Thursday, October 31, 2013

Monthly Round-up: October Viewing

In October I watched a total of 34 films, including Gravity twice. It was a patchy month, with some long stretches where I watched nothing, and some days when I watched three of four films. Also this month I got stuck into House of Cards. Amazing. It was a pretty good month at the cinema, though some of the month's best releases (Mystery Road, Captain Phillips) I actually caught back in September. Two straight Friday nights Sam and I saw a film in IMAX (Metallica and Gravity) - before then, just a pair of IMAX visits this year - while the local DVD store must have got tired of us.

-------- Essential Viewing --------

Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron, 2013) TWICE - The greatest 3D film experience yet. An astounding, immersive achievement. Sandra Bullock is very good, but the praise goes everywhere. Cuaron of course, but also (obviously) for the effects, photography, score and sound editing.

Aftermath (Wladyslaw Pasikowska, 2012) - Floored me. Tackles a taboo topic, Polish-Jewish relations and anti-Semitism. In this harrowing thriller two brothers investigate an atrocity that occurred during WWII on the land they occupy. Estrangement is forgiven when united by the quest to reveal long-ignored truths. Bold and gut wrenching, with extraordinary suspense. Screens at the Jewish Film Festival (Sydney, 2/16 Nov). Essential.

Walkabout (Nicolas Roeg, 1971) - Civilized city-dwelling Brit youngsters find themselves abandoned and traverse the harsh, primitive Australian outback aided by an indigenous man undergoing a coming-of-age initiation. Gruesomeness paired with beauty. Some extraordinary captures. A collision of cultures - experiences, sexual desires - and a conflict between respect for/exploitation of the natural land.

Prisoners (Denis Villeneuve, 2013)

Fruitvale Station (Ryan Coogler, 2013)

Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichhardt, 2008) - Heartbreaking, minimalist human drama of young woman's (Michelle Williams) penniless struggles stalling her only option, a fresh start. Williams creates such a sympathetic character - a woman without an address, a cell phone, a companion - a luckless stranger in a small town. Oh man, the ending.

The Invisible Man (James Whale, 1933) - Impressive effects, an imposing Rains performance and some shocking maniacal villainy keep this Universal horror classic compelling today.

Bullhead (Michael R. Roskam, 2011) - Childhood/manhood collide in tragic and original crime drama about a lurching, hormone-fueled cattle farmer with a distressing past. Matthias Schoenaerts is an intense giant, commanding attention and evoking rage/sadness purely through his eyes. A visionary debut from a director to watch.

The Squid and the Whale (Noah Baumbach, 2005) - Not my favourite from Baumbach (oddly, I still prefer Greenberg above all) but this is very well written and acted. Tremendously sad, but also darkly humorous, this is a pretty realistic look at divorce-related mess, and how a separation affects everyone - the children, who are at the beginning and middle stages of adolescence here, especially.

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (Declan Lowney, 2013) - Very funny and thoroughly entertaining. Live siege-cast the tip of the craziness. Coogan, a genius here, owns the one-liners.

Drug War (Johnny To, 2013) - Exciting and engaging. A cop and an out-of-options collaborator push the boundaries as they attempt a risky sting. Intelligently conceived, the final shootout is spectacular.

Metallica: Through the Never (Nimrod Antal, 2013)

Tremors (Ron Underwood, 1990) - Two handymen lead a small desert-dwelling resistance against destructive subterranean creatures. Clever, suspenseful and so much fun.

The Wolfman (George Waggner, 1941) - Efficient, tragic classic creature pic. Unconscious physical transformation vs. psychological trauma. With romance and a complex father/son bond.

-------- Essential Viewing --------

Halloween Special: My 50 Favourite Horror Films

Here is a list I have been working on throughout the second half of 2013 – a list of my 50 Favourite Horror Films. This is a collection of films personally assembled and ordered that entertain, provoke, challenge and affect in equal measure (or somewhat equal, as it applies for some) and are worth seeking out if you can stomach the thrills, chills and sinister malevolence offered by the good old horror genre.

While I have watched more horror films this year than any other, I’ll be honest, I still haven’t scratched the surface. For the record, my favourite horror film from 2013 so far is The Conjuring. Japanese horror films and the found footage sub genre, for example, remain gaping holes in my knowledge. A lot of recent viewings have made the list - A Nightmare on Elm Street is particularly high – but most of the Top 10 have been repeatedly scarring me for years and exist amongst my favourite films overall. While I won’t pretend to have seen nearly enough horror films to claim this to be the definitive list, I have made a pretty hardcore effort to catch as many culturally and aesthetically significant classics of the genre as were available to me. I am confident that this list includes winners all the way.

Visit Graffiti With Punctuation for the complete list. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Review: Thor: The Dark World (Alan Taylor, 2013)

In the latest Marvel installment, Thor: The Dark World, helmed by Alan Taylor (a director on many of television’s greatest shows – Game of Thrones, The Sopranos and Mad Men amongst them), events follow not only those in Thor but also the titular God’s heroics in The Avengers. Since then Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has returned to Asgard with his treacherous brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who is imprisoned in the depths of the city (and remains there, looking increasingly like a doped-up ex-rocker, for half of the film), and has been protecting the Nine Realms in preparation for taking over the throne currently resided by his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins).

But, a primeval race, known as the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim, led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston, barely recognisable) awaken and seek revenge on their ancient enemies, who have hidden the Aether, a powerful weapon capable of plunging all of the nine realms into eternal darkness, in an unattainable place. When human astrophysicist Jane Foster (a very unconvincing, and bland, Natalie Portman) and her intern Darcy (Kat Dennings, a comic-relief sidekick, who actually steals scenes here) discover a portal that results in Jane unwillingly becoming a host for the Aether, she finds herself in serious danger. Recuperating on Asgard she joins Thor, Loki – released, and desperately called upon as an ally – and Asgard guardian Heimdall (Idris Elba) amongst others, in an elaborately staged mission to return to Earth and stop Malekith’s reign of terror.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

New Releases (31/10/13)

In cinemas this week - Thor: The Dark World, Lee Daniels' The Butler, Sister and Fly Me to the Moon.

Thor: The Dark World - Continues the big-screen adventures of Thor, the Mighty Avenger, as he battles to save Earth and all the Nine Realms from a shadowy enemy that predates the universe itself. In the aftermath of Marvel's Thor and The Avengers Thor fights to restore order across the cosmos but an ancient race led by the vengeful Malekith returns to plunge the universe back into darkness. Faced with an enemy that even Odin and Asgard cannot withstand, Thor must embark on a perilous and personal journey, one that will reunite him with Jane Foster and force him to sacrifice everything.

Sister - Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein) lives with his older sister (Léa Seydoux) in a housing complex below a luxury Swiss ski resort. With his sister drifting in and out of jobs and relationships, twelve-year-old Simon takes on the responsibility of providing for the two of them. Every day, he takes the lift up to the opulent ski world above, stealing equipment from rich tourists to resell to the local kids down in the valley. He is able to keep their little family afloat with his small-time hustles and his sister is thankful for the money he brings in. But, when Simon partners with a crooked British seasonal worker, he begins to lose his boundaries, affecting his relationship with his sister and plummeting him into dangerous territory.

Lee Daniels' The Butler - Tells the story of a White House butler who served eight American presidents over three decades. The film traces the dramatic changes that swept American society during this time, from the civil rights movement to Vietnam and beyond, and how those changes affected this man's life and family. Forest Whitaker stars as the butler with Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan, James Marsden as John F. Kennedy, Liev Schreiber as Lyndon B. Johnson, and many more.

Weekly recommendation: I really liked Sister. It is compelling small-scale drama with fine performances and stunning photography. It is a unique character-driven film about the lengths one is willing to go to maintain that much-desired family foundation. Thor: The Dark World is also worth a look. It's fun. The story didn't grip me, but the latter half action and humour - after Loki is given something to do - gelled really well. The Butler is receiving Oscar buzz - most notably for Oprah Winfrey's supporting performance - but I have no idea what Daniels is going to throw at us next (hated Precious, liked The Paperboy). I'll check it out.

Review: Prisoners (Denis Villeneuve, 2013)

If your most precious treasure, your child, suddenly disappeared without a trace and was feared dead, how far would you go to rescue them and ensure that justice is served to whoever is responsible? If the situation warranted it, would you supersede the law and be willing to cross the line in a cruel and immoral quest for the truth? This conflict is at the very core of Prisoners, a bleak and unsettling, but completely absorbing crime thriller directed by great Canadian filmmaker, Denis Villeneuve (Maelstrom, Incendies), and written by Aaron Guzikowski.

It covers the week following the disappearance of two young girls, focusing predominantly on Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman), the distraught father of one who psychologically unravels in wake of the incident, and the dedicated, highly competent lead detective, Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), a loner with a dark past and an impeccable record.

Following their disappearance from the home of Keller’s friends (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis), the first lead is a dilapidated RV that had been seen parked on their street earlier in the day, but the mentally simple driver who is arrested, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), is eventually let go because of insufficient evidence.

Keller, who works in construction and is a man seemingly prepared for anything, becomes quickly frustrated by the police’s inability to hold their only suspect, and is unconvinced that Alex is innocent. While he is taking the situation into his own hands, and raising suspicion along the way, Loki conducts his investigation, finding himself caught in a frustrating maze full of loose ends. With time running out and very little making sense, Loki too begins to break. There are many layers of development in this film – most are unexpected, and shouldn’t be discussed here – but Prisoners is a terrific thriller. For 159 minutes it never relinquishes its grip on the audience.

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Friday, October 25, 2013

Review: Fruitvale Station (Ryan Coogler, 2013)

Ryan Coogler’s very affecting debut film, Fruitvale Station, has been the talk of the town since it won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for U.S Dramatic Film at the Sundance Film Festival before going on to screen to similar acclaim in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes. Riding a lot of buzz, it is set to open in Australian cinemas on November 7. This anticipated documentary-esque dramatization of the devastating true events that took place in Hayward on the 31st December 2008 and at Fruitvale Station in the early hours of January 1st 2009 is sure to provoke some pretty strong emotions.

Fruitvale Station aligns the audience with Oscar Grant III (Michael B. Jordan), a 22-year-old African American living in Hayward, California, over the course of a single day – New Year’s Eve, the day of his mother’s (Octavia Spencer) birthday, and the day he decides to turn over a new leaf, re-commit to his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz), be a better father to his daughter Tatiana (Adriana Neal), and leave behind a life of crime. Despite his best intentions, he comes to the realization that these changes aren’t going to be easy. The story culminates at Fruitvale Station, following Oscar and Sophina’s night out celebrating New Year’s Eve, where Oscar and some of his friends are placed under arrest by BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) Officers following an altercation.

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Review: Bethlehem (Yuval Adler, 2013 [Jewish International Film Festival])

On top of winning Best Film at Venice Days and winning 6 Ophir Awards, including Best Film and Director, Bethlehem has recently been selected to represent Israel in the Foreign Language category at the 2013 Academy Awards. This tense political thriller, co-written by Ali Waked – an Arab journalist who spent years in the West Bank and built this screenplay from his research – and Yuval Adler (who directs his debut feature), depicts the increasingly tense relationship between a Shin Bet investigator and his young Palestinian informant and will likely generate some divisive word of mouth when it screens at the Jewish International Film Festival (Sydney, 30 October – 17 November).

Interestingly, representing Palestine for Best Foreign Language Film is Hany Abu-Assad’s Omar, which covers very similar themes – the Israeli Secret Service attempt to recruit a desperate young Palestinian man, imprisoned following the murder of an Israeli soldier, as an informant.

Continue reading at Graffiti With Punctuation.

Monday, October 21, 2013

New Releases (24/10/13)

In cinemas this week we have Captain Phillips, Machete Kills, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, Renoir and Blancanieves.

Captain Phillips - A multi-layered examination of the 2009 hijacking of the U.S. container ship Maersk Alabama by a crew of Somali pirates. It is - through director Paul Greengrass's distinctive lens - simultaneously a pulse-pounding thriller, and a complex portrait of the myriad effects of globalization. The film focuses on the relationship between the Alabama's commanding officer, Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks), and the Somali pirate captain, Muse (Barkhad Abdi), who takes him hostage. Phillips and Muse are set on an unstoppable collision course when Muse and his crew target Phillips' unarmed ship; in the ensuing standoff, 145 miles off the Somali coast, both men will find themselves at the mercy of forces beyond their control. 

Machete Kills - Danny Trejo returns as ex-Federale agent Machete, who is recruited by the President of the United States for a mission which would be impossible for any mortal man - he must take down a madman revolutionary and an eccentric billionaire arms dealer who has hatched a plan to spread war and anarchy across the planet.

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa - When famous DJ Alan Partridge's (Steve Coogan) radio station is taken over by a new media conglomerate, it sets in motion a chain of events which see Alan having to work with the police to defuse a potentially violent siege.

Blancanieves - Once upon a time there was a little girl who had never known her mother. She learned the art of her father, a famous bullfighter, but was hated by her evil stepmother. One day she ran away with a troupe of dwarves, and became a legend. Set in southern Spain in 1920s, Blancanieves is a tribute to silent films.

Renoir - Set on the French Riviera in the summer of 1915, Gilles Bourdos' lushly atmospheric drama tells the story of celebrated Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir, in declining health at age 74, and his middle son Jean, who returns home to convalesce after being wounded in World War I. The elder Renoir is filled with a new, wholly unexpected energy when a young girl miraculously enters his world. Blazing with life, radiantly beautiful, Andrée will become his last model, and the wellspring of a remarkable rejuvenation. At the same time, Jean also falls under the spell of the free-spirited young Andrée. Their beautiful home and majestic countryside grounds reverberate with familial intrigue, as both Renoirs, père et fils, become smitten with the enchanting and headstrong young muse.

Weekly Recommendations: Captain Phillips is a brilliant film. Hanks gives an incredible performance, and this amazing story has been given a fitting dramatisation – albeit one of nerve-shredding authenticity – by the gifted Paul Greengrass (United 93). He weaves a tale documenting not just that of one man’s survival under extreme pressure, but a clash of first and third world economic values and two very different, but equally desperate men who have a job to do and work for other people, yet put their lives on the line to see it done. Blancanieves was charming - a Spanish silent/black and white re-working of the Snow White story. It understands the balance of fairy tale magic and harsh realities and features a great performance from Maribel Verdu. It is worth a look, though I didn't love it as much as others. Machete Kills was abysmal - the double-barrel plot is overlong, stupefying and tedious, the experience becoming little more than checklisting the amusing cameos. There is the expected shlock gore and trashy aesthetic, but this one simply fails as entertainment. And did if I didn't reiterate the 'overlong' status, it is very very long. I have been hearing great things about Alan Partridge - 'the year's funniest film' from a trusted source - so I'll definitely be checking it out this week.

Monday, October 14, 2013

New Releases (17/10/13)

In cinemas this week we have About Time, Prisoners, Mystery Road and Stranger by the Lake.

About Time At the age of 21, Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson) discovers he can travel in time... The night after another unsatisfactory New Year party, Tim's father (Bill Nighy) tells his son that the men in his family have always had the ability to travel through time. Tim can't change history, but he can change what happens and has happened in his own life-so he decides to make his world a better getting a girlfriend. Moving from the Cornwall coast to London to train as a lawyer, Tim finally meets the beautiful but insecure Mary (Rachel McAdams). They fall in love, then an unfortunate time-travel incident means he's never met her at all. So they meet for the first time again - and again - but finally, after a lot of cunning time-traveling, he wins her heart. But as his unusual life progresses, Tim finds out that his unique gift can't save him from the sorrows and ups and downs that affect all families, everywhere. There are great limits to what time travel can achieve, and it can be dangerous too. About Time is a comedy about love and time travel, which discovers that, in the end, making the most of life may not need time travel at all.

Prisoners - From director Denis Villeneuve, Prisoners poses the question: How far would you go to protect your child? Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) is facing every parent's worst nightmare. His six-year-old daughter, Anna, is missing, together with her young friend, Joy, and as minutes turn to hours, panic sets in. The only lead is a dilapidated RV that had earlier been parked on their street. Heading the investigation, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) arrests its driver, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), but a lack of evidence forces the only suspect's release. Knowing his child's life is at stake, the frantic Dover decides he has no choice but to take matters into his own hands. But just how far will this desperate father go to protect his family? Linked review by Alex Withrow from And So It Begins.

Mystery Road - The latest feature from Ivan Sen – who not only writes and directs, but photographs, edits and composes too (Sen’s previous film Toomelah screened in the Un Certain Regard at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival). The story follows an indigenous detective (Aaron Pedersen) who on return to his hometown finds himself the sole investigator into the death of a young girl. In this gripping, cinematic, well-acted and admirably patiently-crafted police procedural a harrowing mystery collides with national prejudice. This provocative contemporary western depicts the crime and corruption that continues to pollute small isolated towns of outback Australia.

Stranger by the Lake - Summertime in France. At a cruising spot for men, tucked away on the shores of a lake, Franck falls for Michel, but Michel has a regular lover. When Franck witnesses Michel killing his lover, he is shocked, but nonetheless his passion for this dangerous man overrides any sense of personal safety, and the two men begin an affair. Whilst waiting for Michel to arrive each day, Franck befriends Henri, an older man, who doesn't fit in with the scene. Their friendship is not based on sex, but on conversation and a shared observation of their world and situation. As Franck and Michel's liaisons continue with reckless abandonment, a policeman arrives at the lake as the body of Michel's murdered lover has been discovered.

Weekly Recommendation: A strong week. Richard Curtis' latest (About Time) will no doubt attract a healthy audience, and I am tempted to check it out. Prisoners has been an anticipated one for me since the Toronto Film Festival. Denis Villeneuve (Incendies, Polytechnique) is a fantastic director, and the core cast looks to be in fine form. Mystery Road opened the Sydney Film Festival to somewhat lukewarm reviews. I'm not sure why. It is an excellent police procedural. Beautifully shot, patiently crafted and well acted, it is a slow-burn drama but it remains compelling throughout. Stranger by the Lake is an atmospheric French thriller that is also worth watching. Some very explicit sex scenes there, though. 

Review: Metallica: Through the Never (Nimród Antal, 2013)

During a raging Metallica concert, a live performance and recording by the gods of metal themselves, a young roadie named Trip (the great Dane Dehaan, star of Chronicle, The Place Beyond the Pines) is sent on a mission to catch up with a truck driver who has been disabled on the way to the arena and procure a valuable item. But when his own mode of transport is hit by another vehicle, he finds himself stranded amongst a violent riot crowd on the anarchic, desolate streets and relentlessly pursued by a masked horseman as he tries to survive and return to the stadium with the band’s missing cargo.

Directed by Nimrod Antal, who collaborated with Metallica (James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett and Robert Trujillo, individually introduced in amusing fashion as we follow Trip’s VIP backstage entrance) on the screenplay, Metallica: Through the Never is an exhilarating and cinematic 3D concert film with a tense narrative accompaniment. This is truly a treat for fans. Probably just fans, but that’s who this film was made for after all. The band’s performance is exemplary, their grand stage takes on an amazing evolution, and the stylish and inventive visuals transport you into the building.

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Review: Captain Phillips (Paul Greengrass, 2013)

From the first moment that we see two skiffs transporting Somali Pirates battling the open ocean and gaining on the merchant freighter they are pursuing through the binoculars of Tom Hanks’ Captain Richard Phillips the tension in Paul Greengrass’ (United 93, The Bourne Ultimatum) astonishingly credible thriller remains relentless.

Based on an actual 2009 hijacking case and Phillips’ autobiography, A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea, there is genuine heart-in-mouth suspense as both sides of this terrifying open-ocean occupation – Phillips and the crew of Maersk Alabama, and the four Somali raiders – are given equal attention and admirably humanised.

First and foremost, Hanks gives an incredible performance, and this amazing story has been given a fitting dramatisation – albeit one of nerve-shredding authenticity, and predominantly free of Hollywood dramatic manipulation and U.S ‘save-the-day’ bravado – by the gifted Greengrass. He weaves a tale documenting not just that of one man’s survival under extreme pressure, but a clash of first and third world economic values and two very different, but equally desperate men who have a job to do and work for other people, yet put their lives on the line to see it done.

Continue reading at Graffiti With Punctuation

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Trailers: American Hustle, The Counselor

Featuring very fine ensemble casts here are the trailers for two of my most anticipated upcoming releases: David O. Russell's American Hustle (unspecified release) and Ridley Scott's The Counselor (Nov 14)

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Review: Mystery Road (Ivan Sen, 2013)

Mystery Road is the latest feature from Ivan Sen – who not only writes and directs, but photographs, edits and composes too (Sen’s previous film Toomelah screened in the Un Certain Regard at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival). The story follows an indigenous detective who on return to his hometown finds himself the sole investigator into the death of a young girl. In this gripping, cinematic, well-acted and admirably patiently-crafted police procedural a harrowing mystery collides with national prejudice. This provocative contemporary western depicts the crime and corruption that continues to pollute small isolated towns of outback Australia.

Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) returns to his Western Queensland country hometown after a stint in the ‘big smoke’, headlong into a case involving a murdered indigenous girl.  Wild dogs, heard in the vicinity at the time, and rumours of a suspected drug ring become just some of the primary clues Jay follows to every corner of the town leading to the unveiling of further disconcerting operations. He suppresses the prevalent resentment he faces as he investigates – both from the distrusting indigenous community, who have all-but ostracized him, and the uncooperative white folk – as well as dealing with a contemptuous and apparently lackadaisical local police force who he is reluctant to entrust. Surrounded by unforgiving, dwarfing nature, the isolation results in the town becoming a breeding ground for criminal enterprises, and the bored and disillusioned youth find themselves easily exploited. As we watch this determined man try to win back his identity and credibility within his former community and prove that he has the skills the make a difference, the suspense begins to mount.

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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Review: Tim Winton's The Turning (2013)

For this unique cinematic event, a winning collaboration between some of Australia’s most talented directors, producers, writers, cinematographers, actors and designers, Tim Winton’s beloved collection of individual short stories have been brought to the big screen in one of our industry’s most ambitious projects – seventeen shorts, each with a different filmmaker at the helm. The stories in The Turning feature moments of emotional enlightenment, deal with the impact of the past and present colliding and one how one shapes the other and features serious recurring themes of addiction, obsession, regret, identity and youthful anxiety. As a whole it is a collection of fascinatingly linked, yet individually powerful, emotive and visceral Australian stories that paint a portrait of the Australian experience, with predominant focus on the lower class and beach culture, infusing natural elements like fire and water with flawed characters dealing with personal demons and moral quandaries.

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Lavazza Italian Film Festival Review: The Worst Week of My Life

The Worst Week of My Life, directed by Alessandro Genovesi, was a hit comedy in Italy – being based on a popular UK television sitcom of the same name helps – which I am sure will reap similar rewards at the Lavazza Italian Film Festival.

The premise is simple. Paolo (Fabio De Luigi) is a 40-year-old advertising agent who is a week shy of marrying his beautiful fiancé Margherita (Cristiana Capotondi). Their excitement for married life in not shared by Margherita’s eccentric upper class parents (Monica Guerritore and Antonio Catania) – and a visit to their lovely home sets in motion a week-long series of escalating disasters that not only severely dents their impression of him, but poses a challenge to the loving couple’s big day.

This often-hilarious slapstick comedy makes use of awkward humour in the vein of the familiar pre-wedding disaster/meet the parents’ mayhem. It’s pretty funny for a while – especially the first two days spent at Paolo’s future in-laws place – but the laughs do dry up significantly as the build-up of situations become increasingly implausible. This applies to what transpires, how they are resolved, and how much his wife-to-be forgives him. But, for pure escapist fun this delivers more than not.

Continue reading at Graffiti With Punctuation.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Lavazza Italian Film Festival Review: The Interval

L’Intervallo [The Interval] is the debut feature from documentary filmmaker Leonard di Constanzo, and is an understated and good-looking little film that takes advantage of a terrific Neapolitan location and tells the story of two entrapped youths who bond over a shared uncertain future. It has been picking up number of International awards – 2013 David di Donatello, Best New Director for example – and is an insightful, authentic-feeling coming-of-age story that manages to maintain a level of tension even when it is pleasant. It poses some intriguing questions before patiently revealing them, and I was left content with the message entwined within this unlikely connection.

Salvatore (Alessio Gallo) is a portly 17-year-old kid whose dull Neapolitan life predominantly revolves around his father’s business – selling lemon crushed-ice from a street cart. On what appears to be an ordinary day, Salvatore finds himself ordered by the local Camorra boss, Bernardino (Carmine Paternoster), to keep watch over a pretty, rebellious 15-year-old, Veronica (Francesco Riso), who they are holding captive in an abandoned institutional building. We are not sure, for quite some time, what Veronica has done and what fate lies in store for her, or what Salvatore is set to lose if he doesn’t comply with his ill-suited duty.

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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Monthly Round-up: September Viewing

I watched a total of 33 films in September. Quite effortlessly. I have found it tough to make it to the cinema with my recent workload. A lot of these I caught at the Sydney Underground Film Festival, and many others are home viewing. Blake Howard, Maria Lewis, Lisa Malouf and I participated in a panel discussion following a screening of Blue Jasmine at Dendy Newtown on September 12. We had so much fun talking about Woody Allen's career, and interacting with the audience. This was my second viewing of the film, and it held up just as well.

New-to-Me Films (In Order of Preference)

---------- Essential Viewing ----------

Playtime (Jacques Tati, 1967) - One of the greatest films ever made? Maybe. My film of the year so far. An incredible achievement. 

A Band Called Death (Mark Christopher Covino, Jeff Howlett, 2013)

Captain Phillips (Paul Greengrass, 2013) - A courageous, competent captain gamely stands up to desperate open-ocean raiders in Greengrass' astonishing thriller. I breathed many a 'sigh-of-relief', intimate hand-held have the terrifying occupation added realism. Both sides given equal attention. Hanks is incredible. Extremely intense.

Top of the Lake (Jane Campion, Gerard Lee, 2013) - Technically a six-part television mini-series but so riveting and cinematic that one could easily watch it all in a single sitting. The production is absolutely stunning, the ominously grim procedural full of twists, and Elizabeth Moss is terrific in the lead role. A shocking climax.

Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954) - A drifting guitarist with a past and a defiant female saloon keeper ally in Ray’s admirably small-scale, genre-bending Western. Odd theatricality, ripping dialogue, sumptuous colour, memorable performances, psycho-sexual tension and entrepreneurial jealousy. A weird one. The ending offers up a curveball - of which there are many throughout - which was a little bit of a let down, but overall a great film.

Heaven's Gate (Michael Cimino, 1980) - Lower class US citizens, dwarved by modernity and Cimino's camera against the sprawling land, oppose ruthless authority in this flawed but spectacular epic. Though the love triangle grew a little tedious, I am so glad I caught this on the big screen.

Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen, 2013) - TWICE

Mystery Road (Ivan Sen, 2013) - I liked Ivan Sen's tense, intriguing and stunningly composed Australian outback-set police procedural of admirable patience. Terrific cast.

What Maisie Knew - Sweet, innocent youngster sadly torn by divorce/custody battle becomes a catalyst for a new, promising future. Top acting by young Onata Aprile and, unexpectedly, Alexander Skarsgard. Devastatingly sad, with displays of abhorrent parenting, but seeing the relationships blossom was lovely.

Birth (Jonathan Glazer, 2004) - I really liked this. A strange film. Intriguing and creepy, deals with grief, obsession and reincarnation. Kidman terrific. Glazer a craftsman.

Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction (Sophie Huber, 2013)

--------- Essential Viewing ---------

New Releases (03/10/13)

New to cinemas this week, and it is a big one, are Gravity, Rush, The Act of Killing and Thanks for Sharing. 

Gravity - Directed by Oscar nominee Alfonso Cuaron this heart-pounding thriller pulls you into the infinite and unforgiving realm of deep space. Sandra Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a brilliant medical engineer on her first shuttle mission, with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney). But on a seemingly routine spacewalk, disaster strikes. The shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalsky completely alone.

Rush - Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon) teams once again with writer Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, The Queen) on Rush, a spectacular re-creation of the merciless and legendary 1970s Formula 1 rivalry between gifted English playboy James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and his disciplined Austrian opponent, Niki Lauda (Daniel Brüh).

The Act of Killing - Anwar Congo and his friends have been dancing their way through musical numbers, twisting arms in film noir gangster scenes, and galloping across prairies as yodelling cowboys. Their foray into filmmaking is being celebrated in the media and debated on television, even though Anwar Congo and his friends are mass murderers. When the government of Indonesia was overthrown by the military in 1965, Anwar and his friends were promoted from small-time gangsters who sold movie theatre tickets on the black market to death squad leaders. They helped the army kill more than one million alleged communists, ethnic Chinese, and intellectuals in less than a year. As the executioner for the most notorious death squad in his city, Anwar himself killed hundreds of people with his own hands. Joshua Oppenheimer's confronting, terrifying film is an unmissable feat of documentary filmmaking. Linked review by Cam Williams at Graffiti With Punctuation.

Thanks for Sharing - On the surface Adam (Mark Ruffalo), an over-achieving environmental consultant, Mike (Tim Robbins), a long-married small-business owner, and Neil (Josh Gad), a wisecracking emergency-room doctor, have little in common. But all are in different stages of dealing with addiction. Confident and successful in his career, Adam is afraid to allow love back into his life, even if that means losing a chance to start over with smart, beautiful and accomplished Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow); Mike's efforts to control his wife, Katie (Joely Richardson), and son, Danny (Patrick Fugit), as tightly as he does his impulses are tearing the family apart; and Neil is still deeply in denial when befriended by Dede (Alecia Moore), who has just begun to take her own small steps back to health. As they navigate the rocky shores of recovery, Adam, Mike and Neil become a family that encourages, infuriates and applauds each other on the journey toward a new life.

Weekly Recommendation: I am watching Gravity tomorrow night and I am confident I am going to love it. Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) is one of my favourite directors. This is going to be awesome, and will need to be seen on the biggest screen possible. The Act of Killing is harrowing. One of the year's most original, powerful and important films. Rush is also worth a look for the sensory elements, the exciting race sequences and the impressive performances, but I was a little underwhelmed. I didn't much like Thanks for Sharing, a tonally imbalanced addiction drama that unfolds without many surprises, despite some tender, funny moments and a strong cast. Perhaps I was a little harsh after Sydney Film Festival, but reviews have been mixed in general so I'm not alone.