Wednesday, 28 November 2018

November 29th
Lean on Pete
Sorry to Bother You
Normandy Nude
Creed II
Anna & the Apocalypse

What a mixed bag this week. Serious drama (with horse), relationship problems, jigsaw puzzling, telemarketing, boxing, French agricultural crises, and zombies. Definitely something for everyone! 

Lean on Pete
Dir: Andrew Haigh
Length: 121 min 
© Transmission -  a boy, a horse, and
hopes for a better future
Charley (Charlie Plummer) and his single dad Ray (Travis Fimell) head to Oregon after a series of tough breaks. Charley, though only 15, must work, and lands a job with  racehorse owner Del (Steve Buscemi), looking after a horse called Lean on Pete. Charley is enjoying his job and bonding with Pete, when further personal tragedy strikes. When Charley also discovers Pete is headed for the knackery, he takes drastic steps to rescue the beloved horse, while at the same time trying to get in touch with a long-lost aunt. This is the best of American Indie film-making. The story cuts to the heart of disadvantaged lives and examines how easily a young person can make the wrong decisions that could wreck the rest of his life. Plummer is a revelation in his role; and the director draws compassion and heart into every scene. With added talent like Chloe Sevigny and Steve Zahn in smaller roles, this is a little gem of a film.
4 - highly recommended! 

Dir: Marc Turteltaub
Length: 103 min 
Exclusive to Cinema Nova
© Sony -  tender drama of
Agnes (Kelly McDonald) lives life the way her European parents taught her - be a good wife and mother, go to church meetings, and put the needs of your husband and two sons above yours. When she is given a jigsaw puzzle as a gift, Agnes discovers she is really good at it, travels to New York to buy another, and answers an ad for a partner to enter into the National Jigsaw Championships. Her partner is wealthy, reclusive inventor Robert (Irrfan Khan, known to western audiences from Life of Pi and The Lunchbox). Agnes begins to discover there is another side to life from what she is used to. I love this film, not the least because I love jigsaws. No, really, it is insightfully scripted, careful to avoid cliches, and simply  beautiful in a way that avoids demonising any of the characters. David Denman as Agnes' husband Louie is particularly noted as the redneck husband also trapped in the only stereotyped role he knows, but it is McDonald and Khan who steal the show.   
4 - highly recommended! 

Sorry to Bother You
Dir: Boots Riley
Length: 102 min 
Exclusive to Cinema Nova
© Universal - zany and satirical, putting the world
of telemarketing is in a futuristic spotlight
Cassius "Cash" Green (Lakeith Stanfield) takes a job at a sleazy telemarketing company, where he is advised by fellow worker Langston (Danny Glover) that if he uses his "white voice" he will make more sales. Soon Cash joins the ranks of the "power sellers", but he is in for a major shock when he discovers what goods the company is actually marketing. Meantime Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), immoral boss of Worry Free, is marketing a lifestyle that is virtual slavery - food and lodging in exchange for a lifetime of indentured work. The connection between both companies becomes gradually apparent with further horrific revelations of scientific experiments being undertaken. As Cash's friends protest against all manner of injustices, Cash must choose between a whopping salary and leaving his reprehensible workplace. STBY is a bit sci-fi, scathingly satirical, and very entertaining.
3.5 - well recommended! 

Normandy Nude
Dir: Philippe Le Guay
Length: 109 min 
© Palace - photography, nudity and cattle combine
to try to save an ailing town
The town of Mele sur Sarthe in Normandy (NW France) is in crisis. Rural industries are being squeezed economically and farmers are going under. Then American photographer Newman (Toby Jones) with offsider Bradley (Vincent Regan), turns up, looking for a field in which to mass-photograph the locals - nude. Much-loved Mayor Balbuzard (Francoise Cluzet) sees an opportunity to get the town's plight into the mainstream news, but can he talk the townsfolk into baring their all for the greater social good? Sweet is definitely the word for this cute French film. But it has a darker underbelly with important and timely social commentary on the dire situation for agriculture going on in the background. All the characters are pleasing to spend time with, Cluzet is (as always) marvellous to watch, and the scenery and livestock make for bucolic, relaxing viewing. Nothing earth-shattering here, and the ending unfortunately is a bit abrupt, but it's definitely a feel-good film which reminds us of the importance of solidarity, loyalty and strong leadership.
3 - recommended! 

Creed II
Dir: Steven Caple Jnr
Length: 140 min 
© Warner Bros - predictable but enjoyable, 
with the aging Rocky back in the spotlight
Adonis Creed (Michael B Jordan) is heavyweight boxing champ of the world. More than 30 years earlier Adonis's father Apollo was killed in the ring by Ivan Drago. Now Drago throws out a challenge - his son Victor must fight Adonis. Can ex-champ Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) bring Adonis up to speed to protect himself from the hulking Russian giant, and avoid another boxing tragedy? I didn't expect to enjoy this, but, aside from cringing at some of the more vicious fight scenes, I find it a jolly good story filled with perseverance, worldly wisdom, and romance in the form of Bianca, Adonis's deaf girlfriend and famed singer. Despite its many cliches, the film is nicely crafted with strong arena-based boxing scenes, and enough relationship sub-plots to carry the story on several levels. The aging Rocky is affectionately played, Jordan is a hunk, and with a predictable but satisfying ending, what's not to enjoy?
3 - recommended! 

Anna and the Apocalypse
Dir: John McPhail
Length: 105 min 
© Icon - teen zombie gore-fest - with
plenty of great songs
Anna (Ella Hunt) and her friends are getting ready for the end of school year when the unthinkable happens - a mysterious virus attacks the folks of Little Haven, turning them into zombies. You don't have to be a zombie buff to enjoy this good-natured film, which has emotion and intelligence, while being a fun teen spoof on the well-worn zombie genre. I'm not sure if the un-dead have been put to music  before, but the songs in this musical version are particularly tuneful and well executed. It's a bit like a cross between Saun of the Dead and High School Musical. I suspect the film will have appeal to mid-teens, what with enough bad language to please, the requisite blood, gore and splattered brains, a dollop of teen romance, and a crazy headmaster we all hope will join the undead or get munched (a wonderfully over-the-top performance by Paul Kaye). Put Christmas into the mix, and a bit of heart string tugging as the heroes and heroines try desperately to find their parents, and you've got a recipe for some blood-soaked fun.
3 - recommended! 

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

November 22nd
The Children Act
I Used to be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story
Japanese Film Festival - Melbourne
JIFF encore season

My standout this week is The Children Act, a wonderful marital/legal drama starring Emma Thompson and Stanley Tucci. JIFF is almost over, but there is a popular encore week to come. The Japanese Film Festival offers a great opportunity to see the sort of films we so seldom get here in Oz. And don't forget Cinelatino Film Festival runs until 28 Nov (see reviews last week).  

The Children Act
Dir: Richard Eyre
Length: 105 min 
© Roadshow  -  Emma Thompson gives her 
all as a judge juggling a failing marriage
with some weighty courtroom decisions
Here's another film adapted from an Ian McEwan novel. Fiona Maye (Emma Thompson) is a high court judge, specialising in family law cases. Her husband Jack (Stanley Tucci) is fed up with Fiona's neglect of their marriage, due to work commitments. Against the backdrop of marital disaster, she must rule on the case of Adam (Fionn Whitehead), a young Jehovah's Witness boy of 17, dying of leukemia and refusing a blood transfusion. This is heart-breaking stuff, with sadness and frustration the dominant emotions. But it's not all doom and gloom, as recognition of the major role one person can play as mentor and life changer for another eventually come to the fore. Thompson and Tucci are simply sublime in their roles, and Thompson has such poise and grace, making her utterly believable in her role as "my Lady". Whitehead as the dying boy imbues his role with youthful self-righteousness and  compassion, while underneath the whole story is a deep universal sadness at lost opportunities in life, balanced by transcendent moments. As you can guess, I loved it. 
4 - highly recommended! 

Dir: Steve McQueen
Length: 129 min 
© 20th Century Fox - women kicking ass -
the actors are worthy - plot more a maybe
A criminal gang of four, led by Harry (Liam Neeson) are killed by police in a heist gone wrong. Harry's widow Veronica (Viola Davis) is pursued for her husband's debts. In fear of her life, she musters the widows of the other three men and suggests they should mount their own heist. I simply love the cast of kick-ass woman here; turning bad along with Davis are Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo, and Elizabeth Debicki, all wonderful in their own right. BUT . . . I can't believe so many aspects of this plot. How did these gals get so professional at this criminal stuff so easily and quickly? This is a plot hole I just can't recover from. The side-plot with Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall as father and son corrupt politicians is in fact more credible. This is not so say I wasn't entertained  and it's inspiring (or is it depressing?) to see these women behaving just as badly as a bunch of blokes. If you can overlook the plot issues, there's a lot to be enjoyed - I just couldn't seem to.   
2.5 - maybe! 

I Used to Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story
Dir: Jessica Leski
Length: 93 min 
© Madman - Dara confesses her youthful obsession 
with Robbie Williams' band Take That. 
Anyone who's ever fallen madly in love with a boy band will relate to this charming documentary. The obsessions of four women are showcased. New Yorker Elif, now 16, reflects on the time a clip of her crying hysterically over the band One Direction went viral. Sydneysider Dara, now 30-something, looks back on her 12-year old obsession with Take That. Sadia, of strict Pakistani background was a fan of Backstreet Boys, while Melbourne film producer Susan is now 64, and still treasures her Beatles fan memorabilia. All the women openly reminisce on how those bands were a huge factor in their lives, shaping ongoing directions for them, and how they still secretly carry a love for "the boys" in their hearts. This is a sweet look at a seminal part of so many girls' lives which marks a point where awareness of the opposite sex manifests in relatively innocent band worship.
3.5 - well recommended! 

Japanese Film Festival
Melbourne: Nov 22 - Dec 2
ACMI and Hoyts Melbourne Central
For other states, times, and program visit

Not enough Japanese films get released into the Aussie mainstream, so here is a brilliant opportunity to see them. (Having said that, check out Shoplifters which I reviewed last week.) From docos, to drama, comedy, animation, crime, and more, there is so much to choose from. I'm very partial to what I call "slice of life" films, which I find the Japanese do so well (Think Departures, An). Two I've reviewed here are no exception. 

© JFF : A foodie film with a gentle
heart - lovely blend of Chinese and 
Japanese culture
Ramen Shop: Masato is the son of a Japanese father and a Chinese/Singaporean mother. After the death of both parents, he heads off to Singapore to find someone to teach him how to make his beloved mother's pork chop soup. The people he meets and the things he discovers about his family and their mixed culture are a revelation. This is sweetly sentimental, and a mouth-watering food fest. There is much heart, sadness and hope in the film, and it's a great choice, if you can only see one. 

Summer Blooms: Another low-key delicate film about a young woman, Hatsumi,  whose boyfriend died some years before. She has given up teaching and now works in a noodle shop. She seems unable to get on with her life, and when a new boy expresses interest she shies away from him. It is only when she decides to confront her past, that she has a chance of moving forward.

River's Edge: No sweet, gentle characters her in this disturbing story of aimless teen schoolkids set in Tokyo of the 1990s. Yamada is constantly beaten up because he's gay, but he is soothed by his "secret" - a skeleton he has discovered down by the river. Kannonzaki is cruel but insecure, Kozue is a bulimic fashion model, while Rumi is free with her sexual favours. Only Wakakusa seems to be able to distance herself emotionally and survive the nihilistic life, which lacks parental input and seems destructive all round. There is plenty of violence and explicit sex, and this, for me, is very different from the usual Japanese fare.

JIFF - Jewish International Film Festival
Encore Season
Mostly at Classic Elsternwick, some at Lido Hawthorn
Visit for times and sessions
From Thursday 22-Wed 28 Nov, JIFF screens its encore sessions. Included, from those I have already reviewed in the past couple of weeks are:
Sobibor, Redemption, Budapest Noir, Who Will Write Our History; Sam Spiegel; Let's Dance; Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas, The Interpreter. 
© JIFF - moving performances, plenty of tension
in this excellent thriller, Shelter
Shelter: From Eran Riklis, the director of the fabulous Lemon Tree, comes a strong and compassionate thriller. Mossad agent Naomi is called upon to guard Lebanese informant Mona, who is recovering from surgery to change her face, so her Hezbollah ex-husband cannot track her down. The women form an unexpected bond. Shelter is beautifully acted, tense, moving and thought-provoking. 
JIFF comes highly recommended; it's been a remarkable festival of top-notch films. If you've missed them, now's your chance to catch up. 

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

November 15th
The Old Man and the Gun
Cinelatino Film Festival

Once more into the viewing breach, dear friends! And this week brings yet more worthy films for your delectation. Handsome Robert Redford is back, an elegant fighting aeroplane stars in a wonderful doco, the Japanese explore the meaning of family, while the Cinelatino Film Festival brings us the best from Latin America. 

The Old Man and the Gun
Dir: David Lowery
Length: 94 min 
© Entertainment One -  Redford is as charming as ever
in this film based upon the criminal career of
an audacious oldie
Yet another film based (loosely) on a true story, that of Forrest Tucker, a career bank robber and serial prison escapee. Tucker apparently had more jail escapes than anyone in America. Robert Redford, in what he says is his swansong, plays the old man with charm and charisma: a gentlemanly bank robber, who pursues his passion ever so politely and with little violence. Danny Glover and Tom Waits are Tucker's long-term amiable accomplices, while Sissy Spacek is Jewel, the woman Tucker meets in her later years, and who loves him despite discovering his criminal bent. Detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck) pursues the wily crim with a grudging admiration for the thief's craft. The film is relatively light, with good humour and nods to past Redford films. The actor, now 80, is so enchanting to watch, his weather-beaten still handsome face and engaging smile so mesmerising, it makes the film definitely worth a look.  
3.5 - well recommended! 

Dir: David Fairhead & Ant Palmer
Length: 99 min 
Showing at Classic Elsternwick, Cameo Belgrave, Lido Hawthorn, Sun Yarraville and select Village cinemas
© Rialto - a love-song (or love-film) to the 
fighting machine that helped win WW2
The Spitfire is the aeroplane credited with changing the course of world history by winning the Battle of Britain and ultimately World War Two. This is the story of that plane, from its innovative design, through to the determination and heroism of the gutsy pilots who flew it. Interviews with the surviving combat pilots are fascinating and moving - all remember well the terror and thrill of their wartime experiences. (Including the many women who flew the planes from the factories to the airfields). You don't have to be remotely interested in planes to enjoy this informative and stirring documentary. In what is almost a love song to the plane, the film-makers use stunning aerial cinematography and recreations of some of the most gripping air battles.
4 - highly recommended! 

Dir: Hirokazu Koreeda
Length: 121 min 

© Rialto - Japanese slice-of-life films
are usually winners - this sure is
Director Koreeda has no less than 43 various wins to his name. He is known for his humanistic approach to his story-telling, and this latest is no exception, on both counts, having won the Palm D'or at this years Cannes FF. The ragged family is a motley crew of  husband, wife, Grandma, son, daughter, and the late addition of a tiny girl they find hungry and cold on the street. Dad and son regularly shoplift, and all supplement life with Gran's pension. It's what we call a slow-burn film - nothing dramatic happens until well into the story, but the picture created of this family is then opened up to reveal truths we didn't imagine at the start. There is much genuine love between the characters, and, despite their poverty, a generosity of spirit to provide and protect. The minutiae of daily life is lovingly created, from mending, cooking, children playing, through to, of course, shoplifting. As you probably know by now, I love the delicacy of this style of film-making, and the Japanese do it so well. When finally the carefully constructed house of cards comes tumbling down, there is much poignancy and emotional pain. 
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended! 

Cinelatino Film Festival
Melbourne November 13-28
Astor, Palace Como, Palace Westgarth
For other states and program times:

Not to be confused with the Spanish Film Festival, this is Australia's largest festival of films from Latin America. The 26 features and three documentaries come from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Paraguay. Though the wonderful opening night film Roma screened two days ago there will be further opportunities to catch it during the festival. I'm lucky to have previewed a selection.
© Cinelatino FF - Roma is a slow-burn, deeply 
compassionate film about family, caring and more.
Roma: Winner of the Golden Lion at Venice this year, Roma revolves around a year in the life of a middle class Mexican family in the 1970s. Apparently the story is highly inspired by Cuaron's own youth, and the film feels like a the diary of a family with all its foibles; raucous kids, a messy dog, philandering husband and a wife rediscovering her identity. There is also a background thread of political turmoil and protest at the time.The central focus however is on the family's beloved maid Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) who unintentionally falls pregnant. The non-professional actress is sublime in her portrayal of the stoic, loving, hard-working girl. Cuaron displays a genius for observing the tiny details of life and employs exquisite black and white cinematography in carefully constructing each scene. The film is suffused with a depth of emotion around love, loss, and the deep attachment one can develop for others who are not necessarily family. Some colleagues declared it boring; I was transfixed. 
Etiqueta No Rigurosa (No Dress Code Required): This award-winning doco strikes a major blow for gay rights. It chronicles the struggle  Victor and Fernando have in being allowed to marry, in the Mexican state of Baja California. With wonderful interviews with the men, and live footage of their verbal confrontations with government officials, this is a film to both inspire and enrage. The patience and peaceful persistence of the men and their friends is admirable while the obstructionist prejudice of the authorities is enough to make me throw epithets at the screen. 
In Love and Hate: Nominated for many Argentinian awards, this stylish crime/romance, based on a 1949 novel, harks back to the days of elegant hotels, unexpected murders and femme fatales. Doctor Hubermann is running from a painful love affair. He heads to a remote hotel on the beach, but who should be there - the woman he is avoiding, with her sister and sister's lover. This is highly entertaining in a light and somewhat melodramatic way. The film's production design is so eye-catching, especially the use of colour, and it's a while since I've seen such a back-stabbing, double dealing, entertaining collection of villainous characters. 

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

November 8th
Boy Erased
Journey's End
Russian Film Festival
Alliance Francaise Classic Film Festival

It's a week of totally contrasting films - horror, war, social commentary. Thinking about it, all are horror in their own ways. And what would movie-going be without two more festivals?

Boy Erased
Dir: Joel Edgerton
Length: 114 min 
© Universal -  great performances, 
important themes in an increasingly
right-wing world
This disturbing true story is based upon the memoir of Garrard Conley, who wrote a memoir of his time in "gay conversion therapy". Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges) is the son of a smalltown Baptist pastor (Russell Crowe) and loving mother (Nicole Kidman). When a schoolmate outs Jared to his parents, they convince him to go to a gay conversion centre, or suffer ostracism from his family, community and church. The centre, Love in Action, is run by Sykes, himself a "gay convert" (played by director Edgerton). There attendees are "encouraged" to see the evil of their ways and renounce homosexuality. The film takes an understated approach, which helps the audience feel even more abhorrence of the so-called conversion methodology, with its judgmentalism, guilt and suicide-inducing philosophies. Although the subject matter is similar to the recent Miseducation of Cameron Post, this feels easier to relate to, and is underpinned by a riveting performance from young Hedges. Kidman is in peak form in this role. It goes without saying this sort of film is critical in changing archaic right-wing social attitudes and throwing a lifeline to the LGBTQI community.
4 - highly recommended! 

Journey's End
Dir: Saul Dibb
Length: 107  min 
© Icon - life in the trenches was worse
than most soldiers imagined
Based on a play written 90 years ago, this World War One story has been filmed several times, but comes up trumps in this modern version. It's not your typical war film, in which  "the men" and their bravery are glorified. This is an honest look at the conditions in the trenches and in the living quarters below the trenches, as a group of men await their possible deaths in an anticipated enemy attack. The men are not afraid to show their emotional vulnerability and moments of tenderness. Paul Bettany is splendid as Lt Osborne, who attempts to keep the morale up, while Sam Claflin gives an astonishing performance as Cptn Stanhope, full of fear, despair, and a rampant alcoholic. Notable too is Toby Jones as the cook, and young Asa Butterfield as the newly arrived Raleigh, full of misplaced enthusiasm. The endless mud, pathetic rations, daily privations, and constant fear are palpable. It's such a sad film with the soldiers portrayed as merely unfortunate human beings caught up in something beyond their control, and doing the best they can to get through by being supportive of each other. This is ultimately a very humane anti-war story, focusing on emotional bravery (or lack of it) as opposed to battlefield heroics.
3.5 - well recommended! 

Dir: Luca Guadagnino
Length: 152 min 
© Transmission - ghastly, mesmerising, 
creative, superb - watch at your own risk!
Yet again I'm guilty of not having seen the original 1977 iconic horror film directed by Dario Argento. Too bad - this one packs such a wallop I wonder if I could stand another version of the story. Briefly, dancer Susie Bannon (Dakota Johnson of Fifty Shades infamy) comes from Ohio to join the prestigious Markos dance company in Berlin. Head choreographer Mme Blanc (Tilda Swinton) takes Susie under her wing. Meantime, ex-company member Patrizia appears to have gone paranoid, claiming all manner of unholy doings among the many women who run the company. Hidden areas of the building are gradually discovered by Susie's new friend Sara, along with a demonic plot to use a chosen dancer as a vessel to reinstate an ancient witch. It's impossible to detail here the many thematic threads of this extraordinary film - motherhood, witches, German Holocaust guilt, the abuse of power, female brutality and more. I can't imagine a more divisive film, with its visceral, sickeningly violent scenes involving extreme body horror. The choreography is dramatically brilliant; but some dance sequences are  inextricably interwoven with the violence which is almost impossible to watch. Johnson is surprisingly strong in her role, and Swinton simply sublime, especially since she also plays (unrecognisably) psychologist Josef Klemperer. The relentless build up of tension gives way to a final grotesque sequence which borders on overkill. Whatever, the film is unforgettable (unfortunately!)
Beware; avoid (or is it 4 - highly recommended?) You be the judge! 

Russian Resurrection Film Festival
Melbourne ACMI - 9-18 Nov
Some films also at Elsternwick Classic until 18 Nov
For times, films, other states visit

It's the 15th year for RRFF, and this year 16 new films will screen, as well as a retrospective featuring a selection of award-winning Soviet films. Much-awarded actor Konstantin Khabensky stars in two high profile films, Sobibor and Selfie. As usual, I've been lucky to preview a few.

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 version of the film virtually 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. A very strong film.
Pagans: Natalia, estranged mother of Oleg, turns up on his doorstep bearing gifts from a religious pilgrimage. Discovering that Oleg and his family hold little faith, and her grand-daughter is running off the rails, she sets about trying to win them over to her devoutness. This is in parts humorous, and no doubt a fairly negative view on the power the Orthodox church can hold over its devotees.  
Jump Man: Denis is abandoned as a baby because he has a condition in which he feels no pain. His mother, Oksana,  returns and hooks him up with a gang who make him jump in front of cars to then scam money out of the drivers. The police, courts, lawyers are all complicit. This is a disturbing and scathing commentary upon corruption in Russian society and the disintegration of family values. 
© RRFF -  Russian superstar Khabensky stars in 
Selfie and Sobibor.
Selfie: A stylish thriller about a man who discovers he has been replaced by a doppelganger (double). When he is institutionalised by his disbelieving friends, only his daughter seems to see the truth. The film looks great, is well acted, but aspects of the plot don't hang together for me, with several illogicalities that I simply can't get my head around.

Alliance Francaise Classic Film Festival
8-11 November
Astor Cinema, Melbourne
© Palace  -  don't mess with this woman
This short and sweet festival pays tribute to legendary actress Jeanne Moreau, who died last year, aged 89. Six of her most renowned films from 1958 - 1991 will screen. I caught up with Eva (1962), set in Venice, where a manipulative woman sets her sights on an arrogant writer (Stanley Baker), who is engaged to someone else. The game of cat and mouse, seduction, rejection, humiliation and deception must be seen to be believed. The film employs atmospheric black and white cinematography, and is a great opportunity to catch the sort of movie they don't make any more. 

Friday, 2 November 2018

November 2nd
Bohemian Rhapsody
Fahrenheit 11/9
Seven more films from Jewish International Film Festival

Bohemian Rhapsody has moved me to tears this week. Two other films reassure me that indie American film-making is alive and well, while the ongoing smorgasbord at JIFF makes it very hard to choose; they are all such strong films. 

Bohemian Rhapsody
Director: Bryan Singer
Length: 134 min
© Fox - what a performance in this
biopic of Queen and Freddie Mercury
The meteoric rise to fame of the band Queen and its lead singer Freddie Mercury is the subject of this biopic, which seems to have garnered a number of curmudgeonly critics. Sure, the film tells the story in a linear way, breaking no new ground, but for me it is thrilling, moving, uplifting, and 100% entertaining. Rami Malek plays Mercury, with all the mannerisms and flair, as if he's an incarnation of the singer. His flamboyant, magnificent performance is Oscar-worthy. On one level the film is about the music, and the creative process that bands go through, their closeness punctuated by creative and ego clashes. These are musicians who wanted to be innovative, and to involve the audience in their performances, creating legendary songs that are now cross-generational, beloved anthems. It is also the story of a boy - a disappointment to his stern father, insecure about his looks, desperately wanting love and approval, and struggling with his sexuality leading to a lifestyle that spirals out of control. The era is faithfully recreated, while the book-ending of the film with the 1985 Live Aid concert creates an unforgettable climax. The way the production combines the actual music with the actors' performances makes me believe I am seeing the real band. The big surprise however comes in the emotional wallop it packs for me, imparting the humanity and pain under the life of stardom of the man with the angel's voice.
4 - highly recommended! (5 for my enjoyment)

Director: Felix Van Groeningen
Length: 112 min
Exclusive to Cinema Nova
© Roadshow - powerhouse performances 
depict a disintegrating marriage as seen
through the eyes of the young son
Joe (Ed Oxenbould) is the 14-year-old son of Jeanette (Carey Mulligan) and Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal, in 1960s Montana. When Jerry loses his job he decides to join a firefighting crew, leaving his family to fend for themselves. As Jeanette struggles with Jerry's absence, Joe is forced to grow up quickly, as he witnesses the prelude to a disintegrating marriage. Wildlife is understated, gentle and sad, marked by three truly outstanding performances. Aussie Oxenbould (from Paper Planes) is a revelation, in a thoughtful, emotional and compelling performance. Mulligan, in her capturing of a woman torn between expected roles of the day and her own needs, is riveting. The story feels authentic, and the director allows plenty of time and quiet moments (no overwhelming aggravating soundtrack) to appreciate the emotions of the characters. No-one is demonised - it's just life, and portrayed in the sort of American Indie film I really admire.
3.5 - well recommended!  

Fahrenheit 11/9
Director: Michael Moore
Length: 126 min
© Madman- Moore is on the rampage again,
this time with Trump and the entire system in 
his firing line. 
He's back!! Love him or hate him, crusading social critic Michael Moore takes on what he sees as the totally broken American system in a sprawling and disturbing documentary. Among the many issues he grapples with are the shock of Hilary Clinton losing the election even though she had more votes; the town of Flint, where the Governor switched the water supply so that thousands of children (poor and black) got lead poisoning; the ongoing school shootings, where kids are now taking gun protest into their own hands; but most of all the reprehensible history and nature of President Donald Trump, who foments hatred, and, according to Moore, has an uncanny parallel to Hitler, and a number of other tyrants. Even Obama is not spared in an incident seen as a total betrayal of the Flint people. Moore goes as far as to say the Democrats paved the way for Trump, and the only way to change is to totally overthrow the system. We'd expect nothing less from the uncompromising MM.
3.5 - well recommended!  

Jewish International Film Festival - more
Melbourne: Running in Melbourne until 21 Nov
Classic Elsternwick, Lido Hawthorn, Cameo Belgrave
For other states, times and ticketing see

© JIFF - creative use of music
and animation
Seder Masochism: Fans of animation and music (especially disco) should enjoy this zany film, loosely based upon the Passover Seder. Animated pharaohs, Egyptians, Israelites, and big Moses all dance, sing and discuss the meaning of Passover, but underneath is a subtle questioning of religion, along with a not-so-subtle feminist criticism of "the Patriarchy" and its role in demolishing the Goddess cult. 
Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes: This will be a must for any jazz fans. Founded by Jewish refugees, Blue Note is the iconic pioneering record label that released some of the best jazz artists ever. As a history of the struggle for black music to be heard, and an insight into the music itself, this is a winner.  
Outdoors: A young couple are building a new home in the Galilee. Initial enthusiasm gradually gives way to conflict over practicalities. This however masks deeper issues in the relationship. The story is so universal that most people in a relationship will easily relate. Well scripted, understated, and thought-provoking. 
The Interpreter: This wonderful film opened the Festival. It's the story of an 80 year old interpreter Mr Ungar who goes in search of the camp commandant responsible for the death of his parents, When he finds the commandant's son, Georg, the two go on a road trip through Slovakia to explore their parents' pasts. Walking a fine line between comedy and tragedy, the film is a warm-hearted and insightful look at the sins of the father, guilt, revenge, and forgiveness. 
Redemption (Geula): Devoutly Orthodox Menachem has a little daughter Geula who is undergoing cancer therapy. When Menachem is offered to play with the rock band he was in before he became religious, he is torn between desire to earn much-needed money and integrity around his beliefs. This compassionate, award-winning film is a showcase for fabulous festive Jewish music given the rock treatment. 
Murer: Anatomy of a Trial: Winner of a major Austrian film award, this is an in-depth examination of the trial of Franz Murer, a concentration camp commandant known as The Butcher of Vilnius. Re-enactments of the testimonies of the many witnesses and victims is exacting and traumatic, but the machinations behind the scenes, involving government manipulations, are equally chilling. 
The Prince and the Dybbuk: Michal Waszynski directed the classic Yiddish film The Dybbuk in 1937. By the time of his death in 1965, he'd directed more than 50 films, and some people even  remembered him as an Italian prince. The truth of his origins in the Ukraine, and the reinventing of himself, are explored in this intriguing doco that questions whether one can ever break free from one's roots.