Friday, September 30, 2011

Monthly Round-Up: The Best Films I Saw in September

It's going to be a different structure this month. I have limited time this morning - off to a screening of Crazy, Stupid, Love - and I'm taking a break, remember. I'm going to spout out some random facts about my film-going experiences in September and a few things that I learned along the way.

If one of your favourite films is Sideways and you take a trip to wine country chances are you will be infused with enthusiasm. I was. I accompanied a rather large group of friends and we sniffed and swirled and quaffed wine (Hunter Valley Shiraz is the shit), cooked and ate lots of food, listened to Jazz music, watched The Lion King (?) and I even had a personal crisis - resulting in a sit down and stare off into space (in this case a beautiful expanse of vineyards) moment. It was a great weekend.

I watched a lot of Italian Films. The highlights of the Festival (which actually doesn't finish until October 5, and then there are some 'back by popular demand' sessions returning for another week) were 20 Cigarettes, Corpo Celeste, Sorelle Mai and A Quiet Life - but easily the most popular have been The Ages of Love, Welcome to the South, A Family on the Verge and Escort in Love. The latter I also saw. It was fun. October 13-30 is the Greek Film Festival at Palace Cinemas Norton Street. It never ends.

It was hard to be enthusiastic about any new releases this month - the best (13 Assassins andProject Nim) I had already seen. But The Help, Submarine and Red Dog were all entertaining. The latter I watched a day after Eye of the Storm, the worst Australian film of the year, which is contrary to common opinion. What were they watching? October brings some awesomeness - Take Shelter, Midnight in Paris, Contagion and Drive at least.

October will also be my month for Godard. Having only seen Masculine Feminine and Pierrot Le Fou by the great French New Wave director, and with the recent LAMB: MOTM being Bande a part, I figure that was the inspiration I needed to get caught up - does anyone have any suggestions on where else to look in his resume? Breathless obviously. Alphaville? A Woman is a Woman? Les Carabiniers? 

I did a lot of re-watching this month, with a number of individual urges - A History of Violence(because I watched A Quiet Life at the Italian Film Festival and decided I wanted a better ex-mafia story), Ronin (I got inspired by these great videos by Jim Emerson, where he breaks down action sequences in films), Stalker and Uncle Boonmee (just because), Knocked Up andThe 40 Year-Old Virgin (because I needed something light and funny, and wanted to be sure of what I thought of Judd Apatow) and Collateral (because I had written about Michael Mann all day and decided I needed to watch one of his films).

What I learned: 23 reviews in one month is too intense. I need a break - after this post, and after reviewing Crazy, Stupid, Love, it begins...

Counting Crazy, Stupid, Love, which will be the final film of the month, here are my 33 Films.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

NEWS and a New 'Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' Trailer

Hey Peeps,

I am experiencing a minor blogger burnout at the moment. I feel absolutely awful today and figure I need to take it easy for a little while. I am busy at work, and have decided rather than watch films and write in my spare time, I would partake in something a little different for a week or so - like exercising properly or reading one of the many books in my room that I have started and never finished. I have a few posts planned over the next week - a September Round-up and reviews of Crazy Stupid Love and The Hunter, but there will be a handful at most. As a result, I might be commenting a lot more (which is something I need to do anyway) but I look forward to being back in action with newfound energy and inspiration in a little while.

A new trailer for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo has hit the net. It's a bit long, I think, but it features more of Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander and some insight into the story. What are your thoughts?

Releases (29/09)

Opening in cinemas today are Crazy, Stupid, Love, which features a fine cast - Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and Julianne Moore, Project Nim, the extraordinary new documentary from James Marsh (Man on Wire), The Whistleblower, a confronting political drama starring Rachel Weisz and The Sorcerer and the White Snake, an CGI-heavy Chinese fantasy-adventure. I have actually seen three of these films already, which means it will be a relaxed week (ha!). I am looking forward to Crazy, Stupid, Love, though.

Crazy, Stupid, Love - At fortysomething, straight-laced Cal Weaver (Steve Carell) is living the dream - good job, nice house, great kids and marriage to his high school sweetheart. But when Cal learns that his wife, Emily (Julianne Moore) has cheated on him and wants a divorce, his 'perfect' life quickly unravels. Worse, in today's single world, Cal, who hasn't dated in decades, stands out as the epitome of un-smooth. Now spending his free evenings sulking alone at a local bar, the hapless Cal is taken on as wingman and protege to handsome player Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling). This looks fun, and if the stellar cast deliver to their talents, this should be well worth seeing.

Project Nim - From James Marsh comes the story of Nim, the chimpanzee who in the 1970's became the focus of a landmark experiment which aimed to show that an ape could learn to communicate with language if raised an nurtured like a human child. Following Nim's extraordinary journey through human society, and the enduring impact he makes on the people he meets along the way, the film is an unflinching and unsentimental biography of an animal we tried to make human. What we learn about his true nature - and indeed our own - is comic, revealing and profoundly unsettling. This extremely powerful film chronicles, through a mix of archival footag and insightful talking-head accounts, the entirety of Nim's extraordinary life. 98% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Quick Overview of the Career of Michael Mann

As part of the LAMB Director of the Month, which focuses this month on contemporary American master of the crime genre, Michael Mann, I figured I would follow the inspiration of my buddy Alex at And So It Begins and work through the career of the director. Now, I haven’t seen all of his films, but I have to confess that the films I consider to be his best are amongst my all-time favourites. But one can’t deny that he always offers up an exhilarating experience, if Mann's latter films haven’t captured the magic of his work in the 90’s.

Missing: Thief (1981), The Keep (1983), Ali (2001) and Miami Vice (2006)

Manhunter (1986) 

Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs is a wonderful suspense thriller, picking up a bunch of ‘91 Oscars and resulting in Anthony Hopkin’s portrayal of Hannibal Lecktor being catapulted into the realm of all-time great villains.

But the first adaptation of Thomas Harris’ serial killer novel series was Michael Mann’s often-forgotten work, Manhunter. Now, it’s been a while since I saw this film, but there are several images that stick out to me – Brian Cox’s white-walled cell, William Petersen visiting the terrifying crime scene near the beginning, and fearing for Joan Allen, a blind co-worker who starts a romantic affair with Tom Noonan, playing Francis Dollarhyde (A.K.A The Tooth Fairy), the psycho Petersen is hunting.

When asked to investigate The Tooth Fairy, FBI profiler Will Graham (Petersen) comes out of retirement to offer his services. Along the way he has to confront fears from his past and seek the assistance of Lecktor, who once almost made him one of his victims. Here, Cox plays Lecktor equally spectacularly, and the great cast, which also includes Joan Allen and Dennis Farina, give fine performances. The film is tense, atmospheric, and far superior to Brett Ratner’s re-envisioning of Harris' novel in Red Dragon. ★★★★

Review: The 40 Year-Old Virgin (Judd Apatow, 2005)

Andy Stitzer (Steve Carell) is a single 40-year-old man who works in the stockroom of an electronics store called SmartTech. He lives alone, rides a bicycle, watches Survivor on a weekly basis with his elderly neighbours, collects action figures and plays video games. He's a virgin. His mounting failed attempts with women over the years has resulted in his self-substitution out of the game. When a friend drops out of a poker game, Andy's co-workers, Cal (Seth Rogen), Dave (Paul Rudd) and Jay (Romany Malco) invite Andy to join them. At the game, Andy's obvious virginity is exposed after the conversation turns to past sexual exploits. Shocked, but feeling sorry for him, the group decides to help Andy resolve this situation.

Andy finds himself at a singles bar, given the advice by Jay to "tackle drunk bitches", and at a dating round-robin where a buzzer sounds and everyone changes table. Rogen has some of the best lines in the film instructing Andy to "just ask questions" and "be like David Caruso in Jade" when talking to a sexy book store clerk (Elizabeth Banks). Andy's striking boss, Paula (Jane Lynch), who is impressed by his sales skills, promotes him to floor manager and presents the idea of being his 'sex buddy'. Despite all this, when Andy meets Trish (Catherine Keener), a mother of three who works at an Ebay store across the mall, he realises immediately that he likes her. She gives him her number, much to the jubilation of his buddies, and they start dating. Andy's life-long drought looks to be over, but when it comes to relationships and sex, Andy discovers it's not all smooth sailing.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Review: Knocked Up (Judd Apatow, 2007)

Marriage and the birth of a child are two of the signature life-changing events in the lives of humans. Is anyone ever really sure if they are ready for new commitments, both as a partner and as a parent, which will immediately limit personal independence and present both exciting and scary new challenges? Many spend half of their lives preparing for the moment they decide to commit to marriage or parenthood, with many still ironing out the creases decades later.

What if all that came about unexpectedly and much earlier than envisioned? What if an up-and-comer on the cusp of a successful career and an irresponsible slacker have to adapt together to an unplanned pregnancy? Could they ever make it work? Judd Apatow's Knocked Up is a hilarious and heartfelt study of such an event. It's a modern comedy classic with a career best performance from Seth Rogen.

Ben Stone (Rogen) is a lazy, irresponsible 23 year-old living off funds he received in compensation for a high school injury. He is a goofy, overweight slacker; a pot-smoker who indulges in simple juvenile pleasures with his housemates, Jason Seigel, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel and Martin Starr (who's characters replicate their actual first names), who also work from time to time on a celebrity nudity website they consider to be their ‘job’.

Career minded woman, Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl), has just been offered an on-air role with E! Entertainment Television. She lives with the family of her sister Debbie (Leslie Mann), whose husband Peter (Paul Rudd) works as a talent scout for rock bands. They have two children and have hit a rocky patch in their marriage with Debbie convinced her unhappy husband is cheating on her.

Celebrating her promotion, Alison and Debbie head to a local nightclub, where Alison meets Ben. After a night of drinking, they head back to Alison’s place, where their sex results in Alison realising eight weeks later that she is pregnant. The problem is, Alison hasn’t seen Ben since that night, having initially realised they had nothing in common and gone their separate ways. She gives him a call and the pair decide to make a go of it - to get to know one another, to forge a relationship and learn (together) how to be parents. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Monday Links (26/09)

It's Italian Film Festival Time at Palace Cinemas, which means I have been working all week. My one day off this week I watched three films at the cinema; and have spent most of my time cramming in posts in between shifts. I watched Eye of the Storm, easily the Australian film I have liked the least this year. Ever had a film experience where you feel it should be wrapping up and you check your watch and only 41 minutes of the 116 minute run time has expired? This happened. I made up for it by seeing Red Dog the following day, which is right there with Snowtown as the best Australian film of the year.

I also watched a couple of September 29 releases, The Sorcerer and the White Snake and The Whistleblower. One was quite good. There were two films I was thinking about all of last Thursday that deal with many philosophical and existential themes, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and Stalker. I re-watched both of them. Amazing films. As a result of this madness, I have unfortunately neglected The Decalogue, which is a shame. This must be remedied this week, but with work nearly every day again, it will be a challenge.

But, on with some links for this week:

Sunday, September 25, 2011

New Release Review: The Whistleblower (Larysa Kondracki, 2010)

There are some truly horrifying atrocities that occur in the world we live in. Hearing of some of the harrowing things that take place can rattle you to the bone. Human trafficking, and in particular, underage female sex trafficking, is one of the most prevalent organized crime syndicates in the world. It is stipulated at the conclusion of The Whistleblower, that there is an estimated 2.5 million people being trafficked every year. That is an astounding statistic.

Just as astounding, is Larysa Kondracki’s chillingly effective examination of a trafficking syndicate present in Bosnia, which, it is revealed, involves various levels of the military, including United Nations Peacekeeping Forces and troops assigned by a U.S Military Contractor (based on the true-to-life, DynCorp International). These heinous crimes and the repulsive treatment of women (not just through the sex trade, but also in cases of domestic violence and abuse) in Bosnia are given a blind eye. Though it’s a little unevenly structured, introduces a few too many characters with undefined motives, and possesses some ugly camerawork at times, The Whistleblower is a maddening film, and a tense, affecting thriller.

Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz) is a competent Nebraskan policewoman, whose dedication to her profession has resulted in her separation from her husband and loss of custody of her daughter. Her subsequent attempts to be transferred to a precinct closer to her daughter have been in vain, and when a high-paying opportunity to work in Post-War Bosnia with a UN Peacekeeping mission arises, she accepts it wholeheartedly. Introduced to her predominantly male colleagues, she bonds with one (an unnecessary romantic interest, I thought), and soon learns that many of them are corrupt, misogynistic sleaze balls, and altogether unlikable. Above all, unlike her colleagues back in Nebraska, they can’t be trusted.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Short Review: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2010)

This is one of the most bizarre films I have ever felt myself completely captivated by. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is a beautifully photographed, patiently paced meditation on life, death and relationships. Winner of the Palme d' Or at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul has created an original and mesmerizing film that warrants and rewards multiple viewings. I have now seen the film twice and though it's puzzling, and hard to describe and recommend, I feel like it is a very special film. 

The film centers on the final days of its central character, Boonmee, a villager who has been diagnosed with acute kidney failure. He has retired to a forest retreat with his closest family (his sister-in-law and his nephew) and his personal carer, who treats his wound and prepares his daily dialysis. In one of the film's many extraordinary scenes, the family is sitting down to dinner when Boonmee is visited by the ghost of his deceased wife (who appears suddenly at one of the seats at the table) and his long-lost son, who enters the house in form of a monkey, and explains the circumstance of his disappearance. Though, undeniably creepy, I actually found these sequences to be intentionally comical, with the sudden appearances seeming to come as no surprise to Boonmee, who inquires as to why his son "let his hair grow so long". When Jaai, the carer, walks in on the group, he is shocked by the additional figures and declares that he "feels like the odd one out".

Throughout the film, Boonmee seems at ease with his illness and contemplates his life, his pending death and his idea that karma that has led to his illness. The meandering and pondering plot, which will no doubt be mind-numbingly boring for a lot of people, is strangely entrancing. Observing the beauty and tranquility of the natural environment, the camera lingering for minutes on the characters (and sometimes on animals - the opening sequence is of a buffalo enjoying newfound freedom in the forest) as they converse and complete seemingly mundane tasks. There is a very strange tangent in the middle of the film, where the story jumps to feature a disfigured princess engaging in sex with a catfish in a forest pool. There are so many elusive meanings to this film - and Weerasethakul is implying, I think, that Boonmee may have been one of these creatures in a past life, or perhaps after leaving his human body, returning as one of them. The buffalo, particularly, possesses some ethereal personality. It's haunting. 

There is a complete absence of a score (that is until the puzzling final sequence) with most of the sound provided by the chirp of insects and birds in the forest. Purposely incomprehensible, the director finds magic in almost every single shot. I really can't explain what happens, it is baffling to say the least, but it is certainly an enthralling study of reincarnation, one that asks us to question how we truly value our families and our lives. 

My Rating: ★★★★ (B+) 

New Release Review: The Sorcerer and the White Snake (Tony Ching Siu-ting, 2011)

There are two intersecting stories at the heart of the fantasy/adventure, The Sorcerer and the White Snake. The first follows a gifted young herbalist, Xu Xian (Raymond AM), who is mountaineering with companions. White Snake (Eva Huang), in the human embodiment of a beautiful woman, is smitten with Xu Xian and secretly observes him along with Green Snake (Charlene Choi). The latter decides to scare the hapless young man, causing him to fall into the lake, with White Snake (who will later adopt the name of Susu) diving in to rescue him. With Xu Xian unable to get the woman out of his mind, and fueled by her own uncontained passion, Susu ventures into the Human Realm, and with her true form unbeknownst to Xu Xian, marries him.

The second story follows a powerful sorcerer, Fa Hai (Jet Li), who wanders the Human Realm with his new apprentice (Wen Zang), battling demons that are masquerading amongst the humans, and subduing them. The paths of Fa Hai and his apprentice cross with the White and Green Snake, with the latter bonding romantically with the apprentice, while Fa Hai tries to protect Xu Xian when he suspects one of his herbal remedies has been aided by a Snake Demon. He finds himself battling Susu, who is intent on remaining in the Human Realm with Xu Xian.

The Sorcerer and the White Snake is very shiny, with some elegant and lusciously photographed set pieces in the main town. The score was also very beautiful and reminded me of the hypnotic music in the classic Final Fantasy games. But, it was way too CGI-heavy for my liking, and while the budget must have been enormous, I felt a lot of features suffered through a misplacement of funds. There is a lot squeezed into the 98 minute running time; the story progresses quickly and there is a relentless barrage of action sequences. What you immediately recognize is that to really enjoy this film you will have to suspend rational thought about the world the film is set in. Another thing to remember is that the story is based on White Snake, a Chinese fantasy and that certain elements that lack 'credibility' are acceptable. Even so, the ridiculous plot is still highly problematic.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Aureliano Amadei to Participate in Q&A and Panel Discussion at Screenings of 20 Cigarettes

One of the most compelling and anticipated films to screen at the 2011 Lavazza Italian Film Festival is 20 Cigarettes, a multi-award winning drama from first-time director Aureliano Amadei. It has just been announced that Amadei will be a guest of the Festival in both Melbourne and Sydney.

20 Cigarettes has won a slew of awards from bodies such as the Venice Film Festival, David Di Donatello Awards (Italian Academy Awards) and Italian Golden Globes and has catapulted its young director into the global spotlight.

Amadei, who will be introducing Festival sessions of his film and participating in Q&As, was the only civilian survivor of the November 2003 suicide bombing at the Italian military headquarters in Nasiriyah, Iraq. His experiences prompted him to write a book about the attack and the ensuing media storm, which he has since adapted into a screen version. The film is exceptional, and to have Amadei feature in a Q&A makes this a must-attend event.

Key Dates: 

Wednesday 28th September: 7.00pm introduction to 20 Cigarettes at Palace Westgarth.

Wednesday 28th September: 9.15pm Q&A session following 20 Cigarettes Palace Cinema Como

Thursday 29th September: 7.00pm PANEL DISCUSSION with guest: Aureliano Amadei, Pier Georgio Bellocchio (Sorelle Mai). The discussion addresses Italian Cinema of today and is staged at Palace Norton Street. Present your ticket stub from any 20 Cigarette screening for FREE ENTRY! 

Releases (22/09)

There are five new releases hitting Australian cinemas today. I'm a day later than usual on posting this. I blame watching films. The lineup isn't strong I'm sorry to say. The films hitting cinemas are Abduction, Monte Carlo, Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World, The Lion King 3D and The Cave of Forgotten Dreams. I read somewhere that Tabloid was also released this week, but that must have been changed. Honestly, unless you desire watching The Lion King in 3D there is only one film worth seeing here - The Cave of Forgotten Dreams.

Abduction - I have already expressed my dislike for this film following the trailer. The film's promotional poster, which looks like an outtake from Transformers: Dark of the Moon is no better. There is no way I am seeing this film. For as long as he can remember, Nathan Harper (Taylor Lautner) has had the uneasy feeling that he's living someone else's life. When he stumbles upon an image of himself as a little boy on a missing persons website, all of his fears come true: he realises his parents are not his own and his life is a lie, carefully fabricated to hide something more mysterious and dangerous than he ever could have imagined. Just as he begins to piece together his true identity Nathan is targeted by a team of trained killers, forcing him on the run with the only person he can trust, his neighbour Karen (Lily Collins). No.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

New Release Review: Red Dog (Kriv Stenders, 2011)

Kriv Stenders’ Red Dog has quickly become a national success. Based on an extraordinary true story and adapted for the screen by Louis de Bernieres and Daniel Taplitz from de Bernieres’ novel, Red Dog has become one of the highest grossing films in Australian cinema history. Having well exceeded its budget of $8.5 million, the film’s steady box office numbers - nearing two months released, it was still number four this week in Australia wide gross - has emerged through positive and enthusiastic word-of-mouth. I have heard nothing but great things about the film and even my father, a man who doesn't venture to the cinema often, strongly urged me to see it. Having seen it today, I must say I was not disappointed. Full of surprises, Red Dog was inspirational, emotionally involving, heartfelt, moving, and above all, hugely enjoyable.

The story begins with a truck driver, Thomas (Luke Ford), stopping at a bar in Dampier, Western Australia. Upon entry, he first believes the bar to be deserted, but then spies a group of men about to put down a kelpie that they declare has been poisoned. Rather than killing the dog, they decide to call the local vet just to be sure. Thomas soon discovers that the dog, named Red Dog, is a famous icon in Dampier, and a number of local miners begin to turn up at the pub to pay their respects, having heard that their beloved friend might not survive the night. They begin to share their heartfelt stories, both as a joint reminiscence, and to the interested stranger who has entered their community that night.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

New Release Review: Eye of the Storm (Fred Schepisi, 2011)

So Eye of the Storm, the beloved novel by Patrick White (winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1973) has finally been adapted to the screen. Fred Schepisi (The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith and Roxanne) directs the film, while Judy Morris adapts the screenplay. Eye of the Storm, bizarrely, won the Critics Award for Best Australian Feature at the 2011 Melbourne International Film Festival. For me, it was easily one of the most boring and forgettable cinematic experiences of the year to date. Laboriously overlong, technically uninventive, unevenly structured and edited and inevitably plotted, the public popularity (evident through a massive box-office draw on it’s opening weekend) and critical acclaim is a mystery.

We are revealed early that wealthy matriarch, Elizabeth Hunter (Charlotte Rampling), is gradually succumbing to a terminal illness. She has two estranged children, the London-dwelling stage actor and playwright, Basil (Geoffrey Rush) and Dorothy (aka Princess de Lascabanes), existing aimlessly in Europe following a failed marriage into French nobility. Both have struck financial trouble, and arrive in Sydney (on request) to pay their last respects, repair some emotional damage that has caused turbulence in the family for decades and try and secure their financial legacy. What they discover is that their mother continues to taunt them from her deathbed, living lavishly and keeping a host of nurses, housekeepers, gardeners and chauffeurs around to cater for her. She is also not shy of passing on her prized possessions to these equally unlikable individuals. 

Posters and Stuff...

I discovered a new poster for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in my recent perusing. Pretty cool, I think. 

An alternate form of this has appeared in our 'Coming Soon' selection, which is very exciting. I'm so glad we are showing this film, though I was troubled when I heard that a patron claimed today that the Drive 'trailer' she saw before The Guard made her feel sick and that we should be ashamed for endorsing such films. I don't think she'll be seeing it. I was surprised it passed with an MA15+ rating, and not the dreaded R18+. On a negative note, I discovered that we aren't playing Take Shelter, despite the arrival of a bunch of promotional material. Gah. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Lavazza Italian Film Festival Review: Sorelle Mai (Marco Bellochio, 2010)

Writer/director Marco Bellochio (Good Morning, Night) embraces the notion of autobiographical filmmaking in his experimental 2010 film, Sorelle Mai, which is actually an extension of a short feature, Sorelle, which debuted in Rome in 2006. Bellochio shoots this familial drama in his hometown of Bobbio over a ten-year period and cast several members of his immediate family in lead roles; including his wife, his son and daughter and two of his aunts.

The films emotional centre is Elena (Bellochio’s daughter) who we first meet at age five. Elena is living with her uncle, Pier Georgio (Bellochio’s son, who looks a bit like Christian Bale) and his two aunts, while her mother, Sara (Donatella Finocchiaro, Bellochio’s wife), an actress, is away. This absence has caused some unrest between the siblings, because of Sara’s lack of contact with her daughter and continued promises to return. Pier Georgio is a struggling artist, who initially seems ready to combust at any moment. In the 2004 segment he returns to Bobbio with his fiancĂ©. Much happier and content with his life – if marrying her quite spontaneously - he seeks guarantors for a loan to open up a jeweller store. 

Classic Throwback: Ronin (John Frankenheimer, 1998)

I was recently made aware of some videos created by Jim Emerson on his blog, Scanners. In a three part series he examines and compares, shot-by-shot, the effectiveness of the construction of action/chase sequences in The Dark Knight and Salt, and a couple of classic San Francisco car chases sequences in Bullitt and The Lineup. It is really interesting, and fans of The Dark Knight may be surprised by how patchy the continuity is and how the film shifts between different planes of action, creating a disorienting effect. Salt's action scene is far more impressive, with Phillip Noyce's use of cause/effect ensuring we are never uninformed throughout the sequence. In the final video, where he discusses Bullitt, he also mentions another car chase sequence widely considered to be one of the greatest ever conceived. This appears in Ronin (1998).

Ronin is an action-thriller directed by John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, 1962) and written by respected playwright, David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross), who appears in the credits under a pseudonym, and J.D Zeik (story). Having watched this film a number of times when I was younger – the impressive car chase sequence attracted me back for repeat viewings – I was intrigued to see how well it holds up. Having watched the aforementioned videos I knew the famous chase sequence would likely still be the highlight, but I wondered how the script would hold up. Not that well, as it happens. 

Opening in Paris, an Irish member of the Provisional IRA, Diedre (Natascha McElhone), assembles a team hired to attack an armed convoy of criminals and obtain a mysterious briefcase in their possession. They are never informed as to who has hired them, the identity of their targets or the contents of the briefcase. Dierdre’s handler, Seamus O’Rourke (Jonathan Pryce), reveals that Russian gangsters are preparing to bid for the case so the team must act quickly to intercept it. The hired specialists are former CIA Officer, Sam (Robert De Niro), former Euro Intelligence Agent, Vincent (Jean Reno), German electronics expert, Gregor (Stellan Skarsgard), Larry (Skip Sudduth), a driver, and British weapons wrangler, Spence (Sean Bean).

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday Links (18/09)

Well since I last checked in on a links post, plenty has happened. I watched the Richard Ayoade indie flick, Submarine, I finally watched The Wild Bunch having been recommended it by a friend, and in preparation for the new release of Fright Night 3D I watch the '85 original. The 2011 Lavazza Italian Film Festival also opened on Thursday, which meant I was extremely busy all day. Then Thursday night I went drinking with friends. On Friday I left for the beautiful Hunter Valley with some friends to drink again. We visited four wineries, and tried about 40 different wines (including two Merlots - one of which wasn't all that bad), we ate a lot of food and had a grand old time. Now back in Sydney my first port of call is to check out what my blog peeps have been up to - and it is quite a lot, considering it has only been a couple of days.

Everyone has seen Drive, it seems. I have too, but only because I traveled interstate. It was released this week in the U.S. and has been hotly received. That second half sure is something. TIFF has continued throughout the week with a number of prolific bloggers providing extensive and insightful coverage (and even some mini Podcasts). Great stuff. This week I will be trying to see both Fright Night 3D and Eye of the Storm, as well as squeezing in a pair of media-related screenings on Wednesday. I also need to make a start on The Decalogue, which might have to wait until next week, and a pair of Almodovar films...Volver and Broken Embraces. Anyway, I have plenty to do, so lemme get on with it.

Friday, September 16, 2011

A 'Sideways' Hiatus

I will be taking a short hiatus. Don't worry, it's just three days. I am heading to the Hunter Valley with some friends, which is the wine central of N.S.W. We have a tour planned which involves visiting multiple wineries. How very Sideways of me. Hope everyone has a great weekend. Happy viewing. 

I expect there will be plenty of this...

and this...

and hopefully none of this...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Opening Night of the 2011 Lavazza Italian Film Festival

This evening marks the opening of the 12th annual Lavazza Italian Film Festival at Palace Cinemas Norton Street. Running until the 5th October there will be 31 new Italian films, including 29 features and 2 documentaries, screened across the Norton Street, Verona and Chauvel locations.

The Opening Night Film, Welcome to the South, will be introduced introduced by young Italian star Matilde Maggio, who will also be introducing sessions of her other films, The Ages of Love and Martino's Summer. Welcome to the South will kick off at 7.00pm with ticket holders also receiving a gift bag, and indulging in an open bar, including Brown Brothers wine and sparkling, Peroni beer and espresso martinis, following the screening.

I have been lucky enough to catch a few of the films to screen during the festival. In addition to Welcome to the South, The Ages of Love (starring Robert De Niro and Monica Bellucci) will be a popular one, but 20 Cigarettes, Corpo Celeste, A Quiet Life, Escort in Love and the Closing Night Film, John Turturro's Passione are all recommended viewing.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Yama Hama, it's Fright Night: Review of Tom Holland's '85 Original

With the intention of watching the upcoming re-make of Tom Holland’s 1985 horror-comedy classic, Fright Night (though this time it’s in 3D, of course), I thought I would give the original a go first. While I had expected the film to be of the over-the-top, cheesy, gory, schlock variety, I really didn’t expect to require my 80’s blinkers to this extreme.

The 80’s are a ‘recent’ decade that I seriously need to catch up on. Usually, if I’m going to watch a classic, I go back to the 70’s or earlier, and well, I watch plenty of current films. The 80’s always seem to be forgotten about. Well, if this is one of the better-received horror films from the decade (93% on Rotten Tomatoes, and the winner of Three Saturn Awards) then I don’t think I’m going to fare well when I dedicate my time to genre films of this period. 

Anyway, there was still plenty of fun to be had with Fright Night. The story does wear out it’s welcome, and after a fast start (within the first 5-10 minutes there have already been several murders and we are well aware that Jerry is a vampire) it does seem to go on forever, with a lengthy final (final) act. The levels of gore, and a series of quite disgusting transformations (that seem bizarrely out-of-place for a ‘Vampire’ film) become more abundant as the story continues.

Official Trailer: The Hunter (2011)

Based on the acclaimed novel by Julia Leigh, The Hunter is a powerful psychological drama that tells the story of Martin (Willem Dafoe), a mercenary sent from Europe by a mysterious biotech company to the Tasmanian wilderness on a dramatic hunt for the last Tasmanian Tiger.

Directed by Daniel Nettheim, The Hunter according to Screen Daily is "compelling...unpredictable and unsettling..." and stars Academy Award nominee Willem Dafoe (Platoon), Frances O'Connor (Mansfield Park) and Sam Neill (The Dish).

The Hunter will be released nationally by Madman Entertainment on 6 October , 2011.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Releases (15/09)

There are five new releases scheduled around Australia on Thursday 15th September. They include Fright Night, The Smurfs, Johnny English Reborn, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and The Eye of the Storm. This is also my 600th post - what a poor week of releases to honour the achievement.

Fright Night - High school senior Charlie Brewster (Anton Yelchin) finally has it all - he's running with the popular crowd and dating the hottest girl in school. But trouble arrives when an intriguing stranger Jerry (Colin Farrell) moves in next door. He seems like a great guy at first, but there's something not quite right. No one, including Charlie's mother (Toni Collette), seems to notice. After witnessing some very unusual activity, Charlie comes to an unmistakable conclusion; that Jerry is a vampire preying on his neighbourhood. Unable to convince anyone that he's telling the truth, Charlie has to find a way to get rid of the monster himself in this revamp of the comedy-horror classic. David Tennant and Christopher Mintz-Plasse co-star. Interestingly, this has been getting some solid reviews. Farrell's performance has been praised, as well as the film's humour and stylish gore. I'm unsure whether to watch the original first, but I'll check this one out if I have time.

Classic Throwback: The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969)

The Wild Bunch is an established classic of the Western genre, directed by Sam Peckinpah in 1969. The central theme of this film, aging men trying to exist in and ultimately escape the changing “modern” world reminded me of No Country for Old Men, with a generation of Vietnam veterans endowed with natural affinities to violence that proves alien to older generations. Instead, The Wild Bunch is set in 1913 and focuses on an aging outlaw gang finding trouble on both sides of the Texas-Mexico border. Hunted by a posse of bounty hunters, the group find themselves in Mexico, but find themselves at the mercy of a ruthless warlord. Peckinpah, no stranger to causing controversy with his films (Straw Dogs), doesn't hold back here either. 

In Texas, 1913, Pike Bishop (William Holden), the leader of a gang of aging outlaws, is hoping to retire after one final score – the robbery of a railway office containing a cache of silver. Disguised as U.S Army soldiers, they enter the peaceful town uptight with unease. Working as a metaphor for what is to come, they pass a group of children who watch sadistically as a swarm of fire ants kill a hapless scorpion. As the heist is transpiring, one of Bishop’s men notices a number of guns visible on the rooftop of an adjacent building, and draws his gun. Soon enough, the gang is ambushed by Pike’s former partner, Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan), and a posse of nitwit bounty hunters hired by the railroad. Thornton has been released from Yuma prison to help track down his former comrades in return for a full pardon.

Monday, September 12, 2011

New Release Review: Submarine (Richard Ayoade, 2011)

There are a few staple stories in the indie comedy/drama catalogue – the coming-of-age tale is a common one that immediately comes to mind. The story of a disillusioned individual on the cusp of middle age, still single and lacking direction, is another. Truthfully, I have bit of a soft spot for these sorts of films. They are in my element, so to speak. Especially if the protagonist is male, I often find myself relating to the character, recognizing similar situations from my teenage years, or seeing personal traits in an older character and wondering where my own life will lead.

Mike Mills’ Beginners was one recent example, and Submarine, the anticipated directorial debut from Richard Ayoade (whom many will know as Moss from The IT Crowd), is another. Ayoade’s adaptation of Joe Dunthorne’s 2008 novel wasn’t quite as uproariously funny as I expected, but there is no denying that Submarine is frequently amusing. It is a sweet film littered with moments of effortless enlightenment that proves rewarding in a number of charming and poignant ways, and proves that Ayoade is a director to watch after his impressively assured and visionary work.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Lavazza Italian Film Festival Review: Corpo Celeste (Alice Rohrwacher, 2011)

Corpo Celeste, selected in the Director’s Fortnight of the 64th Cannes Film Festival, is the debut film from 29 year-old Italian director, Alice Rohrwacher. This intermittently effective, but sensitive, and compassionate film doubles as a portrayal of youth and coming of age and an examination of the issue of Catholicism in Italian society. 

Marta (Yle Vianello), a quiet, intuitive 13 year-old girl, has just moved back to her dilapidated hometown of Reggio Calabria with her mother (Anita Caprioli) and domineering older sister, having spent the last ten years in Switzerland. The Southern town, devoutly Christian, is in decay, with the streets littered with rubbish, and with its citizens scavenging the local dumps for discarded supplies. 

Bored and restless, Marta hangs out on the rooftops and wanders the streets, taking in the sights and sounds of the town. Having been introduced to the devout Santa (Pasqualina Scuncia) at a religious rally that opens the film, Marta is sent to the local church and enrolled in Catechism class. Run by Santa these classes are an opportunity for Marta to make some friends and have her interest in religion stimulated, with the events of the film and lessons leading to her eventual confirmation.

Sunday Links (11/09)

Well, TIFF 2011 has commenced with a number of bloggers beginning their much-anticipated coverage. Some are listed below. The 68th Venice International Film Festival is now over, with Alexander Sukurov's Faust claiming the Golden Lion. I have listed the award winners here. While he responses to The Ides of March, Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy, A Dangerous Method and Shame were all modest to excellent, with the exception of Michael Fassbender for Shame, they were all overlooked.

This week has been an odd one. A few personal crises haven't overwhelmed the excellent news I also received. I have been added to the media invite lists of a few distribution companies, meaning I will on occasion have privileged access to advanced screenings. I have had limited time to make it to the cinema this week, instead continuing my coverage of the upcoming Italian Film Festival with a review of Lost Kisses. I also re-visited some others (A History of Violence and Minority Report), and shared my thoughts on The Help and Super

So, getting in a day early (so I can devote tomorrow to watching films), here are some links:

"Faust" and "Fassbender" Lead Winners at 68th Venice Film Festival

Golden Lion for Best Film - Faust by Alexander Sukurov (Russia)

Silver Lion for Best Director - Shangjun CAI for the film Ren Shan Ren Hai [People Mountain People Sea] (China - Hong Kong)

Special Jury Prize - Terraferma by Emanuele Crialese (Italy)

Coppa Volpi for Best Actor - Michael Fassbender in the film Shame by Steve McQueen (United Kingdom)

Coppa Volpi for Best Actress - Deanie Yip in the film Tao Jie [A Simple Life] by Ann Hui (China - Hong Kong)

Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best New Actor or Actress - Shota Sometani and Fumi Nikaido in the film Himizu by Sion Sono (Japan)

Osella for Best Cinematography - Robbie Ryan for the film Wuthering Heights by Andrea Arnold (United Kingdom)

Osella for Best Screenplay - Yorgas Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou for the film Alpis [Alps] by Yorgos Lanthimos (Grecia)

Faust was the surprise winner of the top prize beating with Sukorov beating out Roman Polanski (Carnage) George Clooney (The Ides of March), Tomas Alfredson (Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy) and Steve McQueen, whose hotly received film, Shame, was thought by many to be the one the jury, which was led by director Darren Aronofsky and musician David Byrne, would select.

Faust is a loose adaptation of the Goethe tragedy. It's the fourth in a series of movies on the themes of political power that earlier portrayed Hitler, Lenin and Japan's late Emperor Hirohito. China's Shangjun Cai took the best-director trophy got Ren Shan Ren Hai, the story of a man who returns to his mountain village to avenge his brother's killing. Another Chinese movie, A Simple Life, by Ann Hui - about a kousekeeper who retires to an old people's home after decades serving one family - was awarded the Best Actress award to Deannie Yip. Shame, Steve McQueen's explicit movie about a solitary sex addict on the rampage in New York, saw Michael Fassbender collect the Best Actor Trophy. What are your thoughts on these decisions?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Go! See! Talk! Blog-A-Thon: Cool Off with the Classics

Recently Marc at Go! See! Talk! has started a blog-a-thon called Cool Off With The Classics. This is essentially a Top 10 list of oldies but goldies; only catch here is that they have to be in black and white but they can be American, foreign etc. Essentially, a list of classic film you'd watch to "beat the heat".

I'm extremely late, but here's what I came up with:

Modern Times (Charlie Chaplin, 1936) - My favourite Chaplin. An extraordinary achievement. 

Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942) - Cinematic perfection. 

The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1946) - While many proclaim The Maltese Falcon and Double Indemnity to be the greatest examples of the film noir of this period, this is my favourite. Bogey and Bacall's risque banter is unforgettable. 

Short Review: A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, 2005)

Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) is a family man and regular American citizen. He has a loving wife (Maria Bello), two children (Ashton Holmes and Heidi Hayes) and he owns a diner. As a respected local, his life is plunged into turmoil when two violent men wielding guns enter his store, threaten his staff and attempt to rob him. As if compelled by natural instincts, inner strength and an unnatural fearlessness, Tom diffuses the situation by shooting both men. He becomes a local celebrity with his face and news of his heroics plastered over various media.

What is quite interesting about this film is the media reaction to violence – seeming to condone his act, which was a risky decision, and entirely in self-defense. Having just watched Super, another film where civilian violence is applauded, the success of A History of Violence emerges through it's examination of how violence is condoned, both on a societal level and by the individual, and how it is controlled in the household environment. Would there have been the same reaction if Tom's past was known? Soon enough, those aware of such things turn up to antagonize Tom and his family. Carl Foggarty (Ed Harris) a scarred businessman with ties to the East Coast Mafia, including the ruthless Richie Cusack (William Hurt) arrives in town claiming that Tom’s real name is Joey Cusack and creating unease within Tom, who realizes the past he had been so successful in evading, has surfaced.

Review: Super (James Gunn, 2010)

Super, written and directed by James Gunn (Slither), has made its way around the festival circuit since it’s opening at TIFF last year, culminating with its selection as the opening night film of the 2011 Sydney Underground Film Festival. This is both a difficult film to praise and recommend, but not a film I can't say I didn’t enjoy for the most part. Demented, perverse and vile, Super is a film that many viewers will find sickeningly inappropriate and likely be turned off by when they consider the similarities to the much-beloved Kick Ass, another recent film about every-day citizens who transform themselves into costumed crime-fighting vigilantes.

In Super, Frank D’arbo (Rainn Wilson, The Office), is a plump, uncoordinated geek who possesses no powerful weapons or physical skills. While Matthew Vaughn’s film – though horrifically violent at times, and indulged in a little kid using the C-word - was much more cartoonish, you got the sense that the world depicted was distant from our own. Here, there is something more sinister about Frank, who clearly has mental health problems, with the film displaying just how far a director with the guts to ‘go there’ for jet black comedy can play with sickening violence unashamedly.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Review: Minority Report (Steven Spielberg, 2002)

Steven Spielberg’s science fiction thriller, Minority Report, was a film I didn’t really appreciate on my initial viewing. I found it overlong, cold, and from memory, becoming progressively more confusing. But with a near-overwhelming critical response, and the opportunity to watch it again, I thought I’d give it another chance.

Minority Report is a blend of science fiction thriller and film noir whodunit and is based on a short story, The Minority Report by Phillip K. Dick (whose story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was adapted into Blade Runner). The similarities between the protagonists of these two stories are quite prevalent – with both Harrison Ford’s Deckard and Tom Cruise’s John Anderton existing as agents in a special police department who are trying to keep the peace within their futuristic (2019 vs. 2054) and mechanized worlds and who stumble across a case that becomes both dangerous and personal.