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BREATHE

This film opened the Cunard British Film Festival to the media at Luna’s Cinema Paradiso. The festival will open to the public on October 26 and this film will screen at various times (check lunapalace.com.au and the Film Festival tag for information).

CUNARD BFF. FILM REVIEW: BREATHE
Claire Foy and Andrew Garfield play Mr.and Mrs.Cavendish in Breathe.

breatheU.S.A./U.K. : 117 mins : PG-13 : R.T. 62% :     3/5

Breathe, from actor and first-time director, Andy Serkis (Planet of the Apes) is another Kleenex, tear jerker (like The Theory of Everything, 2014, which it strongly parallels) – a biographical film about the severely disabled Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge) who overcame adversity through the love of his wife, Diana (Claire Foy) and his own will to live.  But, having Cavendish’s son, Jonathan, as a producer, has helped Serkis and writer, William Nicholson, to inject enough heart to keep it afloat – just.

breathe2In 1958, the twenty-eight year old Robin Cavendish contracted polio in Kenya and, with his body paralysed below the neck, the prognosis was for death to follow in a matter of months. It is astonishing to realise that only sixty years ago, the prevailing attitude of the medical profession (and the public) was that patients who needed a mechanical respirator should be incarcerated for the rest of their life in an institution. Robin’s determination to be mobile won through when his inventor friend, Teddy Hall (an ebullient Hugh Bonneville) built a wheelchair with the respirator enclosed and the situation was changed forever.

 

While this astonishing, life-changing story is at the heart of Serkis’ film, he gives greater emphasis to the love between Cavendish and his wife and, selfless and inspirational as the love story is, treats it with all the stock, manipulative devices of romance and sentiment that befit a melodrama.  In one (cringe worthy) flashback, towards the end of the film, Robin and Diana stand facing each other on the top of a hill in the country, silhouetted against a fiery sunset, while the old crooner himself, Bing Crosby, is heard singing True Love.

 

But Serkis shows a welcome and much harder edge in the scene of Cavendish visiting a state-of-the-art hospital in Germany.  The pristine, white-tiled ward is filled to the ceiling with rows of horizontal ‘iron lungs’, stacked like coffins, with only the patients’ heads being visible – a bizarre and truly shocking sight.

 

Breathe delivers few surprises and is treated conventionally – except in the case of Diana’s twin brothers, Bloggs and David, both of whom, in a show of technical wizardry, are played by Tom Hollander.  But many will be moved by the strong performances of both Garfield and Foy who, in spite of the schmaltz, manage to make their relationship both touching and memorable.

 

phil.  09.10.17. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Breathe will open the Cunard British Film Festival on October 26 and will screen at Luna’s Cinema Paradiso, Luna on SX and Luna’s The Windsor. Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).


BLUE

Blue may be the most important film on screen this year.  It certainly hits hard with statistics that seem almost unbelievable.  It’s hard to imagine but the vision of an endless ocean with infinite resources is all an illusion..

BLUE

a blistering plea to stop our oceans from dying.

over fishing spells the end of many species

oceanAUSTRALIA :  76 mins  :  PG :   4/5

There used to be an assumption that the ocean was an infinite resource.  In 2017 it’s realised that this is not the case.  Writer/director, Karina Holden, has made the documentary, Blue, with the express intention of informing the public of the grievous state of our oceans.

Hers is a confronting film – and with just cause.  A narrator claims that over half of all life in the ocean has disappeared in the course of a human lifetime.  The waters of Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines are not just illegally over fished but much of the catch consists of endangered species or is undersize (before reproduction and so eliminating the next generation of fish); sharks are slaughtered for their fins, with the dead bodies thrown back into the sea; turtles and seals drown in commercial fish nets, many of which are kilometres long; humanity has imposed a death sentence on ocean life, in the form of pollution and especially plastic which is non-biodegradable and toxic – it is estimated that in twenty years’ time, there will more plastic than fish in the sea.

Blue… is unmissable.

With stunning cinematography, Blue (literally) goes below the surface and delivers images so distressing that it’s hard not to be moved and to feel both anger and a sense of helplessness in the face of overwhelming odds – but there is also hope. With one million plastic bags used every minute in the world, governments are now taking steps to eradicate them.  And, eighty year old Valerie Taylor, with a lifetime spent in marine conservation, believes everyone can play their part.

Because it’s so easy to be unaware of the urgency of the oceans’ plight, Blue is not just an important film – it’s unmissable.  Film Australia and the distributor, Transmission, are to be applauded for bringing Holden’s film to the screen.  The hope is that as many as possible get to see it and take its message to heart.  Perhaps, then, our oceans can be saved before they become a watery waste land.

Humanity has turned natural wonders into rubbish dumps.

phil. 08.10.17. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Blue will screen at Luna’s Cinema Paradiso and at Luna on SX from October 12.  Check lunapalace.com.au for details.  It will also open at Event Cinemas on the same day.  Check eventcinemas.com.au for details).


THE ONLY LIVING BOY IN NEW YORK

the boy’s O.K., but the film’s on life support.

Callum Turner and Jeff Bridges in The Only Living Boy in New York U.S.A. :  88 mins  :  M : 2.5/5

boyEver since the moderately successful, Wall Street:Money Never Sleeps (2010) which he co-wrote with Stephen Schiff, writer Allan Loeb has been looking for another script with even more wit and originality.  Barely serviceable, The Only Living Boy in New York is not it.

Callum Turner is Thomas, the boy of the title, an aspiring writer and a recent college graduate.  Kicked off with some rather twee animation and the cynical, pretentious voice-over of Jeff Bridges (a crusty, hard-drinking writer, referred to as W.F., who becomes the boy’s mentor), the film introduces the nerdy young Thomas and his lovely girl friend, Mimi (Kiersey Clemons).  But he has more concern for his depressive, heavy-smoking mum, Judith (Cynthia Nixon) and his anxiety is increased when he finds that his dad, publishing house operator, Ethan (Pierce Brosnan) is having an affair with an associate, Johanna (Kate Beckinsale) and he determines to intervene (by stalking her, no less).

Coming from the (recently emerged and portentous) Amazon Studios, there is a gentle air about this film, peopled with the literati of Manhattan, although its charm gradually gives way to lethargy.  The cast is fine (although wasted here) and Turner gives a convincing portrayal of confused immaturity.  Jeff Bridges’ performance, though interesting, is a fairly familiar one, while Cynthia Nixon is one of the few to shine.  Far from the tortured Emily Dickinson she played in the recent A Quiet Passion, her Judith exudes a jovial warmth, with a smile that rarely leaves her face.

It’s unlikely that any should take offence at The Only Living Boy in New York but those with most cause are the performers, Simon and Garfunkel, two of whose songs are used on the soundtrack, with one being the (glorious) namesake of Loeb’s film title.  Inevitably, the choice of music (and the subject matter) invokes comparisons with the classic, The Graduate, which would seem not just misplaced but preposterous, with Beckinsale’s limp seduction of the boyish Thomas a far cry from the sensuous display put on by ‘Mrs Robinson’.

When director Mark Webb and writer Allan Loeb include what is meant to be a shocking revelation about the relationship between Thomas and his new-found mentor, W.F., it causes hardly a ripple in the placid waters of this unremarkable outing.

 

phil. 30.09.17. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(The Only Living Boy in New York will screen at Luna Leederville and Luna on SX from October 12.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).


THE DINNER

Haute cuisine creates severe heartache.

Two brothers and their wives talk family matters in The Dinner.

U.S.A. : 120 mins : M :   3.5/5

dinner

How do parents cope with the sins of their children?  Is it the ‘responsible’ thing to do, to protect their future at all costs or should they be made to pay for their actions?  These are the deeply disturbing questions at the core of writer/director, Oren Moverman’s film (from Herman Koch’s book of the same name) about four well-heeled and privileged people – two brothers, Stan and Paul (Richard Gere and Steve Coogan) and their wives, Katy and Claire (Rebecca Hall and Laura Linney) who meet at a high-end restaurant to discuss a terrible crime committed by two of their teenage sons.

Of the four main actors in this ensemble showcase, all are outstanding. Hall and Linney give committed performances of great emotional integrity, while Gere’s is one of his most powerful.  Coogan is simply a revelation (and far removed from his clownish, alter ego of the Trip films).

Paul (Coogan) is an ex-history teacher, beset with mental disturbance (and envy of his popular brother) and subject to constant verbal outpourings, some being witty but many of which are tinged with venom.  While Stan (Gere), a successful and likeable politician, declares that they have come together to talk, Paul does everything he can to stall proceedings and to avoid the critical issue.  However, if Paul is in avoidance mode, so too is the director, Moverman, who side steps into frequent, lengthy, and unproductive flashbacks, which (in ramping up the running time to two hours) serve to kill momentum and diminish the impact of the revelations, when they finally surface.

But when they do and, especially when Moverman inserts a flashback that, in this instance, is devastating, not only in showing the crime itself but in the boys’ deliberate intent and total lack of conscience, the intimate surrounds of their resplendent meal become a crucible of prejudice, selfishness and moral justification.

While Paul cannot face the emotional maelstrom and retreats into a shell of inertia, Stan shows a modicum of decency by declaring his intention to reveal all at a press conference in the morning.  Katy (Hall) is more sophisticated than the homelier Claire (Linney) but both women are appalled at Stan’s words and are defiantly protective of their sons, preferring to refer to the crime as an ‘accident’ and to demonise the victim as ‘dangerous’.  After all, asks Moverman (and, originally, the writer, Koch), isn’t the life of a person who is homeless and destitute, of less worth than that of someone who has wealth and social status?

But while his characters fight amongst themselves like wildcats, Moverman has no intention of letting the audience off the hook with easy answers.  The questions of right and wrong are deeply problematic and The Dinner succeeds in giving its viewers, as well as its cast, a critical conundrum and a severe case of moral dyspepsia.

Phil 31.07.17. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(The Dinner will screen at The Windsor and Luna SX from Thursday, September 7th.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).


The Beguiled

Opening Celebration of Sofia Coppola’s seductive southern Gothic drama.
Thursday 13 July 6.00pm for 6.30pm start
at Windsor + Luna on SX

The beguiled 1Rating: M  RT: 94min | Trailer | Collateral  | Tickets on Line |  Image © 2017 Universal Studios

Join us at The Windsor and Luna on SX for a beguiling opening celebration of Sofia Coppola’s stunning Cannes awarding southern Gothic drama on July 13 from 6.00pm, where you can enjoy this star studded film with music by the Très Classique Ensembles, a glass of wine on entry and enjoy a selective cheese board with olives courtesy of European Foods (while stocks last).  Film starts 6.30pm at both locations.
Fresh from its Cannes Competition berth, Sofia Coppola’s new film based on the  novel by Thomas P. Cullinan, is a seductive thriller set in the Civil War era starring Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Oona Laurence, Angourie Rice  and Elle Fanning.

Employing her distinctive aesthetic and sensual style, with The Beguiled Sofia Coppola adapts Thomas Cullinan’s Civil War-set novel into a tale of desire, jealousy and revenge. The film is set in 1864, three years into the Civil War, at a Southern girls’ boarding school. In these perilous times, the girls left at the school are those with nowhere else to go, and they are under the care of Martha Farnsworth (Kidman). When one of the younger girls discovers an injured enemy soldier, it is decided that the ‘Christian thing to do’ would be to take him in until he is sufficiently recovered. As the soldier, John McBurney (Farrell), recovers he becomes the subject of fascination for the girls and women of the house. The prim and proper environment is taken over with sexual tension and rivalries. In this society of virtually no men, the ‘real Southern hospitality’ meted out to McBurney is of a quite unusual kind. Coppola and the excellent cast deal with this material with relish, creating a film filled with eerie tension and flashes of mischievous humour.

★★★★ New York Daily News |  ★★★★ We Got This Covered |

★★★★ Metro | ★★★★ Entertainment Weekly |Beguiled 2

★★★★ The Play List  | ★★★★ The Young Folks |

★★★★ ‘It’s the kind of mood that brings out the best in Kidman’ –  Daily Telegragh

★★★★ ‘The Beguiled is a deliciously dangerous period thriller that refuses to let a man’s privilege go unchecked like the Hollywood standard.’ – We Got This Covered

★★★★ .It is a tremendously watchable movie, a drama-thriller with subtle touches of noir and black comedy.’ – Guardian

‘Coppola has made a swift, gorgeous chamber thriller, an efficient and refreshingly straightforward film that crackles with wicked humor.’ – Vanity Fair

‘Touted with suspense and riveting performances from its cast, Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled” stands alone as the single best film of 2017 so far, and the crowning jewel of the director’s career.‘ – Awards Circuit .com

‘The Beguiled is Coppola’s bloodiest, most visceral movie to date, and it is also one of her best.’ – Globe and Mail

Screening at Luna Leederville + Windsor + Luna on SX  from July 13.  Opening celebration at Windsor + Luna on SX only. Tickets on sale and online


IT COMES AT NIGHT

We’ve already had a fine shocker this year in Get Out.  Now comes another and both are much more than straight horror films.  This has scares and white-knuckle tension but it should also impress with its psychological elements.   ​​

See you in the (scary) dark. phil.

IT COMES AT NIGHT FINDS TERROR IN THE DARKEST CORNERS OF THE MIND

nightU.S.A. : 91mins :  MA                    4/5

Writer/director, Trey Edward Shults, expands on his harrowing Krisha (2015) with this low-budget, psychological horror film from the U.S.  With limited resources and an intimate setting, he comes up with a brilliant nerve-jangler which offers far more than cheap thrills.

As in The Road, the cause of the post-apocalyptic situation found in It Comes at Night is not explained, except that it involves a deadly infectious disease against which there is no defence.  Civilisation has collapsed and Paul (Joel Edgerton, Midnight Special), his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and their son Travis (Kelvin Harrison) are holed up in an abandoned woodland house that they have turned into a fortress with only one door (locked and bolted) that opens to the outside world.

An elderly man’s head and shoulders fill the screen.  His face is pock-marked with disease and his eyes are black.  Both Paul and his wife are wearing protective masks and gloves and we discover that the man is Sarah’s father.  Paul tells him he’s sorry and promptly puts a pillow over the man’s face and shoots him in the head.  By setting fire to the body, in a shallow grave, the gravity of the situation is immediately understood.  Paul and his family are in a survival situation facing imminent peril; but from where and from whom?

Shortly after, the blood-red access door is broken open by Will, a stranger, (Christopher Abbott), who is looking for water for his wife Kim (played by Riley Keogh) and young son (Griffin Robert Faulkner as Andrew) and, after he establishes that none are infected, Paul allows Will and his family into the house.

What follows is a roller-coaster ride of trust and mistrust that gradually anneals into paranoia.  Shults builds suspense with skill and assurance.  As all mains electricity has broken down, the house is lit by a lantern, throwing weird shadows on the walls and leaving pools of impenetrable darkness where anything imaginable could lurk.  As nerves are tested to the limit, panic sets in and the group becomes irrational.  Both family units begin to fear each other.  The worst of it is that they are faced with questions that are too awful to contemplate.  In a life and death situation, in order to save their own life, could a person kill their spouse?  Could a parent kill his/her only child?

Even though it has blood and gore and some scary scenes (the most graphic of which appear in Travis’ nightmares) the questions the film asks about survival, and the corrosive effects of suspicion, make it more of a psychological thriller than a horror film.  Instead of a tangible threat, the ‘it’ that comes at night is nothing less than the most terrifying of all – the age-old fear of the unknown.

Edgerton gives a strong performance in a fine ensemble cast but (in spite of a few loose ends) it is Shults’ skilled control of the film’s mood; his interplay of light and shadow; his choice of what to include and what to leave out, that makes the film so tense and unsettling.  But viewers looking for a happy ending won’t find it in this masterful but grim shocker.  It Comes at Night will make its mark and may touch the spine with a cold finger of unease as the audience beats a hasty retreat for the safety of home.

Phil.  22.06.17. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(It Comes at Night will screen at Luna‘s Cinema Paradiso from July 6th.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).


A QUIET PASSION

Poetic in words and pictures

passionU.K. : 126 mins :  PG               5/5

Who but Terence Davies, that venerable icon of British film making, could create a film so self-indulgent in style and pacing; so challenging to the audience and so brilliantly sustained in its artistic vision, as his latest, A Quiet Passion – not a literal biopic but an interpretive portrait of American poet, Emily Dickinson.

Terence Davies has always been drawn, both to women of great strength of character and to the constraints of religious dogma, two themes that are central to his latest work.  Cynthia Nixon’s complex portrayal shows Dickinson, in the first half of the nineteenth century, in a male and religion-dominated society, as a fiercely committed feminist whose passion, at times, is anything but ‘quiet’ and whose state of her soul, she makes clear, is entirely her own affair.  Powered by an intellect that is incapable of compromise, she’s stubborn, argumentative and outspoken in her condemnation of others and even more ruthlessly damning of her own intemperance.

Increasingly, she finds social interaction irksome (spending much of her ‘quiet’ life, without fame and within the confines of her Massachusetts home) and her poetry as her only real solace (many of her poems are read by Nixon in a voice over, forming a major element in the film and which also provide a poignant running commentary on events). While her father is alive (an imposing Keith Carradine) she bows to his authority but after his death, her vitriol assumes a greater depth which she struggles to accommodate.  Frustrated by the demands of evangelism and the social constraints on women, her sister, Vinnie (Jennifer Ehle) tells her “Your anger is a defence against the world.”

Different actors play the younger Emily, her brother and sister but, in a visual sleight of hand (so subtle that you might miss it but if noted, will take your breath away), each young face morphs into their older version, somewhat reminiscent of Bergman’s famous facial interchange between Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersson in Persona (1966).

Although there are fine turns from Joanna Bacon as Emily’s mother and from Jennifer Ehle as her sister, the film belongs to Cynthia Nixon whose performance is simply extraordinary.  As the film progresses, her Emily’s presence grows until she dominates, especially when, in her adult years and having met with a little literary success, she is afflicted with the unbearable pain of a terminal illness.  This wracks her body with uncontrollable convulsions which Nixon plays with frightening intensity.  These are hard scenes to watch and when she utters the lament “Why has the world become so ugly?” her anguish is beyond question.

Davies’ films have always had a painterly feel – the result of infinite care and patience with composition, lighting and colour. In A Quiet Passion, the sublime cinematography of Florian Hoffmeister (with many shots of long, slow, lateral panning), together with the sagacity and sophisticated wit of Davies’ dialogue (a joy for the ear) has helped create a masterpiece of style and mood.

There are long passages of silence in A Quiet Passion, along with tears and cries of torment.  But if Davies refuses to play down Emily’s suffering, it is because her stoicism is what makes her so admirable.  And not all is ugliness. The strong and sustained mood that Davies creates, has a trademark, transformative power, finding beauty in the dreariest of circumstances.  Similarly, Dickinson herself, expressed this quality in her own poetry as ‘The beauty of truth’.  With Terence Davies and Emily Dickinson, A Quiet Passion could be called a ravishing concurrence – the result of a melding of kindred spirits and Davies’ finest work to date.

Phil. 18.06.17. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(A Quiet Passion will screen at Luna’s Paradiso, SX and The Windsor from Thursday, June 22nd.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).


RISK

The talented documentary film maker, Laura Poitras (Academy Award winner for Citizenfour) takes a ‘fly on the wall’ approach to one of the most high-profile, controversial figures of today.  Whatever your views, Poitras has provided a rare and fascinating inside look at the extraordinary founder of the history-making WikiLeaks.  This is powerful viewing but you only have one week to see it – it finishes next Wednesday.                                ​​

See you in the dark.  phil.

RISK

In search of Julian Assange

wikiU.S.A. : 91 mins :   M          4/5

Some call him a fighter for justice, while others may say he’s a common criminal – a threat to national security, but there’s no doubt that Julian Assange is a world phenomenon.  Nobody, in the history of opposing governmental secrecy, has ever become a household name or a celebrity, as the founder of WikiLeaks has, or has taken up a five-year residency in a foreign Embassy to avoid prosecution, as he has done in that of Ecuador in London.

After winning the Oscar for best documentary, with her film, Citizenfour (about Edward Snowden, and his disclosures about bureaucratic surveillance), it seemed obvious that film-maker, Laura Poitras, would target the bigger name of Julian Assange and, in 2010, she started filming.

With unprecedented access granted to the film maker (she doesn’t reveal how she achieved it) she takes her camera into his hotel room; his car; into a secluded spot in the woods (where he’s convinced he’s being monitored).  Surprisingly, we find that, instead of a solitary figure, Assange has a team, including a lawyer and a press secretary and the services of high technology at his disposal.  Two years later, she’s in the Embassy where he’s taken refuge but, apart from providing her own voice-over, never appears on screen herself.

Life in the Embassy is claustrophobic and tedious.  But he keeps on planning and negotiating; his spirit doesn’t seem to flag.  He rings the office of Hillary Clinton, sounding a warning of an imminent release of thousands of emails – not, this time, by him.  He arranges asylum for an embattled Edward Snowden and, all the while, Assange keeps himself fit.  He boxes; he exercises. He’s seen to be erudite, articulate, rational and self-controlled.  And there are colourful interludes –a flamboyant Lady Gaga sits filming him with a compact camera.  But it’s clear that, over the course of filming, Poitras has changed her attitude towards him and that their relationship has also changed. The film she started in 2010 is not the film we see today.

Risk is an extraordinarily intimate work and provides an unparalleled chance to take a close look at the man – whatever your opinion of him and his exploits.

Untidy, uneven (there are some abrupt jumps where the film has been crudely edited) and, of course, it’s unfinished.  Yet Risk is virtually essential viewing and its controversial subject, Julian Assange, simply too big a player to overlook.

Phil.  14.06.17. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Risk will screen at Luna Leederville from Thursday, June 15th to Wednesday, June 22nd.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).


TWENTIETH CENTURY WOMEN

motherandsonA female triumvirate headed by a glorious Bening

U.S.A. : 118mins : R : 4/5

Writer/director, Mike Mills, excels in autobiographical self-analysis (his previous film, Beginners, drew on memories of his father).  Now, he’s mined his relationship with his mother (in the role of the freethinking Dorothea, played by Annette Bening, while Lucas Jade Zumann plays an adolescent Jamie – a stand in for Mills himself). The result is a wonderfully engaging family study.

It’s the late 70’s in California and there are two other women in the family picture – Abbie (Greta Gerwig and based on Mills’ sister) and Julie (played by Elle Fanning and based on a friend), make up the trio of females who are the formative influences on young Jamie’s life.

Without a father (Dorothea divorced years previously) and at the mature age of forty before giving birth to Jamie, Dorothea feels overwhelmed at both the age gap between her and her fifteen year old son and the rapid pace of change in domestic life (Jimmy Carter’s Crisis of Confidence speech is watched on tv by the whole group and serves to underscore the central premise of the film).  So there is a degree of credibility in her appeal to the two younger women to take on semi-matriarchal roles in steering Jamie into manhood, especially as there is a strong bond of friendship between the three.  At almost the same age, Julie is so close to Jamie that she frequently sleeps over, in the same bed but sans sex.  In answer to Jamie’s advances, Julie asserts that to have sex would destroy their friendship – which she values too highly to jeopardise.

The older Abbie, red haired, a student of photography and a tenant in the house, has already notched up some life experience in recovering from cervical cancer and is also very fond of Jamie.  Ironically (and perhaps this is one of the film’s loveliest aspects) Jamie handles life with ease and gives as much support to all three women as he gets from them.

Mills is a skilled operator, using voice-over from the main characters to advance the narrative (even telling us what happens to them after the film finishes).  His  script is laced with incisive observation and gentle humour (and some laugh-out-loud moments) and he juggles the main characters with finesse (including William, played with charm by Billy Crudup – a mature-aged friend of Dorothea who considers him to be too pedestrian to be a guiding light for Jamie).  Both Gerwig and Fanning are immensely likeable but it is the more experienced Bening (in a role that is both entrancing and quirky) who steals the show and is simply radiant and remains the strongest reason for seeing Twentieth Century Women.

As Jamie, this is something of a breakout role for young Zumann and his performance is endearing and assured.

This is a film of immense charm.  And, if Jamie is a reasonably accurate echo of his own life, Mike Mills can be envied for being the object of the love and care of three wonderful women.  In fact, he has stated that Twentieth Century Women is a reciprocal love letter of appreciation.  What an eloquent letter it is, too.

Phil. 27.05.17. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Twentieth Century Women will screen at Luna Leederville and Luna SX from June 1st.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).

What an amazing character Sir Winston Churchill was – widely regarded as the greatest Briton ever.  Almost single-handedly, he seemed the driving force behind Britain’s efforts in WW11.  But, this film, which concentrates on the D-Day landing at Normandy, tells a different story.  Churchill was an old man at that time, battle-scarred and battle-weary. History lovers should put this film on the ‘must-see’ list but for younger eyes, just remember that he was a giant among men in the first World War, over twenty years earlier.  Brian Cox has resurrected Churchill – go see!


CHURCHILL

churchillAn ageing warrior, fighting a war of words

U.K.: 110 min : PG :  4/5

Portraying the iconic, larger-than-life, Winston Churchill, presents a challenge for any actor, intent on avoiding caricature. Brian Cox (not the hugely popular, star-gazing physicist but the Emmy Award-winning actor) succeeds brilliantly in director, Jonathan Teplitzky’s film that promises to tell ‘the untold story of D-Day’.

It’s 1944 and, with the massive loss of young soldiers in WW1’s Gallipoli hanging heavily on his shoulders, the war weary British Prime Minister is consumed with fear that the Normandy invasion (‘Overlord’) will also end in disaster.

As promised, Teplitzky tells a very different tale to that of the stunning success of the operation, found in the history books.  It’s one that shows the great man as a spent force, at odds with both the British commander, Montgomery (Julian Wadham) and the American, Eisenhower (John Slattery).

Churchill is an impeccable film on all counts, with Fox giving a deeply personal, heartfelt performance. While the whole cast is tremendous, Richard Durden as Jan Smuts (convincing as a model diplomat who acts, almost, as Churchill’s chaperon) and Miranda Richardson as Churchill’s (long-suffering) wife, are standouts.

Alex von Tunzelmann’s script delivers an intriguing, compassionate portrait of a great man in his declining years. But the problem of having such a narrow focus is that Churchill provides little to explain his greatness, especially to the uninitiated and especially when all they see is a man who is perceived, at best to be a nuisance and at worst, a liability.

Phil. 25.05.17. pbsailing@hotmail.com.au

(Churchill will screen at Luna’s Paradiso and Luna on SX from June 8th.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).


JOHN WICK:CHAPTER 2

Not having seen the first of this franchise, was not a problem for getting into the sequel. The premise was ridiculous, as expected but the treatment turned it into something else. For die hard fans of action and those looking for something a little different.
👀 See you in the dark, Phil.

Saturated colours reflected in a saturated set: John Wick (Keanu Reeves) engages in combat.

JOHN WICK:CHAPTER 2

Violence, blood, extreme action – almost everything – only the ballet tights are missing.

johnwickU.S.A. : 122 mins : R : 4/5

After the surprise success of John Wick (2014), Keanu Reeves makes a triumphant return as the titular character and is sure to please his legion of action fans – this time with a bigger budget, an even higher body count, and a display of athleticism that is nothing less than dazzling.

The ‘chapter’ of the title is a touch of irony – the film has minor literary credentials and neither the writer, Derek Kolstad, nor Reeves, would have had much difficulty handling Wick’s minimal dialogue. Nor does the role demand much of Reeves in the acting department. His stony-faced expression hardly alters but fits the character like a glove – icy, resolved and ruthless, like some avenging angel, dealing out death and retribution. If there are few words, Reeves’ body language more than compensates.

The plot, such as it is, concerns John Wick, a retired professional assassin, being pressed back into service by powerful Italian drug lord, Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) who calls in past favours. An imposing Laurence Fishburne, the underground crime lord, insists that Wick honour the code of the organisation he belongs to.

Film-maker, Chad Stahelski, severs any links with reality, as the invincible Wick, pursued by a small army of killers, intent on claiming the seven million dollars bounty on his head, ducks, weaves and spins between bullets, leaving a pile of bloodied bodies in his wake. While every bullet fired shakes the ground with a thunderous impact and while sharing much with both martial arts and pure action films, the extreme stylisation and gracefulness of movement, transforms this orgiastic blood fest into something more.

Those expecting pure and lurid realism may be disappointed. Along with its slick production values, John Wick:Chapter 2 is a surprisingly beautiful film to watch.
Phil. 14.04.17. pbsailing@hotmail.com

(John Wick:Chapter 2 will screen at Event Cinemas, Innaloo from May 8th. Check eventcinemas.com.au or the press for details).


BERLIN SYNDROME
Clare, realising she’s trapped

berlinStockholm in Berlin – playing white knuckle mind games to save a life.

AUSTRALIA/FRANCE : 116 mins. : R : RT 93% 3/5

This Australian drama, directed by Cate Shortland (who made an impressive debut with Somersault) with a screenplay by Shaun Grant, is based on Melanie Joosten’s novel of the same name and stars Teresa Palmer in an indie film with a low-profile cast.

In 1965, William Wyler’s The Collector, about a young man imprisoning a female art student struck, perhaps, the most distinguished template of what was to become known as the Stockholm syndrome (in which the victim develops a relationship with the captor). It has often been used, although the premise really offers only two alternatives to its resolution – either the victim escapes or doesn’t.

Shaun Grant’s script and Cate Shortland’s direction, break no new ground with this formula but, in spite of some blunders, manage to generate enough tension and shocks to make it a worthwhile entry.

There’s a high improbability factor with this type of film and Berlin Syndrome, with the male captor, Andi, living a normal life as a high school teacher and engaging, at the same time in bizarre, homicidal behaviour (with at least one previous victim, a Canadian girl called Franka), is no exception. But Teresa Palmer’s high-powered performance is a big factor in its success. She gives a tremendous portrayal of inner turmoil as Clare, the backpacking Australian tourist on the streets of Berlin who becomes imprisoned by the (initially) charming Andi (a fine Max Riemelt who convinces, as far as the script allows).

While having passionate sex, Andi reassures Clare that nobody will hear them in his (too conveniently?) run down, almost empty tenement block – a remark which soon becomes chilling as Clare realises she’s trapped.

There are the usual behavioural ploys – Clare humours Andi, pleads with him and threatens him. She even attacks him by plunging a screwdriver through his hand and into the table and, again, credibility is stretched. Not only does Andi tear himself free (which would have ripped his hand apart) but, improbably, the screwdriver is still left, embedded in the table. Again, a little later, Andi is seen, without any sign of injury to his hand.

Shortland seems to have been more caught up in the psychology of the situation, rather than the practicalities but still manages to build considerable tension, especially in the first half of the film. As the resolution becomes somewhat predictable, the film starts to run out of steam and a cut of some fifteen to twenty minutes would have increased the impact.

Teresa Palmer’s full-throttle performance generally succeeds in keeping Berlin Syndrome afloat. If she can take the audience with her, they will have a satisfyingly scary ride with some violent, bloody scenes to jangle the nerves, thrown in for good measure.
Phil. 02.04.17. pbsailing@hotmail.com

(Berlin Syndrome will screen at Luna Leederville and Luna SX from April 20th . Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details.)


SUMMER 1993

Full of the sunshine of the Catalan countryside, Frida’s world is, however, dark and troubed.  This is a rare entry into the private world of a six-year old girl as she struggles to come to terms with a desperate twist in her fate.

Six year old Frida (Laia Artigas) and her uncle, Esteve (David Verdaguer) in Summer 1993.

SUMMER 1993

fridaLast of the summer days

SPAIN : 98mins :    4/5

You’re hardly ever likely to see a film with less sentiment and manipulation than Summer 1993, especially as it deals with the traumatic situation of a six year old girl whose mother dies and who is taken into the family of her aunt and uncle.

Moving from the bustle of Barcelona to the rural surrounds of Catalan, six year old Frida, having lost the dotage of her mother for a single child, must now compete for love and attention with Anna, the four year old child of her adoptive parents.

Carla Simon Pipo’s debut film, written by her and based on her own autobiography, is a minimalist work of observation.  It seems more like the camera has been set on a tripod and allowed to run, so extraordinarily natural are the young girls’ performances.  At other times the camera, most often at Frida’s eye level, feels like an intimate friend, following her, filling the frame with her and showing (disconcertingly) her secret feelings of jealousy, loss and frustration.

This is film-making that is both authentic and courageous, with the audience given the licence of voyeurs.  Even though much of Pipo’s film may seem trite and commonplace (and hardly able to sustain adult interest) yet it is crafted with such tenderness and empathy that staying with it brings rewards.

Chosen at the 2017 Berlinale as Best First Feature, Summer 1993 is a special film and a calling card from one, Carla Simon Pipo.

Phil.  11.04.17. pbsailing@hotmail.com.au

(Summer 1993 is screening as part of the 20th Spanish Film Festival, exclusive to Cinema Paradiso, running from April 27th to May 17th.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).



COLOSSAL

Whether you like monster films or not, it doesn’t matter.  This is not a monster film even though it has monsters in it.   Confused?  This is, almost certainly, the strangest film you are likely to see this year.  Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, depends on how you view it.

See you in the dark.  Phil.

COLOSSAL

colossalThis mish-mash of genres is a colossal tease.

CANADA/SPAIN : 110 mins : 3/5

Writer/director, Nacho Vigalondo, has shown great inventiveness in creating one of the most bizarre films of the year but, does it succeed?

Anne Hathaway stars (in a bravura performance) as the forlorn Gloria, whose sustained drinking problem finally exceeds the patience of her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) and he kicks her out of his flat.  Returning to her home territory of New York, she negotiates a relationship with her long time friend, Oscar (an accomplished Jason Sudeikis).

Romance and relationships are the staple ingredients for many a good film but, Vigalondo, in a jarring change of direction, introduces a monster element, in the shape of a huge Kaiju who is wreaking havoc in the streets of Seoul, South Korea.  Gloria discovers (via tv coverage) that her every move, (when performed in a children’s play area), is replicated by the creature.  But the weirdness doesn’t stop there.  A second monster, a robot, appears in Seoul, this time mimicking the movements of Oscar.

While Gloria and Oscar circle each other in a psychological and physical joust, their monstrous empaths engage in the self-same stoush but on a gigantic scale.  Colossal gives the themes of alcoholism and domestic abuse a thorough workout but, as the film becomes increasingly darker, the physical treatment of Gloria is hard to stomach.

It seems a safe bet that Vigalondo doesn’t expect his monsters to be taken literally but, what then?  Perhaps they’re a metaphor for Gloria’s journey from zero self-esteem to re-invention?  If so, then some may embrace the metaphor as daring and ingenious.  But, for others, it may be too insubstantial to be anything but a colossal ambiguity.

Phil. 09.04.17.  pbsailing@hotmail.com

(Colossal will screen at Luna Leederville from April 13th.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).


DANCE ACADEMY

Tara on the long road back as a professional dancer

A smorgasbord of young bodies and beautiful moves

AUSTRALIA/GERMdanceANY : 90 mins : PG :                  3/5

Following the successful Australian tv series of the same name, Dance Academy transferred to the big screen under the direction of Jeffrey Walker and with a script from Samantha Strauss.  Most of the original cast appear in the film with Miranda Otto (as Madeline Moncur) being a big-name addition.

The main narrative centres on the crippling injury to the hugely talented Tara Webster (Xenia Goodwin) and her fight to regain her dancing prowess after a lay-off of eighteen months.  Occasional flashbacks to the time of her injury (shot in cool blue and with sonorous music) remind the audience of Tara’s determination and punishing work ethic, adding substance to a film that is, essentially, a treat for the eyes and ears.  In addition, Jordan Rodrigues as Christian Reed, provides a little love-interest (which doesn’t progress beyond the kissing stage) and there’s the (almost obligatory) move to New York, when Tara fails to make the cut for the National Ballet Company in Sydney.

Dance Academy looks sensational, with glorious, fit young bodies, dancing in a range of styles but with the emphasis on ballet, which should attract some boys but plenty more young girls caught up in the traditional allure and romance of the ballerina. Most fans of the tv series will want to see their dance heroes on the big screen.

Entertaining, briskly-paced and with a sound ensemble cast, Dance Academy is wholesome entertainment with a shot of realism which spells out the huge commitment and determination needed to make a go of such a competitive and attractive career for dancers.

Phil. 15.03.17. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Dance Academy will screen at Event cinemas from 6th April. Check eventcinemas.com.au or the press for details).


DENIAL

denialA film for our times

USA/UK : 110 mins : PG-13     4/5

Mick Jackson’s film, written by David Hare and based on Deborah Lipstadt’s book, History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier, chronicles the true story of the British court case in which Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz), a holocaust scholar, was sued for libel by Holocaust denier, David Irving (Timothy Spall).

 

In the year 2000, Irving fronted (a fractious) Lipstadt in a London court, for calling him a liar in her books and, in accordance with libel cases in the U.K., it was up to Lipstadt to prove she was right.  Heading her legal team was solicitor, Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott, Moriarty in Sherlock) and he and her barrister, Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) opposed Irving, who elected to represent himself.  Looking rather lonely, in the London court (and tried by a judge alone, a fact which rather stymied any attempt to sway the verdict with theatricals to the jury) Irving quipped that it seemed like a ‘David and Goliath’ confrontation.

 

Wilkinson is superb as the eloquent and articulate Rampton who produces a diagram of the building, indicating the holes in the roof through which the canisters of cyanide were dropped.  But Spall is a standout, as a ferocious and dogged Irving (with just a glint of obsession in his eye), asserting that there were never any holes at all.

 

This is a dream cast and their impeccable performances, plus the top-notch screenplay from David Hare, make proceedings utterly riveting.  Yet again, as was done in 12 Angry Men (1957) and To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), Denial proves that momentous trials make for great drama, especially when they are based on truth.  When, for instance, the judge makes a devastating observation, seemingly in Irving’s favour, a shock wave goes through the court room and tension rises to fever pitch.

 

In spite of the trial taking centre stage, Jackson has given the holocaust survivors enough of a (chilling) presence to remind us that the memory of those lost in the holocaust and the trauma and the suffering of those left behind is what the trial is really all about.

 

At a time when facts are again being questioned at the highest level; when the freedom of the press and the very foundations of democracy come under attack, Denial is not just a riveting history lesson but a relevant reminder that truth is the greatest defence against autocracy and the whims of dictatorship.

 

Phil. 25.03.17. pbsailing@hotmail.com

(Denial will screen at Luna Leederville, Luna SX and Luna’s The Windsor from April 13th.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).


Special Q&A screening
featuring director Rosie  Jones
and cult survivor Ben Shenton
Sunday 26 March 6.30pm at Luna Leederville

THE FAMILY

familyAustralia’s most shocking religious sect – Unseen, Unheard, Unknown – until now

AUSTRALIA :  98mins : M        4/5

Today, 95 year-old Anne Hamilton-Byrne, sits in the dementia wing of a Melbourne nursing home, off-limits to the law and now probably unaware of the pain and trauma she inflicted on a children’s sect she established in 1963 and which she (chillingly) called ‘The Family’. 

 …She believed…that she was ‘Jesus Christ reincarnated in female form…

It sounds insane that this could happen, but film maker, Rosie Jones, has interviewed police, social workers, welfare officers and, most particularly, ex-sect members.  They all say the same – that this woman had an extraordinarily strong personality that defied disbelief or contradiction, enabled her to build a support base of professionals and intellectuals and made it possible for her to take babies from mothers who believed they were the blessed ones. In addition, the child-adoption system, back then, was less closely-monitored, allowing Hamilton-Byrne to operate ‘under the radar’. Written, directed and co-produced by Rosie Jones, most will watch this documentary with horror and will want to know how this woman was able to evade the authorities for over fifty years.  This group of very young children (of around thirty at any one time) were hidden in a secluded retreat in Victoria’s Lake Eildon area.  Brutally beaten, deprived of food, given mind-altering drugs (such as LSD) they were sworn to total obedience to the woman who (in a drug-induced ‘vision’) received ‘holy instruction’ to prepare for the coming apocalypse and to form a group that would be the vanguard of a new-world order.  Anne Hamilton-Byrne believed, as did all her followers, that she was ‘Jesus Christ reincarnated in female form’.

…Tearfully, he tells of a protracted search for the members of his real family he had never met…

Recorded interviews with former members of the sect are distressing.  They tell of life-long trauma and social disorientation.

Roland, now an adult; intelligent, logical, articulate, faces the camera with the ease of a professional front man and seems to be an exception.  But the scars run deep.  Tearfully, he tells of a protracted search for the members of his real family he had never met, let alone knew. Then he lets slip a bombshell – he suddenly refers to the woman who stole his life as ‘Auntie Ann’ and talks of loyalty to the group he still calls ‘my family’.

Some details of the story are missing and Hamilton-Byrne, herself, remains a shadowy figure.  Even though the facts may be elusive, a more intensive investigation could have helped complete the picture.  But, by bringing what she has, into the light of day, Rosie Jones has provided the strongest counter to Hamilton-Byrne’s motto – ‘Unseen, Unheard, Unknown’.

Phil.  06.03.17.   pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(The Family will screen exclusively at Luna Leederville from March 30th.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).



THE EAGLE HUNTRESS

eagleThis tale of a female eagle hunter

soars high into the Mongolian sky

U.K./MONGOLIA/U.S.A. : 87 mins : G :  4.5/5

 

Just as we hear film promoters, nowadays, asserting that their film is ‘based on true events’, The Eagle Huntress’ claim to be a documentary must be taken as ‘partially true’.

Director, Otto Bell’s (debut) film states that its protagonist, Aisholpan, a 13year-old Kazakh girl from Mongolia, was the first female to become an eagle huntress.  This is not so and neither is she the only such female to take on this ancient and traditionally male-exclusive role.

What is not in doubt is that the girl faced enormous opposition from her family and community (though not from her doting father, himself an accomplished eagle hunter) and that her story, being one of female assertion, is almost as inspirational as is the main one of her becoming an eagle hunter.  On both counts, regardless of it being a documentary or not, The Eagle Huntress is breathtaking and irrepressibly uplifting.

Deep in the harsh, frigid Mongolian hinterland, Aisholpan lives a nomadic life (for some of the year, at least) amongst snow-capped mountains and remote communities.  As Daisy Ridley’s voice-over informs, hers is a life that has been carried on for centuries, though not without telltale signs of modern intrusion – a solar panel, a motorbike, a portable radio and Western-style clothing – nowhere near the striking beauty of their own traditional clothes.  Some of these (traditional) clothes are made from animal skins and some of the skins belonged to animals that were killed in their traditional hunting with golden eagles that (extraordinarily) they ‘borrow’ for a period of seven years, then return them to the wild.

First on Aisholpan’s list of objectives is to participate in the annual Golden Eagle Festival, having first captured her own eaglet, with her father’s help and training.  When she astounds the entrants with the speed and skill of her bird, winning the contest in a record-breaking time, the male elders are somewhat miffed.  Their only comfort is that she has not proved herself in the actual practice of hunting and this, they feel sure, will be beyond a young female.

Aisholpan proves to be the perfect protagonist – with indomitable courage, ruddy-cheeked and with a mischievous smile of quiet confidence – she is utterly endearing.

High amongst the frozen steppes, in the midst of an exquisite landscape, the girl takes part in her first hunt…

Otto Bell and his film crew have, no doubt, overcome their own considerable obstacles (physical as well as cultural) to put this film on screen.  With its tale of pro-feminism, as inspiring as it has been anywhere on the planet, and its National Geographic-style cinematography, The Eagle Huntress is virtually un-missable.

 

 

Phil. 04.03.17. pbsailing@hotmail.com

(The Eagle Huntress will screen at Luna Leederville from March 16th.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).


 

FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL OPENS TO THE MEDIA WITH: 

FROM THE LAND OF THE MOON

MAdeThe French Film Festival, wildly popular in Perth, is the biggest foreign film festival in the country.  This year’s event looks like attracting 15 000 people.

Nicole Garcia’s From the Land of the Moon (Mal de Pierres) starred as a luminous, sensuous and mesmerising Marion Cotillard.  Gabrielle (Cotillard) falls madly in love with a married teacher, is hitched (by a mother desperate to settle her down) to a local labourer in a loveless marriage. While being treated for a medical condition at a spa, she falls in love again, this time with a convalescing soldier who seems, at last, to offer her the passion and physical intensity she craves.

You can find when this film screens at Luna’s Cinema Paradiso, Luna’s SX and Luna’s The Windsor.  The details of all the films in the programme can be found at lunapalace.com.au

THE FESTIVAL OPENS TO THE PUBLIC ON 15TH MARCH AND RUNS UNTIL 5TH APRIL.

Merci, Alliance and see you in the dark at the French Film Festival.

02.03.17.Phil. ​​


DAVID STRATTON: A CINEMATIC LIFE

Daviddedicated to his long time mate, Paul Cox, this is both a fascinating look at David Stratton’s life as a film critic and a mesmerising overview of Australian film.

 AUSTRALIA: 90 mins : CTC :                                       4.5/5

In the history of Australian film there has never been a critic who achieved celebrity status as David Stratton has done.

Considered by many as one of the Australian film industry’s finest imports (he emigrated from the U.K. in 1963) David (especially after teaming with Margaret Pomerantz, his flamboyant co-presenter of The Movie Show and At the Movies) became one of its most passionate and eloquent ambassadors, internationally renowned and respected.

Director, Sally Aitken has created a wondrously entertaining and informative meld of documentary and social history in what must be the finest showcase of Australian film ever assembled.  There are clips dating back to one of David’s first reviewed films – The Overlanders (1946) which, unbeknownst to him at the time, provided him with his first, intriguing look at what was to be his adopted homeland.

Stars such as Nicole Kidman, Geoffrey Rush, Jack Thompson, David Gulpilil, Jacki Weaver, Russell Crowe and a host of others plus directors, scriptwriters and technicians have all lined up to record their accolades.  But the film is not slavishly hagiographic.  Geoffrey Wright, whose Romper Stomper (1992) David refused to rate, threw a glass of wine over David in protest and now says he would do it again – except that this time, it would be a glass of red.

But, if this is an insight into David’s life (and there are some surprisingly personal moments where his British stoicism all but collapses) it is, even more so, a remarkable snapshot of Australian film, from its inauspicious but historic production of the world’s first feature The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906) to the films that sought to capture the uniquely Australian  – They’re a Weird Mob (1966), The Adventures of Barry Mckenzie (1972) and the more recent Muriel’s Wedding(1994) and The Castle (1997) – the only film David seriously re-assessed.

It’s clear, in David Stratton: A Cinematic Life, that film is not just entertainment but a form of social commentary.  One of the films that still stirs David’s emotions is Evil Angels (1988) depicting the abominable injustice done to the Chamberlains in a court case that rocked the nation.  Yet another is the immensely moving Samson and Delilah (2009) as an agent of increasing national awareness of the plight of the Australian Aboriginal.

In many ways, David Stratton is the quintessential Australian immigrant – a ‘stranger in a strange land’ but, as he admits, it is Australian film that has helped him come to terms with his adopted country and to forge a new identity.  David considers himself extremely lucky.  But, if he has had his share of luck, so too has Australia in gaining the commitment and expertise of one, David Stratton.  Life without him in Australian cinema, is hard to imagine.

Phil. 27.02.17.

(David Stratton:A Cinematic Life will screen at Cinema Paradiso from March 9th.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).

Mark

 

 

 

 

Mark Naglasas and David at the Windsor QandA 22.02.17.

Phil

 

 

 

 

David and Phil at the Windsor, 22.02.17.


 

JASPER JONES

For anyone who has read this fine Australian novel, rest assured. This is one of the most faithful adaptations I’ve seen. With mystery and an unexplained death and in a Western Australian town, chock-full of fascinating characters – all seen through the eyes of a boy, just beginning to discover love, this is an enthralling picture with standout performances from Toni Collette and Hugo Weaving.

This film is True Blue West Australian

An all-Australian cast shines in Rachel Perkins’ brilliant adaptation of Craig Silvey’s best-seller, ‘Jasper Jones’

jasper

AUSTRALIA:105mins:CTC 4/5

In Craig Silvey’s novel, Jasper Jones, fourteen year old Charlie Bucktin cites Atticus Finch as his moral touchstone and many have referred to the best-selling novel as an Australian echo of To Kill a Mockingbird, since in both cases, a death in a rural community uncovers deep-seated racial prejudice.

…it all begins with Jasper’s tap on Charlie’s bedroom window…

Directed by Rachel Perkins, with a screenplay from Shaun Grant (based on Silvey’s novel) the film begins in 1969, in the small, fictionalised town of Corrigan (actually Pemberton in the tall timber country of the South-West of Western Australia). Jasper Jones (superbly played by Aaron McGrath) an illiterate, Aboriginal half-caste, knows only too well that, where trouble is concerned, he is the number one suspect. But Charlie (Levi Miller, Red Dog:True Blue) is the one person he knows he can trust. And it all begins with Jasper’s tap on Charlie’s bedroom window, when most of the kids in town are asleep.

Sneaking out of the house, Charlie follows Jasper deep into the bush and to the terrible sight of a dead girl, young Laura Wishart, who Jasper was sweet on, hanging by the neck from the limb of a tree.

Like most small country towns, Corrigan’s folk are big-hearted but harbour intolerance and local myth just below the surface, which come to the fore after the violent death. A Vietnamese family, whose son, Jeffrey Lu, is Charlie’s best mate (endearingly played by Kevin Long as both brilliant but brash) has their garden trashed and is subjected to verbal abuse. The mysterious and scary ‘Mad’ Jack Lionel (Hugo Weaving in a stunning performance) is a tramp-like recluse, dirty and dishevelled and the stuff of murderous rumours and who Jasper believes was responsible for the death of Laura. But it is Jasper himself, whose brutal treatment at the hands of the police, is the most explicit (and deeply disturbing) illustration of racial prejudice.

…Toni Collette …almost waltzes off with the film…

While Dan Wyllie, as Charlie’s dad, is a restrained presence on screen, Toni Collette dominates, as his intense and even paranoid mum and almost waltzes off with the film when she and Charlie engage in an impromptu dance in the kitchen.

Levi Miller, in wide-eyed wonderment and purity of heart, is tremendous as Charlie, the film’s anchor point. Bookish and an aspiring writer (following after his father) he’s also growing up and has developed a touching relationship with the dead girl’s sister, Eliza, skilfully played by Angourie Rice, with a prim and (by today’s standards) old fashioned sensibility.

Nearing its end, Jasper Jones is intensely moving and viewers will be hard pressed to rein in the tears as Perkins tips slightly into the maudlin. But Jasper Jones is a superb achievement (with many extraordinary revelations yet to come). It’s one of the most faithful adaptations I’ve seen, created with affection and commitment and one which Australia can feel justly proud in sharing with the world.

Phil. 04.02.17. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Jasper Jones will screen at Luna Leederville and Luna SX from Thursday, March 2nd. Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).


 

This is a deeply personal examination of faith by Martin Scorsese who has wanted to bring his adaptation of the famous Japanese novel to the screen (it has already been filmed twice before).  There is no ear-bashing soundtrack (but heaps of silence) and the emphasis is on the word, with extended passages of in-depth discussion.  It is a fascinating film which is not often found on our screens today where the emphasis is on gratification.

SILENCE

silenceScorsese’s epic test of faith

U.S. : 161mins : MA :     4/5

For over two and a half hours, Silence, ruthlessly balances the definition of faith on a knife edge.  It’s tortuous and even harrowing and at its conclusion, it offers nothing but sadness and ambiguity and answers none of its major questions.  In a film, so uncompromising, that makes liking it or not irrelevant, why should it be watched? – because Silence is a work of commitment from one of the world’s gifted film-makers and offers (to believers and non-believers alike) one of the most rewarding experiences to be found on a cinema screen.

For Martin Scorsese, director and co-writer (along with Jay Cocks), Silence, a tale of Jesuit priests in seventeenth century Japan, was a project with a gestation of over twenty years.  Based on Japanese, Shusaku Endo’s novel of the same name and Starring Adam Driver as Francisco Garupe, Andrew Garfield as Sebastiao Rodrigues and Liam Neesam as Father Ferreira, he has finally brought it to the screen.

In Portugal, fathers Garupe and Rodrigues are formally instructed to cease their search for the missing father Ferreira with the shocking news that he has renounced the Faith and is living as one of the community in Japan. The younger men question its veracity, based on the specious content of a single letter and beg to continue their mission.  In Japan, the priests could face torture and death.  Following the defeat of Japanese Christians in the Shimabara Revolution in 1638, aimed at toppling the Tokugawa shogunate, Christians are outlawed and pray in secret.

Reluctantly, permission is granted for Garupe and Rodrigues to leave for Japan.

In spite of the many scenes of shocking torture, Scorsese resists the easy path of demonising the Japanese.  Mindful that Catholicism has its own bloody history littered with the bodies of non-believers; it was far wiser to cite religious oppression as a fallibility of the human species, rather than the preserve of a single Faith.

The Japanese Inquisitor, Masashige (an extraordinary performance from Issey Ogata) seems the very antithesis of the power he holds to hunt down and destroy Christian believers.  He is old and frail, with a high-pitched voice and an almost comical, feline grin.  “We do not hate you” he tells Rodrigues and it is possible to believe a man with such utterly human concerns – he complains of the heat and his reluctance to travel the country and views Rodrigues as a nuisance rather than an enemy.  Yet, by placing the responsibility for the death of the villagers upon Rodrigues’ shoulders, he imposes the cruelest torture, not to his body but to his very soul (or his conscience, if preferred).

Neesam plays Ferreira, with utter conviction, as a man who has fought the battle for his soul and achieved a sort of peace by accepting compromise. Garfield is superb as the human crucible of intolerable doubt, festering in unmitigated silence (although Driver’s wild-eyed, impassioned features may have made a better fit).  The long interchange between the two, discussing the film’s major questions (rare in today’s cinema of minimal dialogue and maximum action), is beautifully written, contains astonishing revelations and is intriguing to watch.

Appropriately, Scorsese’s soundtrack is dominated by natural sound, or extraordinarily long periods of silence itself.  It is no stretch to feel the anguish of Rodrigues, as experienced by every believer who has ever been put to the ultimate test, when he cries, “How can I explain His silence to these people?”

The answer is not to be found in Silence, the film.  Rather than some overt, exterior proof, the search can only be resolved within a human heart and a human mind.

 

 

Phil. 10.02.17. pbsailing@hotmail.com

(Silence will screen at Luna and other cinemas from February 16th.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).


MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

manchesterno holiday in this seaside town

U.S.A. : 135mins :  MA 15+ :  R.T. 96%       5/5

 

Casey Affleck is such a fine actor.  Blessed with a distinctive voice and a gentle but magnetic charisma, in Manchester by the Sea (directed and written by Kenneth Lonergan) he gives a towering performance, recognised with an Oscar nomination.

Affleck’s superbly realised Lee Chandler, a janitor in Boston, in the cold grip of winter, is a character of enormous complexity.  Taciturn and emotionally constrained but prone to sudden, violent outbursts, he wasn’t always so.  A flashback scene shows him in happier times with wife and children but it’s not until another flashback, that we learn the reason for his abnormal behaviour – he carries a heavy burden of guilt, blaming himself for the accidental death of his children when his house burned to the ground.

In Manchester-by-the-Sea, Lee’s brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler) is a fisherman (whose wife is absent on account of alcoholism and depression) and who lives with his son, the teen-aged Patrick (a fine performance from Lucas Hedges).  When Joe dies from a sudden heart attack, Lee takes the one and a half hour drive, back to the place of his personal tragedy; to the source of his inconsolable grief and to a community who thought of him as some sort of pariah.   However, when he finds that his deceased brother has named him as Patrick’s guardian, he is dumbstruck.

For Patrick, with ties to school, friends, his pop-music band and sport, he is disturbed at the thought of moving to Boston while, for Lee, the prospect of, again, being responsible for a child, is terrifying.

While Lee and Patrick take up temporary residence in Patrick’s home, the two assume an almost ‘Odd Couple’ type of relationship, engaging in a war of words and wits, fighting over territory and trying some ineffective match-making for each other.  Patrick has two girl friends on the go and there is an excruciatingly funny (and cringingly honest) sex scene with one of them, in which (down to his underwear) he trips over the girl’s doll’s house and the two of them stumble about in disarray, destroying all semblance of a romantic union.

When Patrick gives only a cursory glance at his father’s body in the morgue, along with his self-absorption, it would seem to be a callous reaction to his loss. But Lonergan is a skilled writer and shows that Patrick is really in denial. When his breakdown eventually comes, his pain is almost palpable.

Michelle Williams as Lee’s former wife, Randi gives a sensitive performance (in a small but important role) and Gretchen Mol as Elise, Joe’s former wife, is also fine.  But this top-notch ensemble cast is without a weak link.

Intelligent, mature and highly skilled, yet Manchester by the Sea, for some, may be too close to life itself.  After involving the audience in the torment of its characters, it offers no neat redemption; no third act closure that might be expected.  Grim and even bleak it may be (in spite of its wit and humour).  But, perhaps not since Ordinary People (1980) examined the impact of a death in the family, has the subject been tackled with such courage and honesty, as it has in Manchester by the Sea.

 

Phil. 22.01.17. pbsailing@hotmail.com

(Manchester by the Sea will screen at Luna Leederville and Luna SX from February 2nd.  A special screening at both cinemas will be on January 30th.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).


GOLD

GoldReal gold or fool’s gold?

U.S.A. : 121mins : M               3.5/5

Stephen Gaghan, Oscar-winning scriptwriter (for Traffic), takes the Director’s chair for Gold, about a scandalous stock market fraud, starring Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers’ Club) and Edgar Ramirez and ‘inspired by true events’.

It was over twenty years ago when Wall Street was rocked with the Bre-X gold mining scandal, involving billions of dollars.

Matthew McConaughey is Kenny Wells, the familiar, loud-mouthed loser, talking up his latest tilt at the big time while, in reality, not having enough cash to pay the rent.  Hitting on a specious plan to dig for gold in Indonesia (actually shot in stunning Thailand) he teams up with laconic geologist, Mike Acosta (Edgar Ramirez) and, together they head off for the jungle.

An attack of malaria lays Wells low for a few weeks but, when he recovers, his partner gives him some extraordinary news.

Writers Patrick Massett and John Zinman deftly ring the changes in the duo’s fortunes as they, supposedly, make a ‘strike’ and return to the U.S. where financiers fall over themselves to throw money at them.  Gold certainly captures the frenzied money-lust that has brought out the less savoury aspects of human nature over the centuries.

Double-crossing, fraud and even governmental corruption (former Indonesian President Suharto gets hit with both barrels) spice up the heady mix.

For audiences who are not too familiar with the actual facts of the case, there are many thrills and surprises in this torrid tale and McConaughey’s turbo-charged performance is enthralling to watch.  To top it all, Gold finishes with a final, delicious twist which might put a smile on your face (as long as you don’t think about it too hard).

 

Phil. 12.01.17. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Gold will screen at Event Cinemas and Luna’s Cinema Paradiso from February 2nd.  Check the website or the press for details.)


LION

lionGarth Davis finds a new magic in the slums of India

on the long road home

AUSTRALIA/U.S.A./U.K. : 118 mins : PG 4.5/5

Garth Davis makes his directing debut (and strikes gold) with this adaptation of Saroo Brierley and Larry Buttrose’s non-fiction novel, A Long Way Home (with a screenplay by Luke Davies) creating one of the most moving films of the year.

The cast features two top-line Australian actors, David Wenham and Nicole Kidman, as John and Sue Brierley who adopt a lost Indian boy. Over twenty years later, he embarks on an epic search for his biological mother.

By some serendipitous throw of the dice, the events in Lion could not have been more dramatic if they had been fictionalised. But, with a narrative of such power and poignancy, one of the hardest tasks for a first-time director, would have been to avoid overplaying his hand and tipping over into sentiment or melodrama. This, Davis does with the control of a veteran.

In the film’s opening shot, the five year-old, coffee-coloured Saroo (an enchanting, heart-warming Sunny Pawar), eyes wide in joy and wonder, stands amidst a flurry of butterflies. With his older brother, Guddu (a luminous and enduring presence from Abhishek Bharate) and his mother (Priyanka Bose) the diminutive Saroo lives in poverty but in peace. With minimal dialogue, but a wealth of visuals, both director and writer take time to flesh out the relationships; to establish the strong bonds of family that underscore the narrative.

The misunderstanding of language plays an important part in Lion – Saroo cannot pronounce the name of his city so cannot find home; he speaks Hindi and, when separated from his brother and finishing up in Calcutta at the end of a thousand kilometres of railway line, cannot communicate with people who speak Bengali and, in one of the film’s emotional king hits (revealed in the final frame) even gets the pronunciation of his own name wrong.

The interview was done by Malti Elliott with Saroo Brierley.


GIMME DANGER

gimmea punk rock film that’s as safe as milk

U.S.A. : 108 mins : M     3/5

Distinguished writer/director, Jim Jarmusch, has a reputation for taking on non-commercial subjects (Coffee and Cigarettes, 2003) and his latest documentary is no exception.  Revered by their fans, the Stooges were never a mainstream success, with only their vocalist, Iggy Pop (now almost a septuagenarian) having achieved iconic status and pop notoriety in almost equal measure.

Jarmusch, who is a personal friend of Pop’s (real name, James Osterberg) has created an affectionate and fascinating portrait of a man who has maintained his counter-cultural rage for most of his life, disdaining commercial acceptance, even though the Stooges achieved something akin to celebrity status when, in 2010, they were inducted into Rock and Roll’s Hall of Fame.

Punk rocker, Iggy Pop (almost consistently shirtless) sits in a chair, long hair to his shoulders, long, weathered face, lined with age and excess and with lips that seem stuck together, having to be prised apart by the words that struggle forth and the occasional wry smile – and comes across as a paradox.  In the 60’s he courted verbal abuse and official vitriol as authentication of his outrageousness.  Performances were wild, loud and violent and were denounced as ‘tasteless’, infantile’, ‘offensive’ and ‘utter garbage’.  Yet the man, off stage and interviewed on his own (by an off-camera Jarmusch) is articulate, intelligent, educated and, most surprisingly, endowed with warmth, charm and compassion – in other words, a decent human being.

Gimme Danger details Pop’s drug-addicted, near self-destruction which saw the band break up for many years, re-uniting in 2003 (although there had been several changes to the original line-up).

In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine, perhaps surprisingly, ranked the Stooges at number 78 on their list of the top 100 artists of the last 50 years.  Performers such as Kurt Cobain, Guns N’Roses, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, David Bowie and R.E.M. have either recorded the Stooges’ material or cited the band as influential.

Whether the Stooges’ music has appeal or not, Jarmusch’s Gimme Danger, using an assemblage of still photos, archival footage and recorded interviews, is a valuable record of 70’s rage and anarchy and of a man who, like Bob Dylan, persistently resists pigeon-holing.  To quote his own words, Iggy says “I just wanna be.”

Phil.  11.12.16.  pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Gimme Danger will screen at Luna Leederville from December 26th and selected dates at Luna Outdoor.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).


A UNITED KINGDOM

uka cocktail of love, politics and commerce

U.K. : 111 mins : PG-13            3.5/5

Today, there is little infamy surrounding interracial liaisons but the true events of A United Kingdom occurred back in 1948 and  in the (much more inflammatory) Apartheid era of South Africa.  Since they involved the Prince of the neighbouring Botswana, Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo, Selma, 2014) and his British wife, Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike) they caused a major international crisis.

Director, Amma Asante and writer, Guy Hibbert, have resurrected a tale of love and political turmoil – the latter both in Khama’s African homeland but (more pointedly) in the U.K. which had protectorate status over the country and felt an acute sensitivity to its relationship with the more powerful South Africa.  The film is prefaced by the love story (which begins in London, where Seretse is furthering his education) and this remains the dominant element throughout.  However, this is an extraordinary tale and, without knowing that these are true events, A United Kingdom would be hard to believe.

Even Ruth’s own father (Nicholas Lyndhurst) cuts himself off from his daughter, while, for his part, Seretse is racially abused and physically set upon in the street.  But these are minor annoyances compared to the ultimatum delivered from Seretse’s powerful uncle, Tshekedi (Vusi Kunene) that they must either divorce immediately or that Seretse should renounce all claims to the kingship.

Pressure from colonial authorities, led by Alastair Canning (a wonderfully arrogant, intimidating Jack Davenport) included feeding Seretse lies about his own people’s opposition to his marriage; imposing a term of exile on him and of driving Seretse and his uncle apart to precipitate a breakdown of government, which would have allowed Britain to assume direct rule.  But, it isn’t long before Seretse tells his uncle that they are both being used in a high-powered game of politics and commerce.  The U.S. had begun drilling (without permission) and the word was that they were looking for diamonds.

Adopting a linear approach to the narrative, A United Kingdom is old-fashioned film making – unpretentious, intelligent and with its heart in the right place.  But, while Asante’s direction is adequate, rather than inspired, a little romantic licence has softened some of the film’s thorny issues and given the relationship of the married couple a rosy hue, even though their commitment seems beyond reproach.   However, with two strong, charismatic performances from Oyelowo and Pike, this remains a gentle and affecting tale of love overcoming enormous odds.

A United Kingdom has brought an important history lesson to the screen, for a generation unfamiliar with it.  It’s a timely reminder, too, that racial equality and the insignificance of the colour of one’s skin are lessons the world is still in the process of learning.

Phil. 06.12.16. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(A United Kingdom will screen at Luna’s Cinema Paradiso and Luna SX from Boxing Day.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).


LA LA LAND

lalalanda nostalgic throwback to a world of song and dance and impossible dreams

U.S.A. : 128 mins : M            4/5

Hollywood in the 30’s and 40’s (and into the 50’s) was the Golden Age of the romantic musical.  When Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire sang and danced their way through Top Hat (1935) they transported the audience to a more exciting world of glamour, music and fantasy.

Writer/director, Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, 2015), has achieved a full blown, modern-day resurrection of the genre in his head-spinning musical fantasy, La La Land (where people live with their head in the clouds) and set it in Los Angeles – paradoxically, one of the world’s most hard-nosed cities.

Chazelle admits that his own film, with its brassy, jazz and big band score, was inspired by the 1964 film The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and its upbeat follow-up, The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967).  The link is clear from the beginning, with the impressively staged opening song, featuring a traffic jam of thousands of cars on the Los Angeles overpasses.  In wild but synchronised jubilation, the drivers get out of their cars to sing, then slip back behind the wheel (and normality) when the music ends.

In separate cars are the two main protagonists – Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), an aspiring jazz pianist and Mia (Emma Stone), a struggling actor.  In spite of a prickly first encounter, their mutual attraction soon paves the way for romance and their careers to blossom and this is the simple but adequate story that’s enough to hang the elaborate song and dance routines on.

True to the genre, La La Land has a balanced mix of reality and fantasy, using music to leave the real world behind.  In a wonderfully realised early scene, Sebastian and Emma begin to dance and literally take off into the night sky.

Gosling and Stone are not the greatest singers or dancers (which, however, fits with their fledgling status) and nor do they have the charm and charisma of a Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds but they do have a potent chemistry between them (already seen in several previous films).

The middle section sags a little, when the two are apart and reality holds sway but the final third picks up and delivers the most potent magic of all. In a stunning and protracted routine between Gosling and Stone, the savvy Chazelle throws in visual references to a string of films, some of them fleeting, such as a boy clutching a red balloon (The Red Balloon [1956] one of the finest short films ever made and, itself, a combination of fantasy and reality).

Justin Hurwitz’ score is rich and melodic without being memorable.  But the real musical strength is in some wonderful jazz performances, especially in Bill’s nightclub (J.K. Symmons, from Whiplash, makes brief appearances as the nightclub’s owner).

Although La La Land doesn’t have the finesse of some of the great musicals (Singin’ in the Rain, 1952), in 2016 it’s a brave and inspired choice for Chazelle and cannot be ignored.  For those who may have listened to their grandparents’ misty-eyed recollections of the magic they found in the cinema, they should make sure that they, too, sample a little for themselves.  La La Land is an experience they’re unlikely to forget.

 

Phil. 08.12.16. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(La La Land will screen at Camelot on Saturday, February 11th and from Boxing Day at Luna Leederville, Luna SX and Luna’s The Windsor.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details.)


DANCER

dancerballet and bad behaviour

U.K./RUSSIA/UKRAINE/U.S.A. : 85 mins :  4/5

The extraordinarily gifted Sergei Polunin, with a breathtaking mix of physical power, majesty and passion, is a dance superstar but film director, Steven Cantor’s Dancer, a mix of documentary and biopic, should help to spread his fame beyond the world of ballet.

Archival footage (of which there is plenty) shows the Ukrainian, eight-year-old Polunin as a miniature replica of the adult form – perfectly shaped and proportioned and with the same imposing physical presence.

Apart from his unnatural physical attributes which marked him as a child prodigy and which may convince sceptics that the human body can fly, Polunin has shattered the stereotype of the male ballet dancer with his flamboyance and aggressive masculinity.  His luridly tattooed body, drug-taking and existential crises (episodes which are given scant attention) give him more of an errant, rock-star persona rather than an exponent of physical grace and beauty.

There are some production weaknesses, such as the over-loud music of Ilan Eshkeri, which tends to drown the voice-over, but nothing can diminish the power of the film’s dance sequences.  In his early twenties, Polunin was on the point of physical and mental exhaustion and of giving dance away.  But when his video-recording of the dance sequence called Take me to the Church (danced in an empty hall) was posted on the internet, it attracted fifteen million viewers and turned his career around.

For lovers of dance, Dancer is unmissable.  For the rest, it is a record of a remarkable talent that can only be wondered at.

 

Phil.  05.12.16. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Dancer will screen at Luna Leederville from Thursday, December 8th.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details)..


 

UP FOR LOVE

hauteura sizeable joke that’s light and fluffy

FRANCE : 98 mins : PG        3/5

In a remake of Corazon de Leon (2013), Jean Dujardin (the male star of the black and white, silent film, The Artist, 2011) is reduced in height (by the power of cinematic trickery) to just 4 foot, 5 inches, to play alongside (the normal sized) Virginie Efira in the French romantic comedy, Up For Love.

Diane (Efira) is a lawyer whose lost phone is found by Alexandre (Dujardin), a well-heeled architect who rings her, exuding charm and humour. The premise is cleverly set up as both Alexandre and Bruno, Diane’s husband and business partner who is negotiating their divorce, ring Diane at the same time, creating great confusion.

When Diane and Alexandre meet at a restaurant, there is considerable humour, with Alexandre’s feet nowhere near the floor and Diane somewhat shocked.  Alexandre, as disclosed in heart-to-heart talks with his (normal-sized) son (which is where the screenplay hits the target), has always felt the pain of being small and of having women walk away from him because the relationship is ‘too hard’.  This begs the question – why didn’t he just tell Diane of his stature in the first place, to avoid shock and risk defeat?  The answer is that Laurent Tirard, the director/co-writer (with Gregoire Vigneron) deliberately play the size discrepancy for laughs on every occasion they can, even when it means making use of the stock clichés and put-downs associated with the subject of ‘dwarfs’.

And it isn’t long before some sharply-written humour gives way to farce and slapstick.

There’s Alexandre’s son, Benji (Cesar Domboy) whose dog is huge (when it would have been far more sensible to have a small dog) and, whenever Alexandre comes home, it bounds towards him and bowls him over.  This sight gag is used on three or four occasions and, while effective, this, like most of the humour, is rather forced.

While the miniaturisation of (the six foot tall) Dujardin is impressive, it would also have seemed more logical to use a real ‘vertically challenged’ person for the role – there are many such, fine actors around.

This said, while the very attractive Efira acquits herself well, Dujardin plays Alexandre with just the right degree of self-deprecation and generosity of heart that makes him an endearing character (“everyone likes you” says Diane).

If the plot contrivances are not scrutinised too closely, Up For Love is a pleasant, moderately amusing film, while most should find a few laugh-out-loud moments.

 

Phil. 25.11.16. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Up For Love will screen at Luna’s Cinema Paradiso from December 1st.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).

 


I, DANIEL BLAKE

 blake

Ken Loach’s film delivers a mule-kick to the heart

and an anguished cry of defiance from the socially downcast

 

U.K./FRANCE/BELGIUM : MA : 100 mins                      5/5

 

British director, Ken Loach, won the Palme d’Or for the second time with his latest film (the first was in 2006 for The Wind that Shakes the Barley) and, once again, as he did in 1966, in his shattering TVM, Cathy Come Home, he champions the cause of the socially downtrodden and rises to the same level of moral and political outrage. Loach’s anger is almost palpable in I, Daniel Blake – one of the most powerful and important films of the year.

The aging, widowed (and childless) Daniel Blake (Dave Johns), a Geordie joiner, is recovering from a heart attack and cannot work.  With no income, Daniel is dependent on welfare but his payments are compromised in an inexcusable breakdown of communication which sees Daniel (sans his medical reports) classified as ‘fit to work’, according to a bureaucratic points system.  He’s forced to seek unemployment assistance but, in a bizarre, Catch-22 situation, he invests many hours applying for jobs, knowing that he’s medically unfit to accept them.

With unerring accuracy, Loach, and his writer, Paul Laverty, brilliantly skewer an inextricably muddled social system that, rather than assist, seems deliberately designed to harass and frustrate.  And, even though Blake is his spearhead, Loach’s film is not about an isolated case.  On his first visit to the welfare office, Blake comes to the aid of another casualty – Katie (Hayley Squires) a single mum with two kids, forcibly relocated from London and living in a flat that’s barely inhabitable.  The introduction of Katie not only allows Loach to broaden his emphasis but, in the close relationship that develops between the two, gives him the opportunity to show the compassion, empathy and generosity of spirit that makes Blake a bona fide victim and a tragic figure.

At fifty-nine years of age, Blake’s predicament, of being a man ‘out of his time,’ will be immediately recognised by most members of his own generation.  Suddenly, he’s thrust into a Kafkaesque nightmare – an alien (and intimidating) world of computers, CV’s and smart-phones in which his life is governed by someone the social service workers refer to as ‘The Decision-Maker’ – an anonymous, invisible yet omnipotent being.

Though Loach paints a bleak picture, yet he has taken care to avoid over simplification.  Look, for instance, for the social security lady called Ann (on her name badge) who incurs recrimination by responding to Blake as a human being, rather than as an automated amalgam of bureaucratic rules.  This is a figure, just as constrained by the system as Blake himself is.

Dave Johns is magnificent as Blake and it is hard not to respond to his desperate attempts to cling to his dignity and his very identity, buoyed only by his earthy humour, self-deprecation and fighting spirit – (‘When you lose your dignity, you’re done for’ he writes in a final submission to the review panel).  Hayley Squires’ Katie is equally moving and, in fact, while much of the film is hard to watch, it is her scene in the Food Bank, in which she is inconsolably distressed and on the point of collapse, that ranks among the most devastating seen on screen this year and gives the film its emotional king-hit.

This is raw, unalloyed film-making which is likely to hit a nerve (in the wake of the Brexit vote and the US Presidential elections) with those who feel disempowered and increasingly irrelevant in relation to the institutions of government that are meant to be supporting them.  In this context, I, Daniel Blake becomes a must see film, with the audience likely to harbour Loach’s self-same anger (along with deep sadness) long after leaving the cinema.

 

 

Phil, 15.11.16.  pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(I, Daniel Blake will screen at Luna’s Cinema Paradiso and Luna SX from this Thursday, 17th November.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details.  Please see the note, below, from Luna, regarding the action they have initiated, in response to the film).


THE BAULKHAM HILLS AFRICAN LADIES TROUPE

baulkam-hills-2is a celebration of the

remarkable spirits of four African women survivors of sexual abuse, and the

triumph of their improbable theatre troupe.

Four women fled from different parts of Africa to Australia in order to escape

violence and abuse. They find a safe haven in Australia, but still they hold their

pain silently within them. Until they decide to join a theatre group… and speak out.

Under the nurturing guidance of theatre director Ros Horin, they collaborate to let

their life stories be transformed into an extraordinary and joyously uplifting

theatrical experience. This film charts their personal journeys from trauma to

healing and public triumphs, as the Troupe’s show moves from a stage in western

Sydney out to the world.is a celebration of the

remarkable spirits of four African women survivors of sexual abuse, and the

triumph of their improbable theatre troupe.

Four women fled from different parts of Africa to Australia in order to escape

violence and abuse. They find a safe haven in Australia, but still they hold their

pain silently within them. Until they decide to join a theatre group… and speak out.

Under the nurturing guidance of theatre director Ros Horin, they collaborate to let

their life stories be transformed into an extraordinary and joyously uplifting

theatrical experience. This film charts their personal journeys from trauma to

healing and public triumphs, as the Troupe’s show moves from a stage in western

Sydney out to the world.

The interview was done by the director Ros Horin with Malti Elliott.


CAPTAIN FANTASTIC

CAPTAIN FANTASTIC: captainfantastic, yes, but he’s merely human

U.S.A. : 118 mins : R                   4/5

In spite of what the title might seem to suggest, writer/director, Matt Ross’ Captain Fantastic is not about a super-hero at all; just a super, but mortal man.

Ben Cash is ‘Captain Fantastic’ (a name bestowed on him by his late wife, Leslie) and, for Viggo Mortensen (Lord of the Rings, The Road) it provides him with one of the finest roles in his illustrious career.

Ben has lived in the scenically eye-popping wilds of the U.S. Pacific Northwest for ten years, raising his brood of six kids in an environment of self-sufficiency and reactionary thinking (they celebrate Noam Chomsky Day, like most people celebrate Christmas).  When his wife, Leslie (Trin Miller) is hospitalised, on account of her degenerating bi-polar condition, Ben and the kids remain in their forest home.

Leslie commits suicide and her funeral precipitates Ben’s return to the city and a confrontation with his harshest critic – his step-father (a wonderfully stolid Frank Langella) but who also cares deeply about his grandkids.  Having totally opposite views on parenting, their meeting becomes a crucible for the major concerns of the film and a sounding-board for the audience who, most likely, will find themselves torn in two directions.

Ben’s response – of putting himself through a rigorous re-appraisal (and coming up short of perfection) is one aspect that gives Captain Fantastic a persuasive force which is hard to dismiss.

All six kids have individual personalities and are given a chance to shine. When Ben’s eight-year-old, Nai (Charlie Shotwell), starts quoting from the American Bill of Rights and then proceeds to explain it in his own words, the scene is an almost intimidating endorsement of Ben’s liberal home-education programme and a stinging riposte to Jack’s accusation that Ben is depriving the kids of a school education (although he has a point in their missing out on social interaction with a bigger group).

As highly confronting and fundamentally alien, the narrative will seem to most of the audience, Mortensen portrays the ideal protagonist – fearlessly intelligent, deeply committed, physically strong and gentle in nature.  Mortensen wears Ben like a second skin and he is simply riveting.  But it is the director, Matt Ross, who almost brings his own film undone, tending to overplay his hand.  The emergence of a naked Ben from his bus in a public caravan park is an action, insensitive and implausible, as hard to believe as the spiriting away of all six kids from the palatial home of the grandparents (who have assumed their custodial care).  Even so, Ross’ work was good enough to win the Un Certain Regard, Best Director Award at Cannes, this year and such is the overall strength of his original screenplay and that of Mortensen’s performance, that Captain Fantastic is one of the must-see films of the year.

In calling into question what it means to be a father and what values are important in a family, Captain Fantastic provides a powerful, emotional workout.  There will be laughter, amazement and the odd tear.  And, for those who may try, ultimately, the film resists rejection for, though not based on a real family, there are many such families, just like Ben’s, dotted around the world, who have made the self-same choice and who are living the self-same lifestyle.  As an alternative take on life, it’s irresistible.

 

Phil. 21.08.16.  pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Captain Fantastic will screen at Luna Leederville and Luna SX from September 8th.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).

 

FIND ALL MY REVIEWS AT malti-media.com


THE CONFIRMATION

Jaeden Lieberher is making the most of his wide-eyed look of innocence.  You may remember him from his ‘superboy’ stint in Midnight Special and, before that, as the nerdy kid with Bill Murray in St. Vincent.  In the latest, he makes a great, pint-sized foil for the fine actor, Clive Owen.  This is a heart-warming look at father-son relationships.

THE CONFIRMATION:

luna1confirming that Jaeden Lieberher’s star is rising

CANADA : 90 mins : PG               4/5

Jaeden Lieberher was last seen in the sci-fi, Midnight Special, but has a more demanding role as eight year old Anthony in Bob Foster’s directing debut, The Confirmation, with Clive Owen co-starring as his dad.  Oscar-nominated for writing Nebraska (2013) Foster takes the two leads on an exploratory journey of their father-son relationship, reminiscent of Vittorio de Sica’s classic, The Bicycle Thief (1947).

Instead of a bike, it’s a box of carpentry tools that is stolen from Walt (Owen) but the result is the same – he’s unable to work and, when his ex-wife and her new husband take off for a weekend at a religious camp, he and his son are thrown together in a quest to recover it.

The Confirmation is book-ended with Anthony at the confessional – the first, finds him struggling to name any sins at all while the last, just twenty-fours later, has a litany that meets with the priest’s utter disbelief.

Anthony’s mum (Maria Bello) rejected Walt as an alcoholic no-hoper and instead, went for new husband (Matthew Modine) a religious, dependable but straight-laced guy whose lack of DIY skills and taste in music earns him Walt’s moniker of ‘philistine’. However, it’s not hard to see his wife’s point of view when Walt is hit with a notice to quit from his landlord, his truck breaks down and he heads straight for the pub (with son in tow), the first chance he gets.

Although coming close to overplaying the ‘put upon’ role of Walt (and of actually pushing some scenes, such as that with a loaded gun, beyond credibility) Foster has written some touching interplay between father and son that rings true.  There’s the same minimalism and strength of character portrayal that distinguished his writing for Nebraska.  And it’s a lovely touch when Anthony and a young friend turn the tables on the hapless Walt, showing how fast kids can learn how to ‘break the rules’ successfully.

Walt is a nice change of pace for the seasoned Owen, having a sympathetic and affectionate rapport with Lieberher, while the young actor more than holds his own, playing Anthony with deadpan seriousness.  It’s an impressive and winning performance.

While protecting his father from drinking, Anthony learns that not all lies are ‘sinful’.  In fact, both Walt and Anthony doubt that the dictums of an intransigent religious code are the way to live a decent life and Anthony is less than keen about the Confirmation service that his mum and stepfather want him to take.

In fact, The Confirmation, in ways both gentle and endearing, shows that Anthony, in intimate discussion with his dad, has already received an unofficial but deeply personal ‘confirmation’. Walt tells his son that he’s ‘a good kid’ and advises him to listen to all sides and then “Do what you think is right” – sound advice for anyone desiring to nurture their own moral compass and for dealing with right and wrong which is hardly ever simply black and white but, more likely, infinite shades of grey.

Phil. 04.09.16. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(The Confirmation will screen at Luna Leederville and SX from September 22nd.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).


GIRL ASLEEP WINS MAJOR PRIZE IN OZFEST FILM FESTIVAL

WONDERFUL NEWS – GIRL ASLEEP:the wonder, terror and giddy confusion of being a 14-year-old adolescent in 1970s Australia WON THE $100 000 PRIZE AT THE CinefestOZ FILM FESTIVAL – screening at Luna Leederville from Sept. 1st.

girlasleepGIRL ASLEEP:

a rude awakening for a troubled teen

AUSTRALIA : 77 mins : M             3.5/5

The screenplay of the Australian, 70’s, coming of age tale, Girl Asleep, was written by Matthew Whittet and adapted from his own play of the same name, with Bethany Whitmore starring in both play and film, as Greta Driscoll, the titular girl.  Under the (debut) direction of Rosemary Myers, the film wears its theatrical origins on its sleeve, creating something of a quirky novelty.

Greta, shy and even timid, on the eve of her fifteenth birthday and recently transferred to a new school, feels uncomfortable about leaving her childhood behind.  She is appalled when her mum, Janet (the scene-stealing Amber McMahon) insists on having a birthday party and wants to invite the whole school.  Dad (a wonderfully retro-looking Matthew Wittet, in short shorts and heavily-rimmed specs) is just as proud but occupies the neutral ground.

Whitmore’s tentative character is in stark contrast to the nerdy Elliott (played with cringe-worthy confidence by Harrison Feldman) who is determined to forge a relationship with her.  They make an appealing and charismatic duo.

Full of genuine delight and some lovely touches, such as the vibrant colours and 4:3 ratio image (reminiscent of the cine-film of the time) Girl Asleep has the charm of an amateur stage-production, with its low-profile cast and makeshift costumes (the characters in the woods sequence look as though they’ve wandered off the set of Play School).

Greta Driscoll is an unassuming but worthy role-model, which most similar-aged girls will readily relate to.  Girl Asleep marks an original and welcome break from the surfeit of overstuffed, CGI-laden offerings on our screens today.

Phil. 15.08.16. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Girl Asleep will screen at Luna Leederville from 1st September.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).

 


FREE STATE OF JONES

FREE STATE OF JONES with Oscar winner, Matthew McConaughey

McCONAUGHEY AND THE EPIC, FREE STATE OF JONES, BLUNTED BY THE WEIGHT OF HISTORY                                                                         

FILM REVIEW : FREE STATE OF JONES

freestateU.SA. : 139 mins : MA 15+  3/5

The American Civil War has been thoroughly explored for narrative sources, so it was something special for writer/director, Gary Ross, to find the relatively unknown story of the Free State of Jones, which presented as not only fresh but as a sensational slice of American history.

Having the Oscar winner for Best Actor (Dallas Buyers Club, 2013) Matthew McConaughey, take the lead role of Newton Knight, was an added bonus.

In 1863, during hostilities, Knight, a Confederate soldier, flees the battle field and takes refuge in a swamp where he encounters a group of Negroes, led by the charismatic Moses (a wonderful Mahershala Ali).  He develops a close relationship with the lovely Rachel (a deeply sensitive performance by Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and eventually, they marry and have children.  Remarkably, Knight builds a small army of men, women and even children who not only repel Confederate soldiers but, once the war is ended, fight for ownership of the food they produce and for racial equality.  The Free State of Jones was not only declared but so also was its secession (although historians dispute that neither was ever formally established).

At about a third of the way into the film, there’s a sudden and brief flash-forward to a Mississippi courtroom in the twentieth century. Further scenes in the same courtroom establish that the case being heard is to determine the legality of the marriage of another Mr. Knight, whose antecedent was none other than Newton Knight of the Civil War era and whose mixed-colour bloodline was responsible for his modern-day demise.

But the Free State of Jones was already a complex storyline, involving the cessation of the Civil War, imposition of repressive taxation laws, emergence of the Klu Klux Klan, Emancipation of slaves and the terms of several U.S. Presidents.  It is legitimate to address the ongoing consequences of historical events but the effect of this added narrative thread is to further dissipate the dramatic momentum of the film and of McConaughey’s performance, both of which were already struggling to rise above the mountain of historical facts.

Gary Ross was obviously mindful of the subject’s potential but, instead of the searing drama that could have been, he has simply taken on more than he (or perhaps any director) could handle, finishing up with a densely-packed history lesson that buckles under its own weight and was, perhaps better suited for Time Warner’s tv channel, HBO, or a documentary format.

However, this epic film is not without its moments.  Slavish attention to detail has given all of the extras the authentic look of the battle-weary and endowed the scenes of conflict with the gut-wrenching clout they deserved.  Ross’ respectful treatment also avoids the usual, cacophonous soundtrack and, in fact, many scenes are played in silence.  There are scenes of great tenderness too, in a cast whose commitment is clearly visible, on screen.

McConaughey gives an emotionally charged performance, with the intelligence and fearless nature that made Knight a rebel and a natural leader.  But the high points are few.

There will be many history buffs who will savour the extraordinary details of this rare piece of American history.  But, for the average film-goer, Free State of Jones will, perhaps, be equally fascinating but less of a memorable experience.

Phil. 19.08.16. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Free State of Jones will screen at Event Cinemas from August 25th.  Check eventcinemas.com.au or the press for details).

                      FIND ALL MY REVIEWS AT malti-media.com


 

 HIGH-RISE

Here’s a film that’s almost nothing to do with entertainment and about as far-removed as you can get from a mind-numbing blockbuster.  J.G. Ballard, the lauded British novelist with more on his mind than a good yarn, is notoriously difficult to film.  High-Rise is a success, but, take note, it’s as repugnant as it is thought-provoking.

HIGH-RISE:

highrisedescent into a dystopian nightmare      

U.K. : 119 mins. : R     4/5

J.G. Ballard has never been an easy writer to transfer to the screen, with only his autobiographical novel, Empire of the Sun, presenting a fairly straightforward task for Steven Spielberg in 1987.  His classic, dystopian 1975 novel, High-Rise, about the social disintegration of a two-thousand strong community in a 40 storey apartment block, was a far greater challenge for director Ben Wheatley and writer, Amy Jump, many having claimed that it was ‘unfilmable’.

The titular monolith of concrete and steel is the brainchild of the brilliant, obsessive architect, named Royal (Jeremy Irons) – an appropriate name as he lives, like a king, at the top of his fully self-sufficient building.

High-Rise begins with a confronting scene of Dr.Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) roasting a dog’s hind leg on a spit, to the incongruous, musical accompaniment of Bach.  The film then throws us back three months, when the first residents begin moving in and paints a picture of neoteric (but now, retro) opulence.

While Laing, the (unmarried) neurosurgeon relishes the isolation, but also the prospect of sharing the company of the attractive single lady above him – Charlotte (Sienna Miller), before long, things start to go awry.  The electric power fails and lifts break down but only on the lower floors where tenants become angry and aggressive towards those further up (to some extent, the high-rise is stratified around an English class concept – lower class at the bottom, upper at the top). Richard Wilder (again, suitably named and played with physical vitriol by Luke Evans) becomes something of a spearhead, waving his cine-camera around, intending to make a documentary on the high-rise.

Matters escalate – rubbish bags collect in empty corridors; cars that were once neatly parked now sport smashed windscreens and look like they’ve endured a tornado; deaths occur and people’s behaviour becomes primaeval and orgiastic.

High-Rise is an allegory, more concerned with metaphor than narrative and with distinct echoes of both Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Burgess’ Clockwork Orange and, as such, needs to be taken seriously but not literally.  For those in the audience who look upon proceedings with disbelief, Wheatley offers the (more tangible and highly provocative) suggestion that Royal may have designed his building as some sort of elaborate social experiment.  In discussion with a group of friends, he remarks that he wanted the high-rise to be ‘a crucible for change’.  Either way, the result is unequivocal – civilised behaviour is little more than a thin social veneer that will break down under duress.

With fine performances from the major players, inventive camera-work (the camera slowly spins at one point, underscoring a world spinning out of control) the film builds an inexorable sense of pervasive but surreptitious anarchy, becoming more violent and graphic – but, if the residents lose control, Wheatley doesn’t.

In one inspired scene, Laing lays on his back, amongst the detritus of his apartment, paint and blood-smeared, while Portishead is heard playing an anguished, funereal version of Abba’s S.O.S., imbuing it with a sense of desperate irony. Just as Kubrick transmogrified the ebullient Singin’ in the Rain to that of a vicious death dance in Clockwork Orange (1971) Wheatley ensures that, for many, the original song will never sound the same again.

High-Rise is a brilliant adaptation – the best of Ballard, to date.  It can be appreciated for its faithfulness to the text, fine performances, particularly from Hiddleston and Irons and for the potency of Wheatley’s vision.  But it’s an unsettling vision, nonetheless, for which audiences will need a receptive mind, stronger than their stomach.

Phil.  14.08.16.  pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(High-Rise will screen at Luna Leederville from August 18th.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).


 

INDIGNANT

This beautifully literate, intelligent and adult film, based on a Philip Roth novel of the same name, should excite the taste buds of those who prefer film of a deeper, more provocative nature.

INDIGNATION:

indignantno need to be indignant about this masterful film

U.S.A. : 110 mins : R                  4/5

Adaptations of the fine literary work of Philip Roth have met with little success on the screen (eg. Portnoy’s Complaint in 1972) so James Schamus, in his debut as writer/director, set himself a tough task in filming Roth’s late novel, Indignation. Thankfully, Schamus was equal to the challenge and has effectively re-created the novel’s conservative world of American academia in the 50’s.

At nineteen, Marcus Messner (a star-making role for Logan Lerman) is a brilliant, Jewish college student in Ohio, at the time of the Korean War, whose enrolment saves him from being drafted, much to the relief of his over-anxious father, Max (a wonderful Danny Burstein).  However, for Marcus, his own relief at escaping his father’s constant surveillance is paramount, as it marks the beginning of his adult life.

On the surface, Indignation is a ‘coming of age’ tale.  Certainly, the virgin Marcus has a sexual awakening (literally, in the hands of the more experienced and ravishing fellow student, Olivia Hutton).  Sarah Gadon is superb as Olivia, playing her with the sexual allure of a siren.  However, even though several people refer to her emotional instability (as the scar on her wrist from an attempted suicide would seem to verify) one of the film’s failings is in the absence of anything in her on-screen behaviour to back this up.  But Indignation is a multi-faceted narrative that yields greater rewards the deeper it is explored.

Finding his two roommates to be intolerable, Marcus requests a change of dormitory – a move which not only brings about an appointment with the concerned and domineering dean, Hawes Caudwell (a pitch-perfect Tracy Letts) but which is to prove a catalyst for his eventual demise.

In his office, the dean intrudes ever deeper into Marcus’ private life, inciting the student’s resentment (especially at being required to attend chapel when he is an unashamed atheist) and whose determination and cogency has the dean remarking “I admire your spirit”.  Discussion rapidly develops into verbal duel, shot through with eloquence, wit and passion and this (fifteen minute) scene is a flawless display of acting and direction which is, deservedly, the glittering centrepiece of the film.

While Linda Emond is simply magnificent as his mother, Esther, expressing both the intense concern and unbridled love for her son (with an implied licence to manipulate him) it is Lerman who is a revelation.  His nuanced portrayal of Messner as a dichotomous mix of doubt and conviction is, at times, mesmerising.

Though, perhaps lacking a little more of the emotional fire, implied in its title, Indignation is impressive in every department, from the intelligent writing and finely-detailed set design (equal to that of last year’s Carol) to Christopher Blauvelt’s assured cinematography.  But, in a cast that is uniformly strong, it is the central performances of Lerman, Gadon and Letts that mark Indignation as one of the year’s best films, to date.

At its foundation, Indignation is about the minor decisions that have major consequences in the trajectory of a person’s life.  It seems highly likely that Schamus’ handling of Philip Roth’s material would bring a smile of approbation to the aging writer’s face.

 

Phil. 09.08.16. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Indignation will screen at Luna’s Paradiso and The Windsor from 18th August.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).

 

FIND ALL MY REVIEWS AT malti-media.com


LOUDER THAN BOMBS

loudertreading carefully round the unexploded

NORWAY : 109 mins : R              4/5

 

Norwegian film-maker, Joachim Trier’s third (but first English-speaking) film, which he also wrote with Eskil Vogt, is about a man and his two sons in a context of tragic loss.  Though set in America, Louder than Bombs is imbued with a European aesthetic and, in lesser hands, could have turned into turgid melodrama.

Instead, Trier has used great restraint in an intelligent and complex contemplation on both the nature of truth and the difficulties of communicating with those you love.

What the teenage son, Conrad, understands to be a tragic car accident that, three years earlier, killed his mother, Isabelle (Isabelle Huppert) a famous war-zone photographer, is referred to as a possible suicide by his father, Gene (Gabriel Byrne) when discussing it with his friend, Dave (David Strathairn).  In the case of the adult son, Jonah (an assured Jesse Eisenberg) who has re-joined the family to help stage a commemorative exhibition of Isabelle’s photographs, his version is different again, giving them nothing on which they can all agree.  It is not that one is right and the others wrong but that truth itself, suggests Trier, is subjective, dependent on personal feelings and is ultimately elusive.

There are many dream sequences and flashbacks in Louder than Bombs, appropriate for its feeling of intangibility and further strengthened by the characters’ failure to communicate.  With a dearth of present-day dialogue, Trier turns not just to flashback but to voice-over to reveal inner thoughts, revealing secrets and information which seem like pieces of an intricate jigsaw puzzle but which, somehow, still don’t fit together.

If communication is difficult, in the case of (the thoroughly unpleasant) Conrad, it is virtually impossible, as he violently rejects attempts at dialogue, taking refuge in a world of video games and virtual reality.  Patience is needed by the audience before, late in the film, he gives us a glimpse of his inner self and achieves something akin to redemption.

Trier is a skilled operator and he gives us some striking, surreal visuals, such as that of Isabelle, seen in a dream, prostrate and levitating in a mass of shrapnel.   But his is a film that doesn’t present answers in neat packages and, just as the characters forge their own version of events, so too will members of the audience take away different interpretations of this fascinating and intimate film.

Above all, it is Huppert’s towering and touching performance that best holds the film together.  Hers is a luminous presence, with a face of infinite expression, capable of saying more in silence than others could do with a torrent of words. At times, she stares into the camera, inviting the audience to ‘read her thoughts’.  But, just as truth proves unattainable, so too does she remain an intriguing and ultimately elusive figure.

As the film ends and they journey in their car to re-unite with Jonah’s wife, it is Huppert’s Isabelle who is the subject of Trier’s final touch of magic in a visual ‘sleight of hand’.  It is a simple but eloquent trick; a final, poignant echo of all that the film has explored.

Phil. 31.07.16.pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Louder than Bombs will screen exclusively at Luna’s Paradiso from Thursday, August 11th.  Check lunapalace.com.au  or the press for details).

FIND ALL MY REVIEWS AT malti-media.com


 

DOWN UNDER

Thanks to Tony and Luna, I attended a preview screening of the controversial, provocative Down Under, a fictionalised black comedy, built around the violent Cronulla race riots of 2005.  This film may be too ‘full on’ for some but it’s the second, powerful Australian film in a week (after Thursday’s Embrace) which is good news.

See you in the dark, Phil.

(P.S. The Hitchcock Festival starts this Thursday).

DOWN UNDER:

downundera powder keg parody

AUSTRALIA : 90 mins : CTC : 4/5

Australian writer/director, Abe Forsythe, took on a tough challenge –to make a (black) comedy based on the infamous Cronulla race riots of 2005, without grazing too many raw nerves.

Forsythe was only too aware of the ultra-sensitivity of his subject but felt that, violence and injury aside, the ignorance and stupidity of the perpetrators were fair game for parody.  In addition and with great sadness, he felt that his film was timely, as the racism that fuelled the conflict seems as strong, today, as it was then.

In a brilliant touch of irony, Forsythe kicks his film off with some real-life footage of the ugly riots that happened around Christmas time, but plays it to the musical accompaniment of We Wish you a Merry Christmas and immediately, the balance between violence and humour is set.  Without taking sides and without pontificating, Forsythe takes a car-load of young people from either side (but who are all old enough to know better) and lets their behaviour tell its own story.

The Aussie car contains a group of guys who are foul-mouthed, quick-tempered and bigoted.   Blockbuster video shop employee and bong smoker, Shit-Stick (a charismatic Alexander England) is gormless enough to not really know what it’s all about but goes along for the ride, anyway.

The other car has a group of non-Caucasians, dead set to reclaim the beach that the Australians have called their own.  The presence of Ibrahim (Michael Denka from Here Come the Habibs) who is a father of one of the lads (and who is just as mindlessly aggressive) makes the (homophobic) point even more forcibly.

There are some laugh-out-loud moments, as Forsythe cranks up the pace, moving from one group to the other and making clever use of the Aussies’ pride in the ‘national hero’, Ned Kelly, who ‘would never stand for foreigners in the country’, in spite of the fact that he was an Irish immigrant himself.

It is Evan (Chris Bunton) a Down’s Syndrome sufferer, who makes the Ned Kelly observation but, in spite of speaking with the voice of an innocent, it is unfortunate that Forsythe introduced this character at all, for Evan’s affliction puts him off-limits for either ridicule or manipulation (and he is subjected to both).  At this point, Forsythe goes perilously close to crossing the line (and those who think he has, may well walk away from the film).

Evan aside, the director juggles the two balls of humour and drama well but in the final minutes (and somewhat inevitably) ditches the humour and unleashes raw, unbridled violence.  This last act is hard to stomach and will, undoubtedly, make some people uncomfortable.

But Down Under does not suggest that the majority of Australians are racially prejudiced.  It is, however, a factor of some significance and, despite the ‘official’ pride in the country’s multiculturalism and to the chagrin of those who would protect an international image of peace and harmony, at all costs, the problems should be explored, rather than denied that they exist.

Down Under is skilfully crafted and sports uniformly solid performances and, hopefully, Forsythe will get people talking about the problem.  Greater understanding and compassion may create a resolve to prevent the Cronulla riots from being repeated but it’s unlikely to happen in a void of silence.  That’s an objective that would seem to justify a few shocks to our sensibilities.

 

Phil. 24.07.16. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Down Under will screen at Luna Leederville from August 11th.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).


 

EMBRACE

 

psssssssssssssssssssst! The Scandinavian Film Festival started yesterday!

************************************

Occasionally, a film comes along that could not just change your mind but change your life.  Such is the documentary, Embrace.

Luna Leederville is having a special screening on July 26th and the director, Taryn Brumfitt (with her best-selling book) will be there to answer questions after the screening.  This film belongs on the ‘must see’ list, not only for the women but for the men who have beautiful women in their life – wife, partner, lover, daughter, etc.

See you in the dark, Phil.

GIVE THIS DOCO. 

A WARM EMBRACE

FILM RembraceEVIEW : EMBRACE : MA : 90 mins :  AUSTRALIA          5/5

It’s hard not to admire the commitment and determination of Australian female body image crusader, Taryn Brumfitt, in raising thousands of dollars through an internet campaign (called Kickstart) and overcoming innumerable obstacles to bring Embrace, the documentary she wrote and directed, to the screen.

It all began in 2013 when Taryn posted ‘Before and After’ pictures on social media, with the result that one hundreembrace2d million people, worldwide, got to see them.  Taryn, however, cleverly reversed the message of the images – the before shot showed a trim, bikini-clad model strutting the stage, while the after (the birth of three kids) shot has Taryn with a much fuller figure, wearing nothing but a smile.  A flood of responses (both negative and positive) verified that Taryn Brumfitt had successfully launched her campaign to challenge and change society’s obsession with the ‘perfect female body shape’.

Of greatest concern to Taryn was the fact that most women hated their body, even those who were thin and attractive and, to underscore her message, the film is peppered with sobering, on-screen statistics –

90% of all anorexics are women; fashion designers reluctantly produce clothes for the bigger figure but avoid giving them publicity; four million cosmetic surgical procedures are performed in the U.S. every year…

As one woman put it, she felt that she was ‘drowning in a sea of media’ which was telling her not only that her body was ugly but that her physical appearance was the determinant of her worth as a person.

As a film maker, Brumfitt shows remarkable skill in using a wide range of interviews, such as the one of herself, meeting with a cosmetic surgeon (and pretending to be a bona fide client) and being told, coldly and clinically, how he could re-shape her nipples and other bits of her body.  Others have tragic tales to tell, such as Turia Pitt who suffered massive scarring of her face and body when caught in a bush fire and, has bravely re-built her life.  As she says, it was her body that was disfigured but her inner self remained unchanged.  Almost unbelievably, she refers to the event as ‘the best thing that could have happened’ in her life.

In spite of heartache and tears, Embrace is predominantly upbeat.  It is spiced with foot-tapping music and robust, self-deprecating humour – one hilarious scene shows a big group of guys and girls skinny dipping in Sydney Harbour to celebrate their physical diversity.  Another feather in the director’s cap is that she refuses to target men (rather than the media) as the villains and so, avoids alienating half her audience.

This documentary should not only play to sell-out cinema audiences but find its way into schools and colleges. Sadly, this won’t happen because it has been slapped with an MA (15+) rating which puts it off-limits to the very age group that needs it most – the next generation of women (the rating is based on still images of women’s vaginas – the point being that they are all different, as are the rest of their bodies).

This is wonderfully skilled film-making and, although desperately serious, is one which, above all, is tremendously entertaining.  Taryn Brumfitt has a fire in her belly and an extraordinary capacity to laugh at herself and at the demons that once gave her such pain.  In fact, Embrace almost bursts its seams with a vibrant and infectious enthusiasm which audiences will find hard to resist.

Phil. 22.07.16. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

Taryn will be present at a special QandA screening on July 26th at Luna Leederville and will be available to sign her best-selling book EMBRACE:My story from body loather to body lover. (Embrace will screen at Luna Leederville and Luna SX from August 4th.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).

                               FIND ALL MY REVIEWS AT malti-media.com


 

A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING

kinghollow, indeed, and with little magic

U.S.A. : 98mins : R *(see below)        3/5

In A Hologram for the King, German Writer/Director, Tom Tykwer (best known for Run, Lola, Run, 1998) has adapted Dave Eggars’ successful novel of the same name and in spite of Tom Hanks’ engaging performance, has created a film that is distinctly odd.

Alan Clay (Hanks) is a middle-aged I.T. businessman who is sent by his company, to sell a holographic communications system to the king of Saudi Arabia.  He has a daughter, Kitty (Tracey Fairaway) whose college fees he can’t afford and a broken marriage and this trip represents a last-ditch attempt to save his failing career.  He also has a lump on his back, the size of a golf ball, which could be cancerous.

Arriving in the middle of the desert, he finds a tent set up for his business transactions for, although there are plans to build a city of over a million residents on the site, at this point, there are only the basics.  Finding that the air-con. doesn’t work and that there’s no wi-fi signal, his sense of frustration is exacerbated when the king is nowhere to be found.  Even his representative proves as elusive as a desert mouse, promising faithfully to show up but never doing so.

The audience may well expect that it is this intangibility, itself, which may become the major focal point of Tykwer’s film (ie. the constant waiting has the flavour of Samuel Beckett about it) but this remains nothing more than a teasing prospect.

Clay’s mid-life predicament is much like that of Michael Stone in Kaufman’s Anomalisa (2015) but, whereas that film developed the theme in terms of an existential crisis, Tykwer seems content to frame its manifestations as little more than minor irritations.  In addition, whereas Stone dug himself an ever-deeper hole, A Hologram for the King offers a redemptive (but unlikely) ending in the form of both a loving relationship and a new beginning in life.

But, with none of the other narrative lines being developed, the audience is left wondering what the point of Tykwer’s film is, other than some mildly diverting, cultural interchange.

Alexander Black turns in an assured, slightly mischievous performance as Clay’s genial driver/comic relief sidekick, Yousef, who takes delight in explaining the pitfalls of inappropriate social behaviour and Sarita Choudhury is enchanting as Clay’s Arabian love interest.

Tom Hanks’ performance is, as usual, solid and appealing as he registers a fair degree of surprise (and perplexity) at the vastly different way of life he encounters but, for the most part, the role of Alan Clay doesn’t throw him too much of a challenge.

Phil.  20.07.16.

(A Hologram for the King will screen, exclusively, at Luna Leederville from Thursday, 28th July.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).

* I can see no reason for the R rating.  There’s some low-key love-making (not sex), no violence and a minor drug reference.

FIND ALL MY REVIEWS AT malti-media.com


 

Love and Friendship.

The legion of fans of Jane Austen material will relish the prospect of seeing this, previously unfilmed tale from the great writer.

This is a ton of fun and, fear not, Love and Friendship, though boisterous, is a thoroughly affectionate interpretation.

See you in the dark, Phil.

LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP:

love and friendshipa joyful take on Jane Austen                        4/5

IRELAND/U.S.A./FRANCE/NETHERLANDS : 94 mins : PG

 

Although based on Jane Austen’s lesser-known novel, Lady Susan, the historical comedy, Love and Friendship, directed and written by Whit Stillman, borrowed its title from another of her early tales.  Amongst a motley mob of the aristocracy, the strong-willed, flirtatious (but recently bereaved and now cash-strapped) Lady Susan (an irresistible Kate Beckinsale) like a female spider at the centre of a social web, plots and gossips – she’s out to snare a second husband (and his money, to boot).

From the opening moments of Love and Friendship, when director, Stillman, introduces each main character with a picture and a few witty, descriptive, on-screen words, we know that we are in for a good time.  It’s almost as if he’s winking at the audience and nudging them to join him in a light-hearted romp through the nineteenth-century, English countryside of fine costumes, grand houses and strict social etiquette. But the astute Stillman knows that beneath the veneer of genteel, aristocratic behaviour, the real driving forces are those of money, sex and social status.

Lady Susan has created quite a stir and developed a risqué reputation as one of the most flirtatious ladies in society and, alarm bells ring as she heads toward her brother-in-law’s grand estate to solicit the affections of the handsome, eligible Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel).  Samuel looks splendid in period costume and his stolid performance makes an effective contrast to the prevalence of colourful and (wonderfully) overblown characters.  But, Lady Susan is also intent on priming Sir James Martin (a hilarious Tom Bennett) as a likely partner for her wayward daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark).

Although having no appeal for Frederica, Bennett’s Martin steals every scene he’s in with his effervescent silliness.

But this is Beckinsale’s film (in one of her strongest performances) and she dominates with radiance, assurance and a total lack of shame.  Her capricious (but non-malicious) machinations, however, don’t go according to plan and, in fact, the end result is so outrageous that most will never see it coming.

Love and Friendship is an utter delight, with the whole cast having a wonderful time and it is clear that, for Stillman, this was a joyful film to make and which, for once (at ninety-four minutes) is over far too soon.  With his sparkling wit and gentle humour he has given one of the most light-hearted (yet revealing) entertaining and mischievous interpretations of Jane Austen ever to appear on screen.

It is hard to imagine that the great lady author would have taken offence.

Phil.  15.07.16. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Love and Friendship will screen at Luna’s The Windsor, Paradiso and Luna SX from July 21st.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).

                                         FIND ALL MY REVIEWS AT malti-media.com


 

OUR KIND OF TRAITOR

our kind a touch of Hitchcock in a thriller for the grown-ups

U.K. : 107mins : MA                                                                     3.5/5

The eighty-five year old, master spy writer, John Le Carre (that most British of writers with an assumed, foreign name) is famed for creating a believable world of sleuthing. Screen adaptations have been, largely, faithful to the text, from the 1965 film, The Spy Who Came in >From the Cold through to the more recent, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy in 2011 and A Most Wanted Man in 2014.  Our Kind of Traitor (adapted from Le Carre’s 2010 book of the same name) is the latest to make it to the screen.  Like its predecessors, it also takes few liberties with the book but then, with Le Carre listed as one of the executive producers, this seemed a fair bet from the start.

This time, Le Carre pulls a trick that Hitchcock worked so well (The Man Who Knew too Much, 1934, North by Northwest, 1959) by entangling an innocent couple holidaying in Morroco, in the decidedly dirty and dangerous business of money-laundering.  Running, by chance, into Dima, a larger-than-life, Russian businessman (Stellan Skarsgard, in a standout performance) it is soon realised that (in a desperate bid to protect his young children) he is trying to keep the Soviet mafia off his back by trading information with the Brits.

However, if Hitchcock succeeded, Le Carre; film director, Susanna White and the scriptwriter, Hossein Amini, are slightly less convincing.  Ewan McGregor is Perry, a university lecturer who (in this age when travellers are increasingly wary of trusting strangers) surprisingly agrees to help Dima deliver a thumbdrive of incriminating information to MI6.

McGregor (in a rather lacklustre role and performance) questions his own credibility (“What am I doing here?”).  Later, when asking Dima why he was chosen, gets the answer “I was lucky enough to pick the only man crazy enough to help me.” – substitute ‘naive’ for ‘crazy’ and it seems a fair comment.

If McGregor pales, in comparison to the robust, powerful Skarsgard, Naomie Harris makes even less of an impression, as his wife, Gail Perkins (she retains her own name on account of her being a successful lawyer).

However, once the initial premise is dispensed with, Our Kind of Traitor settles down to being a thoroughly entertaining, tension-packed thriller which skips around some scenic European locations and shows intelligence and restraint (the soundtrack, too, is coercive rather than ear-splitting).  Yes, there’s gunfire and violence (Dima is savagely beaten by one of the gang that is chasing him and there’s a particularly nasty, but mercifully brief, rape scene) but it is never excessive or unbelievable.  Film-director, Susanna White, moves the fairly straightforward plot along with skill and pace. And there is some deft cinematography, using a myriad of reflections and lens distortions to ramp up the tension.

Only slightly less dominant than Skarsgard is Damian Lewis who relishes the role of Hector, the British intelligence officer, looking every bit the part, with a pair of heavily-framed glasses and a wry, knowing and authoritative grin that seems never to leave his face.  When he tells Perry not to interfere because “This is nothing to do with you.” he’s not far from the truth.

Our Kind of Traitor is powered by the full-throttle performances of Skarsgard and Lewis in a plot that ends in a deliciously satisfying twist.  It may not belong in the top drawer, but this is a film that most audiences will find irresistible.

Phil 12.07.16. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Our Kind of Traitor will screen at Luna’s Paradiso and The Windsor from July 14th.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).


 

SCANDINAVIAN FILM FESTIVAL

scandinaviaFILM REVIEW: LAND OF MINE

finding compassion in a war-torn landscape

DENMARK : MA : 100 mins.                                                   4.5/5

The neat title of writer/director, Martin Zandvliet’s Danish film is not only an expression of patriotism (‘my land’) but also refers to the many thousands of unexploded landmines on the Danish coast, dropped by the Germans in WW11.  In the plethora of films covering the war, this particular episode has been overlooked, so Land of Mine has a freshness about it, apart from being a skilled and powerful military thriller which has already picked up some significant awards.

At the close of the war, fourteen German POW’s were held by the Danish allies on the west coast of their country and forced to dig up the mines with their bare hands.  In charge of the unit, based at an isolated farm behind the beach, Sergeant Rasmussen (Roland Moller) has the task of training these hopelessly ill-equipped youngsters in their deadly task.  The local Danes express open hatred for the army that has occupied their country for the last five years and Rasmussen is determined to treat his charges with the same harshness.

But these soldiers are really no more than boys and so there is a certain inevitability about the narrative arc which sees the sergeant gradually soften his approach.  At first he refuses to show mercy (one of the soldiers becomes seriously ill but is forced back to work).  He drives the soldiers to work for days without food but, by degrees, he begins to offer words of encouragement and consolation and even enjoys a game of soccer with them.  In effect, he becomes something of a surrogate father to the boys, especially in the wake of terrible accidents when several of the bombs explode with tragic consequences.

Nothing can prevent the tension from building to a heart-stopping pitch, as the soldiers, spread-eagled on the sand, probe gingerly with sticks, expecting at any moment to be blown apart.

The young actors are all fine, with Leon Seidel quite moving as the tragic Wilhelm but Moller’s performance, as the sergeant, is simply stunning.  His inner conflict is played with complete conviction, as he begins to see the soldiers as fellow human beings, rather than the hated enemy.  And, even he is answerable to his own superiors and, in turn, is on the receiving end of their intransigence (especially that of Lieutenant Ebbe, played with stony resolve by Mikkel Folsgaard).

Karin (Laura Bro) is the woman who supplies food for the soldiers from her farm.  But, in this male-dominated cast, packed with characters of great emotional and psychological depth, it falls to the only other female, Karin’s young daughter (along with Emil Belton as the ill-fated Ernst) to play out the climax of the film.  This one scene – daring and powerful (note the director’s imperious use of silence) is a breathtaking display of skilled scriptwriting and direction that most of the audience will find hard to forget.

Land of Mine, with its harsh, unrelenting realism, is a tough film to watch.

The landscape itself, of (fittingly) austere and windswept beaches, is superbly photographed by Camilla Knudsen (the director’s wife) using a delicate, minimalist palette of pale greens and blues under whitewashed skies.

The premise, of combatants finding humanity in their antagonists, is not a new one with, perhaps the most distinguished example being Jean Renoir’s masterful anti-war film, The Grand Illusion (1937).  But Land of Mine is a fine achievement and it will take its place in the upper echelon of films of this genre.  It is a graphic reminder that, along with the waste of young lives, the most significant casualties in warfare are the loss of those ineffable qualities of compassion and empathy that define what it means to be human.

Phil 05.07.16.  pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Land of Mine will screen at Cinema Paradiso on Sunday, 24th July, Mon.25th and Sat.30th.  Please check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).

FIND ALL MY REVIEWS AT malti-media.com

SCANDINAVIAN FILM FESTIVAL MEDIA LAUNCH : LAND OF MINE : PARADISO : JULY 4TH send out on July 2.

The Festival opens to the public on July 21st, I.  Details of the film are given below and the full programme is available by copying and pasting the address below.

LAND OF MINE

Genre: Drama/Thriller

Running Time: 101 minutes

Country: Denmark

Director: Martin Zandvliet

Cast: Roland Moller, Louis Hofmann, Joel Basman, Emil Belton, Oskar Belton

Based on extraordinary true events, writer/director Martin Zandvliet’s stunning, multi award-winning new film is a nail-bitingly tense thriller about a group of young German prisoners of war in Denmark in the immediate aftermath of WWII, which examines both the repercussions of retribution and the value of forgiveness. 

Find out more and watch the trailer online @ http://www.scandinavianfilmfestival.com.au/films/land-of-mine

Full Programme 

http://www.scandinavianfilmfestival.com/sessions/perth

 


 

SEPTEMBERS OF SHIRAZ

Thanks to Luna, I attended a pre-screening of Septembers of Shiraz at the Windsor last Thursday.

This film has been widely panned and my review is in sync.  The Guardian gave it 1/5 and Roger Ebert gave it half a star.  It has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 14% (which I encourage everyone to have a look at, as it gives a cross-section of critical responses).

Now, it’s time for you to decide.  If you see the film and disagree, please get back to me – I welcome any feedback, positive or negative.  I know of one person, for example, who saw the film and thought it was great.

See you in the dark, Phil.

Pssssssssssssssst!  Don’t forget that the Revelation Film Festival opens to the public this Thursday – exciting!

SEPTEMBERS OF SHIRAZ:

Septfails to intoxicate U.S.A. : 110 mins : PG-13   2/5

There’s a lot of home-grown content in Septembers of Shiraz, with both the director, Wayne Blair and the cinematographer, Warwick Thornton (director of Samson and Delilah, 2009) coming from Australia.  Unfortunately, this adaptation of Dalia Sofer’s highly–regarded book of the same name (scripted by Hanna Weg) is no credit to Australia or any of the other nations involved in the production.

It is Tehran in 1979 and the country is in the chaos of a bloody revolution.    Oscar winner, Adrien Brody (The Pianist, 2002) is Isaac Amin, an affluent Jewish businessman, dealing in precious stones.  He has a lovely house where he lives with his wife, Farnez (the Oscar nominated Salma Hayek) and children.

Suddenly, two armed men burst into Isaac’s office and tell him he’s under arrest.  All attempts to elicit answers fall on deaf ears and this means that neither Isaac (nor the audience) is provided with a contextual basis for understanding the events that follow.  It appears that they believe Isaac to have information about or contact with anti-revolutionaries (the answer is no to both questions) but the grounds for such assumptions are never disclosed or specified.  He is incarcerated in a dark and dingy cell and tortured mercilessly (Brody gives a fine performance in the pain and suffering department but to what effect?)  From this point on, the film simply revolves around Isaac.  Even though others have been similarly imprisoned (sounds of torture are heard and even gunshots) there is no conversation between prisoners which would have helped to shed some light on proceedings.

Neither do we learn much from his wife, shown at home and desperate to know what’s happened to her husband.  From the film’s point of view, the situation is simply one of a missing person, with no greater significance than the sort of story that periodically appears on the nightly news broadcast.

Wayne Blair (who directed the hit film, The Sapphires) seems to be oblivious of the shortcomings of his direction here, seemingly content to show off the talent of his stars, Brody and Hayek, whose performances are impressive but, in the absence of some supporting context, are rendered vacuous and melodramatic.  There is little attempt to get inside the characters’ heads, to explore their confusions and fears, in the same way as the Islamist interrogators are depicted in clichéd, two-dimensional terms and classed simply as ‘baddies’.

On the credit side, it would be remiss to overlook the finely nuanced performance from Shohreh Aghdashloo as Habibeh, the family’s long-time factotum and the very picture of divided loyalty.  With great conviction, she displays the temptation of siding with the revolutionaries (as her son so stridently urges her to do) but is unable to just discard her commitment to the family and particularly, Farnez, who she considers a friend as well as her employer.

Undoubtedly the episode of insurgency at the core of the film was real and traumatic for those involved, just as it must be the case that the political and social aspects that fueled it were both turgid and complex.  But Blair (and the writer, Weg) summarily ignore such factors, severing the militants’ motivation from any notions of high-minded idealism and reducing their behaviour to little more than acts of delinquency or petty criminality.

Septembers of Shiraz, presumably, set out to publicise this little known but significant period in Iran’s history but the film has, inadvertently, achieved a counter-productive result.  This production has robbed it of its dramatic impact and the director, Blair, in giving his film the full-blown Hollywood treatment, has turned a tragic and turbulent event into something akin to a daytime soap opera.  Like any mediocre soap opera, it is eminently forgettable.

Phil.  03.07.16.  pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Septembers of Shiraz will screen at Luna’s Windsor from July 7th.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).

FIND ALL MY REVIEWS AT malti-media.com


 

SING STREET

Any aspiring muso’s out there?  You’ll get a great kick out of John Carney’s new film about some youngsters who reach for the stars with their high school band (any fans of Duran Duran, the Jam or the Cure may rate this as a must-see).  But, this big-hearted, funny, exciting and moving film should give everyone a good time, with an extra ingredient of nostalgia if you were 20-ish in the eighties.

See you in the dark, Phil.

Pssssssssssst! don’t forget – REVELATION starts next Thursday.

singa double-sided hit of adolescent love and music

IRELAND : M : 105 mins.:  4/5

 Irish writer/director, John Carney, may not be the best-known name in the business but he has already made his mark with two fine films about music-making – Once (2007) and Begin Again (2013).  Now, with Sing Street, he tackles the same subject, featuring some Irish youngsters who form the eponymous band – and melds it with a budding romance/coming-of-age tale.

Set in Dublin, in 1985, there’s a strong autobiographical element in Sing Street.  Conor/Cosmo, the appealing fifteen year-old protagonist (played by the newcomer, Ferdia Peelo) attends a school of the same name as the title of the film (after his parents take him out of his private school to cut down their costs).  But the name is a corruption of Synge Street, which is not only a real Christian Brothers School but the one which Carney attended himself.

Shortly after his arrival at the CBS, Conor is attracted to a girl watching from across the road.  Raphina (Lucy Boynton) is an orphaned sixteen year-old (her heavy make-up putting a couple of years on her tender face).  Finding the courage to talk to her, he concocts a story about him being in a band and needing her to star in the promotional video they are shooting but Raphina is only half convinced.  After a swift recruitment drive among his fellow students to make his story true, Sing Street, the band, is formed.

Although a rather shaky premise, it’s not the craziest idea in the world for impressing a girl, given that Conor (played by Peelo with a touch of swagger and a bundle of charm) really does have musical aspirations and that both of them are seriously good-looking. But more than this, the two young leads generate an irresistible, heart-tugging chemistry that makes the more whimsical elements of Carney’s film easier to believe.

Carney’s previous films have canvassed the music-making process more effectively than any others in recent memory and Sing Street is no exception.  Cosmo (as Conor is known to his band mates) and the multi-instrumentalist, Eamon (an assured Mark McKenna) sit side by side, strumming guitars and juggling words, struggling with the birth of their first song, The Riddle of the Model (inspired by Raphina who claims to be a model and written by Carney himself).  It’s fascinating to see how all the songs in the film evolve from real events, so that the lyrics have a narrative power of their own, in addition to that of the dialogue and the visuals (this reaches a sublime climax in the final song at the end-of-term disco where they deliver a stinging parody of the villainous teacher, Brother Baxter).

The music itself is thumpingly good and, again, the sheer professionalism of the performances stretches credibility somewhat but, on the plus side, gives a dynamic fillip to budding garage bands everywhere.

Carney took a huge risk with the cute ‘puppy-love’ aspect of Sing Street but has pulled it off and, if the bond between the two young leads was not enough to tug at the heart-strings, that between Conor and his pot-smoking, music-addicted older brother, Brendan (an endearing performance from Jack Reyn) surely is.  Articulate, wise but wayward (he’s dropped out of college and generally made a mess of his life) Brendan loves his younger brother to bits.  Again, Carney seems to be making an intensely personal statement, especially when the film ends with an on-screen dedication, which reads ‘for brothers everywhere’.

Sing Street is a skilled and joyful wonder (witness the expertise he brings to the scene of the two youngsters’ first kiss).  In their struggle into adulthood, Carney treats Cosmo and Raphina with affection and sympathy, moving smoothly from tears to laughter and from the ridiculous to the poignant, for the eternal coming- of- age is a story that is one of endless fascination.

Phil.  30.06.16.  pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Sing Street will screen at Cinema Paradiso and Luna SX from July 14th.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).


 

GOLDSTONE

Thanks to Tony and Luna, I attended a media screening of Goldstone, Ivan Sen’s follow up to his impressive Mystery Road.  Jay Swan is a fascinating character, played impeccably by Aaron Pederson and it was no surprise to find him getting a second outing.

Goldstone seems set to become an Australian Classic, so I’ve looked at it in greater detail than usual.

See you in the dark, Phil.

goldstone

SEN STRIKES GOLD IN THIS  AUSSIE NOIR MASTERPIECE                                 

FILM REVIEW : GOLDSTONE    Ivan Sen travels further along the Mystery Road  AUSTRALIA : 110 mins : M :   5/5

In Goldstone, written and directed by Ivan Sen, Aaron Pederson reprises the role of Jay Swan, an outback, indigenous detective, that he played with such charisma in Sen’s accomplished Mystery Road (2013).

But Goldstone is not a sequel.  Similar in tone, with a dark, brooding sense of noir, it’s built on the classic (but revisionist) western template with the lugubrious, scruffy-looking Swan as unlikely a hero as was the sort of solitary drifter played by Clint Eastwood in films such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966).  Today, the setting is outback Australia and the horse has been replaced with a 4WD utility.  However, while Eastwood’s characters were morally ambiguous, Swan is not.  Though flawed, Swan is simply incorruptible, giving him a bona fide claim to heroic status.

Swan is on the trail of a missing person but, as soon as he drives into the small mining camp of (the fictitious) Goldstone (actually constructed in Middleton, Queensland, population 3, west of Winton where Mystery Road was filmed) he is arrested for drink driving by Josh (Alex Russell) the young, local cop.  Shortly after, his caravan (with him inside it) is shot full of holes by a couple of locals who obviously don’t want him snooping around. And, in case you missed the film’s western analogy, Johnny, in a subsequent encounter, tells Swan to “Get on your horse and ride outta here.”  Eschewing this advice, it isn’t long before he uncovers a web of intrigue and corruption.

Though Josh wears the official badge, the real lawman is the powerful boss of the mining company, Johnny (David Wenham).  In a wonderfully unpleasant performance from Wenham, as the silver-tongued, hypocritical and almost amoral Johnny, he remarks (as some sort of justification for breaking the law) “We keep the country in business.”  But this is business of the dirtiest kind as everyone is on the take; everyone is prepared to turn a blind eye – from the lady Mayor (the ever-fine Jacki Weaver) wearing a perpetual smile as a mask for her rampant avarice and cynicism, to Tommy (Tom E.Lewis) the Aboriginal Leader who has no scruples about giving up some of his own people’s land for an expansion programme that will see even greater devastation of the landscape but will fill his pockets with back-handers from the company.

In stark contrast to the character of Tommy is that of the Aboriginal elder, Jimmy (a brief but powerful appearance from Gulpilil) who refuses to sell his soul at any price and whose integrity brings about his demise.

Just as Swan’s wholesome morality is an important element, so too is Jimmy’s and both contribute to the emotional and psychological depth of Goldstone – qualities which elevate it far above lesser, action-oriented films, for it resonates with the very essence of the ‘Australian Condition’ with its fundamental clash of White and Aboriginal cultures and their disparate value systems.  There are two wondrous scenes, involving ancient rock-art, painted on the walls of the cliffs that tower above the river below, where a traditional canoe carries a wide-eyed Swan.  Not a word is spoken but the sense of timeless mysticism is almost palpable and the message is loud and clear.

Pederson is riveting as the flawed and troubled Swan, while Alex Russell’s clean-cut Josh, though less powerful a performance (but no less assured) is a perfect foil to Swan.  The gradual forging of their collaboration, entailing a degree of soul-searching on the part of the white lawman, is engrossing to watch.

With superb cinematography (the outback colours rival the saturation and impact of any to be seen in a tourist brochure) clever use of aerial shots (portraying the immensity of the landscape) and assured choreography, Goldstone builds to its inevitable bloody shoot-out (brilliantly staged and with an original, even humorous element).  But, by the time the first bullet is fired, it has behind it, all the impact of the film’s immense psychological depth and narrative resonance.

Jay Swan is an iconic figure in Australian film and Goldstone is a powerful, intelligent showcase.  It’s a film that will thrill in the short term but will have audiences mulling over its weightier matters long after it has ended.

Phil. 26.06.16.  pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Goldstone screens at Luna from July 7th.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details).

Last word: One of the three residents of Middleton, Mr Cain, the publican, said that “if John Wayne knew this country was here, he would come back and make one more movie, just for old time’s sake.”

FIND ALL MY REVIEWS AT malti-media.com


MUSTANG

You know that one of my gripes is that we don’t get to see successful, foreign films until ages after their release.  So, at last, here comes Mustang, one of the hot favourites for Best Foreign Film Oscar for last year. Most will be shocked to see how girls are treated in Turkey. The director, Deniz Erguven, was threatened and her film was denounced, making her a virtual exile from her own country.  It’s a desperately fine film that will rattle your cage.  It got me somewhat hot under the collar with indignation.

Thanks to Luna and Cinema Paradiso for having me along to the media screening on Monday night.

See you in the dark, Phil.

MUSTANG:

mustangno horses here – just broken dreams

Turkey/France/Germany : PG-13 : 97 mins                                      4.5/5

Deniz Gamze Erguven’s debut film as director and co-writer (along with Alice Winocour) is set in a remote town in Turkey and features five orphaned sisters who have lived with their grandmother and uncle for the last ten years.  This striking and deeply disturbing film has met with universal acclaim, winning many awards and was nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar.

Traditionally, Turkey is deeply patriarchal and Mustang paints a chilling picture of female repression.  The austere grandmother (played superbly by Nihal Koldas) still expects women’s marriages to be arranged by the parents, with love never coming into the equation.  “You will grow to love your husband” she tells the girls, “just as I did with my husband”.

Both the grandmother and the uncle, Erol (also a powerful performance from Ayberk Pekcan) fly into a rage when hearing that the girls have been seen playing with a group of boys.  Pre-marital sex would adversely affect the girls’ chances of marriage.  These attitudes are not only draconian but seem like a monumental throwback to the beliefs and customs of the Middle Ages (the parents of both newly-weds expect to be shown the bloodied sheet after the wedding night, as proof of the bride’s virginity).

In order to safeguard the family’s good name, the adults respond violently toward the girls, Erol even going so far as to transform their bedroom into a virtual prison, complete with iron bars over the windows.

Lale (Gunes Sensoy) is the main protagonist and the reason for the film’s title – a metaphor for her impish, feisty nature that provides the narrative’s driving force.  Sensoy is a delight but Erguven has skilfully extracted entirely natural performances from all five non-professional actors.  Her direction is devoid of sentiment or overt manipulation while music (mainly written by Warren Ellis but with distinguished contributions from Nick Cave) is used sparingly and effectively.

mustang2
The scenes where the girls are together in their bedroom have a wonderful sense of spontaneity, providing the most dramatic contrast and are the only times that they are really happy.  There would hardly be a parent in the audience who would not relate and warm to these joyful shows of girlish ebullience.  And it is only the audience that gets to see them -the two adults are decisively excluded.

Mustang is not without flaws.  Some loss of continuity leaves the audience wondering.  But these are minor and the film richly deserves the acclaim it’s received.  Mustang is a shocking but important social statement that marks the arrival of a vibrant new voice in Turkish cinema.

To top it all, Erguven rounds her film by bringing us full circle to its beginning.  Mustang ends with a scene that delivers a hammer-blow to the heart.  It is one that most members of the audience are unlikely to forget.

Phil. 14.06.16.  pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Mustang will screen at Cinema Paradiso from June 23rd.  Check the press or lunapalace.com.au for details).

                              FIND ALL MY REVIEWS AT malti-media.com


QUEEN OF THE DESERT

Thanks to Tony of Luna and to the Windsor, I attended a media screening of Queen of the Desert, directed by the acclaimed Werner Herzog and starring our very own Queen of the Screen, Nicole Kidman.  The extraordinary woman who is the subject of the film is referred to as a female Lawrence of Arabia.  I hadn’t even heard of her.  Now, you too can find out all about her.

See you in the dark, Phil.

QUEEN OF THE DESERT:little life in this desert

queen128mins : USA :  M :   2.5/5

It is something of a revelation to find that, at the same time that T.E. Lawrence was forging his iconic status, in the early years of the twentieth century, there really was a female Lawrence of Arabia by the name of Gertrude Bell, further spiced by the fact that the two actually became acquainted.

This legendary (but obscure) woman (with a British aristocratic background) like Lawrence, was similarly impassioned by the plight of the Bedouin tribes of the Arabian Desert and her accomplishments as an explorer, archaeologist and political official (and, in particular, her part in shaping what is now known as the Middle East and breaking the dominance of the former Ottoman Empire) were hardly less momentous than those of her famed male counterpart.

For acclaimed film-maker, Werner Herzog, the life of Gertrude Bell was singular enough to lure him back to direct Queen of the Desert, his first feature film, after six years of making documentaries.  However, if the exploits of his heroine are nothing short of inspirational, his film, sadly, is not.

This is not the fault of the hugely skilled Nicole Kidman who, with her usual transformative power of almost a shape-shifter, becomes Gertrude Bell with all her intelligence, restlessness and disdain for convention, especially in relation to societal expectations of women.  However, she cannot compensate for the shortcomings of the script.

The fault is with Herzog, both as writer and director.  His script, though written with eloquence and even passages of poetic beauty (and delivered, in part, by Kidman in breathy, hushed voice-over) lacks impact and drama as well as psychological depth or development of the main character.  His treatment of this totally unconventional woman is perversely and rigidly conventional, with a linear narrative that spans Bell’s life from her early twenties to her death in Iraq in 1926.  But, like the camel train that plods relentlessly across the endless dunes, his direction is, similarly, one-paced and unimaginative.

Paradoxically, though utterly unlike Peter O’Toole’s iconic Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia, 1962) it is Robert Pattinson’s portrayal of the same man who is one of the few in the cast that feels like a real flesh and blood person.  Damian Lewis also turns in a commendable performance as the British officer, Charles Doughty-Willie, unhappily locked in a loveless marriage.  His starry-eyed but ill-fated relationship with Bell adds to her own tragic and continuous failure to secure an enduring love (her first great love was for Henry Cadogan, played by James Franco but who was killed in what was alleged to be an accident).  But, this again underscores a puzzling decision by Herzog.  Why does he choose to put such emphasis on the love aspect of her life and to treat the tale of this dynamic woman as if it were some insipid romance novel?

Queen of the Desert looks magnificent, with some beautifully photographed desert landscapes (by Peter Zeitlinger) but it’s hard to believe that this bland affair was made by the same film-maker who created the magnificent epic, Fitzcarraldo (1982).

Somewhere, there is a great story here but it isn’t told in Queen of the Desert.

Phil. 27.05.16. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Queen of the Desert will screen at Cinema Paradiso and the Windsor from June 2nd.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details.)


GOD WILLING

a spiritual awakening?      84mins : PG :      3.5/5

Those who enjogod willingy high-spirited comedy, bordering on farce, are sure to take to the Italian film, God Willing, not only written by the established Edoardo Falcone but, for the first time, directed by him as well.  His new role met with instant acclaim when he picked up the David di Donatello award (an Italian ‘Oscar’) for best new director.

Tommaso (Marco Giallini) is the atheist patriarch who is a successful cardiac surgeon but whose own heart skips a beat when his only son Andrea (Enrico Oetiker) makes a dramatic announcement.  On track to follow in his father’s footsteps, Andrea has decided to abandon his medical studies to become a priest.  Appalled at the idea and suspecting that his son has been overly influenced by Father Don Pietro (Alessandro Gassmann), Tommaso decides to spy on Pietro to see if there’s some way he can change Andrea’s mind.

The theme of religion driving a wedge between father and son is well-worn but rarely has it been treated with such light-hearted comedic zest.  Not even the most devoutly religious will find offence here, as long as their funny bone is still intact.

Giallini is wonderful as the totally assured, regimented and arrogant specialist. “I don’t believe in miracles.”  he tells the overjoyed parents of the boy whose life he’s just saved on the operating table, “I’m an excellent surgeon.”  An equal delight is Gassmann as the charismatic, hip and highly articulate priest who seems to be having a whale of a time.  But together, they make for a dynamic duo and the film becomes a showcase for their ample talents (even if their friendship seems highly improbable).  Laura Morante also shines as Carla, Thommaso’s diligent but passive wife whose son’s bold move provokes an epiphany of her own, making her painfully aware that she’s become not much more than an accessory in her successful husband’s life.

Falcone handles all the plot lines with assurance, keeping the film moving at a brisk pace and creating some genuine, laugh-out-loud moments.  To round the film off there’s a delicious twist which would be unthinkable to reveal.

Falcone has done a very tidy job with God Willing which earns its laughs with clever writing (and, refreshingly, without resorting to crudeness or excessive profanity).  It deserves the success it’s had as a real crowd-pleaser and seems to guarantee Falcone further stints in the director’s chair.

Phil,  26.05.16.  pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(God Willing will screen at Cinema Paradiso and Luna SX from June 2nd.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details.)


CHASING ASYLUM

Many thanks to Tony Bective of Luna who made it possible for me to view the disturbing, controversial documentary, Chasing Asylum, tagged as the film ‘Australian authorities do not want you to see’.   A debt of gratitude is owed to film director Eva Orner and to Luna for giving the West Australian public the opportunity of being informed. I can only urge that people make every effort to see this film.  You won’t enjoy it but it’s almost sure to move you, emotionally and mentally.

See you in the dark, Phil.

CHASING ASYLUM

                 luna     uncovering the brutal truth                                               5/5

 

With the recent Papua New Guinea judicial ruling that Australia’s detention of boat people on Manus Island is illegal and must stop immediately, director Eva Orner’s documentary, Chasing Asylum, could hardly be more topical and features what should be an important issue in the upcoming Federal election – that is, if enough people know the truth about what is going on in Nauru and Manus.

Since no cameras or journalists are allowed inside detention centres, Eva’s film has been made covertly and it doesn’t take long to see why the government is so intent on maintaining secrecy.

It has taken courage to make this film.  Apart from the risks to the film crew, recent legislation has actually put those interviewed in danger of legal action for speaking out.

Without exception, all Prime Ministers since (and including) John Howard, have steadfastly defended a ‘stop the boats at all costs’ policy and, as Chasing Asylum shows, though the boats have, indeed, been stopped, the costs have been those of physical, emotional and sexual degradation on an alarming scale.  To take another aspect of the debate, as one conscience-stricken former officer said, it is an expression of utter hypocrisy to claim that the inhumane treatment of detainees is justified on the grounds of stopping the deaths at sea of those risking their lives to reach our shores.

Interviews with Social Workers, security officers and others, along with tv. footage, have been skilfully compiled to tell a disturbing story, not of the legitimacy of the detainees’ refugee status but of the deliberate destruction of their sense of hope, producing a litany of self-harm (such as the sewing together of lips and eyelids and the swallowing of razor blades). Detainees simply lose the will to live – separated from their family and friends and living in squalor.

Orner’s film refers to numerous accounts of physical and sexual abuse of adults and children having been reported to authorities – all to little avail.  People have been intimidated into changing their statements and the best that the government has done is to produce a report (such as the Moss Report on the alleged sexual abuse of child detainees) which ultimately achieves little more than the vindication of the actions of those in charge.

As established in the Refugee Convention of 1951(to which, Australia is a signatory) these people have the right to flee oppression and to cross borders in search of safety.

Like Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence (2015), Chasing Asylum is appalling to watch.  It is an important (even essential) work which should make every viewer assess this issue on the grounds of what it means to be Australian.

However strongly people feel about foiling the activity of people smuggling, there won’t be many who will watch this film without sadness and a sense of shame.

Phil.  19.05.16.  pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Chasing Asylum will screen at Luna Leederville from Thursday, June 2nd.  On Sunday, June 5th there will be a Q and A session at 5.15pm with the director, Eva Orner.  Check lunapalace.com.au or the press for details.)


DAVID STRATTON’S 2nd GREAT BRITAIN RETRO FILM FESTIVAL 

David Stratton's film festivalMAY 12 to 25 at WINDSOR
FEATURING 14 FILMS! LOOKING  BETTER THAN EVER IN HD DIGITAL including retrospective of CAROL REED, EALING STUDIOS and DAVID LEAN
BLITHE SPIRIT*A PASSAGE TO INDIA*HOBSON’S CHOICE* OUR MAN IN HAVANNA*THE LADY KILLERS*THE LAVENDER HILL MOB*WHISKEY GALORE*THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT*ODD MAN OUT*THE LIFE AND TIMES OF COLONEL BLIMP*DR.STRANGELOVE*HER MAJESTY MRS BROWN*TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT*CHARIOTS OF FIRE.

“It was most gratifying to see the terrific response to the first Great Britain retro festival last year. This second edition features more wonderful films, many of which have not been seen on a cinema screen in decades. It’s particularly pleasing to include films in which Australian talent made major contributions – ace Perth-born cinematographer Robert Krasker provided the unforgettable images for ODD MAN OUT, and the luminous Judy Davis is magnificent in A PASSAGE TO INDIA. In all, a feast of British cinema.” DAVID STRATTON

This is a recorded interview with Paul Dravet who helped David Stratton in his selection of films for the Retro film festival.


DRONE STRIKE FILM WILL PUT YOUR MORAL COMPASS IN A SPIN:

FILM REVIEW : EYE IN THE SKY:  learning the rules of a new war game  

eye BRITISH : R : 102 mins.                                        4/5

Glued to her surveillance screen, Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) watches as a group of terrorists, in a house in Kenya, prepare for a suicide mission.  When she receives positive identification that two of them are top-of-the-list terrorists, her mission objective changes from capture to kill.

Above the house, an armed drone hovers, while, in a distant operations room, a soldier has his hand around the trigger.  Powell has top level clearance from the network of allies – Kenya, Britain and the U.S.  Suddenly, a young girl is noticed, setting up a table outside the house to sell her bread.  Bureaucrats and legal advisors are thrown into confusion.  If the missile is fired, there is a better than even chance the girl will die.  Nobody wants to take the risk of a public backlash.  The mission is in limbo.

Director, Gavin Hood and screenwriter Guy Hibbert have produced a moral dilemma that weighs the loss of one innocent life against the possible loss of many more.  There is no attempt to simplify the decision or to take sides or to make it the sole responsibility of Powell and the plethora of advisors (who all want to off-load it to the next highest level, sending it back and forth across the globe).  Skilfully written, tightly directed, superbly acted, Eye in the Sky makes it clear that, while prevarication continues, all members of the audience are asked to make the gut-wrenching decision for themselves.  What would you do?

Far from the battlefields of old, this state-of-the-art military conflict is operating under new and highly complex ‘rules of engagement’ which depend on statistical analyses of ‘collateral damage’.  While Powell urges action, Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman, in his final role) is the perplexed face of the traditional soldier, battle-ready but stymied by civilian intervention.  It’s a finely-nuanced performance, marked by human vulnerability (An almost comical concern over the purchase of a doll for a young girl in the family, provides a sardonic contrast to the life and death dilemma he faces).

eye2
As the stand-off continues, Hood builds the tension to breaking point.  Time is running out.  If the terrorists leave, the mission is lost.

This finely-crafted, intelligent film is securely anchored by Mirren who displays a steely resolve in conflict with a growing sense of frustration.

It is fascinating to watch the various players, separated by thousands of kilometres but linked by the wizardry of technology and with none of them actually being present at the scene of the action.  There is something of a video-game feel to the situation but any suggestion of finding solace in distance is defiantly rejected by Benson when he says ‘Never tell a soldier that he does not know the cost of war’.

Just like the moral conundrum in Sicario (2015) where the ‘good guy’ shot innocent members of a family at the breakfast table, Eye in the Sky makes us all culpable.  Not only does it want to make the audience think but, ultimately, it wants to make us squirm in our seat.

(This film is dedicated to the memory of Alan Rickman who died earlier this year).

Phil. 15.03.16. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Eye in the Sky will screen at Luna Cinema Paradiso and The Windsor from March 24th.  Check the press or lunapalace.com.au for details).


THE WITCH

A New England Folktale:

witcha New England nightmare

U.S.A./CANADA :  MA : 93 mins.  4/5

While The Witch, Robert Egger’s debut film as writer and director, has been promoted as a horror film, notice should be taken of the more accurate word ‘folktale’ in the sub-title.  Given the absence of a big-name cast, it is understandable that the ploy would increase the film’s pulling power but this may lead to audience disappointment.  In any event, Eggers has already earned acclaim for his film, having won the Best Director’s prize at Sundance and this should be enough enticement to see this quality work.

Set in seventeenth century New England, The Witch features a pilgrim family of pioneers from the ‘old’ England but, right from the start, they are beset with problems.  Disturbing, but unspecified transgressions see them expelled from the community and forced to live alone in the forbidding forest.  However, strange events continue and, at a time of rampant superstition, they begin to fear the devil may be at work.

With the help of a strident soundtrack and some evocative Ontarian landscapes – all misty greys and pale greens under overcast skies (full sunlight is never seen in the film’s entirety) Eggers builds a growing sense of tension and impending doom.  A chicken lays a bloody egg; their young son, Caleb, goes missing, only to return having lost his wits (a fine performance in a demanding role from Harvey Scrimshaw).  As head of the house, William (Ralph Ineson) at first resists the idea of witchcraft, taking refuge in the teachings of the Church but fear continues to grow, casting suspicion on their eldest daughter, Thomasin (a scary Anya Taylor-Joy who shines with the promise of future stardom).

While resisting the temptation to shock the audience with explicit gore (and to refrain from excessive use of CGI) Eggers has made far more courageous decisions than this.  He has elected to remain faithful to the period, which means not just impeccable detail in period costuming and artefacts but to use the archaic language of the time, replete with provincial accents.  The Witch has impeccable credibility but there is no doubt that audiences will struggle to understand the dialogue, even if they will have little trouble following the narrative.

Both Ineson and Kate Dickie, as the besieged parents, produce some real chills in roles that are extremely challenging.  Some of the scenes are truly disturbing but they are not gratuitous.

But, be reminded, that anyone seeking the slash and gore of a mainstream horror picture should look elsewhere.  While there are many entries in the genre to provide cheap thrills, there are very few of the calibre, intelligence and historical veracity of The Witch, Eggers’ original and triumphant debut.

Phil.  13.03.16. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(The Witch will screen at Luna Leederville from March 17th.  Check the press or lunapalace.com.au for details).

FIND ALL MY REVIEWS AT malti-media.com


MICROBE AND GASOLINE

gascoming-of-age takes to the road

FRENCH : 103 mins. : CTC :    4/5

French writer/director, Michel Gondry, has a fertile imagination, as shown in Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind (2004) and in his last film, the surreal Mood Indigo (PIAF, 2013).  For his latest, Microbe and Gasoline, Gondry has his feet more firmly on the ground in a quirky, fond and funny tale of two teenage boys and their screwball plan to set off on a journey through the French countryside, with the help of a backyard lawnmower.

Nicknamed Microbe, Daniel Gueret (Ange Dargent) is slight and androgynous and who is something of a loner and smothered by an overtly affectionate mother, Marie-Therese Gueret (Audrey Tatou, Amelie, 2001).  When a new kid, Theo Leloir (Theophile Baquet) arrives at school, an instant bond develops between the two.  Theo soon acquires the nickname ‘Gasoline’ on account of his preoccupation and skill with motors.  When the school year ends, Daniel and Theo are almost inseparable and when Theo picks up an old mower engine from a mechanics’ scrap yard, they build a car and plan a road trip.

Converting their car to a miniature home (a clever idea to get around the legalities of registration) their adventures are a disarming combination of resilience and vulnerability, typical of a teenager’s world.

While poking fun at the two hapless boys, writer/director, Gondry, also treats them with a great deal of affection and sympathy.  He makes good use of Daniel’s attractive features, having him mistaken for a girl at one stage and a younger boy on another.  Naturally, sex is never far from their thoughts, with the subject generating some cringe-worthy moments.

Above all, they support each other well and their friendship feels real and robust.  This is an endearing pair and, no doubt, some of the older parents, apart from affection, may feel a twinge of empathy at remembering their own adolescence.  But Gondry never overplays their predicament by resorting to melodrama or sentiment (even when tragedy strikes Theo on their return home).

There is a matter-of-factness about Microbe and Gasoline that simply asserts that adolescence is no less a difficult road to travel (with all its drama and humour) than the physical one they set out on in their ingenious construction.

 

 

Phil.  08.03.16. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Microbe and Gasoline is part of the programme for the 27th Alliance French Film Festival and will screen at Cinema Paradiso on 21st March and 1st April; at Luna SX on 19th March, 26th March and 4th April and at the Windsor on 28th March.  Check afrenchfilmfestival.org or lunapalace.com.au for details).


HAIL, CAESAR!

                                                     Hail   popcorn with pizzazz                      3.5/5

In their latest film, Hail, Caesar!, the Coen Brothers take us back to the Hollywood of 1951 and engage in some playful lampooning of the film industry in that post-war period often referred to as the ‘Golden Age’.

At that time, before the days of widespread take-up of colour television and without home computers, people relied on cinema for entertainment and the film studios were the undisputed kings.

At the fictitious Capitol Pictures studio, head ‘fixer’, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) has a busy work schedule, keeping his various projects afloat.  One of them, Hail, Caesar! A Tale of the Christ, is a sandal and sword epic which was one favourite genre at the time but the Coens take witty, humorous pots-shots at others – the Western; synchronised swimming and the musical to name a few.

The singing cowboy star, Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich with his engaging swagger and exaggerated drawl) is clever with his horse and lasso.  But switching to the set of a dramatic comedy, he displays a complete lack of acting talent, despite the coaching of director Laurence Laurentz (a marvellous Ralph Fiennes, driven to the verge of a nervous breakdown).

The Coens have assembled a stellar cast including Tilda Swinton (who has a wonderful time playing both of twin sisters); Scarlett Johansson (one of the synchronised swimmers who gets pregnant); Channing Tatum (a Gene Kelly type dancer in a dazzling routine danced on table tops that would have slotted straight in to a film such as Singing in the Rain); Robert Picardo as the Rabbi (hilariously discussing the religious sensibilities of the portrayal of Christ in Hail Caesar! A Tale of the Christ) and George Clooney as the rugged, suave, womanising Baird Whitlock, who plays Caesar himself.  All of the actors enjoy themselves, but none more so than Clooney who has his tongue stuck so firmly in his cheek, it’s a wonder he gets any of his lines out.

                                                 hail dance
   a dazzling routine, danced on table tops

Loosely framed around the kidnapping of Whitlock (by a group of blacklisted communists) his meeting with his captors is where Hail, Caesar! hits a flat spot.  Perhaps, by dint of it being a serious matter (only recently evidenced in the dramatic Trumbo) the writing is more tentative and Whitlock’s sympathetic response (rather than one of outrage at his kidnapping) doesn’t seem quite convincing.

However, most of Hail, Caesar! is sure-footed and joyful with the Coens treating it with affection rather than derision.  By today’s standards, the fake films look corny and amateurish but, while the Coens never suggest that they were more than products of their time, both film buffs and older audiences will luxuriate in nostalgia.  The bemusement of young people will, no doubt, be forcefully countered by grandparents, quick to remind them that those films were the source of countless, treasured memories, just as contemporary films are for the youth of today.

Hail, Caesar! may not be quite top-drawer Coens but whatever the age of the audience, they seem assured that it will give them a rollicking good time.

Phil. 22.02.16.  pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Hail, Caesar! screens from Thursday, 25th February, at Luna Leederville and Luna SX.

Check the press or lunapalace.com.au for details).


TRUMBO

 trumboan unheralded hero    124 mins.  :  M  : 4.5/5

The notorious ‘black-listing’ era of the late 40’s and 50’s was the darkest period for the literary artists of America and gets a new, and brilliant, admonishment in Jay Roach’s Trumbo.

Foremost among the group of ten scriptwriters implicated by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947, Donald Trumbo refused to cooperate with the Committee’s proceedings and served eleven months in gaol (for contempt of Congress) and was then refused employment by Hollywood for years afterwards.

There were many innocent film-workers caught up in this political witch-hunt but as Trumbo readily asserts, its eponymous character was not one of them.  Donald Trumbo was, unashamedly, a member of the Communist Party.  Unpalatable as it must have been to those who called him ‘traitor’, he was a man who loved his country and was a true patriot.  More than that, he held fast to the principles held dear by most Americans and fought for the right to differ.

The opening minutes of the film remind us of the man’s brilliance, showing posters of the films that Trumbo wrote –The Brave One, Roman Holiday, Spartacus.  But the first two of these were written under pseudonyms while still a persona non grata and were only credited years after.  In 1959, Spartacus, the breakthrough film for director Stanley Kubrick, virtually brought the blacklist period to an end.  It was the star, Kirk Douglas, who insisted that Trumbo’s name be in the credits and which (with a little help from John F. Kennedy who openly crossed picket lines to see the film) finally brought acknowledgment for all his achievements.  In 1975 the Academy presented him with an Oscar for The Brave One and in 1993 did so again, this time posthumously, for Roman Holiday.

The short film clip of the real Trumbo in the final credits, shows just what a great job Bryan Cranston does in portraying him.  Beyond the superficial details of the cigarette holder; the moustache and the black-rimmed glasses, he displays the same mannerisms and even gets the voice right.

Quite simply, Cranston gives the performance of his (late-blooming) career and was rightly nominated for an Academy Award.

Screenwriter John McNamara based Trumbo on the book, Dalton Trumbo, by Bruce Cook.  It’s a clever and spirited a screenplay, shot through with humour and razor-sharp witticisms that would have done Trumbo himself proud.

On the opposite side of the fence, Helen Mirren relishes her role as the villain, Hedda Hopper, the scare-mongering and powerful gossip columnist who succeeded in bullying several production companies into maintaining their embargo on blacklisted members.

Another actor who seems to be enjoying himself immensely is John Goodman as Frank King, head of one of the small, less successful, independent production companies who welcomed Trumbo on board when nobody else would entertain him.  When evicting one naysayer from his office (with the help of a baseball bat) King remarks that he couldn’t give a ‘_ _ it’ whose name was on the script because most of his audience couldn’t read!

While the audience is likely to howl with laughter at this hugely entertaining film, it is well to remember the significance of Trumbo as a lesson in history.  Given the (reasonable) degree of accuracy, it is a salutary and invaluable reminder of the need to safeguard the rights of the individual.  There was considerable loss as a result of this misguided paranoia – not just of salary or status but in the break-up of families and even suicide.  As ludicrous as it seems now, Jay Roach’s film inevitably begs the question, ‘Could it happen again?’

Sadly, the name of the writer, Donald Trumbo, is less well-known than his talent deserved.  In the public’s mind, it is usually the actors and directors and perhaps, even cinematographers who grab the attention.  Yet, it is true that for a film to succeed, the script is paramount.  It’s possible to make a bad film with a good script but impossible to make a good film with a bad script.  Fortunately for Trumbo, and as a memorial to its namesake, scriptwriter, John McNamara, came up with an outstanding one.

 

Phil. 14.02.16.  pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Trumbo will screen at Luna Leederville and Luna SX from Thursday, 18th February.  Check the press or lunapalace.com.au for details).


 

DHEEPAN:a tiger’s tale

The question of the mass movement of immigrants, fleeing conflict zones is one of the most pressing in the world today. Next week’s film takes a Humanitarian and immigrant-centred view of the subject. It puts a ‘human face’ to the problem and is assured of provoking some thought on the matter. Apart from that, it is a first-rate film from a prestigious film-maker.

See you in the deckchairs in the dark. Phil.

dheepanDHEEPAN:a tiger’s tale

PIAF FILM REVIEW : CTC : 109 mins : FRANCE 4/5

French maestro, Jacques Audiard is no stranger to awards and his latest film, Dheepan (co-written by the director) won the Palme D’Or at Cannes last year. It’s an incisive and disturbing study of what it means to be an immigrant – one of the most topical of subjects which has dominated world news in recent times.

Featuring real-life novelist and former Tamil Tiger child soldier, Antonythasan Jesuthasan as Dheepan (whose identity he steals when the latter is killed) is able to draw on personal experience of sectarian conflict when, in the film, he and the two females he teams up with, posing as his family of wife and daughter, flee civil war-ravaged Sri Lanka and head for the relative safety of France.

Taking a caretaking job at a run-down block of apartments, Dheepan is able to eke out an existence, all the while coping with the normal household requirements of managing the weekly budget and sending his nine year old ‘daughter’ to the local school. Audiard achieves a fine and tension-filled balance between hiding their true identity while, at the same time, strengthening their assumed ones.

But trouble has a way of catching up with people and Paris has its own share of insurgents. Before long, Dheepan is confronted by a militant known simply as ‘corporal’ who wants Dheepan’s fighting skills. “The fight is not over.” he says and Dheepan’s reply, “It is for me.” provokes a violent outburst. At this point, the film undergoes a dramatic change in tone and assumes a sort of vigilante ‘Die Hard’ persona with narrative threads becoming hopelessly entangled.

Dheepan works best when the superb, atmospheric cinematography (mainly in one-shots and close-ups) makes for an impressionistic, rather than a clearly defined, specific narrative context. The camera takes us so close to Jesuthasan that we can almost feel the whiskers on his chin. The audience doesn’t know exactly what is going on (these armed rebels and their objectives are not identified) but there is a real sense of tension and anxiety in Jesuthasan’s situation which, on account of its ambiguity, Audiard translates into that of any disenfranchised immigrant, playing out in any place of refuge around the world.

It is the charismatic presence of Jesuthasan, a natural, albeit inexperienced actor, on whose shoulders the success of the film relies and whose every move and mood seem authentic. Both he and his ‘wife’, Yalini (Srinivasan, in a strong but lesser role) maintain the feeling of tension; of trying desperately to avoid drawing attention to themselves and to blend, chameleon-like, into their surroundings.

If nothing else, Dheepan should convince westerners that what they are seeing is not only far removed from the majority of their own situations but, also, that their own security can never be taken for granted. Today, with violence and fear reaching ever-deeper into the hearts of the world’s cities, Dheepan is a powerful film – a plea for compassion for all people wishing, simply, to live in peace.
Phil. 16.01.16. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Dheepan will screen at Somerville on Monday 25th then Wednesday 27th to Sunday 31st January then at Joondalup from Tuesday 2nd February to Sunday 7th February at 8pm. Tickets on-line at PIAF website or at the door.)


SPOTLIGHT

spotlightbreaking down the wall of silence: M: 128mins 4.5/5
Over the last few years, scandals associated with mismanagement and cover-up in the Catholic Church have yielded rich, cinematic rewards with films such as Mea Maxima Culpa (2012) and Philomena (2013). Investigative journalism has often played a crucial part in uncovering the truth and now, in Spotlight, Tom McCarthy has brought the twin elements of the malaise of the Catholic Church and journalism together with such dramatic outcomes, the film must, inevitably, be compared to Alan J. Pakula’s film, All the President’s Men (1976) which detailed the extraordinary disclosures of the Watergate affair.

‘Spotlight’ was in fact, the name of the Boston Globe’s specialised group of investigative journalists, headed by Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (Michael Keaton) and comprising Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James). Rather than the ephemera of day to day news, this team was involved with in-depth and exhaustive journalism and, with the appointment, in 2001, of the paper’s new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) the decision was made to explore the story (initially in Boston but which expanded to global dimensions) and to concentrate on systemic corruption (that had been going on for decades) rather than the exposure of individual, abusive priests.
Beginning slowly, with little official documents to work with and nobody willing to talk, they encounter a complex and highly efficient protective framework within the institution. The Catholic Church was a bastion of support and authority like no other and to challenge its integrity was akin to a declamation of one’s faith. As one person put it, when a priest requested something from a child, it was like God, himself, asking for help. Apart from physical and sexual abuse, what the perpetrators were committing was nothing short of spiritual abuse.
As the truth is revealed, it was found that nearly ninety priests were involved in sexual abuse allegations, in the city of Boston. But fate temporarily halted their investigations by the most dramatic event in recent U.S. history – the attack on the Twin Towers. However, a legal development, in which access was gained to documents previously off-limits, gave the team the impetus it needed for completion.
What distinguishes Spotlight is McCarthy’s refusal to dramatise events or to sensationalise the revelations. Without fanfare or headlines splashed over the screen or the use of dramatic music (the musical score is almost non-existent) there is a clinical emphasis on the piecing together of facts. Separate interviews, conducted by different team members, are expertly inter-cut with no loss of cohesion. In addition, the low-profile treatment of the team members prevents them from being lionised or touted as some sort of super-heroes. Quite simply, as the size and scope of abuse surfaces, the facts speak loudly enough for themselves. They are not just dramatic but shattering.
Possibly, the finest ensemble acting on screen this year does not prevent Michael Keaton’s performance from being a stand out. He is in total control as the anchor of the team, having to judge when to hold off (and risk having another paper upstage them by publishing first) and when is the right time to go public. The confrontation between him and the more inflammatory Rezendes (Ruffalo) is a rare show of emotion in a dramatic highlight which perfectly illustrates his dilemma.
Today, and twelve years further on from the dramatic Boston Globe disclosures, it seems clear that films such as All the President’s Men and Spotlight can never be made again. Newspapers are dying at such a rate that Spotlight is on the cusp of becoming an anachronism. The film world has already been graced with the likes of The Social Network (2010) and Citizen Four (2014) demonstrating the burgeoning power of social media. Spotlight is a desperately important film but almost the swan song of the printed press. But what a glorious (if horrific) achievement it is.

Phil. 06.01.15. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Spotlight will screen at Cinema Paradiso and Luna SX from Thursday, January 28th. Check the press or lunapalace.com.au for details.)


ROOM

room the world in a room  : FILM REVIEW : M:117mins.  5/5

Based on the book (of the same name) by Emma Donaghue, Lenny Abrahamson opens his U.S. film, Room, with  Brie Larson (as ‘Ma’) and her son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay) celebrating the boy’s fifth birthday. All seems perfectly normal, except that by degrees we feel that there is something wrong.  What appears to be an ordinary room is, in fact, a prison in which the woman has been incarcerated for seven years.  Jack (being born in this room) has never known any other world than that of its four walls, except the rectangle of sky he can see through the skylight.

The kidnapper (referred to as ‘Old Nick’) is glimpsed, coming to the room every night to continue his ritual of rape, having to unlock the reinforced door by secret code.  Nothing is ever disclosed about this man – who he is, what relationship, if any, he had with the woman and what motivated him (apart from sex).  Ultimately, it becomes clear that none of that has little but the slightest relevance.

Regardless of the state of their confinement, Room gives one of the most intimate, frank and honest portrayals of a mother/son relationship ever seen on screen.  There is the full gamut of human emotion – love and kisses, but also tears, anger, friction and recrimination.  Brie Larson’s anguish is almost palpable in a (Golden Globe-winning) performance that is, at times, painful to watch.  Her unrelenting, unconditional love is tempered with the grim knowledge of their hopeless situation only she can understand.  Even though she tells Jack of the world ‘outside’, he simply has no concept of it.

room2
The room is the only world Jack knows.

In a fit of pique he shouts, angrily at Ma, “I don’t believe in your stinking world!”  To him, it is no more real than what he sees on television.

When Jack finally does experience the world outside for the first time, Abrahamson gives full reign to his film-making skill in a dazzling depiction of the sensory onslaught that the boy experiences.  With Jack’s vision spinning around, distorted and in soft-focus, there is a breath-taking sense of disorientation and immensity of scale that will have the audience reeling in empathy.

Young Jacob Tremblay is nothing short of extraordinary.  On screen almost the whole time, there has not been a performance of this dominance or intensity from one so young for many years.

Having delivered tension and turbulence, enough to elevate Room to the upper echelon of the year’s films, it is in its final coda that Room  creates a still wider canvas of emotional strength and psychological complexity that takes it even further.  Here, in the complex and problematic aftermath of confinement, there is a resonance with other films that have ventured into this territory, such as Teshigahara’s masterwork, Woman in the Dunes (1964) which concluded that freedom is not defined in terms of impenetrable walls but is, rather, a state of mind.  Jack displays the classic, psychological desire to return to the scene of his confinement and, when he does, he asks the heart-tugging question, “Why has it shrinked?”  This is far from a case of ‘facing one’s demons’.  In the room, Jack was not in despair.  He was happy; he was content.  For Jack, the room was the world – the only world he had ever known.

Joan Allen and William H. Macy, as the anguished grandparents, are major contributors to the film’s powerful second act. Macy, in particular, is required to display a reaction of extreme emotional conflict towards his grandson – and he does it superbly.

In spite of minor implausibilities, Room is a desperately fine film and there are moments of such exquisite truthfulness that will ensure they stay in the memory for years to come.  With infinite and obsessive care, Emma Donoghue, in her screenplay, has given second birth to the substance of her beloved book.  With an Oscar nomination for best film, Room is a work of great psychological intricacy.  But, in its essence, it celebrates the power of the medium – to move, to enrich and to illustrate the bonds between humans – as it does here, between mother and son.

Phil 17.01.16. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Room will screen at Luna Leederville and Luna SX from January 28th.  Check the press or lunapalace.com.au for details.)


miaMIA MADRE

a film within a film 4/5 M: 106mins.

Italian director, Nanni Moretti, won the Palm d’Or with The Son’s Room (2001) and his latest film, Mia Madre, marks a return to similar form but to a very different context.

Here, it is the harsh reality of the current crisis-ridden employment situation of Rome that forms the film’s fictionalised core (as the subject of a social-realist film under production) allowing Moretti to posit his own film, Mia Madre, of the film-maker, Margherita, as reality itself.

Margherita, the film director (played by Margherita Buy) struggles with the demands of her production schedule while at the same time having to attend to her dying mother, Ada (Guilia Lazzarini) in a nearby hospital and coping with the demands of her teenage daughter, Livia (Beatrice Mancini) and a diva-like but inept American actor, Barry (John Turturro). This is domestic drama of the intense and complex kind which yields rich emotional returns for Moretti.

Using the ‘film within a film’ scenario is a clever trick, allowing the script writer (in this case, three of them – Nanni Moretti, Valia Santella and Francesco Piccolo) to include self-referential dialogue, such as when Margherita becomes annoyed with having to re-take the scenes she is filming because the acting looks ‘fake’ and again when Barry (in an explosive confrontation with Margherita, superbly played by both actors) denounces the very profession of acting as “a waste of time” declaring vehemently, “Take me back to reality!”

Reality, for Margherita, in Mia Madre, is full of painful challenges and Buy gives a remarkably restrained, controlled performance as the beleaguered woman, unwilling to face the fact of her mother’s impending death. There is no sentiment or melodrama but a deft balancing of the sombre and the more light-hearted; subtle and multi-nuanced. It is a stand-out performance in a cast that is uniformly strong.

Moretti achieves a similar counter-balance in his screenplay by inserting the character of Barry, which Torturro plays with exaggerated glee and steals virtually every scene he’s in.

Moretti is fine as Giovanni, Margherita’s brother and, together they make a solid and harmonious core to the film. Beatrice Mancini as Livia, Margherita’s daughter is also good but it is Giulia Lazzarini, as the ailing mother who, after Buy and Torturro, takes the acting honours in a performance full of pathos and dignity, at the same time, generating a wondrous sense of bewilderment at her predicament which is stealing her of independence and control. As she, caustically, remarks “The older you get, the dumber they think you are”.

Using a range of music which includes a piece from the unmistakable pen of Philip Glass, Mia Madre is mature, adult drama with rich, emotional depth.

Moretti is in superb control of this material, building slowly but steadily to a skilfully-paced climax but refraining from delivering a contrived, upbeat ending. What will stay with the audience is a moving experience of the trials of life and a collection of acting performances that are enthralling to watch.

Phil. 20.12.15. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Mia Madre will screen at Somerville from Monday, 11th January to Sunday, 17th January then at Joondalup from Tuesday 19th January to Sunday 24th January.)


 

How much do you know about the Lance Armstrong drug-cheating scandal? How much do you want to know? Well, if you’ve missed all the hoo-ha in the media, you might feel a magnetic attraction to Stephen Frears’ new film, The Program (which featured in the BBC Film Festival, just finished). Courtesy of the ever-splendid Luna fraternity, I attended a media screening last Saturday.

See you in the dark, Phil.
THE PROGRAM:program

accurate but no killer punch 3/5

In The Program Stephen Frears (Philomena, 2013) tells, perhaps, the most infamous tale in world sport, of American, former cycling champion, Lance Armstrong and his drug-cheating which reduced him from icon to pariah. As Leonard Cohen sings, over the closing titles, Everybody Knows.

In fact, while illustrating the facts that have been so exhaustively explored by an insatiable media, not a great deal of new information is disclosed in The Program (the title refers to the drug regime which was sophisticated enough to escape detection). That Armstrong had a ruthless determination to win comes as no surprise – it would be considered de rigueur to reach the top of the pile in any field – as long as it stops short of breaking the law (as was so scathingly illustrated by Villeneuve’s recent film, 99 Homes, about the U.S. housing scandal). In the U.S. ‘greed is good’, up to a point. It’s knowing where that point is that is the crucial factor.

Based on David Walsh’s book Seven Deadly Sins (seven is the number of times Armstrong won the Tour de France before being stripped of all his titles) John Hodge’s screenplay, delivers the facts but pulls back from the vilification that the audience may have felt entitled to, given that he had not only disgraced the sport (on a global scale) but had let down the legion of followers and humanitarian organisations that had cited him as the ultimate role model.

However, it is still shocking to see Armstrong practising the phrase “I did not take performance-enhancing drugs” over and over, prior to a press conference, reminding us of a, similar, big fib from an American former president, no less, who said, with the same conviction, “I did not have sex with that woman”. Before he could fool the world, Lance Armstrong had first to deceive himself.

The Program’s chief asset is the outstanding performance of Ben Foster as Armstrong. From his eye-popping determination to his cool, suave and charming manner with the press and high-flying businessmen, he is in complete control as the epitome of the all-American sporting hero (and he’s totally convincing on his bike, displaying the results of a punishing exercise regime). Yes, there are traces of aggression and bad temper but no more than would be expected from someone constantly in the spotlight and under corporate pressure to perform. But with talk of intimidation of his team-mates, abusive behaviour toward women, etc., John Hodge’s script could have given Foster even more to work with and more to invoke the audience’s hatred that doesn’t quite make it to the screen (although, Hodge may have considered this material to be specious and unsafe to use).

Chris O’Dowd is fine as David Walsh, the doughty journalist who senses a story that he can’t quite nail down with proof positive. As author of the book on which The Program is based, Walsh must have unearthed some damning material but, again, Frears underplays the drama of, what could have been, sensational disclosures. There’s no sense of a ‘Watergate’ type of breakthrough here. In fact it is fellow athlete and fellow drug-cheat, Floyd Landis (a tormented portrait from Jesse Plemons) who is as much responsible as anyone for kick-starting Armstrong’s fall from grace.

Audiences enjoy venting their spleen on a fallen, corrupt tall poppy (as the Bard, himself, knew only too well). So, it’s just a little hard to shake the feeling that with less constraint, The Program could have been the world-shaker that Armstrong himself obviously was – until the truth brought his world crashing down like a pack of cards.

Phil. 23.11.15. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(The Program will screen at Luna Leederville and SX from November 26th. Check the press or lunapalace.com.au for details).


 

A TALE OF SMALL FRUIT DELIVERS A MIGHTY, MORAL MESSAGE:

tangerine 4.5/5

Reminiscent of Eran Riklis’ 2008 film, Lemon Tree, (also at PIAF) which had a similar setting of a citrus plantation caught up in military conflict, the Estonian/Georgian film, Tangerines, from Georgian writer/director, Zaza Urushadtze, was the first film from the region to receive nominations for both an Academy and Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Set in 1992, at the time of the Georgian war, most of the locals have fled to safer ground. Left behind are two Estonian neighbours, the elderly Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak) a carpenter who makes the packing crates for the crop of tangerines that the farmer, Margus (Elmo Nuganen) is waiting to harvest.

Though war seems far away, a sudden explosion and burst of gun-fire, almost on their doorstep, results in the death of a small group of soldiers – except one, a Chechen named Ahmed (Giorgi Nakashidze). Astonishingly, as they bury the bodies, they find that one of them – Niko (Mikheil Meshki) a Georgian, is still alive; but only just.

When Ivo takes the two soldiers, from opposing sides of the conflict, into his house and nurses them back to health, Ivo’s house becomes a sort of ‘neutral zone’ and though both men are fuelled by a hatred that would see them kill each other if they had the strength, at Ivo’s insistence, both swear to, temporarily, keep the peace.

In this intimate setting, Urushadze constructs an intelligent, articulate and superbly acted denunciation of the folly of war. At its centre and, in a controlled but powerful performance, veteran actor, Ulfsak is magnificent. Not just a peacemaker, he is a font of wisdom and compassion, expressed, not only in words, but also found in the depths of his crystalline eyes.

Urushadze’s script employs a savage irony as its sharpest weapon. The very name of the fruit, itself, is a conundrum. Although the title calls them ‘Tangerines’, on screen they are referred to as ‘Clementines’ and both words are not very far from the familiar name of ‘Mandarins’. This confusion may seem trivial here, but, ultimately, the same confusion (over the ethnicity of Ahmed – is he Georgian or Chechen?) accounts for a finale that is tragic and bloody but totally unwarranted (making the point that war is the ultimate waste of human life). Urushadze’s script, with damning precision, asks the question ‘What’s in a name?’ and, through small but significant acts, shows all men to be brothers under the one sky. It is given to Ivo, as the voice of reason and compassion, to articulate the film’s central moral dilemma when he asks Ahmed “Who gave you the right to kill?”

Tangerines is full of poignant, moving moments. Though the cast is all male, there is a very definite presence of a particular female – Ivo’s grand-daughter, Mari, whose picture on the mantelpiece shows a beautiful young lady, full of the joy of life. Every man who sees this picture, but particularly Niko, the Georgian, is smitten with her undeniable charm. As the camera lingers over her beaming features, it is as though Urushadze is reminding all young men that instead of killing each other, they should, as the platitude goes, be ‘making love not war.’

Urushadze is not without humour or sardonic wit. When the locals push the soldiers’ vehicle over the edge of a cliff, they express disappointment when it fails to explode which normally happens ‘in the movies’. He produces the sharpest self-referential line of the film, when one of them says “Cinema is all fake”.

However, far from being ‘fake’ and even further removed from the improbable excesses of many mainstream films, Tangerines’ potent mix of tension and quiet contemplation has an unmistakable authenticity. As opposed to a ‘grab for box-office bucks’, it amounts to nothing less than a personal manifesto from the gifted film-maker. In spite of its scale and budget, the film packs the emotional punch of a heavyweight, putting it in the top drawer of the anti-war genre and making it simply unmissable.

Phil 22.11.15. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Tangerines will screen at Somerville from December 7th to 13th then at Joondalup from December 15th to 20th. Check the press or perthfestival.com.au for details.)


QUEEN AND COUNTRY:

Queen 4/5

After a long absence, writer/director John Boorman returns to the screen with a U.K/Ireland production, Queen and Country. Following on, belatedly, from the nostalgia-laced and, similarly autobiographical Hope and Glory (1987) his latest film is set in the early post-war years in Britain.

Beginning with a clip from the previous film, the nine year-old Bill rejoices over the destruction of his primary school, courtesy of a German WWII bomb. As his face morphs into that of the, now older Bill, time has moved on ten years and to the location of a bigger ‘school’ – a military camp for conscripts beginning two years of National Service. Like many young men of the time, he is not just resentful of a training programme that could see him sent off to a war zone and an untimely end but, with Britain’s own war having ended, he doesn’t really see the point.

He forms a strong friendship with the irreverent, mischievous Percy (a fine performance from Caleb Landry Jones) and, together (and to the general acclaim of the other conscripts) they wage a continuing campaign to ridicule the regimentation of their lives and to undermine the pompous authority of the officers who enforce it.

With fine attention to period detail (including tv. clips of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II) Boorman has vividly re-created the flavour of the 50’s. In particular, his portrait of life in a military training unit is one of tyranny and tedium and an almost madcap existence. Major Cross (an imposing performance from Richard E. Grant) is the true professional while Sergeant Bradley is the type of obsessive, rule-bound soldier who openly confesses that the Army is everything to him. David Thewlis (in a stand-out role) plays Bradley with an intensity that is both comical yet disturbing. Quoting rules from the military handbook with the knowledge that an Evangelist might have of the Bible, it is tragic to see his faith in military life eventually bring him undone.

Callum Turner’s Bill Rohan is much milder as the voice of Boorman himself. Falling for an older girl (the twenty-four year-old Ophelia played, beguilingly, by Tasmin Eggerton) Boorman cannot exclude the pangs of infatuation as he leafs back through the pages of his memory. As old men are wont to do, Boorman (now in his eighties) is in reflective, nostalgic but distinctly unsentimental mood.

Paying homage to the films that, no doubt, would have influenced his own film-making, Boorman references those of the same period in which Queen and Country is set – Rashomon (1950) Kurosawa’s landmark feature, with even a short, on-screen clip; Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950) and Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951) which Bill and Percy look to for ways of eradicating the obnoxious Sergeant Bradley.

Boorman’s invitation to share his personal memories, in both Hope and Glory and now, Queen and Country are rare privileges. But we may not get a third. In the final shot, a camera, perched on a tripod, continues to film, automatically, but suddenly comes to a stop. Is this Boorman’s way of saying that Queen and Country will be his swan song? The film world can only wait and hope that this is not the case.

Phil. 28.11.15. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Queen and Country will screen at Joondalup from Tuesday 8th December to Sunday 13th December. Please note, it will not screen at Somerville.)


 

If you’re looking for something totally different – this is it. Thanks to Luna for the pre-screening.
See you in the dark, Phil.

THE ASSASSIN assassin

Intriguing, mystifying and potentially intoxicating. 4/5

Taiwanese director, Hou Hsiao-Hsien (Flight of the Red Balloon,2008) returns to the screen with a martial arts tale (Chinese Wuxia) set in ninth century China which has already taken the award for best director at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and was selected as Taiwan’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film in this year’s Academy Awards.

Black-clad Nie Yinniang (Shu Qi) is the eponymous assassin who has been raised by her master, Jiaxin (Fang-Yi-Sheu) since the age of ten and trained in the skills of killing (corrupt or disloyal officials). A fatal show of mercy to one of her nominated victims incurs the wrath of Jiaxin who bestows a terrible test of her allegiance – to kill the cousin, Tian Ji’an (Chang Chen) military governor of the province of Weibo and to whom she was once betrothed.

Such is the seemingly simple narrative structure but from its opening scenes in black and white and square format (the sight and sound of the wind rustling the leaves of a silver birch) there is nothing straightforward about Hsiao-Hsien’s film and nor is it driven, primarily, by the story. The Assassin is less of a cohesive tale and much more of an immersive experience.

In every respect, the film presents almost the direct opposite of what we have come to expect from Western film-making and, indeed other martial arts films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). Rather than thunderous sound, there is silence; rather than movement, there is stasis; rather than dialogue, the characters utter the barest minimum of words. In brief interludes of action, swords flash through the air but all that is heard are the swish and clash of steel on steel but it is hard to say how the pieces of this intricate puzzle fit together.

There is an extreme formality about the film. Every gesture, every movement is highly stylised and seems to have been purloined from the stage of Oriental theatre. Almost every shot is meticulously composed, like some priceless work of classical art. So breathtakingly and consistently beautiful are the visual elements (the lavish colours of the costumes, the elaborate set design, the natural wonders of mist-enshrouded lakes and gleaming forests of silver birch) that it almost redefines the word ‘exquisite’.

Beautiful to look at, The Assassin is like no other film seen this year. If you can surrender to its wily mysticism, you may find that, apart from being endlessly elusive, it is also simply unforgettable.

Phil. 21.11.15. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(The Assassin will screen at Cinema Paradiso from Thursday, Nov. 26th. Check the press or lunapalace.com.au for details.)


THE MARTIAN

Who saw Catalyst on the ABC last Tuesday (Oct.20th)? The main story was ‘Can we live on Mars?’, inspired by the Mars One project (privately funded) and the discovery of water on the planet. It’s certainly the topic of the moment, with the film The Martian enjoying great success. However, just how far the film is from reality was clearly demonstrated – astronauts would be bombarded with deadly radiation which the space-suits (of today) would not protect them from; showers of irradiated ‘rain’ fall on Mars but not on Earth because we have a magnetic field to protect us, but Mars doesn’t, etc, etc. But, we can easily forget such problems when we enter the Sci-Fi world of The Martian.

THE MARTIAN: Robinson Crusoe in space 3/5

Last year, Alfonso Cuaron’s sci-fi film, Gravity, saw astronaut Sandra Bullock having to dig deep to get home to planet Earth. Now, in Ridley Scott’s film, Matt Damon (as Mark Watney) gets into trouble much further away when he is presumed dead in a cataclysmic storm on Mars and left behind by the rest of the crew.

Based on Andy Weir’s best-selling novel of the same name, The Martian, like Gravity, looks magnificent. The Jordanian desert makes a passable stand-in for the Martian landscape and the film’s, similarly, meticulous attention to detail makes it, initially, not too difficult to believe (especially for the non-scientific majority) in spite of the fact that Humans are yet to reach the Red Planet.

Drew Goddard’s script (as does Matt Damon’s performance) captures the sardonic, upbeat wit of Weir’s novel. Unlike Scott’s previous sci-fi’s, which have been dark and disturbing (eg. Alien, 1979; Blade Runner, 1982) The Martian has a prevailing sense of almost playful levity which, though appealing, has the negative effect of robbing the film of tension and impending danger, given that Watney’s circumstances are dire.

martianThe Jordanian desert makes a passable stand in for the Martian landscape.
Surrounded by a host of minor characters, both on Earth (Chiwetel Ejiofor of 12 Years a Slave (2013) has, again, a strong screen presence as Vincent Kapoor, NASA’s Mars Mission Director) and on the Earth-bound Hermes spacecraft (Jessica Chastain is convincingly horrified at her leaving the live astronaut behind) but most of the characters are thinly sketched and engaged in the usual histrionics of NASA’s Mission Control. All in all, it’s mainly the same old story of American supremacy in space – except for an intriguing twist. In this case, it’s the Chinese who come to the rescue in a move that is both politically and financially savvy. Firstly, it acknowledges the growing status of China as a World power and secondly it will, no doubt, rake in many millions of Yuan at the Box Office.

For nearly two and a half hours, the film lurches from one crisis to another, stretching credibility to breaking point and turning what little tension there may have been to tedium. The end credits are aptly accompanied by the thunderous tones of Gloria Gaynor singing I Will Survive – intended to make the audience feel pretty smug about belonging to the species at the top of the food chain. Specifically, The Martian is an ode to Human ingenuity and the power of scientific knowledge to prevail in the most hostile of environments.

However, The Martian is a long way from reality (note the disclaimer from NASA in the closing credits) and at a time when Humans are facing cataclysmic challenges here on Earth, an unqualified faith in science to solve all problems may be akin to sticking our heads in the sands of Mars.

Phil:22.10.15:pbsailing@yahoo.com.au


MISTRESS AMERICA:

Miss america
some like it tepid.
2.5/5
In Noah Baumbach’s comedy, co-writer Greta Gerwig, as the sprightly, outgoing Brooke is teamed with Lola Kirke, the younger and more reserved college student, Tracy Fishko.
On the verge of becoming stepsisters, Tracy moves into Brooke’s New York apartment and is immediately enamoured with her ebullience, even though it threatens to turn her life upside down.
Mistress America has an uneven and rather bland storyline. In fact, for the first third of the film, it seems to be little more than a series of comic set pieces. It is only when Brooke has the (harebrained?) idea of opening up a restaurant and tries to solicit everyone’s support, that the film assumes a little more drive.
Tracey’s role also takes on more substance as she struggles to gain acceptance in her College’s literary circle (the film’s title takes its name from the short story that she writes, based on the character of Brooke herself). Of concern is that some of the motley group of minor characters seem more interesting than the leads. However, of more significance is that screwball comedy, of this type, relies more on quirky implausibility than on character development and, in this instance, the screenplay is too constrained.

The dialogue (or, at least, what we can hear of it) never seems to sparkle with any great wit or humour, resorting too often to profanity. Additionally, its effectiveness is compromised, at times, by the intrusive soundtrack and the actors’ rapid-fire delivery.

For the most part Gerwig and Kirke are an effective duo. But Gerwig’s Brooke is bombastic, self-opinionated and insensitive, providing little for an audience to warm to.

Sporadically and superficially, the two leads are fun to watch but that’s about as far as Mistress America goes.

Phil.20.10.15. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au
(Mistress America will screen at Luna Leederville and SX from October 29th. See the press or website for details.)


 

Hi Filmophiles,
The Wolfpack (courtesy of Tony Bective and Luna) is a jaw-dropping documentary of a family that is not exactly conventional. It is so extraordinary, it reminds me of a
favourite comic I used to find fascinating in my wayward youth – Ripley’s Believe it or not!
See you in the dark, Phil.luna

Life in a cage 4/5

Crystal Moselle’s documentary, of the Angulo family of two parents and their seven children, confined for fourteen years in a Manhattan apartment, must rank as one of
the most bizarre tales of recent times. Winning this year’s Documentary Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, the family’s six brothers (looking like they’ve walked off the
set of Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs) and their sister have an obvious fascination, not only as subjects of the film but as the raw material of a unique sociological
experiment.

Rather than just paying homage to film (as in the recent Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) the kids in The Wolfpack not only re-enact scenes from famous films but,
because they are only allowed to leave the apartment a couple of times a year (in one year they didn’t get out at all) their very life-experiences are largely
determined by what they see on the screen.

This extraordinary scenario was engineered by their father who explains his original objectives in broken English (his words are sub-titled) which seem based on the
vague notion of establishing a non-conformist, alternative life-styled ‘tribe’ by way of social protest – he perceives work as a form of ‘slavery’. Although his wife
(who has provided their children’s home education) seems relatively happy with what they have done, in the case of his children, who are fast reaching the age of
independence, it is a different matter altogether. With himself as the only holder of a key to their apartment, the extreme protectiveness of his family still equates
to incarceration, nonetheless.

In a highly structured Western social system, where ratification and personal identification are unrelenting, it is hard to imagine how the Angulos maintained their
independence from Federal Agencies such as Social Welfare. But apart from administrative matters, there are more important concerns of their children’s social and
emotional development.

As far as style goes, Moselle adopts a fly-on-the-wall approach to the material, simply observing for most of the time and interspersing brief (non-chronological)
sequences of home-shot footage but remaining invisible, herself. For the audience, this is not a wholly satisfying treatment for the loose construction generates many
more questions than answers. With five years in the making of the documentary, it would have been illuminating to know a little more about the Angulo family origins
and to have probed a little deeper into the psyche of the father and his extreme outlook on contemporary American life.

However, the very fact that Moselle was able to gain entrance to this strange and reclusive world at all is a major achievement and in spite of its structural
shortcomings, The Wolfpack is, undoubtedly, one of the most extraordinary (and almost mesmerizing) snapshots of a family life that further strengthens the claim that
truth is stranger than fiction. It is simply so astonishing, it has to be seen to be believed.

Phil: 04.09.15 pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(The Wolfpack will screen at Luna Leederville from 10th September. Check the press or website for details.)


 

Many thanks to Luna, last Saturday, for a film that was a knockout. It sounds like a soapie melodrama but is anything but. It’s smart, vibrant, extremely funny and has a bigger heart than a legion of megaplex blockbusters. Don’t forget the Kleenex for this one.
See you in the dark,
Phil.

ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL meandearl

:a heady mix of tears and laughter 4.5/5

Working from his own novel of the same name, Jesse Andrews wrote the screenplay for the U.S. indie film, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. Picking up the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, it would seem to have the credentials to make a successful transition to the mainstream arena.

Thomas Mann is no film-star spunk but is the perfect fit as Greg Gaines, the archetypical High School nerd – tall, lanky, awkward and with a serious case of low self-esteem in an adult world that seems totally daunting. Greg is almost a recluse, going to great lengths to avoid social interaction and even referring to his best friend, Earl (Ronald Cyler ll) as his ‘co-worker’ (together, they make awful, amateur but witty parodies of famous films). Mann’s performance is painfully accurate with just the right amount of self-deprecation to make his vulnerability both likeable and poignant.

The film’s story is actually told by Gaines himself, in a voice-over that provides a wealth of humorous insight into the workings of his own creative and weirdly-wonderful mind. Other clever techniques are the funny on-screen sub-titles and the insertion of brief animated sequences to emphasise a point (the comic, put-upon mouse is a hoot). All the inventiveness of director Gomez-Rejon is justified by the script which just bursts with wit, humour and wisdom. Without a toilet-joke in sight or recourse to offensive language or gratuitous sex (there is none at all) this is a film that earns its laughter and emotional involvement by its integrity, ingenuity and affection for the central characters.

When Rachel (played endearingly and with great restraint by Olivia Cooke) comes into Greg’s life – by virtue of his mother’s insistence (a great character portrayal from Connie Britton) who informs him that the girl has been diagnosed with Leukaemia and that he should go out of his way to befriend her, Greg’s life is forever changed. Not that there’s any hint of romance. Greg’s voice-over insists that this is no ‘soppy love story’ and the girl ‘doesn’t even die’. Is he deliberately delivering a narrative spoiler? Well, it would be inexcusable to comment on that, except to say that not only is this one of the most inventive and original scripts seen in a long time but it shows an unrelenting determination to avoid the clichés of the disease-stricken youngster genre.

While dealing with a serious situation of a desperately sick girl, the film is neither downbeat nor is it flippant. In his mix of comedy and tragedy, the director has got the balance right.

But Me and Earl and the Dying Girl has yet another dimension – a genuine love of film itself. One of their own productions, for example, is a re-make of Truffaut’s landmark The 400 Blows (which, itself, pays homage to the medium) wittily re-invented as The 400 Bros. Perhaps the greatest tribute though, comes with the screening of their own film, made especially for Rachel. A static camera faces Greg and Rachel, sitting side by side, watching the film in silence and though the film they have made may be daft and amateurish, this is the point at which the real film, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, flexes its own emotional muscle and gives its own demonstration of the power of the moving image.

The final scenes are a masterful display of acting and directing. Played alone and in almost total silence, Greg’s return to Rachel’s bedroom is intimate, reflective and revelatory – such as discovering the real reason for Rachel’s obsessive collection of scissors (which is nothing less than cinematic magic). The letter that he finds, which was written by Rachel on Greg’s behalf, conjures an exquisite paradox since it expands his relationship, in her absence, in ways that are extraordinary and heartbreaking in equal measure.

At its ending, and as Mann’s performance reaches new heights, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, with a little-known cast and a modest budget, stakes its claim as one of the strongest productions of the year. For many, it is destined to join that select group of films that are simply unforgettable.

Phil. 23.08.15. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Me and Earl and the Dying Girl will screen at Luna Leederville and SX from September 3rd. Check the press or website for details.)


 

Courtesy of LUNA Leederville, I attended a media screening of Holding the Man on Saturday, August 15th.  This is an eagerly-awaited film, following the story’s success, first in book form and then as a stage play.  It’s an Australian gay love story, based on real events, with the added dimension of a deadly disease.  Sounds depressing?  Thankfully, it isn’t.

See you in the dark,

Phil.

HOLDING THE MAN:after the final siren  3.5/5blob

Based on the 1995 memoir by Australian writer, Timothy Conigrave, Holding the Man tells the story of a fifteen-year love affair between the author and John Caleo who met in the mid-70’s at a Catholic High school in Melbourne.  Directed by Neil Armfield, the script was written by Tommy Murphy who was also the writer of the theatrical adaptation which, in 2006, became one of the most successful Australian stage productions in recent years.

The relocation of a narrative source, from printed word to stage production to the silver screen is a common tripartite reinvention that, over the years, has met with varying degrees of success.  In this case, entrusting the screenplay to Tommy Murphy, the writer of the play, may not have been the best decision.  In spite of fine performances and high production values, some of the dialogue in Holding the Man sounds more like its stagey predecessor.  However, it is not this aspect which has the biggest influence in blunting the (seriously tragic) events which see both young men fall victim to AIDS, but simply, the passage of time itself.

Beginning in 1976, when homosexuality, in Victoria, was not just considered (by many) an abnormality but was also illegal, John Caleo (Craig Stott) was the captain and star player of the High School’s Australian Rules football team.  From this game the title of the film (denoting an infraction of the rules) is derived and which also serves as a less than subtle reference to the taboo relationship which John develops with fellow student, Timothy Conigrave (Ryan Corr).

The usual pattern of first tentative expressions of affection, note-passing and secretive meetings that mark the beginnings of most juvenile relationships have the additional elements of parental condemnation and social vilification in which both boys suffer physical as well as verbal abuse.

Anthony Lapaglia, as John’s father is a dynamic and forceful character, clearly torn between the love for his son but only too-aware of the legal and career implications of his illicit relationship.  Guy Pearce, on the other hand, is an insubstantial presence as Timothy’s father and contributes little dramatic impetus.

The early scenes get the film off to a shaky start as both Stott and Corr are clearly too old to be strutting the corridors in their High School blazers.  But, as they age and their situation becomes more desperate, their heartfelt and convincing performances grow in stature.  Both actors are superb, displaying both strength and tenderness and with a palpable chemistry that makes their mutual feelings indubitable.  Particularly Stott, as the dying John, is an immensely moving figure but thankfully, as the drama moves to its inevitable conclusion, the screenplay, peppered with witty one-liners, defiantly resists becoming either maudlin or melodramatic.

However, while Holding the Man avoids becoming a soap opera, conversely, it is not as emotionally engaging as it should be.  In spite of the fine performances and all the physical contact that the film contains, there is very little in the screenplay (by way of shared feelings and private moments) to either explain or support the personal intimacy between John and Timothy.

Undoubtedly, the medical aspects of their lives add a tragic dimension but the subject matter has lost much of the dramatic power that it would, undoubtedly, have had back in 1976.  In Australia today, when homosexuality is not only legal but passé and, as a nation, is on the verge of considering same-sex marriage and with the terrible disease having been addressed many times in film, the relationship between John and Timothy seems only slightly exceptional.

 

Phil. 16.08.15.  pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Holding the Man is at Luna Leederville and SX from August 27th.  See the website or press for details).


Ruben Guthrie Ruban Guthrie

Interview done by Malti Elliott with Patrick Brammell.

Ruben Guthrie is the story of one man not only battling the bottle but the very city that wouldn’t let him put it down. A very sad and gradual descent into nothingness occurs during the course of this brilliantly acted film – but we are also shown how love can conquer all and eventually we see Ruben Guthrie getting of the booze for a year and getting his life and girl friend back again to live a normal happy life (we hope). The film has a terrific ending that was extremely plausible and soul satisfying.

Brendan Cowell the director of this film has used his life experience to create the character of Ruben Guthrie. Cowell was caught up in the mad whirl of parties, drinking and having the so called “Beautiful life”. He was a slave to alcohol and attracted people who were the same. He therefore didn’t have a chance in hell of getting out of the rut. However many years on what started as a social experiment turned out to be a roller coaster 12 months of personal discovery as Brendan says. He lost a lot of friends, made new ones and realised that there was much more to life than the ridiculous bottle.

Thanks to that great experiment we have this wonderful film that has a terrific script, lot of sparkling humour and carries an important message for an alcohol obsessed Australia.

Ruben Guthrie is also a tale of a city. Although Sydney is such a beautiful place it has a terrible undercurrent of ugliness and artificiality. To be considered a success you must have the lovely house overlooking the waterfront, an exquisite wife/ partner, and of course a house that is stacked with a collection of wonderful exotic drinks. No consideration is given to how genuine or caring and compassionate a person.

This is a great Australian film that should not only start a national conversation but also make people look at themselves and be aware of how shallow and empty life can be if one descends down the part of alcoholism.

4 out of 5 stars.

 


 

What a beauty this is, in the Revelation Film Festival.  Superb images, a wild sense of humour and a rare viewpoint are the attractions of this multi-award winner. Hope you get to see.

horse  pif

This review has been sent by Phil Burrows.

OF HORSES AND MEN:a symbiotic relationship 4.5/5

In today’s high-tech and fast-paced world, Icelandic director, Benedikt Erlingsson, would seem to have chosen a rather whimsical subject for his first feature film.  However, the fact that he has set it in a remote region of his native land (where people and horses share a timeless interdependence) and on account of the numerous awards it has picked up (in Europe, the U.S., Japan) Of Horses and Men suggests that it has an appeal far beyond the specialised interests of the equine community.

Perhaps deliberately (and certainly, fittingly) the beast takes first place in Erlingsson’s title, for in his film he has achieved something quite remarkable.  By various means, he not only posits horse and human as rather similar animals (book-ending the film, for example, with outrageous and achingly funny scenes of firstly equine and finally of human fornication – the first even taking place with the rider still astride his mount) but takes pains to see events from the horses’ perspective.  There are numerous close-ups of a horse’s eye, in which humanity is reflected – the vanity of a woman applying lipstick; the cruelty of a barbed wire fence (ouch!); the voyeurism of people looking through field glasses and, all the time there is the implication that not only is the horse seeing but understanding – all with a wry smile at this display of, largely, human folly.  On occasions Erlingsson, cleverly and deliberately, refrains from subtitling human speech, aligning the audience with the horse in comprehending nothing that is said.

Eschewing a dominant narrative arc, the film involves half a dozen episodes, seamlessly merging each with the next and which amount to an observation and commentary on events with a wide emotional range; from flippancy to cruelty; from pain to pathos.  In one, a demented rider plunges into the ocean, urging his horse to swim to a ship where he buys bottles of almost pure vodka – risking both their lives and barely making it back to shore.  Another segment, in which a man is stranded in a snowstorm, takes a leaf straight from the book of survival (a la Bear Grylls in the tv series Man Versus Wild), the graphic detail of which will surely make some people squirm.

There is no doubt which of the two is depicted as the nobler beast.  There are glorious sequences of cantering and galloping, of manes and tails flying in the wind, of horseshoes clattering on the road.  But it is not only the horses that look magnificent.  The Icelandic landscape is not often seen on screen and grand vistas of snow-capped mountains and rugged, pastel-tinted terrain are a powerful contrast to the sun-soaked cities and saturated colours of Australia.

While few of the actors are renowned, all seem entirely familiar with the company of horses.  But the film belongs, not so much to the players, but to Erlingsson, the director, who has produced a work of skill and originality.  Featuring a sound track ranging from choral music to primal drumming (in which, ingeniously, the horses’ hooves clatter in time with the rhythm) Of Horses and Men is a rare breed of film – a one-of-a-kind inventiveness that is as fresh and bracing as a splash of Icelandic stream-water. 

While ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ similarly cast the horse-like Houyhnhnms with common sense and intelligence, superior to that of Humans, it makes for delightful speculation as to what the satirist, Jonathon Swift, would have thought about this Icelandic gem, Of Horses and Men.  Methinks, he would have approved.

Phil.  04.07.15. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Of Horses and Men screens on Sunday 5th at Luna Leederville at 9.15pm, Tuesday 7th at Paradiso at 8.30pm, Thursday 9th at Luna SX at 9.00pm and on Saturday 11th at Luna Leederville at 5.14pm as part of the Revelation Festival.)