During the COVID-19 lock-down, film and television were part of the life savers in our household, together with cooking new and experimental dishes, cleaning, sorting and sleeping. Several novels were also read and a great deal of writing was done. Here I make observations about film and TV focusing generally on films made 2000 onwards and TV shows we started watching recently.
Roald & Beatrix – The Tail of the Curious Mouse (2021)
Roald Dahl as a boy met Beatrix Potter in the Lake District. This is the story of their encounter and why it occurred. A nice little film – my grandkids will like it – starring Rob Bryden, Bill Bailey, Dawn French, Jessica Hynes and many other British actors. The side story – that Beatrice was writing (even though she didn’t really want to) a story of about a mouse so that she could earn money to buy a farm in Troutbeck and expand her sheep-herd is both true and interesting. A nice Sunday afternoon show. Three and a half stars of five.
The French Exit (2020)
A strange film. But first things first. Michelle Pfiffer (stunningly beautiful) plays a woman whose husband died and, though she was left with money and property in New York, blew it and has to retreat to a friends apartment in Paris. She decides to essentially end it all by spending it all, along with helping her son adjust to a new reality. It is an odd film – some strange undertones and a weird plot line. Her husband was left dead for a long-week-end before she reported him dead on her return from a week-end away. During the time of decomposition, her cat licked her husband continuously and took on his persona. The cat is with her in Paris and has a speaking part in the film (told you it was strange). Meant to be a dark comedy, there are not many laughs and a few truly strange moments. Three stars of five. (Pfiffer is about to play Betty Ford in a TV series based around First Ladies).
The Pursuit of Love (TV Mini Series, 2021)
The Mitford sisters were an odd lot. Debo became Duchess of Devonshire and was wonderful, but some of the other sisters were simply fascists. One shot herself in the head (and largely missed) because of her love of Hitler and others were married to or in love with fascists. Nancy Mitford wrote a largely silly novel which is what this TV mini series is based on (loosely). Written by Emily Mortimer and starring Dominic West, Lily James and Andrew Scott (the vicar man from Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag) it is a competent but posh drama about the rich and largely strange lot between the two wars. Three one hour shows – interesting in a kind of voyeur way. Three and half stars of five.
Mare of Easttown (TV, 2021)
Kate Winslet and Guy Pearce star among others in this small town detective story, which Winselt acted as executive producer for. Gritty and dark, Winselt’s character’s life is falling apart following her son’s suicide, divorce and coming out of her daughter. Convincing and strong, this is a series that grows on you. Stick with it. Seven episodes, each ending with a smart twist you didnt see coming. Four stars of five.
The Virtuoso (2021)
Anthony Hopkins (who just won the Best Actor Oscar) is a manipulative contractor of killers and an ex-veteran. He contracts one person (Abbie Cornish) to kill another of his own assassins (Anson Mount). En route to the final scene there are a variety of other killings. Slow paced, deliberate and contemplative movie with a lot of thought voice-overs, there are no surprises for any of us used to the genre. Competent, interesting but not great. Three and half stars of five.
Keeping Faith (Series 3, 2021)
Eve Myles is a wonderful Welsh actress and she is terrific as a lawyer in this final series of this thriller. All sorts of nuances, dark and twisted turns with the excellent performance of Celia Imrie playing Faith (Eve Myles) evil and twisted mother. Nice performances too from Dame Sian Phillips and an intriguing end of life story as part of the fabric of this epic drama. To make sense of Series 3 you need to have seen Series 1 & 2, but they are worth watching. Four and a half stars of five.
Line of Duty (Series 6, 2021)
AC12 is the unit that investigates “bent coppers” but is not itself without intrigue and mystery, as we saw in Series 5. Full of interesting jargon (dictionary of police terms needed), this series has as its suspect DCI Joanne Davidson (Kelly MacDonald) – a lesbian senior officer. To complicate matters her 2 i/c is Kate Fleming, recently of AC12 but now back catching “proper bad guys” (or not, as the case may be). Written brilliantly by Jed Mercurio, who knows where this line will take us. But its worth watching. Already, I am hooked by the wonderful performance I am seeing from Kelly MacDonald (she was also wonderful in Boardwalk Empire). Five stars of five.
This is a Robbery (4 Part TV, 2021)
In 1990, two men dressed as police officers on the day of the St. Patrick’s parade in Boston walked into a private art gallery and stole $500,000 worth of art. The art works have never been recovered and no one has ever been charged with the theft. It remains the largest ever art theft in history. Was the theft commissioned by a collector? DId some gangster arrange the theft so as to have bargaining chips to use in a plea bargain? Was it chancers hoping to steal and sell? Was it in part an inside job? This four part Netflix series explores these questions, but the answer is “it’s anyone’s guess!”. We don’t know. Three stars of five.
Have I Got News for You (HIGNFY) (Series 61, 2021)
For over thirty years, this show has been home to wonderful satire and has made several people’s names (like Boris Johnson) and broken others (like Boris Johnson or Angus Deayton). Following some scandal with Angus when he was the host, the show has had guest presenters ranging from Brian Blessed (wonderful), Sir Bruce Forsyth (amazingly funny), Victoria Coren-Mitchell (shown above) and others. The format works – funny videos, sarcasm and wit from Ian Hislop (Editor of Private Eye) and Paul Merton. For me its must watch TV. Four stars of five.
Antiques Roadshow (Series 43, 2021)
It is not Sunday in our house without us watching Antiques Roadshow while our lamb or beef or chicken is roasting in the oven. There are several reasons for watching. The first is that the gorgeous Fiona Bruce hosts. Say no more. The second is the wonderful stories about the items people bring in – some of which are very moving. The knowledge of the valuers is remarkable. The third is that the presenters are all terrible at making choices about what to wear (except Fiona). This week a man had a decent suit jacket, a waistcoat that didn’t match the jacket, yellow trousers and suede shoes. Looked a plonker. The other reason is to understand the value of the items we have just been told about – some are incredibly valuable from a financial point of view, others just so important given their history. Many years ago I worked with Mike Apter and his father Ken Smith (Mike changed his name…complicated story). Mike’s brother was the one that created Antiques Roadshow for BBC Bristol back in the mid 1970’s. It’s come a long way since then. Still a great show. Four stars of five.
Call the Midwife (2021 Series 10)
Its strange to think that this historical drama which captures many aspects of my own life growing up in a working class town like Bradford has endured so well, thanks to great writing and performances by all concerned. The new series begins with a number of themes – PTSD and birth-defects due to radiation, privatization of health services, the challenge of finding a place to live if your black or a single parent, loss and grief – and all this before we’re past the first episode! Trixie (Helen George) is shipped off to work in Harley Street as a midwife so as to earn cash to keep Nonnatus House afloat. Set in 1966, this series promises to be just as good as the nine that proceeded it. Eight episodes (including a Christmas special) in this batch. Five stars of five and a box of tissues.
Snackmasters (TV Series)
Fred Siriex used to work in high end hospitality but has switched to TV since he “retired” in 2019. He’s been busy. In addition to appearing on a roadshow with Gordon Ramsey and Gino D’Acampo, he has launched a series Remarkable Places to Eat and Snackmaster’s. His attraction is that he is handsome and sounds a little like the policeman from ‘Ello ‘Ello – he mangles English really well for a Frenchman. The idea of Snacmaster’s is clever: Michelin star chefs are asked to recreate exactly snacks which we all know well – Kit Kat, Wagon Wheel, Monster Munch, Domino’s Pizza. It is fascinating watching them in action – some of them spending a small fortune to try and win. The writers, knowing Fred’s issues with Franglais, make sure to use tongue twisters (“you’re whopper was a flopper”). It’s funny, serious and intriguing. Not serious television. But fun. Three and a half stars of five.
Remarkable Places to Eat (2021 TV Series)
Fred Siriex (see above) is taken by his guests to visit their favourte places to eat. In the first episode, Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussein (Now cookbook author, TV presenter and star) takes the lad to Harrogate and Betty’s Tea Rooms – a favourite of ours when we lived there 1999-2003. She also takes him to a wonderful place in Leeds that has the best Samosa. In the next episode the greengrocer and TV personality Chris Bavin takes him around the New Forest and finds some stunning places to eat fresh local (25 mile) product. Worth watching, in part because Fred is such an innocent and lacks experience of the world outside fine dining, but also because it reminds us of things past and suggests things new whenever we may be allowed out again. Three and half stars of five.
The Father (2020)
There are a growing number of films about dementia and its impacts on families, individuals, communities. This is one. But its stellar. Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Coleman and Mark Gatiss, Imogen Poots and Rufus Sewell show us what quality acting looks like. Originally a play written by Florian Zeller and made into a screenplay by Chris Hampton, the film has been nominated for six Oscars, including for Hopkins, Coleman and its writers. The film explores both the inner mind of the victim (Hopkins) and the interplay between him and the family, both in fact and in his imagination. Simply brilliant film, though sometimes difficult to watch. Five stars of five. (Hopkins won a BAFTA for his work on this film).
I Care a Lot (2020)
I will watch anything that the actress Nicola Walker is in. She is brilliant. Here, a dishevelled detective who wants out of the force but has to work another three months, is running a cold case involving current and former police officers. Slow burn, but powerful TV. She is supported (as she has been in all 4 series of this great crime drama) by Sanjeev Bhaskar (former comedy actor – The Kumars, Goodness Gracious Me – turned excellent serious actor). This six part series is powerful, totally watchable TV. Five stars of five.
Searching for Italy (CNN 2021)
Masterchef Canada / Masterchef UK (2020)
Promising Young Woman (2020)
The Man in the Hat (2020)
A man drives around France in a tiny Fiat with a picture of a woman on the passenger seat. He wears a hat. He has interesting encounters. They include him, early in the movie, seeing what we all assume to be a body dumped into a harbour by several bald men. They seem to follow him, having realized that they witnessed the “event”. A near silent movie (rather like Mr. Bean, but not that funny) with surrealist moments and intrigue throughout. A very enjoyable and pointless experience. Ciarán Hinds is the man in the hat and the filming took place around Marseilles. Four stars of five.
Blood on the Crown (aka as Just Noise) (2020)
Malta 1919. There’s trouble brewing in Malta as the British seek to suppress a demand for home rule and independence. The Governor (Harvey Keitel) has to do something, and sadly trusts his general (Malcolm McDowell) to do the right thing rather than his diplomat (Tom Prior). A bloodbath ensues, which merely aggravated the locals more and led to independence two years later. Foreign film (Maltese) with subtitles and some periods of English. Not a thriller – all too predictable – but seems to have integrity. Two stars of five.
Masterchef (2021 UK BBC)
Yes. another cooking show. But these are amateur cooks showcasing their food to be tasted first by John Torode and Greg Wallace (the man who grimaces and uses his face like an elastic band) before elimination. Remaining cooks get to cook for external judges – past winners, restaurant critics like Grace Dent or actual chefs like Monica Gaeletti or Marcus Wearing. I find Torode a little over-bearing and Greg Wallace a little too country-bumpkin, but it is interesting to see what the cooks are stirring up. Each week ten cooks compete and then get to a final show where we are down to four with two going on to the semi final (normally). It’s ok, but not as informative or educational as Masterchef Professional.
To Olivia (2021)
Roald Dahl married the actress Patricia Neal and they had three children – two daughters and a son. One of the daughters – Olivia – died of meningitis and it almost killed the marriage. Patricia had almost given up acting, but she went back to it and starred in a film with Paul Newman for which she subsequently won an Oscar. Dahl went into himself and his writing hut and created Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which became a world best seller. Pat is played by the ever present Keeley Hawes and Dahl by Hugh Bonneville. A solid movie, which no doubts captures these events well but it is lacking in depth – feels a little superficial. Four stars of five (but then I would watch Keeley Hawes open a bag of sugar).
Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth, close friends in real life, play a gay married couple in this film released in 2020 and shot largely in the Lake District. Tusker (Tucci) is a novelist, but has fast developing dementia and can no longer write and is beginning to lose memory. Sam (Firth) is a pianist and is determined to be with Tusker. Wonderful scenes, including a stunning shot of Crummock Water and a slow burn but predictable drama with a very weak ending. Good performances all round working with a so-so script, written and directed by Harry McQueen (Hinterland). Its ok, but not wonderful. Three stars of five.
Great Pottery Throwdown (TV 2021)
The same format at Bakeoff – ten contestants are given challenges each week and one is eliminated based on the judges view of their work. But the material is clay and the work is pottery in all of its forms. I know nothing at all about this work, but am hooked and fascinated about what they can do. This is great TV and inspiring to see these amateurs so passionate and skilled in their craft. Four stars of five.
Finding Alice (TV Series, 2020)
Finding Alice (ITV 6 parts) has Keeley Hawes, Joanna Lumley, Nigel Havers and Kenneth Cranham as principal characters. Should be good. Maybe. The story line is simple. Husband, who is a builder and land speculator, dies leaving Keeley in a super modern house with significant debts. Worse, he has placed the deeds of the house in the hands of his parents who need to sell it so as to avoid death duties. Husband and wife, in turns out, were not married making probate difficult. We then watch with growing black humour this story unfold. Bitty and not at all strong, it is nonetheless interesting. Some nice character acting by Isabelle Papas (who plays the daughter) and strong tough lady acting from Julia Leyland. Some moments of truly dark material. Three stars of five.
Black Beauty (2020)
The Disney studios remake of this classic is fine, but predictable. Kate Winslet voices the horse and the young girl to whom it responds is played well by McKenzie Foy, who has been on TV and in films since 2009. Ian Glen plays the reluctant uncle who takes her in when her parents are killed in a car accident. We all know the story and there are a couple of tweaks and twists introduced in this version. A solid film if a little ketch. Two and three quarter stars of five.
In 2015 Grímur Hákonarson made a movie in Iceland called RAMS. It was about two brothers who lived on the same farm. Both bred sheep, including prize winning rams, but neither spoke with each other and had not done so for forty years. This is a new version of this same story, set in Australia starring Sam Neil and Michael Caton with an appearance by Miranda Richardson. The sheep get some disease and have to be put down. Sam Neil manages to hide three of the best and keep them out of harms way. The plot unfolds. It’s ok as a story (especially if you like sheep), but not a great film. Three stars of five.
The Dig (2021)
By far the best film I have seen in a long time. (Though The Last Vermeer is very good). A true story of the Sutton Hoo dig where an ancient long boat was found buried in a field covered by a mound. In the boat, in addition to the bones of a warrior king, wonderful treasures now on display at the British Museum in London. The dig was on private land owned by Edith Pretty (Cary Mulligan) who asked a local amateur archeologist to excavate the site. His name was Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) and he was a forceful character but generally right. Some side stories too – Lily James has an affair with another working on the dig, despite being married (her husband appears to be gay). But these side stories never get in the way of the main plot line. Terrific film. Six stars of five.
The Last Vermeer (2019)
A true story. Accused of conspiring with the Germans, an artist seeks to demonstrate that the Vermeer he sold to Goering for a huge sum of money (making him one of the richest men in Holland) was in fact a fake that he painted. The experts disagree and claim that the Vermeer which has been found is genuine. A brilliant and exceptional performance by Guy Pearce as Han Van Meegeren and solid performance by Cleas Bang as the man who first arrested him and then defended him make this a very good film indeed – one of the best of 2019-2020. A brilliant final court scene really shows what good directing can do. Five stars of five.
A Call to Spy (2019)
As the second world war unfolded, Britain created the secret service and special operations. It included the recruitment and training of women to act as spy’s behind enemy lines. They were to find and work with the resistance and find routes for supplies in and wounded British and allied pilots and soldiers out. It did not go well, with many being caught and killed after torture by the gestapo. This film captures the founding of the women’s component of Special Ops and does so well, though it is a story which has been told many times before. Very solid acting, especially by Stana Katic (Vera Atkins), Sara Megan Tomas (Virginia Hall) and Radhike Apte (Noor). Written by Sara Megan Tomas who has family connections to this story, it is a very well written drama well executed on the screen. Four stars of five.
The Namesake (2007)
A smart young Indian man agrees to an arranged marriage and then, after a fatal rail accident, moves to the US where he becomes a successful academic and has a family. As the family grows, the tension between being Indian and living in the US heighten and abate. As the family drama unfolds – lots of ups and downs, especially for the mother – the son explores who is through his work and relationships. Then the father takes a sabbatical semester in India and the family remain in the US. Drama truly unfolds. A sensitive family drama story about the lives of ambitious yet loving family. Four stars of five.
Blithe Spirit (2020)
Noel Coward was writing at a different time for a different audience, but this play is still funny. Full of odd references to people who many will not remember (Garbo, Clark Gable), it is essentially a dark farce. Charles Condomine (played here by Dan Steves, ex of Downton Abbey) is a writer who is suffering from writers block. This matters because his father in law owns film studios which have commissioned him to turn one of his novels into a screen play to be directed by Hitchcock. The pressure is on. To help, his second wife Ruth (Isla Fisher) asks a medium and mystic (Dame Judi Dench) to help connect him to his late first wife Edith (Aimee Ffon-Edwards). The mystic – Madame Arcarti – is successful beyond her wildest dreams and manages to reincarnate Edith. Mayhem ensues. I saw this as a play on the NY stage with Rupert Everett as Condomine and Angela Lansbury as Arcarti and it remains a staple of the stage. This film is a little over the top, but fun. Three stars of five.
News of the World (2020)
After the US civil war things were pretty fluid in the Western and Southern US States, especially Texas. One thing that made things difficult was that few could read English and that news did not travel quickly. There were individuals who travelled around who read the news from a variety of newspapers in exchange for 10 cents/person. Tom Hanks plays one of these guys. On his travels, he comes across a young girl who is in the middle of nowhere being transported from an Indian band who had captured her as an infant to her uncle in a different part of the US. She speaks no English (but has the odd German word remembered from her now dead parents) but is fluent in Kiowa. The film revolves around the relationship between this girl – brilliantly played by Helena Zengel – and Hanks. It works powerfully and well. Lots of things happen to them, but they gradually bond. One of those rich, nice to watch and moving family films. Four stars of five.
Six Minutes to Midnight (2021)
In the summer of 1939, influential families in Nazi Germany have sent their daughters to a finishing school in an English seaside town to learn the language and be ambassadors for a future looking National Socialist. A teacher there sees what is coming and is trying to raise the alarm. But the authorities believe he is the problem. Turns out that the teacher is a British spy sent to prevent a major exodus of these girls. Interesting cast – Judi Dench, Eddie Izard (who co-wrote the script), Jim Broadbent, James D’Arcy, Carla Juri – who do the idea of this film justice, despite a weak storyline (even though its based loosely on a true story). It’s a pleasant film to watch, filmed around Bexhill (where Eddie Izard grew up) and some of the girls have important cameo roles. Three stars of five.
Black Narcissus (TV 2020)
A new version for television (3 one hour episodes) exploring the nuances of nuns living in close quarters isolated from others. A strong cast – Gemma Arterton as Sister Clodagh, Jim Broadbent, Diana Rigg, Rosie Cavilero and Aisling Franciosi as Sister Ruth. A solid story line of psychological distress set in the wonderful scenery of Nepal (Jomsom). Interesting, visually appealing but not that demanding on the viewer. Three and half stars of five.
Staged-2 (BBC TV)
A second series of the vaguely successful and slightly funny set of meetings between David Tenant and Michael Sheen focused on their attempts to get a play together with appearances by their respective partners (both of whom are actresses) and others. More guest appearances here – Whoppi Goldberg, Phoebe Waller-Bridge Too Far, Michael Palin, Romesh …you get the idea. I agree with the reviewer in The Independent who said that the first series was innovative and refreshing, but by now the format is stale and the idea strained. Nonetheless, we watched it all (8 episodes of 15 minutes) and were mildly amused some of the time. Three stars (just) of five.
Mark Lawson Interviews (TV)
Mark Lawson is one smart guy but he is also a skillful interviewer. The BBC – who managed to lose this talent over some nonsense in 2014. But he did some wonderful interviews. Two were shown recently. One with the late Dame Diana Rigg (Sir Larry Oliver called her “Tits Rigg”) and the other with the recently departed John Le Carre. In both Mark lets the voice of those he is interview explore the implications and meaning of the skill-full questions he asks. His questions show just how much work he put into understanding his guests and their substantial bodies of work. Excellent interviews. Well worth watching again. Four and half stars of five. –
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020)
She was a force of nature – one of the great early blues singers known as “The Mother of the Blues”. This film, based on a Pulitzer Prize Winning play bu August Wilson, is then story of a recording session in which all sorts of tensions – within the band, between the band and Ma, between Ma and her agent, between her agent and the studio owner – come to the surface and make for a real drama with a surprising (and sad) ending. An outstanding set of performances by the cast here – especially Viola Davis as Ma and Chadwick Boseman as Levee. Great little film (1 hour 34 mins) – five stars of five.
Rick Stein’s Cornwall (2021 TV Series)
Rick is a cook who has been very successful in the restaurant business, especially in Cornwall (Padstow). Having eaten at his flagship restaurant and spent time over a beer with him I can attest that he is a straightforward guy – what you see is what you get. His food is not fancy, but it is tasty. He is one of the best at the art of fish cookery. He owes a lot to Cornwall – it has been good to him. Here over fifteen episodes he celebrates the country and all it has to offer. There is some cooking (he is a bit sloppy, but then it makes it all more homely), but the real star is Cornwall. Very satisfying TV. Four stars of five.
High Ground (2020)
At the turn of the last century Australia was shifting from a prison colony to a country of law in which all had rights and obligations. This is a wonderful film about how white law enforcers sought to subjugate Aboriginal peoples. It begins with a massacre of innocents. One survivor is taken in by a religious couple but his relatives are seen as “outlaws” rather than seeking justice and protection of their lands and rights. A wonderful film. Four and a half stars of five.
Victoria Wood Secret List (TV, 2 Programs 2020)
One of the funniest writers and performers between the 1980’s and her death in 2016, Victoria Wood was a true observer of life and its paradoxes tinged with a northern twist and the same droll lens as we find in the work of Alan Bennett. She kept a list of her own “best” sketches and moments from her various TV productions and these two one hour shows share these excerpts. They include moments from Acorn Antiques (a spoof on Crossroads), Two Soups, The Trolley and other gems. What a talent we lost when cancer took her far too soon. She also produced and wrote some wonderful full length films – Housewife 49 and The Day We Sang – wonderful. Such a talent. Her Anne Widdecombe song still pops into my head from time to time. Five stars of five and an extra one.
The Artist’s Wife (2019)
The descent into dementia is painful to watch – even more painful to experience. When the patient is a renowned artist who is then unable to undertake meaningful work it is painful to watch. This movie captures this. An artist (Bruce Dern) begins his journey into Alzheimer’s and his wife (Lena Olin) has to watch, help, nurture and cope with his strangeness. He has an exhibition coming – the first in many years – but his painting is not happening, not working, not coming. The tensions mount. Slow, painful movie. Some wonderful performances. Three and half stars of five.
The Painter and the Thief (2020 Documentary)
Barbora Kysilkova, a Czech painter, had just recently moved to Oslo when she received a distressing phone call from a gallerist. Two men had finagled their way into the Galleri Nobel in broad daylight, and made off with two works. Both were hers. In shock, she worked closely with the police and the court once one of the two men who stole the paintings was arrested. She asked to paint his portrait and the two formed an unusual, if sometimes difficult, relationship. Barbora is an excellent painter – very talented – and she paints some remarkable images of the man who took her painting – Karl-Bertil Nordland.
It is a powerful and moving story and makes for a compelling documentary made by Norwegian film maker Benjamin Ree. Five stars of five. (There is an excellent review of this film in The Guardian).
Bridgerton (2020 TV Series)
Nicknamed the “new Downton” (which it is not), this Netflix period drama is set at the time of Queen Charlotte and revolves around one families search for husbands for its various daughters. Intrigue, breasts, sex, jealousy, Jane Austin-like story lines and some pure fantasy feature strongly. Not brilliant stories, but visually very appealing – wonderful costumes (over 17,000 of them), brilliant sets and scenes and the odd funny line. It has gained some “street-cred” because black actors are being used for parts that normally go to pure white actors – such as the part of Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuval) or the Duke of Hastings (Ray MacAllan). Mixed reviews of all eight episodes. Have seen two and have mixed reviews too. Three stars of five.
The Vatican is a place of intrigue and conspiracy and ripe for drama. Indeed, hundreds of books about plots and crime within the Vatican have been written and some have become films. This is one. Opening in the midst of World War II, it stars Christopher Reeve as a priest who has a degree in finance. He is asked to take a look at the finances of the Church and finds that, surprise surprise, they are broke. He suggests a scheme in which the Church partners with the Mafia to work the black market to replenish its finances. Once the war is over, he suggests a move into money laundering so to the “go legitimate”. Of course there is sex – the Canadian actress Genevieve Bujold plays a novice nun who has an affair with the new Monsignor and there is intrigue – others are jealous of the rise of this Monsignor and his allies. There is also a papal succession storyline. Frank Perry does a reasonable job directing this movie (121 minutes) and the stiorylines are interesting. Three stars of five.
Your Honor (2020 TV Series)
Brian Cranston makes smart choices about the parts he plays. This is another smart choice. He plays a judge whose son is involved in a fatal accident who leaves the scene and tries to cover up. Trouble is, the person he kills is the son of the #1 crime boss in the area. Cranston gets involved in covering up. That’s the premise of this series and it starts strong and promises to be outstanding. Five stars of five.
I have no clue who this movie is aimed at. Mel Gibson plays Chris Cringle (Fr Christmas) who agrees to work with the US military so as to pay for his Xmas activities. Meantime, a spoilt brat of a boy who is clearly the son of a multimillionaire idiot has hired a hit-man to kill Chris off. Lots of inappropriate shooting and violence and as far as I can tell no clear view of the audience. Children should not watch this movie – inappropriate violence, swearing. Gibson plays his part well, but the film is a waste of energy and his talents. No stars out of five. The Nelms brothers, who wrote it and made it, need help.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011)
Saddened by the death of John Le Carré, I decided to watch the 2011 film of one of his landmark novels. I had watched the TV series a few times – simply outstanding – and had hitherto avoided this 2 hour version. The film stars Gary Oldman as George Smiley, along with Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciarán Hinds, David Dencik and Kathy Burke. Slow paced, building tension and layering in the story lines (there are lots), we slowly get to see the degree of intrigue at the top of the UK’s MI6. Brilliant performances all round. An excellent film. Five stars of five.
As a psychologist I am not unfamiliar with the descent into hell which some patients experience, especially those who have multiple personalities, are bipolar or borderline personalities. Portraying such a person on screen is tough to do, but here it is done remarkably well by Lisa Pepper, who falls into a catatonic state. Her doctor – Anthony Hopkins – seeks to treat her with both chemicals and electrical shocks. Her husband – a lawyer who is having an affair with his intern / legal assistant – struggles to understand and cope with his wife’s illness. Nota long film – some really strong performances and nuanced studies. Three and a half stars of five.
Battle of the Bulge – Winter War (2020)
War movies are usually action-packed, lively and lots of battle scenes. This one is mainly about snow, trees and some of the worst dialogue I have heard in three decades. Directed at the speed of snail having a nap while waiting for a tortoise to cross a river, it’s as dull as ditchwater. Give it a miss. No stars of five.
Masterchef Professional (2020)
Thirty-two professional chefs compete in what I find to be enjoyable TV. Not only do they cook interesting dishes, compete in skills tests, have to cook for judges and critics, but they produce great looking plats of food and use interesting ingredients. As a keen cook, the show is an inspiration. Greg Wallace is, as we know, a foodie’s plonker, but Marcus and Monica are high end chefs with real skills and insights. This year we have seen some outstanding chefs, though “our Lad Luke” from Sheffield is now out he did well. Looks to me like Santosh or Robert will win, but it has been great TV. This week is finals week and it was superb television. Five stars of five for me (but I am a foodie).
Let Them All Talk (2020)
Meryl Streep plays a writer who, due to illness, cannot fly but can sail from the US to the UK to pick up a major prize. She choses to do so with her nephew, two of her oldest friends from college and her agent. Candice Bergen and Dianne Wiest play the two friends. The script has structure, but was largely improvised under the direction of Stephen Soderbergh. Fun, insightful but slow (1 hour and 53 mins) with some interesting side stories and sub-plots. Streep is her usual excellent self and Candice is, as always, a star turn. Three and a half stars of five.
The Flight Attendant (2020 TV Series)
Playing the blonde in The Big Bang Theory didn’t really show off the talents of Kaley Cuoco. This TV series does. She plays a flight attendant with a drink problem who sleeps with passengers on arrival at their destination. She wakes up in a nice room in Bangkok to find the man next to her is dead with his throat cut and Kaley isn’t sure who killed him – she thinks there is a chance it may be her. The series unfolds from there. Kaley plays her part with real imagination and skill and as the story unfolds over all eight episodes we’ll see more of her talent. She also is one of the executive producers on this series. Five stars of five.
Despite a stellar cast. this black and white film is dull and pretentious. It looks at Hollywood in the 1930’s through the eyes of the writer Herman Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) and various players associated with the movie Citizen Kane – Orson Wells (Tom Burke) masterpiece about the power of William Randolph Hurst (Charles Dance). Full of well known faces, the film is a clever, witty account of the era, but it dull and boring. We lasted twenty two minutes but the film is 2 hours and 11 minutes long. Give it a miss. One star of five.
The Crown (Series 4, 2020)
Now that we are working with many of vivid memories – Thatcher, Charles and Diana, the Commonwealth’s struggle with apartheid – people are looking carefully at this docudrama and forgetting that it is more “drama” than “docu”. Of course not every detail is right – but the broad sweep seems to convey what the events might have been like and what the inter-personal tensions and passions were. Gillian Anderson does a passable Thatcher, but it is obviously exaggerated. Emma Corrin does a solid and enlightening job as Princess Diana playing opposite Josh O’Connor as an embittered, constantly upset and generally confused Prince Charles. Caught in the headlights is Emerald Fennel as Camilla Parker-Bowles. While some have seen her portrayal of the Queen is harsh, Olivia Coleman offers a sterling portrayal. All together, a good jolt through history. Four and half stars of five.
A Night in 97 (aka A Scandal in 97)
Bertie Oldcross is a candidate for MP in the North Yorkshire constituency of Scarborough-Whitby. The night before the poll, Bertie runs over and kills a man and his agent, Simon, in helping him cover up the death also finds himself killing another. Far fetched isn’t it. It’s also not a great film, though an interesting idea. 1997 was the year Tony Blair won a landslide and replaced a dying Tory government. Bertie, ironically, was targeted as Minister for Prisons in the new administration. Slow, poor production qualities and clearly a budget production, not a film to waste your time on. One and a half stars of five.
A woman fossil hunter and scientist is also a lesbian. She meets a young woman – the wife of a wealthy paleontologist – and they have an affair. Kate Winslet, Saoirise Ronan and Fiona Shaw take lead roles and do so with dignity and grace. Its not an easy film to watch – artsy, slow, filmed with natural light – and not a lot happens for a lot of film. It is also not very true to the book on which it is based. Nice, slow and quality performances. Three and a half stars of five.
A Dog and Pony Show (2018)
There is that moment when a dreadful, truly awful film like this one becomes worth watching. In part, it’s like a crash in a F1 race – you cannot help but watch. But in part, you can’t believe a film can get any worse, and then it does. This is a family movie (our grandson was here) made for small children who have no sense of good / bad / totally dreadful. Amongst the cast are Oscar winner Mira Sorvino and her husband as well as James Russo (CSI Miami, Vegas) and Carline Fogarty (Waitress, Clockstoppers). All must have been told to act “as if you were crap at it” because they all are. Possibly the worst film I have seen in the last thirty to forty years. My grandson Sam enjoyed it, mainly because I didn’t. Minus eleven of five stars.
The Queens Gambit (2020)
Simply outstanding television from Netflix. A seven part series following the journey of an orphaned girl called Beth Harmon into the world of high-stakes Chess. Based on real life cases (not a single person), the story is powerful and creative in its use of the power struggles within chess, within families, between people in schools and organizations. Anya Taylor-Joy is Beth and is remarkable. Stunning TV six stars of five!
Being Frank (BBC 2020)
Frank Gardiner is security reporter for the BBC and as such has worked all over the world breaking and covering news. in 2004 he was shot six times and his life hung by a thread. He is now a paraplegic, having lost the use of his legs. Showing true resilience and determination, he is back on the BBC reporting (and has been for some time) and, though his marriage collapsed, he is also in a new relationship. He tells his story simply and directly, hiding nothing (I really didn’t need to see him changing his colectomy bag or fitting a catheter) and being, well frank about being Frank. Good TV though – a compelling human story of survival and determination. Four stars of five.
Count Basie Through His Own Eyes (2020 BBC)
Simply one of the great jazz-swing players and band leaders of all time, this biopic is based on some of his own self-reflections, home made films, accounts of the Count from band members and arrangers (like Quincy Jones) and footage of the band in action. A legend in his life-time, a close friend and workmate of Frank Sinatra, he simply was part of the pianos he played and a magician at the keyboard. He was also a great band leader. What I didnt know was that he had a daughter who was severely disabled from birth and he and his wife cared for her for the whole of her life. A remarkable man – a legend. Good television. Three and a half stars of five.
23 Walks (2020)
It is a simple story. A recently separated woman (Alison Steadman) meets a man whose wife has dementia (Bob Goody) while walking their dogs. They connect and, through some ups and downs during the course of 23 dog walks, get together. An elder romance. Very nice film, slow but nice. Three and half stars of five.
The Undoing (2020)
Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant are highly successful New York doctors. Their children attend a “posh” school where Nicole is on the committee raising funds. Also on the committee is the very stunning artist played by Matilda de Angelis. Shortly after the auction, the artist is found dead. Nicole tries to contact Hugh who is attending a conference, but it turns out that he is not at the conference at all and the mystery begins. Also in the cast is Donald Sutherland. One episode in, but I am hooked. This looks intriguing and compelling. Five of five stars.
Borat Subsequent Movie Film: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit One Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2020)
Just don’t bother.
Roadkill (BBC, 2020)
Hugh Laurie was a very funny comedic actor alongside Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson, Rowan Atkinson and others. His Bertie Wooster is the stuff of legends. But then he scored the part of the cantankerous doctor House on US television and his series acting career took off like a rocket. He’s done many excellent serious parts since, including his lead role in The Night Manager. Now he’s serious again in the BBC political drama Roadkill. He plays the part of duplicitous conservative politician elevated to Ministerial rank, involved with a Mistress and being set-up by a ruthless Prime Minister, played by the unflappable Helen McCrory (Peaky Blinders). Intrigue, layers of plot, terrific performances. Excellent television in this four part mini-series. Four and a half stars of five. (Hugh Laurie is also an exceptionally good blues singer and piano player).
Then Came You (2020)
A fun little Rom-Com written by Kathy Lee Gifford and featuring Craig Ferguson, set in Argyllshire in Scotland. Some funny lines, fantastic scenery and a kind of plot. Three stars of five.
Strings Attached (2020)
For years I have been fascinated and intrigued by the sounds a string quartet can produce and mesmerized by some of the music written for them. I attend the Banff Sting Quartet competition every three years and have done now for seven competitions – wonderfully intense week of music. One the quartets that won Banff was the Dover quartet – they won every prize and deserved to do so. Simply magnificent musicians. I have followed them since and have every CD they have released (one of which has all of their signatures on it). Now there is a documentary about them and life on the road / dynamics of the quartet. It tells their story – ups and downs and warts and all – and does so with intensity and compassion. What comes through, other than the intensity of the work and the humanity of the players, is just how tough it is in this business even before the pandemic. What also comes through is the power of the music to heal and move. It is a well made documentary – worth your time. (If you are interested, you should also read the novel by Vikram Seth An Equal Music).
The Italian film (subtitles) is a little strange. Starring Marcello Fonte as the hapless dog groomer who sells cocaine on the side in a little seaside town north of Naples is really about despair and loneliness. Fonte’s character gets involved with a huge brute and bastard of a man played by the 6’7″ 260+ pound Edoardo Pesce who brutalizes him, makes him take part in a robbery for which Fonte serves a year behind bars. In the end, Fonte deals with the brute, but getting to this seemed to take forever. Slow, intense and not especially exciting. Two and half stars of five. (Some fascinating large dogs).
Flesh and Blood (2020 TV Series)
Imelda Staunton, Francesca Annis and Stephen Rae headline in this family drama unfolding over four episodes. Clever and skilled writing and great convincing performances by all. All sorts of nuances, plot twists and mystery. What is Stephen Rae’s character Mark really up to? Why are the three siblings so much against their mother and each other? Good stuff. Four stars of five.
The first women to ever win the Nobel prize and the first person to ever win two Nobel prizes was Marie Curie. Played here by Rosamund Pike in an excellent performance, the film tells the story of her struggles as a female scientist in a male dominated Sorbonne, her marriage, her realization that uranium and plutonium were radioactive and her genius in realizing the potential of her work for medical diagnosis and treatment. The film time-shifts, showing the bombing of Japan, Nevada tests and other events involving the military use of her work or disasters (Chernobyl), but the focus is strongly on her and her work and her life. Solid film – four stars of five.
Agatha and the Midnight Murders (2020, TV)
Agatha Christie was in financial trouble. The UK tax authorities were challenging her finances and the US royalties had suddenly stopped (all true). She decides to sell off a manuscript where she kills off Poiriot for a large sum to a Chinese man who can then publish it and make all of the money. Its during WWII and in a hotel in London they meet to do the deal. But mayhem and murder ensues. An interesting plot line, but not great writing or acting. Nice twist at the end. Two and half stars of five.
Bad President (2021 but out now)
Bad President is billed as a satire. Its premise is that Trump is part of plot by The Devil to corrupt America and create mayhem. The problem is that is not funny, very dull and badly written / acting. Jeff Rector plays Trump (poorly). It’s a bad film. Stormy Daniels is in it – but knows she really shouldn’t be. Avoid it. Minus four out of five.
Life (2020 TV)
This six part BBC drama set in an old house in Manchester converted into four flats is a powerful interpersonal drama. Written by Mike Bartlett (Doctor Foster writer), it follows the lives, loves and shifts and dynamics of those in the house and the strange connections between them. Alison Steadman and Peter Davison play a central role – it is possible the best role Peter Davison has had for years – and others have layered stories that intrigue and tantalize. Great TV and wonderful production values. Five stars of five.
The Comey Rule (2020 TV)
James Comey was a decent man caught out by an indecent one. The former FBI director (played here by Jeff Daniels) is confronted by indecent behaviour, illegal behaviour, wrong doing and evil (played by Brendon Gleeson as Donald Trump). Based on Comey’s book, this account is a focused and direct replay of all that happened, including word for word recounting of the notes and materials Comey kept. Good performance by Holly Hunter as Sally Yates and Michael Kelly as Andrew McCabe. Solid, if slow, and convincing. Three stars of five.
Normally a film in which Imelda Staunton appears has real drama, tight performances and a strong story. She is a wonderful actress. But not in the film, which is slow, convoluted and dreadful. Dull beyond words. Boring. Painful. So dull was it that I fell asleep before the 20′ mark and my good lady gave up 10′ later. Reading reviews and watching the rest of this monstrosity I can only advise that you don’t. I have taken one for the team! 0 stars of five. Unbelievably to me, one reviewer has raved about this film – you can read about it here. My advice: drink scotch.
This remake of the 2014 Danish film Silent Heart is a powerful family drama, made poignant by its core theme: who has the right to end a life? The idea here is that Lily (Susan Sarandon) is suffering from a rapidly degenerative disease which is already impacting her quality of life. She, aided by her doctor husband (Sam Neill), intends to end her life on her own terms by taking a drug cocktail that will kill her. Assisted dying is illegal in the State. She asks her two children (Kate Winslet and Mia Wasikowska), their partners and her grandson to join in a family party to say goodbye. Also there is her oldest friend, with whom she once had a lesbian affair and who is now in an “agreed” relationship with her husband, Liz (Lindsay Duncan). Strong script, wonderful performances and an intriguing and unfolding of all sorts of layers of relationships. Serious, but intriguing. Three and a half stars of five.
The Repair Shop (2020 TV)
One of our favourite TV shows of all time, in part because it reminds me of my father who loved finding and repairing things. But it’s also about the skills and capabilities of true craftsmen and women. People bring in to the Repair Shop items that really matter to them and have a personal history which is powerful. The team restore and repair them and we all cry. What more could one want from a TV show? I cry every time and love to see the real skill and passion the team bring to their work. Five stars of five.
The Singapore Grip (TV Series, 2020)
JG Farrell was a brilliant writer of nuanced satire, which is what this portrait of Singapore under Japanese occupation really is, though the woke lot would have us think otherwise. Charles Dance appears as the co-owner of a trading company (mainly rubber) which his partner runs as a colonial enterprise. The series begins with Japan attacking Singapore, but the Brit’s who run the place are confident that they can “see them off”. They are wrong. Some good character acting – David Morrissey, Calm Meaney, Jane Horrocks, Elizabeth Tan – and a tight script, it looks promising and delivered on that promise. Four stars of five.
All Creatures Great and Small (2020 TV Series)
This new series with similar story lines to the old one is solid nice to watch British TV filmed in and around Grassington in Yorkshire. A solid cast – Nicholas Ralph as James Herriot, Anna Madeley as Mrs. Hall, Samuel West as Siegfried and Callum Woodhouse as Tristan – and a guest appearance from the late Diana Rigg (2 episodes), what’s not to like? So far so good. Four stars of five.
Des (ITV, 2020)
True crime can be compelling. This story is. A serial killer who dismembered his 15-20 victims and buried them or flushed them down the drain is “caught” in London when his blocked drains are found to contain human remains. The police cannot identify all of his victims, but do charge him with six murders. He initially co-operates with the police, but suddenly stops doing so and then pleads (having confessed to the police) not guilty at his committal hearing. Brilliant acting by David Tenant as Des, Daniel Mays as DCI Peter Jay and Jason Watkins as Des’s biographer Brian Masters – all compelling performances working with a great script. Outstanding TV. Five stars of five.
Sunlit Night (2020)
A nice, quiet and intriguing movie with a cameo appearance from Gillian Anderson (always a good thing). It begins almost like a Woody Allen movie in New York with a very odd Jewish family of artists. One of them – played by Jenny Slate – decides to leave NY and take a painting job in Norway. Turns out the job is to paint a barn in a remote northern Norwegian viking village. Beautiful scenes, smart dialogue and some intriguing characters, the movie is an independent art movie and well worth watching. Three and three quarter stars of five.
The One and Only Ivan (2020)
Based on a true story, this Disney animated family movie tells the story of a Gorilla and other circus animals who perform in a shopping mall circus. With terrific CGI animation, well known voices (Danny de Vito, for example) and Brian Cranston as the Circus Master, this is a well produced and creative film which we enjoyed watching with one of grandchildren. Three and a half stars of five.
Love Sarah (2020)
A nice, simple story. A daughter wants to make her mum’s dream of opening a bakery happen after her mum has died. She enlists her grandma (Celia Imrie), her mum’s former business partner (Shelly Conn) and a chef (Rupert Penry-Jones) to make the dream come true. Guest appearance by Bill Paterson (the voice of the Repair Shop). Set in Notting Hill (London), it’s a simple with a couple of love interest lines. A glass of wine and a few bits of chocolate movie. Three and a half stars of five.
Strike – Lethal White (2020, TV Mini Series)
J K Rowling’s crime novels, written under the name Robert Galbraith, are dark and multi-layered thrillers. Cormoran Strike (Tom Burke) and his determined partner Robin (Holliday Grainger) investigate a murder which involves a Minister of the crown, rituals, a bipolar man and a raft of characters. Strike’s former military career is also “around” as part of the story – somewhat inevitably, as he lost part of a leg in action. To complicate matters, Robin’s marriage is a question, made bigger by her obvious love for Strike. This is the fourth mini-series based on Rowling’s books and it is well worth watching. Four and half stars of five.
Song of Names (2019)
A very moving and powerful film. A wonderful young man plays the violin like an angel. He suddenly goes missing. His former adopted brother searches for him. All sorts of layers, wonderful writing. Solid acting. Five stars of five.
Another film to avoid. Surprising, given that Ethan Hawke is leading as Tesla – he is competent and capable. Dull from the get-go, it simply descends into excruciating dullness and blandness. Dreadful writing and poor direction – both script and direction by Michael Almereyda – and wooden acting. Watching an ant move a breadcrumb is much more exciting. No stars of five.
The Devil’s Machine (2019)
I am nominating this film for worst film of 2019 and entering it as among the worse films ever made. All drama students should be required to watch this so that they can understand bad acting – take any cast member and watch. Awful. All script writers should watch this and see how a potentially interesting idea (from Sarah Daly) can become a piece of dreadful and truly unimaginable hell-like mess in the hands of incompetent actors and a poor director (Lawrie Brester). It is simply awful. In fact, it is beyond awful. Minus five stars of five.
If you have a chance to watch this movie, don’t. Dull as a bucket of cheese melting in a hurricane. Wooden acting, dreadful storyline and awful script. We lasted around half an hour without throwing things at the screen. One star of five (just).
The Secret Garden (2020)
This children’s classic (its a family movie) has been made into a film before, but this is a lush and gorgeous production with Colin Firth, Julie Walters and the fast moving emerging star (aged 14) Dixie Egerickx (who was also in Summerland, see below). This young lady has to carry the movie and she does so brilliantly with a moving performance. The images in this movie and the cinema-photography are outstanding. Could have done with an edit. Four and half stars of five.
The Nest (2020 TV Series)
Simply outstanding television. A thrilling, mystery with many layers set in Glasgow (we had subtitles turned on, which helped) with a new actress who is amazing – Mirren Mac, watch for her. A couple ask Kaya to be their surrogate, but Kaya has a past. So it turns out do the couple. Five episodes of a brilliantly written drama. Must see TV for 2020. Five stars of five.
Semi Detached (2020 TV Series)
Lee Mack is one of the funniest people alive, but not in this show. Meant to be a comedy, after three episodes neither myself nor She who Must Be Obeyed have yet smiled, let alone laughed out loud. I don’t see why anyone comissioned this or decided it was worth asking some excellent actors to be in it, but here we are. Shan’t watch any more. Half a star of five.
The Other One (2020, TV Series)
Catherine arranges a surprise party for her father with all of his friends in attendance. He is late and when he arrives, seeing his excuse for being late fall apart in front of him, he drops dead. It then emerges that he had a second family, including a daughter names Cat. The two half sisters couldn’t be more different, but it turns out that this relationship is what both of them need. Catherine’s mother (Rebecca Front) is out for sex and adventure while Cat’s mother (Siobhan Finneran) is agoraphobic (sometimes) and a smoker who enjoys a good drink. Fun stuff and funny – some really creative writing and scene making (Holly Walsh writes and directs). Four stars of five.
Bodily Harm (2002, TV Series)
This two part drama about a man falling apart alongside those around him feels old (2002) and slow. Spall plays Mitchell who gets fired from his job as a broker, finds his wife engaged in sex acts with another man and his father dying of cancer. His parents have a suicide pact – but the father survives and the mother dies. There is a young daughter involved in the middle of all this. A strong cast, a story with some potential but it all gots lost in the over-complex plot lines, over-acting on the part of some and an average performance by Spall. Two stars of five.
Burnt Orange Heresy (2019)
Donald Sutherland, Mick Jagger, Elizabeth Debicki and Claes Bang star in this mystery, murder art story based on a 1971 novel by the same name. An art dealer (Bang) is hired by a collector (Jagger) to secure a rare painting from the world famous but reclusive artist (Sutherland). Complicating matters in Bang’s love interest (Debicki) and the fact that the artist has not actually painted anything on a canvas for 25 or more years. Mayhem ensues (slowly). Its kind of alright, but painfully slow. The last 10 minutes make up for much of this, but tighter direction (Giuseppe Capotondi) would have made for a better film. Lots of wonderful shots of the villa near Lake Como. Three stars of five.
Made in Italy (2020)
Faced with a divorce and loosing his art gallery, Jack has to raise funds to buy out his ex from the gallery. He owns half of a house in Tuscany with his father, whom he disconnected with following the death of his mother. Hs father agrees to sell and share the profits and to travel with Jack to Italy. The father is played by Liam Neeson and his son by Micheál Richardson who is in fact his son. A good, basic story with lovely vistas and solid performances, it is a romantic drama – well worth watching. Three and half stars of five.
Gauguin: A Dangerous Life (2020)
A documentary from the BBC tracing the life, art and experiences of this great artist. Grandchildren and art experts share knowledge of this man and his work, both in France and Tahiti. Informative, thorough with many great images – its is well worth watching, Four stars of five.
The Riviera in Pictures: Richard E Grant (2020)
This two part documentary, narrated by Richard E Grant, explores why the Riviera became a magnet for art, sculpture and the rich after 1900. Richard E Grant is an effective presenter – he has been travelling to the area for 25-30 years, is an artist (and perfume maker) as well as an actor. He is also fun and articulate. Heavy on facts, full of exemplars, this series is full of depth, character and nuance. Three and a half stars of five.
Gemma Arterton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Courtney and others star in this period piece, beautifully directed and acted. Set in Kent in WW2 (largely) the story of an evacuee and the relationship he has with a seemingly eccentric woman. All sorts of layers and complexities, but beautiful and moving. Directed by Jessica Swale, it is one of those films the Brits do well. Tom Courtney plays a headmaster that I recognize from my own childhood – elderly, slightly bonkers and kind. It’s a great story and a wonderful film. Four and half stars of five.
These six short (15 minute) pieces filmed during lock-down feature David Tennant and Martin Sheen arguing about a play they agreed to do – Six Characters in Search of an Author – under the direction of Simon Evans (who wrote the script and directed this). Wives appear as do Judi Dench, Samuel L Jackson and Nina Sosanya (Killing Eve and lots of other things). Somewhat predictable but fun. Three stars of five.
The Secrets She Keeps (2020)
Set in Sydney Australia, this six part BBC series is a real drama of substance. A happily pregnant Meghan is having her third child, though her husband seems unsure about it all (he may suspect that the baby isn’t his, which it isn’t – he’s also having an affair with a real estate agent). A woman called Agatha (Lady Edith from Downton Abbey – Laura Carmichael) moves in next door and says she is pregnant (she isn’t) and begins to spend time with Meghan – babysitting, stalking. Not sure where this will go – but the guess is that she “steals” Meghan’s baby and that’s where the drama will go.
Agatha’s “boyfriend”, Haydn is a sailor. Agatha had worked on the assumption that he wouldn’t get leave, but he does and plans to be present at the birth. Trouble is she is warning a pad and pretending to be pregnant. This is going to get more complicated before it gets resolved.
But it is well written and solid performances with lots of additional layers. So far four stars out of five.
A Suitable Boy (2020)
Vikram Seth was never economical in his writing. The book on which this six part TV series is based is 1,350 pages long and weights 1.5 kg. Powerful though an insightful, capturing the spirit and nuances of life in Calcutta shortly after separation of India and Pakistan. With an all Asian cast and skillful writing, the first episode sets the scene – how will a very smart young woman chose a man to live with while her parents seek to arrange a marriage? The lead role of Lata Mehra is played by a young actress (this is only her second ever role – she graduated from the University of Delhi in 2018 with a degree in English) Tanya Maniktala. A no expense spared BBC production, Lata will go through several challenging scenes. It is looking like a great show with many story layers. Four stars of five.
Almost Australian (2020)
Miriam Margolyes (now 79) is a British and Australian citizen – she accepted Australian citizenship in 2013. She lives part of the year in Australia with her partner Heather Sutherland (who is Australian) and part of the year in London. Heather is an academic, currently writing a book on Indonesia. But she fell in love with Australia many years ago and loves her secluded hideaway in South Australia. Heather is from Melbourne, which is a lovely place to spend time and Miriam’s first Australian house was just near Bondi Beach.
In this three part documentary, Miriam rakes a 10,000 drive around her adopted country meeting all sorts of Australians in all sorts of town and cities. Miriam is a force of nature – foul mouthed and produly small and Jewish, she takes no prisoners. She is shocked about the way immigrants are treated. Outraged by the plight of indigenous people, drought ravished farmers and the right wingers, Miriam drops the f**k work more often than she says please.
She is good at this work – exploring, sharing and looking into the real world. This is good television, Four stars of five.
Perry Mason (2020)
Forget Raymon Burr. This epic production (HBO at its best) is a stunning portrayal of a gritty murder case full of layers of intrigue, politics and broken men and women. Matthew Rhys – a good Cardiff lad – is outstanding as the broken veteran turned private eye turned lawyer who goes to bat for a woman wrongly accused of murder. It is a long series (8×50 minute episodes), dark and complex but worth it. Five stars of five.
Our Yorkshire Farm (Series 3, 2020 on Channel 5 UK)
One the most stunning parts of the UK is Swaledale, which is where this documentary TV series is set. Mr and Mrs Own and their nine children run a large farm in the heart of the dale and the documentary follows what happens over the course of a full year. In the first episode, Clive Owen has a hip replacement, the eldest daughter Raven goes off to York University and the smaller kids show that they are growing up fast. The lady of the house – the stunning Amanda who is a successful author (her book The Yorkshire Shepherdess won all sorts of awards) is a more than competent manager of all, including 1,000 sheep. It is excellent television. Five stars of five.
Being Beethoven (2020)
This three part documentary explores the life of Beethoven from childhood to death with lots of music but also great biographers, other deaf musicians and many musicologists. This is the kind of things BBC 4 TV does really well and it is both compelling and informative. With great performances, insightful analysis and great musicians exploring what Beethoven did and what his work has meant for music makes for wonderful TV. Five stars of five.
The True History of the Kelly Gang (2019)
Peter Carey won the Booker prize for his novel The True History of the Kelly Gang for good reason: a powerful, different and gritty account of Ned Kelly and how he got to be the most wanted man in Australia in 1877. This film is based on this novel and it is true to the text. Painful in places, tough throughout yet insightful about character and power, it is a solid film. Essie Davis (better known for Mrs. Fisher Murder Mysteries) is simply terrific as Ned’s disturbed Irish mother and a good performance from Russel Crowe as the bandit Harry Power. Nicholas Hoult also does sold work as a policeman chasing down the gang. Some great performances from a largely unknown (to me at least) cast. Good gritty film – four and half stars of five.
For those of us who thought the 1981 Wolfgang Peterson’s film Das Boot was one of the best movies of all time (count me in), then this film is a good film. If, like my good lady, you hated Das Boot, then you will not enjoy this film at all. It’s a Tom Hanks script based on the novel by C S Forester The Good Shepherd. A new navy commander is given the responsibility of escorting a convoy of ships carrying critical war supplies and people from the US to the UK across the Atlantic at the height of WWII. The convoy is being stalked and attacked by six German submarines. 3,200+ ships were lost during the war in the Atlantic and over 72,000 people died. It is a very cruel sea. This film captures all of this well and shows the tension and difficulty of naval command under pressure. Nothing happens with a romance we see at the start of the film – a cameo with Elisabeth Shue – its all about the action on ship, the tensions of being stalked, battles and danger. Hanks does this well, but not brilliantly. Good role for Stephen Graham (Line of Duty) as the #2. Four stars of five.
Mrs. America (2020) TV Series
There are days when one wonders if the government of the United States ever worked – it certainly works in mysterious ways. This series, with Cate Blanchett playing Phyllis Schlafly, is fun, focused and intriguing. Phyllis is opposed to the Equal Rights Amendment Act which Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne) championed alongside many female democrats and some republicans in congress. Phyllis is campaigning for women to know their place but be assertive – arguing that their rights are already protected under the constitution. She asks “do you want women in combat roles in the military?” and is told “that will never happen” (it did). Phyllis was successful – the ERA never passed into law in the US. Quality production, outstanding performances so far and great insights into how politics got done then. Also some really good lines (“Is it true, Senator, that you called the speaker a name which is a four letter word?” “Absolutely not, ass is a three letter word”). I have seen four episodes and like what I see. Four stars of five.
A Rainy Day in New York (2019)
We are supposed, according to the cancel culture woke brigade, to boycott Woody Allen movies. His ex-wife Mia Farrow and step-daughter, Dylan Farrow, have accused him of abuse – an accusation that he denies and, following two separate police investigations, has never been taken up as a serious legal case. In both investigations the conclusion was that the evidence was not credible.
He married Soo-Yin Previn who was also an adopted daughter of Mia Farrow. They have been married since 1997 and have two children, both now in their 20’s. I love his movies – they are full of wonderful lines (“you want to cut off my head – it’s my second favourite organ!”) and strange writing which generally works. Some of his films are weak – there are a lot of them (over 54 in fact), but some are works of true genius (Midnight in Paris, Blue Jasmine, Small Time Crooks, Crimes and Misdemeanours….).
This film is good, fun and full of smart lines. Typical Woody story – boy has girlfriend, takes hew to NYC for a fun time but she ends up drifting off, so he hires a hooker to pretend to be her to take to a party his wealthy parents are giving. “Business” ensues and in turns out his mother used to be a hooker too, which is she met his dad. All good clean fun.
Timothee Chalamet plays male lead with Ellie Fleming as the female lead – Selena Gomez also plays here in an interesting role. You either like Woody’s films or you don’t. I do. Four stars of five.
Fanny Lye Deliver’d (2019)
Set in 1657 in Shropshire, Fanny (Maxine Peak) is married to an ex-soldier and devout protestant (Charles Dance). A young couple (Freddie Fox and Tanya Reynolds) arrive naked on their isolated farm and disrupt their whole way of life, opening up Fanny’s mind to a new way of being and thinking. They are hedonists and see no difficulties in abandoning “faith” in favour of impulses. A fascinating and compelling film written and directed by Thomas Clay. The film has some brutality and sex scenes but they capture the essence of the story. Peake is outstanding in portraying a women captured in a mindset who changes her mind based on the emerging experiences and ideas she is hearing for the first time. Four stars of five.
Talking Heads (BBC, 2020)
Alan Bennett – a fellow Yorkshireman – wrote a set of monologues in 1987 called Talking Heads There were six of them, each performed by a well known actress or actors, including Alan himself (A Chip in the Sugar), Maggie Smith, Patricia Routledge, Julie Walters, Stephanie Cole and Thora Hird. They were a remarkable success – compelling television. I have a signed copy of the book of scripts – now part of the school english syllabus. Now the BBC are offering new performances of the ten original scripts and two new monologues. The new performances are from Jodie Comer, Monica Dolan, Martin Freeman, Tamsin Greig, Sarah Lancashire, Lesley Manville, Lucian Msamati, Maxine Peake, Rochenda Sandall, Kristin Scott Thomas, Imelda Staunton and Harriet Walter. They remain outstanding monologues – powerful, insightful, poignant – delivered by very smart actors who pull at the emotional strings in exactly the right places. Brilliantly directed by Nicholas Hytner, this is much watch TV. Five stars five.
Taste the Nation (2020) – Padma Lakshmi
Padma Lakshmi is one smart woman. Born in India and now a US citizen, she has fronted Top Chef for sixteen of its seventeen seasons. She has authored two cookbooks and a book about spices and is an established model and has done some acting. She had a regular column in the New York Times. Now she has a new TV series in which she explores the ways in which immigrants have shaped the food Americans eat. Its good television – she is a strong, focused and inquisitive presenter and brings out both the history and issues associated with that history of the places, people and food. Her program on Mexican food in El Paso or German food in Milwaukee raised all sorts of social and political questions without them getting in the way of the food. A great TV series – five stars of five.
Personal History of David Copperfield (2020)
Dickens knew what he was doing. Armando Iannucci, who made this film, does not. Some amusing moments and the predictable story. But silly. Dev Patel does his best with a poor script written by Simon Blackwell and Armando, but even a good actor (and he’s not bad) can’t make a swan out of a pigeon. The sudden appearance of well known actors – Peter Capaldi, Hugh Laurie, Tilda Swinton, Ben Wishaw – doesn’t help. One a half stars out of five.
The Will (2020)
Lasted about 7-10 minutes then we had to watch something else, knowing exactly what kind of bullshit movie this was going to be. The premise: an old women leaves her worldly possessions to her granddaughter except for $150,000 which she leaves to some bloke. Also in the will she “leaves” (sic) her granddaughter to the bloke. Right. You know at that point this is going to be romantic nonsense with a hint of tension. Wooden acting from the start – Amber Spear and Chris McKenna. Dreadful. No stars.
Three Christs (2017)
Richard Gere plays a psychiatrist (Dr Alan Stone) in Michigan. At the time, the standard treatment for paranoid schizophrenia was shocks and sedation. Stone wanted to use dialogue, group work and 1:1 therapy with three patients who each thought they were Jesus Christ. While there are a few comic lines, this is a serious compelling film (especially given my family history and my qualifications as a psychologist). Great acting by Peter Dinklage, Bradley Whitford and Walton Goggins and a strong supporting cast, this is a solid well-worth-watching film. Four and a half stars of five.
Portrait Artist of the Year (2020)
One of the things I have wanted to do is to paint. I don’t give it the time it takes to learn to do it well. But the entrants to this competition have and it shows. In four hours they produce amazing paintings of people, many of whom are familiar (that’s David Tenant above). Some are amateurs (one was just 16 and terrific) and others are professionals. But you wouldn’t know which was which by looking at their art. They work in different materials – watercolour, oils, acrylics, pencil – and do so in the midst of a throng of people. I am amazed at each episode. Great television.
An excellent movie – well crafted with a number of parallel stories and quality acting, especially from Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men, Handmaid’s Tale, The Lake), Odessa Young and Michael Stuhlbarg. Set in an academic / writer household (something I am more than familiar with) with a star academic and his depressive/writer wife (Shirley), a newly minted colleague and his pregnant wife arrive to stay. A god mystery and dynamic follow which will keep you glued to the story for the duration. Five out of five stars.
Call of the Wild (2020)
Jack London’s novel about a large dog in the Yukon and what happens to it has benefited from CGI and AI enabled technology in this terrific account of what was already a good story. Harrison Ford does a great job of being himself – a curmudgeon with a beard – who befriends the dog, which has many adventures. A very good account of this story and very enjoyable movie for a wet, cold and windy June Saturday afternoon (with wine). Five out of five.
Welcome to Collinwood (2020)
Any movie that begins with Paulo Conte singing “It Wonderful” must be something worth watching. This is a crime, caper comedy with William Macey, George Clooney, Isiah Washington, Pat Clarkson and several others. A con hears about a “big jib” while in jail and brings together a bunch of losers to chase it down. Losers on a losing mission. Potjentially funny. But…over-writing, too many names…so we gave up after 23 minutes. Predictable guff. 1 star out of five.
Not for one second should you bother with this piece of nonsense. Despite a couple of strong cast members – Lily Collins and Simon Pegg – the story is probably about as lively as Elvis swimming up to the Mary Celeste in the hope of meeting Larry Kudlow. I lasted 18 minutes. Lilly – who looks about 21 (she is in fact 31 and the daughter of Phil Collins) – plays a NY DA for goodness sake. Her dad dies and her brother, who is running for office, inherits $21 million and she gets $1 million and the keys to underground dungeon in which (you’ve guessed it) Simon Pegg is holed up, having been put there by her dad. Daft eh. Gets worse. A half of no stars out of 5. You’d be better off taking a still life class or swimming the five locks on the Leeds Liverpool Canal.
Remember Me (2019)
This is one of those feel good movies, in this case – feel good about a smart old man who knows how to get what he wants. The lead character suddenly discovers that a former lover is in a care home with dementia. He fakes dementia to be close to her and connect with her. Interesting stuff ensues. There are other sub-plots, but that’s basically it. Super acting. Nicely paced. Innocent fun. Four stars out of five if you’re in the mood.
Killing Eve – Series 3
Since Phoebe Waller-Bridge stopped writing Killing Eve and others have taken over, there has been a gradual decline in the quality of the script, with the second series taking a while to warm-up, even though it ended well. The second series was written by Emerald Fennell, a friend and fellow actor with Phoebe. The third series has a completely new writer – Suzanne Heathcote – and, in my view, it is dreadful. The first episode was unimpressive and didn’t persuade anyone. The second was worse. I will see if I can manage episode three, but am not optimistic. It is a shame. Such promise. Can’t even be bothered to rate this.
The Rhythm Section (2020)
A troubled woman decides to seek revenge on those who bombed a flight which killed her family. A thriller, with Jude Law and Blake Lively, this is a good solid story with plot twists and turns that kept me engaged for 1 hour and 50 minutes. Good writing. Dark. Insightful. Four stars of five.
Bad Education (2020)
A school superintendent and his CFO steal money from the school district – $11 million between them – and no one notices for some time. They get caught by a student journalist – the school newspaper breaks the story and the story is picked up by the national media. Far fetched? No. Its 100% true. Happened in Rhode Island. Hugh Jackman plays the lead role here as the gay Superintendent who ends up serving time but keeps his pension (also sadly true). Excellent acting by all – very strong story line and very strong performances. (An interesting side story – the films writer was a student at the school – Roslyn – when the story broke!). Four stars of five.
Van der Valk (2020) TV Series
This is remake of an old idea. Van der Valk ran from the 1970s into the 1990’s on British TV. Set in Amsterdam, it is a solid detective series with an international twist. I used to really enjoy it – Robert Frost played the title role and was a sour-puss, smart guy. It also gave us a real sense of Amsterdam the place – a place I now regard as a highly desirable place to be. I love going there.
The new series is very strong too. The new Van der Valk (Marc Warren) is perfectly cast in the lead role and he has a team of appropriate misfit detectives to work with. These 1.5 hour episodes are a good source of creative detective work and intrigue. Four and half stars of five.
Keira Knightley stars in this docupic about the disruption of the Miss World pageant in 1970. Also in this movie is Keeley Hawes and other well known British stars. Well made, interesting and takes us back in time with costumes, locations and attitudes. Enjoyable – especially when, at the end, we briefly see what happened to the women who actually took part in this protest Four stars of five.
Gordon, Gino and Fred’s Roadtrip (2020)
These three men are all in the food business – two chefs and one Maitre’d. They have very different personalities and styles. Fred behaves as if he is gay, but isn’t. Gino sees everything from socks to Tuna through the lens of an Italian and Gordon Ramsey is, well, Gordon. But they travel from Mexico through western US together in a camper van. Laugh out loud stuff and largely crazy. Loved the line from the castle owner and winemaker of some of the finest wines in California when offered by Gino the chance for Gino to send him a case of his wine from Italy, the smart man says “do you have to?”. Anyway, silly and fun. Four stars of five.
Quiz (2020) TV
Three part TV series about the “cough” and the Major scandal that hit Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Major Ingrams won $1 million on the quiz show but the shows team were convinced that he won it through a conspiracy which involved key people coughing to indicate what the right answer was. The Major was prosecuted and lost his case. The casting here is remarkable. Michael Sheen plays the irascible Chris Tarrant is uncanny – almost perfect. Matthew Macfadyen plays the Major and his wife is played by Sian Clifford (aka as the sister of Fleabag). Gripping and skillfully presented TV. Five stars of five.
Keira Knightley and Dominic West are outstanding in this powerful and thoughtful film, beautifully shot around Budapest (meant to be Paris and France…but you know).. Its a fascinating story of emancipation of feminism coupled with a fascinating human relationship saga. Great film. Enjoyed every minute and saw Dominic West at his very best. Five stars of five.
Madhur Jaffrey’s Curry Nation (2012)
My father disliked the idea of “foreign food”. Lynne and I once cooked a Vesta Pack curry (we knew no better at the time) and he went bonkers – “stinking up the house with foreign muck!”. Once we got married we started our journey as cooks together and we are now pretty good. One of the people who inspired us in the 1970’s was Madhur Jaffrey – her 1973 Indian cookbook (Indian Cooking) was amongst the first we bought (after Delilah Smith’s three volumes). It’s very basic stuff and she has not really changed that much. In this 10 part TV series she wanders around the UK, including a quick trip to our hometown of Bradford, to look at the current state of play of Indian food in the UK as of 2012-13. She shares a few of her own recipes but also looks at how Indian food is cooked in homes and restaurants in the UK. Not great TV, but nostalgia has a place. She is now 86 and still working as an actress and cookbook author – her most recent (her 31st cookbook) is a 2019 book on how to cook curry in an Instant Pot.
The Favourite (2018)
Olivia Coleman, Rachael Weisz and Emma Stone star in this excellent if eccentric look at the late lesbian life of Queen Anne. Funny (it is meant to be) and yet dire. Not only a great film (“masterpiece”) you can tell that these three smart women had fun working together. Coleman did this just before starting work on The Queen where she plays our current Queen Elizabeth II. I really enjoyed this. Five stars of five.
The Gentlemen (2020)
Guy Ritchie’s comedy and mayhem story was something I was looking forward to. It had good reviews and it had Matthew McConaughey, Hugh Grant, Michelle Dockery and others. Since Hugh Grant became a multimillionaire and had settled into a relationship, he has been making really good role choices and has had some terrific performances. This isn’t one. I couldn’t get past the first thirty minutes. It is done as a kind of documentary drama and it doesn’t work. One star of five for the first thirty minutes. Sad.
Military Wives (2019)
Any film with Kristin Scott Thomas in it has me interested. I think she is both a great actress and a very stunning woman (sorry, but she is). Here she plays the Colonel’s wife on a UK military base where the men have all been sent off to fight in the middle east. The Sargent Major’s wife – played by Sharon Horgan – is usually responsible for keeping up the morale of the wives during a deployment. Some tension between the two women is at the heart of the drama here, but the real story is what happens when they start to bring the wives together in a choir. Based on a true story, the film shows the British class system in action and what happens when music brings people together. A great story, well told but not wonderful. Three and a half stars of five.
The Good Liar (2019)
In McKellen and Helen Mirren play wonderful parts in this intriguing and interesting movie, which is a dark mystery. Lying, twists and turns and intrigue. Many of my friends really enjoyed it, but I found it predictable and slow. Three stars of five (a close friend think I am mean – he gave it five of five).
Mrs. Lowry and Son (2019)
Mrs Lowry did not like her son (or her husband) and it shows. She belittles him all the time and dislikes his “daubes”. Yet he persists. Timothy Spall and Venessa Redgrave star in this largely two hander and do a quality job of portraying the relationship and the way it impacted his work. But its slow, deliberate and depressing. Three stars of five.
Big cast here – Dustin Hoffman, Kathy Bates, Eddie Izard, Debra Winger and as the lead boy here (Stet) Garrett Wareing (he went on to Pretty Little Liars TV series). Good film about a world-class boys choir and the arrival of a misfit with a strong voice. Great tensions between Hoffman and Izard – liked this a lot. Five stars of five.
Hope Gap (2020)
Annette Bening and Bill Nighy together with Josh O’Connor (The Durrells, Prince Charles in The Queen) perform admirably in this tense marriage break-up drama. The father (Bill) calls in the son (Josh) when he tells the wife (Bening) that after 29 years the marriage is over and he is off to live with another woman. This is a big role for Bening, which she does in a really strong way – with Bill playing his diffident self. But somehow the drama doesn’t lift, despite the escalating despair Bening displays. Three stars of five.
Welcome to Marwen (2018)
Steve Carrell plays a damaged (PTSD) military man who escapes the real world by using characters like the ones above to create wonderful stories which he films. He falls in love with the newly arrived woman across the street who seems to understand and accept. But her ex husband is of the jealous type and, well things ensue. Carrell is excellent in this moving but odd drama. Four stars of five.
On the Basis of Sex (2018)
Ruth Bader Ginsberg (RBG) is a phenomenon. A brilliant feminist lawyer who married a very smart lawyer who was smart enough to realize that she was the star, this film tells the story (as a drama) of how she rose from a student to being a candidate for the supreme court in the US, where she still (thankfully) serves. Felicity Jones plays RBG very convincingly and the story is both powerful and compelling. Four stars of five.
The Banker (2020)
The film stars Anthony Mackie, Nicholas Hoult, Nia Long, Jessie T. Usher and Samuel L. Jackson in a well-told, focused and true story of Joe Morris (Jackson) and Bernard Garrett (Mackie), two of the first African-American bankers in the United States. They bought two banks in Texas, using a white front man, so that they could lend money to black entrepreneurs and emerging black middle classes at a time when banks would not do this in Texas. They also owned a whole raft of properties in LA.
A solid story, well told in a fascinating story line which also raises the issue of how women (especially black women) were treated at the time. Samuel L Jackson and Anthony Machie have real chemistry in this film and they clearly enjoyed their roles, as did Nicholas Hoult who is convincing in his role as the hapless white stooge guy with a few brains.
Liked this movie. A great story, well told. Four stars of five.
JoJo Rabbit (2019)
Some people hate the very idea of the film – a comedy featuring Hitler and the Hitler Youth. But it is a very good film and its writer, director and the man playing Hitler – Taika Waititi (a Maori from New Zealand) – has done a wonderful job creating a really strong story line with bizarre twists and turns. Rebel Wilson plays a great part here, as does Sam Rockwell and Scarlett Johansson. A laughed out loud a lot and its a film that worms its way into your thinking. Four stars of five (but its not for everyone – suspend judgement and pre-conceptions). It deserved its Oscars.
Jane Austen has a lot to answer for, it seems to me. This silly story is an example. Emma is a busy body with too much wealth, too many brain cells and nothing to do but interfere in the lives of others by matchmaking (badly).
Anya Taylor-Joy takes the title role and admirably plays the part of the very attractive busy-body who gets in the way of people’s lives. Bill Nighy (who I will watch in anything) is her father and plays it for full comedic value. The priest Mr. Elton has Josh O’Connor (ex The Durrells) in a slimy role and all in all everything is as expected – a Jane Austin dull farce. An appearance by Miranda Hart as Miss Bates completes the picture.
A usual Austin production – lush and rich – with quality performances as a pretty average Austin story. Three stars of five.
The Nightingale (2018)
A dark film. Set in Tasmania at the time of Australia still being a convict colony, a young woman is abused dreadfully by soldiers and seeks revenge. Scenes of rape, humiliation, murder and general nastiness. The good lady hated this film, but it does have terrific acting and strong story line. Aisling Franciosi who plays the lead (Clare) is stunningly good in this bleak role. The film is a strong drama – well crafted and told with real care. Excellent work by the director here (Jennifer Kent), who also wrote the script. Four and half stars of five.
The Wife (2018)
Jonathan Pryce plays a novelist who wins the Nobel Prize for Literature, except his wife (Glenn Close) wrote the novel. Trouble is, someone who the novelist dislikes intensely (another novelist) has worked it out. A very good story with great acting, paced very well and a tight script. Well worth an hour and forty minutes of your time. Five stars of five.
Queen Marie of Romania (2019)
At the end of the first war the future of Romania was up in the air – Lloyd George and the rest were really not bothered what happened to it. But the Romanian’s cared. The King had married a daughter of Queen Victoria and she determined that she could make a difference as the world was being divided up with France and the UK holding the marker pen. A great telling of this true story, with all sorts of intrigues within Romania and at the talks in Paris. Roxana Lupu who plays the title role is terrific and convincing, which is more than we can say for Richard Elfyn cast as Lloyd George. Richard Chenery is spot on his portrayal of Clemenceau. I liked this a lot. Four and half stars (ps. there are subtitles).
Sir Patrick Stewart (a fellow Yorkshireman) gives a near perfect performance as a concert pianist who is returning to performance after a period of absence taken because of the death of his wife. Trouble is, his debut performances are marred by his sudden and unexpected experience of stage fright (something similar happened to Horowitz, though he stopped performing followed a truly dreadful review – his wife lived on). He is nursed back on stage by the music critic of the New Yorker who is writing a long piece about him – she is played by Katie Holmes in a very sympathetic portrayal. His agent, played by Giancarlo Esposito, is acting as a go between for the pianist, the critic and the concert halls. Its all very well done and Stewart is outstanding and convincing in this role.
Four stars out of five.
Belgravia (TV, 2020)
Lord Julian Fellowes’ (Barron Fellowes of West Stafford) new TV drama (dubbed Downtown II by some wags) is based on his own novel about middle class and wealthy families around the time of Waterloo. It is essentially a “toffs” versus trades story, with twists and turns. As such its fine, but predictable (as Downtown was). We are missing the wonderful one liners wonderfully delivered by Maggie Smith (Dowager Lady Crawley) and the upstairs vs downstairs intrigue, but it is a competent production.
Three and half stars of five (so far).
The Mule (2018)
Clint Eastwood, who must be close to 900 years old, plays the part of a guy who delivers drugs and money for the cartel but looks as if he is out for a day trip. Its one of his current roles – he plays this same role a lot – but this is nonethless an OK film. There are several interesting twists in the story and its a nice Saturday night movie. Three and a half stars of five.
John Wick Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)
These movies are all basically the same. Some dry witty lines. One heck of a lot of action. Lots of shooting. Improbable and impossible “cant get out of this” situation which John Wick (Keanu Reeves) always gets out of. 100% predictability of the direction of the story, but fun getting to the end. I watch not so much of Keanu but because of the excellent writing for Ian McShane. But its all guffy bollocks. Three stars out of five if we’re counting.
Knives Out (2019)
A classic murder mystery. Exceptionally well done with some wonderful people in the cast – Anthony Hopkins, Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Colette, Don Johnson. Hopkins plays a wealthy writer whose family are all living off his royalties. The key is his will. Who will he leave his fortune to?
He is not well. He is cared for by a nurse played by Ana de Armas. In a combination of farce-like plot twists, Hopkins kills himself and leaves his fortune to the nurse. Then the plot hots up.
It is engaging, funny and smart. You will like it. Five stars of five.
Mr. Jones (2019)
True story of the Welsh journalist (Jones) who visited Russia and Ukraine at the time of the Stalin famine and came back to report the truth. Harrowing, dramatic and powerful film (sometimes difficult to watch as it touches on the real depravity of Stalin’s regime) with quality performances, especially from James Norton as Gareth Jones. Five stars of five.
Robert Downey Jr leads this remake of Dr. Dolittle but its a rich cast and a fun movie to watch with grandkids. Funny, but a good story with all sorts of new twists and turns. Banderas is great as the bad guy and Selena Gomez I can watch anytime. Three to four stars depending on how much wine you can sneak in while the kids are watching.
Spies in Disguise (2019)
Think about this for a moment. A chemist changes a spy person who may or may not be 007 like (Will Smith) into a pigeon which helps him catch and deal with the real bad guy here. Odd? Too right. But very funny. Laugh out loud funny. As you can see from the image above, its an animation but a very good one – our grandson (Sam) did about nine belly laughs even though he’d seen the movie before. I liked this film (had planned to read some existential philosophy, but this was a better bet!). Four stars out of five.
Downton Abbey (2019)
Having watched all of the TV series (all of them), we felt obligated to watch this. Dull. Simple plot – the King is coming to visit and there is a plot to kill him off which is thwarted by one of the Downton lot. Usual nonsense from Maggie Smith. Blah blah from all involved. Pleasant, but no fun not at all. Two stars of five.
Adults in the Room (2019)
I really enjoyed the book on which this film is based. It is the story of the Greek finance minister – Yanis Varoufakis – and his attempt to secure a sensible, practical financial settlements with the EU, IMF and European Central Bank (the troika) during the early stages of the Greek financial crisis. Having just won an election on the promise of not implementing the austerity measures which the troika had demanded, he offered other routes to common sense response. Deceit, downright skullduggery, saying one thing in private and another in public within seconds this true story is powerful. The story switches languages a fair bit (subtitles are there), but is nonetheless compelling.
It wont be for everyone. But for political junkies, it’s a good account of the book. Three and a half stars of five.
Little Women (2019)
We’re supposed to like this film because it was directed by a women (Greta Gerwig), stars some very smart women actresses (including the very talented Saorise Ronan, Emma Watson and Lorna Dern) and is a modern twist on the tired and reasonably dull novel by Louisa May Alcott. Meryl Streep also plays the elderly aunt.
The film skips time a few times, the story is changed to give a nicer ending and is still a dull story. I didn’t like it. My wife didn’t like it. Others thought it was Oscar quality (it wasn’t) and I got in trouble for being blunt about it (am used to getting in trouble for being blunt). Two stars of five, three if you give me good scotch.
The Postcard Killings (2020)
A sick couple kill other couples (usually just married) and then pose them with their body parts mutulated in poses linked to famous works of art. One of the couples includes the daughter of an NYPD / FBI police officer who insists on investigating these murders across Europe. The title comes from the fact that the killers always send a postcard to a journalist in the city the murder takes place in with a short message.
Solid story line with an interesting plot twist, but is essentially a police procedural. Good acting from some (and wooden acting from others) with the lead role played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan.
Three stars of five.
Bel Canto (2018)
This is remake of an older 1994 movie. An opera singer is at a party when she and everyone else is taken hostage. Julianne Moore leads in this version and the plot is given new twists and turns. She is not very good at lyp-sync work and the love lines here show as weak. Two and half stars of five.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)
Tom Hanks, currently stuck in Australia with a diagnosis of COVID-19, plays Mr Rogers – the creepy TV personality who occupied children’s TV for many years in the US. Trained as a pastor with a degree in theology, he developed a persona on TV that was intended to demonstrate compassion, love and care for others. He shared space with people of colour, accepted differences between people as normal and developed a view that we are all made in the likeness and with the spirit of God.
I sometimes watched Mr. Rogers. I didnt like the real one – I found it creepy and stilted – but he was more than popular. He was a legend.
Hanks does a great job of capturing both the character and the essence of Fred Rogers and does so through a compelling story of the relationship he developed with a reporter sent to write a profile. It’s a good story, well told and the performances are true to character. I just never liked Mr Rogers and this film reminds me why.
Four stars out of five.
Two Popes (2019)
Since school I have been fascinated by the papacy. I have written about it, read about it, studied it seriously. I predicted, two weeks before it happened at a formal presentation, the election of Benedict and also the election of Francis. I went to Catholic schools (K-12) and enjoyed my time there. So I looked forward to this film which looks at the way in which Francis came to be and his relationship with Pope Emeritus Benedict.
It’s a good film. Sir Anthony Hopkins is excellent as Benedict – focused, severe and Germanic. But the stand out performance here – nominated for an Oscar – was Jonathan Pryce as Francis. Francis is a fascinating man – in public a populist and sensitive, in private a difficult and sometimes angry man. Widely seen as a reformer, many of his reforms are stalled or failed.
He also has a history, which this film thoroughly explores.
Five stars of five. A must see film.
The Tiger Who Came for Tea (2019)
We watched this at Xmas with the grandkids. It is one of those ageless stories that fascinates and this animation is excellently done. Five stars.
For adults, I also like the 8 Out of Ten Cats version – The Tiger Who Came for a Pint:
The Happy Prince (2018)
Rupert Everett wrote, directed and stars in this film about Oscar Wilde – what happened to him after he was released from jail. He is brilliant in it – the part he wanted to play for many many years. A great cast – Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson, Colin Firth, Anna Chancellor and others all add depth to this sad sad story. Five stars of five and would happily see it again.
Official Secrets (2019)
Keira Knightley does a great job in this movie, based entirely on actual events, portraying Katharine Gun who betrayed official secrets to draw attention to the way in which the US lied to the UN so as to secure their support for the 2003 Iraq invasion. Some great work by the cast as a whole, especially Ralph Fiennes and Rhys Ifans. The plot is well paced and the story is powerful. Colin Firth was an executive producer on this film.
Four stars out of five.
The Girl in the Spiders Web (2018)
I can understand Claire Foy wanted to do something completely different after playing The Queen for two series. But she is shit in this movie. Its a continuation of the Stieg Larson series focused on the antics of Lisbeth Salander (previously played wonderfully well by Noomi Rapace). As Lisbeth, Clair Foy tries hard and looks determined but just doesnt work. Stephen Merchant’s character here adds some (unintended) comic relief. Two stars (just) out of five.
Mary Queen of Scots (2018)
We know the story and the back story. But its still a good story. Done very well in this movie, with Saoirse Ronan as Mary and Margot Robbie as Elizabeth, there is real quality in their performances here. Good writing (though we all know that Mary and Elizabeth never actually met) and excellent sense of drama created on screen. Five stars of five.
The film stars Saoirse Ronan as the title character, a girl raised in the wilderness of northern Finland by her father, an ex-CIA operative (Eric Bana), who trains her as an assassin. Cate Blanchett portrays a senior CIA agent who tries to track down and eliminate the girl and her father. Gripping. Four and half stars of five.
A fomer CIA agent and hit man is dying and returns to Galveston to plot his revenge. As he is dying, he rescues a teenage hooker. A really good thriller with lots of twists and turns. Four stars of five.
The Guard of Auschwitz (2018)
An SS officer, who is serving alongside his father, gets an attack of conscience at Aushwitz and decides not to follow orders and has to deal with the consequences, which involve him having to shoot his father. Lewis Kirk has fifteen ways of showing angst and three for anger. It’s one of those films. You have to watch to the end, whether you want to or not, just to see how he deals with it all, but it is predictable.
Three stars of five.
The Windermere Children (2020)
Shortly after the war, some British jews arranged for a number of children to come to the UK after they were liberated from Nazi camps, like Auschwitz. Of the 750 children the UK government admitted, 300 arrived in the Lake District to be housed in a former army / munitions camp. They were scared, had no english, were resented by some local adults and children. Over time, they were engaged in learning and development activities, received counselling and therapy (including the then new form of art therapy) and were able to play in the wonderful setting of the Lake District.
The film is a documentary based recreation of the experience of these children and ends with short interviews of some of those, now in their 80’s and 90’s, who lived the experience.
I loved this movie. Moving, insightful and telling. Five stars out of five.
The White Crow (2019)
The defection of Nureyev was a remarkable thing – I remember it well ( I was 11 in 1961). It just seemed remarkable to me that such a famous dancer could defect and chose to do so in Paris. It is a story that has fascinated David Hare, who wrote about about it, and Ralph Fiennes, who produced and directed this film. Fiennes also plays the part of Nureyev’s teacher Alexander Pushkin. (Pushkin was also the teacher of Barishnykov, who also defected).
The young man playing Nureyev – Oleg Ivenko – had never acted before and was in fact a dancer (and a very good one). He is simply superb in this part and convincing.
A great and engrossing movie. Five stars out of five.
The Night Clerk (2020)
Portrayals on film of a person with aspergers syndrome (or anyone on the spectrum) that work are rare. This one works. Our main character is Bart Bromley played by Tye Sheridan – he is employed as a night clerk in a hotel. He has installed cameras and microphones in all of the rooms and happens to record a murder. He becomes a suspect, but didn’t do it. Soke very solid acting here by Tye, his mother (Helen Hunt) and the detective (John Leguziamo). Also a wonderful romantic interest (Ana de Armas). It’s not a fast action movie – the plot is built carefully (slow) but powerfully. Four stars of five.
A simple story. In the middle of the great war, two soldiers are tasked with the mission of reaching the front line with an order to stop an advance / attack scheduled for two days time. AMongst those who would be certainly killed in the attack is the brother of one of the soldiers on the mission. There are a number of plot twists and turns which keep this a fast paced movie.
It is simply a superbly made film. Powerful and effective CGI, quality performances from the principal characters (Dean Charles Chapman and George McKay) with strong cameos from Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch, this is a must see award winning film written and directed by Sam Mendes based on a story his father experienced in that war.
The film also has an appearance by Billy Postlethwaite, son of the great character and dramatic actor Peter. Billy was also in Tomb Raider and Game of Thrones.
Late Night (2019)
Emma Thompson is either brilliant or intensely annoying. In this film she is brilliant. A fading talk show host hires a new writer – Mindy Kaling – who turns the show around. There are sub-plots (affairs, a dying husband, writer jealousy), but the film moves along a story line which is well developed and works. Mindy wrote the script for this film and is very solid in her role. Emma dominates but shows real vulnerability and sensitivity in the part. A fun and sometime funny movie, well worth watching. Four stars of five.
Renee Zellweger nails the character of Judy Garland in this movie, centred around her 1968 appearances in London. She deserved the Oscar and Golden Globe and BAFTA for this work. Outstanding movie, showing the real ups and downs of this troubled person. Nice cameo from Michael Gambon and good performances all round. Five stars of five.
Red Joan (2019)
I often wonder what will happen to drama when Judi Dench dies. A fellow Yorkshireperson, she is an outstanding actress despite now being almost blind. Yet here she is. Acting in a true story about a woman who decided that keeping things secret was a bad idea, especially when what was at stake was the future of mankind and the threat of nuclear annihilation. Red Joan gave US/UK secrets to the Russians and managed to hide this fact for many years until her secret was revealed. This is the story of Joan Stanley who is living in retirement when she is busted by MI5. Sophie Cookson plays Joan as the younger lady in the 1930’s who falls in love with Leo, who is a Russian agent and a physicist. Directed by Trevor Nun it is well paced, powerful story which will intrigue. There are lovely moments between Joan and her son (an establishment lawyer) and her former husband. Five stars of five.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019)
Ted Bundy was exactly what this film title said he was – evil and vile (the movie title comes from the summing up from the Texas judge who convicted him, played brilliantly here by John Malkovich). This is the story of Bundy told through the eyes of his long time girlfriend Liz Kendall (Lily Collins). It’s a gripping drama, based on her book and well told here. Great cast – though I wasn’t sure at first about Jim Parsons (Big Bang Theory) role as a prosecuting lawyer, but he grows on you here. Good film. Four out of five stars.
Vita and Virginia (2018)
Dame Eileen Atkins had wanted to make this film for a long time (she wrote it based on Virginia Woolf’s letters) and finally got to do so. Trouble is, its a patchy story poorly told. What is clear is that neither Vita Sackville-West or Virginia Woolf were never really stable characters and both had bi-sexual inclinations (fine by me). But this film is strangely unsatisfactory and doesn’t quite work, but I am not sure why.
Good performances by Elizabeth Debicki (Woolf), Gemma Arterton (Vita), Isabella Rossellini (Lady Sacville) and Rupert Penry-Jones (Henryv Nicholson) ensure the film is compelling yet somehow..
Three stars from five.
Cold Pursuit (2019)
Liam Neeson plays Liam Neeson being angry and hurt and in pursuit of whoever is responsible for the death of his son (sound familiar). What I liked about this film was that my friend Tom is in it. Tom Jackson plays White Bull – an indigenous drug Lord – and its a pivotol role in this movie. Also here are Laura Dern (seems to be in everything!) and Wesley McInnes. A good story – murder mystery in the snow and cold (I do live in Alberta). Three and half stars of five.
The story of his early life and the way in which, though failing initially as an academic, he found his forte and excelled. Wonderful performances (especially by Nicholas Hoult in the lead role and Harry Gilby as the younger version), with nice roles for Pam Ferris, Lily Collins and Derek Jacobi). Five stars of five.
Miss. Fisher and the Crypt of Tears
A totally dreadful, pointless and painful movie to watch. Even Miriam Margoyles part os weak and poorly written. Such dreadful tosh. The tears in the title come from having to watch it. No stars of five.
Stan and Ollie (2019)
A fun film, if sad. It follows Stan and Ollie at the end of their career during their tour of the UK. Steve Coogan and John Reilly are outstanding in the lead roles here – very convincing. There are some good scenes and funny material, but this is a tragi-comedy. I liked the script and pace. Five stars of five.
The Perfection (2019)
A very odd film. An outstanding violist has a father who she does not really know who was a world class composer. He dies. Leaves her an odd mansion in France in which she finds he has written her a violin concerto which, when played, summons up the devil. Quite. Very silly. Interesting. But very silly. Good performances, a very silly story (have I mentioned this). Two and half stars of five.
The Upside (2019)
Kevin Hart, Brian Cranston and Nicole Kidman play a wonderfully funny set of characters and Hart has some brilliant one liners in this medical comedy. Cranston is disabled from the neck down and needs constant nursing. Hart gets the job, hired by Kidman, saying that he can do and has all sorts of experience when he has none. It is a very funny film – saw it in Balek (Turkey) with friends and we laughed until we needed more wine. It is based on a true story and was made by Harvey Winestain – one of the few decent things he did. Five out of five stars.
The Professor and the Madman (2019)
Sean Penn and Mel Gibson work well in this true story of a US doctor who goes bonkers and is hospitalized for insanity at Broadmoor. Gibson is working on the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary and Penn becomes one of the great contributors of words and their definitions – over 10,000 entries. This is the story of their relationship and bond. Solid performances and quality film work. Five out of five stars.
Sometimes, Always, Never (2018)
Bill Nighy is wonderful in this movie (but then he does not do poor performances). A love of words shown by Nighy helps connect him back to his long lost son, played by Sam Riley. They had been separated when the son storms out of the family home as a result of a dispute over a word in a game of scrabble (seems reasonable to me). Nighy loves words and plays online and starts to encounter an online player who he thinks must be his son. He tracks him down to a caravan and they connect again. Nice drama, mystery with some levels of dry humour. Four and half stars of five.
The Aftermath (2019)
A British colonel is posted to Hamburg at the end of WWII to oversee reconstruction and to maintain law and order. He commandeers a house, where the former owner (and a Nazi and his daughter) remain in a part of the property. The colonel (Ned Wills) is joined by his wife (Keira Knightley) and various plots and sub plots ensue, most of which revolve around brits vs germans, sex and germans versus germans. Plot is meandering and Knightley is not on top form. Good performances by Alexander Skarsgard. Three stars of five.
The Highwaymen (2019)
Kevin Costner goes after Bonnie and Clyde. We know the story and the ending, yet Costner makes this pretty solid and compelling movie, helped by Woody Harrelson who plays his morose sidekick. I liked this, though some think it slow. Four stars of five.
The Repair Shop (TV Series)
I love a good cry. This does it every-time. My dad was a joiner / carpenter and was wonderfully clever with his hands. Everyone on this show is a craftsperson who restore items of genuine sentimental value. To see such wonderful craftsmanship at work and to see the delight in the restoration, well it is wonderful full stop. But it also reminds me of my dad. Every time. Now on US television, but it comes from the BBC.