Sep 202015


This year’s Sydney Underground Film Festival Opening Night selection was the latest from controversial French filmmaker Gaspar Noe, presented, for the first time in the festival’s history, in the desired 3D format. Love premiered at the Cannes Film Festival earlier in the year and true to the filmmakers reputation (he’s the guy that made the brilliant but often-unwatchable Irreversible and Enter the Void), was met with mixed reactions. Mostly negative, unfairly. Having thought about the film for a day now I have continued to appreciate the boundary-pushing approach to an intensely-passionate sexual relationship, the uncomfortably candid but empathetic study of how co-dependence and toxic influence can be both orgasmic and destructive, and the film’s interesting and aesthetically successful use of 3D.

Not at all the 3D porno such an indulgence could have surrendered to being, it is actually a emotionally-charged drama about regret and despair – and the battle between enlightenment and disillusionment with the co-existence of love and sex. It is the story of a young man still trapped in the lingering whirlwind of an all-encompassing sexual relationship with the likely love of his life – and dealing with the fact that she has gone and accepting who he needs to be in the next chapter of his life. Continue reading »

Sep 092015


In cinemas this week: The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, Life, People, Places, Things, Pixels, Tangerine and The Duke of Burgundy

The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials In this next chapter of the epic “Maze Runner” saga, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his fellow Gladers face their greatest challenge yet: searching for clues about the mysterious and powerful organization known as WCKD. Their journey takes them to the Scorch, a desolate landscape filled with unimaginable obstacles. Teaming up with resistance fighters, the Gladers take on WCKD’s vastly superior forces and uncover its shocking plans for them all.

Life – A Life Magazine photographer receives the assignment to photograph rising Hollywood star James Dean. Stars Dane Dehaan and Robert Pattonson and it is excellent. My thoughts at the link.

People, Places, Things – Will Henry is a graphic novelist and a professor in NYC. At his adorable twin girls’ fifth birthday party, Will’s life is turned upside down when he walks in on the mother of his children, and longtime girlfriend, Charlie, with their friend Gary. One year later, Will is still alone and trying to put his life back together. He finds unexpected challenges when his talented student Kat tries to set Will up with her accomplished mother Diane. In this thoughtful comedy, Will is forced to navigate the unknown landscape of single fatherhood and dating in New York City, while remaining an inspiration for his students and coming to terms with himself both as a father as an artist.

Pixels – As kids in the 1980s, Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler), Will Cooper (Kevin James), Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad), and Eddie “The Fire Blaster” Plant (Peter Dinklage) saved the world thousands of times – at 25 cents a game in the video arcades. Now, they’re going to have to do it for real. In Pixels, when intergalactic aliens discover video feeds of classic arcade games and misinterpret them as a declaration of war, they attack the Earth, using the video games as the models for their assaults — and now-U.S. President Cooper must call on his old-school arcade friends to save the world from being destroyed by PAC-MAN, Donkey Kong, Galaga, Centipede, and Space Invaders. Joining them is Lt. Col. Violet Van Patten (Michelle Monaghan), a specialist supplying the arcaders with unique weapons to fight the aliens.

Tangerine – A working girl tears through Tinseltown on Christmas Eve searching for the pimp who broke her heart. This is the infamous iPhone film, which screened as part of the competition for the Sydney Film Festival prize. Further thoughts at the link.

The Duke of Burgundy – Day after day, Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) act out a simple yet provocative ritual that ends with Evelyn’s punishment and pleasure. As Cynthia yearns for a more conventional relationship, Evelyn’s obsession with erotica quickly becomes an addiction that may push the relationship to a breaking point. One of the weirdest films I saw at TIFF14. I still think about it often.

Weekly Recommendation: Having seen three of these films I can heartily recommend Life and, if you are in Melbourne (a Nova exclusive), The Duke of Burgundy. I did not like Tangerine as much as the crowd, but if you are interested in an innovative filmmaking venture that shatters convention you may find it a hoot. Having enjoyed The Maze Runner I will eventually see The Scorch Trials on DVD. Similarly People Places Things, which looks rather sweet.

Sep 032015


Based on Bill Bryson’s 1988 book of the same name, A Walk in the Woods follows Bryson and friend Stephen Katz as they attempt to walk the Appalachian Trial, a 3500km hiking trail which runs from Georgia to Maine in the USA. While this may sound like a peaceful, yet challenging venture, a whole lot more than just walking went down. Grizzly bears, snowstorms, angry husbands and precarious cliffside adventures. My review after the jump.

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Sep 022015


In cinemas this week – Straight Outta Compton, Gayby Baby, Me & Earl & the Dying Girl, American Ultra, A Walk in the Woods and The Transporter Refueled. 

Straight Outta Compton – In the mid-1980s, the streets of Compton, California, were some of the most dangerous in the country. When five young men translated their experiences growing up into brutally honest music that rebelled against abusive authority, they gave an explosive voice to a silenced generation. Following the meteoric rise and fall of N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton tells the astonishing story of how these youngsters revolutionized music and pop culture forever the moment they told the world the truth about life in the hood and ignited a cultural war. Reviews have been very strong – with one of my trustworthy friends claiming it to be his favourite film of the year. I’m in. 

Gayby Baby follows the lives of four kids – Gus, Ebony, Matt and Graham – whose parents all happen to be gay. As they each wrestle with personal change, the outside world wrestles with the issue of marriage equality, and whether or not kids of same-sex families are at risk. A former colleague of mine worked for many years on Gayby Baby and I am looking forward to supporting the film. Especially at this sensitive time. The message comes from a personal place, but it has national significance due to the ongoing debate about marriage equality. As it tackles its broad themes, I understand this rather compassionate PG-friendly doco takes the intimate perspective of the kids and reveals just how familiar their childhood experience really is.

Me & Earl & the Dying Girl – Winner of the 2015 Sundance Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award, ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL is the story of Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann), an awkward high school senior whose mom forces him to spend time with Rachel – a girl in his class (Olivia Cooke) with whom he hasn’t spoken to since kindergarten – who was just diagnosed with cancer. A big hit everywhere – Sundance and Sydney Film Festival Audience Awards – but certainly one of the most overrated films of the year in my opinion. My extended thoughts at the link.

American Ultra is a fast-paced action comedy about Mike (Eisenberg), a seemingly hapless and unmotivated stoner whose small-town life with his live-in girlfriend, Phoebe (Stewart), is suddenly turned upside down. Unbeknownst to him, Mike is actually a highly trained, lethal sleeper agent. In the blink of an eye, as his secret past comes back to haunt him, Mike is thrust into the middle of a deadly government operation and is forced to summon his inner action-hero in order to survive. I enjoy the cast, and this looks like an entertaining stoner romp. Still, hard to overlook the fact that the filmmaker also made Project X. 

A Walk in the Woods – In this new comedy adventure, celebrated travel writer, Bill Bryson (Robert Redford), instead of retiring to enjoy his loving and beautiful wife (Emma Thompson), and large and happy family, challenges himself to hike the Appalachian Trail – 2,200 miles of America’s most unspoiled, spectacular and rugged countryside from Georgia to Maine. The peace and tranquility he hopes to find, though, is anything but, once he agrees to being accompanied by the only person he can find willing to join him on the trek – his long lost and former friend Katz (Nick Nolte), a down-on-his-luck serial philanderer who, after a lifetime of relying on his charm and wits to keep one step ahead of the law – sees the trip as a way to sneak out of paying some debts and sneak into one last adventure before its too late. The trouble is, the two have a completely different definition of the word, “adventure”. Now they’re about to find out that when you push yourself to the edge, the real fun begins. I haven’t read any of Bill Bryson’s work, so this doesn’t appeal. But, I expect the veteran leads will have a good deal of fun out in the wilderness.

The Transporter Refueled – Frank Martin (Ed Skrein), a former special-ops mercenary, is now living a less perilous life – or so he thinks – transporting classified packages for questionable people. When Frank’s father (Ray Stevenson) pays him a visit in the south of France, their father-son bonding weekend takes a turn for the worse when Frank is engaged by a cunning femme-fatale, Anna (Loan Chabanol), and her three seductive sidekicks to orchestrate the bank heist of the century. Frank must use his covert expertise and knowledge of fast cars, fast driving and fast women to outrun a sinister Russian kingpin, and worse than that, he is thrust into a dangerous game of chess with a team of gorgeous women out for revenge.

Weekly Recommendation: The Gayby Baby banning debacle is embarrassing. What a country we live in. Everyone should take their kids along to see this film (Dendy Newtown has discounted tickets). For something not so kid-friendly go for Straight Outta Compton, by far the best-reviewed wide release here. I expect the hip-hipster Sundance winner [unreliable] Me & Earl & the Dying Girl will attract a big crowd, but here’s a tip – it’s not very good. 

Sep 012015


A short trip to the Melbourne International Film Festival saw this month have a healthy 22 films viewed, 13 of those at the cinema. While MIFF contained my two favourite viewings of the month, it also saw me walk out of a film for only the second time in my life, and saw me fall asleep in two other films. Oh dear. My film and TV viewing round-up for August 2015 is after the jump.

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Sep 012015


With regular life being busy – planning a move of house, and serious work commitments – my recent viewing habits (29 films in August) have been erratic and somewhat purposeless. We traveled to Melbourne for a long weekend for MIFF, which ended up being a great weekend for socialising, but a mixed bag in terms of films. I caught another six films in cinemas to keep in the know, and spent a considerable amount of time surfing Netflix, watching random films that took my fancy. Certainly the best time investment was Bloodline, which Sam and I consumed one episode at a time over a fortnight. Coming up in September – coverage of the Sydney Underground Film Festival and hopefully the Italian Film Festival. But, it is likely to be another quiet one. Thoughts on everything I watched in August after the jump.  Continue reading »

Aug 272015


In cinemas this week: The Gift, The Wolfpack, Holding the Man, Ricki and the Flash, We Are Your Friends, She’s Funny That Way and Stalkher.

The Gift – Can you really go through life having never wronged anyone? Even if you are unaware of how, or when, and even who you may have wronged….chances are there is someone out there who won’t ever forget it…or you. Simon and Robyn are a young married couple whose life is going just as planned until a chance encounter with an acquaintance from Simon’s high school sends their world into a harrowing tailspin. Simon doesn’t recognize Gordo at first, but after a series of uninvited encounters and mysterious gifts prove troubling, a horrifying secret from the past is uncovered after more than 20 years. As Robyn learns the unsettling truth about what happened between Simon and Gordo, she starts to question: how well do we really know the people closest to us, and are past bygones ever really bygones? This looks gripping – and there has been a lot of praise for both Joel Edgerton’s direction and Jason Bateman’s performance. Can’t wait. 

The Wolfpack – Locked away from society in an apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the Angulo brothers learn about the outside world through the films that they watch. Nicknamed the Wolfpack, the brothers spend their childhood re-enacting their favorite films using elaborate homemade props and costumes. With no friends and living on welfare, they feed their curiosity, creativity, and imagination with film, which allows them to escape from their feelings of isolation and loneliness. Everything changes when one of the brothers escapes, and the power dynamics in the house are transformed. The Wolfpack must learn how to integrate into society without disbanding the brotherhood. This film tells an incredible, and very sad, story about the power of cinema as escapism, but unfortunately the assembly is not strong. Still, it is an inspiring tale of the strength of the human spirit and the power an imagination can yield. 

Holding the Man – Tim and John fell in love at their all boys high-school while both were teenagers. John was captain of the football team. Tim an aspiring actor playing the lead in Romeo and Juliet. Their romance endured for 15 years to laugh in the face of everything life threw at it – the separations, the discriminations, the temptations, the jealousies and the losses – until the only problem that love can’t solve, tried to destroy them. Ryan Corr and Craig Stott will star in this remarkable true-life story as Timothy Conigrave and John Caleo, whose enduring love affair has been immortalised in both Tim’s cult-classic and hilarious memoir and Tommy Murphy’s award-winning stage play of the same name. Murphy has adapted Tim’s book for the screen.

Ricki and the Flash – Ricki (Meryl Streep) is an aging rock star who abandoned her family to chase fame and stardom. The sacrifice delivered the stardom she craved, but it cost her a relationship with her family. After years of rocking with her band, the Flash, her life is interrupted by a call from her ex-husband (Kevin Kline). She discovers their estranged daughter (Mamie Gummer) is going through a tough situation and decides to head back home. Given the opportunity to reconcile and make things right, Ricki must again choose between the music she loves and the family she lost. This film is directed by Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs, Stop Making Sense) and stars Meryl Streep. It has to be okay.

We Are Your Friends – Set in the world of electronic music and Hollywood nightlife, an aspiring 23-year-old DJ named Cole (Zac Effron) spends his days scheming with his childhood friends and his nights working on the one track that will set the world on fire. All of this changes when he meets a charismatic but damaged older DJ named James (Wes Bentley), who takes him under his wing. Things get complicated, however, when Cole starts falling for James’ much younger girlfriend, Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski). This DJ-centric A-Dream tale has rare inspiration. Never the desired cinematic rave, nor an affecting LA over-indulgence drama. Review at the link.

She’s Funny That Way – From renowned director Peter Bogdanovich, SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY is a screwball comedy featuring the interconnected personal lives of the cast and crew of a Broadway production. When established director Arnold Albertson (Owen Wilson) casts his call girl-turned-actress Isabella “Izzy” Patterson (Imogen Poots) in a new play to star alongside his wife Delta (Kathryn Hahn) and her ex-lover Seth Gilbert (Rhys Ifans), a zany love tangle forms with hilarious twists. The response at SFF was very cold – no one seems too excited about this.

Stalkher – Jack is pushed past the brink of his stalking obsession when finally decides to break into Emily’s home to take what he wants by force. However his plans for her pain and his pleasure come unhinged when he wakes up to find himself bleeding and bound to a chair in her kitchen. It doesn’t take long for Jack to realize that Emily is not the woman he thought she was. For one night Jack and Emily engage in a twisted and thrilling courtship that leads one to wonder which one of them will survive the night. I have heard VERY bad things.

Weekly Recommendation: With so many different films on offer one certainly has to make a choice this week. I’d lean towards The Gift, Holding the Man and The Wolfpack. The latter I didn’t love, but it is a very interesting story. Holding Man has screened at SFF and MIFF and the word-of-mouth is hot. Joel Edgerton’s debut thriller The Gift has been receiving rave reviews at home and in the US. Many claiming it is one of the best thrillers of the year. Will definitely be seeing both of them in the not too distant future.

Aug 262015


Max Jospeh’s directorial debut We Are Your Friends unfortunately never becomes the cinematic rave nor the Los Angeles valley over-indulgence drama it aspires to be. There are a few inspired moments in this DJ-centric American Dream tale, but beyond the mentor-protege element it never manages to find a convincing angle to escort a viewer into the lifestyle of a struggling DJ, and the accompanying Hollywood electronic dance music and nightlife scene. It feels a lot like an Entourage-meets-The Wolf of Wall Street poser, using a leery camera to frequently capture the oft-exposed skin of the attractive Valley youths, and indulging in the unethical swindling and debauchery of the rather unlikable lead dudebros. Even when it has its heart in the right place – emphasising that people need to unplug and take in what the world is telling us (and use it as artistic inspiration, if you so desire) – without the euphoric electro soundtrack it would have been completely ineffective. Continue reading »