Saturday, June 30, 2012

Monthly Round Up: The Best Films I Saw in June

I watched a total of 38 films in June. 27 of them came during the duration of the Sydney Film Festival (6-17 June) so prior to the festival and in the weeks after I did not watch much at all. Holy Motors became my first 5 Star film of 2012, and will be very tough to top. A repeat viewing of Black Narcissus further secured my love for the film.

Not much more to say. I wish I had the time/energy to review all of my Sydney Film Festival experiences, but some of them were underwhelming, and some of them were too many films ago to adequately discuss. I have just completed my 2012 Halftime Report, highlighting the best and worst of the year so far.

Looking ahead to July, I will be posting significantly less. I will be very busy working the Spanish Film Festival - so my reviews of the films screening there will be my theme, and I will also be contributing to the Spanish Film Festival 2012 Blog ( While I won't be having a break, in fact I will be busier than ever, I hope to return to regular reviewing in August when I visit Melbourne and cover the concluding days of the Melbourne International Film Festival.

New-to-Me Films (Cinema/DVD)

—————Essential Viewing————— 

Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012)

Monsieur Lazhar (Philippe Falardeau, 2011)

Undefeated (Daniel Lindsay, T.J Martin, 2011)

Amour (Michael Haneke, 2012)

Caesar Must Die (Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, 2012)

Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, 2012)

 The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard, 2012)

Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

Killer Joe (William Freidkin, 2012)

Brave (Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, 2012)

Liberal Arts (Josh Radnor, 2012)

Neighbouring Sounds (Kleber Mendonca Filho, 2012)

Side By Side (Christopher Kenneally, 2012)

A Royal Affair (Nikolaj Arcel, 2012)

Birthday (James Harkness, 2011)

Prometheus (Ridley Scott, 2012) TWICE

—————Essential Viewing————— 

Friday, June 29, 2012

DVD Review: Birthday (James Harkness, 2011)

Birthday, the celebrated Australian independent film distributed through Flip It Red Entertainment and Gryphon Entertainment, is now available to rent/buy on DVD. Handsomely directed by James Harkness, making great use of his character-centric, multi-layered and thematically rich screenplay, Birthday was a hit at the 2011 Melbourne Underground Film Festival. Harkness won Best Screenplay, and Kestie Morassi and Richard Wilson picking up supporting actor/actress awards. At the 2010 Cannes Independent Film Festival, Natalie Eleftheriadis won the award for Best Actress and the film screened In Competition. It is an accomplished achievement, a film that effectively juxtaposes the prostitution trade (an interaction usually void of any human emotion) with a rewarding sensitivity - humanity’s natural desire to feel love and connection - and one very worthy of attention.

Birthday is set over the course of one day and from the beginning sets up two intriguing parallel stories. We are first introduced to M (Natalie Eleftheriadis, who starred as M in the theatrical play version of Birthday), the highest paid and most respected of the girls who work at the house of the no-nonsense Scarlet (Chantal Contouri, Thirst). She is quietly and personally celebrating her 25th birthday, but as her trade is sex, its business as usual. Today’s business is hardly the usual though because the house is plagued with incidents and she spends most of the day offering advice to her less-experienced colleagues, Lily (Krestie Morassi, Wolf Creek) and Cindy (Ra Chapman) and troubled clients, Father Phillip (Travis McMahon, I Love You Too) and Joey (Richard Wilson, The Loved Ones), alike.

The second story tracks Joey, an incredibly shy and nervous young man whose traumatic life is recounted during a lengthy interrogation at a Centrelink office about his Government benefits. He has lost his purpose in the world, and doesn't understand what it means to love. He has never shared a kiss with anyone and is scared he will never be able to meet the right person. Joey's path leads him to Father Phillip, a sad and lonely man who has lost his faith, and ultimately M. Joey and M share a birthday, and when they meet they realize they can offer each other something. For Joey, intimacy with a female and the feeling of genuine connection to another person for the first time, and for M, a simple kind deed and meaningful time spent with a person not simply looking to use her for sex.

2012 SFF Short Reviews: On the Road and Headshot

On the Road (Walter Salles, 2012)

I have not read Jack Kerouac’s classic 1951 novel, but word from several of my colleagues who also saw the film at the SFF was that Walter Salles has crafted as good an adaptation as can be expected from a novel many have claimed to be unfilmable. Does this translate into an engaging film? There are some great moments, certainly, and credit must be given to Salles’ recreation of the 50's atmosphere, his stunning use of the locations and handling of his young performers, but it far from an entertaining film. It was almost instantly forgettable, in fact.

I got onboard when Sam Riley’s character Sal Paradise, an aspiring writer short on inspiration, begins his spontaneous cross-country adventures with Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), a free-spirited maverick whose influence provides both pleasure and pain for Sal as he becomes both a friend and a burden. But two-thirds of the way through this longwinded and episodic tale – it is just shy of 150 minutes – I lost interest.

After traversing the country they arrive back in California and Dean once again takes up with Kirsten Dunst’s character, the mother of his child and a woman we know he doesn’t care for, and it becomes seriously dull. By the time Sal and Dean journey to Mexico (and if someone can explain why that episode was relevant or necessary I would be appreciative) it is hard to still care for anyone on screen.

There is only so much Hedonism overload we can take; the characters booze up, take drugs and have sex for almost the entire film. Nothing particularly interesting happens, but it is more an examination of the era and of masculinity; the rise of the Jazz scene (and the effective score punctuates this), insight into the mind of a talented writer striving to find something to say and the trials and tribulations of the New York intellectual, searching for life’s meaning on the open road, seeking freedom and independence and embracing it. It is about growing up.

Sam Riley's narration in his growling American accent grew quite tiring, while Kristen Stewart’s promiscuous performance, far removed from her Twilight work and quite bold, means little because her character was simply lifeless. Cameos from Viggo Mortensen (he immediately made the film more interesting) and Steve Buscemi are the most memorable, but the star of the show was definitely the charismatic Hedlund, a compelling screen presence. He manages to somewhat draw sympathy by portraying a selfish, irresponsible and hedonistic adrenalin junkie, but ultimately it is his free-wheeling, and his influence on Sal, that prompts Sal to find the inspiration – having experienced all that he had – to finish his novel, and a central character to most directly address. Just as Kerouac wrote On the Road based on his personal experiences, Sal is a stand-in for Kerouac here.

On The Road is tough going. I am really not sure how lovers of the novel have received it, but for those unacquainted with it, there is not a lot of reward to take away, despite some great scenes here and there. ★★1/2

On The Road has a scheduled release in Australia on September 27.

You can find my review of Headshot after the jump...

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Halftime Report: Best/Worst of 2012

Well here we are at the half way mark of 2012. I am still trying to gauge whether it has been a good year or not. I have seen some very good films but most of them had an overseas release in 2011 and are just hitting our shores late. There have been long droughts where there has not been a decent film, and much like last year, the best films I have seen all came over the course of the 12 days of the Sydney Film Festival.

As for the Blockbuster season so far, it has been solid; The Avengers was great, Prometheus was also very good - though it didn't hold up as well on a repeat viewing - and Brave was better than most have given it credit for. May was one of the weakest months for film I have experienced since I have been a serious reviewer, and there are only about 10 films scheduled for release in July, with only The Dark Knight Rises raising any interest, so pickings are slim. The two Snow White re-workings, Snow White and the Huntsman and Mirror Mirror weren't very good, while The Cabin in the Woods (after a delayed and ultimately very minimal release) has staked its claim as the funniest and most entertaining film of the year.

Anyway, I'll recap the blockbuster season at the end of August, but for now, here are my top picks of the year so far:

Best of 2012 by Australian release dates. January 1 - June 30.

1.     A Separation
2.     Shame
3.     Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
4.     The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
5.    The Descendants
6.     Weekend
7.     The Avengers
8.     The Raid
9.     This Must Be The Place
10. Martha Marcy May Marlene
11. The Artist
12. Carnage
13. The Grey
14. Café De Flore
15. The Cabin in the Woods
16. Headhunters
17. Polisse
18. Brave
19. The Muppets
20. Wish You Were Here

Honourable Mentions: Prometheus, Le Havre, Hugo, The Way and A Royal Affair.

After the jump, check out my alternative Top 20, governed by my personal rules:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

New Releases (28/06/12)

There are just three films hitting Australian cinemas Thursday 28 June - Ice Age: Continental Drift, Where Do We Go Now? and Polisse. The latter I have seen. Compelling and harrowing viewing.

Summaries courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes

Ice Age: Continental Drift Scrat's nutty pursuit of the cursed acorn, which he's been after since the dawn of time, has world-changing consequences - a continental cataclysm that triggers the greatest adventure of all for Manny, Diego and Sid. In the wake of these upheavals, Sid reunites with his cantankerous Granny, and the herd encounters a ragtag menagerie of seafaring pirates determined to stop them from returning home. I have not seen an Ice Age film since the amusing original, and having seen a trailer the other day – which oddly resembles the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise – I have no intention on returning.

Where Do We Go Now?Set in a remote village where the church and the mosque stand side by side, Where Do We Go Now? follows the antics of the town's women to keep their blowhard men from starting a religious war. Women heartsick over sons, husbands and fathers lost to previous flare-ups unite to distract their men with clever ruses, from faking a miracle to hiring a troop of Ukrainian strippers. This is writer-director-star Nadine Labaki’s show, and it was both selected to represent Lebanon at the 84th Academy Awards and picked up the People’s Choice Award at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. Reviews have not been positive, however.

PolisseWinner of the Jury Prize at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and nominated for 13 César Awards, Polisse follows the daily lives of a tight-knit team of men and women working in the Child Protection Unit of the Parisian police. Basing her richly textured script on real child investigation cases, writer-director actor Maïwenn has gathered an accomplished ensemble cast of French actors who convey the emotional strain of the unit's work with gritty realism. They not only deal with the stress of their jobs but the inevitable fall-out in their personal lives - breakdowns, divorce and adulterous relations within the force. In between, there are frequent flashes of humor as the team attempts to diffuse daily realities. As the cases, confessions and interrogations pile up, the squad members have only each other as support as they face an uphill battle against both criminals and bureaucracy. With the exception of a bizarre ending and Maiwenn’s self-involvement in front of the camera, as a powerful doco-drama, a harrowing social commentary and as an intricate character study, this taut collaboration of a web of stories has plenty going for it. I wouldn't miss it.

Weekly Recommendation: Polisse is certainly worth a look; it is one of my favourite films of the year. Brave and A Royal Affair, which hit cinemas last week, also come highly recommended. The former is a return to form for Pixar; a delightful and beautifully animated fantasy tale chronicling a powerful mother-daughter relationship, and the latter is a Danish period/costume drama that should prove engaging even for audiences who usually dislike the genre.

Upcoming Release Review: Ted (Seth MacFarlane, 2012)

Ted has an Australian release scheduled for July 5.

Ted is the feature film directorial debut from Seth MacFarlane, bringing his politically incorrect sense of humour of Family Guy to the big screen and lending his Peter Griffin-voice-talent to a remarkable feat of visual effect. It is very funny. One of the funnier films to hit cinemas so far this year I'd say.

Ted is about two lifelong friends: a man, John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) and his teddy bear, Ted (voiced by Seth McFarlane). Young John, an unpopular kid with no neighbourhood friends - even the Jewish kid who gets bashed up on Christmas Eve tells him to clear off - makes a wish that his new teddy bear could come alive, talk to him and be his friend. Sure enough he does and the pair become inseparable. Fast-forwarding twenty years, John and Ted, who has aged just as John has and becomes quite a potty-mouth, are still best buddies and share an apartment together. The have a fear of lightning and a love for Flash Gordon, and both enjoy smoking pot and drinking beer.

John works at a used-car dealership, a job he hates, and has been dating the beautiful Lori (Mila Kunis) for several years. As the first walking/talking teddy bear, Ted was somewhat of a celebrity back in the day, appearing on Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, but his fame has faded. Now he has no job and no responsibilites and spends all of his time boozing, throwing parties and being a bad influence, distracting John from his responsibilities - both professional and personal. Lori has been more than tolerant of Ted, but after one too many disappointments, she presents John with an ultimatum; her or Ted. John's life is sent into turmoil, but as it turns out he's not the only one with problems.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Monday Links (25/06/12)

Hey everyone. It has been a while since I posted a 'Monday Links', but because of the Sydney Film Festival I have just been very busy and just had no time. For a full recap of my SFF coverage, you can find it here. Since then I have caught up with a couple of new releases, Snow White and the Huntsman and Brave, and checked out Chinese Take Away, scheduled to screen at next month's Spanish Film Festival. Today, courtesy of the wonderful posts put together by several bloggers, I posted a list of 85 Film Facts About Me.

It has been an exciting week, with the 2012 LAMMY Award winners announced at the Large Association of Movie Blogs. Congratulations to all of the winners. Man, I Love Films took out Best Blog this morning.

On with the links:

Alex takes a look at the 10 Most Badass Movie Scenes of All Time and keeps us up to date on the editing process of his short film, Earrings.

Nick was really chuffed with Seeking A Friend for the End of the World.

James Blake Ewing, winner of Best Movie Reviewer at the 2012 LAMMYs, writes an article about a very intriguing film, The Man Who Planted Trees.

Stevee, who tied for runner-up for Best Blog, celebrates her 900th post by sharing her Ten Blogging Tips.

Though Sam and I didn't agree on Safety Not Guaranteed - and I am almost alone here - his review is well worth a read.

Brian writes a lovely review on behalf of Brave, Pixar's return to form.

Dan Fogarty encourages everyone to see Monty Python and the Holy Grail. He has a point.

Blake, the editor-in-chief of one of the web's best film sites, Graffiti With Punctuation, reviews the Australian drama, Dead Europe, which screened at the Sydney Film Festival.

Tom Clift has been reviewing films from the fest. too. Here are his thoughts on one of the highlights, Killer Joe.

Corey watched some fantastic (and some not so fantastic) films this week.

Like myself, James, who runs an excellent site called The Cameraman's Revenge, revealed 100 Film Facts about himself today.

Ryan and Stevee discuss Brave on Episode 61 of The Matineecast.

For New Zealand readers, Sam McCosh, who runs An Online Universe, has all you need to know about the Auckland programme of the New Zealand Film Festival. She has supplied her picks, and provided links to her reviews.

That's all folks. Have a great week.

85 Film Facts About Me

Inspired by Stevee at Cinematic Paradox, and several other bloggers - Tyler @ Southern Vision, Alex @ And So It Begins, Sati at Cinematic Corner, Nikhat @ Being Norma Jean, Ruth @ Lets Be Splendid About This and Sam @ An Online Universe - I decided to come up with my own list of 'Film Facts' about myself. Note: I couldn't quite make it to 100, hence the 85.

1. My favourite film experience so far is my second viewing of Platoon. Hiring it out on VCR I watched it twice in the one week. After the first; feelings of disappointment and some distress (I was young-ish). After the second; absolute adoration.

2. The first film I watched twice on the same day was The Usual Suspects. Because it was unbelievably entertaining, and you know, the ending is badass. The second was American History X. I bawled at the end, and had to watch it again.

3. I will never shake the image of the curb stomp in American History X.

4. I LOVE the chase sequence in Se7en - I wish I had directed that scene - and I have never jumped out of my skin more than in the 'Sloth' sequence.

5. Actually, the infamous encounter behind Winkies in Mulholland Drive takes that prize.

6. The first film I remember being really scared watching was The Silence of the Lambs. I would have been early teens.

7. But, my favourite horror film is Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Another film that gave me nightmares.

8. Se7en, and Snatch were the two films I watched in close proximity that altered my perspective on Brad Pitt's acting. Last year, with Moneyball and The Tree of Life, he was outstanding.

9. I have never been more close to being sick from a film than during the early club scene in Irreversible. Who new what horrors were in store later. A truly shocking film.

10. The most films I have watched in a cinema in one day is four - set June 10 2012. It's too many.

11. I saw Titanic in a cinema when I was nine. I went without my parents. I'm not sure how that happened. It was a big deal back then.

12. Since then I have never watched Titanic in its entirety.

13. Does anyone else get chills at the end of The Wicker Man? Every time.

14. The Godfather has one of the best screenplays ever.

15. There is also a case for Casablanca, Chinatown and All About Eve.

16. My favourite of the Star War films is The Empire Strikes Back.

17. I have always favoured The Thin Red Line over Saving Private Ryan. I can't concisely explain why.

18. Films I don't like that a lot of people seem to: Forrest Gump, Braveheart, Casino and Scarface. Also, Bonnie And Clyde. I know.

19. Films I like that no-one else seems to: Speed Racer, House of 1000 Corpses, Whatever Works.

20. When I was really young I had a rotation of 10-15 kiddie flicks: included were Toy Story, Aladdin, Cool Runnings and Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Bizarre.

21. I was actually pretty late to the party when it came to getting into film. It was 2001 when my interest exploded, and I started delving into the good stuff.

22. The first DVD I owned was...Road to Perdition. Then I picked up Monty Python and the Holy Grail for my birthday. And so it began.

23. I don't know exactly how many DVDs I own. More than 300.

24. When I used to go to the cinema with friends, usually every week, we would often just turn up and watch 'something'. Now, I never go to a cinema without knowing exactly what I intend to see.

25. Working at a cinema it now baffles me how many people have no idea what they want to see, and yet come and ask a staff member for help. Not everyone knows as much about films as me. It's a risk.

New Release Review: Brave (Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, 2012)

Brave is the new fantasy adventure from Pixar Animation Studios and it features the studio's first female protagonist. Though the Hayao Miyazaki influence is apparent - Miyazaki's heroines are complex and wonderfully written characters, usually taking a coming-of-age journey through a fantasy realm - Merida (voiced by Kelly McDonald) is an excellent female character to centre this entertaining tale around. Written by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell and Irene Mecchi, and directed by Andrews and Chapman, Brave is set in the 10th Century Scottish highlands. The story follows Merida, a skilled archer with a keen sense of adventure and little interest in learning the ways of the court of her father, King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). She defies an age-old tradition, which places both her family and the kingdom in danger, and it is up to her to find the courage to re-write her fate.

In the film's opening sequence King Fergus presents his daughter with a bow and arrow for her birthday, much to the displeasure of her mother who believes no princess should possess a weapon (nor place it on the dinner table). We also witness a giant bear named Mor'du attack the family, with the ensuing battle resulting in King Fergus losing his leg. Though he enjoys telling the story to anyone who will listen, he vows to someday hunt down and kill Mor' du. Years later, Elinor has given birth to triplets, and is committed to teaching Merida everything she knows in preparation for her to some day take the throne in her place. These lessons are strict and direct, but Merida is disinterested and has no desire to have the life mapped out for her by her mother.

Friday, June 22, 2012

2012 Spanish Film Festival Review: Un cuento chino [Chinese Take-Away] (Sebastian Borensztein, 2011)

Un cuento chino [Chinese Take-Away], written and directed by Sebastian Borensztein and starring the incomparable Ricardo Darin (The Secret in Their Eyes), is an Argentine comedy. It's proven to be a popular one, having become the highest grossing non-US film released in Argentina last year, and is sure to be a hit with the festival audiences at the upcoming Spanish Film Festival. Chinese Take-Away won both Best Film and the Audience Award at the Rome International Film Festival and the Goya Award for Best Spanish Language Foreign Film.

Darin stars as Roberto, an embittered and lonely man who runs a hardware store and lives a life of solitary and methodic routine with his memories and his simple pleasures. His relatively dull but comfortable and content Buenos Aires existence is turned upside down when he feels compelled to help a hapless Chinese man named Jun (Ignacio Huang), who is unable to speak a word of Spanish. He reluctantly takes him in as a lodger while he helps him search for his uncle.

Roberto, learning of an address tattooed to the man's arm, which is the destination he was headed for before being kicked out of his taxi, takes him there only to discover that Jun's uncle has moved on. Trips to the police station, the Chinese Embassy and a neighbourhood heavily populated by Chinese residents bring no more luck.

For Roberto, having Jun around the house and store is a hindrance, despite the fact that he feels obliged to Roberto and is willing to work for him and is actually very kind and well meaning. Roberto's ignorance and hostility, while often used for comedic effect, certainly evokes sympathy for Jun. For Roberto, not being able to speak his language and disrupting his solitude is all too much. Ultimately, Jun's tragic story is revealed to Roberto, who enlists the help of a Chinese delivery boy to translate, and both of their lives are changed.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

New Release Review: Snow White and the Huntsman (Rupert Sanders, 2012)

Snow White and the Huntsman is the second re-imagining of the Snow White fairytale to hit screens this year. It was hard to imagine this film being be as bad as Tarsem's Mirror Mirror, but it comes pretty close. Helmed by debut director Rupert Saunders, we follow the titular heroine (Kristen Stewart, Twilight), on an epic adventure, finding an unlikely ally in the huntsman (Chris Hemsworth, Thor) dispatched by the Evil Queen (Charlize Theron, Young Adult) to kill her.

The Queen, having betrayed Snow's father and taken over his realm, learns that her agelessness and immortality (her power) can be undone by Snow, proclaimed by the 'Mirror on the Wall' to be the fairest in the land. Having escaped her imprisonment in the castle, and survived the Dark Forest, Snow and her companions, which also includes the Prince (Sam Claflin) long enchanted by her beauty, find themselves in the presence of seven dwarves and leading an army for an assault on the Queen's castle.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Giveway: DVD Copies of Acclaimed Australian Drama 'Birthday'

Flip It Red Entertainment and Gryphon Entertainment are delighted to announce the highly anticipated Australian DVD release of the critically acclaimed, independent, Australian feature film BIRTHDAY by writer/director J.Harkness, starring Natalie Eleftheriadis (Winner Best Actor, Cannes Independent Film Festival), Kestie Morassi (Wolf Creek, Satisfaction), Richard Wilson (The Loved Ones, The Proposition), Travis McMahon (I Love You Too, Cactus), Ra Chapman (Face to Face) and Chantal Contouri (Thirst, The Sullivans).

With a myriad of international festival Official Selections and Awards garnered on BIRTHDAY’s triumphant journey from independent production to its limited Australian theatrical release and now Australian DVD release, this provocative drama has been touted as “one of the best Australian films ever made” (Planet Urban), and “a delicate, unique experience... a cause for celebration” (Cut Print Review), with Gryphon Entertainment likening the film in tone, content and style to such hit titles as Lost In Translation and Elegy. BIRTHDAY hits stores on DVD from tomorrow, June 21.

M is the highest paid professional of the many girls at Scarlet’s, but, even on her 25th birthday, it’s business as usual. M’s trade is sex, but sex doesn’t sell the way it used to; what client’s are searching for, paying for... is love. Instead of celebrating, her day is spent answering the silent prayers of Father Phillip, who has lost his faith and providing counsel to her colleagues, the vivacious Lily and troubled Cindy. Amidst the many dramas that unfold and the demands of the no-nonsense Scarlet, M’s secret birthday wish goes unanswered, that is, until Joey knocks on her door; a young man, forgotten by the world, who has never learned to love, or even how to kiss. But Joey also has a secret, it’s his birthday too, and today M might just discover that even the smallest, most unexpected wish, can come true. BIRTHDAY encompasses lost love, first times, humanity and the discovery of intimacy in surprising and unexpected places.

Courtesy of Flip It Red Entertainment and Gryphon Entertainment, I have three DVD copies of Birthday to give away. To enter, simply send your name, address and the name of M's trade (it's here in the post) to with 'Birthday' as the subject. Winners will be notified by email, and the DVD will be mailed out personally to the winners.

Entries close at 11pm on Wednesday June 27. 

NOTE: This giveaway is only valid for Australian residents for mailing purposes.

Writer/Director J.Harkness said of the DVD launch of Birthday through Gryphon Entertainment: 

“The audiences that have been lucky enough to see the film already in either its limited theatrical run or at the festivals we’ve screened at, are passionate about seeing it again, this is always expressed to me, it’s a film people want to see more than once; and for those who have yet to discover our film, we’re really delighted that you’ll get to see it now that it’s coming out on DVD. In this changing industry, this current film climate, it’s getting harder and harder for Australian audiences to have access to Australian films, especially dramas; Birthday is a film with a very big heart, and we always intended as many people to see it as possible, and it seems, these days, the best way to do that is via DVD.” 

The DVD also includes an audio commentary with writer/director J.Harkness, and cast members Natalie Eleftheriadis and Travis McMahon, interviewed by esteemed film critic, Ripitup Magazine’s Dave Bradley.

2012 SFF Review: Monsieur Lazhar (Philippe Falardeau, 2011)

Monsieur Lazhar, the wonderfully touching Canadian French language drama from writer-director Philippe Falardeau, today picked up the audience award for Best Narrative Feature Film at the Sydney Film Festival where it screened as part of the Official Competition. It was also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 84th Academy Awards, and won six Genie awards from its nine nominations. The screenplay was developed from Bashir Lazhar, a one-character play by Evelyne de la Cheneliere, with Mohamed Said Fellag giving a delightfully compelling performance and bringing the kind and endearing titular character to life. From my reading, it is just about a perfect film.

Set predominantly in an elementary school in Montreal, Monsieur Lazhar follows Bashir Lazhar (Mohamed Said Fellag), a 55-year-old Algerian immigrant who is hired to replace a teacher who has recently killed herself. In the film's opening sequence one of the students in her class discovers that she has hanged herself in their classroom. Despite a complete refurbishment of the classroom the class, and in extension the entire establishment, remains in crisis; a state of grief, with the students feeling confused and betrayed by their teacher, whom they adored.

Despite the cultural gap and some difficulty adapting to the school system's constraints - very strict on teacher/student contact, from a whip around the ears to a consoling hug - Bashir begins to get to know his shaken but endearing pupils and both them and his faculty begin to warm to his gentle personality and unique teaching style. They begin to love and respect his thoughtfulness, patience, his caring understanding and general all-round kindness, while the tragedies of his past and his precarious refugee status - an ongoing legal case throughout the film - remain unknown to all, and ultimately could threaten his position at the school.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

New Trailer for PTA's The Master

I am a hopelessly inquisitive man like you.

There is a new for trailer for Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master released online today. It is most certainly my most anticipated film for the rest of the year. It continues to intrigue, yet not give a single thing away. The performances look incredible, especially from Joaquin Phoenix whose work in the teaser alone deserves commendation. It could be the performance of his life. We also get a first look at a very charismatic Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams in action in the new trailer. Once again, great work from Johnny Greenwood on the score. Thoughts?

2012 SFF Review: Liberal Arts (Josh Radnor, 2012)

Liberal Arts, the charming crowd-pleasing indie comedy/drama from writer-director-star Josh Radnor (star of How I Met Your Mother and director of Happythankyoumoreplease), really struck a chord with me personally. Radnor has tailored this film to quite a specific audience - though it is pleasant enough to be enjoyed by anyone - and he knows exactly how to win over those who recognise a part of themselves in his characters. As a result of my strong relation to this film; the love and admiration for the art form (whether it is literature like Radnor's character, or film), my somewhat snobbish reaction to the differentiation between high and lowbrow, an arts degree and an always-present feeling of uncertainty about my future, this will be quite a personal review. Liberal Arts screened at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and currently has an Australian release scheduled for December 13, through Icon Distribution.

Radnor stars as Jesse Fisher, a 35-year-old college admissions advisor, who is disillusioned and looking for change having just broken up with his girlfriend. He gets the chance to escape the city life when Peter Hoburg (Richard Jenkins), a favourite former professor and friend, contacts him and invites him to attend his retirement dinner. Arriving back at his alma mater, Ohio's Kenyon College, he is soon introduced to 19-year-old Elizabeth or 'Zibby' (Elizabeth Olsen), a smart, beautiful and maturely mannered young woman studying improv. theatre.

His intellectual attraction to the alluring Zibby, as well as encounters with some colourful characters around campus - including his former English professor (Alison Janney) - develops a nostalgic attraction in Jesse who embraces the location and reminisces on his glory days. When he takes his leave, a clearly-interested Zibby requests he send her hand-written letters, and their ongoing correspondence prompts Jesse to return. A romance begins to blossom, but despite their substantial age-difference posing a problem, Jesse and Zibby ultimately learn some valuable life lessons.

New Releases (21/06/12)

In the wake of Sydney Film Festival we have a strong line-up at the cinema this week. But today especially, the last thing I want to do is sit in a darkened cinema. Anyway, A Royal Affair, the only film I have seen and reviewed from this week, is joined by Snow White and the Huntsman, Brave, Marley and Elena. The Three Stooges is also out, but that looked unbearable. Reviews have not been as bad as expected, however. I am seeing Snow White tomorrow and hope to catch Brave and Elena over the weekend, as well as catching Prometheus again. It feels like so long ago I watched it.

Courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes, here are some overviews on this week's releases:

BraveMerida (Kelly McDonald) is a skilled archer and impetuous daughter of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). Determined to carve her own path in life, Merida defies an age-old custom sacred to the uproarious lords of the land: massive Lord MacGuffin (Kevin McKidd), surly Lord Macintosh (Craig Ferguson) and cantankerous Lord Dingwall (Robbie Coltrane). Merida's actions inadvertently unleash chaos and fury in the kingdom, and when she turns to an eccentric old Witch (Julie Walters) for help, she is granted an ill-fated wish. The ensuing peril forces Merida to discover the meaning of true bravery in order to undo a beastly curse before it's too late. It’s Pixar. I have to see it in a cinema.

Snow White and the HuntsmanIn the epic action-adventure Snow White and the Huntsman, Kristen Stewart plays the only person in the land fairer than the evil queen (Charlize Theron) out to destroy her. But what the wicked ruler never imagined is that the young woman threatening her reign has been training in the art of war with a huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) dispatched to kill her. From the trailers I was looking forward to seeing this, but the critical reception has been very mixed.

Vote for BAT EYES and BOOT in Your Film Festival Competition

I have some exciting news to spread about a Sydney filmmaker, Damien Power, whose films BAT EYES and BOOT are the semi-finalists in YouTube's first global film festival. He is a semi-finalist twice-over in the Your Film Festival Competition, which runs on Youtube until 13 July. Youtube users (registered or not) can watch all 50 films and vote for the ones they like once a day. The films are greats so I urge you to check them out - you can watch BAT EYES here and BOOT here - and vote Damien's way.

The ten films with the most votes will be named as finalists, and the filmmakers flown to this year’s Venice Film Festival for the announcement of the winner, who lands a $500k deal from Ridley Scott’s Scott Free production company. The Venice jury will be helmed by Michael Fassbender. Scott Free whittled down the 15,000 submissions from 160 countries to the 50 semi-finalists. Damien is one of three filmmakers with two films in competition.

BAT EYES and BOOT were produced by Bec Cubitt as part of The Voices Project, for Australian Theatre for Young People. The films were adapted from original theatrical monologues by Sydney-based playwrights Jessica Bellamy and Joanna Erskine, and were shot back-to-back in Sydney in December 2011 in just three days, using mostly the same crew for both shoots, and casts of young actors from the ATYP ranks. They were launched in March 2012 by Rose Byrne, who has just become an ATYP Ambassador, posted online and have so far been viewed over 60,000 times.

A lot of love went into our films and its exciting to see young Australian filmmakers with this fantastic opportunity. Help Damien and his team get to Venice. Again, to watch and vote for BAT EYES, click here, and for BOOT click here.

Monday, June 18, 2012

2012 SFF Review: Killer Joe (William Friedkin, 2012)

Killer Joe took the Sydney Film Festival by storm on the second night; shocking, thrilling and entertaining its audience in equal measure. I didn't get the chance to see William Friedkin's controversial new film until the second half of the festival, immediately following Holy Motors (a tough act to follow). It lived up to the hype and proved to be a crazy, brutal and often-hilarious tale featuring murder, Texas redneck stupidity and Matthew McConaughey awesomeness.

Its been five years since Friedkin directed his most recent feature, Bug, a collaboration with playwright Tracy Letts, who adapted his own material into a screenplay for Bug and Killer Joe. Highly anticipated, it is quite a bold project for the 76-year-old director, famous for his genre-defining classics from the 70's, The French Connection and The Exorcist.

Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) is a local drug dealer in deep trouble. Needing money to pay back a debt, he brings to his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) a plan that could solve all of their problems. It involves killing Chris' mother and Ansel's ex-wife - he's married to Sharla (Gina Gershon) now - for a large chunk of insurance money that he has on good authority has been left entirely to his younger sister Dottie (Juno Temple). To realise the plan they look to hire Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a detective with a side-business, but when they are unable to pay for his services upfront (requiring the insurance money to pay him) he looks to take a retainer: freedom to seduce Dottie. Plans go awry, and Joe will stop at nothing to see Chris' family repay their debt to him.

2012 Sydney Film Festival Round-up

The Sydney Film Festival is over for another year - actually, it is just my second year extensively covering it - and while it is sad to not be spending my entire day watching films, it is time to go back to the real world; go for a run and got some sun, and start making some money again. The weather was mostly pretty awful, actually. Lots of rain, so sloshing through the wet between sessions has been fun. I did break my record of watching four films in one day. Not the best idea, especially when the last film is Michael Haneke's Palme d'Or winner, Amour. 

There has been the usual festival mayhem, but overall it has all run pretty smoothly from my experience. The sessions at the State Theatre were certainly the most pleasant, but the volunteers at Event and Dendy Cinemas did the best they could to usher the big crowds in. At the Closing Night ceremony last night, it was announced that this year brought in record attendances. Interesting.

The winner of the Sydney Film Festival Official Competition Award went to Yorgos Lanthimos' Greek weird-wave drama, Alps. As you will see in my rankings, it's not one of my festival highlights. Interesting idea, certainly, but for my reading, not a particularly well executed one. I haven't seen Dogtooth and some of the companion pieces I have been hearing about, but this was a surprise pick.

There have been several long waits in lines, sessions that started late (and early), people arriving as late as an hour into the film and disrupting others, people 'taking' phone calls in sessions and following the film's plot on wikipedia (ugh). Also, in the climax of Amour, a loud ringtone killed some of the tension. There have been experiences as amazing as Holy Motors and Undefeated, and as insufferable as Wuthering Heights and Rampart. 

Definitely the best part about the festival experience was meeting up with critics and film enthusiasts who made the trip to Sydney from all around Australia. I hope I don't forget anybody, but here are the people (both new and old friends) who have made the experience all that more fun: Sydneysiders include Steph, Lisa Malouf, Blake Howard, Matt Pejkovic, Richard Gray, Susan Mills, Dwayne Lennox, Alex Cassimaty, Ian Barr, Dominic Barlow, Chris Elena, Katia Nizic and Matt Ravier. Those out of town include Tom Clift, Julian Buckeridge, Greg Bennett, Richard Haridy, Lee Zachariah, Cam Williams, Sarah Ward, Matthew Toomey and Simon Miarudo. Prior to the festival, I linked to some fantastic critics and bloggers who would be covering the festival. I ended up meeting all of them, and links to their coverage and twitter handles can be found here.

Also, I want to congratulate Festival Director Nashen Moodley for programming such an interesting and diverse array of films from across the globe. From my line-up I saw films from France, Canada, the U.S.A, Italy, Denmark, Brazil, Iran, Korea, Thailand, Senegal, Turkey, Australia, Japan, Israel, Greece and the U.K.

Also, I want to say a huge thanks to my lovely lady, Samantha McCosh (, for accompanying me to so many of the films, for encouragement and support throughout the coverage and for the rich discussion we have had following many of the films. Over the course of the festival Sam has been working full-time and squeezing in her own extensive coverage. It's amazing. Thank you for putting up with my tiredness, and for leading me to some awesome coffee and food stops along the way.

So, here is my complete ranking of films I have seen that screened at the SFF. Note: I watched a few of these prior to the festival.

Holy Motors (★★★★)
Monsieur Lazhar (★★★★★)

Undefeated (★★★★1/2)
Amour (★★★★1/2)
Caesar Must Die (★★★★1/2)
Moonrise Kingdom (★★★★1/2)

Killer Joe (★★★★)
Polisse (★★★★)
Beasts of the Southern Wild (★★★★)
A Royal Affair (★★★★)
Liberal Arts (★★★★)
Side By Side (★★★★)
Neighbouring Sounds (★★★★)

Goodbye (★★★1/2)
The King of Pigs (★★★1/2)
Headshot (★★★1/2)
Tabu (★★★1/2)
La Pirogue (★★★1/2)

Excision (★★★)
Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (★★★)

On The Road (★★1/2)
Safety Not Guaranteed (★★1/2)
Policeman (★★1/2)

Alps (★★)
Rampart (★1/2)
Wuthering Heights (1/2)

My 2012 Sydney Film Festival Awards.

Best Feature Film: Holy Motors

Runners Up: Monsieur Lazhar/Amour

Best Documentary Feature: Undefeated

Best Debut Feature: Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

Best Actor: Denis Lavant (Holy Motors)

Best Actress: Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)

Best Director: Leos Carax (Holy Motors)

Best Screenplay: Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom)

Best Cinematography: Holy Motors/Once Upon A Time in Anatolia

Best Score: Moonrise Kingdom/Beasts of the Southern Wild

Best Scene: The scene in Holy Motors involving an accordion. You'll know the one.

Over the remainder of the week expect reviews of at least: Killer Joe, Liberal Arts, Neighbouring Sounds, Monsieur Lazhar and Safety Not Guaranteed. I would have liked to have reviewed On the Road but I watched it almost a week ago now and it was forgettable even then. It might not happen. Stay tuned.