Thursday, 19 December 2019

FILM REVIEW: LITTLE WOMEN



Sony Pictures

Fact: I will never not cry watching Little Women. Whether it’s the treacly sweet 1949 version starring June Allyson and a young Elizabeth Taylor, or Gillian Armstrong’s near-perfect 1994 adaptation with a fierce Winona Ryder, tears will be shed for the trials, triumphs, losses and joys of the March family of Concord, Connecticut.

And so it is with the latest screen iteration of the American classic. Written and directed by Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), this version of Little Women gives the tear ducts a good workout even as it jumbles the now-familiar storyline to provide a fresh take on the travails of Miss Josephine March; Saoirse Ronan a more than admirable addition to those – Allyson, Ryder, and Katharine Hepburn in 1933 – who have previously portrayed the headstrong, second eldest March daughter.

Some may bristle at this tampering with the timeline, so ingrained are the story beats of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel, but with Armstrong’s version still so strong in many people’s minds (has it really been 25 years?), Gerwig was wise to mix things up.

That may mean events, like its heroine, unfold at a breathless pace, and some elements – Jo’s friendship-cum-romance with German √©migr√© Professor Bhaer (Louis Garrel) – may not have quite the same emotional impact, but all in all, this Little Women is both faithful and fresh. Emma Watson (Meg), Eliza Scanlen (Beth), and especially Florence Pugh (Amy) make their mark as Jo’s siblings, as does Timothee Chalamet as Laurie, the March sisters’ neighbour, proxy brother, attempted suitor and eventual husband/brother-in-law. Laura Dern makes for a suitable Marmee, though not as memorable as Susan Sarandon’s take in the ’94 version; much more successful is Meryl Streep with her exasperated eye-rolls as the rich but withered Aunt March.

2019 has not been a great year, even less so in the last month; Little Women is a timely salve for the heart and soul. And, as it opens in Australia on New Year’s Day, the perfect way to begin a new year and new decade. Yes, there will be tears but mostly happy ones.

Saturday, 17 August 2019

FILM REVIEW: APOLLO 11



Madman Films

Through a seamless blend of actual audio recordings and in-the-moment footage, Apollo 11 captures history as it happens - that history being the 1969 moon landing.

Fifty years later, those images are, for the most part, as pristine as though they were shot on modern-day digital, while the conversations between mission control in Houston and the three astronauts - Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins - as they orbit the Earth and shoot for the moon, are enlightening and riveting. Indeed, the outcome is never in doubt but there's a level of suspense in Apollo 11 that makes its 93-minute run time just fly by.

Refreshingly void of voice over narration and talking head interviews, director Todd Douglas Miller, who also edited this documentary, lets events play out and speak for themselves.

A perfect companion piece to Damien Chazelle's most excellent First Man (2018), a biopic of sorts of Armstrong's life leading up to and culminating in his historic first steps on the lunar surface, Apollo 11 is an impressive way to mark the 50th anniversary of this most historic event.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

FILM REVIEW: PARASITE



Madman Films

The dark-souled cousin to Hirokazu Kore-eda's Shoplifters (2018), Bong Joon-ho's Cannes-winning Parasite takes the underclass family out of their impoverished hovel and into the home of the one-percenters; rubbing them up against each other to comic and discomfiting effect.

In what begins as a light-hearted con by the Kim family, who, one by one, inveigle themselves into the architecturally stylish yet austere home of the well-to-do Parks, Parasite gradually develops – or descends – into an excoriating satire of the divide between the haves and the have-nots in modern-day South Korea.

Of course, Bong's tale is universal: the gap between the rich and the poor continues apace in most late-stage capitalist economies, and Australian audiences cannot fail to see the unflattering similarities between both societies. (Jordan Peele served up a similarly tart humble pie to his fellow Americans with US earlier this year.)

Where Parasite goes beyond its initial set-up, however, is best left to be discovered by the audience. Needless to say, no one gets off – or out – unscathed.

FILM REVIEW: YESTERDAY



Universal Pictures

What would a world without the music of The Beatles look like? Well, there'd be no Oasis for starters, and for some reason there wouldn't be any Coke or Harry Potter either.

That's the state of the world in director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Richard Curtis's Yesterday, in which struggling musician Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) awakens from a cycling accident and realises that no one – not even Google – has heard of John, Paul, George and Ringo. What to do? Cash in, of course.

Super-stardom beckons when fame – and Ed Sheeran – literally come knocking at the door of this nobody who is now, apparently, the greatest musical wordsmith of all-time. But guilt, impostor syndrome and matters of the heart – Jack can't decide if he's in love with his long-time best friend and manager, Ellie (Lily James) – keep Jack from grasping fame ("the poisoned chalice" as his new American manager, Debra Hammer (MVP Kate McKinnon), describes it) with both hands.

Not a jukebox musical of the Fab Four's greatest hits, nor a full-on romcom – indeed the romantic subplot is the film's least interesting and least successful element – Yesterday is everything a truly great Beatles song isn't: safe, bland, and forgettable.