Friday, 20 May 2016


Sony Pictures

Despite its sitcom premise of smothering mother and ungrateful daughter uncomfortably co-existing in the wake of the husband and father's death, The Meddler manages to be a poignant comedy-drama about grief and mother-daughter relations.

Writer-director Lorene Scafaria is certainly fortunate to have landed Susan Sarandon for the role of Marnie, the Brooklyn widow now residing in sunny LA to be close to her screenwriter daughter, Lori (Rose Byrne). Similarly, Sarandon has been equally gifted; the role of Bonnie arguably the best she's had since winning her Oscar for Dead Man Walking 21 years (!!!) ago.

With too much time and money on her hands, and not nearly enough time with her daughter -- when Lori is not trying to finish a script before TV pilot season, she's lamenting the loss of her actor boyfriend -- Marnie fills her days and nights doing good deeds for others; gay wedding planning here, taxiing an Apple store employee to community college there.

Of course what Bonnie is really trying to do isn't so much stave off boredom but her loneliness and yet-unresolved grief, a grief which neither mother and daughter seem prepared to deal with; as Marnie reaches out to her daughter and a shared history, her daughter shies away, unable to see her mother without acknowledging the man missing from the picture.

Although there may be another man in Marnie's life, if she just lets her guard down. Borderline retired cop Zipper (J.K. Simmons), a divorcee with his own distant daughters and a hen house full of substitutes, could be just what the doctor prescribed if Marnie could sit still long enough to find out; Sarandon and Simmons sharing a warm rapport.

There's nothing revelatory or profound about The Meddler; it plays in a much quieter register, even if Marnie's Brooklyn accent is anything but subtle. But beneath that squawk and bravado, Sarandon lets us see the woman. And like with any mother, when you aren't trying to escape her, you can't help but want to hug her.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016


Giants, and mermaids, and Dolan, oh my!

The full program for the 63rd Sydney Film Festival has been announced with 244 films from 60 countries screening across the 12-day Festival in June, ensuring there is something to satisfy every film fetish (from vampire mermaids to all-purpose corpses) and age group.

Kudos to local distributor Transmission Films, who have scored the honour of both the Opening and Closing Night slots: the former the latest release by local filmmaker, Ivan Sen, Goldstone; the latter Whit Stillman's delightful Jane Austen adaptation, Love & Friendship.

But in between Day 1 on June 8, and closing night on June 19, there is plenty to watch. Steven Spielberg makes his SFF debut with his Roald Dahl adaptation, The BFG, screening as part of the Family Films program (which also features the fifth installment in the Ice Age franchise, Collision Course), while for the first time, a 15+ rating will be used for 93 of the titles, meaning teenagers will not miss out on those films which would previously have received an automatic 18+ rating.

As always, there will be titles fresh from the Cannes Film Festival, with not one but two favourite auteurs' latest titles screening: Pedro Almodovar's Julieta, and Xavier Dolan's It's Only The End of the World, starring Marion Cotillard (pictured above, le sigh). There are also titles and prizewinners from Venice 2015, and Sundance and Berlin 2016.

Among the previously announced titles, personal standouts include John Carney's Sing Street (another musical gem from the director of Once and Begin Again), and Richard Linklater's Everybody Wants Some!!, the director's first film since Boyhood (which played at SFF in 2014), and a spiritual companion piece to his 1993 feature, Dazed and Confused.

But there's too much to mention here, so why not check out the SFF website, and snap up some tix.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016


Madman Films

You either like Michael Moore and his brand of politics or you don't. The good news for those who don't, is that you can enjoy his latest documentary as less a polemical exercise and more of a travelogue. In Where To Invade Next, Moore, Democrat, documentarian and citizen journalist, travels throughout Europe -- and dips into North Africa -- to take a snap shot at what social policies various countries are employing to make them succeed; policies he wants to claim for America and bring them back home as the 'spoils of war'.

Moore readily admits that he's cherry picking on his expedition; picking out the best bits from each country and not focusing on their failings. That's why we feel just a tad jealous at Italy's seemingly plethora of paid vacations and public holidays, and five months of paid maternity leave; why we're a little skeptical of Portugal's leniency on drug-related offences; why we look on in awe at Norway's penitentiary system, where "maximum security" doesn't mean what it does in most other countries, especially America; and why you can't help but get a little teary-eyed at the way the teachers in the Finnish education system wholeheartedly embrace their role, not just for molding young minds but for producing well-rounded people.

Then there's free university education in Slovenia, for locals and foreign students; and the ways in which the equality of women has impacted so strongly on both Tunisia (yes, Islamic Tunisia) and Iceland, a country which elected its first female president back in 1980, and which is one of the few countries to jail those (men) responsible for the the 2008 global financial crisis.

Like Donald Drumpf, Michael Moore wants America to be great again. Unlike Drumpf, Moore is sincere. Sadly, in America, where corporations rule and equality is often equated with Communism, that doesn't seem likely to happen anytime soon. Not even if Moore's preferred candidate in the upcoming presidential elections, Bernie Sanders, were to cause major upsets by defeating fellow Democrat, Hillary Clinton, and then Republican front runner, Drumpf, to set his "revolution" in motion. (One doubts Americans will be 'feeling the Bern' anytime soon.)

Of course, a more balanced investigation would have also looked at the negative aspects of each of these countries' social policies, and one could argue that, if so inclined, Moore's exercise could have produced an incisive television series where each week he looked at a country's good and bad aspects and how they could be applied to the United States.

As it is, Where To Invade Next is an eye-opening, pleasant if overly long edu-vacation. You'll love what you see in the brochure, but you'll have to abandon the tour group and your guide, Mr. Moore, to get a sense of what each country really has to offer.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016


Transmission Films

Did you see last year's real-life disaster film Everest? Other than Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Jason Clarke and a New Zealand-accented Keira Knightley, do you recall any of the actors playing the Sherpas? The mountain guides assisting the Westerners mounting the summit of the world's largest mountain. Or the names of any of the Sherpa characters? No, me neither.

For whatever reason -- plot economics; conscious or unconscious erasure of 'the other'-- the Sherpas' story wasn't deemed important enough to the narrative being told, even if, truth be told, no narrative about Western climbers on Everest -- from Edmund Hillary onwards -- would have been possible without them.

Jennifer Peedom's documentary, Sherpa, seeks to redress this imbalance; telling the story of the villagers -- and one man in particular, Phurba -- who risk life and limb every year to escort hundreds of Westerners to the top of the world (and for a fraction of the money which the Nepalese government makes from the very lucrative tourist trade).

These men know that with each climb they may not return to their families, but they also know that one or two good climbs a season will provide enough money to see them through the year.

The Sherpa are a dignified and peaceful people, but in 2013, some of them retaliated violently towards their Western employers when they were verbally disrespected. Since then, tensions between the Sherpas and the climbers have been frosty, and when a disaster of great magnitude strikes on the mountain the following year (the year that Peedom fortuitously decided to follow their story), not-so old and decades old resentments -- bubbling away since 1953, when Tenzing Norgay lead Hillary to the top and was all but forgotten for his efforts -- resurface.

Peedom's film is an examination of a little-known culture; a clash of cultures between the Sherpa and Western entitlement; and between the old Sherpa and the young. It also looks at the necessary evil of economics which makes for not-so-happy campers.

Beautifully shot (cinematographers Hugh Miller, Renan Ozturk and Ken Sauls shot more than 400 hours of film), Sherpa presents both sides of the Sherpa-Westerner relationship, although you'll be hard-pressed to come out of the screening feeling any kind of sympathy for the tourists.