Wednesday, August 31, 2011

'Barton Fink' and My Top 5 Coen Bros. Films

I was inspired to create this list after watching Barton Fink the other night. As one of the few Coen films that had eluded me at that point (also including The Hudsucker Proxy, Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers), I purchased it blindly a few weeks back. I don't really have much to say about it, other than that it was really weird (even for a Coen Bros. film) and that it went to some places in the second half that didn't make a whole lot of sense. Still, putting it on without knowing a thing about the film (other than that it won the Palme d'Or, so high expectations) there were plenty of surprises. For some reason I was reminded of Naked Lunch, which actually came out a few years after Barton Fink. They both centre on the process of writing and on writers who experience writers block, and who seem to decay under the stress of their role, the sweltering heat of their location and from interactions with the strange individuals they cross.

John Turturro plays Barton Fink, a Broadway playwright who has made it big and is approached by a ruthless Hollywood Studio to write a wrestling picture. Given a strict deadline, he struggles to come up with an angle, enlisting the help of his friendly, 'common man' neighbour at the Hotel Earle, Charlie Meadows (John Goodman), and the brainy assistant of a famous writer he seeks out for inspiration, Audrey (Judy Davis). The world is surreal, with the walls of Fink's apartment seeming to close in on him further as the film progresses. The film takes a giant twist at the half way. For better or worse, I haven't decided yet. This is some of Roger Deakins' best photography, while the performances, and especially from Turturro and a scene-stealing Michael Lerner as the boss of Capitol Pictures, are superb. The writing from the Coens is as sharp and comic as ever. It's truly bizarre, but memorable for some really great moments. 4/5

But, does it find itself amongst my Top 5 Coen Bros. films? (Below)

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

Though I have been down in both films and posts (54 last month!) I have actually accumulated more page views (over 20,000) this month than ever before. Huge thanks to my new followers and regular readers, and for those who consistently link to my site. I wrote 18 reviews, compared to 23 in July. The reason for this drop is likely because there were a bunch of films released in cinemas (The Beaver, Jane Eyre, Win Win, Senna and The Guard) that I had seen and reviewed back in in June at the SFF. I still saw Win Win and Senna again though. The best films I saw at the cinema this month were Rise of the Planet of the Apes and L'illusionniste, but if you count MIFF screenings from earlier in the month, then Drive was certainly the highlight of what was a disappointing string of new films I saw in Melbourne. That closing night party was epic, though.

As for Robert Altman, my August Director of the Month, I got a very very late start on his work, but I have managed to work through M*A*S*H, McCabe and Mrs Miller and Nashville, which impressed me a great deal. Well, not so much M*A*S*H, but certainly the other two. I then gave Popeye a go. Awful. I still intend to watch Short Cuts, which I have heard great things about, and re-watch Gosford Park to conclude. There will be no DOTM in September, unfortunately. I am not going to have enough time.

I was privileged enough to receive an invitation to this evening's Media Launch of the 12th Annual Lavazza Italian Film Festival presented by Palace Cinemas. The film screening is of Una Vita Tranquilla [A Quiet Life]. It is my debut attendance for such an occasion and I am both nervous and excited to find myself surrounded by media professionals. The festival runs around Australia from mid-September until late October. The event is proudly sponsored by Lavazza Coffee, while Palace Cinemas will be screening over 1000 sessions across five cities, creating the biggest Italian Film Festival in the world, outside Italy! Closer to the Opening Night I will dedicate a post to the Festival and suggest some films to check out.  

I will be busy not only working the festival, which commences at my cinema in Sydney on the 15th September and runs until the 5th October, but I'll also be reviewing some of the 30 films selected to play at the festival here on Film Emporium. This is a wonderful opportunity and a challenge I intend to embrace enthusiastically. In addition, I am going to 'try' and keep up to date with new releases. While I had intended to take a little break from blogging here in September, it seems I am going to be busier than ever.

Anyway, I saw a total of 29 Films in August. Find out my 'Essential Viewing' selections after the jump.

Releases (01/09)

There are six scheduled releases for Australian cinemas this week, though I'm not certain that Winnie the Pooh is playing anywhere in Sydney. The others are Final Destination 5, One Day, The Help, Life in a Day and Chalet Girl. The solid current line-up, including Senna, Win Win, The Guard and Beginners, takes a beating this week.

Final Destination 5 - Death is just as omnipresent as ever, and is unleashed after one man's premonition saves a group of coworkers from a terrifying suspension bridge collapse. But this group of unsuspecting souls was never supposed to survive, and, in a terrifying race against time, the ill-fated group frantically tries to discover a way to escape Death's sinister agenda. According to Rotten Tomatoes (where it sits with a pretty solid 60% score) this latest 3D instalment represents a surprising return to form for the franchise. I have seen the first one, a number of years ago, and I remember it being cheesy slasher stuff with a number of inventive ways to kill people. We find ourselves at number 5. Nah, I don't think so!

One Day - After one day together - July 15th, 1988, their college graduation - Emma Morley (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter Mayhew (Jim Sturgess) begin a friendship that will last a lifetime. She is a working-class girl of principle and ambition who dreams of making the world a better place. He is a wealthy charmer who dreams that the world will be his playground. For the next two decades, key moments of their relationship are experienced on July 15th. Somewhere along their journey, these two people realise that what they are searching and hoping for has been there all along. As the true meaning of that one day back in 1988 is revealed, they come to terms with the nature of love and life itself. If you've seen the trailer, you know that Anne Hathaway's British accent is pretty atrocious, and while some people have become quite involved in Lone Scherfig's (An Education) newest film, others have claimed it to be really bad. I'm skeptical (of course) but it may be one I bring myself to watch this week. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Top 100 Films - New Additions

Back in February 2011 I updated my Top 100 Films. I am planning on updating the list again at the end of the year, and just wanted to keep track of some films I have seen this year that I will be consider adding to my list. I usually like to watch films a couple of times before I regard them as a personal favourite. Sometimes it takes just one viewing, like The Double Life of Veronique and Senna. Others, like A Serious Man, took a couple to fully appreciate and love.

Here are my considerations: All About Eve (Joseph L. Mankiewicz), The Wages of Fear (Henri-Georges Clouzot), 12 Angry Men (Sidney Lumet), McCabe and Mrs. Miller (Robert Altman), Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky), The Double Life of Veronique (Krzysztof Kieslowski), The Player (Robert Altman), Y Tu Mama Tambien (Alfonso Cuaron), Ratatouille (Brad Bird),  A Serious Man (Joel and Ethan Coen), Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance), Senna (Asif Kapadia)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Monday Links (29/08)

Well, this week I finally got into my Altmam. I watched MASH, which I was disappointed with, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, which I absolutely loved, and Nashville, which I thought was an extraordinary achievement. I started watching Popeye last night and there is no chance of me getting through it. It's awful. As for new releases, it was a quiet week, but I did see POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold and Cowboys and Aliens. I also decided to revisit a few Harry Potter films. I shared my thoughts on The Goblet of Fire.

But, I have been perusing sites all morning. Here are some links:

Trailers for 'Kill List' and 'Tyrannosaur'

Here are some trailers for a couple of British films I am now kicking myself for missing at the Sydney Film Festival:

Kill List (Dir. Ben Wheatley)

Tyrannosaur (Dir. Paddy Considine)

What are your thoughts on these films? 

Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Mike Newell, 2005)

As a passionate Harry Potter fan ever since I was given Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone for Christmas in 1999, I found myself eagerly awaiting each subsequent novel to hit shelves, and to an increasingly lesser extent, anticipating each new film in the franchise to hit cinemas. Having now watched the entire franchise of films several times, I still find myself the most entertained by Alfonso Cuaron’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Mike Newell’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

I’m going to make a rather bold statement here, having re-watched The Goblet of Fire and The Order of the Phoenix yesterday. The latter was much better than I remembered it to be, but the overbearing presence of Imelda Staunton still irritates me, and this is adapted from Rowling’s weakest novel. The climactic confrontation between Voldemort and Dumbledore is fantastic, however. In my opinion, Goblet of Fire is one of the best novels in the series, and it is adapted into one of the best films too. I’m going to try and explain why.

This film, though one of the best received, is often criticized for being episodic and for disregarding large chunks of the novel. This does apply to all of the films and when you consider how long some of the novels are (and this is by far the longest in the series at this point), there is always plenty to get the chop. The films also feel episodic because they are usually comprised of challenges and spectacles that culminate in a violent confrontation. There are a few awkward temporal jumps in Goblet, which are the most glaring faults, but overall I think it is a pretty effective fantasy adventure that rewards on repeat viewings.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

New Release Review: Cowboys & Aliens (Jon Favreau, 2011)

From how I see it, Cowboys & Aliens was set to be disaster from the beginning. Blockbusters generally don’t get pushed into August unless they are a dud. Well, Apes was one exception to that rule this year, but in most cases they usually aren’t worth watching. Back when featurettes on the making of this film were being screened before Transformers: Dark of the Moon, it was evident that Paramount were desperate to convince people that in spite of the dumb title, and the silly premise, the film wasn’t going to suck.

It was sad to see guys like Jon Favreau (Iron Man), Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard bumble over ways to justify being involved in this project. “Ah, well, if the Ancient Egyptians declared having contact with extraterrestrial life, perhaps the early inhabitants of the frontier did too.” The meshing of two completely opposing genres could have been transformed into some fun, and having enlisted a strong cast of charismatic actors, a solid action film might have been salvaged. But there is no fun. There are abhorrent plot developments at every turn, and some pretty lousy visual effects too. Oh, and it took five screenwriters to come up with it. Yikes. 

Friday, August 26, 2011

Classic Throwback: Nashville (Robert Altman, 1975)

Nashville. A film considered by many to be one of the greatest American films of all time, but also one that seems to be passionately disliked by many. Based on what I had been told about Nashville prior to seeing it, I half expected to hate it. Honestly, I’m not really sure what to make of the film yet, but I know I certainly didn’t hate it. I thought it was an extraordinary achievement, but not a film I initially became wholeheartedly engrossed in. I expect this is primarily due to the subject matter. But, I have a feeling that it will become more rewarding over time, and even thinking about the film today, and trying to come up with something intelligible, I have found that subtle details from the film are flooding back into my consciousness. Henry Gibson’s opening song in the recording studio is stuck in my head, and I can’t shake that final scene. Okay, so maybe I am a little obsessed. 

I can certainly see why it was so acclaimed back in the mid 70’s and believe it or not, I think it still holds up pretty well today. While Altman made a couple of films between McCabe & Mrs. Miller and Nashville, I figured this was a significant film in his career and essential viewing for someone catching up on Altman. While my knowledge about the country music industry in Nashville, Tennessee and the political unrest at the time, is next-to-nothing, this review will be a pretty personal take on some features of the film I admired, and how it made me feel. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Classic Throwback: McCabe & Mrs. Miller (Robert Altman, 1971)

Just a year following his comedy hit, MASH, Robert Altman directed McCabe & Mrs. Miller. It was adapted from the Edmund Naughton novel, McCabe, by Brian Mckay and Altman himself. Now considered an esteemed genre classic, it is an American frontier western set at the beginning of the 20th Century and follows John McCabe (Warren Beatty), a small-businessman and gambler who arrives in the town of Presbyterian Church with the hopes of setting up a whorehouse and a saloon. He enlists the help of a British ‘madam’, Constance Miller (Julie Christie), and the pair, with the help of the local mining townsfolk, turn the town into a thriving Metropolis. That is until associates of a ruthless mining corporation arrive with offers to buy out his land, and threaten his life when he refuses.

To the mournful sound of Leonard Cohen, we are initially introduced to John McCabe as he rides into town. We learn that he is charismatic gambler with an effortlessly forceful temperament, who immediately takes a prominent position amongst the simple-minded townsfolk of Presbyterian Church in the Northwest. Well dressed, carrying a gun and possessing a mysterious identity, the townsfolk accommodate for the stranger by allowing him to deal a card game. Rumours also swirl amongst the group that he is a feared gunslinger. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

New Release Review: POM Wonderful: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (Morgan Spurlock, 2011)

POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, the amusing new film from controversial documentary filmmaker, Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me and Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden), exists somewhere between an indictment and an endorsement of the now-ridiculous extremes of product placement, branding and advertising we find popping up in film and television. It opened the 2011 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, and documents Spurlock’s bold attempts to pitch his ideas to major corporations in an attempt to convince them to fund his documentary by allowing their products to appear during the course of the film, which is comprised predominantly of this very same process. 

His challenge, really, is to convince them, because, seriously, why would the CEO’s want to advertise their products in a film that makes fun of such endorsements? Well, he manages to secure twelve companies, headlined by the titular POM Wonderful, to cover the 1.5 Million dollar funding of his film. Most of this money is utilized in the latter half to promote the film, because he actually starts out without the involvement of these companies, who join him along the way.

New Posters for 'Martha Marcy May Marlene'

New posters for the huge Sundance Film Festival hit Martha Marcy May Marlene, Sean Durkin's hauntingly assured psychological thriller, can now be found online. Continuing it's success at the 2011 Sydney and Melbourne International Film Festivals, Australian audiences will have to wait until January 19, 2012 for it's official cinematic release. But, rest assured, Elizabeth Olsen and John Hawkes' names should be amongst the Oscar buzz for their excellent performances in this unsettling but elegantly constructed masterpiece.

Here are a couple of posters. What are your thoughts?

Releases (25/08)

There are four new films opening in Australian cinemas on Thursday 25/08: Horrible Bosses, Priest, Beginners and The Guard. Luckily for me, I have already seen three of these films, though I suspect I'll make time to see The Guard again. It is very funny. As for Priest, you couldn't pay me to see that. Well, actually, that's not true!

Horrible Bosses - For Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) and Dale (Charlie Day), the only thing that would make the daily grind more tolerable would be to grind their intolerable bosses (Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell and Jennifer Anniston) into dust. Quitting is not an option, so, with the benefit of a few-too-many drinks and some dubious advice from a hustling ex-con (Jamie Foxx), the three friends devise a convoluted and seemingly foolproof plan to rid themselves of their respective employers...permanently. The saving grace for this film, which becomes contrived and desperate in the second half, is the cast. Charlie Day is especially good. It's a very funny premise, but the screenplay doesn't do it justice unfortunately.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Looking Ahead: 10 Films To Watch This Spring

This post was inspired by the most recent episode of The Matineecast hosted by Ryan McNeil, where he asks listeners to comment by revealing the films they are most anticipating in the Fall. I thought I would look through the films scheduled for release in Australia over the next three months and pick out some I would suggest checking out. A few of these I have already seen (at SFF and MIFF), but I can't wait for Midnight in Paris. That three week block in October is awesome - Take Shelter/Midnight in Paris/Drive - seriously, save your pennies for then.

13 Assassins (Takashi Miike) - September 8

Submarine (Richard Ayoade) - September 8

Project Nim (James Marsh) - September 29

Crazy, Stupid Love (Glenn Ficara) - September 29

Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols) - October 13

Monday, August 22, 2011

Classic Throwback: MASH (Robert Altman, 1970)

Robert Altman's highly acclaimed 1970 film MASH centres on Captain "Hawkeye" Pierce (Donald Sutherland) and Captain "Duke" Forrest (Tom Skerritt) who are assigned to the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, who are in need of replacements. It is evident that they are mischievous, womanising rule-breakers who immediately start flirting with the nurses and ignoring protocol having arrived at the camp in a 'borrowed' jeep. Despite this,they soon make it clear that they are both excellent surgeons. They clash with their new tent mate, Major Frank Burns (Robert Duvall) and request with Lt. Colonel Henry Black (Roger Bowen) to have a specialist thoracic surgeon assigned to the 4077th. This would be Hawkeye's eventual partner in crime, Captain "Trapper" John McIntyre (Elliot Gould). 

There is no real plot, but the film is comprised of a series of experiences and misadventures. A lot of crazy things happen, including a ploy to cure the anxieties of "Painless Pole" Waldowski (John Schuck), a dentist who has recently suffered a ‘lack of performance’ and now believes he has homosexual tendencies. The man contemplates suicide and seeks advice on which method to use. Hawkeye and Trapper suggest the ‘black capsule’ and an impromptu last supper, which includes the strains of “Suicide is Painless”, ensues.

There is also a ploy to discover whether the no-nonsense chief nurse Major Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan is ‘naturally blonde’, while Hawkeye and Trapper accept an order to operate on the GI son of a U.S Congressman purely because the trip to Japan presents the opportunity to play on quality golf courses. The film ends with a friendly football match between the 4077th and another unit, where Hawkeye insists they apply for a specific neurosurgeon, "Spearchucker" Jones (Fred Williamson), to help them win the game. He was a former professional player with the San Francisco 49ers. 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Monday Links (22/08)

I have remained pretty consistent with my posts this month despite down in numbers for both films and posts. I have a pile of DVDs to work through, and I haven't even started on the Altman coverage I promised. Honestly, I don't think I can see many more films than I am now. Last week we had six new releases (well seven if you include the unscheduled limited release of The Woman). That's crazy. I had already seen Win Win and felt like I could skip most of them. After hearing some interesting things about The Woman at MIFF I might try and see it. I would also like to see POM Wonderful: The Greatest Story Ever Told if I can make time.

This week I managed to finally see L'illusionniste. It was a delight. I was also lucky enough to catch advanced screenings of Horrible Bosses and Beginners. As for the non-new releases I continued with some Kieslowski, watching and reviewing one of his early Polish films, Camera Buff. I re-watched Inception because I felt like it and re-watched (and loved) Superbad for the same reason. I also decided to give Guillermo Del Toro's Cronos a go because John at John Likes Movies gave it 4 stars and that had me intrigued. I love Del Toro's work (mostly) but I was yet to see his debut, and The Devil's Backbone, which many consider to be his best work.

I have some links for you (after the jump):

New Release Review: Beginners (Mike Mills, 2010)

Beginners is the second major feature from filmmaker and graphic artist, Mike Mills (Thumbsucker), who has made his name predominantly from directing short films and music videos. He is married to fellow artist and filmmaker Miranda July (The Future) and drew inspiration for this film from personal experiences with his father, who 'came out' at age 75 after 44 years of marriage to Mills’ mother. He succumbed to lung cancer five years later. Beginners premiered at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival and was selected as the Closing Night film at the 2011 Sydney Film Festival.

Beginners tell the story of Oliver (Ewan McGregor, The Ghost Writer), a man reflecting on the life and death of his father, Hal (Christopher Plummer, The Last Station), while trying to forge a new romantic relationship with a beautiful young French actress, Anna (Melanie Laurent, Inglourious Basterds). The film is set predominantly in the present but structured to include a series of interconnected flashbacks to different periods of Oliver’s life. They reveal his relationship to his lonely mother (who initiated the marriage despite sensing something was amiss) and his struggle to accept both his father’s open declaration of homosexuality and his pending death from terminal lung cancer. Hal, who has never been happier, moves in with Oliver, changes his lifestyle to embrace his newly awakened sexuality and meets Andy (Goran Visjnic), a much younger man who cares deeply for Hal. Andy assists Oliver in taking care of the ailing man all the way until his deathbed.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Review: Superbad (Greg Mottola, 2007)

I am McLovin. 

While Super Bad is as crude and vulgar as teen comedies come, there is also a surprisingly heartfelt sensitivity to the story and the film never loses sight (if it does become distracted at times) that it is a film about youth, co-dependent friendship, coming-of-age fears and the desperations that accompany the desire to conform and fit in. Oh yeah, it is also very funny.

Directed by Greg Mottola (who recently directed Paul), the screenplay was written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who have worked as frequent collaborators with Judd Apatow on a number of projects, including The 40-Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Pineapple Express. It is reported that Rogen and Goldberg had begun working on the screenplay when they were thirteen years old and had completed a draft by the time they were fifteen. This explains why they were able to really get the juvenile dialogue, the late high school atmosphere, and the adolescent insecurities spot on. They were living through it. Bizarrely, the events could also be inspired by personal experiences. The central characters do share their first names. But I sense there will be more than just the co-writers who can relate to the zany events depicted here.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Revisiting the 2011 Blockbuster Season

Well 2011 has been the first year I have been actively following the blockbuster season. Sure, having worked at a huge multiplex for the last couple of years (not this year) meant that I had access to every big-budget release of the season. I saw most of them but I never had the time to review them or track what I was seeing. This year has been different, and while there were some duds and some that were very underwhelming, there were plenty that I enjoyed too.

I’m going to count the Blockbuster season as starting on April 21st with the very early release of Thor. I don’t think it was released in the States until a few weeks later. Anyway, amidst glowing reviews from Aussie critics, I saw it in the first week and wasn’t so keen on the film. It was enjoyable enough, with the story split between the stunning world of Asgard and the fairly-boring-in-comparison Earth. I really hated the 3D and found it difficult to stomach the quite overwhelming visuals (those intense light flares). I also thought there were too many characters, most of which served no purpose. But this film existed (as does Captain America later in the season) solely as a prequel to The Avengers, scheduled for release in 2012. In this sense it adequately served its purpose.

On May 5th, Source Code was released, which is months later than the States. This is Duncan Jones’ follow up to Moon. While I initially thought it was a smart, compelling and entertaining sci-fi thriller, it has not remained as memorable a cinematic experience as I expected. The risky premise was a good one, and Jones assuredly handles it for the most part. Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance was top-notch too. But I think there are some complexities that emerge in the second half that make it more confusing than it needed to be. Still, at this point, Source Code was one of the year’s best releases.

Classic Throwback: Cronos (Guillermo Del Toro, 1993)

Cronos, the feature debut of Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro, opens with a prologue set in the year 1535, explaining that there was a Spanish alchemist who developed a mechanism that could give eternal life. Centuries later, an old building collapsed, and a body was discovered - an old man with grey skin and a stake through his heart. It was the alchemist. It was never revealed what else was discovered in the building, but we witness a hanging body and several buckets of blood, and no mention of 'Cronos', the mechanism. 

Jumping to the present era, the store of an elderly antique dealer named Jesus Gris (Federic Luppi) is visited by a customer who suspiciously expresses interest in an ancient statue of an archangel. Intrigued, Jesus and his sweet granddaughter, Aurora (Tamara Shanath), remove the base of the statue and discover an ornate, golden, scarab-shaped device, which can be wound mechanically. Holding the device in his hand, it sprouts razor-sharp spider-like legs and grips his hand tightly, inserts a needle into his skin and injects a serum into him. While initially shocked at the experience and feeling ill, he knows he has discovers something incredible and soon discovers that his youth and vigor are returning. He loses his wrinkles, his hair thickens and he suddenly becomes sensitive to light.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

New Release Review: l'illusionniste [The Illusionist] (Sylvain Chomet, 2010)

L’illusionniste [The Illusionist] is a delightful little gem of an animated film. Receiving a deserved nomination for Best Animated Feature at the 2010 Academy Awards, French director Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets of Belleville), has beautifully brought a 1956 original screenplay from legendary mime, director and actor, the late Jacques Tati, to life. This magical story is centered on a struggling illusionist (resembling Tati’s famous character M. Hulot) who meets a curious young girl while performing at an isolated Scottish community, who later joins him in his travels, looks up to him as the father-figure she has never known and believes his magical powers to be real. 

Not only is it endowed with impeccable animation and charming, pleasant sensibilities, but also addresses themes of modernity in the late 1950’s, the rise of consumerism and the unfortunate death of classically skilled artisans like the protagonist. These are themes that were also present in some of Tati’s most acclaimed works, notably the fantastic Mon Oncle and the only film of his I am yet to see, his final work, Playtime. The film’s laborious pace will cause young ones to fidget, while the tributary appreciation for Tati’s work that shines through in every sequence will also be lost. Essentially, this is an animation for adults, and a pretty good one I think.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Releases (18/08)

I think there is far too many films opening in Australian cinemas on Thursday, with a total of six scheduled to start screening. They include the long delayed collaboration between John Favreau, Ron Howard and Steven Spielberg, Cowboys and Aliens, the rom-com of the week, Friends with Benefits, the re-boot of Conan the Barbarian, the delightful comedy/drama, Win Win, Wim Wenders' 3D musical, Pina and the absorbing documentary, Page One: Inside the New York Times. 

Win Win - Paul Giamatti headlines writer/director Tom McCarthy's comedy/drama centering on a beleaguered attorney and part-time wrestling coach who schemes to keep his practice from going under by acting as a legal caretaker of an elderly client. Mike Flaherty's (Paul Giamatti) brilliant plan hits an unexpected hitch when his client's troubled grandson shows up looking for a place to stay. With his home life in turmoil and both of his careers in jeopardy, Mike quickly realises that he'll have to get creative in order to find a way out of his predicament. It's an often-hilarious, heartfelt delight with strong performances from the entire cast. It's an assured winner that's nearly impossible not to like.

New Release Review: Horrible Bosses (Seth Gordon, 2011)

Bosses regularly get a bad rep. It takes a certain type of person to be a good boss, and anyone who has worked under a boss before knows that they come in varying degrees of temperament and attitude. Some are respectable and easy-going; some are strict but fair, while others can be crude, inappropriate and torturous. Horrible Bosses stars three friends, Jason Bateman (Arrested Development), Jason Sudeikis (Hall Pass) and Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) who have experienced about as much of the latter as they can cope with, plotting to off their bosses and return some happiness to their daily lives.

This raunchy, foul-mouthed black comedy is directed by Seth Gordon (who peculiarly has directed both The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters and Four Christmases) and written by a team made up of Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein. Though infrequently hilarious and endowed with hyperactive energy, it’s a bit of a mess. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Classic Throwback: Camera Buff (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1979)

A woman has died but she lives on through this (film).

Camera Buff, or Amator (meaning ‘amateur) as the Polish title reads, is an early film from celebrated filmmaker, Krzystztof Kieslowski, who writes and directs. It was released in 1979 and was Kieslowski’s first international and commercial success. I’m not sure if it is perhaps loosely autobiographical, though it documents the artistic and political awakening of lead character, Filip Mosz (Jerzy Stuhr), which would not have been unlike Kieslowsi’s himself. 

Camera Buff follows the humble factory worker whose newfound hobby, amateur film, swiftly becomes an obsession and wildly transforms his formerly contented life. Having purchased the 8mm camera to film home movies of his first child immediately following birth, the evidently nervous new father soon becomes drawn into the fascination and power of the camera and the possibilities of the medium. He turns all of his attention to filmmaking and ignores his familial responsibilities. Essentially, he finds the passion he has been seeking all of his life and had all but given up finding, on the night his daughter is born.

Monday Links (15/08)

I have been a little bit quiet this week following a busy weekend at work with the releases of Senna and Jane Eyre. Both are pulling strong box office numbers, which is great to see. During the week I did catch up on my MIFF reviews, posting my thoughts on Melancholia, Tiny Furniture, Another Earth and Drive. I also updated my Top 20 Films of 2011 and watched The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a film that surprised me a lot. I know I said that Robert Altman was going to be my DOTM, but I am yet to watch a single film by the man. I have just had no time. In fact, I am still working through Kieslowski. I watched Camera Buff last night, his first international success. I will try and get something posted about it later. This week I also hope to see POM Wonderful: The Greatest Story Ever Sold and that elusive film, L'illusionniste, one I have been trying to see for two weeks now.

I have been thinking about updating the Blogroll and making it a single page. I come across fantastic new blogs every day, with the consistent flow of new LAMB members and especially after discovering the quality work of Australian critics at the SFF and MIFF. So, in the next week or so, I will be making some changes.

Without further ado, here are some links to great articles from this week:

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Short Review: Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock, 1946)

This is my contribution to this week's 'The Best Is Yet To Come' on Duke and the Movies.

Notorious is a near-perfect espionage thriller from the ‘Master of Suspense', Alfred Hitchcock. Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), the daughter of a convicted Nazi spy, is recruited by a government agent, Devlin (Cary Grant), to infiltrate an organization of Nazis who have relocated to Rio de Janiero after World War II. 

The organization is led by Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains), a former colleague of Alicia’s father who is in love with her. The lives of the three become entangled as Alicia’s mission becomes more dangerous. She not only marries Sebastian, but also finds it increasingly difficult to report to Devlin under his jealous and ever-present attention. Complicating things, Alicia and Devlin have fallen in love too. 

Just about every feature of this film is perfectly assembled. The photography is stunning, the score is impeccable and the performances exceptional, especially from the luminous Ingrid Bergman. It is famous for breaking the boundaries of the Hays Code through an extended kissing sequence between Grant and Bergman, and the extended party sequence where the pair break into Sebastian’s wine cellar is as suspenseful as anything Hitchcock has ever created. This is top tier Hitchcock and highly recommended. 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

New Release Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rupert Wyatt, 2011)

Rise of the Planet of the Apes had no right being this good. When I first heard of the premise, I balked a little. It seemed like another attempt to re-charge the franchise following Tim Burton’s lacklustre re-make of the 1968 original, Planet of the Apes. Ever wondered how the world depicted in this franchise came to be? You could watch the similarly premised, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) or check out this magnificent film. I became intrigued when I heard that the apes were to be created through motion-capture, but the film’s release snuck up on me, equipped with an average trailer and a terrible promotional poster. 

I feel a little bit ashamed, because I didn’t give this film a chance at all. With a title like that, it was difficult. Then came the flood of positive reviews, and I felt I had to see if for myself. For a summer blockbuster it has surprising intelligence, and it is far more compelling than most films I have seen this year. It has it all. Much like another recent release about a chimp (the wonderful documentary, Project Nim) this is an examination of the exploitation of nature for the benefits of science, and in-turn favouring the nurture of a wild animal over is natural upbringing. It also works as a grand prison escape, and an intellectual and calculated mass overthrow of power. It features outstanding visual effects, assured direction from a man with so little experience, a sensational climactic action sequence on the San Francisco Bridge and a stellar performance from Andy Serkis, which is easily one of the best of the year.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Classic Throwback: Dawn of the Dead (George A. Romero, 1978)

Dawn of the Dead, the ridiculously gory Zombie film by genre legend George A. Romero, is now an iconic classic of the horror genre. Eleven years after his ultra low-budget debut, Night of the Living Dead, Romero returns with a bigger budget (though it is still modest) and throws in a heap more gore. Following the scenario set up in Romero’s debut, the United States has been devastated by an epidemic of unknown origins, which reanimates recently deceased human beings and turns them into flesh-eating Zombies. Society has all-but collapsed, despite the efforts of the United States Government and local authorities to control the situation. 

The story of the small of group of survivors, including a Philadelphia television producer, Francine (Gaylen Ross), her boyfriend Steven (David Emge), a network traffic helicopter pilot, and a pair of SWAT officers, who seek shelter in a giant shopping complex during a Zombie apocalypse was re-imagined by Zach Snyder in his 2004 film of the same name. It was also the inspiration for the Simon Pegg/Edgar Wright comic parody, Shaun of the Dead.

Right Now I Feel Like This...

I may still be recovering from my Melbourne weekend, but after a couple of busy day shifts over the last two days, I am completely Zombiefied. I was set to trek into the city to watch Rise of the Planet of the Apes tonight but there's no way I'll make it through. Dammit. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Releases (11/08)

August 11 has been a day I have been looking forward to ever since the 2011 Sydney Film Festival concluded back in June. On the final day I watched Asif Kapadia's mesmerising documentary, Senna, about the tragically shortened racing career of Brazilian Formula One driver Ayrton Senna. It remains my most powerful film experience of 2011. The other films released this week, with the exception of one film (I'm sure) aren't bad either. Jane Eyre is a thoroughly enjoyable period drama, and I have heard some positive feedback about Morgan Spurlock's new doco, POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. The final film released this week is Green Lantern, which has been a long time coming. There is a reason for that, people.

Senna (*****) - Spanning his years as a Formula One racing driver from 1984 to his untimely death a decade later, Senna explores the life and work of triple world champion Ayrton Senna, his physical and spiritual achievements on the track, his quest for perfection and the mythical status he has since attained. Even if you have no interest in Formula One racing this is an unforgettable experience. It's about a man who transcends his sport, becomes a beloved icon for his country and an inspiration to people worldwide. Considered the greatest driver who ever lived, his compelling story is told here solely through masterfully edited archival footage. You must see this film.

MIFF Review: Drive (Nicholas Winding Refn, 2011)

Drive, which won Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn the Best Director Award at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and has since received near-unanimous acclaim, is an adaptation of James Sallis’ 2005 novel of the same name. Interestingly, when Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson and Blue Valentine), who plays the film’s unnamed signature character, signed on for the project, he was allowed to choose the director. He picked Refn, who has admitted that his extraordinary film is a dedication to Chilean director, Alejandro Jodorowsky, who became known for the violently surreal images found in his films. 

As an inspired selection for Closing Night of the 2011 Melbourne International Film Festival, Drive sure had viewers rattled, especially those not expecting the kind of extreme violence this film presents. With one of the best opening sequences I have seen this year, and a handful of truly shocking moments, the images from Drive will long remain seared in your consciousness. Disappointingly, on this first viewing, I found most of the characterizations lacked the substance required for me to engage with them as much as I would have liked. Also, the film's pacing is very deliberate, and may turn off a few viewers. But these minor flaws are easy to overlook, and I imagine Refn's decisions will be better understood and appreciated on future viewings, because I can confidently claim that there will be fewer films this cool in cinemas this year. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

MIFF Review: Another Earth (Mike Cahill, 2011)

Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling), a bright young woman recently accepted to MIT’s astrophysics program, is driving back from a party when she notices a mysterious planet on the horizon. Leaning out of her window for a better look, she hits a sedan and kills two members of the family in it. The lone survivor is a college lecturer and composer, John Burroughs (William Mapother), who has just reached the pinnacle of his profession and is about to have a second child with his wife. On the eve of the discovery of a mirror planet of Earth (Earth2, the one Rhoda glimpsed), the lives of these strangers become intertwined, seemingly by chance.

As a result of her negligence, Rhoda is imprisoned for four years, while John enters a coma. They return to the world estranged from the lives they once knew and with their future dreams destroyed. It is discovered (and revealed via television coverage) that the mirror planet, quite incredibly, has human duplicates of everyone on Earth too. An essay contest is held where the winner can ride a spacecraft to visit it. As the planet gradually moves closer to Earth, Rhoda considers the possibility of visiting it to find out what kind of life her mirror self would have led, and enters the contest. 

Trailer: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Tomas Alfredson, 2011)

Wow. An amazing new trailer for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy has been recently released. With a stellar cast headlined by Gary Oldman, Colin Firth and Tom Hardy, and directed by Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) this could be one of the best films of the year. Check it out: 

MIFF Review: Tiny Furniture (Lena Dunham, 2010)

There is a pretty good chance that this film will hit pretty close to home for a number of media and art graduates. Are you one of those young people who have completed a college or university degree and return to live with your parents (or remain living independently) with the hopes of using that education to find the career you want, only to realize that your credentials don’t add up to as much as you think? In order to get by were you forced to find yourself a mind numbing job, frustrated by your situation and disillusioned by the thought that the stress you have put yourself through may result in naught? If so, you may find this film a refreshing and touching examination of such a disillusionment. Alternatively, you may feel angered and offended.

Yes, I share similarities with Aura (writer and director Lena Dunham), the 22-year-old lead of Tiny Furniture, who returns to her family’s Tribeca loft having graduated from her Midwest Liberal Arts College. She has nothing to show but a film theory degree, a failed relationship and a lack of motivation and direction. Essentially, there are some similarities to Mike Nichols’ The Graduate here, but this is the definition of the independent hipster comedy where the lead is at odds with the complexities of the world and trying to salvage an identity. There is no denying that this is an impressive debut from Dunham, but my interest was rarely heightened here.

Monday, August 8, 2011

MIFF Review: Melancholia (Lars Von Trier, 2011)

Lars Von Trier’s hotly anticipated follow up to 2009’s Antichrist garnered controversy at the Cannes Film Festival once again with the outspoken director being banned from future festivals for bizarrely expressing his admiration for Hitler during a media press conference. Kirsten Dunst went on to win the Best Actress award and the film, considered to be one of Von Trier’s least controversial (considering the subject matter), was met with largely positive responses. It was my first screening of the 2011 Melbourne International Film Festival.

I think the comments Von Trier made at Cannes were overblown out of proportions. The man, though it doesn’t seem to be the case judging by his resume to date, has a sense of humour. In Melancholia, this is eerily prevalent in the bizarre wedding sequences that make up the film’s first, and superior, half. Essentially, Von Trier’s idea for the film was to dramatise how a depressed person reacts more calmly than others in a situation of high stress. The man has a past plagued with anxiety and depression, so he is certainly no stranger to the afflictions. But the sledgehammer subtlety he adopts overwhelms some of its more brilliant reservations.

Monday Links (08/08)

I wasn't going to do 'Monday Links' this week, but I figured I'd start the day with something easy to get my brain working. Even though I had a solid sleep, I still feel ridiculously tired. It's also an opportunity to check out everyone's work from the weekend, which I unfortunately had to neglect. Earlier in the week I watched the pretty hilarious horror spoof, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, and reviewed Rougethe final film in the Trois Couleurs Trilogy. After I get through all my MIFF reviews, I intend to check out Rise of the Planet of the Apes and L'illusionniste before continuing with Kieslowski's The Decalogue and the Altman films I have vowed to watch this month. When? I don't know!

So, without further ado, here are some great articles from this week:

MIFF Diary (August 5th-7th)

First of all, I'd like to thank everyone who visited the site and commented over the weekend. Apologies for the delayed responses. All I had was my phone for the entirety of the weekend so commenting back was difficult. I also feel very out-of-the-loop with everyone else's blogs, so I'll get around to catching up ASAP.

Here are the crazy antics I got up to in Melbourne for the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF):

Friday August 5th

It sure was an early start to the adventure. Following a smooth trip to Sydney Airport, we caught a 6.15am flight to Tullamarine Airport, Melbourne. We arrived in the city centre shortly after 8am courtesy of an efficient shuttle bus. My companions for this adventure were my two friends Thomas Jordan and Virginie Galvez. Like me, Thomas made the journey to watch the hotly anticipated films we had booked tickets for. Virginie, leaving the country next month, had never been to Melbourne and wanted to see the city before she left. With our first film of the day, Lars Von Trier's Melancholia, scheduled for 6.30pm, we had the entire day to check into our hotel (Rydges) and to explore the city.

Our first stop was a cafe called Cumulus, where we devoured a much-needed breakfast. Surprisingly, we were able to check into our hotel room at about 10am, which freed us of our cumbersome baggage. Our next stop was another cafe (yes, I drink a lot of coffee), which had been recommended by a friend of ours. It was a trendy little establishment which served up great coffee and had a roof adorned with chairs, which I thought was pretty cool. After a quick walk-through of the State Library, we then made our way out to Brunswick Street in Fitzroy. We spent most of the day there. Amongst the highlights were the chance spotting of Dylan Moran (and Virginie's accidental photograph of the man), the dirt-cheap DVD purchases of Notorious, The Killing and Dawn of the Dead, and the mussels and beer we ordered at the Little Creatures Brewery.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

MIFF Adventures

Unfortunately, there will be a complete absence of posts this weekend because I will be out of town. Another state actually. I am currently packing for an early flight to Melbourne for the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF). From Monday, expect my usual 'Monday Links' but also a MIFF diary, chronicling my adventures in Melbourne (the films I see, the people I meet and the expected chaos of the 'Closing Night' party), and reviews for Melancholia, Tiny Furniture, Drive and Another Earth.

Here is my schedule for MIFF.

Friday August 5 
- Melancholia (6.30pm)
- Tiny Furniture (9.00pm)

Saturday August 6
- Drive (7.30pm)

Sunday August 7
- Another Earth (4.00pm)

Hope everyone has a great weekend!