Review – ‘Finke: There and Back’

In God’s country, time can slow down.” – narrator, Eric Bana

Isaac Elliott

For the riders, the spectators and the town of Alice Springs, the Finke Desert Race is more than a race. Finke: There and Back delves below the surface to uncover what makes them tick, what drives them to put their lives on the line when they strap their helmets on. Paraplegic Isaac Elliott is attempting to complete the race that he started a decade earlier. Scruff Hamill, who lives in a shed full of bikes in Sydney, makes the trip to tick off a bucket list event. Meanwhile, the factory race teams at the head of the field fight for pride and to be named ‘King of the Desert.’

Finke: There and Back starts off as your typical documentary – some interviews that just scratch the surface on who these guys are, and archival footage of earlier editions of the Finke Desert Race. But once director/writer/director of photography Dylan River got that out of the way, and we finally travel down to the centre of Australia, that’s when the real fun begins. Majestic ancient landforms and aerial shots of the Finke river, the oldest river in the world, set against the backdrop of the vast Australian desert, are breathtaking. We take nature too much for granted. Seeing it like this, reactivates my wanderlust and makes me want to go travel again. While Eric Bana narrates what goes on before, during and after the race, we get to witness these compelling emotional character journeys combined with edge-of-your-seat high action.

Helicopters follow our bikers, while they get to know the track during a pre-ride. The indigenous locals take pictures with reigning winner Toby Price, who has to skip this year’s race due to a fracture in his leg a few months ago. All eyes are on local favourite David Walsh. “You’re either crazy or really want it.”, says his wife Kate. Two weeks before the race, Daymon Stokie has a follow up appointment with his physician, after breaking his fingers a while back. His hand still hurts and the closer we get to the race, the more his nerves take the upper hand. Alice Springs local, Luke Hayes, lost his dad the year before. He wants to step in his dad’s footsteps, as he talks about his father’s triumphant win, while we watch footage of that memorable day.

Volunteers flatten out the track, “to make sure their ass doesn’t fly through their brains”. While everyone is busy working out one last time at the gym, Scruff chugs a beer, hoping to just finish the race and get back in one piece. 15,000 tourists and locals from all different ethnic and cultural backgrounds set camp next to the hundreds of kilometres of race track. Spectators spread across the path, filled with excitement, as soon clouds of red dust will follow their favourite racers, for the race to Finke and back.

Dylan River isn’t new to the track, the Finke Desert Race is his home. This is a personal story to him, and he wanted to share the spirit of Finke with as many people as possible. And boy, does he achieve that. The intensity of the race track and the endurance these guys need to finish what they started, is jaw-dropping. What he accomplished with his team, behind-the-scenes and on location, is out of the ordinary.

Finke: There and Back is one of the most exhilarating and one-of-a-kind documentaries in recent history. I laughed, I cried, it felt like I was there. An unforgettable, roaring 90 minutes to witness the crowning of ‘The King of the Desert‘, that can’t be missed.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Review – ‘Finke: There and Back’

Reviewed at Palace Central, Sydney, Nov. 1, 2019. Australian Classification: M. Running time: 90 min.

PRODUCTION: A MadMan release in association with Zacka Films, Since 1788 Productions, Screen Territory produced with the assistance of Screen Australia, Create NSW, Film Victoria financed with the assistance of Indigenous Business Australia of a Brundle Films production. Producers: Rachel Clements, Isaac Elliott, Meredith Garlick, Trisha Morton-Thomas.

CREW: Director, writer: Dylan River. Camera (color, widescreen): Dylan River. Editors: Marcus D’Arcy, Kelly Cameron, James Bradley. Music: Sonaire.

WITH: Isaac Elliott, Scruff Hamill, David Walsh, Daymon Stokie, Luke Hayes, Toby Price. Narrated by: Eric Bana.

Review – ‘Doctor Sleep’

The world is one big hospice with fresh air.” – Danny Torrance

Stanley Kubrick‘s ‘The Shining‘ was released almost 40 years ago. While everyone knows how much writer Stephen King disliked the film adaptation of his novel, he did decide to release a sequel to it, focusing on survivor Danny Torrance, in 2013. The Shining has cult status as being one of Stanley Kubrick‘s best works, but can a sequel to such a classic thriller lure audiences once again to the cursed Overlook Hotel?

Years following the horrific events of ‘The Shining,’ a now-adult Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) is afraid to turn into his old man, who was a violent alcoholic and ended up freezing to death while chasing after young Danny with an axe, into a maze he’d never get out of. Although it seems like Dan is following that path of destruction, boozing and taking drugs until he wakes up next to a messy stranger, not remembering what happened the night before, an interaction with a friendly handyman helps him get back on track. Haunted by the fear-hungry ghouls of the Overlook Hotel, he’s still in touch with his deceased Shining-mentor Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly), who teaches him to lock these spirits into safe boxes in his mind, to never get out again. When Dan meets a young girl with similar powers, he will soon have to protect her from a cult known as The True Knot who prey on children with powers to remain immortal.

Mike Flanagan is one of my favourite horror directors of the last decade. Since I first got familiar with his work, back in 2011, watching his horror mirror-film ‘Oculus‘, his unique vision kept surprising me with films such as ‘Hush‘ and ‘Gerald’s Game‘ as well as his Netflix series ‘The Haunting of Hill House‘. So it’s fair to say, I was very excited to see his sequel to the classic thriller. Disappointed with what was not only a series of re-imagined and added scenes out of ‘The Shining‘ with a new set of actors resembling the iconic roles Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd and Jack Nicholson made their own, his Doctor Sleep felt like it was set in a completely different universe. Having watched The Shining many times, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that this was nothing but a gimmick and totally unnecessary. Why not use the footage you have from the original film, or digitally create something? The technology is there and would have surprised me as a fan of the original.

When the film introduces us to The True Knot, lead by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), it becomes clear this isn’t just your typical ghost story. These “cult”-members feed on children with telepathic abilities as some sort of vampires, torturing them and scaring them until they die in true terror. One of these scenes stars a well known child actor, and showcases once again how good of an actor this kid is, with tears and screams filling the theatre. We don’t know anything about the origin of these creatures, who look like normal human beings, and this also never gets fully explained. I like a bit of mysticism, but in this case I would’ve liked to know more about them. Newest member of the pack is Snakebite Andi (Emily Alyn Lind), and it’s only her and Rose that truly matter. The rest of the gang are just extras who sit around, while Rose meditates, trying to locate children with Shining-abilities, going full Professor Xavier in Cerebro. Once Rose experiences the full potential of Abra (Kyliegh Curran), in a few mind-blowing face-offs in a supermarket and one covering different locations at once, Rose realises this girl has been training her Shining into the unknown extent of her powers.

Ferguson, well known to always having to carry an entire film herself, does just that in Doctor Sleep. Her beautiful hippie character is sweet as candy, but deadly to whomever she gets her hands on. A terrifying character to play, and Ferguson balances those characteristics like it’s nothing. Newcomer Curran’s Abra is an innocent but powerful addition to the story, basically becoming one of the main characters. Unfortunately McGregor is awfully tedious as Dan Torrance, as he has so many layers to him, yet never changes things up in tone of acting. The only glimmer on screen with him, is the scene in which we find out why they name him “Doctor Sleep”, as he works night shifts at a hospice.

Flanagan’s style of directing and vision is present, very similar to his grey colour scheme in ‘The Haunting of Hill House‘. Thanks to Michael Fimognari, we get some fascinating camera angles, although the many aerial shots of all the places The True Knot visit gets tired quickly. The Newton Brothers‘ score with a pulse mostly getting on your nerves, becomes more clear when they focus on instruments and the atmosphere of the scenery itself. Their new rendition of “The Shining Main Title“, as we re-visit The Overlook, is terrific.

Doctor Sleep is an interminable jumble of different settings, feeding on the nostalgia of The Shining, knowing well enough it could never reach that level, while throwing most of it overboard to introduce an unnecessary new breed of bad. Ferguson and Curran shine in a compelling way, which makes you care less about whatever happened to Danny after the events of The Shining, and made me want to rewatch that classic film. It’s never scary or tense and has a flicker of visually stimulating moments, but mostly makes the audience’s eyes fade in anticipation of something more electrifying.

⭐⭐⭐

Review – ‘Doctor Sleep’

Reviewed at Event Cinemas George Street, Sydney, Oct. 31, 2019. Australian Classification: MA15+. Running time: 151 min.

PRODUCTION: A Roadshow release in association with Warner Bros. Pictures of a Warner Bros., Intrepid Pictures, Vertigo Entertainment release. Producers: Jon Berg, Trevor Macy. Executive producers: Akiva Goldsmith, Stephen King, Roy Lee, D. Scott Lumpkin, Kevin McCormick, Philip Waley.

CREW: Director, screenplay: Mike Flanagan. Camera (color, widescreen): Michael Fimognari. Editor: Mike Flanagan. Music: The Newton Brothers.

WITH: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Carl Lumbly, Zahn McClarnon, Emily Alyn Lind, Bruce Greenwood, Jocelin Donahue, Alex Essoe, Cliff Curtis, Jacob Tremblay.

Review – ‘Pain and Glory’

It’s your eyes that have changed, not the film.” – Zulema

Pedro Almodóvar‘s work has never been something I would watch a second time. Every time one of his films would get some buzz, I’d go watch it and be disappointed. His newest film ‘Pain and Glory‘ however, might be one of my favourite films of 2019. Plot twist.

Antonio Banderas plays a film director, who reflects on the choices he’s made in life. As past and present come crashing down around him, he realises more than ever before, he’s lived his life the way he always wanted, but at a certain price. We first meet him underwater, sitting on the bottom of his pool, thinking about one beautiful day at the river with his mother and a group of women, doing their laundry. The women harmoniously sing a song under the bright sun, while young Salvador can’t help but smile and stare at his beautiful mother. That’s what I call an immaculate opening scene.

Salva – short for Salvador – explains by the hand of a digital presentation on screen how much of a hypochondriac he is, depending on how he feels or what is happening in his life. He’s obsessed with pain, not just physical, but also mental, which explains why he’s so depressed all the time. The biggest success of his career as a film director ‘Sabor’, is being digitally restored by the Madrilenian Cinematheque. After the release of the original film, he lost touch with Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia), the rebellious star of his film. Since the studio wants to accompany the premiere of his film’s re-release with a Q&A, Salva will have to rekindle with Alberto. When Alberto introduces Salva to heroin, the present and past start to clash with each other and Salva sees this drug as a new awakening. Addicted, he starts a journey of self-discovery and deals with his problems once and for all.

Almodóvar really digs into his own mind and projects it onto the big screen, as if it’s some sort of dreamy autobiography. Nonetheless, this is his magnum opus. The use of colour, especially in Salva’s apartment, with red kitchen cabinets and colourful furniture, is pleasing to the eye, and when a stage play later on in the film gets held in front of a bright red screen, you really feel as if the monologue happening on screen is being told to you in person. Captivating and surreal.

Banderas won a Best Actor Award at Cannes Film Festival, for this film. His quirky portrayal of a depressed artist, stuck inside his own memories, is riveting and rooted in reality. Etxeandia is his equal, even if it’s just for his monologue in the second half of the film. I haven’t been so transfixed by a performance in a very long time.

The flashbacks to Salva’s childhood are sweet and have a sadness looming over them. Young Salva (played by Asier Flores) with his angelic voice and looks, is a star. The way he interacts with his on screen mother (played by an arresting Penélope Cruz) seems so natural, he could’ve been Cruz’s real son. The scenes with them were my favourite, I wish we could’ve seen more of that, but Almodóvar knew exactly what he was doing and kept us hungry for more, when the end credits roll over the screen.

Pain and Glory is a piece of art. It’s a painting filled with virile life. The effectiveness of vibrant colours polishes the canvas with wit, which otherwise would solely be filled with gloom. Almodóvar is a dreamer.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Review – ‘Pain and Glory’

Reviewed at NBC Universal Theatrette, Sydney, Oct. 29, 2019. Australian Classification: TBC. Running time: 113 min.

PRODUCTION: A Universal Pictures release in participation with Canal+, Ciné +, Radio Televisión Española (RTVE) supported by Gobierno de España of a El Deseo, El Primer Deseo production. Producers: Agustín Almodóvar, Ricardo Marco Budé, Ignacio Salazar-Simpson, Esther García. Executive producers: Diego Pajuelo, Barbara Peiro.

CREW: Director, screenplay: Pedro Almodóvar. Camera (color, widescreen): José Luis Alcaine. Editor: Teresa Font. Music: Alberto Iglesias.

WITH: Antonio Banderas, Asier Etxeandia, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Nora Navas, Julieta Serrano, César Vicente, Asier Flores, Penélope Cruz, Cecilia Roth, Susi Sánchez.

Stan Drops New Trailer For Highly Anticipated Return Series ‘The L Word: Generation Q’

The official trailer for the highly-anticipated new SHOWTIME® series THE L WORD: GENERATION Q has just been released. Premiering on Monday, 9 December, it’s the sequel to the groundbreaking drama series THE L WORD®, which originally ran from 2004 to 2009.

The new series continues to follow the intermingled lives of Bette Porter (Jennifer Beals), Alice Pieszecki (Leisha Hailey) and Shane McCutcheon (Katherine Moennig), along with new characters Dani Nùñez (Arienne Mandi), Micah Lee (Leo Sheng), Finley (Jacqueline Toboni), Sophie Suarez (Rosanny Zayas) and Gigi (Sepideh Moafi) as they experience love, heartbreak, sex, setbacks and success in LA. 

THE L WORD: GENERATION Q is currently in production on eight episodes in Los Angeles. Guest stars include Brian Michael, Stephanie Allyne, Olivia Thirlby, Fortune Feimster and Latarsha Rose. The series is executive produced by showrunner Marja-Lewis Ryan (The Four-Faced Liar6 Balloons), with series creator Ilene Chaiken, Kristen Campo, Allyce Ozarski, Steph Green (pilot), and original series stars Jennifer Beals, Katherine Moennig and Leisha Hailey.

The L Word: Generation Q will premiere in Australia on 9 December, only on Stan.

All episodes of The L Word seasons 1-6 are available to stream now.

Review – ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’

I’ll be back.” – Sarah Connor

Let’s forget about everything that happened after ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day‘ back in 1991, and make a decent sequel. That was probably producer James Cameron and director Tim Miller‘s agreement. Not that I didn’t like the oh-so-campy and over-the-top ‘Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines‘, but it ain’t no T2. And to be honest, they knocked it out of the park with Dark Fate.

Terminator: Dark Fate takes place in Mexico City, where Dani (Natalia Reyes) lives a simple life with her brother Diego (Diego Boneta) and father, when a deadly new kind of Terminator – Rev-9 – visits from the future to hunt Dani down and kill her. At the same time, Grace (Mackenzie Davis), an enhanced human soldier from that same future, has also travelled back in time to protect Dani. When their first showdown inside a car factory, comes to a halt after a car chase a la Fast and Furious on the freeway, we quickly realise Grace isn’t the only one fighting these deadly terminators. Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) has come to the rescue and has some old grudges to process.

Tim Miller‘s (Deadpool) new sequel in the Terminator-franchise is solid. So solid it makes you forgive the tiny flaws in the film. He’s made a sequel that is worthy of the Terminator title and sets up a new future after Sarah Connor changed that future by saving her son back in 1991. Miller might just have another franchise on his hands, if this one does well at the box office. The film has had a lot of male writers. Seeing them write such strong female characters on screen is something I will always support and applaud. The guys also clearly know how to be funny. Those subtle inside jokes incorporated into dialogues give the audience something to smile about while sitting on the edge of their seats. Planes, trains and automobiles – the action takes place on different locations and so we need to keep moving. Even when crossing the Mexico/US-border, Sarah Connor’s in-your-face commentary on smuggling an immigrant across the border, can count as one of many witty lines she gets to deliver.

Linda Hamilton is a champion. Her character has grown but hasn’t forgotten the events that took place 30 years ago. Unlike Halloween‘s Laurie Strode last year, Sarah Connor has actually prepared herself for another big bad and is so bad ass, you can’t help but smile and cheer for her. Hamilton’s powerful performance makes you wonder why she hasn’t been on screen that much in the last decade, since she clearly knows how to compel an audience into liking her.

Another one back to reprise his role is Arnold Schwarzenegger, as a retired Terminator who lives in the woods. Schwarzenegger has done a lot of comedy in the ’90s, but shows he’s still got a funny bone left in his body. Dry humour and funny one liners will have the audience laughing out loud, while he still stays true to his Terminator past and knows how to pack a punch to impress.

Hamilton gets to go head to head with Mackenzie Davis‘ (Tully) Grace. Davis is more known for her dramatic roles, but stands her ground as a convincing action superstar who believes what she’s doing and looks fierce while doing so. Natalia Reyes, playing the helpless victim turns into a kick-ass woman fighting back at her dark fate. While she’s the one bringing the emotional factor to this story, she’s clearly a woman of many talents and knows how to handle different genres.

Tom Holkenborg‘s score is filled with South American tunes, while staying true to the Terminator-score we’re all familiar with. It’s wonderful to see Junkie XL grow into the composer he has become. Dark Fate is as expected filled with VFX, some work better than others, but never in a way it becomes distracting. There’s a few shots in futuristic flash forwards that seemed a bit unfinished, as did a shot later on in the film when Grace leaps through an aircraft, making her look like a video game character. Besides those two incidents, I found the VFX go hand-in-hand with the human characters.

One huge visual effect is the new Rev-9 terminator. This liquid robot can shed his human skin as some sort of out-of-body experience and still do severe damage. Since this terminator looks like a human on the outside, Gabriel Luna (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) is the perfect man to blend in with the crowd. He gives a very serious touch to his character, while changing up his personality to get what he wants from government officials or bystanders. Very impressive work.

Terminator: Dark Fate is a fun, thrilling, non-stop-action packed sci-fi blockbuster, with a hint of nostalgia and sets up a new tale within the Terminator-universe. Watch this on the biggest screen possible or in a 4Dx-cinema for full effect. *I’m not responsible for any injuries*

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Review – ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’

Reviewed at Event Cinemas George Street, Sydney, Oct. 30, 2019. Australian Classification: MA15+. Running time: 128 min.

PRODUCTION: A 20th Century Fox release with Paramount Pictures in association with Tencent Pictures and TSG Entertainment of a Lightstorm Entertainment/Skydance production. Producers: James Cameron, David Ellison. Executive producers: Edward Cheng, Bonnie Curtis, Dana Goldberg, Don Granger, John J. Kelly, Julie Lynn.

CREW: Director: Tim Miller. Story: James Cameron, Charles H. Eglee, Josh Friedman, David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes. Screenplay: David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes, Billy Ray. Based on characters created by: James Cameron, Gale Anne Hurd. Camera (color, widescreen): Ken Seng. Editor: Julian Clarke. Music: Junkie XL.

WITH: Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Diego Boneta, Gabriel Luna, Tristán Ulloa, Tom Hopper, Enrique Arce, Manuel Pacific.

Netflix Review – ‘The Irishman’

“I Heard You Paint Houses”

The Irishman is supposed to be THE film for Netflix. With a $160 million budget and this year’s most wanted de-aging technique (ref. Gemini Man), legendary director Martin Scorsese‘s long awaited new film has a lot of eyes and hungry fans to please. It’s definitely made to be seen on a streaming platform, but with a 209 minute runtime, will this be a hit for Netflix?

A mob hitman, Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (Robert De Niro), is a man with a lot on his mind. The former labor union high official and hitman, learned to kill serving in Italy during World War II. Recalling his possible involvement with the disappearance of his life-long friend, Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), the former president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Scorsese’s mobster tale is a classic in the making. But it isn’t flawless. The well known director makes some interesting choices to tell The Irishman’s story. We see old Frank in a retirement home, sharing the events of his life with the audience, just like grandpa used to do when visiting on a Sunday afternoon. We go back and forth in time, sometimes up to 40 years back. With the use of de-aging VFX, we see De Niro and co.’s faces through an Instagram-filter, to make them look 40 years younger. It’s not a bad technique of visual effects, and it’s important to tell the story, but it doesn’t work as well as you’d hope it would. Especially in the very first scene, you notice how flawed the technique is when wrinkles are ironed out of Pesci and De Niro’s faces, yet when zooming in on their hands you can clearly tell their real age.

Blue-contacts-wearing De Niro, gives a typical calm and collected De Niro-performance. He’s a good actor, and his more nuanced work in this film is near the end when he gets to work with more emotional material. A very touching note to end the film on. Joe Pesci, who plays Russell Bufalino, knocks it out of the park. His comeback to the big screen is powerful, captivating and career-defining. But the one actor I didn’t expect to like as much as I did, is Al Pacino. His performance as Jimmy Hoffa is both spiritual and worthy of every award coming award season. It was like as if he was possessed by the outrageous Hoffa himself – memorable and uncanny.

What bothered me throughout the film, was the use of music. I don’t mind a piece of music to distinguish certain parts in a story from another, especially when you’re going through so many different decades, but Scorsese uses so much music here, sometimes unsuitable to what’s happening on screen, it takes away the power of the event. Robbie Robertson‘s score however, was delightful. Steven Zaillian‘s screenplay, based on Charles Brandt‘s book “I Heard You Paint Houses“, is strong when it wants to be and reminded me of Tarantino’s heavy dialogue work, but is mostly inconsistent in pacing and engagement. The film is three and a half hours long, you’re going to have some slower bits, but at least hold your audience’s attention. The jokes rarely land, but I’d like to say humour is subjective. I feel like some of you might absolutely love most of the script’s boffolas, it just didn’t land with me.

The supporting cast is substantial. From under-utilised Oscar winner Anna Paquin (as Peggy Sheeran) to celebrated Hollywood star cameos such as Harvey Keitel – everyone gets a little screen time in what’s already packed as it is. But a lot doesn’t get discussed. The families behind these powerful leaders barely have anything to do and just sit around as extras. Although, an unrecognisable Stephen Graham makes a long lasting impression as Hoffa’s nemesis, mob boss Anthony Provenzano.

The Irishman is like watching a compilation of Scorsese’s oeuvre. It’s prodigious and astonishing, but not without flaws. This beautifully crafted film is quite small in scope compared to its running time, with perfect production design and the mighty incredible performances make it worth sitting through to the very end. The fact Scorsese decided not to release this piece of work as a mini-series, but as a full length feature film, shows confidence and a little bit of cockiness.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Netflix Review – ‘The Irishman’

Reviewed at Dendy Opera Quays, Sydney, Oct. 29, 2019. Australian Classification: TBC. Running time: 209 min.

PRODUCTION: A Netflix release of a STX Entertaiment, Fábrica de Cine, Sikelia Productions, Tribeca Productions production. Producers: Troy Allen, Gerald Chamales, Robert De Niro, Randal Emmett, Gastón Pavlovich, Jane Rosenthal, Martin Scorsese, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Irwin Winkler. Executive producers: Richard Baratta, George Furla, Niels Juul, Jai Stefan, Chad A. Verdi, Berry Welsh, Tyler Zacharia. Co-producer: David Webb.

CREW: Director: Martin Scorsese. Screenplay: Steven Zaillian, of a book by: Charles Brandt. Camera (color, widescreen): Rodrigo Prieto. Editor: Thelma Schoonmaker. Music: Robbie Robertson.

WITH: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Anna Paquin, Jesse Plemons, Joe Pesci, Bobby Cannavale, Harvey Keitel, Stephen Graham, Jack Huston, Kathrine Narducci.

Review – ‘The Report’

“Truth Matters”

The Report‘ couldn’t get made at a better time. With everything happening in today’s American and global political climate, it shows how little the general public actually is allowed to know about whatever happens within the borders of their government buildings. An entire country is at stake when secrets come out, that shouldn’t have been secrets in the first place when laws get executed correctly.

Idealistic Senate staffer Daniel J. Jones (Adam Driver), gets tasked by his boss, Senator of California Diane Feinstein (Annette Bening), to lead an investigation into the CIA’s post 9/11 Detention and Interrogation Program. Jones’ relentless pursuit of the truth leads to findings that uncover the lengths to which the nation’s top intelligence agency went to destroy evidence, subvert the law, and hide a shocking secret from the American public.

Scott Z. Burns hasn’t directed a feature length film since 2006’s ‘Pu-239‘. Having previously written films such as, ‘The Laundromat‘, ‘Side Effects‘ and ‘Contagion‘, it seems he has a very good work relationship with this films’ producer Steven Soderbergh (director of last named films). With ‘The Report‘ he knows what he’s going for and doesn’t hold back on any occasion. The story goes off like a missile, and only slows down when hitting its target at the finish line. That might be a challenge for some viewers, but the suspense throughout the second and third act is rare and delivers what political polymaths are looking for. To those who aren’t particularly interested in politics and cover-ups, this might be a tough one to sit through.

Adam Driver, is truly on a roll these last couple of years. With two more films on the horizon in the last two months of 2019 (‘Marriage Story‘ and ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker‘), it seems there’s no stopping him in becoming one of the most talented actors of this generation. He shows just how focused and career driven he is as his character Daniel J. Jones. He’s unsurpassed and will definitely get recognition for his hard work coming awards season.

What plays like a political ‘Social Network‘, could’ve benefited from a rewrite by Aaron Sorkin, just to streamline it a bit more. The dialogues are heavy and littered with dark humour, but without any real character development, it misses the opportunity to make the audience connect with anyone on a deeper level. You never get to look behind the suits into their homes. The mental struggles of being accused of whistleblowing and torturing people, must take its toll on politicians and CIA-agents, no? We get little hints at their personal lives when being interrogated by government officials, but this is all just small talk. It does go without saying, Greg O’Bryant deserves much praise for editing this film. I wonder how long the rough cut must’ve been.

There’s a wide range of well known actors passing by as fundamental characters in the big scheme of things. Annette Bening, brilliant actor taking on the full look and characteristics of Senator Feinstein, doesn’t have many explosive scenes to wow, but is subtly captivating. Corey Stoll, Jon Hamm, Maura Tierney and Michael C. Hall all have important parts to keep things moving, but with the little amount of screen time fail to impress with anything more than acceptable.

Burns‘ ‘The Report‘ is an important watch, delivering facts in a striking manner. It’s worth watching for Driver’s performance alone, observing a man who loves doing his job and excels at it. A history lesson in American politics and terrorism with a little dig at propaganda filmmaking and journalism, and a big spotlight on the CIA’s misconduct.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Review – ‘The Report’

Reviewed at Sony Pictures Theatrette, Sydney, Oct. 29, 2019. Australian Classification: TBC. Running time: 119 min.

PRODUCTION: A Transmission Films release of an Amazon Studios presentation of a Topic Studios, Margin of Error, Unbranded Pictures, Vice Media production. Producers: Scott Z. Burns, Jennifer Fox, Danny Gabai, Eddy Moretti, Kerry Orent, Steven Soderbergh, Michael Sugar. Executive producers: Michael Di Verdi, Vincent Landay, Tj Rinomato, Lila Yacoub. Co-producer: Jennifer Semler. Associate producers: Hannah Mescon, Sara Miller, Ashley Peter.

CREW: Director, writer: Scott Z. Burns. Camera (color, widescreen): Eigil Bryld. Editor: Greg O’Bryant. Music: David Wingo.

WITH: Adam Driver, Corey Stoll, Jon Hamm, Linda Powell, Annette Bening, Maura Tierney, Michael C. Hall, Evander Duck Jr., John Rothman, Victor Slezak, Guy Boyd, Alexander Chaplin, Joanne Tucker.

Antenna Documentary Film Festival Review – ‘Push’

Finance will bring itself down.” – Saskia Stassen

“The first sign that you’re going to have to leave your neighbourhood? It’s when vintage clothing shops show up.” Great quote to open your documentary with. What follows is more shocking that you’d ever thought possible. The housing crisis is a very serious problem. Not just in one specific country, but it’s a global epidemic.

Housing prices are skyrocketing in cities worldwide. Communities are being pushed out of their suburbs. Public service employees, such as police officers and firefighters can’t even afford living in the cities they are supposed to protect. In Frederik Gertten‘s ‘Push‘, we follow Leilani Farha, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing. She travels around the world to figure out where the problem is coming from and how we, the public and governments, can solve it.

“But the problem goes beyond governments and gentrification”, as expert Saskia Sassen explains. Properties get sold overseas as investments – assets to play with. We meet a group of squatters, who have taken over a prime location bought by an ex-army general from Qatar back in 2003. The owner has never been here and so they decided to take “refuge” and will keep on doing so, until the government solves the housing problem, which is becoming worse each year. Survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire in North Kensington, West London share their story on how horrible insurance companies have treated them. Months after the horrific tragedy in which 72 people lost their lives, they still haven’t received any settlement or new place to live in. The burned down building is now a physical representation of the displacement of their community. This is only the tip of the iceberg when realising how big the problem is on a global scale.

Farha carefully listens to each and every one of the stories she encounters at far ends of the globe. People getting threatened with lawsuits, because they don’t agree with rent going up every twelve months, or neighbourhoods claiming back their properties by buying them themselves, even if that means they will be paying them off for the rest of their lives. When Farha digs a little bit deeper, after a short visit to Stockholm, Sweden, she discovers a big corporate scheme that makes more money than all governments in the world combined. I mean, corporate greed – what’s new?

Gertten’s documentary is for at least two thirds interesting and raises bigger questions, but ‘Push’ never really pushes for change. The problems are on the table with potential solutions being discussed, but nothing concrete comes of it. This isn’t something that will get solved in the next decade, and maybe he could do a follow up on the subject someday. Nonetheless, an educational and important watch.

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‘Push’ is screening as part of Antenna Documentary Film Festival:

  • Dendy Newtown, Oct. 27 at 4pm

Tickets are still available: https://tix.antennafestival.org/Events/Push/Sun-Oct-27-2019-16-00

Antenna Documentary Film Festival Review – ‘Push’

Reviewed from online screener provided by publicity team, screening as part of Antenna Documentary Film Festival, Sydney, Oct. 24, 2019. Running time: 92 min.

PRODUCTION: An WG Film production. Producer: Margarete Jangård. Executive producer: Fredrik Gertten. Co-producer: Laura Baron Kastner. Line producer: Elizabeth Benjamin.

CREW: Director, writer: Fredrik Gertten. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Janice D’Avila, Iris Ng. Editor: Erik Bäfving. Music: Florencia Di Concilio.

WITH: Leilani Farha, Saskia Sassen, Stig Westerdahl, Joseph Stiglitz, Frederik Jurdell, Florian Schmidt, Roberto Saviano, Ada Colau, Michael Muller, Leila Bozony.

Antenna Documentary Film Festival Review – ‘For Sama’

Even when I close my eyes, I see the colour red.” – Waad

Aleppo, July 2016 – Waad al-Kateab, a young Syrian mother has been documenting everything that has been going on in her city, with her handheld camera. Her intimate and uncensored view on the war is as striking as the bombs that go off around her and her family. This isn’t just a segment in the 7 o’clock news, for Waad, this is daily life.

It hasn’t always been like that. It all started in 2012, when she was in her fourth year of her Economics degree. Fellow students are seen spraying slogans on the university walls, in a way of verbally and visually protesting president Bashar. The dictatorship of the Assad family has been going on for decades and the people are fed up with it. Christians and muslims start a peaceful revolution, fighting for freedom. Through the next couple of years, Waad falls in love, gets married and gives birth. She captures every extraordinary moment on film, to one day show her daughter, Sama, the truth from within the war zone that once was their home.

Waad’s footage is compelling and horrifyingly graphic, but I’m thankful someone has put a spotlight on all of it. When tortured and handcuffed bodies are found in the river, civilians try to get them out of the water with fences. These vulnerable citizens have no emergency services to rely on anymore, it’s all about survival. “The only thing that mattered, was the revolution“, says Waad. They were shocked at what the regime was willing to do to stay in power.

In the midst of panic, fear, death and despair, Waad still finds happiness and joy. Her daughter never cries, because she doesn’t know a world without bombs. The way this woman captures all of the moments her family and friends go through, is both heartbreaking as it is eye-opening. War isn’t normal. Thousands of innocent children died here because of greed and power.

For Sama makes you furious, it makes you unhappy, it makes you hope. Hope for a better future for those who had to flee their dreams. Waad al-Kateab‘s powerful story is unprecedented. It grabs you by the throat and leaves a mark on you. This isn’t just a story, this is history.

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For Sama‘ screens as part of Antenna Documentary Film Festival:

  • Chauvel Cinema, Oct. 26 at 2pm

Tickets are selling fast, so get them while they last: https://tix.antennafestival.org/Events/For-Sama/Sat-Oct-26-2019-14-00

Antenna Documentary Film Festival Review – ‘For Sama’

Reviewed from online screener provided by publicity team, screening as part of Antenna Documentary Film Festival, Sydney, Oct. 24, 2019. Running time: 100 min.

PRODUCTION: An Umbrella Entertainment release of a Channel 4 News presentation of a Channel 4, Frontline, ITN Productions, PBS Distribution, WGBH production. Producers: Waad al-Khateab. Executive producers: Raney Aronson, Ben de Pear, Nevine Mabro, Siobhan Sinnerton, George Waldrum.

CREW: Directors: Waad al-Khateab, Edward Watts. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Waad al-Khateab. Editors: Chloe Lambourne, Simon McMahon. Music: Nainita Desai.

Antenna Documentary Film Festival Review – ‘Hi, A.I.’

What once was thought impossible, seems to be closer than ever – robots. Or as ‘Hi, A.I.‘ likes to address them, Artificial Intelligence. In German filmmaker Isabella Willinger‘s (Away From All Suns), we get to meet different individuals ready to embrace this technology for personal companionship or that of others.

Dental students working on a moving robot with real human teeth that reacts to stimuli – as an opening, this is quite the scene out of a horror movie. We quickly get introduced to Pepper, a robot with a very simple design and a tablet interface attached to his chest. Pepper is now part of a Japanese family, mostly here for Gran to talk to when she’s all by herself. The family discusses if they should connect Pepper to the internet, but unanimously decide it’s better not to tamper with his character. Gran likes Pepper’s childlike-voice, but soon realises he’s more self-centred than she’d like him to be, mostly ignoring her questions.

On the other side of the planet we meet Chuck, who’s just on his way to pick up his humanoid companion robot, Harmony. The factory worker explains how he should pick her up and when demonstrating how it’s a lot easier when he detaches her head, Chuck fully creeped out decides he’ll do it the hard way and just carry her under her arms. Together they embark on a road trip in his RV, where he starts a convo resulting in a misunderstanding and over-explaining a simple word such as “while”. Harmony could easily have been the embodiment of Apple’s Siri. That doesn’t stop Chuck from falling head-over-heels in love with her and opening up about his tragic past as a child.

Multiple other interesting designs barely get any screen time and that’s absolutely fine. From an information desk robot who gives presentations on Tokyo City and sings songs at specific times throughout the day, to an absolutely adorable silver balloon type of robot with the skinniest wirelike legs, climbing and hopping up and down stairs. In the meantime scientists and A.I.-experts discuss humanoid robots and how we are headed towards a robot society, baring the question on why robots have to look so much like humans.

Through the use of podcast recordings and following the whereabouts of Chuck and Harmony, and Pepper and his new family, ‘Hi, A.I.‘ stays fascinating until the very end. Doomsday scenarios and the usefulness of artificial intelligence discussions never go in-depth, since most of these speculations are based on fear without any concrete evidence.

Hi, A.I. gives you some food for thought. Artificial Intelligence isn’t something from the past anymore, it’s here and only growing expeditiously towards entering our daily lives. Ethical concerns aside, the stories portrayed here are sweet and wholesome. The positive and negative changes on human behaviour are in need of more studies, but in the meantime I think saving our planet is more of a concern to us, than worrying about Blade Runner-type futures.

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‘Hi, A.I.’ is screening as part of Antenna Documentary Film Festival:

  • Palace Chauvel, Oct. 25 at 7pm
  • Palace Verone, Oct. 27 at 2pm

Tickets are still available: https://tix.antennafestival.org/Events/Hi-AI/Fri-Oct-25-2019-19-00

Antenna Documentary Film Festival Review – ‘Hi, A.I.’

Reviewed from online screener (provided by publicity team), also showing as part of Antenna Documentary Film Festival, Sydney, Oct. 24, 2019. Running time: 90 min.

PRODUCTION: A Rise and Shine Release from a Kloos & Co. Medien GmbH production. Producer: Stefan Kloos.

CREW: Director: Isabella Willinger. Camera (color, widescreen): Julian Krubasik. Editors: Stephan Krumbiegel, Olaf Voigtländer.