5 October, 2012
Film Review

Review: Killing Them Softly (Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins)

Killing people can be a “touchy feely” business. So opines professional enforcer Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt), whose endeavours to murder from a distance never quite keep him safe from the sob stories. But watching him try makes for a brilliant twist on the gangster genre. Writer-director Andrew Dominic has reinterpreted George V. Higgins’ 1974 novel Cogan’s Trade to fit America’s contemporary economic woes. Money is tight so when two punks knock over a mob-run poker game, Cogan is brought in to clean house. But between reckoning with middle-management (Richard Jenkins) and controlling his boozy gun-for-hire (James Gandolfini), Cogan reveals that murder by committee is no easy affair. Surprisingly wordy and sedately paced, Killing them Softly is spun out through a series of yarns that may prove too long-winded for some. Yet they are punctuated by moments of intense violence. With Pitt in peak form, Dominic delivers a sublimely sardonic portrait of capitalism couched as a gangster thriller. It’s dark, it’s smart, and it’s destined to become a classic piece of cinema.   Continue reading Get unlimited digital access from $3 per month Subscribe Already a subscriber? Log in

24 August, 2012
Film Review

Review: Bully (Lee Hirsch)

This US documentary on bullying arrives on the back of a Stateside ratings furore that led to it initially being released unrated after censors absurdly classified it “R” on language grounds. That rating (later softened after cuts) would have prevented under-17-year-olds from seeing the film in cinemas – precisely the audience that should be exposed to this moving and sometimes enraging film about entrenched behaviours that virtually everyone will recognise from their own school days, whether as former victims, perpetrators or both. That the film is set in the US Bible Belt is bitterly ironic given the determinedly non-Christian behaviour it depicts, habitually accepted as “just one of those things that are hard to police” by complacent school staff. Director Lee Hirsch divides the running time between the parents of two teenage suicide victims, a handful of children still being bullied, the views of their school officials, and an incendiary public meeting. The bullying – both verbal ostracism and physical violence – focuses on any kid seen by their peers as weak or different, whether they be a tomboyish lesbian or a sensitive introvert with an unusual face. There are some powerful moments here in a film that will give…

24 August, 2012
Film Review

Review: The Sapphires (Deborah Mailman, Miranda Tapsell, Jessica Mauboy)

Packed with laughs, toe-tapping songs and performances as sparkly as the costumes, Wayne Blair’s musical is a sure-fire hit. It’s 1968, and although the ’60s haven’t exactly swung into rural Australia, three Aboriginal sisters have their hearts set on revolutionising their lives. Country & western singers Gail (Deborah Mailman), Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) and Julie (Jessica Mauboy) venture out from their dusty mission to a local talent contest, where they are discovered by Irishman Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd). Just sober enough to appreciate their talent, Dave convinces the trio to turn to soul music, and, after they reunite with their estranged cousin Kay (Shari Sebbens), the newly groovy gals jet off to entertain the troops in Vietnam. Richly cinematic and propelled by a must-own soundtrack of classic soul – Heard It Through The Grapevine, What A Man and I’ll Take You There amongst them – The Sapphires is a film to celebrate. Blair has polished the true story to a high shine with cinematographer Warwick Thornton (Samson & Delilah), while the superb casting ensures both musical and comedic success. After a raucous reception at Cannes, The Sapphires are destined to triumph on…Continue reading Get unlimited digital access from $3 per month…

24 August, 2012
Film Review

Review: Lore

Taking a fairytale trope of the trip to Grandma’s, and relocating it in the final days of the Third Reich, Loreis at once a mesmerising and haunting ordeal. Telling this German tale is Australian Cate Shortland, who returns to the silver screen eight years after stunning critics with her debut Somersault. Adapted from a story within Rachel Seiffert’s 2001 novel The Dark Room, Loreis named after its lead character, a teenager and eldest child (a spectacular debut by Saskia Rosendahl). Lore is entrusted with the safety of her four siblings (one still a babe-in-arms) after their SS Officer father (Nick Holaschke) disappears and their mother (Ursina Lardi) prepares to be incarcerated by the approaching Allied forces. On their perilous journey across the newly conquered Germany to “Oma’s”, the children meet curious stranger, Thomas (Kai-Peter Malina), and their fates become intertwined. Shot by Adam Arkapaw ( Animal Kingdom) in a stunning series of tableaux – romantic, eerie and breathtaking in turn – the film’s visuals match its thematic heft, held aloft by Rosendahl’s stoic grace. The result is an unforgettable journey into the heart of Germany’s dark past. Continue reading Get unlimited digital access from $3 per month Subscribe Already a…

24 August, 2012
Film Review

Review: Monsieur Lazhar

Philippe Falardeau’s Academy Award-nominated tale took out the Audience Award at the Sydney Film Festival, and rightfully so: it’s a film that will make you want to find and hug your favourite school teacher! The titular Algerian (Mohamed Fellag) arrives at a Montréal public middle school in the wake of a tragedy. A Year Six class reels from the suicide of their teacher, with two students in particular – Simon (Émilien Néron) and Alice (Sophie Nélisse) – bearing the brunt of the emotional aftermath. Seemingly well qualified, Bachir Lazhar takes over the class, and his combination of classic texts and old-school formality helps the children come to terms with their grief. Shot with a light, naturalistic touch, and featuring simply beautiful performances from Néron and Nélisse, Monsieur Lazharis a film to cherish. Falardeau weaves in broader themes of threat and protection, but eschews morbidity by grounding the film in Fellag’s wonderfully compassionate lead role. Indeed, Monsieur Lazharis destined to find its place among the cinematic teaching canon alongside To Sir, With Loveand Dead Poet’s Society. The soundtrack You could be forgiven for thinking this music, by Morricone protégé Martin Léon, was written by Yann Tiersen. Here are those same simple waltzes,…Continue…

24 August, 2012
Film Review

Review: Beasts of the Southern Wild

The extraordinary directorial debut of US director Benh Zeitlin is one of those special US independent films that come along too rarely. Not another lazy comedy full of slackers making cynical wisecracks, this is a genuinely original film with a mythic dimension that makes it sit even bigger in the imagination than it does on the screen. The story is seen from the viewpoint of a feverishly imaginative six-year-old African American girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), who lives with her father in a ramshackle community on the wrong side of a Mississippi levee and obsesses about her absent mother. Her world is one where mythical, boar-like creatures mix with stories of the melting of the polar ice caps and a real-life flood of Biblical proportions. Though this catastrophic event is obviously inspired by Hurricane Katrina, the real-life event is never mentioned; the film aims for something timeless and achieves it. Zeitlin captures a miraculous performance from Wallis, and despite his regrettable weakness for the overuse of shakycam, creates a powerful sense of place in his mixture of the fantastical with the everyday. Continue reading Get unlimited digital access from $3 per month Subscribe Already a subscriber? Log in

21 June, 2012
Film Review

Review: Where Do We Go Now? (Nadine Labaki)

It’s great to see more female actors moving behind the camera, since they so often bring a fresh and distinctive vision. That’s decidedly true of Lebanese director Nadine Labaki, who impressed with Caramel, revolving around a Beirut hairdressing salon, and with her latest project emerges as a potentially major filmmaker. The action in her ambitious follow-up moves to a mountain village where a character played by Labaki runs the sun-drenched local café – a friendly meeting place for the town’s mixed population of Muslims and Christians. The second symbol of convivial relations is the impromptu outdoor TV the villagers come together to view on a nearby hillside (the signal in the village being too weak). But happy days are threatened when news arrives of a sectarian clash elsewhere. As tensions increase and the men become fractious, their wives and mothers unite to mount a series of outlandish schemes to distract them from thoughts of violence. One of their more outrageous tricks is the importation of touring Ukrainian strippers. Labaki has made something absolutely bold and unique with this tragi-comedy. Using local villagers in many roles, the film has tremendous energy and is filled with humour (and even the odd musical…

21 June, 2012
Film Review

Review: A Royal Affair (Nikolaj Arcel, Mads Mikkelsen, Alicia Vikander)

The Scandinavian film industry has been reborn over the last decade on the back of contemporary stories, from Lars von Trier’s idiosyncratic projects to various genre tales. This handsome, vigorously dramatic production from von Trier’s production company, Zentropa Films, marks a move towards the kind of lavishly staged, true-life historical tales the Brits and French have previously marked out as a speciality. It shows the Danes are more than up to the task. Denmark’s biggest star, Mads Mikkelsen, is blessed with a meaty role as Dr Struensee, a free-thinking German who is hired as royal physician for insane young King Christian VII (Mikkel Følsgaard) just as Enlightenment ideas begin to challenge the old order. In the King’s beautiful young English-born bride, Queen Caroline (Alicia Vikander), he finds a powerful intellectual ally. Together they manage to manipulate the King into pushing through progressive legislation. But with so much at stake, how long before they acknowledge their dangerous mutual attraction? The great achievement of director Nikolaj Arcel and screenwriter Rasmus Heisterberg (whose several prior collaborations include the original The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) is to satisfactorily unite the romantic, dramatic and political elements into a single cohesive unit where all parts…

31 May, 2012
Film Review

Review: Bel Ami (Robert Pattinson, Christina Ricci, Kristin Scott Thomas)

Sumptuous, sensual and scandalous, Bel Amitries oh-so-hard to make an anti-hero out of Twilightheartthrob Robert Pattinson. In this latest adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s 1885 novel, veteran theatre directors Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod make their feature film debuts in stylish, if emotionally lacklustre, fashion.  “Bel Ami” is the nickname of lowly soldier Georges Duroy (Pattinson), who arrives in Paris, penniless, only to be taken under the wing of an older army buddy Charles Forestier (Philip Glenister). Put on staff at a newspaper and introduced into high society, Georges sets about boosting his status by seducing influential wives. The sweet Clotilde (Christina Ricci) and undersexed Mme Rousset (Kristin Scott Thomas) are eager diversions, but it is the intellectual firebrand Madeline (Uma Thurman) who proves the real prize. This brilliant trio of actresses light up the screen, if only they weren’t overshadowed by Pattinson’s relatively feeble performance. Indeed, this is the perfect film to cure someone of an obsession with “RPatz”. Though he clearly relishes Georges’ Machiavellian antics, he lacks the dramatic depth to pull it off. Endless close ups don’t help, but gorgeous production design and those wonderful women rescue Bel Amiin more… Continue reading Get unlimited digital access from…

8 May, 2012
Film Review

Review: Cafe de Flore (Vanessa Paradis, Jean-Marc Vallée)

The English phrase “overegging the pudding” describes perfectly Café de Flore, a French Canadian dish egged with so many scraps of material (dream sequences, flashes back and forward, parallel plots, visual metaphors) that for a long time it’s hard to see how it all adds up. When all becomes more clear it’s hard to care. For 90 of the total 120 minutes two story threads remain frustratingly unconnected. In present-day Montreal, a 40-year-old professional DJ (Kevin Parent) seems blissfully happy with his new young wife while his two young daughters and dumped first wife stew in resentment. Meanwhile in 1969 Paris an uglied-up Vanesssa Paradis plays a single mother struggling to raise a Down Syndrome boy who eventually becomes attached, limpet-like, to a girl with the same condition. Unlike Jean-Marc Vallée’s spirited coming-of-age saga, C.R.A.Z.Y., this film shows the writer-director getting lost in his own ambition and losing focus. Although the central theme – the cost of deep love – eventually accrues some weight, by then it’s all a bit late. Fractured narratives are all-the-go thanks in part to the influence of Mexican screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, but Café de Floredemonstrates that pulling off this kind of complexity is…Continue reading Get unlimited…

8 May, 2012
Film Review

Review: Delicacy (Audrey Tautou)

Some of the best French dramas often fail to be released here, yet we get an annual influx of the nation’s romantic comedies regardless of their quality. Delicacyis not one of the worst but neither is it particularly successful. The ubiquitous Audrey Tautou plays young widow Natalie, an office worker whose insensitive, married boss continually pesters her for a date. One day, having shrugged off the lizard’s latest advance, she impulsively kisses a shocked male subordinate, Markus, on the lips (completely unbelievably) and then refuses to take responsibility for her actions. That might have led to a productively sharp comedy about sexual harassment; not only the black and white areas but also the grey zones where a woman can, with one action, be a victim who fights back, and with the next, an offender. But co-directors David and Stephane Foenkinos (adapting the former’s novel) instead play cute, shying away from ironic observation and relying too heavily on charm. At least François Damiens brings genuine likeability to Markus. Tautou’s saucer-eyes command attention, as always, but her alarmingly scrawny figure sends a peculiar message – especially as Natalie’s two male admirers repeatedly ignore her curvy female co-workers and best friend. Continue reading Get unlimited…

28 March, 2012
Film Review

Review: A Dangerous Method (Fassbender, Mortensen)

This film sounds like a dream come true. A biopic of Carl Jung and his friendship with mentor Sigmund Freud, starring Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen, and directed by auteur David Cronenberg, the anticipation for A Dangerous Methodhas been nothing short of ecstatic. Indeed when Fassbender and Mortensen come together as the masters of psychoanalysis, their discourse and increasingly heated debate is utterly electric. So why do we experience so little? Instead Cronenberg and screenwriter Christopher Hampton (adapting his own play, The Talking Cure) centre the film on Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), an admittedly fascinating Russian upon whom Jung experiments with Freud’s “talking cure” before she studies to become an authority on the emerging discipline herself. The film becomes an intellectual love triangle of sorts, as Spielrein’s sexual relationship with Jung is one cause of a rift that develops between he and Freud.   Set between 1904 and 1934, the film is a beautifully detailed and impressive period piece. Cronenberg may be (in)famous for his gore, but it seems austerity suits him very well. If only he’d opted to step away from Spielrein’s sexual hysteria and sink us further into the fascinating minds of Jung… Continue reading Get unlimited digital…

29 February, 2012
Film Review

Review: A Separation (Leila Hatami, Asghar Farhadi)

The private disintegration of a marriage becomes a very public affair in Asghar Farhadi’s flawless domestic portrait. The film opens with a palpable long take of wife and husband, Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Moaadi) making their cases for divorce (for and against respectively): Simin wants to emigrate from Iran to give their daughter (Sarina Farhadi) a better life, while Nader refuses to shirk his obligation to care for his Alzheimic father. Farhadi then teases out the consequences of their impasse into a complex and far-reaching web of human foible and tragedy that entangles the housekeeper (Sareh Bayat) Nader is forced to hire once Simin moves out. While Moaadi shoulders the drama with a superbly stoic and layered performance, which is beautifully countered by Bayat’s captivating conviction, it is young Sarina Farhadi (the director’s daughter) who shines from the side lines. Her closing scene will skewer your heart. Indeed, impeccable acting, writing and direction make A Separationa must see film, and one entirely deserving of all its international acclaim. Winning a Golden Globe and nominated for an Oscar, such accolades should help audiences take a chance on Farhadi’s keenly Iranian, yet ultimately universal tale of… Continue reading Get unlimited…