One of the best films of the year, LAND OF MINE, is the cinematic cousin, or soul mate of The Hurt Locker and The Hill.
In a nutshell, this bombshell of a movie is set in the days following the surrender of Nazi Germany in May 1945, when German POWs held in Denmark were put to work by the Allied Forces. With minimal training in defusing explosives, they were sent to remove in excess of two million of their own landmines from the Danish west coast.
The film begins with our introduction to Sergeant Rasmussen, military moustached veteran of the Nazi occupation, going berserk at the sight of a soldier, part of a column of vanquished Germans soldiers filing down the road, draped in a Danish flag.
Originally created in 2015 this is a welcome return of resident choreographer Wayne McGregor’s three part work based on the life and works of Virginia Woolf.
McGregor’s three acts delve into three of Woolf’s novels, interwoven with images from her own life. The choreography is athletic and extremely demanding at times with death defying leaps and catches in the partnering and laser sharp legs .The Royal Ballet dancers are AMAZING.
The evening begins with the only extant recording of Woolf’s voice (made by the BBC, in 1937), with Woolf reading from her essay On Craftsmanship, regarding the crafting of words and language.
This program is important as it is now a decade since McGregor became resident choreographer for the Royal Ballet. It is also marvellous to see Alessandra Ferri, now 53, reprising the role thrust on her by McGregor, in the opening and closing ballets, with a fluid, dark and charismatic grace and arresting stage presence.
The opening work I now, I then was a dramatically lyrical mood piece based on Woolf’s novel Mrs Dalloway. Richter’s score was pulsating and lyrical. Cigues’ set designs consisted of rather ominous looming large wooden frames that revolved.
Alessandra Ferri as Mrs Dalloway is marvellous.The piece features her reminiscing about her happier, younger self over the course of a day. Ferri has some fabulous, intense pas de deux with Gary Avis as her husband and as well with Ferderico Bonnelli as shell shocked soldier Septimus.
Francesca Hayward as Sally, with whom Mrs Dalloway had a brief affair, darts through dragon-fly like as a mesmerizing memory and their kiss is remembered with a smile.
Gender fluid identity questioning Becomings, based on Woolf’s Orlando was suitably abstract, and featured scintillating, bravura dancing. McGregor’s demanding, almost impossible choreography dazzled.
With its use of haze and laser lighting as directed by Lucy Carter the production is quite futuristic, at times visually reminiscent of a spaceship .The women wear gold caterpillar like eyebrows, which gives them an alien like appearance.
The piece begins with stark flashes of spotlight on fully heavily sixteenth century clothed dancers and concludes with them stripped to skin coloured body suits. The score is driven and relentless. The dancers are sinuous and athletic, at times reptilian, and at other times feline.
The costumes for men and women were interchangeable with ruffs and high unflattering very short tiny tutus in gold and black.
There is a very strong section for six men. Edward Watson has a fabulous slinky, sinuous solo and Eric Underwood in black and gold has a showy solo against a background of red haze.
The third work, Tuesday, was based on Woolf’s The Waves, along with various of her letters. The Waves is basically a series monologues, each narrated by a character based on people in Woolf’s circle, including the author herself.
The ballet begins with a voiceover read by Gillian Anderson of Woolf’s farewell letter to her husband with Ferri spotlit and alone under the huge projection panel – the panel features moody black and white projections of waves at the beach. This was a rather abstract ballet, albeit haunting and hypnotic. The score is simultaneously driven and relentless.
There are some astonishing almost death defying pas de deux for Ferri and Bonnelli with Ferri at times floating, twisting in Bonelli’s arms or in the dangerous runs and catches as she remembers her lost love.
There is a charming scene with children from the Royal Ballet school as children on the beach and Sarah Lamb as a radiant, younger Woolf. At one point rope is used in a Graham-like effect.
The last third of the work was mostly the huge cast as waves, cascading, ebbing, flowing, pulsating around Ferri leading to the poignant ending with Ferri barefoot and alone blending in with the corps of waves until she is alone.
This was a very moving, wonderful program.
The Royal Ballet in WOOLF WORKS is screening as part of the Palace Opera and Ballet season between the 17th and the 22nd March.
Running time allow 3 and ½ hours includes two intervals and behind the scenes snippets and interviews during the intervals
There is also the opportunity to see this show live.The Royal Ballet will be performing WOOLF at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre in Brisbane between the 29th June and the 2nd July.
Part of the French Film Festival, THE DANCER is exquisitely, lushly photographed with some sensational performances. A feast for the eyes, it is fascinating for those who love dance, even if the film is heavily fictionalised. Some of the film is in English, at other times it is in French with subtitles.
Stéphanie Di Giusto’s film follows the life of avant- garde dancer Loie Fuller (Soko) who was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, lived with her father in the boondocks, and after his sudden tragic death was sent to live with her strict, God fearing mother in New York before becoming a sensation in the world of dance, first in New York and then in Paris at the turn of the 20th century, inspiring artists the like of Toulouse- Lautrec and Rodin and esteemed scientists such as Marie Curie.
George Bernard Shaw’s ST JOAN, in a production directed by Josie Rourke at the Donmar, is the latest play in the NT Live screenings.
I had mixed feelings about Rourke’s production.Gemma Arterton as St Joan is superb, and the idea of updating the play to now with computers, mobile phones and rolling screens of financial statistics was intriguing but didn’t feel like it worked that well.
When the animated film BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was released in November 1991, the film became an instant classic.
With the film’s rich, beautiful, high quality level of animation and musical numbers that everyone loves and remembers, it belongs to an era known as the Disney Renaissance which includes films such as The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and The Lion King.
This was a time when the studio was enjoying a resurgence in producing hit animated films. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was the third highest grossing movie of the year, just behind Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. The film made over $400 million; the highest ever grossing animated film up until that point.
The film won the Academy Award for Best Original Score and Best Original Song and was the first animated film in history to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. It spawned direct to video sequels, a TV series, an award winning live theatre adaption and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
In recent years Disney has been experiencing success with live action remakes of its back catalogue of old animated films. First it was Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, then Maleficent, aremake of Sleeping Beauty in 2014, The Jungle Book in 2016, remake of the 1967 version. To list a few in the works are live action remakes of: The Lion King, Aladdin, Dumbo, Mulan and even a sequel to Marry Poppins scheduled for sometime in 2018.
Understandably, there was enormous pressure on director Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Chicago, Dreamgirls) to come up with something special with his new version. Condon’s strong cast brings his particular vision’ vividly to life.
Emma Watson,best known as Hermione in the Harry Potter films, gives an enchanting performance as the Beauty.
Dan Stevens as the grisly and brooding Beast was a brilliant, as was Luke Evans as the narcissistic and arrogant villain Gaston who was a joy to watch.
The support cast also deserves a worthwhile mention with Kevin Kline as Maurice, Belle’s father, Emma Thompson as Mrs Potts, Ian McKellen is Cogsworth the clock, and Ewan McGregor as Lumière, the Candelabra were hilarious. Stanley Tucci plays Maestro Cadenza.
Josh Gad as Le Fou, Gaston’s sidekick and secret lover, is very funny. Gad’s portrayal is one of the first, if not the first openly gay character, to be portrayed in a Disney film. This has outraged has some, and there has been a drive in cinema in America that has refused to show the film.
While the film was never going to be as good or nostalgic as the 1991 animated version, this latest movie version does make for great entertainment.
The new film still contains the original numbers created by musical duo Howard Ashman and Alan Merkin such as “Be Our Guest”, “Belle” and the perennial favourite “Beauty and The Beast”. “Be Our Guest” in particular was spectacular with its dazzling CGI.
The castle, the old French villages were all stunning.
A tale as old as time itself, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST will be released in Australian cinemas on March 23.
I saw LOVING back in November and loved it. I saw LOVING again last week and loved it even more.
As good as Emma and Natalie and Isabel were, I was fervently rooting for Ruth Negga to win the Academy Award for her beautifully poised performance as Mildred Loving, a black woman who had the temerity of accepting a marriage proposal from a white man, Richard Loving, in the state of Virginia, United States of America, 1958.
The United States of America, contrary to its appellation, was not united in everything, as the Appalachian state continued with a miscegenist law about marriage. It was the state of Virginia, where the appropriately named Loving’s were making their home and starting a family, that first terrorised and humiliated them, then jailed them and then banished them for defying its law against interracial marriage. Continue reading LOVING : AN EXCEPTIONAL FILM BY JEFF NICHOLS→
Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Sam Neil, Judy Davis, Jackie Weaver, Rachel Griffiths, Geoffrey Rush, Bryan Brown and Eric Bana. To name a few. That’s the incredible line-up amassed for DAVID STRATTON: A CINEMATIC LIFE.
A film critic can sometimes unearth an audience for a film that does not have the vast advertising techniques and budget that ensures a mass audience for a major movie, usually from a studio in Hollywood.
Such an excavator is David Stratton whose exuberance for the wide exhibition of quality films, especially those made in Australia, is extolled in this brilliant exultation of local films, DAVID STRATTON: A CINEMATIC LIFE. Continue reading DAVID STRATTON : A CINEMATIC LIFE→
We’ve all probably done it. Pressed the intercom key release indiscriminately, thinking the caller is someone expected.
That’s what Rana does, expecting her husband as she prepares to take a shower.
The upshot is a devastating seismic incident, a potent aftershock to the earthquake that begins THE SALESMAN, this years recipient of the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award.
This Iranian bombshell explodes into an exploration of a couple imploding. School teacher Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and his wife Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) need new digs when their home is devastated by an earthquake.
The couple are also actors in an amateur Tehran production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, and a member of their troupe arranges for them move into a new apartment, until recently occupied by a mysterious young woman. Continue reading THE SALESMAN→
The Alliance Française French Film Festival will return to Palace Cinemas throughout March and April with a host of contemporary movies and documentaries exemplifying the very best of France’s vibrant film industry.
Brimming with highlights, the 2017 event will present 45 films, unveiling the artistry of renowned directors ranging from Emmanuelle Bercot, Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, Nicole Garcia, Benoît Jacquot and Mia Hansen-Løve, to Philippe Lioret, Martin Provost, Jérôme Salle, Bertrand Tavernier and Roschdy Zem.
Helming the Festival for the first time, Artistic Director, Philippe Platel, has assembled a brilliant programme encompassing romance, adventure, comedy, historical tales, thrillers and dramas, that will be showcased across 10 aptly named sections, incorporating many Australian première screenings. Continue reading ALLIANCE FRANCAISE FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL 2017→
Iranian auteur Asghar Farhadi’s feature film, THE SALESMAN, winner of this year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, tells the story of Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), actors playing the roles of husband and wife in a Tehran production of Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller.
They are also husband and wife off-stage, sharing an apartment that is devastated by an earthquake.
Forced to move, a tragic incident changes their lives in ways they could never have predicted.
THE SALESMAN has been described as a powerful social critique that touches on themes of family, gender, and the chilling psychology of vengeance.
The film will be released nationally next Thursday, March 9.
The double passes offered with this post have been won.
Directed by Phil Grabsky this is an autobiographical exploration of the great Impressionist painter Claude Monet’s life based on his voluminous correspondence (over 2500 letters). The letters are mellifluously, eloquently read by Henry Goodman and in the background there is a dreamy soundscape including compositions by Satie.
Many of Monet’s works, over a hundred, now scattered around the globe, are luminously photographed in closeup so we can see the swirling brushstrokes.
This Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) production of Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST, two years in the making, and well directed by Gregory Doran, will probably be remembered for two main things- its amazing use of the latest technology for great special effects and, after twenty years, the return of Simon Russell Beale to the RSC stage, playing the role of Prospero.
Brimson Lewis’s multi layered set is the huge decaying spine and ribs of a broken, sunken ship while director Gregory Doran and designer Stephen Brimson Lewis, working with actor Andy Serkis’ Imaginarium Studios, have developed a series of grandiose images — from terrifying hounds of Hell to charming landscapes and striking underwater images – that add to events rather than distract from them.
JASPER JONES is based on the best-selling Australian novel by Craig Silvey. The novel has received broad critical acclaim and commercial success including being short-listed for the prestigious IMPAC Dublin Literary Award 2011 and short-listed for the Australian Miles Franklin Literary Award in 2010.
Pic opens with schoolmates Charlie and Jeffrey debating the attributes of the super hero, and how Spiderman is an urban superhero who would be out of his comfort zone in their small, rural town.
For Jeffrey Superman and Spiderman are the supreme embodiment of a superhero, but for Charley it’s Batman, whose super power is not supernatural like the kid from Krypton, but courage like the caped crusader.
Courage is at the forefront of JASPER JONES, and author Craig Silvey has courageously adapted his novel with Snowtown scribe, Shaun Grant.
Idle banter about bantering idols and childish choices like “Would you rather wear a hat made of spiders or have a hand with fingers replaced by penises?”, give way to more pressing matters when Charlie answers a midnight summons from town outcast, Jasper Jones.
Charlie accompanies Jasper to a billabong where the body of a 16-year-old girl, Laura Wishart, hangs from an eucalypti tree. She was Jasper’s girlfriend, his only friend, and now she is dead. Charlie immediately wants to contact the police but Jasper is adamant that they cannot, as he will be blamed because he is Aboriginal and explains that he already knows who is the killer; it’s Mad Jack Lionel, the town recluse and former abattoir worker who is rumoured to have slaughtered a woman several years ago. Continue reading JASPER JONES→
If you want to see pure, dazzling, practically perfect classical ballet technique danced superbly then this screening is for you.
The Paris Opera Ballet’s revival of Nureyev’s SWAN LAKE is superb. The production choreographed by Nureyev was first presented at the Paris Opera Ballet in 1984 and previously last seen in 2011. This screening was of the performance that took place at the Opera Bastille in Paris on the 8th December 2016.
Nureyev’s rather Freudian version is presented as if it is the main characters Siegfried’s dying dream, controlled by Wolfgang, his tutor, who in Siegfried’s mind becomes the mysterious, malevolent Rothbart. The orchestra, under maestro Vello Pahn, plays superbly .
First there is opportunity, then there is betrayal. This the repeated refrain of TRAINSPOTTING 2, a sequel that is not skeletal like so many sequels are.
There’s meat on the bones and dramatic marrow as well as the band get back together twenty years later to deal with old wounds and then largely fuck up all over again.
First there is opportunity to recapture the rapture of the original film, reuniting director Danny Boyle, screenwriter John Hodge, source author Irvine Welsh and most of the original cast. Then there is betrayal of the fans who count Trainspotting as a seminal film of the twilight of the Twentieth Century.
Featured image – Director Ralph Loop at an event for the film.
“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” Dante
This is a fascinating, intense examination of Sandro Botticelli’s (1445- 1510) famous work that jumps from the Vatican to Florence, Berlin, London and the Scottish lowlands.
The film is directed by Ralph Loop, who also has an expert, an Italian historian who knows the city of Florence in the Renaissance period to enthusiastically narrate part of the film. As well there are interviews with the Directors of the various galleries.
All images by Ben Apfelbaum (c). Featured image of Matt Day receiving his award. Among the onlookers are Rose Byrne and Will Gluck.
TROPFEST, in its 25th year, survived the heatwave that spread over the Sydney region on the weekend.
Matt Day was announced as this year’s winner with the Festival taking place at its new venue at Parramatta Park.
The winning film was The Mother Situation which tells the comedic story of three adult siblings who assist their terminally ill mother to commit suicide.
The 16 finalist films went head to head to take out the top prize, chosen by the impressive lineup of judges, which included Head of Jury, Rose Byrne (Bridesmaids, X-Men: Apocolypse, upcoming Peter Rabbit), George Miller (Academy Award Winner, Mad Max: Fury Road), Sam Neill (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Jurassic Park, upcoming Peter Rabbit), Rachel Perkins (Bran New Dau,upcoming Jasper Jones), Bruna Papandrea (Gone Girl, Wild, TV’s upcoming Big Little Lies) and Will Gluck (Easy A, Friends with Benefits, upcoming Peter Rabbit).Continue reading TROPFEST 2017 : 25 YEARS STRONG→
TONI ERDMAN is a nigh on three hour cinematic humoresque, about the powerful protectiveness of the paternal and the universally acknowledged truth that parents are put on earth to embarrass their children.
The film leaves an early calling card about its deliriously laconic pace in the opening scene where a delivery man is kept waiting a wee while to have his door knocking answered.
PASSENGERS has met with critical hostility overseas. The previews concentrated on the action scenes in the film which in fact form a minor part towards the end. This created certain action movie expectations which were not met. I have to say that I did not mind the film, and stayed quietly engaged throughout.
This sci-fi film, directed by Morten Tyldum and written by John Spaihits, commences with a Star Ship Avalon transporting over 5,000 commuters to a commercialised planet called Homestead 2 which requires the passengers and crew to sleep in hibernation pods for one hundred and twenty years.
An asteroid hits the Avalon which causes a malfunction in mechanical engineer Jim Preston’s (Chris Pratt) pod. He awakens after only thirty years of the journey. With only an android bartender Arthur (Michael Sheen) for company Jim tries to overcome his loneliness by exercising and talking at length to Arthur. Continue reading ‘PASSENGERS’ FAILS TO REACH ANY GREAT HEIGHTS→
This is is a quiet gem of a film that slipped almost unnoticed through the Christmas/New Year holiday period. It is dedicated to director David MacKenzie’s parents – David John MacKenzie and Ursula Sybile MacKenzie who both died during the making of this film.
The phrase ‘hell or high water’ has two meanings in the States. The typical interpretation is that one does what it takes no matter what. However in an American lease, hell or high water means you must continue payments no matter what obstacles you encounter. The later meaning is similar to what in Australia we call a force majeure clause, although in Australia this can often be an excuse for non payment. Both meanings apply to this film.
HELL OR HIGH WATER deals with a divorced father played by Chris Pine and his ex con, older and volatile brother played by Ben Foster, who resort to robbing banks. Hot on their heels is soon to retire Texas ranger Marcus Hamilton, accompanied by his ‘Tonto’ Alberto Gomez, a half Indian/Mexican deputy, played by Gil Birmingham.
The film is confidently directed by MacKenzie who elicits an evocative ‘Robin Hood’ like performances from Pine as the measured, conflicted, haunted quieter brother and from Ben Foster as the reckless, homicidal yet loving older brother.
If you want grisly, the go to man is Jeff Bridges. As the crusty but wise Sheriff, he provided the humanity and wit of this film, even as he makes constant, politically incorrect, very funny Indian jokes at the expense of his Deputy. Even with his attitude, Bridges still manages to convey the affection and respect his character has for his sidekick.
The film is populated by oddball characters that small towns seem to contain. Many of the extras were local residents of the towns in which the film was shot.
The cinematography by Giles Nuttgene is stunning. Nearly all colour is bleached out, evoking a harsh and unforgiving landscape where heat sucks the hope out. The accompanying haunting and sometimes forlorn score is by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. The sensitive, humorous yet tragic screenplay is by Taylor Sheridan.
This movie has been called a neo Western with elements of High Noon in the plot. Given the neglect the West Texan setting demonstrates (albeit the film was actually shot in New Mexico), it makes comprehensible why people in these rural slums voted for Donald Trump.
The film premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard section. It has received four Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Bridges), Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Editing. I have not seen the Oscar nominated films but I hope that this superior film is not swamped by shallow, vacuous, poorly sung and danced Welcome To La La Land, a film that people either love or hate. Discerning cinephiles should hopefully love Hell or High Water. I believe HELL OR HIGH WATER has done whatever it takes to win an Oscar or four.
Based on August Wilson’s Pulitzer and Tony award winning play, Denzel Washington’s production of FENCES never escapes its theatrical roots. Astonishing then that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has nominated the film for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.
FENCES is only marginally more cinematic than those National Theatre filmed plays that are presently doing the art house rounds.
The great strengths of the film are the performances and with wall to wall words, from the roof of the mouth to the basement of the base baritone, you understand why actors of the calibre of Denzel Washington and Viola Davis would be attracted to such mouth filling verbiage. Continue reading FENCES : A GREAT PLAY, NOT SUCH A GREAT FILM→
Ballet lovers should take this opportunity to see this screening of the Royal Ballet’s production of Sir Peter Wright’s version of Tchaikovksy’s /Petipa’s THE NUTCRACKER. This Royal Ballet production was particularly special as it was part of Sir Peter Wright’s 90th birthday celebrations.
This is terrific family fare, a quite traditional and enchanting production with some technically AMAZING dancing, particularly in the second act.
Directed by Roger Spottiswoode (who also directed Turner & Hooch), this film is based on the autobiographical books by James Bowen about a man and his cat which tells the story of how Bowen, portrayed by Luke Treadaway, a homeless, recovering drug addict, ekes out a rather edgy and skint existence busking on the streets of London.
His patient, sympathetic support worker Val (Joanne Froggatt) manages to find him accommodation. One evening Bowen discovers Bob the cat guzzling his cereal. At first Bowen shoos him, but then he notices that the cat is badly injured, after which he then makes contact with his neighbour, animal lover and activist Bettie (Ruta Gedmintas). Between Val, Bob and Bettie, Bowen’s life will never be the same. Continue reading A STREET CAT NAMED BOB→
Film makers are either torch bearers or pall bearers, their pictures either lighthouses shining over seas or drearily and turgidly shouldering moribund movies that should have been buried before they were born.
Kenneth Lonergan is a torch bearer, with a track record of three bona fide beacons as writer director, pictures that illuminate and lead intelligent taste. His directorial debut YOU CAN COUNT ON ME was a superior sibling story, starring Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo, his second film, MARGARET, was a disgracefully underrated career high for Anna Paquin, and now his third, His latest film delivers delivers a hat trick. Or to mix the bat and ball metaphors, three home runs. Continue reading MANCHESTER BY THE SEA : AN EXTRAORDINARY NEW FILM BY KENNETH LONERGAN→
Great score, great cast, a gripping set piece and a marvellous edgy quasi doco feel for the lead up to the incident, PATRIOTS DAY is the apotheosis of the teaming of director Peter Berg and his star of choice, Mark Wahlberg.
A searing re-enactment of the Boston Marathon bombings in Boston in 2013, the film was originally titled Boston Strong, which seems eminently more suitable and more palatable to non jingoistic audiences.
Title aside, though, PATRIOTS DAY is a prime procedural thriller concerning the lead up, the event and the aftermath, and is absolutely gripping in its three act play out.