Sunday, July 31, 2011

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

Well July is over, and I am now only days away from my short excursion to Melbourne for the last three days of the Melbourne International Film Festival, which has been running since July 21. Several bloggers have been covering the Festival extensively since day one, and it sounds like everyone is surviving the fatigue and catching some great films. Be sure to check out Movie Reviews by Tom Clift, Cinema Autopsy, The Reel Bits, Quickflix DVD and Movie Blog and Stale Popcorn for great coverage.

I watched a heap of films this month that I had never seen before. Highlights certainly included All About Eve, The Wages of Fear, The Double Life of Veronique, The Player and Talk to Her. Some of these films are by Henri-Georges Clouzot and Krzysztof Kieslowski, the two directors I decided to focus on this month. While it has been slow going, I have caught up with Kieslowski in the last week or so, watching Veronique, and the Troi Couleurs Trilogy: Bleu/Blanc/Rouge. As for Clouzot, in addition to The Wages of Fear, I watched the only film I could find readily available, Les Diaboliques.

On the 'new releases' front, it was a quiet couple of weeks in between the viewings of Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. I managed only to catch the unspectacular Oranges and Sunshine during that time. But, more recently I caught six films, starting with the mediocre Beautiful Lies and 5 Days of War and ending stronger with Meek's Cutoff and Hanna. I hope to see L'illusionniste and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil this week before going to MIFF.

My next Director of the Month, I have decided, will be Robert Altman. After watching The Player the other day, and having only seen Gosford Park prior, I feel I need to see more of his films. Throughout August I intend to watch M*A*S*H, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Nashville and Short Cuts.

Last week I also surpassed 100,000 page views, which I thought was quite a feat. I would like to thank a bunch of fellow bloggers who frequently visit my blog and comment on my posts:

Sam Fragoso from Duke and the Movies
Castor from Anomalous Material
James Blake Ewing from Cinema Sights 
Steven Flores from Surrender to the Void 
Toby from Blah Blah Blah Gay - A Movie Review Blog 
Ruth from Lets Be Splendid About This 
Nikhat from Being Norma Jean 
Stevee Taylor from Cinematic Paradox
Custard from Front Room Cinema
Bonjour Tristesse from Bonjour Tristesse
Jack from Jack L Film Reviews
Movie Guy Steve from 1001Plus
Tom Clift from Movie Reviews by Tom Clift
Nicholas Prigge from Cinematic Romantico
Anna from Split Reel
Mad Hatter from Dark of the Matinee
Simon Columb from Screen Insight
Courtney Small from Big Thoughts from a Small Mind
Cherokee from Feminising Film
D.R from The Lennox Files

I watched a total of 33 Films in July. Find out my 'Essential Viewing' selections after the jump...

Go, See, Talk's "Double Feature Theatre" Blog-a Thon

This was hastily published as part of Go, See Talk's most recent blog-a-thon, in which we were challenged to come up with a week's worth of double features (with a triple-feature on the Sunday). Check out what the rest of the participants came up with here


The Wicker Man / Shutter Island

Two top-notch horror/thrillers that strikingly resemble one another.

Quick Film Reviews (July)

There were a couple of films I have seen recently that I couldn't muster up the energy to write about. Here are my slightly-longer-than-140-character reviews.

The Player (5/5) - A masterpiece. A dark, cynical look at show business, masterfully directed by Robert Altman. The infamous opening sequence is truly a marvel, and Tim Robbins has never been better as a slick studio executive whose life becomes tumultuous when he accidentally kills a disgruntled screenwriter. Also features a seemingly endless stream of recognisable cameos. 

Valhalla Rising (3/5) - Set in 1000A.D, this surreal and haunting nightmare of a film from Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn (Bronson and the upcoming Drive), suffers from an all-too-strong first half, before becoming steadily more tedious and laborious. But, the astounding images of this film have remained seared in my brain. With almost no dialogue it's left to the mesmerising colour-drained and hyper-stylized visuals to tell this mysterious tale. You feel like the characters have been dropped into another world. A Godless world, if you like. A world you would never want to find yourself. 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

New Release Review: Captain America (Joe Johnston, 2011)

I don’t know about you, but I feel the action blockbuster many have been waiting for, has finally hit screens. While Super 8 was a lot of fun and the recent Harry installment was a fitting finale, Captain America: The First Avenger, directed by Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer), leaves the other superheroes thrown at us this year, in it’s wake. Quite substantially so.

Many will think that this is exactly what we have seen a number of times this summer, and that this film, like Thor and like Iron Man 2 before it, have been built on a production line solely to exist as lengthy prequels for The Avengers in 2012. They would be right. But I think Captain America exists as a uniquely interesting character, and this is undeniably an entertaining film. It is fun and light-hearted when it needs to be, it doesn’t get bogged by trying to squeeze in unnecessary characters and it weaves a genuinely good and concise story that not only deftly handles the limitations of its protagonist as a ‘super-hero’ but plays with it and twists it to create drama and emotion.

I’m not going to dwell on plot here, even though the storytelling is quite strong, because it essentially rests on the forces of good vs. evil. In this case World War II hinges in the balance of two rival scientists who possess the abilities to change the tide of the war. We have Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), a Nazi whose ambitions even outweigh those of his Fuhrer. Having formulated a cult known as HYDRA and acquiring and harnessing a powerful cube (referred to as 'the Jewell of Odin’s Treasure Room'), he is beset on world domination. The other is Dr Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) who has formulated a powerful serum, when mixed with ‘vita-rays’, that will build a super-soldier, a hero capable of mustering the strength of their superior enemy.

New Release Review: Hanna (Joe Wright, 2011)

Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is a 16-year-old girl who lives in the wilds of Finland with her widowed father, Erik Heller (Eric Bana), an ex-CIA man. She is bright, inquisitive and uniquely possesses the strength, the stamina and the smarts of a soldier; the result of her father's intensive training, which includes teaching Hanna self defence and the ability to hunt. Living a life unlike any other teenager, her upbringing and training have been one and the same, all geared to making her the perfect assassin. She has never come into contact with the modern world, with her education coming through Erik's personal teachings from an encyclopaedia and a book of fairytales. She has a number of false back-stories memorised, should the opportunity arise.

Such an opportunity does arise, as Erik reveals to Hanna that he has unfinished business and that flicking a switch on an old transmitter will reveal their whereabouts to a corrupt ex-CIA associate, Marissa Weigler (Cate Blanchett). Hanna ensures him that she is ready and it is with a combination of pride and apprehension that Erik realises that his daughter can no longer be held back. Erik leaves before Weigler's team surrounds the house, captures Hanna and takes her to a CIA facility in Morocco.

There she learns that her father is a target because of his knowledge of a secret, one also involving Hanna's mother who was shot and killed by Weigler. Hanna, who kills the body-double posing as Weigler, breaks free of her cell and escapes the compound. On the run in the desert, she befriends a teenage girl, Sophie (Jessica Barden), and her hippie parents (Jason Flemying and Olivia Williams) and hitches a ride to Berlin. The mercenaries assigned by Weigler to capture Hanna, led by Isaacs (Tom Hollander), eventually catch up to the unawares family and pursue Hanna into Berlin. There she reunites with Erik, who had his own problems, and prepares to put her years of training into full practice.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Poster for 'The Ides of March' and Trailer for 'Drive'

What a great poster for The Ides of March, George Clooney's new film starring Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti. I have been trying to resist the trailer. Want to see it in the cinema. 

On the topics of Mr Gosling and resisting trailers, one I caved in and watched was Drive. I am now more excited than ever to see the film on the August 6th Closing Night at MIFF. Check it out. It's badass! 

Certainly two films I am looking forward to. What are your thoughts on these potential Oscar candidates?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

New Release Review: The Conspirator (Robert Redford, 2010)

The American Judicial System, while still plagued by problems today, came under scrutiny all the way back in post-Civil War Washington. One case in particular established legal precedents that still stand today, that of Mary Surratt. Robert Redford, in his recent film The Conspirator, tackles the trial of the woman accused of aiding and abetting the conspirators behind the infamous assassination of American President Abraham Lincoln. The case in question, which took place while the country was still divided by war and crisis, did not abide by the system set in place by the United States Constitution, with the woman (a civilian) tried not before a jury of her peers, but that of a military tribunal. With a bitter government seeking not only swift justice for the crimes, but also revenge, Mary Surratt stood no chance.

In addition to Lincoln, attempts were made on the lives of Vice President Andrew Johnson and the Secretary of State. Seven men and one woman are arrested and charged with conspiring to kill the political figures. The lone woman charged, Surratt (Robin Wright) owned a boarding house where John Wilkes Booth (Toby Kebbell) and others met and planned the simultaneous attacks. Booth and is co-conspirators had been invited by Mary’s son John (Johnny Simmons), who fled before the night and still remains missing at the time of trial. Defense Attorney Reverdy Johnson (Tom Wilkinson), believing Mrs. Surratt to be entitled to a defense, assigns inexperienced attorney, Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy), a 28-year-old Union war-hero, to the case. The military tribunal is also assigned on the orders of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Kevin Kline), who wishes to silent an enraged public with a swift trial.

Classic Throwback: Trois Couleurs: Blanc (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1994)

Blanc is the second film in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s acclaimed Trois Couleurs Trilogy, adopting the trait of ‘equality’, represented by the white of the French flag. Often considered to be the weakest of the Trilogy, Blanc is still a great film in its own right. While there are subtle crossovers shared by the three films, each one contains its own unique messages, symbols and use of the title colour and adequately stand alone. As Blanc is the lone film in the trilogy to centre its story on a male character, a little misleading considering Julie Delpy’s presence on the DVD cover, the tone of this film is very different from Bleu, functioning more as a dark comedy than a drama. While none of Kielsowski’s films would be considered romances, they all touch on the protagonist losing someone they love and then renewing that love in a different way. Blanc again features Kieslowski’s brilliance at capturing humanistic qualities through fleeting, random situations, his skill at drawing impeccable performances from his cast and his technical wizardry.

The film opens cross cutting between the arrival of a nervous-looking Polish man at a Paris divorce court with seemingly irrelevant shots of a large brown suitcase on an airport carousel. If you know a Kieslowski film, he rarely presents something on screen has no importance. The man, Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski), awkwardly asks the court guard for directions, stating he has been ‘summoned’. Summoned to an embarrassing humiliation. Struggling to speak French, Karol is informed that his beautiful wife Dominique (Julie Delpy) no longer loves him and has taken her proposed divorce to court on the grounds that he was unable to consummate the marriage.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

World Premieres Announced for 68th Venice Film Festival

The 68th Venice Film Festival runs from August 31 - September 10. American film director Darren Aronofsky has been announced Head of the Jury. Just announced, here are the films with World Premieres scheduled at the Festival:

Alps (Yorgos Lanthimos)
A Burning Hot Summer (Philippe Garrel)
Carnage (Roman Polanski)
Chicken With Plums (Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud)
Contagion (Steven Soderbergh)
A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg)
Dark Horse (Todd Solondz)
The Exchange (Eran Kolirin)
Faust (Alexander Sokurov)
La Folie Almayer (Chantel Akerman)
Himizu (Sion Sono)
The Ides of March (George Clooney)
I'm Carolyn Parker: The Good, the Mad and the Beautiful (Jonathan Demme)
Killer Joe (William Friedkin)
Last Day on Earth (Abel Ferrera)
The Moth Diaries (Mary Harron)
Quando la Notte (Cristina Comencini)
Sal (James Franco)
Seediq Bale (Wei Te-sheng)
Shame (Steve McQueen)
Terraferma (Emanuele Crialese)
Texas Killing Fields (Ami Canaan Mann)
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Tomas Alfredson)
L'ultimo Terrestre (Gipi)
W.E. (Madonna)

Wuthering Heights (Andrea Arnold)

Releases 28/07

There are four new releases opening in Australian cinemas tomorrow. What makes this week different from last is the fact that I want to see all of them. I have a very busy week ahead. The films are Captain America: The First Avenger, Hanna, The Conspirator and the 2010 Academy Award nominee for Best Animated Film, L'illusionniste [The Illusionist]. Expect reviews for all but L'illusionniste by the end of the weekend.

Captain America: The First Avenger - Don't look now but there is another Superhero film hitting theatres in 2011, and The Green Lantern hasn't even been released yet. From the trailer, I thought this one looked to be the best of the bunch, but as expected, reviews have been a little mixed (RT = 74%). Captain America focuses on the early days of the Marvel Universe when Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) volunteers to participate in an experimental program that turns him into the Super Soldier known as Captain America. Rogers joins forces with Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) to wage war on the evil HYDRA organisation, led by the villainous Red Skull (Hugo Weaving). Directed by Joe Johnson, the film also stars Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci.

2011 Toronto International Film Festival Unveils Galas and Special Presentations

The 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, running between September 8-18, has unveiled a stunning selection of films in the Galas (10) and Special Presentations (43) programs. The titles I am about to mention are simply mind-blowing. The thought of seeing half of these films within the duration of a little more than a week sure is a crazy one. Hopefully the lineup in 2012 will be just as strong, as I hope to be in attendance.

Anyway, here are a taste of some of the films, a more in-depth look at the complete announced lineup can be found (here)

Opening Night Film

From the Sky Down (Davis Guggenheim)


Albert Nobbs (Rodrigo Garcia)
Butter (Jim Field Smith)
A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg)
A Happy Event (Remi Bezancon)
The Ides of March (George Clooney)
The Lady (Luc Besson)
Moneyball (Bennett Miller)
Peace, Love and Misunderstanding (Bruce Beresford)
Take this Waltz (Sarah Polley)
W.E (Madonna)

Special Presentations

50/50 (Jonathan Levine)
360 (Fernando Meirelles)
The Artist (Michael Hazanavicius)
Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes)
Dark Horse (Todd Solondz)
The Deep Blue Sea (Terrence Davies)
The Descendants (Alexander Payne)
Drive (Nicholas Winding Refn)
Killer Joe (William Friedkin)
Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin)
Melancholia (Lars Von Trier)
Pearl Jam Twenty (Cameron Crowe)
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (Lasse Halstrom)
Shame (Steve McQueen)
The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodovar)
Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols)
Trishna (Michael Winterbottom)
Twist (Francis Ford Coppola)
Tyrannosaur (Paddy Considine)
We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

New Release Review: Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2011)

Meek's Cutoff, a frontier western directed by Kelly Reichhardt (Wendy and Lucy), first played in competition at the 67th Venice International Film Festival and has hit cinemas in 2011. I missed a screening at the Sydney Film Festival, but managed to catch one today, at the very end of its limited Sydney release at Dendy Cinemas. It is based on a historical incident on the Oregon Trail in 1845, in which frontier guide Stephen Meek led a wagon train on an ill-fated journey through the Oregon desert, charting the route known as the Meek Cutoff.

Set in the wilderness of the Cascade Mountains and the Oregon High Desert in 1845, a small band of settlers with three wagons have split from the main train to take a shortcut under the leadership of Meek (Bruce Greenwood). We are thrust straight into their journey, with several wonderful early shots of the wagon train laboriously journeying over the perilous terrain. We are caught up on events through a whispered conversation between Emily and Solomon Tetherow (Michelle Williams and Will Patton), who suspect that Meek may not in fact know where he is going. With no end in sight, what was initially proposed to be a two-week journey has now stretched into five.

The families start to wonder if they are lost and question the motivations of their ignorant and arrogant guide. Tensions start to run high as water becomes increasingly scarce and their supplies run low, with the women, unable to participate in the decision-making, forced to look on as Meek and their husbands disagree on the next course of action. Emily begins to overthrow Meek's power by opposing his decision to kill a captured lone Indian (Rod Rondenaux), believing the man can lead them to water. She tends to him, providing him water and mending his shoe, in the hope that he will help them.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Classic Throwback: Trois Couleurs: Bleu (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1993)

Bleu is a 1993 French film written, produced and directed by Polish auteur Kzysztof Kieslowski (The Double Life of Veronique) and the first in his wonderful Trois Couleurs Trilogy, which are themed on the French revolutionary ideals. The subject of Bleu, according to Kieslowski, is ‘emotional liberty’, which replicates what the use of the colour in the French flag represents. Blue is also representative of a cold mood, one of sadness and despair, which is exactly the world that Julie (Juliet Binoche) is plummeted into following the tragedy that opens the film.

Following the beautiful opening shot; a piece of blue cellophane held aloft by a child’s hand and catching the wind, there is an automobile accident. Julie survives, and is forced to cope with the death of her husband and daughter in the accident. In hospital she watches the filmed funeral for her family, where we learn that her husband was Patrice de Courcy, a famous composer and that her daughter Anna was just five years old. After being released from the hospital, Julie empties the house her family lived in and moves to an apartment in Paris with the desire to live anonymously, alone and withdrawn from the world. She doesn’t keep any clothing or objects from her old life, except for a chandelier of blue beads that was hanging in her daughter’s room and presumably belonged to her.

'That don't make no sense...'

It made me chuckle, and consider, for longer than I am willing to admit, if meaning existed. 

Points for guessing what film the title quote comes from. 

I am feeling very sleepy tonight and not up to writing, hence the silly post. I have decided to settle down to a home-made curry and an hour of new Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Monday Links (25/07)

The Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) kicked into gear on the 21st, with the feedback coming through for films like Senna, A Separation, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Take Shelter and The Guard rightfully praising just how great these films are. This week I reviewed several wonderful films, All About Eve, The Wages of Fear and The Double Life of Veronique, and a couple of average new releases, Beautiful Lies and 5 Days of War. Expect plenty of activity over the next week, with reviews of Krzysztof Kieslowski's Trois Couleurs Trilogy (Bleu, Blanc and Rouge) and new release reviews of Hanna, The Conspirator and Captain America: The First Avenger.

Here are some great articles to get you through your Monday (after the jump):

Sunday, July 24, 2011

New Release Review: 5 Days of War (Renny Harlin, 2011)

5 Days of War is an action-packed international thriller from Finnish filmmaker Renny Harlin. Harlin's patchy but noteworthy career ranges from the solid action blockbuster (Die Hard 2 and The Long Kiss Goodnight) to the forgettable disaster (12 Rounds). His most recent film, which was originally funded on a budget of 12 million dollars from a Georgian Governement fund, is based on the true events of the devastating five-day conflict between Russia and the Georgian Republic in August 2008. It chooses, predominantly, to focus on the fictionalized (and at times ridiculous) account of a renegade American journalist, Thomas Anders (Rupert Friend, The Young Victoria), against the backdrop of this conflict. 

The events transpire in August of 2008, a month where the world’s attention was directed towards the Beijing Olympics. With Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili (Andy Garcia, City Island) seeking support from European nations to their west in a desperate attempt to maintain Georgia’s independence, Russia primes itself for an invasion of the geopolitically significant Georgian province of South Ossetia. Anders is a veteran war correspondent who has a history of risking his life to report from the battlefield. This is relayed in a brief, early sequence in Iraq, which establishes that Anders has lost colleagues in the past and that he has a dedicated partnership with his British cameraman, Sebastian Ganz (Richard Coyle, Coupling), who joins him in Georgia. Lured by the rumors of a brewing conflict between the nations, relayed by an on-site maverick journalist (a washed-up and overweight Val Kilmer, The Doors), the men find themselves at a local wedding and subsequently caught between enemy lines when the invasion starts, seeking the help of a local woman (Emmanuel Chriqui, Entourage), whose family fall victim to the violence. Anders is determined to not only survive, but also inform the blind world of the truth about the atrocities taking place.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Classic Throwback: The Double Life of Veronique (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1991)

Krzysztof Kieslowski’s 1991 feature, The Double Life of Veronique is a beautifully crafted little gem. It functions a little bit like a mysterious jigsaw puzzle, with Kieslowski choosing to refrain from providing too much exposition and placing a lot of faith in his audience to put the pieces together. You feel like he has imbued a confidence, a trust, into his craft, challenging the viewer to stick with the narrative, while simultaneously assuring them that they will find emotional reward along the way. It’s really quite a feat. The Double Life of Veronique is an immediate personal favourite of mine.

Irene Jacob plays Weronika, a Polish girl whose career as a pianist was crushed, along with her finger, when it was slammed in a car door. Having turned to singing, she journeys to Krakow to live with her Aunt. Sitting in on her friend’s rehearsal, she impresses the director and earns an leading role in the choir. On a random day in the street of Krakow a tour bus from France travels through the city square. Looking at the bus, Weronika spots Veronique (also played by Jacob) hop on and photograph the square. Veronique is the exact double for Weronika (her doppelganger), which is something the Polish woman instantly recognizes. They each go their separate ways following this encounter, but share a connection, even if one of the pair has not discovered it yet.

Friday, July 22, 2011

New Release Review: Beautiful Lies (Pierre Salvadori, 2009)

Beautiful Lies continues the partnership between Audrey Tautou and Pierre Salvadori (Priceless and Apres Vous). It tells the story of 30-year-old Emilie (not to be confused with Amelie), played by Tautou, who runs a tight ship at her local hairdressing salon where she provides an endless stream of well-meaning advice to her clients and friends. The only person she cannot seem to help is her lonely, despondent mother, Maddie (Nathalie Baye), who has still not recovered from her husband leaving her for a younger woman four years earlier.

Jean (Sami Bouajila), a friendly Arab handyman who works for Emilie, is secretly in love with her but a pathological shyness prevents him from declaring his feelings. Finally, unable to contain himself, he opens his heart in a passionate and anonymous love letter. When Emilie opens the letter, her initial instinct is to throw it in the trash. The skeptical woman has a change of heart, however, when she realizes what such a sentiment would mean to her mother, typing a copy of the letter and forwarding it, along with several more.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

DOTM: Henri-Georges Clouzot and Krzysztof Kieslowski

At the beginning of the month I allocated brilliant French director Henri-Georges Clouzot and Polish master Krzysztof Kieslowski as the directors to focus my independent viewing on. It has taken a little while, but I am finally starting to work through their resumes.

For Clouzot, if any director can compete with Alfred Hitchcock as the master of suspense, it is this man. Starting with Les Diaboliques, the story of two women who conspire to murder their husband and lover and then experience some strange phenomenon following, I was suitably impressed. But it was The Wages of Fear that really secured his elite status. The mission of four European deadbeats to drive two trucks of nitroglycerine across hazardous terrain to the site of an oil fire is some of the most intense cinema I have ever witnessed. The rest of his relatively brief filmography are hard to access, though The Truth, starring Brigitte Bardot, interests me. But both The Wages of Fear and Les Diaboliques should be considered amongst the classics of the suspense genre. If I were to choose 100 films that I find to be truly great, The Wages of Fear would comfortably make the list.

For Kieslowski, I have a little bit of a head start, having seen the Trois Couleurs Trilogy before. My favourite of the three was Rouge, which I own and have watched a number of times again. But it has been years since I saw Bleu and Blanc, so I intend to re-watch them too. This evening I watched The Double Life of Veronique, which was a beautiful story. With a compelling performance from Irene Jacob (with whom I have developed an immense crush for following both Veronique and Rouge), stunning cinematography and Zbigniew Preisner's enchanting score, this is immediately a personal favourite. In addition to Trois Couleurs, I hope to fit in The Decalogue, Kieslowski's ten episode television drama series.

What are your thoughts on these master directors? What films of theirs have you seen? Do you have any further recommendations?

Classic Throwback: Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966)

Having declared it quite impossible to judge Persona after one viewing, I decided to re-watch the fascinating film again today. I first watched it in May last year, when I was working my may through Ingmar Bergman’s most acclaimed works. Though Persona has divided fans and critics, it is often considered to one of Bergman's most important films. The word ‘pretentious’ also pops up now and then. While imbued with a haunting, otherworldly ambivalence and transforming into quite an unsettling psychological drama in it’s second half, it is strangely unsubtle in its messages and yet simultaneously indecipherable. Still, I prefer his more accessible films, notably The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries

The film opens, accompanied by the unnerving score that returns at intervals throughout the film, with a bizarre prelude, starting with images of a film projector lamp and several fragmented and disjointed images; including a spider, an erect penis, the slaughtering of a lamb (and the squeezing of its eye, which could be a reference to Luis Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou), a crucifixion, and shots of elderly corpses. I’m not sure what other images were included in the 85-minute cut, but the version I own is inclusive of some of the images initially trimmed from the theatrical release and has a running time of only 80 minutes. To be honest, it feels like a very, very long 80 minutes.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Releases 21/07

Following the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 last week, it seems like studios have decided to hide the trash in it's shadow. This week's line-up would have to be one of the worst of the year to date. Opening in cinemas tomorrow are Bad Teacher, Larry Crowne, The Eagle, 5 Days of War and Beautiful Lies. All, with the exception of 5 Days of War (which has not accumulated a rating yet) are sitting on 'Rotten' at Rotten Tomatoes.

My 10 Favourite Firsts

Following the pretty rad lists concocted by Anna @Split Reel and Nicholas @ Cinema Romantico, I thought I would join in. It's a list of 'Favourite Firsts'. This required some deep thinking. 

My Favourite Directorial Debut

American Beauty by Sam Mendes

My Favourite Acting Debut

Edward Norton in Primal Fear


Classic Throwback: The Wages of Fear (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1953)

The Wages of Fear is a 1953 French suspense thriller directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, based on the 1950 novel by Georges Arnaud. When a South American oil well owned by an American oil company catches fire, the company hires four European men, down on their luck and stranded in a backwater Latin American village, to drive two trucks over 300 miles of hazardous mountain roads, carrying the nitroglycerine needed to extinguish the fire. In 1953 The Wages of Fear won both the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and Palme d’Or at Cannes and catapulted Clouzot to international fame. He next directed Les Diaboliques

Clouzot’s film opens in Las Piedres, a village in the heart of a poor, unnamed South American country. It is a lost, backwards village of stifling heat where a variety of interracial men sit around listlessly, working menial labor jobs and waiting for some kind of escape. It seems to be a place where desperate men have come to escape their pasts, but having found themselves down on their luck and with no cash, they cannot afford to escape. If the film has some minor flaws it is the opening 45 minutes or so. It did feel like it dragged, but it is essential to revealing the desperate situations of the men, and establishing why they would be so willing to undertake such a high-risk job. It is also an excellent way to introduce the characters, and to differentiate between whom they become when faced with the pressures of their mission. It’s a little bit confusing initially to work out who is who, but the central characters start to stand out.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Classic Throwback: All About Eve (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1950)

Films now considered to be ‘cinematic classics’ are often difficult to judge when viewing them in a completely different context, and not to mention the absence of a cinema, decades later. It is near impossible to escape preconceptions, and quite often you enter the film with extremely high expectations of the film being nothing short of a cinematic masterpiece. In some cases, one can be left disappointed and confused as to why the film was endowed with such acclaim and status. For me, The Maltese Falcon and Bonnie and Clyde are two such films that I really wasn’t thrilled with. But Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Double Indemnity, The Third Man, The Apartment and Sunset Boulevard are all films that I feel have transcended time, and still prove to be entertaining and resonant today. All About Eve, Joseph L. Mankiewicz’ highly polished, literate and sophisticated 1950 drama is certainly another.

All About Eve is both written and directed by Mankiewicz (Sleuth), based on the 1946 short story “The Wisdom of Eve” by Mary Orr. As one of the finest examples of old-school Hollywood filmmaking, the film stars Bette Davis as Margo Channing, a highly regarded but ageing Broadway star. Anne Baxter plays Eve Harrington, a willingly helpful young fan, who has been plagued by a hard life and is befriended by Margo. But soon enough Eve’s secret ambition becomes more and more evident as she slyly insinuates herself into Margo’s life, ultimately threatening her career and personal relationships. All About Eve is renowned because it was nominated for 14 Academy Awards (a feat not matched until James Cameron’s Titanic came along in 1997). It won six, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay. As the quintessential depiction of ruthless ambition in the entertainment industry, it features legendary performances from its brilliant ensemble cast.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Monday Links (18/07)

Despite only seeing Oranges and Sunshine and Deathly Hallows Part 2 at the cinema I had quite a busy week. I made up for the ordeal of watching Battle: Los Angeles and The Expendables with screenings of Talk to Her and Animal House. Also re-watched Rango on DVD and grew to appreciate Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. I hated that film on my initial viewing.

Check out some of the weeks top articles (after the jump):

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Classic Throwback: Animal House (John Landis, 1978)

Before American Pie at the end of the 1990's and The Hangover a few years back, there was Animal House, the frequently hilarious teen comedy directed by John Landis (American Werewolf in London and Blues Brothers) in 1978. The culturally significant comedy classic is not only considered to be the film that launched the gross-out genre but the film that best defined coming of age amidst the zany college fraternity life of the 1960's. Just as the aforementioned titles had an entire generation of filmgoers in hysterics, Animal House did too.

The year is 1962 and the film opens focusing on two freshmen, Lawrence 'Larry' Kroger (Thomas Hulce) and Kent Dorfman (Stephen Furst), as they try to join a prestigious fraternity at Faber College. Unsuccessful in their attempt they try at Delta Tau Chi House instead. Here they find a group of misfits, led by Bluto (John Belushi), who need 'the dues', so they permit the pair to pledge. They receive the fraternity names "Pinto" (Larry) and "Flounder" (Kent).

Vernon Wormer (John Vernon), the Dean of Faber College, wants to remove the Delta fraternity from Campus due to the repeated conduct violation and their poor grades. He puts the Deltas on 'Double Secret Probation' and orders the Omega president Marmalard (James Daughton) to find a way to get rid of the Deltas permanently. A number of crazy antics and hilarious situations ensue as the fraternity men challenge their college administrators.

Harry Potter Competition Results

Well, my Harry Potter competition, though it had far less responses than I had hoped and expected, was a success. The rules simply included a response to the question: What is your favourite Harry Potter film and why? Emily and Steven selected Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, while Castor and Tom selected Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, which I thought was very interesting. S.S.L couldn't go past the first film, Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone, while Sam declared Deathly Hallows Part 2 to be his new favourite. 

The winner of the competition, taking home the prize of the $30 JB Hi-Fi voucher, was Tom Clift. Congratulations Tom. Huge thanks to everyone who responded. Keep an eye out for future competitions on Film Emporium. 

Classic Scene: Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze, 1999)

My favourite scene from Being John Malkovich, a remarkable, clever and audaciously original black comedy/drama from Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman. John Malkovich and Mr Hiroshi (who had entered Malkovich's personal portal moments before Malkovich himself) are thrown into the ditch near the New Jersey Turnpike where the experience concludes. Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) is waiting by his car to meet them. 

Schwartz: How was it?

Mr Hiroshi: It was amazing this time.

Malkovich: That was no simulation!

Schwartz: I know. I'm sorry.

Mr Hiroshi: Mr Malkovich? (Recognising Malkovich) It's such an honour.

Malkovich (clambering up the slope and grabbing Schwartz roughly by the collar): I have been to the dark side. I've seen a world that no man should see!

Schwartz: Really? For most people it is a rather pleasant experience.

Malkovich: That portal is mine, and it must be sealed forever for the love of God.

Schwartz: But, Mr Malkovich, sir, with all due respect I discovered that portal. It's my livelihood. You Understand?

Malkovich: It's my head, Schwartz! IT'S MY HEEEEAAADDD! I will see you in court.

Schwartz: What makes you think I won't be seeing what you're court?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

'B-Movie Friday' Review: The Expendables (Sylvester Stallone, 2010)

I don't readily surrender myself to films I have a high expectations about being crap. Lately, I have been trying to keep films in perspective and have willingly suffered a couple of dire releases just to remind myself that awful films do exist (as if Transformers: DOTM wasn't enough). The first film was the woeful Battle: Los Angeles, and the second, which I watched as part of a recent Friday Night B-Movies Marathon a friend of mine and I are undertaking, was Sylvester Stallone's overwrought, adrenalin-charged muscle film, The Expendables. 

Now, I remember when this was released at the cinema last year, to the infamy of squeezing as many hardcore action heroes into the one film, but I was never unfortunate enough to catch any scenes. I had initially expected it to be an homage to the classic 80's and 90's action flicks of Arnie and Stallone, and might be a bit of brainless fun. While I had read some pretty scathing reviews about the film (over-indulgent brutality, misogynistic themes pop up), it was so much worse than I feared, that I felt I had to report.

The film opens with Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham leading a team of elite mercenaries known as 'The Expendables' to the Gulf of Aden, Somalia, to stop local pirates from executing hostages on board a merchant vessel. Barney Ross (Stallone) and Lee Christmas (Statham) are joined by Yang (Jet Li), Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Caesar (Terry Crews) and Toll Road (Randy Couture). Each macho-man apparently has his own specialty - Christmas is a knife expert, Gunnar a sniper, and Toll Road a demolitions expert for example. If you picked up that they had individual attributes, you have deciphered the indecipherable action sequences better than I. An intense shoot-out ensues following Jensen's instigation, which results in much machine gun fire, the first of many large body counts, Ross' dismissal of Jensen from the unit (for psychological problems and alcoholism) and the crew's eventual return to their base in New Orleans.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Trailer: The Thing (Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.)

Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead (who is damn fine I have just come to realise) and Joel Edgerton, the prequel (or is it a shot-for-shot remake?) to The Thing is set to hit cinemas later in the year. John Carpenter's 1982 version is one of my favourite horror films, so naturally I am a little concerned about this. What are your thoughts? Here is the trailer:

Short Review: Talk to Her (Pedro Almodovar, 2002)

Of the fourteen films Almodovar had directed up until this point, Talk to Her is considered one of his most controlled and sustained films. It is only my third experience with his filmmaking, following All About My Mother (1999) and Bad Education (2004), but it is quite extraordinary. It is actually a difficult film to describe, and I think knowing more about Almodovar's films (I sense that it is quite personal and self-reflexive) will deem this even more rewarding.

It's a stunningly beautiful film, full of luscious colours and crisp cinematography. The score is stellar, and it's pacing is very controlled and purposeful - almost meditative. It is strangely compelling considering a lot of the film is comprised of conversations. Surprisingly, it is also quite a disconcerting experience, especially in its silencing of women. This is especially notable because quite often in Almodovar's films, women adopt the central characters. Almodovar still places women at the centre of this film, but they do not reciprocate communication. Talk to Her won the 2002 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay after picking up the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film. It deals with the difficulty of communication between the sexes, loneliness and intimacy and the persistence of love beyond loss.

New Release Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (David Yates, 2011)

It has now been fourteen years since J.K Rowling released Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the debut novel in her now beloved series. I remember receiving the novel for Christmas in 1999, and after becoming immediately hooked, bought the next two novels, which had also been released by then. The film adaptation of The Philosopher’s Stone came in 2001, and few of my cinematic experiences before this time matched the magic of seeing Rowling’s novels adapted for the big screen for the first time. Fans now find themselves ten years, seven films and billions of dollars in merchandising and box office revenue later, having watched these unknown child actors mature into talented young adults over the course of the franchise, facing the grand finale of this record breaking cultural phenomenon.

With Warner Bros. boldly, and some believe unnecessarily, splitting the expansive final adaptation into two parts, fans were forced to wait another six months to watch the finale, following the November 2010 release of Deathly Hallows Part I. Remaining pretty faithful to the novel, which resulted in quite a lengthy idle period in the middle, Part I covered close to two thirds of the novel but felt disappointingly like an incomplete film. Those who have read the novel know that the action packed climax is quite epic in its scope, with key characters and locations from earlier novels returning to support Harry.

Assessing this film as a fan of the novels and the film franchise, and simultaneously with a critical eye, I am happy to declare that David Yates has well and truly succeeded in creating as exciting and powerful finale as fans could have hoped for. Is it without it's flaws? Not quite. Considering the decision to split the film into two in the hope of squeezing in more from the novel, it remains somewhat unfortunate that the depth and presence of a few of the key characters is still surrendered in favour of the spectacle. While some sequences still feel very rushed and it remains as episodic as the earlier films, Deathly Hallows Part 2 is a stunning visual achievement that is technically exceptional, chillingly bleak and relentlessly exciting. It is also guilty of being too faithful, if that is possible. Even some die-hard fans haven’t forgiven J.K Rowling for that overly-sentimental Epilogue, which works no better on the screen I'm afraid.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Trailer: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Guy Ritchie, 2011)

Warner Bros has released a trailer for Guy Ritchie's newest addition to the Sherlock Holmes franchise, which is scheduled for release at the end of the year. Following the commercial success of the first film, Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law return in the iconic roles of Holmes and Watson. This time they are joined by Noomi Rapace and Jared Harris, who plays Holmes' nemesis Professor Moriarty. The first film was entertaining enough, but you can expect similar antics here. If you're interested, check out the trailer below:

Review: Battle: Los Angeles (Jonathan Liebesman, 2011)

Overlong, horribly scripted, visually disorienting and burdened with endless clichés from both alien invasion films such as Independence Day and District 9 and war films such as Black Hawk Down, the Jonathan Liebesman directed, Battle: Los Angeles, is an arduous mess of a film.

The film follows a group of US marines in Los Angeles on the morning of a global extraterrestrial assault. Alien invaders have landed off shore in 20 major cities around the world in an attempt to take over and harvest humanity’s most precious resource, water. The film remains exclusively in Los Angeles, centering on Staff Sergeant Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), a soon-to-be-retired solider, who is called on one last time to accompany a unit in their desperate defense of the city. 

We are thrown immediately into the conflict, a serious misstep, considering the length of the film and the frequency of the intense battle sequences to come. But soon enough, we flash back to a period before the invasion, and are introduced (albeit briefly and poorly) to the key characters. We do not remember any of their names (I had to look up Eckhart’s character), nor do we care. They exist merely as the same generic stereotypes we have seen countless times before; Nantz, the skilled veteran drawn into one last battle after requesting retirement, the bitter Marine who’s brother was killed under Nantz’s previous command, the scared rookie, the token African American and Latino soldiers, the strong-willed female solider (played by Michelle Rodriguez) who surprises her male counterparts on several occasions and the incompetent Lieutenant who ultimately surrenders leadership to his more heroic and inspirational Staff Sergeant.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Competition Poll: What is your Favourite Harry Potter Film/Novel?

With Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II opening in Australian cinemas at Event Cinemas George Street at midnight tonight, and continuing with sessions throughout the night, I sure don't regret my decision to leave that job. There will be Potter mayhem. This is not to say that I'm not a Potter fan myself. I will be seeing the film on Thursday morning, and though I would have liked to have had a marathon where I re-watched all of the films, I have left my run a little bit late. I have decided to hold a competition to honour the closure of the franchise that dominated the blockbuster season for the last decade.

Unfortunately, this competition doesn't stretch to readers/bloggers beyond the borders of Australia (but, please, feel free to leave an answer all the same), but if you'd like to enter the competition to win a $30 JB Hi-Fi voucher (which I will personally send to an address you provide), give me your answer to the following question (after the jump) either in the comments below, or on my Facebook page. I will draw the winner on Friday evening at 6pm.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Iconic Aussie Films: Balibo (Robert Connolly, 2009)

Balibo staged its World Premiere at the 2009 Melbourne International Film Festival, and follows the story of the 'Balibo Five', a group of journalists who were captured and killed whilst reporting on activities in East Timor just prior to the December 1975 Indonesian invasion. While simultaneously depicting their tragic story, the film also tracks veteran Australian journalist Roger East (Anthony LaPaglia) who is lured to East Timor to work for Jose Ramos Horta (Oscar Isaac), East Timor's charismatic Secretary of Foreign Affairs. He decides to investigate the mysterious disappearance of the young journalists. With the threat of invasion scarily imminent, East travels to Balibo, a dangerous outpost near the Indonesian border, in search for the answers. Depicting harrowing truths (based loosely on Jill Jolliffe's book, The Cover Up), that until quite recently had remained a mystery, and featuring excellent performances, this is one compelling Australian film. 

New Release Review: Oranges and Sunshine (Jim Loach, 2010)

The tragic true events that Oranges and Sunshine bases its narrative on are quite extraordinary and difficult to accept, and this is rich source material for a feature film. As horrific as the stories of these unfortunate people are, and how damning the account of this unreported social injustice is, the film was surprisingly stripped of the emotional resonance that was intended. Quite unimaginative direction from first-timer Jim Loach (son of Ken Loach), who chooses to remain restrained and subtle in his approach, and an uneven structure, leaves one feeling that this would have better served as a television movie.

Set in the 1986, this is the story of Margaret Humphreys (Emily Watson), a social worker from Nottingham, who uncovered the "home children" scandal, the illegal forced relocation of thousands of children from the UK to Australia. Her strong-willed dedication and perseverance not only results in her success in reuniting some of the now adult deported children with their estranged families and finding them their lost identity, but also manages to bring worldwide attention to the scandal and attracts financial support to back her independent quest.

Monday Links (11/07)

This week, because of the lack of new films hitting cinemas, I passed the time by watching a couple of classics (Les Diaboliques and Network) for the first time. I also re-watched Y Tu Mama Tambien and The Sting. I also grouped together the best performances of the year (here) and booked flights and tickets to MIFF. Today I'm going to check out Sunshine and Orangers.

Check out the top articles of the week (after the jump):