Ray & Liz (2019)


Direction: Richard Billingham
Country: UK

Not many debutant directors have sufficient developed skills to make a grand first appearance, but photographer Richard Billingham achieved that feat with Ray & Liz, a tremendously impactful drama set in the Midlands, England, whose prodigious realism entraps us in the cruel, deeply rooted memories of his joyless childhood.

Combining the raw cinematic exposure of Andrea Arnold and the visual aesthetics of Chantal Akerman, Billingham dives into a disciplined, if rugged, autobiographical drama depicted with traces of bleak humor amidst parental negligence, indifference, and addiction.

The film comes in the sequence of previous short-documentary videos about his family as well as the first of a three-part feature named Ray, in which his alcoholic father is portrayed. Actually, the film’s inaugural shot consists in Ray (Patrick Romer) drinking a full glass of booze in an empty stomach. He is a heavy drinker abandoned to the solitude of a room infested with flies and seems to be patiently waiting for his death. His good neighbor Sid (Richard Ashton) is the only person visiting him, guaranteeing his daily supply of strong liquor. The story then winds back and we observe the routines of a younger Ray (Justin Salinger), his bellicose wife and compulsive smoker Liz (Ella Smith), and their two children: ten-year-old Richard (Jacob Tuton) and two-year-old Jason (Callum Slater).


This phase of the account features a particular episode that really sticks hard into the head. It's when Lol (Tony Way), an obtuse neighbor, drinks until unconscious while looking after Jason in the absence of his dysfunctional parents. After that, the story advances eight years in time to shock us even more with a dirty, unruly house and the inert, soporific behavior of Ray and Liz (her older version is played by Deirdre Kelly). At 18, Richard (Sam Plant) looks resigned with the situation, while Jason, now 10 (Joshua Millard-Lloyd), finds new hopes after almost freezing to death.

Admirably photographed by Daniel Landin (Under the Skin), the film represents a blasting match of stylish filmmaking and genuine writing material. It’s a wonderful debut, despite all the discomfort one may feel watching it.


The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind (2019)


Direction: Chiwetel Ejiofor
Country: UK / Malawi

Lamentably, it’s common to see inspirational fact-based stories become unexceptional films. And that’s the case with The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, the feature directorial debut by actor Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave), who also stars. With the latter in control of his own screenplay, the film is a pedestrian adaptation of the book co-written by Malawian William Kamkwamba, the protagonist and true hero of this story, and NY Times bestselling author Bryan Mealer.

Set in Malawi, the story follows William (Maxwell Simba), a smart 13-year-old boy from the village of Wimbe who puts his head to work after reading the book Using Energy. His intention is to help his family and neighbors overcoming a disastrous harvest season, a severe drought and subsequent famine that follows. Motivated, William finds no technical troubles in building the windmill to produce energy and pump water into the fields; his biggest challenge is to convince his incredulous father of what he just had done.


Ejiofor recreated the story with the best intentions, equally incorporating the political turmoil that was affecting the country. However, he seemed more concerned in touching our hearts with immoderate melodrama than providing an absorbing narrative depleted of that upsetting tonal familiarity that is commonly associated with emotional true stories.

There are a few slippery occasions where the film actually touches banality, yet the performance of the young debutant Simba prevented it to enter in an earlier collision. In the present case, forceful simplicity didn’t guarantee authenticity.


Fighting With My Family (2019)


Direction: Stephen Merchant
Country: UK / USA

British helmer Stephen Merchant brings family and wrestling to the forefront, propping up a crowd-pleasing comedy that feels as strenuously fraudulent as its topic. Expect a lot of stagy representation both inside and outside of the ring, in a fact-based story adapted for the big screen with a dramatic bait that is way too much contrived.

Siblings Zack (Jack Lowden) and Saraya Knight (Florence Pugh), were born in England, in a family of enthusiastic wrestlers. Their dream is to become professionals in the US and they have all the support of their liberal, hippie parents, Ricky (Nick Frost) and Julia (Lena Headey), also fans of the sport. These youngsters are go-getters and their passion and effort lead them to compete for a place in the WWE.


But whilst Saraya is picked among a bunch of candidates to participate in an intense training season in Florida, Zack, who is expecting a child, is left behind. Definitely separated from his childhood dream, he lets resentment undermine his soul and radically change his conduct. Meanwhile, Saraya, who changed her name to Paige and boasts an underground punk-ish style, is not adapting so well to the American ways, clashing with her three fellow colleagues, all former models and cheerleaders. Apparently, not even a change of look can make her swallow the strong pride and overcome the fact that she’s homesick and has no friends or motivation. Hence, the easiest way to end the pain is giving up. Will she?

Although making the experience a bit less painful through occasional funny lines about British/American divergences as well as contrasting postures between liberal and conservative families, the director makes this account feel too schematic in all its narrative. Energetic fights at the sound of hard rock music are intercalated with scenes soaked in melodramatic gimmick, which never worked for me. Already twisting in my seat, I was gladdened when, finally, the credits started to roll.


Happy New Year Colin Burstead (2018)


Direction: Ben Wheatley
Country: UK

Ben Wheatley is known for his subversive wittiness and distinct filmmaking style, aspects that earned him not just general acclaim but also some cult status with works such as Sightseers (2013), High-Rise (2016), and A Field in England (2014). His new film, Happy New Year Colin Burstead is nothing we haven’t seen before, depicting one of those nerve-wracking family reunions with equivalent portions of love and hate. Despite the familiarity of the tone and the slightly fussy dynamics, it still punches some impactful hooks through moderately uncomfortable situations.

During the first minutes, Colin Burstead (Neil Maskell) occupies the center of the stage, as he welcomes his relatives to a luxurious country manor he rented to celebrate New Year's Eve. As you are probably picturing in your head, the film includes a bunch of peculiar characters that, moved by assorted conflicts and disputes, take the party in unplanned directions. The principal focus of tension here is Colin’s brother, David (Sam Riley), who arrives from Berlin with his German girlfriend Hannah (Alexandra Maria Lara). Invited in secret by his naive sister Gini (Hayley Squires), David finds his brother and parents, Sandy (Doon Mackichan) and Gordon (Bill Paterson), still disgusted with the fact that he carelessly abandoned wife and children to embrace a new life in Germany.


If the pugnacious Colin argues with his father about financial predicaments, David charms his mother by playing on the piano a sentimental song he wrote for her. It’s nothing but a game of power, where everyone claims attention. The coolest figure is uncle Bertie (Charles Dance), an eccentric who dresses in woman’s clothes and nurtures a genuine tenderness for everyone. He was the only one that made me laugh.

Commanding a handheld camera, Wheatley orchestrated this comedy with delirium-free, improvised-like routines that bring it closer to the experimental genre. Moreover, he consolidated his script with additional material by the cast. Some of the film’s passages struggle with unevenness and the watching is more relaxed and fluid after the sometimes arduous task of identifying who is who.


The Favourite (2018)


Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Country: UK / USA / Ireland

Magnificently directed by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth; The Lobster; The Killing of a Sacred Deer), The Favourite is a sumptuous historical comedy-drama and feminist extravaganza. It narrates the unmeasurable thirst for power of two cousins, Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), who engage in a battle with each other to earn the favoritism of the whimsical Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) of Great Britain in the early 18th century.

When Abigail, a former aristocrat turned servant, arrives at the royal house, she finds her duchess cousin Sarah enjoying all the authority bestowed by the queen, who, besides insecure and unstable in regard to the country’s affairs - England is at war with France - is also suffering from both physical and psychological illnesses. After finding out that Sarah and the queen maintain a secret affair, Abigail sets a strategy to conquer the power and get rid of her cousin, whose absence related to important war deliberations only expedites her plan. Jealousy and hatred play big in a film where men are relegated to a second plan.


Broadening his vision and maturing his signature style, Lanthimos skillfully weaves the threads of a story that never stops to amuse us in a sort of mundanity-meets-elegance. The pair of writers, Tony McNamara and Deborah Davis, thoughtfully crafted a story whose wittiness, cynicism, and madness helped to transform The Favourite in one of the most impressive works of 2018.

Shot with sophistication, this unconventional period film is a triumph in many ways. It showcases an off-kilter sense of humor and a special conglomeration of carnality, darkness, fragility, and opulence. The superlative performances from the ensemble cast set this venomous female triangle on fire. If Stone and Weisz are extremely qualified in their roles, Colman is a marvel, playing the childish, solitary queen with so much artfulness and brilliance.

The production values are absolutely formidable, including the set and custom designs, the convenient soundtrack with Baroque, Romantic, and contemporary classical music, and the stunning cinematography by Robbie Ryan (I, Daniel Blake; Fish Tank). Furthermore, I’m glad that the bold, inimitable Lanthimos didn’t lose the power to shock and captivate at the same time, a staple in his filmography.


Colette (2018)


Directed by Wash Westmoreland
Country: UK / USA

Colette is an insipid, occasionally colorful biographical drama about the gifted French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, here impersonated by the ever-charming English actress Keira Knightley, whose penchant for period dramas is mirrored in Pride & Prejudice (2005), Atonement (2007) and Anna Karenina (2012). The script, co-written by director Wash Westmoreland (Still Alice, 2014) and his late husband Richard Glatzer, focuses initially on the author’s early years spent in her Burgundy’s rural hometown and then mostly in Paris in 1893, where she moves with her unfaithful, talent-thief Parisian husband, Willy (Dominic West), who pursues success in literature at any cost.

In a society dominated by men, Willy takes all the credit for his wife’s clever writing without sketching a single line. His first book, Claudine a Paris, is a massive success, but as a vainglorious and greedy literary entrepreneur, he wants more and doesn’t intend to stop there. In a rush to meet publishing deadlines, he abusively locks his wife in a room to force her writing a new novel. However, and for his uneasiness, Colette is not the submissive type, rebelling against her husband and the system, and venturing in lesbian affairs with the ardent American socialite Georgie Raoul-Duval (Eleanor Tomlinson) and the perspicacious boyish Missy (Denise Gough). The sudden revelation that Georgie also shares her bed with Willy becomes Colette’s inspirational source for her next literary success: Claudine en Ménage.

Despite some admirable period details, the interesting moments come and go in a perpetual intermittence, becoming increasingly scarce when the story reaches its final part. The director was unable to overcome the pallid storytelling, which could easily be turned into avant-garde eccentricity if he had had a bit more audacity. The competent cast could do nothing to help him in this department.

The film shares its art-theft topic with another recent drama film, The Wife, whose more attractive course of events was elevated by the splendid return of Glenn Close to a first-class role.

A lot was left behind in this depthless account of a disaffected ghostwriter who wanted to affirm her artistic gift, freely and publicly. She actually did it with bravery and conviction, but this film doesn’t do her justice. Hence, my suggestion is: save your ticket money and read Colette’s biography instead.

Apostle (2018)


Directed by Gareth Evans
Country: UK / USA

With the claustrophobic, medieval-esque, gory horror film “Apostle”, director Gareth Evans (“The Raid: Redemption”) attempts to offer us a bit more than just action sequences with insanely kinetic physical clashes. Indeed, the film tells a super dark story, set in 1905 and immersed in strong religious mysticism and fantasy.

Dan Stevens is Thomas Richardson, a traumatized former Christian missionary who travels to a remote Welsh island to rescue his innocent sister Jennifer (Elen Rhys) from the hands of a religious cult headed by the fervent prophet Malcolm Howe (Michael Sheen) and his power-hungry right-hand, Quinn (Mark Lewis Jones), a tyrant who deceptively looks for purity. These dark souls worship a mysterious, imprisoned goddess who feeds from the fresh blood of their ritualistic sacrifices.

Thomas is not willing to pay any ransom, concentrating all his efforts in finding Jennifer and set her free. When the rulers of the island realize there is an intruder, they contemptuously exhibit Jennifer publicly to attract his attention. Thomas is eventually entrapped and the success of the mission becomes dependent on Andrea (Lucy Boynton), the good-hearted daughter of Malcolm, who, in the meantime, loses ascendency for Quinn. Our hero is also guided by the young Jeremy (Bill Milner), son of another cult devotee, whose tragic fate is morbidly depicted in a disgusting scene that includes vile torture and men dressed in black KKK-style costumes.

The mise en scene, legitimately photographed by Matt Flannery, is representative of a disturbing combination of Kafkian fantasy, Bergman-like religious paranoia, and Chan-wook’s studies on brutality and torture, while also displaying sunless landscapes and dismal intramural scenarios.

The camera work is commanded with assuring preciseness, exhibiting a couple of glorious weirdly-angled shots that emphasize the bizarreness even more. As a violent, supernatural adventure, the film should attract both action and horror enthusiasts alike, yet Evans ends up slightly short of thrills and ambiguity, which are always valuable aspects of the genre. I’m convinced that this film would have benefited if told from a more psychological perspective instead of just relying on painful, physical horrors. “Apostle” has the proper mood but, regardless the different styles, couldn’t surpass the adrenaline infusion of The Raid installments, Evans’ true specialty.

The Escape (2018)


Directed by Dominic Savage
Country: UK

The sophomore feature film from Dominic Savage, “The Escape”, shows that the British director has a penchant for depicting conflictive relationships with decent levels of maturity. The director had an interesting debut in 2005 with “Love+Hate” and since then has been dedicated to TV movies and series.

This subtly aching new drama is set in suburban London and follows a thirty-something housewife and mother of two, Tara (Gemma Arterton), who is extremely unhappy in her marriage, and whose life becomes more and more draining and pointless. Her daily routine includes taking care of the kids, do the housecleaning, make dinner, and be available for her unmindful husband Mark (Dominic Cooper), who assures a good financial stability but cannot see the lamentable emotional state she got into.

It’s sad to realize that this intelligent woman cries while forcing herself to please the sexual appetites of her selfish partner. There are no signs of pleasure or joy in her expression and their relationship gradually becomes poisoned by bitterness and resentment. Suffocated, she ends up taking her anger out on the innocent kids, showing that her emotional fortitude reached a very low level.


She seems not to have close friends and the only person with whom she talks to, from time to time, is her nonchalant mother, who states she’s just going through a phase. Suffocated and determined to do something more with her life, Tara flees from home and heads to Paris, where she has a romantic adventure with a local photographer, Phillipe (Jalil Lespert). The chemistry between the two is palpable, but is this the affair she needs?

Despite Arterton’s outstanding performance, the film weakens considerably in its last section. In a frustrating way, the drama stalls in terms of fluency after the main character’s self-imposed freedom. Hence, the solidly built oppression that comes from the household becomes the film's emotional peak. This undeniable decrescendo of enthrallment tells us that "The Escape" is a fair drama that could have been better.


The Bookshop (2018)


Directed by Isabel Coixet
Country: UK / Spain / Germany

The adaptation of Penelope Fitzgerald’s 1978 novel The Bookshop by Spanish director Isabel Coixet ("My Life Without Me", "Elegy", "Learning To Drive") is not devoid of plot disturbances but provides fair moments of gorgeous filmmaking and acceptable entertainment.

Emily Mortimer embodies Florence Green, a merry, patient, and bighearted thirty-something widow who decides to open a bookshop in the small English town of Hardborough, Suffolk. The idea, however, didn’t please the powerful Violet Gamart (Patricia Clarkson in her third collaboration with Coixet), who already had her own plans for the abandoned historical Old House, now Florence’s home and place of work. Moved by an atrocious condescension, Violet starts to harass Florence, using her political influence and strengthen by the passage of a bill that allows her to take possession of the Old House if a philanthropic project is considered. Since the beginning, it has been her intention to transform the place into a modern art center, where she could program art lectures and chamber music for the local high society.

If you think Florence is alone in this battle, you're mistaken. Strangely, her loyal allies and best friends happen to be Christine (Honor Kneafsey), a talkative young girl who finds the boys repulsive and is hired as her assistant, and the enigmatic Edmund Brundish (Bill Nighy), an avid reader who lives secluded in his mansion after the death of his wife, a motive for speculation among the inhabitants. Without leaving home, Brundish buys her modern books, including the progressive Fahrenheit 451 and the polemic Lolita, both considered audacious for the time. The transactions and correspondence are established through a young local messenger.


Florence’s intellectual openness and disarming modesty - she can really feel uncomfortable in a deep maroon dress - attract Mr. Brundish, who sacrifices his comfortable isolation to intercede in her favor. On the contrary, the lazy, scornful, and opportunist Mr. North (James Lance) takes advantage of her benevolence, stabbing her in the back at the first opportunity.

Everything is systematic and structured yet flowing, with lilting jazz standards playing in the background whenever the narrator, whose recurrent presence is contestable, points the direction. Anyway, it was the courage of the good characters that made me enjoy this flawed drama film. With Clarkson embracing a more modest role, Mortimer and Nighy deserve the acting spotlights. In her polished yet non-elaborate style, Ms. Coixet did enough to win the categories of Best Director, Best Film, and Best Adapted Screenplay at the Spanish 32nd Goya Awards.


Disobedience (2018)


Directed by Sebastián Lelio
Country: UK / Ireland / USA

Sebastian Lelio, the son of an Argentinean architect and a Chilean ballet dancer, is one of the most praised representatives of contemporary Chilean cinema alongside Pablo Larrain. His debut feature, “The Sacred Family”, came out in 2005, but it was only in 2013 that the filmmaker got the deserved attention with the unforgettable drama “Gloria”, an international success and his best film to date. The film collected many prizes in festivals such as Berlin, Lima, Havana, and Palm Springs, yet, none of them was so precious as the recent Oscar in the category of best foreign film with “A Fantastic Woman”, which relaunched the acting career of transgender classical singer Daniela Vega.

With love and sexuality as recurrent topics, “Disobedience”, starring Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams, utilizes different colors to illustrate known patterns, only transferred to a dissimilar setting. Lelio teamed up with Rebecca Lenkiewicz (“Ida”) in the adaptation of Naomi Alderman’s novel of the same name. The story is set in suburban London and follows the prohibited love between two Orthodox Jewish women and childhood friends, who reconnect after years of growing apart. 

The non-practicing Ronit (Weisz) is a successful if erratic photographer living in New York for many years. She flies to her hometown, Hendon, London, as she learns about the death of her father, a prominent rabbi whose inflamed exhortations used to include subjects as the clarity of the angels, the desires of the beast, and the freedom of choice given to every human being. The family members are incredulous, in some cases even a bit overwhelmed, with her presence. However, her cousin Dovid (Alessandro Nivola) was nice enough to welcome her into his house. The complication comes from the fact that he married Esti (McAdams), Ronit's former teenage lover, who, living an unhappy life, is still madly attracted to her. She profoundly admires the liberal Ronit, a symbol of feminist prowess, for having had the courage to escape the religious strictness of their cultural roots. The only enjoyable thing in her life seems to be her work.


There is a sense of despair enveloping the two female characters since what they feel for each other is much stronger than any rigid rule imposed by the society. While in the company of Esti at her father’s unoccupied house, disappointingly left to the Synagogue, Ronit tunes a radio station that was playing Love Song by the goth-rock band The Cure. The song seems to bring voluptuous old memories. Tender kisses turn up naturally and the disobedience to the rules recklessly extends beyond the house, putting Esti’s reputation in danger. What to do next, when the secret is revealed?

Despite beautifully conceived until this moment, the powerful drama becomes contrived. Initially built with an enthralling tension and clever insight, it suddenly fails to grasp in its flimsy climax. Dovid’s impulsive change in posture regarding Esti’s quest for freedom felt too flexible and untroubled, tolerating emotions to become forged, more fabricated than genuine. Even if the romantic triangle didn’t work so well, the first-class performances from McAdams and Weisz are good reasons to watch “Disobedience”. The way they come to grips with the conflict between religious austerity and taboo lesbian romance in their community is still complex and interesting.


Modern Life Is Rubbish (2018)


Directed by Daniel Jerome Gill
Country: UK

Debutant director Daniel Jerome Gill snatched the title from Blur's second album of originals, “Modern Life Is Rubbish”, but, unlike the British rock band, was unable to find the originality to elevate this romantic comedy to higher standards. The film, an expansion of his 2009 short film of the same name, was written by Philip Gawthorne and stars Josh Whitehouse and Freya Mavor as a romantic couple whose uncontrollable passion for Blur’s music reinforced their mutual attraction for ten years.

Liam (Whitehouse) is a London vocalist/guitarist and songwriter who struggles to take his rock trio, Head Cleaner, to the place they deserve. Natalie (Mavor) is a sympathetic graphic designer who loves CD covers, sharing the same musical tastes of her boyfriend. 
Sounds awesome, right? Yet, the film doesn’t kick off with a happy couple. The first minutes show how painful a separation can be, and how different a man and a woman react to the situation. While Liam keeps simulating indifference, the visibly upset Natalie literally shed tears out of frustration and disappointment. This is all about priorities in life. More mature, she wants to raise a family, progress in her career, and have a comfortable life, willing to make sacrifices now for a better future. In turn, he has no idea of what’s going on, panics with the idea of a regular job, and blames the society for all his impasses and failures.

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Things get out of hand when Liam appears drunk in the gallery where Natalie had been assigned for a presentation, jeopardizing her work. Tactless and petulant, the musician amuses himself in a furious yet stagy scene that leads to the rupture.

Embracing a dull nostalgia, the good moments of the past are reconstructed through several flashbacks, which emerge surrounded by the light glare of Tim Sidell’s cinematography and a few decent indie rock songs, two positive aspects of the film.

As for the rest, everything remains unimaginative, unfunny, and formulaic, in an absurd attempt to compensate the tedious musical part with the insipid romance and vice-versa. It’s a groundless, vicious cycle aggravated by monotonous lines and clichéd postures. Not even the experienced Ian Hart (“Liam”, “Michael Collins”, “Backbeat”), as the band’s stylish yet demanding manager, could prevent this song from playing wrong jarring chords.


Final Portrait (2017)


Directed by Stanley Tucci
Country: UK

Final Portrait”, the first film of Stanley Tucci in 10 years, not only brings about a few interesting aspects about the personality of the Swiss multidisciplinary artist Alberto Giacometti, but also stages his relationship with James Lord, the film narrator and art critic who exhaustively posed for him in an impeccable suit, delaying consecutively his trip back to New York.

British cinematographer Danny Cohen did an excellent job, giving the picture the monochromatic tones that had marked the artist’s painting style while capturing Giacometti's decrepit, and often messy, studio and the 1964 Parisian atmosphere.

Geoffrey Rush ("Shine", "Quills", "The King's Speech") and Armie Hammer ("Call Me By Your Name"), embodying Giacometti and Lord, respectively, become the true artisans of a passable biopic whose mood kept oscillating between the diverting and the unaspiring. There were brief moments where I could engage with the characters, while on others, I expected much more as I started to react with indifference to the repetitive swearing proper of a perpetually unsatisfied genius.


“I will never be able to paint you as I see you. It’s impossible.” Says the artist to his model. A bit neurotic and sometimes radical in his attitudes, the temperamental Giacometti keeps his large income at home, confesses he thinks about suicide on a daily basis, only cares about his miserable wife (Sylvie Testud) when he’s sick, and burns all his money with a young hectic prostitute named Caroline (Clémence Poésy), his primary model, inspiration, and obsession. Sometimes, dominated by frustration and impelled by furious attacks, he throws his valuable art in the garbage.

Tucci’s ideas, together with Rush’s acting abilities, were enough to minimally shape the artist, but this biographical drama has no place among the best I’ve seen lately. 


God's Own Country (2017)


Directed by Francis Lee
Country: UK

God’s Own Country”, a British drama film focused on sexuality, addiction, and unhappiness, has the lonely landscapes of Yorkshire, North of England, as a backdrop. First-time director Francis Lee, who also wrote the script, saw his work facilitated by the impressive performances of Josh O'Connor and Alec Secareanu, who play two strangers turned intimate friends.

Johnny Saxby (O'Connor) is far from the old happy days of his adolescence after being engulfed by the real world. Seen as an irresponsible good-for-nothing by his conservative father (Ian Hart), an aging sheep-farmer who got debilitated after suffering a stroke, Johnny is forced to work many hours alone in the fields, taking care of the sheep and making sure they have the proper conditions to give healthy births. After all, it's the business that sustains the family.

However, in order to smother the loneliness and his repressed homosexuality, John refuges himself in the alcohol night after night. He is unable to keep the work flowing as he wakes up late and heavily intoxicated. Thus, tension is constantly present at home or whenever his father is around.


Things take a turn after a Romanian migrant worker, Gheorghe Ionescu (Secareanu), is hired to give him a hand during the lambing season. At first, he is mistreated by Johnny, who puts some airs while calling him ‘gypo’, but then, boss and employee are moved by a magnetic attraction, embarking on a homosexual relationship that will make the young farmer reliable and available again. Yet, because life is never too simple and constantly tests us with difficulties, Johnny spoils everything with another weighty night of drinks that ends up in betrayal, jealousy, and ultimately anguish.

God’s Own Country” is raw and sometimes rough in its manners, being a much less-polished exercise than the Italian “Call Me By Your Name”, a refined coming-of-age drama which addresses homosexuality, personal emotions, and working processes in a contrasting way. Still, if the cited Italian drama ends in tears, the British one ends with an optimistic smile.

The compelling narrative matches the plausible scenario and the actors remain sober in their roles. O’Connor's first big move here can function as a door opener for future possibilities.


The Party (2017)


Directed by Sally Potter
Country: UK

Writer-director Sally Potter (“Orlando”, “Ginger & Rosa”) didn't need more than one hour and eleven minutes to delight us in her stimulating comedy-drama “The Party”, which hilariously depicts a celebratory gathering of bourgeois English friends, who unexpectedly become alienated after a few painful truths have been disclosed. The film, superbly photographed in a lovely black-and-white by Russian Aleksei Rodionov, boasts a precious ensemble cast that includes Patricia Clarkson, Timothy Spall, Kristin Scott Thomas, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Cillian Murphy, and Emily Mortimer.

The idea is certainly not new, but Ms. Potter added the required amount of facetious lines and created considerable scathing situations to make it completely self-reliant when compared to other movies with similar topics such as “The Celebration”, “Krisha”, and “August, Osage County”.

The story begins with Janet (Thomas), a highly competent politician in the opposition party who made it to the top. She’s holding a small party at her house to celebrate the deserved promotion that made her a UK’s shadow minister. Her husband Bill (Spall), who infallibly supported her in the whole process toward a successful career, is seated in the living room, drinking wine and listening to his old blues records. Drunk and desolated, his eyes are fixed in the vague, and his depressed semblance makes us guess that he’s probably more worried than happy.

The invited friends keep arriving one after another. Each one of them brings something peculiar and interesting scene, hence, there are no tedious or frivolous characters at this celebration. First arrives a fabulous couple composed of April (Clarkson), a former provocative idealist turned into cynical realist, and her German husband, Gottfried (Ganz), a self-proclaimed spiritual healer who deeply annoys his wife, even when meditating with his mouth shut. She plans to separate from him soon. 


The next is Tom (Murphy), a handsome and wealthy banker who seemed very agitated. He arrived without his wife Maryanne, Janet’s colleague and best friend, but brought cocaine, a pistol, and a glint of madness in his eyes. According to his behavior, one can tell he has a ruinous plan in mind for that night.

In turn, the lesbian couple that follows, Martha (Jones) and Jinny (Mortimer), show up with a radiant smile on their faces, announcing that the latter is going to give birth to three children. This is “the miracle of conception”, derides Gottfried. However, they won’t leave the house in the same mood.

The troubles start when Bill reveals he got a terminal diagnosis from the doctor. As an atheist and a materialist, he doesn’t know how to cope with the situation, asking for Gottfried's help. The discussion goes to many places, from the inefficiency of the Western medicine to past lives, and from karma to faith.

Janet, who also hides her own secrets, got hysterical with the news, becoming furious the next minute when another bomb falls down: Bill is being unfaithful to her, and his lover is Marianne. 

As an exercise in mood, the efficiently edited “The Party” serves as a showcase for the general powerful acting, yet, the film’s heart is Clarkson with her mordant observations and sarcastic postures. Effortlessly gliding between pungent drama and theatrical satire, this is an inspired, fast-paced chamber piece that ends gloriously staggering.


Lady Macbeth (2017)

Directed by William Oldroyd
Country: UK

Emergent British actor Florence Pugh delivers a monstrous performance, in both senses of the word, in “Lady Macbeth”, a pitch-dark period drama that focuses on a Shakespearean main character that ascends from hell, exposing her murderous instincts to solve all the predicaments that may destabilize her will.

In 19th-century England, the young Katherine (Pugh) is sold to the Lesters, a wealthy rural family composed of Boris (Christopher Fairbank), an authoritarian old man, and his bitter, tormented son, Alexander (Paul Hilton). She was bought to marry the latter, who treats her with bluntness and rudeness while strangely keeps rejecting her sexually. This behavior drives her crazy and increases her craving for an affair, which eventually happens with Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), the impertinent new stableman.

Obstinate and prepotent, Katherine, who had been strictly forbidden to leave the house, refuses to comply with the rules of her ruling father-in-law and remorselessly poisons him to have her way.

When her estranged husband returns after a long absence, confronting her with the affair already made public, Katherine doesn’t feel intimidated. On the contrary, she provokes his wrath by exhibiting Sebastian to him. The ambitious lovers murder the dishonored Alexander and fulfill their dream: to become the masters of the entire estate.

Everything went exactly according to the plan, except for the unexpected arrival of a strange and self-assured woman who brings her grandson Teddy to live in the house. According to her, the young boy is the son of Alexander and her daughter, his mistress. 

Cerebrally insidious and wildly violent by turns, “Lady Macbeth” was elegantly put together and thoroughly controlled by the first-time director William Oldroyd, who followed a screenplay by Alice Birch, based on the novel “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District” by Russian novelist and playwright Nikolai Leskov. Opting for an unadorned filmmaking style likely influenced by the also English Andrea Arnold and Terence Davis, the gifted newcomer thoroughly portraits a possessive, lusty relationship poisoned by a murky feline woman whose impulsive, tenebrous, and immoral acts make her a worthy object of study in psychology and psychiatry.

This is a fantastic example on how to seek inspiration in past literary works and create bold fresh material.
Unusual, uncomfortable, austere, and tragic, this drama film will likely give you the bitterest taste you’ve had this year in the movie theaters.