Month: May 2019

Film Year in Review: For mainstream Hollywood, 2016 was the worst year in memory

George Clooney in Hail, Caesar!: The Coen brothers’ supposed retro romp was chilly and difficult. Photo: Supplied Bleak: Kurt Russell and Samuel L Jackson in The Hateful Eight, one of the most political films of the year. Photo: Lindy Percival
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Comedy: Meryl Streep as Florence Foster Jenkins. Photo: Supplied

Isabelle Huppert in Elle: Mind games styled as an art movie. Photo: Supplied

Magical: Cemetery of Splendour was unabashed art cinema. Photo: Supplied

Girl Asleep was one of n cinema’s more worthwhile offerings.

Favourite: Kristen Stewart in Personal Shopper. Photo: Supplied

Jerry Lewis: The Man Behind The Clown. Photo: Supplied

These are interesting times to be a film reviewer, which doesn’t stop them from occasionally being rather dull.

Where mainstream Hollywood is concerned, 2016 was the worst year in memory: the outlook of the big studios has narrowed to the point where it’s unusual for them to back anything that isn’t a fantasy blockbuster, a strenuously edgy comedy or an uplifting biopic.

Still, even under these conditions good films get made, often by established names who have earned the clout to keep on doing what they do. Clint Eastwood’s Sullyturned an upbeat true story into something uncommonly subdued and haunting, while the Coen brothers’ supposed retro romp Hail Caesar was a religious allegory as chilly and difficult as any in their catalogue.

Quentin Tarantino’s bleak The Hateful Eight was one of the most political films of the year, and Ang Lee’s misunderstood Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk one of the most experimental – an essay on spectacle and perception which we hopefully won’t have to wait long to see in its original, pioneering high-frame-rate format.

A step away from the mainstream, Charlie Kaufman created a scale model of his own despair in the stop-motion Anomalisa(made with Duke Johnson), and Andrea Arnold offered an outsider’s romantic view of the US in her over-directed but exhilarating American Honey.

I was caught off-guard by Woody Allen’s quietly emotional Cafe Society, a demonstration of his ongoing commitment to dealing out his old cards in new ways.

Then there was Whit Stillman’s Love and Friendship, the funniest of Jane Austen adaptations; and Stephen Frears’ Florence Foster Jenkins, one of the rare comedies worthy of the finesse of Hugh Grant.

For now, it’s taken for granted that American product dominates n screens, but there’s no guarantee this will remain the case in decades to come. This year, non-Americans certainly had the best of it in the field of crowdpleasing entertainment.

Stephen Chow’s The Mermaid, from China, and Makoto Shinkai’s animated Your Name, from Japan, were truly imaginative fantasies; while Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople, from New Zealand, was a mock-epic adventure to delight viewers of any age.

Paul Verhoeven’s twisty melodrama Ellewas styled as a French art movie, but its mind games were at least as audacious as those of Verhoeven’s Hollywood blockbusters such as Total Recall.

Further into the realm of unabashed art cinema, Apichatpong Weerasethakul continued to explore buried landscapes of dream and memory – including memories of Thailand’s painful past – in his magical Cemetery of Splendour.

This was not a banner year for n cinema, although some worthwhile films were released – among them Ivan Sen’s Goldstoneand Rosemary Myers’ Girl Asleep. Eva Orner’s documentary Chasing Asylum– which contains rare, disturbing footage of our offshore detention centres – is the one local production all ns should see.

Here in Melbourne, the good news is that film culture continues to thrive, thanks to institutions like the n Centre for the Moving Image, the Astor Theatre, and especially the Melbourne Cinematheque, whose dedication to film history – and to screening of films at ACMI whenever possible in their original 35mm format – remains exemplary.

Specialised festivals are too many to list, but Monster Fest and the Melbourne International Animation Festival stood out as more adventurous than most. Mention should also be made of the regular avant-garde screenings mounted by the Artist Film Workshop, such as the recent program devoted to the work of Michael Lee – the kind of inspired maverick too rarely cited in discussions of the best in n cinema.

There’s also no space to do justice to this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival, impressive even by MIFF’s high standards. My favourites of the premieres – some of which may show up in release in 2017 – included 11 Minutes, Staying Vertical, Despite the Night, Happy Hour, Toni Erdmann and Personal Shopper.

Better still were the retrospectives – above all, the comprehensive tribute to the directing work of Jerry Lewis, a master comedian who also happens to be one of the world’s greatest living filmmakers. In his 1960s heyday, Lewis was able to get away with making bold, deeply personal art in the guise of light entertainment – something it’s impossible to imagine a comparable figure managing in the US now.

Unless perhaps he or she were working in television – but that’s another story. Top 10 films of 2016


Labor ought to stop pandering to millionaires on pensions

Illustration: Dionne Gain Former prime minister John Howard: had a rush of blood to the head. Photo: Kate Callas
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Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Once Labor and the unions stood up for battlers. Now they’re robocalling seeking sympathy for millionaires who want to stay on the pension.

From the end of this week 91,000 extremely wealthy pensioners will be kicked off a payment that was meant to be directed to those in the most need. They’ll lose an average of $5000 per year each. As a consolation, they’ll get to keep the far more valuable Seniors Health Card, entitling them to discounted medicine under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, easier access to the Medicare Safety Net and rewards for doctors who bulk-bill them.

Some are complaining they might not continue to get a discount on council rates. Another 236,000 exceedingly well-off pensioners will get less of a pension, an average of $3400 per year less.

Astonishingly, at the moment it’s possible for a couple to own a home (of whatever value) and investments of $1.18 million and still get a part pension. Couples who don’t own their home can hold investments worth $1.33 million. The changes, from January 1, will cut those thresholds to $816,000 and $1.02 million.

What’s being taken away is relatively new. In 2007 John Howard had a rush of blood to the head. Fearing he was about to lose office, facing a surplus that approached $20 billion, and believing the mining boom would last forever, he declared Christmas in July. On June 30 he posted nearly every senior citizen in the country a cheque for $500. On July 1 he made most super payouts tax free, and on September 20 he cut the pension assets test taper rate from $3 to $1.50 per fortnight.

This meant that instead of losing $3 of pension per fortnight for every $1000 in assets they owned over the full pension threshold, retirees lost $1.50. They could own twice as much over the threshold as before and still get a part pension. The change to the taper rate cost $1 billion per year and created a new generation of entitled wealthy pensioners.

Scott Morrison is the first treasurer to have taken them on, and he did it while social services minister. Announcing the return to the $3 taper rate ahead of time in 2015 he said Howard’s $1.50 rate had been introduced when the budget was in surplus and was no longer affordable.

Anyone who felt disadvantaged by losing an average of $3400 or $5000 a year could draw down on their investments, which by definition would be substantial. The worst case would require the well-off retiree to draw down 1.84 per cent of their assets.

Drawing down is what savings in retirement are meant to be for. As Morrison put it, super “isn’t there as an inheritance program; it’s not there as a wealth transfer program; it’s there so people can save for their retirement and have a great standard of living, a good standard of living in their retirement, that’s what it’s for”.

Yet research by his department and the Productivity Commission finds that most retirees don’t want to run down what they’ve got. Many continue to accumulate wealth while retired and while on the pension.

During their last five years on the pension 42.5 per cent of those surveyed lift their asset holdings and 24.7 per cent maintain them.

It’s behaviour Labor is defending. It voted against Morrison’s changes in Parliament and accepted them only during the last election when it was searching around for billions to make its promises add up.

In doing so it also voted against the rest of Morrison’s package, which boosted the ease with which not-so-well-off retirees could get the pension.

At the moment a couple with a home can only own shares and investments worth $296,500 before losing the full pension. From January 1 the threshold climbs to $375,000. For a couple without a home it climbs from $448,000 to $575,000.

An extra 50,000 modestly well-off part pensioners will get the full pension as a result of the changes Labor and the unions are decrying. A further 120,000 will get a bigger pension.

Morrison is Robin Hood. He is giving more to those who need it most and taking it away earlier from those who don’t.

Unfathomably, Labor is styling itself as the Sheriff of Nottingham. And not for the first time. When Education Minister Simon Birmingham conceded last month that there was a limit to what the Commonwealth could spend on schools and said it might get more bang for its buck if it wound back its spending on over-funded private schools and directed it to those in need, Labor’s Tanya Plibersek maintained that no school should be worse off.

It’s the same party that at first opposed the Coalition’s moves to even up the unfairness in superannuation tax concessions on the spurious ground that they were “retrospective”.

Oppositions are meant to do more than simply oppose. They are meant to provide a moral compass by showing us what’s right. This one could start by welcoming the overdue change taking place on January 1.

Peter Martin is economics editor of The Age.

Follow Peter Martin on Twitter and Facebook


Melbourne Victory put Mariners to the sword

A good night out: Besart Berisha and his Melbourne Victory teammates had plenty to celebrate after their 4-1 thumping of Central Coast on Wednesday night. Photo: Darrian TraynorMelbourne Victory ran rampant against the hapless Central Coast Mariners at AAMI Park, with Fahid Ben Khalfallah and Marco Rojas having a night out as Kevin Muscat’s side won 4-1 to move to a clear second place on the A-League ladder.
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Rojas netted twice, with Ben Khalfallah providing the assist on both occasions, and James Donachie scored his first for the club after Victory were set on their way by a first-half own goal by Mariners defender Jake McGing. Trent Buhagiar’s last-minute consolation goal came too little to make any difference for the visitors.

Muscat’s side is now seven points behind runaway league leaders Sydney FC, but they do have a game in hand. In this sort of form it is not impossible that they could mount a challenge to Graham Arnold’s team’s domination of the season so far.

Victory was quickly into its stride and moved the ball with pace, bringing wide men Rojas and Ben Khalfallah into the game at every opportunity.

Both men seized their chances and attacked with fluency on the wings, Rojas in particular causing the Mariners defence problems early with his touch and pace when they gave him too much space or leeway.

In contrast, the Mariners attacks were few and far between.

Their most dangerous man was Portuguese winger Fabio Ferreira, whose galloping run down the right was only halted by a crude Jason Geria challenge which earned the Victory defender an early yellow card.

Central Coast goalkeeper Paul Izzo kept his side in the game with an excellent save to deny Ben Khalfallah after a sweeping Victory move initiated by Rojas. He found James Troisi, whose pass released Geria on the right. The full-back’s cross was met first time by Ben Khalfallah but kept out by Izzo.

Besart Berisha then set up Troisi only for his shot to be easily saved by Izzo.

Victory got the goal that had been coming all game in the 28th minute, and for a second it seemed as though Berisha had struck to give him a new A-League record of 91 goals, taking him past former teammate Archie Thompson. The latter laughed and danced in the commentary box as he thought his former strike partner had broken his record of 90 goals, but replays confirmed that it actually was an own goal, Berisha’s shot going wide until it took a deflection off McGing to beat Izzo.

The goalkeeper then saved from Ben Khalfallah, whose hunger and appetite for the game has certainly returned in recent weeks.

Ferreira had the Mariners best chance five minutes before the interval when he created space for himself and unleashed a fierce shot which Lawrence Thomas, who had had little to do, did well to parry wide. Mariners forward Roy O’Donovan could only fire the rebound into the side netting.

Troisi, still in search of his first goal of the season, again drew a blank, shooting wide at the end of the first half and then being thwarted by Izzo’s diving save early in the second period.

He might not be able to hit the net but the Socceroo midfielder is one of Victory’s best goal providers, and shortly after he illustrated his skills in that sphere once again.

Troisi’s deft free kick in the 50th minute was lofted into the penalty area at an inviting height and pace. Donachie was able to head home having escaped his marker, netting his first goal for the club and doubling the lead.

In response, former Victory winger Connor Pain tested Thomas at the other end with a well-struck shot the keeper tipped over.

It was all academic in the 58th minute after Victory stretched the lead to three.

Troisi won the ball in midfield and Ben Khalfallah unselfishly slid a pass to Rojas to score.

A minute later it was four, when Ben Khalfallah’s delightful chipped pass fell into Rojas’ path and he finished coolly past Izzo.


Passport appointment scheduled, despite post office being closed

Sarah Hort outside Martin Place post office on Wednesday, after discovering the Potts Point office was closed. Photo: Steven Siewert Customers, many seeking passport services, line up at Martin Place post office on Wednesday. Photo: Steven Siewert
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Sarah Hort arrived at Potts Point post office on Wednesday for an appointment she made online more than two weeks ago.

The 23-year-old had received a text on Tuesday from Post, confirming her midday appointment to renew her passport.

But to her surprise, the doors were locked.

She tried to call Post’s help and support line but couldn’t get through. The automated reply announced businesses were “closed due to the public holiday”.

Ms Hort said she couldn’t understand what was happening, as Wednesday wasn’t a public holiday.

“Even if it was, why would they schedule appointments knowing no one would be there?” she said.

Ms Hort then called the n Passport Office, which told her the Martin Place post office was open and was taking new passport and renewal applications.

A long queue snaked out of the Martin Place office, with some people saying they had waited more than two hours to be served.

The n Passport Office says people should allow approximately three weeks when applying for a new passport, while for urgent applications they can request priority service that costs $127 and ensures the passport arrives within two business days.

Ms Hort’s planned trip to New Caledonia is in early February, but other people in the Martin Place queue on Wednesday were facing greater challenges.

One 21-year-old man, who asked not to be named, said: “I don’t think I’ll make it by the 1:30pm cut-off, and then they’ll consider it an extra [business] day … the line is too long and the people in front of us have been waiting over an hour.

“If I don’t make my flight to Lebanon on Saturday, I can’t go to the mass funeral for my father,” he said.

This year, December 28 was the annual Post authorised holiday. An Post statement said the holiday has been enjoyed by staff for more than 50 years to recognise the hard work put in by the workforce throughout the year.

Some post offices were open, such as the one at Martin Place, but there were no deliveries.

“This year was one of our busiest festive periods ever – from October we have been successfully delivering more than 1 million parcels a day and in early December we broke a record, delivering more than 2 million parcels in a 24-hour period,” the statement said.

“We alert our customers about our annual authorised holiday in advance via public notices in our post offices and our website.”

A spokesperson said Post would try to contact Ms Hort to organise an appointment for her on Thursday morning.

Post holiday trading & delivery

December 28: Post authorised holiday: Post Offices open (selected only), no deliveries

December 29: Post Offices open, delivering

December 30: Post Offices open, delivering

December 31: Post Offices open, no deliveries

January 1: New Year’s Day: Post Offices closed, no deliveries

January 2: New Year’s Day public holiday: Post Offices closed, no deliveries

January 3: Post Offices open, delivering


Late penalty gives Canberra United W-League top spot after win over Melbourne Victory

Melbourne Victory forward Natasha Dowie says W-League referees aren’t up to scratch. Photo: Penny Stephens Samantha Johnson of Melbourne Victory and Michelle Heyman of Canberra United collide. Photo: Darrian Traynor
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Canberra United coach Rae Dower says it’s unlikely Matildas striker Michelle Heyman will be fit for their away trip to Sydney FC after she was stretchered off in their last-gasp win.

Melbourne Victory striker Natasha Dowie blasted the standard of W-league refereeing after a controversial penalty cost them a point against high-flying United.

United winger Ashleigh Sykes calmly put the penalty away for a 2-1 victory at AAMI Park on Wednesday, after a Hayley Raso shot struck the arm of Victory captain Christine Nairn in the 87th minute – although Nairn had little chance to get her arm out of the way.

Heyman will get scans of her ankle on Thursday or Friday, but a positive for Canberra is Lisa De Vanna’s clearance is expected to go through in the “next 24 hours”.

“It’s too early to tell until we send her off for scans tomorrow. It’s a pretty bad ankle at the moment, fingers crossed it’s nothing more than a bad sprain,” Dower said.

“I’d say it’s very unlikely she’ll be available next game given we’ve got three games in 11 days. Highly unlikely she’ll be ready in four days time.”

While Dower wasn’t impressed with her team’s scrappy performance, she was impressed with the way they fought back from a goal down without their captain.

Heyman lasted just 13 minutes before she landed awkwardly and rolled her ankle, with the trainer immediately calling for the stretcher.

Victory went ahead when Dowie capitalised on a loose ball to slot it away in the corner.

She terrorised Canberra’s defence for the first 50 minutes and should have had at least one more goal to her credit.

Her opener came against the run of play, pouncing on a loose ball and slotting nicely into the corner of Trudy Burke’s goal.

Canberra’s young star Nicky Flannery lashed home an equaliser early in the second half after Melbourne failed to clear a Hannah Brewer cross.

Then Sykes stepped up to claim the win from the penalty spot.

But Dowie felt her team deserved at least a point and blasted the standard of refereeing after the game.

She wasn’t happy about Victory not getting a penalty of their own when she appeared to be pulled back by Canberra defender Clare Hunt.

“I am absolutely gutted to be honest. The league is never going to improve with this refereeing,” the England striker told the ABC.

“We don’t deserve to have got nothing out of that game and it’s simple, basic refereeing, so if this league’s ever going to kick on it needs to be changed massively.”

The result sends Canberra back to the top of the W-League and leaves Melbourne winless near the bottom of the ladder.

Victory travels to Brisbane to face the Roar on New Year’s Day, while Canberra plays Sydney FC two days later.


Canberra United 2 (Nicky Flannery 53, Ashleigh Sykes 89) bt Melbourne Victory 1 (Natasha Dowie 30) at AAMI Park.