PERFECT 10

Cert 15 Stars 4

Two young Brits make impressive screen debuts in this engrossing contemporary coming-of-age teen drama, a portrait of ordinary modern Britain powered by the youthful energy of its engaging central characters whose sweary aggressive attitude can switch in an instant to exuberant child-like joyfulness and optimism.

Frankie Box is a real life British gymnastics medalist turned actress who seems as comfortable treading the boards as she is balancing on the beam, and her perfect casting sees her showcase her gym skills while delivering a wonderfully unaffected performance.

As Leigh she’s an aspiring gymnast living with her dad on a housing estate who’s drawn into crime by the unexpected arrival of her older step-brother Joe, played with a pleasing swagger by Alfie Deegan. They’re a likeable, believable pair full of unrealised potential and horribly out of their depth among Joe’s criminal companions.

It’s a hugely accomplished and confident directorial debut by writer Eva Riley which bears comparison to Andrea Arnold’s 2009 gritty Essex drama Fish Tank, and though Perfect 10 doesn’t quite score full marks, it’s not far off.

SUMMERLAND

Cert 12A Stars 4

Gemma Arterton continues to forge her a unique place in British cinema as she illuminates this expertly chosen, thought provoking and wonderfully crafted Second World War drama, which uses the relationship between her coastal recluse and a young London evacuee to become an uplifting meditation on love, longing and loss.

On her big screen directorial debut playwright Jessica Swale handles the changes of tone with absolute assurance, mixing aching melancholy with the giddy first flush of romance and heart-racing melodrama to powerful effect.

And Swale’s theatre experience inspires marvellous performances from a first rate cast, not just a wonderfully spiky Arterton who shows terrific range, but Lucas Bond as her unlooked for lodger, Dixie Egerickx as his precocious classmate, the dignified Tom Courtenay as their kindly schoolmaster, and a conflicted Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Aterton’s romantic partner.

With this mixed-race same-sex romance swirling around doomed pilots and visions of the afterlife, Summerland is a very 21st century response to 1946 classic A Matter of Life and Death, though it’s not so modern it can’t celebrate the simple joys of eating chips on the beach.

PROXIMA

Cert 3 Stars 12A

Bond girl turned Golden Globe nominated star of TV’s Penny Dreadful and recently seen as a scheming madame in mini-series The Luminaries, Eva Green takes her career to another level in this thoughtful and tender drama about an astronaut preparing to blast off on a year long mission.

As Sarah the arduous training puts Green through her physical paces, but that’s far easier than the emotional turmoil the script puts Sarah through, as the single mother has to make an impossible choice between her life long dream and her responsibility to her eight-year-old daughter, played with charm by young Zélie Boulant.

Whereas Ryan Gosling’s First Man and Brad Pitt’s Ad Astra see emotionally closed men go to space to bond with family, Sarah is desperate not to lose her emotional connection on Earth.

Written and directed by Alice Winocour, whose previous film was 2015’s powerful drama, Mustang, this is another well observed essay on female experience which similarly rejects loud macho showboating for quiet understatement, deep currents and subtle complexity.

THE TRAITOR

Cert 15 Stars 4

Compelling, weighty, stylish and violent, this real life criminal drama is based on the riotous ‘Maxi Trial’ of 1987, the largest anti-Mafia trial in history, and the life of paranoia which follows for it’s star witness.

The brooding Pierfrancesco Favino delivers a magnificent performance as Tommaso Buscetta, a Sicilian Mafia ‘soldier’ who to protect his third wife and baby child became one of its first members to turn informant.

Losing his job, money and status, his devotion to honour and the truth sees him emerge a somewhat heroic and noble character – at least compared to his former colleagues.

SAINT FRANCES

Cert 15 Stars 4

A thirty-something called Bridget struggling with love, life and pregnancy sounds very familiar, but this US indie drama has a very different personality to the UK romcoms featuring Renee Zellweger as the accident prone singleton Miss Jones.

Written by and starring the hugely impressive and engaging Kelly O’Sullivan, this bittersweet drama explores the contradictions, prejudices and pitfalls of pregnancy and parenting in a refreshingly frank manner, and in such a graceful and charming way as to make it surprisingly palatable.

Jobless, broke and full of self loathing and despite not liking kids, Bridget takes a job as a nanny to six-year-old Frances, the mischievous and demanding daughter of a middle-class same-sex mixed-race couple, and Ramona Edith Williams is tremendous as the youngster, and shares a delightful rapport with O’Sullivan.

As a film by a woman for women I’m clearly not the target audience but if men want insight into the problems women face in day to day life, then this is a very smart and well crafted place to start.

CLEMENCY

Cert 15 Stars 4

Two lonely lives run parallel but apart in this tough uncompromising death row drama, which examines the physical and spiritual effects capital punishment inflicts on all those involved.

Veteran African American actress Alfre Woodard delivers a superb and complex performance as Warden Bernadine Williams and is worthy of adding to the Oscar nomination she received in 1984 for the romantic drama, Cross Creek.

She exudes authority and humanity as she fulfils her duties with a steely determination, her professional pride in maintaining rules and order has become an emotional shield, which has caused long-standing fault lines in her marriage.

Aldis Hodge is equally great as her prisoner Anthony Woods, who faces the death sentence for killing a police officer fifteen years previously.

Though the case which condemned him is weak, he’s exhausted his appeals and his only hope of reprieve lies with the State Governor who has the power to grant clemency and cancel the execution at the very last moment.

It’s a tremendous physical performance by Woods, an essay in trauma, mute articulacy and self-punishment, and at times very hard to watch.

I’m sure it’s no coincidence this is being released nearly 65 years to the day Ruth Ellis became the last woman in the UK was hung, and where you stand on the hugely divisive issue of capital punishment may determine how you react to the story, however what’s not up for debate is the quality and strength of the filmmaking involved.

There are terrific performances across the board, the economic camerawork is full of purpose, and the lighting team adds immeasurably to the suitably sombre mood,

For her efforts Nigerian-American writer and director Chinonye Chukwu became the first black woman to win the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at Robert Redford’s prestigious Sundance Film Festival.

Her success springs from her willingness to show the barbaric nature of the process and leaves us in no doubt of her opinion of state sanctioned killing.

 

+++++++++

 

Two lonely lives run in parallel in this tough uncompromising startlingly harrowing death row drama full of despair but also humanity, anchored by a pair of terrific performances which barely share any screen time.

written and directed by Chinonye Chukwu Nigerian-American film director is the first black woman to win the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at Robert Redford’s prestigious Sundance Film Festival

Not a Black Lives Matter film, but a hard hitting condemnation of the injustices of capital punishment and the pain and suffering it inflicts on those whose job it is to carry out, so where you stand on that political issue will determine how you react to the film.

However what’s not up for debate is the quality and strength of the filmmaking. There’s no need for cinematic bells and whistles when the craftsmanship is this rich in quality.

It’s an impeccably observed, with an absence of macho posturing, lots of resignation from prisoners and guards alike, and sympathetic to all sides.

Bernadine  a prison guard?  must confront the psychological and emotional demons her job creates, ultimately connecting her to the man she is sanctioned to kill.

superb Stand out performance by veteran African American actress Alfre Woodard as Warden Bernadine Williams, full of conflicting

who’s performance is worthy of adding to the Oscar nomination she received in 1984 for the romantic drama, Cross Creek.

authority, gravitas, dignity, humanity, disguising how appalling she finds her duties with a steely, protective of her staff, and very conscious of her duty of care to her inmates,

the importance she places on rules and order in her prison are echoed in the rigid manner with which she marshals her private life, and  her professional pride is a protective emotional shield.

noisy crowds of protestors outside the prison demanding an end to the death penalty

camerawork is controlled, economical in movement and purposeful, moving with economy, lighting creates a strong foreboding, suitably sombre mood, full of dark shadows.

political role as well as an administrative one, must deal with media, lawyers, victims families, as well as her superiors

home life is not perfect and begins to re-evaluate her position

Focus on faces so we experience the fear of the condemned men and the distaste and grim professionalism of the paramedics, terrified desperate prayers of the condemned,

it shows the process for being as barbaric as it is, the leather straps, poison injections, the painful spasms and lingering death and the shock and horror of the watching relatives.

Trauma is every where, on all sides

portrait of late middle-age, with people around her retiring, or younger than her being promoted

Wendell Pierce as Jonathan Williams as her partner struggling with her insomnia, and drinking.

Aldis Hodge as Anthony Woods, who faces death for killing a police officer fifteen years previously, and best ope of reprieve is an appeal to grant clemency. It’s a tremendous physical performance, an essay full of trauma, and mute articulacy and self-punishment, at times very hard to watch. The case which condemned him is weak. and the Governor can grant clemency and cancel execution at the very last moment, a fragile hope

Richard Schiff is a desperately weary presence as his lawyer Marty Lumetta, whose career failures means this is his last case.

Lives run in tandem and parallel as both experience abandonment from those close to them them

 

Danielle Brooks as Evette

LaMonica Garrett as Logan Cartwright

FANNY LYE DELIVER’D

Cert 18 Stars 3

Maxine Peake has punctuated her acting career with socially aware films such as 2018’s Peterloo, so it’s easy to see why she was drawn to the role of a farmer’s wife experiencing a political awakening in this ideas-driven period drama.

Set during Oliver Cromwell’s controversial puritanical republican rule in 1657, Peake plays Fanny Lye, the abused wife of Charles Dance’s Shropshire farmer, who offers refuge to Freddie Fox and Tanya Reynolds, a naked, muddy and bloody pair of strangers who claim to have lost all their money and possessions to highwaymen.

It’s an act of conspicuous and self-serving piety which backfires disastrously as the freethinking attitudes and rapacious appetites of their guests reveal themselves in a candle-lit exhibition of sex, betrayal and violence.

Though the drama suffers from being stagey and speechy, the mist covered location provides the earthy power of a folk horror fairytale, and the performances full of conviction.

Plus anyone with a keen interest in the history of the Quaker moment will find their cup runneth over.

RADIOACTIVE

Cert 12 Stars 3

An extraordinary life is subject to an earnest but less than inspired telling in this sincere story of groundbreaking Polish scientist, Marie Curie.

It’s not for the lack of trying by talented Brit actress Rosamund Pike, who’s spiky, proud and determined as she bares her soul and her bum in her strenuous efforts to bring the double Nobel prize winner to life.

Sadly rather than focussing on the most important of Curie’s achievements, the discovery of two radioactive elements Radium and Polonium which would eventually poison her, the script falls into the elephant trap of biopics by trying to cover too much ground.

And the pace is more stately than whistle-stop as we flash back and forth as we witness her struggle against the glass ceiling of the scientific establishment, her research and her work on the battlefields of the First World War, all set against the backdrop of her busy domestic arrangements of kids and a marital affair.

There are handsome sets, costumes and performances throughout, but the science is kept to the bare minimum and we never experience the thrill of discovery.

WAVES

Cert 15 Stars 3

Following his impressively claustrophobic 2017 horror, It Comes at Night, this stylish emotional family drama is very much a change of gear for director, writer and producer Trey Edward Shults.

It sees an African American family in Miami deal with a traumatic series of events which include pregnancy, drug abuse and violence.

Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Taylor Russell are impressive as teenage siblings among more established actors such as Golden Globe winner Sterling K. Brown.

And if you enjoyed Best Picture Oscar winner Moonlight, you’ll find a lot to enjoy in the ambient rhythms served up here.

THE VAST OF NIGHT

Cert 12 Stars 4

Creepy, claustrophobic and immaculately constructed, this stylish and intriguing sci-fi mystery thriller pays loving homage to TV shows such as The Twilight Zone as it builds to a haunting and transcendent finale.

Set in the 1950’s Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz have a lovely flirtatious chemistry as an earnest telephone operator and a cocky local radio DJ, who begin exploring reports of power cuts, strange electrical interference and secret military operations in the nearby desert of New Mexico.

Their enthusiasm for new technology is infectious and their rat-a-tat dialogue makes hanging out with them great fun, especially as the film treats their fears and concerns with great seriousness and respect.

It’s a remarkable directorial debut by Andrew Patterson, who demonstrates a deft confidence, steady handed ambition and an unadulterated love of cinema.

He skilfully deploys a light-handed awareness of the time’s racial, class and sexual divisions, there’s a palpable love of the period’s technology, and I really dug the cars and clothes, daddy-o.