As soon as we turn away from the US, it seems to find another unpalatable reason to draw our gaze back. The conversation about that country's fall from grace has felt so pronounced this past year, and as it prepares to go to the polls, the gut feeling is that this is the most decisive election in decades.
With all eyes now on the fate of Trump, this Aaron Sorkin courtroom drama arrives out of production hell with the political iron very much hot, telling as it does a true-life saga of establishment politics trying to quell dissent and a moral battleground played out in the public eye.
With the Vietnam war accumulating a heavy body-count, a protest was staged outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago that was brutally suppressed with truncheons and tear gas by the National Guard. The leaders of the various countercultural groups involved were rounded up and charged as one body with inciting violence. The trial would last well into the following year and become something of a media circus.
Directing as well as writing, Sorkin makes great use of the motley crew involved, and completes the effect with a stunning all-star cast. Eddie Redmayne is quietly spoken Tom Hayden, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is swaggering Black Panther Bobby Seale, while Sacha Baron Cohen plays hirsute rabble-rouser Abbie Hoffman. Slugging it out in front of Judge Hoffman (Frank Langella) is Mark Rylance's civil rights lawyer and a conflicted prosecutor played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
Amazingly, there is not only additional room for Michael Keaton, John Carroll Lynch, Jeremy Strong, and Caitlin Fitzgerald, but enough for everyone to have a foothold in the screenplay.
Sorkin's writing usually crams in too much silky rat-a-tat but here he seems more spacious and less angular, using finger-snap editing and wry slices of characterisation to make the whole thing sing. At the same time, he obeys the genre markers that we turn up for, from surprise witnesses to back-and-forth bellows of "objection" and "sustained".
It lacks the grainy sense of the era as a whole, a by-product perhaps of Phedon Papamichael's shiny, smooth and very 'Netflix' cinematography. But the constant feeling of forward progression through the plot is effective, as Sorkin, in that restless style of his, keeps enriching the story's themes while the fortunes of the accused change. Beyond the simple idea of right and left, there are some more subtle lessons here about the language of activism.
★★★★ Hilary A White
Cert 15A; Cinemas now
Until the end of mini-lockdown, only cinema-goers outside Dublin can see Peter Mackie Burns's complex drama, Rialto. Based on Mark O'Halloran's screenplay, it is about a middle-aged man in crisis, trying to fight shadows of his past that torment his present. One of his issues is his sexuality, but the question of learning to be true to yourself is something many will understand.
It's not a light watch but there's an excellent lead performance.
Colm (Tom Vaughan- Lawlor) is married with two grown kids: a daughter (Sophie Jo Wasson) he gets on with and a son (Scott Graham) he does not. His wife (Monica Dolan) knows Colm is struggling, not why. But the audience knows.
Colm, seemingly on the spur of the moment, steps into a toilet cubicle with a young man, Jay (Tom Glynn-Carney), and what takes place leads to blackmail and then something else.
Colm is a hard man who finds his softer side in the wrong place. He isn't always easy to like, but the writing and Vaughan-Lawlor's acting make Colm's feelings and actions understandable. He is lost and trapped and resentful, his desperation a dangerous weapon. There are no laughs in this, just lots of emotional exploration and plenty of food for thought.
★★★★ Áine O'Connor
Cert 18; On demand
This hillbilly horror dispenses with the usual gruelling preamble of one-by-one slaughter and fast-tracks us straight to that bastion of all good movie massacres - the 'final girl'.
As a trope, she is the nubile last survivor who fixes the wagon of the monster at large, and often while not fully attired. However in Ravage, it's 'final girl from the get-go'.
In the opening minutes of the movie, Harper (Annabelle Dexter-Jones), an unconvincing nature photographer, stumbles upon a gang of sadistic rednecks in a remote woodland. She is captured and tormented by Robert Longstreet's leader, but manages to escape.
Although we are asked to believe that Harper is a gritty survivor, capable of setting traps for her pursuers and giving as good as she gets, she seems to make very odd choices. These include not using her smartphone to get help and detouring into creepy houses while trying to evade recapture.
It isn't long before writer-director Teddy Grennan's B-movie stylings stop making sense, to the point that even a cameo by the great Bruce Dern is unable to keep things upright.
★★ Hilary A White
No Cert; VOD IFI@home
There is a host of British acting talent in actor/writer/ director Craig Roberts's debut feature, but the show belongs to its lead, the wonderful Sally Hawkins (pictured).
A quirky, and affecting look at mental health, the narrative is sometimes hard to follow, but that lends us an extra eye into the lead character's world. Jane (Hawkins) has schizophrenia. She takes her medication and is aware that life could be better. We get a glimpse into her past, including an event that seems to have brought on the episode that led to her diagnosis.
Her family are mostly horrible: her mother (Penelope Wilton) and one sister (Billie Piper) are self-obsessed; only her other sister (Alice Lowe) is decent. A romance with Mike (David Thewlis) gives her a new lease of life. Jane is a lovely character; she is very self-aware, fragile but resilient and often funny. The film doesn't patronise mental illness, nor does it treat it as a tragedy - but it does on occasion make you wonder about the virtue of 'normality'.
★★★ Áine O'Connor