply humane. But it is also a technical tour de force, with particular reference to the editing by Tom Cross (La La Land, Whiplash), and a likely swag of behind-the-scenes Oscar nominations.

Rating: 68%

‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’

miseducationA modest, low-key Christian gay conversion therapy drama as Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass, Let Me In) is caught in the clutches of Bible Study classmate Coley at the School Prom.

Writer/director Desiree Akhavan (Appropriate Behaviour) elicits sensitive, nuanced performances from a cast of predominantly young adults as Moretz develops a close relationship with the dope-growing, resigned-to-their-fate Jane (Sasha Lane – American Honey, Hearts Beat Loud) and Adam (Forrest Goodluck – The Revenant, Indian Horse).

Whilst avoiding overt grandstanding, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, through its lightness of touch and wry humouris a damning indictment of institutional Christianity. It collected the Grand Jury Prize at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

Rating: 68%

‘You Were Never Really Here’

you wereA taught, nervous, noir thriller as traumatised veteran Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line, Inherent Vice) tracks down missing persons – with liberal use of violence when necessary. With the disappearance of a senator’s daughter, Phoenix finds himself in a tight-knit paedophile ring.

Winner of both best screenplay and best actor at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, director Lynne Ramsey (We Need to Talk About Kevin, Ratcatcher) has adapted the novel by Johnathan Ames into a moodily stylish ellipsis of flashbacks, suggestion and suppression. It’s a pity that You Were Never Really Here occasionally lapses into incoherence.

Rating: 63%

‘On Chesil Beach’

On_Chesil_Beach_(film)They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible. So begins Ian McEwan’s 1960s-set novel, On Chesil Beach.

In adapting his own elliptical novel for the screen, McEwan emphasises that lack of meaningful communication between the young couple, neither of whom can talk to each  other or their respective families. Their lack of knowledge results in tragic and devastating consequences.

As the uptight Florence, Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird, Brooklyn) beautifully portrays the terrified innocent, balanced perfectly with the awkward, bumbling Billy Howle (Dunkirk, The Sense of an Ending). Acclaimed theatre director Dominic Cooke is at the helm, resulting in a tender, dialogue-rich love story.

Rating: 66%