Wednesday, 15 May 2019

May 16th
Aga
The Realm


Apologies! I ran my review of The Realm one week too early, so here it is again. This week there's not a lot that I've yet managed to catch up with, but the one I have reviewed is a beauty: a film about an Inuit couple living in the middle of nowhere, and exclusive to Cinema Nova. 

Aga
Director: Milko Lazarov
Length: 96 min
Exclusive to Cinema Nova
© Madman -  an old couple living a traditional
life at the ends of the earth
The gem of a film is set in the frozen northern wilderness where aging Inuit couple Nanook and Sedna live a traditional life, in the style of their ancestors. The daily grind is  bleak, challenging, lonely and remote. Each year less food is caught, and Sedna's health is rapidly deteriorating. It is the woman's wish that the couple can reconcile with estranged daughter Aga who works in a far-off mine. Bulgarian director Lazarov has crafted a sublime film, that has won many awards, and which sneaks up on you, after initial ponderings as to whether anything substantial is going to happen. This is an eye-opening insight into a lifestyle that is fading fast, and almost unimaginable to us city-slickers.  The deliberately slow pace, the endless whiteness, and the gradual unfolding of the tale all make for a mesmerising cinematic experience. I can't imagine ever experiencing that culture so it is a privilege to get an insight via this gentle, surprisingly moving film.
4 - highly recommended! 

The Realm
Director: Rodrigo Sorogoyen
Length: 132 min
Limited Release: Palace Como, Balwyn, Kino, Cinema Nova and Classic Elsternwick
© Rialto - Antonio de la Torre is excellent as a corrupt
pollie going from perpetrator to
aspiring whistle-blower
Manuel Lopez Vidal (Antonio de la Torre) is a Spanish politician in a regional area, living a lavish lifestyle largely funded by political corruption. When leaked information threatens to expose the dastardly doings of Manuel and his cronies, the cover-up, distancing and scapegoat games begin. From the fantastic opening long tracking shot to the explosive final two monologues, this is a smart and challenging film, that really exposes the sort of political corruption familiar to parts of Europe (and no doubt many places). Manuel's situation becomes more dire by the moment as his once-loyal pals seek to save their own skins using progressively threatening measures. This is not an easy film and  I needed quite some effort following the characters, who's who and who does what. But I became gradually lured into the suspenseful plot, that doesn't let up for a minute. The film has won copious awards (mostly in Spain) for its acting, scripting and more. It's a salutary lesson for us all to keep those pesky pollies honest!
3.5 - well recommended!

Thursday, 9 May 2019

May 10th
All is True
The Realm
Rockabul
The Hustle

An interesting week as usual with such a varied grab-bag of movies. From a Spanish politico-thriller, to insightful doco, women behaving badly, and the Bard himself there is plenty to choose from. 

All is True
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Length: 101 min
© Sony  -  the Bard returns to the bosom of 
his family
In 1613 William Shakespeare (Kenneth Branagh) is the greatest writer of his era. When his renowned Globe Theatre burns down he returns to his familial home in Stratford. There he takes to gardening, and repairing estranged relationships with his wife Anne Hathaway (Judi Dench) and daughters Judith and Susanna. Scandals ensue, and much soul searching takes place, as Will tries to come to terms with the death of his beloved son, Hamnet, years before. Experts love to debate how much of this interpretation of the Bard's last days is true, but for me it isn't overly important. This is an exquisitely realised portrait of an era, a man, and a group of people trying to make some sense of the most important things in life, much as Shakespeare himself did in all his works. The dialogue feels real and immediate, so easy to relate to in this modern day, and yet still in keeping with the sensibility of the time. A near-unrecognisable Branagh (complete with prosthetic nose) pays absolute homage to his hero, and with a bonus appearance by Ian McKellen as the Earl of Southampton, this is a memorable film with superb performances by all. (Dench is sublime, as always.) It is also visually magnificent and has a richly lyrical soundtrack. It left me in tears thanks to its poignant handling of essential truths and sadnesses in life.
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended! 

The Realm
Director: Rodrigo Sorogoyen
Length: 132 min
Limited Release: Palace Como, Balwyn, Kino, Cinema Nova and Classic Elsternwick
© Rialto - Antonio de la Torre is excellent as a corrupt
pollie going from perpetrator to
aspiring whistle-blower
Manuel Lopez Vidal (Antonio de la Torre) is a Spanish politician in a regional area, living a lavish lifestyle largely funded by political corruption. When leaked information threatens to expose the dastardly doings of Manuel and his cronies, the cover-up, distancing and scapegoat games begin. From the fantastic opening long tracking shot to the explosive final two monologues, this is a smart and challenging film, that really exposes the sort of political corruption familiar to parts of Europe (and no doubt many places). Manuel's situation becomes more dire by the moment as his once-loyal pals seek to save their own skins using progressively threatening measures. This is not an easy film and  I needed quite some effort following the characters, who's who and who does what. But I became gradually lured into the suspenseful plot, that doesn't let up for a minute. The film has won copious awards (mostly in Spain) for its acting, scripting and more. It's a salutary lesson for us all to keep those pesky pollies honest!
3.5 - well recommended!

Rockabul
Director: Travis Beard
Length: 89 min
© Potential  - it's potentially life-threatening
to be in a heavy metal band in Kabul
Imagine living where you could be jailed or killed for simply playing rock music in a band. Director Beard is an Aussie who has lived in Kabul, Afghanistan, for 8 years, and he's focused his film on a group of fearless young fellas who have formed a band, not just any band, but a heavy metal one, determined to bring music to the youth of their country. Beard follows the group, District Unknown, as they play a few tentative gigs, headline the first music festival in Afghanistan for more than thirty years, then end up travelling to a  festival in neighboring India. I loathe metal music, so for me the musical side of this is a bit confronting, but the story is one that really needs telling. Vilely repressive segments of conservative societies need to be constantly challenged, and what better way than with a brave doco of this nature. The boys themselves are entertaining to watch and it's inspiring to hear their progressive views on life. (All are really fluent in English, especially swearing!)  The real strength of Rockabul is the opportunity to get a glimpse into a life we seldom see from a perspective other than the Taliban, the US troops or suicide bombers (though they all feature minimally).
3.5 - well recommended!


The Hustle
Director: Chris Addison
Length: 93 min
© Universal   - chalk and cheese - two con artists
go head to head on the French Riviera
Josephine (Ann Hathaway) is a cool, elegant up-market con artist working in a French Riviera town. When loud, crude Aussie gal Lonnie (Rebel Wilson) turns up, plying the same trade, it's obvious the two will butt heads. Or is it possible they could team up to create double trouble for the unsuspecting men they are ripping off? Much is made of this being a female-based remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and even with a gender reversal, no-one will do it better than Michael Caine and Steve Martin. But these diametrically opposed women give it a good shot, and I do like seeing women play men at their own tricks. I confess to having several laughs, but something falls short, possibly  because of Wilson being such a type-cast bogan, always presenting herself in the same tired mould. Hathaway, by contrast, is rather impressive in her role. Nevertheless, and depending upon your style of humour, there could be some mildly diverting viewing here.
2.5 - maybe! (good for a total veg-out)


Wednesday, 1 May 2019

May 2nd
Top End Wedding
The Hummingbird Project
The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir
The Chaperone
Long Shot
The Meaning of Vanlife

It's a thunderingly big week with six new reviews! As well as five cinema releases, for the first time I review an interesting doco that's screening on an on-demand channel. 
Top End Wedding
Director: Wayne Blair
Length: 103 min
© Universal - sweet romance with
 strong Indigenous themes
Lauren (Miranda Tapsell) and Ned (Gwilym Lee) are young lawyers in love. Lauren is a Darwin gal and is eager to be married in her home town. After a hastily planned wedding, they arrive in Darwin to learn that Lauren's mother Daffy (Ursula Yovich), a Tiwi Islander, has gone AWOL, leaving English father Trevor (Huw Higginson) broken-hearted and slumped in his pantry listening to sad music. Delaying  the wedding, Ned and Lauren head off on a road trip to find Daffy, a trip which leads them ultimately to the Tiwi Islands, and many answers about Lauren's estranged family.  Yes it's predictable, yes at times it's corny, with moments of tacky forced humour and it's not totally credible from their mode of speech that the two lovers really are lawyers . . but for me most criticisms are forgiven. The film has a truckload of heart, and is a wonderful showcase for parts of Australia many of us have never seen, and for the peoples who first lived there. The plot about white/indigenous romance is fresh, the scenery is a dream, and the wonderful use of non-professional Tiwi Islanders in the film's second half works really well and movingly. Wonderful too is the performance of Kerry Fox as Lauren's austere boss who rises to the challenges she is presented in organising the wedding logistics. Some of my colleagues have been mighty unkind to this, but despite my niggles, I found myself deeply moved by the family themes and the overall refreshing innocence of this story. 
3.5 - well recommended!

The Hummingbird Project
Director: Kim Nguyen
Length: 111 min
© Madman - trouble in the hot tub in this 
unexpectedly tense take of greed
Cousins Anton Zaleski  (Alexander Skarsgard) and Vincent (Jesse Eisenberg) work for a stockbroking house run by tough taskmaster Eva Torres (Selma Hayek). Succesful trades rely on being nano-seconds ahead of the competition. Leaving the firm, the cousins decide to strike out alone in an attempt to build a super-fast fibre optic cable from Kansas to Wall Street, in the hope they will make squillions. A film that features a lot of high-tech digging equipment is not necessarily going to appeal to many viewers, but somehow, with the help of a strong cast and a director with a good handle on wringing tension and creating atmosphere out of excavation, it works for me. The human side of the plot also has its intrigue; greed is often at the heart of this type of plot, but there is also a nice undercurrent of pathos - the guy who thinks he isn't really doing anything wrong, so driven is he to get his algorithms right, and the guy who is hell-bent on coming first, even at the cost of his own self-destruction. And nice, too, to see a woman behaving even more ruthlessly than the men. This won't be everyone's cup of tea, but it's a worthy techno-thriller.
3.5 - well recommended!

Long Shot
Director: Jonathan Levine
Length: 115 min
© StudioCanal  - An unlikely but engaging pair: 
Seth Rogan and Charlize Theron
Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron), US Secretary of State to bozo President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk), is resigning so she can run for first female president in 2020. On a whim she hires Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen), who she knew way back when, as her speech writer. They are polar opposites - she is a cool, elegant figure on the world stage, he an outspoken, trouble-making scruffy journalist. How their unlikely pairing will pan out makes for some very funny, if at times not totally believable, story-telling. Is this a classic rom-com or a political satire? Well, it's a bit of both. It cleverly combines Rogen's trademark gross-out humour and biting one-liners with Theron's intelligent beauty, along with a plot that never hides its contempt for current US politics and corporate manoeuvring. It also has a surprisingly strong feminist sub-text. Once a viewer puts aside elements of scepticism ("would she really have done that?"), there is much to be relished in this intelligently scripted film which works on a multitude of levels. Chemistry is unexpectedly strong between the leads, while the many pointed digs at political corruption, social media, public image, political division and more work really well. This should be a better-than-average crowd pleaser.     
4 - highly recommended!

The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir
Director: Ken Scott
Length: 92 min
© Icon - an odd blend of fantasy, refugee tale,  and
morality tale, with Bollywood overtones
Aja Patel (played by Tamil Bollywood heartthrob Danush) grows up in the Mumbai slums, making ends meet by conning people out of their money. After the death of his mother, and eager to trace the identity of his father he heads to Paris where he falls in love, then inadvertently gets transported out of France when he hides in an IKEA wardrobe. His adventures take him to Rome, England, Libya and beyond. Framed by the adult Aja telling a group of slum children his story, this is light-weight fare that entertains by virtue of its international cast, lovely settings, pleasing story, charismatic lead, and a couple of up-beat Bollywood musical numbers. There is something a little too saccharine sweet for me, and the plot's sub-text about the illegal immigrant situation feels a bit stereotyped, although director Scott sees it as a multi-cultural fable about expanding one's horizons and discovering one's identity. Still, for those who like their movies fun and fairly innocuous, it should please. (Aja's obsession with IKEA brand-names is one of the high spots of the film's humour - look out for it.)
3 - recommended! (only just)

The Chaperone
Director: Michael Engler
Length: 103 min
© StudioCanal - women are discovering themselves 
 in the flapper era
Writer (Julian Fellowes) and director (Engler) of Downton Abbey have adapted a popular novel into this handsome production which is part fact, part fiction. In the Roaring Twenties aspiring young dancer Louise Brookes (Haley Lu Richardson) leaves small-town Kansas for New York to audition for a modern dance company. The real life Louise  eventually achieved a measure of movie-star fame. According to memoirs, on her New York trip, Louise was chaperoned, but here the fiction begins. Seemingly conservative middle-aged Norma (Elizabeth McGovern) accompanies her young charge and while Louise pursues getting accepted into the company, Norma goes about examining her past via the local orphanage, where she meets caretaker Joseph (a lovely performance from Geza Rohrig). Again some critics are unkind to this film; for me it's a delightful period piece, which beautifully recreates the era, with an excellent soundtrack to boot. More importantly the two lead women are a great foil for each other, and as women in an oppressive era both throwing off constraints, it works very well. The elements of romance are touching, and the film's surprise ending is well ahead of its time. 
3.5 - well recommended!

The Meaning of Vanlife
Director: Jim Lounsbury
Length: 88 min
Screening now exclusively on STAN
© Cubic Films  - a paradise for Kombi lovers, 
minimalists and nomads
It's a bit like going back to the hippie era, as young folk (and a smatttering of oldies) gather in the US to meet one another and to celebrate their lifestyle. Vanlifers who have been communicating from Australia go over to meet their American counterparts and to make a film about the burgeoning movement. Vanlifers are folk who live and travel in smallish vans on the road, embracing a life of minimalism, adventure, and sometimes even running "normal" jobs from the road. It is certainly a homage to sustainable living, less materialism, becoming unplugged (though there is quite a bit of internet chat), and community building around the campfire. It's not a life for me, but the doco gives much food for thought and perhaps plenty of inspiration to clear out one's junk and live life more simply.
3 - recommended!


Thursday, 25 April 2019

April 25th
1985
Avengers: Endgame
Gloria Bell
Celeste



It's a huge week with the eagerly anticipated release of Avengers:Endgame. If you're not into blockbusters there are still another three new releases reviewed here for your consideration.  

1985
Director: Yen Tan
Length: 85 min
© Icon - deeply moving and powerful
film-making set at the start of the AIDS crisis
The year is 1985 and New York advertising executive Adrian (Cory Michael Smith) is returning home for Christmas to his conservative Texan family. How can he tell them he is gay, let alone dying of AIDS? This exquisitely understated film takes a deeply compassionate approach to its subject matter, both the trauma Adrian must go through and the repressive, religious ethos of the day that makes it so hard for him to reveal the truth to his family.  His relationships with mother (Virginia Madsen), father (Michael Chiklis) and little brother Andrew (Aidan Langford) each have their individual dynamic that is explored delicately and with deep insight. Especially poignant and heart-breaking is his friendship with local girl Carly (Jamie Chung), an old friend who still holds hope for some romantic connection with Adrian. The film is shot in evocative black and white, which somehow enhances the sadness and gloom of those early years of the AIDS epidemic. The film has won countless awards, not just at LGBTQI festivals. Justifiably so, as it is a small gem that tells a huge story of both a broader social catastrophe with an intimate family and unconditional love thread at its heart. 
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended!

Avengers: Endgame
Director: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
Length: 181 min
© Disney - what can I say? It's amazing
Eleven years and 22 films later, the MCU (Marvel Comic Universe) franchise about a group of superheroes avenging the world comes to its climactic end. I'm not normally a big fan of this type of film, and for those who are, whatever I say will have little bearing. BUT . . . this is such a full-on, exciting, at times moving, action-packed, funny and, dare I say, well-scripted film (well, some of the time) it is almost worth surrendering three hours of your life to it. As with all films of this genre you must suspend disbelief. In a nutshell, the team (including Cptn america, Cptn Marvel, The Hulk, Iron Man, Ant Man, and Thor) gather to try to undo the ghastliness that the big bad guy Thanos wreaked when he obliterated half the world's population in the penultimate film Avengers: Infinity War. If they succeed is for you to discover. Ultimately the film for me is made by the huge cast of characters, who die-hard fans know so well; they are rounded, feel real and even have provocative and intelligent things to say. (Whether the quantum physics stacks up or is gobbly-gook doesn't matter - it sounds convincing.) Of course there are the expected battles, some of them so ludicrous, but there's no denying the power and fury of the SFX. Star power of the cast is amazing and there are more cameos than you can shake a stick at. In the long run, it's just amazingly good fun, three hours flew past, and from what I read on the net, die-hard fans are not disappointed - in fact they are ecstatic.
4 - highly recommended!

Celeste
Director: Ben Hackworth
Length: 105 min

© Unicorn Films - a lovely-looking film with
a questionable plot
Celeste (Radha Mitchell) is a once renowned opera singer, living now in the tropical rainforest of far north Queensland. Her step-son Jack (Thomas Cocquerel) is running from debts and heads north to the magnificent estate where his now-dead father once lived with Celeste. As Celeste's close friend Grace (Nadine Garner) urges the singer to give a comeback concert, dire family secrets will be revealed. The film takes its time to unveil the connections between the characters, and what one initially assumes is constantly open to interpretation.  This is one of the most beautiful-looking films I've seen in a long time. The magnificent setting of the actual location, tourist attraction Paronella Park near Innisfail, is a wonder to behold, and the cinematography does it total justice. Everything is gorgeous, mysterious and misty, but unfortunately the script just doesn't live up to the film's lovely look. Some of the relationships feel forced and unbelievable, the opera singing (with dubious lip synching) simply doesn't feel credible, while the main characters of Jack and Celeste are so polarised it's impossible to believe that they ever shared a family. It's a shame, because there is a broody, sensual, almost European feel to the whole thing, and yet the overall impression is that the script simply doesn't provide a strong enough foundation.
2.5 - maybe!

Gloria Bell
Director: Sebastian Lelio
Length: 100 min
© Roadshow - Julianne contemplates mortality
and how to get the most out of middle age
Mother of two grown kids, Gloria (Julianne Moore), has been divorced for about 12 years. She loves to dance and frequents clubs playing retro disco music and offering possible opportunities to meet men. When she meets recently divorced Arnold (John Turturro) it looks as though she may have found a dance partner and a soul mate. But as we know, these things seldom go so smoothly. Director Lelio made this same film, set in Chile and called Gloria, back in 2014. It's odd that he has remade it in English, but it certainly is great to see the wonderful Moore back on the screen. She has the sort of emotional range that speaks volumes without words. Women of a certain age (and marital status) will relate to this and possibly feel quite uncomfortable. Arnold is the sort of fellow I hear single women talk about - a man who seems to offer the world but can't break loose from his past and the pressures of an ex-wife and demanding daughters. While it is a fairly low-key film, it will surely resonate with middle-aged people on the dating scene,(not to mention with parents whose kids are too busy with their phones and self-absorption to relate to their family).
3.5 - well recommended!


Thursday, 18 April 2019

April 18th
Burning
Thunder Road
Breaking Habits
Spanish Film Festival


Ole!! The Spanish Film Festival opens tonight with weeks of terrific films from Spain and Latin America. As well there's the new award-winning Korean film, plus a couple of fascinating decidedly non-mainstream offerings.  

Burning
Director: Lee Chang-Dong
Length: 148 min
© Palace - a powerful new film from
South Korea leaves you thinking
With a massive 32 wins to its name, Burning is the story of Lee Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in), an awkward farming country bumpkin who runs into old school pal Haemi (Jong-seo Jun). She's flirtatious, and strangely other-worldly and he falls madly in love with her. When she returns from a trip to Africa she has a new man, Ben (Steven Yeun), in tow. Ben is rich, self-confident, arrogant and a self-professed "player". He is everything Jong-su is not, but he harbors some disturbing secrets. As the trio spend time together, with Jong-su feeling like the third wheel, raging jealousy, envy and obsession overcome him. This is an intriguing, frustrating, at times sublimely beautiful film that is sometimes so slow it almost crawls, and at other moments it has you totally enthralled and mystified. While some folk cannot stand such intensely drawn-out films, others will revel in the film's many memorable aspects: a relentlessly slow-burn air of intrigue, along with evocative cinematography (scenes of nature, capturing a universal human sadness and longing). The trio of lead actors are seriously impressive, with the complexity of Haemi and her unexpected behaviours baffling, while the starkly drawn contrasts between the two men only add to the increasing tension and the totally shocking denouement. It won't be for everyone, but this is a film to ponder on long after you've left the cinema.  
4 - highly recommended!

Thunder Road
Director: Jim Cummings
Length: 92 min
© Rialto  - Cummings is a bit of a one-man
tour-de-force as a cop having an
emotional meltdown over his personal life
For policeman Jim Arnaud (Jim Cummings), nothing seems to be going right.  At his beloved mother's funeral he has an emotional meltdown and is undergoing further stress trying to share the upbringing of his daughter Crystal (Kendall Farr) with his estranged wife. Cummings won umpteen awards with his short film of the same name back in 2016, and now this feature film has already garnered a swag of awards and nominations. This is film-making not of the mainstream variety. It is touching, quirky, and low-key. Most of what happens appears as small vignettes, all held together by Cumming's astonishing performance of a vulnerable man struggling with his emotions, and trying to do the right thing. As Jim lurches between semi-hysteria, despair and positivity, the film toggles between semi-comedy and heart-wrenching drama. It is the simple humanity that is front and centre in an off-beat but most rewarding movie.
4 - highly recommended!

Breaking Habits
Director: Robert Ryan
Length: 87 min
© Icon   -  "nuns" up to their ears
in medicinal cannabis
This intriguing but bizarre doco follows Sister Kate, founder of Sisters of the Valley, a group of marijuana growing "nuns".  She started life as Christine Meeusen, corporate executive and mother of three. When her double dealing husband rendered her penniless and homeless, she found a way get back on her feet and support her kids. Teaming up with like-minded women, she became involved in California's lucrative weed industry. Dressing like nuns and devoted to healing, they grow medicinal cannabis and develop associated products, many of which are given free to poor sick folk unable to afford it. There certainly is plenty of food for thought in this doco; but the anti-weed brigade will no doubt rail against it. 
 3 - recommended!

Moro Spanish Film Festival
Melbourne: 18 April to 8 May
Palace Cinemas at:  Westgarth, Como, Kino, Brighton Bay, Astor, Balwyn
For times, ticketing and other states visit: https://www.spanishfilmfestival.com/


There's not only the latest in Spanish cinema but also films from all over Latin America (the Cinelatino Festival), including Cuba and the Dominican Republic. This vibrant festival has so much to see and experience. Special events feature cocktails, music, flamenco dance and even an olive oil appreciation session. From the few I've previewed there are a couple of standouts:


Engaging and endearing
Champions: Marco, an arrogant basketball coach going through a marital separation, is convicted of drink driving and given 90 days community service. He must coach a team of people with varying disabilities from Down Syndrome to other mental issues. The film has copped some flack as being patronising and potentially offensive, however I think it manages to create an effective platform for better understanding of difference and inclusion of marginalised people. The characters, despite their foibles, are never less than endearing, some of them very astute, and all played by non-professional actors with the actual disabilities. The arc of Marco's transformation is predictable but sweet, and the very funny, heart-warming film has smashed all Spanish box office records.
Gypsy life and love
Carmen and Lola: Fresh from the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, this story is set in the impoverished Gypsy community who live on the outskirts of Madrid. A woman's role is to remain uneducated, marry young, breed and be subservient to her man. When Carmen, 18 and just engaged, meets rebellious Lola, the two are instantly attracted but the love they develop will be in conflict with the expectations of their community. This is touching, highly romantically charged and a great insight into the lives of the Gypsy people (with some excellent music too!)
The Good Girls: In a wealthy Mexican suburb, the biggest problems for the upper class snobby women are what flowers to put on the table, what handbags to buy, and who to gossip about next. Beautiful, cold Sofia has it all, until her husband's business hits a stumbling block, as does the broader Mexican economy. This film walks a fine line between comedy and tragedy; it is a scathing look at the idle rich, as well as the sort of economic problems that beset countries not as stable as our own. The production values are lovely, every setting carefully crafted, while the subtlety of the gradual deterioration of Sofia's life and relationships almost makes one feel sorry for her. 
 4 - the Spanish Film Festival is highly recommended!