Friday, March 26, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon

Sure, it’s ostensibly a kids’ film, but there is something wonderfully endearing about this latest DreamWorks animation. Yes, it’s in the new-fangled 3D. Yes, it is derivative of old favourites like E.T. and The Never Ending Story. And yes, the big, burly Norse Vikings inexplicably have Scottish accents, while the younger kids tout American drawls and emo haircuts (cue: tie-in merchandise). But somehow all these elements still add up to an entertaining and entirely winning film.

In a Viking village that is constantly overrun by scavenging dragons, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is your typical awkward teenager. Weedy but wry, he is desperate to prove himself worthy to be his dragon slayer and Viking chief father’s son (Gerard Butler). That is until he wings and then befriends a stealthy Night Fury dragon, whom he names Toothless, and realises that man and beast need not be mortal enemies after all.

Great characters, a snappy script and some dazzling aerial animation do much to elevate this film from your standard kids’ fare. Directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders are the team behind Lilo & Stitch, and bring much of the same irreverence to Cressida Cowell’s story of Hiccup and Toothless, as well as refreshingly downplaying the now ubiquitous overlay of adult irony.

Fun, feisty and gorgeously animated, How to Train Your Dragon is well worth shelling out the extra dosh for the 3D specs. And, despite the subject matter, this film’s appeal really isn’t limited to kids … or Dungeons & Dragons fans.


Published on Concrete Playground

Australian release date: 25 March 2010

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Swedes know how to cut to the chase. Forget the lyrical, suggestive English title, the original (Män som hatar kvinnor) translates to, Men Who Hate Women. And that’s the long and short of it all right. Journalist Stieg Larsson’s internationally successful Millennium trilogy certainly doesn’t shy away from the sexual and psychological abuse of women. Indeed his titular anti-heroine, the androgynous Lisbeth Salander seems to suffer the worst fate, from hints of an abusive childhood to a brutal rape by her state guardian. It’s no wonder then that the books, and the subsequent film franchise has sparked debate over the extent to which the virulent misogyny is mediated by Lisbeth’s vigilante style of justice.

Unfortunately Larsson is no longer around to bask in the success, the controversy or to complete what he conceived of as a 10-part series. The journalist turned novelist died of a heart attack before Men Who Hate Women was published, but perhaps left an alter ego behind in the form of the story’s leftwing journo Mikael Blomkvist. Michael Nyqvist assumes the role for director Niels Arden Oplev’s compelling adaptation, and he is reserved yet sympathetic as the disgraced investigative journalist wrongly convicted for crossing the wrong corporation.

On his own recognisance for a few months until he must report to prison, Blomkvist reluctantly accepts the desperate commission of an aged business tycoon (Sven-Bertil Taube) to investigate the disappearance of his beloved niece some 40 years ago. Meanwhile computer hacker extraordinaire Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace) - who had been called upon to perform a background check on Blomkvist - decides to keep tabs on her subject, and secretly, then actively assists in the case.

It’s at about this point that the film becomes a mish-mash of television crime dramas, albeit a stylish one. You name it, Murder, She Wrote, Cold Case and Dexter by way of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (the one that deals with sordid sex crimes) all feel like easy reference points, with a bit of old-fashioned Agatha Christie mixed in for what is essentially a traditional whodunit. A rich and conniving family holed up in a remote township, with biblical clues and more than one skeleton in the closet makes for pretty standard fare, but it’s a testament to Nyqvist and Rapace’s strong performances that the audience cares enough to sit through this 2 ½ hour procedural.

Ultimately, however, the material is probably better suited for a mini-series, which is evidently already in the works. But then so are the Swedish adaptations of the remaining two books, as well as an American remake (with David Fincher rumoured to direct). It seems the world can’t get enough of Larsson’s particular brand of sex and violence, the extent of which becomes even more staggering when you learn his protagonists are based on Astrid Lindgren’s famous child characters Bill Bergson and Pippi Longstocking!

Published on TheVine
Australian release date: 25 March 2010

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Passenger's Australian Tour

Mike Rosenberg’s no stranger to trespassing. The British muso has done so with this very mag, while his busking license hasn’t always been enough to satisfy local shop owners. But legalities aside, there’s nothing verboten about Rosenberg’s music, which is heart wrenching, haunting and hilarious in turn.

Now back in Australia with Passenger’s second album, Wide Eyes Blind Love, Rosenberg has departed somewhat from the pop-rock of Wicked Man’s Rest in favour of a more unvarnished, pared back style that allows more access to his evocative lyrics. Rosenberg has similarly embraced the troubadour tradition, spending the summer busking his way along the east coast, winning fans who flocked to his local gigs. He also went on tour with Elana Stone, Brian Campeau and Jess Chalker, and has a few cheeky videos to show for it (no, it seems they don’t have Golden Gaytimes in the UK).

But now summer is gone and Rosenberg is heading back to Brighton, though not before he bids Australia farewell with another tour. The dates and venues are as follows:

March 21st, Northcote Social Club, 301 High St, Melbourne

March 23rd, The Troubadour, 3/322 Brunswick St,Fortitude Valley, Brisbane

March 31st, Notes, 75 Enmore Rd, Newtown, Sydney

April 5th, Mojo’s Bar, 237 Queen Victoria St, North Fremantle Tickets:

Rosenberg is a truly gifted lyricist and a marvellous musician, and what he has created with Passenger is sure to leave an impression.

Published on Trespass

Trespass is also running a giveaway to win double passes to these shows and autographed CDs. Click here for more information.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Young at Heart Film Festival

You don’t have to be part of the blue rinse brigade to take part in NSW Seniors Week. Really. You can just rock on over to Dendy Opera Quays and catch up on some classic cinema and a couple of contemporary gems.

Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936) kicks off the program, and it’s a must see for any film fan. This is followed by The Boot Cake (2008), a wonderful Australian documentary that looks at Chaplin’s prevailing influence and inspiration on a small Indian village (filmmaker Kathryn Millard will be present for a Q&A).

More Australian films are screening in the ‘Tough Sheilas’ section. Noni Hazlehurst gets feisty in the titular role as single mum Fran (1985), while Helen Morse takes the lead in Caddie (1976), alongside Jack Thompson and Jackie Weaver, in a compelling portrait of a woman struggling for independence in Depression-era Australia. Another female-focused Donald Crombie film, The Killing of Angel Street (1981) is also screening, with the director taking part in Q&As for both films.

Other old favourites include a focus on Vincente Minnelli with the Judy Garland classic Meet Me In St Louis (1944) and Fred Astaire in The Band Wagon (1953), while music fans can also delight in the 1970 documentary Elvis: That’s the Way It Is.

Finally, two films that capture what it is to be young at heart. In an Australian premiere screening, Ms. Senior Sweetheart (2009) is a delightful documentary that follows three energetic retirees taking part in a beauty pageant. And the festival will close with an advance screening of The Last Station (2009), the Academy Award–nominated look at the life of revered novelist Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) and his 50-year marriage to the spirited Countess Sofya (Helen Mirren).

Tickets are selling fast, so take a look at the full program and prepare to be entertained by your elders.

For your diaries: 25-28 March at Dendy Opera Quays.


Published on Concrete Playground

Saturday, March 20, 2010

10 Conditions of Love

It’s the documentary that caused all the fuss at last year’s Melbourne International Film Festival. The one that resulted in a diplomatic scuffle, three Chinese directors withdrawing their films from the festival, and the hacking of the MIFF website to the tune of an estimated $50,000 in lost ticket sales.

Now it’s time for Sydney to see what all the fuss is about.

Andrew Urban is hosting a one-off Q&A screening with the film’s writer/director Jeff Daniels, presenting the story of the tenacious Rebiya Kadeer and her ongoing struggle against the Chinese government over the contested Xingjiang region — the ancestral land of the ethnic Muslim Uighur people. After six years in gaol and a subsequent six spent in exile in America, Kadeer is a passionate and complex leader who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and also made headlines during the July 2009 riots in Ürümqi.

For your diaries: 20 March (tonight!) at the Chauvel

Published on Concrete Playground

Friday, March 19, 2010

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant

Spiders, vampires and circus freaks make a heady cocktail in director Paul Weitz’s (About a Boy) teen adventure. No doubt hoping to follow in the lucrative franchise footsteps of Harry Potter, Weitz and screenwriter Brian Helgeland (L.A Confidential) have adapted the first two books of novelist Darren Shan’s 12 part series The Saga of Darren Shan; creating a weird and wonderful world of magic, mystery and a dormant feud between the relatively civilised vampires and their bloodthirsty rivals, the Vampaneze.

The eponymous hero, played by Chris Massoglia, is your run-of-the-mill high school student with good grades and overbearing parents. Bored by his pastel shirts and chinos existence, Darren and his troublemaking best friend (back when best friend status was paramount) Steve (Joel Hutcherson) become captivated by a mysteriously delivered flyer advertising Cirque du Freak, and decide to sneak out to see the show.

It is upon entering the vaudeville that you realise all the adult actors have signed on hoping for their piece of the 12-part pie. John C. Reilly leads the charge as the gentlemanly vampire Larten Crepsley, with Willem Dafoe, Ken Watanabe, Jane Krakowski and Salma Hayek fighting for screen time in their variously freakish forms. Vamping up for the baddies is Ray Stevenson as the dastardly Murlaugh and Michael Cerveris as the rather large Mr. Tiny.

The politics surrounding why the vampires no longer kill their prey (choosing to stun and sip instead), and why this draws the ire of the Vampaneze are only barely sketched out, sapping the storyline of much needed tension. Similarly undercooked is Massoglia’s performance; he may have the requisite Zac Ephron look, but he really lacks the charm. His stilted, slightly adenoidal performance doesn’t bode well for the saga, though perhaps it’s worth sparing a thought for Daniel Radcliffe’s comparatively timid beginnings in wizardry.

Hutcherson fares better as the slighted Steve. It’s his dream to become a vampire, so when Crepsley ‘bloods’ Darren (in a surprisingly sanitised ritual) instead of him, Steve takes his bloodlust to Mr. Tiny. Naturally the erstwhile best buds are pitted against each other, with Mr. Tiny orchestrating the showdown in the hopes of trouncing a 200 year-old truce between the two factions.

With its paints-by-numbers storyline and lazy dialogue, this film will mostly likely hold little delight for adults. But for those able to get in touch with their inner 12-year old boy, this colourful, spooky, effects-driven world is a fun enough place to while away an hour or two.

Published in Street Press Australia
Australian release date: 11 March 2010

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Trailer: Eat Pray Love

So the adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert's worldwide bestseller Eat Pray Love now has a trailer:

Fingers crossed the film hasn't stripped the source material of its wit, or its angst. But why do I care either way? Because Elizabeth Gilbert's TED talk totally won me over. I love the way she thinks, and her eloquent, effervescent use of language.

Julia Roberts has some big shoes to fill.

Australian release date: 7 October 2010

The Red Shoes

It’s difficult not to gush over the gorgeous cinematic gem, The Red Shoes. Similarly, it’s nigh on impossible to watch Moira Shearer pirouette across the stage without dissolving in childish glee. Such is the splendour of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s delightful, devastating dance fable that Martin Scorsese has proclaimed it,“One of the true miracles of film history.”

Indeed Scorsese (joined by Thelma Schoonmaker, his editor and Powell’s widow) spearheaded the film’s restoration, bringing the 1948 creation of 1920s Europe back to life in vibrant Technicolour. Somewhat reflexively then, the film opens with a hoard of students pushing and shoving their way up the theatre stairs of Covent Garden, all vying to secure the best (cheap) seats in the house for impresario Boris Lermontov’s (Anton Walbrook) latest creation. Front and centre is the idealistic Julian Craster (Marius Goring), while in far more illustrious seats sits Vicky Page (Shearer), who lives and breathes dance with the same reverence Craster reserves for music.

The story follows these two tenacious upstarts as they attempt to ingratiate themselves to the frosty Lermontov and eventually make inroads into his prestigious company. Soon fostered as rising stars, Lermontov sets them the extraordinary challenge of adapting The Red Shoes by Hans Christian Anderson. It is the tale of a woman who accepts the dazzling red slippers from an evil shoemaker and when she cannot take the off, she is forced to dance the night, and then her life away.

The 17-minute dance sequence Powell and Pressburger create (choreographed by Robert Helpmann) is utterly transcendent. From the point-of-view pirouettes to the fantastical edits, technical innovations create surreal apparitions that see Vicky gliding through time and space. Most provocatively, she performs a ghostly pas de deux with her lover who fades into newspaper. She then dances upon his remains as the rest of her world dissolves into sheaves of cellophane.

Of course echoes of Anderson’s fable are soon found in Lermontov’s singular obsession with ballet, which finds a tragic, kindred spirit in Vicky. And as Julian and Vicky fall in love, a bitter triangle is drawn for Vicky’s heart: to love or to dance? Lermontov’s tyranny will heed no compromise.

This film demands to be seen. And like Lermontov’s Faustian calling, and those of the red shoes, it won’t let you out of its grip. The flame-haired Shearer is resplendent in her cinematic debut, with her wide-eyed performance matched by Walbrook’s glowering and the lively supporting cast. The Red Shoes is an absolutely enchanting testament to the artistry of film, whose two central questions (Why do you want to dance? Why do you want to live?) profoundly resonate with cinephiles like Scorsese.

Published by Street Press Australia
Limited screenings from 18 March 2010 (Sydneysiders, head to the Chauvel)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Director Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In The Name of the Father, In America) once again ponders the intricacies of family, love and masculinity in a compelling character drama. Remaking the 2004 Danish film Brødre, Sheridan and screenwriter David Benioff (The Kite Runner) faithfully translate Susanne Bier’s original film, while reworking it into the story of an American family.

On the eve of his return to Afghanistan, Captain Sam Cahill (Toby Maguire) collects his younger brother, Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) from prison to join in the family farewell dinner. Happily married to his high school sweetheart Grace (Natalie Portman) and the father of two bubbly girls, Isabelle (Bailee Madison) and Maggie (Taylor Geare), Sam’s life is the polar opposite to the tattooed and troubled, Tommy. Their imposing, Vietnam veteran father Hank (Sam Shepherd) takes every opportunity to emphasise this fact, while their stepmother Elsie (Mare Winningham) quietly mediates.

This carefully constructed portrait of a working class, military family is shattered when Sam’s helicopter is shot down and he is presumed dead. Wracked with grief, the Cahill’s are set adrift until Tommy takes it upon himself to renovate Grace’s broken down kitchen. Sheridan spends time studying this reconnecting and reconstructing family, before reintroducing a rescued, ghostly Sam, who is tortured by his experience in captivity.

Quite literally a kitchen sink drama, Brothers eschews the returning soldier platitudes as well as the conventional love triangle. Instead Sheridan sticks to the characters, letting the story unfold through some truly exceptional performances. Maguire is compelling as the haunted and increasingly obsessive Sam, while Gyllenhaal perfectly balances his arc from petulance to responsibility. And although a little too much is made of Grace’s beauty, Portman convinces as the young mother and grief stricken wife. However the breakout performance comes from the young Madison, who steals scene after scene from her older counterparts.

If home is where the hearth (as well as the heart) is, then the renovated kitchen provides a potent symbol at the center of Brothers. With this in place, it is unfortunate that Sheridan felt it necessary to stress the core relationship in the film’s climactic scene (just in case you missed the title). This and the rushed, all too earnest ending drain the film’s impact somewhat, but Sheridan still manages to impress with his powerful, character-driven storytelling.

Published on TheVine
Australian release date: 18 March 2010

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Five Minutes of Heaven

Director Oliver Hirschbiegel is no stranger to controversy. After drawing criticism for his ‘sympathetic’ portrayal of Hitler in Der Untergang (Downfall), Hirschbiegel has turned his sights on the Irish Troubles, putting a human face on another ‘monster’. But rather than taking on the long-maligned IRA, Hirschbiegel and screenwriter Guy Hibbert look to the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the true story of teenage Alistair Little’s (Mark Davison) murderous rite of passage. Determined to walk into the pub "ten foot tall", Alistair and his friends set about the senseless killing of a local Protestant unionist, which is witnessed by his terrified younger brother, Joe Griffin.

Appearing at last year’s Sydney Film Festival (where the film took out the Audience Award for Best Film) with James Nesbitt, Hirschbiegel described the film’s opening 20 minutes as “what actually happened", with the rest being the work of Hibbert’s imagination. Cut to 30 years later and an incredibly twitchy Joe (Nesbitt) is en route to a televised truth and reconciliation meeting with Alistair (Liam Neeson). The intervening years have seen Joe tortured by his mother’s recriminations, while Alistair went from 12 years in gaol to minor celebrity dedicated to preaching his story as a cautionary tale.

Their meeting is stage-managed to the nth degree, with an increasingly anxious Joe juxtaposed by an outwardly calm and collected Alistair. Amongst the hubbub and benignly smiling producers, a Ukrainian runner Vika (4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 DaysAnamaria Marinca) provides the only compassionate link between the two men. But when Joe is unable to go through with his plan to claim his "five minutes of heaven", Alistair is compelled to return to the scene of the crime and face an alternate form of justice.

Pitch-perfect performances and an incredibly powerful first two acts do a lot to make up for the film’s loss of momentum towards the end. Nesbitt manages to bring humour to his portrayal of a stressed and vengeful Joe, while Neeson balances these histrionics with his characteristic compassion. Hirschbiegel confidently handles the dialogue driven drama as well as realistic moments of violence, and described the film as “quite a tense ride about something that matters."

The humanity Hirschbiegel holds for his subjects is perhaps derived from an innate understanding of vergangenheitsbewältigung, the German idea for ‘struggling to come to terms with the past'. Indeed, Five Minutes of Heaven is a gripping character study of two men imprisoned by their troubles.

Published on Concrete Playground

Australian release date: 18 March 2010

Monday, March 15, 2010

DVD: The Brothers Bloom

After reinventing film noir in 2006’s cult hit Brick, Rian Johnson set his sights on the con man genre. The Brothers Bloom is the result - a stylish, slickly written film that seeks an emotional payoff rather than the traditional ‘gotcha’ ending. It is the tale to two brothers, Stephen (Mark Ruffalo), for whom the world is his elaborate stage and Bloom (Adrien Brody) who longs to step out of the swindling spotlight. Committing to a final con, the brothers find their target, but Penelope (Rachel Weisz) is much more than they bargained for.

It seems clear Johnson re-imagines the con film as fable; charming with gorgeous production design and located playfully outside conventional time. Lamborghinis exist in a world alongside steamboats, plastic explosives alongside bowler hats. Some may find it derivative of Wes Anderson's work, but The Brothers Bloom nonetheless embraces its literary and cinematic heritage with joyful reflexivity.

While the film’s unconventional tone may lose audiences looking for a caper, Johnson and his cast mostly succeed in pursuing the higher emotional stakes. Brilliant dialogue, wry site gags and a ludicrously funny ‘hobby’ montage make for a worthy addition (and adaptation) of the con film.

Published in The Big Issue (#342)
Australian DVD release date: 18 March 2010
The Brothers Bloom trailer from rcjohnso on Vimeo.

Watch the brilliant opening:

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Trailer: Oscar bait

This trailer has been doing the rounds, but it makes me giggle so, I had to post it.

I think they nail it!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Separation City

The trials and tribulations of marriage are put under an antipodean microscope in Paul Middleditch’s affectionate sex dramedy. Joel Edgerton (The Square
) stars as New Zealand political aide Simon, whose voice over carries the audience through the passionate beginnings of marriage to the vibrant Pam (Danielle Cormack), through to sexual morass of family life. Weddings, births and exotic Berlin migrants (played by the sultry Rhona Mitra and the sexy Thomas Kretschmann) expand Simon and Pam’s wine soaked social circle to a regular motley crew, which is soon threatened by infidelity, changing sexual preferences and a long held lust tantalisingly reciprocated. It is within this rambling ensemble that Simon finds himself besotted with the newly single Katrine (Mitra), and careening down the path towards Separation City.

The well-known Kiwi political writer and cartoonist writer/producer Tom Scott certainly brings a familiar eye and a caustic wit to his capital’s halls of power. In what is no doubt an affectionate, autobiographical nod, Scott gives Simon a wry reporter best friend Harry (Underbelly’s Les Hill), who consistently cracks wise, providing some well-needed humour to Simon’s early midlife crisis angst.

But unfortunately, like Harry the script is a little too clever for it’s own good. It reads like a series of zany conversations; set pieces that range from a misplaced (used) condom to fisticuffs at a painfully awkward men’s support group. Then there’s the fact that Scott includes not one but two narrators, with Katrine lending her thoughts about life and love to a voice over than runs parallel to Simon’s. In comparison, however, hers is terribly underwritten and entirely unnecessary.

Indeed the whole film feels a little strained, and too lacking in structure. Scott should have been content to write to his strengths and stuck with the male point of view. While Edgerton makes no attempt at a New Zealand accent, he nevertheless carries the film well as our hapless anti-hero, and although Hill is largely one-note, it’s one you don’t mind hearing.

Middleditch mostly succeeds in weaving together an ungainly ensemble cast and, more importantly, conveying some home truths about sex, marriage and commitment (which may or may not be mutually exclusive). Audience enjoyment will probably depend on who buys into Simon’s adulterous justifications, which, less face it, will surely polarise the sexes.

Published in Street Press Australia

Australian release date: 11 March 2010

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Remember Me

If Remember Me does well at the box office, it will in no way be a reflection of the film’s merits. Alas, Twihards will no doubt flock to the cinema to ogle over this latest Robert Pattinson vehicle and not even notice how dreary and manipulative the story is. But credit where credit’s due, the marketing has done well to spin what is essentially an overwrought family drama into a focus on the frolicking shower antics between Pattinson (swoon!) and Australia’s Emilie de Ravin.

Doing his best to shrug off the specter of Edward Cullen, Pattinson’s Tyler Hawkins is a directionless NYU student who drinks, smokes and shags around. That is until Tyler and zany best friend, Aidan (Tate Ellington) decide to get back at the tough police Sergeant Craig (Chris Cooper) by signing up for a She’s All That style bet to woo his daughter Ally (de Ravin). Tyler and Ally’s meet-cute fails to sizzle, as does their chemistry, and their fledgling relationship is too soon burdened by awkward exposition about the murder of Ally’s mother, and the suicide of Tyler’s older brother. Cue requisite family angst on both sides, but mostly focused on Tyler constant seething at his workaholic father (Pierce Brosnan) and his attempts to help his kid sister (Ruby Jerins) navigate prep-school bullies.

The last ingredient in this melodramatic cocktail is the fact that the film is set in the summer of 2001. No, there are no points for guessing what unfolds, though it may be worth tallying up just how many in the audience are offended by a plotline that so blatantly leaches off the suffering of others. Regardless of whether or not it’s too soon to be making films about 9/11, it will always be in bad taste to use the tragedy as a trump card.

This glaring addition only further unbalances a film that can’t quite decide if it’s a college romance or a warts-and-all family drama. The story might have had the potential to follow a film like Rachel Getting Married, as a compelling ensemble looking at the divisiveness of grief. Instead, however, Remember Me goes the way of mawkish contrivance, with leather bound journals, tattoos and a Gandhi quote.

Published on TheVine
Australian release date: 11 March 2010

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Oscarfest 2010

Ahh yes, the internets are on a collective comedown after last night's Oscar excitement.

Trespass has a round up of the event (click here), which include these quick thoughts from moi:

Well it was Kathryn Bigelow's night as most of us predicted. Bless the Americans and their inability to embrace subtlety. Yes it was International Women's Day and so obvious it was too good an Kodak moment to pass up. That's not to say it wasn't well deserving of course, but there's something about The Hurt Locker cleaning up in all the other categories that just feels so...blatant. Like Slumdog Millionaire's haul last year, it appears the Academy are content to pile up on one production, rather than spreading the love. Yes, how's the subtly!

Love this pic - sore loser?

With The Hurt Locker on it's winning streak, all the other categories seemed similarly predictable. Jeff Bridges was always going to win (and gave a lovely, heartfelt speech), as was Sandra Bullock, whose performance a friend perfectly described as 'Erin Brockovich,' i.e., America's sweetheart takes on a more steely character to steal the Oscar. That said, I loved her speech and she gets extra cred for fronting up at the Razzies.

And just quickly, I don't know why Vera Farmiga is getting dissed for her dress. I thought she was the stand out of the night! Less successful was this maligned producer's 'Kanye moment,' but at least she provided one surprise for the evening.

Read what others had to say over at Trespass.

So, setting official duties aside, I must now rave about the gastronomic extravaganza I enjoyed last night. As with last year, the Academy Awards required a pilgrimage to Oscarfest, only this time we were treated to 10 courses to coincide with the 10 Best Picture nominations!

I'll send you over to Eat Tori to read more about her culinary creations:
The Hurt Locker
Precious & The Blind Side
Ingourious Basterds
A Serious Man
District 9
An Education
Up in the Air
Up (baked by moi!)

While we happily munched our way through all those amazing dishes, we were keeping tabs on our Oscar ballots. And, what do you know, I took out Best Score!

Behold! My groovy little man:

You may recall last year I took out the prize for Most Films, but seeing as I've since turned pro, it hardly seemed fair to be counted alongside cinema civilians.

All in all it was a wonderful night. Alec and Steve did a great job. Neil Patrick Harris wasn't a patch on our Hugh (was it just me, or could you hardly hear what he was singing?), but Ben Stiller was bright blue brilliance. But most of all Oscarfest is about great friends, fabulous food and all manner of supportive/sarcastic/bitchy comments to see you through the festivities.

Green Zone

Matt Damon’s latest collaboration with director Paul Greengrass isn’t exactly ‘Bourne in Baghdad,’ but it’s not far off. Green Zone is yet another hunt for the truth, this time by an idealistic Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Damon) leading the search for Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, and in the process uncovering the foundational conspiracy behind the American war machine. Oscar winning screenwriter Brian Helgeland (L.A Confidential) adapts the bestselling book Imperial Life in the Emerald City (by former Washington Post Baghdad bureau chief Raijiv Chandraeskaran), taking us back to the heady invasion days of 2003.

Joining Damon is an impressive ensemble, including Greg Kinnear, Amy Ryan, Brendan Gleeson and Jason Issacs, with cinematography directed by the dynamic Barry Ackroyd. Unfortunately, this impressive pedigree fails to deliver anything above a standard operating thriller. Clunky exposition and clumsy plot devices sap the pace, while Ryan and Isaacs are entirely wasted (though Isaacs at least sports a great handlebar mustache). Damon as always puts in a muscular performance, though even he falls over the strained dialogue.

“Democracy is messy” Kinnear’s cocksure defence-agent proclaims. Alas, the same can be said for Green Zone.

3 Stars

Published in The Big Issue (#349)
Australian release date: 11 March 2010

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Original Alice

With Burton's Alice in Wonderland now in cinemas, this little gem from 1903 has been circulating the internets.

Thanks to the The Retronaut for the heads up and of course to the BFI for preserving this original cinematic Alice.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Tom Ford on A Single Man

I haven't stopped raving about A Single Man, so thought it best to share a wonderful interview with Tom Ford. Listening to it, I was struck by how deeply personal the story is for him, and how great a part serendipity played in casting. Ford also confirms my In the Mood for Love connection, commenting that composer Shigeru Umebayashi contributed some pieces to the film's score.

Click here to download the Creative Screenwriting Magazine podcast with Tom Ford.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Men Who Stare at Goats


As far as fact-stranger-than-fiction stories go, The Men Who Stare At Goats
has got to take the cake. With the opening intertitle warning, “More of this is true than you would believe,” the film adapts UK journalist Jon Ronson’s bizarre tale of the First Earth Battalion: an army faction of ‘Jedi Warriors’ (really), who attempted to harness the paranormal for military gain.

Director Grant Heslov (Good Night, and Good Luck) has once again joined forces with George Clooney to create a wry and dark comedy, though one that ultimately misses the mark. Ewan McGregor plays woebegone journalist Bob Wilton, looking for adventure after a break up. A chance meeting with Lyn Cassady (Clooney) sees Wilton go on a trip to Iraq, in more ways than one.

Despite a strong cast, including Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey and Clooney (doing his best Three Kings meets O Brother, Where Art Thou? routine), the film feels undercooked. Too many laughs rely on the reflexivity of McGregor re-entering the Jedi fold and though the climax would make Timothy Leary proud, it’s also uninspired. The Men Who Stare at Goats should be mind-blowing. Instead, it’s merely amusing.

2 ½ stars

Published in The Big Issue (#347)

Australian release date: 4 March 2010

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Preview: Par Avion - International Shorts

The Human Rights Arts and Film Festival will be coming to Sydney in May, and to get into the swing of things they will be holding a fundraiser in the guise of international short film night, Par Avion.

The line up includes eight acclaimed shorts from Europe, the USA and the Middle East, including Amreeka director Cherien Dabis’ Make a Wish about a Palestinian girl’s tenacious desire for a birthday cake. Steph Green takes an African immigrant to an Irish school in New Boy, whereas Pascale Hecquet’s animated Giraffe in the Rain features a different kind of migrant and Jonathan Browning’s The Job is a wry twist on Mexican workers in the United States.

Provocative, sobering and heart warming, Par Avion promises to be an eclectic mix of shorts, each of which has carved out a window on the world.

For your diaries: Thursday 4th March, 5:30pm at the Chauvel.

Published on Concrete Playground

Preview: French Film Festival

Each year the French Film Festival arrives in Sydney brimming with cinematic gems and a splash of Parisian chic. This year is no different, with the programme featuring a glittering array of films and quite a few big names.

Opening night honours go to Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie), who is making the trip to Australia to present his new film Micmacs. Bringing his unique brand of quirk and sumptuous visual style, Jeunet once again follows around a group of zany misfits, this time as they track down some dastardly criminals.

Also making the trip is director Philippe Lioret, screening his critically acclaimed feature Welcome. The story of unlikely friendship between a depressive Frenchman and a Kurdish refugee attempting to swim the Channel has resonated with audiences and provoked debate about President Sarkozy’s immigration policies.

Less concerned with realistic hardships is OSS 117, Lost in Rio, an irreverent, Austin Powers-esque romp and sequel to the popular OSS 117, Nest of Spies. Lingering on the lighter side of life is LOL, a coming of age comedy with Sophie Marceau (Braveheart) as a single mum with a teenage daughter. And Every Jack has a Jill features the luminous Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds) as a Parisian Chloe to Justin Bartha’s (The Hangover) American Jack in a crowd-pleasing rom-com.

Similarly filed under ‘Love at First Sight’ is Jan Kounen’s Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky. Yes, the cinematic love affair with Mademoiselle Chanel looks set to continue, though this time it comes with Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royal) as the Russian composer and her fiery lover.

Closing out the festival is another big name, though one that is perhaps less well known to Australians: Serge Gainsbourg. Graphic novelist Joann Sfar’s debut feature is an innovative biopic of the iconic singer, poet and general enfant terrible — both a character and a film not to miss.

The festival is screening at the Palace Academy Twin, Verona and Norton Street.

For your diaries: 2 March - 21 March 2010

Published on Concrete Playground

Monday, March 1, 2010

Review: Alice in Wonderland


Tim Burton’s obsessively anticipated adaptation of Alice in Wonderland finally hits cinemas in all its three-dimensional glory. Burton has transformed Lewis Carroll’s Alice Kingsley into a 19-year-old dreamer (played by Australian Mia Wasikowska), who flees a claustrophobically staged engagement to follow one of her flights of fancy and ends up falling down the proverbial rabbit hole.

This is not to say that Alice is a stranger to Wonderland; indeed, she dreams of it constantly, though remains unaware of her childhood adventure to ‘Underland’. And so Alice and the audience are reintroduced to all the old favourites: the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), the Rabbit (Michael Sheen), Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Matt Lucas), the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry) and the trippy Blue Caterpillar (Alan Rickman).

While Burton and screenwriter Linda Woolverton (Beauty and the Beast) do a laudable job reinventing the literary heroine, they don’t quite manage to breathe new life into her. In fact, apart from a spirited scene or two, Alice is a rather flat, meek character who literally sits on the sidelines of scenes to allow Depp and Bonham Carter to dish up their quirk. That his muse and his wife would run away with the production was always going to be the risk of Burton’s Alice; if they do just manage to restrain themselves, Burton isn’t able to convert this into a winning emotional journey for his heroine.

Despite these distracting characterisation flaws, Alice in Wonderland is a well-paced, beautifully crafted visual spectacle that makes good use of 3D for a cracking cinematic experience. Alice’s costumes are particularly delectable, and, as ever, Burton’s signature gothic stamp is a resplendent, atmospheric addition to this latest world he’s set his sights on.

Published on Concrete Playground

Australian release date: 4 March 2010

A Single Man

There was little doubt fashion designer Tom Ford’s debut film was going to have style, but what about substance? Effortlessly silencing doubters, Ford has taken Christopher Isherwood’s novel, infused a layer of autobiography and drawn an impeccable portrait of grief, love and, quite literally, the light of life.

It’s 1962 and college professor George (Colin Firth) awakes from a nightmare in his architectural, glass box of a house. Jim (Matthew Goode), his partner of 16 years, is dead, and it is his car crash that haunts George’s dreams. Deciding to reunite with him, George suits up for his final day on earth, but while he stoically settles his affairs and silently says his goodbyes to his fiery best friend Charley (Julianne Moore), the tantalising appeal of life — personified by luminescent youth Kenny (Nicholas Hoult) — pulls at his plans.

There is no question that A Single Man is an exquisite film and an enviable filmmaking debut. Firth’s superbly rendered performance is matched by an evocative soundtrack and sublime visuals that show Ford’s clear command of colour, close up and (less surprisingly) costume. Lean and lithe, Firth cuts a mean figure in his suit, while George’s grey world flushes with luscious colour each time the vibrancy of life muscles in on his mourning.

As arresting as Wong Kar Wai’s transcendent In the Mood For Love, Ford’s superlative study of passion and restraint is a singular film indeed.

Published on Concrete Playground

Currently playing in cinemas.

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