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Film round-up: August 8, 2019

The Star's Maria Duarte and Alan Frank review Gaza, Opus Zero, The Art of Racing in the Rain, Notorious, and Playmobil: The Movie

Gaza (15)
Directed by Gary Keane and Andrew McConnell

This eye-opening documentary paints a moving and gripping picture of ordinary life in the Gaza Strip through the eyes and thoughts of its citizens who refuse to be defined by the conflict.

The film follows numerous people including a young cellist, a taxi driver, a paramedic and a young disabled rapper as they go about their day-to-day lives, ever hopeful.

It is hard to even imagine what it would be like to live there a place described once as the world’s largest open-air prison.

There is little food, water or electricity yet children play and laugh on the beach like any other kids.

Gary Keane and Andrew McConnell’s intimate snapshots of life of those trapped in and lives are upended and destroyed by devastating bombing by Israel and its soldiers retaliating with bullets against Palestinian stone-throwing youths.

Gaza is an insightful film which deserves to be seen by all.

Maria Duarte

Opus Zero (15)
Directed by Daniel Graham

Is this an ingenious exploration of art, life and death or just a pretentious and contrived art-fest snooze?

This debut feature by Daniel Graham is definitely more the latter than the former.

You are a better person than I if you can follow the tortuous and incomprehensible drama with its affected and self-indulgent dialogue — far less meaningful than it really is.

The magnificent Willem Dafoe is Paul, a composer who travels to a remote Mexican village to deal with the death of his estranged father.

Soon his attention shifts to a missing woman, which is where slowly the film begins to lose the plot.

Even Dafoe isn’t enough to save it or make me recommend it to you.

Alan Frank 

The Art of Racing in the Rain (PG)
Directed by Simon Curtis

There are no opening credits. Instead director Simon Curtis takes us straight into a surprisingly charming and — on its own audience-friendly terms — powerful emotional journey bringing Garth Stein’s hugely best-selling novel to the screen

Mark Bomback’s often unexpectedly moving screenplay, charts the life of aspirant Formula One race car driver Denny Swift (Milo Ventimiglia) whose perfect life with his wife Eve (Amanda Siegfried) and their Hollywood-cute young daughter Zoe and — central to the narrative — Denny’s golden retriever best friend Enzo, perfectly voiced by Kevin Costner.

But Denny’s perfect life collapses when first he loses his young wife to cancer and he is then forced to fight Eve’s parents in court for custody of Zoe.

So far, so melodramatic and, plot-wise, just a tad familiar.

What makes the film an unexpected pleasure — and different too — is that the story, sad and glad, is narrated and brought to memorable emotional life by Costner who, time and again, underscores the truth of his comment, “My soul felt more human.”

Genuine charm — as opposed to the all-too-frequent contemporary lashings of deliberate and unappealing audience manipulation — is relatively rare in contemporary cinema.

So, praise is due to all concerned in the making of this unexpected emotional charmer.
Alan Frank 

Notorious (U)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock


Notorious, director Alfred Hitchcock’s ninth Hollywood film and, filmed in 1946, had the considerable audience-friendly advantage of a strong storyline scripted by Ben Hecht and based loosely on the story The Song of the Flame that had appeared in The Saturday Evening Post.

When her father is sentenced to jail for treason, Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman, at her best,) is determined to prove her patriotism and allows US government agent TR Devlin (Cary Grant) to recruit her to spy on nazis in Rio de Janeiro, a mission that nearly gets her killed when Grant starts to mistrust her.

Hitchcock, armed with a strong supporting cast including Claude Rains, an ingenious screenplay and perfectly cast leading players, created potent suspense (even though it could be argued that rather too often the narrative arc was predictable, Hollywood-style) and delivered a thriller which remains a classic of its now somewhat overcooked genre.

Playmobil: The Movie (U)
Directed by Lino DiSalvo

After the  animated epic The Lego Movie and its sequels, it was inevitable more toy-selling movies would appear.

And so, knowing that for more than 45 years “children have enjoyed” the German-created three-inch-high Playmobil plastic toys, their big screen debut was inevitable.

Not so much product placement as product promotion.

Lino DiSalvo’s directorial debut kicks off with a live-action musical number before — four years later — segueing into the animated adventures of young Maria and younger brother Charlie who land up in the “vast and wondrous animated world of Playmobil.”

There scads of plastic toys, come to attractively animated life in all sizes and shapes — human, animal, prehistoric and simply bizarre.

Their zany antics should entertain easily pleased youngsters while parents might consider taking a torch and a good book to read.

Thankfully Daniel Radcliffe, carrying on regardless despite Harry Potter being over, is only heard and never seen.


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