Thursday, 28 December 2017

Late December 2017
Hursto's top films for 2017

Now it's almost time for Happy New Year and my "Best of 2017" lists. Boy, is this a hard list to compile. While there are always a number of total standout films, comparing different genres and deciding my absolute best (remembering it's all subjective) is quite a task. I cheat so that I don't have to pick an exact top 10 (more like a top 40!). Here are my top films in various categories:

Top feature films in English language (not necessarily in order)
Manchester by the Sea
Paddington 2
God's own Country
Call Me by your Name
The Florida Project
The Innocents (see foreign language category) 

Honorable mentions: A Quiet Passion, Lady Macbeth, Baby Driver, Goodbye Christopher Robin, Detroit, Brigsby Bear, Loving Vincent, Franz, Loving, Mother!

Top foreign language films (commercially released)
The Innocents (definitely an absolute standout!)
Land of Mine
A Bag of Marbles

Top films from a festival that haven't yet (or maybe will never) be released
Bolshoi (Russian)
Close Knit (Japanese)
Berlin Falling (German) 
That Good Night (British)
Tenderness (Italian)
In Between (JIFF)
Runners up: Just about everything from this year's Jewish International Film Festival which sported an outstanding line-up of films

Top documentaries:
David Stratton: A Cinematic Life
I am not Your Negro
Runners up: Kedi, Blue, Shalom Bollywood, Chasing 'Trane

Best Aussie films (not a great year for us!)
David Stratton: A Cinematic Life
Hounds of Love
Jasper Jones
Don't Tell

Top comedies (I didn't see many)
Ingrid Goes West
The Disaster Artist
Pork Pie
Runner up: The underrated Aussie comedy Three Summers

My worst films for the year:
Assassin's Creed
Girls' Trip
The Snowman
Song to Song
(3 of the 4 starred Michael Fassbender. I think he's a great actor so what happened!!??) 

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

December 27 2017
Call Me by your Name
Sami Blood
Just to be Sure
The Greatest Showman

Firstly (belated) merry Christmas and festive season to my readers, or merry whatever else you are or are not celebrating! (How politically correct is that?) 
The big Boxing Day releases are out now, and I've managed to preview five of them (still waiting to see Downsizing and Coco). The good news is, while some are outstanding, they are all worth a look. 
So, here goes . . .  (and again stay tuned to my best of lists in the next few days!)

Call Me by your Name
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Length: 130 min
© Sony - new special friendships formed over 
dredged-up antiques 
This is a delicate and touching coming-of-age story which is already generating plenty of awards buzz. 17-year-old Elio (Timothee Chalamet) spends summers with his family in northern Italy. When his father's handsome new research assistant Oliver (Armie Hammer) turns up, everyone in town, male and female is attracted to him. But it is the special connection between Oliver and Elio that will change the younger man's life. The words slow and languid keep coming into my head, as this movie celebrates first erotic awakenings and everything that is sensuous about summer holidays, (especially an Italian summer). The film is at once subtle, erotic, romantic, and exquisitely beautiful. The way all the relationships are handled feels totally authentic, as does the lovely open and loving relationship between Elio and his parents. There's a stunning synergy between the Greco-Roman ruins Elio's Dad studies, and the near perfect physicality of Armie Hammer. Anyone who remembers their first heartache had better take plenty of tissues.
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended!

Sami Blood
Director: Amanda Kernell
Length: 110 min
Exclusive to ACMI
© ACMI -  heartfelt telling of a close-to-home story of 
racial intolerance
Once known as Lapplanders, the Sami are the indigenous people of Sweden. In this beautifully told story, we meet 14-year-old Ella Marje, and her little sister, who are sent by their nomadic reindeer herding family in Sweden to a Sami boarding school, where the children are forced to learn Swedish and forbidden to speak their own tongue. The story is alarmingly resonant for issues of our own stolen generations, and the nuanced layers and themes in the plot are powerfully portrayed and executed. Starting with Ella Marje as an old lady, we backtrack her life and see the distressing effects of being caught between worlds, and the challenges of reconciling a life where you have denied your heritage because of always being persecuted. Why wonderful  and important films like this don't get a broader release I'll never know. Catch it while you can at ACMI. 
4 - highly recommended!

Director: Andy Serkis
Length: 117 min
© Transmission - A surprisingly feel good film 
about polio
Andy Serkis (of Golum fame) takes the directorial chair for his debut film, based on the true story of Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield), who, in the late 1950s, contracted polio at the age of 28. His devoted wife Diana (Claire Foy) is determined, against all medical advice, to bring Robin out of hospital, where he lives only with the help of a respirator, to home. There, with the love and support of friends and inventors, Robin proves you don't have to be a victim, and polio doesn't have to stop you leading a long and fulfilling life. I enjoyed this film, mostly because stories of this nature are always inspiring, and I learned much about what happened in that era that gave hope to so many. I must add that the film possibly takes gross liberties, as I found it somewhat hard to believe that people facing such enormous challenges could be so relentlessly upbeat! As with many period pieces the film recreates the era nicely, acting is generally solid (with a bit too much grinning from Garfield?), and it's a nice tribute from Robin's son (as producer) to a father with guts and determination.  
3 - recommended !

Just to be Sure
Director: Carine Tardieu
Length: 100 min
© Palace - aah, the French know just how to do
this sort of film. 
Erwan (Francois Damien) defuses mines for a living. When his daughter Juliette is expecting a baby as a single mum, certain medical tests reveal that Erwan and his supposed father are not a biological match. So begins Erwan's hunt for his real father, and the discovery of the gorgeous Anna (Cecile de France) who may or may not be related to him. Facing psychological landmines in real life makes for an enjoyable, typically Gallic story, which breaks no filmic barriers but is a lot of good fun. The two "fathers", Bastien and Joseph, are sympathetic and appealing characters, as is the younger, somewhat dorky Didier who desperately wishes to be father to Juliette's child. In fact all the characters in this film are truly likeable, and the always fabulous de France is as good as ever as the self-assured, outspoken Anna. Underneath the mild humour is a strong theme of what it means to be a father, and relationships of blood as opposed to those of circumstance. This is sweet, and rather touching, holiday viewing.
3.5 - well recommended !

The Greatest Showman
Director: Michael Gracey
Length: 105 min
© Fox - Hugh Jackman sings and dances up a storm
in a sweet old-fashioned musical 
PT Barnum is a name inextricably bound up with the circus. Hugh Jackman takes on the role with alacrity in this return to the musical comedy genre, in a film that is at once entertaining, handsome, and has divided critics down the middle. Indeed, we get little insight into the man under all the bluster and self-proclaimed "humbug", but this is definitely Jackman's film in terms of the pizzazz, singing and dancing he brings to his larger-than-life role. The plot tries to bring home-spun wisdom about accepting everyone as they are, as Barnum goes in to bat for his collection of so-called "freaks" who populate first his exploitative human museum, and then his circus, while making him a truckload of money. From the dwarf, to the conjoined twins, the Bearded Lady, albino and more, this mob sing and dance up a storm worthy of films like Fame. The songs (anachronistically modern) are all strong and memorable, while the choreography is terrifically synched with on-screen action and sound. Michelle Williams plays Barnum's long-suffering wife, with Rebecca Ferguson as opera singer Jenny Lund, whose tour promotion Barnum hoped would bring him respectability.  With Zac Efron as Barnum's business partner and Zendaya as glam trapeze artist, the good-looking quotient is ramped up. Yes, people may be cynical about this lavish production which probably plays fast and loose with the truth, but if you give yourself over and just enjoy it, there's plenty of fun to be had.  
3 - recommended!

Thursday, 21 December 2017

December 21 2017
Paddington 2
Florida Project

Well dear readers, thanks for supporting my blog through the year. It's come to that time - the last releases this week before the Boxing Day/New Year onslaught, and time for my top films lists, which I will send in a separate email over the next few days! There will also be an extra blog looking at those of the Boxing Day releases I've managed to catch up with so far, so stay tuned!! This week two exceptional films - one so cheery and uplifting, the other a heartbreak. 

Paddington 2
Director: Paul King
Length: 105 min
© Studio Canal - Paddington is in the pink and in 
the clink! Charming, irrepressible and irresistible.
Some of you may come with preconceptions and wonder why I've given an "unmissable" score to this apparent kids film. Well, think again! This absolutely charming and irresistible film sets out to do what it intends, and more! Our furry friend (voiced by Ben Wishaw) is living happily in London with the Brown family (Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins plus kids), when he is unjustly accused of a crime and ends up in the clink. I shan't tell you much more of the fabulous plot, but you need to know that some top Brit actors are here. Brendan Gleeson is perfect as Knuckles the aggro prison cook, Julie Walters, as always, is splendid, along with Joanna Lumley in a fun cameo. Hugh Grant almost steals the show in one of his best camped-up roles in ages, as the villain, The plot is heartwarming yet tense, balancing Paddington's endless positivity with the challenges he now faces, and giving the audience thrills and laughs galore with whacky prison goings on, chases involving trains, a sideshow with a mystery treasure, the Brown family doing a Da Vinci Code style investigation, and a villain who is the master of impersonation and disguise. There are countless references to famous films, fabulous one-liners for both kids and adults, and a level of both humour and true emotion that I haven't experienced for a long while. Add fabulous London sets, and mind-boggling good incorporation of a CGI bear into the real world, this movie is:
5 - unmissable!

The Florida Project
Director: Sean Baker
Length: 115 min
© Icon - Dafoe keeps his cool and compassion
in this searing social realism film 
Six-year-old Moonee lives with her mum in a motel on the rundown strip on the outskirts of Disney World, Florida. During school break she gets up to major mischief with her young friends Scooty and Jancey. But life is not such fun for the adults around them. Moonee's mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) can barely make ends meet, as she scams and turns tricks, while motel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe) does the best he can to keep a sense of order among the long-term residents of his establishment. The film was inspired by observations of the stark contrast between the glitz and expense of Disney World, and the grinding poverty of families who could only afford to live in a motel room. Be warned - this film is hard to watch on many levels. It's slow, as it follows the children's daily adventures, which capture the universal sense of wonder kids have, regardless of their circumstances. But I also find it hard to separate my revulsion at the type of trashy adults depicted from my deep admiration of the film-making. Dafoe, a consummate actor of our age, is perfect as Bobby, a hard-working honest man with compassion for the downtrodden. All the adults, mostly non-professional actors, give stunning performances, but how Baker got such naturalistic performances from young kids (ranging from six to nine years old) is beyond me.  This is important viewing, showing a side of life most of us are lucky enough not to know. Be prepared for a harrowing ending.   
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended!

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Dec 14
Slack Bay
Some new DVD releases for holiday watching

This week seems to be the calm before the storm of Boxing Day and New Year's releases, except of course for the latest Star Wars film, The Last Jedi. Unable to make my preview, due to clashes with real life, I think I'll just leave it at the moment, as die-hard fans will go anyway, regardless of what I have to say! So to fill out your watching in preparation for the holiday season, I'll refresh you on a few latest DVD releases, and refer you to my reviews of said releases. This should fit in well with my preparations for the big list of fave films for 2017!
Slack Bay
Director: Bruno Dumont
Length: 122 min
© Sharmill- - not Laurel & Hardy, but funny in this
bizarre French black comedy
Here's one of the weirdest films I've seen in a long time. Wealthy family the Van Peteghems visit their holiday home each year in a part of northern France where the local impoverished mussel-gatherers are slightly odd, to say the least. When a number of wealthy visitors to the region disappear, Laurel and Hardy look-alike detectives from Calais turn up, and things get even stranger. The film appears to be some left-of-centre commentary upon strata of French society, especially the upper crust who are risibly puffed up and overblown. Fabrice Luchini plays a foppish husband, with a melodramatic wife (Valerie Bruni Tedeschi), two obnoxious kids, and an even more overblown sister, played by the wonderful Juliette Binoche. She lets rip in a histrionic way that is wonderful to watch. There is a mismatched romance between Binoche's son (who presents as a girl) and Ma Loute, the dorky son of the fishing family. The fat detective is literally puffed up, leading to a few scenes of magical realism, and most of the characters have the habit of unexpectedly falling over. I must say I couldn't make head or tail of things, but I found myself amused, sometimes a little shocked, but never bored by this odd-ball French black comedy.     
3 - recommended!

Latest recommended DVD releases
20th Century Women
Lovely ensemble cast family story with the fabulous Annette Bening
American Made
Tom cruise in surprisingly good true story of double dealing CIA agent 
War for the Planet of the Apes
Exceptionally well done blockbuster
The Big Sick
Interracial romance in a strongly scripted true story of a Pakistani comedian
Wind River
Taut thriler about cop on trail of disappearance of native American women from the reservation 
Cat lovers in Istanbul - cute and insightful
Their Finest
Fabulous Bill Nighy in a brilliant Brit comedy/drma aset in the Dunkirk days

Friday, 8 December 2017

December 7 2017
Wonder Wheel
Only the Brave
In This Corner of the World

With awards season starting, along with the festive season releases, there will be a barrage of films to be reviewed before next Feb. This week a couple of new offerings, plus one I caught up with from last week, make it into my reviews. 

Wonder Wheel
Director: Woody Allen
Length: 101 min
© E-One - gangsters, sex, booze, love affairs and
a fairground - what more could you want?
Set in Coney Island in the 1950s, this is the sad and sorry story of Ginny (Kate Winslett), an angry and discontented woman on her second marriage to Humpty (Jim Belushi), a carousel repair man. Ginny embarks upon an affair with much younger smooth-talking Mickey (Justin Timberlake), but then Humpty's estranged daughter Caroline (Juno Temple) turns up. She's running from her gangster ex-husband who has her marked for death, and she soon becomes a thorn in Ginny's side. Meantime Ginny's son is a pyromaniac who is setting fire to everything he can. Woody's films are generally eagerly awaited by his fans, but don't get too excited about this one. It looks absolutely gorgeous and delightfully recreates the tawdry glitz of the fairground and the era, accompanied by the usual excellent soundtrack. Winslett is laudable for the histrionic style of melodrama she brings to her role, but there is something wooden about the dialogue - not up to Woody's usual standard of pithy one-liners. Thematically, though humour is there in parts, the whole thing gets rather dark and nasty by its end. 
2.5 - maybe!

Only the Brave
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Length: 134 min
© Studio Canal - a visceral look into the lives 
of firefighters - based on a true story
Eric (Josh Brolin) heads up a crack firefighting team near Flagstaff Arizona. The men dedicate themselves to  training army style, and their main wish is to be reclassified as "Hot Shots", rather than being simply a municipal crew. When they become the Granite Mountain Hot Shots, they go into battle against a deadly fire in Yarnell Arizona. Based upon the true events of  June 2013, this is a really well told story of bravery and tragedy. Even though things seem a bit gung-ho and archetypically American at the outset, the strong underlying themes of the film soon take over - comradeship and bravery, along with subplots around the marital discord between Eric and wife Amanda (Jennifer Connolly) and young Brendan (Miles Teller) turning his drug-addicted life around by joining the crew.  Jeff Bridges  is a welcome addition to any film, and overall this one makes for tense and good viewing. 
3 - recommended!

In This Corner of the World
Director: Sunao Katabuchi
Length: 130 min
© Umbrella - exquisitely animated different take
on Japan in world War 2
I spoke last week of the sad lack of Japanese films in Australia. Well, here's your chance to see a genre of film much loved in Japan - anime. Don't be fooled into thinking animations are for kids. This deals with the events around Hiroshima at the end of Second world War. The perspective comes from Suzu, a young girl married off to a  stranger, and simply getting on with her life, when tragedy strikes. Every frame of the film is like a beautiful watercolour painting, and the story is humble, sad and heart-warming. I confess to finding myself at times unsure of which character was which, but the heart of the story soon overrode my uncertainties. Animating such ordinary lives against such extraordinary historical events makes for a totally fresh perspective into one of history's dark times.    
4 - highly recommended!