Friday, August 30, 2013

Sydney Underground Film Festival 2013

This year marks the seventh annual Sydney Underground Film Festival, the film festival that dares to go where other festivals don't.

What makes the Sydney Underground Film Festival so different to other film festivals is it's adventurous and daring line up which include the wacky, controversial and best and worst in independent film. The festival also plays host to film talks, workshops and parties on both the opening and closing nights.

This year, the festival will screen over 100 local and international films over four days. The opening night film is Alejandro Jodorowsky's newest film, The Dance of Reality and will be accompanied by a performance by Betty Grumble and pizza and drinks. While the closing night see's the Australian premiere of Lindsay Lohan's much talked about comeback film, The Canyons.

Each year the festival is becoming more daring and defiant, and according to festival co-director, Stefan Popescu this is absolutely the case this year. He used the example of Unlawful Killing, Keith Allen's controversial documentary about the inquest regarding Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed's death. The film has been banned in the United Kingdom due to it's controversial content associated with the British royal family. The Sydney Underground Film Festival will be only the second audience to see the film since it's debut at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.

Unlike other film festivals, the Sydney Underground Film Festival also acknowledges and celebrates the best worst films. 2003 film, The Room has been hailed by many as the best worst film ever made and is a highlight of the festival. The Saturday screening for the film is currently close to sold out.

"These films have a cult following" said Popescu."People have seen them before and want to experience going to see these films with 300 other people who will mock it, scream and throw things at the screen"

"Laughter is contagious. Community is really important to us as we are supposed to be more connected yet we are further removed than we have ever been"

To make things ever more entertaining when you see these best worst films, you will also be able to play Best Worst Film Bingo and win a prize . Here you will receive a game card and be looking for the best worst parts of these films.

If you are looking to attend this year's Sydney Underground Film Festival, but are unsure what film to see, here are some recommendations from Popescu,which show how there is a film for everyone at this year's festival.

If you want to have a good laugh, you should see......
As above, the Best Worst Films are a great way to have a laugh and not take anything too seriously. The films screening at Sydney Underground Film Festival which you will able to watch and also play Best Worst Film Bingo at are The Room, Birdemic: Shock & Terror and Troll 2.

Mr Doodleberger is also one for a great laugh. He will be appearing live at the festival and dubbing some of Australian television classics such as "A Country Practice" (renamed something too explicit to post here!), "Hey Dad!", "Prisoner" and "Home & Away" for all you Alf Stewart fans out there. Attendees will also have the chance to win Doodleburger merchandise.

If someone wants to be shocked and leave feeling satisfactorily disturbed, you should see.....
The LSD Factory Shorts are the films to see on Saturday afternoon if you are willing to try something very different and unsettling. These fourteen shorts will mess with your mind in the least dangerous fashion.

"You will walk out thinking you have taken drugs", says Popescu. "But you know you love it and you don't know why!"

"The Dance of Reality is also disturbing in a beautiful, but surreal way and John Dies At The End will blow your mind"

If you are a horror film buff, you should see.......
For the people who love to be scared out of their wits, Popescu recommends both Rob Zombie's new film, Lords Of Salem and Cody Calahan's Antisocial. " Lords Of Salem is strangely disturbing with a haunting soundtrack. It is very different to normal Rob Zombie films as it is more of a psychological horror"

If someone considers themselves a bit of a music guru, they should see.......
Music lovers will enjoy the likes of a few films at the Sydney Underground Film Festival. They will be able to choose from films such as A Band Called Death, This Band Is So Gorgeous!, Discoverdale and Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction.

If you are squirmish and easily grossed out, you SHOULDN'T see......
A Body Without Organs is one film that festival director Popescu, who can sit through almost anything, found to be extremely confronting and graphic. He describes it as being intimate and beautiful, but may not be everyone's cup of tea as there are some scenes which are a little too intimate. He also singles out Return To Nuke 'Em High: Volume 1 as one not for the squirmish to see, as (spoiler alert!) it is full of people having sex and then exploding. Sound like fun?

If someone would like to see a feel good film, they should see.......
"Both The Dance of Reality and The Institute are ultimately feel good films" according to Popescu. "They are both about the journey of life".

Discoverdale is also one to see for something more light hearted. This film, which is also a great film to see if you are musically inclined, has more of a comedic feel good air to it, rather than being a film about how wonderful life can be.

If you HAVE to choose between the opening night and the closing night and their films, what should you do?
If you find yourself in this dilemma, Popescu's advice for you is that you might as well end it all!

However, if you need to make the big decision, it will depend more on your personality as to which film you will enjoy more. While The Dance of Reality is a feel good film, The Canyons is more cynical and about the emptiness of contemporary culture. However, both are celebrations of cinema.

The Sydney Underground Film Festival will run from the 5th-8th of September at The Factory Theatre in Marrickville. For more information, please see the official website.

Thankyou to Stefan Popescu for taking the time to talk to Movie Critical

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Smurfs 2 (2013)

Year: 2013
Running Time: 105 minutes
Director: Raja Gosnell
Writers: J. David Stern, David N. Weiss, Jay Sherick, David Ronn and Karey Kirkpatrick
Cast: Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays, Hank Azaria, Brendan Gleeson, Katy Perry, Christina Ricci, Jonathan Winters, George Lopez, Anton Yelchin
The Smurfs 2 opens in Australian cinemas on the 12th of September 2013 and is distributed by Sony Pictures. Now showing in the USA and United Kingdom.

The Smurfs 2 may not be a particularly good or memorable film, there is still no doubt it will be a good film for school holiday time.
Although adults are more familiar with these little blue men as a result of the long running television show, The Smurfs 2 is far more attractive for the younger audience than the older. It is a particularly simple film filled with clichés, predictability and a little too immature to be completely enjoyed by the wider audience. The simplistic nature of the film is not helped by the over the top and irritating performances of live action and voice actors alike.
The Smurfs 2 is Smurfette's (voiced by Katy Perry) film. On Smurfette's birthday, she once again ponders whether she really is a Smurf at heart, or if she is still just a product of the evil Gargamel (Hank Azaria). At the same time, Gargamel is in Paris plotting to kidnap Smurfette and sends his newest creation, Vexy (Christina Ricci) and Hackus (J. B. Smoove) to bring her to him. Papa Smurf (Jonathan Winters) and his fellow Smurfs team up once again with Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris) and his wife, Grace (Jayma Mays) and travel to Paris to bring Smurfette back to celebrate her birthday.
The Smurfs 2 is a very, very easy watch and if that is what you are after, then it is a success. It is very well suited to children as it is easy to follow and everything is as you see it. It is a great school holidays picture. It lets children have a bit of fun and a bit of a giggle.
 In almost every other way, a success it is not. The film is not a film that adults would particularly enjoy watching without children. It is just too simple and silly for mature minds to find any amusement in. Even adults who once enjoyed "The Smurfs" television show will be disappointed, as the story is just same old, same old. Once again Gargamel is trying to destroy the Smurfs and all is highly unoriginal and predictable. Yes there are some new characters, but that is really all that is new...besides the location being Paris. The film is also terribly clichéd, which just adds to the films predictability.
Also, even though this is a good school holiday film, girls will enjoy The Smurfs 2 more than boys as the main character is Smurfette, so it does tend to border on the girlish side of things. So the target audience for this film is quite small really.
Neil Patrick Harris is good enough in this film, his performance probably being the least forced and least over the top. Jayma Mays does well enough. Her Audrey Hepburn imitation is the highlight of her performance in the film. Hank Azaria has a role as the evil Gargamel that is just an ugly role to play, but after awhile also becomes just a little boring.
Smurfette is a terrible leading lady. She just comes across as a pathetic character who has no real inner strength or any likability. The voice of Smurfette which is provided by singer, Katy Perry doesn't do anything to make the character any better, just weaker and more annoying with her constant "Oh, oh, help me!"
The Smurfs wasn't a particularly wonderful film to begin with, so the sequel didn't have much to live up to. Yet, it doesn't live up to the first film as sequels tend to do. So that's saying something.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Red 2 (2013)

Year: 2013
Running Time: 116 minutes
Director: Dean Parisot
Writers: Jon and Erich Hoeber
Cast: Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Anthony Hopkins, Byung-hun Lee

Red 2 opens in Australian cinemas on August 29 and is distributed by Hopscotch Films. Now showing in the USA and UK.

While Red 2 tries to promise a great film experience by tempting you with an amazingly ensembled cast, the film is rarely better than plain bland.

The last 25 minutes of the film are perhaps the best, but it takes a lot of patience to get to this point and not have given up on the film. However, the sequel to 2010's Red is saved by thoroughly entertaining performances by Helen Mirren, John Malkovich and Anthony Hopkins and some pretty exciting action matter how unlikely and unrealistic those sequences may be.

Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is back with his girlfriend, Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) and once partner in crime and best friend, Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich). Frank and Marvin have been linked incorrectly to a secret operation called Nightshade and are on the run from the authorities as a result. As well as having the authorities on their tails, Victoria (Helen Mirren) has been hired to kill Frank, as has Han (Byung-hun Lee). Together they try to find out exactly what is this top secret operation is that they have been linked to and when they finally find Nightshade creator, Dr Edward Bailey (Anthony Hopkins), everyone realises that there is more than meets the eye to Nightshade.

Although it has it's entertaining moments thanks largely to it's wonderful cast, Red 2 is quite lack lustre and borders on the ridiculous on more than one occasion. It is in the first 20 minutes when watching Bruce Willis' Frank take on 15 armed men and come out victorious that you can't help but scoff at how unlikely this seems. Of course in the majority of action films there is usually the presence of less than realistic action sequences, but here in Red 2 we just have no belief that Frank Moses is all he claims to be even though he has so many near death moments throughout the film that he lives through.

Although the script can be just as ridiculous at times. Some of the dialogue (especially that said by Mary-Louise Parker) can be particularly silly and annoying. The story itself has some good moments, such as the uncovering of the Nightshade mystery. Yet it also has it's bad and unnecessary moments, such as the inclusion of the side story of Frank and Katya (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and inclusion of the character of Katya at all. The ending of the film doesn't gather any suspense at all with a conclusion as predictable as the end of day.

On the positive side of things, there are some very entertaining moments in Red 2. Perhaps the best scene in the film is when Victoria and Han are in the car together and the shoot out that takes place. Visually, it was an interesting decision Dean Parisot made to link scenes together by having an outline of the last character seen on screen, and then a red screen leading to a shot of the location for the next scene with the name of the city included. It doesn't really add anything to the film, but there is no real reason to dislike it. It is just an interesting inclusion which makes it a bit more like the traditional comic book to film adaptation.

While there are some ordinary performances by some actors in Red 2, there are some other very entertaining performances. Bruce Willis. who is the main character of the film, seems to be playing the same role he has played in countless films before. His performance doesn't contain any points for discussion, other than it was just mediocre and flat. Mary-Louise Parker plays a character who is just plain irritating, far more irritating than in the first film. Her naivety for the situations she finds herself in is more stupid than endearing. She is not a particularly strong nor inspiring female figure.

Helen Mirren is the best part of the film with her brilliant delivery of her colourful dialogue. She is an amazing female action star and is cooler than many in the younger generation of butt-kicking females in action at the moment. Those who are followers of Mirren's career will have a good giggle at her scene in the asylum where she mimics a character she has played in the past.

Catherine Zeta-Jones' character is not overly useful in the grand scheme of things and her inclusion really isn't necessary. It isn't a particularly interesting performance by her, but it would be hard to give a great performance of a character who really isn't that great. Anthony Hopkins gives a very good performance as Dr Edward Bailey and shows that he can just as likable as he can subtly terrifying. John Malkovich provides great comic relief to the film with some cracking lines and very funny antics.

Red 2 is just a little too mediocre to make it a successful sequel. As a stand alone film, it not a success by any means. However, the presence of Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins and John Malkovich make the film bearable enough.


You may have also seen Bruce Willis in....
Looper as Joe

You may have also seen Helen Mirren in....
The Last Station as Countess Sofya
Hitchcock as Alma Reville

You may have also seen Anthony Hopkins in....
Hitchcock as Alfred Hitchcock

Friday, August 23, 2013

Korean Film Festival Australia: A Werewolf Boy (2012)

Year: 2012
Running Time: 122 minutes
Director: Jo Sung-hee
Writer: Jo Sung-hee
Cast: Park Bo-Young, Song Joong-Ki, Jang Young-nam, Yoo Yeon-Seok

A Werewolf Boy is the official opening film for the Korean Film Festival in Australia 2013. Screened in Brisbane on the 14th August and Sydney on the 21st August. Screening in Melbourne on the 5th September. Please see here official site for tickets and venue details.

A Werewolf Boy was also screened at this year's Melbourne International Film Festival and screened on the 3rd and 11th August.

As the top grossing melodrama at the Korean box office of all time, A Werewolf Boy has something for everyone.

One wouldn't suspect it by just reading the title of the film, but A Werewolf Boy is so incredibly sweet and beautiful. It turns a stereotypically horror associated character into a lovable and misunderstood soul who craves love and friendship. The film has a bit of everything in it with plenty of laughs, tear-jerker moments and despite it's light content for the most part, you can't have a film about a werewolf without having a few scary moments.

47 years ago, a young girl, Suni (Park Bo-Young) and her family move into a farmhouse to make a new start. They soon discover that there is a feral boy (Song Joong-Ki) living on their property. They take in the boy, who's behaviour is more like a wolf or dog than a boy, and rename him Chul-Soo. Suni and Chul-Soo share a very special bond as the two become best friends and each other's first love. When neighbours start to find out what Chul-Soo really is, it puts him in real danger and will break both his and Suni's hearts.

A Werewolf Boy is a beautiful breath of fresh air in cinema. This genre hybrid is unlike any other teen romance film where a human falls in love with a supernatural creature. The big difference here is that unique beauty really is present in the relationship between Suni and Chul-Soo. Neither of them speak the same language as each other, but they both come to understand each other and do not want to be without the other. There is no love at first sight, but rather the progress of a relationship which is based on respect and friendship. There is also so much beauty in the innocence of the friendship between Suni and Chul-Soo, as well as in all the scenes with the younger children of the village. It is so well done how the script allows us to see how children are more accepting of those who are different and can sense when there is good in the difference.

Although the story does come completely equipped with the promise of it being not completely realistic, the ending of the film starts to makes it seem a bit more like a fairytale. The ending really is a matter of personal taste and opinion as to whether you will appreciate it. It seems a highly unlikely outcome and also one which doesn't really quite add up. It is still a sweet ending nevertheless.

A Werewolf Boy is also visually beautiful. The countryside in which the farmhouse is located in beautiful and in the snow this beauty is amplified.

Park Bo-Young is absolutely wonderful in this film. She is such a beautiful and relatable character. You see her character change throughout the film and one of her last scenes in the film in which she is in the woods, she is just sublime and absolutely heartbreaking in. Song Joong-Ki is also wonderful. Whilst many people may think that acting like a dog for the majority of the film may be an easy task, he proves this isn't the case. His Chul-Soo is an extremely complex character, as he changes so much throughout the film and his change needs to be shown gradually and convincingly. His mannerisms are spot on for the part he is playing and after establishing that he is not the scary monster people think he is, he is the object of the audience's affection.

A Werewolf Boy is truly a film for everyone, in a way that is so rare these days. It is a treat to see something so different get it right and be a thing of true beauty.


The Korean Film Festival in Australia will be in these cities on the following dates:
Brisbane      14th-18th August
Sydney         21st-29th August
Melbourne  5th-11th September

For more information, please see the Korean Film Festival in Australia Official Website

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Kick-Ass 2 (2013)

Year: 2013
Running Time: 103 minutes
Director: Jeff Wadlow
Writer: Jeff Wadlow
Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jim Carrey, Donald Faison

Kick Ass 2 opens in Australian cinemas on the 22nd of August 2013 and is now showing in the USA and UK.

Sequel sequel sequel. Kick-Ass 2 couldn't possibly be any more stereotypically one.

As you would expect it to be, Kick-Ass 2 is just pushing the limits of what the original was. Kick-Ass was the stuff cult classics are made of. It was not a usual film of the superhero genre by a long stretch and shocked the masses of people who thought it was appropriate to take their children to see the film. So Kick-Ass 2 tries to push the boundaries even more by making it more violent, cruder and throwing in more wannabe superheroes.

While Dave (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is taking a break from being his superhero alter-ego, Kick-Ass, there is a whole new league of new superheroes on the street, all ordinary people wanting to make a difference. Dave decides that he wants to give it another go and calls on Mindy Macready, AKA Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) to be his partner and help him out. Mindy has her own problems at hand with trying to deal with losing her father and also the typical teenage woes that come along with starting high school. While Mindy is AWOL from the superhero world, Dave teams up with a new team of superheroes led by Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey). In the meantime, Dave's arch nemesis, Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is building a team of super-villains all for the purpose of bringing down Kick-Ass.

Kick-Ass 2 is just overly silly. It isn't bad to the point where you should just get up and walk out of the cinema, but it is pretty much just an unnecessary sequel. Kick-Ass worked not only because of it's shock factor, but also because it was so unlike your typical superhero genre film. While Kick-Ass 2 is not entirely a regular type of superhero film, it does start to move towards being one with how many clichés are thrown into the mix. Director and writer, Jeff Wadlow wants to say in as many ways as possible that ordinary people can do super things and that we all can be superheroes is we believe we can be. The presence of such clichés and constant reminder of them throughout the film just take the Kick-Ass franchise in genre film territory.

There is still an element of fun to this film, regardless of how ridiculous and silly it can be at times. The fighting scenes and the defining personalities of each of the characters do make the film bearable. All of the characters in the film are enjoyable to watch and they all have a great deal of development to let the audience understand who they are. However, for the main characters of Dave/ Kick-Ass, Mindy/ Hit Girl and Chris/ The Mother-F**ker (yes, that is his name in the film), their defining character moments still belong in the first film so if you haven't seen the original, you may struggle to connect with them.

While Kick-Ass was notorious for it's shock tactics throughout the film, the sequel tries to do the same, but really just takes it a little too far. While this film is violent just like the first film and therefore not as much of a shock, it is it's crude humour takes the cake as being the factor that takes it just a little too far. The lunch room scene with Mindy and the mean girls is just too much no matter what way you look at it. Everything to do with Mindy and the other girls at school is just very overdone and also just ridiculous to the point that it is just cringe-worthy. Yet, it is definitely the lunch room scene that is the most ridiculous and disgusting of the film.

Regardless of the ridiculous and over blown nature of the film, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Chloe Grace Moretz still do well. They have wonderful onscreen chemistry and make the mot of the roles which are handed to them. They are both fine actors, and it is a credit to the two of them that when they are in such a film as this, it is still evident that the two of them have incredible talent. Jim Carrey has a much smaller role than is suspected. He does well enough in the role which he has, but it isn't quite as comical as you would want it to be.

Kick-Ass 2 isn't a complete loss, but still reinforces the fact that Kick-Ass really didn't need a sequel and nothing has really been achieved (besides the fact that Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Chloe Grace Moretz can act well in anything) by having one.


You may have also seen Aaron Taylor-Johnson in......
Kick-Ass as Dave/Kick-Ass
Nowhere Boy as John Lennon

Aaron Taylor-Johnson was also our Movie Critical Rising Star of the Month in April 2010

You may have also seen Chloe Grace Moretz in......
Kick-Ass as Mindy/Hit Girl
Hugo as Isabelle

Chloe Grace Moretz was also our Movie Critical Rising Star of the Month in July 2012

Monday, August 19, 2013

Possible Worlds Festival: Drinking Buddies (2013)

Year: 2013
Running Time: 90 minutes
Director: Joe Swanberg
Writer: Joe Swanberg
Cast: Olivia Wilde, Anna Kendrick, Jake Johnson, Ron Livingston

Drinking Buddies screened as the closing film for the 2013 Possible Worlds Festival of American & Canadian Film. Also screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival on the 27th of July and 7th of August 2013.

 Drawing completely on improvisation, Drinking Buddies truly is art reflecting life.

There is something so incredibly charming about this film in the way that it is connects with you on a personal level by how real the characters and their situations are. The technique of having no script and instead complete improvisation allows for the actors to completely immerse themselves in the situation and makes the film so realistic. The result of this technique may make Drinking Buddies slow and uneventful for some, but for others, they will understand how the result is more like watching life than watching a film and be charmed.

Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) are co-workers at a beer brewing company who are as close as close can be and on the borderline of becoming more than friends. That would be the case if Kate didn't have Chris (Ron Livingston) and Luke didn't have Jill (Anna Kendrick). When the two couples take a weekend away together, Chris and Jill share a stolen kiss and suddenly everything changes.

Everything changes when Chris and Jill kiss, but not in the dramatic fashion in which such a kiss would change everything in a typical film. In Drinking Buddies, we see life in motion on screen. All the signs that point to the way each of the characters feel about each other are there, but they are all so subtle. The camera catches all these little hints of attraction between the characters and the signs of secrets being kept, but without the help of the camera you may not have been able to pick them up in all their subtlety. This is what makes the film so beautiful as it shows how all this would happen in life, without the over-exaggeration normally administered in your typical romantic comedy film.

It is interesting as well how with the film being told in conversation style, the humour also changes. It feels like it is easy to laugh at the things the characters say as if you were there with them and sharing a personal joke with them. There are some very funny one-liners in the film, which don't seem particularly funny when put on paper and taken out of context, but are so funnily appropriate in the film.

Drinking Buddies also does give you some things to think about as far as relationships are concerned, particularly about the moments that define your perfect soul mate. The film doesn't click into cliché mode and as a result there is a sense of suspense as to what is really going to happen between these four people.

While some people will be in awe of the result of this film in the knowledge that it is improvised, it still may not be everyone's cup of tea. Some people will find it quite uneventful and tedious in parts as a result of how subtle it is. Drinking Buddies is not a typical rom-com where the romance and comedy are overemphasised and it is just like watching regular people in regular situations on screen. So for some it may not be as entertaining as they may like it to be.

The four lead actors seem to strive in their roles under Joe Swanberg's direction. Olivia Wilde is absolutely wonderful as Kate and this is her best performance to date. She is so natural and her character is so real and full of personality. Wilde is also very convincing and wonderfully funny. Anna Kendrick is also wonderful and while her Jill doesn't seem as though she is a very complex character, she is a joy to watch. Jake Johnson is so incredibly likable as Luke. Although it is Wilde who is the star, Johnson is such a joy on screen and his Luke is perhaps a tad more likable than Kate.

Drinking Buddies is a great example of art reflecting life. The fact that it is purely improvised makes the film all the more likable. As has been said by many who have seen the film, best to be viewed and enjoyed with a beer in your hand.



You may have also seen Olivia Wilde in......
TRON Legacy as Quorra

You may have also seen Anna Kendrick in.....
Up In The Air as Natalie

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Melbourne Film Festival: The Spectacular Now (2013)

Year: 2013
Running Time: 95 minutes
Director: James Ponsoldt
Writers: Tim Tharp (novel), Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (screenplay)
Cast: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Brie Larson
The Spectacular Now screened at Melbourne International Film Festival on the 31st of July and 10th of August 2013.
Now showing in the United States, please see local guide for locations and times. Opening in Australia on the 5th of December 2013 and distributed by Buena Vista.
Very rarely does a high school coming of age film create a real emotional connection with it's audience and avoid the stereotypes associated with the genre.
The Spectacular Now is one of those rare films which has a simple story, yet is emotionally stimulating and challenges you to see how your actions in the here and now can affect the shape of things to come. With subtle yet wonderful performances. this film is not exactly uplifting, but does leave you in love with the two main characters and absolutely wanting more.
In the last year of high school when everyone is deciding which college they want to go to and where they will move away to, Sutter (Miles Teller) is more content just enjoying life as it is and not worrying about the trials and tribulations of things to come. When he meets and falls for Aimee (Shailene Woodley), a shy girl who is naïve to Sutter's world of pre-alcoholism, he starts to recognise the factors in his life which do need to change which are destructive to both himself and those who he cares for.
 Whilst the beginnings of the film indicate that this may just turn out to be "just another teen movie", it is most definitely not. The great thing is that despite not being stereotypical in it's delivery, The Spectacular Now is absolutely a film which teenagers can relate to, especially those who are at the crossroads and trying to figure out what to do once their schooling days are over. People who are past those days will also be able to relate to this film, as there are a great deal of adult themes used throughout the film. Unlike most teenage style movies, there is real depth to this film and a whole lot of feeling. It isn't quite a tearjerker, but is more emotionally challenging than draining.
The story is almost simplistic as it is not overdramatic and filled with subtlety. It is more to do with how the present and our decisions now shape us for the future. Sutter is a budding alcoholic, but he isn't at the point just yet where damage has been done. He is rather in the process of getting to that point. While he is just having fun now, the ball is rolling for damage later on and The Spectacular Now is about this time in people's lives when the future can be altered. This is not to say that there are not moments when it feels like things are really terrible and they are very emotional moments. The screenplay is really very good for being able to create this in a film.
The characters of The Spectacular Now are what really make the film spectacular. Miles Teller's Sutter is such a complex and interesting character. He is a cocky teenager who is into partying, drinking and girls and seems like he is on the path to self-destruction. He doesn't sound like a particularly likable character, but as the film progresses and his inner demons are revealed, you actually find him quite endearing and sympathize with him. Teller does an amazing job in this film and the way his character develops throughout the film is wonderful. His absolute standout scene is with Jennifer Jason Leigh, who plays his mother, in their kitchen.
Shailene Woodley is also brilliant. In a completely subtle performance, she is just adorable from the word go. It is such a controlled performance by Woodley and like Teller, she portrays such a likable character. The audience instantly sympathizes with Aimee and feels sorry for her in all her naivety and worry about what ways Sutter may sway her.
The Spectacular Now is a film that is, as the name suggests, spectacular in all it's subtlety.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Melbourne Film Festival: Artifact (2012)

Year: 2012
Running Time: 103 minutes
Director: Bartholomew Cubbins
Cast: Jared Leto, Shannon Leto, Tomo Milicevic, Irving Azoff

Artifact screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival on the 9th and 11th of August 2013

When Thirty Seconds To Mars set out to make their third album and wanted to document the experience, they hadn't anticipated that this "Making of...." featurette was going to turn into a documentary about the changing face of music and it's major labels today.

While quite interesting and a treat for any Thirty Seconds To Mars fan, Artifact is extremely one sided and can come across more like a scripted reality television show at times rather than a documentary. In all honesty it is quite well directed and the cinematography in particular scenes is beautiful, but the editing choices made slow down the film, make it a tad messy and take all of the suspense out of the film.

Rock band Thirty Seconds To Mars enjoyed huge success with their second album, "A Beautiful Lie", but did not receive a cent from it. While recording their third album, "This Is War", they enter into a contractual battle with their record company, industry heavyweights, EMI, who threaten to sue the band for $30 million. Artifact takes us for a ride through the long and drawn out lawsuit between Thirty Seconds To Mars and EMI and gives us an insight into the music industry and the challenges of signing with a big music label.

As this is a documentary made by Thirty Seconds To Mars about their battle with EMI, one undoubtedly expects it to be primarily their side of the story. As we all know, there are two sides to every story and we only get to see one. The whole film is extremely bias towards major music labels such as EMI being bad for recording artists. This doesn't mean that the information which we are presented with throughout the film isn't accurate or that it is exaggerated, but it is only for the argument that major labels lock recording artists into contracts of disadvantage to them. The evidence which they present us with is very convincing as they have interviews with several recording artists and past EMI employees to back up their claims so they do state their argument very well. However, it would have been nice to have included something from EMI or another such label and their present employees to present both sides of the argument to eliminate the overwhelming feeling of bias.

Whether it is or not, Artifact does also seem to be scripted, rather than being shot as events are happening as you are led to believe. There is no doubt that all the events which are in the film definitely took place, but there are some scenes which seem just a little too posed to have not been scripted. For example, as Jared Leto stands looking out over the Hollywood Hills and receives an important phone call while the sun sets around him. It is a beautiful scenes, but astonishing how he could be receiving such an important phone call with such a beautiful backdrop. It could all well be a stroke of luck and a perfect one for the film, but is just a bit coincidental.

The documentary itself is quite well made. While we wonder whether it is a scripted moment or not, we can still marvel at the beauty of the cinematography. In particular, many of the scenes taken in the Hollywood Hills are quite beautiful, as are those of Leto at the beach in Miami. The editing makes for a lot of to and froing in between recording the album, talking about the major record labels and talking about the changing face of the music industry, which does indeed slow the film down.

However, none of this will matter too much if you are a Thirty Seconds To Mars fan. If you are familiar with the band, you will know that they really do value and appreciate their fans. This documentary was initially a project to accompany their third album and ultimately a chance for the fans to see the band in action. It is a treat for those who know and love the band to see a bit more of them and sit in on their recording sessions and hear them talk a bit more about themselves and what is going on in their lives. It is also quite funny at times, as the three band members all do have a sense of humour and there are some very funny moments throughout the film at the hands of the Leto brothers and Tomo Milicevic.

Artifact is what is sets out to be and that is a startling look at the music industry, but they do only let you see what they want you to see. However, it is still a treat for fans of Thirty Seconds To Mars.


On a side note.....
Despite what it may look like from my review above, I am indeed a Thirty Seconds To Mars fan. Considering what was going on during the recording of their third album, I am so impressed with the result. "This Is War" is truly a great album and for them to create such a good album with everything that is going on around them, it's very commendable.

Here are my two favourite Thirty Seconds To Mars songs. "The Kill" is also one of my favourite video clips as I am a big fan of Stanley Kubrick's, The Shining.

Melbourne Film Festival: Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer (2013)

Year: 2013
Running Time: 88 minutes
Director: Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin
Cast: Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich

Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival on the 30th of July, 4th and 9th of August 2013.

One of the most intriguing cases in Russia's recent days paves the way for one very interesting and equalling intriguing documentary

Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer is an exceptionally well made film which achieves what many documentaries with similarly controversial topics don't, the freedom of choice. Just as the members of Pussy Riot believe in the freedom to voice their opinions, this film believes that the audience has a right to the freedom to choose whether they believe that the members of the all female band are the victims or have received a just punishment. As well as being un-bias, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer is wonderfully made and extremely thorough and informative.

On the 21st of February 2012, five girls dressed in bright coloured dresses and balaclavas took to a Moscow Russian Orthodox Cathedral and performed in protest of the church leader's support of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova , Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich were arrested for hooliganism and faced seven years in prison if found guilty. This film covers the trial from beginning to end and the controversy surrounding the girls and their fight for freedom.

There could not have been a more thorough examination of the phenomenon which Pussy Riot has created. Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorvkin's film looks at every possible detail that accompanies the band and it's trial. With interviews with those closest to the three girls, we find out more about who each of them are and how and why they became involved in Pussy Riot. There are also interviews with those who are for the girls and those who are against, so you are not hearing second hand information and the accuracy of the film is heightened. Footage from the crucial moments in the court room are also included in the film, as well as those happenings between protesters and police outside the courtroom. It is absolutely intriguing to watch for those who do and don't know much about Pussy Riot, and also is a great look into the Russian judicial system.

For the most part, the film is un-bias. Both sides of the argument as to whether these girls should have to endure the sentence or not are presented. Those who were extremely offended by actions of the girls are allowed to have their say in the film, and this is not just restricted to the leaders of the church, but also civilians. The "for" side does have more screen time in the film and this could be the film makers trying to lean the audience to that side, but all in all, we are allowed to make up our own mind from watching the film.

The editing of the film is superb. Even though there are flashbacks and moments taken to look at the girls backgrounds, the film just seems to flow smoothly. For those who don't know the story of Pussy Riot, there is a suspense there which keeps you going till the end. If you hadn't known much about the trial before, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer provides you with the intrigue to keep following the revelations of the case from here on in.

What we have here is a very well made documentation of an intriguing current issue. This film will be known in the future as the best resource in finding out exactly who Pussy Riot is and what happened in the court room as a result of their actions.


Monday, August 12, 2013

Melbourne Film Festival: The Congress (2013)

Year: 2013
Running Time: 122 minutes
Director: Ari Folman
Writers: Stanislaw Lem (novel), Ari Folman (screenplay)
Cast: Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Jon Hamm, Paul Giamatti, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Sami Gayle

The Congress screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival on the 28th of July and 8th of August 2013.

The Congress is a film like no other.

With it's combination of live action and animation, The Congress is incredibly creative and original and is visually an absolute masterpiece. However, you can count on one thing when it comes to The Congress, and that is that opinions will absolutely be divided. Some people will love it for it's creativity and original take on the future, will others will find it's surrealistic elements just too strange and bizarre to tolerate.

Robin Wright (played by herself) is an actress faced with the reality that she has not made a decent film in 15 years and is unsure what where her career is going. Her manager, Al (Harvey Keitel) comes to her with an offer that would see her signing her life away to the studio as a result of the changing face of the film business. This decision affects Robin in ways going into the future that she, nor anybody else, ever would have considered possible.

Based on the novel by Stanislaw Lam, "The Futurological Congress", The Congress is really one of a kind. It can be described as sci-fi in it's futuristic qualities. The future in the film is represented by animation and with this animation comes the ability to create a more surrealistic feel to the film, as there is so much more which animation is capable of when creating this world. It is able to do things for the visuals of the film which CGI still would not be able to accomplish. As a result of this mix of live action and animation to tell the story about the future of the film business and then the future of human kind, The Congress is not like any other film. It is completely intriguing and very, very clever.

However, it is the content and visuals combined that will make this film just too strange for some to tolerate a full viewing of. Many of the futuristic scenes contain some very surreal images, especially when Robin inhales hallucinogenic fumes (that could well speak for itself) and the many of the scenes that follow that. If surrealism in film doesn't interest you and you don't find it entertaining, than The Congress will not do anything for you. Indeed it is something you need to be open to and accept in order to see the beauty of the film.

The animated scenes are visually brilliant. The colours used are exquisite and overwhelming in the emotions which they themselves are capable of evoking. What is so incredible about the animation, is that it is not just the main characters and objects that receive the most attention, but everything around them. There is so much going on in each scene that it is impossible just to concentrate on one item or character. One such scene is where Robin and Dylan (voiced by Jon Hamm) are in the restaurant and there are many animated versions of well known personalities wandering around in the background, which is a real treat to try and spot as many as you can!

Robin Wright is the centre of the film. She is really quite wonderful in all the live action scenes of the film which she is in. Her performance, in both the live action and the animation which she lends her voice to, is really very melancholy and she never really seems very happy, which after awhile can become quite distressing to watch. Harvey Keitel is very good in the scenes which he is in. He has one really incredible scene in which he goes from telling and amusing and funny story to ending up in heartbreaking tears. Kodi Smit-McPhee also does well as Robin's unwell son and Sami Gayle does well as her sassy daughter, Sarah.

The Congress will definitely prove a little too weird for some, but for those who are open to the concept of surrealism and the marriage of that surrealism with animation, they will have a wonderful treat.


You may have also seen Robin Wright in.....
The Conspirator as Mary Surratt

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Melbourne Film Festival: The Rocket (2013)

Year: 2013
Running Time: 96 minutes
Director: Kim Mordaunt
Writer: Kim Mordaunt
Cast: Sitthiphon Disamoe, Loungnam Kaosainam, Thep Phongam, Bunsri Yindi, Sumrit Warin, Alice Keohavong

The Rocket will be screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival on the 8th and 10th of August 2013. Please see official site for more information

The Rocket will open in Australian cinemas on the 29th of August and is distributed by Curious Films.

Winner of the Sydney Film Festival's Audience Award this year,  The Rocket is a piece of pure beauty.

A film that will both break your heart, but also fill you with love and joy, The Rocket is one of the first films for international distribution that is set and filmed in the war torn country of Laos. It gives the world a look inside of the broken yet beautiful country while telling a coming-of-age story like no  other. This combination with the addition of incredible performances of memorable characters makes Kim Mordaunt's debut feature film one of the best of the year. 

A set of boy twins are born in Laos, where it is believed that each set of twins contains one child which is a blessing and one which will bring bad luck on the family. One of the boys is a still-born and the other is allowed to live, but Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamoe) is always believed to be the bad luck twin, especially by his grandmother (Bunsri Yindi). When his family is forced to move from their native home, they come across hard times. Ahlo believes that he can win a rocket competition and win the prize money that will allow his family to live on their land and grow the mango trees he wants to plant in rememberence of his mother.


Writer and director Mordaunt has done an absolutely incredible job at telling the story of Laos by telling the story of Ahlo and his family and friends. There are not two stories being told during the film, but we are learning just as much about the characters as we are about the country at the same time. The Rocket is the film that it is because of the country it is filmed and set in and as it is so rare to have a film set in Laos, it is completely original and like no other.  The Rocket Festival is indeed a real competition and according to Mordaunt and producer, Sylvia Wilczynski, is almost metaphorical in the most bombed country in the world, as they are sending the bombs back up to where they fell from. That really says something about the beautiful people living in Laos, as they have made a happy occasion out of something so terrible. It is this spirit that assists in the overall beauty of the film, as it starts off so heartbreaking, but turns into something so uplifting.

The cinematography and musical score do nothing but give complete and utter support to the beauty aspect of the film. The landscape shots are breathtaking and you can smell the incense in the air. One incredible scene is when Ahlo is swimming and the camera sees everything he sees, including all the fallen spiritual statues underwater. The music is wonderful and fitting for every scene. There is traditional music, but it is a great moment when James Brown suddenly starts blaring as Ahlo is being chased. 

The characters and those who play them are just as wonderful as each other. Both Sitthiphon Disamoe and Loungnam Kaosainam, who plays the little orphan girl, Kia are incredible in their very first on screen roles. Disamoe has talent beyond his years and plays a character who the audience connects with and instantly feels sorry for. However, when Kaosainam is on screen, she absolutely steals the show. At such a young age, she is as good a supporting actress as any you will see. Like Disamoe, she is beyond her years and a complete natural on the camera.

Purple, who is played by Thep Phongam is one memorable character, particularly for his obsession with James Brown. He has some hilarious scenes and is like an enigma for the better partof the film. Alice Keohavong, who plays Ahlo's mother, Mali, cannot be forgotten. When on screen, you are bewildered by the fierce love she has for her son. It is so intense how she feels for her son and it is not hard to believe that he is her everything. Bunsri Yindi, who plays Ahlo's grandmother is also a fierce character, but has some very funny moments. 

The Rocket is one of the most incredible films of the year. It is a flawless film which is entrancing, suspenseful and a masterpiece. A wonderful way to capture the true essence of Laos.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Remembering Sharon Tate

Sharon Marie Tate-Polanski
24 January 1943- 9 August 1969

It was 44 years ago tonight that the world lost the beautiful Sharon Tate. 44 years ago that Charles Manson's followers took the lives of five innocent people who they had never met and wrote themselves into history by doing so.

It's a tragedy that these days when people hear the name Sharon Tate, they instantly think of her death rather than who she was in life. I'm not going to lie, as a fan of Hollywood history, I have done a great deal of reading on the Manson Family and "Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders" by Vincent Bugliosi is my favourite non-fiction book so I have come to know more about Tate through reading about the circumstances surrounding her death. However, through my reading I have come to realise how sad it is that Tate is remembered for her death more than for her beauty or for her successful yet brief career.

For those who are not familiar with Sharon Tate, she was an American film actress born in 1943 to parents, Doris and Paul Tate. Her early life was one of constant moving around as her father was in the military. She started acting and modelling when her and her family were living abroad in Italy and when they returned home to America, Tate wanted to try her luck in Hollywood. Her natural beauty and ambition landed her many modelling jobs and several small acting roles. Her first role of note was as Janet Trego in "The Beverly Hillbillies" where she sported a short brown wig to hide her long blonde locks. Tate's biggest roles were in Dance Of The Vampires, The Wrecking Crew and Valley of the Dolls, which earned her a Golden Globe nomination. She passed away aged only 26.

During my reading, something else also struck me about Tate. Not only was she an incredibly beautiful woman on the outside, but from all accounts she had an absolutely beautiful soul. According to the book, "Restless Souls: The Sharon Tate Family's Account of Stardom, the Manson Murders and Crusade For Justice" by Alisa Statman and Brie Tate (which has proved quite controversial), Sharon was very close to her mother and father and two younger sisters, Debra and Patti. In an interview which Debra did with photographer, Alan Mercer, she quotes that Sharon was her everything, she was her world. She was a kind soul who loved animals and was a wonderful friend. Her husband, director Roman Polanski said of his late wife that she was a friend to everyone and could never turn away friendship.

Tate was about to have something else to love in her life before her life was so cruelly taken away, she was 8 months pregnant at the time of her death. Tate was the last to die that night at Cielo Drive and before she died, she pleaded with Manson family member, Susan Atkins to take her away and let her have her baby and then kill her. Tate already had the love of her mother and would have sacrificed herself for her baby, which was a boy who Polanski named Paul, after Sharon's father. From reading all I have about Tate, there is no doubt in my mind that she would have been an incredible mother.

I recently read "Inherent Vice" by Thomas Pynchon and one of the characters said something in reference to Tate which stuck with me. In one part of the novel, the character of Shasta talks of how the murder of Tate really cut to the core of those starlets in Los Angeles at the time because it showed that even if you were a good girl in Hollywood, that didn't make you immune to meeting a violent end in that town. Even though "Inherent Vice" is a work of fiction, it is something I could imagine would have been on the minds of many girls in the same world as Tate. She was one of the good girls. Not saying that she never took a step out of line, but she was well liked by everyone and madly in love with her husband. Her only other great love besides Polanski was her ex-fiancé and celebrity hairstylist, Jay Sebring, who remained a close friend of her and Polanski's and was also among the murdered at Cielo Drive that night. The death of a beautiful soul such as Tate scared those who inspired to be a good person. The horrible reality is that Tate was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

All this information I have gathered about Tate reinforces why I believe it is so sad that she is remembered by many purely for how she died. She clearly was one of those rare and amazing people who make the world a better place. The Manson Family almost became celebrities themselves when they committed their crimes and here I don't want to focus on who they are or their role at Cielo Drive here as there is plenty of material out there to find out all about them. Sharon Tate deserves to be remembered for all the beauty she had, both inside and out and not always in the same sentence as murderers.

Based on how much I know now about Sharon Tate, I hope she is an angel in Heaven nursing baby Paul and I have no doubt she happily is.

The Official Sharon Tate Website
The Tate Family Legacy Website
The Tate-LaBianca Homicide Research Blog
Sharon Tate
Statman, Alisa, Tate, Brie, 2012, Restless Souls: The Sharon Tate Family's Account of Stardom, the Manson Murders and Crusade For Justice, It Books
Bugliosi, Vincent, 1974, Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders, Bantam

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Possible Worlds Film Festival: It Felt Like Love (2013)

Year: 2013
Running Time: 82 minutes
Director: Eliza Hittman
Writer: Eliza Hittman
Cast: Gina Piersanti, Giovanna Salimeni, Ronen Rubenstein

It Felt Like Love will be screening at the  2013 Possible Worlds Festival of American & Canadian Film at 6:30 on the 17th of August 2013 at the Dendy Opera Quays. For information on tickets, please see here

While a visually beautiful film with incredible cinematography, It Felt Like Love is extremely confronting and often uncomfortable to watch. However, the way it springs your mind into action afterwards in worth the unsettlement you feel.

The all too familiar issue of girls wanting to grow up too fast is brought to the forefront in Eliza Hittman's debut feature film. It is almost an assault on your emotions as you painfully watch while innocence is destroyed in a brutally sexually confronting fashion. While feeling uneasy about the subject matter, there are some incredibly beautiful landscape shots which provides a calming aspect to the film.

Fourteen year old Lila (Gina Piersanti) is lonely and awkward within herself during a Brooklyn summer. As she see's those around her having romantic ventures, she longs to have that herself. When she meets an older thug at the beach, she invents a sexual history for herself to make herself seem more mature and experienced which leads to her landing herself in a vulnerable and dangerous situation.

Although very confronting and often uncomfortable, It Felt Like Love has so many layers that challenge you to rethink they way you thought about certain issues such as the destruction of innocence. In a world where people are quick to point out what the things that celebrities do that make them a bad role model to children, maybe there really is a lot more to it than that. Lila wants to grow up quickly for many reasons and not one of them is to be like her favourite singer or actress. She is a lonely girl who wants the same company that she see's other people around her have. She is quite obviously bored at home by herself and wants to be out with other people and she finds that inventing this history is a way to keep people interested in her. It also doesn't help that her best friend is older and exploring sexual territory, which she openly shares the details with Lila about. Lila, being younger and wanting to fit in, mimics Chiara's (played by Giovanna Salimeni) words and actions as younger people to do those they look up to.  In saying this, Lila is still so young and innocent that she doesn't completely understand what Chiara is saying or the complexity of it. It Felt Like Love encourages us to ponder what really destroys innocence. Is it external influences such as people like Rihanna or Miley Cyrus, or those around us, or is it more a cause of internal issues such as loneliness and wanting to become someone else?

The cinematography of the film is breathtaking. It takes you on a journey of the outer areas of Brooklyn and New York that are not normally shown on screen and makes that area of the world almost unrecognisable. The scene in the marshes is very impressive and as said before, makes you forget the intensity of the issues and instantly calms you. The shots at the beach are also quite beautiful. The ferris wheel scene is also wonderfully filmed and intriguing to watch.

The first shot of Gina Piersanti as Lila is so memorable and absolutely perfect. Her face tells a million stories and you learn more about her character just from this facial expression than you learn from other characters over a whole film. You instantly know how lonely and awkward this girl is and her face begs you to feel for her and be her friend. Piersanti is just wonderful in the whole film, but it is the first minute of her that leaves the biggest impression on you.

It Felt Like Love is incredibly powerful. So powerful when it comes to the corruption of innocence in girls that many people may not enjoy being so unsettled during the film. Yet, it is a real beauty in the way it subliminally approaches current society issues and the visuals are exquisite.


The Possible Worlds Festival of American & Canadian Cinema will run from the 8th-18th of August 2013 at Dendy Opera Quays and Dendy Newtown in Sydney. Please see the official website for more details.