Friday, August 29, 2014

Monthly Round-up: August 2014 Viewing

This month I watched a total of 31 films, but it felt like a pretty relaxed effort. I rarely visited the cinemas (Lucy, 1987, the Opening Night Gala of Possible Worlds, and Guardians of the Galaxy were the only trips). I haven't been writing much of late. Work has been very busy, and I have been much more interested in reading. This month I finished off Dune, then read The Dangerous Animals Club by Stephen Tobolowsky (which was amazing) and Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto (the writer of True Detective) within a week, before starting the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. It is incredible. There have been stretches where I couldn't put it down. 

On Sunday we fly to San Francisco, where we will be spending a few days, before making our way to Toronto for the entirety of the Toronto International Film Festival. I posted my line-up this morning. Not only is this film geek heaven, the chance to be a part of the city vibe during one of the world's top film festivals, but a much needed break. Follow me on Twitter (@buckle22) for all of my coverage.

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

Friday Night Lights (Peter Berg, 2004) - I have only seen a few episodes of the much-loved show, but I was satisfied with this to be honest. Loved the casting (Hedlund, Luke etc.) - even though I have heard that Billy Bob is no Kyle Chandler in this role. I find stories about the commitment to an unorthodox philosophy - 'be perfect' - very interesting. Especially underdog sport stories. This was inspiring. Maybe a tad overuse of the montage, but Berg (in his best work as director by far) managed to build character and establish the enveloping community pressure - never-were's with unreasonable expectations for these teenagers, who ultimately have one chance at 'glory' themselves. Winning isn't the only road there.

Sleepless Night (Frederic Jardin, 2011) - Relentless action, hectic and well-staged. Terrific use of the lone (mostly) location and establishes an emotional connection with our hero, played by an actor who should be in more things.

Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets (Florian Habicht, 2014) - This is hardcore. Celebration of the band's relationship with Sheffield (and vice versa) as they seek a perfect finale to their decade-spanning musical dream. So watchable.

Field of Dreams (Phil Alden Robinson, 1989) - Got teary at the end. What a lovely film. Costner is so endearing; his passion, enthusiasm and unwavering hope is infectious. Also wonderful is Burt Lancaster.

Lucy (Luc Besson, 2014) *TWICE*

Out of the Furnace (Scott Cooper, 2014) - Cooper's tough, authentic and well acted (by Bale, Affleck and Harrelson in particular, but when aren't they?) thriller about two brothers forced, by necessity, down paths of uncertain return really shook me up. The first half was great, the second just okay, but certainly worthwhile viewing. The challenges faced by the characters was thrilling, and this effortlessly transported me to the economically-depressed Rust Belt.

Inside Man (Spike Lee, 2006) - Smartly made, unpredictable, genre-twisting heist thriller with Spike Lee's usual class/race tensions and flab. One of Denzel's best performances...recently.

TIFF 2014 Schedule

Alright folks, here is what I will be seeing at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.

The reason we haven't got anything booked in on Thursday 11th September during the day is because we are taking the day off to visit Niagara Falls. We didn't fly across the world just to sit in a cinema.

There are a few films we were sad to miss. Rosewater, Men, Women and Children and Revenge of the Green Dragons were all on the list for a while, but they couldn't fit in the end. St Vincent and While We're Young were both Sold Out by the time our booking window was assigned, so we had to make some last minute substitutions. Definitely disappointing to miss them, but we may be able to score a rush ticket on the day. 

We have also seen several earlier in the year at the Sydney Film Festival: Mommy, Winter Sleep, Two Days, One Night and What We Do in the Shadows amongst them.

Several, such as The Judge, Force Majeure, Maps to the Stars, This is Where I Leave You, Whiplash, The Drop, The Good Lie and The Imitation Game are all getting a release in Australia in the months that follow so they have all been left on the sidelines too. A few, like Foxcatcher and Nightcrawler, are such big exciting films that we couldn't possibly pass on them, despite their announced release.

Thursday 4 September

Aire Libre - 5.45pm
Clouds of Sils Maria - 9.45pm

Friday 5 September

The Humbling - 11.30am
Eden - 5.45pm

Saturday 6 September

Nightcrawler - 12.00pm
Beyond the Lights - 6.00pm
The Duke of Burgundy - 10.00pm

Sunday 7 September

Itsi Bitsi - 9.30am
Top Five - 12.00pm
Monsoon - 6.30pm

Monday 8 September

The Last Five Years - 2.00pm
Waste Land - 4.30pm

Tuesday 9 September

Foxctcher - 12.00pm
It Follows - 4.00pm
I Am Here - 6.30pm
Girlhood - 8.45pm

Wednesday 10 September

A Second Chance - 11.30am
Good Kill - 3.00pm
Leviathan - 6.00pm
Tales of the Grim Sleeper - 9.30pm

Thursday 11 September

The Editor - 11.59pm

Friday 12 September

The Cobbler - 9.45am
Laggies - 12.45pm
Pasolini - 4.45pm
The Dead Lands - 10.45pm

Saturday 13 September

Adult Beginners - 12.00pm
Manglehorn - 2.30pm
The Riot Club - 8.00pm

Sunday 14 September

A Little Chaos - 9.00am
Haemoo - 12.00pm

Also at TIFF, what are you seeing? No doubt we'll have plenty of chances to swap schedules at the various meet-ups arranged, but if you're in town let me know.

Monday, August 25, 2014

New Releases (28/08/14)

In cinemas this week: Felony, If I Stay, Locke, Magic in the Moonlight, Predestination and Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return.

Felony - Three detectives become embroiled in a tense struggle after a tragic accident that leaves a child in critical condition. One is guilty of a crime, one will try to cover it up, and the other attempts to expose it. How far will these men go to disguise and unravel the truth? Directed by Matthew Saville and written by Joel Edgerton. Also stars Tom Wilkinson.

If I Stay - Mia Hall (Chloë Grace Moretz) thought the hardest decision she would ever face would be whether to pursue her musical dreams at Juilliard or follow a different path to be with the love of her life, Adam (Jamie Blackley). But what should have been a carefree family drive changes everything in an instant, and now her own life hangs in the balance. Caught between life and death for one revealing day, Mia has only one decision left, which will not only decide her future but her ultimate fate.

Locke - Ivan Locke (Hardy) has worked diligently to craft the life he has envisioned, dedicating himself to the job that he loves and the family he adores. On the eve of the biggest challenge of his career, Ivan receives a phone call that sets in motion a series of events that will unravel his family, job, and soul. All taking place over the course of one absolutely riveting car ride, Locke is an exploration of how one decision can lead to the complete collapse of a life. Directed by Steven Knight and driven by a commanding performance by Tom Hardy, Locke is a thrillingly unique cinematic experience of a man fighting to salvage all that is important to him. ★★

Magic in the Moonlight - Chinese conjuror Wei Ling Soo is the most celebrated magician of his age, but few know that he is the stage persona of Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth), a grouchy and arrogant Englishman with a sky-high opinion of himself and an aversion to phony spiritualists' claims. Persuaded by his friend, Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney), Stanley goes on a mission to the Côte d'Azur mansion of the Catledge family: mother Grace (Jacki Weaver), son Brice (Hamish Linklater), and daughter Caroline (Erica Leerhsen). He presents himself as a businessman named Stanley Taplinger in order to debunk the alluring young clairvoyant Sophie Baker (Emma Stone) who is staying there with her mother (Marcia Gay Harden). Sophie arrived at the Catledge villa at the invitation of Grace, who is convinced that Sophie can help her contact her late husband, and once there, attracted the attention of Brice, who has fallen for her head over heels. What follows is a series of events that are magical in every sense of the word and send the characters reeling.

Predestination - The latest film from the Spierig Brothers is about the life of a time-traveling Temporal Agent. On his final assignment, he must pursue the one criminal that has eluded him throughout time. Strong performances from Sarah Snook and Ethan Hawke, and an intriguing mind-bending time-travel concept, but I am convinced the film doesn't make sense - and does a poor job of making it's dual strands relevant to one another. And then it somewhat unconvincingly fuses them. Relies on big twists, and unnecessary convolution, to mask a deceptively thin story. ★★1/2

Weekly Recommendation: I don't know why, but nothing really excites me about this week. The two I have seen (Locke and Predestination) didn't blow me away, and neither Felony nor Magic in the Moonlight (which looked, immediately, like 'Bad Woody Allen') have attracted much enthusiasm. If I see something this week it will be Felony, because of the cast. Locke has been very well received - it screened in the Sydney Film Festival Official Competition - and for its concept alone it shouldn't be dismissed.  

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Spring 2014 Preview - 26 Films to Watch This Season

As we enter into Spring, we leave behind the Blockbuster season and get into some of the smaller indie releases, long delayed foreign language titles and potentially some awards contenders.

I am going to be away for most of September, but I have seen a lot of the films released that month as it is. I can highly recommend Boyhood, What We Do In The Shadows, Night Moves, The Immigrant, Jodorowsky's Dune and The Skeleton Twins. 

But before I list the 26 films I suggest keeping an eye out for, here's a recap of the films I viewed over the last three months.

Great (4.5/5) - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Snowpiercer

Good (3.5/4) - Edge of Tomorrow, Omar, How To Train Your Dragon 2, Calvary, Tim's Vermeer, The Lunchbox, Charlie's Country, Venus in Fur, All this Mayhem, Still Life, The Selfish Giant, These Final Hours, Lucy, Guardians of the Galaxy, Begin Again, Bethlehem, 20,000 Days on Earth

Okay (2.5/3) - The Rover, Frank, The Keeper of Lost Causes, The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared, Locke, Predestination

Awful (1/2) - 22 Jump Street, Palo Alto

The Grandmaster (September 4)

Boyhood (September 4)

What We Do In The Shadows (September 4)

Night Moves (September 11)

The Immigrant (September 11)

The Boxtrolls (September 18)

Jodorowsky's Dune (September 18)

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (September 18)

In Bloom (September 25)

The Skeleton Twins (September 25)

Monday, August 18, 2014

New Releases (21/08/14)

In cinemas this week: The Inbetweeners 2, 20,000 Days on Earth, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared, Earth To Echo and Deepsea Challenge 3D.

The Inbetweeners 2 - Neil, Will and Simon receive an invite from Jay to join him in Australia whilst on his gap year, who promises them it's ''the sex capital of the world''. With their lives now rather dull compared to their hedonistic school days and legendary lads holiday, it's an offer they can't refuse. Once again, they put growing up temporarily on-hold, and embark on a backpacking holiday of a lifetime. Will soon finds himself battling with the lads to do something cultural, whilst they focus their attention on drinking, girls, and annoying fellow travelers. Can I do another round with these lads? Nah.

20, 000 Days on Earth - Drama and reality combine in a fictitious 24 hours in the life of musician and international cultural icon, Nick Cave. With startlingly frank insights and an intimate portrayal of the artistic process, the film examines what makes us who we are, and celebrates the transformative power of the creative spirit. A conceptually stunning film, we join musician, novelist and screenwriter Nick Cave for his 20,000th day on earth. Wonderfully photographed and edited, this is a philosophical study of Cave’s life and career through several inventive approaches. The archive-set reflection was fascinating, Cave’s narration a window into his creative soul, his discussion with a psychoanalyst about his childhood and relationship with his father powerfully insightful. Testimony from Ray Winstone, Warren Ellis and Kylie Minogue are cleverly incorporated too, and the musical performances (studio recordings and live shows) are chillingly good. This is a showcase of technical invention, and I felt encapsulated in the incorporation of media. Thematically rich – especially regarding the importance of memory, and how it influences art and an artist’s desire to transform themselves – if a little repetitive in conveying them. I love that the filmmakers, visual artists, used unconventional documentary methods, blending personal truths through a staged structure. I can’t call myself a Cave fan, though I do admire what I have been exposed to, but I found this a transcendent experience. ★★

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared - Based on the internationally best-selling novel by Jonas Jonasson, the unlikely story of a 100-year-old man who decides it's not too late to start over. For most people it would be the adventure of a lifetime, but Allan Karlsson's unexpected journey is not his first. For a century he's made the world uncertain, and now he is on the loose again.

Earth to Echo - Tuck, Munch and Alex are a trio of inseparable friends whose lives are about to change. Their neighborhood is being destroyed by a highway construction project that is forcing their families to move away. But just two days before they must part ways, the boys begin receiving a strange series of signals on their phones. Convinced something bigger is going on, they team up with another school friend, Emma, and set out to look for the source of their phone signals. What they discover is something beyond their wildest imaginations: a small alien who has become stranded on Earth. In need of their help, the four friends come together to protect the alien and help him find his way home. This journey, full of wonder and adventure, is their story, and their secret.

Deepsea Challenge 3D - As a boy, filmmaker James Cameron dreamed of a journey to the deepest part of the ocean. This film is the dramatic fulfillment of that dream. It chronicles Cameron's solo dive to the depths of the Mariana Trench-nearly seven miles beneath the ocean's surface-piloting a submersible he designed himself. The risks were astounding. The footage is breathtaking. This is a celebration of science, courage, and extraordinary human aspiration.

Weekly Recommendation: I wholeheartedly endorse 20,000 Days on Earth. The best film so far released in August. The 100-Year-Old Man is pretty loopy. Despite feeling a bit 'throw everything at an audience and see what sticks' Felix Herngren's mad, unpredictable adaptation of Jonas Jonasson's novel remains entertaining throughout. Can I do another round with the Inbetweeners lads? Nah.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Golden Age Cinema and Bar Winter Program Highlights

Golden Age Cinema and Bar have just launched a new Winter program combining cult favourites and new releases as well as a range of awesome film-inspired cocktails and bar menu to match.

The venue is set within the restored Paramount Building at 80 Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills, Sydney. The original 35mm film projectors remain in the projection room and there is a beautiful, intimate bar space.

Some highlights from the Winter Program include:

Golden Films at Golden Age Prices: Runs every Tuesday night and each ticket costs the same as the year the film was released. Mad Max screens Tuesday August 19 at 8.30pm and Nashville screens Tuesday August 26 at 8.30pm. 

Calvary, an Irish drama/comedy that screened at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival, follows a good priest who is faced with sinister and troubling circumstances brought about by a mysterious member of his parish. It screens Thursday 14th August at 8.30pm, Friday 15th August at 6.30pm and Wednesday 20th August at 8.30pm. Tickets are selling fast for the first two sessions. 

On Friday 29th August you can catch two of the year’s most exhilarating films in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel (6.30pm) and Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin (9.00pm).

Inglourious Basterds, 
the first of Tarantino’s historical vengeance narratives re-writes history and embeds the satisfying functions of the revenge film behind heavy historical figures and events. Screens Saturday 16th August at 9pm. 

Golden Daytime Sundays features films from the Golden Age of Hollywood, including Harvey (Sun 17th August 3pm), Pillow Talk (Sun 24th August 3pm) and a digitally restored vision of Chinatown (Sun August 31, 3pm).

No cinema ticket? No worries. All are welcome in the Golden Age bar. It’s open from 5pm until late, Tuesday through Saturday, and from 2.30pm until late on Sunday.

For more information about the venue and the upcoming schedule visit the Golden Age website, and be sure to follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, August 11, 2014

New Releases (14/08/14)

In cinemas this week: The Expendables 3, The Hundred-Foot Journey, Palo Alto and Postman Pat: The Movie.

The Expendables 3 - Barney (Stallone), Christmas (Statham) and the rest of the team come face-to-face with Conrad Stonebanks (Gibson), who years ago co-founded The Expendables with Barney. Stonebanks subsequently became a ruthless arms trader and someone who Barney was forced to kill... or so he thought. Stonebanks, who eluded death once before, now is making it his mission to end The Expendables -- but Barney has other plans. Barney decides that he has to fight old blood with new blood, and brings in a new era of Expendables team members, recruiting individuals who are younger, faster and more tech-savvy. The latest mission becomes a clash of classic old-school style versus high-tech expertise in the Expendables' most personal battle yet. Review by Matt Pejkovic, Matt's Movie Reviews.

The Hundred Foot Journey - Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) is a culinary ingénue with the gastronomic equivalent of perfect pitch. Displaced from their native India, the Kadam family, led by Papa (Om Puri), settles in the quaint village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val in the south of France. Filled with charm, it is both picturesque and elegant - the ideal place to settle down and open an Indian restaurant, the Maison Mumbai. That is, until the chilly chef proprietress of Le Saule Pleureur, a Michelin starred, classical French restaurant run by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), gets wind of it. Her icy protests against the new Indian restaurant a hundred feet from her own, escalate to all out war between the two establishments - until Hassan's passion for French haute cuisine and for Mme. Mallory's enchanting sous chef, Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), combine with his mysteriously delicious talent to weave magic between their two cultures and imbue Saint-Antonin with the flavors of life that even Mallory cannot ignore.

Palo Alto - Shy, sensitive April (Emma Roberts) is the class virgin -a popular soccer player and frequent babysitter for her single-dad coach, Mr. B. (James Franco). Teddy (Jack Kilmer) is an introspective artist whose best friend and sidekick Fred (Nat Wolff) is an unpredictable live wire with few filters or boundaries. While April negotiates a dangerous affair with Mr. B., and Teddy performs community service for a DUI - secretly carrying a torch for April, who may or may not share his affection - Fred seduces Emily (Zoe Levin), a promiscuous loner who seeks validation through sexual encounters. One high school party bleeds into another as April and Teddy finally acknowledge their mutual affection, and Fred's escalating recklessness spirals into chaos. 

I imagine James Franco’s collection of short stories that inspired this project are far better than his awful performance here, and this high school life/coming of age drama, overall. There are some poignant and accurate (I guess) observations of teenage life in America, but whenever it attempts to convey a message subtlety is sorely absent. Jack Kilmer (son of Val) and Emma Roberts are admittedly quite good in their roles as two confused everyday kids who are drawn together when everything else in their life blows, but the largely annoying Palo Alto is populated by poor dialogue, weak acting (and bizarre cameos) and forced, incredible drama. ★1/2

Postman Pat: The Movie - The film finds Pat, everyone's favorite postman, center stage as a contestant in a national TV talent show competition. Will success and fame tear him away from his hometown of Greendale and the friends he loves? Can Pat return to town in time to foil a sinister plot to replace him with legions of Patbot 3000 robots destined to take over the world? Only Postman Pat can save the day. 

Weekly Recommendation: The only film I have seen from this line-up is Palo Alto, and I hated it. The only way I know Postman Pat is out is because the Internet tells me. With Chef and The Lunchbox already in cinemas this year, I don't think The Hundred Foot Journey is going to offer too many surprises. Mirren is always watchable and I have enjoyed Hallstrom's films over the years, but I am going to give this one a miss. There is no chance I am going to see The Expendables 3. I despised the first one and didn't bother with the apparently worse sequel. So, it looks like I'll be having a week away from the cinema. Unless I watch Lucy again.    

Friday, August 8, 2014

Top Five Films Based on Alternative Comic Books

Stan Lee is laughing all the way to the bank with every blockbuster film that’s based on a Marvel title. And while Spider-Man and company have gotten a lot of big-screen exposure in recent years, there are a wealth of films out there that were based on lesser known comic works that don’t get the attention they deserve.

Here’s guest writer Brandon Engel's top five movies based on alternative comics:

5. Snowpiercer (2013)
Based on the French comic La Transperceneige, the film takes place in a dystopian future where climate change has wiped out the global population, except for the microsociety that has  formed aboard the Snowpiercer (a commercial train). The story focuses largely on the issues and class warfare that becomes a problem on the train itself. The film features excellent performances from Tilda Swinton, Chris Evans, and John Hurt.

4. Heavy Metal (1981)
This classic animated feature based on the adult-fantasy publication Heavy Metal (which was itself based on the French publication Métal Hurlant). The film is an anthology of pulpy science-fiction and fantasy stories, each involving the Locnar, a strange green orb that has magical powers. It’s got a little something for everybody, and by everybody, I mean 14 year old boys: cartoon sex, buxom warrior women riding pterodactyls, zombies aboard a World War II bomber, and vintage heavy metal music. However gendered and overwrought with cliches, the animation is excellent, and it evokes the paintings of Frank Frazetta and the sword and sorcery pulp literature of Robert E. Howard. A must watch for genre fans.

3. Fritz the Cat (1972)
Animator Ralph Bakshi purchased the rights to underground comic Robert Crumb’s Fritz the Cat in the seventies and set about making the world’s first X-rated animated feature. Crumb himself didn’t shy away from vulgarity, and Bakshi seems to revel in it. The film reflects much of what the counter-culture was starting to develop a reputation for, and it is filled with profanity, animated nudity, and blatant references to sex and drug use. It was an extremely audacious piece of filmmaking, although Crumb was famously displeased with the film.

2. Tank Girl (1995)
Lori Petty plays Tank Girl, the heroine of the underground English comic series who is sort of like a riot girl vigilante in a post-apocalyptic world where water is scarce. She’s part of a team that tries to steal water from the corporations who hoard it (and the villains like Kesslee [Malcolm McDowell] who harvest it from human bodies). Although the film Tank Girl was met with lukewarm reviews upon it’s initial release, it’s being re-embraced by a whole new generation of young viewers, thanks largely to the fact that it’s streamable online (check this website) and it’s recently been re-released on Blu-Ray.

1. The Crow (1994)
This is the film that will, unfortunately, be best remembered as Brandon Lee’s final film (Lee died tragically during production when the shell of a blank penetrated into his stomach). The film is an adaptation of a comic by James O’Barr, which tells the story of Eric Draven, a young musician who is murdered alongside his girlfriend. Draven is resurrected by a crow (a spiritual median in the story) so that he may take revenge on the gang that harmed him. The film is one of a kind, creating a world that is almost evocative of Tim Burton’s work, without all of the cutesy elements.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Review: Lucy (Luc Besson, 2014)

Lucy is the latest film from French writer/director Luc Besson. Besson, who directed the incredible Leon: The Professional and sci-fi cult favourite The Fifth Element back in the mid 90’s, has been a more prolific screenwriter and producer in recent years. Mostly involved with mediocre action films. His last two directorial efforts were the critically reviled The Lady and The Family. But, with Lucy, he is back in exciting form, creating an absurdly ambitious and defiantly goofy action sci-fi, bringing high-concept universal and existential hypothesizing to the crime thriller genre. With a kick-ass heroine who evolves from hapless captive to skilled super-entity, Bresson’s colourful and inventive visual style and obscure sense of humour gives this a unique and bizarre tone. Think of it as a blend of Salt and The Tree of Life, with more than a few Limitless ingredients.

The aptly cast Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation, Under the Skin), whose roles this year are becoming more interesting by the film, stars as Lucy, a 25-year-old American woman living in Taipei. She is tricked by her dodgy boyfriend into becoming a drug mule, and is captured by the associates of a Korean drug kingpin named Mr Jang (Choi Min-sik, Oldboy). When she is brought before him she learns that she was carrying a highly valuable synthetic drug called CPH4, an advanced version of a toxin that assists the growth of a fetus in the womb. A bag of the drug is sewn into her abdomen and she is forced to transport it to Europe for sale. When she is held captive and beaten, the drugs are released into her system and she develops enhanced physical capabilities and powerful mental abilities. She can no longer feel pain, absorbs large volumes of information immediately and can perform telekinesis, just to begin with. She discovers that she will never survive without replenishment, so she sets about retrieving the other bags and makes contact with Prof. Samuel Norman (Morgan Freeman), whose research makes him a candidate to explain to her just what is going on. 

Continue reading at Graffiti With Punctuation.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Review: Begin Again (John Carney, 2014)

Written and directed by John Carney, the man responsible for Once, Begin Again is an enthusiastic musical drama/romantic comedy that embraces the role that music, and collective inspiration and creativity, can have in the emotional rehabilitation of people who are need of a fresh start. Mark Ruffalo is the kind of actor who oozes carefree charm and utilizes natural mannerisms to give his affable characters added humanism and complexity. In Begin Again, like many projects before, he makes everything look easy, and he always seems to play characters I end up being a little jealous of. Ruffalo-led films, with the exception of last year’s terrible Thanks For Sharing, rarely go sour, and he is a prominent reason why I enjoyed Begin Again so much. Also convincing is Keira Knightley, who I am slowly becoming a fan of. Though it is dubious to call the musical performances ‘live’, it is Knightley on the vocals and the toe-tapping songs are great.

From the opening minutes, we know that Dan (Ruffalo) is currently a shadow of his former shadow. He has a teenage daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) that he never sees, and he has just awoken with a hangover from an epic bender, brought on by the recent termination of his position as an executive of a record label. The label had been struggling, and when he turns up to a meeting drunk, it is the last straw for his frustrated partner Saul (Mos Def).

The events of the previous night are revealed in flashback, and it seems there is a silver lining. At one of the bars in the East Village the very drunk Dan is smitten with Gretta (Knightley), an independent singer/songwriter who is planning to leave New York following a break-up with her partner and successful musician Dave (Adam Levine from Maroon 5). Though they write together, and she matches his talent, he has become the star. The song she performs re-ignites Dan’s creative spirit and he offers to sign her to the label, a promise he no longer can guarantee. At first she refuses, but after a change of heart the pair become friends, and Saul is impressed by the demo they bring to him. After recruiting a team of talented musicians, Dan and Gretta decide to record their album at public locations around New York City, grappling with their feeling for one another along the way.

Continue reading at Graffiti With Punctuation.

Monday, August 4, 2014

New Releases (07/08/14)

In cinemas this week: Guardians of the Galaxy, Begin Again, And So It Goes and Bethlehem (Nova).

Guardians of the Galaxy - This action-packed, epic space adventure, expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe into the cosmos, where brash adventurer Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) finds himself the object of an unrelenting bounty hunt after stealing a mysterious orb coveted by Ronan, a powerful villain with ambitions that threaten the entire universe. To evade the ever-persistent Ronan, Quill is forced into an uneasy truce with a quartet of disparate misfits - Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a gun-toting raccoon, Groot (Vin Diesel), a tree-like humanoid, the deadly and enigmatic Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and the revenge-driven Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista). But when Quill discovers the true power of the orb and the menace it poses to the cosmos, he must do his best to rally his ragtag rivals for a desperate stand, with the galaxy's fate in the balance.

Begin Again - The latest film from writer-director John Carney (Once), Begin Again is a soul-stirring comedy about what happens when lost souls meet and make beautiful music together. Gretta (Keira Knightley) and her long-time boyfriend Dave (Adam Levine) are college sweethearts and songwriting partners who decamp for New York when he lands a deal with a major label. But the trappings of his new-found fame soon tempt Dave to stray, and a reeling, lovelorn Gretta is left on her own. Her world takes a turn for the better when Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a disgraced record-label exec, stumbles upon her performing on an East Village stage and is immediately captivated by her raw talent. From this chance encounter emerges an enchanting portrait of a mutually transformative collaboration, set to the soundtrack of a summer in New York City.  Review to come to GWP soon (★★★★).

And So It Goes - There are a million reasons not to like realtor Oren Little (Michael Douglas), and that's just the way he likes it. Willfully obnoxious to anyone who might cross his path, he wants nothing more than to sell one last house and retire in peace and quiet -- until his estranged son suddenly drops off a granddaughter (Sterling Jerins) he never knew existed and turns his life upside-down. Clueless about how to care for a sweet, abandoned nine-year-old, he pawns her off on his determined and lovable neighbor Leah (Diane Keaton) and tries to resume his life uninterrupted. But little by little, Oren stubbornly learns to open his heart - to his family, to Leah, and to life itself.

Bethlehem tells the story of the complex relationship between an Israeli Secret Service officer and his teenage Palestinian informant. Shuttling back and forth between conflicting points of view, the film is a raw portrayal of characters torn apart by competing loyalties and impossible moral dilemmas, giving an unparalleled glimpse into the dark and fascinating world of human intelligence.

Weekly Recommendation: A thin week of releases, but a strong one. Guardians of the Galaxy is as entertaining as the Marvel Cinematic Universe has ever been. For the most part, it buckles the formula, combining exciting intergalactic action sequences with sharp (and frequent) humour. Plus, the cast is a riot. Begin Again is a pleasant and exceedingly watchable rom-com about how music can bring people together and inspire. Ruffalo and Knightley are terrific together. Bethlehem screened at last year's Jewish Film Festival. The complex, fraying relationships at the core of this thriller, and the authentic insider look at both the agendas of the militant revolutionaries and the procedures of the Israeli secret service, make for grim but powerful viewing. I actually preferred it to the similarly-themed Oscar-nominated Omar. I have yet to hear one positive comment about And So It Goes, despite the Douglas/Keaton pairing, so I am not going to rush out and see that.   

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Highlights From The 9th Sydney Latin American Film Festival

Cinema and Latin lovers are invited to experience a distinctive film program by vanguard directors at the forefront of Latin American cinema at the 9th Sydney Latin American Film Festival. Share in the unique stories as you explore the music, dark humour, drama and hopes of Latin America, all through a contemporary Latin American lens.

The festival will span 8 days (3-10 September), screening a high-calibre selection of new-release features, documentaries and short films from Cuba, Costa Rica, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Peru, USA, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Australia.

Launching the festival at Event Cinemas on George Street on Wednesday 3rd September will be the Cuban Film BEHAVIOUR (Conducta), an insightful and unembellished look into contemporary Cuba that has taken the Cuban box office by storm, scored multiple awards and spurred heated debate. This film captures Cuban social reality in all its complexity, and gives a voice to their frustrations and anxieties while still offering some hope for the future. The film will be followed by a Cuban Fiesta at the Goodgod Small Club headlined by Mucho Mambo and complemented by the sounds of DJ Señor Bolivar. You are invited to feast on a delicious selection of canapés and enjoy our favourite drinks from Corona beer, Pacifico beer and Havana Club Rum.

Curator Gisselle Gallego hopes “audiences will get to see Latin America through a different lens. This year we will be showcasing bold, dark, quirky and unique stories from young and up and coming directors.”

Highlights of the festival program include Brazil’s winner at the 61st International Film Festival, A WOLF AT THE DOOR (O lobo atrás da porta) - a nerve-rattling tale of a kidnapped child inspired by real events. A thriller reminiscent of Fatal Attraction, Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Coimbra’s suspenseful feature debut captures the darkness that ensues when panic breeds suspicion and love turns to hate.

The very first feature from Haiti STONES IN THE SUN (Woch Nan Soley), winner of the Sundance Time Warner Storytelling Award and Special Jury Mention at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival, is an impassioned debut by film director Patricia Benoit that thoughtfully unveils stories of damaged love and the desire to return to a home that no longer exists.

In Costa Rica’s feature film ALL ABOUT THE FEATHERS (Por las plumas), Neto Villalobos’ first feature film is a subtle, absurdist comedy that impressively hinges on the stellar performances of the (mostly amateur) cast and exceptional observational cinematography. This feature is a black comedy about Chalo, a lone security guard who acquires his first gamecock and discovers the bittersweet taste of friendship. It raised $16,522 through the crowdsourcing platform

From Puerto Rico comes THE COWS WEARING GLASSES (Las vacas con gafas) directed by one of the most talented emerging filmmakers coming out of the new wave of Puerto Rican cinema, Alex Santiago Pérez. A story about the emotional awakening of a man who is nearing the end of his days, Marso is a solitary and eccentric painter and art professor. He has a disease that will make him lose his sight at any time and that has forced him to rethink the relationship with his daughter, while taking stock of a life full of professional success but unsatisfactory on the personal level.

For lovers of Reggae music, SONGS OF REDEMPTION will be screening - a moving story of rehabilitation of inmates from the General Penitentiary in Jamaica, featuring riveting interviews and powerful Reggae music created and performed by the inmates and wardens. After the screening, let DJ Señor Bolivar take you to a journey through Reggae soundscapes.Kids and adults alike can also join in the festivities, with pre-screening fun and games on offer by Pistachio Entertainment before the beautifully animated film ANINA, a multi-award winning gem filled to the brim with humor and empathy.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Revisiting the 2014 Blockbuster Season

With Guardians of the Galaxy (Aug 7) and The Expendables 3 (Aug 14) still to hit screens, we are nearing the end of the 2014 Blockbuster Period.

This year I will begin the season with Noah (March 27) and end it with The Expendables 3, which I won't be seeing.

I feel like I have missed a few of the bigger budget releases along the way - I didn't bother with The Muppets Most Wanted, Divergent, Transcendence, Tranformers 4 or Rio 2 for example - but the season came on strong late with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Guardians of the Galaxy after the disappointment of Captain America and Godzilla and the completely forgettable blandness of the latest X-Men installment. 

Here's how I rank the one I saw:

Excellent (4-4.5) - The Lego Movie, Bad Neighbours, Edge of Tomorrow, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Guardians of the Galaxy.

Decent (3-3.5) - Noah, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Godzilla and How To Train Your Dragon 2

Eh (2-2.5) - The Other Woman, X-Men: Days of Future Past and 22 Jump Street.

Ugly (0.5-1.5) - The Amazing Spider-man 2 and A Million Ways To Die In The West.

Not many people enjoyed the hilariously Seth Rogen/Zac Efron turf wars in Bad Neighbours as much as I, and it seems like X-Men is heavily favoured. So, my rankings will be topsy-turvy for many.

I know there were many out there who felt strongly about Godzilla either way, while I came out straight down the middle. The monster effects are incredible, the catastrophic scale and the effective mounting of dread impressive, but the human story was blundered badly. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is not the guy you want to lead an audience through an unbelievably convenient series of close encounters. I was rarely on the edge of my seat, but remained in constant awe of the colossal spectacle. And yet, a few hours after seeing it, I couldn't summon much enthusiasm. As it turns out, the film's best sequence appeared in that first teaser - the reason it was one of my most-anticipated films of the year.

I absolutely hated The Amazing Spider-man 2, which was as loud and overstuffed as Raimi's Spiderman 3 and was watchable only when Garfield and Stone shared the screen. 22 Jump Street successfully ran a pretty exciting reboot series into the ground with an overload of meta humour that wore out its welcome and barely masked the generic 'college' story, despite winning chemistry (again) from Tatum and Hill.

I had forgotten I had even seen Days of Future Past mere hours after watching it, and what is most angering about it is it's existence as a $200 million clean slate for the franchise. Only McAvoy turns in a performance worth mentioning, despite it sneakily being the best 'Wolverine' film to date.

Noah is the season's strangest blockbuster and for all its failures, it offers plenty that is thought-provoking. Its sensory splendour and consistent intensity demanded the cinema environment. How To Train Your Dragon 2 was a visually spectacular sequel that took a darker turn, failing to match the predecessor's sense of fun.

The Winter Soldier, an anticipated follow-up to one of the better Marvel adventures, had the worst 3D of the season and was unfortunately punishing in it's final act, despite a welcomed return for Black Widow (who deserves her own film).

The Lego Movie was bursting with colourful inventiveness, and wonderful animation, and in addition to being crazy and hilarious it manages to go into surprisingly profound territory about identity and imagination, delivering a potent message about the power of one against corporate conformity, and the limitless creativity present within us all.

Tom Cruise, after the underrated Oblivion last year, is part of another winner in Edge of Tomorrow. Liman knows the ingredients of the summer blockbuster, and his thoughtful film strikes a compelling balance of high-stakes action spectacle, character-driven drama and timely injections of humour to ensure that its clever concept never wears out its welcome. The concept draws from the best of inspirations (Groundhog Day meets Aliens) and it really worked.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an intimate, complex character-driven sci-fi/war hybrid that offers a relentless barrage of intense, unpredictable and deeply affecting moments of moral conflict, and an astounding fusion of visual effects and choreographed battle sequences. Incredibly, the epic Dawn improves upon the surprisingly-excellent Rise in almost every capacity, offering thought-provoking commentary on humanity and the differences that may bring opponents to war – despite the mutual desire for peace – amidst unfathomably consistent tension and aesthetic spectacle.

If Dawn is the most compelling, and powerful of the blockbuster crop, Guardians of the Galaxy is the most fun. I was thoroughly entertained throughout James Gunn's strange and unorthodox MCU refresher. Such a relief that it exists. The chemistry between the core group of misfits is just one of the areas this film excels in, but that was more than enough. And how about Chris Pratt, the central hero of two of this year's most entertaining films. I loved the humor in The Avengers, but this is even funnier.

So, what were your favourites from this year's Blockbuster crop? A few years back we had The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. Last year we had Pacific Rim, Iron Man 3, Oblivion and The World's End. This year might in fact be the strongest. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, especially, has a real shot at making my EOY Top 15.