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The Butterflies of Savannah

May December

Director: Todd Haynes

Cast: Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, Charles Melton, Corey Michael Smith, Andrea Frankle, Gabriel Chung, Elizabeth Yu, D. W. Moffett, Kelvin Han Yee

Running Time: 1 hour 57 minutes

Film Rating: 8 out of 10

Scandal in all its intimacy is what binds a community together in auteur director Todd Haynes fabulous new film May December starring Oscar winners Natalie Portman (Black Swan) and Julianne Moore (Still Alice).

Far From Heaven and Carol director Todd Haynes makes cinema an art form in this stylized and lush melodrama about a Southern tabloid queen Gracie, wonderfully played by Julianne Moore, who becomes the subject matter for a TV film after the sexually adventurous actress Elizabeth comes to interview Gracie and her complicated history.

In a syrupy and toxic screenplay by Samy Burch, which would make Tennessee Williams proud and Truman Capote salivate at the salacious details, May December is gorgeously set in Savannah, Georgia in 2015, twenty years after a tawdry scandal erupted when Gracie a 35 year old married woman slept with and got herself pregnant by a 13 year old boy and then went onto marry him when he was of age. Gracie and Joe’s scandalous affair started in the back store room of a rundown pet shop in a strip mall in Savannah and after a bout in prison for sleeping with a minor, Gracie and Joe now twenty years on are welcoming their children back home to Savannah for graduation.

The handsome, strong and silent Joe is beautifully played by Charles Melton who definitely deserves an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor as Melton perfectly encapsulates the psychological state of a man child, a man at 36, but inside still a child, bewildered and confused that he fathered children while he was still a teenage and to a woman almost three times his age.

Joe acts more like a big brother to his three children than a father, while Julianne Moore’s Gracie acts as the scheming and manipulative mother figure micromanaging not only her  young husband but also the wreckage of her past life, as she expertly manoeuvres herself around the penetrating gaze of the ambitious but provocative Elizabeth, a star turn by Natalie Portman who has the acting ability to portray psychologically complex characters as she did in her Oscar winning performance in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan.

Todd Haynes relishes having two powerful female stars as the two opposing main characters, sniping at each with a bitchy relish as they mockingly try to remain friends while both planning ways of exacting revenge on one another. Portman and Moore are superb in this dynamic, eating up men in their way and manipulating both their circumstances to their own maximum and sometimes lustful benefit, like the captivating monarch butterflies that are released into the humid Savannah air.  

Corey Michael Smith (Carol) is electrifying in a few brief scenes as Gracie’s damaged oldest son from her first marriage Georgie who uses the power dynamic between his mother as the subject and Elizabeth as her observer to best serve his own creepy agenda.

Bizarre and strangely uncomfortable, Todd Haynes creates a garish melodrama on contemporary sexual power dynamics in this fascinating film May December whose title in American English is a term which refers to a much older person taking a much younger lover, as tawdry and exhilarating as that can be.

May December is a provocative film, sexy in a slightly off kilter sort of way and gets a film rating of 8 out of 10. Not every viewer will enjoy this film, but those that do will appreciate its compelling originality and its deliberate sneer at the conventional expectations of socially acceptable sexual interactions.

That Corsican Ruffian


Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Vanessa Kirby, Rupert Everett, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Tahar Rahim, Sinead Cusack, Ben Miles, Paul Rhys, Ludivine Sagnier, Jannis Niewohner, Julian Wadham, Miles Jupp, Edouard Philipponat

Running Time: 2 hours and 38 minutes

Film Review: 9 out of 10

Oscar nominated veteran director Ridley Scott (Thelma and Louise, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down) helms this meaty historical drama Napoleon, which is magnificent held together by two multifaceted performances by Oscar winner Joaquin Phoenix (Joker) as Napoleon and Oscar nominee Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman) as his wife, lover and soul mate Josephine.

Napoleon is a monumental film starting off with the bloody execution of the last Queen of France Marie Antoinette in 1793 and ending with the completely mind-blowingly epic Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Amidst this vast historical backdrop of war and political intrigue is the scandalous romance of the 19th century the gorgeous and tragic love story of Napoleon and Josephine.

Napoleon a tough, charismatic military general from Corsica in post-revolutionary France proves his military ingenuity and his strategic thinking in securing France’s position in an unstable Europe post the shocking and bloody French Revolution. That Corsican ruffian who skilfully eyed an historic opportunity to seize power in the confusion of the last days of the Reign of Tower by Robespierre, swiftly and efficiently rises to power to crown himself Emperor of France. With ruthless decisiveness, Napoleon seizes power through a military coup, compensating for his abandonment of the Egyptian campaign running from 1798 to 1801, in which France tried to conquer Egypt and Syria against the Ottomans to secure trade interests.

There is a macabre scene in Napoleon when he confronts a mummy in Egypt, with the pyramids shimmering in the Mediterranean heat, whereby he takes off the shroud and reveals the skull sitting defiant staring at the Tyrant symbolically revealing to the French Emperor how much death he will eventually cause.

Amidst massive battles at Austerlitz, Waterloo and the failed attack against the wily and clever Russian Tsar Alexander I wonderfully played by French-Finnish actor Edouard Philipponat, Napoleon’s tumultuous relationship with Josephine is intricately explored through his frustration at not being able to father a child with her.

From Josephine’s viewpoint she has chosen a ruffian, a stubborn brutish man who has changed her destiny and made her an Empress who she simultaneously adores and despises. Kirby and Phoenix are a perfect onscreen couple, their prickly energy is sexually attractive and equally complicated. Like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Cleopatra, Joaquin Phoenix and Vanessa Kirby portray a complicated and powerful onscreen couple, allowing audiences to watch their fascinating love affair unravel in spectacular fashion playing out on a world stage in which even 19th century gossip columnists could not get enough of Napoleon and Josephine’s salacious love life, complicated by infidelity and infertility, neglect and sexual desire, divorce and estrangement.

Besides the talents of Phoenix and Kirby the rest of the cast is superbly chosen from British actress Sinead Cusack playing Napoleon’s mother Letizia Bonaparte (because let’s face it even tyrants have mothers) to Julian Rhind-Tutt (Blithe Spirit, Rush) as Sieyes and Ben Miles (Woman in Gold, Red Joan) as French politician Caulaincourt.

Others in the cast include Tahar Rahim (The Mauritanian) as Paul Barras to the talented Rupert Everett (The Comfort of Strangers, A Royal Night Out, The Madness of King George) perfectly cast as the pompous but clever Duke of Wellington, the one adversary who Napoleon cannot defeat despite his best military efforts at the crucial battle of Waterloo in 1815.

As a cinematic epic, Napoleon is elevated by a tonally balanced screenplay by David Scarpa who captures the bizarre and brutal zeitgeist of the first heady years of the Napoleonic wars from 1800-18h15. Scarpa deserves an Oscar nomination for best original screenplay.

Napoleon is gorgeously shot with expert cinematography by Oscar nominated Polish cinematography Dariusz Wolski (News of the World) and superbly directed by Ridley Scott who captures the chaos of war, the brutality of one man’s ego and the glamour of ambition combined with the lust to control everything. Napoleon ends off with the battle of Waterloo and a brilliant scene between Joaquin Phoenix and Rupert Everett discussing Napoleon’s untimely exile to St Helena in the South Atlantic.

On every level, Napoleon is a charismatic historical film, a multifaceted and brutal epic, a diatribe on man’s bloodthirsty ambition to create empires and his lust for celebrity status on a world stage.

Napoleon is a historical epic made with a European flair and in the hands of a veteran director like Ridley Scott this film is superb and robust, held together by two extremely powerful performances by a charismatic Joaquin Phoenix and the beautiful Vanessa Kirby as the dynamic and ruthless power couple who elegantly presided over one of the bloodiest periods of European history at the start of the 19th century.

Visually impressive and beautifully acted, Napoleon deserves recognition at the 2024 Oscars and gets a film rating of 9 out of 10. Utterly astounding and highly recommended viewing but only for those that enjoy grand cinema in the tradition of such Oscar winning films as A Passage to India, The Last Emperor and Amadeus.

The Women of Ballygar

The Miracle Club

Director: Thaddeus O’Sullivan

Cast: Oscar winner Maggie Smith (California Suite, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie), Oscar winner Kathy Bates (Misery), Oscar nominee Laura Linney (The Savages, Kinsey) , Stephen Rea, Mark O’Halloran, Mark McKenna, Oscar winner Brenda Fricker (My Left Foot), Agnes O’Casey

Running Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes

Film Rating: 7 out of 10

Irish film and TV director Thaddeus O’Sullivan assembles an all-star female cast for his film The Miracle Club which had its world premiere at the less glitzy predominantly independent Tribeca Film Festival in New York early in 2023.

The Miracle Club focuses on three women from Ballygar in Dublin, Ireland in 1967 who after entering a talent show by coincidence manage to win a trip to Lourdes in France, the holy place where it is rumoured that the Virgin Mary performed miracles on the sick and vulnerable making it an attractive Catholic pilgrimage site.

The ladies in question are Lily Fox wonderfully played by double Oscar winner and veteran Hollywood and British star Maggie Smith (Gosforth Park, California Suite, A Room with a View); Chrissie Ahern expertly played by American actress and Oscar nominee Laura Linney who returns to Ireland after a long exile in Boston in America and the fast witted but wicked Eileen Dunne superbly played complete with an Irish accent by Oscar winner Kathy Bates (Misery).

As the women of Ballygar leave their men at home to fend for themselves, their holy pilgrimage to Lourdes start revealing some dark secrets about their past particularly the relationship between Chrissie and Lily’s dead son Declan, providing some brilliant scenes between Laura Linney and Maggie Smith and also between Chrissie and Eileen. The lighter moments are provided by a younger woman Dolly Hennessey played by Agnes O’Casey who brings her mute little son with her in the hopes that he will be able to talk once touched by the divine waters at Lourdes.

The Miracle Club is a light comedy drama with brilliant performances by the three main leading actresses and the funnier moments are provided by some of the male actors including Oscar nominated star Stephen Rea (The Crying Game) as Eileen’s forlorn husband Frank and Dolly’s young husband George played by Mark McKenna who has to deal with a young daughter while he hopes his wife and young son return safely from France.

As secrets are revealed and past grudges are dealt with in true Irish fashion, The Miracle Club is a rewarding and interesting film about three women who find forgiveness, independence and the strength to continue in the light of pressing health issues, chauvinism and family demands.

While not as comedic as one expected, The Miracle Club delivers a concise and entertaining film about female community, divine intervention and redemption.

Director Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s lovely Irish drama The Miracle Club gets a film rating of 7 out of 10 and is set in Dublin and Lourdes in France. Recommended viewing for those that enjoy a relaxing comedy drama.

Merciless Revenge

Expendables 4

Director: Scott Waugh

Cast: Jason Statham, Sylvester Stallone, Curtis Jackson (50cent), Megan Fox, Andy Garcia, Dolph Lundgren, Tony Jaa, Randy Coutoure, Iko Uwais, Lucy Newman-Williams, Jacob Scipio

Running Time: 1 hour 43 minutes

Film Rating: 6.5 out 10

Need for Speed director Scott Waugh delivers another action packed sequel in the Expendables franchise, Expendables 4 reunites Oscar nominee Sylvester Stallone (Rocky, Creed) with action man Jason Statham from the Fast and the Furious franchise along with Curtis (50 cents) Jackson (Get Rich or Die Tryin), Dolph Lundgren (Aquaman, Masters of the Universe, Red Scorpion, A View to a Kill) and Andy Garcia (Kill The Messenger, The Godfather Part III, Internal Affairs) as the Expendables battle a merciless villain Rahmat superbly played by Indonesian actor Iko Uwais who feels no remorse about annihilating an entire Libyan army or blowing up a nuclear weapon off the coast of Russia.

As the action moves around the world from New Orleans to Libya, from Thailand to Vladivostok, The Expendables team headlined by Barney Ross played by Stallone teams up with Christmas and his gorgeous girlfriend Gina played by the fabulous Megan Fox (Transformers, Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen) as the team of mercenaries try to prevent Rahmat from using these stolen nuclear detonators in a more nefarious way after his vicious gang steal them from an abandoned army base in post-Gaddafi Libya.

Naturally the screen chemistry between Jason Statham and Megan Fox is phenomenal and like all the other three films in this franchise, The Expendables is always about the tough guys and the action.

In this regard, the explosive action in The Expendables 4 does not disappoint from a motor bike chase aboard an aircraft carrier to the excellent martial arts scenes provided by Tony Jaa as Christmas’s Thai friend Decha who when all dressed up looks like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.

Expendables 4 is a pure popcorn action film, complete unadulterated escapism which works because the cinema was absolutely full. So if anyone thinks cinema is dead, just come to an Expendables film.

All the cast is proficient in their roles most of whom have done this franchise before and know what the audience want: ballsy tough guy action with planes, boats, bikes and cars. The tough guys have to naturally defend themselves with guns, knives, knuckledusters and swords as they meter out merciless revenge to Rahmat and his gang of bandits.

Action director Scott Waugh delivers a decent sequel to the original trilogy and Expendables 4 gets a film rating of 6.5 out of 10.

See this film for the action and not for the storyline, although there are some surprisingly fresh plot twists. This is recommended viewing for lovers of exciting action films because audiences will definitely not fall asleep in this adventure.

Last Child in the Village

The Eight Mountains

Directors: Felix van Groeningen & Charlotte Vandermeersch

Cast: Luca Marinelli, Alessandro Borghi, Elisabetta Mazzullo, Filippo Timi  

Running Time: 2 hours and 27 minutes

Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Language: Italian with English Subtitles

Festival: European Film Festival

Belgian directing duo Felix van Groeningen & Charlotte Vandermeersch present the slightly long winded friendship film The Eight Mountains about two young boys who become friends in August 1984 and this film tracks their friendship as they grow into teenagers and eventually into adults.

Both boys are the only child of a family, Pietro Guasti and Bruno Guglielmina become firm friends as they spend the idyllic summers together in the Italian Alps. Pietro is a city boy from Turin with a strict father, Giovanni played by Filippo Timi while Bruno is a child of nature and literally the last child in the village, a remote place in the alps filled with beautiful mountains and stunning scenery but sparsely populated.

As the years go by, Pietro struggles to find his own identity as a man and has a fall out with his aging father although all the time attempting to be a writer and describe his experiences from mountain climbing to studying literature. Bruno just wants to remain in the same area and starts isolating emotionally as he attaches himself more to the natural environment.

Both men follow different dreams although as friends they unite to build a chalet in memory of Pietro’s father. This arduous task completed during the summer months cements their long-time friendship although soon love and self-exploration changes their dynamic. Bruno meets a lovely woman Lara played by Elisabetta Mazzullo and they have a child together, while he dreams of opening his own cheese making farm.

Pietro stretches his wings and travels to Nepal to climb the Himalayas and gain a perspective on his Italian childhood and the lost years that he can’t get back with his late father.

The Eight Mountains is a fascinating if slow moving story of the progression of a male friendship from boyhood until adulthood, all the highs and lows, the family tragedy and the complex relationships. Unfortunately with two directors, this film while interesting does suffer from a lack uniformity regarding cinematic vision.

With spectacular scenery and some insightful philosophical approaches to the fickle nature of human relationships, The Eight Mountains is a story of two men whose trajectories start the same but their destinies are vastly different.

Fortunately both Luca Marinelli (The Great Beauty) and Alessandro Borghi are excellent as the lifelong friends Pietro and Bruno. If audiences enjoy a slow burning tale of platonic friendship, then they will enjoy The Eight Mountains, an interesting story which needed to be edited properly and have a far superior soundtrack. This film’s soundtrack was completely incongruous with the narrative.

While the scenery is gorgeous, The Eight Mountains gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and the storyline needed more conflict to make this friendship narrative more exciting and humorous.

Dissection of a Marriage

Anatomy of a Fall

Director: Justine Triet

Cast: Sandra Huller, Swann Arlaud, Samuel Theis, Milo Machado Graner, Antoine Reinartz, Jehnny Beth, Camille Rutherford

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes

Film Rating: 8 out of 10

Languages: English & French

Festival: European Film Festival

French director Justine Triet’s riveting courtroom drama Anatomy of a Fall won the coveted Palm d’Or at the 2023 Festival de Cannes and is a complex dissection of a marriage after it has abruptly ended.

The scenario is set up more like a philosophical question which generates more inquiry than any form of closure.

A couple live in a remote chalet in the French Alps. They have a young son who is visually impaired. One fine day after the wife gives a brief interview to a literary student, the son goes for a walk with his guide dog and returns to discover his father dead on the snow, having fallen from the top floor of the attic window. Was the husband killed or did he commit suicide? If he was killed, there are only two suspects: the wife and the son.

Anatomy of a Fall is a skilfully directed family mystery, in which director Triet’s focus is exclusively on the portrayal of the relationship between mother and son and in particular the role of the mother and the wife, in this case Sandra Voyter superbly played by German actress Sandra Huller (I am Your Man) who actually deserves an Oscar nomination for this role.

Huller’s multi-layered performance in English and French is phenomenal as the less than conventional German mother who finds herself the chief suspect in her French husband’s murder as the criminal trial begins her entire life, her relationship with her husband and their son is dissected in a courtroom in Grenoble, France.

Justine Triet’s portrayal of the husband Samuel is clever and unique, he is almost entirely off-screen except for a key flashback scene in the middle of the film in which the court is played back an audio recording of a marital spate between Samuel and Sandra about six months before his fatal fall.

At the beginning of Anatomy of a Fall, audiences have to watch the opening scene extremely carefully. Unlike in American or even British films, Justine Triet refuses to guide the audience through this complex trial to a satisfactory conclusion, instead she plays with the viewers sympathies as they continually shift between Sandra and her son Daniel, while Sandra is flirting with her French lawyer, the eloquent and sympathetic Vincent Renzi played by Swann Arlaud.

Anatomy of a Fall is a psychological film about a marriage that has collapsed and a family racked with guilt, infidelity and tragedy. Triet also asks the audience to question perspective.

Is an event better to be seen from a male or female point of view? Philosophically speaking who was really responsible for the man falling to his death? Was it the wife or her son? What about motive?

Despite the second half being too long, Anatomy of a Fall is a fascinating film about gender relationships, possible murder and complex marriages.

If audiences enjoy a riveting contemporary courtroom drama, then watch Anatomy of a Fall, for the multi-dimensional performance by Sandra Huller and the intriguing direction of Justine Triet. Anatomy of a Fall gets a film rating of 8 out of 10 and is an intelligent courtroom drama, which will challenge viewers and offer a fresh almost unsettling cinematic perspective.

Cruelty & Splendour

The Bohemian (Il Boemo)

Director: Petr Vaclav

Cast: Vojtech Dyk, Barbara Ronchi, Elena Radonicich, Lana Vlady, Salvatore Langella, Cristiano Donati

Running Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes

Film Rating: 8 out of 10

Languages: Czech, German & Italian with English subtitles

Festival: European Film Festival

Czech actor Vojtech Dyk plays the role of minor Baroque composer Josef Mysliveček, a Czech composer and precursor of the infamous Mozart in director Petr Vaclav’s lavish and entirely European film The Bohemian or Il Boemo in Italian. The Bohemian is set mainly in Italy at the decadent peak of the Baroque period in classical music in such illustrious centres of culture as Venice, Bologna and Naples.

Josef Mysliveček arrives in Italy to become a famous composer but unlike Mozart he does not rely on anyone royal patron but becomes a more contract composer for various emerging opera companies in Italy during the 1760’s and 1770’s.

Director Petr Vaclav cleverly captures with illumination the excess and drama of the Baroque Opera world in 18th century Italy when wealthy nobleman had composers in their power while the noblewomen and Opera divas were all trying to seduce the composer amidst temptations of candlelit orgies and outrageous theatre antics.

For Mysliveček was truly captivated by the excessively emotional and decadent Italians especially the King of Naples. It was mainly the Opera divas that had the composer working furiously to please them and those wealthy patrons that kept him afloat in Italy after he abandons his family back in Prague. For a hard working Czech composer like Mysliveček in the 18th century, Italy was seen as an illustrious and expensive country, complete with cruelty and dazzling splendour.

The divas in question are Caterina Gabrielli wonderfully played by Italian actress Barbara Ronchi and Anna Fracassati played by Lana Vlady who is utterly superb as an entirely temperamental opera singer that needs to be slapped before performing before the Royal entourage. There is a brilliant scene when the one diva throws herself out of one of the Opera boxes during the performance of an amazing concerto.

The Bohemian is a lavish film, utterly resplendent with beautiful costumes, complete with commedia del arte masks for the Venetian scenes and the operatic scenes are absolutely divine. While not as brilliant as the Oscar worthy film Amadeus, The Bohemian is as amusing and bizarre as director Yorgos Lanthimos’s Oscar winning film The Favourite.

Vojtech Dyk is excellent as the Bohemian composer whose life starts declining rapidly through promiscuity and gambling. Mysliveček watches helplessly as his most promising career as a classical composer slowly vanishes from recognition while the more talented and supremely famous Mozart rises from the ashes of classical Baroque music in a competitive and debauched European cultural world. Ironically like Mozart, Mysliveček also died destitute.

The Bohemian was the Czech Republic’s official entry for the Best International Feature Film Oscar for the 2023 Academy Awards but unfortunately did not make the cut.

If audiences enjoyed Amadeus or The Favourite then they will love The Bohemian which gets a film rating of 8 out of 10 and is especially suited for fans of Baroque Opera who will find this cinematic interpretation intriguing, shocking and dazzling.

Thrown to the Wolves

The Old Oak

Director: Ken Loach

Cast: Elba Mari, Dave Turner, Claire Rodgerson, Trevor Fox, Chris McGlade, Jordan Louis, Joe Armstrong, Debbie Honeywood, Neil Leiper

Running Time: 1 hour 53 minutes

Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Language: English & Arabic

Festival: European Film Festival

With an authentic screenplay by Paul Laverty, The Old Oak is a brilliant social drama about two vastly different communities being forced to live together in Durham, Northern England in the new film by 87 year old British Neorealist film director Ken Loach who also brought the incredible films Land and Freedom and the Irish drama The Wind that Shakes the Barley starring Cillian Murphy.

After its well received premiere at the 2023 Festival de Cannes, The Old Oak has no film stars in it, but authentic people, both British and Syrian who are forced to live in close proximity with their only neutral space being The Old Oak, a traditional British pub run by TJ wonderfully played with compassion and sensitivity by Dave Turner.

When Yara, a budding photographer and Syrian refugee arrives in England with her family after escaping the cruelty and atrocities imposed on the Syrian population by the Assad regime, herself and fellow Syrians are treated with hostility by the local former mining community, working class people in Northern England who are at once ignorant but also slightly curious at these completely foreign people arriving and living in their once tight knit community.

Yara is wonderfully played by the beautiful Elba Mari who strikes up a friendship with the pub owner TJ who is desperately trying to hang onto his pub, while his regulars in perfect harmony denounce the arrival of the Syrians calling them names and bemoaning the fact that Westminster has decided to dump refugees in Durham and not in Chelsea or central London.

Ken Loach is known for making razor sharp social dramas dealing with current problems with the British working class and has always portrayed a more socialist viewpoint on the working class as they really are, often poverty stricken, weary of foreigners and salt of the earth people whose community bonds bind them together in mutual distrust of any outsiders.

Screenwriter Paul Laverty gets the pub banter down perfectly of the local regulars at The Old Oak especially conveying the significance of the traditional British pub as the centre of the community and an icon of British culture.

Yara keenly uses the lens of a beautiful camera, which her detained father gave her before they fled Syria to capture the significance of the Syrians arriving in Northern England in 2016.

Director Ken Loach, previous winner of the Palm d’Or for I, Daniel Blake and The Wind that Shakes the Barley is adept at providing a significant film The Old Oak about two different communities fighting to find a neutral space, a venue where they can eat together so that they can stay together.

Ironically, during his highly impressive film career, director Ken Loach has had a bigger following in Europe than in the UK, but his films are always worth watching as he awakens the viewer to social issues which often do not make entertaining film content: xenophobia, cruelty, impoverishment and bigotry.

As a fine example of British Neorealism, The Old Oak is an absorbing tale of two people that find common ground and in doing so draw their respective communities together despite the desperate situation both communities face.

Gritty and authentic, The Old Oak is a clever film, socially insightful and extremely well written and directed, it is worth seeing especially to glimpse a side of Britain which is not mainstream.

The Old Oak, one of Ken Loach’s more complex social dramas gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10. Highly recommended viewing.

Death in the Music Room

A Haunting in Venice

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Tina Fey, Michelle Yeoh, Jamie Dornan, Riccardo Scarmarcio, Camille Cottin, Jude Hill, Kyle Allen, Emma Laird, Ali Khan 

Running Time: 1 hour 43 minutes

Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Based upon the bestselling Agatha Christie novel Hallowe’en Party published in 1969, screenwriter Michael Green adapts the murder mystery for director Kenneth Branagh’s new film A Haunting In Venice starring an ensemble cast including Belfast stars Jamie Dornan and Jude Hill plus Oscar winner Michelle Yeoh (Everything, Everywhere all at Once).

So let’s set the scene: a séance on Halloween at a haunted palace in Venice in 1947. What could possibly go wrong?

Famed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is lured to another complex murder mystery by the ambitious writer Ariadne Oliver superbly played with dashes of wit by comedy star Tina Fey to a séance hosted by the doomed Opera star Rowena Drake expertly played with a crisp British accent by Yellowstone star Kelly Reilly (Pride and Prejudice, Flight).

The Femme Fatale Rowena Drake has a host of eclectic guests over for the séance in a bid to bring back the spirit of her dead daughter who drowned in the Venetian canal a year ago. Poirot suspects a far more scientific yet murky plot is afoot despite various inexplicable terrifying occurrences and sightings of potential ghosts.

When the psychic Mrs Reynolds appears with a cloak and a Venetian mask, trouble starts brewing as she expertly assembles her guests in a bid to conjure up the spirit of Rowena’s dead child, but tragedy strikes when not one but two murders occur around midnight on Halloween.

Unlike the dazzling Death on the Nile, Branagh choses a more atmospheric look for A Haunting in Venice taking all his visual clues from classic film noir, with dark shots of the floating city and all the allusions to what Venice as a city represents cinematically: forbidden desire, unfathomable motives and beauty which is deceptive and dangerous.

Branagh keeps the action tight and his ensemble cast including Camille Cottin as Oleg Seminoff and Italian star Riccardo Scamarcio (John Wick 3, Burnt) as corrupt policeman Vitale Portfoglio, all perform perfectly in their roles.

A Haunting in Venice is an extremely dark film, making the entire narrative very murky and difficult to distinguish much like the real motives of the murderer. Branagh possibly had a constrained budget compared to the lavish two previous films: Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile as most of this film takes place in the haunted mansion.

Claustrophobic and scary, A Haunting in Venice is tonally brilliant and fortunately saved by some intelligent screen chemistry between Tina Fey and Kenneth Branagh and will appeal to all those that love a stylish murder mystery. Audiences should look out for an entirely creepy performance by Jude Hill as a precocious boy Leopold Ferrier reading the American Gothic writer Edgar Allan Poe while the other kids are trick or treating.

With richly dark colours like black, red and grey, A Haunting in Venice is pure film noir with a creepy twist and gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10.  

The Duckling & The Lizard


Director: Lukas Dhont

Cast: Eden Dambrine, Gustav De Waele, Emilie Dequenne, Lea Drucker, Igor van Dressel, Kevin Janssens

Running Time: 1 hour 44 minutes

Film Rating: 8 out of 10

Language: Flemish with English Subtitles

Festival: European Film Festival 2023

Belgian director Lukas Dhont follows up his 2018 film Girl, with an emotionally complex film Close starring an excellent Eden Dambrine as a teenage schoolboy Leo whose childhood friendship with Remi played by Gustav de Waele goes from being extremely close to being exceptionally difficult as both boys enter high school in contemporary Belgium and experience different feelings.

Dhont whose film Close was nominated for the Best International Film at the 2023 Oscars representing Belgium packs his skilful and emotionally taut storyline into an uncomfortable gaze. Most of the film is shot in extreme close up particularly the opening scenes featuring Remi and Leo as they are childhood friends who spend all their waking hours’ together, playing imaginary games against the so-called enemies and spending all their time at Remi’s house with his mother Sophie, a nurse watching on happily.

In a radical shift in circumstances and as Leo and Remi start navigating the treacherous teenage years of high school, Leo yearns to fit into a bigger crowd at school and as a result of bullying knowingly distances himself from Remi, who doesn’t have the emotional capacity to understand why his best friend has started ghosting him.

Close is expertly shot with that casual European nonchalance which gradually draws the viewer into an absolutely poignant and gut-wrenching film. This top class drama, a razor sharp analysis of young human beings in transition in that tricky stage of puberty when they are attempting to deal with complex relationships and ever shifting feelings.

Leo is suddenly thrust into a morally uncomfortable situation one in which he questions his own version of who he wants to be while trying to make amends.

Co-written by Lukas Dhont, Close not only refers to close friendships or bullying but the rather messy dynamic of family relationships and how children are socialized differently, particularly boys who are brought up to be tough, competitive and resilient. Any sign of weakness is seen to be an opportunity for exploitation.

Close is an absolutely heart wrenching and thoroughly human story about the consequences of treating someone cruelly and the social effects of bullying. Eden Dambrine dominates the story in this riveting and psychologically scarring film about cruelty, unarticulated feelings and redemption.

Close gets a film rating of 8 out of 10 and is highly recommended viewing about complex issues that need to be discussed intelligently. A superb film.

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