- David Parkinson
Parky At the Pictures (1/1/2021)
(Reviews of Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets; Carmilla; Eternal Beauty; Family Romance, LLC; I Am Woman; Koko-di Koko-da; Miss Juneteenth; Monsoon; The Other Lamb; Proxima; Rebecca; Rialto; Schemers; Sócrates; Summer of `85; and Summerland)
The majority of cinemas may be closed during these enduringly dismal days (happy new year, by the way). But who, in all honesty is that big a film fan that they would risk contracting and spreading a contagious disease simply to see something on the big screen as part of a well-spaced crowd? As the country staggers towards Lockdown 3, there are still ways to connect with some of the features on general release. In addition to Curzon Home Cinema. MUBI, Netflix and the BFI Player, it should also be possible to access the titles under discussion below (in what is essentially a catch-up rattlebag) via iTunes, Apple TV, Amazon, Sky Store, Virgin, Microsoft, Vimeo, Google Play, Rakuten, BT and Playstation.
BLOODY NOSE, EMPTY POCKETS.
The Roaring 20s bar on the outskirts of Las Vegas is about to close. Bearded bartender Marc Paradis greets resting actor Michael Martin at the start of what will be a long day for patrons who have come to see this unprepossessing watering hole as a refuge from the grimmer realities of daily life. Among the regulars to roll in are the pony-tailed Lowell Landes, the bespectacled Pam Harper and Bruce Hadnot, one of the few African-Americans to frequent the premises on this melancholic morning. Ever-willing to entertain the punters, Marc strums along on his guitar to soulful renditions of Kenny Rogers's `The Gambler' and Roy Orbison's `Crying'.
Michael's rapt face is reflected in the bar mirror during this last number, which proves to be Marc's swan song, as Shay Walker takes over for the night shift. She is concerned about her teenage son, Tra, having fallen in with the wrong crowd and they chug stolen brews in a back alley, as the bar begins to fill up. Michael steps in to coax the pugnaciously drunk Ira J. Clark into heading off to work, while the 60 year-old Pam lifts her top to support her contention she's still an attractive woman. By contrast, as the boozers boast, bicker and bore across the genders and generations, Shay has to fight off a couple of admirers, as musician Pete Radcliffe and the besuited David S. Lewis square up in order to demonstrated their devotion.
Cheryl Fink, John Nerichow, Felix Cardona, Al Page, Rikki Redd, Trevor Moore, Kevin Lara, Kamari Stevens, Sophie Woodruff and Miriam Arkin pass through during the course of the evening, as debates rumble about everything from past wars and future prospects to where they will all drink when the door closes for good. There's bad blood between some of the drinkers, particularly when the topic turns to politics and the apportioning of blame for America's predicament. But a sense of unity prevails, as the revellers bundle into the parking lot to light sparklers, while Sophie B. Hawkins belts out `Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover' on the jukebox. Slowly, the malingerers begin to drift away and Michael is persuaded that he needs to find somewhere else to sleep because his home from home is about to become off limits.
It won't take long for perceptive viewers to realise as the intoxication levels rise that this isn't a documentary in the purest sense of the term. In fact, Bill and Turner Ross built the bar on a New Orleans soundstage and cast the customers after scouting around the city's various hotspots and dives. But Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets cleaves closely to John Grierson's enduringly influential concept of creative actuality, as had such previous Ross outings as 45365 (2009), Tchoupitoulas (2012), Western (2015) and Contemporary Color (2016). Anytime MUBI or the like fancies curating a Brothers Ross season, it seems safe to assume that it would be warmly welcomed.
Operating their own cameras during a three-day shoot, the siblings give the impression of eavesdropping while table-hopping. Yet they never quite avoid the suspicion that their Bukowskian barflies are improvising rather than divulging. The clip on the TV screen from John Huston's The Misfits (1961) is a bit too blatant, as is the question about the Navajo nation on the game show, Jeopardy. Moreover, Michael and Lowell feel overly erudite for accidentally encountered nobodies. That said, it's both reassuring and dismaying that the topics under discussion in 2016 remain relevant today. At least the Trump presidency is over. But, given the state of a world firmly in the grip of a mutating pandemic, the Peggy Lee lyrics over the closing credits have never seemed more pertinent: `Is that all there is? If that's all there is, my friends, then let's keep dancing.'
Somewhere in the rural north of England, several centuries ago, 15 year-old Lara (Hannah Rae) is kept on a tight leash by her often absent widowed father, Mr Bauer (Greg Wise), and her stern governess, Miss Fontaine (Jessica Raine). The latter derives a little too much pleasure from disciplining her charge and in correcting the fact she's left-handed. However, when Dr Renquist (Tobias Menzies) asks Bauer to provide sanctuary for the amnesiac survivor of a carriage crash (Devrim Lingnau), Lara delights in the newly named Carmilla's resistance to Fontaine's authority. For her part, Fontaine is disturbed by the decline in Lara's health that has coincided with Carmilla's arrival. So, when Renquist reports other cases of young women growing pale and listless, they concur that the interloper is a vampire who must be staked.
Published in 1873, J. Sheridan Le Fanu's gothic novella has been filmed several times, without ever capturing the imagination as fiercely as the adaptations of Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897). Among the better versions are Roger Vadim's Blood and Roses (1960), Camillo Mastrocinque's Crypt of the Vampire (1963), Roy Ward Baker's The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Vicente Aranda's The Blood Spattered Bride (1972). But, in following up Borges and I (2009) and Paragraph (2015), writer-director Emily Harris seems more intent on examining Lara's oppressive upbringing and repressed desires. Consequently, this feels close in tone to Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights (2011) and William Oldroyd's Lady Macbeth (2016) than anything produced by Hammer or for the BBC's Christmas ghost story slot.
Alexandra Walker's atmospheric production design enables cinematographer Michael Wood to contrast the gloomy interiors of the remote Bauer home and the surrounding verdant countryside. But Harris's dialogue is often distractingly awkward, while there's also an imbalance between the time devoted to Hannah Rae exploring the emotions stirred up by Devrim Lingnau and that expended by Jessica Raine in extinguishing them. The thoughtful performances and Radiohead drummer Philip Selway's folk-electronica score chime in with the notion that this is a gently revisionist assault on the tenets of the Sunday serial, as Harris uses the mix of superstition and Sapphism to broach the themes of awakening and decay, isolation and subjugation, and ethics and eroticism.
Since being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in her twenties, Jane (Sally Hawkins) has struggled to cope. In addition to recurring visions of being jilted at the altar (played by Morfydd Clark) by her fiancé, Johnny (Robert Aramayo), Jane also finds it hard to connect with either her parents, Dennis (Robert Pugh) and Vivian (Penelope Wilton), or her sisters, Alice (Alice Lowe) and Nicola (Billie Piper). She starts to feel more positive after bumping into old friend Mike (David Thewlis), a musician who is dealing with his own demons. But, shortly after he proposes, Jane catches Mike in flagrante with Nicola and suffers a breakdown. The siblings are reconciled after Vivian's death, as Jane girds herself for whatever life might throw at her next.
Critics rather fell over themselves to praise actor Craig Roberts's directorial debut, Just Jim (2015). But the reception for his sophomore effort has been more mixed, as he labours to put a darkly deadpan spin on the issue of mental health. His intentions couldn't be more laudable, as Jane's plight has been modelled on that of Roberts's own aunt. Yet, in spite of the avowed influence of such classics as Ingmar Bergman's Through a Glass Darkly (1961) and Krzysztof Kieslowski's Three Colours: Blue (1993), Roberts struggles to establish a persuasive tone that can accommodate both the striking visual representation of Jane's perspective and the quirky sitcomedic nature of the storytelling.
For once, Sally Hawkins's instincts let her down, as she forsakes the delicacy she had brought to the title role in Aisling Walsh's Maudie (2016) for a more manic approach that seems to egg Penelope Wilton and Billie Piper into excess as Jane's harridanish mother and benefit-scrounging younger sister. Alice Lowe and David Thewlis contribute some welcomely dialled-down humanity, but they are also left exposed by the relentless insistence of Roberts's screenplay to find amusement in the bleakest circumstance. Adding to this disarmingly dislocatory sense is the indeterminate nature of the temporal and geographical setting, which is reinforced by Tim Dickel's kitschily dour production design and Kit Fraser's self-consciously stylised imagery.
FAMILY ROMANCE, LLC.
Based in Tokyo, Yuichi Ishii runs a company called Family Romance that enables clients to hire actors to play `real-life' roles. Miki (Miki Fujimaki) asks Yuichi to pose as the father of her 12 year-old daughter, Mahoki (Mahoki Tamimoto), who has never known paternal love. Initially, the tweenager is reluctant to trust Yuichi, who has agreed to keep Miki informed of everything that transpires. However, Mahoki becomes so attached to Yuichi that she asks if they can spend weekend together and Miki is so pleased with the progress Mahoki is making that she invites Yuichi to move into the family home.
While catering for a bride who wants a replacement for her alcoholic father to walk her down the aisle and an old lady who wants to experience the thrill of winning the lottery, Yuichi confides his misgivings to his friend and reveals that he has been dreaming of actors committing seppuku. He is also disconcerted by his stay at a hotel with robotic staff and mechanical fish in a tank. However, he hits upon a solution to the Mahoki problem by visiting an undertaker with a view to staging a fake funeral. As he returns home, he is confused by the sound of children's voices and wonders if his own family members have been hired to give meaning to his own existence.
Throughout his career, Werner Herzog has frequently blurred the line between fact and fiction. He does so here to intriguing, if rarely engrossing effect, as he ponders the methodology and morality of Yuichi Ishii and his company. Working on a self-funded micro-budget and wielding the camera himself, Herzog leaves editor Sean Scannell the puzzle of how to turn the 350-odd minutes of footage into a 90-minute narrative. The fact he doesn't quite succeed shouldn't detract from the picture's curio appeal, especially as it raises so many talking points in an age of fake news about communication, contact, family dynamics and human expectations at the start of the third decade of the 21st century.
Essentially playing himself, Yuichi Ishii displays remarkable versatility and sensitivity in taking on a range of roles that would stretch a professional actor or even a psychiatrist. He also establishes a charming rapport with Mahoki Tamimoto that prompts him (somewhat unethically) to withhold information from a mother who wants the best for her daughter, while also wishing to keep her dependent. Such is the focus on this ménage, however, that the minor storylines can feel shoehorned or short-changed, particularly when Herzog resorts to slow motion or lingers on awkward silences at the end of scenes that have long played out.
I AM WOMAN.
The child of showbiz parents, Helen Reddy (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) leaves Australia for New York after winning a recording contract in a competition. She quickly discovers that the prize is a sham and is struggling to provide for her young daughter, Traci (Coco Greenstone), when she marries talent agency menial Jeff Wald (Evan Peters) three days after meeting at a party. He promises to make her a star, but neglects her to focus on acts like Deep Purple until she threatens to leave him.
On relocating to Los Angeles, Reddy has a minor hit with `I Don't Know How to Love Him' from Jesus Christ Superstar. However, she tops the Billboard charts with `I Am Woman', a self-penned Grammy winner that becomes an anthem of the nascent femninist movement. Despite her friendship with fellow expat and liberated journalist Lilian Roxon (Danielle Macdonald), however, Reddy fails to realise that Wald is snorting away her fortune and, when the hits dry up, she is reduced to doing cabaret and charity gigs. Two decades later, Traci (Molly Broadstock) persuades her mother to perform her signature tune at a National Organisation For Women rally in Washington, DC.
Closing captions fill in the events that occurred following Reddy's decline in the late 1970s. However, she died in September 2020 before Unjoo Moon's debut feature could do much to revive her reputation. This is a shame, as Reddy was a fine singer, with songs like `Delta Dawn' and `Angie Baby' being minor classics. She's capably impersonated by Tilda Cobham-Hervey, while Chelsea Cullen does a decent job of providing the vocals. But Reddy is sold short as both an artist and a feminist icon by a workaday screenplay by Emma Jensen, who similarly imposed Biopic 101 tactics on another compelling life story in Haifaa al-Mansour's Mary Shelley (2017).
Moon doesn't help matters by directing in teleplay mode. She even resorts to a cornball montage sequence to chronicle Reddy's rise to fame. But Moon allows her to fade into the background while she scolds Wald for the cocaine addiction that allows Evan Peters to gnaw on Michael Turner's otherwise credible scenery, as he comes to tire of the `Mr Helen Reddy' tag. Emily Seresin's costumes and Nikki Gooley's hair and make-up designs are also admirable, as Reddy cut a distinctive figure. However, her passivity in the face of Wald's recklessness and the seeming pettiness of her fallout with Roxon (who died of an asthma attack in 1973) exacerbate the fact that Moon and Jensen can't resist tinkering with timelines in order to ratchet up the melodrama.
Three years after the death of their eight year-old daughter, Maja (Katarina Jakobson), Elin (Ylva Gallon) and Tobias (Leif Edlund) go on a camping trip to patch up their fraying relationship. On the first morning, Elin is attacked by a murderous trio comprised of the portly, white-suited Mog (Peter Belli), bearded strongman Sampo (Morad Baloo Khatchadorian) and the gauntly lank-haired Cherry (Brandy Litmanen), She leads a bull terrier on a chain, while the giant carries a dead dog in his arms. Tobias is similarly slaughtered. But neither shows any ill-effects before the ordeal is repeated next day and continues to be so until Elin rises one snowy morning to find her husband missing. On following a white cat into a remote house, she witnesses a shadow puppet show involving some rabbits and a rooster. The next day, Elin and Tobias flee before their assailants arrive. As they speed away, they kill Sampo's dog and seem oblivious to what they have done as they embrace with relief.
Taking its title from the Swedish nursery rhyme, `Our Rooster's Dead', sophomore Johannes Nyholm's follow-up to The Giant (2016) takes its cue from Christopher Landon's Blumhouse offering, Happy Death Day (2017), in putting a horror spin on the endless loop concept explored to such amusing effect in Harold Ramis's comic classic, Groundhog Day (1993). There's little to smile at here, however, as Nyholm preys upon the grieving, guilt-ridden couple in a grim sequence of reprises that employs a different murder method each time. Faint echoes can be heard of the respective sadism and surrealism of Søren Juul Petersen's The Ringmaster and Tim Mielants's Patrick (both 2019), but this never reaches either film's levels of gratuitous shockingness or forensic whimsicality.
A neat touch in Pia Aleborg's production design shows the murderous trio in cartoon form on the side of Maja's musical box, while there is also much to commend in Gabriella Lundberg's costumes and Gustaf Berger's sound design. Nyholm's editing is also astute, as he ends each segment with a resounding bang and opens the next with a towering overhead shot that reinforces the idea that it's futile to resist when we are nothing more than the playthings of the gods. Forever bickering or bellowing, Ylva Gallon and Leif Edlund invite little sympathy from the audience, but they scarcely deserve the brutality they are forced to endure on top of their bereavement. Viewers may also feel somewhat violated, especially after they have seen a little dog lapping greedily to the sound of `Yummy, Yummy, Yummy' being sung by Peter Belli, the Danish pop star whose band, Les Rivals, once opened for both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
Each year, Fort Worth holds a Miss Juneteenth pageant to mark 19 June 1865, the date on which Texas became the last US state to abolish slavery. Whereas most winners go on to exploit the first prize of a college scholarship, 2004 beauty queen Turquoise Jones (Nicole Beharie) was forced to drop out after boyfriend Ronnie (Kendrick Sampson) got her pregnant. Now, she is keen for her 15 year-old daughter, Kai (Alexis Chikaeze), to make the most of her own opportunity, even though she would much rather become a dancer.
Having once worked as a stripper, Turquoise now makes ends meet as a beautician at the funeral parlour run by the amorous Bacon (Akron Watson), while also helping out at the dive bar owned by the ailing Wayman (Marcus Mauldin). She has ambitions to run the barbecue joint in her own way. But it's only when Ronnie lets her down over the money for Kai's pageant gown that Turquoise realises that she has to seize control of her own destiny in accordance with the words of Maya Angelou's poem, `Phenomenal Woman', which Kai interprets during the talent section of the contest.
Drawing on her own upbringing in Fort Worth, Channing Godfrey Peoples follows up the shorts Carry Me Home (2009), Red (2013) and Doretha's Blues (2019) with this acutely observed and unashamedly celebratory feature bow. It was released Stateside against the backdrop of George Floyd's murder and the rising significance of the Black Lives Matter campaign in a country whose drift back towards endemic bigotry had not even been condemned, let alone arrested by the White House. Yet, while Peoples acknowledges the pain and privation experienced by many in the African-American community (`Ain't no American Dream for black folks'), she refuses to let her characters be defined by their disadvantages.
Consequently, Daniel Patterson's camera picks out the atmospheric authenticity and affirmatory colourfulness of Olivia Peebles's production design and Rachel Dainer-Best's costumes. Moreover, Peoples trusts her cast to strike the right balance between capturing everyday experience and exploring the socio-political themes that percolate below the surface of her engaging, if a tad predictable story. Nicole Beharie makes an eminently relatable heroine, whether she's bantering with fellow barmaid Betty Ray (Liz Mikel), bickering with her evangelical mother, Charlotte (Lori Hayes), or badgering the equally effective Alexis Chikaeze about Kai's future and her relationship with classmate Quantavious (Jaime Matthis).
Kit (Henry Golding) was eight years old when his family fled Saigon during the latter stages of the Vietnam War. Having been raised in Britain, he now returns to his homeland for the first time with an arrangement to meet up with his brother, Henry (Lâm Vissay), and scatter the ashes of their parents. While visiting tourist spots and old family haunts around the renamed Ho Chi Minh City, Kit makes contact with his distant cousin, Lee (David Tran), whose father had borrowed money from Kit's mother in order to open an electronics store. He also agrees to go on a date with Lewis (Parker Sawyers), an African-American ex-pat whose father is a war veteran, Despite chatting to Henry on Skype, Kit remains uncertain where to lay his parents to rest and hopes that a trip to Hanoi with the art-loving Linh (Molly Harris) will help clear his mind.
Following a commendable debut with Lilting (2014), Cambodian-British director Hong Khaou remains in contemplative mode for this leisurely study of displacement and belonging and the personal and political connection between history and identity. Leavening the mix with a generational subplot and a tentative gay romance, Hong keeps Henry Golding busy on his return to the birthplace he barely knows. Yet he cuts a forlorn figure amidst the bustle and his isolation is emphasised by both the aerial shot of Golding stranded in the downtown traffic and the fact that he barely speaks for extended passages.
Making astute use of glass and mirrors, while keeping Benjamin Kracun's camera close enough to read Golding's thoughts, Hong occasionally labours the point, most notably by having this rootless soul fall for an exile who is not only black, but also the son of an old soldier. Nevertheless, Parker Sawyers's self-assured Americanness contrasts intriguingly with Golding's insecurities and the differing aspects of Vietnamese society conveyed by David Tran's conservative cousin and Emily Harris's modish bohemian, whose father is a lotus tea merchant. Such details stress the delicacy of Hong's approach, which extends to his decision to rely on Gunnar Óskarsson's sound design while Golding is acclimatising before letting John Cummings's sparingly used, but plaintive score counterpoint the closing scenes.
THE OTHER LAMB.
Somewhere in the American wilderness, a reclusive cult known as The Flock is presided over by The Shepherd (Michiel Huisman). His exclusively female charges are divided into wives and daughters and all are devoted to their messianic leader. Having spent her entire life in this bucolic idyll following her mother's death in childbirth, Selah (Raffey Cassidy) enjoys being one of The Shepherd's favourites. However, she bridles at being labelled `impure' during her first period and returns to the forest fold from temporary exile after having been troubled by visions of submersion and bloodshed.
As the local police have started asking awkward questions, The Shepherd decides to relocate to a new Eden. En route, however, Selah begins to question his authority when one of the wives dies during labour and she discovers that he had done nothing to try and save her own mother. On arriving at the new settlement, Selahh and the other daughters learn that the wives have been systematically drowned in the river and they exact a pitiful revenge that culminates in The Shepherd being fitted with ram horns before he is strung up.
A graduate of the Lodz Film School, Malgorzata Szumowska has consistently challenged audiences with such intriguingly diverse Polish pictures as 33 Scenes From Life (2008), Elles (2011), In the Name Of (2013), Body (2015) and Mug (2018). However, she seems on less certain ground in making her English-language debut, which has little new to contribute to the cine-canon on religious cults. Yet, despite Selah's journey from the cusp of innocent adolescence to the knowing committal of rebellious murder following a familiar route, this hybrid horror is not without interest.
Collaborating once again with cinematographer Michal Englert, Szumowska creates a series of eye-searingly ecstatic tableaux that feel as though they have been copied from forbidden tomes on the dark arts. The pair also make spectacular use of the untamed landscape around Wicklow to convey how entrapped and exploited the women are, while the red and blue wife/daughter costumes designed by Katarzyna Lewinska reinforce the dehumanising tyranny of The Shepherd's incestuously misogynist regime.
Yet, in formulating their `dark cry against the patriarchy', Szumowska and co-scenarist Catherine McMullen offer few insights into the origins of The Flock or its belief system. Indeed, while we discover the fate of male children, we learn little about why a persecuted outsider like Sarah (Denise Gough) would continue to acquiesce in such baleful subjugation when The Shepherd appears to lack the coercive power to match his charisma. He is played with unsettling tranquility by Dutchman Michiel Huisman, while Raffey Cassidy enhances her burgeoning reputation as the chosen one who is spurred on to insurrection by the glimpse of an alternative self in the backseat of a passing car.
Offered the chance to fulfil a lifetime's dream, French scientist Sarah Loreau (Eva Green) accepts a last-minute call-up to spend a year aboard the International Space Station prior to a crewed European Space Agency flight to Mars. She is saddened by the prospect of leaving seven year-old daughter Stella (Zélie Boulant-Lemesle) in the care of her astrophysicist ex-husband, Thomas Akerman (Lars Eidinger), but knows that she can't raise her at either the European Astronaut Centre at Cologne or Star City outside Moscow.
Mentor Wendy Hauer (Sandra Hüller) offers advice when Sarah is given a tough time during training by chauvinist American skipper, Mike Shannon (Matt Dillon). But he comes to recognise her tenacity and suitability for the mission and even offers his own insight into parenting when Stella proves troublesome during a longed-for visit. Such is Sarah's devotion to her daughter that she breaches quarantine protocols in order to keep an early morning promise to show her the rocket that will separate them when it blasts off later that day.
Having joined the ranks of Sandra Bullock in Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity (2013), Anne Hathaway in Christopher Nolan's Interstellar (2014) and Natalie Portman in Noah Hawley's Lucy in the Sky (2019), Eva Green landed a César nomination for her fine performance as a woman demonstrating that the sky needn't be the limit in a man's world. But, while Alice Winocour's follow-up to Augustine (2012) and Disorder (2015) is very much a feminist statement, it's also a paean to mother love and the fact that women shouldn't be penalised for wanting to juggle career and childcare.
In conjunction with co-scenarist Jean-Stéphane Bron, Winocour wisely avoids depicting Sarah as a superwoman and makes her all the more empathetic by allowing her to fail and exhibit ambition, weakness and emotion. Moreover, her intrepidity is pointedly matched with her tender devotion to the debuting Zélie Boulant-Lemesle, who conveys more with her enormous eyes than Winocour does in the rather laboured scene of mother and daughter cocooned in a swimming pool. Matt Dillon is serviceably hissable as the macho dolt, whose fathering skills are somewhat superfluously exposed. But this sturdily muddied riposte to sexism is very much Green's vehicle, with Winocour's meticulously authentic account of an astronaut's routine being reinforced by Florian Sanson's production design, George Lechaptois's photography and Ryuichi Sakamoto's evocative score.
While acting as a paid companion to American widow, Mrs Edith Van Hopper (Ann Dowd), a nameless young woman (Lily James) catches the eye of the dashing Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer). Despite holidaying on the French Riviera, he is rumoured to still be in mourning for his impossibly glamorous wife. But he clearly hopes that this unaffected girl will blow away his cobwebs and, following a whirlwind romance (during which her bedridden employer thinks she's taking tennis lessons), Maxim whisks her back to his ancestral seat on the English coast.
Having been orphaned at an early age, the new Mrs de Winter is intimidated by both Manderley and its forbidding housekeeper, Mrs Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas), who remains devoted to Rebecca and her memory. However, estate manager Frank Crawley (Tom Goodman-Hill) does his best to welcome the bride, who also intrigues Maxim's older sister, Beatrice (Keeley Hawes), and her husband, Giles Lacy (John Hollingsworth). But she blots her copybook by unknowingly copying a gown that Rebecca had worn to the famous Manderley Ball.
The evening goes from bad to worse when her predecessor's corpse is found aboard a sunken boat during a storm and Maxim is asked by Inspector Welch (Mark Lewis Jones) to explain how he had come to misidentify his wife's body after it has supposedly been washed ashore following a sailing accident. Viewed with ghoulish glee by both Mrs Danvers and the deceased's scheming cousin, Jack Favell (Sam Riley), the inquest seems to be going badly. However, Mrs de Winter saves the day by discovering the reason why Rebecca had paid a secret visit to Dr Baker (Bill Paterson) in Harley Street on the day of her demise. Unable to face the truth, Mrs Danvers torches the manor and perishes in the flames.
Eight decades after Alfred Hitchcock's Hollywood debut had taken the Academy Award for Best Picture, Ben Wheatley's reboot of Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca arrived on Netflix with a muted fanfare. Perhaps the mood had been set by the death a few months earlier of Diana Rigg, who had given an Emmy-winning reading of Mrs Danvers opposite Emilia Fox and Charles Dance in Jim O'Brien's 1997 PBS adaptation. But the dead hand of Downton Abbey seems to have fallen upon this handsome, but listless interpretation, which has been scripted with minimal narrative suspense or character insight by Jane Goldman, Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse.
Considering Wheatley's reputation for cinematic iconoclasm, this is a disappointingly tame affair that betrays his vow to avoid pastiching Hitch by returning to the text. Laurie Rose's photography is suitably plush, as are the various stately home interiors repurposed by production designer Sarah Greenwood. Julian Day's costumes are also impeccable. But such precision riskily revives memories of those 1980s heritage pictures that had incurred the ire of the sneering trendies who considered themselves to be the critical equivalent of punks or alternative comedians. What would they had written back then about the anonymous Lily James or the miscast Armie Hammer, who fail to emerge from the long shadows cast by the Oscar-nominated Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier. But spare a thought for Kristin Scott Thomas, who has been so anaemically directed that she is powerless to banish the ghost of Judith Anderson as Mrs Danvers, who is the story's chief source of horror.
Shaken by the death of his abusive father, fortysomething Dublin dock manager Colm (Tom Vaughn-Lawlor) seeks solace in cottaging. His first encounter goes badly, however, as he is beaten and robbed by Jay (Tom Glynn-Carney), a 19 year-old hustler who threatens to expose Colm unless he continues to pay for sex. While Jay is a straight man who is striving to provide for the infant daughter he rarely sees, Colm is married to Claire (Monica Dolan), who has born him two children, Shane (Scott Graham) and Kerry (Sophie Jo Wasson). As his relationship with Shane is strained, Colm says nothing when he is made redundant as part of a corporate takeover. But he continues to find money to drink with his macho pals at the pub and to hook up with Jay, even though he makes it abundantly clear that he's not attracted to the older man.
Following his father's `month's mind' mass, Colm tries to drown himself. Feeling wretchedly adrift, he agrees to a separation from Claire. He also gets into a fight with Shane after he confesses to his affair and blurts out that he loves Jay more than his son. Alone in his garden, Colm attends to some chores and pauses when he hears someone coming.
Having impressed with his scripts for Lenny Abrahamson's Adam & Paul (2004) and Garage (2007), Mark O'Halloran drew plaudits for his 2011 play, Trade. This provides the basis for Peter Mackie Burns's follow-up to Daphne (2017), which also contains echoes of Dito Montiel's Boulevard (2014) and Lorenzo Vigas's From Afar (2015). As the stage show was a two-hander, however, it means that the focus falls so squarely on Colm and Jay that Claire, Shane and Kerry remain little more than ciphers. Consequently, for all its acuity in chronicling Colm's rocky road to ruin, the drama feels imbalanced, with Burns's decision to depict the closet bisexual's anguish through tightening close-ups and point-of-view shots only tilting it further askew.
Forever apologising, but unable to arrest his headlong plunge into ruin, Tom Vaughn-Lawlor elicits little sympathy for Colm, even though he is very much the victim of his father's alcoholism and Jay's opportunism. By contrast, the teenager displays a much greater sense of responsibility, as he does whatever he feels necessary to in order to feed and clothe his child. For all his latent thuggishness, therefore, he's infinitely preferable to the pampered Shane, who brandishes his judgemental prejudice in much the same way as his father's drinking buddies, who define themselves by their professional status and the rigidity of their religious observance.
Using Adam Scarth's views of the city to make Colm seem an outcast wherever he goes, Burns authentically captures the working-class milieu. By remaining aloof, however, he fails to get to the heart of a story that often confines its stylistic risks to the occasional camera flourish and the gnawing pulse of Valentin Hadjadj's jarring score.
Forced to abandon his footballing ambitions in 1979 after picking up a nasty extracurricular injury, Dundonian Davie Mclean latches on to the city's music scene as the best way out of his dead-end factory job. Abetted by pals Scot (Sean Connor) and John (Grant Robert Keelan), Davie begins promoting gigs with cash borrowed from local gangster, Fergie (Alastair Thomson Mills). Despite their popularity, the shows prove to be anything but profitable and Davie's debt to Fergie starts to mount. Having botched a romance with Irish nurse, Shona (Tara Lee), Davie decides to risk all on the Caird Hall appearance of rising heavy metal combo, Iron Maiden.
Wisely emerging before Danny Boyle's Alan McGee biopic, Creation Stories, Davie Mclean's bustling memoir suffers from an inconsistency of tone, as the first-time director veers between the narcissistic and the shambolic. Played with vigour by Conor Berry, Mclean emerges as a resistible chancer who is nowhere near as charismatic as the wheeler-dealers respectively essayed by Richard Dormer and Jonny Owen in Lisa Barros D'Sa and Glenn Leyburn's Good Vibrations and John Hardwick's Svengali (both 2013).
Mclean has stated that his aim was to replicate the vibe of Bill Forsyth's Gregory's Girl (1981). But co-scenarist Khaled Spiewak's editorial gambits clearly owe more to Brian De Palma and Guy Ritchie, while the writing style rarely rises above third-rate Irvine Welsh pastiche. This scarcely matters in the grand scheme, as the plethora of split-screens, flash cuts and freeze frames reinforce the storyline's wham-bam rambunctiousness. But this vanity project never solves the problem that Mclean is too obsessed with himself to care what happens to any of the other characters.
In the Brazilian city of Santos, 15 year-old Sócrates (Christian Malheiros) is threatened with eviction by his landlady, Dona (Rosane Paulo), after his mother dies suddenly and he finds himself unable to pay the rent when her boss refuses to hand over her back pay. A social worker (Vanessa Santana) suggests that he moves into a care home, but Sócrates refuses to give up his freedom and finds work in a junkyard. Initially, he is bullied by Maicon (Tales Ordakji), but he turns out to be gay and they embark upon a relationship. While he enjoys the sex, however, Maicon has no intention of letting Sócrates move in and he vows to find his estranged father, with the help of his cousin, Chicão (Caio Martinez Pacheco). When he eventually tracks down Robson (Jayme Rodrigues), they fall out and Sócrates steals his mother's ashes and scatters them in the sea.
A good deal of care has gone into Alex Moratto's debut feature, which bears a passing similarity to Li Cheng's Guatemalan drama, José (2018). Yet, while it cleaves closely to the tenets of social realism, this rite of passage always feels slightly artificial, which is perhaps inevitable considering it was made under the auspices of a UNICEF-backed project to introduce underprivileged kids to film-making. Moreover, both Christian Malheiros and Tales Ordakji are theatre studies graduates making their debuts on screen.
With João Gabriel de Quieroz's handheld camera largely keeping his face in shallow close-up to read his expressions and reinforce his isolation, Malheiros makes an affecting impression, as he stumbles from one confrontational relationship to another with a conscience-tugging mix of despair and determination. But the secondary characters have a fotofit feel to enable Moratta and co-scenarist Thanyá Mantesso to explore the themes of poverty, prejudice and toxic masculinity on the lower rungs of Brazilian society. That said, the measured action skirts favela miserabilism, although this may have something to do with the fact that the picture was executive produced by Fernando Meirelles, who directed the markedly more pugnacious Oscar nominee, City of God (2002).
SUMMER OF `85.
While under investigation by the police, 16 year-old Alexis Robin (Félix Lefebvre) thinks back a few months to his summer holiday when he was rescued from a capsized boat off the Normandy coast by David Gorman (Benjamin Voisin). David is two years older than Alexis, but is fussed over by his mother (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), who thinks he is still mourning his recently departed father. Like Alexis's parents (Laurent Fernandez and Isabelle Nanty), she's glad her son has found a friend and offers him the chance to earn some pocket money in her shop. But, just as Alexis comes to terms with the fact that he fancies David (who has introduced him to poet Paul Verlaine, cross-dressing and sex), the older lad starts flirting with Kate (Philippine Velge), an English girl who has come to Le Tréport with her family.
Prior to their fallout, David and Alexis had agreed that, if either should die, the survivor should dance on the other's grave. When he hears that David has been killed in a motorcycle accident, Alexis makes good on his promise and is promptly arrested. In a bid to help him work through his emotions, Alexis is persuaded by his teacher. Lefèvre (Melvil Poupaud), to write an account of his summer. Shortly after he completes a term of community service, Alexis returns to the coast, where he goes boating with a youth David had helped during a drunken night out.
François Ozon first read Adam Chambers's YA novel, Dance on My Grave, as a teenager in 1982 and this transplanting of the action from Southend to the Seine-Maritime region of Normandy represents his second attempt to bring the story to the screen. In this regard, it links the picture to Angel (2007), Ricky (2009) and The New Girlfriend (2014), which were also based on lesser-known British tomes. However, this is very much a recapitulation of the ideas and images that Ozon has showcased in such early works as A Summer Dress (1996), See the Sea (1997), Sitcom (1998), Criminal Lovers (1999) and Water Drops on Burning Rocks (2000).
He also samples a scene from Claude Pinoteau's La Boum (1980), when David cuts Alexis off from everyone else on the dance floor by handing him headphones playing Rod Stewart's `Sailing'. But the film that Ozon particularly seems to have in his cross hairs is Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name (2017), which had blithely made free with trademark Ozonian tropes. However, that derivative and over-praised picture couldn't boast such gems as The Cure's `In Between Days' and Bananarama's `Cruel Summer' on its soundtrack.
Shooting in Super 16, Hichame Alaouie captures the seasonal haze that makes the romantic frisson all the more seductively heady. However, the narrative drifts unerringly into melodrama following David's demise and one is left to pine for the acerbic wit that had characterised Ozon's wunderkind outings. Félix Lefebvre and Benjamin Voisin combine photogenicity with an emotional brittleness that makes the bonding sequences seem both idyllic and loaded. Curiously, neither the usually dependable Valeria Bruni Tedeschi nor Melvil Poupaud strikes the right note in underwritten roles, while Ozon himself seems to lose focus while tying up the loose ends. Otherwise, this is an engaging first-love saga that recalls the final pre-AIDS aware summer with bittersweet nostalgia.
In 1975, Alice Lamb (Penelope Wilton) is working on a book about folklore. Her mind goes back to the early 1940s when she (played by Gemma Arterton) had reluctantly agreed to give a home a young evacuee from London named Frank (Lucas Bond), Fortunately, he shares Alice's fascination with mythical phenomena and they tour the Kent coast looking for mirages in the sky. These excursions cause Alice to think back to her college days when she had fallen passionately in love with Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). However, same sex relationships were frowned upon in the 1920s and they had parted because Vera was so desperate to become a mother. Something about Frank reminds Alice of Vera and her suspicions are confirmed when news comes that the boy's RAF pilot father has been killed. She follows him to the capital, where he discovers that the family home has been bombed. On returning to Kent, however, Alice and Frank are reunited with Vera and they are still together three decades later.
If the cine-equivalent of music's Easy Listening genre was Easy Viewing, playwright Jessica Swale's feature debut would land smack in the middle of the road. Laurie Rose's cinematography, Christina Moore's production design and Claire Finlay-Thompson's costumes are as spot on as Swale's direction, which flits between time frames with laudable confidence, thanks to Tania Reddin's careful editing. Yet, for all the heritage polish, there's something glossily unpersuasive about the storyline and the themes of difference and acceptance that Swale has shoehorned in beside the more subversive central thesis about the suspicion and resentment that independent women have always had to endure.
Despite the flashback over three decades to show Alice shouting at small children, there's a disconnect between the gradations of grumpiness exhibited by Penelope Wilton and Gemma Arterton, which makes even less sense when her 70s situation is clarified in the last reel's big reveal. Indeed, the script struggles to join the dots between the wartime recluse and the 20s bluestocking tumbling into bed without caring a jot that Gugu Mbatha-Raw is both of the same sex and black. The fact that she turns out to be the mother of the scampish evacuee who shares Alice's interest in the origin of stories couldn't be more risibly contrived. But Swale - who made such a positive impression with her 2018 short, Leading Lady Parts (which also features Arterton) - coaxes us into turning a blind eye, with the practiced assistance of Tom Courtenay as Sullivan the village schoolmaster and Siân Phillips, as Margot Corey. the grandmother of Frank's sparky classmate, Edie (Dixie Egerickx), who needs convincing that Alice is not a Nazi spy.