‘The King’s Choice’

987069A riveting historical drama as the King of Norway must decide whether to sign the accord with Hitler and the invading German army – or risk war and civilian deaths.

The burden of responsibility is carried by King Haakon VII (superbly played by Jesper Christensen – Casino Royale, Melancholia) over three eventful days as the Germans search for the King in the snowy countryside north of Oslo. The fate of his country and family hang in the balance as Haakon confronts his moral dilemma.

Measured yet immersive, director Erik Poppe (1,000 Times Goodnight, Troubled Water) avoids overtly emotional scenes or cliches, looking instead to reasoned arguments and discussions to determine the final choice for the king.

Rating: 82%

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‘Atomic Blonde’

atomicEntertaining if OTT, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, violent action-packed spy thriller. MI5 agent Charlize Theron (Monster, Mad Max: Fury Road) finds herself partnering James McAvoy (X-Men, Split) in the hunt for a missing Stasi agent and his list of double agents. It’s Berlin in 1989 – the Wall is about to crumble and the rules of the Cold War are about to change.

Theron is a real kick-ass in a mix of John Le Carre spy-chiller and Bond action – exactly what you would expect from stuntman turned director David Leitch. And as in all good spy stories, there’s plenty of twists.

Rating: 62%

‘Human Traces’

human traces.jpgNot everything is what it seems when handsome Riki (Vinnie Bennett – Ghost in the Shell, Fantail) arrives at a remote New Zealand research station as the new conservationist volunteer.

Mark Mitchinson (The Hobbit, Mr Pip), leader of the small team, is threatened by Riki’s presence and his ideas – especially as he feels his young wife (Sophie Henderson – Fantail) is paying too much attention to the newcomer.

Secrets, lies and misunderstandings unravel as writer/director Nic Gorman in his feature film debut creates a tense psychological thriller against the backdrop of a stunning New Zealand coastline.

Screened in the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Rating: 63%

‘Faces Places’

MV5BNmE1MTJlM2QtM2JmZC00ODVlLTgzMzctYTkxZDVkOGYzODI2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDY2NDMxNDY@._V1_A charming documentary with multi-award winning Belgian director Agnes Varda (The Beaches of Agnes, The Gleaners and I) teaming up with photographer/muralist JR. A picaresque road trip ensues as filmmaker and stills maker create large scale works they plaster in public places in rural France.

A ruminative piece as the two form an unlikely friendship – she, the 88 year-old grande dame of the French New Wave; he, a cool and hip Parisian. And whilst ultimately lacking any depth, the art for art’s sake odyssey is witty, compassionate, warm and life-affirming.

Screened in the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Rating: 67%

‘Family Life’

large_MV5BZjllOWE1YzYtZDlhZi00ZDdiLTk3MTctMjhlZDRkNGU0ZTZlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjQ1NDQyNjQ_._V1_SY1000_CR0_0_678_1000_AL_Overtly commercial family comedy drama as a feckless Martin (Jorge Becker – Thursday ‘Til Sunday) house sits for a distant (successful) cousin in a cool part of Santiago. With three months accommodation on offer, a directionless Martin soon starts to take on the lifestyle of his cousin’s family.

Based on a short story by Alejandro Zambra and shot largely in director Alicia Scherson’s (Play, Il Futuro) own apartment, Family Life is something of a whimsical kitchen-sink dramedy which fails to significantly ignite.

Screened in the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Rating: 30%

 

‘Logan Lucky’

maxresdefaultDirector Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s 11, 12 & 13, Erin Brockovich) returns from a self-imposed retirement with a lighthearted, occasionally funny heist movie.

Star names queue to appear in Soderbergh’s films and Logan Lucky is no different. Along with Channing Tatum and Adam Driver as the Logan brothers planning the daring robbery during a NASCAR meet in North Carolina, Daniel Craig, Hilary Swank, Seth MacFarlane and Katie Holmes all make an appearance.

Trouble is Soderbergh lets the action meander and, whilst pleasant enough, is hardly challenging with occasional chunks of time that are plain dull. Ocean’s 11 it’s not!

Rating: 49%

‘Marjorie Prime’

lsjfeieSet in the near future, artificial intelligence comes to the home, allowing death to be not quite the final answer.

To help 85 year-old Marjorie (Lois Smith – The Nice Guys, Twister) deal with the last years of her life, daughter Geena Davis and son-in-law Tim Robbins arrange for a Prime, the fortysomething version of her late husband (Jon Hamm) to talk over their lives together. For Marjorie, ‘it’ offers comfort. For her daughter, it’s not quite right.

A Black Mirror-style storyline for the big screen, director Michael Almereyda’s (Cymbeline,  Twister) provocative adaptation of Jordan Harrison’s stage play is a quiet, reflective chamber drama.

Screened in the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Rating: 64%

‘A Man of Integrity’

dregs_poster_goldposter_com_1.jpg@0o_0l_800w_80qAn honest yet downtrodden fish farmer (a quiet, nuanced performance by Reza Akhlaghirad in his film debut) fights corruption and injustice in rural Iran.

A Man of Integrity is a scathing critique of contemporary Iran (“you’re either oppressed or the oppressor”) as Reza looks for his family’s survival in the face of corporate expansion and control. Director Mohammad Rasoulof (Manuscripts Don’t Burn, Goodbye) teases out stoically naturalistic performances and a surprising tension from an age-old David and Goliath storyline.

Screened in the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Rating: 76%

‘An Isolated Incident’ by Emily Maguire

9781743538579-1As the police look to solve the brutal murder of 25 year-old Bella Michaels, so her older sister, Chris, deals with the loss of her closest friend.

But whilst An Isolated Incident is a crime thriller, it’s far from a whodunit. In choosing to focus on the victim and the people affected by Bella’s death, writer Emily Maguire traces the ripple effects in the (fictional) country town of Strathdee, a truck-stop midway between Sydney and Melbourne. And, as the media descend in droves, infatuated not only with violent crime but in unearthing every sordid (or not so sordid) story, so Chris herself becomes thrust into the limelight, along with ex-husband, Nate.

Chris herself is no angel. A big-breasted barmaid, she uses her body to get what she wants. And if that includes a truck driver or two passing through town every couple of months, so be it. That’s how she found Nate. But too much boozing led to his departure – and Nate now lives in Sydney and has a child on the way. News of Bella’s death brings him back to Strathdee to support his ex-wife.

Lonely, Chris had turned more and more to the bottle and truck drivers passing through – and if they left a few $20 notes on the bedside table, even better. Aimless, it was her younger sister who sorted Chris out. But she’s now gone…

It doesn’t take long for the media to dig up the stories and they have a field day when it’s discovered Nate has a record for violence towards women. There are even a few stories about Chris and Nate’s marriage.

Judgements abound about Chris’ lifestyle – yet the casual pickups of young reporters by one of the male townies are smiled upon. Misogyny, double-standards, intimidation is rampant, as is violence towards women. The murder of a young woman by her husband in Strathdee barely receives a mention (it’s solved too quickly to warrant much media attention).

It’s a young female reporter, May, who strikes up a supportive relationship with Chris. Initially suspicious, the barmaid comes to rely upon May, particularly after Nate returns to Sydney. She becomes the new Bella.

It’s a chilling narrative that is compelling in spite of the fact that, as a thriller, the search for the killer takes a back seat. And in Chris Rogers (Bella had a different father), Emily Maguire has created a figure, an ‘everywoman’, who may be riddled with flaws and faults but is still a raw, empathic, humane figure.

An Isolated Incident has been shortlisted for the 2017 Miles Franklin Award (the announcement of the winner takes place in September).

 

 

‘Wind River’

wind_river_ver2_xlgSet in the isolated beauty of a Wyoming winter and the Wind River Reserve, game tracker Jeremy Renner (The Avengers, The Hurt Locker) discovers the body of Natalie, a teenage Native American and best friend of his deceased daughter. An ill-prepared FBI agent, Elizabeth Olsen (The Avengers, Godzilla) arrives from Las Vegas and appeals to him for help.

The directorial debut of scriptwriter Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell Or High Water) is a thrilling ride in the search for her killers. Masculinity in its rawest form comes under the microscope as strutting machismo is only too evident in a world where resident in Native American Reserves offers limited choice and corporate America rules the roost.

Rating: 74%