Thursday, December 31, 2009

Trespass Top 3

My last (but by no means least!) list for the year is the Trespass Top 3 Films of 2009. There are some great picks from all the contributors as well as featurettes and trailers galore to help you on your trip down memory lane.

I decided to stick with my top 3 from both the Rotten Tomatoes and Sydney Film Critics lists, so you'll find no surprises below:

3. Moon (Duncan Jones, UK)

Stylish, meditative and devastatingly simple, Duncan Jones’ stellar debut deserves a place in the canon of sci-films it so cleverly references. Sam Rockwell had better rock some awards nominations and kudos to the aptly named Kevin Spacey for giving his best performance in years.

2. Bright Star (Jane Campion, Australia)

The piece de resistance in what has been a breakthrough year for cinematographer Grieg Fraser (Last Ride, The Boys Are Back). It’s only fitting that Jane Campion garnered great performances and achingly beautiful images to pay tribute to John Keats’ superb poetry.

1. Up (Peter Docter, USA)

In what has truly been a landmark year for animation (think Coraline, 9, Ponyo and yes Avatar) Pixar pulls it off again. Poignant, pointed, and hilariously funny, this motley crew of travellers (and their ridiculously talented animators) reignite the spirit of adventure.

Read what others had to say over at Trespass.

And in keeping with my pure love of Up, look what I scored for Christmas from some generous and very knowing people. The Art of Up is chock full of beautiful images and descriptions of how those creative minds created yet another amazing Pixar world. It already has pride of place on my coffee table and may just about stop me raving about the brilliant Pixar: 20 Years of Animation exhibition I saw a couple of years ago at ACMI.

Well, what a perfect note on which to end 2009. Thanks for reading, commenting and generally indulging/enabling my cinephilia! I'm so grateful that I am able to write about an art form I adore, and I look forward to even more filmy fun in 2010!

Happy New Year blogosphere!!

America draws in The Square

Nash Edgerton's debut feature The Square is getting a limited US release in 2010. It's also got a lot of love from Ain't it Cool News' Harry Knowles, whose enthusiastic quote graces the domestic one sheet.

IMDB puts the US release at 9 April 2010, so here's hoping it gets a better run overseas than it did here. I saw the film back at the 2008 Sydney Film Festival (and blogged about it here) and it stands up well in my memory as a taut, well paced thriller.

Did anyone else catch The Square on the festival circuit or during it's all too brief theatrical run? How do you think it will play with US audiences?

Sydney Film Critics Rank 2009

The indefatigable Matt Ravier has compiled the Sydney Film Critics: Best of 2009 over at Last Night with Riviera. Asked to rank our top 10 theatrically released films (nb. Australian release dates), our top 10 unreleased films and a short blurb on the year in review, it's great to see what everyone came up with. However, much to my chagrin, Let the Right One In - a film I have yet to see - took out first prize. Must rent ASAP.

See how the top 20s rounded out here.

As for my picks, I did make a few changes from my Rotten Tomatoes list (told you I was fickle). I wouldn't have thought Anti Christ would make my top 10, but somehow the beauty of the film has really stayed with me. For all it's confronting themes and horrifying moments, von Trier captures some truly gorgeous images.

See how I ranked my top 10s below.

  1. Up (Peter Docter, USA)
  2. Bright Star (Jane Campion, Australia)
  3. Moon (Duncan Jones, UK)
  4. An Education (Lone Scherfig, UK)
  5. Gomorrah (Mattero Garrone, Italy)
  6. District 9 (Neil Blomkamp, USA / New Zealand)
  7. Louise-Michel (Gustave de Kervern, Benoît Delépine, France)
  8. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, USA)
  9. Balibo (Robert Connolly, Australia)
  10. Anti Christ (Lars Von Trier, Denmark)

  1. The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, USA)
  2. Altiplano (Peter Brosens, Jessica Hope Woodworth, Belgium)
  3. 5 Minutes of Heaven (Oliver Hirschbiegel, UK)
  4. The Maid (Sebastian Silva, Chile)
  5. 35 Shots of Rum (Claire Denis, France)
  6. Missing Water (Khoa Do, Australia)
  7. Burma VJ (Anders Østergaard, Denmark)
  8. The Road (John Hillcoat, Australia / USA)
  9. Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson, USA)
  10. The Missing Person (Noah Buschel, USA)
And as for my year in review (a rant by any other name):

To me, cinema means undivided attention. This era of DVDs and downloads is synonymous with distraction; the ability to pause breaks the spell a film and indelibly dilutes its magic. And so this year in review champions the adventure into a cavernous theatre: 2009s spate of 3D seems to demand that you make the trip (though Up transcends the 3D spectacle with its visionary beauty), while Tarantino’s bloodlust is a journey back to WWII best attempted as a group. District 9 made a meal of the big screen and big sound, and though comparatively silent, there is something utterly transportive about Moon. Cinema also sees thematic polar opposites like Bright Star and Anti Christ share a visual poetry and transfixing storytelling that captivates, right to the end of the credits. We shouldn’t need Avatar to remind us what cinema is all about. As a cultural (and social) experience and a celebration of an art form… it’s something truly precious.*


Be sure to check out what other local critics had to say over at Last Night with Riviera.

*I hope a few Australian readers picked up on my little 'precious egg' in-joke :)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Rotten Tomatoes Top 10

In the first of a few top 10 lists (yes, I'm fickle and changed it up a bit), below is my contribution to the Rotten Tomatoes Favourite Films of 2009.

10. (500) Days of Summer --- This shameless indie rom-com puts a smile on the face of this Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel and The Smiths fan. Toying with time and the fourth wall, this is a wry and very fun story about love (not a love story).

9. Balibo --- Robert Conolly's taut, captivating political thriller had better enjoy a cracking DVD life, for it went scandalously unnoticed at the cinema. This fascinating look back to the Indonesian invasion of East Timor and the Australian journalists caught in the middle absolutely deserves to be seen.

8. Genova --- Michael Winterbottom's langorous, contemplative ode to grief is as sophisticated as it is simple. The slow pace and observational style allows the audience to take part in the mourning and healing that takes place within Genova's winding streets.

7. Che --- Steven Soderbergh's biopic of the infamous revolutionary is an epic achievement. Beautifully realised on the RED camera, Benicio Del Toro embodies the icon as well as the distinctly more fragile man.

6. Inglourious Basterds --- Though overly talky and utterly self indulgent, there's no question that Tarantino delivers. His heretically revisionist take on WWII is stylishly shot, with brilliant banter and great performances (excepting Eli Roth, who shouldn't give up his day job). Oscar for Christoph Waltz please.

5. District 9 --- Neill Blomkamp's explosive debut is a near-perfect sci-fi action adventure as well as a provocative parable of post-Apartheid South Africa. Oh, and a kick-ass shoot-'em-up. I'm no gamer, but someone needs to let Blomkamp make Halo. Stat.

4. An Education --- Lynn Barber's youthful dalliance with an older man makes for superb viewing in the hands of Nick Hornby and Lone Scherfig. Pitch-perfect performances all round. Oscar for Carey Mulligan please.

3. Moon --- Zowie Bowie (aka Duncan Jones) delivers a stellar debut with his one man meets moonrock play. The Sam Rockwells shoulder the story superbly, while Jones' restrained pacing doesn't overstay its welcome on the moon.

2. Bright Star --- Jane Campion's latest portrait of a lady is utterly sublime. Grieg Fraser's resplendent cinematography and evocative lead performances breathe life into the love shared of Fanny Brawne and John Keats, as well as the luminous letters and poetry it spawned.

1. Up --- Pixar perfection. It's as simple as that. Though it's still baffling to note how the story of a cantankerous old man, a boy scout and a talking dog can be fodder for the funniest and most touching film of 2009. Point!


What are your faves of 2009?

Read more at Rotten Tomatoes.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Alice, you're back!

Hi all! I trust everyone is still full from Christmas and Boxing Day feasts? Mine is actually a three day affair, with my big brother celebrating his birthday on the 27th, so it's been quite the gluttonous weekend.

For my first post-holiday post, I had to share the UK trailer for Alice in Wonderland. I don't know about you, but I'm getting a bit jack of the US advertising making this a Johnny Depp vehicle. Sure, Depp and Burton have their brilliant cinematic partnership, but this is (or should be!) Alice's story.

Fortunately the Poms return Alice to her rightful place:

Thanks to Gerard for the heads up!

Australian release date: 4 March 2010

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!!


Wishing you all a very Moet Christmas!!

(See what I did there? Ahhh, kids, don't start drinking at breakfast!)

Today will be family affair, scoffing on seafood barbecue and (hopefully) enjoying the two desserts I slaved over yesterday: traditional Christmas pudding from my great-grandmother's recipe as well as a semifreddo (or my attempt at it) recommended by a foodie friend.

This year also marks the first for a new family member, so of course I'm looking forward to spoiling my niece rotten.

Have a great day everyone! Enjoy x

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The French Kissers (Les beaux gosses)

Australian audiences are destined to begin and end 2009 in a French classroom. Pourquoi? Early 2009 was spent watching Laurent Cantet’s Palme D’Or winning The Class (Entre les murs), fascinating in François Bégaudeau’s unvarnished and compassionate look at his own life teaching in a multicultural Parisian school. Comparatively, The French Kissers (Les beaux gosses) feels like the students are taking their right of rebuttal. Cartoonist/graphic novelist turned director Riad Sattouf has brought his own inked high school to life with a raucous, ribald and alarmingly reminiscent take on teenagers.

Fronting a superb ensemble cast is Vincent Lacoste as Hervé, your typical, hormonally charged and scholastically disinterested 14 year old, who would be blind if the old wives’ tale about masturbation were true. Utterly committed to the task of finding a girlfriend, Hervé and his longhaired sidekick Carmel (Anthony Sonigo) do all they can to win over the fairer sex. Awkwardness, miss-fires and some revelatory ‘sock time’ follow until Hervé finally locks lips with the lovely Aurore (Alice Trémolière).

Laying bare the nature of teenage sexuality against the backdrop of single parent households (that subplot being yet another source of embarrassed chuckles), The French Kissers is a brilliantly paced, fabulously directed debut by Sattouf. Opening on Boxing Day, it’s a fun and frisky romp that promises enough laughs to tempt you away from your summer holidays, and back into the classroom.

Published on Concrete Playground
Australian release date: 26 December 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Carried Overseas

Oh dear.

I will watch this, but might just hate myself afterward.

Sex & the City 2 - Australian release date: 3 June 2010

Sherlock Holmes

There is no doubt Guy Ritchie has stamped his mark upon Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic Sherlock Holmes. Ritchie’s now trademark temporal jumps, bare-knuckled fighting and fraternal banter is all well translated into late 19th Century London. Cobbled streets and carriages may have replaced Ritchie’s previous preoccupation with the modern gangster, and yet this slower pace suits him well. Indeed the Holmes’ stories provide the filmmaker with the crime caper he is so fond of, but one pared back to a much simpler, linear and more accessible storyline.

And a familiar one at that; given the black magic plot, Sherlock Holmes borrows (or is that reclaims?) a lot from Harry Potter, even down to a wand, of sorts. This tale sees Holmes (Robert Downey Jnr.) and his exacerbated partner in solving crime Dr. Watson (Jude Law) packing up shop after solving their final case, only to find Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) has cheated death to pursue his sinister, imperialistic plans. This revelation distracts Watson from his engagement to the spirited Mary (Kelly Reilly), while also bringing femme fatale Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) back into Holmes’ orbit. Convoluted powers of deduction, disguises and energetic fight scenes ensue.

Though the final act drags, some of the set pieces feel too contrived and Downey Jnr’s precocious interpretation of the famed detective may well rankle purists, it’s very hard not to enjoy spending time with Holmes and Watson. Downey Jnr. and Law revel in their roles as the bickering couple; theirs is a love far more compelling than their (underused) female partners, and it’s an absolute delight to watch.

The film leaves the casebook wide open for a sequel featuring Holmes’ arch nemesis Professor Moriarty (rumoured to be Brad Pitt), so one presumes Ritchie is just itching for the chance to delve back into the annals of Britain’s greatest detective.

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Trailer: Shrek Forever After

What do we make of the continuing Shrek saga? Diminishing returns? That's what I thought.

But for what it's worth, the trailer for the final installment Shrek Forever After (aka. Shrek 4) is out, and it might be good for a few giggles.

Australian release date: 17 June 2010

Monday, December 21, 2009

Alice Returns

Images via

In keeping with my gleeful anticipation of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, I thought I should post the latest trailer and key art.

2010 is around the corner, so get ready to venture down the rabbit hole!

Australian release date: 4 March 2010

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Starlight Cinema

Taking up residence at the North Sydney Oval, the 2010 Starlight Cinema kicks off with a preview screening of the hilarious British political satire In the Loop. Then for the next two months the varied program promises something for every cinematic palate with titles including (500) Days of Summer, An Education, the challenging Precious, James Cameron’s epic Avatar and the Pixar perfection that is UP.

There’s fun to be had watching Matt Damon lie his way through The Informant! or Meryl Streep cooking up a storm in both Julie & Julia and It’s Complicated. You can walk the hallowed halls of Vogue in The September Issue, the winding streets of Genova or venture into the afterlife with Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones.

This season the Starlight Cinema will also host special Bollywood night, a Brazilian Festa, the short film festival FLiCKERFEST as well as a free screening of environmental documentary The Age of Stupid.

Cinemagoers can pack a picnic, enjoy a drink in the Chillout Zone, or splurge on Star Class with a VIP area, deck chair and an antipasto snack box. The program is brimming with 45 films, so take your pick and see the stars from the northside.

For your diaries: 13 January - 20 March 2010

Published on
Concrete Playground.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Toddler Hamlet

This great video of Brian Cox teaching Hamlet's soliloquy to a 2 year old has been doing the rounds of the net. It's pretty cute (though perhaps not quite as delightful as this), and a fun way to learn Shakespeare!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009



What on Earth has Jim Cameron been doing for the past 12 years? Well, not much - technically - for he has gone virtual, turning that closely guarded world of gaming geeks into pure cinematic spectacle. And that is exactly what Avatar is: absolute spectacle – a big, bright and sweeping epic that demands to be seen on the silver screen, behind 3D glasses.

The story itself is pretty basic, essentially Pocahontas meets FernGully, and considering Sigourney Weaver's presence, it has a few lashings of Aliens (by way of Gorillas in the Mist) as well. Of course none of these references make for a particularly pretty post-colonial reading of the film. Your world is on the brink of utter destruction? Ok, but be sure to waste precious time trying to save the white woman. Not to mention the classic white warrior "going native" and rescuing the noble savages from themselves.

Then again, Avatar probably wasn't meant to stand up to such discourse, rather it exists in the world of fairytale; one not so far removed from its gaming brethren or Cameron's Terminator and Aliens shoot-em-ups. And then comes the heart, where, mercifully, Cameron dials back on the stultifying declarations rampant in Titanic, instead presenting the burgeoning love of Jake (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) as one born of the respect of warriors. And in keeping with the fairytale tropes, every character slots into their allotted caricature very well. Weaver is the impassioned scientist, Giovanni Ribisi the corporate stakeholder protecting his bottom line and, most amusingly, Stephen Lang is Colonel Quaritch the mercenary muscle as well as the source of much comic relief (be it intentional or not).

So though you won’t get anything new narratively, Avatar is a visual feast, bountifully colourful with enough glowing UV colours to make a raver jealous. It’s clear Cameron and those talented Kiwis at WETA have absolutely gone to town creating Pandora, as well as the painstaking performance capture required to bring life to the inhabitants themselves. It’s just a shame that some of the brilliant action is sullied by exposition that caters to the lowest common denominator; in 12 years it seems Cameron still hasn’t grasped subtlety, though perhaps it’s better that way.

Published on Concrete Playground
Australian release date: 17 December 2009 (Advanced screenings on 16th)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Saturday, December 12, 2009



Polemical, political satirist Bill Maher is a man on a mission… against God. Taking the stance that religion is a hiding to the end of the world; Maher is not so much peddling nihilism as his is doubt. Doubt about the historical validity and exclusive strictures of organised religion. Evolution, homosexuality, fundamentalism and the afterlife are all levelled by Maher’s caustic wit as he interrogates members of major religious institutions, as well as Jesus (from a Christian theme park), while still making time to poke fun at the ‘Church’ of Scientology.

Maher adheres to the Michael Moore school of documentary, grounding his film in personal experience and peppering his interviews with pop culture clips and amusing subtitles. Theirs has a heavier, brasher touch than Andrew Denton, Louis Theroux or even John Safran, all of who have undertaken similar steps towards Enlightenment. Maher frequently uses his subjects as punch lines, and though his holier than thou approach can grate; you can’t fault his comic timing.

Religion and comedy are certainly a combustible mix, particularly with Borat and Brüno director Larry Charles at the helm; you know nothing is sacred. But although Maher and Charles clearly don’t have God on their side, with final cut, they definitely get the last laugh.

Published on Concrete Playground.
Australian release date (limited): 10 December 2009

Friday, December 11, 2009

OpenAir Cinema

Rob Bryant, General Manager of the OpenAir Cinema can sum up the experience in three words, “Sydney in summertime.”

This isn’t just an outdoor cinema, Mr. Bryant explains, “It’s an experience of Sydney. We all live here and we all run around like mad everyday – just keeping our head above water here, but we don’t all that often stop…[the OpenAir Cinema] gives 60,000 people the opportunity to just take stock of where we live.”

Preferably with a beer in hand while munching on some gourmet catering. And of course the Mr. Bryant also calls the event, “a festival of films,” which this year boasts, “10 preview or premiere films and a lot of current releases, all the Boxing Day big releases and a couple of January releases.”

The full program will be released on December 11, but Mr. Bryant gave Concrete Playground a sneak peak, starting with opening night and the Australian musical Bran Nue Dae; "a lovely story set in Western Australia, centring on the importance of home" starring Geoffrey Rush, Missy Higgins and Australian Idol's Jessica Mauboy. Also previewing are Clint Eastwood’s Apartheid story Invictus (starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon), Rob Marshall’s all-star musical extravaganza Nine and John Hillcoat’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic The Road.

OpenAir Cinema audiences will get first look at the raucous British political satire In The Loop, designer Tom Ford’s directorial debut in A Single Man, as well as Mel Gibson’s return to the big screen in Martin Campbell’s The Edge of Darkness. Mr. Bryant eagerly describes the latter as “an edge-of-your-seat, thriller kind of thing,” while he is also keen about bringing a little horror to the Botanic Gardens with a special preview of The Wolfman. “It might be the first [horror film] ever [programmed] actually. It’s got a fabulous cast, Emily Blunt, Anthony Hopkins, Benicio Del Toro, Hugo Weaving and it’s inspired by the original Wolfman, which was really the founding father of all horror films.”

If scaring yourself silly in the Botanic Gardens isn’t your thing, then Mr. Bryant suggests the Boxing Day films like Sherlock Holmes or The French Kissers, or perhaps some favourites from 2009 like (500) Days of Summer and Where the Wild Things Are.

But as for bribing Mother Nature for fine weather, Mr. Bryant admits “Well you just can’t, can you?!” Offering that, “We’ve reached the stage where when it rains you’ve got 1600 people sitting there – you get a poncho – you sit there and people have a wonderful spirit about it.”

Rain, hail or shine, the OpenAir Cinema draws a “rock concert-like” demand for tickets, with last year selling, 20,000 in half an hour, 40,000 in the first day. So when presales commence 9am on December 17, it’s time to book your next visit to Mrs. Macquaries Point and that marvelous postcard view of Sydney in summertime.

Published on
Concrete Playground.
OpenAir Cinema 2010 season: 12 January - 20 February

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bay's Secret


Michael Bay + Victoria's Secret was probably inevitable. Cue gratuitous shots of scantily clad women, helicopters and explosions.

The scary thing is how much more developed the storyline for this advert is than that of Transformers 2.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Childhood Favourites

Trespass Magazine's film editor Beth Wilson asked some fellow film writers to pick their top three childhood films. I had a lot of trouble limiting it to three, but even more fun reminiscing about past favourites.


Troop Beverly Hills (1989)

Massive caveat: as the dubious owner of two older brothers the series (and other childhood faves) Star Wars, The Karate Kid and Back to the Future were on constant rotation in our house. So this Shelley Long family comedy about a ubiquitous Beverly Hills divorcee leading a band of girl scouts was my brand of girlie rebellion. Successful too - my brothers still balk at any mention of "Cookie Time."

Read more over at Trespass and add your own faves to the ever expanding list!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Away We Go

What do you get when acclaimed novelist husband and wife team Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida try their collective hand at a semi-autobiographical screenplay about impending parenthood? A very writerly, willfully quirky road-trip, plied with many a double entendre and clear thematic goals. It’s also rather funny, with The Office staple John Krasinski and Saturday Night Live player Maya Rudolph joined by fellow comedic talent including of an off the rails Allison Janney and Earth-Mother par excellence Maggie Gyllenhaal. Of course each character represents a certain parenting ‘style,’ while our hapless pair come to realise home is where the heart is. Awww.

Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) continues his fascination with the American family, though this trip is mercifully less grueling than his journey down Revolutionary Road. Away We Go uncovers a few eloquent truths about partnership and parenthood, if you can wade through the quirk.

Published on Concrete Playground.
Australian release date: 10 December 2009

Monday, December 7, 2009



Sydney's creative talent has conspired to create a series of short films and a shiny new book. Come, party and see for yourself.

Conspirators from Concrete Playground on Vimeo.


In a post-apocalyptic world, ruined by the scientific hubris of mankind, only a small contingent of machines remains: those that wrought the destruction, and a handful of handmade dolls cowering in the ruins. The appeal of Shane Acker’s gothic tale to producer Tim Burton is obvious; visually and thematically, the two are on common ground, and for the most part this makes for intriguing viewing.

However, despite the provocative premise and the beautifully rendered world, 9 feels largely derivative. Alongside the sparse and clunky dialogue (voiced by Elijah Wood, John. C. Reilly, Jennifer Connelly and Christopher Plummer), there are Jurassic Park style thrills, Star Wars spirits and a Harry Potter Horcrux thrown in for good measure. Knowing this film is an extension of Acker’s Academy Award nominated short only underscores the narrative holes; would Acker have been content with his short and not been tempted to tease it out into a feature.

Nonetheless 9 heralds the new, exciting and manifest talent of Acker into the fantastical world of animation. His painstaking aesthetic puts him into the company of Henry Selick (Coraline) and of course Tim Burton (Corpse Bride). And with such promise, one can only hope Acker continues to develop his potential.

Published on Concrete Playground (click here to win tickets)
Australian release date: 10 December 2009

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Bright Star widget

Yes I've already seen the film (glowing review to come), but I thought this might appeal to other keen beans.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are (requires therapy)

Let the wild rumpus start!

Since the release of Spike Jonze's ludicrously anticipated (at least by me) adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are, the blogosphere has been awash with reviews. So bear with me as I share a few of my thoughts.

The film is most certainly picturesque. Jonze, cinematographer Lance Acord and K.K Barrett's production design definitely do justice to Maurice Sendak's original vision. That said, they've muted the bright greens and blues from the picture book, replacing them with more earthy tones of grey and brown. Knowing the film was shot in Victoria, the blackened, burnt out forest where the Wild Things first romp around provided an eerie (if anachronistic) reminder of the devastating bush fire season.

However, while the film is visually striking, I found its pronounced themes troubling. Jonze and renowned novelist Dave Eggers have fleshed out Sendak's slight story in such a self-conscious and distractingly adult way. The Wild Things are each imbued with one of Max's character traits, be it overlooked, anxious, aggressive or annoying, which works well as a literary device, but results in a film replete with neuroses, melancholia and even menace.

Let's talk it out - image

Yes I found the film menacing. Much as there are joyous scenes of childish glee (in a truly remarkable performance by Max Records), they always have an disquieting edge. A beaming Max bounds up to Carol on the cliff edge, then stumbles precariously, the moment fractured. Claws that can lovingly etch initials also represent pointed danger. And in a film where all the world's a fort (with one resembling the Death Star - take that for what you will), Max's constantly crumble around him. Even the first 'stacks on' with the Wild Things includes a shot of Max looking rather stricken as he struggles to find room amongst all the fur. And above all, Max is told in school that the sun is going to die, a fact he relays to his new subjects, to much existential duress.

The Ultimate Fort (aka the Death Star) - image

So it seems Jonze and Eggers have fashioned a children's book into a very adult movie. Perhaps it's a nostalgia exercise, a film for all the adults who grew up with Sendak's beloved book. Because Where the Wild Things Are is really not a kids film. For all the scenes of feverish, frenetic energy, there are layers upon layers of angst. I can't help but wonder how this film might have turned out in other hands. Might Michel Gondry have imbued more whimsy? Could the Pixar team not have made a film that enthusiastically appealed to both adults and children?

Lost souls - image

"Will you say good things about us?" Judith - the most neurotic of the wild things - asks Max as he sets off back to his Mum. This appeal speaks volumes about Jonze's 4+ year labour of love bringing this film to life, as well as the earnestness with which he approached the source material. And I can say good things about Where the Wild Things Are: it's a beauty to behold, with an astounding lead performance and an evocative (if slightly over-scored) soundtrack by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Ultimately, however, it was disappointing to see the film bring a world weariness to this childhood fantasy.


Australian release date: 3 December 2009

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Moonlight Cinema

The new program for The Moonlight Cinema kicks off with Sam Taylor Wood’s John Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy. This beautifully constructed film steps behind the legend to reveal a young man torn between two mothers. Another masterful biopic sees the delightful Audrey Tatuou seamlessly embodying the modest beginnings of the fashion icon in Coco Avant Chanel, while Emily Blunt transforms the dour Queen Victoria into a beautiful and vibrant vision in Jean-Marc Vallee’s The Young Victoria.

Other new releases include Spike Jonze’s much-anticipated adaptation of the childhood classic Where The Wild Things Are, James Cameron’s virtual odyssey Avatar, as well as Wes Anderson’s take on Roald Dahl’s wonderful Fantastic Mr. Fox. For all the closet Twi-hards out there both Twilight and the sequel New Moon are screening, while on the other end of the literary spectrum are Peter Jackson’s ghostly Lovely Bones and Guy Ritchie digging into London’s crime roots with Sherlock Holmes.

Australian cinema will also shine in the moonlight with screenings of Scott Hick’s look at single fatherhood The Boys Are Back (starring Clive Owen), Jane Campion’s portrait of romantic poet par excellence John Keats in Bright Star and Bruce Beresford’s graceful Mao’s Last Dancer. Geoffrey Rush and Australian Idol winner Jessica Mauboy will bust a move as well in Rachel Perkin’s youthful romp around Broome in the summer of 1969, Bran Nue Dae.

For those seeking a blast from the past, the timeless Breakfast at Tiffany’s is on offer, as well as Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Top Gun, Pulp Fiction and even The Godfather. More recent classics screening include Christopher Nolan’s superlative The Dark Knight, Danny Boyle’s Oscar winning Slumdog Millionaire and Hayao Miyazaki’s fantastical fable Ponyo.

There are many more films besides, so be sure to check out the full program before packing your picnic basket and staking out your cinematic spot under the stars.


Published on Concrete Playground.

The Moonlight Cinema is on from 3 December 2009 - 14 March 2010

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Strength of Water


The unique bond between twins is compassionately realised in Armagan Ballantyne’s debut feature The Strength of Water. Set in the Hokianga, a beautiful, remote region of far north New Zealand, the film is a Maori story of family, loss, love and acceptance. When Tai (Isaac Barber), a troubled stranger trudges into town, the tiny rural community is indelibly affected by his presence. Precocious fraternal twins Kimi (Hato Paparoa) and Melody (Melanie Mayall-Nahi) are wrested apart from each other in the physical world, yet set about renegotiating their bond across a spiritual plane.

This is a contemplative, ambitious and at times lovely film. Ballantyne and acclaimed New Zealand playwright Briar Grace-Smith movingly display Maori funeral rites as well as conveying family life with a light, humorous touch, while all is captured in its stunning setting by Academy Award winning cinematographer Bogumil Godfrejow. And yet the luscious surrounds and brooding themes can’t quite rescue The Strength of Water from sagging under the weight of inexperience.

Not only is this film a debut feature for Ballantyne and Grace-Smith, but also for all of the main characters. Paparoa and Mayall-Nahi do a fine job as bickering siblings, but the film lays heavy themes on such little shoulders. Similarly Barber and his love interest Tirea (Pare Paseka) can’t carry off much of the dialogue, giving the film a halted effect.

There is however much to take from The Strength of Water. As an insightful glimpse at Maori culture and the mysterious ties of twins, the film resonates with warmth and dedication. The film may not reach the heights of Whale Rider, but Ballantyne, Grace-Smith and producer Fiona Copland nonetheless represent an exciting new Kiwi collaboration.

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

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