Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Feb 14th
If Beale Street Could Talk
At Eternity's Gate

Another week for films with Oscar nominations. These are amazingly diverse thematically, all strong in their own unique way, and once more testament to the art of independent non-mainstream film-making. 

If Beale Street Could Talk
Director: Barry Jenkins
Length: 119 min
© EOne - maximum romance - maximum anguish
when yet again, an Afro-american is falsely imprisoned
With three Oscar nominations to its name, plus another 67 wins and 133 nominations in other festivals, this is a much anticipated film. Based on a novel by James Baldwin, it is set in Harlem in the 1970s, and, like last week's The Hate U Giveit again highlights the injustices done to the Afro-American community. Tish (Kiki Lane) and Fonny (Stephan James) are young lovers with their lives ahead of them, that is until Fonny is framed for a rape he never committed. The film moves between Tish's visits to her lover, as she progressively swells with their baby, the increasingly futile attempts to get justice for him, and the past tracing the trajectory of their incredible over-the-top romantic love affair. Jenkins already won Best Picture for Moonlight in 2017, and he again proves what a fine director he is. The transcendent beauty of the intensely romantic love between Tish and Fonny is in stark contrast to the ugly reality of the prison world, and the corrupt justice system stacked against blacks. Here's yet another film still as relevant today as it was then.
4 - highly recommended!

At Eternity's Gate
Director: Julian Schnabel
Length: 111 min
© Transmission - Dafoe could almost be 
Vincent Van Gogh come back to life.
Quite simply, this film traces the life of painter Vincent Van Gogh (Willem Dafoe), during the time he lived in the southern French town of Arles near the end of his life. Schnabel is trying to get inside the artist's head - to use film as a medium for expressing the intensity of Van Gogh's need to paint, and his amazing perception of color. The camera work is remarkable, swirling around the subject matter in the way Vincent's thick paint swirled on the canvas. Scenes of natural beauty within the film are as beautiful as paintings themselves. It's really something that needs to be seen, as did Loving Vincent, the film that animated Van Gogh's paintings to tell a similar story. Dafoe virtually inhabits his character and is nominated for a Best Actor award. Some people judge films like this as too slow - I see them as something to be relished - almost frame by frame - a true celebration of the life of a misunderstood, somewhat unstable genius.
4 - highly recommended!

Director: Joe Penna
Length: 97 min
Exclusive to Sun Yarraville, Lido Hawthorn, Classic Elsternwick, Cameo Belgrave
© Umbrella - survival in an unforgiving wilderness. 
Mads gives a great performance. 
For fans of the survival genre film, here's one for you. A man, Overgard,  (Mads Mikkelsen) becomes stranded in the Arctic after his plane crashes. Hopeful of being rescued, he is thrown further into crisis when he must be responsible for a woman (Maria Smaradottir), who has also met with an accident. This is survival at its most harsh, and strong visual film-making that must have cost the cast and crew many near frost-bitten moments. Shot in the deep north of Iceland in winter it looks fabulous, (a nominee for last year's Golden Camera award) but the action is at times painstakingly slow. I guess that's the point - to follow the gruelling journey of this man, and to feel his pain and steely determination. Self-preservation versus altruism is at the forefront of the story, and it is to Mikkelsen's credit that, with hardly any dialogue, he masters every nuanced look, so critical to getting the audience to engage with him. I like the fact that no backstory is given (it is not needed) and that the ends are not neatly tied up. 
3.5 - well recommended!

Friday, 8 February 2019

Feb 7th
On the Basis of Sex
The Hate U Give

It's another week where two of the three films reviewed have overwhelmed me with their power, their themes, their tackling of injustice, their compassion and their fine film-making. And just to reiterate, my scoring is often so high because I simply don't go to see those films I think will not be so good. Why waste two hours of one's life!?

Director: Nadine Labaki
Length: 126 min
© Madman - your heart will break for the lives
of the many poor and refugee people in this film.
This is Lebanon's entry for Best Foreign Language Film in the forthcoming Oscars. First the question on everyone's lips - why the title? Not to be completely confused with the Biblical town, (both may have similar derivations) - it means a confused disorderly jumble. When outlining her film's themes, director Labaki had so many that the title evolved. It is the lives of the characters that are in total disarray. This is the story of Zain, about 12 years old (no he has no birth papers) who lives in a slum area of Beirut with many siblings and abusive parents struggling to get by. When the father sells 11-year-old sister Sahar into marriage Zain runs away, and is given shelter by an illegal Ethiopian immigrant Rahil, who has a young baby Jonas. When Rahil suddenly disappears Zain is left to attempt to protect and care for the baby, stealing and working street jobs. This is a remarkable piece of film-making, straddling documentary and fiction. Most of the actors were pulled from the streets, their real lives mirroring those of the characters they play. The young lead boy (Zain al Rafeea) is simply mesmerising, as, with a doggedness and responsibility, he does whatever it takes to care for the baby, before ultimately going to court to sue his parents for ever bringing him into the world. Yordanos Shiferaw as Rahil similarly was an illegal immigrant when pulled in for the role, and as for the baby, the little girl Treasure playing the impish Jonas is beyond adorable. All these actors bring the truth of the pain of their lives to this wonderful film, that has already risen to my top 10 for the just-started year.
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended!

On the Basis of Sex
Director: Mimi Leder
Length: 120 min
© EOne - fabulous subject matter - not totally
sure about the directorial approach
Here's a biopic where it becomes hard to separate strong subject matter from film-making technique. Last year we saw the excellent doco RBG about US Supreme court judge Ruth Bader Ginsberg, an inspirational woman who spearheaded the fight for gender equality and many other social inequities. Here's the feature film version starring British rose Felicity Jones as aforesaid Ruth, and the impossibly handsome Armie Hammer as her husband Martin. The film traces the early years of Ruth's getting into Harvard law school, in an era where women were expected to be wives and mothers, and mainly men were accepted to the bar. When Martin finds a taxation law case discriminating against a man, Ruth takers on the might of the legal patriarchy to mount a case of gender discrimination. It's a nicely acted film, with an extremely important historical theme, but it employs, especially in the early part, too many cliched film-making techniques. And the soundtrack, which I refer to as "jaunty choofing-along music", annoyed me immensely and detracted from the gravitas of the story. Nonetheless it's a good recreation of the era, and in the second half, where more silence is employed and legal thrust and parry get more intense, the film definitely lifts its game. Despite flaws, the film is worth a look, but I preferred the doco.
3 - recommended!

The Hate U Give
Director: George Tillman Jnr
Length: 133 min
© Fox - I haven't been so angry in a film for a 
long time - racial injustice yet again
This film has just blown me away. Based upon a young adult novel, it is the story of Starr (Amandla Stenberg), a black teen at a white private school, living almost a dual life with two distinct styles of presenting herself to the world, her schoolgirl "white" self, and her ghetto black self. All is going well until she is sole witness to her childhood pal Khalil (Algee Smith) killed by a white policeman. As tensions mount within the rival black gangs in her neighbourhood, and within the black community as a whole against white injustices, Starr must decide if she has the courage to stand up and speak out. There are simply too many issues and themes to enumerate in this important, gripping and moving story, but Tillman handles them deftly, never preaching, but never shying from the hard truths of what hatred means, both between the races and within a neighborhood. The title comes from a song by murdered rapper Tupac Shakur, THUGLIFE (The Hate U Give Little Infants F...s Everyone). How relevant is this in a world, regardless of color, that still hasn't learned that lesson. The performance by Stenberg moved me to tears, (and every other cast member is simply brilliant), the rampant ignorance and prejudice enraged me, the family connections inspired me, and overall this is one mighty fine movie, not just for young adults but all of us.
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended!