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She Said

Maria Schrader directs this adaptation of Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s book about their New York Times investigation into Harvey Weinstein. Twohey (Carey Mulligan) fresh from working on a story about sexual misconduct by soon to be President Donald Trump, teams up with Kantor (Zoe Kazan) as she starts to piece together stories of systemic sexual abuse in Hollywood and the system of enablers who covered it up. This leads to Weinstein and an investigation that uncovers wide scale abuse. The story deals with the industry cover up, the levels of abuse, the women it impacted and the intimidation they faced to keep quiet.

There are two things to consider with She Said, the film and the real story it tells.

Let’s deal with the story first. It is powerful and shocking in its scale and the scale of the efforts to cover it up. It covers the incredible work by Twohey and Kantor and their team. The endless pursuit of the story, the intimidation they faced and the unwavering commitment to keep going. The story is shocking, it’s shocking that it is so current and shocking in knowing it’s not just Weinstein and the film industry where powerful men are using their position to abuse and victimise women and those without the power or voice to fight back. It’s a hugely important story and critical it is played to a wide audience and that She Said does powerfully.

The film, itself is almost less important. It is a pretty perfunctory investigative journalism film. It hits all the beats you’d expect one on one interviews, chasing down hard to find witnesses and meetings over dinner, coffee and in the office. Performances are fine Mulligan and Kazan are well supported by Patricia Clarkson and Andre Braugher. But also importantly key names in the real story including Ashley Judd and Gwyneth Paltrow.

She Said is a solid but unremarkable drama. However, the story of the horrific abuse it tells is incredible. The purpose this film serves is bringing that story to the big screen and a wide audience and for that reason it deserves to be seen.

The Menu

Written by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, Directed by Mark Mylod is this dark comedy set in the world of exclusive fine dining. Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) and Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) are heading off to an dinner at the exclusive island based restaurant of renowned Chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) Hawthorne. An exclusive and expensive eating “experience” which attracts food critics, foodies, the wealthy with money to burn and celebrities. But to this special evening the guests are by invite, except Margot, who Tyler has employed as his date for the evening. An invite she soon regrets when Chef Slowick’s menu turns into an eating experience nobody expects.

The Menu is quite the culinary ride full of dark turns as the evening becomes ever more vengeful. It’s a dark satirical comedy a mix of MasterChef meets The Purge. It takes aim at overly pretentious food, food criticism, experience junkies and style over substance. All of these irritations fall in the vengeful sights of a chef disheartened with his craft and the life it has given him.

The film is built on the performances of the always flawless Anya Taylor-Joy and Ralph Fiennes channeling his best Hannibal Lecter. Both bring a darkness that never falls into caricature.

The social commentary can be biting, the premise entertaining and the comedy deliciously dark. But the film doesn’t fully work for me. While we have a fine ensemble cast which includes Hoult, John Leguizamo and Hong Chau. None of their characters have any depth, other than their obvious unpleasantness, which ultimately means I didn’t really care about them as the film moved towards its conclusion and this lessened its impact.

The Menu is a deliciously dark poking fun at obvious unpleasant targets. But it doesn’t fully hit the mark as beyond Fiennes and Taylor-Joy’s characters, the rest are paper thin and you fail to care for them and their ultimate end lessening its impact. That said still lots of fun to be had.

The Wonder

Directed by Sebastián Lelio, with a screenplay by Alice Birch and Emma Donoghue based on her novel. Florence Pugh is Elizabeth Wright an English nurse invited over to 19th century Ireland to evaluate the “miraculous” story of Anna (Kíla Lord Cassidy) a young girl who has not eaten for four months, claiming to be sustained by no more than her faith. Wright, alongside local Nun (Josie Walker), has been invited by the villages committee to come and observe and understand as to whether it is a miracle or a hoax. As Elizabeth gets to know Anna and her family however, she learns the truth of what is happening. Becoming more desperate as she sees Anna’s story move towards it inevitable conclusion.

The Wonder is a story about stories and sets its stall out early as to exactly what we are watching. It looks at how stories become beliefs and how beliefs are used. Used by those wanting to exert control, by abusers, the abused and those masking the darkness of their own reality or memories.

The Wonder is a dark and compelling watch, especially as the horrific nature of Anna’s “miracle” becomes clear as does who is empowering it and what they are hiding. It is a slow burn of a film and for some maybe too slow. But for me, the intrigue of the story paired with the always magnetic presence of Pugh kept me thoroughly engaged.

However, it is the power of the ending that brings the story together. Not just the dark reveal of Anna’s reality, but also the reveal of the films algorical nature which puts a whole new slant on it.

Performances are strong, Pugh is of course excellent and is well supported by the ensemble cast, Tom Burke, Ciarán Hinds, Toby Jones and Elaine Cassidy amongst others.

It looks great and beautifully portrays Wright’s isolation as both the watcher and an outsider, with a suitably dark and horror inflected score.

While its pacing and darkness of its story won’t be for everyone, I found The Wonder dark and intriguing. It is an intelligent look at how stories are used for good and bad and it’s allegorical nature leaves you with plenty to think about.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Ryan Coogler writes and directs the sequel to his very successful Black Panther. Wakanda is still in mourning over the death of King T’Challa and this is not all the nation has to deal with, as we find Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) at the United Nations challenging those targeting Wakanda’s outreach locations looking to secure stocks of vibranium. However, when a seam is found in the ocean those looking to find it are met by a mysterious people who rise from the sea under the command of their leader, Namor (Tenoch Huerta). This brings new problems for Wakanda and it falls on the young shoulders of Shuri (Letitia Wright), who while trying to deal with the loss of her brother now has to forge a path for the future of Wakanda.

This is not a traditional Marvel film. In fact it’s the traditional Marvel bits that are where it is at its weakest. Rather it’s a grown up story that explores loss and grief and in doing so delivers a touching tribute to the sad loss of its former leading man.

From its touching opening (including the opening credits) the film does an excellent job of balancing how loss impacts people. We have Shuri’s hurt, anguish and anger. Ramonda who tries to hide her hurt, but it surfaces time and again all handled thoughtfully. It also explores other grown up themes such as the greed of powerful nations and their eagerness to pillage others for their resources and the pointless nature of superpowers doing battle.

The film is full of strong performances Luptia Nyong’o, Danai Gurira and Winston Duke all shine next to Wright and Bassett who are the stories heart.

It’s not perfect, it’s too long (although doesn’t drag) and there are misses in its more traditional Marvel elements with some plot points and characters feeling forced and unnecessary.

Wakanda forever is not your traditional Marvel film. Rather it’s a thoughtful and heartfelt look at loss. For those wanting traditional superhero fare, this isn’t it. Instead Marvel have chosen to tell a grown up story and it felt better for it.

Causeway

New to Apple TV+.

Lila Neugebauer directs Jennifer Lawrence and Brian Tyree Henry in her feature debut. Lawrence is Lynsey a US soldier who is home and rehabilitating after been injured in Afghanistan. After getting herself a job as a pool cleaner, a car problem leads her to a garage run by James (Henry), it is here she strikes up a friendship with the owner who is dealing with his own dark trauma. The film follows their struggle to come to terms with their past, present, future and each other.

I enjoy a character piece, a patient exploration of people and their relationships. This is what Neugebauer brings to the screen in what is fine two hander, led by two strong performers. It’s not the best example of this kind of story, but it is a solid effort.

The film is patient, touching and difficult at times as it explores the challenges that both leads face as they deal with their past trauma and difficulty facing up to their future options.

What makes it work ultimately is its two leads. Jennifer Lawrence is one of the finest actors of her generation and sometimes that’s easy to forget, with her investing her time in more indie feeling work such as this. But her quality shines through here. It’s a measured and layered performance which draws you into Lynsey’s world completely. Brian Tyree Henry is equally compelling as the laid back, relaxed and supportive James, who is also dealing with his own painful memories. It is the relationship between them which keeps this compelling and watchable.

It also looks great with a neat indie feel and an enjoyable score. But it’s not perfect and sometimes confuses slow pacing with patience. But they are small gripes in what is a decent, compelling watch which takes a thoughtful look at trauma and it’s impact on the past and future.

As a feature debut Lila Neugebauer delivers a decent movie with two excellent leads. Lawrence and Henry give beautifully nuanced performances that are always compelling. It won’t be a classic, but is engaging and thoughtful and worth checking out.

Enola Holmes 2

New on Netflix.

Harry Bradbeer and Jack Thorne team up again to bring Nancy Springer’s Enola Homes back for a second outing. Enola (Millie Bobby Brown) bouyed by the success of solving her first case opens her own detective agency. However, things have not gone well. But as she is about the close the doors for the last time a young girl, Bessie (Serrana Su-Ling Bliss) turns up needing help to find her sister Sarah (Hannah Dodd). This leads her on a mystery that takes her through the dark world of 19th century working conditions, theft, high society corruption and murder, which leads her to cross the path of a case her brother Sherlock (Henry Cavill) is working on.

I enjoyed the first film, yes it was a little long, the story messy and Cavill was not convincing as Sherlock, but it had a certain fun and energy that made it an enjoyable.

The problem for this sequel is it has all of the same problems, but didn’t have the saving graces of the first one. Again it was too long, the pacing uneven and the the story too fragmented to keep my attention. And it’s a pity, as actually there is probably a good film in there. The mystery touched on some interesting ideas as well as some fascinating historical moments including a significant moment in female workers rights. But all of this is lost in the rather rambling story, a story that never seems to want to end, with the feeling of at least three moments of “oh and here’s another thing”.

Some of the good bits remain, the look and feel, that takes a lot from Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films, and Brown herself remains engaging as the lead. Cavill was slightly more believable as her brother and David Thewliss brings a bit of darkness with his sinister policeman Grail. But not enough good bits.

Enola Holmes 2 was a disappointment, with all the problems of the first, but without the fun adventure that made it work. It’s too long, it seemingly never wants to end and the story is a mess. After the first one I was more than happy to see another installment, after this I’m not so keen for a third.

The Banshees of Inisherin

Martin McDonagh writes and directs this very dark comedy, set in 1923 on Inisherin a small Ireland off the Irish coast. Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson) are best friends and drinking buddies. Pádraic’s happy world that revolves around his cottage, his sister, his animals and his daily pub trips with Colm is turned upside down when Colm decides he no longer wants to be friends. When Pádraic tries to understand why, Colm makes it very clear he no longer has time in his life for him and if he doesn’t leave him alone he will cut off his own fingers! We follow the impact of Colm’s ultimatum on thier relationship and its impact on those around them.

The Banshees of Inisherin is earning a lot of praise and rightly so. Its deliciously dark, thoughtful, subtle and laugh out loud funny.

There are many layers of story to enjoy, Gleeson brilliantly portrays Colm’s struggles with his own mortality and realisation that he may live a life that nobody remembers. Farrell is just as good, struggling to come to terms with how “being a nice guy” isn’t a good thing and how what grows into pettiness takes a toll on all around them. We see the mundanity of small island life which for some is what they love, for others it feels like a prison killing thier dreams. All of these stories and more add to a rich tapestry of storytelling.

Performances are fabulous, not just Farrell and Gleeson. Kerry Condon as Pádraic’s sister, tries to bring sense to proceedings, while dealing with her own frustrations, and Barry Keoghan turns in a scene stealing performance as Dominic the village “fool”, but who is more wise and perceptive than he’s given credit for.

It looks beautiful, Ben Diavis’s cinematography using it’s sprawling rugged landscape to highlight the often desolate nature of the place and the story.

While superhero and action films more than have their place at the cinema, it’s always a refreshing pleasure to see something that is sharp and intelligent, humorous and touching and Banshees of Inisherin is all of that and more. A darkly comic treat.

Black Adam

Jaume Collet-Serra directs this latest DC comic book adaptation. Dwayne Johnson is Thet Adam, who has been enclosed in his tomb in Kahndaq for 5000 years. When he’s released in an act of desperation by Adrianna (Sarah Shahi) he unleashes his own dark powers. However this does not go unnoticed and alerts the justice society Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Atom Smasher(Noah Centineo), Cyclone(Quintess Swindell) and Dr Fate (Pierce Brosnan), under the leadership of Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), who dispatches them to put an end to Adam’s freedom. However in Kahndaq, the latest in a long line of oppressors the Intergang, are hunting for the crown of Sabbac, which will give the wearer unlimited power. When it is recovered by Adrianna it puts her and her son Amon (Bodhi Sabongui) in danger. This challenges Adam to become the hero, save the crown, the family and fend off the justice society while doing so.

I didn’t have high hopes for Black Adam, with DC’s record of underwhelming films and some sniffy reviews. But I enjoyed it, yes it’s a bit messy, has an unnecessary last 30 minutes and dialogue that is often a little on the nose. But that said it’s a pretty solid effort.

It helped that it avoided the superhero trap of weighing down its story with its own universe. It has very little of that and just serves up a smashy crashy bunch of superhero battles.

But beyond that it also has an interesting idea at its centre, that of whether Black Adam is an anti-hero or hero depending on a point of view.

The cast are solid, Johnson is his usual enjoyable screen presence and there is some fun, especially from Centineo’s Atom Smasher and Sarah Shahi provides the heart. The CGI looks solid enough even if it and the “super slow-mo” are overdone.

Black Adam is not perfect, but for all its sniffy reviews, I enjoyed it. The premise of whether he is a hero been based on a point of view, is an interesting nuance. Johnson is always watchable and If you just want smash and crash superhero fun then you may find this an enjoyable couple of hours.

Catherine Called Birdy

Available on Amazon Prime Video.

Lena Dunham writes and directs this coming of age tale set in 13th century England and based on Karen Cushman’s book. Lady Catherine, also known as Birdy, (Bella Ramsey) is just 14 and still enjoys playing in the mud with her friends Perkin (Michael Woolfitt), Meg (Rita Bernard-Shaw) and her best friend Aelis (Isis Hainsworth). But life is about to change as she finds herself in the verge of womanhood. Her father Lord Rollo (Andrew Scott) realises Birdy is his family’s best asset and best chance to help alleviate its debt by marrying her off to a wealthy suitor, who can provide a big dowry. But Birdy has no intention of making that easy for her father or mother Lady Aislinn (Billie Piper) as she navigates her changing world with all the challenges it presents to a 13th century teenager.

While I’m not really the audience for a coming of age story but that didn’t stop this been an enjoyable and charming film. Taking the traditional coming of age story, with all the usual loves, friendships and awkward crushes, with the added “fun” of growing up in the 14th century and being paraded before a long line of inappropriate suitors.

It’s a really smart idea that does work well. In Bella Ramsey we have a engaging and humourous lead who is well supported by the always enjoyble Andrew Scott as her troubled father, torn between family finance and the love of his daughter. And Billie Piper juggling the horrific challenge of child birth in the 13th century with trying to be a mother.

It’s funny and well paced not overstretching its idea and perfectly balanced its contemporary tale with some of the horrors faced by young girls and women of the time.

Catherine Called Birdy has a fun premise, taking the coming of age teen comedy and setting it in the 13th century, which really works. It zips along nicely with plenty of charm and humour. If you’ve ever wondered what the iife of a medieval teenager was like then this is for you.

Amsterdam

David O. Russell writes and directs his latest star laden film. Christian Bale is Bert Berendsen a doctor who finds himself sent to the first world war frontline, where he is thrust together with Harold Woodman (John David Washington). Injured in the fighting they find themselves in the care of Valerie (Margot Robbie), whom after the war they spend time together in Amsterdam and make a pact to always watch out for each other. 15 years later, back in New York, Bert and Harold find themselves involved in a plot that involves the death of Liz Meekins (Taylor Swift) the daughter of their former commanding officer Bill (Ed Bagley Jr.). Murders that lead them into the middle of coup plot that includes General Dillenbeck (Robert De Niro) and Valerie’s family Tom (Rami Malik) and his wife Libby (Anya Taylor-Joy). Bert and Harold’s challenge, clear their names, stay alive and foil a coup.

To be brutally honest Amsterdam was a disappointment from a filmmaker who’s normally so reliable. However the stellar cast are let down by a convoluted story. The premise has promise an intriguing whodunnit against a backdrop of the rise of fascism. However, it is let down by its pedestrian telling, far too bogged down in its detail until the final act. To its credit the final act works well, thanks to the addition of De Niro’s Dillenbeck, which brings the story together and gives the often painfully slow setup a pay off. But there is a lot of setup before that payoff that ultimately isn’t so good to make the journey worthwhile.

As you’d expect the cast all deliver great performances including the strong support. Matthias Schoenaerts and Allessandro Nivola as detectives investigating Meekins death, Michael Shannon and Mike Myers as US and British “Government agents” are particular standouts.

But, Amsterdam is a classic example of less than the sum of its parts. Its excellent cast, and smart final act, that does give a payoff, doesn’t quite rescue the fact that the film asks you too work too hard to get there and ultimately it’s not quite worth it.

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