Film Review

Review: Thanks For Sharing (Paltrow, Ruffalo)

Sex addiction and group therapy may not seem like laughing matters, but Thanks for Sharingattempts to buck the angsty trend. In Stuart Blumberg’s hands, the emotional turmoil experienced by three men in various stages of recovery is served up alongside a rejuvenating dose of comedy. After his Oscar nominated success with The Kids are All Right, writer and now first-time director Blumberg has reunited with Mark Ruffalo and assembled a cracking ensemble cast, which includes Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow, and a surprisingly touching performance from rock chick Pink (as Alecia Moore). Josh Gad, who impressed as Steve Wozniak in Jobs, is again in scene-stealing form as an emergency-room doctor with a serious case of denial. Together Blumberg and his cast lift the slogan-heavy vocabulary of group therapy above stultifying cliché, and instead craft an engaging portrait of support and companionship. However the film doesn’t manage to avoid plot contrivances that see all the players conveniently descend into crisis, before the redemptive 12-step program can be resumed. Yet in doing so Blumberg manages to highlight both the gallows humour and the human frailty that lurk behind therapeutic words of wisdom. And those are truths worth sharing. Thanks for Sharing opens in…

September 19, 2013
Film Review

Review: Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley)

True to its title, this film is a virtual masterclass in storytelling, not to mention an extremely intimate and personal project for the up-and-coming young Canadian actor-turned-director Sarah Polley (Away from Her; Take This Waltz). While the film takes the form of a documentary about her vivacious late mother, Diane, the end result is closer to Mike Leigh’s classic Secrets and Lies, than to the self-indulgent home movie you might reasonably fear from that description. Diane and her husband, Michael, both Toronto actors, seem to have been a slightly odd couple. Apart from the tensions produced by their contrasting personalities (her perpetually switched-on livewire to his down-to-earth rock) this nonetheless initially appears to have been a relatively unremarkable pair of lives. But there are secrets – and indeed lies – waiting to be uncovered. Polley proves expert at holding back key information, revealing it at a point where she can most effectively recreate her own emotional journey into what she belatedly realised were mysterious circumstances surrounding her childhood. Constructed from an intelligently chosen blend of interviews with family members and friends, as well as home movie and faked home movie footage often fiendishly hard to tell apart, this exceptional film…

September 16, 2013
Film Review

Review: I’m So Excited (Almadóvar)

Air travel is a rather tedious affair, but not so when you’re in the hands of Pedro Almodóvar. The Spanish auteur, beloved for his feisty females and stylish melodramas like Talk to Her and Volver, has returned to the screwball comedy genre that marked his early filmography – and in extra-sexy fashion too! Peninsula Flight 2459 is the setting for Almodóvar mile-high club, which also doubles as a stupendously unsubtle metaphor for the state of Spanish society. The cattle-class is drugged into a stupor, while those still compos mentis cavort about the first class cabin with bawdy abandon. There’s even a lip-synched musical interlude care of the titular track by the Pointer Sisters and the film’s boisterously gay flight attendants (Javier Camara, Raúl Arévalo and Carlos Areces). Yet, frivolous fun aside – and to extend the metaphor – one ends up questioning the piloting of this film. Scenes of splashy camp are thoroughly amusing, but by mid- flight Almodóvar seemed to have flown off course. Had he created a bit more of a flap about Spanish society, then I’m So Excited might have generated a genuine conversation alongside all the titillation. Instead Almodóvar focuses on farce, preventing the film from…

September 12, 2013
Film Review

Review: Blue Jasmine (Blanchett, Baldwin)

Cate Blanchett is a force of nature in Woody Allen’s latest, which finds the filmmaker in more complex territory after the fun but lightweight To Rome With Loveand leaves viewers often not knowing whether to laugh or cry. In an eponymous lead role owing more than a little to A Streetcar Named Desire’s Blanche DuBois, whom she played on stage not so long ago, Blanchett gives an extraordinary performance. Her Jasmine, the neurotic widow of a fraudulent Wall Street banker (Alec Baldwin), is recovering from a nervous breakdown when she turns up to stay at the modest San Francisco flat of her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), a supermarket checkout clerk. See-sawing between the present and her New York past, the film explores with humour and insight the differences between the two women, born of different parents but raised in the same family. While Ginger is well-adjusted, despite her relative poverty, Jasmine is an emotional wreck for whom wealth has brought unrealistic expectations that bring misery when not met. Dividing them even more than wealth and class, however, is their different approaches to life, for while Ginger is able to learn from her mistakes, Jasmine is trapped inside a cycle of…Continue…

September 5, 2013
Film Review

Review: The Rocket (Kim Mordaunt)

This reviewer struggles to recall a reception as deservedly enthusiastic as that given this internationally acclaimed story set in rural Laos at its June premiere at Sydney Film Festival. It’s a charming and visually appealing tale filled with energy, humour and heart, yet without a hint of sentimentality. The story revolves around a young boy named Ahlo, quickly pronounced by his stern grandmother to be a bad-luck charm when his twin brother is stillborn. When a major dam-building project forces Ahlo’s family to move from its village to a temporary camp, the boy undergoes a series of adventures including a family tragedy; his befriending of a young girl and her James Brown-fixated uncle; and the family’s ejection from the camp. These climax in his spectacular efforts to win a village rocket competition and put his alleged curse behind him. An intriguing feature of this apparently authentic film is that it turns out to be the product of an Australian creative team, writer-director Kim Mordaunt and producer Sylvia Wilczynski, making their feature debut following an acclaimed documentary about unexploded munitions in Laos (a sub-theme here), Bomb Harvest. They have pulled off one of the most unusual and appealing Australian productions of…

August 29, 2013
Film Review

Review: Jobs (Kutcher)

  There’s no doubting the tremendous impact Apple co-founder Steve Jobs has had upon contemporary culture (especially as I’m typing this on a Macbook!), so upon his untimely passing in 2011, it was only a matter of time until biopics appeared on our cinema screens. Pipping Aaron Sorkin’s ( The Social Network) much-anticipated screenplay to the post is newcomer Matt Whitely, director Joshua Michael Stern ( Swing Vote) and Ashton Kutcher in the iconic role. Kutcher makes a remarkable transformation to embody Jobs from his college dropout 20s through the tech-geek highs and gut-churning lows of Apple’s computing evolution (remember, Jobs was fired from Apple in 1985), to his mid-40s and into the black-skivvy and round-spectacled figurehead we all came to know. Through it all, Kutcher plays Jobs with a fierce passion and fiery temper, but emoting to the brink of tears in almost every scene ultimately proves wearying for an audience wanting to get to know the man behind the Apple. Indeed anyone familiar with Jobs’ extraordinary Stanford commencement speech will learn scant more from this well meaning, middle-of-the-road biopic. There is just about enough to entertain, but Stern’s paint-by-numbers approach does little to celebrate Jobs’ most famous injunction…

August 22, 2013
Film Review

Review: What Maisie Knew (Moore, Skarsgård)

Seen through the eyes of a six-year-old, this film about the spectre of divorce makes for haunting viewing indeed. Directing team Scott McGehee and David Siegel ( Bee Season) deftly transpose the 19th-century England of Henry James’ novel What Maisie Knewto modern-day Manhattan, and craft some remarkable gilded cages for their pint-sized protagonist (Onata Aprile). Maisie might want for nothing materially, but the emotional vacuum created (or preceded?) by the increasingly vicious separation of her parents – fading rock star Susanna (Julianne Moore) and British art dealer Beale (Steve Coogan) – is nothing short of suffocating. This abandonment is put into sharper relief by the hasty remarriages on both sides, where the new, much younger partners Margo (Joanna Vanderham) and Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgård) are each quite literally left “holding the baby”. Keeping the camera low to align the audience with Maisie’s perspective, McGehee and Siegel capture an absolutely astounding performance from young Aprile. Devastatingly natural, her largely observational role is complemented by a similarly compelling supporting cast. Moore in particular is blisteringly good in her rendition of a narcissistic rock chick, and while Coogan’s Beale is just as negligent, it’s a film that is fascinating to discuss and find out…

August 15, 2013
Film Review

Review: Upstream Color (Carruth, Seimetz)

A visceral, mind-bending curio, Upstream Colorisn’t for the faint of heart… or stomach! But for those brave souls willing to wade in to auteur Shane Carruth’s willfully enigmatic, narratively fractured story, you will be rewarded with a spine-tinglingly unforgettable voyage. In a film that leeches into
 you like watercolour on canvas; the less you know about the 
story going in, the better. But in broad brushstrokes, I can reveal that Carruth co-stars alongside 
a spellbinding Amy Seimetz, 
and the pair play two troubled strangers, mysteriously drawn together by forces beyond their control. As Kris, Seimetz’s physical transformation is harrowing at times, at others, thrillingly triumphant. And it’s a testimony to Carruth’s staggering visual and sonic artistry that Kris’ vulnerability reaches straight out from the screen and fuses with your own anima. Indeed, as a sensory experience, Upstream Colormight find a more appreciative audience as an art installation. And yet the comforting cave of the cinema provides a welcomed sight, especially when the
 lights come back up and you’re grappling with what on earth you’ve just seen! Buoyed by captivating performances and a palpable spirit, Carruth leads us into deep existential waters, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be gladly…Continue…

August 8, 2013
Film Review

Review: Frances Ha (Gerwig, Baumbach)

This latest from independent US filmmaker Noah Baumbach is a joy, which is something I never thought I’d find myself writing. Baumbach’s turf has been angsty dramas about New York intellectuals like The Squid and the Whale. His debut, Kicking and Screaming, has been his only comedy to date and that was nearly 20 years ago and more acerbically droll than infectious. This time, though, he’s teamed up with actor Greta Gerwig, his current belle, and it’s a creative marriage forged in heaven or at least the Manhattan equivalent. Gerwig, who co-wrote the script with Baumbach, plays the eponymous Frances, an adorably klutzy, late 20s girl-women and aspiring ballerina, caught at that difficult moment where her career and romantic life should be taking off but just aren’t going anywhere. That doesn’t stop her from moments of giddy, child- like pleasure with best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner). Baumbach has made a female answer to Woody Allen’s Annie Hallas if directed by Truffaut or the Godard of Breathless, an insouciant film that blends lightness and spontaneity with everyday frustration and heartache. It may seem nobody had to work too hard to make this happy-sad soufflé, but I bet you they did. Continue reading Get…

August 1, 2013
Film Review

Review: The Bling Ring (Sofia Coppola)

  In Sofia Coppola’s based-on-a-true-story The Bling Ring, well-off LA teens obsessed with celebrities and fashion break into the homes of their tawdry idols to steal their clothes, jewellery and loose cash, and are then dumb enough to boast about it to their schoolmates. Talk about a Zeitgeist-defining tale. Had these events not really occurred, Coppola would no doubt have been accused of creating thin and unbelievably shallow characters. Adapting her script from a feature in Vanity Fair, she has however created a vividly believable Instagram shot of contemporary pop culture at its lowest ebb, her jabs at the vacuousness and narcissism of these spoilt kids’ lives coming across as sharply chiseled satire where they could easily have appeared as cheap shots. There isn’t a whole lot of plotting here, beyond a few character sketches interspersed by a series of robberies (the kids get into Paris Hilton’s home by correctly assuming she’d be stupid enough to leave a key under the mat), so at times it feels a little thin. But aided by a lively young cast (headed by ex-Harry Potter star Emma Watson), the writer-director creates a film that entertains as much as it appalls. Continue reading Get unlimited…

July 25, 2013
Film Review

Review: What’s in a Name? (Le prénom)

I knew nothing about this French drawing room farce before seeing it, yet walking out I was certain it had to be based on a successful play – and indeed it is. Making its stage origins obvious is the restricted setting, a bourgeois Parisian apartment during a calamitous dinner party, while the clue to its popularity (the film was also a big domestic hit) lies in the sheer polish of its construction, which locates it in a tradition reaching back through The Dinner Gameand La Cage aux Follesto farceur Georges Feydeau. Stressed-out hosts Elisabeth (Valérie Benguigui) and Pierre (Charles Berling) find their intimate soirée going wrong the moment her crass brother Vincent (Patrick Bruel) reveals the shocking name chosen for the baby his wife Anna (Judith El Zein) is carrying. Issues of good taste and responsibility gradually give way to class prejudice and shocking revelation. Adapting their own material, directors Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de la Patelliere keep it all moving at breakneck speed while adding necessary moments of repose, and the actors (who, with the exception of Berling, reprise their stage roles) give it their all. But while it’s always engaging and often amusing, I can’t say it’s…Continue reading…

July 17, 2013
Film Review

Review: Much Ado About Nothing (Acker, Denisof)

How do you recover from shooting a behemoth like The Avengers? Well, if you’re writer-director Joss Whedon, then you invite some friends over for 12 days and make Much Ado About Nothing. In this context, Whedon’s infectiously playful adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy is even more endearing. This film is literally homemade, and it’s all the richer for it; as familiar faces from Whedon’s TV shows – Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dollhouse, and Firefly– romp around the big screen in an eye-wateringly hilarious display of wit and wordplay, with a few pratfalls and commando rolls to boot! Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof revel in their roles as the Bard’s famously cantankerous lovers Beatrice and Benedick. Their scathing flirtation is balanced by the sweetness of Claudio (Fran Kranz) and his affection for Hero (Jillian Morgese). But when the dastardly Don John (Sean Maher) undermines the marriage of the young pair, all appears lost, until the hapless constable Dogberry (a scene-stealing Nathan Fillion) stumbles upon the truth. Super-charged with giddy enthusiasm, Whedon’s ensemble brings Shakespeare to life in a riot of boozy passion and slapstick giggles. The dialogue dances across the black-and-white screen with dazzling vibrancy, making Much Ado About Nothingnothing short of…Continue…

July 10, 2013
Film Review

Review: Before Midnight (Hawke, Delpy)

In this stale era of supersized superhero franchises, it’s delightfully refreshing to reunite with Richard Linklater’s characters from Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. Almost 20 yearson from the first installment, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) feel like old friends; we’re intimately invested in their relationship. But has the magic of their first, serendipitous meeting in Vienna lasted the test of time? Nine years after their Parisian assignation, we meet the pair in picturesque Crete, where Jesse is enjoying his summer as a writer in residence. I won’t spoil the family dynamic, but Linklater does a clever job of bringing everyone up to speed in a single-take car ride back from the airport. These long, dialogue-filled takes continue as their idyllic holiday unfolds into a romantic getaway organised by friends, where suddenly Jesse and Celine are confronted by passion of a more destructive kind. As cowriters and actors, Hawk and Delpy know just how to get under your skin. Their onscreen alter egos fit like a glove, and witnessing their ageing, nagging, toying love is a true privilege. Before Midnight may mean to cap off the trilogy, but you won’t want to bid Jesse and Celine adieu. Continue reading…

July 3, 2013