Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Sydney Film Festival week 2 round up

I’ve already waxed lyrical about my love of Jonathan King’s Black Sheep but there was plenty more to enjoy in the second week of this year’s Sydney Film Festival. Even if the killer ovine horror film did rank very highly as my best of the festival.

The musical world was explored in two diverse but fabulous films. Anton Corbijn’s Control followed the life of Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division. Beautifully shot in black and white; the suburbs of Manchester have never looked or sounded this good. The central performance by Sam Riley is spellbinding. In a brave move the actors playing the band all sing and play rather than lip-synching. This gives performances a chilling resonance; in particular the bands rendition of Dead Souls is spell-binding stuff. The film runs as a perfect companion piece to Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People, the both film’s portrayal’s of Tony Wilson battling out to see who can give the campest turn. In a close run competition, my favourite film of the festival.

Scott Walker: 30th Century Man was a fascinating look into the life of the musical maverick. He may once have been bigger than The Beatles in the 60s but now he is content in producing exceedingly experimental albums for himself. Stephen Kijak’s documentary follows what happened in between and features a very very rare recent interview with the great, but publicity shy, man himself. One for the converted, it’s a Walker love fest that’s unlikely to convert too many viewers but if you love the baritone crooner’s albums, you will love this documentary. It sent me running to hear his records again and you can’t get better recommendation than that.

After the Wedding was brought to us by the team who gave us Open Hearts and Brothers and starring the Denmark finest acting export Mads Mikkelsen. An incredibly moving tale of families and fatherhood that took many unexpected turns. It managed to be poignant and funny while pulling the heart-strings and Mikkelsen proved why he has the potential to be a massive star.

Death at a Funeral was the feel good comedy of the festival. Well about as feel good as a funeral can be. This is not your normal funeral, however, and Frank Oz has provided a marvellously over the top, bad taste treat. The audience was in stitches as the story unfolds and to divulge much of the story would do his comedic build up a great disservice. Lets just say when was the last time you went to a funeral after taking a tab of acid? A Great British farce.

Christina Ricci heated up the screen in Craig Brewer’s Black Snake Moan. What more can you say about a film who’s main storyline involves a grizzled old blues guitarist played by Samuel. L. Jackson, chaining a scantily clad nymphomaniac, Ricci, onto a radiator in an effort to drive out the demons from her soul. Beautifully played by the two leads, there is actually a lot more to Black Snake Moan than salacious thrills and when Jackson’s Lazarus picks up his guitar he is the embodiment of the Deep South blues. The film only misses with the casting of Justin Timberlake and a few dubious plotlines but overall it’s a worthy successor to Brewer’s Oscar nominated Hustle and Flow.

Set in Glasgow, Red Road was one of the surprises of the festival. Hard-hitting, sexually explicit and emotionally shattering the film’s delved into the distraught mind of a security woman who has lost her family. Left to watch the world go by on a bank of surveillance television screens she soon sees a path to salvation but the films shattering climax shows that all is not what it seems. The red raw performances from the leads, Kate Dickie and Tony Curran, are perfect examples of understatement. This film is a must see for anyone with a love of gritty cinema that is unwilling to compromise. An unexpected highlight of the festival.

On the other hand David Lynch’s Inland Empire did everything you would expect and more. To discuss the plot is futile, in this viewers mind the film’s dreamlike imagery, a room full of human sized rabbits and a wonderful performance by Laura Dern more than make up for Lynch’s over indulgent story telling. It certainly received a mixed welcome; the screening at the State was met with catcalls, cheers, boos and mass walks ours. The perfect festival reception to any film!

Finally it was of no surprise to me when Lucky Miles scooped the coverted Audience award for best film. The response to the film at the State screening was raptuous, to say the least, and was well deserved. Director Michael James Rowland has managed to make a hugely entertaining film about a highly controversial subject, and the reaction of the audience shows you how successful he has been at broaching this emotive topic.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Lucky Miles wins Sydney Film Festival audience award

Lucky Miles has won the audience award for best feature at this years Sydney Film Festival. Congratulations to director Michael James Rowland, producers Jo and Lesley Dyer and executive producer Michael Bourchier and the rest of the cast and crew. The film opens on July 19th in Australia so be sure to head to your local arthouse cinema on the film's opening weekend, check out www.myspace.com/luckymiles for more information.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Black Sheep review

Harking back to those halcyon days of the horror film, the 80s; Jonathan King’s Black Sheep does for our woolly friends what An American Werewolf in London and The Howling did for the lycanthrope. Full of blood, gore, latex transformations and sheep; the film is a shear delight from beginning to end.

It’s the most exciting debut feature by a Kiwi horror director since Peter Jackson took the reigns of Bad Taste and Black Sheep is almost guaranteed to achieve similar heights of cult notoriety. The effects work by the WETA Workshop and creature man Dave Elsey is fabulous. It’s obvious that everyone involved got a kick out of doing it “old school” style. The use of latex and rubber to create the gory mayhem may have been a budgetary decision but the lack of CGI is refreshing in this over saturated era. Arms, legs and every appendage imaginable go flying when the mobs of merino marauders attack. The transformations between man and sheep pay homage to the groundbreaking work of effects greats like Rick Baker and Rob Bottin as they distort every part of the human form. Black Sheep is a horror film love-in that vividly pays tribute to the films that the crew have an obvious affection for. You just know that each and everyone of them spent far too much of their childhoods in the local video shop.

There are some wonderful moments in the film; the premonition of impending doom as an angry mob of sheep can be seen advancing in the distance as the scientists obliviously make their presentation recalls Tippi Hendren waiting outside the school in Hitchcock’s The Birds. Unlike Hitchcock’s ecological horror film Black Sheep gives the sheep fair reason to revolt. The condemnation of animal experimentation is nicely handled and gives the film a serious edge, even if it doesn’t strive to maintain it.

You have to approach a film like Black Sheep knowing exactly what you are going to get. Any film that uses the tagline “Get ready for the Violence of the Lambs!” is obviously not taking itself too seriously. It may be a one joke film but the mere idea of those gentle fluffy animals baring their teeth and ripping people limb from limb will be enough for most. King and friends have given us the most fun to be had in a horror film for many a year and if you don’t agree; ewe can just flock off.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Sydney Film Festival week 1 round up

Seven days straight in a dark movie theatre can only mean one thing for Sydneysiders; the end of the first week of the Sydney Film Festival. Spread over four cinemas including the majestic State Theatre, this years festival has gathered together a wealth of cinematic pleasures. Here are a few of my highlights so far.

Things kicked off with the gala screening of the much-touted La Vie En Rose and for the most part Olivier Dahan’s epic retelling of the life of French chanteuse Edith Piaf lived up to the hype. The film was a tad too long and the modern editing techniques sometimes jarred with the unfolding story but the central performance from Marion Cottilard was spell binding.

The festival’s line up perfectly mixed mainstream enjoyment with esoteric eclecticism. Guy Maddin’s extraordinary Brand Upon the Brain combined surreal imagery, pitch-black humour and silent movie techniques to often-hilarious effect. Lukas Moodysson’s Container, however, took a similar approach but the random black and white imagery set to a narration by actress Jena Malone managed to bemuse most. The film provoked a multitude of reactions including a healthy amount of walkouts. On the flip side the likes of Lee Sang-il’s Hula Girls and Thomas Villum Jensen’s Clash of Egos provided laughs a plenty. There were also happy faces abound at the early morning screening of the sparkling restored print of The 5,000 Fingers of Dr T. A revelation for anyone who has only seen the film on its rare black and white screenings on television; the film showed how poor the recent cinematic forays into the weird world of Dr Seus really were.

The documentary Danny Williams: A Walk Into The Sea told the story of one of the unsung heroes of Andy Warhols Factory. Featuring interviews with Billy Name, John Cale and the ever-irascible Paul Morrissey, the film included some amazing footage from the Velvet Underground performing at one of the infamous Exploding Plastic Inevitable nights. As a huge fan of the subject matter the film was enthralling and also added some incite into the recurring question of who actually directed some of the earlier Warhol films.

A revelation came in the form of two films by Icelandic director Ragnar Bragason, Children and Parents. Companion pieces inspired by Mike Leigh and featuring the same troupe of actors,;the films were a brutally honest look at life in the suburbs and follow the lives of some suitably dysfunctional families. Shocking outbursts of violence punctuate the films giving them an unnerving edge. Children in particular, is a highlight of the festival thus far.

British cinema was represented by two incredibly different but equally as enthralling films. Hallam Foe was a bizarre coming of age tale starring Jamie Bell as a peeping tom with a penchant for habiting high-level abodes. Bell was excellent as the titular character and it was certainly an unpredictable black comedy. There was nothing funny, however, about Paul Andrew Williams harrowing London to Brigton. Following a prostitute and a street kid on the run from a pimp, the film dares to delve into the seedy and unnerving world of child prostitution with unflinching daring. In fact the film only descends into cliché when the oft over glamorised cockney gangsters of the London underworld rear their ugly heads. The performances of the two leads are amazing in their honesty, in particular the young Georgia Groome is a face to watch in the future. This is a remarkable debut that pulls no punches and demands to be seen.

There were far too many more highlights to mention; Bella and Antonia also come highly recommended and it has to be said that so far the quality threshold has been very high indeed. Great news considering what we have to come next week. Thumbs up to new artistic director Clare Stewart and her crew. Check out www.cinephilia.net.au soon for full reviews of many of the films I have seen.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Latest News

Last week I was lucky enough to attend a press conference given by the legendary Italian actress Sophia Loren. She was in Sydney to promote the city's Italian Film Festival but the press managed to talk to her about her career, her leading men and winning two Oscars. On fine form, despite the best efforts of members of the Television show The Chaser who tried their best sabotage the event, she finished the conference by chastising Quentin Tarantino for his apparent disdain for the present Italian film industry; “how dare he talk about Italian cinema when he doesn't even know anything about American cinema."

In magazine news the latest issue of Smoke & Mirrors features more of my interview with director Edgar Wright talking about Hot Fuzz. The Summer edition of Film Review includes another Vox Pops from the Dendy Opera Quays. This time around I talked to Sydneysiders about their thoughts on Paris, Je T'aime. Next months Filmink Magazine includes my interview with Michael James Rowland discussing his latest film Lucky Miles which is being shown at this years Sydney Film Festival.

For those in the Sydney area I’ll be appearing this Friday on Eastside FM 89.7’s Cinemascape show. This week, at 17:30 I’ll be reviewing the English comedy Driving Lessons starring Rupert Grint and Julie Walters.

Finally check out http://www.cinebeats.com/ for a review of the latest issue of Cinema Retro that gives my article on Danger: Diabolik a special mention. "Dave Brown’s tribute to Danger: Diabolik was fascinating to read and included information about the film that was new to me." It's always nice to be appreciated!