‘Lady MacBeth’

lady_macbeth-431569675-largeSold into a stifling marriage by her parents, Katherine (a superbly scheming Florence Pugh – The Falling) is confronted with oppression and prejudice by husband and father-in-law alike. But a passionate encounter with the new hounds man sees a steely change in the newly wed.

A Victorian melodrama with a very definite contemporary twist as the female empowerment early in the narrative turns into something much darker. Renowned theatre and opera director William Oldroyd makes his film debut with this spare, expertly told narrative – and in less than 90 minutes!

Rating: 72%

‘The Beguiled’

timthumb.phpA languid, Southern Gothic psychosexual potboiler as a wounded Yankee soldier (Colin Farrell – In Bruges, Miami Vice) turns up at a Virginia girls school at the height of the American civil war.

His arrival awakens sexual longing for the adult teachers left at the school (Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst) as well as kindles burgeoning sexuality among the girls (particularly Elle Fanning). Erotic, poetic, tense – the southern humidity is palpable in the enclosed, claustrophobic space of the girls’ privileged environment.

The Beguiled, seemingly more expertly teased than directed by Sofia Coppola (Lost In Translation, Marie Antoinette), is a beautifully nuanced ensemble piece that, whilst at times a little slow, tells its visceral story with aplomb.

Rating: 73% 

‘My Cousin Rachel’

my_cousin_rachelMisunderstood innocent or scheming gold-digger? Roger Michell (Notting Hill, Changing Lanes) largely keeps you guessing about cousin Rachel (a superb Rachel Weisz – The Constant Gardener, Denial).

Intense close-ups, occasional tears, grubby manor houses, surly (and scruffy) servants all add to the uncertainties of Phillip (a doe-eyed Sam Claflin – The Hunger Games, Me Before You) for her role in the death of his guardian. Infatuation replaces revenge.

It’s a gorgeous potboiler (author Daphne du Maurier was one of Hitchcock’s favourites – that should give you a clue) with one caveat – the truly awful soundtrack that is at times cloyingly sweet and generally infuriatingly intrusive.

Rating: 64%

‘Berlin Syndrome’

5qBg9GxoCA8qu48iWp1obK5pBHsA sinister story of obsession, Australian director Cate Shortland’s (Somersault, Lore) latest is a tense thriller where backpacker Clare’s (Teresa Palmer – Hackshaw Ridge, Warm Bodies) one night stand sees her locked in the Berlin apartment of school teacher Andi (Max Riemelt – Free Fall, Before the Fall).

But Berlin Syndrome is no schlock bad guy/good guy shocker. Shortland’s skill, in building tension, is to create an element of sympathy for both characters. Andi’s grief at the death of his father is genuine, as is the continued terror felt by Clare as her imprisonment extends by weeks.

Shortland oozes confidence in (sadly) only her third feature film in 12 years in this stylish thriller/drama.

Rating: 66% 

‘A Man Called Ove’

A_Man_Called_Ove.pngSome 85 films were submitted for consideration for the 2017 best foreign language Oscar. Sweden’s entry, A Man Called Ove, made the final shortlist of five before losing out to Iran’s The Salesman. The other 80 must have been appalling if the Hannes Holm-helmed dramedy was seen as one of the best of the year (Julieta, Elle, Neruda, My Life as a Zucchini are just a few that failed to make that final five).

Lonely, grumpy widower Rolf Lassgard (After the Wedding, The Hunters) learns to smile again after a new family moves into the neighbourhood. Off-kilter humour early on gives way to crowd pleasing tosh, resulting in disjointed comedic sentimentality. Deeply unimpressed.

Rating: 31%

 

‘T2: Trainspotting’

Trainspotting2_TSR_A4posterImmensely entertaining sequel – 20 years in the waiting – to the iconic Trainspotting.

Renton (Ewan McGregor – Star Wars, Moulin Rouge) is back having nicked £16,000 drugs money from his best mates at the end of the original. Sickboy (Jonny Lee Miller – TV’s Elementary) and Ewen Bremner (Snowpiercer, Exodus) are angry – but get over it. But not Begbie (Robert Carlyle – The Full Monty, 28 Weeks Later). Unfortunately for Renton, the psychotic killer has a long memory – and just happens to have escaped from prison.

Stylish, thrilling, funny, sad, with director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) returning to the highs and lows of the first, injecting an inevitable maturity but without, sensibly, trying to compete or emulate that earlier achievement.

Rating: 75%

‘Jasper Jones’

mmt966-flatpackPublished in 2010, Jasper Jones the novel has established itself as one of the most loved of all local novels – an Australian Southern Gothic where the heat is real, the cicadas loud as the tension builds in the (fictional) West Australian town of Corrigan.

It’s a coming-of-age melodrama and something of a thriller mystery, touching upon the racism and narrow-mindedness of 1960s Australia.  The townsfolk are on high alert with the disappearance of schoolgirl Laura. But both indigenous teenager Jasper Jones and his confidant, Charlie, know where she is and think they know  what has happened to her.

Sadly, whereas the novel masterfully tells its tale and introduces a wonderful array  of characters, director Rachel Perkins (Bran Nue Dae, Radiance) has chosen to race through its telling. The result is a superficial hotchpotch of barely related scenes and events. Young actors Aaron L McGrath (Around the Block) as the barely seen Jasper and Levi Miller (Pan, Red Dog: True Blue) try hard but ultimately they, along with a stellar Australian cast including Hugo Weaving, Toni Collette and Dan Wylie, are wasted.

Rating: 51%

‘Silence’

silence-posterA labour of love long in gestation by legendary director Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, The Departed) is a contemplative work reflecting on the meaning of faith, love, colonialism and the questioning of authority.

Padres Rodrigues (a quietly solid performance by Andrew Garfield – Hackshaw Ridge, Spiderman) and Garupe (Adam Driver – Paterson, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) arrive in 17th century Japan in search of the reported apostatised Padre Ferreira. The last Jesuit priests, outlawed, arrive to christian persecution.

Scorsese’s latest is a slowly unfolding epic which looks beautiful (cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto – Babel, Brokeback Mountain – the only Oscar nomination for the film) but is slowwww and, at times,tedious and unengaging.

Rating: 57%

Who’s going to win? Oscar thoughts.

academy_award_trophyWith the Oscars dished out this coming weekend, and, having seen all nine features up for best film, thought a little personal ruminating would not go amiss (there’s enough of others out there).

Naturally, it’s a personal take on those nine films. Some I do not think should even be on the list; others are noticeable by their absence (Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals in particular). But of those nine, my choice for best film falls unequivocally for Moonlight.

The Golden Globes got it right when the Hollywood Foreign Press Association voted it best film – drama. The two separate categories for best film – drama and comedy/musical – certainly helped the Barry Jenkins-helmed feature avoid competing against the critical behemoth that is La La Land. But it’s the better film (personally speaking). Resonant, poignant, performed by an ensemble cast with quiet dignity, it’s a quite extraordinary film.

La La Land, the odds-on favourite to win a swag of Oscars including best film, fell into that ‘it’s good but not that good’ category for me – and is only fifth of the nine on my list. But in its celebration of LA and Hollywoodland (and a quite haunting soundtrack), it will probably win the big one (at least).

Any other year, the indescribably sad Manchester by the Sea would have likely topped my favourite of the year. Like Moonlight, it’s another quiet drama with superb performances from all and sundry, although in her few scenes Michelle Williams is devastating (as is Casey Affleck).

It’s hardly original – and we’ve seen Jeff Bridges play laconic lawmen for what seem forever (partly because he’s so good at it!) – but Hell Or High Water is a particularly fine example of its genre but unlikely to cause any surprises (it’s a film that appears to be constantly finding itself second or third in all its categories).

Lion surprised me by the respect it gave to the early part of its narrative – almost half its running time is set in a subtitled India. It’s a true story very well told and it was good to see Dev Patel gain recognition at the BAFTAS for his performance (it would be a major surprise if he repeated the feat and picked up Best Supporting Actor over Mahershala Ali in Moonlight).

The rest of the nine films are likely to be also rans, although Fences is a powerhouse in terms of acting. August Wilson’s film betrays too much of its theatrical roots to be truly convincing as a feature film. Arrival is an intelligent sci-fi but, like Hell or High Water, features high on lists of five or ten without topping any of them. Hackshaw Ridge surprised by finding itself in the running for best film. Highlight of Mel Gibson’ war film is the superb editing and cinematography (sadly no recognition for Simon Duggan in the latter category). And then there’s Hidden Figures which was a great true story disappointingly told.

So I’d love it if Moonlight took home the best film award but it’s hard to see it beating out La La Land.

Personal ratings of the films nominated for the best film Oscar

Moonlight (91%)
Manchester by the Sea (88%)
Hell or High Water (80%)
Lion (75%)
La La Land (73%)
Fences (69%)
Arrival (67%)
Hackshaw Ridge (63%)
Hidden Figures (57%)

‘Rosalie Blum’

rosalie-blum-posterSlight but engaging on many levels, Rosalie Blum is the directorial debut of screenwriter Julien Rappeneau.

Adapted from the French graphic novels, it is ostensibly the story of loneliness as hairdresser Vincent Machot (a hound-dog Kyan Khojandi – All Three of Us, Chinese Puzzle) becomes so obsessed with Rosalie Blum (the charismatic Noemie Lvovsky – Camille Rewinds, Farewell My Queen) he starts to follow her. But Rosalie is on to him – and arranges for her niece, Aude, to follow him.

Told from three different points of view, Rosalie Blum is a combination of mystery, drama, tragedy and romantic comedy. Each perspective reveals a little more of the storyline, sometimes obvious, sometimes unexpected.

Rating: 64%