Tuesday, 18 February 2020

February 20th
Richard Jewell
In My Blood It Runs
Transitions Film Festival
Fantastic Film Festival

As well as one new doco release, and a fine feature film, two excellent (totally different) festivals come to our screens this Thursday. I've decided to publish early this week, which should give you the chance to do your research and figure out what you may wish to choose from the festivals. 

Richard Jewell
Director: Clint Eastwood
Length: 129 mins
 © Warner Bros/Roadshow - an amazing true story of
injustice. Top performances here. 
In 1996, as Atlanta prepares to host the Olympic Games, a bomb explodes in Centennial Park. Security guard Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) helps to save many lives, and is lauded as a hero. But heavy-handed FBI  investigators, led by Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm) devise a half-baked theory that heroes are often the perpetrators, and that Jewell fits the profile. Soon the hapless man's life becomes a living hell. Hounded by the FBI, crucified by the press, he turns to off-beat attorney Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), to help prove his innocence. Here's another film based upon a true story, and proof (if it was needed) that Eastwood has not lost his mojo. The film is staunchly anti-FBI tactics, and gives the media vultures a huge serve, especially Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), an obnoxious journalist who will do anything for a story. Eastwood extracts the most incisive performances from his cast. Hauser is both restrained and mesmerising as Jewell, Rockwell magnetic as the kind-hearted, generous-spirited lawyer, while Oscar-nominated Kathy Bates gives one of her best performances as Jewell's mum. Topped off with a fine score, this film raises important issues of justice, accountability, and compassion.
4 - highly recommended!

In My Blood It Runs
Director: Maya Newell
Length: 85 mins
The film has an intricate program of screenings and Q & A sessions. In Melbourne it runs for one week at Cinema Nova, and one-off screenings elsewhere. For other cities and states, visit:

 © Fan Force - through a child's eyes - the world as it is
for our Aboriginal people 
Dujuan is a ten-year-old Indigenous kid, growing up near Alice springs. He speaks English plus three First Nations languages, but is considered a failure in the school system, where he plays up and runs away. By comparison, on his ancestral homelands, he is confident and knowledgeable, and is considered to be a young healer who has inherited his powers from his ancestors. This critically important doco sees the complex issues raised in the film through the eyes of Dujuan and his family. The magnitude of the issues alluded to in this film is overwhelming - the role of indigenous people in their own education systems, the injustice of juvenile detention centres (with horrendous rates of Indigenous incarceration), white society imposing its education and values upon Indigenous society, and at the heart the love and support of close-knit families looking for better ways to navigate a bi-cultural society. The film has already screened at many overseas doc-festivals, and is critically important viewing for all Australians who hope to understand the vexatious issues surrounding our relationship with our First Nations people.
4 - highly recommended!

The Transitions Film Festival
February 20th - March 6th 2020
Cinema Nova, Astor, and a few smaller venues in inner Melbourne
For more information and other states visit: www.transitionsfilmfestival.com/
For a full Melbourne program, visit: www.transitionsfilmfestival.com/melbourne-program-2020/

With the tagline "Visions for a Better World", this is one of the most inspiring and possibly important festivals out there. The Transitions Film Festival showcases groundbreaking documentaries about social and technological innovations, revolutionary ideas and those trailblazing people who are leading the way to a better world. It is the only festival of its nature in the Australia, and one of the few in the world that focuses upon the challenges of our time, and their possible solutions. More than 30 experts are involved in panel discussions which accompany the films. 

I've been fortunate to preview a few:

Chuck in deep conversation with robotic
girlfriend, Harmony
Hi AI: This is a fascinating doco on the human/robot interactions that are already taking place around the world. In Texas, lonely Chuck picks up Harmony, a robot girlfriend he takes with him on a road trip. Harmony has been programmed to trot our some pretty intellectual conversation pieces. It's not the sort of sleaziness you might expect; more a touchingly poignant comment upon Chuck's loneliness and desperation for connectedness.  In Japan Grandma has robot boy Pepper delivered to her house. She tries to converse with him, to keep her brain alive, but the mischievous fellow, who has been programmed to speak with a child's voice, is no true conversationalist. In shopping centres in Japan robotic receptionists interact with customers. Throughout the doco, researchers and scientists show off their progress, and demonstrate the advancements they are making in this technology that is already on our doorsteps. Compelling and thought-provoking stuff. 

The Whale and the Raven: How do small communities achieve a balance between preserving their natural treasures, and coping with the promise of an economic boom that will threaten the very things they wish to protect? Remote Gil Island, just off British Columbia, is a haven for humpback whales and other endangered species, but a proposed thoroughfare for tankers carrying Liquid Natural Gas is threatening the pristine ecosystem. This doco looks at how First Nations people and ecologists are working to prevent a possible disaster. Footage of the whales and the natural beauty is wonderful, and the story is highly relevant to so many parts of today's world.

Magic Medicine: If you've seen Fantastic Fungi at Cinema Nova recently, you'll know of the possible powers of using Psylocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, for medicinal purposes. This doco tracks several depressed people, who are undergoing the first approved medical trial of the drug. It's quite an insight into the nature of depression (which many don't understand within themselves), and of the "trips" they go on to see if they can reconnect with something in their pasts which is causing their current problems. Fascinating stuff!

The Story of Plastic: Yeah, yeah, we all know we should be recycling our plastic. But according to this alarming doco, that is not the solution; we should be stopping plastic at its source, and that source is the global corporations of the fossil fuel industry, pushing the endless creation of  plastic to keep that industry afloat. This one is a real eye-opener, and highly disturbing. The visuals of choked rivers, waterways and oceans, set against the greedy corporate machine should get every viewer stirred up and pushing for change.  

Push: Anyone trying to buy a house knows how prices are skyrocketing, making it unaffordable for many. But even worse, the opportunity for low-income folk to live in affordable rental accommodation is being destroyed by faceless greedy corporate monsters, who buy up apartment blocks that are used for cheap housing, gentrify them, and bump up the rents. The tenants are then forced to the edges of cities, or become homeless. This problem is escalating world wide and the filmmaker looks at ways to combat it. 

I am Human: Looking like a sci-fi film come to life, this doco is the extraordinary story of how the cutting edge of science is put to work on humans to solve pressing medical problems. Teams of neuroscientists track brainwaves to help tetraplegic Bill use only the power of thought to move his paralysed hand.  Stephen receives a bionic eye implant that helps him regain a level of sight. Anne suffers Parkinson's disease, but a deep-brain stimulation helps her regain a level of fluid, normal function. This is mind-blowing technology - the future of science is upon us, along with the possible implications of what happens when scientists can download your brainwaves or create superhuman powers. Once our brains are connected to computers, are we still human?

The Fantastic Film Festival
February 20th - March 4th 
Lido Cinema, Hawthorn 
For more information and Sydney info: https://www.fantasticfilmfestival.com.au/

From their publicity comes this: Offering up its own distinct perspective on genre and alternative cinema, the festival features dystopian zombie mutants, reality-bending psychological terror, dreamlike animations, and a healthy dose of gore . . Offering up its own distinct perspective on genre and alternative cinema, FFFA marries (un)guilty pictorial pleasures with subversive storytelling that hacks away at conventions, unearthing core truths that are typically shied away from: from hard-hitting sociocultural commentary, to unique perspectives on what’s widely taken for granted.

This is the inaugural festival, which will also screen in Sydney. 
Never a good idea to go for drinks with
a serial killer. 
I've had a sneak peek beginning with a film that was nominated for a Golden Bear at the Berlin FF and is directed by award-winning German director Fatih Akin. The Golden Glove tells the true story of serial killer Fritz Tonka, a psychopath who terrorised women in Hamburg in the 1970s. A well-deserved Best Actor Award went to Jonas Dassler who plays Tonka. This is an uncompromising look at an ugly world of sad lonely women, who are desperate (or stupid?) enough to go home with this misogynistic lunatic. It is a strongly directed film, and the sordid atmosphere and people who inhabit the bar of the film's title will stay with you a long time. The movie is an alarming insight into the mind of a serial killer, but it comes with a HUGE warning - the incidents, language and general abhorrent behaviours will be very disturbing for some viewers.
Thrilling and thought-provoking. 
By contrast Swedish feature Suicide Tourist, is a less repugnant, but equally strong film. If you're a fan of Nikolaj-Coster-Waldau (Jamie, in Game of Thrones), you won't want to miss him as Max, a man suffering a brain tumour, who decides to check in to a Swiss clinic which specialises in assisted suicides, with a side-serve of the last fantasy one might wish to fulfill. I can't profess to fully grasp the twists of this plot - suffice to say it's gripping, with some interpretation left to the viewer's imagination. The clinic, known as hotel Aurora, seems to have a dark mysterious agenda, and Max's experience, by the end, leads him to question his own perception of reality. As well as delivering a level of thriller/horror, the film is a moving look at the serious issue of the right to end one's life.  

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

February 13th
The Leunig Fragments
The Lighthouse
The Guide to Second Date Sex

The Oscars (and the rest of awards season) have now come and gone, and the film world is buzzing with Parasite's coup - four Oscars: Best International Feature Film, Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. But that doesn't mean there aren't heaps of new and exciting releases this week, and next week two new festivals come our way.  

The Leunig Fragments
Director: Kasimir Burgess
Length: 97 mins
 © Madman - art; poetry; philosophy,
cartooning - the film embodies much of this
enigmatic genius
Michael Leunig - An Aussie living treasure, a household name, beloved by many, misunderstood or even hated by others. Full disclosure - I'm a card-carrying Leunig fan, and have been for decades. But the revelations and sensibility of this film surprised even me. It is profound, sad, joyous, beautiful, and poetic. The film is no standard biopic, but is indeed fragments of the man's life; sensory memories (re-enacted, beautifully shot) of seminal moments in his youth, issues he has felt strongly about and that have inspired his artwork, claymation animations of some of his cartoons, and overall Michael's poignant ponderings upon mortality (his own and that of others). The paradox of a shy man thrust into the limelight is there, and such friends of his as Philip Adams and Richard Tognetti also shed light on the reclusive artist. One stand-out sequence has singer Katie Noonan performing a Leunig song with a symphony orchestra as Michael draws one of his signature works. Another has him visiting Joan, a much-loved teacher who helped him become "himself", after she's had a stroke. A voice-over near the end of the films says, "Leunig has left behind a body of work that celebrates the complexity and imperfection of life." It is this imperfection, a perplexing life with no hard and fast answers, with endless moments of sensory and emotional responses, that really speaks to me in both Michael's work, and this glorious film, which is totally in the spirit and style of the genius artist.
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended!

Director: Autumn de Wilde
Length: 124 min
 © Universal - what a delight, on every level
In England in the 1800s, Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) lives with her morose father (Bill Nighy) in the village of Highbury. The Woodhouses are extremely rich, and Emma, though declaring she'll never marry, delights in matchmaking her friends and meddling in everyone's romantic affairs. To elucidate further on the plot would take forever; suffice to say this is the umpteenth remake of a classic Jane Austen novel, and what a delight it is. Where to begin? I'm first struck by the glorious production values - this film looks outrageously beautiful, from its settings, to its costumes, to its attention to period detail. In certain scenes I gasped at the magnificent cinematography. The casting is perfect. Taylor-Joy gives her Emma an edge that makes one almost hate her for her petty, mean-minded meddling, and her excessive snobbery and vanity, and yet there is enough subtle undercurrent of personal growth and self-awareness to make us love her. All the cast fill their roles perfectly, with special mentions of Mia Goth, as Emma's best friend Harriet and Bill Nighy, the master of the sideways glance, as Emma's father. Broody, handsome Johnny Flynn is just right as the love interest, George Knightley. As with most Austen stories, everyone is a potential love interest, but there is much more to this tale than misplaced affections, afternoon tea, fine frocks, and gossiping. Ultimately it is a story of self-recognition (and of course love), but this version has a surprisingly modern resonance, and enough satirical bite, nipping at the heels of its pompous, self-absorbed, or social-climbing characters. I loved it and don't let anyone who derides it as a "chick flick" put you off what is a total entertainment for all.
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended!

The Lighthouse
Director: Robert Eggers
Length: 124 min
 © A24 - madness, masculinity, isolation - all
in a day's work for these guys
Anyone who saw Egger's first film The Witch will know he is no run-of-the-mill director. From Gothic horror to the horror of isolation, he knows how to do it. Here we meet Winslow (Robert Pattinson) who is sent to work for four weeks as assistant to lighthouse keeper Tom Wake (Willem Dafoe). The arduous physical work is backbreaking, and some of it repellent. Wake is a slave-driver, but as the weeks wear on conflict between the men gives way to endless drunkenness, singing, dancing, and, for Winslow, disturbing hallucinatory visions of mermaids. This is an uncompromising film, in its view of what could happen when two blokes are holed up together in forbidding circumstances. Eggers shoots in black and white, its crispness accentuating every oppressive detail. Shots of the lighthouse's machinery and the hypnotic light itself (which Wake forbids Winslow to go near) create a mesmerising atmosphere. If there's allegory here, I think it's gone over my head, but as a mere vision of claustrophobia, madness and mateship, with rivetting performances from the men, it's a real cinematic treat (though not for everyone), with plenty to ponder on, especially in the light of its perplexing ending. 
4 - highly recommended!

A Guide to Second Date Sex
Director: Rachel Hirons
Length: 98 min
 © Icon - hmmm - they look as bored as I was
Laura (Alexandra Roach) and Ryan (George Mackay - of 1917 and Ned Kelly fame) meet in a bar and head home together, where they end up in bed. The sex is fumbling, awkward, in fact quite disastrous. However, they decide to get together for a "real date", which doesn't quite go as planned. Both have been scarred by previous relationships, and, while they obviously like each other, imagining in their heads scenarious of great times together, neither seems to have a clue how to behave with each other. There's potential here for a fun story, especially for folks young enough to remember the awkwardness of first sex, but for me the attempts at humour don't work. Ryan's Indian housemate is an exploitative creep (never fodder for my laughter) and there is something very cringeworthy and forced about much of the dialogue. (Yes, I know the characters feel uncomfortable, that that shouldn't detract from the film's entertainment value.)  Hirons developed the film for a stage play, and I think it could have worked much better in that context. Maybe novices to dating will have fun with it, and I'm just an old curmudgeon.
2 - you've got better things to do with your time!

Thursday, 6 February 2020

February 6th
For Sama
Colour out of Space

Excitement! The Oscars are just around the corner. This week sees the release of one of this year's nominees for Best Documentary Feature. It is superb. and for sci-fi fans, there is a freaky, cultish sci-fi offering, starring the ever-crazy Nicolas Cage.  

For Sama
Director: Waad Al-Kateab & Edward Watts
Length: 96 min
 © Umbrella - prepare to be moved to tears
with this unflinching documentary
In 2012, director Waad was a marketing student at Aleppo University where students began to protest the oppressive regime of Bashar al Assad. As the protests escalated, it became all out war between the rebels in Aleppo and the government forces, backed by the Russians. Around that time Waad met a courageous young doctor, Hamza. Over five years, Waad filmed everything that took place in the besieged city, as she and Hamza married, Hamza set up a hospital, she gave birth to Sama, and gradually Aleppo was turned into rubble. Waad says she made this film to tell her daughter Sama why her parents decided to stay, rather than run for their lives. A finalist for this year's Best Documentary in the Oscars, For Sama is a searing look at the horrors of the Syrian war. Some footage is filmed shakily on mobile phones, some on handy cam, but all of what is shown is immediate, horrific, distressing, and at times inspiring. The courage and dedication of the hospital staff; cameraderie among friends; children still able to play and laugh, parents' love for their kids - all these are juxtaposed with traumatic scenes of injury, blood, death, bombing, grief, and the utter inhumanity of that war. The film had me in floods of tears - to think people have endured such oppression and suffering. It's not new, but the way Waad has captured it, and her co-director edited it, creates a powerful movie that will stay with you and remind you of the insanity of so much of today's world. Tragically, it still goes on in Syria with the same dictator in power.
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended!

Colour Out of Space
Director: Richard Stanley
Length: 110 min
 © Umbrella - prepare to be weirded out, 
even grossed out - but entertained
Nathan Gardner (Nicolas Cage), his wife Theresa (Joely Richardson) and their three kids have recently headed to the countryside to escape the city hubbub and live a tranquil rural existence on an idyllic New England property. Nathan wants to farm alpacas (so cute, stars of the film), Theresa is recovering from cancer, and the kids are a weird bunch, daughter Lavinia a self-styled witch, son Benny a stoner, and youngest Jack a cute oddball. Local water engineer Ward (Elliot Knight) and forest-dwelling crazy recluse Ezra (Tommy Chong) round out the cast. Life is disrupted when a meteorite crashes into their yard. The meteorite "evaporates" overnight, but some strange alien life force or pathogen begins to cause havoc - coloring the air, creating lurid flowers, and infecting everything it contacts - including Nathan and his family. Based upon a short sci-fi story by HP Lovecraft, this is one of the oddest films I've seen in a while. The opening scenes are mesmerisingly beautiful, with towering, (but slightly menacing) trees. Overall, the cinematography is stunning, and Cage (love him or hate him) gives one of his most crazed, out-there performances, which, unfortunately, towards the end runs the risk of becoming laughable, though it does capture one's attention! The film gets more horrific (think body horror) and bizarre as it goes along, but I guess this goes with the genre. However, I can't say I was bored, and I suspect for fans, it has the potential to become a cult classic. 
3- recommended (if only for Cage-o-maniacs and to see the alpacas)!

Thursday, 30 January 2020

January 31st
The Peanut Butter Falcon
A Hidden Life

As January races to an end (where did that month go!!??), and we head for Oscar season, three new releases provide another hugely variety of viewing. One true WW2 story of a conscientious objector, a whimsical tale of friendship in America's south, and a biopic of persecuted actress, Jean Seberg.  
A Hidden Life
Director: Terence Malick
Length: 174 min
 ©  Fox Searchlight  –  slow but moving - almost
a spiritual experience in itself
Franz J├Ągerst├Ątter (August Diehl) is an Austrian farmer, living in a picture-perfect village with his wife Fani (Valerie Pachner) and his three little girls. When war breaks out Franz is called up for a second time, but he refuses to swear an oath of allegiance to Hitler. His deeply religious beliefs dictate that, if something is evil, one must do something. Despite pleas from Fani and other villagers, he refuses and is imprisoned. Fani and her family are reviled and ostracised by the village. A nominee for 2019's Palm D'or, this film, based on a true story, is classic Malick - long, slow, exquisite to look at, and conveying a deeply spiritual sensibility. While acknowledging this type of film-making is not to everyone's taste, I find it deeply affecting -  exquisite to look at, superbly acted, and with a power that taps into things way beyond the banal: a man's convictions so deep he will risk his life; the beauty of nature, so indifferent to the cruelty of humans; the anguish of a loving family torn apart; the acquiescence of so many to the bullies in power and their cruelty to those who take a stand. There is a depth to this film that rewards the patient viewer with a movie experience beyond the everyday.
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended!

The Peanut Butter Falcon
Director: Tyler Nilson & Michael Schwartz
Length: 93 min
 ©  Rialto –  aw shucks! Friends on the run
in a real home-spun adventure
Zak (Zack Gottsagen) is a young man with Down Syndrome, forced to live in an old-age home. After escaping, with the help of an elderly resident (Bruce Dern), Zak hides out in a fishing boat owned by Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) who is himself on the run, pursued by some local fishermen. The pair head off, Mark Twain style, for a down-South adventure, involving a raft, shooting, fishing and a lot of friendly bonding. Zak hopes to reach the wrestling school of his hero The Saltwater Redneck (Thomas Haden Church), but meantime Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), Zak's nurse from the aged home, is also on his tail. This amiable tale is almost too sweet to be true, yet it manages to generate plenty of warm fuzzy feelings with a hugely positive attitude towards Down Syndrome. Gottsagen himself is a Downs man, and is charming in his role as the wannabe wrestler, taking the odd name of the film's title.The settings are lovely, from the bayous, to the Mississippi, and the gently emerging friendship between the men works well. Yes it's predictable and at times formulaic, but there is enough quirk, and moments of humour and empathy to make it a heart-warming movie experience. 
3 - recommended!

Director: Benedict Andrews
Length: 103 min
 ©  Icon –  Kristen Stewart again shows her acting chops 
in the sad story of a persecuted star 
Jean Seberg was an American actress who spent much of her life in France, and became immortalized in the 1960 Jean Luc Godard New Wave film Breathless. Spending more time in Hollywood in the late 60s, she aligned herself with activist causes, particularly the Black Panthers. This drew her to the attention of the FBI and she became a hounded figure, constantly under surveillance, the subject of scurrilous "fake news", all of which led to her mental decline and paranoia. Kristin Stewart is the star of this biopic, which focuses upon that period of Seberg's life in America, as she battles the FBI, their investigation helmed by (the fictional) Agent Jack (Jack O'Connell). Her involvement with Panther activist Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie) is also central to the film. I'm at a loss as to why many critics are so down on this film. Stewart is stand-out excellent as Seberg, capturing the feel and style of the young starlet. Yes, there are flaws, perhaps the main one being that the script fails to give us a real sense of Seberg's motivations, and it also chooses to create unnecessarily stereotyped FBI characters who at times dominate the main character in the film. But as a picture of how someone's career and mental state can be destroyed by over-zealous governments, it works well - tense and disturbing. 
3 - recommended!

Thursday, 23 January 2020

January 23rd
Fantastic Fungi
Just Mercy
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

A complete bag of 'allsorts' this week: a brilliant doco starring mushrooms, a terrors-of-the-deep action flick, a legal drama based on true horror in America's south, and an inspiring story of friendship and grace, also based around a real-life TV personality. 

Fantastic Fungi
Director: Louie Schwartzberg
Length: 82 min
Exclusive to Cinema Nova
 ©  Nova/Reconsider – this will change your view
on mushrooms, fungi and the world. 
Who'd have ever thought a film about mushrooms could be so engaging? Well, it's actually about much more than mushrooms per se. I've learnt that Fungi is an entire kingdom in the world of living things, and that this kingdom contains 1.5 million species, six times more than the plant kingdom. Fungi are the oldest living organisms, and what we learn from this film about their interconnection with all life on earth is mind-blowing. Mycelium (of which mushrooms are the fruit) are of course critical to death and decomposition, in turn giving rise to new life. In the medical field, their possibilities remain still largely under-utilised and the film examines this too, (think magic mushrooms and more) along with ways of using fungi to help clear up pollution and save the bees. With important insights from leading mycologists (mushroom experts) and mycophiles (mushroom lovers), along with the most beautiful time-lapse cinematography, this film is an eye-opening education, that both entertains and changes one's view of how we can, in fact should, relate to our natural world. 
4 - highly recommended!

Director: William Eubank
Length: 95 min
 ©  Twentieth Century Fox –  give us more
female heroes like this one
Norah Price (Kristen Stewart) is an engineer on a mining rig. Seven miles below the ocean's surface, pitch black with unimaginable pressure, the rig presents  challenging working conditions. When an explosion occurs things go dramatically pear-shaped. Five employees manage to survive the initial catastrophe, but their only hope of safety lies in walking across the ocean floor (in their pressure resistant suits) to another abandoned mining rig, in the hope there are enough escape pods to get them safely to the surface. But it seems they are not the only living creatures on the ocean floor. There is much to be enjoyed in this nail-biting claustrophobic film, and a few things that disappoint. The oppressive environment is masterfully created, and from the first explosion, to the climactic finale the tension rarely lets up. Stewart is suitably kick-arse as a competent fearless woman (even if she performs heroic acts in nothing but her underwear!) Vincent Cassell is a strong foil as the captain, and the thumps and fleeting images of "what's out there" all build up the suspense. However, when we do finally see what's threatening the crew, it's a bit of an anti-climax; the unseen is always scarier than the seen, I believe. Regardless, for fans of this genre, those who love scaring themselves to death, Underwater should do nicely.
3 - recommended!

Just Mercy
Director: Destin Daniel Creton
Length: 136  min
 ©  Roadshow - tense and riveting fight for justice -
and it's all true.
Here's another movie based upon a true story, and a really important one it is. Newly graduated Harvard lawyer Bryan Stevenson (Michael B Jordan) travels south to Alabama in the late '80s to set up a legal advocacy to fight for prisoners wrongly convicted, or tried without access to proper legal representation. His first case is that of "Johnny D" McMillan (Jamie Foxx), accused of murdering an 18-year-old white girl, despite there being no concrete evidence, other than a bogus testimony from convicted criminal Ralph Myers (Tim Blake Nelson). Although no ground-breaking film-making happens, the story is told with such sincerity, solid acting, and an emotional wallop, that it has won me over totally. Jordan can at times be a little one-note, but his character comes across as tenacious and dedicated to justice, while supporting performances from Brie Larsen as Eva Ansley his assistant, and Blake Nelson as the repulsive Meyers are first-class. Foxx is totally convincing as Macmillan, and has already several awards. Scenes featuring Johnny D's cellmates, all on death row, are heart-breaking, and the case for no death penalty is eloquently presented. Images of irrational white bigotry against blacks, especially as dealt out by law enforcers, will induce seething anger. This is a powerful story that should be seen, to remind one of the evil of prejudice, and how fearless are those who put their lives on the line to fight it.
4 - highly recommended!  

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Director:Michelle Heller
Length: 108 min
 ©  Sony –  "niceness" goes a long way in this
gentle, absorbing story of a journo and 
real-life TV hero Fred Rogers
Heard of Fred Rogers? I hadn't until I saw a documentary last year called Won't you Be My Neighbor. In this latest feature film about said Fred, Tom Hanks plays the much-loved host of the TV show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, which ran on American TV from 1968 to 2001. Rogers used his educational show to build children's self-esteem and discuss all manner of topics that could trouble small folk. Real-life journalist Tom Junot was sent to write a magazine piece on Rogers. Here, in the movie inspired by that magazine piece, the journalist is Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), an anger-prone, cynical man, initially determined to expose Rogers' "niceness" as a sham. The effect Rogers will have on Lloyd's life is totally not what the journo expects. There is something so old-fashioned, gentle and kind about Mister Rogers, and Hanks is the man born to play him. His current nomination is for Best Supporting Actor, since the movie is more about Lloyd, his dysfunctional relationship with his father (Chris Cooper), and the sorting out of his life, thanks to Rogers. If viewers know nothing of Rogers' show I wonder what they will make of this film - but even starting with a blank slate, one cannot but recognise and admire the values, so unusual in today's fast-paced abrasive world, that Rogers' typifies. Fortunately it avoids sentimentality (just!) This is anything but a blockbuster, and it should have a strong emotional effect on all but the most hardened hearts. 
3.5 - well recommended!

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

January 16th
Biggest Little Farm
Meeting Gorbachev

Three-quarters of this week's films feature animals - one has the real farmyard variety, another has an array of digitised critters, and another has an animal of the human variety, hiding in the guise of a media magnate. Add in a doco on Gorbachev, and you have an eclectic selection of movie offerings. 

Biggest Little Farm
Director: John Chester
Length: 91 min
 ©  Madman – you've got to love Emma the pig, a star of 
this inspiring doco. 
John Chester was a documentary film maker in LA for 20 years. His wife, Molly, was a chef. In 2011 they were threatened with eviction from their city apartment, thanks to the incessant barking of their dog Todd. So, they left their jobs and headed to the countryside, 200 acres of it, in Ventura County California, and set up a farm. Initially the soil was utterly impoverished - little more than dust - but with creative, sustainable, bio-regenerative farming practices they set up one of the most impressive all round farms you can imagine, with a vast variety of animals, thousands of fruit trees, a myriad of crops and more. The doco was filmed over eight years, so is an up-to-the-moment record of the years of toil, heartache, challenges, and ultimately, huge success. Initially the Chesters found for every step forward, new challenges emerged. Getting aphids, ladybugs, coyotes, birds, chickens and countless other conflicting elements to ultimately reach a balance is critical to the Chesters' journey. This is a hugely enjoyable, informative and uplifting film that stresses the interconnectedness of all aspects of the ecosystem, and shows the importance of understanding nature. The animals are charming, especially Emma the pig. I have changed my garden mulching regimen as a result of being inspired by this fabulous doco. 
To read about the Chesters' farm, visit: www.apricotlanefarms.com/
4 - highly recommended!

Director: Jay Roach
Length: 108 min
 ©  StudioCanal –  the performances are a standout.
2016 was a watershed year for women, and for the Fox TV empire. Roger Ailes, (John Lithgow) had been the CEO of Fox News for ten years. At a network mired in conservatism and male dominance, women were given high-profile jobs only if they were glamorous and  "played the game". This impressive film tracks the 16 days that brought Ailes down, as anchor-woman Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) filed a suit against him for sexual harassment. Together with Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), they enlist the support of more than 20 other women, including the fictional character of Kayla (Margot Robbie), who represents the many aspiring young women who capitulated to Ailes's repugnant methods of eliciting "loyalty" to the firm. Departing with a massive payout, Ailes became history, and a portent of the worldwide movement which now sees more and more woman calling male behaviour to account. Already Theron and Robbie are sporting a raft of award nominations for their performances, and it is the strength of all the acting that really stands out. Not to mention the extraordinary make-up and prosthetics work to transform the actors into their characters. Roach directs the film with a ferocious energy which never lags, with fast paced scenes that at times become a little confusing to follow, especially when the legalities come to the fore. But this is an important film, which really shows the anguish so many women have been through, and the fraught world of high-profile TV shows.
4 - highly recommended!

Meeting Gorbachev
Director: Werner Herzog
Length: 95 min
Exclusive to Cinema Nova
©  Rialto – intriguing doco on a controversial
figure of 20th century history
Mikhail Gorbachev is considered by some to be one of the greatest politicians of the 20th century. Many love him for being instrumental in helping to end the Cold War and making the Soviet Union more transparent, as well as starting talks with the US to decrease nuclear arms and allowing the reunification of Germany with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Many within his country loathe him for facilitating the break-up of the Soviet Union and its accompanying economic crisis. German director Werner Herzog is obviously very invested in the history of the area. At times he seems almost a little too intrusive upon the interview. But for lovers of political history, this fascinating doco should shed further light on the man, and the country he led for some years until he was ousted in 1991. In a frank interview, we learn of "Gorby's" personal life, his continuing commitment to his ideals, and with the excellent archival footage, we get a wonderful insight into history and the way it can unexpectedly deliver dramatic changes almost overnight.
3.5 - well recommended!   

Director: Stephen Gaghan
Length: 106 min
 ©  Universal  – love seeing RDJ
on screeen . . . but . . .
John Dolittle (Robert Downey Jnr) is a famed doctor and veterinarian living in Queen Victoria's England. He has an extraordinary gift of being able to talk to animals, and understand them, in all their different languages. But he is grieving the death of his beloved wife and has holed up in Dolittle mansion with only his beloved beasts for company. When a young lad Stubbins (Harry Collett) wanders in with an injured squirrel, along with a princess begging Dolittle to come to the aid of a perilously ill Queen, the adventure begins. The actors voicing the animals in this film are notable: Emma Thomson as Poly the Parrot, Rami Malek as Chi Chi the gorilla, Octavia Spencer as the duck, and even Ralph Fiennes as Brian the tiger (add Antonio Banderas, Jim Broadbent and Michael Sheen as humans, and you have an all-star cast. The digitised animals must have cost most of the film's budget, but even the impressive voice-cast and the wondrous array of animals can't save this patchy, uneven film, that should have stayed with its early promise of being a quirky English fun-filled romp. (I chuckled at the start, but my laughter progressively waned.) Instead it lurches into horribly Americanised and predictable dialogue, totally inappropriate to the original tale. Its uninspiring and cursory narrative arc features adventures that fail to thrill, and plot points that are hackneyed and trying too hard to be funny when they're not. Unlike many other fine kid's flicks, there is no sub-text aimed at adults. Little ones may be entertained by the endless (overly long?) animal shenanigans, but as a film it is a disappointing remake of one of my favourite stories.
2.5 - maybe (though I'm tending towards don't waste your time)!