‘Capernaum’

A compassionate tour-de-force set in post-Civil War Lebanon, Capernaum is a narrative of lost hope, poverty and sorrow. With its mostly non-professional cast, it’s a raw and emotional telling.

Twelve year-old Zain, serving five years imprisonment for attacking his brother-in-law, sues his parents for a lifetime of neglect. It’s a tragic story of a sassy, streetwise survivor and the people he meets – Ethiopian migrant worker Rahil in particular.

Zain al-Rafeea as the boy is extraordinary and his relationship with Rahil (Yordonas Shiferaw) and her baby son is absorbing and deeply moving. It’s no wonder the film received a 15-minute standing ovation at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival (and collected the Grand Jury Prize). It also won the Audience Award at the 2018 Melbourne International Film Festival.

In only her third feature, writer/director Nadine Labaki (Caramel, Where Do We Go Now?) is proving to be one of the most consistent filmmakers in the Middle East.

Rating: 88%

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‘Velvet Buzzsaw’

An odd horror mystery, Velvet Buzzsaw (director Dan Gilroy – Nightcrawler, Roman J. Israel Esq) is nothing if not entertaining.

The request by a recently (unknown) deceased artist that all his work is destroyed is ignored by ambitious gallery assistant, Zawe Ashton (Nocturnal Animals, Greta). Things go more than bump in the night as supernatural forces see off the fey art critic (Jake Gyllenhaal – Brokeback Mountain, Nightcrawler), ruthless gallery owner, Rene Russo (Thor, Nightcrawlerand a few other greedy professionals of the LA artworld.

High art it’s not, but Velvet Buzzsaw is daft, funny (the pretentiousness of Gyllenhaal is a hoot) and a perfect distraction for a couple of hours.

A Netflix original.

Rating: 58%

‘If Beale St Could Talk’

The central love story is beautifully captured by writer/director Barry Jenkins (Moonlight, Medicine For Melancholy) as newcomer KiKi Layne and Stephan James (Race, Selma) struggle with poverty and racism in 1970s New York. But pregnancy along with a false accusation of rape and imprisonment puts a strain on their relationship – in spite of support from her parents.

Adapted from James Baldwin’s seminal novel of the same name, it’s a poetic and stirring slow build. But it falls short of greatness – the stilted support roles and occasional slippage into indulgent arthouse cinematography fails to gel into a flowing narrative. A little more on the supportive parents (Oscar-nominated Regina King – Miss Congeniality 2, Ray – and Colman Domingo – The Birth of a Nation, The Butler) would have provided a welcome balance.

Rating: 74%

‘The Gift of Speed’ by Steven Carroll

The mundane suburban lives of Vic, Rita and son, Michael, first introduced in The Art of the Engine Driver, are further explored in the second part of Carroll’s trilogy.

It’s 1960 and the West Indies cricket team has arrived to play a series against the Australian team that is destined to be regarded as one of history’s best. Michael, now 16 years old, is an obsessive cricket player, determined to be a successful fast bowler. His only interest appears to be the gift of speed and to bowl ‘the perfect ball.’

Interspersing the everyday of life in a new Melbourne suburb to the north of the city with tales of the touring cricket team (and the pressures placed upon West Indies captain, Frank Worrell, in particular – it’s the first tour by the West Indies team that is predominantly black), The Gift of Speed whilst assuredly written, is a surprisingly ordinary tale.

Michael – cricket and the innocence of his first girlfriend, Kathleen: Vic and Rita, distant with each other, irrevocably heading towards separation and lives drifted apart: Vic’s dying mother, finally forced to give up her independence and live with her only child. Little appears to evolve in The Gift of Speed – as if, in their striving for that gift, the world has slowed.

The result is a somewhat dull, ordinary narrative of a unique Australian sensibility of the early 1960s. Carroll’s novel was shortlisted for the 2005 Miles Franklin Award – but lost out to Andrew McGahan and The White Earth.

‘The Hate U Give’

It may slip into saccharine-sweet naiveté occasionally in terms of a commentary on racism in contemporary America, but The Hate U Give is nevertheless powerful and accessible.

High school student Amandla Stenberg (The Darkest Minds, The Hunger Games) witnesses the fatal shooting of childhood friend Khalil (Algee Smith – Detroit, Earth to Echo) by a white cop – and now faces the public consequences of expectations placed on her to do the right thing for justice.

A fine balance between coming-of-age and social commentary, director George Tillman Jnr (Faster, Notorious) may tie up all the loose ends a little too neatly, but The Hate U Give is a superior YA storyline that strives to be relevant and informative.

Rating: 73%