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5 More movies, December 2016 Dancer, The Fencer, The Founder, Elle, Rogue One ..

My movie glut continues…

1. DANCER. A documentary film originating in the United Kingdom. Teaching acting, one of the primary questions I ask my students is “What will you give up to get what you want?” Sergei Polunin born in the Ukraine appeared, even as a baby, to have a gifted body. And, this film poses and even more startling question: “What will the family (poor) give up to get what they want/need for their son?” Father goes to Portugal, grandmother goes to Greece to find work to pay for the fees necessary to promote their son’s career – there is no work in the Ukraine. Mother cares for him and ‘plots’ his progress. They realise that Polunin, if he is to achieve, needs to go to the best ballet school, and so find themselves in London at The Royal Ballet School. So prodigious a talent and so passionate an artist-in-training Polunin is promoted through the ranks of the School and then Company to become the youngest ever Principal Dancer. He is hailed as the greatest dancer of his time. Trouble begins when his mother has to leave him in London because of Visa problems. Then, later his parents divorce. The beauty of his talent is evident throughout the film as we watch a young man sacrificing all for his art, then imploding with the pressure of a demanding art form and trying to discover who he is, himself. With the reason for his driven mania for dance perfection, his family, in breakup, he, at the age of 21, walks away from it all trying to find a path to justify his life and seek, maybe, sanity. The ending of this work is moving as he returns to Russia and finally permits his family to see him dance – he has never allowed then too, since childhood – he feared their scrutiny. A reconciliation and a return to childhood roots, seems to encourage him to consider re-engagement. This is a documentary film using footage from all of his young life and career. The promise as a child is staggering and the quality of his work professionally is astonishing. This is a very interesting documentary film, its ending not yet known, he is still so young. Though not as satisfying as AMY with its exhausting examination of ‘genius’ DANCER is, especially for dancers, and artists of any discipline, a must see. It is a film by Steven Cantor.

2. THE FENCER. This is a Finnish-Estonian-German co-production Directed by Finnish Klaus Haro. It is set in Estonia in 1953 when Russia led by Stalin occupied the country after World War II. A teacher arrives in a small Estonian city/town, Haapsalu, and as sports master introduces the children to the practice of Fencing. The problem is that The Fencer has a history that the Communist Principal feels it is his duty to reveal to the authorities. This is a well told but familiar story line of the inspiration of children and the tensions of living under a tyranny told in ‘classic’ cinematic form. Beautifully done, the film still has a feeling of plodding along – you get there before the story does, tiresome. Being Australian one can be cynical about the familiar story and the way it is told and acted, but one can intuit from what is unspoken, the scars of the Estonian experience, for that audience today. The country did not gain its independence from Russia until 1991. And Putin is sniffing around the edges, today. The Estonian actors Mart Avandi, as the Fencer; Hendrik Toompere, as the jealous Headmaster and ‘toady’ to the Russians; Lembit Ulfsak as the victim of persecution; and Ursula Ratasepp, as the romantic interest, are quietly impressive, if, unsurprising.

3. THE FOUNDER. This is an American film, Directed by John Lee Hancock (SAVING MR BANKS – 2013; THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN – 2016). This is a true American story. It concerns the rise of a failed salesman late in his career, Ray Kroc, who sees the franchise potential of a hamburger operation developed by naive brothers, Mac and Dick McDonald, in San Bernadino, California, in the 1950’s. Michael Keaton takes the lead and gives a tightly economic performance – often in close-up – of manic ambition. The McDonalds and Kroc are all Republicans, and here we have representatives of the good and the bad pursuit of the American Dream through the processes of Capitalism. What I took from the film was the difference of pursuit: where one is an altruism and ‘scientific’ inspiration and the other a manipulative, unethical and dishonest inspiration, and though legal, is despicable. The film does not take a stand one way or the other. It simply tells the story step-by-step of this successful American man who founded the world-wide billion dollar phenomenon we know as McDonalds with its Golden Arches. It taught me the truth of the old aphorism never to trust the smile of a Krocodile (or is it tears?). Placed beside David O. Russell’s JOY from earlier this year where Jennifer Lawrence became the true boss of her family and enterprise – every American Dream for riches is possible if you have the gumption to persist, and the recent HELL AND HIGH WATER, Directed by David Mackenzie, and starring Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges, where the Banks and their practises are given a drubbing by the long-suffering poor, the US of A maybe at war with itself, its symptoms emanating, amazingly, from those Hollywood offices of film as business. Interesting politics, all three, and efficiently done. If you are a ‘political’ , they are all worth watching. Hold off the despair, if you can.

4. ELLE. A French film from Dutch Director Paul Verhoeven (ROBOT) an Isabelle Huppert comedy/psychological thriller spearing with satirical elegance, the hypocrisies of the individual and the world (‘that we are sentenced to solitude in our own skins’) as we unravel in a desperate need to survive, to win. What you see on the surface is not all there is. The Janus face that we all wear – beware. This is a wonderfully intelligent film (maybe, a trifle too long) based on a book: OH, by Philippe Djian. All the performances are great, especially the intriguing Laurent Lafitte, led by one of the great actors of our time Isabelle Huppert. If you thought she was provocative in THE PIANO TEACHER (2001), wait till you see this. Isabelle Huppert, who I have loved since HEAVEN’S GATE (1980), gives a great performance: Michele Leblanc carries a psychic scar that permeates the whole of her life. She is a successful CEO of a video game business that produces work verging on the edge of graphic sexual violence. Michele is raped.
But this film is not about the rape it is about much much more complex things than that. The rape is the startling catalyst for edge of the seat viewing. This is about game playing to survive, and who isn’t playing to survive? ELLE is one of the best films I have seen this year, if not the BEST. Mr Verhoeven tells that he tried to get it made in America but could not. Thank God he was forced to take it to Europe for otherwise we most probably would have had a BASIC INSTINCT thriller instead of this sophisticated psychological social masterpiece. I yearn now to see BLACK BOOK (2006) again, and must find and see SHOWGIRLS (I never saw it …believed the reviews – what a sucker!). But surely, a Director of such intelligence and skill can’t have got it so wrong – I read that there has been a critical re-appraisal of that film. It just shows you the prurient personality of the American gate-keepers, perhaps?And my gullibility. Do not miss.

5. ROGUE ONE – A STAR WARS STORY. In case you think I am a trifle ‘arty’ in my film viewing I took myself off to see the latest instalment of the STAR WARS stuff, Directed by Gareth Edwards (GODZILLA – 2014). This is pretty good, if still, ultimately, numbing to sit through – one becomes more and more admiring rather than involved. It is all so predictable and formulaic and really only those “dyed-in-the wool'” Star Wars tragics could be constantly excited by the story line and the development of the characters. But, with such an excellent cast, who all give truly committed performances in this bit of space-junk: Felicity Jones (THE INVISIBLE WOMAN), Diego Luna, Ben Mendlesohn, Mads Mikkelson, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen and Donnie Yen (Diversity in casting!) combined with the best CGI available with its imaginative aesthetic beauty, it is worth the price of a ticket. By the way, what do you all think: is Forest Whitaker just one of the worst OTT (Over-the-top) actors on screen? Thank goodness his character gets done-in kind of early in the film. I always watch him telegraph, grossly, everything he has thought about the character he is playing – and I mean EVERYTHING – erghk! Someone likes him, it seems. He has been in a lot, lately, Go, if you have to.