‘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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‘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%

‘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: 71%

‘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%

‘Faces Places’

MV5BNmE1MTJlM2QtM2JmZC00ODVlLTgzMzctYTkxZDVkOGYzODI2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDY2NDMxNDY@._V1_A charming documentary with multi-award winning Belgian director Agnes Varda (The Beaches of Agnes, The Gleaners and I) teaming up with photographer/muralist JR. A picaresque road trip ensues as filmmaker and stills maker create large scale works they plaster in public places in rural France.

A ruminative piece as the two form an unlikely friendship – she, the 88 year-old grande dame of the French New Wave; he, a cool and hip Parisian. And whilst ultimately lacking any depth, the art for art’s sake odyssey is witty, compassionate, warm and life-affirming.

Screened in the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Rating: 67%

’13th’

the13th_27x40_1sheetThe thirteenth amendment to the United States Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude – except as punishment for a crime. The stirring documentary 13th explores how, since the abolition, crime enforcement has perpetuated a link to modern day slavery and social inequity.

A hugely disproportionate number of black males are incarcerated in US prisons, many the result of the policies of US presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton along with sentences handed out to black offenders as opposed to white. Statistics show a white male has a 1 in 17 chance of being imprisoned sometime during his life: for a black male this statistic is 1:3.

Director Ava DuVernay (Selma, Middle of Nowhere) explores the results of these policies alongside historically restrictive laws and practices in an Oscar-nominated documentary that ought to be mandatory viewing (particularly in the US).

Rating: 79%

Best of Year (2016) -Film

i-daniel-blakeAs mentioned in an earlier post, 2016 was not awash, in my opinion, with great films. Lots of good ones, a few that didn’t quite live up to expectations or some abject failures. Hence my top 10 for the year is noticeable by its lack of US ‘studio’ films and dominated by European ‘sensibility’. There’s little room for last year’s big critical darlings – only Spotlight making the cut from the Oscar nominated best films. No The Revenant or The Big Short (the latter sitting just outside the top 10).

To be honest, I was a little surprised by the way my list panned out – but it’s all based on my own percentage rating and rings true. ‘Story’ dominated – whilst I’m not averse to action and adventure, it’s the narrative that is all-important. So the indie productions are well-represented.

My top 10 films for the 2016:

10=: Captain Fantastic (Canada) w/Viggo Mortensen
Mr Gaga (Israeli documentary) dir/Tomer Heymann
7=:    The Hateful 8 (US) w/Samuel L. Jackson
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (New Zealand) w/Sam Neill
The Embrace of the Serpent (Colombia)
5=:    Spotlight (US) w/Michael Keaton
Hell or High Water (US) w/Chris Pine
4:      Indignation (US) w/Logan Lerman
3:      Nocturnal Animals (US) w/Amy Adams
2:      Mustang (Turkey/France)
1:      I, Daniel Blake (UK) dir/Ken Loach

Quiet, social commentary films are there in numbers – the devasting Ken Loach Cannes Palme d’Or winner, I Daniel Blake sitting atop the list as my favourite film of the year. That was a little unexpected knowing La La Land was my last film of 2016. Going by critical response, I anticipated the Damien Chazelle homage to Hollywood musicals of the 50s to be the film of the year. It was good – but not that good, as indicated by its failure to feature in my top 10.

Both Mustang and The Embrace of the Serpent were nominated for last year’s best foreign language film – but they lost out to the Hungarian Holocaust drama, Son of Saul. You can see my opinion (Son of Saul came in around 15th for the year on my selection). The other foreign language film on the list, Mr Gaga, is the superb documentary focussing on Israeli contemporary dance choreographer, Ohad Naharin.

Both Hell or High Water and Nocturnal Animals share the presence of a Texan sheriff as crucial to the storyline – the underrated Michael Shannon in Tom Ford’s elegant suspense feature and the show-stealing Jeff Bridges in Hell or High Water.

Disappointing not to see a local Australian film in the list but the Antipodes is represented by the most successful New Zealand film ever made – the irrepressible Hunt for the Wilderpeople. And its back-to-nature setting is mirrored by the alternative upbringing of the (large) Cash family in the Washington State wilderness of Captain Fantastic.

‘Francofonia’

francofonia_posterThe visual feast that was Russian Ark, director Aleksandr Sokurov ‘s homage to the Hermitage in St Petersburg, is sadly missing in Francofonia.

Purportedly the history of the Louvre during the Nazi occupation of Paris, it’s something of a schizophrenic  documentary, uncertain as it is of what exactly is its focus. The story of the French director, Jacques Jaujard who worked with Nazi Franz Wolff-Metternich to prevent the Louvre collection being sent to Germany is a story in itself (Sokurov choses an odd re-enactment of pregnant pauses and furtive glances). But mixed in there is a superficial positioning of the Louvre itself and its collection (cue Napoleon) along with a meditation to the meaning of art. Result is Francofonia misses on all fronts.

Painfully dull.

Rating: 48%

‘Bill Cunningham New York’

Layout 1Finally caught up with this fabulous Richard Press directed  documentary, released in Australia back in 2012.

Photographer Bill worked the streets of Manhattan snapping his pics of New York couture for his The New York Times columns. In spite of his $40 workers jackets, bicycle clips and sellotaped waterproofs, Bill could access any runway in the city or fashion week in Paris – and usually front row. Surrounded by glamour, he was at his most comfortable in $3 sandwich shops.

Singularly dedicated to his art, this charismatic man plied his art for more than 40 years. He died in June 2016 at the age of 87.

Rating: 76%

‘Mr Gaga’

a1e0a2_48b07cbe9db5431bb73e2015d9921b86A fascinating biopic of the genius that is Ohad Naharin, one of the world’s most important choreographers and artistic director of Israel’s Batsheva Dance Co.

With the occasional input from other collaborators, early footage of childhood on the kibbutz and 80s archival footage dancing in New York, director Tomer Heymann (Paper Dolls, It Kinda Scares Me) wisely recognises the charm of Naharin himself speaks volumes. Intimate and insightful, its the celebration of the dance itself that makes Mr Gaga a truly glorious documentary.

Rating: 78%