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!

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