’20th Century Women’

HO00004115The latest from Mike Mills (Beginners, Thumbsucker) is a beautifully balanced late 70s nostalgic ensemble piece of likeable people.

As a single mother, the matriarch, a never better Annette Bening (American Beauty, The Kids Are Alright) quite rightly takes centre stage, persuading Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning help raise and guide her 15 year-old son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann). Arguably not the most sensible choices as mentors – Gerwig’s feminist influences leave Jamie in fights with school friends over clitoral orgasms and Fanning heads off on a road trip with Jamie in tow.

It’s a film full of contradictions and it does occasionally slip into anecdotal gratification but relative newcomer Zumann is a delight and, possibly for the first time, I personally liked Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha, Mistress America) on screen.

Rating: 69%

‘Sing Street’

sing_streetDelightful, feel-good and totally endearing, the latest from John Carney (Once, Begin Again) yet again presents the good in both character and narrative (and provides a ripper of a soundtrack).

A nostalgic revisit to the 80s with a story that, whilst hardly innovative (new boy at school overcomes bullying, wins the girl and gains popularity), uses music to flesh out its tale. Newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo is a convincing innocent discovering his inner Duran Duran or The Cure – and the relationship with his music mentor brother Jack Reynor (Transformers: Age of Extinction, Free Fire) adds an extra layer of oddball warmth.

Rating: 69%

‘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%

‘Churchill’

Churchill-Film-PosterIt’s June 1944 and just days before D-Day when the Allies plan to land on the beaches of Normandy. Only British PM Winston Churchill has become more and more marginalised from the military planning – and the splendidly bombastic Brian Cox (X-Men, The Bourne Identity) is not happy.

Director Jonathan Teplitzky (The Railway Man, Burning Man) focuses on the irascible Churchill, at odds with wife Clemmie (a long-suffering Miranda Richardson – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, The Hours) as well as President Eisenhower (John Slattery – Mad Men) and General Montgomery, head of the British forces. The result is a moderate, one-paced drama with little sign of Churchill’s famed charm or wit.

Rating: 43%

‘Neruda’

neruda_ver3Tedium sets in early in director Pablo Larrain’s latest bio. As with his Jackie, Larrain is never rushed in his storytelling and even a manhunt across Chile in the aftermath of World War II verges on inert.

“The most famous Communist on Earth”, Pablo Neruda, is a persona non grata in his own country and is hunted by Inspector Peluchonneau (Gael Garcia Bernal – The Motorcycle Diaries, Amores Perros) from hiding place to hiding place. Neruda is a man unwilling to play by the rules – but the problem is that as played by Luis Gnecco (No, Perez) the poet is not particularly likeable.

Rating: 44%

‘Viceroy House’

Viceroy's_House_(film)Lord Mountbatten arrives in Delhi as the last British Viceroy to India. He’s to oversee the transition to independence.

Director Gurinda Chandar (Bhaji on the Beach, Bend It Like Beckham) somehow manages to reduce partition and its associated violence into an episode of Downton Abbey – even casting Hugh Bonneville as Mountbatten. Lots of hooded stares and pushing among the Hindu and Muslim servants in Government House: lots of love struck stares between Jeet Kumar (Hindu) and Aalia Noor (Muslim) in the servants quarters.

In all, the film aims to be epic in its telling, but lacks emotion or authenticity. It is only Gillian Anderson (The X-Files, The Last King of Scotland) as Lady Edwina Mountbatten who stands out in what is essentially a boring and tedious film.

Rating: 40%

‘Alien: Covenant’

3229948-alien+covenant+ka+promoIt’s not the most coherent of the Alien/Prometheus films and, at times the action seems a little rushed after an overly slow intro, but Alien: Covenant is nothing if not spectacularly crafted.

Thrills and (literally) spills abound as the synthetic David (a sublime Michael Fassbender – Prometheus, 12 Years a Slave) looks to creation and immortality. But the real story of course is the virus that evolves into the deadly creatures – and what’s low in number in Alien: Covenant is still enough to create carnage on an unchartered planet and aboard the colony ship, Covenant.

Ridley Scott (The Martian, Alien) plumbs the same scares from the original to great effect along with several references to earlier films in the franchise as the action keeps on coming and the gore count keeps on rising.

Rating: 62%

‘Don’t Tell’

Don't Tell Movie Poster 1Don’t Tell is based on the true story of the court case of Lyndal who, as an 11 year-old, was sexually abused by a teacher at a prestigious Queensland school. The outcome resulted in the change in laws in the way civil cases are tried.

Now a surly, rebellious 22 year old, Lyndal (an empathic Sara West – The Daughter, One-Eyed Girl) sues the Anglican church in 2001 for damages. Lawyer Stephen Roche (Aden Young – Killer Elite, Mao’s Last Dancer) and barrister Jack Thompson (Breaker Morant, Australia) support her through her court hearing.

Director Tori Garrett makes his feature film debut in this well told, authentic courtroom drama, focusing on the story rather than any cinematic gymnastics.

Rating: 62%

‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’

arthur-posterDirector Guy Ritchie transposes his loveable cockney rogues of Lock, Stock and Two Smokin’ Barrels and Rock’n’Rolla to Medieval England and the world of Game of Thrones.

The cocky,  buffed Charlie Hunnam (Crimson Peak, The Lost City of Z), robbed of his birthright, must overcome the evil of his uncle, Jude Law (Cold Mountain, Sherlock Holmes), controller of the country through dark magic. But first Arthur must understand the power of Excalibur, his new found sword.

It looks good (production design by Gemma Jackson – Game of Thrones!), the soundtrack loud but the bombastic treatment wears thin and the film slips into tedium.

Rating: 39%

‘Their Finest’

6ae71bd038dd9f5e9b5981c2eb33743e_500x735Wistful and surprisingly charming (thankfully avoiding anything ‘cutesy’ or cloyingly sentimental), director Lone Scherfig’s (An Education, One Day) latest cuts deeper than the storyline suggests.

A World War II romance with a difference as Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace, Tamara Drewe) finds herself in a man’s world – that of the work place – as more than a secretary. Morale-lifting films are the order of the day – and Arterton is there to provide the ‘slop’ (female dialogue). Fellow screenwriter Sam Claflin (Me Before You, The Hunger Games) is the love interest but it’s Bill Nighy (Love Actually, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest) as the ageing thesp who steals just about every scene he’s in.

Rating: 73%