Will Catalin Tolontan be played by Clive Owen in a narrative remake?

Opens in Australian Cinemas 8 April

* * * * 1/2

Collective is the fly-on-the-wall documentary about lethal Romanian corruption you didn’t know you needed. Alexander Nanau’s camera is in all of the right places as Catalin Tolontan, a middle-aged journalist for a sports-themed daily paper, and his small team of highly principled journalists uncover a scandal within the public health sector in the wake of a horrific fire. It is a tale of tragedy upon tragedy, and a hundred and nine of the most compelling minutes of the cinematic year.

Nanau uses no narration, no interviews, and, I think, two title cards. The rest of the story is covered by his cameras, and so thoroughly, Collective could pass itself off as a handheld, dogme-styled narrative feature. Indeed, like Honeyland from last year, Collective is nominated not only for the Best Feature Documentary Academy Award, but for Best International Film as well.

At its heart is ethical journalism. A real-life Spotlight playing out in a sort of real time, Collective is a constant reminder of how important good journalists are to every society. Without them, it seems, all those with access to any form of privilege would just pack it in for the dollar, and leave the damned to the worms.

Suzi Q Review

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The qualities of Suzi Q are the qualities of Suzi Quatro: inoffensive, charming, friendly, nice. Quatro achieved a pioneering position as a bassist singer in a custom leather catsuit, but her lifestyle was hardly rock ‘n roll: a few beers and cigarettes was the extent of her debauchery, and, ironically, one of the shocking things about seeing a lot of archival footage of Quatro is just how clean, wholesome and healthy she looks. New interviews shot for this documentary with Joan Jett, Cherie Currie, Debbie Harry and a lot of male promoters, producers and band members present more ravaged faces and voices, but Quatro is that grannie who looks too young to be a grannie, and is frequently shown jogging.

So what’s left for a sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll doco to offer, when there’s no sex and drugs? Rock ‘n roll, of course, and Suzi Q does its best to place Quatro in the firmament, arguing, along the way, that a set of circumstances – the wrong place at the wrong time – meant that she became a star in the UK, Europe and Australia, but never cracked her home country of the USA. I would suggest her music wasn’t as significant as that of Blondie, The Runaways and others, but the film takes the qualities of her hits for granted. There’s not a lot of critical analysis.

Given that this is an Australian production, I was expecting a second or third act turn into Quatro’s intersection with the greatest continent, but it never came, and Molly Meldrum never showed up (which was really kind of weird given his championing of Quatro; her appearances on Hey Hey It’s Saturday don’t rate any screen time either). That’s perhaps indicative of the film, which doesn’t have much of a thesis, except to say that Quatro and her sisters still have some issues. Like Quatro herself, Suzi Q is a pleasant hang, a G rated version of a rock star life.

Free Solo

* * * *

The 2018 Oscar winner for Best Documentary Feature, Free Solo, now still in some Australian cinemas while also available on Foxtel, charts the first “free solo” – rope-free – climb of the El Capitan cliff face in Yosemite National Park, California, by Alex Honnold, in 2017. While this feat is mind-boggling, extraordinary, almost inconceivable, and deserves a full-bodied documentation, the film is about a lot more. Covering three main strands – the climb, the filming of the climb, and Alex’s first romantic relationship of any true depth – it examines heroism, fear, obsession, the culpability of filming dangerous events, what it takes to love a reckless adventurer who may die “by the sword” on any given Wednesday, and the complex emotional makeup of climbers and in particular, free solo climbers, who live so far outside the mainstream that “free solo” describes their lifestyle as much as their sport.

Is it a spoiler to say Alex survives? I knew he did – I saw him on the Oscar stage with the filmmakers! – but that didn’t stop me feeling nauseous with anxiety as I watched him on his epic climb. Your brain knows he makes it, but your organs are in revolt. Rarely have I been so relieved to see an ending I knew was coming all along. His achievement is majestic, and so is this movie, which avoids any form of overt button-pushing. Like Alex himself, Free Solo is straightforward, honest, humble and confident, with a grip of steel.



* * * *

Jane, the new documentary from Brett Morgen (The Kid Stays In The Picture, Montage of Heck) is, more than anything, and like a lot of Morgen’s work, a pretty jaw-dropping feat of post-production. Working from 100 hours of once-thought-lost, recently (2014) found footage shot by the giant of wildlife cinematography Hugo Van Lawick, Morgen constructs a portrait of anthropologist Jane Goodall that has a surprising narrative drive.

The footage is astonishing: crisp, vibrant, immediate and beautifully framed. Van Lawick, while making the rules of wildlife filmmaking up as he went along, knew what he was doing. He not only captures the African region of Gombe and its chimpanzees with beauty and feeling, he does the same with Goodall, and it’s no surprise, seeing the way he shoots her, that he also ended up proposing to her.

She is certainly a magnetic, rather incredible, subject. Willowy and impenetrably calm, Goodall interacts with the chimpanzees she studies with an ease most human mothers can’t show their human children. Her thousand-mile stare as she watches an African sunset displays that ultimate and, for most of us, unreachable goal: the true peace of one who is doing exactly what they know they were put on this earth to do.

Morgen edits the footage to shape the narrative of Goodall’s career, rather than in the order it was shot. Thus, we are able to see Goodall in Gombe, through Van Lawick’s lens, well before Van Lawick actually arrives to film her. It’s a neat trick but worth knowing before you watch the film, lest, as I was, you spend too long wondering “Who shot this footage if no-one else is there?” Likewise, I assume that Morgen essentially started the soundtrack from scratch, as it is too perfectly continuous to have come from the original footage (indeed, I suspect Van Lawick was often shooting silently.

A lot of folk are up in arms that Jane is not nominated for the Best Documentary Feature at the 2018 Oscars. The answer may lie in a perception of the limitations of Morgen’s art; really, this is Van Lawick’s film as much as, if not vastly more than, his, and in many ways, Van Lawick becomes as central a figure as Goodall, even if he’s mainly hidden on the other side of the lens.

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Hotel Coolgardie


Watch CJ’s review of this film on WATCH THIS.

***1/2 (out of five)

Pete Gleeson’s creepy fly-on-the-wall portrait of mining-country Australia (specifically, the area called Goldfields in Western Australia) is an eye-opener, even as it feels like it’s pulling its punches. It isn’t quite the documentary equivalent of Wake In Fright (or Hostel, for that matter) but it certainly has pungent things to say about isolation, masculinity, alcohol and Australia. If it bends over backwards not to decimate its subjects, it also can’t help it when they implicate themselves.


Comfortable, lucky, Sydney-based me had no idea that young female backpackers are constantly being given short-term deployments to isolated outback mining-town pubs, where the local workers await their arrival as “fresh meat” (a term literally uttered ravenously by one of this film’s charming denizens). Such is the case with Lina and Steph, who – having had their credit cards stolen and their savings drained in Indonesia – are sent to work on a three-month contract at the insanely named Denver City Hotel in Coolgardie, as isolated and barren a place as might exist on earth (but only 39kms from Kalgoorlie!) There, they are slobbered over by grotesqueries masquerading as men, and, were it not for the sense of camaraderie the viewer feels with Gleeson himself (they’re being filmed, therefore Gleeson is there, and we assume Gleeson is a nice enough guy) we may very reasonably fear greatly for their safety.

There are jaw-dropping moments galore, and not a lot of salvation. Lina and Steph’s journey is not so much towards greater understanding or cultural awareness as it is towards failure and escape. And who in the world could blame them? The Hotel at Coolgardie is hell with beer.

There is one moment where Lina seems in real danger, and the camera lurches forward, as though Gleeson has made the decision to intervene. One can only imagine the moments left unfilmed, in the undocumented version of this story, which repeats itself, in three-monthly cycles, out there in the red dust, where the men wait for young travellers like mangy dogs for carrion.

My Scientology Movie



British TV documentarian Louis Theroux is a very clever chap. He obviously realised that the Alex Gibney documentary Going Clear was going to be the Big Boy of Scientology feature docos for quite a while. Hence the title My Scientology Movie, which is tongue in cheek, certainly, but also implies a different tack and a different take – both of which pay off.

Theroux seemingly feels that if you’re paying to see “his” Scientology movie at the cinema, you’re probably a bit of a Scientology tragic, and have seen enough about David Miscavige, Tom Cruise, John Travolta and L. Ron Hubbard. Thus, instead, we get a film in the company of “Scientology’s most famous deserter”, Mark “Marty” Rathbun – and there’s the rub, because Mr. Rathbun, rather like an ex-Nazi, might not be entirely “clear” of Scientology’s stink at all.

I love stuff about Scientology – the books, the films, the articles – and, after a slow burning first hour – this film really gave me a kick. I would recommend it most to fellow Scientology tragics, since there is that implied assumed knowledge, but that’s obviously the audience Theroux is going for. If you’re new to the hunt, see Going Clear first, then feast on this as a bitterly tasty dessert.