Monday, May 30, 2011

Giveaway: Here I Am

What better way to start the week than with free tickets! And not only do I have passes to give away to Beck Cole's striking feature debut Here I Am, I'll also be hosting a Q&A screening with Cole, producer Kath Shelper and star Shai Pittman. The Q&A will take place on Thursday 2nd June at Palace Verona - see the website for more details.

Here's the official synopsis:

"I'm not getting my hopes up, but yeah, I'm hopeful."

Karen (Shai Pittman) is a beautiful young woman with a dark past, but she's got potential and she knows it. Fresh out of prison, she finds herself on the streets with a burning desire to turn her life around but no one to call for help. Eventually she finds a haven at a shelter for women like herself. With the support of her new community of friends, Karen begins the journey of reconnecting with her estranged mother and her young daughter, and she is soon propelled to face the most difficult truths of her life. But she's determined never to give up. Set and shot in and around Port Adelaide, Here I Am is a moving and hopeful story about the strength and resilience of women.

To win one of ten double passes to see Here I Am, simply email me (subject: Here I Am Giveaway) with your name and address. Winners will be notified by reply. 

Australian release date: 2 June 2011

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Movie Club: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

I'm back on The Movie Club gushing over Johnny Depp. You can see Melissa Wilson, Chris Murray and me have a good giggle and throw around countless puns as we discuss the 2 1/2 hour, 3D spectacle that is the forth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

Click HERE to view the episode and please leave your comments on the club website. Do you think I'm drawing too long a bow to call Depp the new Charlie Chaplin? Is Mel spot on when she wagers we go to see "Just Jack!"? Does anyone fancy counting the number of puns she manages to fit in to a five minute show?!

Australian release date: 19 May 2011

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Spider & Bear

With Nash Edgerton's latest short Bear heading home from Cannes to screen at the Sydney Film Festival, now's a good time to revisit its hilarious predecessor Spider:

Speaking of Sydney Film Festival screenings, it's also worth tracking down Edergton's impressive feature debut The Square, which I reviewed after it played at the 2008 SFF.

A quick shout if for Jeremy Saunders' marvellous key art (which reminds me, you can also see Saunders on The Movie Club)

And finally here's the teaser for Bear. There are more screenings happening around Australia, so keep an eye on the Facebook page for details.

Sydney Film Festival info:
Bear is screening before Tucker & Dale Vs Evil

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


It takes a hard heart to resist a single smiling baby, but against the charms of four one must simply surrender. It is this pint-sized strength in numbers that might just make Thomas Balmès' documentary one of the most joyous cinema experiences you’ll have all year. Starting with a miraculously simple yet curiously unknowable premise – what is it like to be a baby? – Balmès and his intrepid crew cast out to the four corners of the globe to find out. From bustling Tokyo to dusty Namibia, cosmopolitan San Francisco to the stark steppes of Mongolia, 400 hours of footage captured the first years in the respective lives of Mari, Ponijao, Hattie and Bayar.

Balmès offers the audience no subtitles and only relatively brief glimpses of the parents. Instead, the brilliantly edited documentary gets down to the big-eyed babies’ levels, where the view is surprisingly alien: cats’ tails, insubordinate toys and pesky siblings are all conveyed with a marvellously reflexive sense of delight, curiosity and frustration.

Nature, nurture and cinema: Babies is the perfect mix! 

4 1/2 stars

Published in The Big Issue #279
Australian release date: 5 May 2011
***DVD release date: 31 August 2011

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Never Let Me Go

As clinical as it is artful, Never Let Me Go is strange to behold. Adapting Kazuo Ishiguro’s critically acclaimed novel are writer Alex Garland (The Beach) and director Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo), who display deep respect for the compelling source material. The deceptively simple story follows friends Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield), who are all students at a bucolic boarding school. Repeatedly told how special they are by their headmistress (Charlotte Rampling), the trio’s youthful trials and tribulations are thrown into razor-sharp relief by the full stop of a fate that awaits them.

Taking the British stiff upper lip to its devastating conclusion, this film isn’t a chronicle of triumph over adversity, but rather a portrait of mostly meek acceptance. Despite some clunky symbolism, the strong performances, superb production design and compassionate direction make this film an exquisitely melancholy ode to life’s transience.

3 1/2 Stars
Published in The Big Issue #377
Australian release date: 31 March 2011

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Poster: Sleeping Beauty

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

Direct from Cannes, here's the simple and stunning new poster for Julia Leigh's Sleeping Beauty.

I'm purposefully avoiding reading reviews from Cannes (though it was hard to miss the Twitter buzz, which seemed intriguingly mixed), so as I mentioned in the SMH Festival Focus video, this film remains one of my most anticipated of the Sydney Film Festival.

Official Synopsis:

"You will go to sleep. You will wake up. It will be as if those hours never existed."

Death-haunted, quietly reckless, Lucy is a young university student who takes a job as a Sleeping Beauty. In the Sleeping Beauty chamber old men seek an erotic experience that requires Lucy's absolute submission. The unsettling task starts to bleed into Lucy's daily life and she develops an increasing need to know what happens to her when she is asleep.

"Julia Leigh has a new fully confident cinema voice. Sleeping Beauty thrilled and excited me. Sensuous, intriguing, complex and unafraid. Her talent and the film are extraordinary," Jane Campion

Sleeping Beauty from Pollen Digital on Vimeo.

Australian release date: 23 June 2011
UK release date: 14 October 2011
US release date: 28 October 2011 (limited) 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Water for Elephants

This film is a target-rich environment for puns, so why not just get the lamest of them out of the way upfront? The elephant in the room (see?) is of course Robert Pattinson, who in this bestseller adaptation plays a young Polish man called Jacob. Cue the Team Jacob Twilight jokes... go ahead, knock yourselves out.

It should also be pointed out that RPatz isn’t the sparkly one this time. That shiny honour goes to Reese Witherspoon’s circus starlet Marlena, of whom Jacob reverently narrates, “I thought I’d go blind from the shine.” So Bella’s got some competition, and what’s more she’s packing a pachyderm.

The rest of the running-away-with-the-circus puns actually work to the film’s advantage. The reflexivity of an audience’s childhood dreams allows director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) to use a huge amount of shorthand on screen as some of the film’s strongest moments are beautiful montages of the circus in action. In fact the visuals are downright dreamy thanks to Terrence Malick regulars Jack Fisk and Jacqueline West handling the production and costume design, and Brokeback Mountain cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto behind the soft lenses. So with such good looks (that have little to do with RPatz), it’s a crying shame that the story boils down to a rather beige love triangle between Pattinson, Witherspoon and the ever-entertaining Christoph Waltz; none of whom manage to generate any real magic between them.

It’s 1931 and in the height of the Depression some levity is sought under the big top. After his parents’ untimely death leaves him impoverished, Jacob leaves Cornell one exam shy of becoming a veterinarian and hits the road like too many before him. Following the railway Wild Boys of the Road style, Jacob hops a passing train, which, fate would have it, is packed with circus animals sorely in need of his expertise. After a bumpy beginning, August (Waltz) – the head of this tired and struggling Benzini Bros. Circus – takes a shine to his Cornell recruit, though it is his wife Marlena who Jacob dangerously falls for. Montages, melodrama and aforementioned sparkles ensue as another new recruit – a 9000 pound elephant named Rosie – both brings Jacob and Marlene closer together and draws the brutality out of August.

As soon as she arrives, Rosie effortlessly steals the show. Played by 42 year-old film veteran Tai (The Jungle Book), Rosie brings exuberance and whimsy into every scene she’s in; breathing much needed oxygen into Pattinson’s wounded shtick as well as giving Witherspoon’s performance literal, as well as figurative, height. Performance-wise, the only actor to come close to Rosie’s easy charm is Waltz. With two of novelist Sara Gruen’s characters collapsed into one volatile ringleader, director Lawrence does well to allow Waltz free reign to brandish his swiftly trademarked brand of jovial malevolence.

Water for Elephants is also bookended by a present day appearance of an aged Jacob, played by a top form Hal Holbrook. Holbrook’s charisma mostly saves the cloying dialogue of these scenes, but much like the backstage Malik recruits, his talents seem a little squandered. For this is a fine but ultimately unremarkable film. It turns out that despite some lovely tableaux, inbuilt childhood fantasy and some solid acting, that not even an elephant in the room can bring enough lustre to make up for the story’s ho-hum lack.

- Three Stars
Published on TheVine
Australian release date: 12 May 2011

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Sydney Film Festival Launch

Happy days! The Sydney Film Festival is rolling back into town!

The full festival programme was launched this morning, then, in a very exciting turn of events, I wound up sharing my first impressions for the Sydney Morning Herald

You see Giles Hardie and I decided to take our regular caffeine laced film chats into the SMH studio and see how we fared. The Sydney Film Festival proved just the right opportunity, and with such a stacked programme, we certainly could have gushed for eons, but somehow managed to restrain ourselves to around 5 minutes.

Click HERE to head over and view the video, and let me know what you think! Which festival films are you looking forward to? 

***Update: here's the cracking showreel

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


“Getting your affairs in order” is such an infuriatingly benign idiom for the devastating reality one must grapple with in the face of imminent death. Sure, we’re all going to shuffle off this mortal coil one day, but what is it like to know you have mere weeks to audit your entire existence? And what about leaving behind young children? This is the torturous hand dealt to Uxbal (Javier Bardem) in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s mesmerising elegy Biutiful.  

Set in the immigrant melting pot of modern Barcelona, Uxbal is a man who lives on his wits. As the middleman in a knock-off handbag trade, Uxbal is on friendly terms with the Chinese who run the factory, the Africans who peddle their wares and the cops who take a cut to turn a blind eye. But Uxbal also has certain mystical gifts, and in an incongruous side gig, he is called upon by grieving families to help the spirits of their loved ones leave this realm peacefully. So as someone who routinely faces death, how will Uxbal reconcile his own?  

After a series of sprawling, multi-narrative films like Babel and Amores Perros, Alejandro González Iñárritu attempts to take a step in a new direction. He says the film is, “about one character, with one point of view, in one single city, with a straight narrative line,” but clearly he can’t help himself. Though Bardem fills most scenes, Iñárritu still manages to shift focus enough to fashion a complex love affair between the Chinese factory head (Cheng Tai Shen) and his business associate (Luo Jin), as well as the fate of a stranded Senegalese mother (Diaryatou Daff) after her husband (Cheikh Ndiaye) – and one of Uxbal’s workers – is deported. Indeed, the fact that these subplots aren’t given their usual Iñárritu airtime results in some rather clumsy, oversimplified rendering of the inherent cultural and economic politics at play.  

Despite such a messy patchwork of subplots, Biutiful is well and truly redeemed by Bardem’s quietly Herculean, heart-rending honesty. His performance raises the film to a place of transcendent verisimilitude. And where Iñárritu is unflinching with his close-ups, and Bardem responds in kind, giving a startlingly gaunt and unvarnished performance, which will surely bring even the toughest souls to tears. The fact that the actor has recently joined the ranks of fatherhood only adds to the resonance of this carefully etched portrayal of paternal love.  

The young actors playing Uxbal’s children (Hanaa Bouchaib, Guillermo Estrella), both give uninhibited performances, particularly Bouchaib as Ana, who seems fated to follow in her father’s spiritual footsteps. Less emotionally balanced is Uxbal’s ex-wife Marambra (Maricel Alvarez), whose manic depression is brought to devastating life by Alvarez’s passionate, scene-stealing performance. She is so impressive it makes you wish Iñárritu had invested more time witnessing the couple’s disintegrating love.  

At 148 minutes, Biutiful is a long and intimate affair. And though it might prove difficult to find the right time to subject yourself to such sorrow, what Iñárritu and Bardem ultimately achieve is a remarkable portrait of an unremarkable life. Simultaneously intensely personal and profoundly universal, Biutiful shows there can be grace, and yes, even beauty in death.

- Four stars

Published on The Vine
Biutiful will screen on May 18th for the opening night of the Spanish Film Festival in Auckland. Check the website for more details.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

On The Film Programme

I've already gushed about my visit to Francine Stock's Film Programme, but now you can download the episode!

I had quite the out of body experience listening to it live last Friday afternoon - yes that would be the Friday of the Royal Wedding, so yes, that brought both extra excitement and some humbling perspective!

Francine and I discuss The London Australian Film Festival, which runs from May 5-12 at the Barbican Centre. Alas I've just arrived home from London, otherwise I'd be there with bells on.

Here are some links to my reviews and features on the festival films:

Animal Kingdom: review, feature
Beneath Hill 60: review, feature
The Loved Ones: (TV) review
Mao's Last Dancer: review
Matching Jack: review
Red Hill: review
South Solitary: review, feature 
Summer Coda: review (nb. mentioned in the interview, but not screening at the festival)
The Tree: review
Wasted on the Young: review

You can download episodes and subscribe to The Film Programme HERE. Thanks again to the marvellous Francine for inviting me on the show. I hope to be back at the BBC someday soon!

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