‘Miles Ahead’

miles-ahead-posterA somewhat erratic, non-traditional biopic of the legendary music maker, Miles Davis.

Miles Ahead is unquestionably a labour of love for Don Cheadle (Crash, Iron Man) – not only is he a superb lead, Cheadle also directed, produced and co-wrote the screenplay! And it plays some serious respect to the music – the soundtrack is totally sublime.

But, set in the 1970s when Davis had taken a five year hiatus from recording, a fictional interview with a Rolling Stone journalist (an unconvincing Ewan McGregor –  Star Wars II & III)  leading to a less-than-successful heist subplot results in an uneven, messy film. Occasional flashbacks adds substance and Miles Ahead certainly has its moments. But its music that’s the winner here.

Rating: 58%

‘Independence Day: Resurgence’

HO00003367Surprisingly low-key on the action front, Independence Day: Resurgence feels like a character introduction to future sequels.

An ensemble that sees a whole bevy returning from the original 1996 Independence Day actioner (including Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pulman, Judd Hirsch and Brent Spiner), but the emphasis here is on the strutting pretty-boy duo of Liam Hemsworth (The Hunger Games, The Dressmaker) and Jessie T Usher (When the Game Stands Tall), fighter pilots out to prove their point.

Emphasising character is fine if the characters are interesting. Sadly, this is not the case and, whilst the special effects and, when it comes, the action are entertaining enough, it all gets bogged down in tedium.

Rating: 45%

‘The Sound of One Hand Clapping’ by Richard Flanagan

9780857989208Published in 1997, The Sound of One Hand Clapping is author Richard Flanagan’s second novel (following on from Death of a River Guide, 1994). It is regarded as something of an Australian classic.

Set in his native Tasmania, Flanagan tells the story of Sonja and the tempestuous, often violent, relationship she has with her alcoholic father, Bojan Buloh. Having left home at the age of 16, Sonja has returned from her lonely Sydney life to the island ‘at the arse-end of the world.’ Thirty-five years earlier, Sonja’s mother had walked out of the forest cabin they called home never to be seen again.

It’s a haunting, tragic tale of loss and a desperate need for a sense of place and belonging: a lament for things past.

A time-fractured narrative provides a 30-year time span as the 38 year-old Sonja returns to Tasmania for the first time in 22 years. She has not been in touch with her father since the day she walked out of their home.

A post-war Eastern European migrant, Bojan and his wife, Maria, witnessed first-hand the violent Nazi occupation of their Slovenian homeland along with the equally traumatic liberation by the Russian Red Army. Escaping to the west, they eventually settled in Tasmania where the various massive state hydroelectric schemes in the 1950s created huge demands for labour. European migrants in the thousands found themselves in makeshift camps in the dense rainforests, isolated from the rest of the world and each other with their silence of the horrors of shared experiences.

Now, nearly 40 years later, Bojan continues to survive as a loner in such camps. No personal possessions, no friends, poor English, the ghosts of the past laid low with the aid of the demon drink. A living death, it is Sonja’s return and the slow intrusion of the past, its shadows and its occasional glimpses of light and laughter that provide hope.

Sonja herself is unsure why she has returned, but her empty life in Sydney ultimately has no pull. Like her father before her, Sonja’s sense of displacement is palpable. Whether it is 1954, 1960 or 1989, Sonja has no sense of ‘home’, no sense of belonging.

The Sound of One Hand Clapping is a heartbreaking story of deeply damaged people destroyed by circumstance, history and their own inabilities to cope with the hand fate has dealt them. Geography also plays a key part – the brooding, menacing forest-scape of Tasmania is interchangeable with the war-torn forests of Europe: the seemingly constant rains (or snow): the occasional glimpses of blue skies providing hope or redemption.

But much of the impact of The Sound of One Hand Clapping is undone by its structure – 86 chapters over 425 pages. Staccato in time (the chapters jump from 1954 to 1989 to 1967 to 1954) creates a staccato flow of emotion and narrative, breaking up the story too much to feel any real empathy with the characters themselves.

The non-specific story of displaced refugees from a war-torn Europe, finding a new home in a foreign country where they are not welcome is a sadly universal one. How each individual deals with the sense of loss of their previous life and events witnessed, again can be traumatic. But no matter how poetic (and at times it is beautifully so) Flanagan’s writing is, I found Sonja and Bojan non-empathic as central characters to a book that is, to a large extent, reliant on an investment of emotion, sympathy and empathy.

Shortlisted for the 1998 Miles Franklin Award, The Sound of One Hand Clapping lost out to Peter Carey’s retelling of Great Expectations, Jack Maggs.

‘Downriver’

11953241_933085660098132_1081120644305067277_n-e1455487463158Powerful feature debut from director Greg Scicluna, Downriver is a tangled, tense thriller.

Spare dialogue, nuanced performances with a narrative as much about what is not (or cannot be) said, the film is a quiet, visually arresting tale of redemption as teenage James (a beautifully modulated performance by Reef Ireland (Summer Coda, Blessed)) returns to the scene of the crime that put him into juvenile prison.

An Australian film without the glories of Sydney Harbour, Queensland palm-fringed beaches or the red dust of the outback, the murky palette of the Victorian river ways adds to the mood of this quietly impressive drama.

Rating: 71%

‘Hello, My Name is Doris’

large_large_sFEruVDMWyMvYEvyV1l5HY6jU4jPleasant enough, but what makes Hello, My Name is Doris so frustrating is that it could, and should, have been so much funnier – and with a little more pathos to balance the humour.

As the ageing spinster suddenly discovering she is alone at the death of her mother, Oscar-winning veteran Sally Field (Norma Rae, Lincoln) is likeable enough. But she needed to be that little bit more eccentric, her hoarding a little more concerning. Instead, Field goes after a much younger man (again, a likeable performance by Max Greenfield – The Big Short, Veronica Mars), resulting in a lot of misunderstanding which, whilst occasionally funny, teeters on the edge of squirm-inducing.

Not many roles like this come along for older female actresses – so if only it had a little more grit…

Rating: 51%

‘After Darkness’ by Christine Piper

1401419493395.jpg-300x0There’s something Kazuo Ishiguro-like in Christine Piper’s debut novel, After Darkness.

In Ishiguro’s earlier novels, the Anglo-Japanese writer featured men conflicted between honour, loyalty and discretion over truth. In The Remains of the Day, to English butler, Mr Stevens, personal feelings and emotions are anathema: it is his dignity, professionalism and loyalty to Lord Darlington that define him. Tradition, status and protocol – as well as unquestioning loyalty to the Emperor – define Masuji Ono, a once-successful artist in pre-war Japan. But, in An Artist of the Floating World, Ono with his imperialist politics is now something of an outcast. As narrators, both men reflect on their earlier selves.

Alternating between three different time narratives, Christine Piper’s After Darkness is narrated by Japanese doctor, Tomakazu Ibaraki.

The thrust of the story is the internment of Japanese residents of Australia in early 1942 when Japan entered World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbour. Finding himself interned in Loveday, a remote prison camp in South Australia, Ibaraki looks back at events leading up to his arrival in Australia.

Ibaraki mixes observations of the everyday at the camp, where ‘pure’ Japanese are imprisoned alongside mixed race or those who have lived in Australia their entire lives, with reflections on his broken marriage. His role in Japan’s medical research into germ warfare in the 1930s and its personal impact is (slowly) revealed.

Fleeing Tokyo in 1938 for the small pearling town of Broome in northern Western Australia, Ibaraki finds himself in ‘enemy’ country at the outbreak of war in the Pacific.

Like Stevens and Ono in Ishiguro’s novels, Ibaraki places honour, reputation and dignity above all else. His discretion and inability to objectify the world around him costs him his marriage. His shame and potential loss of face prevents him from being truthful with Sister Bernice at the Broome hospital.

“In keeping my silence I hadn’t exercised the very quality that makes us human: our capacity to understand each other.”

Ironically, it’s only at Loveday that a sense of himself and a sense of questioning can come to the fore. A sense of honour and tradition initially ensures that Ibaraki cannot believe Yamada is guilty of assaulting Stan or that the Japanese Camp Committee is racist towards the mixed race internees. But his emotional distancing is challenged and, slowly, Ibaraki confronts his present, and, in doing so, also his past.

After Darkness, in its subject, is a fascinating read. Strong in context – little is written about the internment of ‘aliens’ in Australia in WWII – but not very convincing in content. Like Ibaraki himself, there are things that cannot be talked about in public and it comes across as all very clean. The daily grind of life in Loveday is glossed – daily dawn-walks around the camp, visits to the Buddhist shrine, baseball competitions, ambling across to the medical centre hardly capture a world where, if not exactly a tough prison camp, would still be full of men denied their liberty.

Ultimately, After Darkness is just a little too dull, a little too uninvolving. Christine Piper is a highly-regarded short story writer – and I could not help but feel that, with judicious editing, this would have made an interesting long short story!

Shortlisted for the 2015 Miles Franklin Award, Christine Piper lost out to Sofie Laguna and The Eye of the Sheep.

‘Money Monster’

COL_BILL_TEMPLATE_21Conspiracies dealing with corporate financial malfeasance are a mainstay of film going (The Big Short, Margin Call immediately spring to mind). But instead of hitting the 72nd floor of some Wall Street investment bank, director Jodie Foster (The Beaver, Little Man Tate) takes us into a TV studio where live footage of the little man taking a hostage is beamed across the country.

Jack O’Connell (’71, Broken) is pissed – he’s lost his $60k life savings. And he blames, in part, financial TV host George Clooney (Syriana, Michael Clayton). A cat and mouse game ensues but it all becomes a little too familiar and predictable.

There’s nothing new – and there’s no real sting, but Money Monster still keeps you hooked in its amiable, efficient telling of its tale.

Rating: 61% 

‘Now You See Me: The Second Act’

imagesThe original was a clever, engaging diversion. This bombastic sequel takes (most of) the earlier likeable characters and places them in “a sackful of nada.” The magic is, sadly, lost.

Instead of words (although Jesse Eisenberg – The Social Network, Zombieland – still reels them off at 18 to the dozen), action is at the forefront. And suddenly FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is an all-action Ninja who can see off an attack from 10 well-trained bully-boys in a Macau market place. The film still has its moments – revenge is sweet – and the denouement was unexpected. But overall it doesn’t quite pass muster.

Sad really – more of director Jon M Chu’s choreographed Step Up 2 would have been preferable to his G.I.Joe: Retaliation approach.

Rating: 52%

‘Toast’

v1.bTsxMTE1OTQwNztqOzE3MDg2OzIwNDg7MTAwMzsxNTAwA made-for-TV movie that, whilst conventional, is a tasty entertainment based on the childhood of celebrity British chef, Nigel Slater.

Growing up in the West Midlands in the 1960s, a young Slater is weaned on tinned foods (“Vegetables? We’ll have none of them – you don’t know where they’ve been” states his mother during a shopping trip). It’s his future stepmother, Mrs Potts (a rather splendid OTT Helena Bonham-Carter – The King’s Speech, Sweeney Todd), who introduces Slater to culinary delights – but she uses her skills in the kitchen to compete with the young Nigel for the affections of the rather gruff and miserable Mr Slater.

A quiet feature, Toast is a nostalgic trip down memory lane with Oscar Kennedy in fine fettle as the younger Nigel.

Rating: 62%

 

‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’

Hunt-for-the-Wilderpeople-PosterHugely entertaining and with charm by the bucketload, it’s hardly surprising that Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the highest-grossing locally-produced New Zealand film of all time.

The chemistry between Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, The Daughter) and newcomer Julian Dennison (Paper Planes) makes for a fresh, vibrant and, at times, incredibly funny road trip as the two make off into the New Zealand bush on the run from child support services.

Energy and focus may pall a little in the middle, but writer/director Taika Waititi (Boy, What We Do In the Shadows), with astute use of comedy and pathos, drives the narrative forward. A joy.

Rating: 79%