Monday, 31 October 2016

Film No. 67 (2016) Nocturnal Animals October 27th.

Film No. 67 (2016) October 27th.  6.45 PM Greater Union Event Cinema,  Innaloo. 

"When you love someone, you have to be careful with it, you may never get it again". (Edward explains a philosophy of his to his first love, Susan, in their early years together). 

This stylish drama by second time director Tom Ford (A Single Man) takes the audience on a journey of revenge in a wonderfully original manner. From the bizarre opening images of large, gyrating female forms to the thrilling story within a story, to the inevitable concluding wide angle shot, there is a lot to like about Nocturnal Animals.

The surprise is, Ford has taken seven years to get back to film making. He is a fashion icon so perhaps he uses that to give him financial security before taking the inevitable risks aligned to feature film making. It's worth the wait because he takes beautiful people, dresses them with sheer style then blends them into an unreal world of treacherous self obsession where they hope they'll achieve happiness. At least that's the set up for this journey with Susan Morrow (Amy Adams). 

Susan is a gallery owner who craves adulation for every exhibition she hosts. Her 19 year marriage to drop dead handsome Hutton (Armie Hammer) is tired and she has regrets about her past, more particularly, the way she betrayed her first love Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). We learn all this via  Edward's manuscript, Nocturnal Animals, which he sends an advance copy of to Susan for reasons that become more obvious with every page she turns.

Because the thriller plays out scene by scene, Susan's life and then a scene from the manuscript as Susan takes up from where she last left off, it becomes a "can't put it down" scenario. We are always anxious to get back to Edward's story. I'm trying not to delve too far into this highly original film. Michael Shannon turns up as the white hatted hero via the thrilling manuscript. Jake Gyllenhaal plays the tormented figure and lead for good reason. All will be revealed as you watch. Film lovers shouldn't miss Nocturnal Animals. It's stylish, it's thrilling, it's clever and it's all communicated via Susan a person we ultimately don't care much for in any case. 11GUMS.

Film No. 66 (2016) Hacksaw Ridge October 25th.

Film No. 66 (2016) October 25th.  6.30 PM Greater Union Event Cinema, Innaloo.

If you thought Saving Private Ryan took the cake for the most graphic depiction of a battle scene then think again. Hacksaw Ridge has double the visuals, double the gore and double the impact. This big budget war film takes us to the WWII battle field of Okinawa; known as a legendary blood fest. We follow the heroics of Desmond Doss a christian conscientious objector who saved the lives of 75 soldiers in a 24 hour period without lifting a rifle because he vowed he never would.

The issue with Hacksaw Ridge is, there is too much cliche in the scenes leading to the gruesome battle field scenes, scenes where director Mel Gibson excels. The thing is Gibson announces the film as a true story. Perhaps he'd have been better to use the term "inspired by real events" because the big screen (Hollywood) treatment of some scenes suggest convenience of storytelling rather than reality. Given this treatment, Hacksaw Ridge is a big, ballsy film full of power and old-fashioned inspiration.

Desmond Doss was the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honour. It's an American story waiting to be told. Interestingly enough, it has taken a major U.S. ally in Australia to provide most of the artistic resources to bring to film to light. Mel has always been fascinated with the story, so ten years on from Apocalypto he returns, with an army of Australians; actors and studio techs alike to make the film. It's fitting that Vince Vaughan as Sergeant Howell returns to his brilliant best (Swingers) in this bio-pic. The sharpest, wittiest dialogue is penned for Vaughan.

So, back to what is most memorable about Hacksaw Ridge; the violent depiction of the reality of war. Gibson has a reputation for   depicting the brutality of an exceptional historical occasion (Passion of the Christ). In Hacksaw Ridge he excels. A couple of Oscars may very well reinforce his brilliance early in 2017. I suggest that people of a similar disposition to Mr Doss will not be able to stomach at least 30 minutes of Hacksaw Ridge. You have been warned.  9GUMS.


Sunday, 30 October 2016

Film No. 65 (2016) American Honey October 24th.

Film No. 65 (2016) October 24th.  7.30 PM LUNA Leederville.

"I've been trying to be christian, but I can see the devil has a hold of the two of you" (the words of a potential customer after letting Star (Sasha Lane) and Jake (Shia LaBeouf) into her house).

Andrea Arnold has made one of the most original American road movies of contemporary times in American Honey and surprisingly she's a product of the U.K. It is a film she's had on her mind for a few years as she travelled the states meeting with young people who were cold calling, door to door, in the hope of selling magazine subscriptions. 

Arnold's storytelling has a lot of Ken Loach about it. That she found her lead, Sasha Lane, on a beach in Panama, Miami two weeks before filming began rings true of her cinema hero. What a find she made in Lane who plays Star, a teenage girl with little to no prospects but a big heart and a mind of her own. Star believes a better life, full of riches lies ahead if she joins Jake (Shia LaBeouf) and a team of vagabond sales kids on the road.

It's here the film questions the American idea that materialism will make for a better life. The simple catch cry for Star and her off-siders, egged on by team leader Krystal is to "make money". When the vehicle for that purpose is selling subscriptions to magazines, we know that their cause is hopeless. But it's through Star we see glimmers of hope. She begins to make money by being honest and above all, a good person. She becomes a lightning rod for the very vulnerable Jake.

Arnold has already claimed a jury prize and a major nomination at Cannes 2016 for American Honey. No mean accolade for a non-American making arts outside her own territory. 165 minutes may seem lengthy on the face of things but when one becomes totally invested in a character to the point we'd be more than willing to buy her subscriptions, the time flies. Films baring their all through raw naturalism aren't for everybody but this one will gradually charm most.  10GUMS.


Film No. 64 (2016) The Light Between Oceans October 20th.

Film No. 64 (2016) October 20th.  6.30 PM Gold Class Greater Union Event Cinema, Innaloo.

"She needs us, we're not doing anything wrong." Isabel, (Alicia Vikander) pleads with her husband Tom(Michael Fassbender)).

Derek Cianofrance nailed the heartfelt film with Blue Valentine six years ago. The Place Beyond the Pines had a powerful pull as well but it was not in the same mould as Valentine. The Light Between The Oceans reinforces his ability to power us back to witnessing real human heartbreak without cliche. He also parallels the anguish of Tom (Fassbender)and Isabel (Vikander) against the backdrop of a windswept vastness that takes our breath away.

This Australian story is stamped with British know how. It's shot in Tasmania and on a New Zealand island. It's important to mention the locations because they co-star in this exquisite production. The beautiful but desolate locations bring to bear the rawness of what it feels like to experience bad luck, regret and loss. Key in all of this is the question, does isolation and heart ache alter perceptions of reality?

Cianofrance seamlessly transports Tom, a WWI vet who's been to hell and back and is looking for real peace, to an island off Australia where he is manning a lighthouse. During his induction he meets Isabel and there is real chemistry, they swap love letters and marry within the year. Their life is bliss as they nestle in their love for one another in the most isolated of environments. A family is the punctuation point needed to complete their perfect life. Isabel miscarries twice. We share their heartache and our investment is complete. Then a boat washes up, there is a baby aboard. 

I'm predicting an Oscar nomination for The Light Between Oceans but I don't think it will win. Weisz as the grieving mother and widow fills the space in her usual charming manner however I wasn't convinced the vital role of Hannah Roennfeldt suited her range. My criticism is minor but the character is crucial to the final stanza of the film. I'd like to have felt more compassionate towards Hannah. Meanwhile this wonderful film will win and break hearts the world over for years to come. 10GUMS.    


Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Film No. 63 (2016) Joe Cinque's Consolation October 16th.

Film No. 63 (2016) October 16th.  4.00 PM LUNA Leederville.

"Anyone can have bad luck when they're looking for love" (the prophetic words of Joe (Jerome Meyer) during a conversation early in his relationship with girlfriend Anu (Maggie Naouri).

Helen Garner is surely an Australian national treasure. Her contribution to the nation's conscience using gentle fluid tones is extraordinary. Joe Cinque's Consolation is precisely that, a manuscript which hopefully pricks at the consciousness of a nation. It paints the picture of a nice guy having his life extinguished by someone he loves who's placed a spell on him, a spell he was unable to control.  Enter Soliris Dounoukos, a film director, who cared enough to make a cinematic interpretation of Garner's words.

The film is clunky but important. Dounoukos is a first time film maker so Consolation is conservative in approach. He does not delve into the court caseflicking backwards and forwards from evidence to flashbacks, instead his focus is on Anu Singh (Maggie Naouri) and her erratic, and yet charismatic behaviour leading up to Joe's (Jerome Meyer) death. He also highlights, more frighteningly, the dereliction of responsibility shown by those who knew what was going on, yet did nothing.

Joe Cinque's Consolation is no Hitchcock Mystery but it has elements of his genius. The issue is, this is a true life crime committed in the most conservative of environments, Australia's capital Canberra. All of the players are still alive, except Joe, so many of the scenes are close to the truth. The dinner party enactments are directed as described by some of those who where present. It is difficult to conceive that these intelligent people allowed Singh to do as she did.

The real consolation for Joe lands in the hands of his parents. These beautiful people (played exquisitely by Gia Carides and Tony Nikolakopoulos and seen only briefly) have been left heart-broken. Their lives were damaged because their son cared too much for his own good. Every performance is riveting. More importantly the film leaves another tribute, as only the arts can do, to the life of Joe Cinque. As a film purist you'll be disappointed, as a human being you'll be spellbound, angry, reflective and finally respectful. 9GUMS.         

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Film No. 62 (2016) Elle October 13th.

Film No. 62 (2016) October 11th.  6.45 PM LUNA Paradiso, Northbridge.

"The real danger, Michelle, is you" (Husband to wife conversation).

Paul Verhoeven is a gifted film maker. Robocop, Starship Troopers and Basic Instinct are testament to his versatility and talent. Elle fits nicely with Verhoeven's contributions to the thriller genre in a not too disimilar style to the way Basic Instinct exploded onto world wide screens in 1992. Elle is a better film than B.I. with a far more twisted, self-centred main character than Stone's Catherine Trammel; Michelle, played by Isabelle Huppert. Elle won't however have the same Box Office impact as B.I.

Michelle is a "piece of work". She is raped in her own home one evening and she decides there is but one way to respond; to take matters into ones own hands. Verhoeven from here gives us a stylized thriller which revolves entirely around the complex axis of Huppert's Michelle.

There are holes in Elle, as there are holes in all noir films. Red herrings of the obvious kind abound throughout but they are all carried off with style and an ounce of "tongue in cheek". Michelle has money and is an astute business owner of a successful IT games development company. One wonders if fixation with the unreal world has flowed into her own reality. At home she becomes fixated with her cat, then with neighbour Patrick (Charles Berling) a handsome distraction.

Huppert is worth the price of a ticket for Elle. Michelle is easy to dislike as she treats family, friends and employees as pawns in her thirst  to get whatever it is she wants. The ease with which we acquire this dislike is testament to Huppert's brilliance. The cruel way she treats her mother is a particular highlight. In short, Elle is flawed but Huppert is flawless. 8GUMS.      

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Film No. 60 (2016) The Girl On The Train October 5th.

Film No. 60 (2016) October 5th.  6.30 PM Greater Union Event Cinema, Innaloo.

"I don't remember, there's some time missing" (Rachel (Emily Blunt) explains where she was in the hours a woman goes missing).

The book of the same name by Paula Hawkings is a rollicking good read. A film of this popular book was inevitable and in the vein of Gone Girl, The Girl On The Train is a clever re-interpretation of the novel. I say clever because sociologically women read more than men and they are also more prolific film goers. This combination fits nicely with producers, so long as the film stays true to the narrative and has a uniquely shot surreal quality, audiences will flock. 

The first adjustment for those who loved the book will be adapting your images of the passing English scenery on the train trips to London. Tate Taylor's version is shot in leafy North Eastern U.S. This may be off-putting for some. Next is the casting of Emily Blunt as the dowdy Rachael. Blunt does a good job of playing an alcohol dependent misfit struggling with life through intoxicated perceptions of reality. The extended close-ups and slow-mo visuals capture some of the essence of the liquid prose of Hawking's novel.

The Girl on the Train is a closed circuit when it comes to characters and location. Basically there is Rachel, her ex, Tom (Justin Theroux), his new wife Anna, their nanny Megan (Haley Bennett) and her partner Scott (Luke Evans) playing out their lives in their abodes adjacent to the all important train-line. Hitchcock was the master of these packaged narratives; this film has a little of Rear Window about it. Unfortunately Tate can't tighten the grip of tension needed in the all important final stanza to make the film as memorable as the book.

It is inevitable that there will be comparisons when it comes to the retelling of a book on the screen, especially when the genre of choice is the thriller. That is always the risk taken by production houses. The Girl on the Train is a serviceable redepiction. It is not as thrilling as it could be, Gone Girl is a far more tense film. There I go again, comparing. My image of Rachel in the book comes close to Blunt's wide-eyed work. Generally though, I have reservations but I doubt my view will affect the Box Office.  7GUMS.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Film No. 59 (2016) Snowden October 4th.

Film No. 59 (2016) October 4th.  1.10 PM LUNA SX Fremantle.

"Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honour you can give an American" (A quote from the real Ed Snowden during a Skpyed Q & A with a quorum of U.S. Grad. students in 2014).

Oliver Stone steps up to the biographical feature film making plate once a again, after a lengthy absence, to give us Snowden. His bio's from the 90's are legendary; The Doors (1991), J.F.K. (1991)and Nixon (1995) represent his best efforts. Snowden is both enjoyable and something of a disappointment. If it wasn't in the hands of Stone I wouldn't have used the term disappointment; I was simply surprised this usually hard hitting director incorporated some incongruous scenes and characters. More on that later.

Unless one has been living under a rock over the last 5 years, Ed Snowden is to whistle blowing what Usain Bolt is to world athletics. Snowden "blabbed" to the world about the surveillance practices of both the CIA and the NCA. Practices kept "in house" for purposes of national security. In many ways this is a complex subject told by a  unique filmmaker about an uncomplicated, intelligent young man. Thus, Snowden is an accomplished slice of entertainment. Stone, if nothing else, gives mainly younger audiences an opportunity to understand the motives of an ordinary moral guy embroiled in extraordinary circumstances.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a great job of playing a bland Snowden. We meet Ed in a Hong Kong hotel room conducting his Citizen Four interviews with British journalists only days after fleeing his Hawaii base. From here we flick backwards and forwards through time tracking Snowden's career as first a failed soldier then a clever Internet Protocol expert, keen to serve his country to the point of creating software critical to national security; or is it? Shailene Woodley as girlfriend Lindsay gives a grounded performance which is supposedly close to the truth.

It's true that Stone has done his research as he always does. It's just that Corbin O'Brian (Rhys Ifans) and Hank Forrester (Nicholas Cage) are too simplistically two dimensional for a Stone original. There is an unintended laughable quality about some of their scenes. The real Snowden endorsed the film, this is evident in the closing sequences so perhaps I'm being over critical. That said, Snowden is a thorough, informative entertainment which doesn't quite live up to Stone's previous classics but it's classy never the less.  9GUMS.


Film No. 58 (2016) The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe September 24th.

Film No. 58 (2016) September 24th.  11.00 PM LUNA Leederville.

"Rape, violence against women. Can they ever put their lives back together again? I wanted to do something, however small". (Director Ros Horin's voiceover to a trailer outlining the beginnings of her seed of an idea).

I won't rate this slice of social commentary about the trials of theatre director Ros Horin, as she seeks out 4 African women who sought refuge here in Australia to escape their torturous lives. A rating may be misleading because the film is not sophisticated or ground breaking. It is simply a running commentary, but an important one none the less.

We meet Ros driving through the suburbs of Sydney thinking aloud. She is seeking a project to extend her skills as an accomplished theatre director. It dawns on her that interviewing newly settled refugees adapting to suburban life after escaping their war torn existences' would make interesting commentary. And she is right, the commentary is interesting.

From here our "fly on the wall" experience becomes just that, until the drama of the process unfolds. Yordanos Haile-Michaels (Yordy) was left to her own devises, along with her two brothers, at age 3 in war torn Eritrea in the late eighties. Her path through Horan's therapeutic theatre process steals the show (from a film POV). Yordy provides the most moving scenes as we focus on the strengths and vulnerabilities of a woman facing her fears. Fears we can't even pretend to imagine. Take tissues for a three minute scene as Yordy's 11 year old son describing why he admires his mum so much.

All five woman make inspirational transitions via this unique theatrical therapy method. Those who have enjoyed the final production, mainly Sydney or Melbourne patrons, will have a more intimate sense of the film. It's an interesting fly on the wall experience. An experience I found both inspiring and enjoyable.  


Film No. 61 (2016) Cafe Society October 8th.

Film No. 61 (2016) October 8th.  11.00 PM LUNA Leederville.

"Life is a comedy written by a sadistic comedy writer" (The best line in Cafe Society recited by Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) during yet another verbal stream of consciousness.

In a major first for Woody Allen he used digital technology to film this, his 47th film, but there is very little else that is un-Allen like in Cafe Society. This is not a negative observation, it's simply an observation. The lead, Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg), plays a quintessential New York Jewish boy grappling with his runaway thoughts and social insecurities. You know, the same character type Woody would have played in his younger days.

Dorfman is young and frustrated with his Bronx life, he needs to spark up, grow-up and leave New York for the wild west. His mum Rose brilliantly played by Jeanie Berlin rings her brother Phil Stern (Steve Carell), an agent to the stars. He'll see Bobby, even offers him an insignificant job for a time; enough time for him to be smitten by Stern's secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart). He's smitten but there are complications because she's taken.

The spaces are filled by guest narrator, Woody, himself. He keeps time, characters and distance all in check in the most simplistic terms. See, it's a typical Woody scenario. The highlight  is the sharp dialogue which only lets up when Allen narrates. Laugh out loud scenes come from Bobby's family banter punctuated by Berlin and Ken Stott, an interesting choice as, dad, Marty Doorman along with Bobby's thug of a brother, Ben. There is also an early scene; Bobby negotiates and pontificates with a rookie prostitute Candy (Anna Camp) which is fun.

So why is Cafe Society only a luke warm contribution to The Allen catalogue? I'm not sure really. The cast is brilliant but for me I'm not convinced by the Bobby and Vonnie chemistry. Individually both filled the screen brilliantly but as a couple I wasn't invested. Their contrasting love for one another is essential to 80 minutes of the film. Then there is Carell; he had the look but I'm not sure he was the right man for the job. Anyway, I've said it before, I'm a Woody Allen fan, thus comparisons are inevitable. Cafe Society is not in his best 20 films for me but entertaining never the less.  8GUMS.