‘Cargo’

cargoposterThe ‘Z’ word may not be mentioned, but enjoyable Australian film Cargo firmly falls into the zombie-horror genre, but with more than a little social commentary.

With suggestions of fracking and other environmental abuses the cause of the epidemic that has decimated the country, Martin Freeman (The Hobbit, Black Panther) searches the outback for someone to look after his baby daughter.

Developed from a seven minute short by directors Yolande Ramke and Ben Howling (both making their feature film debut), whilst Cargo is occasionally plot and dialogue creaky, Freeman instils an engaging level of pathos to proceedings. And the final minutes are stirring and moving.

Rating: 61%

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‘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%

‘Sweet Country’

Sweet_Country_(2017_film)In spite of the expansive 1920s-set Australian outback, director Warwick Thornton (Samson & Delilah, The Turning) creates a claustrophobic manhunt as ‘black fella’ Sam (newcomer Hamilton Morris) is tracked cross-country by a posse for killing ‘white fella’ Harry March (Ewan Leslie – The Daughter, Dead Europe) in self-defence.

Artfully conceived and shot (the Northern Territory landscape is the star), the Australian western boasts a plethora of strong performances (including Sam Neill – Jurassic Park, The Daughter – as a man of God in a Godless town and Bryan Brown – Breaker Morant, Australia – as the vindictive local lawmaker).

It errs on slow and serious at times, but Sweet Country is nevertheless a powerful and engrossing Australian film.

Rating: 68%

‘Three Summers’

three-summers-posterSince the early 80s, British comedian and writer Ben Elton has worn his politics and heart on his sleeve. Classic TV series such as The Young Ones, Blackadder and Comic Relief attest to this.

An older Elton may have mellowed, but his Australian feature debut Three Summers retains sociopolitical grandstanding (indigenous land rights, refugees) along with several swipes at the establishment. But in a more genteel, easy to digest manner than the manic Elton of old.

Set at a weekend folk festival over three years, stories intertwine as performers and audience members return year after year. A rom-com is at the heart of Three Summers and whilst, by year three, the energy of the film is on the wane, the comic timing from the likes of Magda Szubanski (Babe, TV’s Kath & Kim) as the on-site radio presenter makes for an enjoyable and good-natured couple of hours.

Rating: 60%

‘Mountain’

mountainA gloriously immersive and poetic documentary, director Jennifer Peedom (Sherpa, Miracle on Everest) takes us on a journey through our fascination in the stunning majesty that is the world’s highest peaks.

With a beautifully modulated commentary from Willem Defoe, spectacular cinematography from Renan Ozturk (Sherpa, Valley Uprising) and a truly soaring soundtrack from Richard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Mountain literally leaves you gasping for air – whether it be at the clouds rolling into the Himalayan valleys, the intense close ups of rock climbers on sheer rock faces in Monument Valley or mountain bikers travelling hell for leather on narrow paths high in the Austrian Alps.

It’s simultaneously cerebral and emotive in the extreme – and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 5 in E Flat Major have never sounded or ‘looked’ better.

Rating: 61%

‘Namatjira Project’

00001-002A meandering, unfocused documentary, the Namatjira Project explores the legacy of one of the earliest successful Australian aboriginal painters, Albert Namatjira. The first indigenous Australian to be granted citizenship back in the 50s, his extended family has battled to reclaim their heritage since his death in 1959.

The problem for Sera Davies’ film is its failure to determine its main subject. Is it Namatjira himself? His family? The battle to regain copyright? Or is it simply following the theatre production that is Albert’s life (a superb performance by Trevor Jamieson – Rabbit Proof Fence, Bran Nue Dae)? The result is a frustrating mishmash of unresolved questions.

Rating: 53%

‘Ali’s Wedding’

19983521_1884953185091404_3701407671146097916_oVoted as The Age newspaper’s best Australian film at the recent Melbourne International Film Festival, Ali’s Wedding is a dire rom-com that, based on true events, mistakenly plays everything for laughs.

The son of a popular cleric at the local mosque, Ali (Osamah Sami, writer of the film) lies his way through his exam results, inflating his score to the point he needs to study medicine at the prestigious University of Melbourne. A non-enrolled attendee at lectures, he falls in love with the Australian-Lebanese Dianne (Helana Siwares – Banana Boy), even though he, as an Iraqi, is due to marry to Yomna. How is he going to get out of this?

Squirm inducing humour that encourages laughter at points of difference, lack of character development that results in seeming stupidity (Ali’s mother in particular) and the occasional comedic moments that are poorly or overly developed in an (ill-conceived) attempt to maximise the humour: Ali’s Wedding is very disappointing.

Rating: 36%

‘A Man of Integrity’

dregs_poster_goldposter_com_1.jpg@0o_0l_800w_80qAn honest yet downtrodden fish farmer (a quiet, nuanced performance by Reza Akhlaghirad in his film debut) fights corruption and injustice in rural Iran.

A Man of Integrity is a scathing critique of contemporary Iran (“you’re either oppressed or the oppressor”) as Reza looks for his family’s survival in the face of corporate expansion and control. Director Mohammad Rasoulof (Manuscripts Don’t Burn, Goodbye) teases out stoically naturalistic performances and a surprising tension from an age-old David and Goliath storyline.

Screened in the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Rating: 76%

‘Ellipsis’

ellipsisA Sydney-shot dramatic rom-com, with Emily Barclay (The Light Between Oceans, In My Father’s Den) finding herself without a phone after colliding with Benedict Samuel (The Walk, The Stanford Prison Experiment). A night of adventure unfolds before she must return to her fiance in London.

Like the unfolding night, Ellipsis is something of a meandering narrative as the two find themselves in various locations around Sydney. It’s pleasant enough – and debut director David Wenham pays homage to the city itself. But the real drama and human interest lies with the phone repairman (Ferdinand Hoang – Mao’s Last Dancer, The Quiet American) and his family.

Screened in the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Rating: 42%

‘The Road to Mandalay’

MV5BZGFiZjI5ZjAtNWZhMy00ZTQzLWIyNDUtMjM3MmU1MTM2MjE5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzY3MTQ1NTY@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_A quiet, understated reflection on Burmese immigrants illegally working in Thailand as Lianqing (Ke-Xi Wu – Poor Folk, Ice Poison) escapes her impoverished rural home life. Sending money home and obtaining a work permit in any way possible is her focus, even at the cost of her relationship with Guo (Kai Ko – You Are the Apple of My Eye, When a Wolf Falls in Love with a Sheep).

Both are in search of a better life, but their contradictory personalities inevitably lead to conflict. Director Midi Z (Poor Folk, Ice Poison), a rising star of Asian cinema, focuses on the everyday events and hardships faced by the pair – making its denouement in the final seconds even more unexpected and shocking.

Screened in the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Rating: 69%