‘Gaga: Five Foot Two’

 

lady-gagaA vulnerable Lady Gaga behind-the-scenes as this fly-on-the-wall documentary provides a voyeuristic insight into the preparation for her half-time Super Bowl gig.

But it’s not all music studios, dance barres and costume changes. It may well be carefully orchestrated but this is Lady Gaga unplugged, Stefani Germanotta at home with family, her insecurities, pain management of a stage injury and the release of her highly personal latest album, Joanne.

Director Chris Mourkabel (Banksy Does New York) gets up close and personal but Gaga: Five Foot Two would have benefitted from a little more judicious editing.

Rating: 60%

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‘Blade Runner 2049’

915ff4b4db85b23edf4fb6396797800a--film-posters-blade-runnerWe’ve waited more than thirty years – and this visual stunner, cinematography courtesy of one of the very best in the business, Roger Deakins (Skyfall, The Shawshank Redemption), makes it all so worth it.

It’s a beautifully crafted slow burn in which LAPD blade runner K (Ryan Gosling – La La Land, Drive) stumbles across a secret, the ramifications of which, for K’s boss (Robin Wright – State of Play, Forrest Gump) do not bear thinking about. It’s crucial that Deckard, missing for 30 years, be found. An older, slower Harrison Ford makes his return.

Denis Villeneuve (Incendies, Prisoners) has moved the sci-fi aesthetic up a notch or two (and follows on from his Arrival) with this moody, cerebral spectacle.

Rating: 82%

‘I Am Not Your Negro’

9780525434696“The history of America is the history of the Negro in America. And it’s not a pretty picture.”

A powerful, deeply personal account of race relations in the US based on author James Baldwin’s book, Remember This House, unfinished at the time of his death in 1987. Filmmaker Raoul Peck (Lumumba, Sometimes In April) envisions the book from the 30 pages of the manuscript using only Baldwin’s own words, drawn from his writings and televised interviews and speeches.

It’s an examination of past and present with Baldwin’s words ringing oh so very true in 2017 as they did 40-50 years ago when three of the writer’s friends, ‘activists’ Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were all assassinated.

Baldwin’s words resonate – with Peck, judicious snatches of contemporary news footage and a voiceover from Samuel L Jackson adding to the impact of this timely film.

Rating: 79%

‘Battle of the Sexes’

battle_of_the_sexes_ver2_xlgIt’s a solid telling of the story of tennis-ace Billie Jean King and her ‘battle’ with 1970s male chauvinism with the disparity of prize money in male and female tournaments alongside the baiting by former world number one, Bobby Riggs.

Problem is Battle of the Sexes could (and should) have more depth. By skating across too many surfaces, a potentially fascinating narrative is too superficial. The conflict with the American Lawn Tennis Association; the challenge by Riggs, a 55 year old man, to prove that women are lesser players than men and Billie-Jean’s own personal sexual awakening are all ticked off in the 120 minute running time.

Emma Stone (La La Land, The Help) copes well enough as Billie-Jean, but she is upstaged by the showmanship that is Steve Carell (The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Foxcatcher) as Riggs. The blatant 70s sexism may leave you shaking your head in disbelief but it’s only when Stone is on screen with Andrea Riseborough (Nocturnal Animals, Shadow Dancer) as a love interest does the film capture any real emotion.

Rating: 58%

 

‘mother!’

mother-posterAs the storyline unfolded (not having read any reviews), my initial response was that Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Lining Playbook, Joy) was nuts. The powders she kept in the bathroom didn’t help me change my mind. But husband Javier Bardem’s (No Country For Old Men, Buitiful) increasingly rash and illogical egocentric decisions made me wonder…

And as bombastic adulation, theft, vandalism, riots and cannibalism increased (all inside the house Lawrence has painstakingly renovated), so the role of the prophet and the greatest story ever told becomes clearer. Hip Hip Yahweh!

So it wasn’t Jennifer Lawrence who was nuts… Bemused and befuddled, it’s a roller-coaster head trip of excess that’s initially sort of fun to watch but writer/director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream) just doesn’t know when to stop.

Rating: 52%

‘Patti Cake$’

patti_cakesInfectious storytelling as Killa P a.k.a Patti Cake$ is an aspiring rap artist from New Jersey looking to make it big. Only issue is that she’s overweight and white.

Debut feature film writer/director Geremy Jasper firmly positions Patti Cake$ as a crowd-pleaser  – and with the amazing Danielle MacDonald (Lady Bird, The East) as a convincing rapper, he almost succeeds. But the energy palls in the middle as Patti deals with her alcoholic mother (Bridget Everett – Trainwreck, Sex & the City) and feisty grandmother as the storyline heads into predictability.

Rating: 59%

‘The Lost City of Z’

large_large_ik3ebv7J18fs6cHkmu91oxz7EGtVisually grand, James Gray’s (The Immigrant, Two Lovers) The Lost City of Z is an old-school adventure yarn as British explorer Major Percy Fawcett spends large parts of his life in Amazonia searching for the elusive lost city of Z. He disappeared along with his son in the Brazilian jungles in 1925.

Yet, in spite of a likeable Fawcett portrayal by Charlie Hunnam (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Crimson Peak), the feature is strangely static, with little sense of thrill or suspense. It all becomes a little too episodic with Fawcett travelling between England and South America to spend time with his family, convince the Royal Geographic Society of the value of his expeditions before heading off, once again, into the wilds.

Rating: 58%

 

‘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%

‘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%