Tuesday, 24 April 2018

April 25
Last Flag Flying
Indonesian Film Festival

Films release early this week thanks to Anzac Day. And yes, another Festival starts tomorrow. All three films this week get my big score of 4 and above, so get on down to your local cinema and start watching! (I know Gurrumul starts this week, but I'll be catching it in a day or so and bringing my review to you next week.) 

Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev
Length: 128 min
© Palace - harrowing but stunningly
executed. My heart breaks for the boy.
Zhenya and Boris are in a loveless marriage. With divorce proceedings underway, and each with another lover waiting in the wings, they are eager to get on with a new life. Life at home is ugly - vicious fights and abusive yelling. Worst of all, neither seems to want custody of their 11-year-old son Alyosha, who overhears all that's going on. Then Alyosha goes missing. This is visceral, incisive story-telling. The carelessness with which the parents treat each other, their son, and even the new people in their lives is shocking. Their selfishness and disregard for others is monumental.  Mobile phones seem to replace real interaction. Russian society as a whole isn't much better, the film implies. Volunteers who search for the boy use that purposeful good deed as a means to counter the alienation all around them. Everything about the director's attention to detail is near flawless while the award-winning cinematography evokes an austere, bleak and demoralising world. The lead actors are all superb, while early scenes of the young Alyosha sobbing his heart out are so realistic as to be almost unbearable. Winner of the Cannes 2017 Jury Prize and numerous other awards, this is an emotionally draining but brilliant movie that should be a wake-up call to people drowning in the self-absorption of modern life, at the expense of their close relationships.
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended!

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Length: 98 min
© Fox - another disturbing film!  You may find your
jaw sore from clenching through the anger and tension.
Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) moves from her home city of Boston to Pennsylvania to escape a stalker. Still traumatised, she seeks counselling, then signs some "routine paperwork" in which she unwittingly commits herself to a 24-hour stay in a psychiatric hospital for clinical observation. Unable to get herself released, things deteriorate as she catches a glimpse of medical orderly David (Joshua Leonard), who she believes is her stalker. From here on, the less said, the better! Foy is remarkable in her role, walking the fine line between calm and violence, making us question what is real, while being a timely reminder of the ever-present threat of stalking for women. Leonard is mega-creepy as David, while the characters of fellow inmates Violet and Nate add to the depth and convolutions of the excellent plot. No doubt some critics will reference this film against others in the genre of "madhouse thrillers". You know I don't work this way, wishing to assess films as they stand on their own two feet. And how tall this one stands - a thrilling, unnerving, terrifying, claustrophobic ride that feels so authentic you may never contemplate going  near mental health advice again!
4 - highly recommended! (with a warning for those with phobias about mental institutions)

Last Flag Flying
Director: Richard Linklater
Length: 122 min
© Transmission - warm, funny, moving - 
three top actors in a great film of the legacy of war
I've always loved director Linklater (think Boyhood, Before Midnight). He has a knack for writing dialogue that is so real, you think you're talking with the characters. Teaming with the writer of the book on which the movie is based, he creates a moving, funny, ultimately uplifting film. Marine Sal (Bryan Cranston), army medic Doc (Steve Carrell) and Reverend Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) all served together in the Vietnam war 30 years prior. Now they meet up again in 2003 when Doc tracks them down and asks them to accompany him on a journey to Arlington to bury his son, who has  been killed in the Iraq War. What evolves is a road trip of reconnection, recollection, joy and tears. The naysayers are implying this is a bland mainstream road movie. I see it as a glorious showcase for three titans of Hollywood acting to inhabit their characters in a way that leaps off the screen. Carrell proves again the power of his dramatic acting. Fishburne is superb as he loses his  pompous aging stuffshirt minister persona to revisit his younger self. Cranston's performance is flawless - he plays a seemingly tough guy who drinks too much, jokes around, but is also compassionate and a stickler for the truth. For me he's one of the best actors around today. Though there are the expected moments of American sentiment, there are also criticisms of  US military policy, making it ultimately quite an anti-war film.
4 - highly recommended! 

13th Indonesian Film Festival
26th April - 2 May
For folks who think of Indonesia merely as a Balinese holiday destination, here's a chance to get a deeper insight into the country's history, culture and film.
Over the week, six diverse films will screen, each with a Q&A session featuring film-makers and hosted by film critic Peter Krausz. 
Films include a couple of innovative horrors, a doco exploring the spice trade, a feminist drama on vengeance and redemption, a much-awarded coming-of-age drama, and a closing night screening of a restored 1954 Indonesian classic. 
For more information on the films and times, visit:  
Indonesian Film Festival: http://iffaustralia.com
ACMI: www.acmi.net.au/events/13thindonesian-film-festival/

Friday, 20 April 2018

April 19
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
The Song Keepers
A Quiet Place
21st Spanish Film Festival

Plenty of variety this week! A much anticipated drama/romance from a popular novel, an impressive new Aussie doco, and the always warmly anticipated Spanish Film Festival. I also catch up with one of last week's releases, so suspenseful my heart still hasn't stopped thumping. 

The Guernsey Literary and 
Potato Peel Pie  Society
Director: Mike Newell
Length: 124 min
© StudioCanal - engaging wartime 
adventure/romance based on a best-selling novel 
Here is another quintessentially Pommie film based upon a highly popular best-selling novel. In post-war 1946 London author Juliet Ashton (Lily James) is about to embark on a tour publicising her latest book when she receives a letter from farmer DawseyAdams (Michiel Huisman) on the isle of Guernsey. After a period of correspondence with Dawsey, and a sudden engagement to dashing GI Mark (Glen Powell), Juliet heads over to Guernsey to research a new book about the lives of the residents there under the German occupation. The tragic history she unearths will be both an anguish and a healing for all. Beautiful production values recreating the era underpin this charming film, which has plenty to recommend it: war history, intrigue, romance, secrets, and plenty of British stiff upper lip spirits. James is translucently beautiful in the role, Huisman an earthy hunk, and with top support from the likes of Matthew Goode as Sydney the publisher, and other British stalwarts, it's a worthy watch, which even brings a tear to the eye in parts.
3.5 - well recommended!

The Song Keepers
Director: Naina Sen
Length: 84 min
© Potential - a warm and inspiring doco of one 
man's dedication, and the power of music
The Central Australian Aboriginal Women's Choir is the subject matter of this fascinating documentary. (Stats: 32 members, aged 20s to 80s; includes 2 men). Choirmaster Morris Stuart (himself of African background) amalgamated a number of choirs from remote communities and trained them to sing old hymns, many learned by the women as kids, when they were in the German Lutheran missions of Herrmannsberg. The doco tracks the choir's trip to Bavaria where they were warmly welcomed by the Germans who were overwhelmed hearing their songs returned to them - but this time sung in native Australian languages. Some of the women speak of the legacy of colonialism, and there is a subtle undercurrent of the dark legacy of the past. But the uplifting and optimistic tone of the film prevails. I came away with a sense of hope and deep affection for the choir, their leader, and the hope that music could help heal the parlous state of white/black relations in Australia.
3.5 - well recommended!

A Quiet Place
Director: John Krasinski
Length: 90 min
"If they hear you they hunt you" - silence is critical. 
A great creature feature with top family values.
It's hard to pigeon-hole this film into one genre, as it succeeds on so many levels -horror/thriller/family story. In a post-apocalyptic Earth, creatures from outer space have ravaged much of the world's population. They are blind but hunt using their highly developed auditory sense. Lee, (John Krasinski), his wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt), and their 3 kids, one of whom is profoundly deaf, are surviving, living on a remote farm, and communicating only by sign language. When the creatures finally are alerted to the family's whereabouts, an edge-of-seat, nail-biting mission to evade death ensues. The idea of protecting family at all costs is central to this film. The director cleverly and quickly gets the audience to care about the fate of the family, leaving us emotionally invested from go to whoa. The sound production values are top-shelf, with minimal music and plenty of absolute silence. Performances are universally top-notch, and while there are occasional unanswered plot questions, most of what happens feels quite credible. Possibly the less you know the more you'll get out of your viewing, but PLEASE, don't take noisy crunchy food into this one - the quieter the better! (For that matter, avoid noisy food in all films!)
4 - highly recommended!

Spanish Film Festival
Melbourne: April 19th to May 6th 
Palace Como, Westgarth, Brighton Bay, Kino and Astor
See website for other states
For more information, and times visit www.spanishfilmfestival.com

The vibrancy of the Spanish Film Festival is with us once again. As well as many new award-winning films, there are two very special reruns: Pan's Labyrinth will screen on closing night, while Jamon Jamon features as part of a special event. (This film launched the careers of Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem in 1992.) 
For history buffs there is Gold with a fabulous ensemble cast, and set in Central America in 1540.  Dying is a delicate relationship drama in which a woman must cope with her partner's diagnosis of a brain tumour. There is also a feature retrospective paying tribute to director Bigas Luna.  
As always I've caught a few, (though not yet as many as I would have liked).

Sin Rodeo: Meaning "no filter", this whacky comedy tells of a woman who spends her life feeling unheard and unappreciated. When she visits a charlatan Indian guru and takes his medicine, she becomes so outspoken that she must learn to find a new balance between looking after her own needs, and not letting others run all over her. I found a lot to empathise with in this one!
Coco: The glorious Oscar award-winning animation is the story of little Miguel whose family forbid him to play music. He cannot fathom why. On Mexico's Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), he finds himself in a position to finally get some answers. This joyous film is visually splendid, the music is a treat, the plot moves along at a great pace, it is warm, uplifting, tear-jerking and simply unmissable. I can't recommend it highly enough (for all ages!) 
Abracadabra: This has won countless awards (mainly in Spain), but perhaps my sense of humour is not in tune with the Spaniards. Again the plot features a wife with a neglectful husband. When the party trick of an amateur hypnotist  goes wrong, the man seemingly gets possessed by a ghost. This one's a bit scatty for my liking, but if you like magic and mayhem, it may be worth checking out.  

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

April 12
Isle of Dogs
The Party
Young at Heart Film Festival 

Films from this year's and 2017 Berlin Film Festival are arriving, with a couple of great offerings released this week. And a reminder that the Young at Heart Seniors Film Festival opens next Tuesday, April 17th in Melbourne. 

Isle of Dogs
Director: Wes Anderson
Length: 101 min
© 20th Century Fox  - don't miss this top-notch 
stop motion film with heart and depth.
Stop motion animation is a labour of love. The dedication and creativity that's gone into this amazing film is blatantly apparent, as idiosyncratic Anderson brings his genius to the screen once more! Set in a slightly futuristic Japan, Isle of Dogs is the story of the corrupt mayor of Megasaki (Akiro Ito) who banishes all dogs from the city after an outbreak of "Snout Flu". Mayor Kobayashi's adopted ward Atari (Koyu Rankin) sets out in search of his beloved pet Spots, and lands on Trash Island where the dogs dwell. The film works on numerous levels - it is a delightful, at times whimsical off-centre piece of entertainment, visually splendid, clever dialogue, with canine characters to delight (and that's from a non-doggie lover). This is no cutesie-wootsie puppy play - underneath there is some scathing political satire (complete with conspiracy theories) and biting social commentary. Thematically there is resonance for refugees, concentration camps, lunatic leaders and more. Only the dogs speak English while the humans speak Japanese with no subtitles. Believe me, it works a treat, and the Japanese sensibility of the film, along with Anderson's trademark tableau camera style, only adds to its relentless charm. Actors voicing the English-speaking characters are all notable, including Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Scarlett Johansson, Greta Gerwig, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, Frances McDormand, Yoko Ono and Bill Murray. Wow!! This winner of the Silver Bear for Best Director at Berlin, 2018 is for me almost unmissable.
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended !

The Party
Director: Sally Potter
Length: 71 min
© Madman - an elegant celebratory gathering goes from 
good, to bad to disaster. 
This short and sweet black comedy is a somewhat strange offering from Potter, of Orlando fame. It feels like a cross between a domestic melodrama, and a social satire upon a certain class of Brits. Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) is holding a party to celebrate her appointment as Health Minister. Invited friends are a lesbian couple Jinny (Emily Mortimer) and Martha (Cherry Jones), who  are expecting IVF triplets. Then there's April (the always wonderful Patricia Clarkson) and soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), and cocaine-snorting Tom (Cillian Murphy). Tom's wife Marianne hasn't arrived and he thinks she's having an affair. As all manner of verbal jousting and personal revelations unfold, the tone of the party degenerates. Meantime Janet's gloomy husband Bill (Timothy Spall) drinks too much and drops a couple of bombshells of his own. Films of people's self-perceptions unravelling at social events always provide a degree of malicious fun, as does this. Shot in crisp black and white, and with an excellent cast, it makes for an entertaining watch. The Party was nominated for a Berlin Golden Bear in 2017. 
3.5 - well recommended!

Apia Young at Heart Seniors Film Festival
Melbourne: 17-25 April 
Palace Como, Balwyn, Brighton Bay
On March 29th I gave a heads up and four reviews for this festival which only starts in Melbourne early next week, but is already underway in other states. Below are the reviews again, in case you missed them. Plenty of other excellent films are showing in this festival including: Gurrumul, Last Flag Flying, The Bookshop, Aurore, and Return to Montauk. And don't forget the retrospective featuring All About Eve, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and A Star is Born.
Return to Montauk, which I'm itching to see, is another nominee for Best Film at the Berlin International Film Festival.  
Visit www.youngatheart.net.au for all details.

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!

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

April 5
Walking Out
Pop Aye

Three very worthy films this week - from the USA, Israel, and Thailand. Two have father/son themes, despite being very different. The third is an elephant lover's delight.
Walking Out
Director: Andrew J Smith & Alex Smith
Length: 95 min
© Icon - strong relationship drama
combined with wilderness thrills. 
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance 2017, this powerful drama set in the Montana wilderness surprised me, as I'd not heard a peep about it beforehand. David (Josh Wiggins) visits his estranged father Cal (Matt Bomer) for a bit of father/son bonding over a hunting expedition. Aiming to bag a moose, the fellas head off into stunningly beautiful but inhospitable terrain. When both are injured in a terrible accident, they must confront their deeper feelings and tap into inner strengths. Aside from the magnificence of the cinematography, this is a surprisingly moving and tense drama, exploring male relationships (including flashbacks of Cal's relationship with his Dad (Bill Pullman), who taught him hunting skills. There are resonant themes about family and tradition under the surface, and Cal's almost conservationist attitudes to hunting are a pleasant revelation! This is top-level indie American film-making.
4 - highly recommended!

Pop Aye
Director: Kirsten Tan
Length: 102 min
Exclusive to Cinema Nova
© Madman - peripatetic pachyderm treks
across Thailand with his new master
Middle-aged architect Thana (Thaneth Warakulnakroh) is jaded with his life, both maritally and work-wise. When he comes across Popeye, an elephant he knew from his childhood, he buys the animal, leaves Bangkok and heads off across Thailand to the village where both he and Popeye enjoyed their carefree younger years. This tale reminds me a little of a favourite road trip film, The Straight Story. Both feature rambling, meandering journeys, meeting folk and having low-key whimsical encounters. In Thana's case, he comes across a hippie living rough, a transgender woman, and a couple of truck drivers who kindly put the elephant in their truck to spare its sore feet. Bong, who plays Popeye, is the star - appealing and pretty charismatic as far as elephants go. While not a lot happens, there is a melancholy sense of the destruction of much of Thailand's tradition in favour of progress. Maybe reconnecting with an animal could solve the modern malaise of alienation and depression? Pop Aye is a delighful diversion, and jumbo lovers should adore this film. 
3.5 - well recommended!

Director: Matan Yair
Length: 90 min
Exclusive to ACMI and Classic Elsternwick
© JIFF Distribution - powerful teacher/student 
father/son story, set in the working class in Israel
Scaffolding is another film with a strong father/son thematic. Winning numerous Israeli Film Academy Awards, this intense drama is the story of  17-year-old Asher (Asher Lax), a trouble maker at school, and part-time worker for his Dad's scaffolding company. Asher's teacher Rami (Ami Smolartchik) is a kind, gentle man, handling the rowdy non-achieving class of boys with patience and understanding and offering a different model of what it is to be a male. Rami, unbeknown to his pupils, deals with his own demons. Asher is torn between his father's expectations of his entering the family business, and his inspiration from Rami that life may offer other possibilities. This is refreshingly different from many other Israeli films I've seen that deal in politics or religion. It is gritty, and authentic (Yair comes from a teaching background), and is a powerful contribution to the "inspiring teacher" genre of film. Performances from Lax and Smolartchik feel absolutely real, and there is a deep compassion to the story.
4 - highly recommended!