Monday, November 30, 2009

The Damned United

Brian Clough: The greatest manager the England team never had.

Being a football fan is by no means a prerequisite to enjoy Peter Morgan’s brilliant biopic The Damned United. Adapting David Pearce’s novel in what looks to be a fairly generous, even romanticised take on the life and career of Brian Clough, Morgan has reteamed with his Frost/Nixon and The Queen star Michel Sheen. Together the pair absolutely relish in the arrogance, the belligerence and the remarkable ambition of their subject.

Cutting backwards and forwards between 1968 and 1974, The Damned United traverses Clough’s heady rise at Derby County as well as his spectacular fall from grace at Leeds United. It also tracks Clough’s competitive obsession with beloved Leed’s manager Don Revie (Colm Meaney) alongside the fruitful and fractious partnership Clough shared with his assistant manager Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall). Morgan seems to flirt with romantic comedy conventions, setting up a quasi-love triangle amidst the politics, money and muddy terrain of premier league football.

The result is a provocative, darkly funny and particularly damning character study of hubris couched in idealism. Sheen’s performance is worth the price of admission alone, however Spall, Meaney and even a grouchy Jim Broadbent also impress, as does the production design, wonderfully framed shots and incisive dialogue.

For all his superciliousness, Clough expounds the model of a football team as a family, an analogy that is clearly evident in the ongoing success of Morgan and Sheen’s filmmaking partnership.


Published on Concrete Playground.
Australian release date: 3 December 2009

Friday, November 27, 2009

More Toys!


There's a new teaser trailer for Toy Story 3 - just perfect for a Friday!

The Pixar people look set to impress yet again, and what's more, with the re-release of Toy Story 1 & 2 in 3D, perhaps there's even a Toy Story marathon on the cards!

Toy Story 3 Australian release date: 24 June 2010
Toy Story 1 & 2 3D Australian re-release: 26 December 2010

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Toward a Bright Star

Bright star! would I were steadfast as thou art --
Not in lone splendor hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priest-like task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors --
No -- yet still steadfast, still unchangable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever -- or else swoon to death.

Written on a blank page in Shakespeare's poems, facing "A Lover's Complaint"
John Keats

Yes, I'm seeing Jane Campion's Bright Star today.
Yes, I'm terribly excited.

Australian release date: 26 December 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Rhapsodic Muppets

Had to blog this. Just had to.

The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls


Why hasn't Australia heard of the Topp Twins? We're famous for nabbing New Zealand talent and claiming them for our own (think Russell Crowe, Crowded House's Neil Finn and Jane Campion), so how these charming sisters, their humour and their musical activism haven't crossed the pond boggles the mind. Fortunately Leanne Pooley's delightful documentary has, bringing the remarkable story of Jools and Lynda Topp to Australia's belated attention.

Structured around a self-styled This Is Your Life type evening, Jools and Lynda tell their tales and sing their songs to an audience of friends and family, many of whom are also interviewed. Learning about these lesbian, activist, yodelling farm girls is never dull, as their effusive energy and buoyant spirit captivates. Their music needn't even be to your taste to warm to their simple, funny songs and remark at just how much the pair has achieved. From gay rights, Maori Land Rights and nuclear disarmament, to (bravely!) storming a Springboks vs. All Blacks match to protest apartheid, these indefatigable Topps have managed to get their message heard while simultaneously establishing a place for themselves (and their alter egos) in Kiwi popular culture.

However at least a few Aussies are already clued in to the Topps. They toured with Midnight Oil (as well as Billy Brag and Split Enz), John Clarke (another poached Kiwi) affectionately calls them "two very very naughty girls," while there is little doubt Kath & Kim were influenced by the twins' small screen antics.

The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls is the essence of a great documentary; an entertaining, rewarding and informative look at the fascinating lives of these two women. And as they were inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame in 2008, so too do they deserve success on the silver screen in 2009. It is a true delight to spend 84 minutes in Topp company.

Published on Concrete Playground.
Australian release date: 26 November 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Cold Souls

With art imitating life imitating, well, Paul Giamatti, Cold Souls is quite the curio. Writer/director Sophie Barthes takes soul searching to a whole new level in her philosophical treatise on the commodification of the soul.

It’s probably best not to say too much about this film. However, anyone who might have been horribly traumatised by a philosophy course has no cause to fear Cold Souls. Barthes infuses the screenplay with a caustic wit, while her impressionistic visual style is lovely to behold. This is a truly impressive debut and one that will no doubt go over well with fans of Charlie Kaufman, particularly his recent Synecdoche, New York.

Rallied by a spirited performance from Giamatti (playing himself, sort of), David Strathairn, Dina Korzun and the rest of the cast — including Kaufman cross-over Emily Watson — bring all the ironic nuances and world-weary melancholia of their characters to life. And these wonderfully written roles are played out within a wry storyline that reignites the Cold War on an existential level.

So regardless of whether you ultimately enjoy Cold Souls, or are able to wrap your head around it, one thing’s for sure: you’ll never look at a chickpea the same way again.


Published on Concrete Playground (head to the website to win free tickets).
Australian release date: 26 November 2009

Monday, November 23, 2009

Twilight/Buffy Mashup

And now for a different kind of inspiration!

I've yet to see New Moon (yes I'm the one!), but can imagine I'll enjoy it in the same mindless way I revelled in the first. However I also have no doubt that the feminist in me will rage at Bella's insipid brand of limpid femininity.

Which is where this clip comes in. Go Buffy!

Thanks to Kate for the giggles.

Be inspired

An inspirational start to the week.

Thanks to Filmspotting for the heads up.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


Snowflake is the final music video from Passenger's Wide Eyes Blind Love album.

The man himself - Mike Rosenberg - is still touring around Australia, so keep an eye on his website for gig details.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Beached Az: The End

All our colourful friends return to lend a hand in this feelgood season finale.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bondi Short Film Festival

Bringing cinema to the beach for the ninth year running, the Bondi Short Film Festival has well and truly established itself as a cult cinematic event. In fact the matinee session has already sold out, even before the fourteen finalists have been announced!*

The judges may well be a drawcard. Festival director Francis Coady has assembled an illustrious list including Beautiful Kate writer/director Rachel Ward, actor Damon Gameau (Underbelly, Balibo), writer/director David Caesar (Prime Mover), filmmaker Gracie Otto (3 Blind Mice) and Filmink editor Dov Kornits. Triple J’s Robbie Buck will be mc-ing the event, with a gourmet barbecue and well stocked bar available for patrons.

For filmmakers, there are even more delicious treats to enjoy. Prizes for best film, cinematography, actor, script, music and design include a trip to the USA, $3000 and a wine soaked weekend away in the Hunter Valley. Plus the accolades from local film fans, as well as potential sunburn courtesy of Bondi Beach.

Summer may not officially be upon us come November 28, but the Bondi Short Film Festival promises to kick off the season in cinematic style.

*Update: check out the list of finalists here.

For your diaries: 28 November 2009

Published on Concrete Playground.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Serious Man

No Jews were harmed during the making of this film.

Left to the end of the credits, this little disclaimer speaks volumes about both the subject matter and tone of A Serious Man. Indeed the Coen brothers’ latest film feels like an elaborate in-joke, born of their own Jewish upbringing and therefore fairly exclusive for any gentiles in the audience.

From the opening bizarre, Yiddish fable, A Serious Man unfolds into a damning morality play. It’s 1976 in Midwest USA and physics professor Larry Gopnik’s (Michael Stuhlbarg) life is about to implode. His dogmatic wife Judith (Sari Lennick) is leaving him for Sy Albeman (Fred Melamed), a man who sounds like the slimiest of talkback radio hosts. Larry’s teenage kids are apathetic to the point of tyrannical, and his useless brother Arthur (Richard Kind) is epitomised by the constant draining of his sebaceous cyst. Meanwhile Larry is on tenterhooks waiting to receive tenure, with university life further stressed by a disgruntled South Korean student seeking a passing grade.

Just how Larry survives such a systematic undoing makes the film in equal parts unsettling, pointed and hilarious. The Coen brothers’ precision – written and visual – is remarkable, and yet the film is so unapologetically self-reflexive and autobiographical that it tends towards indulgent. Moreover the Coens are infamous for their physical and psychological (mis)treatment of characters. And this combination makes for an almost alienating viewing experience, though one that will probably develop further resonance (like most Coen brothers’ films) upon repeated viewing.

Nothing is sacred in A Serious Man: the Coen brothers gleefully dismantle the institutions of marriage, religion and even a Bah Mitzvah. However, all serve to illustrate the profound and pervasive impact of their Jewish childhood…so perhaps the Coens didn’t quite come through unscathed after all.

Published on Concrete Playground.
Australian release date: 19 November 2009.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pixar Parody

Thanks to Ed for the heads up!

Access All Areas Film Festival

Fancy a free trip to the cinema? The Access All Areas Film Festival is taking Australian film on tour this month as part of the state’s Don’t DIS my ABILITY campaign, which culminates in the celebration of the International Day of People with a Disability.

Think about it, a trip to the cinema is a common pastime for most, but not so for the visually or hearing impaired, for whom most cinemas don’t cater. So in touring around the state, bringing cinema to local deaf and blind schools, this festival not only champions Australian film, but also demonstrates the cultural possibilities available to the disabled.

Now in it’s second year, the festival will screen Scott Hick’s compassionate portrait of fatherhood, The Boys Are Back as well as Sarah Watt’s wry look at family life My Year Without Sex. Also part of the program are a series of short films for kids to enjoy, including the IF nominated animation Tin Can Heart.

All screenings will be captioned for the hearing impaired, audio-described for the visually impaired and be wheelchair accessible. The festival will also round out with a panel discussion “Willing and Able – Making Cinema Accessible,” at the Dendy Opera Quays. So for cinephiles of all abilities, this is your chance to access all areas.

For your diaries: 16 November - 3 December.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hola Mexico Film Festival

¡Hola! May be the extent of many Australians’ Spanish capabilities, but the Hola Mexico Film Festival would like us to learn another word: revalucion!

Yes la revolucion is coming, with the festival looking to commemorate 99 years since the Mexican Revolution by screening one of the country’s most expensive films ever made: Tear this Heart Out (Arrancame la vida). Based on a beloved novel, it is the story of a young beauty who marries a much older General, with both becoming embroiled in the political machinations of post-revolutionary Mexico. Director Roberto Sneider will be on hand introduce the film in a special event to benefit Movember.

Also showing as part of a Tribute to Mexico are five films from the masterful Julio Bracho. As a glimpse into the golden age of Mexican film, Bracho’s features will be available to view at complimentary screenings.

From old to new, Mexico’s latest hit, Sin Nombre, is taking opening night honours in this year’s festival. Produced by Mexican superstars Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal, Cary Fukunaga’s film took out best director and cinematography at Sundance this year. A Latin American odyssey from Honduras to the promised land of the United States, Sin Nombre has been delighting festival audiences worldwide.

Making up the thirty plus films programmed in the festival’s fourth year are shorts, documentaries and a couple of sex comedies (evidently a Mexican film staple), as well as Q&A screening with Amar a Morir director Fernando Lebrija. This stylish film about a banking heir escaping to a beach community even stars our one and only Craig Maclachlan.

The Dendy Newtown and Opera Quays will be hosting the festival, so rock on over and say ¡Hola!

For your diaries: 18-29 November

Published on Concrete Playground.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Beached Az a Crab

"Don't talk to my girlfriend!"

A good friend of mine is immortalised, Beached Az style.

Friday, November 13, 2009



Oh dear, it's the end of the world. Again.

Like the proverbial boy who cried wolf, director Roland Emmerich continues to draw a crowd with his shrieking, CGI ridden tales of doom. The formula is tried and true: cosmic/catastrophic event triggers worldwide disaster - but let's just focus on the American experience. Cue: telling juxtapositions between the everyman and the powers that be. Fold in some shit hot CGI and swelling music and what do you know (American) humanity survives in the end.

It just so happens that whatever Emmerich is selling, I'm buying. As ridiculous as it sounds (and as damaging to my meager credibility), the man can make a cracking popcorn movie. It's loud, it's fun and it's mindless enough to allow you to get swept up by the effects, and right over the corny dialogue. Just check your brain at the door and you'll have a great time in the cinema.

Plus I wager Emmerich has his tongue firmly in his cheek. You don't cast John Cusack, and have his first line be, "I'm a dead man," without revealing that you mean to play within the generic conventions. This, I feel, saves 2012 from becoming sickeningly earnest, just as Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum achieved in Independence Day (another Emmerich vehicle).

In any case, Emmerich has again positioned himself as reigning king of 'disaster porn.' All hail the king. And while you're at it, it's worth noting that should this 2012 malarkey (or indeed any other apocalypse conspiracy theory) eventuate, you'd do well to pick up a few survival tips from the man himself....

Click here to read a list of 'lessons learned' from disaster movies. Beth and I had a good giggle putting this together.

Australian release date: 12 November 2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Blind Love

Blind Love is one of my favourites from Passenger's acoustic album. This brilliant video only adds to the song's appeal.

As I've already mentioned, Mike is touring Australia at the moment, and has a gig in Sydney tonight! So come along to the Paddington Uniting Church to see how good music is done.

Scott Hicks: One of the Boys

RT: How was it being back shooting a feature film in South Australia?

SH: I really enjoyed it. It was an unexpected pleasure if you like, because the film was originally located in Queensland and migrated to South Australia for financial reasons. So I found myself shooting a film at home again for the first time in about 12 years.

Speaking of home, you're the father of two sons and the owner of a vineyard. So how much of yourself did you infuse in this production?

Well of course there things that resonated quite strongly for me, just given fatherhood has been a huge part of my own life. I wouldn't say it's directly infused, although there are one or two scenes -- now I think about it -- that definitely came out of my own experience. But it was a story that really touched me. I really felt that the story of a man struggling to become a better father to his two sons in the wake of his wife's death; it was very touching, but very unsentimental. And felt so real to me: the dialogue, the relationships. Then of course I discovered it was based on a memoir, so of course it was drawn from life. And that became my intention really, to get it to the screen in that same real feeling as much as possible.

So was there a scene in a vineyard or was that your inclusion?

That was my inclusion. I mean in the original script it was in the sugar cane fields of Queensland! It was nice to be able to set the film somewhere in Australia that I felt hadn't been explored that much or seen on film, which is that vineyard culture.

It appears you've gone from a single mother (or Aunt) in No Reservations to a story about a single father. Did your adaptation of Bella Martha inform The Boys Are Back?

Well it's funny you mention that, because how that came about was that I actually read The Boys Are Backin 2004. I went to Clive with it and I thought he would be fantastic, and he loved it. So I thought, "Here we go. We're off!" But with one thing and another, Clive was busy then I was busy, so we couldn't quite get in sync. Then at the end of 2005 we were all poised ready to shoot the film, and Clive said he needed some time off because he'd done a lot of work back-to-back and he wanted to feel fresh for The Boys Are Back and around that time I was sent the script of what became No Reservations. So I thought, well I've got a year that I'd set out to do The Boys Are Back and here's another film about relationships and people, so I took it on. And of course it had that resonance in it, to do with loss and so on, but it was such a different story that I didn't feel that it was any kind of an issue.

I hadn't realised it was so serendipitous!

Yes it was! Then beyond that it took a while again for Clive and I to get in sync, because when I finished No Reservations he was on another movie. Then when he was finished I was doing my Philip Glass film, and on it went until finally we lined up in 2008. At last! But the great thing was he was as determined as I was not to let it go. Because actors -- especially someone like Clive -- get so many offers to do things, so you just hope their attention doesn't get distracted by something else. But he really, really wanted to play the part.

On that note, how much of a coup was it to get Clive Owen to star in an Australian film?

It was fantastic! I think with any of these co-production arrangements -- which this film was an Australian/English co-production -- it's important that it's authentic to the actual story and the settings. In this case, because Simon Carr, who wrote the original memoir is an English journalist, who did come out here [Carr actually emigrated to New Zealand], it's totally authentic casting to have Clive in the part.

So how was it that a Scottish actress [Laura Fraser] ended up playing an Australian?

Isn't that funny? There it's a matter of -- I looked at a lot of Australian actresses and it was a busy year, a lot of people were working and not available... and in the end I loved that Laura Fraser had a quality in Australia that would be quite unknown. That she wouldn't carry any baggage with her. So I liked that feeling. When she came and auditioned for me, she did a flawless Australian accent, which is quite difficult to do. And I didn't even realise she was Scottish until she finished the read and she suddenly broke out into this broad Scottish accent! Oh my God!

Much as the film is about fatherhood, the film has the prevailing theme of mothers -- with Joe coming to terms with his own thoughts on how motherhood is almost a more 'natural' state. How did you draw this juxtaposition?

Well that really goes back to Simon Carr's observations. Yes I think it would be fair to say there is a tendency for society to accept mothers as the natural child raisers. But the fact is that there are hundreds of thousands of single fathers, struggling to raise their kids or maintain contact with their children following marital break up or loss. And it's an enormous and untold story. So I found that really quite powerful, and I've had a lot of reaction from men in that situation to the emotional journey of the story.

It's also intriguing that The Boys Are Back is being released a week after Michael Winterbottom's Genova. What do you think it is about these stories of single fathers that's resonating with audiences?

I guess it's in the zeitgeist! Isn't it funny, I only noticed that recently. But sometimes ideas surface in the general consciousness at a time and I think that's good. It's obviously time to explore these things and discuss them and bring them out in the film world.

Speaking of the film world, The Boys Are Back has such a wonderful visual sensibility, with focus pulls creating an emotive, subjective frame. How did you and the DP Greig Fraser construct the visual aesthetic?

Well there were a few guiding principles which I really wanted in shooting the film. Because working with a six-year-old child is a challenge. You're working with someone who doesn't have technical skills, and nor should they; who has the energies and the distractions of any six-year-old and it was so important that we capture an authentic performance that didn't feel coached or schooled in the way that a lot of child performances do I think. Now what that meant was we had to be very flexible, very light on our feet. Pretty much the whole film is handheld, because I wanted to be able to follow Nicholas wherever he went.

So that was a kind of loosening up things, which I really enjoyed, but at the same time I've got a strong visual sensibility and I love to play with focus and with light and shade and Greig was just a perfect collaborator on that front. He's highly, highly skilled obviously and my main other instruction to him was that it had to feel unlit. And then within that, there's a natural beauty that you can capture.

Greig Fraser's having a cracking year! He's shot Last Ride and has Bright Star coming up.

Yes, he's on the rise no doubt!

Well they do say don't work with children or animals and you had your work cut out for you. The bird life in the film was amazing!

Wasn't it?! They obviously have inhabited that valley for millennia, and here we come along to make our film. At first I was thinking, "What do we do? Do we have to get a peregrine falcon in here and scare them away?" But in the end, I got together with the sound recordist [Ben Osmo] and said, "Let's embrace it. Let's make it part of the texture of this film. Do you think you can work with this and get the dialogue nice an clean, but get the bird life as well?" And he said, "Yeah, give me a go." Ben Osmo was fantastic.

So the mandatory final question has to be, "What's next?" Hopefully another Australian film -- Adelaide seems to befit you well.

Well that would be great! At the moment I've just got a couple of things that I'm looking at, but I don't know what may gel first. So to be honest I can't say right now, it's not clear enough.

Published on Rotten Tomatoes.

Click here for my review of The Boys Are Back.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lest We Forget



The American Dream stretches far beyond its country’s borders. And yet in looking to trade in the Israeli wall for an Illinois white-picket fence, Palestinian Muna (Nisreen Faour) and her teenage son, Fadi (Melkar Muallem) find the dream elusive in 2003 Iraq war America. Writer/director Cherien Dabis’ debut feature Amreeka illuminates the modern immigrant experience to heart warming, pointed effect. Born of Palestinian/Jordanian immigrant parents, Dabis seems keen to tackle the presumptions and pretensions attendant to the migrant experience; not only the rampant racism of Americans towards Arabs, but also the romantic assumptions held of ‘home’ by the Palestinian diaspora.

However what sounds like a potential diatribe is actually a lovely, funny film. Carried by Faour’s infectiously enthusiastic performance, whatever ‘messages’ Amreeka seeks to communicate are well couched in authentically written characters. Muna’s rocky American assimilation is balanced by her sister’s (Hiam Abbass) mortgage woes, now patients are abstaining from her husband’s (Yussef Abu-Warda) medical practice. While the teenage experience also features, with Fadi’s plight plotted alongside his cousin’s (Alia Shawkat) rebellion. Only the kindly, Polish-Jew headmaster (Joseph Ziegler) rings a bit false, though it does lead to an edifying discussion about chess.

With advanced screenings this week, which marks the 20th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, perhaps Armeeka will hold a special significance. In capturing the wall that envelops the West Bank, Dabis’ vérité-style camera includes a shot of graffiti reading Ich bin ein Berliner...if only JFK’s famously inaccurate pledge of solidarity still translated for those coming to Amreeka.

Published on Concrete Playground (visit the site to win tickets to advanced screenings this weekend)
Australian release date: 19 November 2009

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


In an attempt to avoid all manner of flying puns*, the best way to describe Mira Nair’s Amelia is as a mixed bag. This biopic of famed and ill-fated aviatrix Amelia Earhart is bolstered by beautiful production design, gorgeous costumes and a committed performance by Hilary Swank. However the film is oddly inconsistent, with some elements steeped in sentimentality, while others are handled with alluring subtlety. This ultimately makes for a frustrating experience, one that given the fascinating subject matter, feels like a greatly missed opportunity.

That said, Nair does manage to impart the special significance of her historical figure. For many young Australians, the rapturous celebrity of Ms. Earhart may be largely unknown. It is most intriguing to see how she came about that fame — through an entirely manufactured stunt by the wily publishing magnate George P. Putnam (a lacklustre Richard Gere) — and discover a burgeoning publicity machine created to keep her aloft. In fact the film is strongest when dealing with Amelia the commodity; the brand power of which reached the White House and indeed sent her around the world.

Less successful are the film’s romantic overtures. Gere and Swank don’t generate much chemistry, though both actors bring genuine affection to the relationship. But on the other hand Swank and Ewan McGregor’s Gene Vidal capture the frisson of desire in an adulterous subplot that is quite well handled. And yet the ripple effect of another man in her life — Amelia’s alcoholic father — is very heavy-handed at times, while poignant at others.

Such pitching and yawing strips Amelia of its potency. For all its aesthetic beauty, unfortunately this film is too clunky a portrait of the “goddess of light.”

Published on Concrete Playground.
Australian release date: 12 November 2009

UK release date: 13 November 2009

Monday, November 9, 2009


Starlings is a short and sweet little song from Passenger's Wide Eyes Blind Love album. This video features the starkly beautiful, burnt out pier in Brighton. My daily walks along the promenade were often spent observing the architecture and the disintegration of this local icon.

Mike's well on the way to becoming one himself (a local icon, not burnt out!), and he's currently on tour in Australia. He'll be returning to Sydney this Thursday (12/11) for a gig at the Paddington Uniting Church, so if you've liked his music that I've posted, then head on over to Paddo on Thursday and see what Mike can bust out live.

Also performing on the night is the delightful Jess Chalker, as well as the talented duo Elana Stone & Brian Campeau. This awesome foursome have been making musical waves all over Australia, so Thursday looks set to be a great night.

The Boys Are Back


Fathers and sons: a relationship not often portrayed without sporting paraphernalia nearby. Adapting Simon Carr’s acclaimed memoir about single fatherhood in the shadow of loss, celebrated Australian director Scott Hicks and his leading man Clive Owen offer up a delicate, moving film. In the wake of his wife’s death, sports journalist (so, not entirely leaving the paraphernalia behind) Joe Warr falters at the prospect of raising his 6 year old son Artie (Nicholas McAnulty). After regaining a certain equilibrium, Joe’s ‘Just Say Yes’ mentality is challenged upon the arrival from London of his 14 year old son from a previous marriage, Harry (Rupert Grint lookalike George MacKay). Together the three Warrs navigate the highs and lows of family and fatherhood in a magnificent Australian bush setting.

The Boys Are Back makes an interesting companion piece to Michael Winterbottom’s Genova. It is curious to consider how the two directors have taken similar storylines to vastly different aesthetic and thematic ends. Hicks’ film may feel more mainstream and a little episodic, but both eschew sentimentality for a rewarding look at the realities of parenthood. And like Colin Firth, Owen delivers an emotionally intelligent performance, one with a few lashings of his charm that also makes the most of his slightly stilted style.

Further contributing to the film’s sophistication is Greig Fraser’s superb cinematography. The talent behind Last Ride and Jane Campion’s Bright Star, Fraser captures idyllic South Australia and the Warr boys with a quiet poetry. Focus pulls are intertwined with luscious landscapes; domesticity and the unwieldy freedom of the bush are tellingly confused.

The Boys Are Back may privilege the experience of he single father, but it also engages with the prevailing dominance of motherhood. This results in a deeply resonant film, driven by strong performances and displaying an open affection that is too rarely depicted between fathers and sons.

Published on Concrete Playground.
Australian release date: 12 November 2009

UK release date: 22 January 2010

Friday, November 6, 2009

Vintage Up

Joy of joys! I have a slightly obsessive soft spot for vintage posters and postcards, so when the guys over at /Film featured these images from the talented Eric Tan, Craig Foster, Erik Evans and Paul Conrad, I went a little nutty.

Yes, I've already raved about Up, but if it's possible, this collection of posters make me love the film even more.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Prime Mover

David Caesar takes on the truckies in his modern fairytale Prime Mover. Infusing dusty Dubbo with magical realism, this is the story of Thomas, an aspiring truckie meets small town gypsy Melissa, and the love and life they make for each other. The film reunites Suburban Mayhem stars Michael Dorman and Emily Barclay, who generate a natural chemistry that sells their love at first sight. But it wouldn’t be a fairytale without some nasty antagonists: roles taken up with relish by Caesar regular Ben Mendelson and Underbelly's Gyton Grantley. Fulfilling the fairy godmother position (of sorts) is Anthony Hayes, whose four parts aid and stall Thomas’ progress in turn.

Though Caesar clearly seeks to reveal the magic in everyday life, he doesn’t quite manage to keep up the momentum from its charming first act. When Thomas hits the road, the film takes an about face, replacing the laconic comedy with a rather serious family drama, albeit one with fun bad guys. This tonal shift carries the film off course a ways, but by the third act both Thomas and his Prime Mover are heading back on track.

The narration and magical realism may well remind some of the cult classic Two Hands. This is, however, a much sweeter film that seeks to portray love and family in a meaningful way. While it may not fire on all cylinders, Prime Mover is broadly appealing, with engaging performances, fun cameos and fine cinematography that provide an interesting glimpse at the oft-overlooked Australian truckie.

Published on Concrete Playground (visit the site to win free tickets).
Australian release date: 12 November 2009

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is quite the cinematic right of passage. Donald Duck has assumed the mantle, as have Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine and the Muppets. Heady names indeed when considering yet another remake. But the ambitious Robert Zemeckis has stepped up to the plate, with the ebullient Jim Carrey and British film gold Gary Oldman, Colin Firth and Bob Hoskins in toe. Trying his hand again at the painstaking performance capture animation, Zemeckis has jumped off The Polar Express and into Dickensian London (albeit one in 3D).

It feels as if Zemeckis has literally gone back to book, beginning as he does with the classic shot that delves into the pages of its source material. More so than previous adaptations, his film feels darker — literally and thematically — which probably aligns this version closer to its 1843 origins. Which is not to say A Christmas Carol has been stripped of its wry commentary nor its redemptive warmth. Though Jim Carrey mostly reigns himself in as the wizened Ebenezer Scrooge, there are still many comedic moments. In fact, he’s positively bizarre as the candle-shaped Ghost of Christmas Past.

And yet it somehow feels as if we spend too long in the darkness. Although the first act is conveyed with impressive precision, many sequences within it and the more adventurous second act are overly long. Granted this is a ghost story, but still there is little to entertain younger children, while the joyful ending seems rushed. Similarly the 3D too often falls back on finger pointing for thrills, paling in comparison with the glorious 3D artistry of Pixar’s Up.

For better or worse, this classic tale seems destined to be reinvented time and time again. Zemeckis’ attempt is certainly striking, bold and quite intense at times, but the dynamic cinematography combined with Carrey’s captivating portrayal of Scrooge make for another rewarding paring of Disney and Dickens.

Published on Concrete Playground.

Australian release date: 5 November 2009.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Michael Winterbottom’s Genova is quite the experience. A slice of life look at a father and his two daughters as they cope with the loss of their mother in a terribly tragic accident; the film unfolds with refreshing naturalism, free of cloying sentimentality. Absent too are any earnest platitudes or the melodramatic struggles of a single father shouldering the weight of parental responsibility. Instead, life – as it must – goes on, with night terrors, sisterly resentment and even furtive steps towards new love played out to subtle and engrossing effect.

Colin Firth is effortlessly compassionate and stoic as Joe, an English academic who relocates his grieving family to Genoa in order to accept a teaching job sought out from him by a friend Barbara (a pitch-perfect Catherine Keener). Perla Haney-Jardine and The OC’s Willa Holland take on the hefty roles of Joe’s daughters Mary and Kelly, both bringing remarkable maturity and nuance to their respective characters.

Indeed the verisimilitude of Winterbottom’s screenplay and cinematography are so engaging that some of the film’s dramatic flourishes miss the mark. Mary’s disappearance on the island as well as the climactic (and all too convenient) reunification form unnecessary additions to this sophisticated and largely restrained film. The same might be said for Winterbottom’s treatment of Marianne (Hope Davis) after her death, but somehow this fits within Mary’s experience of grief and her exorcising of guilt.

Winterbottom is on much more affecting ground when he journeys through Genoa’s streets alongside his protagonists. The titular city is assuredly a central character, with its labyrinthine lanes suggestive of as much mystery as malice. Visually and thematically, the city provides an illuminating setting for Winterbottom’s contemplative look at life after loss.

Australian Poster by Carnival Studio
Published in The Brag.
Australian release date: 5 November 2009

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