Friday, May 29, 2009

What's On This Weekend

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

Adventureland
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fun thriller if you don't mind be treated like a bit of an idiot, plot twists telegraphed a mile away and some slightly out-of-date pontificating on Real Journalism vs Bloggers or the dangers of privately owned Blackwater-esque military.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?

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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

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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...

***PRESS RELEASE***

MIRANDA OTTO AND LONE SCHERFIG JOIN SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL
OFFICIAL COMPETITION JURY

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. "

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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.



***PRESS RELEASE***
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 www.kinosydney.com.

SCREENING PARTIES

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

ABOUT KINO SYDNEY

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 matt@thefestivalists.com or visit www.kinosydney.com.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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Film review: Synecdoche, New York

Director: Charlie Kaufman
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams
Country: USA


"We're all hurtling towards death, yet here we are for the moment, alive. Each of us knowing we're going to die, each of us secretly believing we won't" – Caden Cotard.

Synecdoche, New York might be the most disquieting and unnerving trips you take to the cinema this year. Once the dust has settled and fog cleared, see it again; watch screenwriter maestro Charlie Kaufman at work in all his baffling genius not because his story is hard to understand but because it is challenging in all the right ways. It is a film not simply about generic thematic spectres of creativity, desire and death but about our own mortality and our own paralysing insecurity. Kaufman looks deep inside himself, projects, and taps into subconscious.

Time as force of pounding inevitability is all-pervasive in Synecdoche. Our latest Kaufman onscreen manifestation, theatre director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman so consistently brilliant its practically trite to mention), is a man obsessed with himself and his own imminent departure from the play of life. He casts 20somethings in Death Of A Salesman and time in his world passes with dizzying unease; blink and a month goes by, fall asleep and awake to find your waistline four inches wider and your hairline thinner in equal measure.

Ignoring for a moment elements like the sudden departure of Caden’s wife and child from his life, his hallucinations and girlfriends with homes perpetually on fire, the singular most stunning narrative device is the play about “everything.” Taking the $50,000 ‘genius grant’ he is awarded Caden’s rents a massive warehouse in New York and sets about telling his story about the world around him and, you know, Everything. And so it evolves into a play with a play within a life within a film, actors playing actors playing, well, you get the gist.

Poignancy hangs as thick as smoke billowing from an inferno and Kaufman explores as anarchy reigns within Caden’s make belief world while time marches on, blindly reaching for answers. “There are nearly thirteen million people in the world. None of those people is an extra. They're all the leads of their own stories. They have to be given their due,” says Caden. Synecdoche, New York is a witty, messy and utterly narcissistic movie, but my God is it an ambitious one – and one that will be deeply admired and appreciated for years to come.

This review first appeared in 3D World
Synecdoche, New York is still playing in selected Cinemas around Australia.

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