Local cinemas this week

Movie of the week: Lean on Pete

Did Andrew Haigh’s first US feature have the usual “no animals were hurt…” disclaimer in the credits? I didn’t notice, I was probably still mopping away tears. But I hope so, because one particular shocking scene, which comes right out of the blue about two-thirds of the way in, left me gutted. There’s not a lot of action in the rest of the film, which is typical of Haigh’s (Weekend, 45 Years) usual slow and deliberately paced style. Small, intimate canvasses are this Yorkshire director’s usual thing, but he’s also not averse to painful emotion. And even without that shocking scene, it might be wise to bring tissues. For this is no simple, uplifting Seabiscuit story of a boy and his horse. In fact it’s a powerful personal saga which deserves way more exposure than its modest release will give it, one that also convincingly establishes Charlie Plummer (All the Money in the World) as a stunning new young talent.

He’s Charley Thompson here, a neglected 15-year-old with a hard-drinking, irresponsible dad (Vikings star and Australia’s own Travis Fimmel) living on the scrappy margins of Portland, Oregon. After a brawl incapacitates his dad, Charley finds a more stable “home” of sorts, working in the stables of a small time horse-owner Del (Steve Buscemi), who ekes out a precarious living on the provincial race circuit by doping his horses up with amphetamines. He quickly becomes friends with one of the horses, an ageing quarter horse called “Lean on Pete”, even though Del’s rough-and-ready “tough-love” dispensing jockey (Chloe Sevigny) warns him not to get attached. “They’re not pets,” she tells him, though when the redundant nag is due to be despatched to Mexico and turned into dog meat, Charley has a brain snap and takes off with him.

Into the vast US badlands – those sweeping majestic, big-sky, wide-open plains European filmmakers always seem find so majestic. They’re gloriously filmed here too, though Haigh is also fascinated by the travails of the American underclass, whose hard-scrabble existence has no European-style welfare safety net. The harshness of life in the “land of the free” often shocks Australians too, on the rare occasions they get to see it, and Charley, on his own (with a horse!) is at the mercy of both the elements and the reactions of the sometimes violent strangers he encounters. Can he locate his lost aunt in Wyoming and avoid the tragic fate that seems inevitable? This is a magnificent, deeply moving tale about the journey of a boy to find his place in the world. It may be getting a criminally limited release – but do try to catch it. M from Nov 29. Local cinemas include Palace Norton St, Central  and Dendy Newtown ★★★★1/2

Creed 2

Ok, so it’s about boxing (hey – “no humans were hurt during the making of this motion picture”) and a lot of people don’t like boxing movies… Including my dutiful previewing companion, who made a distasteful gesture when I asked if she wanted to come with me to the latest Rocky last week – incredibly the eighth. Strangely though, she missed one of the nicest, sweetest and most romantic movies of the year. No, there’s no funny business between the ageing Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and his protege Adonis Creed (Michael B Jordan), although their fraternal relationship really is quite touching enough. A lot of the softening is due to fact that Stallone’s character is so much more likeable now that he’s older and craggier. Wiser too – who could argue with advice like, “Sometimes when you want to make a change, you have to change things,” especially when uttered in a manly low growl.

It’s what goes on between Adonis and his new wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) that will really melt hearts, and should win over female viewers dragged along to the multiplex, probably in protest (“You owe me one!”) by their boyfriends. Although right at the start Bianca gets to utter one of the most unromantic lines I’ve ever heard in a movie, by asking him, “Did you have a shit?” – a reference to a bout of nervous pre-match diarrhoea he suffered in Creed (he had, phew). Later she’s pregnant, they have a daughter, and there are problems and tears, of course there are… Throughout it all he suffers a professional defeat too, a crisis in confidence and then an impossible challenge from a Ukrainian bruiser called Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) who’s the size of a semi-trailer – and son of the man (Dolph Lundgren) who killed his own father in the ring in Rocky IV, so yes, its personal… Throughout it all he has to work out – what sort of man, father, husband and fighter, he really is.

Jordan’s acting chops showed last time that he could carry us on the ride necessary to believe in and indeed love this character, and he does so again with consummate practised ease. As well new director Steven Caple Jr proves a deft orchestrator of emotions – and there are quite a few scenes dealing with pain, uncertainty, relationships and intimacy – you know, “chicks’ flicks” stuff. There’s the fighting stuff too (spoiler alert!) – but you know how that goes down, presumably. Funnily enough if only more women did go along, get beyond the view that somehow the masculinity on display was “toxic”, they might even get a glimmer of an understanding of what it is to be a man. M from Nov 29. Local cinemas include Palace Norton St, Central, Rhodes, Burwood and Auburn ★★★★

Normandy Nude

A recent French TV series on SBS was simply called Nude – an extended joke around one nutty idea: A future progressive (but scarily authoritarian) government has decreed that in the name of complete openness and transparency, clothing is banned and all French citizens must be nude in public. At least it made for an original joke, but anyone still watching for the flesh and dangly bits of the very game actors of all shapes and sizes beyond a couple of episodes probably needed to make an appointment with Dr Freud. Unfortunately there’s nothing so original in writer-director Philippe Le Guay’s latest movie, which also features a whole bunch of naked Frenchmen (and women). But despite the title, there’s surprising little actual nudity. As a disgruntled Hollywood Reporter reviewer complained, “there’s about five seconds of flopping genitals in the whole film.”

Essentially its another version of Full Monty/Calendar Girls – with a bunch of crusty oversized yokels getting their kit off for a cause. Well-told, there is nothing necessarily wrong with rehashing this old chestnut, and Normandy Nude gets off to a promising start. It has the advantage of being set in a gorgeous part of the world, but those picture-perfect Normandy farming communities are also being economically decimated by globalisation. The blockades and demos over farm prices led by a dedicated mayor Georges (The IntouchablesFrancois Cluzet) are being ignored, however when a visiting American photographer (Toby Jones) famous for staging mass nude photos (he’s loosely based on Spencer Tunick) takes a fancy to the locale, Georges quickly seizes on the idea as a political statement. All he has to do is cajole and persuade others to join in.

Being French, most need no encouragement, but there are ferocious hold-outs too, like the butcher (Gegory Gadebois) who can’t bear others seeing his lovely curvaceous wife, and the teen-age daughter (Francois-Xavier Demaison) of a pair of urbane tree-changers irked by her baby boomer mum’s nudity. Other odd issues and ancient grudges arise. Hi jinks and genial drama follows…

A little too genial for my taste, though that’s Le Guay’s (The Women on the 6th Floor) style. But in this case the various story strands don’t hang together particular well. The “money shot”, when it finally does come after multiple mishaps including (rather jarringly an attempted suicide) and a false start – naturally has a thoroughly uplifting and wholesome “body positive” message. If you’d just prefer the wobbly bits, try SBS OnDemand.  M from Nov 29. Local cinemas include Palace Norton St and Palace Central ★★★

Also opening this week

Anna and the Apocalypse is the high-school musical/flesh-eating zombie mash-up you didn’t realise you were waiting for, apparently, and it’s at Dendy Newtown. Also The Grinch and Sorry to Bother You

Reviews – Russell Edwards