Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Monthly Round-up: September 2014 Viewing

So our trip and the Toronto International Film Festival is over. We had such a great time. I could live in Toronto. Seriously, we felt like locals after just a few days. Everyone was so nice. We saw some great films, and some rubbish (listed below) but that's the chance you take at an International Film Festival. But I would not have given up the experience for anything. Amongst the fantastic people we met and hung with regularly on our travels are regular readers and fellow bloggers Ryan McNeil, Courtney Small, Kurt Halfyard, Bob Turnbull, Matt Price and Max Covill, amongst many others. 

In LA we stayed with Alex Withrow (And So It Begins), who was the best host we could have imagined. Not only did he let us into his house, but he drove us wherever we wanted. We went to Hollywood, Venice Beach, the Griffith Observatory and some of the funkiest bars and cafes in his home suburb. The weather was wonderful. Thank you Alex!

In addition to watching 49 films, I also read a pair of crime fiction novels - The Walker and Birdman - which were okay. Coming home to re-immerse myself in Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch has been welcomed, however. We have also started re-watching Entourage from the beginning. I never made it to the very end. From memory it loses the plot quite badly, but I am determined to stick it out and try and spot the sites in LA that I visited.

Favourite album at the moment: Kanye West's College Dropout and Justin Timberlake's FutureSex/LoveSounds, both of which we picked up on vinyl in Toronto for absurdly cheap prices. 

Of course, I am now very behind what is now out in cinemas but what of it. I hope to catch The Boxtrolls, We Are the Best and Gone Girl (again) in the weeks to come. On Thursday we have The Judge booked in.

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

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

Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy, 2014) - This is such a bold and relevant film. In this exhilarating thriller we are sided with one of this grotesque disaster-media hungry societies super villains. This is an incredible performance by Jake Gyllenhaal. I said he was one of the best in the business after Prisoners, and since then I have seen this and Enemy, which separates him further from the pack. Considering the horrible things he does, the fact that we have empathy, and respect, for this guy is extraordinary. He's endlessly fascinating. It addresses a very prominent problem in today's media culture, but who is to blame? The person exploiting these victims and capturing the tragedies, the network buying the footage, or us consuming it? Very LA, it looks incredible courtesy of PTA's regular DP Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood), and ALL of Dan Gilroy's decisions hit the mark. The music. The casting. The ending. Following a car chase the audience at TIFF burst into applause. That is something I have never experienced. This is a morally stressful experience that was physically overwhelming, as only the great films achieve. IndieWire described Nightcrawler as a combo of Taxi Driver and Network. Collateral and Drive also come to mind. Comparisons are beside the point. It is in a league of greatness.

Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller, 2014) - Du Pont stabled the Shultz, a vulnerable victim of post-Gold obliviousness, and possessed the monetary power to use and manipulate him as he pleased. Then he learned that he responded only to his family-man brother Dave, a symbol of hardworking middle America. For Du Pont, who saw this as a chance to be worshipped and viewed as a father-figure, this was a rejection he could not accept. The complexity of the three relationships will long be bearing on my mind. Bennett Miller's best film, and Moneyball is GREAT, features amazing performances from Tatum, Carrell and Ruffalo. Especially Ruffalo, who received little comment post-Cannes, and seems to be in the shadow of his mighty colleagues. This is a heartbreaking story of compromise at the wrath of dynasty-inherited privilege and greed. It has been enriched with metaphoric commentary, and artisan creativity. Everything in this film feels like the real deal - the make up, the wrestling maneuvers performed by the actors, the wonderful detail in the Du Pont estate at the least. I had enormous emotional investment in this film. One of the few films I have seen that deserves award consideration and that may actually get it. Still, it may be too brooding for the voters to embrace. Ruffalo missing an Oscar for this would be a travesty.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (Ana Lily Amirpour, 2014) - An Iranian vampire western with a romantic twist. Not something you see every day, and it is pretty special. In a small death-riddled town call Bad City, ruled by drugs and illegal enterprises, the citizens are stalked in the night by a lonesome female vampire. A young man, at the mercy of a drug dealer whom his junkie father owes money, finds his luck turn through the circumstances of her presence. This is sexy - gorgeously photographed in B+W and accompanied by a funky soundtrack (which I hope exists somewhere) - and a remarkably confident debut feature from Ana Lily Amirpour. It thrives on style and atmosphere and is really fucking cool. Creepy too. Only Lovers Left Alive's shady cousin. A great year for Vampire films, this.

The Infinite Man (Hugh Sullivan, 2014) - An essential time travel film that successfully remains smarter than its audience, offering consistent twists and revelations, while actually making sense. This is micro-budget filmmaking at its very best, managing to inventively fuse elements of some of the genres great works in Primer and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Average-joe Dean creates a time travel headpiece that allows him to go back one year, to the date of his anniversary with his girlfriend Lana, to try and make the disastrous events of that day perfect and save the relationship. He is equipped with notes, he knows the obstacles that will arise and he is prepared with everything he knows Lana loves. But, when there are multiple Deans and Lanas in close proximity and dressed identically, and with Dean blindly obsessed with controlling Lana and the course of events, trouble ensues and be begins to battle his alter-egos for the woman he loves. The results are hilarious, mostly, but even a little upsetting. This is such a tight film, and Hugh Sullivan does a fantastic job at ensuring that the potentially confusing parallel timelines operating at once are sharply edited, extraordinarily avoiding continuity issues. THE Australian film of the year, and a future classic. Out now on limited release. Don't miss it.

Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas, 2014) - My first Assayas...and I now want to see more. Set in the gorgeous Swiss Alps a veteran stage star Maria (Juliette Binoche) and her assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) hide out as she prepares for her latest play - the same one that made her famous as a young woman, but the opposing 'older' role. Unable to identify with this character, due to her own concerns about ageing and being unable to adapt this character into a new context, she turns to Valentine for advice on the actress taking on her old role (Chloe Grace Moretz), challenging her to rehearse the role with her at length. Tension mounts when Maria is disagreeable with what Valentine brings to the role. As the material and their relationship begins to merge, this takes a Persona-esque twist that is quite a hook. This is a very pretty and bonkers look at performance as role (Stewart's role is blurred every which way), textual interpretation influenced by age (and how measures of age in the business have changed) and 21st Century 'celebrity', and the opposition of personal privacy vs. public openness. And very meta. All three women excel. Binoche obviously, but the film, forgivably, drops the ball in the extended Stewart-free epilogue (my only real criticism). She brings terrific energy to film. The little details have all been carefully calculated (the fade-outs are perfectly timed) and that night drive may haunt my dreams. This is a film rich in ideas and subtexts. It is both funny and eerie, and most of the second half is food for puzzling over.

Girlhood (Celine Sciamma, 2014) - Celine Sciamma is the real deal. My goodness. Girlhood is better than Boyhood. How's that for controversy. I don't know where to begin with this film, but it manages to be, extraordinarily, explosive and quietly intimate at the same time. The best use of music (Rihanna's Diamonds!) of any film at TIFF, and wonderfully performed by its non-pro cast. The film's finale is so brave, too. 

While We're Young (Noah Baumbach, 2014) - Well, Noah Baumbach still hasn't made a bad film and this may become my favourite. And I am a big fan of the mostly despised Greenberg. Whatever. Stiller sure is at his best in this partnership, but Naomi Watts and Adam Driver (each in multiple films at this year's TIFF) are also excellent. This is such a funny and relatable study of the differences between Gen X and Y - a couple approaching middle age who become alienated from their baby-obsessed friends, and have long wasted time using their stilted professional ventures as excuses to not..live, find their sense of youth invigorated when they meet a carefree 20-something hipster couple with a whole different outlook on life. The evolution of documentary filmmaking (a pursuit of both Stiller and Driver's characters) is an avenue that doesn't quite work as successfully as the interweaving relationships and the satire of generations, but this is thoroughly enjoyable throughout.

Beyond the Lights (Gina Prince-Bythewood, 2014) - This beautiful and inspiring rom-drama deals with the mental strain of celebrity superficiality and the process of re-learning and loving a true self that has long been forcibly suppressed by a climate that demands a mechanized product, not a free-willed creative individual. It also deals with the over-sexualization of female pop stars in a world craving flesh, and how Noni, having long been stripped of her identity and driven to suicide, is reinvigorated not by a 'man', but someone who acknowledges that she is suffocating and needs some help. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, following her breakout performance in the lovely period drama, Belle, is stunningly convincing in the role. She's going to be huge. Nate Parker also brings a real generosity to his character. Their chemistry is excellent. This is a powerful and uplifting film that never becomes too soppy, and while clearly a female-centric story, it has universal appeal in that Parker's character is also on his way down a path imposed on him by his father, and he must consider what he really wants. Several years in the making, this is a very accomplished film from writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love and Basketball). I hope it is released theatrically in Australia. It would be a real shame not to receive the exposure it deserves.

It Follows (David Robert Mitchell, 2014) - Loved the Goblin-influenced score (think TENEBRE-esque, oh yeah) and there is some inventive direction. A creepy ghost-stalker thriller with a sexual-transmission-anxiety angle. Interesting. There are some lazy jump scares, and an effects-heavy sequence that went a tad amiss, but this is a stressful film. The simplicity of the threat works in it's favour, and the performances from the youngsters are all pretty good. The horror film of the year, at least from what I have seen. Got pipped by The Babadook at Fantastic Fest, which is my #2.

Memories of Murder (Joon-ho Bong, 2003) - Unsettling, distinctively contextually-specific procedural thriller gets very good in a hurry. Jarring tone, big second half character leaps aside.

St Vincent (Theodor Melfi, 2014) - Murray and co. (Lieberher, Watts and O'Dowd are especially great) carry this charming unlikely hero-next-door tale that gradually reveals the layers beneath Murray's cantankerous war vet-turned-babysitter, with mirth and sorrow aplenty. It is a poignant celebration of sacrifice and features some great visual comedy.

Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2014) - Isolated in a desolate coastal boneyard, an aging patriarch battles a corrupt official seeking to purchase the land his home stands upon and then finds his cherished relationships begin to crumble around him as a result. Marvelously constructed and photographed, this is a gut-wrenching story of a proud everyman whose oppression grows increasingly closer, eventually enveloping everything he cares for and has stakes in. So. Much. Vodka.

Tales of the Grim Sleeper (Nick Broomfield, 2014) - I feared for the safety of documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield (and his son, the DP) in this distressing ground level, police-skirting guerrilla investigation into a notorious South LA serial killer, who had been plaguing the town for 25 years. It is quite an extraordinary film as Broomfield interviews many local residents, from family members and longtime acquaintances of the man eventually arrested as well as near victims, drawing enough evidence to suggest the perp is on trial, while indicting the LAPD for their class and race prejudiced treatment of the case. Kudos.

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

Monday, September 29, 2014

New Releases (02/10/14)

In cinemas this week: Gone Girl, Annabelle, Dracula Untold, Obvious Child and Advanced Style. 

Gone Girl - Directed by David Fincher and based upon the global bestseller by Gillian Flynn - unearths the secrets at the heart of a modern marriage. On the occasion of his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) reports that his beautiful wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), has gone missing. Under pressure from the police and a growing media frenzy, Nick's portrait of a blissful union begins to crumble. Soon his lies, deceits and strange behavior have everyone asking the same dark question: Did Nick Dunne kill his wife?

Obvious Child - For aspiring comedian Donna Stern, everyday life as a female twenty-something provides ample material for her incredibly relatable brand of humor. But when Donna gets dumped, loses her job, and finds herself pregnant just in time for Valentine's Day, she has to navigate the murky waters of independent adulthood for the first time. As she grapples with an uncertain financial future, an unwanted pregnancy, and a surprising new suitor, Donna begins to discover that the most terrifying thing about adulthood isn't facing it all on her own. It's allowing herself to accept the support and love of others. And be truly vulnerable.

Dracula Untold - Luke Evans (Fast & Furious 6, Immortals) stars in the origin story of the man who became Dracula. Gary Shore directs this action-adventure that co-stars Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper and Diarmaid Murtagh. 

Annabelle - Before The Conjuring, there was Annabelle. A prequel to The Conjuring, which was pretty great but features none of the cast or crew of that film.

Advanced Style - Street style photographer Ari Seth Cohen and director Lina Plioplyte dive into the personal lives of New York City's most fashionable women over 60. In an industry obsessed with youth, these older women dispel conventional ideas about beauty and aging and prove that with age comes grace, confidence, boldness, flair and new, unimagined opportunities for fame and fortune.

Weekly recommendation: Umm..Gone Girl. New David Fincher, baby (*I've been watching too much Entourage*). Also, I have heard good things about Obvious Child from MIFF, so it is great to see it out on limited release. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Six Most Anticipated Films in the Next Six Months

- I have already seen Two Days, One Night (November 6), Winter Sleep (November 13) Nightcrawler (November 27), and Foxcatcher (December 18) at the Sydney and Toronto International Film Festivals, which would have made it to this list had I not seen them already.

- I have also left off Gone Girl (October 2), undoubtedly anticipated, because I'm seeing it next week.

Force Majeure (Ruben Ostlund) - A Swedish family travels to the French Alps to enjoy a few days of skiing. The sun is shining and the slopes are spectacular but, during a lunch at a mountainside restaurant, an avalanche turns everything upside down. With diners fleeing in all directions, mother Ebba calls for her husband Tomas as she tries to protect their children. Tomas, meanwhile, is running for his life... The anticipated disaster failed to occur, and yet the family's world has been shaken to its core, a question mark hanging over their father in particular. Tomas and Ebba's marriage now hangs in the balance as Tomas struggles desperately to reclaim his role as family patriarch. Plenty of Oscar buzz, and near-unanimous praise from friends who have seen it at MIFF and TIFF. October 16

Whiplash (Damien Chazelle) - Andrew Neyman is an ambitious young jazz drummer, single-minded in his pursuit to rise to the top of his elite east coast music conservatory. Plagued by the failed writing career of his father, Andrew hungers day and night to become one of the greats. Terence Fletcher, an instructor equally known for his teaching talents as for his terrifying methods, leads the top jazz ensemble in the school. Fletcher discovers Andrew and transfers the aspiring drummer into his band, forever changing the young man's life. Andrew's passion to achieve perfection quickly spirals into obsession, as his ruthless teacher continues to push him to the brink of both his ability-and his sanity. Winner of both the Audience and Grand Jury award at the Sundance Film Festival, and similar rousing acclaim at MIFF and TIFF, with praise especially for Miles Teller and J. K Simmons who I like a great deal.  October 23

Interstellar (Christopher Nolan) - A group of explorers make use of a newly-discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations on human space travel and conquer the vast distances involved in an interstellar voyage. I don't worship Nolan as many many other people do, but Inception remains one of the best blockbusters of the last five years, and his films are always incredible experiences in the cinema. They just don't hold up that well. On board this time is man of the moment Matthew McConaughey and new DP Hoyte Van Hoytema (Her, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) so that's enticing enough for me. November 6

Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson) - Private Investigator Larry 'Doc' Sportello investigates the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend's boyfriend in Los Angeles. This is the labyrinthine, double-crossing, drug-hazed plot at its simplest. It is the first feature film adapted from the work of Thomas Pynchon, and who better to direct the richly textured, Venice Beach-set noir than Paul Thomas Anderson. He has assembled a team of regulars (DP Robert Elswit, composer Johnny Greenwood and editor Leslie Jones) and a crack cast including Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon and Benicio Del Toro. It is going to be good, who are we kidding, but just how good?  January 8

Birdman (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu) - Or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance. A black comedy that tells the story of an actor (Michael Keaton) - famous for portraying an iconic superhero - as he struggles to mount a Broadway play. In the days leading up to opening night, he battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career, and himself. Plenty has already been said about Inarritu's latest creative feat - he's the guy responsible for Amores Perros, Babel and Biutiful - but this seems to feature a career-defining performance from Keaton and more wonderful work from Emmanuel Lubezki. January 15

Blackhat (Michael Mann) - After a case of high-level computer hacking arises, American and Chines military forces work together to stop it. I am in for Mann, pretty much. Currently January 15, but likely to change.

Monday, September 22, 2014

New Releases (25/09/14)

New in cinemas this week: The Equalizer, Life of Crime, The Skeleton Twins, The Little Death, In Bloom and Land of the Bears.

The Equalizer - Denzel Washington plays McCall, a man who believes he has put his mysterious past behind him and dedicated himself to beginning a new, quiet life. But when McCall meets Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), a young girl under the control of ultra-violent Russian gangsters, he can't stand idly by. Armed with hidden skills that allow him to serve vengeance against anyone who would brutalize the helpless, McCall comes out of his self-imposed retirement and finds his desire for justice reawakened. If someone has a problem, if the odds are stacked against them, and if they have nowhere else to turn, McCall will help. Directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Olympus Has Fallen).

Life of Crime - Based on Elmore Leonard's novel "The Switch," Life of Crime is a dark caper comedy starring Jennifer Aniston, John Hawkes, Yasiin Bey, Will Forte, Mark Boone Junior, Isla Fisher and Tim Robbins. The wife (Anniston) of a corrupt real estate developer (Robbins) is kidnapped by two common criminals (Bey and Hawkes), who intend to extort him with inside information about his crooked business and off-shore accounts. But the husband decides he'd actually rather not pay the ransom to get back his wife, setting off an unbelievable sequence of double crosses and plot twists.

The Skeleton Twins - When estranged twins Maggie (Kristen Wiig) and Milo (Bill Hader) feel they're at the end of their ropes, an unexpected reunion forces them to confront why their lives went so wrong. As the twins reconnect, they realize the key to fixing their lives may just lie in repairing their relationship. ★1/2

The Little Death - An original comedy about sex, love, relationships and taboo. In a multi-story narrative, we peer behind the closed doors of a seemingly normal suburban street - including a woman with a dangerous fantasy and her partners who struggle to please her, and a man who begins an affair with his own wife without her knowing anything about it.  

In Bloom - Early nineties, in Tbilisi, the capital of the newly independent Georgia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The country is facing violence, war on the Black Sea coast (Abkhazia) and vigilante justice that plague society. But for Eka and Natia, fourteen-year-old inseparable friends, life just unfolds: in the street, at school, with friends or elder sisters who are already dealing with men's dominance, early marriage and disillusioned love. For these two girls in bloom life just goes on.

The Land of the Bears - Provides an unforgettable 3D vision of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula ,
a region famous for its rich and dynamic population of brown bears. Offering an exclusive look
into the lives of these amazing beasts, we follow several bears, each at a unique phase in their
lives. Cubs learning from their mothers; young males making their own way; seasoned veterans
marking out the best salmon territory – all looking to stock up in time for hibernation.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

2014 Toronto International Film Festival Awards

To wrap up the Toronto International Film Festival, which I attended for the entirety and finished up on Sunday, here are some personal awards I’d like to honour some of the very best films with:

Best Feature Film: Nightcrawler

Runner/s Up:
Foxcatcher, Clouds of Sils Maria and Girlhood

Best Documentary: Tales of the Grim Sleeper

Runner/s Up: I Am Here

Best Debut Feature: Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler

Runner/s Up: Theodor Melfi, St Vincent

Best Actor: Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler

Runner/s Up: Steve Carrell/Channing Tatum, Foxcatcher, and Bill Murray, St Vincent

Best Actress: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Beyond the Lights

Runner/s Up: Karidja Toure, Girlhood, Sidse Babett Knudsen/Chiara D'Anna, The Duke of Burgundy

Best Supporting Actress: Kristen Stewart, Clouds of Sils Maria

Runner/s Up: Yelena Lyadova, Leviathan

Best Supporting Actor: Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher

Runner/s Up: Sam Rockwell, Laggies

Best Director: Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler

Runner/s Up: Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher, Celine Sciamma, Girlhood 

Best Screenplay: Olivier Assayas, Clouds of Sils Maria

Runner/s Up: Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler, Noah Baumbach, While We're Young

Best Cinematography: Nightcrawler

Runner/s Up: Leviathan, The Duke of Burgundy

Best Score: It Follows 

Runner/s Up: The Duke of Burgundy, Nightcrawler

Best Use of Soundtrack: Girlhood

Runner Up: Beyond the Lights, Eden

Best Scene/s: 'Lou in pursuit' in Nightcrawler, 'Dave getting Mark back down to weight' in Foxcatcher, 'Valentine takes a drive' in Clouds of Sils Maria and 'Diamonds' in Girlhood. 

Final Rankings:

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Forgotten: Possession at An Online Universe

Over at An Online Universe I explain why Possession (Andrzej Zulawski, 1981) is one of my Top 20 horror films of all time.

Zulawski’s domestic melodrama come psychological thriller come gruesome creature horror is one of the most chaotic and deranged films I have ever experienced. It is a ghastly film that is sure to leave an imprint on anyone who survives it. But, being pretty inaccessible, it isn’t a film you hear about too often.

Continue reading at An Online Universe