Andrew Buckle

Jun 152017
 

Last Men in Aleppo

Set amidst the rubble of the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo, this tremendously powerful portrait of White Helmet civilian volunteers was the winner of the Grand Jury Prize for documentary at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Though an unfortunate product of the Syrian Civil War atrocities, viewed as a work of vital on-the-ground reporting this is an extraordinary achievement. Not interested in glorifying the heroics, or showering a viewer with all the gruesome images, but in simply in telling it how it is, this film is humane, gripping and heartbreakingly sad.

As the Russian missiles fall across the Aleppo war zone – Syria’s largest city becomes the symbol of Bashar al-Assad’s war against the rebels opposing his government – the physically exhausted, unarmed and poorly equipped troupe of aid volunteers get the call to scour the rubble in search for survivors. It is haunting viewing (emphasised by the score) and director Feras Fayyad, in a collaboration with Danish filmmaker Steed Johannessen and the Aleppo Media Centre, records, via privileged and professionally dangerous access, the traumas and the emotional struggles of these brave everyday heroes. With the distressing coverage of the rubble scouring and the excavation of expired youngsters (mostly) we are offered intimate insight into the psychology of these men as they share dialogue and have rare moments of comfort to balm their stresses – with the next tragedy emerging from the horizon.

Fayyad achieves greatness here, by tempering a pair of dramatic arcs – the stories of White Helmets’ Khaled and Mahmoud – by balancing their desperate rescue efforts with details of their attempts to recreate a sense of normalcy. Khaled is a father torn between fleeing with his children and his duty to the White Helmets. Mahmoud visits a family that he help save from the debris, and at one point is caught up in an attack where his brother is almost killed. This harrowing and depressingly haunting document spotlights the courage and resilience of these men, whose personally-unfathomable optimism of a brighter future for Syria begins to be broken down with each fresh bombing raid, and who admirably maintain a sense of duty to the community and the city they remain proud to call home.

Roller Dreams

It was the year 1984, and on the boardwalk of Venice Beach, California, young people of colour were seeking refuge from the turmoil of inner city life. They would flock to the eclectic ocean community to create a brand new phenomenon: roller dancing. The talent and vibrant personality of this multicultural roller ‘family’ transformed the pastime into an art form and drew massive crowds of appreciative spectators. But politics and gentrification would conspire to end the dream. Australian filmmaker Kate Hickey’s energetic documentary turns the lens on this exciting subculture; injecting blast from the past archival footage with a respectful interrogation and colourful stylistic flourishes.

At the centre of the film – and the catalyst for the boom and the unofficial delegate for the eventual dismantling of the art at its height – is Mad, a smooth-moving, physically-perfect icon who took the eager youngsters under his wing, established a reputation of leadership and respect, and forged a culture of integration, collaboration and pride for the art. When the hotspot became a target of racially-charged police crackdowns, Mad was chief rebel.

For a large part of the film Mad remains a silent spectre in the background – there didn’t seem to be many videos of him and I expected that he had passed in the years since (I feared tragically) – as fellow skaters Jimmy, Larry and Sally and others tell their skating origin stories, and share their experiences with the man touted as the ‘Godfather’ of roller dancing. But, eventually, the film directs its focus to Mad – a man who has hung up the skates for good and never looked back. The loss of dancing has continued to pain him all these years, but he has applied his natural charisma and sensible wisdom to every endeavour in his adult life. Reluctant to revisit the past Mad is coerced into returning to Venice Beach to lead one final line with his former proteges. It is a powerful image; to see the man reduced to tears when confronted with the past, considering the life he never led.

Jan 022017
 

I spent a lot of this month catching up on a few 2016 releases I had missed, and making sure I caught all the essential theatrical releases in December. The result was surprising: only a few of these viewings left an impression on me. I remember last year seeing The Revenant, The Big Short, Carol and Spotlight in December. This year Jackie, Your Name and The Edge of Seventeen stood out, but I still have a number of the Oscar candidates to see – Moonlight, Manchester By the Sea, Hidden Figures, Silence, Lion and Fences. At this point last year I had seen all eventual Best Picture nominees save for Room. 

The absolute highlight of this month’s viewing was the tremendous Westworld. I was hooked after one episode, and for me this is a demonstration of the rarely-met potentials of TV. Layers upon layers of interconnected story arcs and thought-provoking ideas that utilise the 10+ hours. The intrigue is never relinquished here – the twists are shocking – and the writing, acting and production values are all exceptional.

2017 goals = unknown. With a baby on the way, I have no idea what kind of time I can dedicate to movies, TV, books and games. I expect I’ll still probably see in the vicinity of 200 films throughout the year, but very few will be at the cinema. Most will likely be on VOD catch-up. I have set a reading goal at 20 novels for 2017. This year I hit 40, so I think this is realistic.

After the jump is a listing of everything I watched in December. I needed 36 films to hit 365 films for the year. I wasn’t trying for this number, it just happened. I didn’t make it anyway, ending with 27.

Oh, and if you missed my 25 Favourite Films of 2016, be sure to check it out.

Continue reading »

Dec 242016
 

After another year of 200+ new releases, one of the pleasures I take is reflecting on everything that I watched and creating a list of essentials. These feelings are subjective and ever-changing, so if I were to revisit this list in five years, having re-experienced some of these films and caught up with others I missed, it might look completely different.

Much was said a few months back about this year’s dire blockbusters, and documentary filmmaking hasn’t been as potent in 2016, but it has been a terrific year in other areas. Take animated films and horror films for example. Not only in terms of box office success, but the depth of inventive and high-quality releases. When you explore the list below you will notice there are several representatives from those genres. A few other obscure facts about the list: ten films screened at the Sydney Film Festival, five are written and directed by female filmmakers, four are divided into chaptered sections and three had first-run availability on Netflix.

The rules: simply, everything knew I saw in 2016 that had a release date somewhere in the world in the vicinity of 2016. Some of these films had a late 2015 U.S release, others have screened only at international film festivals. All were accessible (via an Australian theatrical release, film festival, SVOD service or TVOD service) to me in 2016 in one way or another.

Of course, I didn’t quite get through my watchlist. Some films I missed or didn’t get the chance to see include Tower, Camerperson, Things to Come, Neruda, Sunset Song, The Love Witch, One More Time With Feeling, My Golden Days and Evolution. There are also some films releasing in Australian cinemas in January and February that are amongst the awards discussion that I have not yet seen. These include Moonlight, Lion, Manchester By the Sea, Fences, Silence, Hidden Figures and Patriots Day. 

I apologise for the erratic lengths of the commentary. Some of these films I had written about already – so my thoughts, in often quite lengthy detail, had already been published. Others I was wracking my brain to find the words to describe how they made me feel. After the jump, check out my list of honourable mentions and 25 Favourite Films of 2016.

Continue reading »

Dec 142016
 

lead_960

2016 has been a great year for music. I have been lucky enough to churn through many albums on my 40-minute walk commute to and from work, using review sites like Pitchfork as a guide on what albums to give a try. For the most part they have been worthy recommendations.

It was a year of few disappointments – notably, new work from The Avalanches, Bon Iver and Frank Ocean that didn’t do much for me – but of many surprises. Several bands and artists (Swans, White Lung, Death Grips, Danny Brown, Blood Orange) that I have recently become fans of came out with new albums every bit as exciting as their predecessors. Leonard Cohen and David Bowie released incredible swan song albums. A Tribe Called Quest returned with a killer new album, their first in 18 years, while Metallica turned out their best work in 20.

Here are 25 albums that I liked a hell of a lot in 2016 – no honourable mentions this year, just right into it – a mix of styles and emotions that have defined this year for me through music. I hope this selection brings some awareness to these albums and encourages you to give them a spin if you’re looking for something new to listen to.

Continue reading »

Dec 032016
 

jackie

Happy Summer Australia! Escape the oppressive heat and depressing grind of everyday life, and head to your local, air conditioned cinema! As with every summer, there are plenty of great films to see, with the “awards” crush of films well and truly upon us. From animated adventures in the Pacific, to seventeenth century Japan, there is something here for everyone. Check our picks out after the jump.

Continue reading »

Dec 022016
 

sullyheader1

I watched a total of 32 films in November, about what I expected. Most of these were focused on eliminating a number from my end-of-year watchlist. I worked out that if I watch 35 films in December – which is probably a tad out of reach – I will have hit 365 films again. Perhaps for the last time. I haven’t been trying to achieve this goal, it has just happened.

Outside of films, not much has been going on. Reading has dropped off (though I still have two more books to finish to complete my goal of 40 for 2016) and TV will be focused on completing some series. I have one more ep of Black Mirror S3 left, 5 eps of Halt & Catch Fire S3. I’d also like to work through O.J: Made in America and Westworld throughout December. A tall order.

I will be looking to drop my Favourite Albums of 2016 in a couple of weeks, and my Best of 2016 Film list (in a similar layout as last year’s list) at the end of December. The 29th or 30th.

Thoughts on most of what I watched in December (there were a few I didn’t discuss) after the jump:

Continue reading »

Nov 032016
 

a-visual-study-on-steven-spielbergs-ai-artificial-intellegence

This month I decided to focus a lot more on films, in an attempt to check off a bunch on on my still-lengthy watchlist before year’s end. I did a pretty good job of that, but I have about 40 films left to tackle in November and December. A busy month in October – family visits, various life admin and a short break out of town – resulted in only five cinema visits. It was interesting that the two most disappointing viewing experiences this month were at the cinema. It is a problem when you start to dread what sort of public audience you get, and rough crowds are one reason we have waited for the home release a lot more this year.

I watched a total of 30 films. And about 20 eps of TV (well down on last month).

Sam and I have been spending a lot more time playing games – card games and board games (not console) – and this has been a lot of fun. If you’re looking to start a collection of games, these are some I can recommend: Love Letter, The Rivals of Catan, Jaipur, Flux and Tides of Time. In October I read Dave Eggers’ new book ‘Heroes of the Frontier’ and William Goldman’s ‘The Princess Bride’, both of which I enjoyed. I’m also deep into both Umberto Eco’s ‘The Name of the Rose’ and Neal Stephenson’s ‘Seveneves’, both of which are incredible so far.

November – in addition to continuing to deplete my watchlist (Sully, The Infiltrator, The BFG amongst them), we’re looking forward to American Honey, Arrival, Nocturnal Animals and I, Daniel Blake. Thoughts on some of my October viewing after the jump.

Continue reading »

Oct 202016
 

rs-247750-rs-cafe-society

Cafe Society, which premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and opened the festival, is the 47th feature film by Woody Allen. With a budget of $30 million, it is also his most expensive film to date. These days you typically know what you’re going to get from a Woody Allen film, and his distinctive opening credits are immediately a dead giveaway. But, he still seems to possess the capacity to surprise, and the visually splendid Cafe Society is one such example.

With Jesse Eisenberg again standing in as the Woody Allen surrogate (he’s actually done this before in the awful To Rome With Love), Woody turns his lens on 1930’s Hollywood, as a young New Yorker (Eisenberg), trying to make a career out West, finds his dreams dashed when he falls in love with Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), the assistant of his talent agent uncle, Phil (Steve Carrell).  Continue reading »