Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Movie Club: Coriolanus

Once more unto the breach, dear friends...
Yes, Shakespeare wrote Coriolanus. Who knew? Well, Ralph Fiennes for one. The Academy Award nominated actor famous for The English Patient, Schindler’s List, and playing Harry Potter’s nemesis Voldemort, has chosen the Bard’s much overlooked play for his directorial debut.
But set in contemporary Belgrade, it's Shakespeare unlike you’ve ever seen it before. Join me, The Sci Fi Show’s Oscar Hillerstrom and Trespass Magazine’s Beth Wilson on our cinematic voyage of discovery, as we delve into the legendary life of Roman General Caius Marcias, transformed into a towering filmmaking debut by Fiennes.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Movie Club: A Separation

The fall out from a divorce is never limited to the separating couple. Indeed, as Asghar Farhadi’s intricate and beautiful film reveals, the consequences can be as unforeseen as they are heartrending.
Superlative filmmaking on all levels, this universal tale is made more striking for its modern Iranian setting, as the couple’s impasse - to stay in Iran or leave for the West – unfolds to include economic and religious complexities…with not one but two families drawn into A Separation.

Join me, The Sci Fi Show’s Oscar Hillerstrom and Trespass Magazine’s Beth Wilson as we band together to talk separation, screenwriting and the stunning naturalism that Farhadi and his cast achieve in this gem of a film.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Limelight Magazine: My Week with Marilyn

Michelle Williams is beguiling as screen siren Marilyn Monroe in this true story of an on-set dalliance. Indeed, while movies about making movies mightn’t always hold the widest appeal, going behind the scenes with the dazzling charm and manifold insecurities of Monroe makes for quite the seductive combination. 

My Week With Marilyn is based on the memoir of Colin Clark (sensitively played by Eddie Redmayne), a toff university graduate and diehard film fan who inveigles his way into the role of third assistant director on the set of Sir Laurence Olivier’s (a scene stealing, sibilant Kenneth Branagh) The Prince and the Showgirl (1957). Monroe arrives in London to much pomp and ceremony, escorted by her new husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) and acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker) only to dissolve into a quaking little girl lost at Sir Laurence’s increasingly exasperated direction.

What follows feels a lot like the male version of Carey Mulligan’s turn in An Education. Clark and the starlet share a romance as he transforms from breathless fan to ardent protector in this light and nostalgic coming-of-age tale with a Hollywood twist. 

“Should I be her?” Monroe breathily enquires. And Williams wondrously delivers on all counts.

3 1/2 stars
Australian release date: 16 February 2012

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Movie Club: Icon Films

There's more film distribution chat to be had over on The Movie Club, as Oscar Hillerstrom and I talk bottled lightening with Icon Films' General Manager Greg Denning.

Here are some of the upcoming films we discuss:
The Grey - in cinemas now.
Bullet to the Head
Dredd 3D
On the Road (Kerouac!!)

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Movie Club: Palace Films

Giles Hardie and I get the royal treatment over on The Movie Club, as we sit down with the General Manager of Palace Films Nicolas Watson.

Here's more info about the films Nicolas mentions:
Late Bloomers
The Look (Charlotte Rampling!!!)
Declaration of War
Monsieur Lazhar

And Giles mentions another Woody Allen-loving Alice in Paris Manhattan.


Friday, February 17, 2012

The Artist

Should I just keep my mouth shut about The Artist? No, seriously. Should I just say ‘Five Stars’ and leave it at that? Because with the avalanche of awards and Oscar nominations, my only real concern in reviewing this darling film is that fuelling the anticipation might contribute to some sort of overhype-saturation-point. How dreadful if audiences end up feeling completely jaded before they’ve actually seen the film!  
But ok, with that disclaimer in place, let the superlatives fly:

Trading on nostalgia, a soaring love of cinema, and a truckload of charm, The Artist is a film that leaves you beaming from ear-to-ear. From Ludovic Bource’s opening, bombastic score, and the wry first inter-title that proclaims, “I won’t talk!” writer-director Michel Hazanavicius is obviously having too much fun with the conventions of the silent genre. And it’s absolutely infectious. 

The story itself is deceptively simple. Just as video killed the radio star, the ‘talkies’ of the late 1920s heralded the death knell for silent film idols, which is the exact predicament our protagonist George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) finds himself in. As the film opens, George is riding high on audience adoration: they can’t get enough of his toothy grin, mugging ways and his precocious, four-legged sidekick Jack (a scene-stealing Jack Russell Terrier called Uggie). But the times they are a-changin’, and when studio boss Al Zimmer (John Goodman) makes the switch to sound, George refuses to play along. 

Thus George’s inevitable, stratospheric fall from stardom is navigated alongside the discovery and rise of Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo). This aptly named wannabe actress manages to convert a cheeky photo-op with George into an extras audition, and, ultimately headline fame. Indeed, look out for the scene on the staircase where Hazanavicius playfully, and rather poignantly stages George and Peppy’s reversal of fortune. 

The Artist is filled with such artful, physical cues as Hazanavicius revels in silent communication. Although that’s not strictly true, as the film cleverly toys with sound, while Bource’s beautiful score is a character in of itself. In fact, there is much genre-driven winking at the audience, with Hazanavicius reaching through the screen like some kind of super enthusiastic tour guide; one who effortlessly entertains while bringing cinema’s history back to life. Fortunately the director and his marvelous cast (including a brilliant James Cromwell playing George’s steadfast chauffeur) stop short of overegging the pudding, resulting in a movie that celebrates film spectatorship without overindulging in irony. 

Hazanavicius has previously directed Dujardin and Bejo in the spy spoof double bill OSS 117, and their obvious ease and familiarity reaps dividends here. Goodman, Cromwell and a coy cameo from Malcolm McDowell provide familiar faces for Anglo crowds, but it’s all too easy to fall for the sparkly, smiley charms of the French leads, (not to mention the unabashed brilliance of Uggie). 

So, if you were swayed by Martin Scorsese’s glorious, Hugo-shaped public service announcement for cinephilia (and film restoration), then The Artist will redouble your conviction. It’s a deliriously, wondrously, unspeakably fabulous film. 

And yes, it’s totally worth the hype. 

5 stars

Published on TheVine

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Movie Club: Oscar Nominations Part 2

The Oscar nomination debate continues on The Movie Club as Scott, Jo and I take on the acting categories.

And while I'm talking Oscars, be sure to head over to Eat-Tori and check out her amazing Oscarfest feast!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

AFCA Award

Yesterday I was thrilled to receive the news that I had won the Australian Film Critics Association Film Writing Award for my review of Griff the Invisible.

Here's an excerpt from the press release:
In a year where the quality of writing was of an exceptionally high standard, the winners of the 5th annual Australian Film Critics Association (AFCA) Film Writing Awards have been selected.  
Judged by Alan Finney (Chair of AFI), Professor Deb Verhoeven (Chair & Professor of Media & Communication at Deakin University) and Richard Sowada  (Head of Film Programs, ACMI), the results are as follows:  
Ivan Hutchinson Award for Writing on Australian Film WINNER:  Rebecca Harkins-Cross “Who's Afraid of the Working Class? We Are” 
Award for Writing on Non-Australian Film WINNER:  Jake Wilson “Islands and Ghosts: Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer” 
Award for a Review of an individual Australian Film WINNER:  Alice Tynan “Griff The Invisible” 
Award for a Review of an individual Non-Australian film WINNER: Josh Nelson “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives”

Even more delightful is the fact that this is my second win - I received the same prize back in 2010 for my review of Disgrace.

But the real cherry on top was the inundation of congratulatory tweets I received, even before I'd seen the press release. So thank you to all my film friends for your virtual high fives, and congratulations to the other winners - I'm looking forward to reading your work! 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Vow

Blame the specter of Nicholas Sparks, or perhaps a pressing need to pay the bills, but Rachel McAdams (The Notebook) and Channing Tatum (Dear John) are clogging up the screen with another vanilla romance. Sigh. We must be approaching Valentine’s Day. 

Honestly, why, Rachel? Why? You were just in fabulous, scene-stealing form in Midnight in Paris, and you’re about to appear in the next Terrance Malick film for pity’s sake. Why are you regressing to The Notebook days? 

And Channing, ok, you may not have quite the same pedigree (G.I Joe: Rise of the Cobra, The Eagle…*crickets*), but anyone who has seen A Guide to Recognising Your Saints knows you’ve got some dramatic chops, so what are you doing spouting inane narration about defining ‘moments of impact’ (in a story about a car crash… groundbreaking)? 

But really, while there is very little to wow in The Vow, there’s nothing to be snide about either. The film may be entirely unafraid of predictability, but it’s sweet, shiny and well acted; essentially it delivers exactly what it says on the box. Moreover the film is ‘inspired’ by the story of a husband and wife who struggled to reconnect after she lost all memory of their relationship in the wake of a car accident. The fact that the story is grounded in such striking truth helps you from thinking you’ve accidently strayed into a Days of our Lives amnesia storyline. 

The Hollywood version sees Paige (McAdams) and Leo (Tatum) as two pretty young artists, who meet cute at a Chicago DMV before settling down into hipster happiness. That is until a snowy car crash wipes the past five years from Paige’s memory, rendering Leo a stranger and her WASPy parents (Sam Neill and Jessica Lange) her preferred lifelines. Leo (unsubtly named for his lion heart) fights to win back her love, but in Paige’s mind she’s a promising law student who is engaged to a handsome businessman, Jeremy (Scott Speedman). Decisions decisions…

Except decisions are exactly what The Vow avoids. Not nearly enough time is given to the love triangle to make Jeremy a real threat, nor is the catalyst for Paige’s hipster makeover given much oxygen. One can’t help but feel that quite a few scenes with Speedman, Neill and Lange wound up on the cutting room floor. 

Are you now wondering what on earth is Jessica Lange doing in The Vow? For that you can thank director Michael Sucsy, who collaborated with the actress in the Emmy award winning telemovie Grey Gardens. Here she seems embarrassingly underused, though her third act monologue is delivered to absolute perfection. 

Indeed, given the film’s potential for cloying melodrama, Suscy impresses with his lightness of touch. In Tatum he finds hints of a goofball to ameliorate Leo’s impassioned desperation, while McAdams gets to trade on her likability to play standoffish and – head injuries aside – surprisingly unsympathetic to Leo’s plight. Sam Neill is rock solid as the patriarch gently reasserting his dominance over his prodigal daughter, and fellow Antipodean Jessica McNamee (Packed to the Rafters) makes a pleasing Hollywood debut as McAdams’ lookalike sister Gwen. 

Much like a cookie-cutter wedding, The Vow makes all the right moves, with very few surprises. But ultimately the film resembles its hero, Leo: stylishly functional, good-hearted…

And totally unmemorable. 

3 stars

Published on TheVine
Australian release date: 9 February 2012

Friday, February 10, 2012

Tinker Tailor Solider Spy

From James Bond to Jason Bourne, it’s easy to forget that espionage films can be stately affairs. But that’s exactly what director Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) achieves, as he takes his lead from author John le Carré to craft an impeccable and brilliantly sly, slow burn thriller.

Gary Oldman is unrecognisably understated as he steps into the shoes of George Smiley, the role Alec Guinness made famous in the 1979 TV series. In the crucible of the Cold War, Smiley finds himself unceremoniously ousted from the British Secret Intelligence Service (code-named: the Circus), only to be covertly rehired in order to sniff out a suspected Soviet mole. Alfredson seamlessly cuts between the past and the present as Smiley and his assistant, Peter (Benedict Cumberbatch), meticulously investigate.

The ensemble cast that stirs up the Circus is simply an embarrassment of riches; with Colin Firth, Ciarán Hinds, Toby Jones and Tom Hardy all adding to what is masterclass filmmaking on every level. Oldman leads the charge in pitch-perfect fashion, making this film a must-see for lovers of the genre.

4 ½  stars
Published in The Big Issue #398
Australian release date: 19 January 2012

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Limelight Magazine: Martha Marcy May Marlene

Powerful, palpable and downright haunting, Martha Marcy May Marlene is a staggering cinematic achievement. It is the feature debut of writer-director Sean Durkin as well as the unveiling of a striking new onscreen talent in Elizabeth Olsen. Why the alliterative title? You’ll find out, as this taut psychological thriller works its way under your skin and into your nightmares. 

Olsen is sensational in her “eponymous” role as a young woman who escapes from a cult led by the sinewy and sinister Patrick (a routinely brilliant John Hawkes). Fleeing into the concerned and confused arms of her estranged sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and her fiancé (Hugh Dancy), Martha recuperates in the lap of luxury, only to be terrorised by her memories, and maybe even her surroundings. 

Durkin mixes fear, memory and delusion into a heady concoction that he spins out into a gorgeously slow and enthralling mosaic. Jody Lee Lipes’ beautifully unsettling cinematography and the eerie elisions between past and present underscore Olsen’s captivating portrayal of a frayed but erstwhile searching psyche. Durkin curiously sidesteps moralising the cult, instead opting to lock his audience in with the fractured mind of his heroine.

4 1/2 Stars
Australian release date: 2 February 2012

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Movie Club: Oscar Nominations

You can't have missed the fact that it is once again awards season. Yes that parade of pretty dresses and teary speeches, culminating in the supposed 'night of nights': The Oscars. Over on The Movie Club, Scott Ellis, Jo Cohen and I look at the Best Picture and Best Director nominations, and work up some serious righteous indignation for the names left off the lists!

And really, is no-one with me on Tree of Life?!

Monday, February 6, 2012

ABC702: The Artist and Martha Marcy May Marlene

Last Friday I had the great pleasure of chatting with Linda Mottram, the new host of ABC 702 Mornings. Our first meeting was made even easier by the fact that I was on the show to rave about both The Artist, and Martha Marcy May Marlene - two films that I endorse absolutely, though for very different reasons!

Listen in below, and I'll be really curious if anyone takes me up on my Hugo/The Artist double bill? Drop me a line if you do!  

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Movie Club: Martha Marcy May Marlene

Yes Martha Marcy May Marlene has a veritable tongue twister for a title, but as a brilliant, slow burn psychological thriller, it will similarly skewer your brain!

Featuring a must-see debut performance from Elizabeth Olsen (yes, the younger sister of Mary Kate and Ashley) as our titular heroine on the run from a cult, Martha Marcy May Marlene also heralds an exciting new writing and directing talent from first timer Sean Durkin.

Controlled, graceful and oh so creepy, this film had us all on the edge of our seats. So join me, Girlfriend Magazine’s Lauren Smelcher Sams and Trespass Magazine’s Beth Wilson as we consider joining a cult, as well as marvel over the film’s gossamer fine line between memory and paranoia.

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