Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sydney Film Festival: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

The winner of the Cannes Palme d’Or, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s mystical tale Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is a beautifully crafted curio. Pivoting around the eponymous Uncle (Thanapat Saisaymar), who is slowly succumbing to kidney failure, the film journeys to fantastical places and dream like states in what seems tantamount to an evocative eulogy. Uncle Boonmee calls his sister-in-law Jen (Jenjira Pongpas) to his rural deathbed, hoping she will take over his farm. Such an earthly request is surmounted by the spiritual arrival of Boonmee’s deceased wife and son, the latter resembling a Wookie, though he announces he is a monkey spirit. Boonmee and Jen’s lack of surprise and calm acceptance of these arrivals may mark the first schism between Weerasethakul’s characters and his audience, for what follows is yet more opaque flights of fancy, albeit ones which are gorgeously cinematic.

Indeed in watching the film, it feels like layers of meaning are lost for those unfamiliar with Thai death rites and spiritual ties. And yet for a film steeped in such symbolism, it somehow manages not to alienate, instead it lulls its audience into quiet contemplation though transfixing Thai countryside and the benign marvel of witnessing Boonmee’s fantastical past lives. Perhaps the most provocative of these is a sexual encounter between a lonely, facially scarred princess and catfish. The film’s unhurried pace further confirms its occupation in the fluid space between the living and the dead. It’s an odd experience, but a magical one as well.

Published by Street Press Australia
Australian release date (theatrical): TBA

Sydney Film Festival: Winter's Bone

Winning the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, Debra Granik’s (Down to the Bone) sophomore film plays out like a bleak coming of age tale set against a searing modern day Western. Bringing Daniel Woodrell’s novel to chilling reality, Winter’s Bone is the story of Rees Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) a battle-hardened, 17-year-old who’s been left to care for her catatonic mother and fend for her two younger siblings in the harsh woods of the Missouri Ozarks. The family is threatened with further deprivation when Dolly’s crank cooking father skips bail and the bondsman comes to claim the house. Forced to find her father, dead or alive, in order to save the house, Dolly is faced with a silent and increasingly hostile community, all keen to protect their own criminal secrets.

Like responsibilities of the Dolly family, Granik sets the entire weight of the film squarely on Lawrence’s young shoulders, and she absolutely delivers. With echoes of a young Jodie Foster, her fearless performance galvanizes a film that might otherwise be in danger of seeming like a hackneyed gender twist on the Western. Instead Granik perfectly casts Deadwood alumni John Hawkes and Garret Dillahunt alongside a strong ensemble of female actors to create a starkly authentic slice of Americana, where drug addiction is a foregone conclusion and country values give way to women closing ranks around their drug peddling men. This potent cocktail of poverty and ruthless survival transforms Winter’s Bone into a profound portrait of the modern frontier.

Published by Street Press Australia
Australian release date (theatrical): 11 November 2010

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sydney Film Festival: If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle

Whatever they’re putting in the water over in Romania, the filmmakers should keep supping. With this affecting debut feature, Florin Serban joins the ranks of the Romanian New Wave, alongside acclaimed directors such as Cristian Mungiu (the Palme d’Or winning 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days), Cristian Nemescu (California Dreaming) and Corneliu Porumboiu (Police, Adjective).

Adapting Andreea Valean’s stage play, the film is an outwardly simple story that uncovers the emotional depths of 18-year-old Silviu (George Pistereanu) during his final days of a four-year stretch in juvenile detention. Dominant in his domain and on relatively good terms with the warden (Mihai Constantin), Silviu’s controlled existence is rocked when his younger brother visits to inform him that their estranged mother (Clara Vodă) has returned and wants to take him back to live with her in Italy. Silviu now can’t get released fast enough, but when his pleas fall on deaf ears, he fashions a more daring avenue to freedom.

Reminiscent of Andrea Arnold’s superlative Fish Tank, Serban similarly allows the camera to follow Silviu, with long shots and stretches of silence making up most of the first act. Casting real prisoners alongside Pistereanu, Serban also injects an ethnic subplot, with a palpable friction between gypsies (Roma) and Romanians that may pass by unknowing eyes. Pistereanu is a revelation, like a powder keg on a slow burning fuse his performance is powerful, tender and captivating. Indeed both Serban and his star have crafted an inspiring debut.

Published by Street Press Australia

Sydney Film Festival: The Kids are All Right

Who wouldn’t want Annette Bening (American Beauty) and Julianne Moore (Children of Men) for mothers? Writer/director Lisa Cholodenko (Lauren Canyon) brings this perfect pairing to reality in a tender, honest and wonderfully funny portrait of a modern family. Fastidious medico Nic (Bening) and her more free spirited partner Jules (Moore) have been together for decades and have each born a child using the same donor sperm. This happy, loving and suitably idiosyncratic family is disrupted when 18-year-old Joni (Mia Wasikowska) succumbs to her younger brother Laser’s (Josh Hutcherson) wishes to track down their biological father, Paul (Mark Ruffalo).

Domesticity, sexuality and the ‘pleasures’ of parenthood are all depicted with frank humour and humanity, both through Cholodenko’s beautifully warm and wry script and in the perfectly cast performances. Bening and Moore are luminous together, able to nitpick as easily as cherish, while Ruffalo’s awkward timing is spot on and Wasikowska can do angsty teen better than anyone in the business. The broader context of what must be the first-generation of homosexual couples raising a family is noted within the film, but does not get in the way of what is essentially a superbly grounded and touchingly candid look at love. Indeed the irony of the film’s title soon becomes evident, where Joni and Laser’s coming of age is far less tumultuous than Nic and Jules’ attempts to navigate their relationship, or Paul coming to terms with the man and the potential father he now longs to be.

Published by Street Press Australia
Australian release date (theatrical): 2 September 2010

***Update: To read David Edelstein's fabulous review in New York Magazine, click HERE.
***Ditto Dana Stevens' review (and Spoiler Special!) on Slate.

Monday, June 28, 2010

US Trailer: Animal Kingdom


David Michôd's Animal Kingdom has received a new poster and trailer ahead of its US release on August 13.

What do you think? (Warning: if you haven't seen the film, I think this trailer contains some serious spoilers).

For my money, I think the Australian poster and trailer do the film much more justice. The absence of Guy Pearce - i.e. the one recognisable face for US audiences - seems a ludicrous oversight, and as I mentioned above, the US trailer doesn't leave much to the imagination (as well as randomly repeating Jackie Weaver's signature line?!).

Animal Kingdom recently played at the Los Angeles Film Festival, while at home it has just cleared the $3 million mark.

Read my review HERE.
Read my interview with David Michôd and Ben Mendelsohn HERE.

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Is this filmmaking debut from infamously anonymous street artist Banksy a hoax? Does it matter? These two questions will undoubtedly colour your viewing of this suitably opaque 'documentary'. Banksy is certainly no stranger to controversy, so it should come as no surprise that the faceless man behind such stunts as the West Bank Wall or the painted elephant (or just look at his website’s homepage) should fancy messing with the minds of his captive cinema audience.

Without digressing into just how ‘meta’ Exit Through the Gift Shop is (considering the title alone could get you started), the story follows one affable French expat by the name of Thierry Guetta, the owner of a vintage clothing store in LA and budding filmmaker. Guetta’s familial connection to Paris's famed street artist Invader leads the garrulous Frenchman down the dark alleys of street artists, where he befriends all manner of ‘graffiti’ luminaries including Shepard Fairey (the man behind Barack Obama’s election poster) and, eventually, Banksy himself. What follows is an increasingly bizarre documentation and commodification of street art as Guetta moves from behind the camera to transform himself into Mr. Brainwash. It’s an amusing, instructive and disturbing evolution and one that absolutely rubbishes the modern art movement in its wake.

Narrated by Rhys Ifans (Notting Hill) with some pointedly witty (and surely scripted) soundbites from Banksy, (regardless of its agenda) this is a well-paced and sophisticated debut. Indeed, Exit Through the Gift Shop is a film that needs to be seen to be disbelieved.

Published on Concrete Playground
Australian release date: 24 June 2010 (limited)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pigeon Impossible

I heart Roger Ebert for many reasons, and most recently it's for introducing me to this:

Join The Ebert Club HERE.

Learn more about Pigeon Impossible HERE.

Beached Az 2: The Goats

These wily goats might just have a prescription for the whale's unfortunate predicament.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Teaser: The Social Network

The internets are buzzing with this just released teaser for David Fincher's Facebook biopic The Social Network. Penned by none other than Aaron Sorkin, it's quite fitting that this teaser only features snippets of dialogue. And surely I'm not alone in being ridiculously excited about the pairing of Fincher and Sorkin?

The film stars Jesse Eisenberg as Facebook co-creator Mark Zuckerberg, alongside Andrew Garfield as Eduardo Saverin, and Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker, co-founder of Napster and Plaxo. Sorkin's screenplay is based on the book Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich.

Australian release date: 25 November 2010

Trailer: Somewhere

The trailer for Sofia Coppola's new film Somewhere has been doing the round of the internets, and copping surprisingly mixed reviews. There seems to be a clear divide between those who find it swoony and intriguing, and those who yawn, wondering when Coppola will stop with the poor little rich girl navel gazing and take a new tack.

What do you make of it?

I'm definitely in the former camp, and moreover I think its quite common for filmmakers to riff on similar themes and do so successfully (does anyone deride Woody Allen? Actually, don't answer that!). Plus Coppola has the aesthetic chops to pull off something visually (and aurally) wonderful, as her entire filmography attests. But can we at least all agree that it's perfectly cast? Stephen Dorff lends a nice reflexivity (where did his career go?) to the Hollywood star Johnny Marco, with the saucer-eyed Elle Fanning as his young daughter, Cleo.

Here's the synopsis:

Johnny Marco is a bad-boy A-list actor stumbling through a life of excess while living at Chateau Marmont Hotel. Cocooned in this artificial world, Johnny has lost all sense of his true self. Until, that is, his 11-year-old daughter Cleo shows up and begins to anchor him. Johnny’s fragile connection to real life slowly revives in her presence. So when the time comes for Cleo to leave, his sense of loss is palpable, but the gift of hope she has also brought him leads to a beautiful denouement.

Somewhere looks set to debut at the Venice Film Festival in September ahead of its US release on December 22.

Australian release date 26 December 2010.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Toy Story 3

It’s nigh impossible to convey the stupendous delight that is Toy Story 3 without stoking the irrepressible hype that now surrounds the film. So while we’re in for a penny …
Toy Story 3 is the shiny, superb, three-dimensional (in all senses of the term) cap on what has got to be as close to a perfect trilogy as exists in cinema. Which is not to say the film is without imperfection, it’s just that you don’t care. Sure, some scenes are too long and the end is a tad schmaltzy, but you’re too engrossed in Pixar’s fantastical world and too invested in the fate of Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and their motley crew of erstwhile playtime friends to really notice.
From the brilliantly crafted spaghetti-western opening to its touching coda, Toy Story 3 never loses sight of the series' core tenant: that unique, timeless-yet-all-too-brief relationship between toys and their owners. So now that it’s time for Andy to go to college, the drama is inbuilt and the stakes are sky high. Woody’s fierce loyalty to Andy is tested by the devastating reality of his looming redundancy, wherein he and the rest of the toys face three options: will they be taken to college, to the attic or be cast aside completely? It’s not spoiling the fun to reveal they initially end up in daycare, wherein the Pixar crew positively revels in introducing a whole new gamut of old favourites (including a cameo from Hayao Miyazaki's Totoro!).
The ensuing hilarity beggars belief. Audiences would be sitting slack jawed in the face of the film’s staggering cinematic reflexivity* but for all the consistently high-quality, family-friendly laughs that keep you smiling. It’s this trademark brand of beautiful and savvy writing that engenders such consistent appeal across the generations and confirms, yet again, that the creative minds of John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3's director) and their Pixar team are true masters of their craft. Their stellar cinematic efforts do indeed go to infinity and beyond.

*Click here for a list of the film's easter eggs — though that covers only Pixar film references, not the encyclopedia of others!
Published on Concrete Playground
Australian release date: 24 June 2010

***Update: After you've seen this wonderful film, I suggest listening to Dana Steven's Slate Spoiler Special. Dana and Dan Kois have a joyous and heartfelt chat about the Toy Story franchise, and if you teared up in the film, you may well again listening to their recollections. Click HERE to stream or HERE to download via iTunes.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sydney Film Festival: The Tree

A compelling metaphor for life and connection, The Tree is also a tender portrait of a family’s grief. When beloved father and husband Peter O’Neil (Aden Young) succumbs to a sudden heart attack the family’s idyllic country life is indelibly altered. Dawn (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her four children, Tim (Christian Byers), Lou (Tom Russell), Simone (Morgana Davies) and little Charlie (Gabriel Gotting) each come to terms with the loss in their own way, with Dawn retreating to her bed, Charlie to silence and Simone to the property’s magnificent Morton Bay Fig, where she believes she can still communicate with her dad.

This French-Australian co-production, which had the honour of closing the Cannes Film Festival this year, was struck by its own tragedy, with director Julie Bertuccelli’s husband dying during production. Such a profound loss no doubt augmented the emotional reality of the film, which is itself an adaptation of Judy Pascoe’s popular book Our Father Who Art in the Tree. The warm and compassionate final result is surely a tribute to Bertuccelli’s grace.

For those who have seen Antichrist, it’s impossible not to wonder if the chaos of nature reigns once more for Gainsbourg. Here she is again unafraid to bring an alienating edge to her portrayal of a mother so grief-stricken that she can’t help but neglect her children. It’s a fascinating performance, well supported by Marton Csokas as her new boss George, but Davies is the real find, stealing countless scenes with her effusive energy and quiet sorrow.

Published by Street Press Australia
Australian release date (theatrical): September 2010 (TBC)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Get Him to the Greek

Most will agree that Russell Brand’s Aldous Snow stole quite a few scenes in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Now reprising his role as the bawdy rocker, Get Him to the Greek takes Aldous a couple of years down the track; he has indeed forgotten Sarah Marshall, gone back on the sauce and also managed to tank his career attempting to be a ‘White African Space Jesus’ in a post-colonial nightmare of a track called African Child.

Enter Aaron Green (Jonah Hill) a passionate young music executive and a diehard fan of the fallen star, he conceives of a plan to resuscitate Snow’s career by putting on a ten year revival gig at LA’s Greek Theatre. Given a mere three days to get it all together, Green’s rather unspooled boss Sergio (Sean Combs) sets his man on a near impossible mission: to wrangle the out of control Snow from London to LA.

While this rock and roll road movie has some great scenes (including Rose Byrne’s fabulous pop starlet, and the stroke of genius that is ‘furry walls’), on the whole the film confirms that what made for a good sideshow doesn’t hold up as the main attraction. The more sinister elements of Snow’s drug addiction – which loudly echo Brand’s personal history – sit uneasily against the film’s gross out comedic elements, (which are derivative of The Hangover). And with Hill hamstrung by playing the dull straight man, Brand proves he doesn’t yet have the dramatic chops to quit his day job.

Published by Street Press Australia
Australian release date: 17 June 2010

Get Him to the Greek was also the film I spoiled with Dana Steven's from - click here to listen to our discussion.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Trailer: Tomorrow, When the War Began


Most Australian readers will have grown up with John Marsden's Tomorrow Series. Here it is now studied in schools, and I certainly remember snapping up each book the seven part series as soon as they were published. So the nostalgia stakes will be pretty high for a whole generation of cinema goers come September when Tomorrow, When the War Began hits the silver screen.

The film will be Australian Stuart Beattie's directorial debut, though Beattie's writing credits include Collateral, Bra Boys and the Pirates of the Caribbean series. Neighbours alum Caitlin Stasey has been cast as the saga's headstrong heroine Ellie, and I suppose it's a good sign that the Facebook fans are happy with the choice (I haven't watched Neighbours for years).

While the poster seems a little uninspired, the theatrical trailer shows promise. It would be great to have a successful action franchise coming out of Australia, so here's hoping Beattie has done the series justice.

Let me know what you think!

Tomorrow When The War Began (Theatrical Trailer)
Uploaded by Paramount_Australia. - Check out other Film & TV videos.

Australian release date: 2 September 2010

Monday, June 21, 2010

Sydney Film Festival: Babies

Impossibly endearing and entirely captivating, Babies is a near perfect documentary with the simplest of premises: what is it like to be a baby? Of course no one can really recall their first year on Earth, which is what makes what director Thomas Balmès’ wonderful journey all the more precious. Running with Alain Chabat’s original idea, Balmès and his crews traveled to a dusty rural village in Namibia, the striking steppes of Mongolia, bustling Tokyo and San Francisco to capture the lives of Ponijao, Bayar, Mari and Hattie (respectively) from birth to first steps.

Over 400 hours of superbly shot footage has been painstakingly pieced together to make this 79-minute wonder. And it is a testament to the entrancing qualities of little ‘uns in general that this time flies by without any need of narration or even subtitling of the doting parents. Indeed Bayar and his three female companions need no introduction, each making for hilarious tour guides as they discover how to make use of their disobedient limbs and make sense of the bright and beautiful world around them. From inquisitive felines to the delights of unraveling toilet paper and the frustrations of a toy yet to be mastered, Balmès and his babies sure know how to turn on the charm. And though the editing clearly juxtaposes the Western world of plenty to the more simple surroundings in Mongolia and Africa, it is striking to see just how similarly the four babies develop; each mischievous, vulnerable and sturdy in turn.

Published by Street Press Australia
Australian release date (theatrical): 5 May 2011

Sydney Film Festival: The Disappearance of Alice Creed

J Blakeson’s feature debut is a well-conceived and impressively accomplished thriller. Eddie Marsan (Happy Go Lucky) and Martin Compston (Red Road) star as paroled crims Vic and Danny, who cooked up this sophisticatedly simple plan during their stretch together in the big house. They are joined by blockbuster damsel du jour Gemma Arterton (Clash of the Titans, Prince of Persia), mercifully counter programming as the titular kidnapping victim, who stripped and splayed out on a bed is clearly terrified and mortified, but not entirely helpless.

Opening with a stylish, dialogue free montage of the pair’s preparations, The Disappearance of Alice Creed continues at a good click; the plot punctuated with well-placed twists that both develop each character and add to the increasingly foreboding atmosphere. Blakeson has also shot the screenplay through with black comedy, siphoning off a bit of the pressure, while revealing himself a director who is encouragingly aware of entertaining his audience.

The film has tonal hints of Danny Boyle’s late 1990s comedic thriller A Life Less Ordinary, though Blackson eschews magical realism in favour of gritty, claustrophobic production design and tautly skewed morals. And if Compston doesn’t quite have the presence or charming appeal of Ewan McGregor, Marsan and Arterton each generate disturbingly gripping performances. The result is an assured and mature first feature, which makes the most of its no doubt modest budget and serves up some classic thrills alongside a tantalising emotional quandary.

Published by Street Press Australia
Australian release date (theatrical): 9 September 2010

***Update: watch the brilliant opening 5 minutes

Sunday, June 20, 2010

What dreams may come...

...mercifully takes on a whole new meaning in the hands of Christopher Nolan.

Inception - Australian release date: 22 July 2010

Beached Az 2: The Pelican

The Beached Whale gets an unsolicited makeover...

And if you just can't get enough of this random hilarity, Beached Az now has its own iPhone app - click here for more details.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sydney Film Festival - Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

Joan Rivers may be notorious for her plastic surgery predilection, but the reigning queen of comedy shows an unvarnished honesty in Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg’s revealing documentary. A shrewdly intelligent, if fatally insecure workaholic, Rivers is no doubt in complete control of her image here, but the film still allows audiences to read between the lines of this self styled piece of work.

For Australian audiences and particularly younger viewers who did not grow up with Rivers bawdy brand of comedy, Stern and Sundberg balance an incisive study of the 75 year-old (who reluctantly celebrates her birthday on film) with a chronicle of her beginnings on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Carson was the man who first proclaimed her a star, before black listing her when she dared establish her own show, while details of River’s marriage to British television producer Edgar Rosenberg and his suicide upon the failure of The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers, provides some affecting context to her modern day tribulations with her decidedly fair weather manager Billy Sammeth.

It’s not without significant irony that Rivers cries poor while living in the most opulent surroundings. “This is the way Marie Antoinette would have lived, if she had money,” the comedienne quips, well aware of her own staggering overheads. There is no doubt Rivers identifies with the Queen’s infamy, while lusting after her prevailing celebrity; frighteningly blank diary pages being the only thing standing in her way.

Published by Street Press Australia
Australian release date (theatrical): TBA

***UPDATE As Kate mentions in her comment below, the Slate Culture Gabfest discussion on this doco is well worth a listen. Click here to check it out.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Trailer: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World


Confession...I didn't really understand all the hype surrounding Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Much as I love Edgar Wright and appreciate Michael Cera's awkward schtick, I just haven't been foaming at the mouth like some of my friends (many of whom have promised to inflict bodily harm if I don't read the graphic novels before the film's release).

Then today I saw this:

I get it now.

Australian release date: 12 August 2010

Sydney Film Festival: The Waiting City

Radha Mitchell (Melinda and Melinda) and Joel Edgerton (Animal Kingdom) shine on the streets of Calcutta in Claire McCarthy’s sumptuous sophomore feature. The pair brings a beautiful naturalism to their roles as Fiona and Ben Simmons, a married couple anxiously awaiting the final bureaucratic requirements of a lengthy adoption process. Fiona is a driven lawyer to Ben’s laid-back musician, and any cracks in this dynamic are soon thrown into stark relief as the oppressive Indian heat and high pressure stakes of their increasingly delayed adoption draw doubts, desires and long held secrets to the surface.

The first Australian film to be entirely shot on location in India, The Waiting City is doubtless a logistical as well as a cinematic triumph. Working with her husband, cinematographer Denson Baker (The Black Balloon), McCarthy shows herself equally capable of traversing the film’s complex physical landscape as well as her screenplay’s ardent emotional themes. She also carefully avoids any judgment this white couple adopting an Indian baby; save for their guide Krishna’s (Samrat Chakrabarti) one pointed comment about Fiona, ‘taking from Mother India.’

Motherhood – in its many guises – is indeed the beating heart of this film, which unfolds in an unhurried manner, as befitting its title. And Mitchell and Edgerton are magnificent together on screen, their characters’ inner turmoil set starkly against Baker’s beautiful images. Working its way into your heart though compelling performances, captivating images and compassionate storytelling, The Waiting City is undeniably a film upon which you want to linger.

Published by Street Press Australia
Australian release date: 15 July 2010

Sydney Film Festival: Cairo Time

A vibrant love letter to this ancient city, Cairo Time is an absolute gem. The resplendent Patricia Clarkson plays Juliette Grant, an American magazine editor arriving to rendezvous with her husband Mark (Tom McCamus) upon a promise to visit the pyramids. But when Mark, a United Nations refugee worker, is held up in Gaza, Juliette is left stranded in her luxurious hotel, with visits from her husband’s friend Tareq (Alexander Siddig) her only real respite from the mounting loneliness and culture shock.

Writer/director Ruba Nadda creates an enthralling travelogue of Juliette’s exotic purgatory. Beautifully framed and languorously paced, Nadda establishes a series of vignettes – from embassy parties with ‘petroleum wives,’ to finding a kindred spirit in another UN widow – with Juliette and Tareq’s blossoming friendship providing the story’s through line. Once Mark’s co-worker, Tareq now owns a coffee shop, which to her embarrassment Juliette discovers, is only for men. This is only one of many cross-cultural confrontations, which both she and Nadda navigate with a sensitive eye.

As Juliette and Tareq’s affection deepens, the film becomes a swoony, slow dance led by two exceptional performers. Always impressive in predominantly supporting roles, Clarkson here proves she can carry a film, with her trademark emotional intelligence and arrestingly quiet beauty. Moreover she is well matched by Siddig’s wonderfully understated portrayal. In an unashamedly romanticised view of Cairo, the film’s postcard perfect cinematography, evocative score and exquisite emotional journey effortlessly charms and delights.

Published by Street Press Australia
Australian release date (theatrical): 19 August 2010

***Update: Click here to be charmed some more by Patricia Clarkson as she appears on CBC's The Hour.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sydney Film Festival: Boy


Packing an emotional wallop behind its comedic coming of age romp, Taika Waititi’s follow up to the acclaimed Eagle Vs Shark is the very definition of a crowd pleaser and a must see film. Now the highest grossing film of all time in its native New Zealand, Boy is reminiscent of Garth Jenning’s refreshingly nostalgic Son of Rambow, with Waititi’s adventure back to the Michael Jackson and E.T. saturated year of 1984 proving fertile ground for a heartfelt look at how a boy needs his father.

Superb casting sees big and bright-eyed James Rolleston as the eponymous 11-year-old to Waititi’s absentee father Alamein, and though given to flights of fancy, Boy is no match for his more sensitive soul of a younger brother, Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu), who is convinced he has special powers for the most devastating of reasons. Rocky is as wary of Alamein’s arrival as Boy is enraptured, while their dad turns out to be a loveable twerp, happy to rollick around, but more intent on digging for ‘treasure’ than providing fatherly advice.

Couched in the comedy are some striking home truths about poverty, drugs and loss. Waititi tackles the Maori perspective on these concerns with an astute eye, though never lets the film become preachy or sentimental. Instead, the writer/director and his cinematographer Adam Clark capture the beauty of Waihau Bay and focus on the sheer joy of Boy’s adoration, whose young eyes largely gloss over (though not entirely) the poignant realities of their situation.

Published by Street Press Australia
Australian release date (theatrical): 26 August 2010

Mother and Child

Writer/director Rodrigo Garcia (Nine Lives) challenges the intractable bond between mother and child in a compelling triptych of regret and redemption. With tour-de-force performances from Annette Bening, Naomi Watts and Kerry Washington, Garcia teases out the trials and tribulations of adoption and the profound and prevailing consequences for all.

After being forced to give up her daughter of a teenage pregnancy, Karen (Bening) is a broken woman. Blunt and bristly, her unlikable personality belies a desperate loneliness and unspoken grief, which slowly, painstakingly begins to heal when she meets Paco (Jimmy Smits). Elizabeth (Watts) is her biological daughter, and, although the two have never met, Elizabeth shares her mother’s assertive character, which manifests in a steely professionalism and a dominating nature that sees her coolly seduce both her boss (Samuel L. Jackson) and her next door neighbour (Marc Blucas). Meanwhile, Lucy (Washington) is desperate to adopt a baby and must navigate all manner of doubts to fulfill this yearning need.

It is a tribute to Garcia’s talents and casting that this dense, multi-narrative story plays out so clearly and affectingly. Watts and Bening are absolutely electric in their complimentary roles, and although Washington’s character is comparatively less nuanced, she still brings depth and humanity to what could easily have devolved into a caricature of a hysterical, barren woman. Although some of the writing is a bit earnest and a few subplots unnecessary, Mother and Child is a powerful parable that uses the most primal of bonds to uncover the aching abyss of regret and the fundamental human need for connection.

Published on Concrete Playground

Australian release date: 17 June 2010

Also worth checking out is the great Creative Screenwriting Magazine Podcast with Garcia, Jackson and producer Julie Lynn.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sydney Film Festival: Critics Poll 2010

There are those of us who are completely knackered after the Sydney Film Festival. Then there's the indefatigable Matt Ravier, who has polled some local critics to see how we rated the 57th festival line up. It's fun to see which films got the love, and which split the pack. (nb. Somehow I forgot to rate Exit Through the Gift Shop - I give it 4 stars, and my review will be coming soon.)

Over the course of the festival I've filed a stack of reviews for Street Press Australia, so bear with me while I get them posted here.

As ever, it's been epic.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Interview: Spencer Susser (Hesher)

Who would have thought Hesher
, a film named after its foul-mouthed, heavy metal loving antagonist (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) would owe a debt to Star Wars? But if you trace the story back ten years, sure enough it was on the Sydney set of the Star Wars prequels that writer/director Spencer Susser befriended Natalie Portman (Hesher’s co-star and producer) and the Edgerton brothers, Nash and Joel, who would go on to found Blue-Tongue Films, a creative collective that also includes David Michôd (Animal Kingdom) and Luke Doolan (Oscar nominated short Miracle Fish). In fact Michôd ended up co-writing Hesher with Susser, while Nash and Doolan are both brought on board as editing consultants.
“I was on Nash’s film, The Square, and there would be days when Nash couldn’t see straight, and I could say, ‘well this is actually working, it’s cool.’ Then there’d be days on my set when I’m freaking out and he’s calm as can be,” Susser says. “I think when the pressure’s not on you, it’s a lot easier to see [clearly]. So sometimes it’s nice to have someone point that out.”
“It’s worked out in a cool way because there’s no real ego involved, it’s just like ‘oh you’re my friend and I want [your work] to be as good as it can be.’”
Hesher’s Australian connection continues in the writing (“we wrote a lot of it in Sydney.”), as well as in Susser’s singular regret, “If I could do one thing all over again, I would shoot the movie in Australia,” he says. “I really like working there and there’s a freedom that comes with it that you don’t get [in Hollywood].”
“I started making films by myself with no budget and just some friends, so I really want to put every penny on the screen. When you make a film with all the unions here, which are all set up for great reasons to protect people, there’s just so much money that gets spent that doesn’t go on the screen, and I find that really frustrating.”
“We had a pretty big crew, which I didn’t want, but you just have to, those are the rules and you need 100 people to do what you’re trying to do and I’m like, ‘but why? I feel like I only need 10 of these people, the other 90 people I don’t need and they actually just make it very slow.’”
Having a big name cast with the likes of Joseph Gordon Levitt ((500) Days of Summer, Brick) and Natalie Portman (Garden State, V for Vendetta) also came with its own surprises.
“Some days were tricky, because when you work with movie stars it comes with other things, for example paparazzi, which I had never experienced before,” he says. “Trying to shoot with ten guys clicking cameras, it’s a whole new challenge. And it’s frustrating for me, but the poor actors who have to try and stay focused with these people clicking away. I wasn’t crazy about that.”
Nevertheless, Susser is incredibly happy with his cast. In creating the titular Hesher, Susser lucked out with Gordon Levitt, “He’s such a chameleon, he really is able to become a different person and I was so impressed when I met him,” he says. “We got on really well and he’s just really talented and really smart and really, really hardworking. It was too important to me to work with someone who wasn’t going to do that, and so I was lucky, everybody just worked their arse off.”
“I was very, very fortunately to get a great cast,” he says. “Natalie was someone that I had in mind when I was writing and she was the first person I sent the script to when I felt like it was ready to go. And she signed on the next day; she just really loved it and she wanted to produce it.”
“The film is about a [13 year old] boy and his dad dealing with the death of the mum. So it’s really about dealing with loss, and then there’s this crazy, heavy metal anarchist who comes into their lives and helps them learn to deal with this loss.”
“When I was that age I also had experienced a loss,” he says. “They say write what you know, and so I did and maybe it was one way of dealing with this stuff that never goes away. But I also didn’t want to make a depressing movie, so the idea of this Hesher, [is as a] crazy character makes this sad story entertaining. He’s a liability, you never know what he’s going to do, and hopefully he always surprises you. He’s fun to watch, he likes to blow shit up and he’s got a foul mouth.”
With such a singular lead character, Susser is also quick to quash rumours of the film’s name change (to Rebel). “It’s such bullshit,” he says, explaining that it was part of a sales agent’s packaging process, “I don’t know why they did it, and I don’t really care because it doesn’t mean anything.”
Hesher will be presented (name intact) at the Sydney Film Festival in its second-ever screening in the world. After screening the film at Sundance, Susser has returned to the editing suite to wrestle with the sound design.
“I’m going to finish mixing, then that night get on a plane, [then] arrive in Sydney with the film under my arm and then it will screen that night.”
“For me it’s really important. I do see Sydney as a second home and I want to make films there and I really want to be a part of the film community there.”
“I just hope I can walk by the time I get there!”

Published by Street Press Australia
Hesher screened at the Sydney Film Festival
***Update 21/9/2011: HESHER is now available to purchase on DVD

Waiting for Godot

En route to reclaim Gandalf's mantel in The Hobbit, Sir Ian McKellen is stopping off in Australia to play Estragon in Waiting for Godot (insert requisite 'Gandalf to Godot' pun here). Samuel Beckett’s groundbreaking play has invoked the fascination and incredulity of audiences for over 50 years and remains one of the foundational examples of absurdist theatre.

In the famous plot where there’s “nothing to be done”, two old friends Estragon and Vladimir (Roger Rees) spend two days chatting, arguing, swapping their bowler hats and, yes, waiting for a man named Godot. Pozzo (Matthew Kelly) and his ‘slave’ Lucky (Ronald Pickup) twice punctuate the pair’s interminable wait, in which themes of religion, war, philosophy and death are all out during their series of piecemeal and expectant discussions.

Many people would pay to hear McKellen’s gorgeous, rounded tones reading the phonebook, so what a treat to have him taking up residence at the Opera House with director Sean Mathias’ acclaimed West End production.

For your diaries: 15th June - 11th July at the Sydney Opera House

Published on Concrete Playground

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