Friday, June 23, 2017

#Top10....with Rebecca Ryan

#Top10 is a brand new feature to Movie Critical. Each week we will be chatting to a film lover or a member of the film community about their #Top10 favourite films and discussing what makes these films so special to them. We all have different tastes in film and watch movies differently depending on who we are. The object of #Top10 is to share the love of film and hopefully you the reader can find some new favourites.

This week we spoke to Sydney based film-lover, Rebecca Ryan! Here's what Rebecca had to say....

My parents weren’t movie people, but I grew up watching a small handful of VHS tapes (The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking, The Little Rascals, Milo and Otis, The Neverending Story, Drop Dead Fred, A Little Princess, The Secret Garden). Then I discovered a small video store on the corner of my street, so I started walking there and renting all the Olsen twins’ movies. But I certainly did not get much of a film education until I started working at a different video store around 2002 at age 14. As such, most of my favourites are recent films, and I have very significant gaps in my viewing – especially films released before the 1970s. 

I tend to fall for films which are quiet and intimate. I am drawn towards the representation of parenthood and childhood on screen, particularly things that allude to the impact of upbringing and household dynamics. I will quite easily overlook minor issues with screenplays or performances, so long as a film nails it's cinematography. Yet I want to be challenged by film. I want it to make me question life. I want to see the world through the eyes of another, and change my own worldview in the process. 

The Virgin Suicides (1999, Sofia Coppola)

On high rotation in my house as a teen, The Virgin Suicides is perfect for a melancholic Sunday viewing. Then, as an angsty young teenager stuck in a small regional town, I saw it as an on-screen representation of the suffocation I was feeling. Yet there is something beautiful and idyllic about teenage imprisonment here – frilly dresses, living room-sized bedrooms, and Josh Hartnett-faced love interests. It is perhaps not as objectively good as it is dear to me, but it’s an impressive feature debut from Sofia Coppola and it will always be my absolute favourite.

The Tree of Life (2011, Terence Malick)

A delicate portrayal of an at-times brutal childhood, The Tree of Life is Malick’s finest. As far as I’m concerned, the present day scenes have very little value. However the film’s exploration of childhood and memory in dream-like flashes lets you sway through the life of another with an intimacy unlike any other film. Jessica Chastain is grace personified, as an angelic mother figure whose purity radiates and washes over me like warm light. It represents the solace a child finds within the arms of his mother, especially in a home filled with so much tension and fear. It’s not a film to be intellectualised, but experienced and felt. 

Notting Hill (1999, Roger Michell)

I don’t remember seeing this for the first time, because Notting Hill feels like a movie that I have always known. It’s probably my most watched film of all time, and I am sure I had already clocked at least 100 watches by the time I graduated high school. There’s nothing great about the plot, or the filmmaking, or even the performances (though Julia Roberts is great), and yet it is still somehow perfect to me. And there is a scene which I swear is inspired by Katharine Hepburn’s 1942 film Woman of the Year, though I’ve never seen anyone else mention it.

Carol (2015, Todd Haynes)

Obsessive love for Carol has almost become an internet meme at this point and it’s difficult to separate the film from the chaos surrounding it, which is a bit of a shame because it can certainly stand on its own. Todd Haynes has never been better (although Safe is a deserving second), and nor has Cate Blanchett, which is high praise for such an amazing career (my meagre words can do her no justice, so I will not attempt it). I love just about everything about this film – the performances, the styling, the music, the cinematography. But it is more than the sum of its parts, and those final moments leave me with a heaving chest every time.

Etre et avoir (To Be and to Have) (2002, Nicolas Philibert)

Certainly the most under-seen film on this list, Etre et avoir (To Be and to Have) is a quiet observational documentary taking place in a one-classroom school in rural France. It is genuine and patient, allowing an insight into childhood and the work of teachers, but it is not looking to make any grand statements about life – rather focusing on these students and this teacher. The best word to describe this film is ‘special.’

Arrival (2016, Denis Villeneuve)

Arrival is such a small story inside such a big story, then somehow it’s an even bigger small story. It’s about the very essence of life and is questioning some of the greatest aspects of being, memory, and time. Although better on rewatch, it’s a film that I cannot bring myself to waste. It’s not a throw-on-in-the-background kind of film; it’s best when you’re able to give over a part of yourself, allow it to run away with you, spin you about, and gently cradle you by its end. If you allow it to, Arrival can change the way you think about life.

A Ghost Story (2017, David Lowery)

An exploration of time, place, loss, longing, and being, A Ghost Story is doing a lot with very little. It’s best to go into this one blind, so I won’t go into much detail and I’ve only seen it once....there’s too much to unpack in one viewing. It’s doing something quite unique, and I’m desperate to see it again. I suspect it will get reduced to comments about Casey Affleck under a bed sheet or “the film with the pie”, but there is so much love and patience in this film, giving its audience time and space to ponder. A great companion piece to Arrival

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008, David Fincher)

With a rare delicate touch from David Fincher, follow the life of Benjamin Button from birth until death. It’s an unusual life, but the most interesting thing about it is not his aging backwards, but rather the people he meets throughout. There’s an overarching theme of time slipping through Benjamin’s fingers, just as it is through all of ours. The way time passes is both beautiful and quietly devastating. The romance between Benjamin and Daisy is probably my favourite one on screen, as it explores the curse of circumstance, cherishing moments, and allowing love to take hold. 

Celeste and Jesse Forever (2012, Lee Toland Krieger)

A realistic portrayal of the dynamic nature of love, where romantic love and friendship are intertwined and how relationships often dance between the two. It’s incredibly bittersweet. Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg are two of my favourites and they’ve never been better than here, managing performances with just the right amount of humour, vulnerability, and heartbreak. It’s a breakup movie, but you don’t need to be in the middle of a breakup to watch it and cry, and laugh, and laugh-cry. 

Adam's Rib (1949, George Cukor)

I had to include a Kate Hepburn in here, and this is probably my favourite. She’s doing what she does best – verbal jousting and chemistry with Spencer Tracy. It’s a sort of almost-feminist story of a husband and wife competing in the court room, representing opposing parties in an attempted murder case. Don’t overthink its message – it doesn’t hold up – but just enjoy it for its screwball comedy nature. And then watch The Philadelphia Story, Desk Set, Woman of the Year and Bringing Up Baby. These are the movies I wish I grew up with....sorry, Olsen twins.

The almost-made-its: The Philadelphia Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, Blue Jay, Like Crazy, Paper Moon, 10 Things I Hate About You, Blue Valentine, Doubt, Brief Encounter, Life is Beautiful

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Rough Night (2017) film review

Year: 2017
Running Time: 101 minutes
Director: Lucia Aniello
Writers: Lucia Aniello and Paul W. Downs
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Jillian Bell, Kate McKinnon, Zoe Kravitz, Ilana Glazer, Paul W. Downs

Rough Night is now showing in cinemas everywhere and is distributed by Sony Pictures.

Designated chick flick Rough Night takes obvious inspiration from a host of other party comedies so much that, not surprisingly, it struggles to find it's own personality and original laughs. Yet, the film has some hidden gems which should not be ignored and should be celebrated.

Party films are almost a comedy sub-genre of their own. With the number of bachelor and bachelorette party films we have seen in the past decade, it is no surprise that Rough Night looks and feels a little familiar. Taking it's inspiration from films such as Bridesmaids, The Hangover and Weekend at Bernies (though not of this decade), the story of five women who travel to Miami for a bachelorette weekend is painstakingly predictable. Every turn their journey takes is unoriginal as are the accompanying jokes.

For the large part of it's 101 minutes, Rough Night throws around obvious situational gags with a painful sense of desperation. Yet, it does not completely fail to generate laughs, there is just perhaps less than there really should be. There are certainly some very funny moments throughout Rough Night, many of which come courtesy of Kate McKinnon, who plays Australian girl, Pippa (with a very interesting accent that often sounds as though she is part Kiwi...which is unintentionally amusing as this is one of the running jokes). McKinnon steals every scene which she is in as  her comedic timing is unrivalled by any other cast member.

However, there is much about  Rough Night that should be celebrated. Despite is downfalls, the film is a strong female driven piece of work that does more than just place five females as the protagonists of the film. From the outside, it may not seem that Jess (Scarlett Johansson), Alice (Jillian Bell), Blair (Zoe Kravits), Frankie (Ilana Glazer) and Pippa are strong female characters, as the plot calls for them to go a little crazy and get a bit messy. One must remember that this is a bachelorette weekend and it's naïve to think that girls would act any other way on such a night.

Yet, once mayhem enters the scene, it becomes obvious that the male characters are the weaker link. Scarlett Johansson's Jess is the strong centre of the film. She is obviously the one who wears the pants in her relationship and in the middle of a political campaign that demands her attention. Her to-be-husband, Peter (who is played by co-writer Paul W. Downs) is aware of the lower ranking he holds in the partnership and is nothing but supportive of his fiancé's decisions to work on her career rather than romance...whether he likes it or not. Their relationship very much represents a new-age marriage in which the woman is ambitious and the man is the unwavering support. The non-platonic rekindled love affair between Blair and Frankie is also refreshing.

The theme of female empowerment we obviously see here also includes the importance of females empowering one another. Women can be nasty creatures to one another and Rough Night demonstrates how horrible women can be to each another, but also how working together produces amazing results.

Rough Night is not a triumph of it's genre and it is a shame that a film with a positive message for women will likely be forgotten within months of it's release.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

2017 Sydney Film Festival Round-Up

Congratulations Nashen Moodley.....the 2017 Sydney Film Festival has proved this year to be a greater success than ever before!

After 12 days and nights of the best films from home and around the globe, the Sydney Film Festival came to an end on Sunday night with a spectacular Closing Night Gala. The night not only featured a screening of Bong Joon Ho's Okja (in which the filmmaker himself was on hand to introduce), but was also when Hungarian film, On Body and Soul was announced as the winner of the Official Competition.

Of course the highlights for any festival goer will always be the amazing films they see, but there are always certain things that come along with the Sydney Film Festival experience. This includes the infamous run up George St from the State Theatre to Event Cinemas between films, the late nights at the Festival Hub, bumping into film folk you know in the strangest places (like the queue at the Ladies room), geeking out seeing some of your favourite film directors casually walk around the venues and then there is the darker side of film festivals....the people who detest queues and use that as a reason why they shouldn't be in one, the loud eaters and phone checkers.

With over 250 films as part of this year's program, it was logistically impossible to have seen them all (although I am open to being proven wrong about this!). We made it to 16 of the films in this year's program. Here we give you a brief review of each and determine what our top five of the festival were.

The Young Karl Marx (2017)
Raoul Peck's film about the early years of the legendary Karl Marx is a stunning period piece. Although it is not emotional, intense or riveting, it is nevertheless intriguing, informative and enjoyable. The film tells his tale in fine fashion with glorious production and costume design relevant to the time period. The Young Karl Marx does it's job, but feels like it is lacking in regards to it's depth and emotion.

The Little Hours (2017)
Jeff Baena brought perhaps the biggest laughs of the festival with his skewed tale of Medieval convent dwellers in The Little Hours. The film is a hilarious take on sexuality in the dark ages and is a rather simplistic film that doesn't say a great deal more than what is presented on screen, yet this sits well with all audience members. Aubrey Plaza (who also produces the film) is completely in her element and Kate Micucci gives a hysterical, out-of-control performance. Nick Offerman and Fred Armisen are also very amusing in smaller roles.

Whitney: Can I Be Me (2017)
Esteemed documentarian Nick Broomfield's latest film, Whitney: Can I Be Me is one of the rare music documentaries that is not exclusively just for fans of the late Whitney Houston. The film gives us an unprecedented behind the scenes look into her final complete world tour and this combined with revealing interviews from those who knew her best make this reality of the talented songstress completely heartbreaking. While respectful to her memory, the film doesn't hold back on the extent of her dependencies, addictions and demons.

Ellipsis (2017)
David Wenham makes his feature film directorial debut with Ellipsis; an intriguing cinematic experiment that ultimately blossoms into a naturally whimsical and delightful love-letter to the city of Sydney. To truly appreciate Ellipsis, one must understand the process by which it came into existence. The film was workshopped over a period of ten days and shot over the course of a night. It was a highly ambitious task for Wenham to undertake with his two leading actors, Emily Barclay and Benedict Samuel, but one that has had stunning results.
To see our full review of Ellipsis, please see here.

Rip Tide (2017)
The sweet and gentle ode to Australian surf culture, Rip Tide successfully and satisfyingly targets a niche audience that is often left neglected....young teenage girls. The film also sets a grand example not only for young female girls, but for women everywhere. The film is directed and written by women with a strong cast that is predominantly female all in rewarding roles. Rip Tide is perfect for the young spectrum of teenage girls, but may feel like it is lacking for older audiences as a result.
To see our full review of Rip Tide, please see here.

Happy End (2017)
The great Michael Haneke is no stranger to film festival goers and Happy End was part of this year's Official Competition. As a sequel of sorts to his 2012 Oscar nominated Amour, the film takes a look at a family and their deep, dark secrets as they are revealed. Happy End is incredibly captivating with a stunning performance by young Fantine Harduin and while not as powerful or dispiriting as Haneke's past films, has an extremely dark streak of irony that makes it memorable.

Ingrid Goes West (2017)
Ingrid Goes West is the Sundance hit that combines a narrative and social commentary on the dependence we place on social media in regards to our identity. The film is an interesting balancing act. It  presents pop culture images and references that it wants you to enjoy watching, yet at the same time warns you about the dangers of believing that these things are any more than a fabrication to make things appear better than what they actually are. While Aubrey Plaza gives a career best performance as obsessive loner Ingrid, the way her character is written is almost too painful to watch at times...which is also something writer/director Matt Spicer seems to want.

Manifesto (2015)
Julian Rosefeldt's Manifesto is a collaboration of short films in which Cate Blanchett recites monologues as 13 different manifestos. These short films were made as a video installation and it is obvious that it was initially never intended to be a 95 minutes film. Even though Blanchett is absolutely mesmerising and such a chameleon, it is not enough for Manifesto to be enjoyable or able to capture keep ones attention for the whole run time.

Patti Cake$ (2017)
Starring Danielle Macdonald (who was on hand to introduce the film at it's Australian premiere at the Sydney Film Festival), Patti Cake$ gives a different spin on an otherwise unoriginal concept with clichéd themes. Macdonald plays Patricia Dombrowski AKA Patti Cake$, a protagonist with huge talent who is constantly looked down upon because of her upbringing, appearance and the socio-economic climate in her New Jersey hometown...where if you want to leave, it is just assumed you will fail at doing so. There are some intriguing underlying themes besides the obvious "you can achieve your dreams no matter who you are" and all the characters are wonderfully developed and interesting.

Wind River (2017)
Taylor Sheridan makes an extremely impressive directorial debut with Wind River, a film that is as visually beautiful as it is disturbing. Set in a small Wyoming town, a young girl is mysteriously found dead in the snow and the cracks in the small town and it's inhabitants start to show as Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) and Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) investigate. Wind River is a stunning film that deals with some rather confronting crimes, themes and issues...many of which you don't feel the severity of until long after the film is over and you find yourself continuously thinking about it.

McLaren (2017)
Roger Donaldson's McLaren is the documentary celebrating the life of racer, engineer and founder of the McLaren Motor Racing Team, Bruce McLaren. Although the film makes you appreciate McLaren's contribution to the racing world and understand his remarkable achievements, it is primarily a film just for racing enthusiasts. For those who are fans of the sport, McLaren tends to drag and the passion of those who are interviewed during the film is not at all contagious.


5. 78/52
Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52 is a glorious ode to Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho that is crucial viewing not just for fans of The Master of Suspense, but for all film lovers and aficionados.  78/52 is an extremely thorough look at the film and gives a frame by frame examination of it's most popular scene...the infamous Janet Leigh shower scene. Both intriguing and informative, the film thoroughly presents it's case as to why Psycho and it's pivotal scene mean so much in a creative and original fashion.
To see our full review of 78/52, please see here.

4. Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World (2017)
Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World is an absolute delight for all movie lovers. While the documentary by Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana is primarily aimed at the rock genre of music, it is a whole lot of fun as well as being gratifyingly informative. It looks at not only the individuals who have American Indian heritage and were monumental for the industry, but it also examines how the race has had an influence on the genre itself. With a great soundtrack, brilliant storytelling and many amusing interviews, one would hope we will be seeing awards buzz for Rumble towards the end of this year.

3. Okja (2017)
When Bong Joon Ho's Okja was the first Netflix film to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival last month, it created a great stir for the wrong reasons when cinema goers took the film and it's distribution company personally at it's first showing. However, to watch Okja on the big screen is an absolute gift. The story of a young Korean girl, Mija and her best friend, who just happens to be a super pig by the name of Okja, is incredibly heartfelt, but at the same time quirky and gets very dark very quickly. Okja is a beautifully crafted film that is wonderfully creative, but this originality could be also be perceived as a little too twisted for some. Yet, others will see the film as near perfect.

2. Brigsby Bear (2017)
Brigsby Bear is a wonderfully lovable, off-beat comedy that is driven by the power of creativity and passion. It seeks to remind us that while originality is a dying concept, it is still greatly craved and celebrated...particularly in film and television when our multiplexes are cluttered with sequels and remakes. Kyle Mooney and Kevin Costello's heart-warming screenplay is off-beat and quirky (much like Mooney's brand of comedy), but is universally entertaining, sweet and endearing.
To see our full review of Brigsby Bear, please see here.

1. The Beguiled (2017)
Sofia Coppola's The Beguiled is a near-perfect film. As well as being exquisite in every way possible from the incredible cinematography to the costume design, it's screenplay (written for the screen by Coppola) is sublime. It's beautiful use of language comes with hints of irony and unexpected humour. The story of a group of Virginian schoolgirls during the Civil War being disrupted by a male visitor is seemingly straight forward, yet makes you constantly question who is the manipulator and who is victim and what is right and what is wrong. It is a feeling of privilege you receive upon watching The Beguiled and not only our favourite film from the festival, but very likely to be one of our top films for the year.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Sydney Film Festival: Brigsby Bear (2017) film review

Year: 2017
Running Time: 97 minutes
Director: Dave McCary
Writers: Kyle Mooney and Kevin Costello
Cast: Kyle Mooney, Mark Hamill, Jane Adams, Matt Walsh, Michaela Watkins, Greg Kinnear, Beck Bennett, Andy Samberg, Ryan Simpkins, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Alexa Demie

Brigsby Bear is part of the 2017 Sydney Film Festival program and will showing on Thursday June 8 (Event Cinemas George St) and Monday June 12 (Event Cinemas George St). For times, tickets and more information, please see the Sydney Film Festival website.

Brigsby Bear is a wonderfully lovable, off-beat comedy that is driven by the power of creativity and passion. It seeks to remind us that while originality is a dying concept, it is still greatly craved and celebrated...particularly in film and television.

The originality and creativity that we speak of here works in two ways when it comes to Brigsby Bear. Firstly, it is a major theme of the film. We are living in an age where differences are celebrated and original content through any medium is desperately needed. Authenticity is something which is admired and people are drawn towards creativity, especially when there is passion involved.

This is what is celebrated in Brigsby Bear. Despite his obvious eccentricities that come from his extremely sheltered upbringing, James Pope (portrayed by Kyle Mooney) is a breath of fresh air for his biological sister, Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins) and her friends, especially Spencer (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.). Spencer immediately befriends James as he is inspired by his passion for television character, Brigsby Bear and finds the whole concept thoroughly intriguing. Brigsby Bear takes on a life of his own when Spencer loads James' videos onto YouTube and the life-size bear becomes something of a cult figure with a devoted following.

To the residents of this small Utah town, both James and Brigsby are as exciting as each other. Brigsby is not your typical fictional character and the fact that he is something new and imaginative makes people excited. There is also the excitement attached to James, as he is unlike anybody else in the town. This excitement is representative of the way we feel when we find something different and original as it enriches our minds and our lives.

This is the same effect that Brigsby Bear has on it's audience. The joyous, feel-good film's originality is a feature that cinemagoers are currently craving, especially when our multiplexes are cluttered with sequels and remakes. Kyle Mooney and Kevin Costello's heart-warming screenplay is off-beat and quirky (much like Mooney's brand of comedy), but is universally entertaining, sweet and endearing. There are scenes throughout the film that come dangerously close to being cliché, such as the party scene...because it would be so obvious to have a teenage party scene with James having his first experiences with alcohol, drugs and girls. Yet the film takes this and other scenes and puts an unique spin on them.

Kyle Mooney spreads his wings to not only co-write the screenplay, but also play the film's lead. He is a character who, just like the film, is out of the ordinary with his overwhelming passion for a fandom, but at the same time exhibits many characteristics of Stockholm Syndrome. Mooney plays the character with perfection. He is naïve and unworldly, yet not in an exaggerated or stereotypical way. The audience comes to care for him and believe in what he is hoping to achieve with Brigsby. His passion is truly infectious.

Brigsby Bear does something special. It's story pays tribute to all things creative and passionate, but remembers that the film has to also be these things or the theme becomes redundant.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Sydney Film Festival: Rip Tide (2017) film review

Year: 2017
Running Time: 85 minutes
Director: Rhiannon Bannenberg
Writer: Georgia Harrison
Cast: Debby Ryan, Genevieve Hegney, Danielle Carter, Andrew Creer, Naomi Sequeira, Aaron Jeffery, Jeremy Lindsay Taylor

Rip Tide made it's World Premiere as part of the 2017 Sydney Film Festival on Saturday June 10 and will have an encore screening on Monday June 12 at Randwick Ritz. For more information, please see the official Sydney Film Festival website.

The sweet and gentle ode to Australian surf culture, Rip Tide successfully and satisfyingly targets a niche audience that is often left neglected....young teenage girls.

While there are not a great amount of teen flicks released theatrically each year, these days it is hard to come across one that is clean and simple, but at the same time is able to promote an important message in a captivating way for this age group. The large majority of teen flicks aim towards those in the later teenage years and neglect the younger spectrum, which in turn can have the negative side effect of 10-15 year old girls wanting to grow up too fast to be like the characters they see on screen.

The concept of wholesome family entertainment is still important and Rip Tide reminds us why. Rhiannon Bannenberg's film promotes valuable lessons for it's target audience such as remaining true to yourself, following your dreams no matter what anybody else says and always being kind to others. Georgia Harrison's screenplay is simple and perfectly catered towards the target audience, yet for older audiences it could be a little too watered down at times. From the opening scene which flashes through Cora Hamilton's (as portrayed by Debby Ryan) modelling success, the film is perfectly catered towards it's female teenage audience with simplistic dialogue and a protagonist who any young girl can relate to.

Rip Tide also sets a grand example not only for young female girls, but for women everywhere. The film is directed and written by women with a strong cast that is predominantly female. The great thing is that none of these female characters are atypical or shrinking in the shadows of their male co-stars. Debby Ryan here proves that she is a great deal more than a Disney darling with a confident, natural performance of a character that is dedicated, hard-working and ambitious yet has a sweet naivety to her. Both Genevieve Hegney and Danielle Carter plays exceptionally strong characters, but it is Naomi Sequeira who owns the show as surfer girl, Chicka. She steals every scene she is in with her adorable sense of humour and her portrayal of the girl everybody wants to be best friends with.

It is a truly wonderful thing to have such a female driven cast, but the male characters are left exceptionally underdeveloped. There are also several questions left unanswered including where Cora's father was in all this?

The film was shot in it's entirety on the New South Wales south coast and is a celebrated location as it makes the most of the opportunity to showcase the Illawarra region's beautiful beaches and the Australian surf culture. By having the film set here, it sets itself apart from other teen flicks of the recent years and makes Rip Tide atmospheric and fun with it's visions of the ocean accompanied by images that accompany the surfie lifestyle.

Rip Tide knows it's audience and does everything that it can possibly do give them the film experience that they need and deserve. It is a film that will not resonate as greatly with older audiences as it will younger, but one we can all be grateful for.


Friday, June 9, 2017

Sydney Film Festival: Ellipsis (2017) film review

Year: 2017
Running Time: 85 minutes
Director: David Wenham
Writers: David Wenham, Emily Barclay, Benedict Samuel, Gabrielle Wendelin
Cast: Emily Barclay, Benedict Samuel

Ellipsis made it's World Premiere at the 2017 Sydney Film Festival on Thursday June 8 and will have an encore screening on Wednesday June 14. For more information, please see the Sydney Film Festival website.

David Wenham makes his feature film directorial debut with Ellipsis; an intriguing cinematic experiment that ultimately blossoms into a naturally whimsical and delightful love-letter to the city of Sydney.

To truly appreciate Ellipsis, one must understand the process by which it came into existence. The film was workshopped over a period of ten days and shot over the course of a night. It was a highly ambitious task for Wenham to undertake with his two leading actors, Emily Barclay and Benedict Samuel, but one that has had stunning results. With a broken phone being the only scripted and non-improvised element of the film, Ellipsis is able to embrace the power of the unknown as two young people aimlessly navigate their way around the city of Sydney.

A week before the premiere of Ellipsis at a Q&A with Luke Buckmaster, Wenham expressed that he had particularly enjoyed working with actors-directors over his acting career. In other words, directors who specifically understood how actors worked. It is obvious that in his first turn as a feature film director, this is the type of director that Wenham aspires to be. Leading up to filming, he led Barclay and Samuel on an intense character workshop so that the two were so comfortable with their characters of Viv and Jasper that they has no problems improvising for the entirety of filming.

The two characters meet by chance on George St in Sydney when they collide and Viv's phone is badly damaged. With her phone being repaired, the world and real life opens up for the two strangers as they get to know each other while they together travel through the city to Bondi and through Kings Cross. Day turns to night and the night brings out new characters that aren't there to be met during the day. These characters were also not written into the script and were people who the crew came across while filming. However, there are some moments in the film you feel may have been planned as they are too coincidental or important to the film to be random acts (such as Viv having her bag snatched or Sculptures By The Sea being over).

Whether or not everything was truly improvised and left to chance or not, the path Viv and Jasper take and the places they go make Ellipsis a truly joyous experience. As the two enjoy a night that helps them escape from their reality and enjoy the simple things,  the viewer experiences the sense of freedom they feel and learn to embrace the feeling of letting anything happen. Viv and Jasper's conversations are natural, engaging, unforced and often sweetly amusing, which many people may find underwhelming. However, this is one of the ways that Ellipsis reflects real life and it is refreshing to see a piece of cinema truly grasp this concept.

Not only this, Ellipsis also makes you long for a night just like you are watching unfold on the screen and especially in Sydney. Wenham said in his post-film Q&A that he did not want any typical iconic shots of Sydney and this works perfectly. In fact, by seeing the city from a different perspective it makes you realise how beautiful it really is. There are many shots Sydney locals will know only too well, such as the inside of the Queen Victoria Building and fountain at Kings Cross. The film also subtly implies that it is paying tribute to the suburb of Kings Cross and it's dying night life culture due to the lock-out laws. The cinematography is truly exquisite and the musical score composed by Megan Washington is whimsical and perfectly fitting for the mood of the film.

Ellipsis is so much more rewarding if you know the place in which it came from. The result of this intriguing creative experiment is light, joyous and completely lovable. A wonderful directorial debut from David Wenham.


Sydney Film Festival: 78/52 (2017) film review

Year: 2017
Running Time: 91 minutes
Director: Alexandre O. Philippe
Cast: Justin Benson, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo Del Toro, Danny Elfman, Bret Easton Ellis, Jamie Lee Curtis, Elijah Wood

78/52 is screening as part of the 2017 Sydney Film Festival program and will be shown on Friday June 9 (Dendy Newtown) and Monday June 12 (Dendy Opera Quays). Please see the Sydney Film Festival website for more information and purchasing tickets.

"The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world"
- Edgar Allen Poe

Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52 is a glorious ode to Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho that is crucial viewing not just for fans of The Master of Suspense, but for all film lovers and aficionados.

Ground-breaking is not a strong enough word to describe the effect Psycho's has upon it's release in 1960. 78/52 explores the effect Psycho has had on the world of filmmaking by allowing notable film personalities (including Peter Bogdanovich, Elijah Wood, Danny Elfman and Bret Easton Ellis) and relatives of those who were directly involved in making the film, to narrate by providing their knowledge and opinions. Philippe's documentary shines a particularly strong light on the infamous Janet Leigh shower scene, which broke many cinematic rules in the most intriguing and unprecedented of ways.

Psycho is arguably the most popular of Hitchcock's films and it is understandably due in large part to the shower scene. In 1960, the Motion Picture Production Code (often referred to as the Hays Code) was still being enforced and the fact that this scene made it past the censors is an example of the brilliance of Hitchcock. The scene, which see's Marion Crane (played by Janet Leigh) brutally murdered by Mrs Bates in her motel room shower, is timelessly brutal, terrifying and shocking. With everything that was happening in the world in the early '60's, the scene was almost a sign of the times as it showed that you were never safe....not even in your own home or personal space and Hitchcock honed in on that nightmare.

As 78/52 exhibits, there were so many factors that made Psycho and the shower scene so monumental. From the way it was shot to avoid showing any actual violence or nudity, to it's simple, but easily recognisable score, the scene is extremely complex and flawless.

While many a book has been written about Psycho and even the 2012 film Hitchcock centred around it's production, 78/52 is an extremely thorough look at the film and gives a frame by frame examination of it's most popular scene. Both intriguing and informative, the film thoroughly presents it's case as to why Psycho and it's pivotal scene mean so much in a creative and original fashion. While watching the film, the importance of Psycho to so many people and specifically those in the film industry is evident by the amount of passion that is felt when the narrators speak of it. It is also particularly interesting hearing personal accounts by Marli Renfro (Janet Leigh's body double), Oz Perkins (Anthony Perkins' son), Tere Carrubba (Alfred Hitchcock's granddaughter) and Jamie Lee Curtis (Janet Leigh's daughter).

The way 78/52 is shot is reminiscent of the film it is honouring, as it is completely in black and white and it's primary location is a replica of the inside of the Bates house. The film is also edited beautifully, as it does what Psycho does and all good documentaries should builds up tension to when it breathtakingly reveals the main purpose for the film. The shower scene isn't discussed in detail straight away, but when it is you are blown away by how brilliant it truly is.

While 78/52 is definitely a film for Hitchcock fans, it is a documentary that any film lover should see. Alexandre O. Philippe's film is a completely different spin on the filmmaking documentary and does an excellent and captivating job at preserving and understanding this piece of film history.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Wonder Woman (2017) film review

Year: 2017
Running Time: 141 minutes
Director: Patty Jenkins
Writers: Allan Heinberg (screenplay and story), Zack Snyder and Jason Fuchs (story), William Moulton Marston (Wonder Woman created by)
Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, David Thewlis, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, Danny Huston, Elena Anaya, Lucy Davis, Ewen Bremner

Wonder Woman is released in Australia on June 1 (Roadshow Films) and the United States on June 2 (Warner Bros Pictures).

Wonder Woman is being hailed as a triumph by many as it has seemingly brought the DC Universe back from the depths of critical despair it has found itself in.

However, it's success is not at all dependant on it's superiority to Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. Although it is not at all a stretch to say that Patty Jenkins' film has restored confidence in the Warner Bros DC Universe, nothing takes away from the fact that Wonder Woman is thrilling, smart, unexpectedly sweet and most importantly, ground-breaking.

The strength of Wonder Woman lies collectively in Patty Jenkins' flawless direction, Allan Heinberg's strong screenplay and Gal Gadot's perfect portrayal of the superhero we have all been waiting for. The intriguing origins story of Justice League member, Wonder Woman and her alter ego, Diana Prince (although it doesn't seem to be much of a secret in this film that one is the other)  brings together the settings of the idyllic island of Themyscira and the dread of World War I, as she finds her destiny and comes to understand what is worth fighting for in the world of man. While not completely airtight, Heinberg's well-written screenplay makes the story of the inspiring warrior princess compelling and intriguing.

While Wonder Woman first graced the pages of comic books back in the 1940's and was a hit on the small screen in the 1970's with Lynda Carter, finding her place in cinema has been a problematic affair. A film with Wonder Woman at the helm has been in development in one way or another since 1996 with many different directors and actors involved. It's been a long wait, but a wait that has been well worth it as Patty Jenkins is the perfect director for the film and Gal Gadot the perfect leading lady.

Jenkins direction is absolutely exquisite. However well-written Heinberg's screenplay is, there is so much that when transferred to the screen could have come across as extraordinarily cheesy and overdone, but with Jenkins' direction seems almost natural and astonishing. One example of this is the scene when Diana first becomes her superhero self as she walks in the revamped Wonder Woman suit through the trenches in slow motion. Even describing this gives the impression that it could well be painful to watch. Yet, the way Jenkin's directs this scene makes it absolutely breathtaking when combined with the haunting musical score by Rupert Gregson-Williams and stunning cinematography by Matthew Jensen. It is such an important moment in the film and it is executed to perfection.

This is only one example of how Jenkins is able to set her film apart from other films of the superhero genre. These days, superhero films are generally a showcase of mind-blowing special effects and exhibitions of how they be used to create the most spectacular action sequences. Wonder Woman isn't unlike this by any means, but what makes it's fast paced and impressive action scenes even more so is that they are spread out through the film rather than piled on top of one another like so many other films. This point of difference makes Wonder Woman taking on her enemies even more exciting to watch and as incredible as her fighting scenes are, they do not feel like an assault on your senses.

And it is not just the spectacular action that makes Jenkins and Gadot the perfect team. Together they make Wonder Woman so much more than a female superhero who can outplay any villain regardless of gender, although she is definitely this too.

When we first met Diana Prince in last year's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Gadot stole every scene she was in. However, the Diana from that film is a very different one than what we see here and this is a much welcomed difference.

Wonder Woman is the perfect origins story as it not only makes you understand the character more, it makes you connect with her. As Diana moves from her homeland where she is royalty and where gods were worshiped, to London and the world of man, she struggles to adapt to social etiquette. Hilarity ensues as she learns basic cultural differences and in particular, the ice cream scene is quite adorable. Her dialogue during this time could have been over-emphasised (especially considering she is a princess) and the comedy been goofy and forced. Yet, Gadot is so natural, genuine and endearing. She is not only likable, she is lovable. You truly care about her and want her to be victorious. Her reason for being a fighter and a hero is admirable and beautiful, which is something you can't normally say for superheroes in film.

Wonder Woman need not be compared to other DC films for it to be hailed as a success. It is the superhero/action film that we have been waiting for. With it's wonderful hero and brilliant direction, Woman Woman is a grand achievement in a genre where it is becoming harder to please audiences.