Month: August 2019

AMAZING GRACE

Directors
Alan Elliott, Sydney Pollack

Featuring
Aretha Franklin

You are invited to experience The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, record what would become the highest-selling gospel music album of all time. The footage seen in this concert film was shot live over two days at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, Los Angeles in 1972, when Aretha was just 29 years of age and at her Grammy-winning peak. Throughout AMAZING GRACE, she is accompanied by The Southern California Community Choir and a crew of film and sound engineers who capture the spectacular event, all under the direction of late filmmaker Sydney Pollack.

Amazing Grace poster

Shortly before his passing, Sydney Pollack handed this documentary project over to producer Alan Elliott, who was given the all clear by Franklin’s family to finally release the film following her death in 2018 and after a couple of legal dramas. Twice, in 2011 and again in 2015, AMAZING GRACE was scheduled for release and both times Aretha Franklin had sued Elliott in order to block this from happening, for her own reasons. 

The other hurdle that significantly delayed the completion and release of this documentary were the technological difficulties syncing the audio tracks with the visual print. Taking this into consideration, the personnel that managed to solve this conundrum have done an outstanding job and it couldn’t have been easy for Alan Elliott to sift through twenty hours of well-preserved footage and condense that into a feature that runs for just 89 minutes.

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Despite its seemingly brief duration, the overall content of the film had me feeling as though I were a part of an over-extended melodic church service. Albeit, a vocally stunning one, of course! There is absolutely no narration or interviews filmed and integrated to the final cut of AMAZING GRACE. That is completely fine if you’re a devotee of Aretha Franklin, a committed church-goer, or better still, both. If so, mark this down as a must-see film for 2019. However, if like me you appreciate Aretha Franklin’s jaw-dropping vocal capabilities and enjoy her universally recognised songs much more (Amazing Grace is all you’re going to know here folks), then you too will probably feel a little underwhelmed at some point once the novelty has worn off.

Nevertheless, this is the most raw and soulful we’ve probably even seen Aretha Franklin. When she does perform a heartfelt and truly ‘in the moment’ rendition of Amazing Grace, Goosebumps, tears, or both are guaranteed. If nothing else, we can be grateful for the reminder of just how sweet the sound of Aretha Franklin indeed was and always will be. 

3 stars

Viewer Discretion
G

Trailer
AMAZING GRACE

Moviedoc thanks Studiocanal for the invite to the screening of this film.

AMAZING GRACE is released in cinemas throughout Australia from August 29th, 2019.

Review by Leigh for Moviedoc
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THE NIGHTINGALE

Writer & Director
Jennifer Kent
(THE BABADOOK)

Starring
Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr, Damon Herriman and Michael Sheasby

Following the success of her previous film, 2014’s dramatic horror THE BABADOOK, writer and director Jennifer Kent received many enticing offers for her next project. The story she really wanted to tell though would keep the Australian filmmaker on home soil and takes us all the way back to the colonisation of Australia in 1825.

In Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania), a 21 year-old Irish convict woman named Clare (Aisling Franciosi) has finished a seven year sentence and is hoping she’ll soon be free with her husband, Aidan (Michael Sheasby). Despite serving her time, a heartless British officer named Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin) is in no hurry at all to let her go and continues to mistreat her terribly. Aidan confronts the Lieutenant after he learns of his wife’s abuse, but his bravery ends with devastating consequences for Clare. Determined to create her own freedom, Clare enlists the help of a young Aboriginal tracker named Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), who’s seen his fair share of violence inflicted upon his people, to guide her safely throughout the Tasmanian wilderness.

The Nightingale
As the lighting in the cinema began to dim and moments before THE NIGHTINGALE had commenced, I thought to myself ‘I hope this film is bloody good, because it will need to be in order to distract my mindset from where it currently is at’. Well, just days later, and that mindset is nothing but a distant memory now after this uncompromising but immediately absorbing and truly excellent film instantaneously commanded my attention right through until the end.

Do be warned, THE NIGHTINGALE isn’t an easy film to endure. Do be advised, however, it is worth persevering with and can be rewarding viewing in a variety of ways. One thing is always certain, pain must first be inflicted before any form of pleasure may arrive. The plot and its trajectory are a prime example of just that. All throughout, there are many inhumane atrocities committed against the protagonists and even minor characters that appear in the film that will make even the most ordinary of human beings feel incensed. Though not based on a true story, the fact that the story has been extensively researched to give an honest representation of what it depicts intensifies the feelings it provokes. So what reward may come from such a tough slog? Witnessing the seamless integration of these separate plots in an Australian period drama that is strikingly authentic and boasts outstanding originality.

The Nightingale

That authenticity, which is another rewarding feature of THE NIGHTINGALE, comes largely from being shot on location in South Australia and Tasmania. I was equally absorbed by the setting as I was the story and its trajectory once it became a prominent part of the film. Furthermore, the seldom use of score draws greater authenticity again from the film by enabling its habitat to cause a constant feeling of unease. Reward is (arguably) most notably sourced from recognising the connection and deepening reliance on trust between Clare and Billy, which could only happen from a mutual pain so deep. This is the beauty of THE NIGHTINGALE.

 A strong 4 stars

Viewer Discretion
MA15+
 (Strong sexual violence, violence, themes and coarse language)

Trailer
THE NIGHTINGALE

Moviedoc thanks Transmission for the invite to the screening of this film.

THE NIGHTINGALE is released in cinemas throughout Australia from August 29th, 2019.

Review by Leigh for Moviedoc
Follow on Twitter – Moviedoc / LIKE on Facebook – @moviedoc13

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THE AUSTRALIAN DREAM

Director
Daniel Gordon

(A STATE OF MIND, CROSSING THE LINE, GEORGE BEST: ALL BY HIMSELF)

Featuring
Adam Goodes, Stan Grant, Michael O’Loughlin, Gilbert McAdam, Nathan Buckley and John Longmire

The final siren may have sounded for the on-field playing career of indigenous AFL legend Adam Goodes, yet his aspirations continue and are being tackled more truthfully and powerfully than ever before in THE AUSTRALIAN DREAM.

A proudly Aboriginal man, former Sydney Swans star Adam Goodes showed plenty of resistance to the many adversities that ultimately truncated his playing career and now lends a prominent voice for many members of the indigenous community. In this feature-length documentary, “Goodesy” shares insight into his childhood and love of Aussie rules footy, speaks freely of his many experiences dealing with racial vilification and its impact, and addresses on and off field matters, including our annual celebration held on January the 26th and the intense booing he was subject to from footy crowds all across the nation.

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I’ll begin by making my thoughts clear on the topic of booing in our great game – it always has and always will be a part of this sport. I certainly have no issue with this outlet of passion and even felt compelled to actively support the true motivation provoking the heated boos coming from the supporters of my own football team earlier this year. I will repeat – the true motivation provoking the heated boos! As it turns out, this facet of the film is one of many it implores its viewers (to which I hope there will be many) to accurately identify and comprehend.

Irrespective of predetermined opinions or forthcoming interpretations, THE AUSTRALIAN DREAM presents this topic and all others it covers in an earnest and hard-hitting manner that’s more than capable of re-shaping people’s views. The genuinely dignified approach and narrative that Adam Goodes supplies this documentary with plays a vital component to achieving this. As do the extraordinarily well-worded contributions from Walkley award-winning writer Stan Grant and the chronicling and presentation of material comprising the film by director Daniel Gordon.

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To be frank, ignorance may allow us to deny our dark past, but history never will.
A lack of awareness and education of what racism actually is and of the words and actions that are associated with being racist further signifies our deep-rooted problem and is simply no longer acceptable. In pitching just that, THE AUSTRALIAN DREAM isn’t solely stand-out classroom curriculum, it also presents every Australian with the way forward towards reconciliation and truly living as one Australia.

 4 stars

Viewer Discretion
MA15+
 (Themes of racism and strong coarse language)

Trailer
THE AUSTRALIAN DREAM

Moviedoc thanks Madman for the invite to the screening of this film.

THE AUSTRALIAN DREAM is released in cinemas throughout Australia from August 22nd, 2019.

Review by Leigh for Moviedoc
Follow on Twitter – Moviedoc / LIKE on Facebook – @moviedoc13

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BLINDED BY THE LIGHT

Director
Gurinder Chadha
(BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM, VICEROY’S HOUSE, BRIDE & PREJUDICE)

Stars
Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Meera Ganatra, Nell Williams, Hayley Atwell, Dean-Charles Chapman and Aaron Phagura

Based on the acclaimed memoir Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll of British journalist Sarfraz Manzoor and inspired by his love of songs by Bruce Springsteen, BLINDED BY THE LIGHT is the coming-of-age story of a British-Pakistani teenager in the late eighties during the reign of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. In the eastern England town of Luton, Javed’s (Viveik Kalra) ambitions are to do what every other classmate is already freely doing – to score his first kiss with a girl, ASAP, and to flee his hometown and the racial prejudice he faces there, once school is over. His ambitions are hindered, however, by the intentions of his extremely traditional father, Malik (Kulvinder Ghir) who expects his son to work and study hard, keep away from girls and all other English influences. One day at school when Javed’s friend, Roops (Aaron Phagura) introduces him to the songs of Bruce Springsteen, the lyrics of his songs strike a chord so deep, they propel Javed to rebel against his father’s every wish and pursue his own dreams. 

Image result for blinded by the light Viveik Kalra Kulvinder Ghir film stills

This biographical comedy-drama certainly has a story that is worth telling and contains all of the hallmarks of a feel-good film, but rarely comes to life to the extent it ought to.

Though I am freely willing to admit that Bruce Springsteen’s music doesn’t enthuse me quite like it does for our protagonist, this reason alone as to why the film’s energy isn’t consistently infectious is minor in comparison. For a decent chunk of the opening and middle acts, I found the characterisation very one-dimensional, the writing to be of a rather standard quality and the acting and delivery of dialogue often wooden. As a result, the central plot throughout the first half of BLINDED BY THE LIGHT formed little connection and inadvertently plays second fiddle to some of the side stories that are better executed. Namely, Javed’s friendship with the amusing Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman), the observations and encouragement of Javed’s teacher, Miss Clay (Hayley Atwell) and a potential love interest brewing for him.

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BLINDED BY THE LIGHT also struggled to lift from the screen during sequences where characters would tune out while tuning into the music of Springsteen. The frequent interjections of his music often momentarily stall the development of the main story and director Gurinder Chadha has inexplicably accompanied these scenes with on-screen text that provide some of the lyrics to these very well-known tracks. It’s an unnecessary addition to a film that is already having trouble meshing all components to form a feel-good comedy-drama.

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Up until sometime in the second half of the film, BLINDED BY THE LIGHT is a mediocre movie, though I’ve probably made it sound a lot worse! Fortunately, something about this movie (probably the central story) didn’t allow me to give up on it entirely. Just as well, because it does indeed save its best for last. When tensions in Javed’s family household inevitably rise, BLINDED BY THE LIGHT finally begins to strike a chord similar to what Springsteen has struck with our protagonist. Though it took first-time feature film actor Viveik Kalra this long to finally win me over, he eventually did. In the end, yes, BLINDED BY THE LIGHT is the feel-good and crowd-pleasing movie it was destined to be that demonstrates the worth and universally resonant power of lyrics in music.

3 stars

Blinded by the Light (2019)

Viewer Discretion
PG
(Mild themes, violence and coarse language)

Trailer
BLINDED BY THE LIGHT

Moviedoc thanks Universal Pictures for the invite to the screening of this film.

BLINDED BY THE LIGHT is released in cinemas throughout Australia from August 22nd, 2019.

Review by Leigh for Moviedoc
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LATE NIGHT

Director
Nisha Ganatra
(CAKE, CHUTNEY POPCORN, FAST FOOD HIGH)

Stars
Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, Denis O’Hare, Reid Scott, Hugh Dancy and John Lithgow

It’s a comedy, so let’s start with a useless piece of trivia. LATE NIGHT is Nisha Ganatra’s first feature film to not contain a food item or reference in its title. Fortunately, unlike my gag, this comedy is never lame, and it also boasts a fabulous performance (as expected) from Emma Thompson that truly deserves to be all the talk. In LATE NIGHT, Thompson plays Katherine Newbury, who is the centrepiece of her own long-running late night television talk show. To date, she has been incredibly successful and has no intentions of retiring. But that ultimate decision might soon be out of her hands when Katherine learns that she has no female writers and is advised that her ratings have been on a steady decline over several years. As she seeks to employ a female writer, could Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling), a complete outsider with zero experience in television, but who is a big fan of the show and its host, help revamp or even save Katherine’s show?

Image result for late night emma thompson mindy kaling film stills

Comedy can and ought to be so much more than just simply being funny. Of course, in order for a comedy to be genuinely classified this way and successful in this genre, provoking some form of laughter and/or amusement from its audience is a prerequisite. Thankfully, this director’s first feature film in almost 15 years is a solid example of how comedy can be cleverly utilised to observe and ridicule a vast array of contemporary issues. The screenplay, which is written by LATE NIGHT co-star Mindy Kaling, addresses social matters such as gender inequality and race in a sharp and truthful manner that I found engaging. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for most), it never gets too into the nuts and bolts of its issues, but it does borrow well from its characterisation, wit and acting to extract humour from it all.

The only time I felt less engaged to the film was mostly during its first half, when more time is slotted to specific co-stars that comprise of the writing team behind the talk show. They can only add so much value and some are rather annoying. Especially when in comparison to this Cruella de Vil of late night TV! This performance from Emma Thompson (who, coincidentally, has a starring role in an upcoming live-action prequel film that follows a young Cruella de Vil!) ought to and (I believe) will earn her a Golden Globe nomination.

3 ½ stars

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Viewer Discretion
M (Coarse language and sexual references)

Trailer
LATE NIGHT

Moviedoc thanks Roadshow Films for the in-season pass to watch and review this film.

LATE NIGHT is released in cinemas throughout Australia from August 8th, 2019.

Review by Leigh for Moviedoc
Follow on Twitter – Moviedoc / LIKE on Facebook – @moviedoc13

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WATCH THE SUNSET

Directors
Tristan Barr and Michael Gosden
(Feature film debut together)

Stars
Tristan Barr, Chelsea Zeller, Annabelle Williamson and Aaron Walton

There is something very unique about WATCH THE SUNSET. This is Australia’s first full-length feature film that has been brave enough to tell its story by being shot in a single take! Well, crikey mate, this crime drama is dead set impressive!

Rehearsed over a five week period prior to its shoot date, the final cut seen here was accomplished on the fourth attempt and day of filming. Taking place in real time during one arvo (afternoon for those of you outside Australia!) in the regional Victorian town of Kerang, Danny (played by producer, editor, writer and director Tristan Barr) is a man in a desperate situation trying to outrun a crime-laden past that could be catching up with him quicker than he knows. Before it’s too late, Danny aims to right his wrongs with some folk who were once close to him, including Sally (Chelsea Zeller) and Joey (Annabelle Williamson). But the safety of every person that Danny comes into contact with is immediately placed in jeopardy.

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Upon reflection of this mightily ambitious production, I certainly believe that the true rewards for viewing this film are received without knowing any of its specifics prior to watching and is given by simply allowing the measured movement of the camerawork to gradually reveal one piece of detail at a time. I found myself completely immersed from the get-go because of this, but also owing to the smooth and inventive filming, tense score and the tension summoned by a script that continually provokes questions surrounding every current and upcoming move and motive of Danny’s. That is despite there being scarce dialogue spoken throughout the first act of the film.

Quite miraculously and intentionally, WATCH THE SUNSET generates equally as much anticipation as to how it will capture the next action of a character and that particular scene or scenario they’ll be in. I cannot remember the last time that I was this irresistibly curious and completely invested by this aspect of cinematography in any film! The use of and execution in timing and choreography in particular scenes is critical to ensure that what transpires continues to keep everything looking and feeling real. Even though these latter components of the film, and some of the acting, aren’t as polished or consistent as the rest of the production, they remain a minor imperfection only.

A deserving round of applause goes out to all of the filmmakers on board. In particular, to the duo of directors Tristan Barr and Michael Gosden, who could easily have opted for a more traditional and far less challenging method to convey this story. Yet, it is their innovative approach and commitment to their craft that both demands and derives the best out of them and their project.

3 ½ stars

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Viewer Discretion
MA15+
 (Strong themes, violence, coarse language and drug use)

Trailer
WATCH THE SUNSET

Moviedoc thanks Fighting Chance Films and Cathy Gallagher for the preview link to watch and review this film.

Review by Leigh for Moviedoc
Follow on Twitter – Moviedoc / LIKE on Facebook – @moviedoc13

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DANGER CLOSE: THE BATTLE OF LONG TAN

Director
Kriv Stenders
(RED DOG, RED DOG: TRUE BLUE, AUSTRALIA DAY)

Stars
Travis Fimmel, Anthony Hayes, Richard Roxburgh, Daniel Webber, Nicholas Hamilton, Luke Bracey, Matt Doran and Stephen Peacocke

Inspired by a true story, this Australian war film chronicles a fight for survival against all odds. It is August 18, 1966 in the South of Vietnam where 2,000 experienced soldiers from North Vietnam descend upon a rubber plantation called Long Tan. Standing in their way are 108 young and mostly inexperienced Australian and New Zealand soldiers, who have been sent there by Major Harry Smith (VIKING’s star, Travis Fimmel).

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If there is just one attribute that DANGER CLOSE: THE BATTLE OF LONG TAN is reliant on, it’s the building of momentum. During its opening act where momentum is yet to be formed, this Aussie war movie can be a little distancing. As the sound of enemy attack nears, but hasn’t yet targeted the young soldiers, the script brings out the rebelliousness and cheek of these young men more so than it lets us in on their innocence and fear. Though I’ve got little doubt that the behaviour we do witness is derived from being (understandably) afraid in such hostile and foreign territory, being able to perceive this mental fragility would have generated momentum much sooner. Furthermore, overseas audiences may struggle with some of the language used and accents spoken, particularly during scenes where combat can be heard in the foreground and background. Fortunately, DANGER CLOSE: THE BATTLE OF LONG TAN’s saving grace throughout earlier stretches is its stand-out cinematography and use of locations, which really are something to behold and always remain a prominent part of this film. As does the gloriously rendered and utterly powerful score too.

Major Harry Smith (Travis Fimmel) during the Battle of the Long Tan
Once the soldiers and their enemies clash at Long Tan, DANGER CLOSE becomes an intermittently tense and action-packed drama. Though sometimes visually repetitious, the film’s momentum continues to grow as the shot-callers and major players of vital proceedings garner more screen time. A small handful of combat sequences during the final act are superbly executed by Kriv Stenders that manage to distinguish themselves from all others too. By the end of this overall very good film, if the fate of some of these young men doesn’t touch you, then please ensure you remain seated for some important last words to appear on-screen that will leave a very sombre feeling indeed.

3 ½ stars

Viewer Discretion
MA15+ (Strong war themes and violence)

Trailer
DANGER CLOSE: THE BATTLE OF LONG TAN

Moviedoc thanks Transmission Films for the invite to the screening of this film.

DANGER CLOSE: THE BATTLE OF LONG TAN is released in cinemas throughout Australia from August 8th, 2019.

Review by Leigh for Moviedoc
Follow on Twitter – Moviedoc / LIKE on Facebook – @moviedoc13

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