Local cinemas this week

Two movie about the perils of show-biz fame open this week, one of them a misunderstood masterpiece

Vox Lux

Brady Corbet’s provocative first feature, The Childhood of a Leader astounded critics and festival-goers in 2015, but was completely overlooked by everyone else – the fate of most “difficult” art-house films that lack big name stars and easily digestible ideas. There’s no chance his follow-up Vox Lux will be ignored by anyone, not with Natalie Portman tearing into her role as a bitchy pop-goddess with reckless abandon, a perfect Jude Law chewing up the scenery as her wise-arse manager and a truely wonderful soundtrack featuring the infectious pop songs of Sia. And it has more ideas about the destructive nature of show biz stardom and the relentless role of late capitalism in shaping our emotions and fears and spitting them out as product than almost any other movie in recent memory – certainly that pile of mush up for Best Picture A Star is Born (incredibly, still in cinemas 4 months after its release). But will it get the critical love and mass audience it so justly deserves? Hmmm, that  59% Rotten Tomatoes rating signifies something, so probably not…

The film opens mysteriously and then after a while, a full credits roll runs backwards (no chance we’re in for anything conventional here). Suddenly we’re in a high school, and a horrifying mass shooting. One teenage girl doesn’t cower in terror, but stands before the masked killer and suggests they pray. Kabaam! She’s the sweet and shy talented singer Celeste (Raffey Cassidy), and she survives, though with a bullet embedded in her neck – crippled physically and emotionally. We only find how much damage was done 17 years later when, as full-blown drug-snorting, boozy superstar (modelled on the 80s Madonna, or maybe Lady Gaga) with an aggressively potty mouth and bad attitude, she’s gloriously played by Portman. (In a neat touch, her teenage daughter is now Cassidy). Her inseparable older sister (Stacy Martin) the gifted song writer who helped kick-start her younger pop career is still around mostly acting as a surrogate mum, though their relationship and their lives are train wrecks.

The story, which incredibly includes a second act of terrorism, is told in distinct segments, all announced with sardonic voice-overs from Willem Dafoe. They’re all quite unnerving and edgy, though the third act focussing of the pop-icon’s erratic behaviour, seems at first to have a familiar arc. It’s entertaining, sure, smartly sarcastic and acerbic, and we’re being lulled into thinking that we know where where its going. Celeste will self-destruct, right – just like Bradley Cooper’s Jackson Maine and so many other show-biz cliches before him… Then comes the final act with its extended footage of a fantastic stadium concert, which turns everything on its head. Or does it? Vox Lux is an audacious, thoughtful and provocative work not afraid to ruffle feathers and confound expectations. You’ll find plenty of reviewers scratching their head in befuddled confusion at this ambitious masterful film. Ignore them, and miss it at your peril… MA15+ from Feb 21. Local cinemas include Palace Norton St and Dendy Newtown ★★★★1/2

Also opening this week

The only other art-house film this week is also about show-biz stardom, though it couldn’t be more different to the unpredictable and refreshingly original Vox Lux.

Steve CooganJohn C Reilly and a ton of make-up, play the two now nearly-forgotten comedians of yesteryear, Laurel and Hardy in Jon S. Baird’s Stan & Ollie. It’s the sort of a show-biz tale that has been told many time before, and it’s pleasant enough. Though only those “of a certain age” (are their any left alive?) or at least viewers with a particular interest in classic Hollywood cinema are likely to get much out of it. The film focuses on the stars’ later lean period in the early 50s during a tour of small regional theatres in Britain, and brings up tensions and long-suppressed resentments between the hopelessly co-dependent pair. All sweetly resolved by the end, as nicely as expected… PG at Palace Norton St, Central, Burwood, Rhodes, Auburn and Dendy Newtown ★★★

Reviews – Russell Edwards