Siddharth movie review

Featuring: Rajesh Tailang
Director: Richie Mehta
Screenwriter: Richie Mehta
Movie website: www.pinnaclefilms.com.au/Product/Details/ffd67eac-0745-4a67-96a9-a2b9010aa420
Australian release date: Thursday, 9 October 2014

Reviewer: rolanstein
Verdict: A beautifully filmed and performed realist piece that lacks emotional clout, but rings true and has its heart in the right place.


Review:
Human trafficking is a global scourge of massive proportions, the ridiculously media-hyped and shamefully politically exploited boat refugee “problem” in Australia representing only a tiny proportion of its mostly poor, dispossessed and hidden victims, many of whom are mere children sold into slavery or the sex industry. This earnest and well-crafted film, set in India, personalises the suffering inflicted on the innocent by this grotesque criminal trade, not through the victim but via his family.

Mahendra (Rajesh Tailang) is a lowly Delhi “chain-wallah”, struggling to support his family repairing zippers. Funds are so tight that he has resorted to sending his 12 year old son Siddharth to work illegally in a factory in Punjab. When the much-missed boy phones with the news that he is coming home to celebrate Diwali, his little sister and mother cannot contain their excitement. However, he fails to arrive. As days pass without news and his family’s sense of grim foreboding mounts, Mahendra works himself to exhaustion and borrows money to finance his way to Punjab. His journey is fruitless, and on his return he sinks further in debt, determining to follow up the doubtful rumour that all lost children end up in “Dongri”, which is somewhere in Mumbai. This vague destination begins to assume mythic status, glowing with hope and promise where otherwise there is none.

The pacing of the film is slow, reflecting the family’s nightmare of flailing around uselessly as hope fades. Relatives make baselessly optimistic declarations that Siddhartha will turn up. Mahendra’s enquiries around the local streets are met with indifference, and as a poor man, he comes up against disdain and derision. He goes to the police, who point out wearily that kids go missing all over India every day, and perfunctorily take his details – but since he doesn’t even have a photo of his son, they have nothing to go on and can only issue him with glib half-assed assurances that they will do what they can.

The film has curiously little emotional clout given its lead character’s circumstances. Writer/director Richie Mehta is clearly powered by a social conscience and is striving, admirably, to highlight the plight of India’s poor, relegated by the caste system and the seemingly all-pervasive indifference of the more fortunate to a demeaning life of abject poverty and powerlessness from which there is little chance of escape. However, while sympathy for Mahandra is inevitable, it is morally obligatory in nature, rather than the kick-in-the-guts it should be. This is partly due to the faintly niggling sense of didacticism that imbues the work, and partly, perhaps, because Mahandra is partly culpable for the fate that has befallen his son.

Nevertheless, Siddharth is a beautifully filmed and performed realist piece that rings true, and has its heart in the right place. What it lacks in emotional oomph, it makes up for in its power to haunt. Chances are, days later viewers will still be reflecting on the injustice, indignity and suffering that is the lot of the impoverished as depicted in the film. That may just have been Mehta’s primary intention.


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Gone Girl movie review

Featuring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, Carrie Coon, David Clennon
Director: David Fincher
Screenwriter: Gillian Flynn, adapted from her novel
Movie website: www.gonegirlmovie.com/
Australian release date: Thursday, 2 Oct 2014

Reviewer: rolanstein
Verdict: An expertly managed psychological thriller masquerading as a whodunit until a twist triggers an intriguing tonal switch, pushing the film into some edgy and darkly humorous territory.


Review:
So often, literary artifacts sneak through and detract from filmed versions of novels. Not so with Gone Girl. This is a seamless film adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel, which is no mean feat, since the narrative is complicated, deftly setting up a game-changer of a twist that triggers an intriguing switch in tone.

It would be spoiling to summarise the story in any detail, but here are the basics. Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) arrives home to find wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) missing on their fifth wedding anniversary. There are signs of a struggle and he calls the cops, but soon finds himself as the main suspect. The local media gets on to the story and casts Nick as a wife-killer. When carefully pre-laid clues to Amy’s disappearance begin turning up, including her diary in which she expresses fears that her husband is capable of killing her, things look grim for Nick. Even his loyal sister Margo (Carrie Coon) begins to doubt him when she catches him lying about an affair he has been having with a young student.

Initially masquerading as a whodunit, the film’s realist skin is shed suddenly and quite unnervingly at around the half-way point, when things take a turn for the bizarre and darkly humorous. One scene verges on splatter!

The tonal shift is initially jarring and could have run the work off the rails in less expert hands, but like a rollercoaster, the ride feels wild yet is superbly controlled all the way to the ingeniously resolved ending.

Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike (the unsung standout in Carey Mulligan’s breakout film, An Education) are as good as it gets as the leads, thriving off a screenplay that demands intelligent, intense and wily performances and makes the actors complicit in the sly manipulations and sleight-of-hand of writer and director. Indeed, all the performances are similarly savvy.

Close scrutiny might uncover some logic flaws, but that’s hardly the point with a work like this that leaves the safe harbour of realism for more intriguing territory. On one level, this is a riveting tale of unreliable characters who betray each other (and the viewer), making for a highly entertaining and suspenseful cinema experience. However, there is also some serious and savage commentary going on here on the irresponsible shaping of public perception by a sensationalist media little concerned with fact, and the nature of intimate relationships/marriage, where lies, truths and the great unspoken swirl beneath the surface in an edgy drama of shifting form and often surprising direction – just like this movie! All round fabbo.


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The Little Death movie review

Featuring: Josh Lawson, Bojana Novakovic, Damon Herriman, Kate Mulvany, Kate Box, Patrick Brammall, Alan Dukes, Lisa McCune, Erin James, TJ Power, Kim Gygnell, Lachy Hulme
Screenwriter/Director: Josh Lawson
Movie website: au.eonefilms.com/films/the-little-death
Australian release date: Thu 25 Sep

Reviewer: rolanstein
Verdict: A smartly performed, written and directed comedy that reclaims ground fenced off by political correctness with humour, compassion and finesse.


Review:
This terrific feature film debut from writer/director Josh Lawson is a comedy built around sex (its title is a translation of a French colloquialism for orgasm), but to label it a “sex comedy” is to mislead. That label suggests triviality, an adult romp inviting descriptors like “naughty”. The Little Death is far more sophisticated than that and anything but trivial – which is not to say it’s short on laughs. Indeed, as a comedy it works a treat. But it’s also edgy and subversive in pushing into areas of taboo and mostly mildly deviant sexual behaviour not to shock or outrage, but because sex is fascinating in its paradoxes and diversity of expression, lends itself to comedic dramatic treatment, and is legitimate territory for artistic investigation.

The word edgy should not be interpreted as referring to graphic portrayal of sex – there’s a proliferation of that today to the point of tedium, and it rarely amounts to much more than titillation or dull literal translation of stuff that needs no translating. The Little Death delves into much more intricate and intimate aspects of sexuality, opening the lid on the private fantasies and desires of its characters, “ordinary” folk (ie: like thee and moi) whose only link is that they live in the same suburban street.

There’s foot fetishist Paul (Lawson) and his partner Maeve (Bojana Novakovic), who seeks his assurance that he will not judge her, then confesses that she wants him to rape her – without necessarily being sure that he is her violator. The problem here, apart from Paul’s understandable and funny struggle with his sexual ego, is that this is a fantasy that cannot be transformed to reality; if rape is desired, it is no longer rape. Paul’s attempt to find a way nevertheless, although motivated by love for Maeve, can only end badly, and it does. There is an overarching morality structuring the screenplay that effectively draws a line between fantasy and reality. Clever. This is a point of distinction that has been blurred by some of the sillier aspects of the political correctness that has settled like a torpor over the 21st century. A wakeup call is long overdue. So bravo.

Then there is Dan (Damon Herriman) and his wife Evie (Kate Mulvaney), who see a therapist about spicing up their sex life. The therapist’s role-playing suggestion works well initially, but Dan takes it too far.

Rowena (Kate Box) realises she gets off on the sight of her partner Richard (Patrick Brammall) in tears. This is a dilemma, since she loves him and doesn’t want him to be unhappy, but what’s a gal to do? His father’s sudden death and the dog he dotes upon provide her with opportunities to serve her unspoken desire.

Phil (Alan Dukes) is turned on by his wife Maureen (Lisa McCune) being asleep. Not such a problem with modern medication at his disposal – and unwittingly, at hers.

The stories of the couples writhe around each other and sometimes intersect, although the only real reminder that they live in the same street comes via Steve (Kim Gyngell), a mild-mannered bespectacled little man who knocks on the neighbours’ doors to introduce himself as a new arrival, offering his home-made golliwog biscuits as a diversion before announcing that he is required to inform them that he is a registered sex offender. His strategy works spectacularly well. There are some obvious and not-so-obvious sub-agendas operating here, and multiple interpretative possibilities for after-film conjecture if that’s your bag.

Another couple – the only one not to come from the same street – is introduced unexpectedly and unconventionally towards the end of the film. Monica (Erin James) is a partially deaf switchboard operator who mediates between deaf-mute Sam (TJ Power) and a rough-as-guts phone-sex worker. Monica’s embarrassed attempts to facilitate the sexually explicit exchange through a combination of signing and speaking is laugh-out-loud funny. In the process, she and Sam realise they are attracted to each other. It’s a warming vignette that ends a long way from where it begins.

Ditto the film itself, which goes out with a morally fitting bang. It’s a tonally perfect ending, and ingenuously, the loose ends of the narrative are tied up at the same time.

The Little Death is not only a must-see, but a should-see. The business of art, in all its guises, is to explore and investigate ALL areas of human experience, especially those fenced off by the tyrannical forces of political correctness. Josh Lawson has reclaimed a little of this lost ground here, and with the very able assistance of some smart performers, has done it with humour, compassion and finesse.


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The Infinite Man movie review

Featuring: Josh McConville, Hannah Marshall, Alex Dimitriades
Screenwriter/Director: Hugh Sullivan
Movie website: hedone.com.au/projects/the-infinite-man/
Australian release date: Thursday 18 September

Reviewer: rolanstein
Verdict: Peel-back-the-endless-onion scifi rom-com that becomes tedious, then infuriating.


Review:
The Infinite Man unashamedly celebrates its low-budgetness: there are only three characters and the sets are confined to an abandoned derelict motel in the middle of a dusty Aussie nowhere and, occasionally, a beach somewhere within drivable distance. The drab setting contributes an intriguing atmosphere of weirdness initially, but ultimately little else. Unfortunately, the characters are pretty drab as well (although lifted by competent performances) – which leaves the narrative to do the heavy lifting.

As a story, it’s a hybrid creature, part sci-fi, part rom-com, stranded in a no-mans land twixt spoof and ostentatiously ingenious time-travel cleverbuggery. Fastidiously controlling perfectionist Dean (Josh McConville) is disappointed that his planned anniversary celebration with his girlfriend (Hannah Marshall) is ruined when her obsessive stalker ex-boyfriend (Alex Demiatriades) rolls up. He invents a time-travel device so he can change the way things worked out, confronting multiple versions of himself and the other two characters as he juggles altered versions of events in different time frames in quest of creating the perfect anniversary.

Poor old mess-up Dean ends up trapping his girlfriend – and the hapless viewer – in a time loop, then has to figure out how to get her out…which means he has to get in. Except whenever he seems to have sorted out the time tangle, it turns out he hasn’t, and just when you think he’s out of the loop and the story is close to resolution, it turns out it isn’t. How many rides on the merry-go-round, how many broken promises of an ending can one story stand before it becomes unbearably tedious and frustrating? A lot less than are delivered here, unfortunately. The Groundhog Day stuff is flogged to death by about the half-way point, and it’s a long, monotonous ride to the finish line from there.

Low-budget flicks like this succeed or fail on imaginative input, resourcefulness and ideas rather than expensive SFX and box-office-drawing stars. The triumphs are worth the wait, but when the material falls short, as in this case, well…

This sector of the industry is vitally important as a nurturing ground for new talent and fresh modes of expression unfettered by formulaic market-driven agendas. Arthouse/indie has long been my preferred territory as a film enthusiast. So I really wanted to like The Infinite Man, to support it, to pass on glad tidings as a reviewer. Can’t do. This could have worked brilliantly as a long short, but just doesn’t make the stretch to feature length.

I confess, I woulda walked out, but the end seemed imminent long before the credits finally rolled, and I was hangin’ in hoping for a miracle rescue. Alas, in vain. It was a bloody long hour. I don’t think I’ve seen a more infuriating flick.


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The Skeleton Twins movie review

Featuring: Bill Hader, Kristin Wiig, Luke Wilson, Ty Burrell, Boyd Holbrook, Joanna Gleason
Screenwriter/Director: Craig Johnson
Movie website: skeletontwinsmovie.com/
Australian release date: Thursday 25 Sep, 2014

Reviewer: rolanstein
Verdict: A wonderfully written and performed tragi-comic adult coming-of-age movie – funny, astute and moving.


Review:
Twins Milo (Bill Hader) and Maggie (Kristin Wiig) share a painful past, their father having suicided when they were 14. Once inseparable, they are now in their thirties, and have been estranged for 10 years. Milo is a would-be actor based in LA and Maggie is married and living in their home town in upstate New York.

Hospitalised after a bid to follow in his father’s self-annihilating footsteps, Milo is visited by Maggie, who is similarly crisis-stricken despite outward appearances to the contrary (the notion of hiding behind facades is symbolically represented in repeated flashbacks of the twins wearing masks during childhood theatrical performances). With some initial reluctance, Milo accepts his sister’s invitation to spend time recuperating at her home.

Overtly gay and given to dark, ironic humour, he is a polar opposite to his sister’s decent but straight-laced and eye-rollingly cheerful jock husband Lance. This makes for some amusing interplay, as Milo directs his acerbic pay-out wit at an apparently oblivious and eternally upbeat target. Maggie strives valiantly to defend her well-meaning husband against Milo’s derisive cracks. Less convincing are her attempts in one-on-ones with her bro to justify her choice of spouse and affirm the healthy state of their marriage.

As the twins re-connect with each other and rake over aspects of their shared past, they plug back into the joyful rapport they shared in childhood, but also come to see that they are both still emotionally traumatised, and harbouring toxic secrets arising from destructive and ill-judged personal decisions.

Leads Bill Hader and Kristin Wiig do full justice to an often scintillating and always psychologically astute screenplay, playing off each other with impeccable timing and striking a fine balance of humour and pathos in their characters.

The Lance character is well-managed – again, a function of good screenwriting (Craig Johnson) and performance (Luke Wilson). In less adept hands poor old Lance could have been merely a buffoonish butt of snide jibes, but rises above this sorry status to reveal himself as a sensitive, vulnerable soul in danger of becoming collateral damage at the compulsively destructive hands of a dysfunctional and confused partner.

The twins’ dippy, self-centred New Age ex-hippy boomer mother (Joanna Gleason) is sent up mercilessly during her short time on-screen, and rightly so. She lives in denial of her children’s pain. It is not only their father who has something to answer for here.

Indeed, all the characters are in denial of some type. While some get no closer to facing the truths they fear, for Milo and Maggie the cost of continuing to hide from themselves and each other is too much to bear. They must sink or swim, and their struggle for survival is funny, warming, heartbreaking, and always compelling.

The music is terrif, too. Ironically, the one exception, Starship’s dorky 80s lighter-raiser Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now, provides one of the highlights of the movie – a hoot of a miming scene as the twins rediscover their childhood performing mojo.

The takeaway message is a bit neat, and the film runs off the rails towards the end, ending up in Hollywood central. Don’t be put off – these are forgivable glitches in an otherwise fine tragi-comedy. Highly recommended.


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