Race. This truly interesting story, of African American athlete Jesse Owens’ triumphs at the 1936 Berlin Olympics – of him sticking it to Hitler, Goebbels, and the Nazis – was unimaginatively made. This is a story that might as well have been made as a documentary or read in a book considering the run of the mill way in which it was executed. Not that this was anywhere near a bad film;  the fact I’d not heard the story before certainly kept my interest throughout, and the production design was top notch with some good performances from Stephen James as Owens and Jason Sudeikis in his first dramatic role. Overall, though, it was just paint-by-numbers biopic material.

The Nice Guys. After seeing the trailer about ten times, I thought I might be all Nice Guyed out by the time I eventually got to see the entire film. I was pleasantly surprised, though – a great chemistry between the guys (Gosling and Crowe) and a consistent level of humour and entertainment throughout made for an extremely fun watch.

Embrace of the Serpent. With elements of Aguirre, the Wrath of God, as well as Apocalypse Now and even 2001: A Space Odyssey this is an intense, philosophical and lyrical film from Colombian writer/director Ciro Guerra. It follows two timelines, both with Amazonian shaman Karamakate and two separate Western explorers, in their search for a sacred healing plant. Perhaps some unoriginality lies in the concept of the noble savage versus the evils of the white man (in real life, as well as film, perhaps), but Guerra explores this in such a patient and meditative way, shot in gorgeous black and white, that it becomes pretty much impossible to not be sucked in by the film’s gentle rhythm.

John C Reilly and Salma Hayek in Tale of Tales

Tale of Tales. The first ten minutes or so of this film was all I hoped and expected it to be. John C Reilly fights a sea monster, for crying out loud. A frickin’ sea monster. It is fantastic visually and conceptually. To be fair, the whole film is pretty great visually and it certainly gives it a good go conceptually too. Based on the folk myths collected by the sixteenth century Neapolitan poet Giambattista Basile, it sets itself up like the stories were trying to say something – morally, philosophically, whatever – and I couldn’t understand what. Despite the originality, as well as superb performances and production design, the narrative felt disjointed, with the editing and the dialogue often clunky. Ultimately, though, I was just bored for much of it.

Elvis & Nixon. This bizarre true story is fantastically played out by Michael Shannon (as Elvis), Kevin Spacey (as Nixon), and the rest of the cast. I am sure some liberties were taken with what actually happened – there were only a handful of witnesses to the actual meeting – but the spine of the story is the truth. Much of it is played for comedy, which on the most part works, but there are a few more serious moments which never feel jarring. This isn’t anywhere near best film of the year territory, but it was certainly lots of fun.

The Second Mother. Another great one off screening presented by Reel Equality film club at Broadway Cinema. This Brazilian film told the story of Val, a live-in housekeeper whose estranged daughter comes to live with the family, throwing the unspoken class barriers within the home into disarray. The whole cast is great, with three strong female characters – Regina Case as Val was particularly entertaining. As Dr Jane-Marie Collins (Brazilian and Portuguese Studies from the University of Nottingham) pointed out in the interesting post-film Q&A, there were perhaps some stereotypes and skirting of issues, but considering that there was so much going on within it, the film handled it all very well and with some great humour and sentiment.

FILM OF THE MONTH: Embrace of the Serpent