Tag Archives: Film Review

JUSTIN KERZEL’S MACBETH

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Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown

Australian filmmaker Justin Kerzel’s (Snowtown) MACBETH opens with the funeral of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s child. It’s common for writers to add scenes to Shakespeare that help render their telling unique and develop strands of his work that have yet to be explored.

The decision to include this is a bold move and suggests a particular subtext to the interpretation that will follow. That it never is, through dialogue or performance, is emblematic of an interpretation lacking in direction and depth. Continue reading JUSTIN KERZEL’S MACBETH

THE DOUBLE

Pics by Dean Rogers
Scenes from Richard Ayoade’s new film, THE DOUBLE. Pics by Dean Rogers

The gorgeously visual opening scenes of Richard Ayoade’s THE DOUBLE shout cult movie, one complete with plentiful Orwellian and Kafkaesque references and a pained central character, Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg).

THE DOUBLE is set in a dystopian past where 1950s austerity Britain meets Gulag chic, and our hero’s offices are all chunky Bakelite and eerily green-glowing clunky office equipment, the interiors and work cubicles drenched in dirty greens and greys and browns. Outside, fog drifts between equally soulless apartment blocks. No wonder then that the police have a dedicated unit to investigate the many resultant suicides and which is the source of some much-needed humour, wry though it is.

Continue reading THE DOUBLE

FROZEN

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From the world of 19th-century children’s literature and very loosely based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale “The Snow Queen”, in this century good and evil have become psychologically complex, and also not so clear-cut, and with coherent storytelling we learn that a princess now has to show all her strengths and work to earn her happily-ever-after ending.

Set in the fictional kingdom of Arendelle, the beautiful blond, high-strung princess Elsa (Idina Menzel), and has a secret magical problem. Everything freezes when Elsa waves her un-gloved hands. Her impulsive redheaded younger sister, Anna (Kristen Bell), was nearly frozen to death by accident by Elsa the Snow Queen. Anna suddenly falls in love at first sight with Hans (Santino Fontana), a scheming and opportunistic but otherwise is a too-good-to-be-true picture-perfect prince, but Elsa forbids their marriage. Elsa causes eternal winter in the kingdom of Arendelle.

Continue reading FROZEN

ONE CHANCE

James Corden plays Britain's Got Talent star Paul Potts in the new movie ONE CHANCE
James Corden plays Britain’s Got Talent star Paul Potts in the new movie ONE CHANCE

Like CARRIE, Paul Potts was bullied. Paul was picked on because he was portly and because he was more interested in opera than football and in being a singer rather than a steelworker. Paul prevailed and won a spot in a Venetian opera school. There, he choked in front of Pavarotti. Self confidence plummeted, career prospects stifled, fledgling romance stymied. But with a song in his heart he re-woos his girl, and with her support he auditions for Britain’s Got Talent, and the rest is history.

ONE CHANCE (PG) is his story and follows in the filmic footsteps of BILLY ELLIOTT, BRASSED OFF, and THE FULL MONTY. James Corden is a delight as the Port Talbot baritone with the scrumptious Alexandra Roach as his supportive spouse.  Where would the lad be without a supportive mum and Julie Walters is just the biscuit, as is Colm Meaney as his less supportive dad. The domestic conflict is bliss in comedic terms.

Mackenzie Crook and Jemima Rooper give kooky characterisations as long term home town supporters.

Simon Cowell is one of the producers and David Frankel (THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA) directs. Justin Zackham’s script is peppered with zinger one liners.

A feel good movie about the power of song to promote resilience and affect lives in positive ways. Hope springs eternal and it ain’t over till the fat boy sings.

MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG

The cast of MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG
The cast of MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG

Sondheim and musical theatre fans rejoice! And stampede now to the box office to catch this more than splendid production.

This is the first in a series of HD productions, WEST END THEATRE SERIES, direct from London, brought to us by Cinema Live and Digital theatre. Following a sold out run at the Mernier Chocolate Factory, this was filmed at the Harold Pinter Theatre during the production’s final performances.           Continue reading MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG

BLACKFISH

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BLACKFISH, a documentary about an orca, or killer whale, that literally becomes a killer, offers a powerful insight into the lives of these majestic creatures and the consequences of what can happen when they are ripped apart from their intricate family structures to provide amusement for humans in theme parks.

Produced by Dogwoof, the same company responsible for Food Inc and The end of the Line, and billed as “a mesmerising psychological thriller, which shows how nature can get revenge on man when pushed to its limits”, BLACKFISH was never going to be easy to watch, and there are plenty of confronting scenes.

Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in the US earlier this year to critical acclaim, BLACKFISH tells the story of Tilikum, a performing whale captured as a two-year old who was ultimately responsible for the deaths of three people while in captivity.

It follows his path from capture to placement in various Sea World theme parks, revealing how his treatment ultimately caused the psychosis that led to the attacks on the park’s trainers.

Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite has, through a combination of archival footage and numerous interviews with both whale experts and Sea World trainers, past and present, made a taut and compelling documentary which gives the viewer a vivid insight into the extraordinary nature of these animals, the horror of their captivity and the pressures brought to bear on the trainers in the multibillion-dollar sea park industry, whilst also challenging the viewer to consider our relationship with nature as a whole.

It also reveals just how little was known about orcas and the complexity of their communities when the theme park industry sprung up in the 70s. The footage of ORCA, KILLER WHALE, released at roughly the same time as JAWS, did about as much for the understanding of orcas as JAWS did for sharks. In fact, as one whale expert pointed out, there is actually not one reliable documented case of an orca harming a human in the wild.

But place one in an oversized bathtub 20 metres wide by 30 metres deep when they are used to roaming up to 180 kilometres a day and a case such as Tilikum’s was bound to ensue.

Some of the more challenging footage in the film involved the marks left by Tilikum’s fellow whales which were constantly attacking him, the result of the tiny spaces they were confined in and the fact that they were effectively left in darkness for two thirds of their lives.

And whilst there will be the inevitable comparisons with 1993’s Free Willy, BLACKFISH succeeds by packing a lot of information into a genuinely thought-provoking narrative, viewing the tragedy from a number of angles.

One of these is the often-complex nature of the relationships between the trainers and the whales. The film contains numerous interviews with ex trainers who genuinely believed they had made real and lasting bonds with the whales. Some undoubtedly had, yet the real tragedy of Tilikum’s story is how, with all the best intentions in the world, even the most faithful of handlers were powerless against the unpredictability of wild animals kept in these conditions, borne out by shocking footage of the physical injuries suffered by the males, virtually all of which had collapsed dorsal fins.

For its part, Sea World plays the role of evil, heartless multinational to perfection, with everything from the appalling treatment of the whales to its equally awful treatment of the trainers, to its denial that there was anything amiss in courtroom statements following the tragedies involving the deaths of the trainers.

According to one interview with an ex-trainer, there were at least 70 documented cases of training accidents and mishaps involving Sea World trainers that was never disclosed to him when he accepted his position.

To her credit, Cowperthwaite goes out of her way to debunk the lies spread by Sea World such as the one that killer whales actually live longer in captivity, something which research has shown to be blatantly false.

There is a lot to like about BLACKFISH in the way in which it exposes this industry for what it is. Having said that, it seemed almost a shame that it took these human tragedies, as awful as they were, to bring attention to the shameful exploitation of these highly intelligent, sentient fellow mammals.

As one of the experts interviewed said, in 50 years time people will look back at these theme parks and wonder at their barbarity.

BLACKFISH opens nationally on Thursday November 21. It has received an M rating and has a running time of 79 minutes.

ENOUGH SAID

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The late James Gandolfini shines alongside Julia Louis- Dreyfus in ENOUGH SAID

Enough said that ENOUGH SAID is a rom com for the older gen.

Actually, there’s a lot to be said about ENOUGH SAID, where the age of the two protagonists might cause Gen X and Y to preface carbon to the word dating.

Divorced masseuse Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) finds herself facing life on her own for the first time as her only child, her daughter, Ellen (Tracey Fairaway), prepares to go off to college. Just as the departure nears, she meets and is charmed by Albert (James Gandolfini in his last leading role), also about to face an empty nest.  As she and Albert become involved, Eva befriends a new client, Marianne (Catherine Keener), a tasteful, talented beautiful poet who inspires envy and admiration.  Unfortunately, however, Marianne complains incessantly about her ex-husband, making Eva her confidant.  Just as Eva is falling in love with Albert, she figures out that Albert is in fact, Marianne’s ex.  Panicked and conflicted, Eva keeps the truth to herself and begins to doubt her own perceptions and feelings towards her new boyfriend.

In contrast to the “clean slate” that young lovers enjoy, older people bring form or baggage, a life strewn with mistakes and missteps.  Embarking on romance is akin to being on parole where pre-emptive perceptions of things past cast a pall of pessimism over natural chemistry and mutual attraction.

Before they can be affianced they must deal with the malfeasance of his ex spouse, who espouses poisonous negatives about her ex husband, unavoidably tainting the fledgling infatuates and heading the rookie romance to the rocks.

There’s a real honesty hoisting this film, a sincerity that flows like a main circuit cable from script to performance. Julia Louis-Dreyfus  and James Gandolfini  are delicious together, delighting in their shared  realisations,  fragile in their vulnerability and failures.

A strong supporting cast headed by Toni Collette, allowed to perform in her natural voice, gives textural strength to this complex quilt of mature age courting.

Writer director Nicole Holefcener strikes a fine balance of bitter sweet in this funny, affable and affectionate film.  ENOUGH SAID, go see it.

 

 

THE COUNSELOR

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The collaboration of Ridley Scott and Cormac McCarthy is irresistible.

The director of THELMA AND LOUISE and the writer of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN seems a match made in movie heaven.

Add a cast the stuff box office dreams are made of and you’re off to a pretty good start.

Javier Bardem leads with an eccentric hair style as he did in NO COUNTRY and SKYFALL and builds from follicles down a mesmerising, crazy charismatic character called Reiner who runs nightclubs and is in thrall of girlfriend Malkina, played by Cameron Diaz, who keeps a pair of cheetahs and likes to watch them chase prey.

The Counselor is played by Michael Fassbender, a Bentley driving barrister bidden by avarice to dally in a drug deal.

From order in the court to being caught in ordure, the enterprise is odorous and ominous; the means of delivery favoured by the cartel a telegraphic metaphor for the murky, mucky mire the players find themselves in.

Death and destruction and depravity rub shoulders with style and sophistication – Penelope Cruz, Brad Pitt, Ruben Blades, Bruno Ganz give the picture a performance pedigree to be reckoned with.

For all its slickness and style, THE COUNSELOR feels confused and convoluted and the reason rests with the writer. A novelist of renown, this is McCarthy’s first original screenplay in 40 years and it suffers from  too much novelist navel gazing – a tad too much philosophising, proselytizing,  and ponderous monopoly of the monologue that only serves to bog the film’s flow.

Still, there is much to admire and enjoy – eroticism, exoticism and enigmatic intrigue fuel the film and the cinematography by Dariusz Wolski adds a lustrous texture.

Such is the currency of McCarthy as a novelist, his publishers, Picador, have printed the screenplay in an almost plain brown wrapper, devoid of film-tie in cover images, imagined to appeal to the writer’s fiction fan base rather than the film going public.

The written word rewards both those who have seen the film and those who have not. Indeed, it reads better than it plays in some instances, and the prose is redolent of McCarthy’s novels’ musculature and sinew.

Whether you see THE COUNSELOR or read it, the rewards are there. Double the flavour, double the visceral, do both.  It’s a complimentary and clarifying experience.

SALVO

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SALVO is the story of a Sicilian mafia hit man doing his duty in eliminating enemies of his clan , and systematically going about killing his targets until he unexpectedly meets a target he simply couldn’t eliminate…a beautiful blind girl called Rita. Torn by his decision he took her to an abandoned factory, where he keeps and observes her, and soon a small miracle happens…

There was not much dialogue in the movie, in particularly by Salvo, and he didn’t have to, as his intense presence and performance were enough to portray the emotion and anguish of his transformation. Initially he was cold, crude and a loner, with very little or no attachment, to anyone or anything. But his fascination with Rita allowed him to start feeling and forming attachments that otherwise may not have happened. His attachment to a dog, his relationship with Rita and even his empathy towards his landlord against the overbearing wife.

The isolation of his existence became more apparent as he could not even trust or confide in his fellow clan men as he did not finish the job by killing Rita and even lying to his Mafia boss, set his fate. He truly had no one except Rita. And the inevitable happened, he was found out.  Salvo is confronted with the choice of giving up Rita to the Mafia or to fight what he believes in.

The film left the audience with numerous possible outcomes of what would happen to Salvo & Rita. But the end wasn’t that  important. What was important was the miracle that happened between two most unlikely people. Highly recommended, and although the film isn’t a chick flick, women will love it. I did.

BEGINNERS

Ewan McGregor plays Oliver in Mike Mills’s BEGINNERS. (C) Focus Features

Like a role reversal of The Sum Of Us, BEGINNERS (M) is just as sweet, charming and endearing.

After nearly half a century of marriage, Hal Fields (Christopher Plummer) finds himself a widower and decides to come out as a gay man at the age of 75. His 38 year old only child, Oliver(Ewan McGregor) supports his father’s new found freedoms, having always sensed, subconsciously, his dad’s secret self. Hal’s liberation lasts a fleeting five years before succumbing to inoperable cancer but it’s a full five years, featuring a young lover, a flourishing of new friends and a greater closeness between father and son.

BEGINNERS is two stories – one follows father and son as they traverse the territory of new identity and terminal illness, the other is the son’s dealing with dad’s departure to the undiscovered country and his budding romance with Anna (Melanie Laurent). Oliver meets Anna at a fancy dress party three months after his dad’s death. In a brilliant touch, Oliver is costumed as Sigmund Freud and Anna is suffering from laryngitis. The mute and the mutable.

Using a myriad of narrative devices – flashback, montage, surrealism – writer director Mike Mills affects a richly layered film that hums with humour, heartbreak and humanity. The three leads are stunningly good as one should expect from actors of their calibre, but there are a couple of outstanding supporting players as well.

In flashbacks to his childhood, Mary Page Keller plays Oliver’s mother, Georgia. Her flamboyance, grace and charm are flecked with a nuance of something unfulfilled. The other stand out supporting role is fleshed out by a four legged performer called Cosmo who plays Arthur, Hal’s Jack Russell, who is inherited by Oliver, and becomes a kind of canine chorus to the action.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

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What’s in a name? A rose by any other would smell as sweet. Call a spade a spade but you’ll still shovel shit if you pick a name that digs up contentious connotations.

In western culture, names such as Jesus, Atilla, Adolph, and Osama are eschewed from birth registers, but more mundane reasons are raised among family and friends at the imminent patter of tiny feet, where naming rights can produce near riot.

Appellations of those who are unliked from the past or the present, or carry with them some sort of high falutin’ allusion or pretention is the most likely impediments to nixing a moniker.

When Forty-something father to be Vincent announces to his family the nomenclature of his unborn son he figuratively flings that shovelful at the fan.

What should have been a civil celebratory occasion devolves into a dinner where the stable door of secrets is left so far ajar that the stampede of revelations seal the deal of unable to conceal.

Based on a super successful stage play, WHAT’S IN A NAME? (LE PRONOM) makes for a marvelous movie where the comedy has sparkle and bite and the story’s spine has a vertebrae full of funny bones with slipped dramatic discs.

Blessed with a fine ensemble cast that relish in spitfire delivery and comedic timing, WHAT’S IN A NAME is reminiscent of the golden age of comedy where character and situation combine to power the turbine of intelligent entertainment.

What’s in a name turns into what’s in a joke and at whose expense as this clever comedy illustrates the thin line between social decorum and civil disintegration.

Marie Cheminal’s production design is exquisite. Almost all the action of the film takes place in an apartment and it looks and feels so real, so lived in that it’s a marvel – so marvellous and fully dimensional that it becomes a key character in the film.

From the opening credits where all the collaborators are identified by their first names only through to its colossal conclusion, this fabulous film is a joy to the ear and the eye.

Written for the screen and directed by MATTHIEU DELAPORTE & ALEXANDRE DE LA PATELLIÈRE from their original stage play, WHAT’S IN A NAME? is arguably the best comedy to grace our screens since Roman Polanksi’s CARNAGE.

 

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

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‘The course of true love never did run smooth’.

Sorry folks but I apparently have to go against the tide of what seems to be general opinion and admit I was a little disappointed with this new version by Joss Whedon (‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, ‘Cabin in the Woods’,’ Toy Story ‘)of ‘Much Ado About Nothing ‘.The film was shot in and around Joss Whedon’s own home in Santa Monica, California, while he was still working on the blockbuster superhero film ‘The Avengers.’  I guess I have been spoilt by the glorious Kenneth Branagh / Emma Thompson version.

Somewhat cut and abridged, the plot is basically as follows : Leonato , ( lithe Fred Astaire look alike Clark Gregg) the governor of Messina , is visited by his friend Don Pedro(Reed Diamond) who is returning home from a campaign against his rebellious brother Don John ( handsome Sean Maher) . Included in Don Pedro’s entourage are two of his officers, Benedick( Alexis Denisof  (‘Buffy’, ‘Angel’, ‘Dollhouse’),) and Claudio ( Franz Kanz (‘Cabin in the Woods, ‘Dollhouse’)) . While staying in Leonato’s huge palace Claudio unexpectedly falls for Leonato’s daughter Hero ( Jillian Morgese ) whilst Benedick renews his verbal sparring with Beatrice ( Amy Acker of ‘Angel’ and, ‘Dollhouse) the governor’s niece. All seems wonderful when Don Pedro acts as intermediary for Claudio and Heros’ engagement.

In the days before the wedding Don Pedro with the help of Claudio , Leonato and Hero attempts for a lighthearted prank to act as Cupid to Beatrice and Benedick.  But this is one of the darker  Shakespearean ‘ Comedies ‘ that dangerously skirts possible tragedy: Don John can be seen as a precursor to Iago in Othello’ perhaps as he surreptitiously plots to destroy the marriage of Claudio and Hero before it has even begun. Will he succeed ? Will Claudio and Leonato discover the truth? Hero’s impugned virtue and faked death are rightly treated like tragedies .Almost everyone dons a mask to test someone else’s loyalty, unfortunately an impulse that can often lead to disaster. Or does it in this case ? ( Here for example at the masked ball, disguised as a Sheik,Benedick discovers some home truths about himself).

 The position of women in society at the time is highlighted by poor Heros’ situation when she is wrongly accused and Beatrice’s great speech railing against being a woman. Shot in black and white it is updated to now with computers, security cameras and mobile phones, but has a very 1950’s feel.The men are mostly in very swish Prada style suits .There are some wonderful use of opening atmospheric close ups of trees etc and very effective use is made of reflections and mirrors ( eg when Hero is first prepared for her wedding).I liked the irony when the men were shown to their quarters and the bedrooms were full of stuffed soft toys.

However I found Alexis Denisof as Benedick somewhat stilted,determinedly square-jawed and rather tense . Amy Acker’s Beatrice is a bit freer but still restrained .The scenes where Beatrice and Benedick overhear their friends supposedly discussing their secret affection for each other –  Beatrice hiding in a kitchen alcove , Benedick full of acrobatic tumbles and leaps past the glass windows ) are much fun as is the way a couple of Benedick’s monologues are done as if he is going for a run , or talking to the wedding decorations.  Benedick’s hammy overdone posing when Beatrice angrily comes to say ‘against my will I am sent to bid you come to dinner’ is a riot.

Fran Kranz as Claudio is excellent , his scenes terrifically handled especially for example where he accuses Hero wrongly and calls off the wedding and also the scenes where he realises she was falsely slandered .

The low ‘comic’ scenes see Nathan Fillion (‘Buffy’, ‘Firefly’, ‘Serenity’ ).and Tom Lenk as the bumbling supposedly hardboiled film noir detectives Dogberry and Verges with ‘cool’ sunglasses who lock themselves out of the police car.

For me this was an uneven film which didn’t quite know what it was trying to be. I found it rather artificial.While yes the main characters were well played it just didn’t quite ‘gel’ .

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING opens today .Rated M, Running time : 108 minutes

THE IMPOSTER

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Can hope trigger hallucination to the magnitude that one accepts the homecoming of a family member after a little over three years where the change of appearance and speech is remarkable to the point of impossible?

That’s the premise of THE IMPOSTER, a documentary of a story so improbable it beggars belief.

Nicholas Barclay is a thirteen year old Texan who vanishes seemingly into thin air. Three and a half years later, his family is informed that he has been located in Spain. According to the traumatised teen, he was abducted by white slavers for sexual servitude in a situation that erased his natural speech and caused some kind of cultural amnesia.

Astonishingly, this is accepted by the American authorities in Spain who issue him with a passport and even more astonishingly by his mother, sister, and brother in law. The kidnapped kid, who would be 17 years old tops, with blue eyes, presents as a much older person with brown eyes, and an accent compatible with an English as second language speaker. But the folks figuratively lay out the fatted cow for the fellow, embracing him to their bosom, dismissing all doubt about his bona fides.

Its incomprehensible that the inconsistencies are so glaring and that the family blithely turn a blind eye to them. Is it born of a desperation to believe their kin has returned or a desperation more sinister.

The imposter becomes a composter of subterfuge, discombobulation, and deceit that has a seasoned FBI agent stymied and a dogged gumshoe determined to discover where the truth lies.

Documentarian Bart Layton fuses confessional interviews with dramatic re-enactment to deliver a film that is incomparable in its incredulity, a film of fooling, fibbing and fakery of unfathomable proportions.

What unfolds is a movie about a master masquerade, a charming chameleon charlatan challenging fact to fall to fiction in a charade that shook and shattered logic, yielding reason to illusion.

Stranger than fiction, full of stuff and nonsense, the preposterous THE IMPOSTER is a compulsively riveting expose of the implausible, the gullible and the guilty on a collision course.

THE IMPOSTER (M) Available on DVD and digital download from Madman from July 17.

 

 

GINGER AND ROSA

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Sally Potter’s GINGER AND ROSA, screened at the 2013 Sydney Film Festival, is a lovely film about two teenage girls on the cusp of growing up and of England’s transfer from its post World War II gloom to the swinging sixties.

England in 1962, still haunted by World War II, had a plausible fear that all human life could be destroyed in a nuclear holocaust.

Ginger and Rosa have been inseparable friends since their mothers gave birth to them in adjoining beds in a maternity ward in 1945. They played together as children but by 1962 they are more interested in kissing boys, fashion, music and smoking cigarettes. Ginger is also interested in Simone de Beuavoir, T.S.Eliot and nuclear disarmament.

Ginger’s father, Roland, is a charismatic bohemian and a pacifist and an inspiration for Ginger’s developing ideas about activism. Rosa sees Roland as fun and attractive and as someone she believes she has a deep connection with.

These numerous strands of the film make thoughtful observations about the personal and the universal. This is a story about the implosion of individual relationships and potential nuclear explosions brought about by the weapons build-up and the Cuban missile crisis. We are reminded of the dire world political situation via regular radio news broadcasts.

Ginger’s mother Natalie is played by Christina Hendricks of MAD MEN fame. Her emotional performance illuminates the gender inequalities of the time as she struggles to look after her daughter and deal with her freedom loving husband. Roland has a narrow selfish view of freedom, providing a counterpoint to the film’s broader themes.

The exceptional cast responds to Sally Potter’s deft direction with balanced performances that capture the mood and the era seamlessly. Lead actors Elle Fanning and Alice Englert’s fine performance are beautifully supported by Alessandro Nivola (Roland), family friends Timothy Spall (Mark), Oliver Platt (Mark Two), and Annette Bening (Bella); and Jodhi May (Anoushka, Rosa’s mother). The muted greys and browns of Robbie Ryan’s cinematography add to the sense of era and location.

GINGER AND ROSA is an excellent film and hopefully will get a wider release.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN

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If ever there was a film which produced mixed feelings, it is MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN, the film adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s prize- winning novel of the same name.

At its core this is a tried and true theme of babies, both boys, born at the same time at the same hospital, being swapped, the film focusing on the life of the child born of poor circumstances who is then brought up by an affluent family, a life meant for the other child. What complicates this theme and both dilutes and enriches it, is that the births of the babies occur at the very moment [at midnight] of the declaration of independence of India and Pakistan, and the momentous later events in the histories of these countries are interspersed with the later events in the lives of the two children.

In addition, throughout the film, and central to it, is magic, in the form of the ability of the main character to conjure up, at will, other children born when he was [hence the film’s title],who all have “powers”, including in the case of one, the power to make people invisible.

Bearing in mind the film lasts about two and a half hours, the inevitable result of this exotic mix is,unfortunately, a film-goer’s confusion and a lack of involvement with the characters.

Nevertheless it must be said that the acting is superb, the concept is epic, the colour and vitality of life in the subcontinent is perfectly captured, and there are a number of truly memorable moments in the film.

Perhaps the best way of summing up the film is this: for its entire length it holds your interest and it is enjoyable to watch, but, at its end, you are left wondering why that was so.

MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN is screening as part of this year’s Sydney Film Festival.

MUD

Matthew McConaughy stars in MUD
Matthew McConaughy plays the title role

What the Dickens! GREAT EXPECTATIONS transposed to Arkansas with Matthew McConachy as Magwitch?

Well, not quite, but MUD from writer/director Jeff Nichols certainly has echoes of Great Expectations as well as Mark Twain’s Huck Finn tales.

Matthew McConaughy seems to have cornered the market on memorable Southern characters recently with outstanding performances in BERNIE, THE PAPER BOY, KILLER JOE and MAGIC MIKE, a renaissance for the actor after a series of rom com debacles and disasters, like the aptly named FAILURE TO LAUNCH.

Heir apparent in looks and talent to Paul Newman, McConaughy champions chipped choppers and matted hair in his portrayal of Mud, fool for love and fugitive from the law, holed up in a boat swept into a tree, legacy of a recent Mississippi Delta flood.

It’s the rare and bizarre sight of the arboreal river craft that attracts the attention of ten year old mates, Ellis and Neckbone to this Arkansas atoll, where they befriend Mud.

Ellis is Pip to Mud’s Magwitch, or maybe Huck Finn to Mud’s Jim.

Ellis is going through a watershed moment – his parent’s imminent separation, his severance from the riverbank shack he’s called home since birth, and his first blossoming of romance with a senior school girl. Part of his pact with Mud is to facilitate a reunion between the fugitive and the female for whom he has risked his freedom, a beauty called Juniper, played by Reese Witherspoon.

Tye Sheridan as Ellis and Jacob Lofland as Neckbone are nothing short of sensational. Bonnie Sturdivant as May Pearl, the object of Ellis’s burgeoning desire has an inbuilt “Estelle gene” to dash Ellis’ great expectations.

Sarah Paulsen, so good as the sister in MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, here plays mum becalmed in the once besotted relationship with Dad, Ray McKinnon, bedecked aboard his Mississippi house boat, dissatisfied with his fishing business.

Rounding out the superb supporting cast is Joe Don Baker as a vengeful tycoon, Michael Shannon as Neckbone’s  uncle and guardian, a crawdad harvester, and Sam Shepherd as Mud’s mentor. Shepherd’s character is shady, a sharpshooter with a shadowy past. Easy to see why Sam was attracted to this project as the script shares Shepherd sensibilities in pitch and plot.

The film is as rich as Arkansas alluvial with a story as sturdy as the Mississippi, complete with tributaries and backwaters. So many strands snake their way through this story, and so many snakes slither through it as well – cottonmouth water moccasin a venomous semi aquatic pit viper pivotal to a number of plot points.

It’s a mighty sweep of a picture and writer director Jeff Nichols navigates his narrative with an assured eye and ear. Warm as Tupelo Honey between Little Rock and a hard place, MUD is one of the emphatically unforgettable films of the year.

 

 

THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST (M)

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Changez is a young Muslim man from Pakistan who wins a place at Princeton to study business.

Highly gifted, he is a fund mentalist, able to forecast fiscal performance of companies with alarming alacrity.

He becomes a protégé of a major mergers manager, an acquisitions hatchet man, Jim Cross, (Keiffer Sutherland) who works for elite valuation firm Underwood Samson.

Part of the Wall Street elite, Underwood Samson know the price of everything and the value of nothing,  and Cross is the kind of cove that makes Gordon Gekko look like a fairy godmother.

Changez buys into the American Dream big time, romancing the niece of a big shot board member of his firm. She’s an artist with so much emotional baggage the courtship is a guilt edged invitation to the blues.

He’s willing to carry this luggage as a labour of love but is put out when his portering is portrayed in her puerile art piece as a pandering, panting, puppy love Paki, the private and intimate put on public view.

Back in Lahore, his poet papa considers his employment a prostitution of principles. This perception becomes self-evident when Changez is sent to Turkey to goose a publisher, a cultural icon traduced by a penny-pinching Greenback bottom line.

Commerce coerced and corrupted the need for greed up to speed, the events of September 11, 2001, put a different complexion on Changez meteoric rise in Mammon. His complexion puts him on collision course with U.S. Homeland security, his Ivy League credentials cutting no mustard with the white breads playing catch-up after being caught with their towers down.

A victim of racial profiling, unhappy with the ethics and methods of his employer, unlucky in love all prompt Changez to make big changes and return to Pakistan, the proverbial prodigal packing it in and picking up a new path as a professor.

Lahore houses a contingent of CIA spooks and when an American academic is kidnapped off the streets the operatives believe Changez knows something about the snatch.

They send a journalist in their pay, Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber) to inveigle under cover of interview, convinced Changez has become politicised and part of the plot to hold Uncle Sam to ransom.

The twin towers of hubris and arrogance cast an ugly shadow, a reputedly democratic power turning demonic in unbridled trampling of foreign domestic sovereignty.

Riz Ahmed in the title role gives a terrifically textured performance, torn between culture, filial responsibility, and the complexity of what is “fundamental” and how foundation can become base, tradition interned to terrorism. Further proof that east is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet. Until there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!

GOOD VIBRATIONS

GOOD VIBRATIONS

GOOD VIBRATIONS is a rambling rock-and-roll film set in Belfast, during the bombings, shootings and sectarian violence, in which boy meets band, boy loses a big band, boy meets lots of bands. Oh, and along the way boy also meets girl, loses girl and then at the end looks like he gets the girl back again.

The boy is the bewhiskered and generally shaggy Terri Hooley and GOOD VIBRATIONS is based upon the true story of this eternal dreamer who refuses to let the IRA, love or lack of lucre intrude upon his fantasy existence. He even manages to lose money on a benefit concert he organises – not because he isn’t able to make a buck but because, despite the bills and final demands piling up for his Good Vibrations record shop and record label, he thinks it’s just not as important as the music and the fans’ enjoyment.

Hooley, played to pull-your-hair-out frustrating perfection by Richard Dormer, is content to be a DJ in a deserted pub until he discovers punk rock in the form of a band called Rudi.

But he’s already met the sweet but by no means docile Ruth (Jodie Whittaker) and even though they get married and have a baby he’s not ready to leave his punk ‘family’. And that’s even before the cuckoo in the nest arrives in the form of seminal punk band The Undertones and their massive hit – in reputational if not financial terms – Teenage Kicks. True to form, Hooley even fails to fully capitalise upon The Undertones’ talent.

In many ways this is an aimless, circuitous film, a shaggy dog story of a shaggy bloke, made lumpy in the middle by the arrival of The Undertones. It is however authentically shot in the somber  yet warm earthy tones of the time and accurately conveys the shot in the arm that was punk in the era of bloated prog-rock giants. GOOD VIBRATIONS is worth seeing for this and the soundtrack alone. And, if metaphors are your thing, for the redemptive power of music as a uniting force that overcome evil etc etc.  Keep an eye open for Terri Hooley himself as an accordion player and Black Books’ Dylan Moran.

GOOD VIBRATIONS played Sydney (and other Australian cities including Byron Bay and Canberra) as part of the British Film Festival. in November last year.

The film will be getting a national release around on Thursday June 12.