March 2nd 2023
Empire of Light
Weird: The Al Yankovic story - streaming on Paramount+
Alliance Francaise French Film Festival - five reviewed in advance
Oscar nominated Animated Short Films and Live Action Short Films
It's a bumper week. I'm breaking with tradition: the French Film Festival starts next week on March 8th. Instead of reviewing the offerings then, I'll review a few a week early to give you a chance to mull over which films you may like to book advance tickets for. Plus of course the regular new releases and a fun streaming film.
Empire of Light
Dir: Sam Mendes
Length: 115 mins
Hilary (Olivia Colman) is working at a magnificent but fading art deco cinema in the south of England. When Steven (Micheal Ward) joins the staff, the two form a most unexpected bond. He is black, hoping to get into architecture studies, and feels always judged by his skin color. She has recently come out of a stint in a psychiatric institution and her mental health is fragile. Furthermore, her boss (Colin Firth) is always making harassing sexual moves on her. Here is yet another film that has divided the critics big-time. I believe the nay-sayers have certain valid points. Yes, the discrepancy in age between Hilary and Steven is possibly not totally credible and yes, there are important under-explored themes intertwined with the spring/autumn love affair (rising racial tension in 80s England, and the meaning of film in people's lives). But there is something so essentially engaging and human about the characters in this film, and the way they interact. Especially Steven who is multi-faceted and kind, wise beyond his years. Hilary, despite her mental illness and prickliness is given a truth by Colman; her command of the arc of emotions is breath-taking. Toby Jones is also notable as the passionate projectionist, Norman. And the look of the film! Acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins is deservedly nominated for an Academy Award this year. It is a film that works really well as a homage to the cinematic experience and to the importance of human connection in all our lives.
|© Searchlight - Colman is impressive, as always|
4 - highly recommended
Dir: Lukas Dhont
Length: 104 mins
Leo (Eden Dambrine) and Remi (Gustave de Waele) are thirteen-year-old best friends, devoted, inseparable and close with each other's families. They are caught somewhere between childhood and growing up. But when they start life at a new school, other children cast aspersions, and Leo finds himself uncomfortable with being seen in this light. His relationship with Remi starts to fracture. I don't want to say more about the plot, except that it involves tragedy, loss of innocence, forgiveness and the meaning of love in its purest form. This Belgian film is remarkable in many ways. For a director to elicit such sublime performances from two young actors is awe-inspiring. The intensely close-up shots of characters' faces keeps the emotion at a heightened level, with the audience able to imagine every nuance of thought. The lead boys are admirably supported by the many other naturalistic performances from all the kids, and standout turns from Lea Drucker as Nathalie, Leo's mother, and Emelie Dequenne as Sophie, Remi's mother. Dhont is a truly talented film-maker who has made an exquisitely beautiful film worthy of its Best International Feature Film nomination at this year's Oscars.
|© Madman - beautiful boys and a beautiful |
friendship in this heart-wrenching story
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended
Dir: Michael B Jordan
Length: 116 mins
Adonis Creed (Michael B Jordan) is some three years out of the boxing ring. He runs a successful training gym, organises top level prize fights and has a happy family life. Then someone from his past, Damian (Jonathan Majors), resurfaces after 18 years in prison. This hulking, one-time boxing hopeful wants a shot at a title fight, but his real agenda is to settle a score with Creed. I'm not the ideal person to review boxing films, having a visceral dislike of the sport. That said, there is some good interpersonal drama here, with especially strong tension created between Creed and Damian. Creed's family life is appealing, especially with his feisty little hearing-impaired daughter. The fight scenes are well shot and choreographed with some interesting visual metaphors used in the final big scene. But the logic in me really feels critical of many finer points - how could boxers emerge from such gruelling bouts with so little facial damage, so little blood on their clothes, and still able to walk easily? And why does the plot feel so predictable with so many well-used tropes? That said, I was reasonably entertained, and Jordan is easy on the eye. I have to 'fess up that many other critics are very positive towards this film and concede it will no doubt be a major crowd pleaser for a particular demographic.
|© Universal - the boxing champ is facing some|
serious challenges out of the ring
3 - recommended for the fans, a maybe for all others
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story
Dir: Eric Appel
Length: 108 mins
Streaming on Paramount+
|© Roku/Paramount + - Radcliffe is almost|
unrecognisable in this wildly crazy movie
Weird is definitely the word here! So is FUN! This zany film is at once a semi-truthful biopic of the singer Weird Al Yankovic, but it's also a spoof on his life and work. For those who don't know, Weird Al used to write parodies of well-known songs back in the 80s; his lyrics were both clever and hilarious. Daniel Radcliffe has come a long way from Harry Potter, and he is simply perfect as Weird Al, combining a boyish seriousness with a quasi-lunacy, that just gets wilder as the movie progresses. The plot thread that has Evan Rachel Wood playing Madonna, Weird Al's supposed girlfriend, is a total hoot, while the lampooning of the recording industry also provides some winning scenes. Possibly the less said the better, except to add that some very famous people get their faces into this film.
4 - highly recommended
Alliance Francaise French Film Festival
Opening next week in Melbourne and running March 8 - April 5
Melbourne Palace cinemas
As always, France's top films come to the festival, with something to please every taste in film. And for fans of The Big Blue, the 1988 classic, there is a beautifully restored version to be enjoyed. As usual, I'm lucky to preview a selection to help you in making some choices, and hope to bring you more as the festival progresses.
Paris Memories (Revoir Paris): In November 2015 a series of coordinated terrorist attacks took place in Paris. We heard a lot in Australia about the stand-off in the Bataclan theatre, but several other attacks took place in restaurants and cafes. This film deals with two fictional victims, Mia (Virginie Efira) and Thomas (Benoit Magimel), who lock eyes across a crowded cafe just before a shooter comes in. Mia manages to hide in a closet with a cafe staff member, while Thomas is severely injured in his leg. The pair later meet and try to come to terms with what happened and the drastic ramifications for their lives. Efira's moving performance is the centrepiece of this exceptionally powerful story, which toggles across timelines, between the actual events and Mia's struggles to even regain memory of what happened, and to track down the man with whom she hid in the closet. The film moves in a beautiful arc from sadness and despair, to hope and renewal. This is my top pick so far. The Colors of Fire (Coleurs de L'incendie): Set in 1927 this historical drama follows Madeleine Pericourt (Lea Drucker), who inherits everything from her financier father, only to lose it to a selection of scheming friends and relatives. The film is certainly a most handsome period piece, with well-earned Cesar nominations for production design and costuming. The story is definitely one for lovers of traditional narrative arcs - it weaves a terrific plot, in which Madeleine, with the help of her one-time chauffeur Mnsr Dupre (Clovis Cornillac), devises a cunning scheme that she hopes will get her revenge. A welcome appearance by veteran actor Fanny Ardant as an opera singer adds an intriguing layer, involving Madeleine's crippled son Paul and his relationship to said singer. Fine, solid, almost old-fashioned story telling with plenty to entertain viewers. Final Cut (Coupez!) From the director of the award winning The Artist comes this insane comedy/horror which is actually a remake of the 2017 Japanese cult film One Cut of the Dead. The first half hour is nothing short of a gore fest, which features buckets of blood, severed heads, axe-wielding crew members and a lot of screaming. But we then discover this is actually a film about shooting a film, in which down-on-his-luck Remi (the wonderful Romain Duris) plays the hapless director. It seems by shooting this story, an ancient curse has been reawakened, bringing zombies to life. (Sounds convoluted? Sure is!) Whether you see it as very funny or very silly will depend upon your sense of humour, but Duris and the rest of the cast give it all they've got. Ride Above (Tempete) Zoe has grown up with horses - her dad trains trotters. But when she is seriously injured by one of the animals she withdraws from life and her family. To add to the woes, the business is going downhill fast. Seb, one of the horse trainers, devises a plan that hopefully will bring Zoe back to them all. Melanie Laurent plays Zoe's mum, in one of her best performances yet, while Danny Glover stars as an American with vested interests in the French stud farm. Carmen Kassovitz plays the teenage Zoe with spirit, Pio Marmai captures the paternal bond with his daughter beautifully, and Kacey Mottet Klein is a stand-out as Seb. The whole family can go to this film, but be warned - get the tissues out! Sugar and Stars (A la Belle Etoile): What's a film festival without a foodie film? This one is based upon the true story of a young man Yazid, born in Epernay France, of Arab/ Muslim parentage. Due to his mother's problems, he was brought up with a foster family, and always wanted to be a pastry chef. This feel-good film traces his journey, from apprentice in a fancy hotel through to aiming for the French team in the World Pastry Championships. (who knew there was one!) The film follows a very traditional narrative arc, but Algerian influencer Riadh Belaiche plays Yazid so well, he breathes a lot of life and passion into a story of downtrodden kid makes good.
The festival is, as always, highly recommended.
Oscar nominated short films and
In cinemas nationally first two weekends in March.
March 3,4,5 and 10, 11,12
Venues: Cameo, Classic, Lido, Village (Rivoli, Jam Factory, Knox, Southland) Nova, Thornbury
Here's a chance we rarely get: to preview the films nominated for an Academy Award in the categories Short Films (Animated) and Short Films (Live Action). What I love about short film is the ability of the film-makers to cram so much plot and so many themes into such a short run-time. Catching them is an opportunity not to be missed.
Live Action Shorts:
An Irish Goodbye: Two brothers try to fulfil their dead mother's list of 100 things she wanted to do before she died.
Night Ride - a short-statured woman takes a tram for a joyride, but when louts start a brawl with a trans woman they get more than they bargained for from the "driver".
Ivalu - a young Inuit girl finds her big sister missing one morning, and reflects upon abuse within the family
The Red Suitcase: A 16-year-old girl is sent from an Arab country to France to be married off to an older man. Poignant and disturbing
Le Pupille: Slick, vaguely amusing tale set at Christmas time in a Catholic orphanage during WW2.
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse: Based upon a children's book, the eponymous characters cover everything important about life, love, friendship and more in this exquisite and moving animation. Going to the program is worth it for this one alone.
An Ostrich Told Me the World is Fake and I Think I Believe it: A Trumanesque animation about life being a digital construct.
My Year of Dicks: A teen is on a quest to lose her virginity. Creative use of differing animation styles.
Ice Merchants: a minimalist sketch animation that manages to encapsulate big issues like global warming, parental love, and death
The Flying Sailor: Based upon true story of a dockside explosion and a sailor who flew through the air, and landed unharmed.
4 - highly recommended