Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2019)


Forgery has never looked so gently compelling but ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’ is out and about in New York to show how unexpectedly sweet and deliciously sour it can all be.

Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) has a NY Times Best Seller book under her belt but has fallen under writers block and other self-made hard times. Whilst trying to compile notes for a new novel she unearths letters sent by the person she wants to write about. This sets in motion a plan to spin money by forging letters from other writers and along with Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), Israel gets into her groove once more.

The film is lovingly layered with spot on wit, never over-laden to breaking point, the screenplay has a fair few amounts of razor sharp insults and sniping but it’s still a film that is generally a pleasant watch, like the director has managed to settle her audience in to this calming, jazzy ambience of comedy and drama. It’s like you’re watching this talented yet hard to reach writer figure of Israel, not from a cinema but on a plush armchair with atmospheric lighting setting the mood in comfortable surroundings.

It is also true that it can feel like a biographical picture more like a lazy Sunday afternoon watch because it never changes gears and it takes a bit of time to warm to the aggressive nature of Lee as a person but once she begins her typewriter hustling and forms a bond with flamboyant Jack, the movie becomes a much more investing product.

The film does well in making Lee Israel and her fraudulent letters a rather interesting matter, it’s a story truly deserving of the spotlight and they don’t squander it. It’s made me want to find out more about her and I’m sure it’ll have the same impact on others. ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’ is a great commentary on the eagerness to lap up literary content and buy into the world of the writer, any unheard of material is ripe for the picking without any due thought which makes her actions all the more understandable. The writers and director never paint Lee out to be some unholy crook but more a mildly unpleasant, anxiety-ridden alcoholic with a mouth on her…so like all writers!

Melissa McCarthy brings amazing presence to the film and silences any critics to her more usual shouty comedy flicks, which was me included. Like in ‘St. Vincent’, McCarthy shines by proving great dramatic chops that she clearly has within her. Richard E. Grant is purely enigmatic with a cheeky smile helping him bring Jack to spritely life. The two actors bounce off each other so well, the characters they play clearly sharing like-minded souls in bittersweet humour and sadness. The pair of performers play the relationship beautifully with a radiant spark flaring up between them every time they’re on screen together.

It’s an intriguing film and very close to being a joyful watch. The witticisms and emotional current that carry the film are wonderfully balanced.



Fishbowl California (2018)


A film showing people stuck in their own bubble and almost like a goldfish, they merrily swim around their own filth, not noticing or caring about the people and world around them, until of course that could change.

Rodney (Steve Olson) is an unmotivated individual who ends up losing his girlfriend Tess (Katrina Bowden). After this he winds up meeting June (Katherine Cortez), who enjoys alcohol and pushing others away, but these two crude figures find some weird connection and help each other out.

This is the first full length film from Michael A. MacRae and he definitely captures the sun-soaked portrait of California and gives it a semi vulgar filter in showing the rut people can get into, so much so that they lose everything. In the writing there are soft touches of comedy to be had, little moments like leaving a laptop in a coffee shop or a car trunk not closing, all add up to the pathetic character building of Rodney.

‘Fishbowl California’ definitely works better nearing the end as the dramatic side of June and her condition begins to escalate…it gets higher….it doesn’t deescalate! A moment seen after a passage of time where a character stumbles into a certain scenario is unexpected and quite cleverly done I must say. It’s a predictable narrative of souls randomly finding each other and fixing their flaws but it’s watchable.

The film never ever drags which is obviously a blessing and the interest is sustained mostly down to some assured directing and the performances of June, her daughter and a whip smart kid punctuating scenes with knowledge beyond his years. The biggest issue I had with the film was Rodney as a character, he’s just impossible to root for. Some could call it bad luck but I view it as his own making. He complains about everything going wrong but it’s fault that it did and he doesn’t even change come the end. By taking a peek at the money in his wallet instead of perhaps enjoying watching June cycle away shows no journey at all. The tagline states to be a better person but Rodney still feels like a man-child who would drift into laziness like before.

Olson; then is great at portraying this slob who never seems to learn. There’s a convincing idiocy added to his performance which works. Katrina Bowden is ideal as the all too perfect Tess making you wonder what she sees in Rodney before the film nicely reveals her flaws. Richard Riehle has a small but entertaining scene that plumbs to comedic waters in showcasing the funny pipes of plumbing and further illustrating Rodney’s ineptitude. Cortez is fantastic, in a fishbowl of her own drinking and being rude to neighbourhood neighbourinos. She gets the biggest change and Cortez acts this arc magnificently, plus she has some nice scenes with her hard working daughter played by Jenna Willis.

It might not be an outstanding movie but it retains an odd charm and 100% shows that if you have a film-making dream then go for it. Everyone has a story and studios aren’t always necessary to get your vision out there. As MacRae importantly states – “Get some friends, get a script, and make a movie.”


Z for Zachariah (2015)


Nicely brimming with anxiety, this science fiction apocalyptic-like drama is further helped by the performances and an interesting magnifying glass placed over strained bonds.

Farmer and apparent last human Ann Burden (Margot Robbie) has got used to her routine until one day she sees another person walking along in a radiation suit. After helping him out of a life endangering bathe, John Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is invited back to the farm where they live together and a possible relationship grows until Caleb (Chris Pine) turns up and puts a tense spin on the dynamics.

What I liked about this film quite a lot is the grounded feel, it certainly inhabits a small scale of a bigger more devastated world and within this there’s a great focused intensity on character that is ripe for theatre set drama. To be honest, a lot of the story involved feels and sounds like something that would work extremely well on stage, just the 3 actors for a start gives it that impression.

Craig Zobel directs rather well, he makes sure that the story keeps ticking but all the while there’s burning moments of danger, these anxious steps speak volumes about the rivalry between the two men and the possible consequences that could arise. The parallel between Loomis on a teetering rock and Burden slowly shoving a glass of her table is a great moment of no dialogue but a lot is said, making you wonder what happens to Loomis during that point, this perfect touch of mystery also occurs in a better way surrounding Caleb.

The relationships between the 3 people are written strongly, each of the men are worrying figures that come into the innocent, religious life of Ann, and though Loomis may be kind at first he is not without flaws and his jealousy runs rife leading to the dramas that follow. It this trio of deconstructing human behaviour that becomes compelling, at least for me it did.

Margot Robbie provides a beautiful performance, lost by the welcoming of these new figures but still trying to be strong for her father, her faith and herself. She looks surprisingly plain which is something for Robbie and you feel sorry for her. Ejiofor can dominate the screen nicely and brings a brooding sense of unease during his jealous spells. Likewise Chris Pine, in his more Hollywood poster boy appearance, he plays arrogant well in thinking he can swoop in on Ann.

If you have patience and can appreciate slow burning character dramas, then this is a film I’d recommend. It has a fantastic cast, a quite alarming end and a great look on a world with and without hope.


The Accidental Spy (2001)


Don’t let the oddly constructed poster above fool you, this isn’t a cheesy and American explosive spy movie however it might look. This film has darker threads in it for Chinese superstar Jackie Chan to cope with. It is a pretty bad plot but the action moments more than make up for it I feel.

Two groups are after a new powerful drug and of course the CIA, Asian police forces and undercover detectives are out to stop them get their hands on it. Jackie Chan in the version I watched plays Jackie Chan who is a fit sports goods salesman who happens to feel intuition about troubling circumstances leading him to save the day in the shopping centre gaining attention that he could be a valuable asset as a spy.

Ivy Ho writes this martial arts spy movie with a keen sense of the meatier more entertaining moments but the filler in between is short lived and rushed. The characters don’t really connect and the main reasoning of who Chan is feels lost or dumb or perhaps both. We don’t really get to see more of who the normal Chan is/was and we don’t have enough moments to grasp the spy mission he is going along on. This film could have done with more detail or even a longer runtime to let us understand more of the narrative and make it a better spy plot than just a below average one.

It’s almost as if the director didn’t want the spy genre overshadowing Jackie’s skills at action either. Teddy Chan neatly exposes us to more exhilarating fights but the pieces in between are glossed over in a drab way that don’t live up to Bond or Bourne genre tropes. Sure there’s the globe-trotting and shadowy figures that may or may not be who they say there are but that feels like less than the focus for the film which is a disappointment because having more of an engaging spy plot run through would have been different for Jackie and for us also.

An example of the rushed attempt at being a spy thriller is having Chan trying to find information. It views like a plain Mission Impossible montage as he tries discovering things and playing his dead father’s game. The introduction of Yong to proceedings also clouds up the plot as we’re meant to believe that Chan cares for or loves her but there’s never enough time to buy into that relationship.

The action is great entertainment though and does make the film watchable and enjoyable. Jackie Chan comments that Buster Keaton was an influence and that can truly be felt in the defibrillator response, what with his brilliant clowning movements after the shocks. The taxi fight sequence is energetic but short-lived which is annoying. Though the spectacle of Chan using objects around him is found in a longer scene for amusing visuals of him utilising bubble blowing defence moves or handy tools at his disposal in the Turkish bazaar. The film has a surprising dark touch with blood, deaths and terrorist threats, addiction also plays a part for Yong but the film still gives us the gleeful humour we expect from Jackie Chan flicks.

Jackie Chan himself is as good as usual, the dedication he gives to the stunts makes everything more real. Even a non-dangerous moment where he twirls up into clothed disguise is done in such a cool way by the actor. He has a cheeky smile that lights up almost every scene even if they’re not all as exciting as you’d expect. Vivian Hsu as the damaged Yong tries her best at being an interesting character but they don’t give her much to do so you don’t ever feel for her. Eric Tsang as the mysterious Manny has a good stab at being comedic and layered as a character cropping up from time to time and he does well though that spy angle as mentioned isn’t cared about as much as letting the action do the talking.

A rushed shot that bounces off the target of being a good spy movie but it slam dunks for Jackie and his always fantastic action persona. Watchable but not overly recommended.


Spectre (2015)


Bond is back and with bells on as this latest installment in the long running franchise clearly shows off. Blown up buildings, car chases and seducing women all get ticked off as the blonde Bond deals with his own personal mission to connect the dots of his last three outings.

Whilst on a mission in Mexico City, James Bond (Daniel Craig) uncovers some talk of a planned explosion, the Pale King and knows some darker thread is being woven. He journeys from between London, Rome, Austria and Morocco to come face to face with the man behind the deaths and the mystery, one figure of his past named Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) who threatens Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) and the entire MI6 00 program.

In directing terms, this new adventure for James Bond is a treat, the scenes are dealt with well on the most part. There’s a fluidity in the scenes with conversation and the more upbeat sequences are hand-held and shaky to fit with that expected Bourne trend of late. The more artistic and somewhat beautiful side of Sam Mendes and his directorial stance comes back as it did with ‘Skyfall’, though thankfully this time it seems less pretentious and ‘Dark Knight Rises’. The shadowing helps the spookiness of this spy action flick and the broad scope of each location is perfect patterning for the Bond collective.

It’s like a film of two halves, with the first half setting up a good mood and including brilliantly orchestrated set pieces, yet these well stitched tapestries become frayed as we drift into silly moments for the latter part of this movie. A lot of this comes down to the writing but the negatives also come booming to the screen because of this attempt at darkness being subverted by the quite campy feel of older 007 features. Wit and one liners feel right in the Connery/Moore era but after a while that loses fun when delivered by the clearly grittier take from Craig’s version.

Without spoilers for the people that have been even later than me to see this, the direction of the villain is clear from the title alone and for a nemesis so big and synonymous with the Bond world, it could have been taken on a darker path but the connections created feel so dumb and half arsed that this creation of the man with the plan (and the white cat) loses serious impact. It starts feeling like a scheme of the 60’s/70’s as he attempts to take down the entire organisation and hide out in large bases.

I mean, it took four people to muster up the screenplay, that conflict of ideas/personalities may very well be why the story feels a tad messy at times. Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan and Jez Butterworth give the movie some great moments, for example the back and forth dialogue between 007 and Q is sublime and well executed, the stuffy yet driven M is necessary and Oberhauser’s set up and initial revelation is interestingly carved out but descends into panto villain land before too long which is a true shame.

Hoyte van Hoytema must be commended for his stunning cinematography work. Each and every location convey the perfect atmosphere, even dreary London has that grand impression of authority which works for the unsettling crumbling of it by the final act. Also, one of the biggest pre title sequences for the Bond collection is brilliant, the look of the Day of the Dead parade and the ensuing carnage that follows is epic and engaging. The car chase through Rome is perhaps uninspiring but still pumped full of adrenaline and these are captured with stunning eyes for action thrills for the paying audience, Bond fans or otherwise.

One of the major travesties of this film is the writing of character, Bond becomes less of a hero than a war machine than normal, but heck that’s expected for this rebel secret agent, the true outrage is Madeleine Swann who quickly becomes one of the worst written characters in my memory. I feel bad for the hugely talented Lea Seydoux of whom I adore. Swann at first is frosty, capable and assured but then turns into a wreck, a desperate damsel in distress that seems to forget all her strength, determination and experience gifted by her father and her years. The train scene as she asks what they do next, cutting to the following antics are just unbelievably painful and that’s where the film starts getting bad in my opinion.

There’s some good ideas throughout, Mr. Hinx as the updated Oddjob is unbreakable and has squeamish plans for his metal tipped thumbs, the many limbed structure of Spectre is believable enough to tie the other villains together and the beginning of the Austrian chase works really well. The whole reasoning behind who Oberhauser is to Bond is awful, the drilling torture scene has no impact really and overall the movie is too long.

Daniel Craig delivers charm and macho confidence as he has done in every other Bond outing, so though it’s not the acting role that dreams are made of, he’s still convincing as the lead spy and the man to go to or fall in love with. Lea Seydoux as mentioned becomes a usual one dimensional Bond girl but demonstrates her emotion and talent before that comes to pass. She at least has more to do than cameo role of Monica Bellucci who could have been played by anyone. Ralph Fiennes steps in as the new M and does what Fiennes does best, as in being in charge but not really and giving that likable grimace to the boss. Christoph Waltz is underused but I’m sure he will be used again and I liked him in this role, it suits him and gave enough chills to the part. Ben Whishaw is fast becoming the best aspect of these latest films and I’m happy with that fact.

24 movies down and Bond is still happily chalking off victims and ladies as if he’s never away. This is a much more entertaining movie than ‘Skyfall’, some may say it’s not better but weirdly I disagree, I still am in the, probably empty camp of not liking that movie much. ‘Spectre’ has awesome visuals, striking vision from Mendes and all out Spectre-cle.


Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)


A fully energetic spy movie with fierce fun to be found in its send up of James Bond aspects. The story based on a Mark Millar/ Dave Gibbons comic is as sharp as the suits on display in the Kingsman tailor shop and the action is stylish, with extra energetic influence delivered by Matthew Vaughn.

(vague spoilers will follow in this review) 

Suave gentleman spy Harry Hart (Colin Firth) is part of a well ordered spy unit titled the Kingsman Secret Service and after the death of a fellow knight, Hart and others have to find a candidate to go through tests to fill the absent spot. Smart yet petty criminal Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is Hart’s pick and soon missing parachutes and flooding rooms aren’t as bad as stopping a villain with a plan to cull the worlds population.

It’s a superbly smart screenplay by Matthew Vaughn and collaborator Jane Goldman. They mix spy genre tropes into their own narrative and add twists and tasty treats along the way in this non-stop action thrill ride. The send-ups aren’t forced and work into the plot really well, they’re also done lovingly with a clear and smiling nod to the films of old that influence this cheerful movie.

Adding in specific themes of celebrity culture is a stroke of genius, of course apt for the times we live in now and as The Sun newspaper front covers adorn Hart’s office, it’s befitting and sadly true hearing how a lot of people only like hearing of skin-deep news, the major important stories take a back seat…past page 3 to be even more current. The celebrity obsession continues in this story as the villain of the piece seems keen to keep big named figures safe from his plan. The dropping in of turns in the road make the film continuously entertaining, the threat of Valentine’s scheme coming back time and time again leading countries of the world fighting to the death as Eggsy attempts to prove himself as Kingsman material.

The Bond jokes are perfect, from little funny moments such as Eggsy ordering a martini in his own special way to huge parallels of spy movie plot lines. The way in which Valentine adored the classic Bond movies, as do I, is neatly explored. This film has callings of Bond and then does its own thing with them also. A major and actually shocking surprise comes as Valentine skips a typical Bond spiel. The mirroring doesn’t stop there as the baddie has his own trademark like Blofeld’s scar or Le Chiffre’s bleeding eye, Richmond Valentine has a vocal impediment and a vomiting reaction to blood. The henchman act once taken by Oddjob or thighs of thunder Xenia Onatopp is filled by metal legs of terror, Gazelle. The final setting even resembles the hollowed out base vibe loved by SPECTRE. As I said, this film plays on the massive series of Bond but then adds its own unique touch which is great. The guy getting the girl is flipped and an expected romance never happens as the growing chav hero ends on an eye-winking moment akin to Connery in ‘Dr No’ or Moore in ‘Moonraker’.

The actual direction of this movie is stunning, the sequences are boldly done and all work in never making the film feel long for a run time of 129 minutes. Camera movements are frenetic for fights making it feel more real in similarity to Bourne handicam. The camera seems to bounce, zoom in and out and dosey do pumping up the action a lot. It comes with that Vaughn touch he showed in ‘Kick-Ass’ and the comic book style is evident. Moments without action are just as great with tension mounting as Eggsy is pushed in his quest to become the new Lancelot. A close up of a pugs face will never try and move you as it does in this film.

Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson get a ten out of ten for their score, it might not be Whiplash standard but it ticks all the boxes for a film of this calibre. Suspense heaps up through the plane dive really making you dread how it’ll play out. A ferocious guitar riffs during a church fight making it so much more thrilling. The music really added to the filmic experience and I guess the IMAX speakers pronounced their work that much better.

Colin Firth breaks his mould in this film, a trend after ‘Before I Go to Sleep’ that I hope he continues. The swearing yet posh act is elevated as he becomes a spy with edge and gleeful heroism of fighting anyone who gets in his way. Taron Egerton gets a big break here and he does fantastic stuff with it. He’s never not likable, the crime angle being one side of his life and you root for him as he comes up against toff prejudice. The journey to his Kingsman world is acted well and looking slightly like a young Firth as the film progresses helps sell the story too. Samuel L. Jackson looks to have tremendous delight in speaking with a devilish lisp as tech baddie Richmond Valentine. The perfect villain to oppose the good persona of the plot.

Stand out fun stylish movie-making that echoes extravagant Bond gadgetry while mixing in its own brand of sinister threat and test of gentlemanly conduct. An exhilarating tour de force that sparkles with jovial over the top violence, spy sophistication and intelligent story craftsmanship. Bravo.


The November Man (2014)


A vague Bond/Bourne spy type thriller here based on a series of ‘November Man’ novels by Bill Granger. It may not do anything spectacular to smash out of the genre and in fact typical settings and spy cliches are a major pitfall but on the whole I enjoyed this film, really I did. It’s quick on the most part, bloody, dark and shows Pierce Brosnan in a more rugged light.

5 years after an incident Montenegro, agent Peter Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan) is retired and in Switzerland, though it isn’t long until some dramatic event calls him back into the game, where he blurs the line between good and bad confronting old partner David Mason (Luke Bracey) to track a missing female and uncover who was behind a bombing. Peter gains the help of case worker Alice (Olga Kurylenko) to try and jump in the lead in finding the missing woman.

It has its predicted twists and turns with the idea of never knowing who to trust and I like that, it’s never overbearing or so out there that the twists become laughable. Yes, high stake political players and dingy cities make for cliched thriller tropes but that’s surely to be expected in this kind of film…right? Well maybe you want it to do something slightly different to reinvent the thriller wheel but you take what you get, especially when this Roger Donaldson movie succeeds in creating tension and delivering on action.

The attempts at Jason Bourne like hand to hand may not be overly thrilling, the only times they try this sort of thing is with a few kicks or knees to a head or with an all too brief mano o mano combat scene between Peter and David. There’s a lot more visceral battle conclusions than I was anticipating, with brutal bloody head-shots and the like scattered amongst the film. Heck, even the very very end of the this movie has a moment such as this and I won’t lie, it made me jump!

There are a number of problems with the film, one annoyance for me was the inclusion of a character with great potential that came to nothing. An apparent trained and deadly female killer who had little screen time and did literally not much at all to demonstrate the awesome power she could have done. She either needed to have been seen more or not at all. After a brilliant fast paced opening twenty minutes or so the film begins to droop. Not a great thing as there aren’t many fast sequences amongst the slower feeling scenes to lift the film from this sag. It’s a little bit dumb and long with things being shown that don’t need to be either because they stretch the running time or we can see the outcome coming before it’s shown. None of the actors apart from Brosnan really get a grip to come out with a glean and bursts of slow motion feel a bit out of place in this kind of movie.

One of the biggest stand outs in this film is the talent of Pierce Brosnan who clearly utilises on his background as one of the James Bonds, he has that danger and charm mixed to perfection and elevates this more so as the ‘November Man’ making you question him as a good or bad guy. One scene in particular where he has the obligatory sitting at a table with valuable victim of enemy’s leads him to a surprising and angry outburst that Brosnan spits with appropriate venom. Olga Kurylenko has a few times to prove she’s not the helpless screaming female, especially when she gets into her more adult Hit-Girl get up but there are a lot of times that she’s there to be helped along by Brosnan’s Peter.

Like I said, I still enjoyed the film for all its faults. It has a suitable of tension, Brosnan is great and it never ever gets dull or boring in story. I can’t see it being a memorable film or doing very well as a series, if it does get the green light for further productions, but for a late night movie to provide some hard edged typical thriller fare, then you’re in the right place.