Friday, April 30, 2010

Iron Man 2

Bigger isn’t always better; unless, of course, you’re Tony Stark. And taking the lead from their titular hero, director Jon Favreau and screenwriter Justin Theroux (Tropic Thunder) have crammed more explosions and stars into Iron Man 2 than is superhumanly possible. This suped-up sequel has an awful lot of fun gallivanting around with big guns and even bigger egos, as the likes of Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell and Don Cheadle join the party with Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow and Favreau himself.

The storyline follows on immediately from the first film, with Russian rival Ivan Vanko (Rourke) threatening Stark’s monopoly on privatised peace with his menacingly public display of iron man technology. Nursing a bruised ego on top of his already broken heart, Stark struggles to find a cure for his rising blood toxicity, alienating Pepper (Paltrow) and Rhodes (Cheadle) in the process. Meanwhile, a politically ambitious competitor, Justin Hammer (Rockwell), unites with Vanko to show Stark up at his own technology expo.

If all of that sounds like a lot to cram into two hours, then you’re absolutely right. After the relatively sedate origin story, Iron Man 2 cranks the dial up to 11, jumping around at an impressive click to work in the characters, and all but elbowing out the original cast in the process. Paltrow’s Pepper Pots may get bumped up to CEO of Stark Industries, but her role is woefully downgraded to mincing around in Louboutins and shrieking in distress. The sexually charged repartee between Pepper and Stark that invigorated the first film is barely present, though it is partially reassigned to Pepper’s replacement, the sultry provocateur Johnasson as the Black Widow.

With Downey Jr. getting a lot less screen time, Rockwell steps up to entertain, playing Hammer as a mealy-mouthed weasel who is abundantly generous with his fake tan. Rourke is suitably malevolent and Johansson impresses in her action scene, with Samuel L. Jackson on hand to deliver his trademark cheese. And for purists, Cheadle’s appropriation of Terrence Howard’s original role is reflexively dispatched in his opening line, “It’s me, I’m here. Deal with it. Move on”

As a sequel, Iron Man 2 delivers in scale, enthusiasm and a soundtrack of thumping base. Not all the amped up action works (the fight between Stark and Rhodes feels laboriously manufactured), but ultimately this is Robert Downey Jr.’s gig, and he effortlessly entertains as the narcissistic, nihilistic rascal you love to envy. The film’s standout scene is Stark’s opening senatorial address, where Downey Jr. sizzles in his character’s cocksure antics. If only Favreau had given us a bit more Stark to go with all that Iron Man.

Published on Concrete Playground

Australian release date: 29 April 2010

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Concert (Le Concert)

‘The famous Slav temperament’ is on show in this, Radu Mihaileanu’s raucous and romanticised portrait of a Russian orchestral family in The Concert
. Very loud and impassioned (almost regardless of the presence of vodka), this ensemble is as winning as it is at times headache inducing. Lead by the erstwhile legendary conductor (now cleaner) Andreï Filipov (Alexei Guskov) The Concert follows his tenacious journey to reclaim his profession and achieve the ultimate harmony of a transcendent performance.

After some twenty years in disgrace, Filipov seizes the opportunity to defy his replacement at the famed Bolshoi Orchestra by intercepting an invitation to play in Paris. With the help of his larger than life friend Sacha (Dmitri Nazarov) the pair set about the near impossible task of reassembling the old crew and getting everyone from frigid Moscow to the city of light. The arduous process kicks up more than a few old resentments (hence all the loud, fervent shouting); chief among them being Ivan Gavrilov (Valeri Barinov), the Communist party leader who instituted Filipov’s humiliating downfall. Gavrilov proves to be a managerial force of nature, and soon has the director of the Théâtre du Châtelet (Francois Berleand) on pins with his every delightfully archaic French word.

After a crackling (albeit shouty) opening act, the motley crew of Jewish musicians go walkabout in Paris, and unfortunately, so does the film. Mihaileanu loses control of his characters as he attempts to re-center the story on Filipov’s relationship with the beautiful but cold French violinist Anne-Marie Jacquet (Mélanie Laurent). The action gets spread a little too thin as Mihaileanu tries to unfold this complex history alongside Gavrilov’s communist machinations and all manner of AWOL musician tomfoolery.

But just when your interest starts to wane, The Concert finally gets underway. Filipov and Jacquet’s complex emotional arcs intertwine in a truly breathtaking performance. Any potential headaches are soon forgotten as Jacquet’s violin solo gets you straight in the heart. It’s a superlative scene, only slightly marred by some unnecessary though understandable flashbacks. Laurent is sublime, breaking through her character’s steely exterior to reveal a remarkable depth of feeling. And Guskov, who faithfully carries the film, affectingly portrays a man ascending from the abyss of guilt to his musical nirvana.

The Concert is compassionate, deeply humane and like its characters, ever so idiosyncratically flawed.

Published by Street Press Australia

Australian release date: 29 April 2010

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Trailer: The Waiting City

Here's the newly released trailer for Claire McCarthy's enchanting looking The Waiting City. Radha Mitchell and Joel Edgerton* are both Australian actors I enjoy watching and I think they will convince as a couple challenged by the realities an adoption provokes. And as for Isabel Lucas, well, perhaps she's moved on from Tourism Victoria to spruik for India?

Mostly though, I think the trailer does a great job of selling this film, so it's wonderful to get excited about a home grown (if internationally shot) feature.

Australian release date: 15 July 2010

*You can also see a rather buff Joel Edgerton in the upcoming Animal Kingdom.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Screen Live: Metropolis

Long beloved by film fans, Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece Metropolis is coming to the Opera House. Showing as part of the Screen Live series, this digitally restored silent classic has been re-scored by South Australian musicians the New Pollutants (aka Mister Speed and DJ Trip). Accompanied by vocalist Astrid Pill and cellist Zoe Barry, they will lend their modern talents to Lang’s futuristic dystopia in a dramatic live performance.

Set in 2026, Metropolis portrayed a gleaming civilisation divided into the above-ground elite and the nameless workers toiling below. In crafting his provocative parable, Lang blended his architectural background with the contemporary expressionistic aesthetic; the result is a truly groundbreaking work of science fiction that expanded the language of cinema and became one of the first (and enduring) icons of the art form.

For your diaries: Sunday 2nd May

Published on Concrete Playground

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Culturefest Endorsement

This week I appeared on the Slate Culture Gabfest.

I know, I can't believe it either!

Having won the podcast's conversion competition, I was invited on to make a guest endorsement and have a quick chat with the lovely hosts Stephen Metcalf, Julia Turner and Dana Stevens. Click here to listen to the show (I'm on at the end, approx 35 mins in).

And here's a sneak peak of what I chose to recommend:

Friday, April 23, 2010

Accidents Happen

The Sydney suburb of St Ives is superbly transformed into 1980s Connecticut for Andrew Lancaster’s darkly comedic but distractingly flawed family drama Accidents Happen
. Starring the ever-captivating Geena Davis (The Long Kiss Goodnight) and Australia’s rising talent Harrison Gilbertson (Beneath Hill 60), the film follows the woeful fate of the Conway family and the trials and tribulations that follow a series of tragic events.

Accidents Happen opens with a young Billy Conway (Karl Beattie) witnessing his next-door neighbour perish at his feet after accidentally setting himself alight. Rallying around their traumatised son, Gloria and Ray Conway (Davis and Joel Tobeck) take the family on a trip to the drive-in, which after some youthful hijinks, ends in a terrible car accident that claims their daughter Linda and their son Gene in a vegetative state.

Eight years later and the Conways are still reeling from their loss. Ray has done a runner, Gene’s stricken twin Larry (Harry Cook) is semi-permanently in his cups, leaving 15-year-old Billy (Gilbertson) to hold down the fort for his explosively erratic mother. When Billy’s bursts of youthful mayhem with Gene’s erstwhile partner in crime Danny (Sebastian Gregory) spark yet more tragedy, one begins to hope Brian Carbee’s autobiographical screenplay was penned with significant strokes of artistic license.

Indeed the film feels a little overwritten, as if Carbee and Lancaster tried to cram in too many ideas and pushing family dysfunctionality to the nth degree. From the singsong, Desperate Housewives-esque narration that opens and closes the film, to the repeated use of slow motion, musical montage and Gloria’s Tourettes-style one-liners, Accidents Happen never quite manages to strike an even tone. The result is some affecting moments (be they comedic or poignant), but ultimately the film isn’t consistent enough to be compelling.

It’s a shame, because Ben Nott’s cinematography is divine, and Davis is radiant, bringing gumption to a performance that entertains right up to the point that the script threatens to turn Gloria into a caricature. Gilbertson also impresses, though he too seems a bit hamstrung by a screenplay that tries to settle a lot on such young shoulders, before asking him merely to be stoic.

Here the film is reminiscent to Dean O’Flaherty’s debut Beautiful, with both films succeeding in style and musicality, but clearly lacking in character substance. With a clearer vision, Accidents Happen could easily have been either a black comedy, or a touching family drama. The lumpy mixing of the two proved, well, dysfunctional.


Published by Street Press Australia

Australian release date: 22 April 2010

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Book of Eli

Denzel Washington chews the post-apocalyptic scenery in the Hughes brothers’ (From Hell
) gritty thriller The Book of Eli. Thirty years after a devastating war has razed America and ruined the atmosphere, Eli (Washington) walks west, a lone journeyman on a sacred mission. Violent vagrants and would be hijackers are dispatched with a ruthless efficiency as Eli steadfastly walks onward, impassive behind dark sunglasses.

That is until he stops at a ramshackle town to barter for goods, where he comes up against the local muscle and thus draws the attention of Carnegie (Gary Oldman) the town’s obsessive, imperialistic leader. Having sent out roving gangs of illiterate brutes to collect any and all books they come across, Carnegie’s malevolent interest is soon piqued by Eli erudition. Inviting Eli to be his guest for the evening, Carnegie sends in a spy in the form of courtesan Solara (Mila Kunis), who defies her master and escapes with Eli to join his solemn quest.

If this is starting to sound a lot like Mad Max meets Deadwood, then you’re not far off. The film almost revels in its references, with Eli’s shadowy sword fighting scenes given extra reflexivity when you consider the Hughes brothers have also set their sights on an adaptation of dystopic Japanese manga comic Akira. Similarly, cinematographer Don Burgess (Forrest Gump) delights in the film’s western roots; capturing the climactic gun battle in a remarkable, roving steadycam shot that tracks between the dueling parties with an extra-diegetic dynamism.

But if only as much precision had been put into the film’s script as its cinematography and crisp, sepia colour grading. These compelling visuals, and the undeniable screen presence of both Washington and Oldman are almost entirely wasted on Gary Whitta’s lackluster screenplay. Laborious and predictable, The Book of Eli suffers under the weight of its own attempted solemnity. Not even cameos by Michael Gambon, Tom Waits or Malcolm McDowell can revive a film so earnestly appealing to its worthiness.

It is especially unfortunate that this film comes so close on the heels of John Hillcoat’s assured adaptation of The Road, as the thematic sophistication of Cormac McCarthy’s writing puts Eli in violently sharp relief. Despite the fact that the apocalypse seems to be all the cinematic rage right now, The Book of Eli has little more than good looks to add to the discussion. And although these images play well on the silver screen, audiences would better off revisiting The Road, or Children of Men (with its superior steadycam shot) instead.

Published by Street Press Australia

Australian release date: 15 April 2010

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Interview: Jan Kounen (Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky)

The crowds at the Cannes Film Festival are notoriously vocal, but director Jan Kounen found a way to shut them up. Premiering his luscious Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky at last year’s closing night, Kounen was very aware that of the audience’s reputation: “Cannes is still a place where people can shout at your film. For example last year, Lars von Trier [left] his own screening [of Antichrist] because people were shouting.”

But in a reflexive twist, Coco & Igor opens with Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring being shouted down by an incensed Parisian crowd. “So it’s a bit like showing the people who have shouted in the theatre that maybe they have shouted at what could be The Rite of Spring,” he says. “[After] the first scene, everyone was quiet, of course!”

Kounen can laugh now, but admits, “It was very stressful. Mads [Mikkelson] hadn’t seen the film completed and we were sitting and discovering the film [together] and I felt his hand [gripping my arm]. I [could also] understand how Igor Stravinsky felt in that moment. Any filmmaker, or any artist would know that feeling. It’s like you’re making the film or the ballet, and you’re alone with your creation and then you discover that a lot of people are going to see it. And they might not have the same taste as you!”

The director is also quite philosophical about the audience’s vocal response. “The problem is that sometimes you see a film, or you hear music or you read a book and you’re shocked or moved inside,” he says. “Instead of questioning this [feeling], you reject it immediately because you hate the feeling that the artistic piece provoked in you. But, maybe it’s interesting, because what was provoked in you is [an interesting way] to learn more about yourself, instead of reacting like an animal and immediately projecting back the feeling.”

Coco & Igor came hot on the heels of Audrey Tautou’s turn in Anne Fontaine’s Coco Avant Chanel. Kounen admits, “It was a race. They won the race,” but sees this shared interested as indicative of the era. “It’s the time period of biopics. Sometimes it’s westerns, sometimes it’s sci-fi movies, maybe soon it’ll be ecological sci-fi movies, but now biopics are the period. So everyone suddenly looked back in France and our main character is Coco Chanel.”

For all this interest, however, Kounen was initially ambivalent about going to the source. His lead actress, Anna Mouglalis has worked as the official muse of the Maison de Chanel, an honour Kounen has described as, “a major handicap...I’m not making a Chanel commercial. I’m not portraying the perfect Chanel. I was depicting a specific Chanel: successful, 40 years old, after the death of [her lover] Boy [Capel], a cold, manipulative dark queen in her castle. [But] as soon as I saw [Mouglalis] speaking and moving then I knew she was the character. I understood why Chanel took her, because it was in the collective unconscious that she was portraying the strength of Chanel, the elegance and the strength.”

Kounen is similarly expressive discussing what drew him to this story over his recent, “more rock ’n roll” action films. The director describes Coco & Igor as a “classical chamber piece” and a “personal challenge.”

“It’s an atypical film, [because] the big action scene is at the beginning. I come more from a kinetic, postmodern style of filming,” he says. “I’m more [about] filming the storm or the full sun, but this film is like the storm never explodes.”

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Met: Hamlet

It seems the New York Metropolitan Opera has caught wind of what those clever fellows over at the British National Theatre have been up to; they’ve launched their own live, high-definition screenings of productions for the delight of international audiences.

As with London, New York has too pesky a time difference for Sydneysiders to see the shows live, but instead you can while away an afternoon at the Chauvel, the Hayden Orpheum or the Dendy Opera Quays for Ambroise Thomas’s lauded adaptation of Hamlet. Inspired by Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, Thomas’s 1868 opera is best known for extending Ophelia’s descent into madness in a gripping scene celebrated in operatic circles for centuries.

Published on Concrete Playground

Screenings this week.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Beneath Hill 60: Tales from the Underground

The Anzacs of the First World War command a powerful place in the Australian national consciousness. They provided a compelling foundational story for our fledgling federation and bequeathed the terms ‘digger’ and ‘mateship’ as oft-invoked symbols of Australian identity. As such, Jeremy Sims’ Beneath Hill 60
will assume an important place in our national history, as a reminder that contribution of the Anzacs in the Great War did not begin and end at Gallipoli.

Australian actors Brendan Cowell and Harrison Gilbertson were among those who heeded the call and headed back to the Western Front (reconstructed in Townsville) to bring to life the amazing true story of engineer Oliver Woodward and his Australian First Tunneling Company. But both had a tough time wrapping their heads around the sheer devastation they were recreating.

“It is inane,” Cowell says, “So many beautiful boys are lost.”

“I can’t fathom war in itself,” adds Gilbertson, “Nobody in war wins; everybody loses. And that’s why I can’t fathom it. What’s the point in playing a game of human chess?”

Nevertheless, Cowell and Gilbertson threw themselves into their respective roles as Woodward and a terrified, 16 year old Frank Tippin; down into the tunnels on a muddy, claustrophobic set that brokered no complaints.

“That was the rule I made with all the actors before we did it,” Cowell says, “A lot of things got old pretty quickly, being freezing and lying in the trenches with corpses around you and your crouching down all the time, overheating, getting paranoid and blood, mud, all sorts of things. So if you started to think about all the things that were annoying you, you’d probably combust.”

“This was a kind of a motto we went on; that no matter how bad things were for us, it’s a very small percentage of actually how bad it actually was for them.”

To get his cast into the mindset, Sims had supporting actor and former Army officer Warwick Young put his recruits through their paces in an in-character boot camp.

“That was really, really interesting,” Gilbertson says, “We kind of formed our own little corps of men and there moments like when Mark Coles Smith [who plays Billy Bacon] was sleeping next to me in the trench, because we stayed in the trenches overnight and it gets really cold up there, and I was really shivering and freezing, and he put his blanket on top of me. And we didn’t [even] know each other that well.”

Cowell on the other hand, was off shooting the film’s flashback sequences on the homefront, and copped the flip side of this cast bonding.

“They became a real company and they drank rum and shot the guns,” he says, “And then I come in and I haven’t really met a lot of them and the first scene is me saying, 'I’m your new commanding officer.' Jeremy [Sims] kind of set it up that way so they look at me like, ‘Who the hell is this clown?’”

Alarmingly, what little training the cast received was reflective of historical fact.

“They only had about eight days military training before they were on the boat to Europe,” says Cowell, “And the training was pretty simple: here’s how you tie your shoes up, here’s how you hold a gun. Keep your feet dry – get on the boat!”

Indeed, in creating their characters, both Cowell and Gilbertson are aware of their responsibilities playing real people and recreating this true story.

“There was not much [known] about [Tiffin],” Gilbertson admits, “The only evidence that he existed was that he made a box and Woodward wrote a few passages about him saying he was a really nice young man who was in the corps.

“So it was weird, because you were playing someone who did exist, but at the same time there was no evidence about what they were like. So it was good because I think, especially playing a 16 year old in the war, that character represents every 16 year old who was in the war.

“I think anyone who was in that film, whether they were an extra or the lead role, was representing people who did a lot for the country.”

For Cowell, playing Woodward was less about pressure than it was the thrill of a new discovery. “For me it was one of the most exciting factors, that not only were we telling a great Australian story, but I think we’re telling one that no-one knows,” Cowell says, “So it wasn’t so much, ‘Oh no, how are we going to get this right?’ [it was more] ‘I think people are going to be really astounded. I can’t believe they’re going to see this.’”

However Beneath Hill 60 doesn’t just portray the Australian story. In a rather daring move, Sims and screenwriter David Roach spend a lot of time in the German trenches as well.

“When I first read the script of the film,” Cowell says, “I said, 'You know, it’s pretty wild Jeremy, that you switch perspectives in the last third. Do you think the audience is going to go with it?'

“The story of Babek [played by Kenneth Spiteri], he’s kind of like the German Woodward. He’s a real thinker, he goes above and beyond what he’s been told, and you kind of like him,” Cowell says, “He’s trying to figure out Woodward’s brain and Woodward can feel him moving in, lurching towards him. And that’s when the movie becomes a thriller.

“Not only do we have the war movie, the Australian story and unearthing this great tale and these men, but we’ve got an amazing thriller. And even though I knew the ending I thought, 'Oh fuck, they’re going to get us!'

Gilbertson in particular hopes this suspenseful dose of reality will shock members of his generation out of their more superficial concerns, “We are so lucky, especially in the Western world," he says,. "The things that annoy us are whether or not the DVD we rented has a scratch on it.”

“I’d like to think that people are smart enough to see the film and [have a wake up call].”

But as for Cowell, he’s wryly reminiscing on a more classic tale of divide and conquer.

“Jeremy loved shooting the German stuff,” he concludes, “and it kind of annoyed me, because he’d come to set and go, 'Fuck the Germans are brilliant.'”

Spiteri as Babek - Image

Published by Street Press Australia

Australian release date: 15 April 2010

Click here to view the trailer.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky

From the striking, kaleidoscopic oriental patterns of the opening credits, it is evident Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky
will be a stylish affair. Based on the real life dalliance between the French fashion icon (played by Maison de Chanel muse Anna Mouglalis) and the spirited Russian composer (Mads Mikkelson), the film is as much a compelling study of creativity and obsession.

Coco & Igor opens in 1913 with Chanel’s lover Boy Capel cutting her out of a corset. One revolutionary is about to come upon another as Chanel attends Stravinsky’s controversial composition for the Ballets Russes, The Rite of Spring. Though some are warned to, “Forget everything you’ve heard before,” the staccato rhythms and feverish movements soon whip the audience into a frenzy of riotous indignation. It’s a humiliating failure for Stravinsky, but unseen in the crowd, Chanel is transfixed.

Seven years later, an exiled Stravinsky lives in penury, while Chanel mourns for the sudden death of Boy. The pair is introduced at a party and through restrained yet palpable lust, Chanel invites Stravinsky and his family to stay at her estate on the outskirts of Paris. Though she is often away developing her pioneering parfum Chanel No. 5, her loaded invitation swiftly transforms Coco & Igor into a classic chamber piece; Chanel, Stravinsky and his consumptive wife Katya (Elena Morozova) enclosed within the walls of a beautiful but austere home, and locked within the strictures of a love triangle.

Such a restrained scope is a marked departure for director Jan Kounen. Better known for action fare (Doberman) and his interest in shamanism, Kounen appears to struggle with the slower pace. Though the film’s opening ballet sequence is remarkable (with more than a nod to the 1948 classic The Red Shoes), this passion and vibrancy seeps away in the second and third acts. Indeed, far from rapturous, the love scenes seem perfunctory and Mouglalis and Mikkelson’s acting feels laboured. It’s as if the film’s staggeringly beautiful costume and production design have drowned out the direction.

Fortunately, Coco & Igor’s luscious look is vastly captivating. Mouglalis is divine in all the superlative ensembles, and wondrously fills the screen in Karl Largerfeld’s specially designed final gown. And though Kounen doesn’t really mine the power and gender roles paralleling Chanel’s creation of the perfume and Stravinsky’s composition, the juxtaposition is itself significant. Coco & Igor makes a welcomed companion piece for Anne Fontaine’s more youthful Coco Avant Chanel.


Published by Street Press Australia

Australian release date: 15 April 2010

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Date Night

Tina Fey and Steve Carell are the dream comedy couple. Both come from the cream of the live TV comedy crop and have crossed over to star in their own successful sit-coms as (30 Rock and The Office) well as a few sideline movie projects (Baby Mama and The 40 Year Old Virgin). So the expectations are high when the two paired for Shawn Levy’s crime caper, Date Night.

As Claire and Phil Foster Fey and Carell are your typical, upper middle class, sleep deprived, suburban parents. He’s a tax lawyer to her real estate agent and they have two cutie-pie kids, whom they weekly entrust to the next-door neighbour (Leighton Meester) for the ritualistic routine of a Friday date night. That is until best friends Hayley and Brad (Kristen Wiig and Mark Ruffalo) confide their separation, putting the Foster’s autopilot relationship in sharp relief. Cue a desperate dash into Manhattan to spice things up with a fancy dinner, whereupon Phil daringly nabs a table reservation from a no show couple, but in karmic retribution all hell breaks loose in a classic case of mistaken identity.

With The Night at the Museum franchise under his belt, Levy is clearly adept at veering away from reality and into the heightened genre of comedic adventure, with Fey and Carell seemingly delighted to follow suit and mine the situation for all it’s worth. And while that isn’t much more than mainstream chuckles, Fey and Carell still manage to infuse enough zany to make Date Night light years better than the analogous married turn of Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant’s in Did You Hear About the Morgans?

The film is also greatly aided by some wonderful chemistry between the leads. Undisputed masters of their craft, both can hit every comic beat, bet it the quick quips or the long set up. Date Night also rounds up some brilliant cameos, with a mob boss Ray Liotta, shirtless lothario Mark Wahlberg, an unspooled James Franco and a foul mouthed Mila Kunis all perfectly cast to keep a very familiar storyline fresh.

Alongside the laughs, Fey and Carell also imbue Date Night with a remarkable amount of heart. As a treatise on the maligned state of the modern marriage, the film is unafraid to take time out for some quieter scenes of reflection. These genuine moments never ring false, though they’re wisely dotted through a rollicking plotline that even includes a rather inventive car chase.

For all its well-honed conventions and mainstream appeal, Date Night should be celebrated for the perfect paring of Fey and Carell. May this be the first of many (hopefully more ambitious) silver screen adventures for the reigning queen and king of comedy television.

Published by Street Press Australia

Australian release date: 8 April 2010

A Night of Horror Film Festival

The first thing you need to know about the A Night of Horror Film Festival is that it goes for nine days, so don’t go letting the name confuse you. In four years, the festival has grown from its original one-night spectacular, with punters now able to take up residence at the Dendy Newtown for multiple evenings of blood and gore.

Like its spooky sci-fi sister festival Fantastic Planet, the line-up this year is a heady mix of homegrown titles and international fare. The program is premiering three Australian features, with Q&A screenings for Damned By Dawn, The Dark Lurking and Steven Kastrissios’ critically acclaimed revenge thriller, The Horseman.

Also hotly anticipated is The Descent double bill, with Neil Marshall’s 2005 hit about a girly caving expedition gone wrong (is there any other kind?) screening before the nightmare continues with the NSW premiere of The Descent 2. Home & Away alum Melissa George will close the festival, getting her fright on as a soul stranded at sea in the Australian/UK co-production Triangle. With some 16 bloody features and 50 shorts on offer, the trick will be deciding how many nights of horror your psyche will withstand and trying not to choke on your popcorn as the genre claims its quota of screams.

Published on Concrete Playground

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Interview: Michael Hoffman (The Last Station)

Michael Hoffman is a filmmaker who seemingly knows no fear. His latest film, The Last Station, is a portrait of the revered Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy.

“This was not so much because of a tremendous love of Tolstoy...I think what I was really drawn to was the difficulty of living with love and the impossibility of living without love. I really saw it as a film about marriage,” he says.

And what a marriage it is. Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren were both Academy Award nominees for their portrayals of the spirited seniors, Tolstoy and Countess Sofya, clashing over the final days of a 48 year marriage, Tolstoy’s ardent socialism and the specifics of his last will and testament. It is this incisive, poignant look at unsaid realities of relationships that Hoffman believes deeply resonates with audiences.

“You go to lots of dinner parties and we learn to be sophisticated and talk about sex and talk about money…but very rarely does anybody at a dinner party say, “ You know what? I used to be really in love with this person I came with, but I lost touch with them and don’t know where they are any more. There’s a lot of sadness in my relationship, and there’s a lot of desperation and there’s a lot of pain.”

But the film never gets bogged down in melancholia, nor an embittered spousal battle.

“I was paid one compliment throughout this entire process that I probably value more than any when the members of the Tolstoy family told me that [the film] for them came closer to how they as a family tell the story than any of the biographies that had ever been written. The biographies tend to tell the story of a genius tortured by an unreasonable woman and it’s very much the family’s line that this is a disaster that was co-created by the two of them.”

Hoffman credits much of this to Mirren’s masterful performance.

“Helen’s performance is magnificent, but also incredibly cagy and intelligent," he says. "She knows the thing that you can’t do is ask the audience for sympathy. If you ask for their sympathy you’ll never get it.”

Hoffman saves his most effusive praise, though, for James McAvoy's portrayal of Tolstoy's wide-eyed secretary Valentin Bulgakov. “One of the reasons you connect to Sofya and you take her side is because of James McAvoy’s performance, which for me, is really the glue that holds the movie together.”

“James has to be very quiet and has an immense amount of moment-to-moment decision making and clarity of purpose and presence. He is just so gifted”

Although the performances speak for themselves, Hoffman is also acutely aware of the perceived density of his subject. But on the contrary, with the film’s intense, pressing portrayal of the paparazzi, The Last Station could be the story of a Hollywood star.

“[Tolstoy] was really the first big media celebrity in history, and we didn’t even begin to narrate just how intense the scrutiny in their lives was!” “It was unending, they lived their life in an absolute fishbowl.”

Through the veil of such celebrity Hoffman conveys the passion and the politics of marriage with an inquiring and compassionate eye. “It’s funny, my wife Samantha refers to the movie as ‘art imitates wife’ and I think that’s a testament to how personal a story it is, for me.”

Published by Street Press Australia

Click here to read my review of The Last Station

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Going Rogue with Anthony Hayes

Aussie actors are about to get the chance to go rogue with Anthony Hayes. Actually, Rogue Stars is a name Hayes requisitioned from his early theatre and short film days with fellow thespian Brendan Cowell. The two have since become acclaimed character actors, co-written Hayes’ feature directorial debut Ten Empty, and also star in the upcoming war epic Beneath Hill 60. So while Hayes admits to ‘pilfering’ the name, it’s for a good cause: teaching the next generation of actors the art of auditioning.

“The idea started ages ago when we were casting for Ten Empty. It’s the same people you see in every film all the time in this country and a lot of people don’t get the opportunities, whether they’re talented or not.”

“I just found that people coming into the room weren’t that comfortable, and I try to make the experience as comfortable as possible. But regardless of talent, if you don’t put your best foot forward within 20 minutes in a room, then it’s a pretty brutal place.”

Hayes has been acting since the age of nine, clocking up AFI award winning performances in Look Both Ways and Suburban Mayhem alongside roles in Ned Kelly, Rabbit Proof Fence and this year’s Sundance winner Animal Kingdom. But he still isn’t a fan of auditioning.

“[Auditions] make you sick! When I have to do them, I try and schedule them as early in the morning as I can, because by 3 o’clock in the arvo, you’ve spent all day fretting about it! It’s horrible!”

So it’s not surprising that confidence lies at the core of the practical skills Hayes hopes to impart. “It’s really about taking the fear out of it,” he says. “You’ve got to treat it like you’ve already been asked to be in the room with people, and so it’s your time and it’s a short time, so you’ve really got to come in prepared and have your take on the character.”

“It’s about first impressions and owning the room. If you can get in the room, then it’s about owning it. That can be in the manner you walk into the room and the way you hold yourself, the way you introduce yourself, it’s all really about confidence, because at the end of the day the director wants to know that this person has the confidence to pull off this role.”

Given the remoteness of Australia, Hayes says it’s vital that actors are able to produce a professional audition tape - “Otherwise people don’t watch them," he says. "A lot of people fast-forward things, particularly in America.”

He admits this harsh reality goes with the territory. “I don’t think you get many chances in this country.” “If you stuffed up three auditions in a row and you’re a newbie, then chances are it’ll get around and you won’t be asked back. It’s really that brutal.”

Running the course with Hayes is BAFTA-nominated filmmaker Daniel Krige and casting director Kirsty McGregor, whose credits include Animal Kingdom, Beneath Hill 60 and the Academy Award nominated short Miracle Fish.

What: Rogue Stars Two Day Script to Screen Masterclass

When: (Sydney) Thursday 20 May and Saturday 22 (first course), Friday 21 May and Sunday 23 May (second course). See for more
dates and information.

Published by Street Press Australia

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Room

Every so often, a film transcends the extent of its putridity and transforms into a beloved 'so bad it’s good’ cult classic. Such is the case with The Room, a film written, produced, directed and starring the truly terrible talents of Tommy Wiseau. Sure, there’s an ensemble cast and some semblance of a story-line surrounding relationships (the trailer totes it as “a film with the passion of Tennessee Williams” — right …), but it’s Wiseau who has the audience in (unintentional) fits of raucous laughter, clamouring for more.

The Room (a location never explained, by the way) is definitely a film all about the audience participation. Like The Rocky Horror Picture Show days of old, so much of the entertainment is derived from the group experience and shared hilarity. Thankfully, the Chauvel is giving pundits their chance, every Saturday night at 10pm during April and May.

It remains to be seen if Wiseau will ascend to Ed Wood’s throne as the 21st century’s king of B-movie kitsch, but at the very least he’s already given the world a classic non sequitur: “Oh, hi Mark."

For your diaries: 10pm each Saturday night from 17th April - 29th May at the Chauvel

Published on Concrete Playground

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Inglourious Angel

Tarantino's 2nd Camera Assistant, Geraldine Brezca had all sorts of fun with the 'clapper' on the Inglourious Basterds set. Tarantino named her his 'camera angel,' though her devilish sense of humour no doubt got a few scenes off to a distracting start.

Have a giggle (and thanks to Glenn for the heads up):

This video reminds me of a blog post I did on a similar montage put together by the Van Diemen's Land crew.

Friday, April 9, 2010

XIII Spanish Film Festival

Just a quick heads up that I'm blogging for the Spanish Film Festival again. Like last year, I've assembled a group of writers who will post reviews and general chit chat that will hopefully engage and entertain festival goers and Spanish film fans in general.

Over on the blog the festival programme is available to download, as well as the links for tickets which are now on sale.

Stay tuned for more Spanish film fun anon.


is a film proceeded by its infamous reputation. There’s something about kids playing superhero dress-up that turns ultra-violent and features a 13-year-old girl dropping the c-bomb. It’s also a yet another comic book adaptation (by Wanted
scribe Mark Millar), though this time the film’s storyboard got a jump on the comic panels. Then there are the rumours of a transcendent performance by the usually cringe-worth Nicolas Cage.

The long and short of it is that Kick-Ass delivers on its name. It’s wickedly funny and brutally violent, as if Miller and director Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Stardust) were seriously channeling Quentin Tarantino by way of Judd Apatow. Aaron Johnson, tween heartthrob from Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, who recently impressed as John Lennon in Nowhere Boy perfects a slightly squeaky American accent to play high-school loser Dave Lizewski and our eponymous, green-wetsuited hero. Boasting the “perfect combination of optimism and naivety,” Dave embraces the idea of an everyday superhero before getting his ass seriously kicked on his maiden adventure. Undeterred and now with a conveniently pain numbing neurological disorder, Dave’s rise to YouTube fame ushers in some serious forces of good and evil for the newly minted Kick Ass to contend with.

Father and child duos become Kick Ass’s saviours and tormentors. In one corner is mob boss Frank D’Amico (played by Guy Ritchie regular Mark Strong) and his disappointment of a son Chris (Superbad’s Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and in the other, the notorious Nicolas Cage as Batman-styled Big Daddy and the cussing Chloe Moretz as his trigger happy daughter Hit Girl. A murderous dose of moral relativity drives each pair, and as the body count mounts the trappings of fame find Kick Ass caught as the proverbial piggy in the middle.

Like the classic Bugsy Malone or Rian Johnson’s cult hit Brick, the genius of Kick Ass lies in its utter commitment to a youthful twist on its genre. From Dave’s ironic narration, to the loudly coloured production design and Cage’s perfect caricature of himself, Vaughn and his cast relish in the heightened, cartoonish world of superheroes. Johnson proves he has great comic timing and Mortez hilariously embodies the pig-tailed, foul-mouthed assassin. And while Mintz-Plasse is getting a little passé still riffing on McLovin’, he and a dastardly Strong generate some great chemistry.

For those positively insulted by Wanted, let the record also reflect that Millar has redeemed his reputation.


Published by Street Press Australia

Australian release date: 8 April 2010

Thursday, April 8, 2010


This brilliant video has just been brought to my attention (merci Matt!)

It is the ingenious work of Patrick Jean from the Parisian outfit One More Production (what is with the Frenchies and their love of space invaders?). Come to think of it, another favourite video of mine - Human Space Invaders - was made by a French-Swiss artist Guillaume Reymond.

Curiouser and curiouser...

Clash of the Titans

Greek mythology has entertained humanity for centuries: from epic poetry to theatre, literature and now, 3D cinema. Of course the term ‘entertained’ must now be amended to read ‘stripped of all meaning and moulded into a loud, obnoxious blockbuster,’ but you say tomato…

To be sure, Clash of the Titans has some saber rattling from the gods Zeus (Liam Neeson), Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and a demi-god Perseus (Sam Worthington) who is determined to stay among and fight for the mortals, not to mention all manner of muscled, leather clad soldiers and beautiful women in flowing Grecian gowns. The venerable Pete Postlethwaite (Romeo + Juliet) is trotted out to open the film with his special brand of solemnity, but even he can’t rescue this film from looking like an action film that raided the costume department.


Indeed Neeson’s Zeus positively sparkles in a glittery glam rock outfit that would make David Bowie proud. One gets the distinct feeling he and the rest of the gods had their screen time significantly cut, evidenced not only by some bizarre non-sequiturs, but the blink-and-you’ll-miss-him shot of Danny Huston (as Poseidon, evidently). Only Fiennes is really given any scenes to chew on, and he phones in his malevolent, Voldemort best as the seething Hades who aspires above his station.

Worthington is woefully wooden as our reluctant hero, though you can’t fault the way he physically throws himself into the role. A good thing too, as he’s given precious little to say, with the likes of Mads Mikkelson (Casino Royal), Nicolas Hoult (A Single Man) and Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace) shouldered with all the clunky exposition, and, particularly in Arterton’s case, some truly awful dialogue. Her impassioned (and terribly mistimed) “Ease your storm,” line brought about the tipping point for an audience now laughing at the film.

At the very least, Worthington’s Avatar training holds him in good stead once Pegasus shows up to assist him in his quest. What is that quest exactly? It has something to do with bringing Medusa’s head to kill the Kraken (a giant, menacing turtle of a monster) before it can raze the city of Argos and kill a population who have turned their backs on the gods. But you needn’t really concern yourself with the details.

Suffice it to say Clash of the Titans never actually lives up to its name, with director Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk) satisfied instead to careen from one monster set piece to the next. No, a big budget and rollicking soundtrack can’t save this film from its garish mediocrity. And it’s certainly saying something when Brad Pitt’s turn in Troy starts to look impressively epic by comparison.

Have head, will travel

Australian release date: 1 April 2010

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Trailer: Animal Kingdom

***Update - read my review HERE.
Read my interview with David Michôd and Ben Mendelsohn HERE.

Still buzzing from it's win at Sundance, Animal Kingdom is now rocking a brand new poster and a cracking full length trailer.

David Michôd's debut feature looks set to make more hay from Melbourne's criminal underbelly and boasts a stellar ensemble cast including Ben Mendelson, Guy Pierce, Joel Edgerton, Jacki Weaver as well as newcomer James Frecheville.

Precious Egg has some interesting things to say on the composition of Jeremy Saunders' poster. And it's also worth noting that Michôd is a member of the Blue-Tongue Films collective along with brothers Nash and Joel Edgerton, and Academy Award nominee Luke Doolan. The guys have even drawn the attention of the New York Times.

Speaking of the Edgerton brothers, I'd like to reiterate to any American readers that The Square is getting a limited US release from April 9. Click here to read my review.

For more information on Animal Kingdom, hit up the Official Site, Facebook or Twitter.

Animal Kingdom - Australian release date: 3 June 2010
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