Melbourne, April, 5th, 2018 (Peter Malone). Below, find film critics written by Peter Malone for the month of April (part 1).

  1. 12 STRONG
  2. 1945
  3. ALL FOR ONE
  4. BLOCKERS
  5. BOMBSHELL
  6. DEATH OF STALIN, The
  7. DEATH WISH
  8. HUMAN FLOW
  9. I CAN ONLY IMAGINE
  10. ISLE OF DOGS
  11. KANGAROO
  12. LAST GOLDFISH, The

12 STRONG

US, 2018, 130 minutes, Colour.

Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Peña, Navid Negahban, Trevante Rhodes, Geoff Stults Thad Luckinbill, Austin Stowell, Rob Riggle, William Fichtner, Elsa Pataki.

Directed by Nikolai Fuglsig.

12 Strong is based on a true story. It portrays a mission in Afghanistan after 9/11, a secret mission which was not revealed until almost a decade later. There are photos of those involved in the mission during the final credits.

This is one of those stories of American heroism. Patriotism, obviously, is one of the key themes. This is the United States, America has been attacked, America must act. In fact, the film opens with a resume of the terrorist attacks on the United States in the 1990s, various attacks on the World Trade Centre in 1993, the attacks on American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in the late 1990s, the role of Al Qaeda, the shock of 9/11 – with the images repeated at the beginning of the film to the surprise and dismay of people watching everything on television. And then we realise that this film was made 16 years after the event.

One of those watching the television, at home with his family, is Captain Mitch Nelson. We can be confident in him because he is played by Chris Hemsworth (and, in a nice touch, his wife is played by his real-wife wife, Elsa Pataky). He is a desk man, a trainer, who wants to become involved in some action after the destruction. The authorities are not so enthusiastic but one of his friends, played by Michael Shannon, is able to influence them and a Special Forces unit is set up.

They are to go to Afghanistan, make a secret journey through the mountains, meet with the Northern Alliance, make friends with some of the warlords in order to undermine and attack the Taliban.

The action we see might seem far-fetched, an incursion into Afghanistan, into fearsome terrains, encounters with hostile tribes, clashes with the Taliban, an expert estimating that such a mission would last two years. The 12 strong team accomplishes it in under 30 days. The men also survive.

There have been quite a number of films about American presence in Afghanistan in the years after 9/11, some with a touch of satire, Rock the Kasbah, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, others more serious action films like Lone Survivor.

The screenplay sets up a conflict between the sympathetic warlord who does not approve of the American tactics and withdraws his support for a time and the very sinister-looking Taliban chief. Ultimately, there will be a confrontation between these two.

The film does not underestimate the difficulties of the mission, language, supplies, the mountain paths, the armed Taliban, the difficulties of dealing with the warlord ally. However, the Americans can summon reinforcements for bombarding the enemy. There are injuries, there are some heroics.

This film is in the tradition of those World War II films, Vietnam films, where a unit in war is the focus of action, character development and interaction, achievement with some heroism.

 

1945

Hungary, 2017, 91 minutes, Black and white.
Peter Rudolf, Bence Tasnadi, Tamas Szabo Kimmel, Dora Sztarenki, Agi Szirtes, Jozsef Szarvas.
Directed by Ferenc Torok.

1945 is too grandiose a title for this film. It actually covers only one day in the life of a Hungarian village, August 12, 1945, the surrender of the Nazis now three months old, the war still waging in Asia, the dropping of the atomic bombs.

At the beginning of the film, two Jewish men arrive by train at the village, bringing some boxes which are identified as dry goods and perfumes but actually contain various artefacts which are to be buried in the cemetery in memory of the Jews who were rounded up, taken to concentration camps and killed.

This is very disturbing for many of the people in the town because they had denounced the Jews, gained documents which gave them the rights to the houses and the shops and are occupying them and are fearful of having to return them.

There is a wedding in the town that day. It is between the son of the Town Clerk and a young woman who was previously fiance of one of the locals who went to fight in the war. The Town Clerk was responsible for a lot of the deals and is apprehensive with the return of the Jewish men. He has given the drugstore to his son who is to be married.

As the day progresses, the young fiance has a relationship with his former friend, now has a new girlfriend and wants to bypass the wedding. But the young son, appreciating what is happening, and critical of his father’s behaviour, decides to leave, to go to Budapest or to the United States.

A central character is the man who was persuaded to participate in the fraud, who is now a drinker, goes to confession to a rather unsympathetic priest who seems to be endorsing the stances the Town Clerk, the film indicating Catholic Church support of the anti-Semitism.

From the Jewish perspective, the two men go through the burial process, a challenge at the gate of the cemetery by the Town Clerk but say they have come in peace and shake hands with him. To the relief of the townspeople, they leave and go to the train along with the Town Clerk’s son.

As suggested, something of an examination of conscience for the Hungarian people – and a criticism at the time of the film’s release because of the Hungarian hostility to admitting asylum seekers from Syria.

 

ALL FOR ONE

Australia, 2017, 100 minutes, Colour.

Directed by Marcus Cobbledick, Dan Jones.

For cycling fans, this is a must-see documentary. For Australian cycling fans it is a must-must-see documentary. And, even for those who know practically nothing about cycling, there is an optimism and humanity underlying this story.

The fans will know Australian involvement in the main cycling events throughout the world – and the limited presence prior to the first decade of the 21st-century. However, a number of entrepreneurs who loved cycling, took the initiative, found the finance, to set up an Australian team, Greenedge Orica. And this is the story.

While the film has its quota of talking heads and commentary, there is a great deal of storytelling, enthusiastic promotion, and a focus on individual characters and their achievements.

The early part of the film shows the initial scouting for talent, training regimes, camps away from home, the varieties of expertise both physical and psychological. There is also a general bonding amongst the members of the team, quite a large group from whom star riders will be selected, others will be support and backup.

There is also mention of the main cycling events in Europe, starting with the Tour de France, the Spanish Tour, Italian rides focusing on Milan, and the Paris- Roubaix competition. There are many sequences throughout the film of all these events. There is the exhilaration of those in the lead. There is the crowding of riders at the start and their beginning to thin out. There is the endurance of the different terrains that have to be undergone. There are the technical difficulties. And, the film does not shy from the frightening crashes and the tumbling of so many riders onto the road.

The film’s screenplay also uses the chronology, with dates on the screen, from 2012 onwards, indicating the developments, some of the successes, a number of the disappointments, the camaraderie amongst the team.

Several individuals are singled out for consideration. The first is Simon Gerrans who had established himself as a rider and as a personality, especially with the Tour de France. He had great success, supported by wife and family. There is also the moving sequence where he could have continued wearing the leader’s colours but gave them to him his co-rider, Daryl Impey.

There is a focus on the two individuals. There is Matthew Heymann, older, successful but not as he would wish. There are also his injuries. The latter part of the film, that shows his almost super-human effort to overcome injuries and to compete in the Paris- Roubaix. The film shows various cyclists and managers listening to the commentary ultimately surprised and overjoyed with Heymann’s final success.

There is also the story of Esteban Chavez, a young cyclist from Colombia. He had suffered significant injuries which might have put him out of professional cycling for a long time, especially without the backup and finance of an organised team. There are several scenes of him at home and scenes of his parents, grateful to Orica for giving opportunities for their son.

He is a lively character on screen, youthful, learning English (and Australian expletives), glad to be part of the unit, training, singled out by the coach (who is very direct, abrupt, taking no prisoners) and finally being encouraged to ride. The film shows his successful ride, especially an extraordinary uphill sector and his overcoming his previous difficulties and winning.

Obviously, the story is still in progress – but the film offers an opportunity for a celebration of what could be achieved and what has been achieved.

 

BLOCKERS

US, 2018, 102 minutes, Colour.

Leslie Mann, John Cena, Ike Barinholtz, Ramona Young, Kathryn Newton, Gary Cole, Gina Gershon, Geraldine Viswanathan, Miles Robbins, Graham Phillips, Gideon Adlon.

Directed by Kay Cannon.

Another of the increasingly popular raucous American comedies from recent years – especially when they have ‘bad’ or ‘dirty’ in the title or mention Seth Rogen (who is one of the producers here).

This is one of those films where one needs to check one’s sensibilities and sensitivities at the door.

As regards sensibilities – whether one responds well to themes about American teenagers, their difficulties with their parents, their parents even greater difficulties with them, especially concerning sexual relationships and sexual activities.

As regards sensitivities – this always asks the question how are in the themes treated? And then adjectives like rude, vulgar, crass, raucous turn up in connection with the humour. And the treatment of the teens and their behaviour and language. (And, some commentators remark on toilet humour – though this one seems to have more of predilection for extensive vomit and for butt-chugging.

This is a story about three teenage girls, the 24 hours of preparation for the prom night, the prom dance itself and its aftermath, decisions made at the end of high school. It focuses on the girls’ expectations from the prom – certainly not the kind of prim and formal prom of the past! But they spend time discussing sexual relationships, Julie (Kathryn Newton) the central character determined that she will have her first sex experience, which has to be perfect, with her boyfriend, Austin. This involves the perfect hotel room, rose petals, music and quiet… Her best friend Kayla (Geraldine Visnawathan) is a sporting type, plainspoken and ready for random sexual activity. The other friend, Sam (Gideon Adlon) is a closeted lesbian with an eye on one of her fellow students.

That is the story for the teenage audience for the film. It is rather different for the adult audience – depending on their memories of what they were like at the equivalent teenage time.

Julie’s mother, a single mother (Leslie Mann) is hyper-preoccupied with her daughter’s well-being and intentions. Kayla’s father (John Cena) is a big, tough, traditional type. Sam’s father (Ike Barinholtz) gives the impression of being a somewhat sleazy type, but does have his better moments.

So, the action is intercut between the activities of the girls and the various adventures – and mishaps – that the parents go through with their concern, arguments about whether to intervene or not, how permissive they should be, their attitude towards love?

All in all, a somewhat raucous night with a question about the ultimate decisions of the three girls (including Julie’s mother finding herself under the bed in the chosen room in the hotel anxious about whether she should stay or not).

This reviewer has been using for many years a phrase “The Judd Apatow Syndrome”. It refers to this kind of American comedy, seemingly raucously permissive at first but then moving to a more moralising tone. And Julie’s mother here is played by Leslie Mann who happens to be married to Judd Apatow. There is some moralising at the end but not all audiences will agree with the conclusions – and some have remarked that this is rather old-fashioned in its presumption that the girls have to be protected at all costs while the males can do what they like.

And so the question is raised, is this typical of contemporary American society? Of other cultures and societies around the world?

 

BOMBSHELL

US, 2017, 89 minutes, Colour.

Directed by Alexandra Dean.

Hedy Lamarr was a successful actress of the 1930s and 1940s. The PR and media title, Bombshell, was used in promoting her and her films. Film buffs will welcome this biography. Other audiences might be wondering why the life of this actress has been resurrected in the 21st-century.

The principal reason for later interest in Hedy Lamarr has nothing to do with the movies.

The film shows that, as a little girl, Hedwig Kiesler of Vienna had a scientific frame of mind, even taking apart a music box at the age of five and putting it together again. She was interested in science and maths. Science, investigation and speculation, were hobbies for her. This continued after she fled her native Austria in 1937, going to England and then to Hollywood. Howard Hughes even built a space for her that she could use as something of a laboratory.

With a musician friend, in 1942, she speculated on what was called “frequency-hopping”. (Probably better at this stage to Google this rather than including explanations in a film review!) She sent the information to the American government who examined it but decided not to use her theories. She was not aware of patent legislation (patents lapsing after five years of nonapplication) and she lost the rights to the invention. The film is very strong on what she contributed, how she was treated, a later science apology during the Vietnam war and, articles about her theories written during the 1980s and 1990s and finally an award. The film is at pains to point out that her theory was used for all kinds of ventures including Wi-Fi, GPS, Blu-ray…

Hedy Lamarr had appeared in the film Ecstasy in 1933 and appeared nude, incurring adverse comment from Pope Pius XI as well as Hitler. She tried for some film work in Austria but then was interviewed by Louis B. Mayer, rejecting his salary, trying again and succeeding – and making 19 films in Hollywood between 1938 and 1948 before her main success in Cecil B DeMille’s 1949 Samson and Delilah.

Hedy Lamarr said that glamour was simply standing still and looking stupid. But, she was not stupid although she had many failed marriages, awkward relationships with her children, eventually antipathy from the media, plastic surgery with her scientific advice on it, although there is a scene from the Merv Griffin Show in 1969 where she is asked about herself and she asks a question of her fellow guest – who turns out to be Woody Allen!

Ultimately, she lived a lonely, somewhat reclusive life – although there is an amusing moment when her son is accepting her award in 1997 and his phone goes off in the middle of his speech, his mother ringing to ask how it went and his explaining that he was in the middle of it!

A belated tribute to Hedy Lamarr and her scientific interests – and an opportunity for film buffs to consider her again and see clips from some of her films. She was not the greatest actresses – more a beautiful screen presence.

 

THE DEATH OF STALIN

UK, 2017, 109 minutes, Colour.

Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jeffrey Tambor, Michael Palin, Jason Isaacs, Rupert Friend, Andrea Reisborough, Olga Kurylengo, Paddy Considine, Justin Edwards, Adrian McLoughlin, Paul Whitehouse, Paul Chahidi, Diana Quick, Sylvie Le Touzel.

Directed by Armando Iannucci.

Cinema and television stories of the absurd, with an anchor in real life, could be a description of the work of writer-director Armando Iannucci. His satirical television series on British politics, and political minders, The Thick of It and the cinema version, In the Loop, as well as his originating the American series Veep, have had the ability to make people laugh and cringe at the same time.

It is something of the same here with his take on Soviet Russia, Stalin and his tyranny, the Soviet politburo, a 1953 setting, Stalin’s final days and his death.

Iannucci always has a serious underlining tone to his satire. He seems to work on the principle that one way of dealing with harsh realities is to let off steam through jokes.

With Stalin, although the memories of his decades of rule of the Soviet Union are more than 60 years in the past, this film is a tale of ruthlessness as embodied in his politburo. It is all patently absurd – or is it?

Some audiences have found many of the sequences laugh-out-loud. Others have found a great deal of amusement, interior chuckles more than guffaws, and a checking on how this all relates to memories of the historical episodes and characters.

The tone is set with an orchestral concert as the opening sequence, Paddy Considine as the producer discovering, to his horror when Stalin rings asking for recording of the concert, that none was made! What to do given the military, the KGB, Stalin’s own reputation? The producer brings many of the audience back into the concert hall, rounds up people from the street to fill the seats, to record high applause, to bribe the pianist Maria (Olga Kuryenko) to repeat her performance, cope with the collapse of the conductor and do a raid on an apartment to bring and alternate conductor to do the work in his dressing gown and pyjamas.

And Stalin gets the record, plays it, has a stroke, collapses and dies.

Andy McLoughlin does a good impersonation of Stalin – though his accent! And this is the case with all the characters in the film, the actors perform with their own natural accents, from American, to broken English, too harsh Yorkshire… Iannucci has said that Stalin’s advisers came from all over the Soviet Union.

Then the film progresses in chapters, coping with the death, the period of mourning, the funeral, and the regulations quoted about all these events especially who is to take over power. There are several contenders. The actual deputy is the rather weak Malenkov, a good performance from Jeffrey Tambor. Then there is Molotov, of cocktail fame so to speak, played as an extreme loyalist to Stalin and the Soviet, even denouncing his wife for torture, and is played by Michael Palin. Extremely prominent, but we know what will eventually happen to him, is Nikita Kruschev played, with his American accent, by Steve Buscemi.

However, as older audiences with memories of Stalinist days and the KGB will expect, there is a central focus on the head of the KGB, Beria. He is played with intensity by Simon Russell Beale, forever making lists of people to be arrested and tortured, executed, manipulating the members of the politburo, especially Malenkov, clashing tactics and ideas with Kruschev. He also has a rather unsavoury private life.

Then there is Stalin’s alcoholic and rather mad son, Vassily, played by Rupert Friend. And his rather hard daughter, Svetlana, played by Andrea Reisborough.

There are meetings, chaired by Malenkov, controlled by Beria, reluctantly agreed to by Kruschev for unanimity, the autopsy (graphic with a saw in Stalin’s cranium), his lying in state, the ceremonial of the funeral, the forbidding of crowds travel by train, and guns fired at them…

And finally, the manipulation of power, the emergence of Kruschev, the arrival of the military in the presence of General Zhukov (Jason Isaacs), the type that takes no prisoners who shoots first and then makes offhand comments.

While this is all set in the past and is an ironic look at tyranny, bureaucratic struggles, ruthlessness and struggles for power, it is interesting to think about subsequent deaths and succession issues, or, perhaps, of Russia in the present, or even the 2017-2018 history of the American President and the turnover of advisers in the White House.

 

DEATH WISH    

US, 2018, 107 minutes, Colour.

Bruce Willis, Vincent D'Onofrio, Elizabeth Shue, Camilla Marrone, Dean Norris, Beau Knapp, Kimberly Elise, Len Cariou, Wendy Crewson.

Directed by Eli Roth.

An urban vigilante story.

In fact, the original novel, Death Wish, by Brian Garfield was published in 1972. That was the year after the release of Dirty Harry, the film which made such an impact around the world about vigilante action. And the series was very popular from the 1970s into the 1980s. The film version of Death Wish appeared in 1974, starring Charles Bronson, very popular and producing three sequels into the 1980s.

There was always a lot of discussion about vigilante films. On the one hand, dreadful crimes committed against innocent victims. On the other hand, it is the rule of law and justice for retribution. And the point is always made that, when justice and law do not fulfil expectations, the vigilantes feel the right to take retribution into their own hands.

And there is further discussion about the effect of vigilante action in the mind and emotions, as well as moral judgement, of the vigilantes. Does violent retribution against injustice achieve the cathartic effect that might be hoped for? Or is the vigilante burdened by the consequences of violence in their own character?

And there is even further discussion about the effect of the vigilantes in the minds of the public. Do they cheer the person who is able to avenge injustice, ridding the world of evil perpetrators? In this film, the vigilante is praised as the Grim Reaper. And what of copycat vigilantes who can cause their own mayhem?

In fact, all of these questions are raised in the screenplay of this version of Death Wish, based on Brian Garfield’s novel, written by writer-director, Joe Carnahan (Smokin’ Aces, The A-Team).

One immediate difference is that Paul Kersey, the Charles Bronson character of 1974 was an architect, and is now played by Bruce Willis as a surgeon, someone whose life is committed to healing. This is a very good role for Bruce Willis who appears these days, like Nicholas Cage, in a dime a dozen thrillers each year. His sympathetic wife is Elizabeth Shue. His daughter, about to go to college and full of enthusiasm, is played by Camilla Marrone.

One of the differences for Death Wish 1974 and Death Wish 2018 is the atmosphere of social media and communication technology. This time the robbers are able to photograph the address and details of their targets when they do valet servicing of cars. When the vigilantes go into action, bystanders are able to film everything on their phones. This all then goes on to the Internet instantly, seen by millions, taken up by the traditional media, print, radio and television.

Because the actors are strong, the initial tragedy seems even more devastating. Willis, portraying a good man, begins to burn interiorly, the police (portrayed sympathetically) are unable to get leads. The surgeon, time off from work, begins to track down various leads, making discoveries, going to the gun shops (again, another contemporary issue of US gun ownership and gun usage, availability of guns…).

While the initial burglary and killing is ugly, some of the sequences in the revenge are more than ugly and violent. Perhaps this is the director, Eli Roth, who began with horror films, including the Hostel series.

The other central character in the film is Paul Kersey’s brother, Frank, played by Vincent D’Onofrio, whom the police suspect and who then tries to reason with and support his brother.

And the final moral dilemma. What do authorities do when they discover the truth – arrest the perpetrator or allow for the understandable grief and let the perpetrator go free, to continue his work of healing?

 

HUMAN FLOW

UK, China, 2017, 140 minutes, Colour.

Directed by Ai Wei Wei.

Aie Wei Wei is a notable Chinese artist with exhibitions all around the world. He is also had his difficulties with the Chinese authorities and has left China, now a citizen of the world. He has had films made about his art. He is also directed a film himself. He returns now to direction, not for a film about art, but for about human rights, refugees and suffering.

He and his crew visited a number of countries around the world in 2015, 2016, photographing the refugees from a wide range of countries, photographing the groups, photographing individuals. At times the artist himself is seen in various situations, sharing the experience, interviewing some of the refugees. This personalises his concern. But the appeal is made to consciences and consciousness of the audience, to empathise with the refugees, what the conditions were at home, what they have escaped from, the hardships of their journey. And, as always, there are the hardships in dealing with the authorities, government and police border patrols from the country’s where they are seeking some kind of refuge. And then there are, so often, the fences.

The film was made in European countries, Kenya, Mexico and the United States, me and Mark in Bangladesh. (There is nothing about refugees in Australia or Manus Island or Nauru – Australian audiences can draw their own conclusions.)

The photography is often very striking, the audience being taken to such varieties of countries, being asked to imagine the lives of the refugees, their past, their escapes, the hardships of the journey is, hard hearts against them, sympathetic hearts for them.

The artist includes some quotations from problems as well as a series of running headlines at the bottom of the screen reminding people of dates and places, UN resolutions, government stances against the refugees.

The following is a list of the countries where the film was made: The range of countries visited, the situations, the refugees themselves, the hardships, the repercussions, welcoming countries, hostile countries?

  • Iraq, the background of the American-led invasion of 2003, later developments. ISIS, the taking of Mosul, the siege, the destruction of the streets and houses, the people, the re-taking of Mosul. Iraq and the thousands of refugees from Syria, the camps.
  • Bangladesh, the Rohingya, the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. The leader and his explanations and regrets.
  • Lesbos, the landing of the refugees from Syria, the numbers, their being welcomed, the camps, their journey through northern Greece, at the Macedonian border, the railway. The further walls from various countries of the Balkans? And Hungary?
  • Refugees in Germany, the transformation of Templehof airport into accommodation, the interiors, safety, but the boredom for the children and the adults.
  • Paris, the temporary shelters. The Jungle in Calais, the numbers of people, British Border Protection, jumping trucks and their being found out.
  • The transition to Kenya, the enormous camp, the refugees from surrounding countries.
  • Pakistan, taking of refugees from Afghanistan, for many decades. Returning the Afghan Nationals to their home country. The huge transport trucks. Their being accepted – not able to return to their home towns and villages. Living in the cities.
  • Lebanon, the Palestinian refugees, the numbers - the Druze leader and his commentary.
  • Jordan, the taking of the vast numbers of refugees from Syria, the Princess and her interview. The camps, and the number of refugees in proportion to the whole population.
  • The Mediterranean, the Africans coming by boat, their treatment in Libya, the Italian rescue and landing in Italy.

 

I CAN ONLY IMAGINE

US, 2018, 110 minutes, Colour.

J.Michael Finley, Dennis Quaid, Brody Rose, Trace Adkins, Taegen Burns, Madeleine Carroll, Nicole Du Port, Tanya Clarke.

Directed by Andrew Erwin, Jon Erwin.

In the United States, I Can Only Imagine went immediately into the box office Top 10 and, in its second week, was number three, after Pacific Rim and Black Panther. The audience which responded are the numerous Christian audiences, especially in the more evangelical communities and congregations.

To see the film in Australia, one has to search out cinemas in the so-called Bible areas of our cities.

This is a faith-based film, based on the story of the song, triple platinum in the US, the most popular religious song of recent decades, I Can Only Imagine. At the opening of the film, the composer of lyrics and music, Bart Mallard, is being interviewed by the popular singer, Amy Grant. He tells her that it took only 10 minutes to write the lyrics and to compose the music. Her response is that he did not create it so rapidly but the song is the result of a lifetime.

And so it is.

The film goes back to Bart has a 10-year-old, in 1985. He comes from Texas, lives with his mother and father, his father a violent and sometimes brutal man, his mother a victim of this brutality. Bart develops a hatred for his father, especially when his mother walks out on her family after taking Bart to a Baptist camp where he meets friends, is encouraged to journal, has religious experiences – and he writes “the best week of my life”.

Bart’s father is played by Dennis Quaid, giving a strength of performance to the film. The young Bart is played by Brody Rose. The older Bart is played by J. Michael Stickley in his first film. As we hear him sing, especially when he is persuaded by a teacher, very much against his intentions, to play Curly in Oklahoma and he sings ‘Oh, what a beautiful morning’, we hear a very fine singing voice. (And learn that Michael Stickley has appeared in many Broadway productions.)

When Bart escapes from his father and from the town, he works as a technician which leads him to contact with an aspiring band who are lamenting that they have no singer. And, when Bart joins them as the singer, they begin to have great success, travelling around Texas, drawing youth audiences, responding to the ‘secular’ style of the performance but also to the tone of religious lyrics.

As is often the case in these stories about music, the connection is with Nashville, to an agent (Tracy Adkins rough and ponytailed) who is taken by the performance and organises concerts – but record company representatives feel that Bart is not good enough and the suggestion is that he go deeply into himself and discover what emerges.

This requires him to go back home, leave the band for a time, meet up with his father again and, disbelieving, finds that his father has discovered God. The challenge is for him to forgive his father – something which he had written in his camp journal when he was little. And, so a transformation begins, in Bart, in his father. And, always in the background is the young girl that he always cared for, Shannon (Madeleine Carroll) who goes to college rather than joining him on the road.

And, forced back into himself, and religiously inspired, Bart writes his significant song. The agents are impressed, they contact Amy Grant who is prepared to launch the song but, with Bart in the audience, she invites him up to sing – and, it would seem, he has never looked back after the success of the song and testimonies to its inspiration in people’s lives, marrying Shannon, reunited with his mother, rejoining his band, Mercy Me, 21 hits – and his performing at a White House Breakfast in 2017.

Critics are wary of the word “inspirational” in descriptions of films because they think/fear that this actually means “manipulative”. But there are many audiences who respond to the inspirational, who want to be moved, and find Bart Mallard’s story does this for them quite powerfully. Because the American evangelical tradition is quite extrovert, more introverted individuals and more introverted religious communities might find it a bit much even while they admire what it is doing.

 

ISLE OF DOGS

US, 2018, 101 minutes, Colour.
Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Liev Schreiber, Greta Gerwig, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, Scarlett Johansson, Courtney B.Vance, Konichi Nomura, Tilda Swinton, F. Murray Abraham, Frances Mc Dormand, Fisher Stevens, Harvey Keitel, Ken Watanabe, Yoko Ono.
Directed by Wes Anderson.

An animated allegory written and directed by Wes Anderson, whose 20 year career has provided an enormous range of genre films, serious undertones, humorous overtones, all kinds of comedy and parody. He also ventured into animation with The Fantastic Mr Fox. Audiences will have their different favourite Wes Anderson films This reviewer remembering happily the Royal Tennenbaums and, especially, The Grand Budapest Hotel.

The animation in this film looks a bit rough and ready, all to the film’s advantage. There is no smooth drawing for characters most of whom are dogs. The movements of the characters are not smooth either, but humorously jerky and angular. There is a great deal of attention given to the backgrounds, especially the wastelands of the actual island where the dogs are exiled. This is not a pretty-pretty location film. Which means that just visually, there is a great deal of edge.

And the voice cast! It is led by Bryan Cranston and Koyu Rankin. Many of the cast have appeared in other Wes Anderson films and are welcome back, some having much more to say than others – and, some silent!

The film has a Japanese setting – which some would-be purists object to, Americans capitalising on Japanese characters and themes. But, this seems to be too much objection. One of the writers, who voices the Mayor in the film, is Japanese. And the central character, a young lad of 12, is reminiscent of and probably a tribute to the many animated films from Studio Ghibli and other studios.

The dialogue is certainly worth listening to, full of humour, full of spoof, full of parody – but, with quite an underlying seriousness.

The film goes back into earlier centuries with history of the status of dogs in Japanese households. It leads to a revolution where the population turn against their dogs, preferring cats, and the powers that be of a leading family decree the exiling of all dogs to an island off the coast. The population seeming to agree complacently and all the dogs are rather brutally rounded up and even brutally deposited on the island where they have to survive, make do, scrounge, break friendships, fight amongst each other.

The life of the dogs on the island is often very amusing, often very challenging. The key event is the arrival of the adopted son of the Mayor taking a plane and crash landing on the island to find his pet dog. So, the film becomes something of a quest, the outlaw dog, voiced by Bryan Cranston, becoming a friend and an ally. There is also a show dog, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, who has an interesting history and contributes to the quest.

Most of the reviewers spent their time talking about the animation, the cast, the humour, Wes Anderson’s perspective. But, when one comes to think about it, the film serves as a contemporary social allegory, getting rid of the dogs seems to be an allegory of any ethnic cleansing. Those who are ethnically cleansed have to move into exile as do the dogs on their island. The critique is also of the wealthy, their corrupt use of wealth and power, manipulation of the public.

This means that Isle of one works on two levels, that of popular entertainment – but, very seriously, an allegory of contemporary social injustices.

 

KANGAROO: A LOVE-HATE STORY

Australia, 2018, 100 minutes, Colour.

Directed by Kate McIntyre Clere, Michael McIntyre.

For audiences who want to see close-ups of kangaroos, front on, profiles, individuals hopping, groups hopping, mothers with Joeys in their pouch, this film offers many opportunities.

But, a warning, this is a very strong documentary about kangaroos and their treatment in Australia, especially the hunting down of kangaroos, their being seen as “pests and plague” and their being culled, shot, not always immediately killed, and some brutal bashings.

As can be seen by the title, this is not only a partisan documentary about the kangaroo situation in Australia but it is quite militant. The directors have spent a great deal of time travelling around Australia, photographing the kangaroos, getting photos of night culls, and interviewing a great number of people.

There is great deal of reflection on the symbolism of the kangaroo and the new and the ironic comments that these two symbols, on our coins, notes, symbolically above the new Parliament house, have a history of being eliminated. Some of the Americans interviewed the film cannot understand this, offering the opinion that kangaroos a great tourist draw. And, probably for many city Australians this is true as well.

The film also traces the history of the use of kangaroo as meat, for pet food in past decades, then to using restaurants, the issues are exporting kangaroo meat and some of the bands that have occurred, for instance in Russia and in California (and subsequent Australian lobbying in both territories). It also traces the history of the use of kangaroo hides and kangaroo leather, with some testimony by David Beckham about football boots and English and other teams choose to the use of this leather in their countries.

So, there are a lot of visuals which are particularly disturbing – especially taken by a couple in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales where they had set up a free zone farm but are bordered by farmers who eliminate the kangaroos. And some of this testimony film has been presented to governments, especially New South Wales – with regretful comments that enquiries have been closed down. Significant in the film is the Upper House politician, Mark Pearson, staunch supporter of animal rights.

The talking heads in the film are not completely partisan. There are a number of farmers who give their views, indicate the destruction of grazing country by the kangaroos, seeing them as a pest to be eliminated in the area. There are also parliamentarians who speak about farmers rights as well and is emphasising the importance for kangaroo meat and trade connections.

The directors have lined up a significant group of talking heads to alert the audience about the role of kangaroos, the value of the statistics/or not about their being pest and plague, on conservation, preservation. They include Tim Flannery, strong spokesman on the environment. There is also Peter Singer noted for his comments on animal welfare. There is Terry Irwin speaking about zoos. There is a character from outside Alice Springs who calls himself Kangaroo Dundee who does tourist tours for kangaroo-seekers. Other speakers include politicians as well as tax expert, Kevin Henry.

So, the love-hate of the title is well to the fore in the film.

Documentaries like this, while they promote a cause, can foster conversations, changes of mind and attitude, appeals to the public, possible political changes and economic changes.

Not always easy to sit through, but a significantly provocative documentary, especially for Australian audiences.

 

THE LAST GOLDFISH

2017, 80 minutes, Colour.

Directed by Su Goldfish.                                                

This is an arresting Australian documentary.

Su Goldfish, has explored her origins, finding a lot of film footage and photos from the past, especially from her photographer father. But his background has been a mystery to her.

She knows that her father came from Germany, a refugee from World War II. He finished in Trinidad where he met his wife after the war, marrying, his daughter being born. He seemed to have prospered, especially with music at the time in the West Indies. However, with moves towards independence, he moved his family to Australia, living there for many years.

Su Goldfish herself led a rather flamboyant life, involved in the arts, in gay and lesbian activities, finding her partner, working in filmmaking.

The film is interesting in her exploration, her discovery that her father was married in Germany, had a family, and taken his wife and son to Trinidad and divorced there. His ex-wife and children moved to Canada. Gradually, Su gets more information, travels to Germany, finds places that correspond to the photos in the collection, discovers identity of family members. She also communicates with the family in Canada, eventually meeting some of them and visiting Canada.

For Su, this is fulfilling, knowing more about her father, filling a sense of belonging with an extended family. At the end, she discovers more family connections, members who have changed their names.

This kind of family exploration is a rich source for documentary filmmakers, exploring the past while throwing light on contemporary situations – something which director Sophia Turkewiecz achieved with her documentary about her mother, Once Her Mother (2013).