A widow investigates an insurance fraud, leading her to a pair of Panama City law partners exploiting the world’s financial system.
2019 | US | Netflix | 96 mins | Drama |15
Release date: 18 October 2019
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas
The Laundromat has been adapted for the screen by Scott Z Burns from two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Jake Bernstein’s book of the same name, which gives the background behind the Panama Papers investigation of illicit money networks and the global elite.
Jurgen Mossack (Gary Oldman) and Ramon Fonsecca (Antonio Banderas), speaking directly to camera, narrate their side of the story. They are there to divulge ‘the secret life of money’ and the abundance of shell companies that can be used to hide billions.
Discretion is the name-of-the-game here, except for the obvious… money. They turn a blind eye to the shady characters on their books, preferring ‘not to know’, whether it be drug lords, sex traffickers or traders in human organs.
Ellen Martin (Meryl Streep) is an elderly widow whose husband has died in a ferry accident. When she tries to claim via the boat owner’s insurance, she can find no-one who can be held accountable. She follows the paper trail from one shell company to the next, until she finds out that the corporation’s head office is a poste restante address on the island of Nevis.
From the Caribbean we are then taken to Las Vegas where Ellen is trying to buy an apartment (with monies she is told will be paid to her) from a realtor (played by a strange-faced Sharon Stone) and then on to China. In between, we are treated to the predilections of a Nigerian billionaire who is schtupping his college-age daughter’s best friend! Fun and games for all until his daughter and then finally, his wife, find out.
Soderbergh has had a long and illustrious career and directed some memorable films eg Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989), Out of Sight (1998),Traffic (2000) (for which he won the Academy Award for Best Director) and Erin Brockovich (2000), to name but a few. This doesn’t quite ‘cut the mustard’, but it’s not too shabby either, probably since he had the foresight to cast Meryl Streep in the lead role.
This is without a doubt, Streep’s film. She is brilliant as the blowsy pensioner looking for someone to take some responsibility for her husband’s untimely death. There’s a nice little twist at the end, which I hope doesn’t spoil anything for you.
Banderas and Oldman are another matter. Personally, I found them a tad annoying, but then again, it made a change from what would have amounted to having to listen to a voiceover for the length of the film.
Oldman hams it up, with his bad German accent (this role would have been better served by Christoph Waltz who no-one can beat when it comes to ‘unctuous’ and would have helped add some depth to this character portrayal).
Banderas, in my opinion, should never have left Spain for Hollywood. His finest work was in Europe and this role doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of his talent. However, with Pain and Glory, (see below) as with the prodigal son, he has found his way home.
If you can put up with the banging on about money – the making and stashing away of – then 96 minutes shouldn’t be too much of a chore for you to sit through.
Well worth watching for Streep alone… and, perhaps, the Nigerian interlude.
Twitch Factor: Sub Zero
* * *
PAIN AND GLORY (DOLOR Y GLORIA)
A film director reflects on the choices he’s made in life as the past and present come crashing down around him.
2019 | Spain | Pathe! |113 mins | Drama (Spanish with English subtitles)
Release date: 23 August 2019
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Penélope Cruz, Asier Etxeandia, Julieta
As with Almodóvar’s previous film, Julieta (2013) there is a similar storyline of confronting and laying to rest, one’s ghosts in life.
Salvador (Antonio Banderas) is a film director in a state of crisis, who is struggling to move forward with his life. His mother, Jacinta (Julieta Serrano) died four years ago and two years ago, he underwent back surgery and is still recovering from both traumatic experiences. Workwise, he has become despondent and is spiralling into depression and becoming more reliant on medication.
The film flits backwards and forwards, from Salvador’s childhood spent happily with his mother, Jacinta (Penélope Cruz), to upping sticks and moving to a village in Valencia where they go to live in a ‘cave’, experiencing unforgettable love in 80s Madrid and bringing us to the present.
A festival contacts Salvador wanting him to reunite with an actor, Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia) who was the lead in his 80s film, Sabor, since they would like them to introduce a restored revival of the picture. Neither of them has been in contact for over thirty years and their relationship, at the time, had been fractious, to say the least.
When they meet up again, Alberto is still using heroin and since Salvador is in so much pain, he asks if he can ‘chase the dragon’. By chance, he finds Salvador’s private manuscript, entitled, ‘Addiction’ which tells the story of a love affair torn apart. He tells him that it is a confessional text and does not wish to be identified, but Alberto insists that he will perform it as a monologue, thus setting in motion an unstoppable chain of events.
This is a deeply personal work from Almodóvar which alternates between autobiography and fiction. It is a film which embodies heartbreak and joy, bringing with it, laughter and tears.
The vibrant palette, which is his trademark, accentuates the sense of Salvador’s greying isolation. His casting is perfection personified and it is good to see, once again, Banderas and Cruz, together on screen (albeit not at the same time).
To my mind, this must be Banderas’ best performance of his career. The mixture of vulnerability, melancholia and regret is a wonder to behold, as he captures both the strengths and weaknesses of his character. It would have been so easy to try and do an impression of Almodóvar, but it says a lot about their friendship, which has clearly influenced his performance.
Cruz is a delight to watch as the ‘young Jacinta’, with her strength and determination to keep the family together, albeit hindered by a husband who is more than lacking in this relationship.
Worthy of special mention are Serrano as Jacinta in her later years, for the flintiness she brings to the role and Exteandia, as Alberto.
With a beautiful score from Alberto Iglesias, who manages to match the shifting tones of the film; the happiness and warmth of the childhood scenes to the tensions and anxieties of Salvador’s present life.
A stunning film made by one of the most talented directors of our time.
Hopefully, Hope and Glory will garner at least two Oscar nominations (maybe even three; one for Almodóvar, one for Banderas and one for Best Film in a Foreign Language. We shall just have to wait and see.
A definite ‘not to be missed’.
Twitch Factor: Sub, Sub, Zero
* * *
A young Nigerian boy, ‘farmed out’ by his parents to a white British family in the hope of a better future, instead becomes the feared leader of a white skinhead gang.
2018 | UK | Lionsgate UK| 102 mins | Drama
Release date: 11 October 2019
Director: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Damson Idris, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, John
‘Farming’ was a practice which was prevalent in 60s and 70s England, whereby Nigerian parents, working or studying in the UK, would pay white British families to foster their children.
The story begins with Femi (Akinnuoye-Agbaje playing his own father) and Tolu (Genevieve Nnaji) tearfully handing over their young son, Enitan, together with a wad of notes, to Ingrid Carpenter (Kate Beckinsale), a working-class wife, living in a terraced house in Tilbury, Essex.
Enitan (Zephan Amissah) is a sensitive, introverted boy who yearns for friendship and his foster mother’s love, but there are times when Ingrid has as many as 10 black children in her care and he, more often than not, takes the brunt of her anger and low-level racism, mocking him and repeatedly threatening to send him back to ‘Wooga Wooga land’ if he misbehaves.
He finds it difficult to integrate, not speaking at home and preferring to play by himself behind the sofa. She makes no bones that he is not her favourite and he, in turn, tries to gain her love by shoplifting (with her in attendance). This goes wrong and he is openly chastised by her, which further imbues him with self-loathing.
With the constant racial abuse endured in school, Ingrid’s husband, Jack (Lee Ross) adopts a tough love attitude and tells him he needs to learn to man-up and defend himself. It gets to a point where Enitan comes to hate his own dark skin, and resorts to trying to hide his ‘blackness’ with talcum powder. A look which further exacerbates the abuse.
In his teens, the older Eni (Damson Idris) is still friendless except for a teacher, Ms Dap (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who sees the degradation and humiliation which he endures. She tries to help him, as best she can, but is met with sullenness.
Soon he falls foul of the ‘Tilbury Skins’, a skinhead gang led by Levi (John Dalgleish). They are merciless in their violence towards him but ‘what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’ and slowly, slowly, his attitude of ‘never say die’ finds him becoming a part of the gang. But is this a means to an end?
Farming is British actor/writer, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s directorial debut, which is based on his own experiences growing up in Tilbury, Essex and how, as a teenager, in the 1980s, he ‘made the grade’ as a member of a racist skinhead gang.
All credit to him for his tenacity and commitment to the 15-year gestation period it took for this film to evolve from page to screen. It is by no means subtle, but then again, why should it be? It is a gripping story about identity, betrayal, love and acceptance and finally, redemption. But not without going through an immense amount of pain and hardship and without the eventual support of his teacher and family, ‘Eni’ would be now languishing in prison or worse.
Great 80s soundtrack with Akinnuoye-Agbaje performing most of the songs.
Unfortunately, Beckinsale never convinces as Ingrid and all credit to her for accepting the role, which I am sure had a bearing on the financing of the film. She is far too pretty and no amount of weight, frumpy clothes and cockney accent, can hide this fact.
A stunning performance from Idris whose facial expressions told it all – the abuse, the humiliation, the hurt and hopelessness he feels when he is told by Ingrid that she has never loved him, down to the cruelty and viciousness he imparts on others.
Let’s hope he is on the nomination list for a BAFTA Rising Star Award in 2020.
Twitch Factor: Sub, Sub Zero
* * *
A gritty character study of Arthur Fleck, a man disregarded by society.
2019 | USA, Canada | Warner Bros| 122mins | Crime, Drama, Thriller
Release date: 4 October 2019
Director: Todd Phillips
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert de Niro, Zazie Beetz
Arthur Fleck is a loner and a loser – not by choice, but by circumstance. He has no friends (apart from his mother, Penny (Frances Conroy) with whom he still lives) and is prone to maniacal outbursts of laughter which further act to alienate him from the outside world. This is a man who needs to be seen and, above all, loved. However, he has been bullied by teens on the streets of Gotham, taunted by suits on the subway and teased by his fellow clowns at work.
He becomes intrigued and then obsessed with a young mother, Sophie (Zazie Beetz) who lives in his block and his fantasies take flight…
This is a man who is needy, and a wannabe who dreams of becoming a star comic but whose dreams are quashed, when footage showing him performing on stage as a stand-up comedian and failing goes viral.
Consequently, he is invited to appear on an evening talk show, hosted by Murray Franklin (Robert de Niro) who has seen the footage and sees the chance of gaining more viewers, albeit that Arthur is being set-up to be ridiculed by the public at large.
These actions set off the already unhinged Arthur to a trail of mass devastation and destruction culminating in his rise to the position of Gotham’s legendary arch-villain and Batman’s nemesis.
Phillips’ Joker is a smart, stylish’ well-paced and beautifully cast film which walked away with the Golden Lion award for Best Film at the Venice Film Festival. Is this a taste of what is to come, during the forthcoming awards season? I certainly hope so.
Joker has a fabulous soundtrack with an equally outstanding score composed by Hildur Guðnadóttir, who was behind the soundtrack for Sicario.
At my Q&A special screening, Phoenix was awarded a standing ovation and quite rightly so. He gives a mesmerising performance which is one of his best to-date. His portrayal of a man with two faces; one face for his day job as a clown and the other which is hidden and can never be removed, is stunning. This is a man who is misunderstood and yearns to be a participant in the world in which he lives, but instead is repeatedly put down and Phoenix’s interpretation is sheer perfection.
It is a finely nuanced performance which, despite all the violence generated, will leave you with more than a little sympathy for this vulnerable and child-like creature. The nervous energy which is generated is palpable and you feel as if you are going over the edge with him. It is not an easy watch, but the sheer physicality, with disturbing scenes in the extreme, are also perversely thrilling, and hold the viewers’ attention to the bitter end.
No doubt, Phoenix will garner many well-deserved nominations, as will the film.
I’ll end with a line quoted by Joker at the beginning of the film, “Is it just me or is it getting crazier out there?”
Guaranteed to bring the house down, but not for the faint hearted.
Twitch Factor: Sub, Sub, Sub Zero