Jasper Jones, directed by Rachel Perkins (Bran Nue Dae), and adapted from the beloved novel of the same name by Australian author, Craig Silvey, feels like a thematic cousin to 2015’s The Dressmaker, where terrible secrets are hidden beneath the squeaky-clean façade of a rural township. Bigotry, family violence, racism, alienation, cruel gossip, adultery and death – if you thought Harry Potter had to deal with some dark and sinister shit in his formative years, you should try being a kid living in the fictional town of Corrigan in 1969.
Bookish thirteen-year-old Charlie Bucktin (Levi Miller) is suddenly awakened by the mysterious Jasper Jones (Aaron L. McGrath) tapping desperately at his bedroom window, begging for Charlie’s help. Charlie follows Jasper to a secluded glen and makes a horrific discovery. In the days that follow, and weighed down by his secret, Charlie tries to navigate his loyalty to Jasper, his fledgling romance with Eliza Wishart (Angourie Rice, The Nice Guys), his fraught relationship with his mother (the always excellent Toni Collette), and the reaction of the townsfolk to the sudden disappearance of Eliza’s sister, Laura.
Casting kids as leads can often make or break a film, and each of the young actors rise to the occasion, dealing with some pretty heavy subject matter, while holding their own against acting royalty, Collette and Hugo Weaving (as Mad Jack Lionel). Jasper Jones is a great new Australian film well worth your support.
Hidden Figures is the true story of three black female mathematicians – Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson – working at NASA in the early 1960s. A wonderful and warm film, its only fault is its heavy reliance on conventional biopic techniques. But you know what they say: if it ain’t broke, don’t overcomplicate a film about maths. That standard movie formula works for a reason: it lets its stars shine. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and acting newcomer Janelle Monaé, infuse the film with a hypnotically watchable dynamism. Monaé is a talent to watch (she also appeared in this year’s Best Picture winner, Moonlight), but Henson is the blazing force, fluctuating between compassion and strength, dedication and exhaustion often all within a single arch of her brow.
Surprisingly, the most satisfying scene in the film doesn’t belong to Henson (though in a just world her outburst about institutionalised racism would’ve garnered her another Oscar nomination). Instead, it’s a small, subtle scene that has the most staying power: Dorothy’s superior (Kirsten Dunst, doing her usual detached, aloof routine, thus continuously feeling out of place) says, upon encountering Dorothy in a newly un-segregated bathroom, “Despite what you may think, I have nothing against y’all.” Dorothy (a terrifically in-command Spencer) calmly straightens her back and, with enough sincerity to cut through to the core of two years of #OscarsSoWhite controversy in a single sentence, says: “I know. I know you probably believe that.”
There’s a tendency for us as audiences to assume that the salient features of human drama are the distinct events or plot points tying a story together. In Hollywood films, the mild-mannered secretary in one scene can become a boisterous personal trainer in the next. What we sometimes forget to realise is that it isn’t plot points that make a resonant story, but the journey and development from one plot point to the next.
Toni Erdmann is a film that is keenly aware of this, and draws 2 hours and 40 minutes out of what could conventionally be an hour and a half story, exploring an aging prankster father assuming a ridiculous alternate identity to reconnect with his business-minded daughter. Do not expect a Mrs. Doubtfire-style setup. Toni Erdmann is grittier, smarter and honest to a fault.
Due to the running time, these characters extend beyond caricature into honest and pathos-driven portrayals, tested against many different backdrops, conversations and contexts. Most of these are interesting, but at other times it’s hard to give a damn whether a Romanian oil company is going to outsource its labour or not. Toni Erdmann is a testing film for the characters and for the audience, but is peppered with incredibly real and genuine moments, all well-deserved and occasionally, beautiful.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Jesuit monks, Spider-Man and Kylo Ren travel to 17th century Japan to spread the word of Jesus and find Qui-Gon Jinn who is being tortured by a brutal Buddhist regime. Yes, well done. I am in fact talking about Martin Scorsese’s passion project Silence, starring Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver. Adapted from Shusaku Endo’s critically acclaimed 1966 novel, Silence is a meditation on the nature of faith in the face of great suffering. Throughout history, Christians (believers and non-believers) have been tested and forced to bear witness to terrible crimes perpetrated for or against their own kind in the name of faith.
Garfield does a tremendous job to shoulder such a heavy concept throughout this film without it ever becoming a true weight on the audience’s patience, and Scorsese’s masterful direction allows us to savour Japan as it once was.
Occasionally, Silence struggles to maintain momentum, and certain key scenes fail to possess the gravity they need, but these criticisms seem minor when compared to the larger scope of the story, and the way in which the plot tenderly unfurls.
In a time when established major religions are treated by many with suspicion, it’s refreshing to see a film dealing with characters’ intimate and personal relationships to their faith, the effects it has on them as individuals, and the people, and world around them.
I’ll admit I was pretty sceptical going into this film. I already had my ‘cringe-o-meter’ set to High, expecting a piece of blatant Oscar-bait (or at the very least, an exploitative feature-length advertisement for Google Earth). However, Australian director Garth Edwards presents a confident, sensitive and emotionally complex story of family and identity.
Based on the autobiography A Long Way Home, Lion details the journey of Saroo Brierley (newcomer Sunny Pawar) who, at five years old, is separated from his older brother at a train station in India while looking for work. A lost Saroo boards a train and unwittingly ends up 1,500 kilometres from his mother and his home. Somehow surviving the terrifying streets of Kolkata, Saroo is eventually adopted by the Brierley family from Tasmania. As he enters adulthood, Saroo (Dev Patel) is determined to piece together fragments of his memory with the assistance of new technology, in search of his former life and home.
Lion boasts some exceptional performances, especially from Pawar, Patel and Nicole Kidman (as Saroo’s adoptive mother, Sue Brierley). The production itself effortlessly evokes a sense of time and place, ensuring the film rarely succumbs to the stylistic perils of flashbacks. Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka’s Oscar-nominated piano-based score emanates a palpably haunting, cyclical quality, which echoes the heaviness of Saroo’s ‘lost years’. Lion celebrates connectedness, family and pure determination. A profoundly moving film.