Sunday, 15 October 2017

Blade Runner 2049

(MA15+) ★★★★½

Director: Denis Villeneuve.

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto.

"It sure is orange in here."

Is "belated sequel" a genre unto itself yet? We've had so many in recent years it feels like they could almost get their own category at the Razzie Awards.

But much like reboots and remakes and re-imaginings, belated sequels aren't necessarily automatically bad. For every Mad Max: Fury Road, there's a Tron: Legacy. For every Creed, there's a Dumb & Dumber To. For every T2 Trainspotting, there's a Zoolander 2. For every... you get the picture.

And here we are, 35 years after the original, looking at Blade Runner 2049, which is thankfully more Fury Road than Tron: Legacy. The reasons for this are many, but it comes down to a very sensible approach - this sequel understands what made the original so great and replicates (ahem) those qualities, not in a slavish way (like say The Force Awakens), but in a sympathetic and logical way (like Creed). It recaptures the tone and visual stylings, but also the deeper thematic layers of what it is to be human, the neo-noir-meets-sci-fi mash-up, the slower '80s-style pacing, and the all-too-uncommon trait these days of not treating your audience like idiots.

It's really hard to discuss the plot of Blade Runner 2049 without giving away any of its closely guarded secrets, but it's about a blade runner (a cop) called K (played by Gosling) who hunts down replicants (clones) that have strayed from their original purpose. K's run-in with one particular replicant sets him on an investigation that has the potential to start a war.

It could have been so easy for this to totally suck, but Blade Runner 2049 is damned good. It's a richer experience the more well-versed you are with the original, to the point where I wouldn't recommend seeing it if you haven't seen Ridley Scott's 1982 cult classic. A passing knowledge of the original is required, which may limit the audience on this, but let's remember that hardly anyone saw Blade Runner when it first came out anyway (in fact I sometimes get a sense it is one of the least watched of the bona fide post-1980 classics).

The trick with these belated sequels seems to be finding a balance between the old and the new, and Blade Runner 2049 nails that. Bringing back Harrison Ford as Deckard is the most obvious nod to the old (and the film could have felt like a cheap cash-in without his presence), but director Denis Villeneuve also demonstrates a deep understanding of the original's strengths. He gets the look, pacing, style, tone and themes note-perfect - from the lighting to the way the story flows, from the lingering shots and any-era production design, 2049 is cut from the same cloth of the original, which helps it feel like a natural progression.

But the new elements are even more impressive, and most of those come down to the plotting and the evolution of the Blade Runner world. The characters (in particular K), situations, and settings feel like extensions of everything Ridley Scott did. It bears noting that everyone in this film does a great job, but Gosling as K is particularly good.

Perhaps the best example of old-meets-new can be found in the score. Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch concoct something contemporary while remaining faithful to Vangelis' then-futuristic synthscapes, which perhaps says more about how pervasive old synths are in modern music that they can sound "contemporary".  Furthermore, the sound design (an under-rated aspect of filmmaking) is stunning in 2049.

It's hard to fault the film, although it will always be judged lesser by comparison with the original. It does lose its way towards the end, as if the film is unsure of how to climax, but for the most part it is gripping despite its length (two hours and forty minutes).

In many ways, Blade Runner 2049 is better than it should be, yet it seems obvious in hindsight that it would be as good as it is. It is a studied and intelligent sequel that feels natural, but best of all it feels necessary, which is a mighty feat for a belated sequel.

Monday, 9 October 2017


(M) ★★★★★

Director: Akira Kurosawa.

Cast: Takashi Shimura, Minoru Chiaki, Kichijiro Ueda, Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyō, Masayuki Mori, Noriko Honma, Daisuke Katō. 

"The shop that sells glowing swords is that way."

Sometimes films so fully capture an idea that the title becomes shorthand for the idea itself. Take for instance Groundhog Day, which as a phrase has come to mean reliving the same day over and over again. Or what about Sliding Doors? Everyone knows what "sliding doors" means as a philosophical idea (I still prefer the late great Terry Pratchett's term "the trousers of time"), even without having seen the film.

And then there's Rashomon, the hugely influential 1950 Japanese film which gave us the "Rashomon Effect", which refers to one story being told from different, often conflicting, perspectives.

Rashomon is an amazing film partly because of the psychological phenomenon and storytelling device it now lends its name too. But as much as it sparked a now an oft-emulated narrative technique, Rashomon itself is also an intriguing musing on the nature of perspective, truth, honour, memory, understanding, justice and even humanity itself. And this is what truly elevates Rashomon to those "best movies of all time" lists - it uses innovative and engaging cinematic and storytelling techniques to gaze deeply into the heart of what makes us tick as individuals and as a species. This is surely a sign of a masterpiece, especially if it's entertaining to boot.

But let's first look at its narrative trick. Rashomon's plot is set in the 11th (or possibly 12th) century and recounted by two men who are riding out a storm with a third man in a partially destroyed gatehouse. It could be the set-up to an old joke - "A priest, a woodcutter and a commoner are sheltering from the rain....", but instead it's an opportunity for the priest and the woodcutter to detail a trial they have just witnessed which has left them horrified.

Over the next hour or so they relate four versions of the same story - of the rape of a samurai's wife and the samurai's subsequent death. First we hear from the prime suspect (a scenery-chewing performance from the legendary Toshiro Mifune), then the wife (Machiko Kyo), then the dead samurai (Masayuki Mori) as channeled through a medium (Noriko Honma), and finally the woodcutter (Takashi Shimura).

Needless to say, each version of the story is different - sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically. And thus we have what is now known as the Rashomon Effect.

(On a side note, two of the best examples of the Rashomon Effect in modern pop culture can be found in two separate X-Files episodes - Jose Chung's From Outer Space and Bad Blood.)

The impact of this narrative choice adds a powerful layer to the story. No "right" version is revealed. As Robert Altman says in the video below, the "proper conclusion" is that "it's all true and none of it's true". It's up to the audience to decide what they want to believe because there is no correct answer - it's whatever you want it to be.

Further evidence of this can be found in the trial scenes. The judge is never shown and the majority of the three testimonies we hear is delivered almost straight to camera - the actors' eye-line in addressing the judge is just above the lens, putting the audience at the judge's feet, effectively making the audience something akin to the old-school courtroom stenographer. In doing so, director Akira Kurosawa is asking us to be there to bear witness, not to decide and pass judgment. But by bearing witness, and being human, it is impossible for us not to decide and pass our own judgment. Kurosawa and the scriptwriter knew this, and it's one of the key points they were making - that we decide our own truths.

For this minor miracle of narrative styling-turned-important thematic device - a rare example of style creating substance - we have a number of people to thank. Firstly, there's Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, who's short story In A Grove provides the basis of Rashomon. Then there's screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto, who adapted the short story and took it to Kurosawa.

That initial meeting between Hashimoto and Kurosawa is possibly one of the shortest script discussions in the history of cinema. As Hashimoto described in his autobiography, that first meeting lasted no more than two minutes and consisted of Kurosawa saying the script was too short and Hashimoto suggesting to add the setting from another Akutagawa story called Rashomon. Kurosawa agreed, and that was it. Meeting over.

Despite this shoehorning of two stories into one (Kurosawa further tweaked Hashimoto's final draft), the juxtaposition of the two settings works well. By the film's end, the storytelling in the abandoned gatehouse becomes almost as important as what may or may not have transpired in the woods. Many of the judgments on humanity and what we're left to ruminate on come from what happens in the gatehouse. As such, the film gives us a pretty dark view of humanity that is saved only by a surprising coda.

Of course the other person we have to thank for all this is Kurosawa himself. Outside of its innovative storytelling technique (some people claim Citizen Kane did it first, but it uses different points of view to tell one story, while Rashomon offers different perspectives on the one story), Rashomon is also a beautifully made film. It makes the most of just eight actors and three settings, utilising its locations perfectly in relation to its cinematography and storytelling.

For example, the trial is filmed predominantly with an unmoving camera in stark sunshine, like its under an unrelenting gaze. The incidents of the rape and murder in the forest are a combination of roaming cameras (which must have been difficult in the pre-Steadicam days in a location not ideal for dolly tracks) and multi-camera set-ups, edited between long captivating takes and short Mexican stand-off-style cuts that pre-date Sergio Leone. The crew also utilised mirrors to ensure plenty of natural sunlight in the dappled forest setting, but for the most part the characters in the forest move through the light and shade of the world - another seemingly thematic element amplified by stylistic choices.

And then there's the dark black rain of the gatehouse, and the three men seemingly cut-off from the world. It's as if the men are separated from what has happened, in order to process it in isolation, which only manages to enhance their subjectivity. In all these settings, Kurosawa uses light, shade, camera movement (or lack thereof) and editing to help tell his story in fascinating and intelligent ways.

But like many highly regarded films, Rashomon didn't make much of a splash initially. According to this awesome and wonderfully detailed Kurosawa site, it was "met with somewhat average reviews as many Japanese critics were puzzled by its content". It was "a moderate commercial success" - a fact possibly mitigated somewhat by its low budget - and won a couple of minor film festival awards before it "nevertheless disappeared from public eye fairly soon after its release".

Then it turned up at the Venice Film Festival (at the urging of Giuliana Stramigioli, a representative of the Italian film company Italiafilm) and everything changed, not only for Rashomon, but for Kurosawa and the entire Japanese film industry. According to the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, which screened Rashomon this year as part of a Kurosawa retrospective curated by great Australian critic David Stratton, "the West was almost entirely ignorant of Japanese cinema before Rashomon screened at Venice in 1951 and won the Golden Lion".

(This video is outstanding, even if it does have a (legitimate) dig at The Avengers and Joss Whedon:)

In this regard, Rashomon is one of the most important Japanese films from a Western perspective. Though some of its quirks - in particular its acting style - were out-of-kilter with Western ideals at the time, its other elements were startling and influential. Stratton highlighted "its adventurous photography (and) its innovative employment of light and shade" and of course its central "subjective nature of truth" as reasons as to why Rashomon was an "extraordinary breakthrough".

It's interesting to note that the next Japanese director to follow Kurosawa to major Western acclaim was Yasujirō Ozu, who couldn't be more different than Kurosawa. Where Kurosawa's breakthrough features a roaming camera, a fantastical-at-times storyline, and brash narrative and editing techniques, Ozu's introduction to the West - the equally excellent Tokyo Story - is almost the complete opposite. In it, Ozu kept his camera static, often used the same type of shot (the tatami- mat angle), kept his pacing and editing languid, and focused on a more mundane type of event and storytelling.

These two directors, to this day, are probably the best known Japanese directors in Western cinematic culture, and yet they are so markedly different. It's a great indication of the diversity of Japanese cinema. It would be like if Japanese film aesthetes judged all Western film on the output of David Lean and Quentin Tarantino. But Rashomon and Tokyo Story make for interesting comparisons to highlight each other's cinematic strengths, as this absolutely brilliant video explains:

There is much to love about Rashomon. It's fight choreography is somewhat under-rated, especially in the way it changes to reflect the different perspectives of the storytelling. There's also the impressively orchestrated scene involving the medium recounting the dead samurai's tale, which uses some post-production vocal recording and a wind machine to great effect, adding an otherworldly aspect to this strange but necessary moment in the film.

But largely this is a film that demonstrates that how you tell your story is just as important as what that story entails. It's a fairly common yet essential part of filmmaking, yet this remains one of the best examples of that principle even though almost 70 years have elapsed since its release.

Thanks for making it this far. Here's some further reading if you're interested:

The Film Sufi's review
The Criterion Collection notes
The aforementioned excellent and detailed Kurosawa site

I watched Rashomon at a screening hosted by F Project Cinema in Warrnambool, Victoria, Australia. Here's what's coming up at future FPC screenings at the Mozart Hall (all screenings are at 7.30pm):

The Bicycle Thief - October 11

Amy - October 25

Closed Circuit - November 8

Marina Abramovic - November 22

Metropolis - December 13

The Princess Bride - January 10

Waltz With Bashir - January 24

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Battle Of The Sexes

(PG) ★★★★½

Director: Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris.

Cast: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell, Natalie Morales, Jessica McNamee.

"Winner gets Ryan Gosling."
THE famed Battle Of The Sexes tennis match in 1973 stands as a pivotal moment in women's sport, and this film about that momentous game certainly demonstrates that.

But the title refers to more than just the showdown between women's tennis champ Billie Jean King (Stone) and retired player/self-styled "male chauvinist" Bobby Riggs, and it's this extra layer that helps make this sports drama so much more engrossing than just a sports drama.

The story is told largely through King's eyes, starting with her and tennis promoter Gladys Heldman (Silverman) forming the breakaway Virginia Slims women's tennis tour in protest against Jack Kramer (Pullman), a typically misogynist tournament organiser who refuses to up the prize money for women to a more equitable rate.

During the Virginia Slims tour, King falls in love with hairdresser Marilyn Barnett (Riseborough), loses a big game and the #1 ranking to Margaret Court (McNamee), and is approached by Riggs to play in a battle of the sexes tennis match - an offer King turns down.

Riggs instead throws down the gauntlet to Court, who accepts the deal and is comprehensively defeated by her male opponent in a match dubbed the Mother's Day Massacre. After that, King decides she has to step up and beat Riggs to prove a point on behalf of womankind.

Dayton and Faris (Little Miss Sunshine, Ruby Sparks) give the film documentary-ish look, which works perfectly, especially for the big finale and its incorporation of real footage from the broadcast. There's a subtle Polaroid look to the whole thing too, matched by the exquisite production design, costumes, and soundtrack.

What's most surprising about the film is there is so little tennis through-out. Much of what we see of the Mother's Day Massacre is through a television and is more about the reactions of the other female tennis stars, while otherwise the sport is used sparingly. It's a smart move as it means we're not tired of watching tennis by the grand finale - in fact, we're desperate for it, making the eponymous showdown the equivalent of a dam bursting.

But, as mentioned, the battle is about more than just tennis. It's about King dealing with her flowering homosexuality and the conundrum it creates for herself, her husband Larry (Stowell), and her lover. It also relates to Riggs and the issues he has with his wife, who has had enough of his gambling. And it's also about the broader gender war and the line in the sand King was trying to draw with a tennis match.

It would have been easy to make Riggs the villain in all this but the film has loftier goals. Riggs is portrayed by Carell and Oscar-winning screenwriter Simon Beaufoy's script as a goofy prankster who doesn't really believe what he's saying, but rather who is just in it for the fame, the thrill and the quick buck. Instead the film targets Pullman's Jack Kramer as the big bad, and Margaret Court as a lesser evil, with the former representing a women-are-inferior stance while the latter sneers at the "sin" of King's lesbianism (some thing's never change, eh Margaret?). Both characters are representative of the old ways of thinking and make for excellent hissable villains.

Stone is flawless and brilliant in the lead, making King stoic, determined, powerful, fragile, flawed, but above all real. Carrell is great too, his charisma adding a lovable goofiness to Riggs. Cumming is also great in a tiny role as King's fairy godfather of sorts, famed tennis dress designer Ted Tinling.

Battle Of The Sexes is an important re-stating of an important moment in sport, and its subject matter is as pertinent now as it was then, perhaps even more so. In fact, it's depressing to walk out of the cinema and back into the real world and realise how much more progress is needed in LGBTQ rights and gender equality.

If there's a flaw to the film, it's an occasional hint of melodrama and a biopic-typical tendency towards things fitting together too perfectly, but that's being picky. Battle Of The Sexes is interesting, important, enjoyable and serves up an ace of a story.

Damn. I almost got all the way throug this review without a single tennis pun.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Victoria & Abdul

(PG) ★★★½

Director: Stephen Frears.

Cast: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Eddie Izzard, Tim Pigott-Smith, Adeel Akhtar.

The reboot of As Time Goes By had taken a different tack.
The pairing of director Stephen Frears and Judi Dench in a film about British royalty seemed inevitable (with the benefit of hindsight).

Frears was Oscar-nominated for the excellent The Queen (and worked with Dench on Philomena), while Dench has played Queen Victoria (in Mrs Brown) and Queen Elizabeth I (in Shakespeare In Love), attracting award attention both times.

Their powers combine in Victoria & Abdul, a sorta-sequel to Mrs Brown, with Dench back as Queen Victoria, this time sharing a "special friendship" with a humble Indian Muslim man named Abdul Karim.

Abdul (Fazal) was only meant to help present a coin to the Queen, but ended up becoming a servant, confidant, and teacher to Victoria - something that caused considerable friction among the royal household.

It's this friction that creates the central spark of Victoria & Abdul. After starting with a whimsical and lightly comedic tone, aided by the presence of Akhtar as Abdul's fellow fish-out-of-water, the film gets progressively darker and more serious. As a result it gets more interesting too. The first half runs too close to caricature and stereotype sometimes, and while the latter half can get a touch melodramatic the film steadily improves and engrosses as it progresses.

Dench owns this from the minute she appears on screen. She gives Queen Victoria a studied depth, reminding us that the Queen was a real person and not just a figurehead. In one fascinating (if slightly contrived) rant, she lays out the many flaws of Victoria (before pointing out that she is not insane) and its a key example of the film's attempts to paint the Queen as a complex human being, who mourns, laughs, snores, and wonders what the point of it all is.

Humanising the Queen is a key theme of Victoria & Abdul, but so is tolerance. As much as Dench rules supreme here, it's as much a film about Abdul Karim as it is Queen Victoria. It's impossible to do something artistic and creative involving Muslims without it becoming political these days, but the film quietly drives its points home about prejudice and acceptance, making this century-old tale pertinent and timely.

Surrounding the magnificent Dench is a strong cast, led by Fazal, who does a fine job. Akhtar gets some great quips and it would have been nice to see more of his character, while the royal household is filled with solid assistance from Izzard as the soon-to-be King Edward VII and the late Tim Pigott-Smith as house head Sir Henry Ponsonby.

Beautifully shot, Victoria & Abdul is an interesting look at a strange piece of royal miscellanea, and well worth watching for another regal turn from Dench.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

(MA15+) ★★★

Director: Matthew Vaughn.

Cast: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Mark Strong, Edward Holcroft, Pedro Pascal, Hanna Alström, Halle Berry, Elton John, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Poppy Delevingne, Bruce Greenwood, Emily Watson.

Jason Bourne wouldn't be caught dead in orange.
Bursting onto our screens in a blast of blood and bad language back in 2015, Kingsman: The Secret Service was a stylish if frivolous divergence.

It was also a welcome counter-operation in the serious world of spy movies - amid the Bonds and Bournes, the exploits of Eggsy (Egerton) and Harry (Firth) were a burst of firework fun in the face of an increasingly gritty genre.

Not much has changed for the second outing of Eggsy and co. "Having a good time" is still the central motif, even if its at the expense of the film's ability to find any depth.

After proving his worth, saving the world, and getting the girl in the first film, Eggsy is riding high as the hard-doer-turned-super-spy - that is until an old rival returns to wreak havoc. But that's the least of his worries. A drug dealer named Poppy Adams (Moore) is on the scene, and Eggsy and Merlin (Strong) must turn to their American counterparts - the Statesman - to save the world (again) from her diabolical scheme.

The things that worked best in The Secret Service are the elements that shine in The Golden Circle - the hyper-stylised and crazily edited fight sequences, the ridiculous gadgets and set pieces, and the blood-and-bollocks attitude of it all. Having Firth back helps, Moore is a deliciously bonkers if under-used baddie, and Elton John (playing Elton John) gets some truly great moments.

It's a shame that the plotting falls down in the final stretch - unless I missed something, I have no idea how the good guys uncovered the bad guys' secret lair. There is also a half-hearted attempt to make a comment on the war on drugs, but the film can't decide what it wants to say, and then chickens out of saying anything anyway, and the whole thing plays a little loose with cause and effect and the secrecy of its secret services. Its regularly OTT tone also means the film struggles to sell its emotional crescendos, leaving a certain emptiness amid the fun.

There are plenty of interesting and enjoyable moments though. The opening car chase, the final raid on Poppy's hidden (and overly CG) hide-out, and a very Bondian diversion to a mountain-top lab are good fun and showcase Vaughn's stylistic flair. The subplots involving Eggsy's relationship with Princess Tilde have potential until they get lost amid the espionage and gunplay, while a detour to the Glastonbury Festival yields intriguing results (and a line of dialogue that is this film's equivalent of the bizarre "bum note" the previous movie ended on).

The cast all acquit themselves well (even if some of them - Tatum, Bridges, and Moore in particular - are under-used) and the whole thing is fun, and that's the main point of all this. While The Golden Circle lacks the wow factor of the original (Firth-in-a-church and the head-popping fireworks linger long in the memory), it still has a similar capacity to entertain, even if it's not as structurally solid as its predecessor.

If you're willing to overlook some of its dim-witted and nonsensical moments, this is a solid-enough return that doesn't totally disappoint and leaves enough goodwill (and room for improvement) for a third outing.

*Thanks to my amazing wife for helping type this review up while I recover from a lame journalism-related injury.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

It (2017)

(MA15+) ★★★★

Director:  Andy Muschietti.

Cast: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Nicholas Hamilton, Jackson Robert Scott.

Just out of shot: me shitting myself.
IF you're looking for a review that tells you how this It compares to the old It, you're in the wrong place. Similarly, if you want to know this It is a good adaptation of the It book, I can't help you,

But having not read the book or seen the 1990 miniseries means I'm free to review this shorn of any preconceptions or the weight of expectation and nostalgia. So if you want simply to know if It is a good film (and a scary one), then this is the review for you.

The short version is yes, It is a good film, and yes, It is scary - repeatedly and insidiously. For the long version, read on.

This adaptation of Stephen King's 1986 novel is set in 1988-'89, where a group of seven bullied and ostracised kids find themselves the target of a fear-feeding clown (Skarsgård) who appears responsible for the abnormally high rate of kids going missing in their hometown.

Among those missing kids is Georgie (Scott), whose brother Bill (Lieberher) is the leader of this group of self-proclaimed "losers". Bill is prepared to lead his friends into battle, or at least into the town's sewers, to try and find his brother and bring this clown's reign of terror to an end.

This is an excellent horror film because, yes, it's scary, but it's also a solid film outside of its frights. At its core it's closer to Stand By Me than anything else in the King canon - it's as much a coming-of-age tale as it is a scare-fest. It offers a kids-eye view of its setting and of fear itself, taking a simplistic look at what scares us and how the world works. There are no conversations between adults in It, and despite there being an epidemic of missing people, the film's POV is kept within the group of focus of our Goonie-like heroes, who largely view grown-ups as creatures not to be trusted (some are almost as scary as Pennywise). These are kids on the verge of adulthood and as a result the film doesn't need to bother with the world of adults too much.

While I've heard some grown-ups lament that the film isn't scary, I would suggest that it will have younger audiences (who can legally see the MA15+ rated movie of course) quietly shitting in their pants. It seems aimed at being a rite-of-passage horror movie, much like its predecessor was for so many people around my age, with a mettle-testing level of gore and adult themes. Personally I found it frequently scary, and while it's heavy on the jump scares and intense musical crescendos, that is certainly not the full extent of It's bag of tricks.

On top of all this, the film is beautifully shot. It's summertime setting and the fictional town of Derry are given the warm glow of nostalgic holidays of misspent youth, which is frighteningly at odds with some of its scares, most of which take place in the comparatively darker parts of Derry. That it can still offer some horror in broad daylight is a nice feat too.

As much as It is about coming of age, the power of fear, the importance of friendship, the loss of innocence, and the challenges of youth, it's also about a fucking clown named Pennywise who is the stuff bed-wetting nightmares are made of. In the hands of Bill Skarsgård and some brilliant costume and make-up design, he becomes the ruffle-wearing lovechild of Heath Ledger's Joker and Ridley Scott's Alien. He is a wonderfully scary creation.

If you weren't scared by It, maybe you're too mature or too battle-hardened by horror films or the travails of adulthood. But if you can tap into your youth (or are still young), then It is the horror movie for you.

*Apologies for the delay in posting this review and any mistakes in it, as it was painstakingly typed with one hand due to a wrist injury.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

REWIND REVIEW: The Queen Of Ireland

(PG) ★★★★

Director: Conor Horgan.

Cast: Rory O'Neill.

"And then he said, 'grab them by the pussy'. And he's been married three times!"

As Australia dives into a very expensive non-binding postal vote that allows straight people to pass judgement on the worthiness of gay relationships, there is no better time to watch this fabulous and heartfelt documentary about Ireland's own path to legalising same-sex marriage.

It's tempting to use this review as a platform to extol why I think Australians should vote "yes", but the reality is this review is not going to change people's minds about marriage equality. And sadly, despite how heartwarming and beautiful it is, this documentary is unlikely to change people's minds either.

Because the fact of the matter is most people have already decided, one way or another, where they stand on the issue of letting two grown adults in a loving relationship who happen to be the same sex enter into a binding legal agreement that is exactly the same as other grown adult couples are allowed to do.

And as great as The Queen Of Ireland is, it's not going to suddenly persuade a bunch of homophobes and bible-bashers into understanding why allowing same-sex couples to marry is a good and necessary thing.

I wish it did though. The story of Rory O'Neill AKA drag queen Panti Bliss is a surprising and fascinating one that passionately illustrates what marriage equality means to the people it actually affects (ie. no one except for the homosexual people who want to get married).

O'Neill and his frocked-up alter-ego became a bewigged figurehead in the debate leading up to the historic public vote in which a majority of Irish folk agreed marriage equality was something that needed to happen. In a way, O'Neill comes to symbolise every gay person who's ever been attacked or insulted for their sexuality, or who has had to change who they are to fit in or avoid being targeted by homophobes. A truly powerful moment comes when he makes a speech about this subject that goes viral. This speech, as well as a national TV interview he gave, inadvertently made O'Neill/Bliss a lightning rod in the marriage equality debate.

It all works because as much as O'Neill may strike some people as an "irregular" guy, he really is just a regular guy. His enthusiasm, passion, fragility, humour and humanity shine through, and it all peaks when we get to see his hometown, including his parents, turn out to watch one of his drag shows. It's a joyous highlight that demonstrates the theme of acceptance at the heart of both the film and the marriage equality debate.

The way the film touches on how gay people have endured in the face of incredible adversity, how gay culture has risen from being literally underground in some cases, and how the slow road to tolerance and understanding makes The Queen Of Ireland an important document. More of this kind of stuff would have been welcome, as well as more details about the historic vote on marriage equality. The only real downside to the doco is the inescapable sense that it was a film about O'Neill/Bliss first that stumbled on to the marriage equality vote stuff as an almost accidental second.

But what it gives us is an inspiring and enjoyable look at the life of a man whose fabulous lifestyle inadvertently made him a key figure in an historic moment in Ireland.

I watched The Queen Of Ireland at a screening hosted by F Project Cinema in Warrnambool, Victoria, Australia. Here's what's coming up at future FPC screenings at the Mozart Hall (all screenings are at 7.30pm):

I Am Bolt - September 27

The Bicycle Thief - October 11

Amy - October 25

Closed Circuit - November 8

Marina Abramovic - November 22

Metropolis - December 13

The Princess Bride - January 10

Waltz With Bashir - January 24

*Apologies for the delay in posting this review and any mistakes in it as it was painstakingly typed with one hand due to a wrist injury.