Thursday, September 30, 2010

Oh hi Jason

Giggles. Checking bank account. Sad face.

Teaser: True Grit

The Coen Brothers are at it again. Just watch:

The synopsis for True Grit reads:

Fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross’s (Hailee Steinfeld) father has been shot in cold blood by the coward Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), and she is determined to bring him to justice. Enlisting the help of a trigger-happy, drunken U.S. Marshal, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), she sets out with him — over his objections — to hunt down Chaney. Her father’s blood demands that she pursue the criminal into Indian territory and find him before a Texas Ranger named LeBoeuf (Matt Damon) catches him and brings him back to Texas for the murder of another man.

Call me crazy, but watching this teaser, my mind went straight to Winter's Bone. Debra Granik's brilliant film struck me as a Western, and I wonder if Steinfeld will impress as much as Jennifer Lawrence does in the central role. She'll surely have her work cut out for her to steal scenes away from the likes of Bridges, Brolin and Damon.

True Grit is not coming to Australia until January 2011, so we have a handful of months to read Charles Portis' book, as well as revisiting John Wayne's Oscar winning turn in Henry Hathaway's 1969 version.

New Year just got a whole lot more exciting!

Australian release date: 26 January 2011
US release date: 25 December 2010
UK release date: 14 January 2011

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Manhattan Short Film Festival

The world’s first global film festival is kicking into gear for 2010. The brainchild of Aussie expat filmmaker Nicholas Mason, the Manhattan Short puts 10 short film finalists to a 100,000-strong world vote across 200 cities, on six continents. Once again, an Australian filmmaker has made the final cut, with Mairi Cameron’s Push Bike screening alongside films from Europe, the UK, Canada and Mexico.

Sydneysiders can look forward to entertainment and drinks after the screening, plus a sneaky after party at Kings Cross’ Beach Haus. Then, after a week of worldwide screenings, you can check to see how the voting panned out, with the winner announced online on October 6.

The Manhattan Short Film Festival Sydney screening is on TOMORROW (Thursday 30 September) at the Chauvel Cinemas
Published on Concrete Playground

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Please Give

Irreverent, awkward and pointedly hilarious, Nicole Holofcener’s (Friends with Money) latest multi-narrative ensemble is an ode to ‘first world’ guilt. With a nod to Woody Allen (and his hometown), Holofcener once again sees the world through her cinematic alter ego Catherine Keener.

Kate (Keener) owns a trendy furniture store along with husband Alex (Oliver Platt), which is stocked with antiques acquired from deceased estates. Their profitable scavenging reaches right next door as they await the passing of their cantankerous next-door neighbour, Andra (Ann Guilbert), in order to kick off their renovation plans. But Kate is forever seeking to assuage her guilt by reaching out to the local homeless population, which in turn raises the ire of her pustular teenage daughter (Sarah Steele). Rebecca Hall and Amanda Peet round out the central cast as Andra’s granddaughters, and when everyone gathers to celebrate Andra’s birthday the dysfunctional, New York microcosm is complete.

Holofcener’s masterful writing and vivid characters make for a singular, potentially polarising cinematic experience. Like them or loathe them, the personas in Please Give make for a comedic, affecting and decidedly unvarnished look at the messy stuff of life.

Published in The Big Issue (#363)
Please Give is currently screening in select Australian cinemas

Monday, September 27, 2010

Giveaway: The Tree

Back in June I saw Julie Bertuccelli's affecting portrait of a grieving family when The Tree screened at the Sydney Film Festival (click HERE to read my review). Now I'm delighted to be giving away tickets to see the film upon its Australian release this Thursday (30 September).

The official synopsis reads:

After the sudden death of her father, 8-year-old Simone shares a secret with her mother Dawn. She’s convinced her father speaks to her through the leaves of her favourite tree and he’s come back to protect them.
But the new bond between mother and daughter is threatened when Dawn starts a relationship with George, the plumber, called in to remove the tree’s troublesome roots.
As the branches of the tree start to infiltrate the house, the family is forced to make an agonising decision. But have they left it too late?

To win one of 10 double passes to see The Tree, simply email me with your name and address (subject line: The Tree). Winners will be notified by reply.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Dance on Film

Spring has sprung, and to get into the swing of the new season, the Opera House wants to get Sydney dancing. To entice the more reluctant movers and shakers, Artistic Director of the Australian Ballet Company David McAllister has selected three of his favourite dance films to screen free in the Opera House forecourt over the weekend. The idea is that you rock up early for a dance class before settling in to revel in the art form on the big screen.

The superlative Powell and Pressburger classic The Red Shoes will open the event. Any film fan must see this beauty, which Kate Jinx raved about earlier this year (sentiments I heartily second). And if you won't take our word for it, listen to Martin Scorsese, who calls The Red Shoes "one of the true miracles of film history".

Next up is the Academy Award-winning Australian animation Happy Feet. The accents of Mumbles and his fellow penguins may be American, but this marvellous family film is the work of Aussie director George Miller (Mad Max) and the world-class animators at Animal Logic (soon to impress again with Zack Snyder's Legend of the Guardians: the Owls of Ga’Hool, followed by Happy Feet 2).

Rounding out the programme is '80s classic (and a prevailing guilty pleasure) Footloose. The film that brought Kevin Bacon fame — before he became a parlour gameFootloose sees a rebellious teen's will to dance prevail over the censorship of a parochial town. The film’s title track is probably as famous as Bacon's iconic dance routine, and both are sure to tempt audiences to bust a move.

Published on Concrete Playground
Friday 24 - Sunday 26 September at 5:30pm in the Opera House Forecourt.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sydney International Animation Festival

Pixar may be the dominating force in animation, but a showcase of artistic hopefuls will be on display at UTS. For its second year, the Sydney International Animation Festival (SIAF) opens its doors to the intricate world of animation, with a lineup that includes Pixar animator Rodrigo Blaas' gorgeously creepy directorial debut Alma as well as Oscar-winning short Logorama. Other anticipated Global Goodies are Jean-Christophe Lie’s acclaimed short The Man in the Blue Gordini and Mathieu Bergeron and Yves Martel's (suitably, animated) documentary A Thorn in the Mind, which ventures behind the scenes of six renowned animators.

Alongside the two days of screenings, SIAF will also run an inaugural one-day symposium on 'Animated Histories and Futures' as well as screening the finalists for the debut SIXTY40 Proto-ninja Nationwide Animation Competition. Local talent will be showcased in the Animaaate! program, plus the exciting digital vision of dreamtime, Wadu Matyidi.

Published on Concrete Playground
Friday 24-Sunday 26 September

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Preview: Italian Film Festival

The Italian Film Festival is about to dominate the Sydney cinematic scene for another year. Of the 25 films screening, opening night honours go to Daniele Luchetti’s portrait of a working-class Roman, La Nostra Vita, which garnered Elio Germano Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival. Also selected from Cannes is Draquila – Italy Trembles, Sabina Guzzanti’s compelling examination of the 2009 earthquake that killed 300 and devastated the Abruzzo region.

Further highlights include Giuseppe Tornatore's (Cinema Paradiso) glorious, high-spec period piece Barrìa, which was the first Italian film to open the Venice Film Festival in 20 years. The Front Line turns the true story of a daring prison break into a searing political thriller, strikingly produced by the Dardenne Brothers. The Man Who Will Come took out Best Film at the David Di Donnotello (Italian Academy) Awards, as it lyrically chronicles the Marzabotto Massacre of World War II. And after charming in German culinary fable Mostly Martha, Martina Gedeck and Sergio Castellitto reunite as a married couple in the tender drama Bets & Wedding Dresses.

Lighter fare comes in the form of writer-director and actor Carlo Verdone's screwball comedy Me, Them and Lara, or the Florentine, single 40-something female comedy Marriage and Other Disasters. While committed Italian cinema fans might take up the challenge with What Do You Know About Me, Valerio Jalongo's behind-the-curtain look at the evolution of the local film industry.

Capping off the festival in a spectacular closing night double feature is Vittorio de Sica's 1948, neorealist classic Bicycle Thieves, which will screen alongside Vittorio D., Marino Canale's captivating documentary about one of Italian (and indeed, World) cinema’s most revered directors. It goes without saying that this is a must-see for all film lovers.

Published on Concrete Playground
See the Italian Film Festival website for screening dates around Australia


Monday, September 20, 2010

DVD: In Search of Beethoven

The man behind the first feature length documentary about Mozart (In Search of Mozart) has turned his sights on the musician’s successor, Ludwig van Beethoven. Stylistically, Phil Grabsky’s portrait is no great shakes; it’s your stock standard birth-to-death tale as shared by talking heads (predominantly old white guys), intercut with contemporary portraits and modern musical performances, all strung together by the plummy tones of narrator Juliet Stevenson. And yet because of this simplicity – or perhaps in spite of it – Grabsky manages to communicate Beethoven’s extraordinary genius in a way that is both easily accessible and marvellously entertaining.

For those with only a passing knowledge of the musician and his works, the documentary expertly locates Beethoven in the context of late Eighteenth to early Nineteenth Century Vienna. Contending with the looming shadows of both Mozart and Haydn, Beethoven comes across as a brash, young upstart, keen to show off his prodigious talents by producing near-impossible piano concertos. Known to have a temper that almost matched his musical virtuosity, the various talking heads in this documentary are to some extent keen apologists, though their bias is mitigated by their palpable exuberance for this man and his music. And what music! Beethoven’s third symphony is described as ‘a monster;’ his seventh, ‘an uppercut to the audience.’ Such metaphors are accompanied by utterly compelling orchestral performances, as if the long gone, famously deaf composer was reaching through the ages to assert his right of reply. 

In Search of Beethoven is now available on DVD

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On

Two friends (Kate and Marc) recently posted this impossibly cute short, and I couldn't help myself, I had to spread the love.

MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON from Dean Fleischer-Camp on Vimeo.

Hats off to Dean Fleisher-Camp and Jenny Slate. You two have made the world a happier place.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Wizard of Oz

Judy Garland may be the quintessential Dorothy, but she wasn't the first. Fourteen years before Garland followed the yellow brick road in glorious Technicolor, Dorothy Dwan did so in Larry Semon's silent film. Largely lost from the cinematic history books (the film bankrupted its production company and distribution was therefore squandered), Semon's take on L. Frank Baum's famous tale will now be screened as part of the Opera House's Screen Live series. Australian pianist Jan Preston will be on hand to provide live musical accompaniment. Preston is no stranger to silent film, having composed and recorded music for Fritz Lang's 1928 classic The Spy.

Fans of Dorothy and her motley crew of friends will be sure to delight in this original filmic adaptation, which will be introduced by Jay Katz from the Mu Meson Archives.

Published on Concrete Playground
For your diaries: Sunday 19 September 2010 at the Opera House

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I'm Still Here

I'm Still Here is a beautiful nightmare. In fact, if Banksy's Exit Through the Gift Shop heralded a new 'prankumentary' subgenre, then I'm Still Here raises it to an art form. But Casey Affleck's directorial debut will definitely divide audiences, not merely along the lines of questioning the veracity* of Joaquin Phoenix's retirement but rather the lengths the 'documentary' goes to take its subject from the sublime to the ridiculous. Sex, shitting and spewing: nothing is sacred in this portrait of repugnant celebrity.

At its simplest, the film plays like a season of Entourage, on acid. As Phoenix makes the rash decision to retire from acting in order to pursue a career in hip hop, he is forever flanked by various assistants, and friends, as well as the man behind the camera (and also often in front of it), his brother-in-law, Affleck. This spectacular fall from grace sees Phoenix go from the clean-shaven darling of the Golden Globes, to the pudgy, bearded, mumbling mess who made that appearance on David Letterman.

Affleck ramps up to the infamous interview in what is an incredibly constructed and artfully conceived film, which at times eerily echoes Gus Van Sant's Death Trilogy (Affleck co-starred in the first film, Gerry). The director plays on his audience's sensibilities like a seasoned puppet master, with Phoenix bumbling around like a loveable — if increasingly unhinged — buffoon, until the laughter all but stops as the consequences of his actions (constructed or not) become sobering indeed.

In crafting this car crash charade, Affleck called on the awkward brilliance of Ben Stiller and the Commander Adama gravitas of Edward James Olmos alongside a surprisingly scene-stealing Sean Combs. And Phoenix himself chain-smokes his way through a riveting, Herculean performance, one that in its infuriatingly meta way will no doubt define his career. Together Affleck and Phoenix have created a staggering work of near-transcendent genius — as explosive a filmmaking debut as (an alleged) celebrity meltdown.

Published on Concrete Playground
Australian release date (limited): 16 September 2010

***Update: So Affleck fessed up to the New York Times. The film is a fake, or as he calls it, an attempt at 'gonzo filmmaking'. I wonder why he spilled the beans so soon?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Giveaway: The Reluctant Infidel

This button-pushing British comedy is coming to Australian cinemas tomorrow (16 September), and I have 10 double passes to give away. Fans of The West Wing take note, this film co-stars Richard Schiff, and he's pretty damn funny.

Here's the official synopsis:

A comedy of ethnic proportions
Meet Mahmud Nasir, London taxi driver, loving husband, doting father and something of a “relaxed” Muslim. Does the “F” word occasionally pass his lips? It’s hardly worth mentioning. Does he say his prayers five times a day? Of course! Well, usually… Does he fast every day of Ramadan? Who’s counting anyway? He may not be the most observant, but in his heart he is as Muslim as it gets. But after his mother’s death a discovery turns Mahmud’s world upside down. He finds his birth certificate which reveals that not only was he adopted at birth…but he’s Jewish, and his real name is Solly Shimshillewitz! As Mahmud tumbles headlong into a full scale identity crisis, the only person he can turn to is Lenny, a drunken Jewish cabbie who agrees to give him lessons in Jewishness, which start with how to dance like Topol. Oy vey. 

To nab a double pass, simply email me with your name and address. Winners will be notified by reply.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Matching Jack

Jacinda Barrett (Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason) gives a fearless performance as a mother ferociously protecting her son in this tender family drama directed by Nadia Tass. When Jack (om Russell) loses his puff at a soccer game, Marissa (Barrett) takes him for a check up, where her idyllic life crumbles into the stuff of nightmares. Not only is Jack racing the clock against cancer, her acclaimed architect husband David (Richard Roxburgh) is also a serial adulterer. Marissa’s search for a bone marrow donor then brings her face to face with all of David’s former flings, while in hospital Jack befriends his roommate Finn (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and his resolutely merry Irish father, Connor (James Nesbitt).

Matching Jack feels a little like Australia’s answer to last year's Hollywood-made My Sister’s Keeper. Tissues are most certainly required. Although the plot feels cluttered at times – Marissa’s quest has to compete with a romantic subplot, and Nesbitt’s whimsical Irishman borders on cliché – the brilliant casting across the board carries the audience through. Russell and Smit-McPhee confirm themselves as young Australian actors to watch, while ex-model Barrett proves she is profoundly more than a pretty face.

Published in The Big Issue (#361)
Australian release date: 19 August 2010

Monday, September 13, 2010

Interview: Ricki Stern (Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work)

 Image - Ricki Stern, Joan Rivers and Annie Sundberg

There is no way Joan Rivers is going to go gentle into that good night. The 77 year old has way too much energy, tussle, and, yes, rage for that. Bringing the reigning queen of comedy to the big screen in Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, documentary filmmaker Ricki Stern was rather surprised to find that, much like her subject, she too had to put up quite a fight. After making documentaries about a man’s wrongful incarceration (The Trials of Darryl Hunt) and the horrific realities of Darfur (The Devil Came on Horseback), Stern was well aware that this film would be a change of gear (“As I say, Darfur to diva”), but did not expect the pushback from her colleagues.

“When I went out to make this film about Joan Rivers, there was a lot of [sarcastic tone], ‘Well, that’s an interesting departure for you!’ and ‘Good luck to ya!’,” she says. “In the long run I realised I was really angry that people in the business who I counted on were so sceptical. It was a bit of a struggle to make [the film]. In many ways I experienced a fraction of what Joan experiences in pursuing her own career, because she’s constantly challenged [and] you’re constantly challenged by: ‘How relevant are you? What’s your demographic?’.”

Rising to the challenge, just like Rivers, Stern seems ultimately invigorated by the uphill battle and ‘lean’ production. “You’re constantly going ‘Oh woe is me’ maybe, but in the end, I just feel like what I see from my filmmaking peers, there’s always a certain level that’s deeper and more meaningful when they’ve had to struggle to tell their story.”

So what’s meaningful about Joan Rivers? Predominantly (in)famous for her plastic surgery and red carpet antics, Stern felt it imperative to dig a little deeper. “I really wanted to create early on the film a foundation for her legacy. My concern was that people would go, ‘oh there’s that lady Joan Rivers. She’s that lady on the red carpet,’ and then not value what her history is. So very early on I was like, ‘we’ve got to quickly establish, even in the opening sequence, that she’s a legitimate person that you’ve got to pay attention to.’

The result is a delicately balanced portrait of the comedienne, which intercuts the indefatigable septuagenarian with archival footage of her heyday on The Johnny Carson Show, and the failed solo show that lead to her producer-husband’s suicide. It’s an enlightening, poignant combination.

“I think exposing someone for who they are and really revealing someone who is an interesting, influential person, who is so misunderstood in some regards, is [an] interesting process, and if you can do that, I think people will be genuinely interested and taken by it.”

Indeed, for all naysayers, it turns out both Stern and Rivers have found their audience. “It was [for] the people who thought of [Rivers] as a joke, because they had this perception of this public persona that she had created and had morphed into. This commercialised version of who she was. Once they understood that this is something she created and is something she’s in control of, I think she regained a certain level of respect.”

 Published by Street Press Australia
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work is currently screening at ACMI

Friday, September 10, 2010

Australia's Silent Film Festival

Once again it's time to embrace the shhhh and brush up on the beginnings of cinema. Australia’s Silent Film Festival has arranged another stellar programme of pre-talkie classics, including Australia’s attempt at a Hollywood epic, For the Term of his Natural Life (1927). This is in fact the third adaptation of Marcus Clarke’s famous novel, which tells the tale of two look-alike men, one wrongfully accused for the other’s murder and sent to a treacherous penal colony on Van Dieman's Land.

It's also incredibly exciting to see Yasujiro Ozu’s Passing Fancy (Dekigokoro - 1933) on the programme. The master of construction and character, and the hugely influential director of such cinematic gems as Tokyo Story and Floating Weeds, Ozu was a comparatively late adopter of sound. As his 23rd silent film, Passing Fancy looks at the relationship between father and son with a lighter, more comedic touch than his later odes to family.

Other festival highlights include a Buster Keaton marathon, the groundbreaking piece of German expressionism The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and, from before there was Rob Marshall, Cecil B. DeMille’s Chicago (1927). The festival is also running a lecture on 1920s fashion as well as live music accompaniment and introductions for each screening.

Published on Concrete Playground
 September 11-25

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Golden Thread

Here's the beautiful first video from Passenger's forthcoming album Flight of the Crow.

Golden Thread sees Passenger collaborate with Australia's young talent Matt Corby. The gorgeous animation looks to be once again by Mark Carlton.

Click here for album pre-order details.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Going the Distance

Going the Distance may not exactly rock the conventions of the rom-com, but it is a refreshingly vibrant addition to the genre. So while the meet-cute, montages and requisite emotional rollercoaster (or are dodgem cars a better metaphor?) follow a route as familiar as the one our couple criss-cross between New York and San Francisco, the saving grace is chemistry. It can’t necessarily have been a given that real life on-and-off again couple Drew Barrymore and Justin Long would be able to spice up the silver screen, and yet admirably and oftentimes hilariously, they manage to do so. Playing [insert your suitably yuppie professions here], Erin and Garrett share a delightfully drunken one-night stand before agreeing to casually keep seeing each other for Erin's final six weeks in the Big Apple.

No points for guessing what happens next, but here's where credit must go to debut screenwriter Geoff LaTulippe and especially director Nanette Burstein (American Teen), for keeping up the pace and mixing the many phone montages with a solid supporting cast. Christina Applegate is a great addition as Erin's protective sister Corinne. The character may be derivative of Leslie Mann’s turn in Knocked Up, yet she and Barrymore share some of the film's funniest scenes, filled with raunchy girl talk. In fact, one of the most delightful aspects of Going the Distance is the (all too rare) eclectic array of blue, silly, witty comedy the script gives the women to bash around.

As Burstein's first foray into feature filmmaking, Going the Distance benefits from her documentary background. Bearing a light touch and a fine ability to juggle an ensemble, she has succeeded in injecting new vigour into an increasingly desperate genre. And regardless of whether or not Barrymore and Long make it off-screen, their youthful frivolity and rapid-fire repartee are skilfully wedded together on film.

Published on Concrete Playground
Australian release date: 2 September 2010

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Trailer: I'm Still Here

Great news Australia! Roadshow has just announced that Casey Affleck's directorial debut I'm Still Here will be coming to (limited) cinemas on September 16th.

The jury's still out as to whether or not Affleck's film is an actual portrait of Joaquin Phoenix or something more in the vein of Banky's Exit Through the Gift Shop. I'm leaning towards the latter, mostly so I can look upon Phoenix's appearance on David Letterman as a piece of inspired performance art rather than, well, a train wreck.

What say you? And mockumentary or no, how brilliant is the film's poster?

Official synopsis: 

With remarkable access, I’M STILL HERE follows Joaquin Phoenix as he announces his retirement from a successful film career in the fall of 2008 and sets off to reinvent himself as a hip hop musician. Sometimes funny, sometimes shocking, and always riveting, the film is a portrait of an artist at a crossroads. Defying expectations, it deftly explores notions of courage and creative reinvention, as well as the ramifications of a life spent in the public eye.

Australian release date (limited): 16 September 2010
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