ATLANTICS

Cert 12 Stars 4

This supernatural romantic drama is set in a suburb of modern day Dakar, the capital of Senegal, this is a subtle and powerful tone poem of love, longing and a great deal of social comment.

It offers deep swells of sadness, greed and corruption, but also joy, justice, hope and a statement of intent.

At it’s heart is a quietly compelling performance by Mame Sane as Ada, a young woman engaged to the wealthy and arrogant Omar, it’s a marriage of not of love but of economic necessity.

Meanwhile she’s been having a sweet, tender and chaste relationship with a lowly construction worker called Soulieman, and they make an attractive young couple, with the Atlantic Ocean forming a backdrop to their romance.

When Soulieman and his fellow workers denied three months wages they set off in a fishing boat for Spain.

This is journey is referred to as ‘going to sea’, and the women left behind recognise they probably won’t be seeing these men again, even if they survive the hazardous crossing. ‘He went to sea’ is almost used as a euphemism for dying.

When all hands are lost at sea Ada and her friends start experiencing supernatural events, and Ada becomes involved in a police investigation about a mysterious fire.

This is the directorial debut of French actress turned filmmaker, Mati Diop, for which she became the first black female director to be in contest the the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival.

It’s filmed in a lyrical and economical style, with the low key naturalistic performances supported by great location work.

A fabulous skyscraper rises from the desert like enormous alien structure or a spaceship, a sign of hubris and western decadence. And as it resonates with the biblical story of the Tower of Babel, the story has the historical resonance of migration such as that of the Irish, which sits alongside the contemporary resonance of the global refugee crisis.

It’s a harsh, dry, windswept landscape of bleak beauty, sitting next to the angry Atlantic Ocean, whose crashing waves form part of an eerie haunting soundscape, mixed with impromptu songs of the labourers and chanted wedding hymns.

Filmed with sympathy and understanding from a local point of view, and we see the poverty, massive inequality, misogyny, there’s little crime or violence. Nor is there self-pity or the voicing of political arguments, and any anger is mostly reserved for the bosses.

This wasn’t a film that hugely gripped me while watching it, but I respected its hypnotic rhythms and I kept thinking about it for some time afterwards, with certain passages echoing and repeating in the manner of poetry.

It finishes with a call to arms which says the future belongs to the women of Africa, a bold defiant provocative statement and not one often heard in Hollywood.

CHARLIE’S ANGELS (2019)

Cert 12A Stars 3

There’s a lot to enjoy in this glossy,  glamorous and goofy action comedy, which  reboots and updates the fondly remembered TV detective show and the Cameron Diaz films of twenty years ago for the kick ass 21st century.

The strong, sexy and smart new team are played by former Twilight star, Kristen Stewart, who’s aided by two Brits, Aladdin’s Princess Jasmine, Naomi Scott, and the upcoming Ella Balinska.

As secret agents working for the now global Townsend Agency, they’re tasked with hunting down assassins who’ve stolen a device which will revolutionise the power industry.

Elusive mastermind Charlie is represented by a multitude of Boseleys, which is a rank not a name, the most important one being played by the busy writer and director, Elizabeth Banks.

Despite being a celebration of equality and independence, it also embraces its 1970’s DNA with a cameo from one of the original angels, and a not so secret base which resembles the military wing of the Playboy mansion.

THE TWO POPES

Cert12A Stars 4

You don’t have to be a strict Catholic or even the least bit religious to enjoy this respectful and surprisingly sprightly biographical drama of redemption, friendship and totalitarian regimes.

As Pope Benedict XVI and the future Pope Francis, Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce go head to head in an acting masterclass and keep us enthralled in a drama which is basically two very old white guys talking in a room.

Mind you, that room is the gloriously decorated Sistine chapel in the Vatican. And what begins as a dressing down slowly evolves into a measuring up of each other.

What they have in common is accusations of being colluding with totalitarian states. One is called a Nazi by people in the street, the other a is considered a collaborator with the 1970s Argentine Military junta, with both at separate times suffering a crisis of faith.

This is a hopeful and optimistic journey of penitence and reconciliation, and I say amen to that.

KNIVES OUT

Cert 12A Stars 4

James Bond does Agatha Christie in this highly polished whodunnit murder mystery of delicious, deceptive and devious fun, which sees an all-star cast investigated for murder in a gothic country mansion.

Let loose from the acting straitjacket of playing super spy 007, Daniel Craig gives a hugely entertaining and theatrical performance as a famous private detective.

Armed with nothing more than a large cigar and a name as over the top as his strong US drawl, Benoit Blanc is famed as the ‘the last of the gentleman sleuths’, but there’s more than a hint Blanc isn’t quite the figure of his reputation.

He’s been hired by a mystery employer to help the local police establish whether foul play in the apparent suicide of a wealthy and famous author, played by the typically brilliant Christopher Plummer.

There’s no shortage of suspects or motives among his grasping, unreliable and dishonest relatives who gather to hear the reading of his will, and are played with appropriate self-interest by accomplished veterans such as Jamie Lee Curtis and Don Johnson.

Also out of his usual screen uniform is Chris ‘Captain America’ Evans, who swaps his spandex for comfy knitwear as the arrogant foulmouthed black sheep of the family.

Ana de Armas is also in the frame as Marta, the former nurse to the deceased, a character which allows the film to explore the relationship between the US and it’s Central and South American neighbours.

It’s another great performance from Armas who re-teams with Craig in April next year the 007 adventure, No Time To Die.

Written by director Rian Johnson, it’s an impressive switch in direction after last year’s Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, and his inventive high school noir thriller, Brick.

Toying with our expectations and generally twisting the rules, Knives Out smartly undermines the myth of the all-knowing detective, and like all great mysteries it keeps you guessing right until the end.

 

THE NIGHTINGALE

Cert 18 Stars 4

Easily the most cruel and harrowing experience of the year, this period Tasmanian revenge western is a bloodily violent condemnation of colonialism.

When an Irish convict hires an aborigine guide to take her across the wilderness so she can exact retribution on the British soldiers who casually murdered her family, their abrasive relationship finds common ground in a love of folk songs and a hatred of the English.

Aisling Franciosi gives an extraordinary performance in of trauma, anger and determination as Clare, balanced by the doleful humour of Baykali Ganambarr as Billy.

Meanwhile Sam Claflin’s murderous lieutenant is a magnificently evil combination of ambition, cunning and callousness, whose cross-country trek of rape and murder is a brutal microcosm of the British empire at its worst.

Crafted with a lyrical and furious integrity and economical purpose, it demonstrates director Jennifer ‘The Babadook’ Kent is one the foremost Australian talents with the potential to sit alongside Peter ‘Gallipoli’ Weir and George ‘Mad Max’ Miller.

LITTLE WOMEN (2019)

Cert U Stars 5

This joyous, moving and funny adaptation of the much loved literary classic bursts with wit, warmth, beauty and intelligence – and has a cast to match.

You don’t need to have read the book or seen one of the many previous cinema or TV versions to enjoy this one, as it’s thoroughly accessible, fresh and modern in its attitude, while being faithful and handsome in its period setting.

A sparkling coming-of-age period drama which explores the lives of the March sisters in the aftermath of the US Civil War, a fabulous cast sees Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Eliza Scanlen and Florence Pugh as the sisters, whose rapport rings remarkably true.

I’ve four sisters and have never before seen on screen a more honest and accurate depiction of sisterly love, camaraderie, rivalry and affection, while also maintaining their very distinct personalities.

Plus there’s wonderful support from Laura Dern as their mother, Meryl Streep as their Aunt, and the teen pin up, Timothee Chalamet as the local love interest and heir to a large fortune.

The casting is eye-opening considering how revered the novel is held in the US. Of the four sisters Ronan is Irish-American, Watson and Pugh are of course English, while Scanlen is Australian.

I don’t believe this reflects badly on American talent, but instead is a huge vote of confidence in the rest of the world, especially us Brits.

Ronan is very much the first among equals as the second sibling, she’s a consummate actress who’s incapable of a poor performance, and is exceptional here. While Scanlen is very affecting as the youngest and most timid and musical of the family.

Watson is the eldest sister and playing a mother is an interesting development in the career of the former Harry Potter star.

However it’s Pugh who gets the best lines and makes the absolute most of them without ever showboating. As the third sister, she has very clear eye for the economic and legal implications marriage has for women, which she points out to the audience in no uncertain terms.

Chamalet is great in a role where he is often required to  be unlikeable but is still able to generate a couple of big laughs.

Dern is soulful and quietly warm, wise and wonderful, and Streep as a wealthy widow and family authority is an imperious match even Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey might baulk from taking on.

It’s at least the fourth cinema version to sit alongside various TV films and mini-series of Louisa May Alcott’s famous 1868 semi-autobiographical novel.

Written and directed by Greta Gerwig with great authority, confidence and panache, this is a triumph which consolidates her position in the top rank of contemporary filmmakers.

While using her great cast to entertain us and the grand houses of the era to dazzle us, Gerwig deftly explores the ideas in the book which are still sadly relevant today, such as access to education, impulse buying, and glass ceilings in the workplace.

As such this is very much a companion piece to Gerwig’s 2017 directorial debut, Lady Bird, which also starred Saoirse Ronan. The actress earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her trouble, which was one of five Oscar nods the film received, which included a Best Director nod for Gerwig.

For now it should be Oscar nominations all round, not just for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress for Ronan, but Streep, Dern and Pugh all deserve a Supporting actress nomination, and Chalamet may sneak in a Best Supporting actor nod. And the casting agent definitely deserves some kind of award.

Plus the production design, costumes, editing and cinematography are all worthy of recognition. Little Women is full of massive talent and they deserves to rule the Hollywood roost.

THEM THAT FOLLOW

Cert 15 Stars 2

Rattlesnakes, guns and god are a poisonous mix in this soggy and leaden drama which is optimistically described as a thriller, but it lacks the necessary tension to keep us entertained.

In an Appalachian mountain redneck community the daughter of a local pastor is torn between marrying a suitor with a strong faith, or running away with the godless man she loves, a situation complicated by her secret pregnancy.

A great cast includes Brit Oscar queen Olivia Colman, regular Hollywood villain Walton Goggins, and upcoming star Alice Englert, who all give strong performances, but they’re weighed down by a pious script which seems to consider smiling, humour or levity to be a sin.

Plus there’s a lack of melodrama which would have made it more compelling, the pace is slow, the tone is one-note, and the film demands our sympathy for the characters without giving us any reason to like them.