Steven Soderbergh shot his latest new thriller entirely on an iPhone 7 in just over a week, something hailed as a breakthrough. “I think this is the future,” he’s been quoted as saying. Maybe… but the movie itself is less of an advance on anything, especially in the wake of #metoo. And after an initially promising start, it retreats into well-worn “damsel-in-danger” shocker territory, adding a distinctly retrograde level of ugly violence as well. Still, if you’ve been hankering to see Netflix’s Queen Elizabeth (Claire Foy – giving it her all and looking anything but majestic) stab someone in the throat with a sharpened spoon, then you’re in the right spot. She’s plays a jittery young professional woman prone to panic attacks because of a previous stalking experience. She also has suicidal thoughts – something she probably shouldn’t have told the counsellor at the privately-run clinic she went along to for help. After signing “standard liability” paperwork, quick as flash she’s committed against her will in what appears to be a medical insurance scam. Once locked inside she finds her stalker (Joshua Leonard) working as a nurse – or is she really insane? The violence escalates to nauseating levels towards the end, and some of the quite ludicrous “this can’t be really happening” a plot holes Soderbergh teases us with are left unsatisfactorily explained. This time the script isn’t one of this prolific and highly esteemed filmmaker’s own. Perhaps he needed another week to actually read it. MA15+ from April 25 at Palace Norton Street Palace Central and Dendy Newtown. ★★
Last Flag Flying
Its Anzac Day release was probably a coincidence, but a fortuitous one – for Last Flag Flying squarely addresses what going off to fight in other people’s wars does to men. In it Richard Linklater brings together three marine vets some 35 years after they served together in Vietnam – the conflict that still, all these years later, defines our understanding of the futility of war. None have had any contact since their less-than-glorious service together. Sal (Bryan Cranston) is now a boozy but ebullient bar-owner, a line of work chosen no doubt so that he didn’t have to walk far to pour his breakfast. The once wild Mueller “The Mauler” (Laurence Fishburne) has become a pious Baptist priest, and the youngest Larry, or “Doc” (Steve Carrell) – who we soon learn served time in the brig and was dishonourably discharged, is a softly-spoken family man who has been quietly respectable ever since. But he’s just been hit by a tragic double-whammy, his beloved wife has died of cancer and his son killed while serving as a marine in Iraq.
Needing support he seeks out his old buddies and the three re-unite to bury the boy at Arlington. The way this solemn mission goes spectacularly awry and their sparring reminiscences along the way, all tinged with a salty, bittersweet humour, form the basis of an unlikely and shambolic road movie. Despite some hi-jinks, the mood is forlorn and melancholic, and all of these middle-aged men are preoccupied with the passage of time and regret for paths not taken. It’s hard to imagine that this is also a comedy – a terrific and sometimes deeply moving one. And a significant addition to that recent cannon of American war films, ones that can manage patriotism and mateship with sensitivity and maturity, without any of the tub-thumbing moralism that usually accompanies the genre. M from April 25 at Palace Norton Street, Palace Central, Broadway, Burwood, Rhodes and Dendy Newtown. ★★★★
Also opening this week
You can read our ★★★★★ verdict of Loveless here (“you’re unlikely see a better film this year”), but we’ve nothing to say about the week’s other big film Avengers: Infinity War, as we’re not on Disney’s media list… Clearly an oversight! A weird culture-war hullabaloo erupted over its release on Anzac Day – completely ignoring the fact that all distributors brought their normal Thursday releases forward to capitalise on the public holiday. Also in limited arthouse release (including Dendy Newtown) and well worth checking out, Gurumul.
Reviews – Russell Edwards