Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Monthly Round-Up: April 2014 Viewing

In addition to watching 25 films in April I read Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton, Burial Rights by Hannah Kent, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams and Under the Skin by Michel Faber.

My favourite albums were 'Pinata' by Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, and 'It's Album Time' by Todd Terje.

As for current cinema releases I am very behind. I still haven't seen Muppets Most Wanted, Divergent, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Transcendence, but I have seen most of the films to be released in May. Funny how that works.  

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

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

The Man Who Planted Trees (Frederic Back, 1988) - Absolutely wonderful. The most beautiful and affecting film I have seen so far in 2014. Magnificent animation. I will make it essential annual viewing for the rest of my life to remind myself of the extraordinary feats humanity is capable of achieving on this earth.

Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch, 2014)

My Darling Clementine (John Ford, 1946) - The story of Wyatt Earp, Tombstone and the gunfight at the O.K Corral, but so much more. My favourite Ford so far. Earp's quest for legal revenge - his control over the town hanging precariously - is compelling, but it is Victor Mature's sad/ill doc-turned-gambling chief that elevates this film into the realm of the greatest westerns.

The Lego Movie (Phil Lord and Chris Miller, 2014) - Well, I was not expecting THE LEGO MOVIE to go into such profound territory about identity and imagination, delivering a potent message about the power of one against corporate conformity, and the limitless creativity present within each and all of us. A genuinely surprising second-half shift that made this brilliantly written film even richer. A giddy, relentless explosion of colourful world-building, action-adventure and invention, with pop-culture references galore, amazing feats of animation and a terrific voice cast. Be sure to stay during the credits and check out how deep it runs. There's something for everyone here. On reflection, it just gets better.

Old Joy (Kelly Reichhardt, 2006) - I don't think I am ever going to forget this film. It really struck a chord with me, and has left me feeling quite sad. London and Oldham's relationship - old friends who have barely kept in touch and share little but memories of the past, a past they each admit to missing - is so authentic, the performances aren't evident. And yet, Oldham is wonderful. The plot is as simple as it gets, but the film is anything but. There is a poetic rhythm to the assembly of shots, and an amazing soundscape, which keeps it utterly captivating.

Like Father, Like Son (Hirozaku Kore-eda, 2013)

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

Giveaway: 5 x Double Passes to Advanced Sydney Screenings of 'The Babadook'

Thanks to Umbrella Entertainment and Jameson PR I have five double passes to give away to an advance screening of The Babadook at Dendy Newtown on Monday 19th May at 6.45pm.

The Babadook is a critically acclaimed psychological thriller starring Essie Davis (The Matrix, Girl With a Pearl Earring, Australia) 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. 

"An effective blend of malevolent invader/spooky house horror with the real and the personal; a daily reminder of a tragic loss, a wild child and other fatiguing single-mother pressures. It surprises and frightens consistently, and Essie Davis is excellent."

It releases theatrically on limited release May 22.

Email your name, with 'Mr Babadook' as the subject, to before 11pm on Wednesday 15th May to enter the draw. Winners will be notified via return email and added to the door guest list on the night.

Best of luck!

NOTE: Winners have been notified. Thank you to everyone who entered. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

April Mini-Reviews: Only Lovers Left Alive, Canopy, 52 Tuesdays and Belle

Only Lovers Left Alive (April 17) - When I left the cinema after this film I felt like I was on a blood high. Few films recently have created such an exhilarating feeling. From the opening minutes, when the relationship between the stylish visuals and the wonderful music had been established and I had been hooked by the compelling characters and the unique premise, I knew I was in tune with it. It is not really a vampire film at all, but a chapter (the reuniting) of a lengthy love story, with vampire lore layering the relationships. It is languid in pace and doesn't have a graspable narrative and yet it is ultimately about...everything. Centuries of literature, music, invention and world-changing historical events are just some of the topics that the pair reminisce about, and hearing Adam and Eve discuss their involvement with and unique knowledge of individuals responsible for celebrated art and theory is the source of much amusement throughout. The casting could not be more perfect. Swinton, who doesn't seem to have aged at all, is wonderful, but Hiddleston is especially impressive as a depressed, reclusive musician living in Detroit, completely out of touch with the modern world. He is lamenting the state of his immortality, and his home - an incredible piece of production work – provides a clear picture of just how much he has given up. That is until Eve returns. What a wonderful soundtrack. How bout that legitimate high praise for Yasmine Hamdan, too? I am sure many people have actively disliked this film, but I can't find a flaw with it and found it exquisite on every level. Sexy and passionate, droll and reflective, and effortlessly cool. On Jarmusch rankings, for me, it is 'Dead Man' good. ★★★★

Canopy (April 24) - Benefits from skillful (and frequently stunning) location photography, immersive sound captures and a sweaty pressure-cooker of an atmosphere. The flashes of war conflict penetrating the overhead jungle canopy, and the enemy soldiers silently navigating similar obstacles as the hapless protagonist, add moments of haunting unease to this hypnotic (often elusively hallucinatory) and dialogue-sparse survival drama. More a sensory experience than a narrative-driven film, but the thin plot doesn't come close to filling the 80 minute run-time, and I was intermittently engrossed. This does not look like a film that has been crowd-funded through Pozible. There are some incredible captures. Still, an admirably ambitious project that doesn't quite work out. ★★1/2 

52 Tuesdays (May 1) - It is a shame this important film runs out of steam towards the end because this moving drama tackles unusual subject matter and observes dual stories of significant personal development with sincerity, honesty and authenticity. A young woman grapples with her own burgeoning sexuality and independence as her mother undergoes a gender transition, restricting their relationship to a single weekly meeting. Conceptually bold - actually filmed on a skimpy budget with a skeleton crew on Tuesdays over the course of twelve months, I believe - 52 Tuesdays benefits from clever editing and some very impressive performances. A big winner at Sundance AND Berlin earlier in the year. ★★★1/2
Belle (May 8) - An elegantly produced, deftly directed, finely performed and ultimately moving period drama about Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a young mixed race woman raised an aristocrat in the household of her late father's uncle, Lord Chief Justice Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson). While the social mores of the time make her an outsider, Dido challenges the rigid British social and legal foundations as she comes of age and searches for a male suitor along with her cousin Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon). It is not the desired wealthy aristocrat, but a young lawyer named John Davinier (Sam Reid) who catches her eye. He is a strong-willed opponent to Mansfield's position on the controversial Zong massacre slavery case, a decision that could have strong potential ramifications, even leading to the abolition of slavery in England. This case provides a dramatic backdrop for the story, and a challenge to Dido's moral character. While it all wrapped up fairly predictably this is a very pleasant story and I grew to care for the characters throughout, and hoped that all that Dido and John fought for was realized. ★★★1/2

Monday, April 28, 2014

New Releases (01/05/14)

In cinemas this week: Fading Gigolo, 52 Tuesdays, Young and Beautiful and Beyond the Edge. 

Fading Gigolo - Fioravante (John Turturro) decides to become a professional Don Juan as a way of making money to help his cash-strapped friend, Murray (Woody Allen). With Murray acting as his "manager", the duo quickly finds themselves caught up in the crosscurrents of love and money.

52 Tuesdays - Sixteen year old Billie has always enjoyed a healthy relationship with her mother. Upon learning that the woman who raised her now plans to become a man, Billie does her best to be understanding as she is sent to live with her father for a full year. During that time, Billie and her mother agree to meet once a week. Meanwhile, Billie secretly begins to explore her own budding sexuality with a pair of older classmates.

Young and Beautiful - Acclaimed director François Ozon (Swimming Pool, 8 Women) helms this erotic tale of sexual awakening. After losing her virginity, 17-year-old budding beauty Isabelle (Marine Vacth) takes up a secret life as a call girl, meeting her older gentlemen clients for sleazy hotel room trysts. Throughout, she remains curiously aloof, showing little interest in the encounters themselves or the money she makes, while Ozon slyly refrains from offering easy answers. As the enigmatic Isabelle, Marine Vacth is magnetic, delivering a star-making breakout performance in this sleek and sexy coming-of-age drama. Review by Courtney Howard, Very Aware. 

Beyond the Edge - Sir Edmund Hillary's incredible achievement - becoming the first man to stand atop of Mt Everest - remains one of the greatest adventure stories of all time; the epic journey of a man from modest beginnings who overcame adversity to reach the highest point on Earth. Both a classic triumph of the underdog story and a gripping, cinematic experience, Beyond the Edge is a tale of human endurance, tenacity and courage in the face of overwhelming odds. With the support of the Hillary family, Sir Edmund's story will be brought to life on the big screen, 'relived' using both original colour footage and photographs and dramatised recreations of the assault in stunning 3D.

Weekly Recommendation: The best film in cinemas, Only Lovers Left Alive, still hasn't been seen by enough people. If you haven't experienced the new Jarmusch I give it the highest endorsement. I can also recommend 52 Tuesdays, an impressive first feature from Sophie Hyde. Young and Beautiful premiered at Cannes last year, which immediately makes it worth considering. I intend to check it out this week. I imagine Beyond the Edge will also be stunning. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Review: Bad Neighbours (Nicholas Stoller, 2014)

Nicholas Stoller, the ever-reliable director of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him To The Greek and The Five Year Engagement has collaborated with producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Superbad, This is the End) and first-time screenwriters Andrew. J Cohen and Brendan O’Brien for Bad Neighbours. A potential future classic, this vulgar, hilariously out-of-control adult comedy of suburban war and mayhem, generation difference and general misbehaving sees new-dad Seth Rogen and Frat-king Zac Efron learn a thing or two about ‘growing up’. It might make you feel guilty for laughing, and yet the laughs never let up.

Mac and Kelly Radner (Rogen and Rose Byrne) have just had their first child and moved into a new neighbourhood. While still coming to grips with their strictly structured and social-free lifestyle – Kelly remains at home with her baby monitor glued to her hand while Mac works a dreary office job – they are nonetheless excited by their new addition to the family. But, they start to face further unexpected difficulties following the establishment of a fraternity house, ruled by President Teddy (Efron) and VP Pete (Dave Franco), in the adjacent residence. Mac and Kelly decide to approach the youths dressed ‘hip’, bringing along a peace offering and making warm introductions. In-turn they are invited to the house-warming party, with Mac and Teddy bonding the morning after on a comedown from mushrooms. But, after the fraternity’s excessive parties rouses a 911 call the relationship soon turns sour and an intense conflict ensues. The frat-pack takes pleasure in continually harassing the couple, but with the help of Mac’s colleague Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz) they elaborately retaliate in an attempt to have peace returned to the neighbourhood.

Continue reading at Graffiti With Punctuation.

Monday, April 21, 2014

New Releases (24/04/14)

In cinemas this week: Transcendence, Canopy and The Crossing. After last week's bombardment of releases, it is nice to see a lighter week.

Transcendence: Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is the foremost researcher in the field of Artificial Intelligence, working to create a sentient machine that combines the collective intelligence of everything ever known with the full range of human emotions. His highly controversial experiments have made him famous, but they have also made him the prime target of anti-technology extremists who will do whatever it takes to stop him. However, in their attempt to destroy Will, they inadvertently become the catalyst for him to succeed-to be a participant in his own transcendence. For his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and best friend Max Waters (Paul Bettany), both fellow researchers, the question is not if they can...but if they should. Their worst fears are realized as Will's thirst for knowledge evolves into a seemingly omnipresent quest for power, to what end is unknown. The only thing that is becoming terrifyingly clear is there may be no way to stop him.

Canopy: Wartime, 1942. Singapore. An Australian fighter pilot shot down in combat awakens suspended in the treetops. As night devours day, he must navigate through a dangerous jungle in search of sanctuary. Transcending language and culture, CANOPY is a cinematic exploration of the collision of war, nature and its impact on humanity. Benefits from skillful (and frequently stunning) location photography, immersive sound captures and a sweaty pressure-cooker of an atmosphere. The flashes of war conflict penetrating the overhead jungle canopy, and the enemy soldiers silently navigating similar obstacles as the hapless protagonist, add moments of haunting unease to this hypnotic (often elusively hallucinatory) and dialogue-sparse survival drama. More a sensory experience than a narrative-driven film, but the thin plot doesn't come close to filling the 80 minute run-time, and I was intermittently engrossed. This does not look like a film that has been crowd-funded through Pozible. There are some incredible captures. Still, an admirably ambitious project that doesn't quite work out. ★★1/2 (link to Blake Howard's more positive reaction at GWP).

The Crossing:
A feature documentary following two young Australians, Clark Carter and Chris Bray, as they set off on the adventure of a lifetime. The pair attempted to drag their home-made kayaks more than one thousand kilometres across a remote island in the Arctic. They battled freezing temperatures, knee-deep mud, razor sharp rocks, got chased by wolves and hid from polar bears until finally being forced to admit their dream was over. After 58 days alone in the wilderness, they had covered only a third of the distance. Unable to let go of their dream, three years later Clark and Chris confidently returned to finish the job. They were a little older, wiser and thought they knew what to expect from the island. They re-designed and re-built a custom cart to carry the five hundred kilograms off food and equipment needed to survive a hundred days in the Arctic. After a positive start, things yet again take a turn for the worse. The duo soon realised the island isn’t going to let them across without a fight. Edited from more than a hundred hours of stunning high definition footage shot by Clark Carter and Chris Bray, ‘The Crossing’ is an insight into the minds of two young adventurers biting off far more than they can chew.

The Crossing is screening at:

Weekly Recommendation: I would like to see The Crossing. I remember it picking up an audience award - I think at last year's Sydney Film Festival. The reviews for Transcendence have been terrible, so I think I am going to skip it. I still haven't seen The Muppets or The Amazing Spider-man 2, plus I want to re-watch The Grand Budapest Hotel and Only Lovers Left Alive, so I'm not short on options.