‘Don’t Tell’

Don't Tell Movie Poster 1Don’t Tell is based on the true story of the court case of Lyndal who, as an 11 year-old, was sexually abused by a teacher at a prestigious Queensland school. The outcome resulted in the change in laws in the way civil cases are tried.

Now a surly, rebellious 22 year old, Lyndal (an empathic Sara West – The Daughter, One-Eyed Girl) sues the Anglican church in 2001 for damages. Lawyer Stephen Roche (Aden Young – Killer Elite, Mao’s Last Dancer) and barrister Jack Thompson (Breaker Morant, Australia) support her through her court hearing.

Director Tori Garrett makes his feature film debut in this well told, authentic courtroom drama, focusing on the story rather than any cinematic gymnastics.

Rating: 62%

‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’

arthur-posterDirector Guy Ritchie transposes his loveable cockney rogues of Lock, Stock and Two Smokin’ Barrels and Rock’n’Rolla to Medieval England and the world of Game of Thrones.

The cocky,  buffed Charlie Hunnam (Crimson Peak, The Lost City of Z), robbed of his birthright, must overcome the evil of his uncle, Jude Law (Cold Mountain, Sherlock Holmes), controller of the country through dark magic. But first Arthur must understand the power of Excalibur, his new found sword.

It looks good (production design by Gemma Jackson – Game of Thrones!), the soundtrack loud but the bombastic treatment wears thin and the film slips into tedium.

Rating: 39%

‘The Finkler Question’ by Howard Jacobson

9781408808870Having read English at Cambridge under F. R. Leavis and taught the subject at Selwyn College, Cambridge, you just know anything written by Howard Jacobson will not fall under ‘light read.’ But what you may not be prepared for is the wit, irony and warmth alongside the satire and intelligence. Even on a second reading, The Finkler Question made me laugh out loud.

Jacobson is tackling one mighty difficult and potentially contentious issue in The Finkler Question – that of Jewish identity alongside male friendship.

It is through the friendship of three men – former schoolmates Julian Treslove and Sam Finkler and their teacher, Libor Sevcik – that Jacobson explores his subject, an exploration that is at once brilliantly funny yet with a deep melancholic sense of loss and longing.

Through the three men, opinions and opposing philosophies of what exactly is Jewish identity are voiced, discussed and debated – from the strident, anti-Zionist, Israeli-hating Finkler through to the ‘convert’ that is Treslove, more orthodox than any of his friends as he reads 12th century Maimonides on the reasoning for circumcision or demands answers to his questions of, how he sees it, the innate ‘Jewish’ cleverness of the use language. A 90 year-old Czech, Libor sits somewhere between the two men.

A former BBC radio producer (a minor position – an early morning arts programme on Radio 3), Treslove is a melancholic lost soul – a father of two (adult) boys to separate women, both of whom chose not tell him of their respective pregnancies. His great love is the great operatic tragedies. It is he who labels Jews at Finklers, having met his first Jew at school in the guise of Sam/Samuel/Shmuel/Shmueli (several identities in one…). This new word “…took away the stigma, sucked out the toxins.” A late night mugging a few yards from the BBC in Portland Place following an evening with Sam and Libor leads to Julian questioning his sense of who and what he is.

As a result, The Finkler Question becomes, in part, Julian as a Gentile and his relationship with Judaism and ‘Jewishness’. But in ostensibly looking at Libor, Sam and other characters as Jews and how Julian ‘measures up’, The Finkler (Jewish) Question is as much about the sense of belonging and the associated obligations/expectations of that belonging.

As an anti-Zionist, is Sam a lesser Jew? Hephzibah only introduces a kosher kitchen at the behest of Julian yet she is the director of the planned Anglo-Jewish Cultural Centre. Tyler, Sam’s wife, was a convert. Yet, in spite of her upholding the religious customs and beliefs more than Sam, as a reformist, she was not totally accepted. And deep down, Julian himself despairs of the religion that he does not fully grasp or can ever, ultimately, be part of.

The Finkler Question is something of a meandering narrative, jumping in time and place. It verges on plotless per se other than as a stream of (Jewish) consciousness. Julian finds some of the answers to his questions: some of the questions he doesn’t understand himself. Both Sam and Libor deal with their grief at the loss of their wives in their own ways.

Anti-Semitism does rear its ugly head in obvious ways but also in surprising ways – The Finkler Question continues to challenge and question assumptions. People – Jews and non-Jews alike – come ago, vehicles for Jacobson to propound yet more opinions (occasionally over-contrived – Julian’s youngest son a Holocaust denier). And Treslove’s neurotic obsession occasionally palls (Maimonides?).

But the 2010 Booker Prize winner is a seamless roll of pathos and humour, of philosophy and politics, relentless in its search for a truth. Not that Jacobson is going to answer The Finkler Question – mainly because there is not one answer. Put two Jews in a room and you’ll get three very different opinions. Welcome to The Finkler Question.

 

‘Their Finest’

6ae71bd038dd9f5e9b5981c2eb33743e_500x735Wistful and surprisingly charming (thankfully avoiding anything ‘cutesy’ or cloyingly sentimental), director Lone Scherfig’s (An Education, One Day) latest cuts deeper than the storyline suggests.

A World War II romance with a difference as Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace, Tamara Drewe) finds herself in a man’s world – that of the work place – as more than a secretary. Morale-lifting films are the order of the day – and Arterton is there to provide the ‘slop’ (female dialogue). Fellow screenwriter Sam Claflin (Me Before You, The Hunger Games) is the love interest but it’s Bill Nighy (Love Actually, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest) as the ageing thesp who steals just about every scene he’s in.

Rating: 73%

‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’

zookeepers_wifeOverly sanitised telling of the true story of Jan and Antonina Zabinski, owners of the Warsaw Zoo who saved the lives of more than 300 Polish Jews in World War II.

A leaden script and pan-European casting (along with Jessica Chastain – The Help, Zero Dark Thirty) doesn’t help a turgid, uninspiring narrative. Director Niki Caro (North Country, Whale Rider) noticeably misses the storytelling boat – somewhat unforgivable considering the source material.

Rating: 42%

‘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%

‘Get Out’

dimsSomething of a box-office sensation in the US (made for $4.5 million: $170 million takings), Get Out is the Stepford Wives of race relations!

Things go mighty wrong as photographer Chris (Daniel Kaluuya – Sicario, Kick-Ass 2) travels with his girlfriend to meet her family for the first time. Their very white, middle-class upstate suburb just doesn’t ring true.

First time director Jordan Peele injects fresh ideas into the horror film genre with an effective mix of creepiness, gore and humour (courtesy of comedian LilRey Howery). Enjoyable.

Rating: 60%

‘Vernon God Little’ by DBC Pierre

9780571215164An assured debut novel, Vernon God Little is a rites-of-passage full of sour and coruscating verbal wit that verges on the farcical. Akin to the vicious satire of the likes of Vonnegut, it’s a telling indictment of small town America’s mindless consumer culture and the glorification of dysfunction – with 15 year-old Vernon Little its victim. As the narrator, it’s Vernon and his perspective of his 15 minutes of fame that the story is told.

A gun tragedy at the High School in Martirio, Texas has left 16 students dead, including the perpetrator, schoolboy Jesus Navarro Rosario. But with Jesus dead, the grieving town is left without a sense of closure or justice. Cue Vernon God Little. As the killer’s best friend, he survived, evidence of his guilt. As national media descend on the town, so the Sheriff’s department move on Vernon to prove his collusion.

Vernon God Little is told in five acts, with the first two finding Vernon – like his friend, Jesus, an outsider in the close-knit community – struggling to make sense of what’s happening around him. Accused of being an accessory, the only people he cares about are either dead or appear to be more concerned with fame and worldly goods (his mother misses all legal appointments due to the delivery of a fridge). Cool as he thinks he might be, Vernon in reality is a mere boy way out of his depth of understanding. And it’s about to get a lot worse as news crews swarm into town.

Things do get a lot worse as Vernon makes a run for it and flees to Mexico, but his too brief sojourn sees him arrested, returned to Texas to face trial for 34 murders and, on being found guilty, is sentenced to death.

Farcical or what? Yet beneath that over-the-top course of events is a scathing critique as reality television, fast food, religion, the death penalty all come under Pierre’s comic microscope.

In spite of being in Mexico, Vernon is positively identified for more and more murders across Texas. A reality television programme is introduced where death-row inmates are put on camera as entertainment with television audiences deciding the order of executions – which in themselves are televised.

In Vernon Little, Australian DBC Pierre has created a fabulously confused commentator who is in part an archetypal contradictory adolescent, part mouthpiece for the author’s corrosive opinions.

The high-octane Vernon Little God won the 2003 Booker Prize a rank outsider when the longlist was announced, beating favourite Monica Ali and Brick Lane.

‘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%

‘The Riders’ by Tim Winton

tim-winton-the-ridersA rare foray away from his native Western Australia results is possibly Tim Winton’s weakest narrative. The Riders is still beautifully written but its breathless storyline where Scully and his traumatised young daughter, Billie, frantically cross Europe searching for wife/mother Jennifer simply grates. And it leaves so many questions unanswered.

Opening in a wet and miserable Ireland, Scully renovates a remote rundown cottage, purchased on a whim. Apprehensive, so far removed from the Western Australian lifestyle of sunshine and beach, Scully works through his loneliness, buoyed by the soon-to-return pregnant Jennifer and young Billie following the sale of their Fremantle home.

The Riders is at its strongest as Winton introduces Scully, a working-class bloke “…with a severely used face”, slaving away in misery and his memories of a recent history – lyrical and supple prose of more than two years in Europe with his family flitting between London, Paris and the Greek islands. But their sojourn was not in the lap of luxury. Instead, Scully had worked like a dog for cash in heavy duty labouring jobs to enable Jennifer to explore her ’artistic potential.’

After several years on the road, the couple plan to settle in Ireland, renovate and raise their family. Jennifer had returned to Australia to sell their house and settle affairs. But Scully’s world falls apart when seven year-old Billie arrives at Dublin airport alone.

Billie, traumatised and unable to talk to her beloved father, cannot explain what has happened. Confirming she had travelled to London with the seven year-old, so begins a frantic odyssey across Europe where Scully, with Billie in tow, retraces the family’s steps. As a creature of habit, Jennifer will return to a place she knows is Scully’s logic.

A wet and cold out-of-season Hydra is the first call, but the Greek island produces no results yet sets the pace for the rest of the book. Tormented by fear, Scully becomes irrational and desperate in his belief that there’s a logical explanation for Jennifer’s disappearance. Florence, Paris, Amsterdam are crazed ships in the night as father and a resilient daughter pass through, more and more desperate as he fails to find any trail and the money begins to run out.

The momentum continues to rise to an almost breathless level as Scully teeters on the edge, losing his grasp on reality and placing Billie in perilous situations. Yet Billie’s understanding compliance facilitates Scully’s continued obsession as he confronts his inner demons.

A rites-of-passage as Scully comes to understand more about himself and the relationships with his wife, The Riders is both captivating and infuriating. What he does to Billie is beyond comprehension. Ditto what Jennifer does to both of them.

The Riders was shortlisted for the 1995 Booker Prize (Winton’s first) but lost out to Pat Barker and The Ghost Road.