Category Archives: Movie Reviews

Juliet at Fifty-five

Breasts. Beautiful, proud, fulsome and unfettered. These weren’t the bosoms of some perky young starlet willing to expose her pert assets for the furtherment of her carer. These were breasts that were well lived and you’d expect, well loved. These were breasts more than half way through their life journey, exposed in the opening sequence to ‘Let the Sunshine In’. They were startling and gorgeous. I will admit, they were bewitching and magnetic to this viewer. But sadly, they were by far the best thing about this very French 2017 offering from director Claire Denis. Their possessor is Isabelle, supposedly an artist who spends much of her time scouring Paris for love.

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She’s played by a true icon of the silver screens of her country and world wide. She, today, at 55, remains as dazzling as she ever was in such films as ‘Chocolat’, ‘The English Patient’ and most memorably, 1988’s ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’. Seeing her in that, one is infatuated for life. She can play any role, taking it in her stride. Obviously, as well, she likes to stretch herself. She’s certainly no shrinking violet. She’s strong and womanly.

Although ‘Let the Sunshine In’ received praise in some quarters with the star receiving a César Award (French Oscars) nomination for her performance, I really struggled to remain with it. Her initial lover is bullish and repugnant. Another, far more youthful, is full of himself. Yet another is her ex whom she picks a silly argument with over his performance in the sack. It’s obvious she’s looking for love in all the wrong places. Eventually her poor judgement and lack of success starts playing with her mind. The movie becomes ridiculous when the venerable Depardieu enters to sprout some psycho-babble at her in a monologue that well and truly outstays its welcome. Of course Juliet Binoche is always wonderful, but my tip for you is to seek out, instead of the above (which is on Netflix), ‘Who You Think I Am’ which is, like those aforementioned breasts, just magnificent.

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Who You Think I Am’ has similarities to the above in that Binoche’s role here is Claire, an academic from the City of Light, reeling from a divorce and also seeking a new partner in life and love. Ex hubby (played by another French notable in Charles Berling) has had a dose of the Peter Pans and leaves his perfectly stunning wife for a younger model. Claire figures what’s good for the goose and at movie’s start she’s shacked up with the much younger Ludo. To him she’s simply a cougar. Claire’s beginning to feel it’s something more permanent. When he susses this she finds she’s again ditched, so in response she turns her attention to Ludo’s sensitive, still much younger, room mate in Alex (François Civil). Now what could be more harmless than a little on-line ‘cat-fishing’? (If you’re unaware of this procedure, look it up. I did.) Her attempt to become who she is not provides, at first, an outlet for her lovelessness, but then becomes something with quite catastrophic implications. Or does it? This will keep you guessing till the end, with several ‘I didn’t see that coming’ twists thrown in. It’s very, very clever and has much to say about the pitfalls for any of us who try to fight the invisibility that comes with the ageing process. See it on any platform you can.

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What I know about JB is that she’s ageing gloriously. There’s certainly no invisibility with her.

Trailer ‘Let the Sunshine In’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ps_Sau7xqQY

Trailer ”’Who You Think I Am’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShwXIOszzIM

Mercedes the Argentine

On average Argentina produces around fifty feature films a year. It would hold a place in the Spanish speaking work for cinematic endeavour akin to ours in the English. The Latin American country’s movies have garnered two Academy Awards and globally are popular entries at film festivals. Many of its stars are instantly recognisable to Spaniards and Latinos across the planet. One of these is Ricardo Darin. I’d become familiar with the quality of his work through the nation’s hit movies ‘The Secret in Their Eyes’ and ‘Wild Tales’. Paul Byrnes, the Age critic, describes him to a tee in saying that he ‘…has built his considerable stardom on a demeanour of disbelief. His face is permanently sceptical, as if he has heard it all before and assumes everyone is lying.’ He is regarded with the same affection we hold for Hugh Grant or Bill Nighy. So when ‘An Unexpected Love’ was advertised at the State with him as lead, it immediately caught my eye.

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The Argentine and the film didn’t let me down. ‘An Unexpected Love’ has been applauded at every stop for its realistic portrayal of life for new empty nesters. Once the offspring depart, what is there left? Darin is assisted in exploring this quandary by another luminous star of that nation’s industry, Mercedes Morán. And as luck would have it, as I sat awaiting for the start of the movie, up came a trailer for another forthcoming feature from the South American country,Florianópolis Dream’. In the trailer this appeared to be a humorous take on the notion of a couple of a certain age enjoying a holiday in a nearby foreign country. I noted that Ms Moran featured as a lead as well in this other offering, so I marked it down for a future expedition.

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An Unexpected Love’ sees this particular couple wave off their last remaining child to an overseas journey. Now they feel suddenly bereft. It’s not that they don’t love each other, but their relationship lost its zest and zing long ago; a zing they now crave for their new orb without children. But how to get retrieve it? Much like the couple/couples in ‘Me, You, Her’ and ‘Easy’, two Netflix offerings, they decide to see what else the world can gift hem before its all too late. They go their own way, breaking out into the singles scene as the movie gently records what occurs. Will they find what they’re seeking? Do they truly know what that is? As Byrnes points out in his review of this, the action is about as far away from the Hollywood comic book hero dross as one can get. But it is real. It’s what happens in life. There’s no men (or women) in tights to save the day here.

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In Florianópolis Dream’ the marriage for this couple has well and truly collapsed, but the family is still together – sort of. As Lucrecia ( Morán) and Pedro (Gustavo Garzón), both psychologists – a recipe for disaster in any case, embark on a journey across a border to a holiday in a rather seedy-looking southern Brazilian resort of the story’s title, it all goes belly-up. They break down en route; their accommodation on arrival is a shit hole. To the rescue comes a local, Marco, who seems as dodgy as all get out and whose relationships with the opposite sex are fluid, to say the least. He soon draws Lucrecia into his web. Pedro falls for one of Marco’s exes.

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To me, despite its success, it’s the lesser Argentine product to the others mentioned. Sure, it’s interesting to see the interaction between Portuguese speaking Brazilians and the Argentinians, but both leads are muted, neither especially garnering our sympathy. The story itself asks more questions than it answers and as the twosome drive back to Buenos Aires at the end, one is none the wiser. But then I suppose life doesn’t always resolve – that’s one of the reasons we go to the movies. ‘An Unexpected Love’ delivers on that score, but the other saw me leaving the State disappointed.

Trailer for ‘An Unexpected Love’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtzqJgECq7Y

Trailer for ‘Florianópolis Dream’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IcS78zvqzmw

Fab and Pre-Fab

My goodness, was it really fifty years ago that I espied them on that magazine cover? The foursome were cavorting in striped Edwardian neck-to-knee bathers – or that’s how I remember it. It was on the cover of an edition of TV Week. Did I notice then the deliberate misspelling of the name? Did I make a make a mental note to watch out for them on our black and white tele? It should have been to listen out for them on my transistor radio. Did I buy the mag to read up on them? I doubt it, for I was still at school and pocket money was limited. After all, it was the first time they registered with me. It didn’t matter, in any case, for soon the world would be awash with them and their catchy musical product. They headed a revolution; headed the British Invasion. The Fab Four.

What came first? Was it ‘Last Train to Clarksville’ back in 1966, or their eponymous television show? Again I cannot recall, but excuse the French, even them I recognised the show was crap. But I watched it anyway for, at any moment, they might break out into a mimed rendition of one of their hits. Mimed? The rumour was they could hardly hold a note, let alone play their instruments. We know now that was a furphy for, individually, they were, or became, talented musicians. It is true, initially, they were bought together artificially – manufactured if you like. Prefabricated. The Pre-Fab Four.

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Of course they weren’t a patch on the British stars, but had the advantage of being on our small screens once a week while the show ran (1966 -1968). And, as with the Liverpool quartet, their music has survived.

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Yesterday I went with my lovely lady to the cinema to relive the songs of the Beatles; the songs the planet was in thrall of when I was a mere slip of a lad. The film – you know the title – was a tad cheesy, the lead a bit too gormless to really believe in, its ‘wrinkle in time’ plot a clever notion of which more should have been made. In short, it lacked the substance to be a classic. Himesh Patel wasn’t anywhere near, well, Beatlesque. Lily James, the sort of love interest, was gorgeous on screen as always – but falling for him??? Give me a break. Ed Sheeren put in an appearance as himself. Would he be the superstar he is today without the Merseyside’s gift to the world? I wonder. But it was the music; the lyrics that are now embedded in our synapses that a premise of the planet rediscovering the Beatles all over again is possible. The result of Danny Boyle’s direction did not have the magic of ‘18s’ ‘A Star is Born’ or ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. ‘Wild Rose’, this year, in my opinion, leaves it for dead and ‘Rocketman’ was superior too. But I am glad I was there with Leigh yesterday because, for all of its flaws, it still had some of the magic that John, Paul, George and Ringo created way back when.

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And of the Pre-Fab Four – Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith – their legacy remains as well. After the band’s demise in 1971 Mike, who was my favourite, kicked on and had a few hits under his own steam. As with the Beatles, they have lost two members along the way, but Mickey and Mike are, as I write, touring Oz as the Monkees. Paul still sells out arenas these days with Ringo making occasional forays back to the drum kit. ‘I’m a Believer’ and ‘Daydream Believer’ are classics, but the Beatles produced umpteen. Edgier bands followed in the Beatles’ wake – the Stones of course, the Who, Hollies and the list goes on. I loved the Kinks – still do.

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Watch any YouTube of McCartney playing his hits today. Look at his audience – old farts like yours truly down to the Millennials – all singing along with equal rapture to the tunes the will survive until the wrinkle in time for real comes along that puts an end to it all.

Trailer to Yesterday = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ry9honCV3qc

Columnist Barry Divola on the Monkees = https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/music/i-m-too-busy-singing-to-put-anybody-down-a-monkees-fan-stands-his-ground-20190611-p51wft.html

Early Winter Trio

Going north for any length of time, as much as I relish my second homes up there, I do miss my life by the Derwent. One aspect of that is my cinematic haven, NoHo’s State Cinema. I love going there – and double that if there’s an offering that attracts the attention of my lovely lady as well. For two out of the three I viewed in June, that was the case. It’s always pleasurable to discuss what we’d witnessed over a coffee or on the drive back to Old Bridgewater. And I think, with those two, we agreed that the critics got it wrong.

Both ‘Rocketman’ and ‘Tolkien’ received muted reviews, especially the latter. And in truth neither were top notch, so in that the experts were correct – but they were still a fine way to escape the winter chill for a couple of hours. The Elton biopic was not anywhere near last year’s ‘A Star is Born’, or ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, as a production based around song. Most critics I read lauded the musical numbers, but panned the story-line in between. We, Leigh and I, disagreed. Certainly it went further in exposing the singer’s warts than the Queen vehicle did with Freddy’s. Taron Egerton, both vocally and visually, was a great match for the rock superstar. The problem, though, was it needed a performance to match Lady Gaga’s or Rami Malek’s sublime showings to send ‘Rocketman’ into the stratosphere. But, it was more than watchable.

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Scribe Paul Byrne describes ‘Tolkien’ as ‘…polite, plodding and unconvincing,…’ Having never read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ (‘The Hobbit’ was enough of a struggle), with the only one of Jackson’s film adaptations of these great works I have viewed boring me to tears, I didn’t have the same grounding as my Leigh nor, I suspect, most of the rest of the audience. Perhaps that was to this film’s advantage for me. I thought the tale of the author’s early years and the effect of fellowship and the Great War on his life was reasonable enough. It was somewhat ‘writ by numbers’ and never reached the great heights needed to shout its virtues from the rooftops, but it was, well, pleasing. Nicholas Hoult is the renowned man and he is patently one child actor that will not disappear from our screens as he ages. The love interest and future wife, Edith Bratt, was played by Lily Collins well enough to make her father, Phil, proud. The film has been disowned by Tolkien’s heirs, perhaps taking their cues from the critics and its playing around with with the time frame of aspects of the story. You could do worse, though, than giving it some time when it emerges on DVD or a television platform.

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Sadly Leigh didn’t accompany me to see what for me was the pick of the bunch. And largely the critics concurred (four stars from Empire Magazine, 89% on Rotten Tomatoes). It’s lead, Irish lass Jessie Buckley, has something of the aforementioned Lady Gaga about her. Already noted for some previous standout performances, ‘Beast’ for example, she has a powerful set of lungs on her and she co-wrote many of the songs for ‘Wild Rose’. Many are suggesting this is her breakout performance to a successful career.

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Before her prison term Rose-Lynn Harlen (Buckley) was a star on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. No, not the Nashville icon, although that is her dream, but a down at heel bar in Glasgow. One doesn’t normally associate country music (definitely not country and western – remember that!) with the UK, hence scope for furthering her career locally is limited. She has stars in her eyes but has three massive problems – zilch dosh, a criminal record and two kids. After her put upon mother (the always reliable and watchable Julie Walters) also proves to be a blockage to moving to the USofA, her prospects open up when she gains employment, as a cleaner, on the wealthier side of town working for Susannah (the always reliable and watchable Sophie Okonedo). She soon becomes the singing-hopeful’s mentor.

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I suppose, with this, it helps to love the genre of music it portrays, but even if you’re an opera buff it would be difficult not to fall into entrancement with the feisty, flawed Emmylou/Dolly/Loretta wannabe. There’s some classic country ditties, as well as some originals. The final song is a corker. ‘Wild Rose’ will be one of the year’s best for this humble scribbler.

Trailer for ‘Rocketman’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3vO8E2e6G0

Trailer for ‘Tolkien’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Girzu81oS8Q

Trailer for ‘Wild Rose’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_Ths6k7qXk

March Marvels

The weather’s cooler so it’s back into jeans, socks and an extra layer on top. The cinemas have turned off their air conditioning (always a bane), but it’s too early for firing up winter heating. At the State the seats are comfy, as they are at home in front of a tele, so it was time to settle into watching what we hoped would be March marvels. Were they?

Could there ever be a more perfect husband than Armie Hammer as Monty Ginsburg? He features an All-American square jaw, is broad shouldered and as tall as a redwood. He plays equal in every way to his famous wife, supportive of her career aspirations that were ahead of their time – after all, these are as the 50s morph into the 60s – and never a cuss or a harsh word crosses his lips. His better half (really), Ruth, opened up American law to embrace equal opportunity from her exulted place as a high court judge. She was diminutive as he was opposite, but what a team they made.

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On the Basis of Sex’ examines our heroine’s progress from an almost token law student, gender-wise, to the highest legal office in the land, ushering in an era of progressive decision making (which Trump has swept away with his ultra-conservative appointments). But in Ginsburg’s day remarkably forward-thinking souls, like her, paved the way for all that Trump and his cronies abhor. Liberal America will always thank her for that.

There’s nothing wrong with this bio-pic. It just doesn’t set the world on fire is all. But when Ruth succeeds by pushing through, in an unusual way, a law enshrining equal rights, it is worthily emotive. Consider a visit if it comes to one of your platforms at a future date.

Now Bill Nighy is one of my very favourites in the acting world and he shines, with all his tics and idiosyncrasies, in ‘Sometimes Always Never’. He is superb as a tightly bound man, addicted to Scrabble, living a highly ordered life. This starts to break down when he receives a call to come view a John Doe who may or may not be his long missing son. Said son stormed out during an argument with his dad over said game and hasn’t been seen by the family since. Nighy’s character Alan, a Merseyside tailor, cannot get over it and his other son Peter suffers as a consequence. At the viewing he encounters a couple with the same intention. Alan immediately fleeces the husband with his hustling ability and has a relationship of sorts with his missus, ‘Call the Midwife’s’ Jenny Agutter. Great to see her out of her habit and being just a tad naughty.

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But it’s the great thesp who delivers in this outing, in his natural element, as Alan. It’s a small film so therefore he may not get the kudos his performance warrants and it is a far from perfect film – but it is great viewing to see a mature actor at the top of his game.

And, as we turn to the small screen in March, someone else of mature years, at the top of his game, is Hugh Grant. Like Nighy, he’s another consummate Britisher, but he plays against type here in this biopic of controversial politician Jeremy Thorpe. Once, as leader of the Liberal Party, Thorpe had the political world at his feet. Then his sexual proclivities caught up with him in an era when homosexuality was against the law and it all came tumbling down. For a time he kept his true self well hidden behind marriage, but when he discovers and is titillated by Ben Whishaw’s Norman Scott, in a rich man’s stables and they take a tumble in the hay, he lets down his guard. To him Norman is just a plaything to be disposed of at will. To the younger, by far, man the relationship was much, much more – and thus, when jilted, his revenge was unforgiving. He wasn’t going to take it lying down. Whishaw matches Grant for brilliance in ‘A Very English Scandal’. Hopefully this title will be up there with HG’s other signature roles, although it’s at variance to what we normally associate with him. We watched this from a DVD and if unavailable on one your platforms, it is excellent value for the purchase price.

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Also well warranting a looksee, small-screen wise, are another two guys who have well and truly paid their dues. It’s a Netflix product and recounts the story of Bonnie and Clyde from the perspective of the hunters, not the hunted. Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson are like old whisky – they get better with age – just like your scribe.

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Trailer ‘On the Basis of Sex’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28dHbIR_NB4

Trailer ‘Sometimes Always Never’ -= https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=22R-JQRov_U

Trailer ‘A Very English Scandal’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggDTJc470Co

Trailer ‘The Highwaymen’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aH6vC-BBKOc

Silvio and Don

January was drawing to a close and soon I’d be off to several trips up north and a couple of house/dog sit gigs. Movies at the cinemas would be replaced by small screen ones and television series. There was still time, though, for a couple of trips into NoHo and the State.

I’d been looking forward to seeing new product from one of my favourite directors for some time. Paolo Sorentino is a master. Delivering us ‘Youth’ and ‘The Great Beauty’ in recent years, as well as the wonderful ‘The Young Pope’ into our lounge rooms, his work is visually a feast for the senses. Coupled with solid story lines, that cause us to ponder on the ways of the world, with his lush and vivid styling, he can be quite compelling.

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Well, the latter was there with ‘Loro’, Italian for them. The lush and vivid was almost lurid. It’s a none too flattering, yet not too destructive, take on the lifestyle of that behemoth of Italian politics, Silvio Berlusconi (Tony Servillo)he of the bunga bunga sex parties and never ending appetite for nubile young things seemingly willing to throw themselves at him in various stages of undress.

We are introduced to the world of the great man by a provider of said women, Sergio (Riccardo Scamarcio). In its initial stages the film concentrates on him. Wanting to advance his standing in the only way he knows, Sergio rents a villa next door to the then opposition leader, constantly scheming to get back into the top job. The wannabe pimp to the rich and famous thinks he’ll catch the eye of the former Italian leader by throwing outrageous parties of his own in hope of an invitation to do the same for Berlusconi. The screen is drenched in colour and topless damsels as Sergio goes all out to achieve his aim – and it eventually occurs. But by now the emphasis has switched to SB as he parades, like an emperor, through his domain. He’s accompanied by his long suffering wife, who has just about had a gut-full, as well as a range of sycophants and wily manipulators. But now the man isn’t the force of nature he once was – his waning energy, an earthquake and a soulless party, organised by his neighbour, start to bring him down. Nothing can hide the fact he now looks and smells of old age.

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Personally, despite rave reviews, I found this outing the least satisfying of the Sorrentino offerings I’ve seen to date. It’s hard to find heart in this showpiece. It’s empty – and that’s perhaps is how it was meant to be.

In comparison ‘Green Book had crept up on me – and as an Oscar contender. As far as heart, this road movie boasts it in great dollops. It is based on a true story – much, but not all, of what you see happened. Afro-American piano-playing star-turn Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) hires Frank ‘Tony Lip’ Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) to drive him on a tour of the Deep South – perhaps parallels with ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ here? We are soon to find out how a black man, having a white chauffeur, will go down over the Mason-Dixon Line. After all, it is 1962. Viggo is terrific as the white guy in the role of driver come trouble-shooter (with emphasis on the shooter bit) for his charge. He earned the job due to his reputation as a fixer. This two-hander, under the obviously astute guidance of director Peter Farrelly, sees a duo of great thesps almost compete with each other to come out tops in the acting chops department. Will either of them take home the big gong for 2019?

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The bullish, street smart Tony gradually charms his aloof gay boss to lighten up and in turn his close proximity to this cultured black musician starts to change his own world view.

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It’s a predictable, but nonetheless, lovely Hollywood ending this movie has in store for us and along the way there’s also a laugh or two. Compared to the other much hyped Oscar nominees, ‘Green Book’ has flown under the radar. But late betting has it in with a shot up against the likes of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘A Star is Born’ et al. That late betting was on the money.

Trailer for ‘Loro’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Bj8voOPacE

Trailer fro ‘Green Book’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QkZxoko_HC0

Vice Thrice in January

This time last year, post-Boxing Day, as is usual, the pick of the crop were showing in the cinema houses around the country. Many of the award winners-to-be were on delayed release to capitalise on the holiday time-slot Down Under. They were of such quality, these gems viewed into the weeks of the first month of a new year, that several made my ‘best of’ for ‘18. These were exceptional movies.

Fast forward to the start of this mint new year and the same quality has not been provided – in other words, movies that will live long in the synapses. ‘Cold War’ was exquisite and has been the standout, but these other three, though well-represented in the current awards season, were eminently watchable, but didn’t make one marvel.

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New Year’s Day took me to the State to see ‘Colette’. I’d been looking forward to it for various reasons, not the least of them being the lead, Keira Knightley. Most will know of the French literary sensation of the first half of last century. I knew the bare bones of her story and was relishing the prospect of flesh being added, for I knew her lifestyle was immeasurably unconventional for those times. And there was some fleshing out in real style.

As with most aspiring women back when Colette was in her late teenagerhood, breaking through the glass ceiling, even in a more liberal France, was not going to be easy. Initially her best hope would be to marry well – and in the much older Henry, she felt, she had hit the jackpot. Under the pseudonym of Willy he was a popular writer in Paris. In reality his scribings were produced by a group of aspiring young authors – he just replaced their names with his to ensure sales. Colette soon shows she has aptitude, as well, with the written word and joins his assembly line. Eventually she starts to produce her wildly successful ‘Claudine’ novels, which Henry (played by ‘The Affair’s’ Dominic West, endowed with a goatee that almost has as much life as its owner) naturally takes full credit for. Of course, its raciness for the times only enhances his cachet with the beautiful people of the city. He’s easy prey for women who want a piece of him. Henry declares this is only to be expected for, after all, a man has his needs outside of his marital duty. Colette starts to chaff under his philandering, misuse of the proceeds from her labours and his increasing fame on her back. She also breaks out sexually, taking lovers of all genders, although she still retains affection for her husband, despite his sins. Eventually, though, enough is enough, when he takes liberties that she comes to find totally unacceptable, even for him.

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One of these is bedding the gorgeous southern belle Georgie Raoul-Duva. She’s played by the ravishing Eleanor Tomlinson of ‘Poldark’ fame. Problem is, she’s been in lust with Colette for some time as well. And if I may quietly tell you a little secret, the loves scenes between Knightley and Tomlinson are something to behold.

But for all its attributes Walsh Westmoreland’s Belle Époque offering doesn’t quite crack it into the top league. That a love scene is the lasting memory says it all.

And the same could be said for ‘Vice’, not the love scene – there aren’t any – but not being a top notch contender for greatness. Again there were praiseworthy turns, this time from Christian Bale, Steve Carrell and Sam Rockwell. But, compared with director Adam McKay’s ‘The Big Short’, it comes up, well, short.

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This could have been a demolition job on Dick Cheney – the film presents enough reason, but such is the nature of Bale’s performance in the role the outcome is one of close to grudging admiration for the powerful man. Carrell’s Donald Rumsfeld is less so as he and Cheney take a green POTUS, George W (Sam Rockwell), under their wings, with the latter emerging as the supreme power behind the throne.

And they knew. They knew – although the narration makes clear, in the manner of ‘The Big Short’, that it’s not possible to be definitive for so much of the evidence has ‘disappeared’. For a time it’s difficult to discern how the character playing the narrator fits into the picture, but we should have known that dodgy decisions taken at the highest level have ramifications for those at the coalface – sometimes terrible ramifications.

Those with an interest in the political machinations of men, prepared to stretch the ethical envelope for their own ends, will get their money’s worth from ‘Vice’. And at least their White House was always functional. Could even Cheney and Rumsfeld have handled the Trumpster?

We were eager to see ‘The Favourite’, Leigh and I, although I did have some reservations, having unsuccessfully tried to watch several other of director Yorgos Lanthimos’ offerings. Certainly I lasted to the end of this new one and certainly there were again three thesps with winning portrayals front and centre of it, this time of the opposite gender to the previous. Olivia Coleman, as an addled Queen Anne, was brilliant, with Rachel Weisz playing her partner in governance and in in the royal bed chamber not far behind. Emma Stone played the latter’s wannabe usurper Abigail Hill. Abi’s family had fallen on hard times, so she’s forced to seek employment at the palace in a downstairs role. She has, however, a knowledge of herbal medicine that brings her close to the ailing Queen and gradually she works her way upstairs and to a position to challenge the Duchess of Marlborough as Anne’s favourite caressor of private parts. Occasionally, despite being a few sheep short, her majesty rises to the occasion to stamp her authority, including, at one stage, casting the Duchess out of the boudoir to the outer margins. Hubby, though, is the Duke in charge of the war against France, one of the few men in the movie to be other than a rouged-up dandified fop. Good to have him in her corner.

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So, as with ‘Vice’, we have three powerful figures at the pointy end of decision-making, but ‘The Favourite’ left both Leigh and I feeling underwhelmed, even if this period piece will no doubt pick up a few gongs in its journey through the awards season for director and actresses.

None of the trio of films should be dismissed from a looksee, but neither do they set the world on fire. ‘18 was a great year so hopefully it will improve. Maybe there are a few surprises like Lady Gaga and Rami Malek just around the corner.

Trailer for ‘Colette’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnTNgZz4Sm0

Trailer for  ‘Vice’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jO3GsRQO0dM

Trailer for ‘The Favourite’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOySDafIE74

Polish Gem

Wonderful’ – Margaret Pomeranz

Winner of five European Film Awards, ‘Cold War’ certainly has the critics swooning.

A swooning, searing film.’ – the Observer

Whether or not it will gain director Paweł Pawlikowski his second Oscar remains to be seen, but it is a stunner.

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The movie is crafted in glorious, atmospheric black and white; every shot of figure or landscape a feast for the eye. It has a glow, an aura of radiance and as well, at times, sublime bleakness. It’s the height of the cinematic art.

It opens in a wintry rural Poland overrun by mud and communist operatives. Our hero, middle-aged Wiktor (Tomasz Kot), is searching the villages in the back blocks for authentic Polish folk music. He and his team assemble a bevy of hopefuls in a decrepit country house and proceed to audition them. He soon becomes smitten by a young performer, Zula (Joanna Kulig), who naturally makes the cut and goes on to perform glorious heritage music and dance for the masses in the big cities. But the authenticity is soon compromised when the powers-to-be decide to piggyback onto the troupe’s popularity for propaganda purposes. Feeling compromised, Wiktor resolves to flee to the West with Zula at his side, but at the last moment she demurs and goes on to find fame on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain.

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Over the next decades their relationship splutters on as their lives take a wholly different course, his in the cafes of Paris, hers in the Russian dominated nations of Europe. Occasionally their schedules come together and they continue on where they left off – but these are entirely brief encounters. Then Wiktor decides he must have her, regardless of the cost – and what a cost it is.

The director packs so much into the 88 minute running length, with ‘Cold War’ featuring in many of the ‘best ofs’ for 2018. I am sure it’ll be in mine for this mint new year. Already it has stolen the show at Cannes. Almost as remarkable as the look of the piece is the soundtrack – from earthy folk to Wiktor’s jazz ensemble in Paris to the start of rock ‘n’ roll. To see Zula’s exuberant response to the latter – well, I almost swooned too. This alone is almost worth the entrance price. See it if you can.

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Trailer for ‘Cold War’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvPkDdFeTk8

The December Lull

The big guns are coming. They had been held back until Boxing Day and are now almost ready to burst out into the megaplexes down to the art houses all over. Myself, I’m looking forward to ‘Colette’, ‘Vice’, Cold War’ and ‘The Favoutite’ in particular. Let’s trust 2019 is a great year for the movies (just like this past one). Still, there were films of merit to be had pre-Christmas, in December. I moseyed off to the State to see a couple.

Now, unlike ‘Juliet Naked’, be warned that ‘Normandy Nude’ does incorporate actors naked, as we clearly see in the opening scene. But it is sparse, fleeting and benign – think a slightly more explicit version of ‘Calendar Girls’ and you get the picture. Its major attraction is the presence of Francois Cluzet, star of ‘The Intouchables’ and the perfectly realised ‘The Country Doctor’. In the hands of the director of ‘The Women on the 6th Floor’ (Phillipe Guay) the combination should be a real winner. Whilst ‘Normandy Nude’ doesn’t reach the heights of that esteemed trio, it is still quite a blissful way to spend time in front of the big screen for lovers of Frenchiness.

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Cluzet plays Mayor Bulbuzard, the political head of a struggling French rural community trying to come up with ways of attracting the attention of big city types to the woes of the countryside. As luck would have it, renowned American photographer Newman (Toby Jones), a specialist in mass naked shootings a la Spencer Tunnick, is just passing through. In doing so he spies a field he considers just perfect for one of his nude extravaganzas, so he and the mayor conspire to make it happen. That will certainly gain the tiny burb’s plight some publicity, but if only he can convince all his fellow townspeople to shed their clothing in unison for the cause.

Not all are liberal enough to meet the challenge – how’s he to convince them? Adding another impediment to the disrobing is that the exact ownership of said verdant field is in dispute.

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Of course we would expect all the problems to be resolved and Newman to be clicking away at a largish amount of exposed flesh, but it’s not quite as Hollywood as that. It is Tinsel Town, though, in the number of rustic stereotypes it delivers, but there is a warmth to ‘NN’ that counters that. It doesn’t set the film world on fire for any reason – but I still found it most engaging.

As is ‘Puzzle’. Now my son Richard, when it comes to the business of piecing together complicated jigsaw puzzles, is a whizz. But he’s got nothing on Kelly Macdonald’s Agnes. In the appropriately titled ‘Puzzle’, she discovers she is a super-whizz.

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Ms Macdonald’s career hasn’t exactly set the film world on fire either, but she’s a solid enough thesp as many of us who viewed her performance across a number of seasons of ‘Boardwalk Empire’ can attest to. She’s perfect for the understated role here. This is a slow burn of a movie, so if you’re after something that goes at the speed of the digital age, this is not for you. Still, it’s not without its nuanced joys, such as the role performed by Irrfan Khan as a rich emigre and Agnes’ eventual partner in speed jigsawing competitions. Will he become her preferred bed partner as well; preferred to stolid mechanic hubby Robert (David Denman)?

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Now sadly, because I was perhaps not paying close enough attention in the opening stanzas of the movie, I did miss the significance of it’s concluding scene. But in response to the question as to whether the humble jigsaw puzzle can change one’s life for the better, at least we receive an answer to that. How? Well, you’ll just have to spend some time in the slow lane and see it.

Trailer for ‘Normandy Nude’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9RBABb3oFzc

Trailer for Puzzle = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wl_SoMNi0rw

Dire, Appalling, Abhorrent

The three adjectives forming the title do not, by a long shot, go far enough. They cannot begin to describe the impact domestic violence is having on lives. Despite community outrage and the dollars being thrown at the problem, the reprehensible injuries and death of women and children seem to continue unabated. The statistics are horrifying – and this French film, ‘Custody’, shows that we are not alone in Australia with it – it’s a world-wide scourge.

The movie opens with a presentable mother and father putting their cases for and against extended visiting rights, to the dad, for their young eleven year old son. Initially it is difficult to decide between the two arguments, but one person obviously isn’t telling the truth. There is no common ground. She, Miriam (Léa Drucker), complains of his constant threats and the effect they are having on the boy, but ex-hubby, Antoine (Denis Ménochet), denies it all. Of course he loves Julien (Thomas Gioria) and wouldn’t dream of doing anything to hurt the lad.

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The judge is hampered by lack of evidence but obviously errs on the side of caution, imposing limits on the access. With Antoine’s reaction we, though, are soon privy to the heart of the matter. Quite simply, the father soon emerges as a brute. The judge was right to be wary of him. He’s a self-centred prick and he cannot control his anger at the slight done to him by the law. He intends to circumnavigate it, regardless of the cost. Poor Julien is between a rock and a hard place. He detests being with his dad, but failing to abet the odious father, he knows, would have dire consequences, not only for himself, but also Miriam.

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Writer/director Xavier Legrand has taken a sledgehammer approach to this offering and at times I found it almost impossible to watch the big screen. There’s no subtlety here – the father’s revenge is full on. He’s a violent bastard. It’s no spoiler alert to say we are spared a truly shattering ending – the tale is shattering enough. We know, though, that for all too many there is no escaping a wronged man’s wrath.

The film has won, deservedly, many gongs at festivals around the world. Kudos must go to the three main performers – Ménochet’s role must have been particularly demanding. All three are unflinching in their bravery so as to call even more attention to the plight of battered wives and kiddies.

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What else comes out of this is admiration for those who (wo)man the phones as the calls of the often helpless victims come in. These are the wonderful people who have to keep their heads and offer advice as the world of the woman or child on the other end begins to come crashing down. Then there are the first responders, dashing off to the incident, never quite knowing what pieces they’ll have to pick up when the destination is reached. If they’re too late, it can be catastrophic.

Because Legrand doesn’t shy away in presenting this slice of wretchedness it’ll stick in my mind for a long, long time. It will also be on my list of the year’s best. There must be a way. There simply must.

Trailer for the movie = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8mJT7wEtkA