Hammerman Ikon

Latest Reviews

Maestro
2023
***
Director: Bradley Cooper
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Bradley Cooper, Matt Bomer, Vincenzo Amato, Greg Hildreth, Michael Urie, Brian Klugman, Nick Blaemire, Mallory Portnoy, Sarah Silverman, Yasen Peyankov, Zachary Booth, Miriam Shor

Biographical dramas often struggle to deliver a satisfying balance between their subjects' personal and professional lives. This biopic of Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), the American composer and conductor best known for composing West Side Story, concentrates on Bernstein's marriage to Felicia Montealegre, which was strained throughout the years by his many indiscretions with men and women. After two hours, I've learned that Bernstein is a joyful and playful person, but not much else. I still don't know why he is such an important figure in music, or what he's like as a father, as a friend, as a husband, or as a philanderer. The story ultimately revolves around sex, but it all takes place off screen. Despite the flaws in the script, Bradley Cooper's second film behind the camera is an impressively directed and visually stunning drama, which is anchored by two commanding and heavily made-up performances.

Anatomie d'une chute (Anatomy of a Fall)
2023
****½
Director: Justine Triet
Cast: Sandra Hüller, Swann Arlaud, Milo Machado-Graner, Antoine Reinartz, Samuel Theis, Jehnny Beth, Saadia Bentaieb, Camille Rutherford, Anne Rotger, Sophie Fillières

When a man in Grenoble falls to his death under mysterious circumstances, his German wife is tried for murder and the couple's blind 11-year-old son is recruited as a witness. On the surface, Justine Triet's wonderfully ambiguous film is a conventional court drama. However, scratch the surface and you will find a brutal dissection of a multicultural marriage, with its joys, hopes, disappointments, resentments, and compromises. The brilliant script by Triet and Arthur Harari illustrates that anyone will look like a monster when you expose all of their intimate and painful details without context. The performances are excellent throughout, but Sandra Hüller, Milo Machado-Graner, and Messi the dog are the standouts.

Master Gardener
2022
***
Director: Paul Schrader
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Sigourney Weaver, Quintessa Swindell, Esai Morales, Eduardo Losan, Victoria Hill, Amy Le, Erika Ashley, Jared Bankens, Matt Mercurio, Rick Cosnett

Narvel Roth is a methodical gardener who has a shady past in a neo-Nazi group. His employer and occasional lover asks him take her orphaned mixed-race grandniece on as an apprentice. Paul Schrader's quiet and meditative drama forms an unofficial trilogy with First Reformed and The Card Counter, and in terms of quality, it lands somewhere between the two. This is an interesting and well-acted film (Sigourney Weaver gives a deliciously nasty performance as the rich widow), but Schrader treads very familiar ground, until his story and characters stop making any sense in the last third.

Detachment
2011
***½
Director: Tony Kaye
Cast: Adrien Brody, Marcia Gay Harden, Christina Hendricks, William Petersen, Bryan Cranston, Tim Blake Nelson, Betty Kaye, Sami Gayle, Lucy Liu, Blythe Danner, James Caan

Henry Barthes is a high school substitute teacher who doesn't want to tie himself down to anything permanent in order to keep his personal demons at bay and to shield himself from the toxicity of the public-school system. This grim and dreary drama from Carl Lund's first time script takes a scathing look at the broken American education system, where the students are out of control and unmotivated, the teachers are prison guards rather than educators, and the parents don't care what's going on as long as their kid stays out of trouble. Tony Kaye, who destroyed his Hollywood career by disowning American History X (1998), is not familiar with the concept of subtlety. His film is gripping and believable but also overdramatic and utterly depressing. There isn't a single character who is remotely happy. Nevertheless, the cast is impressive and Adrien Brody gives a solid lead performance.

Aftersun
2022
****
Director: Charlotte Wells
Cast: Paul Mescal, Frankie Corio, Celia Rowlson-Hall, Sally Messham, Brooklyn Toulson, Spike Fearn, Harry Perdios, Ruby Thompson, Ethan James Smith, Kayleigh Coleman

Sophie reflects on a holiday trip to a Turkish resort, which she took with her father when she was 11 years old in the late 1990s. Through her grown-up eyes, the camcorder footage and her memories take on a new meaning. Charlotte Wells' directorial debut is a subtle but assured coming-of-age drama with strong autobiographical elements. Her film is a relatively plotless character study which only begins to come together in the final 30 minutes, but its conclusion didn't make a particularly strong emotional impact on me. Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio give very natural and believable performances.

Lightyear
2022
***½
Director: Angus MacLane
Cast: Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Peter Sohn, Taika Waititi, Dale Soules, James Brolin, Uzo Aduba, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Alisha Hawthorne, Angus MacLane, Bill Hader

A Star Command exploration vessel is stuck on planet T'Kani Prime until a stable hyperspace fuel can be found. Buzz Lightyear, who blames himself for the deadlock, discovers that each of his 4-minute test flights causes a 4-year time dilation. The opening caption states that the Buzz Lightyear toy Andy got for his birthday in Toy Story (1995) was based on his favourite movie, which is this. Pixar's wonderful franchise about toys that come alive when the kids are not around had one sequel too many. This spin-off animation, which is not particularly funny, doesn't really have anything to do with the franchise, except that it provides an origin story for a fictional Space Ranger who inspired the toy. This is a perfectly entertaining and visually stunning space adventure, but why was it made and for who?

Best Sellers
2021
**
Director: Lina Roessler
Cast: Michael Caine, Aubrey Plaza, Scott Speedman, Ellen Wong, Veronica Ferres, Cary Elwes

Lucy Stanbridge, the heir to a struggling publishing house, discovers that Harris Shaw, the celebrated but reclusive writer who hasn’t published anything in four decades, owes her a book and a book tour. However, the alcoholic and mean-spirited Shaw doesn't like being told what to do. Lisa Roessler's feature debut is a cringey and unfunny comedy in the first half, and a sentimental character drama in its second half. The poster seems to be from a different film altogether. Anthony Grieco's screenplay is unrealistic and mind-numbingly predictable, and while Michael Caine and Aubrey Plaza try their best, their characters are poorly written. Shaw has been an obnoxious asshole for 40 years because he loved his wife so much, and the cough in the opening scene spells out that he will die at some point. Lucy, on the other hand, is supposedly a smart young woman, but she doesn't know one thing about marketing a book, running a business, or making a sensible decision.

Operation Mincemeat
2021
***
Director: John Madden
Cast: Colin Firth, Matthew Macfadyen, Kelly Macdonald, Penelope Wilton, Johnny Flynn, Jason Isaacs, Mark Gatiss, Hattie Morahan, Mark Bonnar, Paul Ritter, Alex Jennings

In preparation for the 1943 Allied invasion of Sicily, British intelligence devises a daring plan to deceive the Nazis. They plant false documents on a corpse washed ashore, and hope that the enemy believes the invasion is taking place somewhere else. John Madden's likeable real-life WW2 drama delivers modest entertainment with a nice cast. The story is dry and workmanlike, and its only surprise is an unexpected handjob. Apart from the love triangle, Michelle Ashford's script is based on Ben Macintyre's book. The same events were previously depicted in The Man Who Never Was (1956).

West Side Story
2021
***½
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, Rita Moreno, Rachel Zegler, Brian d'Arcy James, Corey Stoll, Josh Andrés Rivera, iris menas, Ana Isabelle, Andréa Burns

While two rivalling gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, compete for control on the Upper West Side, Tony and Maria fall in love across gang lines. As their forbidden romance unfolds, deep-rooted prejudice and intolerance lead to tragic consequences. This is the second film adaptation of the 1957 stage musical, which was inspired by Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The film is beautifully shot by Janusz Kaminski, wonderfully directed by Steven Spielberg, and the songs by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim remain iconic. However, although it's set in 1957, the 24-hour love story is laughable rather than touching. The 1961 film was a massive hit which won 10 Academy Awards. Spielberg's version flopped at the box office and the only Oscar went to Ariana DeBose for her strong performance.

The Greatest Night in Pop
2024
****
Director: Bao Nguyen
Cast:

This entertaining documentary chronicles the creation of We Are the World, the best-selling charity single for African famine relief. Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson wrote the song and on January 28, 1985, some of the biggest pop stars in America came together to record the vocals. The cameras were on throughout the recording session, and there are present day interviews with some of the artists and technicians involved. Bao Nguyen's film is at it best when it illustrates the massive logistical and psychological undertaking required to get more than 40 top artists to abandon their egos and spend a night together in the studio. At its worst, it features millionaires patting themselves on the back and not giving enough credit to Bob Geldof, who had already done the same in the UK with Do They Know It's Christmas?

Decision to Leave
2022
***½
Director: Park Chan-wook
Cast: Tang Wei, Park Hae-il, Lee Jung-hyun, Go Kyung-pyo, Park Yong-woo, Kim Shin-young, Jung Yi-seo, Jung Young-Sook, Yoo Seung-mok, Park Jeong-min

A married detective investigates a death of a man who fell from a mountaintop, and begins to fall in love with the man’s enigmatic widow, who may have killed her husband. Park Chan-wook's mystery about duty and desire is visually striking and inventively directed, and it features two strong performances. However, the film is long and not always credible. I also wasn't adequately swept away by the central romance to appreciate the ending.


Jennifer's Body
2009
***
Director: Karyn Kusama
Cast: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons, J. K. Simmons, Amy Sedaris, Adam Brody, Kyle Gallner, Cynthia Stevenson, Chris Pratt, Carrie Genzel, Juan Riedinger

Needy and Jennifer have been inseparable since childhood, although they are like chalk and cheese. When Jennifer becomes possessed and starts feeding on the flesh of her male classmates, Needy must try and stop her best friend. Diablo Cody broke to the scene with her verbally rich screenplay for Juno, but her follow-up is a bit of a mess. This horror comedy features plenty of quotable lines, but it is smug and not nearly as clever and subversive as it thinks it is. The horror elements are formulaic and the friendship between Needy and Jennifer never feels genuine. Upon its release, the film was a critical and commercial flop, but it has gained a cult following in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

The Outfit
2022
**½
Director: Graham Moore
Cast: Mark Rylance, Zoey Deutch, Johnny Flynn, Dylan O'Brien, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Simon Russell Beale, Alan Mehdizadeh

In 1956, an English cutter runs a tailor shop in a Chicago neighbourhood controlled by an Irish mob. Things come to a head one night when one of the gangsters takes refuge in the shop with a gunshot wound to his stomach. Graham Moore, whose screenplay for The Imitation Game won an Academy Award, makes his directorial debut with this very modest two-room drama. In fact, his film is so monotonously stagy and dialogue-driven that it wouldn't make any difference if I watched it with my eyes closed. The script includes twists and turns, but not much credibility. The performances range from good (Rylance and Deutch) to bad (Flynn and O'Brien).

The Mauritanian
2021
***½
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Cast: Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim, Shailene Woodley, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zachary Levi, Saamer Usmani, Corey Johnson, Denis Menochet, David Fynn, Walter van Dyk

In 2002, a Mauritanian man named Mohamedou Ould Slahi was arrested and incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay detention camp without charges. In 2005, American defense attorney Nancy Hollander agrees to defend him, but she is dismayed that all the evidence against her client is classified. Kevin Macdonald's real-life drama, which is based on Slahi's 2015 memoir Guantanamo Diary, shows the human cost of the U.S. government's unrelenting pursuit of justice after 9/11. The film is gripping but very matter-of-fact. Tahar Rahim gives a commanding performance.

The Dressmaker
2015
**
Director: Jocelyn Moorhouse
Cast: Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Liam Hemsworth, Hugo Weaving, Sarah Snook, Olivia Sprague, Sacha Horler, Caroline Goodall, James Mackay, Rebecca Gibney, Shane Bourne

In 1951, Myrtle "Tilly" Dunnage returns to her hometown of Dungatar, whose inhabitants blame her for a death that occurred 25 ago. Tilly is determined to unravel the secrets of her past, while she uses her dressmaking skills to manipulate the women of the community. Australia has produced some memorably eccentric comedies, such as Muriel's Wedding (1994) and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), but this is not one of them. Jocelyn Moorhouse's film is a tonal mess. It jumps from slapstick to high drama, from revenge to unconvincing romance, and from tragic events to comical deaths. It obviously features a crossdressing policeman and some gorgeous outfits. Moorhouse and her husband P.J. Hogan scripted from Rosalie Ham's 2000 novel, which deals with hypocrisy, malice, prejudice, and small-town small-mindedness.

Beginners
2010
***
Director: Mike Mills
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Mélanie Laurent, Goran Višnjić, Kai Lennox, Mary Page Keller, China Shavers, Reynaldo Pacheco, Jennifer Hasty

While Oliver attempts to overcome grief and embark on a new relationship, he looks back at his father's final years after he came out as gay at the age of 75. Mike Mills' autobiographical drama comedy is likeable and well-acted but too quaint and quirky to fully embrace. Whether it's Oliver and Anna's meet cute at a party, his illustrations about the history of sadness, or the dog whose thoughts are subtitled, I was never able to forget that I was watching a film. Christopher Plummer, who plays the late father, won an Academy Award for his warm and subtle performance.

Zombieland: Double Tap
2019
**½
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Rosario Dawson, Zoey Deutch, Luke Wilson, Avan Jogia, Thomas Middleditch

While the relationships between Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita, and Little Rock are becoming strained, the group run into other survivors and must face a new and more powerful mutant zombie. Zombieland was a disposable zombie comedy. The sequel arrives 10 years later, but it really has no reason to exist. The shtick between the old characters is getting old (Woody Harrelson really hams it up) and the new ones include a boringly one-dimensional blond bimbo, a stereotypically useless hippie, and doppelgängers for Columbus and Tallahassee.

The Zone of Interest
2023
****½
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Cast: Christian Friedel, Sandra Hüller, Ralph Herforth, Daniel Holzberg, Sascha Maaz, Freya Kreutzkam, Imogen Kogge, Johann Karthaus, Lilli Falk, Nele Ahrensmeier, Luis Noah Witte, Kalman Wilson, Stephanie Petrowitz

The commandant of Auschwitz Rudolf Höss, his wife, and five children live happy and oblivious lives in their idyllic home, which shares a wall with the concentration camp, where thousands of Jews are gassed and burned daily. Can cinema ever capture the immense scale and unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust? Some terrific films have attempted it, namely Son of Saul and Schindler's List, but Jonathan Glazer's harrowing drama never goes inside the camp. The scale of the human suffering and systemic cruelty is conveyed through Johnnie Burn's haunting sound design. This well-acted film is an unrelenting portrait of the banality of evil, a term coined by Hannah Arendt to explain that acts of great evil can be committed by ordinary individuals, not monsters, when they follow orders without critically assessing the moral implications of their actions. Glazer scripted from Martin Amis' 2014 novel.

Blue Jean
2022
***½
Director: Georgia Oakley
Cast: Rosy McEwen, Kerrie Hayes, Lucy Halliday, Lydia Page, Stacy Abalogun, Amy Booth-Steele, Aoife Kennan, Scott Turnbull, Farrah Cave, Lainey Shaw, Izzy Neish, Becky Lindsay

In 1983, Margaret Thatcher's government introduced Section 28, which prohibited the promotion of homosexuality. In the late 1980s, Jean, a closeted PE teacher at a Tyneside school in Newcastle, feels compelled to live a lie. Georgia Oakley's directorial debut sheds light on a dark period in British history. I might be tempted to ask why we must dwell on the depressing past when the present is thankfully much brighter. Nevertheless, Oakley's film tells a moving personal story and captures a grim slice of history. Rosy McEwen gives a very fine lead performance.

The Equalizer 2
2018
***
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, Ashton Sanders, Bill Pullman, Orson Bean, Melissa Leo, Jonathan Scarfe, Sakina Jaffrey, Kazy Tauginas, Garrett Golden, Tamara Hickey, Andrei Arlovski

The vengeful former black-ops operative Robert McCall is now a Lyft driver in Boston, who occasionally smashes some heads for the less fortunate. When his close friend is murdered in Brussels, McCall is forced back in action. While The Equalizer was a mindless kill-fest, the sequel adds some depth to the main character, who attempts to steer a young black man clear of trouble. The murder plot, however, is incredibly predictable (I could foretell the events just by looking at the cast), but all in all, the film is quite entertaining and Denzel Washington is always worth the money, although McCall seems incapable of putting a foot wrong. Followed by The Equalizer 3 in 2023.

Silent Night
2021

Director: Camille Griffin
Cast: Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Roman Griffin Davis, Annabelle Wallis, Lily-Rose Depp, Sope Dirisu, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Lucy Punch, Rufus Jones

The British government has issued suicide pills for a quick and painless death in preparation for a toxic gas cloud which wipes out all life. A group of friends and their children gather to celebrate their last Christmas. Camille Griffin's feature debut follows in the footsteps of Don't Look Up, Melancholia, The Mist, and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, the last of which also stars the incredibly unlucky Keira Knightley. This is supposedly an apocalyptic dark comedy, but I didn't find it captivating, thought-provoking, or funny. Good characters could go a long way, but these people all deserve a painful death. The end product is like a short Richard Curtis comedy set in hell.

I Care a Lot
2020
**
Director: J Blakeson
Cast: Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Eiza González, Chris Messina, Dianne Wiest, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Macon Blair, Alicia Witt, Damian Young, Nicholas Logan

Marla Grayson, a ruthless conwoman, manipulates the courts to gain legal guardianship over wealthy and vulnerable elderly people, who she then sedates and locks away in an assisted living facility. One day she exploits the wrong person's mother. J Blakeson's caper story is overlong, extremely cynical, and entirely inhabited by characters who have no redeeming features. The premise shows some initial promise, but I gave up on the film after the first 30 minutes due to complete lack of credibility. Everything comes too easily for Marla, who appears to be a superwoman. Her nemesis, on the other hand, is a stupid, ineffective, and very small Russian mob moss, played by Peter Dinklage. Despite all of this, however, Rosamund Pike follows Gone Girl with another deliciously nasty performance.

Mandy
2018
*
Director: Panos Cosmatos
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Ned Dennehy, Olwen Fouéré, Richard Brake, Bill Duke, Olwen Fouéré, Hayley Saywell, Line Pillet, Clément Baronnet

In 1983, Red Miller and his wife Mandy live a peaceful life in the Pacific Northwest. One day, a deranged cult leader takes an interest in Mandy and hires a demonic biker gang to kidnap her. In terms of story and look, Panos Cosmatos' artsy and gory cult horror movie is a true original. What it cannot offer, however, is cohesive storytelling, compelling characters, fun and entertainment, or intelligible visuals. I didn't think any movie could be redder than Suspiria, but Cosmatos paints the screen in murky red, black, or purple for two solid hours.

No One Will Save You
2023
***½
Director: Brian Duffield
Cast: Kaitlyn Dever, Elizabeth Kaluev, Zack Duhame, Lauren Murray, Geraldine Singer, Dane Rhodes, Daniel Rigamer, Dari Lynn Griffin

A young woman, who has become an outcast in her community, lives by herself outside the town. When an alien breaks into her house, she has nobody but herself to rely on. Brian Duffield's minimalistic science fiction thriller doesn't spend too much time explaining what the aliens want and what powers they possess. In fact, the film cannot explain much of anything, because the soundtrack features only five words of dialogue. This approach can seem gimmicky at times, but it means that Duffield must rely entirely on his visual storytelling skills. He does do a much better job with directing than he does with writing. The end result is not always coherent but it is tense, gripping, and visually striking.

Pearl
2022
****
Director: Ti West
Cast: Mia Goth, David Corenswet, Tandi Wright, Matthew Sunderland, Emma Jenkins-Purro, Alistair Sewell

During the Spanish Flu in 1918, Pearl lives on a Texas farm with her overbearing mother and catatonic father, while her husband is fighting in World War I. Pearl, who seems to take pleasure in inflicting pain, hopes to become a star and escape her miserable existence. This prequel tells the origin story of the villain of X, and I must say I much prefer the psychological horror here to the slasher pastiche in the original. It tells an original and twisted version of The Wizard of Oz (1939) and features a wonderfully nasty and vulnerable protagonist. Mia Goth, who co-wrote the script with Ti West, is excellent in the lead. Her extended confessional monologue towards the end is mesmerising.

Zombieland
2009
**½
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Amber Heard, Bill Murray

A young man on the way to Columbus, Ohio has survived the zombie apocalypse by following a strict set of rules. Things get more complicated when he is joined by three other survivors, a middle-aged man and two young sisters. Any zombie comedy has a massive hurdle to overcome, namely Shaun of the Dead, which is just about perfect in every way. Ruben Fleischer's directorial debut, which was scripted by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, is delightfully short but forgettable. It offers a slight twist on the old formula, but it features uninteresting characters, and not once did I feel like they were in actual danger. Followed by a 2019 sequel Zombieland: Double Tap.

The Holdovers
2023
*****
Director: Alexander Payne
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Dominic Sessa, Carrie Preston, Brady Hepner, Ian Dolley, Jim Kaplan, Michael Provost, Andrew Garman, Naheem Garcia

While the students and staff of a New England boarding school go home for Christmas, a grumpy and unpopular history professor is forced to supervise the students who stay behind. Alexander Payne's humane and melancholic comedy reminds us not to judge the book by its cover. All three of the main characters (professor, student, and cook) are troubled and difficult, but wonderfully layered individuals. This charming, funny, and moving film is set in 1970, and Payne has gone all in for the look and feel of the time. It starts with the retro production company logos and the title scene, and continues throughout the film in its visual style and folky soundtrack. The performances are wonderful.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
2022
**
Director: Tom Gormican
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Pedro Pascal, Sharon Horgan, Ike Barinholtz, Alessandra Mastronardi, Jacob Scipio, Neil Patrick Harris, Tiffany Haddish, Lily Mo Sheen, Katrin Vankova

After Nicolas Cage fails to secure his dream role, he agrees to take $1 million and make an appearance at a superfan's birthday party in Majorca. He ends up bonding with his host and the two plan a film together, but how well does he actually know his new friend? Many younger people know Nicolas Cage only as the overacting guy in Internet memes, but he is an Academy Award winning actor who now gets to play a fictional version of himself. This has been done before by Jean-Claude Van Damme in JCVD, by James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, and others in This Is the End, and obviously by John Malkovich in Being John Malkovich. The predictable film within the film plot is familiar from The Player. Tom Gormican's action comedy is filled with meta-humour, but the script is not nearly as clever and original as it thinks it is. There are some initially promising ideas, but the end result is smug, dull, and unfunny.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
2023
**½
Director: James Mangold
Cast: Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Antonio Banderas, John Rhys-Davies, Toby Jones, Boyd Holbrook, Ethann Isidore, Mads Mikkelsen, Shaunette Renée Wilson, Thomas Kretschmann

Just when Indiana Jones is about to retire, he is forced to accompany his estranged goddaughter Helena on another adventure to locate the missing half of Antikythera, a potentially destructive artifact developed by Archimedes. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull came 19 long years after the original trilogy and inevitably disappointed. Another 15 years have passed, James Mangold takes over from Steven Spielberg, and 80-year-old Harrison Ford returns to the role for the final time. The fifth movie provides decent entertainment but it is totally pointless. The treasure quest doesn't offer anything fresh (it's set In 1969, but the villain is once again a Nazi) and the CGI-heavy action set pieces are mechanical. It's 2023, so the running time must obviously be 30 minutes longer than in any of the previous four instalments.

God's Own Country
2017
**½
Director: Francis Lee
Cast: Josh O'Connor, Alec Secăreanu, Gemma Jones, Ian Hart, Harry Lister Smith, Melanie Kilburn, Liam Thomas, Patsy Ferran

Johnny is a young sheep farmer who struggles to find happiness amidst the harsh Yorkshire landscape and his family's high expectations. His life takes a turn when he meets Gheorghe, a Romanian migrant worker. Francis Lee's gritty drama is well-acted, but I wasn't exactly swept away by its central romance. This is no Brokeback Mountain, that's for sure. My main issue is with Johnny, a duplicitous and unpleasant boor, who deserves neither Gheorghe nor a happy ending.

Motherless Brooklyn
2019
**½
Director: Edward Norton
Cast: Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Bobby Cannavale, Cherry Jones, Alec Baldwin, Willem Dafoe, Michael K. Williams, Leslie Mann, Ethan Suplee, Dallas Roberts

Edward Norton acquired the rights to Jonathan Lethem's 1999 novel as soon as it was published and then spent the next two decades trying get the adaptation to the screen. Now the film is here and Norton is credited as producer, director, writer, and actor. In the end, he took two characters from the book, moved the setting from the present day to 1957, and made up all the rest. What is the point of that? Norton plays Lionel Essrog, a private detective with Tourette's syndrome. As he investigates the murder of his mentor, he unravels a web of corruption surrounding the planning and building in New York City. This is a good-looking but long and convoluted neo-noir with an unusual main character who is full of ticks and shouts. However, nobody seems to care about his medical condition and it ultimately plays no role in the story.

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes
2023
***
Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Tom Blyth, Rachel Zegler, Peter Dinklage, Jason Schwartzman, Hunter Schafer, Josh Andrés Rivera, Viola Davis, Fionnula Flanagan, Burn Gorman

18-year-old Coriolanus Snow, the future dictator of Panem, is one of the academy students selected to mentor the tributes of the 10th annual Hunger Games. To win the main prize, a prestigious scholarship, Snow must turn District 12 tribute Lucy Gray Baird into a winner. The original Hunger Games series (2012-2015), which featured a memorably strong female hero, told a gripping dystopian story about the fight for the future of Panem. This prequel is set 64 years earlier and its stakes are much lower. Although the movie is long and frankly unnecessary, it is quite entertaining, but it definitely includes too many musical interludes. Michael Lesslie and Michael Arndt adapted Suzanne Collins' 2020 novel to the screen, and their script suffers from some structural issues. The story appears to wrap up in the Capitol, but we then head to District 12 for the final third.

Tár
2022
***
Director: Todd Field
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Noémie Merlant, Nina Hoss, Sophie Kauer, Julian Glover, Allan Corduner, Mark Strong, Zethphan Smith-Gneist

Lydia Tár is a world-renowned conductor and composer. As she prepares to promote her autobiography and lead the recording of Mahler's Fifth Symphony in Berlin, she faces accusations of misconduct. Todd Field's subtle psychological drama starts with two important but overlong scenes. Lydia gives a long interview about her life and career, and then holds a confrontational lecture at Juilliard about separating art from the artist. These scenes and the first half in general spends an inordinate amount of time on snobbish academic discussions about classical music. The superior second half gets more personal, as it delves into Lydia's narcissism, vanity, and abuse of power. It goes without saying that Cate Blanchett is excellent through it all.

Sound of Metal
2019
***½
Director: Darius Marder
Cast: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Lauren Ridloff, Mathieu Amalric, Chris Perfetti, Michael Tow

Ruben is a reformed heroin addict who plays drums in a metal band fronted by his girfriend Lou. His world falls apart when he suddenly begins to lose his hearing. I understand that Darius Marder's film is ultimately a story about Ruben accepting his deafness, but after a captivating start his journey doesn't quite take the route I hoped and expected. Lou becomes irrelevant and when Ruben joins a remote commune for deaf recovering addicts, the loss of hearing ceases to be a medical issue. Nevertheless, Riz Ahmed and the rest of the cast are excellent. Academy Award winner for best sound and film editing.

MicMacs à tire-larigot (Micmacs)
2009
****
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Cast: Dany Boon, Yolande Moreau, André Dussollier, Nicolas Marié, Julie Ferrier, Omar Sy, Dominique Pinon, Marie-Julie Baup, Michel Crémadès, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Urbain Cancelier

Bazil, whose father was killed by a landmine, has a bullet permanently lodged in his head. He joins a group of quirky misfits, who plot an elaborate revenge on two rivalling arms manufacturers. This breezy and delightfully whimsical French comedy delivers an endless string of visual and physical gags. The script may not be Jean-Pierre Jeunet's strong point, but he is an incredibly inventive visual storyteller, like Amélie already proved.