Thursday, 5 December 2019

December 5th
The Two Popes
Ask Doctor Ruth
The Wild Goose Lake
The Good Liar

No sooner do the last festivals for the year end, than we get into the run-up to the films for release over the holiday season. Then the run-up to the Oscars . . . and so it goes and never ends. But what fun, and as always, a whole new crop of terrific films!

The Two Popes
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Length: 125 min
Elsternwick Classic, Lido Hawthorn and Cameo Belgrave - then to Netflix
©  Netflix -  top performances from two 
powerhouse actors. 
Jorge Bergoglio (better known as Pope Francis, and played by Jonathan Pryce) went from being a superior in the Jesuit order in Argentina in the mid-1970s, to the position of cardinal, and ultimately Pope in 2013. This extraordinary film looks at Jorge's story, with the focus upon his meetings with his predecessor, Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins). Together the men discuss the future of the church, and reveal their misgivings to each other. A dark part of Jorge's past is revealed, concerning the time of the military dictators in Argentina, and Jorge's alleged complicity with them. I didn't expect to love this film as much as I do, but with searing performances from two brilliant actors, and a story full of compassion, many moments of humour, and important moral questions, what's not to love? There's no stuffiness or stodginess here; the true story encompasses several time periods, maintaining interest, giving intriguing insights into Argentinian history, its poverty and brutality, as well as a sneak peak into the interior of the Vatican. Even if you eschew religion, you cannot help but be impressed by the basic humanity, (even moments of ordinariness), displayed by the popes, along with great humility and wisdom. This is a rare insight into the inner workings of a faith followed by 1.2 billion of the world's people, and how its leaders are trying to keep it modern and relevant.
4 - highly recommended!

Ask Dr Ruth
Director: Ryan White
Length: 100 min
©  Rialto - how could you not love her? She loves life . . .
and talking about sex
This spritely, diminutive 91-year-old  German woman is an unlikely candidate to be America's most well-known celebrity sex therapist. Through her TV and radio shows, Ruth Westheimer, aka Dr Ruth, totally changed the conversation around every aspect of sexuality. This uplifting doco tracks her life and her amazing career. Her privileged childhood in Frankfurt was cut short by the rise of Nazism. Sent by her parents to Switzerland to escape, she never saw them again. After emigrating to Palestine and then America, Ruth studied psychology and started speaking out about the need for education on issues of contraception and abortion. The rest is history. With excerpts from her many TV and radio shows, as well as some beautifully crafted sketches that illustrate her sad childhood in Germany, this is both entertaining, uplifting and absolutely inspiring watching. Ruth hasn't lost an iota of enthusiasm for life, (and talking about sex), and her bubbly approach to all things, especially sex, is infectious.
4 - highly recommended!

The Wild Goose Lake
Director: Diao Yinan
Length: 117 min
© Umbrella - Chinese noir? A most unusual and 
rewarding gangster tale, with stunning cinmatography
It's raining and dark, and a young woman Liu Aiai asks a beaten up Zhou Zenon (Hue Ge) for a light. This classic noir scene precedes the flashback in which Zhou, a gang boss just out of prison, tells her the reasons he is being hunted by both the police and other criminals. Gang brawls, a dead cop, squalid tenement dwellings, grimy noodle shops, motor cycle chases, and "bathing beauties" (the pseudonym for the prostitutes who work down by the lake) - all the ingredients are there for a film that is thrilling, stylishly violent, and at times frustrating. The plot feels in parts murky and obscure, but the tension never abates. But what really impresses is the extraordinary cinematography which employs color and lighting like I've never seen in any nighttime shots. It is sheer beauty, despite the sordid subject matter. Under all the sleaze, there is a softer element; that of sacrifice, as Zhou makes some hard decisions to protect his wife. It won't be to everyone's taste, but this is certainly a very different film gangster experience from the American mainstream one, and a film that has already won several awards for its audacious approach.
3.5 - well recommended!

The Good Liar
Director: Bill Condon
Length: 109 min
© Roadshow - another two members of acting
royalty strut their stuff in a fun thriller. 
With a deliciously devious plot (no it is not totally as you would expect from the shorts), this is a chance to watch yet more of the finest actors today strut their stuff. Helen Mirren plays Betty, a gentle-natured widow who goes on a dating site where she meets Roy (Ian McKellen), also widowed. The relationship takes off pretty quickly, much to the alarm of Betty's grandson Stephen (Russell Tovey), who smells a rat and suspects Roy is not what he seems. Most women viewers may well squirm and fear for the seemingly gullible Betty. Mirren is her usual fabulous screen presence. McKellen, so well known and loved as the kindly wizard Gandalf, shows his brilliance yet again. He lurches from sweet old codger Roy, loving and paternal, to steeling conniving conman - and worse! Just the change of expression in his eyes and his demeanour make him a treat to watch. The less said of the plot the better, but it's a good fun ride, even if the premise relies on some very circumstantial events to make it at all credible.
3.5 - well recommended!

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

November 28th
By the Grace of God
Mrs. Lowry and Son
Knives Out
Martha: a Picture Story

Here's an interesting week that makes me ponder how everyone's perception of a film is so very personal. While I loved Mrs. Lowry and Son, some critics have been unkind, finding it "boring". While other critics are over the moon about Knives Out, I find myself, despite being mildly entertained, somewhat critical of it. Ah, well, thank heavens for  divergent thought, or there'd only be one sort of film for us all to watch! I truly believe most films have something to offer to someone, and very few can be totally dismissed as worthless.

By the Grace of God
Director: Francois Ozon
Length: 137 min
Exclusive to Cinema Nova
©  Sharmill - moving, insightful, stunningly 
executed film about sex abuse by the church. 
Lyon, France: Alexandre Melvil Poupaud), 40-year-old family man with five kids, can no longer keep silent about his abuse as a child at the hands of local priest Fr Preynat. As he seeks out others who were also victims of the same priest, a movement gathers momentum. Francois (Denis Menochet), Emmanuel (Swann Arlaud) and Gilles (Eric Caravaca) join the fight for justice. This brilliantly executed film joins the likes of Spotlight, as we continue to read about child sex abuse scandals at the hands of priests in many countries. (In fact, the upshot of this case was reported in the Vatican news as recently as July of this year.) Ozon surprises greatly, as many of his previous films have had lighter themes, often with a gay orientation; this one cuts to the heart of the psychological cost of child sex abuse, and the battle to make higher-ups in the church accountable. The pain of the victims is palpable; the defensive machinations of church figures like Cardinal Barbican (Francois Marthouret) are despicable. The acting by all these men is flawless. This film works superbly in its straightforward, intensely humane, approach, that takes into account so many complex aspects of these cases - parents' refusals to doubt the church, the church's desire to protect itself, the sickness of the perpetrators, and ultimately the incredible courage of the victims to speak out and seek support from others. There is no sensationalism; the actual crimes are briefly hinted at in flashbacks, and in a way to make their repulsiveness progressively powerful. This film is gripping in its intensity, and vitally important in its subject matter.
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended!

Mrs. Lowry and Son
Director: Adrian Noble
Length: 91 min
©  Rialto - it's very hard for this son to please
his difficult mother. An excellent portrait of 
an oppressed artist. 
Lawrence Lowry was an English artist, born in the late 1800s and living for 40 years in an industrial area of Lancashire, England. Though he was not traditionally trained, and worked by day as a debt collector, he ended up in later life (he lived until the 1970s) being much sought-after for his works depicting life in his depressed area of the world. This film is a snapshot of a small period in his life, which was spent entirely looking after his depressed, neurotic, manipulative mother (Vanessa Redgrave). I see unkind reviews from some other critics; why I'm at a loss to know. This is one of the best two-handers I've seen in a long time, with little happening, and yet the relationship between mother and son is so mesmerisingly awful that I was captured. With clever cinematic devices, the director captures the look of the actual artworks in some of the film's imaginative sequences. Spall, with his hang-dog look, delivers a star turn as Lawrence, while Redgrave shows just why she is acting royalty, as she loses no opportunity to put her son down, while attempting to elevate herself in her own eyes. She is snobby, hypocritical - yet vaguely tragic as she dreams of her lost youth and ambitions to have been a pianist. If you exercise patience with this film, you will be rewarded.
4 - highly recommended!

Knives Out
Director: Rian Johnson
Length: 130 min
©  StudioCanal - some funny moments in a good-
looking, but ultimately disappointing film
Famous crime author Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead in his study with his throat slashed, just after his 85th birthday party. An anonymous call brings in the services of famed detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), who starts investigating possible motives for the crime. Each member of Harlan's highly dysfunctional family has good cause, and Blanc must wade through mountains of red herrings. The film, a homage to Agatha Christie style mysteries, sports an all-star ensemble cast - Toni Collette as the daughter-in-law, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon and Jamie Lee Curtis as Harlan's adult children, not to mention the gorgeous Ana de Armas as Harlan's trusty companion and nurse. The film opens with promise - a stunning and stylish setting, enough witty remarks from the various characters, and a plot that jumps back and forth in time to intrigue and confound. Unfortunately when the ultimate "big reveal" comes, it is so convoluted and anti-climactic that my feelings of amiability towards the film tended to evaporate. I enjoyed the performances of all the aforementioned cast, with the exception of Craig who I feel is miscast. He is no Hercule Poirot, and I feel he needed more bite and pizzazz to be a memorable character. I can't say I wasn't mildly entertained, just disappointed that it could have been so much better. That said, I think there will be an audience, eager for light frivolity, that will be pleased by Knives Out. (Consensus on certain internet sites is VERY positive.)
2.5 - maybe!

Martha: A Picture Story
Director: Selina Miles
Length: 82 min
©  Umbrella - fans of graffiti and subway sub-culture
should enjoy this one. 
Martha Cooper is an acclaimed photographer, noted for bringing New York's urban  scene, with its poverty and especially its graffiti, into the limelight. Now 75 years old, she began her career hoping to be a National Geographic photo-journalist, but when she first saw trains covered in graffiti, she fell in love with the underground art scene that centred around early hip-hop and the creation of "pieces" (which I tend to perceive as vandalism). Today she still documents the graffiti art movement on trains and in subways all across the world, and is a much loved and revered person to graffiti artists. I find it very hard to separate my personal feelings about this art form from my perception of the film. While I find the film would benefit from a bit more incisiveness to its style, it certainly gives a voice to a sub-culture that is often dismissed. Some of Martha's socially aware photos that document various "corners of life" as she calls them, like the Puerto Rican part of town, make for excellent viewing on the big screen. Most of all, Martha's enthusiasm and dedication to her art, as she literally runs with the graffiti crew, is inspiring to see. (Again, consensus on certain internet sites is VERY positive.)
2.5 - maybe!

Thursday, 21 November 2019

November 21st
Judy and Punch
Suzi Q
Official Secrets
The Report
Farming
Japanese Film Festival

Another week of many new releases, and one more festival. My picks of the week would have to be the Aussie made, left-of-centre Judy and Punch, along with the rocking doco on the leather-clad lady of the 60s, Suzi Quatro. 

Judy and Punch
Director: Mirrah Foulkes
Length: 105 min
©  Madman - creative film-making with fine
perfs by our Aussie leads
In the mean-minded, witch-stoning fictional town of Seaside, (exactly when and where  is not spelled out) a pair of puppeteers put on their successful marionette show. Punch (Adrian Herriman) and wife Judy (Mia Wasikowska) hope their earnings will enable them  to escape the town with their baby. However, thanks to Punch's drinking, womanising, aggression, and a tragi-comic day of ghastly incidents, everything goes horribly wrong. Director Foulkes says she wanted to use the inspiration of a "fairy-tale" story to explore the current obsession with violence and misogyny in our society. So, just as the classic puppet show relies upon endless violence, so this film runs with that theme. Foulkes achieves a delicate balance between comedy (at times bordering on slapstick), and tragedy, all underpinned by a beautifully crafted and unsettling backdrop of a village of bigots and religious nutters. This highly inventive and unusual film will not be to everyone's taste, but it knows how to get its message across. Wasikowska and Herriman shine in their respective roles. The final scene of children watching an old puppet show is a salutory and fitting end to an unusual and impressive movie experience. 
4 - highly recommended!

Suzi Q
Director: Liam Firmager
Length: 104 min
©  Label Distribution -  rock on Suzi! Still going
strong at nearly 70!
Suzi Quatro was born in Detroit in 1950. From the age of five, when she saw Elvis on TV, she knew she wanted to be a rock'n'roller. Forming a girl band with her sisters in her early teens, she then left home young to seek solo fortune in London, and soon was topping the charts with her wild brand of rock and her thumping bass guitar. She's been in movies, TV shows, and musicals. Now, nearly 70, she is still writing songs and performing. This terrific upbeat doco uses archival footage, features more than 40 songs, interviews with Suzi then and now, and commentary from those people who have witnessed or shared her amazing journey - her family, Alice Cooper, Joan Jett, Deborah Harry and more. In a time where it was thought only men could get anywhere in the rock world, Suzi proved them all so wrong. I get the impression that underneath the leather jump-suited high voltage performer lay (and still lies) an unassuming person who simply loves what she does, never puts on too many airs and graces, but has the Detroit toughness and determination to make of her life exactly what she wanted. You don't have to be a fan to really enjoy revisiting the time of glam rock, getting to know this woman, who demonstrates that age is no barrier to rocking on.
4 - highly recommended!

Official Secrets
Director: Gavin Hood
Length: 112 min
©  Universal - a top performance from Keira
Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley) works with British Intelligence, screening incoming classified information. Just as America is plotting to get Britain on board for the invasion of Iraq, she stumbles across an explosive memo: the US is garnering info on members of the United Nations Security Council to blackmail them into voting in favour of the forthcoming Iraq invasion. Feeling compelled to blow the whistle, Katharine leaks the memo to the press. Her freedom, and that of her refugee husband Yasar (Adam Bakri), are soon under threat as she is accused of breaching the Official Secrets Act. This tense thriller examines the legality of war when there is no sanction from the UN, and the personal convictions of a woman willing to risk it all so that the public know the truth. This is possibly one of Knightley's best performances to date, and she is well supported by the likes of Ralph Fiennes as a lawyer with the Liberty human rights organisation, and Rhys Ifans as a journalist. There are sequences of extreme tension throughout, although the ending is quite abrupt and unexpected. But since it's a true story, that's life!
3.5 - well recommended!

The Report
Director: Scott Burns
Length: 120 min
Out now, coming to Amazon Prime on Nov 29th
©  Transmission - important subject matter, great
performances, but a little dry. 
It seems like films exposing wrongdoings and cover-ups  from governments and churches are the flavour of the month. In this, another true story, US Senator Feinstein (Annette Bening) heads up an inquiry into the CIA's torture of terrorist suspects in the wake of 9/11. Staffer Daniel Jones (Adam Driver) leads the investigation which lasts years and has thousands of pages. In principal I'm partial to films which expose wrong-doings by the "big guys". This one does it methodically and painstakingly, for me a little too detailed, making it somewhat dry. Certainly the lead performances are terrific (Driver is also the flavour of the month) and of course the subject matter is important. Without showing too much, the film-maker still manages to convey the inhumanity and hypocrisy of the US government in regard to its treatment of prisoners. I like my political thrillers with a little more pizzazz, but many of my colleagues really loved it. 
3.5 - well recommended!

Farming
Director: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Length: 100 min
©  Icon - truth is stranger than fiction in a story of 
self-hatred, identity and skin heads. 
Based upon the true story of the director's childhood, this confronting film tells of a scurrilous practice in Britain in the '60s and '70s whereby Nigerian parents "farmed" their children out to white British families so they could work or study. Enitan (Damson Idris) is fostered out at six weeks old to Ingrid (Kate Beckinsale) who has several black kids in her care. After a few years in Britain, and a short-lived return to his Nigerian family (where the unfamiliar African customs traumatise and horrify him), Enitan is returned as a young teen to Ingrid's care, but lacking self-esteem and discriminated against, he hooks up with, of all things, a white skinhead gang. This story beggars belief, but is possibly a classic psychological case of externalising self-hatred. This is an intriguing story, with important resonance for a world where racial discrimination is alive and well. Unfortunately it is presented in an unsubtle, blunt and violent way, which focuses too much on the horror of the skinhead gang, and the racism, rather than allowing audiences to absorb the message. Raucous music doesn't add anything to the lack of subtlety. However, Beckinsale is excellent, as are all the young male leads, while much awarded young actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw is fine as Enitan's teacher, the one person with a shred of compassion in a film that is pretty bleak (except for the 3 years later epilogue.) The level of violence and gruelling humiliation will make it hard for many audiences to watch.
2.5 - maybe!

Japanese Film Festival
21 Nov - 1 Dec
For other states and times, film synopses, ticketing and venues, visit https://japanesefilmfestival.net/

This is the 23rd year for the Japanese Film Festival which will feature 45 films in four program streams: JFF Main Program, JFF Regional, JFF Classics, and JFF Fringe. Not many Japanese films seem to make it to our mainstream cinemas, so here's a great opportunity to get up close and personal with a fascinating culture. 


Melancholic: Here's one for fans of a quirky Yakuza story. Kazuhiko is an aimless guy despite having a uni degree. He takes a job at a local bathhouse, but the cleaning up is something a lot more sinister than he imagines, as the place is an execution site where Yakuza (Japanese mafia) bring their victims. Though the deeds Kazuhiko and his sidekick must perform are horrific, the film manages to maintain moments of humour and warmth, and by its unexpected denouement, even some heart-warming moments. That's what I like about Japanese film - often the unexpected, and often a deep sense of humanity in the face of difficult situations.

Thursday, 14 November 2019

November 15th
Ford v Ferrari
The Irishman
Ailo's Journey
I am No Bird
More JIFF


Two huge films (in run time and in impact) are reviewed this week, plus a couple of unusual docos. JIFF continues on, and the overall movie pace just never seems to let up. 

Ford v Ferrari
Director: James Mangold
Length: 152  min
© Fox -  start your engines
for a thrill-a-minute true tale. 
A true tale from the annals of motor sport, this heart-stopping, high-revving film will put you on the edge of your seat. In 1959 Carol Shelby (Matt Damon) won Le Mans 24-hour race, but was told he couldn't race again due to a heart condition. So he went into car design, using British mechanic Ken Miles (Christian Bale) as his test driver. When the Shelby cars did well at Le Mans against the legendary Ferrari team, Ford recruited Shelby to design a car that could take on the Italians. Despite the endless battles with the Ford bureaucracy, by 1966 Shelby and Miles were ready. To give the viewer a sense of what it's like to be on the track at those speeds, special tracking camera vehicles were used, and the many extreme close-ups are probably as close as most viewers will get to being in the driver's seat. As well as the thrilling action, there is a strong sense of authenticity in the relationships of the characters, including Catriona Balfe (from Outlander) as Mollie Miles, and Noah Jupe as Ken's young son. Damon and Bale are wonderful together, and a fabulous ensemble cast rounds out what is a wonderful movie experience, not only for rev-heads (like me), but for anyone who appreciates the sort of dedicated, obsessed characters who give their all and more to the thing they love best in life.
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended!

The Irishman
Director: Martin Scorsese
Length: 230 min
At Classic, Lido and Cameo, then starting on Netflix November 27th. Best to catch it on the BIG SCREEN!


© Netflix - Scorsese, Pacino, de Niro and Pesce
 at their best.
In Pennsylvania in the 1950s, truck driver Frank Sheeran (Robert de Niro) sells some of the meat he delivers to local gangsters. From there, it is a short hop to total involvement with the local mafia, led by Russell Buffalino (Joe Pesce). Frank, aka "the Irishman", starts to do Russell's dirty work. Frank is eventually introduced to Jimmy Hoffa, (Al Pacino), volatile union leader of the Teamsters, who also has financial dealings with the crime family. Frank and Jimmy become great friends, but the convoluted politics of crime, unions, rivalry, the Kennedy's and more, all lead to a sad and sorry ending. What can I say about this magnificent film? It's an epic, confirming just what a consummate director Scorsese is, as he embraces his favorite recurring themes of criminality and religion. The film is book-ended by Sheeran (in the present, an old man), reminiscing upon the past. The make-up (along with digital effects) employed in getting these three leads to look so many different ages, is simply brilliant and mind-boggling. I don't pretend to understand all the politics of the union, but it doesn't matter; I simply immersed in a thrilling, classic Scorsese gangster movie, which carries a psychological truth about power and evil at its heart, and which features three of the best performances you've seen in years from de Niro, Pacino and Pesce.
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended!

Ailo's Journey
Director: Guillaume Maidatchevsky
Length: 86 min
© Vendetta - catch the lives of not only reindeer,
but many other inhabitants of the Arctic
An antidote to the violence and evil of Scorsese's gangsters, here is a refreshingly old-fashioned story about a baby reindeer, Ailo, his mother and his herd, and the first year of his life trying to survive in the harsh Arctic areas of Lapland. Described by the director as a "docu-fiction", it is constructed from 600 hours of amazing footage shot over four seasons. The cinematography is glorious and the close-ups of the many amazing Arctic creatures will astonish you. From somersaulting stoats, fierce wolverines, delicate Arctic foxes, fearsome wolves, and bumbling lemmings, to the majestic reindeer themselves, all these magnificent creatures will entrance viewers. I remember many saccharine-sweet narrations to the animal films of my childhood; fortunately there's none of that here in the witty, dry, sometimes ironic and downright funny narrative voiced by Donald Sutherland. The accompanying soundtrack is beautiful. This is the sort of film to uplift, while gently reminding us that the changing climate could soon put all this wondrous splendour into jeopardy.
3.5 - well recommended!

I Am No Bird
Director: Em Baker
Length: 77 min
© Potential - marriage is alive and well, in  many
forms around the world
Marriage means different things to different people, and this documentary explores what it represents to four different women. Australian Anna, deeply religious and still a virgin, is marrying her first love and hosting a hen's night at a sex shop. Luthanlu, from Assam, India is continuing her minority tribal traditions, by marrying a man of the same background. Benay in Turkey looks forward to creating a new family after her mother's death, and Dalia in Mexico, is thrilled to be marrying the woman she loves and having her mother (initially against the union) at the ceremony. The film shows a universality of attitudes towards love and the optimism that goes with making a commitment, even though the title refers to not being a bird in a cage. Segments of the film are shot in a misty, old-fashioned nostalgic way, imbuing it with a strongly romantic feel. Tracking the course of "true love", from meeting, to proposals, to choosing dresses, to the actual ceremonies, this film is something girls of a certain age will strongly relate to, while also getting a good insight into other cultures.
3 - recommended!

More from JIFF - Jewish International Film Festival
For session times and ticketing, along with interstate information visit www.jiff.com.au

JIFF still has a week to run, so there's still a chance to catch some of the magnificent films I've reviewed over the past four weeks. Here's another one for you - it's an absolute treat for lovers of cinema history. 


At only 5 ft 2 in he was a giant
of a movie maestro!
Carl Laemmle: German Jewish immigrant, Carl Laemmle, emigrated to the USA as a 17 year old, and went on to create Universal Pictures in 1912. He is the classic immigrant success story. He went head to head with Thomas Edison who tried to destroy the new studio by issuing countless patent challenges. He gave countless directorial jobs to women, and he gifted the world with unforgettable monster movies such as Frankenstein and Dracula. Laemmle launched the careers of people like John Ford and William Wyler, and won Oscars for All Quiet on the Western Front in 1930. He also gave jobs to all those Jewish refugees he managed to get out of Germany as the Nazis rose to power. The film has fabulous archival footage, and creates an endearing portrait of a man committed to his industry, and who was much loved by all those who worked with him. 
JIFF is of course absolutely recommended - one of my fave festivals!

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

November 7th
Pain and Glory
Doctor Sleep
Emu Runner
Brittany Runs a Marathon
Iranian Film Festival (3 films)
Russian Resurrection Film Festival (3 films) 
Three more from JIFF
Alliance Francaise Classic Film Festival



This has to be the biggest review collection yet, methinks. As well as four excellent new latest release films, I've covered films from the Iranian festival, Russian Resurrection Film Festival, three more from the ongoing JIFF, and alerted you to the Classic French Film Festival. I'm exhausted. 

Pain and Glory
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Length: 113  min
© Universal - Banderas gives his best performance 
ever in a moving, deeply emotional story
Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) is an aging film director in physical decline and so depressed that he can no longer make films. He re-meets Alberto (Asier Etxeandia), a drug addict and lead actor from a film he directed 30 years prior. Alberto performs a monologue Salvador has written around his deep love in his youth for Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia).  To kill his pain, Salvador begins a flirtation with heroin. He reflects a lot upon his childhood living in the country with mother Jacinta (Penelope Cruz), now an old lady (Julieta Serrano). His reflections (including certain major revelations of his young sexuality) give hope that Salvador may return to his passion as a writer and director of film. This synopsis does not do justice to what is a profoundly deep and complex human story, some of it centred around the idea of cinema itself as a reflection of life. (Much is possibly inspired by Almodovar's own life.) The cast is stupendously good, with Banderas giving what is possibly his career-best performance. The way he portrays the nuances of emotion, his pain (emotional and physical), his grappling with how life has turned out, and the sadness of loss is beyond words. His eyes say it all. With such an intensely personal film, it is perhaps up to each viewer to discover their own meaning in the story. As you can see, I simply adored it.  
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended!

Doctor Sleep
Director: Mike Flanagan
Length: 151  min
© Warner/Roadshow - an impressive sequel to
The Shining. 
Acclaimed horror writer Stephen King wrote The Shining in 1977 and the film, directed by Stanley Kubrick, hit our screens in 1980. In 2013 King wrote his sequel, and now the film of that sequel is here, and of course everyone wants to know how it compares. First up, I believe you will get more out of this one if you have seen or read The Shining. Doctor Sleep revisits Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor), now an alcoholic, haunted by nightmares from the Overland hotel and his axe-wielding father. Joining AA and meeting Billy (Cliff Curtis), he cleans up his act and becomes a hospital orderly. Meantime he is contacted, via his mind's psychic receptivity, by a young girl Abra (Kyleigh Curran), who also "shines", (as these abilities are referred to). Abra has witnessed in her mind a horrific murder of a young boy. A group of evil people, led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), kidnap and kill young kids who shine, harvesting the "steam", an essence they give off when they die. This keeps the members of the group in a semi-immortal state. Danny, Billy and Abra set out to put an end to this murderous group. Whew!!! This is only the half of it. There is such richness to this plot, so many subtleties and convolutions, which, fortunately, director Flanagan manages to weave into a whole that is suspenseful, frightening, intriguing, and a most worthy follow-up to the original. Many iconic scenes from The Shining are seamlessly incorporated, and clever casting recreates some of the original characters.  McGregor and Curran nail their roles, while Ferguson mesmerises like a snake with her portrayal of the seemingly lovely, but fiendishly evil Rose. If you hate the horror genre give it a miss; I however say Doctor Sleep will no doubt give rise to as much analysis and years of discussion as its predecessor, and is absolutely worth seeing.
4 - highly recommended!

Brittany Runs a Marathon
Director: Paul Downs Colaizzo
Length: 104  min
© Transmission -  yes, you can change your life
if you want it enough
Brittany Forgler (Jillian Bell), is 27, overweight, and deep into an unhealthy lifestyle of too much partying and no exercise. Though seen as a "funny girl" by her friends, she knows she is also the "fat girl", and her self-esteem is low. When her doctor gives her a wake-up call, she decides to join neighbour Catherine (Michaela Watkins) and friend Seth (Micah Stock) in a running group. Could it lead to something bigger? I expected little from this film, but found myself  both delighted and moved. Despite the odd moments of predictability, the script rings true - especially the fresh, believable dialogue and the empathetic characters. Brittany's first flatmate Gretchen is so typical of the "self'absorption" generation while her next flatmate handsome Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar) adds humour and romance to the plot. And why shouldn't it feel authentic, as the story was inspired by a real life friend of writer/director Downs. The film works well for all age groups, showing how changing your life is often a matter of determination, and support from real friends, not those who put you down.
4 - highly recommended!

Emu Runner
Director: Imogen Thomas
Length: 95 min
© Umbrella -  beautifully filmed story of young girl's 
relationship with her mother's totem bird
Nine-year-old Gem (Rhae-Kye Waites) is an Indigenous girl living in the remote township of Brewarrina. She is a promising runner, and has a close white girlfriend, Tessa. When Gem's mother suddenly dies she begins to wag school. She takes comfort from going into the bush, where she becomes captivated by a wild emu, stealing whatever food she can find around town for the bird. Her father Jay Jay (Wayne Blair) struggles to keep his family together, as Gem attracts the attention of the police and an inexperienced social worker Heidi. With the increasing  number of Indigenous films, it's rewarding to see one focusing upon the peoples' connection to land and totemic animals. There's a fine performance by the young lead actress, and the relationships between all the kids, including Gem and her older siblings, feel very real. There are a few too many similar shots of the emu, and some of the adult cast feel a trifle stilted, but are possibly non-professional actors. However, with the beautiful cinematography, and important themes of whitefellas' often total misunderstanding of the dynamics of Indigenous society, you have a gently optimistic, thought-provoking film that expands our understanding of our First Nations people.
3.5 - well recommended!

Iranian Film Festival
Melbourne: 7-13 November
Cinema Nova
For other states and times visit:  iffa.net.au
It is always fascinating and rewarding to get an insight into a society and culture so different from our own, and yet to see that the human issues are basically similar the world over. This festival is the number one showcase for Iranian cinema in Australia, but be quick to catch it, as the season is short. 
A few previewed by me:
Dramatic teen friendship drama
My Second Year in College: Mahtab (Soha Niasti) and her best friend go on a college excursion. Ava is depressed about her boyfriend Ali and has been taking sedatives. When Ava collapses and falls into a coma, Mahtab calls Ali, and the two begin a friendship, but Mahtab fantasises it to be something more. Her defiance and obsession get her into trouble with the university administration. This is an intriguing glimpse into the nature of female friendships, the envy and maliciousness involved, along with the constraints and expectations put upon girls within Iranian society and by their families. Niasti has been awarded for her performance. 

Repression: This intense family drama has three estranged sisters coming together to visit their mother who has Alzheimer's and is being minded by a dubious housekeeper. The family dynamic is tense; all the women are troubled, and there are obviously dark secrets from the past. Meantime a body turns up that could be the father who has gone missing that very morning. 


Aslan wants out from life
Old Men Never Die: Now here's a black comedy. In a village where no-one has died for 45 years, a group of old men, sick of life, consider how to end it all. But it's not so easy, as the army has been sent to stop any suicide attempts. The old actors in this are very strong, and their shenanigans and age-focused conversations bleakly funny. Surprisingly lovely scenery is featured, and overall, though it's an odd film, it is bizarrely captivating. 

Russian Resurrection
Melbourne: 8-17 November
Capitol Cinema, Swanston Street
For other states and times visit:  www.russianresurection.com
Back again with 16 new features, and a vodka-infused music lovers' opening night, this year's festival ranges from action blockbusters, comedies and animation, to nail-biting thrillers and horror, plus a retrospective of director Pavel Lungin. 

Once more I've seen in advance: 
The Outbreak: Scary stuff is afoot as Moscow is suddenly stricken by a mystery virus which leaves its victims bleeding and dead within days. Yes, we know this plot from similar films, but here there is a difference. The story focuses not on medical containment, but upon the best and worst of human beings, who either rise to such apocalyptic challenges in a humane way, or succumb to self-preservation at the expense of others. The military (males) are shown in a bad light as they take every opportunity for brutality. A powerful plot thematic is that of family relationships - the main character has to juggle between his ex-wife, the mother of his beloved son, and his current partner. This is a genuinely thrilling film (which turns out to also be the first episode of a series.) 
Breakaway: This thriller sees five youngsters determined to spend New Year's Eve in a gondola above a mountain. As you'd expect, what starts as an adventure soon goes pear-shaped when the gondola breaks down. Characters begin their petty brawls, and the structure of the gondola itself starts to crack up. Teens may enjoy it; I found it more laughable than thrilling. 


Sadistic Dad or tough love?
Temporary Difficulties: Foundry manager Oleg cannot cope with his new son, Sasha, being born with cerebral palsy. He is determined to force the child to do anything an able-bodied kid can do. This causes great grief for father and son, but the ultimate outcome is quite unexpected. Somehow Oleg's treatment of Sasha comes across more as a form of torture, than a raising of the bar. Odd moments are heart-warming, and the lead youngster playing the child Sasha is strong, but so much happens that is fundamentally disturbing morally, or simply not believable. 

More from JIFF - Jewish International Film Festival
For session times and ticketing, along with interstate information visit www.jiff.com.au
Producers and musos were like
a family at Blue Note
It Must Schwing! The Blue Note Story: Blue Note is a legendary jazz record label, recording such giants of the scene as Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Herbie Hancock. It was founded in 1939 in New York by two friends Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, both escapees from Nazi Germany. This wonderful doco tracks the history of that record label, employing interviews with the artists, excerpts from a 1964 interview with Lion, fabulous clips of performances, many publicity photos that Wolff took, and a superbly creative black and white animation which fills in many aspects of "the plot".  This includes jazz musos performing in pre-war Berlin, to the almost familial relationships the white Jewish founders and their coloured musicians enjoyed. The empathy the persecuted Jews had for their artists is evident throughout. This is a film that jazz lovers should simply NOT MISS!


Latin rhythms and sexy moves -
it's the mambo
The Mamboniks: The perfect partner for It Must Schwing! is another music-inspired film, featuring a little known side of Jewish life in America in the 1950s. When the craze for Latin music hit, many Jews put on their dancing shoes. A number of aficionados reminisce upon their dancing days; indeed many are still dancing mambo into their old age. The film recalls a time when life seemed happier (maybe it wasn't), people were more connected through dance, and there was an overwhelming joy to be had from frequenting dance palaces, be it in Havana, Florida or New York. One Auschwitz survivor set up the Palladium Ballroom; others took adopted Spanish names to front Latin bands. Archival footage of Havana, the dancers and bands, is wonderful, not to mention the night Fidel invaded and some of the dancers got caught up in the revolution. Fabulous viewing for lovers of Latin music and dance. 


Hard at work for six years, but
never getting the recognition
Ziva Postec: The Editor Behind the Film Shoah: Claude Lanzmann's 1985 documentary about the annihilation of the Jews in WW2 redefined the word epic, running for 9.5 hours. The film and its director won 15 big awards worldwide, but perhaps the unsung hero was the editor, Ziva Postec, who worked tirelessly for six years to edit the 350 hours of footage shot by Lanzmann. In this doco, (which perhaps required a bit of Ziva's editing skills!), she reflects upon her early life, moving from Israel to Paris, and working with such masters as Resnais and Orson Welles. We learn of her tragic marriage, then her obsession with Shoah to the detriment of bringing up her daughter. Subject matter is fascinating, and as an insight into an editor's life I know  I'd hate that job, but it is so critical to a film's outcome. 

Alliance Francaise Classic Film Festival
Melbourne: 10, 17 and 24 November
Astor
For times and ticketing (and Sydney's program) visit afclassicfilmfestival.org
Isabelle Adjani as sculptor Camille Claudel
For the fifth year, this festival gives audiences a chance to reacquaint themselves with the best of French Classic Cinema.  Legendary French actress Isabel Adjani is this year's focus, with six films showing over three Sundays. Adjani has appeared in 30 films since 1970 and holds the record for the most Cesar Best Actress awards. Four of those Best Actress films are in this year's program, so what better opportunity to catch up. 
The films are: 
All Fired Up (1982), Queen Margot (1994), Possession (1981), One Deadly Summer (1983), The Story of Adele H (1975), and Camille Claudel (1988).