Passing – review

Brief synopsis: In 1920’s America, a couple of mixed-race women get reacquainted, having not seen one another since high school. One of the women is married to a white man and passes herself off as white. The other embraces her black side, her family life in Harlem. 

Is it any good?: Passing, a directorial debut from actor Rebecca Hall, is a bit of a disappointment. From a book of the same name, the film promises more than it delivers. With so many subjects to explore, Passing barely skims the surfaces of them, the film a frustrating viewing experience. 

Spoiler(ish) territory: Irene (Tessa Thompson) is shopping in New York. It is the 1920’s. Emancipation has been a thing since the beginning of the century nevertheless, black people remain second-class citizens. 

A pale mixed-race woman, Irene nervously shops amongst the white people. None of them notice that she is not white. It is the height of summer in New York, the heat oppressive. 

Irene visits a hotel bar for a cool drink. The patronage is all-white; she feels out of place. A young couple comes into the bar. The woman is blond and pretty, her partner fawning over her. 

The man leaves her, going to the bathroom. Irene looks at the woman, who catches her looking and stares back at her. The woman approaches, calling her name. 

Irene does not recognise her. The woman begins to laugh. It’s Clare (Ruth Negga), an old high school friend. Irene had not seen her for over a decade. 

Clare is passing herself off as white. Even her husband does not know she is mixed. Clare has a daughter that, thankfully, came out pale of skin. Mistakenly, she thinks Irene is doing the same. 

Irene explains that she is still living in the same neighbourhood. She lives in a black area. Harlem. She does not want to pass for white. Irene, isolated in white society, jumps at the opportunity to reconnect with the black life she grew up knowing. 

Final thoughts: Hall’s love for the source material is evident in the film. That is the problem. The script has little to no exposition, requiring Thompson and Negga to tell the story through their emotions and acting. 

As excellent as both actors are – and they are both very good – the film’s script gives them too little to work with. The ninety-eight-minute film is filled mostly, with Thompson’s not unattractive face, struggling to tell some type of story. 

It is difficult to know how faithful to the source material the film is. A book tends to lend itself more to an emotive experience. Passing is very emotive, tackling the prickly subjects of race, identity, class and belonging. 

Though Hall’s film is not long, it is interminably slow. The story meanders, the tensions that Negga’s character must have suffered are not evident at all. 

Thompson’s Irene, in contrast, has her own demons. Sadly, the script and minimal interactions with other characters do not allow them to show. Passing has gained some critical acclaim, which one can only believe is due to the subject matter it tackles. 

From a technical standpoint, the film is not great. It is in focus, yes, but some of the shot selections seem more indulgent than necessary. Shooting the entire film in black and white, whilst artsy, is a bit of a copout, the light coloured skin of both actors leaning towards white for the viewer. 

The jazz club scene works well in the film, the energy leaping off the screen. Similarly, the concluding party scene has a buzz about it that, rather than contrasting with the rest of the film, shows up the slow pacing.

That Hall is an actor herself is evident in the performances from the cast. All of the actors bring strong performances. Ultimately, Passing disappoints because it had so much scope and promise. Not a terrible film but an unsatisfying one that is difficult to recommend.

Afterlife of the Party – review

Brief synopsis: In the run-up to her twenty-fifth birthday, a young woman dies. She wakes to find herself in limbo, neither in heaven or hell. 

She is told that she has unfinished business on Earth. She has five days to complete a list. The completion of the list will determine her fare. 

Is it any good?: Afterlife of the Party is a sweet and heartwarming film. With a nod to similar films, like Ghost, but more pertinently, Blithe Spirit, the brilliant Noel Coward film with a similar premise, remade multiple times, Afterlife of the Party brings an energy and sweetness that makes it a highly enjoyable watch. 

Spoiler territory: It is Cassie’s (Victoria Justice) twenty-fifth birthday in a few days and she is excited. Her best friend since childhood, Lisa (Midori Francis), who she lives with, arrives home from work. Carrie is a party-girl and is determined to kick off her birthday week in style. 

Lisa is focused on furthering her career, wants to stay in and have a quiet evening. Carrie wins, the two ladies leaving their apartment for a night out. 

As they leave, they meet their new neighbour, Max (Timothy Renouf). Lisa is immediately enamoured by him. Max is equally taken by Lisa. 

Carrie gently ribs her friend about the obvious attraction between the two, as they make their way to a club. Lisa deflects. She has no time for a relationship. 

Carrie tells her that she needs to have fun. They change the subject, a slightly embarrassed Carrie noting that her father, Howie (Adam Garcia), has posted on Instagram.

She feels awkward about him being in, what she feels, is a young space and how cloying he can be. Lisa thinks he is nice and just wants to be closer to his adult daughter. Carrie loves her father but is happy that they lead separate lives. 

They arrive at the club and similarly, party-loving peers, greet Carrie. She is the queen of the night. The partying begins. Carrie is drinking and dancing. Lisa is more reserved, conscious of working the next day. 

The group leave, going to another party at one of their houses. Lisa wants to go home and tries to persuade Carrie to go with her. The two women argue. Cassie tells her that they have probably outgrown one the friendship. Lisa goes home. 

A drunken Carrie staggers home in the early hours. She knocks on Lisa’s bedroom door but Lisa pretends not to hear her. Carrie goes to bed. In the morning, a still worse for wear Carrie stumbles into her bathroom. 

She slips whilst bracing on the sink. She grabs for the towel rail to steady herself but the rail breaks causing her to fall and hit her head on the toilet bowl. She dies. 

Carrie wakes up to find a woman watching videos of her life. Carrie sees images from her final night on Earth. She has no idea where she is.

The woman, noting she is awake, starts recounting the facts of Carrie’s life. She is dead. Val (Robyn Scott), is her temporary guardian angel. 

After getting over the notion of finding out she is dead, Carrie wants to know if she is in heaven. Or hell. Val tells her she is in a place they call the In-Between. 

She is there because she has unfinished business on Earth. She has to make things right with a select list of people who she left behind. That is the only way for her to be sure of getting into heaven. 

Val takes her to the first person on the list. It is her father. He is depressed, his home is a mess. How long has she been dead? A year. Carrie is shocked, she thought it had been a day. 

The next person on the list is Lisa. Carrie does not want to see her. Val tells her she has no choice. She is on the list. Who else is on the list? 

Val takes her to see Sofia (Gloria Garcia), her estranged mother. Carrie has not spoken to her since she was a child, her mother having left her father to bring her up alone. They return to the In-Between. Val tells her she has five days to clear the three names off the list. 

Carrie worries about how she is meant to do anything. Especially as no one can see or hear her. Only animals and children. After a quick wardrobe change, Val tells her that her mission begins immediately. Val sends her to Lisa’s apartment. 

Unable to communicate with Lisa, Carrie just follows her around. Lisa meets Max in the corridor. It has been a year and Carrie can see that their spark for one another is still present, even if the relationship has not advanced. 

She follows her as she goes to a new coffee shop. Lisa is very friendly with the owner, Emme (Myfanwy Waring). 

Carrie follows her to work and observes in frustration, Lisa’s lack of confidence as she is challenged by one of her colleagues, Raj (Kiroshan Naidoo), when an opportunity to work for a leading palaeontologist comes up. 

The interviews will be conducted that week, but Raj keeps up the mind games. Only one person will be picked. He is confident of it being him. 

Carrie goes to see Val. She laments the fact that her best friend does not seem to miss her or need her. Val tells herself that perhaps she should be thinking about their needs, rather than her own. She sends her back. 

Carrie is back in Lisa’s bedroom. Carrie tries speaking to Lisa again. Nothing happens, Lisa soundly asleep. She begins to hum, her humming waking Lisa. Carrie looks at Lisa. Lisa opens her eye to see Carrie appearing and screams. Carrie goes to see Val. 

Val checks an ancient book. It is possible to connect with a living person if you had a strong connection with them. They go to see Howie again. He has left Carrie’s bedroom as a shrine to her. He still cannot see her. 

Day two and Carrie returns to Lisa. Lisa is the only person who can see and hear her. 

Lisa tries to ignore, sure that she is no more than a figment of an overworked and stressed imagination. Carrie keeps on following her. Lisa goes to see Emme and tells her what is happening. 

Emme tells her she should take it as a compliment. Lisa just wants Carrie to leave her alone. Carrie’s persistence pays off. Lisa begins to interact with her, their friendship rekindling. 

They bond over the music of Carrie’s living crush, Koop (Spencer Sutherland). She asks Lisa what is she going to do about her year-long crush on the neighbour, Max. 

Lisa is reluctant to do anything. Carrie directs her to turn up the music. The loud music, gets Max knocking on her door. She invites him in but loses her nerve as the relationship seems to be going well. Max, a diffident individual himself, leaves. Lisa beats herself up about her ineptitude with relationships. 

Carrie decides to give them a push, arranging a sequence of events that pushes the two together. Max asks Lisa to join him on a visit to the set of Koop’s new video. She accepts the invite. 

Carrie decides to tackle her father next. She goes over to his home and arranges his space in the hope of pushing him back into his yoga practice. Howie, being a spiritual person, sees it as a sign from Carrie. 

She returns to Lisa, telling her about seeing both her father and mother. She does not know how and if she will be able to connect with her mother. 

Lisa returns home to get ready for her date with Max. Carrie helps her pick an outfit. It being a Koop video, Carrie accompanies Lisa and Max, not wanting to miss out on the opportunity of seeing him. 

Carrie tries to get close to Koop but is pulled back to the In-Between Place. Val reminds her that she only has three more days and Koop is not on the list. 

Lisa and Max get together. Lisa returns home and sees Carrie. The date was great. Carrie is overcome with sadness at all the things she will miss in her friend’s life. 

Lisa feels guilty about leaving Carrie alone the night they argued. Carrie does not know how she will deal with her mother. 

Lisa goes to see Sofia, acting as Carrie’s proxy. Sofia is wracked with guilt over her abandonment of Carrie. Sofia says she was too young and headstrong for her relationship with Howie. 

She was not ready to be a mother. Lisa, much to the chagrin of Cassie, asks Sofia what she would say if Cassie was there. 

Back at the apartment, Cassie rages at Lisa, angry that her life is over. They argue and Carrie leaves. Back in the In-Between place, Val tells her she can end her mission. All that she has done will be undone and she will go to hell. Cassie decides to continue. 

She goes to see her father. Much to her surprise, Sofia is there. She apologises for leaving him to bring up Cassie alone. Cassie witnesses them reconnecting. 

She forgives her mother. Sofia’s name fades from the list. Cassie goes to see Val again with an unusual request. She wants to add a name to the list. Emme, thinking that she would be good for her dad. 

Val agrees to the request. Cassie engineers a meeting between Howie and Emme. The next day is her last day. She goes to see Lisa. Lisa is still hesitating to put herself forward for the interview. 

Cassie gives her the confidence to sign up. Lisa has her interview and is successful, getting the much sought after position. 

Emme is having the first anniversary of the opening of her coffee shop. Howie arrives at the opening and meets Emme. The two click instantly.

Lisa and Max arrive at the opening. Lisa tells Carrie to meet her after the party. Later that evening, Lisa hosts a small gathering of Cassie’s family and friends, honouring her life on the anniversary of her death. 

Howie remembers a song he used to sing to Cassie when she was a child. Cassie sings along with him and becomes visible to him. She hugs him farewell. 

Cassie returns to Lisa’s apartment. She wants to find a jigsaw piece. They have a large puzzle of the Mona Lisa that is incomplete. 

Carrie has just missed her deadline and Val does not know if she will get into heaven. They return to the In-Between place to await the verdict. Val gets promoted and Cassie gets into heaven. 

An elevator is the way to heaven. Whilst in the elevator, Koop gets on. He was killed whilst performing at a charity relief gig. They both reach heaven, a beautiful garden. The end. 

Final thoughts: Afterlife of the Party is such a nice film. Written by Carrie Freedle and directed by Stephen Herek, the film flows through its one-hundred-and-nine-minute runtime. 

The chemistry between the two leads, Victoria Justice and Midori Francis as Carrie and Lisa respectively, works beautifully, their life-long friendship believable.

The rest of the cast ably support them but the central story of friendship and love is what makes this film such a good watch. Freedle’s script is clever and funny in parts, the characters driving the story rather than any outside McGuffin. 

Though the film does not feel overlong, it could have ended earlier, the Koop angle and emergence to the Eden-esque garden more of an indulgence than a necessity. That said, it does not detract from the film and is a minor gripe. 

Afterlife of the Party is a romcom without a central romance and that, in this case, is not a problem. A lovely film.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Brief synopsis: successful blues singer, Ma Rainey (Viola Davis), heads north to Chicago to meet up with her band to make a recording of some of her songs. One of her band, Levee (Chadwick Boseman) causes a rift with his ambition and passion.

Is it any good?: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a little too stagey and more of a collection of monologues than a coherent story or film. From a play written by August Wilson, the screenplay by Ruben Santiago-Hudson does nothing to disguise the stage play roots. 

With good performances from everybody on show and standout performances from Davis and Boseman in his final film, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a watchable film but not a must watch film. 

Spoiler territory: in a tent, down south in America, 1927, black people come from all around to see blues singer Ma Rainey perform. The tent is packed out and Ma Rainey is performing to great acclaim in front of an appreciative crowd. 

With emancipation having happened in the north, black people had begun to migrate in numbers in search of work and a new life. Ma Rainey’s reputation and fame continued to grow down south, her and the band playing in bigger venues. 

At one of the shows, her trumpeter, Levee, steps into the spotlight, add-libbing a solo. A little while later, the band arrive in Chicago. They are there for a recordIng session at Sturdyvant’s (Jonny Coyne) Hot Rhythm studio. 

Ma’s manager, Irving (Jeremy Shamos), is at the studio preparing for their arrival. Sturdyvant is not especially happy about the upcoming arrival of Ma. He finds her difficult. 

Three of the band arrive. Cutler (Coleman Domingo), Toledo (Glynn Turman) and Slow Drag (Michael Potts) and are greeted by Irving. He wants to know where Ma is. She has not arrived yet.

Levee is not there either. On the streets of Illinois, Levee is admiring a pair of shoes. The band settle into the studio and get ready to rehearse.

Levee arrives. He bought the shoes and makes a show of putting them on. It is hot in Chicago. Levee goes to open a door but finds it locked. He does not remember it being locked the last time he was there and remarks on how everything has changed. 

Toledo tells him things always change. Levee, a young abrasive trumpet player, starts to tell the rest of the band that he is going to have his own band. 

Cutler, who is the de facto leader of the band, tells him that they are an accompaniment band. They play Ma’s music, how she wants it. Levee tells them he has a new, more upbeat arrangement for one of her songs. Cutler says they cannot do his arrangement. Irving comes into the room.

He is looking for Ma. Cutler tells him she has not arrived yet. He asks about the arrangement. Irving tells him they are going with Levee’s arrangement. 

In town, Ma is seeing a different kind of black people to the ones she is used to down south. She walks around a tea house with her nephew, Sylvester (Dusan Brown) and niece, Dussie Mae (Taylour Paige). The black people watch Ma and her charges as though they were curiosities. Ma returns to her car. 

Back in the studio space, the band are ribbing Toledo about his old shoes. Levee starts dancing. Toledo cautions them against only looking for fun as black people suffer the world over. They start talking religion. Levee insists that he has no time for God. 

Outside the studio, Ma as arrived but Sylvester has had an accident with another car. Irving comes out of the studio to find Ma arguing with a policeman. Irving nervously intervenes and smooths things over. Inside the studio, an irritable Ma has Irving scurrying around for a fan. 

Dussie, an attractive girl, uses her looks to curry favour with her aunt and asks for new shoes. Ma tells her she will get her some new things. She tells Sylvester he will get some things to. 

He is also going to do a bit on the recording. Music is playing; Levee’s version of Ma’s Black Bottom. Ma asks Irving about it. He tells her that people want to hear a more upbeat sound. Ma is not changing her arrangement. She will sing the song how she originally wrote it. 

She tells Irving to take Sylvester to meet the band and tell them that he is doing the intro to the recording. She decides to go and introduce him herself. She also tells Cutler that they are doing the song to her arrangement with Sylvester doing the intro. Levee tries to protest but Ma is having none of it. 

Ma leaves and a frustrated Levee voices his frustrations. Cutler tells Sylvester the opening he needs to say and asks him to repeat it back to him. Sylvester begins to speak and the band realises he has a stutter. Levee laughs, asking how Cutler plans to sort out the intro. Sturdyvant comes down to the studio. 

Levee approaches him with some of his songs. Sturdyvant takes the songs and leaves. The rest of the band laugh at Levee’s subservient attitude towards Sturdyvant. 

Levee takes offence and tells them he acts how he needs to around white people to get what he needs. He tells them that he learned how to do so from his father who he had seen smile in the faces of the men who sexually assaulted his mother and then return at a later date to try and exact revenge on them. 

Cutler tells Irving that Sylvester cannot do the part. As the band rehearse, Ma sees Levee eyeing Dussie. She tells Cutler to warn him. They get ready to record and Ma wants Sylvester to do his part first.

Irving tells her he cannot do it. Ma insists on him getting a microphone and doing the part. Sturdyvant tries to complain about the cost and she reminds him that she makes more money for him than all his other acts put together. 

There is another hiccup. Irving did not get any Coke. Ma stops the session and sends Slow Drag and Sylvester out to get some. Ma speaks to Cutler, unhappy about having to fight to get Sylvester on the record as she obviously knows the boy has a stutter. Dussie goes to find Levee and flirts with him. 

Ma explains to Cutler that she understands that the only reason Sturdyvant or any white people put up with her, is because of her voice and she makes them money. 

That includes her manager Irving. Levee continues to charm Dussie, telling her he is going to form his own band. The two get frisky. Ma and Cutler speak about the blues and the meaning of the music to black people. 

Slow Drag and Sylvester return with the Cokes. Levee and Dussie’s union is interrupted as he needs to return to the recording. Sylvester, unsurprisingly, struggles to get the intro out. 

He nails it after multiple takes and the band strike up, Ma singing the song perfectly in one take. Unfortunately, Sylvester’s microphone’s wire is frayed and they did not get the recording. 

A frustrated Ma leaves the studio. She is going home. Irving begs her to stay. He will sort everything out in fifteen minutes. Ma stays. The band takes a break. Cutler tells Levee he needs to leave Dussie alone. Levee lies, saying he only ever asked her her name. Toledo tells him that he understands how he could become foolish over a woman. 

Cutler tells Levee that his roving eye is going to get him fired. Levee argues with the rest of the band about their acceptance of their lot in life and how he plans to be respected by white people. Cutler tells the group about a black reverend who had been forced to dance at gunpoint and ridiculed for his belief in God. 

Levee challenges Cutler, asking where was God when that man needed help. He tells Cutler that God hates black people. Cutler punches him and the two scuffle. 

The other band members separate them. Levee pulls a knife and goes for Cutler. Cutler manages to avoid getting stabbed. An angry Levee asks God where he was when his mother was calling out for his help.

They return to the recording room. They record the track perfectly. Ma asks Levee why he felt the need to embellish. He tells her he likes to add his own flavour. It quickly escalates to an argument and Ma fires him. 

An angry Levee leaves the recording room, returning to the rehearsal room. Upstairs, Irving tells Ma that Sturdyvant does not want to pay Sylvester. She tells him to get the boy’s pay. Sturdyvant quickly comes around to Ma’s way of thinking and pays Sylvester. 

He needs Ma to sign the music release forms. Ma leaves, Irving chasing after her asking her to sign the forms. She tells him to send them to her home. She warns Irving that she will record elsewhere in future if there are any more hiccups. 

The band get ready to leave and Sturdyvant pays them. Levee speaks to Sturdyvant, asking if he can get a recording session. Sturdyvant tells him he will buy the songs but does not want to record them. They do not sound right. Levee’s argument to convince him otherwise falls on deaf ears. 

A despondent Levee returns to the rehearsal room. Toledo accidentally steps on his new shoes. He apologises. Levee is riled up and wants a more fulsome explanation for the transgression. Toledo dismisses him, packing up his things and turning to leave. Levee stabs him in the back, killing him. 

Ma is being driven home, unaware of what has happened back at the studio. Levee cradles the dead Toledo. An all-white band record a version of Black Bottom. The End. 

Final thoughts: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is most notable for being Chadwick Boseman’s final film. Directed by George C Wolfe, it does flow nicely and looks great. 

Regrettably, as a Boseman’s last film, it is not a masterwork. Boseman is excellent in it and, if anything, it is almost sadder to see that his obvious talent was extinguished so prematurely. 

Viola Davis matches Boseman with a captivating performance as the bigger than life Ma Rainey. Such is the power of her performance it will have you looking into the real-life Rainey. 

As I alluded to earlier, the film is too obviously based on a stage play, the screenplay putting the monologue style of stage work to the fore. 

The story is centred around the recording studio but seems a little truncated, the whole story not told. Though the original August Wilson play was written in 1984, it is set in the twenties and, as such, reflects the black sensibilities of that time. 

The outlook is quite bleak and needy, with even the successful Rainey knowing that her acceptance is only because of her voice. 

The appropriation of black music by whites is not new and still happens to this day and is the underlying theme of the film. There is also a veiled dig at the blind faith shown in a Christian god that has never favoured black people. 

At ninety-four minutes long, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is not a long film and whizzes through its runtime fairly quickly but suffers a little from having too much story to tell in its runtime. As I wrote earlier, the film is not bad but it is not great either. 

Is it worth watching? For the performances of not just Boseman and Davis, but the whole cast, yes. As an enjoyable ninety-minute-plus film it is not a must-see.

The Two Killings Of Sam Cooke – review (Netflix)

The Two Killings Of Sam Cooke is a documentary by Kelly Duane that is emotionally resonant but ultimately underwhelming. In essence, it rehashes the story of Cooke’s death and how it was shrouded in and remains shrouded in mystery. That is the first and obvious killing. 

The second killing is more opaque, speaking to his growing impact in black society and influence in an America growing through the Civil Rights movement, with blacks in the south still suffering segregation and inequality.

The second death is how Cooke’s growing influence in black America was growing at a rate that some felt it needed to be checked. 

Unfortunately, Duane’s documentary devotes very little time to the murder and the circumstances surrounding it, instead preferring to focus on Cooke’s career, life and influences. 

That is not to say the documentary is bad. It is, for the most part, a very engaging film. It is just that the title of the documentary gives one a very different expectation. 

What the documentary does very well, is to tell us about Cooke’s musical journey and how focussed he was in politics and his beliefs. His talent as a singer was discovered early and he was a star in his twenties, his good looks helping him to crossover to white audiences in a time when segregation was still commonplace. 

His father was a pastor and used to take his children around to churches to sing. Sam, like a lot of black singers from that era, started with gospel music. Later, singing as part of a group, The Soul Stirrers, Cooke gained fame throughout the black community. 

His family moved north to Chicago, to get away from the still racially oppressive south. When he travelled around with The Soul Stirrers, as a young adult, heading back to the south, he saw and experienced how very differently black people were treated there. 

According to those who knew Cooke, the murder of Emmet Till had a profound effect on him. Emmet Till was a young black boy, fourteen years old, who was lynched and beaten to death because he had the temerity to, allegedly, whistle at a white woman.

Till’s death and the savagery of it, triggered not only Cooke but most of black America. Many believe it was the catalyst for the Civil Rights movement.

Rock n’ roll was beginning to come to prominence across America and the youth were embracing it. Cooke was reluctant, like a lot of the black acts and singers who came from gospel singing, to cross over to rock n’ roll. 

Amongst church communities, rock n’ roll was considered the Devil’s music. He knew if he crossed over to rock n’ roll, he could never go back. 

He also knew what he wanted. He wanted to be famous and be able to reach a lot of people and help his people.

He would not be able to do that with gospel music. On his first foray into rock n’ roll and pop, getting away from gospel music, he did not use his first name, instead going under the name Dale Cook. His next song catapulted him to national stardom. 

You Send Me was a hit. It got him invited on to the Ed Sullivan Show and had black people gathering around television sets, televisions not being common in black households at that time, to see him. 

He got invited on to American Bandstand by Dick Clark. American Bandstand was a show that was, perhaps, the most influential music show for young people at the time.

The Klu Klux Klan did not want him going on the show. They threaten to blow up the studio if Sam Cooke appeared on the show. They also threaten Cooke. 

Dick Clark had reservations but went ahead anyway, Cooke appearing on American Bandstand. 

Cooke got married and moved to California, closer to the Mecca of television and film. He continued to appear on television. He was becoming very successful and was only second to Elvis Presley in record sales. He was famous. 

Sam did not like that, as a black performer, with all of his fame, he would till be invited to play at venues where segregation was a thing. He refused to play at such venues and stopped playing in segregated states.

He would go on to meet other prominent black men of his time; Muhammad Ali, who at that time went under the name of Cassius Clay, and Malcolm X. 

Cooke started a record company and understood that controlling the music and the rights to the music was where the money was. He also wanted to protect black artist, many of whom had been burnt by record companies giving them contracts that did not benefit them at all. 

Even as a person who understood this, Cooke was not immune to getting ripped off himself and found himself unwittingly, in an unfavourable contract drawn up by Allen Klein, an account, days before he died. 

Cooke’s popularity kept growing. His friendship with Ali and Malcolm X bringing him to the attention of the FBI, who were watching both men. Cooke’s crossover appeal was admired by the money men but his refusal to leave his black roots behind did not sit well with them. 

Cooke wanted to create a black music agency. Organised crime – the mob -, whose tentacles tended to be in anything that made money, tried to discourage him. 

The death of his son, Vincent, by drowning, really affected Cooke and he plunged himself into work. He also started seeing other women, his marriage suffering. 

He made a deal with RCA as a subsidiary of their label. This was the deal that involved Klein. When he found that Klein was ripping him off, he had planned to fire him. 

Unfortunately, he was killed before he would see Klein again. His death, murder, happened in strange circumstances. He was shot by a black woman, Bertha Franklin, who claimed Cooke had forced his way into her room and was harassing her. 

Franklin had been the manager at the hotel Cooke had gone to that night with another woman, Lisa Boyer, who accused Cooke of trying to kidnap her and had escaped, taking his clothes. Cooke had, allegedly, been looking for Boyer when Franklin shot him. Franklin got off with justifiable homicide. 

The issue with Duane’s documentary is the title. I found out more about his death reading Wikipedia than I did from watching the documentary.

It may be because the documentary is quite short at only seventy-four minutes long or the focus on his music career but there really is not a great deal about one death, let alone two. 

The Two Killings Of Sam Cooke is definitely worth watching but do not watch it hoping to gain any clarity around the mystery surrounding his death. This film will not give you that.

The World According to Telenovelas

2020 has been a challenging year to put it lightly. Like many people, I have been sitting at home for the past few months, praying for some return to normality. Admittedly, the first month or so was quite fun. I had been working quite a lot before the world went crazy and my hobbies and interests had fallen a little by the wayside, so the chance to catch up on my favourite shows and new films on Netflix, Prime or anywhere else, was grasped with both hands.
Generally, I tend to write reviews on the filmic output on mostly Netflix, sometimes Prime. With the extended time the lockdown had given me, I decided I would need to watch something of a longer format than a film. A fan of the Spanish language — I have been trying to learn Spanish for years — I decided to watch a few telenovelas.
Telenovelas, Latin-American serials, differ from soap operas in that they have an ending. With fantastical storylines and compelling narratives, telenovelas are a wonderful escape from the realities and stresses of life.
That being said, telenovelas tend to have certain tropes and themes that are both comforting in their commonality and disturbing. As I mentioned, I have watched a few telenovelas. That might be a bit of an understatement. Since the lockdown began, I have watched, to completion, three telenovelas, which may not seem like a lot but that is over four hundred episodes of television. I am currently watching two others and have watched several over the last few years.
I like telenovelas. Here are some of the things that telenovelas have taught me.

Telenovelas are not playing the political correctness game.
As various social media platforms and internet platforms give voice to many who rigorously look to censor the present and expose the past for anything they deem offensive, telenovela writers steadfastly ignore such convention. Machoism is alive and kicking furiously in telenovela land.
With so many stories revolving around the drug trade and money, reprehensible characters, generally the male central antagonist, tend to live on vast ranches and, in keeping with the macho image, have a real penchant for the cowboy life. There are Stetsons aplenty in telenovelas from the early 2000s right up to the present day.
They always have multiple women around, who tend to be scantily clad and decoratively hanging by the pool. Occasionally, they become collateral damage as one of the drug lord’s enemies tries to kill him to take over his territory or gain revenge for some slight.
In keeping with the machoism, slights will always elicit a disproportionately violent response, usually resulting in the deaths of multiple henchmen, the aforementioned eye-candy ladies and occasionally, the actual target. A man in a telenovela is a man’s man and no insult or slight can go unpunished.

Women get treated horribly.
Though the overt machoism is somewhat amusing, one of the downsides of the rampant testosterone-fuelled storylines of many a telenovela is how horribly the women are treated in them. Regardless of whether they are a lead, sympathetic or a less likeable character, women in telenovelas are subject to some horrendous treatment.
Rapes, miscarriages, spousal abuse, being left destitute, disfigurement and emotional distress are common and alarmingly frequent tropes used in telenovelas. Even the strongest women, the lead character, usually have some sort of trauma visited upon them, often a rape, by violent men. The violent incident, when visited upon the lead female character, drives the story. Still, women get treated horribly.
As I alluded to before, the men are hairy-chested, cowboy-boot wearing, moustachioed men and as such are not averse to delivering the odd backhand to any woman who feels she can speak to them as though this were the twenty-first century. It might be in the real world but in the world of telenovelas, women need to know their place.

Real-life Disney approach to love.
Most people know one lovely couple that met and fell in love forever. Somehow, on this mad, spinning globe, they managed to meet that one person with whom they are compatible with and do not want to kill after a couple of years. The rest of us pinball from one relationship to another, slowly losing faith and patience in the notion of meeting a person whose foibles do not bring on a murderous rage.
In telenovela land, love, at first sight, is a thing. It is the thing. Worryingly, even with years of adult learning and experience, the want and need for love at first sight to be a thing is such that, even though one should and does know better, you still allow your disbelief to be suspended whilst watching the beautiful leads — they are always gorgeous — set eyes on one another and fall instantly in love.
Their love is always, on both sides, the love of their lives, a love that, regardless of the obstacles — class differences — which is very popular — wrong partners, children — must be realised.

You’re rich or you’re broke.
Besides one’s family and education, things that are considered barometers of one’s social standing, wealth and money are also big factors in telenovelas. Power is always being chased, especially by the antagonist who, in the case of a drug lord, already has a great deal of it.
A beautiful female lead, if poor, will, after suffering multiple mishaps, find and fall in love with a handsome, rich suitor. If she is rich, her suitor will be an upstanding and proud man and though poor, he will compensate for his lack of financial means with great physical prowess — he will be good at punching people.
As is the way in many of these telenovelas, the central characters, the lovelorn leads from opposing lives, come together in the end, forgetting all the misery and death that has happened before, to live happily ever after.

Secrets and proclamations of love.
Unlike in real life, in a telenovela love happens immediately and those struck by Cupid’s arrow have very little trouble articulating their feelings. Proclamations of love tumble from the lips of the lovelorn, telling the object of their affection, in florid terms, how much they want them and need them, how they would do anything to be with them.
What they all leave out, is they would do anything but tell the truth. Telenovelas are driven by secrets. A long lost son or daughter, who ended up in an orphanage but is the offspring of the richest man or family in the region.
A long-serving maid or manservant tends to know all of the secrets but is bound by a sense of duty or their personal demons not to reveal them. It is not even as though said secrets are never uttered, with those who have the knowledge telling anyone who does not need to know the secret that could solve the problems of another.
Frustratingly, the reasons for keeping a secret that could solve many of the issues the characters face usually comes down to pride. Of course, being a telenovela, the secret always comes out in the end.

After so many months of lockdown, my world view has perhaps been skewed by watching so many telenovelas. Maybe there is a long lost love out there for me and all I need to do to find her is visit a ranch. I am not sure how my proclamations of love would or could work whilst being mumbled through a face mask but I am willing to give it a go.
All I need now is to find a ranch, purchase a Stetson and learn a compelling secret so as I can live that telenovela life.

Uncorked – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: A son becomes estranged from his father when he decides to follow his dream of becoming a sommelier. When he takes a trip of a lifetime to study the craft in France, things after complicated further by his mother becoming gravely ill and financial difficulties.

Is it any good?: Uncorked is a film with heart that will resonate with anyone who has ever felt disappointment from their family. With wonderfully understated performances from the whole cast and particularly strong central performances from Courtney B. Vance, Niecy Nash and Mamoudou Athie, Uncorked is an enjoyable family film.

Spoiler territory: Elijah (Mamoudou Athie) has dreams of becoming a sommelier but his father, Louis (Courtney B. Vance) wants him to inherit the family restaurant business in and tells him so. As well as working in the restaurant, Elijah works in a wine shop. One evening, he meets Tanya (Sasha Compére), who has popped into the wine shop for a bottle of white wine.

Elijah asks her what sort of white wine she would like. Tanya does not know anything about wine. Elijah explains to her the various types of wine using hip hop music artist as a substitute for the various wines. Having helped Tanya with her wine purchase, Elijah notices he is late for his shift at the restaurant and rushes to his shift.

At the restaurant, Louis gives his son a hard time. Elijah gives back as good as he gets until both are interrupted by Dorothy (Niecy Nash), wife and mother respectively, tells the men to stop arguing. She gets back to serving people in the restaurant. She is interrupted by her daughter, Brenda (Kelly Jenrette), and her children.

She takes her grandchildren into the back to get something to eat. Elijah teases Brenda about being unable to cook even though she grew up in a restaurant. Their cousin, JT (Bernard David Jones), comes into the restaurant looking to impress his latest lady. Louis takes Elijah with him on a wood run.

On the trip, he asks him to come on a buying trip with him the next day. Elijah tells him he cannot because he has a wine fair. Louis points out to him that he always seems to have a wine class or show whenever he is required to learn about the restaurant, Louis reminds him, that he will one day inherit. Elijah does not say anything.

Elijah attends the wine fair and enthusiastically tells Raylan (Matthew Glave), the owner of a wine store, friend and wine connoisseur and sommelier. Elijah asks him about wine school. Raylan tells him it is difficult and he took the test three times.

Tanya comes back to the store. Even though Elijah geeks out about corks, Tanya ends up making sure he takes her number. Elijah goes to a family dinner. At the dinner, Elijah mentions how he was at a wine show and found about becoming a sommelier. Most of the family have no idea what he is talking about.

Elijah tells them what a sommelier and says that Raylan has offered to write a letter of recommendation to the school. Louis embarrasses his son but questioning his commitment to following through on his latest passion. Later, when Louis and Sylvia are alone, she tells him he was wrong for saying that in front of everybody.

Tanya and Elijah go out on a date. He talks to her about how difficult his situation is regarding wine school and his family. Tanya tells him that if he really wants it, he has to go for it. Elijah takes the exam to get into sommelier school and he passes.

Elijah goes to see his father at the restaurant. He finds out they are opening a second restaurant. He wants Elijah to run one of the premises. Elijah tells him he does not want to take over the family business and that he got into sommelier school. Louis is disappointed but tells him it is his decision what to do with his life.

Elijah studies diligently. Richie (Gil Ozeri), who he met at wine school, studies along with him. The next day at school, after showing his talent with wine whilst up against another student, Harvard (Matt McGorry), Harvard catches up with him after the class and asks him to join a study group.

Father and son become estranged, with Louis pointedly reticent with Elijah. Elijah asks to swap a shift but Louis reminds him that he promised that his wine school would not disrupt his work at the restaurant. Louis and Sylvia go out for a night of dancing but are alerted to an alarm going off in the restaurant. It is Elijah and Tanya cleaning up. Elijah forgot to reset the alarm. He tells Louis he is just making sure he gets all the work done.

Elijah is studying with Richie, Harvard and the fourth member of their group, Leann (Meera Rohit Kumbhani). Harvard gets a text. He tells the group that their class is doing an exchange program with a French school. Elijah says he cannot afford it. Harvard says he will go in for half if he can come up with the money.

Elijah cannot see how he can raise the money. Tanya tells him he has to go but he snaps at her, feeling he cannot find the money. He apologises later. At another family dinner, Louis refuses to talk about wine as the rest of the family awkwardly try to show interest in Elijah’s passion. Elijah decides that he is going to France. He tells the family and says he is going to sell his car finance it. Sylvia immediately takes up his cause pledging to raise the rest of the money for his trip.

Sylvia gets family and friends together and raises the money to get Elijah out to France. Louis remains distant. The group go to Paris and enjoy the experience as they settle in. Back in the States, Sylvia has seen a doctor. Her cancer has come back and spread to her lungs. Sylvia tells Louis and returns to the hospital. She does not want Elijah to know.

Elijah and the group continue to enjoy Paris. Harvard wants to speak with Elijah privately. He tells him he is returning to the States. His father has gotten him banking job starting the next week. Elijah stays on, finding work in France. He calls home and has an awkward conversation with his father. Louis is convinced he wants money.

Brenda tells Elijah about their mother. He calls her. Sylvia tells him not to come home as he cannot do anything. He stays on in Paris but his attention is now divided. Louis gets a call from the bank about a credit transfer. Sylvia tells him she transferred the money to Elijah. Sylvia tries to explain to Louis that their son does not want the same thing that he does.

Sylvia dies and Elijah returns home for the funeral. A grieving Elijah tries to keep studying. He goes back to working with his father, trying to help out more now that Sylvia is dead. He finds out that Louis had wanted to be a teacher but his father had needed help in the restaurant. Elijah is still studying but is considering dropping out of school to help his father.

He drops out of school. Tanya comes to see him and asks why he had not told her. She tries to persuade to go back but he does not want to discuss it. Louis and Elijah go for a drink at a sports bar. Louis sees, firsthand, Elijah’s passion for wines. He persuades him to study for the test, helping out whilst they both work on the new restaurant.

The day of the test Elijah is nervous. He takes the test but has to wait overnight for the results. Louis comes to stay with him in the hotel room. The next day Elijah finds out he did not pass. Louis takes him home. He returns to working in the wine store, his passion for wine undiminished. He and Tanya go out to dinner and Richie, who passed, is their sommelier. Elijah re-enrols to wine school. The end.

Uncorked is an enjoyable, heartfelt, family dramedy. With good performances from all of the assembled cast, as well as great chemistry amongst all of them. Written and directed by Prentice Penny, Uncorked takes an unusual passion – wine, being a sommelier – and makes it mainstream and accessible in the way Damien Chazelle made drumming accessible with Whiplash.

Athie is perfectly believable as the passionate Elijah. Veteran actor Vance is also good in a slightly cliched role of the father disapproving of his son, his heir’s, choices. Nash’s Sylvia is both witty and motherly, showing love and compassion to all even as she succumbs to the ravages of cancer.

If there are any wasted characters, I would probably say Jenrette’s Brenda seems to only be in the film to fill out the family numbers, with even Jones’ cousin JT adding more to proceedings than she does.

Compére’s Tanya, a really good character, is also underused, a pity because the chemistry between the actors was so good and her performance deserved more screen time. At one hundred and four minutes, Uncorked stays just under two hours and the likeable performances keep it from feeling long.

That being said, the story could probably have been told in ninety minutes, the sweet spot for a home watched movie I think. Aside from those minor gripes, Uncorked is a highly watchable film that just falls short of being a total feel-good film. Worth a look.

Miss Americana – review

As a black man, in my early fifties and having grown up in south London, my musical influences and leanings were towards soul and funk with a smidgen of reggae. My clubbing days were solidly soul and funk, moving into house and garage music and embracing the musical mores that surrounded that scene.

That is not to say I did not like other types of music but in terms of purchasing music – I was a bit of a vinyl junkie back then – those were the musical styles that parted me from my hard-earned. These days, with downloading and streaming and my clubbing days somewhat behind me, I can and do indulge in less dance specific music.

That being said, Taylor Swift was never on my list of artist, nor was her music – except for the goat song, you know the one – something that ever came into my world. Of course, I knew who she was – goat song – and what she looked like, especially after Kanye West made her the centre of news broadcast throughout the western hemisphere in 2009 when he interrupted her awards speech to highlight his friend Beyoncé.

Swift, ever the nice girl, tried to play down the incident. Swift’s niceness, not to mention her relentless work ethic, is on display in a fascinating documentary by Lana Wilson, Miss Americana, which not only follows Swift for a couple of years but documents her rise, trials and the tribulations that have beset her career.

A talented singer/songwriter, Swift, hailing from Pennsylvania, began her performing career at an early age, signing her first record deal at fifteen. With a mixture of country and pop, Swift became popular and gained a vast following very quickly.

As she herself admits in the documentary, the most important thing for her was to be liked. Never one to display any of the rebellious traits that have plagued countless young celebrities before her, Swift was an ever-smiling pop princess with a Stepford-esque drive towards pleasing her fan base.

Being a songwriter from such a young age and one whose music touched so many, with lyrics they felt they could relate to, Swift music and writings have always been personal, reflect things that are happening in her life.

It is a hard-hearted and cynical person, a trait that some seem to covet in these times, that does not feel for Swift whilst watching this documentary. She is tearful as she recalls the bile and social media backlash that came after West’s infamous incident, her loneliness at being at the pinnacle of her career but not having anyone to share the moment with or who could relate and, with being a star during a media explosion age, the constant sniping at her with regards to her possible sexual partners.

She also addresses her insecurities about her body, something that many can relate to, how seeing photos of herself could trigger her eating disorder, prompting her to not eat whilst working to exhaustion, as the media took potshots at her and other women lined up to deride her ‘niceness’.

Feeling overwhelmed, Swift withdrew from the public eye and reassessed her life. She knew that her need to be liked by the multitudes of strangers was unhealthy. The dopamine hit she craved from the adulation of fans and critics was, ultimately, destroying her.

She realised that she needed to find true happiness, contentment. Also, as she was now older, she felt that she should perhaps voice her opinion on things that mattered to her. One thing that she felt very strongly about was the rights of women and gays in her home state. A sexual assault case she had to fight after she was sued by a former deejay who had been – rightly – fired for groping her.

Swifts’ pronouncements in social media created an upturn in younger voters in her state and though she did not get the outcome she had hoped for, it showed that she could utilise her influence for something important.

In my opinion – and perhaps I am naive – unless Taylor Swift is one of the planet’s most accomplished actors, it is hard not to like her. Miss Americana shows an extremely hard-working young woman, growing up in the spotlight and trying to find herself in a world that always wants to know more about its celebrities.

Miss Americana is a highly watchable hour and a half of entertainment that may change your mind about that infamous goat song. It made a Swift fan out of me.

The Irishman

Martín Scorsese’s latest offering to cinema is the three and a half hour epic gangster’s story, The Irishman. Few can tell a gangster, or more specifically, Mafiosa story, better than or even as well as Scorsese.

Known for Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, Casino, Raging Bull, Hugo, The Age Of Innocence, Shutter Island and so many other films, Scorsese has, generally, been at the peak of his directorial powers when recounting stories that involve the Italian-American experience. The Irishman is one such story.

Taken from the book ‘I Heard You Paint Houses’ written by Charles Brandt and adapted for the screen by Steven Zaillian, The Irishman recounts the words of Frank ‘The Irishman’ Sheeran (Robert DeNiro), a hitman for the Bufalino crime family and right-hand man to Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), as well as a union leader himself. The Irishman chronicles his rise through the ranks, the killings he did, his estrangement from his daughter Peggy, portrayed with steely resolve by Anna Paquin, and the disappearance of Hoffa as recounted by Sheeran himself.

Scorsese unites all of the big guns for this one. DeNiro and Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino are, unsurprisingly, in attendance but he also recruits his original muse, Harvey Keitel, who plays Angelo Bruno and Pacino, turning in a stellar performance as Hoffa. This film gives film lovers the DeNiro/Pacino match up they have yearned for all of these years.

DeNiro, as one would expect, puts in a wonderful everyman performance in the film as the working-class Sheeran whose chance meeting with Russell Bufalino takes his life in a totally different direction. After being persuaded to do a few jobs by Russell, he is taken under the wing of the Bufalino family.

Russell, whose connections and tentacles were in every business, introduced Sheeran to the leader of the powerful trucking and distribution union, the Teamsters, Jimmy Hoffa. Sheeran not only became Hoffa’s muscle but also became a close friend. This close friendship would prove ultimately costly for the increasingly nervous and mistrustful Hoffa.

Sheeran claims to have shot him twice in the back of the head. The body was then removed and incinerated. As the body was never found and nobody was ever indicted of his murder, it remained a mystery until Brandt’s book hit the shelves. There are those who dispute Sheehan’s claims but as this review is about The Irishman, which is, like many of Scorsese’s stellar works, biographical. I will take the story as close enough to the truth.

After five decades of filmmaking, Scorsese could be forgiven if he decided to go the route of other well-regarded directors and make pastiches of his own works. Though this charge has been levelled at him before, most notably for 1995’s Casino – a film I personally loved – following the tour-de-force that was Goodfellas, Scorsese has always been a director who has sought out varying film projects.

It is, however, in the realm of Italian-Americana where he has always excelled. If the story also happens to be biographical in nature all the better. From the staggeringly brilliant Raging Bull up to this year’s The Irishman, along with his longtime editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorsese continues to produce captivating work. Make no mistake, even at a bum-numbingly 209 minute runtime, The Irishman is a riveting piece of cinema.

From the rich opening signature camera sweeps, through the casual, matter-of-fact violence, up to its no-man-can-beat-time conclusion, The Irishman is a film that pulls you into the world of mobsters, unions and persons who lived unapologetically outside of the considered norm.

Much is made of the modern techniques and computer wizardry used to de-age the near octogenarian stars in the early scenes, especially on DeNiro, who is in almost every scene. It is initially a little disconcerting. Not because it is not good more because one knows they are not young men and, most notably with DeNiro, in their physicality and gait.

The strength of the story and performances does quickly make this minor gripe an irrelevance. For us outside of the world of organised crime, the fascination, whether it is portrayed romantically like in The Godfather, or as a daily grind such as in The Sopranos or humorously as in Bullets Over Broadway, there is always a compulsion to watch. If it also pulls back the curtain on people in history whose names are fading like the few photographic images of them that exist, that is even better.

The Irishman takes the story of the little known Frank Sheeran and brings to life one of twentieth centuries greatest crime riddles, what happened to Hoffa? Offering a credible answer. If in the unlikely event that Scorsese was to retire after this film, it would be a fitting film to bow out on. Masterful.

All Is Well – review (Netflix)

    Janne (Aenne Schwarz) and Piet (Andreas Dohler) are a couple of thirty-something, struggling writers. They are planning to move out of the city and are doing up an old house. Janne meets an old friend, Robert (Tilo Nest), who owns a publishing company. He offers her a job as an editor. She tells him she will think about it. She meets Sissi (Lisa Haigmeister), Robert’s young wife, and her brother, Martin (Hans Lôw) briefly.

   That evening, with Piet elsewhere, she goes to a school reunion. At the reunion, she meets Martin again. They both get drunk and party and laugh. Janne invites him back to her place, telling him he can sleep on the sofa. Martin gets amorous, wanting to kiss her. She gives him a kiss but he wants more. Janne tells him to go to bed. Martin forces himself on her and rapes her. He leaves. 

    Janne does not tell anybody. Alone in the house, she goes to sleep. She contacts Robert and goes to meet him about the job offer. She meets up with her mother, Sabine (Lina Wendel). Her mother knows something is wrong, Janne only giving her half the story, telling her mother that Marcel, an old school friend, wanted to have sex with her but she said no.

   Back with Piet at the house, he asks her about her black eye, which she got whilst trying to fend off Martin. She tells him she ran into a door. Later in the day when they go out to eat, trying to address their financial situation, she tells him that she has been offered a job. Piet does not take it very well. He leaves her eating alone. 

   When she returns home he is not there. The next day she starts work with Robert. He invites her to a play as his wife does not like it. Janne accepts. She has not heard for Piet in nearly a week. Janne meets Robert at the theatre. He has invited Martin who he regards as a good friend as well as his brother-in-law. Janne acts as if everything is normal. 

   She returns home and Piet is there. He has been travelling. She is angry and upset. She tries to talk to him, but Piet believing she just wants permission to work for Robert, refuses to discuss anything. Back at work, Martin wants to talk to Janne. She is, understandably, reticent, not wanting to make an issue out of the situation. 

   Piet and Janne and Sabine have dinner. Sabine enquires about the house, but Janne stops her. Later Janne makes love to Piet. The next day she goes to the abortion clinic. She is pregnant. Piet comes to Janne’s workplace and meets Robert who invites him to come out bowling, they are celebrating Martin’s birthday. 

   Robert keeps on telling Janne about his problems with Sissi. Janne tells Martin she is pregnant and that she has been to the clinic. Janne is beginning to mentally unravel. The next day they see an acquaintance, Samuel (Alexander Tschernek) in the street and Piet argues with him. When Janne does not support him, he walks off. 

    Janne goes to the office. Robert is there, he has been kicked out by his wife. Janne finds a hotel room for him. Janne goes home and Piet has locked the door. She strips off to get him to let her in. The next day, at the abortion clinic, they will not let her have the procedure unless she has an escort. She calls her mother, but her mother sends Piet. 

    Piet refuses to speak to her and tells her he will come and collect his stuff in a few days. Janne goes to the office and is met by Martin again. He wants to talk, to alleviate his guilt. She gropes him and goads him. She goes home and has a meltdown. Her mother comes over to look after her.

    The next day she goes on a team-building exercise. Martin is not there. Robert calls her out of the meeting. He needs her to take over some of his workload as Martin has been in a serious car accident. 

   Janne leaves to go home and gets on a train without buying a ticket. When she is caught by the ticket inspectors she refuses to get off of the train. The end. 

    All Is Well or Alles ist gut to give it its German title, is a hard film to enjoy. Extremely Eurocentric in its approach, the film does not go at all where you would expect it to. When I say that it is a hard film to enjoy, I do not mean that it is a bad film. It is not. It is just an uncomfortable one.

   The subject matter of sexual assault is not sensationalised in any way. There is no dramatic music, or shaky camera angles, or full body, animalistic thrusting. It is shown with the back of Martin’s head, buried cowardly in the crook of Janne’s neck, her expression of a person trying to be elsewhere, surrendering to the inevitable in that moment. Her reaction and actions post-rape are also disturbing. 

   They disturb because you know that for so many they are close to the reality. That cruel shame of knowing that you did nothing wrong but are not confident enough to face the consequences of speaking the truth. Not ready or able to deal with the possible or probable judgement. Hoping that time will make it easier, that the mind will find a way to handle it, just as the body had to.

   Aenne Schwarz’s performance is incredible. You want her to talk to someone, anyone, throughout the film. She frustrates and invites pathos in equal measure. Written and directed by Eva Trobisch, All Is Well, or All Good as it has been called is a brave piece of work, showing the nature of relationships, the things that go unsaid, how unconsciously selfish people can be and the nature of guilt. It is an uncomfortable watch but, if you can appreciate the nuance and the non-Hollywood conclusion, definitely worth watching.