Saturday, August 31, 2013

Monthly Round-Up: August Viewing

In August I watched a total 38 films.

New to me (In Order of Preference)

Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999) - Perhaps my favourite 'new' film this year. I had watched it previously - in the vicinity of 10 years earlier - so treated it as a fresh view. Amazing big screen experience. Intriguing, beautiful and unnerving, it has been haunting my dreams ever since.

Naked (Mike Leigh, 1993) - Raw, disturbing and exhilarating character-driven portrait of social alienation and erratic non-conformity. Thewlis won Best Actor and Leigh Best Director at Cannes - as if they were ever in doubt - and the score is amazing.

Drugstore Cowboy (Gus Van Sant, 1989) - My new favourite from Van Sant. Stylish, honest and inspiring redemption tale from routine crime/drug addiction. Matt Dillon great.

Hannah and Her Sisters (Woody Allen, 1986) - Fantastic. I wasn't sure for a while whether the Woody segments were necessary, but it all came together beautifully.

The Purple Rose of Cairo (Woody Allen, 1985) - Fun. The circumstantial leap of a screen character to manifested romantic reality created thorough investment. Farrow adorable.

Broadway Danny Rose (Woody Allen, 1984) - Loved it! One of my favourite of Woody's personal creations so far, and great to see Mia Farrow in a very different role.

Drinking Buddies (Joe Swanberg, 2013) - Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson (perfect) are friends who could be more. Their own complex personal lives complicate matters. Brilliant and relatable.

The Best Offer (Guiseppe Tornatore, 2013)

Zelig (Woody Allen, 1983) - An amusingly authentic, technically brilliant mockumentary - a fascinating study of bizarre psychological malady, social conformity and celebrity. Some parts weren't as engaging as others, but Woody continues to surprise.

Beyond the Hills (Christian Mungiu, 2012)

La Playa D.C (Juan Andres Arango Garcia, 2012)

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

August Mini Reviews Part 2 - Pain and Gain, Upstream Color, Red 2 and Paranoia.

Pain and Gain (August 8) - If idiotic American Dream-blinded gym junkies murdered and ripped off millionaires and were given an excessive amount of cash to recreate it through a film and tell the events entirely how they wanted, then this would be the film. That is Bay's idea I guess, but this vile, ridiculous and criminally overlong film soon becomes very grating. But, in the scheme of things, it might still rank as one of Bay's better films. The many montages are effective at times and some of the harebrained behaviour is so stupid that it is hard not to laugh at these admittedly well-developed boof-heads and at Bay's decisions. Dwayne Johnson, who stars as born-again recovering drug addict who quotes Christian dogma and at one point shows off his skills with a barbecue, is excellent.

Many an audience member will be alienated from the get-go as Mark Wahlberg's Daniel Lugo, a buff motormouth South Beach personal trainer who wants his taste of the American Dream - the one he doesn't earn, but steals from other scumbags - takes on the mantra of a sneering self-help guru. He vows to become a 'doer' instead of a 'don'ter'. I wish someone was advising Bay on what 'not' to do. Lugo enlists two of his steroided gym pals - Johnson and Anthony Mackie - to help him rip off one of his clients, a businessman who isn't shy about mouthing off about his wealth. They kidnap him, hold him hostage and torture him until he signs away his possessions. Then they try and kill him. That fails, and though he survives and lives to tell the tale no one believes such an outrageous story. Who would right? Hmm.

As the rampant indulgence increases, both within the film and in the nature of Bay's pummeling visual style, so does the abhorrent, immoral behaviour. The disposal of a pair of victims to the trio's greedy recurring scheme, which becomes necessary after they squander their first haul on things like drugs and an operation to repair the effects of drug-indulgence, is nasty and in complete opposition to the accompanying attempts at humour. I don't think any scene involving Rebel Wilson (who becomes the unlikely wife of Mackie's character) was required at all, either. Even though Bay has satirised his own mode of filmmaking - one loses count of the amount of shots designed to capture the actors' hulking figures from below to make them look bigger - this doesn't help me accept this brash hedonism. Bay has been making serious money for years because he followed a similar mantra. There's an audience for it, but I have given up. ★1/2

Upstream Color (August 22) - An extraordinary film I know I will have to watch again (and again, perhaps) to fully appreciate. Though it is more accessible and easier to decipher than Shane Carruth’s 2005 mind bender, Primer, this still took a lot of effort to remain attentive amidst SFF fatigue. At once a science fiction dealing with complex biological and existential themes, questioning the connection of all organisms within the universe, and a mysterious, ill-fated romance, this is a dense, layered story that probes into the depths of the mind like few other films this year. Carruth is repeatedly credited for Upstream Color – he writes, directs, stars, edits, scores and markets the film – which is a work of grand scale indie filmmaking, bringing an idea to an audience solely and uniquely. Beautifully shot, scored, edited and performed it is the sensory trip that makes it a worthy experience, while the mind-melting but emotionally stirring narrative arcs will have you craving an immediate re-watch. ★★

Red 2 (August 29) - While it is clear that the cast of likable veterans are having a lot of fun - except for Willis, who could not have cared less - this understandable but unnecessary sequel to the surprise hit Red (2010) is a mediocre globe-hopping action affair. When a nuclear device from a past CIA op falls into the wrong hands, this band of jaded retirees are called into action. Full of location tags, establishment shots, and visits to some of the world's prime secret service hotspots (every visit to Moscow has to involve an infiltration of the Kremlin, the prime spot to hide a nuclear weapon, apparently), this lackadaisical plot offers a few surprises - shifting allegiances et al. - but lacks any inventiveness. Mirren, Malkovich and Hopkins have some of the best lines, but they are few and far between. The humour is awkwardly absent for large portions of the run time, the relationship dynamic between Willis and Parker didn't ignite any laughs, and the gun-crazy methods of Lee Byung-Hun's 'world's best' contract killer were peculiar. In Red there was something about the ridiculous antics of these veterans that made for a moderately pleasurable experience. Here, similar ground is covered but it all felt somewhat bland.

Paranoia (September 5) - What more can be said about Paranoia. Its bomb at the U.S Box Office has been in the media and despite the attractive cast of both youngsters (Liam Hemsworth, Amber Heard) and veterans (Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman), there are few qualities to praise here. It is simply a bad film. It is not an offensively bad one, but as I watched this bafflingly clumsy, cliche-ridden, often implausible corporate espionage thriller I couldn't help but feel sorry for it. With the exception of the rival companies trying to outweigh one another with a new brand of smart phone, this film adds absolutely nothing new to the genre, and isn't particularly clever nor entertaining on any level.

There is a sequence near the beginning when the lead character, Adam Cassidy (Hemsworth), and his friend (Lucas Till) try and get into a high end bar/night club. Not dressed appropriately, they aren't let in. The bouncer declares that he doesn't let in 'hipsters' or 'virgins'. THIS, for these smug mid-20-somethings, is the absolute end of the world. A sign that they are never ever going to make it. A reality check that their entry-level position at their company (which probably still pays handsomely) is unsatisfying. Adam lives with his father (Richard Dreyfuss) who is ill, but he can't afford to contribute to his hospital bills. Adam presents his team's latest invention to the board but their director (Oldman) throws it back in his face before firing his whole team, for no reason. Adam decides to takes this final opportunity to rack up a multi-thousand dollar bill on the corporate credit card - not by helping his father - but to get into that club and get drunk with his friends. His life is over, he might as well get a taste of the 'high life'. But, it is this incredible insolence that in-turn prompts his director to poach him for the undercover espionage mission to steal a rival prototype. Then things just get silly.  

Paranoia doesn't ever engage, the characters are thinly drawn, the performances are either blank and uncharismatic or outrageously overblown, just about every sequence feels like it has been recycled - falling for the girl when you're working undercover for the rival company, hacking her PC while she is in the shower for key intel, getting invited out to a lavish  private party after your first day and schmoozing in the office of the big boss (Ford) - and every heavy-handed plot turn can be predicted.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Revisiting the 2013 Blockbuster Season

I am going to start the Blockbuster Season - a term that's hard to define, but I am going with April-August 'Wide Release' - with Oblivion (April 11) and end it with Red 2 (August 29). Still upcoming we have White House Down, a couple of animated films - Turbo and Planes - and Thor: The Dark World so there are big-budget studio productions and family-oriented films screening all year round.

Excellent (4-4.5) - Oblivion, Iron Man 3, Pacific Rim, This is the End, The Conjuring and The World's End.

Decent (3-3.5) - Star Trek Into Darkness, The Internship, World War Z, Despicable Me 2, Monster's University, Epic, Now You See Me and We're the Millers.

Eh (2-2.5) - Snitch, The Great Gatsby, Man Of Steel, The Lone Ranger, The Heat, The Wolverine, Elysium, Red 2.

Ugly (0.5-1.5) - Olympus Has Fallen, The Hangover Part III, Pain and Gain, Kick-Ass 2.

My main challenge here was determining what constituted a 'Blockbuster'. I tossed up whether to include The World's End, which actually takes top honors here, but the Twitter community seemed to be the consensus in claiming that it was. At the beginning of the season, around the time when Iron Man 3 was released, it seemed like there was a larger-than-normal lineup of blockbusters. But, emerging on the other side, I'm not sure it can be called a strong blockbuster period.

As I listed above, I was a fan of Pacific Rim, Oblivion and Iron Man 3. Pacific Rim was so much fun. Guillermo Del Toro knew what he was doing, managing to build characters we cared about, and infusing this gargantuan struggle with an odd brand of humour. I caught it a second time in IMAX. Oblivion was a big surprise. I was engrossed by the story, despite the derivatives, and loved the cinematic landscape (the striking design and cinematography, the M83 score). Iron Man 3 was just as good as Iron Man for me. Tony Stark without the suit, RDJ in top comic form and the fact that it was more of an espionage thriller than a superhero film. For comedies, The World's End is perhaps the funniest film (but so much more) of the year, but I also laughed a lot during the Rogen/BaruchelFranco/Hill/Robinson/McBride Apocalyptic collaboration, This Is the End. James Wan's The Conjuring made a heap of money here, and it is a more than decent horror film. Very well directed, even some of the generic malevolent elements felt fresh here, and the performances are strong.

I did admire the visual spectacle of J. J Abrams' Star Trek Into Darkness but admittedly forgot about the film almost immediately. I am not a Trekkie and for all of the great character work in Abrams' films the stories aren't so great. I also enjoyed the intensity of World War Z. Zombies on an epic global scale, which made for some terrifying sequences. A bold change of pace to the finale was also a decision I admired. Chatting with director Marc Forster at a press junket was a rewarding experience too. Monster's University and Despicable Me 2 were released on the same day - and I enjoyed both. Not surprisingly, Despicable Me 2 has made a LOT of money worldwide. As for the poorly-received The Internship, Now You See Me and We're The Millers, I had a good enough time in the cinema to give them a pass. While not great films, the comedies provided ample laughs, Now You See Me a tricky, energetic plot.

The biggest disappointments were The Great Gatsby, Man of Steel and Elysium. Man of Steel angered me especially. What a disaster. The Lone Ranger, despite an entertaining final chase sequence, was a tonal mess, and The Wolverine might just be the blandest of all of this year's crop. I want to forget all about Olympus Has Fallen - the worst film of the year so far - and the abominable final installment of The Hangover trilogy. Kick Ass 2 makes a strong case for one of the year's most sickening films.

How did you find this year's blockbuster period? What were your favourites?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

My 2013 Sydney Underground Film Festival Lineup

The 2013 Sydney Underground Film festival is set to take place September 5-8 at the Factory Theatre, Marrickville and tickets are now on sale and can be purchased at

Celebrating the very best of underground, alternate and cult film the festival will feature an eclectic line up of over 30 local and international films. The festival loves pushing the boundaries of convention and is dedicated to advancing the alternate film culture through the promotion of independent, experimental and sometimes controversial films. 

Opening the festival, and accompanied by pizza & drinks is The Dance of Reality, directed by the legendary Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo, The Holy Mountain). It his first feature film in over two decades, fresh from it’s rousing world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.The closing night film is The Canyons, directed by Paul Schrader, written by Bret Easton Ellis and featuring a comeback by Lindsay Lohan that has been drawing a lot of recent attention. The program.

Keep an eye out for my diary coverage of SUFF this year at Graffiti With Punctuation, which will feature short reviews of as many films I can muster and any notable experiences along the way. Here is my proposed schedule:

Thursday 5 September

7.30pm - Opening Night Film + Party - The Dance of Reality 

Friday 6 September 

6.30pm - Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction
8.30pm - Magic Magic

Saturday 7 September

4.30pm - Unhung Hero
6.30pm - Adjust Your Tracking: Untold Story of the VHS Collector
8.30pm - BEST WORST MOVIE BINGO! Birdemic: Shock and Terror

Sunday 8 September

1.00pm - A Band Called Death
3.00pm - Unlawful Killing
5.00pm - The Final Member
7.30pm - Closing Night Film + Party - The Canyons

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Trailer: Tim Winton's The Turning

From 26 September 2013, TIM WINTON'S THE TURNING will release as a unique cinematic event starring Cate Blanchett, Rose Byrne, Hugo Weaving, Miranda Otto, Brenna Harding, Richard Roxburgh, Callan Mulvey, Dan Wyllie and numerous others.

Seventeen talented Australian directors from diverse artistic disciplines each create a chapter of the hauntingly beautiful novel by multi award-winning author Tim Winton. Under the guidance of curator Robert Connolly (Balibo), first time filmmakers Mia Wasikowska and David Wenham make their directorial debut amongst acclaimed directors such as Warwick Thornton and Justin Kurzel.

Here is the trailer: 

Festival News: Tickets on Sale for the 2013 Lavazza Italian Film Festival

The Lavazza Italian Film Festival makes a return for its 14th season this October and November with a line-up of 27 exciting new titles, as well as a classic returning to screens. 

Visiting Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and Brisbane as a guest will be the ravishing French/Italian actress Clara Ponsot – one of Europe’s most sought-after young stars - who will be presenting her new drama Cosimo and Nicole.

This year’s event will be book-ended by two films which pay homage to Rome. The Great Beauty, which screened for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, is critically lauded drama about love and regret from writer/director Paolo Sorrentino (Il Divo, This Must Be the Place). It will launch the Festival at Opening Night Galas in each state. For Closing Night, 1972 gem Fellini’s Roma – a gloriously vivid valentine, from the late, great director, Federico Fellini, to the city he adored - will screen.

From the press release, other highlights of the 2013 Festival line-up include:

A Five Star Life (Viaggio sola)
Director: Maria Sole Tognazzi (Starring: Margherita Buy, Stefano Accorsi and Lesley Manville)
Drama and comedy are effortlessly fused in this clever and stylish world-tour of hotels across Paris, Berlin, the Alps, and Marrakesh.  Hotel critic, Irene spends her glamorous days travelling to the world’s best establishments, methodically judging their standards in every fastidious respect.  However, she remains supremely unaware of the glaring imperfections in her own life until events shatter her complacency challenging her to find a balance between work and play. 

A Perfect Family (Una famiglia perfetta)
Director: Paolo Genovese  (Starring: Castellitto, Mark Giallini, Claudia Gerini and Carolina Crescentini)
In this wry comedy, Leone, a very wealthy, very lonely man, decides to create a family Christmas by writing a script and hiring professional actors to play different family members.  When in Leone’s presence, this odd company perform their parts, but his constant mood swings cause havoc with his own script, forcing the actors to improvise.  However an unexpected arrival causes a major disruption to proceedings, throwing the script into a disorder that will either make or break this strange family unit.

Alì Blue Eyes (Alì ha gli occhi azzuri)
Director: Claudio Giovannesi  (Starring: Nader Sarhan, Stefano Rabatti and Brigitte Apruzzesi)
In this powerful tale, Nader, a 16-year-old Italian-born son of Egyptian Muslim parents, is caught between his peers and his cultural roots.  In love with Italian girl Brigitte, Nader defies family wishes by fleeing his home. But when his fiery friend Stefano gets into a fight, Nader stabs a young Romanian in his defence, forcing him go into hiding from the wounded victim’s family, who now seek revenge.

Balancing Act  (Gli equilibristi)
Director:  Ivano De Matteo  (Starring: Valerio Mastandrea, Barbora Bobulova and Maurizio Casagrande)
When husband and father of two Giulio upsets his comfortable life by having an affair, his wife Elena cannot forgive him.  He decides to move out but promises that he will continue to support the family financially despite his meagre monthly salary. But where can he go?  His friends have their own problems, apartments are too expensive and he resists staying with his mistress.  Finding a one-room, shared-bathroom pensione, Giulio plunges deeper into poverty as he struggles to pay for his separation, borrowing more and more money before hitting rock bottom. Told with ironic humour amidst the tragedy, this movie poignantly examines the thin line between having it all and having nothing. Audiences will also remember Mastandrea from last year’s Festival films Piazza Fontana: The Italian Conspiracy and Things From Another World. His outstanding performance in this film won him the Best Actor award at the 2012 Venice Film Festival and  is widely hailed as the finest of his career.

Honey (Miele)
Director: Valeria Golino  (Starring: Jasmine Trinca, Carlo Cecci, Libero De Rienzo and Vinicio Marchioni)
Officially selected for Un Certain Regard at Cannes 2013, this finely-tuned drama is the outstanding directorial debut of internationally famed actress Valeria Golino.  Irene is an angel of mercy.  Going by the pseudonym “Honey”, she works under the radar and outside the law to assist the terminally ill to pass-on peacefully and with dignity. However the work is not without its costs and Irene lives a largely insulated life with personal liaisons kept at arm’s length.  But when retired architect Carlo enlists her services, a tense yet caring relationship results, causing her usually fierce code of ethics to be tested.

The Human Cargo (La nave dolce)
Director: Daniele Vicari
In 1991 Armenia was in a state of economic, social and political upheaval, with many citizens dreaming of a better life abroad. On 8 August 1991 the ship Vlora returned from Cuba with 10,000 tons of sugar in stowage. The local residents – an uncontrollable throng of some 20,000 men, women and children - took advantage of what appeared to be a rare opportunity and forced the Captain to take them to a new life in Italy. Shown through extensive footage of breathtaking scenes, and told from the perspectives of those who experienced it themselves, this dramatic, little-known piece of history won the Best Documentary Award at the 2012 Venice Film Festival.

The Ideal City (La città ideale)
Director: Luigi Lo Cascio  (Starring: Luigi Lo Cascio, Aida Burruano and Luigi Maria Burruano)
Actor turned director, Luigi Lo Cascio, stars as a talented architect and fervent environmentalist who decides to live for one year without running water, electricity or automobiles.  However, one rainy evening, when forced to borrow his boss’ car to drive a colleague to a work function, his life takes an unexpected turn when he hits something he can’t identify.  When a few miles down the road he discovers the dead body of a local luminary, he unwittingly brings great suspicion upon himself, as his uncertainty of the night’s events raise more questions than he has answers for.

The Interval (L’intervallo)
Director: Leonardo di Costanzo (Starring: Francesca Riso, Alessio Gallo and Carmine Paternoster)
17-year-old Toto sells lemon crushed-ice from a cart in a run-down area of Naples, until one day he is forcefully enlisted by the local Camorra boss, Bernardino, to temporarily guard 15-year-old wild child Veronica in a dilapidated warehouse.  Toto is initially resentful, unaware of the reasons for being handed this task.  Meanwhile Veronica loathes her imprisonment and her ‘babysitter’. However, as time passes a friendship develops, despite the sense of impending doom that prevails as they anticipate the return of Bernardino and the fate that awaits Veronica. Feted by critics, The Interval won Best New Director for Leonardo di Costanzo at the David di Donatello Awards.

Mr Volare: The story of Domenico Modugno (Volare: La grande storia di Domenico Modugno)
Director: Riccardi Milani (Starring: Guiseppe Fiorello and Kasia Smutniak)
The legendary Domenico Modugno charmed the world with his melodic voice and songs, which came to symbolise Italian grandeur in the 60s.  Together with Johnny Dorelli, he launched his career with the timeless song "Nel blu dipinto di blu” (“Volare”), which garnered two Grammy Awards, sales above 22 million copies and represented Italy in the 1958 Eurovision Song Contest.  He was also a successful actor with 44 films to his credit before he entered politics in 1986.  We follow his incredible journey as a boy from the south of Italy to a man who produced some of the world’s most famous songs. Screening in two parts of 100 minutes with a short intermission, this is a must-see Festival highlight. 

The 2013 Lavazza Italian Film Festival will take place nationally at Palace Cinemas as follows:

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

New Releases (29/08/13)

In cinemas this week: Stoker, The Rocket, The Best Offer, You're Next, Red 2 and Jobs. 

A mixed bag, for sure, but the first three mentioned make it one of the year's strongest weeks. 

Stoker - Stoker is a wonderfully directed gripping psychological thriller and the first English-language film by the great South Korean master Park Chan-Wook (Joint Security Area, Oldboy). Written for the screen by Wentworth Miller (best known as the star of Prison Break), it tells a macabre coming-of-age tale about family dysfunction and human depravity, within the mould of an atmospheric gothic horror. Featuring fantastic performances from Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman and Matthew Goode, its many chilling twists and turns effectively serve the formal brilliance of director Park’s vision. On the day of her 18th birthday introvert misfit India Stoker (Wasikowska) learns that her beloved father (Dermot Mulroney) has died in a car accident. Estranged from her mother, Evelyn (Kidman), she becomes even more cold and withdrawn than usual in her grief. When her father’s charismatic brother Charlie (Goode), a man India has never known, comes to visit and decides to stay to help around the place, she is immediately suspicious of him. At a time when she is dealing with not only grief but existential angst, seclusion and her overbearing mother, the arrival of this stranger puts her at great unease. What secrets does he harbour? What is his fascination with her and why is she so drawn to him?

The Rocket - The story, set in Laos, follows Ahlo (Disamoe), a ten-year old boy whose family are forced to relocate after an Australian energy company announces the construction of a dam set to flood their area. Considered bad luck in the traditions of the family as he is delivered into the world preceding a stillborn twin, Ahlo finds himself the blame for the string of misfortunes that fall upon the family. After a tragic accident and the forging of a friendship with a young girl, Kia (Loungnam Kaosainam), and her outcast uncle, Purple (Thep Phongam), Ahlo’s father (Sumrit Warin) begins to believe that the prophecy is true. Ahlo must prove his worth to his family as they come to terms with the economic change that threaten their livelihood, with their future reliant on the most unlikely of events. In this wonderful film the realities are grim, but stemming from the child’s innocence, courage and his intoxicating sense of hope, it is brimming with tender, heartfelt moments. Winner of the Audience Award at the Sydney Film Festival it also won Best Narrative Feature, Audience Award and Best Actor at the TriBeCa Fil Festival.

The Best Offer - Virgil Oldman (Geoffrey Rush) is a cultured, eccentric and solitary man whose reluctance to engage with women is matched only by the obsessive nature with which he practices as the managing director of a leading auction house and as an evaluator of high-end art and antiques. When the neurotic and short-tempered Virgil receives a call from a mysterious young heiress named Claire Ibbotson (Dutch youngster Sylvia Hoeks), a request to evaluate the paintings and antiques cluttering her sprawling villa, he finds his strict rules aren’t adhered to. Much to his frustration Claire at first refuses to meet him in person, but later reveals that she must remain locked away because of a long-suffering illness. Virgil becomes doubly fascinated by what he finds in the house – including an 18th Century talking automaton that he enlists his friend Robert (a charming Jim Sturgess), a mechanical genius, to assemble and repair – but also the identity of Claire, a woman who may for the first time have captured his heart. The Best Offer, the latest feature from Academy Award-winning director Guiseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso), is a classy and atmospheric thriller with many haunting Hitchcock-esque qualities. I sat down knowing nothing about the film and within minutes I was captivated.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Spring Preview: 25 Films To Watch Out For This Season

Dates may change of course, and new films could be added, but here is a look at some of the potential cinema highlights over the next three months. A few of these - Mood Indigo, Stories We Tell, The Act of Killing, Twenty Feet From Stardom and Blackfish - I know are excellent, the others are entirely speculation. No doubt I have missed some tiny releases, but at present here is how it stands.

The Gatekeepers (Sept 5)

Salinger (Sept 6)

Blue Jasmine (Sept 12)

Mood Indigo (Sept 12)

A Hijacking (Sept 19)

 Stories We Tell (Sept 26)

Tim Winton's The Turning (Sept 26)

Gravity (Oct 3)

Rush (Oct 3)

The Act of Killing (Oct 3)

Metallica: Through The Never (Oct 10)

Diana (Oct 10)

Stranger By The Lake (Oct 17)

Twenty Feet From Stardom (Oct 17)

Captain Phillips (Oct 24)

Blancanieves (Oct 24)

The Butler (Oct 31)

Thor: The Dark World (Oct 31)

Kill Your Darlings (Nov 7)

Fruitvale Station (Nov 7)

All Is Lost (Nov 14)

Carrie (Nov 14)

The Counselor (Nov 14)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Nov 21)

Blackfish (Nov 21)

What are you most looking forward to? Mine are Blue Jasmine, Gravity, Metallica: Through The Never, Fruitvale Station, All is Lost and The Counselor.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Review: Kick-Ass 2 (Jeff Wadlow, 2013)

In Kick-Ass 2, the putrid dose of costumed sadism that it is, an audience is expected to have fun while watching a group of vigilantes beat up gangsters or one of the band of super-villains kill cops for no reason whatsoever. While the first film reveled in some gratuitous violence, at least there was a compelling narrative that built an inventive twist on the genre of the costumed hero, following an ordinary guy who attempts to clean up the streets. While I have never considered it a great film – I found Mindy’s upbringing especially concerning – some of the comedy was effective; there was a pulpy sense of style, a badass soundtrack and the birth of some exciting young actors. In this follow-up installment, written and directed by Jeff Wadlow (Never Back Down) and based on Kick-Ass 2 and Hit-Girl by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr, there is no wit, and the cycle of ultra-violence is less about serving justice where it is due, and more about exerting nasty revenge. Even the morals and ideals of the titular hero are questionable, leaving few identifiable positives.

Even though Dave Lizewski/Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has retired from fighting crime, he finds himself re-inspired by other ordinary citizens – a team of costumed citizens who call themselves “Justice Forever” – and enlists Mindy Macready/Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) to train him up. But Mindy has made a promise to her guardian, Sergeant Marcus Williams (Morris Chestnut), that she will lead an ordinary teenage life and despite Dave’s pleadings to fight by his side, she tries to keep her promise. When Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) uses the inheritance left by his late parents to become the world’s first Super-Villain he takes on the name, The Motherf**ker’. He attracts a small army to join him in his murderous spree, targeting ‘Justice Forever’ and vowing revenge on Kick-Ass.

Review: V/H/S/2 (2013)

V/H/S/2 offers a bombardment of grisly horrors, and though it possesses little replay value and grows somewhat tedious after a while there is enough impressive innovation from these daring directors to warrant giving it a go. I haven’t seen the much-maligned V/H/S, but I am glad I took the opportunity to see this one. The clever utilisation of point-of-view, and the writing of inventive motivations (and somewhat believable ones, often a problem with the genre) for the continued filming of the events, is especially notable.

Whether the camera is a bionic insertion that substitutes for a damaged eye, is strapped to the helmet of a cyclist or attached to the back of a dog, the footage is raw and often difficult to watch on an aesthetic level, but some of what fills the frames of this film will burrow into your soul.

These short films are essentially collaborated YouTube videos – crazy events documented in what is meant to amateur fashion that unveil some of the sinister supernatural things that ‘could’ happen in our world. For fans of the ‘Found Footage’ genre – my experience is limited, my interest normally minimal – I expect this will be a rousing addition.

Continue reading at Graffiti With Punctuation

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Review: The Best Offer (Guiseppe Tornatore, 2013)

The Best Offer, the latest feature from Academy Award-winning director Guiseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso), is a classy and atmospheric thriller with many haunting Hitchcock-esque qualities. Immaculately scored and photographed with room for artistic indulgence that layers the production with great beauty, the cogs in the screenplay barely miss a beat. It is a fascinating character study and a sophisticated and engrossing mystery brimming with passion and romantic intrigue and high-culture deception. I sat down knowing nothing about the film and within minutes I was captivated.

Virgil Oldman (Geoffrey Rush, outstanding and amongst his career-best for me) is a cultured, eccentric and solitary man whose reluctance to engage with women is matched only by the obsessive nature with which he practices as the managing director of a leading auction house and as an evaluator of high-end art and antiques. When the neurotic and short-tempered Virgil receives a call from a mysterious young heiress named Claire Ibbotson (Dutch youngster Sylvia Hoeks), a request to evaluate the paintings and antiques cluttering her sprawling villa, he finds his strict rules aren’t adhered to. Much to his frustration Claire at first refuses to meet him in person, but later reveals that she must remain locked away because of a long-suffering illness. Virgil becomes doubly fascinated by what he finds in the house – including an 18th Century talking automaton that he enlists his friend Robert (a charming Jim Sturgess), a mechanical genius, to assemble and repair – but also the identity of Claire, a woman who may for the first time have captured his heart.

Continue reading at Graffiti With Punctuation

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Review: Father's Chair (Luciano Moura, 2013)

In Father’s Chair Brazilian star Wagner Moura (the star of Elite Squad and the sequel, The Enemy Within, as well as recently delivering an eye-catching supporting turn in Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium) gives an affecting and versatile performance as a selfish man consumed by self-pity who begins to iron out his personal flaws. He effortlessly guides us through this endearing road movie about a fractured family, the directorial debut from Luciano Moura. Fernando Meirelles, the director of the great City of God, lends his skills as a producer.

Moura stars as Theo, a successful and hardworking doctor, husband and father who has chosen his career over his family. But when he faces the loss of everything he holds dear – a bitter union with his wife Branca (Mariana Lima) and a pending separation, and newfound estrangement from his 15-year-old son Pedro (Bras Antunes) – he is thrust into a journey of self-enlightenment. Suddenly, Pedro disappears, which sets up an intriguing mystery. Has he run away? Was he abducted? Theo begins a desperate search for his son, traveling across Brazil, finding himself and re-evaluating what he values most in his life.

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New Releases 22/08/13

In cinemas this week: Kick Ass 2, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, What Maisie Knew, Upstream Color and V/H/S 2.

Kick Ass 2 - His heroic antics having inspired a citywide wave of masked vigilantes, Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) joins their ranks to help clean up the streets, only to face a formidable challenge when the vengeful Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) transforms himself into the world's first super villain in this sequel written and directed by Jeff Wadlow. Dave/Kick-Ass and Mindy/Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) are about to graduate high school and become a crime-fighting duo when their noble plans are foiled by Mindy's strict parents. Now, as Mindy hangs up her Hit Girl uniform and navigates the treacherous high-school social scene, Kick-Ass begins patrolling the streets with Justice Forever, a fearless group of urban watchdogs fronted by former mob thug Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey). When The Mother F**ker (the transformed Red Mist) and his minions begin targeting the members of Justice Forever, Hit Girl realizes that the only way to save Kick-Ass and his new friends is to emerge from her forced retirement. Review by Sam McCosh at An Online Universe.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones -  Lily Collins stars as a young girl whose life is upended when she realizes that she's part of a long line of demon-slayers in this Screen Gems adaptation of Cassandra Clare's first book in her series of best-selling novels. Also stars Lena Headey and Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

What Maisie Knew - A contemporary re-imagining of Henry James' novel, What Maisie Knew tells the story of a captivating little girl's struggle for grace in the midst of her parents' bitter custody battle. Told through the eyes of the title's heroine, Maisie navigates this ever-widening turmoil with a six-year-old's innocence, charm and generosity of spirit.

Upstream Color - "Kris (Amy Seimetz) and Jeff (Carruth) get caught in the life cycle of an organism that puts a dent in their lives. The duo and others who come into contact with the creature struggle to make sense of the strange chain of events affecting them." - Excerpt/Review by Cameron Williams at The Popcorn Junkie

V/H/S 2 - Inside a darkened house looms a column of TVs littered with VHS tapes, a pagan shrine to forgotten analog gods. The screens crackle and pop endlessly with monochrome vistas of static-white noise permeating the brain and fogging concentration. But you must fight the urge to relax: this is no mere movie night. Those obsolete spools contain more than just magnetic tape. They are imprinted with the very soul of evil. *Added*

Weekly Recommendation: Having only seen Upstream Color and V/H/S 2 so far this makes it a difficult week to pick. Unless What Maisie Knew (which I really want to see) is incredible, I dare say Shane Carruth's new film will be the top choice. It is extraordinary. A stunning sensory experience with a story that will send you round the bend trying to figure it out. I have heard nothing about The Mortal Instruments and predominantly negative things about Kick Ass 2. I wasn't a big fan of the first film, so my interest has never been piqued for this unnecessary sequel. Surprisingly, I quite liked V/H/S 2 without having seen the direly received first film. It is a bombardment of nasty horrors, but for POV innovation it is an impressive achievement.

Monday, August 19, 2013

August Mini Reviews: The Conjuring, The Bling Ring, Frances Ha, Red Obsession and Elysium

The Conjuring (July 18) - This film is very creepy and it takes a skilled director to make some of these now-generic malevolent elements as convincing and fresh as they feel here. I love watching horror films but half way through I was growing terrified of what was to come in The Conjuring, and whether I wanted to endure it that particular day. That's a compliment. This well-acted horror smorgasbord is thankfully more attentive to building character and suspense than James Wan's jump scare-heavy previous film, Insidious, and there are some really well-directed sequences which prove that Wan is a maestro. I really liked the relationship between Farmiga and Wilson, whose investigation into the secrets of an old house confront them with a case from their past. This facet, like the supernatural elements, felt grounded in an acceptable reality. 2013's best horror film so far. ★★

The Bling Ring (August 8) - In Sofia Coppola's (Lost in Translation, Somewhere) latest film, a group of vapid, materialistic, selfie-obsessed teenagers who built a claim to fame by robbing the homes of Hollywood's rich and famous (Paris Hilton amongst them, who apparently left the keys to her home under the door, had no security installed, and had so much stuff that she failed to notice anything missing despite the group's repeated returns to her place) are the subjects. Unfortunately, they aren't really the subjects. Their actions are. This disappointingly shallow film doesn't offer much insight into more than the robberies themselves, leaving their friendships, their motivations and the media response in the background. The robbers are eventually brought down, unsurprisingly, by social media gloating, a fallout providing the only real drama. It is strikingly shot, the soundtrack is funky and Emma Watson has some great lines, but it soon gets repetitive and tedious. A pass. Barely. 1/2

Frances Ha (August 15) - Greta Gerwig delivers an infectiously warm and bubbly performance in Noah Baumbach’s thoroughly enjoyable New York-set dramedy about a charming hipster stumbling through a directionless mid-20’s life crisis. Always optimistic about her future and determined to continue to purse her modest artistic aspirations, Frances cannot seem to make anything else work. Barely scraping together enough funds to support her living expenses, and unlucky in her romantic pursuits, her series of misadventures are captured in pleasing black and white photography. Fueled by an energetic soundtrack, Gerwig’s klutzy and awkward pratfalls are a consistent source of humour, earning my sympathy in a way I found Lena Dunham’s 'Girls' characters did not. ★★

Elysium (August 15) - Neill Blomkamp's anticipated follow-up to the excellent District 9 (2009), opens in stunning style - establishment of the two opposing worlds, the diseased, polluted and slum-riddled future LA and the decadent, luxury excess of the Elysium rich - showing signs that the foundation for an epic struggle for equality and acceptance could be laid out. But Damon's heroic mission, after he discovers that 'he' has everything to lose if he doesn't make the impossible journey from Earth to Elysium, isn't a universal one we ever embrace. There are a couple of exciting, if haphazard, action sequences - the 'data heist' was cool - but they are marred by unforgivable conveniences and the subsequent return of Copely's horrendous villain. While Copely and Foster are distractingly poor, Brazilian actor Wagner Moura is great in an energetic support role. There are inconsistencies, plot holes and unnecessarily nasty things in the muddled screenplay, the film's interesting political ideas swept aside for an action-centered and repetitively sentimental tale more interested in a hero's destiny and his lost love. It really diminished quickly, failing to live up to the potential of Blomkamp's ideas.

Red Obsession (August 15) - From France's Bordeaux region to the Chinese auction houses, Red Obsession is a fascinating insight into the startling economic side of the wine industry. With the rapidly rising prices in response to critical evaluation, and the ensuing decline of quality due to not only irregular climate, but also vastly heightened expectations about Bordeaux's output, we learn about the rise of China as the world's largest new investor in the coveted commodity and the supply/demand strain that this places on France's leading manufacturing region. Filmmakers Warwick Ross and David Roach traverse the globe, exploring the expansion and interviewing winemakers, critics and eccentric collectors - who purchase large volumes of expensive wine not to drink, but as an investment (like stock or gold) to be sold in the future at even higher prices. What also impressed me about this documentary were the cinematic qualities; the striking photography and the brisk narrative structure that covers a lot of territory, offering up shocking revelation after another. Effectively narrated by Russell Crowe, Red Obsession is an accessible, humanist and culturally informative insight into our changing international economy and how an obsession in Shanghai affects the most illustrious vineyards in France. ★★