Wednesday, November 30, 2011

New Release Review: The Inbetweeners (Ben Palmer, 2011)

The Inbetweeners Movie is a British teen comedy based on the popular and award-wining E4 sitcom of the same name, serving as an ending to the television series after three seasons. The film is written by the series creators Damon Beesley and Iain Morris, with Ben Palmer taking the directors reigns, but it feels like less of an example of the consistently witty and inappropriate hilarity of the show and more of a misguided, unsatisfying and near-unendurable hodge-podge of familiar ideas and gags. This not only applies to the show, but in teen comedies in general, and they are stretched thin over the feature length.

The four teenage misfits – Will (Simon Bird), Jay (James Buckley), Neil (Blake Harrison) and Simon (Joe Thomas) – have finished their A-levels are about to leave Rudge Park Comprehensive. Within their final week of school, a series of events – including Simon being dumped by his girlfriend Carili, the death of Jay’s grandfather and Will’s father’s marriage to his younger mistress - prompt them to consider a holiday. To escape it all, and to make the most of what could potentially be the last time they all hang out together (Will and Simon heading off to University), they select Malia in Crete, as their destination.

Awards Watch - Gotham/NYFCC/AACTA/Independent Spirit Awards

Winners: Gotham Awards

Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life and Mike Mills' Beginners tie for Best Feature Film. The Best Ensemble went to the Beginners trio of Ewan McGregor, Melanie Laurent and Christopher Plummer. Charlize Theron, Gary Oldman and David Cronenberg were presented with career tributes.

Winners: New York Film Critic Circle Awards (NYFCC)

Best Film: The Artist
Best Director: Michael Hazanavicius (The Artist)
Best Actor: Brad Pitt (Moneyball and The Tree of Life)
Best Actress: Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady)
Best Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain (Take Shelter and The Tree of Life)
Best Supporting Actor: Albert Brooks (Drive)
Best Screenplay: Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin (Moneyball)
Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki (The Tree of Life)
Best Foreign Language Film: A Separation
Best Non-Fiction Film: Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Best First Film: Margin Call by J.C. Chandor

Monthly Round Up - The Best Films I Saw in November

I surpassed a milestone this month – 700 posts. If I knew I would surpass 700 posts when I started working on this blog nearly two years ago, I never would have believed it. Just finding the time, energy and motivation to review one film a week back then was a challenge. Now I look to keep up the 10 posts a week pace – and about 4-5 reviews. There is plenty to write about; depending on the direction I want to go with my blog. I have been posting more promo material than usual lately. It is sent to me and I figure it is footage and information that will be of interest to my readers.  Most recently, I have been focusing on film interest articles and lists etc. I haven’t seen all that much at the cinema this month – but with the release of Moneyball, We Need to Talk About Kevin and The Ides of March, I can’t say it was a bad month overall. It was also the month I saw The Debt, In Time and Immortals – pretty average films.

I am on pace to surpass 365 film views this year, and 500 posts. If December is as busy as November was, and it is looking like it is – then I will blow those milestones away. I have almost completed my Godard-a-thon. I have watched Made in U.S.A and have decided I have nothing remotely interesting or intelligent to say about the bizarre film. I am yet to see Week End, the final Godard in my series. It has been hard to select a favourite film from this group. I liked Breathless, Vivre Sa Vie and Bande A Part a lot, while having seen Pierrot Le Fou and Masculine Feminine before, I was just as impressed on a repeat viewing. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the others – Contempt is incredible – just that I didn’t shine to them as much. The only Godard film I struggled with was Alphaville. I doubt I am alone there.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Monday Links (28/11)

Today, with the internet down and a heap of posts planned, I felt anxious and swamped by work. It has been an eventful week. Earlier in the week, I caught up with the powerful Australian documentary The Tall Man, and yesterday saw Tarsem Singh's new film, Immortals. Continuing my Godard marathon, I reviewed Masculine Feminine and for the LAMB Director's Chair I reviewed Woody Allen's Manhattan. I also debated whether 2007 was the last great year for film, listed 20 Summer Flicks You'd be Sorry to Miss, updated my Top 100 Films and then justified why I picked Platoon at #1. 

But, lets see what everyone else has been up to:

New Release Review: Immortals (Tarsem Singh, 2011)

Before watching Immortals I was yet to experience a film by Tarsem Singh, director of The Cell and The Fall. It is my understanding that the latter has captured quite a cult following. His striking visual aesthetic is his signature – drenching the image with luscious photography, stunning colours, elaborate costumes and a costly blend of real sets and CGI design. But as for crafting a compelling and interesting story around the technical proficiency of his team, I don’t think he has quite mastered that skill yet.

The best way I can describe Immortals is as an excessive and camp film version of the God of War games. If you enjoyed the epic realm covered by Cronos’ story and the game’s often eye-opening brutality, then this offers up a similar adrenalin-charged atmosphere. The film is simultaneously gorgeous to look at (the visuals are astounding, though the 3D did dim the brightness of the image, and didn’t really add much to the experience) and ugly in it’s tone and content.

The plot is silly – a hodge-podge of elements from Greek mythology – but I believe loosely based on the stores of Thesus and the Mintoaur and Titanomachy. The Heraklion King of Crete, Hyperion (Mickey Rourke), declares war on Olympus, following the God’s failure to answer his prayers to save his family from illness. He seeks to take over humanity by claiming the Epirus Bow – a powerful weapon created by Ares, the God of War – which he intends to use to release the banished Titans from Mount Tartarus.

Footage from the Sydney Premiere of PUSS IN BOOTS.

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Way To Blue, here is some footage from yesterday's Sydney Premiere of the new Dreamworks animation, Puss In Boots. Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek are amongst the stars who made an appearance, meeting eager young fans on the red carpet and chatting about the film. It looks to be great family fun, and opens in cinemas Australia-wide in both 3D and 2D December 8.

Honouring 700: 25 Reasons Why PLATOON is my Favourite Film

In honour of surpassing 700 posts on Andy Buckle's Film Emporium I thought I would do something I was yet to do and focus a post on my favourite film, Oliver Stone's Platoon. Here are 25 reasons why I recently selected it as my favourite film.

1.  “Rejoice O Young Man in Thy Youth” – Ecclesiastes

2. A harrowing early image. New American troops arrive in Nam and react to body bags being shipped out at the same time.

3. The wonderful dramatic score and the main theme - 'Adagio for Strings' by Samuel Barber.

4. With Taylor (Charlie Sheen) cramping up and dehydrating, Elias (Willem Dafoe) agrees to haul Taylor’s excess baggage, but sarcastically and flirtatiously (many have questioned Elias’ sexuality) reminding him to “next time check with him first”.

5. Platoon is all about the soldiers and I love the bonds that develops between the characters throughout the film and the snippets of insight we are given into each individual. King (Keith David), upon being told off about his spelling ("It ain't D-E-R-E, it's D-E-A-R. King, damn you're dumb"), claims that his girlfriend "don't read too good no how." Junior (Reggie Johnson) complains to Big Harold (Forrest Whitaker) about his pork sandwich and then impatiently orders Taylor to get his 'dick skin' into digging the fox hole. I find it amusing.

6. Taylor: "Hell is the impossibility of reason. This is what this place feels like. Hell."

7. Elias to O' Neill (John C. McGinley): Hey O'Neill...take a break! You don't have to be a prick every day of your life you know."

8. This shot. It's like the soldiers are already in the firing line.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Looking Ahead: 20 Films to Watch This Summer

With Spring almost behind us, the Summer holiday season starting and the awards contenders finally getting a release, there is the usual air of anticipation and expectation brewing. In my opinion, this year has already been a strong year, but take a look at what is still to come. Here are 20 films you should definitely take the time to see over the next three months. A couple I have seen and can recommend. Others I am eagerly waiting for. Check out January 12. With rave reviews coming in for Hugo and The Muppets, it makes January 12 one of the strongest release dates I can recall. 

There are also a few that I purposefully left out - Albert Nobbs, The Iron Lady and J Edgar. They will draw the crowds - but to be honest, I am expecting a fine lead performance with an average film around them. I could be wrong. Let me know what you think of these releases. Can you confirm or deny their 'must see' status? Are there any other films you recommend seeing over the Summer, or if you're over the other side of the world, the Winter?

Attack the Block (December 01, 2011)

Melancholia (December 15, 2011)

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (December 26, 2011)

The Skin I Live In (December 26, 2011)

War Horse (December 26, 2011)

November: Quick Reviews and Ratings (Part 2)

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 a feature length review throughout the second half of November:

Vampyr (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1932) - Along with F. W Murnau's Nosferatu Carl Theodor Dreyer's (The Passion of Joan of Arc) atmospheric horror masterpiece is one of the best vampire films I have ever seen. The film follows a young traveller (played by the film's producer under a pseudonym) obsessed with the supernatural, who stops in at a small town in search of lodgings for the night. When he is visited in the night by an elderly gentleman (who leaves him a mysterious package), he becomes embroiled in a series of strange events which suggest that a supernatural presence lurks in the town and might be involved in several local killings. The film's suffocating fogs and misty cinematography seem to trap the lead character within the confines of the small town, builds a dreamlike mood, and it is full of hypnotic and haunting imagery and genuine tension. There are several memorable sequences - the remarkable perspective shot of the protagonist (who dreams he is being buried alive) from within the transported coffin, and the evil doctor's suffocation in a flour mill are just two examples. The remarkable score, for more, was one of the most memorable features. It's unbelievable. This is Dreyer's first venture into sound - and he utilises the close-up just as effectively as his earlier work and rather than utilise spoken dialogue, he relies on text to help explain the story. Aesthetically, it is lusciously photographed, and the suspense well staged. It's brilliant. ★★★★★

Ivan the Terrible - Part 1 (Sergei Eisenstein, 1944) - Centred on one of the Russia's most famous Czars, Ivan IV, the film tracks his rise and fall. Part 1 opens with his coronation and marriage - for which he receives immediate opposition from Moscow's boyars. It tracks his establishment of power and his intention to unite and protect Russia against the foreign armies outside her borders and the enemies (the boyars) within. He faces conflict with Kazan, nearly dies of an illness and then faces mutiny on all sides. Much like Eisenstein's earlier masterpieces (The Battleship Potemkin and Strike), he makes great use of the close-up and the reaction shot here - this time also incorporating spoken dialogue. The bizarre architecture in Ivan's castle (extremely low doors, large open rooms and complex staircases) is used effectively, as are the shadows cast by the actors. The light magnifies the Tsar to make him seem like a giant in stature. The story is compelling, and the thrilling battle sequence early in the film has no doubt proven influential. All this is accompanied by a magnificent score that adequately conveys the tension and consistent intrigue present. Every time I see a new film from Eisenstein I feel even more convinced that he was one of the greatest directors to have lived. Part 2 was met with controversy and not released until after Stalin and Eisenstein's deaths, because of government censorship. I'll watch it next month. ★★★★1/2

Friday, November 25, 2011

Updated - Top 100 Films

After much deliberation and consideration, I have come up with an updated Top 100 Films list for November 2011. It has been nearly 12 months since I last updated. There are quite a few changes, both with substitutions and with the order - mostly as a result of the new films I have seen this year. The highest new addition is The Double Life of Veronique (#25). The top 8 remain exactly the same. The oldest film is The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928 and #100) and the newest film is Senna (2011 and #72). Please. I'd love some feedback. Let me know what you think. 

100. The Passion of Jeanne D'Arc [The Passion of Joan of Arc] (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1928)

99. 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle, 2002)

98. Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979)

97. A Serious Man (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2009)

96. Requeim for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000)

95. Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981)

94. North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)

93. Manhattan (Woody Allen, 1979)

92. Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2010)

91. Y Tu Mama Tambien (Alfonso Cuaron, 2001)

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol - Simon Pegg Featurette

With the December 15 release of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol fast approaching, the anticipation has been heightened by the release of a featurette focused on a behind-the-scenes chat with one of the cast members, Simon Pegg. He chats about his character Benji, describing him as 'the ultimate IT guy' and reveals that he is a little naive in his thinking that this new mission won't be as rough as the last ones.

Check it out below:

Classic Throwback: Manhattan (Woody Allen, 1979)

As part of the LAMBS in the Director’s Chair, which focuses on Woody Allen this month, I thought I would look at Manhattan, one of his most famous films that I was yet to see.

I guess one’s enjoyment of a Woody Allen film comes down to how much you like and relate to Woody Allen’s character in the film and enjoy his often meandering, dialogue-heavy plots. From my experience, and this is only Annie Hall and Manhattan, he is certainly an acquired taste. Usually portraying a weasely, nervous, opinionated and cynical individual, there is also something inherently impressive about his intellect, something likeable about his unique sense of humour, and something to admire - romanticism about love, a particular passion, or a place. Though I share a similar cynicism and an appreciation for film, and some neurotic attributes, I don't think I have too much in common with his characters. Despite this, I enjoyed Manhattan immensely.

Just as Allen utilized his delightful film Midnight in Paris like a love letter to Paris, he was declaring his love for the city of New York over 30 years ago in this film. The two would actually work as a great double feature because there is an overlap in theme too. Manhattan opens with a montage of images of Manhattan, accompanied by George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and Allen’s personal narration. He is trying, and struggling, to find the right words to effectively declare his love for New York City, which is the basis for the novel that his character, Isaac Davis, is trying to write.

He comes to the conclusion, after dismissing past attempts as being 'too angry' or 'missing the point' that he is “as tough and romantic as the city he loved.” “New York was his town,” he declares, “and it always would be.” Just as a city is constantly evolving - beautiful one day, ugly the next, suffocating one day and invigorating the next - humans too find the same struggles within themselves, whether it is regards to the sense of purpose one feels towards their career, their dreams and ambitions, or simply deciding whether they love someone. These are the things that Manhattan is about.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

2007: The Last Great Year of Film?

Having watched Ben Affleck's excellent debut feature Gone Baby Gone last night, I was reminded about how good a year 2007 was for films. Now, I have enjoyed a lot of films released in the cinema this year so far - enough to claim it to be better a better year than 2008, 2009 and 2010 at least - but 2007 was something else. Now, I didn't see all of the films I am about to list in the cinema (though I did see most of them), which would have further accentuated my opinions on that year, but I still think it is pretty strong.

Headlined by two of the decade's best films, There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men, here are 35 great films I have seen from 2007: Zodiac, Grindhouse (Planet Terror + Death Proof), Hot Fuzz, Knocked Up, Ratatouille, Rescue Dawn, Sunshine, The Bourne Ultimatum, Superbad, Eastern Promises, Into the Wild, The Darjeeling Limited, Michael Clayton, Gone Baby Gone, American Gangster, The Mist, Juno, Atonement, Charlie Wilson's War, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, The Orphanage, Before the Devil Know's You're Dead, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, Once, Control, Lars and the Real Girl, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, This is England, Persepolis, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Lust, Caution, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and La Vie En Rose.

What do you think of 2011 so far? How does 2007 weigh up for you? What, in your opinion, is the last great year of film?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Review: Twilight (Catherine Hardwicke, 2008)

So, with everyone seeming to be having so much fun panning the latest installment in the Twilight franchise, I thought I would give Breaking Dawn Part I a look just to see what all the fuss is about. I don't know why I decided sitting through at least one Twilight film prior was a good idea, but today I watched Catherine Hardwicke's adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's first novel. Here is my quick response.

The series protagonist and narrator, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), arrives in a new town to live with her father Charlie (Billy Burke), the local Sheriff, for a while. She starts out at a new school, makes some friends, and crosses path with an intriguing pale-faced student with signs of mood swings and anger issues, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). 

Through a series of poorly conceived occurrences (him impossibly saving her from being hit by a skidding car, confessing to being able to read people’s minds and revealing his skin is ice cold to touch) Bella establishes – with the help of Google and a book on mythical creatures – that Edward is in fact a Vampire, living outside of town with his family.

At work though, and I think this comes to the fore in the later films, is a rivalry between two gangs – one, whose clan includes Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner, wearing a wig as comfortably as I am at speaking in public), possess long hair and legend has it, descended from wolves. One look at Lautner and that doesn’t seem like a stretch – the guy actually resembles a wolf. The other is Edward’s vampire family, who look like they had an overzealous fight using chalk dusters.

Classic Throwback: Masculine Feminine (Jean-Luc Godard, 1966)

Before starting this Godard challenge, this was one of only two films by Godard I had seen prior (the other being Pierrot Le Fou). I really liked the reverent vignette style the film adopts – and it is similar, in a way, to the episodic structure of Vivre Sa Vie. Typical of all Godard’s new wave masterpiece, Masculine Feminine is very unconventional and altogether lacks a linear central narrative. Told in fifteen short vignettes loosely based on a pair of Guy de Maupassant short stories, the film documents French, and more specifically, Parisian youth near the end of the 1960’s, as they deal with adolescent issues such as love and sex, contraceptive methods, popular culture and art; including the rise of pop music (acknowledging The Beatles and Bob Dylan), literature and cinema criticism and censorship, and the printed media. Godard conceived the film as a sociological experiment, and it must have caused a stir within youth audiences at the time because it is strictly unempathetic in its examination of gender roles.

The two central characters are Paul (Jean-Pierre Leaud, Silver Bear winner for his performance), a romantic idealist, intellect and would-be revolutionary, who works briefly with a magazine, and Madeleine (Chantelle Goya), an attractive, rising pop success following the recent release of her first single. The film loosely tiptoes around the intimate moments of the on-and-off friendship/romantic relationship between Paul and Madeleine, who become romantically involved despite very different musical tastes and political leanings. It also looks at their relationships with their closest friends.

Releases (24/11)

I made an error last week declaring that Columbiana was released. It's not in any cinema, which makes me think it might have been classified a straight-to-DVD release. But, opening on Thursday 24th are a heap of releases, though I imagine some of them - namely Another Earth and X - will not be released in Sydney. Scheduled for this week are The Ides of March, Immortals, The Inbetweeners, Arthur Christmas, Another Earth, X, The Ages of Love and Toomelah.

The Ides of March - George Clooney's latest film takes place during the frantic last days before a heavily contested Ohio presidential primary, when an up-and-coming campaign press secretary (Ryan Gosling) finds himself involved in a political scandal that threatens to upend his candidate's shot at the presidency. With an all-star cast also including Clooney, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti and Evan Rachel Wood, this compelling political drama isn't really revelatory, but is suffocating in its tension, extremely polished in it's execution and brilliantly acted by the ensemble. Gosling is a superb as a young man who faces the heat on all sides - learning how to play dirty against experienced and ruthless colleagues, and eager press.

Immortals - The brutal and bloodthirsty King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) and his murderous Heraklion army are rampaging across Greece in search of the long lost Bow of Epirus. With the invincible Bow, the King will be able to overthrow the Gods of Olympus and become the undisputed master of his world. As village after village is obliterated, a stonemason named Theseus (Henry Cavill) vows yo avenge the death of his mother in one of Hyperion's raids. When Theseus meets the Sybelline Oracle, Phaedra (Freida Pinto), her disturbing visions of the young man's future convince her that he is the key to  stopping the destruction. Theseus assembles a small band of followers and embraces his destiny in a final desperate battle for the future of humanity. This plot does sound dreadful, but with Tarsem Singh (The Fall) at the helm, you can  expect it to at least look good.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

New Release Review: The Tall Man (Tony Krawitz, 2011)

The Tall Man is an engrossing Australian documentary from director Tony Krawitz. It is the story of the death of Cameron Doomadgee, an indigenous resident of Palm Island in Australia's far North, who on one morning in 2004 was arrested for swearing at Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley. 45 minutes later Doomadgee was found dead in his cell. Though Hurley and other members of the Force claimed he tripped on a step, the injuries suffered by the man, the inconsistencies in Hurley's reenactment and the account of an eye witness suggested that he was the victim of mistreatment. The subsequent trial of Hurley, after years of legal problems, which resulted in community trauma and the Queensland Police threatening to strike, made Australian headlines day after day.

The Tall Man does suffer from some slight structural problems – it never seems confident in the story it was trying to tell. Was it Cameron Doomadgee? Was it Sergeant Hurley’s? Was it Palm Island’s? It tries to tell them all, and with the exception of Cameron’s, it doesn’t quite go deep enough in the relatively slim 79 minutes and I felt like it padded the running time by repeating images and accounts. Still, the complex way it delves into the coronial inquests and reveals the impact that the event has on the island’s atmosphere and specific members of Cameron’s family (his son, for example) and involved members of the community is at times even more shocking than Cameron’s death. It is documented and presented with such clarity that it is impossible not to get absorbed.

Monday, November 21, 2011

New Release Review: In Time (Andrew Niccol, 2011)

In Time is set in a future existence, where genetic alteration has allowed humanity to develop a system where individuals stop ageing at exactly 25 years after their birth. As a result of overpopulation, the time each person has left to live has replaced money as the primary currency. Following the age of 25, citizens must start to work (factory labour for example) to accrue time, which is used so that they can continue to survive and afford life’s necessities. If their personal clock (worn on their arm in flashing green) reaches zero, they die instantly. We are immediately introduced to our protagonist, Will Salas (Justin Timberlake), who lives in the working class ghettos with his mother Rachel (Olivia Wilde).

Early on there is an action sequence that emerges from nowhere, and offers up no explanation why Will acts as he does. Then there is a forced scene of exposition, as Henry Hamilton, a man Will rescues from the clutches of a time-stealing gang, reveals the truth about the inequity in class and wealth between the time zones. This is followed by a tragedy involving Will’s mother that should have drawn an emotional response, but didn’t. When the story actually begins I can’t say I was hooked.

Monday Links (21/11)

Since I checked in last week I have seen three new releases at the cinema - one released last week (The Debt), one released this week (Burning Man) and one to be released next week (The Ides of March). I also continued my Godard-a-thon with three very different films - Bande A Part, Alphaville and Pierrot Le Fou. My essay on The Thin Red Line and Epic Cinema vs. Saving Private Ryan and Dramatic Cinema also received some positive feedback, which was great. Yesterday, and I'm not sure if you recognized this, I added a page to the top of my blog. My 2011 Oscar Predictions. Rather than predicting the films that 'might' make the cut, and trying to tease out what sorts of films the Academy like, I am going to be adding in and substituting films I believe are worthy of a nomination as I see them. This will likely result in a 'wishful thinking' list of nominees, but it will be interesting to see how good the 'contenders' turn out to be. If you'd like to leave a comment - you can utilize this post or drop me feedback on Twitter.

Also, after seeing the trailer for The Skin I Live In before Burning Man the other day, I have become obsessed with it. And Elena Anaya. It is probably my favourite trailer of the year, and I can't wait for the film. December 26th. Here it is:

On with the links (after the jump):

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Classic Throwback: Pierrot Le Fou (Jean-Luc Godard, 1965)

Pierrot Le Fou is considered to be a turning point in the career of Jean-Luc Godard, shooting him the direction of the highly cynical, outrageous and postmodern, especially in its parodic attitude towards American pop culture and genre conventions, which continued in films like Week End (1967). This is actually one of the few Godard films from the 60’s that his legendary cinematographer Raoul Coutard shot in Techniscope colour, and like Contempt, it is stunningly beautiful - especially in Criterion high-definition digital transfer.

Initially there is this brilliant energy to the film, but the film does slow down and become more philosophical in the latter half. Ferdinand Griffon (Jean-Paul Belmondo) and Marianne Renoir (Ana Karina) go on the run together and find themselves in one ridiculous circumstance after another. Ferdinand is dissatisfied with his marriage and life in general, and following an insufferable Parisian party with shallow members of the bourgeoisie, he decides to leave it all behind him, hitting the road with his ex-lover, Marianne, who was their babysitter for the night.

Classic Throwback: Alphaville (Jean-Luc Godard, 1965)

I think I might have met my match with Godard. Though there were some great sequences littered throughout, above all, I found Alphaville to be disengaging. It bored me. I wish I didn’t feel this way but I honestly could not get into the film. Even for Godard, it is unconventional. I thought it raised some great ideas and delved into some interesting themes, especially in regards to the power of language and humanity’s entitlement to free thought and emotion. It’s shot in an innovative way (as usual) by Raoul Coutard and incorporates elements of past eras of film noir, but it has a jumbled, meandering and confusing plot, and is forgettable. There is no doubt it is influential (George Orwell and Nineteen Eighty Four and Blade Runner came to mind) but my interest in the story was just never there. I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking this, and some of the blame must be placed on myself – I was tired when I started watching it and I had to pause it for a while and go to work.

It’s a very strange film, and slow. I really have no idea what to say about it. Part of me wants to move on to Pierrot Le Fou but because Godard is my personal DOTM I feel compelled to write something about my experience. It is completely different to Godard’s earlier works, which is certainly commendable, but on a personal enjoyment level, it is a diversion I failed to embrace with enthusiasm. Godard, bizarrely, won the Golden Bear for Alphaville. It really is unlike any science fiction film I have ever seen – choosing not to include special effects, futuristic gadgets and otherworldly elements – but utilizing the night streets of Paris, dark corridors and foyers and drab hotel rooms as key settings for the events of this dystopian thriller.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Academy Award Shortlist for Documentary Feature Announced

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have announced that 15 films in the Documentary Feature category will be considered for the five nominated positions.

They include (in alphabetical order):

Battle for Brooklyn (RUMER Inc.)
Bill Cunningham New York (First Thought Films)
Buck (Cedar Creek Productions)
Hell and Back Again (Roast Beef Productions Limited)
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (Marshall Curry Productions, LLC)
Jane's Journey (NEOS Film GmbH & Co. KG)
The Loving Story (Augusta Films)
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (
Pina (Neue Road Movies GmbH)
Project Nim (Red Box Films)
Semper Fi: Always Faithful (Tied to the Tracks Films, Inc.)
Sing Your Song (S2BN Belafonte Productions, LLC)
Undefeated (Spitfire Pictures)
Under Fire: Journalists in Combat (JUF Pictures, Inc.)
We Were Here (Weissman Projects, LLC)

No Senna? No The Interrupters? What are your thoughts on the selections? I have actually only seen Project Nim and Bill Cunningham, and I enjoyed both. Especially the former. I am shocked that Senna missed out, though. If anyone is also wondering why Cave of Forgotten Dreams missed out, I have been informed it was a 2010 candidate.

The final Oscar nominees for the 84th Academy Awards will be announced 24 January 2012.

New Release Review: Burning Man (Jonathan Teplitzky, 2011)

Burning Man is an Australian film from writer/director Jonathan Teplitzky (directing his third feature following the well-received Gettin’ Square and Better Than Sex). Impressive British actor Matthew Goode gives an extremely intense and mentally agitated performance as Tom, the owner-chef of a chic Bondi restaurant. Throughout the film we are revealed to a lot of different things (over several shifting time periods) but most notably that he meets and marries Sarah (Bojana Novakovic) and that they have a son named Oscar (Jack Heanly). When tragedy strikes the family, Tom is sent into an unbalanced state, which results in him using withdrawal and emotionless sex as an unhealthy way of coping with the trauma.

The majority of this film takes place as a prolonged moment of when "one’s life flashes before their eyes”. There is immediately a kaleidoscope of images (scattered memories) that seem to have little connection to one another (Tom is seen lying bloodied on a hospital stretcher, entertaining prostitutes and being escorted out of a hospital by security) but eventually register meaning by the film’s conclusion. Burning Man expresses all kinds of powerful images that deal with life and death, grief and loss, and re-discovering what it means to live a happy and fulfilling life. The film, at times, does pack quite an emotional punch and the challenging structure to the film is a way of removing it from the conventional. Though it is sometimes distracting and does make feeling sympathetic a bit of a challenge, I think it is an approach that worked, for the most part, quite well.

Friday, November 18, 2011

New Release Review: The Ides of March (George Clooney, 2011)

George Clooney, directing just his fourth feature film (following Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Good Night, and Good Luck and Leatherheads), has crafted an excellent political drama/thriller that delves into the shady immorality of politics, an avenue that can often raise some scary questions and bring about revelations better left unlearned. Though it never feels like it is, The Ides of March is actually based on the play Farragut North by Beau Willimo, and is centered on Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), a young, intelligent and ambitious junior advisor for the campaign of Democrat Pennsylvanian Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney).

Stephen is the new kid on the block, the fresh face, and the one with the experience that outweighs his age and the one who make his job look effortless. Though his boss, Paul Zara (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), keeps him under a tight leash, he can’t help but feel curious when a Republican advisor, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), claims he is working for the wrong campaign and tries to poach him. Stephen, Paul and their campaign team (which also includes Max Minghella) are trying to win Morris the Ohio Democratic primary, which would claim a big advantage in Morris’ road to the White House.

The problem is, deals have been put in place, with Morris set to lose. Stephen’s unprofessional meeting with Duffy, and his reluctance to reveal what he learns, threaten his partnership with Paul, who cherished loyalty above all else. Suddenly, from Paul's perspective, Stephen can't be trusted. To make matters more complicated Stephen has started a playful fling with head intern, Molly (Evan Rachael Wood), who has some startling secrets of her own. Through a blend of inexperience, naivety and fate Stephen cops the heat of corruption, political scandal and disloyalty on all fronts and has to learn how to play dirty with his more experienced and ruthless opposition to keep his head in the game, including men he greatly respects and believes in.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

'The Thin Red Line' and Epic Cinema vs. 'Saving Private Ryan' and Dramatic Cinema

Examining the theory of epic cinema derived from the work of Aristotle we can devise a set of characteristics of contemporary cinema in order to differentiate can example of epic cinema from the more culturally dominant style of dramatic cinema. This analysis will compare Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line and Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, examining the different modes of address between the films to formulate an argument about the epic cinema and specific differences in the technique adopted by the filmmakers.

Drawing from the work of Aristotle, the epic cinema is a mode of storytelling that can incorporate both the lyric (the subjective, intimate point-of-view) with the dramatic (action and speech between two or more persons) through varying modes of address and typically altered chronology and temporality. Saving Private Ryan adopts a mould of filmmaking developed by D.W Griffith in Birth of a Nation (1915), the creation of binary relationships between different images, constituting a parallel organic montage with one image succeeding another according to a rhythm.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Trailer: The Hunger Games

The first trailer, following a pretty diabolical teaser, for The Hunger Games has been released. The film stars Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone) and has been scheduled for an early 2012 release.

Every year in the ruins of what was once North America, the evil Capitol of the nation of Panem forces each of its twelve districts to send a teenage boy and girl to compete in the Hunger Games. A twisted punishment for a past uprising and an ongoing government intimidation tactic, The Hunger Games are a nationally televised event in which “Tributes” must fight with one another until one survivor remains. Pitted against highly-trained Tributes who have prepared for these Games their entire lives, Katniss is forced to rely upon her sharp instincts as well as the mentorship of drunken former victor Haymitch Abernathy. If she’s ever to return home to District 12, Katniss must make impossible choices in the arena that weigh survival against humanity and life against love. THE HUNGER GAMES is directed by Gary Ross, and produced by Nina Jacobson’s Color Force in tandem with producer Jon Kilik. Suzanne Collins’ best-selling novel, the first in a trilogy published by Scholastic that has over 16 million copies in print in the United States alone, has developed a massive global following.

Releases (17/11)

There are a whopping seven new releases opening in Australian cinemas this week. If you can find a way through the crowds of teens trying to see the first sessions of Breaking Dawn: Part 1 you can also check out Colombiana, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Burning Man, The Tall Man, The Future and The First Grader.

Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 - I'll get the extremely annoying one out of the way first. Just think, there is going to be another one of these next year. I'm so thankful I no longer work at a cinema where these films are screened. It is hell. So, if anyone cares, in Part 1 Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson), plus those they love, must deal with the chain of consequences brought on by a marriage, honeymoon, and the tumultuous birth of a child...which brings an unforeseen and shocking development for Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner). Interestingly, this was downgraded from an MA rating to an M - meaning it will make even more of a killing. Keep clear of the Multiplexes this weekend.

Colombiana - Zoe Saldana plays Cataleya, a young woman who has grown up to be an assassin after witnessing the murder of her parents as a child. Wait. Really? Yawn. Turning herself into a professional killer and working for her uncle, she remains focused on her ultimate goal: to hunt down and get revenge on the mobster responsible for her parent's deaths. Zoe Saldana has plenty of talent and I'm sure she gives it her all, but come on - the story is far from original and this looks like a sloppy and unnecessary addition to the genre.

We Need to Talk About Kevin - An extraordinary film from acclaimed filmmaker, Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher), is an experience that benefits from knowing very little prior to viewing. Adapted from the acclaimed 2003 novel by Lionel Shriver, Kevin is densely plotted, powerful acted (especially from an Oscar worthy Tilda Swinton) and truly affecting. The film explores the fractious relationship between Eva Khatchadourian (Swinton) and her son Kevin (played by Ezra Miller as a teenager). Seamlessly blending together, in the form of a waking dream, chapters of Eva's life, we witness her contention with the increasing malevolence of her first-born son, much to the ignorance of her husband, Franklin (John C. Reilly). The result is a stunning act that shatters the lives of the family, and Eva's future psyche.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

New Release Review: The Debt (John Madden, 2011)

Directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love?) from a collaborated screenplay between Matthew Vaughn (Kick Ass and X-Men First Class – two films I didn’t much care for), Kris Thykier and Eduardo Rossoff, The Debt is actually a remake of a 2007 Israeli film of the same name. Despite the top cast and an intriguing postwar spy premise, The Debt is disappointing. To put it simply, The Debt is a middling and fairly forgettable espionage thriller that unfortunately ruins some nice moments with a convoluted and at times confusing plot, an awkwardly edited time-shifting style, a wearying and infrequently interesting story that has been stretched to an extreme length and manages to avoid relaying anything meaningful or resonating about the Holocaust.

The film begins in 1997 as shocking news reaches retired Mossad secret agents Rachel Singer (Helen Mirren) and Stephan Gold (Tom Wilkinson) about their former colleague David Peretz (Ciaran Hinds). Following the release of Rachel’s daughter Sarah's (Romi Aboulafia) book, who has honoured her mother’s achievements as a Mossad agent, Rachel is approached by Stephan with news about a former mission whose outcome has remained a secret within the group - and what is required of her to keep the truth hidden.

All three have been venerated for three decades by their country because of the mission they undertook back in 1966, when the trio (portrayed, respectively, by Jessica Chastain, Martin Csokas and Sam Worthington) tracked down a Nazi war criminal responsible for medical experiments on Jews during World War II. Their mission is to capture Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen), infamously known as “The Surgeon of Birkenau”, and bring him to Israel to face justice.

Classic Throwback: Bande A Part (Jean-Luc Godard, 1964)

Considered to be one of Jean-Luc Godard’s lighter, faster-paced and more accessible films, the incredibly hip Bande A Part (or Band of Outsiders) is adapted from a crime novel titled Fool’s Gold by Dolores Hitchen. The film’s immense cultural and cinematic influence is unmistakable, with Quentin Tarantino using the film’s title for the name of his production company. It is also interesting to note that the infamous Madison dance sequence in the diner was also the influence behind the one in Pulp Fiction.

The story is simple and not dissimilar to Breathless, though both films are certainly unique in their own way. Two young delinquents, Franz (Sami Frey) and Arthur (Claude Brasseur), with fantasies of criminal glory, conspire to commit a robbery and enlist the help of Odile (Anna Karina), a beautiful young woman they meet in English language class. The targets are Odile’s wealthy relatives. She lives with her Aunt Victoria and a Mr. Stoltz in a villa in Joinville, where she declares a large amount of money is stashed. When Odile sneaks into Stoltz’s room to sight the money she leaves suspicious evidence behind, prompting Stoltz to hide the money and change the locks, unbeknownst to Odile and the others when they finally attempt the heist.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Monday Links (14/11)

This week has all been about Moneyball. Having seen it last Thursday I have been riding the buzz all weekend, which is a good thing because I have been varying degrees of tired (an epic basketball session on the weekend) and hungover (right now). Also this week I re-watched and reviewed Office Space, continued my Godard-a-thon with Contempt and included my thoughts on Sleepaway Camp, El  Topo, Broken Embraces and American Graffiti in a Quick Reviews post. I also posted my Top 10 Films of the 80's, 90's and 00's. Overall, it's been a busy week with more viewing than writing. It's also a week I got to see Dwayne Wade in Sydney.

Enough ramble. On with the links:

 Jessica @ The Velvet Cafe sparks some great discussion in her Musings on Film Recommendations

Kevyn Knox @ The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World presents his thoughts on Citizen Kane for True Classic's The Citizen Kane Debate.

For a pair of honest reviews of Clint Eastwood's new film, J. Edgar, check out Sam's @ Duke and the Movies and Ryan's @ The Matinee.

The guys @ The LAMBcast discuss Duncan Jone's Moon.

My buddy Dwayne @ The Lennox Files reviews Moneyball.

Steven @ Surrender to the Void shares his thoughts on Julia Leigh's Sleeping Beauty.

Gleen Dunks @ Stale Popcorn writes an entertaining review of Shark Night 3D for Trespass Magazine.

Tyler @ Southern Vision shares his Beginner's Guide to Ingmar Bergman.

Colin @ Pick 'n' Mix Flix gets around to reviewing Snowtown. We share similar opinions of the film. There's no denying it is the Australian Film of the Year.

Max @ Impassioned Cinema runs a great site. Check out his post on the Animated Film Oscar Race.

James @ Cinema Sights reviews The Iron Giant. I need to see this.

Nikhat @ Being Norma Jean unveils her Top 100 Films.

Nick Prigge @ Cinema Romantico reviews a classic - From Here to Eternity.

Finally, Alex @ And So it Begins revisits a classic scene from Oliver Stone's Platoon.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

November: Quick Reviews and Ratings (Part 1)

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 a feature length review throughout the first half of November:

El Topo (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1970) - Firstly...what the hell? This is one warped film. At times brilliant, at times unendurable. It's length is certainly a detractor - on one hand there is only so much violent surrealism and explicit sex and nudity that one can endure, and following the intriguing first half, it becomes less and less interesting - though still horrifying and unexpected. Essentially, it is a western full of religious allegory and Christian symbolism, which focuses on El Topo, a black-clad gunfighter (played by Jodorowsky himself) and his quest for enlightenment. The film opens with El Topo and his naked son travelling through the desert on horseback. They are searching for the perpetrators responsible for the death of his wife and the slaughter of the inhabitants of a town they come across. He tracks them down and kills them, before taking on a mission (instigated by a slave woman he rescues) to defeat the four great gun masters of the land. It is interesting that each of the gun masters represents a particular philosophy and in order to defeat them he has to learn from them first. It is this half I liked a lot, and if you think this sounds bizarre, the second half is something else. It's extremely violent, and deranged in just about every manner possible, but it's cult status is certainly justified. UNRATED

American Graffiti (George Lucas, 1973) - This was a lot of fun, and proof that George Lucas has directed more than one good film (A New Hope being the other). Set in the early 60's this is a nostalgic portrait of teenage life - documenting the time of the sock hop, when youths were measured by how cool their car was and how fast they could drive it, and when drive-in diners were the local hangout. The film follows a group of teenagers and their wild adventures over the course of one night, the night before longtime friends Curt (Richard Dreyfuss) and Steve (Ron Howard) are to leave for college together. They meet up with their friends John Milner (Paul Le Mat) and Terry Fields (Charles Martin Smith) in the diner parking lot at the start of the night - and from there, the night takes it course. Curt's is perhaps the most memorable - unsure whether he is going to accept his $2,000 scholarship and leave for college, he spends the entire night seeking out a beautiful blonde he spies in a white Ford Thunderbird, crossing paths with a group of greasers who coerce him into an initiation along the way. This would have been a nightmare to shoot, and the film balances all of the stories really well - and offers up believable cause/effect developments. The soundtrack is perhaps the most memorable (well, along with Harrison Ford's cameo) - effectively capturing the mood of each scene with an array of pop favourites. ★★★★

Classic Throwback: Contempt (Jean-Luc Godard, 1963)

Just when I didn’t think Godard could get more interesting, along comes Contempt, his subversive attempt at commercial filmmaking. It’s a brilliant study of marital breakdown, artistic compromise and the challenges associated with the cinematic process. The film stars Michael Piccoli as a Paul Javal, a novelist and playwright torn between the demands of a proud European director (played by director Fritz Lang), a crude and arrogant American film producer (Jack Palance), and his disillusioned wife, Camille (Brigitte Bardot), as he attempts to doctor the script for a new film version of The Odyssey. 

Dissatisfied with Lang's treatment of the material as an art film, Paul is hired by Prokosch and immedicately experiences conflict between his artistic expression and commercial opportunity, which parallels his sudden estrangement to his wife, who becomes hostile and distant following a situation which finds her left alone with Prokosch, a millionaire playboy. While based on Alberto Moravia's story of the progressive estrangement between a husband and a wife, Godard's version also contains parallels with aspects of his own life. Just as Paul's marriage to Camille is breaking apart, Godard compares it to his break from his own artistic merits in favour of a foray into the commercial - a crisis that Godard questions throughout the film.

Friday, November 11, 2011

New Release Review: Moneyball (Bennett Miller, 2011)

I don’t think there is any escape from being personal in this review of Moneyball. Whether other people will match my personal response to this unconventional sporting drama is something I am optimistic about but not certain of. I have little to no knowledge about the sport of baseball, and it is possible that my uninformed status resulted in me not recognizing some factual deficiencies in the personnel make-up of the Oakland A’s that some have criticized. I guess it comes down to whether displacement of fact (and I’m just assuming that there is some here) has any impact on how you perceive the story and ultimately enjoy the film. After all, Michael Lewis’ novel, which is adapted for the screen here, is based on true events from the 2002 season. For me, it did not. Throughout the film I was comparing my reading of the game of baseball – and specifically the managerial side of the sport – to my knowledge of basketball and the NBA.

A long time fan of the Philadelphia 76ers and avid follower of the NBA, I know a thing or two about statistics, contracts and salary caps, teams rebuilding to save money, GM’s fighting for their jobs, being stuck with untalented and overpaid players and having to favour team chemistry over bloated egos and star value - topics and themes that pop up throughout Moneyball. Having said that, the NBA is currently in lockout because of such financial disagreements. I accepted Billie Beane’s position because I took his role to be similar to the GM’s in the NBA. This is not to say that knowledge of sports is essential to understanding this film.

The centre of the story is Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics, who are fresh from a postseason elimination in 2001 and are facing the loss of three star players to free agency. Beane attempts to devise a strategy for assembling a competitive team for the 2002 season but struggles to overcome Oakland's limited player budget (compared to the Yankees who have three times more money to spend on players). During a visit to the management of the Cleveland Indians, Beane meets Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a young Yale economics graduate who possesses radical ideas on assessing the value of players through statistical analysis.