Sunday, January 24, 2016

Review: The Danish Girl - Tender and Luminous

The Danish Girl

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard, Ben Whishaw, Marcus So
Directed by: Tom Hooper
Written by: Lucinda Coxon
120 minutes   Rated M

I have to confess that there is a lot about transgender that I don’t understand. It strikes me that going through reassignment is heroic but fraught. I am learning a lot about the subject because of the current interest and discussion generated by people such as Caitlyn Jenner, Catherine McGregor and Chas Bono. I have known two people who were trans and they were both stunningly beautiful women. I remember reading about Christine Jorgensen when I was young and saw the rather hideous and sensationalist movie of her ‘change’. More recently I read April Ashley’s rather rambling and pretentious memoir which gave some insight into one woman’s transition. After Caitlyn Jenner’s candid and informative interview last year comes the Tom Hooper directed ‘The Danish Girl’ based on the novel by David Ebershoff.

Einar Wegener shares a studio with his wife Gerda in Copenhagen, he the successful landscapist and she the unrecognised portraitist. Just as a painting emerges on a canvas so too does Einar’s true identity as Lili with the encouragement and support of Gerda. This film is about Lili’s emergence and the evolution of the marriage at a time when gender reassignment surgery (not to mention discussion of transgender issues or acceptance of the existence of gender dysmorphia)was barely in conception let alone infancy.

Eddie Redmayne again achieves what he did in ‘The Theory of Everything’, disappears completely into his character and gives us both Einar and Lili and we see where he exists within her at the same time as making her different to him. She is beautiful and slight, refined but demur, not confident and yet the audience has no doubt her path though difficult and emotional is the right one. It is a perfect balance and masterful. Similarly Alicia Viklander as Gerda is assured and shows us the various levels suiting the range of situations she lives through while experiencing Lili’s journey as a supporter and a painter. She wants what’s best for her husband and Lili but where does that leave her as a wife who loves her husband when he is no longer ‘there’? What will fill that space, is the turnaround in her artistic endeavours fill the void, where will her emotional nourishment come from? Vikander’s first class acting lets us in enough to wonder with her.

There are a few times where I thought the script was a bit stilted, primarily early on. Also the sex scenes didn’t ring true of a long term marriage but perhaps there was a point there, not subtle maybe but perhaps deliberate. Also the early scenes of Henrik (Ben Whishaw) trying to seduce Lili were ill conceived and a bit naff. This was all early on in the film and there is no fluff or dead air as the story moves along.  

I thought this was a gorgeous film visually, some startling framing, angles and a beautiful palette. I would have loved to have seen it in widescreen ratio. I liked that everything was slightly muted (not soft focus, just a sense of it all being behind a very thin muslin), nothing was vivid, a crayon rather than oils perhaps? A painting rather than a digital photograph?  Beautiful. Copenhagen was stunning, Paris was mouth-watering and Dresden breathtaking.

There are some historical and factual errors apparently and the truly surprising ending was not quite reflective of what actually happened. That is a concern when one is making a movie of a ‘true’ story. Hooper says he put back some of the ‘truth’ that had been fictionalised in his novel but some critics have used this as a reason for bagging the film overall. Okay if that is how you base a review but I didn’t know that until after I saw the film. I write reviews based on what I know and what I respond to at the time I see a film. 

I don’t know I learnt more about transgender issues from this fine movie apart from pondering the question ‘who am I in my dreams – Lili or Gerda’. But I now know the story of two fine artists who lived in an interesting time in a beautiful city and went on an extraordinary (the perfect adjective in this case) adventure that involved gender, relationship, societal norms and art. That’s a story worth knowing about and this is a film definitely worth seeing.

3 ½ out of 5

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Review: 'The Big Short' - Telling Like it Was

The Big Short

Starring: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Finn Wittrock, John Magaro
Directed by: Adam McKay
Written by: Adam McKay and Charles Randolph

130 minutes   Rated M

I studied economics for a while at school and have a basic grasp on the topic given the change in direction and terminology over the couple of decades since I tried to comprehend it all. I even have a sense of what caused the Global Financial Crisis and the concept of subprime, short selling and hedge fund traders.  After two and a bit hours watching ‘The Big Short’ I am now aware that my retention of the fundamentals and my competency in the complexities are far too removed from each other and possibly dramatically lacking in both arenas for me to grasp a movie that encompasses such themes. 

This is a very good film that tries to skirt around the complexities by presenting much of it in a humorous vein sprinkled with witty asides, sarcastic observations and frankly ludicrous scenarios (or is that scenaria?). I understand that while the bankers and 'experts' either ignored or were too caught up in formulaic thinking to see that home loans were becoming delinquent in huge numbers and would soon default, a number of other observers were smelling an opportunity to make a lot of easy money from it happening. That I got. The mechanics of it all...subtitles or an explanatory guide please.

Ryan Gosling's character tells us early in the film that normal people aren't really meant to fully understand the financial world - thank the Lord I'm normal for once! The beauty of this film is in using this as a pivot point, showing us how the incomprehensible language, jargon and tricks (they'd probably call them strategies and programs) and adding complexity upon complexity to what is probably a simple equation (the curse of our age - making the simple complex)you confuse the masses - your target - and you have control to do what you will. In this case, as all too many were to discover, that's exactly what happened. 

A well written movie based on Michael Lewis' best seller, giving the excellent ensemble of actors and characters myriad chances to strut their acting chops and none fail. The characters never actually interact for the most part and yet they slot in to form the collective beautifully. And for me not one character had an ounce of integrity about them in the end (Steve Carell's character gave us hope for a while but in the end we knew he was pissing in our pockets; Brad Pitt also nearly had us but he turned out to be a vain, paranoid creep as well). we find out just enough about each figure to want to see them in action but never enough to get to 'know' them (or need to wash in disinfectant to get their vileness off later).

I very much enjoyed the awkward and socially inept brilliance of Dr Michael Burry (Christian Bale), the man on the edge of 'going postal' Mark Baum (Steve Carell making his part almost the anchor for the whole story), the almost repulsive ego driven Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling - never wear black hair again) and, for me the stand out performances of the new boys on the block Jamie Shipley and Charlie Geller (Finn Witrock and John Magaro respectively). Brad Pitt turns in a nice cameo as the former insider turned outsider who can't quite miss the fuel for his conspiracy theories and paranoia (or is it?) and helps  the two young guns uncover what's going on - this is a very believable and natural small role. But apart from an entertaining cameo from Margot Robbie and a nice turn from Marissa Tomei as Carell's wife there are almost no women...surely there were some crook females involved?

Director Adam McKay, who also co-wrote the script with Charles Randolph, gives us a film that could have been dry and uninteresting but it delights and entertains at nearly every turn. Some of this comes from the aforementioned humour but also by the deftly placed turns to camera/breaking the fourth wall moments. McKay entrusts us to make what we will of what is presented to us, there is no absolutely no judgement in this movie, facts are presented as simply what happened and what we make of that is our call. Maybe that's why the final moments, the end stats and information brought me to tears - of rage I'm sure. Surely this is McKay's gift to us...if this enrages you, if this makes you even a little pissed off, if this strikes you as simply wrong, perhaps you'll open your eyes and make sure it doesn't happen or can't happen again or at least to you.

Frankly I wouldn't mind if a few more of the people involved (well actually a helluva lot more, maybe even the majority) ended up in jail or made to pay back in some way. I'd be even happier if some of the worst offending companies weren't now back to making huge profits, paying big bonuses and enjoying the favour of leading politicians and signing contracts for government projects.

And while we're at it, I'd like to see more films of the quality and creativity of this one. 

4 out of 5

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Review: 'Joy' - Getting it Done and Getting On With It


Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Dianne Ladd, Robert DeNiro, Isabella Rosselini, Bradley Cooper
Directed and Written by: David O. Russell
124 minutes  M

Do you ever wonder why some people manage to plough on in life against all difficulties while others crumble, give up and just find another way to get through life? Sometimes the barriers we are up against are self-imposed, some are the ‘noisy detractors’ around us who we listen to far too eagerly and we believe their negativity and then other barriers can be simply what life throws us that we can’t do much about.
Joy’ tells us the story of one woman who had a fair bit going against her who eventually finds a way through an out of despair and staying ‘stuck’. She is a single mum although her ex-husband still lives in the basement of the house she also shares with her mother (bed bound and TV Soap Opera obsessed) and her grandmother. As if that isn’t hectic enough in moves dad (Robert De Niro) after being off loaded by his latest wife.

Joy has an inventive and imaginative mind and eventually comes up with the concept of what we now know as the ‘miracle mop’. The thrust of the movie is how she gets to make it a product that people will buy. This won’t be an easy journey as you might expect – where would be the movie in that after all. A house full of underminers is enough to contend with but lack of ready money, no concept of business and a lifetime of knockbacks is a lot to overcome.
David O Russell is a director who makes quirky and memorable movies and this is no exception. He also wrote this film based on Joy Mangano’s real life story. It is told with great humour and with just the right amount of pathos. Jennifer Lawrence again turns in a convincing performance in the lead role and more than holds her own against veterans such as DeNiro, Dianne Ladd, Bradley Cooper and the mesmerising Isabella Rossellini. JLaw is comfortable and competent with comedy and drama, she is one of the talents of our time and hopefully we have many years of entertainment and ‘wow’ ahead of us through seeing her movies.

Finding out a little about how TV shopping networks and the evolution of infomercials came about was a fascinating addition to the story. Bradley Cooper gives a finely focussed performance as the QVC exec who believes in Joy when all his business acumen tells him not to. Oh sure he takes some convincing but he is won over by her determination and plain logic. Also a cameo featuring Melissa Rivers as her mother (and shopping channel ‘star’) Joan Rivers was a sheer delight.
This is an uplifting film that reassures all of us that a belief in yourself and a ‘knowing’ that you are right are the best advocates awe can have for changing dreams into reality. I think the final scenes are a tad clichéd and too much but that’s a minor quibble in a lovely, inspiring, well made and bloody good film.
3 ½ out of 5

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Review: Suffragette - A Powerful Reminder


Starring: Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham-Carter, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw
Written by:  Abi Morgan
Directed by: Sarah Gavron
106 minutes   M
At last a ‘Meryl Streep film’ that isn’t a star turn for the most talented American film actor of our time. In fact her appearance in this film is only a featured cameo that maybe lasts five minutes. She gets to address the crowd, make a stirring speech and leave muttering some encouraging words. Nice little earner Miss Streep, well done you (could I get your agent’s name by any chance?)

So many of us who see this fine film will have no idea of the heroism involved in the story it tells. We will be baffled by how hard it was for women to be recognised as ‘worthy’ of the vote, to even be seen as valuable enough to be considered in every way a part of society and polity as a man. It is dreadful to reflect on, it is embarrassing to know it was ever thus and it is shameful to consider that the blood that ran through all those generations up to the point of change ran through our relatives whether they were British, French, Italian, and Chinese or whatever. The women descendants of the Bounty Mutineers on Pitcairn Island (and subsequently Norfolk Island) had the vote in 1856 which meant they were indeed a superior species to all other women in the world when viewed through the prism of that time. Extraordinary and shocking. From Kings to candlemakers, politicians and policemen to pot makers it continued without question until someone woke up one day and said ‘um, hang on a minute…does this seem to wrong to anyone else?’

In ‘Suffragette’ we find ourselves at the moment when the ‘Panks’, the followers of Emeline Pankhurst and the growing suffragette movement are hiding their stride. They have Lloyd George apparently on their side to force changes to legislation that will at least allow the consideration of votes for women (the suffrage). Women who had been denied a voice in practically anything except childbearing (and usually that was conditional, sometimes forced and almost always just a mechanism to continue the male line in a family or the income flow to a household), were now hearing about a different way of seeing their place in society. To be sure it was presented at times in a drastic and criminal manner but that came from a belief that extreme measures were required to knock down the male barriers and to maximise the impact of the message. Not my style in any way but contextually it is one way of approaching the issues.

Carey Mulligan beautifully plays the laundry worker Maude who becomes a foot soldier for the movement and the hero of the movie. Up against the lack of understanding husband Sonny (delightfully played by Ben Whishaw) and the ghastly working conditions overseen by the horrid boss there really is only one way for her to go – out and onto the streets with purpose and vigour. Delivered effectively. Brendan Gleeson as Steed, a different sort of foot soldier – on a mission from Parliament indeed is his usual masterful self nothing less than convincing and nothing short of detestable. Mustering forces is Helena Bonham-Carter completely convincing and on message as Edith. For me the outstanding performance came from Ann Marie Duff as the inspiring Violet Miller, just pitch perfect and captivating.

The close ups and hand held camera work was the only drawback in this fine film beautifully directed by Sarah Gavron (she also directed another terrific film Brick Lane) and assuredly written by Abi Morgan.

We, all of us, have many heroes in history to thank for the way we get to live today, the freedoms we enjoy and the rights we take for granted. It’s hard to imagine the world that was sometimes. Films such as ‘Suffragette’ remind us of how far we’ve come and why.

4 out of 5

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Review: Youth - Painful Truth


Starring: Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz
Written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino
124 minutes   MA15+
How often do you have an idea of what a film will be when you go to see it only to leave at the end of it saying ‘wow that wasn’t what I was expecting?’ For me it happens pretty rarely and often it’s disappointment expecting more.
I thought Paolo Sorrentino’s ‘Youth’ was going to be a rather cosy (in the British film tradition)story about two senior blokes looking back on their lives through reminiscence or a pivot point and either yearning for their youth or being thankful it was behind them. Added to this it would be set in a beautiful Swiss setting to add to the ‘gosh gee’ warm and fuzziness. I was up for all that.
It doesn’t take too long before you realise ‘Youth’ is quite different from my expectations. It certainly is set in the most divine setting in the foot of the Swiss Alps and a luxury hotel/health resort. There are numerous nude bodies, languid visual ‘breaths’ which are tender and sublime reminding us that we sometimes do just sit or walk or step out of water and those moments are nothing more (or less) than taking a breath between the next moment (or life stage). Sex is alluded to and talked about as are prostate problems. Ah life lived.
Michael Caine brings a real honesty to his role of Fred a composer and conductor who is still grieving for his ailing, institutionalised muse and wife. Caine (not unlike Helen Mirren) can often impose himself on a character rather than inhabit it, can often be ‘bigger’ than the role but in this one he nails it. He is natural, a perfect fit, believable and as I said truthful. He is matched nicely by Harvey Keitel (can he really be 80?)as Mick,a film director working on what he sees as his ‘testament’ movie with young acolytes hovering around. He works well in the role and is believable as the character plus a great foil in the sparring matches with Caine. Rachel Weisz completes the leads as Caine’s feisty, conflicted and somewhat tiresome daughter. Whilst her character is a bit whiny Weisz shows once again she is one of the best of her generation.
Jane Fonda drops in for a cameo as the Diva Mick wants for his film. Her characterisation as the over made up, testy and demanding actress is terrific and mesmeric. Sadly the interaction in the key scene between her and Keitel is almost awful. There is zero chemistry between the two. Yet it is beautifully shot, the close ups are fantastic in what they portray and both actors do a good job with their lines (Keitel somewhat less than Fonda, he seems to be stagey and effected against her naturalism and bite. Out of whack with what he does in the rest of the film), but overall that scene is marred by the mismatch.
In the end we have a film about the two men making decisions about the rest of their limited days whilst reflecting on where they have been and how they got to ‘today’. All around them there are reminders of youth and what that means, the pitfalls, the pain and the joys. The pointless frustrations and the meaningless upsets, the exaggerated dramas and the energy wasting paybacks. It reminds us that the important thing is often to just get on with it and never forget the music in the air, the beauty in the smallest things and the glory of friendship and shared experience.
It did surprise me but it did not disappoint me. It made me laugh at times, gasp at others and ponder much. I loved it.
4 out of 5

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Review: Truth - Keeping it Honest


Starring: Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, David Lyons, Dennis Quaid, Elizabeth Moss
Written and Directed By:  James Vanderbilt

121 minutes     Rated M

It’s a curious thing truth isn’t it? Often it’s confused with facts, regularly it’s determined to be infallible and rarely is one person’s truth the same as another’s.  Perception versus reality, memory coloring actuality, even moral judgement introduced into a damned good story, all can be present in the quest for truth, the search for what happened, what ‘is’ or ‘was’.  Add to all that a media needing to report news, communicating information, questioning assumptions and, yes, grabbing a headline, and you have a fine of pot of shipping to deal with.

Mary Mepes (Blanchett) and Dan Rather (Redford) were two bastions at CBS News particularly its flagship investigative programme ’60 Minutes’ (a long running 48 minute weekly magazine show). Mary had broken the horror story about Abu Ghraib and was much respected in the news community. Rather had been in the business since dinosaurs walked to earth. They both had runs on the board.

A story comes their way which suggests George W Bush may have stretched the truth about his military record and the National Guard. Compelling documentary evidence and information from ‘reliable’ sources convince them it’s a story worth telling and putting to air in 2004. Bush is in a close race with John Kerry for the presidency (his second term), has his stewardship of the country during the trauma of September 11th to bolster his patriotism and resolve as points deserving of another term. If he was found to have lied about his past (especially in anything military or public service) it could significantly impact on his chances.

But what is the truth, how solid is the evidence, is politics the driver behind the story (let alone the allegations) and what are the what ifs?

This is a fascinating story well told in a tight and lively script by Vanderbilt  (based on Mary Mepes’ book ‘Truth and Duty: The Press, the President and the Privilege of Power ‘)and deftly directed by him  . Blanchett is practically flawless as Mepes, she seems to be caught in a scene for the first time rather than filmed ‘performing’ a well-rehearsed scene which has gone through many takes. Redford is convincing and strong as Rather (although I suspect the veteran newsman is rather more brittle than Redford portrays). David Lyons and Elizabeth Moss bring real assurance and insight into their roles as Josh and Lucy. Dennis Quaid as Col Roger Charles is good too although his part seems underwritten. Other memorable performances come from Bruce Greenwood and Stacey Keach but really there is barely a weak link in any performance. There are some beautiful cameos from Aussies Noni Hazelhurst (has a lovely monologue which she delivers expertly and movingly), Phillip Quast, Rachel Blake (amazing) and Andrew MacFarlane.

Filmed almost entirely in Sydney at Cate’s request (how’s that for star power?) this is a wonderful piece of movie making and storytelling. It may have a didactic moment here and there but there is so much to ponder on and themes to consider – journalism, politics, truth, accountability, respect, support, fallibility, evidence, who’s dispensable etc etc  - it is worth every viewing minute (but far from a ‘worthy’ exercise).

It is a shame the film tanked in the States and so will be overlooked in the awards season. Blanchett deserves some sort of nod for her performance as does the film itself. CBS even banned any advertising for the film and some media outlets indulged in some pretty tasteless (and arguably dodgy) negative stories about the movie and maybe even published some slanted negative reviews. To deliberately publish a negative review which has no basis in reality for the sole reason of destroying or besmirching a movie is questionable at best and unethical at worst. Somewhat ironic given the subject matter of the film they are trying to bury don’t you think?

This is a film deserving of your attention, you will remember it for a long time and you will be thankful you saw it. Plus you’ll take a moment to be thankful for Rather and Mepes, their courage and their integrity.

4 ½ out of 5

Friday, November 27, 2015

Review: Spectre - Not So Shaken and Hardly Stirred

Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Andrew Scott

2h 30 mins Rated M
I didn’t like the James Bond films over the years. I think I enjoyed Goldfinger and then it was all pretty much ho hum after that until Daniel Craig ‘emerged’ from the ocean in ‘Casino Royale’. There was a significant slip again with the ghastly ‘Quantum of Solace’ which was more than made up for in ‘Skyfall’. And now we find ourselves on holiday with Jim down Mexico way on the day of the dead for the exciting opening sequence of Bond 24 known as ‘Spectre’.
The title of the film is the name of a global terrorist organisation known (apparently) to Bond fans as the warehouse central for most of the Bond villains. For an organisation so well known to Bond and MIwhatever they seem pretty amazing survivors and even better at hiding out and staging surprises that leave Bond, M et al flat footed.
So we have the usual compliment of baddies being beaten up, stunning set pieces in equally stunning settings and a complement of snazzy gadgets per favor the delightful Q (played delightfully by Ben Whishaw). There’s of course the female reduced to object of desire (played in this one by Monica Belucci and Lea Seydoux) but apart from a bit of dry humping on a mirror the sex is non-existent.
To lift the somewhat dull (and I have to say shockingly clichéd at times) narrative, the new head of a committee that has taken over the running of the MI6, now merged with MI5, Max or ‘C’ (Andrew Scott) keeps telling M (Ralph Fiennes) that the 00 programme is now obsolete - indeed “the digital ghost of the world”, (or another type of Spectre surely).
I enjoyed the hopping around on roofs and in basements, the highly unbelievable spinning in helicopters, a bit of a car chase, a plane pursuit, a boat spurt and even a nice train excursion. They’re well staged and Bondesque, if unlikely and ridiculous but fun.
We don’t get much of the more deep and reflective, emotionally challenged Blond from Daniel and director Sam Mendes this time. It felt a bit like filling in a bit of time until a better idea comes along or maybe even ‘if we never make another Bond this would be a good one to finish on’, I think the ship sailed on that with ‘Skyfall’. Daniel still does well with the role, pouting and staring away but perhaps not quite fitting into the suits as finely as in the past. Maybe a metaphor for the role and actor?
Christoph Waltz plays the villain Bloomfeld with all the depth of the stereotype as written. He vamps a bit too much for my liking and we all know his attempts to finish James of will fail so that cliché falls pretty quickly. I wonder if we’ll ever get a whitebread, anglo villain in a Bond film? Maybe rope Donald Trump in as a megalomaniac businessman wanting to get world dominance? Shouldn’t be too much of a stretch…
So for its collection of faults and clichés this is still an enjoyable couple of hours of cinema, well shot, well-staged, underwritten and perhaps not all that well thought out. I did enjoy it but I might not be as ready to rush off to the next one.
3 out of 5

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Review: The Dressmaker - Finely tailored

Director: Jocelyn Moorhouse
Screenplay: Jocelyn Moorhouse
Starring: Kate Winslet, Liam Hemsworth, Hugo Weaving, Judy Davis, Sarah Snook, Gyton Grantley, Darcey Wilson, Barry Otto

118 minutes    Rated: M 
The return of the Prodigal is one of those enduring themes in fiction, books particularly but also in film. Some might consider it a trope (a now very commonly used insult which I have to admit I only became aware of in the last year or so), but I find it compelling when done well. In the vaguely gothic farce ‘The Dressmaker’ the device works more than well.
It’s 1951 - come the night come the prodigal as Tilly Dunnage (the divine Kate Winslet)returns to her childhood hometown Dungatar in country Victoria. Soon we learn her Singer sewing machine is not the only ‘baggage’ she brings with her. She believes she carries a curse from an inconclusive and ambiguous incident as a schoolchild related to her implication in the death of a fellow schoolmate. Far from being welcomed home the townsfolk rather see her as a ‘murderess’ back to stir up divisions and skeletons from the past.  Her bridge to gaining some respectability is her dressmaking/haute couture abilities (she has been working in Paris for years learning the trade)and don’t the locals flock to be frocked up. But there's more things going on in this story than, well in a country town on a summer's Tuesday.
Sentiment doesn’t get much of a go in this ever so slightly exaggerated and cartoonish feature beautifully crafted by Jocelyn Moorhouse (and second unit by none other than PJ Hogan) but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have heart or charm and even skirts some dark and tough matters. I don’t think the town’s name is some mere whimsy; this is a smelly hell hole where the kooky and snippy characters are trapped by or in their own limited world view. Also surely the allegorical names of characters (Harridiene and Pettyman for two) are deliberately invented.
The cast is almost all without equal as you would expect when you have an Academy Award winner (Winslet) and a company of Australia’s most familiar actors. The only bum note for me was Rebecca Gibney, who I usually admire, who was just not right. Judy Davis was perfect as the stroppy Mad Molly, pure cartoon but Davis still managed to give her nuance and totally engages the audience, man she’s good. Barry Otto, Sarah Snook, Gyton Grantley, Shane Bourne, Julia Blake and Sacha Horler were absolutely bloody sensational. Hugo Weaving was pretty good too but maybe a little too ‘wink, wink ,nudge, nudge’ for my liking. In the beautifully done flashback scenes I particularly enjoyed Darcey Wilson as the young Tilly, wonderful. Liam of the Hemsworth cult made the most of his role (and body) and was a perfect (if somewhat age match disconnect) romantic foil for Tilly. And it was great to see Kate Winslet and Kerry Fox back on screen again after a long break.
This was an entertaining, polished and engaging movie filmed in lovely locations in country Victoria. The flashback scenes (and the opening credits) had a stunning palate and look to them which contrasted beautifully with the golden, dry and colourful scenes of 1951.
From the popular novel by Melbourne’s own Rosalie Ham (who wrote the original ‘treatment’ a few years back), this is a gorgeous entertainment that I encourage everyone to see. Lush, tasteful, a little out of kilter and a lot accomplished because of precise writing, masterly direction and the best that good actors can deliver.
4 out of 5  

Friday, October 9, 2015

Review: The Martian - Take Off For Movie Magic

The Martian
Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejofor, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Drew Goddard
141 Minutes    Rated: M
We dream of the day human lands on the surface of Mars and has an Armstrongian wander around. For yonks we’ve had books and stories in one form or another about ‘life’ on Mars; those who believe in UFOs generally imagine it’s the Martians inside and who come among us. I wonder where the fascination for that planet and the possibilities we assign to came from, maybe it’s to do with the idea of heaven and the heavens, perhaps a refuge for atheists who poo poo the heaven concept but can’t quite throw off some tribal need for humans to connect or seek the ‘other worlds’?

Ridley Scott has brought us another chapter in the mission to Mars story and it’s one of the best. A NASA team led by commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain)needs to flee Mars before they’re wiped out by a destructive storm. She rallies the crew and they escape through (an extremely convincing and visually magic moment)the building storm of wind, sand and debris onto the launch module and head off. Bit of an oops though, one of the astronauts, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) gets himself rather brutally injured and all signs indicate, well, there are no signs of life. Bye Mark we’ve got places to be…
Of course he’s not dead, just a bit battered and bewildered but patches himself up and sets about life on his own in the base working out how to survive on minimal supplies and little hope of rescue. He talks through his progress via a video diary and some very well paced and constructed snapshot scenes with the requisite amount of drama, nice comedy and a bit of pathos. Beautifully done.

Lest you worry this is a film only about a Martian castaway and the same desperation presented in twenty different ways to fill out the 141 minutes, there is a steady, convincing and assured cutting between Watney and the guys back at NASA (and China – oh yes). Jeff Daniels as NASA director Teddy Sanders (although I did think it was just Will McAvoy finding a new career after The Newsroom)was a steady hand steering through the advice and conflicting thoughts of mission controller Chiwetel Ejiofor and PR whiz Kristen Wiig. The scenes of the administrators and controllers were often as compelling and tense as those up on Mars. This showed Scott’s skills, he is a master when he’s in form.
So I loved this movie, it looked good, it was well written, it was well acted and it was almost faultlessly directed. And importantly for a science fiction movie it was totally believable; I never thought for a moment that this could not have actually been happening right now. There’s an achievement.

I’m no science or aeronautic expert but I ponder on the following:
·         You have the technology to colonise or land and live on Mars BUT not to accurately determine if someone is dead or simply comatose/unconscious?
·         No one thought to include seeds/snap frozen seedlings in case other food was inedible or ran out for some reason?
·         Why couldn’t the ‘mother ship’ be turned around as soon as they found Watney was alive?
·         No back up comms system that would have received his video diary? Really?

Just askin’…

4 ½ out of 5