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"Hey, Steven Knight, we have plenty of money!" And Steven went through his puberty draw and blew the dust off a screenplay...
I'm not sure if the busy writer, Steven Knight (Taboo, Peaky Blinders, Girl In The Spider's Web), created this project for a much needed working holiday! He also directed, which meant he got to hang with the cast and crew on the island of Mauritius (north of Africa), a most glorious location which was perfect for this dark and dreamlike neo-noir. When film crews are far from home and isolated from the studio's eyes, then there is a party going down (one of the many reasons for my bunged-up liver).
Serenity feels like a pet project Knight had in a desk draw from his childhood days. It has that naivety about it with some ambiguity and plays out as an over-the-top neo-noir but ends up being something more deeper and interesting in a muddled sort of way! Technically it was brilliant, with plenty of drone shots and other interesting directorial touches of sensory-impact. And the cast was perfect and beautiful and had your interest. So there was enough in this movie to keep you hooked in a matinee serial sort of way. So what went wrong?
It was how Knight undersold it. At first you thought you were going to get a thriller of some sort. The acting was noir-like, a little hammy and sexy from the femme-fatale (who even dressed for the part). The protagonist, (McConaughey cast perfectly), was doing a dark Bogart who went hard on the liquor and had some deep regrets in life hidden under the tough exterior. Even the antagonist was pure evil in a comic-book sort of villain way. It then shifted into another sphere that threw everything off kilter, but made it more interesting, even if it was somewhat clunky. I took the bait and decided to go with it because I too wanted to believe this revenge scenario created by a hurtful fragile creature. Once you made the connection you understood why the first half was played out like... I should stop there and not be giving this much away. But if you are prepared for it then you might accept the shortcomings, and enjoy the trashiness.
I Am Mother (2019)
Yes, this is an Australian film! It didn't look like it. And it sure didn't sound like it.
It was refreshing to see an Australian sci-fi that didn't sell out to the popcorn audience and explain every single detail. Instead it stimulated my viewing pleasure by making that lazy soggy brain work overtime, forcing me to put together the puzzle of the story. And it was a fine story about the end of humanity and re-evolution of the human race. The basic premise is about an intelligent and curious teenager, (called daughter), who is the only living being sheltered in a spacecraft like bunker underground. The teenager is put through a survival test by a mother robot, creating plenty of tension and questions about the morality of the human evolution. It is a neat local sci-fi film that John Hinde would surely have been proud of...
Just a warning: Sorry for bias review, but I'm a great fan of these two...
I was vaguely aware of Bob Fosse when I was about 9-years-old. My mother took me and my siblings to the local cinema matinee to watch, The Little Prince (1974). Fosse appeared as the charismatic Snake, doing his trademark dance moves in the middle of the desert. Even as a child I thought how cool and surreal that was. It wasn't until later in life when video came into our household that I rediscovered Bob Fosse as a director. His movies were like a dance of life, Cabaret (1972), Lenny (1974, no dancing but the editing was choreographed like one), and the semi-autobiography masterpiece, All That Jazz (1979). Out of curiosity I viewed his earlier piece, Sweet Charity (1969), and only then did I realise he also choreographed cheesy Fifties Hollywood musicals, including broadway productions. That is when I made the connection with the dancer/singer Gwen Verdon!
What a life these two had. They were on the forefront of new inventive dance choreography, making it all so hip and cool during the Sixties and Seventies. This miniseries shows it all, like a highlight package of what Fosse and Verdon achieved in their stormy lifetime. How they fed off each other while driving one another crazy in the process. They were a real New York broadway kind of couple with passion and flaws. There was no holding back in this miniseries, even their daughter (who also executive produced) didn't hide the emotional pains and grief of being brought up by creative and sometimes destructive parents.
Sam Rockwell as Fosse was the perfect casting since Roy Scheider played Fosse's alter-ego in All That Jazz. Michelle Williams doing Verdon was astounding to say the least. They deserved the Emmy nominations for both stepping inside these anti-Hollywood icons and making them believable. The highlight, and surprising factor for me, was the long friendship Fosse had with the famous writers, Neil Simon and Paddy Chayefsky. Scenes of them together were pure delight.
There were times when this production felt like a cheap and tacky soap drama. But what it lacked in the directing and writing department sure made up for it with the performances and story of these two treasured artists who left behind a legacy of their creativity.
Le grand bal (2018)
The dance of life...
Gennetines, France, is where you go to dance your worries away for seven straight days and nights. No, it's not a rave party, with fake DJs and Doff-Doff music. It is where traditional folk bands come in from all around the world and play their unique home tunes for your soul to embrace. There you dance with loved ones and strangers, with no inhibition, giving you a zest for life and a true sense of belonging.
The documentary makers capture perfectly the mood and tone of this dance festival, allowing their lingering shots to observe the passion and devotion from the participants. There is no narrative, just these simple but effective images with a few interviews and thoughts of how dancing lifts the spirit. Apart from the amazing dancing it is the traditional worldly music that enhances the joyous emotions it brings. This is proof that dancing can bring all walks of life together, and may even solve our World problems.
La Grand Bal is the Baraka of dance, with some stunning observational moments of folks in hypnotic states, being absorbed by the music and swept away to a time of yesteryear.
Perpetual Grace, LTD (2019)
The absurdist have taken over the asylum...
I only review a series until the whole season has been completed, but from what I have seen after six episodes this is worth bragging about. It is a thriller of some sort with everything thrown into the mix bag of bizarre and twisted neo-noir. I see it as if David Lynch, Wes Anderson and Aki Kaurismäki had an orgy and created this deformed love child that has turned out to be a unique TV series. The tone and structure is hypnotic, dreamlike and far removed from any form of reality, but the emotions are hyper-realistic and challenging if you dare to dig deep. Together the creators Bruce Terris and Steven Conrad, (who got his brother Chris Conrad to star as the demented sad sack, New Leaf), have pushed the boundaries of the absurd, but not as far as David Lynch went with the recent Twin Peaks series. The highlight is the teaming of Ben Kingsley (as Father Byron Brown!) and Jacki Weaver, an inseparable God fearing couple who have been stung, so they hit the vengeful road, creating a path of redemption! Another Aussie in the mix is the cheeky Damon Herriman as P.A. Brown who created the chaos. So hang in there cause it was only by the third episode that I made connection, and it was worth the wait.
On the run in Bar Bizarre...
The title is derived from Bar Bizarre in Brooklyn, a home for fetish performances that take place on stage for all to see! Homeless French teenager, Maurice, seems to be on the run. As luck has it, the female owners of Bizarre take Maurice in, creating a new and strange path in his life. What transpires is almost reminiscent of the Warhol / Morrissey films, FLESH (1968), TRASH (1970) and HEAT (1972), but with less talk and more visual aid in telling the tale. The standout in this curious piece is the stage performers of Bar Bizarre, and how strange indeed. As for the rest, you watch in wonder and get taken in with Maurice's affection with the feminine anorexia barman, Luka (stunning performance and not to be seen in anything else at the moment).
Puberty, love, adventure and blindness...
AVA is set on an idyllic seaside town during a typical French summer holiday were the 13-year-old title hero learns that her sight is deteriorating, (brilliant performance from Noee Abita who was 18 at the time for obvious reasons). This dilemma forces Ava to create her own world, where along the way she befriends a young Gypsy boy and his dog. They form a pact and hit the road as they make a run from the law and life itself. The young director, Lea Mysius, mixes it up with neorealism, a bit of pop culture, and some surreal moments, capturing perfectly the mindset of a teenager going through puberty during her pending ordeal.
Summer memories and Violent Femmes...
The Argentinian, GLUE (2006), brought me back memories of long hot summer days of just roaming around your hood, seeking distractions from the harsh realities. On this journey we follow the mischievous and unsettling, Lucas (another fine performance from Biscayart who was astounding in BPM). Apart from family issues and deciphering his sexuality, he enjoys glue and Violent Femmes. Director, Alexis Dos Santos, goes for the observational touch, allowing the actors to improvise and events to unfold naturally. The movie plays out like the aimlessly Lucas, with no real direction or purpose, but that of understanding the complexities of dealing with what is on offer in life as a teenager.
I don't like the drugs but the drugs like this...
What do you get when you combine the music of Radiohead's Thom Yorke and the imagery of Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread, Magnolia) with choreography by Damien Jalet (Suspiria)? You get one hell of a visual treat that blows your senses away.
Set in a dystopian world where a tired and disheveled Thom Yorke is joined in a choreograph of movements by other fellow passengers on a train. There he catches the eye of a fellow passenger and thus begins his long lost journey to get to her.
Three songs from Yorke's new album, ANIMA, are combined to create this spellbinding fifteen minutes, with the camera angles capturing the inventive and unique choreography perfectly. The set design and art direction are effective thanks to the cinematography, And Yorke does give a fine performance, with his twitching eye stealing the show!
Werk ohne Autor (2018)
Donnersmarck back to what he does best...
An intriguing journey on the life of German artist, Kurt Barnert, following his exploits from pre-war Germany during his devastating childhood till his peculiar success in the wild Sixties of West Germany. All captured with perfect melodramatic flare by the director, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (The Lives of Others). Florian lost his way when he made that soggy fun comedy, The Tourist (2010), with Depp and Jolie. With, Never Look Away, Florian finds himself back on track.
This epic manages to show the life and influences of an artist via the history of Germany, first under the Fascist rule and later under the thumb of Communist Russia. There Kurt mastered the early stages of his craft in creating propaganda realist paintings for the workers. It was not until Kurt ventured into the West that he found his true calling. To get to that stage was not an easy road for the artist, and that was the fascinating part of the story. At times it felt a little far fetched, but Florian, (who also wrote it), manages to draw you into this fine drama, so mush that I even sustained bladder pressure discomfort because I was so engrossed in this three hour masterwork.
A Private War (2018)
It is the civilians caught in the crossfire who suffer in war...
This is a war correspondent's journey into hell, and Colvin took that path in order to tell the most neglected story on the warfront, that of the innocent civilians caught up in the Middle Eastern mêlée post 9/11. Colvin's didn't care much about the battles being fought, it was the civilians that concerned her the most, and she was determined to tell their story at her peril. Regardless of who was in the right or wrong, she went straight to the people who were suffering the most.
She managed to achieve this, even when post 9/11 war journalism was controlled by the superpowers who wanted to keep the public in the dark. But Colvin was a real journalist and broke rank. She risked her life at a time when journalists were targets and got the horror stories that had to be told. It eventually got to her, and that is were the private war within came from.
Pike was convincing as the imperfect Colvin, showing warts n' all. And documentary director, Matthew Heineman, did a fine job in capturing Arash Amel's screenplay that condensed Colvin's last 12 years into a well structured and taut story.
Viper Club (2018)
Iranian director, Maryam Keshavarz, returns after a seven year hiatus.
Viper Club (2018) on Youtube subscription.
Iranian director, Maryam Keshavarz, returns after a seven year hiatus. Her previous brave movie, Circumstance (2011), showed the plight of Iranian lesbians in a harsh political country filled with hypocrisy and misogyny. In Viper Club, she places the USA under a microscope and reveals plenty without being overloud.
The basic premise is that of a mother attempting to deal with the issue of her kidnapped journalist son in the Middle East. While the FBI and the government are stalling (because one doesn't know what the other is doing), the frustrated mother turns to a wealthy fundraising group with connections in high places. All this while attempting to keep down her job as a shift nurse, doing long hours and deprived of sleep.
Director Keshavarz creates a social structure of the USA within that story frame. The obvious one is the bureaucratic red tape from the Government and the games they play for political purposes. Then there is the wealthy groups and the power they have when they lend a helping hand is raising the ransom. Most importantly is the hospital where the mother works as a nurse. It is the hub of a multicultural society. A workplace where people of different cultures get along, even under duress. There is one underplayed sequence during an emergency rush hour of gunshot victims, obviously from another U.S. shooting spree, but that is never spelt out. It is scenes like this, and others, where the filmmakers have placed faith in their audience to decipher.
The main thrust of the story is the mother's ordeal. She is only a small player in this kidnapping saga because she really has no control, and all the while has to juggle the heavy load of shift work and life. This is revealed in short scenes, with some lingering shots on Susan Sarandon's tired and emotionally drained features that were powerfully effective.
This was all achieved by a somber tone. Almost like being in the same shock trance as the mother. It also had a powerful sense of realism, with the slight handheld camera movement and the care it took in showing the mother's daily life. Almost reminiscent of a Ken Loach or Mike Leigh style of filmmaking, where the characters are more important and carry the story.
The battle of surviving an onslaught...
Australia has its own Steven Soderberg and Michael Winterbottom in Kriv Stenders. A director always on the go, taking on any genre from low to high budget and from art house to commercial hits. In Danger Close, (the battle of Long Tan during the Vietnam War), he creates a war film that plays on many levels, and this is my short twisted take on it, (with possibly some minor spoilers).
I felt like I was one of the soldiers in this battle because from the word go you are thrown into the chaos that is relentless, feeling the intensity that the soldiers had to endure. Yeah, I know I was in the comfort of the cinema, but the movie took over my senses with the haunting battle sounds, confronting images of impeding death and performances that drew you into the characters heart of darkness moment.
There were no laborious introduction scenes to characters outside the battle. The scriptwriters were clever enough to develop the characters during the lead up and the battle itself. Along the way they added small character revelations that made them humane and fragile. The most important factor was TRUST. Without it you would not follow your commander into battle. For Major Harry Smith it was trust that he had to gain from his young troops who at certain times had their doubts. Even trust of the artillery in the backline, firing heavy rounds that sometimes got to "danger close". But what I admired the most was the stance that some of the officers took in defying orders from above. Part of the larrikin Aussie attitude that saved many a life in the battle of Long Tan. (If only today we took that same ballsy attitude against certain politicians and their dumb ideas then this could be a better world.)
Hearing Travis Fimmel with an Aussie accent was a treat. Cast perfectly as Major Harry Smith, the unassuming hero of this brutal battle. And whenever Daniel Webber (Private Paul Large) came up on screen, I couldn't help but think of Sam Bottoms who played Lance in Apocalypse Now. Same demeanour (without being stoned!) and they almost came off as twins.
A top Australian production on all levels that is worth seeing on a decent large screen with big sound.
Brij Mohan Amar Rahe (2017)
The dark side to India in a comic tone...
A fine dark comedy that took too long in the set-up. At least ten minutes could have been shaved off because I was very close to hitting the stop button. Lucky I didn't, because it really perked up when it got into the main thrust of the story, showing the corrupt system within India's law enforcement. But it was refreshing to see a modern Indian movie with a certain dark edge, and having fun at the same time.
Interesting premise that hooked me in. It began as a wacky quirky piece but seemed to run out of ideas until the last thirty minutes which kind of drew me back in.
I guess I was put off by the protagonist, likable at start but his sour face just went on for too long and became frustrating. And by the third act he kind of came around, but I lost interest by then. The supporting characters were more engaging and kept me in there.
Still a small film with wonderful ideas that came alive in the last stanza that should have been the tone for the whole film from the beginning.
Koroshi no rakuin (1967)
A three part comic book film...
The absurdity of this movie is what hooked me in with its over the top performances, violence, and sex scenes. All captured by stylistic crazy camera angles and effective black and white cinematography, along with some erratic editing. The influences surely came from comic books.
Most importantly is the story structure which was a fabulous total mess. It was structured in three parts. First part dealt with a series of shoot-ups and car chasers of the comic book type as Hit-man Number 3 attempts to protect a mysterious person. Once the violence was established and dealt with, we move onto the next step - SEX. The second part was all about our hit-man's sex fetish and mistreatment of women. Very revealing for a 1967 movie, once again showing that the Japanese cinema was way ahead of the Westerners. The third part was what interest me the most, and that was the cat and mouse game between Hit-man No 3 and 1. A very twisted and comic section that had my attention right to the very ending.
Director Suzuki delivered a fast paced modern Samurai tale of honor and heroism amongst hit men and lowlife's. So strap yourself in for some epic Japanese masochist action!
Low budget Mexican thriller of the different kind...
Technically this is a brilliant film. Only downfall is its analytic approach to the subject matter of duel personalities, which is a little dubious with unconvincing results.
What I did admire about the film is the use of black and white cinematography and the strong visuals it conveyed in minimal locations. There are moments of visual brilliance and the use of sound. The directors show great communications skills in the technical department, but as a whole lack a strong convincing story structure (which at times puzzled the hell out of me, which I kind of like due to the fact that it almost reminded me of David Lynch).
I found myself questioning a lot of aspects during the movie which was distracting. Most of those questions were somewhat answered by the end. By that stage I wasn't totally convinced and the characters had no empathy for the movie as a whole to succeed in gaining my attention.
The Forest (2016)
The villagers may be afraid of the forest, but little Ja knows how to deal with it...
I wasn't quite sure what genre THE FOREST was for the first fifty minutes. It seemed to be a fable for children, with morals on the evil of bullying, as well as befriending ghosts and goblins in the forest. A little clumsy with the set-up, but that was all soon forgiven when the second half of this movie ventured into a dark mysterious path with some violence and other adult themes. So it eventually had my attention, and I was glad that my finger didn't press the stop button earlier.
The two main protagonists, the teacher and the silent student, were well crafted characters that held you in there until the story took an interesting turn for that second half. More importantly was the performances by the actors that made these characters shine. The child actress, Wannasa Wintawong, took the limelight, along with her companion, Tanapol Kamkunkam, who played the feral boy, protector of the forest. The two played off each other so well that it gave the film a sense of neorealism.
The highlight was the character of the new male teacher in a backward school town. Preecha, played brilliantly by Asanee Suwan, walked away from being a Monk so he could teach the children how to face the World. The dilemmas he faced were conflicting with his morals, and those issues were dealt with intelligibly.
Director, Spurrier, seemed to be a one man band crew as he also photographed, edited, wrote the screenplay and even scored the music. He did a fine job in all those departments, and delivered a worthwhile film that dealt with various themes from bullying, school politics, belonging, spiritual being and it even touched on religion. Themes relevant anywhere in the World, and captured perfectly by Spurrier.
Director Kopple has still got it...
I'm a bit behind the times as I have only vaguely heard of Gigi Gorgeous, so in a way I am glad that I can look at this as an outsider. At first I thought I was going to get a glorified documentary on how YouTube can make almost anybody famous. But when I saw that Barbara Kopple was the director, then I knew there could be something of some interest. After all, Kopple did make one of my all time favorite observational documentaries, Harlan County U.S.A., and that was way back in 1976 or thereabouts.
With the Gigi Gorgeous doco, she has managed to get all this amazing footage that Gig herself had shot. Kopple then managed to inter-cut the intimate footage with very emotional interviews from Gigi's family to make it so involving and interesting. What really stood out for me was the phenomenal effects of fame via YouTube and most importantly, the unconditional love of a conservative father, specially during Gigi's gender transition period.
A well thought out and touching documentary about acceptance and being true to yourself, all for the general publics observational pleasure. We live in a time where revealing our intimate selves through forms of social media, and then receiving support in return from the public, can help us get through the hardships of life.
Another fine drama from Iran
Another fine drama from Iran, dealing with a Samaritan's moral dilemma in deciding who to financially assist amongst the underprivileged in an unjust society. He has to choose between two women in dire need of help to better their life's. The chose is difficult, but will it release the burden he carries?
Overall the film is an insightful look into the Iranian way of life and the struggles of those with health issues, as well as those harshly done by the unjust laws. It is a morale crusade without being too loud, underplayed like a perfect drama, revealing the stories with patience and real emotion.
The director and crew have crafted a well thought out drama that keeps you enthralled. But it is the performances that draws you in. At times I felt like I was an observer of some reality based documentary. The actors did a masterful job, making this film worth every minute of your time.
The TAXI DRIVER of India, but a tame version...
One cannot help but be reminded by Scorsese's masterpiece, TAXI DRIVER (1976), when seeing various shots of the taxi driving through the wet night streets. Only difference is that it's not on the streets of New York, but in India, where a country boy moves to the city and drives a rundown cab to make ends meet. One night he picks up a gorgeous woman who happens to be his childhood sweetheart. They somewhat rekindle their past, but she is stand-offish, reluctant to let him get too close, setting up an intriguing premise.
The first half plays like a whimsical love story with some integrity. Maybe this section goes that little bit too long, slightly repetitive but still enjoyable enough. It's until the hidden secret is revealed that the story comes alive, taking it onto another level. After a while the filmmaker somehow gets a little lost, not being clear in the direction of the protagonist who seems to bumble his way through his indecisive behavior. But the final scene is brilliant and brings the film back on course.
The two leads are brilliant, you can watch them all night and not get tired of their beauty.The technical aspect holds it together, with the continuity of cinematography sometimes slightly askew and that's maybe because of the various hands that shot it. Still this is an interesting piece of low budget independent work from a country full of many surprises.
The Kolkata life of secrets and...
The independent film scene of India is exploding at a rapid pace. Low budget movies pouring out of this country are very impressive indeed. Revelations is amongst the creative bunch that does not shy away from the realism of a diverse and cultured country.
First time feature director, Jayapal, takes us on the streets of Kolkata, visiting the music street scene which is an eye opener, as well as the backstreet brothels and other avenues rarely visited by Bollywood. But the most important insight Jayapal offers is that of the characters who are swamped by the chaotic scene of Kolkata. Revelations focuses on the inhabitants of an apartment block, and how their life's intersect and collide to create an interesting drama.
The tone and pace is deliberately slow, but yet effective. It allows the viewer to observe with great fascination, drawing them into the characters and the surprising revelations they have in store. It is a drama well worth sitting through, with its humanistic characters of honesty.
Like Hitchcock and Polanski on a low budget...
One can compare this neat little psychological thriller to Polanski's earlier works, Repulsion (1965) and The Tenant (1976), where the protagonist is confined within the walls of their home and slowly deteriorate into their own madness! Throw in a bit of Hitchcock and you got this fine chilling creative piece from the most unassuming country to have made it, India.
India has been going through some amazing changes, creating neo-realism works as well as popular genres but without the Bollywood. The previous night I viewed the brilliant, MASAAN, a fascinating drama. After that I became interested in current Indian cinema and came across this little gem where first time director, Pulkit, has created an intense and abstract thriller.
Performances are top notch, proving that this country can do one better than Hollywood. The technical aspect is spot-on and effective, with the cinematography capturing the mood perfectly. The dramatic and chilling music is wonderfully over the top, working wonders with your nerves. And the intense story-line has elements of abstract that leave you guessing, even till the very unanswered end.
Night of Fear (1973)
An artistic Aussie slasher...
Before Texas CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and way before WOLF CREEK, was this little Aussie treasure of sheer gore and stupidity of the Z-grade kind. What I admire about this film is the lack of dialogue, so there was no Aussie twang to cringe about. The effective campy horror suspense music with the wild and sometimes abstract editing made it more engrossing.
If you peel away all the zany technical aspects of the movie and look at the bare bones, you are left with the hammy performances which was perfect for this slasher. On top of that was the very thin storyline, about a woman who loses her way in the Aussie bush and comes across this mad man who plays a game of cat and mouse with her. Nothing creative in the telling of this story, but still good ole trashy slasher fun.
The highlight for me was those freaky cuts to naked bodies and sacrificial sex scenes, which almost made it very close to being an experimental slasher film. Maybe if it was recut to ten minutes, then this could have been a great experimental short film of the bizarre kind!
Challenging piece of work...
Wow! A movie that gives you plenty of questions, but no real answers. Leaving it up to the discerning film-goer to make of it what they wish. With me, well-- it has taken me 24 hours to sit right down and write something about this challenging piece of work.
It's not the sudden act of the killing that shocked me, but the way in which the relationship sustained that act to survive. If made by other mindless filmmakers, there would have been loud confrontations, the law would have been involved, as well as the psychiatrists. But we were in the capable hands of Klaus, the writer and director, who handled this horrendous situation with maturity, focusing more on the strength of the relationship.
I will admit that after the first thirty minutes it was getting rather tedious. How many shots of the joyous cat can you have? And the utter love in the human relationship had me envious! It wasn't until the incident that it all came to life. By then I was angry because the director had masterfully drawn me to empathize with the cat (and I'm not much of a cat lover). How could he have done that to the poor defenseless cat? I was yelling at the screen, telling the lover to leave the relationship, and was completely stupefied by his decision not to, and that's why I kept watching, engrossed in the sudden change in this once loving relationship. What made it work was the top-notch performances from the leads, including the cat that we fell in love with.
As for cat lovers, maybe not for you, but if you do watch it, please do so with an open mind because it is not about the killing of a creature, but how a strong relationship sustains such an incident and how the human condition enables us to forgive no matter what.