Tuesday, 24 January 2017

January 26 2017:  
Live by Night
Perfect Strangers

It's a big day for film! The 2017 Oscar nominations are out, and with them the usual slew of commentary about the snubs, the justly deserved and the not-so-worthy! Certainly Moonlight, reviewed here, is on my top films list. The other three films reviewed today are all possible candidates for Australia Day viewing, depending upon your tastes. Nothing mind-blowing, but nothing too terrible!  

Director: Barry Jenkins
Length: 116 min

© Roadshow - Moonlight is simply sublime
Chiron (as a young lad played by Alex Hibbert) is born to a drug-addicted mother (Naomie Harris) in a rough black neighborhood of Miami. At school he is known as Little and is relentlessly bullied. When he meets a compassionate older man, Juan, (Mahershala Ali), who happens to be the local drug dealer, he develops some measure of self-esteem and a sense of belonging in the home Juan shares with his caring girlfriend Teresa. In his teen years Chiron (Ashton Sanders) is still bullied and grapples with his sexual identity as he shares first tentative kisses with friend Kevin.  Finally as an adult, Chiron becomes known as Black (Trevante Rhodes) and we see how the influences of his prior life have made him who he is. To attempt to pigeonhole what Moonlight is about is to limit this breathtaking movie. A man's life is seen in three distinct chapters, yet underneath the intensely personal tale there are many universal themes.  All the main characters defy stereotyping - they are richly nuanced and the whole image of what it means to be an Afro-American man, and a gay man, is rigorously challenged. This is film-making at the top of its game. From stunning, intimate cinematography to a creative and ethereal music score, along with superb performances from each and every cast member, Moonlight is a film of rare emotion and beauty.   
5 - unmissable!

Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Length: 117 min

© Universal - one man - 23 different identities! 
Despite being condemned as inappropriate film fodder by some mental health bodies, DID, or Dissociative Identity Disorder, has always provided a fascinating movie theme. Split personality, as it was then known, came to the fore in The Three Faces of Eve in 1957. Now Shyamalan, well-known director of the "scary film" genre (The Sixth Sense) tackles the theme, creating Kevin, a character with no less than 23 different personalities. One of these identities abducts and imprisons three teenage girls and subjects them to a terrifying ordeal in which they never know who they will meet next, and whether they can convince one of the personalities to help them escape. This is truly a showcase for the remarkable acting talent of James McAvoy, who segues seamlessly from one persona to the other. The three girls are highly credible, with the stand-out being Anya Taylor Joy as Casey, the most fearless of the three, and someone with her own traumatic past. Kevin's therapist Dr Fletcher is a strong character, who helps fill us in on the theory of DID. As far as scary movies go, this one scrubs up well, without too much overt violence or blood, but with a relentless undercurrent of tension and fear. It certainly had me on the edge of my seat!   
3 - recommended!

Live by Night
Director: Ben Affleck
Length: 123 min

© Warner Bros  - Affleck as the archetypal gangster -
or maybe not! 
Based upon Denis Lehane's best-selling novel, Live by Night is a handsome, sprawling story of Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck), son of a cop, who is attracted by the dark side. In the era of Prohibition Coughlin teams up with a Florida gangster to run the rum racket, but he is simply not as cruel as is required to be a gangster. 
Affleck must have always wanted to make a gangster flick because he has thrown just about every trope of the genre into the movie - revenge, old jalopies, 1920s glamour,  bucket-loads of machine-gun violence and not one but two gals Joe loves (Sienna Miller and Zoe Saldana).  While the film as a whole is entertaining enough, I didn't really feel ultra-strongly for the characters. Miller, Saldana, Elle Fanning as a junkie turned preacher,  Chris Cooper as her Dad, and Robert Glenister as Albert White, Joe's arch-enemy  are all excellent, but I suspect Affleck himself could be the weak link. Perhaps it's too much to write, direct and star in the one film! The film won't make the pantheon of great gangster movies, but fans of the genre should enjoy it nevertheless, and in certain scenes the cinematography is simply beautiful.     
3 - recommended!

Perfect Strangers
Director: Paolo Genovese
Length: 97 min

© Palace - a salutary tale for the mobile phone era
A group of seven friends gets together for a dinner party. The hosts Rocco and Eva are a plastic surgeon and psychiatrist respectively. Their guests include newlyweds Bianca (a vet) and Cosimo (a taxi driver), unhappily married Lele and Carlotta, and a single man Peppe, a retrenched teacher who was hoping to introduce his new girlfriend to the group, but she is apparently ill. They decide to play a game - put the mobile phones in the middle of the table, and all incoming texts and calls will be revealed to the group in a "we have no secrets from each other" display of bravado. Needless to say the whole thing goes pear-shaped when Lele, fearing being sprung by a text he wouldn't want his wife to see, swaps his phone with Peppe's. This is a smart and salutary lesson about the modern era. Our phones have become the repository of the details of our lives. Those lives themselves are defined by our public selves, private selves and secret selves. The script is full of rapid fire witty dialogue, but when things turn ugly, the director manages to create empathy for most of the characters without alienating the audience. Probably the whole thing would have worked just as well as a play, but it's still a strong film, with wonderful performances, especially from Marco Giallini as Rocco, the most measured and likeable of the group. We have to ask ourselves how well do we really know our closest friends and partners!
3.5 - recommended!

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

January 19

Lion has already won several awards and is sure to be a highly popular film. Perhaps less in the spotlight is the wonderful animation Moana - still time in the school holidays to take the kids, or even take yourselves without kids!
Director: Garth Davis
Length: 118 min

©Transmission - Pawar shines on the screen in this true story
of one man's determination to find his home
Saroo (Sunny Pawar) is only five years old when he gets separated from his brother Guddu and accidentally taken by train across India to Kolkata. From there he is rescued by a welfare agency and ultimately adopted to an Aussie couple (the Brierleys, played by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) in Tasmania. 25 years later, and now played by Dev Patel, Saroo is determined to track down his birth family. Encouraged by his girlfriend (Rooney Mara), he uses the power of Google Earth along with his recollections to help him find his way back. 
Both the child and adult actors playing Saroo are perfect in their roles. This is not to say the film is perfect, although the first half is so beautiful and moving it comes close to perfection. For me the one weakness in Lion is the casting of Kidman and Wenham  - something didn't totally gel for me, and the denouement tended to wander a little into schmaltz territory. Despite this, I found it a deeply moving and totally absorbing film, and the fact that it is based upon a true story only adds to its appeal.

4 - Wholeheartedly recommended

Director: 4 directors from Disney studios
Length: 107 min

© Disney - strong story-telling and exquisite animation
Fortunately, I've finally caught up with this animation that released a couple of weeks ago. It's sometimes hard convincing adults to go see animated films. But when they are as breathtakingly entertaining as this one (not to mention fascinating content-wise), it should be a no brainer. Moana is set in Hawaii, and is the tale of the spirited daughter of the local chief. She has always wanted to go to sea, but it is forbidden by the tribe. But she is the one chosen by the sea to return a mystical relic to a goddess, and to do so she must talk demi-God Maui into accompanying her on her quest. The plot makes full use of Hawaiian mythology and customs, is rich in uplifting and well-crafted songs, uses the Polynesian tattoos in a way that is exceptionally imaginative and creative, and above all has a strong female role model front and centre. Though at odd moments it indulges in a bit of Disney-esque tear-jerking, it is a totally rewarding cinematic experience. 

4 - Wholeheartedly recommended!

Thursday, 12 January 2017

January 12 2017
Collateral Beauty

The offerings this week don't totally float my boat. I'm being spoiled with so many 4-star and above films that I may be cracking down a bit hard on the also-rans! But hey - remember it's all a matter of personal taste when it comes to film! I'm quite disturbed that some of La La Land's awards so far have robbed what I perceive as better candidates of their just desserts. Among my personal circle, that is just one film that seems to divide the audiences. This week's may be the same! 

Director: Pablo Larrain
Length: 100 min

© EOne - a great performance is a mildly troubling film
The assassination of President Kennedy was one of the most immortalised events of the 20th century. This film takes us inside the week after the tragedy for his wife Jacqueline. It examines her personal trauma, her public persona, and her quest to to maintain control of how history would perceive her husband's legacy.  This highly unconventional biopic has potential Best Actress Oscar written all over it for Natalie Portman. Her performance is impressive as she captures the steely public face of Jackie, versus the wracking private grief. She captures the mannerisms and look perfectly, though I never feel I know the woman underneath. Notably, however, the structure of the film is aggravating to me. Larrain chooses to leap around in time, mixing events up together, from Jackie's early televised media tour of the White House, to the fateful day in Dallas, through to the funeral, Jackie's deep and meaningfuls with her priest, her relationship with her children and with brother-in-law Bobby (Peter Sarsgaard)  - all these story threads are revisited over and over in non-linear fashion. All is framed by a tedious interview with a journalist who poses philosophical questions regarding the nature of history and how people are remembered.  The musical score was the worst - overpowering and discordant. Despite its flaws, the film is still worth catching.  

3 - recommended!
For a full review from Chris Thompson:

Collateral Beauty
Director: David Frankel
Length: 97 min

©Roadshow - Will Smith is always good to watch, but the film
overall is a muddled attempt at mixing genres.
Howard (Will Smith) heads up a big firm, but is a lost soul mired in grief for his little daughter who died. He spends his time making elaborate domino towers, and writing letters to Love, Death and Time, bemoaning his lot. His office colleagues, perturbed that Howard can no longer function professionally, decide to hire a group of actors to play the three  concepts: Helen Mirren is Death, Keira Knightley Love and Jacob Latimore Time, and their mission is to talk Howard out of his grief and make him see there are reasons to go on - i.e. to notice the "collateral beauty" in all things. The concepts are high flown and potentially intriguing, but something goes awry in the execution. With such great actors (Edward Norton, Naomie Harris and Kate Winslet also star) I would have hoped for better, but somehow the script lets the film down. To attempt to tackle such lofty philosophical questions in the guise of a "feel good/tear-jerker" movie doesn't quite work - it ends up maudlin and muddled
2 - you've got better things to do with your time!

Saturday, 7 January 2017

January 8 2017:  
The Edge of Seventeen

Not a lot to report this week, though the one film I review is an absolute winner! I hope you are getting to see a lot of the fabulous Boxing Day/New Year films that I've reviewed over the past couple of weeks.  

The Edge of Seventeen
Director: Kelly Fremon Craig
Length: 104 min

© Roadshow - insecure Nadine communes with her teacher
in this heartfelt, funny and wonderful teen tale. 
Hailee Steinfeld made her debut 6 years ago in the remake of True Grit. It was obvious then she was a talent to watch, and she does not disappoint here. In fact nothing about this surprisingly brilliant teen flick disappoints. Steinfeld plays Nadine, a teen with low self-esteem, whose life is made worse when her beloved father dies. Her mother (Kyra Sedgwick) is too self-absorbed to see the angst and loneliness in her daughter. To compound matters Nadine's brother Darian (Blake Jenner) has always been outgoing, self-confident and seemingly her parents' favourite. Nadine's only friend in the world is Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), so when Darian starts dating Krista, Nadine is devastated. She only maintains her sanity by regularly dumping her problems on her teacher (Woody Harrelson). I don't want to hear you say you are too old for teen flicks. This one is superbly scripted, flawlessly acted, and balances a light comic touch with heartfelt drama throughout. Above all, it gets at a truth I believe we can all remember and relate to about being young, confused and vulnerable. 

4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended!

There is a new review of La La Land up on cinephilia. (Remember, I wasn't as crazed about it as other critics!) 
I love it when two reviewers on the same site go head to head with divergent opinions. That's what makes film criticism so much fun! 
The Golden Globes are being awarded soon. Check out the nominees and the winners!  
You can catch the show live on Foxtel tomorrow, Monday 9th Jan.