23 February, 2012
Film Review

Review: My Week With Marilyn (Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Dougrey Scott)

Michelle Williams is beguiling as screen siren Marilyn Monroe in this true story of an on-set dalliance. Indeed, while movies about making movies mightn’t always hold the widest appeal, going behind the scenes with the dazzling charm and manifold insecurities of Monroe makes for quite the seductive combination. My Week With Marilynis based on the memoir of Colin Clark (sensitively played by Eddie Redmayne), a toff university graduate and diehard film fan who inveigles his way into the role of third assistant director on the set of Sir Laurence Olivier’s (a scene stealing, sibilant Kenneth Branagh) The Prince and the Showgirl(1957). Monroe arrives in London to much pomp and ceremony, escorted by her new husband Arthur Miller (Dougrey Scott) and acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker) only to dissolve into a quaking little girl lost at Sir Laurence’s increasingly exasperated direction. What follows feels a lot like the male version of Carey Mulligan’s turn in An Education. Clark and the starlet share a romance as he transforms from breathless fan to ardent protector in this light and nostalgic coming-of-age tale with a Hollywood twist.  “Should I be her?” Monroe breathily enquires. And… Continue reading Get unlimited digital access from $3…

23 February, 2012
Film Review

Review: Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave)

Theatre and opera directors have been staging modern-dress productions of the classics for decades. Filmmakers were slow to follow, probably due to the naturalistic tendency so often assumed to be inherent to the medium. But since Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Julietand Richard Loncraine’s Richard III(set in the Fascist 1930s) perhaps that’s started to change. For his directorial film debut Ralph Fiennes has transposed the least often performed Shakespearean tragedy from Roman times to present-day Europe, a decision that mostly makes perfect sense. This is, after all, a story of a leader whose overweening pride alienates him from the people he is meant to serve – and there’s no shortage of current candidates for that description. Indeed modern resonances crop up everywhere you look, from the Iraq war (the scenes of ferocious urban combat) and the 1990s Balkan wars (helped by the film’s being shot in and around Belgrade) to the post-GFC civil disobedience seen recently in Greece and Spain. Fiennes, who previously played the title role in a celebrated London theatre, makes a suitably haughty and intense Coriolanus, while Vanessa Redgrave is in terrific form as the general’s influential mother.   Continue reading Get unlimited digital access from $3 per…

1 February, 2012
Film Review

Review: The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius)

Movies fêted amid the hothouse atmosphere of a film festival often disappoint when seen in the cooler environment of a commercial release. Not so with this glorious, black-and-white comic tribute to silent cinema. After dazzling viewers at Cannes last year, when it seemed to come straight out of nowhere, it turns out to be an inventive and deliriously entertaining charmer that instead of going for knowing send-up or ironic pastiche, expresses genuine love and appreciation for early Hollywood. French writer-director Michel Hazanavicius was previously known for OSS 117, a low-brow espionage spoof popular enough in France to produce a sequel, but The Artistmanages to be both broadly accessible and sophisticated in its understanding of cinema. It’s helped enormously by the freshness of its two stars, Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, who respectively play silent matinee idol George Valentin, and Peppy Miller, the dancing flapper girl who adores him before a reversal of fortune sees them swapping places in the public’s affection (the theme of the talkies killing off the silent era fondly echoing the classic musical Singin’ In The Rain). There’s no dialogue, of course, but there is a gorgeous score – and a cute… Continue reading Get unlimited digital…

1 February, 2012
Film Review

Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene (Elizabeth Olsen; Hugh Dancy)

Powerful, palpable and downright haunting, Martha Marcy May Marleneis a staggering cinematic achievement. It is the feature debut of writer-director Sean Durkin as well as the unveiling of a striking new onscreen talent in Elizabeth Olsen. Why the alliterative title? You’ll find out, as this taut psychological thriller works its way under your skin and into your nightmares. Olsen is sensational in her “eponymous” role as a young woman who escapes from a cult led by the sinewy and sinister Patrick (a routinely brilliant John Hawkes). Fleeing into the concerned and confused arms of her estranged sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and her fiancé (Hugh Dancy), Martha recuperates in the lap of luxury, only to be terrorised by her memories, and maybe even her surroundings. Durkin mixes fear, memory and delusion into a heady concoction that he spins out into a gorgeously slow and enthralling mosaic. Jody Lee Lipes’ beautifully unsettling cinematography and the eerie elisions between past and present underscore Olsen’s captivating portrayal of a frayed but erstwhile searching psyche. Durkin curiously sidesteps moralising the cult, instead opting to lock his audience in with the fractured mind of his heroine. Continue reading Get unlimited digital access from $3 per month…

9 January, 2012
Film Review

Review: The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodovar; Antonio Banderas)

Like fellow Spaniard Luis Buñuel, Pedro Almodóvar has developed a sense of style so unique his films occupy an idiosyncratic genre all of their own. In his later films that invariably means campy, over-the-top plots played utterly straight amid an orgy of sumptuous design. On one level his latest, adapted from a novel by France’s Thierry Jonquet, is a luridly macabre melodrama with enough outlandish plot developments to fuel three separate movies. But on another level it offers up a fascinating meditation on beauty, sexual obsession and the putative male desire to mould, gaze upon and own the female body. It begins with a skin surgeon (Antonio Banderas) who keeps a beautiful woman (Elena Anaya) as a compliant prisoner in his palatial home. How she came to be there is a long shaggy dog story that unfolds with a farcically complicated series of twists and flashbacks. These include a scene where the surgeon’s half-brother arrives on his doorstep wearing a tiger costume as if this is perfectly normal behaviour. Georges Franju’s 1960 classic horror Eyes Without a Faceis an obvious touchstone but the new film is more ridiculous than horrific. Yet despite this – the Almodóvar paradox? – the result is oddly…Continue reading Get unlimited…

15 December, 2011
Film Review

Review: Melancholia (Kirsten Dunst; Charlotte Gainsbourg; Alexander Skarsgard; Lars von Trier)

The gravitational force of depression is devastatingly and magnificently explored in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia. By dividing his focus between the fates of two sisters, Von Trier explores the inner melancholic demons that plague Justine (Kirsten Dunst) on her wedding day, and the manifold fear Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) holds towards the strange, eponymous planet that appears to be bearing down on Earth.  Von Trier also manages to outdo the jaw-dropping beauty of Antichrist’s operatic opening, with Melancholia’s first frames unfolding in an utterly stunning, ultra-slow motion sequence. Dunst and Gainsbough are simply glorious on screen. Their effortless performances are masterfully supported by an enviable ensemble, which includes luminaries Charlotte Rampling and John Hurt, a wantonly underused Alexander Skarsgård, and an uncharacteristically effete Kiefer Sutherland. Audiences will no doubt pick their favourite of the film’s two parts, with Justine’s wedding feeling like a distilled, perfected version of Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married, while Claire’s angst builds towards the film’s transcendent climax.  There is nothing subtle about the metaphors at work here, especially as von Trier steeps his film in Wagner’s epic tones. But depression as apocalypse is both a horrifying and beautiful sight to see,… Continue reading Get unlimited digital access from…

15 December, 2011
Film Review

Review: The Women on the Sixth Floor (Fabrice Luchini; Carmen Maura; Philippe Le Guay)

Sadly, comic acting is usually overlooked in film awards due to the prejudice that deems laughter to be worthy of suspicion. It’s a particular shame when you come across a performance as subtle and expertly judged down to the very last detail as the one given by France’s Fabrice Luchini in this expertly crafted upstairs-downstairs comedy set in 1962. Luchini, known locally for comedies such as Molièreand the recent Potiche, plays Jean-Louis, a grumpily middle-aged bourgeois gentleman who takes refuge from his souring wife (Sandrine Kiberlain) by getting to know the Spanish maids who inhabit the top floor of their upscale block. Here he discovers a world he previously had no idea existed, a warren of tiny rooms without even the benefit of running water. Yet, despite their deprivation, the women (including his new maid’s aunt, played by former Almodovar favourite Carmen Maura) display a spirit of cameraderie he finds life-affirming; the whinger starts to loosen up and discover a sense of joy in his life. Director and co-writer Philippe Le Guay deploys a gift for wry observation with a deftly understated approach that defuses the danger of triteness and makes the film a satisfying experience. Continue reading Get unlimited…

29 November, 2011
Film Review

Review: Restless (Mia Wasikowski; Henry Hopper; Gus Van Sant)

Aafter his devastatingly arresting death trilogy ( Gerry, Elephant, Last Days), Gus Van Sant takes a gentler look at the flipside of life with Restless. From the pen of first-time screenwriter Jason Lew, this poignant love story stars Australian Mia Wasikowska and newcomer Henry Hopper (son of Dennis) as a pair of outsiders drawn together by their shared fascination with death. After meeting gate-crashing a funeral, Enoch and Annabel quickly become inseparable, whiling their days away deep in wilfully alternative conversations, while gadding about in an array of over-styled vintage outfits. But each has a sobering secret, and as their love burgeons amid the spectre of death, their fresh-faced youth becomes a potent reminder to embrace the time we have left. Sweet but slight, Restlessfrustratingly feels like minor Van Sant. Though Wasikowska shines and Hopper makes a strong debut, Danny Elfman’s rather twee score does them no favours, nor does the screenplay’s more obvious notes on death and dying. Enoch’s imaginary friend – a WWII Kamikaze pilot (Ryo Kase) – is curiously saddled with the emotional heavy lifting, which ultimately prevents this tale from tugging much at the heartstrings. Continue reading Get unlimited digital access from $3 per month Subscribe…

17 November, 2011
Film Review

Review: Bill Cunningham New York

Why does Vogueeditor Anna Wintour declare, “We all get dressed for Bill”? Well, it’s high time we find out, and very possibly fall in love with the exuberant photographer Bill Cunningham. He has been cycling around Manhattan for over 30 years, capturing both street style and high society fashion for The New York Times(just don’t go mistaking him for a fashion photographer or paparazzo!). But despite being a veritable cycling fashion encyclopaedia, Bill certainly doesn’t look the part. The spritely gent – who celebrates his 80th birthday during the documentary – prefers to gad about in a blue smock, the uniform of Parisian street sweepers. Richard Press’s pitch-perfect documentary is a gentle, heart-warming and infectiously celebratory affair. Winning audience awards at both Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals, Bill is already a proven crowd-pleaser, with his jocular laugh and marvellous joie de vivresure to leave you beaming. There is a sublimely old-fashioned and honourable quality about Bill, which extends to his reticence in discussing his private life and his single-minded desire to play a straight game; a seemingly herculean task in the Big Apple. Instead Bill lives by a wonderfully simple code: “He who seeks beauty…Continue reading Get unlimited digital access…

26 October, 2011
Film Review

Review: Birthday (Natalie Eleftheriadis, Kestie Morassi, James Harkness)

An endlessly meandering Australian drama set mostly inside a brothel during a single day, Birthdayhas its origins – rather too obviously – in a stage play by the film’s writer-director, James Harkness. An examination of love, sex and faith in a hard-bitten world, the film has a heart and a trio of fine performances from Natalie Eleftheriadis and the always highly watchable Kestie Morassi (Zarah Garde Wilson in Underbelly) as Emma and Lily, two sex worker friends, and Richard Wilson as Joey, a shy young man in crisis. But what seem to be good intentions are undone by slack pacing, a low octane bordering on non-existent narrative and a serious lack of dramatic juice that shows the writer hasn’t given nearly enough thought about how to effectively reconfigure his stage production for the big screen. In place of cause and effect interactions that advance the story we get a seemingly endless stream of intimate conversations, where characters tell each other how they feel rather than showing it through their actions. As much as I wanted to be moved by Eleftheriadis, who played the role on stage, there’s never the dramatic context needed to make her fine acting…Continue reading Get unlimited…

13 October, 2011
Film Review

Review: Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen, Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams)

There’s a case to be made that Woody Allen’s career has been grievously underrated in its autumnal stage, especially some of the films made in Europe such as Matchpointand Vicky Cristina Barcelona, both reviewed somewhat grudgingly. In future years Midnight in Pariswill bolster a more upbeat view of his later films. The story is certainly familiar Allen fare, its fantasy scenario in the spirit of The Purple Rose of Cairo. An artistically frustrated contemporary Hollywood screenwriter (Owen Wilson) is repeatedly spirited into the artistic bohemia of 1930s Paris during a visit to the city with his materialistic fiancee (Rachel McAdams). Offered lifts in a vintage limousine during his solo night walks, he hobnobs at elegant soirees with the likes of Cocteau, Picasso, Hemingway, Dali and Stein, and falls for a beautiful artist’s muse (Marion Cotillard). Even by Allen’s standards, the dialogue is consistently witty, the supporting performances full of delight – Adrien Brody’s Dali and Kathy Bates’s Stein are two of many. And adding depth to the comedy is a smart thematic idea: that golden ages are never golden to those living through them, who merely hanker to escape their own period too. Continue reading Get unlimited digital access from…

6 October, 2011
Film Review

Review: The Hunter (Willem Dafoe, Daniel Nettheim)

Mere months after Julia Leigh made her directorial debut with Sleeping Beauty, director Daniel Nettheim has brought her first novel to the screen. The Huntershares a certain austerity and opaque internality with Leigh’s film, as Willem Dafoe trades chaotic nature (in Antichrist) for a quest into the wilderness to track the Tasmanian Tiger. Hired by a biotech company for this seeming mission impossible, Dafoe’s Martin reluctantly arrives to rustic accommodations with the Armstrong family – whose zoologist father is missing – as well as a hostile standoff between greenie protesters and the local logging community. Dafoe is an effortless mercenary, with his wiry frame and striking features lending a palpable physicality to a largely silent role. His distancing pragmatism is nicely countered by Morgana Davies’s effusive turn as Sass Armstrong, the young daughter and self-appointed welcome wagon who enlists Martin’s help to find her father. Frances O’Connor and Sam Neill both bring fine performances to their relatively underused characters in a story that at times threatens to fizzle out its slow burn. Though a little more obvious than psychologically thrilling, The Hunterboasts some striking cinematography; it’s just the internal landscape that feels a little lacking. Continue reading Get unlimited digital access…

28 September, 2011
Film Review

Review: The Whistleblower (Rachel Weisz; Monica Belluci; Vanessa Redgrave)

Always a compelling onscreen presence, Rachel Weisz makes for an intractable UN Peacekeeper in this earnestly well-meaning drama about human trafficking. Based on the true story of Nebraskan police officer-turned-peacekeeper Kathryn Bolkovac, the film by Canadian co-writer/director Larysa Kondracki keenly portrays post-war Bosnia and the horrific sexual slavery that became a booming business alongside the influx of UN “Smurfs”. Initially taking the post to make a quick buck, Bolkovac’s innate investigation skills see her rise in the ranks before the discovery of UN personnel involvement in human trafficking forces her into the dangerous position of whistleblower. Topically and thematically, this is a strong feature debut for Kondracki, who has attracted a masterful ensemble that also includes Vanessa Redgrave, David Strathairn and Monica Bellucci. Kondracki also wisely keeps the camera close to make the most of her terrific leading lady, with Weisz bringing much-needed gravitas to a rather patchy script. Indeed the film seems so concerned with being worthy of its harrowing true story that it often veers away from political-thriller into melodrama. Ultimately, Bolkovac’s extraordinary story deserves a much more incisive script, one that sinks its teeth into the UN nightmare and gets its audiences up in arms. Instead The Whistleblowerpulls…Continue reading Get unlimited…