‘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%

‘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%

‘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%

‘Denial’

denial_movie_poster_p_2016Solid performances from Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener, The Mummy) and Timothy Spall (Turner, Harry Potter) and a script by pre-eminent British playwright David Hare make Denial a worthy but wordy treatment of a true court case.

Historian and renowned denier David Irving sues American academic Deborah E Lipstadt for libel – and by doing so forces her to prove that the Holocaust took place.

Director Mick Jackson (The Bodyguard, Volcano), with somewhat pedestrian treatment, deflates what was incendiary headlines in the UK (and the rest of the world) back in 1996.

 Rating: 55%

‘T2: Trainspotting’

Trainspotting2_TSR_A4posterImmensely entertaining sequel – 20 years in the waiting – to the iconic Trainspotting.

Renton (Ewan McGregor – Star Wars, Moulin Rouge) is back having nicked £16,000 drugs money from his best mates at the end of the original. Sickboy (Jonny Lee Miller – TV’s Elementary) and Ewen Bremner (Snowpiercer, Exodus) are angry – but get over it. But not Begbie (Robert Carlyle – The Full Monty, 28 Weeks Later). Unfortunately for Renton, the psychotic killer has a long memory – and just happens to have escaped from prison.

Stylish, thrilling, funny, sad, with director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) returning to the highs and lows of the first, injecting an inevitable maturity but without, sensibly, trying to compete or emulate that earlier achievement.

Rating: 75%

Who’s going to win? Oscar thoughts.

academy_award_trophyWith the Oscars dished out this coming weekend, and, having seen all nine features up for best film, thought a little personal ruminating would not go amiss (there’s enough of others out there).

Naturally, it’s a personal take on those nine films. Some I do not think should even be on the list; others are noticeable by their absence (Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals in particular). But of those nine, my choice for best film falls unequivocally for Moonlight.

The Golden Globes got it right when the Hollywood Foreign Press Association voted it best film – drama. The two separate categories for best film – drama and comedy/musical – certainly helped the Barry Jenkins-helmed feature avoid competing against the critical behemoth that is La La Land. But it’s the better film (personally speaking). Resonant, poignant, performed by an ensemble cast with quiet dignity, it’s a quite extraordinary film.

La La Land, the odds-on favourite to win a swag of Oscars including best film, fell into that ‘it’s good but not that good’ category for me – and is only fifth of the nine on my list. But in its celebration of LA and Hollywoodland (and a quite haunting soundtrack), it will probably win the big one (at least).

Any other year, the indescribably sad Manchester by the Sea would have likely topped my favourite of the year. Like Moonlight, it’s another quiet drama with superb performances from all and sundry, although in her few scenes Michelle Williams is devastating (as is Casey Affleck).

It’s hardly original – and we’ve seen Jeff Bridges play laconic lawmen for what seem forever (partly because he’s so good at it!) – but Hell Or High Water is a particularly fine example of its genre but unlikely to cause any surprises (it’s a film that appears to be constantly finding itself second or third in all its categories).

Lion surprised me by the respect it gave to the early part of its narrative – almost half its running time is set in a subtitled India. It’s a true story very well told and it was good to see Dev Patel gain recognition at the BAFTAS for his performance (it would be a major surprise if he repeated the feat and picked up Best Supporting Actor over Mahershala Ali in Moonlight).

The rest of the nine films are likely to be also rans, although Fences is a powerhouse in terms of acting. August Wilson’s film betrays too much of its theatrical roots to be truly convincing as a feature film. Arrival is an intelligent sci-fi but, like Hell or High Water, features high on lists of five or ten without topping any of them. Hackshaw Ridge surprised by finding itself in the running for best film. Highlight of Mel Gibson’ war film is the superb editing and cinematography (sadly no recognition for Simon Duggan in the latter category). And then there’s Hidden Figures which was a great true story disappointingly told.

So I’d love it if Moonlight took home the best film award but it’s hard to see it beating out La La Land.

Personal ratings of the films nominated for the best film Oscar

Moonlight (91%)
Manchester by the Sea (88%)
Hell or High Water (80%)
Lion (75%)
La La Land (73%)
Fences (69%)
Arrival (67%)
Hackshaw Ridge (63%)
Hidden Figures (57%)

‘Lion’

lion-movie-poster-504x709A superior piece of (based-on-truth) storytelling, Lion avoids overly mawkish sentimentality as adopted 20-something Saroo Brierley searches for his birth mother somewhere in India.

Separated from his family as a young boy, Saroo finds himself in the Tasmanian home of Sue and John Brierley via an orphanage in Calcutta (a fine, Oscar-nominated performance from Nicole Kidman – The Others, Rabbit Hole). But as a young adult, Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) needs closure.

With an immensely  respectful and immersive telling of the early stages of the story (some 40 subtitled minutes with 5 year old Saroo), director Garth Davis, in his feature film debut, builds the emotional arc beautifully as the notion of family, identity and home are explored in this thoroughly engrossing film.

Rating: 75%

‘Assassin’s Creed’

asscreedinternationalHaving extremely low expectations meant that this was not as bad as anticipated! Don’t get me wrong, it’s still bad, wasting the talent on offer, from young Australian director Justin Kurzel (MacBeth, Snowtown) through to Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard (MacBeth, La vie en rose) and Oscar-nominee Michael Fassbender (MacBeth, Steve Jobs).

An adaptation of a best-selling video game, Assassin’s Creed‘s saving grace is the visually arresting set pieces as we move between 15th century Spanish Inquisition and modern day. But even they wear thin.

Rating: 34%