Thursday, June 30, 2011

Monthly Round-Up: Best Films I Saw in June

Well June is over, and we hit the halfway point of the year. This is my 257th post of the year, which means I am on pace to surpass 500 posts. That's pretty intense. I have watched, by my calculations, 167 films so far this year, which is a little less than a film a day. That's not to the level of some bloggers around, but I have reviewed or posted on nearly all of these. Though, the more films you review, the less time you have to watch them.

Quite a high volume of them have been new releases, and I feel pretty good about my coverage of 2011 so far. I feel like I have seen everything I have needed to see, and some that I wish I hadn't. In the next week or so, I'll be uploading my 'Best Films from the First Half of 2011' list, which will be feature some truly outstanding cinema, and some Half Yearly Awards of some description. I haven't thought too much about it yet, but check back to see what I come up with.

I had a lot of fun at the Sydney Film Festival watching multiple films a day, and meeting some great new people. I hope you all enjoyed my Festival coverage. It was quite exhausting work, but well worth it. The only film from the Festival I haven't reviewed is The Tree of Life, which will come shortly. Hopefully, after all this time (well, two weeks) I can create a fresh response to this widely discussed film.

I considered, for the month of July, working through the 30 Day Movie Challenge. I might hold off until August/September though. There are still plenty of new releases to cover each week, and I am also thinking of working through the notable films of Krzysztof Kielslowski and Henri Georges Clouzot, two directors that interest me very much. I love the White/Blue/Red Trilogy, but I have been meaning to see The Decalogue and The Double Life of Veronique for some time. As for Cluzot, Diabolique is top of the list.

I saw a total of 35 films in June. Find out my 'Essential Viewing' selections after the jump...

Releases 30/06


The Australian cinema releases today could not be more different. I mean, Terrence Malick's Palme d'Or winning film The Tree of Life and Michael Bay's likely-repulsive Transformers: Dark of the Moon are both hitting cinemas. Come on! A film from one of my favourite directors, and from one I loathe. I actually saw Tree of Life at the Sydney Film Festival earlier in the month, and it really is one of the most amazing films I have ever experienced. Seriously, you have seen nothing like it before. On a technical level, it is an absolute masterpiece. Every frame is stunningly beautiful, the editing is insane, the score is chilling. The plot (yes there is one, despite its rejection of traditional narrative structure and minimal use of dialogue) is totally engaging, and the performances of Brad Pitt and Hunter McCracken are superb. Some have called it meandering and pretentious. Yeah, it's a bit of that too. But to honour Malick's lofty ambitions alone, you must see this film. It is quite an exhausting film to analyse and absorb in a single viewing, hence my decision to watch it again before I complete my review. Also released are the Michael Winterbottom/Steve Coogan/Rob Brydon collaboration, The Trip, and the Jim Carrey film Mr Popper's Penguins.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Great Film Scores: The Fog of War (Phillip Glass)

Having just watched two fascinating documentaries by Errol Morris, I am in awe of this man's work. Both The Thin Blue Line and The Fog of War are completely gripping, and often shocking, insights into the nature of reliable justice and understanding modern warfare, respectively.

Both films are wonderfully scored by Phillip Glass, the composer also responsible for scoring Koyaanisqatsi. I'm too tired to review The Fog of War tonight, though it is an absolute must see, so I'll upload my favourite piece from Glass' score from the film. Hope you enjoy!

Short Review: The Thin Blue Line (Errol Morris, 1988)

Renowned documentarian Errol Morris' (The Fog of War, and recently Tabloid) most famous documentary (or 'non fiction' film as it was considered by the Academy) is the groundbreaking investigative work, The Thin Blue Line. This compelling insight into a tale of tragically misguided justice reviews the case of Randal Dale Adams, an Ohio man who was convicted and sentenced to death row for the 1976 shooting murder of Police Officer Robert Wood in Dallas. Wood had pulled over a car that had not been using headlights, only to be shot by the driver as he approached the vehicle.

Adams' case is reviewed throughout the duration of the film as the crime is recreated a number of times. The evidence is presented and Morris interviews both Adams and the David Harris, the 16 year-old juvenile believed to have been accompanying Adams on the night, and the one who identified him as the killer. What is extraordinary, is that what Morris uncovered in his interviews (new testimonies from the detectives involved in prosecuting Adams, Adams' legal attorneys and the notable witnesses who testified at the convicting trial) and ultimately presented in his 98 minute documentary, led to Adams' release a year later. The man served 12 years in prison and came within 72 hours of being put to death. Quite extraordinary.

New Release Review: Kung-Fu Panda 2 (Jennifer Yuh Nelson, 2011)

It's been a few years now since I saw Kung Fu Panda (2008), but I remember it being a lot of fun and a surprise hit from Dreamworks, whose most notable releases prior were ANTZ (1998) and Shrek (2001). With How to Train Your Dragon last year, Dreamworks started to bridge the mighty gap between themselves and Pixar. I would argue, with this enjoyable action-packed sequel, that they have easily surpassed Pixar's latest, Cars 2. Jack Black returns to provide the voice for the loveable Po and a stellar voice cast, headlined by the addition of the great Gary Oldman, joins him again. Kung Fu Panda 2, directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson from a screenplay by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, is exhilarating and recommended holiday viewing. It screened at the Cannes Film Festival prior to its Australian premiere at the Sydney Film Festival, where it ended up finishing second in the audience voting.

This time around, Po (Jack Black) is searching for the truth to his identity and trying to rid China of an evil peacock, Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), who has set out to reclaim rule of Gongmen City. He plans to destroy the tradition of kung-fu and utilise his newly acquired weapon to conquer China. Meanwhile, in the Valley of Peace, Po is living the dream as the Dragon Warrior. Viewed as a celebrity around town, Po protects the Valley alongside fellow kung-fu masters Tigress, Monkey, Mantis, Viper and Crane (voiced by Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu and David Cross). Po is informed by Grand Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) that he is yet to find inner peace, a spiritual realm he will be unable to access while the mystery of his parents plagues him. When wolf bandits trying to steal refined metal for Lord Shen attack the Valley, Po and his colleagues retaliate by setting out for Gongmen City to infiltrate Shen's Tower.

Monday, June 27, 2011

New Release Review: Cars 2 (John Lasseter, 2011)

John Lasseter's Cars (2006) was widely considered to be weakest film in the resume of the mighty Pixar. It is unfortunate to say, having now watched Cars 2, that this disappointing sequel has surpassed it's predecessor and stands as close to the precipice of being a failure as I hope the studio ever comes to. For the first time I will be actively recommending a Dreamworks release over a Pixar one, finding out today that Kung Fu Panda 2, the box office rival, is the superior film.

I am confident in assuming that nearly everybody, children and adults alike, love the films of Pixar. The studio has brought audiences animated masterpieces such as Toy Story (1995), Finding Nemo (2003), Ratatouille (2006), Wall-E (2008) and Up (2009). Everything except for Cars, I guess. While Cars 2 is not a terrible film, actually the animation is stunning, it is unlikely to keep anyone outside of the 8-13 age bracket actively engaged throughout. It is too long and too violent for the tiny tots and unnaturally has very little that will appeal to their parents.

While I am continually surprised and amazed by what the studio produces, it just disappointing to see a film fall well below my usual expectations. Despite how it seems, my opinion of the film is not influenced by placing it in comparison to Pixar's other films. I genuinely consider it to be an average film. Despite its large $200 Million budget, the opening weekend revenue for Cars 2 placed it at the top in the U.S, with the majority of its profits likely to emerge through merchandising. I can only assume that the premise of this sequel was backed by the hot property of Lightning McQueen merchandise and not the desire to further explore this world.

The Worst Film of All Time?

Last night, for a bit of fun, my friend and I decided to watch the worst film we could find. After some deliberation, and dismissing films like The Happening and Don't Mess with the Zohan, we came up with Batman and Robin. Oh Joel Schumacher, what were you thinking? It's an absolute disaster from the opening seconds, but at least it produced a few amused scoffs. 

Not being one to readily surrender myself to awful films, here are 9 more recent-ish films that spring to mind for being nothing short of atrocious (no, I haven't seen Battlefield Earth): 

Freddy Got Fingered - Unbearable. 

The Room - The Citizen Kane of bad movies? Too right. Hey, it's also the most fun you will have in a cinema. 

Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen - A tough choice between this and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. They came out a week apart in 2009. I saw both.

Clash of the Titans - What were Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes thinking? The worst use of 3D I have seen in a film to date too. 

Your Highness - You can read my review here. Nothing works. Nothing at all.

Wild Wild West - It does star Salma Hayek, but that giant spider thing is just too much.

Max Payne - Why do studios endeavour making films based on video games? Or theme park rides for that matter...

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End - The most anticlimactic final battle in the history of cinema.

Armageddon - More Bay. Why not? 

So, what is the worst film you have ever put yourself through? 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Monday Links (27/06)

Monday links...on a Sunday! Yeah, I was itching to post.

It's been a pretty quiet week, one predominantly spent working and completing my final reviews from the SFF. I also caught an early screening of The Trip, watched the hotly-anticipated Of Gods and Men and re-watched Blue Valentine and 127 Hours, which I had recently purchased on DVD. My challenge tomorrow is to catch Cars 2 and Kung-Fu Panda 2. Reviews to be posted over the next few days.

In the meantime, be sure to check out these great sites:

My buddy Sam Bowron is back. He has written a review of Lawnmower Man for Digital Retribution.

Andrew Robinson reviews The Maltese Falcon on Anomalous Material. He had a similar response to me. I thought it failed to live up to its quite substantial reputation. Paolo reviews Submarine, the Richard Ayoade film I'm looking forward to seeing, and Castor shares his thoughts on X-Men: First Class.

CS @ Big Thoughts from A Small Mind is compiling a personal 'Must-See' list entirely from the recommendations of fellow bloggers. Head over there and help him out. He is also great at pitting actors/actresses/directors against one another and asking the community to decide who's better from a select filmography. This week he has chosen Rachel Weiss vs. Jennifer Connelly (so tough).

Thomas Caldwell's review of Sleeping Beauty for Cinema Autopsy is one of the most insightful analyses of this film you are likely to find.

Stevee @ Cinematic Paradox took on a tough task this week and watched these films...The Green Hornet, Yogi Bear, Dorian Gray and Sanctum. This might be her contribution to Hatter's King of Pain!

Dan @ Dan the Man's Movie Reviews manages to review at least one film per day. A solid effort. This week he reviewed Three Kings.

Sam Fragoso @ Duke and the Movies had the new releases covered this week, he reviewed The Tree of Life, Bad Teacher and Cars 2.

I want to say a huge thank you to Cherokee, who has become a regular reader and commenter. Be sure to check out her blog, Femininsing Film.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Duelling Michael Caines

Hello everyone. I have decided to take a couple of days off from posting on Film Emporium. Though over the weekend I might try and squeeze in a screening of Kung Fu Panda 2 after reading Thomas Caldwell's review at Cinema Autopsy. I'll be back with the regular 'Monday Links' post. So, for now, I leave you with a scene from The Trip that recently made me laugh. Have a great weekend!

New Release Review: Of Gods and Men (Xavier Beauvois, 2010)

As a result of its worldwide acclaim and success at the French Film Festival earlier in the year, Of Gods and Men has been playing steadily in selected Sydney cinemas for nearly a month now. Having been eager to see it following the universal praise, I finally managed to catch a screening. Directed by Xavier Beauvoix from a screenplay by Etienne Comar, Of Gods and Men premiered at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Grand Prix, the second most prestigious award. In addition it was nominated for Best Film and Best Cinematography at the 23rd European Film Awards and received the 2010 National Board of Review Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Of Gods and Men centres on the Monastery of Tibhirine, where nine Trappist monks live in harmony with the nearby villages of the largely Muslim population of Algeria, until seven of them were kidnapped and believed to have been assassinated by the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria in May 1996. The film focuses on the preceding chain of events, including the decay of government, expansion of extremist terrorism and the monks' confrontations with both the terrorists and the government authorities that resulted in their tragic deaths. 

The majority of the film is devoted to documenting their extraordinary courage when faced with the violent overthrow of the formerly peaceful situation between the local Christians and Muslims, and both their individual and collective deliberation on whether to remain in the high risk situation. They must choose whether to persist with their faith and confidence in God and to remain loyal to the townsfolk who have come to rely on their presence and influence, or to flee the country out of fear for their lives.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

New Release Review: The Trip (Michael Winterbottom, 2010)

The Trip, directed by Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People), was originally aired as a six part BBC Television sitcom edited down to this feature length film. While I think the episodic nature of the premise (not to mention the film's length) would make it even more watchable in the shorter instalments, this loosely improvisational, wildly entertaining romp stars celebrated British comedians, Steve Coogan (BAFTA winner for his role in The Trip) and Rob Brydon. It is a follow up to the 2006 film, A Cock and Bull Story, also directed by Winterbottom and joins The Guard and Win Win as one of the funniest films of the year to date.

Commisioned 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, apparently the last choice amongst Coogan's mates to be travelling companion, to join him on a road trip after his girlfriend pulls out. Brydon’s chipper and relentless banter and Coogan’s doleful indifference to the job leads to a series of droll bickering, mock insults, recitals of Wordsworth and Coleridge and dueling impressions of movie stars in an attempt to outdo one another.

Releases 23/06

Australian cinemas are in for a busy day with four new releases. These are the the animated duo (oddly released on the same day, I assume for the school holidays) of Kung-Fu Panda 2 and Cars 2, Julia Leigh's Cannes selection, Sleeping Beauty and the vampire flick Stake Land. 

Kung-Fu Panda 2 - Po is now living his dream as The Dragon Warrior, projecting the Valley of Peace alongside his friends and fellow kung fu masters, The Furious Five. But Po's new life of awesomeness is threatened by the emergence of a formidable villain, who plans to use a secret, unstoppable weapon to conquer China and destroy kung fu. Po must look to his past and uncover the secrets of his mysterious origins; only then will he be able to unlock the strength he needs to succeed. I enjoyed Kung-Fu Panda, but I certainly haven't been hanging out for this sequel. Well received (83% on RT and runner-up in the audience voting at the SFF), it should be a enjoyable enough.

Cars 2 - Pixar have an almost flawless resume, but most Pixar fans will agree that Cars is their weakest film. By a substantial margin. This time round star race car Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and the incomparable tow truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) take their friendship to exciting new places when they head overseas to compete in the first-ever World Grand Prix to determine the world's fastest car. But the road to the championship is filled with plenty of potholes, detours and hilarious surprises when Mater finds himself torn between assisting Lightning McQueen in the high-profile race and towing the line in a top-secret mission orchestrated by master British super spy Finn McMissile (Michael Caine). Yawn. This actually seems like it is worth skipping.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

SFF Review: Senna (Asif Kapadia, 2011)

You don't have to be a Formula One fan to be brought to tears by Senna. This vibrant, engrossing, powerful and ultimately tragic portrayal of the life and untimely death of beloved sporting icon Ayrton Senna, from British director Asif Kapadia, is documentary filmmaking at its most exciting. Winner of the World Cinema Audience Award for Documentaries at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, Senna is essential viewing and will surely feature amongst the finest films of the year.

The film begins with Senna's arrival in Formula One stage in the mid 1980's, after leaving Brazil to compete on the international stage in go-karting. It follows Senna's struggles both on the track against his McLaren-Holden teammate and rival, French World Champion Alain Prost, and off it, against the internal politics of the sport. A fierce competitor, Senna accomplished incredible driving feats (notably holding the record for most pole positions and winning six times at the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix) that would rank him amongst the greatest drivers who ever lived. Despite winning three Formula One World Championships between 1988 and 1991, his career was also riddled with numerous scandals and controversies.

Trailers: 'Moneyball' and 'A Dangerous Method'

Moneyball tells the story of Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane's successful attempt to put together a baseball club on a budget by employing computer-generated analysis to draft his players. Directed by Bennett Miller (Capote), from a screenplay by Steve Zaillian (Schindler's List) and Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network). Stars Brad Pitt, Robin Wright and Jonah Hill. I'm really not convinced that this looks like the Oscar contender many are speculating. 

A Dangerous Method, the new film from David Cronenberg (Eastern Promises), tells the tale of how the intense relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud gave birth to psychoanalysis. Despite featuring a cast of greats in Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender and Vincent Cassell, I sense Keira Knightley is set to ruin things...again. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

SFF Review: 13 Assassins (Takashi Miike, 2010)

Takashi Miike's 13 Assassins was the last film I saw at the 2011 Sydney Film Festival, and what an absolutely badass way to end the journey. With some of the most dazzling battle sequences you will ever witness accounting for nearly half of the film's running time, it is nothing short of epic. As a remake of Eiichi Kudo's 1963 film of the same name, Miike's film is a brutally intense, relentless, bloody assault on the senses. With a heartfelt tale of justice, revenge, honour and redemption amidst the waning era of the Samurai in Feudal Japan at the core of the story, the battle choreography is near-unfathomable and the meticulous intricacies taken into account to maintain continuity within the roaring chaos is astounding.

Set during Feudal Japan, the nation is terrorised by the sadistic Lord Naritsugu who rapes, tortures and kills at will. He is the former Shogun's son and the current Shogun's younger brother, so his political connections dictate him as being untouchable. When news of his heinous crimes spread, a senior government official fears Naritsugu's rise to a higher political position and secretly hires master samurai Shinzaemon Shimada (Koji Yajusho) to assassinate him.

SFF Review: Armadillo (Janus Metz, 2010)

Following the screening of Armadillo at Cannes in 2010, where it took out the Grand Prix de la Semaine, the gripping and highly authentic war drama sparked furious controversy and debate in Denmark. Politicians and senior members of the military commissioned an inquiry into events it shows. The centre of the controversy is the behaviour of certain Danish soldiers during a shootout with Taliban near the conclusion of the film, raising the possibility that the men broke the rules of engagement. The film is made up of coverage similar to what was documented in Restrepo, though stylistically heightened by the exceptional editing by Per K. Kirkegaard, a throbbing soundtrack and post-production colour filters.

In February 2009, a group of Danish soldiers accompanied by documentary filmmaker Janus Metz arrived at Armadillo, an army operating base in the South Afghan province of Helmand, home to 170 Danish and British soldiers. Repeatedly putting their life on the line to collect the footage, Metz and his cameraman Lars Skree spent six months following the lives of the young soldiers situated less than a kilometre away from known Taliban positions. The film opens with the young soldiers at home with their families preparing to leave to the front for the first time. Following a farewell party with a stripper and some teary goodbyes at the airport, the inexperienced young men are thrust onto the war front.

Monday, June 20, 2011

SFF Review: The Beaver (Jodie Foster, 2011)

Following his anti-Semetic outburst and the abuse of his partner, Mel Gibson's public image turned to one of disgrace. I have to admit, I am not a Gibson fan. He has since found himself on an ever-quickening treadmill in his attempts to win back the affections of his admirers. There was rumour he was to have a cameo in The Hangover 2, but even that fizzled out. Gibson is back in The Beaver, an offbeat dramatic comedy directed by Jodie Foster. The question is: does he still have the confidence and the acting chops required to draw sympathy and win over audiences both for his character and for himself?

Gibson plays Walter Black, the CEO of a failing toy manufacturer who is suffering from a middle age crisis and depression-riddled breakdown. Unable to connect with his wife and sons, he is an antisocial wreck who takes to sleeping all day. When his wife Meredith (Jodie Foster) finally asks him to leave, he moves into a hotel, binges and then attempts suicide. When he wakes up, pulling the television off himself, he realises he is able to freely communicate through a different persona, one that is projected through a Beaver hand-puppet he mysteriously possesses and decides not to throw away. Speaking with a new accent, which is a cross between ocker-Aussie and Michael Caine, he asks to be addressed as The Beaver, revealing how Walter is feeling to Meredith and his children through this liberating intermediary.

SFF Review: Jane Eyre (Cary Fukunaga, 2011)

For the umpteenth film/television adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's classic 1847 novel, American filmmaker Cary Fukunaga (Sin Nobre), directing just his second feature, is the man at the helm. Jane Eyre stars Mia Wasikowska (The Kids Are All Right) as the title heroine and Michael Fassbender (Hunger) as Edward Rochester. Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot), Dame Judy Dench (Notes on a Scandal) and Sally Hawkins (Happy Go Lucky) co star. The film is a joint distribution between BBC Films and Focus Features and is released in Australian cinemas on August 11.

The story is largely presented through flashbacks, which proved confusing for some of my friends who had not read the book. Having only seen parts of the Jane Eyre television miniseries, I knew enough to understand where these early sequences came in the story's chronology. I thought it was quite a thoughtful way to present the story. Opening with Jane's leave from Thornfield Manor in the early morning, the hand-held camera tracks her across the barren countryside, across the fog-swept plains and eventually to the rain-soaked moors where she finds herself inconsolable and nearing death. She stumbles across the cottage of St. John Rivers (Bell) and his two sisters, where she is taken care of until her health returns.

Monday Links (20/06)

I continued my SFF odyssey this week with a bunch more phenomenal films. Project Nim, A Separation, The Tree of Life, Win Win, Take Shelter, Senna, Armadillo and 13 Assassins are all must-sees. Film adaptations of Norwegian Wood and Jane Eyre (both of which I haven't read) received a divided response from myself. Despite admiring the gorgeous visuals of Norwegian Wood, I could not get into the story.

I guess the biggest news of the week is the announcement by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). Instead of ten Best Picture Nominees, the number of nominees will be between five and ten and the exact number, differing from year to year, will be announced on the same day when the nominees themselves are revealed. It has been determined that 5% of first place votes should be the minimum in order to receive a nomination. What are your thoughts on this surprise decision?

Check out the excellent work by my dear friends (after the jump):

Closing Night of the SFF/Top 10 Films

Well, the 2011 Sydney Film Festival is over, with the event concluding tonight at the State Theatre with a screening of Beginners, starring Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer. I instead watched the Takashi Miike bloodbath, 13 Assassins, which was totally bad-ass and the perfect way to end the journey.

While the last 12 days have sped by, The Troll Hunter sure seems like months ago. The winner of the Official Competition Prize of $60,000 dollars was Asghar Farhadi's wonderful film A Separation. I think the Jury, led by Chen Kaige, got it right. It would have been my choice too.

Well, as I set out to do, I did manage to see 20 films throughout the duration of the Festival (including a screening of Super 8), and I have been working through reviews on each of them. You will notice that I missed Tree of Life. I will complete an extensive review of that film following a second screening of the film following its June 30 Australian release. But, reviews of Jane Eyre, The Beaver, Senna, Armadillo and 13 Assassins will be posted over the next two/three days or so, so keep checking in to see my thoughts on them.

What a treat it was to experience some of these films amongst sell-out crowds. While there were a few disappointments, nearly every film met or exceeded my expectations. Likely to be amongst the best films I see all year, here are my 10 Favourite Films from the SFF:

10. 13 Assassins
9. The Guard
8. Win Win
7. Take Shelter
6. Cave of Forgotten Dreams
5. Martha Marcy May Marlene
4. Project Nim
3. A Separation 
2. The Tree of Life
1. Senna

Saturday, June 18, 2011

SFF Review: Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols, 2011)

Jeff Nichols' second feature film, Take Shelter, which he both wrote and directed, is close to a masterpiece. With a deeply resonating sense of unease that encompasses its entirety, this slow-burning thriller follows the plaguing effects that a series of apocalyptic dreams have on a young husband and father. It dwells on the effects it has on his family's quality of life and how they manage to endure the terrifying trauma. Take Shelter, certainly one of the frontrunners for the Official Competition at the Sydney Film Festival, was also selected to screen in Critics Week at Cannes, where it took out the Jury Prize.

Curtis LaForce (Michael Shannon) lives in a small town in Ohio with his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and hearing-impaired daughter, Hannah. Curtis makes a modest living as a crew chief for a sand-mining company while Samantha works as a part-time seamstress supplementing their income by selling home-made wares at a flea market on the weekend. Money is tight, and managing Hannah's healthcare and special needs education is tough. The benefits of Curtis' professional health insurance ensure they can afford Hannah's cochlear implant. While Curtis is a loving family man and devoted husband, he is also quietly suffering from a series of vivid, terrifying, nightmarish dreams of an approaching apocalyptic storm.

'Melancholia' and 'Drive' Headline New MIFF Selections

With the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) set to run between July 21 and April 7, 25 new features, all of which played at the Cannes Film Festival in May, have been added to an already stellar lineup.

They include (courtesy of Quickflix):

Beauty (Oliver Hermanus)
Drive (Nicholas Winding Refn)
Elena (Andrei Zvyagintsev)
El Velador (Natalia Almada)
Footnote (Joseph Cedar)
Goodbye (Mohammed Rasoulof)
Guilty of Romance (Sion Sono)
Hanezu (Naomi Kawase)
Le Havre (Aki Kaurismaki)
Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin)
Melancholia (Lars Von Trier)
Michael (Markus Schleinzer)
Michael Petrucciani (Michael Radford)
Once Upon A Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
Outside Satan (Bruno Dumont)
Play (Ruben Ostlund)
Polisse (Maiwenn le Besco)
Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols)
Tatsumi (Eric Koo)
The Day He Arrives (Hong Sang-soo)
The Giants (Bouli Lanner)
The Kid With The Bike (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
The Silence of Joan (Philippe Ramos)
The Yellow Sea (Na Hong-Jin)
Toomelah (Ivan Sen)

Films already confirmed to be playing at the MIFF are Richard Ayoade's Submarine, and Lena Dunham's Tiny Furniture, both making their Australian debut at the Festival. Other notable flicks making the journey to Melbourne following screenings at the Sydney Film Festival are A Separation (the Golden Bear winner), The Turin Horse, Jane Eyre, Norwegian Wood, 13 Assassins, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Project Nim, Beats, Rhymes and Life The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest, Senna and Life in A Day. The Opening Night film is yet to be named, but the announced Closing Night film is Kriv Stenders' Red Dog. I wish I could follow my SFF experience with a trip to Melbourne but I likely couldn't go for more than a couple of days. If Melancholia, Drive and Submarine are playing in close proximity, it could be too good to resist.

SFF Review: Norwegian Wood (Tran Anh Hung, 2010)

A cinematic adaptation of Norwegian Wood, the 1987 best-selling novel from Haruki Murakami, has long been anticipated. Vietnamese filmmaker Tran Anh Hung (Cylco) is the man who has brought the delicate and tragic tale to the life. Norwegian Wood was in contention for the Golden Lion at the 2010 Venice Film Festival but has picked up a few accolades - notably Best Cinematography at the Asian Film Awards and Best Composer for Johnny Greenwood at the Dubai International Film Festival. While the film looks incredible, unfortunately it is one of the few unremarkable experiences of the Sydney Film Festival so far.

Set in the late-60's when Tokyo universities were rife with political unrest, Watanabe (Kenichi Matsuyama) is a quiet, reclusive student whose deepening relationship with the emotionally fragile Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi, Babel) is haunted but fuelled by the spectre of a shared tragedy, the suicide of Watanabe's best friend and Naoko's boyfriend, Kizuki. Caught between Naoko's emotional breakdown and geographical retreat and the expanding and exciting world of his college life, Watanabe's loyalty is tested by his outgoing and sexually active roommate and Midori (Kio Mizuhara), a sexy, enchanting and free spirited girl he meets on campus.

SFF Review: Elite Squad 2: The Enemy Within (Jose Padilha, 2010)

Elte Squad 2: The Enemy Within is a 2010 Brazilian film produced and directed by Jose Padilha. It is the sequel to the 2007 film, The Elite Squad. Having been highly acclaimed both publicly and critically, Elite Squad 2, co-written by Braulio Mantovani (City of God), centres on the Special Police Operation Battalion of the Rio de Janiero Military Police (BOPE). It is Brazil's highest grossing film of all time and from my understanding of this film, it is not imperative to see the first film prior. It won the Golden Bear in at the Berlin Film Festival in 2008.

The main character is Lt Col. Robert Nascimento (Wagner Moura), who returns from the first film but has now matured and been promoted. It is revealed in the prologue that he will be the target for assassination for his involvements at some point later in the film, as his car cops the brunt of heavy gunfire. Following a disastrous BOPE operation attempting to extinguish a brutal prison riot, Nascimento gets caught in a bloody political dispute that not only involves the Public Safety Department, the State Governor and State Military Police, but also rising corrupt paramilitary groups known as Militia.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Trailer: Bellflower

Courtesy of Blake at Bitchin' Film Reviews I was made aware of the trailer for Bellflower, another film thats been killing since its screening at Sundance earlier in the year. Check it out:

Thursday, June 16, 2011

SFF Review: Win Win (Thomas McCarthy, 2011)

I really need to see more of Thomas McCarthy's films. If his other films, The Station Agent and The Visitor, are as good as Win Win I have been seriously missing out. Some critics, though enjoying the film, have labelled Win Win 'uncharacteristically safe' for the McCarthy resume. Sure, it does rely on some coincidences and it does all round up in a neat little package. But as a freshly unique, poignant, funny (hilarious at times) and heartwarming tale, Win Win is a delightful, well acted comedy/drama. It's a 'winner' all the way. Okay, that was lame. But it's true.

A huge hit at the Sundance Film Festival, Win Win is the story of Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) a lowly, disheartened New York solicitor struggling to keep his ailing business afloat and adequately support his wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) and two daughters. He moonlights as one of the wrestling coaches (along with Jeffrey Tambor's Vigman) for New Providence High School, where he has watched his team slip into an epic losing streak.

SFF Review: Three (Tom Tykwer, 2010)

Perhaps it was the fact that Three was my third straight screening of the day and was viewed following Project Nim and A Separation, but I really struggled to dedicate my interest to Tom Tykwer's new film. It took some time to become acquainted with the peculiar style this film adopts, the rather confusing opening minutes and the uneven mix of romantic comedy and erotic drama that ensues haphazardly and in predictable fashion.

Tykwer is also a filmmaker whose films I am yet to be rapt in either. His biggest international hit is without a doubt Run Lola Run (1998), but his most recent cinematic endeavours have been Perfume: Story of a Murderer (2006) and The International (2009). The former being a film I disliked immensely. Why did I consider seeing this film in the first place? Well, considering Tykwer is a well regarded filmmaker, I thought I'd give him another go.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Releases 16/06

Released in Australian cinemas tomorrow are Bridesmaids and Little White Lies.  

Bridesmaids - Kristen Wiig leads the cast as Annie, a maid of honour whose life unravels as she leads her best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), and a group of colourful bridesmaids (Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy, Wendi McLendon-Covey and Ellie Kemper) on a wild ride down the road to matrimony. Sitting at 89% on Rotten Tomatoes (come on!), it's been massively hyped, so don't go in with too high of expectations. I certainly didn't dig it. My review of Bridesmaids

Little White Lies - Pulled big, big numbers at the French Film Festival, but the responses have been mixed. Eight friends who are setting into middle age have for years observed an annual tradition where they get together to enjoy some vacation time. However, fate has put a damper on this year's gathering when one of the group, Ludo (Jean Dujardin), ends up in the hospital after an auto accident. His friends decide to go away together anyway, but Ludo's troubles portend a week of difficult feelings and awkward situations. 

Weekly Recommendation: Well I can't recommend Bridesmaids, though it has some moments (some exceedingly overlong moments actually), so I'm going with Little White Lies. OR you could catch something that isn't already sold out at the Sydney Film Festival. Senna on Sunday anyone?

SFF Review: A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011)

A Separation, written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, earlier this year became the first Iranian film to win the Golden Bear at the 2011 Berlin Film Festival. It also picked up Silver Bears for its wonderful ensemble cast. This compelling masterpiece, though relatively subtle and simple in its plot development, reveals stunning complexity in its portrayal of morality, class, gender and religion amidst the social, political, legal and psychological context of contemporary Iran. This is the best film I have seen so far this year.

As members of the upper middle class, and having been married for fourteen years, Nader (Peiman Ma'adi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) are on the verge of separation on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. The opening scene is an incredible single take as the couple plead the reasoning behind their divorce request to a judge presiding off camera. With the troubling social conditions prevailing, they have both acquired visas to emigrate from Iran.

Simin is anxious to ensure a better future for their bright ten-year-old daughter Termeh, but Nader refuses to leave his elderly father, who lives with the family and suffers from Alzheimer's Disease. With Nader firmly against leaving Iran, Simin files for a divorce, but the judge refuses to formalise their separation. Even from this opening scene you are certain that there will be powerful and gripping performances and emotionally resonating drama to follow. Heightened tension is built entirely through the dialogic exchanges between these wonderful actors.

New Release Review: Super 8 (J.J Abrams, 2011)

I'll start by saying that I loved almost all of Super 8, but I found myself rolling my eyes a little too often in the final third, which is the film's key substantial weakness. It was almost a great film, and while I respect J.J Abrams' ambitions and understand his intentions of once again providing audiences with a classic feel-good American Summer Blockbuster, Super 8 became so determined to be an homage that it's transition into a monster film was not as satisfying as one would have hoped. It insufficiently explained some of the questions that so effectively got me hooked.

It essentially requires the viewer to suspend their disbelief and not be put off by a bombardment of generic cliches. The evident implausibility of this story becomes apparent very early, but you should find yourself immediately warmed to the kids and want to see their story unfold. There is no doubt that this is one of the year's most entertaining films, and above all, this is the intention. Fans and admirers of 70's and 80's Spielberg will recognise Abrams' homage to these classics, and will undoubtedly be wrapped up in this film. It is very obvious that either J.J Abrams worships Spielberg's filmmaking, or Spielberg had even more influence than usual as a producer. J.J was clearly reminiscing on his childhood when he wrote the screenplay, deciding to centre the film on a group of kids making a short film on Super 8 cameras. This is where Super 8 wonderfully kicks off.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

SFF Review: Project Nim (James Marsh, 2011)

James Marsh's anticipated follow up to his 2008 Academy Award winning documentary, Man on Wire, is the extraordinary and riveting tale of a special chimpanzee named Nim. Project Nim intricately tracks the chimpanzee's life over a number of decades, following his selection in a 1970's linguistics experiment to be raised exclusively by humans to see if he could be taught to communicate using sign language.

Some scientists, Columbia University Professor Herbert Terrace included, believed that a chimp raised in a human family, and using ASL (American Sign Language) would shed light on the way that language is acquired by humans. Nim is taken by Terrace to a home on Manhattan's Upper West Side and placed in the care of his former sexual partner Stephanie LaFarge and her family.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Monday Links (13/06)

This week has been pretty crazy, but admittedly that was the easiest part of my lineup. Battling crappy weather, public transport and epic lines I have made it to six SFF screenings (The Troll Hunter, The Guard, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Sleeping Beauty, Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Even the Rain). I am yet to see an average film, though Sleeping Beauty was somewhat disappointing. The days to come are extremely busy, starting with three more films later today.

I also saw Super 8, which I dug. Really enjoyable Spielberg homage, with some really great child performances. I was captivated by them the entire time. Pity the final thirty minutes was a bit of a let down. Review for Super 8 will be posted soon.

This week's top chatter is after the jump...

SFF Review: Sleeping Beauty (Julia Leigh, 2011)

Living in Sydney sure is tough for Lucy (Emily Browning), a young, beautiful university student. This is especially true for someone who alienates herself from her university colleagues, and so explicitly refuses to conform to healthy social practices as she does. Lucy is on her own. As we discover later in the film, her mother is an abusive alcoholic, so Lucy is trying to pay for her university tuition by working a series of unfulfilling and low-paying professions.

Splitting her time between her work as a waitress at a restaurant, as an office assistant, and as a guinea-pig in medical tests, Lucy also drinks heavily, uses hard drugs and is often out the entire night consorting with dubious individuals and partaking in one night stands. Struggling to pay her rent, as her aggressive housemate frequently reminds her, the only place she finds peace is the home of her depressed and ill friend, Birdmann, where they live out his strange desires.

Desperate for money, and after spotting an add in the student paper, she decides to further utilise her unique beauty and accepts an invitation to the house of the elegant Clara (Rachael Blake), the Madame who runs an exclusive lingerie club, which doubles as a high-end prostitution business. The club services the affairs of wealthy (and elderly) clientele, with the girls working as scantily clad waitresses at a classy Chateau. But more strange, intimate encounters (and more degrading work) is on offer for Lucy, if she is consensual.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Poster for 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo'

I know plenty of other people have been posting this recently, but I needed a quick break from reviewing SFF films (next is Julia Leigh's Sleeping Beauty, but progress has been slow) and during my procrastination this poster caught me eye. I mean, how could it not? The marketing campaign for David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a very very good one. First the leaked trailer, and now this poster. WOW!

SFF Review: Even the Rain (Iciar Bollain, 2010)

Even the Rain, the winner of three 2010 Goya Awards and the Audience Award at the Berlin Film Festival is directed by Iciar Bollain. This powerful film centres on Sebastian (Gael Garcia Bernal, Amores Perros), a passionate and visionary director trying to shoot a revisionist drama about Christopher Columbus' conquest of the Americas, and Costa (Luis Tosar, Cell 211), his hard-nosed producer. Utilising the device of shooting a film within a film, Even the Rain chronicles the series of obstacles the film crew encounter during the process of making the film, the political unrest they are swept into, and the dramas that ensue when the men are forced to re-evaluate their priorities and question their moral obligations.

Sebastian's focus for his film are the experiences of Bartolome de las Casas and Antonion de Montesinos, who were so distraught over the treatment of the natives during the Columbus subjugation that they dedicate the rest of their lives to aiding their cause. Costa has chosen to shoot the film in Bolivia, South America's poorest country, to keep production costs down. The team arrives in Cochabamba with the agenda of hiring hundreds of Bolivian extras (on $2 a day) to play the native Indians.

Costa receives hostile protest from one man, Daniel (a great performance from an unknown Juan Carlos Aduviri), after Costa proclaims he would not see all of the locals seeking a job as an extra. Sebastian is so impressed by Daniel's outspoken and passionate leadership that he hires him to play a key role in the film. Sebastian and Costa soon realises that there is a serious water shortage crisis in Cochabamba, with the government deciding to privatise water and export it internationally. Gold, it seems, has become water.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

SFF Review: Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog, 2010)

Within the labyrinthine depths of the infamous Chauvet Cave in Southern France, legendary filmmaker and documentarian Werner Herzog questions, in his insightful, probing and above all, passionate narration, the origins of a pair of prints preserved next to one another on the cave floor. It is speculated that one was made by an eight year old boy, the other by a wolf. Was the wolf stalking the boy? Were they walking peacefully together? Or was each print created individually, thousands of years apart? We will never know. While he presents his own speculations so thoughtfully, questions to intriguing mysteries such as this one are raised by Herzog both to the host of eccentric scientists, palaeontologists, art historians and perfume specialists he interviews throughout, but are also left for the audience to ponder as we absorb the magic of his mesmerising 3D documentary, The Cave of Forgotten Dreams.

The Chauvet cave was named after Jean-Marie Chauvet, the explorer who made the monumental discovery in 1994. Herzog's interest in the cave was prompted by Judith Thurman's New Yorker article "First Impressions"; an inspiration that prompted him to get together a minimal crew and seek special permission from the French Minister of Culture to film his documentary. The cave is now carefully preserved, and because of the near-toxic levels of radon and carbon dioxide in parts of the cave, Herzog and his team were only able to film in the caves for a few hours a day, and under heavy restrictions.

SFF Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin, 2011)

My third film at the Sydney Film Festival was the hot product and eagerly anticipated Martha Marcy May Marlene, and it is easily the best one so far. The debut feature from writer/director Sean Durkin is an unsettling, yet completely compelling psychological drama. One could make a case in claiming this film to be of the horror genre too. Martha Marcy May Marlene premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, for which Durkin won the Festival 'Best Director' prize. It also recently screened in the Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival. No small feat.

With an ambiguous narrative that deftly balances past and present, assured direction from Sean Durkin, some striking wide lens cinematography and phenomenal performances, this is a captivating film experience that is not only relentlessly intense, but effortlessly overwhelms the audience with this feeling of dread. Well, that's how I felt, and judging by the rest of the audience, I was not alone. I guess it is hard to explain the feeling, but rest assured, you will be in awe of the exceptional filmmaking on display.

Martha Marcy May Marlene tells the story of Martha (the beautiful Elizabeth Olsen, younger sister to Mary-Kate and Ashley), a damaged and mentally imbalanced young woman who escapes from a destructive cult in rural New York and tries to reintegrate into a normal life with her estranged sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson). Having fled the commune and escaped through the nearby woods, Martha calls Lucy in a state of hysterics. Lucy asks no questions. She is just relieved to hear from her sister following her two year disappearance. She invites her to stay with her and her husband, Max (Hugh Dancy), at their spacious Connecticut holiday home.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

SFF Review: The Guard (John Michael McDonagh, 2011)

In The Guard, Brendan Gleeson plays Gerry Boyle, an unorthodox small town Irish Police Sergeant with a confrontational personality, a callous laziness towards his profession and a crass indifference to the laws he is supposed to uphold. Consequently he has not care whatsoever for his Cocaine-smuggling ring that brings an uptight FBI Agent (Don Cheadle) to his door requiring his assistance and stressing professionalism.

Writer/director John Michael McDonagh's hilarious black comedy is not only an amusing character study, but also a subversive twist on the buddy cop gene. A major hit at the Sundance Film Festival earlier in the year, Gleeson, who delivers what is likely to be one of the year's most memorable performances, effortlessly anchors the film.

Boyle nonchalantly patrols his small town and keeps most people at arms length. He passes the time by experimenting with the drugs he pulls off perpetrators, and has a fondness for prostitutes. He also has a dying mother (a fantastic Fionulla Flanagan), whom he shares some tender moments with. When a rare murder case pops up, Boyle is right there.

He and his new partner from Dublin, McBride, investigate a few useless leads. When McBride disappears and suspected to be dead, FBI Agent Wendell Everett turns up and raises the possibility that the two cases could be linked to a suspected drug trafficking ring. Boyle, despite some intentional early taunting, accepts Everett as his new partner and is unwillingly drawn into the case. With the rest of the bureau paid off by the gang, which includes Liam Cunningham and Mark Strong, it is left to the unlikely pair to take them down.

Releases 09/06

While half of Sydney's moviegoing population will be lining up to see films at the Sydney Film Festival, the other half will be flocking to see J.J Abrams' new flick, Super 8. While it looks to be one of the most original blockbusters of the season, and certainly the one I have been looking forward to the most, early reports are that it is a thoughtful, ambitious and entertaining film which feels like a nostalgic homage to the Spielberg classics of the 70's and 80's. The only other release this week is Oranges and Sunshine. 

SFF Review: The Troll Hunter (Andre Ovredal, 2010)

Well, the first film I saw at the 2011 Sydney Film Festival was Andre Ovredal's The Troll Hunter. In the tradition of The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, which the film shares similarities with, Ovredal's intriguing horror/documentary is of the 'Found Footage' genre. We learn in the opening credits that the coverage we are about to watch has remained undoctored and chronological, but edited down from the hours of footage that was discovered. A team of investigators researched the authenticity of the coverage, declaring it authentic.

Three ambitious Norwegian film students from Volda College, Thomas, Johanna and Kalle, set out to Western Norway to investigate a series of mysterious bear killings, focusing their documentary on an elusive bear poacher that goes by the name of Hans (Otto Jespersen). They interview a series of locals, who claim the man they speak of is tied to no such profession. Intrigued, they follow Hans, and on numerous occasions try to interview him. Despite his dismissal of their documentary, they persist, following him into the deep forest one night. They soon discover that the Government is using these bear attacks as a means of deterring public attention from the secret existence of formidable, and dangerous trolls.

A member of the TSS (Troll Security Service), Hans is Norway's only professional troll hunter. The Norwegian Government has protected regions in remote unpopulated territory to contain trolls. Humanity is not aware of their existence; believing troll related incidents (trampled trees, beaten cars and dead livestock) to be due to natural causes. Troll hunters are assigned to track and take down the trolls that have escaped their territories and threaten their exposure to humanity. The general public must be kept oblivious, which is no easy feat considering their rampant behaviour. Growing wearisome of his profession, and perhaps even starting to feel compassion for the creatures he is assigned to kill, the hardened, no-nonsense Hans decides to let his new companions accompany him on his missions and film the footage they now desire.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Tonight marks the opening night of the 2011 Sydney Film Festival, with Joe Wright's Hanna premiering at the beautiful State Theatre (above) at 7.30pm. I will not be attending Opening Night, instead seeing The Troll Hunter at Event Cinemas, George Street.

I'll outline the schedule of films (after the jump) I will be seeing over the course of the SFF and the reviews to expect on the days (or potentially weeks) following. I have a stretch there where I am seeing three films on Monday afternoon/night, working all day Tuesday, and then seeing two more Tuesday evening. Wish me luck during that stretch, people. 

New Release Review: Bridesmaids (Paul Feig, 2011)

I really need to trust my original instincts on films more often. For quite a while I had no intentions of seeing Bridesmaids, but after a string of glowing reviews, and claims that it was one of the funniest films to hit screens in a decade, my interest was piqued. When an opportunity presented itself to see this film, I willingly attended. What resulted was one of my most painful and frustrating experiences at the cinema this year.

Perhaps it takes the experience of being a Maid of Honour, or the stresses of marriage to appreciate how out-of-control these women get, but to enjoy Bridesmaids, I suggest you eliminate all rational thinking. The film has an unendurable quality, and very often tests your viewing patience. I found the film, overall, to be little more than the predictable standard romantic comedy/drama, but riddled with a series of extended crude gags that just didn't know when to stop. At least they give you something to discuss following the film, because I walked out trying to hide my feelings of bitterness and disappointment.

Bridesmaids centres on Annie (the talented Kristen Wiig) and the series of disastrous circumstances that follow her assignment as Maid of Honour to her recently engaged best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph). Annie and Lillian have been best friends since their childhood days in Milwaukee, where they still reside only a few blocks apart. It is evident from the early moments of this film that Annie's life is not ready to support this challenge.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Screenshots: Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009)

I love Inglourious Basterds. It is my favourite Quentin Tarantino film since Pulp Fiction. Tarantino, a man who is so aware of the history of cinema, fuses this extensive knowledge into this ingenious screenplay, with countless references. Essentially, the whole film is a homage to The Dirty Dozen too. Robert Richardson's cinematography is absolutely beautiful. The way that the colours pop off the screen, especially the red in the Nazi emblems and Melanie Laurent's dress, is incredible. The use of top lighting is also very effective. There are so many memorable sequences, but I think the thrilling bar sequence and the climax at the Parisian theatre are the most exceptional. Also, it features wonderful performances from Christoph Waltz and Melanie Laurent. Rather than closely examine the film in preparation for a review, I prefer to just enjoy it. I have lost count of the amount of times I have seen it now. 

After the jump, some of the film's most memorable screenshots:


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.

Monday, June 6, 2011

New Release Review: Los Olos De Julia [Julia's Eyes] (Guillem Morales, 2010)

Julia's Eyes is a Spanish psychological horror thriller, and the closing night selection at the 2011 Spanish Film Festival. Though directed by Guillem Morales and starring Belen Rueda (The Orphanage), it is Guillermo Del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth) whose name is highlighted on all the promotional material. I don't know the extent of his involvement in the project, but the film is let down by an incoherent and predictable screenplay that struggles to remain engaging throughout the lengthy running time. Effectively utilising a number of traditional horror techniques and applying several ambitious misdirections, the evidently large production budget also ensured the film's stylish cinematography was exceptional.

Julia (Rueda) is suffering from an inherited medical condition that is slowly robbing her eyesight. Her twin sister Sara shares the same affliction and has recently undergone an unsuccessful operation to reverse her transition into blindness. When Julia learns of her sister's death by suicide, she refuses to believe the police report. Along with her husband Isaac (Luis Homar), Julia begins questioning Sara's neighbours and retracing her recent past in search of a mysterious male friend who may be involved in her death. The stress of the loss and the unpleasant events that start to happen around her causes Julia's eyesight to rapidly diminish. She is tormented by an 'Invisible Man', and suffers several chilling confrontations in her attempts to unravel the mystery.