‘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%

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‘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%

‘Maudie’

maudie_xlgCanadian folk artist Maud Lewis is centre stage of director Aisling Walsh’s (Song for a Raggy Boy) heartfelt biopic.

Sufferer of rheumatoid arthritis from a young age, orphaned in her teenage years, living in penury, little changes after her (late) marriage to Everett. Misfits in their Nova Scotia community, living in a one-room hut on the edge of town, Maudie becomes a success as an artist.

Essentially a two hander, with Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine, Happy Go Lucky) in fine form, ably supported by Ethan Hawke (Training Day, Boyhood), Maudie is something of a mixed-bag – a fine character study with superb performances but which loses its way in uncertainty as to which story to tell.

Rating: 68%

‘Powidoki’ (‘Afterimage’)

afterThe final film of one of the great European directors – Andrzej Wajda (Man of Iron, Danton) – focusing on one of the great and influential post-war European artists – Wladyslaw Strzeminski.

An individualist who rejected social realism, internationally renowned Strzeminski was undermined and ultimately destroyed by the Polish state system. Wajda quietly and economically tells his story, choosing to focus on the last few years of Strzeminski’s life in Lodz and his fall from professorship at the Art Academy to his work being destroyed by the authorities.

In its quietness there is power, in its nuanced understatement there is anger. And while Afterimage may suffer slightly from its staginess, the strong performance from lead Boguslaw Linda (Summer Love, Pan Tadeusz) helps the film tell its story cleanly and respectfully.

Screened in the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Rating: 64%

‘Dunkirk’

dunkirk-posterOh, oh, oh. It’s visceral magnificence on screen. Grand gestures aplenty but the minutiae of wartime claustrophobia, fear and defeat balance this superb, emotional sweep of a film.

Christopher Nolan (Inception, The Dark Knight) tells the true story of the rescue of 300,000 British, Belgian and French soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk, surrounded by an advancing German army. It’s the flotilla of weekend sailors and fishermen (and women) who save the day as the navy destroyers are picked off by the German air force.

A true ensemble piece – Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy along with newcomers Fionn Whitehead and Aneurin Barnard are just a few – that is a jigsaw of narratives of few words and which makes up the whole,  building to a rousing crescendo. Exhausting!

Rating: 89%

‘A Quiet Passion’

a-quiet-passion-2016-posterA series of related tableau (some short and extremely witty) unfold the life of American poet Emily Dickinson.

The dialogue is quick fire passionate, the scenes stifling, claustrophobic and painterly with soft autumnal lighting, the performances arch with Cynthia Nixon (Sex and the City‘s Miranda Hobbs) masterly as the poet, ably supported by Jennifer Ehle (Zero Dark Thirty, TV’s Pride & Prejudice) as her sister.

But by its nature and subject (Dickinson rarely left the family home or, in later years, her rooms) A Quiet Passion is somewhat static. The glorious humour in the early part of the narrative peters out as an embittered Dickinson ages and her recognition as a poet fails to materialise. Writer/director Terence Davies (Sunset Song, The Deep Blue Sea) focuses on her inner demons, resulting in an austere, repressed telling of the poet and her family life.

Rating: 68%

‘Monsieur Chocolat’

MonChoc_A4posterWith an immense physicality and a most extraordinary smile, Omar Sy (The Intouchables, Jurassic World)  is one of the most expressive of actors. So he’s the perfect fit for Rafaela Padilla, the first black circus performer to conquer Belle Epoque Paris.

The rise and fall of Padilla as Monsieur Chocolat is told in a somewhat episodic, traditional biopic manner by director Roschdy Zem (Bad Faith, Omar Killed Me). Racism of the day along with gambling and drug abuse saw to his downfall but, along with Sy’s performance, the story itself is engaging.

 

Rating: 59%