Monday, May 31, 2010

Link the ink.

Filmink that is. As you may or may not know, I am ongoing contributor to Filmink magazine and the website. So here's some of the latest of my writings that've been put up on the website.

Review/blog on Polanki's new thriller; The Ghost Writer (As you can see on the side panel, I enjoyed it immensely):

Review of City Island: ***1/2

Review of 2.22: *

Rant about remakes:

Also a reminder that the current issue on stands now, with more reviews by yours truely.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

What happened Ridley? Or: Why Gladiator is still awesome, and Robin Hood is kinda lame.

There was a time I would have call Ridley Scott one of the greatest directors of all time, and with classics like Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise, and Gladiator tucked under his belt it’s easy to see why. However, it seems like his pool of talent has dried and his films this last decade are only getting the dregs that he can wring out. Hannibal was a forgettable follow up to Silence Of The Lambs, Black Hawk Down was decent but hardly revolutionary, and then came the days of his undying love for Russell Crowe, trying to make lighting strike twice between the two of them, but thus far failing on all counts. The best way to show what I mean is by a direct comparison between their latest collaboration Robin Hood to their last great film Gladiator, a comparison I couldn’t shake from my head the whole time I was watching Robin Hood.

First and foremost the most obvious connection is old Rusty, who really his fulfilling his cinematic quest of “fightin’ round the world”. Crowe is certainly a capable actor, and is fully deserving of all the accolades he has accumulated but I think the reason Crowe delivers a much more iconic performance as Maximus over Robin, is the fact that Maximus is a much more complex and interesting character. Maximus is an esteemed general who looses everything, including his family and is outlawed by the Emperor in the opening scenes. Robin is a talented archer who starts of with little, ends with little and is outlawed by the King, except this time this spans over an entire movie not just as a character introduction. Because of this Maximus has a clearly defined goal, revenge and perhaps the liberation of Rome too, whilst Robins story is far too episodic to become completely emotionally invested in his character arc. He wants to flee from the army, he does soon after. He wants to return the sword to Nottingham, he does soon after. He has to pretend to be Maid Marion’s husband, he does for a short while afterward. He wants to unite all of England to defeat the French… Now I won’t give away the ending, but I’m sure you can guess. And at each step it’s never really that difficult for him to achieve his short term goals, he does it all with relative ease.

Now for every dashing leading man there is always a cranky villain twirling his moustache in the shadows. Joaquin Phoenix got Oscar nominated for his performance in Gladiator, and deservedly so. His character was emotionally complex being menacing but also na├»ve, jealous and petty who has a feasible emotion behind every decision. I for one wanted to pull him out of the screen and beat him to a pulp during that fantastic scene where he describes that Maximus’ wife moaned like a whore when she was being murdered. Now that’s a villain. Now who exactly is the antagonist in Robin Hood? Well the fact that this isn’t easy to give an answer is the major problem. We’ve got Mark Strong playing Godfrey, the man who betrayed England to the French. We’ve got Matthew Macfayden as The Sherriff of Nottingham, the man whose selfishness and greed is greater than his duty to his township. We’ve got the King of France who aspires to conquer England. We’ve got King John of England who youth, jealousy and greed makes him an enemy to all the English. And not one of them has a motive more interesting than money or greed, plus it makes it hard to know exactly who we’re rooting against. Phoenix’s Commodus was such a successful nemesis in the way you could understand where he was coming from.

So we’ve got out leading man, got our villain, but there’s also our damsel in distress. It always good to see female characters not merely being arm candy and waiting on the side for the men to do all the work, which is thankfully not the case in either film, but where Gladiator once again emerges on top is in how this is achieved. Connie Nielsen plays Lucilla, sister to Commodus and it’s implied she has lingering feelings for Maximus. She’s strong willed and ballsy, always trying to do what’s best for the country and especially for her son and certainly plays ever card she has to offer to do so. Blanchett’s Maid Marion is also a strong willed and ballsy woman, but in this instance the film goes one step too far, not merely relying on her to have a strong personality but having her physically picking up a sword and charging into battle ahead of a small troop of juvenile delinquents on Shetland ponies. This even seems to be all hypocritically undone when Maid Marion swiftly gets her ass handed to her on the battle field and requires Robin to come and save the day. To remain historically accurate does not mean presentations of women need to be as sexist as the times they live in, but there still needs to be an air of authenticity. Lucilla never had to enter the Coliseum twirling a sword in order to prove her strength as a character.

Don’t be mistaken, I did enjoy Robin Hood and I do anticipate the sequel that the entire films sets itself up for but this is once again another problem. The film starts far too early, and finished halfway through where the real movie should have been. Consider this as an alternative: Meet Robin Hood, soldier for the English army living in Nottingham where he is respected by the town folk and surrounding towns too. When a war between England and France arises, he pretends to be a knight to unite England and they emerge victorious but the king is jealous of the way the people praised Robin over him, and thus outlaws him for pretending to be a knight. This could have been the opening third which would then lead into a film with a much clearer objective, making for a much more satisfying ending.

There were many things I enjoyed about Robin Hood, including the opening scenes, the rousing battle sequences, the occasional tongue in cheek (would have liked more of this), and his band of merry men added a much needed flair to the events of the film. It certainly contains the visual feast that Gladiator had to offer, with impeccable art direction and costumes. However unavoidable comparisons to Gladiator make you realise just how much better it could have been.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Review: The White Ribbon

If I had a calorie for every time I've thought about Haneke over the last week, I'd be obese. So here's getting some thoughts off my chest:

After torturing a family a family twice in Funny Games and it's pointless remake, harassing another with video tapes in Hidden, and presenting an abusive fetish driven relationship between a teenage boy and an elderly woman in The Piano Teacher, director Michael Haneke brings us his next family caper showing us Nazi Germany: The Wonder Years in The White Ribbon. Anyone who has caught a glimpse of a Haneke film will be familiar with the edgy, twisted dimensions he adds to his films that push the envelope so hard that it would give you paper cuts. All poor analogies aside, people who have seen more than a glimpse would realise that Haneke is never exploitive, and creates tension you could cut with a knife without a knife or any other weapon ever needing to appear.

In perhaps his most successful and mature piece yet, The White Ribbon paints an eerie picture of a small town in Germany just prior to World War One where there appears to be something sinister lurking beneath everything, particularly the children. Haneke masterfully keeps the audience uneasy throughout the film letting them know something isn’t right, but you’d be damned if you could pin point what that is. But Haneke, is all his nihilistic wisdom knows what it is, and better yet he knows what his audience will and won’t know. It’s so refreshing to have a filmmaker not treat his audience like an idiot, but challenge them every frame and as a result it makes The White Ribbon, like many of his other films linger long past the closing credits. He tests them too, at every corner with the increasing dread simmering throughout the film, you’re just waiting for it to boil over and limbs to severed, bowels dismembered and people to scream, and most curiously, is it wrong to say we’re disappointed when it doesn’t happen? It’s toying with expectations that make The White Ribbon so effective, and whilst the mystery might not have a Poirot to tweak his moustache and solve it, it doesn’t matter. There are far more interesting things going on.

Credit is also certainly due to the talented cast and crew that truly elevate the film. Each frame seems like a creepy stoic postcard you’d find under a floor board, but also has a visual beauty to it that makes it a pleasure to watch. The costumes and set design are likewise pitch perfect in historical accuracy, but unnervingly sinister just in the way Haneke presents the people who occupy them. The cast too is commendable, with so often bad child actors ruining a movie, it was a risk to have the children play such a prominent and vital part of the film, but they all nail it. Are you listing Hollywood? If Haneke can do it with an entire cast of amateurs why did Jake Lloyd have to taint the entire Star Wars franchise? But that’s a whole other ramble entirely.

Review: The Secret In Their Eyes

Not for the faint of heart, the Oscar winning film The Secret in Their Eyes avoids everything Hollywood to bring a gripping, melancholic and powerfully moving film. The Argentinean film stars Ricardo Darin as Benjamin Esposito, a man investigating the brutal rape and murder of a young beautiful woman with the help of his alcoholic assistant Ricardo Morales, (Pablo Rago) and the beautiful woman he secretly pines over Irene (Soledad Villamil). This traditional crime solving set up dissolves quickly, moving unpredictably through its plot whilst keeping the focus firmly fixed on the emotional and moral dilemmas the characters face.

Many viewers may find the film unsettling, and it certainly packs as punch. This is not only due to the constantly surprising narrative and occasional brief brutal violence, but also to the mood set by the film. There is an understated grief, accompanied with an anger that underscores the film never letting the audience become complacent. Without a predictable or traditional story arch the movie could have tried patience of audiences, but an extremely clever script by Juan Jose Campanella brings a smooth cohesion to a disjointed plot. The non-linear structure of the film is particularly handled well.

At the centre of this noir-esque drama, is a romance between Irene and Esposito which is utterly believable and moving, due to the two leads who cover decades in their roles thanks to some fantastic aging makeup. In particular Soledad Villamil gives a truly outstanding performance with charisma, heart ache and grace, though there is not a weak link in the cast.

Technical aspects are similarly expertly done, with seamless editing between different time periods, and between fantasy and reality. Director Juan Jose Campanella uses restraint effectively, never becoming showy but remaining true to the tone of the film, making a film that’s often thrilling but always emotionally engaging. The films greatest strength is in the portrait it paints of these characters and the inner dilemmas they face, and it is this that will linger with the audience long after they leave the cinema.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sydney Film Festival Approaches

Can I just say how glad I am to be living in Sydney? No offence to any other capital city in Australia, but seriously, Sydney owns. Whilst there is a myriad of reasons I could offer to why this is so, the one that is on my mind at the moment is that Sydney Film Festival is infinitely better than any other film festival in Australia. I mean it's no Venice, Berlin, Cannes or Toronto film festival by any means but the talent it draws in undeniable. This year I think the lineup is at an all time level of sexyness. I usually catch a couple of films each year the festival is on, but this year due to me living in much closer proximity to the event, and the number of great films on offer is making me jump at the chance. Here are the top ten films I'm excited for:

10. Hesher

Why? Early word from the Sundance film festival is good, but the calibre of the cast is enough to make any film goer keen. Joseph Gordon Levitt seems to be the acting king of independent film at the moment, Natalie Portman seems to be getting better with age and Piper Laurie, best know as Carrie's crazy mum in... Carrie, is on board too.

9. Summer Wars

Why? I'm a sucker for animated film, I can admit it. You're always seem to be guaranteed a visual feast at the very least. This one is from the director of the Girl Who Lept Through Time which while I haven't seen, its regarded as one of the best Japanime films of the last decade.

8. Undertow

Why? Can I just get a hollah for how many GLBT films are on at the fesitval? Of course I'm incredibly bias about this, but I am liking that these kind of films are on display. It's probably the SFF catering to what will be a demographic that are likely to attend, but good on them. This one appeals to me particularly because of the guests attending accompaning the film screenings.

7. Howl

Why? I'm a fan of Allen Ginsberg's poem which caused the obscenity trial the film is based around, and I think James Franco is a really great choice to portray the poet. The rest of cast is also pretty noteworthy. Like many films on offer at the festival it's picked up some strong buzz at the Sundance Film Festival.

6. Honey

Why? In won the Golden Bear at this years Berlin Film Festival amongst an apparently very competetive field. The film has recieved rave reviews so far, and is the final chapter of a reverse order trilogy from the director. The only reason it isn't higher is that I haven't seen the other films.

5. I Am Love

Why? Tilda. Swinton. Need I say more? Ok I will. Not just because she's amazing in everything she does, but you can be sure it's going to be an interesting film as she picks her films very carefully. The film looks visually scrumptious, and all the costumes are part of a new clothes line designed specifically for the film. Yay for fashion porn.

4. Heartbeats

Why? It recieved standing ovations in Cannes in the last few days, and young director Xavier Dolan (He's my age. I hate people who are so talented and sucessful at my age. It rubs in the failure...) is apparently one to watch. Like I Am Love, it look visually amazing. Interestingly the other film Dolan has directed I Killed My Mother is also playing at the festival. So you can see his complete filmography in one festival, even if it is only two so far.

3. Winters Bone

Why? Sundance went crazy over this film, and went even crazier over Jennifer Lawrence who plays the central character and many people already screaming "OSCAR! OSCAR!". It's drawn parrallels with Frozen River which can only be a good thing.

2. The Illusionist

Why? Directorial follow up to The Triplets of Belleville which was one of the most unique, charming and quirky films of the last decade. Of the few clips I've seen so far available on the internet it looks just as wonderful. I love it when animated films appear to really be using the chosen medium well, and this seems like one of those instances.

1. The Kids Are Alright

Why? Another Sundance favourite, but judging by the trailer looks like the perfect blend of comedy and drama. The cast is really amazing with Jullianne Moore and Annette Benning playing lesbian mums to their daughter played by aussie Mia Wasikowska who wants to meet the baby daddy, Mark Ruffalo.

I'll try to see as many as possible with all these and more. Just missing the list would be The Tree, South Solitary, I Killed My Mother, Cyrus, The Game Of Death, Caught Inside, Ajami, The Killer Inside Me, The Runaways, and Women Without Men. Hmm... That's alot to be "just missing" the list. There's so many good'ens.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Michael Haneke: The best director alive?

As you may or may not have noticed on the side panel, I recently saw Michael Haneke’s latest Palm D’or winning film The White Ribbon and loved it, loved it, loved it. In true Haneke style the film has left me incapable of putting it far from my mind since walking out of the cinema. He leaves you waiting for something, and whilst you might have a general idea of what you’re waiting for, Haneke is so twisted that you can never really be sure what that is. Throughout the entire duration of The White Ribbon I was waiting for shit to get real. I was waiting for severed limbs, sudden stabbings, graphic torture or slicing and dicing the whole movie, I mean after the whole film is set the simmer, the boiling over always seems just around the corner. That’s what makes Haneke the most skilled director alive. Yes, I’m calling it. He knows his craft, and better yet he knows his audience. What he sets out to achieve, he accomplishes 100% and perhaps with the exception of Tarantino, he is the only working director to achieve this.

He hides his genius in his beard.

With the exception of Funny Games US, which I probably liked more than most, Haneke has a flawless track record. Every film gets under the audiences skin and while it would be a stretch to call his film “entertaining”, they are most certainly engaging. Even The White Ribbon which goes for about two and half hours flew by, despite the slow burning style of filmmaking. When I suspected the film was winding down I thought “It can’t be the end, that hasn’t been two and a half hours”, but it had been. I’d just been so engrossed in this eerie town Haneke shaped that I wasn’t ready to leave yet.

Nazi Germany: The Wonder Years

Similarly his 2005 film Cache [Hidden] never really explodes like the tension implies, except of course briefly in THAT scene. You know the one. For most films a lackluster ending that doesn’t come clean on the dramatic promises it creates usually makes for a wholly unsatisfying experience. But Haneke isn’t trying to wrap his films in a nice neat little box for you to take home to mumma. Take Hidden for a text book example of how effective this can be; the family receives the video tapes and the entire filmed is anchored around this mystery and SPOILER ALERT whilst we never really find out where the tapes came from, its doesn’t matter. Haneke uses narrative tension in his films to create the mood of his films, but ultimately the films mystery pales in comparison to what the film is really about thematically.

That's one for the fridge.

Haneke is constantly pushing in the envelope in his films, and he pushes it so firmly that it would give you a paper cut if you tried to stop it. All poor analogies aside, The Piano Teacher, Haneke’s 2001 film, certainly pushes the envelope in the most obvious and overt fashion of all his films but is done so tastefully that the sexually graphic themes and scenes aren’t as overbearing as they could have been. The Piano Teacher is one of those films that when you describe it to someone as you recommend it, you come across as a sadistic pervert for saying you like it.

"So she goes to a porno booth, gets a dirty tissue and takes a whiff."

But it’s all essential. The goddess of acting Isabelle Huppert gives the incredible performance that is just as layered as Hanke’s direction is. She deserves so much credit for fully grasping what Haneke was trying to achieve and going for broke. In lesser hands the entire film could have fallen apart from a weak thread. Of course it wouldn’t surprise me if Haneke’s hand was strongly at play in shaping her performance. This being said, in every film of Haneke’s, he’s always supported by a fantastic cast and crew that only elevate his genius.

So calling Haneke best director alive is a big call, that maybe I’m not quite ready to claim. The most skilled? Yes. I think there’s a difference that I can elaborate on if people want me to. I’ll be more than interested to see where Haneke goes from here, as he seems to be getting better with each film.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

When is a Room not a Room?

When it's a cinematic abomination that has little to no relevance to it's title.

Sometimes an independent film can start off with the smallest of releases, but through a cult following, grow and grow until it finds an international audience and infamy. However, this is not always due to the films qualities that earn its way into pop culture, sometimes, as is the case for Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, the film is so bad that people are regularly selling out screenings just to see how bad it really is. The film is truly unintentional comedy at its finest.

Whilst many people may be familiar with the Youtube videos of hilariously awful moments in the film, I went one step further and went to one of the sell out screenings currently on at the Chauvel Cinema in Paddington. I had expected much of the same as I’d seen in the internet clips gone viral, shoddy acting, atrocious dialogue and a generally confusing plot, but what I got was scene after scene of hilariously new ways to get a movie wrong. If the film had been made this bad intentionally it would be a comedy masterpiece for the ages. I have never, ever laughed so hard in the cinema in all my life.

Wiseau has been plugging his film, which he directed, wrote, produced and starred in, since it was made in 2003 and he got his wish… It’s certainly getting noticed. He has even taken the audience reaction and said that the film is a “black comedy”, despite there not being a single moment where it attempts to be funny and succeeds. He also quotes himself in the films trailer, describing the film as having “the passion of Tennessee Williams”. The only similarity here with legend Tennessee Williams is perhaps a fondness for the bottle, with a puzzling scene in which the characters mixes scotch with vodka.

Before entering into the screening, I am given two things by the theatre, a handful of plastic spoons, and a “viewing guide”. The film has managed to garner a number of traditions to accompany the atrocious film, all mocking everything the film offers, from calling out “because you’re a woman” at every (and there’s many) sexist line of dialogue, and yelling out “Who the $%@& is that guy?!” when random characters, never before seen, enter the house of the protagonist, have sex on his couch… and leave. And the spoons? The house is bizarrely decorated in pictures featuring spoons, thus the tradition has emerged that when these appear on screen the audience is required to hurl spoons at the screen shouting “SPOONS!”. But perhaps the best laughs come from simply the film itself, from the horrifying attempts at sex scenes (“You’re doing it wrong!”) to the bizarre neck twitch that throbs throughout an entire scene, I was in stitches.

The appeal is that the screening is not just a film, but an event. It’s a two hour joke at entirely the films expense. Like watching your mate make a disastrous fool of themselves, sometimes it’s just too funny to feel sorry for them. Ultimately the film is near impossible to review, on one hand being immensely enjoyable but on the other being utterly awful.

Inked out.

Well the official internship at Filmink is well and truely over, however they said they'd send me off to the odd review and get me to do the occasional feature etc etc. Wonderful. In fact I'm reviewing to new Roman Polanski film The Ghost Writer for the blog. I'll be sure to link ya'll when it's up. Anyway here are some of the other articles I've written for the website before I departed:
Article about world famous producer Jan Chapman who is the head of the Sydney Film Festival. I'll certainly be attending many of the films at the festival and will try to post up reviews of them as I see them. Feature about upcoming doco First Love. It's a surfing documentary about three teenage girls who also happen to be surfing world champions. I got to interview filmmaker Claire Gorman about it, who seemed really genuine and passionate about what she was doing.

Now there's another article coming up soon about an actor from the new Twilight movie, Booboo Stewart. Yup. That's his name. Booboo. They're releasing the twilight interviews in installments so it's not up yet but I'll share when it does. Also be sure to look out for the new Filmink issue in stores May 17 which contains many a review by yours truely!

Stay tuned for more articles and reviews.