November Round-Up (inc. Blue Story, The Street, The Nightingale)

Hello everyone

It’s been a while since I posted some reviews. Partly out of exhaustion.

I was on a boat, the Queen Mary 2, as part of the Cheltenham Literature Festival, introducing a film series of literary adaptations: Dangerous Liaisons, Rebecca, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (with Louis de Bernieres Q&A), Gone Girl, The English Patient, Pride & Prejudice… and Annie Hall (the cheat there being that I wrote the Woody Allen book and it sold pretty well on board.)

It was an extraordinary experience, chugging along from New York to Southampton, with Sebastian Faulks, and Louis, and lots of really wonderful people, such as Mark Billingham, Gina Bellman, Peter Kemp, Anna Murphy and Victoria Hislop. And the Prime Minister’s sister, Rachel Johnson. We did karaoke and we danced in the crap disco. And we talked about books and films. I think it was a great success.

And then I had a party for my 50th, and my wife’s 50th, which was rather time consuming to organise and to recover from. 

So forgive me – and to save a bit of time, I’ll do a quick rundown of some films I should have told you about, a couple of which are must-sees.

The Nightingale still

The Nightingale

The Nightingale is a wow. Brutal in parts but necessarily so, it’s the story of an Irish convict in 1820s Tasmania, who turns avenger after she is raped by British soldiers. She sets off on a dangerous journey through the wilderness with the aid of an Aboriginal tracker, sworn to hunt down the men who ruined her life.

Director Jennifer Kent made Aussie horror The Babadook a couple of years ago and returns here with a far more jolting story, but one that feels similarly haunted, only this time it’s the spectre of colonialism, the horror of Aboriginal destruction and the spirits of the land. Aisling Franciosi, the actress who impressed me most when we met in Berlin when I hosted the European Shooting Stars event earlier this year, is terrific in the titular role. Sam Claflin is excellent, too, as the horrible British army Captain.

It’s tough, absolutely gripping stuff but there’s beauty in it, too, and a determination to confront the ghosts of the past.

Knives Out still

Knives Out

I absolutely hated Knives Out, by the way. It’s a smug, all-star Agatha Christie pastiche that annoyed me practically from the very first shot. I shan’t spend ages detailing why, just tell you to avoid and ignore the bafflingly positive reviews it’s getting. What utter guff it is.

The Street is a good London doc, by Zed Nelson, about the gradual gentrification of Hoxton Street. He does a great job of getting to know the locals and the locales. You feel intimate with their lives and their emotions and Zed’s empathy shines through as the economy shifts, and Brexit and Grenfell take their effects on Londoners.

There are some wonderful characters and it’s a fair-minded film, not quick to point blame at the newcomers and hipsters, but focusing heavily on the shimmering skyscrapers of the City at the end of this traditional working-class street. You can hear an interview with Zed and me about the film, on my London Film Podcast from the London Film Festival…

I loved Blue Story. I don’t think I’ve seen a London film like it before and it certainly hit the headlines. The director Rapman and young star Stephen Odubola were on my radio show with me and Robert Elms and spoke very eloquently about what the film might mean to a generation and the response to it showed they were right. 

Young people came in droves to see themselves represented on screen. And cinemas didn’t know how to handle it. Cinema culture didn’t know what to do. I hope it was a wake up call. This audience is out there, these people and stories are out there and this film addressed social issues with passion and inventiveness. I loved the language and the message while the film, about a senseless post code gang war coming between two best schoolfriend, scared me and dared me to look and try and understand what’s going on in my city. It didn’t exploit, nor did it glamorise (far from it) but it definitely whacked a nerve.

Marriage Story still

Marriage Story

It feels a while ago that I extolled Marriage Story. It’s in my Venice Film Festival report. But now it’s out in cinemas ahead of being on Netflix and, most importantly, Adam Driver is breathtaking in it. I can’t think of a better performance this year, so he’s my pick for the Oscar. Yes, more than Joaquin Phoenix, who does too much acting for my taste. Adam simply lets the character’s emotions tick inside of him. You never quite know how he’s going to react to what happens to him on screen. It makes his character here more volatile and unpredictable, more exciting than the Joker.

I do think it’s an excellent film, too and will make you never want to get divorced. Or married in the first place. But it does find love in all the battles, which is what makes it work, and director Noah Baumbach somehow digs out the humour in the ridiculousness of a process. It’s a very East Coast/West Coast movie, set in a certain milieu, so I don’t know if it speaks to everyone, but I liked its sophistication and pretension, and I liked Adam Driver immensely, even when he was behaving like a dick.

Motherless Brooklyn still

Motherless Brooklyn

Motherless Brooklyn, now there’s an indulgent bit of acting from Ed Norton in his own film. I really wanted to like it, this story of private eyes in 50s New York, when corrupt town planners were trying to drive roads through the city and clear out black folks from Harlem.

I don’t know why Ed felt the need to give his character a Tourette’s style tic. And to equate that with jazz. And i don’t know why he got Thom Yorke to do a track. It’s awful. But the Wynton Marsalis jazz bits are great, and so is the period set design and so is Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Alec Baldwin and Willem Dafoe. Bruce Willis isn’t, though.

Honey Boy, well, I couldn’t stand that one. Way too much Shia LeBoeuf for my liking. Just another warning, because some people are touting it. Honestly, don’t bother, there’s just too much other good stuff…