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Trailer: Vita & Virginia

Elizabeth Debicki follows in Nicole Kidman's shoes playing Virginia Woolf, and Gemma Arterton is Vita Sackville-West in a love story that inspired Woolf's Orlando.
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Lessons from a Writer-Producer living in LA

It takes a great deal of confidence to head over to the entertainment industry capital of the world to forge your career, however, once there, you will need to navigate carefully in order to get the most out of the initiative. Here are some golden tips from someone who came before.
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Trailer: Palm Beach

Rachel Ward co-writes and directs an all-star local (+Richard E. Grant) cast in this Australian Big Chill for baby boomers.
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Red Joan

Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

If you think about it, the most successful spies are the ones we have never heard of. British director Trevor Nunn has brought to the screen the rather extraordinary tale of Joan Stanley – here styled as ‘Red Joan’ – who leaked nuclear secrets to the Russians for decades. (The real-life Joan was arrested very late in her life). This isn’t really a spoiler because Nunn shows us from the very beginning the end-point arrest and interrogation.

Joan (the ever-splendid Dame Judi Dench) is by then a little old lady pottering around her cottage garden. No one would have guessed the passionate and dangerous life she led in the 1940s. She gives the impression that she barely remembers it too. But then maybe that suits her.

The film uses the device of intercutting between the current day interrogation and her war-time exploits. The period-set sections, which occupy the majority of the running time, are as much concerned with Joan’s love life as her spying.

The young Joan is played with great verve by Sophie Cookson (perhaps best known for a rather different take on secret service work in the Kingsman films). She steals the hearts of men as well as the secrets of the state. Concentrating upon the affairs and the sexual games could be seen as trivialising the historical and espionage elements, but here they are convincingly intertwined. The characters’ motivations are constantly made more complex by their attachments and jealousies.

Nunn belongs to that generation of British theatre directors (like David Hare and Peter Hall) who are left-leaning and drawn to political and historical subjects, but he shows he can handle cinema just as well. The problem, as suggested, is to balance the ideological issues at play with the human story. Perhaps on the stage one could attempt a more wordy and sombre philosophical debate about the niceties of politics and the complexities of deciding what the ‘right’ side’ actually was. As Joan says, “it was all so different then”. However, there is also the hard-to-square idea that, by providing nuclear secrets to Stalin’s Russia, Joan aided the uneasy post war nuke-laden peace based on ‘mutually assured destruction’.

That is one of the sticking points of the film. Joan has a grown-up son (Ben Miles) who has an establishment job. It is not just that he is shocked by the belated revelation that he never really knew his mum, there is also the problem that he thoroughly disapproves of her treasonous acts. The arguments between the two are perhaps a little too condensed so that the dialogue in their scenes becomes unrealistically position-setting and even a bit unconvincing.

It is a small flaw though. The film as a whole does have a fascinating story to tell and with this cast (especially Dench, of course) it is brought to the screen with considerable aplomb.

 
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Game of Thrones, Season 8 Episode 1: Winterfell

Home, Home Entertainment, Review, Streaming, Television, This Week Leave a Comment

[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. Come on, you know how this works]

As a Game of Thrones fan it’s impossible not to feel a frisson of excitement as we begin this eighth and final season. Everything has led to this. Every battle, every sneaky murder, every root – ill-advised and otherwise – is all culminating in this season. It’s a lot to get your head around and the first episode, “Winterfell”, does an admirable job of restating the various factions and loyalties, and reminding us of the stakes at play.

They’re big stakes. It doesn’t get much bigger than “the Wall has collapsed and the army of the dead are flooding in with a bloody zombie dragon”.

“Winterfell” begins with an updated credit sequence, one that reflects the very unwally state of The Wall, and opens in miserable, cold Winterfell. The grand army of Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) has arrived and she and Jon Snow (Kit Harington) are taking in the sights, riding together in an obvious display of support for one another. However the hard, stubborn locals aren’t exactly stoked with the whole caper, and stare at Dany with their mouths puckered like cat clackers. This isn’t quite the hero’s welcome she might have hoped for.

Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) rides along with the procession in a covered wagon, busting Lord Varys’s (Conleth Hill) lack of balls. Honestly, it’s not his best material but we get the feeling the whole conversation is to mask Tyrion’s bone-deep nervousness at being in the home of a people with a fairly sensible grudge against his family.

Next minute the dragons, Drogon and Rhaegal, soar over the wintery district, scaring the absolute shit out of the locals and causing Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) to watch with a mixture of awe and foreboding.

The first of many reunions takes place, with Jon meeting up with Brandon Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright). Jon’s super happy to see Bran, but the wheelchair-bound mystic acts like that one mate of yours who’s just a little bit into his mushies, speaking all cryptic and portentously. Sansa and Dany give each other some vicious side eye, and share a few choice words, but Bran tells them to knock it off. “We don’t have time for this,” he says accurately yet somehow still very annoyingly, “the dead march south.”

Later, in a staff meeting, the locals are becoming increasingly confused by who the hell is actually in charge. Is it Jon? Sansa? Dany? Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey) best epitomises the confusion, saying to Jon, “you left Winterfell a king and came back a… I’m not sure what you are, now. A lord? Nothing at all?” Jon tries to explain that a zombie army is defo a bigger worry than local politics, but the crowd are unconvinced. Tyrion attempts to win them over by mentioning Cersei’s army is on the way. It goes down about as well as a lamb chop at a vegan dinner party.

Later, Tyrion and Sansa have a reunion of their own. They haven’t actually hung out since the Purple Wedding, where Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) died choking in front of everyone. “Miserable affair,” Tyrion recalls.

“It had its moments,” Sansa replies with a smile.

The two sort of bond, but there’s been a lot of history since those days. Sansa also doesn’t believe for a second that Cersei is going to help, which – to be fair – is 100% accurate.

Jon and Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) reunite in the Godswood and it’s actually a delightfully sweet scene. They hug, compare weapons and chat about current events. In a nicely observed twist, Arya praises Sansa, calling her the “smartest person I’ve ever met”.

“You’re defending her? You?” Jon chortles.

“I’m defending our family. She is too,” Arya replies.

Meanwhile, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) glowers on the battlements at King’s Landing. When she’s told of the dead breaking through the Wall she smirks and says, “good.” Subtle stuff, guys, very nuanced. In the harbour nearby, Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) swaggers about, crowing of his magnificence to still-alive-but-captured Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan). Then hops back onto dry land to impress Cersei with the brand spanking new army he has delivered. Euron makes it clear that he really feels Cersei should throw a quickie his way. At first Cersei doesn’t want a bar of it, but ever calculating seems to realise a well-rooted Euron is most likely a happy Euron, and gives him the nod.

Speaking of rooting, Bronn (Jerome Flynn) has a foursome interrupted by creepy Qyburn (Anton Lesser), which is enough to put a bloke off his stroke. Qyburn is offering riches beyond compare for one job: kill Cersei’s brothers. This is setting up a potentially tragic arc with Bronn possibly murdering his mate Tyrion, or dying in the attempt. In one scene we see that everything really is up for grabs this season and a lot of our favourites aren’t going to survive.

Next up, a bunch of people are killed and Yara freed by… Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen)?! Yes, it appears the dickless one grew some balls. Yara thanks him with a headbutt but then pulls him to his feet; he is forgiven. Later, she gives Theon permission to fight with the Starks, because she knows that’s where his true loyalty lies.

Back in Winterfell, Tyrion, Varys and Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) discuss what a handsome, Westeros-uniting couple Dany and Jon would make if they wed. Tyrion sees sense in the idea, but worries that love doesn’t last, particularly in political unions. Jon and Dany go to check on the dragons, who aren’t eating much, and the pair mount the scaly beasts and go for a ride. It’s an exhilarating sequence, with Jon barely staying upright during the trip and ends with some sexy times. Although Jon can’t quite get past the fact Dragon is staring at him. You know when your significant other’s cat won’t stop staring at you? Imagine that, but the cat is the size of Rooty Hill RSL. Yeesh.

Gendry (Joe Dempsie) impresses Sandor “The Hound” Glegane (Rory McCann) with his weapons-crafting skills but then Arya rocks up and a tense scene takes place between the latter pair. The Hound either forgives Arya for their last altercation, or can’t be bothered getting into it, and gruffly admires her ability to stay alive. Then Gendry and Arya have a scene together dripping with sexual tension and oh my, is this going to be a thing now?

Dany and Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) pay what should be a lovely visit to Samwell Tarly (John Bradley), to thank him for curing Jorah’s dragonscale. The problem? Well, when Sam responds to Dany’s generous offer of reward it comes out that she had both his father Randyll (James Sebastian Faulkner) and brother Dickon (Tom Hopper) burnt alive by her dragons. Sam mostly manages to keep it together, admirably, but we can see his mighty heart is broken. This is actually the episode’s best scene, because it hammers home that there often is not a right answer in politics and war, just a series of least worst options. This leads to the biggest moment of the night – the one we’ve all been waiting for – when Sam goes to see Jon and tells him he is the child of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. This makes Jon not only not a bastard, but the true heir to the Iron Throne! Jon is rocked by the revelation and oh man, this is going to be awkward with Dany!

The episode then delivers a wonderfully creepy scene where Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) and Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) find young Ned Umber (Harry Grasby) very much dead and nailed to the wall, with a spiral of limbs left as a message from the Night King. However, Ned’s not as dead as he first appears, and attacks our heroes. He is stopped, and dispatched with fire, but it’s clear the Night King, and his army of the dead, are not pissfarting about anymore.

In a final scene, that appears to circle right back to the show’s very first episode, Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) arrives in Winterfell, attempting to be incognito. However, Bran – who apparently never leaves his spot in the yard – recognises him. You know, the bloke who put in the damn wheelchair in the first place!

“Winterfell” is a cracker of a first episode back, that manages to successfully reintroduce everyone and remind us why we’ve missed these characters over the long break between seasons. In keeping with latter era Thrones, it’s not exactly subtle. The writing is fairly blunt, as all the plot strands hurtle towards their respective climaxes, but atmospheric direction by David Nutter and stellar performances from all, particularly John Bradley, anchor the proceedings and give a sense of gravitas.

Welcome back, Game of Thrones! Now, if you could please confirm that Ser Pounce is actually still alive, and doing fine, that would be grand.

 
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The Curse of the Weeping Woman

Horror, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

The Conjuring series has long since expanded from being a franchise and is now a legitimate cinematic universe, for good and ill. While few would argue with the merits of the main series entries The Conjuring 1 and 2 (and upcoming 3), we’ve also had to contend with the likes of Annabelle and The Nun, with Annabelle Comes Home, The Nun 2 and The Crooked Man all on their way. The latest spin-off is the barely-connected-to-the-main-series Curse of the Weeping Woman.

Proceedings focus in on the slight tale of social worker, Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini), who is working to support two kids after the death of her police officer husband. Anna becomes involved with a case involving two apparently abused children, who are terrified of the spectre of La Llorona, a ghost in Latin American folklore. Naturally, Anna takes the pragmatic view that ghosts don’t exist, but soon the crying lady’s evil intentions are fixed on our plucky heroine’s family and she may have to reevaluate some stuff… if she survives.

Originally titled The Curse of La Llorona (and inevitably released in the US under the title due to the large Hispanic audience), the film has a few things going for it, but it seems intent on squandering them all. Linda Cardellini is an agreeable lead and tries her best, but the material is so bare bones she never really gets a chance to shine. Similarly, Raymond Cruz, who was so unforgettable as Tuco in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, has nice moments as troubled ex-priest Rafael Olvera, but they never add up to anything. Hell, even the Weeping Woman herself, played capably by Marisol Ramirez, never gets to do anything other than lurch onto screen accompanied by loud noises or look creepy hanging around puddles.

The Curse of the Weeping Woman had a lot of potential, but like a lot of The Conjuring spin-offs, it feels like a lesser entity. Worse still, it’s not at all scary and frequently a bit dull. Hell, at least Annabelle was bad enough to cause a few unintentional chuckles, whereas mirth of any kind is in short supply here; as is tension, atmosphere or any compelling reason to keep watching.

Ultimately, The Curse of the Weeping Woman is a forgettable dud, and that’s a crying shame.