Tuesday, 25 July 2017

July 27 2017
A Monster Calls
War for the Planet of the Apes
MIFF - early tips!

More excellent films this week: human drama/fantasy; top-notch blockbuster fare and  a sneak peek at the upcoming Melbourne International Film Festival. Music lovers rush out for your tickets - there are some seriously  unmissable documentaries to revel in. 

A Monster Calls
Director: J.A.Bayona
Length: 108 min
© E-one - a gentle, touching, sad and inspiring
story of a boy summoning up his courage
How do I classify this beautiful film that falls somewhere between a child's fable, a coming of age story, a family drama and a metaphor for facing the darkest nights of one's soul? Twelve-year-old Conor (Lewis MacDougall) is bullied at school, misses his remarried Dad and is struggling with his mother's terminal illness. Somehow, through dreams, drawings and imagination, he conjures up a monster (voiced by Liam Neeson), fashioned from an old yew tree beyond his window. Through a series of visits and salutary tales, the monster helps Liam to understand certain basic truths in life, and to face his own worst fears. Employing a mix of real actors, exquisite paintings and impressive special effects, this film employs a terrific narrative, as well as an embodiment of something we can all relate to: the child within us all who is scared of losing that which we love most. There is a wonderful surprise in Sigourney Weaver as the seemingly forbidding Grandma, and Felicity Jones is at her tear-wrenching best as the fragile loving mother. Take tissues!
4 - highly recommended!

War for the Planet of the Apes
Director: Matt Reeves 
Length: 140 min
©20th Century fox - xxx
This is the third in the "reboot" Planet of the Apes film series which began in 2011: Rise of POA , Dawn of POA and now this one. You know I'm not usually a blockbuster sort of gal, but I am seriously impressed on a number of levels by this entire series of remakes.  The story stands tall with many "human" war epics - with themes of revenge, lack of communication, oppression, integrity, betrayal, and survival. Leader of the apes, Caesar, is again played by the talented Andy Serkis, and whatever digital motion capture wizardry is at work, it is awesome, giving rise to a completely credible character. Caesar suffers huge personal tragedy and comes to question whether he can still pursue his attempts to make peace with humans. All the apes are represented so well that we end up believing we are watching a human drama play out. The homo sapiens are ruthless, with Woody Harrelson almost channeling the crazy Col Kurtz from Apocalyse Now. The battle sequences are top-notch, the emotions palpable, and the themes thought-provoking. It's a winner cinematic experience. 
4 - highly recommended!

MIFF alert - some unmissable docos!!
Melbourne International Film Festival opens next week. It's time to get planning what you want to see. To kick start you I've got a few strong recommendations that will particularly please music fans!

Chasing Trane: For fans of genius jazz saxophonist John Coltrane, this doco is unmissable. With Denzel Washington speaking Coltrane's own words, the film traces the man's life and musical inspiration. Many other musicians including Santana, and ex-President Bill Clinton give wonderful insights into Coltrane, allowing even novices to understand the man's genius.  
Two Trains Running: This doco is a brilliant juxtaposition of two story threads: the search by young college students to find two legendary lost blues musicians, Son House and Skip James, is set against the deep racial unrest in America's south in the 1960s. The historical facts are tragically disturbing, and the blues music is uplifting. The use of archival footage and interweaving of the stories is masterfully executed. 
Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World: Who would have known that so many iconic rock musicians are of indigenous American Indian heritage? This high energy informative doco provides an eye-opening slant on the lives of these musos, and on the issue of color and racial heritage in the USA. Chock full of interviews, musical clips and stunning archival footage (some as old as early twentieth century), this is a brilliant film to entertain and inform. 
Pecking Order: The only music here is poultry song! This is a sweet and amusing doco about a New Zealand poultry club preparing for its annual show. Feathers are ruffled with vicious competition and internal politics.  Chook lovers will delight in this fowl version of Best in Show! 

To further explore the wondrous offerings of MIFF, go to www.miff.com.au

Friday, 21 July 2017

July 22 2017 
Paris Can Wait
Descent into the Maelstrom

What a mixed bag it is this week! An ultra-powerful war film, a fluffy Gallic gastronomical delight, and a punk-rock tale.  
Director: Christopher Nolan
Length: 115 min
© Warner Bros/Roadshow - as near to the action as
you could possibly get
World War 2 fact: In 1940, British and French troops became hemmed in between the beach and the advancing German army. Extraordinarily, deploying a combination of military vessels, passenger ferries and private boats, more than 300,000 troops were evacuated to safety. Film version: From the viewpoint of fighter pilots, protecting the trapped troops from air attack, the frightened soldiers on the beach, and one particular private boat, we get a picture of the bravery, fear and chaos that turned this military debacle into some sort of rescue miracle. Nolan's visionary direction, with its sweeping takes of air, land and sea, takes us (as much as a film can) into the very heart of the action. The tension, as one drama after another unfolds, is almost unbearable, the fear palpable. Surprisingly, we don't get a chance to bond much with any particular characters, and yet, I found myself progressively engaged with those youthful soldiers, whose overriding drive became survival, and those brave souls who managed to rise above fear. This is one of the most powerful war films in many years. 
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended!

Paris Can Wait 
Director: Eleanor Coppola
Length: 90 min
© Transmission - feel good foodie road trip
Anne (Dianne Lane) is the wife of Michael (Alec Baldwin), a womanising, workaholic Hollywood producer who can never ignore his phone long enough to notice his wife. When ear problems prevent her from flying with him to Paris, she accepts an offer from Michael's business associate Jacques (Arnaud Viard) to drive there with him. En route he takes her to the most tantalising gourmet restaurants in Provence and Lyon and they share vulnerabilities, along with visits to various picturesque sites and museums. The appeal of the film (aside from its mouth-watering food!) is the slow and unassuming way in which it putters along, taking in the scenery, and gradually watching what may or may not be develop between the (happily?) married American woman and the roguish, alluring Frenchman. I know the film is not groundbreaking, and I suspect that cynical jaded reviewers are going to sink the boots in, but I find much to like in this simple road trip, with the best France has to offer, and a soupcon of potential romance. Lane is, as always, gorgeous and Viard is a great match, oozing charm, solicitude and sincerity.
3 - recommended !

Descent into the Maelstrom
Director: Jonathan Sequiera
Length: 110 min
Exclusive to Cinema Nova in Melbourne
© Umbrella films - a snapshot of the legendary
punk band
Here's something for the die-hard fans of 70s head-banging rock n roll (which I'm not!). Sydney high-voltage band Radio Birdman pioneered an independent music scene that appealed to a new wave of Aussie music fans. Their punk gigs at the Funhouse in Sydney were ground-breaking, and eventually inspired bands like Midnight Oil, The Angels and Cold Chisel. Seeing these now-aging musicians talk about the highs and lows of their musical career is fun, though I would have liked a little more background. It's a well-made music movie, a bit too long for me, and the filmmakers assume a lot of prior knowledge. 
2.5 - maybe (if this is your music bag, then definitely)!

Sunday, 16 July 2017

July 17th 2017 
Scandinavian Film Festival
Baby Driver
The Beguiled

Another strong festival rolls onto our screens, along with a remake of a 1971 Civil War story and a high-energy heist story, which should please all rev-heads. 

Baby Driver
Director: Edgar Wright
Length: 113 min
© Sony - Action from go to whoa! 
Despite being a a closet petrol-head, I seldom enjoy films based solely around car chases. This little gem however is much more - it's the story of young Baby (Ansel Elgort) , who is paying off a debt by driving for crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey), who orchestrates heists, each time with a new crew, but always the same crash-hot driver. Baby has tinnitus in his ears, so drowns out the noise by listening endlessly to his iPod. Herein lies the genius of the film: every piece of action, from the driving to the shooting, is choreographed and synched precisely to the soundtrack. It is high-octane, loud, clever, funny, and just downright entertaining. The stunt driving is in a league of its own and the story has a sweet romantic sub-plot. With great cast support from the likes of Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Lily James and Eiza Gonzalez this is one to simply go and enjoy for what it is.   
4 - highly recommended! 

The Beguiled
Director: Sofia Coppola
Length: 93 min
© Universal - A wounded soldier causes consternation
and fluttering hearts among the southern belles
I won't pretend I ever saw the first version of this film with Clint Eastwood, so no comparisons! This remake has garnered Best Director for Coppola at Cannes, so I went along with great expectations, and, while entertained, I ended up wondering why all the fuss. It is indeed an exquisitely costumed and beautifully shot film, with dreamy, hazy exteriors, and romantic interiors, housing the repressed lives of a couple of teachers and their young charges, hanging out in a girls' school during the American Civil War. When a wounded Yankee soldier is found in the woods, things hot up among the females, each vying for his attention in their own way. The cast is alluring, including Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman and the dashingly handsome and seductive Colin Farrell. The plot is a sorry testament to the competitive behaviour of women, and the scurrilous doings of men, but it comes across as neither high drama nor comedy, and elements of forced over-acting made me doubt the authenticity of the characters. That said, Farrell is a major drawcard, and his fans should definitely check out the film.  
2.5 - maybe! 

Volvo Scandinavian Film Festival
In Melbourne until August 2
At Cinema Como, Palace Westgarth and Brighton Bay

"Scandi Noir" TV series have been making quite a splash for some time now on our small screens. A Conspiracy of Faith continues that fine tradition in this festival, but there is a whole lot more from Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden and Finland. 
The Other Side of Hope - fun film from top
Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki

Centrepiece film The King's Choice was Norway's selection for this year's Oscars, while Tom of Finland has won several awards. 

Opening night film The Other Side of Hope, gets another showing on Saturday 22 July. It comes from renowned director Aki Kaurismaki and was Silver Bear winner at this year's Berlin Festival. It employs zany left-of-centre humour, a good soundtrack, and has relevant themes dealing with refugees.

There is also a terrific doco, Magnus, on Sven Magnus, chess champ who got his Grand Master status at age 13! 

For information on ticketing and session times in all states go to:

Sunday, 9 July 2017

July 9th 2017

Monsieur Chocolat
It Comes at Night

After last week's period pieces starring strong women, this week's films feature two impressive men. They are such dramatically differing genres, one or other (or both) should please you. 

Monsieur Chocolat
Director: Roschdy Zem
Length: 119 min
© Transmission - Omar Sy exudes charisma in this moving
true story of a circus clown with ambition
The trailer to this film makes it look like a feel-good circus clown period piece, but Mnsr Choc is much more. It's the true story of ex-slave Raphael Padilla, (Omar Sy) who, in the late 1800s joins a provincial French circus, where he plays a "savage". Already famous clown Georges Footit (James Thieree) suggests the radical idea that he and Chocolat (as Raphael becomes known) form a clowning duo, in which the black guy always gets the rough end of the stick from the white guy! The pair rapidly become the toast of Paris, but soon Chocolat wants to be more than the butt-end of Footit's jokes. With serious themes of racism, thwarted ambition, love, and self-destruction, this story is still relevant in a world where people of color often have fewer opportunities than whites. Performances are terrific, and, although the story-telling is fairly traditional, it's a most worthwhile and entertaining film.     
3.5 - recommended! 

It Comes at Night
Director: Trey Edward Shults
Length: 91 min
© Roadshow - truly scary mix of post-apocalyptic
psychological thriller and (almost) horror
Imagine a world decimated by some modern form of plague. A family has survived: Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife Sarah and 17-year-old son Travis are holed up in a cabin in the woods, never going out without gas masks, and never at night. One day a stranger turns up. Paul immediately takes him captive, but finally relents allowing Will, his wife Kim and their 4-year-old son Andrew to come live with them. They seem in good health, and they bring much-needed resources. I shall say no more plot-wise. Suffice to say this is not simply about the scariness of whatever is out there, but the psychology of fear, trust, authority, and deception. There are many layers of subtlety as regards the interactions of all the characters, and the tension is relentless. There is little in the way of backstory, but as a pressure-cooker claustrophobic genre film about a nightmarish situation, this one works very well.  Edgerton, who was so fine recently in Loving, is equally in command of his family, and his performance, here. 
4 - highly recommended (if you can stand the stress!)

Monday, 3 July 2017

July 4th 2017
Still catching up!!
Lady Macbeth
A Quiet Passion

The catch-up is going slower than I hoped for, but here are a couple of new offerings, and, although they will hold no appeal for the popcorn brigade, both are truly fine films, sporting amazing performances, and top-notch cinematography. 

Lady Macbeth
Director: William Oldroyd
Length: 89 min
© Sharmill - Florence Pugh is compelling in this
meticulously crafted period piece
Based upon a novel by Nikolai Leskov, this is not to be confused with the classic Shakespearean Macbeth, other than here is a woman with much blood on her hands. This remarkable film deserves to be seen by far more people than I imagine it will, being intense, superbly crafted and a tour-de-force of acting from Florence Pugh. The story is set in 1865, when teenage Katherine is bought by her father-in-law Boris as wife to Alexander, a cold and harsh man. When Alexander goes on a trip, Katherine invites stable-hand Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis) into her bed, and something primally wild within her is released. Eventually she will stop at nothing to get what she wants. As an audience our allegiances are initially with Katherine, virtual prisoner to the oppressive males, but it is interesting to feel the pendulum swing, as the tale progresses. With much seething (and overt) sexuality, and many uncomfortable moments, especially as concern the family maid Ana, this film is gripping plot wise, as well as looking meticulous in its careful use of minimalist settings. sparse dialogue, and even less music. This is film-making at the top of its game! 
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended! 

A Quiet Passion
Director: Terence Davies
Length: 126 min
© Palace - Cynthia Nixon brings poet Emily Dickinson
to life in another wonderful film
Yet another period piece, again about a strong woman, this is the story of American poet Emily Dickinson, writing in the 1830s, a time when women, mostly under male thumbs, were not well acknowledged in the literary world. I feared I would be bored by this confined tale, with a voice-over utilising much of Dickinson's poems, but I found myself surrendering totally to the sad and gentle story of a gifted woman greatly attached to her loving family, surrounded by people adept with words and ideas, but feeling insecure because of her self-perceived lack of beauty and suitors. This film, like Lady Macbeth, is meticulously crafted in its look. It has moments of almost unbearable sadness, bubbling joy, and plenty of verbal jousting, at times almost too clever for its own good!  Strong support comes from Jennifer Ehle as sister Vinnie, Duncan Duff as brother Austin and Keith Carradine as the loving patriarch.     
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended! 

For more interesting and in-depth analyses of both films from Bernard Hemingway, visit: