The first is About Time, written and directed by the wonderful Richard Curtis who wrote Notting Hill, Bridget Jones's Diary, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually (which he directed), Bean, and much more.
I knew nothing about it going in, and thought it was really terrific. Without giving anything away, there's a fantasy element to it. As such there were several places where this could have spun far out of control and been uncomfortable, but in Richard Curtis’s always smart hands, the writing and direction never allowed that. What’s interesting for a fantasy is that at heart it’s about reality and getting the most out of everyday life. There’s also, for a film so sweet, a fascinating sense of impending sadness throughout – yet when sadness does come, it feels natural and handled with richness.
The two main stars, Domhnal Gleeson and Rachel McAdams, handled the challenge of mixing styles impressively, but for me it was Bill Nighy who stole the movie. Then again, saying "Bill Nighy stole the movie" isn't much of a stretch.
The other film was a screening last night of Philomena, that stars Judi Dench and Steve Coogan (who impressively co-wrote the screenplay with Jeff Pope.) It's inspired by a true story, based on a book about a woman who when she was a young girl had her baby taken from her by nuns who sold it for adoption. She kept the secret for 40 years, feeling guilty about having had the child out of wedlock and sinning, and then decides to track the child down, with the help of a somewhat disgraced journalist.
I thought it was a very well-done (directed by Stephen Frears), good-not-Great movie. But Judi Dench was amazing (yes, what a shock, I know, but I say this much-impressed because it’s one thing to be great in a showy, role with a lot to sink your teeth into, but incredibly tough to be so wonderful in such a quiet, non-flamboyant part. And this is just that -- a sweet character but one who is reticent, self-effacing and generally talks very rarely. Though when she does, it's worth listening.
Steve Coogan was very good, as well, particularly for someone so much thought of as a comic actor. (It's well-worth checking the old DVDs of his BBC series, I'm Alan Partridge, an outlandish spoof of talk shows, and an alter-ego role he's often re-created. And impressive too is that, as mentioned, he co-wrote the screenplay. It's a good, little film, but most highly worthwhile for Judi Dench's quiet, wonderful performance.