‘Foxtrot’

Layout 1A sublime mix of intense drama interspersed with flashes of surreal brilliance, the latest from writer/director Samuel Maoz (Lebanon) is bold, sombre and shot through with occasional wit.

A split narrative spread over a few days where a grieving Tel Aviv couple (Lior Ashkenazi – Footnote, Late Marriage – and Sarah Adler, The Cakemaker, Jelly Fish) come to terms with the death of their son in the line of duty as the drama at the isolated military outpost where he was stationed unfolds.

Superb performances along with poignant, claustrophobic close-ups, sparse dialogue and poetic imagery all combine to create an emotionally gripping film of devastating subtlety.

Rating: 90%

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‘Brothers’ Nest’

brothersnestposterReal life brothers Shane and Clayton Jacobson team up to present an enormously entertaining family murder dramedy.

Things are just not going right for the brothers. The wife has left the not-so-bright Terry (Shane Jacobson – Kenny, The Bourne Affair), taking the kids with her whilst the older, more controlling Jeff (Clayton Jacobson – Animal Kingdom, Just Between Us) has lost his job – again. Now mum has months to live and their stepfather is threatening to sell the family home and move back to Queensland. But Jeff has a plan.

A slow beginning (just the two bickering brothers) evolves into a gloriously dark, mordant comedy, beautifully contained within the confines of an isolated weatherboard farmhouse.

Rating: 62%

‘Disgrace’ by J. M. Coetzee

JMCoetzee_DisgraceA compelling, multilayered exploration of the dilemma of South Africa in the immediate post-apartheid years, Disgrace is a beautifully written story of power, sexuality and redemption.

Twice-divorced David Lurie, a middle-aged lecturer of Romantic poetry at the Technical University of Cape Town, has an ill-advised short-lived affair with one of his students. When a complaint is filed against him, an arrogant and dismissive Lurie refuses to acknowledge the inappropriateness of his behaviour and, as a result, is forced to resign. Retreating to his daughter’s isolated smallholding in the Eastern Cape, Lurie is forced to confront his values, opinions and position as a privileged white male in the new South Africa.

More anti-hero than Byronic, Lurie’s complex emotions to his situation – a man seeming without purpose – is heightened by the attack on his daughter Lucie and himself by three young black men in their own home. Lucie refuses to file a complaint, much to the distress of her father.

Roles and position have changed, inevitable but, in some instances, sudden. Lurie is no longer the man he once was – no job, little influence on his daughter, ageing. But there is hope for him – the sexual relationship with Bev, a woman he finds physically unattractive, is an act that is a step towards “annihilating his sexual vanity and his sense of superiority.”

A lyrical, riveting metaphor, Disgrace was the winner of the 1999 Booker Prize – and possibly one of the best books I have ever read.

 

‘Hereditary’

hereditaryWhat a disappointment! Hyper-lauded by critics (87 on metacritic) as a true classic horror, director Ari Aster’s directorial debut is a derivative mishmash of much of what has come before it. Ghostly apparitions, (dead) granny on the ceiling, bumps in the night, devil-worship and ancient mythologies…

As a psychological family drama, Hereditary starts off well enough with Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine, Muriel’s Wedding) and family barely grieving for her recently deceased, belligerent mother. But then her 13 year-old daughter dies in a freak accident and everything goes down hill from there – including the film.

For a horror film, there are few scary bits – and even those are a very long time coming.

Rating: 36%

‘Disobedience’

disobedience-movie-poster-2018-1020778187-1An intense, claustrophobic love triangle in London’s Orthodox Jewish community as Ronit (Rachel Weisz – The Constant Gardener, The Lobster) returns from a self-imposed New York exile on the death of her rabbi father.

Ronit left the close-knit community under a cloud – and finds herself once more deeply attracted to best friend from school, Esti (Rachel McAdams – Spotlight, Sherlock Holmes). Only Esti is married to the new rabbi-elect, Alessandro Nivola (Selma, American Hustle).

An emotionally honest and authentic drama, director Sebastian Lelio (A Fantastic Woman, Gloria) allows the dialogue and nuanced performances from the three leads to question love, faith, friendship and desire.

Rating:  67%

‘Bring Larks and Heroes’ by Thomas Keneally

larksLaying bare the horrors of the Australian convict era, Keneally’s Miles Franklin Award winning Bring Larks and Heroes was one of the earliest fictions exploring the period. Seen from the witty, irreverent perspective of Corporal Phelim Halloran, the Irish Marine, the fictional penal colony in the South Pacific is a mirror of the settlement of Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour) with key dates shuffled to be suitably non-specific.

A man destined originally to be of the (Catholic) cloth, Halloran instead joined the Marines to avoid his fate as an Irish nationalist arrested at an illegal gathering. Intelligent and idealist, it is Halloran’s love for the young serving girl, Anne, that drives him to take risks. But it is also his witnessing the inhumanity of the so-called civilising society, where dissent is crushed (400 lashes), simply ended (the hanging of an accused rapist in spite of the man being a eunuch) or, in the case of the indigenous population, simply left to die from smallpox. The worst excesses of English society and an unjust system have been transported thousands of miles to the other side of the world.

It is the injustices that ultimately lead to the eventual downfall of the honest Halloran (and Anne) and his conscience as he is called to task by Hearn, the clerk and political prisoner who has come about a tract reporting the French Revolution (Keneally has altered dates, remember). Choose your side, demands Hearn, knowing where the young Catholic Irishman’s sympathies lie.

Bring Larks and Heroes is an early work by one of Australia’s foremost novelistsHimself an outspoken Australian Republican and former seminarian, Keneally explores the individual’s commitment to faith and personal morality without being overly doctrinaire. But his style is slight and erring towards obscure; language overbearing; narrative non-compelling.

It’s a subject Keneally was to revisit in the 1987 novel, The Playmaker – to my mind a much more successful and significant narrative and which was later adapted for the stage by playwright, Timberlake Wertenbaker, as Our Country’s Good for the Royal Court Theatre in London. Bring Larks and Heroes was awarded the 1967 Miles Franklin Award.

‘LBJ’

LBJ_(film)A worthy, slightly dull talkfest of events immediately prior to and following the assassination of John F Kennedy – with a focus on Texan Vice President Lyndon B Johnson.

Forthright and vulgar – and diametrically opposed to a number of Kennedy’s key policies, including the Civil Rights Bill – Johnson nevertheless stepped up to the mark on Kennedy’s death. Some, including Bobby Kennedy (a fresh-faced Michael Stahl-David – Cloverfield, In Your Eyes), believing callously too quickly.

LBJ is an informative biopic of the man who pushed through a great number of landmark social policies but who is ultimately judged as the president who escalated American involvement in Vietnam. But the film very much belongs to Woody Harrelson (The People Versus Larry Flint, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and his vibrant, convincing performance as the man carrying the weight of the free world on his shoulders.

Rating: 56%

‘Sorry’ by Gail Jones

sorryAn elegant, elegiac tale of childhood, memory, friendship and love, Jones’ deft narrative and luminous prose creates a compelling and compassionate story.

Sorry is set in the remote town of Broome in northern Western Australia in the late 1930s/early 1940s and the onset of war. A young English anthropologist and his wife, Stella, struggle with the harsh conditions of their new surrounds, living in little more than a shack several miles from town. Their lonely daughter, Perdita, makes friends with a deaf mute boy, Billy, and an Aboriginal girl, Mary. The trio develop a deep and profound bond until tragedy strikes. Their lives are torn apart and, coinciding with Japanese bombardment of the northern Australian coastline, are forced, for different reasons, to travel south to Perth.

Written in a mix of first and third person, Sorry is essentially a memory of an older Perdita looking back on events, the fractured chronology providing a level of objectivity and evaluation for the adult Perdita.

Deeply traumatised by events, dealing with a profound stutter and an unstable, Shakespeare quoting mother, Perdita is an isolated and bullied teenager. It is only with foster parents, Flora and Ted Ramsay, that she is introduced to stability and a sense of normality. But, in reconnecting with Mary and Billy in Perth, Perdita’s perception of ‘normal’ is at odds with the White European values of 1940s Australia.

The word ‘sorry’ has complicated meanings in Australia insofar that it took an Australian government until 2008 to apologise to the Stolen Generations and formally acknowledge the suffering caused by decades of mistreatment of Indigenous Australians. Gail Jones’ Sorry is a personal testament in the spirit of reconciliation, a novel of sacrifice and loyalty, of childhood and innocence with its hopes, its aspirations and, devastatingly, its lost opportunities.

And only then, turning the pages, peering at what Mary had read, did she begin to know, did she begin to open and grieve. There was a flood of hot tears, and a sudden heart breaking.

 I should have said sorry to my sister, Mary. Sorry, my sister, oh my sister, sorry.

Gail Jones’ fourth novel was shortlisted for the 2008 Miles Franklin Award (her third time on the shortlist in four years) but lost out to Steven Carroll and The Time We
Have Taken
.

‘Ocean’s 8’

oceanGary Ross (Seabiscuit, The Hunger Games) is no Steven Soderbergh. Consequently, the quick-witted pizzazz and slick style of Ocean’s 11 and 12 (OK, 13 can be ignored…) are sadly and noticeably missing.

Released from prison, Sandra Bullock (sister of George Clooney’s recently deceased Danny Ocean) rounds up the gals for a massive diamond heist at the First Monday of May Met gala. Cue the likes of Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham-Carter, Rihanna and Sarah Paulson joining the fray – with the Cartier Toussaint necklace, to be worn by Anne Hathaway, the main target.

It’s more zircon than diamond, with a star-studded cast and plentiful cameos wholly wasted (with the exception of the quirky Helena Bonham-Carter). A damp squib.

Rating: 46%

‘Gauguin’

gauguinA gaunt Vincent Cassel (Black Swan, Mesrine) perfectly captures the destitution of a man prepared to sacrifice everything for his art. But sadly, director Edouard Deluc (Welcome to Argentina) fails to instil any sense of magic into the film that focusses on the first visit (1891-93) to Tahiti by Paul Gauguin.

Neither a virtually unspoilt paradise nor (in the film, if not in real life) a marriage to a local woman allays the desperate poverty, with Gauguin eventually being repatriated to France on a state-provided free passage.

In spite of its restricted time span, a too broad a narrative is covered by Deluc. With its slow-pacing and too frequent insistence on capturing the moment of a famed work by the artist, the result is a somewhat dull film – ultimately not helped by the morosely beautiful soundtrack from Warren Ellis (sometime collaborator with Nick Cave).

Rating 44%