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: 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: 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: 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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DVD REVIEW: FATHERS & DAUGHTERS

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Fathers & Daughters is a sentimental film that shares a few things in common with a Nicholas Sparks movie. The story is a rather saccharine one where the love between a father and a young daughter and the same girl when she is all grown up with her new beau is explored and marked by some tragedies. This film ultimately tackles one too many stories and is a bit too smultzy for its own good.

The film begins in New York City in 1989. A gifted Pulitzer-Prize winning author (Russell Crowe) is involved in a car accident. His wife is killed and he is left facing the prospect of being a single father to his cute five year old daughter, Katie AKA “Potato Chip” (Kylie Rogers.) He also has to grieve and deal with other issues like epilepsy and challenges to his right for custody.

The story then flashes forward to 2014 where Katie is all grown-up and played by the gorgeous, Amanda Seyfried. Katie is becoming a therapist but she also has a very self-destructive streak. By day she forges a relationship with her young patient Lucy (Quvenzhané Wallis.) The latter is an intense mute girl who has some trust issues. But Katie wins her over by taking her to the park and coming out with crazy clangers like saying she wants to come back to life as a duck! In the evenings Katie drinks excessively and has one night stands with creepy men. Classy.

Katie looks like she is set on a downward spiral until she meets a fan of her father’s work (Aaron Paul Breaking Bad.) The pair start dating and their relationship has the expected ups and downs. This film also includes cameos from Octavia Spencer as Katie’s boss and Jane Fonda as a literary agent for Katie’s father. These supporting characters are rather underdeveloped and they seem rather cursory.

This story of a troubled writer grappling with his own demons as well as his adult daughter dealing with a fair share of her own seem on paper to be a decent enough premise. But in reality, this story lacks drama and tension. This then leaves the film feeling quite hollow and disposable. Fathers & Daughters ultimately has some good moments and some fine performances but the complete portrait is of one unconvincing family melodrama.

Originally published on 17 September 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/fathers-daughters-dvd-review/

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ITUNES REVIEW: THE SWEET ESCAPE (COMME UN AVION)

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There has been a lot said about the importance of the journey over the destination. Sometimes the trip teaches you more than the end point and some people have likened life to a journey. The French film, The Sweet Escape (Comme un avion) seems to capture all of this. It’s a rather aimless romantic comedy showing one man’s response to his mid-life crisis.

The film is written and directed by Bruno Podalydès. It also stars the latter in the lead role of Michel, a 50-year-old graphic artist who is restless. Michel seeks a sea change away from his hum-drum, urban lifestyle and a long marriage to his supportive wife (Sandrine Kiberlain.) Michel originally toyed with the idea of learning to fly but instead decides on a kayak as his mode of transport and this leads to some funny results.

Michel’s journey sees him set off a few kilometres down the river. He eventually settles into a sparse existence camping on a riverbank and frequenting a nearby restaurant. It is here that he meets and befriends the restaurant’s widower owner, Laëtitia (Agnès Jaoui) and the gorgeous waitress, Mila (Vimala Pons.) Michel purposely cuts his journey short but he tries to keep up the pretence of continuing the grand adventure to his wife. In reality, he’s just sitting around drinking absinthe with some eccentrics and satisfying some of his carnal desires.

The Sweet Escape is a beautifully shot film with a diverse soundtrack that veers into pop, classical, folk and dance territories. This film is ultimately a subtle reflection on one man’s existential crisis and while it is pleasant enough, it is lacking a point or a solid sense of direction. In all, this journey off the beaten track seems fine at times but at other moments it is like being stuck on a road to nowhere.

Originally published on 11 July 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/the-sweet-escape-comme-un-avion-itunes-review/

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DVD REVIEW: THREE HEARTS (3 COEURS)

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Three hearts. Two love stories. One film. Three Hearts (3 Coeurs) is a French film involving a love triangle. But this is not your standard challenge for romance. The two women vying for the man’s affections are actually sisters. What ensues is a subtle and nuanced drama that reflects on chance, destiny and a kind of love that it is often quite messy.

The film is by Benoît Jacquot and it stars a sort of who’s who of French cinema. The still-beautiful Catherine Deneuve stars as the knowledgeable but tight-lipped family matriarch while her real-life daughter, Chiara Mastroianni is playing her on-screen daughter, Sophie. The latter is left behind in France and meets a hapless tax officer, Marc Beaulieu (Benoît Poelvoorde). He offers to help out with some accounting work for the family after Sophie’s sister, Sylvie (the intriguing, Charlotte Gainsbourg) leaves the family business in order to travel to America with an ex-boyfriend.

Beaulieu and Sophie fall in love and marry and all seems to be going well until Beaulieu realises that his wife is the sister of a mysterious woman he once met. Beaulieu had met the gorgeous Sylvie one night many years earlier when he missed his train to Paris from the small, provincial town where she lived. Beaulieu and Sylvie hit it off that night, chattering away about anything and everything and they had made plans to meet again but fate intervened. Beaulieu was left with no contact details for the enigmatic object of his affection.

Three Hearts is a contrived, romantic tale and the characters would have benefited from being more richly realised and characterised. The film contains an off-moment involving some Chinese businessmen and the soundtrack can be a little too ominous and overbearing at times (the sounds would have better suited a thriller, not a drama.) But despite some flaws, Three Hearts is redeemed by some stellar performances and its melancholic love story and tragedy. This is ultimately a sad, bizarre love triangle where lady luck often wields a hand of heartbreak and despair.

Originally published on 30 June 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/three-hearts-3-coeurs-dvd-review/

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iTunes Review: The Escort (Film)

TheEscort

 

If you combined parts of Pretty Woman’s plot with two characters using each other not unlike those in How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days then chances are you’d get The Escort. The film is a rom-com about two unlikely people finding each other. While the film is not an original one and it is predictable and clichéd at times, it is still rather pleasant and easy to watch.

Lyndsy Fonseca stars as Natalie, a sassy Stanford graduate who earns a crust by being a tutor by day and a high-class escort by night. She seems like a rather strong and independent woman until you learn her back story. While Natalie can hold her own at times, there are other moments when things can get a little out of hand, especially when she’s on the job.

Enter Mitch (Michael Doneger), a sex addict and unemployed 27 year old journalist. He is trying hard to get his foot in the door at a glossy magazine but in order to convince the editor that he’s the right candidate, he needs a good story. So Mitch calls on Natalie to be his subject matter and she in turn uses him as a bodyguard. But the pair soon get more than they bargained for.

This film is directed by Cold Turkey’s Will Slocombe and is written by Brandon A. Cohen and Doneger. It could have been terrible but it’s actually not that bad. It’s a nicely shot little number with scenes of LA and a spectacular mural providing some real highlights. The performances by Fonseca and Doneger are good as the two bring a certain vulnerability to their characters and the pair also share an obvious chemistry. The same praise cannot be said about Bruce Campbell who plays and acts like a caricature of a seventies, has-been rock star.

The Escort is a light-hearted and emotional rom-com that touches on important issues like cyberbullying, technology, sex, love and addictions. The two main characters are quite sweet and easy to root for (no pun intended) and the whole thing is surprisingly tasteful and charming. The film may not be the funniest or the most original rom-com out there but The Escort is saved by its big heart and some lighter moments.

 

Originally published on 21 June 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/the-escort-itunes-review/

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