Film Review: “Wind River” #SydFilmFest 2017
Wind River is a very well-made and intelligent crime drama from the US that is filled with action and violence. It has a very strong cast with the two leads being Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen. Renner plays a wildlife officer and hunter who finds the dead body of a young Native American in the frozen Wyoming wilderness and he assists Olsen, who plays a rookie FBI agent, to track down the killer(s). Renner and Olsen are both convincing, but I was particularly impressed by Olsen’s acting which covered such diverse aspects such as authority, cockiness, nervousness, fear, anxiety, vulnerability, empathy and curiosity.
There is plenty of action and a big shoot-em-up towards the end, but there are also many sensitive and amusing scenes touching on the lives of Native Americans and others living in such harsh climates. It is also beautifully shot in what must be very trying conditions for film makers. Very entertaining. 4/5
Film Review: “I Am Not Your Negro” #SydFilmFest 2017
I Am Not Your Negro – is a documentary on the US civil rights movement told through the elegant words of the writer and activist James Baldwin. It is a story that focuses on the tragic murders of his friends Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Medgar Evers in the 1960s. The forces that drove those men and many others to their deaths many years ago still plague contemporary US society and I saw many parallels to racial fears, discrimination and xenophobia in our own society in Australia . Baldwin’s words are mostly voiced powerfully by Samuel L. Jackson, but there is also some footage shown of Baldwin at his elegant and eloquent best addressing TV hosts and a UK university crowd with such passion and his great facility with the English language.
What constantly came over to me from this film was a theme of willing or even wilful ignorance (of the plight of black Americans) in US society. This message isn’t brutally delivered but it is shocking and deeply disturbing nonetheless.
The original news footage, archival images and even Hollywood movie clips are selected and edited together beautifully. They greatly illustrate James Baldwin’s words and maintain the momentum and chronology of his message.
This is a most important documentary in the age of Trump and in a world that is dominated by media and politician fuelled fears of anyone different from the “norm”. I am really glad that I selected and saw this brilliant film. Stunning. 4.5/5
Demolition – review #sydfilmfest
Mal: In Demolition, Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal) loses his wife in a car accident in the opening scene. We soon learn from several confessional letters written to the customer service department of a faulty vending machine’s company that Davis is an investment banker who works in his father-in-law’s firm somewhere in Wall Street. Not surprisingly, Davis quickly loses the plot, but through the letters he writes it seems that he may not have had a firm grip on it in the first place. He certainly looks the part, wearing fitted shirts, shaving his chest and trimming his eyebrows. He and his wife have a great house in the ‘burbs with lots of space and nice appliances, apart from a leaky fridge.
Frank (an imaginary rabbit): All is not as it seems. I liked the mattress salesman line.
Mal: Davis, however, starts to wonder whether he really loved or even knew his wife, perhaps whether she loved him and questions why they got together in the first place. He seems stuck in the weird-reactions-to-everything stage of his grieving process, starts to notice things he never had before and eventually tells a counsellor that he is numb from his head to his knees and has been so for about the last 12 years (see trailer above).
Mal: Along the way he eventually hears from the vending machine customer service department he has been writing to in the form of a phone call from Karen (Naomi Watts). Davis eventually tracks Karen down and soon after meets her probably-gay son Chris (Judah Lewis) who uses the f-bomb far too much and gets suspended from school for mixing science experiments with the politics of war in Afghanistan.
Frank: He is definitely gay.
Mal: It was about this point in time that I started to think that Demolition was just a little bit Donnie Darko all grown up. Did Karen and Chris really exist or were they just imaginary friends in Davis’ mind?
Frank: No, that’s a stupid proposition, but at least I now know how I got mixed up in this. Of course Karen and Chris are real. You probably think I am imaginary!
Mal: Unfortunately, father-in-law Phil gives Davis/Grown-up-Donnie some dangerous advice that to repair something (e.g. a human heart): you need to take it all apart, strip it down and then you can put it all back together again. Davis quickly proves interested in and reasonably skilled at taking things apart. When it comes to the putting back together again, not so much.
Frank: He really sucks at the putting back together again, but at least he is proud of his work in the firm’s wash-room.
Mal: The random demolitions soon get ridiculously out of hand as Davis and Chris start dealing with their demons and learning about themselves.
Frank: Yeah and I was particularly fond of their shooting practice scene in the forest with a hand-gun and bullet proof vest. Don’t try that one at home!
Mal: Karen and Chris introduce Davis to other elements of life, including the music of Heart (Crazy on You), and his road to recovery begins.
Frank: Karen, Karen, Karen. Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.
Mal: I won’t spoil the ending, but suffice to say that we do get one. This is not common these days and I for one really appreciate not having to make up my own or phone a friend.
Frank: You tiny brain. Have you no imagination at all?
Mal: Demolition is billed as a darkly comic drama, but I don’t think it is that dark and it isn’t all funny. It is very entertaining and refreshing.
Frank: I don’t know, I found that Republican Party convention in Phil’s house a bit dark.
Mal: I liked it a lot. I’m sure it’ll be successful at the box office and Jake will probably win some kind of award for his performance. It is good to see that the US can still make films like this. Go away Frank.
My Bruce McAvaney Specialness Rating*: 4/5 (Most people would think this to be special.)
Goat – review #sydfilmfest
I wasn’t expecting a great deal from this film, but it is actually quite powerfully disturbing. Goat is about the hazing rituals in US colleges that happen in frat houses. On the surface it presents the sheer physical danger of these stupid rituals, but at a deeper level when you understand how much of a long standing tradition and how widespread these things are, Goat makes you wonder about the decision making of all these people later in life when they are running so much of the US government, its military, the media, business and industry and even the legal system. Given the influence of the US and what it does on the rest of the world, it is a real worry.
I saw a review that dismissed or discounted this message as the reviewer thought everyone already knew all of this, but I don’t think those of us in the rest of the world do and nor do we think it to be a harmless rite of passage towards “manhood”.
I think it certainly helps to have big names like Nick Jonas and James Franco in the film to help with this exposé. I haven’t seen Ben Schnetzer, the lead actor, before but he does a great job in looking both vulnerable, and still determined to be part of this brotherhood that he clearly sees as meaningless.
Surprisingly disturbing and powerful.
My Bruce McAvaney Specialness Rating*: 3+/5 (Somewhat special.)
Greetings from Tim Buckley – Review
I enjoyed this film, but it probably isn’t to everyone’s taste, particularly if they are not fans of either Tim or Jeff Buckley and their music. It is set around a tribute concert given in Brooklyn in 1991 for Tim Buckley, about 16 years after his death from an accidental overdose. Tim’s son Jeff Buckley is somewhat reluctantly encouraged to perform some of his father’s music and the experience becomes a bit of a reconciliation for him about his very limited relationship with his father. After my own father’s recent death, I found this part of the film very touching, and probably quite realistic. The event seems to have been the catalyst that convinced Jeff to follow in his father’s footsteps and three years later he recorded the seminal album Grace. Sadly, Jeff too was to die tragically early in a drowning accident less than six years after the tribute concert.
Jeff is played very convincingly by Penn Badgley and Tim is also played very well (in flash-backs) by Ben Rosenfield. Both parts feature a lot of musical performances. I’ve said this about a lot of the films I saw at Sydney Film Festival this year, but Greetings from Tim Buckley was also very well shot. Some of the scenes are really beautiful and the cinematographer seems to have used some very subtle colouring to distinguish the flash-back scenes.
There is one really intriguing scene between Jeff and Gary Lucas (as played by Tony Award winner Frank Wood) in which Jeff first hears the guitar theme from his single “Grace”, played by Gary who says it is a bit like church bells. Jeff then messes around with it and we hear more of the beginnings of that amazing song. This has all now been confirmed in a comment below by Gary himself. He started Grace as his own solo guitar instrumental and you can see and hear it here:
As I said above, it it is unlikely to be a film for everyone, but I really enjoyed it. 4/5
And a sketch of Jeff by me to finish:
Prince Avalanche – Review
OK, I didn’t select this film and neither did any of my SFF buddies. We saw it because the secret key to unlock the file for the film It’s All Quiet could not be used in time to run the film. The SFF folks offered refunds or an exchange for this film or the chance to see the original film on Sunday afternoon, but after a while we decided to stay and see the replacement.
Prince Avalanche is about a couple of guys repainting the yellow traffic lines and replacing the reflective posts on the side of the roads in an area of forest in Texas that was devastated by bushfires in 1987. It stars Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch, who are both excellent in their roles and is billed as a quirky comedy. I think that is a bit dismissive really. The story in the film runs deeper than absurdist comedy.
There are some great moments of humour, but it is all quite subtle or very gentle apart from one sequence towards the end of the film (which is brilliant in so many ways – it almost comes as a release). I think it is more a film about friendships and relationships and the bumpy, complex road they always seem to take. It is also a film about new beginnings.
The music in the film is wonderful and there are many beautiful images, especially those at the very start of the film.
After some reflection I think it is well worth a 4/5