Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Review: Zero Motivation (Talya Lavie, 2014)

Screening at the upcoming Jewish International Film Festival, Zero Motivation, the excellent début feature from Israeli writer/director Talya Lavie, won the top prize for narrative world cinema at the Tribeca Film Festival. A black comedy addressing the mundanity of Israeli Army base HR management and secretarial duties, it focuses on a unit of female conscripts who find their camaraderie tested by the base’s comings and goings, and are willing to do anything to make their service bearable – while keeping their sanity and dignity.

Set in a remote desert military base, we are introduced to a platoon of female soldiers forced into compulsory office service; including the reckless and insubordinate Zohar (an excellent Dana Ivgy, Cupcakes, Jaffa), her closest rebel-in-arms Daffi (Nelly Tagar, Footnote), the ‘Paper and Shredding NCO’ who has long been conspiring to get a transfer to Tel Aviv, and their commanding officer Rama (Shani Klein), trying hard to rise the ranks but continually foiled by the behaviour of her unit. While deep in paperwork, and continually serving coffee to the men who run the show, these subordinates pass the time by trying to beat their Minesweeper record on the PC, and causing general mischief, while dealing with an array of personal issues that could cause them to combust at any moment.

Continue reading at An Online Universe

New Releases (23/10/14)

In cinemas this week: Fury, Whiplash, This is Where I Leave You, Hector and the Search For Happiness, Living Is Easy (With Eyes Closed) and Decoding Annie Parker.

Fury - April, 1945. As the Allies make their final push in the European Theatre, a battle-hardened army sergeant named Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) commands a Sherman tank and her five-man crew on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. Outnumbered and outgunned, and with a rookie soldier thrust into their platoon, Wardaddy and his men face overwhelming odds in their heroic attempts to strike at the heart of Nazi Germany.

Whiplash - Andrew Neyman is an ambitious young jazz drummer, single-minded in his pursuit to rise to the top of his elite east coast music conservatory. Plagued by the failed writing career of his father, Andrew hungers day and night to become one of the greats. Terence Fletcher, an instructor equally known for his teaching talents as for his terrifying methods, leads the top jazz ensemble in the school. Fletcher discovers Andrew and transfers the aspiring drummer into his band, forever changing the young man's life. Andrew's passion to achieve perfection quickly spirals into obsession, as his ruthless teacher continues to push him to the brink of both his ability and his sanity.

This is Where I Leave You - When their father passes away, four grown siblings are forced to return to their childhood home and live under the same roof together for a week, along with their over-sharing mother and an assortment of spouses, exes and might-have-beens. Directed by Shawn Levy and self-adapted by Jonathan Tropper from his own best-selling novel.

Hector and the Search for Happiness - Hector (Simon Pegg) is a quirky psychiatrist who has become increasingly tired of his humdrum life. As he tells his girlfriend, Clara (Rosamund Pike), he feels like a fraud: he hasn't really tasted life, and yet he's offering advice to patients who are just not getting any happier. So Hector decides to break out of his deluded and routine driven life. Armed with buckets of courage and child-like curiosity, he embarks on a global quest in hopes of uncovering the elusive secret formula for true happiness. And so begins a larger than life adventure with riotously funny results. Based on the world-wide best-selling novel of the same name. Toni Collette, Stellan Skarsgard, Jean Reno and Christopher Plummer co-star.

Living is Easy (With Eyes Closed) - It is 1966 in Albacete, Spain. English teacher and die-hard Beatles fan Antonio decides to go on a road trip to Almería in the hope of meeting John Lennon, who is shooting a film there. On the way he picks up two hitch-hikers, Juanjo and Belén. This unlikely trio form a bond and decide to follow their dreams in hopes of finding their freedom.

Decoding Annie Parker - Based on true events, Decoding Annie Parker tells the life affirming story of two remarkable women; the irrepressible Annie Parker, a three time cancer survivor and the geneticist Mary-Claire King whose discovery of the breast cancer BRCA gene mutation is considered one of the most important discoveries of the 20th century.  

Weekly Recommendation: Whiplash may have settled to leave me with a troubling feeling in the pit of my stomach, but its technical achievements are notable and the performances by Miles Teller and J.K Simmons are outstanding. How far would you be willing to go to achieve perfection? It is something everyone strives for in their life at some point. This is the story of two men (a terrifying teacher-pupil bond) driven by their entangled obsessions. Fury is another film with lofty ambitions that doesn't quite get it all right. The authenticity of the brutal combat sequences, and the immense work that has gone into their construction and the recreation of the period, is undoubtedly impressive. It also features an incredible score by Steven Price (Gravity) and Logan Lerman's performance is a stand out. But, the film's forced core camaraderie, which I felt was essential to its success, felt off. I have been looking forward to This is Where I Leave You for a while now, but reports have been less than positive. I had not even heard of Living is Easy until this week, but as it is Spain's foreign language entry at the upcoming Oscars it should be worth a look. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

John Carpenter: A Titan Among Exploitation Filmmakers

Guest post by freelance writer Brandon Engel. 

The tension in the air is palpable. The audience sits on the edge of their seats, digging their nails into the armrest. Suddenly, a knife is thrust into the unsuspecting teenager and the audience screams in terror. The movie, Halloween, terrified audiences across the United States and birthed a new kind of movie—the “slasher” film. John Carpenter wrote and directed many horror films thereby earning himself the nickname “Master of Horror”.

Beyond “Master of Horror”

Known mostly for horror films like Halloween, The Thing, and The Fog, John Carpenter also delved into the world of science fiction with movies like Dark Star, and the highly-popular exploitation film, Assault on Precinct 13. The movie Halloween pioneered aspects of filmmaking that we still see in horror films, today. By creating the “slasher” subgenre, Carpenter presented a new twist on horror films where psychopathic murderers brutally kill a staggering number of victims in expressly graphic ways. Since the killer typically wields weapons like knives or chainsaws, they were dubbed “slasher films”. In Halloween, Michael Myers’ murderous rampage targets teenaged babysitters and their boyfriends. Carpenter’s legacy has stood the test of time, as many of his films are still considered mainstays as your local DirecTV or cable provider’s airwaves are besieged by horror marathons during the month of October.

Halloween and Psycho

Halloween is often compared to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). Most notably, Jamie Lee Curtis played the female lead in Halloween and her mother, Janet Leigh, played a victim in Psycho. In both films the audience “becomes” the killer by seeing through his eyes. Norman Bates peers through a peephole to watch Marion Crane dressing in her motel room. Likewise, moviegoers got to look through Michael’s mask in Halloween as he watched a young couple’s romantic interlude. Through the mask, we see the knife a split-second before Myers plunges it into the lovers. There is little blood in each film, but the audience’s terror is by the murder itself. In Psycho, the audience never sees Norman Bates kill Marion Crane. They merely see a knife slash through the shower curtain, followed by the victim’s screams then watch her blood mix with water as it slowly washes down into the drain.

Film Critics

Film critics have perpetrated Halloween as misogynistic and sadistic claiming the audience identifies with the killer. Other critics centered their criticism on the sexual promiscuity of teenagers and loose morals but in the end, the chaste heroine claims victory over the evil perpetrator. Roger Ebert, a noted movie critic, saw the movie differently. In a review of Halloween, he said, “sympathies are enlisted with the side of the woman, not the killer.” Ebert found that Halloween was not the stereotypical horror film, but had “artistry and craftsmanship”. He went on to say that the film had “developed characters as independent, intelligent, spunky, and interesting people.”

The Final Girl

Originating in Halloween, the "final girl" concept changed horror films. The “final girl” depicts the surviving female facing down the killer. Characteristics of the “final girl” have received some concerns from feminists. Typically, "the final girl" is intelligent and feisty but she does not engage in sex nor is she free to partake in pleasures, such as alcohol or illegal substances, like her friends. The heroine’s femininity is expunged, and she becomes masculine by using a phallic symbol such as a knife to slay the assailant. Others view the “final girl” as a woman with strength of character who overcomes her fear and kills the evil perpetrator. Audiences are intelligent and can identify with both ideologies and simply just want to watch a good horror flick.

John Carpenter’s ideas and innovation have made him a master storyteller as well as the "Master of Horror" and a pioneer of the genre. So, in honor of both him and Halloween, rewatch some of those classics and see if they still make you jump in your seat like they did the first time you saw them.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Review: Son of a Gun (Julius Avery, 2014)

Son of a Gun, a tense crime drama about a young man who finds himself trapped within a ruthless crime syndicate, is the debut feature from Australian director Julius Avery, whose short Jerrycan won a Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

It features an international cast, including Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting, The Ghost Writer) and Alicia Vikander (A Royal Affair, Anna Karenina) as well as newcomer Brenton Thwaites, and was shot in Perth, Melbourne and Kalgoorlie. The latter location is a terrific setting for some of the film’s most vivid latter half sequences, with the rugged ash-coloured terrain surrounding the gold mines perfect in conveying the sense of isolation felt by the young protagonist.

Placed in a maximum-security prison for six months following a minor offence, 19-year-old JR (Thwaites) confronts the harsh realities of the life. When he begins to be terrorized by fellow inmates he finds himself taken under the wing of Brendan Lynch (McGregor), a feared and highly respected crime boss whose reputation is widely known and respected. With extensive connections outside of prison, he offers JR protection while inside if he will assist in the orchestration of Lynch’s daring escape once he is released. From there he is introduced to Perth’s dangerously seductive underworld and meets the beautiful Tasha (Vikander), and as Lynch plans his next high-stakes heist the dependent relationship between mentor and protégé grows increasingly unpredictable.

Continue reading at Graffiti With Punctuation

Monday, October 13, 2014

Frights and Delights at Golden Age

Golden Age Cinema and Bar is well and truly in the swing of spring with a new program set to thrill audiences and bar-goers alike. Whether it’s for fear or beer, get ready for some spooky Halloween frights and Craft Beer Week delights.

Nobody does Halloween like Hollywood, so get some great costume inspiration from films with memorable Halloween scenes: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, To Kill a Mockingbird, Scream and Mean Girls. Then dress to the nines as a ghost for Golden Age’s Beetlejuice themed Halloween party.

Sydney Craft Beer Week 2014 has inspired Golden Age to share a drink with some of the booziest dudes in cinema. Grab a cold glass of beer from the bar and head in to the cinema for Wake in Fright, From Dusk till Dawn, The Big Lebowski, and Drinking Buddies.

Sydney Craft Beer Week will also feature a special screening of the Coen brothers’ True Grit guest presented by Platinum Liquor and Hopdog Beerworks. The one-off ‘La Boufes Bete Noire’ American stock ale has been crafted especially for the event and a bluegrass band playing in the bar before the film will get you up and stomping like your name is Rooster Cogburn.

An eclectic mix of new releases on this program include Richard Linklater’s 12 years in the making coming-of-age epic Boyhood, Kiwi horror comedy What We Do in the Shadows, Swedish punk rock smash We Are the Best!, Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig drama The Skeleton Twins, Sydney exclusive They Came Together, David Fincher’s marriage meltdown mystery Gone Girl, new documentaries Advanced Style, Is the Man Who is Tall Happy? and Jodorowsky's Dune, as well as independent surprise hit comedy, Obvious Child.

"Obvious Child and We Are the Best! are both in the running for my favourite film of 2014, and I'm thrilled to be able to program matching films about wayward teenagers and comedies around them,” says Katie Jinx, Director of Programming at Golden Age.

“Golden Age offers a unique cinema and bar experience for Sydney, and we hope somewhat unique in the world,” says Bob Barton, Managing Director of Golden Age. “We’re determined to maintain the elegance of our single-screen cinema, but to bring all eras of film into a progressive program that reconnects our audiences with the timeless magic of great cinema.”

Equally famous for its fine bar offering as its cinema, Golden Age serves up film-inspired cocktails and natural wines to both non-ticket holders and cinema-goers alike. Leave work on time for cheap cold tap beer and select wines during ‘Golden Hour’ (5pm to 7pm weekdays), take a Hollywood Highball cocktail into the cinema, or come late for a Maple Pecan Old Fashioned.

Golden Age’s spring food menu includes a long-awaited Messina Choc Top, cinnamon donut popcorn and a ‘John Candy Box’ of lollies. Bar snacks are refined yet fun with eats like ‘Tiger Sharks’ – Life Aquatic inspired white anchovies with smoked tomatoes – and a line-up of legendary ‘Golden Toasties’: The Spielberger, The Fellini and The Big Cheese. Sharing and pairing is encouraged via the ‘Director’s Cuts’ charcuterie and cheese plates, which make a perfect match for a bottle of wine between friends.

Facebook: /ourgoldenage
Twitter: @goldenagesydney

New Releases (16/10/14)

In cinemas this week: Before I Go To Sleep, A Walk Among the Tombstones, Son of a Gun, Force Majeure and Tammy.

Before I Go To Sleep - A taut thriller based on the worldwide best-selling novel by S.J. Watson, Before I Go To Sleep is the story of a woman (Nicole Kidman) who wakes up every day with no memory as the result of a traumatic accident in her past. One day, terrifying new truths begin to emerge that make her question everything she thinks she knows about her life - as well as everyone in it, including her doctor (Mark Strong) and even her husband (Colin Firth).

A Walk Among the Tombstones - Based on Lawrence Block's bestselling series of mystery novels, A Walk among the Tombstones stars Liam Neeson as Matt Scudder, an ex-NYPD cop who now works as an unlicensed private investigator operating just outside the law. When Scudder reluctantly agrees to help a heroin trafficker (Dan Stevens) hunt down the men who kidnapped and then brutally murdered his wife, the PI learns that this is not the first time these men have committed this sort of twisted crime. Blurring the lines between right and wrong, Scudder races to track the deviants through the backstreets of New York City before they kill again.

Son of A Gun - Serving six months for a minor offence, 19-year-old JR (Thwaites) quickly learns the harsh realities of prison life. After a chance encounter, he finds himself under the watchful eye of the enigmatic Brendan Lynch (McGregor), a calculating crime boss with extensive connections both inside and out. In exchange for protection, JR becomes apprentice to Lynch, and upon release he must orchestrate Lynch’s daring prison escape. Rewarded for his involvement and with a taste for the high life, JR joins the crew on their next job – a high stakes heist that promises to deliver millions. As he gets sucked deeper into Lynch’s criminal underworld, a tangled, co-dependent relationship develops. While planning the heist, he begins to suspect he is being played. Unsure of whom to trust, JR soon finds himself on a collision course with his mentor in a very dangerous game. Shot in Perth, Melbourne and Kalgoorlie, Son of a Gun is the debut feature of Australian director Julius Avery, whose short film Jerrycan was a Jury Prize winner at the Cannes Film Festival.

Force Majeure - A critical favorite and word-of-mouth sensation at this year's Cannes Festival, where it took the Jury Prize in Un Certain Regard, this wickedly funny and precisely observed psychodrama tells the story of a model Swedish family-handsome businessman Tomas, his willowy wife Ebba and their two blond, pre-teen children-on a skiing holiday in the French Alps. The sun is shining and the slopes are spectacular but, during lunch at a mountainside restaurant, an avalanche turns everything upside down. With panicked diners fleeing in all directions, Ebba calls out for her husband as she tries to protect their children. Tomas, however, makes a decision that will shake the family's world to its core. Although the anticipated disaster fails to occur, his marriage now hangs in the balance as he struggles to reclaim his role as family patriarch.

Tammy - Tammy (Melissa McCarthy) is having a bad day. She's totaled her clunker car, gotten fired from her thankless job at a greasy burger joint and, instead of finding comfort at home, finds her husband getting comfortable with the neighbor in her own house. It's time to take her boom box and book it. The bad news is she's broke and without wheels. The worse news is her grandma, Pearl (Susan Sarandon), is her only option-with a car, cash, and an itch to see Niagara Falls. Not exactly the escape Tammy had in mind. But on the road, with grandma riding shot gun, it may be just what Tammy needs.  

Weekly Recommendation: Force Majeure, based purely on speculation. It has plenty of Oscar buzz, and near-unanimous praise from friends who have seen it at MIFF and TIFF. Son of A Gun benefits from a compelling turn by Ewan McGregor as a tough guy, and despite doing several things quite poorly and falling into the trap of cliche at times, is mostly excellent. 

Review: The Judge (David Dobkin, 2014)

Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall star as father and son in the David Dobkin (Shanghai Nights, Wedding Crashers) directed family drama, The Judge. From a story and screenplay by Nick Schenk (co-written by Bill Dubuque) Downey Jr. is Hank Palmer, an arrogant big shot New York defence attorney who returns to his hometown of Carlinville, Indiana, for his mother’s funeral. While there he re-bonds with his brothers Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Dale (Jeremy Strong), and an ex-flame Samantha (Vera Farmiga), but soon discovers that his estranged and seriously ill father Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall), is suspected of murder and soon to face trial. With Joseph initially unwilling to allow Hank to represent him, a firm motive and the inexplicable gaps in his testimony leave plenty for prosecutor Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton) to use to put him away. That is unless father and son can put aside their difference and mend decades of conflict.

Continue reading at An Online Universe

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

New Releases (09/10/14)

In cinemas this week: The Judge, Tusk, Siddarth and Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films.

The Judge - Robert Downey Jr. stars as big city lawyer Hank Palmer, who returns to his childhood home where his estranged father, the town's judge (Robert Duvall), is suspected of murder. He sets out to discover the truth and along the way reconnects with the family he walked away from years before.

Tusk - Red State director Kevin Smith takes the helm for this horror film starring Justin Long as a podcaster who is targeted by a sadistic killer while attempting to land an interview with a misanthropic adventurer (Michael Parks). Genesis Rodriguez and Haley Joel Osment co-star.

Siddarth - Spellbinding and gorgeously wrought tale of one father's journey across India in search of his son. Mehendra is a chain-wallah, eking out a living fixing zippers on the bustling streets of New Delhi. To ease his financial woes, he sends twelve-year-old Siddharth to work in a distant factory. When the boy doesn't come home for the Diwali holiday, Mehendra and his wife Suman slowly begin to suspect that he was kidnapped by child traffickers. With few resources and no connections, Mehendra desperately travels to Punjab and Mumbai with the hope that whoever took Siddharth might return him unharmed. A powerful family drama both heart-rending and suspenseful, Siddharth won Best Film (and Best Director for Richie Mehta) at the South Asian International Film Festival.

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films - The story of Cannon Films, the studio that unleashed a wide range of entertaining exploitation films in the 1980s, is told in this documentary from Not Quite Hollywood's Mark Hartley.

Weekly Recommendation: The Judge. It received terrible reviews at TIFF but I found it to be perfectly watchable - engaging throughout (and that's a feat, considering its length), well performed by all and far deeper and more moving than expected. And there are surprises. I am intrigued by Tusk but I have very low expectations. Siddarth sounds powerful, but out on limited release.