The Best of Enimies.

Currently on Netflix.

Robin Bissell writes and directs this film based upon the true events that occurred in Durham, North Carolina, during 1971. After a fire at a local black school it forces the issue of school integration to the top of the agenda. With an all white local council and racism and racial tensions still very much part of Durham life it needed radical change. This came with the setting up of a “charrette” a series of town wide meetings to bring together the community to understand their differences and find solutions. Hosted by Bill Riddick (Babou Ceesay) he needed co-chairs and selects Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson) a local black activist and C.P. Lewis (Sam Rockwell) the president of the local Klu Klux Klan. The film focuses on that process and the development of what would become a life long friendship between Atwater and Lewis.

The true life events behind this story are fascinating. To do this by putting together a black activist and leader of the local Klan as co-chairs feels doomed to fail. What the real story leads to was not only a change in the ingrained views of a white supremacist, but also across both black and white communities the realisation that the poor in society had common enemies which had nothing to do with colour, which feels a most prescient message.

The disappointment here is that this film doesn’t capture that fascination anywhere near well enough. It’s not a terrible film at all and the story itself as well as good performances keep you interested. But the type of film you think you are going to get, is exactly the one you do.

Oddly in a film that is nearly 2 1/4 hours long, it feels it never builds enough on the central characters. We don’t see enough of the life of Atwater, we know she’s a firebrand, but we don’t know what made her who she is. In Lewis we see someone who makes a huge decision that changes his life, but he seems go get there too easily. And as is seemingly often the case in stories like this, it is told very much from the point of the white protagonist and his change.

That’s not to say there aren’t things to like here and it is better these stories are told than not. The performances are good with Rockwell as you’d expect and Henson very watchable and keep you engaged. But the storytelling is very paint by numbers and predictable.

It’s certainly no write off, the story itself and the concept of what was attempted is fascinating and does maintain interest. It just feels that there is a really interesting telling of this story to be done, it just isn’t done here.

Come As You Are.

Available on multiple streaming platforms and Sky Cinema in the UK.

Richard Wongs Come As You Are is based on the real life experience of Asta Philpot a young man with a disability who travelled to Amsterdam for his first sexual experience.

In this remake of earlier Belgian and Dutch versions, we find our three protagonists Scotty (Grant Rosenmey) a 24 yr old quadriplegic, Mo (Ravi Patel) a blind man in his mid 30’s and Matt (Hayden Szeto) who after an accident finds himself wheelchair bound. Scotty is frustrated by his sexual desires and a realisation he can do nothing about it. But, when caught gazing at the girlfriend of another wheelchair bound man, he shares with Scotty the secrets of a brothel over the border in Montreal, designed to cater for “people like them”. This inspires him to plan a road trip, he hires a van with a driver, Sam (Gabourey Sidibe) and ropes in Matt and Mo to join him on his adventure.

What we have here is a funny, warm and charming road trip comedy. It definitely uses many of the classic road trip movie tropes. The comedy is layered and balances well between laughs and some smart and subtle looks at the challenges of disability and trying to live a “normal” life.

All of this built on really good performances by the four main characters as well as good support especially from Janeane Garafalo, Jennifer Jelsema and C.S Lee as the worried parents. All done in a way that never felt condescending or playing for sympathy.

The story also has some really warm and emotional moments that land well. Which included for me a well judged final act.

It would be remiss not to point out something that is potentially problematic in the casting of three able bodied actors in the lead roles. To their credit I felt they did a fine job of portraying the difficulties that came with their individual challenges. But I understand that for some this will feel uncomfortable.

That said, this was the most enjoyable comedy I’ve seen in quite a while. Funny with a warm heart and a set of characters who worked well together and were extremely likeable. With a layered story and a smart audience pleasing, if predictable end.

The Mitchells vs The Machines

Showing on Netflix.

Written and directed by Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe is the animated adventure The Mitchells vs the Machines. It taps into that rich source for animated stories of the strained family relationship in need of repair. Katie (Abbi Jacobson) is the young girl heading off to film college. She has a good relationship with Mum, Linda (Maya Rudolph) and brother Aaron (Michael Rianda) but is frustrated that she feels Dad (Danny McBride) doesn’t believe in her. College is the chance to spread her wings until Dad decides the best way to see her off and repair the relationship is a college road trip. If that’s not bad enough her world is turned upside down by the robopocalypse, instigated by smart phone personal assistant PAL(Olivia Coleman). Who when discarded by her inventor and replaced by a robot, hijacks the robots and turns them against their creator and all of humanity turning the Mitchells Road trip into a battle to save humanity.

What Rianda, Rowe and the talented voice cast deliver is an enjoyable lighthearted adventure. It has a fun script full of gags for all of the audience and also has a good time channeling films like Independence Day, Tron and hilariously Kill Bill.

It looks great with an animation that shows the same originality Sony showed with the fantastic Into the Spiderverse with a mix of computer animation intrepsersed with “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” style images to share Katie’s inner thoughts and plans.

Alonsgide the clever script there are some excellent visual gags especially the dark menacing Furbies. The adventure bowls along maintaining its humour throughout before ultimately delivering the charming repairing of the family relationships.

Well done animations makes as good a film as any live action movie and this is a really well done animation. It’s warm, humorous, beautifully drawn and well worth a watch, whether you have kids with you or not.

Nomadland

Available on Disney +.

Based on Jessica Bruder’s book Chloe Zhao directs, edits and also wrote the screenplay for the multi Oscar winning Nomadland. Francis McDormand, in her third Oscar winning role, is Fern who finds herself without a house when Empire, a company owned town in Nevada, is shutdown when owners U.S. Gypsum close the factory. Homeless and alone after the death of her husband, she decides to embrace the life of a van-dweller. Her lifestyle is simple as we follow her between different nomad communities, jobs, relationships and challenges that it brings.

I am a real fan of films that are slow and patient studies of humanity and Nomadland is a wonderful example. To think this is a film about a lady in a van would be to miss the beauty of what Zhao and McDormand have created.

It is a truly gorgeous experience a melancholic, patient portrait of loss, grief, friendship, loneliness and happiness. It is wonderfully shot, with sweeping vistas that capture the vastness of life and how we are often insignificant specks within it. It also shares the joy of embracing your surroundings, be they natural or the people we meet on the way. It is crafted using a series of vignettes showing life for all its glory, hardship, love and loss.

McDormand is masterful and eminently watchable as always, inhabiting Fern, perfectly portraying her friendliness, loneliness and drive to be independent. We also see her vulnerability and fear of moving on from the death of her husband inhibiting her from commiting to any type of relationship.

The cast around her, with the exception of David Strathairn’s Dave, is primarily made up of real nomads and it’s a testament to Zhaos’s direction and McDormand’s skill that they draw so much natural warmth from this cast of non-actors.

Nomadland has already been heavily awarded including an Oscar for best film, direction and female lead and it’s thoroughly deserved. It is a patient, touching, warm, heartfelt, thoughtful gentle portrait of a certain life choice, never judging or preaching and showing a world and community I loved spending time in.

Love and Monsters

Available on Netflix.

Directed by Michael Matthews, Love and Monsters is set in a dystopian future, 7 years after a catastrophic attempt to destroy an earth bound asteroid caused the Monsterpocalypse, turning millions of the earth’s creatures into human eating monsters. The remains of humanity are driven into underground colonies and in one of these we find Joel. An average 20 something, who feels that he doesn’t make enough of a contribution and is alone until he reconnects with his pre-monsterpocalypse girlfriend Aimee. After a monster breach of his colony he decides he can wait no more and is going to risk his life making an 85 mile, seven day trek across the surface to be reunited with his true love.

What a fun surprise this was, it’s a strange cross between Stand by Me, Predator and Jumanji. There are lot’s of recognisable story elements on show, a dog companion, wise experienced surface dwellers who share crucial survival tips and a zen like robot who with it’s last battery power shares with Joel what’s really important in life. All of it done with a fun charm.

While the story arc is predictable, that doesn’t really matter, the adventure bits are adventurey. The humour is plentiful and keeps it light and the touching moments are just right.

Dylan O’Brien carries the film well as the unlikely hero Joel, fully believable throughout his journey of discovery and is well supported by those he meets on the way, Michael Rooker and Ariana Greenblatt as Clyde and Minnow particularly.

While it’s not perfect and drags a little in the final act, it’s a minor criticism. At its core there are nice messages about the importance of family and tackling the unknown, delivered as a fun “coming of edge” adventure told in a light and humorous way.

Palm Springs.

Now on Amazon Prime Video.

Directed by Max Barbakow with a screenplay by Andy Siara, Palm Springs is an update on the “stuck in a time loop” story.

Andy Samberg is Niles, a guest at the wedding of his girlfriends friend. He seems less than thrilled to be there, dressed in swim shorts, drinking beers from a can. Then he surprises everyone with a beautiful speech celebrating the happy couple before navigating his way smartly over the dance floor and meeting sister of the bride Sarah (Christin Milioti) who also appears less than thrilled to be there. After an evening with Niles and an arrow incident, she follows Niles into a cave. When she wakes in her hotel to her shock she finds herself joining Niles in a time loop nightmare.

While there are inevitable comparisons with Groundhog Day, this is a very different film, much darker at times (especially if you start to think about just how long Niles has been stuck) but we also get a different dynamic with multiple characters experiencing their own loops.

Palm Springs is a smart comedy and has fun with both the gags that come from people knowing exactly how their day will play out as well as what happens when your actions have no consequences. But it also cleverly asks other questions of those same scenarios, what if nothing you do matters? How do you deal with your actions having no consequences on others but you still have to live with them?

We also find Niles actions have had consequences with J.K Simmons’s Ray, who Niles brought into his loop during a night partying together. It’s those relationships that gives this a freshness, as we see how the loop affects all involved very differently.

It also cleverly leaves ambiguity in the character back stories to allow you to fill in your own interpretation on how they got there and what may happen to them.

I’ve seen lots of really positive reviews of Palm Springs and while I’m not as bowled over as some it is a warm hearted take on the Groundhog Day idea asking some interesting questions along the way. Exploring how life can seem meaningless and subsequently full of meaning if you take a minute to appreciate what is there for you and how it can be better with people to share it with.

Palm Springs is an intelligent enjoyable comedy, which does have a dark side, but ultimately one with a positive message that puts a smile on your face.

Stowaway

New on Netflix.

You know sometimes you watch a film that everyone loves and you hate or, of course, the opposite? Stowaway directed by Joe Penna and written by Penna alongside Ryan Morrison, maybe such a film.

Set in a near future a three person crew are setting off on a two year mission to Mars. Under the command of Marian Barnett (Toni Collette) are Doctor Zoe Levinson (Anna Kendrick) and scientist David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim). Just 12 hours into their mission they realise they are not alone when they discover a stowaway, Michael (Shamier Anderson). This presents the crew with the ultimate dilemma as they realise that the ship can only support three of its inhabitants for the entirety of the mission.

There is no doubt this film has its problems, the story is a little ridiculous and the plot holes plentiful, but that aside, what is in here is a patient well thought out study of how people react when faced with the greatest of ethical challenges under the most extreme of conditions.

Penna makes some smart directorial decisions as well. The slow pace is used well to drive the tension and, let’s face it because we’ve seen this story before, feeling of foreboding. Also keeping the conversation with the ground crew something we never hear pays off in building the feeling of isolation and distance. Although the pacing can be challenging at times, especially the distinct lack of action as their borrowed time runs down, let’s just say they are no Apollo 13 crew!

Performances are solid and I’ve been keen to see Anna Kendrick in a more dramatic role and she delivers well. Toni Collete is as reliable as ever with Daniel Dae Kim playing the difficult role of the one who is happy to make the hard decision. Anderson also brings a quiet calm to the role of the unfortunate interloper.

The film is beautifully shot, giving that feeling of scale, intimacy and isolation even on the small screen.

Stowaway has certainly been met with mixed reviews, but in my opinion it depends on whether you are prepared to suspend your disbelief and ignore the plot holes. If you can you’ll be rewarded with an enjoyable, tense, thoughtful, if a little predictable, space drama.

Promising Young Woman.

Available on Sky Cinema in the UK.

Written and directed by Emerald Fennel is the wickedly dark Promising Young Woman. Carey Mulligan is Cassie a woman consumed by the drive to seek revenge for a traumatic event that happened at college to her best friend. She seeks it by going out to bars acting drunk and attracting the attentions of predatory men looking for a potential “easy conquest”. However, they get more than they bargain for when Cassie sobers up. Her behaviour comes at a cost, her promising medical career abandoned, still living at home and working in a coffee shop. But when she meets an old college friend Ryan (Bo Burnham) he presents an opportunity to seek a final revenge on those who she feels were most to blame for the trauma that haunts her.

Fennels directorial debut is original, sharp and well crafted. But this is Mulligans film creating in Cassie a driven, smart, witty character, who always broods with an undercurrent of calm menace.

Alongside Mulligan there is good support from Bo Burnham, Alison Brie and Laverne Cox, but in reality there is not a poor performance to be seen.

The story itself plays with multiple genre’s from revenge to 90’s college films, turning each on its head. The story telling feels a tad uneven as after a very strong opening act, where we see Cassie play out her revenge on her predator victims, it drifts a little in the middle, before its surprising, but ultimately hugely satisfying conclusion.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is just a dark revenge story as it’s also smart enough to raise questions about societies differing views of men and women who act the same and about the impact of trauma on both the victims, perpetrators and those who rather than judge could’ve done more.

Promising Young Woman is excellent, Fennel and her cast have created a hugely smart, wickedly dark and very enjoyable film which is well worth a watch.

Sound of Metal

Now showing on Amazon Prime.

Based on an unfinished film called Metalhead is Darius Marder’s directorial debut, written alongside his brother Abraham, Sound of Metal. Ruben (Riz Ahmed) and Lou (Olivia Cooke) are a young couple, whose relationship rescued him from destructive addiction, tour in thier Airstream mobile home performing as “jobbing” metal band Blackgammon. However when one morning Ruben awakes to find he has lost his hearing they find their plans for the band in ruins and Ruben desperately searching for a way to cope and get his hearing back. This leads him to moving into a deaf community run by Joe (Paul Raci) where he learns about deafness, himself and life.

This is an incredible piece of film making as Marder and his sound designer Nicolas Becker create a world that immerses you in Ruben’s trauma. The sound is a hugely important part of the story, moving seamlessly between the noise of the everyday world, beautifully done in an early scene in the RV where you hear every detail as Ruben makes breakfast, and, by cleverly using distortion, into his new one as his hearing diminishes.

The sound and performances of Cooke and particularly Riz Ahmed create an almost claustrophobic environment, especially during the opening act, as you feel Ruben’s desperation as deafness envelopes his world. In an inspired directorial touch when Ruben joins the deaf community where signing is crucial, those signed conversations are left uncaptioned for the audience, allowing us to experience his isolation and helplessness in trying to understand the world around him.

The film does move slowly and isn’t so much a story but an exploration of Ruben’s experience. Perhaps inevitably the intensity of its first half falls away a little in the second. However, the final act of the film is as powerful as its beginning as both Ruben and Lou discover some painful truths about their experience and whether thier choices are the right ones for them.

Sound of Metal is an excellent piece of film making and while it doesn’t follow a standard story arc it doesn’t have to. This is more about the experience of addiction, desperation and loss, than story.

For Ahmed’s performance and the incredible use of sound, the world it builds and the experience it creates, Sound of Metal is well worth a watch.

Pieces of a Woman

Showing on Netflix.

Written by Kata Weber and directed by Kornel Mundruczo, Pieces of a Woman is a study of grief and trauma. Vanessa Kirby, with an Oscar nominated performance, is Martha who we find alongside her husband Sean (Shia LaBeouf), preparing for the home birth of their daughter. As the labour begins she is disconcerted to find her usual midwife is unavailable but is replaced by a well qualified and experienced substitute. However as the labour progresses, all is not well and when heartbreaking tragedy strikes, Martha, Sean and those close to them find themselves in a desperate spiral of grief, trauma, blame and retribution.

Pieces of a Women is a hard watch, it is an almost relentlessly dark portrayal of grief, trauma and, in reality, the impact of failing to address it. Martha and Sean’s lives spiral into very dark places as their relationship disintegrates and their behaviour becomes ever more self destructive. Those around them react differently as they seek revenge and some kind of justice against the midwife who they feel should pay for their loss.

This is much more a study of loss than a coherent narrative, the film plays out over a year but focuses mainly on the 6 months between the loss of the baby and the trial of the midwife.

The film is well shot and cleverly uses the bleak, coldness of the winter months to mirror that of the story.

You can see why Kirby has earned award recognition, with a strong and emotional performance, but they are plenty of good performances alongside, Shia LaBeouf again giving an interesting and understated performance and Ellen Burstyn as Martha’s strong, seemingly cold and callous mother.

Pieces of a Women is a tough film to enjoy, but does have plenty to admire in the performances and cinematography. However, it fails to build on a powerful opening 30 minutes and as the characters decend into their varying levels of darkness, it is difficult for the narrative to hold together.

As a study of grief and its destructive nature it is certainly successful, whether it is as successful as a film overall is harder to judge.

If you’re prepared for 2 hours of pretty bleak storytelling then there are certainly things to admire here. But it is bleak and admirable rather than for those who fancy a light hearted bit of entertainment.

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