Search
3D 5th Wave 70s Culture 80s Cinema A Night of Horror AAustralian film Action Activism Adaptation Adelaide Film Festival Adventure Advocacy African American Age of Adaline AI albanian Alien Abduction alien covenant aliens Alpha alt-right altzheimers amazon American Amitabh Bachchan Animal Animation anime anthology Anti-vaxx Ari Gold Art Asia Pacific Screen Awards Asian Cinema Australian film AV Industry Avengers Bad Robot BDSM Beach Boys Berlinale BFG Bianca Biasi Big Hero 6 Biography Biopic Blade Runner Blake Lively Blockbuster B-Movies Bollywood Breast Cancer Brian Wilson Brisbane Bruce Willis Camille Keenan Canadian Cancer candyman Cannes cannibalism Cannon Films Cesars CGI Chapman To Character Actors Charlie Hunnam Charlize Theron Chemsex China Lion Chinese Chloe Grace Moretz Chris Hemsworth Chris Pratt Christchurch christian cinema christmas Christopher Nolan Classic Cinema Clint Eastwood Close Encounters Cloverfield Comedy Comic Book Coming-of-Age Concert Film Conor McGregor Conspiracy Controversy Crowd-sourced Cult Cure Dakota Johnson Dance Academy Dardennes Brothers darth vader Debut Deepika Padukone Depression Disaster Movies Disney Diversity Documentary doomsday Dr Moreau drama Dunkirk Dustin Clare Dystopic EL James eli roth Elizabeth Banks Entourage Environmental Epic Erotic Cinema Extra-terrestrial Extreme Sports faith-based Family Film Fantasy Father Daughter Feminism Fifty Shades of Grey Film Film Festival Flop Foreign found footage French Cinema Friendship Fusion Technology Gareth Edwards Gay Cinema Ghostbusters Ghosts Godzilla Golan Globus Gothic Graphic Novel green inferno Guardians of the Galaxy Guillermo del Toro Gun Control Hacker Hailee Steinfeld Han Solo Happiness Harrison Ford Harry Dean Stanton
Friday
Aug162019

MORGANA

Stars: Morgana Muses, Petra Joy, John Oh, Anna Brownfield, Judith Lucy and Candida Royale.
Directors: Josie Hess and Isabel Pappard

WORLD PREMIERE: Melbourne International Film Festival, Friday August 16 at The Capitol Theatre.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

The emergence of a vibrant, creative free spirit from the constraints of societal expectation is captured with genuine affection in Morgana, co-directors Josie Hess and Isabel Peppard’s expansive yet deeply personal account of one woman’s coming-of-middle-age journey. Charting a course from the depths of despair to artistic and emotional fulfilment then back again, this frank, often funny and very moving portrait piece is an engaging crowd-pleaser, particularly for those who adhere to the sex-positive beliefs of their protagonist.

Having grown up in the harsh climes of Coober Pedy, Morgana Muses bought into the ‘suburban ideal’ of her mother’s longings and was soon constructing her own middle-class façade. Having married well and embraced motherhood, she soon found herself sadly unfulfilled in a union devoid of warmth; the dissolution of her marriage and subsequent disconnection from friends and family led to thoughts of self-harm. These moments are thoughtfully reconstructed through a ‘little boxes’ motif, in which Morgana is captured peering longingly through the windows of a grey suburban landscape.

The turning point came as Morgana’s life force was at its lowest ebb; a ‘last hurrah’ sexual experience awakened in her a hunger to explore the boundaries of what she always believed were acceptable sexual practices. With her old life fading fast, Morgana Muses reinvents herself as a feminist porn actress-filmmaker, her debut film Duty-Bound becoming an award-winning global hit that takes her from suburban Melbourne to the BDSM mecca, Berlin.

Via her friendship, co-director Hess (who features at key moments in her own doco) is afforded rare access into Morgana’s highs and lows over a period of several years; the 70-minute feature began life as a short, morphing into a frank and confronting study of mental health and its impact upon the creative process. Hess and Peppard, one of the local industry’s most respected animators and horror sector artists, are clearly advocates for the practice of ethical pornography and strong feminist ideals, but these themes, while central, never overshadow the universal humanity at the core of Morgana’s narrative.

Most importantly, the woman herself proves a complex, fearless frontwoman for her own story. Muses bares all, yet it is her physical openness which ultimately proves the least shocking of her revelations; the self-reflection and psychological torment she is willing to expose for the documentarian’s lens is first-person storytelling at its bravest. Audience empathy is so engaged that, by the time the ‘cherry-on-top’ moment happens deep in the third act, the intimacy required to fully accept every inch of Morgana Muses is comfortably in place. So sex positive and emotionally resonant is her factual film journey, everything about the body and soul baring of Morgana Muses feels convincingly empowering and wonderfully real.

Morgana Documentary - 'First Look' Teaser #2 from House of Gary on Vimeo.

Friday
Aug162019

FROM SHOCK TO AWE

Featuring: Matt Kahl, Mike Cooley, Aimee Stahl and Brooke Cooley.
Directors: Luc Côté.
Content Producer: Janine Sagert.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

The heartbreaking journey through Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that many veterans undertake upon their return from combat zones rarely ends on the kind of high note that director Luc Côté offers in From Shock to Awe. As detailed in this alternative-treatment advocacy documentary, more US ex-servicemen and women have died by their own hands back home than on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Returning to feature-length factual filmmaking for the first time since 2010’s Four Days Inside Guatanamo, Côté’s latest offers both insight and answers into a different aspect of military life. The struggle to live with PTSD, to deal with horrific memories and the unfamiliarity of a life that was once familiar, has torn apart generations of soldiers. The production presents this hardship through two struggling heroes - Matt Kahl, an Afghanistan vet having served in the 101st Airborne from 2007-2011; and, MP Mike Cooley (pictured, top), deployed once to Afghanistan and twice to Iraq.

The first act punches hard in its depiction of the wide-reaching impact of PTSD. These are broken men, their families and communities alien to them. Côté uses both real-time and archive footage to show the shells of their former selves that Kahl and Cooley have become. The ability of respective wives Aimee Kahl and Brooke Cooley (herself a returned veteran with trauma issues) to deal with the psychological disintegration of their husbands for nearing breaking point.

The production follows the men to a wooded retreat, where they endeavor to purge their psyches of despair by injesting the psychoactive brew Ayahuasca. A banned substance in the US, it combines the Banisteriopsis caapi vine with plants containing the compound DMT (dimethyltriptamine) to produce a powerful visionary and healing experience. (Pictured, below; Matt and Aimee Kahl)

Scenes of the men under the influence of Ayahuasca are truly revelatory, their emotional and spiritual healing unfolding in real time for Côté’s lens (and, no, there are no Yellow Submarine-style sequences to overstate the experience). Even more remarkable is the footage of the men several months after the Ayahuasca session. They are transformed, their healing allowing for human connection, ambition and clarity of emotion.

Of course, the treatment makes them criminals. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) refuses to legalize psychotropic drugs for treatment of PTSD in any form. From Shock to Awe allows the recuperative experiences of the men do the hard selling of the film’s message, but the message is clear – soldiers are dying at home and non-traditional treatment can ease the nation’s pain, but bureaucratic governance remains immoveable.

The newfound positivity in the lives of the two men in the wake of the Ayahuasca treatment (and, for Brooke Cooley, therapy under the influence of the similarly-blacklisted MDMA drug) wraps up their story in what could be the feel good film denouement of the year. But the sadness that now haunts them is that so many of their combat brothers and sisters (many of them federal employees and subject to workplace drug testing) live burdened with PTSD, while a treatment exists that could ease their suffering.

 

Thursday
Aug152019

YOU DON'T NOMI

Featuring (voice only): Jeffery Conway, Joshua Grannell, April Kidwell, Haley Mlotek, Adam Neyman and David Schmader.
Archive Footage: Elizabeth Berkely (pictured, below), Joe Eszterhaus, Paul Verhoeven, Gina Gershon and Kyle MacLachlan.
Director: Jeffery McHale

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

Artful, incisive documentary analysis into the legacy left by cinematic classics has emerged as genre unto itself in recent years. Rodney Asher deep-dove into the conspiratorial mythology of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining with Room 237 (2012), and Alexandre O. Phillippe took a scalpel to the most famous shower in film history with his Hitchcock autopsy, 78/52 (2017).

That Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls finds itself in the company of such milestone movies may surprise some but, by the end of Jeffery McHale’s You Don’t Nomi, it somehow seems appropriate.

McHale comes at the much-maligned 1995 melodrama from angles both academic and humanistic. He initially contends that understanding the most critically reviled film of Verhoeven’s career can only be fully realised if one studies his run of critically adored works. The very motifs evident in his anti-establishment Dutch classics (Diary of a Hooker, 1971; Turkish Delight, 1973; Katie Tippel, 1975; Soldier of Orange, 1977; Spetters, 1980) and the Hollywood blockbusters that made him so bankable (Robocop, 1987; Total Recall, 1990; Basic Instinct, 1992) – elements like sexualised violence, drama pitched high and richly conjured mise-en-scene - were used against him to condemn Showgirls, his second collaboration with iconoclast scriptwriter Joe Ezsterhaus. (Pictured, below; Berkeley and Verhoeven, on-set)

In a cute stylistic touch, McHale uses scenes from Verhoeven’s own The 4th Man (1983), featuring Jeroen Krabbé, to help explore the director’s modus operandi, in scenes that any self-respecting film buff will adore. The analysis extends to the Dutchman’s post-Showgirls films (Starship Troopers, 1997; Hollow Man, 2000; Black Book, 2006; Elle, 2016), as well as EPK and BTS footage that paints a picture of the director as both a moviemaking genius with a very 'European' love of the human form and a pre-#MeToo eccentric obsessed with the sensational.

Despite some of the most scathing reviews in modern film history (‘Trashdance’ was one of the kinder headlines of the day), Showgirls has slowly resurrected itself as a retro-screening must-see. You Don’t Nomi affords the cult followers a voice to vouch for its worth, most notable in a narrative detour that recounts how an actress recreating the lead role of ‘Nomi Malone’ on stage brought her post-assault PTSD into manageable focus.

Of course, the star of You Don’t Nomi, just as she was the star of Showgirls, is ‘Nomi Malone’ herself, Elizabeth Berkeley. The teen sitcom star whose ego/career/life soared then plummeted in the wake of her casting has become an enigmatic presence in the town that shredded her young life. The actress’ appearances since the film (presented here as archive footage) suggest she is reconciled to her fate as a Hollywood pariah. If Jeffery McHale’s film doesn’t quite realign the reputation of Verhoeven’s misunderstood mega-flop, it certainly paints a picture of a film that is a true auteur’s vision, enlivened by an actress’ devotion and worthy of its audience’s adoration.

Tuesday
Aug132019

REBORN

Stars: Kayleigh Gilbert, Barbara Crampton, Michael Pare, Chaz Bono, Rae Dawn Chong, Alexa Maris, Bob Bancroft and Monte Markham.
Writer: Michael Mahin
Director: Julian Richards

Screening at the Sick Chick Flicks Film Festival, October 12-13, in Cary, North Carolina.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½

Julian Richard’s solidly nasty supernatural thriller might be too easily cast aside as VHS-era throwback piece, given its roster of iconic ‘80s leads and a plot that admittedly would not have been out of place amongst the weekly rentals at any Blockbuster. While it can certainly be enjoyed on those terms, there is more on offer in Michael Mahin’s layered script and Richards’ polished direction.

The opening shot – a dimly lit hospital on a dark, stormy night, circa 2000 - sets the macabre tone. In a basement morgue (a basement with windows apparently, given the flashes of lightning), Kenny the morgue attendant (Chaz Bono) photographs nude, scalped cadavers. A lightning strike on the building jolts back to life a stillborn baby, and Kenny raises her to believe they are siblings.

Leap forward to present-day LA, that baby is now Tess (Kayleigh Gilbert; pictured, top), a teen fed up with a life spent surviving Kenny’s abuse; having recently discovered she possesses electrokinesis and all its homicidal potential, she sets about reconnecting with the mother she never knew she had, at any cost. Said mother is struggling 50-something actress Lena O’Neill (horror royalty, Barbara Crampton), who has borne the psychological scar of choosing not to bear the physical scar of a caesarean birth – a vain decision she believed cost her a newborn.

Thanks to the miracle of speedy B-plot beats (the pic is a just-right 78 minutes), Tess reconnects with Lena, but exists on a short fuse. If anything gets in her way, be it Rae Dawn Chong as Tess’ agent Dory, or Alexa Maris as brash starlet Gia Fontaine, the inevitable is almost always unpleasant. Taking an interest in Tess is LAPD detective Marc Fox (Michael Pare, doing solid work in an all-too-rare co-lead role), exhibiting a nice chemistry with Crampton. (Pictured, below; Barbara Crampton, left, with co-star Rae Dawn Chong)

There are some undeniable influences at work in the strongest moments of Reborn; reanimated by lightning, the existential yearning that drove Frankenstein’s Monster is at the core of Tess’ journey, while teen angst unleashed by instinctive vengeance will seem very familiar to fans of Stephen King’s Carrie (one character’s death is a clear homage to Betty Buckley’s demise in Brian de Palma’s adaptation).

Thematically, however, this is a more complex piece than its genre roots might suggest. As Lena, Crampton does great work exploring the vanity-shredding plight of ageing in Hollywood while also humanising the long-term grief associated with stillbirth. In only her second film, Gilbert plays the bad girl well, instilling in her the sadness and desperation of a lost and lonely little girl in the body of an abused teen.

Julian Richards does ‘meta’ pretty well (see his 2003 cult film, The Last Horror Movie), so the nods to film lore are not unexpected; he even nails a running gag about director Peter Bogdanovich that pays off wonderfully. But he also displays a particularly strong affinity for character-driven storytelling, which elevates Reborn above others of its kind.

Wednesday
Jul172019

SHARKWATER EXTINCTION

With: Rob Stewart, Regi Domingo, Madison Stewart and William Flores.
Writer/Director: Rob Stewart

Screening at 2019 MELBOURNE DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL on Saturday July 20 at 8.45pm.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

In the wake of activist filmmaker Rob Stewart’s 2006 film Sharkwater, affective and discernible change to the global trade in shark fin meat and industrial fishing practices was implemented; it became one of the most high-profile and impactful advocacy documentaries of the decade. That a sequel is even necessary a mere 13 years later is shameful, testament that capitalistic greed can resurrect itself with as much determination to survive as the great predators of the ocean. And given it also chronicles Stewart’s heartbreaking ascent to martyrdom makes Sharkwater Extinction a profound film-going experience.

The Canadian-born filmmaker takes a travelogue approach to exposing the perpetrators of illegal and/or immoral commercial shark culls. His return to Costa Rica exposes the 180° shift in the protection policies implemented a decade ago, revealing that 10,000s of Hammerhead Sharks are slaughtered in the species’ primary breeding grounds every year; in Cape Verde, West Africa, he accesses the industrial freezing vessels containing tonnes of rare Blue Shark carcasses; and, just off the wealthy real estate of Los Angeles’ coastline, he captures the dying breaths of sharks caught in outlawed longnet fishing traps.

Stewart is an understated screen presence, allowing his facts, figures and fearless footage to drill home the brutality of an industry bent on wiping out the very resource that sustains it. With fellow ocean conservation warriors by his side (including Australia’s ‘shark girl’, Madison Stewart, no relation), Stewart comes at the illicit industry from all angles. When not in the water, he is having fast food, pet meat and even cosmetics analysed to reveal shark meat levels; with the aid of the scientific community, he reveals the massive amount of pollutants and toxins that shark meat retains.

While the sequel certainly drills home a similar agenda to Sharkwater, Extinction unfolds in a manner that tonally feels like a traditional ‘ticking clock’ narrative. This perfectly suits the ‘countdown to oblivion’ theme, but also serves to slowly shift the focus of the film to the fate of Stewart himself; by the time the caption ‘The Last Dive’ appears on screen, the audience’s emotional involvement in both the plight of shark and the penultimate moments of their closest land ally are inexorably linked. Extinction opens with Stewart recollecting that first moment when death at sea first confronted him ("The number of times I've almost died, then ended up being okay," he says), and how it imbued in him the "Don't give up" ethos that drove him to fight for right.

Although Rob Stewart is credited as director, Sharkwater Extinction is most definitely not some self-aggrandizing farewell; friends and colleagues who had journeyed with him for much of his crusade completed the film in his absence. The final scenes serve as exactly the passionate call-to-action that the man himself was so skilful at crafting. Footage of him being at one with the creatures and seascapes he lived and fought for are as a profoundly inspiring as anything he had ever shot for the cause of shark conservation. They capture and honour a spirit that will live on in others.

Sunday
Jul072019

THE CAT RESCUERS

With: Latonya ‘Sassee’ Walker, Claire Corey, Stuart Siet and Tara Green.
Directors: Rob Fruchtman and Steven Lawrence.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

There is a bitter irony at work in The Cat Rescuers that makes it more than just a ‘cat person’s perfect night-in movie. This profile of four New Yorkers who give their time, money and emotion to caring for a small fraction of the street cats of The Big Apple is certainly for animal lovers of every kind, but it also highlights a world in which people who feel a compassionate bond for and behave with empathy and dedication towards another species are the exception. And that’s a bit sad.

Over 500,000 strays live wild in NYC, most unsterilized, resulting in litter after litter of kittens that exponentially add to the problem, if they survive at all. Building sites, backyards, alleyways and sewers become their domain, predominantly abandoned pets left by owners whose situations have changed. The Cat Rescuers does not sugar coat the life of the big city feral, with scenes depicting the bloody aftermath of tomcat territoriality and the baby-making destiny of female felines.

The Cat Rescuers themselves offer a diverse cross-section of New York types. Single-mum Latonya ‘Sassee’ Walker is well-known in her suburb for her boisterous and beautiful personality, which plays well with the cats she rescues and cares for; Claire Corey is a married thirty-something, investing effort and emotion to save and rehouse her charges; Stuart Siet is a middle-aged FDNY techie, whose cat-rescuing duties start at 3am; and, Tara Green is a single woman for whom cat rescue has helped reconcile and refocus a troubled past.

Precisely balancing their narrative between a spayed-and-neutered advocacy agenda and a portrait of unique human beings, directors Rob Fruchtman and Steven Lawrence are afforded all-access status into the lives of their real-world protagonists. Their film frontloads scenes one expects from a documentary called The Cat Rescuers, yet a slow-burn shift in focus reveals the rescued become the rescuers in a very profound way.

The Cat Rescuers is verite documentary making in its purest and most effectively engaging form. The hope is that the film may inspire action and change; local governments need to budget for and enforce neutering campaigns, while volunteer groups and organisations like Animal Care Centres of NYC must be allocated increased funding. 

As much as it is a cat’s tale, The Cat Rescuers is also a moving study in good humanity (see also Jesse Alk’s canine counterpoint doco, Pariah Dog); a heartfelt ode to those who share the world with respect and love for all creatures, great and small.

Learn more about the efforts of The Cat Rescuers at the film's official website.

NEVER BUY A PET. Adopt from one of the following organisations in your country: R.S.P.C.A. Australia; R.S.P.C.A. United Kingdom; A.S.P.C.A. United States; S.P.C.A. New Zealand; Tierheim Germany; Société Protectrice Animaux France; Italy Animal Rescue; Adopt A Pet, South Africa.

Sunday
Jun092019

GHOST LIGHT

Stars: Cary Elwes, Shannyn Sossamon, Danielle Campbell, Carol Kane, Roger Bart, Tom Riley, Scott Adsit, Caroline Portu and Steve Tom.
Writers: John Stimpson and Geoffery Taylor.
Director: John Stimpson

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½

The curse of The Scottish Play gets a big screen treatment that one senses William Shakespeare's 16th century fans would have appreciated in the enjoyably dark-hearted romp, Ghost Light. In equal measure a love letter to The Bard, a satirical skewering of theatrical tropes and a cracking Twilight Zone episode, director John Stimpson and co-writer Geoffery Taylor display a clear affection for the stock troupe dynamics of their ensemble cast, but it is when the madness takes hold and the daggers appear that something delightfully wicked this way comes.

Fitting his entire troupe on a bus bound for a barnyard theatre in Massachusetts, increasing jaded director Henry (the wonderful Roger Bart) finds himself more often a caretaker of egos and eccentricities, having overseen his cast and meagre crew for 50 semi-pro stagings of Macbeth. With AD Archie (Scott Adsit) by his side, Henry must contend with the over-emoting tendencies of leading man Alex (Cary Elwes); the increasingly bitter ambitions of snooty Brit import Thomas (Tom Riley); and, Alex’s wife, Thomas’ lover and the production’s Lady Macbeth, Liz (Shannyn Sossamon).

When Thomas defies the legendary superstition of live theatre and brazenly yells the play’s name on stage in a petulant fit, mishaps and mischief begin to befall the production. Some are delightfully daffy; a blow to Alex’s forehead somehow restores his talent (Elwes renders a masterful version of the “Is this a dagger…” monologue), ensuring Thomas’ transition to leading man won’t happen on this staging. Others, infinitely more sinister; Thomas begins seeing apparitions in his quarters, while Liz, true to her stage character, can’t cleanse her hands of her husband’s blood.

While the framework for his narrative is pure Bard, Stimpson enjoys taking aim at such live theatre clichés as stock company pretension, bedroom farce romps, ‘manor house’ mysteries and, of course, good ol’ fashioned ghost stories. A support cast that includes established pros Carol Kane and Steve Tom and relative newbies Caroline Portu and Danielle Campbell play their parts to perfection, injecting what may have been one-note side players with heart and humour.

As Ghost Light careens with an understated glee to its full embrace of The Curse’s supernatural elements, the balancing act that Stimpson achieves with his sure directorial hand becomes more evident. Finding plenteous joys in Shakespeare’s most bloody of tragedies while respecting the source material is no small feat; those that look upon this picture will reflect without regret, ‘What’s done, is done.’

Wednesday
Jun052019

PALM BEACH

Stars: Bryan Brown, Greta Scacchi, Sam Neill, Jacqueline McKenzie, Richard E. Grant, Heather Mitchell, Matilda Brown, Aaron Jeffery, Claire van der Boom and Charlie Vickers.
Writers: Joanna Murray Smith and Rachel Ward.
Director: Rachel Ward

Reviewed at the OPENING NIGHT of the 2019 Sydney Film Festival, held at the State Theatre, Sydney on June 5.

Rating: ★ ★ ½

An amiable meander across the surface of middle-age melancholy, director Rachel Ward leaves little stylistic or narrative footprint on her second feature, Palm Beach. Largely turning her film over to production designer Melinda Doring and art director Sophie Nash, Ward’s boomer friendship fantasy is light on real world issues and heavy on champers, sunshine and how life’s little hiccups can take the sheen off wealthy privilege. Unlike the vast blue expanse off the titular shoreline, this is pretty shallow stuff.

Set amongst the bushy, seaside millionaire’s row at the far end of Sydney’s northern beaches, the thematic thrust of Palm Beach addresses that mature life moment when that which fulfils you, however shallow, comes under threat. For birthday boy Frank (Bryan Brown), it might be his aimless son Dan (Charlie Vickers), who may be the by-product of a fling between Frank’s wife Charlotte (Greta Scacchi) and friend Leo (Sam Neill); for snotty cad Billy (Richard E Grant), it is his ad industry status and the aging glamour of his actress wife Eva (Heather Mitchell), herself struggling with career transition; and, for Leo’s noble wife Bridget (cast standout Jacqueline McKenzie, terribly underused), it is the life and love she has for husband and family.

Most of the first act is spent establishing the raffish bond the men share, the by-product of their days as mid-70s one-hit wonders The Pacific Sideburns (!) Having gathered at Frank’s sun-dappled mansion, they drink and sing and eat, just as Lawrence Kasdan’s ensemble did but with far greater resonance in 1983s The Big Chill (clearly the template for Ward and co-scripter, Joanna Murray-Smith). Until the is-he-isn’t-he DNA conflict kicks in, there is little dramatic thrust, scene after scene merely coasting on the charismatic presence of a cast that works hard to make their decades’ long friendship at all believable.

The narrative moves from a boozy lunch, to a fancy dinner, to a pretty picnic, with little of convincing emotional heft at stake. Laughs come cheap, including such uninspiring set-ups as a farting yoga moment, a drunk-in-a-treehouse sequence and a stiffie joke (in service of a stiffie subplot). Some rote hospital scenes allow for Brown and Scacchi to capital-E emote; the ‘genetic origins’ drama resolves in an entirely perfunctory manner (admittedly, earning one of the film's few big legitimate laughs), reinforcing it was a meagre plot device to start with.

Young support players, including the director’s daughter Matilda Brown as Frank and Charlotte’s eldest child and Claire van der Boom and Aaron Jeffery as hot-&-cold lovers, are ok; Jeffery’s Esky-carrying, beer-drinking, squared-jaw sheep farmer is so morally upstanding his working-class hero is essentially the film’s ‘noble savage’ archetype. The top-heavy cast list means many of the actors are little more than background movement for long passages (particularly Grant, who seems to disappear entirely at key moments). Australia’s diverse multicultural society gets a tokenistic look-in when an Asian doctor and a cabbie of indeterminate European origin pop up for line readings.

In her feature directorial debut Beautiful Kate (getting a retro run at this year’s Sydney Film Festival), Rachel Ward weaved a solid dramatic thriller out of a ‘secrets of the past encroaching on the present’ premise; the inherent darkness of spirit and core existential struggle present in the 2009 film seemed to energise her storytelling. No similar elements exist in Palm Beach; it merely reinforces the perception held by much of rest of The Harbour City’s population that the suburb is an elite social enclave. If it does reflect anything truthful about modern Sydney society, it is that just because you’re pretty, it doesn’t mean you’re interesting.

Tuesday
Jun042019

63 UP

With: Andrew Brackfield, Peter Davies, Neil Hughes, Bruce Balden, Nicholas Hitchon, Tony Walker, Suzanne Dewey, Symon Basterfield, Jacqueline Bassett, John Brisby, Susan Sullivan and Paul Kligerman; featuring Charles Furneaux and Lynn Johnson.
Director: Michael Apted

WARNING: MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

From director Paul Almond’s 1964 launch episode to the subsequent installments helmed by Michael Apted, the Seven Up series, the slice-of-British-life documentaries that have explored the U.K. class system via the proverb, “Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man,” has captured the hearts of generations of viewers. In the ninth installment 63 Up, the social experiment faces its own end goal; were the children introduced 56 years ago tiny blueprints of the men and women now before Apted’s camera in 2019? (Pictured, above; Nicholas Hitchon)

When Apted poses that question to the participants (as he has done repeatedly since his series hit mature age status in 1998, with 42 Up), their general response is, “Yes, mostly.” In Episode 1, lifetime cabbie Tony Walker is unmistakably the lad he was six decades ago, referring to himself as, “the same cheeky chappy”; upper-middle classman Andrew Brackfield (pictured, below) is every inch the successful, if slightly stressed, business executive he envisioned for himself (by his own reckoning, he has lived a, “happy, fulfilling life”); and, Sue Sullivan, despite a troubled romantic history (a typically common trait amongst the adult Uppers), maintains the confident glow of the vibrant little one she was at 7.

Episode 2 presents a more nuanced, slightly sadder appraisal of the aging process. A particularly understated Bruce Baldon has retired from teaching, falling short of attaining an executive position in the profession, and finds himself facing old age fighting weight gain and the dissolution of the family unit as his sons prepare to leave the nest; and, Jacqueline Bassett, who takes on Apted over questions asked in past episodes that reflect the casual misogyny of 70s/80s society, reveals the sadness that has shaped her later life.

In the third episode of 63 Up, the bond between boarding school housemates Paul Kligerman and Symon Basterfield is explored, the pair reuniting in Kligerman’s adopted home of Australia; John Brigsby, perhaps the most toffee of the 7 Up children, but who, in adulthood, has delivered on his promise to use wealth and status to help the less privileged; and, saving the most compelling portrait of his series until its conclusion, Apted revisits Neil Hughes, the bright-eyed moppet who has morphed into, at different intervals, a drifter, a Liberal Democrat politician and a lay priest, all while battling mental health torment.

Age withers us all, and so Apted and his audience must face the tragedy of mortality. Two of the series most popular ‘stars’ are confronted with their final days; one ponders on a life that will soon be left behind, while another is remembered by surviving family and archive footage. For those of us who have grown up alongside these personalities, these are heartbreaking moments that speak to the strength of first-person documentary storytelling. The scenes drive home the extraordinarily unique impact that Almond’s and Apted’s perfectly ordinary subjects have had upon those that have shared in this journey.

It is in the views of the participants that the effectiveness of the Seven Up series as social commentary emerges. Baldon cites the brutality of boarding school beatings as key to perpetuating repressed emotion, an accepted symbol of his middle-class life; Dewey, a working-class East-ender, still believes “You are what you are born into,” her friend Jackie says, “I’ve never changed.” The plummy comforts of life in society’s upper tier seemed pre-ordained for Andrew and John (you’ll recall their discussion, aged 7, about which newspapers they favoured), but they are humble with respect to their wealth and family stability.

63 Up captures the universal essence of mature-age happiness – pride and faith in one’s children, a levelheaded perspective on life’s highs and lows, firm but softening views on the society one has helped to shape (just as Margaret Thatcher’s divisive social policies in the 1980s were addressed in past installments, so is Brexit in sufficient measure). Yet it soars as that most rare of cinematic works – a project that exist long enough to both consider and continue to shape its own legacy.

Before the cameras, Apted’s cross-section of British lives has delivered on the promise of its premise; the men and women glimpsed in the boys and girls all those years have emerged as remarkably good people, irrespective of class. Behind the cameras, Apted has exhibited the same degree of intellectual growth and determination to capture life with truth and integrity. If 63 Up is the last chapter of the Seven Up series (as has been rumoured), it will finalise a monumentally personal, profoundly important work deserving of timeless reverence.

63 UP will screen on ITV in The United Kingdom from June 4. The series will have its Australian Premiere on SBS from June 10. Please checkguides for your local screening times.

     

Wednesday
May292019

GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS

Stars: Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Ken Watanabe, Ziyi Zhang, Bradley Whitford, Charles Dance, Sally Hawkins, Aisha Hinds, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Thomas Middleditch, Anthony Ramos, CCH Pounder, Joe Morton and David Straithairn.
Writers: Michael Dougherty and Zach Shields.
Director: Michael Dougherty.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½

In 2014, director Gareth Edwards endeavoured to take schlockbuster icon Godzilla down the same credibility path that Marvel guided their goofy comic-book properties; the resulting film was beautiful and earnest and a bit dull. Five years later, new-kid-on-the-studio-tentpole-block Michael Dougherty punches up the action (and the decibels) while dumbing down the dialogue in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. If the look of the big lizard and his fellow fantasy titans owes much to Edwards’ eye, the script harkens back to Roland Emmerich’s ear, it being attached to the writer/director of Sony's much-maligned 1998 incarnation.

The sequel picks up four years after the destruction of San Francisco by Godzilla’s wrath. The government agency Monarch is getting drilled by the U.S. Senate for not having found and offered up the head of the big lizard for the damage it had done. What the Senate committee members don’t know is that the Monarch team are not only tracking Godzilla, but have several other ‘titans’ in lockdown at key sites around the world. Scientist Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) lords over one such site, in China; she lost her son in the 2014 San Fran attacks, her husband Mark (Kyle Chandler) to booze in the wake of their tragedy, and clings to strong-willed teen daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown).

Emma is overseer of an audio-pulse generator called The Orca, which streams a frequency that controls her titan, the larval stage behemoth that will ultimately take flight as Mothra. Just as it begins to stir, a mercenary outfit led by the ruthless Jonah Alan (Charles Dance) storms her outpost, stealing Orca, Mothra, Emma and Maddy. With a surly Mark now back on board, the Monarch team – stern lead scientist Dr Serizawa (Ken Watanabe); offsider Dr. Chen (Ziyi Zhang); wisecracker Dr Stanton (Bradley Whitford); and, nerdy bureaucrat Coleman (Thomas Middleditch) – need to retrieve The Orca and save mankind from Emma, who has gone full-Thanos with a plan to wipe the planet of the virus that is mankind and restore the human/titan balance.

The whip-smart mind behind cult items Trick ’r Treat (2007) and Krampus (2015), Dougherty works hard to give all these cast members something to do and say. He has them address each other in a combination of mostly single-line observations or exclamations that largely serve to move the plot from one kaiju-related predicament to the next. There is no character depth or dimension – so cornball is some of the dialogue it recalls the Irwin Allen disaster epics of the 1970s – but it does ensure the real stars of the film are not offscreen for too long.

Most dominant amongst the mythological beasties is the three-headed King Ghidorah, a dragon-like lightning-breather who has it in for our leading man-monster from the get-go; barely freed from his icy tomb, Ghidorah battles it out with Godzilla in one of the loudest and most visually stunning/confusing action sequences in recent memory. We are soon introduced to Rodan, a pterodactyl/hawk crossover-creature who lays waste to a Mexican town when it emerges from its dormant volcano tomb, and the ethereal shimmering wingspan and deadly spikes of the aforementioned Mothra. Each has their own moment in the spotlight, with their human co-stars largely reduced to looking upwards and dodging debris; perhaps best served is Stranger Things’ breakout star Brown (pictured, above), who earns her ‘real world emoting’ badge when given the screen time to do so.

Of course, it’s all about the beast that is Godzilla in any Godzilla movie, and Dougherty and his effects team have conjured a titan who balances a screen persona that is equal part ‘rampant destroyer of cities’, ‘noble ally of the righteous’ and ‘scaly, snarling action hero’. If you’re paying for a ticket to a Godzilla movie, what needs to work most of all is your anti-hero’s rock ‘em/sock ‘em presence, and King of the Monsters gets that right. If Edwards’ big lizard was a bit too precious with the property, and Emmerich’s a bit too flippant, Dougherty respects both the B-movie beats of the big guy’s film history as well as the environmental subtext that Godzilla has always represented.