FILM OF THE WEEK
Another triumph for the American/Greek director Alexander Payne, whose impressive credits include ELECTION, SIDEWAYS, THE DESCENDANTS and NEBRASKA. Here, in this beautifully observed drama/comedy, he is reunited with his SIDEWAYS leading man Paul Giamatti, who plays Paul Hunham, a notoriously grumpy history teacher at an elite American school. Christmas is approaching but Hunham is forced to stay on the remote snow-covered campus during the holidays and look after a handful of students with nowhere to go. Amongst the students is Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa), an intelligent but troubled young man left behind by his newly wed mother. Another lost soul with nowhere to go is Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), the school’s head cook, who is still in mourning for her son’s untimely death in Vietnam…
David Hemingson’s perfectly tuned screenplay provides his actors with perfectly developed characters and with terrific dialogue. Giamatti is on superlative form and is outstanding as the cantankerous teacher, who appears to be constantly in a bad mood. He never fails to criticize the school’s stuffy old rules and almost miraculously, he forms an unlikely bond with Tully. Sessa is an exciting new talent and his breakthrough performance is one of the best since probably the arrival of Lucas Hedges in MANCHESTER BY THE SEA. Payne combines comedy with pathos to a great effect and the result is particularly poignant thanks to the essential and dignified presence of Joy Randolph, who deserves every award going.
I have already seen this brilliant film twice and I am very happy to sit through it all over again!
The original MEAN GIRLS was the unexpected hit of 2004 thanks to Tina Fey’s beautifully observed screenplay and well-developed characters. Now 20 years later, the “The Plastics” are back, via a Broadway musical production, which is heading into the West End for the summer.
Meanwhile, the musical version of Tina Fey’s creation is now a big screen attraction. Angourie Rice steps into Lindsay Lohan’ shoes and plays Cady Heron, the new student in town, who is surprisingly welcomed by the school’s elite group of popular girls, “The Plastics”, led by the ever so mean Regina George (Renee Rapp). But when Cady falls for Regina’s ex-boyfriend Aaron Samuels (Christopher Briney), she soon falls from the group’s favour…
Tina Fey’s smart dialogue is almost identical to the original, even though the girls here are not as mean as in the original. Jeff Richmond’s pleasing music compliments the action and the songs may not be that memorable, but they are fun and at least they are advancing the action. I wouldn’t be surprised if this turns out to be this year’s BARBIE!
THE BOYS IN THE BOAT
George Clooney brings vividly to the screen this exciting true story. It is based on Daniel James Brown’s non-fiction novel which takes place in Seattle and Washington during the Great Depression years. Many young men are desperate for work, particularly Joe Rantz (Callum Turner), who is prepared to do anything to pay for his tuition fees. Meanwhile, Coach Al Ulbrickson (Joel Edgerton) is looking for athletic young men to join the University of Washington’s rowing team…
The story may be predictable but its strong production values and sharp editing keep you fascinated until the final credits. Clooney filmed most of this very American inspirational story in England with many British actors. It is like a version of CHARIOTS OF FIRE but without Vangelis’ iconic score. This time it is French/Greek composer Alexandre Desplat, who provides the music – a memorable, tuneful score blissfully devoid of any sentimentality.
THE END WE START FROM
Mahalia Belo’s impressive debut feature was premiered at last October’s London Film Festival and its global warming theme couldn’t be more topical. The story written by Alice Birch takes place in the not-too-distant future, water is everywhere – London and most of the country is submerged by flood waters. A young woman (Jodie Comer), with her newborn baby in her arms, struggles to make an exit from her flooded house as well as find her husband amongst the chaos…
It is a strong, terrifying but sombre premise, which develops like 28 DAYS LATER, even though there are no zombies to be seen across the hostile environment. Comer is effective as the young mother and so is Katherine Waterston as the woman she befriends along the way.
Kibwe Tavares and Daniel Kaluuya’s futuristic tale in a dystopian London was selected for the Closing Night Gala at last October’s London Film Festival. The screenplay co-written with Kaluuya with Joe Murtagh follows the story of Izi (Kane Robinson), a solitary figure in The Kitchen, following the eradication of all forms of social housing. Izi keeps himself to himself until 12-year-old Benji (Jedaiah Bannerman), who recently lost his mother, arrives on the scene searching for his family…
An imaginative tale directed with flair and style, with a strong ensemble of actors. Robinson is effective and so is newcomer Bannerman, who is destined for greater things.
This marks the impressive feature film directorial debut of Alice Englert, well known for her performances in BEAUTIFUL CREATURES and in her mother Jane Campion’s THE POWER OF THE DOG. Her intelligent script follows the story of Lucy (Jennifer Connelly), a fragile woman who checks into a spiritual retreat seeking healing from past traumas. Meanwhile, her daughter Dylan (Alice Englert) is on location in New Zealand working as a stunt woman. Both find themselves at a turning point in their lives which forces them to re-examine their values as well as their relationship…
An assured piece of filmmaking with exceptional performances. Connelly is excellent and so is Englert as her fearless daughter. Ben Wishaw threatens to steal the film as the retreat’s pretentious new age guru – “I am not a monk I have been enlightened.”
A dark comedy worth discovering!
Gena Marvin is a unique personality – a queer artist from a small town in Russia, who dresses in bizarre costumes made from junk and tape and protests on the streets of Moscow. Agniia Galdanova’s daring documentary follows this 21-year-old artist from her humble beginnings in the remote town of Magadan before she creates a new kind of activism with her art. Gena is a controversial presence on the streets of Moscow especially now that a war is brewing against Ukraine.
An important film not only about art, but also about survival in the cruellest of circumstances and places.
THE OLD OAK
Ken Loach brings to the screen another powerful story written by long-time collaborator Paul Laverty. The action takes place in a small Northeast town that has been in decline since the mine has closed over 30 years ago. The local community are still struggling with unemployment and their only escape is a visit to their local pub “The Old Oak”. And they believe that things are getting worse especially now that a group of Syrian refugees have landed on their doorstep. Thankfully, the friendly landlord, TJ Ballantyne (Dave Turner), is much more humane and open minded than the rest…
Loach is at his element here – a moving story about refugees in an unfriendly, hostile society. Again, he draws natural performances from his mostly non-professional cast. Turner is very effective and so is Ebla Mari as the young Syrian woman he befriends.
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