Stream On Vol. 11

Hope you’re having a fab week and enjoying the beautiful weather! Welcome to volume eleven (can you believe?!?) of Stream On, where I recommend 5 things you could watch on some of your favourite streaming sites. Not enough for you here? Try the previous volumes – volumes 12345678, 9 and 10.

Moonstruck (1987 – BBC iPlayer – 96 mins)

One of the most perfect romantic comedies there is. Cinematic chicken soup for the soul.

One Cut Of The Dead (2017 – All4 – 91 mins)

A film of two parts. Part one – an attempt at a live stream zombie movie. Part two – just why it went so hilariously wrong. Persevere through the cringe of the half and you’ll be rewarded with comedy gold in the second. I’m grinning just thinking about it!

Feel Good (2021 – Netflix – 12 x 25 mins)

Originally a Channel 4 production, before moving to Netflix for it’s second and final season, the end result is 12 episodes of bittersweet comedic perfection. Partially autobiographical, Mae Martin is a comedy who starts dating George (Charlotte Ritchie), a woman who had only previously dated men. As they navigate George’s understanding her sense of self, Mae continue to be haunted by past traumas. Phil Burgers is wonderfully endearing as their flatmate. Lisa Kudrow and Adrian Lukis play Mae’s parents. A modern comedy classic.

Dora And The Lost City Of Gold (2019 – Sky/NOWtv – 102 mins)

A truly underappreciated adaptation of the iconic tv series, Dora (Isabela Merced) has to lead her friends on an adventure to rescue her explorer parents (Eva Longoria and Michael Peña). Funny and charming, perfect for all the family.

Dark Waters (2020 – Amazon Prime – 127 mins)

Now for something rather different, a true story following a corporate defence attorney (Mark Ruffalo) as he takes on an environmental lawsuit against a chemical company that exposes a lengthy history of pollution. Haunting and powerful.

Stream On Vol.8

Residents of England, we’re almost there – in two days time cinemas reopen! In about 53 hours I will be back in my happy place, sitting in the dark in front of a big screen watching a film I’ve waited ages to see, in the best setting possible. However, I know there are lots of reason why others may feel more reluctant to return to the cinemas just yet. That’s why I’ll carry Stream On for a while longer, recommending five fab films across various streaming sites. Not enough for you here? Try the previous volumes – volumes 123456 and 7.

The Broken Hearts Gallery (2020 – NOW/Sky – 108 mins)

Regular visitors to this blog will know that the Romcom is my favourite movie genre. With a real resurgence of the genre in recent years, with Netflix in particular releasing some bangers (like this and that and this), my fellow desperate romantics and I have been eating well. This is a wonderful addition to the genre, with the hilarious Geraldine Viswanathan as Lucy – a gallery assistant who, after a brutal break-up, decides to start a gallery where people can leave trinkets from past relationships. Nick (Dacre Montgomery) is the oblivious cynic who finds himself roped into helping her. A total joy, using the conventions and tropes we all love to wonderful effect.

Tamara Drewe (2010 – Netflix – 107 mins)

I recommend this one at every chance I get, witty and warm yet utterly scathing – I love it dearly! Based on the graphic novel by Posy Simmonds, Gemma Arterton plays the eponymous Tamara – a journalist who returns to her childhood home in the countryside as she puts it on sale. She may have changed, but her intrusive neighbours really haven’t… Dominic Cooper plays her rockstar lover, Luke Evans her childhood boyfriend, Roger Allam her pretentious writer father-figure, Tamsin Greig his underappreciated wife and Bill Camp her adoring new admirer. Utterly delightful.

Ideal Home (2018 – Prime – 91 mins)

A comedy drama starring Steve Coogan and Paul Rudd as a bickering couple whose lavish life is thrown into turbulence with the arrival of their long-lost grandson. Poignant and very funny.

Tyrannosaur (2011 – ALL4 – 92 mins)

Paddy Considine‘s writer-directorial debut, Joseph (Peter Mullan), a man plagued by violence and a rage that is driving him to self-destruction, earns a chance of redemption that appears in the form of Hannah (Olivia Colman), a Christian charity shop worker. Brutal British realism, with two extraordinary lead performances. Total must-see.

Long Shot (2019 – BBC iPlayer – 113 mins)

Bookending this volume with another romcom, journalist Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) reunites with his childhood crush, Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron), now one of the most influential women in the world. As she prepares to make a run for the Presidency, Charlotte hires Fred as her speechwriter and sparks fly. Hilarious and romantic in equal measure. Also starring an immensely creepy Alexander Skarsgård.

Stream On Vol. 7

Ladies, gentlemen and those of us who know better – there are 9 days till cinemas reopen in the UK. 9 DAYS till we can return to that dark palace where we can disappear into other worlds and universes. I, for one, cannot wait – so much so I just booked my ticket for a screening of Sound Of Metal on Monday 17th May. It’ll be a first watch, I’ve saved it so I can see it with the best soundscape possible. Here’s some more small screen suggestions to help you get through the final stretch… Not enough for you here? Try volumes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6

Nomadland (2020 : Disney+ : 107 mins)

Speaking of cinemas reopening, the other big, big screen release is this gem. Directed by Chloé Zhao, for which she won the 2020 Oscar for Best Director (the second woman in the awards 93-year history…) and Best Picture, a woman in her sixties (Frances McDormand) lives out her days travelling America whilst living in a van, having lost everything in the Great Recession of 2007/09. McDormand produced the film too, and won the Oscar for Best Actress – her performance really is extraordinary. Watch it now on Disney+ or wait for the big screen, either way you’re in for an epic watch.

Bill (2015 – 94 mins – BBC iPlayer)

Thanks to TikTok, I have discovered I was not alone in being a teenage girl who adored the tv series Horrible Histories for the comedy, the education and the men-folk. If you’ve not seen it, it’s all on Netflix if you wish to rectify matters. The central team have since gone on to make two fantastic other series, Yonderland (all 3 series on SkyGo) and Ghosts (all 2 series and counting on BBC iPlayer). And, in between all that fantastic telly – they even made a film! Bill explores what may have happened during William Shakespeare’s lost years upon arriving in London to hilarious effect.

The Favourite (2018 – Disney+ – 119 mins)

Directed by the incredible Yorgos Lanthimos, we’re in early 18th-century England, where the status quo at the court is upset when a new servant (Emma Stone) arrives and endears herself to a frail Queen Anne (Olivia Colman). But leaves long-standing favourite Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) won’t give up her status without a fight… Just sublime.

School of Rock (2003 – Netflix – 109 mins)

It feels futile to really tell you why you should watch this one. Either you’ve seen it already and this is a reminder of its brilliance and how you should go rewatch it immediately. Or you’ve never seen it and you’ve realised from my tone here that you need to fix that immediately. Now go and STEP OFF!

The Descent (2005 – ALL4 – 109 mins)

I rarely recommend horror movies as I am a scaredy cat and avoid watching them as much as possible… But, I’m making an exception here when I spotted this one, it’s available on ALL4 for 16 days and it’s very worth a watch if you’re horror-inclined. A caving expedition goes horribly wrong, as the explorers become trapped and ultimately pursued by a strange breed of predators. It’s terrifying and I’ll never watch it again as nerves couldn’t handle it, but it is bloody brilliant.

STWS #15

Welcome back. Lovely to see you again, even if the circumstances (what with Lockdown 3.0 and the world on fire) are decidedly less than desirable. As always, what follows are 7 film recommendations to help you with your picking what to watch.

Here’s the back catalogue: – #1#2#3, #4#5#6#7#8#9 , #10#11#12 #13 and #14.

Dredd (2012 – 85 mins – Netflix)

It’s taken over 8 years and counting, but it feels like Dredd is finally getting some of the recognition it deserves. One of the most underseen comic book movies as well as being one of the finest of the genre. It’s a fantastic take on the 2000 AD comic strip Judge Dredd with Karl Urban (currently most recognisable for his leading role in Amazon’s The Boys) playing the eponymous law enforcer. It’s brutal (strong 18) with incredible special effects, a tau thriller of a narrative and packed full of dark humour.

Pepe the Frog: Feels Good Man (2020 – 92 mins – BBC iPlayer)

I’ve slowly but surely been working my way through the Storyville series on BBC iPlayer. It’s a documentary strand that currently comprises 35 contemporary and challenging documentaries from different filmmakers gathered from across the globe. Some are familiar titles, otten with titles slightly edited, and some are unknown gems – like this one was for me. Loosely aware of the Pepe the Frog meme but knowing nothing about the context in which it was created or how it has since been horrifically warbed and used in terrifying ways, I went in totally blind with this one. Wow. Seeing this just days before the events in Washington this week added a horrific timeliness and an answer of sorts to the question ‘How did we get to this point?’

Casablanca (1942 – 102 mins – BBC iPlayer)

I started to really get into film when I was twelve. For the next few years I’d have these phases we’re I’d discover a genre/theme/actor and obsessively get into it. My discovery of Casablanca, somewhat oddly, happened in my Summer of Film Noir (yep, I was one cool kid…) If you’re yet to see it and have dismissed it as everyone always talks about it, hear me out. Give it a try this week. Why? It’s funnier than you might think, exquisitely filmed and has some sublime performances just across the board. There’s just how brave and ahead of its time it was, whilst being truly of it’s time too. This was filmed and released in 1942 – WW2 had been raging for years with no end in sight. Watch this and dare tell me it’s not audacious and revolutionary. And, I hate to carry on referring to current events but – I think we all need some hope this week.

Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001 – 97 mins – Netflix)

This film celebrates its 20th anniversary this year – isn’t that MAD?!?! (Answer, yes. v.mad) After watching this fantastic documentary over the festive period, I was compelled to rewatch the film with fresh and informed eyes. It really does hold up (workplace sexual harassment aspects aside…). As I grow closer to Bridget’s age, having had far too many entanglements and experience that could be described as Bridget Jones moments, I appreciate all the more just how bold her character is – with Renée Zellweger capturing her and the single woman experience so beautifully. And I won’t get started on Colin Firth and Hugh Grant in this film. The former has ruined my romantic expectations for life and the latter would just ruin me.

Gone Girl (2014 – 159 mins – Amazon)

And this week’s underappreciated romcom slot goes to… Ha! There’s really not much I can say about this film because you’ve either seen it already (and seeing it here now you know you want to rewatch it) or you haven’t seen it yet (and therefore I don’t want to spoil things by telling you too much about it as you should now go and watch it). A top-tier thriller by David Fincher, dark and wonderfully twisted.

Hustlers (2019 – 110 mins – Amazon Prime)

I once saw this described as ‘Goodfellas but strippers’ – whilst I appreciate the sentiments, that buzzphrase sort of misses the point. Director and co-writer Lorene Scafaria has made a modern classic here, expertly and seemingly effortlessly utilizing the female gaze. The based-on-a-true-story about a crew of savvy former strip club employees who band together to turn the tables on their Wall Street clients is just magnificent.

Instant Family (2018 – 118 mins – Sky/NowTv and, from sunday, Netflix )

I reckon it’s a safe bet to say that you looked at the below still and formed a judgement about this film based on Mark Wahlberg and, to a much smaller extent because of her varied back catalogue, Rose Byrne. At least, that’s what I did. However, skip this one at your peril as you’ll be missing out. This is one of the finest and funniest family dramas in recent year, following a couple who find themselves in over their heads when they foster three children. Inspired by the personal experience of the film’s director, Sean Anders, this really is a feelgood delight.

20 from 2020: My favourite films of the year and where to find them

It’s the last day of the year, and I’ve put off doing this list for long enough. Instead of doing a top ten films of the year, I’ve decided to do a bumper addition. 2020 brought few joys with it but quality books (as demonstrated here) and films were not in short supply. So, in no particular order, here’s my 20 films of the year. (Two disclaimers: These are of the films I’ve seen, there’s a few I just haven’t been able to fit in yet so there are a few blindspots. I’ve gone for UK release date – either in cinema or VOD where applicable.)

FilmRunning TimeAvailable to watch Current priceMy review?
The Personal History Of David Copperfield119 minsAmazon Primeincl. in subscription Film Stories
A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood 109 mins Sky/NOWtv incl. in subscription Feature in FS #11
Parasite132 mins  Amazon Prime incl. in subscription 
Portrait Of A Lady On Fire122 mins  AmazonMUBI add-on (free 7 day trial, then £9.99 a month) 
Emma. 124 minsSky/NOWtv incl. in subscription  Film Stories
Ema 107 mins ALL4Free  
The Assistant87 mins Sky/NOWtv   incl. in subscription  
Clemency 112 mins Sky/NOWtv incl. in subscription   
Saint Frances101 mins  CurzonRent for £1.99  
Perfect 10 83 minsBBC iplayer Free  
Babyteeth118 mins  Netflix incl. in subscription   
Les Miserables 104 minsNetflix incl. in subscription    
The Broken Hearts Gallery 109 mins AmazonPre-order for Jan 4th, £9.99 to buy  
Rocks93 mins  Netflixincl. in subscription    Movies on Weekends
THE FORTY YEAR OLD VERSION123 mins  Netflixincl. in subscription   
Lovers Rock 70 minsBBC iplayer Free  
County Lines 90 mins BFI playerRent for £10  Feature in #21 of FS
Boys State 109 mins Apple Tv+incl. in subscription    
Wolfwalkers 103 minsApple Tv+ incl. in subscription     
The Invisible Man 123 minsSky/NOWtv incl. in subscription    

Something-To-Watch Saturday #14

This will be the last edition of STWS of 2020, and we’re going out with a banger of a list. Thank you so much for reading these, I do hope they’ve been useful! Here’s the back catalogue: – #1#2#3, #4#5#6#7#8#9 , #10#11#12 and #13.

Their Finest (2016 – 117 mins – BBC iPlayer)

I’m cheating a little here when it comes to this week’s Underseen Romcom – as this is technically more of a rom-com-drama. However, it features my favourite all-time favourite trope of hate-to-love with two of the UKs finest (in both senses of the word!) actors – Gemma Arterton and Sam Claflin. She plays a former secretary, newly appointed as a scriptwriter for propaganda films, who joins the cast and crew of a major production while the Blitz rages around them. He’s the established talented writer who feels put-out being forced to work with her. The fact this story is propelled by an superb chemistry, an epic supporting cast (Richard E. Grant, Bill Nighy, Eddie Marsan, Helen McCrory, Jeremy Irons, Jake Lacy and Rachael Stirling) and is a film about making a fim – well it’s close to cinema perfection in my eyes.

Far From The Madding Crowd (2015 – 119 mins – BBC iPlayer)

Forget Darcy. Forget Rochester. You’re sleeping on Gabriel Oak. Played by Matthias Schoenaerts in this version, he’s just wonderful. He’s one of three suitors pursing Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), a woman whose headstrong and independent nature is atypical for Victorian England. Alongside Gabriel there’s the older, prosperous and dependable bachelor William (Michael Sheen) and the young, reckless & hedonistic Sergeant Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge). An excellent adaptation with one of Mulligan’s finest & most underrated performances.

Bumblebee (2018 – 114 mins – Netflix & SkyGo)

When is a Transformer movie not really a Transformer movie? When it’s this movie. This is a wonderful action/sci-fi/adventure movie rooted in the traditions of Spielberg & other 80s classics. Nostalgia is dialled up to 11 courtesy of an epic soundtrack (The Smiths, Duran Duran, Tears For Fears and Steve Winwood to name but a few). It’s 1987, Bumblebee finds refuge in a junkyard in a small California beach town. On the cusp of turning 18 and trying to find her place in the world, Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld) discovers Bumblebee, battle-scarred and broken. Such a charming delight.

Stage Mother (2020 – 93 mins – Netflix)

By no means a flawless movie (Adrian Grenier being one of it’s multiple issues) this is a really sweet, low budget indie about a conservative church choir director (Jacki Weaver) who inherits her late son’s San Francisco drag club. The by-numbers fish-out-of-water culture-clash narrative isn’t the reason to watch, the reason to give this a go is the moving performances by the club performers (Mya Taylor, Allister MacDonald and Anthony Skordi) who each portray all-too real storylines. Taylor in particular is a stand-out who hasn’t been given nearly enough opportunities since 2015’s Tangerine.

Frances Ha (2012 – 86 mins – Amazon Prime)

We don’t talk nearly enough about friendship break-ups. Speaking from personal experience, they hurt just as much – if not more – as romantic break-ups. This fim, about a New York woman played by Greta Gerwig (who doesn’t really have an apartment) who apprentices for a dance company (though she’s not really a dancer) and throws herself headlong into her dreams, even as the possibility of realizing them dwindles, is one of the few that depicts the painful disintegration of friendship. Funny, sad and bittersweet – one of Noah Baumbach‘s finest. Also, there’s some Adam Driver for all you stans out there (I see you Bleakley!)

Mary & The Witch’s Flower (2017 – 103 mins – All4)

Based on “The Little Broomstick” by Mary Stewart, a strange flower grants a girl magic powers. The less said about this one, the better. A really charming coming-of-age fantasy story that will linger with you long after watching.

I’m Your Woman (2020 – 120 mins – Amazon Prime)

There’s something wonderfully old fashioned yet brilliantly refreshing about this one. In this 1970s set crime drama, a woman (Rachel Brosnahan, unrecognisable from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) is forced to go on the run after her husband betrays his partners, sending her and her baby on a dangerous journey. Arinzé Kene (a man who isn’t yet as big a star as he deserves to be) is the man tasked with helping them on their journey. A slowburn packed with unexpected moments that makes for utterly enthralling watching.

Something-To-Watch Saturday #13

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 , #10, #11 and #12.

Official Secrets (2020 – 112 mins – Amazon Prime)

The true story of a British whistleblower (Keira Knightley) who leaked information to the press about an illegal NSA spy operation designed to push the UN Security Council into sanctioning the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Along with a fantastic supporting cast (Matt Smith, Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans, Ralph Fiennes and Conleth Hill) this might be one of Knightley’s finest performances, understated yet powerful. A steely and tense thriller, made all the more haunting as it really did happen.

Boys State (2020- 109 mins – Apple TV+)

A thousand 17-year-old boys from Texas join together to build a representative government from the ground up – and the results need to be seen to be believed. A truly outstanding documentary that ends up revealing so much about present day politics and 21st masculinity.

Wolfwalkers (2020- 103 mins – Apple TV+)

Cartoon Saloon is an animation studio that has a truly enviable hit-rate, with Song of the Sea , The Secret of Kells and The Breadwinner each being examples of pure perfection. And now we have this addition, a young apprentice hunter (Honor Kneafsey) and her father (Sean Bean) journey to Ireland to help wipe out the last wolf pack. But everything changes when she befriends a free-spirited girl (Eva Whittaker) from a mysterious tribe rumored to transform into wolves by night. The animation is sumptuous, the story wonderfully told and the performances just magnificent. There’s also some of the finest animated hair we’ve ever seen. If there’s any justice in the world, this film will be recognised in awards season as the best animated film of 2020.

EMMA. (2020- 122 mins – Sky/Now TV)

This might just be the finest Austen adaptation we’ve ever had. At the very least there’s no point ever adapting Emma again, as it cannot beat this one. Anya Taylor-Joy plays Emma, a woman who is well-meaning but selfish, who decides to play matchmaker out of boredom but ends up playing havoc with the lives of those around her. Taylor-Joy plays Emma wonderfully, every expression being layered in meaning and revealing so much about exactly what she is thinking but is unable to say. Johnny Flynn as Mr Knightley has ruined me for men. A magnificent ensemble cast (Angus Imrie, Gemma Whelan, Bill Nighy, Rupert Graves, Miranda Hart, Josh O’Connor, Mia Goth, Oliver Chris and Callum Turner) all bring their A-game to deliver this superb screwball comedy.

120BPM (2017 – 143 mins – Film4)

This French film, following members of the advocacy group ACT UP Paris as they demand action by the government and pharmaceutical companies to combat the AIDS epidemic in the early 1990s, is sublime. At times funny, heart-shattering at others – it’s simply unmissable.

Wild Rose (2018- 101 mins – Netflix)

One of 2018’s best films, this story – Rose-Lynn(Jessie Buckley) is a troubled young Glaswegian who dreams of becoming a Nashville country star – is a total must-see. Buckley’s central performance is extraordinary, with an immeasurable amount of depth, balancing light and shade with ease. Julie Walters is simply fantastic in the supporting role as Rose’s mother. Click here to read my full review.

Set It Up (2018 – 118 mins – Amazon Prime)

In recent years, Netflix has been at the forefront of the resurgence of the romcom whilst also dropping some of the worst of the genre. This week’s underseen romcom is a gem, that uses the tropes we know & love yet plays around with them a little. Two corporate executive assistants (Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell) hatch a plan to match-make their two bosses (Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs). Deutch and Powell have fantastic chemistry, believable and easy to root for. The end result is a charming and sweet romcom.

Something-To-Watch Saturday #12

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 , #10 and #11.

Uncle Frank (2020 – 95 mins – Amazon Prime)

One of the few joys to arise in 2020 has been the amount of fantastic indie movies, which arguably have had a little bit more space this year with blockbusters having been near-universally postponed till 2021 at the earliest. Uncle Frank is very much one of the cream of the crop with a lead performance by Paul Bettany, as the eponymous Uncle Frank, that deserves awards recognition. In 1973, when Frank Bledsoe and his 18-year-old niece Beth (Sophia Lillis) take a road trip from Manhattan to Creekville, South Carolina, for the family patriarch’s funeral, they’re unexpectedly joined by Frank’s lover, Walid (Peter Macdissi). The film’s focus is Frank aligning his past trauma with his present, and his fears over his family finding out about his sexuality. The end result is a film that is softly moving, immensely charming and bittersweetly emotive. Such a delight.

Monsoon (2019 – 85 mins – BBC iPlayer)

Kit (Henry Golding) a British Vietnamese man, returns to Saigon for the first time in over 30 years, after fleeing during the Vietnam-American War. A beautifully empathetic look at the immigrant experiences, of being of two places but feeling like you belong to neither. Thoughtful, delicate and graceful.

Crazy Rich Aisans (2018- 120 mins – Amazon Prime)

This week’s underseen romcom slot also serves as a Henry Golding double bill. Here he plays the heir to an immense fortune, not that his girlfriend Rachel (Constance Wu) has any idea just how rich he is as she finds out on the way to meet his family for the first time. All the romcom tropes we know and love are here, featuring a terrific and diverse cast and some spectacular riches. A really likeable and very sweet addition to the canon. Click here to read my full review.

Galaxy Quest (1999- 102 mins – Netflix)

‘Never give up, never surrender’ – that was the catchphrase of cult tv series Galaxy Quest. It’s a phrase the show’s cast Jason (Tim Allen), Gwen (Sigourney Weaver), Alexander (Alan Rickman), Fred (Tony Shalhoub) and co. know all to well. They’ve been churning out for years at various fan conventions and promo appearances. But when they’re visited by actual aliens who think the series is an accurate documentary they quickly become drawn in a very real intergalactic conflict with thousands of lives at risk. This is one of the finest comedy films, possibly ever. It’s fantastically written, parodying fandom with much love and affection, and so well performed by a cast of total icons.

Arthur Christmas (2011 – 97 mins – Netflix)

Another Christmas gem for you, this time we’re with Santa’s (Jim Broadbent) clumsy son Arthur (James McAvoy) as he sets out on a mission with Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) to give out a present they misplaced to a young girl before it’s too late and her Christmas is ruined. A sweet and heart-warming tale, with some inventive animation and charming voice cast.

Shame (2011- 101 mins – All4)

A sex addict’s (Michael Fassbender) carefully cultivated private life falls apart after his sister (Carey Mulligan) arrives for an indefinite stay. The directorial debut of Steve McQueen (who currently has a phenomenal miniseries airing on BBC every Sunday, Small Axe – five films that are love letters to Black London history) this is an astonishing and haunting film about addiction & it’s concealment under artifice. Wonderfully shot and performed, this is a total must-see.

Pan’s Labyrinth (206 – 118 mins – Amazon Prime)

Without a doubt, one of the greatest films of the 21st century, Guillermo del Toro‘s film is set in the Falangist Spain of 1944, where the bookish young stepdaughter (Ivana Baquero)of a sadistic army officer (Sergi López) escapes into an eerie but captivating fantasy world when a magical creature (Doug Jones) gives her the chance to save her pregnant mother’s life. Insert list of superlatives here – I just love this film so so so so much. (Also, any English teachers reading this, I have a great resource using the Pale Man scene to teach GCSE English Language Paper 1, Q3 – slide into my DMs if interested…)

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.