Wednesday, 14 November 2018

November 15th
The Old Man and the Gun
Cinelatino Film Festival

Once more into the viewing breach, dear friends! And this week brings yet more worthy films for your delectation. Handsome Robert Redford is back, an elegant fighting aeroplane stars in a wonderful doco, the Japanese explore the meaning of family, while the Cinelatino Film Festival brings us the best from Latin America. 

The Old Man and the Gun
Dir: David Lowery
Length: 94 min 
© Entertainment One -  Redford is as charming as ever
in this film based upon the criminal career of
an audacious oldie
Yet another film based (loosely) on a true story, that of Forrest Tucker, a career bank robber and serial prison escapee. Tucker apparently had more jail escapes than anyone in America. Robert Redford, in what he says is his swansong, plays the old man with charm and charisma: a gentlemanly bank robber, who pursues his passion ever so politely and with little violence. Danny Glover and Tom Waits are Tucker's long-term amiable accomplices, while Sissy Spacek is Jewel, the woman Tucker meets in her later years, and who loves him despite discovering his criminal bent. Detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck) pursues the wily crim with a grudging admiration for the thief's craft. The film is relatively light, with good humour and nods to past Redford films. The actor, now 80, is so enchanting to watch, his weather-beaten still handsome face and engaging smile so mesmerising, it makes the film definitely worth a look.  
3.5 - well recommended! 

Dir: David Fairhead & Ant Palmer
Length: 99 min 
Showing at Classic Elsternwick, Cameo Belgrave, Lido Hawthorn, Sun Yarraville and select Village cinemas
© Rialto - a love-song (or love-film) to the 
fighting machine that helped win WW2
The Spitfire is the aeroplane credited with changing the course of world history by winning the Battle of Britain and ultimately World War Two. This is the story of that plane, from its innovative design, through to the determination and heroism of the gutsy pilots who flew it. Interviews with the surviving combat pilots are fascinating and moving - all remember well the terror and thrill of their wartime experiences. (Including the many women who flew the planes from the factories to the airfields). You don't have to be remotely interested in planes to enjoy this informative and stirring documentary. In what is almost a love song to the plane, the film-makers use stunning aerial cinematography and recreations of some of the most gripping air battles.
4 - highly recommended! 

Dir: Hirokazu Koreeda
Length: 121 min 

© Rialto - Japanese slice-of-life films
are usually winners - this sure is
Director Koreeda has no less than 43 various wins to his name. He is known for his humanistic approach to his story-telling, and this latest is no exception, on both counts, having won the Palm D'or at this years Cannes FF. The ragged family is a motley crew of  husband, wife, Grandma, son, daughter, and the late addition of a tiny girl they find hungry and cold on the street. Dad and son regularly shoplift, and all supplement life with Gran's pension. It's what we call a slow-burn film - nothing dramatic happens until well into the story, but the picture created of this family is then opened up to reveal truths we didn't imagine at the start. There is much genuine love between the characters, and, despite their poverty, a generosity of spirit to provide and protect. The minutiae of daily life is lovingly created, from mending, cooking, children playing, through to, of course, shoplifting. As you probably know by now, I love the delicacy of this style of film-making, and the Japanese do it so well. When finally the carefully constructed house of cards comes tumbling down, there is much poignancy and emotional pain. 
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended! 

Cinelatino Film Festival
Melbourne November 13-28
Astor, Palace Como, Palace Westgarth
For other states and program times:

Not to be confused with the Spanish Film Festival, this is Australia's largest festival of films from Latin America. The 26 features and three documentaries come from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Paraguay. Though the wonderful opening night film Roma screened two days ago there will be further opportunities to catch it during the festival. I'm lucky to have previewed a selection.
© Cinelatino FF - Roma is a slow-burn, deeply 
compassionate film about family, caring and more.
Roma: Winner of the Golden Lion at Venice this year, Roma revolves around a year in the life of a middle class Mexican family in the 1970s. Apparently the story is highly inspired by Cuaron's own youth, and the film feels like a the diary of a family with all its foibles; raucous kids, a messy dog, philandering husband and a wife rediscovering her identity. There is also a background thread of political turmoil and protest at the time.The central focus however is on the family's beloved maid Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) who unintentionally falls pregnant. The non-professional actress is sublime in her portrayal of the stoic, loving, hard-working girl. Cuaron displays a genius for observing the tiny details of life and employs exquisite black and white cinematography in carefully constructing each scene. The film is suffused with a depth of emotion around love, loss, and the deep attachment one can develop for others who are not necessarily family. Some colleagues declared it boring; I was transfixed. 
Etiqueta No Rigurosa (No Dress Code Required): This award-winning doco strikes a major blow for gay rights. It chronicles the struggle  Victor and Fernando have in being allowed to marry, in the Mexican state of Baja California. With wonderful interviews with the men, and live footage of their verbal confrontations with government officials, this is a film to both inspire and enrage. The patience and peaceful persistence of the men and their friends is admirable while the obstructionist prejudice of the authorities is enough to make me throw epithets at the screen. 
In Love and Hate: Nominated for many Argentinian awards, this stylish crime/romance, based on a 1949 novel, harks back to the days of elegant hotels, unexpected murders and femme fatales. Doctor Hubermann is running from a painful love affair. He heads to a remote hotel on the beach, but who should be there - the woman he is avoiding, with her sister and sister's lover. This is highly entertaining in a light and somewhat melodramatic way. The film's production design is so eye-catching, especially the use of colour, and it's a while since I've seen such a back-stabbing, double dealing, entertaining collection of villainous characters. 

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

November 8th
Boy Erased
Journey's End
Russian Film Festival
Alliance Francaise Classic Film Festival

It's a week of totally contrasting films - horror, war, social commentary. Thinking about it, all are horror in their own ways. And what would movie-going be without two more festivals?

Boy Erased
Dir: Joel Edgerton
Length: 114 min 
© Universal -  great performances, 
important themes in an increasingly
right-wing world
This disturbing true story is based upon the memoir of Garrard Conley, who wrote a memoir of his time in "gay conversion therapy". Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges) is the son of a smalltown Baptist pastor (Russell Crowe) and loving mother (Nicole Kidman). When a schoolmate outs Jared to his parents, they convince him to go to a gay conversion centre, or suffer ostracism from his family, community and church. The centre, Love in Action, is run by Sykes, himself a "gay convert" (played by director Edgerton). There attendees are "encouraged" to see the evil of their ways and renounce homosexuality. The film takes an understated approach, which helps the audience feel even more abhorrence of the so-called conversion methodology, with its judgmentalism, guilt and suicide-inducing philosophies. Although the subject matter is similar to the recent Miseducation of Cameron Post, this feels easier to relate to, and is underpinned by a riveting performance from young Hedges. Kidman is in peak form in this role. It goes without saying this sort of film is critical in changing archaic right-wing social attitudes and throwing a lifeline to the LGBTQI community.
4 - highly recommended! 

Journey's End
Dir: Saul Dibb
Length: 107  min 
© Icon - life in the trenches was worse
than most soldiers imagined
Based on a play written 90 years ago, this World War One story has been filmed several times, but comes up trumps in this modern version. It's not your typical war film, in which  "the men" and their bravery are glorified. This is an honest look at the conditions in the trenches and in the living quarters below the trenches, as a group of men await their possible deaths in an anticipated enemy attack. The men are not afraid to show their emotional vulnerability and moments of tenderness. Paul Bettany is splendid as Lt Osborne, who attempts to keep the morale up, while Sam Claflin gives an astonishing performance as Cptn Stanhope, full of fear, despair, and a rampant alcoholic. Notable too is Toby Jones as the cook, and young Asa Butterfield as the newly arrived Raleigh, full of misplaced enthusiasm. The endless mud, pathetic rations, daily privations, and constant fear are palpable. It's such a sad film with the soldiers portrayed as merely unfortunate human beings caught up in something beyond their control, and doing the best they can to get through by being supportive of each other. This is ultimately a very humane anti-war story, focusing on emotional bravery (or lack of it) as opposed to battlefield heroics.
3.5 - well recommended! 

Dir: Luca Guadagnino
Length: 152 min 
© Transmission - ghastly, mesmerising, 
creative, superb - watch at your own risk!
Yet again I'm guilty of not having seen the original 1977 iconic horror film directed by Dario Argento. Too bad - this one packs such a wallop I wonder if I could stand another version of the story. Briefly, dancer Susie Bannon (Dakota Johnson of Fifty Shades infamy) comes from Ohio to join the prestigious Markos dance company in Berlin. Head choreographer Mme Blanc (Tilda Swinton) takes Susie under her wing. Meantime, ex-company member Patrizia appears to have gone paranoid, claiming all manner of unholy doings among the many women who run the company. Hidden areas of the building are gradually discovered by Susie's new friend Sara, along with a demonic plot to use a chosen dancer as a vessel to reinstate an ancient witch. It's impossible to detail here the many thematic threads of this extraordinary film - motherhood, witches, German Holocaust guilt, the abuse of power, female brutality and more. I can't imagine a more divisive film, with its visceral, sickeningly violent scenes involving extreme body horror. The choreography is dramatically brilliant; but some dance sequences are  inextricably interwoven with the violence which is almost impossible to watch. Johnson is surprisingly strong in her role, and Swinton simply sublime, especially since she also plays (unrecognisably) psychologist Josef Klemperer. The relentless build up of tension gives way to a final grotesque sequence which borders on overkill. Whatever, the film is unforgettable (unfortunately!)
Beware; avoid (or is it 4 - highly recommended?) You be the judge! 

Russian Resurrection Film Festival
Melbourne ACMI - 9-18 Nov
Some films also at Elsternwick Classic until 18 Nov
For times, films, other states visit

It's the 15th year for RRFF, and this year 16 new films will screen, as well as a retrospective featuring a selection of award-winning Soviet films. Much-awarded actor Konstantin Khabensky stars in two high profile films, Sobibor and Selfie. As usual, I've been lucky to preview a few.

Sobibor: Sobibor was a Nazi death camp famous for a mass escape of prisoners, led by Russian/Jewish POW Alexander Perchersky. In 1987 a film was made starring Rutger Hauer. This version of the film virtually a blockbuster, full of drama, violence, graphic detail and heroism. Like so many films of this nature, it shows the best and absolute worst of human beings. Ghastliness of camp life is front and centre, but so are hope and courage. A very strong film.
Pagans: Natalia, estranged mother of Oleg, turns up on his doorstep bearing gifts from a religious pilgrimage. Discovering that Oleg and his family hold little faith, and her grand-daughter is running off the rails, she sets about trying to win them over to her devoutness. This is in parts humorous, and no doubt a fairly negative view on the power the Orthodox church can hold over its devotees.  
Jump Man: Denis is abandoned as a baby because he has a condition in which he feels no pain. His mother, Oksana,  returns and hooks him up with a gang who make him jump in front of cars to then scam money out of the drivers. The police, courts, lawyers are all complicit. This is a disturbing and scathing commentary upon corruption in Russian society and the disintegration of family values. 
© RRFF -  Russian superstar Khabensky stars in 
Selfie and Sobibor.
Selfie: A stylish thriller about a man who discovers he has been replaced by a doppelganger (double). When he is institutionalised by his disbelieving friends, only his daughter seems to see the truth. The film looks great, is well acted, but aspects of the plot don't hang together for me, with several illogicalities that I simply can't get my head around.

Alliance Francaise Classic Film Festival
8-11 November
Astor Cinema, Melbourne
© Palace  -  don't mess with this woman
This short and sweet festival pays tribute to legendary actress Jeanne Moreau, who died last year, aged 89. Six of her most renowned films from 1958 - 1991 will screen. I caught up with Eva (1962), set in Venice, where a manipulative woman sets her sights on an arrogant writer (Stanley Baker), who is engaged to someone else. The game of cat and mouse, seduction, rejection, humiliation and deception must be seen to be believed. The film employs atmospheric black and white cinematography, and is a great opportunity to catch the sort of movie they don't make any more. 

Friday, 2 November 2018

November 2nd
Bohemian Rhapsody
Fahrenheit 11/9
Seven more films from Jewish International Film Festival

Bohemian Rhapsody has moved me to tears this week. Two other films reassure me that indie American film-making is alive and well, while the ongoing smorgasbord at JIFF makes it very hard to choose; they are all such strong films. 

Bohemian Rhapsody
Director: Bryan Singer
Length: 134 min
© Fox - what a performance in this
biopic of Queen and Freddie Mercury
The meteoric rise to fame of the band Queen and its lead singer Freddie Mercury is the subject of this biopic, which seems to have garnered a number of curmudgeonly critics. Sure, the film tells the story in a linear way, breaking no new ground, but for me it is thrilling, moving, uplifting, and 100% entertaining. Rami Malek plays Mercury, with all the mannerisms and flair, as if he's an incarnation of the singer. His flamboyant, magnificent performance is Oscar-worthy. On one level the film is about the music, and the creative process that bands go through, their closeness punctuated by creative and ego clashes. These are musicians who wanted to be innovative, and to involve the audience in their performances, creating legendary songs that are now cross-generational, beloved anthems. It is also the story of a boy - a disappointment to his stern father, insecure about his looks, desperately wanting love and approval, and struggling with his sexuality leading to a lifestyle that spirals out of control. The era is faithfully recreated, while the book-ending of the film with the 1985 Live Aid concert creates an unforgettable climax. The way the production combines the actual music with the actors' performances makes me believe I am seeing the real band. The big surprise however comes in the emotional wallop it packs for me, imparting the humanity and pain under the life of stardom of the man with the angel's voice.
4 - highly recommended! (5 for my enjoyment)

Director: Felix Van Groeningen
Length: 112 min
Exclusive to Cinema Nova
© Roadshow - powerhouse performances 
depict a disintegrating marriage as seen
through the eyes of the young son
Joe (Ed Oxenbould) is the 14-year-old son of Jeanette (Carey Mulligan) and Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal, in 1960s Montana. When Jerry loses his job he decides to join a firefighting crew, leaving his family to fend for themselves. As Jeanette struggles with Jerry's absence, Joe is forced to grow up quickly, as he witnesses the prelude to a disintegrating marriage. Wildlife is understated, gentle and sad, marked by three truly outstanding performances. Aussie Oxenbould (from Paper Planes) is a revelation, in a thoughtful, emotional and compelling performance. Mulligan, in her capturing of a woman torn between expected roles of the day and her own needs, is riveting. The story feels authentic, and the director allows plenty of time and quiet moments (no overwhelming aggravating soundtrack) to appreciate the emotions of the characters. No-one is demonised - it's just life, and portrayed in the sort of American Indie film I really admire.
3.5 - well recommended!  

Fahrenheit 11/9
Director: Michael Moore
Length: 126 min
© Madman- Moore is on the rampage again,
this time with Trump and the entire system in 
his firing line. 
He's back!! Love him or hate him, crusading social critic Michael Moore takes on what he sees as the totally broken American system in a sprawling and disturbing documentary. Among the many issues he grapples with are the shock of Hilary Clinton losing the election even though she had more votes; the town of Flint, where the Governor switched the water supply so that thousands of children (poor and black) got lead poisoning; the ongoing school shootings, where kids are now taking gun protest into their own hands; but most of all the reprehensible history and nature of President Donald Trump, who foments hatred, and, according to Moore, has an uncanny parallel to Hitler, and a number of other tyrants. Even Obama is not spared in an incident seen as a total betrayal of the Flint people. Moore goes as far as to say the Democrats paved the way for Trump, and the only way to change is to totally overthrow the system. We'd expect nothing less from the uncompromising MM.
3.5 - well recommended!  

Jewish International Film Festival - more
Melbourne: Running in Melbourne until 21 Nov
Classic Elsternwick, Lido Hawthorn, Cameo Belgrave
For other states, times and ticketing see

© JIFF - creative use of music
and animation
Seder Masochism: Fans of animation and music (especially disco) should enjoy this zany film, loosely based upon the Passover Seder. Animated pharaohs, Egyptians, Israelites, and big Moses all dance, sing and discuss the meaning of Passover, but underneath is a subtle questioning of religion, along with a not-so-subtle feminist criticism of "the Patriarchy" and its role in demolishing the Goddess cult. 
Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes: This will be a must for any jazz fans. Founded by Jewish refugees, Blue Note is the iconic pioneering record label that released some of the best jazz artists ever. As a history of the struggle for black music to be heard, and an insight into the music itself, this is a winner.  
Outdoors: A young couple are building a new home in the Galilee. Initial enthusiasm gradually gives way to conflict over practicalities. This however masks deeper issues in the relationship. The story is so universal that most people in a relationship will easily relate. Well scripted, understated, and thought-provoking. 
The Interpreter: This wonderful film opened the Festival. It's the story of an 80 year old interpreter Mr Ungar who goes in search of the camp commandant responsible for the death of his parents, When he finds the commandant's son, Georg, the two go on a road trip through Slovakia to explore their parents' pasts. Walking a fine line between comedy and tragedy, the film is a warm-hearted and insightful look at the sins of the father, guilt, revenge, and forgiveness. 
Redemption (Geula): Devoutly Orthodox Menachem has a little daughter Geula who is undergoing cancer therapy. When Menachem is offered to play with the rock band he was in before he became religious, he is torn between desire to earn much-needed money and integrity around his beliefs. This compassionate, award-winning film is a showcase for fabulous festive Jewish music given the rock treatment. 
Murer: Anatomy of a Trial: Winner of a major Austrian film award, this is an in-depth examination of the trial of Franz Murer, a concentration camp commandant known as The Butcher of Vilnius. Re-enactments of the testimonies of the many witnesses and victims is exacting and traumatic, but the machinations behind the scenes, involving government manipulations, are equally chilling. 
The Prince and the Dybbuk: Michal Waszynski directed the classic Yiddish film The Dybbuk in 1937. By the time of his death in 1965, he'd directed more than 50 films, and some people even  remembered him as an Italian prince. The truth of his origins in the Ukraine, and the reinventing of himself, are explored in this intriguing doco that questions whether one can ever break free from one's roots.  

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

October 25th
Beautiful Boy
Backtrack Boys
Book Week
Ghost Stories
Interview with God

Festivals reviewed in a separate edition:

Jewish International Film Festival
Mini British Film Festival
Iranian Film Festival

It's simply too much to fit into one report this week, so I'll split the main releases and the three festivals into two blogs. Several of this week's films have a strong thread of compassion and humanity running through them. Another great week for movie lovers.

Beautiful Boy
Director: Felix Van Groeningen
Length: 112 min
© Transmission  - a father's love is tested by
an addicted son. 
David Sheff (Steve Carrell) is a devoted, loving father to teenage Nic (Timothee Chalamet). Divorced from Nic's mother David has a new family with two young kids. His closeness to his son is shattered when, at age 18, Nic starts taking drugs, especially meth amphetamines. Both father and son wrote individual memoirs on this heart-breaking period on Nic's life, and the director combines these into one story showing both perspectives. The film depicts a family convinced that love is the only way to battle the problem, but learning that ultimately there is only so much love can do. Critics of this film are dismayed that not enough is shown of Nic's reasons - maybe young kids don't need reasons - they just do the wrong thing, then get hooked. Regardless, this is a fine portrayal of the grief and angst a family must go through with an addicted child. There is much humanity in this family's approach to the ghastly cycle of sobriety and relapse, and the film is underpinned by masterful performances from Chalamet and Carrell. 
4 - highly recommended!

Backtrack Boys
Director: Catherine Scott
Length: 100 min
© Umbrella -  a film with bucket-
loads of humanity and compassion
So many kids in country towns in Australia fall through the legal cracks - they mess up with alcohol, drugs and crime and end up in jail, which only perpetuates their problems. In Armidale, NSW, an easy-going jackaroo Bernie Shakeshaft has set up an organisation called Backtrack, which takes in the troubled boys to be part of his program. Each kid is teamed with a dog and they hit the road taking part in dog-jumping shows. But even better, with Bernie's mentoring and the many program volunteers, the kids start to find their voices, gain self-esteem and hopefully turn their lives around. This doco is seriously inspiring, showing an alternative to the punitive system so often favoured by authorities. Bernie and his helpers manage to bring out an honesty and gentleness in their damaged boys, and the camaraderie between boys and dogs, the kids themselves, and their love for Bernie is strong. To say a film is important can turn people off, but this one is. It's humane, it's beautifully made, the kids are more articulate that one would ever imagine, and it reaches deep into places of compassion in the heart, bringing hope.
4 - highly recommended!

Book Week
Dir: Heath Davis
Length: 98 min
© Bonsai Films - Mr Cutler is almost compellingly
awful - but you can't quite hate him 
High school teacher, Nicholas Cutler (Alan Dukes) is a disgraced novelist on the cusp of a fresh deal. After a publicity tour gone wrong years before, he now has an opportunity, but must behave himself for a week, which happens to coincide with Book Week. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong for this infuriating man, full of his own self importance and treating those around him with disdain. Probably only a teacher could have written this screenplay - it exudes the quiet despair of dissatisfied teachers, and encompasses plot points that will be familiar to those in the profession. Certainly there are moments of laughter, mostly at Nic's expense - he is such a thoroughly despicable man, and the antics of the kids he teaches are not much better. Ultimately it all feels a tad unbelievable, but there's enough droll humour to make it worth a look.
3 - recommended

Ghost Stories
Dir: Andy Nyman
Length: 97 min
© Icon -  Martin Freeman is chilling as a man who 
sees the ghost of his dead wife after she
dies in childbirth
Philip Goodman (Andy Nyman) has spent his life debunking purported psychics. But when a fellow skeptic  gives him a case file of three unsolved mysteries he starts to reassess matters. This reminds me of the old classic British horror films like Dead of Night. There is little that we associate with "horror" today (think chainsaw massacres, human centipedes and sawing limbs off to escape!)  here much relies upon the scariness of what the characters and the viewers perceive. The frights are often psychological, stemming from confusion and warped reality. Of course this explains little of what is a fascinating story . . . but quite tricky to deconstruct. The fuzziness (or is it cleverness?) of the plot is made more murky by the physically very dark settings of two of the episodes. I found it almost impossible to discern visually what was happening. Certainly the twist at the end is intriguing, making me go back to the start to try and put a meaning to it all. Whether this makes the film a success or failure, I don't know. It's certainly stylish, but a mystery.
3 - recommended!

An Interview with God
Dir: Perry Lang
Length: 97 min
Exclusive to Belgrave Cameo and selected Village cinemas
© Rialto - many thought-provoking questions
raised in this intriguing film. 
Here's a left-of-centre offering to get your brain a-buzzing with all manner of existential questions. Paul (Aussie Brenton Thwaites) is a journalist returned from Afghanistan. After what he's seen there, he is questioning his faith, and his marriage is on the downhill slide. When he is offered an interview with someone claiming to be God (David Strathairn) he jumps at the opportunity. Whether you are a believer or not, the film should raise some interesting questions for viewers regarding their own lives - issues of the choices we make, the meaning of faith (be it religious or otherwise), and the big one - forgiveness. The dialogue is cleverly constructed with "God" maintaining a neutral stance which throws most of Paul's questions back to himself, to find answers from within. Strathairn is perfectly cast in this role, and Thwaites acquits himself well. I found myself surprised that I enjoyed this low-key film so much.
3.5 - well recommended!

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

October 25th - Festival Time!!
Jewish International Film Festival
British Film Festival
Iranian Film Festival

Festival fanatics rejoice - three Film Festivals open this week. How to choose - there is so much wonderful viewing to be had.  

Jewish International Film Festival
Melbourne: 24 Oct - 21 Nov
Classic Elsternwick, Lido Hawthorn, Cameo Belgrave
For other states, times and ticketing see

This festival never ceases to impress me. Eddie Tamir is a top-notch curator. So many of the films are fascinating, informative, entertaining, shocking - and you don't have to be Jewish to get the best from them. There are more than 60 films from 23 countries, with themes ranging from music, film, Holocaust, to relationships and more; animation is included, along with a couple of very old treasures from the 1920s. Something for everyone. Here are 10 films I've previewed so far (aghast!!!), but stay tuned for more to come.  

All pix © JIFF 
Budapest Noir: Set in pre-war Hungary in the mid 1930s, this handsome film features hard-boiled detective Zsigmond Gordon, who is investigating the death of an unnamed Jewish woman whose body is found in the street. The stunning cinematography with its noir feel (although in color) showcases the city, and acting by the lead man and his femme sidekick is compelling. The plot remains gripping, the indications of what is to come for Jews in Hungary is subtly ever-present, and the whole makes for an excellent cinema experience. 

Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas: This short and sweet doco is  irreverent, funny, informative and a winner. It's the story of post-war Jewish immigrants to the USA, who became top songwriters and penned the most popular Christmas songs: I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, The Christmas Song and more. Cheekily, the director sets his story in a Chinese restaurant, where staff sing and tap out rhythms, while other artists perform stunningly original renditions of the songs. Underneath all the fun, is a hope that a holiday like Christmas represents a day where people can unite and hope for a better world. 

The Jewish Underground: In the 1980s a group of right-wing terrorists, the Jewish Underground, committed several violent crimes against Palestinians and then plotted to blow up the Dome of the Rock. Thankfully they were thwarted in time. The Israeli Secret Service finally got their hands on the criminals. Three decades later the group still has an influence on Israeli politics. This doco interviews key figures from the secret service and the perpetrators, while exploring the scary fact that fanatics, regardless of which side they are on, are the scourge of today's world and threat to peace. 

Sam Spiegel: Conquering Hollywood: What a fabulous insight into the Golden Era of Hollywood. A refugee from Germany in the early 30s, Spiegel became the only person to win three Oscars as sole producer. Interviewees reflect upon the man and his excellent work ethic, while clips of iconic films like Lawrence of Arabia, Bridge on the River Kwai and On the Waterfront are a real treat. Anyone with a remote interest in film history should not miss this, with its behind the scenes segments, and an insight into a world of power and movie glamour long gone

Who Will Write our History: Just when we think we have seen all the takes on the Holocaust, along comes a fresh slant on things. This mix of documentary and re-enactment looks at the Warsaw Ghetto, where a group of writers and chroniclers gathered together eye-witness accounts of daily life under the Nazis, along with photos, sketches, diaries and more. They buried the entire cache in several containers, and only years later was it unearthed from the rubble of the bombed ghetto. This is the story of those archives, the people who created them, and the mix of despair, hope, and survival that was life in the Warsaw Ghetto. Archival footage is, as always, astonishing and shocking. 

The Twinning Reaction: An excellent companion piece to Three Identical Strangers, this doco looks more widely at the "experiment" conducted by psychiatrists via an adoption agency, based upon separating out twins for adoption. It is a tragic tale, testament to the lives damaged for the ego of scientists. 

Sobibor: Sobibor was a Nazi death camp famous for a mass escape of prisoners, led by Russian/Jewish POW Alexander Perchersky. In 1987 a film was made starring Rutger Hauer. This time the Russians have made the story, almost in the style of a blockbuster, full of drama, violence, graphic detail and heroism. Like so many films of this nature, it shows the best and absolute worst of human beings. Ghastliness of camp life is front and centre, but so are hope and courage. 

Studio 54: In the 70s, one New York disco was the place to be. This is the story of Studio 54 in its heyday - the hedonism, the allure, the celebrities and the two founders, Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager. The rise and ignominious fall of the club is chronicled in all its lurid detail, with wonderful footage not seen before. 

Conventional Sins: This seriously disturbing doco is based upon the diary of a 15-year-old who suffered abuse at the hands of pedophiles in the ultra-orthodox Haredi sect in a suburb of Jerusalem. Meilech, now adult, meets with actors to discuss playing the roles of both abusers and victims. The reenactments provide a shameful window into the abuse of power and the damage it causes, particularly since the closed community remains tight-lipped in even talking about it. 

Let's Dance: Israeli modern dance is renowned throughout the world, with cutting edge choreographers and esteemed dance companies. This joyous documentary looks at the genesis of dance culture in Israel, and then showcases some of the spectacular performances from modern companies. There is fire, talent, athleticism and enthusiasm making the doco a delight to watch.

Mini British Film Festival
Melbourne: 25 Oct - 14 Nov
Palace Como, Brighton Bay, Westgarth, Astor
For other states, times and ticketing see

Browsing through the program, I see this is the sort of festival where I want to see every film. From the opening night Collette, with Keira Knightley, to closing night's Stan and Ollie (with Steve Coogan and John C Reilly), it looks like a full on fab festival. As well as umpteen premieres, there is a retrospective featuring Alfie, The Italian Job, To Sir With Love, Georgy Girl and The Knack, all iconic swinging 60s films. And in keeping with the sixties, I've previewed the doco narrated by Caine, called . . . 

My Generation: Michael Caine takes audiences to the Britain of his youth (and the youth of many viewers I'd imagine). He leads us through the story of the British pop culture explosion of the 1960s, as Brit society changed from something a tad boring, to a vibrant world of music, fashion and youth culture. With a soundtrack to die for - Beatles, Kinks, Stones, Animals and more - and fashion icons like Twiggy and Mary Quant, along with archival footage and interviews from the day and looking back, this is a must see for those who remember the era with nostalgia.

Iranian Film Festival
25 October - 30 October
For other states and times, go to

This year's festival showcases 12 feature films from Iran's most prominent directors. It's a real shame these fine films seldom seem to get a mainstream release. So this is a great chance to see films you might not otherwise have an opportunity to catch.

© Iranian Film Festival - Hendi and Hormoz
Hendi and Hormoz: Set on an Iranian island where haematite is mined, this is the sad tale of a marriage between a 16-year-old boy and his 13-year-old bride. When Hendi falls pregnant too young, Hormoz is forced into a pact with a smuggler to try to support his family. Visually beautiful, but emotionally tragic this is a gentle and sobering film, where life is a struggle and young people's lives lack the opportunities of those in the West. 

© Iranian Film Festival -
gut-wrenching story
Axing (Darkoob): Mahsa is a junkie who believes her baby died seven years ago. But when she finds the child is possibly still alive and living with her husband and his new wife, all hell breaks loose. This is one of the most affecting films I've seen in a long time - full of tension, drama and raw humanity. The lives of Teheran addicts is depicted unflinchingly, and the heartache for all concerned evokes both anger and compassion. Sara Bahrami won an Iranian award for Best Actress, and deservedly so.  

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

October 18th
A Star is Born
The Cleaners
Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist

Many people have been waiting for this latest incarnation of A Star is Born. For me it's a winner. While the other films are not so easily accessible, each will no doubt have its appreciative viewers. 

A Star is Born
Director: Bradley Cooper
Length: 125 min
© Roadshow - Cooper and Gaga make a great couple
and boy, can they sing up a storm!
Inevitably with the fourth remake of a well-known film, there will be knockers. As I always say, I look at a film on its own merits, forget the past incarnations, and just go with it. And I certainly went with this one, loving every minute. It's the story of Ally, (Lady Gaga), a talented singer who has almost given up on ever making it, until she meets star  country-rock singer Jack (Bradley Cooper), who, despite his success, is battling his own demon - alcoholism. (No surprise they meet in a bar where she's singing and he's drinking.) He drags her reluctantly into the limelight, and as her career trajectory ascends, so his goes on the downhill slide. Yes, it's a melodrama, and yes, it unashamedly wrenches your heart strings, but here's the thing: the songs written for the film are marvellous, Gaga and Cooper are both talented singers, the chemistry between them is sizzling, and the film moves along at a cracking pace that rarely flags. The amount of analysis generated by this film on gender roles, the fame machine and whether it lives up to past versions is unnecessary. Just go along and revel in the ultimately old-fashioned love story, the unforgettable screen presence of Gaga, and the wonderful music (even if Cooper has indulgent moments of turning the camera full-pelt on himself in the grizzled pop-God role).
4 - highly recommended!

The Cleaners
Dir: Hans Block & Moritz Riesewieck
Length: 88 min
Exclusive to ACMI - Oct 19 - Nov 6
© ACMI/Madman -  is social media sending our society
off the rails?
This is a timely documentary about just who is controlling what we see on the many ubiquitous social media sites. We meet a group of workers in the Philippines who must sit for hours each day trawling through Facebook content, determining what is acceptable to leave on, and what should be deleted. Because of the nature of the content, from violence, to child pornography, to propaganda, this work is psychologically damaging, and some of the people even know very little about the subject matter they are deciding upon. Underneath this surface level of the doco, are the many burning questions for today's world - the nature of journalism, the power of "fake news", the easy incitement of hatred. While the doco is stylistically a bit dry, with many talking heads and visual devices trying to spice this up, the actual content is deeply disturbing, highlighting a twisted world in which this behemoth we casually call social media or the Internet, could have the power to change every social value, belief and norm that we take for granted - and all in the name of more money for the companies backing them. Super-scary food for thought. 
3 - recommended!

Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist
Director: Lorna Tucker
Length: 80 min
© Madman - Vivienne Westwood is anything but
your average designer - punk and out there. 

Dame Vivienne Westwood has been a foremost British fashion designer for the last 40 years. She is a child of the punk scene of the 1970s. This doco traces her early times with partner Malcolm McLaren, a member of the Sex Pistols, who showcased Westwood's early designs. It then tracks the development of her own design house, renowned for some pretty outrageous fashions. For a women considered to be majorly counter-culture, she now reaps in the capitalist dollars, with a world-wide empire. For someone so iconic and rebellious she comes across as somewhat . . dare I say . . . mainstream? I fear this is a problem with the film-maker who allows the interviews to remain somewhat bland (even if Westwood is cantankerous). By comparison scenes of Vivienne cavorting with her models, or the energetic younger version of herself, underscore her remarkable energy, but not enough is done to really showcase how/why she became so popular. Scenes in the cutting room preparing collections with Westwood's current husband lack pizzazz, and the line of expensive clothing comes across as more crazy than inspired. I'm no fashionista, but when I compare this to a stunning film like the recent McQueen, I imagine die-hard fans of Westwood will be the ones to get the most out of this film.
2.5 - maybe!

Director: Sergei Loznitsa
Length: 121 min

© Backlot Films - such unpleasant people in a corrupt
war-torn part of the world. 
Winner of Best Director in Un Certain Regard Cannes 2018, this is the sort of movie that presents me with a great dilemma. Everyone says it's wonderful, but politico-klutz that I am, knowing little about the Ukraine/Russia conflict. I found it tough going, though certain scenes are almost horrifically spellbinding. In about a dozen vignettes, Loznitsa presents horrific visions of a degraded society torn apart by factional conflict, ongoing war, corruption, and a pervading sense of inhumanity to one's fellow humans. The characters are generally unlikeable, and with a typical Eastern bloc sensibility, almost like mocking versions of bleak, ugly  stereotypes. Every scene takes place with protracted, carefully constructed shots, stressing the gloom of these war-torn lives.  Corrupt officials expropriate citizens' cars, refugees live in squalor, loud, moronic folk marry, and a group of people are made up for a staged TV news show that is definitely "fake news", with a most disturbing outcome. For political buffs and fans of this style of movie making and story-telling it could be a winner, but I'm left appreciative but mostly floundering. I suggest boning up on a few historical facts before viewing. Nevertheless . . .
3 - recommended!