Wild Rose

* * * 1/2

Wild Rose is a seriously well judged and executed hybrid, combining the social-realism gritty urban British council-housing single-mum drama (Fish Tank, Dirty God) with the inspirational aspirational a-Brit-did-that! goose-bump feel-good dramedy (The Full Monty, Brassed Off). It is clearly commercial and accessible, but the script’s great strength is that it’s actually far less formulaic than it looks (from the marketing); it repeatedly skirts right up to clichés only to make surprising and satisfying left turns.

The film’s great strength is Jessie Buckley, who is tremendous, turning in a truly “star-making” turn. She plays Rose-Lynn, fresh out of prison, back to the Glasgow council house where her mum (Julie Walters, pitch-perfect) has been looking after her two children. Rose is a good, maybe great, country singer, and her dreams of getting to Nashville are at serious odds with her parental responsibilities.

As I say, you can see where this is headed, except you can’t. The film delivers not on your expectations but on its own integrity. You’ll get the feels, don’t worry about that, but they’re earned.

Parasite

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****

Less tonally schizophrenic, and more accessible, than Joon-ho Bong’s previous work, Parasite is fun, propulsive, ingenious and quite loveable. The young adult son of a couple who have been less than financially lucky in life uses an opportunity to help them and his sister out. The film comments on Korean class issues, but is more concerned with giving the audience a good ride. Extremely well crafted and scripted, and already an incredible box office success in Korea, it’s an intriguing crossover of totally commercial and a teeny bit arty. It won the Palme D’Or for, I guess, the filmmaking brio. See it with an audience; the laughs are infectious.

63 Up

Screen Shot 2019-06-11 at 11.03.16 am.pngI was recently wondering how Michael Apted was doing. Specifically, I wondered if he was still capable of continuing the 7 Up documentary film series, or whether that had been quietly put to rest. For that matter, had Apted been put to rest, and had I simply missed his passing amidst the 21st Century Noise?

Turns out, Apted is alive and well – he’s 78 – and we have the latest instalment of his revolutionary series: 63 Up. On SBS in Australia it’s divided into three parts, and the first part caught up with four of the original series’ fourteen participants.

I thought I’d feel disconnected to these people. Out of the loop. I was wrong. Seeing them again brings back an immediate rush of memory, and perhaps nostalgia. It’s astonishing that this series started in 1964, and here they are, at 63, and we really are seeing how things panned out.

Apted’s thesis “Give me the child at 7 and I’ll show you the man!” has certainly panned out, at least looking at these four. They are all unmistakably close versions of their 7 year old selves, physically and temperamentally. My own theory – “people don’t change” – is kind of based on Apted’s, and whether or not it’s a good thing, I feel it’s now been proven.

Of course, Apted knows how to tell these stories, and in what order to tell them – Tony comes first! – so I’m sure there are some – potentially sad – twists and turns to come. But so far – one revelation notwithstanding – the news is good. All four of episode one’s subjects have partners and kids and seem okay financially. Indeed, Apted’s biggest theme – Class – provides the biggest happy revelation: even those from the “working class” seem to have at least made it to the middle.

More to come, and I can’t wait. A milestone show.

Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion

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* * * 1/2

I grew up on Asterix, and now have the pleasure of introducing my young daughter to his world: of forests and wild boars, druids, villagers, feasts, adventures and Romans. It is a warm world of great wit; the books have always worked simultaneously for kids and adults, because the wordplay is so funny and the satire so astute.

Luckily, Asterix and the Secret Of The Magic Potion, an animated feature with an original story, honours the spirit of the books with grace and integrity. It also nods to girl power, which, of course, was good news for me and my little one. Getafix the druid, having had a near-death experience, decides to share the secret of the magic potion to a young druid-in-training, and takes Asterix and Obelix along for protection; a young girl with a passion for science stows away with them, and is treated with respect by the gang (and the filmmakers), ultimately overcoming a traditional gender bias or deux.

I’ve now seen the film in French and English; the version being shown in Australia, dubbed into English by a crack squad of Canadian voice artists, is faithful and funny. Far less formulaic and far wittier than your average American animated feature, this is truly fun for old and young.

Godzilla 2 King of the Monsters

* * 1/2

Warning: Spoilers.

To call Godzilla 2 King of the Monsters ridiculous would be an understatement, but it’s not without its charms, chief of which is a truly A-list cast speaking ludicrous dialogue with absolute commitment. It must have been tough, saying lines that make no sense in a story that is incomprehensible; I imagine them all – Charles Dance, Sally Hawkins, Ken Watanabe, David Strathairn – sitting around at night, trading bonkers lines of dialogue they’d had to say that day, as a kind of drinking game.

Some of them have pedigrees with freaky creatures. Hawkins famously shtupped a slimy merman and was rewarded with an Oscar nomination in the terribly over-rated The Shape Of Water; Dance spent four seasons on Game of Thrones, where he at least co-existed in a dragon world. Many of them are returning from Godzilla (2014), which lives in the same cinematic universe as the rebooted King Kong; a clash between the great ape and the nuclear lizard is coming, so there’s something to look forward to.

The plot, such as is discernible, involves Dance as an eco-warrior in charge of a bunch of like-minded British mercenaries colluding with Vera Farmiga, as a scientist and mother traumatised from Godzilla’s last rampage, to free all the monsters on earth from their secret burial grounds so that they can rid earth of most of humanity in order to save it, while a plane-load of other scientists and soldier-types try to stop them, or something like that. In other words, it pits extremist greenies against the government. Whatever. Over a very loud, very confusing, but never boring couple of hours, the main fighting is between the big monsters, and at the end of the day, Godzilla wins. Of course he does. He’s the king of the monsters.

Rocketman

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* * * *

Framed as a rehab therapy session, with the subject – Elton John – recalling the circumstances leading to his sitting in a recovery circle, Rocketman, from director Dexter Fletcher (the same passionate Brit who was called in to finish Bohemian Rhapsody when director Bryan Singer was fired) is a fabulous “juke-box” memory musical that absolutely suits its flamboyant subject. Eschewing strict chronology in favour of “ecstatic truth”, Fletcher’s fantasia nonetheless manages to tell his subject’s life – echoing a “traditional biopic” – even as he turns it into a musical.

The direct influence here is Ken Russell, another British music-mad auteur with a penchant for flamboyance. He made Tommy, Lisztomania, Mahler and The Music Lovers, among many others, and those films are clearly inspirational for Fletcher’s work here; indeed, there are bounteous direct references. Elton John was in Tommy (as The Pinball Wizard), and watching the brilliant Taron Egerton, as John, singing Pinball Wizard, in a sequence that is an homage to Tommy, is trippy, and designed as such.

The whole movie is full of such bold delights; it’s fun, fun fun, and at its most fun when – about every nine minutes – characters burst into (an Elton John) song, arranged and structured so as to comment on, or further, the action. Egerton is astonishingly good, doing all his own singing to boot (which Rami Malek did not do in the far, far inferior Bohemian Rhapsody, a film to which this one will be endlessly compared, in Rocketman’s favour). He progresses from a very fresh-faced young talent to a very angry, very drug-addled superstar with precision and panache. He deserves Malek’s Oscar; this is the performance of a sexually conflicted London-born piano-playing singing and songwriting prodigy with serious addiction problems that the world should remember.

The film has faults; the recovery framework, while being essential to the movie’s terrific structure, is its own worst enemy in some extremely cheesy, on-the-nose “therapy-speak” moments towards the film’s end, and John’s demons, personified by three particular individuals, are portrayed with too heavy a hand. But overall, Rocketman is a joyous spectacle crafted with obvious love, care, passion and skill. See it on a Friday night with a crowd; you’ll find yourselves applauding some of the numbers.

The Reports on Sarah and Saleem

* * * *

I knew nothing about The Reports on Sarah and Saleem, nor anything about its director, Muayad Alayan, before watching it, and half an hour in I grew a little nervous that gaps in my knowledge of the more intricate details of life in Jerusalem (and Bethlehem) were obstructing my ability to enjoy the film to its fullest. However, the filmmaking was solid, the acting convincing, the script intriguing and the milieu deeply compelling, so I told myself what I tell my students all the time – “trust the filmmaker” – and just let myself go. I had a tremendously rewarding experience.

That’s the thing about good cinema and good filmmakers. They can challenge you with worlds outside your own, and if their hand is sure, guide you through safely. Alayan is Palestinian (rather than Israeli), and had I known that, it may have coloured my expectations of his sympathies. It turns out that his worldview is broader than I may have allowed for.

Saleem and Sarah are on opposite ends of a divide, between East and West Jerusalem, Israeli and Palestinian, Jewish and Arab, well off and struggling. Yet they have an extramarital affair, and the domino effect of repercussions it has are complicated, seriously dangerous, and staggeringly rich as drama.

This substantial film (two hours and seven minutes) has the heft and moral complexity of a smart novel. It shifts its point of view, moving from character to character, and, each time, examines human nature under the burden of existing beliefs and prejudices. It is told realistically, in shooting style (handheld camera, very little music) and performance, and every detail rings authentic and possible. I learned a lot more about life in Jerusalem today; I also had a seriously good cinema experience. Highly recommended.

The Realm (El Reino)

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* * * 1/2

Playing a little like the last act of Goodfellas without the cocaine or the pasta, Spanish thriller The Realm is relentlessly propulsive. Manuel (Antonio de la Torre), a high ranking career politician, is about to get a big bump up the political career ladder, but the web of schemes he and basically every politician in the country has been involved in threatens to splinter, ruining everything. He’s on the run, trying to keep ahead of the story, the evidence, his allies, his enemies, everything and everyone, by car, train, foot. There’s no voiceover a la Ray Liotta, but you get the sweat.

The film’s glossy sheen is seductive, as is Manuel, who gives out an air of superficial goodness even as we know he’s part of the problem. He’s a family man, a decent man – right? Except he’s so not. It’s part of the film’s ingenuity that we’re able to simultaneously root for him and revel in his downfall. Slot in Michael Cohen from his congressional hearings; the fit is weirdly perfect.

The film’s final act is superb: very tense, very cynical and very very angry. Writer / co-director Rodrigo Sorogoyen ultimately pulls no punches; the final scene screams what we all want to at our corrupt politicians. It’s satisfying stuff, and truly on the dirty money for these deeply corrupt times.

Eurovision 2019: My Picks!

It’s a great year – again – at Eurovision. Here are my pick of the songs in order of my personal preference; I’ve added a note or two about their chances and so on. Enjoy! Vote for Kate!

Kate Miller-Heidke – Zero Gravity – Australia

Regional bias? Sure. But this song gives me the feels every time, and Kate rocks.

KEiiNO – Spirit In The Sky – Norway

I love this. Pop perfection. And, I would suggest, a chance of winning. Supposedly the rehearsals for the contest show that they’ve played down the camp and taken up the “classy” vibe a notch.

Hatari – Hatrið mun sigra – Iceland

These freaks are going to win, and good on them. Integrity, craftsmanship, balls.

PÆNDA – Limits – Austria

No chance of winning but lovely. And what a great, simple, video clip.

S!sters – Sister – Germany

Catchy and clean. BTW they’re not real sisters. I don’t care. Not a very dynamic staging so far though; they need something better for the big show.

Katerine Duska – Better Love – Greece

What a voice! I can’t wait to see her do this live.

Tulia – Fire of Love (Pali się) – Poland

This is my bonkers pick o’ the year that I truly love. About one chance in a million of winning; they might not even make it to the finals – but talk about integrity! Great.

Long Shot

* *

What a tragic disappointment. After a promising opening ten minutes featuring gags that, if not truly edgy, at least carry a little bite, the superficially progressive RomCom Long Shot proceeds inexorably towards complete mainstream commercial formulaic filmmaking. The first hint that things aren’t going to stay cool is the score, which blandly announces itself as cosy and familiar as your grandmother’s lap blanket; it’s awful. Next come the interior logic and character consistency casualties, indicative of a sloppy script and a slack edit or, worse, studio notes. Finally, the tropes, the tropes, the boring, predictable, endlessly clichéd tropes. It’s all the worse for watching the enormously gifted Charlize Theron, as the US secretary of state who falls for her speechwriting “gag man” (Seth Rogen), having to play these shopworn scenarios, while being shot like a fancy perfume bottle. For a film that begins with a couple of quick jabs that seem to establish the semblance of feminist credentials, it quickly succumbs to being its own idealogical enemy. The whole thing’s slide from hipness to commercial blandness is reflective of its director, Jonathan Levine’s, career, from indie-cred The Wackness (2008) and critical darling 50/50 (2011) through the dreadful Snatched (2017) and now this. What a shame.