Monday, October 31, 2011

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

Okay, so we can say goodbye to October. I can't believe the Melbourne Cup has come round again (tomorrow). I posted 21 reviews this month - 12 of which were of new releases. This was also the highest trafficked month in the blog's existence, and I am on pace to not only surpass 365 films in 2011, but also 500 posts. This is barring any unforeseen circumstances, or a huge drop off in motivation and/or material. In the lead up to the Oscars, there is usually always plenty to write about.

There will be no 'Monday Links' post this week so I thought I would us this as an opportunity to recap what I have watched in the last week, and provide a few links to the week's top articles. At the cinemas I re-watched Drive (and it jumped straight into my Top 10 of 2011) and saw a couple of advanced screenings of Bill Cunningham New York and Our Idiot Brother.

For the LAMB Acting School 101 I reviewed Heavenly Creatures and listed my Top 5 Kate Winslet Performances. To catch up on the films I didn't cover in a feature length review, I compiled a series of Quick Reviews/Ratings of films new to me in October. For further reading, be sure to check out:

Alex @ And So it Begins has embarked on an Epic Horror Quest for Halloween. Check out the results of his marathon here, with Part 1 and Part 2.

Tyler @ Southern Vision asks: What Makes A Movie A Must-See?

Max @ Anomalous Material writes a great article on The Cinema of Assault.

The LAMBCast #90 is up on The LAMB, hear Dylan, Sam, Alex and Fredo discuss The Ides of March.

and, Ryan McNeil @ The Matinee has written a great review of Martha Marcy May Marlene.

Though I had intended to work through the films of Jean-Luc Godard this month, I only managed to squeeze in two. November should include the other eight I have on my list. I also watched multiple films from several other directors this month. Included were Sam Peckinpah (The Getaway and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia) and for a personal Halloween special, Wes Craven (The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes) and Dario Argento (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Suspiria). Having been disappointed by what I had seen by Peckinpah prior to this pair, I did enjoy both films. I was impressed by The Hills Have Eyes (and it was a big improvement over Craven's debut) but I still preferred Alexander Aja's 2006 re-make. That might be blasphemy, but it's true. Suspiria is a film I will be obsessing about for a while. There are some terrifying moments, and the 'candy coloured nightmare' (as I have read it to be described as) is a triumph of visual flair, vibrant colour and clever lighting, and an unforgettable score by Goblin.

I might have time to watch a film this evening - Run Lola Run - which would then make it 41 films watched in October. You can find them, and my 'Essential Viewing' selections, after the jump:

Sunday, October 30, 2011

October: Quick Reviews and Ratings

I don't have the time and energy to review every film I watch, so I'll give a quick review and rating of some first viewings I have not looked at in-depth throughout the month of October:

Cape Fear (J. Lee Thompson, 1962) - The plot is simple and straightforward, with Robert Mitchum perfectly cast as the villainous Max Cady who comes after the family of Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck), an attorney who testified for Cady's conviction, resulting in eight years in prison. There is a consistent growth in tension, punctuated by an ever-present threat of sexual assault on Bowden's child, which would have caused a stir in the early 60's, and culminating in a violent showdown between the men at Bowden's houseboat on Cape Fear. Re-made by Martin Scorsese in 1991, starring Robert De Niro. ★★★★

Alfie (Lewis Gilbert, 1966) - I was surprised to read that Alfie, an unusual British film, had been nominated for multiple Academy Awards. While I enjoyed Michael Caine's performance, and his amusing narration/commentary that frequently breaks the fourth wall, I didn't find the film particularly memorable. Caine plays Alfie Elkins, a charming womaniser who encounters several life changes, including the birth of his first son, the subsequent separation from him and the boy's mother, and a health scare, which lead to his personal and emotional growth and a change to his outlook on life. It's very funny on occasions, but it is also quite insulting and degrading of women. ★★★1/2

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Dario Argento, 1970) - This is an excellent horror/thriller debut from Argento (who would later direct Suspiria). An American living in Italy witnesses an attempted murder, but can't shake the thought that there is something odd about the whole affair. He gets caught up in the case and starts obsessing over it, before his life (and that of his girlfriend's) is threatened by the sadistic killer. There is a great pace to this film with Argento crafting a compelling story, building a tense atmosphere and punctuating it all with several terrifying sequences, that would have proven shocking at the time. The photography by Vittorio Storaro is stellar and this is certainly influential work within the genre. ★★★★

Honouring Halloween: Memorable Horror Films and Moments

To honour Halloween, an event that has no 'feel' here in Australia, I thought I would reminisce on some of my memorable horror films and moments.

First time I remember being truly terrified by a film was The Silence of the Lambs. No, I didn't watch it in '91 but it was still a few years too early.

The biggest jump scare I ever got was in Mulholland Drive. That scene.

The most electrifying 'chills down my spine' feeling came in The Wicker Man. 

The film that had me waking up throughout the night feeling distressed was Funny Games (1997).

The film that prompted me to sit in shock throughout the entire closing credits was Saw. The ending rattled me.

My favourite horror film is Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.

What would you select? 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

New Release Review: Our Idiot Brother (Jesse Peretz, 2011)

Our Idiot Brother opens in cinemas November 3rd.

I like Paul Rudd. Though he plays slightly altered versions of himself in almost every film he has starred in, his largish roles in Knocked Up and I Love You, Man and his memorable support in Anchorman and Forgetting Sarah Marshall have proven he is a reliable comedic performer who portrays characters who laid-back and likeable and usually shares a great on-screen chemistry with his co-stars. In a departure from his clean-cut norm, Rudd's saint-like character in Our Idiot Brother, Ned, sports flowing long hair and a disheveled beard. I guess whether or not you enjoy this light, gentle comedy/drama comes down to how much you like Rudd’s acting style.

Ned is a kind, idealistic man who desires to help everyone and anyone he crosses paths with. His philosophy is to be wholeheartedly ‘good’ and place his trust in human beings, in the hope that natural decency will result in his kindness to be reciprocated. He discovers, in a series of mishaps, that result in him being imprisoned, losing his girlfriend and his beloved dog, and wreaking havoc on the lives of his three overbearing sisters, that this philosophy is quite unique to him.

Friday, October 28, 2011

New Release Review: Bill Cunningham New York (Richard Press, 2010)

Opening in cinemas November 3rd, 2011.

Bill Cunningham New York, directed by Richard Press, is a thoroughly entertaining documentary about an eccentric obsessive, a passionate and dedicated professional, and a happy, kind-hearted, down-to-earth and extremely likeable individual. Bill Cunningham is not just a New York Times photographer; he is a cultural anthropologist who has been chronicling for decades the most peculiar of New York City’s fashion trends (from the street level) and the ever-changing image of high society.

His columns, “On the Street" and “Evening Hours” appear regularly in the Times’ style section, and he has become somewhat of a celebrity himself. He has, essentially, become part of the culture of the city and as Vogue editor Anna Wintour suggests, is so recognizable (riding around on his bicycle and sporting a blue windbreaker), he prompts everyone to “get dressed up” for him. Meticulous with his vision, Bill will do anything to get the shot he wants – including running out into the middle of street, battling rival bicycles and taxis, to capture an outfit, or just a unique item of clothing, that catches his eye.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Top 5 Kate Winslet Performances

What else can be said about Kate Winslet? She's beautiful, she's one of the finest actors in the world, the youngest person ever to gather six Academy Award nominations and if there is anyone currently working who can be compared to the great Meryl Streep, it is Kate. My minor obsession with Kate was rekindled when I recently watched Contagion, a role which was easily the 'best in show'. She is also set to star in Roman Polanski's upcoming drama, Carnage. For the LAMB Acting School 101 I thought I would give a quick overview of her career and list her five greatest performances. 

She was just 19 years of age when she received critical acclaim for her superb performance in Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures (1994). A year later she received an Academy Award nomination for Sense and Sensibility and another one in 1997 for Titanic. Remarkably, and I only realised this the other day, she was just 22 years-old in Titanic. I have only seen the film once in it's entirety, at the cinema in 1997 when I was nine, and I didn't take any notice of how good she was. Only a few sequences stick out in my mind - she got naked on one occasion. Anyway, she was nominated for an Oscar for the role and from what I have seen of the film on television repeats, she is very good. As is Leo. But out of fairness for this list, I'm going to leave that role as an honourable mention.

Kate continued to receive praise and awards nominations for Quills, Enigma and Iris (2000-2001) before starring in the critically panned The Life of David Gale alongside Kevin Spacey. I'm wary of revisiting this film, because I remember thinking it wasn't bad back in 2003. The cast probably had something to do with it. Next came Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind where she was spectacular and Finding Neverland where she was perfectly cast alongside a charming, likeable and subtle performance from Johnny Depp.

Releases (27/10)

Well, this might just be the biggest badass week in 2011 cinema. Drive AND Warrior are released this week and they are both outstanding. Before I go through the week in film and give my recommendation (well I already have) I want to give an update Top 10 of 2011 list. This week has resulted in a number of changes (including a swift rise for Drive and a further growth in appreciation for Take Shelter). So, here goes:

10. Rango
9. Martha Marcy May Marlene
8. Midnight in Paris
7. Take Shelter
6. Drive 
5. Incendies
4. Project Nim
3. The Tree of Life
2. A Separation
1. Senna

With the release of Drive tomorrow that means there are three of my Top 10 currently in cinemas. Throw in Warrior and Contagion and there should be no reason why anyone would have nothing to see this weekend.

Drive - Ryan Gosling stars as a Los Angeles wheelman for hire, stunt driving for movie productions by day and steering getaway vehicles for armed heists by night. Though a loner by nature, Driver can't help falling in love with his beautiful neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan), a vulnerable young mother dragged into a dangerous underworld by the return of her ex-convict husband Standard (Oscar Isaac). After a heist intended to pay off Standard's protection money spins unpredictably out of control, and when Driver discovers that the serious criminals tailgating him are after Irene and her son, Driver must go on the offensive. This is an homage to 70's/80's American crime thrillers, which were renowned for their pulpy violence, but made with a slick, stylish European arthouse aesthetic. Nicholas Winding Refn won the Best Director award at Cannes and this extraordinary film is expertly shot, edited, scored and acted (especially the man-of-the-moment Gosling). Not to be missed.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Classic Throwback: A Woman is A Woman (Jean-Luc Godard, 1961)

The second film of this self-appointed Godard endeavour was his 1961 work Un Femme est une femme [A Woman is A Woman] starring Anna Karina, Jean-Paul Belmondo (Breathless) and Jean-Claue Brialy. To say it is an odd film is an understatement. I'm sure many have claimed it to be self-indulgent and pretentious too. I enjoyed A Woman is a Woman and found it to be unique, playful, witty, funny and generally successful in it's intentions - functioning as a French social commentary and a clever tribute to, and subversion of, the American musical comedy. It's also Godard flaunting his cinematic intellect and obsessively subverting the mechanics of the medium.

A Woman is A Woman centres on an exotic dancer, Angela (Karina), and her lover Emile (Brialy). They live together in a Parisian apartment and despite Angela expressing her spontaneous desire to have a child, Emile refuses to consent to marrying her, seemingly content with their relationship. Somewhat intentionally, Angela forces Emile's buffoon of a best friend, Alfred (Belmondo), to fall in love with her, thus setting up a love triangle. He follows her around like a lost puppy declaring how much he loves her while trying to force Angela to end it with Emile, the man she clearly loves more.

Fresh from his black and white crime noir/romance, Breathess, Godard instead makes use of loud, vibrant colour here. The experimental and playful use of intermittent sound is also a strange feature, with loud bursts of score (from composer Michel Ligrand) existing in between almost every line of spoken dialogue, only to subside when the characters speak and converse. Angela and Emile never seem to have a proper discussion either, choosing to argue about trivialities such as the way Angela pronounces the letter 'r' and using the titles of books taken off the shelf to communicate with one another.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Classic Throwback: Heavenly Creatures (Peter Jackson, 1994)

Heavenly Creatures is a pretty extraordinary film. Having never seen any of Peter Jackson’s work prior to The Lord of the Rings (2001-03), the skilled craftsmanship and the imaginative vision he brings to this film, not to mention drawing fantastic performances from his young and inexperienced leads was a surprise. Opening to strong critical acclaim at the Venice Film Festival in 1994, Jackson’s film is shot on-location in Christchurch, New Zealand, where the notorious Parker-Hulme murder case, which the film depicts, occurred.

I was gripped to Heavenly Creatures from the opening frames, which features the shrill screams of two young women as they run hysterically through a forest. The energetic camera tracks them from several different perspectives - closely following them, capturing them from a medium distance and often acting as their POV. It’s an intriguing opening and presents a mystery. Why are the girls hysterical? Why are they covered in blood? The hyperactive pace of this scene, which features plenty of quick cuttings and innovative camerawork, is matched throughout the film as the story (from a screenplay co-written by Jackson and his wife Fran Walsh which received an Academy Award nomination) rips along, effectively develops the girl's unique friendship and their motivations for their actions and barely wastes a minute.

Monday Links (24/10)

I can't believe it was over a week ago that I saw Warrior. How this week has flown. I'm up to 29 films this month. Keeping up to date on new releases, I attended a screening of The Three Musketeers and sessions of Red State and Contagion. Soderbergh's film I really liked. In what is becoming a weekly ritual, my friends and I had a movie night - this week watching Weekend at Bernie's and Harold and Maude for the first time. I finally started my Godard marathon with Breathless and A Woman is a Woman and also finally saw Werner Herzog's extraordinary Fitzacarraldo. For the remainder of the month I will be focusing mostly on Godard, Carpenter (for LAMBS in the Director's Chair) and Kate Winslet (because she is awesome, and I want to catch up on a few of her films for LAMB Acting School 101). Oh, and Drive comes out on the 27th so I'll definitely be squeezing in another viewing at some point.

So, on with the links for this week:

La Haine: Comparing the Approach to Hollywood Genre Cinema of Lars Von Trier and Matthieu Kassovitz

Part 2: La Haine

From the words of Jodie Foster in her review of La Haine in Shooting Down Pictures, “in a Europe so saturated with American culture and its media barrage of violent images, there is a young disenfranchised generation emerging from the embers. La Haine examines one that has its own identity; its own wounds…” La Haine presents a nightmarish glimpse of how its three male protagonists attempt to survive in a racist milieu of surveillance, exclusion and annihilation, with a central message explicitly about an impending crisis for French society. By adopting a ‘realist’ aesthetic and depiction of a savage 24 hours in the lives of three racial minorities of France, the film makes visible ‘a social time bomb ready to explode’ (Sanjay Sharma, ‘So Far So Good: La Haine and the Poetics of the Everyday) in the decaying multi-racial suburbs of France, torn apart by racial and class division. For these youth, the crisis is of the order of the everyday and the practices of marginalisation, brutalisation and racial terror are integral to their lives. Their hardiness, and embedded anger at their situation is important in maintaining a balance of power on the streets, and the trio utilise it to stand against the police force, which function in the film as a gang of their own.  La Haine’s appeal is evident through its embellished realism; coupled with an arresting hip-hop/rap soundtrack.

The fast-growing subculture of American hip hop is finding its way into more and more Hollywood productions and becoming a commodity internationally. There is a strong representation in films such as Do the Right Thing by Spike Lee (1989) and Boyz in the Hood by John Singleton (1991). It is the most accessible form of hip-hop in the world, placing emphasis on ghettos, guns, drugs and sex in the lyrics. This influence within the French ghettos is realised through Kassovitz’s film, as he makes a comment about youth culture in the banlieue through this American influence. In the tradition of the American hip-hop cinema the film is cut around the soundtrack, but Kassovitz has subverted this by using the sound ‘within’ the action and using it in a way of reflecting the use of American hip-hop ‘within’ French culture, but not driving La Haine through the music.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Dancer in the Dark: Comparing the Approach to Hollywood Genre Cinema of Lars Von Trier and Matthiew Kassovitz

Part 1: Dancer in the Dark

To begin this examination it is important first to look at the classic Hollywood style of filmmaking in its earliest example. The readings of Anderson, Eisenstein and Deleuze suggest the idea that organic parallel montage, first introduced and perfected by D.W Griffith in The Birth of a Nation (1915), is representative of the cinematic form of the nation. Eisenstein describes Griffith’s model of parallel montage as ‘two story lines, where one emotionally heightens the tension and drama of the other’ leading to a feature of ‘direct-lined quickening and an increase in tempo’. Anderson and Eisenstein form the background of Deleuze’s philosophical notion that the organic montage method is anchored by parallelism, alternation and convergence towards a final climax; in other words, a very systematic approach to early filmmaking. In the mind of the viewer, separate events make sense because of their integration within the same shared space and a “complete confidence in the anonymous, simultaneous activity” (Benedict Anderson) of the other people sharing that space.

Alternatives of this mode of filmmaking were also being established in the cinema of Weimar Germany, France and the Soviet Union (under Eisenstein himself). Later, I will briefly discuss how these modes of filmmaking have remained in the consciousness of New European filmmakers with the development of the post-national cinema in Europe, particularly the presence of the Soviet influence in La Haine. With the presence of globalisation and cultural changes within Europe, the cinema industry has abandoned a systematic approach and adopted a fragmented style as its politics. Popular themes of New European cinema is the reflection of contemporary life within these national spaces, but generally not by restructuring the work of Griffith. Many films in this course are not interested in the the tradition of American cinema, but Lars Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark and Matthieu Kossovitz’s La Haine are. These films, and the difference in the way their filmmakers have approached American cinema is the central focus of this analysis.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

New Release Review: Contagion (Steven Soderbergh, 2011)

Steven Soderbergh has developed a signature style, as seen in his acclaimed films Out of Sight, Traffic and Ocean’s Eleven, of utilizing a multi-location montage style that makes use of a diverse array of sequence lengths and tones. Soderbergh has the unique ability (and a primary influence is evidently Robert Altman) to tell a universal story by weaving together multiple plot arcs and using an ensemble cast. In Contagion it is the rise of a worldwide pandemic, a 'fomite' transmission virus, as experienced by different levels of society. Documenting everyday citizens who fall victim and desperate medical professionals who are not only trying to find the source of the virus and develop a vaccine, but also need to control the mass panic that spreads just as fast as the virus itself.

The suspected source of the virus is Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow), a Minneapolis woman who collapses with severe seizures just days after returning from a business trip to Hong Kong. Her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) rushes her to hospital but she dies of the unknown disease, as does Mitch's stepson a short time later. But Beth isn't the only one. We witness people in Hong Kong, China and Chicago succumbing to similar symptoms. Fearing an epidemic Dr Ellis Cheever (Lawrence Fishburne) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sends Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet), an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer, to Minneapolis to begin an investigation. She questions Beth's husband and work colleagues. It is revealed that Mitch is immune to the virus. 

Meanwhile CDC scientist Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) begins to study the virus in the attempts to culture a vaccine, enlisting the help of Professor Ian Sussman (Elliot Gould). Dr Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard), a World Health Organisation epidemiologist, travels to Hong Kong to locate the origins of the virus, while a conspiracy-minded freelance journalist and video blogger, Alan Krumweide (Jude Law) claims that he recovered from the virus by using a drug called forsythia, and tries to take advantage of the outbreak by defaming CDC and Dr. Cheever and economically benefiting.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Classic Throwback: Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard, 1959)

Godard has famously said: “All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl.” With Breathless, the simple but effective premise has resulted in one of the most entertaining and influential films of the 20th Century. Godard is indeed an influential and unorthodox filmmaker, and whether you love or hate him, you can’t ignore that his social critique through the medium and the techniques he introduced and perfected stem from his popular debut feature. Included are jump cuts, odd camera angling – including the dominant use of hand-held - lengthy takes of what seems to be improvised dialogue, and the blurring of genres.

Michel (played by the charismatic and usually excellent Jean-Paul Belmondo) is a small time crook who, in the film’s opening scene, steals a car in Marseille and finds himself pursued by the police. Panicked, he shoots one who has followed him onto a country road and flees. Arriving back in Paris, he meets up with his American girlfriend, Patricia (the incredibly cute Jean Seberg), an aspiring journalist who sells the New York Herald Tribune on the streets of Paris.

Penniless, Michel continuously tries to call and locate a man who owes him money, while attempting to seduce Patricia and convince her to escape to Italy with him. She unwittingly hides him in her apartment, where they share their affections and cynically but passionately converse on various other matters. At one point she even tells Michel she is pregnant with his child. Above all though, these two young attractive and likeable people talk about themselves. Michel even recognizes this on one occasion, explaining to Patricia: “When we talked, I talked about me and you talked about you, when we should have talked about each other.”

Essay: Niche European Films and their Depiction of Social Conformity/Rejection

Note: This is a slightly reworked university essay I wrote a few years ago. Utilising several films as examples, I will attempt to argue that films are about the same life challenges that everyone faces: the creation of individual identity; the separation from the parent; and the struggle to overcome the context you were born into in order to become an autonomous person.

The twentieth century has been a tumultuous period for many European nations, as a number of horrific stages of political empowerment, genocide, warfare and class struggle have come to pass. As a result, the world has been considerably altered by the cause and effect of these important periods of political and cultural change. As a document, a number of essential films have been made about these historical periods.

Many of the individuals in these films have been shown in a struggle against a changing political regime, or forced to make a choice as to whether to accept the life they are born into or choose to resist against it. It is the various examinations of these individuals that I will attempt to discuss in this article. Each individual seeks to overcome the context of their birth and become an autonomous person, making their own decisions to aid not only the fate of themselves but also the future of their nation.

The first of these films is Padre Padrone (1977), an Italian film by the Taviani brothers that examines the story of Gavino Ledda, and traces significant episodes dramatising his childhood, growth to manhood and the eventual education that transforms him from an inarticulate shepherd boy to eventual author. Padre Padrone is set in Sardinia, and patiently constructs and exposes the peasant life of the young boy through a series of early scenes showing a brutal ritual of survival that leaves Gavino close to death.

The Taviani's have said that Gavino's father and the hills of Sardinia "represent a brutally paternalistic conditioning process in Gavino's school of hard knocks." Gavino is dragged out of class and pushed into a volatile world, ruled by his father's hand and word. It is the contrast of his father's obsessive commitment to power, and Gavino's growing awareness and increasing interest of the 'outside' modern world (through his discovery of music and his trade for the accordion) that is the thematic centre of the film.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

New Release Review: Warrior (Gavin Cooper, 2011)

Warrior follows a similar trope as many preceding sporting films, dating back to Rocky from 1976 and even David O. Russell’s The Fighter from last year – but despite the conventional plot, and a predictable stream of events, director Gavin Cooper, who was also one of the writers, recognizes the clichés from the start and manages to impressively overcome them. He has built a gritty, emotionally rich family drama, which focuses on two compelling protagonists that we wholeheartedly care about by the end of the film.

Warrior focuses on two brothers, Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton) and Tommy Reardon (Tom Hardy), who enter an elite Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) tournament called SPARTA, which draws together the world's toughest middleweights and offers a $5 Million dollar purse. Each has their own reasons for entering the competition, which are revealed throughout the film.

The film opens with Tommy visiting his father Paddy (Nick Nolte), a former alcoholic turned Christian. Tommy is upset by the way Paddy abandoned him and his ill mother as a child, but due to mysterious circumstances, he has returned to Pittsburgh and asks his father to train him for SPARTA, as he once did when Tommy was a child prodigy. Brendan is a high school physics teacher, who has all-but cut ties with his father and moonlights as an MMA fighter. He fights amateurs for money to save his ailing mortgage. He is suspended from teaching when he is spotted in action, and with nowhere else to turn, tracks down friend and trainer, Frank Campana (Frank Grillo), and sets his sights on the tournament.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Releases (20/10)

Released this week in Australian cinemas are Midnight in Paris, Contagion, Paranormal Activity 3, The Three Musketeers, TT3D Closer to the Edge and George Harrison: Living in the Material World.

Midnight in Paris - This a delightful film and should be on top of everyone's lists this week. It's one of the best films of the year. A Hollywood screenwriter, Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) is vacationing in Paris with his fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams), where he has an magical experience that will forever change his life. Aspiring to write a great novel about a man who works in a nostalgia store, Gil attempts to absorb the romanticism of Paris for inspiration, while committed to the illusion of a previous era - a 'golden age' when his literary idols were at their peak. Marion Cotillard, Michael Sheen, Kathy Bates and Adrien Brody co-star. You will have a smile etched across your face for the entirety, and the photography is sensational.

Contagion - From acclaimed director, Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Ocean's Eleven), Contagion follows the rapid progress of a lethal airborne virus that kills within days. As the fast-moving epidemic grows, the worldwide medical community races to find a cure and control the panic that spreads faster than the virus itself. At the same time, ordinary people struggle to survive in a society coming apart. Described as a tense, tightly plotted, exceptionally smart - and scary - disaster movie, Contagion also features a stellar cast including Marion Cotillard (that's two films this week), Matt Damon, Jude Law, Kate Winslet and Gwyneth Paltrow. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

New Release Review: Red State (Kevin Smith, 2011)

Red State, the ambitious departure from writer/director Kevin Smith, is set in a small town dominated by an extremist fundamentalist preacher, Abin Cooper (Michael Parks). In the film’s opening scene, a teenager, Travis (Michael Angarano), is being driven to school when he notices members of the Five Points Church protesting the funeral of a local gay teenager who was found murdered. As Travis enters class, he blames his lateness on the demonstration, which prompts his teacher to discuss how Cooper and his church have been the focus of ridicule, and how he was even considered too right wing for the Nazis. Later, Jared (Kyle Gallner), a friend of Travis, convinces Travis and their friend Billy Ray (Nicholas Braun) to accompany him to meet a woman for group sex.

They meet the woman who sent out the invitation, Sarah Cooper (Melissa Leo). Excited by the prospect, the boys drink the beers she supplies and encourages them to drink. They soon discover they have been drugged and find themselves held as hostages by the Cooper congregation, with Cooper intending to kill them as an example of the Godless undesirables his cult protests. Cooper indulges in a lengthy, hate-filled sermon before revealing another captive, a homosexual lured through similar means as they boys.

When news of the hostage situation and the death of a deputy who investigates the compound is made known to the incompetent Sherrif Wynan (Stephen Root), he calls in an agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), Joseph Keenan (John Goodman), to front a search of the church for suspected firearms. A violent shootout between an ATF team and the machine gun-wielding Christians ensues, as the surviving teens find themselves embroiled in the struggle.

Monday, October 17, 2011

New Release Review: The Three Musketeers (Paul W. S Anderson, 2011)

In this 2011 update of Alexander Dumas’ classic tale, Paul W. S Anderson (responsible for the Resident Evil series, Alien vs. Predator and Death Race) is the man at the helm. He brings his muse (well, his wife apparently), Milla Jovovich, back again for this overblown 3D action adventure that is as abysmal as anything I have seen this year.

This messy, convoluted script isn’t even worth delving into. But all you need to know is that the three legendary rouge musketeers, Athos (Matthew Macfayden), Porthos (Ray Stevenson) and Aramis (Luke Evans) are joined by a hotheaded upstart named D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman), who has ridden into Paris seeking to make a name for himself. Instead he picks fights with Rochefort (Mads Mikkelsen), the leader of Cardinal Richelieu’s (Christoph Waltz) private guard, and each of the musketeers.

Having been betrayed by Milady de Winter (Jovovich) during a Venetian mission to steal Leonardo Da Vinci’s plans for an airship, the musketeers are unemployed and useless. But fueled by a desire to seize the French throne, Richelieu sets plans in motion to have France, ruled by King Louis XIII (Feddie Fox) go to war with England, ruled by the Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom). In order to reclaim a stolen diamond necklace and halt the escalation into war, D’Artagnan and the musketeers are called to action, pitted against Milady and a ruthless Rochefort.

Monday Links (17/10)

Though I was supposed to be taking a break in October, I have found myself consuming more films than ever (hence, the chosen photo this week). I am up to 19 films so far in October. Last Tuesday my friends and I had a movie night. We watched Michael Caine's Alfie and Carpenter's Escape from New York before I individually watched Black Narcissus, which was one of the best films I have ever seen. Another of the films we hired out for the night was Mr. Brooks, a film I was told was overlooked back in 2007. I wasn't overly impressed with it. I made up for that with eXistenZ, which was awesome.

After re-watching Take Shelter, I got my act together on Friday and had a double feature, The Cup and The Thing. The fact that The Thing was the best film I watched on that night, doesn't signify a recommendation for the former. Last night was the Red Carpet Premiere of Warrior, which I was invited to. Joel Edgerton was there - he introduced the film. Curiously, Ronan Keating also made an appearance. Tonight I am going to be watching The Three Musketeers and hope to catch Contagion before it's release on Thursday.

I am a little bit behind on my blogging, so I haven't had the time to browse through everyone's blogs. There are only eight articles this week:

Short Film: Skwerl

Check out Skwerl, a short film a few of my friends put together recently for Kino Sydney that has since become a Youtube phenomenon. Now approaching 300,000 views in just over a week, this interesting and funny film is a depiction of what the English language would sound like to foreigners. The actors speak in a fake language, a mixture of actual English and gibberish.

Skwerl was written and directed by Brian Fairbairn, who directed a production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and stars Fiona Pepper, a Sydney based actor and WAAPA graduate, and Karl Eccleston, a writer and language enthusiast. Thom Jordan, who worked on sound and lighting, is a Sydney based actor and short filmmaker. I know all of these talented young people personally, and it is really great to see them creating great work, and being recognised for it.

What are your thoughts? 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

New Release: The Cup (Simon Wincer, 2011)

Remember when Media Puzzle won the 2002 Melbourne Cup, when his jockey Damian Oliver overcame the tragic death of his brother Jason just a week before the event – the race that ‘Stops the Nation’ – to lead his horse to an emotional victory? The Cup, directed by Simon Wincer (Pharlap), tells this inspiring and transcendent true story. Having opened in cinemas on Thursday, The Cup has been released on the eve of the 2011 Spring Racing Carnival. Come to think of it, the Melbourne Cup is in less than three weeks. How this year has flown. But plagued by a corny screenplay that suffers from awful dialogue (even the great Brendan Gleeson looks bad spouting his lines), forced and unsubtle exposition and an uneven balancing of the stories of the trainers and jockeys, The Cup will be lucky to still be gathering crowds come the day of the big race.

The Cup opens poorly and it is evident pretty quickly that this is not going to be a film of high quality. The presentation of the Scobie Beasley Medal, which is a monumental event in the sport, feels like an under-10’s soccer presentation. Damian Oliver (played by Stephen Curry) is awarded the medal by his proud older brother, Jason (Daniel McPherson). Following Damian's speech (which I have witnessed the real Damian Oliver blow away naturally, and unscripted) there are some lackluster attempts at humour that would have no purpose being at a presentation of this nature.

Regarded as one of Australia’s best jockeys, Irish trainer Dermot Weld (Brendan Gleeson) has set his sights on Damien to ride his horse, Media Puzzle, the less-favoured stable mate of Melbourne Cup hopeful, Vinnie Roe. After the horses land in Australia under the care of stable hand, Dave Phillips (Tom Burlinson), Damien rides Media Puzzle to victory in the Geelong Cup, breaking the track record and qualifying the horse as a starter in the Cup. At the same time, Dubai racing giants, the Godolphin Stables, have assembled their starters in Australia, including the heavily favoured, Pugin.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

New Release Review: The Thing (Matthijs van Heijningen, 2011)

This idea was always going to be problematic, because anyone who has seen John Carpenter's 1982 version of The Thing (which is actually based on the 1951 Howard Hawks-Christian Nyby film, The Thing From Another World and the John W. Campbell Jr. novella, Who Goes There?) will know of the fates of the characters appearing in this film. But, this prequel, which is set three days before the events depicted in the earlier film, was given the green light based on the decision to reveal the intriguing circumstances that led to the startling events that open the '82 classic. There are plenty of possibilities, but it's frustrating to endure such a similar series of events. Sharing the same name, Matthijs van Heijningen's version follows a team of Norwegian and American scientists who discover an alien buried deep within the ice of Antarctica.

A young American palaeontologist, Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) is recruited by crack scientist Sander Halversen (Ulrich Thomsen, In A Better World) and his assistant Adam Goodman (Eric Christian Olsen, The Last Kiss) to join a Norwegian scientific team that has discovered a crashed extraterrestrial spaceship buried beneath Antarctica. They discover the frozen corpse of a creature, which they recover and keep imprisoned in a giant block of ice. Following a test, which establishes that the creature is not of this earth, the creature comes to life and escapes. It begins terrorising the group, with Kate discovering that it has the ability to impersonate any life form it touches and absorbs. Sure enough, it is evident that no-one can be trusted, and it is up to Kate, and the crew's pilot, Sam Carter (Joel Edgerton, Warrior), to ensure the creature remains quarantined at the station.

Classic Throwback: eXistenZ (David Cronenberg, 1999)

Cronenberg has proven successful in the past, and I refer to Videodrome here, when he has examined how humanity has gradually become seduced by and immersed in escapist media and how they react and interact to the advancement of technology that surround them. Have we become tortured souls with the desire to suppress our own reality and live through another? In Videodrome, the influence of television programs is central to the plot and how we frequently desire to live in the reality of what we are watching, and absorbing reality (the example is a snuff film) through a medium. Cronenberg makes it frighteningly aware that we are consistently watching people on television watch television. It was a film ahead of its time.

In the case of his 1999 Silver Bear winner, eXistenZ, the focus is on gaming. In the unspecified future existence the film adopts, gaming has advanced to a point where its creators have installed an interactive experience that can be shared (through a bio-port in the users’ bodies) and influenced by the individual desires of the gamers. Organic virtual reality game consoles known as “game pods” have replaced electronic ones, with this game world one that addicted gamers begin to prefer to their actual existence.

What The Matrix (also released in 1999) did was reveal that all humanity lived in a Matrix, an alternate reality controlled by a computer system, masking their reality, which they were oblivious to. Inception, more recently, established that shared dream states could become so elaborate that dreamers misinterpret their existence, unable to determine whether they are sleeping or awake. Similar premises fuel the surreal action in Cronenberg’s tense science fiction thriller.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Review: Mr Brooks (Bruce A. Evans, 2007)

Earle Brooks (Kevin Costner) is a successful philanthropist, a ‘Man-of-the-year’ and a loving family man in Bruce A. Evans' 2007 thriller, Mr Brooks. He is also a serial killer, or The Fingerprint Killer as the media have tagged him. He chooses his victims at random and leaves no clues. Having suppressed his psychological demons for two years, his addiction (and he even attends AA meetings to keep them at bay) to killing resurfaces through the aggressive inspiration of his vicious alter ego, Marshall (William Hurt), who fuels Brooks’ double-life.

We get a quick insight into Brooks’ genius in his murder of a young couple and through his meticulous procedures - using a plastic bag to cover the gun, vacuuming the crime scene and destroying his clothing in a giant furnace in his study. Though he is out and about all night, his wife Emma (Marg Helgenberger) never suspects anything. But during the aforementioned killing he is spotted through the curtains (which were conveniently left open, despite the couple engaged in sex) and photographed. The witness, a slimy murder-addict played by Dane Cook, blackmails Brooks into agreeing to accept him as his protégé. They start to cruise the city looking for someone who seems ‘fun to kill’.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Classic Throwback: Black Narcissus (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1947)

Having earlier in the year watched The Red Shoes, the 1948 masterpiece from The Archers - the filmmaking duo of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger - and Peeping Tom, which is the controversial film that ended Powell’s career in Britain, I sure was intrigued when Anna at Defiant Success and James at Cinema Sights recommended Black Narcissus to me, claiming it to be the best of the three. I decided to watch it immediately. I was absolutely blown away. Who would have thought that a film released in 1947 and focused on nuns would be so erotic? I have seen this film listed pretty high on ‘All Time’ lists and it now comes as no surprise.

Black Narcissus is based on the novel of the same name by Rumer Godden, and tells the story of a group of Angelican nuns who travel to a remote Himalayan location (The Palace of Mopu) to set up a convent – a school and hospital for the local community. Despite the fears of the Reverend Mother that she is too young to be assigned such responsibility, Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr, outstanding) is enlisted as the Sister Superior, and is joined by four other sisters who each possess unique abilities and personalities. Sister Phillipa (Flora Johnson) is a gifted gardener, Sister Briony (Judith Furse) is a nurse, Sister Honey (Jenny Laird) is cheerful and popular teacher, while Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron), ill and mentally unstable, is sent along in the hope she will be healed by the change.

Releases (13/10)

Before I begin the rundown of new releases, the nominees for the 2011 Jameson IF Awards have just been announced. Up for Best Picture are Face to Face, Red Dog, Oranges and Sunshine and Eye of the Storm. No Snowtown. That is outrageous. All I can say is: Go Red Dog. For a full list of nominees, click here

I believe there are five new Australian releases tomorrow - The Thing, What's Your Number?, Take Shelter, Red State and The Cup. I have only seen one, and I have this compulsion to see The Thing, The Cup and Red State. The question is...when? I have a busy week ahead.

The Thing - There is very little chance of me liking this very much, because John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) is one of my favourite films. The first trailer I watched looked very much like Carpenter's, but the film is actually a prelude to the Carpenter classic. Palaeontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has traveled to the desolate region for the expedition of her lifetime. Joining a Norwegian scientific team that has stumbled across an extraterrestrial ship buried in the ice, she discovers an organism that seems to have dies in the crash eons ago. When a simple experiment frees the alien from it's frozen prison, Kate must join the crew's pilot, Carter (Joel Edgerton), to keep it from killing them off one at a time. In this vast, intense land, a parasite that can mimic anything it touches will pit human against human as it tries to survive and flourish.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Classic Throwback: Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (Sam Peckinpah, 1974)

Sam Peckinpah’s 1974 grunge-fest, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, was a film that initially divided critics, with some (Roger Ebert) giving it a perfect score, while others (Michael Medved) claiming it to be one of the ‘worst films ever made’. I understand both cases, but I am sitting somewhere in the middle.

The film opens in Mexico, with the characters speaking in Spanish, unaccompanied by subtitles. I thought that was odd, but I soon realized that none were needed. The plot was obvious – Teresa, the pregnant teenage daughter of a powerful man known as ‘El Jefe’ (Emilio Fernandez) is summoned before her father and interrogated as to the identity of the unborn child’s father. The young woman is stripped down and eventually succumbs to torture, identifying the father as Alfredo Garcia, discovered later to be a well-known gigolo commonly found in Mexico City. Infuriated, El Jefe offers a $1 Million dollar reward for whoever “brings him the head of Alfredo Garcia”, the one and only line spoken in English in the sequence. 

Two of El Jefe’s henchmen, following months of searching, enter a seedy bar and meet Benny (Warren Oates), a retired United States Army Officer who now makes a meager living as the piano player and manager. Benny, despite having heard of the elusive Garcia, doesn’t reveal this knowledge to the suit-clad henchmen, later discovering from his prostitute girlfriend, Elita (Isela Vega), that Garcia had met his death in a drunk driving accident the previous week. He also discovers that Elita had cheated on Benny with Garcia, and decides to make a deal with the men – asking for $10,000 plus up-front expenses for the successful delivery of the head.

'Shame' Poster and Australian Release Date Announced

Shame, the Steve McQueen/Michael Fassbender/Carey Mulligan collaboration that caused plenty of controversy at the Venice Film Festival and wound up winning a Best Actor Award for Fassbender, has been secured a release date in Australia. February 9, 2012. Around that time Fassbender could be vying for an Oscar, too. The film, which I have read, includes copious amounts of sex and nudity (not a surprise considering the main character in a sex-addict) will likely be branded with the R18+ rating. Here is a new promotional poster - U.S citizens get to see it from December 2.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Monday Links (10/10)

This week has completely belonged to Midnight in Paris. I have now seen it twice, and I had a great time on both occasions. It's easily one of my favourite films of the year, though it still didn't crack my Top 5. That's how strongly I feel about them. I expect Midnight in Paris to do very well following it's October 20 release. I also checked out Vera Farmiga's debut feature, Higher Ground, which was very impressive and an under-appreciated film at Palace Norton Street over the weekend - Eye of the Storm is still almost selling out at times. This befuddles me.

Instead of starting my Godard marathon, I decided to continue with some Sam Peckinpah, watching The Getaway and Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia, and enjoyed my lone day off by doing nothing other than re-watching Face/Off. I ended the week with a mixed bag. Thanks to Nick Jobe (linked later) I watched Troll 2, commonly credited as being 'a film so bad, it's good'. This is a description I would use for a film like The Room, which is an absolute riot. This is just BAD. A friend of mine insisted that Amadeus was one of the greatest films ever. Because my original attempt at watching the film ended at about the two hour mark (of three), I gave it another go. Yes, it is amazing!

On with the links...

Trailer: We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 2011)

I am eagerly anticipating the release of We Need to Talk About Kevin, which has been scheduled for a November 3 release in Australia. Since its premiere at Cannes, Lynne Ramsay's adaptation of the award-winning Lionel Shriver novel has received huge praise, with Tilda Swinton's performance the most recognised. Check out the creepy trailer below:

Friday, October 7, 2011

New Release Review: Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen, 2011)

Midnight in Paris is truly a delight. Woody Allen has built a film that is near impossible not to become immersed in and be enthralled by, even if your knowledge of literature, film and art history and the wonderful characters that define past eras of artistic creation is not up to speed; there is still plenty to admire and enjoy. Woody Allen has infused his highly intellectual screenplay (which is his most wildly imaginative in some time) with plenty of wit, has channeled the neurotic qualities of his persona through Owen Wilson, who delivers a stellar performance, and has created a real treat, and one of the most recommendable film experiences of the year.

Finding himself blown away by his magical discoveries on the streets of Paris, Gil Pender (Wilson) finds his life is changed forever amidst a perplexing realm of nostalgia – which is 75 year-old Woody Allen's way to honour the writers, artists and filmmakers he was inspired by and continues to admire, and capture a city he clearly loves. Midnight in Paris is a declaration of love for Paris, the romance it generates, both between humans and within the Arts, and as a source of inspiration and enlightenment.

New Release Review: Higher Ground (Vera Farmiga, 2011)

Vera Farmiga’s (Up in the Air) impressive directorial debut, Higher Ground is an American drama loosely based on Carolyn Biggs’ memoir, This Dark World: A Story of Faith Found and Lost. Briggs was also involved in the screenplay, which tells the story of Corrine Walker (played at different ages by McKenzie Turner, Vera’s sister Taissa, and Vera Farmiga herself), a small-town woman who starts to question and eventually abandons the religious dogma she has embraced for the entirety of her adult life, following several crises of faith.

Corinne convinces herself at a young age, following a particularly rousing sermon by her pastor (Bill Irwin) that God has touched her heart. Pregnant and married at age 18, Corrine, her musician husband Ethan (Joshua Leonard, The Blair Witch Project), and their infant daughter, are almost killed when their van plummets into a lake. Their faith is awakened and they turn to God. Years later, now with two children, she conforms to the local community of self-described “Jesus Freaks” and is born again.

Corinne's daily life consists of hours of Bible study, choir and alternative family practices. Though she and her husband are respected members of the congregation, Corinne always seems distant, unintentionally un-conformative to proper practices and growing continually frustrated when God’s presence isn’t made recognisable to her. The local folk are all kind-hearted, good people, whose narrow-minded view of life is often portrayed in a way that does border on satirical. Corrine's life becomes suffocating and she seeks a change of lifestyle when her closest friend becomes life-threateningly ill and her marriage begins to unravel.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Review: The Reef (Andrew Traucki, 2011)

The Reef is written, directed and produced by Andrew Traucki, who’s talent was first recognized in his well-received low-budget horror film, Black Water, which was set in the mangrove seas of Northern Australia and inspired by a true story of a crocodile attack. Here the stakes are upped and Traucki focuses on another aquatic predator, the Great White Shark, and again bases his tale on true events. The Reef had its world premiere as a market screening at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2010 before its wide Australian release earlier in the year. 

The film is about a group of friends who capsize while sailing through the Great Barrier Reef. Luke (Damien Walshe-Howling, Underbelly) invites his old friend Matt (Gyton Grantley, Underbelly), Matt’s girlfriend Suzie (Adrienne Pickering) and Matt’s sister Kate (Zoe Naylor), who used to be Luke’s girlfriend, to come along. Luke has taken on a job where he delivers boats to clients – by sailing them internationally to them. His skilled seamanship is alluded to when Kate discusses their cruise through the Mediterranean together.

Joining them is Warren (Keiran Darcy-Smith), a deckhand working with Luke. After some snorkeling and some bonding – Luke and Kate rekindle their complex relationship – tragedy strikes. The keel of the boat is destroyed when it hits the bottom of the reef, the boat capsizes, and they all clamber aboard. Despite Warren’s fears that the water is shark infested, Luke believes that the boat will eventually sink and that the tide is pushing them further out to sea, encouraging the others to swim with him to nearby Turtle Island (which he estimates is 12 miles away). They set out, but soon enough find themselves stalked and terrorized by a large Great White Shark.