Anatomy Of A Scandal Review

The Plot

After public revelations of an affair, a prominent politician and his wife are swiftly plunged into even greater drama when more damning allegations find him on trial in court accused of rape.

The Good

Framing this drama around a court case instantly gives this series a convenient narrative structure and offers the absolute certainty of a definitive outcome. The inescapable desire to uncover that result is easily enough to make viewers enthusiastically binge through six episodes of fraught courtroom drama.   

Homeland star Rupert Friend does a magnificent job of bending his performance to portray the many different versions of his character that the story presents. At times he’s a mostly well intentioned man fighting to salvage his marriage and career from the hyperbolic fallout of his selfish indiscretions, while at others he’s a shamelessly predatory political monster oozing arrogance. Repeatedly exploring scenes from different perspectives, he adeptly convinces as both, keeping audiences guessing for much of the series about his ‘true nature’.

Alongside Friend’s central antagonist a trio of star turns from Sienna Miller, Michelle Dockery and Naomi Scott breathe compelling life into the traumatized wife, determined lawyer and lover turned accuser each respectively fighting to expose that truth. Their earnest and effective performances allows the series to sustain much of its suspense and drama.

Notable supporting turns from Josette Simon and Joshua McGuire also helps the series deliver credible legal and political tension. Josette Simon’s defence barrister is a perfect counter to Michelle Dockery’s ‘righteous anger’ in court, while Joshua McGuire’s unapologetically odious spin doctor is a fractious thorn in the side of Sienna Miller’s efforts to cling onto a rose tinted view of her once devoted and inspiring husband.

Arguably the series greatest success is that it consciously avoids allowing audiences to second guess the outcomes of the trial or each characters individual journeys for as long as possible. By jumping back and forth between events of the past and present day as experienced form different characters perspectives, the series presents a far more ambiguous and interesting dilemma. To at least some extent it manages to force audiences to avoid becoming too complacent in their initial expectations and pre-existing prejudices.

That knowingly jumbled uncertainty compels audiences to watch all the way to the final scenes and even then will likely leave them with some provocative lingering questions about the true nature of privilege, power and the unreliable perspective we have on our own actions.

The Bad

Five years of relentless public debate and numerous self-reflective tv/film dramas addressing the MeToo movement sadly robs this series of much of its potential impact and originality. In particular critically acclaimed series like Liar and National Treasure have already expertly explored the complex and compelling themes of he said/she said courtroom battles. Those productions and copious real life drama may leave this specific series feeling somewhat overly familiar and a little more redundant than it probably should.

While Anatomy of a Scandal starts out as a fairly grounded and realistic dissection of real life questions of power, privilege and politics; it ultimately resorts to increasingly implausible twists and turns in order to sustain an ever escalating sense of sensational drama. Arguable injecting that shock value into proceedings sacrifices credibility in favour of a more entertaining but silly melodrama.

While the series also purposefully paints all its characters in murky shades of grey, undoubtedly some audiences may find it consequently more difficult to emotionally invest any of them. The series doesn’t offer audiences the convenient escapism of clearly defined heroes and villains. Instead it perhaps uncomfortably reminds us of a grim reality where everyone seems almost equally flawed, selfish and hypocritical. It’s a deeply cynical portrait that might not be especially welcome or entertaining for many.

It’s also true that while the gifted cast perform well, they’re still tied to a script largely built upon fairly heavy handed stereotypes. Of course many would argue that unapologetically debauched politicians, sneering spin doctors or cynically ruthless lawyers are undeniably part of real life. However there’s a fine line between piercing portrait and clumsy caricature. As the series proceeds its’ well intentioned eagerness to lash out against any form of privilege and power perhaps forces it to cross that line. It increasingly turns characters into clichés, sacrificing subtly to deliver mostly blunt two dimensional commentary.

While the series also tries hard to purposefully defy expectations with an unpredictable plot, it only manages to achieve this by occasionally veering into more wildly unrealistic territory and ultimately remains otherwise exactly as expected.

The Ugly Truth

Anatomy Of A Sandal is a very deliberately timely slice of courtroom drama that explicitly reflects on some of the most prominent political and social problems of today. An excellent cast, polished production and copious plot twists make it an easy binge watch. It’s also a mostly compelling experience, even if it has been undoubtedly robbed of impact by copious real world introspection and similarly themed recent dramas.

The Lost City Review

The Plot

A bereaved romance writer gets reluctantly thrown into an exotic real life adventure alongside her handsome cover model when an eccentric tycoon becomes convinced her latest novel is the key to uncovering real life treasure in the ruins of a mythical lost city on a remote private island.

The Good

The Lost City is unapologetically silly fun of the highest calibre that delivers consistent laughs thanks to a perfectly playful script and a terrific line up of acting talent.

Hollywood icon Sandra Bullock successfully adds yet another memorable romantic adventure to her glittering cinematic cv. This latest romp as an introverted author dragged into an adventure quite literally ripped from the pages of her own book, takes its place proudly alongside Bullock’s most beloved work. She pairs effortlessly well with the films embarrassing riches of leading men, with Daniel Radcliffe, Brad Pitt and most especially Channing Tatum.

Channing Tatum has spent much of his career perfecting his unique brand of legitimately handsome swagger and amiable idiocy. It’s an absolutely ideal fit for this role. There’s endless joy to be found in Tatum’s surprisingly sweet natured male model and his enthusiastically fumbling attempts at real life dashing heroism. Tatum’s brilliant buffoonery makes him quite literally the butt of many of the film’s best jokes. Routinely sacrificing his own dignity to ensure audiences’ get the greatest giggles.

Brad Pitt indisputably remains one of Hollywood’s most compelling leading men, but in The Lost City he is on astonishingly good ‘scene stealing’ form. As the ruggedly heroic Jack Trainer, Pitt injects some authentic action into proceedings and serves as an absolutely perfect comedic counterpoint to Tatum’s hapless but well intentioned model. Pitt’s own uniquely golden aura as a Hollywood superstar gives his character an even more hilariously impressive charisma. Making the absurd contrast between his ruthlessly efficient Special Forces vet and Tatum’s fumbling well-groomed wannabe even more entertaining.  In truth, not since Tom Cruise’s infamous appearance in Tropic Thunder has an unexpectedly A-List supporting turn so magnificently improved an already great comedy.

Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe clearly also delights in embracing his darker side as he revels in providing the film with a suitably grand pantomime villain. Bearded and immaculately suited his treasure hunting tycoon is an effective blend of well-spoken awkwardness and sneering intensity. Providing just enough genuine menace to propel the plot convincingly. A clumsier comedian would likely have taken the role too far and drowned out other performances by being too suffocatingly flamboyant. But Radcliffe wisely plays the part with enough sincerity to allow him to still play the ‘straight man’ when the film requires.

The end result of this smorgasbord of acting greatness is a film that exceeds expectations as a delightful does of hilarious high adventure. Poking gentle fun at pulp fiction page turners The Lost City captures many of the very best qualities of the eternally popular romance genre. The film is affectionate rather than acerbic and sincere instead of sarcastic, allowing audiences to revel in the good natured glee.  Making it a delightful rare treat with truly re-watchable charm.

The Bad

Much like the guilty pleasure romance novels the film playfully mocks, there is a certain level of predictability to its’ plot. The film treads mostly familiar paths towards obviously expected conclusions. However that really shouldn’t diminish the joy most audiences will undeniably have along the way.

It’s also fair to say that this is a romantic comedy that leans heavily upon its’ comedic charms rather than offering any especially steamy romantic chemistry. Even when the film does deploy Tatum’s famously well chiselled physique it’s exclusively played for laughs. Likewise the playful banter between him and Bullock tickles funny bones but rarely comes close to tugging meaningfully on any actual heartstrings. Providing plenty of giggles but little opportunity for those who want to be swept of their feet with swoon.

The Ugly Truth

The Lost City is a riotously funny ride that takes full advantage of an amazing a-list cast on top comedic form. Self-aware, sharply satirical and satisfyingly silly it’s the perfect antidote to the real world woes of 2022. Packed with memorable moments it’s a glorious haul of comedy gold that deserves to be enjoyed on the big screen.

Spring Blossom Review TIFF 2020

The Plot

A 16 year old girl bored with her school routine and people her own age discovers a fierce infatuation with an older actor performing at a local theatre. That inquisitive interest soon grows into an actual relationship, giving her the more daunting and authentically adult experiences she craves. Ultimately forcing her to confront whether or not she is truly ready to leave her childhood behind.

The Good

Suzanne Lindon directs and stars in a coming of age drama she apparently scripted when she was only 15 years old. This alone immediately distinguishes the film from countless other films that deal with the fledgling love affairs of teenage girls aching to discovering something beyond the narrow confines of high school and more childish pursuits.

It’s typical for these kinds of genre films to paint their female protagonists either as innocent victims of manipulative adult desire, or alternatively as rampantly sexually teenage temptresses. It’s at least refreshing that Spring Blossom avoids these stereotypes, presenting its young heroine as a relatively normal girl on the cusp of womanhood. It’s arguably a more authentic if mundane depiction of the excitement generated by someone’s first forays into the daunting world of adult emotions.

Though the film lacks tear stained melodrama it does deliver repeatedly joyful and sweet natured musical moments. It’s enduring watching Suzanne dance down the street in celebration at learning that her affections are in fact reciprocated. Indeed as her relationship with the 35 year old actor she befriends moves forward it is played out mostly through similarly shared moments of dancing to elegant melodies. It provides the majority of the film’s romantic spirit in contrast to their mostly awkward and banal conversational exchanges.

The Bad

First love and the tensions caused by a typical adolescent impatience to grow up are both often the subject matter of sensuous and richly emotional filmmaking. Unfortunately this film is at times lacking in the authentic drama and depth that distinguishes the better versions of this overly familiar coming of age tale. Lindon’s script is a little too languid and uneventful to capture the painful lessons that first loves usually end up teaching us.

Devoid of furious family drama, passionate sexual exploration or cruel life lessons the film doesn’t feel all that visceral or important. This particular age gap romance is mostly populated by banal breakfast conversation and random dance sequences. It’s a light and mostly pretty portrait of a fairly restrained love affair, but also entirely unremarkable.

Writer, director and star Suzanne Lindon penne the script when she was just 15, lending it a certain authenticity at least. But while sharing coffee and polite conversation with an adult can be an electrifying experience for an actual teenager, that doesn’t translate to screen for a more mature audience. Viewed from an adult perspective and without any particularly vivid insights, it appears more trivial than tantalising.

The fact that the film can barely sustain a running time a little beyond an hour perhaps gives some indication of how little the film ultimately has to say.

The Ugly Truth

Spring Blossom is an easy watch and a serves as a pleasant stroll through familiar coming of age tropes. Frequent musical interludes give a little extra elegance to a very simple tale otherwise mostly lacking in drama. The film is light and pretty as intended, but also unremarkable.

Review by Russell Nelson

Shadow In The Cloud Review TIFF 2020

The Plot

On an ominous night in the midst of World War 2 a female soldier hitches a ride on a supposedly routine cargo delivery aboard a flying fortress bomber plane. She’s charged with protecting a deeply mysterious top secret package. Flying through the stormy night and largely confined to a perilously positioned gunner’s turret, she discovers with growing dread that they are not alone in the skies. With enemy fighters and another mysterious ‘passenger’ putting the safety of the crew and her mission in constant mortal danger.

The Good

The film owes a great deal to a rich legacy of fantasy horror. Borrowing most obviously and explicitly form The Twilight Zone and Gremlins. It perfectly executes genre clichés in ways that are equally original and memorable. It’s a perfect combination of the creeping paranoia and lurid sensational thrills of the very best action packed pulp fiction. The film swiftly proves it self to be a worthy new addition to the best genre classics.

Much like the wildly nostalgic and popular Stranger Things, this film oozes a quintessentially 80’s aura of stylish magical mayhem. A brooding and then blistering paced electronic soundtrack injects a modern sense of urgency into an iconic period setting and elevates the film’s dizzying action sequences into even greater heights of excitement. It’s angry, anarchic and cool in the most timeless ways.

The film looks memorably distinctive, thanks to vintage cinematography drenched constantly in shadows and saturated neon colours. It gives a lurid nightmarish quality to a unique setting that is by turns horrifically claustrophobic and stomach churningly exposed to the vast dangers of being 30,000 feet from the safety of solid ground. Those fearing that the film will rely on the low budget horror tactic of keeping action restrained exclusively to an obviously modest sized set will be shocked by just how effectively the film breaks free of those confines.

Chloe Moretz has a proven track record of genuinely shocking audiences with performances which routinely juxtapose her youthful pretty features with graphic visceral action. This performance further enshrines her status as the true successor to genre icons such as Sigourney Weaver. Moretz’s surprisingly stoic and shockingly unstoppable flight officer heroine deals with every form of horrifying aerial adversity imaginable with virtually superhuman awesomeness.

It’s difficult to avoid noticing the countless parallels between Moretz character and Weaver’s career defining role as Ripley in the Aliens saga. She’s a lone voice of seemingly unbreakable feminine wisdom facing up to all sorts of monsters with unflinching bravery and an impressively furious determination to survive.

Moretz commands the screen during its painfully tense moments and carries it joyfully into insane action sequences that would undoubtedly promote shrieks of laughter and wild cheers of approval from any packed cinema audience.

For anyone who utterly adores Stranger Things this film will be yet another delightfully well received flight of fantasy horror. Action packed and effortlessly cool it is a wildly fun embodiment of the true spirit of ‘Midnight Madness’, TIFF’s weird and wonderful iconic late night cinema dreamland.

The Bad

While the film will be a giddy delight for many, admittedly some will find the film’s most outlandish action sequences to be a little too implausibly silly. Having moved with a slow and convincingly menacing pace the film suddenly explodes into frankly cartoonish levels of mayhem that defies the law of physic in perhaps a few too many obvious ways.

For many this uninhibited abandonment of any sense of reality may ask a bit too much of their imaginations and sacrifice the film’s early tension in favour of more generic super-hero fair. Those hoping for the film to lurch into even darker  and more claustrophobic directions will perhaps be a little disappointed to see it pull back from horror chills in favour of more cheerful fantasy adventure.

The film nosedives unashamedly into a series of unexpected plot twists and undeniably bonkers set pieces. Those wildly weird manoeuvres may be a little too extreme for some with a more sober sensibility. Those embarking on this quite literal flight of fantasy should be warned that it will certainly catapult them into some very crazy places. You may need to hang on tight to your suspension of disbelief during the film’s most insanely turbulent twists.

The Ugly Truth

Shadow In The Clouds is an instant cult classic, pulsing with a brooding soundtrack, clever visuals and unashamedly joyous performances from a cast fully committed to delivering buckets of schlock B-Movie delights. It further enshrines Chloe Moretz as an unlikely but indisputable action superstar. Overall it’s a gritty and gleeful piece of guilty pleasure genre escapism destined to leave audiences woozy and wonder-struck.

Review by Russell Nelson

I Am Greta Review TIFF 2020

The Plot

The journey of 15 year old Greta Thunberg from sitting alone on the streets outside the Swedish parliament protesting climate change to being a globally recognised and deeply controversial figurehead for Climate activism is captured in an extensive carefully curated documentary. Showcasing her headline grabbing speeches, private exchanges with world leaders and the more mundane realities of travelling the world on her never ending mission.

The Good

Whatever people’s existing opinions about Greta Thunberg, her significance as a surprisingly young global talisman for climate change concerns makes her a fascinating subject matter. Her distinctively diminutive and childlike appearance makes her equal footing inclusion alongside the ranks of world leaders at international conventions all the more bizarre and unexpected. This account of her rapid ascent from a troubled truant schoolgirl to newfound iconic status as the abrasively demanding voice of ‘a generation’ is an interesting insight into the Thunberg phenomenon.

With seemingly unlimited access this documentary presents a complete if clearly well-polished portrait of Greta. Giving audiences a first-hand perspective on her surreal daily existence. It allows audiences to gain at least some impression of what happens in between Greta’s relentless public speaking appearances.

One of the most common accusations made about Thunberg is that she is merely being used as a childish mouthpiece for other people’s words. This documentary proves to be fairly effective in dispelling that suspicion by repeatedly showing seemingly authentic examples of Thunberg writing her own speeches with a literally obsessive attention to detail. While it won’t entirely discredit the argument that she is being manipulated and compelled by adult handlers it at least lends some credibility to the possibility the Greta may be speaking in her own authentic voice.

The film showcases plenty of Thunberg’s most infamous public speeches combined with more private footage of her in candid conversation with her father, political elites and fellow activists. Those that agree with her frequently hysterical pleas for change will welcome this convenient archive of her greatest hits. Likewise those who wish to challenge her supposed wisdom will find plenty of ammunition as well.

This film serves a valuable purpose for anyone looking to uplift or undermine Greta Thunberg. Making it compelling viewing for both polarized sides of the Climate Change debate.

The Bad

Greta Thunberg remains a deeply divisive figure. Despite the fevered global adulation she receives there are still many people that dispute her grim prognosis for the future of mankind, dismiss the utility of the school strike movement she inspires and deeply question the immense international attention and reverence given to an autistic adolescent.

This documentary is candid in admitting that Thunberg had a pre-pubescent nervous breakdown triggered by her exposure to apocalyptic warnings about climate change and the risk of imminent ecological disaster. The combination of these fears and Thunberg’s Asperger syndrome had a devastating almost fatal effect on her. As Thunberg and her father explain it forced her to abandon school for an entire year, starve herself to the brink of serious illness and barely speak for three years.

Though the film seems to hold out Thunberg’s personal struggles as sign of heroism, unfortunately many will still see it merely as emphatic proof that Thunberg is even less well equipped than an average child to emotionally and mentally handle the responsibilities of being catapulted onto the global stage as a de facto world leader on a fiercely divisive political issue.

Critics will also certainly rush to point out that despite the endless rhetoric about changing the world and angry ultimatums to political leaders, the film like Thunberg herself seems to consistently fail to articulate a single concrete achievement.

At times it seems as if the only thing that Greta’s never ending world tour has actually accomplished is creating a near cult like and clearly unwelcome celebrity status for Greta herself. Watching her awkwardly posing for selfies with enthusiastic well-wishers, she is constantly being congratulated for being ‘Greta’ rather than any actual meaningful accomplishment. Her discomfort at the clearly crushing weight of pressure and social attention heaped upon her is at time obvious and a little unsettling.

In particular repeated scene’s where a visibly distressed Thunberg refuses to eat and her permanently strained and exhausted demeanour makes for disturbing viewing. For some people even her seemingly malnourished extreme Vegan diet could be taken as a cause for concern. When she does eat on screen Thunberg seems to subsist on dry homemade pasta flavoured with a little salt. It’s actually a relief to see her reluctantly forced to eat a banana at least once.

The overall impression the film gives is that Thunberg is a lonely and troubled child, welcoming the approving glow of media attention and strangers praise but also worryingly burdened with the exhausting realities of maintaining that status while wrestling with her own overwhelming fears.

The fact that the film never seriously attempts to address the scientific or political debate about Climate Change and instead focuses so exclusively on Thunberg’s personal journey and growing celebrity status, does very little to dispel the sense that the film is merely another piece of well-polished self-promotion.

Instead of using this documentary as a platform to convince sceptics of the validity of Greta’s incessant climate concerns, it merely bombards audiences with repetitive rhetoric about’ time running out’ and a need to do more to fix the problems. The film never offers any actual solutions and in truth doesn’t even properly articulate what the problems specifically are. A total failure to make any scientific arguments at all, leaves all the frequently hysterical calls to action as little more than hollow largely meaningless words.

During one memorable private exchange with President Emanuel Macron, Thunberg is asked directly by the French leader what she most wants world leaders to actually do. Her response as presented is a simple regurgitation of  another typical ‘it’s our last chances to save the planet’ soundbite, immediately followed by a casual reminder that first world countries have to do this because the third world has a right to improve their quality of life that excuses them from any responsibility for the environmental impact they disproportionally create.

It will be frustrating for those that strongly disagree with Thunberg’s positions to see her rarely if ever directly confronted with a legitimately critical response. When the film does present a collection of negative soundbites attacking Greta’s positions, it’s used purely as a tool to garner sympathy and the more coherent arguments against her are simply never answered. The film remains mostly a steady parade of politicians and celebrities merely nodding at her in polite approval.

Thunberg herself openly questions during this documentary why she keeps being invited to give angry sometimes teary eyed speeches when it seems nobody is really listening and they’re all just playing along for the cameras. She suspects they’re only indulging her for the sake of good photo op. Sadly for once her assessment of the situation may be painfully accurate.

The Ugly Truth

This documentary will naturally by received by those who consider Thunberg to be an inspirational young hero as a proud celebration of her rise to international prominence and pop culture superstardom. In sharp contrast others will see it as a shocking confirmation that Thunberg is at best a misguided and especially vulnerable child being unfortunately exploited to spew mostly meaningless rhetoric in service of an extreme political agenda fuelled by needless fearmongering. In truth the film remains compelling and useful viewing whichever side you belong to.

Review by Russell Nelson