‘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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‘Blade Runner 2049’

915ff4b4db85b23edf4fb6396797800a--film-posters-blade-runnerWe’ve waited more than thirty years – and this visual stunner, cinematography courtesy of one of the very best in the business, Roger Deakins (Skyfall, The Shawshank Redemption), makes it all so worth it.

It’s a beautifully crafted slow burn in which LAPD blade runner K (Ryan Gosling – La La Land, Drive) stumbles across a secret, the ramifications of which, for K’s boss (Robin Wright – State of Play, Forrest Gump) do not bear thinking about. It’s crucial that Deckard, missing for 30 years, be found. An older, slower Harrison Ford makes his return.

Denis Villeneuve (Incendies, Prisoners) has moved the sci-fi aesthetic up a notch or two (and follows on from his Arrival) with this moody, cerebral spectacle.

Rating: 82%

‘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%

‘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%

‘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%

 

‘mother!’

mother-posterAs the storyline unfolded (not having read any reviews), my initial response was that Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Lining Playbook, Joy) was nuts. The powders she kept in the bathroom didn’t help me change my mind. But husband Javier Bardem’s (No Country For Old Men, Buitiful) increasingly rash and illogical egocentric decisions made me wonder…

And as bombastic adulation, theft, vandalism, riots and cannibalism increased (all inside the house Lawrence has painstakingly renovated), so the role of the prophet and the greatest story ever told becomes clearer. Hip Hip Yahweh!

So it wasn’t Jennifer Lawrence who was nuts… Bemused and befuddled, it’s a roller-coaster head trip of excess that’s initially sort of fun to watch but writer/director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream) just doesn’t know when to stop.

Rating: 52%

‘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%

‘Patti Cake$’

patti_cakesInfectious storytelling as Killa P a.k.a Patti Cake$ is an aspiring rap artist from New Jersey looking to make it big. Only issue is that she’s overweight and white.

Debut feature film writer/director Geremy Jasper firmly positions Patti Cake$ as a crowd-pleaser  – and with the amazing Danielle MacDonald (Lady Bird, The East) as a convincing rapper, he almost succeeds. But the energy palls in the middle as Patti deals with her alcoholic mother (Bridget Everett – Trainwreck, Sex & the City) and feisty grandmother as the storyline heads into predictability.

Rating: 59%

‘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%