BAD EDUCATION (2019)

dir. Cory Finley. Based on a New York mazing article, about the true story of embezzlement in the New York public school system. Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney both give excellent, believable performances as the school administrators who defraud the public school system. The film definitely has a TV movie feel to it, with the visual style, and simple presentation of the story, but the performances from Jackman and Janney make it an entertaining watch. The most interesting part of the film is watching the school board make their way through the decision to cover up the initial crime, and the mental gymnastics that they go through to justify it. I was hoping for something more daring from the director of the excellent THOROUGHBREDS (2017).

THE ASSISTANT (2019)

dir. Kitty Green. A day in the life drama of Jane (Julia Garner), a personal assistant to a misogynistic and abusive film company executive. Wonderful first feature narrative film from Melbourne born filmmaker and Victorian College of the Arts graduate Kitty Green. Julia Garner as Jane is worlds away from her famous role as the tough-as-nails crime figure in TV series ‘Ozark’, but she’s just as watchable and moving in this minimalist office drama. It’s a pretty devastating portrayal of an office culture that protects powerful men, at the expense of young women, and bullies anyone who dares to speak up, threatening their future prospects and livelihoods. The main theme is the how the Harvey Weinstein stand-in character defines Janes existence in the company, but it also does a great job of demonstrating how dehumanising a workplace can be when people are not looking out for one another. The wonderful Matthew Macfadyen (Tom in HBO’s Succession) has an excellent scene with Jane. There is almost no music, and very little dialogue, but the cumulative effect of the film is very impressive, giving an almost forensic view into a dysfunctional industry, and the human cost.

SWALLOW (2019)

dir. Carlo Mirabella-Davis. Hunter (Haley Bennett) is a newlywed, living with her husband in a beautiful glass house on the Hudson River in upstate New York. Her wealthy new family are loathsome, and Hunter copes by swallowing inedible objects, later diagnosed as a Pica disorder. A remarkable looking film, for such a difficult subject, their family home is as beautiful as the one in EX MACHINA (2015). More of a tense drama than a horror film, although there are some scenes of animal slaughter, and surgery that give the aesthetic of horror. Haley Bennett is remarkable, and is on camera for almost every shot. She reacts so honestly and believably to the oppressive, suffocating world around her, that it’s understandable, even perversely logical, why she makes her choices. The supporting cast includes David Rasche as the boorish father-in-law, a wonderful actor, and featured in some of the best TV series made, including ‘Succession’, ‘Veep’, and ‘Rubicon’. This is director Carlo Mirabella-Davis’s first feature, and it’s remarkable, definitely a name to watch.

EXTREME JOB (극한직업)(2019)

dir. Byeong-heon Lee. An action comedy, about a team of narcotics detectives try and take down a gangster, by renting out a failing fried chicken shop across the road from the gang, knowing the criminals are the only patrons of the shop. The second most successful Korean film in Korean cinema history, surpassed only by PARASITE (2019). I suspect there are a lot of Korean cultural specific jokes that are lost in translation, but to me this was painfully unfunny. The action scenes are tedious. I was hoping for a Stephen Chow style madcap action comedy, but this is not that.

PALM BEACH (2019)

dir. Rachel Ward. A group of old friends gather to celebrate a birthday, set in a very wealthy part of Sydney, the idyllic suburb of Palm Beach. The location is certainly stunning, but I found the film unsatisfying, and often dull. The story is a slickly presented soap opera, with a complex web of partners, ex-partners, adopted children, squabbles about money, and hidden health issues. Some of the friend group is also extremely wealthy, and the series of closeups on bottles of Dom Pérignon gets tiresome. It does make me miss the northern beaches of Sydney, which are beautiful.

ALADDIN (2019)

dir. Guy Ritchie. Local pickpocket falls in love with a Princess, frees a magic Genie, then uses wishes to transform himself into a fictional Prince, to win the heart of the beautiful Princess Jasmine. The Alan Menken songs from the original 1992 animated film are still wonderful, and the two young leads Naomi Scott and Mena Massoud are bright and charismatic enough to carry them off. The new song for Jasmine ‘Speechless’ fits in well with the other songs. There is something off about the visual look of the film, maybe the obvious use of sound stages, or the boring cinematography, but the whole look feels a bit like a cheap TV movie, which is very odd. It’s inexplicable that Guy Ritchie did not lean more into Bollywood style dance numbers, of which there is only one. The friendship between Genie and Aladdin caught me off guard, and is very touching at the end. This must be Will Smith’s funniest role in years, I was super skeptical when he was cast, but he’s great. Jafar is by far the weakest character, he’s supposed to be mysterious and dangerous, but he is mostly played for laughs. 

1917 (2019)

dir. Sam Mendes. Presented as one continuous take. First World War, Northern France, two British soldiers are dispatched on a dangerous mission to deliver orders to stop a planned attack, which would result in up to 1,600 soldiers being killed in a trap. Technically very clever, although I don’t understand what the continuous take does to improve the story, or build tension, especially when there are several moments that make it obvious that there is a break in shooting. The two main actors give a subtle naturalistic performance, but it’s not really an actors film, for the most part I was just admiring the landscape and the detail of the sets. There are a couple of exceptions, a wonderful moment in the basement of a bombed out building, and the finale which manages to merge the technical brilliance, with some surprising moments of humanity. Another strong moment is the banter between the two soldiers about the importance of military medals and honours, which has some of the best dialogue in the film. Sam Mendes best film since ROAD TO PERDITION (2002) perhaps? Are the reflections of the falling flares an homage to Tarkovsky’s IVAN’S CHILDHOOD (1962)?

MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL (2019)

dir. Joachim Rønning. Just like previous title, I enjoyed this much more than I expected. Where the first film was about Maleficent embracing Aurora as her daughter, this film is about Aurora falling in love, and how that complicates her relationship with Maleficent. Michelle Pfeiffer is perfect as the evil Queen/Mother-in-Law, and Robert Lindsay (who played the Ben Harper in long running U.K. comedy series ‘My Family’) is just ok as the not too bright King John. The plot is more complicated than the first film, and get needlessly confusing at times. Just like the first film, I wish there was more time given to watching Maleficent being her bad-ass self, when she is making sarcastic jokes, or interacting with Aurora, the film is at its best. The ending is genuinely sweet.

FORD V FERRARI (2019)

dir. James Mangold. Super entertaining, the 2½ hours flies by, and I’m not even close to a motorsport fan. Matt Damon gives his standard Matt Damon performance, but Christian Bale is excellent as the prickly genius British racing car driver. It reminded me a lot of MONEYBALL (2011), in that it’s a sports drama, that is simultaneously a business case study drama. There is as much or more story devoted to corporate rivalry and strategy, than there is about car racing. The few interactions between Enzo Ferrari, and Ken Miles (Christian Bale) are lovely. The 1960s designs, and seamless background special effects are spot-on, and bode very well for Mangold’s upcoming Indiana Jones film.

VIVARIUM (2019)

dir. Lorcan Finnegan. Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg, who previously starred together in the excellent black comedy THE ART OF SELF-DEFENSE (2019), play a couple looking for a house, when they become involved in a ‘Black Mirror’ or ‘The Twilight Zone’ type mysterious drama. The core concept becomes pretty tiresome pretty quickly, and feels like a short film stretched out to a feature. The art style however is extraordinary. Many shots look like Edward Hopper or René Magritte paintings.