Friday, 30 December 2016

Film No. 78 (2016) La La Land December 29th.

Film No. 78 (2016) December 29th.  6.40 PM LUNA PALACE, Leederville. 

"How are you going to be a revolutionary if you're such a traditionalist. Jazz is about the future (Sebastian, Ryan Gosling) is given some advice about the future by a contemporary).

Who hasn't heard about La La Land since it's Boxing Day opening three days ago? Not too many folk I would imagine. So while the film underwhelmed me I have to say it is a crowd pleaser with all the sparkle, razzle and absolute dazzle of musicals from a bygone era. It does deserve its praise because it unashamedly carries off the genre it emulates fantastically well.

From the opening number on an L.A. freeway where the traffic is bumper to bumper and the only escape is a song and dance spectacular to while away the time, we know we are in for a world of fantasy. It's where we meet Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone), the two potential love birds, both lost in their dreams of stardom fuelled by their artistic pursuits. For Seb it's his passion for Jazz while Mia is an actor working to get her lucky break. 

It's inevitable they meet. It's inevitable they fall in love. It's inevitable they drive each other to fulfil their dreams. So the risk with a BIG film like this lies in the casting. In Gosling and Stone the producers, distributors and backers alike must be rubbing their collective hands together. Their chemistry on screen is magnetic. It's the reason people who catch two movies a year will break-out and catch a third.

Unashamedly (yes here is that word again) La La Land is totally un original. Every scene is a cliche of 10 films that came before it. But it is the first to use digital advancements to enhance the sum of it's parts. This crowd pleaser will dominate the box office, awards and both multiplexes and independent cinemas alike for months ahead all because they got the casting and the formula right. It sounds simple but as most producers will tell you, it's never easy to achieve. Yes, I was underwhelmed but forget my view, La La Land works. 10GUMS.   

Film No. 77 (2016) Julieta December 24th.

Film No. 77 (2016) December 24th.  8.00 PM SOMERVILLE U.W.A. Nedlands.


"I'm going to tell you everything I wasn't able to tell you before" (Julieta writes to her estranged daughter).

I can only imagine how pretentious it might sound if you were to hear someone say, I've just been to see an Allen (Woody) at the local cinema. Almodovar rolls off the tongue more fluidly but I wonder about the credibility of a film promoted in a manner Picasso or Da Vinci would have been proud of. It makes me wonder whether an artist like Pedro would have chosen to be promoted in this way.   

Julieta re-vitalises all of the dreamy, melodramatic qualities so characteristic of Pedro's style. Once again he takes us inside the head of his central character Julieta (Emma Suarez) a seemingly ordinary middle aged woman about to move from Madrid to Portugal following her partner Lorenzo in the next chapter in her life. Days before her move, by chance she meets Beatriz (Michelle Jenner), an old friend of her daughters, in the street and the melodrama begins.

Keen to sell this new Pedro special, promoters and distributors have described Julieta as a taut thriller. I may be mistaken but Pedro needed to step in here because a film about a woman reminded of her past via dreamlike snippets drizzled with chamber music (which I might add are beautiful to watch), doesn't add up to a taut thriller. This is a simplistic summary because there is emotional upheaval as Julieta tries to reconcile the sudden departure of her daughter after a family tragedy.

If you are a fan of Petro's then don't miss Julieta. Aesthetically he has returned to his trade-mark self. It is all you would expect from this fine film-maker; it's the legitimacy of the tale he wants us to be involved in which left me flat as the screen went to black. An Almodovar it is but in comparative terms it's no Picasso. 8GUMS

Monday, 26 December 2016

Film No. 76 (2016) A Man Called Ove December 22nd.

Film No. 76 (2016) December 22nd.  6.45 PM LUNA Paradiso, Northbridge.

"It looks like a winter boot with eyes" (Grumpy Ove describes a pesky dog to it's owner simply because it annoys him).

I loved The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared. It's humour and poignancy sold me on Sweedish cinema and in particular their slant on morality tale telling. A Man Called Ove, steps grumpily into similar territory and does it nearly as well. 

Ove (Rolf Lassgard) is a grumpy 59 year old with the demeanour of a grouchy 70 year old. From the beginning we know "rivers run deep" with Ove and the 2 hours we are about to spend with him will reveal all. Somehow we just know we are going to love him. So it's down to Director Hanns Holm's ability to convert the Fredrick Backman novel to the screen. From where I was sitting, he did a good job.

Knowing why Ove has such a dim view on life and the people who surround him is gradually unravelled. We see flashbacks including the touching relationship he had with his father and the events which led to him following in his dad's footsteps and ultimately meeting the love of his life, Sonja (Ida Engvoll) who's beauty, inside and out, gives the film a lift. Then there is the humour surrounding his love of Saab and disdain for other car makes, in particular his neighbour's devotion to Volvo.

Ove wins us over as we are manipulated in the nicest possible manner. Neighbour Parvaneh (Bahar Pars), an Iranian immigrant married to a Swede, gives Ove the reality check he needs when all looks lost. She and her children draw the very best qualities from Ove which is all  part of the film's clever manipulation. I notice the author of the novel, Backman, was also involved in the writing of the screenplay. This will add legitimacy for those who have read the book. Ove is still growing on me, it's a better film than I first gave it credit for. Like an onion I'm still peeling back the layers. 9GUMS.


Friday, 23 December 2016

Film No. 75 (2016) Lion December 17th.

Film No. 75 (2016) December 17th.  10.30 AM LUNA PALACE, Leederville. 

"I had another family, a mother, a brother, I can still see their faces" (Saroo's (Dev Patel) reaction to Lucy's (Rooney Mara) enquiry about his anxiety). 

Those who remember the closing scenes of The Killing Fields (1984) will recall the moving reunion when Sydney embraces Pran at the Red Cross station on the Cambodian / Vietnamese border. Well, Lion presents a similar emotion fuelled conclusion, but for me, it's twice as heartfelt. Given this comparison, Lion does not reach the standards of the afore mentioned classic.

Based on the memoir, A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley, Lion retells, in two halves, Saroo's quest to allay his real mother's anxiety at the fate of her son. I've described the heartfelt conclusion but it's the first hour in the hands of 5 year old Saroo so brilliantly played by Sunny Pawer which captures our attention. Young Saroo wending his way through the slums of Calcutta (as it was known then) trying to re-unite with his brother has us willing him to be safe.

Dev Patel takes up the second half of Saroo's story from Tasmania, Australia. While unlucky to lose contact with his mother and brother on that fateful night his luck turns when he's adopted by Tasmanian couple Sue and John Brierley. Saroo spents the next 20 years without the stress of poverty in middle class Australia. The development of Saroo's western family link is not as thorough as his journey as a 5 year old. We are not as connected to the Australian family unit as perhaps first time feature director Garth Davis would have liked.

Girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara) is the rock a determined Saroo leans on while he tries to find his mother and brother, knowing their stress at not knowing where he is must be excruciating. Mara is her usual fresh faced self, she's the perfect rock and it's this relationship in the back half of the film which resonates. I couldn't beg, borrow or steal a tissue as the final scenes closed in. Let me tell you, those final scenes are moving, but the image which remains is the face of Pawer, our 5 year old Saroo, he's the reason we become so invested. 9GUMS.       


Thursday, 22 December 2016

Film No. 74 (2016) Jackie December 13th.

Film No. 74 (2016) December 13th.  6.30 PM Greater Union Event Cinema, Innaloo.

"I believe the characters we read about on the page end up being more in relation to the men who stand beside us" (Jackie begins her recount of the days immediately after J.F.K.'s assassination to her handpicked journalist (Billy Crudup.)

Natalie Portman (Jackie) may well have sewn up a Golden Globe and an Oscar in this highly stylised account of the most loved U.S. presidential first lady in the days immediately following that fateful day in November 1963. So therein lies the warning. This is not a Jackie tell all story about her life, loves and final days. This film is so, so much better than that.

Jackie Kennedy was best known, prior to 22.11.1963, as the beautiful first lady who took the world, via T.V., through the White House as she described her new home as The Peoples House. This event becomes a corner stone flash back scene for the film as Jackie talks to unnamed journalist Billy Crudup through the effective technique of story management via Jackie's reflective, highly emotive words.

Because of the private nature in which the actual Jackie Kennedy conducted herself, there were only fleeting moments when she spoke, so her distinctive, breathy vocal tones were very much her fingerprint. Portman has worked her craft, vocally, as fastidiously as she she did physically in Black Swan. She is mesmerising as Jackie. Chilean director Pablo Larrain has a reputation for a thorough approach to his work, his melding with Portman in Jackie is a masterstroke. 

This film could have been titled Jackie: 7 Days of Grief. There is no pretence about where we are led as an audience. We learn a little of Bobbie Kennedy's (Peter Sarsgaad) grief and care for his sister-in-law. Lyndon and Ladybird Johnson are background puppets and Jackie's exchanges with priest John Hurt and assistant Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig) are telling. Gerwig is as never seen before in her fleeting role. But Jackie is all down to Natalie Portman and Natalie is good, very good.  10GUMS

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Film No. 73 (2016) A United Kingdom December 5th.

Film No. 73 (2016) December 5th.  6.45 PM LUNA Paradiso, Northbridge.

"This is likely the most inspiring story of love and endurance ever told" (Nelson Mandela on becoming the first black president of South Africa) as he described the love shared by Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams.

Botswana is a success story when it comes to looking at the past of Third World African countries. It's a country I've not visited and while I know little of it's historical past this tale of enduring love went a long way in helping me to understand Botswana's current economic and social standing.

We've all heard the phrase, Love Conquers All, it's often used as a snappy film catch phrase to lure a prospective audience. The phrase is tired  but A United Kingdom could be the flagship film for it's rejuvenation. The film is clunky enough to support the cliched phrase but this criticism in no way diminishes the importance of the story.

This is the story of Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), Botswana's first president, who meets and falls in love with his wife Ruth (Rosamund Pike) a white, english girl, while he is studying in the U.K. Serenest is a prince and he's about to be called home to become king. His union with Ruth caused major reactions on both sides of their respective national spectrums. Britain held sovereignty over Botswana at the time. Sanctions on the couple came thick and fast, sometimes heavy handedly from a cinematic POV, in a bid to break their bond. 

Director Amma Asante created a better film in Belle (2013)as she told a different story of the hardships endured in mixed race relations. A United Kingdom however is a bigger film with a more important story.  A quick reference to Botswana's contemporary history will verify this. Oyalowo and Pike maintain the right chemistry but it's Jack Davenport's plodding performance as the stiff upper lip diplomat which made me cringe. On reflection it's how it had to be I suspect. 8GUMS. 



Film No. 72 (2016) Arrival November 27th.

Film No. 72 (2016) November 27th.  12.30 PM READING CINEMAS, Queenstown New Zealand.

"You are at the top of everyones list when it comes to translations" (Colonel Weber (Forrest Whitaker) addresses Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams) as unidentified craft appear on Earth.

Amy Adams is the flavour of this cinema year it would seem. She certainly has a charismatic quality which endears her to the screen. Arrival will likely earn her many a nomination over the coming awards season. So what is it about Arrival, the movie?

With all that has gone down politically in the U.S. over recent months this is a timely film. A film to drag us up by our moral lapels, so that we might be shaken into the realisation that if it's possible to communicate with alien life, then why the hell can't we make positive contact as humans in our global village? Does it work? Yeh it does, surprisingly, because if one had 30 seconds to pitch this plot, corny maybe the concluding verdict.  

I'm doing Arrival a disservice by suggesting the film is a blueprint for the global benefits of effective communication channels. It's most endearing quality is the thread of life, and the premise, if one knew the future, would you make a decision knowing the pain as well as the beauty of what was to come. Still sounding corny? Well Arrival has a corny premise and farfetched threads but it works.

Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a world renowned linguist who is co-opted by the U.S. govt. to make contact with "visitors" who have suddenly arrived and are literally hovering in different positions all over the world. She teams with Donnelly (Jeremy Rimmer) to peel back the layers of a coded exchange between beings. While the film is both subtle and clever, I'm not convinced there is real chemistry between Adams and Rimmer during their key moments as Earth's ambassadors. You see, the film demands chemistry, for me it doesn't deliver on that front but delivers everywhere else. 9GUMS.