Wednesday, 27 September 2017

September 28 2017
Battle of the Sexes
Italian Film Festival: Tenderness
The Dancer

If you haven't caught any of the Italian Film Festival yet, here's a strong recommendation from me. There's also molto entertainment in the tennis/women's lib/coming out story of Billie Jean King vs Bobby Riggs, as well as a tale of rivalry and dance in Paris at the end of the 19th century. 

Battle of the Sexes
Director: Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris
Length: 121 min
© Fox -  Emma Stone and Steve Carrel are 
perfect foils for each other in this highly
entertaining film. 
"Women belong in the bedroom and kitchen, in that order." So said the 1939 Wimbledon champion Bobby Riggs back in the early 1970s, when, at age 55, he challenged 29-year-old Billy Jean King to a play-off, after thrashing Women's Champion Margaret Court. That historic match is the basis of this film, but it deals with so much more, and you don't have to be a tennis fan to love the film. Emma Stone is perfectly cast as King, a feminist who is also coming to terms with her own sexual orientation. Steve Carrell embodies all the braggadoccio of the obnoxious (yet very funny) Riggs. In an era when women's liberation was burgeoning, the old men of lawn tennis associations still sneered at women, so King's passion for the cause really opened a new chapter in women's professional tennis. This playoff is beautifully handled, with Bill Pullman excellent support as the chauvinistic tournament promoter Jack Kramer. Add Alan Cummings as the team's couturier and Andrea Riseborough as Marilyn, Billy Jean's first female love interest, and you have a richly entertaining film that not only encapsulates a special time in sporting history, but also a turning point for gay rights.    
4 - highly recommended!

Italian Film Festival - ongoing
Director: Gianni Amelio

Catch this wonderful film at Palace Como or Palace Westgarth, Friday 6 October, or Palace Balwyn Saturday 7 October

© Palace - new neighbors are much loved by
an old man, whose entrenched life will be changed

Ageing widower and retired lawyer Lorenzo (Renato Carpentieri) is a caring grandfather, but is estranged from his adult children. Despite his cynical approach to life, he becomes close to his new neighbors Michela, Fabio and their two children. When tragedy strikes, Lorenzo's daughter Elena (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) is driven to reach out to her father. This is the sort of film-making I live for - precise observation of the realities of life, intelligently scripted, believable, and beautifully acted by every cast member. Nice also to see our own Greta Scacchi back on screen. This relationship drama has true heart and deep intensity and thoroughly deserves its many awards in Italy.  
4.5 wholeheartedly recommended!

The Dancer
Director: Stephanie di Giusto
Length: 108 min
© Palace - whirling and swirling in gay Paris!
Mid-west gal Marie Louise Fuller (Soko)  travels from mid-west USA to Paris in the Belle Epoche, where she takes the French name Loie and becomes the toast of the town in French cabarets, performing an impressive swirling dance involving metres of silk and long rods attached to her arms. This strange biopic showcases some extraordinary dancing but failed to engage me with its characters. Loie's odd relationship with rival Isadora Duncan (Lily Rose Depp) is also important to the plot, but somehow I never got a real insight into any of the characters and ended up finding it all somewhat forgettable.      
2.5 - maybe

Thursday, 21 September 2017

September 21 2017
Beatriz at Dinner
Australia Day
The Belko Experiment

This week it's from one extreme to the other. The sublime doco Mountain is my pick, but there may be something to appeal in the other releases. 

Director: Jennifer Peedom
Length: 70 min
© Madman -  Mountain pays homage to the enduring
power mountains have over humans.

This is a unique collaboration between film-maker, writer and the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Together they create a cinematic and musical journey through the most beautiful and extreme mountains in the world, examining the enduring power mountains hold over human beings. Not so long ago, the very idea of climbing a mountain was considered lunacy. Today people are obsessed with scaling Everest, outrunning avalanches on skis, and pitting themselves against mountains in all manner of foolhardy, adrenalin-pumping adventures. It's hard to find enough superlatives to describe this awe-inspiring documentary; it's rather like a symphonic poem with purpose-written music by Richard Tognetti, a selection of classics, and a narrative (voiced by Willem Dafoe) that is more of a contemplative, philosophical poem. The camera (sometimes mounted on drones) soars and sweeps in vertiginous scenes that stretch the boundaries of cinematography, providing the viewer with sublime beauty, heart-stopping action and an exhilarating insight into the dreams of humans, whose significance is ultimately dwarfed by the majesty and longevity of these magnificent rocks. 
5 - unmissable!

Beatriz at Dinner
Director: Miguel Arteta
Length: 82 min
Nova Exclusive
© Madman - strong human drama pits a woman with
a conscience against greedy capitalists 
Mexican-born Beatriz (Selma Hayek) is an environmentally conscious, compassionate soul who works as a masseuse and holistic healer. When visiting a wealthy client, Beatriz's car breaks down, and Kathy suggests Beatriz join them at the dinner that is taking place to celebrate Kathy's husband's latest business venture. Among the dinner guests is Doug Strutt (John Lithgow), a ruthless, unscrupulous billionaire property developer who stands for all the things Beatriz detests. This dinner can only end disastrously for all concerned! This is a disturbingly uncomfortable movie - one feels deeply for Beatriz, stuck in the middle of these uppity, condescending, careless people, yet we cannot help but admire her for having the courage to speak up against what they stand for. What starts calmly and amiably, gradually becomes more and more tense, as the inflammatory conversation and issues raised keep the audience riveted, and questioning their own values. This is top movie making, with a wonderful ensemble cast in which Hayek and Lithgow stand out.  
4 - highly recommended!

Australia Day
Director: Kriv Stenders
Length: 98 min
© Icon - our national day as
seen through a different prism
It's not all beer swilling and burnt snags in this different take on our national day. Three young people from vastly different backgrounds are all running from something. A distressed Chinese girl, Lan, is found on the street by Terry (Bryan Brown), who has his own problems. Sami, an Iranian-Australian teen is being brutalised by a gang of aggro boys who claim he raped their sister, and Aboriginal teen, April, is running from a car crash after a family tragedy. The film tries to emulate Crash, or Magnolia, where inter-connected stories come together, but it never reaches the heights of those films, feeling at times more like a telemovie. It starts off in a rather confusing manner, but by the end I finally felt some level of emotional engagement with the characters. The issues raised are strong and relevant, and it's always a treat to see a strong Bryan Brown performance, but the film never quite has the power it could have. 
2.5 - maybe!

The Belko Experiment
Director: Greg McLean
Length: 82 min
© Rialto - kill or be killed! You don't want to be a
subject in this nasty experiment!
In a nasty social experiment, a group of employees in a high-rise corporation in Columbia are ordered over the loud-speaker to kill two fellow workers in the next half hour, or else 30 will die. Thus ensues a vicious game of kill or be killed, with the various employees espousing a range of moral stances from pacifism through to self-preservation, with a dose of sadism thrown in. Wolf Creek director McLean knows all about creating tension and ugliness, which he achieves quite well here. As in other films of this nature (Hunger Games, Battle Royale) the usual moral issues arise, along with possible references to well-documented real-life experiments where people are ordered to do reprehensible things to save their own skins. It's hard to watch, but fans of genre movies may well enjoy the carnage and mayhem.   
2.5 - maybe!

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

September 14 2017
I am Not your Negro
Victoria and Abdul
American Assassin
Lavazza Italian Film Festival

From one of the year's best docos, through to historical drama, CIA action, psychological mind-blowing arthouse and the always entertaining Italian Film Festival, there's another huge variety this week.  

I am Not your Negro
Director: Raoul Peck
Length: 93 min
© Madman - an unmissable doco, as relevant today as 
when all its subjects lived  
A nominee for this year's Best Documentary Feature at the Oscars, this astonishing doco has won 20 awards, and been nominated for 40. Justifiably so! In 1979 author and activist James Baldwin proposed to his literary agent that he write a book about the murders of black leaders Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jnr and Medgar Evers. He never completed the book and died eight years later. Now director Peck makes a film inspired by Baldwin's unfinished manuscript, and yet so much more. Using old footage of Baldwin speaking on TV and in lectures, archival footage of past and current race riots, scenes from old American films of an idealistic sanitised white society, and a narration by Samuel L Jackson giving voice to Baldwin's writing and philosophy of race relations, the film challenges audiences to examine in greater depth than ever before what it means for America to have created such dramatic racial inequality. The film could break your heart, with its juxtaposition of the white American dream compared with the black nightmare. The conclusion that "white" is just a metaphor for "power" is chilling. The philosophies expressed are complex, and challenging, and the film requires careful attention but is worth every minute with Baldwin's ideas as relevant today as they were then.    
5 - unmissable!

Victoria and Abdul
Director: Stephen Frears
Length: 112 min
© Universal - Judi Dench is marvellous as Queen Vic in
this little known true story of friendship 
In 1887 a young Indian clerk, Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), was sent to England to present Queen Victoria (also Empress of India) with a ceremonial coin. He soon became part of the Queen's household and a special friendship sprang up between the aging monarch and the young Muslim. Keen to escape the drudgery of her royal life, Her Maj elevated Abdul to the status of Munshi (teacher), studying Urdu with him, but more importantly enjoying him as a warm confidante and friend in her lonely life. The Queen's affection for the young man stirred up a hornet's nest of racism and anger among the royal household. The Grand Dame of English acting, Judi Dench, is awesome in the role of Queen Victoria, portraying all the nuanced complexities of the royal personage. Fazal couldn't be more perfect as the sweet and caring Abdul, and the inter-age friendship is convincingly portrayed, underlining that not all love has to be of a sexual nature. The sumptuous settings, lavish costumes, and ludicrous extravagance of the royal life are poignantly juxtaposed with the heart-warming intimacy of this little known friendship.     
4 - highly recommended!

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Length: 115 min
© Paramount - this will either knock your socks off
or disturb you out of your mind - or both!
An unnamed married couple (Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem) live an isolated existence in his old family home which has suffered a terrible fire. She is renovating it, while he, a poet, spends his time creating. Their blissful existence is interrupted when a stranger (Ed Harris) knocks on the door, and the poet invites him in. Soon the stranger's wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) turns up, and that's just the start of the visitors! To say much more about the plot of this extraordinary film would probably spoil things - I knew only that it had elements of horror, but was more of a psychological thriller. Well, I now think it to be one of the most disturbing, fascinating and thought-provoking films of the year. I will be pondering what it all means for weeks to come, but it sure taps into some of my worst actual nightmares. Overarching themes include invasion of one's sanctuary, misplaced generosity to strangers, what it means to truly love one's partner, motherhood, manic celebrity worship and more, heading off into realms of religious allegory and possibly supernatural happenings. The tension barely lets up, with the distraught wife dominating most scenes, and the house taking on its own creepy presence.  For a director who has come up with plenty of "out there" films (Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, Black Swan), he's really pushed the creative envelope here. But this is a film to see at one's own peril - fine as it is, it had me in knipchens of shock, outrage and downright mental distress! 
4 - highly recommended (possibly unmissable, if you're up to it!)

American Assassin
Director: Michael Cuesta
Length: 111 min
© Roadshow - for lovers of espionage,
and revenge! 
Mitch Rapp (Dylan O'Brien) suffers tragedy when his fiance is killed in a terrorist attack. He dedicates his life to taking revenge, by attempting to infiltrate the cell who perpetrated the atrocity. When the CIA takes him into its fold, as part of a covert operation, he comes under the command of ex-CIA operative Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). Hollywood mainstream is the order of the day here, with all the requisite shoot-'em-outs, double crossings, car chases, anti-Islamic sentiment, bomb timer countdowns and heavy duty violence and torture. Despite the cliches and plot holes, the international settings are terrific, the pace relentless, and the main drawcard is the always-watchable Keaton toughing it out as a bad-ass anti-hero. 
2.5 - maybe!

Lavazza Italian Film Festival
14 September - 8 October
Melbourne Palace Cinemas
It's back with all the flair and variety we've come to love about this festival. A couple I've managed to catch in advance:
Fortunata: Winning a Best Actress award  for Jasmine Trinca at Cannes this year, this powerful film is the story of a single mum desperately trying to get her life on track, but battling her aggressive ex-husband for custody of their child. 
Indivisibili: The touted festival highlight is the story of conjoined twins Daisy and Viola who are exploited as a money-making singing act by their sleazy father. When it is revealed they could be separated, all the different agendas, of both the girls and their father come into play. 
Sea Dreaming Girls: a sweet and heart-warming doco about a group of elderly ladies who live in a remote mountain village and have never seen the sea. In honour of their social club's 20th anniversary, they decide to raise money for a seaside jaunt. This is a delightful story, showing it's never to late for new things in life. 

For more details on the films, venues, special events  and purchasing tickets visit:

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

September 7 2017
Small Town Killers
Tommy's Honour
The Dinner
Wallace & Gromit and Friends: The Magic of Aardman
AICE Israeli Film Festival 2017

It's a week of recommendable films, but nothing that's a mind-blowing stand-out. For a change of pace though, check out the spectacular Aardman exhibition at ACMI (and if you don't know Aardman, think Wallace & Gromit!) And for even further variety and fine film offerings, the Israeli Film Festival opens. 

Small Town Killers 
Director: Ole Bornedal
Length: 90 min
© Icon - whacky Scandinavian humour and
farcical elements abound in this black comedy 
of murderous husbands and ditzy wives.
This screwball Danish comedy is the story of Edward and Ib, two unappealing husbands who see their wives as little more than sex objects. However, denied conjugal delights and sick of the women, they decide to divorce. When told how much they'll have to pay in alimony, they decide, in a drunken fit, to hire a Russian hitman. Igor arrives and things get crazy with the wives attempting to turn the tables on the men. This is another example of a film's appeal depending upon what you find funny; I like Scandi humour and so got plenty of laughs out of the somewhat crude and silly story. There are elements of farce and plenty that stretches credibility, but it's an entertaining tale, well acted and zany.
3 - recommended!

Tommy's Honour
Director: Jason Connery
Length: 112 min
© Transmission -  a delight for golf fans!
The winner of a couple of British film awards, this should appeal to golfers, as it tells the true story of the founding family of golf, Old Tom Morris (Peter Mullan) and his son Tommy (Jack Lowden). Not being a golfer, I found it a tad slow and hard to follow at first, as it traces the history of the first Open tournaments, and all the rowdiness and betting that went with them. When the personal lives of the Morrises took centre stage, the film felt more intimate to me, especially  the tragic story of young Tom and his older wife Meg. Sam Neill makes a welcome appearance as an upper class toff who looks down on the Morrises, that is until young Tom decides he wants to be an independent professional in his own right. The film looks absolutely gorgeous, shot on some of Britain's most loved courses, including golf's spiritual home, St Andrews. The costumes and recreations of the era are also impressive. 
3 - recommended!

The Dinner
Director: Oren Moverman
Length: 122 min
© Icon -  things get heated in this
multi-layered look at family dynamics and
kids behaving outrageously.  
Stan Lohman (Richard Gere) is a successful politician married to younger wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall). He invites his teacher brother Paul (Steve Coogan) and wife Claire (Laura Linney to dinner at a fancy restaurant. He wants to talk about something important, but it takes almost the whole evening before the matter is addressed - that the children of each couple have done something horrendous, and the parents must now decide to what lengths they will go to protect their kids. This film has divided critics right down the middle - and I'm fairly torn about it too! The moral issues the film raises are thought-provoking, as is the look at mental illness and family conflict. But the director opts for jumping all over the place like a grasshopper - one minute we are listening to Paul's tedious internal monologue on life and war (especially Gettysburg), then seeing him in cynical action in the classroom. The film is self-consciously divided into "courses", and an endless parade of pretentious food comes out. Meantime there are interspersed flashbacks to what the cousins have done. However, the rivetting performance by Coogan demonstrates that he is much more than a comedian, and the strength of acting by the other three leads gets me to eventually say it is worth a look. 
3 - recommended!

Wallace & Gromit and Friends: 
The Magic of Aardman
At ACMI until 29 October
© ACMI/Aardman
What an absolute treat this informative, delightful and exhaustive exhibition is. As part of Melbourne's Winter Masterpieces, it covers the entire history of the Aardman studio, from its earliest animations, through to its upcoming film, Early Man. For those who don't know, Aardman Studios is responsible for the iconic claymation characters Wallace and Gromit and such fabulous films as The Curse of the Were Rabbit (an Oscar winner!) and Shaun the Sheep. The exhibition takes us through sketches of concepts, engineering plans and model creation, along with miniature sets, explanations of how the magic is achieved, and provides umpteen clips of our favourite films, along with lesser known stuff like advertisements the studio has done. At the end visitors can create their own character out of plasticine and have a shot at animating it. This is a total delight and eye-opener for all ages. 
It's a winner!
For more info go to:

AICE Israeli Film Festival 2017
5-17 September, Melbourne & Sydney
Mr Gaga is one of the most extraordinary dance films 
you will ever see.  
Again this year the festival offers a diverse selection of thought-provoking and entertaining films, including the 1940 Charles Chauvel film, Forty Thousand Horsemen.
One film back by popular demand is Mr Gaga, the story of the director of the Batsheva Dance company. If you've never seen it, here is an unmissable opportunity to catch what is my favourite dance film ever. Here's what I said when it screened at the HotDocs festival last year: 
Israeli choreographer, Ohad Naharin, has changed the face of modern dance with his Batsheva Dance Company. This film, painting a portrait of Naharin's personal life and work, has more energy and innovative dance moves than I've possibly ever seen, is a feast for the senses, and is ABSOLUTELY UNMISSSABLE!
For details of times and tickets visit: