Cert 12A Stars 3

My tolerance for off-beat and quirky was severely tested by this ambling crime comedy drama, which is a shame as it has a huge heart, a lot to say about relationships, some nice physical humour and strong performances from a cast wholly committed to fleshing out the filmmaker’s vision of the world.

With a steely yet compassionate eye, writer and director Miranda July explores the dynamics of abusive relationships and how the commercialisation of family life stunts emotional growth and empathy.

Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger play impoverished Californian thieves and conspiracy theorists living off the grid, and parents to a socially awkward adult daughter, who has the teeth-grindingly annoying name of Old Dolio.

Despite this hindrance, Evan Rachel Wood throws herself into her role as the plaintive young woman who has begun to question her lifestyle even before the family hook up with a new partner in crime while carrying out an insurance swindle.

Gina Rodriguez is an agreeably upbeat presence who accelerates Old Dolio’s personal growth, a process which puts her at odds with her parents.


Cert 15 Stars 3

Thwarted romance, family dysfunction and mental illness are thrown together in this odd drama which is an inventive and original blend of mystery thriller, kitchen sink drama and suburban horror.

Sally Hawkins is one of Britain’s most accomplished actresses whose range has seen her play Mrs Brown in the delightful Paddington films, a gangster’s moll in Brit thriller, Layer Cake, and Oscar nominated as a mute cleaner who falls in love with a man-fish creature in The Shape of Water.

As a jilted bride called Jane living on a bleak South Wales council estate, Hawkins is a sympathetic and confused soul suffering from depression and struggling with her family played by Billie Piper and Penelope Wilton, while David Thewlis appears a failed musician.

Writer and director Craig Roberts underlines his quirky sense of humour with a strong visual style, and handles the transitions between tones with assurance while offering us a bleak and melancholy portrait of Britain, full of grey skies, grief and infidelity.

It’s a curious and unsettling exploration of loneliness which questions whether being mad is a more satisfying way of coping with the world than sanity.


Cert 15 Stars 4

This accomplished debut comedy drama sees playwright Radha Blank direct and star as a fictionalised version of herself who responds to her impending fortieth birthday by reinventing herself as a rapper.

Unafraid to put her personal insecurities front and centre, Blank employs a traditional narrative structure to explore the female African American experience while gleefully mocking the self-important inhabitants of New York’s theatreland and exposing their prejudice and exploitative behaviour.

Filmed on location the grainy black and white photography and handheld camerawork creates intimacy and gives Blank’s lightly plotted tale a coarse edge to match her excellent sense of humour.


Cert 15 Stars 3

Based on the story of Asta Philpot, who was featured in a 2007 BBC documentary, this frank and funny real life road trip comedy-drama sees sex and disability go hand in hand as a squabbling trio of young men with disabilities attempt to lose their virginity by travelling to a Canadian brothel called the Chateau Paradise, whose motto gives the film its name.

An act of rebellion against their restrictive home life, their quest for sexual gratification becomes a bid for personal freedom, and although it takes an increasingly sentimental turn, stars Hayden Szeto, Ravi Patel and Grant Rosenmeyer are always entertaining.


Cert 12A Stars 4

Seth Rogen doubles up in this smart and satirical generational culture clash comedy drama, and the star of comedies such as Long Shot and Bad Neighbours puts his wide range to great use playing opposite himself as a violent yet dignified ditch-digger Herschel, and his great-grandson, an ineffectual and conniving computer programmer called Ben.

In 1920’s New York immigrant Herschel falls into a vat of pickle and is perfectly preserved for 100 years, not ageing a day.

Emerging in present-day Brooklyn, the success of the entrepreneurial Herschel’s market stall is threatened when his old fashioned values are aired on social media.

Simon Rich’s script satirises hipsters and their quest for authentic experiences, mocks the exploitative and contradictory notion of ethical online apps, and has pops at corporate food waste, the US treatment of immigrants and the lack of faith and family in modern life.

It’s the sort of quirky, inventive and heartfelt movie the Coen Brothers used to make before they won the Best film and directing Oscars for No Country For Old Men, and promptly forgot for a decade how to be funny.


Cert 15 Stars 3

It’s sex, drag and rock and roll in this sentimental and predictable culture clash comedy which challenges ideas of what it takes to be a real man in the modern world.

Australian veteran actress Jackie Weaver stars as Maybelline, a gun-toting straight-talking christian choir mistress from Texas, who having been estranged from her gay son unexpectedly inherits his failing drag bar.

She surprises herself – but not us watching – when to the horror of her closed-minded husband and friends she decides to save the place by running it herself.

Maybelline is unperturbed by the hard partying thrust upon her by the bitchy cross-dressing divas or their ribald humour and risque outfits, probably because this is a fairly tame affair which never comes close to stealing Kathleen Turner’s crown as the queen of on-screen drag acts, whose sequined and feather-boa’d stage act on TV’s Friends, this owes a debt.

With a message of love and tolerance Stage Mother is content to be a love letter to the free-thinking attitudes and beauty of San Francisco, and a celebration re-inventing yourself no matter your age.


Cert 15 Stars 3

Having previously directed Knocked Up, and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Judd Apatow is on familiar ground with this over-long and indulgent slacker comedy drama which sees his self-penned script elevated by the quality it’s performances, not least by a terrific central performance by Pete Davidson, a regular on US TV’s Saturday Night Live comedy show, not the former Dr Who.

He plays Scott, a 24 year old failed tattoo artist from New York’s Staten Island, the poor relation to Manhattan and Brooklyn, and at first glance he appears to be the latest in a long line of Apatow’s self-pitying man-babies, with his only virtue being his friends are more stupid and unprepossessing than he is. However Davison is a charismatic presence who remains combative as he’s graced with a growing sense of self-awareness.

This is inspired by Brit actress Bel Powley as his sparky and ambitious girlfriend, and by Marisa Tomei who brings heart to the role of his widowed mother. Together they managed to charm away my scepticism.


Cert 12 Stars 3

Simon Bird is best known for playing hapless Will in TV’s The Inbetweeners, and he doesn’t stray a million miles from familiar territory in his directorial feature debut, a gentle coming of age comedy drama set in an anonymous English suburb,

Adapted Joff Winterhart’s 2012 graphic novel, it’s a sensitive and generous portrait of lower middle-class middle-aged single-motherhood, and Bird cajoles lovely performances from Monica Dolan as mousy librarian Sue, and as Earl Cave as her 15-year-old metalhead son, Daniel.

With the pair on the cusp of independence and trying to work out what their futures hold, this is an affectionate and nicely observed character piece about self esteem and identity, with low-key dramatic scenes such as experimenting with new-age nonsense, a poorly dog, and a band audition.

Bird achieves his modest ambitions with a pleasant and nicely crafted minimum of fuss, aided by Tamsin Greig and Rob Brydon in the cast, and accompanied by the winsome and twee tunes of indie-folk band Belle and Sebastian writing the soundtrack.


Cert 12 Stars 4

Controversial director Woody Allen delivers the latest in a long line of his deft comedy dramas which frequently feels like a self-aware and whistle-stop tour of his own lengthy career.

Once again he takes pleasure in briskly laying bare the hypocritical rotten heart of upper-middle class Manhattan society where commerce rubs up against art and both are aphrodisiacs.There are some wonderfully dry and acerbic one-liners accompanied by the timeless ballads of Irving Berlin and moments of comic farce.

Allen’s self-penned script sees a scheming student taking his naive, wealthy and aspiring journalist girlfriend to the Big Apple for a romantic weekend, but he risks being cuckold when she takes time out to interview a famous yet insecure movie director with a shady reputation.

Previously in Allen’s films we’ve seen actors such as John Cusack and Jesse Eisenberg play the typical ‘Woody Allen’ figure, here Timothee Chalamet is excellent as Allen’s stand-in nerd who finds ‘hostility and paranoia exhilarating’, and provides a voice-over with Allen’s trademark stammer.

Also giving excellent performances are a gauche and gushing Elle Fanning and a nicely sardonic Selena Gomez.

With his frothy tone barely attempting to disguise the acid asides in his script, Allen is in a combative and provocative mood. With several of the male characters involved in the disreputable film world, it feels as if Allen is parading various himself before us at various points in his career and daring us to judge him.

He merrily explores the relationship between journalism and movies which he sees as parasitic and he’s unsurprisingly disdainful of how the media twist and distort private relationships. Plus in eye-opening fashion he presents a relationship between a guy and the younger sister of his former love as the epitome of romance.

If you’re not a fan of Allen’s films then this won’t change your mind, but if you are then there’s a great deal here to explore and enjoy.


Cert 12A Stars 3

Feminists rock the Royal Albert Hall in this disappointingly tame and light-hearted account of the controversial true events of the 1970 Miss World beauty contest final, a competition with a then bigger global TV audience than the Moon landing or the World Cup.

There’s some great British on show, as Keira Knightley and Jessie Buckley lead the charge as activists disrupting the show with rattles, flour bombs and water pistols.

Knightley is engaging and earnest as always, and well cast as the posh single mother and mature student who’s drawn into the world of activism after being belittled in academia.

When she meets a sneering commune dweller, she becomes a key player in sadly the least interesting and convincing performance by the usually brilliant Buckley.

Sympathy is given to the thinly sketched contestants who see the substantial cash prize as the means to a better life, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw offers dignity as the eventual winner Miss Grenada.

Her best moment is when she points out to Knightley how the struggles of white western women are very different in scope  to those of black African women, but generally she struggles with the weak script along with everyone else.

Rhys Ifans gives a clownish turn as impresario, Eric Morley, and  Greg Kinnear gives an listless and unflattering portrait of showbiz legend and host, Bob Hope.

Billed as a comedy-drama but less than compelling on either front, its refusal to portray any sleazy or predatory behaviour – Bob Hope aside – lessens the dramatic impact, which undersells the women’s achievement in garnering global publicity and kickstarting the feminist movement in the public consciousness.

And always pulling its punches, it barely hints at any possible influence the Prime Minister of Grenada may have exercised on the contest as a member of the judging panel.

Despite its best intentions Misbehaviour is as unthinking a celebration of sisterhood as the contest itself.

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