Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The best of the best with honours 2009

I was recently asked to participate in the inaugural Sydney Film Critics Best Of 2009 (cick to read SFC's top 20) poll organised by Matt Ravier of Last Night With Riviera. The following is my humble submission as to the movies that made my 2009 an unforgettable year in cinema...

How exactly do you measure the quality of a year in cinema? Top 10 lists sure are one way; for film journalists they are bread and butter as well as the staple we love to hate. There might be some truth, however, to the idea that a better measurement of the quality of a year in cinema is the films that didn’t make the cut, the ones painfully disregarded in the formation of one’s own subjective best of the best of the best. With honours.

Much maligned though it was Watchmen just barely failed to make my final list – years later it will be considered one of the great American literary adaptations. Or how about Rachel Getting Married? As genuine a portrait of a loving, dysfunctional family I’ve seen in several years. These movies made me laugh uncontrollably, cry inconsolably, boil with rage or otherwise reached into my soul, with their truth, importance or spectacle in ways that reminded me exactly why I love cinema as I do: Three Blind Mice, Avatar, The Girlfriend Experience, District 9, Public Enemies, (500) Days Of Summer, UP, Drag Me To Hell, Inglorious Basterds, Balibo, A Serious Man, The Cove.

Any one could have made my top 10, which is as reliable as a dead narrator.


10. Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, USA)
9. Antichrist (Lars von Trier, Denmark)
8. Moon (Duncan Jones, UK)
7. Samson & Delilah (Warwick Thornton, Australia)
6. Che (Steven Soderbergh, USA/France/Spain)
5. Let The Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, Sweden)
4. Encounters At The End Of The World (Werner Herzog, USA)
3. Where The Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze, USA)
Probably the most satisfying slow-burner of the year. Solemn and melancholic for sure, but deeply emotional and personal also. Only one film made me cry harder and longer in 2009...
2. Milk (Gus van Sant, USA)
Van Sant didn't set out to reinvent the biopic here, only to tell the story of one man and his fight for quality. Inspirational might be a cliche term for such a film, but I dream of a world where 'leaders' in Copenhagen, Washington and Canberra had even a drop of Harvey Milk's dedication to social justice.
1. Gomorrah (Matteo Garrone, Italy)
An astonishing film that literally pulverised me into desperate submission with a relentless exposé of the violent, corrupt and bleak world that consumes a small Italian community in Naples, framing its inhabitant's very existence from which there is no escape. Never has the mob underworld be so unromantised, so grimy or so deadly.


10. Beaches Of Agnes (Agnes Varda, France)
9. 35 Shots Of Rum (Claire Denis, France/Germany)
8. Up In The Air (Jason Reitman, USA)
7. In The Loop (Armando Lannucci, UK)
6. Sin Nombre (Cary Fukunaga, USA)
5. Humpday (Lynn Shelton, USA)
4. The Road (John Hillcoat, USA)
3. Goodbye Solo (Ramin Bahrani, USA)
2. Fantastic Mr Fox (Wes Anderson, USA)
1. The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigalow, USA)

NB: Anders Østergaard brilliant documentary Burma VJ was supposed to be on my final unreleased in Australia list but I somehow left it off (infuriatingly).


Film review: Where The Wild Things Are

Director: Spike Jonze
Cast: Max Records, James Gandolfini
Country: USA

I don't want you to go, I'll eat you up, I love you so – KW

If Spike Jonze’s adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s classic story Where The Wild Things Are is the year’s most anticipated film, it might also the year's most flawed work of art. On the surface it is a simple story about childhood angst and flight into fantasy, but beneath that rough irreverent topsoil lies something so deeply personal and individual no one person’s experience can easily be compared to another.

Feral child Max (newcomer Max Records) is a force of nature who literally consumes the screen; chaotic energy in wolve’s clothing, wrestling a canine companion. Jonze whisks the audience back to its childhood as Max builds an igloo, preparing snowballs for an assault on his big sister’s friends, a plan that that does not quite go accordingly. Igloo in ruins, the young lad is left to nurse a damaged ego, with only his imagination to provide comfort.

Herein lie the most prominent themes of Where The Wild Things Are: loneliness and fantasy. Max’s reality is one defined in by an absent father, a distracted mother and a sister who doesn’t seem to care. That we see so little of the later two and none of the former is crucial when Max takes flight into the unknown night, before discovering a sailboat and crossing an ocean to an island inhabited by giant furry beasties. Through a mixture of brash courage and childish naivety the monsters declare Max their king, thanks to the attention of Carol, a much-desired patriarch (voiced by James Gandolfini) who simultaneously embodies the film’s overlying sense of melancholy.

Taking a book which contains only nine sentences and turning it into an $80 million feature film is no mean feat and writer Dave Eggers retains the original’s erudite approach to dialogue. As a result the slow-paced second act struggles to find meaningful narrative for its protagonists while the film’s Wild Things never really seem that threatening, beautiful though they are realised. Despite the technical expertise at work, Jonze somehow fails to find penetrate the greater depths of his ambitions.

Yet as WTWTA speeds to its conclusion, whatever angst we've suppressed in our sub-conscious, whether our relationship with our parents or our own adulthood, is suddenly and unceremoniously exposed. It is not so much a nostalgic yearning for childhood that is evoked as a need, the burning desire to belong. Family matters; and while we might wish to escape from those closest to us, Jonze reminds us that saying goodbye can be the hardest thing of all.


Film review: Antichrist

Director: Lars von Trier
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg
Country: Denmark

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark and, by all accounts, it is the mind of master provocateur Lars von Trier. When the filmmaker’s latest work debuted at the Cannes it was immediately guaranteed a place in the annals of the film festival’s history; booed and hissed throughout, Antichrist provoked numerous walkouts and sent a few more sensitive patrons into bouts of fainting spells thanks to scenes described by more than a few commentators as ‘needlessly graphic’.

That after all these years von Trier is still able to shock so effectively is impressive, that he is able to do so at a time when torture porn has reached the mainstream is surprising. For all the controversy and criticism dividing audiences down the middle, Antichrist remains a bizarrely beautiful film to watch. Hideous too, but there can be no denying that with the structural rigours of Dogme filmmaking set aside, von Trier remains a director of considerable artistry.

The film opens to a monochrome prologue in which Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg (neither’s characters are given names, known only as He and She) make love (though thanks to the jarring insertion of a penetration shot there’s a implied sense of pure carnal fucking) in the shower as water droplets cascade in slo-mo over their bodies. Their lust (or is it self-absorption?) is inter-cut with the misadventures of the couple’s child who, escaping from his cot, climbs onto the window ledge as snow falls outside. As She and Him climax in erotic bliss and the child falls to the accompaniment of a Handel aria, it is difficult not to be intoxicated by the devilishly interplay of beauty and tragedy. It is also the first level of disturbing material von Trier toys with as the film ups the ante in each of the proceeding chapters entitled: Grief, Pain and Despair.

After a month in hospital, Dafoe’s professional therapist decides he knows best and takes his wife home to continue her recovery, after all, “no therapist can know as much about you as I do.” Fair comment maybe, but there’s little room for doubt where his arrogance is concerned as therapy becomes a synonym for control, allowing for an argument of sly feminism in von Trier’s babbling essay. To a remote cabin the woods they head to allow Her to confront her fears. It is here curiosity about the occult, nature as Satan’s church, talking foxes and infamous genital mutilation all occur.

Amid the controversy much fun has been made of von Trier’s final cinematic insult, dedicating his film to one of the greats, Andrei Tarkovsky, a credit not necessarily as glib or blasphemous as presumed. Antichrist might be an elaborate joke, but it is anything but a shallow one.


Film review: Moon

Director: Duncan Jones
Cast: Sam Rockwell
Country: UK

The silent loneliness of space seems long forgotten in science fiction of the last two decades, more obsessed as the genre has been with the noisy theatrics of space opera since Stars Wars in 1977. A few films both before and after have defied that populist approach to big screen, high concept action, instead pursuing the conceit – in one way or another – where in space no-one can hear you scream when crazy shit goes down. Even before Ridley Scott informed us on this piece of trivia, film such as Solyaris (1972), Silent Running (1972) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) had already warned that the infinite, black vacuum was not the safest of playgrounds for the fragile human psyche. And now here in 2009 we find ourselves propelled back to that golden age of hard space sci-fi with Moon, a film that wears its cinephilia on its sleeve, masking the brilliant manipulations is deploys.

Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, a man incarcerated by his job on the far side of the Moon, the sole supervisor of a mining facility. At some point in the not wholly distant future, mankind (or rather a company known as Lunar Industries) has solved the energy crisis thanks to a Hellium-3, a substance extracted from lunar rock that provides Earth with a pollution-free form of nuclear fusion. The mining is all largely automated and so Sam’s role is to be the human fixer at the facility and he is fact approaching the end of his three year tenure where his only companion is Hal-9000 reminiscent Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey), a computer with emoticons to express sardonic empathy for his human counterpart when called upon. Not all is well for Sam though, he seems to be getting ill, hallucinations haunt his waking hours and a broken satellite prevents him from communicating live with his wife and young daughter.

As this remarkable debut feature from Duncan Jones, son of David Bowie, begins to unfold with deeply satisfying and taut storytelling it becomes quite apparent that whilst derivative of its predecessors Moon has achieved a kind of cinematic self-awareness; and as a result stands tall as its own film, with its own ideas. Central to this is the highly talented, and wholly underappreciated Rockwell who is able to convey so much emotion with very little effort, wrinkled eyes masking an underlying well of sadness. For such an understated film, produced on a budget of merely US$5 million, Rockwell is the perfect star. Jones has made something akin to an agronomical masterpiece in filmmaking, with production, story and performance all in near perfect harmony, with a message that will resonate with thoughtful viewers for long after the credits have rolled.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Film review: Sin Nombre

Director: Cary Fukunaga
Country: USA/Mexico

Every day we see news reports of malnourished, scared immigrants aboard ramshackle floatation devices, desperately chasing dreams of a new life. That we call them ‘boat people’ might assuage our own conscience but doesn’t change the reality that such people cling to what might sometimes be more suitably defined as driftwood. In the political arena they are a thorn in the side of governmental policy-makers and in the media they are merely fodder to be chewed in the daily cycle of 24-hour news. In Sin Nombre, Spanish for ‘without a name’, we are reminded that they are parents and children, each with their own story, compelling and heartbreaking in equal measure.

Director Cary Fukunaga’s remarkable debut feature tells the story of two not so nameless teenagers who risk their lives in the pursuit of the American Dream, one that doesn’t necessarily entail white picket fences and an SUV. Their dream is simply to escape the violence or poverty that surround and imprison them. Sayra is a young Honduran woman who, along with her father and uncle, embarks on the long trek across Central America by foot, boat and train to the North. Willy (Edgar Flores) is a teenager attempting to escape real-life gang Mara Salvatrucha after its leader murders his girlfriend from a rival neighbourhood. It is on top a northbound train, packed by similarly anonymous immigrants, that their paths cross and friendship is kindled.

Fukunaga expertly weaves politics, love, drama and violence into his own script and is rewarded with some breathless performances from his young cast. Evoking memories of City Of God’s baby gangsters and the grit of Amores Perros’ first chapter, Sin Nombre proves as visually assured and as rich in composition as it is in story. With the devil in the details, Fukunaga leaves little room for doubt of his familiarity with the subject matter so filled is the journey with nuances of the trails and perils lying along the road. As Sin Nombre grounds to its inevitable end never for a moment does it become anything less than engrossing, giving names to the nameless, leaving a mark on your soul long after the credits have rolled.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Deconstructing Larry: An interview with Lars von Trier

I recently interviewed Lars von Trier via video Skype and I must say it was one of the most unexpected interview experiences I've had in eight years as a film journalist. Not just because I was talking to one of the most interesting filmmakers of the past two decades, but because the man himself was not close to how I had perhaps expected. Physically, he seemed timid, thinning hair greying in colour, puffy cheeked, shoulders slouched, gripping his assistant chair as his voice trembled throughout the interview. For those who know me I'm hardly the most intimidating person to talk with or be interviewed by.

Below is the product of out 20 minute chat, which I found fascinating, insightful and deeply personal. I apologise for all the obvious missed follow-up questions, of which I can see plenty (what does he mean it would be "lying" to not present the graphic sex and violence?), but there was such a limited time and so many things I wanted to try and cover. The finished article was written up for Street Press Australia and I believe made the cover of Inpress in Melbourne (a shorter version was also printed in Drum Media).

I won't pass any further comment on the content, instead I leave that to you...

It’s seven months since the film premiered in Cannes, how do you feel now you have some distance between you and the initial reactions?

Well, I must say I understand the film less and less the more time that goes. I’ve made quite a lot of interviews and I think I’m getting much poorer at it. The negative reception in Cannes was fine with me, I don’t have a problem with that. I’ve been yelled at before.

Were you surprised by the hysteria?

Yeah, I don’t think I had prepared myself enough for that, which was stupid.

One of the common accusations is that the film is ‘needlessly graphic' – do you find that oddly contradictory given your reputation as a provocateur?

[Deep sign] You know, 'needlessly graphic'? Of course it depends on how you work. The normal saying is that you should show as little as possible to let these things exist in the mind or the brain of the spectator and thereby making them much stronger. For me it was never a question whether to have this graphicness both in the sex and the violence, somehow I thought it would be lying not to put it there.

Do you think accusations that ‘you wish to do nothing more than shock’ are unfair?

Well anything is fair to say but I don’t think it is right. I have worked all my life with films and I think shocking is quite poor is that is all you want to do or provoke. I believe there is much more in the films and that my work is… well, if I should shock or provoke someone I will still claim that I provoke myself with these things. But not the graphicness, it is maybe more natural to this country.

You surrendered a lot of control over this film shoot than previously, how important to your development as a filmmaker was stepping out of your comfort zone in this way?

It was interesting but it was not of my own free will I did that. I suffered from depression and I was just working myself out of this by doing the film work. I just didn’t have the strength or sharpness that I think I used to have.

You have said this is your most personal film to date, do you feel a sense of relief or does baring your demons in such a way unnerve you further?

I don’t really feel so strongly about it. It’s made in a very automatic way and if you are a normal human being then you would be very, very scared that this is what would come out of you if you just relaxed but I’m hardcore (laughs). I’ve been trying to work with this tilted brain of mine for many years so nothing, I think, can really shock me.

It is nothing new for artists suffering depression to turn to self-portraits as a reflex to the anxiety and frustration they feel. To what extent then is Antichrist a Lars von Trier self-portrait?

Well, to a certain degree, but I have always made [self-portraits] in that when I write I always put a little or a lot of myself into the characters, I think, or at least I am told, that is my method. If it gets even more of a self-portrait people will run screaming away, which they do already.

In that case, on reflection, do you have an awareness of how that manifests itself in the film?

No. To some point that is how we all have to deal with life.

There’s always much talk about the apparent misogyny present in your films, do you feel you have a healthy grip on your conscious and unconscious relationship with women?

Who has? (laughs) I don’t know, I’m doing my best. My mother was quite a prominent feminist in this country and she if she had not been cremated she would probably be turning in her grave.

You found out your father wasn’t your biological father as your mum was about to pass away – how old were you at this time?

I was quite old, I think I was 30.

It is a life-changing moment for any person this sort of revelation as I know from personal experience, how do you think that experience with your mother informed your relationship with the women in your films?

Well that’s a good question. I haven’t really thought very much about that. You know this situation where you find out your dad is not your biological dad is very common as you know. Just after you find out it was very severe for me and it was a great shock. But I think the longer that goes the more you find out what matters is the man who was there and not the guy who was not. It is very clear from my even more loving relationship with the guy I call my father, that did not deliver the genes, than I did before. It’s very strange about my mother that she kept this a secret because in her beliefs such things should not be kept secret, but it’s quite interesting how bourgeoisie these free-minded people also are.

Have you found any closure in this?

I don’t know. Have you met your real father?

Yes, it was a good, yet somehow unsatisfactory experience.

When I met my father he was extremely unsympathetic and I couldn’t see how I had anything in common with him whatsoever, only the fact that we looked like each other. It was a very negative meeting I had. Later on I found I had siblings from his side who I see now. I had a fantasy about the meeting where we would cry and embrace and it was nothing like that, I tell you. He told me any further contact should be through his lawyer. That was quite hard.

Has it altered your certainty about yourself?

If you believe I have any certainty (laughs). It is good to have some kids and a family, I wouldn’t say I am really certain of anything but I appreciate the qualities of the family life when you have a very turbulent job. I’m beginning to become very much of a sissy, I’m beginning to feel the pressure to make a film, or how a film should be and received. A few years ago I would have denied that for certain. I don’t know what happens, maybe I should just stop.

But then how would you go about managing that uncertainty?

Yeah, I think the biggest problem then is what I should do because just doing nothing is just really bad for me. I have to do something passionate, I don’t know what it could be.

[police sirens]

What is that?

There’s a police station around the corner…

Oh, well you are safe then (laughs).

How does grappling with your own demons inform your approach to exploring the dark recesses of the human condition?

It’s something I do not analyse very much. A film comes to me very much as an idea and then it develops, I’m really not steering it in any specific direction. I feel myself a little bit as a medium in the sense that by following my own thoughts and what you would say is a register of films that I like from when I saw a lot of films, these two things and following my own path without really deciding what the path is. I strongly feel I am following a path with what I am doing and the luxury of being able to follow that path without too much hesitation is a luxury that very few directors have in the sense I can actually finance these films and nobody tells me what to do. And since I this position I have a strong sense I have to use this possibility.

Do you ever wonder if all this will be the making of you or your ruin?

No, I don’t think so. I think I would have been an even sicker person had I not made films, yes, I’m quite sure. When we play Monopoly in Denmark we have a little card that says go directly to the police station and turn yourself in. That would be kinda easy for you… I’m sorry, it was just an idea.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Film review: A Serious Man

Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Cast: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed
Country: Coensville, USA
Year: 2009

When the truth is found to be lies, and all the joy within you dies... Rabbi Marshak

There ought to be a support group for characters of Coen brother’s movie, so tormented are the lives and experiences of such an existence. After the Oscar-winning success of their last masterpiece No Country For Old Men the filmmakers turned their sights to the farcical with Burn After Reading, a film about greed and the self-absorbed. With their latest effort, A Serious Man, the Coens turn their deadpan absurdity levels to 11 for latest victim Larry Gopnik (Michael Struhlbarg), a married, physics teacher with a couple of kids in a Jewish enclave of 1967 suburban Minnesota; a man to whom Very Bad Things are about to happen.

The irony is not lost in the film’s title, nor is it within all that occurs. Life, the Coen’s would have us believe, is a force of natural too unpredictable to be taken seriously no matter how hard we try and no matter whatever certainty we may think exists. Gopnik is a man to whom the status quo is religion in a world where God might just be too cruel a force to allow such malaise to go unchecked.

For Gopnik things start out bad and get progressively worse, and worse, and worse. First his wife Judith (Sari Lennick) announces she is leaving him for his recently widowed pompous pal Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed), his redneck neighbour appears combustible while his deadbeat brother has taken up residence in his living room when not frequently bars of dubious moral. Add to this a son newly acquainted with the teenage harlot Mary Jane, a daughter stealing money for a nose job, a tenure committee meeting to decide his job while someone writes anonymous letters slandering him and a failing Korean student who simultaneously brides him and threatens to sue him. So it is at the behest of his lawyer that Gopnik turns to religion for counsel.

Strange it has taken the Coens so long to turn the focus of their dark sense of humour so squarely on their Jewish roots for material, making up for lost time the brothers consciously run riot. As Gopnik seeks the advice of one Rabbi and then another, he discovers little more than abstract fables that provide little in the way of answers and more in the way of questions. God, if he exists, might not be a cruel master so much as he is an ambivalent one with a surreal sense of humour.

Fatalism becomes all prevailing, providing further evidence that when it comes to the human condition there are few storytellers with a keener, darker eye than the Coens. Funny though it might be, A Serious Man is a resolutely uncomfortable experience and deserving of a place amidst Joel and Ethan’s finest work.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Film review: Cedar Boys

Director: Serhat Caradee
Cast: Les Chantery, Buddy Dannoun, Waddah Sari
Country: Australia
Year: 2009

A big hit at the Sydney Film Festival this year, Cedar Boys sees first-time feature writer-helmer Serhat Caradee join the ranks of filmmakers attempting to take the path less explored of Australia’s non-white (sub)urban experience. As the film’s title suggests, Caradee story focuses on young Lebanese men, though to call them such would be misleading as these are just boys waking the fine line of responsible adulthood and the recklessness naivety of youth. So of course, because no one seems to have an original idea for how to tell these stories, we find ourselves in the territory of crime, drugs and gangs again in what is a very competent, if obvious, drama.

Les Chantery plays Tarek, a young Lebanese-Australian lad who makes what little cash he can as a panel beater whilst living at home with his parents and little sister. At night Tarek can be found cruising around in his mate Nabil’s (Buddy Dannoun) car or getting turned away from upscale clubs because their money’s not green enough and their skin’s not white enough. Tarek’s a good kid who finds himself tempted by another life in Sydney, one of big houses in the Eastern suburbs and flashy white girls who drink champagne. Furthermore, Tarek’s has a brother in the clink with no money left for his appeal. It’s enough for the young lad to compromise his character and get involved with Nabil’s plan to rip off a dealer’s stash and use their hustler mate Sam (Waddah Sari) to shift the pills.

Thus Caradee embarks on a moral tale about kids who think getting rich quick the illegal way will come without consequences. The director tells his story well and there is just enough room for one more western suburbs story after David Field’s The Combination earlier this year. But with those films and Shawn Seet’s boxing drama Two Fists, One Heart it’s starting to feel like the only immigrant stories involve criminals, boys from the wrong side of the tracks and love stories with white Aussie girls. Are there no young Lebanese women in this world we're being served?

Unfortunately not, and until Australian filmmakers start trying to tell their stories without the baggage of imitating American urban filmmakers’ gangland-immigrant tales it’s going to continue to feel like old ground revisited. That there are gifted writers, directors and actors out there to explore the cultural concerns of these groups and that they are being giving the opportunities to do so is undeniably a good thing; Cedar Boys is a decent enough showcase for this talent, but let’s see something fresh, imaginative, original.

What Cedar Boys demonstrates is that on a small budget with the Red hi-def cam you can make a film that looks great and captures an Australia city and outer suburbs in a way that is at times menacing and others magical. Go see Cedar Boys, it is accomplished work featuring an incredible cast (Rachael Taylor, Martin Henderson, Daniel Amalm) by a filmmaker with a bright future.


Film review: Balibo

Director: Robert Connolly
Cast: Anthony LaPaglia, Oscar Isaac, Damon Gameau
Country: Australia
Year 2009

Robert Connolly’s third feature is a historical political thriller of rare quality, not just in terms of Australian filmmaking but on any. Taking us back to the 1975 Indonesian invasion of East Timor Connolly and his co-writer David Williamson (Gallipoli) refuse to pull their punches yet intelligently avoid sermonising the Australian government’s culpability in turning a blind eye, effectively condemning six Australian journalists to death. Based on Jill Jolliffe’s 2001 book Cover Up, Balibo is powerfully affecting cinema and a compelling piece of storytelling.

The film opens with a Timorese woman giving her oral history at the recent Timor-Leste Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in which she recalls witnessing the execution of Australian journalist Roger East. Played by the rock solid Anthony LaPaglia, we first meet East as he is eagerly encouraged by a young Timorese patriot José Ramos-Horta (Oscar Isaac) to head the government’s news agency. Jaded and cynical, East is not to be convinced easily and only comes round when his own buried idealism gets the better of his world weary instinct.

Arriving to find Dili a capital city under siege with Indonesia intelligence wondering the streets in civilian clothes, East is more interested in picking up the trail of the five missing young Australian journos in order to discover their fate. Balibo expertly weaves together two storylines, that of Greg Shacklton, Gary Cunningham, Malcolm Rennie, Brian Peters and Tony Stewart reporting from the frontline whilst East investigates their fate. Despite knowing the men’s ultimate fate, Balibo never misses a beat of tension, the impending spectre of death always looming claustrophobically overhead.

The film’s narrative echoes the sentiment offered by East, that the only way he can get the Australian public interested in the plight of the East Timorese is by exposing the fate of the Balibo Five, much to Ramos-Horta’s distaste. Along the road to the titular village where the Five met their ultimate end we see the results of Indonesian death squads, whose activities resulted in the murder of thousands of civilians. Balibo is anything but a film without conviction, its anger palpable and uncompromising, leaving the audience unable to ignore the spectre of crimes committed and the implications of the Australian government’s inaction.

And while Balibo is an intensely political film, it is also a beautiful one. Nick Meyer’s editing between the two timelines is nothing short of masterful and more than appropriately complemented by Tristan Milani’s photography on both 16mm and 35mm. Milani deploys handheld camera work for the most part in all the right places, beautifully colour contrasting the duelling stories and capturing the lush, exotic locales of East Timor. It is always a pleasure to see filmmaking of such calibre in sync with storytelling and performance.

Director Connolly has made a remarkable film, equal to Oliver Stone’s Salvador, arguably that filmmaker’s best work, and is a reminder to Australia that with great power comes great responsibility. The Balibo Five and Roger East died trying to report the truth, the very least we can do is stand up and pay attention.


Film review: Bronson

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Cast: Tom Hardy, Matt King, Kelly Adams
Country: United Kingdom
Year: 2009

“My name’s Charles Bronson and all my life I’ve wanted to be famous,” comes the narration from the anti-hero of director Nicholas Winding Refn Sydney Film Festival Official Comp winner. Bronson is a film that offers perilously little else than a character portrait of Britain’s most infamous inmate played by Tom Hardy. And for those who value story over art that probably won't be enough, nevertheless Bronson has ‘cult classic’ written all over it thanks to it’s coiled tension and eventual balls-to-the-wall violence.

Refn, whose Pusher trilogy is another revered collection from the cult section, paints his portrait of a fascinating man with a Kubrickian brush, unapologetically repetitive in its explorations of a life behind bars and man incapable of, or uninterested in, rehabilitation into normal society. A squat fist of muscle with a shaved head and an English moustache, Refn’s Bronson is an intelligent, creative and at times vulnerable man who is nothing if not intensely wild, whimsical and interesting. His world becomes a bizarre vaudevillian affair beset by equally odd characters along the way from a prize-fight promoter, to an art teacher, to a particularly peculiar prison warden.

It all comes as a surprise to anyone from British shores more accustomed to the man born Michael Gordon Peterson whom after being imprisoned for armed robbery became known as the country’s most dangerous criminal, remaining in jail for 40 years (aside a couple of very short stints of freedom) as a result of crimes committed inside. One of the strengths of Bronson is director Refn decision to tell his story through the a tint lens of absurdity and leave the audience to work out how they feel about the ruffian for themselves.

Whilst no doubt capturing his charm, humour and raising questions about the rights and wrongs of institutionalising a man through years of solitary confinement, the filmmaker is never shies away from the brutality of this somewhat deranged and feral character who cannot be defined by normal society. Was he born this way or did prison and society’s limitations of social-acceptability shape him into the man he became?

Bronson is a deeply confronting film in respect of it subject and no matter what your opinion of its value the one feature uniformly agreeable is the stunning central performance by Hardy as the brawler. Previously only seen in bit parts in the likes of Layer Cake, Marie Antoinette and RocknRolla Hardy delivers a text book definition of a tour de force that is both mesmerising and terrifying and a performance that deserves to be talked about in the same vein of Eric Bana’s similar role in Chopper – utterly magnificent.

For 92 minutes Bronson sets out to entertain us with visual flair and a reek of madness. In the process it succeeds in becoming one of the most original and exciting biopics in recent memory and a scary insight into what may lie beneath humanity: little more than survival of the fittest instincts that betray our animalistic tendencies. Or it might just be a wild ride in the mind of a madman.


Film review: Inglourious Basterds

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Brad Pitt, Diane Kruger, Christoph Waltz
Country: USA
Year: 2009

What’s that you say: a Quentin Tarantino-directed World War II film about a Dirty Dozen-esque troupe of Jewish American soldiers behind enemy lines with the sole purpose of killing Nazis? As basic movie premises go it’s hard to imagine a bigger fanboy wet dream really, but be careful what you wish for, because you might not get it. Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds is the least disciplined and most wildly uneven of his seven features to date.

Hardly one to dwell on his detractors, here the film geek’s filmmaker betrays what should be his own directorial maturing process and indulges his worst excesses. And while the big chin might be likened in many quarters as The Weinstein Company’s Mickey Mouse; the difference remains that Mickey didn’t have an ego and tens of millions of dollars at his direct disposal. Most disappointingly of all, Inglourious Basterds glaringly lacks for consistent inspiration.

Rather than the action movie about a crack(pot) team of scalping Basterds led by Brad Pitt’s Lt. Aldo Raine, Tarantino has delivered a series of vignettes, padded by lots of talking with quintessential QT-patter and punctuated by increasingly violent exclamation marks. It is a farcical fairy tale set in Nazi-occupied France where the history books have been gleefully thrown on the pyre so as to enact a roaring rampage of revenge. Disturbingly though, Inglourious Basterds plays uncomfortably well as a 160-minute murder fantasy in which human life means very little in this post-Gitmo world.

Because no filmmaker loses their gifts overnight Tarantino still manages to cram some vintage stuff into his bloated runtime (you’d hope so, right?). The opening homage to Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West, complete with Ennio Morriocone score to a homestead invasion, fused with classic Tarantino cat and mouse dialogue play is as good as any of the writer-director’s greatest hits. The scene excruciatingly drip-drops the tension before climaxing with exactly the execution we’ve come to expect of his violent poetics.

It is also during this opening sequence that Tarantino unleashes his secret weapon, German actor Christoph Waltz as ‘the Jew Hunter’ SS Colonel Hans Landa. Waltz steals every single scene in which he delivers his cunning dialogue in multiple languages, playing pitch perfectly for the uncertain bedfellows of terror and comedy. Where Waltz excels Pitt fails in a grimacing and gurning in a caricaturing that irritates more than it delights.

Because it’s an ensemble we could go on to mention the other standouts like Michael Fassbender and Mélanie Laurent, but it’s hard to care when the director himself barely treats his protagonists as anything more than a collection of names and faces. All the easier to kill one supposes. Tarantino has not lost any of his visual flare nor his talent with language, but here finds his storytelling lacking in restraint to his film’s detriment. There’s entertainment to be had in this escapist fantasy, but be warned, these are not the Basterds you’re looking for.


Friday, July 3, 2009

Worse Addictions: Episode 5

The podcast is still going strong, check out EPISODE FIVE after reading the synopsis.

"Things got pretty heated as the team took on Michael Bay's latest helping of pyrotechnical cinema Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen. Adrenaline flowed and spittle flew as Josh Wheatley, Daniel Crichton-Rouse and Damien Radford joined Scott Henderson for a marathon discussion of Michael Bay as auteur before naturally seguewaying into a chat about Can't Say No challenge film Happy Together. There's a chance for you to WIN a copy of Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg just before listening to the team discuss Manhunter in our Michael Mann Body Of Lies series."


Film review: Bastardy

Director: Amiel Courtin-Wilson
Country: Australia
Year: 2008 (documentary)

“When you’re pushed out on stage, that’s when you’re born” Jack Charles

Indigenous actor Jack Charles is a rare sort of fellow and his story quite remarkable. Captured in documentary form by director Amiel Courtin-Wilson (Chasing Buddha) over the course of seven years it’s hard to say how close you come to knowing what really makes Charles tick, he’s a master of charisma yet slave to vice. Unflinchingly and candid from beginning to end with one uncomfortable exception, and yet nothing short of an enigma; Bastardy presents one of the most fascinatingly understated portraits of a man in recent memory.

As a prolific actor who starred on screen and stage and is credited as having set up the first Aboriginal theatre company in the 1960s one expects a certain sense of the theatrical around Charles. Life started out that way too. A member of the The Stolen Generation might have been the first really drama he experienced and an onscreen credit at the end of the film tells us it is dedicated to those who have been “lost and found.” The allusion is clear, this isn’t just about those who fall on hard times and find themselves in the homeless nether-regions of the living; ghosts before death even comes for them.

But that’s the bigger picture and Bastardy is much more concerned with the personal and the intimate. Down the years Charles appeared on the big screen in films like The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978), Bedevil (1993) and Blackfellas (1993), in private he was a thief and a drug addicted – albeit the most charming bloke to invade you home, helping himself to whatever he might be able to maintain the lifestyle he’d grown accustomed – even if that was chasing the next fix.

Charles seemingly has given director Courtin-Wilson full access to his life, we see him shooting up heroin to which he displays no physical reaction – a skill born of years of addiction. Later the pair take a trip to a Melbourne suburb, home to the upper-class and a happy hunting ground for Charles’ exploits in cat-burglary. We see the alleyways and toilets he has slept in and hear about relationships gone wrong. All of it is so honest and without self-pity, yet there’s a sparkle of regret in his eyes that betrays the bravado. He is intelligent, kind, philosophical and a quite beautiful blues singer. There never a dull moment around Charles and the effect he has on the thesps and crew he meets on set at an acting gig or the drunks on a street bench – encounters with this man are always seem enriching experiences.

Bastardy navigates the ere tricky line of documenting the subject and becomes involved with the story. Incredible in many ways given the intoxicating bitter-sweetness of Charles’ life, his gentle demeanour and wise eloquence. A genuinely rewarding film in which you could talk about the skilled execution of the editing and the beauty of some of the photography at great length, but in the end all you’ll care about is Jack Charles, a charming rogue who’ll stay with you long after he’s left the screen.

Scott Henderson


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Worse Addictions: Episode 4

Hello my friends, obviously I've been somewhat tardy with my posting for the past couple of weeks. The podcast if taking up vast amounts of my time as is various freelance gigs I've been able to pick up. Below is the overview for EPISODE 4 of WORSE ADDICTIONS in which we review Disgrace and begin our exploration of Michael Mann in the new Body Of Lies feature. Please remember to subscribe via iTunes, and do feel free to email your feedback and thoughts to

"Despite the editor's failure to bring the power cord for his laptop the Worse Addictions team were able to record episode 4 of the show with the help of a super speedy second half. Alex Parker and Matt Riviera returned to the studio – much to the relief of Scott Henderson and Josh Wheatley – in time to review the new Australian film DISGRACE, directed by Steve Jacobs and starring John Malkovich. The guys (and gal) open the show by talking about Alex's recommendation for film viewing in hospital and Josh's latest DVD purchases. They also introduce our new trailer competition, the Can't Say No feature where one of the team challenges someone to watch a unseen film before the next episode and finally we kick start our Body Of Lies feature on Michael Mann. Hope you enjoy the show folks and please come back next week when we review Transformers 2."


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Trailer for The Warriors Way

I don't normally post trailers but this one was an absolute must see. It came via 24FPS and looks like an unendorsed promo release of the English language samurai western (most samurai films are actually westerns but this one is actually set in the Wild West). The film is directed by Sngmoo Lee and stars Korean actor Dung-Kun Jang as the retired 'World's Greatest Swordsman Ever'. And Jang is not the only talent we should mention with Kate Bosworth, Geoffrey Rush and Danny Huston (hamming it up in all the right ways) providing some serious star power to the cast. Quite frankly this looks incredible, drawing on several genres and influences like Hard Boiled, The Crow (think the strobing shootout), Yojimbo, A Fistful Of Dollars and anything involving bullet time bad-assery. Watch it below or click here.

Type rest of the post here


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

SFF review: Burma VJ

Director: Anders Østergaard
Country: Denmark

"Those who are not afraid come to the front” – unknown protester

“All social changes come from the passions of individuals.” After nearly a decade of pessimistic ‘we’re all doomed’ documentaries of despair things might be changing for the better. Whilst many of the features at the 56th Sydney Film Festival have shown a distinct pattern of fatalistic discourse, this comment by a subject in Louie Psihoyos’ The Cove reflects the optimistic hope evident in many of the documentary films showing this year.

In Burma VJ: Reporting From A Closed Country it is more than simply the passion of one person, but the bravery of a group of undercover journalists who operate at all times under the threat of permanent incarceration or worse. They are all members of the Democratic Voice of Burma based in Rangoon where they do everything they can to capture footage of the country’s military dictatorship’s activities and smuggling their elicit goods to a headquarters in Norway. These are video journalists as freedom fighters, where high street camcorders replace rocket launchers and “stories are silent.”

Director Anders Østergaard cuts together footage of the 2007 rebellion led by Burma’s 400,000 Buddhist monks along with the dramatic recreations of DVB journalist Joshua’s (alias) experience hold up in Thailand at the time of the almost-revolution and whose role was to managed the flow of information to the outside world. It’s a problematic decision but for the most part you take Joshua at his word as he tells his comrades story.

What plays out in the film’s grainy home video footage is some of the most incredible scenes of revolt and repression ever captured charting it from beginning to end. The last time the people of Burma rose up against the military in 1988 some 3,000 people were killed in the streets and the film is soaked in fear and tension for the intrepid reporters. Aside the bravery of the reporters who must dodge secret police hiding in the crowds, the monks who march on the capital in their thousands and the student activists who march despite fear the military will fire on them, there is something heartbreakingly inspirational about the intangibles caught on camera here.

The DVB remind us of the role of good journalism in exposing atrocities (and believe me, you will see tragedy) and the truth behind the oppression of a people, with the simultaneous realism how negligent our own media has proved in recent times. Burma VJ is nail-bitingly tense, utterly engrossing and incredible galvanising. More than simply documenting this event the film offers hope in the indomitable nature of the human spirit that refuses to go quietly into the night no matter the consequences.


56th Sydney Film Festival runs until 14 June


Worse Addictions: Episode 2

So the second episode of WORSE ADDICTIONS has been posted online. It was a pretty crazy production and editing job as we've all been super busy with the Sydney Film Festival, but I think we made some progress from the first episode and we certainly had some good discussions about the three films we reviewed: BRONSON, VAN DIEMEN'S LAND and 500 DAYS OF SUMMER. I'm trying to knock together some written review to post here at the blog. My favourite film so far has been documentary The Cove, which I can't recommend highly even and rambled about a little too much during the episode. Anyways, go check it out, download it, subscribe to iTunes – all the links should be working.

Also, Matt Riviera is running a critic poll of the films showing at the festival on his blog Last Night With Riviera in which I am taking part. Swing by there to see what have been mine and a number of other critics favourite films so far.

The Sydney Film Festival ends 14 June, so hurry over to the website to book your tickets now.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Film review: Terminator Salvation

Director: McG
Cast: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Moon Bloodgood
Country: USA

"So that's what death tastes like." – Marcus Wright

It was hard to imagine a more meaningless addition to a cinematic franchise after Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans. Kudos then to McG and the ‘creative’ team behind Terminator Salvation for such a valiant effort: not only have they managed to neuter a once genuinely terrifying vision of the apocalypse, but they have done so in a way that inspires little more than apathy for all involved. In fact, if this John Connor is the man they’ve been crooning about for 25 years then frankly we’ve been conned because apparently he couldn’t inspire so much as a story in a room full of writers.

Traditionally this is the point at the reviewer gets into some synopsis of the film, which is all well and good, but there are some many holes perforating John Brancato and Michael Ferris’ (the geniuses behind Catwoman and The Net) script it would take a thesis to explain it all. Not that they haven’t tried, starting off the film with exposition in title cards, forging on with voice-over narration and rubber stamped with dialogue straight out of daytime soap territory.

For your benefit: a man on death row, Marcus Wright (Aussie Worthington), signs his body over to Cyberdyne to for scientific research in the year 2003. Fast-forward to 2018, a computer defence network Skynet (develop by Cyberdyne) has become self aware and nuked humankind almost to extinction. The resistance leader is a man named John Connor (Bale, scowling/growling/dreadful) and he is trying to find another man called Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) who he will eventually send back in time to protect/shag his mother so that he can be his dad. All the while there are machines that take the form of planes, motorbikes, water snakes and terminators (pretty much anything you can welt a machine gun to) working hard to eliminate humans. Oh yeah, turns out Wright is a machine who thinks he’s a man and may be the resistance’s only hope, or something metaphorical, sorta.

The resulting film takes itself so seriously it is left utterly lifeless and is so devoid of likeable characters that any supposed tension is striped from the relentless action sequences. Not only that but everything is derivative of/ripped off Every Other Post Apocalypse War Movie Ever right down a pointless mute child called Star; it may as well be one of those genre parodies, which works because they aren’t funny either.

Asking lofty questions like “doesn’t everyone deserve a second shot” while single-handedly sending girl power back to the 50s (tough as nails female fighter falls instantly in love with Wright, Connor’s wife is a pregnant doctor) Terminator Salvation fails to accomplish anything other than blowing shit up bigger than ever before and more frequently. If this is the best of humanity has to offer then perhaps it isn’t worth saving after all.


Terminator Salvation is released nationally in Australia 4 June, but only go if you can't get tickets for the Sydney Film Festival, actually I wouldn't bother going at all...


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

New Australia Film Podcast: Worse Addictions

Hello friends, the past week has been a fairly insane time for me as I've been educating myself on audio editing and familiarising myself with a new website backend AND preparing myself for the Sydney Film Festival. Anyway, the result is that I have launched a new film podcast with the help of a few friends, it's called WORSE ADDICTIONS and if you click the name through to the site you'll be able to download our first episode previewing the 56th Sydney Film Festival. The site is still a work in progress as are my hosting skills. We'll be recording new episodes during the festival and on a weekly basis from here on out. Please leave feedback in the Worse Addictions 'episodes' comments section, we'd love to hear what you think.



Friday, May 29, 2009

What's On This Weekend

Thought I'd give you an update on what's new at cinemas this weekend:

Released this weekend supposedly, for some bizarre reason I can't find it listed at Dendy, Greater Union or Palace. If you know more/better than I leave a comment. I wasn't kind in my review, but it's a nice sort of trip down memory lane if you grew up in the 80s, has one or two good laughs and a few sweet moments. It just left me feeling empty.
I'd recommend reading AO Scott's thoughtful and more measured review over at the NY Times before making up your mind, "Somehow the story of a young man’s coming of age never gets old, at least when it is told with the kind of sweetness and intelligence Adventureland displays."

My Year Without Sex
Australia film from writer/director Sarah Watt (Look Both Ways) which I has heard roundly good things about. Tells the story of a mother who has a brain aneurism and as a result can't work, help the kids with school stuff, drive or have sex for one year. The synopsis sounds depressing, but as the title suggest I suspect this one has a healthy sense of (black) humour. I haven't seen it, but these guys have:
Michael Adams, Empire: "Funny, moving, tense and entertaining, it's a strong follow-up to the sublime Look Both Ways."
Thomas Caldwell, Cinema Autopsy: "an intelligent, endearing and recognisable depiction of contemporary Australian families."

State Of Play
This one I have seen, it's a fun thriller if you don't mind be treated like a bit of an idiot, plot twists telegraphed a mile away and some slightly out-of-date pontificating on Real Journalism vs Bloggers or the dangers of privately owned Blackwater-esque military. Directed by the excellent Kevin MacDonald (Touching The Void, Last King Of Scotland), this is a perfectly serviceable thriller starring Russell Crowe (whose pretty good) and Rachel McAdams (who spends the movie being patronised and cute). But don't take my word for it:
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian: "the movie is an entertaining ride, with a big cast of characters whose contributions to the plot, though not strictly speaking plausible, are all cleverly managed and orchestrated by Macdonald."

Other films still on release I recommend: Gomorrah, Synecdoche, New York, and Aussie Cannes winner Samson & Delilah (my Australia film of the year so far). Anyone else got suggestions?


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Film review: Adventureland

Director: Greg Mottola
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds
Country: USA

"We are doing the work of lazy morons" – James

Remember that summer when it seemed like everyone had lost their virginity except for you? Or perhaps that summer job you hated but situated you around a cool group of people for one last blast of adolescent fun? And then there was that girl, the one you’ll remember for the rest of your life as the first you really fell for and who inexplicably may have fallen for you too? Greg Mottola (Superbad) does and he isn’t afraid to take us on a trip down memory lane to share his story.

Adventureland stars Jesse Eisenberg as James who, fresh out of college and still in possession of his cherry, takes a job in a carnival to save for his post-grad tuition after his alcoholic father suffers a fall from working grace. The girl is Kristen Stewart who plays the gorgeous, if distant, Em. Certainly Stewart has the looks and cute ticks of a girl who could steal you heart, but her stockpile is starting to look very limited. Likewise Eisenberg, who now seems like a poor man’s Michael Cera before there was a Michael Cera, struggles to pull off a truly engaging character here.

The two leads are not alone either because Mottola, who smashed the ball out the park with Superbad, fails to capture any of the magical potential of this dilapidated carnival in Pittsburgh, preferring instead to bombard the audience with a 80s soundtrack and bodily humour. When the neatly tied ending finally arrives it feels neither satisfying nor particularly earned.

Adventureland is released in Australian cinema Thursday, 28 May
This review also appears in 3D World


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sydney Film Festival jury update

I love that I'm giving you my first Sydney Film Festival update before I've even written my launch preview (I did already write one for 3D World so it's not like I've been entirely lazy). The festival announced today that joining Australian director and Jury President Rolf de Heer in selecting the Official Competition winner will be Australian actress Miranda Otto and Danish director Lone Scherfig whose feature An Education is also the Closing Night film.

Last year's 55th Sydney Film Festival was the first time it had held a competition as part of the event, which this year runs from 3-14 June. Last year it was Steve McQueen's much-vaunted Hunger that took home the $60,000 prize off the back of winning the Un Certain Regard in Cannes. It's extremely hard to pick an early front runner this year but my money is increasingly on Rachel Ward's Australian film Beautiful Kate, a completely blind prediction mind you.

Full press release after the bump, and keep your eyes on Dark Habits for more Sydney Film Festival news, previews and reviews and some other exciting developments. I gotta dash, got a date with a Terminator...



Australian actress Miranda Otto and Danish director Lone Scherfig will join Jury
President Rolf de Heer as judges of the Official Competition at this year’s Sydney
Film Festival.

The 12 films in the competition will screen across the festival and then the winning
film will be awarded the Sydney Film Prize at the festival’s Closing Night Gala
Screening of An Education, directed by juror Lone Scherfig (14 June 2009).

“I am really proud to announce that two outstanding women will join Jury President
Rolf de Heer on the Official Competition Jury. Miranda Otto and Lone Scherfig bring
great intelligence and integrity to determining the winner of the Sydney Film Prize
from the twelve ‘courageous, audacious and cutting-edge’ films in the line-up” said
Clare Stewart, Festival Director today.

Miranda Otto is one of Australia’s leading international actresses, well known for her
role in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – Return of the King and The Two Towers. She
appeared in the US series Cashmere Mafia and most recently she worked on the
upcoming Australian feature film Blessed.

“I’m excited to be able to immerse myself in this selection of bold and audacious
films, cinema often gives us a reflection of what is happening around the world at any
given point in time. To work with Rolf de Heer along with other members of the jury –
is a real honour,” said Miranda Otto today.

Lone Scherfig is the Danish director of An Education, starring Peter Sarsgaard,
Carey Mulligan and Emma Thompson. SFF’s Closing Night film, An Education is a
coming of age story about a teenage girl in 1960s suburban London, and how her life
changes with the arrival of a playboy nearly twice her age.

Born in Copenhagen, Lone has collected 22 awards for her work including a
FIPRESCI award and a Silver Bear Jury Prize at the 2001 Berlin Film Festival for
Italian for Beginners (2000). An Education is Scherfig’s second English language
film after Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself.

SFF’s Official Competition is now in its second year and offers the largest cash prize
for film in Australia. The FIAPF-accredited competition for ‘new directions in film’
rewards courageous and audacious filmmaking and is supported by Events NSW
with the $60,000 cash prize provided by Hunter Hall Investment Management.

The 12 Official Competition films are:

World premieres: Rachel Ward’s Beautiful Kate and Khoa Do’s Missing Water.

International premiere: Tsai Ming-liang’s Face (Visages)

Australian premieres: Ken Loach’s Looking for Eric, Sebastián Silvia’s The Maid
(La Nana), Steve Jacobs’ Disgrace, Peter Brosens and Jessica Hope’s Antiplano,
Nicholas Winding Refn’s Bronson, Gustave de Kervern and Benoit Delépine’s
Louise-Michel, Alexey German Jr’s Paper Soldier (Bumazhnyy Soldat), Henry
Selick’s Coraline, and Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience.

The final two jury members will be announced prior to the Opening Night Gala on 3
June. "


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Hitchcock Till Ya Drop (Kino #26)

Film journalism for me started out covering the digital filmmaking scene in Brighton, England for street press rag The Insight. I've always had a healthy interest in short films not just as an art form, but as a cultural movement. When I first moved to Sydney and heard about KINO, an underground open mic night for short filmmakers, I was there in a heartbeat ready for anything (and on any given night at Kino anything goes). So for those of you who haven't been before please let me encourage you to come check out the films or even get involved as Kino throws its twice annual KABARET event – a six-day Kino marathon split into three 48-hour stints of filmmaking, screenings and parties. Sound like something you'd be interested in?

Kabaret kicks off with Kino #26 (Hitchcockian-themed) on 29 June in Sydney and The Festivalists (the company behind Kino) is accepting applications from prospective writers, actors, crew and directors to come down and get involved. If you've never made a film before this is your perfect opportunity to pop your cherry, if you have it's a great opportunity to network and get the creative juices flowing. Registration for the event gives you access to the KINO LAB hosted by Metro Screen in Paddington and is fully kitted out with cameras, equipment and editing stations.

The whole short filmmaking festival runs until Saturday, 4 July with the second and third events David Lynch and Tim Burton themed respectively. Press release after the bump with more information on the event. I highly recommend signing up, and if not, then come down to one of the KINO KABARET screening and party, the first of which is taking place Tuesday, 30 June at Frase Studios in Chippendale, where drinks come with the door cover and the friendly faces are for free.

Kino Sydney is now calling for participants for KINO KABARET 2009, a series of filmmaking marathons, screenings and parties taking place across Sydney, June 29 – July 4 2009.

Whatever your level of experience, KINO KABARET invites you to team-up with other enthusiastic writers, directors, editors, actors and musicians to make short films in intense 48-hour sessions, each culminating in a screening and party.

For a minimal registration fee of only $15, participants will have access to a KINO LAB fitted with cameras, filmmaking equipment and editing stations, hosted by Metro Screen in Paddington Town Hall.

Artistic Director Matt Ravier explains: “Kino encourages participants to learn about the craft of filmmaking by creating short videos, unshackled by the burden of resources, time and money. Kino provides filmmakers of all backgrounds, abilities and experience with a support network to write, shoot and edit their projects as well as an opportunity to show the work to a large audience.”

“Kino offers an inclusive, non-competitive experience to give people a taste for filmmaking. Participants pool their resources, ideas, knowledge and equipment: amateurs mix with award-winners, artists mix with technicians, locals mix with out-of-towners… The result is unpredictable, the energy is contagious… and in true Kino spirit, the parties – which include live entertainment, snacks, giveaways and open bar - are awesome.”

The week-long filmmaking experiment is a special edition of Kino Sydney, an underground open-mic night for filmmakers which occurs monthly since 2006.

Each session lasts 48 hours and the enrolment fee is only $15 (including free entry to the screening and party). Registrations are open until June 22 and entry forms can be downloaded from


Tuesday 30 June, 6:30pm | Fraser Studios, Chippendale | Dress code: Alfred Hitchcock
Thursday 2 July, 6:30pm | The Red Rattler, Marrickville | Dress code: David Lynch
Saturday 4 July, 6:30pm | St Stephens Church Hall, Newtown | Dress code: Tim Burton


Kino Sydney is the Sydney chapter of the worldwide Kino filmmaking movement. It was started by Australian non-profit company The Festivalists in November 2006. Kino Sydney runs monthly short film nights as well as Kino Kabaret sessions once a year. The films screened at Kino Sydney are all world premieres made specifically for Kino.

Kino is an international low-budget filmmaking movement born in Montreal in 2000. There are now Kino chapters around the world and Australia hosts 2: Kino Sydney and Kino Adelaide.

For more information, please call Matt Ravier on 02 9281 5608, email or visit


Monday, May 25, 2009

Film review: Last Ride

Director: Glendyn Ivin
Cast: Hugo Weaving, Tom Russell, Anita Hegh
Country: Australia

"We're whoever we want to be" – Kev (Hugo Weaving)

The tagline for Last Ride asks: “are some bonds meant to be broken?” What becomes clear over the course of Glendyn Ivin’s visually eloquent coming-of-age drama is that his answer to this question is an unequivocal yes. However, while our arrival at this destination is inevitable, by the end of his film we recognise that regardless of necessity, it is no less difficult and heartbreaking when the time to break such bonds comes.

Based on Denise Young’s book of the same name Last Ride tells the story of 10-year-old Chook (Tom Russell) and his father Kev (Hugo Weaving) who are on the run from what we don’t know exactly. Abandoning their car and taking a bus to some small town they visit Maryanne (Anita Hegh), an old girlfriend of Kev, who is neatly used to deliver some breadcrumbs about the father and son’s backstory. Ivin uses several cues (mostly in the form of flashbacks that are a distraction) over the course of the film to feed absent pieces of the puzzle: why are they on the run?

In the end the ‘why’ isn’t really what’s important, it might be what sets Kev and Chook’s roadtrip in motion, but Last Ride is only a mystery in a superficial fashion and weakest when caught dwelling in circumstance as a narrative trick. What really matters is the relationship between a man ill-suited for fatherhood – left to carry the can when the mother of his child took a permanent leave of absence – and his son.

There are other questions specifically in regard to Kev given added dimension by the ‘why’ reveal. Weaving is formidable as the charming ex-con who struggles to control his temper; his relationship with Chook may appear simplistic at times yet it is anything but. It might even be that Chook has some understanding of this, that no matter how wrong relations between kin seem to those on the outside, on the inside there is part-acceptance, part-normalcy and also a large element of intrinsic (misplaced?) empathy.

Flawed though these relationships may be, the old adage of blood running thicker than water exists for a reason. It is worth noting then the most dramatic moment of fracture between Chook and his father takes place on the endless Lake Gairdner, a body of water shallow enough to be crossed by car or on foot, where the horizon the ceases to end. It is a moment of absolute loss and rebirth, where the umbilical connection is severed and Chook must find the strength to become his own man in-spite of his years.

And whilst many of the traditional on-the-road imagery is executed in checklist fashion, silhouettes and sunsets, campfires stories, rocky roads to nowhere, static wide-angle long shots of the cars crossing the landscape, it is in the Lake Gaidner sequence that Ivin finds a truly ethereal moment of cinematic beauty. His technique, whilst confident throughout, at times feels perfunctory and unambitious – then again it provides a style that allows the actors to do the heavy lifting and characters to unfold with a naturalism that only gets stronger as the film progresses.

Weaving’s Kev is barely sympathetic. His love for his son is unconditional and there are moments of tenderness and honesty that suggest in a different world, one that had been less cruel, things could have been very different. Questions of masculinity and paternal complexities always simmer beneath the surface for Kev, a product of the perception that he was an “inconvenience” to his own father. Then there is the time he spent in jail that has left him physically scarred but perhaps emotionally too (“[in prison] people take advantage of ya”). There’s little doubting that Kev is damaged goods himself, but the extremes to which he exercises his tough love go beyond any acceptable limits.

The things that define us can all too often become scapegoats for lives we never intended to choose. Ivin’s film is a reminder that it is possible to step outside the shadow of your father and forge your own path in life, refusing in the process to accept what has gone before as a circle to be repeated in the future. In the same breath it remains possible to learn from even the meanest of fathers, as Ivin’s final shot rather cumbersomely punctuates, the question is instead how can we incorporate those lessons into our own independent identity.

The film’s ultimate destination proves rewarding and undeniably affecting in what might come to be remembered as Australia’s other road movie of 2009 (the other being Samson & Delilah). There are moments of profound beauty to be found in Last Ride, which may not quite reach true greatness, but is an Australian film that sets the bar far higher than most. At various turns powerful, endearing, disturbing and compassionate, Ivin’s debut feature is an impressive balancing act to be sure and a journey well worth taking.

Last Ride screens as part of the Sydney Film Festival, 7 June and is released nationally 2 July.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Film review: Angels & Demons

Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Tom Hanks, Ayelet Zurer, Ewan McGregor
Country: USA

"The antimatter is suspended, there, in an airtight nano-composite shell with electromagnets on each end. But if it were to fall out of suspension, and come into contact with matter, say with the bottom of the canister, the two opposing forces would annihilate one another. Violently." – Vittoria Vetra (I know this is a long quote but it really does sum things up).

Blink and you might miss all the historical intrigue acting as little more than script decoration in Da Vinci Code-follow up Angels & Demons. Ron Howard takes another swing at directing Dan Brown out of the dreary convolutions of his first attempt, ramping up the action and explosion alike, succeeding for the most part if you can ignore all the codswallop.

Plenty are easily suckered when it comes to conspiracy thrillers and puzzle adventures and so it is I find myself tricked by all the lavish art history sets, Italian accents, Vatican intrigue, secret societies, even secreter passageways and a theatrical Hans Zimmer score. Throw it all into a game of Pictionary meets 24 where Tom Hanks is teamed up with a beautiful not-Audrey Tautou European sidekick Ayelet Zurer, both racing to prevent the four frontrunners for the newly vacated Pope job being executed B-horror style every hour and an antimatter explosion at the stroke of midnight and, well, it’s all a bit breathless. For the first 100 minutes at least until the fidgeting, clock-watching and multiple endings start.

Once flying through streets of Rome in black cop cars has worn thin the script – built entirely around smart people explaining stuff real fast, juris-my-diction crap, and regular intervals of pontificating on Science and Religion – proves almost as turgid as the first time out. Solving clues to the implausible crimes at play by apparently a sole and devilishly bland evil assassin type (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) just a minute too late gets boring, as do the incessant twists. Is it Ewan McGregor’s earnest deputy Pope who dunnit? What about the moustache-twiddling cardinal played by Armin Mueller-Stahl? Or maybe it was that mean-spirited Swiss Guard chief Stellan Skarsgard?

‘Who cares’ screams Howard as he dazzles with yet another sweeping, melodramatic shot over St. Peter’s Square at night, ‘it’s much more exciting than the last one’! And like all joyrides this one goes on too long, spluttering to a finish after one final grand act of gratuitous absurdity. Don’t let all the smarty-pants, ancient name-dropping dupe you; this one is as dumb as they come.

Angels & Demons is on wide-release now


Film review: Gomorrah

Director: Matteo Garrone
Cast: Salvatore Abruzzese, Gianfelice Imparato, Toni Servillo
Country: Italy

Carnage and terror are as pervasive as the claustrophobia and mundane bleakness that consumes life in Gomorrah. Violence doesn’t so much as invade its characters lives as it frames them amidst the totality of corruption and exploitation of the Camorra crime syndicate within a small community in Naples. Rarely has the gang world be so unromantised, so grimy, so deadly.

Director Matteo Garrone’s stunning assault on the senses comes to fiction by way of fact thanks Roberto Saviano’s expose of the Camorra’s workings (said to include some 4,000 murders during a 30 year span) that has seen the journalist-come-novelist who is now under 24-hour protective custody. Garrone weaves five narratives amidst the crumbling, decaying tenement buildings together: one involves a local tailor who crafts designer knockoffs, 13-year-old Totò who cannot escape entanglement, hapless idiots Marco and Ciro who idolise Tony Montana and run amok with inevitable results, money-man Don Ciro who drops payoffs to kept families behind enemy lines, and a corrupt business man literally poisoning the community with his illegal toxic dumping.

There is an uneasy stillness hanging permanently in the atmosphere of Gomorrah that plays like paranoid anxiety in a place where violence erupts without warning. It is not a face but rather the cold indiscrimination of a 9mm projectile that signals betrayal has come to visit or your past has caught up on you. And when the curtain draws unceremoniously on Gomorrah as it does the lives of its protagonists, you cannot escape the touch of its vortex of despair.

This review first appeared in 3D World.


Film review: Tenderness

Dir: John Polson
Cast: Jon Foster, Russell Crowe, Sophie Traub
Country: USA

"He's addicted to the intimacy of the kill" – Detective Cristofuoro

Hack! Yeah, you heard right. John Polson: friend to the stars, creator of Tropfest, local boy come good, narcissist and cinematic hack. If you want to pick a fight allow me to point to exhibit A: Swimfan (2002), a tedious, melodramatic and derivative thriller devoid of originality. Or exhibit B: Hide And Seek (2005), an abysmal film that Polson should be ashamed to have allowed De Niro near, also devoid of originality. And now exhibit C: Tenderness, a dreary, offensively earnest faux indie flick so preoccupied with its own smug self-satisfied direction that it might be worth waterboarding Polson till he promises never to step behind the camera again.

Russell Crowe drifts through his role as a retired cop convinced that Eric (Jon Foster), the teenager he sent to juvenile detention for the brutal murder of his parents, will kill again as he is released on his eighteenth birthday. Crowe isn’t the only one stalking Eric as he finds himself the equally unhealthy focus of 16-year old Lori (Sophie Traub), who passes for a groupie with a death wish. Jon and Lori take to the road together pursued by Crowe who borders on the catatonic along with Foster, as they each crash through the wall of various telegraphed and deeply meaningful metaphors.

It’s hard to imagine Tenderness speaking to anyone, so morbid, tiresome and pointless the whole nonsensical exercise proves. If only California’s three strikes rule applied to cinema certain filmmakers might at least think twice before serving up such turgid fare. I’m looking at you Mr Polson.

This review first appeared in 3D World.