Monday, July 21, 2014

New Releases (24/07/14)

In cinemas this week: Snowpiercer, Still Life, Hercules, Deliver Us From Evil, Devil's Knot, Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie and Once My Mother.

Snowpiercer - The much-discussed sci-fi epic from director Bong Joon Ho (The Host, Mother). The film is set in the year 2031, and the world is a frozen and uninhabitable. Seventeen years earlier measures were taken to stop global warming, but the experiment was a disaster, killing everything in the process. Those lucky enough to survive boarded the giant rattling ark called the Snowpiercer, a train that circumnavigates the globe over the course of exactly one year. We are first introduced to those living in the back of the train, the lowest class. They sleep cramped together, their hygiene is appalling, their only source of food is a manufactured protein block distributed once per day, they are beaten and mistreated by the train’s guards and have been deprived everything that the upper class forward carriages consume in lavish excess. Amongst these tail-dwellers are Curtis (Chris Evans), Edgar (Jamie Bell), Gilliam (William Hurt) and Tanya (Octavia Spencer), and they are desperate to shake up the world order. Continue reading at Graffiti With Punctuation.

Still Life - For over 22 years, life for the unassuming John May (an indelible performance from the extraordinary Eddie Marsan) has been his work for the local council in South London, finding the next of kin for those in his community who have passed away alone. But in this age of ‘efficiency’, John’s meticulousness and care is no longer deemed necessary, and he is abruptly made redundant. John is left with one assignment: a search for the relatives of an elderly neighbour, Billy Stoke.
As he journeys beyond London to piece together Billy’s past, John uncovers a life of mischief, misadventure, love and regret, most of all for an abandoned daughter, Kelly (Joanne Froggatt, Downton Abbey) whom John manages to locate. These two insular people are naturally drawn to each other, and as friendship blossoms, John’s outlook opens imperceptibly to life’s possibilities. Still Life is a resonant and universal celebration of dignity, community values and human connection, and ultimately, all that life is worth living for. If you can forgive a late blunder, you will love Still Life. It is delicate, beautiful, attentive and perfectly paced. Marsan is amazing. Incredibly sad, though. I don't cry often in films but I was tested here. ★★1/2

Hercules - Both man and myth, Hercules (Dwayne Johnson) leads a band of mercenaries to help end a bloody civil war in the land of Thrace and return the rightful king to his throne. A tormented soul from birth, Hercules has the strength of a God but feels the suffering of a human. Unimaginable villains will test the mythical power of Hercules in director Brett Ratner’s take on the epic action hero.

Deliver Us From Evil - New York police officer Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana), struggling with his own personal issues, begins investigating a series of disturbing and inexplicable crimes. He joins forces with an unconventional priest (Edgar Ramirez), schooled in the rituals of exorcism, to combat the frightening and demonic possessions that are terrorizing their city. Based upon the book, which details Sarchie's bone-chilling real-life cases.

Once My Mother - When Australian filmmaker Sophia Turkiewicz was seven years old, her Polish mother, Helen, abandoned her in an Adelaide orphanage. Sophia never forgot this maternal act of betrayal. Now in middle age, as Sophia examines her troubled relationship with Helen, she discovers the story behind Helen's miraculous wartime escape from a Siberian gulag, her subsequent survival against the odds and the truth about an historic betrayal involving Stalin and the Allies. With Helen sliding into dementia, Sophia must confront her own demons. Did she ever truly know this woman who became her mother? Does she have it in her heart to forgive her? And is it too late?

Devil's Knot - In 1993 West Memphis, Arkansas was rocked by the brutal murder of three eight year old boys. The police very quickly accused three teenagers, claiming they had killed the children as part of a satanic ritual. Devil's Knot chronicles this harrowing true story from the perspective of one of the mothers, Pam Hobbs (Witherspoon) and the investigator for the accused boys’ defense team, Ron Lax (Firth). Whilst the parents and the community struggle to cope with the heinous nature of this crime and call out for those responsible to be brought to justice, Lax discovers that the prosecutorial case is based entirely on circumstantial evidence and prejudicial assumptions about the accused teenagers’ love of goth culture and heavy metal music.

Weekly Recommendation: This is the second Hercules film to screen in cinemas in 2014. Can you believe that? The Rock is an entertaining performer, but there is no way I am watching that. If there is one limited release film you should try everything to see - Dendy Newtown screen it here in Sydney, Nova in Melbourne - it is Snowpiercer. It is unlike anything you have ever seen. Still Life is another limited release - Palace Norton Street are screening it - with the potential to change the way you live your life. I am going to be checking out Deliver Us From Evil this week because I enjoyed Scott Derrickson's last film, Sinister. Reviews have not been favourable, however. Once My Mother sounds pretty powerful too.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

July Mini-reviews: Enemy and The Immigrant

Enemy - The second straight collaboration (with Prisoners) between Denis Villeneuve (Incendies, Polytechnique) and the great Jake Gyllenhaal couldn't be more different from the other. This one is a mind fuck that is impossible to forget. As stylish as we have come to expect Villeneuve's films Enemy has a distinctly sickly look about it; a beige-golden colour-palette that suggests there is something sinister about the world we find ourselves in and not quite right about the character we start following - a dissatisfied, disheveled-looking and emotionally withdrawn history teacher with some unusual primal urges (Gyllenhaal). His days are stuck on repeat, and Villeneuve does a masterful job of conveying this. Then, watching a film late one night he sees himself. An extra who looks exactly like him. It isn't his imagination. He exists. He decides to track this man (also Gyllenhaal) down, and discovers that the only thing they have in common is their appearance. An analysis of the paranoia and confusion that couples such a situation - and the fallout of their 'meeting' on both of their lives - is satisfying enough, but this film is about something else entirely. Villeneuve doesn't give the audience any help along the way, offering up some terrifying images and never relinquishing the suspense. This is Gyllenhaal's film, and perhaps his career-best work, but Melanie Laurent and Sarah Gadon are excellent too. While I certainly didn't put the pieces together on this lone viewing, reflecting on the film with this 'theory' in mind, wow, it all makes sense. ★★★★1/2

The Immigrant I really liked James Gray's latest film - he also directed the excellent We Own The Night and Two Lovers - but I can't quite place what it was lacking for me. Some of the developments were predictable, and I wonder why I didn't feel emotionally involved for quite a while, considering the tragic story. Ewa (Marion Cotillard) and her sister Magda have sailed from native Poland to New York in search of the American Dream. After her sister remains quarantined on Ellis Island, Ewa finds herself working for Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix) and forced into a life of prostitution. In order to rescue her sister, she works (and suffers) hoping that she will earn enough money for them to leave together. It is well acted (but that is no surprise), gorgeously photographed (it reminded me of the young Vito scenes in The Godfather Part II) and there is subtle complexity to the fusion of narrative arc and theme, and both intricacy and scope in the re-creation of 1920's New York. Both core characters grapple with the guilt of their morally-questionable actions - ultimately necessary to survive - and their reliance on each other in a desperate time when a single act of decency can change someone's life. Bruno admitting his selfishness, and acknowledging what Ewa has selflessly sacrificed is an immensely powerful moment, of which there are several in the film's superior final act. It has been said already, but the final shot is incredible. ★★1/2

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Review: Venus In Fur (Roman Polanski, 2013)

Directed by Roman Polanski (Chinatown, The Pianist, Carnage), and co-written by Polanski and American playwright David Ives, this film adaptationis based on Ives’ own Broadway play, which itself is inspired by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s classic 1870 erotic novel Venus in Furs. If this sounds like a lot of adaptations, I assure you there are more to come here.

Within the film, Thomas (Mathieu Amalric), a writer-director of a new adaptation of the novel, finds himself involved in an elaborate audition with an intoxicatingly sexy, aggressively energetic and unrelentingly persistent actress (Emmanuelle Seigner) who shares a name, Vanda, with his lead female character. After surviving the storm outside and arriving wet and disheveled well after Thomas has seen his last audition, she convinces Thomas to give her a chance and read with her. To his surprise she not only shows great understanding of the script and the intricacies of the character but has also brought along her own costumes and props.

Continue reading at Graffiti With Punctuation

Monday, July 14, 2014

Review: Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-ho, 2014)

Snowpiercer is Korean genius Bong Joon-Ho’s first English language feature – he directed Memories of Murder, The Host and Mother – and it is based on Jacques Lob’s graphic novel Le Transperceneige. Bong wrote the screenplay along with Kelly Masterson (Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead), and the result is as spectacularly ambitious, thought provoking and entertaining a science fiction entry as Bong’s esteemed credentials promise.

The film is set in the year 2031, and the world is a frozen and uninhabitable. Seventeen years earlier measures were taken to stop global warming, but the experiment was a disaster, killing everything in the process. Those lucky enough to survive boarded the giant rattling ark called the Snowpiercer, a train that circumnavigates the globe over the course of exactly one year.

We are first introduced to those living in the back of the train, the lowest class. They sleep cramped together, their hygiene is appalling, their only source of food is a manufactured protein block distributed once per day, they are beaten and mistreated by the train’s guards and have been deprived everything that the upper class forward carriages consume in lavish excess. Amongst these tail-dwellers are Curtis (Chris Evans), Edgar (Jamie Bell), Gilliam (William Hurt) and Tanya (Octavia Spencer), and they are desperate to shake up the world order.

Continue reading at Graffiti With Punctuation

New Releases (17/07/14)

In cinemas this week: Sex Tape, Charlie's Country, Venus in Fur, All This Mayhem, Words and Pictures.

Sex Tape - Jay (Jason Segel) and Annie (Cameron Diaz) are a married couple still very much in love, but ten years and two kids have cooled the passion. To get it back, they decide - why not? - to make a video of themselves trying out every position in THE JOY OF SEX in one marathon three-hour session. It seems like a great idea, until they discover that their most private video has gone public. In a panic, they begin a wild night of adventure - tracking down leads, roping in friends, duping Annie's boss - all to reclaim their video, their reputation, their sanity, and, most importantly, their marriage.

Charlie's CountryWritten by Rolf de Heer and David Gulpilil as a collaborative project, CHARLIE’S COUNTRY stars Gulpilil as blackfella Charlie, who is getting older, and is out of sorts. The government’s intervention is making life more difficult on his remote community, what with the proper policing of whitefella laws that don't generally make much sense, and Charlie's kin seeming more interested in going along with things than doing anything about it. So Charlie takes off, to live the old way, but in doing so sets off a chain of events in his life that has him return to his community chastened, and somewhat the wiser.

Venus in Fur - Based on the Tony Award-winning Broadway play by David Ives, which itself was based on Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's groundbreaking novella, VENUS IN FUR is the latest film from master filmmaker Roman Polanski. Alone in a Paris theater after a long day of auditioning actresses for his new play, writer-director Thomas (Amalric) complains that no actress he's seen has what it takes to play the lead female character: a woman who enters into an agreement with her male counterpart to dominate him as her slave. Thomas is about to leave the theater when actress Vanda (Seigner) bursts in, a whirlwind of erratic - and, it turns out, erotic - energy. At first she seems to embody everything Thomas has been lamenting. She is pushy, foul-mouthed, desperate and ill-prepared - or so it seems. When Thomas finally, reluctantly, agrees to let her try out for the part, he is stunned and captivated by her transformation. Not only is Vanda a perfect fit but she apparently has researched the role exhaustively, learned her lines by heart and even bought her own props. The likeness proves to be much more than skin-deep. An analytical and interpretative performance adaptation of a playwright's adaptation of a 19th century erotic novel with contemporary commentary on relationships and gender politics. There really is a lot going on, but it sure is sexy. Brilliantly performed by Seigner and Amalric, this all takes place in a lone empty theatre on a stormy night. Polanski still has it. ★★★

All This Mayhem (actually released last week, very limited screens) - Tells the story of brothers Tas and Ben Pappas, two boys from Melbourne who took the skateboarding world by storm, defeating Tony Hawk and crowned International World Champions within a year. Skateboarding came naturally to the Pappas brothers, but success was a different story. In this unflinching, never-before-seen account we witness the dark consequences of Tas and Ben’s rapid success, their intense fraternal bond and their journey from the pinnacle of their sport into a downward spiral of self-destruction. From the makers of award-winning documentaries Exit Through the Gift Shop and Senna and featuring fascinating interviews, first person accounts and archival footage, All This Mayhem is a searing account of what happens when raw talent and extreme personalities collide and tells of a tragedy too incredible to believe. Review by Tom Clift, Concrete Playground.

Words and Pictures - Stars the engaging duo of Juliette Binoche and Clive Owen working together on-screen for the first time. Prep school English teacher Jack Marcus (Owen) laments his students' obsession with social media and good grades rather than engaging with the power of the written word. A one-time literary star, Jack has not published in years filling his spare time with drink versus the art of language. He meets his match in Dina Delsanto (Binoche) - an abstract painter and new teacher on campus, who was once celebrated for her art. From the start, the two flirt and provoke each other with equal relish. 

Weekly recommendation: I have heard terrific things about Senna-esque skateboarding documentary All This Mayhem and Roman Polaski's Venus in Fur is one of the sexiest films I have seen this year. I am also very much looking forward to seeing Rolf De Heer's Cannes winner, Charlie's Country, starring the great David Gulpilil. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

2014 Melbourne International Film Festival Guide

This week the program for the 2014 Melbourne Film Festival, running from the 31st July to the 17th August, was announced. Opening the festival is the new film from the Spierig Brothers, Predestination, starring Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook. The Closing Night film is Felony, directed by Matthew Saville and starring Joel Edgerton, Jai Courtney and Melissa George.

At the link are 12 titles screening at MIFF that I can highly recommend catching, and if I were attending MIFF for a substantial period of time 18 films I would endeavour to squeeze into my schedule.

Continue reading at Graffiti With Punctuation

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Review: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared (Felix Herngren, 2013)

After another meeting with the bizarre brand of Scandinavian 'black' humour I am still not sure if it is to my tastes. The wonderfully weird 'Of Horses and Men' from Iceland is one of the funniest films I have seen this year, but I wasn't so fond of revenge thriller-comedy 'In Order of Disappearance'.

Despite feeling a bit 'throw everything at an audience and see what sticks' Felix Herngren's mad, unpredictable adaptation of Jonas Jonasson's novel of the same name remains engaging and entertaining throughout. No doubt a massive hit in Sweden, this well-funded venture possesses more than enough madcap energy to have mischievous novelty appeal outside of Scandinavia. There are stretches where the laughs dry up considerably and some of the humour is uncomfortably inappropriate, but its escalating incidents are eventually tied together in an oddly satisfying way.

Centenarian Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson, whose make-up and prosthetics bears him a striking resemblance to Johnny Knoxville’s 'Bad Grandpa') elects to avoid his 100th birthday party by escaping his retirement home and seeking an adventure like the ones he has experienced in his younger days. Allan's journey, in the simplest terms, involves him gaining possession of a biker gang's $50 million dollars and acquiring several equally-strange comrades (some willing, some not) as he goes on the run and attempts to avoid the gang’s desperate attempts to reclaim. Even at 100 he's still quite sharp and his taste for chaos hasn't left him. Involved is a former circus elephant, the typical dunderheaded villains, a hapless detective trailing the case, people dying in horrific ways, lots of drinking and an immeasurable amount of misunderstandings.

Stitched into this is a recap of Allan's life from his birth to the present, accompanied by his amusing voice-over. It is a baffling, satirical Forest Gump-esque comedy of errors that sees the explosives-obsessed Allan riding the wave of the 20th Century, drinking his way into the friendship and trust of more than one Great Dictator, and playing an evidently important role in shaping the world he still survives. It is these chapters that are the most tonally outrageous, and the least successful.

If you're looking for something bonkers and completely different, and I guess it all depends on whether the Scandinavians are your jam, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared is worth a look.

My Rating: ★★

Friday, July 11, 2014

Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves, 2014)

Directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield and Let Me In), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes takes 20th Century Fox’s reboot of the original series to an intelligent and ambitious new level. Rupert Wyatt’s unexpectedly excellent 2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes introduced audiences to the miraculous Caesar (an extraordinarily emotional motion-capture performance from Andy Serkis), delved into themes of nurture versus nature and became a largely-silent prison uprising and coordinated revolution full of exciting action set pieces and one of the most shocking revelations in the last few years of cinema.

The much darker Dawn feels completely different, the now post-apocalyptic San Francisco setting playing a role in this. It 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 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.

Continue reading at Graffiti With Punctuation.