Friday, August 31, 2012

Classic Throwback: Phenomena (Dario Argento, 1985)

Phenomena was beyond weird. I believe it is one of Argento's last decent films. It is certainly one of his craziest fairytales - rounding out a trilogy of female protagonist driven supernatural horror he established with Suspiria in 1977 and continued with Inferno in 1980. So underrated, Inferno. A heavily edited version of the film (82 minutes instead of 110 minutes) was released in the United States under the title, Creepers. I watched Argento's uncut version - which I picked up in a trilogy also including Deep Red and Tenebre - and though it was great to see some of the more gory scenes included, the film's pacing, particularly in the first half, was stalled by some unnecessary inclusions.

A very young Jennifer Connelly stars as Jennifer Corvino, the daughter of an American film star, who enrolls in a prestigious Swiss boarding school. She learns that she possesses a unique telepathic gift - the ability to communicate with insects - but is prone to sleepwalking. In the film's opening sequence, set eight months prior to Jennifer's arrival - a young tourist is chased and beheaded not far from the boarding school. During Jennifer's first sleepwalk she witnesses another attack, though only remembers flashes of it, and ends up alone in the forest. There she is found by the chimpanzee assistant of a wheelchair-bound forensic entomologist, Dr. McGregor (Donald Pleasance), who takes care of her and enlists her to assist him with the investigation into finding the serial killer on the loose.

Jennifer's somnambulism becomes a concern for the school and is investigated by her tutors, including Mrs. Bruckner (frequent Argento collaborator Daria Nicolodi), and she is regarded as a freak by her schoolmates. When Jennifer's roommate Sophie becomes the next victim, Jennifer is again lured outside and is guided by a firefly to a maggot-infested glove. McGregor then identifies the maggots as those of the Great Sarcophagus Fly, which is drawn to decaying human flesh. Jennifer sets out with one of these corpse-hunting flies and tries to locate the killer's residence and places her life in danger as a result.

If it sounds bizarre and like it completely defies logic, then you're right. Argento is the master of building suspense and there are a handful of atmospheric, dream-like sequences here that will have you holding your breath. Just watching characters wander through old houses and forests, and be spied upon by unseen eyes (the eyes of the killer, usually) is enough to send shivers. With a throbbing electric soundtrack, courtesy of the unmistakeable sounds of Goblin (responsible for some of the great horror themes ever) and songs by Iron Maiden and Motorhead, the grisly murder sequences are heightened by these interesting choices.

As expected, Phenomena is brutal, and the opening murder sequence rivals some of the horrific killings in Suspiria and Deep Red. The finale is also tremendous, offering up a number of back-to-back shocks - and making use of a creepy underground lair and a knife-wielding chimpanzee. Argento has perhaps tried to utilise too many ideas, including a mix of police procedural, forensic science, psychoanalysis and paranormal events and though bringing all these elements together ensures it becomes an illogical mess, there is still plenty to admire about Argento's craftsmanship. Though far from his best, in my opinion, there are enough bizarre images to leave an acquainted Argento viewer with plenty to discuss and it features quite an impressive performance from Connelly.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Monthly Round-Up: What I Watched in August

August was Festival Month with Possible Worlds, MIFF and KOFFIA overlapping and taking place back-to-back. I was involved with all of them - reviewing screeners for PW and KOFFIA - and it was fantastic to see them run so well achieve such success. My highlight was visiting Melbourne for MIFF and meeting all of the fantastic Melbournites I had only prior interacted with through Twitter.

With the exception of the six days away I have still been working away on the blog, trying to come up with interesting new material and posting news about upcoming projects to break up the reviews and articles. I tried the diary-entry format for my MIFF coverage and really enjoyed the shorter reviews. I think I have made a transition I might not turn back from. My daily hits are significantly lower, however. This is not concerning me a great deal, but it has actually been one of my weakest months of the year. Even less than April when I was bouncing back from the URL change. I can't explain it.

Looking ahead to September, there are more festivals to cover - the Sydney Underground Film Festival (SUFF) starts next week, and the Lavazza Italian Film Festival kicks of Sept 20. As I have seen a lot of the big new release films coming in the next few weeks, things should be pretty quiet on the screening front, but with my girlfriend Sam embarking on a Classic Horror Film Discovery Journey, I am looking forward to revisiting some of my favourite horror and discovering a few more along the way.

I watched a total of 42 films in August, including nine re-watches. Here they are.

First-watches (Cinema/DVD) - In Order of Preference

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

Remains of the Day (James Ivory, 1993)

The Imposter (Bart Layton, 2012)

Bleak Night (Sung-Hyun Yoon, 2011)

Oslo, August 31st (Joachim Trier, 2011)

The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg, 2012)

Your Sister's Sister (Lynn Shelton, 2012)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Phillip Kaufman, 1978)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Don Siegel, 1956)

Lore (Cate Shortland, 2012)

Leaving Las Vegas (Mike Figgis, 1995)

 Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland, 2012)

 First Position (Bess Kargman, 2012)

Summer Wars (Mamoru Hosoda, 2009)

The Angels' Share (Ken Loach, 2012)

Ruby Sparks (Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris, 2012)

Silenced (Hwang Dong-hyuk, 2011)

No (Pablo Larrain, 2012)

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

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

25 Films To Watch In Spring 2012

With Winter almost over (where has this year gone?) I thought I'd take a look at the films scheduled to hit cinemas over the next three months. With the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals taking place in early September, can we expect some of their big hitters to make their way to our shores?

These dates are susceptible to change. This is not a list of all upcoming releases, just the significant ones. For example, the ones I have a desire to watch - or have already seen and can recommend - and those which have generated enough buzz throughout the year (On the Road and Safety Not Guaranteed are not recommended but fall into this category) to warrant interest in their release date.


Monsieur Lazhar (Sep 6) - ★★★★

Your Sister's Sister (Sep 6) - ★★★★1/2

Killer Joe (Sep 6) - ★★★★

Beasts of the Southern Wild (Sep 13) - ★★★★

Hotel Transylvania (Sep 20)

Lore (Sep 20) - ★★★★

Ruby Sparks (Sep 20) - ★★★★

Looper (Sep 27)

On The Road (Sep 27) - ★★1/2


Searching For Sugar Man (Oct 4)

Killing Them Softly (Oct 11)

Lawless (Oct 11)

Liberal Arts (Oct 11) - ★★★★

Safety Not Guaranteed (Oct 18) - ★★1/2

Savages (Oct 18)

Argo (Oct 25)

Dredd 3D (Oct 25)

Frankenweenie (Oct 25)

The Intouchables (Oct 25)


The Master (Nov 8)

Premium Rush (Nov 8)

Robot and Frank (Nov 8)

The Sessions (Nov 8)

Skyfall (Nov 22)

The Silver Linings Playbook (Nov 29)

What are your thoughts on the upcoming schedule? What is your most-anticipated release through the rest of 2012?

Trailer: Sightseers (Ben Wheatley, 2012)

The official trailer for Ben Wheatley's Sightseers is now online. Fresh from his brutal shocker, Kill List, which caused a stir on the festival circuit last year, Wheatley is back with another bloody outing which The Hollywood Reporter is calling "the most consistently hilarious Brit-com for a good half decade - probably since Edgar Wright's Hot Fuzz".

Very well received at MIFF earlier in the month, this is certainly one to keep tabs on. It is distributed through Rialto Distribution and will hit Australian screens December 26, 2012.

Chris (Steve Oram) wants to show Tina (Alice Lowe) his world and he wants to do it his way - on a journey through this sceptred isle in his beloved Abbey Oxford Caravan. Tina's led a sheltered life and there are things that Chris needs her to see - the Crich Tramway Museum, the Ribblehead Viaduct, the Keswick Pencil Museum and the rolling countryside that separates these wonders in his life. But it doesn't take long for the dream to fade. Litterbugs, noisy teenagers and pre-booked caravan sites, not to mention Tina's meddling mother, soon conspire to shatter Chris's dreams and send him, and anyone who rubs him up the wrong way, over a very jagged edge...

AACTA Announces 23 Feature Films in 2012 Competition


Today the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) has announced 23 Feature Films in Competition for the 2ndAACTA Awards.

Feature Film nominees will be announced later in 2012, and AACTA Award recipients will be announced at the 2nd AACTA Awards held in Sydney in early 2013.
The 23 Feature Films in Competition for the 2nd AACTA Awards are:
  • 33 Postcards
  • A Few Best Men
  • Any Questions For Ben?
  • Bait 3D
  • Burning Man
  • Careless Love
  • Dead Europe
  • Hail
  • Housos vs Authority
  • Iron Sky
  • Kath and Kimderella
  • Killer Elite
  • The King Is Dead!
  • Last Dance
  • Lore
  • Mental
  • Not Suitable For Children
  • Santa’s Apprentice
  • The Sapphires
  • Swerve
  • Toomelah
  • Wish You Were Here
  • X
A few of these features - Lore, Wish You Were Here and Burning Man - immediately jump out and deserve to feature prominently. Having said that, I am yet to see half of the list. Thoughts?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

New Releases (30/08/12)

Coming to cinemas this week are Wes Anderson's delightful new film, Moonrise Kingdom, the sequel to one of the worst films I have ever seen, The Expendables 2 and the hit of the 2012 Spanish Film Festival, Chinese Take-Away. Pixar's Finding Nemo also returns to screens in 3D.

Moonrise Kingdom - Set on an island off the coast of New England in the summer of 1965, Moonrise Kingdom tells the story of two twelve-year-olds (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) who fall in love, make a secret pact, and run away together into the wilderness. As various authorities try to hunt them down, a violent storm is brewing off-shore and the peaceful island community is turned upside down in more ways than anyone can handle. Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Jason Schwartzman also star. Of course, this is a must-see for any Wes Anderson fans but I think he might even win over some new ones too. His attention-to-detail is as acute as ever, and this offers up consistent laughs while retaining plenty of heart. One of Anderson's best films. Can't wait to watch it again.

The Expendables 2 - The Expendables are back and this time it's personal... Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Yin Yang (Jet Li), Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren),Toll Road (Randy Couture) and Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) -- with newest members Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth) and Maggie (Yu Nan) aboard -- are reunited when Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) enlists the Expendables to take on a seemingly simple job. The task looks like an easy paycheck for Barney and his band of old-school mercenaries. But when things go wrong and one of their own is viciously killed, the Expendables are compelled to seek revenge in hostile territory where the odds are stacked against them. I hated The Expendables. This is not directed by Stallone, but its oddly positive reviews are not enough to convince me to see this.  

Finding Nemo 3D - Follows the comedic and momentous journey of an overly protective clownfish named Marlin and his son Nemo who become separated in the Great Barrier Reef when Nemo is unexpectedly taken far from his ocean home and dumped into a fish tank in a dentist's office. Buoyed by the companionship of Dory, a friendly-but-forgetful Pacific regal blue tang, Marlin embarks on a dangerous trek and finds himself the unlikely hero of an epic effort to rescue his son - who hatches a few daring plans of his own to return safely home. Everyone knows Finding Nemo. Well now one can watch it in 3D.

Chinese Take-Away - Darin stars as Roberto, an embittered and lonely man who runs a hardware store and lives a life of solitary and methodic routine with his memories and his simple pleasures. His relatively dull but comfortable and content Buenos Aires existence is turned upside down when he feels compelled to help a hapless Chinese man named Jun (Ignacio Huang), who is unable to speak a word of Spanish. He reluctantly takes him in as a lodger while he helps him search for his uncle. Chinese Take Away is charming and pleasantly amusing, making the most of the beguiling and ultimately heart-warming friendship that develops between Ricardo and Jun. It deals with existential themes; cross-culture relations, the belief in the extraordinary and the unexpected, and how a life that exists without surprises and a bit of chaos can never be one truly lived. An order of Chinese Take-Away is a smart order.

Weekly Recommendation: Moonrise Kingdom. Chinese Take-Away is also a charming human drama. There are also advanced sessions of Monsieur Lazhar at Palace Cinemas. It has a release scheduled next week, but it is a must-see.

Upcoming Release Review: Your Sister's Sister (Lynn Shelton, 2012)

Your Sister's Sister, distributed through Madman, hits screens Thursday September 6.

Low budget indie film, Your Sister's Sister, writer/director Lynn Shelton's follow-up to her 2009 Sundance award-winning film Humpday - which I have not yet seen - is a smart, consistently hilarious and dramatically convincing human relationship story. Aided by fantastic chemistry between the principal cast of Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt, and Rosemarie DeWitt, and the collaborated creative freedom between them and Shelton, Your Sister' Sister comes highly recommended.

Duplass stars as Jack, the still-grieving brother whose life is in the dumps ever since the death of his brother Tom one year earlier. In the film's opening scenes, Tom's friends, including his ex-girlfriend Iris (Blunt), have assembled to honour him and it is here, after another meltdown, that Iris suggests that Jack take the time to unwind, clear his head and pick up the pieces of his life in the comfort of her family's secluded cabin. He takes up the offer but on arrival he is surprised to learn that Iris' lesbian sister Hannah (DeWitt) has also chosen to bunk up after the recent dissolution of a seven-year relationship. After a single night of tequila swigging and story sharing, Jack and Hannah unexpectedly end up in bed together. Things get awkward when Iris turns up the next morning - having scored some time off work to take care of Jack. Iris is excited but shocked to find her sister there, possessing a secret of her own, and in the ensuing days, the three face up to one another, divulge personal revelations and ultimately come to terms with the seemingly innocent events of the boozy first night.

Monday, August 27, 2012

2012 Lavazza Italian Film Festival Review: Magnifica Presenza [Magnificent Presence] (Ferzan Ozpetec, 2012)

Magnificent Presence, screening as part of the line-up for the 2012 Lavazza Italian Film Festival, is a strange genre combination from director Ferzan Ozpetec (who co-penned the screenplay with Federica Pontremoli), but a pleasant and lightly entertaining film. It is a gentle, wry and charming, if unfocused, ghost tale about the friendship between Pietro (Elio Germano), a 20-something aspiring actor, and some unexpected houseguests he acquaints himself with in his new Rome apartment.

The story opens with Pietro and his cousin Maria (Paola Minaccioni) inspecting the apartment. It is a creepy old building full of history and a quick tenant turnover and Pietro accepts the reasonable price offered. Having settled in, he prepares for auditions by day, bakes croissants as a temp pastry chef by night and tries to turn his hapless love life around by inviting a young man around for dinner. Just as we learn Pietro's secret - he's a bit of a sad, lonely and a tad obsessed - he learns the secret about his new place.

Having already had several experiences with strange phenomena - finding his belongings in different locations - his series of run-ins with the ghostly inhabitants initially give him a shock. These scenes are actually pretty creepy. Over time he begins to acquaint himself with the jovial and well-dressed troupe, learning they are in fact a company of theatre actors from the 40's who died in the house under mysterious circumstances. As they sympathetically assist with his own casting call prep, he decides to do some digging into the past.

The journey Pietro takes to learning of their fate is an odd one. A visit to the transsexual underworld reveals that an aging diva (Anna Proclemer), who he tracks down, may have knowledge of their fate. In the process he also enlists their help to overcome his romantic problems - a sparkle-eyed neighbor and the group's writer seem to take an interest in Pietro - and give him audition tips. Pietro joins them for board games in his living room, and when revealing the truth fills them in on worldly developments. This sequence here got a big laugh, and the laughs are quite consistent throughout.

With an endearing and likeable lead character - and it was unique to see a gay protagonist - and a charismatic performance from Germano, Magnificent Presence tells a heartwarming tale and concludes with a genuinely moving, crowd-pleasing finale. Pietro's personal development as a result of the relationships he builds with each of the ghosts is the focus here, and though there are several underdeveloped subplots and the story takes some silly meanderings and too long to progress to the important dramatic stages - the Fascist atrocities that resulted in the company's premature demise - this central premise is charming enough to keep a patient audience intrigued. For Pietro, he finds himself amongst the most comfortable crowd of his life and grows emotionally along the way. It is a handsomely lensed if unspectacular looking film, but it should give audiences a lighter option to break up some of the darker, edgier films on the schedule.

The Lavazza Italian Film Festival commences in Sydney on Thursday, September 20.  

Magnificent Presence is screening at Palace Norton Street on Fri 21st Sep 4.15pm and 9.00pm, Wed 26th Sep 8.30 for 9.00pm (Special Event - check the website for details), Fri 28th Sep 1.30pm and 9.30pm, Mon 1st Oct 6.45pm, Sat 6th Oct 9.15pm and Mon 8th Oct 6.30pm.

Magnificent Presence is screening at Palace Verona on Sat 22nd Sep 9.00pm, Wed 26th Sep 1.30pm and 6.45pm, Sun 30th Sep 4.15pm, Wed 3rd Oct 9.00pm, Thurs 4th Oct 1.45pm and Mon 8th Oct 9.00pm.

Magnificent Presence is screening at Chauvel Cinema on Thurs 27th Sep 8.30pm, Sun 30th Sep 6.00pm, Thurs 4th Oct 6.00pm and Wed 10th Oct 3.00pm.

Monday Links (27/08/12)

Since I got back from Melbourne one week's been that long....I have done almost nothing but watch films. I have watched a couple of exciting upcoming releases - Your Sister's Sister (Sep 6) and Lore (Sep 20) - and was very impressed by both. Reviews to come in the next week or so. I attended the Opening Night film of the Korean Film Festival in Australia, War of the Arrows, on Wednesday and the media launch of the Lavazza Italian Film Festival on Thursday. Magnificent Presence was accompanied by antipasto platters and cocktails. I enjoyed the strange but charming Magnificent Presence and a write-up is also on my 'to-do' list. Predominantly I have been working on my MIFF Diaries and my four installments can be found here - Day 1&2, Day 3, Day 4 and Day 5&6.

Here are some articles that caught my eye during the week:

Ethan at A Reservation At Dorsia lists his Top 10 of the 2000's.

Sam has also been chronicling her MIFF experiences in diary form. Check them out at An Online Universe. While you're there, let her know what Classic Must-See Horror Films she should catch up with.

Alex scoured the Director's Sound & Sight Top 10's and has come up with a list of surprising selections.

I heard great things about Searching For Sugar Man at MIFF. Nick reviews the film for Anomalous Material.

Hot Fuzz is one of the funniest films I have ever seen. Anna takes a look.

I have always been a fan of Brad Pitt's acting. Margaret gives an awesome rundown of his career.

Sam Fragoso is headed to TIFF and picked up Media Accreditation. Congrats! Here's his lineup. Drop him your thoughts.

Be sure to stop by Encore's World of Film and TV and vote for in Andrew's Essential Performances of the 90's Showdown.

I sat next to Cam Williams during The Angels' Share at MIFF. Check out his fantastic write-up of the film.

Simon watched Your Sister's Sister at the Perth International Film Festival earlier in the year and loved it. Having now seen it, I wholeheartedly agree.

With the sad passing of Tony Scott last week, Simon honours him by taking a look at one of his best films, The Enemy of the State.

Jessica asks the question: Is your film collection snoop ready? My answer: Yes, I love my DVD collection.

Finally, Katia expresses her love for The Rocketeer at SBS Film. A really passionately written piece.

2012 MIFF Diary - Day 5 & 6

Day 5 - Sunday

It was unfortunate to have woken up so late on Sunday - courtesy of drinking a lot at the party, and not getting to sleep until after 3am - because Xavier Dolan's new film Laurence Anyways, our scheduled screening at 10.15am that morning, was apparently very good. Cam made it to the screening and rubbed in this fact later. Sam and I decided to have a relaxing day, walk around and perhaps indulge in some shopping. We called into the Melbourne Central mall, wandered around Southbank, and I took Sam to the ACMI Store where she presumably made some purchases. After lunch, we wandered through Myer and along Bourke Street before returning to the GU at 3.30pm, meeting up with Cam, and getting in line for our screening of The Hunt. 

In Danish director Thomas Vinterberg's haunting new drama, The Hunt, Mads Mikkelsen (awarded the award for Best Actor at Cannes), stars as Lucas, a popular small town Kindergarten teacher. When Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), one of his closest students and the daughter of his best friend Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen), tells a story detailing inappropriate sexual contact from Lucas, it quickly becomes a serious case. The adults, informed by the school's principal despite there being no proof beyond Klara's account, are blinded by rage, turn against Lucas and begin a campaign to ensure that justice is served, targeting not only his professional career and personal reputation, but also his family. Lucas is wrongfully accused, but when more stories of abuse surface - a result of insular paranoia - the mounting lies spiral out of control to the point where the life of this innocent man is facing ruin.
The Hunt is a truly affecting film. It frequently made me angry - courtesy of the decision-making by the adult characters - and I left the cinema feeling devastated. Vinterberg, perhaps best known for his Dogma 95 film The Celebration (1998) and Submario (2010), has crafted an unnerving, atmospheric and tense drama of an insular community embroiled in hysteria and turmoil as a result of a child's lie. The desire to protect your child and bring justice to a wrongdoer in a situation like this is only natural, but the series of events in this story hit me hard. Vinterberg makes wonderful use of Mikkelsen's emotive face, drawing a mesmerising performance from one of Europe's most talented performers, in this glamorously photographed work.

There are many outstanding sequences - including a stunning finale - which punctuate why The Hunt is a must see, and many questionable decisions made by the school and the townsfolk, that will leave a viewer audibly frustrated. Lucas, so close to Klara's father he's like an extended member of the family, walks Klara to school alone on one occasion and on another assists a child in the lavatory. While these seem like kind and harmless gestures, without alternative adult supervision Lucas is susceptible to a situation like the one he is accused of. He has no witnesses, so it becomes the child's word against his.

Even when Klara admits to saying something foolish, and had no intention of getting Lucas into this much trouble, her mother does not believe her and assumes she is still traumatised and in denial. The line of questioning initially administered to Klara was also deplorable. While some of the actions might seem to be of an extreme nature, and the film a tad manipulative, I felt it was exceptionally well-constructed. Sadly, there are many cases of child sexual abuse in the world today. It is a horrific crime. This fascinating character study captures the emotions on both sides and asks us not to desire justice being served but to hope that in this case it isn't wrongfully done so. ★★★★1/2 (A-)
Following the emotionally draining The Hunt Sam, Cam and I looked for a spot for dinner. We returned to the restaurant part of the bustling bar we visited on Friday night. I ordered fish and chips and we discussed the film. There was lots to discuss. Then we went searching for a coffee to keep us awake - so tired now - before meeting up with the MIFF gang for an arranged assembly in the Forum Lounge. Here we ran into (from memory, and if I have forgotten anyone here, and throughout the festival, I apologise) Lisa, Alex, Katia, Richard, Greg, Lee, Jess, Kwenton, Dave, Paul and Rhett (@dialmformovies) and discussed films, movies and everything in between for several hours before calling it a night.

Day 6 - Monday

Awakening this morning we thought we were destined to experience gloomy weather, but much to our delight, the sun began to shine. After checking out of the hotel, Sam and I were very organised in coordinating several trams and making our way out to Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. Cam and I had visited Brunswick St. on Thursday, but I thought it might be a nice spot to have some lunch with Sam before we headed back to Sydney. We had a nice coffee, browsed through some of the funky stores, but decided to return to the city for lunch. 

On the way we stopped into a store on Bourke Street we had passed the day before and I picked up a leather bag/satchel that Sam suggested I get. After lunch at Degraves Street, we caught the shuttle bus back to the airport, and after waiting about an hour there, boarded our flight back to Sydney. Though I would have loved to have stayed longer and watched more films, I felt ready to come back to Sydney. This trip was exactly what I needed. I required a relaxing break, and though the days were long and tiring, I saw some fantastic films and met some interesting and passionate filmgoers and writers. Overall, I could not have asked for a better MIFF experience and I will surely be back next year.

Films Ranked

The Imposter ★★★★

Oslo, August 31st ★★★★1/2
The Hunt ★★★★1/2

First Position ★★★★
Berberian Sound Studio ★★★★
The Angels' Share ★★★★
Ruby Sparks ★★★★

No ★★★1/2

Broken ★★
In the Fog ★★
Alois Nebel ★★

God Bless America ★★1/2

Mine Games

Friday, August 24, 2012

2012 KOFFIA Review: War of the Arrows (Han-min Kim, 2011)

I was lucky enough to be invited along to the Opening Night of the Korean Film Festival in Australia on Wednesday. The event was incredibly well run, and it is a tribute to Artistic Director Kieran Tully and the team of KOFFIA volunteers for getting this year's festival - which features a fantastic line-up - off to a great start. The film, War of the Arrows, commenced just after 6.30pm at Dendy Opera Quays with quests offered an assortment of alcoholic rice drinks and delicious canapes in the foyer. The introductory speeches were heartfelt and inspired and we were also privileged to a beautiful traditional dance performance.
Set during the second Manchu invasion in 17th Century Korea, War of the Arrows is an exciting action epic focusing on a brother and sister, Nam-Yi (Park Har-Il) and Ja-In (Moon Chae-Won), who are forced out of their village at a young age when it is invaded by the Manchu as a result of accused treason against their father. The seek refuge at a nearby town and are taken in by their father's friend. 

Jumping forward thirteen years, Nam-Yi is now an elite archer and hunter and Ja-In is set to marry the son of the man who took them in, Seo-goon (Kim Mu-yeol). With Nam-yi out in the mountains during their wedding ceremony, the Qing army invades the village, Ja-In and Seo-goon are captured and many villagers are slaughtered. Learning of their capture, Nam-yi sets out after the army, utilizing his superior bow skills to take out his enemies one by one in a desperate attempt to save his sister and ends up being pursued by Qing commander Jyuushinta (Ryoo Seung-ryong) and his warrior squad.

This is an energetic, intense and action-packed film and edge of your seat entertainment. It is brimming with chase sequences, skirmishes and incredible arrow take-downs. On commercial release in Korea it became a box office hit. Forming one long chase sequence, there is an unrelenting series of back-to-back action set pieces that continue to evolve and change with the landscape. A pumping score maintains the heart-pounding intensity, and the pace of the film is quite exhaustively up-tempo. Watch out for the thrilling struggle on the side of a cliff, and a climactic Mexican Standoff. 

Though the film started out slow and took some time to become engrossing, some of the skirmishes are extraordinary. They do take some work to process, because they are at times erratically shot and over-edited, and become a little repetitious (the film is a tad too long), but it will remains an important blockbuster in Korean cinema and will surely be influential within the genre for years to come. 

2012 MIFF Diary - Day 4

Day 4 - Saturday

Sam and I joined Cam for breakfast on Degraves St. Thinking back, there was only two days where I didn't eat there. It was the choice for breakfast/lunch. After being interrupted by some heavy rain which managed to infiltrate the fortress of umbrellas in the centre of the street we headed for Greater Union Cinemas on Russell Street. I had seen films here in the past, but had neglected to describe the unique experience that watching a film at GU is.

I was seeing First Position, the first of four films in the GU seats - the enormously uncomfortable cushions that suck out your soul - and this was a concern. Also scheduled for the day was Ruby Sparks (directly following First Position) and Berberian Sound Studio (directly following Ruby Sparks). First Position was the award-winning documentary which follows a number of young and talented ballet dancers from all over the world vying for recognition and elite scholarships at the Youth American Grand Prix. I missed it at Sydney Film Fest. (SFF) and heard great things. Sam and Cam were seeing Undefeated, a film I did see at SFF and absolutely adored.

First Position - This inspiring, crowd-pleasing and cleverly conceived documentary is a tribute to the devotion to realising dreams. First Position, directed by Bess Kargman, chronicles six youngsters of different ages as they strain their bodies to the limit in competition for a spot in the final of the Youth America Grand Prix. We are privileged to the dramatic back stories of several young ballet dancers - Aran, Michaela, Jules, Miko, Joan and Rebecca - and given insight into their upbringing and childhood, their rigorous training, their backstage preparations and their emotions immediately after performing.

We understand the sacrifices these talented young people have made, are moved by their courage to overcome self-doubt, disappointment and even serious injury and credit their hard work and determination. First Position is an engrossing, heartwarming documentary and like all great non-fiction films, transcends the subject matter. It culminates in a familiar final showdown - the Grand Prix - with all of the children arriving on the big stage. The stakes are high, and the panel of judges - representatives of major dance companies and academies - could offer them a career path. I was nearly brought to tears by these compelling stories, and it is a film that rewards emotional investment. ★★★★ (B+)
Straight out from First Position I met up with Cam and Sam again. We grabbed a coffee and jumped in the line for Ruby Sparks.