Monday, February 28, 2011

Happy Oscars!

Well the Oscars are kicking off as I type, and film and fashion twits are already in a frenzy over the red carpet. Those of you who 'follow' (that term still creeps me out) me on Twitter will have no doubt noticed all the frenetic foodie tweets I've been sharing. You see my gorgeous friend Tori Haschka has been blogging up a storm over at The Huffington Post, whipping up a mind-boggling Oscar Feast inspired by the ten Best Picture nominees. You can see a gallery of her creations here, which include the beauty above, a Black Swan Blackberry and Chocolate-Smothered Panna Cotta. Do yourselves a favour and drool over the rest here.

The Oscar Fest is a long time tradition of Chez Haschka, and until they upped and left for London, I've had the great fortune of attending in past years. I've even nabbed trophies for Most Films (a category I bow out of these days - it wouldn't be fair) and Best Score on the Oscar Ballot. This year I'm missing my dear friends, and their fabulous Oscar Fest Feast, but fingers crossed I'll get to keep my statue ;)

On with the show! You're invited!

And because this makes me giggle:

So does this:

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Trailer: Hanna

"Sometimes children are bad people too."

Oh yes, Hanna has been on my radar for a while now. I'm a fan of Joe Wright from way back, and even saw a lot to like in his widely criticised first American feature The Soloist. But Hanna might just silence all the naysayers, with Wright reteaming with his Atonement star Saoirse Ronan, which is almost as exciting as the thought of him working with Cate Blanchett and Eric Bana (not to mention my perennial favourite Olivia Williams and Jessica Barden, the little pocket rocket from Tamara Drewe).

Here's the official synopsis:

Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is a teenage girl. Uniquely, she has the strength, the stamina, and the smarts of a solider; these come from being raised by her father (Eric Bana), an ex-CIA man, in the wilds of Finland. Living a life unlike any other teenager, her upbringing and training have been one and the same, all geared to making her the perfect assassin. The turning point in her adolescence is a sharp one; sent into the world by her father on a mission, Hanna journeys stealthily across Europe while eluding agents dispatched after her by a ruthless intelligence operative with secrets of her own (Cate Blanchett). As she nears her ultimate target, Hanna faces startling revelations about her existence and unexpected questions about her humanity.

Australian release date: 28 July 2011 
US & UK release date: 8 April 2011

Friday, February 25, 2011

Titanic 3D: Ghosts of the Abyss

If Celine Dion was enough to ruin the memory of the Titanic for life, then it’s about time to take a trip to IMAX to forgive and forget. Turns out that after James Cameron broke all the box office records with his love letter to the doomed vessel, he wasn’t quite ready to leave the ghosts to rest. Instead he put together a slightly less photogenic team of scientists, historians and tech heads, and headed far out to sea in order to film the Titanic in her final resting place.

The result is a simply remarkable 60-minute 3D IMAX documentary. Cameron fashions the film around Titanic alumnus Bill Paxton, who narrates a rather reverent account of his voyage of discovery, while Cameron and the rest of the crew geek out in the background. It was a wise call to have such a familiar face walking the audience through this underwater experience, however Cameron almost errs too far on the side of caution, including hardly any thoughts from his academic team. Instead he focuses on a surprisingly gripping rescue mission after one of his two camera robots gives up the ghost and must be navigated to safety by its companion.

The rest of the film is given over to the majesty of the Titanic herself. There is something quite powerful about seeing the startlingly preserved remnants of the ship after 90 odd years in her watery grave. Cameron uses CG remodelling well, layering the images to give a great sense of context, but also allows the stark skeleton time to speak for itself. The documentary here becomes a respectful and deeply poignant tribute to the 1500 lives lost as well as a chronicle of what human failings brought them under.

Made back in 2003, Titanic 3D: Ghosts of the Abyss may be a timely re-release to cash in on James Cameron’s latest producorial effort, Sanctum, but such cynicism is best set aside. Instead just go and marvel at this spectacular piece of visual history; it’s 60 minutes very well spent.

Published on Concrete Playground
Australian (IMAX) release date: 10 February 2011

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Inside Job

GFC: the diminutive acronym that represents a terrifying truth: 20 trillion dollars in losses and bailouts; in essence, more an Armageddon than a mere Global Financial Crisis. Acclaimed documentary filmmaker Charles Ferguson chronicles the creation of this financial black hole with the same cool and devastatingly incisive eye that he cast over the Iraq War in No End In Sight. With Ferguson comprehensive mind behind the camera and Matt Damon’s familiar, calmly authoritative tone in narration, Inside Job is likely to be one of the most shocking and edifying cinematic experiences of 2011.

“This is how it happened," the audience is told, as Ferguson carefully states his facts in a five-part documentary of impressive detail and clarity. He opens with a cautionary tale in the form of Iceland, a once secure and stable economy, ripped to shreds by a heady foray into financial deregulation. This sets the disquieting scene for America, as Part I outlines 'How We Got Here,' before moving on to The Bubble, The Crisis, Accountability and, finally, Where We Are Now. If that sounds sandpaper dry, then you'll be pleasantly surprised, as Ferguson keeps up an enthusiastic pace, and his array of talking heads — from the Prime Minister of Singapore, the French Finance Minister, Ivy League and IMF (International Monetary Fund) economists, and a high class escort 'Madam' — are well able to keep your interest and attention.

Unlike Michael Moore's histrionic Capitalism: A Love Story, Inside Job is less about pulling your heartstrings than it is concerned with getting everyone on the same page (though the two would make for a compelling double bill). This documentary feels a lot like 'GFC 101', but presented with enough spirit — particularly in the Accountability chapter — to let you know Ferguson is spitting with fury about the horrifying hubris that has lead Wall Street to reap ludicrous rewards during the bubble, then cry poor for federal bailouts and now cry foul about planned regulation. This seething incredulity is probably responsible for Ferguson's awfully trite ending, closing on an earnest shot of the Statue of Liberty, but as a call to arms he certainly landed on an arresting symbol.

“Nothing comes without consequence,” Inside Job makes its thesis all too clear. But alas Ferguson also reveals a horrifying portrait of a financial system running amok. As Andrew Sheng, the Chief Advisor to the China Banking Regulatory Commission, highlights in an all too convincing analogy: this is an industry obsessed with feathering their nests by building impossible dreams, while others are forced to pay for the nightmares.
Published on Concrete Playground
Australian release date: 17 February 2011 


Lend a hand, bru!

Mere hours after the catastrophic earthquake hit Christchurch, the Beached Az boys released this video to drum up assistance:

The Sydney Morning Herald picked up the video, so here's hoping Australians are having a giggle then lending a hand by donating to the NZ Red Cross.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Gnomeo & Juliet

There have been countless adaptations of Shakespeare’s famous star-crossed lovers, but possibly none so colourfully inanimate as garden gnomes. It’s a hilarious conceit for a jubilant kids’ animation, which stems from warring next-door neighbours Mr. Capulet and Miss Montague, whose bitter, green-thumbed grudge is fought on the frontline with their gardens’ keepers and protectors, the gnomes. Periodically, this pint-sized rivalry between the ‘Reds’ and the ‘Blues’ spills out onto the lane way, where lawnmower drag races seek to settle the score. The best drivers are none other than Gnomeo (James McAvoy), a wily Blue, and burley Red Tybalt (Jason Statham). But this cement feud is cast into sharp relief once Gnomeo falls head over heels for the spunky and outgoing Juliet (Emily Blunt).

It’s obvious that writer/director Kelly Asbury (Shrek 2) and his team of co-writers had a truckload of fun adapting Master Shakespeare into a gloriously kitschy 3D garden spectacle. The film is replete with sight gags and playfully sketched supporting characters, from the scene-stealing frog nurse Nanette (Ashley Jensen), to Gnomeo’s cute pet Shroom and a cooped up pink flamingo Featherstone (Jim Cummings). There’s even a little dude running around in a mankini, Borat-style, as well as a cameo from the Bard himself (perfectly voiced by Patrick Stewart), while the likes of Michael Caine, Dolly Parton, Ozzy Osbourne, Matt Lucas and Stephen Merchant help round out the star-studded cast.

The final set of pipes in this joyous revamp is none other than Elton John, who raided his classics for the soundtrack as well executive produced the film with his partner David Furnish. There is something unbelievably cool about tapping your toes to Tiny Dancer, Rocket Man, and Bennie And The Jets while adorable little gnomes cavort about and ultimately wreak havoc on screen. If a Shakespeare/Elton John combo won’t see parents (and grandparents) happily sitting through some G-rated frivolity, then surely nothing will. Gnomeo & Juliet may not quite be visually or creatively up there in Toy Story territory, but its full of beans, cleverly written, and hands down the most fun you’ll have watching a garden gnome since Amelie.

Published on Concrete Playground
Australian release date: 17 February 2011

Monday, February 21, 2011

Giveaway: I Am Number Four

It's no secret that I'm a fan of Michael Bay blockbusters (excluding the atrocious Tranformers 2, oh and Pearl Harbor), so it's no surprise that I had some mindless fun with his latest producorial effort: I Am Number Four. Directed by D.J Caruso (Eagle Eye, Disturbia - let these titles act as another barometer for you), and based on the young adult novel by Pittacus Lore (the pen name of writing duo James Frey and Jobie Hughes), I Am Number Four is a glossy hodgepodge of hero journey fables and high school angst. Think Superman in a post-Twilight era.

So while the film is utterly derivative, it's fun, well paced popcorn fare. Alex Pettyfer is suitably square jawed for a Brit, and his understated style is also reminiscent of a young Ryan Phillipe. Aussies Teresa Palmer and particularly Callan McAuliffe hold their own on screen against the Glee-glow of Dianna Agron, but the real genius piece of casting is Timothy Olyphant as the token adult/father figure/comic relief. Good old Olyphant shows the young 'uns how it's done. 

Here's the official synopsis:

Three are dead. Who is Number Four? DJ Caruso helms an action-packed thriller about an extraordinary teen, John Smith (Alex Pettyfer), who is a fugitive on the run from ruthless enemies sent to destroy him. Changing his identity, moving from town to town with his guardian, Henri (Timothy Olyphant), John is always the new kid with no ties to his past. In the small Ohio town he now calls home, John encounters unexpected, life-changing events - his first love (Dianna Agron), powerful new abilities and a connection to the others who share his incredible destiny.

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

Friday, February 18, 2011


Clint Eastwood is knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door….and alas, it ain’t a pretty sight. Now 80 years old, it’s not a huge surprise that the filmmaker is contemplating ‘where to from here?’ but after a glimpse of Hereafter, perhaps such musings are best had in private.
Spreading the leaden themes and deathly pallor across three interminable plotlines, Eastwood introduces us to French journalist Marie (Cécile De France) and her horrifying, life altering ordeal in the 2004 Tsunami; to underprivileged London twins Marcus and Jason (Frankie and George McLaren), who are separated tragically young, and finally to the uber-reluctant psychic George (Matt Damon), who wants nothing more than to be rid of these pesky spirits. Despite having given up the spotlight for an underpaid blue-collar existence, his entrepreneurial brother Billy (Jay Mohr) has other plans, shoehorning George into setting up shop again. But George would prefer to take workships rather than run them, so he signs up for a cooking class where he meets the bright eyed and busy tailed Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard), and the ghosts of his past begin to recede from view.

Of the three cliché-ridden storylines, Marie’s is probably the most interesting and De France manages to bring some genuine spirit (no pun intended) to her performance as a woman increasingly desperate for answers. The twins serve up some terribly stilted acting in their quest to reconnect, while Damon is almost wilfully stolid in his efforts to convey hidden torment. To give us a clue, George routinely repeats, “This isn’t a gift, it’s a curse!” Yes, that is the kind of writing you have to suffer through.
Eastwood may have the nagging qualms of old age on his side, but you have to wonder what on earth screenwriter Peter Morgan was thinking? This is the man behind such gorgeously written films as The Last King of Scotland, The Queen and Frost/Nixon. Then again, he also served up the roundly damned The Other Boleyn Girl, so perhaps Hereafter isn’t a complete anomaly.

Eastwood imbues the film with such a glaringly earnest tone, which over the course of an indulgently long 129 minutes becomes simply painful to watch. After Invictus this Eastwood/Damon collaboration is now two for two turkeys, and the diminishing returns from a pair of such Hollywood lions is almost more depressing than the film’s subject matter. One can only hope Eastwood has allayed some of his fears around death and legacy, but in retrospect Hereafter might just end up looking like a massive, melodramatic overshare.

Published in Trespass Magazine
Australian release date: 10 February 2011

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Poster: True Grit

How brilliant and totally spot on is this True Grit poster by Needle Design?
I only wish it came as one of a series.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Movie Club: 127 Hours

It's another tale of life or death on The Movie Club as we move on from reflecting upon Sanctum to Aron Ralston's staggering true story 127 Hours

Have you seen the film? Did you get a little squeamish? Feel free to share your thoughts over on the club website.

I can also recommend listening to the fascinating podcast with director Danny Boyle and his co-writer Simon Beaufoy over at Creative Screenwriting Magazine.

Monday, February 14, 2011

No Strings Attached

The choice of opening song should tell you everything you need to know about this featherweight rom-com: I Wanna Sex You Up. Yes indeed, No Strings Attached is frothy and definitely not to be taken seriously. Ivan Reitman’s (Ghostbusters, Kindergarten Cop) latest comedic romp is probably receiving far too much attention thanks to Natalie Portman’s Academy Award hyped turn in Black Swan. It's too easy to damn this frivolous film in comparison — and many can’t help themselves.

No Strings Attached has absolutely no designs above its station. Ashton Kutcher is still trading on his boyish looks and perfectly tousled hair, although both have slightly more traction this time as he plays Adam, a TV assistant on some thinly veiled High School Musical show who is desperately try to claw his way out from under the shadow of his TV icon father Alvin (a wasted Kevin Kline). The last straw comes when Alvin shacks up with his ex-girlfriend (Ophelia Lovibond), the revelation of which sets Adam on a mission for meaningless sex. In Emma (Portman) he finds a perfect match; the pair were childhood acquaintances and now Emma is a busy doctor and total commitment-phobe, for whom casual sex is just the ticket. Throw in a smattering of zany supporting characters – notably the lovely Greta Gerwig and a delightfully goofy Lake Bell – and a paint-by-numbers storyline, and No Strings Attached plays a lot like an uninspired, feature length version of Friends.

Anyone who was amused by Drew Barrymore’s recent Going the Distance will find some similar giggles here. There is the same gender equality when it comes to the film’s treatment of sex, swearing and the more ribald scenes. The level of awkward is also on par, but the laughs are fewer and farther between. One presumes screenwriter Elizabeth Meriwether was going for deadpan, but too many of the lines simply flat line. However just enough are saved by sparks of chemistry between Kutcher and Portman, with Kutcher raising his game (no tawdry pun intended) and Portman well able to water down her Garden State quirkiness. The result is a film that’s inoffensive, mildly amusing and instantly forgettable, indeed, about as skin deep as the casual relationship at its premise.

So while No Strings Attached is going to be the go-to film for the desperate and dating come Valentine’s Day, one thing’s for sure; no-one will be calling Ivan Reitman a genius this time around.

Published on Concrete Playground
Australian release date: 10 February 2011

Friday, February 11, 2011

127 Hours

Most people can relate to being metaphorically stuck between a rock and a hard place, but when Aron Ralston used the idiom as the title of his memoir, his meaning was brutally literal. The story of this experienced, gung-ho climber who famously hacked off his own arm to escape from being pinned by a boulder, is brought to glorious, and yes, relatively gory life by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) and his remarkable leading man James Franco (Spiderman, Milk).

Knowing Ralston’s fate doesn’t really constitute a spoiler; on the contrary, Boyle and his co-writer Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionare) seem to prefer it that way. In fact they have almost too much fun teasing their audience’s expectations: hence the opening triptychs depicting masses of teeming humanity, and the lengthy shots of Ralston filling his water bottle and even grasping around trying to find his Swiss Army knife. Though bordering on laborious, this set up is done with Boyle’s trademark kineticism and a thumping soundtrack, both techniques that are subsequently and powerfully juxtaposed once Ralston becomes silently, claustrophobically trapped.

Much as Boyle has lots of cinematic tricks up his sleeve, it would all be for naught if Franco failed to hold our attention in what is essentially a one-man show. But captivate he most certainly does in an electric, unbelievably visceral performance as a man forced to face his own hubris, and then to do the unthinkable. This climatic scene really isn’t as grisly as you’d expect, because Boyle and Beaufoy have engineered the film such that by that stage you find yourself needing him to cut it off. It’s a striking conceit, and one made further compelling by Franco’s jaw-dropping abilities (the scene was evidently shot in one take where they let him just go at the prosthetic arm – he even managed to snap the metal core). However Franco is so transfixing that when Boyle cuts away from him for a few sentimental flashbacks, the film immediately begins to sag.

127 Hours is immersive cinema in the most gut wrenching sense. If it gets a little mawkish, it’s probably because it stays a little too faithful to Ralston’s spiritual journey (he is now a motivational speaker), but considering the guy gave his right arm to live – again, literally – Boyle has crafted a deeply humane and beautifully triumphant tribute to both Ralston’s flawed humanity and his superhuman quest for survival.

Published on Concrete Playground
Australian release date: 10 February 2011

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Feature: Sanctum (Richard Roxburgh, Rhys Wakefield, Alister Grierson, Andrew Wight)

James Cameron’s name may be stamped all over the poster for Sanctum, but this film is really an Australian affair. Based on the harrowing experience of producer Andrew Wight – a renowned cave diver who, 22 years ago, was stranded underground by a freak storm in the Nullarbor – his story has been fictionalised into a father and son action drama brought to life by the legendary Richard Roxburgh (Rake, Moulin Rouge!) and up-and-comer Rhys Wakefield (The Black Balloon). Kokoda director Alister Grierson is at the helm, but we do have to thank James Cameron for the 3D cameras (and, as executive producer, the cash!), which were shipped straight from the set of Avatar. Indeed, as Wight describes his ten-year partnership with Cameron making a series of underwater 3D documentaries (Ghosts Of The Abyss, Aliens Of The Deep), it becomes evident that Avatar and Sanctum are essentially two sides of the same coin.

“With Avatar, Jim was able to take all the experience and the people and the technology [from our previous documentaries] to make that movie and then the idea was that I would make Sanctum as another kind of proof of concept. People were obviously going to say, ‘Sure you can make 3D on 200+ million dollars, but is this ever going to work for everyone else?’ And that’s what Sanctum is,” Wight says.

“We’re kind of polar opposites: Avatar was a lot of motion capture, advanced visual effects and CGI, and live action, [whereas] Sanctum is virtually a fully live action film with a small budget, small group of people, but it delivers a big, big picture. We’ve used exactly the same cameras, and we’ve made what I think is one of the first live action 3D originated films that has been done to date with this technology, and it looks great.”

Inheriting James Cameron’s equipment was a pretty tall order for director Alister Grierson, who admits to being a little spun out by the whole experience.

“It felt like such a fantasy, that it could never possibly happen; very kind of ‘Entourage’. It was a difficult film to make, with big underwater scenes and in caves and you’re dealing with the 3D technology and the cameras, so we’re learning about that 3D as we go, and all sorts of physical, technical difficulties about filming it and delivering it on time,” he says. “And so I never really thought about Jim and the pressure of working for Jim, it was more about just doing it and doing the best job that we could.”

Calling Sanctum ‘difficult to make’ is actually a pretty hefty understatement when you consider what the actors put themselves through. Describing long night shoots and harrowing breath holds, Roxburgh and Wakefield are both fairly sanguine about the arduous shoot, but they’re also happy to share some hairy stories.

“I loved the whole underwater stuff with no breathing apparatus,” Wakefield enthuses. “When it’s just me with no mask and no reg. I’m down there at, like, 3am, just swimming, barely able to see because of the low lighting and no goggles, and then them calling, ‘cut’, and me holding my hand out and just trusting that my safety diver would just had have a regulator in my mouth within a second so that I can breathe. That was crazy. And you can’t go to the surface because there’s a whole set of rocks all around you.”

For Roxburgh, “‘Doozy’ doesn’t even begin to describe the kind of madness it was like at times, shooting.

“It was interesting on paper,” he says wryly with a chuckle, but the reality – having to complete an underwater shoot with a head cold – proved much more confronting. “I ended up shooting with blood coming out of my nose.”

Roxburgh also undertook one of Sanctum’s more dangerous stunts and most terrifying scenes: buddy breathing with a full facemask.

“That was the kind of landmark event. You have to unclip eight clips, take your breath and then hand it over and stay calm. Then when you get it back, to clear a full facemask takes about 10 seconds, in which time you have to stay calm and take what I think is a funny term, they call them ‘wet breaths’. It’s a real piece of underwater nastiness where you’re basically breathing a little bit of water and hoping to not start spluttering down at 12 meters. So yeah, that was another nightmare.”

Roxburgh’s efforts certainly didn’t go unnoticed, as Grierson is quick to sing his praises. “Richard I think is just wonderful, he’s such a surprise. Watching Rake now is just so different from what he did with us. He’s the hardest working man in show business, there’s no doubt about it.”

But vying for that title is James Cameron, for whose guidance Grierson is abundantly grateful. “He’s been a wonderful mentor for me. I had a great master class with him after we screened that earlier version of the film. He’s the busiest man in the world, probably literally, so just to get a couple of hours of with him was a real luxury and a great joy.”

In more ways than one Sanctum is the remarkable result of courage under pressure. As a true story, as a filmed feat – one that had to get a stamp of approval from Jim Cameron – as well as an exponential learning curve of local 3D filmmaking. But for Wight, a true believer in 3D, the technology is there to amplify what he sees as Sanctum’s universal themes: “People don’t often go out and challenge themselves, so what is it like to go out and be really frightened on the edge of your experience? What is it like to make a life and death decision?”

Published by Street Press Australia (page 46)
Sanctum is currently screening in cinemas

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

In the Mood for Love

This review was published at SBS Films as part of their 'My Favourite Film' social reviews. Many thanks again to SBS for inviting me to contribute. 

It is a restless moment.
She has kept her head lowered,
To give him a chance to come closer.
Be he could not, for lack of courage,
She turns and walks away.

From these opening intertitles, In the Mood for Love sweeps you up in a celebration of the poetry and passion of cinema. Wong Kar-Wai’s astonishingly beautiful film whisks you back to his childhood years in Hong Kong’s Shanghainese community, where he sets the exquisite love story between Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) and Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung). These two hardworking, married people move in next door to each other on the same day, and although Wong Kar-Wai never shows their spouses’ faces, evidence of an affair soon casts the cuckolded pair together. They begin meeting, initially seeking answers and solace, but ultimately the mood inches, irrevocably, towards love.

This film is a master class in melodrama. That term is so often steeped in negative connotations, but in the hands of Wong Kar-Wai and his Australian director of photography Christopher Doyle (working alongside Mark Li Ping-bing), melodrama becomes something entrancing and utterly unforgettable. I defy anyone who has seen In the Mood for Love not to instantly recall Maggie Cheung’s balletic grace in the jaw-dropping array of cheongsam, or those swaying, blood red curtains of the hotel hallway, or that song ('Yumeji's Theme'), which conveys all the loneliness and longing and the protagonists can’t themselves express.

These are but a few examples of how In the Mood for Love opened up the world of cinema to me. I had grown up loving movies, and probably even considered myself a film buff, but after watching this as part of a university Film Studies course, it all clicked into place. Everything my professor had been trying to impress upon us about time, restraint, theme and mise-en-scène finally coalesced in my mind in such a palpable, powerful way; I can still remember the tingling awe. I got it, and what’s more, I was hooked. Indeed this film was like my gateway drug for world cinema, and riding high I was emboldened to go back and watch the cinematic greats, but now not merely as an intellectual exercise, but as a cinephile.

Revisiting In the Mood for Love recently, I was pleased to find it had lost none of its magical hold on me. If anything, the superlative craftsmanship fell on more appreciative, experienced eyes, while the perfectly tuned performances and resonant themes hit home with a (slightly!) older and wiser soul. This time, however, Yumenji’s Theme didn’t wholly dominate my sonic experience; instead Wong Kar-Wai’s devastating use of silence rung loudly in my ears, as did Nat ‘King’ Cole’s poignantly suggestive 'Quizás, Quizás, Quizás.'

‘Perhaps’ has never held such heart-rending and captivating possibility. Although it strikes me that, for a cinephile, this ‘perhaps’ is what accompanies us every time we wend our way down long corridors and settle into dark cinemas. It is a restless moment; that tantalising promise of beauty, artistry, transcendence.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Jurassic Lounge

The last time you visited the Australian Museum was probably a school excursion; giddy from escaping the classroom and high on the sugary 'special occasion' lunchbox treats. Well, the Festivalists are about the change all that. The crack team behind film festivals including Possible Worlds and Kino Kabaret have set their sights on letting the night into the dusky halls of Australian Museum; they’re calling it Jurassic Lounge.

It’s a cracking conceit: every Tuesday night the doors will be opened after hours and a handpicked mix of live music and art will be on offer to enjoy alongside the fully stocked bar (the ticket price also includes a free drink) and the museum's atmospheric exhibits.

Opening night will be emceed by the fabulous drag queen Maxi Shield, and feature a performance from Daisy M. Tulley (Bridezilla), a live illustration by the remarkable artist Brad Robson and a 'silent disco' by Lone Wolf (the idea being that you can venture into the Skeleton Room and pick up a set of headphones to dance along to the music). You know you've always wanted to dance with a dinosaur!

Upcoming dates promise similarly stellar evenings, with Brian Campeau, Ray Mann, DJ Cunningpants, The Cosmic Explorer and FBi Radio's Jack Shit providing the musical entertainment, as well as short film screenings, performance poetry and even card tricks. So come on, it’s time find your inner Flintstone and get prehistoric.

Tuesdays from 1 February - 19 April 2011

Published on Concrete Playground

Click here to see photos and more photos from the opening night (you may even spy me!)
And HERE is a video from the launch - again, right at the very end you can spot me grinning like a complete idiot (I thought the guy was shooting stills!).

Monday, February 7, 2011

Tamara Drewe

Tamara Drewe is the sort of film the British do best. A spry, sassy ensemble comedy, set in an idyllic countryside where everything is not quite as mannered as it appears. Playwright Moira Buffini (Jane Eyre) adapted Posy Simmonds' Guardian comic strip turned graphic novel, which is itself a sexy revamp of Thomas Hardy's classic Far From the Maddening Crowd. The result is a contemporary tale of erstwhile ugly duckling Tamara Drewe (Gemma Arterton), who is forced to move back to the sleepy rural Dorset village of Ewedown in order to sell the family home. There the locals are shocked to behold the stunning femme fatale, with her new septum and even more scandalous pair of denim shorts. Before long, the successful journalist finds herself embroiled in a love triangle with bratty rockstar Ben (Dominic Cooper) and Andy (Luke Evans), an old flame and now the muscle-bound handyman helping her restore the residence.

Writers will get an extra kick out of Tamara Drewe — observing all of our heroine's shenanigans are a house full of writers toiling away on a creative retreat. Hubristic novelist Nicolas Hardiment (Roger Allam) and his effacing wife Beth (Tamsin Greig) run the household, which does not escape Tamara's singular charms. And rounding out the ensemble are two local schoolgirls Jody (Jessica Barden) and Casey (Charlotte Christie), who are obsessed with Ben and thus dangerously jealous of Tamara.

Brimming with colour, vim and verve, director Stephen Frears (The Queen, High Fidelity) has deftly crafted a clear crowd pleaser. Everyone is in top form both behind and in front of the camera, with Arterton bringing just the right mix of modern seductiveness and old world gumption, although it is the comedic styling of young Barden who steals the show. Spirited, sexy and stacked with laughs — both light and delightfully dark — Tamara Drewe is a must-see modern day period comedy, with smarts.

Published on Concrete Playground
Australian release date: 3 February 2011 


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Volkswagen - The Force

Words literally cannot describe how much I adore this advertisement:

Bravo, Deutsch, Bravo!

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Movie Club: Sanctum

US Poster - Image

It's official, I don't think I'll ever get used to seeing myself on television! That said, I had a brilliant time back on The Movie Club, debating the future of 3D filmmaking and the merits of the new American-Australian underwater thriller Sanctum.

To view the episode online, click HERE (and please feel free to leave us a comment or a thumbs up).

And to read my written review of Sanctum, click HERE.

Sanctum is screening in Australian, NZ, UK and US cinemas now.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


If Avatar was the cinematic equivalent of a brash, hulking show off, then Sanctum is its slight but wiry Australian cousin. Filmed with the same 3D cameras and executive produced by James Cameron, Sanctum is a solid action film and a skilful calling card for cinema’s new dimension.

The story is based on producer and consummate cave diver Andrew Wight’s harrowing account of being stranded by a freak storm in the Nullarbor, where he and his unfortunate companions were forced to literally discover a new way out. This account has been fictionalised into a story that centres on a fractious father/son relationship between Frank (Richard Roxburgh) and Josh (Rhys Wakefield), as the life-and-death experience puts their already strained relationship under more pressure (again, literally).

If you can get past the cringingly clunky opening act, then the trills and spills of Sanctum make for well crafted popcorn entertainment. Josh and Frank’s familial difficulties are given way too much air time, while the leaden load of exposition about the cave itself is handed to none other than The Chaser’s Andrew Hansen. Once in the depths, Dan Wyllie steals all his scenes as ‘Crazy’ George, the comic relief with the dramatic chops to back it up. Roxburgh trades in his Rake robes for a wetsuit, further anchoring the film with a suitably grouchy gravitas, which allows relative newcomer Wakefield (The Black Balloon) to convincingly shoulder his lead role. The rest of the ensemble is a little hit and miss, with Welshman Ioan Gruffudd (Fantastic Four) in particular seeming to struggle with both his American accent and his pencil sketch of a character.

Although Sanctum is hard on the ears, the visuals are much more easy on the eyes. Some truly striking underwater sets are on offer, with some terrifying stunts to match. The 3D succeeds in amplifying the audiences’ experience, and on a visual as well as thematic level, the conceit of fading light is one of the film’s strongest elements. So, any claustrophobics out there can consider themselves warned; this is definitely not the film to see before fronting up to do your PADI course!

Published on Concrete Playground
Australian release date: 3 February 2011

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Trailer: Griff the Invisible

I've been keenly anticipating this film for quite a while now and was gutted to miss a screening last December. Griff, it seems, is destined to be invisible to my eyes for a little bit longer...

Here's the synopsis:

Griff - office worker by day, superhero by night - has his world turned upside down when he meets Melody, a beautiful young scientist who shares his passion for the impossible. 

By day Griff (Ryan Kwanten) is an everyday office worker, in an everyday town. He lives a secluded life, bullied by co-workers (Toby Schmitz) - his protective brother his only friend. By night Griff assumes his other identity, roaming the dark streets protecting the innocent and the vulnerable from the dangers that lurk in the shadows - he is the hero, GRIFF THE INVISIBLE

Increasingly concerned by Griff's eccentric behaviour, his brother (Patrick Brammall) attempts to draw him back into the 'real world'. In doing so he introduces Griff to Melody (Maeve Dermody) an equally eccentric and charming girl. 

Fascinated by Griff's idiosyncrasies, which are equal only to her own, Melody begins to fall for Griff. As Griff is forced to face up to realities of a mundane world, it is up to Melody to rescue GRIFF THE INVISIBLE for the sake of herself, Griff and their love for each other. 

GRIFF THE INVISIBLE is the fresh, highly-original romantic comedy from the wildly fertile imagination of debut feature film writer / director Leon Ford. Starring Ryan Kwanten in the lead role of Griff (star of smash hit US TV series True Blood) and Maeve Dermody as Melody (who earned critical acclaim for her performance in Beautiful Kate), GRIFF THE INVISIBLE is fresh from international rave reviews and accolades from the Toronto International Film Festival and will (dis)appear in cinemas nationally March, 2011.

Australian release date: 17 March 2011

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Black Swan

There is absolutely nothing subtle about Black Swan. From the blending of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake with Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novella The Double and Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, to the shamelessly archetypal characters and obvious visual allusions, this is a film that positively revels in the melodramatic. In other hands, such blatant ‘homage’ might seem ridiculous, but co-writer and director Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, Requiem for a Dream) spins them into something more akin to magic. Heart-stoppingly stunning on both an aesthetic and emotional level, Aronofsky has created a mischievous, marvellous fairytale that seeps into your nightmares like the Grimms’ fables of old.

Setting the bar staggeringly high is Natalie Portman in her bravura performance as Nina Sayers. Prim, effacing, but veiled in a steely tenacity, Nina is the rising star of a New York City ballet company. Infantilised by her embittered mother (Barbara Hershey), Nina nevertheless manages to dethrone the company’s prima ballerina (Winona Ryder), before buckling under the pressure of playing the duel roles in company director Thomas Leroy’s (Vincent Cassel) revisionist Swan Lake. Threatened by the effortless talent of newcomer Lily (Mila Kunis), Nina is driven further to the edge by Thomas’ provocative efforts to push beyond the virginal grace required for the White Swan and draw out her latent, sensual, Black Swan.

In many ways Aronofsky has created a beautiful companion piece to his acclaimed tale The Wrestler. Visually, the two films share long sequences trailing the leads as they stalk around their domains, while both reverberate with thematic strains of physical discipline and psychological desperation. Yet as a thriller to The Wrestler’s elegy, Black Swan asserts its own distinct appeal, with Nina’s mind dissociating and disintegrating upon a separate, haunting plane of magical realism. Here Aronofsky and his makeup and effects team play their audience like marionettes, as we are drawn and then locked into Nina’s frayed psyche.

Balletomanes may be disappointed with the comparatively little screen time spent en pointe, however Portman’s transformative presence is nothing short of bewitching. Kunis and Cassel also shine, while Ryder and Hershey up the psychological ante in their scene-stealing appearances.

Beyond all of this film’s myriad references, Aronofsky is a cinematic disciple of The Red Shoes (1948). And much like Powell and Pressburger’s revered film, Black Swan achieves moments of glorious transcendence. Visually, sonically and through Portman’s awe-inspiring performance, Black Swan gets ever so close to achieving Nina’s devastating ambition: “I just want to be perfect.”

5 Stars

Published in The Big Issue #372
Australian release date: 20 January 2011

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