Wednesday, 28 March 2018

March 29
Early Man
The Death of Stalin
The Other Side of Hope
Young at Heart Seniors Film Festival

It's a big week of releases, and the start of another festival in some states. From claymation, to political satire, to intense drama - there is something for everyone. 

Early Man
Director: Nick Park
Length: 90 min
© StudioCanal - zany prehistoric folk take on the
soccer team of the Bronze age men. 
Lovers of films from Aardman (Wallace & Gromit; Saun the Sheep) should get a lot of fun from the studio's latest creation. A tribe of prehistoric folk have their lives disrupted when a mob from the Bronze Age invade, and forcibly remove them from their valley, where bronze has been found. Spirited caveman Dug discovers that the Bronzemen play football, a game invented by his ancestors. So the challenge is on, with the promise if the cavemen win, they can go home. Silliness abounds, from physical humour, through to not-so-subtle satire, and a lot of archetypically British puns. One can predict the story arc, but there is a lot of good fun to be had. The character of Hognob, Dug's trusty piggy companion (grunted by Park himself), is especially engaging, while other famous Brit thespians bring life to the endearing characters: Timothy Spall, Tom Hiddleston, Eddie Redmayne and Maisie Williams to name a few. Production values are terrific, and whenever I watch Aardman creations, I find myself in awe afresh at the hours that must go into making one of these films.
3 - recommended!

The Death of Stalin
Director: Armando Ianucci
Length: 107 min
© Madman - political satire and
In March 1953 Joseph Stalin had a stroke and died. Political machinations and  back-stabbing erupted to see who would take his place. This dark satirical film is based on the historical events, and is inspired by comic graphic novels that also dealt with that period of Soviet history. Perhaps the graphic novel connection helps give the film its weird juxtaposition of thuggery, humour and satire. Tyranny, terror and a despicable dictator are rich fodder for this sort of comedy, but there are plenty of old-fashioned situational laughs among the satire. All the loathsome, corrupt, ambitious Soviet apparatchiks are played superbly, with a variety of assorted accents (apparently deliberate) while Steve Buscemi is a stand-out with an eerily lifelike performance as Nikita Kruschev. Lovers of political shenanigans should get a lot out of this film.
3.5 - well recommended!

Director: Ferenc Torok
Length: 91 min
At ACMI and Elsternwick Classic (starting at Lido next week)

© JIFF Distribution - stunning black and white 
cinematography in a powerful film
Two black-clad men disembark from a train in a small Hungarian village just after the end of the war. The townsfolk are preparing for a wedding, and the arrival of the men, Orthodox Jews, sends them into a panic, as many of the villagers are living in Jewish homes, stolen from the rightful owners when the German deported the Jews to the death camps. This remarkable film is shot in black and white, giving it a melancholy and historical feel. The camera doggedly follows the two men with their mysterious crates loaded on a horse and cart, while concurrently the town's interpersonal dramas play out, all revealing what unpleasant people most of the villagers are. The twist at the film's end is something unexpected, and  packs a powerful wallop.
4 - highly recommended!

The Other Side of Hope
Director: Aki Karismaki
Length: 100 min
© Palace- Karismaki's trademark deadpan characters
Khaled (Sherwan Hadji) is a young Syrian refugee who finds his way to Helsinki, Finland. Wikstrom (Sakari Kuosmanen) is an ex-salesman who leaves his family, wins money in a poker game and buys a run-down restauarant. When he meets Khaled sleeping behind the resto, he gives the lad a job as a dishwasher. The lives of two men escaping their pasts are thrown together. Karismaki is an idiosyncratic film-maker who handles interesting social themes beneath his deadpan humour and occasional wackiness. He also loves to include musical vignettes in his films, and so it is with this one. The characters are all handled with great affection, as Karismaki hopes to change people's stereotyped attitudes to refugees. Humour, poignancy and a story about kindness in the face of bureaucracy make for good 
viewing in this much awarded film.
3.5 - well recommended!

Apia Young at Heart Seniors Film Festival
2-25 April - varying by State
Melbourne: 17-25 April 
Palace Como, Balwyn, Brighton Bay
Visit for all details

Again this year's festival features a terrific range of films, as well as a retrospective featuring leading ladies of cinema.  This includes Bette Davis in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane", Judy Garland in "A Star is Born", and Maggie Smith in "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie".  I've already previewed a selection, and will bring you more as they come. 

ChappaquidickSenator Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke) made headlines in 1969 when he drove his car off a bridge, killing a young campaign strategist Mary Joe Kopechne (Kate Mara). Even though the facts of the film are part of history, this is a gripping recreation of the events, and a timely look at the corruption and ambition that invariably goes with politics. Clarke's excellent portrayal of Kennedy swings the audience from sympathy, through to contempt. 
Desert Bride: This award-winning Argentinian film stars Paulina Garcia as Theresa, a woman who has worked as a maid for one family for 30 years of her life. While travelling to another post, she mislays her baggage. Kindly market vendor Gringo offers to drive her to hunt for it. This gentle film delicately looks at issues of love, change and aging, and somehow its short runtime still allows it to explore its themes in a way that resonates with you long after the film is over.
LBJ: Woody Harrelson delivers a strong performance as vice president Lyndon Johnson, who was dramatically swept into office when Kennedy was shot. The film examines Johnson's inner insecurities and the tasks he grappled with in healing the nation and moving forward with JFK's vision. 
Sea Dreaming Girls:  sweet and heart-warming Italian doco about a group of elderly ladies who live in a remote Italian 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.
4 - the festival is highly recommended!

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