August Round-up

Watching movies wasn’t a problem during lockdown. I discovered loads of streaming options I’d barely heard of before getting to grips with technology was forced on us all by circumstance.

Trouble is – will we ever go back to the cinema again? I have missed my big screens in the dark but I do worry for the future of such spaces, especially right now when leaving the sofa is harder than ever, a combination of uneasy fear and comfy convenience.

So to entice us all back to the good old picture houses, you’d have thought they’d give us something attractive watch: Unhinged isn’t it.

Unless you fancy the idea of a fat, sweaty and angry Russell Crowe steaming down on you in his growling pickup truck and threatening to kill your family all because you beeped him at the traffic lights?

This is a trashy road rage revenge thriller, as enormous Russ (he certainly hasn’t been doing Joe Wicks every morning) terrorises a single Mom (Caren Pistorius), screeching around town and tracking her with his phone app. He looks greasy and crazy and he beats up her boyfriend in a diner. Maybe he just needs another snack. 

The film makers have tried to squeeze some social relevance into this, with vague themes of societal breakdown and financial pressure on male divorcees (didn’t Russell have to sell off old costumes to pay for his?) but it’s a nasty piece of work, very basic, grimly efficient, but really not what we need right now.

Pinocchio (featured image) is more the thing. What a wonderful looking film this is, by Italian Matteo Garrone who, in Napoli-mafia epic Gomorrah gave us one of the best films of the 21st century, and now finds darkness and violence in the 19th century, in that most Italian of fairy tales.

His version is live action and tries to stick closely to the original 1880s story of Coloddi’s puppet. It stars Roberto Begnini who came a cropper not so long ago trying to play the puppet in his own telling of the tale, but he’s much better here as Gepetto, the poor carpenter who carves his son out of a possessed piece of wood.

Begnini is wonderful, taking his new kid to school and beaming with pride. The kid is amazing, too, played with a CGI face that’s one of the most unsettling masks I’ve ever seen, making this a very creepy fairy tale, that wobbles between charming, funny and plain weird. 

But the effects are special indeed, quite arresting, for example, when he joins the other marionettes in Mangiafuoco’s troupe, or painful when he  turns into a donkey, surreal with a Gorilla judge or a talking tuna fish – and utterly shocking when our boy is lynched. 

What’s it all about? Tough to put a finger on this one, though I think there’s an eternally violent beauty to it that must appeal to Garrone whose films (Reality, Dogman, Tale of Tales) often seem to be about the innocent dreamer confronting the harshness of reality and either adapting, or perishing. Pinocchio here learns how to become a real boy, which involves pain, love, deceit and luck. Be careful what you wish for…

Rather more sedate dramas can be found on our pretty, white-cliffed south coast. Summerland has got a lovely performance from Gemma Arterton as Alice Lamb an eccentric hermetic writer in wartime Kent whom everyone in the village thinks is a witch, or a German spy. 

Moody Alice doesn’t take kindly to being lumbered with an evacuee child, a 12-year-old called Frank, sent to the countryside to escape the Blitz. However, the two strike up an unlikely friendship…

So far, so quaintly predictable, with even Tom Courtenay playing the local schoolmaster. However, there’s a really powerful romantic twist which I didn’t spot coming at all and which lifts the film out of the ordinary to make it moving and rather daring beneath the period trappings. Directed by Jessice Swale, this is definitely worth a trip to the local or, you know, staying on the sofa for.

And then there’s Hope Gap over on Curzon Home Cinema, starring Annette Bening and Bill Nighy as a couple in a lovely, faded house in Seaford, Sussex. Just like the house, their marriage could do with some work, but Bill’s had enough.

So we watch as a 29-year marriage falls apart, but in a very decorous way. Josh O’Connor plays their son who’s plonked in the middle of it all and can’t take sides. Bill’s all a bit buttoned up so it’s hard to sympathise with him, and Bening gives the more flamboyant performance, the emotional one of the family. 

I don’t know why she felt the need to try an English accent – she’s a brilliant actress but accents aren’t her thing – there’s no reason she couldn’t have been an American. Rather than pitying her character, Grace, and sharing her despair, I just kept thinking to myself “Oh, that’s huge Hollywood movie star Annette Bening doing a bad accent and going for long walks.”

Which is a shame, because it’s got strong stuff in it, written by two-time Oscar-nominated screenwriter William Nicholson (Shadowlands – god, I love Shadowlands – and Gladiator, yes, with beefy Russ from that crazy car movie) and directed by him, too – his first stint behind the camera in 20 years. 

It feels like a period film (being by the English seaside always does, I suppose) but it is actually set now, even though it’s based on the story of Nicholson’s own parents. So that’s all a bit sad and downbeat, and I guess William is the son, stuck in between, in the gap. But like the movie title says, there’s always hope.