Monday, June 30, 2014

Review: The Lunchbox (Ritesh Batra, 2013)

Written and directed by Ritesh Batra, The Lunchbox screened at the International Critics Week at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and won the Critics Week Viewers Choice Award. Both sessions at the Sydney Film Festival sold out and it seems primed for quiet word-of-mouth success. The Lunchbox is a genuine crowd-pleasing romance, a pleasant and moving study of two isolated individuals who, by chance, find unexpected comfort in one another, and a distraction from their unsatisfying lives, through the sharing of delicious food and honest letter correspondence.

The premise for The Lunchbox is drawn from India’s extraordinarily efficient lunch delivery system. Couriers, known as Dabbawala’s, collect lunch boxes of hot food from restaurants or the residences of workers, deliver them to their workplace using a variation of bicycles and trains, before returning the empty boxes to their point of origin the very same afternoon. I watched on in awe; looked like a logistical nightmare but they are world-renowned for their organization and accuracy.

This heartwarming film, which transports a viewer to the hustle and bustle of contemporary India, tells the story of a rare casualty of the delivery system, and how the lives of two people; one a lonely accountant nearing retirement (Irrfan Khan, Slumdog Millionaire, Life of Pi), the other a young housewife (the beautiful Nimrat Kaur, The Peddlers) looking to win back her husband’s attention, were changed as a result.

Continue reading at Graffiti With Punctuation

Monthly Round-Up: June 2014 Viewing

With the Sydney Film Festival and a new full-time job June was a pretty busy month. I haven't really done much else but watch films (and Masterchef) but I have just started reading Frank Herbert's Dune, which should keep me busy for the next month. Only two months until Sam and I set out for Toronto and TIFF, so there are going to be a lot of future nights in. 

I watched 41 films in June. Most of them coming during the twelve days of the Sydney Film Festival.

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

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

Mommy (Xavier Dolan, 2014)

What We Do In The Shadows (Taika Wiatiti, Jemaine Clement, 2014)  

Tom at the Farm (Xavier Dolan, 2013)

Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-Ho 2013)

Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski, 2014) - Will be one of the most interestingly and beautifully photographed film I see in 2014. Also one of the most efficient at just 80 minutes. The young lead is a stunner; Ida's story is quietly mesmerizing and deeply affecting.

Two Days, One Night (Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2014)

Winter Sleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2014)

Jodorowsky's Dune (Frank Pavich, 2013)

Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)

Calvary (John Michael McDonagh, 2014)

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her (Ned Benson, 2013)

School of Rock (Richard Linklater, 2003) - Oh what fun. A selfish, music-obsessed manchild (Jack Black) learns how to share his passion with others, in this case some straight-A youngsters who need their disciplined structure shaken up by his erratic, but all-heart, antics. I usually like Black anyway, but this role was created for him. The kids are incredible, too. You can't go wrong with Richard Linklater.

Fish and Cat (Shahram Mokri, 2014)

20, 000 Days on Earth (Iain Forsythe and Jane Pollard, 2014)

Of Horses and Men (Benedikt Erlingsson, 2013)

Starred Up (David Mackenzie, 2014)

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

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

June Mini Reviews: 22 Jump Street, Frank and How To Train Your Dragon 2

22 Jump Street (19 June) - This was one of the biggest letdowns in a while. After some great early laughs ("it looks like a giant cube of ice") this meta-barrage bounced off me more often than not. We are soon well aware of how aware the film is about its existence as a 'sequel' and what signifies a sequel in Hollywood, but after a while the replication tactics interfere with an actually interesting story. Why was I expecting a story here? Well, the first film, pretty inconsistent itself, had one. But it also managed to make endearing characters out of this perfectly cast pair, managed to be funny AND moving, and proved that Tatum was a man with a broader spectrum of acting talents than previously thought. 22 is short on memorable supporting characters and Schmidt and Jenko are fare less interesting themselves. With the drug sting ignored for long stretches Jenko's rival bromance with a college football jock is disappointingly flat, while Schmidt's love interest goes down an avenue that forced laughs. The Spring-Break finale was also uninspired. Tatum is still best in show, but I don't know what happened here. I was pleasantly surprised by 21 and then all reports suggested this one was an across-the-board improvement. For me, it was taking a horse with potential and then killing it slowly.  

Frank (19 June) - What to make of Frank? Is it a musical film about a mysterious social-media marketed group of reclusive, oddball geniuses, or a sad drama about mental illness and its opposing effects on the creative process? It is an odd hybrid that doesn't end up being funny enough to be crowd-pleasing and is too thin on character (Gyllenhaal is a 'crazy bitch', there is a 'French guitarist', and we still know very little about the withdrawn paper-mache-headed Frank 10 minutes from the end) for the tragic latter half developments to resonate. It is a weird, and surprisingly confused, film. It is difficult to analyze Michael Fassbender's performance, hidden under the head with his dialogue often muffled, but Domhnall Gleeson gives the best performance I have yet seen from him. The cigarette-infused creation-cabin featured the most entertaining sequences (including a terrific recording montage) and Gleeson's Twitter coverage of the band's recording sessions tied the story into the topical 'freak muso becomes a celebrity' domain. 1/2

How To Train Your Dragon 2 (19 June) - This pretty spectacular sequel, which immediately ranks as one of Dreamworks Animation's best films despite not soaring as high as the wonderful 2010 Oscar nominee How To Train Your Dragon, takes us back into the lives of Toothless a more mature Hiccup (Jay Baruchel). The first film was a delight on a character and narrative level and features some of the most spectacular animated action I have seen. Not to mention a killer score. For the flying sequences in particular this sequel competes, but we find ourselves in a world that has become less optimistic and much darker. An evil warlord beset on building a dragon army is now the threat, not the overthrow of historical conflict and a quest for peace. It is more interested in deep feels, introducing a new member of Hiccups's family that is very well handled, than entertaining the youngsters. I enjoyed myself but it was missing some of the majestic brilliance that made you crave another look at HTTYD. 1/2

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

New Releases 26/06/14

In cinemas this week: Transformers: Age To Extinction, The Last Impresario, The Volcano, Tinkerbell: The Pirate Fairy and Yves Saint Laurent.

Transformers: Age of Extinction begins after an epic battle left a great city torn, but with the world saved. As humanity picks up the pieces, a shadowy group reveals itself in an attempt to control the direction of history…while an ancient, powerful new menace sets Earth in its crosshairs. With help from a new cast of humans (led by Mark Wahlberg), OPTIMUS PRIME and the AUTOBOTS rise to meet their most fearsome challenge yet. In an incredible adventure, they are swept up in a war of good and evil, ultimately leading to a climactic battle across the world.

The Last Impresario - English Theatre and Film producer Michael White can only be described as one of the world’s great impresarios, yet his story has never been told. A handsome presence in British cultural life and fashionable society for decades, the hundreds of shows he produced including The Rocky Horror Show, Oh! Calcutta!, Chorus Line and The Monty Python and The Holy Grail changed the face of theatre and dance worldwide. Playboy, gambler, bon vivant, friend of the rich and famous, he is now in his late seventies and still enjoys partying like there's no tomorrow. The Last Impresario is a touching biopic about Michael’s incredible career – covering the highs and lows of his life as an impresario producer - featuring interviews with 50 of his closest friends including Anna Wintour, Kate Moss, John Waters and Barry Humphries and, of course, the man himself. At once an homage to Michael’s contribution to British culture, the film also paints a picture of a life from youthful daring to older acceptance.

Yves Saint Laurent - In January 1958, Yves Saint Laurent (Pierre Niney) - aged merely 21 - was unexpectedly called upon to oversee the legendary Paris fashion house established by recently deceased Christian Dior. All eyes turned to this very young assistant as he presented his first collection for Dior and instantly ascended to the heights of haute couture's elite class. During Saint Laurent's breathtaking and groundbreaking show, he met with another fate in being introduced to Pierre Bergé (Guillaume Gallienne), patron of the arts, future love of his life and lifelong business partner. Three years later, the two founded the Yves Saint Laurent Company, which would rapidly become one of the biggest luxury powerhouses on the planet. Directed by Jalil Lespert with a screenplay by Lespert and Marrie-Pierre Huster, Yves Saint Laurent is at once a captivating story about the making of an icon and a testament to the power of enduring love.

The Volcano - For world travelers, the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull is a blow. For Alan and Valerie, it is a disaster. In order to arrive on time in the small village in Greece where their daughter will be married the divorced couple, who have dedicated to each other a boundless hatred, will be forced to travel together.

Weekly Recommendation: I have seen three Transformers films and that is enough for me. No way I am seeing Michael Bay's latest headache. Reactions to Gracie Otto's The Last Impresario have been positive. Could be worth seeking out (Palace Cinemas). Reactions to Yves Saint Laurent...not. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sydney Film Festival Public Poll Results

A huge thank you to everyone who contributed to this Sydney Film Festival poll. I really appreciate the time it took to consider each of the films you saw. No doubt some of them are still stewing. In the end I had about 40 people send me their ratings (I lost track after a little while), and we covered well over 100 films. Most of the contributors saw more than 15 films (and many in the vicinity of 25/30), so this turned out to be worth all the effort.

It was interesting to see how the Official Competition were rated, and whether the Sydney Film Prize and Audience Award winners fared as well here. Some films were very divisive (The Rover and Snowpiercer covered almost every grade), others were almost unanimously praised or panned.  

There were quite a lot of films that received a two or less votes, so I am going to list them here (with the average rating) and not include them in the final rankings: All This Mayhem (4.5), Beijing Ants (2.5), Black Panther Woman (5), Concerning Violence (3.25), Dancing in the Room (2), Dead Snow 2: Red Vs Dead (3), Demonstration (3), Faith Connections (3.5), Goal of the Dead (2.75), If You Don't, I Will (3.25), Ilo Ilo (3.75), Iranian (4), Jimi: All Is By My Side (2.5), Keep on Keepin' On (3.5), Love Eternal (3), Love Marriage in Kabul (4), Mothers (2.25), Nelson Mandela: The Myth and Me (3.5), Once My Mother (4), Stop The Pounding Heart (3.5), Tender (3.5), The Battered Bastards of Baseball (3.5), The Gold Spinners (3), The Little Death (1), The Referee (3.25), The Second Game (3.5), Ukraine is not a Brothel (3.25), When Animals Dream (3.25), Till Madness Do Us Part (3.5), Up in the Wind (2), The Salt of the Earth (4.5) and The Fake (2).

And here are this year's Retrospectives (Robert Altman, Studio Ghibli and James Benning) and the Classics Restored, which also received limited votes: American Dreams (Lost and Found) (4.5), Deseret (3.88), Grave of the Fireflies (2.75), Hiroshima Mon Amour (5), M*A*S*H (5), McCabe and Mrs Miller (4.75), My Neighbour Totoro (4.5), Nashville (5), Nightfall (4.33), Rebel Without A Cause (4.5), That Cold Day in the Park (3.25), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (3.75) and Wedding, A (4).

Finally, here is a tally of the films with three or more votes from the contributors from the Official Competition, the Documentary Australia Foundation Award, Special Presentations at the State, Features, The Box Set, International Documentaries, Sounds On Screen, China: Rebels Ghosts and Romantics and the Freak Me Out sections of the program.

Title (A-Z)VotesAverage (/5)
20, 000 Days On Earth153.57
Abuse of Weakness72.88
Appropriate Behaviour133.58
At Berkeley63.42
Begin Again63.50
Black Coal, Thin Ice173.32
Born To Fly 53.10
Captive, The42.88
Case Against 8, The63.92
Cold in July122.25
Dinosaur 1353.20
Dior and I63.42
Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her, The153.70
Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him, The113.45
Double Play: Richard Linklater and James Benning83.19
Eastern Boys63.83
Fish and Cat193.68
For Those Who Can Tell No Tales32.83
God Help The Girl43.25
Great Museum, The53.30
Happy Christmas153.50
How To Train Your Dragon 273.50
Human Capital62.83
In Order of Disappearance103.35
Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy? 92.94
Jodorowsky's Dune203.93
Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq, The112.36
Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, The34.33
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter233.15
Last Impresario, The 43.38
Life Itself173.85
Love is Strange142.82
Lunchbox, The53.20
Miss Violence92.28
Mystery of Happiness, The 32.83
National Gallery113.77
Ne me quitte pas41.88
Next Goal Wins33.83
Night Moves113.50
Of Horses and Men73.64
Overnighters, The43.88
Palo Alto123.00
Particle Fever63.83
Possibilities Are Endless, The64.25
Praia Do Futuro52.30
Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets34.00
Reunion, The33.50
Rock the Casbah72.29
Rover, The253.52
School of Babel33.16
Sepideh: Reaching For The Stars33.00
Skeleton Twins, The123.46
Something Must Break72.64
Stage Fright31.83
Starred Up83.81
Story of Children and Film, The33.50
Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon33.50
Tale of the Princess Kaguya, The93.28
Tim's Vermeer113.55
Tom at the Farm164.15
Tomako in Moratorium42.75
Two Days One Night243.92
Two Faces of January, The93.39
Unknown Known, The63.42
We Are The Best!83.88
What We Do In The Shadows143.93
Willow Creek63.50
Winter Sleep143.79
Wish I Was Here63.67
Words and Pictures52.20
You're Sleeping Nicole63.67
Young and Prodigious T. S Spivet, The53.70


Official Competition

10+ Ratings >3.50 Ave.

Grade >3.50 Ave.

10+ Ratings >4.00 Ave.

Grade >4.00 Ave.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Favourite Albums of 2014 (So Far)

Top Soundtrack Albums

Nebraska - Mark Orton and Tin Hat Trio

The Grand Budapest Hotel - Alexandre Desplat

Only Lovers Left Alive -SQURL

10. Salad Days - Mac Demarco  

9. G I R L - Pharrell Williams 

8. Sunbathing Animal - Parquet Courts

7. I Never Learn - Lykke Li

6. Atlas - Real Estate

5. Pinata - Freddie Gibbs and Madlib

4. It's Album Time - Todd Terje

3. Lost in the Dream - The War on Drugs

2. Benji - Sun Kil Moon

1. To Be Kind - Swans