Cert 15 Stars 3

An excellent cast fails to inject energy into this studiously low-key drama crafted with painful sincerity and respect for sufferers and carers of mental illness.

One time Bond villain Javier Bardem stars as a near catatonic patient who’s experiencing visions of alternative lives he could have lived, with Elle Fanning, Salma Hayek and Laura Linney offering degrees of compassion as the women in his life.

It’s written and directed by Brit Sally Potter who includes some far from subtle political commentary and explores ideas of identity, memory and history previously touched upon in her 1992 arthouse hit, Orlando.

REBECCA (2020)

Cert 12A Stars 4

Secrets, snobbery and sexual intrigue make for an extremely enjoyable watch in this sumptuous and sly adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s mystery novel, famously filmed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1940.

Lily James and Armie Hammer take the roles previously played by Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier, as an inexperienced young woman and an aristocratic widower, whose whirlwind fairytale romance in the south of France turns into a nightmare once they’re married and living in his English ancestral home of Manderley, where the new Mrs. de Winter is haunted by the memory and reputation of her husband’s late wife.

Manderley is a gothic pile and run by the evil step-mother-like presence of housekeeper Mrs Danvers, a frighteningly acid turn from Kristin Scott Thomas.

This is very much a change of pace and scale for Brit director Ben Wheatley who’s previously made low budget thrillers Kill List and Down Terrace, and should be applauded for refusing to be cowed by the ghost of Hitchcock.

Where the master of suspense suffocated his version in mesmerising black and white, Wheatley drowns the screen in gorgeous colour.

Monte Carlo dazzles in white and gold, Manderley has gorgeous textured interiors, the English coastline is glorious and a devilish red dress arrests our attention at a glamorous costume ball.

Casting the super talented Lily James allows Wheatley to use the star of Disney’s live action Cinderella to comment on the myth of happy ever after, while also paying homage to Hitchcock’s habit of terrorising elegant blondes.

As Mrs. de Winter is isolated, manipulated and humiliated by the household staff, and her older husband neglects her while obsessing over his former love, Wheatley draws parallels with Princess Diana and suggests the late royal would also qualify as a ‘Hitchcock blonde’.

Unlike Hitchcock’s masterpiece I doubt this will win the Best Picture Oscar, but it’s hugely accomplished and will make for a fascinating comparison with the upcoming series of TV’s The Crown.


Cert 15 Stars 3

Ben Affleck stars in this redemptive sports drama as an alcoholic construction worker called Jack who’s persuaded by his former high school to coach its basketball team.

I’m a big fan of the former Batman who’s famously had his own struggles with the bottle, and though it’s unwise to read too much biography into the film, there’s an emotional honesty and intensity to his performance which elevates this otherwise straightforward affair.

Melvin Gregg and Brandon Wilson are great as key players on the team, and there’s strong support from Michaela Watkins who struggles to keep Jack on the wagon.


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 12 Stars 3

Uzo Aduba anchors this real life feel good drama with a formidable and heartfelt sincerity as Virginia Walden, a struggling single mother whose tireless campaign to change the US educational system takes her all the way to Congress, where Matthew Modine thoroughly enjoys himself as a rascally politician who helps her navigate Washington DC’s corridors of power.

There’s no doubting the film’s sincerity in its focus on inspirational can-do community spirit, but Virginia’s battles never seem insurmountable and it’s left to the gospel influenced soundtrack to do the emotional heavy lifting in what feels like a superior made-for-TV movie.


Cert 15 Stars 5

One of the most shameful trials in US history is brought to vivid life by a top drawer cast, cracking production values and a dynamite script in this tremendously entertaining, timely and intense courtroom drama, set in 1969 against a background of civil unrest and Vietnam War protest.

The Chicago Seven were a combative group of combative egos charged with conspiring to incite the riots which had erupted outside the Democratic Party convention the previous summer.

Among the accused are Brit actors playing to their strengths, with Borat star Sacha Baron Cohen providing a lot of sharp-edged humour, while Eddie Redmayne gives an anguished performance which suggests being self-serving, spineless and condescending comes easily to the posh actor.

President Nixon’s newly appointed administration is intent on making an example of the defendants and are seeking the maximum sentence of 10 years in jail apiece, and proceedings are marked by dirty tricks including jury tampering, police officers lying under oath, and a judge unfit for purpose.

The use of TV footage from the time to lend authenticity to flashbacks, plus with the racism, sexual assault, bloody violence and willingness of the executive to exploit the law to pursue a political agenda, it’s impossible not to see comparisons with events on either side of the pond today.

There’s no greater writer of dialogue working today in Hollywood than director Aaron Sorkin, whose career began with writing Jack Nicholson’s A Few Good Men, before going on to create TV drama, The West Wing and win an Oscar for The Social Network.

Another superb showcase for his talent, he expertly narrows down a lengthy complex trial into an easily understandable narrative, while the exchanges, especially between Frank Langella’s judge and Mark Rylance’s defence lawyer are jaw dropping.

Relevant, distressing and gripping throughout, it also sees Michael Keaton in a small but vital role, for which he should be Oscar nominated. If there’s any justice that is.


Cert 12A Stars 3

Late life romance, lots of fresh air and plenty of gentle exercise are the basis for this unassuming and heartfelt low budget British drama.

Scouse born actress Alison Steadman and Dave Johns, the Geordie comic who detoured into straight acting in Ken Loach’s 2016 hard-hitting social drama I, Daniel Blake, are engaging company on a languid stroll which offers time for reflection on the concerns of ageing in Britain.

They play dog-walkers who they meet by chance in an idyllic London park and during 23 walks edge towards an understanding, but potential happiness is threatened by a lack of honesty.


Cert 15 Stars 4

A fraught mother and daughter relationship is at the heart of this wonderful bittersweet drama of empowerment and resilience, anchored by Nicole Beharie who delivers a performance of remarkable range.

As Turquoise Jones, Beharie’s a single mother and former teen beauty queen who enters her 15-year-old daughter in the local pageant, the winner of which is crowned Miss Juneteenth, and receives a full scholarship to university.

Alexis Chikaeze plays the reluctant Kai with all too believable disinterest, and has little interest in following in her mother’s footsteps down the catwalk of the African American beauty pageant, which recognises the day the slaves of Texas found out they were free, fully two years after Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation.

Written with clear-eyed observation and empathy by Channing Godfrey Peoples on an accomplished feature directorial debut, she crams in a great deal of social comment and friction with precision and economy.

Turquoise’s own mother offers another area of all realistic inter-generational conflict, however there’s a welcome note of optimism at the end to add an emotional flourish to the terrific soundtrack.


Cert 18 Stars 4

Violence, prejudice, loyalty and rivalry feature heavily in this powerful Kiwi biker drama which features enjoyable camaraderie between horrifying scenes of drugs, prostitution and child abuse.

Australian actor Jake Ryan is immense as the brooding and volatile gang enforcer known as Damage, who’s torn between his biological family and his surrogate family, a biker gang called The Savages, a conflict which threatens his lifelong friendship with gang president, Moses.

With alarming facial tattoos, Ryan is a real life Taekwondo black belt and brings an all too believable ferocity to the brutality while also essaying a moving portrayal of the wounded integrity and inner turmoil of a man weary of being feared,

Strong in detail and sense of place, ambitious in its scope yet intimate in mood, writer and director Sam Kelly spreads his narrative over 30 years and coaxes lovely performances from the child actors as younger versions of the characters.

Inspired by the true stories of New Zealand’s criminal underworld, this a little explored aspect of New Zealand society, far more often associated in cinema with the lovable and genteel Hobbits.


Cert PG Stars 4

With talking animals, cutsey kid, top drawer production values and a cracking voice cast, this heartwarming live action animated hybrid is bang on brand for Disney, and mixes elements of some of its favourite films such as Dumbo, Bambi and their 1998 ape adventure Mighty Joe Young, to a moving and crowd pleasing effect.

Its a reasonably faithful adaptation of K. A. Applegate’s 2012 children’s novel, which is a fictitious work based loosely on the life of a real gorilla called Ivan. Here the silverback is rendered along with his animal colleagues in the impressive photorealistic style seen recently in Disney’s The Lion King remake.

He’s voiced by the wonderfully versatile Sam Rockwell who brings a questioning dignity and quiet intelligence to the role, as well as playing nicely against Angelina Jolie’s wise African elephant, Danny DeVito’s stray dog, Helen Mirren’s posh poodle and Chaka Khan’s chicken.

They all live in a tiny circus built into a shopping mall ran by Bryan Cranston’s kindly ringmaster, who’s desperate to find a new way of pulling in the punters to save his failing show, and while a newly arrived orphan baby elephant offers financial salvation, it causes Ivan to reconsider his life in a cage

Beating with gentle charm the film’s heart is undoubtedly in the right place and it’s utterly sincere in its approach to animal welfare. And the friendly and furry menagerie allow the filmmakers to remind us families come in all shapes and sizes while offering a gentle yet firm commentary on hunting and littering.

Because it’s geared to the widest and youngest possible audience there’s a noticeably lack of grit, which may seem a misuse of the actors who’re more than capable of bringing a little bite to their roles.

However it does mean there’s nothing in the circus to scare the horses, or your little ones, though in true sentimental Disney style they may be tears before bedtime. And not just for the kids.