True Story

THE TEACHER (UCITELKA)

Director
Jan Hrebejk
(DIVIDED WE FALL, COSY DENS)

Stars
Zuzana Mauréry, Martin Havelka, Peter Bebjak, Tamara Fischer and Richard Labuda

From her very first day at a suburban school in Czechoslovakia during the early 1980’s, school teacher Mrs Drazdechová (Zuzana Mauréry) establishes her intentions to add an unorthodox subject to her curriculum. As class commences, Mrs Drazdechová orders every student to openly share what each of their parents do for a living. It is only the beginning of how the manipulative teacher, who is seeking personal gain, will cause division among fellow staff, her students and their parents.

Meanwhile, after some time, the school’s principal decides to organise a secret meeting with the parents of the controversial teacher’s pupils to have them sign a petition for the expulsion of Mrs Drazdechová, who has high connections within the Communist party.

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Inspired by a true story, THE TEACHER demonstrates its two scenarios simultaneously from start to end. Throughout the opening minutes, it can be troublesome trying to pinpoint the separate timelines depicted due to the unclear editing. Don’t let that be of any ongoing concern to you though for once the structure is properly formed, THE TEACHER is a fascinating lesson in the art of manipulation. The appalling behaviour and practices of Mrs Drazdechová and the significant toll that her unacceptable actions have on her students is strongly and appropriately recognised. Labelled as a black comedy, THE TEACHER does derive some humour (mostly) from the bickering of parents. You see, Mrs Drazdechová does have support from parents whose kids grades are (cough; enhanced thanks to duties being served to her) where they need to be. Thankfully, THE TEACHER doesn’t allow any inappropriate, out-of-place amusement to interfere with what is a story that ought to be taken just as seriously as the commanding display of acting from Zuzana Mauréry as Mrs Drazdechová. Her final scenes are especially a stand-out!

3 ½ stars

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Viewer Discretion
(Mature themes, coarse language and brief nudity)

Trailer
THE TEACHER

Moviedoc thanks Palace Films for the preview screening pass provided to watch and review this film.

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BREATHE

Director / Andy Serkis (Feature film debut)
Stars/ Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Tom Hollander and Hugh Bonneville

The name Andy Serkis is most recognised for portraying on-screen characters Caesar and Gollum in the fantasy adventure franchises PLANET OF THE APES and LORD OF THE RINGS, respectively. Now, Serkis makes his first foray into the business of movie directing with UK romance drama BREATHE

Based on a true story, it is 1958 when Robin Cavendish (Oscar nominee Andrew Garfield) is managing his tea-broking business in Kenya and is suddenly paralysed from the neck down after being diagnosed with polio. Advised that he has just three months left to live, which he’ll need to do within the confines of a hospital bed with wife Diana (Claire Foy) and newborn son Jonathan by his side, Robin defies all medical odds by exceeding his given life expectancy and becoming a pioneer for the disabled in the process.

Once its obligatory background formalities are ticked off its checklist in a hurried first act, the screenplay by William Nicholson (writer of GLADIATOR, LES MISÉRABLES and EVEREST) hones in on the period of Robin’s ailment that most mentally and physically challenges him. Quite pleasingly, audiences never become too burdened or bogged down by the suffering being endured daily by Robin. Instead, more emphasis is devoted to the friendly banter shared among Robin and Diana’s close family and friends. Although it might be somewhat of a relief that BREATHE is not the heavy film it could have been, it is still a disappointingly laborious one that will take much longer to find your sympathy than you would like. In all honesty, its touches of levity can be quite a bore to sit through. Moreover, the true worth of Robin and Diana’s story is being unnecessarily delayed. While Andy Serkis shows good intent in his aspirations to bring a more cheerful ring to the saddening elements of Robin’s story, he does struggle with the meandering writing and getting their combined execution right.

Thankfully, at roughly the mid-way mark of this two-hour movie, the real inspiration to be told in this story finally surfaces. Once at the fore, BREATHE makes a significant improvement that you will hopefully be willing to hold your breath for.

3 stars

On a special side note, the real-life Jonathan Cavendish is one of several producers working on BREATHE.

Viewer Discretion/ M (Mature themes)

Trailer / BREATHE

Moviedoc thanks Asha Holmes Publicity for the invite to the screening of this film.

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FINAL PORTRAIT

Writer & Director / Stanley Tucci (BIG NIGHT, THE IMPOSTORS)
Stars/ Geoffrey Rush, Armie Hammer, Sylvie Testud, Clémence Poésy and Tony Shalhoub

FINAL PORTRAIT is an enlightening retelling of Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti’s (Geoffrey Rush) numerous attempts to complete his portrait of young American writer and art admirer James Lord (Armie Hammer). It is 1964 in Paris when Alberto makes the flattering offer to draw his friend James, who is spending a few days traveling the French capital. Told from James’s perspective, FINAL PORTRAIT follows the trials and tribulations of both men as the neurotic artist battles both artistic and personal problems in this biographical comedic drama.

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From even his childhood years during the early 1900’s, Alberto Giacometti showed a keen interest in art. The life events of this post-impressionist artist that occurred from then to the timeline depicted here have surprisingly never been told in a feature length picture. However, they certainly deserve to be (and hopefully will be) someday.

Better known for his on-screen work, writer/director Stanley Tucci focuses on several days in the latter part of Giacometti’s life, in this moderate yet finely made film. Content with regularly and casually observing rather deeply exploring any of its themes and characterisations, FINAL PORTRAIT is an undeniably lightweight film that has tendencies to sometimes meander and linger in repetitiveness. Nevertheless, those who fancy this edited snapshot will take a liking to Tucci’s piece of work courtesy of the director’s firm handling of a basic story and peculiar characters, the reasonable pace over a short duration that has been applied and a terrific performance from Geoffrey Rush (who knew he could speak French!?). These aspects of the film keep this UK production a serviceable one.

3 stars 

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Viewer Discretion/ M (Mature themes, coarse language and nudity)

Trailer / FINAL PORTRAIT

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

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VICTORIA & ABDUL

Director/ Stephen Frears (FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS, PHILOMENA, THE QUEEN)
Stars/ Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Michael Gambon, Tim Pigott-Smith and Eddie Izzard

It took over one hundred years from its occurrence for this true story to be publicly told. Based on the 2010 novel of the same name by Shrabani Basu, VICTORIA & ABDUL is a comedic drama about an unlikely friendship that came to fruition.

Reprising the role she previously played in the 1997 biographical drama MRS BROWN, Judi Dench again reigns supreme as Queen Victoria during the late 1800s. Bored and disinterested in her daily affairs, her Royal Majesty takes an instant liking to a tall, dark and handsome servant named Abdul (played by Ali Fazal), who broke the number one rule to not make eye contact with his Queen. Over several years, Abdul, who is a Muslim Indian, and Queen Victoria, begin to form a close bond, which causes quite a stir among her family members and close associates. 


The honest story of a genuinely remarkable and beautiful friendship is tarnished by the intrusion of an unnecessarily high supply of seemingly fabricated and overplayed farce.

Right from her opening scenes, where her Royal Majesty is having a royal snore before sloppily dining a meal fit for a king, VICTORIA & ABDUL deliberately enforces an undeniably featherweight tone. These frequently occurring, yet infrequently funny scenes go too strong on the slapstick, diminishing much of the inherent class and worthiness befitting of the film. Its misguided attempts to be too comedic become less of a problem as the developing friendship gains the traction it deserves. The screenplay’s realisation and revelation of the value that Abdul is bringing to his Queen’s life, who is having her mind opened just as much as her heart, and Judi Dench’s excellent performance do keep VICTORIA & ABDUL as close to the film experience it ought to be, even if sometimes the trajectory of their friendship is a little unclear, and even rather uncomfortable. As they grow closer, the nature of this film transitions to become a more poignant one, yet without much of the effect intended.

Though undoubtedly let down by its screenplay written by Lee Hall (writer of BILLY ELLIOT and WAR HORSE), VICTORIA & ABDUL is also a major disappointment from an experienced director who has previously handled a regally depicted movie with sophistication and class in the past.

2 ½ stars


Viewer Discretion/ PG (mild themes and coarse language)

Trailer / VICTORIA & ABDUL

Moviedoc thanks Universal Pictures for the pass to watch and review this film.

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ALI’S WEDDING

Director / Jeffrey Walker (DANCE ACADEMY: THE MOVIE)
Stars/ Osamah Sami, Helana Sawires, Don Hany, Rodney Afif, Frances Duca and Ryan Corr

It has been over 20 years since Australia has produced a universally appealing wedding-themed film worth remembering. That movie, MURIEL’S WEDDING, not only made a star of Toni Collette, it even has its own stage adaptation currently showing in Sydney! Now in 2017, we have ALI’S WEDDING, which could not have picked a better time to walk down the aisle.

Similar to current cinema release, THE BIG SICK, this story is based very strongly on the life of its star – Australian actor, writer, director, poet and stand-up comedian Osamah Sami. Born in Iran to Iraqi parents, Sami plays himself under the character name Ali, who immigrates to Australia with his father, Mehdi (Don Hany), a Muslim cleric, mother Zahra (Frances Duca) and siblings. Nearing the end of high school, Ali is facing a mountain of pressure from his family and the Muslim community. He is expected to achieve extremely high grades in order to study medicine and become a doctor as well comply with his arranged marriage, even though Ali is madly in love with an Australian-born Lebanese girl, Dianne (Helana Sawires).

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First and foremost, a special toast to ALI’S WEDDING for bringing something new to the big screen – our very first Muslim Romantic Comedy/Drama. Coming in at number two on the 2017 MIFF Audience Award winners list, there is much to admire by the endeavour shown in this film, even if it rains a little on its own parade.

The screenplay, co-written by Sami himself, importantly incorporates the significant influences in Ali’s life during the time depicted. Aside from his studies and romantic dilemmas, there is also his involvement in his father’s plays, his passion for the Essendon Football Club (great choice!), his job at a petrol station and the daily pressures from the community to be a good Muslim. Depending on your level of interest and insight gained, the amount of time devoted to each of these may exceed your threshold. With the exception of Essendon’s involvement, of course! ALI’S WEDDING doesn’t quite have the polished execution needed in order to seamlessly integrate all of its separate strands as a whole film. There are times that the comedic deliveries and the acting from some of the cast is noticeably off. The two feature film debutant actresses, Frances Duca and Helana Sawires, tend to struggle the most. During the first half of ALI’S WEDDING, Sawires isn’t able to nail the balance needed from her character. And if you’re partially interested in seeing this due to the appearance of Ryan Corr, don’t bother. His very minor and thankless role as Ali’s bogan mate, Wazza, is a complete waste of Corr’s great talents.

Those imperfections aside, ALI’S WEDDING casts a joyful, crowd-pleasing vibe from early and rarely lets it go. Especially during an improved second half, which shifts more of a focus towards the marriage conundrum Ali has got himself into.

3 stars

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Viewer Discretion/ M (Mature themes and coarse language)

Trailer / ALI’S WEDDING

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

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AMERICAN MADE

Director / Doug Liman (THE WALL, EDGE OF TOMORROW, THE BOURNE IDENTITY)
Stars/ Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright and Caleb Landry Jones

After a performance in this year’s remake of THE MUMMY that can only be described as being scarier than Scientology itself, Tom Cruise does earn back a healthy percentage of respect with this fine showing in the unbelievable true story, AMERICAN MADE.

We all experience some highs and lows throughout the longevity of our professional careers. For Barry Seal (Cruise), who is a pilot that is recruited into the CIA by agent Monty Schafer (Gleeson), not even the sky is a limitation to the highs that will be achieved in the course of his employment. But as they say, what goes up must come down. AMERICAN MADE exposes the details behind Barry Seal’s covert assignments, which are all connected to the political landscape of the United States during the late 70’s and early 80’s.

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The majority of you are probably well aware of the secret dealings and the scandal that rocked The White House during President Reagan’s reign. Even if there are no new revelations in this area of the story for you, AMERICAN MADE is entirely fascinating to watch courtesy of its lead character’s mind blowing involvement and the outrageous trajectory his life and career take. Seriously, the manner in which this man is pinballed around by several reputable agencies simply needs to be seen in order to be believed!

Director Doug Liman, who previously collaborated with Cruise in EDGE OF TOMORROW, has skilfully produced AMERICAN MADE to be a slick and amusing affair. Considering that the situations Barry Seal faces warrant a tense viewing experience, the fact that Liman has rightly identified an opportunity to apply levity to Seal’s precarious journey is credibility to his vision and execution as director. The screenplay by Gary Spinelli, which was featured on the 2014 Black List of most liked unproduced film scripts, articulates all of its remarkable detail with real precision and clarity. Complementing the writing work is the perfectly pitched pacing, several impressively filmed flight sequences and the locations used for filming (in Colombia and the U.S). 

AMERICAN MADE is the more chilled-out and less action-packed cousin of WAR DOGS.

3 ½ stars


On a side note, a small mention should go to a couple of crew members who tragically lost their lives on the last day of filming in a plane crash. Rest in peace, stunt pilot Alan D. Purwin and co-pilot Carlos Berl.

Viewer Discretion/ MA15+ (Strong coarse language) 

Trailer / AMERICAN MADE

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

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MAUDIE

Director / Aisling Walsh (SONG FOR A RAGGY BOY)
Stars/ Sally Hawkins, Ethan Hawke, Kari Matchett and Gabrielle Rose

MAUDIE paints an intimate portrait of a 1930’s Nova Scotia woman who was born with a severe form of arthritis that increasingly limits her physical abilities. Residing with an over-protective Aunt (Gabrielle Rose), Maudie (portrayed by Sally Hawkins from BLUE JASMINE and HAPPY GO-LUCKY) is determined to move out and live an independent life. An opportunity to do so arrives in the form of a reclusive and gruff man named Everett (Ethan Hawke), who needs a housekeeper. As Everett reluctantly hires Maudie, he finds himself developing feelings for her while Maudie discovers her love of and talent for painting, which begins to catapult her to fame within the small community.


There really is only one actress who was ever truly destined to portray Maudie Lewis as genuinely and affectionately as this. That is of course Sally Hawkins, who gives an Oscar-worthy and utterly brilliant performance. Director Aisling Walsh, who previously worked with Hawkins in 2005 TV Mini-Series Fingersmith, clearly knows this too, having confirmed that Sally Hawkins was the first name that she had penned for the lead role. She is indeed the bee’s knees of this Irish/Canadian co-production.

This gently paced and tenderly rendered biography film dedicates virtually all of its duration to the journey and the battles experienced by its titular character. Maudie is an admirable woman who is content in appreciating life’s most simple necessities, with an adorable sense of humour and a warm smile always in tact. As such, the ability for audiences to grow affection for her requires zero effort. It is here though it should be mentioned that the same cannot be applied to any other character in this film. Everett isn’t a character that will win many people over. He isn’t just rude and nasty, he’s also a chauvinist. The script does clarify why Maudie cares to be with him, however it doesn’t fully form Ethan Hawke’s character enough to justify his (sometimes extreme) temperament and behaviour. Furthermore, several other supporting characters are too one-dimensionally conceived and woodenly acted. Even a few sub-plots don’t entirely convince as a result of the screenplay’s tendency to avoid certain details that are essential to know.

Picturesquely filmed in Newfoundland and Labrador, MAUDIE remains absolutely worth watching for Sally Hawkins’ performance alone. She committed to several weeks of physically and mentally tiring training in order to transform herself. A sure bet to be an Oscar-nominee in February 2018!

3 stars

Viewer Discretion/ PG (Mild themes and sexual references) 

Trailer / MAUDIE

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

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