A Catch-up Interlude – My own private film festival

I love movies and I have shelves of unwatched DVDS. This week I’ve been watching a film or two a day – here’s a few words about what I’ve seen…


12 alien spaceships arrive on Earth, distributed around the globe. Each host nation races to be the first to discover why they are there. In the US, Louise Banks (Adams) is recruited alongside a physicist (Renner) to join the elite army team. Louise must decipher the ‘heptapod’s’ ideoogram language. Meanwhile the Chinese are leading the rest of the world with Russia not far behind – and things are getting politically very hot indeed. Louise’s efforts to understand the aliens alternates between flashback scenes with her young daughter who died. There just wasn’t enough urgency in the middle section for me – I fell asleep – and had to rewatch the chunk I missed. I’d like to read the Ted Chiang novella (Story of your life) it was based upon to understand it all a bit better as the circularity of time for the aliens was a difficult concept to film. The film looked good though.

2016 (12) 111 mins. Dir Denis Villeneuve, starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Now this was more like it! Frances McDormand is like a coiled spring all through this movie, in which her character is seeking closure after her daughter was raped and murdered. Posting a provocative message on the three old billboards outside the little town, she generates a tension there that results in a battle with the police. Woody Harrelson’s police chief has his own personal battle of cancer to deal with, and the young cop Jason (Sam Rockwell) is full of his own anger, stoked by his awful Momma. This film was darkly comic, laugh out loud occasionally, but also really moving at times. The character development of Jason was particularly well done. It was totally gripping, as you were never quite sure what was going to happen next. Superb!

2017 (15) 110 mins. Written/Dir/Prod Martin McDonagh, starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell.

The Wife

Now this I watched on Netflix, after Clare mentioned its availability in her review of The Wife by Meg Wollitzer, which the film is adapted from. Glenn Close was up against McDormand for the Oscar, but lost out. The story of an author awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and his journey to accept the award with his wife and son, it soon becomes clear that the marriage of Joe and Joan Castleman is sitting on shaky ground. He’s a philandering monster, she has put up with his ways ever since they met in college where he was her tutor (there are a few flashback scenes). Pryce is great as the vain and pompous great author, Close just acts her heart out by doing that quiet internalised screen acting that lets us know what she is thinking by what’s going on behind her smile. The eyes and strained smile say it all. By the time the ceremony happens you know it’s all going to boil over. I can’t help thinking that Close was robbed of the Oscar, (McDormand already having one for a sort of similar role in Fargo). A superb character study – must read the book now.

2017 (15) 100 mins. Dir Björn Runge, starring Glenn Close, Jonathan Pryce.

Manchester by the Sea

Lee, (Casey Affleck), a janitor/handyman’s life is thrown into turmoil when his brother dies, and entrusts guardianship of his son Patrick (Lucas Hedges) to Lee. Lee is forced to return to the town he’d left behind, where his brother still lived, along with his ex-wife (Michelle Williams). Lee has lived a loner’s life since he moved away, drinking, fighting in bars, not making friends. Now the grieving brother has to return to the scene of a previous tragedy to parent Patrick. Set in a seaside town in Massachusetts, where Lee’s brother owned a boat, the scenery was wonderful. Affleck was superb, easy-going one moment, drunk brawler the next. There were some shocking moments in the flashbacks which made for hard watching, but the whole film was too long.

2016 (15) 137 mins. Written/Dir Kenneth Lonergan, starring Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams.

A Mighty Wind

Anyone who has ever acted pretended to play an instrument in any production needs to watch this film! I am convinced that the entire cast actually played every instrument.

An affectionate parody of the cutthroat 1960s folk music scene, as reprised for a memorial concert decades later by the ageing folk stars whose old manager has died – this absolutely brilliant movie was made by Christopher Guest, starring all his friends including Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara. Guest and co have made the mockumentary their own ever since This is Spinal Tap. It’s laugh out loud and full of wonderful cheesy folk music, properly played by the actors – I’ll say that again – properly played by the actors (except for one which is an in-joke). It’s very cleverly done – and there are some great extras on the DVD; I’ve yet to find the Easter Egg though. I adored this film, although critics were more lukewarm at the time.

2003 (12) 88 mins. Co-written/Dir Christopher Guest, also starring Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara amongst others.

The Two Faces of January

This psychological drama was adapted from a lesser-known Patricia Highsmith novel published in 1964. It’s 1962 and a middle-aged American con-man, Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen), is travelling with his younger wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst) in Athens. They meet a young American student, Rydal (Oscar Isaac), who is scamming the tourists, and invite him to dinner. Shortly afterwards a private detective catches up with MacFarland wanting his clients’ money back – and MacFarland accidentally kills him. Rydal was returning Colette’s bracelet she dropped and helps MacFarland move the ‘drunk’ body (he doesn’t realise the guy is dead). Seen with the body by other hotel guests, MacFarland panics and he and Colette leave the hotel without their passports. Rydal knows a man who can help, but they’ll have to hide out on Crete while they wait. The action cleverly shifts back and forth between MacFarland and Rydal having the upper hand, leading to a great denouement. Shot on location in Greece and Turkey, the film is gorgeous to look at, and its three stars are all excellent. Very enjoyable, with enough twists to keep you guessing.

2014 (12) 97 mins. Written/Dir Hossein Amini, starring Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, Oscar Isaac.

The Big Short

I am going to have to watch this film again, just to understand all the technical stuff – but on a first viewing, you wouldn’t think it possible that a film about the financial crash of 2008 could be compulsive viewing but The Big Short was – totally! Christian Bale is the mad wunderkind stockbroker who comes up with the scheme to bet that the housing bubble based on sub-prime loans created by the banks will burst. Brokers played by Ryan Gosling and Steve Carrell discover the plan and go in for themselves, although Carrell is an ethical man (as far as you can say that about a banker), and a duo of young investors do the same, with the help of a retired broker played by Brad Pitt. This film is innovative in that every time a new financial term is brought in, the actors will break the fourth wall to explain it, or they’ll cut to a cameo appearance to do similar: Margot Robbie, Anthony Bourdain, Selena Gomez and economist Richard Thaler do the honours. The rest of the supporting cast were also great and the film moves along at a good pace – you have to keep up! Fab-u-lous, but the bankers won’t learn…

2015 (15) 125 mins. Dir/Prod Adam McKay, starring Christian Bale, Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt.


And finally, I went to the cinema to see Richard Curtis’s (by way of McKenzie Crook) new romcom directed by Danny Boyle. It’s an affectionate Beatles tribute. Himesh Patel is Jack Malik, ex-teacher, now warehouseman and wannabe singer/songwriter. He’s cycling home after a pub gig when he’s hit by a bus – and wakes up to discover the world has changed – The Beatles never existed, but he can remember all of their songs. He tries some out on his friends including Lilly James as Ellie, his school teacher-manager, and they love them. Cue recording some and coming to the attention of local superstar Ed Sheeran, playing himself with good humour. Sheeran books Jack to replace his ill support on his world tour. Jack wows the audiences and soon branches out on his own to become a star – but he’s wracked with guilt, over his plagiarism, over Lily James whom he loves really.

It’s a romcom, so boy has to lose girl before he can find her again – all is neatly resolved with a good twist. Along the way, we get loads of great Beatles songs, performed well by Patel – who can obviously actually play the piano and guitar and sing. Sadly, I could still only see Patel as Tamwar from Eastenders, with mostly the same bemused or shocked facial expressions, but he was lovable. Lily James as Ellie was a bit underused, but Joel Fry as his friend and roadie Rocky, and Meera Syal and Sanjeev Bhaskar as Jack’s parents gave great support. The US actress who played his agent was a truly scary caricature.

Jack’s album launch was filmed at the Pier Hotel (on the roof – natch!) in Gorleston-on-Sea near Great Yarmouth – I lived a few hundred yards down the road during my first job out of uni – so that was a super nostalgia trip. Anyone other than Boyle wouldn’t have got the rights to all the Beatles songs – although it is rumoured that securing them cost $10M , and the real Hey Jude plays out over the closing credits – I was singing along all the way through, and giggling at all the Beatles references worked in. This film is slight and silly – but it is affectionate towards the music, and soppy in all the right places. Loved it – an ideal summer romcom.

2019 (12A) 116 mins. Dir Danny Boyle, starring Himesh Patel, Lily James.

So that was my own private film festival! Back to books soon.

12 thoughts on “A Catch-up Interlude – My own private film festival

  1. Laura says:

    Wow, I think you’ve just watched more films than I watch in months (despite have membership of my local independent cinema…) I struggled with both the concept behind Arrival, which didn’t seem to me to make much sense, and the gender politics of the film. ‘Story of Your Life’ is superior in every way. Really enjoyed Three Billboards and I must see The Wife, The Big Short and Yesterday.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I’ve had the house to myself all week – so could inhabit the lounge with my big telly at my leisure! I’m so glad to hear the Ted Chiang novella is good – he popped up in the extras and immediately appealed to me, I’ve not read him at all, although I know he is revered in the SF world.

      • Laura says:

        He’s fairly hard SF and I enjoyed some of his stories more than others, but he’s so consistently intelligent and imaginative. I’m looking forward to his new collection Exhalation. House to yourself with DVDs sounds amazing!

  2. Calmgrove says:

    A neat little mini film season! I’ve only seen two of these (A Mighty Wind, and The Big Short) but there are a few I’d definitely want to watch: Billboards, The Two Faces of January (the novel reviewed here: https://wp.me/s2oNj1-january) and Yesterday. Like you I find actors miming playing instruments not only irritating but embarrassing, and they completely break the spell of verisimilitude for me. Why, oh why can’t film-makers fix that? ☹️

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Making Cumberbatch mime the violin is about the only crap thing in Sherlock – as for Brent Spiner as Data doing the same in Star Trek TNG – it shouldn’t be allowed!.

      • Calmgrove says:

        Yes, I remember that Sherlock moment, definitely embarrassing, like the supposed concert cellist in one of the James Bond films with Timothy Dalton, The Livng Daylights: an awful effort, even in long shot. Have you seen A Late Quartet? Four actors (Christopher Walken and Philip Seymour Hoffman among them) give a passable mime of playing Beethoven string quartets until, at the very end, a real cellist joins a performance, and then their miming is shown for the wooden effort that it is. Excruciating.

  3. A Little Blog of Books says:

    Hope you enjoy The Wife (the book) – it is very rare for me to watch a film adaptation first and then seek out the book immediately afterwards but I thought both were excellent! I enjoyed The Big Short more than I thought I would too and Frances McDormand is just brilliant in Three Billboards.

Leave a Reply