Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Soloist

Update 1/9/09 - Click here to read my review

Image via Apple Trailers

My happy place has just released the trailer and a featurette for The Soloist. Waxing lyrical about Joe Wright not so long ago, I wondered how his vision would translate to an American setting, and in a biopic no less. But from the opening strands of the prelude to Bach's Cello Suite No.1, you can just tell Wright has this in hand. Given Wright's penchant for repeating music themes, I'm hoping this story about a musician will be a match made in heaven. And if he's chosen Bach as his central theme, so much the better.

The trailer does come across a little melodramatic though. There are a lot of tears, a lot of angsty close-ups, not to mention the perhaps no-so-pc sight of a white guy 'rescuing' an African American musical prodigy. And be warned, the interview with the real Lopez and Ayers in the featurette does little to help this. I'm hoping they were just being awkward in front of the camera.

Despite this, I'm betting Wright is going to deliver. The following blog post from a preview screening suggests that the marketing may belie the real scope of the film:

The only trouble I envision for this thing is marketing it, because any attempt to describe it makes it read insufferably sweet. Imdb (incorrectly, as it turns out) describes the plot as "A schizophrenic, homeless musician from Skid Row, Los Angeles dreams of playing at Walt Disney Concert Hall." (Sort of makes you want to reach for the insulin right now, doesn't it?) Makes it sound like one of those grandiose, inspirational stories that make audiences all weepy.

The Soloist isn't that picture. It aims much smaller. And I'm not spoiling anything by saying the movie does not end with the homeless guy playing Disney Hall to the cheers of an adoring audience. It's based on a true story and is rather better described as "A newspaper writer stumbles across a homeless street musician who actually has talent, and tries to help the guy. A little." It isn't sweet and sappy and pretty -- it's ugly and nuanced and real. It's homelessness and mental illness and politics and journalism ... and music.

Here's hoping she's right! Check out the trailer and let me know what you think.

Australian release date is set for 5 February 2009.

...And because I'm an unapologetic West Wing geek who now can't hear the prelude to Bach's Cello Suite No.1 without thinking of Yo-Yo Ma playing it during Noël, you can check out the scene here.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Getting Lean

Image via NYTimes

Check out Terrence Rafferty's wonderful article in The New York Times: David Lean, Perfectionist of Madness.

It's been a while since I've cued up a Lean epic, but this article makes me want to:
a) Live in NYC (that said, it doesn't take much)
b) Get my retrospective on

So who's up for getting Lean?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Drop Zone

Today the Pom took to the skies. Along with five other brave Brits and in celebration of a friend's birthday, he suited up and hit the drop zone.

Resolutely on terra firma, I was free to marvel at the Sydney Skydivers set up. I watched as the Pom was thrust into a suit, hoiked into a harness and quickly taken through the basics by his enthusiastic instructor, Jon. Surely there's more to this? A step-by-step run through of the rigging, a certified parachute packing, a vomit break?

Nope. He'd already signed his life away (four times), so it was a case of strap in, push on (or be pushed out), and scream!

Insert expletive here


A room with a view

Taking the reigns...and freaking himself out

The graceful landing

Rock solid...sorta.

My stomach was fairly squiffy during the 20 minute wait after take off. Squinting into the overcast skies, I searched for a big white parachute, then yelped when I saw it doing doeys (that was when the Pom took the reigns).

When everyone was safely back on the ground, I must admit I did a Hollywood-style, slow-mo run towards the Pom and we embraced in a very dramatic hug.

I blame the adrenaline.

Given the once-in-a-lifetime nature of this insanity, the Pom forked out the extra dosh for the full photo and video package. Ever the filmbuff, I was curious to see the DVD product of our 20 minute post jump/adrenaline crash wait. And while it wasn't quite the Wesley Snipes feature I had envisioned, it was quite snappy (and spinny). Jon had done a cracking job chatting to a grey-faced, gulping Pom and shooting the gruesome event from as many angles as his flexible arm would allow. In post-production, the footage was quickly cut together, complete with an at-the-ledge slow mo moment, funky soundtrack...

...and an old-school Hollywood kiss.

Wesley Snipes, eat your heart out.

And happy birthday, Kath!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Bring on the Trumpets!

Apologies for continuing on this advertising jaunt, but I had to share this hilarious ad from the The Natural Confectionery Co. Whoever is responsible for this ad campaign is genius...or perhaps just my kind of random.

If you fancy any more tasty treats, The Natural Confectionery Co. has released the series of ads on YouTube.

Many many thanks to the delightful Ben for bringing on the trumpets!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Roll Credits

A while back I enthused about those crazy kids over at the Keep Calm Gallery and mused about having a cinematic poster commissioned.

Well it seems the walls really do have ears, because voila! Keep Calm is now featuring Richard Roberts and his fabulously film-inspired prints:

I love the authenticity of the typography of FIN and how The End conveys the cinematic legacy of the train: the moving image was said to be like the view from a train window. And of course there's the Lumière brothers' first ever film screening, featuring L'arrivée d'un train à la Ciotat that famously freaked out the locals at the Grand Café in Paris.

Then, to my surprise and delight, a quick trip across to Roberts' blog revealed many more film lovelies!

Turns out FIN is a series of three:

And The End also has a companion:

But my absolute favourite combines my love of film, history and all things Deutsch:

Homage to Fritz Lang


There's also this gorgeous print: Und wenn sie nicht gestorben sind, dann leben sie noch heute. Which translates as, "and if they haven't died, then they still live today."

Way to state the obvious, Deutschies....but really it's their equivalent of "and they lived happily ever after." Ahhh...

Roberts has obviously got the end in sight.*

Cue: The Doors

Roll Credits.

*Sorry, couldn't help myself - that goes for The Doors comment too.

Cinematic Advertising

I love it when advertising gets cinematic. Here are some images I came across from Cate Blanchett's campaign for Donna Karan back in 2003. This shoot was evidently inspired by Blade Runner - I'd say Cate is more human than human!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Caught Short

Image via Caught Short

Last Thursday was Caught Short's 4th birthday bash, and I moseyed up to the Tap Gallery in Darlinghurst to celebrate, and get my short-film on. Now I'm fairly new to the world of short-films; my filmy friends have made a number of wonderful shorts, but for whatever reason my treatments have always been features (mostly massive budget historical epics - preferably staring Johnny Depp and/or Cate Blanchett).

The girl can dream, can't she?!

So it was incredibly enlightening to see six shorts and meet some of their directors in a really enthusiastic environment... which included a beautiful ginger cat! I had crossed paths with organiser Sarah Lancaster during our time at the Sydney Film Festival, and it was great to catch up with some other SFF vollies who were in attendance.

The evening kicked off with the appropriately named 4 by Caught Short regulars the McDonald sisters. These talented Tasmanians sent a gorgeous short-film birthday card, complete with fairy-floss coloured intertitles and cut out characters. I loved their quirky style and look forward to seeing more of their work.

Next up was Len's Love Story, directed by Sonia Whiteman. This quiet and contemplative film follows Len, a man with Asperger's, as he copes in the wake of the death of his mother. The fates lead him to love and new life in the form of an unexpected visitor.

Image via Tribeca Film

With little dialogue, this film rests on the subtle performance of Damon Herriman. Damon stole a few scenes in The Square, but here he carries the film with quiet precision. I also recognised Mia Wasikowska from my little Alice obsession. Whiteman shot the film beautifully; I especially liked the revolution around Len as he first meets his love. Len's Love Story is very deserving of the national and international accolades it's received.

Bloodlines by indigenous filmmaker Jake Nash was then queued up. I wish I hadn't read the blurb as it takes away some of the suspense, but sufficed it to say the film's title is also well represented in the soundscape and mood. It's a well-acted, interesting and topical film.

Another short all about mood is the Italian language Il Nastro Rosso (The Red Ribbon). This crowd-pleaser is the the story of wobegone Salvatore, closed off from life, laughs and love. Vincenzo Riemma's fabulously written narration is amusing; it's a simple story well told.

Wonderful narration continued with The Goat That Ate Time. Lucinda Schreiber's gorgeous animation was my standout favourite of the night. Aden Young tells the tale of goat with a serious case of the munchies, who travels the world to feed his ambitious appetite. Schreiber described how she wanted a storybook feel (in fact, she hopes to turn the story into a children's book) and scanned in hand painted pictures to bring a certain texture to the animation.

Image via Official Site

I immediately fell in love with this film: the title, the look, the whimsy. Schreiber's AFI nomination was entirely deserved, and I hope she gets around to publishing this story in book form one day.

Closing out the evening with a taste for the Halloween goodies to come next month was Daniel Knight's Undead Ted. Another Caught Short regular, Knight this time served up a zombie mockumentary. With a new appreciation of genre films post Not Quite Hollywood, I could also see the film benefits a lot from Shaun of the Dead style dead-pan comedy. Ted was as endearing as he was seedy.

All in all, I had a fabulous time being Caught Short. My friends and I left brimming with inspiration and pitching short film ideas to each other on the way home. This celebration of short film occurs the first Thursday of every month, so shout if you're local and feel like tapping in to this creative and collaborative scene.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

All men are created equal

Image via Imdb

Gus Van Sant plus Sean Penn is a pretty potent cinematic combination. Taking on the story of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to office in California, it appears Van Sant is rejoining the world of narrative after his more recent exercises in style: Paranoid Park and Last Days.

I must admit, I'm not overly familiar with the story of Harvey Milk, and haven't seen the Oscar winning documentary The Times of Harvey Milk from 1984, but with the US presidential election coming up on November 4th, the concept of difference in politics seems fairly apropos.

Milk will premier in San Francisco just prior to the election on October 29th; a timely reminder that all men are created equal.

Milk is slated for an Australian release on 29 January 2009.

Cassandra's Dream

Image via Imdb

Woody Allen's
third adventure on the streets of London is the curious Cassandra's Dream. Mr. Allen has done well exporting himself to Europe (the Americans having long given him up for dead); he raised a few eyebrows with the dark and lusty Match Point, and genuinely seemed to be having fun with the farcical Scoop - though granted the rest of us weren't quite in on the joke. Relieved to see Scarlett Johansson's name replaced with a Ewan McGregor/Colin Farrell tag team, I was keen to see Allen's latest dose of drama.

Cassandra's Dream is the story of two working class London brothers, who flounder in their attempts at social mobility. Seeking salvation in a conveniently timed visit from a rich and doting uncle, they find that salvation is a two-edged sword. In a similar vein to Match Point, the brothers weigh up the financial and moral price of ambition, though here Allen is able to play around with the consequences a little more, as he has two, in fact three, characters to watch as they squirm.

Ambition, morality, money: the classic ingredients of great drama, which have already delivered in Match Point, somehow fall flat here. Perhaps Allen needs the "American abroad" character through which to comment on Londoners, or perhaps he's more at home poking fun at the aristocracy than he is portraying the struggling working class. For one, he had a Scotsman and an Irishman playing Londoners, which sounded odd at times, but mostly the film just seemed overwritten.

Oddly overwritten in fact. The exposition was heavy-handed and the laboured backstory about the Uncle Howard came across as amateurish. McGregor's love interest is an actress in a raunchy play, so at one point I was searching for irony, hoping Allen's clunky dialogue was some tongue-in-cheek play within a play. Alas, I fear he doesn't quite have the ear for Londoners - accents aside - the pace and tone of the film seemed a bit off, as if something was lost in translation.

Brothers in arms - image via CIA

The performances are fairly good despite the dodgy dialogue. Farrell does particularly well as the conflicted younger brother Terry, spiralling into depression. McGregor has moments of subtle brilliance as the desperately lovestruck Ian, with delusions of grandeur and a surprising ruthlessness. The usually pitch perfect Tom Wilkinson is rather disappointing as Uncle Howard and Hayley Atwell holds her own as Ian's enterprising seductress. And I swear Allen had Sally Hawkins styled to look like the spitting image of Scarlett Johansson in her role as Terry's girlfriend, Kate. The resemblance is as uncanny as it is annoying.

I like the way Allen turns the screws on the everyman to extract the price of ambition, and I can appreciate where he was going with Cassandra's Dream, but ultimately he was undone by his writing. Another few drafts and I think the screenplay could have been an intriguing extrapolation on the themes set up in Match Point. Instead the film drowns itself in exposition, so you're better off taking another look at the more polished Match Point, or decamping from London entirely and waiting for Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

I watched Cassandra's Dream on DVD that a friend brought back from overseas. As far as I can tell, as yet there is no set theatrical release date for the film in Australia.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Hello, Wall-E!

Images via Imdb

Buckle up, kids, because Pixar is about to launch you into a galaxy far far away...

In time that is - the location is still Earth - 700 years hence and we humans have been quite the litterbugs. Dumping Earth in the too hard basket and kicking off on a cruise ship into outer space, humans have left our now not so fair planet to the "Waste Allocation Load Lifter - Earth" class robots. But somehow I don't think they were counting on Wall-E.

Without giving away too much, Pixar's latest creation is absolutely endearing. Sure, the Short-Circuit similarities are there, but (for better or worse) there's no Steve Guttenberg in sight, so check Number 5 at the door and meet Wall-E on his own terms.

And my he's impressive! Writer/Director Andrew Stanton (of Finding Nemo fame) has outdone himself with the wily Wall-E. It continues to astound me how Stanton and the Pixar crew personify objects and convey their character so quickly and clearly. Wall-E, we soon learn, is a hard and disciplined worker, as well as an inquisitive (and organised!) collector of man-made objects. The precision and attention to detail is astounding. A lot of the film is essentially silent, so the animators have harked back to the days of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton with the film's slapstick and situation comedy.

This physicality is also the vehicle for the emotional heart of the story. Wall-E craves companionship, and watches scenes from Hello, Dolly! over and over again in the hope of grasping - literally - the simple gesture of love: holding hands.

Loneliness and love is really what the film is about, so the simplicity of the storyline may disappoint those hoping for a more swashbuckling, sci-fi epic. The film does provide a bit of a chase and a smattering of suspense, but it always comes back to the wide-eyed Wall-E on his journey to secure the love of Eve.

This theme of solitude is also taken up in the human subplot. It isn't revealing too much to say that the future doesn't look too bright for humankind. Not only have we turned Earth into a tip, but we've turned ourselves into beached whales: wedged into La-Z-Boys and behind computer screens. It did concern me that many in the audience found this hilarious, whereas I found it quite disturbing! I don't think Stanton pulls any punches in his depiction of consumerism run amok, though I appreciated that all of this is just shown, and not preached about. It's a cautionary tale if you want it to be, and evidently very funny if you don't!

Seeing the world through Wall-E's eyes is wonderfully refreshing. His curiosity, tenacity and old-world romanticism is both captivating and infectious. And his boundless love for Eve reminds us:

It only takes a moment
To be loved a whole life long.

Wall-E finally comes to Australia on September 18....Looking forward to hearing what you think!

*It Only Takes A Moment - from Hello, Dolly!
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