‘Mrs Harris Goes to Paris’

It’s the frocks that shine in this cute but shallow remake of an earlier tv movie as Christan Dior beckons a cockney cleaning lady.

A regular cleaner for Lady Dant (Anna Chancellor – Crush, TV’s The Split) gains few benefits (and late wage payments) except exposure to Dior haute couture. On learning the current beauty hanging in the wardrobe cost a staggering £500, Mrs Harris (Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread, Maleficent) is determined to purchase her own in time for the 1957 annual local town hall social. Scrimping and saving follows, supported by best friend, Violet (Ellen Thomas – The Love Punch, TV’s Eastenders). Ada gets to Paris eventually where, in spite of the snobbish Madame Colbert (Isabelle Huppert – Elle, The Piano Teacher), she gets her way – and changes the lives of those she comes into contact with as well as the future of the House of Dior itself.

Charm incarnate as directed by Anthony Fabian (Skin, Louder Than Words), Mrs Harris Goes to Paris is the saccharine-sweet embodiment of a fairy-tale as the good-natured Ada (a delightful Lesley Manville) tires of being invisible.

Nominated for 2023 Best Costume Oscar (Jenny Beaven).

Rating: 64%


Hired to follow high-profile chief engineer for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, a tough talking private detective finds himself in deep water as corruption and murder bubble to the surface.

A straightforward cheating husband case seems easy money for J.J.Gittes (Jack Nicholson – Easy Rider, The Departed) as the wife of Hollis Mulwray (Darrell Zwerling – Grease, And Justice For All) hires the private detective. But things become more complicated when the real Mrs Mulwray (Faye Dunaway – Bonnie & Clyde, Network) appears at his office – and Mulwray turns up dead.

Blackmail, corruption and murder unspool in Gittes’ so-called easy money case as 1930s LA struggles through a drought in director Roman Polanski’s (The Pianist, Knife in the Water) sublime detective thriller full of brooding suspense.

Nominated for 11 Oscars in 1975 including best film, director, actor, actress, cinematography – won 1 for best original screenplay (Robert Towne)

Rating: 88%


Any synopsis of Volver creates the vision of a melodramatic multi-seasoned telenovela as Almodóvar’s interwoven fantasy with reality tale of mothers and daughters unfolds.

Having lost her mother in a fire years earlier, Raimunda (Penelope Cruz – Vanilla Sky, Parallel Mothers) is concerned about the mental state of Tía Paula, the aunt who raised her. Having recently visited her home village, it’s there Tía Paula claimed Irene (Carmen Maura – Oh Carmela! Cuernavaca), Raimunda’s dead mother, is living with her. But all is forgotten a few days later when daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo – Vidas pequeñas, 75 días) confesses she has murdered her unemployed father Paco, who tried to rape her whilst drunk.

That’s the first 20 or so minutes accounted for! In a true-to-form Almodóvar (Parallel Mothers, Talk to Her), Volver is a melodramatic comedic delight as superstitions, gossip, ghosts and murder seemingly conspire against Raimunda to make a success of a simple life as she hides a dead body and defrauds her neighbour’s restaurant business. With a lightness of touch and perfect timing (particularly from Cruz), Volver may push the boundaries of believability but it has a charm all of its own.

Nominated for best actress Oscar in 2007.

Rating: 73%

‘Gosford Park’

An English country manor with the interwoven comings and goings of the upstairs gentry and downstairs staff. Sound familiar? An earlier (2001) script by a decade from Julian Fellowes predates the behemoth that was to become Downton Abbey.

Only there’s few of the niceties of the later series evident in Robert Altman’s (Nashville, M*A*S*H) delight of a feature. It’s a strained shooting weekend upstairs that’s reflected downstairs as the emnity between imperious housekeeper Mrs Wilson (Helen Mirren – The Queen, Hitchcock) and cook Mrs Croft (Eileen Atkins – Cold Mountain, TV’s Doc Martin) adds to the atmosphere. It’s all somewhat tense at Gosford Park. And to make matters worse, half way through the film, someone bumps off the wealthy, irascible host, William McCordle (Michael Gambon – Harry Potter, Judy).

Guests and staff come under suspicion. What had started as a series of related and unrelated storylines lay the foundation for a whodunnit as the earlier desperate financial manouverings of at least three of the family members come under scrutiny. But things are never that simple or that obvious.

It being an Altman film, the cast reads like a who’s who virtuoso ensemble piece with a sublime script from Fellowes that expertly provides drama, pathos, comedy and social commentary in its 137 minute running time.

Nominated for 7 Oscars in 2002 including best film, director, supporting actress (Helen Mirren), supporting actress (Maggie Smith), art direction – won 1 for original script.

Rating: 80%


Fifty years ago, the worst prison riot in American history – a five day standoff that gripped the nation – resulted in the deaths of 29 prisoners and 10 hostages.

Interviews with former inmates, family members of guards, newsmen, lawyers and official observers along with archive footage provide an insight into the unfolding chaos that took place over those five days. With the sense of frustration and anger from prisoners – 70% Black and Latino – in one of the toughest prisons in the system with its 100% white guards and administration, Attica was a tinderbox. On 9 September 1971, tensions boiled over as more than 1,000 prisoners seized 39 guards as hostages.

It’s a harrowing piece of filmmaking which highlights, by today’s standards, mostly perfectly reasonable demands. But authorities were not having a bar of it, particularly after the death of one of the guards. In spite of extended ongoing negotiations, the Home Guard was being mobilised and behind-the-scenes discussions reached not only the Governor’s office but went all the way to the White House and Richard Nixon. The retelling of the storming of the prison – and horrific, inhumane reprisals against inmates – highlights how little has changed in this tense and chilling (albeit occasionally repititive) documentary from Traci Curry and Stanley Nelson (Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, Freedom Riders).

Nominated for 2022 best documentary Oscar.

Rating: 68%


Ultimately highlighting the futility of violence, Omar is a Palestinian pressured to collaborate with Israeli authorities – or face a long jail term.

Scaling the dividing wall that cuts through Jerusalem, Omar (Adam Bakri – Slam, Official Secrets) travels from his place of work to see his family and secretly court Nadia (Leem Lubany – Rock the Kasbah, Saint Judy), the sister of best friend Tarek (Eyad Hourani – The Idol, Vanguard). Arrested for participating in an attack that sees an Israeli soldier killed, Omar is given the choice: inform on Tarek or face a lengthy jail term. Released yet under suspicion as an informer, Omar sets out to prove otherwise, resulting in a twisting game of cat and mouse as the authorities under Agent Rami (Waleed Zuaiter – London Has Fallen, The Angel) close in on him.

Directed by Hany Abu-Assad (Paradise Now, The Mountain Between Us), Omar’s true motives and alliances remain hidden as he discovers his betrayal by Amjad (Samer Bisharat – TV’s Fauda, The Looming Tower), thus questioning his personal and political motivations. The result is a finely honed, personal dramatic thriller interwoven with a deeply felt love story.

Nominated for the 2014 best foreign language film Oscar.

Rating: 79% 

‘13 Hours’

Bombastic yet appealling telling of a true story as, with the fall of Ghadafi, Libya freefalls into civil war – and American political and military personnel in Benghazi are targeted by various militia groups.

Jack Silva (John Krasinski – A Quiet Place, Aloha) is the final member of the ex-military contractors at an ‘unmarked’ CIA compound to arrive in Libya – just as tensions and anti-American sentiment reach boiling point. Ther’s no love lost between head of mission, Bob (David Costabile – Lincoln, TV’s Billions) and the team, adding to the tensions in the compound. When US Ambassador Chris Stevens (Matt Letscher – Her, TV’s The Flash) visits, all hell breaks loose as they are attacked by hordes of heavily armed locals. The security team of six need to somehow hold out until help is despatched.

Director Michael Bay (Ambulance, Transformers) typically pumps up the action and takes poetic licence with the unfolding drama but by his standards, 13 Hours is remarkably restrained. The humour and depth of friendship of the security team members help the balance of a harrowing film that could have so easily simply degenerated into gun battle after gun battle (which, in part, it inevitably is).

Nominated for 1 Oscar in 2017 – best sound mixing.

Rating: 65%

‘Avatar: the Way of Water’

Thirteen years in the waiting since Avatar with Jake Sully now living as a Na’vi with his family in the forests of Pandora. But the familial idyll is threatened, forcing them to leave and find protection elsewhere.

Happy family life of Jake (Sam Worthington – Clash of the Titans, Transfusion) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana – The Adam Project, Infinitely Polar Bear) in the forests of Pandora is threatened by the return of a too familiar adversary. Only a cloned Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang – The Independent, The Lost City) and his grunts are in a very different guise. With Jake targetted for revenge, the family leave the forests to protect their people and find a home in the coastal settlements of the webbed Na’vi, led by Tonowari (Cliff Curtis – Doctor Sleep, The Dark Horse) and his initially unwelcoming wife, Ronal (Kate Winslet – Ammonite, The Dressmaker).

Unsurprisingly, Avatar: the Way of Water is a visual feast as James Cameron (Avatar, The Terminator) takes us into the depths of Pandora’s oceans and a gamut of new creatures, friendly or otherwise, and environments fill the screen. But as a narrative, it feels little more than the repeat button has been firmly pressed but with an increase in cuteness as young family members feature. The result is a tedious overlong slog of same, same. It does not bode well for films 3, 4 and 5.

Nominated for 4 Oscars in 2023 including best film, production design, sound – won 1 for best visual effects.

Rating: 57%


A tour de force adventure love story that sees director/writer/producer James Cameron exponentially raise the technical bar once again in this stunning fantasy tale.

Marine grunt Jake Sully (Sam Worthington – Hackshaw Ridge, Cake) and recent paraplegic finds himself in demand on the distant Pandora on the death of his scientist twin brother. Sully shares identical DNA – and under Dr Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver – Alien, Gorillas in the Mist) massive advances in the use of avatars have been made, of which Tom was a crucial team member. The seven foot blue avatars are being used to get to know the native humanoid indigenous Na’vi.

But the planet is under threat from mining interests: Sully is instructed to keep Colonel Miles Quiritch (Stephen Lang – Public Enemies, Conan the Barbarian) in the loop of Augustine’s plans. Torn between orders and protecting the world he feels is his home, as the avatar and able to walk Sully falls for Neytiri (Zoe Saldana – Star Trek, The Guardians of the Galaxy).

Cameron (Titanic, Aliens) transports the viewer to a completely new world of the imagination. Visually stunning, Avatar is a tale of heart and message as corporate greed destroys community, tradition and the order of things. But it’s also a love story celebrating difference and respect of the tradition being destroyed.

Nominated for 9 Oscars in 2010 including best film, director, editing, won 3 – cinematography (Mauro Fiore – Southpaw, The Equalizer), visual effects, art direction. But of course, regardless, it went on to become the most successful film at the international box office in history.

Rating: 88%

‘Umberto D.’

A classic of post-war Italian neorealism, Umberto D is the story of an old man’s struggle to keep from falling from poverty into shame.

Umberto D. Ferrari (Carlo Battisti), a retired government worker, struggles to survive on his meagre pension. Behind on his rent, his landlady threatens to evict him unless he can pay the 15,000 lire owing within the next few days. Selling personal possessions fails to raise the necessary amount. Whilst sympathetic and on friendly terms with Umberto and his beloved dog, Filke, the young maid of the house (Maria-Pia Casilio – Thérèse Raquin, An American in Rome) cannot help him.

In choosing to work with an almost exclusively non-professional cast, director Vittorio De Sica (The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, Bicycle Thieves) achieves an ingrained sense of unadorned authenticity. Mundane simplicity is both dramatic and poetic as Umberto’s despair slowly unfolds.

Nominated for the 1957 best writing Oscar (five years after it was first released in Italy).

Rating: 74%