DEATHSTROKE: KNIGHTS AND DRAGONS

Cert 15 Stars 3

Older fans of DC Comics’ sword-wielding anti-hero will enjoy this action-packed and blood-splattered animated adventure, drawn in the same anime-inspired style as the other DC Animated Movies from Warner Bros.

Slade Wilson AKA, Deathstroke, is a one-eyed former soldier with enhanced strength and fighting abilities, and fearsome adversary of the Teen Titans and Superman’s Justice League.

Wilson’s secret past catches up with him when his young son is kidnapped by the terrorist group H.I.V.E., meaning Wilson has to risk everything he has on a violent rescue mission. Definitely not for the little ones.

UNHINGED

Cert 15 Stars 4

Russell Crowe rampages back into cinemas in this brutal road rage thriller which courts controversy by offering sympathy for his maniac character who drives the action.

The Oscar winning star of Gladiator is one of my favourite actors and he delivers a double-barrelled performance as Tom, a regular guy who’s suffering a breakdown of the nervous variety, and who begins a campaign of terror against a fellow motorist who impatiently beeps at Tom on the morning school run and refuses to apologise when Tom asks her to.

This sly attempt at victim-blaming by the script is an attempt to lure us into a moral trap by encouraging us to sympathise with Tom, a self-pitying brute and the manifestation of the frothing anger of a certain type of disenfranchised middle-aged blue collar bloke.

The relatively unknown actress Caren Pistorius is equally great as the single mother subject to Tom’s violent fury and she’s given a brilliantly funny killer line which will probably define her career.

And the moral waters are further muddied by her realistic flaws such using her phone while she drives, meanwhile Tom uses smartphone tech to target her family and friends en route to kidnap, arson and some serious vehicle damage.

With a career-long appetite for meaty roles which allow him to chew the scenery, Crowe now appears to be twice the man he used to be, and his enormous bulk provides a Terminator-like imperviousness during Tom’s remorseless pursuit.

Tom’s such a relentless and magnificent monster this almost qualifies as a horror film, and it can be parked alongside Michael Douglas’s 1993 classic Falling Down for its mix of topical social commentary and terrific popcorn thrills.

Unhinged was a great re-introduction to cinema on my first trip since lockdown and as part of a safe and socially distanced audience it was brilliant to once again experience the unique excitement of watching films on the big screen.

 

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.

STAGE MOTHER

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.

THE ASSENT

Cert 15 Stars 3

Possession, parenting and mental illness give a single dad a rough time in this US supernatural mystery which stomps with brisk determination across familiar horror terrain, and takes its name from the third stage of diabolic control when the victim consents to the demon being part of their soul.

Robert Kazinsky stars as Joel who believes his blonde poppet of a son is possessed with the little things causing concern such as violence, speaking in latin and growling. Joel’s allies are a scandal-ridden priest with a well practised disregard for the law and Florence Faivre’s concerned psychiatrist.

HOW TO BUILD A GIRL

Cert 15 Stars 3 AMAZON PRIME

A schoolgirl takes centre stage to smash glass ceilings in this spirited coming-of-age comedy drama based on journalist Caitlin Moran’s 2014 semi-autobiographical novel.

Combining a down-to-earth approach with moments of whimsical magical realism, it’s amiable and amusing but unlike it’s heroine Johanna only modestly ambitious, with the films success heavily dependent on the performances, particularly of its lead.

Beanie Feldstein plays little more than lip-service to the Black Country accent as she barrels her way through a performance as the working-class 16 year old Johanna, an aspiring journalist living with her struggling parents and four siblings in 1990s Wolverhampton.

As I’m the sixth of 8 working class kids from Middlesbrough, their noisy over-crowded house and the casual violent abuse outside school ring very true, as does Johanna finding out the London music industry is populated by condescending misogynist, sexist posh blokes of little discernible talent.

Her new job on a prestigious music magazine leads to a personal reinvention but success depends on her compromising her integrity, a huge step for the romantically-minded writer.

Instead of posters of pop stars on her bedroom wall Johanna has figures such as Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Sylvia Plath and er Maria von Trapp, who come to life to offer advice. it’s a lovely idea but sadly hugely underplayed and far too little time is given to actors such as Michael Sheen, Gemma Arterton and Alexei Sayle.

Paddy Considine and Sarah Soleman give strong support and mixing with the impressive cast are cameos by Emma Thompson, Chris O’Dowd and Bob Mortimer.

Casting the American Feldstein in this very English film was presumably a commercial decision as we’re far from short of acting talent this side of the pond, but after appearing in teen movies such as 2017’s Oscar winning Lady Bird, and being Golden Globe nominated for 2019’s Booksmart, this another enjoyable turn in the construction of her impressive career.

FATHER SOLDIER SON

Cert 15 Stars 4

Deeply personal and poignant, this Fly on the wall documentary portrait of fatherhood undergoes a ten year tour of duty following the family of 3rd generation soldier Sgt Brian Eisch.

There’s happiness, anger, anguish and heartache after a tour in Afghanistan sees him coping with a life-changing injury and raising two young sons. What this lacks in the outrageous characters of Netflix documentaries such as The Tiger King, or the sporting glamour of The Last Dance, it makes up with quiet dignity and is a compelling, inspiring and at times heartbreaking watch.

DREAMBUILDERS

Cert U Stars 3

Dreams come to life in this enjoyable and imaginative animated fable and it spells trouble for a pair of squabbling siblings who must learn to understand each other and work together to escape a land of nightmares.

When the studious Minna accidentally discovers the world of our dreams are constructed like a movie set, full of blue-skinned humanoid actors and friendly robot stagehands, she can’t resist the chance to teach her spoilt, vain, rude social media-obsessed step-sister Jenny a lesson in manners.

Despite being warned disturbing other people’s dreams can have catastrophic consequences, Minna tries to manipulate Jenny’s dreams which sends them on a zippy and fun adventure of self-discovery.

With an emphasis on kindness being more important than appearances or popularity the script slips in messages about engaging with the real world and warnings about online cruelty.

Aimed at your little ones it’s reminiscent of classics Monsters Inc. and Inside Out, and delivers a surprising amount of emotional weight with colourful charm and a style of its own. Giant disco dancing hamsters mix with menacing spiders but there’s nothing here to give your kids nightmares.

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