Thursday, 28 March 2013


Hopscotch Films

Now Showing

After his critically acclaimed 2009 film, A Prophet, French director Jacques Audiard was always going to have a hard time impressing with his follow-up. For my money, he needn't have worried. A Prophet was one of my favourite films of 2009, and while Rust and Bone is a less epic affair -- and a different creature entirely -- I found it no less involving or affecting.

A Beauty and Beast tale set in the French seaside town of Antibes, Rust and Bone revolves around the unlikely relationship between Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts) and Stephanie, whose meet-cute isn't that cute at all: the one-time boxer and hulk of a man is working as a bouncer at a night club where Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) receives a bloodied nose.

Alain drives the inebriated Stephanie home, simultaneously flirting with her whilst admonishing her skimpy dress sense. There's a definite spark between the two but with Stephanie's boyfriend waiting at home, that would seem to be the end of that. Besides, Alain has to take care of his 5-year-old son, Sam (Armand Verdure), which is ironic given Alain is much like a child himself: impatient, quick tempered and insensitive to most others' feelings.

Stephanie trains the orcas at the local aquarium but when she suffers an horrific accident at work, it is Alain whom she reaches out to. The last thing Stephanie wants is sympathy, and Alain, the kind of guy who would suggest you dress like a whore at the same time that he's both coming to your rescue and hitting on you, is the kind of guy you can count on not to look at you with pitiful eyes or treat you with kid gloves.

And indeed he seems oblivious to her predicament when they first meet after the accident ("I heard about it on the news"), and Stephanie and Alain become fast friends, with regular catch-ups and trips to the beach. And they eventually become lovers, initiated by Stephanie's queries about his sexual relations with other women and her own doubts about her sexual abilities, and which Alain is happy to allay. And it's not pity sex: Alain likes to fuck and Stephanie, two legs or none, is an attractive woman.

Stephanie also becomes Alain's mascot of sorts, accompanying him to the illegal street fights he competes in to make extra money. They're a study in contrasts, the hulking man-child and the metal-limbed lady; a classic Beauty and the Beast pairing.

It goes without saying that Cotillard is terrific in the role of a woman whose life and sense of self has been completely shattered but who finds a reservoir of strength and a new lease of life, both from within and with Alain.

Matthias Schoenaerts, on the other hand, is a revelation. Ruggedly handsome, the Belgian actor gives Alain a brutish charm that is both childlike and dangerous. By turns tough and tender, Schoenaerts is asked to do much of the heavy lifting as Alain endures successive ordeals. If Stephanie's is a journey of self discovery, Alain's is a baptism of fire, and both actors successfully skim the material's inherent melodrama without resorting to easy histrionics.

Fashioning together two separate stories from Craig Davidson's short story collection, Rust and Bone, Audiard (along with co-scribe, Thomas Bidegain) has delivered a romance about the redemptive and restorative power of love, albeit far more emotionally complex than that succinct description.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013


Icon Film Distribution

Now Showing

The King's Speech has much to answer for, and I don't mean for denying David Fincher a Best Director Oscar. I suspect the only reason Roger Michell's period dramedy, Hyde Park on Hudson, was greenlit was because it features the same stuttering king, George VI, who was the central figure in that Oscar-winning film.

Hyde Park on Hudson is about the 1939 meeting of two heads of State -- the President of the United States and the King of England -- on the eve of World War II, but Michell, and screenwriter Richard Nelson, seem to have spun that detail out and attached it to another story: the sexual peccadilloes of the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt (Bill Murray). They've also chosen to play it for laughs. They chose wrong.

The events of Hyde Park on Hudson (the title, mentioned repeatedly in the film, refers to the country residence of Roosevelt) are narrated by Daisy (Laura Linney), a mousy fifth or sixth cousin of the President who has the "good" fortune to live close by to HPOH, and is called upon by Mrs. Roosevelt (Elizabeth Wilson), the First Mother, to be a companion of sorts to her son.

Daisy stays close to FDR's side and accompanies him on drives through the countryside, where she soon learns that she wasn't invited to provide just intellectual stimulation for the President. But after an awkward hand job in a field of flowers, Daisy declares herself and her cousin to be "the best of friends". (I love Laura Linney but her omnipotent-like narration borders on Forrest Gump naivete.)

It seems that despite being wheelchair-bound, the President is still very much a pants man, and apparently having sexual relations with every woman bar his wife, Eleanor (Olivia Williams), which the film none-too-subtly suggests is of a Sapphic persuasion.

But sexual misadventures are to be swept under the rug with the arrival of the royals, King George (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman), who've come to solicit the support of the United States should war breakout in Europe. It's unfortunate that West and Colman have to portray characters who were so recently, and adeptly, done so by Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter.

Even more unfortunate is that they are reduced to comic caricatures, Elizabeth more so than George. A running obsession with a scheduled picnic's inclusion of hot dogs on the menu is no doubt supposed to be funny but it just becomes increasingly annoying each time Elizabeth mentions it, almost suffering a panic attack each time she does.

Indeed, everything about the tone of Hyde Park on Hudson seems misjudged and, as comedy, mistimed. The rare moments of drama don't work well given the lead balloons that are dropped frequently throughout. That's a shame because Linney, Murray and Colman are terrific actors who could have done so much more if they were given so much more to work with. Murray comes off the best, curbing Roosevelt's sleaziness with a 'can do' charm.

Sadly, that attitude doesn't pervade the rest of the film. Michell, no stranger to comedy (Notting Hill) or drama, can't seem to get the balance right rendering Hyde Park On Hudson more of an oddity than a history lesson, one far more hamstrung than either of its handicapabale leading men.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013


Madman Films

Now Showing

Call it perfect timing or sheer coincidence, but I saw Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, an HBO-produced documentary about the sexual abuse of children by American Catholic clergy, two days before the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI.

Mea Maxima Culpa begins in America in the 1950s, detailing the disturbing abuse of a group of boys at a Catholic-operated school for the deaf, and spans decades and continents before arriving at the Vatican and asking serious but not difficult questions of the powers-that-be, including Pope Benedict.

Before becoming Pope, the then Cardinal Ratzinger spent 21 years heading up the Vatican's department which handled all complaints of sexual abuse by clergy across the globe. In that time, not one accused priest was excommunicated from the Church.

The Church's policy on paedophile priests has seemed always to be one of inaction; moving priests from one diocese to the next and in rare instances, providing some attempt at rehabilitation. So prevalent was the problem, at one point the Vatican even contemplated buying an island where they would send all of their transgressing priests. There was, of course, never any talk of excommunication or involving the police.

Alex Gibney has produced a powerful film but given the subject matter, how could he not? First hand accounts by the boys, now men (they sign, actors give voice to them), of their abuse by one particular priest at their deaf school are chilling, anger-inducing and just sad. One story of the boys being taken to a lake house for a weekend and forced to choose which one of them will sleep with the priest is just heartbreaking.

Gibney's film is not unlike Amy Berg's 2006 doco, Deliver Us From Evil (although the HBO connection has afforded him better production values). It, too, detailed sexual abuse of children in America by Catholic priests, with both films raising pertinent questions about the perpetrators, the cover-ups and the culture which defends the abusers and denies the victims.

It's one of the reasons -- arguably the main reason -- why non-Catholics and atheists have no faith in the Catholic Church. Will the election of a new Pope, Argentine Francis I (announced only hours ahead of my writing this review), see a change in the Vatican's policy for dealing with this issue, and thus making the frequency of documentaries like Mea Maxima Culpa less and less so in the future? I say a little prayer.

Saturday, 16 March 2013


Academy Award nominees Bill Murray and Laura Linney star in this comedy-drama from the director of NOTTING HILL.

Based on a true story of the famous weekend in 1939 when the King and Queen of England visited President Franklin D. Roosevelt at his home in upstate New York, to ask for U.S. help on the eve of WWII. Seen through the eyes of his mistress, it was a weekend that would unite two great nations .... after cocktails, of course!

Thanks to Icon Film Distribution, The LennoX Files has 5 double passes to HYDE PARK ON HUDSON to give away to Australian residents. Keep any eye on our Twitter feed - @TheLennoXFiles - for when and how to enter.

HYDE PARK ON HUDSON opens March 28.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013


Curious Distribution

Now Showing

This time last year, the Kony 2012 campaign took off like wildfire; calling the West's attention to African cult and militia leader, Joseph Kony, and his use of child soldiers. Like most online-generated fads, the Kony 2012 campaign has lost public attention if not traction in the 12 months since, but Kim Nguyen's Rebelle, although fictional, provides an intimate and unsparing look inside the life of one such soldier.

Komona (Rachel Mwanza) is just 12-years-old when rebel soldiers fighting for the Great Tiger arrive in her village, rounding up the children big enough to carry a gun and killing most of the adults. Komona, as a sadistic form of initiation rite, is forced to shoot her parents and their ghosts will haunt her over the two-year period in which the story unfolds (she is actually telling her story to her unborn child).

As "luck" would have it, Komona seems to be blessed with certain mystic powers (such as seeing the dead) which earns her a protected place in the ranks of the Great Tiger (Mizinga Mwinga) as his 'war witch' (the film's North American title). It also earns her the attentions of Magician (Serge Kanyinda), an albino boy a few years older than Komona who has also been afforded protected status because of his so-called powers.

The friendship and then romance between Komona and Magician provides some much needed, albeit brief, respite from the everyday life of a child soldier, where it's kill for the Great Tiger or be killed. But when the two decide to abandon their leader and make a normal life for themselves, they soon realise that like with most cults, you're not out until they say you're out.

Kim Nguyen's film draws easy comparison, well, at least for me, with Cate Shortland's Lore: a young woman forced to come of age in a harsh and political environment, discovering both her inner strength and her sexuality along the way. Even the cinematography by Nicholas Bolduc is reminiscent of Adam Arkapaw's lensing of Lore, capturing, almost dream-like, the beauty amid the terror.

Sadly, as was the case with Lore, I was intrigued by the young heroine's journey if not necessarily moved by it. Rachel Mwanza has a stillness about her that makes her eminently watchable, and when she dares to smile, she lights up the screen. I wasn't as conflicted in my empathy for Komona as I was for Saskia Rosendahl's Nazi daughter in Shortland's film, but I still felt at a remove from it all.

The violence is powerful, even shocking at times, but Nguyen, a Canadian director (Rebelle was that country's successful submission for the 2012 Best Foreign Language Oscar), is never gratuitous or frivolous with it, and the film, shot on location in the Democratic Repubic of the Congo -- and as if to counter the harsh realities of Komona's predicament -- always looks beautiful.

Innocence may be the first thing to die during war but hope springs eternal, and Nguyen's film ends on a hopeful note albeit a bittersweet one. You get the sense that Komona -- soldier, survivor, mother, child -- is going to be all right but in the real world, Kony 2012 campaign or not, the plight of child soldiers continues.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013


Madman Films

Now Showing

Banished by the powers-that-be to an East German village following an undisclosed crime, Berlin doctor, Barbara (Nina Hoss), has decided to keep herself to herself in her new town. "That's Berlin," says one of her colleagues at the hospital where she works, by way of explaining Barbara's cold, stand-offish behaviour.

But when you know Big Brother is watching -- Barbara's tiny bedsit is subjected to random searches by the local Stasi officer; her body subjected to the same by a female officer -- and don't know who to trust, the doctor's cautious behaviour is understandable.

Barbara, we soon learn, is actually biding her time until her West German lover, with whom she has secret rendezvous' -- one in a hotel, another in the forest on the outskirts of town -- can arrange to secret her out of the East. It's perhaps best not to make friends, or at least not have colleagues become accustomed to your habits.

Until then, Barbara upholds the Hippocratic Oath to the best of her considerable abilities and forms a tentative friendship with fellow doctor, Andre (Ronald Zehrfeld), a teddy bear of a man who proves to be as enigmatic to Barbara as she is to him. Is he a friend or an informant? Are his advances professional, platonic or possibly romantic?

Writer-director Christian Petzold's film unfolds over the summer of 1980 but you wouldn't know it to look at. There's very little sun captured in Hans Fromm's cinematography and there's a constant wind and an air of chill in the village where Barbara has been relocated. (Petzold's decision to use only incidental music adds to that sense of isolation and cold.) Barbara is also close to the sea but we never see it; a promise, like her lover's, of a freedom that is teasingly close by yet just out of reach.

And that's how you may feel about Christian Petzold's slow-burn of a film, and his heroine. While Nina Hoss, a regular collaborator with Petzold, gives a captivating central performance she does so without giving very little away. While her nerves are often on display, Hoss's Barbara keeps her emotions in-check and below the surface, an insularity which makes Barbara an intriguing drama if not an affecting one.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013


Universal Pictures

Now Showing

There have been umpteen screen adaptations, both big and small, of Charles Dickens' classic novel, Great Expectations, that you would think it impossible that the story of orphan boy Pip who, through a secret benefactor, becomes a London gentleman only to squander it all through hubris and for love, would be unknown to anyone.

Yet some people, like the friend who accompanied me to the screening of this latest iteration (penned by David Nicholls and directed by Mike Newell), are unfamiliar with this story, and one can only assume it is for them that this film has been made. Not that Great Expectations 2012 is bad Dickens or even literary-period-film-by-numbers.

For even if Newell doesn't reinvent the wheel -- unlike, say, Alfonso Cuaron, whose 1998 film version was set in modern-day Miami -- his handsomely produced version manages to provide enough points of difference to negate the inevitable deja vu for Dickens fans, whilst entertaining the G.E. newbies.

That first point of difference is in the casting. Initially I thought Helena Bonham Carter as the tragic and eccentric Miss Havisham, jilted on her wedding day and living in a bio-dome of self pity -- stopping the clocks, leaving the wedding cake out to rot, never removing her bridal gown -- in the years since, was obvious to the point of cliche. But to her credit, Bonham Carter manages to keep her crazy lady tics in-check.

Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch, the escaped convict whose life becomes inextricably linked with Pip's (played as a child by Toby Irvine, and as an adult by big brother Jeremy Irvine, star of 2011's War Horse) following a meeting on the moors, could also have been predictably one-note. But he manages to invest the character with a sensitive soul and becomes, along with Jason Flemying's Joe Gargery (Pip's blacksmith brother-in-law), the emotional heart of the story.

Pip, however, whether Nicholls' and Newell's intent, or whether it had always been the case with Dickens' novel, comes off as an ungrateful, selfish jerk once he comes into money; interested only in winning the heart of the icy Estella (Holliday Grainger), Miss Havisham's ward and protege, raised to wreak revenge on the male sex, and whom Pip has loved since childhood.

The two make for disinteresting romantic leads (pretty, yes, but dull), with Pip's roommate, Herbert Pocket (Olly Alexander), one of London's many hipster-ish young gentlemen, proving much more likeable.

This was also the first time while watching any version of Great Expectations that I was aware how much the story is about Karma: Pip's childhood kindness is rewarded by his secret benefactor; Magwitch's unwitting involvement in Miss Havisham's broken heart is balanced out by her raising of Estella, [Spoiler Alert] Magwitch's daughter; Pip's selfish bevahiour leads to his downfall; Joe Gargery is nothing but good and is rewarded in kind.

I don't know if Dickens believed in Karma, or if this is something which Nicholls and Newell brought to this film (or perhaps I'm one of the few to only notice it now) but again, it gives this version a point of difference. And if fans of the author and the book keep their expectations in-check, they, along with the first timers, will find this Great Expectations rewards them in kind.