Monday, June 27, 2011

Interview: Leon Ford & Maeve Dermody (Griff the Invisible)

 Photography by Daniel Boud

The title says it all. Griff is indeed an invisible superhero (of sorts), but as writer-director Leon Ford and co-star Maeve Dermody point out, it’s actually a few decidedly less fantastical powers that are winning over audiences: charm, whimsy and a great big heart. For Ford the movie can be seen as "a comedy, a romance or a superhero film."

Bridging all of these genres is Aussie expat Ryan Kwanten, who returns from his time on the vampiric TV series True Blood to take the lead in Ford’s feature debut. Bullied office worker by day, caped crusader by night, Griff is a long time loner who unwittingly finds a partner in crime in his brother’s new girlfriend, Melody (Dermody). As a fable about meeting your match and embracing your quirks (as well as knocking a few heads), Griff the Invisible both delightfully confounds and exceeds expectations.

Basking in sunny Sydney Harbour, Ford and Dermody recall their recent visit to the Berlinale, where Griff the Invisible screened to a packed house of 1000 as part of the Generations Programme.

“[The audience] were just loving it, like it was a rock concert or something,” enthuses Ford, “and also in Toronto we had a really amazing response. North Americans are very vocal and effusive so that was really thrilling.”

Ford has a theory on what’s striking audiences, and quotes a YouTube comment that puts it best. “'This is like Kick Ass, but the one that my girlfriend would want to see.' To be honest I didn’t see Kick Ass,” Ford admits, “But I think that’s perfect pitch for it; it’s a date film. The guy is going to enjoy it, but it’s mainly a romantic film.”

But with Griff well and truly ensconced in his own crime-fighting world, the film really calls on Melody to be the story’s beating heart. This shifts a significant weight onto the slender shoulders of 25-year-old Dermody, who proves more than up to the challenge after stealing scenes on both stage and screen in recent productions such as Rachel Ward’s Beautiful Kate and the Sydney Theatre Company’s Our Town.  “It’s about the combination of the two,” Dermody gently demurs. “Ryan had to carry a hell of a lot too.”

Citing Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love as influences, Dermody clearly has a lot of affection for Melody. “She was this beautiful, amazing character and I had to find ways to honour her.”

Melody’s relationship with Griff also needed some special magic, which Dermody and Kwanten conjured in a rather novel way. “We did a lot of not talking,” she explains. “We hung out and we kind of gazed at each other a little bit. You have to do this work of fostering something. You don’t know exactly what you’re doing but you just kind of fall in love, and it’s not with Ryan Kwanten, it’s with Griff.”


This silent staring contest obviously worked, to their director’s delight. “Much to our relief as soon as we started running the scenes, it was just like, ‘Oh this is perfect. They have the same tempo, they have the same sense of humour and understanding’,” he says.

And while Kwanten’s True Blood gloss can’t help but add to audience appeal, initially at least, this connection was lost on Ford. “I know, it’s embarrassing,” he admits. “I’d heard his name but I hadn’t watched True Blood.”

After missing the chance to meet with the casting director in LA, Kwanten emailed a thirty-second monologue that simply stunned Ford. “I watched this clip on my laptop and was like, ‘My god, who is this guy? He’s ticking every single box for the character,’” Ford recalls. “But most importantly he’s just got these eyes that you fall in love with. You fall into. They’re so honest and they just see straight through you. He gave the character that I had written such dignity that I just loved him.”

“Then I saw True Blood and I was like, ‘Hang on! Whoa whoa whoa! How can that be [the same guy]?’”

Griff is certainly a far remove from Kwanten’s turn as True Blood heartthrob Jason Stackhouse. In fact the character comes across as so distinctly odd, that one starts to wonder if he might have a psychological condition. But while aware of this interpretation, Ford and Dermody are careful to qualify it.

“It’s about diversity,” offers the actress, and Ford agrees, “I have a personal thing about all these names people start giving all these conditions that people have that probably always existed, and probably used to exist under the broader term ‘personality,’ but now have very specific, medicated names.”

So rather than psychologising its hero, Griff the Invisible opts for the charm of magical realism.

“I wanted the audience to sit in [Griff and Melody’s] heads, not outside,” Ford says. “I wanted the audience to think that [their] world looks like just as much fun, more fun than the normal world, so why would I even think about judging someone who is having that much fun?”

Chronicling how inspiration struck from watching a child at play, Ford recalls poignantly pondering, “That just looks like so much fun. I wish I could still do that, but I can’t.”

“Everyone who’s sitting in the cinema will hopefully be aware that we have that [childlike imagination] inside us, and that we did have to give it up at some point, be it because we were being teased, or just general conformity, or growing up,” he concludes. “And in that way I think Griff and Melody are very brave people, because they don’t give that up.”

Published by Street Press Australia (flip to page 57)
Click HERE to read my review
Australian DVD release date: August 2011
US release date: 19 August 2011

And because I was lucky enough to have the marvellous Daniel Boud accompany me on the interview, here are a few more of his gorgeous photographs. See more of his work over at Boudist


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sydney Film Festival: Critics' Poll 2011

Image - The Festival Jury announces the Official Competition winner: A Separation

So it turns out I saw 60 films during the 58th Sydney Film Festival. Whoa! No wonder I'm tired.
(Nb. I had racked up quite a number before the festival even began, as Giles and I needed to hit the ground running with our SMH Festival Focus episodes.)

Once again, I've contributed to the marvellous Matt Ravier's critics' poll. Head over to A Life in Film to see Matt's meticulous tables, keen observations and even a sneaky photo from one of the critics' drinks.

It turns out that I'm responsible for the poll's highest rated film: Tomboy. But that's only because I was the only polled critic who saw it and - following my rave review on Festival Focus - of course I gave it 5 stars. That technicality aside, I was thrilled to see the Official Competition winner A Separation take out the real top spot on the poll. 

This year's festival was just extraordinary. I feel like I'm suffering from party's over syndrome, but that's probably just the sleep debt speaking! Congratulations to Clare Stewart for a fabulous fifth and final festival. She has outdone herself and I look forward to seeing what kind of film future she has planned.

For everyone else: I'm now conditioned to seeing at least four films a day, so...it's time to head back to the cinema!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Coming Sooner


Back in 2008 I confessed to calling iTunes Movie Trailers My Happy Place, so it should come as no surprise that I've become an instant fan of Coming Sooner, a brand new movie trailer review show.

The brain child of my friend and fellow film critic Marc Fennell along with his Hungry Beast comrades Nick Hayden and Nicholas McDougall, Coming Sooner promises to be a devilishly fun way to spend a couple of minutes giggling over the latest movie trailers.

Just look what they made of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1



The guys say they're going to review two trailers a week, so I say hit subscribe and let the good, film geek times roll.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Interview: Peter Zeitlinger (Cave of Forgotten Dreams)


From the Amazon to Antarctica, the intrepid Werner Herzog has more than staked his claim on the cinematic (and geographic) map. His filmography is stacked with enthralling nature (Encounters at the End of the World), fascinating characters (Grizzly Man) and plenty of on (and off) screen drama (Aguirre: The Wrath of God).  The latest documentary is no different, with Herzog heading underground and embracing 3D to share the astounding discovery of pristine, 30,000-year-old cave paintings in the south of France. The resulting Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a breathtaking document, steeped in ‘Herzogian’ subjectivity, with the filmmaker’s iconic tones carefully detailing the technical difficulties he faced, as well as musing on the potential spiritual meaning behind the spectacular Palaeolithic artworks.

According to Herzog’s cinematographer of 16 years, Peter Zeitlinger, keeping up with the indefatigable German director requires a particular cocktail of brain and brawn.

“Werner’s said that I’m a very great cameraman because I used to be an ice hockey player,” enthuses Zeitlinger over the phone from Italy. “That was the reason that he originally hired me, because he needed a person who is physically in a condition to withstand his demands of film working!”

These demands include an aversion for ‘big tools’ and preference for handheld camerawork, two things that held Zeitlinger in very good stead as he and Herzog faced the limitations of time and access to France’s Chauvet Caves. A cramped entrance, two-foot wide walkway and the perilous delicacy of the surrounds certainly made Zeitlinger think on his feet.

“We had to improvise a lot. [We used] equipment that we assembled with gaffa tape and hard wire,” he says, laughing. “We didn’t have the opportunity to see the cave in advance, so we found out [about the restrictions] on the day when we wanted to start to shoot.”

“[But] we had to shoot it no matter what, so we did. We had to find a local blacksmith and he produced some iron parts for us to be able to put the cameras together.”

Adding to the technical headaches was the fact that Zeitlinger was shooting in 3D, but according to the cinematographer, there was no other option.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams was a case where 3D was very important because of the shape of the cave and because of the shape of the paintings. The shape of the work is a part of the artistic expression of these great artists from 30,000 years ago, which we couldn’t have covered better in any other way than in 3D. [Otherwise] it would be lost; it would be just a flat painting. Whereas they actually used the shape of the rocks to express their vision.”

Zeitlinger was clearly affected by his time in the cave, “30,000 years, no-one can imagine that, and [yet] I felt so familiar with those people who were there. I got a kind of universal touch to mankind.”

As for his time with Herzog, Zeitlinger seems set to follow in the filmmaker’s adventurous footsteps.  “It’s like if somebody asked me, ‘Where can you ski? How deep can the slope be?’ and I say, ‘Every where [there’s] snow!’ That’s [the same] with filming; wherever you can go as a human being, you can also film.”

Published by Street Press Australia (p.57)
Cave of Forgotten Dreams will screen at the Sydney Film Festival on Saturday 18th June at 10am.
Click HERE to listen to my Spoiler Special with Dana Stevens. 

Australian release date: 22 September 2011

Thursday, June 16, 2011

SMH Festival Focus: Gems


After yesterday's somewhat scandalous Festival Flops, Giles and I are back sharing our favourites from the Sydney Film Festival.

Click play or HERE to head to SMH.tv.

Here are the festival links to the films we mention:

Project Nim
Tyrannosaur
Terri
Tomboy

And because we couldn't fit them all in, here are a few more of my gems that are still screening:

Black Venus
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Here
Martha Marcy May Marlene
The Great Bear

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

SMH Festival Focus: Flops


It's half way through the Sydney Film Festival and Giles Hardie and I have ducked back into the studio to share a few of our festival flops. Lots of laughs and a couple of disagreements went down, so click play or HERE to head over to SMH.tv.

Here are the films we mention:

Three
The Mill and the Cross (here I also refer to The Return of Martin Guerre)
A Letter to Elia
Boxing Gym (here's my review of La Danse)

So over to you: do you agree or disagree? Any other festival disappointments you've stumbled across?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

ABC702: Super 8 and Sydney Film Festival


I'm very excited to announce that I am officially one of the regular film reviewers on 702 ABC! Once a month I shall be chatting about the latest cinema releases with the delightful Deb Cameron.

Now, I hope you'll all bear with me as I learn the ropes of live radio! This week I reviewed J.J. Abrams' wonderful walk down memory lane, Super 8, as well as sharing a few tips for the Sydney Film Festival.

Have a listen:

  ABC702 Review 2 by alicetynan

Yes, it was a lot of fun bantering with James Valentine!

Here are links to the festival films I mention:
Hanna
Tomboy
How to Die in Oregon
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
The Arbor
Happy, Happy
End of Animal

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Movie Club: Here I Am


Today on The Movie Club Melissa and I are joined by Here I Am director Beck Cole.

Beck was a delightful guest, and it was after this chat that she invited me to host her Q&A on opening night!

Special thanks to Mel for cutting my lame 'Here you are!' joke. Yes, that's just how I roll...lame!

Click HERE to view the episode.

Here I Am is in cinemas now.



Rope

 Image 
Alfred Hitchcock is one hell of a tough act to follow. With his iconic 1948 film Rope, the director was able to both bottle lightning with his ensemble cast, while also managing to etch a cinematic style into the annals of film history.

But if director Ian Sinclair is intimidated, he’s got a damn good poker face. Returning to Peter Hamilton’s 1929 play Rope’s End, and its original London setting, Sinclair and his production team have created an intimate parlour scene in the newly refurbished Bondi Pavilion, with dark furniture and art deco trimmings setting off a glossy white chest in the middle of the room. It is this chest that glistens ominously in the murky darkness of Rope’s startlingly brutal opening scene, where two shadowy figures dispatch a terrified third with the titular weapon. And as the newly minted murderers pant orgasmically over their prize, it's clear that there’s to be more than the suggestion of homoeroticism in Sinclair's production.


Syncopated match flares and frenetically puffed cigarettes reveal the two dapper youths: a maniacally hopped up Wyndham Brandon (Anthony Gee) and a more traditionally hysterical Charles ‘Granno’ Granillo (Anthony Gooley). Before the show, a jocular announcer has already warned the audience of Gee’s recent shoulder dislocation (later written in as a rowing mishap), so when the lights eventually do come up, one is only left to wonder how the injury has affected the power dynamics of the horrific preceding violence. But either way, the deed is done, young Ronald Kentley has been murdered – for the sheer thrill of it – and Brandon and Granno are expecting visitors in a mere moment.


Barely able to contain himself, Brandon greets his party with a Cheshire Cat grin. Granno is more content to hand out, and knock back, cocktails and cigarettes. The exhilaration of the kill fills the party – and the audience – with an ecstatic energy, and in a distinct tonal departure from Hitchcock, Sinclair and his ensemble play the opening act with a screwball comedic edge, which at times even borders on pantomime. The audience are quick to laugh along with the marvellous ensemble of Sabot (Peter Eyers), the effete French butler, flighty party girl Leila (Sarah Snook) and the eagerly ridiculous Kenneth (Gig Clarke). Adding an extra edge to proceedings are prize guests Sir Johnstone Kentley (Bob Baines) and Mrs Debenham (Elaine Hudson) – the recently murdered boy’s father and aunt – while Sinclair regular Josh Quong Tart plays Rupert Cadell, the unfortunate guest and mentor-figure who begins to suspect all is not well.


With two bombastically cued intervals and hence double the drinking opportunities, the boisterous opening night crowd is forgiving of the few onstage hiccoughs. Perhaps Gee’s shoulder threw everyone out a little, but while it’s evident that the production hasn’t quite reached muscle memory, the potential for greatness is also crystal clear. Gee commands his party with caustically clipped diction and a maniacal smile, which might appear forced if it wasn't so skilfully pathological. There’s more than a nod to American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman in his performance and it builds to something quite striking indeed, while Gooley provides admirable support, matching pitch-perfect timing with an alarmingly realistic case of drunken sweats and swaying as Granno’s guilt eats him from the inside out.


As the only guest whose suspicions are aroused, Tart gives a powerfully nuanced performance as Rupert. Responsible for the play’s crucial tonal shift, Tart deftly develops Rupert from wry wit to incredulity, to horrified suspicion with a skill that will assuredly carry the audience along once he fully hits his stride.


So while Hitchock's spectre inevitably looms large over the production, Sinclair and his devilishly gleeful Brandon masterfully make their case: this is their party and they can murder if they want to.
 

4 Stars

Published in Time Out Sydney
Season: 1 June – 25 June 2011

Tues – Sat: 8pm

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Oranges and Sunshine


It’s a pretty safe bet that this film had some awfully fine lines to tread. In adapting the memoir of Nottingham social worker Margaret Humphreys  – who exposed the truth behind the forced migration of over 130,000 children from Britain to Australia – director Jim Loach and screenwriter Rona Munro no doubt had countless personal and political raw nerves to consider (bear in mind ex-PMs Kevin Rudd and Gordon Brown offered their respective official apologies in 2009 and 2010). It is such charged circumstances, then, that we must consider Oranges & Sunshine; a film that very carefully and empathetically shines a light on this tragic chapter of British and Australian history.

Emily Watson is perfectly cast as the soft but stoic Humphreys. The film opens in 1986, with the gentle social worker undertaking the torturous task of separating a young mother from her baby. It may not be the subtlest way to begin a story about mandated child deportation, but the film’s sombre and compassionate tone is swiftly set. From there Humphreys  faces her own incredulity upon learning of children cast to far flung colonies from post-war Britain, until a research montage reveals the harrowing realities and sets our heroine on a mission to reunite these fractured families.

Standing in for the thousands of horror stories of loss, abuse and deprivation are Hugo Weaving and David Wenham as Jack and Len. A broken, but not quite defeated man, Jack tells of being coaxed onto the boat with promises of Australian oranges and sunshine, while Len bridles with years of seething rage and tears he no longer knows how to shed. They are two beautiful performances, which bring great honesty and depth of feeling to some of the screenplay’s more laboured moments. If there’s too much telling and not enough showing in Oranges & Sunshine, then you’re at least happy to have the likes of Watson, Weaving and Wenham handling the exposition.

In his debut feature film, Jim Loach (son of British auteur Ken Loach) displays impressive craftsmanship and keen emotional intelligence. But one also can’t help to feel that a hard time was had in the editing suite, with patchy pacing suggesting there were just too many stories Loach and Munro wanted to squeeze in. And yet with Loach’s lengthy history in television, it begs the question why these tragic tales weren’t spun out into a high spec mini-series? This would have given everyone much more room to move and allowed the audience to invest themselves more fully with Humphreys’ achievements and the fates of more of these forgotten children.

Instead, Oranges & Sunshine is at its best a profoundly moving chronicle, while at its weakest the film seems superficial and strays dangerously close to midday movie sentimentality. And so in bringing to the screen the truth about the Lost Children of the Empire and their tireless champion Margaret Humphreys, Loach has undoubtedly created a worthy film, but not always one that’s cinematically worth watching.

- Three Stars

Published on TheVine
Australian release date: 9 June 2011
Australian DVD release date: 5 October 2011


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

SMH Festival Focus: Politics

 
Giles Hardie and I are getting political for our third Festival Focus. It's also the episode wherein I admit to 'ugly crying' and my GetUp! outro totally falls flat. Enjoy!

Press play or click HERE to head over to SMH.tv.
(Click HERE to view our previous episodes)

Films reviewed:
Cairo 678
LENNONYC
How to Die in Oregon
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front

Also mentioned:
Khodorkovsky 
Free Panahi and Rasoulof - (The Circle, Offside, Gesher)
Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold
Dancing with Dictators
 


Monday, June 6, 2011

SMH Festival Focus: Sex at the Festival


With only two days to go until the 58th Sydney Film Festival, Giles Hardie and I are back over (and very colour coordinated) on SMH.tv talking about the steamier movies screening this year.

What? Sex sells!

Click HERE to view the episode and below are the films we review (with links to the Sydney Film Festival)
Scarlet Road
Happy, Happy
The Trip
Brownian Movement
LBF

Also mentioned:
Sleeping Beauty
Black Venus
Black & White & Sex
Jane Eyre
Three

The Sydney Film Festival has its own channel on SMH.tv, so you can check out other Festival Focus episodes as well as a stack of trailers. Happy festival!


Friday, June 3, 2011

The Movie Club: Sequels


What do you make of sequels? In light of the release of The Hangover Part II, I checked in at The Movie Club to chat about why Hollywood keeps rehashing the same characters and storylines.

Click HERE to see the episode. And be warned, I mention Twilight! Please feel free leave your comments/vitriol over on the club site.

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