ABR Arts Film

Nomadland 

Valerie Ng
25 February 2021

Life in the Nevada town of Empire has become extinct: the town’s plant has been shut, the houses emptied, the postcode eliminated. Fern’s (Frances McDormand) husband has died recently, and when we see meet her at the start of Nomadland, written and directed by Chloé Zhao (The Rider, Songs My Brother Taught Me), Fern’s sole earthly anchor is a small van in which she has packed all her remaining belongings. She cuts ties with the last of Empire’s residents with a firm hug and a tight smile, then drives off into a vast, frozen landscape. Untied from the comforts and constraints of a stationary life, she navigates a difficult freedom, relying for her livelihood on the fortuity of sporadic employment, free parking spaces, and human decency.

... (read more)

'My Octopus Teacher' (Netflix)

Anne Rutherford
17 February 2021

In the hands of an occupational hygienist, the combination of light and a fluid medium is a scientific tool to demonstrate the flow of vapours, the way aerosols hang suspended in the air, tiny particles that linger and drift, hovering like miasmas. When the gaseous medium of air is freighted with moisture, light makes air visible, revealing it as dense and saturated. This sudden revelation brings into sharp relief the normally unseen residues that we share with those around us each time we breathe and speak – potentially lethal fluid vectors of contamination. However, if we step back from the anxiety this revelation might induce, we can see this demonstration as a key to understanding how an encounter between linear streams of light and meandering fractals of a fluid medium is at the core of some of the most exquisite and enlivening aesthetic experiences in contemporary culture.

... (read more)

Minari 

Richard Leathem
10 February 2021

The immigrant experience in America has been told on film many times, but Lee Isaac Chung’s tangibly personal Minari is as distinguished by all the familiar things than by the disarming intimacy evoked by small, unexpected details.

... (read more)

The Dig 

Brian McFarlane
02 February 2021

Though one of the most sparing titles in recent film history, The Dig announces what proves to be one of the richest cinema experiences for some time. Based on true events and on John Preston’s 2007 novel of the same name, Simon Stone’s film creates a subtly textured account of a historical phenomenon as well as a moving reflection on the lives that are transformed by this.

... (read more)

Oliver Sacks: His Own Life (Madman Films) 

Richard Leathem
02 December 2020

Admirers of Oliver Sacks (1933–2015) may think a documentary on the famed British neurologist and author is superfluous given the number of books published on him in recent years. Lawrence Welschler’s memoir And How Are You, Dr Sacks? (2019) is impressively comprehensive. Sacks’ own partner, Bill Hayes, provided more insight with Insomniac City (2017), and Sacks himself produced two memoirs, Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a chemical boyhood (2001) and On The Move: A life (2015). It is this second autobiography that would seem the final word on the subject, yet the documentary Oliver Sacks: His Own Life offers its own rewards. While it covers much of the same ground as On The Move (Sacks actually reads excerpts from it for the camera), the opportunity to see him on screen, speaking with such candour, feels like a privilege that sets it apart from the written word.

... (read more)

Mank 

Barnaby Smith
26 November 2020

Despite nearly eighty years having passed since its release, Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941) is never far from the centre of cultural discourse. Aside from the fact that it tops ‘greatest movie’ lists with monotonous regularity, Citizen Kane often comes into view in somewhat quirky ways as it relates to today’s world. For example, there was Donald Trump’s much-publicised and much-derided misunderstanding of the film’s message, and few years ago there a the strange report of Welles having been posthumously ‘forgiven’ by the family of William Randolph Hearst, the wealthy press baron who inspired the character of Charles Foster Kane.

... (read more)

The Boys in the Band 

Dennis Altman
12 October 2020

It is hard today to recall the full extent of the furore that surrounded the first productions of Mart Crowley’s play The Boys in the Band. First produced off Broadway in April 1968, a year before the riots at the Stonewall Inn that sparked a new militant gay politics, it quickly became a hit, and was staged in Sydney later that year, where it ran for seven months.

... (read more)

The Social Dilemma 

Joshua Krook
21 September 2020

If you watch one film about technology this year, make it this one. The Social Dilemma (Netflix) features almost every tech insider turned outsider. There’s Tristan Harris, Google’s former chief design ethicist who famously dissented over the company’s attention/addiction business model. There’s Justin Rosenstein, the inventor of the Facebook ‘like’ button, who now regrets his invention. There’s Guillaume Chaslot, inventor of the YouTube recommendations system, who now regrets his invention. There’s Jaron Lanier, founder of virtual reality, who now wants people to delete their social media accounts. There’s Shoshana Zuboff, author of last year’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, who blew the lid on the whole game. And that’s just in the first few minutes.

... (read more)

Ratched 

Tim Byrne
21 September 2020

How, precisely, does a character unmoor itself from its source material? And how concerned should we be to track its progress – or should that be retrace its steps? These questions bugged me as I admittedly devoured Ryan Murphy’s new Netflix series, Ratched. Ostensibly a prequel, it re-contextualises and re-packages the unforgettable villain Nurse Ratched from Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962) for entirely different aims, so much so that the original feels hopelessly far away. In fact, there’s little evidence of Kesey at all.

... (read more)

Hearts and Bones 

Jordan Prosser
11 May 2020

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a slippery condition to pin down and portray. Cinema in general struggles to convey the depth and nuance of mental illness, especially when it stems from trauma. We’re often left with frenzied flashbacks, bombastic sound design, and overripe performances that skirt dangerously close to parody. A mental illness is like a haunting, which may be why genre cinema – especially the horror genre – has recently found such success exploring the topic.

... (read more)