‘Atomic Blonde’

atomicEntertaining if OTT, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, violent action-packed spy thriller. MI5 agent Charlize Theron (Monster, Mad Max: Fury Road) finds herself partnering James McAvoy (X-Men, Split) in the hunt for a missing Stasi agent and his list of double agents. It’s Berlin in 1989 – the Wall is about to crumble and the rules of the Cold War are about to change.

Theron is a real kick-ass in a mix of John Le Carre spy-chiller and Bond action – exactly what you would expect from stuntman turned director David Leitch. And as in all good spy stories, there’s plenty of twists.

Rating: 62%

Advertisements

‘Self-Criticism of a Bourgeois Dog’

PLAKAT_150It’s a pity the best title in the Melbourne International Film Festival program is hardly in the running for best film.

The offbeat, quirky, sociopolitical feature starts off well as the welfare-supported film director (played by the film’s director, Julian Radlmaier) covers his enforced employment at an apple farm as research for his next feature. He even persuades potential lead actress (and wannabe love interest) to accompany him.

But in addressing issues of illegal immigration, anti-globalisation and the negative changes bought to eastern Europe by the collapse of communism, Self-Criticism of a Bourgeois Dog, like the main charactersloses its way. It’s quirky charm is subsumed by its attempt to be too clever.

Screened in the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Rating: 40%

‘Things to Come’

thingstocome.poster.ws_A gentle and sensitive film from writer/director Mia Hansen-Love (The Father of My Children, Goodbye First Love) sees a deft, quietly powerful performance by Isabelle Huppert (Elle, The Piano Teacher) come to terms with loss.

An academic, Huppert loses her (demanding) mother, her publisher, a cheating husband and sees a close friend (and former student) move out of Paris. Yet Things to Come avoids easy sentiment or emotional grandstanding – her marriage dissolves, her mother is simply no longer there. It’s an elegant telling of, on the surface, a minor story that explores security and complacency, the dichotomy between self sufficiency and loneliness.

Rating: 65%

‘Frantz’

Frantz_2016The latest from the prolific Francois Ozon (8 Women, Swimming Pool) is an elegiac narrative set in a small German town post World War I. A mysterious stranger places flowers on the grave of Frantz Hoffmeister, a young German soldier killed in battle.

Filmed in a mix of colour and black and white, Ozon’s film is a story of truths and non-truths, of similarities and opposites, of nationalism and love as Frantz’s fiancee, Anna (a quietly expressive Paula Beer – The Dark Valley, Ludwig II), comes to understand the stranger – a  shy, nervous French soldier, Pierre Niney (Yves Saint Laurent, Just Like Brothers).

Based on Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 feature Broken Lullaby starring Lionel Barrymore and Phillips Holmes and itself based the stage play The Man I Killed by Maurice Rostand.

Rating: 58%

‘Personal Shopper’

personal-shopper-posterAs a spiritual medium, Maureen (Kristen Stewart – Twilight, Clouds of Sils Maria) refuses to leave Paris until her recently deceased twin brother gives her a sign. To help pay the rent, she takes on the role of personal shopper for high-profile super model, Kyra. Maureen finds herself embroiled in a little more than trips to Chanel and Cartier.

The latest from Olvier Assayas (Clouds of Sils Maria, Something in the Air) is measured yet something of a mess, unsure of where to position itself. Ghost story? Kitchen-sink drama (albeit in the fashion houses of Paris)? Rites of passage? Thriller? All take precedence at certain stages of the proceedings – ensuring Personal Shopper never gets boring but is far from satisfying.

Rating: 54%  

‘Land of Mine’

under_sandetOscar-nominated Danish film, Land of Mine is the riveting story of a group of young German POWs forced to clear a beach of thousands of buried landmines.

Based on true events where thousands of (mostly teenage) German POWs lost their lives in the immediate months following the end of World War II clearing landmines, director Martin Zandvliet (Applause, Teddy Bear) focuses on a small group under the watch of an angry Danish sergeant (Roland Moller – A Hijacking, Northwest).

Avoiding excess melodrama or grandstanding, the stark economy of dialogue and action result in concern for each of the boys whilst understanding the anger of the Danes towards what they represent. Beautifully photographed with understated performances, Land of Mine is a deeply moving anti-war film full of chilling suspense.

Rating: 82%

‘Toni Erdmann’

toni-erdmann-posterOverlong and drawn out at nearly three hours, this one gag, so-called comedy left me totally cold (along with 70% of a sold-out auditorium). It is personally beyond me in understanding why this nonsensical whimsy has so many plaudits.

Ines (a sour-faced Sandra Hueller – Requiem, Uber uns das All) is a high-flying executive with no time for her estranged father (Peter Simonischek – Hierankl, Mozart in China). A disastrous impromptu trip to Bucharest to visit Ines results in the practical joker Winfried looking to introduce a little humour into his daughter’s life. A bewigged, gnarly-toothed Toni Erdmann is the result. Very occasionally funny, Erdmann inveigles his way into Ines’ personal and professional life.

Dire.

Rating: 30% 

Best of Year (2016) – Female Performance

la_pazza_gioia_01_cpaolo-cirielli-0-2000-0-1125-cropHere we go – first of my 2016 ‘best of’ film lists, limited to the films I saw during the year.

It’s reported that 2016 was a particularly fine year for high-profile female performances. But sadly, many are in films yet to be released in Australia. So no Natalie Portman (Jackie), Ruth Negga (Loving), Annette Bening (20th Century Women), Taraji P Henson (Hidden Figures), Viola Wills (Fences), Sandra Hueller (Toni Erdmann) and any number of films never seeing the light of day Down Under.

But my top 5:

5: Emma Stone (La La Land)
4: Amy Adams (Nocturnal Animals/Arrival)
3: Charlotte Rampling (45 Years)
2: Isabelle Huppert (Elle)
1: Valeria Bruni Tedeschi (Like Crazy (La pazza gioia))

This list could have been made up from a number of performances featured in last year’s Oscars – yet Brie Larssen, winner of the 2016 Oscar for best actress for her performance in Room, failed to make my top five (I placed her sixth on the list). Of the nominations for last year’s Oscar, my vote would have been cast for the quiet, superbly nuanced performance by veteran actress Charlotte Rampling and 45 Years.

Other’s just outside the top five include Sally Field (Hello, My Name is Doris), Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad – even though I did not like the film) and  veteran Japanese actress Kirin Kiki for An (known as Sweet Bean in the States).

Three of the likely 2017 contenders are featured in my top 5 for the year. Emma Stone and La La Land slips into my list – the last film I saw in 2016 – and she (just) steals the acting accolades from Ryan Gosling. Amy Adams also makes my list – and a little unfairly in a way as there are two superb performances to take into account (and which I saw on the same day!). It’s Arrival that’s winning the attention but my personal preference (just) is for Tom Ford’s sublime Nocturnal Animals.

Isabelle Huppert pulls off the challenge of the rape victim who turns the tables on her attacker in Elle, a so-called taut mystery which I personally found loathsome and offensive as a film. But there was no denying Huppert’s performance and she may well gain her first Oscar nomination.

But its Valeria Bruni Tedeschi who gets my vote for 2017 and her fabulous bipolar performance in the Italian comedy drama Like Crazy (La pazza gioia). She completely owned that role!

‘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%

‘Labyrinth of Lies’

v1.bTsxMTE5MjE3NjtqOzE3MDA1OzIwNDg7MjAyNTszMDAwIt’s an arresting storyline – set in the late 1950s, the (West) German denial of its immediate past and lack of any significant deNazification programme has kept a whole generation ignorant of war crimes and the Holocaust.

Aspiring (fictional) prosecutor Johann Radmann (well played by Alexander Fehling – Inglourious Basterds, Young Goethe in Love) stumbles across the lies, setting in motion the first wartime criminal murder trials (as opposed to war crimes) in West Germany of members of the German military by German authorities.

Sadly, whilst this important story needs to be told, Labyrinth of Lies is a somewhat shallow, overly ‘clean’ telling that loses itself in the myriad of truths and half-truths of the investigations.

Rating: 48%