Monday, 30 November 2015

The Program

Director: Stephen Frears
Length: 103 mins

We've already seen the doco on sport's big liar Lance Armstrong, now here's the feature film. Ben Foster is compelling as the infamous seven-time Tour de France winner who swore over and over that he'd never been found taking performance-enhancing drugs. Also strong is Chris O'Dowd as the dogged journalist who doesn't believe a word of it, and uncovers Lance's fraudulent nature. The film has some terrific recreations of the actual race, set in the glorious French countryside. In the early sections the film feels at times a bit rushed and like it's telling the narrative by numbers - but as the tension ramps up to Armstrong's public disgrace, it becomes quite gripping, and ultimately does justice to a shocking story of a fallen sporting hero

Worth a look!

For my full review:

Indievillage Doco Film Festival

Indievillage is a short documentary film festival screening over three days at the Lido Hawthorn and the Cameo Belgrave from Friday 4th to Sunday 6th of December
It's great to get a chance to view docos that don't reach the mainstream, but are of high quality with strong subject matter. I've caught a couple of worthwhile offerings:

The Dark Side of the Chew: An unexpected look at the dark side of chewing gum, from health problems through to water pollution and the major ecological costs of clean ups! Informative and amusingly presented. 
The VisitThought-provoking look at the implications of what could happen if earth was visited by extra-terrestrials. Scientists and other commentators put themselves in the hypothetical position, and the whole thing ends up being quite an alarming indictment of the human race.
The Chimpanzee Complex: Despite having some shonky camera work and being at times repetitive, this is an intriguing look at a Dutch facility, where volunteers and medical specialists help to rehabilitate traumatised chimps. I really felt like I was in the cage with the creatures, and for any chimp aficionados, this doc should be compulsory viewing.

Decidedly worth a look!

For full details and session times:

Monday, 23 November 2015

99 Homes

Director: Ramin Bahrani
Length: 99 mins

So far one of the year's really memorable films, 99 Homes is guaranteed to stress you out big time! It's the story of the ordinary folks who got kicked out of their homes after banks foreclosed on them as a result of the GFC. Wheeling dealing Rick Carver (Michael Shannon ) is an estate agent with few scruples and a determination he will make big bucks from others' misfortunes. Dennis Nash has even fewer scruples. After being evicted by Carver he ends up working for the man, and doing the same to others as was done to him. This relentlessly tense, superbly acted film will get your heart in your throat, and make you re-examine the meaning of home, and what you might do to hang onto it. 

A must see film!

For my full review:

The Crow's Egg

Director: M Manikandan
Length: 99 mins

Two young brothers live in the slums of Chennai with Mother and Granny. When their only playground is taken over by greedy developers to build a pizza shop, life for the boys focuses around a new obsession - to squirrel away enough money to treat themselves to a pizza. This Tamil language, non-Bollywood film is a lovely combination of humour, compassion, and satire. It is a gentle tale that is guaranteed not only to entertain but also to show up the endemic issues of corruption and the ever-present class divide in Indian society The little boys are total charmers too!  

Definitely worth seeing!

For my full review:

The Hunger Games - Mockingjay Part 2

Director: Francis Lawrence
Length: 137 mins

Finally another epic four-film saga reaches its conclusion! And a thoroughly satisfying one at that. If you've followed the trials and tribulations of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), you'll want to see how she fares in the final showdown between the districts and the Capitol, led by the cruel dictator Snow (Donald Sutherland). This all probably means nothing to those who aren't familiar with the highly popular futuristic best-selling teen novels upon which the films are based. The good news is that the special effects are excellent, the plot quite gripping, and Everdeen a feminist heroine to be admired.   

Definitely worth seeing if you've followed the saga so far!

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Better late than never! Here we go with a couple of new ones, but first let's mention some major fun had last week, when Lido on the Roof launched, with a wham-bam James Bond themed party and a lot of fun, not to mention the important bit of previewing some of the excellent films to come over the summer months - films like Spectre, Star Wars, Carol and many many more. Owner Eddie Tamir is a great creative gift to the Melbourne cinema scene, and I'll certainly raise a martini to toast his vision in giving us another must-visit cinema (with enough mainstream and arthouse films to please everyone!)

Check out the program at: 

He Named Me Malala

Director: David Guggenheim
Length: 121 mins

The story of the attempted murder in 2012 by the Taliban of 15-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai reverberated throughout the world. This doco gives us the background to the story and introduces us to an inspirational young woman, who has already won the Nobel Peace Prize. Although the director deals with the chronology in a style that is too fragmented for my taste, the content is fascinating, and Malala a revelation. Interviews, archival footage, and beautifully painted sequences of Malala's past in the Swat Valley, make for worthwhile viewing.  

Definitely worth a look!

For my full review:


Director: Sam Mendes
Length: 148 mins

It's a long one, but not for a moment did I get bored in this latest Bond adventure. The opening scene is an absolute cracker, being set in Mexico's Day of the Dead street festival. After a seriously impressive tracking shot, the action kicks in with a bang and doesn't let up. Who really cares about the details of the convoluted plot? Suffice to know the action is gripping, and all our much loved (or much hated?) Bond tropes are there - a ticking clock counting down to a bomb exploding, chases in all manner of vehicles from choppers, to boats and planes, ludicrous punch-ups in which no-one gets so much as a mark on the impeccable white suit, and of course the martinis and the Bond girls. This time we've got a Bond woman in the form Monica Bellucci - and a voluptuous French gal played by Lea Seydoux. Menacing Christophe Waltz is perfect as the baddie, and Craig is, as ever, his cool insouciant self. 

Really good!

For a full review from Chris Thompson:

Rosso Come il Cielo (Red Like the Sky) 
Director: Cristiano Bortone
Length: 96 mins

An oldie from 2006, picked up on SBS but definitely worth recommending if you stumble across it
Winning 16 awards at a wide range of film festivals, this is the true story of  Tuscan lad Mirco Menacci, who lost his sight at the age of 11.  When Mirco was sent to a school for the blind, he pursued his already entrenched love of film and began recording sound effects to accompany narrated stories. Ultimately this determined and creative boy ended up being one of Italy's most esteemed sound editors, still working today. The story is inspiring and touching, with terrific cinematography as well as beautiful acting from all the children.

Really good!

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

What I love about reviewing film, is the diversity of opinion about any one film.  Yes, there are certain criteria that make a film "good" or not, but often individual taste plays a big part. I sometimes see that a film is not objectively great - perhaps cliched, emotionally manipulative - yet it touches something deep in me, and I realise afterwards I have enjoyed it much more than I can commend it. Conversely, I may recognise that a film is strong in many regards, yet somewhere it leaves me emotionally cold, or I fail to engage with any of the characters, or don't care two hoots for what the film-maker has to say. Certainly in this blog I find myself at total odds with my fellow cinephilia reviewer CT, who loved Mistress America and The Lobster. I however didn't! But the at times emotionally manipulative film Freeheld, dealing with love and gay rights, and starring two of my favorite female actors, struck a chord with me. You be the judge! 

Director: Peter Sollett 
Length: 104 mins

Based on fact, Freeheld is the story of police detective Laurel Hester (Julieanne Moore) who covers up her sexual orientation lest it jeopardise her career. When diagnosed with terminal cancer, Laurel is told she cannot leave her superannuation to her same-sex partner Stacie (Ellen Page). A landmark court battle begins. The love story is sensitively and beautifully portrayed with both women giving compelling performances. Michael Shannon is perfect as Hester's colleague who is one of the few men who goes in to bat for the gals in this prejudiced and testosterone-driven world. When gay rights activist Steven Goldstein (Steve Carrell) also takes up the cause, things get a bit overblown and the jeering and chanting in the courtroom could have been cut back. Overall though, this is a well-made film, as relevant today as it was a decade ago. 
Oh, and don't forget the tissues! (Emotional manipulation alert!) 

Definitely worth a look!

For a full review from Chris Thompson:

Mistress America

Director: Noah Baumbach
Length: 84 mins

Young freshman Tracey (Lola Kirke) is a bit of a self-effacing outsider, with the ambition of getting into an exclusive literary club at college. But when she meets her older soon-to-be stepsister Brooke (Greta Gerwig) her life becomes much more exciting. I know Baumbach is seen as one of the very hip film-makers with a handle on witty dialogue and an insight into young minds, but somehow he doesn't do it for me. Whether it's the age difference (me and his characters), I simply don't find myself drawn in, and even though the film is solidly produced, and there are some rather funny almost farce-style moments, I find it a bit self-conscious and forced, especially Gerwig's performance. But plenty of other people love it, so you might!  

Maybe worth a look!

For a full review from Chris Thompson (who is a big fan):

The Lobster

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Length: 118mins

In a futuristic world people must be in pairs. As soon as there is a divorce or death, all singles are sent to a "resort" where they must pair up within a few weeks, or be turned into an animal of their choice. Colin Farrel plays against type as the stolid David, who does a runner from the resort to meet up with a band of rebels in the forest
This outlandish and at times thought-provoking premise certainly has the potential for fun, but it's no wonder some call this genre of cinema "Greek weird wave".  It's not my type of film, and at 118 minutes it outstays its welcome. But again, I am in the minority here, as Lobster nipped its way to a Grand Jury prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival! 

Maybe worth a look!

For a full review from Chris Thompson (who is, again, a big fan):

Jewish International Film Festival

As ever, JIFF is a smorgasbord for lovers of fine film. With a greater than ever number of feature films, docos and special events, JIFF promises to have something for everyone. As curator Eddie Tamir always says, the stories are universal, and cross national boundaries. I’ve been so impressed by this year’s program I’ve knocked myself out trying to preview as many as possible. 
Here they are in (approximate) order of my enjoyment!  

Sabena Hijacking – My Version

This is a gripping docu-drama, about the hijacking of a Belgian Sabena aircraft by four terrorists in 1972. The film blends a mix of dramatic re-enactment with powerful performances by Bobbi Lax as the captain and George Iskandar as the leading terrorist. The drama is interspersed with current day reminiscences from such notable figures as Benjamin Netanyanu, Shimon Peres, and even one of the hijackers, along with some archival footage. It all comes together in a nail biter, that is as relevant today as it was then. 

On the Banks of the Tigris: The Hidden Story of Iraqi Music

Iraqi-Australian Majid, who came to Melbourne as a Muslim refugee, sets out to track down the source of much of the Iraqi music he loves and remembers from his childhood in Baghdad. He discovers that many of the best-loved Iraqi songs were written by Iraqi Jews, so he heads to Israel to meet Jews who left Iraq and still play the music. This leads him to meeting musicians from all backgrounds and faiths, and to unite them in putting on a concert showcasing music as a means for peace and reconciliation. The film is moving, entertaining, and a walking advertisement for the power of music to heal rifts and connect all peoples. 

Felix and Meira

Not often do we get a rare and privileged insight into the closed ultra-Orthodox society of the Hasidic Jews. Meira is a young Hasidic wife who feels progressively trapped by the strictures of her life. When she meets a more liberal man, Felix, their friendship heads in an unexpected direction. This is a beautifully shot film, with gentle and sensitive performances, and a script that doesn’t condemn, but simply shows us differences and the importance of being free to choose.

The Physician

The epic is back! At two and a half hours this engaging historical tale takes us from 11th century London to Persia, hub of learning. Young Christian orphan Rob Cole (Tom Payne) teams up with a local amateur healer, but then travels, disguised as a Jew, to Persia where he studies medicine under the legendary healer Avicenna (Ben Kingsley). The film is gloriously shot, bringing to vivid life the grime and ignorance of medieval London compared to the exoticness of intellectualism of ancient Persia, and portrays some of the early discoveries that paved the way for modern medicine. Thoroughly entertaining and a visual feast. 

Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt

Arendt is the German-Jewish philosopher who, in describing Adolf Eichmann, coined the phrase “banality of evil”, causing some Jews to label her an anti-Semite. This impressive and intense doco about her life, loves and philosophies gives a rare insight into an incredible woman, with a powerful intellect. Rich with complex ideas and a wealth of history, this is not to missed by those who like to ponder life’s difficult questions.


Psychologist Stanley Milgram (played mesmerizingly by Peter Sarsgaard) performed now infamous experiments in which the “teacher” was instructed to deliver an electric shock to the “learner” whenever he gave a wrong answer. Through these obedience experiments Milgram attempted to understand how ordinary people could blindly obey authority (with particular reference to the Holocaust). This experiment and many others are examined in a thought-provoking film that asks us to examine the nature of evil. 

By Sidney Lumet

Legendary filmmaker Sidney Lumet takes us through his life, from his early childhood days as an actor, through his directing of so many award-winning films. We learn what mattered to Lumet in his life and his film-making, and discover a man with a great ability to reflect, with humility, upon a brilliant body of work. The film is rich with clips from many of Lumet’s iconic films, such as Serpico, 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, The Verdict, and more recently Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. An unmissable treat for movie buffs. 

Censored Voices

In 1967 Israel was victorious in the six-day war. Immediately following, renowned writer Amos Oz and a group of kibbutzniks recorded conversations with young soldiers who had fought. For 50 years Israel censored these recordings, but now they are amalgamated into a film, along with recollections from many of the men who are now old. It is a salutary lesson that war is brutal, cruel and often senseless, despite being seen as heroic at the time. 

The Man in the Wall 

One rainy night Shir wakes up to find her husband Rami, is missing, and that only the dog he went walking with has returned. As people come and go through the course of the night, things are revealed to be not what they initially seem. Touted as a thriller, it is more a psychological drama, with a twist at the end which definitely left me thinking!

My Shortest Love Affair

Twenty years after an old love affair, Charles and Louisa accidentally re-meet, have a one-night stand and she gets pregnant. The two decide to give it a go, but they are so different that the relationship is a major challenge. Though there are some smart lines and amusing moments, I didn’t really find the plot or characters ultimately very credible. 
For a slightly fuller review including directors: