Moxie: Netflix Film Review

Moxie

While I was watching Moxie, I knew it wasn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea but as a woman and as a feminist, I was a big fan, even though I didn’t agree with all the choices Amy Poehler made. 

The film, directed by Poehler, stars newcomer Hadley Robinson as Vivian, a shy obedient girl who begins to question her school’s tolerance for sexist and misogynistic behaviour when new girl Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Pena) arrives, calls the outdated behaviour out, and refuses to stay quiet about it just to avoid trouble. Inspired by her mum’s rebellious past, Lucy’s attitude, and the boys of the school – led by hot football captain Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenegger) – publishing their annual list ranking the girls, Vivian takes action by creating the zine Moxie anonymously, and this kickstarts a revolution within the school. 

Moxie, based on the book by Jennifer Mathieu, really captures the zeitgeist and the changes society has been going through in recent years, with outdated attitudes and behaviours towards women being called out. It tackles sexism, diversity, bullying, rape, and complicit behaviour – as a lot of the teachers, even Principal Shelly (Marcia Gay Harden), prefer to pretend everything is fine the way it has always been.

I think girls can learn a good lesson here about taking feminism to extremes – Moxie (which becomes an official school club) originally starts off small with little acts that challenge the status quo but when their rebellious actions don’t achieve anything, Vivian gets frustrated and becomes reckless and cruel to almost everybody, with her ruining her friendship with longtime bestie Claudia (Lauren Tsai), and relationships with her feminist, supportive boyfriend Seth (Nico Hiraga) and her mum Lisa (also Poehler). It also shows that feminism can come in many forms and some people can’t or don’t want to be a disrupter, to put their future on the line, for the cause. 

However, I did sometimes think the coming-of-age film tried to take on too much and cover all the topics affecting high school girls today, and it’s impossible to do all that well. The feminism angle was dealt with well, but I didn’t like how the movie handled the rape storyline. It came too close to the end and the revelation didn’t fit in tonally with the spirit of the scene – it wasn’t serious enough – and it had its moment for like 30 seconds and it moved on. I would have rather it wasn’t addressed at all. 

I loved the camaraderie between the Moxie girls, the diverse line-up, and that they were comprised of relative newcomers, with Sydney Park as women’s football captain Kiera being the only familiar face to me. Robinson does well as Vivian, although the character gets annoying towards the end – but that’s the point, she’s about to learn a valuable lesson. The star of the show for me was Pascual-Pena, she had a feisty no-BS attitude and a radiant, captivating presence. Schwarzenegger plays the resident douchebag who just gets more repellant as the film goes on, while there are some lovely men in the mix, from Hiraga as the sweetheart boyfriend and Clark Gregg as Lisa’s new man. I liked Poehler as the tough tattooed feminist single mum and I would have liked more of her. 

Moxie isn’t completely perfect but I enjoyed it and could appreciate what Poehler was trying to achieve. If you’re going in expecting endless laughs, you’ll be disappointed as it’s not that type of film, but I had a good time with it and you just might too. 

Streaming on Netflix from Wednesday 3rd March 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Owners: Film Review

The Owners

As a fan of Maisie Williams, I thought I’d give The Owners – the first film she shot after completing Game of Thrones – a try but I wish I hadn’t bothered. It’s a classic case of a great idea being failed by poor execution.

Williams plays Mary, whose boyfriend Nathan (Ian Kenny) takes her car to use as a getaway vehicle for a burglary so she catches up with him on a bike to scold him for making her late for work and inadvertently gets involved in the scheme too. Nathan, Gaz (Jake Curran), and Terry (Andrew Ellis) wait for Dr. Richard Huggins (Sylvester McCoy) and his wife Ellen (Rita Tushingham) to go out and they break into their mansion to steal their money. They’re unable to unlock the safe so decide to wait for the Hugginses to return so they can forcefully make them give over the code, but they soon discover they aren’t to be messed with, as they turn the tables on the trespassers.

I loved the concept of the film and director/co-writer Julius Berg had some great ideas but they weren’t fleshed out enough. A lot of time was given to the crew yelling among each other as their plan goes to hell when I would have preferred more time to have been dedicated to delving deeper into the Hugginses’ past. It’s obvious that they’re not who they say they are and they are hiding a sinister secret and that’s far more interesting. Even though we found out eventually, the reveal happened so quickly – it warranted a bigger moment than it was given – that I couldn’t really process it and I would have liked more of an explanation.

The screenplay needed much more work to elevate the characters beyond one-dimensional stereotypes and the ending shouldn’t have been so rushed, but Berg does well in creating an unnerving atmosphere once the Huggins duo is back in control. You can tell they’re weird and absolutely crazy but they’re a complete mystery so you have no idea what they’re capable of. I was expecting the film to go to a much darker, more gruesome place and horror fans may come away disappointed with the lack of jumps, scares, and gore.

Williams is the most likeable of the crew but that’s not saying much since her boyfriend is a dick, his mate is a psycho, and his other mate is a wet flannel. She puts her all into the role but I wish there was a bit more to her character. McCoy was excellent as the sinister doctor and Tushingham has the most terrifying eyes so they were very well cast and the stars of the show.

If you’re a diehard Williams fan, feel free to give this a whirl, but otherwise I’d advise you to skip it.

Available on DVD now

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Golden Globes 2021: My Predictions & The Winners

Slightly later this year due to the pandemic, awards season well and truly kicks off tonight with the Golden Globes, and as per tradition, here’s my annual predictions post.

Sure, the past year hasn’t been great for cinema but film has still been thriving and the absence of blockbusters has enabled some indies that would normally fly under the radar get some more exposure and these nominations contain some fantastic films and TV shows to check out if you haven’t already.

Without further ado, here’s the full list of nominations and who I want to win vs who is likely to win. I have updated this post with the winners (in bold).

Best motion picture – drama
The Father
Mank
Nomadland – LIKELY TO WIN
Promising Young Woman
The Trial of the Chicago 7 – LIKELY TO WIN/WANT TO WIN

Best actress in a motion picture – drama
Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Andra Day, The United States vs. Billie Holiday
Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman
Frances McDormand, Nomadland – LIKELY TO WIN
Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman – WANT TO WIN

Best actor in a motion picture – drama
Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal
Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – LIKELY TO WIN
Anthony Hopkins, The Father – LIKELY TO WIN/WANT TO WIN
Gary Oldman, Mank
Tahar Rahim, The Mauritanian

Best motion picture – musical or comedy
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Hamilton – LIKELY TO WIN (even though it’s not a film!!!!!!)
Music
Palm Springs – WANT TO WIN
The Prom

Best actress in a motion picture – musical or comedy
Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm – LIKELY TO WIN/WANT TO WIN
Kate Hudson, Music
Michelle Pfeiffer, French Exit
Rosamund Pike, I Care A Lot – WANT TO WIN
Anya Taylor-Joy, Emma

Best actor in a motion picture – musical or comedy
Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm – WANT TO WIN
James Corden, The Prom
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton – LIKELY TO WIN
Dev Patel, The Personal History of David Copperfield
Andy Samberg, Palm Springs

Best actress in a supporting role in any motion picture
Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy – LIKELY TO WIN
Olivia Colman, The Father – WANT TO WIN
Jodie Foster, The Mauritanian
Amanda Seyfried, Mank – HAPPY WITH THIS WIN
Helena Zengel, News of the World

Best actor in a supporting role in any motion picture
Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7 – COULD HAPPEN
Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah – LIKELY TO WIN/WANT TO WIN
Jared Leto, The Little Things
Bill Murray, On the Rocks
Leslie Odom Jr, One Night in Miami

Best director – motion picture
David Fincher, Mank
Regina King, One Night in Miami
Aaron Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7
Chloe Zhao, Nomadland – LIKELY TO WIN/WANT TO WIN
Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman

Best screenplay – motion picture
The Father
Mank
Nomadland
Promising Young Woman
The Trial of the Chicago 7 – LIKELY TO WIN/WANT TO WIN

Best motion picture – animated
The Croods: A New Age
Onward
Over the Moon
Soul – LIKELY TO WIN
Wolfwalkers – WANT TO WIN

Best motion picture – foreign language
Another Round (Denmark) – WANT TO WIN
La Llorona (Guatemala)
The Life Ahead (Italy)
Minari (USA) – LIKELY TO WIN
Two of Us (France)

Best original score – motion picture
Mank – Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross
The Midnight Sky – Alexandre Desplat
News of the World – James Newton Howard
Soul – Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Jon Batiste – LIKELY TO WIN/WANT TO WIN
Tenet – Ludwig Göransson

Best original song – motion picture
Fight for You – Judas and the Black Messiah
Hear My Voice – The Trial of the Chicago 7
Io Si (Seen) – The Life Ahead
Speak Now – One Night in Miami – LIKELY TO WIN
Tigress & Tweed – The United State vs Billie Holiday

I HAVE NO “WANT TO WINS” HERE ‘CAUSE OVER THE MOON WASN’T NOMINATED!

Best TV series – drama
The Crown– LIKELY TO WIN
Lovecraft Country
The Mandalorian – WANT TO WIN
Ozark
Ratched

Best actress in a drama series
Emma Corrin, The Crown – LIKELY TO WIN/WANT TO WIN
Olivia Colman, The Crown
Jodie Comer, Killing Eve
Laura Linney, Ozark
Sarah Paulson, Ratched

Best actor in a drama series
Jason Bateman, Ozark – LIKELY TO WIN
Josh O’Connor, The Crown – WANT TO WIN
Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
Al Pacino, Hunters
Matthew Rhys, Perry Mason

Best TV series – musical or comedy
Emily in Paris (LOL)
The Flight Attendant
Schitt’s Creek – LIKELY TO WIN
The Great
Ted Lasso – WANT TO WIN

Best actress in a TV series – musical or comedy
Lily Collins, Emily in Paris
Kaley Cuoco, The Flight Attendant
Elle Fanning, The Great – WANT TO WIN
Jane Levy, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist
Catherine O’Hara, Schitt’s Creek – LIKELY TO WIN

Best actor in a TV series – musical or comedy
Don Cheadle, Black Monday
Nicholas Hoult, The Great
Eugene Levy, Schitt’s Creek – LIKELY TO WIN
Jason Sudeikis, Ted Lasso – WANT TO WIN
Ramy Youssef, Ramy

Best limited series or TV movie
Normal People – WANT TO WIN
The Queen’s Gambit
Small Axe – COULD DO IT
The Undoing
Unorthodox

Best actress in a limited series or TV movie
Cate Blanchett, Mrs America – LIKELY TO WIN
Daisy Edgar-Jones, Normal People – WANT TO WIN
Shira Haas, Unorthodox – WANT TO WIN
Nicole Kidman, The Undoing
Anya Taylor-Joy, The Queen’s Gambit – COULD DO IT

WHAT A STRONG CATEGORY!!

Best actor in a limited series or TV movie
Bryan Cranston, Your Honor
Jeff Daniels, The Comey Rule
Hugh Grant, The Undoing
Ethan Hawke, The Good Lord Bird
Mark Ruffalo, I Know This Much Is True – LIKELY TO WIN/WANT TO WIN

Best actress in a supporting role in a series, limited series or TV movie
Gillian Anderson, The Crown – LIKELY TO WIN/WANT TO WIN
Helena Bonham Carter, The Crown
Julia Garner, Ozark
Cynthia Nixon, Ratched
Annie Murphy, Schitt’s Creek

Best actor in a supporting role in a series, limited series or TV movie
John Boyega, Small Axe
Brendan Gleeson, The Comey Rule
Dan Levy, Schitt’s Creek – LIKELY TO WIN/WANT TO WIN
Jim Parsons, Hollywood
Donald Sutherland, The Undoing

The Father: Film Review

The Father

If Anthony Hopkins doesn’t sweep the board this awards season and win all the Best Actor prizes for his performance in this heart-breaking movie, I will riot.

The Father, co-written and directed by Florian Zeller from his 2012 play La Pere, tells the story of Anthony (Hopkins) and his battle with dementia and shows his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) struggling to figure out what the best course of action is.

I went in expecting The Father to be a fairly conventional two-hander where it’s just two people talking in a room and thought it would be a powerful but generic drama about ageing. How wrong I was! Zeller manages to place the audience in the shoes of Anthony and show us what it’s like to be losing your grip on your own mind. It’s incredibly clever but absolutely unnerving, particularly in the beginning when you don’t know what’s going on. Just like Anthony, I struggled to figure out what was real and what was not, what the facts of the story really were, and which actors were the true Anne and the true version of her partner Paul (Rufus Sewell). It was confusing and it was incredibly frustrating and exasperating – which is exactly how we are supposed to feel. The film forces us to see things from Anthony’s perspective, get into his mindset, and it makes it all the more heartwrenching. Normally my confusion would put me off a film but I could understand and appreciate the point Zeller was trying to make so it didn’t on this occasion.

With the narrative being so tricky to make sense of, the film really needed to be anchored by solid performances and it certainly is. Hopkins runs the gamut of emotions as Anthony – he is angry, cruel, confused, frustrated, vulnerable, giddy with joy, and switched on – and he threw himself into the part and sold all those personality switches completely. I don’t want to ruin anything but his final scene is one of the most heartbreaking and devastating pieces of acting I’ve seen in ages and it brought me to tears. What a terrific performance. He truly deserves to win this season.

Colman has been nominated for her supporting performance here and you can see why – Anne is really struggling to know what to do with her dad. She doesn’t want to put him in a home but he cannot look after himself and he’s been driving his carers away by being so nasty. Looking after someone with dementia is a tough, tiring task and yet she shoulders the responsibility, even when he is mean to her. You can see she has the weight of the world on her shoulders and your heart breaks for her too. She is the emotional heart of the piece. They have great support from Sewell as Anne’s partner, who is desperate to put her dad in a home, Imogen Poots as his sweet but often accidentally condescending carer, and Mark Gatiss and Olivia Williams as the random confusing characters (which make sense at the end).

Most of the time you can really tell when a film is based on a play but The Father was less obvious because it is so dynamic, the flat – the film’s primary location – changes a lot to reflect Anthony’s mindset, time doesn’t feel linear, and scenes are replayed with some differences, from what’s said, who is talking, what they’re wearing etc.

There was so much more to this than I was expecting – it blew me away! It is the most empathetic portrayal of dementia I’ve ever seen, without a doubt. Wow.

In U.K. cinemas on 11 June

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The United States vs. Billie Holiday: Film Review

The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Singer Andra Day, in her first major movie role, has scored Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice Awards nominations for her portrayal of Billie Holiday in Lee Daniels’ latest film and it’s clear to see why – she is sensational. So it’s a shame she’s failed by the rest of the movie.

The biopic begins in 1957 when Billie is giving an interview to Reginald Lord Devine (Leslie Jordan) and that forms the narrative structure of the film, which then goes back ten years. The story focuses on how the singer is targeted by the government for her song Strange Fruit, which is about the lynching of African-Americans, and to get her to stop singing one of her most famous songs, they go after her for her substance abuse issues, with Federal Bureau of Narcotics official Harry Anslinger (Garrett Hedlund) leading the charge and James Fletcher (Trevante Rhodes) being the mole within her circle, although his loyalty to the government is tested by his growing feelings for Billie.

Day, whose previous acting credits include being a nightclub singer in 2017’s Marshall and a voice role in Cars 3, truly deserves her nominations for her performance here. It is an impressive transformation and she embodied Billie so convincingly, adopting her husky, raspy voice and nailing her way of singing too. Her performance is raw and she does well balancing Billie’s tough and feisty side with her vulnerable one. I must also praise the costume and hair and make-up teams because she looks stunning.

Rhodes provided strong support as James/Jimmy, who thinks he’s doing good work cracking down on drugs before he eventually realises the feds are just using him as a pawn to get to Billie. His love and adoration for her were plain to see. Rob Morgan did well as one of the antagonists of the piece – Billie’s despicable abusive husband Louis McKay – while Hedlund is the same shady, awful person I’ve seen him play plenty of times before. I also enjoyed Tyler James Williams, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, and Miss Lawrence as Billie’s “family” and Natasha Lyonne as her friend, although she is not in it enough. Lyonne is never in movies anywhere near enough!

But the problem with the movie lies elsewhere. The biggest issue is the length – it is way too long and it is hard to stay invested in the narrative, particularly when Billie keeps making the same mistakes (relapsing, going back to abusive men). I like that Daniels didn’t try to sugar-coat her story and make her seem perfect, but some of her choices were infuriating to watch. Even though I enjoyed her performances and felt she had a captivating presence on stage, I thought there were too many that didn’t serve a purpose and could have been cut, just to help trim down the runtime.

Even though I found the story interesting by virtue of the fact I didn’t know anything about Billie, I have to admit the biopic is told in a really conventional, dull, and uninspired way so I didn’t connect with it. It was also all over the place tonally and felt like a bunch of scenes joined together than one cohesive movie. What a shame.

On Sky Cinema now

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Dissident: Film Review

The Dissident

I was gripped by the Jamal Khashoggi case when the Saudi journalist disappeared after going inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, and even though I followed the headlines closely, I learned so much more from watching The Dissident, a shocking, eye-opening documentary.

As you probably already know, Khashoggi, a former royal insider-turned-journalist and critic, walked into the Saudi consulate in Turkey on 2 October 2018 to get paperwork ahead of his wedding and never came back out, and following a highly publicised investigation, it was revealed Saudi assassins killed him soon after his arrival before dismembering and disposing of his body. Saudi officials tried to cover up the murder before eventually admitting it was premeditated, although Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman still denies giving the order.

Even if you know these facts going into this documentary, hearing Turkish police officials discuss their investigation, the obstacles the Saudis threw in their way, and what was in the audio transcripts taken from the room that tragic day as well as sharing footage from their investigation will still resonate and drive the facts home even harder. You will come away with many more details and a much clearer picture of who Khashoggi was as a person and as a journalist as well as a better understanding of the wider context surrounding his murder – his articles, his tweets, his plans, his communication with other dissidents – and the lengths the Saudi government goes to to silence those with opposing opinions.

The latter part of the documentary is the most powerful, perhaps because I knew less about it. This is where the main star of the documentary – Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi activist and dissident living in Canada – steps in. Abdulaziz knew Khashoggi and they were working on a way to counterattack “the flies” – Saudi officials who bombard a dissenting tweet with pro-Saudi rhetoric to drown out the original message. Abdulaziz offers a unique insight into the world of a dissident, and he’s incredibly brave to take part in the documentary. There have been threats on his life and some of his brothers and friends are in jail without charge in a bid to shut him up – but he carries on fighting.

Other standout interviewees were Khashoggi’s fiancee Hatice Cengiz, particularly her recalling waiting for him for hours outside the consulate, and Agnes Callamard, the United Nations Special Rapporteur who led the inquiry into his death. She takes us through what’s in the transcripts and what she reads out is just horrible.

I take my hat off to director Bryan Fogel for having the courage to make a documentary that not only delves deep into the Khashoggi assassination but covers the rise of bin Salman and his effort to shut down anyone who tries to exercise their freedom of speech. The information I learned from this documentary was astounding, upsetting, outrageous, and very powerful. I recommend everyone gives it a watch.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This film will have its UK Premiere online as part of the Glasgow Film Festival on 6 March, and Irish Premiere online as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival on 13 March. Find out how to watch it online by visiting www.thedissident.film.

I Care a Lot: Film Review

I Care a Lot

I knew I Care a Lot would be very much my cup of tea when I found out Rosamund Pike would be playing a character as deliciously dark and wicked as Amy Dunne in Gone Girl and I was not wrong – this is my favourite new release of 2021 so far.

Pike stars as Marla Grayson, who runs a business that is basically one big scam. She is a guardian who gets appointed wards by the court to take care of, meaning she is put in control of an elderly person’s welfare, finances, medical decisions, and more, once that person is deemed unable to look after themselves anymore. Marla is always on the hunt for new wards – after all, putting them in a home and selling off their assets equals a big payday – so, with the help of her partner Fran (Eiza Gonzalez) and a crooked doctor (Alicia Witt), she makes a person who is doing perfectly fine seem incapable of their own welfare in court and gets put in charge of their life. She makes a huge mistake when she does this to Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest) – she isn’t who they think she is and she has very powerful connections.

I Care a Lot could have gone very wrong in a different pair of hands, but J Blakeson, who wrote and directed the film, pitched it perfectly. The concept and the whole idea of the scam were shocking yet amazing and I felt constantly thrilled watching it play out with excellent pacing, particularly in the first hour. The twists and turns are jaw-dropping and I couldn’t wait to find out more. Once all the cards are on the table and Jennifer’s family are involved, it loses its way a little – the tone and Blakeson’s grip on the story was a little off and I wasn’t as enamoured with it in the second half. I was 100% sold on it in the first hour and ready to give it 5/5 but then after the second hour, I thought perhaps it’s more of a 4/5. Thankfully, the conclusion brought it back and I was very satisfied.

The screenplay is excellent – how the story developed was perfect and the dialogue was so, so good. Marla gets some fantastic lines to say and Pike seemed to relish saying them. I particularly enjoyed her conversation with Chris Messina as a lawyer for Jennifer. He knew Marla’s game and she knew he knew and it was just so exciting and entertaining to watch their back-and-forth – it’s the best scene in the movie, hands down.

My favourite role of Pike’s is Gone Girl – which she should have won the Oscar for, by the way – and now Marla comes a close second. I think she is so well suited to these dark, cold-hearted, wicked roles. I couldn’t imagine anyone else doing a better job at Marla than her. She’s playing an evil ruthless sociopath, expert liar and someone who seems to have no moral boundaries, but she has to make her watchable and she judges that balance perfectly. Gonzalez has never been better as Marla’s right-hand woman and girlfriend. She is smart, she has more substance than her usual roles, and she really sold their relationship; she just exuded desire for Marla. I also loved both of their wardrobes, but particularly Marla’s yellow trouser suit and trainers. I want!

The cast all around is fantastic. You feel so sorry for Jennifer at first – she’s put in a home against her will, they immediately sell off her house and take away her keys and phone – but it later becomes clear she’s not to be messed with. She had fight in her and I liked her character very much. Peter Dinklage – playing Marla’s new nemesis Roman – has done similar roles before but he does such a good job, and Messina was terrific as a flashy, well-dressed, and well-paid lawyer with the gift of the gab. Sure, nobody is particularly likeable and there’s no character to really root for but that didn’t hinder my enjoyment.

I Care a Lot is very much me. It is the blackest black comedy I’ve seen in a while and Marla’s actions made me uncomfortable, I disliked her and I wanted her to get her comeuppance, but I couldn’t stop watching. I want to see it again!

On Amazon Prime Video now

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

To Olivia: Film Review

To Olivia

I was a massive fan of Roald Dahl‘s children’s books – particularly Matilda and The Twits – growing up and have enjoyed many adaptations of his work, but I knew nothing about his personal life, so I learned a lot from the new biographical drama To Olivia.

The film, directed by John Hay, is set in 1962 and focuses on the tumultuous marriage between the British author (played by Hugh Bonneville) and his American actress wife Patricia Neal (Keeley Hawes) and their life in the English countryside with their children Olivia (Darcey Ewart), Tessa (Isabella Jonsson), and baby Theo. Their world is turned upside down when Olivia dies at the age of seven from encephalitis caused by measles and they have very different ways of coping with the loss, with Dahl packing up Olivia’s belongings and refusing to say her name and being frosty towards his other children.

I genuinely expected To Olivia to make me cry and had emotionally prepared myself for the likelihood of that happening so I was surprised that I didn’t even come close. This could be because Olivia’s death takes place very early in the film when you haven’t got to know her or her parents very well or because the film never really digs beneath the surface or gets under the skin of the characters. You know they’re grieving, they act like they’re grieving, but you don’t feel it. This could also be down to Dahl being a cantankerous, moody, unhelpful and mostly likely alcoholic husband and father, so you just feel sorry for Neal and don’t blame her for flying off to Hollywood with the kids to have a break from home and make a movie.

From there, their differences seem to be resolved far too quickly. Although I didn’t want to see them wallowing in their bereavement for the whole movie, it just felt like they didn’t grieve for very long and moved on too quickly (I’m sure they didn’t but the movie makes it seem that way). Olivia’s death has a positive impact on Neal as she’s able to access more emotions and play more complex characters, leading her to win the Best Actress Oscar for Hud, while Dahl starts to accept Tessa’s suggestions about his book (something previously reserved for his favourite, Olivia) and with her help, he finishes Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It all just seems too neat and tidy.

I wasn’t totally convinced that Bonneville was the right man for the job. He didn’t look much like Dahl and I associate him with pleasant characters so I didn’t really buy him as this often mean and selfish person. The audience is most likely to emotionally connect with Hawes as Neal as she is more kind and compassionate, although Hawes’ American accent was inconsistent and didn’t feel natural. Jonsson was adorable as Tessa, who wants a close relationship with her father like Olivia had, and Sam Heughan makes a small but significant appearance as Neal’s Hud co-star Paul Newman, who doesn’t suffer any fools or care about her tragedy.

There are some aspects of the film I loved though – I have to mention the fantastic animated visuals during the opening credits as they tell the story of Dahl and Neal’s lives from childhood to 1962 in a clever montage. I must also mention Debbie Wiseman‘s beautiful score. The melody has stuck with me for days and it was more effective in evoking an emotional feeling in me than the actors or the storytelling. It’s gorgeous.

To Olivia is an interesting yet flawed study of grief and how people deal with loss differently. I hardly ever say a film should be longer but I think in this case it needed more time to tell the story and make the audience connect with it emotionally.

Available on Sky Cinema from Friday 19th February

Rating: 3 out of 5.

School’s Out Forever: Film Review

School's Out Forever

Another day, another movie featuring a pandemic! This time we have the gory British thriller School’s Out Forever, which focuses on a bunch of immune people trying to survive inside a private school.

Three weeks after Lee Keegan (Oscar Kennedy) is expelled from St Mark’s School for Boys, he finds himself heading back there after a pandemic breaks out and his dad dies. The contagious disease has no cure but people with O negative blood are immune, making them vulnerable to attacks from others. The school seems like the best and most secure place to survive such an apocalyptic event, but Lee wasn’t bargaining on the parish council forming a militia, led by Georgina Baker (Samantha Bond), and his best mate Mac (Liam Lau Fernandez) turning into a power-hungry and trigger-happy psycho. Georgina’s daughter Claire (Freya Parks) infiltrates the school and ends up with severe injuries and being held captive, sparking a war between the council and the school.

I had high hopes for School’s Out Forever in the beginning as it had a good dollop of humour and seemed to be going for a Shaun of the Dead vibe (the initial apocalyptic street scenes reminded me of it a lot) but then it started taking itself more seriously and got quite dark, violent, and twisted, with people getting killed left right and centre. It could have done with keeping more humour running through it to offset these darker scenes, like Slaughterhouse Rulez (another film this reminded me of).

This is quite a lightweight movie – all the characters, even Lee, are thinly written; you don’t really know an awful lot about them, and the story just descends into madness once the parish council start their war with the school. Then it becomes just non-stop violence, action, shooting, and gruesome bloody deaths. It was enjoyable and amusing enough to watch but I just didn’t care about anyone or the outcome of the story.

Bond was so well cast as one of the main antagonists of the piece – she has this frosty side that works perfectly for a villain, who stays perfectly well-mannered and polite on the surface even though she’s probably about to kill, although Fernandez gives her a run for her money in the bad guy department. Mac is one twisted person and I kept being shocked as he reached new levels of depravity. His nasty behaviour was well offset by Keegan as the compassionate likeable hero of the piece. I also enjoyed Alex Macqueen (Neil’s dad from The Inbetweeners) as Mr. Bates, who tries to lead the survival mission but is soon overruled, and Jasmine Blackborow as Matron, the school nurse, another compassionate soul who Lee has a crush on.

I liked the premise of School’s Out Forever as well as the cast and the fact that the pandemic isn’t dwelled upon – it’s basically just a backdrop to the events – but I wasn’t sold on its chaotic and gruesome third act.

Available for digital download on Monday 15th February and DVD and Blu-Ray on 12th April

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Music: Film Review

Music

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about Sia‘s directorial debut Music already thanks to the controversy over her casting Maddie Ziegler as an autistic teen. When the backlash first began late last year, Sia urged people to wait and see the movie before judging it and now I’ve done just that, I can tell you everyone was spot-on with their criticism back then. 

Sia’s longtime muse and regular music video star Ziegler stars as Music, a largely non-verbal teenager who has been raised by her grandmother Millie (Mary Kay Place), with some help from neighbours George (Hector Elizondo) and Ebo (Leslie Odom Jr.). When Millie suddenly passes away, recovering addict Zu (Kate Hudson) is forced to become her younger sister’s guardian, which is a recipe for disaster because she can barely look after herself, let alone a teenager with complex needs. 

Sia has insisted that she had good intentions when she made this movie and I’m sure she didn’t set out to make a film that is offensive to the very community she’s trying to spotlight. Casting Ziegler as an autistic character was a misguided decision in itself – yes, it’s been done in the past (Rain Man and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape spring to mind) but this is 2021 and times have changed – but what makes it even worse is the depiction of the character. Ziegler’s mannerisms are exaggerated and like a caricature of an autistic person; Music never feels like a real human being. 

And what’s even worse (yes, really) is that Music (the person) isn’t the star of this film, even though she’s the title character. You go in expecting her to be the lead and it starts off that way, but she is pushed aside once Zu comes into the picture. Her story is lost in favour of Zu’s redemption arc; her getting her s**t together, learning how to step up and be a responsible adult, and find love. Music fades into the background more and more and becomes a supporting character.

But the issues don’t stop there. The movie is littered with these fantasy musical sequences that are colourful, vibrant, and highly stylised and serve as Music’s daydreams, yet they offer no real insight into her mind. I’m a big fan of Sia’s music so I liked most of the songs and the contemporary choreography was interesting to watch but they made no sense within the context of the rest of the film. It was originally conceived as a straightforward drama and then it became a musical and that doesn’t surprise me because it feels like two very different films have been squashed together. A serious gritty drama about an addict’s recovery doesn’t gel with a series of surreal music videos! They also interrupt the flow of the narrative and don’t add anything to the story or push it forward, they’re basically just pointless musical interludes. They were the highlights of the film for me, but they made absolutely no sense.

I don’t want to place any blame on Ziegler because she was 14 at the time of filming Music and it’s unfortunate that she was cast at all. Given the dance sequences, I can see why Sia hired her go-to dancer, but casting a neurotypical actor as Music was a bad call. Hudson doesn’t do a terrible job yet I’m still baffled about her recent Golden Globe nomination for this, it wasn’t nomination-worthy in my book. Odom Jr. is the kind and compassionate Ebo, who is given an unconvincing romance storyline with Zu, while Ben Schwartz plays Zu’s employer – she sells his drugs to clients such as Evelyn (Juliette Lewis) and “Popstar Without Borders”, played by Sia in a mind-boggling random cameo. But everyone is done a disservice by the script, which only offers up one-dimensional characters. 

Sia once opened up about the difficulties in the editing process for Music, which took over three years, and that’s pretty clear too. The film is a mess, the different tones don’t fit, it’s a mishmash bundle of scenes, and Kathy Najimy is in the credits even though her part has been reduced to us seeing the back of her head. Following the Globe nominations, during which Music was inexplicably nominated for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, Sia apologised and said the restraint scenes in the film would be removed and a warning label would be added – this was certainly not the case for the copy I watched. 

I don’t recommend watching Music. It’s offensive, tone-deaf, misguided, not to mention poorly made. 

Available on digital platforms from Monday 15th February

Rating: 2 out of 5.