The Divine Order

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* * * 1/2

With impeccable timing, along comes a film about Switzerland’s women’s rights movement to remind us that speaking up, coming forward and raising your voice has always been difficult, but that solidarity, organisation and a commitment to unity are the keys to enacting change. And, that the first wave of protestors faced a far more entrenched system of repression.’

In the case of Switzerland in 1971, women were not only not allowed to vote, they couldn’t – if married to a working man – take a job without his permission. The patriarchal system was self-perpetuating, with the occasional poll for women’s suffrage (the one prior to 1971 was in 1959) allowing only men to vote. Catch 22, indeed.

Writer and director Petra Volpe’s film, looking at her country’s belated historical moment through the prism of a married mother organising the women in her town to lobby – and strike (their household ‘duties’) – for change, may be a fictional story, but it is deeply researched, and the production design is astonishing. I suppose Switzerland, for a number of reasons, has more than its share of extant architecture from the period, and Volpe’s chosen location of the town of Trogen,  in Appenzell Ausserrhoden, seems to be quite a time capsule, but the film’s attention to period detail goes well beyond its buildings, streets, props, costumes and hairstyles; even the cinematography seems to come from the period: The Divine Order is lit like the early 70s.

The cast – who are all unknown to me – are all terrific, acting in a completely realist manner. This is a dramatic film, and while there is gentle humour, and triumph, nothing is overplayed. One can imagine a British version of this film, in the vein of Pride, Kinky Boots et al, strenuously urging your goosebumps to rise up and cheer. The Divine Order is simply more, well, Swiss. Its dignity and reserve are inseparable.

Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story (REVIEW)

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Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story

* * * 1/2

Documentarians Kate McIntyre Clere and (husband) Mick McIntyre embarked, four years ago, on a documentary project examining the kangaroo as Australian cultural icon. Four years later, the documentary that has emerged is more akin to The Cove and Blackfish than, say, a Ken Burns film about baseball or jazz. What they learned over those four years, and what I learned in the ninety minutes they’ve produced, is eye-opening, revelatory, at times jaw-dropping, and a call to action.

Essentially, the film examines how the roo industry – both for meat and skin – has stealthily and very profitably capitalised on two words – “pest” and “plague” – to run itself in a chaotic, slipshod, unhygienic, inhumane and seriously under-regulated fashion. We are introduced to whistle-blowers, activists and politicians who are advocating not so much for revolution as transparency, while farmers and industry reps are also given their say.

The film does have a point of view, though, and a strong one, and will doubtless cause some consternation among those who don’t want their ways challenged. The thing that shines through, however, is the integrity of the McIntyres: they didn’t set out to challenge an industry, they simply learned about it, and what they learned, we all, as Australians who love Skippy, need to know.

In The Fade

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* * * 1/2

Like last year’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Germany’s Foreign Language Film Oscars entry – and winner of that category at the Golden Globes – is about a woman seeking justice for a devastating crime against her family. It differs substantially in tone; Three Billboards is, essentially, a black comedy, while In The Fade has not a single deliberate (nor unintended) moment of humour. It also differs in impact: Three Billboards left me unmoved, but In The Fade, by focusing intensely on the protagonist’s grief before moving on to her anger and ultimately her quest, deals in honest emotion.

It is divided neatly in three acts, given chapters: The Family, Justice, and The Sea. The first act is a drama of grief, the second a drama of the courtroom, the third a thriller. This rigid construction is deeply apparent throughout the film; it is rigorous, taut and, despite its intense subject matter, restrained.

Diane Kruger rules the film, appearing not just in every scene but almost every shot. She won the Best Actress prize at Cannes and she should have won the Oscar rather than Frances McDormand for the equivalent, but vastly lesser, role in Three Billboards. Kruger’s journey includes the immediate aftermath of the crime, and the first third of the film is a portrait of a woman drowning in grief. It is impeccably acted, and the whole film honours Kruger’s deep commitment. Rather incredibly, this is her first film in her native German, despite 48 acting credits – most in English, many in French – and 15 international awards. She’s superb, and reason enough to see the film.

The Square

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* * * * 

Ruben Östlund follows up his cringe-tension masterwork Force Majeure (which won Movieland Awards in 2014 for Best Film, Best Direction and Best Cinematography) with this Palmes D’Or-winning art world satire, which is nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming Oscars. At its best, it skims sublimely from scene to scene, arousing constant knowing humour, satirical appreciation and – Östlund’s speciality – ambiguous dread, before arriving at the scene of the year, in which Terry Notary, known primarily for motion-capture and particularly ape work in the vein of Andy Serkis, plays a performance artist with a particularly involving piece to present. Danish Theatre actor Claes Bang makes a gigantic impression in the lead role of the curator of a contemporary art museum in Stockholm who may not be as cool as he looks; watch as Bang becomes a massive worldwide star (his spoken English, accented towards British, is perfect). Great fun, thought provoking, extremely entertaining, and highly recommended.

Red Sparrow

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#metoo?

* 1/2

Warning: Some minor spoilers, mainly about the depiction of sexual abuse, in this review.

A veneer of class – a deep bench of A-List actors, fantastic production design, elegant framing and seemingly authentic locations – manage to disguise the trashy, monumentally mis-timed Red Sparrow for about ten to fifteen minutes (basically, for the length of the elongated pre-title sequence). Then, when it becomes apparent Jennifer Lawrence’s injured Bolshoi ballerina is being sent to a school to learn how to be raped, among other fine courses offered, the reality hits you: this film is everything #metoo is against. Obviously shot before The Fall of Weinstein, it’s unimaginable that an actress of Lawrence’s calibre and clout would accept such a script now.

Her character, trained, in the Mata Hari tradition, in the art of using sex for espionage (seriously, this really is your grandfather’s sexploitation spy thriller, but with extreme violence) is not only raped, otherwise sexually assaulted, sexually exploited, beaten and ultimately tortured, she also is shown repeatedly using her “training” in a highly exploitative way. One bad choice – of scripting, direction, and performance – follows another, to create almost a parody of everything that’s wrong with the portrayal of women in films. It would be one thing if the film had a sense, like The Handmaid’s Tale or Elle, of intelligence, intellectual investigation, or even outrage, to justify its continual, almost obsessive portrayal of sexual violence, but it does not. It’s just an expensive espionage thriller that thinks it’s way cleverer than it is.

It may think it’s more classy than Atomic Blonde (2017), but it’s so not. Not only did that film empower its protagonist (Charlize Theron), it had a more intricate plot with actual ideas. Red Sparrow almost prides itself on not being an “action movie”, but it simply replaces traditional action – gunfights, fistfights, car chases – with multiple torture sequences, and, of course, the odd rape. Which would you rather watch?

Most of the distinguished cast, including Lawrence, Mathias Schoenaerts, Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling, Ciarán Hinds, Joely Richardson and Douglas Hodge are lumbered with superfluous Russian accents that build, throughout the film’s long running time, from difficult to comprehend, to silly, to annoying, to blindingly stupid. Similarly, Lawrence and Joel Edgerton, playing a CIA dude (so, another accent: an Aussie playing American) seem to have been directred to speak their entire roles just above a whisper. Only Bill Camp, Sakina Jaffrey and Mary-Louise Parker, all with small roles, are allowed to speak with authentic full voices, so they may actually be heard.

Lawrence barely seems there. Maybe she realised during the shoot that this script was a turd, and phoned it in. Her blank stare dominates the movie; one could be generous and speculate that she was going for the effect of horrendous trauma, a kind of numb, lifeless PTSD. It looks only like she seriously wishes she were somewhere else. Anywhere but in this squalid, lurid, offensive mess.

Oscars 2018 Preview and Predictions!

CJ and Jim go through most of the categories. We have ideas, opinions and predictions. We make a financial bet over Best Original Screenplay. And at the end, we apply the Preferential Ballot System of voting to our own ballots and come up with a BOLD PREDICTION FOR BEST PICTURE! Your comments welcome and appreciated. Happy Oscars 2018!

Game Night

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“Are we being warm and fuzzy enough?”

* * 1/2

Can the warm fuzzy feeling of nostalgia sustain you through an entire movie? It almost did for me, with the aid of the cozily comforting vibes of Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman (boy, wouldn’t they be a lovely set of parents?), in the case of Game Night, a film that could, were it not for the occasional smartphone, convince most viewers that it was actually made in 1990.

Or 1978. Foul Play, with Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase, set a modern template for the action mystery comedy where the leads are a woman and a man, and the premise involves murder but the tone is totally light. Bird On A Wire, from 1990, teamed Hawn with Mel Gibson; within the last decade, Date Night (2010) teamed Tina Fey and Steve Carell. They all actually owe The Thin Man series of movies (six in all, 1934-1947), in which husband and wife Nick and Nora Charles have a lot of fun – as do we – investigating crimes, almost always murders. It’s a warm, easy-watching sub-genre, not dissimilar in tone and intended audience as what we now call “Cozy Mysteries”, where the crime is nowhere near as important as the banter.

The banter is not great in Game Night, and, although the leads seem perfect on paper – they’re both sparkling clean Nice Movie Stars known for inoffensive material and light comedy – they struggle to fill the shoes of performers like Hawn or The Thin Man’s William Powell because, unusually for both of them, they’re trying too hard. McAdams, an actress I truly always like, feels the need to be cute in every single scene; it literally feels like she’s asking herself, “What would Goldie do?”, and the result is inorganic and unfunny. A scene where she blithely mishandles a loaded firearm because she thinks it’s a toy may have been gold in Goldie’s hands, but it’s awful here, and should have been cut from the movie. Besides being overplayed – at least twice, she sticks the gun in her mouth – it’s tasteless.

Elsewhere, the film gets the tone right, and just bathing in these extremely familiar tropes, as I say, may just get you to the end with a smile on your face. Not a chuckle, though; I didn’t laugh once, and I was in a “Lux” recliner seat and a very good mood. The film spins endless jokes and almost none are funny. It simply reminds you of better films, and in doing so, survives for one hundred minutes.