Local cinemas this week

It’s a remarkably strong week for arthouse and indie releases – all screening at Dendy Newtown

Movie of the week: Galveston

Roy Cady (Ben Foster, Hell or High Water) is an angry two-bit crim and violent hitman, the silent but deadly type we’ve seen before in tough American crime thrillers. He’s a hard case alright – early on when he’s diagnosed with lung cancer his bad-assed response is to storm out of the hospital and light up a cigarette. Well, you would, wouldn’t you? Later though, after viciously extracting himself from a mob set-up that was supposed to leave him dead, he reveals a softer side. Spotting a young hooker at the scene inadvertently caught up in the mayhem, he decides to save her. Turns out she’s “Rocky”, Elle Fanning, doing that doe-eyed seductive thing she perfected in The Neon Demon. Pretty soon the gruff and reckless Roy is not only looking after a vulnerable 19-year-old, but also her 3-year old “little sister” who the tougher-than-she-looks Rocky rescues from their violent and sexually abusive stepfather – by shooting him dead.

So far, so-hard-boiled – things can’t possibly work out for these damaged and doomed low-lifes, could they? Not with both the cops and Roy’s mobster boss (Beau Bridges) on their tail. This all does seem like odd material for Mélanie Laurent, the French director best known for her breakout acting role in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds. Though European filmmakers are often drawn to the American badlands for grungy stories, and this one from a book by True Detective’s Nic Pizzolatto is as about feral as they come.

It’s moody middle section is probably its best, as the two main characters take stock and get to know and care about each other, and for a while it seems there’s even a slight chance of redemption possible for Roy – slowly revealing himself to be a good guy after all. Just a chance, mind you, the idea of a happy ending in a movie marked mainly by its uncompromising brutality seems pretty remote. It’s all quite stylishly done though, the sweet, gentle-looking Laurent certainly proves she has an unlikely talent for staging viscerally violent action and setting up starkly shocking scenes. Throughout it all, Foster and Fanning give impassioned, thoroughly impressive performances. Fans of hard-edged noir, squalid punchy thrillers, or anyone convinced that the world is a dark and irredeemably bad place are all advised to pack their bags for Galveston. But bring tissues too, for it has a final revelatory scene that is both poignant and surprisingly touching. MA15+ from April 4 at Dendy Newtown  ★★★★ View the trailer

Also opening this week

Palace’s programming is still dominated by the always popular Alliance Francaise French Film Festival, which wraps up next Wednesday April 10, so most of the new adventurous fare is over at Dendy NewtownJonah Hill’s directing debut Mid90s  starring Lucas Hedges and impressive young newcomer Sonny Suljic (above) is a nostalgic and immensely promising coming of age teen drama entered around a small group of teenage skateboarders. It’s being widely hailed as a triumph, and I’ll happily agree (review coming soon). Sadly there was no chance to catch Woman at War (also screening at Palace Norton St) from Iceland’s Benedikt Erlingsson, whose droll Of Horses and Men was such a crowd-pleasing hit at the 2014 Sydney Film Festival. Its distributor doesn’t seem to have us on their mailing list for screeners or previews. Paramount didn’t give us a chance to see Pet Sematary either, but then, I can just remember what its about from the terrifying 1989 original, and I’ve been putting the cat outside when I go to bed ever since. There’s yet another jokey superhero flick called Shazam! on everywhere, the sort of film being rolled into our multiplexes every second week. Can anyone keep up with what’s going on in the Marvel universe? Does anyone need to?

Don’t miss: Girl

Palace have announced the French Film Festival films they’re giving encore screenings to from April 11 to 14th, and predictably – they’re mostly frothy lightweight comedies. They make these decisions based on festival attendance figures, so fair enough – that’s what arthouse audiences like… But it is a pity that so many daring and worthy festival films are passed by every year with no distribution deals in place, and no chance of finding an audience. Case in point is Lukas Dhont’s empathetic but ultimately quite shocking film about a transgendered teenage dancer from Belgium. Based on a true story, Girl has been picked up by Netflix in the US (not so in Australia), though reportedly they’ve postponed it a few months while they work out what sort of trigger warnings they need to put in place. Towards the end (spoiler alert) the film contains a spectacularly gruesome act of self-harm. Does that make it “too dangerous to watch”, asks the New York Times? It’s actually a fair question, for this is a film which quite profoundly shook me up in a way even the most thoughtful and confrontational cinema rarely does these days. It would be a pity if either preconceived notions about trans people or the outrage surrounding the film means few ever get to see it. There’s still a few festival screenings at Palace Norton St, Central and Verona before it closes on April 10. Details here.

Reviews – Russell Edwards