Monday, August 31, 2009

Lemon Tree (DVD)

Lemon Tree is a beautifully drawn portrait of life on the West Bank. Co-writer/director Eran Riklis’ film is based on a true story of a Palestinian widow who took her neighbour – the Israeli Defence Minister – to the Supreme Court over an olive grove he sought to remove for security purposes. The substitution of lemons for olives not only reflects the bitterness of the dispute, but the generally sour state of relations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Hiam Abbass carries the film as the stoic widow Salma Zidane. Abbass may have already stolen your heart in Thomas McCarthy’s The Visitor, and here she is similarly magnificent: determined, weary and beautiful. On the other side of the fence is her Israeli counterpart Mira Navon (Rona Lipaz-Michael), the conflicted wife of a charismatic and pragmatic Defence Minister (Doron Tavory). Across the divide, Mira and Salma form a silent bond, forged in their shared loneliness and frustration with the status quo.

Despite the fact that Lemon Tree is clearly a parable, sometimes the film’s parallels are a little too neat. The absent children, the caterer forgetting the lemons and even the comic relief of Quickie (Danny Leshman) – the Israeli sentry studying for his psychometric test – may seem a little too obvious. Moreover, the love story between Salma and her lawyer (Ali Suliman), though deftly handled, also borders on melodrama.

The allusion that does work, however, is the wall. Devastating in its ruinous simplicity, the complex and divisive history of this land is symbolised by the wall, which the Lemon Tree reveals in all its futile glory.

3 1/2 Stars

This review was also published in The Brag

Lemon Tree is now available to rent or purchase on DVD

I've Loved You So Long

It is not often that an audience gets to see a masterclass performance by a female actor. Unfortunately such roles are few and too far between. So it is a true pleasure to watch Kristen Scott Thomas’ disarmingly honest portrayal of a tortured soul in Philippe Claudel’s I’ve Loved You So Long.

Almost operatic in its tragedy, yet so exquisitely restrained, the film follows Juliette Fontaine (Scott Thomas) as she moves in with her sister (Elsa Zylberstein), reintegrating into society after fifteen years in prison. Beginning as it ends, with lingering look at Juliette’s face, the film unfolds with a similar, unhurried air. Her halting return is unobtrusively captured by Jérôme Alméras’ naturalistic cinematography, as the secrets of the past slowly well up and, inevitably, spill over.

Scott Thomas’ superlative performance is well supported by the rest of the cast. Zylberstein’s Léa is particularly striking, with Claudel’s storyline being as much about these two sisters reconnecting as with Juliette negotiating the strictures of her atonement. And in typical French fashion I’ve Loved You So Long is filled a colourful cast of characters: from an Alzheimic mother, to an Iraqi refugee friend and adopted Vietnamese children. To Claudel’s credit, however, they don’t clutter the film; rather they augment Juliette’s confronting and at times claustrophobic freedom.

Pain, stigma and solace are all on the cards for Juliette. The nuance of Scott Thomas’ performance sees these and a myriad more emotions steal across her face. And yet the film also reveals more than one version of prison, as well as the human connections in which one can find redemption.

4 Stars

This review also appeared in The Brag

I've Loved You So Long is now available to rent or purchase on DVD.

Pay Day?

As I now find myself increasingly stepping between the blogging and print worlds, I suppose it was only a matter of time until I waded into the 'writing for free' debate. Prolific Sydney writer Rachel Hills recently posted her thoughts, as part of a broader question posed at Meanjin. I encourage you to read the Meanjin article as well as the comments, but before I add my 2 cents, I've got to share this:

Now, suitably worked up, you may fancy taking a look at Michelle Haimhoff's proposal for paying Huffington Post bloggers.

So where do I stand? Somewhere in the middle methinks. Like any industry that encourages work experience or internships, I can understand the need to cut your teeth, learn the ropes (insert more metaphors here). Plus there is certainly a 'currency' in having certain publications on your CV, and using the exposure to expand your horizons. In these cases, I feel a writer earns something for writing for free. However, where I find fault is the prevailing presumption that a writer will work for nix.

As is mentioned so effusively by Mr. Ellison as well as in many of the comments at Meanjin and Haimhoff's piece, no-one else works on the assumption that they won't get paid! So why should writers? It's a service and most definitely a skill, and while the proliferation of blogging has muddied the waters (or perhaps just saturated them), surely print and established online publications should pay their contributors?

A number of comments on both sites mention how 'embarrassingly low' the pay would be, if certain publications were to start paying contributors. I've actually had this (excuse the pun) priceless reason cited to me. I guess my answer is, let's start with embarrassingly low and work our way up from there.

One HuffPost commentator suggests $250 a month is tantamount to working for free, but surely it's a start? Better than nothing? The point is - embarrassingly low or no - editors and writers should be working to the assumption that contributions are paid for. Not getting paid should be the exception, rather than the rule.

And no doubt there will always be a steady stream of newbie writers (myself included) who are willing to make the contacts and build the experience by writing for free. But my (perhaps rather naive) hope is that this is done in dialogue with editors, where payment - meager though it may be - is always up for discussion.

Here endeth the rant. Thoughts?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Last Unicorn

The first music video from Passenger's new Wide Eyes Blind Love album is now online. Enjoy the sweetly melancholic The Last Unicorn

It's a nice, simple example of DIY video, that also manages to perfectly capture the mood. Who hasn't gone for a long walk, with an iPod for solitary company, and mulled over a break up?

Evidently the big eyed Mike Rosenberg is collaborating with animator friend Mark Charlton to release videos for all 9 songs on the album. So stay tuned!

Order your copy of Wide Eyes Blind Love here.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Children of Glory

There’s blood in the water.

During the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, the semi-final of the men’s water polo became more than just a grudge match between Hungary and the USSR. Instead, at the other end of the world, these two teams played for the highest stakes of all: freedom.

Krisztina Goda’s Children of Glory parallels this bloody match with the October 23 Hungarian revolution and its brutal suppression by the Soviets in the early days of November 1956. Unfortunately, however, a paint-by-numbers Hollywood script from Basic Instinct writer Joe Eszterhas waters down this fascinating microcosm/macrocosm piece of history. What’s left is a somewhat pedestrian story: a playboy water polo player meets cute revolutionary and gets drawn into the fray, turning his back on his teammates and best friend for love and country. Too many cliché’s ensue, some of which are partially rescued by some solid performances, if not the rather bland shooting style of director Goda.

A more sophisticated script and a grittier aesthetic could have done justice to what is an intriguing juxtaposition between the great symbols of revolution and the Olympics. More time with the gruelling game of water polo also would have helped, but nevertheless, Children of Glory is definitely no ordinary sports drama.


This review appears in the September issue of FILMINK

Children of Glory is available to rent or purchase from September 1st.

Rachel Getting Married (DVD)

I am Shiva the destroyer, your harbinger of doom for this evening.

This line fairly encapsulates Rachel Getting Married. Such is the irony, the pain, the drama and the humour of a weekend wedding so effortlessly and intricately captured in Jonathan Demme’s film. Penned by Jenny Lumet (daughter of renowned filmmaker Sidney Lumet) Rachel Getting Married is a fearless, courageous look at the realities of addiction, loss and rehabilitation as experienced by a fractured yet loving family.

Returning from a nine-month stint in rehab, Kym (Anne Hathaway in her Academy Award nominated role) arrives home to a house filled with guests and the organised chaos of the days before a wedding. And yet, while Rachel (Rosemary DeWitt) may be getting married, she’ll have to fight Kym for the spotlight. Indeed this film is as much about sisterhood – that wonderful, terrible, intractable bond – as it is about past and present coming together in that new beginning called marriage.

Hathaway and DeWitt certainly don’t disappoint as sisters locking horns over a lifetime of issues. They are, however, beautifully supported by powerhouse performances from Bill Irwin and Deborah Winger. In fact all the supporting roles are examples of spot on casting, giving the film an effortless realism.

Alongside the cast, the cinematography and soundtrack are the most striking features of Demme’s film. Rachel Getting Married could almost be a home movie, thanks to a Herculean effort by cinematographer Declan Quinn and his roving, shoulder-mounted camera. This dynamic style, compounded by Demme’s decision to score the film live, also created headaches for editor Tim Squyres.

Such insights into the filmmaking process are well elucidated in the DVD special features. Two behind the scenes featurettes – one just focused on the music – as well as a lengthy Q&A session, deleted scenes and two commentary tracks make for intriguing viewing for those so inclined. Entertaining backstories, enthusiastic anecdotes and more detailed exploration of the Demme’s aesthetic are all revealed in what comes across as a joyous and close knit production.

This review was published in the September issue of FILMINK

Rachel Getting Married is available to rent or purchase on DVD.

Weekend Reading

Yes this is a shameless plug for my first reviews published in the September issue of FILMINK. I've already blogged about my DVD review of After Sex, as it was put up on FILMINK's website. Below are copies of two more reviews - but now after seeing my dodgy scanning capabilities, methinks I'll post the text separately.

In an effort not to seem entirely egotistical, I can also recommend two great articles written by a friend Jim Mitchell. A FILMINK regular these days, this month he's taken on Balibo as well as the upcoming ensemble film, Blessed.

So grab a copy to read in the sunshine this weekend!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Slate of the Art


Jonathan Auf Der Heide's moody and morbid Van Diemen's Land has been touring the local festival circuit prior to it's theatrical release on September 24th.

I caught this ambitious film during the Sydney Film Festival, and hope to write up a proper review closer to the release. In the meantime, however, this behind-the-scenes clip is refreshingly frivilous, given the film's rather meaty subject matter (ahh that's a bad pun!).

So have a good giggle - this is the slate of the art:

Australian release date: 24 September 2009

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Young Victoria


Sydneysiders are all too familiar with the imposing statue of Queen Victoria residing in front of the building that bears her name. So it’s quite a paradigm shift to replace this image of a rather dour, old widow with the fresh-faced beauty of Emily Blunt in Jean-Marc Vallée’s The Young Victoria.

Penned by Gosford Park scribe Julian Fellowes, The Yong Victoria boasts the additional royal patronage of Martin Scorsese and The Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson as executive producers. The result is, mercifully, less reminiscent of The Princess Diaries than a sophisticated political drama bearing a trace of The Age of Innocence.

Chronicling the years 1836 to 1840, Victoria is indeed very young. The film begins the year prior to her succession, where her mother The Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson) and the controller of the house Sir John Conroy’s (Mark Strong) will to establish a regency results in an extremely cosseted child. The princess’ rocky ascension to the throne is followed by the further political machinations of her parliament and court. Meanwhile, an advantageous alliance with Saxony sees Prince Albert (Rupert Friend) served up to Victoria as a possible match.

The Young Victoria is filled with robust performances from actors who are clearly relishing their historical roles. Strong glowers as the oppressive Sir John, while Paul Bettany seduces as the consummate politician Lord Melbourne. Jim Broadbent is an absolute scene-stealer as the cantankerous King William IV. And for once Friend’s stiffness seems to work to his advantage, suiting the formality of the Germanic prince.

However there is no doubt that Blunt shines as the naïve yet determined young Queen. The film makes much of mirrors, gates and chess, leaving us in no doubt that hers was a beautifully gilded cage. And yet the quiet chemistry between Blunt and Friend conveys the beginnings of this great love and what became a powerful partnership between the Queen and her prince.

Reining for 63 years, Queen Victoria may be remembered as the monarch perpetually dressed in mourning black. Yet this film goes a long way to unveil the widow, revealing a passionate, beautiful and boisterous young Victoria.


This review also appears in The Brag

Australian release date: 27 August 2009.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Lost Podcast

A few weeks ago, I made my podcasting debut on Worse Addictions. Though nervous and worried about sounding shrill (or worse, stupid), I ended up having a great time and one of those fabulous, far-ranging film conversations with fellow podcasters: Scott Henderson, Matt Ravier and Alex Parker. We chatted about Australian masculinity as portrayed in Glendyn Ivin's Last Ride, Michael Mann's Heat (and his terrible portrayal of women), and the misogyny, racism and homophobia inherent in Michael Bay's Transformers 2.

Yes, it was one of those conversations.

Unfortunately, however, a cruel twist of technical fate munched the files and poor Scott was unable to salvage the material. So alas the world shall never hear my debut.

In the following weeks, there was another foiled attempt at take 2 of my debut, and while I'm sure I'll get to join in the fun again soon, I can't recommend enough that you check out this local film podcast. In no doubt an exponential learning curve, Scott and the team are making great inroads and fast establishing themselves as an insightful and entertaining cinematic resource.

So get on over to Worse Addictions and take part in the Australian film scene. The latest episode takes on District 9, and continues the latest Body of Lies: a Hayao Miyazaki marathon. Plus this week the team are joined by special guest Steven Kastrissios, director of the Aussie revenge flick The Horseman.

Fun fun!

The Aussie Audience

Yesterdays's SMH saw Garry Maddox turn the spotlight on the Australian audience for Australian cinema in this interesting article. Though outwardly a very strong year for local fare - with the likes of Samson & Delilah, Beautiful Kate, Disgrace and Balibo (with more strong titles to come) - Maddox bursts the bubble by citing some rather illuminating box office figures.

Comparing the takings, as well as the number of screens for local vs Hollywood films, puts Australian cinema in sharp relief. This - coming off the back of the shocking news that the much acclaimed Three Blind Mice wasn't going to get a theatrical release in it's home town of Sydney - paints a fairly sad portrait of the local industry.

So what does Maddox make of this? From the sounds of things he would have filmmakers cease and desist with tortured tales and try to give audiences are more pleasant, broadly appealing cinematic experience. Happy Feet 2 will fit that bill, as well as Maddox's second argument, that Australia films need more heroes.

Thirdly, he calls Phillip Noyce: "All Australian filmmakers have to be aware (as Baz Luhrmann so obviously is) that making the film is just half the job," he says, "A much higher percentage of budgets need to be quarantined for publicity and marketing. We need less workshops devoted to refining our craft and a huge redirection of energy by funding and teaching bodies towards basic entrepreneurship.

“The classic economic rules of supply and demand do not apply to movies; demand to see a film has to be created."

So what do I make of this? Well, firstly I think success is relative, and compared with recent years, I'd wager 2009 is shaping up to be critically and (again, relatively!) commercially strong for Australian cinema. I would have been interested to see those figures, because of course Samson & Delilah isn't going to fair well next to Transformers 2. It's a mute point.

Maddox's other points, however, I find quite valid. Much as I can appreciate the performances, stylistic and thematic strengths of films like Last Ride and Disgrace, they certainly not feel-good trips to the movies, and are thus unlikely to attract mainstream audiences. So yes, it might be nice to see less angst and a few more laughs.

But it is Noyce's comment that I find most intriguing. Given my cultural cringe confession - which, I must admit 2009's crop of films has done much to change my mind - I have long bemoaned the charity style marketing of Australian films. Surely, appealing to audiences to "support the industry!!...Please!" isn't going to be nearly as effective as a cracking campaign that piques interest based on great storylines, dynamic visuals, and yes, perhaps even some new heroes?

Just think about District 9 and the tantalising teaser, viral campaign and much publicised antics at Comic-Con. Ok, yes and Peter Jackson's name probably helped the hype. Now, admittedly I have no idea what such a marketing campaign would have cost, but the point is no-one was talking about seeing that little sci-fi film from South Africa, instead they were all gagging to get into District 9.

I would love to see a local film experience such giddy anticipation. Australia came close, but then again it was also had the quintessential, "see this film if you love your country," spin. In which case I can only hope that those much more in the know that I will take heed of Maddox's article when marketing strategies are on the table, and perhaps - cultural cringe notwithstanding - breed us a few more home grown heroes.


So what did you make of the piece? Has the glass really, "fallen over and smashed on the floor," or can we hold our heads a little higher with this year's batch of Australian cinema?

***UPDATE 24/8: Speaking of comparative local figures, it seems my assumption was incorrect. See this article from Steve Dow at The Age.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Beached Az

Beached Whale is back bro, and coming to a TV screen near you! That's right, Jarod, Bosh and Macca of the Handsomity Institute have gone back to the drawing board to bring 10 new Beached Az episodes to the ABC.

Not only that, but the newly launched Beached Az website is already chock full of behind-the-scenes goodness: find out who they guys turned to when struck down with writer's block, or how they auditioned sensitive musicians for the theme song. And just how on earth could renowned actor Sam Neill not make the cut? He sure wasn't happy about it!

Get ready for random fun times ahead! To kick things off, here's the trailer:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


“I’m not Forrest Gump you know.”

Movies about mental disorders are tricky creatures. Firstly, there is the inevitable Rain Man comparison to contend with. Then an audience must wrestle with the actor’s very obvious performance; something that can easily take you out of the movie.

Hugh Dancy’s titular character has Asperger’s syndrome: a high-functioning form of autism that manifests as a lack of empathy and difficulty in social interactions. Enter cute new neighbour Beth (Rose Byrne), and an offbeat romance ensues. Except that’s not even half the story. Add the recent death of Adam’s father, plus the possible imprisonment of Beth’s father (Peter Gallagher), combined with a courtroom showdown and an unemployment ultimatum, and – aside from the mental disorder – you’ve got a film that’s rather muddled.

It is almost as if writer/director Max Mayer didn’t trust himself to stick with the core romance, to really uncover the daunting and delightful realities of this relationship. Sure there’s a meeting-the-friends bit, as well as an unusual masquerade-cum-restaurant scene. In fact masks feature throughout the film in an apparent allusion to Adam’s inability to empathise with the plight or the joy of others. And yet Mayer pulls his punches, wandering into the courtroom when he should have stayed with Adam and Beth.

Dancy is convincing as the blunt but passionate astronomer Adam. Evidently enjoying working with Australian actresses, Dancy follows up his recent pairing with Isla Fisher in Confessions of a Shopaholic by generating some charming chemistry with wide-eyed Byrne. However her amiable performance as aspiring children’s book writer and daddy’s girl suffers from being underwritten.

For all Adam’s fascination with the night sky, the film succeeds in creating a few sparkles, but never gets close to delivering its star-crossed lovers.


This review also appears in The Brag

Australian release date: 20 August 2009

Monday, August 17, 2009

After Sex

What do people chat about after sex?

Unfortunately, in the hands of writer/director Eric Amadio, this rather titillating question results in eight trite, entirely overcooked conversations. Almost every sexual cliche is catered for: the college girl "experimenting" with other girls, the sexually confused frat boy, sex with the ex, the first time, the one night stand, and so on. Amadio handles all with an intense sobriety while trying to pass it off as playfulness.

Bogged down by a horrendously overwritten script, familiar TV faces including Mila Kunis, Marc Blucas and Jane Seymour do their best to make serious, scintillating work. To their credit, there are interesting moments amongst the paint-by-numbers storylines.

Looking for something to do after sex? Try Coffee And Cigarettes instead.

This review appears in the September issue of FILMINK

After Sex is now available to rent or buy on DVD.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Wide Eyes Blind Love

Announcing the launch of a new acoustic album from Passenger: Wide Eyes Blind Love

The album will be sold exclusively online, and you can pre-order now to receive an autographed copy from the man himself, Mike Rosenberg.

During his recent visit to our fair shores, Mike tried out a few of his new tunes on some eager Australian audiences. I See Love, Caravan and The Last Unicorn are personal favourites, and if you head to Passenger's Facebook page, you can download Caravan and the new release Blind Love for free! Plus you can listen to Wide Eyes on their Myspace page.

Like what you hear? Then click here to get yourself some Wide Eyes Blind Love.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

District 9 (No Humans Allowed)

“I just want everyone to learn from what has happened.”

The term ‘illegal alien’ takes on a whole new meaning in Neill Blomkamp’s District 9. Indeed the writer/director’s feature debut is a provocative parable of segregationist South Africa, which should also resonate a little too close for comfort with refugee politics across the Western world.

Expanding upon his low-budget mockumentary Alive in Jo’burg, Blomkamp unveils a near-future Johannesburg, over which an enormous, extra-terrestrial vessel ominously hovers; its inhabitants penned into the slum of District 9 for some 20 years. With containment, escalating violence and public exasperation now pressing issues, private contracting firm Multi-National United (MNU) moves in to clear the ‘prawns’ out.

Sprightly bureaucrat Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) heads the eviction team, while also taking along a corporate video crew to record proceedings. Wikus’ jocular introduction and earnest antics are warmly reminiscent of The Office’s David Brent, however when the eviction goes awry, Shaun of the Dead by way of Aliens and Iron Man spring to mind.

Of course the roles are thoroughly reversed on the hapless Wikus, and Copley switches gears with convincing fallibility. Indeed Copley does an outstanding job shouldering this film, with the aid of Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell’s incisive characterisation; they effectively reframe the ‘unlikely hero’ within this xenophobic dystopia.

Trent Opaloch’s dynamic cinematography visually crafts District 9. An ingenious blend of mockumentary, CCTV, and archival news footage, Opaloch and editor Julian Clarke achieve a fine balance in their treatment of the fourth wall. The mind-blowing action (pun intended) certainly benefits from this documentary aesthetic, the filmmakers entirely unafraid of getting their lenses dirty.

District 9 is an absolutely cracking cinematic experience. Peter Jackson may be presenting this film, but patrons are unlikely to forget Blomkamp’s explosive debut.


This review also appeared in The Brag

Australian release date: 13 August 2009

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Genius of Creativity

I wanted to share this fascinating speech by novelist Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame) as she considers the internal and external worlds of creativity. Though of course she's speaking from a place of overwhelming success (and where to go from there), her thoughts struck a chord with me as far as the "maddening capriciousness" and anguish of creativity, as well as its transcendence.

All heady words to be sure, but Gilbert's speech is delightfully entertaining and wonderfully eloquent.

See for yourself:

By the way, if you're not familiar with the remarkable resource that is TED - i.e. amazing under 20 minute speeches of distilled genius by fascinating people - then get on it. Really, it's free and very well may blow your mind.

Now, where did my genius scurry off to?

Friday, August 7, 2009

A Groovy Heist

T'was a joyous reunion for (500) Days of Summer stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. Director Marc Webb brought the two back together for this delightful dance number:

Part Pulp Fiction, part old school Astaire and Rogers, this is perfect for a Friday. Don't they just look like they're having a ball?!

I've already written about the growing anticipation for (500) Days of Summer (here), and as I was lucky enough to catch the film at the Sydney Film Festival, I'll be sure to pen a proper review closer to the theatrical release date.

In the meantime, though, you can read more about this charming musical interlude on Joseph Gordon-Levitt's site.

(500) Days of Summer - Australian release date: 17 September 2009

Walk on the Wild Side

Where the Wild Things Are now has a theatrical trailer! What a wonderful Friday treat!

Of course, it's absolutely spectacular. Funny, warm, poignant - watching it makes me want a big bear hug.

See for yourselves!

Australian release date: 3 December 2009

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Now in Cinemas: Coraline

Seven years in the making, Henry Selick's Coraline is a mind- boggling feat of stop motion animation. Presented in glorious 3-D as a Sydney Film Festival first, Selick's adaptation of Neil Gaiman's award winning 2002 novella harks back to the spooky traditions of the Brothers Grimm.

In classic fable lore, Coraline is the story of a girl moving to a new home with her neglectful parents. Discovering an alternate world where her 'Other Mother' dotes on her, Coraline delights in this greener grass until she realises that all is not what it seems.

Thematically and visually, Coraline is like a delightful cocktail of Alice in Wonderland, Fantasia and Pan's Labyrinth, with a sprinkle of Psycho and a dash of Beetle Juice. Selick -- who has The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach to his name -- is clearly in his element. He unapologetically subjects his pint-sized protagonist to the dark, Grimm story of a dream disintegrating into a nightmare. Indeed the film strays far into the shadows, despite looking like a kids film.

Breathing life into Selick's magnificent animation is the talented voice work of Dakota Fanning (Coraline), Teri Hatcher (Mother/Other Mother), Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders (as the batty burlesque duo Miss Forcible and Miss Spink). Ian McShane rounds out the cast as the captivating circus type Mr. Bobinksi. It is a testament to the these actors and Selick's adaptation that you come away from the film wanting to spent more time with this colourful cast of characters.

Colourful they most certainly are, thanks to Selick's marvellous team of animators. The visuals are, quite simply, magic and fortunately they chose to avoid using the 3-D in a kitschy way, opting instead for the effects to be seamlessly woven into the world of Coraline.

Fascinating too is the reflexive use of animation. As the film careens towards its climax, the alternate world literally crumbles under Coraline's actions in a way that seems to investigate the art of animation itself. A world so long in the making being dramatically unravelled -- back to a blank canvas -- just as easily works for the story as it describes the filmmaking process.

However this undoing occurs a little too abruptly. For a film that spends so much time establishing not one world but two, Coraline's climactic 'game' feels rushed, which almost threatens to undermine the central conceit created by the old adage: 'the eyes are the windows to the soul.'

Despite this concern -- which again stems from a desire to spend more time in this world -- Coraline is a beautifully realised, modern day fairytale. Following in the footsteps of beloved classics, Gaiman and Selick privilege the macabre over the saccharine to create a familiar fable for future generations.


This review was originally published on Rotten Tomatoes

Australian release date: 6 August 2009

Now in Cinemas: Beautiful Kate

Refashioning the return of the prodigal son, Beautiful Kate is a provocatively visual look at family, memory and sexuality. In her debut feature, Rachel Ward has adapted Newton Thornburg's 1982 novel, transporting this American story in time and place and transforming it into something uniquely Australian.

A family wrested apart by death comes together to gather around its dying patriarch (Bryan Brown). Unwilling to face his family alone, successful writer Ned (Ben Mendelsohn) drags along his latest fling, Toni (a scene-stealing Maeve Dermody), to cushion the impact. Welcomed by his serene yet long-suffering sister, Sally (Rachel Griffiths), Ned is eventually deserted by both women and forced to confront his father and his past, albeit with an alcohol-infused clarity. Pivoting around the compounded loss of his brother (Josh Macfarlane) and his twin (Sophie Lowe), Ned teases out the memories, the anger and his culpability in the event that claimed his beautiful Kate.

Andrew Commis' cinematography is awe-inspiring. The Flinders Rangers provide the dramatic yet desolate setting that his camera clearly relishes. This cinematic landscape is matched by Ned's flashbacks, told in an evocative visual style, full of focus pulls and lens flares. His bright but unfocused memories contrast with the sharp and darkly shadowed dam scene: here not everything is shown, but everything is remembered. This scene must be what has drawn the Bill Henson comparisons -- though while it utilises his chiaroscuro style and youthful subjects, being cited alongside this sexual act may only fuel the recent furore surrounding Henson's photography.

Perhaps Ward has chosen to leave the questions of morality up to the audience and instead focused on exploring the visual themes evoked by stories of sexual awakening and death. She and her amazing crew, led by Mendelsohn's masterful performance, are clearly giving it their all to bring this story to the silver screen. But while Beautiful Kate is undoubtedly beautiful to look at, the lack of character exploration in a film that feels rushed to conclusion doesn't come across as cathartic so much as cryptic.

Review originally published on Rotten Tomatoes

Australian Release Date: 6 August 2009

Monday, August 3, 2009

Lambert the Sheepish Lion

I woke up this morning humming this tune.

Isn't it odd how some childhood tunes just pop into your mind? I remember this short playing before feature screenings and on Disney VHS tapes. And given my insatiable appetite for Disney movies, I must have watched Lambert the Sheepish Lion a ridiculous number of times.
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