Big screen: Let's hear it for the girls
Out this week, the exquisite French period love story Portrait of a Lady on Fire (dir. Celine Sciamma, M) is perhaps the very best film of the year. Sure to join the pantheon of great LGBTQ dramas that have emerged this decade, it tells the story of a young painter hired to secretly create a portrait of an aristocrat's daughter who has been committed to a marriage in a different country. Set in the late 18th century, it marks the first period piece for Sciamma - who has been quietly delivering knockout tales of womanhood for many years - but the story it tells, of forbidden romance, the cruelties of time and oppressive patriarchy, feels profoundly modern. A patient, sumptuously lensed plunge into simmering romantic tension, Sciamma is a formidable director, capturing a lifetime's worth of romance in a couple of days of stolen glances, lingering stares and gentle touches. It's a quiet and deceptively slow film, at times featuring so little sound that one can almost hear the characters' hearts fluttering. The pay-off, in a final 20 minutes of simply exquisite, cathartic cinema, is one for the history books.
Rating: Five stars.
Surely one of the most beguiling performers of a new generation of young actors, Adam Driver is fascinatingly restrained in The Report (dir. Scott Z. Burns, R13) , an admirably understated thriller in the vein of Best Picture Winner Spotlight. The Report follows Driver's dogged, idealistic staffer, Daniel J. Jones as he is tasked by Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening, who's excellent) with the release of the explosive Torture Report that detailed war crimes committed by the CIA in the wake of 9/11. As directed by first-timer Burns, the film functions largely as a procedural, with flashbacks to the torturing of suspected terror suspects ramping up the sense of overwhelming horror just beyond the edges of the frame. It's a film that wears its didacticism proudly - but in the face of such unforgivable acts, The Report's idealism is extremely easy to side with.
Rating: Four stars.
There's a montage near the beginning of director Elizabeth Banks' update of Charlie's Angels (M) that features an array of girls of different ages and backgrounds achieving and succeeding in many forms. It's completely out of context in the world of the film, is never returned to or mentioned again but largely sums up this new approach to the classic television show/film series. Where the original TV series explored the furious politics of women's liberation, this film is blandly box-ticking in its approach to feminism. Headed by Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott and Ella Balinska, Angels is a continuation of the most dangerous flaw impacting modern blockbusters - committee-based film-making, fatally failing to take any risks at all. Everything here doubles down on easy, greeting card-style platitudes, focusing on simplistic slogans (women love to eat! They get talked over at meetings!) that stamp down hard on the film's lean-in feminist outlook, without providing any of the nuance that real-world feminism actually encompasses. It's a disappointingly journeyman approach to the material, a far cry from the winkingly cheesy, terminally underrated gloss of the 2000s Charlie's Angels films, that, while imperfect, at least had some sort of creative aesthetic. At least Stewart looks to be having fun while earning her paycheque here.
Rating: Two stars.