‘The Realm’

A thoroughly engaging Spanish political thriller as the lid is blown on the nefarious corruption of ‘The Party’ with a focus on the arrogant, regional president-in waiting, Antonio de la Tour (The Last Circus, A Twelve-Year Night).

As financial scandal after financial scandal hits the regional office, so Madrid HQ (and his local colleagues) looks to scapegoat de la Tour. But he’s not taking the rap alone, being only too aware that the corruption is far more widespread. Evidence is what he needs – and he’ll go to any lengths to undercover it.

With its driving soundtrack, fast-paced incisive dialogue, strong performances and taut direction (Rodrigo Sorogoyen – Que Dios nos perdone, Stockholm), The Realm is a superior, tension-filled feature.

Rating: 73%

Advertisements

‘All Is True’

After his Globe Theatre burns to the ground (1613), William Shakespeare (Kenneth Branagh – Dunkirk, Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit) returns to his Stratford home and to a family he has barely seen in 20 years.

A strained relationship with his wife, Anne Hathaway (Judi Dench – Skyfall, Shakespeare In Love), and two daughters eventually eases as the three women come to terms with Shakespeare’s return and a few home truths bubble to the surface.

Solid direction by Branagh himself (Hamlet, Murder on the Orient Express) All Is True is a somewhat syrupy telling of the playwright’s last act, lensed through (symbolic) autumnal hues and littered with quotes from the Baird’s own writings (but then if you have Branagh, Dench and Ian McKellen at hand, hardly surprising!). It’s engaging in a small way – a period-piece family drama with some much needed zing provided by the sharp-tongued elder daughter, Judith (Kathryn Wilder – Murder on the Orient Express, Ready Player One).

Rating: 53%

‘Everybody Knows’

Beautifully shot, perfectly capturing the Spanish countryside and village life, auteur Asghar Fahardi’s (The Salesman, A Separation) latest is ultimately a deeply unpleasant narrative of revenge.

Laura (Penelope Cruz – Volver, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) travels from Buenos Aires with her two children to attend her sister’s wedding. But the kidnapping of teenage daughter Irene results in long-buried secrets, family feuds and village animosities rising to the surface with devastating results.

Former lover Paco (a solid and likeable Javier Bardem – No Country For Old Men, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) is there for a distraught Laura. But, over the course of 150 minutes, Everybody Knows, whilst eminently watchable, gradually slips into melodrama and (for Fahardi) unsubtle angst.

Rating: 54%

‘The Guilty’

A tense, riveting claustrophobia of a narrative restricted entirely to one night in a Danish emergency call centre and built around the headset of one operative, Jakob Cedergren (Submarino, Terribly Happy).

Unexpected twists and turns evolve as an abducted woman manages to make an emergency call from the vehicle heading north out of Copenhagen. A police sergeant on suspension, a concerned and flawed Cedergren is superb as the night develops and his earlier convictions and hunches are sorely tested.

Writer/director Gustav Moller, in his debut feature, builds suspense in this taut chamber drama – and, with its running time of 85 minutes, shows confidence in the art of filmmaking. The Guilty won a slew of international awards, including the Audience Award, World Cinema, at Sundance 2018.

Rating: 88%

‘The Sisters Brothers’

An easy going western as famed sharpshooting assassins the Sisters Brothers are dispatched to the Californian goldfields by the Commodore to deal with one Herman Kermit Warn.

Patrick deWitt’s award-winning The Sisters Brothers is a gripping, darkly funny and wholly compelling novel. Condensing the sprawling nature of the brothers journey from Oregon in its adaptation for screen, Jacques Audiard (Rust & Bone, A Prophet) cuts to the chase, with brothers Joaquin Phoenix (Gladiator, Walk the Line) and John C Reilly (Stan & Ollie, Chicago) quickly catching up with Warn (Riz Ahmed – Venom, The Reluctant Fundamentalist). But not everything is what it seems – resulting in the boys reconsidering their long term prospects.

There’s a great deal lost in translation from page to screen – in particular Eli’s moral and ethical rumination of life as a gunslinger. But, in his first English language feature, Audiard has captured the boisterous, humorous gung-ho of the genre, supported by a great cast and, albeit foreshortened, an offbeat and garrulous storyline.

Rating; 72%

‘Stan & Ollie’

A flat, strangely uninvolving narrative as Laurel & Hardy, once the most successful comedy duo in the world, look to reignite their dwindling careers and strained friendship with a gruelling theatre tour of post-war Britain.

Seedy bed & breakfasts in the likes of Carlisle, Swansea, Plymouth are a far cry from their golden Hollywood days as the two struggle to attract audiences. The arrival of their respective wives adds to the pressure as Ollie’s health suffers and threatens the future of the tour.

In their impersonations of the duo, Steve Coogan (Night at the Museum, Philomena) and John C Reilly (Chicago, The Sisters Brothers) are excellent but its an uphill struggle with the uninspiring material (written by Jeff Pope – Philomena, Pierrepoint) and pedantic direction (Jon S. Baird – Filth).

Rating: 51%

‘Loro’

Bombastic, MTV-style telling of the life and times of scandal-plagued Italian PM, Silvio Berlusconi (Toni Servillo – The Great Beauty, Consequences of Love) or at least a period in his career as his marriage to second wife Veronica fractures.

Nudity, raucous poolside parties, coke-snorting bacchanalia is the order of the day as director Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty, TV’s The Young Pope) controversially speculates on what may or may not have taken place behind both political and private closed doors as characters attempt to win the favour of the billionaire politician.

The Fellini-esque excess of debauchery, sex and depictions of unfettered wealth grate and ultimately bore – even if, unlike it’s two part release in Italy, the 150 minute international version switches at the halfway stage to a more in-depth, serious exploration of the corruption of power and money.

Sadly, too little too late – I’d switched off caring before then as Sorrentino delivers, once more, artifice rather than depth.

Rating: 34%

‘Cold War’

A sublimely shot monochrome homage to 1950s European film, Cold War is an impossible tragic love story – a sad ballad of time and place across (east/west) frontiers.

With music the setter of moods (from traditional Polish peasant music to freeform jazz), Oscar-winning writer/director Pawel Pawlikowski (Ida, Summer of Love) focusses on the intimate within the narrative as a magnificent Joanna Kulig (The Innocents, Elles) sings her way to fame in 1950s Poland. A product of a post-war communist youth organisation, it is there she meets Wiktor (Tomasz Kot – Bikini Blue, Gods), music conductor at the folk-music academy. A doomed love affair from Warsaw to Paris, Berlin to Belgrade unfolds over the next 20 years.

Like the story itself, Cold War is starkly beautiful, its intimacy cold, its emotions constrained, distant. An intimate epic.

Rating: 84%

‘Colette’

A somewhat dull, episodic telling of the story of Colette, the French La Belle Epoque novelist who challenged her husband, successful Parisian writer Henry Gauthier-Villars – known commonly as Willy – and by doing so revolutionised social constraints, fashion and gender expectations.

As Colette, Keira Knightly (Atonement, Pirates of the Caribbean) is spiritedly charming throughout, dealing with an arrogant, bombastic, misogynist husband (Dominic West (Pride, Tomb Raider). But as a film it’s all a little too clean and by rote, with no real emotion or impoverished struggle. Something of a disappointment as the directorial follow-up by Wash Westmoreland to Still Alice.

Rating: 54%

Best of Year (2018 – Film)

The final list of the year – the top 10 films, and, to my mind, it’s something of a stunner, with non-English language films dominant. And just failing to make the top 10 were a number of much praised indie films – including Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, The Florida Project and Lean on Pete. Last year’s Oscar winner for best film, The Shape of Water, just missed out on the top 10, as did my only animation for the year, Isle of Dogs.

My top 10 films of the year:
10: The Rider
9: BPM (Beats Per Minute)
8: Loveless
7: 1945
6: The Favourite
5: Roma
4: Custody
3: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
2: Shoplifters
1: Foxtrot

The final film I saw at the 2018 Melbourne International Film Festival slipped into 10th spot – an intense indie film of bravura performances beautifully controlled by director Chloe Zhao.

The winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival (essentially the runner up for the Palme d’Or), BPM is a powerful, lyrical, emotional narrative that resonates on a much wider political level than its ACT UP AIDS awareness setting.

In Loveless, director Andrey Zvyagintsev continues to comment on contemporary Russian society as a Leningrad couple look to divorce. Their 12 year-old son, caught in the vindictive and argumentative maelstrom, disappears in the stark yet rivetingly sincere feature from the director who is responsible for the equally devastating Leviathan.

In seventh spot, a film that was completely under the radar and barely received commercial distribution. But this black and white story of two Jews returning to a small Hungarian village days after the end of World War II is a picaresque narrative of startling beauty and powerful commentary.

One of the favourites in the current Oscar race, The Favourite is a ribald delight as the English court of Queen Anne is the setting for the locking of horns by three women in an attempt to win the royal favour.

Another Oscar favourite (and odds-on to win the foreign language film nod) is another black and white beauty. Roma by Alfonso Cuaron is the gorgeously shot year in the life of Cleo, a maid to a middle-class family living in Mexico City in the 1970s.

Devastating and disturbing, debut director Xavier Legrand’s claustrophobic tour de force is no easy watch, but with superb performances from a relatively small cast, Custody is heart-wrenching in its pain, fear and anger.

The runner-up for best film of the year is Shoplifters, the Palme d’Or winner at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. It’s a deft, emotionally delicate feature from socially conscious filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda.

But my favourite film of 2018 is the Israeli film, Foxtrot, a sublime mix of intense drama interspersed with flashes of surreal brilliance. It’s bold, it’s imaginative, it’s powerful – an appropriate follow-up from director Samuel Maoz and his visceral debut feature film, Lebanon.