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***

Made by an Irish director with Irish funds based on an American Young Adult book series and set in the United States, this curious low-budget thriller, shot on 16mm, has a certain hand-sewn élan. (It also has an incredible poster, above.)

Max Records (Where The Wild Things Are) plays a teenage loner – John Wayne Cleaver (!) – who, along with his shrink, thinks he may be sociopathic; therefore, he is determined to avoid homicidal thoughts and instincts, lest he become a serial killer (and I thought my teenage angst was bad!). When a series of murders occur in his small town, well, naturally, his curiosity is engaged…

Good ol’ Christopher Lloyd – who, it must be said, is definitely looking old – gently and appealingly plays a local fella who befriends young Cleaver, and Laura Fraser (Lydia from Breaking Bad – did you know she was Scottish?) plays his mum, the town mortician, very well. The whole thing has quite a unique tone – a blend of extremely dry humor, creepy low-key horror, and retro-styled aesthetics – that atone for its somewhat over-extended runtime.

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***1/2

Joseph Gordon-Levitt atones for The Walk with his titular performance in Snowden, a film no-one else but Oliver Stone was going to make. I’m glad he did. It’s uneven, ramming brilliant scenes up against turgid ones, but ultimately it’s an overwhelmingly powerful experience. Like all Oliver Stone films, it gets you by the end.

There are three distinct flavours to the film: the scenes dramatizing Snowden’s career in the CIA and NSA, which are fantastic and eye-opening (to say the least!); the scenes in the Hong Kong hotel room where Snowden handed over his cache of secrets to Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo, looking too old for the role) and Glenn Greenwood (Zachary Quinto, spot-on) which are essentially re-creations of similar scenes from Poitras’ documentary Citizenfour; and the scenes with Snowden’s girlfriend, Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley), which are awful.

I’ve only seen Woodley in a couple of things – The Descendants and The Spectacular Now – and she was good in both of those, so I have to reckon that (a) the script and direction of her scenes in this film are largely to blame and that maybe (b) being in the Allegiant movies (or whatever they are) have dulled her skill. She is woeful here – difficult to watch. But the scenes are also completely unnecessary and slow the story. Snowden’s ultimate decision was bigger than his relationship, and his relationship is far less dramatically interesting than the rest of his life, and is spectacularly bungled here. Stone should re-release the film simply cutting out every scene involving Mills – and I’m not being facetious.

If you’ve seen Citizenfour you may think you don’t need this, but the stuff detailing Snowden’s career is fascinating and, thankfully, the bulk of the film. Overall, I found Snowden deeply satisfying – allowing for the terrible Woodley scenes – and monumentally revealing. It also contains a signature scene in the centre that will go down as a great Oliver Stone mini-essay. Definitely worth seeing despite the flaws.

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***1/2

British TV documentarian Louis Theroux is a very clever chap. He obviously realised that the Alex Gibney documentary Going Clear was going to be the Big Boy of Scientology feature docos for quite a while. Hence the title My Scientology Movie, which is tongue in cheek, certainly, but also implies a different tack and a different take – both of which pay off.

Theroux seemingly feels that if you’re paying to see “his” Scientology movie at the cinema, you’re probably a bit of a Scientology tragic, and have seen enough about David Miscavige, Tom Cruise, John Travolta and L. Ron Hubbard. Thus, instead, we get a film in the company of “Scientology’s most famous deserter”, Mark “Marty” Rathbun – and there’s the rub, because Mr. Rathbun, rather like an ex-Nazi, might not be entirely “clear” of Scientology’s stink at all.

I love stuff about Scientology – the books, the films, the articles – and, after a slow burning first hour – this film really gave me a kick. I would recommend it most to fellow Scientology tragics, since there is that implied assumed knowledge, but that’s obviously the audience Theroux is going for. If you’re new to the hunt, see Going Clear first, then feast on this as a bitterly tasty dessert.

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***1/2

As I walked out of a general audience screening of Eight Days A Week, I heard a mature gentlemen say to his female companion, “I’m not sure it was worth $18”. That is the across-the-board price Australian cinemas are charging for Ron Howard’s documentary on The Beatles’ touring years, and the patron’s not wrong. There is very little here that was not done better in the epic television documentary The Beatles Anthology (1995) and not a lot that will be revelatory to Beatles fans of any level.

What’s being touted is new footage, and there is that. I’d never seen, for example, footage from concerts in Manilla and Tokyo, and that stuff is definitely interesting. Perhaps more importantly, the audio, which has been painstakingly sourced and fiddled with, is giving us better sound from even live appearance footage we’ve seen before many times. This time, instead of the girls, we hear the band. And you know what? They rock a little harder than you might expect from their tamer television appearances.

Also included in your ticket price is a half-hour edit of The Beatles At Shea Stadium, which follows the ninety minute film. But – as Paul himself says in the documentary! – the Beatles couldn’t hear themselves play at that gig, with shocking results. Likewise, the cleaned-up sound for this “bonus, only-in-cinemas” content only highlights the mediocrity of the playing. Paul, in particular, sounds awful.

What saves the whole thing, of course, are The Beatles. I could simply live in their endless company – they were so charismatic, charming, funny and adorable in this period. And that is no small thing. Indeed, if you’ve got the eighteen bucks, there is absolutely no reason not to see Eight Days A Week, because it’s still two hours in the company of four of the most enjoyable people ever.

 

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Everything about Captain Fantastic is fantastic. Thematically massive, tonally bold, determinedly non-formulaic and featuring a preternaturally perfectly cast leading man at the top of his game, Matt Ross’ second feature film as writer/director is one of the best of the year thus far, up there with Sing Street.

Viggo Mortensen – and, once you’ve seen the film, you cannot imagine anyone else in the role – plays Ben, the father of six kids living off the grid in the mountainous forests of the Pacific Northwest of the United States. He’s brining them up with a philosophy combining intense survival skills, intense physical training, intense learning (his eldest speaks six languages) and intense moral introspection. Ben is intense, and so are his incredible spawn.

Unfortunately, their mother, Leslie, is hospitalised, stricken with terrible manic depression, and her death near the beginning of the film causes the clan to mount their trusty hippie bus “Steve” and head all the way down the coast towards her funeral. Real Life will inevitably get in their idyllic way.

187767_039The kids are all – well, fantastic. George MacKay, as that eldest with the six languages, is one of those “I can’t believe he’s English!” English actors – I recognised him from an excellent little Brit Mini-Series called The Outcast (2015) after getting past the likelihood that, despite appearances, he probably wasn’t Mortensen’s actual son – he’s that well cast. And Annalise Basso and Samantha Isler are tremendously believable as spookily precocious sisters. The scene in which one of them (I’m not sure which!) gives her own take on Lolita is worth the ticket on its own.

Road trip movies are inherently episodic, but Ross’ astonishingly rich script allows each stop along the way to contribute to the film’s larger thematic texture with deeply satisfying construction. Indeed, the rhythms of the film are so singular that you are almost upbraided (well, I was upbraiding myself) for trying to predict them. The road in this road movie is not the length you expect, and doesn’t lead you where you may possibly think it will. Don’t try to out-guess this film; you can’t. It’s pretty plain that Ben’s extreme parenting methods are going to come into question, but exactly how they are questioned – and answered – is the stuff of near-genius screenwriting.

The supporting cast are perfect. Frank Langella, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, Ann Dowd, Missi Pyle, Erin Moriarty – I mean, come on. They’re all superb, and even when they’ve only got a scene, they contribute a multi-dimensional character. It’s really rather remarkable.

Movies this good really don’t come along that often. Do yourself a favour and don’t miss this one on the big screen. I didn’t even mention how gorgeously it’s shot – but it’s gorgeously shot. It’s funny, it’s deeply moving, it’s tender, it’s tough. The music’s awesome. There’s just endless things about it to love. Go love it up.

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***1/2

The 35th feature film directed by Clint Eastwood, Sully, like much of his latest work, is a highly proficient, professional, refreshingly unsentimental procedural about men. (It hasn’t always been this way; Changeling (2008) , Million Dollar Baby (2004) and The Bridges of Madison County (1995) are examples of his helmsmanship of solid female-led dramas.)

The workplace in this case is not just the cockpit of a troubled aircraft but the entire infrastructure associated with large-scale commercial aviation. It turns out that the aircraft industry takes every dangerous incident extremely seriously, and, unlike the media – so quick to refer to the pilot of the “miracle on the Hudson” as a “hero” – they are required to react soberly, even skeptically.

It is in all the specific, at times technical details – of how the cockpit functions; of the relationship between pilot, co-pilot, cabin staff and air traffic control; of how such occurrences as Captain Chesley Sullenberger’s 2009 landing of his 737 in the Hudson River get investigated both internally and within the larger auspices of the Federal Aviation Administration – that the movie shines. All that stuff is fascinating. Where it strains is to create drama out of everything outside of the actual emergency, landing and rescue, which all took place over a matter of hours. Essentially, the incident was going to be investigated no matter what, it was, and there you go. The investigation was not a witch hunt and the real man’s life has hardly been destroyed by it. In essence, it is a film about a purely bureaucratic set of meetings set in motion by an out-of-the-ordinary event. To get us riled up, chief investigators Charles Porter and Elizabeth Davis (Mike O’Malley and Anna Gunn) are forced to play their roles with a twirled mustache and a sneering lip.

Thankfully, Tom Hanks, playing another Captain of a Big Vessel In Trouble, and Aaron Eckhart, as his co-pilot Jeff Skiles, give honest and somber performances that ground us in the camaraderie of professionals. They seem to know that the only true drama here lies in that big plane landing on that body of water. The rest is all pencil-pushing. No wonder this is Clint’s shortest film. There’s not a lot there.

23/5/2015. Marriage Referendum.

**

Unfortunately Conor Horgan’s feature length documentary about Panti Bliss, Ireland’s most influential drag queen, lacks sparkle, wit and bite – precisely some of the attributes Panti, and other great drag artists, so embody.

The film tells the story of how Rory O’Neill became Panti Bliss, and, subsequently, the face of the same-sex marriage referendum in May 2015. Along the way it reveals how astonishingly late Ireland came to the gay party (which makes its referendum, the first of its kind in the world to be successful, equally astonishing). Again, unfortunately, it tells these seismic stories with very little drama, precision or tension. Everything in the film feels like a foregone conclusion. For example, a few scattered “No” flags serve to represent the entire country’s internal struggle with the referendum’s primary question. Surely, given that the “Yes” vote came in at 62%, there was more to the story in this most passionate and argumentative of countries?

Australians, potentially facing an expensive and divisive plebiscite on the same issue, will find nothing here to inform them about such an action’s pros and cons. According to the film, it will simply be a bit of a party at the pub and smiles all around.

Likewise, the gay struggle in Australia and in other countries has been much better documented elsewhere, and Panti herself cannot hold a candle to many of the drag artists who simply work the Sydney pub circuit. The Queen of Ireland may hold great emotional resonance to residents of that green isle, but feels, to this Sydneysider, like old news uninterestingly told. I’m frankly surprised it’s getting a theatrical release here.