Mank

‘This is the business where the buyer gets nothing for his money but a memory’

A proposal – how much you enjoy a film and how much you appreciate it can provide distinctly different answers. David Fincher return to the big screen, 6 years after Gone Girl, is the epitome of this. It’s already something of a hard sell, a film following screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz‘s tumultuous development of Orson Welles‘ iconic 1941 masterpiece Citizen Kane. Although having watched Citizen Kane isn’t a requirement or prerequisite, prior knowledge does help certain narrative beats and jokes land. (If 119 minutes of classic cinema doesn’t appeal, The Simpsons parody ‘Rosebud’ from the show’s fifth season is one of the finest episodes it’s ever made.)

We open on Mank’s present day in 1940, with an injured and rather-down-on-his-luck Mank (Gary Oldman) pitching up to a cabin in the middle of nowhere. He’s there to write a script for new Hollywood Wonder Kid Orson Welles (Tom Burke) and he’s only got 60 days to do it, with two assistants (Lily Collins and Monika Gossmann) to aid him and decades worth of issues to get in his way. The main narrative tension is the rather age-old trope of struggling writer battling his demons – the fact we know he manages it as Citizen Kane is an actual film that exists (and is regularly voted the Greatest Film Of All Time in industry polls) does slightly undercut proceedings. Instead the drama comes from his past, the things and battles he has faced in his past that have lead him to his now – bedridden and determined to write a scathing take down of media baron William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance). Even if it means hurting close friend, and Heart’s lover, Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried) in the process – not to mention destroying his own reputation and any hope of a career.

It’s clear from the outset that this is a passion project for Fincher, with the screenplay itself having been written by his father (who passed away in 2003). Every frame feels personal, as if there’s a direct link between what is being told and the story behind it. Visually how that story is told is spectacular, the cinematography has such wondrous depth and full of cigarette-tinted sumptuous. The soundtrack, by long-time collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, is moody and atmospheric – superbly enhancing the paranoia and uncertainty that plagued 1930 and 40s Hollywood, with concerns over Hitler’s rise in Germany and the homegrown fears surrounding socialism, which would go onto leading to an actual Hollywood blacklist in the late 40s. The cast mirror this tone perfectly – with Oldman disappearing into the role as the likeable but hugely flawed writer, Seyfried delivering a femme fatale-esque dame with a steely edge and a career-finest Dance as the elusive tycoon. Burke also deserves a mention for being able to capture a young and righteously indignant Welles so perfectly with not-that-much screen time.

While there are some really great scenes here, they feel too-much like a patchwork pastiche to the work that inspired. Just as with Citizen Kane, the flashbacks are used to flesh out our main character – in a search to both expose faults but also create empathy – some are more interesting or purposeful seeming that others. But the problem is it’s nigh-on impossible to form an attachment to any of these characters. Following them around is entertaining enough, but there’s something of a block between us and them that leaves the viewer feeling cold. There’s also an unevenness about the film’s tone, shifting between drama and comedy of sorts with little prep or transition time. It’s as if it’s not quite sure what it wants to be, beyond a love letter to Golden Hollywood. (Which in turn just made me want to dig out Hail Caesar (2016))

Mank is going to be the kind of film that has a limited audience, but that audience will be ardent and love it dearly. That audience will be enamoured with it’s swoony yet intellectual take on cinematic myth. The rest may just struggle with a film that isn’t quite sure what it is, other than a dense and slow-burn meditative biopic.

[3/5 stars]

Mank is out in selected UK cinemas now and on Netflix worldwide from Friday 4th December.

Tv Tuesday #5

One sentence summary – 3 suggestions of tv shows you may have missed and will probably love. Are you not entertained? Give #1, #2, #3 and #4 a try.

The Vow (2013-2016 : 9 x 60 mins : Sky/Now TV )

This documentary series may just have been the most compelling thing I have watched all year. I’d been vaguely aware of the story about self-improvement group NXIVM due to the involvement of Alison Mack, who I’d loved in early years of Superman show Smallville. But there is so, so much more the story – it really does have to be seen to be believed. In episode one we met some central members of the group who are deciding to leave, all-too aware of the consequences they may face if they do. With each episode more is revealed and unravelled. What this series does so fantastically is destroy the myth of people who believe they’re ‘too smart’ to ‘fall for’ a cult. Here we see the how and why people join such groups, and the insidious reach this group had. Darkly unnerving and hard to shake off.

Hindsight (2015: 10 x 30 minutes : Amazon Prime)

On the Pilot Tv podcast, the team end each episode with a chance to Banshee a show of their choice – a show that was cancelled too soon and/or is little scene. This would be my pick, both a show cancelled too early and that wasn’t seen by enough people, with a concept I think about a lot. Becca, as she nears 40, is about to embark on her second wedding to Andy Kelly, but her joy is tempered by the absence of her old best friend Lolly who’s a no-show, having dropped out of their relationship years ago. And so, courtesy of a time travelling lift, Becca awakes in 1995 – knowing everything about her future and with chance to change it all for the better. A wonderful story about friendship, love and choices – with also some of the best uses of 90s nostalgia in recent tv history.

Industry (2020 – : 8 x 50 minutes : BBC iPlayer)

The plot summary for this is ‘Young bankers and traders make their way in the financial world in the aftermath of the 2008 collapse.’ In all honesty, having seen all 8 episodes, I have no memory of any substantial plot-impacting mention of the 2008 collapse. Instead we follow a group of young and sexy people who work in a bank be young and sexy as they work in a bank. It shouldn’t be so engrossing, yet it really is. The main reason for that is the development of both character and story over the course of the 8 episodes. The characters become more interesting, more developed yet varying degrees of incomprehensible. The story begins to get braver, saying scathing things about the industry that finds value in everything but human lives. It’s mad, ludicrous, mostly unbelievable and yet I find myself already looking forward to season 2.

Something-To-Watch Saturday #11

It’s Saturday and you’ve come for some movie-watching ideas. Here’s 7 more and here’s the back catalogue if they’ve not scratched that itch – #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9 and #10.

A Star Is Born (2018 – 136 mins – Amazon Prime)

Bradley Cooper‘s directorial debut happens to be the 4th version of the A Star Is Born story is perfectly adapted to the 21st Century. He plays country/rock megastar Jack, who drunkenly stumbles into a drag bar and meets the love of his life, an exceptionally talented singer called Ally (Lady Gaga). As she finds fame and glory, alcoholism and Jack’s own demons send him on a downward spiral. Beautiful, loving and intimate. (Click here to read my full review)

Searching For Sugar Man (2012 – 86 mins – Amazon Prime)

For a generation of South Africans, Rodriguez was their unlikely musical hero. Not knowing anything about him or why he stopped releasing music, two documentary makers go in search of him and answers. A story about the power of art, how music can soundtrack societal change and the unexpected twist of life. Stranger than fiction, this is an incredible story about a true talent.

Military Wives (2020 – 112 mins – Amazon Prime)

There’s a group of films released in March 2020 that had their release curtailed and didn’t get the release or audience they deserved. Military Wives is one of those. Inspired by the fourth series of the documentary series The Choir, where choirmaster Gareth Malone joins communities and inspired them to come together through singing. This is a lovely watch lead by two excellent performances by Kristin Scott Thomas and Sharon Horgan.

Minding The Gap (2018 – 93 mins – BBC iPlayer)

One of the finest and most personal documentaries of recent years, three young men bond together to escape volatile families in their Rust-Belt hometown. As they face adult responsibilities, unexpected revelations threaten their decade-long friendship. Incredibly moving and profound.

The Wedding Singer (1998 – 87 mins – Amazon Prime)

This week’s underseen RomCom is the film that results in my taking any bad Adam Sandler performances personally, as he’s just so good here. He plays Robbie, a singer, who befriends new-in-town Julia (Drew Barrymore), a waitress. Both are engaged, but to the wrong people. Fortune intervenes to help them discover each other. So funny and charming, with some excellent cameos. (Side note: The film is set in 1985, so 13 years before release. If you were to make a film with the same time gap now, it would be set in 2007…)

Our Little Sister (2015 – 127 mins – BBC iPlayer)

Three sisters (Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa and Kaho) live together in the house of their Grandparents in Kamakura, Japan. The news of their estranged father’s death also results in their discovery of the existence of their half sister (Suzu Hirose). The trio invite their newly-found sister to come and live with them, leading to much change for all four young women. Exquisite filmmaking.

Nativity! (2009 – 105 mins – Netflix)

There’s a good chance I’ll end up compiling a list of Christmas movies and where to find them. For now, here’s something to start you off. An uptight but secretly heartbroken primary school teacher’s (Martin Freeman) little white lie about Hollywood coming to see his class’ nativity play grows like wildfire in his rag-tag school low on self-esteem. Maybe it’s the fact I work with young people that adds another level of funny onto this film for me, but I really think this is a underseen and endearing festive treat.

Tv Tuesday #4

One sentence summary – 3 suggestions of tv shows you may have missed and will probably love. Are you not entertained? Give #1, #2, #3 a try.

Yonderland (2013-2016 : 22 x 25 mins : Sky/Now TV )

If you love/d Horrible Histories and love Ghosts, then this one is for you. Blending fantasy and comedy, with puppets (and ‘everybody loves puppets’!) we follow married mum-of-two Debbie (Martha Howe-Douglas) as she finds out she is The Chosen One of a far away land hidden in her cupboard – a role which comes with all sorts of duties including saving Yonder Land itself. The whole HH gang are present and accounted for (Simon Farnaby, Mathew Baynton, Jim Howick, Laurence Rickard and Ben Willbond) in this witty and warm tv series. Sidenote: If this video was an intrinsic part of your teenage awakening – as it was for me – please do let me know…

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2015-2019 : 64 x 42 minutes : Netflix)

‘I was/ Working hard at a New York job/ Making dough, but it made me blue/ One day, I was crying a lot/ And so I decided to move to/ West Covina, California/ Brand-new pals and new career/ It happens to be where Josh lives/ But that’s not why I’m here…’ And with that, the lyrics of the opening theme song, you’ve got the gist of this show – except you have no idea of the heartbreaking joy that awaits you. Co-creator, co-write and lead  Rachel Bloom does a phenomenal job of conveying so much of what it means to be a 21st Century woman. The story starts with Rebecca Bunch (Bloom) moving to the aforementioned West Covina to ‘not’ follow her old boyfriend, but it’s about so much more – plus incredibly well written and accurate songs about the gender disparity in getting ready, confusing relationship dynamics, <a href="http://<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/brzZQBSVMX0&quot; frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen>facing your fears, <a href="http://<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/uic_3vlI5BE&quot; frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen>mental health and heavy boobs. Oh, and this total banger.

GameFace (2017-2019 : 12 x 24 minutes : All4)

Created and co-written by lead Roisin Conaty, we follow her character Marcella as she deals with all manner of life rejections – love and career – where the only constant is her driving lessons with Jon (Damien Molony). A funny and sweet love story plays out, using some familiar romcom tropes in a slightly more realistic and believable manner. The final episode of series 2 has one of my favourite pieces of dialogue in recent televisual history.

Something-To-Watch Saturday #10

Insert pithy comment here about lockdown-induced breakdowns here. Read below if you’d like some movies to watch and escape into. If you’d like to chose from 9 other combinations of seven specially chosen films, then click through here – #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8 and #9.

A Man Called Ove (2015 – 118 mins – Amazon Prime)

Speaking directly to you right now. If you’re going to pick any of these films to watch, could you please take a chance on this one? I’m sure you won’t regret it (and I’m not just saying that because I was quoted on the poster/DVD case – humblebrag noise) I called it ‘A beautiful and uplifting tale’ then and I stick with it now. Ove is a curmudgeonly figure who looms heavily over his housing estate. When he’s fired from his job it’s the final straw and he decides he’ll commit suicide. But his new neighbour and her family inadvertently interrupt his plans, uncovering Ove’s past and hidden soft side. Few films have made me simultaneously laugh and cry to this extent. The queue to the ladies toilet at Canterbury Curzon afterwards was just was a just a line of us sniffling in disbelief at how joyous this film is. So, go watch it. Please?

Whip It (2009 – 111 mins – Amazon Prime)

Directed by Drew Barrymore, starring Ellen Page, Alia Shawkat, Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig, Zoë Bell, Eve and Juliette Lewis in a movie about roller derby that happens to be one of the greatest coming-of-age movies of the 21st Century. ‘Nuff said.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018 – 124 mins – Amazon Prime)

An underseen gem of a period drama, set in the aftermath of WW2 when a writer (Lily James) forms an unexpected bond with the residents of Guernsey Island (Tom Courtenay, Michiel Huisman, Katherine Parkinson) when she decides to write a book about their experiences during the war. So bloody charming.

An Education (2009 – 100 mins – Amazon Prime)

Directed by Lone Scherfig with a screenplay Nick Hornby  and astonishing central performances by Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard, this is coming-of-age story about a teenage girl in 1960s suburban London, and how her life changes with the arrival of a playboy nearly twice her age. Exquisite costumes, pitch-perfect script and a stellar supporting cast.

Down With Love (2003 – 101 mins – Amazon Prime)

This week’s underseen RomCom is set in 1962 New York City, when love blossoms between a playboy journalist (Ewan McGregor) and a feminist advice author (Renée Zellweger). A superlative pastiche and loving tribute to the era of Rock Hudson & Doris Day, that also has this sequence that is one of finest uses of comedic editing in 21st century cinema

A Simple Favour (2018 – 117 mins – BBC iPlayer)

Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) is a single mother with a parenting vlog who befriends Emily (Blake Lively), a secretive upper-class woman who has a child at the same elementary school. When Emily goes missing, Stephanie takes it upon herself to investigate. Camptastic cinema of the finest order.

Attack The Block (2011 – 88 mins – Film4)

Proof, were it ever really needed, that John Boyega has always had the charisma of a star. Written and directed by Joe Cornish, a teen gang in South London defend their block from an alien invasion. Funny, tense and a little bit scary – perfect Saturday night watching.

TV Tuesday #3

If you are also binging on good telly as a surviving mechanism for the unholy trinity that is it getting dark at 4pm, crappy weather and Lockdown 2.0 – I hope this series helps. Each week I’ll pick a trio of tv delights which you may not have seen before. Or you may have seen them before and I tempt you into a rewatch. There’s no rhyme or reason to each week’s picks, just things I spot on my streaming site travels that tickle my fancy. Here’s editions #1 and #2 if you’re in need of even more to choose from.

Crashing (2016 : 6 x 30 mins : Netflix/All4)

Last week I talked about Michela Cole’s fantastic sophomore project Chewing Gum. This week I’m talking about Phoebe Waller-Bridge‘s tv debut as writer-director. Crashing is a comedy series following the lives of six 20- and 30-somethings living together as property guardians of a large, disused hospital. And it is superb. Fans of Fleabag will see lots of now-familiar tropes within it, particularly in how Waller-Bridge manages to explore relationships in such a bittersweetly-nihilistically-hopeful manner. Such a shame it only had one series, but so good that we got that at all. I have such fondness for this show, and I really do urge you to give it a go.

Try this if you like: Fresh Meat, Fleabag, Lovesick, This Way Up, Derry Girls

Outcry (2020 : 5 x 70 mins : SkyGo/ NowTv)

Showtime really know how to put on a good tv miniseries, and this one is no exception. This five-part documentary series examines the gripping story of high school football star Greg Kelley who was arrested, convicted and jailed for sexual assault of a 4-year-old boy, and his supporters’ quest for truth and justice. I’m loathe to go into too-much detail as to why this makes for such compelling watching – such is my want not to spoil things. What I will say, this will have you hooked, horrified and outraged throughout and long after watching.

Try this if you like: The Vow, Defending Jacob, When They See Us, The Jinx

In The Flesh (2013-2014 : 9 x 60 mins : BBC iPlayer)

BBC3 regularly gets ridden off rather snobbishly with all manner of presumptions made about it’s content. If you’re in any doubt to the wonderful shows it has made and continues to produce, then rectify it with this. Four years after the Rising, the government starts to rehabilitate the Undead for reentry into society, including teenager Kieren Walker, who returns to his small Lancashire village to face a hostile reception, as well as his own demons. Whilst a zombie drama, this is more human than something like The Walking Dead – it’s quieter, more drama than action although not without a tense sequence it tends to focus more on the aftermath. Bitterly profound and immensely beautiful.

Try this if you like: Being Human, The Returned, The Fades, London Spy

Something-To-Watch Saturday #9

You know the drill. It’s November, it’s dark at 4pm and the weather is rubbish. It’s the second weekend of Lockdown 2: The Second Cummings (or goings, amiright?!?) You want some movies to watch and escape in. I’m happy to provide with 7 here, and 7 more in each of these. That’s 63 to choose from, that’s how good I am to you. #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7 and #8.

Adult Life Skills (2016 – 96 mins – Netflix & Amazon Prime)

Anna (Jodie Whittaker) is stuck: she’s approaching 30 and living like a hermit in her mum’s garden shed, avoiding fully living her life due to the fact that she is crippled by the loss of her twin brother. A week before her birthday, her mother (Lorraine Ashbourne) sets her an ultimatum – move out of the shed and move on with life. Soon she is entangled with a troubled eight year old boy obsessed with Westerns, and the local real estate agent (Brett Goldstein) whose awkward interpersonal skills continually undermine his attempts to seduce her. The feature debut of writer-director Rachel Tunnard, this is a such a charming bittersweet British indie. Just delightful.

Long Shot (2019 – 125 mins – Netflix)

This week’s underseen romcom is a fairly recent one. I last rewatched this in April, during Lockdown 1, and I found myself craving the considerate and empathetic political career of main character Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) in her run for the presidency, and the really positive and well-balanced burgeoning relationship she has with journalist Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen). I genuinely could write an entire essay on their wonderful relationship and how he supports her & her career. Romantic and so so funny.

The 40-Year-Old Version (2020 – 123 mins – Netflix)

Another gem that Netflix plonked on the shelf rather than give it the fanfare it deserves. Radha (Radha Blank, who also writes and directs) is a down-on-her-luck NY playwright, who is desperate for a breakthrough before 40. Reinventing herself as rapper RadhaMUSPrime, she vacillates between the worlds of Hip Hop and theater in order to find her true voice. Intimate yet epic, scathing yet endearing – a gem that truly sparkles if you give it the chance it deserves.

Animals (2019 – 109 mins – Amazon Prime)

Based on the book of the same name by  Emma Jane Unsworth (who also wrote this screenplay), Animals is the story of best friends Laura (Holliday Grainger) and Tyler (Alia Shawkat) whose party-loving lifestyle gets tempered by Laura’s engagement to Jim (Fra Fee), disolving their friendship in the process. A beautiful, consistently funny yet devastating, mediation on modern love and friendship.

Perfect 10 (2020 – 83 mins – BBC iplayer)

One of the consequences of having a blockbuster-free summer (Tenet aside) was that independent cinema took over our screens, even if they didn’t get the large audiences they deserve. This film is the perfect example of one of those films you probably missed and need to catch-up on. 14-year-old Leigh (Frankie Box) is an aspiring teenager gymnast’s whose world is turned upside down with the arrival of the half-brother she never knew she had. Box’s debut performance is captivating and so full of depth in a wonderfully-told bittersweet story.

The Post (2017 – 116 mins – All4)

A cover-up spanning four U.S. Presidents pushes the country’s first female newspaper publisher (Meryl Streep) and her editor (Tom Hanks) to join an unprecedented battle between press and government. Another film that may resonate that bit deeper due to events of recent months/weeks/days, this is the cinematic equivalent of sitting in a really comfy leather tub chair with a dram of whiskey, a cigar and some comfy slippers. Steven Spielberg at his most solid historical best.

Dark Waters (2019 – 126 mins – Amazon Prime)

I’ll be honest, it’s only as I’m writing these brief comments that I’ve started to see an unintended link between some of these films. Dark Waters is about a corporate defence attorney (Mark Ruffalo) takes on an environmental lawsuit against a chemical company that exposes a lengthy history of pollution. It too will have an even greater resonance around now, seeing capitalism and it’s destructive influences. A fantastic central performance by Ruffalo, this is a film that will haunt you for a long while after. So now I’m going to cheer myself up and listen to this. See you next week….

TV Tuesday #2

It’s the first Tuesday of Lockdown 2: Electric Boogaloo and there’s a good chance you’re craving some great telly. Here’s three suggestions of shows that will hopefully scratch that itch.

Chewing Gum (2015-17 : 12 x 23 mins : Netflix)

When those end-of-year lists start popping up in the coming weeks, there’s no doubt that Michaela Coel‘s I May Destroy You will be appearing on nearly all the tv-related ones – for great reason as it was a truly extraordinary series. But, Coel’s talent wouldn’t have come as any surprise to those who had seen this series. Sharing some DNA, but also vastly different in tone (think of GM as the younger sister to IMDY) this is a fantastically written comedy series about 24-year-old Tracey who is desperate to lose her virginity. With a superb cast – Danielle Walters, Susan Wokoma, Kadiff Kirwan and John Macmillan – and some truly hilarious moments – this really is an underseen gem.

Pose (2018 – cont. : 18 x 1hr : Netflix) O

ne of the most important series from the past decade, it’s near-impossible to avoid talking about Pose without descending into superlatives. Set in New York in 1987, it’s the story of the African-American and Latino LGBTQ and gender-nonconforming  ballroom culture and the people who have formed their found-families because of it. Billy Porter is the one who always get mentioned (deservedly) for his wonderful work as emcee Pray Tell. Attention must also go towards the extraordinary performances of Mj Rodriguez, Dominique Jackson and Indya Moore in particular. Heavily inspired by the iconic documentary Paris Is Burning, this outstanding programme tells the intertwined threads of pain and love so wonderfully.

Unorthodox (2020 : 4 x 53 mins : Netflix)

Sometimes it really does feel as if Netflix just quietly drops it’s programming and sees if it’ll stick – if that programme will find its way to the audience and attention it deserves. Unorthodox is a great example of this, of a show of superb quality that most will only discover through word-of-mouth. Loosely based on Deborah Feldman‘s 2012 autobiography, Unorthodox tells the story of Esther (Shira Haas, in what should have been a star-making turn) a young ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman who flees her arranged marriage and religious community to start a new life abroad. Tense, intimate and bitterly moving, this carefully handled drama makes for extraordinarily captivating watching.

Something-to-watch Saturday #8

It’s the first Saturday of Lockdown 2: Electric Avenue. You want some movies to watch? Then you’ve come to the right place. What follows may just be the most eclectic mix so far, because you’re worth it. #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6 and #7.

Locke (2013 – 85 mins – Amazon Prime)

Tom Hardy on his own in a car for 85 mins may sound appealing for only a certain demographic – but you’d be mistaken. This tense and taut film follows Ivan Locke (Hardy), a dedicated family man and successful construction manager as he receives a phone call on the eve of the biggest challenge of his career. A call that will set in motion a series of events that threaten his carefully cultivated existence. Written and directed by Steven Knight (creator of Hardy-starring series’ Peaky Blinders and Taboo) is fantastic thriller. If you ever find yourself in ay doubts of Hardy’s acting prowess, rectify those thoughts by watching this.

Parasite (2019 – 132 Mins – Amazon Prime)

Parasite winning the Oscar for Best Picture may have been the only good thing to happen this year (so far… *wink wink*). If you’ve not seen it yet, now is your chance and hopefully you’re going into it completely blind – which is why I’ll hold back on any plot summaries. Pop it on and watch master director Bong Joon Ho at work.

Uncorked (2020 – 104 mins – Netflix)

I strongly believe we’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to the power of Mamoudou Athie as an actor. With his scene-stealing turn in the wonderful Patti Cake$ and an underutilised role in The Front Runner, Jurassic World: Dominion might finally propel him to the forefront. Watch Uncorked to see what I’m going on about. In Uncorked he plays Elijah, a young man balancing his dream of becoming a master sommelier with his father’s expectations that he carry on the family’s Memphis BBQ joint. A quiet yet moving drama.

Assassination Nation (2018 – 108 mins – Netflix)

You know how a film can define a particular period of time? I reckon this will be one that defines the Trump era. A blistering – very much 18-age-rating – movie set in the perpetually American town of Salem, when a malicious data hack exposes the residents secrets, chaos descends and four girls must fight to survive, while coping with the hack themselves. This is the film The Purge wishes it could be – full of rage. If cinema holds up a mirror to society then this film lets us see what we truly are, which is UGLY*. (* Yes, the She’s The Man reference was intentional – adding a bit of light relief to the cold hard truth of this film…)

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (2018 – 117 mins – Netflix)

Seeing this film was my all-time favourite film watching experience. At a press screening at Leicester Square Imax, surrounded my by friends, seeing a film I’d heard a lot of hype about (the US reactions dropped earlier that day) but not quite believing. The hype was real guys. Teen Miles Morales becomes the Spider-Man of his universe, and must join with five spider-powered individuals from other dimensions to stop a threat for all realities. Beautifully animated and powerfully told – this is all kinds of wonderful.

Eddie The Eagle (2015 – 106 mins – Amazon Prime)

One of the most feelgood films of the past decade, Taron Egerton is almost unrecognisable as Eddie Edwards, the notoriously tenacious British underdog ski jumper who charmed the world at the 1988 Winter Olympics. Hugh Jackman plays his coach, a composite character inspired by figures Edwards met along the way of his infamous Olympic career. Dexter Fletcher‘s film is charming, funny and totally endearing.

Plus One (2019 – 98 mins – Netflix)

Jack Quaid is currently best known for his role in Amazon’s bloody comic book adaptation The Boys, but if you fancy seeing him do something different then this, my pick for underseen romcom of the week, is the one for you. Here he plays Ben, a longtime singleton who agrees to be the plus one to his friend Alice (Maya Erskine) at every wedding they’ve been invited to, in order to help each other endure a summer of wedding fever. This one feels less like a movie, than hanging with two friends you’re desperate to get together. Understated and really delightful. (Click here to read my full review for Film Stories)

TV Tuesday #1

As there’s a good chance any of us will be watching a *lot* more telly over the coming month, I thought I’d start up with some recommendations again. So begins this new feature (which I like to sing to the tune of Ruby Tuesday by The Rolling Stones). Each week I’ll pick three tv series – most likely at random – that I think may appeal for all manner of reasons…

The West Wing (1999 – 2006)

7 seasons – 156 episodes – Free on All4

I’ve always wanted to watch The West Wing as I was always certain I’d love it. Why? ‘Because I’m a lily-livered, bleeding-heart, liberal, egghead communist.’ Shying away from the commitment of buying on DVD or VOD, I hoped I’d get around to it at some point. Then, on October 21st 2020, all 156 episodes dropped on All4. And fellows, it is *everything* everyone has ever said about it and more. It’s superbly written, constructed and performed. It’s been optimistic balm for this weary soul (which may have inadvertently made the fast-approaching US election result even more terrifying). I’m 22 episodes in, I fancy and am in love with pretty much all of the cast at this point, have felt weepy on average once an episode and sobbed my way through one truly masterful episode that might just have been the most perfect piece of TV I have ever seen. In short? Go watch it, then let’s walk and talk.

Below Deck (2013 – )

105+ episodes : Season 1, 2 and 3 Amazon Prime (Season 4 onwards requires hayu subscription)

And now for something very different, something which I’m still trying to pinpoint how and why I am so addicted to. I started to work it out in this VodZilla article for the similarly themed Selling Sunset but it’s still not conclusive. Is it the exotic locations? The guests who are varying degrees of trash? The crew who can be varying degrees of trash? The work-place conflict? The 21st Century Marie Antoinette levels of excess and indulgence? Or all of the above? I binged this like I have never binged before. I thought season 1 was okay, but once I found out the fact the guests have no inkling of the crew’s dramas I was sold (competence and professionalism ftw!) It’s just so good guys, but I think you need to indulge to truly believe it. Pure trashy reality tv that I’d like plugged into my veins during this difficult time. Oh, and if approx. 5250 minutes (and counting) of this tropical trash is not enough for you, Amazon also has both Below Deck spinoffs Mediterranean (85 episodes) and Sailing Yacht (17 episodes).

Lovesick (2014 – 2018)

3 series : 22 episodes : Netflix

A lot of people got put off this show with it’s series one title of ‘Scrotal Recall’ (which, child that I am, still makes me smirk each time I say it..) which is a real shame as this show started out rather brilliantly then became something so beautiful and profound. It’s the story of Dylan (Johnny Flynn, swoon) testing positive for an STD and deciding to use the informing his exes of his status as an opportunity to find out where he went wrong in their relationships. Along for the journey are his housemates Luke (Daniel Ings, swoon) and Evie (Antonia Thomas, swoon). The result is a realistic romantic comedy, funny and sweet yet occasionally dark and melancholy. It’s well-written, charming and immensely feelgood.