‘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%

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‘Peterloo’

Award-winning director Mike Leigh (Mr Turner, Happy-Go-Lucky) makes a rare foray into period drama, choosing to focus on the 1819 Peterloo Massacre.

It begins in rhetoric, shifts from a drawn-out history lesson and ends in violence as the government of the day uses the troops against the people, a peaceful 100,000 strong pro-democracy rally in St Peter’s Field, Manchester. The result is the death of 18 demonstrators and hundreds more injured.

It’s an austere canvas, with talk the order of the day, both in the parlours and inns of the reformers and the offices of the ruling classes. But then, on the big day itself, Leigh releases the tight reins of dialogue and produces an immersive panic, claustrophobic in content as the yeomanry and cavalry run amok in the confinements of the rally.

A superb ensemble piece (with Maxine Peake – Funny Cow, The Theory of Everythinga standout ‘everywoman’) that is as current today as 1819 when austere taxation measures and policies were in place to keep power in the hands of the few.

Rating: 67%

‘Bohemian Rhapsody’

Bohemian_Rhapsody_poster copyDirector Bryan Singer (X-Men, The Usual Suspects) has chosen to rush through the early days of the introduction of Freddie Mercury to the pub band Smile and their subsequent mega-success as the renamed Queen.

The result is engaging but strangely emotionally uninvolving, an episodic telling of Mercury’s distance from his family, love for Mary Austin and the clashes with band members, record company and management.

But, by slowly drawing the audience in and as Rami Malek (The Master, TV’s Mr Robot) grows into the role of the troubled star, there’s a moving finale of 30 minutes or so. A lonely Mercury finally recognises and accepts just who he is. And then Singer throws in a re-enactment of 10 minutes of one of the greatest live gigs in recorded history – Queen’s Live Aid performance at Wembley Stadium in front of 100,000 people. Breathtaking.

Rating: 66%

‘Donbass’

donbassRaw and uncompromising, award-winning director Sergey Loznitsa, known for documentaries (Maidan) and social commentary features (A Gentle Creature), draws together a montage of several unrelated stories and events in a war-torn eastern Ukraine.

Moments are disrupted by sudden mortar explosions, armed militia flag down a local bus in search of food, residents are forced to live in squalor in the basement of their apartment block to avoid shelling.

It’s oppressive but sadly all-too-familiar viewing as (Ukrainian) Loznitsa comments on Russian policy in their support of a war in the former Soviet State that’s disrupted the country since 2014. Individual vignettes are powerful but there’s little historical or political context provided to help understand exactly what is unfolding in front of us.

Rating: 51%

‘Custody’

custody.poster.ws_An intense, devastating family drama of domestic abuse as Denis Menochet (Inglourious Basterds, In the House) looks to gain joint custody of his young son.

Bleak and hellish, Custody is unrelenting in its slow build with palpable fear in the eyes of newcomer Thomas Gioria as Lea Drucker (The Man of My Life, In My Skin) looks to protect her family.

Debut director Xavier Legrand’s claustrophobic tour de force is no easy watch, but with superb performances from a relatively small cast, Custody is heart-wrenching in its pain, fear and anger.

Rating: 87%

‘McQueen’

mcqueenA great documentary for the togs and sheer spectacle of Alexander McQueen’s visionary presentation but as an insight into the man himself, Ian Bonhote & Peter Ettedgui’s documentary is sadly lacking.

Undoubtedly a tortured genius, Lee Alexander McQueen, the London chav, son of a taxi driver, took the fashion-world by storm prior to his suicide in 2010. Candid interviews with colleagues, friends and family provide a certain insight into the man, but there’s a great deal more left out or merely touched upon (cocaine abuse, HIV, child abuse). And it’s this imbalance that leaves the rags to riches tale as a lost opportunity.

Rating: 59%

‘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%

‘C’est la vie!’

cestlavieOccasionally funny, this overly laboured feel-good movie from the directors of the delightful The Intouchables, Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, is a pleasant, disposable piece of fluff.

A wedding in a 17th century chateau. Jean-Pierre Bacri (The Taste of Others, Like an Image) as the owner of the events company has had enough and is looking to sell the business. But he’s dealing with a constantly interfering groom, unhappy staff and a bout of food poisoning.

It’s an undemanding two hours of general silliness, but the cast give it their all (Eye Haidara as Bacri’s number two in particular) in what is ultimately a mildly entertaining distraction. A glorious soundtrack from Avishai Cohen, however!

Rating: 52%

‘Beast’

beastSmall in scope (a product of writer/director Michael Pearce’s television experience in his feature film debut), Beast flits between a (dysfunctional) middle-class family drama and psychosexual horror story.

Unquestionably flawed, a remarkable performance from Jessie Buckley (TV’s Taboo, The Last Post) as Moll is the highlight. Desperate to escape her cruel, oppressive family, she becomes involved with Johnny Flynn (Clouds of Sils Maria, Love is Thicker Than Water), a convicted poacher living on the margins and suspected of being a serial killer of teenage girls.

A cold, windswept Jersey – far from its halcyon summer tourism – is the setting for Pearce’s intriguing drama packed with (mostly) unpleasant characters.

Rating: 58%

Screened as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival