Friday, 28 September 2018

September 27th
McKellen: playing the Part
Custody
Jirga
Don't Worry, He won't Get Far on Foot

Four strong and interesting films are reviewed this week. Prepare to be inspired by Ian McKellen and John Callahan, and disturbed by the confronting situations in the other two. 


McKellen: Playing the Part
Director: Joe Stephenson 
Length: 92 min
© Icon - a delight to spend time with one of 
the world's greatest actors

Ian McKellen is possibly one of the world's most talented and best-known living actors. In this fabulously insightful doco he sits casually in a chair and talks of his life, from early childhood love of theatre and his many Shakespearean roles, to how his career segued unexpectedly into film. Now he is almost a household name as Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, and Magneto in the X-Men series. In an era when sexuality was a no-go topic, he grappled with being gay, and talks here of the difficulties in coming out late in his life. Many impressive archival clips are shown from his early stage performances, along with photos from family albums, material from childhood diaries - a treasure trove of material to give an intimate portrait of a fascinating life. McKellen is such a raconteur, and so self-effacingly honest, that every anecdote becomes a treat to listen to. Re-enactment of the past employs other actors as the child, and the young Ian. McKellen is so engaging and mesmerising, one can't help but feel privileged to get to know better the man behind the public face.
4 - highly recommended!

Custody
Director: Xavier Legrand
Length: 93 min
© Palace - kids are so often the victim of
bitter divorces. Gripping and heart-breaking
Miriam (Lea Drucker) and Antoine (Denis Menochet) are separated and fighting over custody arrangements for their 11-year-old son Julien (Thomas Gloria.) The boy petitions the court, asking not to be forced to see his father who he claims is threatening to his mother. Antoine presents as a decent upstanding man who cares for his son and the judge rules against Julien. This is visceral and realistic drama at its most powerful and harrowing. While initially there is uncertainly as to where the truth lies, all is gradually revealed. What starts relatively peacefully, with even a modicum of optimism, gradually builds up to a tense and absolutely fraught situation. The director never flinches from depicting the anxiety and trauma that the child and his mother must go through, while the stress for grandparents in such situations is also examined. Performances from the three leads, especially young Gloria, are remarkable, but for anyone who has been through this, watching may be almost unbearable.
4 - highly recommended!

Jirga
Director: Benjamin Gilmour
Length: 78 min
© Felix Media - most unusual tale of a 
man seeking redemption for a war crime
Filmmaker, author and paramedic Benjamin Gilmour has made a film inspired by his working and travelling through the northern Pashtun area of Afghanistan. Mike (Sam Smith), former Aussie soldier returns to Afghanistan to say sorry to the family of a civilian he killed during the war. (Apparently some soldiers have returned to that country to try to assuage their guilt by helping locals to rebuild.) After persuading a reluctant taxi-driver to take him to Kandahar, Mike is kidnapped by Taliban who cannot understand what this man is doing in their country. Gilmour claims he made the film to try to dispel stereotypes of Islamic terrorists, but I'm not sure this will do the trick!  The film does however shed light on the lives of ordinary Afghanis, and also shows the Taliban to have some shreds of humanity. Shooting under trying conditions in Afghanistan, with minimal budget, Gilmour has made a film that is starkly beautiful, and should certainly open western eyes to a side of that land other than war. Also notable is the lovely soundtrack, along with a wonderful episode in which the taxi driver and Mike use music and simply food to communicate with no formal language. It's an unusual film, which captures the imagination and adds to the body of film that furthers the cause of peace in the world.
3 - recommended!

Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot
Director: Gus van Sant
Length: 113 min

© Transmission - one of the greatest 
performances of Phoenix's career
John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix) is a hard-partying slacker and alcoholic. After a day of binge-drinking with just-met Dexter (Jack Black), he is involved in a car crash which renders him virtually quadriplegic. After intensive rehab, where he meets his girlfriend Annu (Rooney Mara), he joins an AA meeting, run by rich, charismatic Danny (Jonah Hill). Amazingly he discovers an ability to draw, creating edgy, biting and often politically incorrect cartoons (think politics, disability, religion) which bring him a new lease on life and fame in his home town of Portland Oregon. This biopic, based on the true story of Callahan, is a showcase for the best performances I've seen from both Phoenix and Hill, both even looking nothing like their usual selves. They totally inhabit their characters in a way that makes me forget they are acting. Despite being a tough tale, there is plenty of humour, along with a spot of soul-searching and pathos. The story is remarkably engaging from go to whoa, and to witness a person transform from drop-kick to inspirational makes for great movie going. PS: If you're contemplating drinking and driving, this could be a big deterrent!
4 - highly recommended!



Thursday, 20 September 2018

September 20th

Ladies in Black
Searching
The House with a Clock in its Walls
More from the Lavazza Italian Film Festival

My numero uno pick this week is the joyous new Aussie film Ladies in Black, while the family drama There's no Place Like home from the Italian Film Festival comes in a strong contender. 

Searching
Director: John M Chu
Length: 120 min
© Sony - tense thriller shot totally through the 
digital medium perspective
David Kim (John Cho) is thrust into a father's worst nightmare. First his beloved wife dies, leaving him to protectively raise his only child Margot, (Michelle La).  At age 16, one seemingly usual day,  she suddenly disappears. David flies into digital-overdrive, using Margot's computer to search every social media site and  navigation record to trace her contacts and movements. Detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing) is also firmly on the missing persons trail alongside him. This is impressively novel film-making, as almost every shot tells the story as seen through the filter of a phone screen, a computer interface, or a surveillance camera. This provides the viewer with copious information to scour and compute as you sit watching the big screen, making for a challenging and tense cinema experience. Some good unexpected twists emerge towards the end, although the ultimate resolution is a bit sudden for my taste. Overall, however, this should nicely fit the bill when you require a good thriller. 
3.5 - well recommended!

Ladies in Black
Director: Bruce Beresford
Length: 105 min
© Sony - I enjoyed every moment of this 
glorious retro look at a bygone Australia
Sydney 1955: Schoolgirl Lisa (Angourie Rice) heads to Goodes department store for a casual pre-Christmas job, while awaiting her Leaving Certificate results. There she joins the team working in the frock department alongside Fay (Rachel Taylor), Patty (Alison McGirr) and the newly arrived Hungarian refugee Magda (Julia Ormond), who handles the up-market "gowns" section. Let's forget telling you more of the plot - more important to know that this is a gloriously executed vision of a long-gone era in Australia when shop service truly existed, life seemed simpler, and many women had aspirations only for marriage and family (urk!!), while fathers sure didn't want their girls to go to university. Lisa has greater aspirations, encouraged by her loving mother (Susie Porter), and discouraged by gambling, drinking father (Shane Jacobson.) But it is Magda, magnificently played by Julia Ormond, who truly opens Lisa's eyes to what could be. The post-war refugee community brings exciting and unfamiliar things to staid Aussie society, and we get a sense of the possibilities that Australia had to offer immigrants back then. The whole story unfolds in a captivating way, with ravishing sets and memorable performances by the entire cast. More European style and attitude come in the form of Magda's husband Stefan (Vincent Perez) and their suave young Hungarian friend Rudi (Ryan Corr). It's a long time since I've consciously enjoyed every moment of a film so thoroughly.
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended!

The House with a Clock in its Walls
Director: Eli Roth
Length: 104 min
© EOne Entertainment - good-looking, oddball 
black comedy/mystery
Orphan Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) is sent to live with his uncle Jonathan (Jack Black), an eccentric and loud man who lives in a creepy old mansion. Neighbour Mrs Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) is a constant visitor, and Lewis soon learns that the two are no ordinary humans, but have magical powers. Together the three try to solve an ongoing mystery - where is the clock that makes the endless and infuriating ticking in the walls? They soon discover that the clock has a far darker purpose than to simply annoy, and as evil characters from the past re-emerge, life becomes literally a race against time. This is an odd little story, based upon a youngster's novel written in 1973, but set in post-war 1950s. Although it is no Harry Potter, it is definitely a good-looking film with excellent set design, and three winning performances. Blanchett is, as always, totally in command of her character, fans of the zany Jack Black will not be disappointed, and newcomer Vaccaro brings a young eccentricity to his Lewis. I'm not quite sure what age-group will go for this - too scary for tiny kids, but too juvenile for the older set.  
2.5 - maybe, (recommended for fans of Blanchett and Black)!

More from . . . the Italian Film Festival
Until Oct 7 in Melbourne - other states, other dates
www.italianfilmfestival.com.au
© Italian Film Festival - families - can't
live with them, or without! 
Yes, the festival is in full swing, and I'm having a good time catching more wonderful films!
There's No Place Like Home: This gorgeous family drama from Gabriele Muccino is my top pick - so far. An extended family comes together to celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary, taking place upon a little island that must be reached by ferry. After an emotional church ceremony and joyous lunch, everyone is supposed to return home, but the weather turns ugly and the entire mob are forced to stay over. Gradually things turn tense - old issues, conflicts and resentments begin to surface, along with new emerging dramas and a couple of embryonic love affairs. This is an ensemble piece at its best, with royalty of Italian cinema, like Pierfrancesco Favino, Stefano Accorsi and Valerio Solarino notable in the impressive cast. The story delicately balances the burgeoning dramas with occasional lighter moments, but it is the truthfulness and authentic feel that really impresses me. Sometimes watershed moments are reached in life, and director Muccino and his cast manage to capture all the conflicting feelings beautifully, reminding us that extended families and relationships, while wonderful, are fraught beasts, needing nurturing and occasional painful honesty. 
Daughter of Mine: Shy ten-year-old Vittoria (Sara Casu) lives with her parents on the island of Sardinia. At the local rodeo she meets Angelica (Alba Rohrwacher), who lives a promiscuous, rough, hard-drinking life and is about to be evicted from her home. Over-protected by her mother Tina (Valeria Golino), Vittoria is drawn to the free-spiritedness of Angelica, and the bond they form will have upsetting revelations and outcomes for all involved. This film is a showcase for three intensely powerful performances from the three actresses, especially young Casu who is a revelation. While having moments that don't always feel totally credible, the film explores important issues of what motherhood and family bonds means.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

September 13th
Christopher Robin
Beast
Three Identical Strangers
A Simple Favour
America's Musical Journey
Czech and Slovak Film Festival
Italian Film Festival


Again a ludicrous number of new offerings roll onto our screens this week. From psychological drama, to lightweight mystery, childhood nostalgia, top-notch documentary  and musical history, there is plenty to choose from. Oh, and don't forget the two Festivals. 

Christopher Robin
Director: Marc Forster
Length: 104 min
© Disney - a man and his bear are 
friends for life
Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) is all grown up, married with a wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and daughter Madeline. He has lost all of the imagination he had as a child and works in a stuffy job for a luggage company. His devotion to work leads him to neglect his family. When he is unexpectedly reunited with his childhood friend Pooh, Christopher starts to reassess his life. Confession time: I am a Winnie the Pooh tragic, having been raised on the stories of the magical stuffed animals in the Hundred Acre Wood. So how could I not love this film. Despite my inbuilt bias, I find it extremely well executed. The blending of computer-generated furry characters (pleasingly more true to the original Shepherd drawings than the cartoon characters) with real actors is seamlessly effected, while the story is touching, with a few home truths about losing touch with childhood innocence and succumbing to the big bad adult world of corporate greed. The sense of the original A A Milne stories and characters is kept, the animal characters are a delight, and there is a nostalgic innocence and sweetness that should really hit the spot for viewers of many ages.
3.5 - well recommended!

Beast
Director: Michael Pearce
Length: 107 min
© Icon - gripping stuff leaving you guessing 
till the very end. 
On the island of Jersey Moll (Jessie Buckley) feels stifled by her upper class, overly protective family, especially her mother (Geraldine James). When she meets rough outsider and tradesman Pascal (Johnny Flynn) she falls heavily for him, feeling she can at last breathe and be herself. But then a series of murders occur on the island and Pascal becomes a suspect. How Moll and Pascal react is, in a sense, the pivot point of the film. One gradually begins to ask just who is the "beast" in this odd love pairing? This is nuanced and chilling stuff featuring startling performances from the two leads, especially Buckley who plays Moll in a dramatic arc from shy and retiring, to an unhinged force to be reckoned with. The scripting is tight and smart - never giving away too much, always leaving us guessing and not revealing some crucial background about Moll until late in the film. The little critic group with whom I previewed the film came out debating and mulling it all over - always a good sign that a thriller has done its job really well.
4 - highly recommended!

Three Identical Strangers
Director: Tim Wardle
Length: 96 min
Exclusive to Cinema Nova
© Nova - truth is way stranger than fiction 
in this astonishing documentary!
On his first day at college back in 1980, Bobby Galland found himself constantly mistaken for someone called Eddy Shafran. Upon contacting Eddy, Bobby discovered they were in fact twins separated at birth and adopted out. Then the unthinkable happened - a third sibling, David Kellman, was discovered, and a media circus erupted. The less you know from here the better; suffice to say the remarkable story is true, and, while there is much joy in the tale, there is a deeply disturbing dark side to the origins of these extraordinary events. What is revealed has enduring implications not just for the triplets, but for other twins who were also adopted at birth. The doco is riveting from go to whoa, with a mix of the brothers and their adoptive families speaking to camera today, along with amazing archival footage, especially from TV shows which featured the boys when the news broke. Psychological theory abounds, with experts speaking out about the old chestnut of "nature versus nurture". A simply wonderful and revelatory documentary.
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended!

A Simple Favour
Director: Paul Feig
Length: 116 min
© Roadshow - school moms - unlikely friends - 
twists and turns and a really convoluted plot
Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) is a "mommy blogger" who video-blogs with recipes, home hints and more. When her new best friend, the sexy mysterious  Emily (Blake Lively) asks Steph to pick up her son from school, she is only too happy to help. But that's the last she sees of Emily.  Steph and Emily's husband Sean (Henry Golding) team up to try to discover what has happened. As the "truth" emerges it seems things are much more complicated that they appear. The film is based upon the sort of novel usually seen as a B-grade pot-boiler, and your enjoyment will probably totally depend upon whether you go for this sort of thing. There are more twists and turns than a bag of snakes, and some of the revelations are as hackneyed as you can get in this sort of comedy-thriller. But the two female leads do their thing really well, and Kendricks, with her oddball mix of elfin naivete and wacky comedy is perfect in the role. Overall it's fun, but forgettable.   
2.5 - maybe!

America's Musical Journey
Director: Greg MacGillivray
Length: 45 min
Exclusive to IMAX
© Imax  - a Chicago flash mob dance to Blacc's music
The ubiquitous Morgan Freeman returns to do voice-over for the journey of singer/songwriter Aloe Blacc, who travels to iconic cities in the USA where different genres of music had their origins. We learn of the birth of jazz in New Orleans, blues in the deep south then Chicago, country music in Nashville, and are taken on fleeting visits to Miami, New York and a few other places. Though tantalising, what exactly we can glean in a mere 45 minutes, is miniscule. If I were a child getting my first overview of the history of American music I would no doubt be thrilled with this - as an adult I am frustrated - I WANT MORE!! This would be a great trailer for a 10 or even 20-part series on the topic. Nevertheless there is enjoyment to be had: seeing cities I've visited, watching Elvis gyrate on the IMAX screen, enjoying a flash mob dancing up a storm in Chicago, and simply reflecting upon the vast legacy of musical styles that have emanated from the rich mix of immigrants to the USA.
2.5 - maybe!

Lavazza Italian Film Festival

Melbourne Sept 13-Oct 7
Palace Cinemas
For dates in other states, bookings and timetables visit www.italianfilmfestival.com.au

This festival is always a highlight of the film calendar and this year is no exception with 37 feature films and docos, including 30 Australian premieres. There is also a spotlight on Turkish/Italian director Ferzan Ozpetek, who directed one of my all-time favourite films, Facing Windows which you can catch at the festival.
I've previewed three films from the festival.
Boys Cry: A tense, dark film about two teenage friends who are involved in a hit-and-run accident. This leads them to involvement with Rome's underworld, with its life of questionable morals.
Put Nonna in the Freezer: A lively comedy in which granddaughter Claudia lives off her grandma's pension, so when the old gal dies, Claudia sees fit to freeze her until finances improve. When an overly zealous tax collector turns up, things get hairy. This is zany light-hearted fun.
Euphoria: An emotional drama about two very different brothers who come back together when one is taken ill. It features stunning performances from Riccardo Scamarcio and Valerio Mastandrea. 

Czech & Slovak Film Festival
Melbourne Sept 12-26
ACMI 
For bookings and timetables visit www.casffa.com.au
© CaSFFA - Domestique is a truly chilling 
psychological drama
CaSFFA turns 6 this year with a fine selection of films from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and a sidebar of Hungarian films. A few classics are in the mix including Ecstasy from 1933 and The Firemen's Ball from 1969. A standout from the festival is the drama Domestique. Be warned - it's not for the faint-hearted. 
Domestique
Dir: Adam Sedlak
Length: 116 min
Roman is a cyclist desperate to be in the big league. He devotes his time to training and embracing increasingly risky measures to becomes top of his game. His wife Sarlota is hell-bent upon falling pregnant, and similarly devotes herself to what she sees as the best regimen to achieve the result. As each of them becomes more obsessed and single-minded, things become progressively stressed in the household. This could almost be funny if it weren't so horrific - there are elements of body horror, and self-destruction that become really hard to watch. Set almost entirely in their claustrophobic apartment, the film is wonderfully shot and edited, and is a psychological drama that will really make you question whether the results are worth the pain. 
Bear With Us: A sweet-natured ensemble comedy about a couple who are about to sell the holiday cottage which they no longer visit. Before finalising the deal they decide to gather the family together for one last time. Gramps has Alzheimers, Gran is a battle-axe, and the couples kids are both going through relationship crises. This is amusing and slightly familiar fare about what happens when families get together, warts and all. But the European sensibility, in its lovely forested setting, gives it a gentle and quirky edge.  

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

September 6th
Juliet Naked
McQueen
The Merger
Wayne
The Miseducation of Cameron Post
You Were Never Really Here
Hearts Beat Loud


Really???!!! Seven new films reviewed today, and even more released. It all seems a little insane to me. We barely get time to digest what we've seen, mull over it and savour it, before we are racing off to see the next one. Well, that's how I feel about this over-abundance of new films. But, as always, there are several gems here, and the rest mostly reasonably worthy. If you're ever wondering why I rarely give lousy reviews, it's that I pre-select what I go off to preview. If a film sounds ghastly I ask the question - "why waste two hours of my life on that?" If I'm proven wrong and colleagues tell me it's wonderful, then I can catch it later. 


Juliet, Naked
Director: Jesse Peretz
Length: 98 min
Exclusive to Cinema Nova
© Roadshow - Rose Byrne and Ethan Hawke light up 
the screen as the rock star who isn't quite what we
imagine, and a woman who discovers this.
Annie (Rose Byrne) has lived for 15 years with college lecturer Duncan (Chris O'Dowd). Trouble is, Duncan is egocentric, boring and obsessively runs a fan website for a singer Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke) who made one record 25 years ago then disappeared. When a demo tape comes to light and Annie writes a scathing review on Duncan's site, the real Crowe makes contact with her, and unexpected connections ensue. This film is charming, warm, funny and has a big heart, as is often the case with stories adapted from Nick Hornby novels. Sure, there are predictable elements but the characters feel authentic, with Annie and Tucker delivering dialogue that is light, touching and funny, and actually feels like real, with both characters looking for a second chance in life. O'Dowd is a hoot as the pretentious academic/crazed fan, and the three leads elevate the story to something special. The soundtrack is a winner, as is the performance of Azhy Robertson, as the youngest of Tucker's  many kids. Some critics have been cruel, but I loved this.
4 - highly recommended!


McQueen
Director: Ian Bonhote
Length: 111 min
© Madman - genius
designer Alexander
McQueen
Lee Alexander McQueen was born in working class London, with family expectations that he'd become a tradie. He grew up to be one of the most influential artists and fashion designers of the early nineties until his tragic suicide in 2010. I'm not interested in the world of fashion per se, but this man's creative genius goes beyond the idea of fashion as clothing, to fashion as art statement. He uses the body as a base for his incredible sculptures. This wonderful doco uses rare footage of his life, interviews with family and friends to give an insight into the world of this energetic but troubled man, from his work with the houses of Givenchy, to Gucchi, as well as his own unique fashion label.  McQueen's inner demons and quirks led him to shock audiences with outrageous runway displays. The brilliance of the garments leaps off the screen and definitely should be seen on as large a screen as possible, while Michael Nyman's haunting music simply adds to the overall impact of the tragic genius.
4 - highly recommended!

The Merger
Director: Mark Grentell
Length: 98 min
©Umbrella - Bodgy Creek footy team 
enlists local refugees to swell 
the ranks.
Hot from its world premiere at MIFF, The Merger features truckloads of Aussie humour, country-town dagginess and good-hearted, not so subtle messages.  Screenwriter Damian Callinan, who toured this as a stage production, plays Troy Carrington, ex-footballer who is unpopular in the town of Bodgy Creek, because of his environmentalist views. When the failing local footy team, the Roosters, faces being merged, Troy is talked into coaching them. But they need more players and he recruits a group of local refugees to get into the action. This is a warm-hearted Aussie comedy, mixing archetypical Australian-ness with relevant themes of refugees, racism, (and of course a dollop of romance). For authenticity, part of the film was shot in Wagga, which has a strong refugee community. Comedy stalwart John Howard features as club president Bull Barlow, along with a winning turn by Rafferty Grierson, as Bull's precocious grandson, who wanders round in a chicken suit making a home video of Troy and the club's efforts. This is a winner, which should put a smile on everyone's face!
3.5 - well recommended!

Wayne
Director: Jeremy Sims
Length: 97 min
© Transmission - the larrikin from 
"the 'gong" dominated motor 
cycle racing
Wayne Gardner was born in the working class NSW town of Wollongong. Never much for school, he hung out riding dirt bikes and getting a taste for speed and adventure. After buying his first trail bike for $5, there was no looking back. The young boy went from strength to strength, riding in motorcycle races, and ending up the first Aussie to win the World Motorcycle Grand Prix.  I love a good doco about a battler who becomes a legend - and this sure fits the bill.  You don't need to have much interest in motorcycle racing to get a lot out of this film, but if you love the sound, fury and daredevilry of the sport, you'll have a major ball. With many interviews of Wayne today, along with his old arch-rivals, his girlfriend Donna and a heap of excellent archival footage, the film successfully balances the present with the past, and showcases the legacy this bloke has left for his beloved sport. Good-old fashioned love and devotion also feature in the high-profile role girlfriend Donna played, back in the golden age of the sport.
3.5 - well recommended!

The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Director: Desiree Akhavan
Length: 91 min
© Rialto - three teens forced into "gay 
conversion therapy" find friendship
Cameron Post (Chloe Grace Moretz) is orphaned at an early age and sent to live with guardians. The narrative starts in her late teens with her at the school prom, being discovered in the back seat of a car with another girl. Her ultra-conservative guardians send her off to a facility called God's Promise, where "sinful" young folk are forced to undergo gay conversion therapy. Though set in the 1990s, it is somewhat timely, as the ghastly practice of trying to "convert" gay youngsters is alive and well, especially in the American bible-bashing belt. The kids are bombarded with bible platitudes, Christian rock music, and self-loathing indoctrination from the camps' leaders, Reverend Rick, himself a "gay convert" and his sister Dr Marsh, creepily played by Jennifer Ehle. The youngsters manage, despite everything to make friendships and find ways to make life bearable. The film is gentle, keeps a modicum of low-key humour,  while the three lead performances of Moretz,  Sasha Lane and Forrest Goodluck are especially strong. The dramatic narrative never really hits great heights, yet there is something uplifting about it all, certainly enough for the film to win the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.
3.5 - well recommended!

You Were Never Really Here
Director: Lyn Ramsay
Length: 89 min
© Umbrella - Phoenix at his best as a
taciturn rescuer of trafficked girls

Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) is ex-Iraqi military, ex-FBI and now a hired gun used mainly for missions to rescue abducted and trafficked girls. The man is an enigma - psychologically tormented with constant suicidal thoughts. We see flashbacks to his own brutalised youth. When he finds perpetrators of heinous crimes he in turn punishes them viciously using a ball hammer. But with his elderly mother he is gentle and loving. Joe is hired by a senator to find his missing daughter Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov). What ensues could be the salvation of both these lonely individuals. I know not everyone likes this genre of film, but it is not a typical hitman film - it's not really about the violence, but about the effects of a life of trauma, and whether humanity can be retained. Phoenix is at his best (Cannes winner of Best Actor), playing the saddest guy I've seen on screen in a long while.The overall production of the film is edgy, tense, beautifully shot and edited, with a driving, almost Morricone-esque soundtrack.  
4 - highly recommended!

Hearts Beat Loud
Director: Jeremy Sims
Length: 97 min
Exclusive to: Classic Elsternwick, Lido Hawthorn, Sun Yarraville
© Sony- father and daughter decide to make
a bit of music together in this sweet-hearted, 
low-key film 

Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman) has decided to close his old-fashioned vinyl record shop. His daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) is leaving for college soon so Frank encourages a few more music jam sessions between them, as a way to stay connected. What emerges from the home studio recordings they make is more than anyone expects. Hopeful musicians should really get something good out of this one. It is very humble in its approach - not a lot happens and it is mostly about the song-writing process (albeit presented in a pretty cursory glossed-over fashion), and about the connection between a widowed father and his beloved talented daughter. It's the sort of film one can pick fault with, but it has so much heart and sweetness to it, plus lovely performances from Clemons and Offerman, that I'm cutting it some slack. Add Toni Collette into the mix as the landlady of the shop, and you've got an amiable, entertaining way to pass time in the cinema.
3 - recommended!

Sunday, 2 September 2018

August 30th

Crazy Rich Asians
The Insult

Having missed my early previews of these two I'm a bit late to press this week. Both are worth catching - both dramatically different, and both well recommended. Meantime, gird your loins for later this week when EIGHT new reviews will be on this site. 

Crazy Rich Asians
Director: John M Chu
Length: 120 min
© Roadshow  - a light-hearted look at the world
of the crazily rich folk of Singapore - with
a few barbs in the tail!
Native born Chinese New Yorker Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) has been dating Nick Young (Henry Golding) for about a year. He invites her to attend his best friend's wedding in Singapore, providing a great opportunity for her to meet his family. Trouble is, he has never told Rachel some key facts about his life, namely he comes from one of Singapore's wealthiest families. Snobbery and cultural expectations from Nick's mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) place enormous pressures on Rachel, not to mention the vindictive rivalry from young women with their sights set on the most eligible bachelor on the island. This film has met with an enthusiastic reception, and it is indeed a dim-sum cartload of fun! Yes there are several heavily stereotyped characters, and the themes of family objection to marrying "below one's station" or out of one's cultural and economic confines are tried and true themes in film. And yes, the outcome is reasonably predictable. However many elements lift this above the usual fare. Firstly the ridiculously over-the-top depiction of filthy rich life is jaw-dropping and very amusing at times, while the lead characters bring something very special to their performances. Wu and Golding are gorgeous romantic leads with strong chemistry, while the veteran of so many martial arts films Yeoh is dignified, elegant and vicious as Nick's mother. Sets are stunning, the plot moves at a cracking pace, and despite some formulaic elements, there are plenty of deeply felt universally compassionate themes. I certainly had maximum enjoyment with this one. 
3.5 - well recommended!

The Insult
Director: Ziad Doueiri
Length: 110 min
© Palace - a salutary lesson in why the ongoing
problems in the Middle East may never
be solved. 
Tony (Adel Karami) is a Lebanese Christian, running a motor mechanic business and expecting his first child with wife Shirine (Rita Hayek). Tony accidentally drips water from his balcony onto local maintenance man Yasser (Kamel el Basha), who is a Palestinian refugee. Yasser makes repairs without permission, and all hell breaks loose. Insults fly, physical violence ensues, and the dispute ends up in court. The battle reignites Palestinian/Christian conflict in Beirut, and it seems the whole country is about to explode. As a nominee for Best Foreign Film at this year's Oscar, The Insult packs a punch in its handling of the seemingly insoluble Middle Eastern problems, seen here in the microcosm of two men's conflicts. As a court drama there is nothing especially new or ground-breaking, but it is the dialogue and ideas offered that stay with me long after the film is over. We see that few arguments are ever black and white and are colored and nuanced by the antagonists' backgrounds and emotional baggage. Performances are uniformly strong, and one would hope that more movies like this may add to the much-hoped for idea of reconciliation between warring factions throughout the world.
3.5 - well recommended!