Thursday, 31 January 2019


January 31st
Ben is Back
Free Solo
Front Runner

With the Oscars coming up on 25th Feb, and nominations out, all eyes are on the movie world. Many of those films have already been released in Oz, and some are yet to come. A contender for Best Doco is among this week's reviews, in another week of strong films that I've really enjoyed. 

Ben is Back
Director: Peter Hedges
Length: 103 min
© Roadshow -Julia Roberts gives one of her best 
performances ever. 
This is the gut-wrenching story of Ben, who is in rehab for heroin addiction, but unexpectedly returns home for Christmas. Mum Holly (Julia Roberts) is seemingly delighted. She has two younger kids to second husband Neil (Courtney B Vance), and they are overjoyed to have their brother back but Ben's sister Ivy (Kathryn Newton) is more skeptical, having seen the destruction Ben can wreak on family life. This is a showcase for one of Roberts' best performances ever, as the mother whose unconditional love will be tested to the max over a 24-hour period. Rising star Lucas Hedges, (Manchester by the SeaBoy Erased) gives another powerful and convincing performance. (Yes, writer/director Hedges is the real-life father of Lucas.) Anyone with knowledge of drug addiction will no doubt feel quite uneasy at this understated, yet dauntingly accurate depiction of a tragic and vexatious situation. The film is careful not to demonise people (except maybe the money-hungry dealers), looking at all possible contributors to what is an increasingly common situation. It is further to the film's credit that it opts for no easy answers at the disturbing conclusion.

4 - highly recommended!

Free Solo
Director: Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
Length: 100 min
© Madman - heart-stopping tension as Alex attempts
a death-defying climb - without ropes!
Nominated for Best Doco at the upcoming Oscars, this is a heart-stopping, possibly life-threatening doco for viewers with vertigo. Fearless film-makers and cameramen follow Alex Honnold as he becomes the first person to "free solo" El Capitan in Yosemite National Park USA. The imposing rock formation is over 1000 m high, and free soloing means Alex does it without any safety gear. The technical challenges involved in making the film are remarkable, but more unbelievable is the fearlessness of this brave (or crazy?) young man, who must execute the climb perfectly - or plunge to his death! Alex's practice routine is painstakingly followed, his inner psyche explored, along with the newly found love interest that of necessity changes his outlook and the stakes. The visuals are sublime, the thrills and tension almost unbearable, and this is a worthy homage to an athlete who'd be among the most extraordinary in the world.
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended (unless you fear heights)!

The Front Runner
Director: Jason Reitman
Length: 113 min
© Sony - Jackman is strong in this solid political 
tale of a man brought down by his wandering eye.
As a candidate for the 1988 US presidential elections, Senator Gary Hart was hands-down favourite. That was until the press got wind of an extra-marital affair. Rather than be hounded into the ground, Hart chose to withdraw from the race. This feature film version of the sad and sorry episode stars Hugh Jackman as the doomed candidate. I don't agree with the many ho-hum reviews - this is an excellently crafted film, which certainly resonates with today's US political scene, as does the ever-fraught issue of paparazzi and tabloid journalism vs ethical reporting. With the current focus on powerful men's sexual behaviour, it is also strongly relevant to today's world.  Jackman is powerfully good in this role, bringing a nuance to a man who obviously had good political ideas, but personal weaknesses. Vera Farmiga as Hart's wife is also a fine screen presence. The supporting cast is uniformly strong, especially JK Simmons as Hart's campaign manager. It's great to exit a film and be able chew over its many moral issues that still concern us today.
4 - highly recommended!


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