‘Alice, Darling’

A surprisingly divisive feature as Alice, trapped in an emotionally abusive relationship, is the unwitting participant in an intervention by her two closest friends.

A hip Manhattan couple, Alice (Anna Kendrick – Cake, Up in the Air) and artist Simon (Charlie Carrick – TV’s Departure, Hidden Assets) seem to have it all. But his deep insecurities and uncertainties place intense emotional pressure on Alice – so much so, she begins to drift away from her closest friends. With Sophie (Wunmi Mosaku – TV’s We Own This City, Lovecraft Country) organising a week away at her parents’ lakeside home in upstate New York, Alice lies in order to accompany Sophie and Tess (Kaniehtiio Horn – TV’s Letterkenny, Ghost BFF).

Understated and nuanced, Alice Darling, directed by Mary Nighy in her feature film debut, is a narrative of the unspoken, one in which the central menace is predominantly offscreen. Kendrick is excellent, but so is the beautifully crafted bond of friendship between the three women and the tacit acknowledgements between Sophie and Tess of the struggles to come.

Rating: 71%


The bracing, volatile romanticism of a ménage à trois as two best friends compete for the affections of a third who, only too aware, plays, ‘in all innocence’, each against the other.

Deeply stylish Francis (Xavier Dolan – Boy Erased, Tom at the Farm) and Marie (Monia Chokri – Gare du Nord, Laurence Anyways) are best of friends who become rivals in the affection of the blonde Adonis, the somewhat daggy Nicolas (Niels Schneider – The Art Dealer, I Killed My Mother). Playfully flirtatious, things come to a head when Nicolas invites the pair to his mother’s vacation home outside Montreal.

Dolan’s sophomore feature as director, Heartbeats captures the zeitgeist of time and place with underlying sexiness combined with the frustrations of unrequited love. Both Francis and Marie try – and desire. But Nicolas is an elusive.

Rating: 67%


Addiction leads to crisis – in this instance opioids and oxycodone in particular – as three separate stories across the American/Canadian border inevitably collide.

But Crisis is no intense, on-the-streets junkie-fuelled realism. Recovering addict architect Claire Reimann (Evangeline Lilly – Ant-Man and the Wasp, The Hurt Locker) looks for answers to explain the murder of her teenage son as Jake (Armie Hammer – J. Edgar, Call Me By Your Name) arranges a shipment of oxy from Montreal. At a university laboratory, Dr. Tyrone Brower’s (Gary Oldman – The Dark Knight, Darkest Hour) research is showing unexpected results for a giant pharmaceutical company’s much heralded non-addictive painkiller.

Written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki (Arbitrage), Crisis is a minor player in its genre with nothing new to say. Leaden performances (particularly Hammer) and leaden script fail to live up to the attempted honesty of its narrative.

Rating: 43%

‘Monsieur Lazhar’

Adapted from the stage play by Evelyne de la Chenelière, the French-Canadian feature Monsieur Lazhar is a gentle narrative set in a Montreal public school, a heart-warming feelgood that evolves from trauma.

With the unexpected suicide (in the classroom, out of hours) of a popular form teacher just a few weeks into term, principal Mme Vaillancourt (Danielle Proulx – C.R.A.Z.Y., L’enfant d’eau) struggles to find a replacement. Algerian political refugee Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag – Ce que le jour doit à la nuit, Dernier étage gauche gauche), a former primary school teacher in Algiers, saves the day. But as time passes, Lazhar’s more formal approach becomes less about the curriculum and more about a wider education, leading to questions about his approach.

Director Philippe Falardeau (The Good Lie, My Salinger Year), with a convincing classroom of child actors (including the empathic Alice – Sophie Nélisse, The Book Thief, 47 Metres Down: Uncaged), creates a quietly cathartic moment of time and place for both the students and their teacher.

Nominated for best foreign language Oscar in 2012.

Rating: 74%


Based on the play by Wajdi Mouawad, Incendies is a politically powerful melodrama that plays out over several decades in an unnamed Middle Eastern country torn apart by civil war.

In travelling to the Middle East to fulfill their mother’s last wishes, twins Jeanne and Simon discover how little they knew of her life before she migrated to Canada. Family histories unravel as Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin – Gabrielle, The Far Shore) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette – Lac Mystère, Polytechnique) look to deliver letters in (an unnamed) Lebanon to a brother they didn’t know they had and a father they had been told was long dead. The revelations of the terrible sufferings Nawal (Lubna Azabel – Body of Lies, Strangers) faced during the civil war leave them struggling to cope.

An early feature from director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario), Incendies is a compelling narrative of one woman’s struggle to survive in a prejudicial and judgemental world of war, violence and tradition.

Nominated for best foreign language Oscar in 2011.

Rating: 78%

‘French Exit’

Something of a star vehicle for Michelle Pfeiffer (Hairspray, Dangerous Liaisons) as wealthy Manhattan socialite Frances Poe discovers there’s very little of her money left.

Following the death of her husband, Frances had assumed she would be dead before her inherited wealth ran out. It’s only by the interception of close friend Joan (Susan Coyne – TV’s Cardinal, Mozart in the Jungle) and the offer of a small apartment in Paris that saves Frances. With acquiesent son Malcolm (Lucas Hedges – Manchester By the Sea, Boy Erased) and the family cat, she looks to make a new life.

A series of oddball characters populate the quirky but gossamer-thin story of a woman previously too busy being busy finally coming to terms with the immediate world around her.

Rating: 61%

‘Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love’

Leonard Cohen and Marianne Ihlen – a love affair spread over many years of different intensities.

Cohen, a fledgling poet and songwriter escaping upper middle-class Jewish Canadian family expectations: Marianne married with a young child (Axel) escaping a volatile husband. Meeting on the Greek island of Hydra in the early 1960s, their deaths just three months apart nearly 50 years later, Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love charts their non-exclusive relationship, together and apart, that evolved over the years.

A documentary essentially of two halves, a poetic and nostaglic first contains extraordinary home footage and photographs of life on the island of Hydra along with commentaries from friends and colleagues. Yet, a muse to Cohen’s writing, Marianne is given surprisingly short shrift in award-winning director Nick Broomfield’s documentary – more so as he himself was a lover of Marianne’s on Hydra.

This is further heightened by the less successful, post-Hydra, meandering second half where the unlikeable Cohen’s fame, drugs and depression (including six years as a recluse in a monastery) is the focus. It’s an indulgence with many stories (and archival footage) of drugs and live concerts from former band members. Marianne’s fate is occasionally mentioned but Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love, whilst having its moments, becomes a bland rock bio.

Rating: 53%

‘The Hummingbird Project’

Unassuming and amiable, The Hummingbird Project may not be setting box-office records or pushing innovative filmmaking, but it remains an entertaining tale. And it’s not everyday you see Alexander Skarsgård (The Legend of Tarzan, Mute) play a nerd!

In the world of high-frequency trading, milliseconds can represent the difference of millions of dollars. Fast-talking hustler (when is he not?) Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network, Now You See Me) convinces his brilliant cousin Skarsgård to join him in a fibre optic cable deal that will put them in direct competition with their current boss, Salma Hayek (Frida, The Hitman’s Bodyguard). An underground cable – in a completely straight, 1000 mile line – now needs to be laid between Kansas City and New York.

Patchy it may be (writer/director Kim Nguyen – War Witch, Eye on Juliet) but in a race again time and the elements, The Hummingbird Project delivers an enjoyable odd couple story of money, greed – and redemption.

Rating: 61%

‘Tom at the Farm’

A sense of menace pervades Xavier Dolan’s (Mommy, Matthias & Maxime) psychosexual thriller as Tom (Dolan) travels to the remote farm to attend his lover’s funeral. Only mom knows nothing about her son’s sexuality – and brother Francis intends to keep it that way.

Violence and desire collide as a brooding Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal – Nadia Butterfly, Mommy), with his increasingly ambiguous emotions, both threatens and appeals to the young Montreal resident. A claustrophobic nightmare unfolds, heightened as more is revealed of the brother Tom knew nothing about.

Rating: 69%

‘The Silencing’

In the isolated wilds of the Rocky Mountains hinterland, Rayburn Swanson (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau – TV’s Game of Thrones) lives alone on a wildlife sanctuary still grieving for his missing daughter, who disappeared without trace years earlier. The discovery of a young female body with every indication she was hunted to her death, along with a second saved by Swanson raises the spectre of a possible vicious serial killer.

Paths cross with the new, ambitious Sheriff Alice Gustafson (Annabelle Wallis – Annabelle, King Arthur) who has family issues to resolve and Swanson’s remarried ex-wife looking to close the file on their missing daughter. But the main focus to The Silencing are those killings. And director Robin Pront (The Ardennes) delivers what is to be expected in its thrills, kills, chases, red herrings, misunderstandings. All somewhat familiar and clichéd but at least there is time spent with the main characters themselves to build some depth to the story.

A decent attempt – neither dull nor particularly memorable.

Rating: 58%