Thrilling new drama for the cinema-goers and bedroom streamers
Friday is here! The weekend streches before us in an endless array of possibilities, particularly in the film and TV stakes. The problem is, there’s so much new on-screen goodness out there, it can be tricky to decipher the good from the merely mediocre. So let Mr Hyde’s weekly, meticulously selected Stuff To Watch bulletin do the hard work for you.
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We all occasionally wonder “is this all there is?”. Someone sends a “So sorry! Is it home time yet?” email at work for the sixth time this week, having forgotten to attach a file to their first attempt. Is this all there is? You feel a dopamine rush when the Deliveroo app confirms Steve’s Greasy Sizzlers has accepted your order. Is this all there is??? Well, it’s certainly a question asked by the stars of American Animals – the true story of four young pals who, numbed by a life of conveyor-belt achievement and unblinking conformity, vow to do something extraordinary: steal several books valued between $8-12 million from Transylvania University’s library. Directed by Bart Layton (The Imposter), it’s a documentary/thriller hybrid – interviews with the actual plotters are interspersed with straight-up heist drama.
Remember that Simpsons episode where Homer thoughtlessly buys Marge a bowling ball for her birthday? She takes lessons with that sleazy French dude and is tempted by the prospect of a new, more adventurous life. Nearly 30 years after it aired, Marc Turtletaub (Little Miss Sunshine) gives us a quirky indie flick that strikes the same notes. Kelly Macdonald, in a scandalously rare starring role, plays a suburban wife and mother plunged into depression by the repetitive mundanity of her life. She finds an escape route by solving puzzles competitively, and in doing so is charmed by irritating pseud/supportive sage Robert (Irrfan Khan). It’s a movie with nothing revelatory to say, but the delicate fragility Macdonald brings makes it a touching tale of female empowerment.
We can read your mind. You’re thinking blimey, didn’t that come on Amazon Prime quickly? And yes, it absolutely did – it was in cinemas in January. And you’re wondering whether you can put yourself through another undeniably impressive but occasionally grating Aaron Sorkin screenplay, with its procession of bon mots and ignorance of the fact most people are incapable burblers who turn endlessly to the weather as a conversational life raft. Understandable. But friend, it’s time to dig deep. For this is the mesmeric true story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), who ran an exclusive high-stakes poker game for 10 years before her sudden arrest one night by FBI agents.
Newspaper offices usually look fearfully bleak when shown in drama. A lock-up for the irritable and damned. Crank the heat up with the tangible threat of print closure and that’s an explosive setting. And so it is in Mike Bartlett’s Press, following two rival newspapers working in the same building – left-leaning broadsheet The Herald, and red-top The Post. This is impactful stuff: the truth is slippier in our time of clickbait and fake news, and Bartlett examines how papers treat and manipulate the same stories. While some of the forays into personal lives feel tiresome – a character drowning themselves in work to avoid confronting obvious issues… whatever next! – this is still penetrating and close-to-vital TV.
Gangs of New York
A Martin Scorsese gangster flick starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Leonardo DiCaprio could have been so far above reproach. Many expected it to be. But to say its success suffered at the hands of invidious expectations (it got 10 Oscar noms, and won none) would be an understatement. Received wisdom is that it’s burdened by two major flaws: an over-long run time (168 minutes), and Cameron Diaz’s charmless performance as a pickpocket who DiCaprio falls for. But seen at a dispassionate distance, it glimmers as any classic should. An emotionally engulfing story – DiCaprio’s Amsterdam seeks to avenge his father’s murder at the hands of Day-Lewis’ Bill the Butcher – told through unforgettable fight sequences. While Day-Lewis lost the Best Actor Oscar to Adrien Brody, this unhinged portrayal of a man being trampled by rapidly changing circumstances is arguably his best work.
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