Best Interests [9/10]

Best Interests review

A literary work that has stood the test of time is Ian McEwan’s slim 2014 novel, The Children Act, about the state battling parents about continuing life support for a child close to death. That novel was told from the viewpoint of the presiding judge, and was harrowing enough. Imagine then seeing the tale of a hospital and its doctors wishing to turn off life support for a comatose muscular dystrophy child, only to be taken to court by the mother, whilst the father disagrees, all of this from the parents’ points of view. Such is the premise and the storyline of Best Interests, a brilliant, relatively short (4 episodes) series written by prolific British screenwriter Jack Thorne. The first episode sets up the courtroom conflict, the final three view the current battle and the past through the lenses of mother, father, and older sister. The direction by Michael Keillor never misses a beat and the supporting characters are solid, but the hearts of this wrenching, illuminating drama are the four key actors: Niamh Moriarty as the poor soul in question; Alison Oliver as the sister; Michael Sheen in top empathic form as the father; and, most of all, Sharon Horgan unstoppable as the mother. In the end Best Interests provides no slick answers to an unfathomable moral dilemma, but through superb filmic drama, it transports us.

Quiet War by Frank Kennedy [8/10]

Frank Kennedy Quiet War review

Master of the space opera, Frank Kennedy has now turned his narrative focus to the murder mystery genre, albeit set on a space station in his capacious Collectorate universe. In Quiet War, Deputy Trevor Stallion, aboard the massive Amity station that houses the heart of the People’s Collectorate, battles his personal struggles and his own relentless, detail-driven personality as he deals with something rare: the death by apparent drug overdose of a brilliant young scientific student. Against official whitewashing efforts, Stallion races to uncover the truth, something far more sinister and with ramifications throughout the Collectorate. Our detective hero is a classic detective, sharp-witted, obstinate, and conflicted. The author is, as ever, a fine stylist, with a firm grip on a baffling, intriguing plot. Quiet War, the first episode of a trilogy, makes for a thoroughly enjoyable, intelligent read.

Perfect Days by Wim Wenders [9/10]

Perfect Days review

For me, Wim Wenders movies capture the senses and the mind but rarely cohere into anything distinctly memorable. Perfect Days takes the final step to solidity by reducing the focus to the quotidian and ordinary. With poised cinematography and a steady, reverent pace, Wenders portrays the unburnished daily existence of Hiroyama, a Tokyo toilet cleaner, a man whose simple, spartan life revolves around work, food, reading novels, listening to cassettes of 60s/70s rock music, and taking analogue photographs of a particular tree under which he lunches every day. By seeing multiple days of Hiroyama’s seemingly boring life, we gradually realize he apprehends great beauty in the ordinary, in repetition, in simplicity. Events arise that threaten to rock him out of his unyielding routines and a strange tension captured this viewer, the tension of wishing the man more out of life, at the same time hoping nothing eventuates. The small cast of supporting actors is superb and Kōji Yakusho gives a transcending performance as Hiroyama. Perfect Days is a minor key masterpiece from Wenders, not to be missed.

The Gentlemen by Guy Ritchie [6/10]

The Gentlemen review

At his best, writer/director Guy Ritchie produces intelligent, sparkling, complex thrillers, but latest his best has not been on display. Now he has created an eight-episode streaming series, The Gentlemen, that reprises the basic storyline behind one his best movies of the same name. Ex-soldier Eddie inherits the blue-blood estate of his father, only to find himself burdened by the rampant debts of his feckless brother Freddy and, more significantly, a weed farm on his property that attracts attention from all manner of gangsters. The series is deftly, if outrageously, plotted, each episode features at least one Ritchie-esque scene of spectacular blood splatter, and the cinematography is suitably opulent. In the end, The Gentlemen amounts to ready gangsta entertainment held up by a fine supporting cast, but it fails to set the world alight primarily because the competent lead acting by Theo James fails to set the screen alight.

The Power Foods Diet by Neal Barnard [7/10]

Neal Barnard The Power Foods Diet review

I am tiring of reviewing diet/health books but the flood of quality advice continues unabated. Dr. Neal Barnard is a physician with a prodigious output of books recommending my dietary regime of choice, the Whole Foods Plant Based (WFPB) way of eating. He heads an influential, patient-centric nonprofit. His latest is The Power Foods Diet: The Breakthrough Plan That Traps, Tames, and Burns Calories for Easy and Permanent Weight Loss. I see this book as a gentle, persuasive polemic in favor of WFPB, focusing on three properties of WFPB’s preferred foods (vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, whole grains): they reduce appetite (a natural equivalent of the latest pharma fad, Ozempic), trap and flush calories, and boost metabolism. As a result, Dr. Barnard and many others have had tremendous success at putting overweigh patients onto a path to a lesser girth and enhanced health. Using simple, chatty language, the author walks through the same WFPB terrain as a number of recent authors have done, but with a directness and clarity that astonished me. My understanding of several key dietary issues shot up after my read. After the education and advice, Barnard does what all diet books must do, namely presenting a huge array of simple recipes (plus general practical eating and cooking advice) intended to launch a WFPB beginner on a fresh path. The Power Foods Diet is intoxicating and, for those new to the concepts in play, potentially lifesaving.

Wicked Little Letters [5/10]

Wicked Little Letters review

Please, please save me from any further “based on a true story” films. I have said this before and it remains true: for some reason, the girdle of factuality almost always saps the plotline, script, and dialogue of artistry. So too with Wicked Little Letters, a currently popular, very British, “juicy” (as in the centrality of cussing) comedy. In a classic English town, Littlehampton, poison pen letters full of profane, sexual stupidity arrive in the letterboxes of the prim, proper residents, who, naturally, are shocked. Edith, a repressed spinster under the thumb of a truly bigoted father, is the first to receive the missives, and based on her say-so, the buffoonish police arrest neighbour Rose, a spirited, take-no-prisoners Irish blow-in. From this early plot premise, we follow the only “good cop,” and indeed the first ever female policeman, Gladys, as she hesitantly seeks justice.

Let me give credit to the elements of Wicked Little Letters that work: the village atmosphere is rendered atmospherically. You will hear fulsome praise of Olivia Colman’s expressive portrayal of Edith, of Jessie Buckley’s characteristically true rendering of Rose, Anjana Wasan’s “look at my expressive eyes” turn as Gladys, and also Timothy Spall’s grotesque depiction of the cartoonish father, and yes, all show considerable artistry. But the script they work with turns most scenes into “staged” moments that never convince. The deferred “plot twist” is telegraphed way too early. Worst of all, the copious profanity should send us into fits of laughter but instead sounds like kids playing at swearing. By the time we arrive at the ham-fisted “climax,” boredom has long set in.

Australia’s Sleep Revolution with Michael Mosley [8/10]

Australia's Sleep Revolution review

The title of this three-part documentary, Australia’s Sleep Revolution with Michael Mosley, is unlike to draw in anyone not currently thinking about sleep and its ramifications, but it’s a hidden treasure, one that anyone cursed with insomnia must watch. Mosley, as ever, expertly spins out the storyline of thirty insomniacs (himself included, of course) being tackled by a large multi-disciplinary team of experts at Flinders University, the result being a modestly entertaining watch. But the meat of series is twofold: the unfolding of a method of “retraining” the body and mind to a productive framework whereby roughly 85% of your “bed time” is actual “sleep time” (an added factor not of interest to me is the latest techniques to battle sleep apnoea); and the variety and dramas of the participants, many of whom are engaging characters. I learnt something valuable and am sure any insomniac viewer would do likewise, and for further elucidation, one can, of course, turn to the accompanying Mosley book.