Dramatic films: A guide

An alphabetical listing and review of some of the drama-filled movies I’ve seen recently.

A Tale of Two Cities (1958)

  • There is something weirdly fascinating about the French Revolution — in part because we have so little understanding of how France was governed during the aristocratic period that created the powder keg that became the revolution, unleashing a blood-lust that made it acceptable to load hastily tried “traitors to the republic” into wooden carts and roll them along to public execution by guillotine.
  • I have to confess that I’ve never read Dickins’ novel (the source material for this movie) — or seen the original 1935 adaptation. This 1958 version was produced by England’s Pinewood Studios and stars Dirk Bogarde as world-weary lawyer Sydney Carton. Bogarde is a great actor, and he’s compelling as a man so convinced of his lack of self-worth that he will go to extraordinary lengths to seek redemption. Other points of interest are Christopher Lee (already typecast as the dastardly Marquis St. Evremonde) and Leo McKern (already typecast as a blustering barrister).
  • It’s a good earnest movie and worth watching on a rainy day when you’re in the mood for a bit of historical drama.

As Night Comes (2014)

  • Writer/director Richard Zelniker brings us a throwback to the angsty teen movies of the 90s with his latest movie As Night Comes.
  • It’s jocks versus goths as good boy Sean Holloway falls in with a group of outcasts who seem to get a kick out of causing trouble. But as Halloween approaches things start to spiral out of control and Sean finds himself caught up in a night of violence and mayhem.
  • Luke Baines as bad-boy Ricky Gladstone and Myko Olivier as good-boy Sean Holloway create a watchable combination.
  • This is a world where adults are largely absent and teens live each day as their last. If you like your boys troubled, moody, and wearing lots of guy-liner, then this is going to be your kind of movie.

Bachelorette (2012)

  • Written and directed by Leslye Headland (adapting her own play of the same name), this is the story of Becky (Rebel Wilson) who lacks self-confidence but is excited to be getting married so enlists her three best friends from high school as bridesmaids — Regan (Kirsten Dunst), Gena (Lizzy Caplan), and Katie (Isla Fisher).
  • The obvious comparison is to Kristen Wiig’s Bridesmaids which hit cinemas a few months before Bachelorette. While Bridesmaids was just as crazy, it always had a heart and a warmth for its characters, and I think that’s the problem that I had with Bachelorette — I didn’t really like any of the main characters, and I’m not sure that writer Headland did either.
  • Wilson doesn’t have a lot to work with as bride-to-be Becky, but here she once again gives good Rebel Wilson. James Marsden and the likeable Adam Scott play the love interests. Dunst, Caplan, and Fisher fully commit to their characters — convincingly beautiful on the outside but morally and emotionally dead on the inside.
  • This movie might have worked if Headland had taken this to a much darker place, or unleashed her inner-Almodovar and given us something completely over-the-top, but instead we’re left with a group of fairly unappealing people doing fairly unappealing things.

Bare (2015)

  • Written and directed by Natalia Leite, Bare is a study in going stir-crazy in a claustrophobic small town in rural America.
  • Sarah (Dianna Agron) is aching for something to shake-up her humdrum life and she finds it in Pepper (Paz de la Huerta) who stumbles into town and into Sarah’s life.
  • This is a story that moves slowly, Leite is in no hurry — comfortable to let the spectacularly dreamy landscapes fill the screen as Sarah and Pepper find each other and contemplate the future.
  • In some ways this role is a bit of a risk for Agron — she hasn’t really found anything yet that has moved her career beyond Glee. Her role as Sarah involves some mild nudity, drug use, and a sex scene. She somehow seems to emerge as still being quite wholesome.
  • Sometimes you need an outside spark or a push to help find yourself and find your path — I think that’s what this movie is trying to say, eventually.

Birdman (2014)

  • I can understand why Birdman doesn’t appeal to everyone.
  • It’s a movie that has a strong element of surreal fantasy that doesn’t always sit well when you’ve sat down to watch something expecting to be served up a straightforward narrative.
  • Birdman is strange, kooky, and often incomprehensible, but I loved it.
  • Written and directed by Alejandro Iñárritu (21 Grams; Babel), this is film-making as an art form. Complex, intricate, meticulous in the way this story is slowly revealed, yet disguised within distractions of snappy dialogue, and multi-layered entertainment industry references. This is a surprisingly funny movie.
  • Iñárritu is helped hugely by a dream cast — Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, and Naomi Watts all bring their A-game. Even Andrea Riseborough (who usually leaves me a bit underwhelmed) was good in this. Of course it’s Michael Keaton that’s receiving all the acclaim — his performance is compelling, maintaining a bewildered, unpredictable intensity that holds your attention in every scene.
  • Surrender yourself to Birdman. It’s a trip worth taking.

Blood Orange (2016)

  • Written and directed by Toby Tobias, Blood Orange is a British film delivering a modern interpretation of the film noir genre.
  • Set in a villa on the Spanish island of Ibiza, the story introduces us to Bill (Iggy Pop) an ageing, half-blind rock star, and his young, beautiful, and sexually promiscuous wife Isabelle (Kacey Barnfield) — she’s having an affair with their pool-boy David (Antonio Magro). Like a snake into paradise arrives Lucas (Ben Lamb) — Isabelle’s ex-lover looking for revenge.
  • In many ways this is classic film noir territory, with echoes of more recent movies such as The Proposition, or Indecent Proposal, and Tobias cleverly builds the story, gradually revealing the layers of deception.
  • With a single location and a cast of only four, this is the kind of film that depends on clever writing, tight direction, and spectacular performances.
  • Ben Lamb impresses as the disinherited English snob; Antonio Magro as the pool-boy is solid but doesn’t have a lot to work with; Iggy Pop is rock royalty, but he has dabbled in acting over the years — this is probably the most ambitious role that he’s tackled; and Kacey Barnfield (now known as Kacey Clarke) is stunningly beautiful, channeling Barbara Stanwyck or perhaps Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction.
  • Blood Orange is a watchable movie that celebrates the rich tradition of film noir.

Boychoir (2014)

  • Written by Ben Ripley and directed by Francois Girard, Boychoir tells the story of Stet — a troubled boy from a small Texan town who ends up at an elite school for a boy choir.
  • Despite the strong cast, this is fairly predictable stuff.
  • Dustin Hoffman carries most of the load (as choirmaster Carvelle); Eddie Izzard plays bad cop (assistant choir master Drake); Kathy Bates good cop (headmistress of the school); and Garrett Wareing does his best (as Stet the boy singer). Supporting roles are filled by Kevin McHale, Josh Lucas, and Debra Winger.
  • Part of the problem is that I really don’t like the music created by boy choirs — however, if this is a style of music that you can appreciate then there’s plenty of it in this movie.
  • There’s a lot better Dustin Hoffman movies out there.

Bridgend (2015)

  • Bridgend is a former market town in South Wales. The statistics vary a little depending on who you talk to, but writer/director Jeppe Rønde has taken as his starting point for this project reports that over a four-year period, 79 people — many of them teenagers aged between 13 and 17 — committed suicide without leaving any clue as to why. Most were found dead by hanging, with no suicide note left.
  • Media coverage of suicides in the Bridgend area has been extensive, but police investigations have found no meaningful link.
  • Rønde (for his debut feature film) brings a dark, Danish sensibility to this grim set of circumstances. While inspired by the tragic deaths in Bridgend, this is a fictional reimagining of life in the town.
  • The film’s story sees Sara (Hannah Murray) and her father Dave (Steven Waddington) moving to Bridgend. Dave is a policeman who has moved here with work, Sara is a teenage girl who joins the local school and is befriended by local teenagers, falling in love with the troubled Jamie (Josh O’Connor).
  • There’s nothing easy or obvious about this story or the way that Rønde has created this film. It’s dark, eerie, dream-like and surreal.
  • The subdued town is surrounded by misty, distant landscapes, and forests that seem otherworldly and strange.
  • This is a world where adults are mostly absent or ineffective — the alienation and abandonment felt by the town’s young people is embraced and almost celebrated.
  • While there are occasional suggestions that we might be veering off into Stephen King territory, in many ways Rønde takes a surprisingly restrained and respectful approach to the story of the Bridgend suicides.
  • While Rønde peppers this story with clues, hints, and connecting threads, ultimately very little is revealed — what we’re left with is a glimpse into the darkness of human nature.

Burnt (2015)

  • Written by Steven Knight and directed by John Wells, Burnt is a movie about cooking. It stars Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller, with Matthew Rhys, Alicia Vikander, Uma Thurman, and Emma Thompson in supporting roles.
  • I liked the London setting of the film, but not much else. We’ve seen so many movies and television shows about cooking, working in restaurants, and getting Michelin stars, that nothing about Burnt felt fresh or original.

Buttercup Bill (2014)

  • Remy Bennett reminds me a little of Jodie Foster. I guess it’s mainly the blonde hair and husky voice, but there’s also something fearlessly uncompromising in the way that she’s tackled this difficult role in Buttercup Bill — the debut feature that she has co-directed with Emilie Richard-Froozan.
  • Bennett and Richard-Froozan are only in their twenties, but their debut is an assured piece of film-making.
  • The jumping off point for the creative development of this story was a recovered memory of a forgotten imaginary friend. Ultimately, the story told is one of damaged people, clinging to memories of the past, struggling to find a way to move forward into their futures.
  • Set in the American south, and shot in New Orleans, the heat and intensity of the character’s emotions become almost palpable.
  • Bennett (as Pernilla) dominates this movie in every sense, but Evan Louison (Patrick) makes an intriguing counterpoint and collaborator in her self-destructive descent into the past that they tried to leave behind them.
  • It must have been tempting to take this story to quite a dark, over-the-top conclusion, but there is confident restraint in the way that these characters are presented and how their story is gradually revealed.
  • Pernilla and Patrick probably have fairly unhappy lives ahead of them. In contrast, Bennett and Richard-Froozan clearly have a lot to look forward to.

Caligula (1979)

  • This is a fairly extraordinary movie.
  • Screenplay by Gore Vidal; and starring big name actors such as Malcolm McDowell; John Gielgud; Peter O’Toole; and Helen Mirren.
  • Co-financed by Penthouse magazine, this was the first movie to feature mainstream actors and explicit sex scenes — it’s not the mainstream actors that you see having sex, the porn is kind of spliced in at regular intervals.
  • It all feels a bit dated, over-long, and drawn out. It is however an interesting piece of cinema history and worth watching when you’ve got a few spare hours.

Calvary (2014)

  • Calvary is a fairly dark Irish film. It grabbed my attention with it’s opening line: “I first tasted semen when I was seven years old” — spoken in a church confessional. However it was pretty much downhill from there.
  • This is a dark and melancholy exercise in Irish guilt and self-castigation.
  • The cast is a bit of a roll-call of Irish character actors, so it’s well done but all a bit depressing.

Carol (2015)

  • Directed by Todd Haynes, Carol is an adaptation by Phyllis Nagy from the novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith.
  • Set in New York City in the early 1950s, the story follows an affair between Carol (Cate Blanchett) and Therese (Rooney Mara). Sarah Paulson plays Carol’s friend Abby.
  • This is a beautiful period piece, and Haynes is well-served by his cast — Blanchett in particular effortlessly dominates the screen.
  • The storytelling is incredibly restrained, as befits the time in which it is set. A poignant exploration of forbidden love.

Certain Women (2016)

  • Kelly Reichardt and an outstanding ensemble cast bring to the screen the stories of flawed but strong-willed women in the American Northwest.

Chocolate City (2015)

  • Probably inspired by the success of Magic Mike, Chocolate City is Jean-Claude La Marre’s take on the world of the men who strip for women.
  • Chocolate City isn’t all bad: Robert Ri’chard is engaging in the lead role of Michael; Vivica A. Fox delivers some depth and authenticity as the mother — a role that could easily have been a caricature; La Marre’s Pastor Jones has most of the best lines; and seeing Tyson Beckford dancing and stripping is a dream come true.
  • One of my challenges with Chocolate City, and other male-stripper movies in general, is that I’m a gay guy. What I want to see from a male stripper is obviously very different to what straight women want to see.
  • Don’t get me wrong, there’s lots of attractive looking guys in this movie, they dance well and they occasionally take some clothes off, but to get me excited it would all need to be a bit harder and dirtier. Chocolate City occasionally feels like it’s the movie that Disney would make if they decided to make a family-friendly movie about male strippers.
  • If you’re a straight woman and you want to indulge in some male-stripper fantasies, then this is the movie for you.

Defiance (2008)

  • It’s hard to be critical of a movie like Defiance — a bleak story about a particularly bleak period in recent history.
  • Daniel Craig is suitably weathered, his piercing blue eyes conveying a lot of the pain and confusion of a man compelled to lead a rag-tag bunch of refugees. Liev Schreiber is solid as always, and I’m consistently (pleasantly) surprised by the career that Jamie Bell continues to build for himself. Also worth noting is the appearance of Mia Wasikowska who even at this early stage of her career demonstrates her screen presence and why she’s such a watchable actress.
  • Largely based on a true story of Jewish refugees trying to survive in the Belorussian forests during the second world war, Defiance is worth watching alone for a bit of historical perspective on the world in which we live.

Eye in the Sky (2015)

  • Written by Guy Hibbert and directed by Gavin Hood, Eye in the Sky explores the legal, ethical, and political dilemmas that military personnel are grappling with in the use of drone warfare against remote terrorist operations.
  • The cast includes: Helen Mirren; Aaron Paul; Alan Rickman; Barkhad Abdi; Jeremy Northam; Iain Glen; and Phoebe Fox.
  • There’s a lot to like about this film — it’s intelligently written, and it’s a strong cast, and the tension and momentum is maintained throughout even though there isn’t actually much happening. However there’s something about the politics of this film that didn’t sit right with me. It somehow seemed like a very sophisticated PR exercise for the US military.

Foxcatcher (2014)

  • ‘Disturbing’ is probably the best word to describe Foxcatcher.
  • Based on the true story of US wrestlers Mark and David Schultz and their unlikely connection with wealthy enthusiast John du Pont, there’s not a lot laughs in this movie.
  • It’s intense, brooding, with a sombre tone that leaves you in no doubt that this isn’t a story that is going to end well for anyone.
  • This is expertly crafted film-making from director Bennett Miller (Moneybag; Capote), but the reason to watch this movie is for three outstanding performances — Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, and Steve Carell.
  • The strength of Channing Tatum’s performance is perhaps a little over-shadowed by the brilliance of Ruffalo and Carell, but all three actors have really brought their A-game to this movie. It’s Carell in particular that shows a dramatic depth and a skill that he has perhaps only hinted at in previous films.
  • Additional bonus — you get to see a lot of Channing Tatum in a wrestling singlet.

Foxy Brown (1974)

  • Foxy Brown is a 1974 movie written and directed by Jack Hill. Starring Pam Grier as the title character, this is a film that has become synonymous with the blaxploitation genre of movie.
  • Blaxploitation refers to films that were designed to appeal to black, urban audiences. The films celebrated the language and style synonymous with black culture at that time. However these films also perpetuated stereotypes about violence, sexism, and drug-taking within black communities.
  • Grier plays a sexy but tough woman who seeks revenge after her boyfriend is shot by members of a drug syndicate.
  • The film is a slice of history, but Grier dominates the screen in every scene.

Freeheld (2015)

  • Freeheld is based on the true story of Laurel Hester and Stacie Andree.
  • Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) is a New Jersey police lieutenant — when she is diagnosed with terminal cancer, Hester and her registered domestic partner Stacie Andree (Ellen Page) have to fight to secure Hester’s pension benefits.
  • Hester repeatedly appealed to Ocean County’s board of chosen freeholders (the body that oversaw pension benefits) in an attempt to ensure that her benefits would pass to Andree. Their battle was the subject of a 2008 Oscar-winning documentary by Cynthia Wade.
  • As the facts of Hester and Andree’s story are well documented, what makes this movie so compelling is that it doesn’t attempt to sensationalise or over-dramatise the story. Written by Ron Nyswaner and directed by Peter Sollett, the characters are quickly established and the key chapters of the story unfold.
  • Marriage equality is now a matter of law in all states within the US, but the fight that Laurel Hester had to wage in order to be able to access the benefits that her straight colleagues had available is an extraordinary demonstration of the human cost of discrimination.
  • Julianne Moore is an acting powerhouse as always — she is phenomenal in this. Ellen Page was involved in the development of this film, drawn to the project after seeing the original documentary. Page has credited her role in Freeheld as being instrumental in her decision to publicly discuss her sexuality — it’s easy to understand how such an emotionally charged performance would empower you to want to be visible and to be a role model. The film also stars Michael Shannon, Steve Carell, and Luke Grimes in strong supporting roles, and the soundtrack includes the song Hands of Love by Miley Cyrus and Linda Perry.
  • This is a movie that will have you in tears. Tears of anger, tears of compassion, and tears of admiration for two women who played an important role in making the US a more accepting place for same-sex couples.

Great Expectations (2012)

  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens is one of the world’s classic novels — evocative and dark, I read it when I was young and it really captured my imagination.
  • There have been numerous adaptations of this, some good, some terrible (remember Robert De Niro as Magwitch in the 1998 version which translated it to modern-day New York? Jaw-droppingly bad).
  • The 2012 adaptation is directed by Mike Newell with a screenplay adapted by David Nicholls and it’s a really good version of the classic tale — from the sweeping landscapes of the moors to the claustrophobic chaos of London’s streets. This is a movie that brings these odd characters and their tumultuous lives vividly to the screen.
  • The strong cast helps hugely — Jeremy Irvine (perhaps better known for his role in War Horse) makes an appealing Pip, Holliday Grainger (better known for her role in The Borgias) is an icy Estella, Robbie Coltrane is particularly good as Jaggers, Ralph Fiennes is compelling as Magwitch, and Helena Bonham Carter is perfectly bonkers as Miss Havisham.

Hackney’s Finest (2014)

  • Invariably, British gangster movies are set in London’s east end. Throughout the centuries, the east end of London has been a tough, gritty area of the city. The borough of Hackney is right in the heart of the east end action.
  • Hackney’s Finest is a story about the heroin scene in Hackney in the late 1990s. Written by Thorin Seex and directed by Chris Bouchard, this is a movie that has all the hallmarks of some of Britain’s best gangster movie — drugs, corruption, violence, and a dark sense of humour.
  • The plot sees Sirus (Nathanael Wiseman), a courier controller come small-time drug dealer who is being pursued by two corrupt policemen. What follows is a night of violence and retribution that somehow involves Sirus, the police, a pair of Welsh-Jamaican arms dealers, drug-trafficking Afghan cousins and comedy-value Russian thugs.
  • This is enthusiastic film-making. A solid script, gutsy performances, and a sure directorial hand that keeps the action rolling and maintains an upbeat pace.
  • Being a local resident, I particularly enjoyed trying to identify the Hackney landmarks and locations used throughout the movie.

Interlude in Prague (2017)

  • Don Giovanni is one of Mozart’s most famous operas, are these the events that inspired the story?
  • Read my full review.

Jackie Brown (1997)

  • Jackie Brown is Quentin Tarantino’s reboot of the blaxploitation genre epitomised by Pam Grier in Foxy Brown.
  • An adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch, this was Tarantino’s third feature-length film.
  • As well as Grier in the title role, the cast includes: Robert Forster; Robert De Niro; Samuel L. Jackson; Bridget Fonda; and Michael Keaton.
  • Great to see Pam Grier back on the big screen, and this is one of Tarantino’s best movies.

Lawless (2012)

  • Lawless has a big name cast — as well as Tom Hardy we are served up Shia LaBeouf, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, and Gary Oldman, but unfortunately it’s awful.
  • Directed by John Hellcoat, the screenplay was written by Nick Cave — adapting a novel by Matt Bondurant. I love Nick Cave’s music, but so far I’ve been underwhelmed by his screenplays (The Proposition springs to mind). However the screenplay isn’t the only problem with this mess — it almost feels as if the entire cast and crew have simply phoned it in, even Margot Wilson (Costume Design) makes some ludicrous choices for Jessica Chastain.

Legend (2015)

  • Written and directed by Brian Helgeland (adapted from a book by John Pearson), Legend tells the story of the Kray twins — London gangsters in the 1960s.
  • Tom Hardy takes on the role as both Kray brothers — channeling a bit of Jamie Oliver for front-man Reggie, and retreating into an Aspergers fog for Ronnie.
  • The supporting cast includes Emily Browning; Christopher Eccleston; David Thewlis; Taron Egerton; Chazz Palminteri; Paul Bettany; and Tara Fitzgerald.
  • Solid without being particularly exciting.

London Has Fallen (2016)

  • Written by Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt, and directed by Babak Najafi, London Has Fallen is the sequel to Olympus Has Fallen (2013).
  • The cast includes: Gerard Butler; Aaron Eckhart; Morgan Freeman; Angela Bassett; and Radha Mitchell.
  • The thrill of a movie like this is seeing familiar landmarks blown up, and this film delivers on that promise.
  • However there’s something particularly distasteful about this movie — it’s been described as terrorsploitation, probably not a word but you get the idea.
  • For some reason it also really annoyed me that it was assumed that the US President could confidently handle an assault rifle and didn’t think twice about slamming a few rounds into any terrorists that got in his way.

Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

  • There was quite a bit of hype around Martha Marcy May Marlene starring Elizabeth Olsen (yes — sister of the O Twins!).
  • To be honest I’m not sure what the point of the movie was.
    Two narratives are played out — Martha’s time with a (clichéd) Manson Family-style cult and her attempts to reconnect with her sister (and begin recovery of her life) following her escape from the cult.
  • The pace of the entire movie is deliberately slow and writer/director Sean Durkin works hard to create a dream-like haze throughout.
  • I’m just not sure there was enough plot here to engage the audience, and I found the ending quite bewildering.

Mr Turner (2014)

  • I was quite excited to see Mr Turner starring Timothy Spall. I love Turner’s paintings, but unfortunately this was a pretty rubbish movie.
  • While it was an admirable period piece, and trying to convey creative genius is almost an impossible task in films, there was really nothing here to draw the audience in and connect to the characters or narrative.
  • It wasn’t just that Turner was depicted as a fairly awful person (this is probably based on fact — I haven’t researched it, but would seem an odd decision unless this was historically accurate), but it was just all so slow and miserable and generally uninteresting.

Mulholland Drive (2001)

  • Mulholland Drive is one of the stand-out movies from writer/director David Lynch. Released in 2001, the film tells the story of aspiring actress Betty (Naomi Watts) who moves to Los Angeles and meets a woman with amnesia (Laura Elena Harring). Like most of Lynch’s work, this is surreal and dark — numerous scenes that don’t necessarily seem connected but somehow are in what is probably a non-linear narrative.
  • This was the movie that brought Australian actress Watts to international attention and helped establish her as a major star.

Network (1976)

  • Written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet, Network is a satirical look at television news as entertainment.
  • Released in 1976, Network is recognised as one of the outstanding movies of its time — winning four Academy Awards: Best Actor (Peter Finch); Best Actress (Faye Dunaway); Best Supporting Actress (Beatrice Straight); and Best Original Screenplay (Paddy Chayefsky). The cast also includes William Holden, and Robert Duvall.
  • This is a movie that has stood the test of time and in many ways still feels very current and relevant to the way that we produce and consume news and information today.

Nocturnal Animals (2016)

  • The source material for this film is Tony and Susan — a 1993 novel by Austin Wright. Adapting that novel for his second film, Tom Ford has written the screenplay, produced, and directed Nocturnal Animals.
  • This is a long way from the languid, stylish, glamour of the brilliant A Single Man (2009) — with Nocturnal Animals, Ford delivers a taught, tense, thriller that is compelling and watchable.
  • The story revolves around Susan — a successful but unhappy art gallery owner who receives the manuscript of her ex-husband’s first novel which is about a dramatic and symbolic revenge tale.
  • Ford has totally nailed this one, helped enormously by an incredibly strong cast: Amy Adams as Susan; Jake Gyllenhaal as Edward/Tony; Michael Shannon as Detective Andes; Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Ray; Isla Fisher as Laura; Armie Hammer as Walker; Laura Linney as Susan’s mother; Ellie Bamber as India; Michael Sheen as Carlos; and Andrea Riseborough as Alessia.
  • Ford’s finely honed aesthetic is evident at every step — from the vivid and flamboyant opening sequence, to the dramatic use of the colour red, to the sweeping beauty of the barren Texas landscapes, and the effortless creation of the bicoastal lifestyles of wealthy Americans.
  • In the key role of Susan, this is probably the best work that Amy Adams has done. It’s a tightly controlled performance that gives glimpses of everything that the character is holding back and holding inside. Jake Gyllenhaal never disappoints, and he’s got plenty to work with here — briefly appearing as Susan’s ex-husband, but really getting his teeth into the character of Tony, the vengeful husband in the novel that Susan is reading. Aaron Taylor-Johnson impresses again, bringing unhinged but almost-charming menace to the character of Ray.
  • I saw a screening of Nocturnal Animals as part of the London Film Festival. Ford was on hand to introduce the film, flanked by Amy Adams, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Armie Hammer, and Ellie Bamber. Ford declared that he was very proud of the film, but wanted the work to speak for itself. Fellow fashion-designer Valentino was in attendance. At the end of the screening Ford seemed relaxed and happy, graciously accepting the congratulations of those around him.

Northern Soul (2014)

  • Northern Soul is a British film set in the 1970s. It tells the story of two Lancashire teenagers whose lives are changed forever by the discovery of American should music and the culture that grew up around it in Britain.
  • Cast: Josh Whitehouse as Matt; Elliot James Langridge as John Clark; Antonia Thomas as Angela; Steve Coogan as Mr. Banks; James Lance as Ray Henderson; Christian McKay as Dad; Lisa Stansfield as Mum; Jack Gordon as Sean; Ricky Tomlinson as Granddad; and Claire Garvey as Betty.
  • It’s a simple enough coming-of-age story, but what makes this movie worth watching is the fascinating glimpse it gives us of the culture, the fashion, the dance, and the energy of the northern soul scene from this period.

Now You See Me (2013)

  • There’s a lot to like about Now You See Me.
  • It’s a strong ensemble cast of Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Melanie Laurent, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine.
  • It’s a clever script from Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt, and director Louis Leterrier keeps everything moving at a brisk pace throughout the movie.
  • However, like most magic tricks, while what’s going on at the surface is impressive, once the trick is revealed it all feels a bit flat and inconsequential.

Our Brand Is Crisis (2015)

  • Written by Peter Straughan and directed by David Gordon Green, Our Brand Is Crisis is based on a documentary from Rachel Boynton that looked at the involvement of American political campaign strategists in the 2002 Bolivian presidential election.
  • This is a Sandra Bullock movie. It’s impossible to deny Bullock’s acting talent, but this movie doesn’t work. Part of the problem is that it doesn’t seem to be able to decide whether it is a comedy or a drama, but it’s not funny which probably tips the scales a little.
  • Bullock plays political consultant Jane Bodine, and Billy Bob Thornton plays her nemesis Pat Candy. There’s better Bullock movies out there.

Portrait of a Serial Monogamist (2015)

  • Written and directed by John Mitchell and Christina Zeidler, Portrait of a Serial Monogamist is a smart and charming love letter to lesbian life in Toronto.
  • Elsie (Diane Flacks) breaks up with her girlfriend Robyn (Carolyn Taylor). Elsie’s friends try and convince her that she needs to be single for a while but she quickly falls for Lolli (Vanessa Dunn).
  • I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Toronto, and I don’t really have any friends who are lesbians, so there’s probably a lot of the nuances and in-jokes in this movie that went over my head. Regardless, the characters are likeable and engaging, and Elsie’s search for herself (and love) sustains enough interest to keep you engaged to the end.
  • If you have dreams of living in Toronto, or if you like a warm-hearted romantic comedy, then this movie is worth watching. I’m no expert, however my guess is that lesbians will hate Elsie but will love this movie.

Resistance (2011)

  • I like the concept of a parallel universe in which during the second world war Germany invades Britain, seeing how some of those “what if?” scenarios could play out. Resistance is clearly not a big budget movie but makes the most of a fairly lean script and the spectacularly bleak welsh landscape.
  • I did find some of the elements of the plot a little difficult to follow, but the biggest challenge with this movie is the relentlessly one-note pace, ie. slow. The cast all deliver fairly muted performances. Sharon Morgan (as Maggie) has the most to work with — her breakdown in the middle of a field is breathtaking (silent screaming that is gut wrenching).

Safe (2012)

  • The latest incomprehensible action vehicle to showcase Jason Statham’s limited talents.
  • For what it’s worth, the plot revolves around a mathematically gifted chinese girl (played by Catherine Chan — who has little more to do than to be bundled from one speeding car to the next) who is exploited by a Chinese organised crime boss, kidnapped by a Russian organised crime boss, wanted by corrupt New York police and ultimately rescued and redeemed by Statham playing a good cop-gone bad-but really good all along kind of guy. The action sequences are impressive.

Severance (2006)

  • It’s hard to find any redeeming features of this movie. A British movie, it’s basic slasher porn at its most basic. The cast aren’t given anything to work with really, and the plot is thinly sketched at best. Best avoided.

Shame (2011)

  • I needed a stiff drink after this movie.
  • Directed by Steve McQueen, Shame is a character study of Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender) — a sex addict whose life quickly unravels when his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) comes to stay and his addiction becomes all consuming.
  • I found this movie quite difficult to watch. It wasn’t just the confronting sex scenes (not just because they were hetero) and there’s quite a graphic (if predictable) suicide scene — it was all just a bit unpleasant and left me feeling slightly dirty, almost complicit in the movie’s portrayal of a moral downward spiral.
  • Fassbender and Mulligan are undeniably excellent actors, however their performances are not enough to make this a movie I’d recommend.

Sideways (2004)

  • I’m assuming that Sideways was funded to some extent by the Napa Valley wine tourism promotion board or whatever its equivalent is.
  • Director Alexander Payne adapted this from Rex Pickett’s novel, telling the story of Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Haden Church) — two middle-aged men without much to be proud of in their lives. To celebrate Jack’s impending wedding, Miles takes him on a road-trip to taste some wine and play some golf, but things don’t quite go to plan when they meet Maya (Virginia Madsen) and Stephanie (Sandra Oh).
  • Released in 2004, at the time this movie was a big deal — Payne won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and it was nominated for four other awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (for Haden Church), and Best Supporting Actress (for Madsen).

Somewhere (2010)

  • Somewhere was written and directed by Sofia Coppola. The story follows Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), a famous actor who is trapped in an existential crisis. Unexpectedly, Marco’s ex-wife leaves their 11-year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) with him to care for, forcing him to get to grips with his life.
  • On first viewing, it was an enjoyable movie — good without being amazing. Part of the problem was that there were lots of scenes that didn’t really add up to that much — leaving you feeling a bit bleak and depressed.
  • At the time of release it had mixed reviews, but overall was well-received critically — winning the Golden Lion award for best picture at the 67th Venice International Film Festival.
  • Looking back at the movie now, it still has a bit of interest. This was Coppola’s fourth feature (after The Virgin Suicides; Lost In Translation; and Marie Antoinette). In many ways the structure of and themes of Somewhere are very reminiscent of Lost In Translation. Coppola seems drawn to an almost wistful sense of the surreal which is interesting to explore, but you can see how it could leave audiences feeling a little bemused. You get the sense that Coppola is never going to be a big box-office smash, but she probably doesn’t care about that. There’s every chance that she’ll find the right ingredients to capture a mood or a moment that will repeat the success of Lost In Translation — Somewhere nearly did it, but not quite.
  • Stephen Dorff is an interesting actor. After getting his start in minor television roles, his big breakthrough was in The Power of One in 1992. There were expectations that he would go on to be a major leading actor, but that never really happened — instead, he’s been working steadily with small roles. This role in Somewhere could have been a real renaissance for him, relaunching him into a new phase of his career, but again he hasn’t followed that trajectory — continuing to stick with small roles that keep him working but not really on anyone’s radar.
  • Elle Fanning is still only young but she has already amassed an incredibly impressive filmography. She’s been on screen since the age of three — initially playing a younger version of her sister Dakota in the mini-series Taken (2002) and the movie I Am Sam (2001). It’s J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 (2011) that is seen as Elle Fanning’s breakthrough role, but she was also incredibly compelling in Somewhere. Since then she’s been working steadily in a range of different projects — there’s something quietly impressive about her.
  • The other interest from a casting perspective is that Ellie Kemper had a small role in this film. She’s now everywhere as Kimmy Schmidt.
  • Should we be re-watching Somewhere? It’s an interesting period piece with an insight into celebrity life in Los Angeles, however it’s not really a movie that you’d refer to as a genre-defining classic. If you want to watch Sofia Coppola at her best, then go for Lost In Translation; if you want to see Elle Fanning’s early work, then for for Super 8; if you want to imagine what Stephen Dorff’s career could have been, then go for The Power of One; and if you want to see Ellie Kemper in action, then go for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

Spotlight (2015)

  • Spotlight won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2015, along with the Oscar for best original screenplay for writer/director Tom McCarthy.
  • Telling the true-life story of the investigative journalists of The Boston Globe who exposed systemic child abuse by the Catholic Church, in many ways this is an old-school movie that celebrates and glamorises old-school journalism.
  • Tightly written, one of the strengths of the movie is the outstanding cast that McCarthy has assembled: Mark Ruffalo; Michael Keaton; Rachel McAdams; Liev Schreiber; and Stanley Tucci bring a strong ensemble feel to these down-to-earth characters committed to doing their job.

The Artist (2011)

  • The Artist tells the story of silent movie star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) whose career fades with the advent of talking pictures, crossing paths with rising star Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo).
  • The gimmick is that The Artist is a silent movie — the ultimate homage to the golden age of Hollywood.
  • The result? Director Michel Hazanavicius delivers masterful storytelling. You soon forget the lack of dialogue as both Dujardin and Bejo convey everything with their expressive but genuinely authentic acting. There’s even a cute dog for some comedy value.
  • Way beyond your normal movie-going experience — and that’s precisely why you should see it.

The Big Short (2015)

  • The Big Short is written and directed by Adam McKay, adapted from the book by Michael Lewis about the global financial crisis that hit the world’s consciousness in 2007 and 2008.
  • I was working in the financial sector in London at the time of the global financial crisis, and was in the middle of things as it all began to fall apart. It’s a period of time that I’m still really connected with emotionally.
  • McKay has assembled a power-house ensemble cast to tell this story — Ryan Gosling; Christian Bale; Steve Carell; Marisa Tomei; and Brad Pitt are the big names.
  • It’s also a clever structure that McKay has adopted — characters frequently breaking the fourth wall, and also using real-life celebrities to provide simple explanations of some of the complexities of the financial instruments being discussed. The result is a surprisingly watchable movie.

The Dressmaker (2015)

  • The Dressmaker appears to be a return to the days when Australian movies relied on a big-name international star in order to get funded.
  • Kate Winslet is the star, surrounded by local talent — Judy Davis, Hugo Weaving, and Liam Hemsworth, together with an impressive supporting cast that includes Kerry Fox, Rebecca Gibney, Barry Otto, Shane Jacobson, and Shane Bourne.
  • Director Jocelyn Moorhouse — collaborating again with husband P.J. Hogan — has adapted the screenplay for The Dressmaker from Rosalie Ham’s novel of the same name.
  • The story takes us back to small-town rural Australia. The landscape has a stark beauty, the people are slightly less appealing.
  • Winslet (Tilly Dunnage) is always good to watch, and it’s nice to see her embrace a slightly more fractured character than she often chooses; Hemsworth (Teddy McSwiney) ticks all the boxes for a leading man; and Davis (Molly Dunnage) hams it up and seems to be enjoying herself.
  • I haven’t read the book, so for me this story took some twists and turns that I wasn’t expecting — that’s a good thing. Perhaps the source material didn’t allow it, but I would have loved for Moorhouse and Hogan to have taken this completely over-the-top — these characters could have been bigger, bolder, more dramatic, an explosion of Barbara Stanwyck and Pedro Almodovar. Instead it ends up a little To Wong Foo, and not in a good way.
  • This is a movie that isn’t going to change your life, but it has some lovely moments of comedy, as well as plenty of angst, regret, and some great frocks.

The Drop (2014)

  • I have a huge man-crush on Tom Hardy, but there’s something about his acting technique that I don’t quite get.
  • The Drop has Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini (who I also love) as small time crooks living the life in Brooklyn.
  • It’s not a bad movie — not a lot happens, but it’s not a bad movie.
  • Tom Hardy plays his role as almost autistic, a little simple maybe, perhaps it was Asperger’s. It’s not bad, it’s just a little puzzling. I’d like to see him really surprise me in a movie — this one isn’t it.

The Falling (2014)

  • The beautifully overwhelming Autumnal landscapes unambiguously establish that The Falling is a story about change, about loss, about renewal.
  • Set in a girls school in 1969, we meet charismatic Abbie (Florence Pugh) and the intense Lydia (Maisie Williams). They are best friends and share a deep intimacy despite their differences. As the school is rocked by an unexpected death, a mysterious fainting epidemic breaks out, strengthening some relationships and destroying others.
  • While there are vague references to the occult and the power of ancient ley-lines, writer/director Carol Morley seems to side with stern headmistress Miss Alvaro (Monica Dolan) that the girls are being consciously or unconsciously swept up in a mass hysteria.
  • Morley effectively conveys the confusion, uncertainty, and passion that being a teenager involves, evoking a volatile and claustrophobic atmosphere at both the school and within Lydia’s home.
  • Speaking about the movie, Morley explained that she: ‘…became fascinated by the idea that mass psychogenic illnesses are steeped in mystery and contradiction… I was also intrigued that they mostly happen amongst people of a similar age, in single sex institutions, such as convents, girls schools and army barracks, but that on the whole they mostly affected females.’
  • The pace of this movie is measured and deliberate, but what gives it its power is the impressive performances that Morley draws from her cast.
  • Maisie Williams cut her teeth in Game Of Thrones and that experience serves her well here in the difficult role of Lydia. Maxine Peake is always strong, and she brings a fascinating internal tension to her role as Lydia’s mother. Greta Scacchi seems to have been absent from our screens recently, but in the role as strict teacher Miss Mantel she is channeling her best Maggie Smith. Making her film debut (in the key role of Abbie) Florence Pugh is impressive — at times she feels a little too present-day for the 1969 setting of the film, but is clearly a talent to watch out for.
  • Music is an important aspect of the film, and Morley recruited Tracey Thorn of Everything But The Girl who oversaw the music and songs used in the production, bringing a moody assurance to the soundtrack.
  • Filmed on location at a school in Oxford, Morley is also well served by her Director of Photography Agnes Godard — acclaimed for her cinematagoraphy on Beau Travail — beautifully capturing an other-worldly mysticism from the English countryside.
  • There are not many laughs in The Falling, but this is impressive and powerful film-making. I left the cinema feeling a little relieved that I had never had to experience being a teenage girl.

The Fits

  • A tight-knit dance team begin to experience mysterious fainting spells.

The Girl King (2015)

  • Written by Michel Marc Bochard and directed by Mika Kaurismäki The Girl King tells the true story of Kristina Vasa.
  • In 1632, at the age of six, Kristina became the first native, female sovereign of Sweden when her father died on the battlefield. Inspired by her education and her thirst for knowledge, Kristina grows up with ideas for modernising Sweden and bringing an end to war. She struggles against the conservative forces in court who have no tolerance for these ideas nor for her awakening sexuality and quest to shape the world around her.
  • The cast includes: Malin Buska; Sarah Gadon; Michael Nyqvist; and Lucas Bryant.
  • It’s a fascinating period of history and Kristina was clearly a highly intelligent woman who struggled against the constraints of her position.
  • As a movie, The Girl King is a fully realised historical drama — it’s measured pace embracing the exploration of Kristina’s search for identity and hunger for something more.

The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)

  • Lots of cooking and discussions about food, gorgeous scenery of the French countryside, and Helen Mirren giving some spark and sparkle to a nicely told story about a family trying to find their place in the world.

The Ides of March

  • A traditional date on the Roman calendar (circa 15th March using modern calendars), the Ides of March has historically been seen as a time of fateful and momentous events — most notably the assassination of Julius Caesar (as immortalised by Shakespeare: “Beware the Ides of March”).
  • Although George Clooney stars in and directs this movie, he generously puts the outstanding Ryan Gosling front and centre in this gripping political drama. The time period of the story is quite specific — it’s the Ohio Primary as Democrat candidates jostle for the the chance to run for President. Governor Mike Morris (Clooney, a joy as always) is the front-runner, idealistic, refusing to compromise his principles and surrounded by a dedicated team who is convinced he can go all the way.
  • What the movie portrays in an under-stated but incredibly articulate way is how far will people compromise to get what they want, the corrupting influence of power, and when faced with moral decisions what will influence people to choose one course over another.
  • It’s a story that is cleverly told — there’s no big ending, no major campaign win, but what we see played out are the consequences of the choices that the characters have made.
  • Supporting roles from Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti are convincingly drawn and add some flavour in a movie that confirms Clooney as a thoughtful and intelligent director at the peak of his game.

The Iron Lady (2011)

  • If nothing else this movie confirms Meryl Streep’s iconic ability to nail a character.
  • In The Iron Lady, Streep creates a Margaret Thatcher that is not only convincing imitation of the real thing (at every stage of her political career), but that conveys a real depth of emotion and self-belief that you forget completely that you are watching Meryl Streep the actress and not Margaret Thatcher the politician.
  • There is some controversy regarding this movie, with quite a depth of feeling that it was perhaps made “too early” (ie. Margaret Thatcher was still alive at the time of its release). This is in part driven by the structure of the movie which is an elegiac retrospective review of Thatcher’s life and career — without any dramatic arc of a story, but rather as a wistful review of the defining events.
  • As someone who wasn’t in Britain during Thatcher’s reign as Prime Minister (I was in my early teens in Australia), the movie does serve as a useful potted history of some of the UK’s recent history that still shapes much of the Britain that we know today.
  • I’m not sure it’s a great movie, but Streep’s performance is a power-house and well worth watching regardless.
  • As a movie about historical events, The Iron Lady presents Thatcher in a very favourable light. Whatever you think of her politics (and her legacy), it’s difficult not to be impressed by her strength of character (and her hair).

The Kids Are All Right (2010)

  • Written and directed by Lisa Cholodenko, The Kids Are All Right tells the story of married lesbians couple Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) and their children Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson) who have been conceived by using an anonymous sperm donor — Paul (Mark Ruffalo).
  • It won the Golden Globe award for best motion picture (musical or comedy), and Annette Bening won the Golden Globe for best actress (musical or comedy). The film also received four Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture.
  • This is a dream cast and Cholodenko delivers an intelligent exploration of the potential complications of a modern family.

The King’s Speech (2010)

  • Written by David Seidler and directed by Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech stars Colin Firth as King George VI — who (at the urging of his wife, played by Helena Bonham Carter) seeks assistance from a speech therapist (played by Geoffrey Rush).
  • The cast also includes: Guy Pearce; Timothy Spall; Derek Jacobi; Jennifer Ehle; and Michael Gambon.
  • A critical and commercial success, this is a competent historical drama aided greatly by an outstanding cast. I found Geoffrey Rush’s portrayal of speech therapist Lionel Logue to be a bit overdone, but he won a BAFTA for the performance so clearly not everyone felt the same way.

The Peacemaker (1997)

  • With a screenplay from Michael Schiffer, director Mimi Leder goes full-nuclear with this over-the-top example of the US saving the world. Stars George Clooney and Nicole Kidman. There’s better terrorist-threatens-world-peace movies out there.

The Theory of Everything (2014)

  • An award-winning performance from Eddie Redmayne with his portrayal of physicist Stephen Hawking, but unfortunately The Theory of Everything is a fairly ordinary movie.
  • It can’t be easy to make a dramatic story about someone so intellectually brilliant, but somehow this film just to hit the wrong emotional notes.

The Transporter Refueled (2015)

  • Directed by Camille Delamarre, The Transporter Refuelled is the fourth film in the Transporter franchise but it features a new cast — Ed Skrein replaces Jason Statham in the title role of Frank Martin.
  • Cast: Ed Skrein; Ray Stevenson; Loan Chabanol; Gabriella Wright; Tatjana Pajkovic; Wenxia Yu; and Radivoje Bukvic.
  • The plot doesn’t really matter, it never has in the Transporter movies, and while you can follow what’s happening there are plenty of inconsistencies and holes — if that kind of thing bothers you.
  • But there are some good fight scenes and some great chase scenes, making this watchable if you’re looking for a Netflix & Chill option.

Tin (2015)

  • Tin is an intriguing project — the second feature from writer/director Bill Scott.
  • Filmed over a 15-day period in a pop-up green-screen studio in Cornwall, with the use of model backgrounds to create the scenery, this is a film that strongly reflects its original theatrical development.
  • Adapted from the novel of the same name, Tin is set in a 19th century tin-mining village in Cornwall. There is fraud and deception afoot as a travelling opera company arrives and becomes entangled with the local community’s fortunes.
  • Almost Dickensian in its tone and language, Tin is a period piece that revels in its heightened melodrama.
  • Scott is served well by his enthusiastic cast. Ben Dyson (impressively stoic as Rundle), opera singer Ben Luxon (as East), and seasoned Jenny Agutter (as Mrs Dawson) determinedly drive the story forward.
  • Tin is a movie that will appeal to opera-lovers and am-dram enthusiasts. This is innovative film-making that shows that you can accomplish great things even with the smallest of budgets.

True Grit (2010)

  • Brothers Joel and Ethan Coen are a formidable filmmaking team. They collaboratively write, direct, produce, and edit their work — giving them enormous creative control. It’s a formula that obviously works — they’ve been nominated for 13 Academy Awards and have won three.
    On my count, True Grit was the Coen brothers’ 17th film that they had directed. It was their second Western — after the huge success of No Country for Old Men (2007).
  • The Coen brothers’ version of True Grit is the second film-adaptation of the 1968 novel of the same name by Charles Portis (the first adaptation was filmed in 1969 and starred John Wayne and Glen Campbell).
    The story follows a 14-year-old farm-girl called Mattie Ross who hires a trigger-happy lawman to help her seek vengeance on the man who has murdered her father.
  • The cast includes: Jeff Bridges; Matt Damon; Josh Brolin; and Hailee Steinfeld.
  • The film was a commercial hit and also critically well-received, and was nominated for ten Academy Awards: Best Picture; Best Director; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Actor in a Leading Role (Bridges); Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Steinfeld); Best Art Direction; Best Cinematography; Best Costume Design; Best Sound Mixing; and Best Sound Editing. Despite the number of nominations, it didn’t win any Academy Awards.
  • For Bridges, Damon, and Brolin — all already established actors — this was another opportunity to deliver solid, well-respected performances.
    Hailee Steinfeld was cast in the crucial role of Mattie Ross after an open-casting call that saw 15,000 potential actresses. Seinfeld had been acting since she was eight-years-old, but True Grit was her first major role. Although Seinfeld has continued working solidly, there hasn’t yet been a subsequent role that has captured the public’s imagination in the same way that she did with True Grit.
  • In True Grit the Coen brothers delivered a solid revisionist Western that was a further demonstration of their filmmaking prowess.

Trumbo (2015)

  • Written by John McNamara and directed by Jay Roach, Trumbo tells the story of Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (based on the biography written by Bruce Alexander Cook).
  • This is a fascinating period of history in the United States — the late 1940s and early 1950s saw the emergence of the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
  • Due to his active membership in the communist party, Trumbo (along with a number of other screenwriters) was jailed and blacklisted.
  • Roach has assembled an incredibly strong cast: Bryan Cranston (Dalton Trumbo); Diane Lane (Cleo Trumbo); Helen Mirren (Hedda Hopper); Elle Fanning (Nikola Trumbo); and John Goodman (Frank King).
  • Inevitably, for dramatic and narrative purposes, the movie simplifies the complexity of the events during this period. I don’t know enough about the history to know how material the simplifications are (although reading other commentators there are strong views that Trumbo wasn’t quite the martyr that he is painted to be).
  • As a movie, it’s very watchable but doesn’t give us much emotional engagement with the characters or the events unfolding.

Welcome To Me (2014)

  • What happens when a young woman with Borderline Personality Disorder wins the lottery? In the case of Alice Klieg (Kristen Wiig), she quits her psychiatric meds and buys her own talk show.
  • Drawing inspiration from Oprah, Alice broadcasts the intimate details of her life as both a form of exhibitionism and a platform to share her peculiar views on everything from nutrition to relationships to neutering pets.
  • With Kristen Wiig in the lead, in a movie from Will Ferrell’s production company, you could be forgiven for expecting that Welcome To Me will be a riotous comedy full of non-stop laughs. It isn’t, but that’s okay — it isn’t meant to be.
  • Wiig seems to be drawn to dramatic characters that are damaged, fragile and a bit dark, and her performance here as Alice is extraordinary. There are plenty of moments of odd-beat whimsy in this film, but director Shira Piven really brings out the pain and uncertainty of the characters created by screenwriter Eliot Laurence.
  • The focus on the story of Alice means that there is barely a moment of screen-time that Wiig doesn’t feature in, but she is supported by an incredibly strong cast:
  • Wes Bentley’s quiet performance as love-interest Gabe hints at the emotional depths that he struggles to contain; Linda Cardellini as best-friend Gina brings an authentic warmth to her role; Joan Cusack is dry and brittle as as show producer Dawn; Tim Robbins is a safe pair of hands as Dr Moffet; Jennifer Jason Leigh brings her wry sarcasm into play as production assistant Deb; and James Marsden seems to be specialising in unlikable smooth and ambitious characters, and he gives us that effortlessly as Rich. There’s also a gay sub-plot — it wasn’t explained in detail but I think Ted (Alan Tudyk) is Alice’s ex-husband, and he and his new partner Derek (Mitch Silpa) seem to be happily part of Alice’s extended family.
  • Mental health is a tricky subject to try and make an entertaining movie out of. Wiig isn’t playing Alice for easy laughs — it’s a very respectful performance of a woman trying to hold it all together and move forward when everything seems to be holding her back. Ultimately this is a story of survival — and a lesson in how to make a grand entrance in a swan boat.

Read more from Gareth Johnson