Thursday, October 29, 2009
Just imagine it: Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, U2’s The Edge and The White Stripes’ Jack White are on a soundstage, their electric guitars within reach. It will get loud, there’s no doubt about it.
Academy Award winning documentarian Davis Guggenheim brought producer Thomas Tull’s brainchild to life in this extraordinarily energising love letter to the electric guitar. Guggenheim traces the creative backstories of these three incredible artists and the three distinct generations in which they came of age. This takes the director and his subjects on journeys of self re-discovery, as each return to significant locations from their musical upbringing and ponder the love, tenacity and serendipity that buoyed their voyages into the heady seas of rock ‘n roll.
Yet the documentary also unites these very different artists in a common past swimming against the tides of the musical status quo. This lead to the Edge and his ear for effects, Page’s self taught mastery embracing the beginnings of punk and White’s tenacious, almost antagonistic adherence to discovering the laid bare aesthetic of the blues. Respecting the past while carving out your place in the present became a calling card of each musician.
It Might Get Loud is not a self-indulgent fan-boy romp, nor is it a warts and all fetishisation of the rock‘n'roll lifestyle. Instead what Guggenheim presents is a revealing investigation into the creative spirit. Through intriguing intertitles, brilliant archive footage and excellent pacing that climaxes in the group jam session, the film ponders what it is to create, and what it means to pursue artistry.
Consequently you don’t necessarily need to be a rock aficionado to really enjoy this documentary. Much like his Oscar winning film An Inconvenient Truth, Guggenheim manages to bring wide appeal to a seemingly boutique topic. The result is an insightful, captivating tribute to creativity as experienced by three virtuoso musicians and one wonderfully talented documentarian.
Published on Concrete Playground.
Australian release date: 29 October 2009
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Watching Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah is at once a thrilling and harrowing experience. Based on Roberto Saviano’s bestselling exposé – a book so confronting that Saviano must now live in protective custody – Gomorrah reveals the devastating realities of a society, economy and environment governed by the mafia (the Camorra).
Garrone and co-writer Maurizio Braucci have pared back Saviano’s book, focusing on five stories that narratively and thematically show the vast scope of the Camorra’s influence. The film weaves together the initiation of an impressionable boy (Salvatore Abruzzese), with the induction of a new recruit into the waste ‘management’ business (Carmine Paternoster), an overworked, under appreciated couture tailor (Salvatore Cantalupo), the over the hill, powerless money runner (Gianfelice Imparato) and two teenage upstarts with Scarface stars in their eyes (Marco Macor and Ciro Petrone). Their stories are as fascinating as they are heart wrenching, hammered home by strong performances and an eerily crisp use of sound.
Garrone also brings his painterly aesthetic to the subject matter. Bright blues, greens and reds saturate certain scenes, while operating his own camera Garonne often closes in on faces with a curious intensity. The same significance is given to the backs of the lucky survivors, who – like the biblical tale of a godforsaken city – Garrone captures walking away from their lives, unable to turn back.
Despite being controversially overlooked for Academy Award nomination, Gomorrah has enjoyed well-deserved critical success. Now on DVD, the film can take on a wider audience, fraying nerves with the tension and simmering violence that too often rakes the surface of Camorra-run Naples.
Published in The Brag.
Gomorrah is now available to rent or purchase on DVD.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Opening with the Cannes selected film The Time That Remains, from celebrated director Elia Suleiman, the festival is also hosting an advanced screening of Amreeka, winner of a FIPRESCI (critics’) Prize in Cannes. This crowd pleaser from debut filmmaker Cherien Dabis tells the tale of an intractable mother who moves from the West Bank to America in search of a better life for her teenage son.
Other highlights from this impressive program include Edward Said: The Last Interview, surely a must see for anyone who came across the seminal Orientalism in their university studies. The Heart of Jenin is another intriguing documentary, about the Israeli organ recipients of a Palestinian child donor, shot by Israeli soldiers. Feature film Pomegranates and Myrrh also tackles Israeli/Palestinian relations in a story about land rights, imprisonment and dance that reunites Lemon Tree stars Hiam Abbass and Ali Suliman.
Taking place at the Palace Norton Street cinemas, the Palestinian Film Festival is a unique window into the cinematic world of this troubled territory.
For your diaries: 29 October - 1 November
Published on Concrete Playground
Monday, October 26, 2009
Australians may not entirely embrace Halloween, but there’s no question that we dig the genre films served up alongside. And so it is that the Fantastic Planet Film Festival descends upon the Dendy Newtown, spreading some sci-fi and horror thrills for local audiences.
Boasting both world and Australian premieres, the festival will open with Nathan Christoffen’s Eraser Children. Despite screening an unfinished preview, Eraser Children took out the Best Australian Film at the recent Melbourne Underground Film Festival. It looks to be a dystopic trip into the future in the vein of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and Fritz Lang’s infamous Metropolis.
Also premiering is the revisionist vampire flick (no Twihards here) Strigoi as well as a special Halloween screening of Woody Harrelson kicking carcass in the much anticipated Zombieland.
Rounding out the program are more grisly looking features, shorts, Q&A sessions and a closing night screening of super-hero love story Franklyn (starring Ryan Phillipe and Eva Green). Also on the cards are some extra curricular activities at Mu-Meson Archives, Metro Screen and Club 77: for further details, check out the program.
For your diaries: 30 October - 6 November @ Dendy Newtown.
Published on Concrete Playground.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Thursday, October 22, 2009
As the title suggests, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee is a curious, comprehensive unveiling of woman’s personal history. Writer/filmmaker Rebecca Miller has adapted her own novel: stepping behind the “icon of an artist’s wife,” to bring some incisive, unvarnished truths to the screen. Working with an illustrious ensemble cast, the unfurling of Pippa Lee’s (Robin Wright Penn) life is conveyed through her relationships with her manic-depressive mother (Maria Bello), her publishing magnate husband Herb (Alan Arkin), his ex-wife (Monica Belluci) and her younger, wild-child self (Blake Lively).
Indeed the plurality of stories – and personalities – assembled in this film are the source of both its strength and its shortcomings. Moving backwards and forwards through time, and aided by a Wright Penn’s narration, Miller’s story essentially traverses the generational impact of the mother and daughter relationship. The 50 something Pippa is the epitome of docile, bubbly, wifely perfection, and yet the audience is soon introduced to the madness of her pill-popping mother, and the strained relationship she has with her own daughter (Zoe Kazan). The reality behind Pippa’s “adaptable enigma” is fascinating, but unfortunately Miller mediates this with the arrival of sexy stranger Chris (Keanu Reaves).
This lost souls, kindred spirits storyline detracts from the heart of the film. Would Miller have stayed with what it is to be a mother and a wife (caring for an aged man in a motherly fashion), than straying into this unnecessary dalliance. Fortunately, however Wright Penn makes even this misstep work to augment her outstanding performance. Usually understated, and often sullen, Wright Penn here reinvents the Stepford wife with a fascinating frisson of anxiety rippling below the surface. Her remarkable performance is well matched with Gossip Girls’ Lively bringing a refreshing maturity to Pippa as the little girl lost, and is further aided by brilliant cameos from Winona Ryder and Julianne Moore.
Much like her husband, Daniel Day Lewis, Miller is an ambitious storyteller. Rachel Getting Married cinematographer Declan Quinn well captures her precise visual aesthetic, while Miller was able to bring her novel to life with wonderful and oftentimes surprising performances. So despite the fact that the film doesn’t quite live up to the expectations of its stellar cast, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee has enough fascinating, enlightening moments to capture your attention.
Published in The Brag.
Australian release date (limited): 22 October 2009
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Australian audiences seem to have a taste for blood. Or at least for crime, as the recent spate of television cop shows would suggest. City Homicide joins the ranks of local TV crime dramas like Underbelly and Rush, as a character driven, blood soaked procedural.
The enthusiastic cast of familiar TV talent includes Daniel MacPherson (Neighbours), Shane Bourne (Thank God You're Here), Nadine Garner (The Henderson Kids) and Noni Hazelhurst (Playschool). Vince Colossimo (Underbelly) also chews up the screen in his cameos.
Adding grist to the mill are the show’s writers, who seem entirely unafraid of putting their cast in strife, nor making them get their hands dirty. Storylines in Season 1 see more than one protagonist take a personal hit, while serial killers, infanticide, arsonists and social climbers keep the rest on their toes.
Stylistically, the NYPD Blue wannabe jump cuts and flashy editing are a tad overdone at times, and the same can often be said for the punchy soundtrack. That aside, interesting characters, intriguing cases and some humorous reflexivity (“You watch television, Colin? All that forensic crap?”) make for an entertaining few hours in front of the box.
Published in November issue of Filmink. City Homicide is available to purchase or rent on DVD.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
A film entitled The Box, starring Cameron Diaz and James "27 Dresses" Marsden, and you’d easily be forgiven for thinking this a romantic comedy. A featherweight caper about the mishaps of proposing perhaps. But with Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly at the helm, you’re in for quite another ride indeed.
Instead, The Box will take you into the depths of a morality play. Adapting Richard Matheson’s short story Button, Button, Kelly recreates 1976 Virginia, where private school teacher Norma (Diaz) and NASA engineer Arthur (Marsden) are an upwardly mobile suburban couple with a young son (Kevin DeCoste), living slightly beyond their means. When Arthur is looked over for a promotion and Norma retrenched, they are visited by a disfigured stranger, Arlington Steward (Frank Langella) and offered one million dollars to push a button.
If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because it probably is.
As the consequences of their decision unfold, Norma and Arthur try to find the source of this high-stakes proposition, which reaches far beyond anything they might have fathomed. Here Kelly is clearly in his element, revelling in the tantalising world where, “advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” He layers a Hitchcockian aesthetic on this mind-bending material, and further turns the screw by incorporating existential, even biblical elements into his moral experiment.
While the set-up is a bit laboured, and certain reveals a bit too heavily emphasised, The Box is an intriguing, thrilling and provocative cinematic experience. Donnie Darko fans may not find the film quite up to scratch, but surely everyone will be fascinated to see what Kelly has land in the bedroom this time.
Popcorn Taxi is hosting a preview screening on Wednesday October 21st (7pm at Greater Union Bondi Junction) with a special Q&A session with Kelly live from LA. Click here for more details.
To win one of ten double passes to The Box, email your name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org with 'The Box' in the subject line.
Published on Concrete Playground
Australian release date: 29 October 2009
Monday, October 19, 2009
This should have been a fascinating, inspiring, poignant film. Returning from Vietnam with a deafening case of tinnitus Richard Pimentel (Ron Livingston) befriends Art (Michael Sheen), who has the more overt affliction of cerebral palsy. The stigma and discrimination of an ignorant public galvanises the outspoken Richard, whose training and employment programs form the cornerstone of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Livingstone has an engaging everyman quality while Sheen brings an astounding commitment as well as a wry humour to Art’s debilitated state. Melissa George, Hector Elizondo’s and Rebecca De Mornay also star in a rather muddled, middle of the road biopic, where interesting performances and an intriguing historical plot are squandered by the flabby screenplay and uninspired direction.
Opening with Chanel’s attempted revival in the 1970s, MacLaine sits on the famous mirrored staircase, and at once exudes the wry melancholia of a flagging idol. Cutting backwards and forwards through time, MacLaine is matched by Barbora Bobulova as the young Coco Chanel, who well conveys the wit and gumption of the upwardly mobile orphan.
In the picturesque French countryside, Chanel finds a lover in wealthy socialite Etienne Balsan (Sagamore Stévenin), a kindred spirit in English expat Boy Capel (Olivier Sitruk), and inspiration to follow her creative spirit.
Full of passion, social politics and a lusty love triangle tango, Coco Chanel imbues the beginnings of its icon with the stuff of legend. And while the trappings of fame and the prospect of failure face an older Chanel, the miniseries ends where every woman’s wardrobe begins: the little black dress.
Published in the November issue of Filmink.
Coco Chanel is available to rent or purchase on DVD.
Coco Chanel - Coming in September to Lifetime - Click here for more free videos
Sunday, October 18, 2009
The well-trodden British genre of 'upstairs downstairs' films is reinvented in Sebastian Silva's Chilean drama, La nana (The Maid). Drawing from his own experience raised in a household with live-in maids, Silva brings both an inquisitive and empathetic eye to this ignored domestic sphere.
La Nana follows the institutionalised life of Raquel (Catalina Saavedra), a live-in maid who has been serving the family for 23 years. The film begins on her 41st birthday, and with a delightfully awkward scene that clearly establishes her place as an intrinsic part of the family, though ultimately and irrevocably an outsider. When Pilar (Claudia Celedon) decides Raquel needs help and brings in a new maid, the stressed-out and headache prone Raquel begins to unspool.
After a series of humorous if borderline creepy run-ins with two of the new maids, Raquel eventually meets her match with Lucy (Mariana Loyola). Unable to scare her away like the others, Raquel eventually opens up to Lucy's infectious enthusiasm and light-hearted approach to life.
It's easy to see why this film won at Sundance. Saavedra totally embodies the role of Raquel, holed up in her disinfected cage, while Sergio Armstrong's handheld cinematography underscores the claustrophobia of her existence. Silva and co-writer Pedro Peirano's screenplay comes across as personal and insightful without being indulgent. Indeed Silva saw the film as an opportunity to, "exorcise [the] unsolved emotional relationship with [my] maid." To that end, he specifically asked Armstrong to, "shoot as if the camera was a curious boy" while his story reflects his own understanding of Raquel: from wary distance to warm-hearted empathy.
This world of live-in maids seems particularly foreign to Australian audiences. Indeed the festival crowd seemed so caught up in 'the maid phenomenon' -- as Silva refers to it -- that in he had to gently remind us that it's not really what the film is about. Despite La nana's uplifting ending, the film is ultimately a rather poignant portrait of woman breaking out her state of protracted childhood by learning how to love.Published on Rotten Tomatoes.
US release date (limited): 15 October 2009
Saturday, October 17, 2009
And from another talented Brit (and one far less dangerous), here's the latest video from Passenger.
Mike is now back in Australia, and shall be touring our fair shores for the rest of the year. Click here to check out the dates - he'll be everywhere from Perth to Cairns, Rockhampton, Brisbane, Newcastle and of course Sydney. But until Mike makes his way to you, enjoy Wide Eyes:
Click here to purchase a copy of Wide Eyes Blind Love.
Brock Norman Brock's screenplay sees this bio-pic play out like a trip to vaudeville. Tom Hardy, in his absolutely stand out performance, plays comedian, singer, artist and strong man in Charles Bronson's (a.k.a Michael Peterson) one man variety version of This is Your Life. He's brash and utterly unrepentant as he hams it up for his audience, and the camera, recalling, "I wasn't bad. I wasn't bad-bad. I still had my principles."
The camera, however, tells another tale, and with a distinctly Kubrickian eye, it reveals an incredibly violent man, one desperate for attention. Unfortunately, this is where the characterisation halts. Bronson, while visually striking and with a powerful, dominating soundtrack, lacks the character and story development of its Australian counterpart Chopper. Rather than asking 'why?' and probing or problematising Bronson's pursuit of infamy, or even the nature of celebrity, the film seems content to look good and say, well, not so much.
Perhaps that's the point. Perhaps the why's and wherefores are for another film and this one is caricature, which is actually a valid comment on the nature of Bronson. But there was definitely room for more. He's a caricature. Got it. Now what?
In his Q&A sessions Brock hinted that his screenplay indeed had more. He spoke about creating an unreliable narrator, challenging Bronson on his constructed reality and even bringing his son on stage at the end to drive the point home. This certainly would have brought depth and breadth to a film with the tagline: "The Man. The Myth. The Celebrity."
That, however, is the nature of show business. And while Bronson could have more ambitious with the story, this film is absolutely worth seeing for Tom Hardy's incredible performance as well as Refn and cinematographer Larry Smith's sophisticated and cinematic imagery.
Britain's Got Talent never looked so good.
Published on Rotten Tomatoes.
Friday, October 16, 2009
Satirical, sad and bitingly funny, Adam Elliot’s Mary & Max is quite the cinematic revelation. Not only is it claymation – that impossibly intricate filmmaking method where mere seconds are the result of a day’s labour – but it is a not so childish fairytale that deals with the trappings of alcoholism, mental illness and loneliness.
It’s Australia, 1976 and 8-year-old Mary Daisy Dinkle (voiced by Bethany Whitmore and later Toni Collette) is the awkward progeny of an odd couple. Ignored by her taxidermy-hobbyist father and watered down by her sherry-swilling, kleptomaniac mother, Mary becomes penfriends with a random New Yorker: Max Horovitz (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). A 44 year old, overeater afflicted with Asperger’s, Max isn’t exactly the easiest audience for the inquisitive Mary. And yet, despite her letters frequently causing him conniptions, their shared solitude forms the foundation of a lasting – if fractious – friendship.
Crossing over a wealth of topics, the pair’s rapid-fire letter writing is littered with non-sequiturs. Jumping from where babies come from to the specifics of atheism and the virtues of chocolate hotdogs, Mary and Max try to make sense of their clay universe while Barry Humphries’ knowing narration wryly comments on their fragile existence.
As a follow-up to Elliot’s Academy Award winning short, Harvie Krumpet, Mary & Max succeeds in confirming his mastery of claymation and indeed black comedy. The DVD extras emphasise this, with deleted scenes, fascinating time-lapse photography and some fun behind-the-scenes moments including an hilarious interview with Eric Bana and a shot of Elliot scurrying around on a Segway, clutching his Oscar.
Available to rent or purchase on DVD: 21 October 2009
Thursday, October 15, 2009
The event begins with an introduction to this, the pilot season of NT Live. Hoped to be a theatrical/cinematic hybrid that will broaden the appeal and the accessibility of the National Theatre, NT Live then brings you into the wings to meet the play’s director Marianne Elliott. Then, after learning more about the play and the history of the National Theatre itself, it’s on with the show.
All’s Well That Ends Well is not one of Shakespeare’s best-known works. And this probably heightens the cinematic adventure of NT Live, as you discover this wonderful play in a new way. The story of fearless and love struck Helena, who goes to great lengths to win the affections of a haughty Count, All’s Well That Ends Well sees Shakespeare toying with the tropes of folklore and fable. Elliot’s direction and Rae Smith’s gorgeous costume and production design certainly heighten this fairytale atmosphere, with Helena even donning a red cloak as she sets off to win her man.
Adapting to Robin Lough’s screen direction is at first a curious experience. For audiences so used to taking in the entire stage, the close ups and framing might at first seem jarring, but much like Shakespeare’s mellifluous language, the live editing takes on a rhythm of its own.
With wonderful performances, brilliant banter and a lot of laughs, All’s Well That Ends Well is well worth a trip to the cinema.
* For your diaries: All's Well That Ends Well will be screening Saturday 17th and Sunday 18th October at 1:00pm at the Chauvel, Hayden Orpheum and Dendy Opera Quays. Click on the links for booking details.
Published on Concrete Playground.
Yes? No? Why? Why not?
Metro Screen is holding a forum to toss around some ‘precious eggs’; discussing how and why there seems to be a schism between Australian cinema and Australian cinemagoers. Despite 2009 being a bumper year for local theatrical releases, for the most part it just hasn’t translated to the box office.
Garry Maddox highlighted some sobering statistics in his article The Year in Pictures; also advocating for more Australian film heroes, and more marketing money. While Beautiful Kate director Rachel Ward* railed against the ‘dark and bleak’ monikers bestowed upon local fare, defending her ‘precious egg’ and suggesting Australian film critics need a vocabulary lesson. Both Maddox and Ward will be taking part on the panel to expand upon their thoughts.
Moderated by Urban Cinefile’s Andrew Urban, other panellists include: Margaret Pomeranz (ABC At the Movies), Dr. Ruth Harley (CEO Screen Australia), Susan Hoerlein (Tsuki Publicity & Promotions manager), Tony Lum (Managing Director, Hopscotch Films), Kath Shelper (Producer of Samson & Delilah) and Anthony I. Ginnane (SPAA). Producer of Little Fish Liz Watts will also be guest speaker of the evening.
Oz Film vs. Oz Audience isn’t going to be a group whinge, rather an animated and frank look at our film industry. Funding, filmmaking, marketing and distribution will all be up for discussion in an effort to source some solutions to overcome this cinematically great divide.
*Read up on the debate:
Lynden Barber's response to Rachel Ward
On Beautiful Kate and Australian Criticism
Michael Coulter: Screening the Same Old Dreary Story
Luke Buckmaster: Is Australian Film Still Down in the Dumps?
For your diaries: Thursday 22nd October 2009
Click here to contribute your thoughts to Urban Cinefile ahead of the forum.
Published in Concrete Playground.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
The nostalgia value of Astro Boy alone is sure to see crowds beating a path to the cinema. The antics of this pint sized action hero have been delighting comic and cartoon fans since the 1950s. And if you ever wondered where the anime obsession with gigantic eyes comes from, you can look directly into Astro Boy’s peepers. In fact, in a bit of a case of life imitating art, Astro Boy’s creator, Osamu Tezuka is considered the ‘father of anime,’ revered much as Walt Disney is by the west.
And so it seems fitting that an American/Japanese collaboration is responsible for bringing Astro Boy to the big screen. Writer/director David Bowers (Flushed Away) has stepped into the gigantic red boots, bringing along an impressive voice cast that includes Nicolas Cage, Bill Nighy, Donald Sutherland, Kristen Bell and Freddie Highmore as the eponymous hero.
Charting science-wizz kid Toby Tenma’s transformation into Astro Boy and the subsequent rejection of a grieving father, Dr. Tenma (Cage, with his best hair yet), the film very much follows in the footsteps of the hero’s journey. However the trappings of convention, combined with some really cheesy dialogue and lacklustre action make for a rather uninspired movie. Perhaps we’ve been spoilt by Pixar, and other innovative, intelligent animation that effortlessly appeals to children and adults alike.
Unfortunately, Astro Boy pales in comparison. Laughs are pushed a beat too far, while the jokes themselves are quite childish (a machine gun coming out of Astro Boy’s bum-cheeks being just one example). There is certainly nothing wrong with a fun kids’ film for the little ‘uns to enjoy – on that account Astro Boy may well deliver – but for adult audiences wanting to reconnect with the cartoon hero from their youth, this latest version just won’t pack enough of a punch.
Published on Concrete Playground.
Australian release date: 15 October 2009
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
The set of Temptation Island has been hosed off for Vince Vaughn’s latest relationship comedy, Couples Retreat. Anyone who caught the TV show about hot singles shimmying in front of “committed” couples has at least one storyline of this four pair adventure sorted. Alongside these highschool sweethearts turned sour (Jon Favreau and Kristen Davis), the remaining trio run the gamut of divorcee with a 20yr old distraction (Faizon Love and Kali Hawk), committed family pair who have lost their spark (Vaughn and Malin Ackerman) and type A, reproductively challenged duo facing divorce (Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell). All take up the group rate on Eden Island, a place outwardly resembling its biblical name and just as fraught with temptation.
Yes, thirteen years on from Swingers, it seems Vaughn and Favreau have all grown up. The banter may be as dry and quick-witted as ever, but the jokes now include kids weeing in homewares stores and the inherent humour of couples counselling. The result: a middling comedy that could easily be seen as an elaborate excuse for a group holiday.
To be fair, these old friends are obviously having a great time. This fun mostly translates to the screen, the best example being the guitar hero battle. This overly long, shamelessly self-indulgent scene is marginally saved by its humorous play on the conventions of the Western and quest genres. Some great guest performances also bolster the film, particularly John Michael Higgins (The Break-Up) and Ken Jeong (The Hangover) as unconventional therapists and a rather blissed out Jean Reno (Leon: The Professional) as the mastermind of Eden Island, “Couples-Whisperer” Monsieur Marcel.
Couples Retreat may not quite be a broad comedy, nor – given its analysis of relationships – a good choice for a date movie. But despite these marketing challenges, there’s something endearing about watching Vaughn and his mates do their shtick in a setting perfectly described in the film as, “Holy shit, this looks like a screensaver!”2.5 Stars
Published in The Brag.
Australian release date: 8 October 2009
Update: Speaking of Vaughn et al doing their thing, click here to check out Giles Hardie's hilarious 'interview' with Vaughn and Jason Bateman.
Monday, October 12, 2009
‘Girl power’ might have been slightly sullied by the Spice Girls, but Drew Barrymore reclaims the title in her rollicking coming-of-age film, Whip It. Barrymore’s directorial debut sees 17 year old Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) branch out from her backwater Texan town, trading in beauty pageants to take on the crazed sport of roller derby. Inspired by the tales of daring derby do of screenwriter, Shauna ‘Maggie Mayhem’ Cross, Whip It encompasses the trials of family, friends, first love as well as the extremely feisty sport.
After her rocketing success in Juno, here Page makes a welcome departure from cynicism. Bliss and her skating alter ego, Babe Ruthless, are both eagerly wide-eyed, with a healthy dose of teenage awkwardness. And as with most high-school girls, Bliss is inseparable from her best friend, Pash (a wonderful Alia Shawkat), even when their shared desire to escape pulls them in different directions. Barrymore does well to flesh out this foundational friendship, although she strays a bit closer to cliché with Bliss’ family. However the woebegone, sonless father (Daniel Stern) and pageant-obsessed mother (Marcia Gay Harden) are saved by strong performances.
The world of roller derby also receives relatively short shrift. Barrymore is much more focussed on Bliss’ story and instead sticks to the generic conventions of sporting films: the quirky coach (a brilliantly deadpan Andrew Wilson), a smattering of strange team-mates – including Kiwi stuntwoman Zoë Bell, Kristen Wiig and Barrymore herself – and an intimidating rival, ‘Iron Maven’ Juliette Lewis. Fortunately the overarching sisterhood of this sport, as well as some energetic cinematography and the enthused commentary of Jimmy Fallon result in a fresh and infectiously fun film.
A punk and punchy addition to the genre that is chock-full of spirited female performances and a whole lot of heart, Whip It could easily be this decade’s Bend it Like Beckham.*
3 ½ stars
Alice "A-Bomb" Tynan**
Australian release date: 8 October 2009
*Oops, Bend It Like Beckham was released in 2002. Oh well, you know what I'm saying.
** Thanks to B for my honorary roller derby nickname.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Australia has an illustrious cinematic history. Indeed with The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906) Australia arguably gave the world its first narrative feature. This and a dazzling collection of silent gems from around the world will be presented at the State Library this month as part of Australia’s Silent Film Festival.
From Charlie Chaplin wreaking havoc in The Rink, to Buster Keaton’s The General; the fantastical mind of Georges Méliès and the awe-inspiring Fritz Lang, the greats from the silent era will be on display. And while every cinephile is familiar with the master of montage, Sergei Eisenstein, it is very exciting to see a contemporary Soviet filmmaker, Dziga Vertov push the boundaries in the Man with the Movie Camera (1929).
Screenings will be introduced by a variety of local film critics and academics, and many will also include a live musical accompaniment. What a wonderful opportunity to step back in time and experience the very beginnings of cinema.
For your diaries: 15th - 25th October
Published on Concrete Playground.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
I have an odd relationship with sci-fi movies. For one raised on a staple diet of the Star Wars and Alien franchises, perhaps there’s a bit of latent rebellion. Growing up we named our Siamese cat Nute, our bullmastiff pooch Ripley (seriously) and these days our second cat Lilu is still kicking around (although, to be fair, I named her).
And so it was with an irrationally wary eye that I ventured to see Duncan Jones’ Moon. And now, by God, my love of sci-fi has been reaffirmed. What a film! What an amazing achievement by Jones and an absolutely gobsmacking performance by Sam Rockwell. Moon is grimily cinematic, poignant and nigh on perfect. Really. My family’s next pet may have to be called Sam…or GERTY.
Jones essentially presents us with a one-man play; the tale of a futuristic blue-collar existence mining moon rocks to power Earth. The brilliantly retro production design conveys this dirty, meagre and monotonous post from which Sam is impatiently counting down his final days. His only companion is GERTY (voiced by an appropriately named Kevin Spacey), a clunky HAL style computer complete with emoticons; simple yellow faces are all Sam has to emotionally engage with, except for the infrequent, recorded messages from his loving wife Tess (Dominique McElligott).
Mere days from returning to Earth, Sam has an accident, which sets him on a marvellously simple and devastatingly confronting path. It’s remarkable to watch Rockwell and Jones play this out to its moving, bitter conclusion. More remarkable still when you consider this was all achieved with a budget of US$5 million.
As a debut, Jones astounds. Although avoiding his famous father’s shadow by changing his name from Zowie Bowie, Jones doesn’t disappoint with the film’s soundtrack. From top to bottom, Moon is a confident, restrained and stunning addition to a genre already replete with greats. It’s not often one can bandy about Tarkovsky comparisons, but I wager Moon warrants a mention alongside Solaris.
Go and see for yourself.
Australian release date: 8 October 2009
Friday, October 9, 2009
The Vikings didn't make it as far at Australia but the Nordic Film Festival is venturing to our shores for the first time this October. Films from the far northern lands of Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark will be stopping at the Dendy Opera Quays for your cinematic pleasure.
The festival kicks off with Sauna, a rather gruesome-looking twist on Finnish bathing culture by Jade Warrior director AJ Annila. Also screening is Finland’s 2009 entry to the Academy Awards, The Home of Dark Butterflies, an adaptation of a best-selling novel about one boy’s troubled upbringing in a secluded boys’ home.
Sweden dishes up the Golden Globe nominated Everlasting Moments, about an early 20th Century woman transformed by the burgeoning art of photography. While Susanne Bier’s Once in a Lifetime looks at an entirely different cultural adventure: the Eurovision Song Contest.
Two big budget blockbusters represent the Nordic resistance fighters of WWII: Norway’s Max Manus is hot off the press from the Toronto International Film Festival and Flame and Citron is Denmark’s take.
Denmark is also previewing its 2010 entry for the Oscars, Terribly Happy. A black comedy in the vein of David Lynch and the Coen Brothers, Terribly Happy has already been slated for an English remake, so be sure to check out the original.
For the full line up of the Nordic Film Festival, head to the Dendy website.
For your diaries: October 16-21 at Dendy Opera Quays.
This was published on Concrete Playground.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Returning to the idea of a retribution road movie from their raucous directorial debut Aaltra, here Delépine and de Kervern sketch out the tale of some slighted factory workers pooling their severance pay to hire a hitman. Illiterate and prickly ex-crim Louise (Yolande Moreau) stumbles upon the eager and oafish Michel (Bouli Lanners) as the man for the job. Politically incorrect hilarity ensues when it turns out Michel has scruples -- of sorts -- and instead decides to hire his dying cousin to do the hit. But when they get the wrong man, Louise and Michel pursue their quest from Picardie to Brussels and up the corporate ladder to the illustrious tax haven of Jersey.
The wonderfully framed deep-focus cinematography, deadpan dialogue and ludicrously funny site-gags all contribute to the offbeat charm of Louise-Michel. From target practice gone wrong, to people smuggling, to a dwarf sentry dressed as a garden gnome, Delépine and de Kervern display an incredible comedic talent. Their humour is akin to the Coen Brothers, complete with sudden outbursts of violence that got at least one scream from the festival audience. However their 9/11 spoof -- while funny -- was perhaps a bit of a stretch. In fact the quirky neighbour character came across as a mere vehicle for this quite self-conscious scene.
The 'romantic' subplot may also miss the mark for you, though Moreau and Lanners' pitch-perfect performances carry it off. Also well cast are Louise's partners in crime, played by real life redundant factory workers (hint: be sure to stay for the credits). And Mathieu Kassovitz must get a mention for his hilarious cameo as a committed eco-farmer.
Inspired by the 19th Century revolutionary Louise Michel, Delépine and de Kervern revealed in their recorded introduction that they considered their film, "a revolutionary anthem." But they also admitted to not trusting Air France enough to fly to Australia, so we're very fortunate that their comedy made the journey -- in more ways than one.
This review was published on Rotten Tomatoes.
Australian release date: 8 October 2009