Sunday, September 30, 2012

Monthly Round-Up: What I Watched In September

 Well, tomorrow is October, so that means another month is over.

I re-watched a lot of films in September, with many being 2012 films. In the case of Moonrise Kingdom, The Avengers, Your Sister's Sister and Berberian Sound Studio they were all cemented in my Top 30 of the year. I watched Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol with my family and it was just as much fun. Unable to get the story of the West Memphis Three out of my head with the release of Damien Echols' novel, I decided to re-watch two of the Paradise Lost docos. 

I watched a total of 36 films in September. After a strong start I did slow down in the final week, having seen a lot of the new releases earlier in the year at festivals and being unable to fit in some of the films on my desired Italian Film Festival list. The Italian Film Fest. is in full swing - and reviews of three of the films can be found below.

Overall, it was a pretty disappointing month. Very few exceptional films - no new five star films - and some very bad films (Bait 3D, Project X, Hit and Run and The Watch to name a few).

As I have just become a member of the team at Graffiti With Punctuation, and will be working LOTS in the near-future, I am unsure what is in store for October. It will take a few weeks to acclimatise and I will be trying to ensure my writing is quality, and not aiming to post every day. The Film Emporium will be scaled back, but I will still be posting several times a week here, and keeping you up-to-date with all of the new releases, and maybe even a new Director-of-the-Month. It's been a while.

New-to-Me Films (Cinema/DVD/Screener) in order of preference

-------- Essential Viewing ---------

From Up on Poppy Hill (Goro Miyazaki, 2011)

Searching For Sugar Man (Malick Bendjelloul, 2012)

The Station Agent (Thomas McCarthy, 2005)

Killing Them Softly (Andrew Dominic, 2012)

Black Sunday (Mario Bava, 1960)

Rocketeer (Joe Johnston, 1991)

Shun Li and the Poet (Andrea Segre, 2012)

Looper (Rian Johnson, 2012)

-------- Essential Viewing --------

Friday, September 28, 2012


I am thrilled and proud to officially announce that I will now be a member of the team at Graffiti With Punctuation, a film website giant that is going exciting places in Sydney, Australia and internationally.

I will join co-founders Blake Howard (Editor-in-chief/Co-Founder), Cameron Williams (Editor/Co-Founder) and staff Nicholas Brodie, Maria Lewis and Dave Grenfell and be contributing new release reviews/features and be the resident film festival expert.

I wish to thank Blake and Cam for extending me a generous offer and I feel honoured to be considered to work with them. I look forward to the opportunities.

Never fear, The Film Emporium will still be up and running, though scaled back. Most of my reviews will now be posted on Graffiti, so content on The Film Emporium might be limited for a little while as I work out a balance and get acquainted with the new site.

Thanks to everyone who has visited the blog and extended me courteous support and feedback over the last two and a half years. Graffiti With Punctuation can be found on Twitter at @Graffitiin140 and at the above link, and you can follow all of my tweets at @buckle22.

Australia's First Charity Kids Film Festival Arrives In Melbourne

Buzz Movie Makers, a Melbourne-based kid's film school, has teamed up with the I Give a Buck! Foundation of Australia to present the country's first Film Festival for under 16's which donates 100% of it's profits to charity.

Young people across Australia are invited to showcase their creative talents by submitting short films or animations of no more than 7 minutes, in any genre they choose. A selection of fantastic prizes are up for grabs, along with the chance to have a film screened on the 'big screen' at the Buzz Awards Ceremony, being held on Sunday 25th November 2012, at Cinema Nova on Lygon Street.

Entries for the Buzz Movie Makers Film Festival 2012 are now open to individuals and groups, with the closing date for submissions being November 7th. Prizes will be given out in 9 different categories; including Best Film, Best Actor/Actress and Best Animated Film – but perhaps the most special award of the 2012 contest will be the 'I Give a Buck Foundation Award'...

This award will be given to a young filmmaker or animator who can create an original advert for the charity, explaining the work they do and inviting people to donate as little as $1 to help children from low income families receive vital equipment such as wheelchairs, walking frames and specialist nursing care. The advert must run for no longer than 2 minutes, and the winning film will be broadcast all over Australia, promoting the charity. 

Buzz Movie Makers founder, actress and teacher Claire Dicarlo says, “We are so excited to be launching this film festival in Melbourne. Modern technology now makes filmmaking so accessible to young people. You don't need fancy or expensive equipment to make an engaging movie - often a great idea and a camera phone are all that's required! Young people have a voice now like never before, and we're so looking forward to seeing how creatively they can use that voice.”

Entry to the festival costs $25, and submissions will be judged by professional directors working in the Australian film industry. For more information, email and request a registration pack. 

More information on Buzz Movie Makers courses can be found at; and I Give a Buck's current appeals at

Upcoming Release Review: Searching For Sugar Man

Searching For Sugar Man, distributed through Madman, has a limited release October 4.

Searching for Sugar Man, which caused a stir at both the Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals earlier in the year, is one of the most extraordinary and unforgettable documentary features of the year so far. Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul tells a magical, moving and transcendent tale and expertly offers up an exploration into the life and fate of a largely unknown folk music phenomenon while balancing a tremendous human story with a damn good mystery and some wonderful music.

In the late 1960s, two celebrated producers, who had worked with the likes of Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, discovered a charismatic Mexican-American singer/songwriter named Rodriguez in a downtown Detroit bar. The producers were struck by Rodriguez's mysterious presence (no one knew where he lived and figured he was a homeless wanderer), his soulful melodies and prophetic lyrics. Bewitched by the man, they felt like they had discovered an artist capable of eclipsing the talents of Bob Dylan. Together they recorded an album in 1970, "Cold Fact", that they believed was going to secure his reputation as one of the greatest recording artists of his generation.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Off Topic: 10 Favourite Albums of 2012 (So Far)

This year, and especially in the last month after being introduced to Spotify, I have been trying to keep track of some of the best albums released in 2012. With the help of friends and Pitchfork I have been given plenty of recommendations, and here's how I'd rank my favourites so far.

10. Devotion - Jessie Ware

9. Slaughterhouse - Ty Segal Band

New Releases (27/09/12)

Looper - In the futuristic action thriller Looper, time travel will be invented - but it will be illegal and only available on the black market. When the mob wants to get rid of someone, they will send their target 30 years into the past, where a "looper" - a hired gun, like Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) - is waiting to mop up. Joe is getting rich and life is good... until the day the mob decides to "close the loop," sending back Joe's future self (Bruce Willis) for assassination.

On The Road - Jack Kerouac's seminal pseudo-autobiography finally heads to the big screen thanks to director Walter Salles Jr. (The Motorcycle Diaries) and producer Francis Ford Coppola. The tale is semi-based on the author's trips across America, with fiction intertwining with reportedly real events and people met along the way. The starring cast includes Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley and Kristen Stewart.

Arbitrage - When we first meet New York hedge-fund magnate Robert Miller (Richard Gere) on the eve of his 60th birthday, he appears the very portrait of success in American business and family life. But behind the gilded walls of his mansion, Miller is in over his head, desperately trying to complete the sale of his trading empire to a major bank before the depths of his fraud are revealed. Struggling to conceal his duplicity from loyal wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon) and brilliant daughter and heir-apparent Brooke (Brit Marling), Miller's also balancing an affair with French art-dealer Julie Cote (Laetetia Casta). Just as he's about to unload his troubled empire, an unexpected bloody error forces him to juggle family, business, and crime with the aid of Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker), a face from Miller's past.

Tai Chi Zero - In legendary Chen Village, everyone is a martial arts master, using their powerful Chen Style Tai Chi in all aspects of their lives. Lu Chan has arrived to train, but the villagers are forbidden to teach Chen Style to outsiders, and do their best to discourage him by challenging him to a series of fights. Everyone, from strong men to young children, defeats him using their Tai Chi moves. But when a man from the village's past returns with a frightening steampowered machine and plans to build a railroad through the village at any costs, the villagers realize they may have no choice but to put their faith in Lu Chan... who has a secret power of his own.

Weekly Recommendation: I have heard some positive responses to Arbitrage, and particularly Gere's performance, but the pick this week is Looper. Now I didn't LOVE Looper but it is further proof of Rian Johnson's skills as a filmmaker and its an intelligent and compelling high-concept futuristic action thriller with great performances. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Monday Links (24/09)

The Film Emporium has been very review-centric of late, but I have been privileged to have been invited along to some exciting screening opportunities. Over the last two weeks I have been covering the Italian Film Festival - reviews of Caesar Must Die, Magnificent Presence, Kryptonite! Take it Easy! and Shun Li and the Poet can be found via the '2012 Festivals' tab above - and a great week of screenings has resulted in my reviews of Killing Them Softly (Oct. 11) and Looper (Sept. 27) to be completed and posted ahead of their Australian release. Coming later in the week, expect my review of Searching For Sugar Man, an extraordinary documentary in cinemas Oct 4. Also, if you're interested in checking out how the new Studio Ghibli film shapes up, check out my review of From Up On Poppy Hill.

Here are a heap of links for your reading pleasure:

Alex shares his Ten Best Films About Addiction. Genius. 

Killing Them Softly opens in Australia October 11, but has just hit screens in the UK. Samantha @ An Online Universe writes a great review of the film. The new film from Andrew Dominik is sure to provoke plenty of divisive discussion.

CS shares his thoughts on Frances Ha from TIFF for Anomalous Material.

At Big Thoughts From A Small Mind CS reviews Cate Shortland's war drama Lore.

Bonjour Tristesse has just celebrated his Two Year Anniversary and has his readers informed about the Vancouver International Film Festival preview.

I really enjoy reading Nick's reviews. Recently he tackled Once Upon A Time In Anatolia.

James' insight continues to impress. He always finds an interesting feature to discuss. His analysis of Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion Of Joan Of Arc, one of the greatest of all films, is worth a read.

Margaret honours the wonderful Six Feet Under in Saturday TV's Special. I 'think' another venture through its five extraordinary seasons will cement it as the greatest television drama of all time. Then there's The Sopranos.

Sam reviews The Master. Now I'm not reading this until I have seen the film myself (Nov. 8 at the latest - the day it opens here) but his score is pleasing. Several negative reviews are concerning, but I have also seen the film called "so good it makes everything else released this year look...bad".

Blake Howard was lucky enough to recently interview John Rhys-Davies for Graffiti With Punctuation. Cameron Williams reviews The Imposter, one of the year's top films so far. Good news for Australian audiences, it is set to hit screens Nov. 29.

ChocBomb is an Australian-exclusive version of Rotten Tomatoes. I am a registered critic. To see what top Australian critics think of all of the new releases  - including Ruby Sparks and Your Sister's Sister - check out ChocBomb.

Corey wraps up TIFF epically.

In 'The Essentials' series at Love and Squalor, the focus is Black Narcissus. AMAZING film.

Tom Clift has Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing covered.

Speaking of The Master - is it obvious I am excited? - Ryan and Jandy discuss the film in the latest ep. of The Matineecast

Finally, here's a great review of Holy Motors from Matt Singer. He watched it at Fantastic Fest. It is exiting to see everyone's reactions to this confouding, but unforgettable film.

'The Master' To Open Cockatoo Island Film Festival

Sydney’s highly anticipated new destination event Cockatoo Island Film Festival have recently announced the internationally acclaimed film The Master will open the five day film festival in the middle of Sydney Harbour next month.

The critically praised film The Master, starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix, makes its Australian debut at the inaugural Festival on Wednesday, October 24.

It’s a drama about a naval veteran who becomes embroiled with a secretive cult, ‘The Cause’, and its charismatic leader. Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master took home awards for best director and actor at Venice earlier this month. Joel Pearlman, Managing Director of Roadshow Films, said: “It is a great honour for Paul Thomas Anderson’s critically acclaimed new film to have its Australian Premier at the Cockatoo Island Film Festival. The unique setting of Cockatoo Island will be an amazing way to bring this exceptional film to Australian audiences, prior to its national release on November 8.”

Cockatoo Island Film Festival Co-Director Allanah Zitserman said Cockatoo Island will be transformed into a celebration of films and music where the focus is as much on experiencing the event as being part of it.

“We have a vision to bring to Sydney a world class festival on the scale and with the multi entertainment appeal of other international festivals such as Cannes and Sundance,” he said.

“This will involve many Australian leading lights in film including actors, directors and cinematographers as well as internationally renowned celebrities and musicians.”

With the tantalising theme Transport Yourself, Cockatoos Island’s historic sites will form the backdrop to five digital screens built from the ground up to host new releases and 200 films in competition from all points of the globe.

Another headliner will be Tim Burtons’ Frankenweenie, the maestro’s latest 3D black-and-white stop motion-animated film, which will be screened on Wednesday 24 October prior to its theatrical release.

Forming part of the international program is the highly anticipated 7 Days in Havana where seven of the world’s most dynamic Latin and European filmmakers join forces to present a short work each spanning one week in the Cuban capital. Directors include Benicio Del Toro, Julio Medem and Gaspar Noè.

Frank Khalfoun’s acclaimed thriller Maniac featuring Elijah Wood headlines the festival’s late night screenings. The new Australian sci-fi thriller Crawlspace will also have its debut at the late night screening program.

ABC2 have also partnered with the Festival to present five new short form documentaries from Australian directors under their Opening Shot program.

The full festival program and competition line up will be announced on October 3 at the Official Festival Program Launch.

For more Cockatoo Island Film Festival (October 24 – 28) information and ticket sales go to Tickets are on sale now.

New Release Review: Looper (Rian Johnson, 2012)

Talented writer/director Rian Johnson burst onto the scene back in 2005 with his award-winning school-set crime noir, Brick (which I embarrassingly have still not seen), which starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt and brought the sensibilities of Raymond Chandler to a tale of teenage angst and schoolyard mystery. Johnson followed it up with The Brothers Bloom, an entertaining crime caper. 

Johnson’s latest cinematic endeavour is Looper, a futuristic action thriller, which reunites Johnson with Gordon-Levitt. Looper also stars Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt and Jeff Daniels. This is a film brimming with ambitious ideas, and though many of them are familiar to the genre, they have been cleverly arranged and given an intelligent subversion to ensure this experience is for the most part an original, enthralling and thought-provoking one.

Set in 2044, Joe (Gordon-Levitt) is part of a group known as ‘loopers’, hired hit men by employers from the future 30 years away, where time travel has been invented. On schedule, Joe travels to a desolate location where his targets from the future abruptly appear. He pulls the trigger, collects his loot and goes on with his life. In the future time travel is outlawed and the mob uses it illegally to send their targets back in time. But there is a catch: the organization that hires loopers will inevitably send their future selves back in time so that the younger killers can wipe them out.

This is introduced through one of Joe’s colleagues (Paul Dano), whose loop turns up and he commits the job’s mortal sin, lets his older self get away. After graciously trying to assist his friend, and having to face up to his boss (Jeff Daniels), Joe comes face-to-face with his own (Bruce Willis). Before he has time to eliminate him, Joe is knocked unconscious and his target escapes. Joe's older self is beset on changing something in the past, while Joe wants to close his loop and get on with his present life. Along the way he crosses paths with Sara (Emily Blunt) and seeks refuge on her farm. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Upcoming Release Review: Killing Them Softly (Andrew Dominik, 2012)

Killing Them Softly, distributed through Hoyts Distribution, has a national release October 11.

Killing Them Softly, Andrew Dominik's follow-up to his 2007 masterwork, The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford, screened in competition for the Palme d'Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This gun-toting crime noir about bad men fueled by nothing but the desire for money and reputation is as grimy as could possibly be. But it also has intervals of stylish, bloody violence, sharp dialogue, entertaining black humour and courtesy of Dominik's screenplay, an adaptation of George V. Higgins' 1974 novel, Cogan's Trade, the story has been shifted to the contemporary day - the 2008 presidential election and financial crisis - with a political and national economic subtext.

Two hapless criminals in search of a quick buck, Frankie (Scott McNairy, Monsters) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn, Animal Kingdom), are brought in by Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola, The Sopranos), an in-and-out of prison wannabe big shot, who has hatched a plan to rob a mob protected poker game. Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta, Narc), in charge of the games, has ripped off them off before and Amato figures the criminal world will assume it's him. Following the robbery, which cripples the local criminal economy, just like the Wall Street CEOs cripple the nation's, a street-smart enforcer named Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt, Moneyball) is hired to investigate the heist and eliminate those responsible.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

2012 Lavazza Italian Film Festival Review: Shun Li and the Poet (Andrea Segre, 2011)

Shun Li and the Poet, sure to be one of the highlights at this year's Italian Film Festival, is a compelling drama and a tranquil, pleasing character study that gradually evolves from a poetic tale of unexpected friendship into a tragedy of doomed affair, prejudice and cultural identity and difference. Remarkably assured filmmaking from first time writer/director Andrea Segre sensitively explores the film's beautiful setting, rich characters - drawing fine performances from his two leads - and explored social issues.

Shun Li (Zhao Tao, winner of the David Di Donatello for Best Actress), a Chinese immigrant in her forties who has worked in a textile workshop on the outskirts of Rome for several years, is working hard desperate to obtain the documents that would allow her son, currently living with his grandfather, to come to Italy. When she is suddenly transferred to Chioggia, a small but beautiful town in the Venetian lagoon, to work as a bartender, her life is sent into confusing turmoil. She still has much to repay her brokers, and her stable employment might not to be so stable, having to learn new skills and be a stranger all over again.

She tends to the requests of the regulars, mostly local fishermen and pensioners, as best she can. Amongst them is Bepi (Rade Serbedzija, in an extraordinarily reserved, against-type role), or as his friends call him, 'The Poet', a recently retired Slavic fisherman who emigrated decades prior. He is drawn to Shun Li's ever-present sense of contentment and joy, masking her sadness and loneliness. After discovering a mutual interest in poetry, they gradually begin to reveal more about one another. Bepi invites Shun Li out to his fishing hut, and Shun Li shows him photos of her father, also a fisherman, and her son.

They share quiet talks about their cultures and families and bond over a mutual feeling of loneliness and reciprocated offers of kindness. Shot by renowned DP, Luca Bigazzi (responsible for some ingenious work on This Must Be The Place), this elegantly composed picture displays immense affection for the Italian setting, and is a tender human drama with gentle activism for multiculturalism.

But with the region experiencing economic change paranoia starts, and Shun Li and Bepi's innocent friendship gets mistaken for something more. The key problem with the film is accepting that some of these locals could turn so quickly on their friend, and become the vocal and prejudiced anti-immigrant cynics they showed no sign of before. Bepi's friends even unite with an undesirable local they have several run-ins with at the bar in condemning and publicly humiliating Bepi for what they believe is more than an innocent friendship.

It is sad to see Bepi's friends and Shun Li's employers turn on them so aggressively, blowing their innocent friendship out of proportion. For Shun Li, the rumours that spread disrespect the local Chinese community and her contacts threaten to restart her debts and disallow her son's arrival. Bepi becomes an outcast to his ignorant friends who believe that Shun Li works for the Chinese mafia.

Shun Li and the Poet is a simple but heart-wrenching drama that admirably focuses on character and story and underplays melodrama and the politics surrounding Italian social integration. With kind characters we support and sympathise with, this is a top-tier recommendation at this year's festival.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Trailer: Shadow Dancer (James Marsh)

Here is a trailer for Shadow Dancer, a spy thriller from acclaimed director James Marsh (Man on Wire, Project Nim). Stars Clive Owen, Andrea Riseborough and Gillian Anderson.

In selected Australian cinemas October 11.

Single mother Collette McVeigh, (Andrea Riseborough) is a Republican living in Belfast with her mother and hardliner IRA brothers. When she is arrested for her part in an aborted IRA bomb plot in London, an M15 officer, Mac, (Clive Owen) offers her a choice: lose everything and go to prison for 25 years or return to Belfast to spy on her own family. With her son’s life in her hands, Collette chooses to place her trust in Mac and return home. But when her brothers’ secret operation is ambushed, suspicions of an informant are raised and Collette finds herself and her family in grave danger.

New Releases (20/09/12)

Lore - The long-awaited follow-up to her exquisite Somersault, Australian director Cate Shortland's adaptation of the novel The Dark Room by Rachel Seiffert is a sensual and complex story that explores the tribulations faced by the young in the aftermath of World War II. When their Nazi SS parents are taken into Allied custody, five siblings are left to fend for themselves. Teenaged Lore, the oldest, takes charge, and the children set out to join their grandmother in Hamburg, some 900 km away. Along the arduous journey, the children encounter a populace suffering from postwar denial and deprivation, and for the first time are exposed to the reality and consequences of their parents' actions. With food hard to come by, and the journey becoming ever more dangerous, the children meet Thomas, a young Jewish survivor who helps them negotiate their way through tricky situations. Lore is both repulsed by and attracted to Thomas. All that she has been taught leads her to believe that he is the enemy, but his industriousness, generosity and physicality prove alluring. A coming-of-age tale set against the backdrop of a changing world, Lore shows new life emerging out of darkness with great intelligence and subtlety. Outstanding war drama, beautifully photographed and featuring mature performances from the young cast.

Ruby Sparks - Calvin (Dano) is a young novelist who achieved phenomenal success early in his career but is now struggling with his writing - as well as his romantic life. Finally, he makes a breakthrough and creates a character named Ruby who inspires him. When Calvin finds Ruby (Kazan), in the flesh, sitting on his couch about a week later, he is completely flabbergasted that his words have turned into a living, breathing person. Smart, poignant and very funny, if let down by a flabby middle and a disappointing ending, Ruby Sparks is entertaining. Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan (writer) are in form.

Monday, September 17, 2012

New Release Review: Ruby Sparks (Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, 2012)

This is a replicated version of my review from MIFF last month.

Ruby Sparks is an original, charming, funny and poignant tale of a 29-year-old writer, Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano), coming to terms with himself and love through his craft. It is written by Zoe Kazan, who stars as Calvin's imagination-come-to-life girlfriend, Ruby, and directed by the team behind the critical hit Little Miss Sunshine, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. Having been unable to find success since his first and only novel ten years earlier - and in the film's opening sequences Calvin attends a reception to note the tenth anniversary of the publication - he has since been living off his wealth and has now become moody, depressed, undesirable and isolated from the world. The reason: a sophomore slump and writer's block.

He receives moral support from his brother, Harry (Chris Messina), but it isn't until he has a dream of meeting an attractive red haired girl (Kazan) in a park that he finds the inspiration he's so desperately seeking. He begins furiously writing about this character - the eponymous Ruby Sparks - and begins to fall in love with his creation. He views her as the perfect girl. One morning Ruby appears in his apartment, amused by Calvin's bewildered reaction and claiming they have been together for some time. Calvin decides to introduce Ruby to his family and friends - after finding proof that she actually does exist outside of his head - and resist the urge to manipulate her further.

The first half of Ruby Sparks is very funny, and I found myself relating to Calvin's writing routine, odd moments of inspiration, and frustration. Watching him come to terms with Ruby's presence in his life is hilarious; and things get even funnier when he calls in Harry to test whether Ruby exists and if she can be 'tweaked'. Paul Dano is back in top form - perfectly cast as the gangly, awkward, bespectacled and clearly talented writer stuck in a personal and professional rut. Though Calvin possesses some unlikeable characteristics, he is an endearing character we sympathise with and begin to grow concerned for when we realise he is blind to his faults and literally becomes over-controlling. It is a somewhat cautionary tale and instead of Calvin personally evolving, and letting his love for Ruby loose, he takes to altering Ruby and relying on these changes to strengthen the relationship. This does not work and we watch his male ego become fragile as he becomes increasingly desperate.

For the most part Ruby Sparks is pure enjoyment and the only real let down is the film's disappointing ending, which I won't discuss, but it actually doesn't make a whole lot of sense, considering how Dano's character evolves and what ultimately happens to Ruby. The film's predominantly dramatic second half is less successful too and a visit to the home of Calvin's mother and partner (Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas) goes on for a tad too long. When Ruby begins to grow distant, watching him re-write her (something he initially vowed not to do) is uneasily amusing and sad. He makes three significant changes to Ruby, and this does result in the film becoming surprisingly bleak. Still, I remained engrossed in Ruby Sparks, an intelligently conceived script from young writer Kazan, and a well-acted, slickly executed hipster romantic comedy/drama.

                                                                                                                                My Rating: ★★★(B)

Reel Anime Review: From Up on Poppy Hill (Goro Miyazaki, 2011)

As I have only recently been acquainted with all of the major works from Studio Ghibli - undertaking a month-long marathon a few months back and catching up on some of Miyazaki's masterpieces including My Neighbor Totoro and Laputa Castle in the Sky - it was quite exciting to have the opportunity to view my first Ghibli film within the environment of a cinema. What a treat it was.

Though From Up On Poppy Hill is directed by Hayao's son, Goro (just his second work as director following 2006's Tales From Earthsea), it is co-scripted by his father and Keiko Niwa and based on a serialised Japanese comic book of the same name illustrated by Chizuru Takahashi and written by Tetsuro Sayama. Released in Japan in July last year From Up On Poppy Hill became the highest-grossing Japanese film of 2011, but doesn't have a scheduled release in the United States until March 2013.

From Up On Poppy Hill is set in Yokohama in the year before the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics and tells the story of Umi, a 16-year-old high school girl who lives with her her grandmother and sisters in Kokuriko Manor, a tenant house overlooking the harbour. Umi's father was a sailor lost at sea during the Korean War, and her mother is also absent from her life, studying in the United States. Every morning Umi raises signal flags in her garden with the message "I pray for safe voyages" as a way to remember and honour her father, before starting her rigid daily routine of entrusted responsibility around the house. Her school day is sandwiched between cooking and other chores. Umi's raising of the flags becomes a source of interest, and one day she spots a poem about her published in the school newspaper.

Umi first meets Shun, a dashing and reckless senior who runs the newspaper, when he is participating in a daredevil stunt. They have several more chance meetings and Umi soon becomes attracted to the bustling optimism and energy of the Quartier Latin, a dilapidated clubhouse where the intellectually minded students (the Culture Club) have set up various headquarters for the school's clubs and societies. With Shun requiring assistance with his printing of the newspaper, he enlists Umi's assistance, and Umi begins to suspect that it was Shun who wrote the poem. At Umi's suggestion, many volunteer students begin to work hard trying to restore the Quartier Latin to its former glory.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

2012 Lavazza Italian Film Festival Review: Take It Easy! (Francesco Bruni, 2012)

How important is the presence of a responsible father figure in the life of a young man on a misguided path? For a bitter and world-weary former teacher, struggling novelist, and celebrity ghostwriter, who has all-but given up on life, these responsibilities change his life just as they do the despondent young man entrusted with his care. It is this touching relationship that makes up the core of Take It Easy!, the debut feature from celebrated screenwriter Francesco Bruni (The First Beautiful Thing). These two misguided men – decades apart in age with completely different attitudes on life – take steps toward a mutual understanding and ultimately play a role in helping one another rediscover their life's direction.

At the 2011 Venice Film Festival, Take It Easy! Won the New Trends in Italian Cinema Best Film Prize and the Vittorio Veneto Award, and at the 2012 David di Donatello 2012 the film won Best New Director and David of the Youth Award. Take It Easy! might just be the definitive Italian warm, feel-good story. The film tracks the unlikely co-existence between a veteran teacher who has lost all passion for his profession, Bruno (Fabrizio Bentivoglio), and one of his equally apathetic pupils, 15-year-old Luca (Filippo Scicchitano), whose mother has recently left for a job in Mali and left him in the care of Bruno. The catch, Bruno is actually Luca's father, and this is the first Bruno has heard of it.

Friday, September 14, 2012

New Release Review: The Watch

I'm not really sure what The Watch was trying to be. It is buddy comedy/alien invasion mash-up. On one level it is a slim character study of some everyday suburban guys trying to overcome personal issues who form a Neighborhood Watch in their attempts to catch the killer of a Costco security guard, and while they're at it, deal with their anxieties. On another level it is a civilians vs. extraterrestrials invasion flick in the vein of last year's British hit, Attack the Block. But Attack the Block has more inventive alien creatures and cost significantly less, not to mention being much tighter, smarter, funnier, grittier and tenser than this widely-panned near-disaster from writers Jared Stern, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, and director Akiva Schaffer.

The Watch is set in the small suburban town of Glenview, Ohio. When the night security guard of Evan Trautwig's (Ben Stiller, another uptight common man role) local Costco store is found murdered, the community-active senior manager decides to investigate further than their disinterested chief of police, Sergeant Bressman (Will Forte), and try and bring the perpetrator to justice. To do this he proposes the forming of a Neighborhood Watch and manages to recruit some of the locals; Bob (Vince Vaughn, loud, obnoxious and unbelievably unfunny), a construction worker struggling with his relationship with his teenage daughter, Franklin (Jonah Hill, as crude as ever), a disturbed high-school dropout with dreams of being in the police force, and Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade, replicating a boring version of his character Moss from The IT Crowd), an awkward British recent-divorcee.

While Evan is set on the task at hand, the others aren't so serious. Bob, always with a beer at the ready, convinces the gang to hang out at his place. Bob, over protective of his daughter and concerned about her boyfriend, and Evan, secretly sterile and anxious about his wife's (Rosemarie DeWitt) desire to have a baby, begin to bond and share their anxieties. While patroling they discover a large metallic (and incredibly destructive) orb object that they presume to be of alien origin. As more townsfolk go missing, the Watch learns that aliens have infiltrated the town. They believe that they are stealing their victim's skin and disguising themselves as human civilians. With no one else aware of the danger present in the town, it is up to this group of self-assigned heroes to save the day.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

2012 Lavazza Italian Film Festival Review: Kryptonite! (Ivan Cotoroneo, 2012)

Set in Naples in 1973, Kryptonite! follows nine-year-old Peppino (Luigi Catani), a frizzy-haired, bespectacled misfit coming to terms with the changing world through his dysfunctional family.

With his mother, Rosaria (Valeria Golino), having recently sunk into depression and with his father, Antonio (Luca Zingaretti), rarely home (and cheating on his mother with one of his colleagues – the source of her anxiety), Peppino finds himself being shared amongst his oddball relatives – his mother’s siblings; his hot, swinging hipster aunt, Titina (Christina Capotondi), her party-animal brother, Salvatore (Libero de Rienzo) and intellectual brother, Federico (Gennaro Cuomo), amongst others.

His cousin Gennaro (Vincenzo Nemolato) wears a cape and believes he is Superman. After he is hit by a bus and killed, he returns in spirit to guide Peppino, encouraging him to embrace his own individuality and not to worry about bullies at school, and learn to trust his family.

Ivan Cotoroneo (writer of I Am Love) adapts for the screen from his own novel and makes his directorial debut. While his direction of individual sequences shows further promise, the film’s structure is wayward and feels like it is made up of a web of strands. Sub-characters that feel superfluous and add little to the story’s central focus sluggishly weigh it down.

Ultimately it tells the parallel tales of Peppino and Rosaria, but everyone else feels underdeveloped, and their stories never reach engaging heights. The performances are all commendable, but Gollino (warm and motherly, yet convincingly emotionally conflicted) and Capotondi (amusing, and a genuinely illuminating presence) stand out. The best sequences in the film are shared by Peppino and Gennaro, cleverly written and funny, and Rosaria and the shrink she is sent to, Dr. Matarrese (Fabrizio Gifuni). The latter are emotionally dense and of a more serious tone than the rest of the film.

The suburban dwellings that haven’t conformed to the psychedelic changes feel somewhat drab and claustrophobic, while others (notably Titina and Salvatore’s place) are adorned with eye-popping colours. This pleasant suburban dramedy offers up nostalgia for those with homegrown knowledge and situates those unacquainted in a period of significant social change in Italy. We are taken into the lives of this colourful Neopolitan family in the midst of dysfunction and though there are some laughs – Poppino and his father bonding over a trio of baby chicks bought as a gift – we know it will turn out okay and don’t come out further enlightened.

While the threads are a messy collaboration and unevenly effective, the location and the period is lusciously visualized by Luca Bigazzi, and the details (gaudy costumes, and swinging LSD-riddled love-ins with burning bra demonstrations) vibrantly heighten the atmosphere. As I mentioned it is well performed and features some catchy Italian covers of pop songs like “These Boots Are Made For Walking”. There's enough to leave an audience with a smile on their face, anyway.

Classic Throwback: Black Sunday (Mario Bava, 1960)

Black Sunday - or The Mask of Satan and Revenge of the Vampire as it is also called - is the debut feature film from Italian horror maestro Mario Bava. Before the incomparable work of Dario Argento (The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, Deep Red, Suspiria) there was Bava, a cinematographer who had completed several uncredited works as director. This was my introduction to the filmmaker and Italian Gothic horror, and I have to say, it is an impressive work.

This intriguing fairytale, loosely based on a short story by Nikolai Vogol, tracks a beautiful vampire-witch, Asa Vajda (Barbara Steele), whose brother sentences her to death along with her paramour, Javuto (Arturo Dominici), for sorcery. Before being burnt at the stake, Asa vows to seek revenge and puts a curse upon her brother's descendants. Concluding one of the film's most chilling scenes - which likely would have had audiences running for the exits back in 1960 - a spiked mask is hammered onto Asa's face.

Jumping forward two centuries we are introduced to Dr. Thomas Kruvajan (Andrea Checchi) and his assistant Dr. Andre Gorobec (John Richardson), who are traveling through Moldavia en route to a medical conference. Taking a shortcut through a forest, one of the wheels on their carriage breaks. While waiting for their driver to repair the wheel, the two explore an ancient crypt and discover Asa's tomb. When a large bat attacks Kruvajan, he breaks the glass panel covering Asa's partially preserved body and the cross above the tomb. Investigating further, he removes her death mask.

This leads to Asa's awakening, the rise of Javuto from the grave, and the lives of Asa's descendants, Katja (Steele also) and Constantine (Enrico Oliveiri), who live in a nearby castle, being placed in danger. Gorobec, smitten with Katja after meeting with her outside the crypt, becomes the only chance she has from being possessed by Asa once her father, Kruvajan, and several of the castle's servants fall victim to the seemingly-insurmountable Javuto. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

New Releases (13/09/12)

There are four new releases in cinemas this week and unfortunately, with the exception of Beasts of the Southern Wild, which I greatly admire but was not as moved by as some reviewers, it is a poor week. We have a pair of new franchise installments, Madagascar: Europe's Most Wanted and Resident Evil: Retribution and the poorly-received gross-out/alien-invasion comedy, The Watch, starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade, one is counting the days until Looper.

Beasts of the Southern Wild - In a forgotten but defiant bayou community cut off from the rest of the world by a sprawling levee, a six-year-old girl exists on the brink of orphanhood. Buoyed by her childish optimism and extraordinary imagination, she believes that the natural world is in balance with the universe until a fierce storm changes her reality. Desperate to repair the structure of her world in order to save her ailing father and sinking home, this tiny hero must learn to survive unstoppable catastrophes of epic proportions.

Madagascar: Europe's Most Wanted - Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Gloria the Hippo, and Melman the Giraffe are still fighting to get home to their beloved Big Apple and of course, King Julien, Maurice and the Penguins are all along for the comedic adventure. Their journey takes them through Europe where they find the perfect cover: a traveling circus, which they reinvent - Madagascar style.

The Watch - Four everyday suburban guys come together as an excuse to escape their humdrum lives one night a week. But when they accidentally discover that their town has become overrun with aliens posing as ordinary suburbanites, they have no choice but to save their neighborhood -- and the world -- from total extermination.

Resident Evil: Retribution - The Umbrella Corporation's deadly T-virus continues to ravage the Earth, transforming the global population into legions of the flesh eating Undead. The human race's last and only hope, Alice (Milla Jovovich), awakens in the heart of Umbrella's most clandestine operations facility and unveils more of her mysterious past as she delves further into the complex. Without a safe haven, Alice continues to hunt those responsible for the outbreak; a chase that takes her from Tokyo to New York, Washington, D.C. and Moscow, culminating in a mind-blowing revelation that will force her to rethink everything that she once thought to be true. Aided by newfound allies and familiar friends, Alice must fight to survive long enough to escape a hostile world on the brink of oblivion. The countdown has begun.

Weekly Recommendation: Beasts of the Southern Wild, for exhilarating originality, world building and the performances alone, is worth a look. I feel it will prove to be divisive, however. Madagascar has received relatively positive reviews, so if you're a fan of the others, I imagine it is worth a look. Also, Damsels In Distress, released last week in Melbourne, hits Dendy Newtown this week. I'll be there. Top picks this week, however, are Monsieur Lazhar and Your Sister's Sister.

Daniel Craig to Attend the Australian Premiere of 'Skyfall' Nov. 16

Sony Pictures Releasing is delighted to announce that Daniel Craig, along with co-stars Naomie Harris (Eve) , Bėrėnice Marlohe (Severine) and Producer Barbara Broccoli, will be in Sydney on the evening of Friday November 16 to attend the Australian Premiere of the highly anticipated 23rd James Bond action adventure, SKYFALL.

This will be the third visit by the 007 star Daniel Craig who attended Australian Premieres for ‘Casino Royale’ in 2006 and ‘Quantum of Solace’ in 2008. The Australian Premiere will be held at the prestigious State Theatre in Sydney on Friday November 16. 

Daniel Craig is back as Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007 in SKYFALL, the 23rd adventure in the longest-running film franchise of all time. The film is from Albert R. Broccoli’s EON Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, and Sony Pictures Entertainment. Directed by Academy Award winner Sam Mendes. Produced by Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli.

The Royal World Premiere of SKYFALL will take place in London on 23rd October attended by His Royal Highness Prince Charles and The Duchess of Cornwall. At the request of His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales the premiere will benefit the charities that support former and serving members of the three intelligence agencies (the Secret Intelligence Service, the Security Service and GCHQ). The Premiere at Royal Albert Hall in London will be attended by the film’s leading actors Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Bėrėnice Marlohe, Albert Finney and Ben Whishaw, and the director Sam Mendes.

SKYFALL releases nationally November 22.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Classic Throwback: Eyes Without A Face (Georges Franju, 1960)

Eyes Without A Face is a declared classic blend of police procedural and mad scientist-driven body horror from French director Georges Franju. It is an adaptation of Jean Redon's novel of the same name and didn't receive a release in the United States until 1962. This version was dubbed, edited and titled The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus. 

Master surgeon Dr. Genessier (Pierre Brasseur), feeling guilty about his role in his daughter Christiane’s (Edith Scob) facial disfigurement – one she is forced to hide under a fitted mask - enlists his assistant, Louise (Alida Valli), to kidnap pretty young women who resemble Christiane. His aim: to attempt a transfer of their face onto his daughter’s. 

The film opens at night just outside Paris with Louise driving to a riverbank and dumping a corpse into the river. This body is later identified by Dr. Genessier as his recently missing daughter, believed to have committed suicide as a result of her disfigurement. The body in fact belongs to a young woman that died after Genessier's unsuccessful attempt to graft her face onto his daughter's. Christiane is being held at his mansion - located adjacent to his medical clinic. 

The film tracks both Genessier's fate following another failure to fix his daughter - this time he effectively grafts the face of another young woman, Edna (Juliette Mayniel), but Christiane's body ultimately rejects it - and his daughter's coming-to-terms with her existence as nothing more than a human guinea pig and choosing to reject her father's help just as her body does the transplants.

Monday Links (10/09/12)

So, what has happened over the last week? Well, the Venice International Film Festival concluded (with The Master missing out on the Golden Lion) and the Toronto International Film Festival commenced. More on TIFF later. As I have not had much to write about, the blog has been quiet of late.

As I had already seen most of this week's releases, I have done a lot of re-watching over the last four days. Repeats views of Your Sister's Sister, The Avengers, Berberian Sound Studio and Killer Joe have secured them consideration for my end-of-year Top 30. Berberian Sound Studio - which I watched at the Sydney Underground Film Festival on Friday night - after offering up a puzzling experience on first look at MIFF, really satisfied on a re-watch. One of the most original, stimulating and technically outstanding feature films I have had the pleasure to view this year.

This week I thought I would focus on recognising some of the lucky people (passionate film enthusiasts and talented writers, all of them) who are meeting up in Toronto and covering the festival:

Sam @ Duke and the Movies has so far reviewed Looper, Amour, The Central Park Five, The Sessions, Reality and The Silver Linings Playbook.

CS @ Big Thoughts From A Small Mind has reviewed Stromboli and War of the Volcanoes.

Joseph @ Black Sheep Reviews has so far reviewed The Company You Keep, The Silver Linings Playbook, Amour, The Perks of Being A Wallflower, West of Memphis, Stories We Tell, Anna Karenina, Dredd 3D, Looper, On the Road, Rust And Bone.

Andrew Robinson @gmanReviews has reviewed Looper, The We and the I and Rust and Bone in his TIFF diaries. 

Also writing in the form of a diary is Corey Atad @ justAtad. So far, you can check out his thoughts on Days 1 & 2 and reviews of Rust and Bone, The Gatekeeper, Stories We Tell and Like Someone in Love.
Ryan McNeil @ The Matinee always provides wonderful coverage of TIFF and 2012 is no exception. Check out his reviews of Rust and Bone, Like Someone In Love, The Place Beyond the Pines and Seven Psychopaths.

Also, Andrew at A Constant Visual Feast shares his thoughts on one of the most affecting films I have seen this year, Oslo, August 31st.

Andrew Kendall reviews Bachelorette.

Ethan shares 'Fifteen Criterion That He Wishes Were Real'. Brilliantly inventive.

Sam has recently become a LAMB member and takes a look at a pair of docos that screened at the Sydney Underground Film Festival over the weekend.

Alex's review of The Imposter is as much a masterpiece as the film itself.

James takes a look at Hellboy. He's a big fan.

Hope everyone has a great week. Look for reviews of The Watch and Damsels in Distress to come over the next week.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Kim Ki-duk's 'Pieta' Takes Venice's Golden Lion in Controversial Decision

For those who don't know, the 2012 Venice International Film Festival concluded overnight and the awards have been now been distributed. The Venice jury, led by American filmmaker, Michael Mann, was set to award the festivals top prize to Paul Thomas Anderson's drama, The Master, but because of an odd rule - no film can be awarded for more than two major categories - the Golden Lion went to Korean director Kim Ki-duk's Pieta.  

Anderson picked up the Silver Lion for Best Director, and stars Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman were jointly awarded Copa Volpi for Best Actor. But once these two awards had been agreed on, the rules prohibited the Golden Lion be awarded to The Master, unless one of these awards were dropped. The deliberations resulted in the Golden Lion to be awarded to Pieta.

In other awards, the special jury prize went to Ulrich Seidl for his exploration of religious faith in Paradise: Faith, while the Copa Volpi prize for Best Actress went to Hadas Yaron for her work in Lemake et Ha’Chalal from Israeli director Rama Bursthein.
This continues to controversy surrounding the festival, with some dubious decisions having been made in the past. Somewhere's win in 2010 sparked controversy, as did Mickey Rourke's loss in 2008 due to the jury being unable to honour both The Wrestler AND his lead performance. Ultimately, it seems pretty clear that the best film screening at this year's festival was The Master, and Paul Thomas Anderson fans could not be more excited by this news, despite it not walking away with the expected accolade.