Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Little Fockers

This film suffers from a major case of false advertising. From the title you might be persuaded that Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro had passed their dysfunctional schtick along to the next generation, or that the film actually has something to do with the holiday season, when really it's just more of the same Meet The Parents shenanigans with an afterthought of a Christmas scene plonked on the end. That's ok, insofar as you're mostly spared little munchkins trying to do comedy, but why all the misdirection?

Director Paul Weitz (American Pie) and his all-star cast seem more than happy to continue riffing on the same ole' chords. If you can believe, it's been a six years since Meet the Fockers (and ten since the original Meet the Parents), and in that time Greg (Stiller) has risen up the ranks of hospital administration and is now being courted by a smoking hot drug rep (Love & Other Drugs style) Andi Garcia (Jessica Alba) to make some quick cash spruiking for an erectile dysfunction drug. The extra income comes at an opportune moment, for the ever over-bearing Jack (De Niro) has decided to shift the patriarchal crown over to his son-in-law, and in doing so heavily suggests Greg should get his finances in order and his kids into private schools. This leads to all manner of miscommunication as Greg and Jack tour the comically named Early Human School, run by the fiercely free spirited Prudence, in a scene-stealing cameo by Laura Dern. But this is as much as the film has to do with the little Fockers, as the rest is just elbowroom for Stiller, De Niro and the reintroduced Owen Wilson as Greg's wealthy, worldly rival Kevin, to muck around on screen.

And yet for all the telegraphed laughs and the mind-numbing obviousness of it all, there is actually something relatively fun about watching these guys chew the scenery with the likes of Harvey Keitel, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand and Blythe Danner. Everyone looks to be having a truckload of fun, newcomer Alba especially, so one can be forgiven for being swept up in the benign frivolity. But of course another way to look at the misleading marketing and Boxing Day release is as a blatant cash-grab, to which you can say 'Bah Humbug' and tell Stiller, De Niro and their Little Fockers to, well, you know.

Published on Concrete Playground
Australian release date: 26 December 2010

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Under a crisp blue sky, a black Ferrari careens in circles around a dusty track. It circles, and circles, and circles.

If you're bored already, then chances are you won't fancy taking a trip to Sofia Coppola's Somewhere. Shot in long takes, this languorous, intimate and shamelessly introspective film is in many ways created as a companion piece to Lost in Translation; another story that could easily be lumped under the title 'first world whinge,' were it not so beautifully crafted.

Ensconced in the plush purgatory of the Chateau Marmont, listless and lost celebrity Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) whiles his time away in semi-drunken stupor, his only company being whomever he can lure into his bedroom, and the occasional phone call from his agent. Then one day Johnny wakes up to find his 11-year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) sitting on his bed, and in her company Johnny starts to notice, and then to question, the gilded cage he has crafted for himself.

Somewhere is time-image cinema in the vein of Michelangelo Antonioni. This essentially means: don't expect much to happen, it’s all about submitting to the atmosphere that Coppola quietly, expertly conjures. Coppola, with her remarkable cinematographer Harris Savides (Elephant) and accompanied by original music from her partner Thomas Mars of Phoenix, together have crafted a piece of contemplation as cinema. It won't work for everybody, particularly those who can't quite dig up some empathy for a character tantamount to a poor little rich boy. But here Coppola is both aware and unapologetic — the jets, the glamorous hotel suites, the press junkets — it's her world and she's recreating it intricately and self-reflexively.

Dorff benefits from similarly reflexive casting, where his own faded celebrity almost becomes a cautionary tale for Johnny. Drunk, bewildered, and eventually yearning, Dorff brings Johnny to life with compassion and pathos. He is however routinely upstaged by the glorious Elle Fanning, whose fresh-faced performance delights, and who manages to hit her emotional mark with much more conviction than her costar. But their chemistry is wonderfully understated and in a testament to Coppola's assured direction.

For all its restraint, slice-of-life naturalism and superb soundtrack, Somewhere is a film and a mood that you can sink into like a deep, comfy sofa. This languid ambiance is threatened by the film's comparatively overstated ending, for in crafting the conclusion to the opening metaphor, Coppola unfortunately goes for the glaringly obvious. It feels like a disappointing misstep, but even this is not quite enough to spoil the reverie.

Published on Concrete Playground
Australian release date: 26 December 2010

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The King's Speech

Forget the Ashes, this is the history making Australia vs. England match you need to be watching come Boxing Day. The showdown is between the son of an Aussie brewer and Duke of York. Sounds like an unfair fight? Well, therein lies the magic of The King’s Speech.  

Tom Hooper’s pitch-perfect film is not your usual Royal fare: pomp, pretension and a parade of costumery. Instead he concentrates on this very unlikely friendship, between ebullient speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) and the stiff-upper-lip stutterer Prince Albert, or Bertie (Colin Firth) as his wife (Helena Bonham Carter) and family call him. That Logue insists on using the personal moniker should give you some clue into the class and cultural power play this film navigates, and it is one further complicated by the scandalous twist of fate which sees Bertie’s forced to assume the throne in 1936 after his brother King Edward (Guy Pearce) abdicates in order to marry an American divorcee Wallis Simpson (Eve Best).  

It is truly bizarre to think that Logue, an amateur actor from Perth, found himself in the middle of one of the 20th Century’s watershed political fracas. But in privileging his relationship with Prince Albert above the arguably more saucy account of King Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson, Hooper and screenwriter David Seidler (a childhood stammerer) have themselves created an important historical document. In fact it seems Hooper has a golden touch when it comes to brining history to the screen: he is best known for the acclaimed mini series John Adams, as well as pegging Helen Mirren as Elizabeth I before she was The Queen. Though perhaps The King’s Speech finds more common ground with Hooper’s last film, The Damned United, a must-see account of infamous football manager Brian Clough’s rocky friendship with his assistant manager Peter Taylor. In Hooper’s hands, history really does come intricately and miraculously alive.  

But wait, before you set your brains to doze off in history class, take note: The King’s Speech also happens to be one of the most masterful, endearing and supremely joyful films of the year.  

Indeed critics are falling all over themselves to shower this film in superlatives, and evidently this review will be no different. For this is a production that hits every beat with staggering precision; from the period production design, cinematographer Danny Cohen’s subtly off-centre framing and Alexandre Desplat’s tell-tale, luminous score, through to Seidler’s dryly funny script and of course the Oscar bait performances. Firth nails a stammerer’s guttural clicks and frustrated, pained expression perfectly, while Rush tempers his goofy exuberance with an affecting humanity. Similarly, Bonham Carter reigns in her wild-eyed zany, instead tapping into her more restrained Merchant Ivory days of old, and Pierce subtly steals his scenes as the fantastically effete and enamoured King Edward. In fact the only off note in this remarkable ensemble is Timothy Spall, who could have dialled his caricature of Winston Churchill down a few decibels.  

To return to the microphone, the genius, and the enormous heart of The King’s Speech emanates from the demands of this alien device as well as the title’s multiple meanings. For Bertie and Logue belonged to the new era of the wireless, a technology not yet advanced enough to enable editing, so a King’s speech must be broadcast live. This makes for quite a clammy-handed climax, as Logue and Bertie’s friendship culminates in a heart-wrenching address on 3 September 1939, the day Great Britain declared war on Germany. This scene, emblematic of the rest of the film, is handled with refreshing intelligence, wit and a striking artistry. And as these are such precious qualities in cinema, they are surely enough to warrant setting warring cricket fidelities aside to celebrate this beautifully crafted and delightfully peculiar piece of Anglo-Australian history?  

Come on Poms, let’s shake on it.

Published on TheVine
Australian release date: 26 December 2010


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone!!!

I trust your day was filled with family, friends, piles of great food and even more laughter.

This is good for some giggles to cap off (or ring in!) the festivities:

Virtual hugs to one and all!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Blue Valentine

Wretched and beautiful, devastating and passionate, Blue Valentine evokes every inch of its title’s dichotomy. From the simple premise of juxtaposing the beginning and end of a relationship, the film takes you to the giddy heights of new love through to the yawning abyss of loss. Michelle Williams and  Ryan Gosling are Cindy and Dean, two people from opposite sides of the tracks who gleefully succumb to love at first sight, though this courtship plays out alongside an altogether different point of view of their marriage, some six years later. In lesser hands this cross-cutting might have seemed trite, but writer-director Derek Cianfrance rather appropriately achieves the polar opposite.

In the past, Cindy and Dean meet — their youthful exuberance leaping off the screen. While in the present, a seething discontent emanates from Cindy whereas Dean opts for blase, and horsing around with their gorgeous daughter Frankie (Faith Wladyka). But when the pair winds up with an unforeseen night alone, Dean presses Cindy to visit a gimmicky motel and opts, ominously, for the 'future room'.
Like the cross-cutting, Cianfrance works this conceit with a deft touch. The neon blue hues of the future room are captured on the RED camera and clash perfectly with the warm red tones of the past, shot handheld on super 16mm. Similarly each vignette is superbly crafted, with the screenplay and editing ensuring every juxtaposition pays off for the audience, while the soundtrack by Grizzly Bear provides a musical throughline that ties the film together.

Williams and Gosling convince absolutely as both halves of this Blue Valentine. Williams succeeds her stripped down performance from Wendy & Lucy, and though his young Dean shares a faint resemblance to Noah from The Notebook, Gosling is able to temper that earnestness with deeper emotional tones and some stark, poignant questioning.

“You always hurt the ones you love,” Dean serenades Cindy in one of the film’s moving portents. It’s a testament to the power of Blue Valentine that this hurt extends to the audience, for watching these two cinematic slow dances of hope and heartache is to experience it all for yourself.

Published on Concrete Playground
Australian release date: 26 December 2010
To read my two feature interviews with Derek Cianfrance click HERE and HERE

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Interview 2: Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine)

This is my second feature interview with Derek Cianfrance - click HERE to read the first.

Just as it’s title suggests, Blue Valentine is an exquisitely tragic love story. It’s a film that provocatively traverses the fate of star-crossed lovers, but don’t go in expecting Romeo and Juliet. Instead, writer-director Derek Cianfrance has crafted his tale with a resolute eye on the plight of modern day relationships. With powerhouse performances from Michelle Williams (Wendy & Lucy, Shutter Island) and Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson, Lars and the Real Girl) Blue Valentine is both the story of the couple’s sublime infatuation, and, six years later, an account of a combustible couple of days in their marriage. 

Romeo and Juliet was a big inspiration,” reveals the softly spoken, wonderfully eloquent director. “Mostly because I felt like it’s the love tragedy that’s out there and it gets replayed time and time again; where two young people at the peak of their love end up dying in each other’s arms, and their love is preserved for all time.

“That’s the story that’s been taught to all of us, but I haven’t ever met anyone who’s had that good romantic fortune to die at the peak of their love, when everything’s great. But I know a lot of people that death doesn’t come in and betray their love, time [does.]

“So I didn’t want to make the Romeo and Juliet version, I wanted to make the version that I could actually relate to; that my parents [and] my friends could relate to, of what actually can happen. And in that idea of time, there [are] no answers. There [are] questions; there’s a mystery to it. So I wanted to make this mystery film about where love comes from and where it goes.”

After 12 years, Cianfrance’s has finally brought his mystery to the big screen, and to soaring critical acclaim. Masterfully crafted, many of the film’s questions emanate from its structure as Cianfrance tantalisingly, poignantly, and yes, at times, infuriatingly, cuts between the past and the present (for who wouldn’t wish to linger in the warm glow of the love story?). The filmmaker freely admits his debt to The Godfather Part II, but ventures yet further back in film history: “Cross-cutting storytelling goes back to D.W. Griffith and Intolerance, and I just think it’s such a powerful tool of the cinema.”

In Blue Valentine, this cross-cutting achieves a simple, yet devastating effect. “Contrast,” Cianfrance says, “Darkness and light. [Blue Valentine] was always based on these battling dualities that exist, the magnetic duality in nature that exists in all of us.”  

However, these polarising forces aren’t reflected in a gendered audience response to the film. Though Cianfrance manages an impressively even-handed account, Blue Valentine is sure to provoke many a heated debate as people pick sides for their sympathies: with Cindy, the harried nurse, or goofy but adoring father Dean. Chuckling as he recounts hiding out after screenings to hear the responses first hand, Cianfrance offers his evidence. “There’s a large portion of the audience that sees both sides of the movie. Then there’s a portion that goes on Dean’s side and a portion that goes for Cindy, and it’s not necessarily along gender lines. There’s a lot of women out there for instance who can’t understand why you’d leave a guy who looks like Ryan Gosling! And a lot of men say, ‘Dude, that guy’s so annoying!’”

“We were trying to play with gender specifics in this movie anyway. I would always tell Michelle that she was playing the man in this relationship and I would always tell Ryan that he was playing the woman.”

Bluntly confronting and endlessly compassionate, the film is at once a love story, a mystery and a cautionary tale. Regardless of which side of the battle you wind up on, Blue Valentine remains a thought-provoking, unforgettable experience; something that pleases the filmmaker no end: “To me that was such a compliment to the film that it could actually make people disagree.”

Image- Derek Cianfrance and Ryan Gosling (disagree with Dean if you dare!)

Published by Street Press Australia in 3D World (page 28)
Blue Valentine is released on Boxing Day - read my review HERE.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sarah's Key

This French film about atrocities committed by the State during World War II can be best summed up by a German word: Vergangenheitsbewältigung. There is no French or English equivalent, but essentially it means 'struggling to come to terms with the past,' which goes right to the heart of Sarah's Key (Elle s'appelait Sarah). Lead by a deeply compassionate performance from Kristin Scott Thomas (I've Loved You So Long) as an American journalist in Paris, Sarah's Key brings to light the horrors of the Vel'd'Hiv Roundup in 1942. Though based on Tatiana de Rosnay's bestselling fiction, the film revisions the actual events of the 16th and 17th July 1942, when the French police rounded up over 13,000 Jews and interned them in an inner city velodrome. 67 years later Julia (Scott Thomas) begins researching a story on the event, and discovers a terrible truth that literally extends right into her home.

Julia's emotionally charged journey in present day Paris is interlaced with the fate of the eponymous Sarah (Mélusine Mayance), a plucky young girl whose family is wrenched apart during the roundup. The scenes are agonisingly realised; director Gilles Paquet-Brenner (UV) achieves a devastatingly visceral experience, which pivots on the impressively honest performance of Mayance. The present day scenes were always going to be tricky by comparison, for doling out a serious lesson in 'Lest We Forget' needs to be extremely careful to stave off any bleeding hearts.

Mostly, Sarah's Key succeeds, particularly in communicating the vital importance of bringing such stories to the surface before the war generation disappears completely. Paquet-Brenner was also the first feature film director to shoot at the Paris Holocaust Memorial; a stark scene that he does well not to overplay. But while Scott-Thomas lends her marvellous gravitas and keen empathy to the film, even she stumbles through some overwritten moments, including the film’s cloyingly sentimental final scene.

Paquet-Brenner had a tough row to hoe in balancing the past and the present. His decision to spend more time in the modern day comes at the cost of really getting to know Sarah, however it does a fair bit to interrogate our contemporary conscience: "What would you have done?" Julia demands of her co-worker. This is a worthy question, and indeed a worthy film.

Published on Concrete Playground
Australian release date: 23 December 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Interview 1: Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine)

This is one of two feature articles published by Street Press Australia based my wonderful chat with Derek Cianfrance.

Half sublime sonnet, half gut-wrenching elegy, Blue Valentine is a film that inhabits your soul. The second feature from writer-director Derek Cianfrance, this critical and film festival favourite stars Michelle Williams (Wendy & Lucy) and Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson) as young couple Cindy and Dean, who fall desperately in love, before their bridal waltz becomes a danse macabre as the relationship unravels over the ensuing six years. Moving between the glorious glow of their courtship and their last ditch effort to patch things up in a tacky motel (in a wry conceit, Cianfrance literally places them in a ‘future room’), the filmmaker allows his two characters, just like the two distinct halves of the film, to perfectly, and poignantly, play off each other. 

“I’ve always seen the film as a duet, or a duel, between opposites,” Cianfrance explains. “Between a man and a woman; between their past and their present; between love and hate; between their long-term memory and their short term memory; between the aesthetics of film and video. I was inspired by The Godfather Part II, the idea of the rise of the father cross-cut with the fall of the son.”

“In [the] twelve years I had to think about the movie, I would spend so much time just meditating on a magnet. How it’s the positive and the negative in one thing, [and] that [it] exists in nature, without any explanations.”

In truth, Blue Valentine has been gestating for far longer than 12 years. Cianfrance admits the story stems from his childhood fear that his parents would divorce. And they eventually did, when he was 20, the same age as Cindy and Dean when they first meet.

“To me it’s really the child’s perspective in the movie. The movie isn’t about my parents, at all, it’s about me, and people of my generation who are trying to deal [by] not repeating what we saw our parents do. It’s about us trying to avoid our destiny.”

“There is this erosive power of time that often comes [into a marriage], and it’s the same power that can turn a mountain into a pebble.”

In battling with the spectre of divorce, Blue Valentine is certainly confronting. It’s a film that provokes as much deep self-reflection as it does heated discussion about the characters’ foibles and the recipient of your sympathies. And while Cianfrance describes his film as ‘a cautionary tale,’ and suggests discussion is ‘healthy,’ especially for couples brave enough to see the film together, he does admit, “I do know some friends who split up [after watching the film]. That’s always been my dilemma in relationships: you can be one hundred percent of a person, then you meet someone else who is one hundred percent of a person…What happens when you start living as a pair and you become half of a whole? What happens to the other half of you?”

Such questioning ripples through Blue Valentine, and at times boldly bursts to the surface as Dean openly questions ideas of success, masculinity and love. The filmmaker, however, is perfectly happy leaving these complex and potentially polarising questions unanswered.

“I feel like movies can be very arrogant. So many movies have perfect people up on the screen, they speak perfect sentences, they know what they want, they have inciting incidences in their lives and [at the] end of the second act they’re about ready to have their catharsis. But I don’t know people like that, you know? I know people who are yearning and bewildered and confused and who don’t have the answers. With Blue Valentine, there is no message, there [are] questions. And I don’t pretend to have any answers to any of these questions. I was inspired for so many years by that song by The Supremes, Where did Our Love Go. That became a perennial hit, so I thought I could do the same with Blue Valentine!”

The question mark hovering over Cindy and Dean’s love gradually becomes glaring as the film bounds across the six years of their relationship. Visually, Cianfrance achieves this distinction by shooting the past handheld on super 16mm with lots of warm, saturating reds, while the present is conveyed in stark blues with the sharp focus of the HD RED camera. For Williams and Gosling, the years show through weight gain and hair loss, as well as the requisite shift in the emotional landscape. Cianfrance admits this transformation was by no means an easy one. 

“Shooting the past of Blue Valentine was such a vacation for all of us; it was like making a documentary of two people falling in love, of two beautiful people Ryan and Michelle getting to know each other on screen. None of us actually wanted to shoot the present, we just wanted to call the film ‘Valentine’ and forget about the present part!”

“It was just incredibly difficult to get them to start fighting,” he admits “[Then] I looked at my son, Walker, who would make these incredible block houses and then at the end of the night he would have to tear them down, and it was so painful to him. So I told Ryan and Michelle, 'We can’t be so precious about this. We have to destroy it.' And they did. They lit their wedding picture on fire and from that moment forward they were good, they could start arguing.”

For Cianfrance’s duel, his duet, everything hinges on the actors’ transition. It’s a raw and exquisite dichotomy that Williams and Gosling masterfully embody. “They’re beautiful, magical people, and they showed that they could go to the heavens and to the basement.”

Image - Derek Cianfrance with Michelle Williams

Published in The Drum Media by Street Press Australia (page 67)
Blue Valentine is released on Boxing Day - read my review over at Concrete Playground

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Teaser: The Tree of Life

Unless you love, your life will flash by...

Official synopsis:
From Terrence Malick, the acclaimed director of such classic films as Badlands, Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line, The Tree of Life is the impressionistic story of a Midwestern family in the 1950's. The film follows the life journey of the eldest son, Jack, through the innocence of childhood to his disillusioned adult years as he tries to reconcile a complicated relationship with his father (Brad Pitt). Jack (played as an adult by Sean Penn) finds himself a lost soul in the modern world, seeking answers to the origins and meaning of life while questioning the existence of faith. Through Malick's signature imagery, we see how both brute nature and spiritual grace shape not only our lives as individuals and families, but all life.

US Release date: 27 May 2011
Australian release date: 30 June 2011 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Love and Other Drugs

If this film was a drug, you might ask for your money back, but you could just as easily find yourself riding high on the placebo effect. Doling out the thrills are Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal, who are so ridiculously likeable and spunky together on screen (it also doesn't hurt that they spend the majority of the film naked), that they make this earnestly vacuous story vaguely palatable. But zoom out just a little, and the thinly sketched characters, muddled tone and shoddy sentimentality belie all the hallmarks of a cheap knock off.

Who would have guessed the story of Viagra would, er, fall so flat? Loosely based on Jamie Riedy's account of life as a drug rep, Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman, Love and Other Drugs takes us back to the 1990s and the shameless commercialisation of the drug industry. Jamie (Gyllenhaal) is a consummate salesman, chronic under-achiever and complete hound-dog, who loses his job at an electronics store before taking a crack at making some serious cash peddling pharmaceuticals. Jamie's seductive ways are put to good use selling the anti-depressant Zoloft, but when Viagra comes on the market, he really strikes gold. Reminiscent of the 90s Jerry McGuire and last year's Up in The Air, this storyline initially shows a lot of promise.

However, rather than flesh out Jamie's character, or sink their teeth into the pharmaceutical industry Thank You For Smoking style, writer-director Edward Zwick (Blood Diamond, Glory) and co-writer Charles Randolph instead introduce Maggie (Hathaway), a young, passionate, Parkinson's stricken beauty who calls Jamie on his bullshit and transforms the film into a romantic dramedy. We intuit that Maggie is alternative and zany because she has wild, curly hair, and we meet her asking for Parkinson's medication. But that’s about it. Entirely without back-story, Maggie is wholly defined by her disease, her big hair and some vague artistic inclinations. Hathaway ekes an impressive amount of depth from this, but really, she’s given precious little to work with.

Just as he skims the surface of the pharmaceutical industry, Zwick doesn't delve beyond midday movie sentimentality in his depiction of a couple facing the realities of Parkinson's. So while watching two beautiful people trade in witty banter and romp around in bed is a diverting way to spend a couple of hours, Love and Other Drugs makes for a disappointingly arduous trip.

Published on Concrete Playground
Australian release date: 16 December 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tron: Legacy

Go and see this film on the big screen. End of line.

Seriously, whether you're being driven by nostalgia, or the simple desire for some loud and shiny things to flit about while you munch popcorn, Tron: Legacy won’t disappoint. Particularly if you keep in mind the fact that this is a high-spec, spectacular looking B-Movie. This cult-film consciousness will help you gloss over the stolid lead performance, some truly horrendous exposition, and the serious God complex that consumes the climax. Instead, you can just appreciate the awesome visual effects, Daft Punk’s scene-stealing soundtrack and Jeff Bridges bringing some Dude-like Zen to his reprisal of Kevin Flynn.

Setting expectations high with the opening 3D 'TRON-ified' Disney castle, Tron: Legacy then ventures back to the 1980s, sets up some father and son love between Kevin and Sam, before Kevin's mysterious disappearance segues to the present day. The intervening 20 years have turned Sam (Garrett Hedlund) into a bit of a bad-ass, prone to hooning around on his motorbike and playing brazen tricks on the current guardians of his father's company. But when Sam attempts to track down the source of an arcane pager-signal, he winds up getting himself blasted onto the Grid (for those who haven't seen the original film, this is a digital world, where programs and code are made 'flesh'), wherein he begins the search for his father, but not before the games begin.

Fans of Steven Lisberger's 1982 original will be eagerly anticipating these ruthless, digital games, and here the 3D effects team absolutely goes to town. Dizzying, intricate and dynamically paced, the boomerang-cum-discus light disc battles and the motorcycle-style lightcycle race are worth the price of admission alone. Indeed these visual delights are only matched by Michael Sheen eating up the green screen in his gloriously campy cameo as a Ziggy Stardust inspired club owner.

The rest of the performances are solid, if lacklustre by comparison, and a badly paced and woefully melodramatic third act does steal some of the high-gloss sheen from the film, but perhaps that can be mitigated if you know as much going in. So, don't expect the writing to live up to the visuals, and Tron: Legacy will make you a very happy user indeed.

IMAX will also be screening Tron: Legacy, with 43 minutes of 'vertically expanded' footage (read: gigantic IMAX visuals). Check the website for further details. 

Published on Concrete Playground
Australian release date: 16 December 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Movie Club: Megamind

I was delighted to be invited back onto The Movie Club. Michael Adams, Chris Murray and I had a fun time geeking out over Dreamworks' latest animated fare: Megamind. The five minutes zooms by so quickly - I hope I managed to get a couple of words in! 

Click HERE to see the episode online. Let me know what you think :)

Megamind is in Australian cinemas now

Friday, December 10, 2010

Trailer: Jane Eyre

Bright and early yesterday, I found myself chatting on the phone with Jamie Bell. The interview was ostensibly to discuss The Eagle, but I couldn't resist asking him about Jane Eyre.

For the specifics of our chat, I'm afraid you'll have to wait until 2011 (not long to go now!), but the interview did remind me that I haven't yet raved about the latter film's absolutely gorgeous poster.

The colours, the faces, Mia's stance - this is a poster I would love to frame and have on my wall (and no, not just because I refer to Michael Fassbender as 'my future husband'!).

We've all got a while to wait until the film's release, so there's plenty of time to revisit Charlotte Bronte's marvelous book, and also to catch up on director Cary Fukunaga's stellar feature debut Sin nombre.

Now, here's the official synopsis:

Based on Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel, the romantic drama stars Mia Wasikowska (“Alice in Wonderland”) and Michael Fassbender (“Inglourious Basterds”) in the lead roles. In the story, Jane Eyre flees Thornfield House, where she works as a governess for wealthy Edward Rochester. The isolated and imposing residence – and Mr. Rochester’s coldness – have sorely tested the young woman’s resilience, forged years earlier when she was orphaned. As Jane reflects upon her past and recovers her natural curiosity, she will return to Mr. Rochester – and the terrible secret that he is hiding… 
Also starring Dame Judy Dench, Sally Hawkins and Jamie Bell. 

And finally for the trailer:

US release date: 11 March 2011
Australian release date: 11 August 2011

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Trailer: The King's Speech

Yes. It is as good as they say.

Review to come, but in the meantime here's the official synopsis and trailer:

After the death of his father King George V (Michael Gambon) and the scandalous abdication of Prince Edward VII’s (Guy Pearce), Bertie (Colin Firth) who has suffered from a debilitating speech impediment all his life, is suddenly crowned King George VI of England. With his country on the brink of war and in desperate need of a leader, his wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), the future Queen Mother, arranges for her husband to see an eccentric speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).  After a rough start, the two delve into an unorthodox course of treatment and eventually form an unbreakable bond. With the support of Logue, his family, his government and Winston Churchill (Timothy Spall), the King will overcome his stammer and deliver a radio-address that inspires his people and unites them in battle.  Based on the true story of King George VI, THE KING’S SPEECH follows the Royal Monarch’s quest to find his voice.

Australian release date: 26 December 2010

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Interview: Josh Fox (GasLand)

Documentary filmmaker Josh Fox is a threat to American national security. At least, that’s what a leaked bulletin from the Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security stated. It listed those attending outdoor screenings of Fox’s debut documentary GasLand  - a potent and revealing chronicle of America’s natural gas industry – as “environmental extremists, eco-terrorists, poised for criminal activity.”

Fox is, understandably, incensed by this. “It’s insane. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve never met a group of more peaceful, democratically organised, wilful people than this movement, which is across America, hundreds of thousands strong. To [falsely] characterise them as potential terrorists is very, very damaging. [This] is a movement made up of school teachers, home owners, college professors, farmers, ranchers; not the bottle-throwing crowd.”

So just how does a documentary raise enough eyebrows to make a Homeland Security bulletin? GasLand certainly doesn’t shy away from broaching the shocking realities about coal seam gas drilling: the hydraulic fracturing process (also known as fracking) uses chemicals shrouded in proprietary secrecy; how the industry benefits from some truly alarming deregulation; and exceptions made from crucial environmental regulations including the US Safe Drinking Water Act.

It all began with a letter from a natural gas company willing to pay $100,000 to drill on the Fox family property in upstate New York, near the US east cost. “My role in this is all accidental; they just knocked on the wrong person's door,” the Pennsylvania-born Fox wryly reveals. “They’ve been knocking on a lot of the wrong people’s doors. There are a lot of people who are extremely worried and upset about [coal seam gas drilling]. So my part in it, apart from being the engine of how this [documentary] happened, was really just initially trying to explain hydraulic fracturing in an efficient way.”

Getting his head around the explanation led Fox further down the rabbit hole of the America’s burgeoning natural gas industry. Beginning close to home with his beloved Delaware River, which flows between the states of New York and Pennsylvania, Fox ended up criss-crossing America. He visited home after home with not only undrinkable, but flammable water. This is surely the most powerful symbol of a system requiring far more scrutiny than the wilful blindness Fox continues to battle.

Indeed, far from natural gas being the saviour of a world staring into the abyss of an energy crisis, Fox is emphatic about his findings. “Methane [which is extracted in the process] is 22 to 24 times the strength of carbon dioxide as far as affecting climate change. So it’s a [clean energy] myth. Sure, gas burns cleaner once you’re burning it, but when you look at the cycle from cradle-to-grave of gas fracking, [it's] debatable as to whether or not [it's] better than coal, which is the worst of our fuels.”

With GasLand, Fox and his editor-cinematographer Matt Sanchez, succeed in communicating such potentially alienating information in a compelling way. Their skill, surprisingly, lies in mining the generic conventions of the road movie. “We had many choices looking at the material. Do we do this subject-by-subject: air, water, compressors? But, come on, if you can make a road movie, you make a road movie! I think all road movies boil down to the Wizard of Oz…although that [template] went out the window fairly fast, because we couldn’t figure out who was the Tin Man! Both Matt and I have an avant-garde sensibility as independent filmmakers, so we had a sign on the fridge that said WWGD: What Would Godard Do [Revered French film director Jean-Luc Godard]. And that was our guiding principle.”

Fox was also able to call on a very different film icon, American actor Deborah Winger. “Deborah has a home on the New York side of the Delaware, not far from me. Also [actor] Mark Ruffalo has been very active and he’s not far from there either. They are both on the New York side, the Pennsylvania side has fewer movie stars!”

Winger was more than supportive of the film. The three-time Oscar nominee helped shape a lot of the late edit. In addition, a little Hollywood glam can only stoke interest in GasLand, which is just as well, as Fox isn’t going to pipe down any time soon. He has at least two features on the go, and plans to film in Australia, where coal-seam gas drilling is set to expand dramatically.

But is he a threat to national security? Fox has a better description in mind: accidental activist. “It’s my home on the line. That very thing has made a lot of accidental activists.”

Published in The Big Issue #368
GasLand is currently screening in limited release

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Boot Cake

Some 33 years after his death, Charlie Chaplin is breathing new life into an Indian community. This incongruous tale is presented in the Kathryn Millard's charming documentary, which follows a pilgrimage of sorts, from Australia to The Charlie Chaplin Circle in western Gujarat town of Adipur. They're gearing up to celebrate his 116th birthday, and Millard has said she'll bring the cake.
If Gujarat rings a bell, it’s because the region made headlines back in 2001, when a devastating earthquake claimed the lives of over 20,000 people, and injured over 160,000 more. The haunting effects of this calamity form the poignant foundation of this documentary, where Chaplin's infamous shoe eating scene from The Gold Rush takes on an affecting contemporary resonance.

The Charlie Circle is lead by an Ayurvedic doctor and die hard Chaplin fan, Dr. Aswani. Here is a man who literally prescribes Chaplin movies to his patients, easing their suffering with some silent cinema. He and aspiring actor Prevan Mumbai are also joyful impersonators, and Millard intersperses these shuffling antics with moving accounts of how Chaplin has shaped their lives.

Of course there's the eponymous cake to consider as well, and Millard brings some self-deprecation to her hunt for the correct method for crafting a boot cake that will survive in Adipur’s steamy conditions. In fact this quest becomes a little confused at times, for Millard stays resolutely behind the camera, yet intones an increasingly personal narration of what this 'pilgrimage' has meant to her. Had she stepped in front of the camera, and given the audience more context to her fascination with Chaplin, such revelations might have fallen on more inquiring ears.

Like the boot cake itself, a slightly odd jumble of ingredients has gone into shaping this documentary. But it is, if you'll pardon the pun, a unique slice of life that will leave you smiling, and hunting around for your Chaplin DVDs.

Published on Concrete Playground
The Boot Cake is currently screening at the Chauvel Cinema

Friday, December 3, 2010

Classic Woody Allen

Life doesn't imitate art, it imitates bad television.

Hey, don't knock masturbation. It's sex with someone I love.

To you, I'm an atheist; to God, I'm the loyal opposition.

I had a great evening; it was like the Nuremberg Trials.

Ok, so no guesses who wrote these brilliant lines, but can you pick the films? Either way, you're in for a treat!

If you can't name the films, then the Chauvel's Classic Woody Allen retrospective is just what you'll need to swot up on one of cinema's greats. And if you can (impressive!), then surely you’re a big enough Allen fan to be champing at the bit to revisit his classics on the silver screen. Win win!
Each Friday night from December 3 to January 14 the Chauvel will host a series of spectacular double billings, with pairings including Manhattan + Hannah and her Sisters; Zelig + Purple Rose of Cairo; Love and Death + Stardust Memories.

So, no excuses. It's time to get your New York, "teleological, existential agnostic" angst on and celebrate the wonderfully prolific Allen in his groundbreaking, hilarious heyday.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Claustrophobia takes on a whole new, terrifying dimension when told from the point of view of soldiers in a tank. Writer-director Samuel Maoz' starkly personal portrait of the 1982 First Lebanon War is a searing, nerve-snapping experience, as Maoz locks his audience inside the dank, green-hued tank, where the only view to the outside world is through the gunner's scope. It’s a striking conceit, made more visceral by its reflection through the eyes of first time gunner Shmuel (Yoav Donat). Joining tank commander Assi (Itay Tiran), Yigal (Michael Moshonov) the driver and the outspoken loader Herzl (Oshri Cohen), Shmuel is quite literally driven into the line of fire and forced to make a series of harrowing decisions.

Maoz' screenplay is sparse, and in limiting the camera to the confines of the tank or juddering eye of the periscope, Lebanon at times almost feels like a nightmarish computer game. But fantasy this most certainly is not, as Maoz has emphatically described the process of making this film as the catharsis that brought him back to life. Impressive then, that Lebanon stays so consistently taut and willfully confounding, as the human cost of war reverberates around the tank's armoured walls. Slightly overplayed, however, are the 'fourth wall' breaks, as Maoz has a series of characters look to camera, all compellingly framed within Shmuel’s crosshairs.

If rattling around Kathryn Bigelow's hurt locker wasn't quite lean and mean enough, then Lebanon is sure to impress. Forgiven for some sentimental strokes, Maoz has produced an unforgettable piece of cinema; a haunting experience that doubles as the document that — 24 years on — finally laid the filmmaker's ghosts to rest.

Published on Concrete Playground
Australian release date: 2 December 2010

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Red Hill

The Western is brought back to exhilarating life by debut feature filmmaker Patrick Hughes. Lifting a few pages from the Coen Bros’ No Country for Old Men, as well as a wink to Sergio Leone, Hughes has executed a stylish modern Western, which doles out a dose of fun alongside all the bloodshed.

When police officer Shane Cooper (True Blood's Ryan Kwanten) relocates with his pregnant wife Alice (Claire van der Boom) to the small town of Red Hill for some quiet country life, well, this is a Western, so we all know that's not going to happen. Indeed on his very first shift, Shane barely gets through copping flack from is new boss Old Bill (Steve Bisley), before the proverbial scheisse hits the ceiling fan and Shane gets to learn country law the hard way. The daring jailbreak of erstwhile Red Hill resident Jimmy Conway (Tommy Lewis) has the entire town spooked, and for good reason; Conway's out for blood and there's seemingly no stopping him.

As the writer, producer, director and editor, you've got to be impressed by Hughes' tenacity (and versatility!) in bringing this story to the screen. His revisioning of generic conventions for the modern day are handled with a tongue-in-cheek humour that sees Shane forced to ride, awkwardly, out on horseback. So too is Hughes unafraid to play up to the Western, with wonderfully hammy hero shots of Conway's brutal antics. For the most part the performances also manage to walk this line, with Bisley at his grisly best, Kwanten proving himself an impressive lead and the wryly-reflexive casting of Lewis harking back to The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith.

Unfortunately, a few confounding edits, a slight inconsistency in tone, and a frankly ridiculous 'mysterious beast' subplot do manage to distract from Red Hill's manifold strengths. It may be enough to pull you out of the film, but then again, at 96 minutes, Hughes is careful not to overstay his welcome. Red Hill might be a bit of a mixed bag, but as a striking introduction to Patrick Hughes and a big screen Ryan Kwanten, it’s certainly an exciting new frontier for Australian cinema.

Published on Concrete Playground
Red Hill is in Australian cinemas now

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