Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
ListsAn error has ocurred. Please try again
Several Werner Herzog shorts and doco's;
16 days and 50 films at the Melbourne Film Festival;
Films at Sydney Film Festival;
Films at the Iranian, Jewish, Mexican, British, Israeli, Japanese, Antenna Documentary, Czech/Slovak, Turkish, Melbourne Queer, Korean, Italian, Russian and French film festivals (Melbourne loves a film festival!!).
Various film programs at ACMI - including screenings of all 10 of Kieslowski's Decalogue (strictly a TV series);
Classics I've never seen on the big screen at The Astor Theatre.
Repeat viewings of some favourite films.
Not too mention new releases in the cinema and the occasional DVD.
An * means I've seen it before.
Best Film - in no particular order: Behind The Candelabra Enough Said Frances Ha Gloria Gravity The Great Beauty Medianeras (Sidewalls) Nebraska The Rocket The Turning
Honourable mentions go to: Her, Walkabout, Still Life, Broken Circle Breakdown & A Matter of Life or Death (Stairway to Heaven)
Best Documentary - in no particular order: The White Diamond Village at the End of the World In Bob We Trust Cutie and the Boxer Blackfish Continental Lessons of Darkness Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry Wings of Hope Chasing Ice
Honourable mentions go to: Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, Leviathan, Journal De France & London: The Modern Babylon
And the worst films: Polisse, Tower & Paradise: Love
I've done pretty well this year - two film festivals, Sydney and Melbourne helped bump up the numbers on this list, as did some long haul flights.
There have been some real wonders - Beasts of the Southern Wild, Shame and The Master amongst them and some real duds - To Rome With Love, Damsels in Distress and including, sadly, too many Australian duds - Mental, A Few Best Men & Hail.
Most of these films were seen on the big screen, including the Qatsi trilogy with a live accompaniment by Phillip Glass & Orchestra playing the original music and The Master in it's original 70mm format. Many were seen on DVD, some on TV and some on the smallest of screens - a seat back airline screen.
Most were first time viewings - some were revisits for the first time in years - Point Break, Picnic at Hanging Rock and some are regular viewings - Big Business, I am Love.
In total 253 films.
And as for the best - well, my top 5, in no particular order:
Searching for Sugarman Shame Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present The Imposter Beasts of the Southern Wild
Here's to 2013...
One of the worst films I've seen
It started quite well, but after a while, I found it incomprehensible the way the team handle the cases. They were so extremely aggressive and often quite vile: asking the woman about her sex life in a such a rude manner, as she was the culprit or the girl who lost her phone, laughing in her face. Or the way the harass the girl who's just had a stillbirth. Really? This is how police deal with sensitive cases? I don't think so. And multiple agents interviewing people seemed unreal as well. Dealing with some of the crimes would no doubt be hard to deal with and difficult to keep emotions in check, but there is no professional conduct, no calm, collective approach or even respect and that seems outrageous.
Get Low (2009)
Felix Bush lives in a small hut in the midst of a forest, a hermit, who's life remains something of a mystery to the local townsfolk who seem to have made their own stories and rumours up about him. Growing old and weary, Felix decides to thrown a big party, a funeral party - his own.
Involving the local funeral home, he builds on his plan to tell a story, one that interests Mattie who has just arrived back in town after losing her husband. The two have a connection and Mattie seeks a truth, one that Felix seems reluctant to give, perhaps because after holding it in for 40 years it's more difficult to reveal what he's held close to his heart and made him the man he's become.
In the beginning the film appears to a be a wry look at the end of life, but gradually the film changes from funny to moving as Felix faces his hidden past. Robert Duvall as Felix, gives a truly wonderful performance, gentle, yet misunderstood and deep down very pained. There are also fine performances from Sissy Spacek as Mattie and the ever brilliant Bill Murray adds his superb skills to the role of funeral home owner Frank Quinn - I don't think I could ever tire watching him.
Scored with some wonderful music this wonderful film grows on you gradually and in the end I found this very moving as Felix not only faces the ghosts of his past, but also faces the final days of his life and as he finally manages to let out what has shaped his life, it is difficult not to be moved by how one event alters lives irrevocably.
A charming, endearing, moving piece of film making.
More of my reviews at my site: iheartfilms.weebly.com
Des hommes et des dieux (2010)
A powerful story that shows war effects everyone.
In 1996 as the Algerian Civil War raged a group of 9 Trappist monks live a simple and peaceful life near a small village in the mountains. They have given their lives to God and worship and pray daily; inbetween they treat the locals for ailments and help them fill out forms; they walk they land; plants crops for themselves or make honey to sell at the local market. Eventually though the war comes to them and a rebel leader asks fro medical help for his men, which is refused on the basis that they do not leave the monastery to treat people. The rebels go, but the experience is enough to scare the priests and give them concern for their safety.
They discuss the option of leaving and some decide it is the only choice while others feel it would be a form of running away - that they devoted themselves to God and that this place is their destiny means that is where they need to be. Tensions mount however as the government tries to get them to leave and violence becomes worse. After much soul searching the monks all vote to stay. But the rebels return taking 7 of them hostage. Weeks after being taken the monks are murdered; an event that continues to remain confused as to whom killed them.
This remarkable film starts quite slowly, showing the monks go about their daily routine. Once their peace is interrupted, tension mounts and the film takes on a different feel. The predicament the monks feel is one that any one can relate to; it's not even a question of faith, it's human instinct. But of course these men are of God and this brings further issues; leaving is almost like giving up the faith. But it is also abandoning the village that relies on them as much as they rely on the village.
It gradually becomes a very powerful film as the monks come together and decide to stay despite the risks and it is also a very emotional film as the outcome if finally revealed. Beautifully filmed, with the stark landscapes of Morocco standing in for Algeria and fine subtle performances this is a fine film with a tragic story.
More of my reviews at my site; iheartfilms.weebly.com
Could have been so much funnier
Graeme and Clive are best mates; they are also comic book nerds on a dream trip from England to the US and after attending a comic-con they head off on a road trip to see some famous alien sites. Their trip takes a surprising turn however when after a car accident they meet Paul, an alien. The pair help Paul who is trying to get back to his own planet after being held by the government. Along the way they pick up bible bashing Ruth who quickly becomes an alien believer and the foursome travel in an RV to the meeting point, all the while being chased by Federal Agents, Police and Ruth's dad most of whom want Paul dead.
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost team up again here, but take things Stateside for the first time after the British set hits such as Shaun Of The Dead. Some of the previous films from these two are brilliantly funny and it's difficult not to go into this with high anticipation and it does start well, but As the film progressed, I realised I just wasn't really laughing. There are some nice moments in this and a few times I laughed out loud, but for the most part it felt rather lifeless and obvious jokes fell flat. All of which is a shame as not only is the premise a great one, but with a superb cast it should be fail proof, but this time Pegg and Frost don't pull it off well enough.
Graeme and Clive are a lovable duo and Paul himself is fun even if being voiced by Seth Rogen seems a wrong choice and towards the end the film works better, but it all felt a little lifeless and judging by the reactions of other audience members, either 20 odd people don't have a sense of humour or this just isn't that funny.
more of my reviews at my site iheartfilms.weebly.com
The Tempest (2010)
Shakespeare's last play The Tempest tells the tale of a sorcerer Prospera and her daughter who have been cast off and banished and find themselves on a barren island where she takes Caliban as her slave. Many years later she creates a tempest to wreck the ship carrying those that banished her and the survivors of the ship find themselves on the island including the kings son who falls for Prospera's daughter. Throw in a spirit slave who helps Prospera bring the newcomers to her and the slaves of the King who side with Caliban to destroy Prospera and you have a real blend of genres. Julie Taymor brings another Shakespeare play to the big screen after her magnificent version of Titus. The Tempest is really a blend of drama, romance, fantasy and comedy and with it's supernatural and magical elements it's quite a story to bring to the big screen. Changing the lead of Prospero to a female role, makes little difference and Helen Mirren as Prospera is very good, but performance wise she is the only standout with the rest of the cast going through the paces; and casting Russel Brand as the jester does not bring enough light relief and makes me wonder since when did Russel Brand become an actor? Taymor tries to makes this as natural as possible, but that's difficult to achieve with it's fantastical elements and many of the these moments fail, including the spirit Ariel, whose appearances are like Caspar The Ghost and only when he appears as a sign of madness to the king and his men as a dark ominous bird does the fantasy finally work. The film also feels stilted at times and for something that contains so much fantasy and magic it feels for the most part bland and dull and bad use of music, much of which sounds like something from a bad rock music doesn't help achieve anything. Interesting use of landscapes and Mirren's performance are worthy elements but that's not enough to redeem the film, which with Taymor at the helm doesn't work nearly as well as her previous efforts.
Les amours imaginaires (2010)
Anyone can relate to this painfully funny film.
Francis is gay and his close friend Marie is straight, two little things that threaten to tear the friendship apart when at a dinner party they meet 'Adonis' like Nicholas. Both feel an instant attraction to the blond curly haired beauty who seems to exude sexuality, passion and an artistic creative side. The attraction grows as the trio becomes firm friends, spending more and more time together and Francis and Maris both try to impress Nicholas by dressing like his favorite movie stars or hanging out in places he might be and then pretending it's just chance when they meet.
Nicholas though never states a defined interest in either playing ambiguously towards the two leading them to have little idea where they stand. As the friendship progress's the two sleep with partners in the hope of gaining some sexual satisfaction elsewhere when they can't have it where they really want it and all the time the pangs of jealousy grow stronger between the two as each bids for Nicholas' affections.
This second feature from Canadian Xavier Dolan is a far cry from his debut (I Killed My Mother), which I found a grating and dire experience. In contrast this is a brilliant portrait of unrequited love that perhaps anyone can relate to. As a film maker, there is no doubt that Dolan had talent and in this film it really shines. The film is as frustrating though as it is funny and real; Dolan populates his film with beautiful 'trendsetters' who at times look like a bunch of espresso swilling bourgeois idiots and that I found annoying and there are times when it falters on some clichéd territory. Yet this is outweighed by fine performances, great camera work, including some nice slow motion shots and a brilliant visual impact with it's array of costumes and in some sequences bright colour. Dolan also douses his film with some vibrant and perfect musical choices that at times add to the realism of the plot.
And it's that plot that works so well; everyone has felt an attraction to someone and gone out of their way to 'impress' them in the hope they might make something unrequited become less so. The ability to be able to relate makes for an at times painful but also very very funny film and whilst it does have some faults this is a really solid and wonderful film.
More of my reviews at my site iheartfilm.weebly.com
Absorbing and emotional
Anton works as an aid doctor in a war torn African nation, whilst back in Denmark his son lives with his wife whom he is separated from. Their son, Elias, is frequently bullied at school, but when a new kid, Christian, whose mother has just died, tries to defend it sets off the catalyst for a series of events that threaten to tear many lives apart. Christian fights back against the bully and the two boys become friends. But when Anton comes home to visit and gets into a near fight with another man, Christian is determined to show the man whose boss and ropes Elias into making a homemade bomb.
This Danish film won the Foreign Language Award at this years Oscars and it's easy to see why. On paper the story is complex one, as the two boys and their families interweave through a series of events that bring to the fore the pain of loss, loneliness and despair. It is a beautifully constructed film, one that becomes utterly absorbing through it's wonderful imagery and superb performances, with standouts from the young boy that plays Christian and Mikael Persbrandt as Anton, and a powerful story that resonates well after you leave the cinema.
The film's main focus is of conflict in it's various guises; Anton sees it in his work in Africa as women are mutilated to see what sex their baby is; in Denmark Christian struggles with the death of his mother and takes it out on his father who is trying himself to deal with the situation. The conflicts themselves are dealt with in many ways, with further confrontation or by just walking away and that itself presents one of the films questions, that being what is the best option? Is revenge sweet or does it make matters worse.
The film is engaging and full of small moments that anyone can relate to, even if there are moments where it takes a a step too far, such as the boys readily making the bombs. But that's a small niggle among a film that is a prime example of fine film making and one that packs a emotional punch.
Check out more of my reviews at my site iheartfilms.weebly.com
Never Let Me Go (2010)
Beautiful and tragic story
Kathy, Tommy and Ruth spend their childhood in a boarding school, but this is no ordinary school and nor are they ordinary children. As they learn from a new teacher who feels it important they learn who they are, they are donor children conceived specifically to provide organ donations to the general population. Among the shock of this notion a bond forms between Tommy and Ruth, one that Kathy seems to dislike, but as the trio grow up and are moved to a middle house before they start their donations she lets the relationship continue. Kathy becomes a caretaker, someone who looks after the donors until they have completed (died) and it's during this time Kathy has an opportunity to have the relationship with Tommy she's longed for and if rumours are true possibly have a chance to live as a normal couple for some time.
Based on the best selling book, this is a very intriguing story; it is set in the 70/80's in what is a alternate history to what we live in. The very notion that people are bred simply to provide organ donations makes for a very uneasy prospect and by the time they start to donate, it made me feel quite sick, the thought that you may donate two, three or more times, each time getting sicker and weaker. But it's also tragic that these people's lives have been already chosen and that there is no way out. The film works well really splitting it into two eras, with our trio of characters introduced to us as children and then young adults, we almost grow up with them which makes the outcomes even more the difficult.
With it's wonderful recreation of the era, filmed with muted tones the film looks wonderful and performances from the young cast are excellent for the most part; I seriously dislike Keira Knightly - that mouth is annoying to watch, but this is not her film, it's Carey Mulligan and in this she is superb, playing the reserved Kathy. Sally Hawkins and Charlotte Rampling also have small but pivotal roles. The film falters a little because it doesn't explore the donation idea enough for the audience to understand, whilst there are hints that each donor has a 'double', it's left very ambiguous and the film never strays very far from our trio and their direct involvement.
However this is startling effective, beautifully made film that is ultimately very tragic and at times very moving and is enough to give me the urge to read the book.
More of my reviews at my site iheartfilms.weebly.com
The Way Back (2010)
Epic, but far from engrossing
As war begins to rage in Europe and Poland is split between Germany and Russia, a young Polish man finds himself in a Gulag in Siberia in squalid conditions among a motley group of men from various backgrounds. Conditions are horrific, made worse by the harsh winter weather and life is made even worse if you are chosen to work in the mines. One inmate declares he knows a gap in the fence and a group of inmates decide under the cover of a winter storm to make a run for it. They manage to get away, far into the surrounding forest as the blizzard rages around them. But being free of the Gulag doesn't mean total freedom, not only do they have to fight the elements, but there are wolves as well a bounty given to locals if they capture runaways and somehow of course they have to get out of Russia.
The men make their way south, with the idea of getting to China. It's a long way, through the frozen lands of Siberia and along the way one of them succumbs to the elements. Further south, they pick up a young woman, another runaway Pole and on reaching Mongolia they discover that Communism has taken hold there, meaning safety is not guaranteed, leaving them the only option to cross the Gobi desert and make their way to Tibet and over to India.
This film by Peter Weir is based on the 'true story' - although that's been debunked- and it's an epic tale. The journey is huge, yet somehow for most of the group they will endure anything to survive and get back to those they love. It should be an engrossing story, but it really doesn't manage to maintain interest. For starters this mammoth trek feels like a mammoth (cinema) trek, which goes on far too long; I found myself not wanting them to reach safety for themselves, but for me as I couldn't wait for the film to end. Also, it's difficult to relate to these people, some are criminals, some are viewed as criminals by others, but we rarely get to know more about these people other than a few snippets gathered (conveniently) by the woman. Because of this it's difficult to find an emotional connection to these people who by all accounts are going through a huge life altering journey.
It's a shame as it really should be an engrossing story, but it all feels very formulaic in it's presentation and while performances are okay, with actors playing various nationalities and there's an abundance of accents (and surprisingly all the characters speak fluent English!), the film just drags towards the end and it's main redeeming feature is the glorious variety of landscapes that fill the screen.
More of my reviews at my site iheartfilms.weebly.com
Inside Job (2010)
Fascinating but rage inducing.
Narrated by Matt Damon this Oscar winning documentary attempts to explain what/who caused the massive financial meltdown that occurred over the last few years. It's a complicated matter with banks and finance/mortgage companies taking control of assets they shouldn't, governments and CEO's blaming one another and nearly all cases the public are the ones that suffer as companies fail, jobs and house are lost and lives ruined.
Whilst for most a greater understanding of the financial world and how it runs is something lacking, the film acknowledges this by trying to present this in a step by step process that highlights many of the causes and factors with easy to understand graphics and charts. Talking heads help explain a more personal aspect to events and come from an array of sources from within the industry, many of whom face a barrage of questions and statements that they clearly has them squirming.
The film presents a shocking inside look into an industry that most have little understanding of but it's done well enough to make anyone angry enough about the denials by the financial institutions, but also the constant recycling of people (mostly men) with the industry and government departments that brings about a never changing cycle of behaviour. More shocking is the fact that some of these CEO's and other bigwigs not only got away with financial murder but they were and many still are paid handsomely with bonus's being handed out that were at times mind boggling - $54 million here, $34 million there, with one man receiving $161 million dollars, which leaves you more gob smacked than you can really be and is enough for you want to rip your hair out in horror.
This is an intelligently present, informative film that strives to make sense of a situation that effected millions and still does to this day, it perhaps would have been better had the human impact been explored more than it was.
More of my reviews at my site iheartfilms.weebly.com
Samâ uôzu (2009)
Student Kenji is a maths wiz; he's also a member along with millions of others worldwide of an online world called OZ, a online social network that makes Facebook look like a damp squib. Within OZ, people create avatars and can do pretty much anything; socialize, date, play games, purchase anything, but there's more to it than mere social elements, most major companies around the world operate through OZ all of which should be a hackers paradise were it not for the impenetrable security of OZ.
When Kenji is asked to work at his crushes house during the summer, he leaps at the chance only to find out he has to pretend to be Natsuki' boyfriend for her family including her aging Grandmother. Kenji reluctantly goes along with it, but his fortune changes when he answers a mystery text message holding a maths problem and seemingly helps someone break into the security of OZ, crashing it and causing mayhem. The hacker, an artificial intelligence, soon takes control of much of OZ causing havoc with train services and power among others and then manages to take control of a satelitte and redirects it to crash into a nuclear plant. It is up to Kenji and Natsuki, her family and the other millions of OZ members to try and take control.
This anime film is from the director who gave us The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, which I disliked, but Summer Wars had gotten rave reviews, so why not? And what a vast improvement on the previous film. The story, as far fetched as it is, actually does have some relevance (to a certain extent) in today's Facebook/ Twitter obsessed world. OZ is a fantastic creation and entering into this world is nothing short of amazing. It makes you want to go there immediately. The real world element is mostly enjoyable as well, with the dynamics of Natsuki's family playing out among the drama of the online dramas. The family is wonderfully real and the death of the Grandmother is tragic and emotional. This real world element does start to drag the film down during it's second third, but the film picks up again as the world goes to battle within the parallel universe of OZ.
It's perhaps this last third of the film that really shines and highlights another excellent factor to the film; the animation. Whilst from the start it looks amazing (and I watched this on DVD, so in the cinema it must look incredible), it is during the battle of OZ that the animation really stands out with the A.I. known as the Love Machine becoming a gargantuan black monster that is made up of millions of avatar characters and is a spectacular creation. The animation is simply mind boggling, jaw dropping stuff, with impeccable detail and shows a very different side to animation than the equivalent we see from Hollywood.
Whilst the story drags at times and the story is a bit too fantastical, even if this is anime, this is a sublime film, that is brimming with style, emotion, humour and is brilliantly captivating.
More of my reviews at my site iheartfilms.weebly.com
Battle Los Angeles (2011)
Fair effort. Could do better.
On the verge of retiring Marine Sergeant Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) goes about his daily routine in California along with his fellow servicemen. A veteran of war, he is aware it's time to rest, but when strange meteor showers occur across the world, it appears his resting will have to wait. The meteor showers are actually aliens arriving on mass and across the world cities on the coastline find themselves under massive attack and Nantz along with the entire armed forces are called into action.
A huge battle ensues, with the aliens seemingly having the upper hand, devastating Los Angeles and throwing our Marines into the thick of hostile action as they try to rescue civilians before a mass bombing of Santa Monica. Reaching the civilians and getting them to safety means they are under constant attack from the aliens and many of the troops are lost. Not only that but when the bombing is suppose to start it doesn't indicating that the aliens are better in warfare than humans.
Eventually they get the civilians to safety, but with the military withdrawing from Los Angeles Nantz and his remaining team try to find a way to hit at the heart and nerve center of the aliens and a possible way of getting back the upperhand and winning the battle.
If you had seen the trailer for Battle: Los Angeles, you may have been blown away with it's clever blend of suggestive editing and music use. I was very excited to see this film, but when it go released it didn't fair very well with critics, who called it a 'Hurt Locker with aliens' or suggested that's it's poor script dumb downed cinema in it's entirety. I was nervous to see it, but thought it has to be done and nothing could be worse than another recent alien invasion film Skyline.
The actions starts pretty quickly and this is very much being told from the human perspective and with it's hand-held camera style it's difficult not to feel a sense of tension as the Marines make their way across the city. The bombardment is relentless and noisy and well staged, with less focus on big set explosions and more upfront action. It is difficult therefore not to see the easy to make comparison with films like The Hurt Locker or even Black Hawk Down.
The script does bring the film down a little, it is as cheesy and at times patriotic as you would expect in a film like this with one of my favorite lines being; ' I don't need breakfast I've already had it' as Nantz prepares to head back into the battle at the end of the film and whilst the actors don't really have much to do, they at least do so as well as they can and compared to the acting in Skyline it's far superior. But it does feel like it was written on autowrite with it's borderline stereotype characters and it's 'I'm a vet, so I can help you examine this alien' convenience and there are too many moments where I felt myself comparing it to other films; for instance on the bus I felt like Sandra Bullock was going to appear at any moment.
It all seems a shame as the trailer really did suggest something better, far better. Not that the film doesn't at least try and if you take it as nothing more than another brash Hollywood film than it's enjoyable. the initial concept is great and the alien crafts are well realized. The tension for the most part during the early scenes when the Marines are in the thick of it is well executed and whilst after a while the noise and battle effects become a little boring and tiring, it does at least convey the difficulty of the situation. Enjoyable, but relentless, it doesn't stand up as it should and for a far more superior recent alien film you'd best turn to Monsters or District 9.
More of my reviews at my site iheartfilms.weebly.com
Wagner & Me (2010)
Beloved Brit Stephen Fry first fell in love with the music of Wagner when he was 14 and so began a lifetime's passion for the music. In the present Fry visits Bayreuth where every year, at the concert hall Wagner himself built, a festival of his works is held and where despite his love of all things Wagner, Fry has never visited.
Fry delves into the life of Wagner, the preparations for the festival and of course Wagner's music. In doing so however there one has to discuss how Wagner was hugely anti-Semitic and how his music was heralded by Hitler and the Nazi's to the point where for some Wagner is tainted beyond acceptance. Hitler's love for Wagner led him to attending the very music hall that Fry is to attend. Fry, with his Jewish background also takes us to Nuremberg, home of the infamous Nazi parades and gatherings that took on a Wagnerian like epic-ness.
Yet despite his difficultly with getting past this connection with composer of great music and the horrors of Nazi rule, Fry remembers the joy of the music itself and exploring the realms of Wagner leads him to describe himself as a kid in a sweetshop.
As a person with little knowledge of Wagner I wondered how I would fair with this, but Fry is a perfect host. Yet the film struggles in places; the life of Wagner doesn't seem to be fully explored and we don't really get to know much except basic facts about the man. Also the use of music throughout the film disappoints as there are only snippets of various pieces that we don't get to really appreciate; in one instance a recreation of Traume in the same room it was first performed is suddenly shattered by Fry's booming voice-over. It's seems a shame that a film about such a great musician spends such little time presenting his music, unlike films such as In Search Of Beethoven that at least gave us more of the man's music.
Of course this is not just about Wagner, nor is it about Wagner and the connection with Hitler and Antisemitism. It's about the joy Fry holds for the music. It is wonderful to see the joy he gets, entering the theatre for the first time or playing a note on Wagner's piano. But it's difficult to share the enthusiasm to his level, if you are unfamiliar with Wagner's works, even if you can still enjoy to a certain extent. The connection between the Nazis' and Wagner also presents an uneasy premise, one that Fry himself acknowledges and that being, do you put that connection aside and enjoy or do you forever connect the man with one of the darkest moments in human history? Enjoyable as it is, more time could have been spent exploring Wagner's life and presenting his music, yet as an extended version of a TV program, this works well enough as an interesting introduction to one of music's great figures.
More of my reviews at iheartfilms.weebly.com
Le quattro volte (2010)
Exquisite film making
An elderly shepherd living in a hilltop village in Italy spends his days tending to his goat herd among the rolling hills passing mounds used to make charcoal, before retiring to bed, drinking a strange powder which we can presume he takes for the hope of relieving some of the symptoms of his illness. Later we learn the powder is dust swept from the church, which he exchanges for goats milk.
As the village prepares for a parade for a saint, the shepherds dog harangues the locals who pass it, barking furiously and eventually causing a small van to crash into the goat pen letting the herd loose through the village as the dog strives to get 'his' job done as the shepherd seems to have slept in. We later discover the man has died. But life goes on and with a nanny goat giving birth the shepherd is perhaps reborn. The white kid stands out among the other young goats that are to start kept in the pen whilst the adults go to graze. Left to their own devices, anything and everything becomes something of intrigue and just like children, the kids investigate all.
Eventually, the kids get to join the adults grazing, but the young white kid gets separated and as the seasons suddenly change, we presume the young goat dies at the base at a vast pine tree. And there the cycle continues as the tree is felled for another celebration in the village. Eventually the tree is cut into pieces and a new mound is made, with the wood placed inside to make a new batch of charcoal. When ready, the charcoal is divvied up and given to the locals.
This exquisite Italian film tells a story of life; it is a slow, yet beguiling film, one that easily can alienate as much as be utterly embraced. The narrative is bare, but there is one and even without dialogue the film has much to say. The beginning with the elderly man sets a slow pace that is broken upon his death. His sheepdog steels the film within the remarkable single camera scene where he tries in vain to draw attention to the fact the shepherd has failed to rise. As locals run from the dog fearing he is just vicious, the dog pulls a rock wedged under the tire of a small van sending it crashing into the goat pen. The control of the dog is superb, brilliantly funny, yet devastating as we realise something must be wrong.
As we progress into the next segment, animals again steal the film as we spend time within the herd of goats. There is something both engrossing and enjoyable watching these animals and the kids are a sheer delight, full of childlike inquisitive and playful, the intimacy in watching them at close quarters is actually quite moving. The later part of the film slows again as the village prepares the tree which then becomes part of the lengthy although fascinating process of making charcoal.
Sprinkled with wonderful humour, such as the scene where the shepherd having taking all precautions to keep them in the pot, returns home to find the snails he collected all over the kitchen having escaped or just the humour of the animals involved. This joy is coupled with almost heartbreaking sadness, the dog striving to do his job without his master or the notion that dust from the church somehow contains a 'holy' ingredient that aides illness. It is a film that will divide audiences, but for a film that really tells a very simple story without doing very much it manages to convey so with profound beauty and emotion.
More of my reviews at iheartfilms.weebly.com
Loong Boonmee raleuk chat (2010)
Uncle Boonmee is dying from a kidney disease and decides to return to countryside to prepare for his death. With him are his nephew and sister in law and his Laotian carer. Over dinner one night the ghost of Boonmee's wife appears who thanks her sister for looking after her husband and tells him he has nothing to fear. The surrealism continues as an ominous dark creature with bright vivid red eyes appears and enters the room startling the group, but this 'monkey ghost' is actually the missing son of Boonmee. The film's story changes suddenly as we see a princess ashamed of her looks bath in a pool where she offers jewels to a catfish in the hope she will become beautiful and the catfish commits oral sex on the princess. We are then back with Boonmee as wife's ghost leads them through the jungle into a cave where Boonmee declares he was born. They fall asleep and when they awake Boonmee is dead. A Buddhist funeral follows and then the nephew, niece and sister in law sit in a hotel room contemplating life after the death of their loved one. This Thai film won the Palme D'Or at Cannes in 2010 and has divided audiences ever since. The film is a reflection on life and death and has many hidden meanings which for those of Buddhist mind may understand more than others. it starts very conventionally, even if a long languid scene of a cow seems irrelevant, but perhaps the cow is on of Boonmee's past lives. Beautifully shot, the lush of the natural surrounds are complemented by outstanding performances from the Thai cast with their softly spoken rhythmic language. When ghosts and monkey ghosts appear things becomes surreal and amusing; the reactions of the family are priceless, with the sister in law questioning why the son (the monkey ghost) has grown his hair so long, received one of the bigger laughs. Yet among the surrealism there are moments of pure beauty, such as when they eat the honey from the bee hive. The shift in story to the princess, seems to break the flow of the film, it perhaps suggests this is Boonmee recalling one of his past lives, but it does so ambiguously, perhaps he was the princess or perhaps he was the catfish. When we return to Boonmee, his time is limited and yet there is no sadness and if anything his death is expected making the event less than tragic. Hints at racism (the sister in law's dislike and fear of Laotian's) as well as the tragedy of war (Boonmee recalling fighting against the communists) suggests that beneath the surface there are deeper elements waiting to be discovered should the audience want to delve in deeper. But even if you don't this is a very well made, albeit ultimately art-house cinema, that as much entertains as it does confound.
Let Me In (2010)
Good, but not amazing if you've seen the original
Young Owen lives with his religious mother in an apartment complex in Los Alamos, New Mexico. He is a quiet child, bullied at school, he sits in the snow covered playground of the complex at night waiting for dinner and spies on the neighbours through his telescope from his bedroom. One night he sees a man and a young girl move into the next apartment and later he meets her in the playground. Eventually they befriend each other and spend the evenings talking or tapping on the wall in Morse code, but Abby isn't what she seems. Something evil is in her, a lust for blood and after some bungled attempts by her 'father', Abby takes matters into her own hands. Owen meanwhile continues to get bullied, but encouraged by Abby suddenly fights back, but this leads the bullies wanting further revenge which leads to horrific outcome.
Let Me In is the American remake of the the brilliant Swedish horror Let The Right One In. It is for the most part an exact remake, albeit in a new setting and the film's plot changes slightly. There are however some major differences, one being the style; in the Swedish version the style is almost abstract with it's camera angles and stylized use of colour, the American one is more standard. Abby also is slightly different, being cleaner than her Swedish version and when feeding becomes more evil in appearance with deathly eyes staring into the camera. Yet there is little of note worthy change hear, the bullies are still nasty, there is still a touching moving element to Abby and Owens friendship and the film still holds a punch in certain scenes, although one noticeable scene missing is the cat lady and the cats going berserk.
It is difficult to watch this and not compare the two films, they both stand out as great pieces of work and both are fine examples of the vampire genre movie that is firmly miles away from the Twilight type stories. Yet perhaps if you have viewed the Swedish version, it's difficult to watch this and not know what's coming, it doesn't have the element of surprise unless you view this first. Whilst it is a good film, it also doesn't seem to match the original for style and direction with the Swedish version being a far superior film that presents a far more involving and emotional yet beautiful and fascinating story.
More of my reviews at iheartfilms.weebly.com
The tragedy of war.
Director Sebastian Junger spent over a year embedded with the Second Platoon, Battle company, 173rd Airborne Brigade, to them their full title, as they are posted to the Korangal Valley in Afghanistan. CNN declared the area the most dangerous place on the planet and the documentary highlights the dangers of the mission.
Filmed in Cinéma vérité style, there is little construct to the film as such as it follows the men as they head deeper into the valley and further into danger. Interspersed with the footage are talking heads with some of the troops recalling their time there. The Korangal is a a Taliban stronghold and the Brigade are under constant threat of attack, in fact the very opening scene shows them ambushed on the road. This constant fear of attack shows among the men during the talking heads, it is clear that the mission, one fraught with dangers has taken a heavy toll on the psyche's of these men, some of them incredibly young.
Several of the soldiers die, which also takes it's toll, especially later in the film when they delve deeper into the hills and are attacked unexpectedly, with one of their men down, there is a incomprehensible notion that you should grieve, yet you must continue to battle as the gunfire around you continues.
The film as been portrayed as a 'real life' The Hurt Locker', which seems a little unfair a comparison, both film portray different situations and to be honest I felt this was actually less engaging. With so many soldiers, it's difficult to know who is who during some footage and so it less compelling trying to work out who is who. There are however scenes of interest. The continual passion within to keep going these men have is incredible, even in the most dire of circumstances. Interactions with locals provide an insight of how difficult and how vastly different the cultures are, and there are scenes of camaraderie and fun among the men to try to make the best of what they have- dancing to pop songs and filming it.
Yet it also shows just what an alien world the armed forces are to many, it is a different world and it also suggests that many men there are there only because they no choice, a living with a guarantee wage and no guarantee of coming back alive or intact, physically or mentally. The talking head interviews provide a greater insight into those few that are interviewed; behind the stiff upper lip and possible reserve of what may be said on camera, there is pain behind the eyes of these men that no-one else will comprehend. It's this I found more interesting and it's a shame there wasn't a little more of it which would have made this more powerful.
More of my reviews at iheartfilms.weebly.com
Bai she zhuan (1962)
Camp classic, a great intro to Linda Dai
This is a classic Chinese tale that has been transformed into a Huangmei Opera, a popular style of Chinese opera and stars Hong Kong beloved actress Linda Dai.
The story is a bout two sisters who are centuries old snake spirits who take on human form to find the man that saved White Snake's life. In doing so, Bai Suzhen (Dai) has to romantically involve herself with the man, while maintaining her human form and never letting him know of her true identity. But there are those who know her properly, including a Taoist Priest and a nasty monk and try to warn him, but with her sister they have powers to help the situation. During a festival, her husband insists she drink some potent wine that turns her back into snake, killing him with shock. Only one thing can save him, a special flower, but will the animal spirits let her take it? The film is for the most part sung and the musical style is both fun and enjoyable and at times wonderfully camp. The whole Huangmei style is wonderful, with it's plethora of hand gestures and movements, as well as an array of great eye and facial expressions. It makes for a very light and easy to follow story, even if it does have elements of tragedy throughout. Made in the 1960's, it looks beautiful, with it's colour palate, costumes and sets. Some nifty special effects are also used throughout, some better than others and towards the end there is a truly excellent fight sequence between Bai and the other spirits.
The film started to drag towards the end, but I realised as it drew near it's conclusion that I was smiling and had been for most of the film, such was the enjoyment and part of that was due to the occasional singing along from one audience member, of which was made up of older Chinese people, no doubt enjoying the chance to watch one of the many films that Linda Dai starred in before her tragic death when she was only 29. This is a great introduction both to her and to the world of Huangmei, which many of her films are made in.
More of reviews at iheartfilms.weebly.com
Barbe bleue (2009)
Clunky effort that doesn't tell the tale well enough
If you are familiar with some of director Catherine Breillat's previous works, you might enter this with a certain expectation to see genitalia and penetrative sex. But in her adaptation of the fairy tale of Blue Beard there is thankfully none.
In olden days, when two young sisters are removed from the private school after their father dies they return to live with their mother and circumstances look dire. A local Lord, known as Blue Beard has a reputation for the ladies and rumours abound that his previous wives and lovers, now missing, were murdered by him. After an invite to a gathering at his castle, one of the young sisters befriends the giant Lord and their marriage is arranged. Marie loves to the cold stark castle aware of the reputation her new husband has and demands that due to her age she sleep in a separate room until she is of age to consummate the marriage. Blue Beard travels away on occasion leaving Marie to her own devises. Amongst this we have in more modern times two young sisters play in an attic and the younger taunts her older more sensitive sister by reading her the story of Blue Beard which she finds scary.
This adaptation is at times very clunky to watch. The cast seem very amateurish and some scenes look like it's been made by a student production. Whilst not familiar with the story, it appears to be quite dark and yet there never really is a sense of foreboding in the film and it never really enters in really dark territory which doesn't work in it's favour. Only near the end does the film show a darker element as Marie faces the consequences of her actions and the modern tale of the two sisters takes an unfortunate turn.
The younger cast do quite well, especially the young girls in the modern part. In fact they provide the only real enjoyment throughout the film as the younger tease and taunts her sister and some of their conversations are priceless. Yet at first these scenes when they appear add confusion to the story as it's not immediately apparent what is happening. The castle settings, in fact the whole setting looks overly baron and cold and it looks odd, especially as there is no contrast between Marie's poor family home and the Lord's sumptuous castle.
Overall the film feels a little stagnant that even at 80 minutes running time feels over long. It is a good story, but save for some nice performances and a few laughs from the two modern sisters, this seems like a bad attempt at film making that clearly shows it's low budget.
More of my reviews at iheartfilms.weebly.com
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Good fun but not as much fun as the first film.
Iron Man 2 follows on from the hugely successful Iron Man with Robert Downey Jr reprising his role as Tony Stark/Iron Man.
This time Stark reveals that he is Iron Man and denies access to companies and the military who demand to know the secret behind the suit. Enter Justin Hammer, a weapons manufacturer trying to replicate the suit and Russian Ivan Vanko who wants revenge on Stark and you have the basic set up. Set among an Expo Stark enterprises has set up and continuing the sexual attraction between Stark and Pepper Potts the film is a lot of fun.
Some nifty action sequences including one during the Monaco Grand Prix keep the film moving at a good pace and the introduction of Natalie Rushman adds more sexual fun. Stark is a cheeky chap and the film is laced with some nice humour, with his constant jabs during a Senate hearing or his staff being buffeted about during the fight at the Grand Prix. Downey Jr has fun in this role and so too does Sam Rockwell with Hammer and Don Cheadle in the role of Lt.Col. Rhodes, with Scarlet Johannson doing a nice job as Rushman.
The first Iron Man was a really enjoyable romp, with much more humour throughout and it's sequel feels a little tired and flat for the most part. It's also it seems more of a set up for future films based around The Shield/Avengers of which a plethora of upcoming films are hinted at including a sequence after the credits obviously highlighted the film Thor. This might excite some who are fans, but I found it a little annoying, but perhaps if you don't really follow these things, you might not pick up on them.
It's a fun film, even if it's predecessor is better, but like many of these films is you don't analyze it too much (like how does anyone fly with that suit exactly and where does all the ammunition go?!) you have yourself a perfect DVD for watching on the sofa with chocolates and snacks, which is exactly what I did.
More of my reviews at iheartfilms.weebly.com
Enjoyable light hearted French fare
Picture *** Watched in February 2011 Alex (Roman Duris) gets paid by people to help break up relationships and is very good at it, setting up elaborate situations to woo the woman in question to make her see that she is unhappy with her current partner before leaving. Alex's new mission involves Juliette (Vanessa Paradis) who is about to marry a rich British man and her father just doesn't think her's right for her. With days to go before the wedding Alex heads to Monte Carlo to woo Juliette only to discover she's a bit of a tough cookie, but also a babe. Can he manage to break this relationship up or is he going to actually going to fall for her? This light romantic French comedy is a lot of fun. Duris and Paradis are great together, with Paradis being more cute and teeny tiny than you could imagine; she gets to strut around in some wonderful clothes and the film plays out in a gorgeous looking sun bathed Monte Carlo all of which makes this a wonderful looking film.
The story is a bit silly, but it's quite fun with Alex pretending to like all the things Juliette likes which means he has to sing along to Wham!, eat Roquefort cheese for breakfast and learn the dance moves from Dirty Dancing. These are some of the more funnier moments in the film and whilst the film isn't laugh a minute it is charming and easy pleasing throughout that has that certain French element to it that doesn't translate in American remakes. There are some downsides, such as the arrival of Juliette's old friend who is just annoying and there is little screen time for Andrew Lincoln who plays the soon to be husband. However as a light rom com this does a very good job, even if it does leave you with 'Wake me up before you go-go' in your head.
More of my reviews at iheartfilms.weebly.com
White Material (2009)
Startling insight into war
Clare Denis is no stranger to setting her films in Africa and in White Material it is there we visit. In an unnamed nation, a woman walks along a dirt track trying to get a lift before eventually succeeding and as she rests we get taken back earlier to when see how she came to this point. The woman Maria is a white woman is a African country on the brink, despite warnings from those around her, as well as the French Army, desperation makes her seek out a way to finish the coffee crop on her plantation despite the ever increasing risks and threats towards the whites.
As her separated husband makes a deal to sell the plantation, her workers up and leave fearful of war, but she manages to hire new staff to try and complete the task. Encouraging her teenage son to join in, he reluctantly does so only to have a horrid encounter with two young armed children, an event which leaves him desperate and altered and he goes of the rails. Maria meanwhile risks further harm by sheltering a wounded rebel leader., as the situation around her becomes more violent and dire.
Denis has crafted a very good film here, one that from the outset has a sense of tension, foreboding, of the unknown and that menace is around every corner. The lush tropical surrounds stand side by side with the violence and bloodshed or innocents murdered and others fleeing for their lives. Isabelle Huppert is superb as the defiant but embattled Maria, who seemingly refuses to accept what is happening, as she states, 'things have been the same for months', self denial towards a worsening situation.
The film highlights the horror of conflict, that it effects everyone, no matter what side you choose and that in some countries conflict sees no boundaries with age as we see children and young woman brandishing guns and machetes. The film pays some attention to this and the absurdity of children fighting; we see the children handle guns like experts and shoot dead innocence before gorging on sweets and sleeping the day away before they themselves succumb to the horrors of war.
It is a thought provoking film one that s it progresses becomes more and more startling in it's depiction of war and the outcome is shocking and tragic to say the least. Powerful stuff.
Life During Wartime (2009)
Perhaps not as dark as Solondz' previous works.
Life During Wartime is of sorts a sequel to Happiness, but Todd Solondz chose a different cast for his latest film to play the same characters. I have seen Happiness, but don't remember it well enough and going into Wartime was actually unaware it was a continuation of events.
Three sisters, Joy, Helen and Trish are utterly different souls leading utterly different lives. Joy is a little scattered and has just separated from her husband and is visited by the ghost of a former co worker. Trish lives with her two younger kids, one of whom Timmy is preparing for his bar mitzvah. She has started dating again after her husband was jailed for molesting children, but she is unaware he has been released. Trish is a successful screenwriter in Hollywood, but is old and distant towards the rest of her family.
The sisters lives intertwine together and with characters from each others past and all three try and long to find love and happiness and is for the most part very enjoyable. I recall, perhaps vaguely that Solondz' other films are a little hard going and often harsh, yet Wartime feels a little brighter. However there are some uncomfortable moments in it, such as where Trish explains her feelings towards to her new man to her son or Timmy's inquisitive questioning about 'faggots', but moments are few.
Acting across the cast is excellent with a fine performance from Alison Janney as Trish and whilst squeaky voiced Shirley Henderson can often be annoying in this she is almost endearing. It is a dark film and while it never shocks out right, it does venture to the borderline. And while it's not laugh out loud there are some funny moments in it. You don't have to be familiar with Happiness to enjoy this film, even if it's a typical audience divider film, it works well on it's on. Nor do you have to be a Solondz fan to enjoy this, though those that are will relish the film even more.
More of my reviews at iheartfilms.weebly.com
Elle s'appelait Sarah (2010)
Emotional and tragic story.
When a Jewish family get arrested by Hitler siding French police, young Sarah not understanding the magnitude of what is occurring locks her younger brother in a closet, expecting to come back and recover him shortly. Realizing quickly that the situation she is in is far more terrible than expected she is desperate to escape and set him free. Sick, her and her family are taken to a camp where parents are separated from the children and are never seen again. Recovered Sarah and another young girl find an escape and run through the countryside to safety. The other girl becomes sick and they are both taken in by a older French couple but as the girl worsens there is a risk of exposing the girls as Jews. Although the young girl doesn't make it, Sarah is hidden away till the Nazi's leave and Sarah pleads with them to take her to Paris to find her brother. The journey is fraught with danger and the end obvious to us.
In modern day Paris, Julia and her family inspect an apartment of her in laws that her architect French husband will redo. Julia, am American, works as a journalist and wants to cover a story about the use of a velodrome where Parisian Jews where herded to and discovers the story of Sarah. An obsession grows as Julia is determined to find out what happened to the young girl and to find out how her husbands family came to own the flat.
This is a very fine film that is equally a historical story as well as a mystery as Julia seeks out the truth with a fine performance by Kristen Scott Thomas as Julia. The film flit's between the too separate yet connected story lines. Scenes of confusion within the velodrome are horrid too watch as are the scenes of separation of parents and children in the camp. We as the audience can almost guess the outcome of Sarah's young brother left locked in a closet whose key Sarah clings to, yet the outcome is still gut wrenching and Sarah's scream is enough for us to understand what she finds without us having to have it confirmed visually.
The obsession of Julia is a fascinating one; trying to work out first how the flat became someone elses, to searching for some sign of what became of the young girl takes her her far and wide and she encounters an array of people including Sarah's son, who is clueless to his Mother's past.
Scott Thomas gives quite a wonderful yet almost subdued performance as she struggles with the horrors of the past and her families connection to events as well as dealing with her own personal torment. The film is extraordinarily moving in it's telling of Sarah with her experience resonating and shaping those that come after her. Yet because the film chooses to focus on two timelines, we are never entirely dragged into the horrors of the Holocaust and whilst we are never far from them, it never overbalances itself. It is a fine film that depicted another story of the many thousands that WWII has given us, one that for France is of shame and one that, as with so many others continues to be relevant and effect those generations after.
More of my reviews at iheartfilms.weebly.com
Morning Glory (2010)
Bright and fun.
Rachel Adams plays workaholic TV producer Becky who scores a great job on an unpopular morning news shows. With failing ratings the show needs something if it's not to be cancelled, so Becky manages to employ serious newscaster Mike Pomeroy to the helm, only to discover he's not so willing to do stories on fluffy animals and is well known for being grumpy. Along with a burgeoning romance, Becky has to manage a demanding job, work with egotistical stars and please those upstairs.
Adams is wonderful as Becky and there are nice performances from Diane Keaton and Patrick Wilson. It is perhaps Harrison Ford who really stands out, playing Pomeroy with grumpy arsehole brilliance. The film is very bright and breezy, never becoming too serious and not pushing itself towards stupidity and it works well, because of it. At times it feels rather formulaic at times and yes it's perhaps obvious, but there's enough fun to be had to make this really enjoyable.
It works well as an insight into television, which may not be entirely true, but it is interesting and the romance factor isn't completely standard fare. There are also some very funny moments to be had with the film playing on the idea of bickering hosts, trying to get the last word at the end of the show or by highlighting the absurd nature of morning news programs that flit from story to story that really do change from fluffy cats to breast cancer. The biggest laughs come from the scenes of ever increasing extreme situations the weatherman is put in, from being on a roller-coaster to blacking out in a fighter jet, brilliantly funny, they really do show just how idiotic these shows can be.
Not perhaps the most original film, but it's well paced and lots of fun with nice performances and is perfect fodder and a far better effort than many other similar films.
More of my reviews at my site iheartfilms.weebly.com