‘On Body and Soul’

on body and soul-1An oddity – an intriguing yet clinically told love story as two apparent opposites meet and against all odds become involved.

According to the workers on the shop floor at the abattoir, the new stand-offish quality controller, Maria (Alexandra Borbely, winner of Best Actress at the European Film Awards), follows the rules too closely. The Finance Director (Geza Morcsanyi – at 65 making his acting debut) looks on bemused. But then the two discover they have exactly the same dreams…

Amid gruesome slaughterhouse scenes, this intimate, challenging narrative moves slowly as the two come to understand each other.

Alongside a nomination for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, Ildiko Enyedi’s film won the Berlin Golden Bear and best film awards at Sydney, Portland, Mumbai and Sofia film festivals.

Rating: 63%

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‘Mateship With Birds’ by Carrie Tiffany

mateshipSet in the 1950s and the regional Victorian town of Cahuna, Mateship With Birds invokes a subliminal level of pastoral and pastel as Carrie Tiffany explores family, sex and love along with the loneliness and monotony of rural life.

Betty Reynolds and her two children, Michael and Little Hazel, live on the edge of the dusty town with Harry, a dairy farmer, as their neighbour. Harry’s wife has left him for the president of the local bird-watcher’s club. That there is an attraction between the two adults there is no doubt. But both are reluctant or embarrassed to indicate this interest.

Constant errands, favours, meals and small gifts keep the family connected with Harry – and he evolves over the years into a surrogate father to the teenage Michael. It is his relationship with the boy that provides, finally, the book’s turning point.

Interwoven into the dusty, domestic narrative are the writings of Harry. A keen birdwatcher, he writes of a family of kookaburras that live on the farm – Mum, Dad, Tiny and Club-Toe.

It’s his poetic observations of the birds (and all families in general) that prove to be the interesting aspect of Mateship With Birds.

Mum. Dad, Club-Toe
break off their
preening,
squabbling,
loafing,
to attack.
They lose themselves in the doing.
I struggle to tell them apart.
Knife-beaked,
cruel-eyed,
vicious;
there is no question
they would die for the family
– that violence is a family act.

Without these observations, Tiffany’s book, whilst well written, lacked any emotion (even Harry’s notes to Michael about sex were strangely dry and ‘sexless’) – an episodic pastel palette of country life.

Shortlisted for the 2013 Miles Franklin Award, Carrie Tiffany lost out to Michelle de Kretser and Questions of Travel.

‘BPM (Beats Per Minute)’

BPMAn important film exploring Parisian gay activism in the 1990s under the ACT UP banner and the shadow of AIDS, BPM (Beats Per Minute) delves deep into the motivational psyche of the young men and women involved.

It’s surprisingly gentle, weaving a love story between two members of ACT UP with the various interventions, campaigns and associated debates. The result is a powerful, lyrical, emotional narrative that resonates on a much wider political level.

Underpinned by the two leads, an energetic, driven Nahuel Perez Biscayart (All Yours, Tattoed) and the laid back Arnaud Valois (Charlie Says, Girl on the Train), writerdirector Robin Campillo (Eastern Boys, They Came Back) mixes intimate tenderness with a sense of desperate urgency.  BPM (Beats Per Minute) was awarded the 2017 Cannes Grand Jury Prize (effectively runner-up to the Palme d’Or winner, The Square).

Rating: 82%

‘Tully’

Tully-Movie-PosterAfter the misfire that was Ricki & the Flash, it’s good to see writer Diablo Cody reunited with director Jason Reitman, the team responsible for Juno and Young Adult.

A heavily-pregnant Charlize Theron (Young Adult, Monster) is just not coping as it is with money tight, two young kids to care for and a loving husband who prefers video games to recognising the stress his wife is under. Enter Tully (Mackenzie Davis – Blade Runner 2049, The Martian) – a night nanny and Godsend. Only not everything is what it seems.

Quirky yet dark humour abounds but with more than its share of issues that are no laughing matter, the two women shine as they play off against each other.

Rating: 72%

‘Shallows’ by Tim Winton

shallowsWinton’s first Miles Franklin Award (with only his second novel) brings together the past and the present in its story of the Western Australian whaling town of Angelus – the fictitious coastal settlement that features in many of Winton’s subsequent novels.

The town, having seen better days, is the last remaining remnant of Australia’s whaling industry and, in 1978, present-day attitudes to the mass-slaughter gives rise to outside demonstrators descending in numbers. The threat to the livelihood of Angelus and the disruptions they cause both on land and out to sea are interwoven with stories of present day characters as the town plans for its 150-year anniversary.

It’s a narrative of loneliness and desperation, of ideology and commerce, of lost dreams and petty quarrels that have hung over Angelus for generations.

One local, Queenie Coupar, joins the anti-whaling group, the last member of a family that can trace its lineage back to the 1830s and the early, inhumane beginnings of its industry. Her stance leads to a separation from her husband Cleve, barely 18 months into their vows. It is their misery apart that is the core of Shallows as Queenie finds herself involved in more and more dangerous protests. Cleve, meanwhile, drowns his sorrows in cheap alcohol and reads the journals of Nathaniel Coupar, the first of the whaling family members.

It’s vividly written and sets a tone Winton constantly explores in his later books. Shallows may not be a classic, but, through strong characterisation and involving narrative, it’s still powerful stuff.

Shallows was awarded the 1984 Miles Franklin Award.

‘Crooked House’

crooked_house_v8With more twists than a slinky, Agatha Christie’s Crooked House leaves you guessing as to just who in the family murdered Aristide Leonides, the wealthy but controlling industrialist. Disillusioned and broke sons? The gold-digger of his second, much younger, wife? His sister-in-law? One of his grandchildren?

A lavish adaptation with something of a starry cast (Glenn Close, Terence Stamp, Gillian Anderson, Max Irons) holed up in the Leonides household does not, sadly, make up for this dull telling.

Director Gilles Paquet-Brenner (Sarah’s Key, Dark Places) flounders with the material, material that would benefit hugely from a contemporary fillip. Adaptations of Christie’s murder mysteries are too often too faithful to the source material. The result is 1930s/40s clipped dialogue along with white, English, bourgeois/aristocratic mores and manners. A pity as the reveal of Crooked House is unexpected.

Rating: 41%

‘Chappaquiddick’

chappaquiddick_xlgA damning account of Senator Edward Kennedy’s role in the 1969 car accident that killed his potential presidential campaign secretary, Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara).

Political corruption comes to the fore as the last surviving son of the Kennedy clan faces potential charges. Australian actor Jason Clarke (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Mudbound) completely owns the role of the arrogant career politician who leaves the scene of the accident, failing to even report the event to the police.

Sadly, a fascinating story that essentially ended the presidential hopes of Kennedy lacks passion and vigour as director John Curran (Tracks, The Painted Veil) allows the narrative to simply plod along.

Rating: 52%

‘Breath’

Breath-New-Film-PosterA sensitive adaptation of Tim Winton’s prize-wining novel, debut feature director Simon Baker (The Devil Wears Prada, TV’s The Mentalist) captures beautifully the complexities of coming-of-age.

Quiet, twelve year-old Pikelet (newcomer Samson Coulter) and his best mate, the thrill-seeking Loonie (a superb debut from Ben Spence), discover the joys of surfing, mentored by one of the world’s best, Sando (Baker himself). But friendships become strained in the  search for danger.

A poetic love story (of friendship, of family, of oneself, of the ocean itself), Breath is a stunningly shot step back into the 1970s. Winton is a writer of intrinsically Australian stories with universal resonance – Breath is honest, nostalgic and visually beautiful.

Rating: 75%

‘Loveless’

loveless.poster.ws_Stark yet rivetingly sincere, the latest feature from Andrey Zvyagintsev (Leviathan, Elena) is feel bad in extremis.

As a Leningrad couple look to divorce, so their 12 year-old son, caught in the vindictive and argumentative maelstrom, disappears.

It’s a devastating drama, with Aleksey Rozin (Leviathan, Elena) and newcomer Maryana Spivak superbly nuanced as the couple in a feature that is never afraid to allow scenes to slowly unfold in all its dour yet heightened banality. A layered slow burn, Loveless is another of Zvyagintsev’s desolate commentaries on contemporary Russian society.

One of the best films of the year so far.

Rating: 83%

‘The Avengers: Infinity War’

avengers-infinity-war-ground-rulesThe behemoth that is Marvel Comics continues unabated with the next instalment of its superhero comic characters. Yet, in spite of new blood attached to The Avengers in the guise of The Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers: Infinity War is the same same and not really very different. Result is that, whilst occasionally funny and occasionally exciting, it all gets monotonously boring.

Thanos (Josh Brolin – Milk, Sicario) is looking to collect all six Infinity Stones to cull the universe: The Avengers needless to say are out to stop him. Problem is they’re spread all over the universe. And that’s how it predominantly stays with various superheroes separately in battle with Thanos or his sidekicks. The fractured nature of physical presence (were they all ever on the set at the same time?) is reflected in a fractured narrative that is repetitive and ultimately dull.

Rating: 44%