I Care a Lot

Showing on Amazon Prime.

Written and directed by J Blakeson, I Care a Lot is a very dark comedy thriller. Rosamund Pike stars as Marla Grayson a professional carer who is appointed by the courts as a ward for those, normally elderly, who are judged as no longer able to look after themselves or have anyone suitable in their lives to look after them. This gives her full control of every element of their lives from finance to healthcare and is often awarded in the absence of those who are to have it imposed upon them. That is the heart of Marla’s business, operating an unscrupulous “scam” finding vulnerable individuals and in league with others whose moral compass is a little off finds it easy to takeover their lives. Marla with her partner Fran have a thriving operation until they target Jennifer Peterson a wealthy single lady with no family to support her or ask questions, but all is not as it seems.

This film is filled with despicable characters with nothing to redeem them and garner your support. A plot that requires you suspend your disbelief regularly as it winds it ways through its plot twists and turns, but that said, I really enjoyed it.

I’m a fan of films that shine a light on bizarre legal loopholes that can be exploited and the fact that Blakeson has based the story on a potential reality makes it all the more dark, disturbing and enjoyable.

This is definitely Rosamund Pike’s film, she is fantastic as the utterly despicable Marla, driven, obsessed, unscrupulous, immoral, with an inflated view of self, she is unsympathetic and unlikable and Pike grabs the role completely and revels in it. Peter Dinklage gives brilliant support as Roman, Marla’s nemesis, trying to maintain control while dealing with the problems she’s created. The real gem though is Dianne Wiest’s Jennifer, the victim of Marla’s latest despicable act, swinging between vulnerable old lady and determined woman with a hidden story who knows what Marla has bitten off even if Marla doesn’t and she balances her performance beautifully.

With a zippy script and intricate story line delivered by a strong and invested cast, I Care a Lot is a good example of not needing to like the main characters to enjoy a film, go seek it out.

News of the World

Showing on Netflix.

Directed by Paul Greengrass adapted from a novel by Paulette Jiles. Tom Hanks plays Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd a former Confederate soldier who now makes his living as a travelling news reader visiting towns and cities across the southern US sharing newspapers stories to paying crowds. As he moves between towns he discovers a young lost girl, Johanna (Helena Zengel), who speaks no English having been brought up by the Kiowa who themselves had taken her from her German parents. Kidd finds papers with her that point to an aunt and uncle who will take her in and decides he will take her there himself. We then follow there long and often dangerous journey to get both Johanna and Kidd home.

News of the World is really a classic buddy road trip movie. We have our odd couple, Kidd and Johanna who both have pasts that haunt them and futures that are uncertain. As they travel, as you’d expect, these two very different characters start to build a bond, two souls that have clearly suffered loss and tragedy, finding solace and hope in each others company.

Greengrass does a fine job of capturing that classic western feel, with wide impressive vista’s matched by gritty oppressive towns and lively meeting halls. There are some interesting modern parallels as they travel between towns and regions which are keen to rediscover their identity in the aftermath of tumultuous times but not overtly so that it takes you out of the feeling of place and time.

News of the World is steady if not spectacular and while the final act feels a little “flabby” as it meanders toward its predictable conclusion, the first two thirds offer a nice balance between relationship and tension.

Tom Hanks is typically and predictably watchable and convincing as the grizzled and damaged veteran. He is more than well supported, in what is fundamentally a two hander, by 12 year old Zengel, who while she has little dialogue she says much in her mannerisms and facial expressions.

News of the World is solid if not spectacular story telling, but in the hands of Greengrass and Hanks that’s enough to keep it it interesting and engaging enough to keep you watching.

Greenland

Available on Amazon Prime Video.

A massive comet is heading towards Earth, at first thought to be no more than a light show with fragments harmlessly crashing towards us, however, it soon becomes clear it is going to be much more. Written by Chris Spurling, directed by Ric Roman Waugh, Greenland is the archetypal disaster movie.

Gerard Butler plays John Garrity a structural engineer who receives a presidential alert saying he and his family, estranged wife Alison (Morena Baccarin) and son Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd), have been selected for shelter, all they need to do is get to the airforce base and be flown to their secret destination, of course, as with all disaster movies, it’s not that straightforward.

Let’s be clear there is nothing original here, it ticks all the disaster movie boxes, loving but flawed husband, strained marriage and a son to focus on.

While there are moments that make you ask “why would you do that?” overall it does a good job of remaining believable. Butler’s character doesn’t become some kind of super human, determined to protect his family but not by fighting endless bad guys or with unrealistic feats of bravery and cunning, Baccarin the same while avoiding the tip into distressed damsel. Instead Greenland slowly and realistically winds up the tension until its final act crescendo and is the better for it.

This won’t be something that will live long in my memory, but while it lasted it was a decent bit of disaster movie fun and maybe a message for the time, it doesn’t matter how bad it gets there is always hope for the future.

The White Tiger

Showing on Netflix.

Written and directed by Ramin Bahrani adapted from Aravind Adiga’s book that tells the story of a young ambitious Indian man, Balram. Told in flashbacks we learn about Balram’s story from poverty stricken upbringing to entrepreneur. His path is not easy as he starts his journey working for the family who are landlords to his village, he sees the opportunity to learn from the son of his employer until an incident changes the direction of his life drastically and drives his passion to escape a life of servitude and become his own man.

The White Tiger is a much darker story than expected, set in the mid 2000’s it explores a range of challenges in a rapidly changing India via Balram’s story. He battles to throw off the restrictions of expectation and to become master of his own destiny at whatever cost and doing this while fighting against years of corruption and inequality in the very system he’s trying to succeed in.

Built around a fantastic performance by Adarsh Gourav this is a hugely interesting story told in a smart way, Gourav balances Balram’s dual personality of loyal servant and ambitious entrepreneur perfectly, with Rajkummar Rao acting as the prefect foil as his seemingly modern thinking boss. With a slick script that keeps the story moving it stays intriguing thoughout with an unsuspected dark twist in its final act.

If you’ve fancied a bit of Indian cinema but not sure where to begin then The White Tiger is a good place to start.

Malcolm and Marie

Showing on Netflix.

Written and directed by Sam Levinson. Malcolm is a film maker, Marie, sometime actress and Malcolm’s girlfriend, return to their production company rented home in the Californian hills after attending the premier of his new film. There they wait for the first review and what begins as a discussion about the night soon turns into a detailed and often unpleasant examination of their relationship.

There have certainly been mixed reviews for this film, some feel a little over the top, but in many cases the issues with the film are fair. However, I certainly sit at the more positive end of the scale with more to enjoy in Malcolm and Marie than endure.

I won’t pretend this is easy to get on with, the relationship between the two often seems toxic and unpleasant and does leave you thinking, what on earth are they doing together? There is long, very long, monologues as the characters talk at each other and there is very little to lighten the mood. That said, you do get two very watchable performers, John David Washington continues to be a very engaging screen presence and Zendaya is an increasingly interesting actor, talented and not afraid to take on tough characters separating her from the life of Disney, Spiderman and The Greatest Showman. Both certainly give their all.

The choice of black and white adds to the atmosphere of the film, with the contrasts of the images matching the contrasts of the evening, where we switch between love, almost abusive manipulation and a few light moments (Malcolm’s reaction to the first review I found particularly entertaining).

While this clearly is not and will not appeal to everyone and it’s heavy going. The two leads do deliver impressive performances and give an interesting insight into a complex, if somewhat melodramatic, relationship. It is well made and for me much more to admire than dislike.

If you want light hearted cinematic fun, give this a miss, but if you want to see two talented performers perform and don’t mind the heavy going, it may work. Approach with caution!

The Dig

Available on Netflix.

Directed by Simon Stone with a screenplay by Moira Buffini and based on a novel by John Preston. The Dig is based on the true story of the 1939 excavation by Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) of a 6th century burial ship in Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, on the land of Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) a wealthy widow, who had hoped to discover what rests below the mounds on her farm land with her now late husband. What they uncover was, and still remains, one of the most significant archeological finds on British soil.

What I want from a film are characters to care about, a story that interests me and something that engages me emotionally and this had all of that in spades, excuse the pun. Built around two superb central performances, the story telling oozes with charm. Set against the dark skies of impending war, there is a palpable sense of time passing and a risk of losing what is important, the rush to compete the dig before the outbreak of war, Mrs. Pretty concerned she will not see the digs end and the risks of having their discovery and passion taken away by the establishment in the form of the British museum.

For me the films real strength comes from the broader relationships, with some fine support, especially Monica Dolan as Brown’s wife and relative newcomer Archie Brown as Pretty’s son Robert, who having lost his father is terrified that he can not “look after his mother” and who develops a strong bond with Brown as a father figure and guide to what lies ahead.

The only mistep is a seemingly superfluous love story between Peggy (Lily James) and Rory (Johnny Flynn), but it’s only a small qualm and doesn’t detract from all that’s good else where.

The Dig is a really beautiful film with lovely story telling, gorgeously shot, patient, engaging and draws you into its world from start to finish. It is well worth digging out of the Netflix library.

Irresistible

Showing on Sky Cinema and VOD services.

Written and directed by Jon Stewart, Irresistible has Steve Carell as political campaign strategist, Gary Zimmer, who after the chastening defeat of Hilary Clinton at the 2016 election, finds himself in a small Wisconsin town where he and his team want to help local farmer and former marine, Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper), to become the town’s democratic mayor and a new symbol of the democratic party. Jack’s campaign catches the attention of the Republicans who send their own strategic heavyweight Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne), to run the mayors campaign and beat her old adversary Zimmer.

Irresistible is a great example of how the final act can change your view of a film. For two thirds of it what you have is pretty standard political satire, built on the premise of Washington politico’s heading off to small town USA and patronising their “small minded” political views and cares, with the town no more than a means to an end. With the story heading to one of two predictable ends, however the final act twists the story and shines a light at the nonsense of the political system and the objectionable amount of money that pours into it, for no other reason than to support its own existence and lifted Irresistible to something a bit more interesting and smart.

Irresistible was never going to be a bad film for me, I’m a big fan of Steve Carell, who has shown himself to be an equally fine actor in serious and comedic roles and is at home here, supported well in an extended cameo, from the always watchable Rose Byrne, Chris Cooper as the stoic but caring Harrison and McKenzie Davis as his smart and defensive daughter Diane.

The script moves along rapidly and although this leaves the characters a little thin, it stops it becoming too self indulgent and “preachy” leaving its observations as, while not necessarily earth shattering, smart and witty.

If you enjoy a smart political comedy with strong performances, then this while not quite irresistible, is an enjoyable and thanks to the final act an above average piece of political satire.

Miss Juneteenth

On Sky Cinema and various VOD platforms.

Wriiten and directed by Channing Godfrey People and stars Nicole Beharie as Turquoise Jones, a former Miss Juneteenth, whose life has never quite matched what it promised. She now finds herself trying to instil the same ambition to win the prestigious pageant into her 15 year old daughter Kai, Alexis Chikaeze. All while trying to balance a tough life of financial hardship, endless work and constant let down from those closest to her.

Miss Juneteenth can be a difficult watch, but that is also its strength. Turquoise’s life is tough, there are few to rely on, a religious zealot mother, an untrustworthy estranged husband, but the difficulties are countered by her desire to make it better and drive to make sure Kai’s life doesn’t repeat the same cycle.

We also see the consequence of that drive, most notably with Kai who doesn’t share her Mum’s dream and has no real interest in the pageant, she’d rather dance and is frustrated as her dreams are ignored.

But in amongst this we see the strength of community, there is support and a sense of family. As well as a daughter who understands what her mother is sacrificing for her and looks to meet her and her mothers ambition.

While life is clearly hard, the real success of Miss Juneteenth is that it builds characters who you care about, I wanted to see Turquoise succeed and Kai given the room to grow and sometimes that’s all you want in a film an emotional engagement and characters to care about.

The warmth for the characters comes from the writing and fine performances, Beharie is excellent carrying the bulk of the film with warmth and vulnerability. Chikaeze’s Kai and Kendrick Sampson as her father Ronnie also offer good support.

Miss Juneteenth is tough going at times, but that’s what life can be like for many, but importantly it never feels sorry for itself and has a real warmth and heart that engaged me and gave me characters to care about and ultimately a positive story to enjoy.

One Night in Miami

Showing on Amazon Prime Video.

Directed by Regina King with a screenplay based on his own play by Kemp Powers. One Night in Miami is a fictional account of the night in 1964 that Cassius Clay, soon to be Mohammed Ali, becomes world champion for the first time and celebrates in the company of three friends and prominent black figures Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown. However, rather than the party the men had hoped for, what they get is Malcolm X taking the opportunity to encourage Brown and Cooke, in particular, to do more to support the struggle for civil rights in the way Clay, who the next day will announce joining the Nation of Islam. What starts as a celebratory night soon descends into an evening of recriminations and arguments.

The challenge with bringing a stage play to the screen is to do it while maintaining the benefits of a play but avoiding the stagey feel. One Night in Miami under King’s direction does that well, while at times the stage roots show overall it delivers a cinematic experience. Our four leads all provide compelling versions of their famous characters. Kingsley Ben-Adir carries most of the story as Malcolm X struggling to balance the bigger fight with his own internal battles with the Nation of Islam and their controversial leader Elijah Mohammed, Aldis Hodge brings a calm authority as the older Jim Brown, while Eli Goree’s Clay and Leslie Odom Jr. as Cooke bring a wisdom and energy as young, powerful black men.

I found this a really intriguing story, a fascinating snapshot of 1960’s America and the, what seems on-going, fight for equality and rights in the United States and beyond. The four leads are all compelling and hugely watchable while avoiding slipping into mimicry. Under Regina King’s direction the story takes time to make its points while maintaining a pace that keeps you engaged.

One Night in Miami, while loosely based on “true event” still delivers a fascinating insight into the 1960’s and with hugely enjoyable performances is well worth a watch.

Blithe Spirit

New to Sky Cinema.

Directed by Edward Hall and adapted by Piers Ashworth from Noel Cowards 1940’s play. Blithe Spirit stars Dan Stephens as Charles Condomine, a successful author, tasked with adapting a successful novel into a screenplay. However, he has struggled with “writers block” since the death of his first wife who he still pines for, much to the frustration of his current wife Ruth (Isla Fisher). However, life changes after going to see famous “medium”, Judi Dench’s, Madame Arcati Charles and Ruth find a third wheel in their relationship in the shape of “interference” from Charles’s late wife Elvira (Leslie Mann), what for Charles seems a dream increasingly becomes a nightmare.

I didn’t know this was based on a Coward play which perhaps explains why I spent my time thinking, I’ve seen this story before and, unfortunately, done much, much better.

I found Blithe Spirit hugely disappointing, so poor in fact even the wonderful Judi Dench couldn’t lift it beyond decidedly average. Its main problem was the failure in the story telling, the performances are fine but they have so little to work with we only get paper thin and uninteresting characters. Its main failure though, as a comedy, is it just isn’t funny.

Its final crime was its ending, because for all that had preceded it, it had a twist at the end that was intriguing and a little unexpected (maybe it was obvious and I’d stopped caring) and that was hugely frustrating because, suddenly, you think that there was a story there all along but they chose to hide it amongst a series of uninteresting and unfunny randomly thrown together scenes.

It’s only saving graces are, at 95 minutes its thankfully short (felt longer) and of course there’s Judi Dench. So if you want 20 minutes of Dame Judi and happy to ignore 74 of the other 75 minutes this could work, but really, beyond that, I’d suggest watching something else.

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