Monday, May 31, 2010

Interview: George Sampson (StreetDance 3D)

Dance may have been part of cinema since its very inception, but now it’s in 3D. What’s more, the Brits have beaten Hollywood to the punch, pitting ballerinas against street dancers on the cobbled lanes of London. Well, not quite. Co-star George Sampson elucidates the finer points of street dance and the irony that the whole film revolves around finding a proper rehearsal space.

“There was no street part to it! he exclaims. "I mean there was for me, I started in the street when I used to busk, and I was the only one doing it.”

“You can do it anywhere but it is important to get rehearsal down because everyone wants to be the best crew, [and] to be that you need a rehearsal space with mirrors and you all need to be in synch, make sure it’s looking the best it can, or flawless. And the best place to practice is a big rehearsal space similar to the one in the film.”

Sampson would know, the 16-year-old has been dancing since he was 6, busked for two years (“When I was a kid.”) and won Britain’s Got Talent at the tender age of 14. “My Mum worked a lot and so a lot of days she put us into singing camps and different performing arts camps,” he says, “and I got used to that being a natural hobby: singing, dancing and acting. I think my dancing was always a bit further ahead of everything and people spotted me and said, ‘you were born to dance.’”

After his reality show win, Sampson brought out a DVD, Get Up On The Dance Floor/Headz Up ("It was a biographical music album, it had about four or five songs on it and an interview and a day in the life.") directed by Max Giwa and Dania Pasquini, who then created a character for him in StreetDance 3D. As Eddie, the cheeky coworker desperate to join Carly’s (Nichola Burley) crew, Sampson ends up sharing a few scenes with the trailblazing head of the ballet school, played by the divine Charlotte Rampling.

“She was amazing,” he says. “She was just a nice person to get along with; she’s just one of them people, she knows she can act, she’s there to just do her thing and make new friends. She was a very inspiring person to work with.”

Having such a consummate actor grounding the film, Sampson and his costars are freed up to do what they do best, dance. And Eddie even gets a solo in the film’s climactic event.

“That was the best bit! Because that’s what I’m used to, a big strong audience. Going from just being a busker on the street with a big crowd, then going to live shows then Britain’s Got Talent was kind of my first camera event, but even then they had a live audience so I’d never not danced in front of a live crowd before. So that for me was the best bit because I knew that’s what I bounce off, that’s what makes me best.”

On set, the film’s dancers made for an energetic shoot, “It flew by, absolutely flew by!” he says. “I guess it’s hard because you have to keep doing things over and over again, but I think with other dancers there, the adrenaline of the day, [and] they had a live crowd to help out, it was very good.”

One of the most striking elements of street dance is its theatricality and iconography, with crews all kitted out in identical label clothing and dancing under specially designed logos. “It’s a showcase,” Sampson says. “If you’re going to do it, you’ve got to do it properly. Your clothing, you all have to match what you’re doing. If people came on in their everyday clothes and started dancing you’d just think, ‘well, do they even know each other?’ Whereas if five guys walk on and they’ve all got the same hats on, they’ve all got the same thing, you can tell they’ve rehearsed this and they’ve gone to extra lengths to make this real for everyone. So I think you get more street cred for what you wear.”

Sampson now has his own crew, “Access 2 All Areas, there are four or five of us and I love it.” And he takes his training very seriously: “It’s deadly important. You always need to be improving; once people have seen you, they’ve seen every move you can do and the only way to show them something a bit better than you were last time is to do something new. And to do something new you’re going to have to train a hell of a lot.” He describes street dance is an amalgam, “You could easily fit about thirty styles around street dance. I guess I’ve got seven or eight mastered, and I do more, but I’ve got seven or eight locked down.”

“I’m proficient in street dance as a typical routine: quick, get in there, get your message across kind of dance form. Then break dance, which is all your head spinning, your flips, the gymnastics, which is obviously more flips, popping, locking, which is kind of waving, but there are so many!”

Indeed StreetDance 3D pivots around this eclectic mix of styles compared with the more straight laced classical ballerinas, but Sampson thinks everyone can get along.

“There’s a competitive little thing to it because ballet dancers think their dance should be the more stereotypical kind of dance to learn, and street dancers are very [motivated by] street cred and are very rebellious to that. But people will see that they can do it together.”

As a rising star on the UK dance scene, Sampson is abundantly enthusiastic about being part of the first ever 3D dance film.

“I think it’s going to add life,” he concludes, “You can watch a film and you know it’s a film [but] I think dance is such an interactive kind of sport, where people want to see it live, they want to see a backflip in their face and I think the best way to get that across is obviously in 3D. I think it can only add to the tension of the dance.”

Published by Street Press Australia
Streetdance 3D Australian release date: 27 May 2010

Saturday, May 29, 2010

City Island

It’s not hard to see why City Island took out the Audience Award at 2009 Tribeca film festival. Writer/director Raymond De Felitta’s film has a distinctly New York, ‘indie’ sensibility; set in the Bronx (on the tiny, eponymous island), featuring a dysfunctional family headed up by Andy Garcia’s Vince Rizzo, as a prison guard with secret aspirations to be an actor. In fact, the whole family has secrets, from smoking to stripping and food fetishes; there’s conflict, there’s quirk and there’s definitely home ground advantage.

For Australians audiences there’s still much to enjoy. De Felitta’s slightly overwritten script proves to be a fun twist on the prodigal son parable, when unbeknownst to Tony (Steven Strait) Vince, the father who ran out on him, springs him from gaol and brings him home to meet a similarly clueless family. Hijinks most certainly ensue, where the strength of the film lies in the great ensemble casting. Garcia and Julianna Margulies make for a great married couple, while Emily Mortimer brings depth to her kooky wannabe star and the singular Alan Arkin lends his charm as Vince’s acting coach.

The film’s highlight is a scene in which Vince botches an open call audition for a Scorsese movie, only to impress with his prison guard improv. It’s this delightful, self-aware tone that brings an added element to what could easily have been just a run-of-the-mill family dramedy where, surprise surprise, the petty crim turns out to be the most together of them all.

Published by Street Press Australia
Australian release date: 27 May 2010

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Secret in Their Eyes

This Argentinean gem comes to Australia with a modicum of celebrity, having won the Best Foreign Film Oscar over such favourites as The White Ribbon and A Prophet. And while this makes for an interesting post-cinema debate, so does the film itself, for writer/director Juan José Campanella presents Eduardo Sacheri's novel as an enticing, gorgeously rendered memory, one that lingers long after the credits roll.

The story oscillates between 1999 and 1974, as retired criminal court investigator Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darín) looks back over his career in an attempt to novelise the case that effectively ruined it all. Seeking counsel from his former colleague and unrequited love, Irene Hastings (Soledad Villamil), the two stir up some sleeping dogs as they piece together their memories of a hideous rape/murder case that they never once discussed in the intervening 25 years. Darín and Villamil compellingly straddle the two eras, filling in the decades with more than just good make up, while cinematographer Félix Monti conjures a stunningly subjective atmosphere with his evocative framing and focus. Indeed, Monti’s superlative photography in a football stadium scene is alone worthy of its own review.

Though the titular metaphor becomes a bit laboured at times, The Secret in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos) has such emotional and visual depth that it's nigh impossible not to get swept up in Esposito's epic tale. Dryly humourous, impossibly tense and achingly ardent in turn, Campanella's journey down memory lane makes for unforgettable cinema.

Published on Concrete Playground

Australian release date: 27 May 2010

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Stoning of Soraya M.

Granted, the title lets you know what you’re in for, but The Stoning of Soraya M. still manages to leave you feeling utterly undone. Based on the French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam’s best-selling book, the film uncovers the horrific true story of Soraya M. (Mozhan Marnò) as it was daringly recounted to him by her grief-stricken aunt Zahra Khanum (Shohreh Aghdashloo). James Caviezel (no stranger to brutal religious rites after his turn in The Passion of the Christ) plays Sahebjam, whose car breaks down on the edge of a dusty Iranian village in 1986, and, while he waits for the repairman, Zahra audaciously takes the opportunity to report the atrocity that occurred only the day before.

The moral outrage of writer/director team Cyrus and Betsy Nowrasteh is palpable, infused in a film that may become a little preachy but nonetheless asserts itself as an important document for the world’s attention. Aghdashloo is superb, embodying her character with such ferocious passion that it is possible to overlook some of the more clunky lines of dialogue. Marnò is similarly impressive, bringing striking realism to the role of a slighted wife — whose husband wants rid of her to remarry a 14-year-old — and one condemned to death by the most archaic, barbarous means. Unfortunately, other characters fall into stereotypes: a singularly spiteful and calculating husband (Navid Negahban), a conniving Mullah (Ali Pourtash) and a hapless neighbour (Parviz Sayyad) blackmailed into bearing false witness. However, the town mayor (David Diaan) does bring some refreshing ambivalence to a film that otherwise borders on melodramatic misogyny.

It should come as no surprise, then, that this film is very heavy going; the lengthy stoning scene will undoubtedly test your mettle. Yet there is something powerful about bearing witness to the true horror of this practice, the experience of which rescues the reality from the realm of nightmare, and in doing so enters its audience into a significant (and tragically contemporary) dialogue.

Published on Concrete Playground

Australian release date (limited): 27 May 2010

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Poster: Eat Pray Love

I'm loving this new trailer for Eat Pray Love. Yes, I fear any film critic 'hat' that may or may not be in my possession will be fairly useless when I come to see this film. I loved the book, frequently quote Elizabeth Gilbert's TED talk to myself, and even have a soft spot for America's sweetheart, Ms. Roberts.

Click here to see the trailer.

Australian release date: 7 October 2010

US release date: 13 August 2010

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The End of the Line

It’s tricky to review Rupert Murray’s excellent fishing documentary without spilling forth with a litany of alarming and potentially alienating statistics; so let’s just focus on one: global fishing will grind to a halt come 2048. That’s right, in our lifetime we will have devastated the world’s fish population to the extent that there will be no more seafood left to feast on. You’d better savor your sushi while you can.

Or actually, don’t. The very aim of Murray’s documentary is to create awareness and change consumer culture towards seafood. It’s all well and good to top up your Omega 3 levels, but not uninformed purchases that encourage the ruinous overfishing and the extinction of species. Take bluefin tuna for example, it is as endangered as the orangutan and yet still a popular fish to order in restaurants and is prized by celebrity chefs. The tenuous fate of the bluefin tuna is just one species that struck British journalist Charles Clover, who set about researching the staggering levels of overfishing and wrote the book upon which this documentary is based.

Following Clover’s lead, Murray spent two years travelling the globe capturing the stories from Gibraltar and Senegal to Alaska. Narrated by Ted Danson, the documentary is a compelling patchwork of fascinating (and yes, alarming) truths from across the socio-economic spectrum, from a poor Senegalese fisherman to the purchasing prowess of motor giant Mitsubishi. And though little time is given to naysayers (there a those who dispute the 2048 estimate), it’s impossible not to be affected by the awesome shortsightedness of the global fisheries industry and the governmental departments who have been entrusted to protect our oceans.

Here the documentary shares some common ground with the Oscar winning The Cove. Though The End of the Line lacks the high tech, singular focus and the cuddly main character (the dolphin), both press their points about the need for change at a political as well as a consumer level. And Japan once again comes under the microscope for their fishing practices alongside other frightening examples of the willful blindness of nations; all resulting in catastrophic consequences for the world’s sea life.

So what can be done? Mercifully, The End of the Line gives time to some happier statistics, citing marine reservations and sustainable fishing areas that provide positive examples of ways forward. But the most tangible first step is surely to overcome our ignorant assumptions about the sea; as Danson intones in his opening narration, “Our view of the sea has always been that it is huge, beautiful and inexhaustible.” And it is our erroneous belief in that final adjective that The End of the Line can immediately alter.

Published by Street Press Australia

Australian release date: 13 May 2010

Click here to read my interview with Rupert Murray.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Trespassing with...Jess Chalker

Jess Chalker has enjoyed a musical beginning that most artists would kill for. The beautiful singer/songwriter has taken YouTube by storm, clocking over 440,000 hits on her delightful ballad Said the Raindrop to the Seed, she’s toured Australia opening for Lior and has even recorded with Trespass favourite Mike Rosenberg. Now Jess is releasing her EP – fittingly named after the song that brought her online success – and it’s a captivating selection of songs that make the most of her glorious, Joni Mitchell-esque voice and the evocative stories played out in her lovely lyrics.

Sydneysiders can attend Jess’ EP launch on Wednesday 26 May at The Basement (click here for more details). But luckily for everyone else, Jess found the time to Trespass, and reveal (amongst other things) her pure love of Labyrinth.

Read the rest on Trespass.

Robin Hood

Perhaps Ridley Scott has become a little origins obsessed. With not one but two Alien
prequels on the cards, it’s not too long a bow to draw to see the director looking to give the mythologised man in tights the same treatment. Reteaming with his mainman Russell Crowe, fans may have been hoping for Gladiator 2, but instead the duo serve up an entertaining, though ultimately unimpressive portrait of Robin Longstride, before he came the legend of Sherwood Forest.

While there is a modicum of robbing from the rich to give to the poor, the film is more reminiscent of The Return of Martin Guerre (or the saccharine remake Sommersby), where a man returns from war to assume the place of his fallen comrade. Layered on top is a dense political history of the dastardly King John (Oscar Isaac) and the first rumblings of the Magna Carta. Like Scott’s earlier crusade epic Kingdom of Heaven, the result is a rather muddled account, that one imagines will be properly elucidated upon the release of a much more detailed director’s cut.

Indeed the film suffers from a lack of depth and nuance. There can be no real stakes when Robin Hood is characterised as an omnipotent hero – albeit it one with father issues – and the stellar supporting cast (Mark Strong, William Hurt) are relegated to the sidelines. And despite the inspired pairing of Crowe and Cate Blanchett, neither actor, nor Scott himself, escapes from the shadows of their previous epic successes.

Published by Street Press Australia

Australian release date: 13 May 2010

Saturday, May 22, 2010

World Cup: Write the Future

Check out this brilliant World Cup ad for Nike, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
. His latest film Biutiful has just premiered at Cannes, to what looks like mixed reviews, but he could still take home the Palme d'Or.

It remains to be seen if Mexico will deliver the goods in the World Cup opening match between hosts South Africa. Iñárritu's sure done his bit to help the cause.

Thanks to Matt for the heads up!

Harry Brown

There is something odious about Harry Brown
. No, it’s not that musty old man smell (that surely doesn’t afflict the likes of Sir Michael Caine), it’s the stench of scandalous sensationalism. For that’s what director Daniel Barber serves up, couched in a Grand Torino style senior citizen revenge tale. But where the Clint Eastwood vehicle actually crafted a socio-economic, cross-cultural dilemma with regards to the film’s antagonists (albeit a rather questionable one), the council estate kids Caine’s eponymous ‘hero’ ruthlessly dispatches are characterised as nothing more than frenzied animals.

The abject amorality as well as the horrific violence of Harry Brown is actually quite stomach churning. From the film’s opening, senseless murder to Caine’s supposedly justified rampage, the spurting blood and pumping music is the utterly unnecessary result of video game violence brought to vicious life. Any supposed thrills that are meant to be enjoyed at the sight of Caine knocking heads and dealing justice (which, to be fair, he does with aplomb) are completely stymied by the heinous stance of the film which in no way problematises or humanises the realities of the council estate gangs. Instead they are mere cannon fodder for Barber and screenwriter Gary Young’s misanthropic and bloody fantasies, with Emily Mortimer’s thoughtful police detective thrown in for a bit of climactic feminine distress.

Barber and cinematographer Martin Ruhe (Control) are clearly skilled at bringing a stylish, well paced and atmospheric thriller to life. If only they hadn’t so thoroughly undercut themselves with such an offensive storyline.

Published by Street Press Australia

Australian release date: 20 May 2010

Friday, May 21, 2010

Food, Inc.

If we are what we eat, then we sure as hell should know where our food comes from. So sayeth director Robert Kenner and his two journalist talking heads Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan (authors of Fast Food Nation
and The Omnivore’s Dilemma respectively) in the illuminating documentary Food, Inc. Though it’s a bit laboriously repeated, Kenner’s main thesis centers on ‘lifting the veil’ of multinational controlled food production, and challenging the ‘pastoral fantasy’ that bewitches American consumers. And the reality is indeed shocking. From crammed in chickens, allowed no skerrick of daylight, to hectares of cattle ‘farms’ with nary a blade of grass in sight. No, these aren’t farms, Kenner points out, they are factories.

Divided into a series of revealing vignettes, Food, Inc. hammers home the frightening power multinational corporations hold over consumers, ‘from seed to supermarket.’ Pressured farmers, exploited workers, staggering politics, E-coli fatalities and the obesity driven diabetes epidemic are all elucidated in a well paced film that is provocative enough to capture your attention, but no so gory as to sour the experience of watching the documentary.

Unfortunately, for those who choose to watch the film, it may well be a case of preaching to the organic eating converted, but it is nonetheless an important and well-produced voice to join contemporary debates about education, health care and corporate responsibility. And most importantly, as the tagline promises, Food, Inc. will definitely change the way you look at dinner.

Published by Street Press Australia
Australian release date: 20 May 2010

Interview: Russell Peters

Midnight might seem like a rather antisocial time for an interview, but Russell Peters isn’t fazed in the least. Speaking from a rowdy bar in Boston, the stand up comedian is winding down from another night on his Green Card Tour. The world famous 39 year old Canadian comic is blatantly letting it be known that he’s on the hunt for the holy grail of American residency, “The name is to celebrate the fact that hopefully I’ll get my green card in America this year,” he says, “So I’m going to get my green card in America then I’m bringing [the tour] worldwide. It’s kind of like, “hey you can stay!” “Ok, now I’m going to go.”

Toying with Americans is at the heart of Peter’s comedy. “Wherever you go in the world, you can take it to the Americans,” he scoffs. “Safest target in the world when looking for a victim.”

The funny thing about my comedy is that I talk about all these other places and other countries and other cultures, and I think the world bases it around [the idea that] America is the insider and the rest of the entire world are the outsiders. So it’s kind of like the rest of the world is in on the joke that America is not in on.”

But some Americans must be getting the joke, because Peters has sold out Madison Square Garden as well as coming in at number nine on the Forbes list of top-selling comedians. Though he still thinks his North American neighbours have a hard time laughing at themselves. “I think they fail to see the irony,” he says, “I don’t think they really know how to address [comedy] properly, there’s no tongue-in-cheek about it. It’s very blatant, so once they get some sort of subtly involved, it will work out better for them.”

And while Peters foresees no such problems for his upcoming tour of Australia and New Zealand, he does consider the Antipodean rivalry as analogous to that of North America. “Australia would be the America and New Zealand would be the Canada and since I’m from the Canada originally, I would have to say I’m somewhat leaning towards the plight of the Kiwi.”

“At the end of the day both countries are outsiders, so I would say Australia, New Zealand and Canada, we’re all outsiders so think we all get it the same way, so it works out well.”

Kiwis and Aussies have had to bide their time for Peters’ Green Card Tour, which was postponed due to his appearance in Duncan Jones’ upcoming film Source Code. “I’m the comedic relief in this sci-fi thriller,” Peters says of working with, “good old little Duncan Jones and young Jake Gyllenhaal.” “The movie takes place on a train and I play one of the passengers on the train. And if I told you anymore I would give away the film!”

Peters is more revealing about Jones’ debut film, Moon; specifically the fact that it confused him. “I was like, ‘Duncan, I bought Moon and I didn’t really get it, so can you explain it?’ he says, “[and] he did. The real Sam Rockwell was on earth. I wasn’t sure which one was the real one! I’m not that bright.”

Peters is keen to continue acting, putting the hard word on his agent during the interview. “My agent is actually sitting across from me and I keep hounding him, like ‘hey, what about this movie? Get me in this movie!’ And he’s like [sounding like a 1940s film director], ‘I’m going to get you the world, kid. You’re going to be a star, see!’”

“I keep staring at him – awkwardly, because he’s half Italian, so he can halfway do something and the other half can plough the wheat fields.”

For now though, Peters is happy touring and is quick to point out that his rather ribald style easily translates across cultures. “We live in a global community now where with the internet everybody understands things a certain way now. So everybody knows a lot more about the rest of the world than they once did,” he says. “I think the people who understand it appreciate that opposed to pointing out the differences, I’m actually pointing out the similarities.”

Indeed Peters is indebted to the Internet.

I think that’s what made me somewhat of a – I hate to use the term – worldwide phenomenon,” he says. “I used to go to these places before – not all of them but a lot of them – and it was based on me performing out of England, and to expats mostly. Whereas now we’re in a different situation, where it’s not just expats it’s mostly locals from other countries, because the locals are hip to a lot of stuff that they would never have been hip to before. Thanks to the YouTube generation.”

There is no doubting Peters is a ‘worldwide phenomenon,’ one who holds the UK record for largest attendance at a single performance (16,500) and who performs in stadia throughout the world. It seems like a tall order for someone who doesn’t take notes. “I don’t ever physically write down anything,” he says of his creative process. “I just get on stage and I start skitting from scratch until I piece together a bunch of ideas that I really like, and they flow and they sit together and then it becomes the new act. And then once I record it and once I release it on DVD, I trash it, I throw it away and I never remember it again.”

“I’m sorta like the Jay-Z of comedy.”

While he remembers it, the Green Card Tour will be the culmination of a year’s work crystalised into an hour and forty-five minutes of banter, accents and wry cultural insight. Though an Anglo-Indian, Peters doesn’t focus on the fish out of water experience, “rather than dealing with how the immigrants are trying to fit in in a Western world, I [look] more how they’re actually doing back home.”

Peters may soon have a new place to call home, if he gets his green card that is. “I just have to wait for the interview,” he concludes. “But my brother who is also my manager is somehow trying to Bogart my interview.”

Published by Street Press Australia

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Interview: Gillian Armstrong (Love, Lust & Lies)

Everyone is familiar with Michael Apted’s watershed Up
series, which followed the fates of fourteen British children from the 1960s onwards, but few may be aware that Gillian Armstrong has achieved something similar in our own backyard. For 35 years the celebrated Australian director (My Brilliant Career, Oscar & Lucinda) has made a series of five films documenting the lives of three Adelaide girls: Diana, Josie and Kerry.

“Originally the South Australian Film Corporation set up a unit to try to help encourage women in the industry and there were six or eight 20 minute films commissioned [on] all different subjects” she says, “Basically the scene [for me] was ‘what is it like to be a 14 year old girl today.’”

“We walked into [an inner city Adelaide] drop in center and there were about 30 or 40 Greek and Italian boys and only 3 Australian girls and that was Kerry, Josie and Diana,” she says “They bounced up to meet us because they thought I was actually going to join and that the researcher was my mother! At the time I did have a big, round, babyish face and waist length hair.”

The girl’s incredulity at Armstrong being over 21 and unmarried (“They said you’re meant to be married by 18!”), caught the filmmaker’s attention and, somewhat serendipitously, she has been documenting their lives ever since.

“The first one was a one –off,” she says “At that point I hadn’t seen Seven-Up! and I’d never seen a longitudinal study; there was just so much about hopes and dreams that I thought, ‘Gee, wouldn’t it be interesting to go back.’ [So] I raised the money to come back and film them when they were 18 and it wasn’t really until I cut the two together [that] I realised what a privilege and a gem it was to have caught people growing up.”

The latest installment, Love, Lust & Lies spends the opening 25 minutes taking the audience through these earlier films, meeting the girls at 14, then 18, 26 and 32, before being reintroduced to the 46-year-old women. Though evidently ‘the girls’, as Armstrong still calls them, were more reluctant to come on board this time.

“They’re not naïve about being in the media, and they felt like anyone would; why would they want their privacy invaded and their children’s?” she says, “[But then] part of the reason both Kerry and Josie agreed was because their kids thought it would be so exciting to have a film crew in the house. They soon changed their minds!”

“I also remembered Michael Apted said that he found in his group in their 40s he had the most people drop out. So I thought that this may be the hardest one, to get the same intimacy and honesty that I had in the others,” she says. “But I think the thing that came out about being in your late 40s is you don’t actually care that much about what people think and as it turned out they were probably more honest than they’ve ever been.”

Indeed the women’s honesty leads to some startling revelations throughout the film, which, through her own presence on camera, Armstrong responds to with refreshing reflexivity.

“Part of this story this time around is that not only have they been in this film for all this time, but they’ve been in this film made by the same person and that they obviously have a relationship with that person,” she says “And they’re quite often rude and cheeky to me, so I felt this time around it’s a part of the theme; it’s me and them.”

With five films over thirty-five years (and talk of more to come), Armstrong understandably refers to this project as, “my baby.” “It now has a social worth,” she concludes, “because they’ve been filmed longer than anyone ever has in Australia that I’m aware of.”

Published by
Street Press Australia
Click here to read my review of Love, Lust & Lies (screening in limited release now)

Trailer: Beached Az Series 2

One of the most popular, non-metropolitan, short-form, late-night, free-to-air, Australian-produced, sub-sixty-second, animation-based programs of 2009.

Bring. It. On.

Release date: June 3 online and on ABC2 from June 10 2010

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Spanish Film Festival: The Dancer & The Thief

Exactly as the title suggests, Fernando Trueba’s The Dancer and the Thief is a charming, evocative fairytale. And like the fairytales of old, it is not without darkness, for the story of fated young love between the titular characters is set against the disquieting realities of post-dictatorship Chile. After a national amnesty, exuberant petty crim Angel (Abel Ayala) and famed thief Nicolás Vergara Grey (Ricardo Darín) are amongst those released from prison. Angel wastes no time chasing down the ‘maestro’ Vergara to propose a daring heist, yet his proposal falls on deaf ears as Vergara seeks to reunite with his family. But upon a chance meeting with the beautiful, mute dancer Victoria (Miranda Bodenhöfer), Angel soon learns the lengths one goes for love and the three characters are drawn into an epic journey of destiny and redemption.

Though set against the devastating effects of Pinochet’s rule, The Dancer and the Thief feels much more secure in the realm of magical realism. Angel’s devotion to horses (as well as Victoria) sees them trotting around the streets of Santiago on a lithe thoroughbred. Similarly, Angel’s endearing smile and fast talk gets Victoria an audition for the municipal ballet school, but when that goes awry, he and Vergara design to have Victoria perform for the city’s premiere ballet critic. This scene is the emotional triumph of the film, as Bodenhöfer’s sublime movement translates her character’s inner turmoil and the abyss of her sadness.

As a treatise on the price of freedom – from gaol and from silence – the film (based on the book by Antonio Skarmeta) more broadly acts as a parable for the Chilean nation still coping with Pinochet’s legacy. But this point is not laboured; instead Trueba’s grand scale, combined with affecting performances and that particular whimsy of fairytales make The Dancer and the Thief a delight to experience.

Published on the Spanish Film Festival blog

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Trailer: The Adjustment Bureau

***Update: click HERE to read my review. 

Digging this Dark City-esque trailer for George Nolfi's debut feature, The Adjustment Bureau. Nolfi may have penned the lackluster Oceans Twelve, but he is also credited with The Bourne Ultimatum. The story is a reworking of Phillip K. Dick's Adjustment Team, and though I'm unfamiliar with the tale and thus how it's been adapted, I'm definitely loving the pairing of Matt Damon and Emily Blunt.

Australian release date: 3 March 2011

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Who's for icecream?

Bryan Singer and Benicio Del Toro serves up some cheesy, icecreamy goodness.

Spanish Film Festival: After

Published on the Spanish Film Festival blog

After could easily be seen as a triptych portrait of a debauched night out. When erstwhile best friends Manuel (Tristán Ulloa), Julio (Guillermo Toledo) and Ana (Blanca Romero) reunite for a boozy dinner that turns into a clubbing, dancing, drugging free-for-all, old attractions and resentments rise to the surface. The film could even be viewed as a series of somewhat premature mid-life crises, but what writer/director Alberto Rodríguez compellingly portrays is three people fervently, desperately seeking connection.

By dividing the film into three sections, Rodríguez gives the audience the point of view of each character and their variously quiet lives of desperation. Manuel is a husband and father, who gets punished by his young son for losing the family dog and for not rescuing him from swimming class. Cutting backwards and forwards through time, the audience feels Manuel’s palpating frustration with his life of domestic servitude. Whereas Julio has no family life, a travelling businessman, his connections are virtual, sexual and superficial. In one superb scene he meets up with a woman he met on the internet for sex, only to be thoroughly, humiliatingly used by her. And the beautiful Ana is the unrequited love of both men, yet she too lives an unfulfilled life. Coveting Manuel’s domesticity, she rescues, but doesn’t return his dog, in what is a coolly cruel act of appropriation.

The night fuelled by alcohol, drugs and barely contained lust only act to excavate the trio’s desperation. Rodríguez draws out incisive performances from each of his leads, and links their increasingly ardent acts through a repeated musical refrain and excavating slow motion. His most successful motif is the three glittering heart badges Julio pins to each chest; the three joyfully drink and laugh and reminisce, but those winking hearts speak to a greater malaise, just below the sparkling surface.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Interview: Rupert Murray (The End of the Line)

A self-proclaimed ‘seafood addict,’ British filmmaker Rupert Murray is passionately committed to saving his supper. Discussing the perilous fate of the world’s seafood population, as it is compellingly outlined in The End of the Line, it seems Murray is not alone, “The people who made the film are all divers or fishermen and seafood addicts,” he says. “We care about the oceans and the fact that people want to eat seafood and that seafood is delicious.”

Married to an Australian, Murray is also well aware of the local seafood culture and ruefully describes how a spot of night fishing in Townsville cured him of the sport, “I’d had a few drinks and I caught this massive eel and I couldn’t get it off the line and I didn’t want to grapple with it,” he says. “But there were these two identical, obese twins (we were the only three people on the pier) and I asked them to get it off the line for me, which was a bit wet really. But I thought, ‘If I can’t take the eel of the line, I shouldn’t be fishing,’ so I gave up that day!”

Murray has been much more successful grappling with the alarming statistics surrounding the global fishing industry and the frighteningly close year, 2048, that spells the end of the line for world fish stocks. While overfishing and lax government oversight are obvious factors, Murray is adamant about one thing, “It’s not an environmental problem, it’s a people problem. It’s a consumer problem; we all go to the supermarket, the fish and chip shop, the sushi restaurant and buy seafood and that’s the problem we’re talking about.”

“You would have thought that our politicians and fisheries managers had been looking after the seas for us. It’s their job: to manage the fishing industry, to work out how many fish there were and how much the fishing industry could take out, so there would be fish left for future generations. But they failed in that task and so now it’s down to us. In an extremely stressful and busy world, we now have to take on board this other task, which is a little bit tiresome. But unfortunately if we want these things to remain, we need to do it, we need to become informed consumers.”

Encouragingly, The End of the Line has already gone a long way to instituting change. “The impact has been phenomenal,” Murray describes, “Julian Metcalfe, who runs a chain here called Pret A Manger, watched the film and without the knowing about the buzz it was about to create, he changed his fish sourcing policy.” The documentary has also been raised in the British House of Commons, as well as screening in the Australian Parliament. And Murray is optimistic, “It’s a domino effect; once a few supermarkets or restaurants begin the process of giving you that information [about where their seafood is sourced], then others follow.”

“We’ve taken seafood for granted for a very long time, and I think that’s the key, to start looking at the fish on your plate and thinking, ‘This is a wild animal. Was it taken out of the sea in a good way or was it taken out of the sea in a bad way.’”

Published by Street Press Australia
The End of the Line Australian release date: 13 May 2010

I, Don Giovanni

There’s something fittingly old-fashioned about Carlos Saura’s I, Don Giovanni. The story of Mozart (Lino Guanciale), his librettist Lorenzo de Ponte (Lorenzo Balducci) and their collective, operatic triumph is a delightful series of painted sets, period-perfect costumes and powdered wigs. The film’s light-hearted, youthful tone is well suited to such a musical history lesson, particularly where it the extensive, operatic interludes might lose an audience unfamiliar with the art form.

Instead all can delight in the fickle heart of de Ponte. In the late 18th Century this sometime priest is exiled from Venice for his philandering proclivities, encouraged by none other than the legendary lover Giacomo Casanova (Tobias Moretti). Fleeing to Vienna, de Ponte takes Casanova’s letter of introduction to the illustrious composer Salieri (Ennio Fantastichini), who is much celebrated by the Viennese court. However de Ponte is instead paired with the eccentric Mozart and together they impress with The Marriage of Figaro before going on to create the controversial and groundbreaking Don Giovanni. In a case of life imitating art, de Ponte daringly encourages his maestro to compose a reworked story of the titular libertine, whose seductive ways made for a scandalous reception by the Viennese court in Prague.

The Spanish writer/director clearly has a deep love of music; with his filmography including ‘The Flamenco Trilogy’ as well as films inspired by musical movements Tango and Fados. This reverence for the art form is evident in his casting real singers to act as well as perform the opera, to which he gives over entire scenes of the film. If the intervening acting seems a little campy, much of the ground is regained in these awe-inspiring operatic feats. Indeed it’s a wonderful way to be introduced to Mozart’s operas, as the entertaining backstory and theatrical politics provide an accessible context through which to appreciate Don Giovanni.

Saura is perhaps a little too reliant upon the mastery of Mozart and de Ponte. Outside the theatre the soundtrack calls upon refrains from Don Giovanni to amp up the atmosphere, and though Saura is obviously trying to draw parallels between de Ponte’s reformative love of Annetta (Emilia Verginelli) and Giovanni’s damned fate, the juxtaposition falls flat. Somehow his affecting theatricality on stage doesn’t quite translate when the music stops. Indeed though similar in style I, Don Giovanni is no Shakespeare in Love; it lacks the playful reflexivity as well as the prodigious writing of Tom Stoppard. And yet on stage this film does manage to get one up on the Bard, and the captivating opera is almost enough to carry the film.


Published by Street Press Australia

Australian release date: 6 May 2010

Thursday, May 13, 2010

New York, I Love You

Everyone is drawn to the Big Apple, but New York, I Love You
will likely divide audiences. There will be those who are fans of it’s predecessor Paris, je t’aime and who are drawn to the idea of an ensemble exercise in short filmmaking that seeks to uncover the je ne sai quoi of its titular city. Then there will be those who find the shorts trite and try-hard, stewing in their own sense of collaborative self worth. So it could really go either way.

Those predisposed to enjoy this film will delight in the concept. Producer Emmanuel Benbihy’s (Crash – which explains a lot) brainchild is a ‘Cities of Love’ series of feature films that promotes “collective filmmaking”; that is it requires a co-op of eleven filmmakers to produce individual eight minute shorts that could be woven into a single, coherent narrative. On top of this, the filmmakers were only given two days to shoot and seven to edit, with the whole film shot back-to-back in eight weeks. Those up for the challenge include Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding), Fatih Akin (Soul Kitchen), Shekhar Khapur (Elizabeth), Allen Hughes (The Book of Eli), Jiang Wen (The Sun Also Rises), Brett Ratner (Rush Hour) as well as Natalie Portman in her directorial debut.

Crisscrossing between iconic pockets of New York, the film is an extended riff on the heteroglossia of love in its variously wonderful, touching, comedic and maddening forms. The acting talent includes the likes of Robin Wright Penn, Orlando Bloom, Andy Garcia, Bradley Cooper, Ethan Hawke, Eli Wallach, Natalie Portman, Shia LeBeouf, Irrfan Khan and Julie Christie. A prestigious grouping to be sure, as is the fact that Benbihy credits the late, great Anthony Minghella (The English Patient) for encouraging him to venture to Manhattan.

On the flip side, there will be those who can’t stand New York, I Love You. They’ll roll their eyes at Nair’s cross-cultural look at the diamond trade, wonder what on earth LeBeouf is doing as a hunchback bell boy (scripted by Minghella) and figure the odds are stacked against a film in which Ratner’s romp in Central Park is the comedic highlight. And they will definitely rue the fact that more ‘Cities of Love’ are on their way, with Shanghai slated for this year, and Jerusalem and Mumbai for 2011. It remains to be seen if audiences find this eclectic collection of tales affecting or annoying. It’s certainly a mixed bag of themes, writing and performances (Hayden Christensen should cease and desist), but it’s hard not to be encouraged by the collaborative goodwill of all involved and their shared fascination in the city that never sleeps.

Published by Street Press Australia
Australian release date: 13 May 2010

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Love, Lust & Lies

For 35 years, acclaimed Australian director Gillian Armstrong (My Brilliant Career, Charlotte Gray) has been following the lives of three Adelaide women. What started as a one-off short film documenting what it is to be a 14-year-old in 1975 has become a five-part series, with Armstrong checking in with the girls again at 18, 26, 33 and 47. For those unfamiliar with the project, the opening 25 minutes of the latest installment, Love, Lust & Lies, is devoted to bringing the audience up to date with the lives of best friends Kerry, Diana and Josie.

Time brings marriages, children, financial woes and hopeful dreams for the trio in what is a captivating portrait of family, motherhood and aspiration. All three dropped out of school as soon as possible, and the inter-generational consequences resonate profoundly with the women’s common wish for a better life for their children. Armstrong captures all with a compassionate and reflexive eye, as she unobtrusively includes herself in the film as a testament to what has become a life-long friendship.

Indeed, rather than relegate these women to the proverbial quiet lives of desperation, Armstrong has created a compelling social document. And though there are obviously similarities to Michael Apted’s famous Seven-Up series, Armstrong’s achievement is unique to Australian cinema, providing both a fascinating social history and a deeply personal account of these three remarkable, ordinary women.

Published on Concrete Playground

Australian release date (limited): 13 May 2010

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Preview: Sydney Film Festival

Miranda Otto in South Solitary

The Sydney Film Festival has been officially unleashed. That means it’ll soon be time to once again take up residence in the State Theatre, to brave the cold and the inevitable rain to catch a glimpse of red carpet glitterati, to marvel at the packed lunches brought by the blue-rinse set and, of course, to try and cram in as many handpicked cinematic gems as your budget/boss/bum numbness will allow.

Mecca for Sydney cinephiles, this year’s festival is stacked with over 150 films from 47 countries. It’s most exciting to see opening night honours return to an Australian film with the world premiere of South Solitary. Shirley Barrett’s period drama stars father/daughter duo Barry and Miranda Otto, playing an uncle and niece who move out onto a remote island. Other anticipated local titles include the western Red Hill, with its buzz from the Berlinale, Radha Mitchell and Joel Edgerton in the Indian adoption story The Waiting City and The Tree, a French-Australian film (starring the gorgeous Charlotte Gainsbourg) that will be fresh from closing night prestige at Cannes.

Now in its third year, the festival’s official competition will see 12 films vying for the increasingly illustrious Blue Pavlova, as well as a tidy $60,000 prize money. In the running to be the most, "courageous, audacious and cutting edge" are such titles as Michael Winterbottom’s divisive The Killer Inside Me, the singular Todd Solondz’s Life During Wartime and Chris Morris’s absolutely outrageous-looking jihadist comedy Four Lions. Prizes are also up for grabs for documentaries and short films, each with an impressive lineup of contestants. Locally anticipated is the Australian doco Cane Toads: The Conquest, which is shot in glorious 3D.

Once again, the festival has divided the program into experiential sections: Make Me Laugh, Fire Me Up, Freak Me Out, Love Me, Push Me to the Edge and Take Me on a Journey. These may or may prove helpful to audiences trying to wade through the hefty program, but in amongst it all are some fascinating films. There’s the truly sublime-looking I am Love (no guesses for the category), the impossibly endearing Babies, the controversial Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer, Stellan Skarsgård in the Norwegian crime comedy A Somewhat Gentle Man and an out-of-this-world documentary, Space Tourists.

It goes without saying that there are many, many more titles besides, including a vampire retrospective, kids films, restored classics and Sounds on Screen. So to make the most of all the films, talks and visiting luminaries, Sydneysiders should bookmark the festival website, download the iPhone app or seek out a hard copy to pour over, highlighter in hand, old school.

Sydney Film Festival: June 2-14 2010

Published on Concrete Playground

LinkWithin Related Stories Widget for Blogs