Monday, 21 May 2018

May 24  . . . and the forthcoming weeks
The Bookshop - out this week
German Film Festival - starts this week
My Friend Dahmer - May 31
Kodachrome - June 7
Upgrade - June 14
Ideal home - June 21
Foxtrot - June 21

It's that time of year again for the blogger to take a well-earned break. So I will let you know now, in advance, of  films that are coming up, which I have already managed to preview. And if I can get the dreaded Gmail to work from random computers, I may follow up with a weekly re-run  just to jog your memory. Or not!!
The Bookshop
Director: Isabel Coixet
Length: 113 min
© Transmission - so very British! 
In 1959, in an English village, war widow Florence Green (Emily Mortimer) decides to open a bookshop in an old house. She runs up against opposition from vindictive socialite Mrs Gamart (Patricia Clarkson) who wants the house for an arts centre. Unexpected support comes in the form of the reclusive Mr Brundish (Bill Nighy), who is much gossiped about without the villagers knowing the facts. This is archetypical Brit film-making - gentle, well-acted, and beautifully shot. Despite terrific acting and excellent production design, the film never quite soars to emotional highs, and the incessant voice-over narration is a little tiresome. But it is a sweet tale, paying homage to books and the idea that one should always follow one's passions. 
3 - recommended!  (could I really miss a Bill Nighy film?)

German Film Festival
Melbourne May 24-June 6
Palace Cinema Como
For other states, ticketing and program visit:

Palace Cinemas have taken over the newly revamped German Film Festival, bringing you 26 feature films, including a variety from this year's Berlin International Festival. Closing night gives you the opportunity to see the iconic 1987 Wim Wenders film Wings of Desire, digitally restored. As always I'm lucky to have caught a few in advance.
Mademoiselle Paradis: As they say, fact is often stranger than fiction. This multi-award winning period film is the late 18th century story of a talented pianist, blind from birth, who was sent to renowned physician, Dr Mesmer. As her eyesight improves, her playing deteriorates, leading to an agonising choice. Fabulous costumes, cinematography and production design combine with an intriguing piece of history. 
In Times of Fading Light: This is for lovers of films about the repressive times in East Germany. It stars one of Germany's top actors Bruno Ganz, who was brilliant in Downfall. Here he plays a hardline communist party man, celebrating his 90th birthday, just before the fall of the Berlin Wall. As various friends, neighbours and party faithful come to visit, we realise personal lives and politics are all on the brink of change. 
When Paul Came Over the Sea: A documentary about asylum seeker Paul from Cameroon. As he waits to cross the Mediterranean to Europe he is befriended by the film-maker, who follows his journey. This is an insightful look at the refugee situation from a very personal viewpoint. 

My Friend Dahmer - out May 31
Director: Russ Meyer
Length: 107 min
© Madman  - creepy kid! The genesis of
a serial killer, but not without compassion
Jeffrey Dahmer was infamous for murdering 17 men and boys in mid-west America between 1978 and 1991. This slow-burn, compellingly creepy film traces the young Dahmer (Ross Lynch) through his final high school year, giving a possible insight into what drove the guy to become the biggest serial killer since Jack the Ripper. The film isn't about the crimes (you can read all about them on the net), but about his odd friendship with a group of boys who became intrigued by the weird behaviour of this introverted and socially isolated kid. One of his friends, John Backderf, eventually created a graphic novel in 2012, reflecting upon his experiences with Dahmer. The film is based upon this. It also examines the severely dysfunctional and emotionally neglectful home life of the young teen, begging the question: are "monsters" born or created? Could he have turned out differently with better relationships? The craziness of Dahmer's mother, along with the coldness of his father and the bullying at school, lead one to feel moments of sadness for the boy. All the young men give strong performances as the friends, setting Dahmer up to humiliating antics, while Lynch's powerful performance is chilling. Though the film starts slowly, seeming like a teen flick, it grabs you and progressively shocks and intrigues.
3.5 - well recommended!

Kodachrome - out June 7
Director: Mark Raso
Length: 105 min
© Icon - plumbs the father/son dynamic
World-famous photographer Ben (Ed Harris) is dying. His nurse Zooey (Elizabeth Olsen) contacts Ben's estranged son, record-producer Matt (Jason Sudeikis) with an odd request. Ben wants to develop four rolls of film from years back, and the only place in the country that still develops Kodachrome film is in far-flung Kansas. Ben wants Matt to drive him. Yes, in many ways we sense where this is going from the outset, but it is so beautifully scripted and acted, that not a moment feels forced. The grief for a lost time is strongly felt - the idea of photos being actual, versus the "digital dust" of so much of today's electronic world. But the film's real depth lies in the heart-wrenching story of father and son, and whether they can ever bridge the years of resentments and estrangement. With humor, a strong soundtrack, a romance thread, and absolutely truthful top-notch performances from the three leads, this is a powerful and moving film that had me in tears.
4 - highly recommended!

Upgrade - out June 14
Director: Leigh Whannell
Length: 100 min
© Madman - revenge action in a futuristic world
of high tech bio-engineering
Upgrade is set in a futuristic world where computers control just about everything. Grey Trace (Logan Marshall Green) and his wife are victims of a street mugging. His wife is killed and Trace is left a quadriplegic. Unexpectedly he is approached by a mysterious young billionaire who suggests he could have a spinal implant that could "upgrade" him and restore his function. When a computer chip called STEM is inserted in his spine, Trace discovers that he is perhaps no longer boss of his own being. I love an imaginative sci-fi, and although this one is in parts derivative of other sci-fis, it works quite well as a cross-genre thriller with themes of futuristic bio-engineering and driverless cars, along with revenge, madness and devious conspiracies. Though at times violent, it doesn't take itself totally seriously and is good entertainment for fans of the genre.
3 - recommended!

Ideal Home - out June 21
Director: Andrew Fleming
Length: 91 min
© Icon - just looking at this pic, you know it's going 
to be great fun.
You gotta love Paul Rudd and Steve Coogan playing long-term live-in lovers, who hold wonderful extravagant dinner parties and bicker constantly. Paul (Rudd) is a TV director and Erasmus (Coogan) a flamboyant chef who hosts cooking shows and has a massive ego. (Coogan does ego really well.) When Erasmus's hitherto unknown grandson, Bill (Jack Gore), turns up on the doorstep, a new take on the idea of family is born. I love the way I loathed the kid at the start, then gradually softened. This is Coogan at his best, with Rudd a perfect foil as the long-suffering partner. The script is witty, replete with self-deprecating satire, one-liners, terrific dialogue and laugh-out-loud moments. It's true entertainment - touching and heaps of fun.
4 - highly recommended!

Foxtrot -  - out June 21
Director: Samuel Maoz
Length: 114 min
© Sony Pictures Classics - heartrending tale of loss, 
peppered with moments of humour
Tel Aviv couple Michael (Lior Ashkenazi) and Dafna (Sarah Adler) have the worst possible news delivered: their son Jonathan has been killed in the line of army duty. Both go into a spiral of grief. To say anything more plot-wise would be to say too much. Suffice to say this is award-winning film-making which scooped the pool at the Israeli Ophir awards, and justifiably so. Gut-wrenching drama combines with black humour about life in the Israeli army, while remarking upon upon the futility of war and the hypocrisy of those in charge. The cinematography is masterful and quite creative, and performances uniformly splendid. The film takes you upon a roller coaster journey, juggling time frames and leading to a bizarre twist of fate that bookends the whole movie.
4 - highly recommended!

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

May 17

A very light-on week from me, after a lot of movie overload. But the one I have reviewed is a beauty! It's Aussie genre film-making at its best and is definitely worth seeing. 

Director: Yolanda Ramking & Ben Howling
Length: 105 min
© Transmission - A post-apocalyptic world creates 
a possible opportunity for reconciliation 
between white and black. 
In a post-apocalyptic Australia, father Andy (Martin Freeman), and his wife Kay (Susie Porter) are holed up on a riverboat, with their baby daughter Rosie. The goal is to survive and evade the "virals", people who have been infected with a zombie-like virus, and roam the land in search of meat. When Andy becomes the sole carer of Rosie, he is desperate to get her to safety. He meets Thoomi (Simone Landers), an Indigenous girl who is searching for the Cleverman (David Gulpillil), to save the soul of her infected father. Implications are that maybe only the Indigenous people are capable of surviving the curse that has ravaged the country. Before you wail "oh no, not another zombie movie", let me say this is one of the best pieces of genre film-making I've seen in a long time. It cleverly creates the sense of fear and dread from the outset, then gradually weaves in Indigenous themes, challenging the audience to consider the whole question of black versus white society, tradition vs modernity, and possibly the idea that the "virals" are  a metaphor for dire problems within Australian society. Perhaps they are even punishment for white treatment of black Australia. The stunning and austere South Australian landscape used to splendid effect. Performances from Freeman, Landers, and Anthony Hayes as Vic, a not-so-nice survivor, are uniformly strong. Tension never lets up, but the whole is tempered with deep compassion and an ultimately very moving denouement. 
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended!

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

May 10
American Essentials Film Festival
On Body and Soul
Midnight Oil: 1984

I lead off this week with a festival that I simply love every year. It's a great opportunity to catch the best of US indie film making, and this year music figures strongly. Keeping to the theme, I also review an Aussie doco on "the Oils" so it's a treat for music lovers. Also a couple of strong feature films. 

American Essentials Film Festival
Melbourne May 10-20
Palace Kino, Astor

This festival is among my favourites. It always reaffirms my faith in the American film industry, as being something far greater than the usual highly promoted, stereotyped mainstream offerings, featuring comic heroes, ditzy girls, and all manner of sloppily written scripts (which is not to say there aren't some great mainstream films.) But here are films with a sensibility more akin to European arthouse - smart, often understated, low budget, and just the best of independent US film-making. As well as two films from years ago, focussing upon the LA Afro-American community, there are also three old classics: Chinatown, Heat and Shampoo. 

How They Got Over

Oh the joy!! so many wonderful films about music, 
black culture and so much more in this splendid
I love music documentaries. Here the director traces the origins of African-American gospel groups, especially the quartets. There are interviews with now aging or dead members of the groups, along with some very rare archival footage. The sound that became so popular on the so-called "chittlin circuit" of the 1930s and 40s was a precursor to the early rock n roll, soul and RnB sound. Those individuals, like Sam Cooke, who escaped the gospel groups and went over to the the "dark side" - namely pop music - were the ones who "got over". The harmonies and finger-clicking rhythms are mesmerising. making this a music lovers' must-see movie.  

Outside In
Indie director Lynn Shelton has co-written this story with her lead actor, Jay Duplass. It is the story of Chris (Duplass) who has just got out of jail serving 20 years for a crime he didn't commit. He re-connects with his old high school teacher Carol (Edie Falco) who was instrumental in fighting for his release. Lost and unsure of his place in the world. Chris develops an intense bond with Carol. This is subtle and moving story-telling with strong lead performances and a theme that is as challenging as it is compassionate. 

Humour Me
Nate, impressively played byFlight of the Conchord's Jemaine Clement, is a writer in crisis - his latest work is getting nowhere, and his wife has decided to leave him taking their young child. With nowhere to go except his father's home in a retirement village, Nate feels his life has lost all purpose. But when he is co-opted by the residents to produce a version of The Mikado, things look up. Elliot Gould as the incessant joke-telling father, Bob, is a terrific foil for Clement, and all the other "oldies" play their parts with alacrity. Although the story is reasonably predictable it's told with affection, humour, and a goodly dose of pathos.

Killer of Sheep
Made in 1978, this film won a major festival prize three years later. Made in gritty black and white, it is a searing insight into Afro-American life in Watts, a poor suburb of LA in the 70s. It's possibly as authentic a vision of black life in that era as you've ever seen on screen. Stan works in a slaughterhouse, and becomes increasingly jaded with his work and his family. Intellectual critics (unlike moi)  liken it to Italian neorealistic cinema. Not a lot happens - it's more a series of vignettes of the monotony of daily life and the emotions and relationships of the characters. (If you're squeamish about abbatoirs, beware!)

The Los Angeles suburb of Watts was the scene of violent rioting in the mid 1960s. Seven years later, Stax Records put on a concert, and this is the footage of that concert, along with a vision of the era in which the "black is beautiful" movement had its upsurge. Again, it is a rare view into black culture and black music of the era, and fans of 70s rock, soul and blues can hear some mighty fine music. 

The stage musical of the same name has been turned into a film, about six strangers trapped in a temporarily stalled train in the New York subway. There's the homeless man, an America-Korean ballet dancer, a young artist who seems to be stalking the dancer, a young black woman, an illegal Mexican labourer and an older white woman. Gradually their life stories are revealed, through dialogue and songs. It's a salutary lesson on not judging books by their covers. The songs are seriously good both musically and lyrically and the number of weighty themes that are covered in a 90 minute film are surprising. This is a treat for lovers of a thought-provoking musical, and features a stand-out performance by Giancarlo Esposito as the homeless man. 

Pet Names
This is a bitter-sweet drama/comedy about Leigh, a young woman who has dropped out of college to care for her dying mother. Needing a break, and having no-one to accompany her on a short camping trip, she invites Cam, her ex boyfriend along. This could sound hackneyed, but it is anything but. The acting is compelling, the characters feel absolutely real, and as an audience we feel deeply for them all. The film features stunning cinematography which pays homage to the beauty of American national parks.  

American Folk
Two real-life folk singers Joe Purdy and Amber Rubarth portray Elliott and Joni who are on a plane which is turned back to LA after the 9/11 attacks. In a desperate effort to get back to New York for their various commitments, they get into an old van and head off cross-country. En route they meet a variety of eccentric folk, get to know each other and sing up a storm. Nothing highly dramatic happens, but fortunately also nothing very predictable - just some splendid big country scenery, a gentle plot, and a lot of songs that pay tribute to the fine old tradition of folk.
4.5 - American Essentials Film Festival  is wholeheartedly recommended!

Director: John Curran
Length: 101 min
© Transmission - terrific look at yet another 
tragedy for the ill-fated Kennedy family
Senator 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). Kennedy failed to report the crime for nine hours, leading to cover-ups, lies and a media feeding frenzy. 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 portrayal of Kennedy is of a man who felt he lived in the shadow of his brothers, and was treated as a disappointment by his father (an excellent Bruce Dern). It's a smart performance from Clarke, as the senator lurches from evoking the audience's sympathy, through to their contempt. This is yet another intriguing look into past political scandals, with resonance, as always, for current times. 
4 - highly recommended!

On Body and Soul
Director: Ildiko Enyedi
Length: 116 min
© Paricheh  - about as unusual a romance as 
I've seen in a long time
This beautiful and strikingly unusual Hungarian film won three major prizes at the Berlin Film Festival last year. Introverted Enre is the administrative head at an abattoir in Budapest. When socially awkward Marika comes to work as a quality controller, the two discover, unbelievably, that each night they share the same dream. One is a stag, the other a doe, sharing life in a snow-bound forest. The revelation leads them to attempt to connect, but life is not always as easy as dreams. The dramatic, disturbing juxtaposition of the brutal slaughter scenes, with the delicate naivete of the shy couple is confronting. Somehow it works as a strange metaphor for the polarities and contradictions of life. One can't help but compare human disconnect from the animals so  heartlessly butchered, with the disconnect in relationships. While not totally comprehensible, this is an intriguing romance with exquisite attention to detail in the cinematography. (A word of warning: here's another film depicting animals going to the slaughter, so not for everyone!) 
4 - highly recommended!

Midnight Oil: 1984
Director: Ray Argall
Length: 90 min
© Madman - love 'em or hate 'em, it's a great doco
about an iconic band and an invigorating time
in Australian politics
In 1984 rock band Midnight Oil embarked upon a national tour to launch their new album. The band already had strong support since the late 70s, their music giving a voice to issues of concern to young fans: indigenous problems along with environmental and nuclear threats. At the same time an emerging political group, The Nuclear Disarmament Party, approached the Oils' lead singer Peter Garrett to head up their election campaign. Footage never seen before from the '84 concert tour is mixed with insightful commentary from band members in the present day. They reminisce on the band's history, their commitment to issues within their music, and how Garrett's role as a potential politician nearly brought them to a premature end. There are megawatts of high voltage energy in the film, great music, and a fascinating reflection upon an era which changed much of Australia's political landscape, as young people energised themselves to get involved with the world around them.
3.5 - well recommended!

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

May 3
One more for Spanish FF - Mist and the Maiden

I've seen two stunning new Aussie releases, both coming up with a big wholehearted recommendation from me. And don't forget, you can still catch a few more days of top Spanish film at the Festival.  

Director: Simon Baker
Length: 128 min
© Roadshow - Tim Winton's book has been
adapted to a hauntingly beautiful film
Pikelet (Samson Coulter) and Loonie (Ben Spence) are two teenage boys growing up in a remote corner of the West Australian coast in the mid 1970s. When, by chance, they meet mysterious former professional surfer Sando (Simon Baker), he takes them under his wing and introduces them to surfing. They hang out at Sando's home where his mysterious wife Eva (Elizabeth Debicki) captures the attention of Pikelet. This haunting adaptation of Tim Winton's book is thematically rich, visually magnificent, and a tour de force of film-making. The two lead boys, chosen first for their surfing ability, and then taught to act, are impressive in their roles as boys on the cusp of early manhoood. Loonie comes from an unstable background, reflected in his incessant flirting with danger. Pikelet's household, headed up by Richard Roxburgh and Rachael Blake as Mum and Dad Pike, reflects an earlier, more innocent age of solid family values that their gentle son is just starting to pull away from. Sando and his exotic wife are totally unfamiliar and enticing to the boys. Baker and Debicki maintain the sense of mystery and allure that surround them. A combination of surfing spectacle, homage to the ocean, coming-of-age story, reflections upon what it means to be a man, the film is made all the more powerful by a magnificent musical score and thrilling ocean and underwater cinematography. 
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended!

Director: Paul Williams
Length: 96 min
© Madman - a documentary all Australians
should see. 
Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu died in July 2017. He was Australia's first internationally acclaimed solo Indigenous singer, and was blind from birth. This extraordinarily insightful and beautiful doco traces Gurrumul's life and tribal origins, his rise to fame along with the incredible dedication of his musical collaborator Michael Hohnen in supporting the artist in both his musical career and personal life. Because the singer straddled two worlds, the filmmaker thought it critical that he also give audiences a deep insight into the world from which Gurrumul came - the Yolgnu people living up on Elcho Island north of Darwin. So the film moves, seamlessly, between scenes of the life, the traditions, the music and chants that the singer grew up with, and a chronology of his musical rise to world fame. We get a true sense of the complexity and intense talent of Gurrumul, as well as an understanding of the depth of culture and the ancient history of  his people, their music and language, which of course informed the artists work. The depth of emotion the film generates is surprising, and even those who are unfamiliar with Gurrumul's work should be enchanted and maybe even transformed by his inspiring story. 
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended!

Spanish Film Festival
Sunday May 6 sees the close of the Spanish Film Festival in Melbourne. I've manged to shoehorn one more film into my crazy viewing schedule and for fans of thrillers, this could be a worthwhile watch. (Screening Westgarth and Como on Sunday May 6). 
Mist and the Maiden: This taut thriller is set on the Canary Islands (something different!) and features a complex plot involving a body, a politician who is exonerated for the murder, an underage sexual relationship caught on video, and a bunch of earnest cops. The film features great scenery, moves along at a cracking pace, and fortunately avoids the sort of cliches common in so many mainstream films. For me the convolutions became a bit intense at the end (remembering I'm a thriller plot-klutz!), nevertheless I found myself suitably impressed and entertained. 

For more details of the last few nights of the 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