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.

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