Friday, March 25, 2011


An animated western starring a chameleon and directed by the man who brought us the Pirates of the Caribbean series, doesn’t instantly install confidence. However Gore Verbinski (who also directed The Ring and The Mexican) with the help of an impressive voice cast, has actually given us something withRango that is very intriguing. Despite this being a Nickelodeon film, the content seems very much directed at the accompanying adults in the audience. With its many allusions to other films like Chinatown, The Three Amigos and any number of spaghetti Westerns, Rango seems to have pulled off the Pixar trick of entertaining both young and old.

Rango (Johnny Depp) is a chameleon with an identity crisis (animal stereotype anyone?), who is thrown from his comfortable, but boring, life as a pet only to find himself lost in the Mojave Desert. He is pointed in the direction of a town by a cryptic armadillo (Alfred Molina, Spiderman 2) and finds himself in an Old West town populated by lizards, amphibians and rodents. Rango uses the opportunity of being unknown to create a tough persona for himself, which sees him being made sheriff. The town, Dirt, is in the midst of a water crisis and Rango isn’t aware of the danger he has put himself in, or the responsibility he has taken on as the town’s people look to him for a solution.

Dirt is populated with typical western characters, the iffy authority figure in the tortoise Mayor (Ned Beatty, Deliverance, Toy Story 3), the psychopathic gunslinger, Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy, Love Actually) and the precocious child-mouse, Pricilla (Abigail Breslin, Zombieland). The film’s fellow hero alongside Rango is Beans (Isla Fisher, The Wedding Crashers), an iguana who is trying to save her family’s ranch, and who has become suspicious about how the town’s water supply is being managed.

The film has been inspired by Clint Eastwood westerns, but added to this it has also borrowed from wider sources. The film’s narrative is very similar to Polanski’s 1974 noir film Chinatown, though it obviously avoids the less savoury aspects of the plot. Another notable adult reference in the film is Terry Gilliam’s 1998 film Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas, which also starred Depp.

The CGI animation is beautiful and while the animals are all given personalities through the design, it is the landscape that is amazing.This was ILM’s (Image, Light & Magic), a division of LucasFilm, first animated feature (to read more about the animation process click here) and their careful attention to detail makes it appear to have been shot as opposed to created on a computer.

Bearing all this in mind what is there for the younger audience? There are some nice touches in terms of a fun (though at times absurdist) owl mariachi band that narrates the film, and there is plenty of slapstick comedy for kids. But overall it is easy to suspect that older audiences will get far more enjoyment out of this film than the seemingly target audience. While the film’s pacing could have done with some tightening and at times the film pastiches are too many, on the whole Rango is an enjoyable trip down cinematic memory lane.

Images 1,2,3

First published on Trespass

Thursday, March 24, 2011

French Film Festival Preview

Carlos/Le Chacal

Olivier Assayas‘ (Summer Hours) Carlos was originally shot and cut as a five and a half hours TV miniseries (which won Best Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television at the Globe Globes 2010), it has since been cut down to a two and a half hour film, and this is the version screening at the FFF. Looking at the exploits of infamous Venezuelan terrorist/revolutionary Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, this film paints a very negative picture of the man who is better known as Carlos the Jackal (Edgar Ramirez,The Bourne Ultimatum).

At the beginning of the film we see a very confident young Carlos travel to Beirut to join The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in 1970. We follow Carlos up until his 1994 capture and arrest in Khartoum, Sudan. Throughout this time although Carlos’ alliances chop and change as he is involved in European communism, Arab nationalism and Islamist causes, his revolutionary persona grows to iconic proportions as he become the poster-boy for international terrorism through the 70s and 80s.

Early on in the film during a heated debate Carlos is told by another Venezuelan revolutionary “That’s what you want-to be admired.”. Shown as an egotist and a chauvinist, Carlos’ commitment to ‘the cause’ is perfectly highlighted by his involvement in the 1975 OPEC raid where he shows himself to be both self-serving and self-preserving.

Travelling between many countries and covering the geopolitics of three decades the film picks up the many hypocrisies of the regimes and organisations Carlos is associated with; such as the PFLP leader who couldn’t care less about the persecution of the Kurds in Iraq, or the German communists debating the difference between anti-semitism and anti-zionism.

Carlos (Edgar Ramirez)

Refusing to allow in any of the idealisation of Soderbergh’s Che (2008) films, Assayas presents a man whose narcissism sees him go from idealistic revolutionary to public enemy number one and whose vanity ultimately places him as a forgotten page in Cold War history. Edgar Ramirez’ performance as Carlos is, of course, the glue that holds the film together. Playing the Lothario revolutionary, the gun-obsessed criminal and the image-conscience terrorist, Ramirez beautifully executes all Carlos’ personas giving us the man behind the myth.

On Tour/ Tournée

Mathieu Almaric (Quantum of Solace, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) directs and stars in this film about an American Burlesque troupe on tour in Western France. Almaric plays Joachim a failed Parisian TV producer, who is hoping for a triumphant return to France after a stint in America. Joachim has brought five American burlesque performers with him for a pre-arranged tour of Coastal France. It isn’t long before plans start to fall apart and Joachim isn’t living up to the performers’ expectations.

This very loosely scripted film stars real-life New York performers such as Dirty Martini, Julie Atlas Muz andMimi le Meaux. Practitioners of what is called Neo-Burlesque, these buxom and bawdy women define their style of performance as ‘women doing burlesque for women’. As the troupe travels from chain hotel to chain hotel, performing at less and less glamourous theatres, the film shows the growing tension between the group and the sardonic Joachim, who moves between charm and insult in dealing with his unruly American performers.

Director and star Mathieu Almaric with his Burlesque stars

Filmed in both English and French, On Tour is one of those great films which offers you a little slice of life, without much concern for plot or cinematic polish. Almaric is fantastic as the weasely promoter, Joachim, who having burnt all his bridges before going to America tries rather unsuccessfully to reunite with former colleagues, friends and his children. But somehow this almost pathetic character is also likeable and his genuine respect for the burlesque performances and his desperate attempts to keep everything on track are endearing. There is a particularly lovely throwaway scene between Joachim and a petrol station attendant (played by Aurélia Petit) with a delightfully playful dialogue that highlights Almaric’s talents as a filmmaker.

Winning best director as the Cannes Film Festival in 2010 for this film, Almaric’s naturalistic approach to filmmaking serves him very well in this setting. While the acting performances of the burlesque artists aren’t always convincing, their unique and sassy personalities win you over. This witty, saucy and rambunctious film is a refreshing change of pace to conventional cinema fare.

My Father’s Guests/ Les Invitiés de mon Père

Actor turned director Anne Le Ny (Those who Remain/ Ceux qui Restant) gives us a tale of immigration and family in modern France with her second film, My Father’s Guests.This comedy takes more than a few pot-shots at bleeding heart liberals as it looks at the difference between rhetoric and practice. Focusing on a well-to-do middle class Parisian family, the film looks at the dynamics between middle-aged siblings Babette (Karin Viard) and Arnaud (Fabrice Luchini) and their 80-year old father Lucien (Michel Aumont).

When ageing humanitarian Lucien decides to open his doors to some illegal immigrants, his family is split in their reactions. While his G.P. daughter and daddy’s girl Babette and his politically active granddaughter (Flore Babled) applaud his decision, his rich lawyer son and daughter-in-law are less impressed with the idea. However when the family find out Lucien has married a beautiful 28-year old Moldovan refugee, Tatiana (Veronica Novak) to allow her and her young daughter to stay in the country, the family have trouble reconciling this reality with the image of the illegal immigrants they were expecting. As Tatiana’s behaviour towards their father begins to look suspicious, Babette and Arnaud connect over their distrust.

While Le Ny and co-scriptwriter Luc Béraud start out initially giving us as a satirical comedy exploring the values of Paris’ bourgeoisie and poking fun at their left-leanings views, there is definitely a mood shift about half-way through the film and the immigration aspect that has been used to fuel the comedy is buried for the more fruitful topic of family.

Arnaud (Fabrice Luchini) and Babette (Karin Viard)

Viard and Luchini have a great chemistry as brother and sister, whose father’s increasingly worrying behaviour sees them growing closer. Veronica Novak also gives a great performance as the tough-as-nails Eastern European immigrant. In a film that offers ample opportunity to laugh at the characters and their mores, it is Tatiana’s story which will give audiences the most trouble with the moral ambiguity which is offered by Le Ny, but never resolved.

Images 1,2,3,4,5,6

First published on Trespass

Wasted on the Young

Coming out firing with more style than substance, Australian Ben C. Lucas‘ feature film directing/writing debut, Wasted on the Young is a slick and fast-paced high school drama. Tackling meaty themes of bullying, violence and the role of the bystander with flashy visuals and a thumping soundtrack, this is a film that shows promise but is ultimately unsatisfying.

Set around an exclusive high school where the swimming jocks dictate the social hierarchy, the film follows the fall-out from a party held by leader of the pack, 17-year old Zack (newcomer Alex Russell). Awash with A-class drugs the party sees the pretty and sweet Xandrie (Adelaide Clemens, X-men Origins: Wolverine) roofied, gang-raped and left for dead. Darren (Oliver Ackland, The Proposition) who is at the opposite end of the social spectrum to his popular stepbrother Zack, is determined to find out the truth about what happened to Xandrie and who was involved.

In this teenage world dominated by social media and devoid of any adult role-models, rumours about Xandrie spread like wildfire through the school, with the techno-savvy students debating the events of the party on facebook. But despite the control Zack exercises over his peers he is threatened by the quiet Darren, and as he tries to maintain his grip on power the atmosphere at school threatens to topple over into violence.

Zack (Alex Russell)

Lucas has spoken in interviews about wanting to make the film more thematic than realistic, and he has been somewhat successful in creating a morality play of sorts. The central idea of the film is that if you allow bad things to happen to people, without protesting, you too are culpable. The responsibility of the bystander is definitely interesting to investigate and the film’s initial set-up is very intriguing, but unfortunately all too quickly the story sinks into a revenge fantasy, which as the film progresses becomes increasingly preposterous and frustratingly squanders the potential of the film’s premise.

Ella (Geraldine Harkwill) and Xandrie (Adelaide Clemens)

Unfortunately for a film about high school dynamics, few of the cast look young enough to be 17 or 18 year olds. Adelaide Clemens is most certainly the shining light in this film. As Xandrie she embodies the ultimate high-school sweetheart. Good-looking and bubbly, she isn’t concerned with popularity and goes to Zack’s fateful party in order to see the shy and passive Darren. Clemens’ has a face for film, and is quickly able to influence the mood of each scene she is in.

Bret Easton Ellis-lite this new Australian film has been designed to appeal to an under-30s audience with Lucas seemingly using every visual trick in the book to try and make this film exciting. And it is aesthetically where Wasted on the Young is the most interesting and inventive, sadly the plot falls short of its director’s aspirations, and given his obvious filmic talents this is all the more disappointing.

Images 1,2,3

First published on Trespass

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Girl who Kicked the Hornets' Nest

So we come to the third and final film instalment of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. Following feisty hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) and tenacious journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), the trilogy has gone from murder mystery (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) to a political conspiracy (The Girl Who Played With Fire). The final film gives Lisbeth, who has been falsely accused, a chance to clear her name and expose the men who have been plotting to keep her silent for years.

Starting with a very brief recap, the third film swings straight into action; and given the film’s large cast of players it is certainly an advantage to have read the books. While subplots have been necessarily pared down or omitted, director Daniel Alfredson (brother of Tomas ‘Let The Right One In’ Alfredson) does make some odd choices at times, including partial sequences from the book that hang rather uselessly in the film due to their lack of context.

While director Niels Arden Oplev started the trilogy off with a bang, sadly the second film (also directed by Alfredson) failed to capture the freshness and excitement of the material. The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest is an improvement on his last effort, but Alfredson still seems to be lacking a cinematic vision. This film feels more like a long TV episode than a feature film.

In a series that champions the power of women, with strong female characters, it is no surprise that the film’s major strength is Noomi Rapace. Playing the complex heroine Lisbeth, a role that is light on dialogue, Rapace conveys a huge amount of emotion with her eyes, giving us the character’s fury and fear.

The Millennium Trilogy’s Swedish telling has been a mixed bag that ultimately hasn’t lived up to the promise of the books. Given that David Fincher (The Social Network), a director renowned for his distinct visual style, is in charge of the English-language version of this trilogy, will this be one of those rare instances where the American remake is an improvement on the original?


Images 1, 2

First published in The Brag 28/02/11

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Way Back

The Way Back charts the journey of a group of seven men, who escape from a Siberian gulag in 1940 and make their way across a number of countries to safety in India. This film marks Australian director Peter Weir’s (Master and Commander, The Truman Show) return to filmmaking after a seven-year hiatus. While the renowned director has tried to use the film to show the resilience of the human spirit, ultimately the end result is very pretty but sadly emotionless fare.

British actor Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe) stars as Janusz, a Polish man transported to a labour camp in Siberia by the invading Soviet forces for being a spy. Here Janusz stands out because of his kindness and quickly recruits a group of Eastern European political prisoners, and a solitary American prisoner, Mr. Smith (Ed Harris, A History of Violence) to plan an escape. During a ferocious snowstorm, they break out along with an unexpected companion, a violent Russian criminal, Valka (Colin Farrell, In Bruges) in tow.

Janusz (Jim Sturgess)

The Way Back has been adapted from Slawomir Rawicz memoir, The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom (1956). However the truth of his story has long been debated and records show that although he was imprisoned in Siberia during WWII he didn’t escape but was released. It is widely believed that Rawicz’ book was based on accounts he heard during his time stationed in the Middle East after 1942. Weir has been very careful to state that this film is inspired by, as opposed to based on Rawicz’ account. Perhaps it is the director’s apprehension towards the material that has caused him to focus much more on the landscape than the film’s characters?

Mr Smith (Ed Harris) and Irena (Saoirse Ronan)

Mr Smith (Ed Harris) and Irena (Saoirse Ronan)

Creating an epic film that travels across Russia, Mongolia, China and Tibet (which was actually filmed in Bulgaria and Morocco) the film’s impressive cinematography (thanks to Russell Boyd) frames the desperate men against the imposing landscapes they must overcome. But watching this film it feels like nature wins out in the end. The characters are so underdeveloped that there exists no real relationship between them on screen or in fact between characters and the audience. Saoirse Ronan’s (Atonement) appearance as an orphaned Polish waif lends the film some emotion as her character is used to bring out backstory details about the men, but the only real benefactor of this is Harris’ character. The other characters are all pretty much reduced to singular traits; Good guy- Janusz, bad guy- Valka, priest- Voss (Gustaf Skarsgård), comedian- Zoran (Dragos Bucur), artist- Tamasz (Alexandru Potocean) and weakling- Kazik (Sebastian Urzendowsky).

Weir who co-wrote the screenplay fails to inject any real sense of human drama into the film and it is pretty apparent from early on which characters will make it and who will die along the way. The four time Oscar-nominated director seems to have lost his way with this film, and this is especially disappointing considering his calibre as a filmmaker.

Images provided by Roadshow Publicity

First published on Trespass