Very few political biopics are bold enough to compare their subjects to Marvel comic book supervillain Galactus, devourer of worlds, but Vice, which tells the semi-fictional story of Dick Cheney’s climb to power, isn’t an ordinary biopic.
The trailer for the film reminds us that director Adam McKay was also responsible for The Big Short, but stops short of mentioning his other big success: Anchorman. Who better to tell the origin story of today’s idiotic, testosterone-soaked American politics than the man who brought us Ron Burgundy? McKay turns the Bush years into a sugar rush of a political drama. Christian Bale’s Dick Cheney is a smirking, cold-blooded villain with a startling lack of morals. Ably assisted by his Lady Macbeth-esque wife Lynne (Amy Adams), Cheney maneuvers himself into the vice presidency where he proceeds to shape 21st-century America as we know it – through 9/11, the Iraq War and trickle-down economics.
It’s a dizzying cocktail of truth and fiction, as messy as the chaotic reality warrants. There are some excellent comic turns from the supporting cast – notably Steve Carell as a ruthless Donald Rumsfeld, and Sam Rockwell as the cowboy George W Bush – but where does that leave us when the narration tells us they’re responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis? This back-and-forth tonal shift between comedy and furious outrage leaves the viewer seasick. Much like watching the news, then.
Vice is showing at Cinema Nova, Lido, Palace, Classic, Cameo, Thornbury Picture House and Sun Theatre. Watch the trailer.
The Wild Pear Tree
Between finishing college and fulfilling his military service, Sinan (Aydın Doğu Demirkol) returns to the drab Turkish town of his birth and has a thoroughly dispiriting time. His family's moral and bank account is slowly being drained by his father’s (Murat Cemcir) gambling problem, and his writing ambitions are hitting a wall. He’s impertinent, impatient and aggressive, and the world refuses to catch up to him.
Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s three-hour meditation on humanity, family and the young’s dissatisfaction with the old paints a long, patient picture of that frustrating gap between youth and adulthood against the backdrop of contemporary Turkey. Detailed, contemplative conversations are tempered with close-ups, slow moments and waves of gentle breeze, and the frame jumps between total realism and more stunning images, from unexpected landscapes to moments of the surreal.
Sinan is arrogant, but also rightfully pissed at the world and the generational divide. While he gets about trying to whip people into a rage, his father just lets out a high, disarming laugh. The cumulative effect is poetic, thoughtful and nourishing, and well worth the watch.
The Wild Pear Tree is showing at Cinema Nova. Watch the trailer.
Checking into a swanky hotel out of town, Reed (Christopher Abbott) is a man with an uncontrollable urge to kill – and he's making plans. With the help of meticulous notes, a carefully timed schedule and lots of practise, he’s going to commit a murder. But when his planned victim arrives, sex worker Jackie (Mia Wasikowska), things don’t go to plan.
Perhaps “fun” is the wrong word to describe a film about a man planning to murder a woman with an icepick, but when the killer’s American Psycho-esque plans are subverted by a woman who refuses to play victim, a game is afoot, and fun is exactly what we get.
Abbott is unnerving and funny, Wasikowska is charmingly deranged, and visually this intensely stylised black comedy hits so many entertaining notes that it’s hard to say why it ultimately fails to come together as a satisfying whole. Perhaps it’s because it takes place nowhere near the real world. Wasikowska speaks in a hybrid Australian-slash-who-knows-what accent, and the setting is somewhere between ’80s America, Japan, and Reed’s sick imagination; a cartoonish urban landscape filled with hallucination (it’s Reed’s newborn baby who first encourages him to commit murder). The pieces are all in place, but we never get to the core of what makes the players tick.
Piercing is showing at Thornbury Picture House, Lido and Classic cinemas. Watch the trailer.
Thirteen-year-old Kayla (Elsie Fisher) spends her nights curating the confident, prolific social media life of any teenage girl, but it fails to translate into the real world. On the verge of a new year and a new school, she lays out her goals: more friends, confidence, speak louder, a boyfriend (Aiden?). But her days are filled with crippling social anxiety and her dreams only move further from her reach.
This is comedian Bo Burnham’s first film, and yet here’s a fully formed, confident voice, capturing adolescence in all its stuttering, awful glory. The divide between real life and the social media representation of it has been done a thousand times, but rarely with such honesty and compassion.
Shot with realism and wit, and with an electronic score by Anna Meredith (and a memorable appearance by Enya’s 1988 hit Orinoco Flow), Kayla’s struggle is real. It’s rare to see school portrayed so truthfully in an American film. We usually see burgeoning adulthood, but this is the dregs of childhood and its anxious, hormonal hotbed of mediocrity.
There are no ripped twenty-somethings playing teenagers here, no triumphant makeovers or victories over the jocks. When Kayla feels that sheer dread of exposing herself to the pod people that are other teenagers, you feel it too.
Eighth Grade is showing at Cinema Nova. Watch the trailer.
Now a worldwide phenomenon, it’s hard to imagine that Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama struggled for the majority of her career. Heather Lenz’s inspiring film tells the story: after being ostracised by her wealthy family for wanting to be an artist instead of a wife, Kusama travelled to New York in the 1950s, where the male art-world establishment either ignored her or, the film suggests, blatantly ripped her off. Now, she lives in a mental-health facility, still producing work every day. This is a straightforward biography told with passion, but it’s a fantastic way to get an overview of Kusama’s work and the context in which it was made.
Kusama grew up among fields of flowers, and the repeating dot patterns she’s now known for were there from early on, the product of childhood trauma and an intense work ethic.
The words “obsession”, “obliteration” and “infinity” recur throughout her work and the film, as do images of scale. There’s the marching WWII Japanese armies, the stacks of parachutes she was put to work sewing for those armies as a child and, finally, her prolific work and global influence as her dots spread across the world.
“Amidst the agony of flowers, the present never ends,” she sings in a video installation. By the time it’s been processed through Kusama’s mind, agony becomes beautiful.
Kusama: Infinity is showing at Cinema Nova. Watch the trailer.
My favourites of 2018
Plenty of last year’s best films are still in cinemas. Here’s a handful of the ones I liked best.
Shoplifters takes place in the forgotten backstreets of present-day Tokyo, where a struggling family uses the kids as shoplifters to make ends meet. Frankly, it’s a masterpiece (Cinema Nova, Lido and Classic).
The Favourite is a costume comedy from the director of The Lobster, starring Olivia Colman as Queen Anne, and Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone as the ladies vying for her affections. The funniest film released last year (Cinema Nova, Lido, Thornbury Picture House and all Palace Cinemas).
Roma is the new one from Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity, Children of Men), a bittersweet period drama set in ’70s Mexico. It’s on Netflix but you should see this beautiful black and white cinematography on the big screen if you can (ACMI and Lido).
Sorry to Bother You is a furious, absurd social satire out to educate you on racism, class exploitation and how capitalism keeps it all in place. But it’s funny too (Lido, Classic, Cinema Nova, Thornbury Picture House).