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
Film Review

Review: We Steal Secrets: The Story Of Wikileaks (Assange, Manning)

This latest from the prolific Oscar- winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side; Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) is a great primer for those who haven’t closely followed the travails of the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks and its founder, Julian Assange. The trouble is, they’re the people unlikely to want to see it, while those who have followed the story may find there’s too little new here to fully satisfy. There’s so much in this story – the ongoing Swedish rape case against Assange could take up an entire film on its own – that filmmakers brave enough to tackle it need to be judicious about where they focus. Gibney not only covers pretty much all of the ground, he also shoehorns in a huge amount of material on Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of the US diplomatic leaks hosted by the website to world headlines, undermining the narrative logic and pushing the duration to 130 minutes. Did we need to know about Manning’s gender identity issues in such detail? That said, the film has access to some fascinating expert witnesses and commentators, with journalists Mark Davis (SBS TV) and Nick Davies (The Guardian) and ex-CIA…Continue…

June 26, 2013
Film Review

Review: Small Apartments (Lucas, Marsden)

When a film boasts a morbidly obese albino, a Swiss alpenhorn, and fingernail clippings posted from prison, you know you’re not in for an ordinary trip to the cinema. This bizarre concoction stems from a novel by Chris Mills, as envisioned Jonas Åkerlund, a director who has risen to fame making music videos for the likes of Madonna, Lady Gaga and the Rolling Stones. Playing the corpulent, oddball antihero is Matt Lucas, and fans of the British comedy series Little Britain will already be familiar with his own clutch of curious characters. However Lucas digs deeper here with Franklin Franklin, a lost soul now that his brother (James Marsden) is in gaol, who wants nothing more than to flee his tiny abode for the vast horizons of Switzerland. So it probably wasn’t a great idea to have killed his exploitative landlord (Peter Stormare). Johnny Knoxville and James Cann add extra colour as Franklin’s kooky neighbours; their own microcosms of domestic misery fleshing out a story that revels in disquietingly dark comedy. Billy Crystal’s cop introduces refreshing flashes of lighter laughs, but for most that won’t be quite enough to redeem the macabre mess of scenes Åkerlund serves up in Small…

June 12, 2013
Film Review

Review: Farewell, My Queen (Seydoux, Kruger)

Upstairs/downstairs costume dramas are a dime a dozen these days, but be sure to save some intrigue for Farewell, My Queen (Les Adieux à la Reine).This sumptuous yet grittily grounded drama sweeps audiences back into the Court of Versailles in 1789. Our guide is Sidonie Laborde (Léa Seydoux), the Queen’s (Diane Kruger) reader and fiercely loyal subject. We follow as she stomps, creeps, sleeps and falls within the gilded hallways, while outside the gates revolution is brewing. Director Benoît Jacquot brings Chantal Thomas’s bestselling novel to stunning life. Yes, the production design and costuming are impeccable, but it is the lifeof Versailles that Jacquot captures: all the petty politics, positioning and preening. And that is simply a glorious sight to see. We all know how the saga ends, so it is a testament to the screenplay and Seydoux’s performance that, from her angle, the story feels
so thrillingly immediate. Kruger impresses in her majestic turn as Marie-Antoinette; she effortlessly commands the screen in what is surely a career highlight. Even where the film begins to pull at bodices — in a love triangle of sorts between the Queen, Sidonie and La duchesse Gabrielle de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen) — Kruger’s blistering…Continue reading…

June 7, 2013
Film Review

Review: Amour: (Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or winner 2013)

Most love stories chart the start of a relationship, but in this Cannes Palme d’Or winner, Michael Haneke charts the power of love near the end of a married couple’s lives. The film is as much about ageing and death as it is about love, and many will find it uncomfortably close to home. But the Austrian auteur ( The Piano Teacher; The White Ribbon) has never been interested in giving his audience an easy ride. His concern is the excavation of difficult emotional truths, few of which have been as deep yet commonly experienced as those examined here. Veteran French actors Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva play an initially sprightly Paris couple (Isabelle Huppert makes an appearance as their daughter), retired music teachers seen near the start enjoying a classical piano recital before arriving home to discover they’ve had intruders. That’s a typical Haneke plot device, but this time more portent than threat. The couple’s true antagonist is already within: one of them is about to suffer a minor stroke. It will be the beginning of the end. Even for Haneke this is astringent stuff, light on visual flourish or narrative surprise, but driving it all are magnificent performances that…

February 25, 2013
Film Review

Review: The Sessions (John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy)

An extraordinary account of sexual exploration and intimacy against the odds, The Sessionsis a powerful achievement. John Hawkes gives a courageous performance as poet Mark O’Brien, a man crippled by polio and forced to live his life in an iron lung. When invited to research a story about sexual therapy for the disabled, Mark retains the services of sex surrogate Cheryl Cohen Greene (Helen Hunt), but not before appealing for permission from his priest (an affable William H. Macy). Australian writer-director Ben Lewin drew on his own experiences with polio to craft a tale that is both delicately lovely and refreshingly matter-of-fact. Much will be made of Helen Hunt’s “brave” nudity, but looking past that, her characterisation of a resolutely private and chipper therapist who allows herself to experience intimacy with Mark is a true triumph. And similarly, this is another must-see turn from Hawkes, whose remarkable physical transformation is matched by his wonderful comic timing and emotional vulnerability. A hit from the Sundance Film Festival, The Sessionsshould be remembered come Oscar season. So even if the supporting characters feel rather slight, a cinema session with Hawkes and Hunt is well worth your time. Continue reading Get unlimited digital access…

November 5, 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 $4 per month Subscribe Already a subscriber? Log in

October 5, 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…

August 24, 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 $4 per month…

August 24, 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 $4 per month Subscribe Already a…

August 24, 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…

August 24, 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 $4 per month Subscribe Already a subscriber? Log in

August 24, 2012