‘First Man’

first manIn spite of knowing the outcome of Apollo 11 and Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon, director Damien Chazelle (La La Land, Whiplash) and his taut telling of the historic moment teases out every thrill, tension and suspense.

Somber, claustrophobic and with a focus on the men and their families (a controlled, nuanced Ryan Gosling – La La Land, Drive – as Armstrong, a riveting, scene-stealing Claire Foy – Unsane, TV’s The Crown – as his wife, Janet), First Man is intimate and deeply humane. But it is also a technical tour de force, with particular reference to the editing by Tom Cross (La La Land, Whiplash), and a likely swag of behind-the-scenes Oscar nominations.

Rating: 68%

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‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’

miseducationA modest, low-key Christian gay conversion therapy drama as Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass, Let Me In) is caught in the clutches of Bible Study classmate Coley at the School Prom.

Writer/director Desiree Akhavan (Appropriate Behaviour) elicits sensitive, nuanced performances from a cast of predominantly young adults as Moretz develops a close relationship with the dope-growing, resigned-to-their-fate Jane (Sasha Lane – American Honey, Hearts Beat Loud) and Adam (Forrest Goodluck – The Revenant, Indian Horse).

Whilst avoiding overt grandstanding, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, through its lightness of touch and wry humouris a damning indictment of institutional Christianity. It collected the Grand Jury Prize at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

Rating: 68%

‘You Were Never Really Here’

you wereA taught, nervous, noir thriller as traumatised veteran Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line, Inherent Vice) tracks down missing persons – with liberal use of violence when necessary. With the disappearance of a senator’s daughter, Phoenix finds himself in a tight-knit paedophile ring.

Winner of both best screenplay and best actor at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, director Lynne Ramsey (We Need to Talk About Kevin, Ratcatcher) has adapted the novel by Johnathan Ames into a moodily stylish ellipsis of flashbacks, suggestion and suppression. It’s a pity that You Were Never Really Here occasionally lapses into incoherence.

Rating: 63%

‘On Chesil Beach’

On_Chesil_Beach_(film)They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible. So begins Ian McEwan’s 1960s-set novel, On Chesil Beach.

In adapting his own elliptical novel for the screen, McEwan emphasises that lack of meaningful communication between the young couple, neither of whom can talk to each  other or their respective families. Their lack of knowledge results in tragic and devastating consequences.

As the uptight Florence, Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird, Brooklyn) beautifully portrays the terrified innocent, balanced perfectly with the awkward, bumbling Billy Howle (Dunkirk, The Sense of an Ending). Acclaimed theatre director Dominic Cooke is at the helm, resulting in a tender, dialogue-rich love story.

Rating: 66%

‘BlackkKlansman’

blackkkAn extraordinary story of two local detectives, one Black (John David Washington – Monster, Monsters & Men), one Jewish (Adam Driver – Paterson, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) infiltrating the Colorado Springs chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s.

Director Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X) has not gone uncriticised for his loose adaptation of the true events (‘that story points are fabricated in order to make a Black cop and his counterparts look like allies in the fight against racism’ at the time of Black Lives Matter). But his hybrid period piece/comedy/cop drama with more than a hint of polemic is a hugely entertaining yet angry film that deftly highlights racism within the establishment.

It’s not necessarily an easy-watch – the racist and abusive language, the shocking violence of news footage – but it is an important watch.

Rating: 81%

‘Dark River’

dark riverA bleak drama as two siblings battle for tenancy of the family farm following the death of their father.

After 15 years away, a compelling Ruth Wilson (Anna Karenina, Saving Mr Banks) as Alice returns to Yorkshire to the decrepit homestead surly and angry brother Mark Stanley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Our Kind of Traitor) has left to rot.  Memories of paternal sexual abuse come flooding back as Alice battles to make the farm a going concern. But her brother has different ideas.

As the title suggests, it’s a brooding narrative from director Clio Bernard (The Arbor, The Selfish Giant) very loosely based on Rose Tremain’s novel Trespass (the setting for a start is transposed to Yorkshire from France). Both brother and sister share a dour affinity to the land, but each demands a different return. It’s raw and uncompromising, only marred by a less than convincing final minutes.

Rating: 54%

Screened as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival

‘Leave No Trace’

Leave_No_TraceAs with her previous film, Winter Bone, director Deborah Granik builds slowly, a subtle, quiet grace in the relationship between father (Ben Foster – The Program, Hell Or High Water) and daughter (Thomasin McKenzie – The Changeover, The Hobbit).

Living an alternative lifestyle in a Portland national park, the two eke out a living from the land. But as the authorities step in, so the two discover their needs and wants diverge.

It’s a seemingly aimless film, meandering through a storyline essentially devoid of any conflict (even the authorities are polite and helpful). But it still manages to get under the skin, its acute sense of place and time drawing you in to the extraordinary chemistry between the two leads.

Rating: 68%

Screened in Melbourne International Film Festival

‘See You Up There’

SYUT_280x400-VERTSomething of a visual feast, the morality tale set in the aftermath of the First World War is an absurdist black comedy – a Buster Keaton/Grand Guignol Phantom of the Opera mix.

Severely disfigured in the final days of the war, a mask-wearing artist Nahuel Perez Biscayart (BPM, Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe) looks to his revenge on war profiteers (including his own estranged father), joining with the man who saved his life in the trenches (Albert Dupontel – Nine Month Stretch, Love Me No More).

Co-adaptor of the novel by Pierre Lemaitre as well as director, Dupontel tells a bittersweet yet sumptuous tale of revenge and redemption.

Rating: 59%

‘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%

‘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%