Freud’s Last Session [7/10]

Freud's Last Session review

The premise of Freud’s Last Session, directed and co-written by Matt Brown (who doesn’t shy from conceptually challenging ideas, as shown by his movie about a famous Indian mathematician, The Man Who Knew Infinity), might largely predetermine if this should occupy your time. What if Sigmund Freud, just before his London death in September 1939 (with evil occurring real time as Hitler invaded Poland), entertained a visit from C. S. Lewis, then a young academic who had renounced atheism for Christianity? What if the sex-focused atheist debated God with the god-botherer? If you abhor religion but equally decry Freudianism, Freud’s Last Session will annoy rather than entertain, and I had thought, as I entered the cinema, that I would fall into this category, only to find myself rather engrossed in the scorching debate. One reason of course is the acting, Anthony Hopkins in crackling form as the founder of psychoanalysis and Matthew Goode equally fine as the author of the Narnia books, but the script also engages, cleverly building up tension from not much more than two men walking from room to room. The overall impact is blunted by the disjunctive subplots of Anna Freud and Lewis’s war flashbacks, but if movies exploring intellectual matters is your preference, I can commend Freud’s Last Session.

Total Control Season 3 [8/10]

Total Control Season 3 review

The first two seasons of Total Control, a savage examination of Australian politics through the lens of an indigenous politician who grabs the center of power, rocketed along with great brio and intelligence (my review of Season 2), and the second season ended with a corker of a cliffhanger, so I embarked on the six-episode Season 3 expecting more of the same. The first two episodes sagged under the weight of setting the scene, to the extent that I suddenly began to experience disappointment. Deborah Mailman was still superb as Senator Alex Irving, Rachel Griffiths oozed raw, almost honest ambition, and the supporting cast still rocked, but the plot of Senator Irving having acted as kingmaker for Australia’s first indigenous prime minister, initially felt ponderous. But the final four episodes found their feet, the various subplots (Alex’s brother as an adviser to the prime minister while his wife reaches the end of her pregnancy, for example) enriched the central realpolitik drama, and all the story elements cascaded wonderfully into place by the time of a corker of a climax. Total Control is heartily recommended, all three seasons in turn.

Maestro by Brad Cooper [7/10]

Maestro review

If you swoon over Leonard Bernstein’s conducting (clearly inspirational, if Brad Cooper’s portrayal captures it) or composing, then Maestro, which not only stars Cooper but was co-written and directed by him, is likely to captivate you. This is by no means your standard dull biopic but an arty, bold take, from the largely black-and-white cinematography to the demanding scripting (which smacks you into a scene with no preamble, which can skip years in a second) to the Bernstein-music score to the rapid-fire, very upper-class-Manhattan dialogue. This is a film that excites the mind as much as the senses. Brad Cooper’s take on Bernstein’s life, which seems to be so full of action and intrigue and heft, centers on his relationship with his wife, Felicia Montealegre (played brilliantly by Carey Mulligan, who even manages to nudge Cooper out of the limelight), especially the complexities woven by Bernstein’s simultaneous love for her and his unstoppable attraction to male lovers. In the final analysis, this viewer’s emotions failed to be ignited, perhaps due to the seriousness of the overall approach, but Maestro definitely deserves a watch.

Suppose a Sentence by Brian Dillon [7/10]

Brian Dillon Suppose a Sentence review

Not for everyone, Suppose a Sentence sees writer/critic Brian Dillon muse deeply about twenty-eight sentences, long or short, old or recent, that he has “collected” because of a profound effect on him. From Shakespeare to Claire-Louise Bennett, from Virginia Woolf to James Baldwin, from Samuel Beckett to Hilary Mantel … the book is an idiosyncratic but fascinating journey. Some of the sentences hit me hard – cue Annie Dillard, Maeve Brennan, Joan Didion, for example. Others somewhat baffled me but aroused in the author a reflection that I thoroughly enjoyed – cue Gertrude Stein, Elizabeth Hardwick, Susan Sontag. Overall, Suppose a Sentence comes recommended for prose nerds and reflective stylists.

The Taste of Things by Anh Hung Tran [4/10]

The Taste of Things review

French-Vietnamese director Anh Hung Tran’s The Taste of Things is a combination of a luscious love story and a luscious foodie film. Late 19th century gourmand of fame, Dodin, is played with huge passion and intimate physicality (we hear a lot of his breathing) by Benoît Magimel, and his world shifts with a challenge to cook for a local prince but also by his efforts to woo his 20-year kitchen cook, Eugénie, played by audience favorite Juliette Binoche. The film revolves around scene after kitchen scene of luxuriously filmed food preparation sessions, and I have to say there is abundant beauty, very much a treat for the French foodie fan, in these gorgeously filmed gourmand sequences. But the intoxicating ambience is badly served by the glacial script, stilted dialogue throughout, and Binoche’s superficial, beaming performance. The second half, marked as it is by the urgency of tragedy, works better than the first. Mark The Taste of Things as a visually appealing disappointment.