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Film Round-up: March 1

This week the Star's critics review A Fantastic Woman, Erase and Forget, Red Sparrow, and Monster Family

A Fantastic Woman (15)
Directed by Sebastian Lelio

THE CONTINUING bigotry displayed against the LGBT community by both conventional media and online commentators makes Chilean director Sebastian Lelio’s profoundly humane story about a trans woman’s battle for acceptance even more powerful and moving.

Lelio, who co-wrote the film with Gonzalo Maza, unforgettably brings a compelling blend of credible characters and honest emotion to life in a gripping drama that has its moments of spot-on comedy too.

The eponymous fantastic woman Marina Vidal, played to perfection by Daniela Vega, lives in Santiago — stunningly photographed by cinematographer Benjamin Echazarreta — where the young transgender waitress-singer is engaged in a mutually happy love affair with the formerly married 57-year-old textile company executive Orlando (Francisco Reyes).

The couple enjoy a charming evening together in a Chinese restaurant, where waiters sing Happy Birthday in Mandarin and their lives seem perfect.

But when Orlando suddenly dies, despite Vidal’s desperate efforts to get him to hospital in time, she becomes the increasingly unhappy target of the dead man’s family. She's evicted from their shared home and even banned from attending his funeral.

Fighting for acceptance as a transgender person in her own right, she's forced to battle her lover’s family who treat her abominably. They force her to have a humiliating examination, a sequence that eschews melodrama to make valid and potent points.

In the end, bigotry is beaten and treated with well-deserved contempt.

Vega makes Vidal defiant, moving and credible from first to last — unsurprising, perhaps, as she is a trans actor in real life.

Alan Frank

Erase and Forget (18)
Directed by Andrea Luka Zimmerman

AT A time when US gun culture is under the spotlight again following the Florida school shooting, this timely documentary explores the country's militarism and its toxic love affair with guns through its portrait of one of its highest-decorated war veterans, the inspiration behind Rambo.

Shot over 10 years Andrea Luka Zimmerman's powerful film fascinates as it charts the extraordinary life of Lt Col James Gordon “Bo” Gritz, who's believed to have killed at least 400 people. Not only was he the cinematic inspiration for Rambo but also Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith in The A-Team and Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now.

Using previously unseen archive footage of covert US operations, alongside interviews with key experts, arms dealers and Hollywood directors and screen writers, it shows how the larger-than-life Gritz was involved in overt and covert missions for the government. And he was financed by Clint Eastwood and William Shatner to search for US PoWs in Vietnam.

Zimmerman paints a thought-provoking picture of a controversial man and a country in crisis and the role that Hollywood and the mass media have played in the propagation of violence.

Gripping and jaw-dropping, it's a documentary that needs to be seen to be believed.

Maria Duarte

Red Sparrow (15)
Directed by Francis Lawrence

TAKE the world’s highest-paid film actress Jennifer Lawrence, director Francis Lawrence of three of her hit Hunger Game films, along with a screenplay based on a best-selling novel by a 33-year-long CIA operative and what have you got?

A bleak spy thriller tainted with sadistic violence.

Lawrence is Dominika Egoroya, a rising Bolshoi ballet dancer who, after career-ending injury, is forced by her uncle Vanya (no kidding!) to enter the Sparrow School, where future intelligence agents learn to use their minds and bodies to satisfy the machinations of their masters.

She becomes the most dangerous sparrow to fly in a convoluted plot involving her with CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Egerton) in a longwinded, increasingly depressing storyline decorated by attractive Hungarian, Slovakian and Viennese locations.

Graphic torture-porn interrogations are truly gruelling and, while Lawrence works hard — though her Russian accent is oddly unique — and there’s a strong supporting cast, it’s a film that's ultimately underpowered and overlong.


Monster Family (PG)
Directed by Holger Tappe

DESPITE its slick look and colourful characters, this British-German animated feature lacks soul and bite.

Based on David Safier's best-selling novel Happy Family, it centres on the Wishbones, an unhappy family of four — voiced by Emily Watson, Nick Frost, Jessica Brown Findlay and Ethan Rouse — who are turned into monsters by an evil witch on the orders of Dracula (Jason Isaacs).

The family then spends the rest of the film chasing down the sorceress to reverse her curse.

The plot, reminiscent of a Hammer house of horror, seems an odd choice for a children's film.

Dracula is determined to turn Mrs Wishbone (Watson) into a vampire after taking a shine to her. Kidnapping and possible adultery ensue.

It's essentially another film centring on the importance of family, but, in the wake of Pixar's Coco, that's a very hard act to follow and so it proves here.


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