Category: Film

‘Detroit’ – Distilled

‘Detroit,’ it could be argued, is the story of race and racism in America, bursting onto our screens at a painful moment in America’s painful history. Think Charlottesville, think of Trump’s pardoning of Sheriff Arpaio, think of – how many? – black motorists in towns across the US pulled over and shot for some (sometimes imagined) traffic offence. But this movie, of course, is set fifty years ago, in 1967, during the Detroit riots: that tells you something right there, doesn’t it? Focusing close-up, in almost unbearable detail, on the murder by police of three young black men at the […]

‘Dunkirk’ – Distilled

A technical tour de force but an artistic failure, ‘Dunkirk’ contrives to combine cheesy dialogue and cardboard characterisation with the terror and immediacy of war and violence. You are in the cockpit of a stricken Spitfire as it swerves towards the grey greasy  Channel and ditches; trapped in the cockpit, you struggle for breath as its sinking pilot bangs frantically on the glass above him, fighting to get out as the water rises. Or you are in the bowels of a bombed or torpedoed ship, as exhausted soldiers fight their way towards the exits. The story follows three narratives, telling […]

‘Loving’ – Distilled

Richard marries Mildred, and that – in another place and era – would be an end of it. But not in Virginia, in the fifties, not when Richard Loving is white and his beloved is African American. Miscegenation – in the pejorative language of the time (a language I remember all too well as a South African more or less of that epoch) – is verboten, and the Lovings are drummed out of town and out of Virginia. Until, that is, their case is taken by civil rights lawyers, all the way to the Supreme Court, and the miscegenation laws are […]

Sully: Distilled

How do you make a movie worth watching about an event that everyone has seen already, in countless TV and internet images and stories? The story is ‘the miracle on the Hudson,’ the extraordinary landing by Captain Chesley Sullenberger of an Airbus A320 on New York’s Hudson River, after a bird strike crippled his aircraft shortly after takeoff from La Guardia airport. Well, you make a familiar story worth watching through sympathetic screen writing, deft and restrained direction by Clint Eastwood, respect for the people and the situation, not to mention a superb, utterly convincing performance by Tom Hanks as […]

‘Last Cab to Darwin’ – Distilled

The journey as meme or trope, the road trip as its modern, especially American manifestation – these are familiar from Homer onwards. In ‘Last Cab to Darwin,’ an Aussie film set in Broken Hill, Darwin and the great outback, a cab driver (Rex)  traverses the landscape, human, physical, and metaphorical, picking up travellers, adventures and misadventures along the way, as he drives towards his final destiny – only to find that where he really needs to go is not the place he’s been heading towards. To call the film ‘heart warming’ is to miss both its grittiness and the occasional dollop […]

‘The Innocents’ – Distilled

A cloister is no sanctuary: at the end of World War Two,  novices and nuns in a convent in Poland are raped and abused by their Russian ‘liberators.’ The pregnancies that result – the children who are brought into the world – as a consequence of this violation raise moral and existential questions, including questions of faith, despair, and religious doctrine, which each of the sisters must answer for themselves. However, all’s well in the end. Beautiful performances. Director: Anne Fontaine Verdict: Powerful, moving (though about as much fun as a root canal) – but not quite Bergman. Bergman lite? […]

’45 Years’ – distilled

Time strips us bare. In ’45 Years,’ the truths and assumptions that underpin a relationship are called into question when the ground – quite literally – crumbles beneath the feet of a long-married couple. The past is always with us, Faulkner told us – it isn’t even past. Director: Andrew Haigh. Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay. Verdict: Flawless; mesmerising. A good Bordeaux – several glasses.

‘Brooklyn’ distilled

It’s the ‘fifties again, folks – like ‘Carol’ which I’ve just reviewed, a nostalgic look in the rearview mirror. Irish girl leaves poverty and the Old Country to find a new life and love in America – after a suitable quantum of struggle, of course. Beautifully shot – but whereas the visuals in ‘Carol’ are psychological as well as broodingly romantic, here the visuals are just props for a sentimental journey. Director: John Crowley. Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen Verdict: Consumer-friendly, enjoyable. Tea and biscuits.

‘Carol’

America in the ‘fifties. Two women – one older, wealthy and sophisticated and on her way to a divorce, the other an ingenue shopgirl, begin a relationship. Complications inevitably arise. There is a slow-burning interiority to the movie, and moments of incandescence that are utterly convincing. Director: Todd Haynes. Cate Blanchette, Rooney Mara Verdict: Still waters flow deep. Bourbon. On the rocks.

‘Amy’ distilled

Whatever circle of hell the jazz singer Amy Winehouse may have descended to, the documentary ‘Amy’ puts you right there with her, voyeur, watching. It’s an uncomfortable feeling. Observing the opportunists and piranhas circling – her drug-riddled boyfriend/husband, her creepy dad, the mobs of unfeeling, slavering paparazzi – as fame and addiction slowly swallow her is deeply disturbing. I hadn’t realised before this quite how unmediated and raw Amy’s songs were – life dumped on the page, bleeding. But what a voice, what a huge talent. And what a loss, and tragedy. A morality tale for the celebrity era. Verdict: Tough […]