FILM: Hell’s House (1932, Howard Higgin)

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Pre-Code drama Hell’s House is set in late Prohibition era America, and was distributed by Capitol Film Exchange. Teenage orphan Jimmy Mason (Junior Durkin) idolises family friend Matt Kelly (Pat O’Brien), but is unaware that Kelly is a bootlegger. When Jimmy is arrested during a Police raid, he refuses to expose Kelly and is subsequently sent to a Reform School. There he endures hard labour and poor living conditions, a matter made worse when cellmate and best friend Shorty (Frank Coghlan Jr.) becomes seriously ill in solitary confinement.

PROS

  • The low lighting throughout the first 60 of 72 minutes, but particularly in the interior scenes, works very well, given how bleak and hopeless Jimmy’s story arc is.
  • A decent narrative that looks at human selfishness, abuse of power and the importance of friendship – not bad for a film shot on a micro-budget in 13 days.
  • A good lead in Junior Durkin, who captures Jimmy’s naivety very well, and is ably supported by a kind and sincere Bette Davis in an early role.

CONS

  • The narrative does feel quite rushed and a little tonally inconsistent, due to several scenes which are a little too upbeat. As such, the film could really have benefited from being longer than a mere 72 minutes.
  • While the themes of abuse of power and human selfishness are clear, they are at quite a surface-level depth (again, a longer running time would have been beneficial).
  • For the most part Pat O’Brien’s performance feels quite forced, as does his chemistry with Bette Davis.

VERDICT: 5/10

FILM: Red Joan (2018, Trevor Nunn)

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Spy film Red Joan is distributed by Lionsgate, following its premiere at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, and is based Jennie Rooney’s novel that was inspired by the life of Melita Norwood. Octogenarian Joan Stanley (Judi Dench) is arrested for breaking the National Secrets Act during World War II. During Police interviews, she relives how, as a young Cambridge graduate (played by Sophie Cookson) she passed on nuclear weapon secrets to the Soviets during her time working for the government.

PROS

  • Judi Dench is, as ever, a dependable leading lady, giving a nuanced and emotional turn as someone who wants desperately for people to understand the reality of decades long gone. Her scenes are easily the most engaging.
  • Decent production design recreates the 1930s and 1940s, while the low-lighting conveys just how gloomy the war time era really was.

CONS

  • A highly underwhelming screenplay, which does not delve into just how bleak and uncertain a time World War II really was for people beyond a surface-level depth, and feels very cliched in its underdeveloped conveyance of somebody who broke the law, but did so as she considered doing so morally right.
  • Trevor Nunn is an excellent theatre director, but not so much so a film director, as his direction here feels very uncertain, as does his vision for the film, which has a very poor balance between war-time drama and love story.
  • An overall weak cast, with a number of wooden supporting turns, while Sophie Cookson has quite poor chemistry with Stephen Campbell Moore and Tom Hughes (the actors playing Joan’s two love interests).

VERDICT: 4/10

FILM: Wild Rose (2018, Tom Harper)

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Drama Wild Rose is distributed by Entertainment One, following its premiere at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. Rose-Lynn Harlan (Jessie Buckley) is an aspiring country singer living in Glasgow, who has just finished serving a prison sentence. Determined to finally achieve her dreams of getting to Nashville and achieving her big break, she starts working as a cleaner for Susannah (Sophie Okonedo), who spots her talent and wants to help her achieve her dreams. However, Rose-Lynn also has two kids (Ryan and Nicole Kerr) who her mother (Julie Walters) is adamant that she must not let down again (and rightly so).

PROS

  • While it does fulfil some notable cliches of the tale of an aspiring musician trying to find a big break, Nicole Taylor’s screenplay has a lot of warmth and emotion to it thanks to the focus on familial dynamics, making it a highly engaging and heartwarming experience.
  • Jessie Buckley is a phenomenal lead as Rose-Lynn, realising the character’s nuances and bringing real energy when required, as well as truly raw emotion, and does a brilliant job with the music scenes. Buckley is backed by an excellent supporting cast, the stand-out of which is a sharp turn from the brilliant Julie Walters.
  • There is a real energy to this film, particularly to the music scenes, but equally there is rich, nuanced character-driven drama, and director Tom Harper’s vision is clear throughout.
  • Jessie Buckley is an outstanding singer, but the songs themselves are also wonderfully written, very memorable and boast great rhythm.

CONS

  • Due mainly to its use of notable cliches, there are a number of moments in the film that are quite predictable, not least the fact that the secrets that Rose-Lynn keeps are found out, while the Nashville scenes are fitting but feel a little rushed, and the entire film would probably benefit from being 10-15 minutes longer.
  • Several supporting characters are very thinly used, only really serving as plot devices, while Ashley McBryde’s and Kacey Musgraves’s cameos feel somewhat shoehorned in.

VERDICT: 8/10

PREVIEW: May 2019

April is almost at a close…we are already one-third of the way through 2019, which is crazy, and summer is almost upon us. We have had the Endgame and now we are on the cusp of the Battle for Winterfell. I have had a decent number of cinema trips during April and got a good amount of content published on the blog.

I have a fair few cinema trips lined up for May, including AladdinThe Secret Life of Pets 2Long ShotRocketman, TolkienThe Curse of La LloronaThe HustleGodzilla II: King of MonstersJohn Wick: Chapter Three – Parabellum and Pokémon: Detective Pikachu. As ever, I shall endeavour to get reviews for these published (time permitting, of course). I shall also aim to publish some content on Game of Thrones, seeing as it is having its finale in three weeks time (I am so excited but equally so saddened by the prospect of that).

Thank you as always for visiting this blog, and for the month ahead I wish you (as ever) Happy Reading…!