KAJILLIONAIRE

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.

I AM WOMAN

Cert 15 Stars 3

This enjoyable, crowd pleasing and sentimental biopic of the late Australian Grammy award winning singer Helen Reddy was scheduled for release this week months before she sadly passed away peacefully in California last week.

So far from being viewed as a tasteless cash-in on her death, it can be seen as what it was intended to be, an uplifting celebration of her life and career.

It begins with her 1966 arrival in New York as a penniless wannabe with her three-year-old daughter in tow, and charts her rise to superstardom with eight number one US singles and her own TV show.

Taking its title from her trademark power pop feminist anthem, this is an and uplifting canter through her rise to fame and fortune, with a focus on her friendship with renowned music journalist Lillian Roxon and a tumultuous marriage to music promoter Jeff Wald.

Tilda Cobham-Hervey is a spirited and charming screen presence as Reddy, plus the music is great, with the use of Reddy’s own vocals adding authenticity, and it’s message empowerment is as necessary and relevant today as it was back then.

SAINT MAUD

Cert 15 Stars 5

There’s a startling power to this modern day horror which is powered by devilish intent and graced by an immaculate performance of subtle complexity by Swedish-born Welsh actress Morfydd Clark.

As a devout hospice nurse called Maud, Clark delivers a confessional, fragile, stern and punishing turn, yet always maintains our sympathy as she becomes infatuated with her latest patient, Amanda.

She’s a former dancer who’s now wheelchair bound and in need of palliative care, a role which requires a great deal of intimacy and includes bathing, physical therapy and massage.

You’ll remember BAFTA winning Actress Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet in the 1995 BBC miniseries Pride and Prejudice opposite Colin Firth’s Mr Darcy, and she masterfully switches moods in a role requiring her to be sexy, self-pitying, abrasive and cruel.

Together they form a frighteningly intense double act, and their delicate relationship spirals out of control to jaw dropping and heartbreaking effect.

There are shades of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’s Nurse Ratched in Maud, and there’s nothing more disturbing than bad behaviour carried out by those believing they are doing good. Especially when convinced it’s what the Lord wants them to do.

On her feature length debut, Rose Glass directs with the conviction of someone in possession of a terrific script. Which she is. And she wrote it, filling the screen with jealousy, rapture, blood, pain and cockroaches.

Cinematographer Ben Fordesman provides bleak exteriors and oppressive interiors, it’s edited with tight-as-a-drum economy by Mark Towns, and Adam Janota Bzowski’s tremendous music seems to bypass your ears and penetrate straight to your soul, combining to create an atmosphere foggy with sexual intrigue and dank with skin scrawling menace.

This is definitely not for the squeamish and watching it probably qualifies as a traumatic event. It is so suffocatingly great I barely breathed for the last half hour and was left exhausted from nervous tension. Saint Maud is the best British horror in years.

THE ELFKINS

Cert PG Stars 3

Inspired by Grimm’s fairy tales such as The Elves and the Shoemaker, this busy, bright and good natured animated adventure has enough music, songs, charm, humour and attractive design to entertain your little ones.

200 years after a falling out between elves and humans, the elves of Cologne believe humans are dastardly, unappreciative, much too large and generally sneaky lazy bums. In other words a kids eye view of adults. Or so my son would have me believe.

Helvi is a spirited if clumsy elf who struggles to create handicraft to the standard expected of her, so inspired by a scrap of cloth with a picture of humans and elves working together, she travels to our world along with two friends where they fall in with a baker who is being forced out of his business and in desperate need of an extra pair of hands or three.

It’s a jolly lightweight confection served up by the people who whisked up the recent hit Dreambuilders, and if your little ones enjoyed its mix of modern slang, slapstick and fart jokes, then they’ll certainly enjoy this slice of fun.

BROTHERS IN ARMS: THE MAKING OF PLATOON

Cert 15 Stars 3

After Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, Platoon was the second best Vietnam war movie of the 1980’s, and this enjoyable documentary throws a casual salute to its success by drafting in the key actors to reminisce about their time on location in the Philippine jungle.

As director Oliver Stone comes across as an appalling and tyrannical figure who is noticeable by his absence, the now middle-aged actors Charlie Sheen, Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe and so on are good company, though they show an alarming lack of self awareness or interest in the local culture or politics.

ETERNAL BEAUTY

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.

MISS VIRGINIA

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.

THE 40 YEAR OLD VERSION

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.

THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7

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.

ENOLA HOLMES

Cert PG Stars 4

A wonderfully fresh take on Baker Street’s famous detective, this is a captivating and hugely entertaining period mystery-adventure which offers adventure, action, romance, some light detecting, a huge amount of charm, and is anchored by a dazzling turn by one of Britain’s best young actresses.

Millie Bobby Brown’s talent and charisma is familiar to the multitude of fans of Netflix series Stranger Things, but even they will be surprised by her outrageously spirited, confident and appealing screen presence here, as she owns the film with irrepressible brio as the wonderfully bright, funny and ass-kicking wayward sixteen year old younger sister of revered detective, Sherlock Holmes.

Addressing the camera with a conspiratorial manner which would make Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge blush for it’s complicity, she’s trying to solve the mystery of her missing mother, played in flashback by a winning Helena Bonham Carter.

Needing a pair of stuffed shirts to play her pompous and over-privileged posh older brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft, the producers plumbed for Henry Cavil and Sam Claflin, Brit actors who aren’t asked to step out of their comfort zone. An absolute treat.