Local cinemas this week

Finding Your Feet

There is a market for movies about baby boomers rediscovering their “true adventurous selves” after they’re firmly stuck in Centrelink’s clutches – and you’ll see them at the daytime weekday sessions of Palace and Dendy cinemas. Usually on discount day. Some of them, like “Bif” (Imre Celia) in 71-year-old director Richard Loncraine’s latest excursion into this turf will sport a discreet splash of brightly coloured hair – just to show how free spirited and wild they really are. And some of these films (the Marigold Hotel franchise for example) can be enjoyable enough. But why oh why do so many have to rely heavily on cliché and plots that signals every blindingly obvious move? There will always be a Viagra “joke”. Then a frisky but creaky romp between the sheets (well under them, phew) by someone who then promptly expires (with a smile on their face, natch). And someone will still smoke (or grow) something called “wacky baccy” just like they did in the swinging 60s…

The plot here has Bif’s stitched-up and recently cuckolded sister Sandra (Imelda Staunton) move into her council flat (fortunately Bif has a spare bedroom, as so many single pensioner council flats do) and open up to new love (Timothy Spall – yes really, and well, he lives on a barge in a bohemian houseboat – as you do, so why not). One wiff of “medicinal” weed and Sandra rediscovers her love of dancing, joins a septuagenarian group whose one public flash dance “goes viral” (as so often happens!) and they all get invited to perform at the Rome Biennale (yes that happens a lot too) with an all-expenses paid jaunt thrown in (ditto). Then, as always in these movies, one of the old codgers will cough, a few scenes later complain they’re “tired” and conveniently die peacefully in bed (as you do) at a plot point of maximum calculated pathos.

Must have been all that wacky baccy.

M at Palace Norton Street, Palace Central, Dendy Newtown, Broadway, Burwood and Rhodes from Feb 22 1/2

A Fantastic Woman

Historians and sociologists will one day no doubt explain why transgender issues are such a popular media topic all of a sudden (there two new movies about the subject at the 2018 French Film Festival alone). But meanwhile, writers have rich new lodes in which to mine fascinating new dramas. The one Chilean director Sebastián Lelio (Gloria) tells, about a woman grieving for her suddenly dead lover and being shunned by his family because she “stole” a good man away from a respectable family would normally be a banal one. That happens all the time, and tensions at funerals occur wherever marital relationships have been fractured. Except in this case the other woman, Marina, is a man. Daniela Vega plays her as stony faced and stoic, even when she’s been teased for her sturdy football-player legs or enduring an intrusive medical inspection under the voyeuristic eye of the police – curious about whether or not she’s had the snip. Her much older bf Orlando (Francisco Reyes) died in odd circumstance – he carked it post coitus, and everyone is suspicious of Marina – especially Orlando’s ex and his adult children. Not that Marina actually wants a lot, the film ambles along without much happening. A succession of boorish, bigoted straight people are mean to her, but the movie fails a bit by presenting this situation in “good vs bad” didactic form. There are no shades of grey here, and we are being told what to think. Marina herself is also a blank canvas. We know nothing of her life or past struggles other that what her mostly expressionless face shows – she’s “fantastic” apparently, just for being trans. Ok, got it, but it does makes for a curiously unemotional, and ultimately uninvolving movie. She is a great singer though – and the operatic solo she performs at the end is pitch perfect. Actually the music is sublime. Maybe that alone makes her fantastic. M at Dendy Newtown and Palace Central from Feb 22. ★★★1/2

Also opening this week

It is my melancholic and unpatriotic duty to report (after Swinging Safari) yet another truly woeful Aussie comedy has landed with a dull thud. The BBQ’s publicity material mentions The Castle a lot, but don’t be fooled, no one escapes this burnt sausage of a disaster with their reputations intact. Certainly not Shane Jacobson or Magda Szubanski , and the problem is the material they’re given to work with – curiously credited to no less than five writers. Perhaps one of them (or someone in our film funding bodies) should be sent off to see the only other comedy opening this week, Game Night. It’s a tightly written genre piece which sizzles with energy and wit. Unfortunately (at the time of writing) I’m not supposed to say more, as weirdly, it has a review embargo in place. Normally distributors only do that when they know they have a dud on their hands. This week they applied the ban to the wrong film.

ReviewsRussell Edwards