Wednesday, 26 December 2018

December 26th
The Favorite
Cold War
The Wild Pear Tree

Overindulgence in turkeys and plum pudds is over (hopefully) and it's time to hit the cinema. Although we have no more Hobbits or Lord of the Rings, Boxing Day releases this year are strong and all (that I've reviewed) are highly worthy of seeing.

Dir: Adam McKay
Length: 132 min 
© E-One - Christian Bale has gone the whole
hog to look like Dick Cheney
Already nominated for SIX Golden Globes, Vice is the story of President George W Bush's 2-IC - Dick Cheney. From Wyoming boy, to major White House power broker, Cheney was definitely the war-mongering power behind the throne, taking the US into Iraq while heading up large armaments company Halliburton. (That's integrity for you eh?)  The film is billed as a comedy, and in many ways it is - if the scurrilous doings were not so serious. McKay uses fabulous editing devices to create visual metaphors for what is going on, but the truly impressive aspect of the film is just how well the lead actors inhabit their roles. Bale, behind a pile of prosthetics and weight, has been subsumed by his character, while Sam Rockwell as Bush captures every nuance of the idiosycratic president's style. Steve Carell, who just gets better with every role he plays, is Donald Rumsfeld while Amy Adams plays Lynne Cheney. Dick's wife was definitely a force behind him, and the whole concept of a little power going to people's heads is amply displayed by both Cheneys. You don't have to be vitally interested in US politics to get a lot out of this film, both informationally, satirically and entertainment wise. For me, it's a winner.
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended! 

The Favourite
Dir: Yiorgos Lanthimos
Length: 119 min 
© 20th Century Fox -  two cousins slug it out to be
Queen Anne's favourite
Here's another worthy nominee for five Golden Globes. In 1708 Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) sits on the British throne. She's an insecure monarch and allows her adviser (and secret lover) Sarah Churchill, duchess of Marlborough, (Rachel Weisz) to make most of the decisions, especially in regard to the ongoing war with France. Then along comes impoverished Abigail (Emma Stone), Sarah's cousin, who sees an opportunity and ingratiates herself into the Queen's favour. So begins a rivalry and love triangle, rich with female hostility, jealousy, scandal and humour. I'm no history buff, but this film is a major entertainment, with the trademark, off-kilter touch of a creative director (think The Lobster, Dogtooth, neither of which I particularly liked, but I love this one.) The three women are simply splendid in their roles, all three being nominated for leading actress awards. Production values are superb, and the sweeping cinematographic angles make for a handsome film, which is, nevertheless, also surprisingly intimate.
4 - highly recommended!

Cold War
Dir: Pawel Pawlikowski
Length: 88 min 
© Palace  -  musically talented lovers
do battle with the effect of the Soviet Bloc
on their  star-crossed lives
Short and sweet - and winner of Best Director at this year's Cannes Film Festival, Cold War is inspired by the lives of the director's parents. In post WW2 Poland, pianist Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) is commissioned by the ruling Soviets to form an ensemble to rekindle national pride through music. Searching for singers, he meets the beautiful, sultry Zula (Joanna Kulig) and the two fall madly in love. But escape from the Iron Curtain bloc is difficult, and so over 15 years the couples meet and part, as they traverse Warsaw, Berlin, Paris and Yugoslavia. The film looks impossibly beautiful, in a way that only black and white cinematography can achieve. The singing of the various choirs is beyond heavenly, but the romance for me lacks something - it seems more style than emotional substance (putting me at odds with most of the swooning critics). The director says he deliberately left out large slabs of the protagonists' lives, to leave the audience to fill in the gaps. Possibly the runtime is simply too short to allow for real expansion of the characters' lives, and the dire effect repressive politics had on those lives. Nevertheless as a musically sublime, visually gorgeous story of star-crossed, possibly incompatible lovers, it's well worth a look.
3.5 - well recommended! 

Kusama: Infinity
Dir: Heather Lenz
Length: 78 min 

© Madman - talented and eccentric, this Japanese
artist is an eye-opener
Yayoi Kusama is the top-selling female artist in the world - yet, until this film, I'd never heard of her! With a career spanning six decades, Kusama has worked in the fields of painting, sculpture, installation art, writing and more. The film outlines her challenging life - from a traumatic childhood and dysfunctional family in post WW2 Japan, to mental illness, sexism in a male-dominated sphere, among many other obstacles. Despite all, her devotion to her craft has won the day for the nearly 80-year-old. The artist states "I am making art to spread the joy and the love", as she paints polka dots everywhere, including on naked bodies she employs for her publicity. Though I don't profess to understand modern art, this beautifully crafted film certainly gives a great insight into the unusual psychology of a highly talented and fascinating figure.  
3.5 - well recommended! 

The Wild Pear Tree
Dir: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Length: 188 min 
© Sharmill - a long but beautifully 
shot film
With six nominations for best film in some high profile festivals this year, Ceylan's beautiful, but extremely long  film is both engrossing and infuriating. His last two films (also very long) Winter Sleep and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia were, for me, somehow more accessible than this one, which tells the story of  aspiring writer Sinan, who returns to his home village after finishing uni, only to find his father, Idris, is gambling heavily and owing money to all and sundry. When the film deals with the son, his literary aspirations and his relationships with family and friends, particularly his father, it works a treat. Everything feels ultra authentic. But Ceylan introduces two characters - local imams, - and allows them and Sinan to walk and talk, segueing off into lengthy pontifications upon religion, and its place in modern Turkey. For me the film's major strength is the wonderful cinematography, but perhaps one needs to be in maximum concentration mode to totally appreciate what is going on here (and I obviously wasn't!) 
3.5 - well recommended!    

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

December 20th

Almost at the day of major releases - Boxing Day - but not quite! So this week we have the stylish Colette, and I reckon it's time for a review of the filmic year with my "best of" lists.  

Dir: Wash Westmoreland
Length: 111 min 
© Transmission -   one of Keira's
more engaging performances 
Sidonie Gabrielle Colette (Keira Knightley) moved from rural France to Paris in the late 1800s, marrying much older Willy (Dominic West), a writer and libertine. He encouraged her to write her own saucy stories of schoolgirl Claudine, but under his name. Becoming more outrageous and flaunting lesbian relationships, Colette increasingly desired recognition for her own work. This story of one of France's most acclaimed writers is a handsome production, beautifully depicting  the literary and bohemian Parisian life. It is also very relevant to the ongoing "glass ceiling" battle for women, with Colette being a woman way ahead of her years, battling the sexism of her day. Knightley is suitably feisty, the story is never less than engaging making for an all-round entertaining and sexy period piece.
3.5 - well recommended! 

It's that time of year again to ponder over spread-sheets of scores, and to soul search as to which films were the most entertaining, the most well made, the most artistic and so on. I don't want to rank them in order - how can you compare the vastly different genres, claiming one is better than another. How can I choose just ten??!!
So . . . here are those memorable films that really impressed me (or totally entertained me) this year. 
The date upon which my review was published is included so you can go back and check' em out if you wish. 
Top 10 (in no particular order)
A Star is Born (October 18)
Bohemian Rhapsody (November 2)
Leave No Trace (August 23)
A Fantastic Woman (no review - Spanish - marvellous)
Isle of Dogs (April 12)
They Shall Not Grow Old (December 16)
Shoplifters (November 15)
Ladies in Black (Sept 20)
Three Billboards in Ebbing Missouri (Jan 1)
The Last Note (from Greek Film Festival - Oct 11)

Almost in top 10:
Phantom Thread (Feb 1)
Black Klansman (Aug 16)
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Dec 6)

Honorable mentions
Working Class Boy (Aug 23)
How They Got Over (May 10)
Geula (Nov 2)
The Shape of Water (Jan 18)
Custody (Sept 27)
The Interpreter (Nov 2)
An Ideal Home (May 24) - a rare comedy included
I Tonya (Jan 25) 

Now, if you're wondering why I don't have a "Worst of" list  it's because I tend to not see those films I think I will not enjoy. So my scores are usually skewed towards the high end, and I save many hours of my life by not watching films I could end up sinking the boots into. 

Saturday, 15 December 2018

December 16th
They Shall Not Grow Old
My Generation

In this end-of-school, pre-festive season week, I've  given the kiddy films a miss and caught up with a couple of films that are worth being tracked down on their limited release. 

They Shall Not Grow Old
Dir: Peter Jackson
Length: 99 min 
At selected cinemas (Nova, Lido, Cameo, Classic, Palace Balwyn)
© Roadshow - Remarkable, harrowing,
 a feat of film-making. 
It's a challenge to sum this one up briefly. The film was commissioned for the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One, and Jackson (Lord of Rings fame) is the perfect director for it. He has taken grainy old archival footage that was shot on the Western Front, and used digital wizardry to colorise it and seamlessly blend the black and white footage with the upgraded images. Using voice recordings from almost 100 men who fought in the so-called "Great War", all done back in the 1970s, he overlays the visuals with their story - a story that is at once stirring, horrific, inspiring and ultimately an anti-war testament. This is not about the politics of the war, but the human face of it - lads as young as 16 going off on what they thought was an adventure, only to discover the grim realities of a war that reduced soldiers almost to animals. No detail of the trench living conditions are spared, nor is the blood, gore, and human devastation on both sides. Although I found the film's content deeply distressing, I marvel at the craft that has created a film like nothing I've seen before, in giving people an authentic vision of what being in a war is like. The faces of these men will haunt me for some time, but it's a film we probably all should see. Catch it while you can. 
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended! (probably unmisssable, if you can watch such human devastation).  

My Generation
Dir: David Batty
Length: 85 min 
Exclusive to Cinema Nova
He's 80 now - Michael Caine reflects on the
Swinging Sixties and how they
changed the world
Acting royalty, Sir 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. The film has a soundtrack to die for - Beatles, Kinks, Stones, Animals and more. Carnaby Street gets another run with models and fashion icons like Twiggy and Mary Quant. Along with fabulous archival footage and interviews from the day, those who were young then reflect on the era and their youth. This is a wonderful nostalgia for those who remember the 60s, or want to understand the era better.
3.5 - well recommended! 

Stay tuned for the lists of my favourite films for 2018! Coming soon. 

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

December 6th
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Second Act
The Coming Back Out Ball

This week we see that Melissa McCarthy is much more talented than films like Bridesmaids would indicate. The poignant slice-of-life film Roma comes from Mexico via the Cinelatino festival, while J-Lo is a lot of feminist fun in Second Act. And a fascinating doco turns the spotlight on the older LGBTQI community. 

Can You Ever Forgive Me
Dir: Marielle Heller
Length: 106 min 
© 20th Century Fox -  McCarthy and Richard
E Grant act up a storm 
Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) is a broke out-of-favour author, specialising in biographies. She's a reclusive alcoholic, not much liked by anyone. To make ends meet she begins selling whatever she can. But when she accidentally comes across an original letter from Fanny Brice hidden in a library book she steals it and so begins a new (criminal) career. Lee replicates and embellishes letters from famous people like Noel Coward and Dorothy Parker. Collectors pay a tidy sum for these "rarities". Lee's new friend Jack (Richard E Grant) joins her in inebriated soul-searching and eventually assists in the scam. This well-scripted, wonderful film is based upon a true story which in itself is fascinating, but it is the unexpectedly brilliant performances from McCarthy and Grant that won me over. Despite having so many unpleasant traits, Israel is portrayed in a complex way that cannot help but elicit empathy from the audiences. Grant's flamboyant campy Jack is both sad and funny. Both characters are grappling with their fatal flaws, and we can't help but relate to the heartfelt truths of their lives' disappointments. Simply wonderful viewing. 
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended! 

Dir: Alfonso Cuaron
Length: 135 min
Exclusive to ACMI, Lido Hawthorn, Nova
© Cinelatino FF - Roma is a slow-burn, deeply 
compassionate film about family, caring and more.
It opened the Cinelatino FF in Melbourne, and won the Golden Lion at Venice FF 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.
4 - highly recommended! 

Second Act
Dir: Peter Segal
Length: 103 min 
© Roadshow -  ???
Maya (Jennifer Lopez) is a 40-year-old retail worker, experienced and smart at her job but overlooked for a promotion. Her friend Joan (Leah Remini) encourages Maya to go for a better job and with the help of Joan's son, who creates a bogus CV and Facebook profile, Maya lands a top consulting job with a prestigious firm. Films of this nature tend to be predictable, but this one manages to overcome the cliches with a winning performance from Lopez, who strikes just the right note. The sub-plots involving the boss's daughter Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens), the competition between employees to create a new product, and revelations of Maya's past all prove entertaining, and the minor characters are quirky enough to keep the film feeling fresh. Surprisingly, I found myself enjoying it and even getting a tad teary in parts. Sometimes films like this are just the antidote to all the intensely deep and meaningful stuff I seem to immerse in. (And of course it's always great to see the gals shafting it to the blokes!)
3 - recommended! 

The Coming Back Out Ball
Dir: Sue Thomson
Length: 84 min 
Exclusive to Cinema Nova
© Backlot Films - a special event for "elders" of the 
LGBTQI community
Winner of the People's Choice Award for documentary at this year's MIFF, this is a heartfelt homage to the so-called "elders" of the LGBTQI community. The observational doco follows several people who have been invited to this special ball, celebrating gender diversity. For many, who lived through the era when being gay was criminalised, and who now feel isolated in their older years, this is the first experience of total acceptance. Artistic director of the ball Tristan Meecham is pivotal in bringing the whole thing together, and he acknowledges how so many of the older members of the community paved the way for him to be out and proud. The film is very heartwarming and an excellent window into the diversity that is the LGBTQI community.
3.5 - well recommended!