Wednesday, 26 December 2018

December 26th
The Favorite
Cold War
The Wild Pear Tree

Overindulgence in turkeys and plum pudds is over (hopefully) and it's time to hit the cinema. Although we have no more Hobbits or Lord of the Rings, Boxing Day releases this year are strong and all (that I've reviewed) are highly worthy of seeing.

Dir: Adam McKay
Length: 132 min 
© E-One - Christian Bale has gone the whole
hog to look like Dick Cheney
Already nominated for SIX Golden Globes, Vice is the story of President George W Bush's 2-IC - Dick Cheney. From Wyoming boy, to major White House power broker, Cheney was definitely the war-mongering power behind the throne, taking the US into Iraq while heading up large armaments company Halliburton. (That's integrity for you eh?)  The film is billed as a comedy, and in many ways it is - if the scurrilous doings were not so serious. McKay uses fabulous editing devices to create visual metaphors for what is going on, but the truly impressive aspect of the film is just how well the lead actors inhabit their roles. Bale, behind a pile of prosthetics and weight, has been subsumed by his character, while Sam Rockwell as Bush captures every nuance of the idiosycratic president's style. Steve Carell, who just gets better with every role he plays, is Donald Rumsfeld while Amy Adams plays Lynne Cheney. Dick's wife was definitely a force behind him, and the whole concept of a little power going to people's heads is amply displayed by both Cheneys. You don't have to be vitally interested in US politics to get a lot out of this film, both informationally, satirically and entertainment wise. For me, it's a winner.
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended! 

The Favourite
Dir: Yiorgos Lanthimos
Length: 119 min 
© 20th Century Fox -  two cousins slug it out to be
Queen Anne's favourite
Here's another worthy nominee for five Golden Globes. In 1708 Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) sits on the British throne. She's an insecure monarch and allows her adviser (and secret lover) Sarah Churchill, duchess of Marlborough, (Rachel Weisz) to make most of the decisions, especially in regard to the ongoing war with France. Then along comes impoverished Abigail (Emma Stone), Sarah's cousin, who sees an opportunity and ingratiates herself into the Queen's favour. So begins a rivalry and love triangle, rich with female hostility, jealousy, scandal and humour. I'm no history buff, but this film is a major entertainment, with the trademark, off-kilter touch of a creative director (think The Lobster, Dogtooth, neither of which I particularly liked, but I love this one.) The three women are simply splendid in their roles, all three being nominated for leading actress awards. Production values are superb, and the sweeping cinematographic angles make for a handsome film, which is, nevertheless, also surprisingly intimate.
4 - highly recommended!

Cold War
Dir: Pawel Pawlikowski
Length: 88 min 
© Palace  -  musically talented lovers
do battle with the effect of the Soviet Bloc
on their  star-crossed lives
Short and sweet - and winner of Best Director at this year's Cannes Film Festival, Cold War is inspired by the lives of the director's parents. In post WW2 Poland, pianist Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) is commissioned by the ruling Soviets to form an ensemble to rekindle national pride through music. Searching for singers, he meets the beautiful, sultry Zula (Joanna Kulig) and the two fall madly in love. But escape from the Iron Curtain bloc is difficult, and so over 15 years the couples meet and part, as they traverse Warsaw, Berlin, Paris and Yugoslavia. The film looks impossibly beautiful, in a way that only black and white cinematography can achieve. The singing of the various choirs is beyond heavenly, but the romance for me lacks something - it seems more style than emotional substance (putting me at odds with most of the swooning critics). The director says he deliberately left out large slabs of the protagonists' lives, to leave the audience to fill in the gaps. Possibly the runtime is simply too short to allow for real expansion of the characters' lives, and the dire effect repressive politics had on those lives. Nevertheless as a musically sublime, visually gorgeous story of star-crossed, possibly incompatible lovers, it's well worth a look.
3.5 - well recommended! 

Kusama: Infinity
Dir: Heather Lenz
Length: 78 min 

© Madman - talented and eccentric, this Japanese
artist is an eye-opener
Yayoi Kusama is the top-selling female artist in the world - yet, until this film, I'd never heard of her! With a career spanning six decades, Kusama has worked in the fields of painting, sculpture, installation art, writing and more. The film outlines her challenging life - from a traumatic childhood and dysfunctional family in post WW2 Japan, to mental illness, sexism in a male-dominated sphere, among many other obstacles. Despite all, her devotion to her craft has won the day for the nearly 80-year-old. The artist states "I am making art to spread the joy and the love", as she paints polka dots everywhere, including on naked bodies she employs for her publicity. Though I don't profess to understand modern art, this beautifully crafted film certainly gives a great insight into the unusual psychology of a highly talented and fascinating figure.  
3.5 - well recommended! 

The Wild Pear Tree
Dir: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Length: 188 min 
© Sharmill - a long but beautifully 
shot film
With six nominations for best film in some high profile festivals this year, Ceylan's beautiful, but extremely long  film is both engrossing and infuriating. His last two films (also very long) Winter Sleep and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia were, for me, somehow more accessible than this one, which tells the story of  aspiring writer Sinan, who returns to his home village after finishing uni, only to find his father, Idris, is gambling heavily and owing money to all and sundry. When the film deals with the son, his literary aspirations and his relationships with family and friends, particularly his father, it works a treat. Everything feels ultra authentic. But Ceylan introduces two characters - local imams, - and allows them and Sinan to walk and talk, segueing off into lengthy pontifications upon religion, and its place in modern Turkey. For me the film's major strength is the wonderful cinematography, but perhaps one needs to be in maximum concentration mode to totally appreciate what is going on here (and I obviously wasn't!) 
3.5 - well recommended!    

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

December 20th

Almost at the day of major releases - Boxing Day - but not quite! So this week we have the stylish Colette, and I reckon it's time for a review of the filmic year with my "best of" lists.  

Dir: Wash Westmoreland
Length: 111 min 
© Transmission -   one of Keira's
more engaging performances 
Sidonie Gabrielle Colette (Keira Knightley) moved from rural France to Paris in the late 1800s, marrying much older Willy (Dominic West), a writer and libertine. He encouraged her to write her own saucy stories of schoolgirl Claudine, but under his name. Becoming more outrageous and flaunting lesbian relationships, Colette increasingly desired recognition for her own work. This story of one of France's most acclaimed writers is a handsome production, beautifully depicting  the literary and bohemian Parisian life. It is also very relevant to the ongoing "glass ceiling" battle for women, with Colette being a woman way ahead of her years, battling the sexism of her day. Knightley is suitably feisty, the story is never less than engaging making for an all-round entertaining and sexy period piece.
3.5 - well recommended! 

It's that time of year again to ponder over spread-sheets of scores, and to soul search as to which films were the most entertaining, the most well made, the most artistic and so on. I don't want to rank them in order - how can you compare the vastly different genres, claiming one is better than another. How can I choose just ten??!!
So . . . here are those memorable films that really impressed me (or totally entertained me) this year. 
The date upon which my review was published is included so you can go back and check' em out if you wish. 
Top 10 (in no particular order)
A Star is Born (October 18)
Bohemian Rhapsody (November 2)
Leave No Trace (August 23)
A Fantastic Woman (no review - Spanish - marvellous)
Isle of Dogs (April 12)
They Shall Not Grow Old (December 16)
Shoplifters (November 15)
Ladies in Black (Sept 20)
Three Billboards in Ebbing Missouri (Jan 1)
The Last Note (from Greek Film Festival - Oct 11)

Almost in top 10:
Phantom Thread (Feb 1)
Black Klansman (Aug 16)
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Dec 6)

Honorable mentions
Working Class Boy (Aug 23)
How They Got Over (May 10)
Geula (Nov 2)
The Shape of Water (Jan 18)
Custody (Sept 27)
The Interpreter (Nov 2)
An Ideal Home (May 24) - a rare comedy included
I Tonya (Jan 25) 

Now, if you're wondering why I don't have a "Worst of" list  it's because I tend to not see those films I think I will not enjoy. So my scores are usually skewed towards the high end, and I save many hours of my life by not watching films I could end up sinking the boots into. 

Saturday, 15 December 2018

December 16th
They Shall Not Grow Old
My Generation

In this end-of-school, pre-festive season week, I've  given the kiddy films a miss and caught up with a couple of films that are worth being tracked down on their limited release. 

They Shall Not Grow Old
Dir: Peter Jackson
Length: 99 min 
At selected cinemas (Nova, Lido, Cameo, Classic, Palace Balwyn)
© Roadshow - Remarkable, harrowing,
 a feat of film-making. 
It's a challenge to sum this one up briefly. The film was commissioned for the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One, and Jackson (Lord of Rings fame) is the perfect director for it. He has taken grainy old archival footage that was shot on the Western Front, and used digital wizardry to colorise it and seamlessly blend the black and white footage with the upgraded images. Using voice recordings from almost 100 men who fought in the so-called "Great War", all done back in the 1970s, he overlays the visuals with their story - a story that is at once stirring, horrific, inspiring and ultimately an anti-war testament. This is not about the politics of the war, but the human face of it - lads as young as 16 going off on what they thought was an adventure, only to discover the grim realities of a war that reduced soldiers almost to animals. No detail of the trench living conditions are spared, nor is the blood, gore, and human devastation on both sides. Although I found the film's content deeply distressing, I marvel at the craft that has created a film like nothing I've seen before, in giving people an authentic vision of what being in a war is like. The faces of these men will haunt me for some time, but it's a film we probably all should see. Catch it while you can. 
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended! (probably unmisssable, if you can watch such human devastation).  

My Generation
Dir: David Batty
Length: 85 min 
Exclusive to Cinema Nova
He's 80 now - Michael Caine reflects on the
Swinging Sixties and how they
changed the world
Acting royalty, Sir Michael Caine takes audiences to the Britain of his youth (and the youth of many viewers I'd imagine). He leads us through the story of the British pop culture explosion of the 1960s, as Brit society changed from something a tad boring, to a vibrant world of music, fashion and youth culture. The film has a soundtrack to die for - Beatles, Kinks, Stones, Animals and more. Carnaby Street gets another run with models and fashion icons like Twiggy and Mary Quant. Along with fabulous archival footage and interviews from the day, those who were young then reflect on the era and their youth. This is a wonderful nostalgia for those who remember the 60s, or want to understand the era better.
3.5 - well recommended! 

Stay tuned for the lists of my favourite films for 2018! Coming soon. 

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

December 6th
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Second Act
The Coming Back Out Ball

This week we see that Melissa McCarthy is much more talented than films like Bridesmaids would indicate. The poignant slice-of-life film Roma comes from Mexico via the Cinelatino festival, while J-Lo is a lot of feminist fun in Second Act. And a fascinating doco turns the spotlight on the older LGBTQI community. 

Can You Ever Forgive Me
Dir: Marielle Heller
Length: 106 min 
© 20th Century Fox -  McCarthy and Richard
E Grant act up a storm 
Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) is a broke out-of-favour author, specialising in biographies. She's a reclusive alcoholic, not much liked by anyone. To make ends meet she begins selling whatever she can. But when she accidentally comes across an original letter from Fanny Brice hidden in a library book she steals it and so begins a new (criminal) career. Lee replicates and embellishes letters from famous people like Noel Coward and Dorothy Parker. Collectors pay a tidy sum for these "rarities". Lee's new friend Jack (Richard E Grant) joins her in inebriated soul-searching and eventually assists in the scam. This well-scripted, wonderful film is based upon a true story which in itself is fascinating, but it is the unexpectedly brilliant performances from McCarthy and Grant that won me over. Despite having so many unpleasant traits, Israel is portrayed in a complex way that cannot help but elicit empathy from the audiences. Grant's flamboyant campy Jack is both sad and funny. Both characters are grappling with their fatal flaws, and we can't help but relate to the heartfelt truths of their lives' disappointments. Simply wonderful viewing. 
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended! 

Dir: Alfonso Cuaron
Length: 135 min
Exclusive to ACMI, Lido Hawthorn, Nova
© Cinelatino FF - Roma is a slow-burn, deeply 
compassionate film about family, caring and more.
It opened the Cinelatino FF in Melbourne, and won the Golden Lion at Venice FF this year. Roma revolves around a year in the life of a middle class Mexican family in the 1970s. Apparently the story is highly inspired by Cuaron's own youth, and the film feels like a the diary of a family with all its foibles; raucous kids, a messy dog, philandering husband and a wife rediscovering her identity. There is also a background thread of political turmoil and protest at the time.The central focus however is on the family's beloved maid Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) who unintentionally falls pregnant. The non-professional actress is sublime in her portrayal of the stoic, loving, hard-working girl. Cuaron displays a genius for observing the tiny details of life and employs exquisite black and white cinematography in carefully constructing each scene. The film is suffused with a depth of emotion around love, loss, and the deep attachment one can develop for others who are not necessarily family. Some colleagues declared it boring; I was transfixed.
4 - highly recommended! 

Second Act
Dir: Peter Segal
Length: 103 min 
© Roadshow -  ???
Maya (Jennifer Lopez) is a 40-year-old retail worker, experienced and smart at her job but overlooked for a promotion. Her friend Joan (Leah Remini) encourages Maya to go for a better job and with the help of Joan's son, who creates a bogus CV and Facebook profile, Maya lands a top consulting job with a prestigious firm. Films of this nature tend to be predictable, but this one manages to overcome the cliches with a winning performance from Lopez, who strikes just the right note. The sub-plots involving the boss's daughter Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens), the competition between employees to create a new product, and revelations of Maya's past all prove entertaining, and the minor characters are quirky enough to keep the film feeling fresh. Surprisingly, I found myself enjoying it and even getting a tad teary in parts. Sometimes films like this are just the antidote to all the intensely deep and meaningful stuff I seem to immerse in. (And of course it's always great to see the gals shafting it to the blokes!)
3 - recommended! 

The Coming Back Out Ball
Dir: Sue Thomson
Length: 84 min 
Exclusive to Cinema Nova
© Backlot Films - a special event for "elders" of the 
LGBTQI community
Winner of the People's Choice Award for documentary at this year's MIFF, this is a heartfelt homage to the so-called "elders" of the LGBTQI community. The observational doco follows several people who have been invited to this special ball, celebrating gender diversity. For many, who lived through the era when being gay was criminalised, and who now feel isolated in their older years, this is the first experience of total acceptance. Artistic director of the ball Tristan Meecham is pivotal in bringing the whole thing together, and he acknowledges how so many of the older members of the community paved the way for him to be out and proud. The film is very heartwarming and an excellent window into the diversity that is the LGBTQI community.
3.5 - well recommended!

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

November 29th
Lean on Pete
Sorry to Bother You
Normandy Nude
Creed II
Anna & the Apocalypse

What a mixed bag this week. Serious drama (with horse), relationship problems, jigsaw puzzling, telemarketing, boxing, French agricultural crises, and zombies. Definitely something for everyone! 

Lean on Pete
Dir: Andrew Haigh
Length: 121 min 
© Transmission -  a boy, a horse, and
hopes for a better future
Charley (Charlie Plummer) and his single dad Ray (Travis Fimell) head to Oregon after a series of tough breaks. Charley, though only 15, must work, and lands a job with  racehorse owner Del (Steve Buscemi), looking after a horse called Lean on Pete. Charley is enjoying his job and bonding with Pete, when further personal tragedy strikes. When Charley also discovers Pete is headed for the knackery, he takes drastic steps to rescue the beloved horse, while at the same time trying to get in touch with a long-lost aunt. This is the best of American Indie film-making. The story cuts to the heart of disadvantaged lives and examines how easily a young person can make the wrong decisions that could wreck the rest of his life. Plummer is a revelation in his role; and the director draws compassion and heart into every scene. With added talent like Chloe Sevigny and Steve Zahn in smaller roles, this is a little gem of a film.
4 - highly recommended! 

Dir: Marc Turteltaub
Length: 103 min 
Exclusive to Cinema Nova
© Sony -  tender drama of
Agnes (Kelly McDonald) lives life the way her European parents taught her - be a good wife and mother, go to church meetings, and put the needs of your husband and two sons above yours. When she is given a jigsaw puzzle as a gift, Agnes discovers she is really good at it, travels to New York to buy another, and answers an ad for a partner to enter into the National Jigsaw Championships. Her partner is wealthy, reclusive inventor Robert (Irrfan Khan, known to western audiences from Life of Pi and The Lunchbox). Agnes begins to discover there is another side to life from what she is used to. I love this film, not the least because I love jigsaws. No, really, it is insightfully scripted, careful to avoid cliches, and simply  beautiful in a way that avoids demonising any of the characters. David Denman as Agnes' husband Louie is particularly noted as the redneck husband also trapped in the only stereotyped role he knows, but it is McDonald and Khan who steal the show.   
4 - highly recommended! 

Sorry to Bother You
Dir: Boots Riley
Length: 102 min 
Exclusive to Cinema Nova
© Universal - zany and satirical, putting the world
of telemarketing is in a futuristic spotlight
Cassius "Cash" Green (Lakeith Stanfield) takes a job at a sleazy telemarketing company, where he is advised by fellow worker Langston (Danny Glover) that if he uses his "white voice" he will make more sales. Soon Cash joins the ranks of the "power sellers", but he is in for a major shock when he discovers what goods the company is actually marketing. Meantime Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), immoral boss of Worry Free, is marketing a lifestyle that is virtual slavery - food and lodging in exchange for a lifetime of indentured work. The connection between both companies becomes gradually apparent with further horrific revelations of scientific experiments being undertaken. As Cash's friends protest against all manner of injustices, Cash must choose between a whopping salary and leaving his reprehensible workplace. STBY is a bit sci-fi, scathingly satirical, and very entertaining.
3.5 - well recommended! 

Normandy Nude
Dir: Philippe Le Guay
Length: 109 min 
© Palace - photography, nudity and cattle combine
to try to save an ailing town
The town of Mele sur Sarthe in Normandy (NW France) is in crisis. Rural industries are being squeezed economically and farmers are going under. Then American photographer Newman (Toby Jones) with offsider Bradley (Vincent Regan), turns up, looking for a field in which to mass-photograph the locals - nude. Much-loved Mayor Balbuzard (Francoise Cluzet) sees an opportunity to get the town's plight into the mainstream news, but can he talk the townsfolk into baring their all for the greater social good? Sweet is definitely the word for this cute French film. But it has a darker underbelly with important and timely social commentary on the dire situation for agriculture going on in the background. All the characters are pleasing to spend time with, Cluzet is (as always) marvellous to watch, and the scenery and livestock make for bucolic, relaxing viewing. Nothing earth-shattering here, and the ending unfortunately is a bit abrupt, but it's definitely a feel-good film which reminds us of the importance of solidarity, loyalty and strong leadership.
3 - recommended! 

Creed II
Dir: Steven Caple Jnr
Length: 140 min 
© Warner Bros - predictable but enjoyable, 
with the aging Rocky back in the spotlight
Adonis Creed (Michael B Jordan) is heavyweight boxing champ of the world. More than 30 years earlier Adonis's father Apollo was killed in the ring by Ivan Drago. Now Drago throws out a challenge - his son Victor must fight Adonis. Can ex-champ Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) bring Adonis up to speed to protect himself from the hulking Russian giant, and avoid another boxing tragedy? I didn't expect to enjoy this, but, aside from cringing at some of the more vicious fight scenes, I find it a jolly good story filled with perseverance, worldly wisdom, and romance in the form of Bianca, Adonis's deaf girlfriend and famed singer. Despite its many cliches, the film is nicely crafted with strong arena-based boxing scenes, and enough relationship sub-plots to carry the story on several levels. The aging Rocky is affectionately played, Jordan is a hunk, and with a predictable but satisfying ending, what's not to enjoy?
3 - recommended! 

Anna and the Apocalypse
Dir: John McPhail
Length: 105 min 
© Icon - teen zombie gore-fest - with
plenty of great songs
Anna (Ella Hunt) and her friends are getting ready for the end of school year when the unthinkable happens - a mysterious virus attacks the folks of Little Haven, turning them into zombies. You don't have to be a zombie buff to enjoy this good-natured film, which has emotion and intelligence, while being a fun teen spoof on the well-worn zombie genre. I'm not sure if the un-dead have been put to music  before, but the songs in this musical version are particularly tuneful and well executed. It's a bit like a cross between Saun of the Dead and High School Musical. I suspect the film will have appeal to mid-teens, what with enough bad language to please, the requisite blood, gore and splattered brains, a dollop of teen romance, and a crazy headmaster we all hope will join the undead or get munched (a wonderfully over-the-top performance by Paul Kaye). Put Christmas into the mix, and a bit of heart string tugging as the heroes and heroines try desperately to find their parents, and you've got a recipe for some blood-soaked fun.
3 - recommended! 

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

November 22nd
The Children Act
I Used to be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story
Japanese Film Festival - Melbourne
JIFF encore season

My standout this week is The Children Act, a wonderful marital/legal drama starring Emma Thompson and Stanley Tucci. JIFF is almost over, but there is a popular encore week to come. The Japanese Film Festival offers a great opportunity to see the sort of films we so seldom get here in Oz. And don't forget Cinelatino Film Festival runs until 28 Nov (see reviews last week).  

The Children Act
Dir: Richard Eyre
Length: 105 min 
© Roadshow  -  Emma Thompson gives her 
all as a judge juggling a failing marriage
with some weighty courtroom decisions
Here's another film adapted from an Ian McEwan novel. Fiona Maye (Emma Thompson) is a high court judge, specialising in family law cases. Her husband Jack (Stanley Tucci) is fed up with Fiona's neglect of their marriage, due to work commitments. Against the backdrop of marital disaster, she must rule on the case of Adam (Fionn Whitehead), a young Jehovah's Witness boy of 17, dying of leukemia and refusing a blood transfusion. This is heart-breaking stuff, with sadness and frustration the dominant emotions. But it's not all doom and gloom, as recognition of the major role one person can play as mentor and life changer for another eventually come to the fore. Thompson and Tucci are simply sublime in their roles, and Thompson has such poise and grace, making her utterly believable in her role as "my Lady". Whitehead as the dying boy imbues his role with youthful self-righteousness and  compassion, while underneath the whole story is a deep universal sadness at lost opportunities in life, balanced by transcendent moments. As you can guess, I loved it. 
4 - highly recommended! 

Dir: Steve McQueen
Length: 129 min 
© 20th Century Fox - women kicking ass -
the actors are worthy - plot more a maybe
A criminal gang of four, led by Harry (Liam Neeson) are killed by police in a heist gone wrong. Harry's widow Veronica (Viola Davis) is pursued for her husband's debts. In fear of her life, she musters the widows of the other three men and suggests they should mount their own heist. I simply love the cast of kick-ass woman here; turning bad along with Davis are Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo, and Elizabeth Debicki, all wonderful in their own right. BUT . . . I can't believe so many aspects of this plot. How did these gals get so professional at this criminal stuff so easily and quickly? This is a plot hole I just can't recover from. The side-plot with Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall as father and son corrupt politicians is in fact more credible. This is not so say I wasn't entertained  and it's inspiring (or is it depressing?) to see these women behaving just as badly as a bunch of blokes. If you can overlook the plot issues, there's a lot to be enjoyed - I just couldn't seem to.   
2.5 - maybe! 

I Used to Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story
Dir: Jessica Leski
Length: 93 min 
© Madman - Dara confesses her youthful obsession 
with Robbie Williams' band Take That. 
Anyone who's ever fallen madly in love with a boy band will relate to this charming documentary. The obsessions of four women are showcased. New Yorker Elif, now 16, reflects on the time a clip of her crying hysterically over the band One Direction went viral. Sydneysider Dara, now 30-something, looks back on her 12-year old obsession with Take That. Sadia, of strict Pakistani background was a fan of Backstreet Boys, while Melbourne film producer Susan is now 64, and still treasures her Beatles fan memorabilia. All the women openly reminisce on how those bands were a huge factor in their lives, shaping ongoing directions for them, and how they still secretly carry a love for "the boys" in their hearts. This is a sweet look at a seminal part of so many girls' lives which marks a point where awareness of the opposite sex manifests in relatively innocent band worship.
3.5 - well recommended! 

Japanese Film Festival
Melbourne: Nov 22 - Dec 2
ACMI and Hoyts Melbourne Central
For other states, times, and program visit

Not enough Japanese films get released into the Aussie mainstream, so here is a brilliant opportunity to see them. (Having said that, check out Shoplifters which I reviewed last week.) From docos, to drama, comedy, animation, crime, and more, there is so much to choose from. I'm very partial to what I call "slice of life" films, which I find the Japanese do so well (Think Departures, An). Two I've reviewed here are no exception. 

© JFF : A foodie film with a gentle
heart - lovely blend of Chinese and 
Japanese culture
Ramen Shop: Masato is the son of a Japanese father and a Chinese/Singaporean mother. After the death of both parents, he heads off to Singapore to find someone to teach him how to make his beloved mother's pork chop soup. The people he meets and the things he discovers about his family and their mixed culture are a revelation. This is sweetly sentimental, and a mouth-watering food fest. There is much heart, sadness and hope in the film, and it's a great choice, if you can only see one. 

Summer Blooms: Another low-key delicate film about a young woman, Hatsumi,  whose boyfriend died some years before. She has given up teaching and now works in a noodle shop. She seems unable to get on with her life, and when a new boy expresses interest she shies away from him. It is only when she decides to confront her past, that she has a chance of moving forward.

River's Edge: No sweet, gentle characters her in this disturbing story of aimless teen schoolkids set in Tokyo of the 1990s. Yamada is constantly beaten up because he's gay, but he is soothed by his "secret" - a skeleton he has discovered down by the river. Kannonzaki is cruel but insecure, Kozue is a bulimic fashion model, while Rumi is free with her sexual favours. Only Wakakusa seems to be able to distance herself emotionally and survive the nihilistic life, which lacks parental input and seems destructive all round. There is plenty of violence and explicit sex, and this, for me, is very different from the usual Japanese fare.

JIFF - Jewish International Film Festival
Encore Season
Mostly at Classic Elsternwick, some at Lido Hawthorn
Visit for times and sessions
From Thursday 22-Wed 28 Nov, JIFF screens its encore sessions. Included, from those I have already reviewed in the past couple of weeks are:
Sobibor, Redemption, Budapest Noir, Who Will Write Our History; Sam Spiegel; Let's Dance; Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas, The Interpreter. 
© JIFF - moving performances, plenty of tension
in this excellent thriller, Shelter
Shelter: From Eran Riklis, the director of the fabulous Lemon Tree, comes a strong and compassionate thriller. Mossad agent Naomi is called upon to guard Lebanese informant Mona, who is recovering from surgery to change her face, so her Hezbollah ex-husband cannot track her down. The women form an unexpected bond. Shelter is beautifully acted, tense, moving and thought-provoking. 
JIFF comes highly recommended; it's been a remarkable festival of top-notch films. If you've missed them, now's your chance to catch up. 

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

November 15th
The Old Man and the Gun
Cinelatino Film Festival

Once more into the viewing breach, dear friends! And this week brings yet more worthy films for your delectation. Handsome Robert Redford is back, an elegant fighting aeroplane stars in a wonderful doco, the Japanese explore the meaning of family, while the Cinelatino Film Festival brings us the best from Latin America. 

The Old Man and the Gun
Dir: David Lowery
Length: 94 min 
© Entertainment One -  Redford is as charming as ever
in this film based upon the criminal career of
an audacious oldie
Yet another film based (loosely) on a true story, that of Forrest Tucker, a career bank robber and serial prison escapee. Tucker apparently had more jail escapes than anyone in America. Robert Redford, in what he says is his swansong, plays the old man with charm and charisma: a gentlemanly bank robber, who pursues his passion ever so politely and with little violence. Danny Glover and Tom Waits are Tucker's long-term amiable accomplices, while Sissy Spacek is Jewel, the woman Tucker meets in her later years, and who loves him despite discovering his criminal bent. Detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck) pursues the wily crim with a grudging admiration for the thief's craft. The film is relatively light, with good humour and nods to past Redford films. The actor, now 80, is so enchanting to watch, his weather-beaten still handsome face and engaging smile so mesmerising, it makes the film definitely worth a look.  
3.5 - well recommended! 

Dir: David Fairhead & Ant Palmer
Length: 99 min 
Showing at Classic Elsternwick, Cameo Belgrave, Lido Hawthorn, Sun Yarraville and select Village cinemas
© Rialto - a love-song (or love-film) to the 
fighting machine that helped win WW2
The Spitfire is the aeroplane credited with changing the course of world history by winning the Battle of Britain and ultimately World War Two. This is the story of that plane, from its innovative design, through to the determination and heroism of the gutsy pilots who flew it. Interviews with the surviving combat pilots are fascinating and moving - all remember well the terror and thrill of their wartime experiences. (Including the many women who flew the planes from the factories to the airfields). You don't have to be remotely interested in planes to enjoy this informative and stirring documentary. In what is almost a love song to the plane, the film-makers use stunning aerial cinematography and recreations of some of the most gripping air battles.
4 - highly recommended! 

Dir: Hirokazu Koreeda
Length: 121 min 

© Rialto - Japanese slice-of-life films
are usually winners - this sure is
Director Koreeda has no less than 43 various wins to his name. He is known for his humanistic approach to his story-telling, and this latest is no exception, on both counts, having won the Palm D'or at this years Cannes FF. The ragged family is a motley crew of  husband, wife, Grandma, son, daughter, and the late addition of a tiny girl they find hungry and cold on the street. Dad and son regularly shoplift, and all supplement life with Gran's pension. It's what we call a slow-burn film - nothing dramatic happens until well into the story, but the picture created of this family is then opened up to reveal truths we didn't imagine at the start. There is much genuine love between the characters, and, despite their poverty, a generosity of spirit to provide and protect. The minutiae of daily life is lovingly created, from mending, cooking, children playing, through to, of course, shoplifting. As you probably know by now, I love the delicacy of this style of film-making, and the Japanese do it so well. When finally the carefully constructed house of cards comes tumbling down, there is much poignancy and emotional pain. 
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended! 

Cinelatino Film Festival
Melbourne November 13-28
Astor, Palace Como, Palace Westgarth
For other states and program times:

Not to be confused with the Spanish Film Festival, this is Australia's largest festival of films from Latin America. The 26 features and three documentaries come from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Paraguay. Though the wonderful opening night film Roma screened two days ago there will be further opportunities to catch it during the festival. I'm lucky to have previewed a selection.
© Cinelatino FF - Roma is a slow-burn, deeply 
compassionate film about family, caring and more.
Roma: Winner of the Golden Lion at Venice this year, Roma revolves around a year in the life of a middle class Mexican family in the 1970s. Apparently the story is highly inspired by Cuaron's own youth, and the film feels like a the diary of a family with all its foibles; raucous kids, a messy dog, philandering husband and a wife rediscovering her identity. There is also a background thread of political turmoil and protest at the time.The central focus however is on the family's beloved maid Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) who unintentionally falls pregnant. The non-professional actress is sublime in her portrayal of the stoic, loving, hard-working girl. Cuaron displays a genius for observing the tiny details of life and employs exquisite black and white cinematography in carefully constructing each scene. The film is suffused with a depth of emotion around love, loss, and the deep attachment one can develop for others who are not necessarily family. Some colleagues declared it boring; I was transfixed. 
Etiqueta No Rigurosa (No Dress Code Required): This award-winning doco strikes a major blow for gay rights. It chronicles the struggle  Victor and Fernando have in being allowed to marry, in the Mexican state of Baja California. With wonderful interviews with the men, and live footage of their verbal confrontations with government officials, this is a film to both inspire and enrage. The patience and peaceful persistence of the men and their friends is admirable while the obstructionist prejudice of the authorities is enough to make me throw epithets at the screen. 
In Love and Hate: Nominated for many Argentinian awards, this stylish crime/romance, based on a 1949 novel, harks back to the days of elegant hotels, unexpected murders and femme fatales. Doctor Hubermann is running from a painful love affair. He heads to a remote hotel on the beach, but who should be there - the woman he is avoiding, with her sister and sister's lover. This is highly entertaining in a light and somewhat melodramatic way. The film's production design is so eye-catching, especially the use of colour, and it's a while since I've seen such a back-stabbing, double dealing, entertaining collection of villainous characters.