Saturday, May 31, 2014

Monthly Round-up: May 2014 Viewing

In May I watched 32 films. And didn't do much else but work. I read Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice, which was excellent. The first film I watched in May was Under the Skin and nothing matched that experience. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is the worst film I have seen this year with a cinema release.

Sydney Film Festival is only a few days away. There may be more changes yet, with the announcement of some late additions on Monday, but here's how my schedule looks so far.

New-to-Me Films (In Order of Preference)

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

Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2014)

On the Waterfront (Elia Kazan, 1954) - Brando's performance is commonly regarded as one of the greatest in cinema. He's fantastic, but the film is outstanding through-and-through. And the famous 'contender speech' is every bit as heartbreaking as I was led to believe.

The Crowd (King Vidor, 1928) - Groundbreaking (and cynical, bleak) silent drama of an ordinary dreamer whose professional failures and irrational ensuing anxieties threaten the harmony of his real treasure - family. One cannot help but think of Sunrise (Murnau) at times here, but this is damn impressive on every level. A tad melodramatic. I wonder if I would have been rolling my eyes at some of these developments if it was released today. But I was so thoroughly invested in the characters that the tragedies are affecting.Also, great performances. Far more emotive and real than most others in silent features that I have seen.

Edge of Tomorrow (Doug Liman, 2014) - GROUNDHOG DAY meets ALIENS, and a thoroughly entertaining collaboration it is. Strikes a great balance of action spectacle, character-driven stakes and injections of effective humour. An intense, thoughtful and fun film. Cruise and Blunt work very well together. I'd say the season's best blockbuster so far. Review to come.

The Trip To Italy (Michael Winterbottom, 2014)

Sunshine on Leith (Dexter Fletcher, 2013)

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

Thursday, May 29, 2014

My 2014 Sydney Film Festival Schedule

My current schedule for the duration of the Sydney Film Festival (June 4-15), which is still subject to a couple of last minute additions.

I left The Rover out of my line-up, but I still intend to see it on Friday 13 June after its theatrical release. 

Subject to tiredness, sickness or simply a change of mood, this is what I will be seeing. If it isn't here, I may have already seen it, or it may be getting a June/July cinema release.

Wed 4 Jun

Tom at the Farm 7.45pm

Thurs 5 Jun

Miss Violence 6.30pm

Fri 6 Jun

Calvary 6.30pm

Sat 7 Jun

Boyhood 11.30am
Love Is Strange 2.40pm
Happy Christmas 8.45pm

Sun 8 Jun

Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon 11.15am (Maybe)
Jodorowsky’s Dune 2.15pm
20, 000 Days on Earth 4.00pm
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her 8.10pm

Mon 9 Jun

Locke 12.40pm
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter 4.40pm
Two Days, One Night 7.15pm
Cold in July 9.30pm (Maybe)

Tues 10 Jun

Mommy 9.00pm

Wed 11 Jun

Black Coal, Thin Ice 6.00pm
In Order of Disappearance 9.00pm

Thur 12 Jun

Fish and Cat 6.00pm

Fri 13 Jun

Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater 6.30pm
The Rover (Dendy Newtown/OQ)

Sat 14 Jun

Winter Sleep 10.30am
The Skeleton Twins 2.00pm
The Tale of Princess Kaguya 4.10pm
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him 9.20pm

Sun 15 Jun

Timbuktu 10.00am
Snowpiercer 12.00pm
Starred Up  5.00pm
What We Do in the Shadows 8.00pm (Closing Night)

Monday, May 26, 2014

New Releases (29/05/14)

In cinemas May 29: Under the Skin, The Trip To Italy, A Million Ways to Die in the West and Maleficent. 

Under the Skin - Based, very loosely, on Michael Faber’s stunning 2000 novel of the same name. Both texts are so different that they proudly stand alone, linked only by the predatory female – named Isserley in Faber’s novel - who cruises the streets of Scotland looking for men to seduce. In Faber’s novel it is revealed that the heroine is an alien who has been surgically altered to appear as a female, looking for suitable specimens - young, healthy Scottish men with no families and whose sudden disappearance wouldn’t be soon noticed – who are then turned into a type of meat to be sent back to her starving homeland. She views herself as a professional, dedicated to doing her job to the best of her ability. She has learned how to act human purely for the purposes of her role, but that façade often slips, caught out by language barriers and unacquainted cultural and political references. The girl prepares herself for her role and cruises through the streets of Scotland in a white van. While we come to understand something about the creature, enough to inform what is to follow, she remains intriguing. What is it? Where is it from? What is the mission? How far do its human characteristics stretch? The men the girl successfully lures to her cottage with the prospect of sex find themselves engulfed in an inky blackness that feels like it is within another dimension. How they meet their demise, and what transpires in the film’s very different second half, is best left unshared. Under the Skin is an intense, unnerving, horrifying and devastating masterpiece. If a film can challenge the way you think about the world you live in, and the humans that populate it, it deserves the highest praise.

The Trip to Italy - Michael Winterbottom's largely improvised 2010 film, The Trip, took comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon or semi-fictionalized versions thereof on a restaurant tour around Northern England. In this witty and incisive follow-up, Winterbottom reunites the pair for a new culinary road trip, retracing the steps of the Romantic poets' grand tour of Italy and indulging in some sparkling banter and impersonation-offs. Rewhetting our palates from the earlier film, the characters enjoy mouthwatering meals in gorgeous settings from Liguria to Capri while riffing on subjects as varied as Batman's vocal register, the artistic merits of Jagged Little Pill, and, of course, the virtue of sequels. ★★

Maleficent - Explores the untold story of Disney's most iconic villain from the classic "Sleeping Beauty" and the elements of her betrayal that ultimately turn her pure heart to stone. Driven by revenge and a fierce desire to protect the moors over which she presides, Maleficent cruelly places an irrevocable curse upon the human king's newborn infant Aurora. As the child grows, Aurora is caught in the middle of the seething conflict between the forest kingdom she has grown to love and the human kingdom that holds her legacy. Maleficent realizes that Aurora may hold the key to peace in the land and is forced to take drastic actions that will change both worlds forever.
A Million Ways To Die in the West - Seth MacFarlane directs, produces, co-writes and plays the role of the cowardly sheep farmer Albert. After Albert backs out of a gunfight, his fickle girlfriend leaves him for another man. When a mysterious and beautiful woman rides into town, she helps him find his courage and they begin to fall in love. But when her husband, a notorious outlaw, arrives seeking revenge, the farmer must put his newfound courage to the test. Starring alongside MacFarlane are Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman and Neil Patrick Harris. MacFarlane reunites many of the filmmakers behind Universal and MRC's hit film Ted

Weekly Recommendation: Under the Skin and The Trip To Italy.  

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Winter 2014 Preview: 25 Films To Watch This Season

Over winter we have the annual Sydney Film Festival, and some of the films screening there get a theatrical release, but we are also immersed into the heart of the Blockbuster season. The lineup gets a bit thin come August, and dates are prone to change. If you know of any upcoming releases that I missed, please let me know.

Here's a recap of the films I viewed over the last three months...

Great (4.5/5) - All is Lost, The Lego Movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Only Lovers Left Alive, Under the Skin.

Good (3.5/4) - Non-Stop, The Missing Picture, Belle, Noah, The Invisible Woman, Bad Neighbours, Like Father, Like Son, The Babadook, 52 Tuesdays, The Double, Child's Pose, The Trip to Italy.

Okay (2.5/3) - Tracks, Mr Peabody and Sherman, Cuban Fury, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Raid 2, Canopy,
The Other Woman, Young and Beautiful, The Broken Circle Breakdown, Chef, Godzilla.

Awful (1/2)
- Lone Survivor, Nymphomaniac, The Amazing Spider-Man 2

...and here are some upcoming titles I will endeavor to see and suggest keeping an eye out for: 

Edge of Tomorrow (June 5)

The Rover (June 12)

 22 Jump Street (June 19)

The Two Faces of January (June 19)

How To Train Your Dragon 2 (June 19)

 Frank (June 19)

Galore (June 19)

Yves Saint Laurent (June 26)

Jersey Boys (July 3) 

Calvary (July 3)

Belle and Sebastian (July 10)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (July 10)

The Lunchbox (July 10)

Jupiter Ascending (July 17)

Charlie's Country (July 17)

Venus in Fur (July 17)

The Selfish Giant (July 31)

These Final Hours (July 31)

Guardians of the Galaxy (August 7)

Begin Again (August 7)

Third Person (August 7)

Lucy (August 14?)

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (August 21)

Magic in the Moonlight (August 28?)

A Long Way Down (August 28?)

What are you most anticipating? I am especially keen for The Rover, The Two Faces of January, Frank, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Calvary and These Final Hours.

Monday, May 19, 2014

New Releases 22/05/14

In cinemas this week: X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Babadook, Sunshine on Leith, My Sweet Pepper Land, Ida (in some states, others 29/5) and Son of God. 

X-Men: Days of Future Past - The sequel to X-Men: First Class, set in an alternate future where all mutants are hunted by giant, government-sanctioned robots called Sentinels. The storyline alternates between 1980 and 2014 as the X-Men venture back in time to stop the Sentinels from conquering North America and placing all the mutants they can capture into internment camps. On the eve of a feared nuclear holocaust, the remaining X-Men send Kitty Pryde's (Ellen Page) mind backward through time to possess the body of her younger self in order to prevent a pivotal event in mutant–human history: the assassination of Senator Robert Kelly by Mystique's newly reassembled Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

The Babadook - A psychological thriller starring Essie Davis (The Matrix, Girl With a Pearl Earring) as a single mother plagued by the violent death of her husband. When a disturbing storybook called ‘The Babadook’ turns up at her house she is forced to battle with her son’s deep seated fear of a monster. Soon she discovers a sinister presence all around her. ★★

Sunshine on Leith - Home is where the heart is for best friends Davy and Ally. Returning to their lifelong residence of Leith, in Edinburgh, the lads kindle romances old and new: Ally plans to propose to Davy’s sister Liz, while Davy falls head-over-heels in love with Yvonne. Meanwhile, Davy's parents Rab and Jean are busy planning their 25th wedding anniversary. Everything’s going swimmingly, until a revelation from Rab’s past threatens to tear the family and all three couples apart.

The second feature from actor-turned-director Dexter Fletcher, Sunshine on Leith is a jubilant, heartfelt musical about the power of home, the hearth, family and love. Adapted from the acclaimed stage musical by Stephen Greenhorn it features the euphoric music of The Proclaimers.

My Sweet Pepper Land - Baran is a hero. Or was – ever since Saddam fell, the Kurdish army has fallen apart. Becoming police chief in a remote border town, he is determined to bring order to the place and stand up to outlaw leader Aziz’s self-imposed ‘justice’. But when he meets defiantly independent schoolteacher Govend he not only finds something to fight for, but also something that may destroy him whole. A finely tuned drama with a humorous edge, My Sweet Pepper Land is the latest work from legend of Kurdish cinema, Hiner Saleem. Playful and provocative, it’s also a warm, witty lampooning of the John Wayne western from a corner of the whole where the Wild West still exists.

Ida - From acclaimed director Pawel Pawlikowski (Last Resort, My Summer of Love) comes a moving and intimate drama about a young novitiate nun in 1960s Poland who, on the verge of taking her vows, discovers a dark family secret dating from the terrible years of the Nazi occupation. 18-year old Anna (stunning newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska), a sheltered orphan raised in a convent, is preparing to become a nun when the Mother Superior insists she first visit her sole living relative. Naïve, innocent Anna soon finds herself in the presence of her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza), a worldly and cynical Communist Party insider, who shocks her with the declaration that her real name is Ida and her Jewish parents were murdered during the Nazi occupation. This revelation triggers a heart-wrenching journey into the countryside, to the family house and into the secrets of the repressed past, evoking the haunting legacy of the Holocaust and the realities of postwar Communism. In this beautifully directed film, Pawlikowski returns to his native Poland for the first time in his career to confront some of the more contentious issues in the history of his birthplace. Ida is a masterly evocation of a time, a dilemma, and a defining historical moment. The weight of history is everywhere, but the scale falls within the scope of a young woman learning about the secrets of her own past.

Weekly Recommendation: Strong titles. Interesting. Different. The Babadook is one of the best genre films to come out of Australia in recent years, and driven by an exceptional performance from Essie Davis, it genuinely scares. I have every intention of catching the well-reviewed Sunshine on Leith, the Cannes-selected Kurdish western My Sweet Pepper Land and the superhero film of the week X-Men this week, as well as the exquisite-looking Ida when it comes to Sydney cinemas May 29.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Review: The Trip To Italy (Michael Winterbottom, 2014)

The Trip To Italy is a brilliant and entertaining companion piece to The Trip, the first and different collaboration between director Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People) and stars Steve Coogan (Philomena) and Rob Brydon (Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story). Once again this feature-length film has been edited down from the original television mini series. The spectacular Italian scenery is coupled not just with rich food, but also poetry, affairs, auditions, Roman traffic jams, a barrage of film references and a more-than-healthy dose of impressions.

When Coogan is again commissioned to write an article on Italian cuisine for The Observer – an article his friend and prior companion Brydon wrote for him following their similarly food-fuelled trip through the Northern England Lake District – he reluctantly accepts. Within minutes we find ourselves in Italy, accompanying the crazy British pair as they navigate their way between destinations and argue about whether Alanis Morriset is suitable driving listening. They embark on a road trip through Italy, trialling the local seafood and pasta-based delicacies and lamenting on their personal and professional situations. Their road leads them through Tuscany, Rome, Pompeii and the Amalfi coast, in the footsteps of Brydon’s literary icons Byron and Shelley, before it all culminates in Capri with a few additional companions.

Continue reading at Graffiti With Punctuation

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Trailer: Ida (May 22)

Hailed by the BBC as one of the most important filmmakers in Britain, Polish born filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski (Last Resort, My Summer of Love) returns to his home country for this stunning film about life at a crossroads, shot in breathtakingly beautiful monochrome by cinematographers Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski.

Drawing on his childhood memories of early 1960s Poland, Pawlikowski creates a sumptuous film in which dialogue takes a back seat to stunning visions that capture the mood of winter in Poland’s small towns and countryside, from deserted pubs to remote farms and desolate woodlands.

It’s the perfect setting for the story of Anna, a beautiful eighteen-year-old woman, preparing to become a nun at the convent where she has lived since she was orphaned as a child, who learns that she has a living relative, her Aunt Wanda.

Through this new relationship Anna learns that her real name is Ida, that she is Jewish, and that her parents and brother - whom she never knew, were amongst the three million Polish Jews killed during the Holocaust. 

Together the two women embark on a voyage of discovery of each other and their pasts, a journey that also introduces Anna to the possibilities of another life, far removed from her convent upbringing.

Now Anna must choose between her birth identity and the religion that saved her from the massacres of the Nazi occupation of Poland. And Wanda must confront decisions she made during the War when she chose loyalty to the cause before family.

Written by Pawe
ł Pawlikowski and Rebecca Lenkiewicz, and directed by Pawlikowski, Ida (trailer) stars untrained actor Agata Trzebuchowska in a striking performance as Anna.