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The handmaid's tale in the screen trade

The Assistant Cert: N/A, VOD now

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Julia Garner in a scene from The Assistant, a film clearly inspired by the #MeToo movement

Julia Garner in a scene from The Assistant, a film clearly inspired by the #MeToo movement

Connie Neilsen

Connie Neilsen

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Julia Garner in a scene from The Assistant, a film clearly inspired by the #MeToo movement

If Harvey Weinstein had not gone to jail, Kitty Green's first feature film would be very depressing. As it stands, it is not uplifting - but in the pandemic-induced possibility of change, the thoughts this film provokes are very fundamental to the way we work.

Long before dawn Jane (Julia Garner) arrives at the New York office where she works. She performs a series of menial tasks, cleaning food and white powder from surfaces, wiping a sofa and retrieving an earring from the floor. This is the kind of detail that populates The Assistant, for that, and not a part of the janitorial staff, is Jane's official position in a large film production company.

No real names are mentioned but it was the #MeToo movement that prompted documentary maker Green to begin this project. It is based on interviews with more than 100 women about their experiences in corporate situations and although sexual harassment floats in the background, this is more about the toxicity of power where someone is never held accountable and the self-perpetuating effect that if you don't play along you can't play at all.

It is not a wordy film and Garner, best known in a very different role in Ozark, is really excellent. She is watchful, she has to be, she is dutiful and obedient, but she is last in, lowest rank and the abuse that starts at the top filters through the organisation. From the long hours to the cyclical blame, praise behaviour of a never seen but ever looming boss, it is both clear what is wrong and why she stays.

Indeed just as you hit the point of screaming at Jane to tell them to stuff it you realise that she is unpacking supplies of ED medication and wiping dubious stains off the sofa because she thinks she has to if she wants to stay in her chosen field.

Her scarf seems to symbolise her need for protection and the scene where she talks to the HR manager (Matthew Macfadyen) is heartbreaking.

The Assistant is a slow and observational movie - so it won't be everyone's cup of tea. But seeing an abusive work environment on screen could prove both triggering and cathartic for many people.

★★★★ Aine O'Connor

 

Come On Eileen

Cert: 15; Vimeo On Demand

One of the side benefits of these changing viewing times is the chance to explore older films. Back when it was made in 2010, Finola Geraghty’s Come On Eileen did not get a theatrical release, much to the surprise of many critics.

Perhaps it was felt that the world wasn’t ready for what was then, and remains, an unusual point of view — alcoholism in women.

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It’s not a perfect film but it is raw, heartfelt and will be relatable for so many people.

Eileen (Jackie Howe) is a divorced mother of two who begins a new romance. She is happy and takes a glass of champagne, but she is a recovering alcoholic and one glass leads to a spiral.

The happy-go-lucky façade slips and we see her stresses: the father with dementia, the teenage son  doing exams, the daughter (Mercedes Grower) who resents not knowing her father, and an ex-husband (Keith Allen) who she has unresolved issues with. Eileen is a messy and not very nice drunk.

Noel Fielding and Julia Davis also make appearances. Some of it is predictable, some of it funny, some of it sad, but its heart is in the right place and it touches on many of things that addicts, especially female ones, and their families don’t often see on screen. And it manages to do it without being depressing.

★★★ Aine O’Connor

 

Sea Fever

Cert 15, on demand

Tom Cruise has a new rival for the title of worst screen-Irish accent of all time. Take a bow, Danish star Connie Nielsen (below), who shall we say struggles with the “music” of the accent in this oddly topical marine horror.

A deadly contagion makes it way on board a trawler somewhere off the west coast. Hermione Corfield is the prim marine biologist tagging along for research purposes, not knowing that the trawler’s cash-pressed owners (Nielsen and Dougray Scott) are taking the crew into restricted waters in search of a jackpot catch.

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Connie Neilsen

Connie Neilsen

Connie Neilsen

 

Soon, a huge tentacled being has attached itself to the hull, seeping a jelly-like substance inside that begins infecting the crew. As they fight the plague, discussion arises about quarantine at sea to protect society on the mainland. Writer-director Neasa Hardiman couldn’t have asked for better timing.

Iffy accents aside, there is an old-school charm to this. Just don’t expect any great innovations.

★★★ Hilary A White

 

The Wave

Cert 15, on demand

There is a stern message behind this Norwegian disaster film — calm and picturesque they may seem, the fjords are a ticking time bomb of destruction. Should a crevasse collapse into the deep waters, it could trigger a huge tsunami that would wipe out any human habitation in its wake.

This is precisely what happens in director Roar Uthaug’s heavily stereotypical catastrophe yarn. Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) is the hotshot geologist who suspects the worst from sensor readings on his last day at work, only no one will listen. Lo and behold, an avalanche causes a giant wave to funnel up the fjord. Unable to make it to safety are Kristian’s wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp) and teenage son, who are trapped in a hotel right in the wave’s path.

Other than its Nordic setting, The Wave has nothing new to offer the genre, lifting its entire structure from any number of volcano or earthquake films we’ve seen dozens of times already.

★★ Hilary A White

 

Extraction

Cert 18, Netflix

Lumbering hunk that he is, it was never really in doubt that Chris Hemsworth would find some form of gainful employ in the post-Avengers world. The erstwhile Thor here takes things up a notch from last year’s so-so Men In Black: International with a blood ‘n’ sweat kill-athon in 1980s Schwarzenegger mould.

He plays, Tyler Rake, a mercenary hired to rescue the kidnapped son of an Indian druglord from his Bangladeshi rival. When another special operative (Bollywood star Randeep Hooda) turns up to perform the same task, Tyler and the boy are forced to go on the run to evade this new threat. Making matters worse, the entire city and its cops are under the thumb of drug kingpin Amir (Priyanshu Painyuli).

There isn’t a vast amount of sophistication to this Netflix production other than some hi-octane action, one very nifty long-take set piece, and a staggeringly high bodycount. Magazine clips get emptied, knives are drawn in close quarters, and baddie after baddie is taken out with the indifference of a video game. Look beneath the slick exterior and a well-worn formula glares back.

Golshifteh Farahani adds a touch of class to the cast, while director Sam Hargrave, making his feature debut, goes all out to put on a spectacle.

★★★ Hilary A White


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