‘Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art’

For a little over a decade, New York’s prestigious Knoedler Gallery, estasblished in 1846, knowingly or unknowingly sold more than $80 million of fake art, making it the largest art fraud in American history.

It’s a fascinating insight into the world of the elite in the art world – the high-end gallery whose one area of weakness was American abstract expressionism, an ambitious gallery director (Ann Freedman), wealthy clients and an arm’s length owner. So when Glafira Rosales walked into the Madison Avenue premises claiming access to privately owned work by the likes of Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko, Ann Freedman was more than a little interested.

What unfolds is a compelling story, engagingly well-told by director Barry Avrich (Prosecuting Evil, David Foster: Off the Record). Freedman followed due process to ascertain authenticity – at least in the early years. But just how could so many experts of the day have been fooled? As the narrative unfolds, however, questions are raised of just how that authenticity – without due provenance – was achieved, leaving a key issue of the culpablity of Freedman and Knoedler owner, Michael Hammer, in the fraud. Yet only Rosales was sentenced, with an unrepentant Freedman, claiming her innocence throughout, continuing to this day as an independent art advisor and agent.

Seduced by need and want, key flaws in Rosales stories were frequently overlooked along with a stubborn refusal to consider mistakes may have been made. Made You Look incorporates interviews with key individuals – Freedman herself, lawyers, journalists, collectors, even Rosales’ former partner, Jose Carlos Bergantiños Diaz (a known seller of art forgeries!). The result is an enthralling stranger-than-fiction tale. But the burning question – did she or didn’t she know?

Rating: 74%

‘The Virtues’

A confronting family drama of the repercussions of childhood abuse both sexual and emotional, The Virtues is a devastatingly powerful four-part miniseries.

Writer/director Shane Meadows is a renowned social storyteller (This Is England, Twenty Four Seven) and in The Virtues we see a distraught Joseph (an extraordinary Stephen Graham) desperately try to hold on to a sense of normality as his nine-year-old son leaves for Australia with his new family. He fails. An alcoholic on the wagon, Joseph reverts to old ways. In an attempt to distance himself, he boards a boat for an Ireland he left 25 years earlier to confront painful memories from his childhood and find some kind of closure.

Those memories come crashing back as Joseph is reunited with an incredulous Anna (Helen Behan), his younger sister. But rediscovering his family comes at a price as the traumas of abuse at the orphanage rear their head. And his new-to-him sister-in-law, Dinah (an impressive Niamh Algar), has her own demons to contend with.

A visceral The Virtues is not always easy viewing. And, as Joseph’s flashbacks to time in the home become more and more frequent, a sense of menace of tragic inevitability increases. Dinah’s more recent story is equally bitter and sad. Yet, with co-writer Jack Thorne, Meadows teases out every ounce of humanity and occasional humour from its narrative of family and the human spirit.

Rating: 80%

‘Swimming Home’ by Andrea Levy

An odd, elusive novella of a narrative, Swimming Home is a disconnect of a book, as languid as its summertime Alpes-Maritime setting, with barely a breeze disturbing the cicada-laden air. It’s 1994 and a melee of characters share a rented holiday home.

Just why the two couples and one daughter would choose to holiday together and spend a summer in each other’s company begs many a question, no matter what reason is given by Levy. These people have little in common and just do not like each other. So when famed war correspondent and stranger to her own husband and daughter, Isabel, asks the odd, naked botanist swimming in the pool to feel free to stay, things are going to unravel. And unravel they do.

What follows is a cold dissection. And whilst Swimming Home may be full of striking imagery with deep and meaningful symbolism populated by rich, fully crafted characterisation (remarkably achieved in such a short plot line), ultimately it begged the question as to whether we cared for any of the characters.

Jozef ‘Joe’ Jacobs is a famed poet and Holocaust survivor – and something of a bore in love with himself and his success. Wife Isabel is essentially absent: his main relationship is with 14 year-old daughter, Nina. Joe’s publisher, Mitchell, and wife Laura make up the numbers. The arrival of poolside Kitty is a catalyst for self destruct – it’s not long before it turns out she is nothing more than one of Joe’s fawning fans. Only this one is seriously disturbed, someone not ready to go home and start imitating someone she used to be.

This particular part of the Alpes-Maritime is an unpleasant world with little empathy. Rejection, failure, unpleasantness and a great deal of selfishness permeates every pore of the 160 pages or so.

Shortlisted for the 2012 Booker Prize, Andrea Levy lost out to Hilary Mantel and Bring Up the Bodies.

‘So Long My Son’

Long and gently paced, the Berlinale prize-winning feature from Wang Xiaoshuai (Beijing Bicycle, Chongqing Blues) is an end-of-twentieth century, sweeping yet intimate family drama with China’s one-child policy providing the historical backdrop.

Tragedy strikes married couple Jingchun Wang (Jing cha ri ji, Shadow) and Mei Yong (Qing chun pei, The Assassin). In their grief at the loss of a 10 year-old son, the couple move from place to place, unable to establish roots. Over the years, they lose contact with friends in the factory complex they once worked and lived. But one day, Xi Qi (Fu cheng mi shi, The Calming) visits, having tracked them down. She is part of the shared experience of the past. The couple know they must revisit and confront that past – even if only temporarily.

A sensitive epic told with a fractured time narrative as past and present merge, unfolding and revealing, So Long My Son is a beautifully tempered, heartrending story quietly told. Performances are sublimely understated as the society in which the characters live undergoes immense change over the 30 year timespan.

Rating: 90%

‘2067’

Reportedly the highest budgetted Australian sci-fi film, sadly it’s notable only a small percentage was spent on script development or cast rehearsals. 2067 is a clunky mess of a feature that can be described at best as moderately engaging.

As climate change sees the forests burning and the world running out of oxygen, so a private manufacturer of oxygen sends one ill-suited man (Ethan Whyte – Kodi Smit-McPhee, X Men: Dark Phoenix, Let Me In) into the future to find the cure. A message has been received: SEND ETHAN WHYTE. But not all is what it seems as long-term friend, Jude (Ryan Kwanten – Mystery Road, Kidnapping Mr Heineken) is dispatched the 400 years to support him.

A pathetic Smit-McPhee gratingly wails his way through the narrative as Kwanten tries his hardest with abysmal material: meanwhile Deborah Mailman (The Sapphires, Bran Nue Dae), back in real time, stands and delivers her dialogue as if reading (badly) from autocue. A surfeit of embarassment from director Seth Larney (Tombiruo).

Rating: 28%

‘Irresistible’

Wry, occasionally laugh out loud, Irresistible is an enormously entertaining skewering of American politics – and the money-driven political system in particular.

Floundering after the shock loss at the 2016 American elections, the Democrats and their spin doctors are looking for stories. And when a video of former general Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper – Adaptation, Breach) lambasting the Mayor of Deerlaken, Wisconsin for his exclusion policies goes viral, Washington strategist Steve Carrell (Foxcatcher, Beautiful Boy) descends double quick. The perfect story of the humane Democrat confronting Republican policies. So much so, Hastings is persuaded to stand for Mayor. And that opens the doors as Republican strategist Rose Byrne (Spy, Bridesmaids) is on the next flight down – and the dollars, fundraising events and celebrities descend on the sleepy, midwestern town.

It’s fun but with a barb – and there’s a totally unexpected twist that totally upends the narrative. Condescending city folk do not always get the last word on small-town America. Writer/director Jon Stewart (Rosewater) is guilty of labouring his message and going off point on occasions, but there’s no denying this is an engaging and oft funny piece of political satire.

Rating: 74%

‘Wonder Woman 1984’

No surprises here as Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman, Fast & Furious) picks up where she left off to protect mankind. Only now Diana Prince finds herself in 1980s Washington D.C., yearning for the lost love of First World War pilot, Chris Pine (Star Trek, Hell Or High Water).

The arrival of an ancient artefact at the Smithsonian forces Diana to snap out of her reverie as failed businessman Pedro Pascal (Triple Frontier, The Great Wall), in his desire for power and extreme wealth, steals the stone. Granting any wish, but at a price, the theft sees the world heading for total destruction. With the return of Pine her wish, Diana’s powers are sapped – at the very time museum colleague Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids, Where’d You Go Bernadette?) takes on Wonder Woman’s attributes – and more.

It’s all somewhat predictable – even if a little slow as the ramifications of wishes being granted build, initially, slowly. It’s only when politcians start asking for more nukes (it is 1984 after all) that things start to get out of hand. Alongside the beautifully filmed prologue and the clash of female power as the narrative builds to its crescendo, it’s Gadot herself who provides the film’s presence and self-possession. The rest is brash and overly long hokum from director Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman, Monster).

Rating: 50%

‘The Trip to Bountiful’

A gentle drama of memory and ageing, adapted from his own stage play by Horton Foote, The Trip to Bountiful is saved from obscurity by the beautifully understated Oscar-winning performance of Geraldine Page (Sweet Bird of Youth, Interiors) as an incessantly chattering, hymn-singing Carrie Watts.

Living with her son (John Heard – Big, Cutter’s Way) and a difficult daughter-in-law (Carlin Glynn – Gardens of Stone, Judy Berlin) in a cramped flat in 1940s Houston, Page wants to see for one last time her childhood home of Bountiful, a hamlet in mid-west Texas. Struggling financially and tensions in the household at snapping point, Carrie decides to go it alone. With little money, a Greyhound bus ticket and a little support along the way, she sees her wish through to fruition.

Dialogue-focussed with few fireworks and, with one exception, scenes with never more than four people on screen, director Peter Masterton (Convicts, The Only Thrill) teases out the melancholy nostalgia of its narrative. The Trip to Bountiful is an irresistible lumin of gentle grace.

Nominated for 2 Oscars in 1986 – adapted screenplay, won 1 for best actress.

Rating: 75%

‘Da 5 Bloods’

Spike Lee’s latest – a bold, broad brushstroke commentary on the black experience in the American intervention in Vietnam – sees four black Vets return, 50 years later, in search of the remains of their squad leader (Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Black Panther) and hidden gold.

Older, not altogether wiser, each has been impacted in the ensuing years and the lack of change towards racism in the States. And this changes their attitudes to each other and the world around them. As they trek through the jungles in search of their treasure, factions emerge as a bitter, embattled Paul (Delroy Lindo – The Harder They Fall, The Cider House Rules) takes charge – and places them in danger. They are being watched by heavily armed ex-Viet Cong who are only too aware of why the Americans have returned.

Switching time frames between Vietnam of the 1960s and today, Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing, BlackKklansman) emphasises his point. But the film is a long, unconvincing, odd mishmash of adventure and polemic. A series of unlikely scenarios arise. Paul is angry – very angry, anger that is hard to get past. Even the likes of longstanding friend, Otis (Clarke Peters – Harriet, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri) finds a changed Paul impossible. Trust is lost between the friends: few survive.

Da 5 Bloods, verging at times on the point of hysteria, is a banal, overly laboured feature that, in its message of racism within the military, overlooks the disrespect it shows towards contemporary Vietnam. But it’s also ultimately rather boring with just too many shoot outs.

Nominated for best soundtrack (Terence Blanchard – BlacKkKlansman, One Night in Miami) Oscar in 2021.

Rating: 46%

‘Sophie’s Choice’

Dour but absorbing, Sophie’s Choice looks to Sophie Zawistowska, Polish survivor of Auschwitz, as she attempts to rebuild her life in Brooklyn and forget the traumas associated with the Europe of World War II.

Young, naive and impressionable, wannabe writer Stingo arrives from Virginia to make his fortune in New York. He finds himself in a boarding house in Brooklyn, where he meets Sophie (Meryl Streep – The Deerhunter, Kramer Vs Kramer) and her lover, the unstable Nathan (Kevin Kline – A Fish Called Wanda, The Ice Storm): their lives become irretrievably and tragically entwined.

It’s a long, compassionate if melodramatic story of hidden truths, past and present – the Catholic Sophie hiding from choices made, the Holocaust-obsessed Nathan (a Jew himself) and an enamoured Stingo (Peter MacNichol – TV’s Ally McBeal) narrating years hence. Writer and director Alan J. Pakula (Klute, All the President’s Men) arguably takes the source material (William Styron’s novel) a little too reverentially and plays safe with its warm, idyllic tonality of Brooklyn days reflecting Stingo’s bittersweet recollections or the cold blue greys of Sophie’s Auschwitz.

But, having learned Polish and German for her role, a young, nuanced Meryl Streep is a revelation, complemented by Kline in his feature film debut.

Nominated for 5 Oscars in 1983 including adapted screenplay & cinematography, won 1 for Meryl Streep and best actress.

Rating: 64%