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Hi all. Theatre gone quiet – holiday mode before the Sydney Festival onslaught. So, here are some movies that I have seen accompanied with a ‘trifling’ comment.

1. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME. This is the much talked about ‘art film’ of this awards season. It is Directed by Luca Guadagino, and completes what he regards as the Desire Trilogy. The other two films being I AM LOVE (2009) and A BIGGER SPLASH (2015) – both with Tilda Swinton. It is adapted from a novel by Andre Aciman, by the famous James Ivory (of the Merchant/Ivory film team.)

It tells of a summer romance – in the case of Elio (Timothee Chalamet), his first love – in Italy, in the 1980’s. The film is languid and unfurls without any dramatic conflict but with a sense of growing tension that all of us have known and come to recall, which, in this story, culminates in a late scene with a father and son talk that is so full of human wisdom that tears, even, for some, sobbing, elevates this work into a superior sphere of experiential endowment.

Timothee Chalamet, as Elio, gives a wonderfully sophisticated and insightful experiencing in the film (although, the performance by Adele Exarchopouligo, as Adele, a young woman experiencing her first love, in BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR (2013), is the better), Michael Stuhlbarg as Elio’s father, Samuel, has gift of a scene (almost verbatim from the novel) and captures our empathy. Arnie Hammer, as Oliver, has been praised for the nuanced work he delivers, but I am not convinced of his gifts – not enough, though, to undermine my recommendation of this film. A great deal of the edited film on the screen is wordless, the inner reading of character from the clues given by the actors are there to ensure our (the audience’s) own cathartic commitment. It is this inner, communicated ‘life’ of the character that each actor must give and is where one can observe, sort out, the quality of the actor. And, certainly, Mr Chalamet, is given by the direction ample opportunity for us to marvel at his abilities. It is interesting, on-the-other-hand, that the Director and Editor (Walter Fasano) did not settle for too long on the close-ups of Mr Hammer’s offers.

Overall, the film has a classic Visconti heritage (Cinematography, by Sayombhu Mukdeepram) – remember the summer in his 1976, L’INNOCENTE) – and, like Visconti at his best, too, has a sophisticated supporting musical background (Music, by Sufjan Stevens). This film tells of a ‘gay’ exploration and it is given with delicious restraint and delicacy. Though the film touches any first love scenario whatever the gender identification.

For me, though, MOONLIGHT (2016) is still the best of these stories on film, with this year’s GOD’S OWN COUNTRY (2017) coming in a close second. Check them, all three, out.

2. THE FLORIDA PROJECT is a ‘terrific/terrifying’ gaze at survival on the socio-economic fringes of the American dream in Florida. It centres on a mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite) and child, Moonee (Brooklyn Prince), living in a Motel under the shadow of Disney World. It follows the day-to-day life through the ‘adventures’ of the innocent eyes of childhood. This film is Directed and written, by Sean Baker (TANGERINE- 2015). The performances have a fly-on-the-wall appearance with William Dafoe, excelling as the motel manager, Bobby. It carries, unconsciously, an American Trump-critique – Florida is where he has his Hotel/Golf Course. (Disney and Trump!) The film is uncomfortable to watch but has a mesmerising power that cannot help but strike you with empathy and sadness. Not as cauterising as Ken Loach’s I, DANIEL BLAKE (2016), but just as urgent. Highly recommended.

3. THE TEACHER (2017), is set in 1980’s Czechoslovakia, and tells of a manipulative teacher who with the confidence of ‘support’ from ‘people’ in Moscow, plunders the gifts and lives of her student’s to her own advantage. Comrade Drazdechova (Zuzana Maurey) pushes too far and there are stirrings of class action/rebellion. The consequences are intriguing. The central performance from Ms Maurey is wonderful and full of the ambiguities of the subtle wielding of power for selfish gain, as she deals with the helplessness of the victims caught in its meshes. It is Directed by Jan Hrebejk. Recommended.

4. WONDER WHEEL, is the latest of Woody Allen’s annual contribution to the output of American film. Set, nostalgically, on Coney Island in the 1950’s, the central character, Ginny (Kate Winslet), bored and trapped on a treadmill of mediocrity, begins a ‘romance’ with a lifeguard on the beach, Mickey (Justin Timberlake) in an attempt to escape the life her husband, Humpty (Jim Belushi) provides, with their son, and the competition that his daughter with all of her blossoming youth and naivety, Carolina (Juno Temple) confronts her with. It all unravels, of course, and in a role that has echoes of the gamut of the acting opportunities of Cate Blanchett’s film/character in BLUE JASMIN (2013), one can quickly see the difference in the ability between the two actors. Ms Winslet is either ‘right-on’ or ‘right-off’ with her choices in this screen story. Unfortunately, she is more often ‘off’ than ‘on’ – not knowing what tone to strike with Woody Allen’s scriptural challenges. Ms Winslet is unable to find a consistency that makes us believe the trajectory of the arc of Ginny. The only reason to see this rather ordinary film is to enjoy the ravishing cinematography of Vittorio Storaro. You will appreciate this film just as much on that aeroplane flight as you would in the cinema – not difficult to sit through, but is really a ‘time filler’, rather than a must see experience.

5. STAR WARS – EPISODE VIII -THE LAST JEDI.  I saw this film in my principal childhood cinema the Ritz Randwick (now celebrating its 80th Anniversary). As a kid I would attend the Saturday afternoon matinee, where we saw a main feature, lots of cartoons and several cliff-hanging serials, all for 11d – eleven pennies. After buying my ticket I has one shilling and one penny left for lollies (mostly, slate pencils and chocolate bullets) potato ‘straws’ and a drink, from the two shillings given to me by my grandma, to keep me busy, while she went to the Saturday horse races!

Watching EPISODE VIII of this new STAR WARS franchise, in the same cinema, I could not help but recall those boring serials of the yesteryear of my childhood – it’s what we threw our Jaffers (lollies) at, in spontaneous judgements! If I hadn’t eaten my choc top, I might have thrown it at the screen, the other night. THE LAST JEDI is a formulaic work, made for the loyal fans of the last 40 years – lots of very loud crash bang action, half-baked (‘bullshit’) mysticism, myth making of the Religious or Wagner kind (Joseph Campbell kind?), stock cartoon characters wearing easily identifiable traits of function (good, bad, really bad, funny, serious, deadly serious, or occasionally, only occasionally, in-between) and ‘oiled’ by corn-ball comedic side jokes that foreknowledge of the earlier films is needed to be appreciated.

Rian Johnson, the Writer and Director, gives what Disney and Lucasfilms want, I presume – a safe, predictable, re-assuring couple of hours for the simply pleased, dumb downed audience in the cinema – you have to be a dyed-in-the -wool fan to really like this film and give it a thumbs-up. There are many strands of plot going on and there is some – some – mastery  from the Director in keeping them afloat and demarcated. However, Mr Johnson, as writer, can get no marks, really, for character creation and or development – we’ve met them all before and nothing seems to have been learnt or allowed to evolve.

In my endurance of this long film – actual and metaphorically – (152 minutes going on 10 hours!), the really interesting thing for me was to have the mental time to see how each of the actors fared in trying to make the dialogue a convincing expression of character – most of the writing was rudimentarily for functional storytelling only – narrative progression. For me, it was an enjoyable game of separating good actors from the bad, the quality, from the run-of-the-mill kind. From those who can seem to create character through inner life/thought and have the gifts to passionately pursue and subtly reveal, and those who can’t or don’t.

Adam Driver (Kylo Ren) fares best by a long margin (although the climatic speeches begin to wear a bit thin with strain), Oscar Issac (Poe Dameron) displays his quality by spouting his gung-ho rubbish of banalities with the utter conviction of an action hero (looking for Hans Solo qualities?), while Benito del Torro (DJ) is absolutely masterful and witty, with his contribution, small as it is. (Brevity is the soul of wit, perhaps, and a vulnerability – a stutter – helps distinguish and win favour, empathy.) I gave these actors an A grade.

Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn) and Kelly Marie Tran (Rose Tica) get away with speaking their ‘stuff’ most of the time but not all of the time – B grade actors in training? If they escape Hollywood type-casting, we shall see, if their true mettle is a possible A grading.

While, curiously, Laura Dern, purple hair is not enough (Vice Admiral Hodo), and Domald Gleeson, red hair and pallid face, are not enough (General Hux), reveal surface, no-work-done commitment.  We know that they can do good work – so what happened here?

While the  C-grading (or Z), in acting technique is obvious, and easily awarded to the contributions of Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) and Carrie Fisher (Leia Organa) – they truly honour the tradition of the actor in the Z grade serial of the 30’s and 40’s – cardboard fraudsters, full of portentous looks and pretended ‘weight’ with no personal depth of any kind. (But then neither they nor George Lucas would ever have thought that they would still be peddling these performances 40 years later from the original, and to keep this franchise going, we, the audience endure them.)

The Best part of this film is the technical contributions made by, going on the credit list, literally, hundreds of craftsmen and women. But if the up front artists aren’t up to standard, and the scripted dialogue so banal, no matter the time (and money) spent it just won’t work as cinematic art as well.

I think this must be the  last time I ‘shell-out’ for the STAR WARS saga. But, then, I said that last time, too.