Wednesday, 24 October 2018

October 25th
Beautiful Boy
Backtrack Boys
Book Week
Ghost Stories
Interview with God

Festivals reviewed in a separate edition:

Jewish International Film Festival
Mini British Film Festival
Iranian Film Festival

It's simply too much to fit into one report this week, so I'll split the main releases and the three festivals into two blogs. Several of this week's films have a strong thread of compassion and humanity running through them. Another great week for movie lovers.

Beautiful Boy
Director: Felix Van Groeningen
Length: 112 min
© Transmission  - a father's love is tested by
an addicted son. 
David Sheff (Steve Carrell) is a devoted, loving father to teenage Nic (Timothee Chalamet). Divorced from Nic's mother David has a new family with two young kids. His closeness to his son is shattered when, at age 18, Nic starts taking drugs, especially meth amphetamines. Both father and son wrote individual memoirs on this heart-breaking period on Nic's life, and the director combines these into one story showing both perspectives. The film depicts a family convinced that love is the only way to battle the problem, but learning that ultimately there is only so much love can do. Critics of this film are dismayed that not enough is shown of Nic's reasons - maybe young kids don't need reasons - they just do the wrong thing, then get hooked. Regardless, this is a fine portrayal of the grief and angst a family must go through with an addicted child. There is much humanity in this family's approach to the ghastly cycle of sobriety and relapse, and the film is underpinned by masterful performances from Chalamet and Carrell. 
4 - highly recommended!

Backtrack Boys
Director: Catherine Scott
Length: 100 min
© Umbrella -  a film with bucket-
loads of humanity and compassion
So many kids in country towns in Australia fall through the legal cracks - they mess up with alcohol, drugs and crime and end up in jail, which only perpetuates their problems. In Armidale, NSW, an easy-going jackaroo Bernie Shakeshaft has set up an organisation called Backtrack, which takes in the troubled boys to be part of his program. Each kid is teamed with a dog and they hit the road taking part in dog-jumping shows. But even better, with Bernie's mentoring and the many program volunteers, the kids start to find their voices, gain self-esteem and hopefully turn their lives around. This doco is seriously inspiring, showing an alternative to the punitive system so often favoured by authorities. Bernie and his helpers manage to bring out an honesty and gentleness in their damaged boys, and the camaraderie between boys and dogs, the kids themselves, and their love for Bernie is strong. To say a film is important can turn people off, but this one is. It's humane, it's beautifully made, the kids are more articulate that one would ever imagine, and it reaches deep into places of compassion in the heart, bringing hope.
4 - highly recommended!

Book Week
Dir: Heath Davis
Length: 98 min
© Bonsai Films - Mr Cutler is almost compellingly
awful - but you can't quite hate him 
High school teacher, Nicholas Cutler (Alan Dukes) is a disgraced novelist on the cusp of a fresh deal. After a publicity tour gone wrong years before, he now has an opportunity, but must behave himself for a week, which happens to coincide with Book Week. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong for this infuriating man, full of his own self importance and treating those around him with disdain. Probably only a teacher could have written this screenplay - it exudes the quiet despair of dissatisfied teachers, and encompasses plot points that will be familiar to those in the profession. Certainly there are moments of laughter, mostly at Nic's expense - he is such a thoroughly despicable man, and the antics of the kids he teaches are not much better. Ultimately it all feels a tad unbelievable, but there's enough droll humour to make it worth a look.
3 - recommended

Ghost Stories
Dir: Andy Nyman
Length: 97 min
© Icon -  Martin Freeman is chilling as a man who 
sees the ghost of his dead wife after she
dies in childbirth
Philip Goodman (Andy Nyman) has spent his life debunking purported psychics. But when a fellow skeptic  gives him a case file of three unsolved mysteries he starts to reassess matters. This reminds me of the old classic British horror films like Dead of Night. There is little that we associate with "horror" today (think chainsaw massacres, human centipedes and sawing limbs off to escape!)  here much relies upon the scariness of what the characters and the viewers perceive. The frights are often psychological, stemming from confusion and warped reality. Of course this explains little of what is a fascinating story . . . but quite tricky to deconstruct. The fuzziness (or is it cleverness?) of the plot is made more murky by the physically very dark settings of two of the episodes. I found it almost impossible to discern visually what was happening. Certainly the twist at the end is intriguing, making me go back to the start to try and put a meaning to it all. Whether this makes the film a success or failure, I don't know. It's certainly stylish, but a mystery.
3 - recommended!

An Interview with God
Dir: Perry Lang
Length: 97 min
Exclusive to Belgrave Cameo and selected Village cinemas
© Rialto - many thought-provoking questions
raised in this intriguing film. 
Here's a left-of-centre offering to get your brain a-buzzing with all manner of existential questions. Paul (Aussie Brenton Thwaites) is a journalist returned from Afghanistan. After what he's seen there, he is questioning his faith, and his marriage is on the downhill slide. When he is offered an interview with someone claiming to be God (David Strathairn) he jumps at the opportunity. Whether you are a believer or not, the film should raise some interesting questions for viewers regarding their own lives - issues of the choices we make, the meaning of faith (be it religious or otherwise), and the big one - forgiveness. The dialogue is cleverly constructed with "God" maintaining a neutral stance which throws most of Paul's questions back to himself, to find answers from within. Strathairn is perfectly cast in this role, and Thwaites acquits himself well. I found myself surprised that I enjoyed this low-key film so much.
3.5 - well recommended!

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

October 25th - Festival Time!!
Jewish International Film Festival
British Film Festival
Iranian Film Festival

Festival fanatics rejoice - three Film Festivals open this week. How to choose - there is so much wonderful viewing to be had.  

Jewish International Film Festival
Melbourne: 24 Oct - 21 Nov
Classic Elsternwick, Lido Hawthorn, Cameo Belgrave
For other states, times and ticketing see

This festival never ceases to impress me. Eddie Tamir is a top-notch curator. So many of the films are fascinating, informative, entertaining, shocking - and you don't have to be Jewish to get the best from them. There are more than 60 films from 23 countries, with themes ranging from music, film, Holocaust, to relationships and more; animation is included, along with a couple of very old treasures from the 1920s. Something for everyone. Here are 10 films I've previewed so far (aghast!!!), but stay tuned for more to come.  

All pix © JIFF 
Budapest Noir: Set in pre-war Hungary in the mid 1930s, this handsome film features hard-boiled detective Zsigmond Gordon, who is investigating the death of an unnamed Jewish woman whose body is found in the street. The stunning cinematography with its noir feel (although in color) showcases the city, and acting by the lead man and his femme sidekick is compelling. The plot remains gripping, the indications of what is to come for Jews in Hungary is subtly ever-present, and the whole makes for an excellent cinema experience. 

Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas: This short and sweet doco is  irreverent, funny, informative and a winner. It's the story of post-war Jewish immigrants to the USA, who became top songwriters and penned the most popular Christmas songs: I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, The Christmas Song and more. Cheekily, the director sets his story in a Chinese restaurant, where staff sing and tap out rhythms, while other artists perform stunningly original renditions of the songs. Underneath all the fun, is a hope that a holiday like Christmas represents a day where people can unite and hope for a better world. 

The Jewish Underground: In the 1980s a group of right-wing terrorists, the Jewish Underground, committed several violent crimes against Palestinians and then plotted to blow up the Dome of the Rock. Thankfully they were thwarted in time. The Israeli Secret Service finally got their hands on the criminals. Three decades later the group still has an influence on Israeli politics. This doco interviews key figures from the secret service and the perpetrators, while exploring the scary fact that fanatics, regardless of which side they are on, are the scourge of today's world and threat to peace. 

Sam Spiegel: Conquering Hollywood: What a fabulous insight into the Golden Era of Hollywood. A refugee from Germany in the early 30s, Spiegel became the only person to win three Oscars as sole producer. Interviewees reflect upon the man and his excellent work ethic, while clips of iconic films like Lawrence of Arabia, Bridge on the River Kwai and On the Waterfront are a real treat. Anyone with a remote interest in film history should not miss this, with its behind the scenes segments, and an insight into a world of power and movie glamour long gone

Who Will Write our History: Just when we think we have seen all the takes on the Holocaust, along comes a fresh slant on things. This mix of documentary and re-enactment looks at the Warsaw Ghetto, where a group of writers and chroniclers gathered together eye-witness accounts of daily life under the Nazis, along with photos, sketches, diaries and more. They buried the entire cache in several containers, and only years later was it unearthed from the rubble of the bombed ghetto. This is the story of those archives, the people who created them, and the mix of despair, hope, and survival that was life in the Warsaw Ghetto. Archival footage is, as always, astonishing and shocking. 

The Twinning Reaction: An excellent companion piece to Three Identical Strangers, this doco looks more widely at the "experiment" conducted by psychiatrists via an adoption agency, based upon separating out twins for adoption. It is a tragic tale, testament to the lives damaged for the ego of scientists. 

Sobibor: Sobibor was a Nazi death camp famous for a mass escape of prisoners, led by Russian/Jewish POW Alexander Perchersky. In 1987 a film was made starring Rutger Hauer. This time the Russians have made the story, almost in the style of a blockbuster, full of drama, violence, graphic detail and heroism. Like so many films of this nature, it shows the best and absolute worst of human beings. Ghastliness of camp life is front and centre, but so are hope and courage. 

Studio 54: In the 70s, one New York disco was the place to be. This is the story of Studio 54 in its heyday - the hedonism, the allure, the celebrities and the two founders, Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager. The rise and ignominious fall of the club is chronicled in all its lurid detail, with wonderful footage not seen before. 

Conventional Sins: This seriously disturbing doco is based upon the diary of a 15-year-old who suffered abuse at the hands of pedophiles in the ultra-orthodox Haredi sect in a suburb of Jerusalem. Meilech, now adult, meets with actors to discuss playing the roles of both abusers and victims. The reenactments provide a shameful window into the abuse of power and the damage it causes, particularly since the closed community remains tight-lipped in even talking about it. 

Let's Dance: Israeli modern dance is renowned throughout the world, with cutting edge choreographers and esteemed dance companies. This joyous documentary looks at the genesis of dance culture in Israel, and then showcases some of the spectacular performances from modern companies. There is fire, talent, athleticism and enthusiasm making the doco a delight to watch.

Mini British Film Festival
Melbourne: 25 Oct - 14 Nov
Palace Como, Brighton Bay, Westgarth, Astor
For other states, times and ticketing see

Browsing through the program, I see this is the sort of festival where I want to see every film. From the opening night Collette, with Keira Knightley, to closing night's Stan and Ollie (with Steve Coogan and John C Reilly), it looks like a full on fab festival. As well as umpteen premieres, there is a retrospective featuring Alfie, The Italian Job, To Sir With Love, Georgy Girl and The Knack, all iconic swinging 60s films. And in keeping with the sixties, I've previewed the doco narrated by Caine, called . . . 

My Generation: 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. With a soundtrack to die for - Beatles, Kinks, Stones, Animals and more - and fashion icons like Twiggy and Mary Quant, along with archival footage and interviews from the day and looking back, this is a must see for those who remember the era with nostalgia.

Iranian Film Festival
25 October - 30 October
For other states and times, go to

This year's festival showcases 12 feature films from Iran's most prominent directors. It's a real shame these fine films seldom seem to get a mainstream release. So this is a great chance to see films you might not otherwise have an opportunity to catch.

© Iranian Film Festival - Hendi and Hormoz
Hendi and Hormoz: Set on an Iranian island where haematite is mined, this is the sad tale of a marriage between a 16-year-old boy and his 13-year-old bride. When Hendi falls pregnant too young, Hormoz is forced into a pact with a smuggler to try to support his family. Visually beautiful, but emotionally tragic this is a gentle and sobering film, where life is a struggle and young people's lives lack the opportunities of those in the West. 

© Iranian Film Festival -
gut-wrenching story
Axing (Darkoob): Mahsa is a junkie who believes her baby died seven years ago. But when she finds the child is possibly still alive and living with her husband and his new wife, all hell breaks loose. This is one of the most affecting films I've seen in a long time - full of tension, drama and raw humanity. The lives of Teheran addicts is depicted unflinchingly, and the heartache for all concerned evokes both anger and compassion. Sara Bahrami won an Iranian award for Best Actress, and deservedly so.  

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

October 18th
A Star is Born
The Cleaners
Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist

Many people have been waiting for this latest incarnation of A Star is Born. For me it's a winner. While the other films are not so easily accessible, each will no doubt have its appreciative viewers. 

A Star is Born
Director: Bradley Cooper
Length: 125 min
© Roadshow - Cooper and Gaga make a great couple
and boy, can they sing up a storm!
Inevitably with the fourth remake of a well-known film, there will be knockers. As I always say, I look at a film on its own merits, forget the past incarnations, and just go with it. And I certainly went with this one, loving every minute. It's the story of Ally, (Lady Gaga), a talented singer who has almost given up on ever making it, until she meets star  country-rock singer Jack (Bradley Cooper), who, despite his success, is battling his own demon - alcoholism. (No surprise they meet in a bar where she's singing and he's drinking.) He drags her reluctantly into the limelight, and as her career trajectory ascends, so his goes on the downhill slide. Yes, it's a melodrama, and yes, it unashamedly wrenches your heart strings, but here's the thing: the songs written for the film are marvellous, Gaga and Cooper are both talented singers, the chemistry between them is sizzling, and the film moves along at a cracking pace that rarely flags. The amount of analysis generated by this film on gender roles, the fame machine and whether it lives up to past versions is unnecessary. Just go along and revel in the ultimately old-fashioned love story, the unforgettable screen presence of Gaga, and the wonderful music (even if Cooper has indulgent moments of turning the camera full-pelt on himself in the grizzled pop-God role).
4 - highly recommended!

The Cleaners
Dir: Hans Block & Moritz Riesewieck
Length: 88 min
Exclusive to ACMI - Oct 19 - Nov 6
© ACMI/Madman -  is social media sending our society
off the rails?
This is a timely documentary about just who is controlling what we see on the many ubiquitous social media sites. We meet a group of workers in the Philippines who must sit for hours each day trawling through Facebook content, determining what is acceptable to leave on, and what should be deleted. Because of the nature of the content, from violence, to child pornography, to propaganda, this work is psychologically damaging, and some of the people even know very little about the subject matter they are deciding upon. Underneath this surface level of the doco, are the many burning questions for today's world - the nature of journalism, the power of "fake news", the easy incitement of hatred. While the doco is stylistically a bit dry, with many talking heads and visual devices trying to spice this up, the actual content is deeply disturbing, highlighting a twisted world in which this behemoth we casually call social media or the Internet, could have the power to change every social value, belief and norm that we take for granted - and all in the name of more money for the companies backing them. Super-scary food for thought. 
3 - recommended!

Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist
Director: Lorna Tucker
Length: 80 min
© Madman - Vivienne Westwood is anything but
your average designer - punk and out there. 

Dame Vivienne Westwood has been a foremost British fashion designer for the last 40 years. She is a child of the punk scene of the 1970s. This doco traces her early times with partner Malcolm McLaren, a member of the Sex Pistols, who showcased Westwood's early designs. It then tracks the development of her own design house, renowned for some pretty outrageous fashions. For a women considered to be majorly counter-culture, she now reaps in the capitalist dollars, with a world-wide empire. For someone so iconic and rebellious she comes across as somewhat . . dare I say . . . mainstream? I fear this is a problem with the film-maker who allows the interviews to remain somewhat bland (even if Westwood is cantankerous). By comparison scenes of Vivienne cavorting with her models, or the energetic younger version of herself, underscore her remarkable energy, but not enough is done to really showcase how/why she became so popular. Scenes in the cutting room preparing collections with Westwood's current husband lack pizzazz, and the line of expensive clothing comes across as more crazy than inspired. I'm no fashionista, but when I compare this to a stunning film like the recent McQueen, I imagine die-hard fans of Westwood will be the ones to get the most out of this film.
2.5 - maybe!

Director: Sergei Loznitsa
Length: 121 min

© Backlot Films - such unpleasant people in a corrupt
war-torn part of the world. 
Winner of Best Director in Un Certain Regard Cannes 2018, this is the sort of movie that presents me with a great dilemma. Everyone says it's wonderful, but politico-klutz that I am, knowing little about the Ukraine/Russia conflict. I found it tough going, though certain scenes are almost horrifically spellbinding. In about a dozen vignettes, Loznitsa presents horrific visions of a degraded society torn apart by factional conflict, ongoing war, corruption, and a pervading sense of inhumanity to one's fellow humans. The characters are generally unlikeable, and with a typical Eastern bloc sensibility, almost like mocking versions of bleak, ugly  stereotypes. Every scene takes place with protracted, carefully constructed shots, stressing the gloom of these war-torn lives.  Corrupt officials expropriate citizens' cars, refugees live in squalor, loud, moronic folk marry, and a group of people are made up for a staged TV news show that is definitely "fake news", with a most disturbing outcome. For political buffs and fans of this style of movie making and story-telling it could be a winner, but I'm left appreciative but mostly floundering. I suggest boning up on a few historical facts before viewing. Nevertheless . . .
3 - recommended!

Thursday, 11 October 2018

October 11th
Greek Film Festival 
First Man
Bad Times at the El Royale
In Like Flynn

It's another big week for films and festivals. The major pick from me is the opening night film of the Greek Film Festival, but if you missed the big bash, you can still catch it later. There's much buzz around Ryan Gosling's latest, the El Royale serves up a winning plot, a Palestinian film brings food for thought, and a couple of Aussie offerings join the party. 

Greek Film Festival
Melbourne October 10-21
Palace Como, Astor
For other states and dates see
With 16 feature films and a special Greek-Australian Short Film Festival, there is much to choose from. I've previewed a film that has affected me deeply; it is in fact the opening night film, but you'll have a couple more opportunities to catch it, which I strongly suggest you do. 

The Last Note
Dir: Pantelis Voulgaris
Length: 117 min
© Greek Film Festival - a magnificent, 
moving and human war story
Not many people know how horrifically the Greeks suffered under Nazi occupation during World War 2. In May 1944, the Nazis executed 200 men as a reprisal for the killing of four German officers. Based largely upon historical fact, the film focuses on Napoleon Soukatzidis, (Andreas Konstantinou), prisoner of the Chaidari concentration camp, who is forced to act as interpreter for the Camp Kommandant, and who must face the ultimate moral dilemma. Although the film deals with one of the significant moments in Greek history, it also brings a depth of humanity to all its characters, stressing particularly the pride and bravery of these men and also the many women imprisoned nearby who endured the German atrocities. Cinematography is exquisite, the period painstakingly recreated, and the acting, dialogue and overall feel of the film near flawless. But it's the emotional wallop that really makes The Last Note unforgettable. It reminds us, as so many holocaust films do, of the cruelty of war, which brings out the worst and best in human beings. Get the tissues ready!!
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended!

First Man
Director: Damien Chazelle
Length: 138 min
© Universal - a compelling and strange mix
of painstaking steps and thrills! 
We all know the story: on July 20th 1969, the first human being set foot on the moon. Many films have been made about it, and no doubt will continue to be. The challenge is to make it fresh, and Chazelle does just that. He takes a two-pronged approach to his subject. First we have all the techno-logistics of getting the mission happening, and then there's the human side of the equation - the personal challenges for astronaut Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), and his family, especially long-suffering wife Janet (Claire Foy). In the many scenes where the astronauts are in flight simulators, and then rockets, the camera swirls, vibrates and blurs the action so that strong stomachs are required - just like the spacemen needed! The painstaking steps, including tragedy, to actually achieve the successful mission, are a reminder of just how awesome this project was, and when it comes to the actual moon landing, the film still creates a sense of awe and wonder. However, it is the insight into the reclusive Armstrong's personality that is particularly intriguing - his emotionally-closed nature (perhaps exacerbated by the death of his daughter) makes him possibly the perfect "rocket man" - precise and calm under duress. The film offsets the scientific progress at NASA with the "normal" but tense lives lived by the worried families left behind. I can't imagine what was required to technically get this film happening, but it certainly makes for an impressive, and surprisingly stirring cinematic journey.
4 - highly recommended!

Bad Times at the El Royale
Director: Drew Goddard
Length: 140 min
© Fox - Jeff Bridges is as always a delight
to watch as he mumbles his way along. 
The now-faded motel El Royale has seen some action in its time but now it's rundown and almost empty - until one night when seven strangers meet, each carrying deep secrets: the hotel concierge Miles (Lewis Pullman), singer Darlene (Cynthio Erivo), priest Father Flynn (Jeff Bridges), vacuum cleaner salesman Laramie Sullivan (Jon Hamm) and surly Emily (Dakota Johnson). Emily's sister Rosie (Cailee Spaeny) and charismatic Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth) arrive a little later. To tell you what happens would spoil a cleverly-crafted plot, full of surprises, sudden unexpected violence, humour and a huge dollop of redemption. The enjoyment is in wondering - what is the past of each character, how are they connected (if at all) - and in not knowing what craziness will erupt next. Erivo's character does some great singing, and her performance is a standout. The rest of the cast are strong, with Hemsworth playing totally against type, his creepy, sexy Billy Lee mesmerising the viewer. The dialogue is smart, the retro setting meticulously crafted and shot, and although things take their time to unfold, I felt not a moment of boredom - I had a great time at the El Royale.
4 - highly recommended!

Director: Annemarie Jacir
Length: 96 min
Exclusive to Nova, Lido Hawthorn, Classic Elsternwick, Cameo Belgrave, Pivotonion Geelong

© Potential - gentle father/son story with
subtle  commentary on Israel Palestine situation
Abu Shadi (Mohammed Bakri) is divorced, and works as a school principal in modern-day Nazareth. Prior to his daughter Amal's wedding, his son Shadi (Saleh Bakri) returns from Italy, where he has been living and working as an architect for years. Together the two drive around for the day to hand-deliver the wedding invitations, as is the Palestinian custom. This is a low-key but compelling father/son story, of two estranged men trying to reconnect, despite dramatic differences in world view and generation. Shadi rails against Israel but doesn't have to live there while his father quietly accepts life as it is and tries to make the best of it. Wajib remains gentle and understated, quietly portraying life for Arabs under the tough rule of Israel. There is no didactic lecturing, just subtle hints to the audience of what it is like to live a purportedly middle class life, but as a second-class citizen in the land of your heritage. It is also an unexpected and beautifully observed slice of life, that opens one's eyes as to a different side of Palestine from the more often reported refugee experience. With actual father and son playing the leads, there is palpable authenticity to to the narrative.
4 - highly recommended!

Dir: Stephen McCallum
Length: 90 min
© Icon - Matt Nable plays bikie gang leader Knuck
with manic and terrifying aggression. 
Fresh from the festival circuit comes a gritty violent Aussie movie about rivalry for leadership in a biker gang. Knuck (Matt Nable, also screenwriter of the film) is released from jail. He finds Paddo (Ryan Corr), who he left in charge, is making deals with rival gangs, and he doesn't like that. Paddo has a mentally challenged brother Skink (Josh McConville), who he loves, but who constantly causes trouble and needs protection. To add to it all, his girlfriend Katrina (Abbey Lee) feels Paddo should challenge Knuck for the leadership. Knuck's girlfriend Hayley has other plans. I hate the sort of people depicted in films like this, so I find it pretty gruelling to spend time in the company of such reprehensible characters. But there's no denying the power of Nable's acting as the near-psychopathic Knuck who knows no other way of ruling but violence. Corr is always a likable screen presence so his character is more easily stomached, (if a bit unbelievable) but the rest of the gang (apparently played by real bikies) are a rough and tough bunch. The secret strength of Hayley and Katrina make for an interesting plot twist but most of the other women are in the exploited category. Despite my reservations, the film generates a strong mood and dark aesthetic, and if you need a visit to the darkside, it could be just the ticket.  
3 - recommended!

In Like Flynn
Dir: Russell Mulcahey
Length: 100 min
© Umbrella - Errol Flynn's adventures in Oz 
before Hollywood. 
Young Tassie-born Errol Flynn (Thomas Coquerel) is bush bashing in New Guinea with a Hollywood filmmaker who needs a guide to help elude the headhunters. After returning to Sydney, convinced of the possibility of gold in the PNG jungle, Flynn steals a boat and  sails north with three mates to attempt to make his fortune. One of the screen-writers is actually Flynn's grandson who  bases his screenplay on Flynn's memoir of his wild times in Oz before he lands a part in Hollywood (thanks to aforementioned movie-maker). The filmmakers attempt to recreate the swash-buckling derring-do of the early 1930s' boys' own adventure films, and to some extent they succeed handsomely. The film looks impressive, but just as many adventure films focus on action with shallow character development, so does this. Listening to the dialogue, I just keep thinking it sounds wooden and inauthentic. There is little insight into Flynn and Coquerel  fails to make me believe in his character. In contrast his mate Charlie, who owns the stolen boat, is splendidly played by Clive Standen. Despite the star clout of David Wenham as the scurrilous mayor of Townsville, he also failed to impress. As expected, there is plenty of action in the form of classic bar brawls, gambling and drinking, but  overall I exit the cinema underwhelmed. It's no Indiana Jones!
2.5 - maybe!

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

October 4

American Animals
A Prayer Before Dawn
Italian Film Festival - last few days

I've  missed a couple of the films opening today, like Venom (what, another Marvel movie!) and the adaptation of Anton Chekhov's The Seagull. But I've got two strong films for you, plus the ongoing Italian Film Festival. 

American Animals
Director: Bart Layton
Length: 120 min
© Madman - true crime creatively portrayed in a
tense and salutary heist tale.
This is a true crime story that quite beggars belief. Four  college friends living in a Kentucky university town in 2004 all feel to some extent that their lives are meaningless and boring and they need some “defining event” to make it all worthwhile. So they hatch a plan to stage a daring heist in the special collections room of the university, aiming to steal a rare book of Audubon’s bird paintings. They plan their heist as if they are living a Hollywood movie – lots of ideas and no experience. Layton uses an audacious narrative construct – he has the real men, now in their thirties, talk to camera about how they remember the events, and then he intersperses the reflections with reenactments, sometimes morphing one “real” memory with the dramatic recreation. The parents of the boys and local townsfolk also reflect upon the events, creating what feels like a cross between a doco and a heist thriller. The action barrels along at a pace, and the four young men playing the boys present a chilling salutary lesson for disaffected youth and how bad choices can derail promising young lives. Ann Dowd (so excellent as Aunt Lydia in Handmaid’s Tale) rounds out the cast as the librarian. The film is extremely well made but I found myself emotionally disconnected from the characters and even their real-life counterparts.
3.5 - well recommended!

A Prayer Before Dawn
Exclusive to Cinema Nova
Director: Jean Stephane Sauvaire
Length: 116 min
© Nova/Disney - one of the most gruelling
films I've ever experienced - but brilliantly made.
Billy Moore (Joe Cole) lived his young life in Liverpool public housing, a victim of parental abuse and doing drugs and crime by the age of 16. After several jail stints and rehab, he went to Thailand to hopefully turn his life around and become a boxer. That's all background to where the film picks up: Billy is living a life of squalor and once more involved in the crime and drug scene. Thrown into a notorious Thai jail, he is convinced by prison authorities that the only way he will survive is to get himself onto the Thai boxing (Muay Thai) team, which he does. The film is based upon Moore's eponymous memoir, with the added phrase A Nightmare in Thailand. Nightmare is the operative word, making Midnight Express look like a kids' picnic. Sauvaire uses Cole as only one of two professional actors, the rest being real ex-prisoners, who helped with the film's scripting and who give the whole a mesmerising, terrifying realism that envelops the viewer. The aim seems to be to give the audience as visceral a feel of life in the overcrowded cells as possible, with the heat, sweat, violence, and brutal near-animal conditions. The film-making is so masterful it is at times almost unbearable to look at the screen. I can't recommend it to anyone who hasn't got a super-strong stomach, yet it is one of the truly memorable films of the year and Cole's performance is impressive.
4 - highly recommended! - (or is it 1, as in "don't do it"?)

Italian Film Festival - ongoing
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
© Italian FF - love him or hate him, Silvio Berlusconi
is a memorable character!
The Italian Film Festival is heading for its final weekend in Melbourne, but there is still a chance to catch some excellent films. One I saw belatedly, and recommend highly is Loro, which was the opening night film.
For anyone who saw The Great Beauty, you know what a marvellous visual sensibility this director has. It's all here, leaping off the screen, in this over-the-top story of the infamous Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi, impressively portrayed by Toni Servillo. The film follows two threads - Silvio and his decadent lifestyle, and Sergio (Riccardo Scamarcio), a vulgar pimp who'll stop at nothing to get himself noticed by the upper echelons of power. The film is at once satirical, an amazing portrayal of abuses of power and over-indulgence, and a fascinating look at a man who is both to be pitied and despised. There's a lot of flesh and non-PC stuff happening here, but whatever you think of the man and his shenanigans, you won't be bored.
4 - highly recommended!
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