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 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 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 Coming-of-Age 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 Foreign found footage French Cinema Friendship Fusion Technology Gareth Edwards Gay Cinema Ghostbusters Ghosts 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 Hasbro Haunted house Hhorror Himalaya Hitchcock Hollywood

Entries in True Story (8)

Wednesday
Jul042018

ABDUCTED IN PLAIN SIGHT

Featuring: Jan Broberg, Mary Ann Broberg, Bob Broberg, Pete Welsh, Karen Campbell, Joe Berchtold, Susan Broberg, Cor Hoffman, Sinclair DuMont and Devin Ordoyne.
Director: Skye Borgman

Screening at the 2018 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival on July 12.

Rating: 4.5/5

As profoundly insightful as any bigscreen rendering of the psychology and methodology of the sociopathic paedophile, Abducted in Plain Sight sits alongside current standard-bearers Evil Genius, The Keepers and How to Make a Murderer in that top tier of contemporary true-crime factual films. Stripping her narrative back to bare facts and raw emotions, director Skye Borgman has crafted a gripping work of intrigue, horror and sadness that fully reveals one of America’s most extraordinary abduction and abuse cases.

Robert Berchtold was a husband and father when he and his family moved into the middle-class Idaho suburb of Pocatello in the early 1970s. An attractive, charming man, he immediately ingratiated himself with his new neighbours, good churchgoin' folk The Brobergs; shopkeeper dad Bob, housewife Mary Ann, and their three daughters Susan, Karen and the eldest, Jan. Affectionately called ‘B’ by his newly acquired prey, Robert Berchtold set in motion a meticulously planned, cold-blooded series of events that would compromise Bob and Mary Ann and, more insidiously, allow him to kidnap, psychologically manipulate and sexually abuse Jan.

Afforded an extraordinary level of intimacy by her on-camera subjects, Borgman paints a non-judgemental portrait of a family shrouded in the false warmth of their LDS faith and naïve to the manipulative skill of Berchtold. The parent’s own actions and the subsequent handling of their daughter’s ordeal is, frankly, beyond comprehension, yet in recounting one tragic mistake after another, Mary Ann and Bob Broberg emerge more as collateral victims of Berchtold’s predatory prowess. His psychopathology was of a medieval bluntness and cunning, at a time when suburban America was in the early soporific stages of a new comfortable, modern existence.

Steadfastly central to her own story is adult survivor Jan Broberg, who recounts with bracing frankness the psychological and subsequent sexual abuse inflicted by ‘B’ upon her between the ages of 12 and 15. Sisters Susan and Karen are given camera time to recall the shifting dynamic of the family from their own young perspectives, and Bob and Mary Ann are as open as any documentary subjects can be, but it is Jan’s spirit that soars above the putrid evil inherent to any retelling of Berchtold’s actions. Scenes in which she confronts an aging Berchtold in court exemplify her towering strength in understanding and defying the legacy of his actions.

Convincingly played by Devin Ordoyne in flashback sequences (each expertly shot on Super 8 film by Borgman to capture period mood and detail), Berchtold proves a compelling, utterly chilling figure. Borne of a twisted psyche traced back to his own childhood, he is afforded a few frames of expository backstory by Borgman, but not so much that his vile actions are lessened by why he is what he is and does what he does. The film utilises his brother Joe to provide insight into their family’s dark past; although central to the events, Berchtold’s wife and children are not featured. Former FBI agent Pete Welsh recounts the investigation and frustrated legal process that allowed Berchtold to manipulate the law and justice as efficiently as he did everyone and everything else that he targeted.

Wednesday
Jun272018

ADRIFT

Stars: Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin, Grace Palmer, Jeffrey Thomas, Elizabeth Hawthorne, Tami Ashcroft, Kael Damiamian.
Screenplay: Aaron Kandell, Jordan Kandell and David Branson Smith.
Director: Baltasar Kormákur.

Rating: 4/5

When free-spirited 24 year-old Tami Oldham met 33 year-old ocean-faring adventurer Richard Sharp in 1983, the attraction was instant and the bond profound. In Baltasar Kormákur’s Adrift, the cinematic retelling of the pair’s ill-fated open-ocean undertaking from Tahiti to San Diego, leads Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin must convince not only as seasoned sailors capable of the 4000 nautical mile journey, but also doe-eyed, die-hard romantics in the thrall of each others company.

In adapting Oldham’s autobiography Red Sky in Mourning: A True Story of Love, Loss and Survival at Sea, scripters Aaron and Jordan Kandell and David Branson Smith have structured a narrative that serves two masters. Firstly, the blossoming romance of two spiritually compatible young people sharing a destiny; secondly, the tragic trajectory dictated by the facts of the story. The result is a rarity in modern cinema terms; an un-ironic, openhearted romance that doubles as a psychological study in survival trauma. Every bruise earned and every tear shed over the course of the pair’s ordeal feels entirely authentic.   

Having previously explored man’s helplessness in the face of an unforgiving Mother Nature in Everest (2015) and The Deep (2012), Kormákur understands the intricacies of ‘survivalist cinema’. He convincingly conveys the gruesome physical impact a life-threatening event can have, but he also comprehends the essential human qualities that his protagonist must exhibit to ensure their plight engages the audience. Structurally, he utilizes a fractured, Nolan-esque storytelling style that jars at first, but which corals both plot strands into a quietly devastating reveal (at least, for those who haven’t read the book).

As Tami, Shailene Woodley delivers on the dramatic promise of her teen roles (The Descendants, 2011; The Spectacular Now, 2013; The Fault in Our Stars, 2014; the Divergent trilogy) with a performance of strong, sensual physicality, inspiring fortitude and complex emotionality. This role serves a specific functionality for the actress at a key juncture in her career; just as Sally Field did with Norma Rae (1979), or Julia Roberts did with Sleeping With The Enemy and Dying Young (both 1991), or Sandra Bullock did with A Time to Kill (1996), its timing is not accidental. Woodley challenges herself, her fan base and her perception in Hollywood with a role that demands a maturity, technique and natural charisma that she delivers with Oscar-worthy command.

Claflin is handed the less showy of the two performances (he spends most of the movie prone and battered), but creates a likable, charming all-round believably sweet foil for Woodley to fawn over.   

Importantly, Adrift achieves a seamless, entirely believable tropical storm simulation; ‘that’ moment, when the yacht is tossed and Tami and Richard are left at the mercy of the cyclonic conditions, is one of the most convincingly staged of its kind in film history.

Thursday
Jun072018

SGT. STUBBY: AN AMERICAN HERO

Featuring the voices of: Logan Lerman, Helena Bonham Carter, Gerard Depardieu, Nick Rulon, Jordan Beck, Brian Cook, Jim Pharr and Jason Ezzell.
Writers: Richard Lanni and Mike Stokey.
Director: Richard Lanni

Rating: 3.5/5

He was one of the finest American heroes of The War to End all Wars; a unwaveringly stoic soldier who served beside his countrymen, the troops of the 102nd Infantry Regiment, in the trenches of France against a determined German army. He saw 17 close-quarters combat situations, usually by the side of his best friend, Private Robert Conroy. Upon his return to the U.S., he was lauded as a national hero, met with The Commander in Chief and was rewarded for his bravery by being bestowed the rank of Sargeant, the first four-legged officer in American military history.

Yes, four-legged. This soldier was a Boston terrier, with a short stubby tail, an appendage that earned him the name ‘Stubby’. To coincide with the 100th anniversary of his nation’s entry into the European theatre of WWI, the spirited all-American mutt has been reborn as a bigscreen hero in director Richard Lanni’s computer-animated version of his dog’s life.

It is fair to say that Lanni’s film is one of the more unusual cartoon features in recent years. A co-production between Ireland, The U.K., France, Canada and The U.S.A., it lovingly renders the period, capturing with an artist’s eye Stubby’s early life in the picturesque Connecticut countryside, his voyage to Europe and, with a particularly evocative sense of location, the trenches of the Western Front. A more stark design palette, recalling classic war film imagery, is employed to convey troop movements and geographical data; in one instance, the menacing shadow of a German ‘bird of war’ descends upon the European front. (Ed: This is a kids film, right?)  

The director is an accomplished war documentarian and for his first animated feature he has drawn as much upon the realism of his factual films as he does the Disney/Pixar model. Parents won’t be expecting to field questions like, “What’s mustard gas, mommy?”, but Lanni’s storytelling doesn’t skimp on the realities of Stubby’s frontline tour. Like all good, similarly straightforward war yarns, there are rifles firing, grenades hitting their marks and shadowy figures lurking in smoky killing fields.

Yet in scene after scene is this buoyant, lovable lead character straight out of a Dreamworks-style romp. Stubby’s considerable screen presence and emotional centre comes entirely from his physicality; Lanni foregoes any vocal anthropomorphising, instead providing for his star the best animation his computer artists can offer to create dimensionality. Stubby is every bit the great animated hero, utterly lovable in the eyes of the tykes while also legitimately heroic for the war movie fans. And like many American G.I.’s on duty in Europe, he enjoys some R&R in Paris, a sequence that is as lovely as it sounds.

The human characters are not afforded the same level of artistry; Conroy is blandly drawn, Logan Lerman’s voicing thankfully providing character nuance. Gerard Depardieu does good work as burly French fighter Gaston Baptiste, staying on the right side of stereotype; in voice over, Helena Bonham Carter plays Conroy’s sister, whose recounting of her brother’s friendship with Stubby the basis for the film.

Sgt Stubby’s life was well documented (upon his passing, the New York Times ran a half-page obituary), so there is very little leeway for embellishment in telling his story. Which makes Richard Lanni’s family-themed wartime shaggy dog adventure all the more remarkable, both as a rousing account of one of the most unlikely heroes in combat history and, frankly, as a film that exists at all.

  

Friday
Mar232018

I CAN ONLY IMAGINE

Stars: J. Michael Finley, Madeline Carroll, Trace Adkins, Priscilla Shirer, Cloris Leachman, Nicole DuPort and Dennis Quaid.
Writers: Jon Erwin, Brent McCorkle
Directors: Jon and Andrew Erwin

Rating: 3/5

I Can Only Imagine is the celebration of the creation of a song that celebrates The Creator. The backstory to how the debut single of faith-pop outfit Mercy Me became the biggest selling Christian chart topper in music history spins the same homespun country-music values and heartland religious earnestness as the anthemic ballad; in that regard, it preaches to the masses of wildly enthusiastic disciples, who cite the song’s soaring lyrics as spiritually enriching and life affirming.

Of its kind, I Can Only Imagine is a step-above recent faith-based films, partly due to slicker production values but also through the addition of some serious acting credibility in the form of Dennis Quaid. Opposite J Michael Finley, making his film debut as singer/songwriter Bart Millard, Quaid does some heavy lifting to give their scenes together the required depth. As Millard’s troubled father, the ageing heartthrob actor gets to run the gamut from abusive monster to bastion of Divine-led recovery, giving a performance that allows for glowering and yelling and door-slamming, before some A-talent tear-duct thesping. As has been the case for much of Quaid’s career, the charismatic star is immeasurably better than much of the material.

Leading man Finley is a prince in the world of musical theatre, having wowed in the Broadway productions of Les Miserables and Sweeney Todd but, tonal command aside, the actor feels frustratingly miscast as good ol’ boy Millard. Picture the high-low vocal register of a young Mandy Patinkin emanating from a flannel-clad dustbowl-bred Patton Oswalt, and you get some idea of the jarring aural and visual mismatch that the casting presents. The decision to also have the actor portray the character as far back as his high school years backfires badly (one support player yells at Millard to shave the beard, truthfully observing, “You look 35!”)

Directed assuredly by brothers Jon and Andrew Erwin, Millard’s resolutely vanilla-tinged journey from little-boy-with-dreams to anonymous-band-frontman to recording-industry-superstar is bathed in the warm glow of His guiding influence and touch of His loving hand (quite often literally, when moments of reflection or inspiration are shot in beams of descending light). The audience needs no reminding (but is afforded it nonetheless) that God constantly oversees Millard’s journey, whether in the form long-suffering Christian soul mate Shannon, played by grown-up child-star Madeline Carroll (Santa Clause 3; Swing Vote; Mr Popper’s Penguins), the world’s sweetest and most tolerant band manager Brickell (a fine Trace Adkins) or the Mercy Me band members, who seem pretty chill while waiting out Millard’s occasional petulance and tightly-focussed ambition.

It is all pure hagiography, as one must expect from a musical biopic overseen by the very musicians it depicts; co-scripted by Jon Erwin and Brent McCorkle, the narrative rarely lets the actual chronology of events get in the way of bolstering its own mythology. That said, I Can Only Imagine certainly captures the exaltation shared by the song’s legion of followers, and knowing one’s audience is always a blessing. The casting of remarkable lookalike Nicole Du Port as faith-based C&W angel Amy Grant reaffirms the productions’ understanding of and appreciation for Mercy Me’s fanbase.

Though it will never be championed as an insightful work of either religious art or patriarchal psychology, I Can Only Imagine does manage to be a good film about a great song. As expected from frame 1, Finley/Millard navigates a fully humanising redemptive round-trip by the end of Act 3, perfectly timed for the rousing cinematic treatment that the song thoroughly deserves (which was, I must confess, the first time I had heard it).

Thursday
Feb082018

THE 15:17 TO PARIS

Cast: Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, Judy Greer, Jenna Fischer, William Jennings, Bryce Gheisar, Paul-Mikel Williams, Thomas Lennon, P.J. Byrne and Tony Hale.
Writer: Dorothy Blyskal, based on the book by Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone and Jeffrey E. Stern.
Director: Clint Eastwood

Rating: 2/5

An instinctual act of remarkable heroism is afforded the least remarkable effort of director Clint Eastwood’s long career in The 15:17 to Paris. The overpowering of a heavily armed would-be killer on a European train by three square-of-jaw, broad-of-shoulder all-American types should have been bread-and-butter to the director of American Sniper and Sully, but Eastwood can’t overcome the inherent problem that everyday Joes like split-second heroes Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler don’t necessarily have cinematic back-stories.

The production employs some good ol’ Hollywood stunt casting, having the three adult bros play themselves (the event aboard the Amsterdam-to-Paris Nord Thalys train took place in 2015, so their maturing posed no problem). The main focus of the narrative is the slightly more reflective Stone, the one who led the charge against would-be mass murderer Ayoub El-Khazzani, before Skarlatos and Sadler leapt in and beat the gunman into unconscious submission. None of the three have a natural screen presence and struggle awkwardly with first-time scriptwriter Dorothy Blyskal’s clunky dialogue; one senses a few scenes were improvised, which means a lots of “Dude, this is awesome!” and “Man, this is crazy!” dialogue.

Eastwood introduces Stone and Skarlatos as buddies growing up in Midwest homes steeped in Christian values, sharing an obsession with war and gunplay. Such a boys-own fixation isn’t so unusual, even when it extends to wearing matching camouflage duds to school. What is unusual is the poster for Full Metal Jacket on Stone’s wall; any dark irony that a pre-teen kid should heroically idolize Stanley Kubrick’s military horror show is lost on Eastwood. In what amounts to a directorial mission statement, some woodland war games conclude with young Stone overstating, “There’s something about war that forms a brotherhood.” Like never before, Eastwood feels justified in wearing his capital-R right wing ‘God, Gun and Country’ director’s cap to tell this story (which probably explains the muted, mid-February release here in Australia).

Skarlatos (who looks like a puffed-up version of Eastwood’s son, Scott, minus the on-screen charisma) and Stone enter into middling military careers. Stone’s trajectory amounts to one get fit montage, some hand-to-hand combat training and inevitable run-ins with his superiors. Sadler disappears off to college until some downtime brings them all back together for the fateful backpacking adventure in Europe, portrayed as a travelogue-style continental romp that takes up all the second act of The 15:17 to Paris. Scenes of the lads checking out scenery in Rome, drinking beer in Venice and nightclubbing in Amsterdam amount to nothing more than that; in one extended sequence, we watch Stone, Sadler and a girl they befriend discuss, decide upon and buy gelato.

The only interesting moment of this mid-section occurs when a nerdy, bespectacled tour guide chastises the group when they try correct him on the site and circumstance of Hitler’s death; when the guide barks, “You Americans are not the only ones who are able to overcome evil,” Stone and Sadler smirk and shrug off the observation with what plays worryingly like snide American arrogance. 

In an otherwise mirthless film, there is some humour in the casting of the support players, with a line-up of familiar funny faces that resembles less a Clint Eastwood ensemble and more a network TV comedy roster. Tony Hale (Veep) and Thomas Lennon (Reno 911) play uppity educators, with Jenna Fischer (The Office) and Judy Greer as the boy’s moms (the perennial bff is asked to pull off perhaps the new years’ worst line of dialogue, “My Lord is bigger than your statistics”). The actresses do all they can with stock parts in a film that affords no actress any worthwhile moments; Eastwood ‘s camera leers at the bodies of Italian and Dutch backpackers and partygoers with the eye of a dirty old-man cut loose in a Euro-disco.

The staging of the takedown aboard the train is, as expected, riveting, thrilling and terrifying. The film’s one-note thematic structure suggests that the boy’s stop-start journeys into manhood, bolstered by Christian values, will find worthiness in a single act of selfless courage. In that regard, Clint Eastwood’s The 15:17 to Paris gets its retelling of boring, meandering lives leading to one impactful, fleeting moment exactly right. For 95 minutes, it’s a plodding, directionless grind that sparks into meaning for about 180 extraordinary seconds.

 

Wednesday
Dec062017

D-LOVE

Stars: Elena Beuca, Dave Rogers, Ditlev Darmakaya, Billy Howerdel, Christine Scott Bennett, Jessica Boss and Christine Fazzino.
Writer: Dave Rogers
Director: Elena Beuca

Rating: 4/5

Elena Beuca (pictured, above) and her husband Dave Rogers were at the lowest ebb of their married life when Ditlev Darmakaya, a stranger they met at the airport, energised their world by imparting a rare understanding of spiritual connectivity. So potent was the sense of calm and acceptance of destiny provided by Ditlev, Rogers wrote a screenplay to tell the world of the experience. In the compassionate, steady hands of debutant director Beuca, D-love (the nickname Rogers gave their new friend/spirit guide) proves precisely the tonic these toxic times need.

Small in narrative scope but vast in its universal themes of grief and disconnection from one’s self, this account of the couple’s true story proves remarkable and deeply moving. Rogers had just lost both parents in a short period of time, sending him into an alcohol-numbed depression that kept him homebound and jobless; Beuca was grieving the recent death of her brother (their life glimpsed in beautifully shot flashback sequences), while trying to reconcile their inability to have children. In cinematic terms, such backstories can seem leaden with clichés, but the couple play the plot beats with the authenticity and dignity of those who have lived and left behind such hurdles.

Rounding out the extraordinary behind-the-scenes detail of the film is the casting of the ‘Danish vagabond’ himself in the role of D-love. Though his acting range will never see him be confused with Daniel Day Lewis, Darmakaya conveys precisely the sweetness and life-affirming warmth that won over first Rogers, then Beuca (both engaging playing versions of themselves). Though it seems entirely unlikely that one’s salvation from pain and leader to life fulfilment will emerge from the crazies found in most airport terminals, it proves entirely believable that the physically striking Darmakaya could have such an impact on the struggling couple (pictured, below; Rogers, left, and Darmakaya in D-love).

D-love recalls a brief period from the 1990s when a new-agey spiritualism entered mainstream American cinema. Films that had audiences staring inwards included Bruce Joel Rubin’s My Life (1993), starring Michael Keaton as the terminal patient seeking truth in his final moments, and Lawrence Kasdan’s ensemble drama Grand Canyon (1991), in which middle-class suburbanites sought greater meaning in their existence. D-Love sits alongside such works, perhaps taking on greater importance given the current embrace of close-minded intolerance, as opposed to that pre-new millennium sense of hope and change for the better.   

Elena Beuca’s drama occasionally overplays its sweet-natured hand – Michael Monks’ heart-of-gold mechanic, whose soothing words comfort Elena after a fender-bender, is a bit too much; in one scene, Darmakaya (bound for Burning Man, no less) actually stops to smell the roses. Overall, however, these are minor digressions in an otherwise wonderful drama that benefits immeasurably if you beat down any inclination towards cynicism. D-Love is an irresistible addition to that under-serviced film genre that embraces a non-religious philosophy of love and acceptance; few films can boast timeliness so profound.

 

Thursday
Sep102015

EVEREST

Stars: Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Martin Henderson, John Hawkes, Emily Watson, Keira Knightley, Michael Kelly, Robin Wright, Elizabeth Debecki and Sam Worthington.
Writers: William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy.
Director: Baltasar Kormákur.

Rating: 4/5


Talent both above- and below-the-line nary put a foot wrong scaling Everest, a thunderous, gruelling account of the fatal 1996 commercial climb of the world’s most unforgiving summit.

Director Baltasar Kormákur’s vast, encompassing vision thematically broaches the existential drive that consumes extreme climbers, questioning both the brusque heroism and innate fatalism of those that attempt to conquer such harsh climes.

But the humanistic drama peaks in its pure representation of that age-old, man-vs-nature battle; flawlessly crafted scenes of storm surges and ice shifts, set against the epic real-world scale of the Himalayan landscape, instantly miniaturise the protagonists and put into perspective, both physically and metaphorically, the insurmountable task of surviving should Mother Nature dictate otherwise.

The central figure is Rob Hall (a very fine Jason Clarke), a New Zealander whose company, Adventure Consultants, is on the verge of booming as tourism interest in Everest’s peak soars. His competition is American Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), a kind of mountaineering surfer-dude, though they share a respectful, friendly bond as two souls in the thrall of the region and its majesty. Hall’s team includes climbers Harold (Martin Henderson, making an all-too-rare big-screen appearance) and Guy (Sam Worthington) and base-camp staffers Helen (Emily Watson, mastering a very broad Kiwi accent) and Dr McKenzie (Elizabeth Debicki).

On the lengthy journey into the Nepalese range that begins in Kathmandu and takes in the remote outposts of Lukla, Namche Bazaar and the Thangboche Monastery, the international cast of ‘who’ll make it out?’ characters are deftly sketched; brash Texan Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), regular guy Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), Japanese adventuress Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), and journalist Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly), whose bestselling first-person account ‘Into Thin Air’ was one of several written by the survivors (though none are credited as source material by the production). Each have a moment or two of screen time to reveal their weaknesses and motivations, providing just enough insight into who they are and why they are there for the audience to feel engaged when the high-altitude horrors begin. (No such dimension is afforded the local population, who are fleetingly represented and get a mere handful of lines; for their side of a similar story, check out Jennifer Peedom’s terrific doco Sherpa, currently touring the festival circuit).

The set-up structure is Disaster Movie 101, barely diverting from the Irwin Allen template of the mid 1970s and employed right up until this years’ San Andreas. However, the based-in-fact origins and naturalness with which the Oscar-pedigree writing team and skilled Icelandic auteur Kormákur (101 Reykjavik, 2000; 2 Guns, 2013) work the tropes keep it real enough. The story finds its heart in the long-distance phone call relationship between Hall and his pregnant wife Jan (a weepy Keira Knightley); not so succinctly realised are some kitschy ‘back home’ scenes involving Robin Wright as Beck’s estranged spouse and her efforts to procure a helicopter for her husband’s medical care (“I want the number for the American embassy in Nepal. That’s right, NEPAL!”)

The films strongest suit is its unflinching depiction of the rigour and grandeur of the setting. Whether on location in Nepal (or it’s more attainable stand-in, Italy) or on the soundstages at Cinecitta or Pinewood, cinematographer Salvatore Totino (Any Given Sunday, 1999; The Da Vinci Code, 2006) and the production’s design and effects units have compellingly recreated the terrifying reality of life-and-death on a mountainside, 30,000 feet high. Melded with the emotional and physical struggle depicted by a committed cast under the assured guidance of a fine filmmaker, Everest emerges as both a touching tribute to lost lives and an old fashion slice of white-knuckle adventure.

Tuesday
Oct282014

DECODING ANNIE PARKER

Cast: Samantha Morton, Aaron Paul, Helen Hunt, Corey Stoll, rashida Jones, Alice Eve, Maggie Grace, Ben McKenzie, Richard Schiff, Marley Shelton and Ben McKenzie.
Writers: Steven Bernstein, Adam Bernstein and Michael Moss.
Director: Steven Bernstein.

Rating: 4/5

Although some detractors will single out it’s bare-bones storytelling style as a flaw, there is something ingratiatingly refreshing about the narrative frankness of Decoding Annie Parker. Debutant director Steven Bernstein’s two-tiered heartfelt drama defies its Movie-of-the-Week premise with an integrity all too rare in modern cinema.

Reflecting the decades in which the story unfolds, the assured narrative beats captured by Bernstein recall the thoughtful, expertly rendered, small-scale dramas (such as Resurrection with Ellen Burstyn or Testament with Jane Alexander) that were once produced by studios and shown by major theatrical chains. A journeyman cinematographer who has lensed Alfonso Cuaron’s Like Water for Chocolate, Charlize Theron’s Oscar turn in Monster and Adam Sandler’s The Waterboy, amongst many others, Bernstein refuses to overstate his visuals, instead settling on a matter-of-fact but deeply engaging real-world aesthetic.

Annie Parker (a wonderful Samantha Morton) comes from a family whose women have suffered the horrors of breast cancer for many generations. In gruelling scenes, she fights her own battles against the disease; between bouts, she seeks out reasons why the affliction impacts her bloodline while tending to her free-spirited, man-child husband (Aaron Paul) and the life they have created.

Concurrently, Bernstien tracks the medical team led by Dr Mary-Claire King (Helen Hunt), who is determined to find a link of any kind that will shed light on the moribund, bureaucratic state of cancer study. The film seamlessly shifts between Annie’s struggles and the medico detective work of the research team, coalescing decades of real-life developments into a smooth, compelling retelling of events.  

The director coaxes wonderful support turns out of a cast that goes on forever - Alice Eve, Ben McKenzie, Rashida Jones, Marley Shelton, Maggie Grace, Bradley Whitford, Richard Schiff, Bob Gunton, the great Corey Stoll – all of whom must have worked below-scale to help get what is clearly a labour of love to the screen. There’s a passion to tell this story with an understated urgency and profound empathy that can be felt in every frame of this terrific film.

For further information on all aspects of breast cancer, follow these links:
Australia: National Breast Cancer Foundation
United States of America: Breast Cancer Research Foundation
United Kingdom: Cancer Research UK
France: International Agency for Research on Cancer