Shropshire Star

Film Talk: Incredible turns from Scott and co. in All Of Us Strangers

It’s been a massive week in the movie world, with the much-anticipated Oscar noms finally having landed.

All Of Us Strangers: Andrew Scott as Adam and Paul Mescal as Harry

And what a splash they have made. Leading the charge with a total of 13 nominations (only one short of the record), Oppenheimer is looking to clean up good at the Dolby Theatre come March 10, with Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr and Emily Blunt all in the running for acting gongs, and of course Christopher Nolan looking to bag Best Director.

Yet Nolan’s biographical thriller is far from the only horse in the stable. With Emma Stone having delivered the performance of her career, Poor Things is biting hard at Oppenheimer’s heels with 11 noms, while Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon has also stormed the list with 10. All of the above have been named in the coveted Best Picture category, along with another film that wiped the floor with all others at the 2023 box office, breaking the $1 billion barrier in only 17 days.

The pink powerhouse that is Greta Gerwig’s Barbie was justly represented in the list for the ‘big one’, yet quite shockingly Gerwig herself and lead star Margot Robbie missed out on noms for Best Director and Best Actress respectively. The latter category is expected to be a very close battleground, with both Emma Stone and Killers of the Flower Moon’s Lily Gladstone having delivered turns more than worthy of the statuette. And with two of my favourite film makers, Nolan and Scorsese, set to duel it out for the Best Director prize, I’m now grinning like the cat who got the cream over this year’s Academy Awards.

But before Oscars night, we’ve plenty of film chat to get under our belts. Cue this week’s big releases, guv’nor – it’s time to get comfy...

ALL OF US STRANGERS (UK 15/ROI 16, 106 mins)

Released: January 26 (UK & Ireland)

Being human is messy. Never more so when our most deeply rooted fear, the death of someone we love, forever alters the ebb and flow of daily life and forces us to confront our fragile mortality in a haze of grief, anger and regret.

Based on the novel Strangers by Taichi Yamada, writer-director Andrew Haigh’s achingly beautiful ghost story imagines that maelstrom of conflicting emotions when a 45-year-old man magically reconnects with his late parents, who died in a car crash just before he was 12.

Benevolent spectres are frozen in time in 1987 and the central character reverts to a boyish trepidation in their presence, nervously navigating the subject of his sexuality when their frame of reference is a groundswell of bigotry and intolerance in response to the Aids/HIV crisis under Margaret Thatcher’s government.

Andrew Scott is sensational as a loner, who begins to dismantle seemingly unscalable emotional barricades following that devastating loss in adolescence.

Haigh’s exquisite screenwriting shines in heartbreaking scenes with phantasmagorical parents, played with tenderness by Jamie Bell and Claire Foy, like when the father belatedly apologises for not comforting his boy during a period of bullying at school: “I’m sorry I never came into your room when I heard you crying.”

On-screen chemistry between Scott and Paul Mescal is molten and Haigh choreographs their sex scenes with artful sensitivity.

Fortysomething screenwriter Adam (Scott) lives alone on an upper floor of a recently constructed London apartment building, wrestling with a creative block as he attempts to channel childhood memories into words on his laptop screen.

His unedifying seclusion of half-eaten takeaways and late-night television is interrupted by a knock at the door.

Harry (Mescal), who lives on the sixth floor and is desperate for companionship, sways drunkenly in the corridor.

“We don’t have to do anything if I’m not your type,” he smiles, hoping to be let in.

Adam initially rebuffs Harry but the two men subsequently spark a tender romance which coincides with the screenwriter visiting his childhood home in Sanderstead, south of Croydon.

Miraculously, Adam discovers the ghosts of his parents (Bell, Foy) linger at the property.

All Of Us Strangers is essentially a four-hander between Scott, Mescal, Bell and Foy and each member of cast is wondrous.

THE COLOR PURPLE (UK 12A/ROI 12A, 141 mins)

Released: January 26 (UK & Ireland)

The Color Purple: Taraji P Henson as Shug Avery, Fantasia Barrino as Celie and Danielle Brooks as Sophia

Structured as a series of letters, Alice Walker’s 1982 novel The Color Purple won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and was subsequently adapted into an Oscar-nominated film directed by Steven Spielberg.

Twenty years later, a musical stage play of The Color Purple with a book by Marsha Norman and music and lyrics courtesy of Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray enchanted Broadway. Many were extremely fortunate to see the Tony Award-winning 2015 revival featuring earth-shattering performances from Cynthia Erivo as Celie and Danielle Brooks as strong-willed Sofia.

Brooks reprises her role in director Blitz Bazawule’s handsome big screen adaptation and almost steals the film with a commanding rendition of the fiery self-empowerment anthem Hell No.

She captures lightning in a bottle for a second time in collaboration with choreographer Fatima Robinson and costume designer Francine Jamison-Tanchuck.

Teenager Celie (Phylicia Pearl Mpasi) suffers horribly at the hands of her abusive father Alfonso (Deon Cole) until she is married off against her will to local farmer Mister (Colman Domingo), who expects her to take care of his three children.

Celie’s spirited sister Nettie (Halle Bailey) refuses to submit to Mister and she leaves Georgia but promises to write every day.

Years pass and Celie (now played by Fantasia Barrino) has been worn down to quiet subservience until Mister’s mistress, sultry jazz singer Shug Avery (Taraji P Henson), sashays into town and lights a fire in the broken wife.

Mister’s son Harpo (Corey Hawkins) also meets his match in Sofia (Brooks), who walks out on him when he raises a hand to her.

Surrounded by powerful women, Celie marshals the confidence to challenge Mister in front of his father (Louis Gossett Jr) and seize control of her destiny.

The Color Purple honours themes of resilience, regret and defiance in Walker’s book, punctuated by large-scale musical numbers that benefit from the pacing created by editor Jon Poll, who previously worked on The Greatest Showman.

JACKDAW (UK 15/ROI 15A TBC, 97 mins)

Released: January 26 (UK & Ireland)

Jackdaw: Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Jack Dawson

It’s grim up north. The pulsating 1990s track of the same title by The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu aka The KLF is a fitting soundtrack choice for an assured feature film debut of County Durham-born writer-director Jamie Childs.

Shot on location in the Tees Valley area, Jackdaw is a propulsive crime thriller which unfolds over the course of one turbulent night to the relentless electronic beats of The Prodigy, Aphex Twin and Robin S.

Childs and cinematographer William Baldy showcase the region’s arresting landscapes in confidently staged set pieces including an open water chase in minus 12 degrees in the North Sea and a bruising fistfight between the eponymous hero (whose name is conveniently tattooed on the back of his neck) and knife-wielding henchmen.

Visually, the film impresses and leading man Oliver Jackson-Cohen provides plentiful evidence with his on-screen acrobatics that he could comfortably inherit James Bond’s licence to kill.

Childs’s script isn’t quite so muscular or robust, barely sustaining a lean 97-minute running time with a linear plot, lukewarm romance and generic lines of dialogue that sound hollow tumbling from actors’ lips (“Be careful Jack. The road ahead is paved with good intentions”).

Former motocross champion and army veteran Jack Dawson (Jackson-Cohen), known affectionately as Jackdaw, returns home unannounced to Hartlepool to avoid attracting the attention of local hard man Armstrong (Rory McCann).

Jack is resolved to care for younger brother, Simon (Leon Harrop), following the recent death of their mother.

Living quietly in a port town filled with bad memories requires sacrifice and Jack reluctantly accepts a job from criminal Silas (Joe Blakemore) to complete an open water pick-up of a mysterious package.

The consignment is attached to a buoy near a wind farm and Jack barely escapes by kayak from two gun-toting men on jet skis.

Heading to the drop-off point on two wheels, Jack discovers he has been double-crossed and when he returns home, Simon is missing and the letter S is etched into the kitchen table.

Jack heads into the night to rescue Simon.

The suicide mission necessitates assistance from a well-connected local gym owner (Vivienne Acheampong) and old flame Bo (Jenna Coleman).

En route, Jack acquires a wisecracking sidekick, a raver named Craig (Thomas Turgoose) who cheekily claims he doesn’t fancy his chances “with a guy with a crowbar dressed like a low budget Power Ranger”.

Jackdaw confirms it is possible to choreograph a high-octane action thriller with a quintessentially British tang.

Jackson-Cohen commands attention, especially in quieter scenes, and Turgoose provides welcome comic relief to dissipate tension. Budgetary constraints are only evident in a police raid sequence.

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