‘The Disaster Artist’

TheDisastorArtistTeaserPosterOccasionally laugh out loud, The Disaster Artist is the funny telling of the making of The Room, regarded as one of the worst films ever made.

When aspiring young actor Greg Sestero (a toothy, smiling Dave Franco – Now You See Me, 21 Jump St) meets the deeply strange Tommy Wiseau (a modulated and controlled wackiness from James Franco – Milk, Why Him?) at an acting workshop, their worlds change.

It’s all based on truth as the deluded Wiseau, tired of Hollywood rejections, sets out to make his own film. Money is no object as he writes, directs, stars and produces the mess that is The Room – a film so bad it becomes a huge cult hit.

A loving homage with lots of cameo performances (Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron, Josh Hutcherson, J.J. Abrams, Kristen Bell and more), expect The Disaster Artist to appear in this year’s awards shortlists – particularly James Franco as lead actor (he also directed).

Rating: 74%

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‘The Teacher’

theteacher.poster.ws_Corruption in a 1980s Bratislava high school as the new teacher ensures she gets what she wants from both kids and their parents – in return for high grades. And her connections within the Communist Party ensure that no one dare stand up to Miss Drazdechova (a splendidly malevolent and manipulative Zuzana Maurery – Colette, Thanks Fine).

Director Jan Hrebejk (Oscar nominated Divided We Fall, Kawasaki Rose) keeps the tone  sardonic and caustic rather than overly grim as parents finally appeal to a higher authority.

Rating: 73%

‘Loving Vincent’

a8513dbe6f8b58fc9e4bf0b3aa3fc134_300x442A world first – a fully painted animation where Vincent Van Gogh’s emotive impasto and bold brushstrokes effectively transfer to the screen.

A year after the artist’s death, Armond Roulin is sent by his father, Postmaster Joseph Roulin, to personally deliver a letter to Theo Van Gogh. Initially reluctant, Armond travels to Auvers-sure-Oise via Paris where he slowly becomes embroiled in the mystery that was Vincent Van Gogh.

The narrative itself may be stilted and slight but technique (more than 100 artists, 853 paintings and 65,000 frames in the 94 minute film) never fails to impress. Painted in the style of Van Gogh, actors (including Douglas Booth, Saoirse Ronan and Helen McCrory) are placed in the artist’s rendered landscapes, creating a living tableaux to tell the story of those tragic last days.

A UK/Polish co-production commissioned by Wroclaw: European City of Culture 2016.

Rating: 72%

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‘Borg vs McEnroe’

 

largeposterThe rivalry between the ice-cool Bjorn Borg and volatile John McEnroe dominated tennis headlines in the late 70s/early 80s. Not interested in anything but being the best, Borg retired from tennis at the age of just 26 when the American replaced him as world number one in 1981.

But not before, in 1980, Borg won his fifth consecutive Wimbledon title, beating McEnroe in five sets in what is regarded as the greatest final ever seen at the All-England club. Borg McEnroe is centred round the 1980 tournament as pressure mounts on Borg to make history.

Sverrir Gudnason (Blowfly Park, Original) is appropriately cool and emotionless as Borg – and his likeness to the Swede is uncanny. Wedding plans (to Romanian tennis player Mariana Simionescu) and Wimbledon preparations do not go hand-in-hand, adding to the pressure. An emerging McEnroe (a wonderful supporting role from Shia LeBeouf – Transformers, Lawless) has his own points to prove – to both his family and the tennis world in general.

Mixing flashbacks to both men’s childhoods (interestingly Borg was a wilful and volatile teenage tennis player) with current relationship issues both on and off the court, director  Janus Metz (Armadillo, Fra Thailand til Thy)  brings his documentary aesthetic to ultimately let the tennis and the final itself speak for the film. Overheads, close-ups, cropping add to the excitement, making up for a somewhat oversimplified and stodgy off-court narrative.

(It makes for an interesting accompaniment with the 60s-set Battles of the Sexes)

Rating: 58%

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‘Detroit’

Detroit_teaser_posterUnquestionably manipulative, Detroit is nevertheless a devastatingly authentic expose of events in and around the Algiers Hotel, a late night Detroit drinking den, on the night of 25 July, 1967.

Tensions are already high after days of race rioting with city and state police along with the National Guard trying to bring order to the city. When members of the city police department storm the hotel searching for a sniper, the worst nightmare unfolds for seven black men and two white women.

Palpable psychological fear unfolds (with a convincingly sensitive performance from Algee Smith – Earth to Echo – as Larry, the then lead singer of The Dramatics) as tactics to reveal the identity leave black, white, male, female severely bruised and bloodied – and three dead. But it is Will Poulter (The Maze Runner, The Chronicles of Narnia) who is the stand-out – a frighteningly convincing white-supremacist police officer in charge. This is a man on a mission.

As with her Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker, director Kathryn Bigelow immerses us in the events, a gritty real-time. There’s no platitudinous commentary on the rioting or wider American race relations – Detroit is a focus on events at the Algiers Hotel. Poulter is a murderous racist who, with no surprises, is exonerated for his actions two years later by an all-white jury (the predictable court scene being the film’s weak link).

‘Change is gonna come – it’ll just take time.’ states an elected black politician early in the film in attempting to calm an angry crowd. Fifty years later, events in Charlottesville, Missouri and the like suggest change is coming all too slowly.

(If you have the stomach, watch Detroit in conjunction with I Am Not Your Negro).

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Rating: 81%

‘Final Portrait’

fporAn uncanny likeness of the two leads to the characters they are playing and a beautifully modulated insight into the painting process itself within the artist’s studio are the highlights of actor Stanley Tucci’s debut foray into directing.

Tucci has chosen to restrict that process to the two weeks in 1964 it takes Alberto Giacometti (a nervous, full-of-energy but profoundly annoying Geoffrey Rush – Shine,  Pirates of the Caribbean) to paint the portrait of American writer, James Lord (a suitably waspish Armie Hammer – The Social Network, Nocturnal Animals).

The result is well-made but less-than-satisfying as the material (unlike Giacometti’s paint) is spread a little too thinly.

Rating: 54%

‘The Dancer’

The-Dancer-posterLittle remembered Loie Fuller, toast of fin de siecle Folies Bergere, finds herself dealing with a very ambitious young American dancer – Isadora Duncan.

Some of the choreography (lots of diaphanous fabric, mirrors, clever lighting and Vivaldi played loud) is showily spectacular, innovative for its time. But overall the episodic biopic is strangely unengaging with a lack of clarity of events creating a somewhat incoherent storyline.

Soko (Augustine, In the Beginning) toughs it out as Loie whilst Johnny Depp’s daughter, Lily-Rose Depp (Planetarium, Tusk) is suitably ethereal (with a streak of malicious ambition) as Isadora.

Rating: 43%

‘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%

 

‘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%

 

‘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%