Friday, June 25, 2010

Grown Ups

Adam Sandler
got together with long-time collaborator, director Dennis Dugan (Happy Gilmore, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan) and four of his comedian friends; Chris Rock, David Spade, Kevin James and Rob Schneider to have a good time and make a comedy about friendship and family. A few well-known actresses were added into the mix and what could and should have resulted is enjoyable and fun cinema-fare. However the final product, Grown Ups is anything but. Self-indulgent, lacking a storyline and structure and trading on tired comedy set-ups- Grown Ups is disappointingly unfunny.

Sandler not only co-wrote (with Fred Wolf, Joe Dirt and Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star) and produced this film, through his production company Happy Madison, he also plays the central character around whom the story revolves. Lenny Feder is a successful Hollywood agent who is married to a beautiful fashion designer, Roxanne (Salma Hayek) and has three overindulged children. After the death of his childhood basketball coach, Lenny rents the summer house, where he and his team-mates celebrated their junior championship win 30 years earlier, and invites his old team-mates and their families to stay for the coinciding 4th July long-weekend.

Each character has a quirk, which is mercilessly ridiculed for the entirety of the film (except Sandler’s character whose problem is he is too successful and has given his family too much). Sandler’s brand of humour has a lot of followers and as well as giving the comedian a big bank balance, it has also given him a lot of freedom in the films he makes. However Grown Ups goes beyond his normal brand of slapstick, gross-out humour. The characters (aside from Sandler’s) are picked on for being old, fat, ugly, stupid, short, unsuccessful and flatulent in ways that are more nonchalantly cruel than funny. With friends like these who needs enemies?

But it isn’t just Sandler who is not up to scratch; the other comedians’ shtick is also becoming old hat- James eats and falls over, Spade is pervy and Schneider embraces another weird persona- nothing new here. Rock, perhaps the greatest comedy hope in the film, gets lost in the mix and his biting sarcasm is sadly missed. The talents of Maria Bello (A History of Violence) and Maya Ruldoph (Away We Go) as well as Salma Hayek, as the wives of the piece, are ridiculously squandered as they are relegated to bit players.

The main problem with Grown Ups is pretty simple, it isn’t funny. The lack of effort in scripting and character development is nothing but lazy filmmaking, which could have been easily forgiven if this comedy had provided a few good laughs. While the comedians all appear to have had a great time making this film- it is unforgivable that this doesn’t translate into a good time for the audience as well.

First published at Trespass

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sydney Film Festival- Winter's Bone

My favourite film from the Sydney Film Festival 2010-

Winter’s Bone (USA)

Based on a novel by Daniel Woodrell, a self-described writer of ‘country noir’, Debra Granik’s second feature film is simply magnificent. Winter’s Bone combines an excellent script, adapted by Granik and Anne Rosellini (who was also a producer), amazing performances and an incredible sense of place.

Set in the Missouri Ozarks in a community of Hillbillies, who make their money through the production of methamphetamines, Winter’s Bone is part- mystery, part family drama. The film’s protagonist, Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is 17 years old and doing it tough. Her mother isn’t well and she has two younger siblings to look after. When the sheriff (Garret Dillahunt, The Road) turns up and tells her that her drug-cooking father has put their house up for his latest bond and unless he turns up to court later that week her family will lose everything- Ree is pushed into a dangerous course of action.

With massive pressure from her antagonistic extended family to toe the line, Ree has to navigate through social hierarchies and tense family histories, confronting older and meaner members of her community including her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes, who stared in TV series Deadwood alongside Dillahunt).

Winter’s Bone's success is in part down to the extraordinary job it does in creating a strong sense of place. The Missouri Ozarks doesn’t look like anywhere we’ve ever been to on film before. The texture and details put into developing this drug-addled, rural backwater and making it completely believable, provides a perfect arena for the story to unfold.

The character of Ree Dolly is such a breath of fresh air. Not only is she a capable and strong female lead, she also isn’t a character who plays on her looks instead relying on her wits and bravado. Lawrence’s performance can’t be praised enough, she is remarkable. As is this film, Winter’s Bone is truly something to treasure if you get the chance to see it.


Monday, June 21, 2010

Sydney Film Festival- Teenage Paparazzo


Teenage Paparazzo (USA)

Adrian Grenier (of Vince Chase Entourage fame) was fascinated when one night, amongst the usual paparazzi circus he spotted blond-haired, braced-toothed youngster, Austin Visschedyk, snapping away. Grenier sought out the 13 yr old photographer, deciding to make a film about the teenage paparazzo.

This documentary is really about the concept of fame in the 21st Century. Where Perez Hilton is both celebrity commentator and celebrity and stars such as Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan (all interviewed during the film) seem to almost exist because of the paparazzi gaze.

While Grenier’s aim as filmmaker is to investigate this child paparazzi phenomena, Grenier the celebrity seems intent on turning the tables on the paparazzi and focusing the camera on them; a change the photographers don’t seem to enjoy or appreciate.

Using a mixture of celebrity interviews (Whoopi Goldberg, Eva Longoria Parker, Matt Damon, Alec Baldwin and the Entourage cast) as well as media insiders' insights and media commentators' analysis, Grenier’s film looks at why we have become a celebrity-obsessed culture.

The problem with this sort of social commentary is that Grenier is a celebrity and this impacts on not only the film, but also on its subject, Austin. Precocious to start off with, this coupled with ineffectual parenting and celebrity attention, Austin transforms into a monster during the documentary. With offers of his own reality TV show and Teen Vogue shoots, he decides that he too wants to be ‘famous’, like Grenier.

Unsurprisingly Grenier comes off well in his documentary, and is able to see that as much as he would like to think he was only observing and helping Austin, he has also exploited him. Like the photo-ops that Grenier fabricates for the film, it is hard to say to what extent this film, whilst very entertaining, is also a manipulation of sorts.

First published at The Brag 11/06/10

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sydney Film Festival- Police, Adjective


Police, Adjective (Romania)

New Wave Romanian cinema has hit Sydney Film Festival, marking growing international interest and appreciation of Eastern European films. Along with the official competition pick, If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle (Florin Serban), the program also includes Police, Adjective/Politist, Adjectiv from writer/director Corneliu Porumboiu.

Winning the jury prize in the Un Certain Regard section in Cannes 2009, Police, Adjective follows the case of detective, Cristi (Dragos Bocur), a loner cop who works by his own rules, ignoring or avoiding his Captain (Vlad Ivanov). After the denouncement (a word with huge connotations in ex-communist countries) of one friend Victor, for being a drug dealer, by another- Alex, Cristi puts the boys under surveillance. But finding little more than a bit of recreational hashish smoking and a third female friend, Cristi is reluctant to arrest Victor, who could face a seven year sentence. Instead Cristi continuously trails the trio in an effort to find the real supplier.

The use of time in this film is very different from what we are accustomed to in English-language cinema. Especially in what is essentially a police procedural film. Porumboiu unapologetically uses long scenes of Cristi’s surveillance with no dialogue and often little movement.

It is however the character interactions between long, drawn-out scenes which make this film. Cristi’s conversations with colleagues, his discussion of semantics with his Captain and his witty repartee with his wife (Irina Saulescu) are all cinematic gold. The dialogue is funny, clever and insightful. You spend the time during the film’s tortuous stretches of silence hoping for more human interaction on screen.

Police, Adjective is both comedic and tragic, with the central character, Cristi’s modern understanding of police work, and the recent history of Romania’s oppressive state firmly in opposition. This is a police drama without guns, violence or urgency- instead a slow-burning tale about the power of words.


First published at The Brag 10/06/10

Friday, June 18, 2010

Sydney Film Festival- GasLand


GasLand (USA)

Josh Fox’s GasLand, winner of the Special Jury Prize for Documentary at Sundance 2010, joins a host of recent films designed to scare the bejesus out of their viewers; Inconvenient Truth, The End of the Line, Food inc.. Taking us on a pollution road trip, the very likeable documentary-maker tours natural gas drilling sites in 24 States across America, looking at the consequences of the under-regulated practice of
hydraulic fracturing on local water and air quality.

Fox’s documentary undertaking is a direct result of proposed drilling in his area (Catskills/Poconos region of Upstate New York and Pennsylvania). When a natural gas company offers him US$100,000 to lease his land, this puts Fox slap-bang in the centre of the issue. As the film’s protagonist he examines the environmental and social impacts of drilling.

His investigation takes him to many housholds affected by having drilling on their properties or in the vicinty. Their tapwater is flamable- infused with toxic chemicals used in fracing, victims live with chronic illness and their pets and livestock also suffer. Despite a wealth of damning evidence, natural gas companies remain wilfully ignorant and the government refuses to intervene.

This documentary explores how the industry was and is able to expand so quickly and importantly how laws were manipulated to expediate the flow of natural gases in an attempt to counterbalance America’s reliance on foreign oil. The film also highlights the tragic reshaping of the natural environment across America, with its beautiful mountainous landscapes dotted with drills and heavy machinery.

GasLand should anger, exasperate and shock its audience. Co-presented by the City of Sydney’s Green Campaign and the SFF, the problems revealed in this film may exist much closer to home than we would like. Click here
to see what is happening in our own backyard.

First published at The Brag 08/06/10

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sydney Film Festival- The Disappearance of Alice Creed


It is quite frankly nice to see Gemma Arterton (Clash of the Titans, Prince of Persia) not in a mythical-themed film. This stunning British actress has for the past few parts played little more than a prop for her leading men, with her obvious talent going to waste. In this British thriller, Arterton, as the title character Alice, is one of only three actors on screen, with her cast-mates Eddie Marsan (Happy-Go-Lucky) as Vic and Martin Compston (Red Road) as Danny, her two kidnappers. This film shows not only how good Arterton truly is, but also how much can be done with a small budget, committed actors and an excellent script.

The Disappearance of Alice Creed is tense and enthralling viewing. Set almost entirely in a flat with three rooms, writer/director J Blakeson plays a clever psychological game with his audience, utilising a basic crime premise. Rich girl, Alice is kidnapped and is held for a two million pound ransom by two ex-cons, who have meticulously planned the crime. But as with all of the best laid plans, in practice everything starts to slowly unravel, as the characters’ motivations become increasingly convoluted and entangled.

The fact that as a viewer you are unable to leave the flat, much like Alice, lends suspense to the film as you ponder what is happening outside. This heightened level of claustrophobia is intensified by the menace exuded by Vic and the jittery energy of Danny. Each actor gives as good as they get in this brutal, shocking and at times darkly funny film.

If you get the chance to watch The Disappearance of Alice Creed, which is J Blakeson feature debut, take it- you won’t be disappointed.

First published on The Brag 07/06/10

Sydney Film Festival- Moloch Tropical

Haitian director Raoul Peck was at one time his country’s Minister for Culture, which makes watching his latest film Moloch Tropical, a scathing political satire, all the more intriguing. Covering a 24-hour period, which also marks Haiti’s Independence Day, President Jean de Dieu (French actor, Zinedine Soualem) is having a major meltdown. His people no longer want him in power, he is dangerously close to losing the vital support of America, he has a media personality to torture and he is severely sexually frustrated. Set in the stunning mountainous fortress of Citadelle Laferrière of Henri Christophe (a key figure in the 1804 revolution, who became King Henri I) this film critically looks at the perversion of power within the politics of modern democracies.

Although there are obvious similarities between Haiti’s first democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the central character, Jean de Dieu, this film’s criticism is not confined to the Haitian experience and also takes direct aim at American and European leaders.

The corrupting influence of power and the extent that political language can be manipulated are explored through Peck and Jean-René Lemoine’s biting script. The lengths that politicians go to to maintain the status quo is laid bare (at time literally) on screen. Although exaggerated beyond the point that the film could be read as a true account, its cast of players certainly have a disturbing basis in reality. Peck, who has accompanied his film to Sydney, asked Soualem to channel certain well-known politicians for different key scenes in the film; Clinton, Sarkozy, Berlusconi – these analogies come through loud and clear.

Moloch Tropical’s visual beauty is in sharp contrast to the grotesque nature of its characters. This film shows that when the gap between the theory of democracy and its practice is scrutinised, none of the players can escape untainted.

First published on The Brag 07/06/10

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sydney Film Festival- Cairo Time

Written and directed by Canadian filmmaker Ruda Nadda (Sabah: A Love Story), Cairo Time is a sumptuous movie-going experience, with two amazing leads, a beautiful location and a simple but engaging story. Patricia Clarkson (Vicky Christina Barcelona, Shutter Island) plays Juliette, a western outsider holidaying in Egypt. Juliette is meant to be meeting up with her UN employed husband, Mark (Tom McCamus) but he his held up in a Gaza refugee camp. Instead Mark sends one of his ex-colleagues and Cairo resident, Tareq (Alexander Siddig, Kingdom of Heaven, Syriana), to pick his wife up at the airport. From here what transpires is a tender romance between two very different strangers.


This gorgeously shot film (thanks to cinematographer Luc Montpellier), makes excellent use of the stunning architecture, both ancient and not quite so old, of Egypt’s capital city. This added to Cairo’s evocative landscapes- makes the film exceedingly good armchair-travel viewing. And for a little while it feels like perhaps this is all the film is going to bring. But thankfully the uneasy beginning, which relies a little too heavily on fish-out-of water scenarios, makes way for the heart of the story, which is a charmingly choreographed holiday flirtation.

Clarkson is one of those actors with a natural screen presence, and this film makes full use of her innate likeability. Siddig is a revelation; the British-based actor has undeniable charisma, making Tareq an enigma of sorts. It is credit to both central performances that the film’s central love story is both morally ambiguous and touching. The film’s superb soundtrack, which includes original music from Irish composer- Niall Byrne, enhances the story without interrupting what’s happening on screen. This added to the divine costuming (some of Clarkson’s clothes are to die for) makes this captivating film the full package.


First published on The Brag 06/06/10

Sydney Film Festival- The Refuge


François Ozon’s (The Swimming Pool, 8 Women) latest film Le Refuge is a beautifully subtle character piece. The unsentimental set-up is an almost perfect beginning for the film, which languidly unfolds around a delicate friendship between pregnant Mousse (Isabelle Carré) and Paul (Louis-Ronan Choisy), her dead boyfriend’s brother.

With a relaxed and non-judgemental eye, Ozon’s film explores themes of loss and rehabilitation through his central characters. Their back stories are limited, Mousse has obviously had an unconventional life, Paul is an outsider in a rich family. Their emotional connection is both detrimental and empowering. They could be good for each other, but are they too damaged to give each other the support they so desperately need?

Carré plays Mousse with a charming vulnerability and a lack of self-consciousness, a woman who kept her unplanned pregnancy out of curiosity. Choisy as Paul is quite literally gorgeous on screen, embodying compassion and confusion. With captivatingly understated and nuanced performances, these actors allow their characters to develop on screen, not wringing emotion out of what could be have been melodramatic roles.

Set mainly in a picturesque seaside village on France’s south coast, this film is a Gaelic gem. Not overpowering, the filmmakers pull few strings and refrain from manipulating their audience’s emotions. Le Refuge has a lovely dreamy quality, enhanced by strong performances and a simple but beautiful script, co-written by Ozon and Mathieu Hippeau.


First published on The Brag 05/06/10

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sydney Film Festival- If I want to Whistle, I Whistle/ The Wind Journeys

If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle (Florin Şerban: Romania)


There has been a lot of talk surrounding this film, in regards to the New Wave of Romanian cinema. With the arthouse success of films like The Death of Mr Lazarescu (2005, Cristi Puiu) and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007, Cristian Mungiu), this is the latest Eastern European film receiving international acclaim, winning the Silver Bear at Berlin this year.

This powerful and slow-burning film is part of the Sydney Film Festival’s official competition. Travelling to Australia with the film is its star, George Pistereanu and its producer, Daniel Mitulescu, who made the film with director, Florin Şerban, in a rather unusual fashion. Set in a jail for young men, If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle/ En cand vreau sa fluier, fluier used a cast largely made up of actual juvenile prisoners. Fourteen of George’s cast mates where playing roles they were all too familiar with.

The film follows the central character, 18 yr old Silviu (Pistereanu) in the days leading up to his release after a 4-year-sentence, when unexpected news from the outside sends the character on a desperate and downward spiral.

Filmed in a suitable handheld visual, the camera stays on Silviu almost continuously during the film, giving even his smallest facial movement or gesture huge currency on screen.

Pistereanu, who was still at high school during filming, is phenomenally good in what must have been an incredibly challenging role, not just emotionally, but physically. Also superb are Ada Condeescu as Ana, the student sociologist and object of Silviu’s affections and young actor (whose name I cannot find) playing Silviu’s brother, who is only in the film briefly, but who’s performance is heartbreaking.

This film and the story surrounding its conception are inseparable. After 3 months of casting, Şerban and his crew found 14 young inmates to participate in the film, and spend 2 months workshopping with them. Şerban has since set up an acting school to continue working with the film’s convicted actors- adding to the film’s success. That it is the 2nd highest grossing local film of the past 7yrs, is perhaps the greatest compliment to the cast and crew, as this is obviously a story which resonates with Romania’s youth.

The Wind Journeys (Ciro Guerra: Colombia)


South American filmmakers seem to have developed their own brand of magical realism. Incorporating spectacular landscapes, folklore and societal realities, these films weave beautiful stories out of harsh everyday lives and mythical tales, creating films full of fantasy and wonder.

The Colombian film, The Wind Journeys/Los Viajes del Viento from director Ciro Guerra fulfils this criteria. Following our two leads, accomplished accordion player Ignacio (Marciano Martínez) and would-be musician, Fermín (Yull Núñez) as they cross vast areas of the country, travelling from their village across mountain rangers, lagoons and deserts.

Ignacio is the owner of a horned accordion, which is said to have been won from the Devil himself. Whether the instrument is truly cursed or not, Ignacio sees it as the cause of his woes and is determined to return it to his teacher, the man who gave it to him. As he set off on his donkey, the teenage Fermín tags alone, in the hope of learning from the renowned musician so he too can become a juglar (travelling musician).

Guerra and his DoP, Paulo Andrés Pérez are responsible for this film’s stunning aesthetic. Making the most of the breathtaking scenery, filmed in more than 80 locations in Northern Colombia, the characters’ journey is often shown in majestic glory with sweeping wide shots, enhancing the natural beauty of each unique setting.

Each geographical location has an episodic quality, with each new setting providing a different adventure and musical influence. With accordion-offs (similar to rap battles), machete duels and drum baptisms, the stories interspersed along the arching narrative are embedded with mythical tones and folk sensibilities.

Ultimately The Wind Journeys is held together by the excellent central performances. Especially impressive is Núñez, whose facial expressions in moments of silence do so much to reveal the story’s darker undertones.

This film is truly a magical journey with jaw-dropping visuals and powerful performances.

First published on Trespass

Sydney Film Festival: White Material


French filmmaker Claire Denis’ (Beau Travail, 35 Shots of Rum) returns to Sub-Saharan Africa with White Material, a brutal and unflattering look at post-colonialism. Set in an unnamed country, with elements of Zimbabwe and Kenya’s recent history and similarities to Sierra Leone and Liberia’s civil wars, this film focuses in on one white family, more specifically one woman, Maria Vial (the always impressive- Isabelle Huppert, The Time of the Wolf) and her coffee plantation. Caught between the rebels and the Army, both who view the remaining white residents with disdain, Maria is determined to harvest the latest crop, ignoring the obvious and ever encroaching danger.

The happy façade that seems to exist between the Vial family and the larger black community, is quickly dissolved as the tension heightens. Despite urging from French forces, Maria refuses to leave, much to the disgust of her black workers, who have no way to avoid the approaching bloodshed.

White Material is both compelling and repellent. Maria’s irrational resolve and lack of concern for those around her, including her already unhinged son, Manuel (played superbly by Nicolas Duvauchelle) are frustrating to watch. It is hard not to shout at the screen to urge the characters to take a different journey, even though the inevitability of the story is displayed by Denis from the outset.

While Denis captures the beauty of the landscape with its sun-hazed colours, the camera’s jitteriness and jolts, which reflects the frenetic energy of the film’s content, soon outstay their welcome and ultimately detracts from the story, making the film physically hard to watch at times.

White Material engages in an important dialogue, tapping into the tragedy of child soldiers and the vacuum of power left in post-colonial African countries, especially those rich with natural resources. Unfortunately the high expectations (fairly or not) attached by this reviewer to the film are not entirely met. Despite excellent performances from its cast- including Christopher Lambert (Highlander) as André Vial and Isaach De Bankolé (The Limits of Control) as the rebel- Le Boxeur, the film lacks narrative structure and fails to give the characters the motivations needed to make their actions understandable. That said White Material establishes such a powerful sense of atmosphere that it’s still a cut above the vast majority of what is currently on offer at the cinema.

First published on Trespass

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sydney Film Festival: The Oath/ Waste Land

The Oath (Laura Poitras: USA)


Sometimes documentary films do all the work for you, they tell you what to think, who to trust and who to be angry at. Other films simply allow their subjects to unravel onscreen. The Oath is perplexing, because it seems to be leaving it up to the audience to decide- taking an objective look at its subjects, but really there are quite a few buttons being pushed.

Abu Jandal is a taxi driver in Yemen, who also happened to have been, at one point in time, one of Osama Bin Laden’s bodyguards. His brother-in-law, Salim Hamdam is a Guantanamo Bay prisoner and Bin Laden’s former driver. The film explores these men who met in 1996, and whose lives were at one point bound by Al-Qaeda, but are now very different. Morally the film seems to be suggesting that these two men’s positions should be reversed; Salim should be free with his wife and children, and the media-courting Abu, a man still heavily influenced by Al-Qaeda, should be in captivity.

The Oath is a really intriguing portrait of just one of its subjects, Abu, who seems completely out-of-touch with reality. Abu is shown tutoring young Yemeni man in the ideology of Al-Qaeda; but really the men are treated to celebrity Bin Laden stories and inane moral musings about America, which they balk at as Abu scoffs down American made and owned soft drinks and confectionaries.

Salim’s story on the other hand is very under-explored, mainly because he seems to want nothing to do with the documentary. While his captivity is given plenty of screen time, his words are read during the film in voice-over and it is never made clear, who is speaking and whether these sections are directly from Salim, or have been taken from letters, he may never had intended for public consumption. As documentary-maker, Laura Poitras covers his trials and the perversion of American laws that keep him imprisoned, the film’s ‘heroes’ come out loud and clear as Salim’s American military legal defense team, who also happen to be the most straightforward characters in the film.

For all its faults, The Oath is fascinating, but as a viewer you are left with many questions about the films subjects. Given Salim’s reluctance to be part of the film, and Abu’s desire to be seen and acknowledged, the film is heavily skewed towards the charismatic attention-seeker. Who is Abu really? He is such a contradiction in terms, his posturing throughout the film switches from jihadists to reform criminal, is he really anything more than a born performer?


Waste Land (Lucy Walker: UK/Brazil)


This documentary from Lucy Walker (The Devil’s Playground) and co-directors João Jardim and Karen Harley follows renowned Brazilian artist, Vik Muniz as he returns to Brazil from his adopted base of NYC. Having found success and financial security in the States, Muniz has come to a point in his life where he wants to give back. The place he chooses to start, is in Jardim Gramacho on the outskirts of Rio de Janerio, where 3000 people work as pickers/catadores on the largest landfill in South America. Stigmatised by the type of work they do, the pickers have developed their own community around what is the vital role of sorting recyclables from the 7000 tonnes of daily waste. Trapped by poverty, for most this is a job they have held since childhood, and the only viable alternative to the drugs trade and/or prostitution.

At the beginning of the film, Muniz asks if someone’s life can be transformed through art, and the journey this documentary takes in answering this question is both inspiring and compassionate; highlighting the strength of the human spirit and the potential beauty of the things society throws away, both people and garbage. The relationships that develop between Muniz and the chosen pickers for his art project, far exceeds superficial tags of artist/subject and benefactor/ recipient, making this film a joy to watch.

Waste Land introduces us to some of the catadores who participant in Muniz’ mix media project, these fantastic characters include; Jião, the passionate president and founder of the ACAMJG (The Association for the Pickers of Jardim Gramacho), Isis the cheeky beauty with a flair for fashion, Zumbi who is trying to start a community library with the books he salvages, and the stunning mother of two, 18 yr old Suelem. The film peeps into their lives by invitation and the filmmakers don’t outstay their welcome.

Covering topics from concepts of modern art to environmental concerns, Waste Land , with its exquisite highs and lows, is a story made to be told by documentary. This truly wonderful film is not to be missed.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The A-Team


Being forced to hum the incredibly catchy theme tune for hours after this film, is just one of the consequences of watching the big screen version of 80s TV show, The A-Team. Running from 1983 to 1986, the campy show followed a group of American rangers who work as soldiers of fortune after being accused of a crime they didn’t commit. Travelling America, the A-Team helped out the everyman with problems he couldn’t fix alone.

Fortunately director Joe Carnahan (Smokin’ Aces) has by-passed any serious reading of the source material and has taken a tongue-in-cheek approach, updating the story to fit in with America’s current military exploits. The familiar characters are back, adhering as closely as possible to the originals: John ‘Hannibal’ Smith (Liam Neeson, Taken) is the group’s leader and the brains of the operation; Templeton ‘Face’ Peck (Bradley Cooper, Valentine’s Day) is the ladies man, with a penchant for tanning; B.A. Baracus (martial artist-Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson) is a mohawked muscle man with a fear of flying and finishing off the quartet is ‘Howling Mad’ Murdock (Sharlto Copley, District 9), the certifiable ace pilot.

Straight off the bat, it has to be said that The A-Team is a truly awful film, both script-wise and visually- but if you go in knowing this, the experience is almost fun. Whether it is pure nostalgia or a lack of expectations, there is plenty of mindless entertainment to be had.

While it is certainly Copley who stands out amongst the A-Team’s filmic members, it is the new villains of the piece who give the best performances. Patrick Wilson (Watchmen) as Lynch and Brian Bloom (G.I. Joe) as Pike get all the best lines and do the most with their characters. The inclusion of Jessica Biel’s (Easy Virtue) Charisa Sosa, is a little less successful as you have to seriously dispel belief for her character to make any logical sense- which isn’t really that hard given the film’s whole premise is pretty absurd.

If you have no experience of the original TV series, this film will probably prove unbearable. For us older gen-Yers The A-Team is a bit of ridiculous escapism, devoid of artistic merit, but a guilty pleasure nonetheless.


Review first published on Trespass

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Exit Through the Gift Shop

The elusive street artist, Banksy has made a documentary. Well maybe, sort of, it’s a bit more of a mockumentary, a piece of video art perhaps? Labelled as the ‘world’s first street-art disaster movie’ the subject of his film is vintage clothes shop owner turned street artist, Thierry ‘Terry’ Guetta aka Mr Brainwash.

An obsessive videographer, French-born Guetta lucked into the burgeoning street artist movement and specifically Shephard Fairey (of the Obama ‘hope’ poster fame) after moving to LA. He convinced Fairey and his fellow street artists, including renowned Bristol boy- Banksy, that he was a documentary-maker, allowing him full access to their furtive world. Over a period of years, Guetta amassed a huge amount of material showing the growth of the street-art movement, but what was he going to do with it all? And what happens when Guetta decides to give the street-art thing a go himself?


“I don’t know who the joke’s on, I don’t know if there is a joke” this line in the film, from Banksy’s promoter, is a pretty succinct summing of the film project as a whole. This film is a tongue-firmly-in-the-cheek look at the commercialisation of art, something that Banksy has been accused of doing by his detractors. It also considers the idea of the ‘celebrity artist’; Banksy’s artwork is hanging in the homes of stars such as Brad and Angelina, Christina Aguilera and Kate Moss. Then there are the important questions the film raises about creation and ownership.

Narrated by Rhys Ifans (Enduring Love) and with one of the best film titles in a long time, Exit Through the Gift Shop promises an amusing and intriguing examination of the current state of the art market. Documentary, mockumentary, piss-take or piece of modern art?- that’s up to you to decide.


First Published in The Brag 31/05/10

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Secret in Their Eyes/ El Secreto de sus Ojos


The winner of the 2010 Best Foreign Language Oscar, Argentinean thriller, El Secreto de Sus Ojos is a rich, textured look at love, loss and memory. Set in 1999 Buenos Aires, the film looks at the people involved in a criminal case that was hampered by political and personal vendettas during the country’s 1970s military dictatorship.

Popular Argentinean actor Ricardo Darín plays Benjamin Espósito, a retired state prosecution investigator. Still haunted by a 25 yr old case, Espósito tries to exorcise his demons by writing a novel about the brutal rape and murder of a 23 yr old schoolteacher and the subsequent messy investigation. The story unfolds in flashbacks, edited through Espósito’s memories to reveal a plot that is about so much more than one miscarriage of justice.

The lives of Irene Ménendez Hastings (Soledad Villamil) Benjamin’s superior and love interest, Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago) the teacher’s bereaved husband and Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella) Benjamin’s alcoholic work colleague are all forever interwoven through this murder enquiry, with tragic consequences.

The Secret in Their Eyes has been masterfully structured by screenwriter/director Juan Jose Campenella, with each layer of memory peeled back to reveal something new, making the film completely compelling for its long 126 mins running time. The camera work is remarkable especially in the huge football stadium scene and in the smaller intimate lift sequence. Both scenes ramp up the film’s suspense, leaving you breathless for very different reasons.

Special mention should go to the make-up (Lucila Robirosa) and hair departments (Osvaldo Esperon). They have transformed the actors between the decades with amazing success, and without a redundant prosthetic in sight. This allows the viewer to stay immersed in the story.

Adapted from a novel by Eduardo Sacheri, the film, while uniquely Argentinean in its setting, offers universally understood insights into memory and regret. Campenella has embedded very real menace and intrigue into a protracted love story, aided by the impressive ensemble cast. This is a film capable of completely absorbing you into its twists and turns as it explores the intricacies and extremities of what the search for justice truly means.



First Published at The Brag 31/05/10

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time


Walt Disney's latest big-budget (US$150 million) film, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, is based (loosely) on Ubisoft's 2003 video game of the same name. The film follows a plot predominately focused on moving from action scene to action scene with very little consideration given to story development or characterisation.

The fact that this film is based on a game gives it licence to hire a cast where no-one really looks all that Persian, though the make-up team have tried valiantly with liberally applied fake tan, kohl and the odd beard and moustache. The filmmakers have gone with fantasy over ethnicity, choosing to stay authentic to the game. Jake Gyllenhaal as the eponymous Prince does looks very much like the game character. Despite certain adherence to the source material, Disney's target audience will probably get much more enjoyment out of this film than original gamers.

When the young Dastan, a parentless street urchin, defends another child from Persian soldiers' excesses, he attracts the attention of King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup), who decides to adopt the brave young Dastan. Skip forward fifteen years and Dastan (Gyllenhaal) along with his two older brothers, Tus (Richard Coyle) and Garsiv (Toby Kebbell), is a courageous soldier, if not a little impetuous and undisciplined. When Tus, who is leading the Persian Army, is told that there are dangerous weapons being manufactured with the purpose of attacking Persia, in the holy city of Alamut, he is convinced by his uncle Nazim (Sir Ben Kingsley) to attack. Alamut's Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) is a renowned beauty and after the invasion, Tus decides he wants to take her as a wife. But he is distracted by pressure from his father when no weapons are found and the assault on the peaceful city looks unjust. During the Persian celebrations, King Sharaman is attacked and it looks as if Dastan is the culprit. The prince escapes with the help of Tamina, who is after something he has recovered from her ransacked city.

From here the plot is very thinly spread over highly choreographed action sequences with a heavy emphasis on Parkour. To break up the frenetic chases and sword fights, the occasional bit of comic relief pops up in the form of Alfred Molina (Frieda, An Education) as Sheik Amar, a tax-evading bookie who runs ostrich races.


Full review at

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Stoning of Soraya M.

The Stoning of Soraya M. is based on a true story, taken from the bestselling book of the same name by French-Iranian journalist, Freidoune Sahebjam. His retelling of the stoning death of the real Soraya, in a small Iranian village in 1986, highlighted the disturbing practice of stoning for a global readership. Now with the film version, the focus is again being put back on this medieval practice of execution reported to still be happening in remote areas of countries such as Pakistan, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, Iraq, UAE and Afghanistan as well as Iran. This film illustrates a part of a more common problem, honour killings- in which family members kill a woman who in their eyes has brought dishonour through some form of inappropriate behaviour.

Directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh (the screenplay was co-written by Nowrasteh and his wife Bestsy Giffen Nowrasteh), the film begins the day after the stoning with an encounter between Sahebjam (played by an oddly prosthetic-nosed Jim Caviezel, The Passion of the Christ) and Zahra (Shohreh Aghdashloo, House of Sand and Fog), Soraya’s aunt. Zahra is determined to get the truth out of the village about the events leading up to the public execution, a horrendous act the village all collaborated in. The film then moves back in time to tell the story of Soraya (Mozhan Marnò, Traitor) and the conspiracy orchestrated by her husband, Ali (Navid Negahban, Brothers) and the escalation of the tragic events.

This film is by no means a cinematic masterpiece, but Aghdashloo’s strong performance holds the film together. Marnò is also very good, in what must have been a horrific role to play. This is an issue film, and therefore the rules about good cinematography and scripting are slightly more flimsy. There is a message to get across and that comes in loud and clear due to one extended scene.

A stoning in its entirety has never been shown in a film before, and the result is drastic. The filmmakers’ decided to film without holding back and with no breaks in the scene’s intensity, with much on the scene solely focused on the increasingly battered body of Soraya. This will perhaps be the most unpleasant thing you will ever sit through in a film. It is brutal, unyielding and almost unwatchable, and quite rightly so given the content of the film. The filmmakers really do go too far with the scene, but it has its desired result, because it is impossible to leave the cinema and not be repulsed, angered and also devastated that an act of cruelty such as this still occurs around the world and the majority of victims are women and girls.


First Published on Trespass

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Women Behind the Camera

Another feature from Trespass' Women Week. I asked Trespass' fabulous regular film contributers to choose three female filmmakers whose work either excites, inspires or delights them.

Here are my picks-

Andrea Arnold- Director/Screenwriter


I discovered Arnold’s first feature film, Red Road (2006) on a plane flight a few years ago (I have since found out the film is quite a bit more explicit than shown on in-flight entertainment) and I fell in love with her filmmaking, and her recent film, Fish Tank (2009) has only made me a bigger fan. Yes she is tough, probing the less sunny side of the human disposition with her social realism, but I think she also has affection for her characters, and doesn’t simply display their suffering for amusement. She must have an impressive award cabinet too, winning an Oscar in 2005 for her short film Wasp and both her feature films have won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes. Her next project is Wuthering Heights, I’m pretty excited to see what she does with Emily Brontë’s much loved novel.

Jan Chapman- Producer


In 1989 Jan Chapman set up her own production company, Jan Chapman Films, and her first feature film was Gillian Armstrong’s The Last Days of Chez Nous (1992). This was the first in a long list of amazing 90s and 00s Australian films that Chapman has worked on; The Piano (1993), Holy Smoke (1999), Lantana (2001), Somersault (2004) and Bright Star (2009). It is not just her back-catalogue of award-winning films which highlights Chapman’s success, her partnerships with prominent female directors like Gillian Armstrong, Jane Campion and Cate Shortland, also marks her career out. Chapman’s standing within the film industry is illustrated by her appointment as Jury President at the up-coming 2010 Sydney Film Festival.

Maryse Alberti- Cinematographer


This French-born cinematographer has been involved in some fantastic films and documentaries. Alberti’s C.V. reads like an independent filmmaker’s dream; Crumb (1994), Happiness (1998), Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005), Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson (2008), The Wrestler (2008). Alberti’s start in the film industry is reported to have been as a stills photographer on X-rated movies before moving to documentaries and boy has she worked on some great ones (docos that is not pornos); including Oscar winning When We Were Kings (1996) and Taxi to the Dark Side (2007).

Full list can be read at Trespass