Wednesday, 8 November 2017

November 9 2017
Murder on the Orient Express
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
Brad's Status
Russian Resurrection Film Festival

Oh my goodness - so many marvelous films - yet again. If you ever wonder why I always seem to rave about what I see, it's probably because I consciously choose not to see those films I assume, (usually correctly), will not be so worthwhile. So with some seriously strong new releases, and another fine festival, here we go again!

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Length: 143 min
© Entertainment One - visceral historical racial drama
In 1967 in America the level of civil unrest grew, particularly stemming from decades of racial inequality and unemployment in African American communities. One fateful night after police raided an unlicensed black club, major riots broke out in the streets of Detroit.  Subsequently  the National Guard and armed police were on high alert, so when they heard shots at the nearby Algiers motel they stormed the place, resulting in a horrific night of brutality and ultimately murder of three unarmed black men. This disturbing and visceral film is based upon that dreadful moment in history. Bigelow is quite remarkable in her direction, which puts the viewer right in there with the unfolding terror. She cleverly personalises the story by featuring individuals from a Motown singing group, The Dramatics, who were in that motel after being unable to get home due to the curfew.  Just thinking of what took place makes my blood boil: white police terrorised and brutalised innocent young blacks (and the two white women who were with them), and, like so many recent cases today, got away with it. My one reservation is that, while the story is essential and still relevant viewing, Bigelow's lingering on the scenes of  the vile racist and mysogynistic cops doing their disgusting torture/intimidation of so-called "suspects", is almost unwatchable.  
4 - highly recommended!

Murder on the Orient Express
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Length: 113 min
© 20th Century Fox  -  Hercules {Poirot - the greatest
detective ever (and modest!) 
Agatha Christie's novel was published back in 1934 and made into a film 40 years later. Another 43 years on, iconic actor Branagh directs a new version, penned by Michael Green, who has just written Blade Runner 2049. Grand credentials, and even more so when you consider the cast which includes Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz and Willem Dafoe. Opening in Jerusalem, with absorbing crowd scenes and introducing the characters, the film moves to Istanbul, from where the stately locomotive ploughs its way into the snowy mountains before suffering a derailment, and a murder on board. I, luckily, could remember nothing about who dies and whodunnit, so my level of intrigue remained high. Branagh is perfect as the arrogant detective who suffers a crisis of self-confidence, and each of the fabulous actors is perfectly cast in his or her roles. The plot even raises a few moral issues to chew on. My only problem is Poirot's conclusions as to how each character fits into the back story all seems to get explained so quickly, and I barely had enough time to thoroughly enjoy each of the wonderfully drawn characters. While a traditional and old-fashioned story, this is entertainment in the truest sense of the word - an engaging plot, fabulous actors, and a stylish period look with a fabulous recreation of glamour and elegance. 
3 - recommended!

Professor Marston & the Wonder Women
Director: Angela Robinson
Length: 108 min
Exclusive to Cinema Nova
© Sony- a surprising backstory to the creation of a 
The creator of the cartoon superhero Wonder Woman was Harvard professor and psychologist, Dr William Marston (Luke Evans). The early version of the cartoon in 1941, with its violence and implied sexuality of a bondage-related nature, created quite a bit of controversy. In this eye-opening biography, we discover what and who inspired him to create the character, who is in some ways an amalgam of all he loved in his strong wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) and another young woman Olive (Bella Heathcote), who ended up in a polyamorous relationship with the Marstons. It's hard to classify this multi-layered film - it's a highly entertaining mix of historical fact (including the invention of the lie detector), love story, psychological theories of dominance and submission as espoused by Marston, and a good dose of erotica, especially related to bondage and fantasy fulfillment. Other themes raised, of feminism, gender inequality, prejudice and censorship are still highly relevant to today's world, along with the sad fact that people who want to live their private lives a certain way, are so often made answerable to society at large. This is an intriguing entertainment with memorable performances by the three leads, even if at times the musical score gets a bit overwrought!      
3.5 - well recommended!

Brad's Status
Dir: Mike White
102 min
Exclusive to Cinema Nova
© Roadshow - one of Ben Stiller's best perfs to date
Brad Sloane (Ben Stiller) is accompanying his son Troy (Austin Abrams)  from Sacramento, where they live,  to Boston, where Troy will interview for entry to prestigious universities. The father-son trip is colored by Brad's crisis of self-esteem, as he remembers his old school chums who have seemingly made it - a hedge fund manager, tech wizard, and well known author - while Brad works for a not-for-profit organisation. This is intelligent and sensitive script-writing, with possibly Stiller's best performance yet. I love this sort of gently amusing introspective comedy/drama, and I imagine many people, struggling with where they are in life, will relate to this big time. Jemaine Clement, Luke Wilson and Michael Sheen are terrific in the small roles as Brad's now-estranged high school pals, and of course it goes without saying that things are not always as rosy for those guys as Brad imagines. There is a lovely warm family vibe here, and there are real life lessons to take away, but the film never lets itself get get didactic. One of the best mid-life crises films I've seen for a long while!
4 - highly recommended!

Dir: Greg McLean
111 min

© Umbrella - nightmare in the Bolivian Jungle 
This is based upon the memoir of Yossi Ghinsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), a young Aussie traveller who goes on a Bolivian jungle adventure with two others and a dodgy guide (Thomas Kretschmann), only to become separated, lost and injured, and nearly lose his mind. I'm ambivalent about this film - I really like Radcliffe's performance as he pours his heart into the terrified yet doggedly determined Ghinsberg. But, as Yossi goes quietly nuts all by himself, there is not really enough plot to stop things from getting a trifle tedious. My main beef is with the direction. McLean, famed for Wolf Creek, injects too many mainstream pseudo-horror tricks into the narrative, (snakes, jaguars, quicksand, roasting monkeys etc) rather than just letting the story and the spectacular setting speak for themselves.   
2.5 - maybe! 

Russian Resurrection Film Festival
9-19 November Melbourne (see website for other states)
Venue: ACMI

The oldest and most respected Russian film festival outside Russia is back. Here are some recommendations:

© RRFF-can dreams come true for a girl like Julia? 
Dir: Valery Todorovsky
132 mins
This exquisite film takes us inside the lives of the students at the world-famous Bolshoi ballet school. The story focuses upon Julia, a girl from an under-privileged family, who is spotted dancing on the street and taken to audition. The narrative explores the dreams, aspirations, disappointments and rivalries, along with the friendships of the youngsters. This is one of the most naturalistic films I've seen about ballet, with exquisite dancing, an engaging plot which toggles between Julia's younger life, and her ballet training, with the two actresses being perfectly cast for credibility. An added plot thread is bout the aging school director, Beletskaya, suffering Alzheimers, but befriending Julia (a stunning performance by one of Russia's great actresses). With glorious ballet and a score by Tchaikovsky, this is unmissable for ballet fans, or even for any fans of great films.
Attraction: Touted as a Russian blockbuster akin to Independence Day, this is the tale of a spacecraft being shot down over Moscow, and the ensuing chaos. It focuses upon a group of youngsters, the father of one being a noted Colonel, and the resulting upset to all their lives - obviously. The nature of the aliens is a surprise, and there are plenty of in-your-face comments on the odious nature of earthlings. But while the film may appeal to die-hard sci-fi fans, for me it's too derivative and in parts almost laughable.
Paradise: Russian and Hollywood director Andrew Konchalovsky features in a special retrospective this festival. His 2016 film Paradise is a remarkable Holocaust film  about  three characters: Jules a French Nazi collaborator, Olga, who he arrests for hiding Jewish children and Helmut, a Nazi concentration camp officer who once knew and loved Olga and rediscovers her in the camp. The film deserves its many awards with its unusual style of story telling, its powerful performances, and its disturbing portryal of not only the ghastly conditions in the camp, but also the oddly self-righteous way each character has of believing they are right in the moral ambiguity of what they do. In French, Russian and German, this film is compellingly powerful.  

For dates, times and ticketing, visit:

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