Monday, March 31, 2014

Monthly Round-up: March 2014 Viewing

In addition to finishing True Detective S1 and Brooklyn Nine-Nine S1, and reading Freedom by Jonathan Franzen and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, I watched 35 Films.

Most of the viewing took place at home, but I have been slowly catching up on new releases in the cinema. Having seen Noah and The Grand Budapest Hotel over the weekend my enthusiasm for reviewing has been renewed, after a lengthy slump. 

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

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

Seconds (John Frankenheimer, 1966) - Amidst post-war dissatisfaction and failed American Dreams a secret company offers a 'do-over' with what we learn to be sinister intentions. Enter Rock Hudson's Tony Wilson, a 'Second' to John Randolph's purposeless banker, Arthur Hamilton. He's younger and better looking and he works as an artist from his beach house in Malibu. With this second chance will Hamilton have the chance to live the life he has long desired? One of my favourite films of the year to date; an eerie and relevant sci-fi which morbidly taps into failure as inevitably human. Hudson is great and the photography is genius.

Duck Soup (Leo McCary, 1933) - A bombardment of visual gags, snappy one-liners and risqué, politically incorrect wordplay. Genius!

All is Lost (J. C Chandor, 2013) 

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, 2014) - Hilarious (and yet it's quite dark), Anderson's madcap delight is formally astounding (on a peaked scale). Cast (Fiennes and Goldblum were my favourites, but it runs deep), music etc. all brilliant. Like Anderson's other films, a treasure to admire again and again.

Stranger than Paradise (Jim Jarmusch, 1984) - Funny and quotable with calculated laziness, Stranger than Paradise defines a generation of slackers and drop-everything road-trips. Has there ever been a finer representation of that thoughtless flushed-with-cash escape?

Tootsie (Sydney Pollack, 1982) - Hoffman is the star, whether appearing as Michael or Dorothy, but the supporting cast are all stellar too. I especially enjoyed the scenes shared by Pollack and Hoffman. And who couldn't love Jessica Lange. Hilarious and touching with sharp observations about sexism in the entertainment business, and a satirical insider into the daytime soap. Ultimately about a man improving himself, having been forced to rescue his career by playing a woman.

The Garden of Words (Makoto Shinkai, 2013) - Quite stunning. Conceptually and visually.

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

New Releases (03/04/14)

In cinemas this week? Just two films, but two biggies - The Lego Movie and Captain America: Winter Soldier.

The Lego Movie - Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) is an ordinary, rules-following, perfectly average LEGO minifigure who is mistakenly identified as the key to saving the world. He is drafted into a fellowship of strangers on an epic quest to stop an evil tyrant, a journey for which Emmet is hopelessly and hilariously under-prepared. Review by Cam Williams, Graffiti With Punctuation.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier - After the cataclysmic events in New York Marvel’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” finds Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, living quietly in Washington, D.C. and trying to adjust to the modern world. But when a S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague comes under attack, Steve becomes embroiled in a web of intrigue that threatens to put the world at risk. Joining forces with the Black Widow, Captain America struggles to expose the ever-widening conspiracy while fighting off professional assassins sent to silence him at every turn. When the full scope of the villainous plot is revealed, Captain America and the Black Widow enlist the help of a new ally, the Falcon. However, they soon find themselves up against an unexpected and formidable enemy—the Winter Soldier. Review by Blake Howard, Graffiti With Punctuation.

Weekly Recommendation: I haven't seen either of these yet, but I am looking forward to watching both on Friday. How's that for an awesome double feature? Captain America is still my favourite of the stand-alone Marvel films, and the sequel promises to be just as good.

Making It Easier To Make An Independent Film

By guest writer and filmmaker, Alexia Anastasio.

My favorite kind of movie is the kind that makes me think and feel. That is my essential criteria - if it gets me so intune with the story or character that I am crying, the movie has done it’s job.

Now that I am making movies myself, I am rethink how to get people to feel emotion. I am finding that it is very much planned out. Like composing a symphony.

I am in the midst of finishing my feature film, Little Fishes and jumping over hurdles everyday. Every step of the way I am pushed to challenge myself to make key decisions. Even in the misstep like running out of money. I am finding a way to make it fun.

Making decisions painless and effortless are:  

1. Hiring a lawyer to look at your contract before you sign it. I know I said painless but you will be happy down the line that you did this.

2. Casting choices - Ask yourself, Who is this character? What is my presupposition? Do you want a blonde with big boobs that is tall or does it matter. Could it be a male who plays that exact same character? How am I marketing this movie? Who is my audience?

3. Locations to shoot the film - What locations are available? Does it fit the scene? Can you change a scene to make it work in that location?

4. Hiring the right professional crew that understands your movie. Whether or not the crew shares your vision they should be on your page as far as your goal. If your goal is to tell a dramatic story your lighting guy for instance can assist in setting that tone. Remember: even sad scene happen in broad daylight just like in life.

5. What film festivals to enter or are you not going that route? Every festival has there favorite genre - does your film match their themes? Is it a local film festival? If you are not going that route and self-distributing your film - how many sold out screenings would be considered a success to you?

6. Costumes/Wardrobe - What are your color themes for each character? Would that character wear that and why? How is it rooted to their personality?

7. How are you raising the money to make your movie and How much do you really need? Break it down. Make two budgets - one is your dream budget and the other is the minimum or base cost. Are you using crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo? Do you have a list of people organized so can easily contact them when you go live? Share your goal with everybody.

8. It’s personal. What is your big WHY? Why should you specifically make this movie now? Is the timing right in your life and is there interest in this project? You only grow as an artist when you put your energy towards serving your audience. Park your ego on the side and make art.

9. What are your goals for your movie? Is it to play it locally or internationally? What would a success mean to you? What does it look like?

10. How does this film fit in your universal themes in all of your work? For me, I tend to go toward diaristic work and making film that inspire others that they can be an artist too. I must reinforce that all work is about contribution and growth. I have contributing to my credit card growth all along. :)
You can see my last film, Adventures in Plymptoons! on many platforms like Hulu, Vimeo, Amazon by going here:
You can sign up for my email list and get updates whenever I have a new project on my website:

And you can view the new trailers and sneak peak scenes and even give to the campaign for Little Fishes here:

BIO: Alexia Anastasio is an artist, actress and filmmaker. She was featured in HBO's Bored to Death, VH1 “If you like...” commercial and Vetiver "Everyday" music video. Her work on the feature documentaries includes: Editor of Vampira: The Movie; Associate Producer of The Wild World of Ted V. Mikels; Co-producer of Beyond the Noise: My Transcendental Meditation Journey; Director of Adventures in Plymptoons! documentary on Oscar nominated animator Bill Plympton; Director of documentary, Ginger Girls: The Secret Lives of Redheads and Director of narrative, Little Fishes.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Review: NYMP()MANIAC [Parts I and II] (Lars Von Trier, 2014)

Lars Von Trier's provocative two-part four-hour drama of sex, lust, addiction, degradation, violence and psychological association, Nymphomaniac, hit Australian screens yesterday. Parts I and II (cut, censored versions of a larger, more outrageously indulgent 5 1/2 hour cut that have a staggered release at prominent International Film Festivals over the course of 2014) tells the story of Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a now middle-aged self-diagnosed nymphomaniac. On a cold winter’s evening a forgiving asexual bachelor and literature and philosophy enthusiast, Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), finds Joe beaten up in an alley. He brings her home to his modestly furnished flat where he cares for her wounds and allows her to rest, before inquiring about her life. As it turns out, she's a very willing storyteller, recounting (in somewhat excruciating detail over the eight chapters, which span both Parts I and II) her blossoming sexuality as a youngster and her various jobs and relationships, all the way through to the events of the evening she was found. Seligman listens intently to the multifaceted story of her life, interjecting to comment and offer his opinion and try to attempt to relate to her affliction and struggles.

While I found this idea a fascinating one, I felt immediately that the approach was misguided. The flashback/forward structure soon grew wearying, as we listen to Gainsbourg and Skarsgard discuss the sequences we have just witnessed, but in a playful tone which altogether dismisses some of the behaviour (forgiving it, for the most part) and then re-evaluates it through far-fetched juxtapositions and deriving meaning where it isn't due. I get that Von Trier is having us on with all of this, but the gleeful, excitable way Seligman latches on to one aspect of Joe's debaucherous lifestyle and digresses into a barely-relatable anecdote is a really smug, annoying layer that I found less than amusing.

My 50 Favourite Directors *UPDATED*

Back in March 2012 I made a list of my 40 Favourite Directors and the 'Essential Viewing' (4 Stars+) from their filmographies.

This list stretched from early cinema pioneers like Sergei Eisenstein and Charlie Chaplin to present-day masters like David Fincher and Paul Thomas Anderson - and the skilled auteurs like Robert Bresson, Stanley Kubrick, Andrei Tarkvosky and Ingmar Bergman who were at their peak in between.

 I thought that I should update that list, see who would still make the cut and who I would add.

More currently-working directors, including a few with only a couple of features to their name. 
More female filmmakers.
I have seen several more films from directors Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Howard Hawks, Sidney Lumet and Steven Soderbergh, which strengthen my admiration for them.
Several filmmakers were added to this list as a result of films released in 2013 - Alexander Payne, Jeff Nichols, Edgar Wright, Paul Greengrass, Spike Jonze amongst them.

Check out the list after the jump:

Veronica Mars Film a Smash Hit Among Fans

Written by Brandon Engel.

You don’t have to be familiar with the Veronica Mars television series to know the unusual circumstances surrounding the recent film of the same name. The film, which was made almost entirely from donated funds through a Kickstarter campaign, is showing the movie industry that fans should and can have more control over the entertainment they are sold. It’s an innovative concept for film executives who have spent decades testing the waters, trying to find the next big thing.

While Veronica Mars was on the air its viewer numbers remained constant between the first and last season, with an average of 2.5 million viewers. Thus, its cancellation in 2007 after only three seasons came as a shock to the show’s cult following as well as it’s writer/creator Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell. Shortly after the cancellation, Thomas write a film script based on the show, but was forced to shelve it for a few years while working on other projects. 

When he repeatedly approached Warner Brothers (who own the rights to the Veronica Mars name) with the script and idea for the movie he was rejected, with the studio citing lack of interest in the project. He and Bell discussed using Kickstarter as a means to fund the project, based largely off of other successful campaigns run by celebrities like Zach Braff and Spike Lee. They approached Warner Bros. with the idea for the Kickstarter campaign, and the studio agreed to let them do it.

There have been other Kickstarter campaigns for films in the past, but what set Veronica Mars apart from the pack was that it was the first film owned by a major studio to do so. The campaign was picked up by the press and heavily promoted through social media, due in large part to the growing cult fan base who, thanks to online streaming, have been able to keep the series alive. Within the first 11 hours of the campaign, it had already reached its goal of $2 million, becoming the fastest Kickstarter campaign to ever do so. It also became the campaign with the highest number contributors, totaling 91,585. 

Now that the film has been in theaters for two weeks, it appears its online presence is still as strong as ever. The sentiment measurement tools from the social media analysis company ViralHeat show that as of this week posts and tweets referencing Veronica Mars are 98% positive on Facebook and 77% positive on Twitter. The film has also come full circle to fans who first watched the series online, since the film has become available in digital form alongside the theatrical release. 

So far, the film has made about $2.8 million at the box office, but that doesn’t take into account digital sales. Thomas told Entertainment Weekly that if the box office sales hit a certain, unnamed, number he would begin talks with Warner Brothers for a sequel. While we may not know the fate of the Veronica Mars franchise now, I think we’ve all learned to expect her eventual return.

Brandon is a freelance writer who also contributed the Phillip Seymour Hoffman Memorial to The Film Emporium. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

New Releases (27/03/14)

In cinemas this week: Noah, Mr Peabody and Sherman, Romeo and Juliet, Nymphomaniac (Parts I and II), Half of a Yellow Sun and on Friday 28th The Raid 2: Berandal

Noah: Russell Crowe stars as Noah in the film inspired by the epic story of courage, sacrifice and hope. Directed by visionary filmmaker Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, Black Swan). Some reports have expressed that there is a fine film here not represented by a pretty average trailer. Something much deeper and more ambitious. I expect nothing less from DA and I am optimistic that it will prove to be a success.

The Raid 2: He thought it was over. After fighting his way out of a building filled with gangsters and madmen - a fight that left the bodies of police and gangsters alike piled in the halls - rookie Jakarta cop Rama thought it was done and he could resume a normal life. He couldn't have been more wrong. Formidable though they may have been, Rama's opponents in that fateful building were nothing more than small fish swimming in a pond much larger than he ever dreamed possible. And his triumph over the small fry has attracted the attention of the predators farther up the food chain. His family at risk, Rama has only one choice to protect his infant son and wife: He must go undercover to enter the criminal underworld himself and climb through the hierarchy of competing forces until it leads him to the corrupt politicians and police pulling the strings at the top of the heap. And so Rama begins a new odyssey of violence, a journey that will force him to set aside his own life and history and take on a new identity as the violent offender "Yuda." In prison he must gain the confidence of Uco - the son of a prominent gang kingpin - to join the gang himself, laying his own life on the line in a desperate all-or-nothing gambit to bring the whole rotten enterprise to an end. The Raid is one of the most intense action films I have ever seen. I am eagerly awaiting Evans' sequel.

Mr Peabody and Sherman: Mr. Peabody, the most accomplished dog in the world, and his mischievous boy Sherman, use their time machine - the WABAC - to go on the most outrageous adventures known to man or dog. But when Sherman takes the WABAC out for a joyride to impress his friend Penny, they accidentally rip a hole in the universe, wreaking havoc on the most important events in world history. Before they forever alter the past, present and future, Mr. Peabody must come to their rescue, ultimately facing the most daunting challenge of any era: figuring out how to be a parent. Together, the time traveling trio will make their mark on history. This enjoyable, fast-paced time-travel adventure amusingly utilizes significant periods and figures of history. Blends kid (toilet jokes) and adult humor (dad-joke puns) reasonably well (so parents won't get bored, I assure you). Ty Burrell does a terrific job voicing Mr. Peabody. ★★

Romeo and Juliet: William Shakespeare's epic and searing tale of love, is revitalized on screen by writer Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey) and director Carlos Carlei (The Flight of the Innocent). An ageless story from the world's most renowned author is re-imagined for the 21st Century. This adaptation is told in the lush traditional setting it was written, but gives a new generation the chance to fall in love with the enduring legend. Stars Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth in the lead roles.

Nymphomaniac (Parts I and II): The story of Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac who is discovered badly beaten in an alley by an older bachelor, Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), who takes her into his home. As he tends to her wounds, she recounts the erotic story of her adolescence and young-adulthood (portrayed in flashback by newcomer Stacy Martin). This release of the film includes both Parts I and II and clocks in at 4 hours. As with Lars Von Trier you never know what you are in for, but this is the first film from the controversial filmmaker (who also made Dancer in the Dark, Antichrist and Melancholia) that I have actively disliked. ★1/2 

Half of A Yellow Sun: During the mid-to-late sixties, twin sisters Olanna (Thandie Newton) and Kainene (Anika Noni Rose) return to Nigeria after their education in England, they make decisions that shock their family. Olanna moves in with her lover, the ‘revolutionary professor’ Odenigbo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and his houseboy Ugwu (John Boyega) while Kainene takes over the family interests and pursues a career as a businesswoman, falling in love with Richard (Joseph Mawle), an English writer. As the Igbo people struggle to establish Biafra as an independent republic, the sisters become caught up in the shocking violence of the Nigerian Civil War and a betrayal that threatens their family forever.

Weekly Recommendation: Nymphomaniac is the single most unpleasant experience of the year to date, so I can offer no recommendation there. I am, however, in a lopsided minority. Even non-fans of LVT have expressed admiration and enjoyment (how?). Mr Peabody and Sherman is a better-than-average family option, while Noah and The Raid 2 are two I am personally looking forward to seeing this week. I'm not going to lose sleep over missing Romeo and Juliet. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

New Releases (20/03/14)

In cinemas this week: Cuban Fury, Pompeii, I, Frankenstein, Ride Along, Wadjda, The Missing Picture and Jay Z: Made in America.

Wadjda - Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) is not your typical 10-year-old girl – she’s intuitive, full of energy and individualism – with the unusual desire of owning a bike. While her father continues to provide for Wadjda and her mother, he is set to take another wife in the hopes that she will bear him a son. He splits his time between both women, which is a cause for anxiety for Wadjda’s mother. At school, Wadjda is rebellious, blatantly disobeying the strict customs that virtuous females must abide by and she has several run-ins with her upstanding headmistress. On the streets she befriends a local boy and gets herself into many unladylike situations. She swindles her classmates for cash by selling bracelets and mix tapes, hoping to buy the bike herself, eventually deciding to try and win the cash prize offered by the school Quran recitation competition. Her attention to her studies, and the memorising of the religious verses begins to change people’s perspective of her. Written and directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour, graduate of the University of Sydney, Wadjda is the first film to be shot in its entirety on location in Saudi Arabia. It is also the first feature from a female Saudi filmmaker. Beautifully crafted, admirably honest and unwaveringly optimistic, Wadjda provides fascinating insight into everyday life in the nation’s capital, Riyadh, and tells a sweet and uplifting tale of the earnest belief in life’s potential and teenage independence within a strict conservative culture. ★★

The Missing Picture - For many years, I have been looking for the missing picture: a photograph taken between 1975 and 1979 by the Khmer Rouge when they ruled over Cambodia. On its own, of course, an image cannot prove mass murder, but it gives us cause for thought, prompts us to meditate, to record History. I searched for it vainly in the archives, in old papers, in the country villages of Cambodia. Today I know: this image must be missing. I was not really looking for it; would it not be obscene and insignificant? So I created it. What I give you today is neither the picture nor the search for a unique image, but the picture of a quest: the quest that cinema allows. The Missing Picture offers very tough viewing but utilizing an impressively layered and unique cinematic language (a fusion of archival footage, hand-crafted clay figures and sets, and poetic narration) director Rithy Panh recounts a devastating period of overlooked and undocumented Cambodian history. An extraordinary amount of work has gone into the construction of this very important film. The sound design is one of many stand-out elements, but it is let down by some late wearying repetition. I haven't seen anything quite like this film, though I was working hard to keep up with the history lesson. It has a very limited release (I think it is screening in Sydney only at Dendy Newtown) but worth the journey if you're interested in challenging cinema and learning about one man's personal recreation of the atrocities that stemmed from Pol Pot's reign and the actions of the Khmer Rouge. ★★1/2

Made in America: Directed by Ron Howard this engrossing multi-faceted documentary chronicles the 2012 debut of the Philadelphia-set “Made in America” music festival, organized and headlined by Grammy-winning hip-hop artist JAY Z (Shawn Carter). Given very little prep time before immersing himself in the energy of the musically and cultural diverse event, Howard proves his chops as a documentarian. He gives us an enlightening and entertaining backstage pass, interviewing not only the assembled roster of talented musicians but also the everyday Americans employed to cater and run the event. Through JAY Z’s personal connection to the city, we are taken around Philadelphia, and shown the sites of importance in the establishment of his towering career. There is an extraordinary range of artists admirably assembled by JAY Z for this concert – from veteran acts like Run-DMC and Pearl Jam, to alt-rock groups Passion Pit and Dirty Projectors, to hip-hop sensations Janelle Monae, Santigold and Rita Ora, to acquired tastes like Odd Future to Skrillex – who each attracted their unique audiences, but no doubt gathered some new fans. ★★

Saturday, March 15, 2014

New iPhone App: MyMovies

MyMovies, a new iPhone app created by my friend Aaron Stephenson of Bronron Apps, allows you to store your entire movie collection in one place. Now you never have to get caught out wondering if you already own that movie when you are out shopping. I, for one, have had this problem.

With MyMovies you have instant access to your entire movie collection.

Search through over 155,00 movie titles, with high quality movie posters. 60, 000 TV series coming soon!

Note: this app does not allow you to download or watch movies, simply record all the movies you have in your collection. Requires iOS 7.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch and optimized for iPhone 5.

To download this app visit the Apple App Store and for other apps by Aaron, click here.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Review: Need For Speed (Scott Waugh, 2014)

Scott Waugh is at the helm of Need For Speed, a high-octane cinematic adaptation of the best-selling video game. Aaron Paul (best known for Breaking Bad) is on leading man duties, and this impressively choreographed racing thriller delivers on its promise of flash cars, cocky drivers and plenty of rubber-burning mayhem.

In a last attempt to save his struggling garage, blue-collar mechanic Tobey Marshall (Paul), who with his team builds and races muscle cars on the side, reluctantly partners with a wealthy, arrogant ex-NASCAR driver Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper). Just as a major sale to a British car broker Julia Bonet (Imogen Poots) looks like it will save the business, a disastrous, unsanctioned race results in Tobey being framed for manslaughter. Imprisoned, and mourning the loss of his friend and protégé, Tobey seeks revenge on Dino. Tobey has his chance, facing off against Dino in a secret, highly dangerous cross-country road-race with a massive purse.

Conveniently leaving prison just days before the scheduled event Tobey (with the thick-skinned Julia in the passenger seat) has just 45 hours to drive from the East Coast to the pre-race meeting at an unspecified Californian location to register for the race and learn where it will start. The journey there becomes the bulk of the film as the parole violator races across the country attracting the attention of hapless police patrols (by design as it turns out; a daring escape from a pursuit is for the benefit of a race audition video captured by his tailing entourage) and hardcore drivers pursuing a bounty placed (by Dino) on his head.

Continue reading at Graffiti With Punctuation.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Review: All is Lost (J.C. Chandor, 2013)

In writer/director J. C Chandor’s bold and breathtaking technical feat, All is Lost, a stunningly emotive Robert Redford stars as a solitary man at sea forced to exhaust everything at his disposal to survive a series of worsening catastrophes. Like the experiences offered by Gravity and Captain Phillips (to name just two recent examples) this is an extremely intense and involving survival drama that greatly benefits from the environment of the cinema.

Cruising the Indian Ocean on his yacht the Virginia Jean, our unnamed central character (Redford) awakens one morning to water flowing into his cabin. He has sailed into an abandoned supply container, which has caused a serious dent in the side. He quickly and efficiently sets to work; separating his yacht from the container, temporarily repairing the damage, sapping up the water from within and rescuing anything he can. Content with his solution he starts to sail on. But, this setback has perhaps delayed his journey and he finds himself in the middle of the ocean with a fierce storm bearing down on him. His proud vessel soon becomes nature’s ragdoll and an irreparable capsize proves to be the first of many hardships to follow. Throughout the story we never leave Redford’s side – accompanying him to the top of his masts and to the depths of the ocean - nor are we ever introduced to another character. The dialogue is minimal, and yet so much is conveyed through Chandor’s patient direction and intelligent script, Redford’s weathered face and the compelling intricacies of the sets and production design.

New Releases 13/03/14

In cinemas this week: The Monuments Men, Need For Speed, The Armstrong Lie, Hannah Arendt and Generation Iron. 

The Monuments Men: Based on the true story of the greatest treasure hunt in history, The Monuments Men is an action drama focusing on an unlikely World War II platoon, tasked by FDR with going into Germany to rescue artistic masterpieces from Nazi thieves and returning them to their rightful owners. It would be an impossible mission: with the art trapped behind enemy lines, and with the German army under orders to destroy everything as the Reich fell, how could these guys - seven museum directors, curators, and art historians, all more familiar with Michelangelo than the M-1 - possibly hope to succeed? But as the Monuments Men, as they were called, found themselves in a race against time to avoid the destruction of 1000 years of culture, they would risk their lives to protect and defend mankind's greatest achievements.

Need For Speed: Based on the most successful racing video game franchise ever with over 140 million copies sold, DreamWorks Pictures' "Need for Speed" captures the thrills of the game in a real-world setting. An exciting return to the great car-culture films of the 1960s and '70s, when authenticity brought a new level of intensity to the action, "Need for Speed" taps into what makes the American myth of the open road so enticing. The story chronicles a near-impossible cross-country race against time - one that begins as a mission for revenge, but proves to be one of redemption. In a last attempt to save his struggling garage, blue-collar mechanic Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) - who with his team skillfully builds and races muscle cars on the side - reluctantly partners with wealthy, arrogant ex-NASCAR driver Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper). Just as a major sale to car broker Julia Bonet (Imogen Poots) looks like it will save the business, a disastrous, unsanctioned race results in Dino framing Tobey for manslaughter.

Hannah Arendt: The sublime Barbara Sukowa reteams with director Margarethe von Trotta (Vision, Rosa Luxemburg) for her brilliant new biopic of influential German-Jewish philosopher and political theorist Hannah Arendt. Arendt's reporting on the 1961 trial of ex-Nazi Adolf Eichmann in The New Yorker-controversial both for her portrayal of Eichmann and the Jewish councils-introduced her now-famous concept of the "Banality of Evil." Using footage from the actual Eichmann trial and weaving a narrative that spans three countries, von Trotta beautifully turns the often invisible passion of thought into immersive, dramatic cinema. An Official Selection at the Toronto International and New York Jewish Film Festivals, Hannah Arendt also co-stars Klaus Pohl as philosopher Martin Heidegger, Nicolas Woodeson as New Yorker editor William Shawn, and two-time Oscar Nominee Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs) as novelist Mary McCarthy.

The Armstrong Lie: In 2009 Alex Gibney was hired to make a film about Lance Armstrong's comeback to cycling. The project was shelved when the doping scandal erupted, and re-opened after Armstrong's confession.

Weekly Recommendation: I have seen Need For Speed but my thoughts remain embargoed. The Monuments Men should be worth a look for the great ensemble cast, but reports haven't been great about Clooney's latest. Hannah Arendt and The Armstrong Lie will have very limited releases, and could be worth seeking out if you have interest in the controversial subjects. Last week's pair of All is Lost and Tracks come with higher recommendations, and if you still haven't seen Nebraska, get to it.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

New Releases (06/03/14)

In cinemas this week: All is Lost, Tracks, Vampire Academy and 300: Rise of an Empire

All is Lost - Academy Award-nominated writer/director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call) takes the helm for this tense adventure drama about a man (Robert Redford) who must fight for survival after being lost at sea. As simple as that. I understand it is almost entirely dialogue-free, but a powerful and technically marvelous study of the strength of the human spirit.

Tracks - A young woman - Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasiskowska) - goes on a 1,700 mile trek across the deserts of West Australia with her four camels and faithful dog.

Vampire Academy - Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch) is a Dhampir: half human/vampire, guardians of the Moroi, peaceful, mortal vampires living discretely within our world. Her legacy is to protect the Moroi from bloodthirsty, immortal Vampires, the Strigoi.

300: Rise of an Empire - Based on Frank Miller's latest graphic novel Xerxes and told in the breathtaking visual style of the blockbuster "300," this new chapter of the epic saga takes the action to a fresh battlefield-on the sea-as Greek general Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) attempts to unite all of Greece by leading the charge that will change the course of the war. Themistocles is pitted against the massive invading Persian forces led by mortal-turned-god Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), and Artemisia (Eva Green), vengeful commander of the Persian navy. 

Weekly Recommendation: Yet to see any of these, despite some opportunities. It has been a long time coming for All is Lost. It premiered at the Melbourne Film Festival last year and the release date has continued to be pushed back. It and Tracks - which I understand is quite good - are on my list this week. I doubt I will see Vampire Academy or Rise of an Empire. I absolutely hated 300.  

Monday, March 3, 2014

86th Academy Awards Recap: Complete List of Winners

On a night that brought us some Ellen DeGeneres hosting gold, a hilarious mid-ceremony pizza delivery (which involved Brad Pitt and Kevin Spacey assisting by handing out plates to hungry nominees), one of the great 'selfies' - which actually broke Twitter for a good while and became one of the most re-tweeted images ever - and a most bizarre name mispronunciation (Travolta, what the hell?), it certainly was an entertaining ceremony.

There were few surprises, but even with Gravity winning seven Oscars, 12 Years A Slave took out Best Picture. Other highlights include Jared Leto, Lupita Nyong'o and Cate Blanchett's speeches, Chivo winning Cinematography (finally!) and Pharell bringing 'Happy' to the star-studded crowd.

Here is the full list of winners at the 86th Academy Awards:

Best Picture12 Years a Slave
Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Best Original Screenplay: Spike Jonze, Her
Best Adapted Screenplay: John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave
Best Original Song: “Let It Go,” Frozen
Best Original ScoreGravity
Best Production DesignThe Great Gatsby
Best EditingGravity
Best CinematographyGravity
Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Best Sound EditingGravity
Best Sound MixingGravity
Best Foreign Language FilmThe Great Beauty
Best Documentary Feature20 Feet from Stardom
Best Documentary Short: “The Lady In Number 6: Music Saved My Life”
Best Live Action Short Film: “Helium”
Best Visual EffectsGravity
Best Animated Feature FilmFrozen
Best Animated Short FilmMr Hublot
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Dallas Buyers Club
Best Costume DesignThe Great Gatsby
Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Oscar Hopefuls That Likely Won't Happen, But Would Be Awesome

It is Oscar Day! While always a lot of fun, it is very often that the 'best' in cinema for the year aren't even nominated, let alone win. This year's nominees are pretty strong, though. I have published my predictions for this year, but to make the day more fun, I hope some of these long-shot hopes take home a statue.

Bruce Dern OR June Squibb - Best Actor/Supporting Actress

Before Midnight - Best Adapted Screenplay

Dirty Wars - Best Documentary Feature

'Happy' - Best Original Song

Her - Best Production Design