‘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%

‘Heartbreak High’

A reboot of the immensely popular 1990s Australian TV series, Heartbreak High follows a group of Gen Z students navigating love, sex, friendship and life in general whilst attending the same Sydney school.

It’s a fluid, light melting pot of a tale of sex and sexuality, gender and cultural identity, race and disability flowing side by side with the understanding of friendship, love and loyalty. As Year 11 starts, best friends from pre-school Amarie (Ayesha Madon) and Harper (Asher Yasbincek) have had a serious falling-out. Amarie has no idea why and Harper refuses to talk to her. The situation is further compounded by the discovery of the huge ‘love map’ and the interconnected sexual exploits of the Year 11 students. The authors are Amarie and Harper – with Amarie choosing to carry the blame alone.

As with the love map, over its eight episodes, Heartbreak High follows those interconnected relationships between the students. Adults are generally secondary as friendships and attractions shift, love wanes, dynamics change. Social commentary is ever present but the series avoids agit prop, presenting ‘as is’ the gender fluid Darren (the immensely likeable James Majoos), the autistic Quinni (Chloe Hayden), the indigenous new boy, Malakai (Thomas Weatherall).

An Australian Sex Education, Heartbreak High is readily enjoyable that is likely to grow in terms of depth of characterisation should a second series (deservedly) be commissioned. Not everything works – the presentation of the school Principal, Woodsy (Rachel House) is mind-bogglingly bad – but, as seen principally from the perspective of Amarie, the gentle humour in complex situations results in an immensely accessible eight part series.

Rating: 68%


Without question, Ghostbusters is one of the least comedic comedies around, a poor choice all-female remake of the classic 1980s Bill Murray starrer (which itself was not that funny).

Serious physicist Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig – Bridesmaids, Wonder Woman 1984) loses her university tenure and finds herself collaborating with old mate Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy – Bridesmaids, Spy) in the paranormal and the ghost invasion of New York. Teaming up with subway worker Patty (Leslie Jones – Coming 2 America, TV’s Saturday Night Live) and nuclear engineer Jillian (Kate McKinnon – Bombshell, TV’s Saturday Night Live) with her increasingly bizarre weaponry, the intreprid four set out to rid the city of the ghoulish threat.

Unfunny scenarios and misfiring jokes, with even the subversive hiring of the male dumb blonde eye candy, Kevin (Chris Hemsworth – Rush, Thor) quickly falling flat, results in a Ghostbusters as directed by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, A Simple Favour) full of noise and chaos but with neither spirit nor thrills.

Rating: 30%

‘Nightmare Alley’

With its tonally limited palette and celebration of 1930s Art Deco juxtaposed with Depression-era poverty, Nightmare Alley is a visually sumptuous feast. Sadly, a strangely vacuous narrative with emotionally inert characterisation ensures that feast is pure artifice.

A miscast Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born, Joy) as Stanton Carlisle picks up work at a travelling carnival. Picking up the tricks of a clairvoyance act, he strikes out, heading off to New York with Molly (Rooney Mara – Carol, A Ghost Story), where success soon comes their way. Clashing with audience member Dr Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett – Don’t Look Up, Carol) one night, Carlisle finds himself involved in a game of deadly fraud.

A comment on the human condition, director Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water) pays homage to a scheming neo-noir in his adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 novel. Typical of his work, it’s a dark hybrid of fantasy, horror, gothic and noir. Atypically, it’s hollow, a deadend misfire.

Nominated for 4 Oscars in 2022 including best film, production design & costume design.

Rating: 46%

‘A Star is Born’ (1954)

With Judy Garland at her peak, the first remake of the non-musical 1937 tearjerker is the seminal version of the price of success and fame, Hollywood-style.

With his successful career on the cusp, Norman Maine (James Mason – Odd Man Out, North By Northwest) helps make Vicki Lester (Judy Garland – Meet Me at St Louis, The Wizard of Oz) a star. But in spite of their marriage, alcoholism contributes to Maine’s self-destruction.

With some glorious song and dance routines, A Star Is Born packs more than just the emotional punch of Maine’s decline and the desparation of his wife. Director George Cukor (My Fair Lady, The Philadelphia Story), with a 176 minute running time, draws out the narrative to excess but there’s no denying its good old fashioned entertainment value.

Nominated for 6 Oscars in 1955 including best actor, actress and musical score.

Rating: 70%

‘The Lion King’

There’s a lot of angry naysayers out there to this 2019 digital remake of the earlier, traditionally animated The Lion King. Not having seen the original, no comparison can be made.

In a battle for supremacy within the pride between brothers Musafa (James Earl Jones) and Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the young Simba, the rightful heir, finds himself outcast on the murder of his father, the much-loved Musafa. Making a pact with hyenas, Scar now controls the pride and the kingdom. A growing Simba (Danny Glover), meanwhile, learns the true meaning of responsibility and humility.

The special effects are quite extraordinary in the rendition of the animal kingdom and the telling of its story. The music and voices have mostly been changed, a welcome move away from the whitewashing of an African-set narrative (James Earl Jones does return as Musafa). Yet whilst the Jon Favreau (The Jungle Book, Iron Man) directed version is technically perfect with humour aplenty provided by warthog Pumbaa (Seth Rogan) and meerkat, Timon (Billy Eichner), there is a strange lack of emotional connection.

Nominated for the 2020 best visual effects Oscar.

Rating: 58%

‘Dinner For Schmucks’

Laughter at the expense of others is the foundation of director Jay Roach’s 2010 feature. An indication of what to expect is provided by a director’s resume that includes both Austin Powers and Meet the Parents/Fockers.

Ribald humour, a little slapstick, many misunderstood moments and eventual atonement is thrown into one very large pot as ambitious executive Paul Rudd (Ant-Man, The Fundamentals of Caring) looks to gain promotion to the eighth floor. Only to achieve that, he must win the dinner for schmucks award. To achieve that, he must attend a dinner with the biggest idiot as his guest. Not something the well-mannered Rudd would contemplate. But he wants his partner of three years (Stephanie Szostak – The Devil Wears Prada, We Bought a Zoo), herself an ambitious gallery manager and curator, to say yes to his proposal of marriage. Then along comes Steve Carrell (Foxtrot, The 40 Year-Old Virgin)….

An adaptation of the original Francis Verber French farce Le diner de cons, the Amercian version Dinner For Schmucks is, at times, genuinely funny. But it’s about moments – the premise of the narrative itself is questionable. Whereas the original looked at the ability to laugh at oneself, this looks at naked ambitiion, its consequences alongside pretentiousness and ridiculousness of others (although Octavia Spencer’s moment as a guest is priceless).

Rating: 50%

‘Tomb Raider’

A complete load of twaddle. Not sure why the need was felt to reboot the Lara Croft adventures orginally brought to the screen by Angelina Jolie back in 2000 – other than financial. But a better narrative with a stronger, more convincing lead than Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl, Ex-machina) would have helped.

With Lara’s adventurer father (Dominic West – Testament of Youth, Pride) missing presumed dead, his life work lies dormant. But when Lara discovers clues as to his possible last sighting, she ignores all instructions and heads for a fabled tomb on a mythical island somewhere off the coast of Japan. But she’s not alone in looking for the tomb.

Director Roar Uthaug (The Wave, Escape) ebbs and flows with the action – and the first ten or so minutes with Lara independently surviving in London as a bicycle courier draws you into the storyline. But that’s about it as the reboot of a video game-turned-into-a-feature film again fails to ignite.

Rating: 34%

Best of Year (2018 – female Performance)

This particular list of five was much harder to draw up than the male performance category, with a number of performances vying to feature in the five.

Rachel Weisz gave two powerful performances in The Favourite and Disobedience (she may well find herself nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar nomination) and relative newcomer Jessie Buckley was fabulous in the little seen UK indie film, Beast. The youngest on the almost list is seven year-old Brooklyn Prince, who was a sensation in The Florida Project and the oldest is Glenn Close for The Wife – a performance that many are tipping for Oscar glory.

In previous years, non-English speaking roles have topped my list – but for 2018 there are none in the top five – Daniela Vega (A Fantastic Woman) and Diane Kruger (In the Fade) were the closest, both featuring in the top 10.

So after long deliberation, my top five female performances for 2018 are:
5: Charlize Theron: Tully
4: Melissa McCarthy: Can You Ever Forgive Me?
3: Lady Gaga: A Star is Born
2: Frances McDormand: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
1: Olivia Colman: The Favourite

Charlize Theron was certainly helped by having Mackenzie Davis to play off against but with a script from back-to-form Diablo Cody (Juno, Young Adult) and subtle direction from Jason Reitman, the quirky humour of Tully was perfect material for Theron to shine.

As literary fraudster Lee Israel, Melissa McCarthy turned in a perfectly dowdy, deadpan performance that is completely against the grain for this larger than life comedic actress – and she nailed it.

It’s one of the behemoths of the year, a critical darling and yet somehow missed out on numerous Golden Globe awards – including Gaga losing to Glenn Close. Gaga is very, very good – but just occasionally I wanted her not to be so Gaga on screen.

Foul-mouthed Frances McDormand was pitch perfect in one of my favourite films of the year – and understandably picked up last year’s best actress Oscar. But she was pipped to the top of the pile by –

Olivia Colman, a British character actress who, quite bluntly, is magnificent as the English Queen Anne in The Favourite, a dark, ribald, period-piece entertainment.

‘A Star Is Born’

a star is bornAfter a magnificent opening 20 minutes or so as troubled rock star Bradley Cooper (American Sniper, Silver Linings Playbook) meets the big-voiced Lady Gaga, A Star is Born settles into a slow, episodic unfolding of its narrative.

Gaga’s meteoric rise into a Grammy-award winning Britney Spears-like pop star is juxtaposed with Cooper’s demise into drug and alcohol addiction. It’s his struggle that is the real focus of Cooper’s directorial debut – in spite of the fact Lady Gaga is a revelation in her first leading role.

A solid remake/adaptation of the 1954 classic starring James Mason and Judy Garland, with some fabulous tunes from both leads, A Star Is Born is nevertheless disappointing considering the hype that surrounds it.

Nominated for 8 Oscars in 2019 (including best film, actor, actress, adapted screenplay), won 1 – best song.

Rating: 64%