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.



Juliet, Naked (2018)


‘Juliet, Naked’ premiered in January this year at the Sundance Film Festival and it couldn’t be more of a Sundance flick; the charming aspects and the unlikely romance are right in the wheelhouse of indie darlings and on the most part, this Jesse Peretz feature works thanks to the effortless matching of its lead actors.

Annie Platt (Rose Byrne) is stuck in a seaside town thanks to boyfriend Duncan Thomson (Chris O’Dowd), some of her resentment is due to her job but some boils down to Duncan’s love of a rock star named Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), whose music Annie finds intolerable. One day she receives an email from the mysterious musician himself and they begin a 100/1 relationship.

Throughout this darling song of a movie there are a rare couple of comedic moments and though it’s not as outright funny as certain scenes had room to be, what works much better are the dramatic notes that are lyrically added to the appealing narrative. This is a film, almost like a melodic tale of love and regrets, parenting and loneliness and these themes are handled in a great heart-felt manner.

When you have source material from Nick Hornby; novelist of High Fidelity and About a Boy and screenwriter of ‘Brooklyn’ then you know to expect a romantic tale with plenty to say and thematic weight to keep the characters going to their end goals. This adaptation from the 2009 book of the same name works in the sense that you feel a faint smile on your face appear as you watch the relationship of Tucker and Annie grow. The warming sensation of a feel-good film can’t be beaten.

Here is perhaps where I am being critically unfair but the similarly driven ‘Hearts Beat Loud’, also premiering at the same Sundance, managed to capture a great mix of light comedy, fantastic songs, romance and family emotion whereas this more recent release doesn’t quite. There’s something not entirely perfect about this film which I felt the Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons music based movie reached closer to.

Rose Byrne is utterly sensational as Annie; the emotive range is great and she really makes us like her character. She lovingly handles every beat of the journey Annie goes on and the way she performs the disappointments of her life and love for 15 years are really believable. Ethan Hawke as this apparently seminal music star, gives grit and reflective thought to a man clearly unused to the extended family he has and the role as a father he’s meant to live up to. The moments between him and Byrne, whether through email voice-over or in person are touching and yes that word again, charming.

So whilst ‘Juliet, Naked’ might not be as endearing as other rom-coms, there’s a strong character duo to watch and the bittersweet indie aspect of their connection more than make up for the likelihood of its forgettable nature.


Train to Busan (2016)


One of the most exhilarating films I’ve ever seen, bloody and yet beautiful, this is a zombie film with thrills and skills that I wish I’d got to see on the big screen but damn am I happy I’ve seen it anyway…finally!

As a mysterious virus breaks out, workaholic and not so parental father Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) concedes to his daughters birthday wish to go to Busan to see her mother. A host of other passengers board at Seoul but unfortunately an infected woman also joins them leaving their train journey to become a fight for survival.

Honestly, this is probably the best zombie movie I’ve seen in a long time, the rage like virus shoots up the film with a crazed adrenaline which is hugely entertaining to watch but more than this and thus why the film is so good, is that there’s a heartfelt emotion and believable set of characters along for the ride too. Zombie killing and frantic running aside, this is something that grips you because of the relationships between the passengers, how they act and the choices they make create a truly thrilling and emotive story.

Yeon Sang-ho directs this with such care and attention, there’s a skill to making this chaotic zombie outbreak feel less than chaos. It has an artistry and skilled choreographed quality that ‘World War Z’ could only dream to achieve. There are numerous moments in this Park Joo-suk scripted delight that captures you and keeps you on the edge of your seat. It’s the rooted developing bond between father and daughter that is special and come the end of the movie leaves you really bound to the film almost teary eyed.

Jang Young-gyu’s music for the movie is a rip-roaring wonder, it’s a score that manages to excite and keep up great tension in places then simmer down for more nuanced moments of tenderness. The confined claustrophobia of setting a majority of this story on a train is shot really well, from shuttling tracking shots to scary overhead shots crammed with the white-eyed undead. Pretty much everything in this film is masterfully set up and executed leaving the audience to watch a dramatically non-stop zombie genre outing that actually feels realistic.

Gong Yoo is a great presence as this obsessive funds manager who gets a well realised character arc that makes him a likable guy. Ma Dong-seok plays a hench father to be that gives the film some aspect of humour and plenty of bad-assery. Kim Su-an is the little daughter Soo-an who gets many a chance to shine and demonstrate wonderful acting skills, more impressive considering she was 10 at the time of acting. Kim Eui-sung gifts the film its human villain, he performs convincingly that you want to punch him in the face.

The characters and the story are top notch stuff, making this a zombie feature like nothing else before. I’d highly recommend this to everyone; it’s tense, engaging and remarkable.


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 Duke of Burgundy (2014)


Appearing at the Toronto International Film Festival last year before hitting the UK market in 2015, I had heard a lot about this film in the last several months and got myself round to seeing what it’s all about not too long ago. Some had said it’s the better choice to Fifty Shades others commented on it’s unique storytelling, I can see both but also come in feeling a little lost to the weird texture presented.

Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) is a maid in the home of Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen). If the younger Evelyn doesn’t complete tasks properly or to Cynthia’s satisfaction she is subjected to punishment but through the film we see that this strained relationship isn’t exactly a one way street.

I really like the beginning and the way we come into the environment. The dappled sun, butterflies and bicycles. It feels utterly European and bursting with a warm nature yet it somehow tingles with a mysterious darkness at the same time. I also enjoyed how the pairing changes once we realise the truth of what is going on. The character development and relationship drama is pitched brilliantly and you buy into this odd yet clearly passionate couple.

Peter Strickland writes and directs a genuinely interesting movie that deals with eroticism and behaviour in a detailed and artistic way. The dialogue between the two is fraught when necessary and very believable in the issues they face playing the slave/master routine, E.L James should really take any writing course just so she knows how people speak to each other and what constitutes engaging talk.

Strickland also directs with an eye for not losing any substance, obviously this kind of narrative could have been lost under another director keen to show off the arty farty mode of filmography but he doesn’t, yes there are still weird little moments that make it feel like a foreign feature even though it isn’t, but overall he makes sure the story of love and passion is never lost to the wind.

It has to be said that the music through the film helps a lot in creating that sense of intrigue and realistic relationship ideas. Cat’s Eyes are an alt pop duo and they give this feature a fantastic otherworldly and calm soundtrack. Once again, the opening is such a great introduction to the world because of it’s look and it’s music. There’s also a haunting vibe to the vocals that softly pulls you into this world unlike the often pathetic songs used in ’50 Shades of Grey’ that seemed more about getting big names than thinking how the music could fit the plot.

There’s perhaps too long a focus on the butterfly side of proceedings, their classes are fine but go on too long, the shot of slow motion butterflies against a black screen doesn’t seem to cut away for an eternity providing no real weight or metaphor to the film. I must also say I found the film often lulling in the points I expected to be gripped.

The two females are fantastic and this film stomps all over the Bechdel Test having only women, speaking about subjects aside from men. It’s refreshing to see a movie do it and it shows that a good film without men is possible…shock horror! D’Anna plays the curious Evelyn really well, a tinge of youth and sadness in her eye as she’s the maid but a more assured domineering posture settles as she takes charge and wants more items for the house. Knudsen is the more rewarding of the two to watch I felt, her character becomes great to watch as she struggles to face the relationship she’s becoming a part of.

I would recommend it to certain friends and for people wanting to see something different, it’s not entertaining or wholly stupendous but it’s a gorgeous and well told story about passion.


The Escort (2015)


Hardly racy but very cheesy, this 2015 movie about sex, addiction and relationships is tame on every level and though it doesn’t harm the senses to watch, it isn’t exactly a thrilling one to sit through either. It has some relatively funny moments in it and the two main stars pull off their pained characters with a sly wink that makes it alright.

Late twenties Mitch (Michael Doneger) lives alone, becomes out of work and is super keen on a Tinder like sex app. He crosses paths with high end escort Victoria/Natalie (Lyndsy Fonseca) who becomes a muse of his as he tries to gain a new journalist position. She too finds use in him as a helpful presence in case her clients turn on her, through this their connection grows.

For a movie squarely honed in on sex and addictive behaviour, this movie is more than fairly weak. I know it doesn’t need to be hardcore or explicit but even the story itself about chasing women over a mobile dating app and escort servicing is done limply. It’s not even saved by being at the other end of the spectrum and appearing classy. It’s just slap bang in the middle and all rather pedestrian with cheesy plot elements leading the way.

Written by main actor Doneger and Brandon A. Cohen, this screenplay slides along nicely and has some funny moments but it’s all so predictable. It fills the romantic genre criteria so easily and doesn’t even seem to try and be bold or different. It’s an easy watch, it’s engaging to a degree and the comedic elements do help it in places but apart from that it’s an underwhelming movie that could have been something to get your teeth into. I know it’s romantic but having a darker line blurring into the plot may have aided the film more.

Kyle Klutz captures some shots with finesse within the movie, the wall where they meet at a car park is shot with a wide lens and far away giving it decorative scope that jumped out as a cool frame. The nighttime scenes are neat also. Director Will Slocombe doesn’t really tackle the subject matter of the film, it’s filmed nicely and each scenes fits well in the place it arrives but there’s no fantastic touch to his directing.

The comedy touches save the film from being something that you’d hope to never see. From intruding bathroom attendants to pot smoking dads, the movie has a sarcastic and dry edge to it at times that does raise a smile even if the serious side of proceedings does little more than follow a basic step by step guide of movie rules. It’s most definitely formulaic but at least it doesn’t fail at following rules otherwise that would be hilariously awful.

Lyndsy Fonseca is a delight to watch, assured, ballsy and fun when she needs to be, she does light up the screen as the confident yet slightly cracked escort. It is a character you can buy into as no doubt there’s thousands of women just like her that would behave in the same way. Fonseca 100% sells the self selling Natalie. Michael Doneger is a likable enough lead and has enough vulnerability to his wayward ways that you don’t hate him. I prefer the interest of Natalie’s story to his though. Bruce Campbell rocks up as astrological believing dad to Michael and steals the scenes with the fact it’s Bruce Campbell!

This is a movie that I wouldn’t recommend but I wouldn’t flick away if it happened to come on a distant TV channel on a rainy day. It’s easy to watch and has some interesting characters sold really well by good actors.


The Seven Year Itch (1955)


Running and jumping as much as he could with the George Axelrod source material, Billy Wilder manages to create a smartly funny film about lust and romance. It could go further but then the constraints of movie studios left him cutting out moments from the play. It never feels sparse, jolted or missing something, the mid 50’s movie is rife with continuous subtle smut, passion and comedic farce.

Seeing off his wife and son for the summer, as he continues to work in the heat until September; Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) goes home that night and recieves a pot-crashing welcome to a new gorgeous upstairs neighbour (Marilyn Monroe). Reading into the loss of attention in marriage and the ‘seven year itch’ in relationships, he fears his wild dreams of magnitude for women will see him having to fight off this blonde beauty. As the summer draws on and The Girl comes round, Sherman battles feelings concerning this new figure in his life.

The screenplay by Wilder and Axelrod is stuffed with Sherman nattering away to himself. It becomes more annoying in places and feels like a heavy handed tool of exposition than anything but you can forgive it slightly as you know it’s coming from that inner voice backdrop of the play it’s adapted from. The opening narration is a good lead into the subject of the plot and gives a light touch to the allusion of men being sex-driven from Native-American times to now. The numerous stories told throughout are comedic and add to the characters very nicely, rounding them out more, from Sherman’s disposition of imagination and tension in the face of this new woman to The Girl’s bimbo-like tale of bathtub entrapment selling her ditzy and billboard like appearance.

From a Saul Bass opening title sequence to the fades and studio based sets, this film does come across as more than dated but it’s not something to wholly weaken the movie. It would be more open and explicit nowadays but I prefer the charm in this played down back and forth. The play did actually write them having sex but in the film it works that Sherman sticks to his values and even in worried dips he keeps to his marital bond. That’s my opinion at least.

The main humour stems from men and their playing away in the summertime, all these working men turn into sex hungry boys like dogs with their tongues lolling about. An awful lot of this male based comedy ties in with the character of Sherman who fumbles about a lot in the wake of this new glowing presence. His visions are on point and the over acted accents of the piano seduction is brilliant to showcase how a lot of men would see their plans working out. It’s a fearful active imagination that makes ample room for a lot of comedy scenarios.

The farce of the home setting is straight out of a play also. The stronger elements of the film are when we’re in the living room or bedroom seeing events unfold. The roller-skate introduction is a fine prop to make us wait for the next trip and expectant pratfall. The bookcase is a farcical obstacle for Sherman’s desire to smoke in the absence of his wife. Then there’s bad breakfasts, paddle problems and a disastrous duet. These farcical qualities with an odd yet cool wink to namedropping Monroe make the film zing from start to end.

Tom Ewell comes from the Broadway version and gifts Sherman that nervous twitch very much needed for the character. Ewell demonstrates the root of masculine behaviour in the test of marriage and the urge of base instinct. He works from little cricks in the neck to reaching peaks of nerves in the lustful height of playing Chopsticks. Aside from that instantly iconic billowing dress imagery, Marilyn Monroe brings that bombshell look and puts a smile on your face as the bubbly girl of the story. There’s no question she’s adding to the sweltering seductive summer setting but she can act the young wanted female well and isn’t just a dumb blonde, she knows she’s desired but she’s respectful to Sherman’s shaking strength to stay with his wife and Monroe acts that balance well.

This is more than just a play of temptation; it’s textured better than an interesting driftwood formation as you see both characters come to appreciate the other during the well timed, scripted and acted comedy about flustered flights of fancy.