Thursday, August 21, 2014

Spring 2014 Preview - 26 Films to Watch This Season

As we enter into Spring, we leave behind the Blockbuster season and get into some of the smaller indie releases, long delayed foreign language titles and potentially some awards contenders.

I am going to be away for most of September, but I have seen a lot of the films released that month as it is. I can highly recommend Boyhood, What We Do In The Shadows, Night Moves, The Immigrant, Jodorowsky's Dune and The Skeleton Twins. 

But before I list the 26 films I suggest keeping an eye out for, here's a recap of the films I viewed over the last three months.

Great (4.5/5) - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Snowpiercer

Good (3.5/4) - Edge of Tomorrow, Omar, How To Train Your Dragon 2, Calvary, Tim's Vermeer, The Lunchbox, Charlie's Country, Venus in Fur, All this Mayhem, Still Life, The Selfish Giant, These Final Hours, Lucy, Guardians of the Galaxy, Begin Again, Bethlehem, 20,000 Days on Earth

Okay (2.5/3) - The Rover, Frank, The Keeper of Lost Causes, The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared, Locke, Predestination

Awful (1/2) - 22 Jump Street, Palo Alto

The Grandmaster (September 4)

Boyhood (September 4)

What We Do In The Shadows (September 4)

Night Moves (September 11)

The Immigrant (September 11)

The Boxtrolls (September 18)

Jodorowsky's Dune (September 18)

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (September 18)

In Bloom (September 25)

The Skeleton Twins (September 25)

Monday, August 18, 2014

New Releases (21/08/14)

In cinemas this week: The Inbetweeners 2, 20,000 Days on Earth, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared, Earth To Echo and Deepsea Challenge 3D.

The Inbetweeners 2 - Neil, Will and Simon receive an invite from Jay to join him in Australia whilst on his gap year, who promises them it's ''the sex capital of the world''. With their lives now rather dull compared to their hedonistic school days and legendary lads holiday, it's an offer they can't refuse. Once again, they put growing up temporarily on-hold, and embark on a backpacking holiday of a lifetime. Will soon finds himself battling with the lads to do something cultural, whilst they focus their attention on drinking, girls, and annoying fellow travelers. Can I do another round with these lads? Nah.

20, 000 Days on Earth - Drama and reality combine in a fictitious 24 hours in the life of musician and international cultural icon, Nick Cave. With startlingly frank insights and an intimate portrayal of the artistic process, the film examines what makes us who we are, and celebrates the transformative power of the creative spirit. A conceptually stunning film, we join musician, novelist and screenwriter Nick Cave for his 20,000th day on earth. Wonderfully photographed and edited, this is a philosophical study of Cave’s life and career through several inventive approaches. The archive-set reflection was fascinating, Cave’s narration a window into his creative soul, his discussion with a psychoanalyst about his childhood and relationship with his father powerfully insightful. Testimony from Ray Winstone, Warren Ellis and Kylie Minogue are cleverly incorporated too, and the musical performances (studio recordings and live shows) are chillingly good. This is a showcase of technical invention, and I felt encapsulated in the incorporation of media. Thematically rich – especially regarding the importance of memory, and how it influences art and an artist’s desire to transform themselves – if a little repetitive in conveying them. I love that the filmmakers, visual artists, used unconventional documentary methods, blending personal truths through a staged structure. I can’t call myself a Cave fan, though I do admire what I have been exposed to, but I found this a transcendent experience. ★★

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared - Based on the internationally best-selling novel by Jonas Jonasson, the unlikely story of a 100-year-old man who decides it's not too late to start over. For most people it would be the adventure of a lifetime, but Allan Karlsson's unexpected journey is not his first. For a century he's made the world uncertain, and now he is on the loose again.

Earth to Echo - Tuck, Munch and Alex are a trio of inseparable friends whose lives are about to change. Their neighborhood is being destroyed by a highway construction project that is forcing their families to move away. But just two days before they must part ways, the boys begin receiving a strange series of signals on their phones. Convinced something bigger is going on, they team up with another school friend, Emma, and set out to look for the source of their phone signals. What they discover is something beyond their wildest imaginations: a small alien who has become stranded on Earth. In need of their help, the four friends come together to protect the alien and help him find his way home. This journey, full of wonder and adventure, is their story, and their secret.

Deepsea Challenge 3D - As a boy, filmmaker James Cameron dreamed of a journey to the deepest part of the ocean. This film is the dramatic fulfillment of that dream. It chronicles Cameron's solo dive to the depths of the Mariana Trench-nearly seven miles beneath the ocean's surface-piloting a submersible he designed himself. The risks were astounding. The footage is breathtaking. This is a celebration of science, courage, and extraordinary human aspiration.

Weekly Recommendation: I wholeheartedly endorse 20,000 Days on Earth. The best film so far released in August. The 100-Year-Old Man is pretty loopy. Despite feeling a bit 'throw everything at an audience and see what sticks' Felix Herngren's mad, unpredictable adaptation of Jonas Jonasson's novel remains entertaining throughout. Can I do another round with the Inbetweeners lads? Nah.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Golden Age Cinema and Bar Winter Program Highlights

Golden Age Cinema and Bar have just launched a new Winter program combining cult favourites and new releases as well as a range of awesome film-inspired cocktails and bar menu to match.

The venue is set within the restored Paramount Building at 80 Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills, Sydney. The original 35mm film projectors remain in the projection room and there is a beautiful, intimate bar space.

Some highlights from the Winter Program include:

Golden Films at Golden Age Prices: Runs every Tuesday night and each ticket costs the same as the year the film was released. Mad Max screens Tuesday August 19 at 8.30pm and Nashville screens Tuesday August 26 at 8.30pm. 

Calvary, an Irish drama/comedy that screened at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival, follows a good priest who is faced with sinister and troubling circumstances brought about by a mysterious member of his parish. It screens Thursday 14th August at 8.30pm, Friday 15th August at 6.30pm and Wednesday 20th August at 8.30pm. Tickets are selling fast for the first two sessions. 

On Friday 29th August you can catch two of the year’s most exhilarating films in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel (6.30pm) and Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin (9.00pm).

Inglourious Basterds, 
the first of Tarantino’s historical vengeance narratives re-writes history and embeds the satisfying functions of the revenge film behind heavy historical figures and events. Screens Saturday 16th August at 9pm. 

Golden Daytime Sundays features films from the Golden Age of Hollywood, including Harvey (Sun 17th August 3pm), Pillow Talk (Sun 24th August 3pm) and a digitally restored vision of Chinatown (Sun August 31, 3pm).

No cinema ticket? No worries. All are welcome in the Golden Age bar. It’s open from 5pm until late, Tuesday through Saturday, and from 2.30pm until late on Sunday.

For more information about the venue and the upcoming schedule visit the Golden Age website, and be sure to follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, August 11, 2014

New Releases (14/08/14)

In cinemas this week: The Expendables 3, The Hundred-Foot Journey, Palo Alto and Postman Pat: The Movie.

The Expendables 3 - Barney (Stallone), Christmas (Statham) and the rest of the team come face-to-face with Conrad Stonebanks (Gibson), who years ago co-founded The Expendables with Barney. Stonebanks subsequently became a ruthless arms trader and someone who Barney was forced to kill... or so he thought. Stonebanks, who eluded death once before, now is making it his mission to end The Expendables -- but Barney has other plans. Barney decides that he has to fight old blood with new blood, and brings in a new era of Expendables team members, recruiting individuals who are younger, faster and more tech-savvy. The latest mission becomes a clash of classic old-school style versus high-tech expertise in the Expendables' most personal battle yet. Review by Matt Pejkovic, Matt's Movie Reviews.

The Hundred Foot Journey - Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) is a culinary ingénue with the gastronomic equivalent of perfect pitch. Displaced from their native India, the Kadam family, led by Papa (Om Puri), settles in the quaint village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val in the south of France. Filled with charm, it is both picturesque and elegant - the ideal place to settle down and open an Indian restaurant, the Maison Mumbai. That is, until the chilly chef proprietress of Le Saule Pleureur, a Michelin starred, classical French restaurant run by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), gets wind of it. Her icy protests against the new Indian restaurant a hundred feet from her own, escalate to all out war between the two establishments - until Hassan's passion for French haute cuisine and for Mme. Mallory's enchanting sous chef, Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), combine with his mysteriously delicious talent to weave magic between their two cultures and imbue Saint-Antonin with the flavors of life that even Mallory cannot ignore.

Palo Alto - Shy, sensitive April (Emma Roberts) is the class virgin -a popular soccer player and frequent babysitter for her single-dad coach, Mr. B. (James Franco). Teddy (Jack Kilmer) is an introspective artist whose best friend and sidekick Fred (Nat Wolff) is an unpredictable live wire with few filters or boundaries. While April negotiates a dangerous affair with Mr. B., and Teddy performs community service for a DUI - secretly carrying a torch for April, who may or may not share his affection - Fred seduces Emily (Zoe Levin), a promiscuous loner who seeks validation through sexual encounters. One high school party bleeds into another as April and Teddy finally acknowledge their mutual affection, and Fred's escalating recklessness spirals into chaos. 

I imagine James Franco’s collection of short stories that inspired this project are far better than his awful performance here, and this high school life/coming of age drama, overall. There are some poignant and accurate (I guess) observations of teenage life in America, but whenever it attempts to convey a message subtlety is sorely absent. Jack Kilmer (son of Val) and Emma Roberts are admittedly quite good in their roles as two confused everyday kids who are drawn together when everything else in their life blows, but the largely annoying Palo Alto is populated by poor dialogue, weak acting (and bizarre cameos) and forced, incredible drama. ★1/2

Postman Pat: The Movie - The film finds Pat, everyone's favorite postman, center stage as a contestant in a national TV talent show competition. Will success and fame tear him away from his hometown of Greendale and the friends he loves? Can Pat return to town in time to foil a sinister plot to replace him with legions of Patbot 3000 robots destined to take over the world? Only Postman Pat can save the day. 

Weekly Recommendation: The only film I have seen from this line-up is Palo Alto, and I hated it. The only way I know Postman Pat is out is because the Internet tells me. With Chef and The Lunchbox already in cinemas this year, I don't think The Hundred Foot Journey is going to offer too many surprises. Mirren is always watchable and I have enjoyed Hallstrom's films over the years, but I am going to give this one a miss. There is no chance I am going to see The Expendables 3. I despised the first one and didn't bother with the apparently worse sequel. So, it looks like I'll be having a week away from the cinema. Unless I watch Lucy again.    

Friday, August 8, 2014

Top Five Films Based on Alternative Comic Books

Stan Lee is laughing all the way to the bank with every blockbuster film that’s based on a Marvel title. And while Spider-Man and company have gotten a lot of big-screen exposure in recent years, there are a wealth of films out there that were based on lesser known comic works that don’t get the attention they deserve.

Here’s guest writer Brandon Engel's top five movies based on alternative comics:

5. Snowpiercer (2013)
Based on the French comic La Transperceneige, the film takes place in a dystopian future where climate change has wiped out the global population, except for the microsociety that has  formed aboard the Snowpiercer (a commercial train). The story focuses largely on the issues and class warfare that becomes a problem on the train itself. The film features excellent performances from Tilda Swinton, Chris Evans, and John Hurt.

4. Heavy Metal (1981)
This classic animated feature based on the adult-fantasy publication Heavy Metal (which was itself based on the French publication Métal Hurlant). The film is an anthology of pulpy science-fiction and fantasy stories, each involving the Locnar, a strange green orb that has magical powers. It’s got a little something for everybody, and by everybody, I mean 14 year old boys: cartoon sex, buxom warrior women riding pterodactyls, zombies aboard a World War II bomber, and vintage heavy metal music. However gendered and overwrought with cliches, the animation is excellent, and it evokes the paintings of Frank Frazetta and the sword and sorcery pulp literature of Robert E. Howard. A must watch for genre fans.

3. Fritz the Cat (1972)
Animator Ralph Bakshi purchased the rights to underground comic Robert Crumb’s Fritz the Cat in the seventies and set about making the world’s first X-rated animated feature. Crumb himself didn’t shy away from vulgarity, and Bakshi seems to revel in it. The film reflects much of what the counter-culture was starting to develop a reputation for, and it is filled with profanity, animated nudity, and blatant references to sex and drug use. It was an extremely audacious piece of filmmaking, although Crumb was famously displeased with the film.

2. Tank Girl (1995)
Lori Petty plays Tank Girl, the heroine of the underground English comic series who is sort of like a riot girl vigilante in a post-apocalyptic world where water is scarce. She’s part of a team that tries to steal water from the corporations who hoard it (and the villains like Kesslee [Malcolm McDowell] who harvest it from human bodies). Although the film Tank Girl was met with lukewarm reviews upon it’s initial release, it’s being re-embraced by a whole new generation of young viewers, thanks largely to the fact that it’s streamable online (check this website) and it’s recently been re-released on Blu-Ray.

1. The Crow (1994)
This is the film that will, unfortunately, be best remembered as Brandon Lee’s final film (Lee died tragically during production when the shell of a blank penetrated into his stomach). The film is an adaptation of a comic by James O’Barr, which tells the story of Eric Draven, a young musician who is murdered alongside his girlfriend. Draven is resurrected by a crow (a spiritual median in the story) so that he may take revenge on the gang that harmed him. The film is one of a kind, creating a world that is almost evocative of Tim Burton’s work, without all of the cutesy elements.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Review: Lucy (Luc Besson, 2014)

Lucy is the latest film from French writer/director Luc Besson. Besson, who directed the incredible Leon: The Professional and sci-fi cult favourite The Fifth Element back in the mid 90’s, has been a more prolific screenwriter and producer in recent years. Mostly involved with mediocre action films. His last two directorial efforts were the critically reviled The Lady and The Family. But, with Lucy, he is back in exciting form, creating an absurdly ambitious and defiantly goofy action sci-fi, bringing high-concept universal and existential hypothesizing to the crime thriller genre. With a kick-ass heroine who evolves from hapless captive to skilled super-entity, Bresson’s colourful and inventive visual style and obscure sense of humour gives this a unique and bizarre tone. Think of it as a blend of Salt and The Tree of Life, with more than a few Limitless ingredients.

The aptly cast Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation, Under the Skin), whose roles this year are becoming more interesting by the film, stars as Lucy, a 25-year-old American woman living in Taipei. She is tricked by her dodgy boyfriend into becoming a drug mule, and is captured by the associates of a Korean drug kingpin named Mr Jang (Choi Min-sik, Oldboy). When she is brought before him she learns that she was carrying a highly valuable synthetic drug called CPH4, an advanced version of a toxin that assists the growth of a fetus in the womb. A bag of the drug is sewn into her abdomen and she is forced to transport it to Europe for sale. When she is held captive and beaten, the drugs are released into her system and she develops enhanced physical capabilities and powerful mental abilities. She can no longer feel pain, absorbs large volumes of information immediately and can perform telekinesis, just to begin with. She discovers that she will never survive without replenishment, so she sets about retrieving the other bags and makes contact with Prof. Samuel Norman (Morgan Freeman), whose research makes him a candidate to explain to her just what is going on. 

Continue reading at Graffiti With Punctuation.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Review: Begin Again (John Carney, 2014)

Written and directed by John Carney, the man responsible for Once, Begin Again is an enthusiastic musical drama/romantic comedy that embraces the role that music, and collective inspiration and creativity, can have in the emotional rehabilitation of people who are need of a fresh start. Mark Ruffalo is the kind of actor who oozes carefree charm and utilizes natural mannerisms to give his affable characters added humanism and complexity. In Begin Again, like many projects before, he makes everything look easy, and he always seems to play characters I end up being a little jealous of. Ruffalo-led films, with the exception of last year’s terrible Thanks For Sharing, rarely go sour, and he is a prominent reason why I enjoyed Begin Again so much. Also convincing is Keira Knightley, who I am slowly becoming a fan of. Though it is dubious to call the musical performances ‘live’, it is Knightley on the vocals and the toe-tapping songs are great.

From the opening minutes, we know that Dan (Ruffalo) is currently a shadow of his former shadow. He has a teenage daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) that he never sees, and he has just awoken with a hangover from an epic bender, brought on by the recent termination of his position as an executive of a record label. The label had been struggling, and when he turns up to a meeting drunk, it is the last straw for his frustrated partner Saul (Mos Def).

The events of the previous night are revealed in flashback, and it seems there is a silver lining. At one of the bars in the East Village the very drunk Dan is smitten with Gretta (Knightley), an independent singer/songwriter who is planning to leave New York following a break-up with her partner and successful musician Dave (Adam Levine from Maroon 5). Though they write together, and she matches his talent, he has become the star. The song she performs re-ignites Dan’s creative spirit and he offers to sign her to the label, a promise he no longer can guarantee. At first she refuses, but after a change of heart the pair become friends, and Saul is impressed by the demo they bring to him. After recruiting a team of talented musicians, Dan and Gretta decide to record their album at public locations around New York City, grappling with their feeling for one another along the way.

Continue reading at Graffiti With Punctuation.

Monday, August 4, 2014

New Releases (07/08/14)

In cinemas this week: Guardians of the Galaxy, Begin Again, And So It Goes and Bethlehem (Nova).

Guardians of the Galaxy - This action-packed, epic space adventure, expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe into the cosmos, where brash adventurer Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) finds himself the object of an unrelenting bounty hunt after stealing a mysterious orb coveted by Ronan, a powerful villain with ambitions that threaten the entire universe. To evade the ever-persistent Ronan, Quill is forced into an uneasy truce with a quartet of disparate misfits - Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a gun-toting raccoon, Groot (Vin Diesel), a tree-like humanoid, the deadly and enigmatic Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and the revenge-driven Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista). But when Quill discovers the true power of the orb and the menace it poses to the cosmos, he must do his best to rally his ragtag rivals for a desperate stand, with the galaxy's fate in the balance.

Begin Again - The latest film from writer-director John Carney (Once), Begin Again is a soul-stirring comedy about what happens when lost souls meet and make beautiful music together. Gretta (Keira Knightley) and her long-time boyfriend Dave (Adam Levine) are college sweethearts and songwriting partners who decamp for New York when he lands a deal with a major label. But the trappings of his new-found fame soon tempt Dave to stray, and a reeling, lovelorn Gretta is left on her own. Her world takes a turn for the better when Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a disgraced record-label exec, stumbles upon her performing on an East Village stage and is immediately captivated by her raw talent. From this chance encounter emerges an enchanting portrait of a mutually transformative collaboration, set to the soundtrack of a summer in New York City.  Review to come to GWP soon (★★★★).

And So It Goes - There are a million reasons not to like realtor Oren Little (Michael Douglas), and that's just the way he likes it. Willfully obnoxious to anyone who might cross his path, he wants nothing more than to sell one last house and retire in peace and quiet -- until his estranged son suddenly drops off a granddaughter (Sterling Jerins) he never knew existed and turns his life upside-down. Clueless about how to care for a sweet, abandoned nine-year-old, he pawns her off on his determined and lovable neighbor Leah (Diane Keaton) and tries to resume his life uninterrupted. But little by little, Oren stubbornly learns to open his heart - to his family, to Leah, and to life itself.

Bethlehem tells the story of the complex relationship between an Israeli Secret Service officer and his teenage Palestinian informant. Shuttling back and forth between conflicting points of view, the film is a raw portrayal of characters torn apart by competing loyalties and impossible moral dilemmas, giving an unparalleled glimpse into the dark and fascinating world of human intelligence.

Weekly Recommendation: A thin week of releases, but a strong one. Guardians of the Galaxy is as entertaining as the Marvel Cinematic Universe has ever been. For the most part, it buckles the formula, combining exciting intergalactic action sequences with sharp (and frequent) humour. Plus, the cast is a riot. Begin Again is a pleasant and exceedingly watchable rom-com about how music can bring people together and inspire. Ruffalo and Knightley are terrific together. Bethlehem screened at last year's Jewish Film Festival. The complex, fraying relationships at the core of this thriller, and the authentic insider look at both the agendas of the militant revolutionaries and the procedures of the Israeli secret service, make for grim but powerful viewing. I actually preferred it to the similarly-themed Oscar-nominated Omar. I have yet to hear one positive comment about And So It Goes, despite the Douglas/Keaton pairing, so I am not going to rush out and see that.