I have decided to preview the FIRE ME UP and MAKE ME LAUGH categories of the 2011 Sydney Film Festival. While this covers about a quarter of the number of films screening, it covers multiple genres and works to promote some of the best films (potentially) you will see at the Festival, and on future cinematic release.
FIRE ME UP: Fuel the fires of controversy or gear up for some high octane action - these films will get your adrenalin pumping.
Prolific Japanese movie maverick Miike Takashi shifts gears from his usual hyper-violent style with this classy re-make of Eiichi Kudo's 1963 film, set in the twilight of Japan's feudal era. The sadistic brother of Shogun, Lord Naritsugu, satisfies his bloodlust by brutally terrorising the people and gets away with it because of his political connections. Master samurai Shinzaemon Shimada is summoned to assassinate him, banding together a motley crew of 12 men to take down Narigatsu and his personal army. I'm seeing this is on the final day of the Festival, and I believe it will be a fitting finale.
Now the highest-grossing Brazilian film of all time, Jose Padilha's (Bus 174) high octane follow up to his controversial 2008 Berlin Film Festival winner Elite Squad is also a nail-biting stand alone thriller drawn straight from the headline news. This time the focus shifts from the drug wars in the favelas to police vice and political corruption.
Winner of the audience award at the Berlin Film Festival. Gael Garcia Bernal (Amores Perros) stars as film director Sebastian, who, along with his hard-nosed producer Costa (Luis Tosar), sets out to make revisionist drama about the Spanish conquest of the Americas. Costa has decided to shoot the film in Bolivia and during production, unbeknownst to Sebastian, one of the hired cast members uses his performance to lead his community's demonstrations against the government's decisions to privatise water.
Who in the sensitive world of corporate and product marketeering would want to align themselves with the values of the filmmaker who decimated McDonalds (Super Size Me) and whose performative approach to investigative journalism makes everybody twitchy? That's exactly what the inimitable Spurlock sets out to establish in this riveting documentary that lays bare the lucrative and ubiquitous business of product placement, advertising and brand promotion in the film industry.
Winner of the World Cinema Audience Award (Documentary) at the Sundance Film Festival. An adrenalin-fuelled ride, Senna is a documentary about three-time Formula One World Champion and Brazilian hero, Ayrton Senna. Working exclusively with archival material, director Asif Kapadia delivers a thrilling account of Senna's racing career, from his go-cart start in Brazil, through his intense professional rivalry with onetime teammate Alain Prost and his halcyon days with Williams Renault, to his tragic, untimely demise.
The new subject for Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line) is Joyce McKinney, the former Miss Wyoming whose relentless pursuit of the man of her dreams triggered a 70's tabloid war. The object of her affection was Kirk Anderson, a Mormon missionary who attempted to evade the young beauty's charms by moving to Surrey in England. McKinney, however, tracked him down, and according to Anderson, kidnapped him at gunpoint, chained him to the bed and forced him to have sex.
MAKE ME LAUGH: From wry smiles to laughs out loud, you'll be amused, amazed and sometimes appalled at what's so funny, in films both factual and fictional. Humour in all its forms is the thread that binds this rich selection together.
Ed Helms (The Hangover) proves his comic stripes as a leading man in this hilarious fish-out-of-water tale that riffs on the what-happens-in-Vegas theme (via Frank Capra's Mr Smith Goes to Washington) to riotously funny effect. Everything about Tim Lipps is brown - he wears it, he works for BrownSugar Insurance and he has never left his hometown of Brown River, Wisconsin. His worldview gets a shake-up when he is sent to replace a colleague at an annual industry conference in Cedar Rapids.
Phil Rosenthal grew up loving television, but never dreamed he'd have his own show, much less one that ran for more than 2000 episodes. When Everybody Loves Raymond - which he created, wrote and executive produced - finally winds down, he gets a call: Would he be interested in making a Russian version of his hit sitcom? The notion that comedy is universal takes a battering in Rosenthal's laugh-out-loud account of cultural misunderstandings in the world of television production.
Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) works a sleepy coastal town according to his own rules. His eccentric sense of order gets a seismic shake-up courtesy of an overly-enthusiastic new colleague, the impending death of his foul-mouthed mother and the arrival in town of FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle), whose investigation into an international drug ring requires Boyle's cooperation.
World Cinema Grand Jury Prize-winner at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Happy Happy is a sexy comedy that take delight in indiscretion and snowy romps. Kaja (Agnes Kittelsen) is endlessly chipper although sex is in short supply. Her somewhat dour husband (Joachim Rafaelsen) and young son fail to share her enthusiasm when a new couple and their adopted son move in next door.
Commissioned by The Observer to whip up a lifestyle article about fine dining and travel in the Lake District of northern England, a semi-fictional Steve Coogan invites his obliging friend Rob Brydon to join him on a road trip after his girlfriend dumps on his romantic aspirations and pulls out. Moody and just a tad obsessed, Coogan's acerbic sense of humour alternately riffs on and rubs against Brydon's jokes and endless impersonations.
Paul Giamatti is at his angst-ridden best in this charming comedy about attorney Mike Flaherty, whose blundering scheme to keep his business afloat involves moving a client into a retirement home in order to embezzle the old man's monthly allowance. Wavering between a keen sense of familial responsibility and outright shiftiness, and distracted by the shortcomings of the school wrestling team he coaches, Mike has just started to settle into his deception when the client's runaway grandson turns up with no place to go.
Which of these films are you eagerly anticipating?