Wednesday, 27 April 2016

And the good stuff just keeps on coming . . . from a tender Japanese blossom infused story, to an Oz/New Zealand doco exploring the impact of family secrets, a thriller sci-fi, and a splendid selection of features and docos about the Holocaust, there is no excuse for not venturing into the cinema.

Director: Naomi Kawasa
Length: 113 mins - exclusive to Cinema Nova

© Curious Films
An is the Japanese word for a sweet red bean paste, which is also a star in this gentle and delicate film about Sentaro, who runs a little pancake stall on the street, and Tokue, an old woman who asks him for a job. Both have unhappy pasts, but together with local schoolgirl Wakana, another outsider, they create warmth and magic that centres around tradition, food, and friendship. I adore this kind of low-key heartfelt film, and it has the added treat of Japanese cherry blossoms, a symbol of the fleetingness of life, and the importance of seizing the moment and living in it. 

4.5 - Wholeheartedly recommended!

For my full review:

Holocaust Film Series
Opening on April 30th and running for 12 days at the Elsternwick Classic and the Lido, Hawthorn, this is a showcase for 30 films from around the world, dedicated to racism, persecution, survival and emigration. I find it amazing that filmmakers are still coming up with new ways to look at this horrific period in human history, and yet the themes of tragedy, courage, despair and identity remain universal and are as relevant as ever to today's world.
So far I'm impressed with:

Remember: Revered filmmaker Atom Egoyan has created a thriller of a revenge story in this tale of Auschwitz survivor Zev (Christopher Plummer), who is now suffering from Alzheimer's in an old folk's home. His friend Max (Martin Landau) reminds him of a pact they made to track down a particular camp Kommandant and exact revenge. And so the quest begins, creating a nail-biting story, with a devastating unexpected final twist! Plummer, now 85, is still marvellous. 

Last Folio: Son of Slovakian survivors, renowned photographer Yurl Dojc goes back to his birth country to interview other survivors, and to document what is left of a lost world. Stunning cinematography and heart-wrenching reminiscences complement the impressive body of photos which captures the past, the present, and puts a human face to the genocide. 

Surviving Skokie: Eli Adler escapes Holocaust Europe to Chicago, but keeps his past a secret from his family. When a group of neo-Nazis start marching in his town, survivors are forced to confront the horrors of the past, and for Eli this is a chance to finally open up to his son (the film-maker). 

Goodbye Theresienstadt: Although 7000 Danes were smuggled out of the country, nearly 500 were transported to the concentration camp, Theresienstadt. Six elderly folk who survived the horrors return to the hellhole where they spent so much of their childhood. 

The Cabaret of Death: In ghettos and concentration camps, Jewish artists and musicians fought for survival using humour, music and theatre. This doco almost broke my heart, watching people rise above their brutal surroundings, to bring a smile to the faces of their fellow sufferers. The film employs powerful but distressing re-enactments,  archival footage, and insightful commentary from current day philosophers and survivors.

Song of Songs: For some light relief comes a sweet tale from famous author Sholem Aleichem. Two ten-year-olds in a Ukrainian village at the turn of the 19th century seem made for each other, but life has other plans. As make-believe gives way to reality for the children, the audience are treated to a glimpse of a long-gone way of life.

I firmly believe everyone can find a must-see film from among this fine selection.
For a full rundown on the series, and to book your sessions:

The Silences
Director: Margot Nash
Length: 73 mins - exclusive to Cinema Nova

This short and sweet gem of a doco examines the past of film director Nash. She recalls her life in New Zealand, a childhood with an extremely unhappy and distant mother, and a father who suffered from a probable bipolar disorder. The title refers to the way many families operated back in the 50s - never talk about things that are wrong; keep the secrets close. Having many elements of this in my own childhood, I found the film alarmingly unnerving, and in many ways sad and beautiful. The old photos, the pieced together fragments of the past, and the often poignant memories that go into making who we are today, is something many viewers will easily relate to. 

3.5 - Recommended!

For a full review from Bernard Hemingway:

Midnight Special
Director: Jeff Nichols
Length: 112 mins

© Roadshow films
The opening scene is of a news report that a young boy has been kidnapped from his home. As soon as we see that boy, Alton, obviously feeling safe and protected by two men, Lucas (Joel Edgerton)  and Roy (Michael Shannon), the intrigue sets in. The plot slowly unravels with increasing suspense, and some spooky happenings. Elements include a weird religious cult believing the boy is their salvation, and an increasingly obvious connection between Alton and something very out of the ordinary. By the time Alton's mother (Kirsten Dunst) comes into the picture, the authorities are hot on the tail of the fleeing quartet, and the tension really ramps up. There are some similarities to other sci-fi films, but Midnight Special also works really well as a thriller, having credible (though minimal) dialogue, several touching moments, along with a few troubling and unanswered questions.

3.5 - Recommended!

For a full review from Bernard Hemingway:

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

More wonderful films again this week! A highly entertaining French dramedy, an amusing and inspiring biopic about a ski jumper, and a terrific Aussie tale about a pawnbroker's shop in Footscray. 

Director: Xavier Giannoli
Length: 127 mins

© Transmission Films
This is a stylish drama/comedy about a French Baroness who loves to host musical soirees, and do a little operatic performance of her own. Only trouble is she sings totally out of tune. The plot may sound slight, however there is a lot to this richly entertaining film. The story is one of self-delusion, deceit and lies - with a goodly dash of betrayal and manipulation thrown in. It is also the story of passion and obsessiveness, and just how mean people can be. Playing the lead is Catherine Frot who has won well-deserved awards for her role, which actually elicits quite a degree of compassion.  The film looks glorious, set in the Art Deco 1920s, with lavish sets and costumes, and the story itself is somewhat of an operatic tragedy. Along with humour, there's a great plot, some in-tune beautiful music, and an intriguing and memorable denouement.

 4 - Wholeheartedly recommended!

For my full review:

Eddie the Eagle
Director: Dexter Fletcher
Length: 106 mins

© Twentieth Century Fox
A true story about Michael "Eddie" Edwards, Britain's entrant in the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics ski jump. From an early age he was a klutz at sport, yet had a dogged determination to be an Olympic athlete. Quite unbelievably this led him to become a (failed) skier, and finally a ski jumper!  Taron Egerton is charmingly daggy as Eddie, and looks remarkably like the real fella. Playing his coach is the charismatic Hugh Jackman (drool!), and another fave of mine, Christopher Walken makes an appearance. I started watching with fears of a formulaic cliched plot, but by the end I and my fellow reviewers were sucked in, inspired by this plucky dork, thrilled by the adrenaline of the sport, and exited the cinema with a tear in our eyes. A sure crowd-pleaser!

3.5 - Recommended!

For a full review from Chris Thompson:

Director: Paul Ireland
Length: 89 mins

Pauly and Carlo on the Footscray streets - © Toothless Pictures
Set in a run-down pawnbroker's shop in Footscray, this quintessentially Aussie, big-hearted, funny and poignant film is a winner. Les (John Brumpton) runs the shop, but his co-worker Danny (Damien Hill) has ambitions beyond the store. In the course of one day various people pass through - Kate who runs a nearby bookshop and who catches Danny's eye, Jennifer, a troubled Mum whose druggie son has robbed her, a bullying thug, and Harry, Les's mate, trying to get hold of a gun. Tying the shop's interior to the outside grungy streets are a couple of poverty-stricken street guys, Carlo and Pauly. The ensemble cast are uniformly terrific, and the script, while very funny, catches something touchingly universal about all our lives, played out in the microcosm of that little store. And, as always, it's great to see Melbourne so lovingly represented on the big screen. 

4 - Wholeheartedly Recommended!

For a full review from Chris Thompson: