Miss Juneteenth (2020)

A crown don’t make some magical life where all your dreams come true. Turquoise Jones (Nicole Beharie) former beauty queen and single mom prepares her rebellious fourteen-year old daughter Kai (Alexis Chikaeze) for the Miss Juneteenth pageant a scholarship programme for black girls in Fort Worth, Texas to commemorate the day in 1865 when slaves found out they had actually been freed two years earlier. She has an on-off relationship with her mechanic husband Ronnie (Kendrick Sampson) who lives apart from the family but occasionally hooks up with Turq despite the efforts of local funeral director Bacon (Akron Watson) to woo her as he’s been attempting since their teens; her pastor mother (Lori Hayes) is an alcoholic from whom she’s mostly estranged; and her life serving rowdy locals in a bar-restaurant seems hopeless. She is pinning everything on Kai making it through the pageant process to ensure her future – the future she herself messed up. Kai however is only interested in dancing and wants to do it competitively and take the alternate route through life and her mother’s destiny is one she wants to avoid then Ronnie gets put in jail after a fishing expedition goes wrong, money is short and Turq has to dream differently … Not only will you represent your beautiful selves but our history as well. Written and directed by Channing Godfrey Peoples, this takes a cliched setting – single mother, deadbeat dad, endless money troubles – and upends all expectations by subtle writing and performing, especially by Beharie. This isn’t just about a stage mother – it’s about race and society and changing your destiny. It also has an historical basis which is easily threaded through the story in which disappointments seem interminable and family seem to permanently let you down. The upbeat twist ending suggests that sometimes daughters know best, the very antithesis of Mildred Pierce in this uplifting tale of empowerment and sisterhood. Executive produced by David Lowery. Was I a good mother?

Tanya Roberts 15th October 1955 – 5th January 2021

The death has taken place of actress Tanya Roberts, a unique performer whose work crossed exploitation, cult, erotica, much-loved television shows and mainstream cinema, most famously as geologist Stacey Sutton opposite love interest Roger Moore in A View to a Kill. She worked with filmmakers as diverse as Larry Cohen and James Toback before finding fame in fabulous swords and sorcery epic The Beastmaster as the beautiful slave Kiri which led to other exotic fare like Sheena: Queen of the Jungle (well directed by John Guillermin). She starred on TV as Julie Rogers in the final season of Charlie’s Angels. She made a great Velda opposite Stacy Keach’s Mike Hammer and with fewer high profile roles in the Nineties she appeared in some erotic fare on the big and small screen including comedies and mysteries, one of which she associate produced, and did voice work on animations. She found her niche again on the beloved retro TV series That Seventies Show as hippie mom Midge Pinciotti. Sadly she fell ill on Christmas Eve. May she rest in peace.

Capricorn One (1978)

A funny thing happened on the way to Mars. Three astronauts Charles Brubaker (James Brolin), Peter Willis (Sam Waterston) and John Walker (O.J. Simpson) are about to launch into space on the first mission to Mars. But when a mechanical failure surfaces that would kill the three men, NASA chief Dr James Kelloway (Hal Holbrook) removes them from the Capricorn One capsule otherwise their funding will be pulled by Washington. To prevent a public outcry, NASA secretly launches the capsule unmanned and requires the astronauts to film fake mission footage in a studio in the middle of the desert. They do so under fear of their families being killed on a plane bringing them back home. However, the plan is compromised when ambitious TV journalist Robert Caulfield (Elliott Gould) starts reading deeply into a message Brubaker has broadcast to his wife Kay (Brenda Vaccaro) after his friend at NASA Elliot Whitter (Robert Walden) suddenly disappears when he detected the TV signals ahead of the capsule transmissions. When Caulfield’s brakes are tampered with he visits Mrs Brubaker at home to watch some innocuous home movies which confirm his suspicions that the mission is faked then finds the FBI in his apartment framing him for drug possession … With that kind of technology you can convince people of almost anything. Conspiracy theories ahoy! Director Peter Hyams’ screenplay exploits the story that won’t go away about the televised Apollo moon landing and extrapolates a juicy suspenser with an amiable cast. Not in the same league as the major paranoid thrillers of the era, it’s still bright and breezy and pretty plausible given the deniability factors and the political mood. Of cult value for the (non-)performance of Simpson with Karen Black along to help the wonderfully ironic Gould (whose dialogue is superior to the rest of the cast’s) get his man. And then there’s a crop dusting scene that of course recalls North by Northwest – in reverse! With Kojak at the helm! Godalmighty this is a lot of fun but there’s one horrifying scene in the noonday sun that will make you weep. It’ll keep something alive that shouldn’t die

Downhill (2020)

It wasn’t nothing – at all. It was something. Pete Stanton (Will Ferrell) and his lawyer wife Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) are holidaying in Ischgl, Austria with their young sons Finn (Julian Grey) and Emerson (Ammon Jacob Ford) when a close call with an avalanche brings all the pre-existing tensions in their relationship to the fore after Pete runs with his mobile phone instead of ensuring his family’s safety. Publicly, Billie says it’s because Pete is mourning his father, dead eight months earlier. Their sexually forthright tour guide Lady Bobo (Miranda Otto) makes them uncomfortable but Billie starts to feel the seven year itch. Pete is in contact with his colleague Zach (Zach Woods) who’s on a whistlestop, country-a-day trip to Europe with girlfriend Rosie (Zoe Chao) and he invites them both to visit without informing Billie who promptly tells them about how he left the family in the lurch when he thought the avalanche was going to kill them. Then she has an assignation with a very forward ski instructor … Dad ran away. The American remake of Swedish filmmaker’s Ruben Ostlund’s fantastic 2014 black comedy Force Majeure is that rare thing – it works of itself, it’s subtle, funny, striking and just the right duration. If its sketchiness occasionally lacks the dark dynamism of the original and doesn’t capitalise on Ferrell in particular, it replaces it with some obvious sexual jokes but never loses the central conceit – the total failure of communications between two grown ups who cannot face the truth of their relationship. We’re in a stock image right now. Louis-Dreyfus’ outburst in front of Zach and Rosie is astonishing – and using the kids to back her up is a step even she eventually concedes is a bit de trop. Ferrell’s riposte – going apeshit in a nightclub off his head – doesn’t play the same but he’s a simpler, selfish beast. This is real battle of the sexes territory. The conclusion – when Billie tries to make Pete look good in front of their sons – suggests that this icy marriage might not even last to the end of the credits. Directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash who co-wrote the screenplay with Jesse Armstrong. Every day is all we have

Misbehaviour (2020)

So this is the eye of the revolution – up close it sure is revolting. As the 1970 Miss World competition looms, divorced mother of a little daughter Sally Alexander (Keira Knightley) encounters sexism as she is interviewed for a place as a mature History student at University College London. She encounters Women’s Liberation activist Jo Robinson (Jessie Buckley) painting slogans on a poster and warns her about bobbies patrolling the street. She joins her group which lives as a commune and advises them to engage with the media – they’re so shabby and disorganised and they don’t even have TV but another group in Peckham disagrees with their tactics. Meanwhile Eric Morley (Rhys Ifans) and his wife Julia (Keeley Hawes) are busy trying to secure Bob Hope (Greg Kinnear) as host of Miss World against his wife Dolores’ (Lesley Manville) wishes because when he last did it in 1961 he took the winner home. Pressured by London-based South African apartheid activist Peter Hain (Luke Thompson), Eric Morley decides to parachute in an extra contestant, black Pearl Jansen (Loreece Harrison) who along with Miss Grenada Jennifer Hosten (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is one of the few coloured contestants in the beauty contest. Then a wilder element of Libbers blows up a BBC van on the eve of the competition and the Grosvenor Road commune has to go through with a proper protest under cover of normal clothing during the live show … You think you can have the same freedoms as a man but you can’t. The screenplay by Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe from Frayn’s story is rooted in reality: this is a group biography but done as a comedy drama in the style of a heist story. It’s a conscientious and entertaining if mild intervention into the evolution of women’s rights. A touch more of zany might have helped this become a genre entry which it’s straining to do but respect for the (still living) heroines obviously hampers wilder moments. And perhaps the truth. It’s a political tale of unbelievable misogyny and inequality. The display of the beauty queens’ behinds for rating is truly shocking: how on earth did this outrageous cattle mart go on as long as it did?! However the lovely irony, that the protest (which occurs in the midst of infamous philanderer Hope’s outrageously sexist monologue) engenders a feminist movement is well played and the meeting between arrested Sally and newly-crowned winner Hosten nicely encapsulates the complex theme and issues which today’s feminists would call intersectional. Fun fact: Sally’s daughter Abigail (Maya Kelly) was the daughter from her marriage to legendary actor John Thaw. Directed by Philippa Lowthorpe. Turns out my seat at the table is actually a high chair

Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)

Aka WW84. Nothing good is born from lies. And greatness is not what you think. As a young girl, immortal Amazon demi-goddess and princess Diana (Lily Aspell) competes in an athletic competition on Themyscira Island against older Amazons. She falls from her horse, misses a stage, and is disqualified after trying to take a shortcut. Diana’s mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) who is general of the Amazon army lecture her on the importance of truth. In 1984 adult Diana (Gal Gadot) works as a senior anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC. She specialises in the culture of ancient Mediterranean civilisations and studies languages for fun. She continues to fight crime as Wonder Woman, albeit while trying to maintain some anonymity, rescuing people from a botched jewellery heist in a local mall. Diana meets new co-worker, gemologist Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) an insecure woman who idolises Diana and tries to befriend her. Aspiring businessman and charismatic TV huckster Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) visits the museum to try to acquire a mysterious Dreamstone which grants wishes to anyone who touches it. It is one of the artifacts found as part of the black market the jewellery store engages in and both of the women unwittingly use it for their own desires: Diana wants to be reunited with her dead WW1 pilot lover Steve Trevor (Chris Pine); while Barbara wants to be like Diana. She gets a makeover at a local boutique and Lord turns up at a Smithsonian gala and manipulates her in order to retrieve the stone. Once it’s in his possession he wishes to become its embodiment and gains its power to grant wishes, while also able to take whatever he desires from others: he’s been selling shares in oil without striking it yet and in a matter of days becomes a powerful and influential global figure leaving chaos and destruction in his wake. Barbara, Diana and Steve try to investigate the Dreamstone’s power further, and discover it was created by the God of Treachery and Mischief; the stone grants a user their wish but takes their most cherished possession in return, and the only way to reverse the condition is by renouncing their wish, or destroying the stone itself. Steve realises that his existence comes at the cost of Diana’s power. Both Diana and Barbara are unwilling to renounce their wishes, and try to figure out another solution. Maxwell, upon learning from the U.S. President (Stuart Milligan) of a satellite broadcast system that can transmit signals globally, decides to use it to communicate to the entire world, offering to grant their wishes. Barbara/Cheetah joins forces with Maxwell to prevent Diana from harming him. Steve convinces Diana to let him go and renounce her wish so that she can regain her strength and save the world. She returns home and dons the armour of the legendary Amazon warrior Asteria, then heads to the broadcast station and battles Barbara, who has made another wish with Maxwell to become an apex predator, transforming her into a cheetah-woman. After defeating Barbara, Diana confronts Maxwell and uses her Lasso of Truth to communicate with the world … Does everybody parachute now? What a great welcome this film deserves: a charming, heartfelt feminist superhero sequel with a message of peace, love and understanding – but not before the world comes close to annihilation. Adapted from William Moulton Marston’s DC Comics character with a screenplay by director Patty Jenkins & Geoff Johns & Dave Callaham, this starts out very well but tellingly goes straight from a prehistoric setpiece into an Eighties mall sequence and the first half hour is fantastic. Then … there’s character development when the klutzy Barbara arrives and her transformation to Cheetah takes its sweet time while odious businessman Lord is also introduced with his own backstory. The wheels don’t come off, exactly. The scenes are fractionally overlong and the two villain stories don’t mesh precisely with excursions into politics (the Middle East and a bit of an anti-Irish scene in London) which then escalates when Lord introduces himself to the US President (Reagan himself though he’s unnamed) at the height of the Star Wars policy (and we don’t mean sci fi movies). The winged one then learns the beauty of flight from her reincarnated boyfriend; while Barbara becomes more feline and vicious, an apex predator as she puts it. And Lord gets greedy while alienating his little son. So there are three somewhat diverging narrative threads. This is a structural flaw in an otherwise rather wonderful story. An exhilarating pair of back to back introductory setpieces followed by a Superman tribute that is exceedingly pleasant but doesn’t capitalise on all the characters’ considerable potential, this is a half hour too long (like all superhero outings) with scenes that need to be cut and political commentary that doesn’t sit quite right. Some of the jokes about the Eighties (in Pine’s scenes) get a little lost (directing or editing issues?) but the costuming is on the money and given that Diana lives in the Watergate Complex it’s a little surprising more wasn’t made of this or that it wasn’t set a decade earlier. Otherwise DC is nicely established in terms of geography and obviously it’s plundered for story. There are jokes that land rather well, like the Ponzi scheme; and when Steve gets into a modern aeroplane and Diana suddenly remembers that radar exists. In effect, this is a movie about the conflict in using your powers – there is a time and a place and it’s not always appropriate to get what you want because there are consequences and making a choice implies potentially terrible consequences and sometimes loss of life. It also engages with rape culture, sexism and the dangers of TV, taking down cheap salesmen and televangelists. Witty, moralistic and humane this has everything you want in a superhero movie and it looks beautiful courtesy of cinematographer Matthew Jensen and production designer Aline Bonetto. There’s a neat coda in the end credits. And how nice is it that the late great Dawn Steel’s daughter Rebecca Steel Roven is a producer alongside her father Charles Roven? You go Gal! You’ve always had everything while people like me have had nothing. Well now it’s my turn. Get used to it

Jeremy Bulloch 16th February 1945 – 17th December 2020

The death has taken place of legendary Star Wars actor Jeremy Bulloch. Farewell Boba Fett, the greatest bounty hunter of them all.

I thought of Boba Fett as Clint Eastwood in a suit of armor.

I was aware of Star Wars…my half brother Robert Watts was associate producer and he said, “It’s going very well, why don’t you get your agent onto this; there’s a small part, probably a couple of days, but it’d be fun for you to do.” I was in a play down at Leatherhead and I said, “When does the filming start?”. He said, “Tomorrow.” It was that quick. So the agent said to go down, I was seen and I got dressed in the costume. I was taken on to set where they were doing the Wampa – the big snow creature – and I thought “This is incredible!”. I was in with the helmet on, walking around and I finally stopped in front of George Lucas and he said, “Well, yeah, uh huh, mm-hmm, okay. Welcome aboard, it’s not a big role but I think you’ll have some fun.” I thought, “Is he talking to me or someone behind me?”. So, I was turning my head and just looking and then was sort of…eased off the set. (ImDb).

One Way to Denmark (2020)

Aka Denmark. Medical reports indicate you are sick no longer. Unemployed down on his luck Welshman Herb (Rafe Spall) is broke and can’t see his son. Life in his small town is dank and miserable. He gets mugged for his rubbish phone, the neighbours are awful and he has nothing going on. After he sees a TV documentary about Danish open prisons he hits on a plan to stage a heist with a fake firearm and get himself arrested so that he’ll at least have somewhere warm to sleep and regular food. But after hitching a lift and getting smuggled in a container, when he gets there he is befriended first by a dog and then by a wonderful woman Mathilda (Simone Lykke) who brings him to her home for dinner, introduces him to her little daughter and sceptical mother and he rethinks the plan. Then he doesn’t have enough money to pay for a ticket back home … Your father was a pain in the arse tramp but you know what I think? You’ve beaten even him. The premise harks back to Ken Loach with the dole office problems, the family divisions and the general air of hopelessness – but the larkiness and the mates (including Joel Fry and Tim Woodward) enliven Spall’s performance which struggles to rise above the writing by Jeff Murphy. It feels stuck between wanting to break out as a man who potentially could stage a heist a la Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon and the tenets/constraints of social realism – when Mathilda protests Wales must be beautiful, you feel for Herb’s attempts to explain just how dreadful it really is. The juxtaposition of the ease and relative modern luxury of flat Denmark with rainy stony mountainous Wales is nicely established. There are some moments of gentle comedy and the best visual is when Herb is caught and photographed by the police – his mugshot reads ‘A. Herbert’ which raises a chuckle but generally this is as lacking in laughs and drama as the Danish scenery and the relationships don’t ring true. Directed by Adrian Shergold. Incarceration tourism – that’s a fucking new one

Pixie (2020)

She won’t just break you she’ll take a Kalashnikov to your heart. Sligo, Ireland. Wannabe photographer Pixie O’Brien (Olivia Cooke) uses her ex-boyfriends Fergus (Fra Fee) and Colin (Rory Fleck Byrne ) to stage an elaborate drug heist on gangster priests which winds up with the men of the cloth murdered, and Colin kills Fergus with a bullet to the head. Two smitten local boys Frank (Ben Hardy) and Harland (Daryl McCormack) join her on the run from the hit man Seamus (Ned Dennehy) her gangster stepfather (Colm Meaney) has set on them when they try to sell 15kg of MDMA back to the priest Father Hector McGrath (Alec Baldwin) who runs the drug scene on the west coast. It turns out Pixie has a very personal motivation beyond money – revenge for the death of her mother who was helped along by her psycho step brother Mickey (Turlough Convery) … These guns won’t shoot themselves. Father and son team Barnaby and Preston Thompson direct and write respectively and this road trip down Ireland’s west coast (rechristened the Wild Atlantic Way to attract tourists) is bloody and violent and very funny, played by a well cast ensemble who revel in the opportunity to get up to Tarntino-esque antics in a picturesque setting shot rather niftily by John de Borman. There are some zingers but they’re often let down by the sound which prioritises a crazily effective set of songs curated by David Holmes and punch lines get lost in the mix (which does not include any songs by Pixies …). Cooke is fantastic in what is likely her best role to date as the amoral (not manic) pixie dream girl but there is also effective characterisation by Meaney and Baldwin as well as her companions Hardy and McCormack whom she seduces into a homoerotic scene that definitely was not on their cards. It’s got references from all over the shop, it’s rackety and fun with a very spirited tone. Dylan Moran appears as a very nasty piece of work indeed. You’ll cheer when you see what Pixie does to him. Naturally there’s a shootout that features nuns with guns. A great bit of craic altogether. I’m sorry we didn’t fucking cover body disposal in our economics course

John le Carre 19th October 1931 – 12th December 2020

The death has taken place of David Cornwell, otherwise known as John le Carre, the man who was in the British security service and then took to writing novels that enlightened the world about the Cold War and the machinations of spying. One of the greatest novelists of the twentieth century, he was a superb communicator about the conditions of the world. His work has inspired film and television adaptations and frequently shone a light on the murky side of realpolitik and state-sponsored surveillance and violence. His most celebrated character, George Smiley, has been incarnated and reincarnated for big and small screen alike, a prism into the changing political landscape and the puppet masters behind it. We are the wiser for having been able to partake of his knowledge, his conscience and his elegant writing. Rest in peace.