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Thursday, 22 September 2016

Film No. 57 (2016) Sully September 1th.

Film No. 57 (2016) September 17th.  12.50 PM LUNA Paradiso, Northbridge.

"The Miracle on the Hudson; it was a good omen during a challenging period". (Clint Eastwood describes the event as it stood in U.S. history during a promotional discussion).

The Miracle on the Hudson is a simple phrase which nearly has us recalling where we were when Captain Chesley Sullenberger force landed his Air America passenger jet into the Hudson River on January 15th 2009. I say nearly because it didn't have quite the world impact of 9/11 but the images of the passengers standing on the plane's wings centimetres above the freezing New York waters, in the minds of most, has left an indelible imprint. 

Because we know the story my first thoughts, when viewing the trailer, were, maybe I won't bother. Well, I did and I'm glad I did.   Clint Eastwood has captured this legendary event with clinical precision and in typical Eastwood style it's all about the human face with just a smattering "poetic licence".

At 86, Eastwood is leaving an outstanding legacy. Tom Hanks (Sullenberger) is directed, believe it or not, for the first time by ClintTom has described his experience as astounding. To watch the "crash" from varying POV's to punctuate the relevance for each scene ranging from Sully's flashbacks to the investigative enquiry is very convincing. Aaron Eckhart plays Sully's co-pilot Jeff Skiles with an assurance that convinces us we'd all like him by our side in a decision making event of the split second kind. The Sully / Skiles team is a key ingredient in this relatively short feature for Eastwood.

The "poetic licence" comes in his depicttion of the three investigators. One woman (Anna Gunn) and two men (Mike O'Malley and Jamey Sheridan) had a job to do, to protect the safety of all who fly. They are depicted more as protectors of the corporate world by Eastwood. Clint has infiltrated "his baddies" to up the tension; it does work to a point but from my reading of events it wasn't how it unfolded. Sully was and has been a hero from the time those geese first inadvertently flew into the the engines of Flight 1549. Sully isn't a classic but unlike the engines of the A320 airbus spluttering out feathers it's a finely tuned 93 minutes of entertainment.  10GUMS.       

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Film No. 56 (2016) Equity September 15th.

Film No. 56 (2016) September 15th.  6.30 PM LUNA Paradiso, Northbridge.

"I work for the largest investment bank in the world. I've taken nine companies public. I'm glad it's finally acceptable for women to talk about success." (Naomi Bishop (Anna Gunn) talks about her success in an all womens' forum). 

Equity is being promoted as a female version of The Wolfe of Wall Street. Nothing could be further from the truth. But then again that's promotion for you. The industry is all about "bums on seats" and surely the false comparison may succeed on that front. For starters Equity is a fictional narrative about women working legitimately in an industry crawling with people looking to take short cuts to achieve wealth.

The problem for me with Equity was that the plodding storyline and soundtrack failed to match the performances of Anna Gunn and her two co-leads Alysia Reiner and Sarah Megan Thomas. Naomi Bishop (Gunn) works for a Merchant Bank and prides herself in the fact she has floated 9 companies as public commodities with success. There is however one dark corner alluded to a couple early scenes; it's fleeting but we are suppose to get the idea it's dented her confidence. 

Erin Manning (Thomas) is coveting what Bishop has and feels neglected as Naomi's P.A. Enter Samantha, ex-school buddy of Bishop's who is also very conveniently "watching" the man (James Purefoy) in Bishop's life who is also a banker known for sabotaging impending public companies the gain advantage from the market later. Oh, and there is the sub-plot of Bishop seeking promotion. Randell (Lee Tergesen), her boss, however only plays games (Janga, quite literally) with Naomi's emotions.

Meera Menon has made an ernest film in Equity. It will push buttons, especially in women who continue to battle workplace barriers of varied kinds. I still can't make up my mind whether she is saying "if you can't beat them join them" via the Reiner character or "we're destined because of our gender" via Gunn's Bishop. Melon's Farah Goes Bang was a quirky likeable film of the smaller kind. Perhaps with Equity, the main stream approach repressed her creativity. Or perhaps I was craving for more from this solid but stifled film. 7GUMS. 


Monday, 19 September 2016

Film No. 55 (2016) The Infiltrator September 11th.

Film No. 55 (2016) September 11th.  1.30 PM NOVA  Cinemas, Carlton, Melbourne.

"I think we've been doing this backwards, we've been following the drugs to get the bad guys. What if we chase the money?" (Mazur (Brian Cranston) proposes a change of tac in the U.S.'s war on drugs).

The U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described the role of Robert Mazur, as a drug enforcement undercover agent, to have had the single biggest influence on denting the control of the Colombian drug trade in the mid to late eighties. Fine praise for a man trying to live a normal family life and then rubbing shoulders with the filthy rich as a high profile money launderer hell bent on cornering the likes of Pablo Escobar. The Infiltrator is the film of the book of the same name written by Mazur.

Who better to play Mazur than Brian Cranston. While Cranston, physically, is poles apart in statue to his real life counterpart there is a security about knowing we are in safe hands. Cranston's Breaking Bad persona (Walt) brings that security "gift wrapped" he doesn't need to re-establish legitimacy to roles like this. It's Walter White playing a good guy who influences U.S. drug enforcement history.

Basically we watch the retelling of how Mazur pulled off one of the biggest undercover operations of all time and lived to tell the tale. When we are talking big we are talking of Mazur infiltrating the Pablo Escobar cartel without quite getting to Escobar. Most of The Infiltrator depicts Mazur befriending Roberto Alcaino, one of Escobar's high level operatives. The relationship is the glue which melds a believable tangle of human intrigue which leads to a make believe wedding which punctuates how brilliantly Mazur hoodwinked the "baddies". 

We've become so used to Cranston playing strong male roles with usually a steadfast moral compass it's hard to contemplate Mazur being played by anyone else. But while the film is suspense-fully entertaining I wonder if a Liev Schreiber or even his half-brother Pablo could have given Mazur an edgier quality. Diane Erlz as Mazur's make-believe fiancĂ© Kathy is outstanding, she matches Cranston's persona scene for scene. If you loved Donnie Brasco then don't miss The Infiltrator. 8GUMS.       

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Film No. 54 (2016) The Confirmation September 3rd.

Film No. 54 (2016) September 3rd.  11.00 PM LUNA Leederville.

"I don't know what trouble he can get into in a day" (Walt (Clive Owen) reinforces the fact their son Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher) will be in good hands, to ex-wife and mother Bonnie (Maria Bello).

McDonalds has a lot to learn if they think they have cornered the market when it comes to offering the perfect father/child affirmation experience. The Confirmation betters anything a McDonalds experience offers and does it in spades. This mini road movie, which doesn't move beyond a local neibourhood, is genuinely heart warming without the cliched moments so common when it comes to heartfelt films.

Bob Nelson wrote Nebraska, a hit in the independent film space, three years ago. His creative work on this occasion was directed expertly by Alexander Payne. The Confirmation is solely his baby. He makes his directing debut and just maybe this is the beginning of a star career of the Richard Linklater type. Nelson has created a human drama where good people play out their everyday lives so ordinarily and seamlessly we know we've been touched by a film which never tries too hard to impress.

A script like this has to be cast with the right child actor. From the time we meet Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher), in the confession box in the opening scene, he controls the tempo of this mini road movie. He begins his confession but has nothing to report, in his mind he has been pure since his last visit. His week-end with dad (Clive Owen) is going to have an impact on his next one on one with his priest. Owen's Walt is emotionally bruised and is recovering from alcohol addiction. There is never a threat to Anthony's safety in Walt's care, only smatterings of misadventure in a quest that will help to get Walt's life back on track.

The Confirmation is simplistic but making everyday people likeable to the point we cheer them on to conquer the minor evils they face in their quests, ticks a massive box for Nelson. Maria Bello, as Anthony's mum Bonnie, is one dimensional and her new husband Kyle will have you knowing the actor's face but grappling for his name for a time. Their roles were essential but their few scenes are so good, we crave for  more. The Confirmation reminded me of the classic Paper Moon; there is gentle love of the best kind which lingers with us.  9GUMS.


Monday, 29 August 2016

Film No. 53 (2016) Sunset Song August 24th.

Film No. 53 (2016) August 24th.  6.30 PM LUNA Paradiso, Northbridge.

"You're my flesh and blood, and I shall do with you what I want" (Chris's fatherPeter Mullan) expounds another of his cruel utterances on his sick bed.

Sunset Song is a slow burning sumptuous film. The issue for me is trying to understand it's message. Is it a historical drama to give insight into the trials and tribulations of a woman 100 years ago? Or is it quite simply an anti-war film? Maybe there's no message, just an historical drama set in the farmlands of Scotland telling one woman's story from adolescence to womanhood.

Director Terrence Davies is an accomplished film maker. Distant Voices, Still Lives and The House of Mirth are testament to his ability to bring human drama from a bygone age to the screen. In the vein of Gillian Anderson's, Lily Bart from The House of Mirth  we endure the plight of Chris Guthrie (Agyness Deyn) a young, free of spirit farm girl who gradually matures through her love of literature and the love of her family, despite the cruel deeds of her father.

Deyn has screen presence and is testament to the idea that models with talent can carve out a new career beyond the catwalk. In fact it's the performances of all the cast, particularly Peter Mullan as the oppressive father John Guthrie which gives the film a quality beyond the less than captivating narrative. Jack Greenness as Will, Chris's brother, brings heart to the plot convincingly but is whisked away, for legitimate reasons, never to be seen or heard of again. 

I mentioned the anti-war theme, which quite possibly gives Sunset Song its greatest voice, as Chris finds her life long love only to have him depart for the battlefields of France. It's here that we need to feel the excruciating pain of Chris's plight but Davies short-changes us. Apart from an effective flashback scene we've nothing to bite down on. Given this, the film has kept me thinking, but maybe I'm still seeking that elusive message. 7GUMS.               

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Film No. 52 (2016) Captain Fantastic August 20th.

Film No. 52 (2016) August 20th.  11.00 PM LUNA Leederville.

"Unless it comes out of a book, I don't know anything" (Bo, George McKay) convinces his father of where his future lies).

Viggo Mortensen is very discerning about which roles present the type of challenges he is seeking. One would have to say his choices over recent years have been winners. A History of Violence remains one of my "go to" films for repeat viewing, simply due to the credibility Viggo brings to his Tom Stall character. In Captain Fantastic Viggo plays Ben, who is another father of substance and no less captivating.

Captain Fantastic however is more than just another Mortensen vehicle. The condemnation of modern American society by Ben and the unconventional life he leads with his kids  while living in the forest of the Pacific North West are Captain Fantastic's biggest virtues. We are talking Swiss Family Robinson without the vacuousness of Disney. "Why are people so fat?" is a question the youngest of the tribe asks after they venture down from their home to the "real world".

Ben and wife Leslie (Trin Miller) have adopted buddhism as their philosophy for family life as they eek out their existence in the forest. We meet the family minus Lesley who is in care on the other side if the country (near to her family) as she deals with mental illness. Ben receives the tragic news he's been dreading in the film's first stanza. This sparks the drama and gives us a less conventional way of understanding the real, unreserved love Ben and Leslie have nurtured within their unit.

But finally the real entertainment in Captain Fantastic comes from some of its set piece scenes. Ben's youngest asks him what sexual intercourse is; Ben's explanation leaves nothing to be desired. Bo's proposal scene in a trailer park while on the road is also enlightening. These scenes win our hearts and remind us as parents that maybe, just maybe, we should take calculated risks to exemplify real learning as we bring our kids up in a corporate driven society. 11GUMS.

Film No. 51 (2016) Our Kind of Traitor August 16th.

Film No. 51 (2016) August 16th.  6.15 PM LUNA Paradiso, Northbridge.

"Help? I'm a teacher, what can I do?" (Perry, Ewan Mcgregor) responds to Dima's request for help; help of a most life threatening kind).

The classy B Grade thriller is a joyful cinema experience. This bedrock of entertaining cinema has endured through the ages, especially post World War II when so many stories of espionage and betrayal surfaced. Well, Our Kind of Traitor maintains that rich tradition of exaggerated plot lines depicting ordinary people placed in extraordinary situations. 

The casting is all important when it comes to partially predictable plot lines. Stellan Skarsgard is the gem here. He plays Dima a Russian Mafia boss and part-time British informer who will be killed along with his family under new Mafia boss  "The Prince" if he doesn't act in haste. Enter Perry (Ewan McGregor) and Gail (Naomie Harris), a married couple, on holiday. They are about to become Dima's unsuspecting saviours.

Bringing the everyday lives of Perry and Gail into Dima's world needs to be believable. le Carre's writing is for the page so director Susanna White does a meticulous job using Dima's family as the conduit to legitimately keeping us on the edge of our seats via the screen. Then there is Hector (Damian Lewis) the compassionate (if there is such a thing) MI6 connection to bringing Dima in from "the cold".

I'm not inclined to tell the story of Our Kind of Traitor. To do that is to spoil a storyline laced with intrigue. The film is entertaining and does the novel proud. Transferring everyday people into extra-ordinary situations, le Carre's style on the page is easily overlooked if not effective. Depicting an exaggerated storyline to screen is more easily criticised if not done well. Our Kind of Traitor is effectively entertaining. 8GUMS.