Sunday, 21 May 2017

May 25 2017 and a couple of subsequent weeks:  
A Bag of Marbles - out now
Norman: Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer - releases May 25
Handsome Devil - releases May 25
Hounds of Love- releases June 1
20th Century Women - releases June 1
Kedi - releases June 15
Whitney  - Can I Be Me - releases June 15 

The blogger is taking a break - this means that, along with May 25's  releases (reviewed here early), any other films that will release in my absence that I have already seen are also featured here. And may I say what a wonderful selection of films they are - all recommendable, and mostly almost unmissable! I will have to do a huge catch up later, as some top-shelf stuff is coming out - Dunkirk, Churchhill, The Promise, Graduation, Sense of an Ending  . . . the list goes on.  Back on deck in about 5 weeks time, meantime here are seven to keep you out of mischief! 

A Bag of Marbles
Out now - Lido and Classic cinemas
Director: Christian Duguay
Length: 110 min
© A rip-your-heart out Holocaust story of a family,
especially the two younger brothers, who
battled to survive in Nazi-occupied France
Catch this while you can. Yet another true story from WW2, it tells of two young brothers Maurice and Joseph who are sent away from their family to fend for themselves in an attempt to save them from the Nazi persecution of Parisian Jews. They live on their wits, learning to lie and stand up for themselves, hoping all the time to be eventually reunited with their parents and two older brothers. The story brings a continual lump to the throat but never gets sentimental, and as a portrayal of family solidarity it is stirring. Performances by the kids and adults are uniformly excellent, the scenery of the high mountains in the south of France, and of Nice, is beautiful, and it is one of the most moving stories I've seen in a long while.  
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended! 

Handsome Devil
Releases May 25
Director: John Butler
Length: 95 min
© Rialto  - friends discover their own distinctive voice
in this sweet Irish boarding school story.
Ned is a sensitive, music loving red-headed outsider, sent to a Dublin boarding school where rugby is worshipped. He is bullied mercilessly, and when his new roommate comes along, Ned fears the worst as Connor is the archetypal handsome rugby player. But, encouraged by their teacher Mr Sherry, whose mantra is "find your own voice", the boys form a tentative friendship based around their love of guitar. This is a sweet, funny and unassuming film, which tackles issues of bullying, sexual identity, homophobia and friendship in a way that brings few surprises. The lead actors are terrific and the movie entertains, albeit in a sometimes overly saccharine style.  
3 - recommended! 

The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer 
Releases May 25
Director: Joseph Cedar
Length: 118 min
© Becker - Richard Gere in one of his best performances
as nebbish Norman
Yiddish is such a rich language, and it has many words to describe the character of Norman Oppenheimer - a schwitser, a macher, a nebbisch and ultimately a mensch! Norman (Richard Gere) is a wanna-be, a guy who fancies himself as a "solutions engineer", someone who connects people with each other to make deals. Trouble is Norman is a bit of a perseverant nobody, and his unassuming, scruffy appearance makes him an enigma and a nuisance to those he meets. When he runs into the Deputy Trade Minister of Israel Micha Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi) in New York, a tentative friendship ensues. Years later when Eshel becomes Israeli Prime Minister, Norman's star rises  . . . for a while. This is a sometimes funny, sometimes pathos-filled tale that is intelligently scripted and sports one of Gere's best performances to date. Charlotte Gainsbourg and Steve Buscemi are among the strong supporting cast. There is a strong Jewish sensibility to the film, but it is also universally human - about a small guy who, despite all, is at heart a mensch - a truly worthy person!
4 - wholeheartedly recommended!

20th Century Women
Releases June 1
Director: Mike Mills
Length: 119 min
© EOne - A great ensemble cast in a warm and witty
film from the feminist era. 
Writer/director Mills gave us one of my fave films, Beginners. He's back with this delightful, somewhat quirky film which he describes as a love-letter to the women who raised him. Single mum, Dorothea (Annette Bening) is raising son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) alone, except that there's a lot of input from Julie (Elle Fanning), a rebellious neighbour, Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a punk gal who rents a room in Dorothea's house, as does William (Billy Cruddup). It's 1979, a time of rising feminism, and the sort of values the three women instill in Jamie, are in fact a bonus for his later life.  With a Best Actress nomination for Annette Bening and a Best Screenplay nom for Wills, this film has strong creds and should entertain men and women alike.   
4 - wholeheartedly recommended!

Hounds of Love
Releases June 1
Director: Ben Young
Length: 108 min
© Impressive genre film-making reminding us
not to take lifts from strangers!
Perth - 1987: A young teenager Vicky, walking alone at night, accepts a lift from a couple, only to be taken captive in their home. Loosely based on a number of crimes of this nature, Hounds is no easy watch, but within the genre of psychopath-thriller, it is impressively well made. No surprise that both lead female actors have already won festival awards, as has the debut director. Stephen Curry is chillingly menacing as psychopath John White. Although the plot deals with nasty subject matter there are salient points about women who escape abusive homes only to end up in relationships where they are both perpetrator and victim themselves. It is also a reminder that behind the seemingly peaceful  facade of suburban doors we really have no idea what goes on. Apart from a few gratuitous slo-mo scenes, the direction is taut and the tension at times is almost unbearable, but cleverly cuts away to give the audience a respite - smart film-making.       
4 - a score for the film-making qualities - I can't tell you to see it unless you are into the genre or an avid follower of Aussie film - it's so disturbing!

Releases June 15
Director: Ceyda Torun
Length: 119 min
© Hi Gloss - Endearing film with subtext about life itself
What a novel idea - to reflect the life of a city and its inhabitants through their love and care for street cats. In Istanbul cats are almost a cultural symbol, and the many strays that are neither wild nor pet seem to evoke a lot of love and philosophising from the various residents who have bonded with them. We meet seven particular cats, and their human friends, and hear about their personalities, and what effect each has had on the human's life. The cinematography is glorious, employing drones above the city, "cat-cams" to follow the felines into small spaces, and all manner of angles and closeups to show the cats to their best advantage. This is neither sentimental nor cloying - it is endearing, amusing, at times whimsical and totally entertaining. The musical background is also part of the enjoyment in evoking the alluring city. A must for cat-lovers, and even those who aren't!  
4 - wholeheartedly recommended!

Whitney - Can I Be Me?
Releases June 15
Director: Nick Broomfield
Length: 111 min
© Rialto - a searingly honest look at a talented,
troubled singing legend
I walked away from this documentary thinking how sad - what a waste of a stunning talent, and all because of the usual suspects - drugs and alcohol, coupled with low self-esteem! This impressive doco looks at the life of the late singer Whitney Houston, who, had one of the most amazing vocal ranges ever, and achieved more awards and  number one hits than you can shake a stick at! The film explores her life from the early years of singing in the church choir, and traces her spectacular rise, followed by her tragic demise. There are many revealing interviews with friends and colleagues, an exploration of the nature of her relationship with closest friend Robyn (and how the possible gay nature of that was covered up and probably led Whitney to despair), along with her disastrous marriage to bad-boy singer Bobby Brown who only added alcohol to her already drug-addicted life. With extraordinary clips of that brilliant voice in action, frank behind the scenes looks at the life behind the spotlight, and an overview of a time when the pop world wanted to make a black singer for the white world, this is a great piece of documentary making.  
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended!

Thursday, 18 May 2017

May 18 2017:  
Don't Tell
The Viceroy's house
King Arthur

This week we are lucky to have a strong new Australian film, with a highly relevant theme, along with a visually wonderful retelling of the true story of the last days of British rule in India. Possibly not so lucky to have yet another retelling of the King Arthur legend. 

Don't Tell
Director: Tori Garrett
Length: 108 min
© Nixco - Sarah West gives an intense 
performance in an important film
Eleven year old Lyndal was a student at the Anglican-run Toowoomba Prep School in 1990 when house-master Kevin Guy began sexually abusing her and other girls. Just as Guy was due to face court he committed suicide, and the case was buried. Ten years later, lawyer Stephen Roche took up Lyndal's cause, and it is this landmark case that is considered the catalyst for the resulting Royal Commission into Sexual Abuse. This taut and probing courtroom drama is beautifully made, and deals with a confronting subject in a non-sensational, but gripping fashion. It sports a top-notch cast, including Jack Thompson, Aden Young, Rachel Griffiths, Suzy Porter and Guyton Grantley as the creepy pedophile teacher. Top accolades go to Sara West as Lyndal, who embodies the damaged, angry, confused young woman who has never had a chance to tell her story and get justice. Employing a mix of flashback, present day developments, and courtroom scenes, the film is enhanced with a superbly haunting score. Feeling more personal than Spotlight, which dealt with similar issues, Don't Tell is an important film examining the collective guilt of the higher ups in organisations purporting to be looking after our young people.   
4 - wholeheartedly recommended! 

The Viceroy's House
Director: Gurinder Chadha
Length: 106 min
© Transmission- Pomp and circumstance, plus 
a tragic history of Indian Partition
Fresh from the Young at Heart Film Festival, this film now gets a mainstream release. The last Viceroy of India Lord Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville), was charged with the challenging task of overseeing the handover of the country from the Brits back to the Indians. His personal household, made up of Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs find themselves caught up in a cultural conflict when Partition rips one nation into two. Bonneville and Gillian Anderson are impressive as Lord and Lady Mountbatten. The production values and sets are lavish and authentic and capture an era of pomp, privilege and political machinations. What starts as an interesting slice of historical drama, turns into a moving, personal drama which is at once intimate, and far reaching.
3.5 - highly recommended!

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
Director: Guy Ritchie
Length: 106 min

© Warner Bros - much digital work, action and 
confusion in this barely recognisable  version of the 
Arthurian legend. 
What have you done to my legend Guy? I can barely recognise one of my favorite legends (or is it?) in this over-the-top, digital effects-ridden and bloated version of the story. Yes, I acknowledge the desire to make something different and "fresh", as compared to the earlier  more traditional (much better) films like Excalibur and King Arthur. But in depicting his Arthur as a Cockney-speaking street kid, and mixing in some nonsensical battle scenes with giant elephants and glowing monsters, Ritchie turns the whole thing  into a mash-up of genres. It has overtones of Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, along with Lord of the Rings, but seldom, if ever, does it  even resemble the revered story I know and love. Good grief - Merlin doesn't even get a look-in, replaced by an odd girl who is his emissary. Jude Law is suitably horrid as the evil King Vortigern, and Charlie Hunnam does an ok job of the sort of beefed-up Arthur Ritchie wants, but I think, unless you are a 14-17 year old boy who loves non-stop noise and action, you should give it a miss. (That said, the driving sound track impressed me big time!)
2 - you've got better things to do with your time!

Thursday, 11 May 2017

May 11 2017:  
Alien Covenant
American Essentials Film Festival 2017

This week's film festival is the American Essentials Festival, showcasing some cutting edge indie film-making, and just to counter things we have a very main-stream horror sci-fi in the form of yet another in the Alien franchise.  

Alien: Covenant
Director: Ridley Scott
Length: 120 min
© 20th Century Fox -  expect more nasty creatures
exploding from abdomens!
It's hard to believe the original Alien came out way back in 1979. Sigourney Weaver rose to legendary status as a fearless heroine, able to stand up to one of the scariest monsters ever to hit our screens. Since then we've had Aliens (1986), Alien 3 (1992), Alien Resurrection (1997) the prequel Prometheus (2012), and now we have this latest. I went with high hopes, and the opening scene, impressive in a stunning stylised white setting, kept me enthralled, as the android David, played by Michael Fassbender, discusses with his "father" weighty philosophical theories of the origins of humans and androids. The film then cuts to the spaceship Covenant, travelling for 7 years to a far-flung outpost of space, taking 2000 settlers and a crew, all in hypersleep for the journey. For me it is all downhill from there. I feel as if I have seen so many of these settings and plot points before - almost like a remake of the original Alien without any of the fresh shocks and horror. The same tired tropes abound - the space ship is stricken by unexpected technical dramas, the captain decides to go off course to explore an unknown planet, the astronauts are blithely careless, and of course the alien creatures get a foothold in their bodies and on their spacecraft. There are the odd self-conscious references to poetry and implied grandiose religious overtones; there are even scenes reminiscent of the fall of Pompei, along with other attempts to make it into something greater than it is. Many of the settings look like they have employed generic rent-a-spaceship props. As always I love to watch Fassbinder, and this time we get a double helping as he plays two "brother" androids. While the rest of the cast are fine, there is little emotional investment in their characters, and Katherine Waterston can't hold a candle to Weaver's original Ripley. The various incarnations of the repulsive alien are as horrific, bloody and repulsive as ever, but somehow I think only die-hard fans of the franchise need go see it. 
2 - maybe (unless you are addicted to the franchise!) 

American Essentials Film Festival 2017
Melbourne: Cinema Como, Palace Westgarth, Astor
May 11-24
For other states and session times visit

When did Dustin Hoffman ever look so young!
See him fall for Mrs Robinson all over again in the
iconic 60s' film The Graduate.  
This festival showcases talented indie directors in the early stages of their careers, as displayed in the many fine features and docos. There is also a special Masters and Masterpieces section featuring such iconic films as David Lynch's Eraserhead, Woody Allen's Annie Hall, Mike Nichols' The Graduate, and many more. The centrepiece film is about Australia's own George Lazenby becoming James Bond, while the opening night film 20th Century Women promises to be a winner. As always I've managed to catch a few in advance.  
Len and CompanyThis is my pick! Len, played by Rhys Ifans, is a reclusive record producer. When his son comes to visit, his tranquility is disrupted, but when Zoe, one of his recording stars turns up, life is truly turned upside down. This understated gentle film is wryly amusing, with terrific themes of fathers/sons, fame and overtones of redemption (and of course music!)  
Are We Not Cats: Astonishingly bizarre, this is a love story between loner Eli and oddball Anya, who is given to eating hair. The film is completely eccentric, yet has a weird compelling fascination and moments of pathos, not the least some rather challenging scenes of body horror. 
Sylvio: Another oddball film about a gorilla who works for a debt collection agency and ends up in his own TV show. You really have to suspend disbelief for this one, which didn't totally do it for me, and felt a bit too much like a student film. However, to the film's credit, one actually felt moments of compassion for the lumbering gorilla (which is actually a guy in a suit), and his attempts to dispel his image as an aggressive beast. 
David Lynch: The Art Life: With Lynch's Mulholland Drive and Eraserhead featuring, here is a doco to give a wider perspective on the great director. We get an insight into his visual arts practice - his own unique world view that gives rise to the distinctive vision in his films. While not light viewing, this is a must for Lynch fans. 

The festival is highly recommended! Festivals of this nature are a great opportunity to catch films you may otherwise not see. 

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

May 4 2017:  
Human Right Arts & Film Festival
Pork Pie
The Zookeeper's Wife
A Dog's Purpose

This week brings a film festival that has something really important to say, a World War 2 film based upon a true story, a very funny New Zealand road comedy, and and a story about furry friends.  

HRAFF: Human Rights Arts & Film Festival
Melbourne 4-18 May at ACMI

With all the festivals sprouting up left, right and centre, it's easy to say "oh here's another!" and not give this important festival the attention it deserves. The salient tagline for HRAFF is "Stories That Matter", and I doubt you'll find a finer selection of docos, films and events that have something important to say about human rights in today's world. I've caught up with quite a few and I urge you all to make time to go along to some of these fine films: 

© HRAFF - a refugee story 
with a difference
Constance on the Edge: Constance's sunny smile (left) belies the fact that she has suffered, fleeing from South Sudan to Wagga Wagga. This is an inspiring doco, filmed over 10 years, which brings home with a wallop just what refugees must go through to end up finding an unexpected sense of community in rural Australia. 
Do Not Resist: this most disturbing doco tracks the progressive militarisation of the US police force. As well as showcasing some of the paranoia that seems to be entrenching in small-town USA, it also highlights racism and bigotry experienced at the hands of the police.
Happyland: Aussie street artist Kaff-eine heads to Manila to make enormous paintings of people who live on dumpsite slums, eat the leftovers others throw out, and make their living from garbage. Despite the ghastly conditions, there is a lot of joy to be found by the locals in Kaff-eine's work.
Fed Square will feature a Happyland exhibition where you can see Kaff-eine's work, and learn about the daily lives of the slum-dwellers. 
Cafe Waldluft: Flora Kurz is kindness personified. The owner of a once thriving tourist hotel in southern Germany now welcomes refugees to live with her there. This compassionate film casts light on the plight of refugees in Europe, and those locals with hearts big enough to take them in.
Les Chevaliers Blanc: This Belgian feature film deals with a fictional humanitarian organisation who purport to do good deeds for local orphans in African villages. The underlying agenda is something more sinister, and the story highlights some of the grey moral areas faced by aid workers. Featuring a stunning performance by Vincent Lindon, this is a gripping and morally challenging film. 
The Settlers: One of the world's most vexed issues is that of Israel and Palestine. This in-depth doco looks at both sides of the story of the Israeli settlers who are progressively moving into territory owned by Palestinians Again, unsettling, and thought-provoking film-making.
Tanna: Don't miss a chance to catch Australia's fist nominee for Best Foreign Film. This beautiful story, set in Vanuatu, looks at the rights of young people to marry the one they love, not the one chosen by their tribal elders. 
Dheepan: Palme d'Or winner in Cannes in 2015, Dheepan deals with the immigrant experience of Sri Lankan refugees in Paris. I saw this a couple of years back and it's a moving, strong film.
Pearl of Africa: Fascinating documentary about transgender woman  Cleo and her loving partner Nelson, who live in fear of oppression and hatred in Uganda. The doco traces their trip to Thailand for Cleo's gender reassignation surgery.    
Spear: film and event: An afternoon of music (Saturday May 13, Footscray Community Centre 2pm) is followed by a screening of the excellent Australian film Spear, which is a dance interpretation of a young man's life, caught between Indigenous tradition and the life in the city. 
Other events include a gala screening of HRAFF shorts, and a series of talks, along with many, many more fine feature films and docos. Check the website for details. 
4.5 - HRAFF is wholeheartedly recommended!

Pork Pie
Director: Matt Murphy
Length: 105 min
© Studio Canal - Dean O'Gorman is Jon, failed novelist,
failed fiance, soon to be local hero. 
I haven't laughed so much in a long time as I did at this whacky New Zealand comedy. a remake of the original "Goodbye Pork Pie" directed by Murphy's father back in 1981! This is the story of Jon, who is headed south to reconnect with the bride he dumped at the altar. When Luke, driving a bright orange stolen Mini Cooper, nearly runs him over they set off together, driving too fast and soon pursued by cops. Along the way they pick up Keira, a vegan activist. Soon the trio, dubbed The Blondini Gang, become home-grown local heroes. There is much to love here - plenty of physical comedy and hilarious set pieces, breathlessly clever driving through glorious NZ countryside, much larrikin humour, and terrific chemistry between the three leads.  Underneath it all there is a touching heart, and with such memorable characters this is set to entertain big time. (not to mention make you want to race off to NZ and/or buy a Mini Cooper!) 
3.5 - highly recommended!

The Zookeepers Wife
Director: Niki Caro
Length: 127 min
© Roadshow - a Holocaust story with a difference. 
Antonina Zabinska (Jessica Chastain)  and her husband Jan (Johan Heldenbergh) are in charge of the Warsaw Zoo where life is idyllic until the Germans invade in 1939, take away the prize animals, shoot the rest and use the place as a munitions store. They are now answerable to the Reich's chief zoologist Heck (Daniel Bruhl). Antonina and Jan fight back by using the underground areas of the zoo as a place to hide Jews who Jan has managed to get out of the Warsaw ghetto. This is a true story based upon a book that used Antonina's diaries as its source. The film tries to pack a little too much content into its runtime - so much happens and by necessity it glosses over detail. This, combined with the feel-good animal theme, seems at odds with the intrinsic horror of the story. Nevertheless it is a beautifully shot, well acted and moving depiction of the so-called "righteous Gentiles" who put their own lives at risk to save others.
3 - recommended!

A Dog's Purpose
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Length: 100 min
© EOne - "man's best friend" tells the tale
from his own point of view
I went to this with some trepidation, but left feeling a bit teary-eyed and uplifted, though guiltily so, as the film is shamelessly sentimental and manipulative.  Don't be freaked when I tell you this dog is literally reincarnated several times in the film, and he tells his own tale via a voice-over from Josh Gad. Dog number one lives his brief life and is euthanised by the dog catcher. He is then reincarnated as Bailey, much loved for many years by young Ethan. Several other incarnations take place, and we see the dog's place in the lives of its various owners. Eventually aspects of the plot come full circle. Many critics have savaged the film, but there is sure to be joy for dog-loving film-goers in hearing what their adored pet might be thinking as it philosophises about its life. This dog is is big on having fun, and bringing joy to its owners and is a panacea for human loneliness. Love or hate the film, how the film-makers got so many animals to "act" so well is definitely a miracle!     
2.5 - maybe - but for sentimental types and dog fanatics possibly recommended!