FILM REVIEW: THROUGH THE REPELLENT FENCE: A LAND ART FILM

 

As Donald Trump continues promoting his idea of building a wall between the US and Mexico it’s heartening to see that there are some people taking a different approach. Through The Repellent Fence: A Land Art Film is a documentary about a land art installation that attempted to reinforce the notion that borders are an arbitrary idea and that some fences cannot divide people. This is ultimately an insightful and hopeful tale about an important and relevant issue in politics.

This film is directed by Sam Wainwright Douglas who made the 2016 SXSW Audience Award winning documentary, Honky Tonk Heaven. In Through The Repellent Fence, Douglas follows an inter-disciplinary artist/activist collective named Post-Commodity. The group is made up of three Native Americans: Cristóbal Martínez (Chicano), Kade L. Twist (Cherokee) and Raven Chacon (Navajo) as they go through the process with the help of some volunteers of assembling the land art installation, The Repellent Fence.

This artwork was a 2m long installation that ran perpendicular to the US/Mexico border for four days in 2015. It consisted of 28 large, helium-filled balloons. Half of these spanned communities in the US and the other half spanned communities in Mexico. It was designed as a way of reflecting on why some people attempt to create artificial barriers. It also tried to suture together all of the different communities that it touched.

The balloons in this installation were a play on the ones that are sold and used by people to keep birds out of their gardens. These balloons feature a symbol called the “open eye” and they don’t always work at keeping these creatures away. In the context of the artwork, the balloons are symbolic of the previous acts that were taken out in order to marginalise, repel and destroy the culture of the indigenous people living within and beyond the different country’s borders in the Americas. In using the image of the “open eye” these indigenous artists were seeking to reclaim their own iconography and make this a piece of land art that was very much rooted in a tribal context.

This documentary also includes some information about land art in general and gives a brief history of this art movement that really only began in the 1950s and 1960s. There are scenes showing Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty and Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels. There are also interviews with art writer Lucy Lippard and Matt Coolidge of the Center for Land Use Interpretation. We also follow Chris Taylor from Texas Tech University as he – like the other participants – gives context, history and other information about these incredible land art installations.

The Repellent Fence is a film with an important message and one that seems to become more urgent through these fearful times. It observes how we should all collaborate and work together with the land and not attempt to control people, nature and other things. This film is ultimately a warm, inspiring and feel-good documentary about what can happen when individuals come and work together to restore power to the people.

Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Originally published on 12 March 2017 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/sxsw-film-review-through-the-repellent-fence-usa-2017-uses-art-to-make-an-important-political-statement/

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FILM REVIEW: ALONE IN BERLIN

 

Alone in Berlin is a story from the Second World War and the recent film adaptation means it is likely to be condemned to the history books. The film is based on the international best-selling novel, Every Man Dies Alone, a book about real-life Berliners Otto and Elise Hampel. The film is a slow and plodding affair that is grossly under-realised and lacking in nuance.

 

The film is directed by Vincent Perez and features actors speaking in English but reading and writing in German. The wonderful, Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson star as a married couple who lose their only son after the youngster is killed fighting on the frontline (in real-life this was Elise’s brother.) The pair put in emotional and convincing-enough performances although it is bizarre to hear them speaking in German-accented English.

 

After their son’s death in 1940 these two working class parents pour their grief, anger and devastation into some small acts of civil disobedience. They write out postcards with anti-Nazi, anti-Hitler and anti-war sentiments. They would pen almost 300 of these and distribute them to various locations across Berlin. They were careful to take precautions, not leaving their fingerprints or distributing the materials to the same places. The Gestapo were unnerved and furious by these acts, as they viewed these individuals as traitors (Daniel Brühl leads the investigation here.)

 

By distributing these postcards this couple were engaging in a very dangerous act and they understood that they were risking their lives in order to do this. But they continue to carry out this operation because it’s a coping mechanism for them and it’s a protest against the things that they were witnessing in a country that was ruled by a tyrannous dictator. There is one scene with an elderly Jewish neighbour that is especially heart-breaking to watch.

 

The film itself is pleasant enough on the eye, if a little bland. The mood is a sombre one and an orchestral, Hollywood soundtrack attempts to ramp up the tension and emotion in the story, but this is ever enough. This is a true story of courage and subversion but it feels like a candle where the light has been snuffed out.

 

Alone in Berlin is a look at two stoic individuals who protested against the Nazi regime in their own unique way. It’s also a fascinating story that could have been realised and made into a much better movie. This film is ultimately too slow and subtle in capturing the amazing feats performed by two hurt, determined and fearless parents.

 

***Please note: a free pass to this film was given to the writer through a Beauty & Lace giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: http://entertainment.beautyandlace.net/user-reviews-movie-alone-in-berlin

FILM REVIEW: KALINKA (AU NOM DE MA FILLE)

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Kalinka (Au nom de ma fille) is a French film that is based on the real-life events surrounding the Kalinka Bamberski case. It’s a dark and suspenseful thriller about one man’s dogged determination for justice. It’s a fight that spans multiple decades and traverses a couple of different country’s borders with the pure aim of seeing that justice will eventually prevail.

This film is by director, Vincent Garenq who is no stranger to making films in this genre. Garenq also doubles as a co-writer along with Julien Rappeneau. The film stars Daniel Auteuil as André Bamberski and really carries this film. He plays a family man who loses his only daughter.

Bamberski’s first wife Cecile (Christelle Cornil) would divorce him in the early seventies and take a new lover in the form of the suave and charismatic Dr Dieter Krombach (Sebastian Koch) but this had painful ramifications. In July 1982 Bamberski’s 14 year old daughter, Kalinka and young son Pierre travelled from France to Germany in order to holiday with their mother and new step-father. On July 10 Kalinka was found dead. There were disturbing circumstances surrounding her passing but in Bamberski’s eyes these were not addressed during the investigation that occurred in the aftermath of his daughter’s death.

Bamberski had Kalinka’s autopsy report translated and was horrified to learn that Dr Krombach had injected his daughter with various substances (the step-father claimed that this was in an attempt to revive the teenager). Krombach was also present at the autopsy. Bamberski found it strange that the coroner had failed to properly investigate whether a rape had taken place (later when Kalinka’s body was exhumed and re-examined it would be revealed that her genitals had actually been removed). Needless to say there were a lot of questions thrown up by the investigation or lack thereof.

Bamberski presumed that Krombach was responsible for Kalinka’s death. Bamberski embarked on a relentless fight against French and German officials and their respective legal systems in order to see Krombach brought accountable for this crime. Along the way other allegations against Krombach were brought forward by other young women. All of this evidence would help Bamberski in fighting the legal obstacles thrown in his way and to eventually break the conspiracy of silence that had enveloped Kalinka’s death.

Kalinka is ultimately a rather clinical and procedural look at the events that took place with respect to the Kalinka Bamberski case. Her father André never gave up and had to fight the denial of doctors, legal professionals and his family (including his ex-wife) in order to convince them of what he believed in his gut was the truth. The story itself is a rather hopeful one that has a few things in common with In The Name Of My Daughter as it again shows a parent fighting against incompetent practices in criminal investigations. Kalinka is ultimately a dramatic and tense look at the sacrifices a David-character must endure in order to fight against some bureaucratic Goliaths in order to pursue justice, truth and accountability.

 

Originally published on 6 March 2017 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/film-review-kalinka-france-2016-is-a-shocking-and-suspenseful-true-crime-thriller/

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FILM REVIEW: DAVID STRATTON: A CINEMATIC LIFE

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David Stratton is the doyen of Australian cinema. He is a respected film critic who has watched in excess of 25,000 films, peed on Fellini and entertained Australians for decades through his movie reviews with sparring partner Margaret Pomeranz. David Stratton: A Cinematic Life is a documentary about his life and brilliant career and is not unlike the Roger Ebert documentary, Life Itself in that they’re both personal and engaging looks at two influential men with an infectious passion for the silver screen.

This documentary is directed by Sally Aitken (Getting Frank Gehry, Streets of Your Town) and is a companion piece to a longer mini-series about Australian cinema, which will air on television later this year. Perhaps as a result of this, A Cinematic Life proves to be an ambitious undertaking, as it attempts to tell a number of different stories. It’s about Australia’s best known film critic as well as a brief history of Australian cinema and both of these stories are enough to fill several films or books.

A Cinematic Life focuses on some key facets of Stratton’s history and personality. There was his childhood spent in Britain where he wrote his first review as a boy (he has these and the ones he penned for Variety and The Australian on file in a card system that is reminiscent of libraries prior to the advent of computers.) He cultivated a love for cinema and immigrated to Australia in 1963. Stratton is candid in talking about his estrangement from his father and the feeling that he was the black sheep in his family (he likens this feeling to Muriel Heslop’s character in Muriel’s Wedding). Stratton’s brother, Roger appears here and says he’d die happy if he never watched another film and their father was furious when David failed to return to England to help head the grocery business, which had been in the family for generations.

When Stratton arrived in Australia in the sixties the local film industry was virtually non-existent but people like Stratton helped to build it up. He served as the director of the Sydney Film Festival for 17 years, championed local films and was vocal in his opposition against draconian film censorship rules. This outspokenness did not go unnoticed; during the Cold War, Stratton was under surveillance by ASIO when all he was doing was obtaining visas to attend the Moscow International Film Festival.

This documentary weaves together scenes from important Australian films (from the 1906 The Story of the Kelly Gang to recent hit, The Dressmaker and many in between) and it also has Stratton visit some important settings like Hanging Rock and the site of the house from The Castle. A veritable who’s who of Australian entertainment are interviewed, including actors: Nicole Kidman, Geoffrey Rush, Eric Bana, Sam Neill, Judy Davis, Jacki Weaver, Russell Crowe and Hugo Weaving as well as directors: Gillian Armstrong, George Miller, Peter Weir and Bruce Beresford, among others.

David Stratton: A Cinematic Life can be a little disjointed as it crams in as much as possible into its 110 minute runtime. But it remains a personal and fascinating documentary and a celebration of both Stratton’s legacy and Australian cinema as a whole. For people like David, cinema isn’t just celluloid it’s a way of life and it’s something that should be part of your day-to-day (Stratton tries to see at least one film every day.) A Cinematic Life is quite simply a love letter to our home-grown talent and one that will make you want to sit down and watch all of the films included here plus so many more. And with Stratton as the narrator and guide, we know that we are in for one hell of a time at the movies.

Originally published on 3 March 2017 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/film-review-david-stratton-a-cinematic-life-australia-2017-is-a-love-letter-to-the-doyen-of-australian-cinema-our-illustrious-film-industry/

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FILM REVIEW: MISS SLOANE

M3 Jessica Chastain stars in EuropaCorp's "Miss. Sloane". Photo Credit: Kerry Hayes © 2016 EuropaCorp Ð France 2 Cinema

Miss Sloane could be renamed, “Ms Stone.” The film is about an ambitious and icy woman who acts as a lobbyist for a firm that is advocating on behalf of a gun control bill in the States. It’s a tense, political drama with as many power-plays, twists, turns and slights of hand as The Ides of March.

Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) stars as the titular character and really carries this film. She is the ruthless Elizabeth Sloane, a woman who survives on a diet of amphetamines, power, the company of male escorts and cheap Chinese food. Sloane is not a likeable character by any stretch but Chastain gives such an absorbing performance that it is hard for us to turn away.

We meet Miss Sloane as she prepares to plead the Fifth Amendment at a senate ethics hearing. The film then tells her story through a series of flashbacks. It shows how she earned a reputation as a formidable, world-class lobbyist and how she defected from a large agency who won a contract from the gun lobby in order to work at a small boutique firm who were advocating for a gun control bill.

Sloane is a complicated character. She enjoys 3am phone calls to her underlings and the public humiliation of people. She also has no qualms spying on her colleagues and competitors, selling out rats and milking the bleeding heart vote by exposing a colleague (Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Concussion)) as the former victim of a high school-shooting. Yet when Sloane defects from her pro-gun agency to the one supporting gun control, there are at least some questions regarding her motives and whether she is taking a moral stance. Another big question is whether Sloane’s over-confidence and cockiness will mean she misses some important fact or find herself exposed to a blind spot or two.

This film is written by first-time screenwriter, Jonathan Perera and directed by John Madden (this is a serious departure in tone from his previous films, Shakespeare in Love and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.) The supporting cast features Jack Lacy, Mark Strong and John Lithgow who put in rather able performances but are eclipsed by the dynamo work from Chastain. Miss Sloane is quite an eye-opening and detailed political tragicomedy and an exposé of a corrupt system and its steely-eyed and determined participants. This film is ultimately a wild ride with the big boys and one strong woman and a game you can’t help but find yourself getting lost in for the most part.

Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

 

Originally published on 01 March 2017 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/film-review-miss-sloane-usa-2016-proves-a-strong-woman-can-play-with-the-big-boys/

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FILM REVIEW: CAMERAPERSON

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Cameraperson shines a light on the individual behind the camera. In this case it is cinematographer, Kirsten Johnson, a woman with some 25 years’ experience in the movie-making business. She’s also known for having worked on films like Fahrenheit 9/11 and Citizenfour, among others. Cameraperson is a documentary that lets the footage speak for itself with varying degrees of success and at its best is an illuminating look at the world of documentary filmmaking.

This film is basically a visual collage of assembled outtakes and pieces that were left on the cutting room floor but still prove important to Johnson after all these years. The locations are listed for each scene but no other important information is offered (for example, the year the video was short or any other details regarding the context). A list of films that this footage was shot for is included during the closing credits but in some cases this seems like information that has come too little, too late. The result is a kind of hodgepodge of different things although some themes about important elements in life like births, deaths and relationships do tend to emerge.

This documentary is a clever and inventive one because it makes the viewer ask their own questions about the role of the filmmaker, especially with respect to ethics, impartiality and objectivity. In some cases it is very obvious that Johnson is connecting with the subjects like in the case of a single female about to have an abortion in America, an Afghani boy who has lost his sight in one eye and the victims of rape and witnesses to other atrocities like ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. There are other moments that are especially intimate with Johnson showing footage of her parents and twin children. The scenes with her mother show her parent’s increasing signs of confusion due to Alzheimer’s and in one video Johnson makes a brief cameo opposite her Mum.

Cameraperson is a fun hybrid of different ideas and visuals. It’s an unusual and poetic tale that is full of varied subjects and at some points it also has a very atmospheric tone. A little more context may have made things a bit more powerful but as it stands, Cameraperson does provide some opportunities for some frank discussions about filmmaking because it shows all of its subjects in their natural environments and in rare, unfiltered glory.

Originally published on 20 February 2017 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/film-review-cameraperson-usa-2016-is-a-creative-and-artistic-look-at-the-world-of-documentary-filmmaking-cinematography/

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DVD REVIEW: CAFE SOCIETY

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It seems that La La Land is not the only film to look affectionately at some halcyon days in Hollywood. Woody Allen’s Café Society manages to do this as well as celebrating the jazzy nightlife of New York. This is a light yet fun film that is like a love letter to old money and its trappings, even though it is set in the thirties, a time where most would normally stop and think about the Great Depression.

Café Society once again sees the famed director doubling as the film’s narrator. It is also brimming with the kind of witty repartee that Allen and his work have become synonymous with. It also finds time for some navel gazing, posing some existential questions and sticking the knife into organised religion. This is a funny and romantic story but in true Allen fashion, it’s one that rules with the head rather than the heart.

Jesse Eisenberg does his best Woody Allen impression and stars as Bobby, a kid with stars in his eyes. He is seduced by Hollywood’s bright lights and leaves his family behind for L.A. Steve Carrell is a Hollywood heavyweight and Bobby’s Uncle Phil. The latter takes pity on his nephew and offers the boy some work doing odd job at the company he owns.

Bobby initially enjoys the girls, glamour and debauchery of la la land but eventually he comes to see through it all. He realises that a lot of it is excess, fakery and vanity. This sentiment is shared by his uncle’s secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart who actually cracks a smile for once and puts in a decent performance.) The chemistry between these former cast mates is quite obvious and really makes the romance seem plausible.

The two youngsters bond over a mutual love of Mexican food. Vonnie initially plays her cards close to her chest because she’s intelligent and street-smart and because she has an elusive boyfriend she started dating shortly before meeting Bobby. The latter was always going to be hooked on his Uncle’s secretary, he was smitten early on and it’s almost inevitable that he will have his heart broken.

Eventually Bobby returns to New York to work with his gangster brother in a nightclub. It’s here that he meets a divorcee (a fresh-faced and bubbly, Blake Lively.) A new romance blossoms but this bliss doesn’t last for long because Vonnie soon visits New York and the club with another unwelcome visitor in tow.

Café Society celebrates style, youth and beauty. It’s a rather flimsy, predictable and lightweight film but it’s also one that offers enjoyment in spades thanks to its beautifully-shot scenes and witty dialogue. This is a look at a rich part of America in the thirties and it shows where professional dreams can clash with romance (although this is nothing new.) This is the sort of film that will not profoundly affect you but one where you can sit back, relax and enjoy as a sort of date with the society set with all of the trimmings.

Originally published on 6 February 2017 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/cafe-society-dvd-review/

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FILM REVIEW: A STREET CAT NAMED BOB

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A Street Cat Named Bob is the heart-warming and feel-good true story about a young and homeless recovering drug addict living in London with his cat.

James Bowen (played here by the occasionally whiny Luke Treadaway) is down on his luck, busking in Covent Garden and living in public housing until a chance meeting with a ginger tomcat changes his life. The pair become inseparable, with Bob the cat sitting by James’ side as he faces up to his heroin and methadone habits, becomes a Big Issue seller and looks to turn his life around.

Bob plays himself in the film (along with some stunt cats), and he steals the show. Cat enthusiasts will love the fact he has many close-ups and mishaps to enjoy, and that scenes are even shot from his perspective at times.

A Street Cat Named Bob is not a particularly gritty film, but it does include some funny moments and some interesting and well-realised dramatic subplots with James’ estranged father (Anthony Head) and a fun but contrived romance with his kooky vegan neighbour (Ruta Gedmintas).

A Street Cat Named Bob is a Hollywood take on addiction, for James’ struggles are often downplayed in service of getting the story moving. But if you can overlook this sanitation, and you’re after a film about hope, companionship and redemption, then this biopic ticks many of the right boxes.

Originally published on 7 February 2017 at the following website: http://thebrag.com/arts/street-cat-named-bob

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FILM REVIEW: JACKIE

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Jacqueline Kennedy (Onassis) has been depicted on the silver and small screens before but Jackie is the first film to really capture the complex nature of this remarkable woman. The film is not strictly a biopic in that it only focuses on a number of key events in Kennedy’s life prior to and in the aftermath of her husband’s assassination in 1963. But what this drama does do well is hone in on these important points to create an intense and visceral film that really gets at the heart and nature of this tragedy.

The film is written by Noah Oppenheim (Allegiant) and it is one that lifts the veil on this iconic figure’s private world. Natalie Portman puts in an Oscar-winning performance as Kennedy by capturing her vulnerability, strength and grief as well as other essential things like her accent and mannerisms. Kennedy’s role in the aftermath of the assassination is elevated and in doing so this film could have turned into a kind of exploitative voyeurism but instead it tells things from her perspective and handles the proceedings with the poise and grace that this former first lady of the United States was known for. It also handles the sensitive subject matter with a rather delicate hand (save for the graphic depiction of the events of 22 November 1963.)

Director, Pablo Larraín (No) and his production team have paid careful attention to recreating the look and feel of the period. Kennedy is shown wearing the famous pink Chanel suit and pillbox hat that was smeared with blood as she travels in Air Force One and defiantly declares that the world should see what it had done. The film also recreates in black and white a special that Kennedy had starred in a few years prior to John F Kennedy’s death where she describes her contributions to decorating the White House. The other major plot point sees a forward magazine journalist (Billy Crudup) quizzing Jackie in the weeks following her husband’s death. Jackie’s answers are frank, smart and illuminating.

Jackie is an intense film that has a certain starkness to it. Portman is often shown in close-ups and she conveys a multitude of emotions that were experienced by this young widow- from having to console her two young children and grieve her husband to her fiery determination in trying to ensure that his legacy was upheld. Jackie also has a rather intrusive string score by Mica Levi. At its best it reinforces the tragedy, particularly in the scenes where Kennedy walks alongside her husband in the funeral march where JFK’s body is led by a horse-drawn carriage (and this scene is just like what happened to Abraham Lincoln in 1865.)

This latest film about Jacqueline Kennedy (Onassis) is not a comprehensive biopic but it is a searing and intimate portrait of an amazing woman and the complicated emotions and circumstances she experienced in the wake of JFK’s death. This film is not a linear story but is instead a rather messy and chaotic one that reflects the raw and gritty real-life events that it is trying to portray. In all, this is one bold and heartfelt look at a tragic chapter in U.S. history.

Originally published on 9 January 2017 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/film-review-natalie-portman-gives-a-searing-oscar-winning-performance-in-jackie-usa-2016/

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FILM REVIEW: ROSALIE BLUM

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French film Rosalie Blum is a new adaptation of the graphic novels of the same name by Camille Jourdy. It’s a quirky dramedy told across three separate parts, taking in the different viewpoints of three separate characters.
In act one we are introduced to Vincent Machot (Kyan Khojandi). He is the king of predictability, a man who lives with his overbearing mother in a flat, and who can divide his time neatly between that spent at work on his own business, and his encounters with his cousin, cat and parent.

One day, a series of circumstances forces Machot into a grocer’s shop in a provincial part of France. The shopkeeper is one Rosalie Blum (a dowdy-looking Noémie Lvovsky). Confronted with this mysterious older woman, Machot can’t help but shake the feeling that they already know each other – so, naturally, he becomes her stalker, going through her garbage in order to satisfy his curiosity, if not the audience’s. From her perspective, Rosalie is aware that she’s being followed, and enlists the help of her gorgeous young niece Aude (Alice Isaaz) to spy on her stalker.

First-time director Julien Rappeneau uses his time to slowly reveal how these three characters are really connected, and while the concept has potential, the actual execution is dull.

The Belle And Sebastian song ‘Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying’ is a welcome distraction (though the sentiment of that title is probably going a bit far, even if this film struggles to maintain any momentum). Still, Rosalie Blum is little more than a flat and forgettable game of hide-and-seek in which nobody seems to win.

Originally published on 29 December 2016 at the following website: http://thebrag.com/arts/rosalie-blum

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