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.
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.