Sunday, 31 January 2010


Now Showing
Icon Film Distribution

In the space of a week we have another film driven by one man's quest to seek justice for the murder of a loved one. But the two films couldn't have been more differently executed (pardon the pun). While the first (Law Abiding Citizen) is nasty revenge porn, the latest (Edge of Darkness) is a political conspiracy thriller; a remake of a classic 1980s British mini-series, though no less violent for that.

Thomas Craven (Mel Gibson) is a Boston police detective whose daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic) is gunned down in front of him. At first believing himself to be the target, Craven soon uncovers links between his daughter's death and Northmoor, the private research facility where she worked as a research assistant.

We're soon left in no doubt that Northmoor was indeed involved, especially given that the head of the company, Jack Bennett, all smirks and thousand dollar suits, is played by Danny Huston. Director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) is quoted as saying he chose Huston as he doesn't appear as an obvious villain, yet I can't recall a single Danny Huston film where he wasn't the bad guy. Bennett's influence seems to be all pervasive; he has a man in every office and department of authority and power in the state of Massachusetts, so when Craven starts digging, people start dieing and the detective is soon on borrowed time.

Helping, or hindering Craven's progress is Jedburgh (Ray Winstone). Best described as a “cleaner”, Jedburgh works on behalf of the bad guys' interests, determining how much everybody knows and what actions should be taken. Winstone brings some much needed humour to the proceedings; his scenes with Gibson are playful whilst mindful of the darker truth of their situation.

I was surprised to learn that this is Mel Gibson's first on-screen role since 2002's Signs. Most of the interim has been spent behind the camera directing: The Passion of the Christ (2004) and Apocalypto (2007). There have also been some off-screen developments but they have no bearing on this film so I'll leave the muckraking to the commercial news networks, I mean tabloids (it's so hard for me to distinguish between the two). Gibson does stoic well and given he is now in his 50s, it should be no surprise that he's chosen a slow burn thriller rather than an actioner in which to make his comeback, though there is gunfire and a bit of biffo to sate the faithful.

Having said that, Campbell, who also directed the original television version, could have done with amping up the adrenaline and the tension, for while I was engaged by Edge of Darkness I was never intrigued and nowhere near the edge of my seat. As for the screenplay, it was penned by William Monahan (with assistance by Australian screenwriter Andrew Bovell). Monahan also wrote Scorcese's The Departed (2006), which perhaps explains why almost everyone cops it in the head before the final credits roll.

Thursday, 28 January 2010


With the announcement of Oscar nominations early Wednesday morning our time, here are my final predictions for which actors will make the cut. I am also having an alternate (or two) in each category. As there are 10 nominees this year in the Best Picture category, I will do a separate post for that prior to Wednesday.

Penelope Cruz – Nine (although it really should be Marion Cotillard!)
Vera Farmiga – Up in the Air
Anna Kendrick – Up in the Air
Mo'Nique – Precious
Julianne Moore – A Single Man

Alternate: Samantha Morton – The Messenger: A two-time nominee and well regarded. Moore, unfortunately, is most susceptible.

Matt Damon – Invictus
Woody Harrelson - The Messenger
Christopher Plummer – The Last Station
Stanley Tucci – The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz – Inglourious Basterds

Alternate: Alfred Molina – An Education: This respected actor could be carried along by other nominations for this wonderful film. Damon the most susceptible.

Sandra Bullock – The Blind Side
Helen Mirren – The Last Station
Carey Mulligan – An Education
Gabourey Sidibe – Precious
Meryl Streep – Julie & Julia

Alternates: Emily Blunt – The Young Victoria: A Golden Globe nominee and playing a queen never hurt anyone at the Oscars; Abbie Cornish – Bright Star: While no Globes or SAG love, it's not unprecedented to still get an Oscar nod (eg Laura Linney for The Savages). Mirren is most susceptible.

Jeff Bridges – Crazy Heart
George Clooney – Up in the Air
Colin Firth – A Single Man
Morgan Freeman – Invictus
Jeremy Renner – The Hurt Locker

Alternates: Viggo Mortensen – The Road; Michael Stuhlbarg – A Serious Man. If either of these guys' films gets a Best Picture nod they could be carried along. Sadly, Renner is the most susceptible.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010


Now Showing
Icon Film Distribution

Cormac McCarthy's The Road is one of the most acclaimed novels of this century, winning the Pulitzer Prize for literature and a legion of admirers. I've not read The Road, or any McCarthy for that matter (he also penned No Country For Old Men), so my disappointment with the film version doesn't stem from the 'the book is always better' school of thought.

But let me be clear: I do not dislike the film. I am impressed by director John Hillcoat's depiction of a post-apocalyptic America where a disaster (environmental? nuclear?) has left the world in a slow state of decay: all is grey, on the land and in the sky, and no animals remain. Not so slow to decline is man's civility, with murder and cannibalism the greatest threat to anyone unfortunate enough not to be part of a mob.

Striking out on their own is a father (Viggo Mortensen) and his young son (Kodi Smit-McPhee). They're headed for the coast and then south, perhaps to Mexico, where they hope things will be better. As they travel, the father imparts practical advice to his son so that, should he be left to fend for himself, he can. He also instructs him on how to use the gun he is carrying. It holds two bullets: put it in your mouth and pull the trigger, the boy is instructed.

McCarthy's book was inspired partly by his own relationship with his son: the author, in his 70s, has a son some 60 years his junior. McCarthy no doubt contemplates a world for his boy without him in it (and one that has conceivably been ravaged by either war or global warming). This father-son relationship drives the film, and Mortensen, bearded and emaciated, and Smit-McPhee, wide-eyed yet not so innocent, work beautifully together.

And yet here is my problem with the film, where my disappoint lies: I was not moved. While thankfully void of sentiment, The Road for me was not an emotional experience; there is no catharsis at film's end, and only the small prospect of hope. That may be in keeping with the book, and the characters' predicament, but I found it lacking. I was engaged but I did not connect. I even saw The Road twice, a couple of months apart, just to be sure that my first viewing hadn't been marred by outside forces - expectation, annoying audience members, fatigue from a very long day - but the experience was the same.

I was moved, however, in quite a different way by the idea that man, without social mores to guide or shackle him, should so readily turn to cannibalism. The fear of such a fate befalling the father and his son is palpable throughout the film. One scene, involving a house and a padlocked cellar, is the stuff of nightmares.

But I wouldn't tell people not to see the film. All films are better on the big screen and The Road is, in terms of post-apocalypse, beautifully shot. It is also finely acted, with cameos by Robert Duvall, Charlize Theron and Guy Pearce being pivotal and not distracting.

Those who have read McCarthy's novel will know better than I if it measures up, to the book and their own expectations. Hopefully the journey will prove far more rewarding for them.


Now Showing
Roadshow Films

One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. Or in the case of Law Abiding Citizen, one man's avenging angel is another man's sadistic prick. When Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) sees his wife and daughter murdered during a home invasion, only to have one of the perpetrators plea bargain for a lighter sentence by turning on the other who then gets life, we're immediately on his side.

Cut to ten years later, and Shelton has decided that revenge is a dish best served bloody, starting with the two killers. Fair enough. But it's not too long before the audience will find its allegiance with the aggrieved man wavering if not completely eviscerated as it soon becomes clear that the avenger may actually be a personality trait shy of a serial killer. Shelton starts picking off, one by one, all those involved with his family's case, including then district attorney Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) who made the plea bargain.

Present day Rice heads the prosecution case against Shelton when he is captured but even though he is imprisoned the murders continue to mount. How? Does Shelton have an accomplice? A copy cat? There may have been an interesting idea to begin with here – the failings of the law, taking justice into one's own hands – but Law Abiding Citizen quickly loses any novel appeal as the sadism, and the implausibilities, begin to mount.

At a stretch, F. Gary Gray's film could be enjoyed as a guilty pleasure, if you're so inclined. Despite its ultra violence and borderline xenopobia, I found Taken (2008), starring Liam Neeson as a father tearing through Paris in pursuit of his kidnapped daughter, to be a hoot. Not so Law Abiding Citizen. It attempts to be a legal/moral thriller with a torture porn aesthetic are less than successful. Eye an for an eye is one thing, but when you start with all the other body parts merely for the hell of it, there's no pleasure to be had.

Friday, 22 January 2010


Now Showing
Madman Films

If the advent of the invasion of Iraq in 2002 actually went down as depicted in this political satire, then one really shouldn't be laughing so much. But the one liners – and expletives – come thick and fast in this spin-off from the BBC series The Thick of It.

When government minister Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) makes a gaffe on radio, declaring war as “unforeseeable”, all hell breaks loose. The Prime Minister's Director of Communications, Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), who drops the f-bomb (and the c-word) as easily as he breathes, is not happy and demands silence from Foster. That doesn't go so smoothly when Foster is ambushed by the media and events escalate.

Tucker decides to send Foster and his new PA, Toby (Chris Addison), to Washington on a fact finding mission ie out of the way, only to have him become involved in a tug-of-war between the peace-at-all-costs US Assistant Secretary for Diplomacy, Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy) and her ally General Miller (James Gandolfini), and the pro-war Assistant Secretary Linton Barwick (David Rasche).

Despite its television roots and political setting, The West Wing it's not. Nor does it have that show's cinematic look; director Armando Iannucci opting for the handheld, fly-on-the-wall approach. But In The Loop manages to succeed thanks to its sharp writing – nailing the political double-speak and delivering a barrage of one liners – and its spot-on characterizations by a fine, mostly British cast.

A subplot involving a resident's complaint about his mother's collapsing wall, however, seems only to have been included as means to involve Steve Coogan, perhaps as a favour to Iannucci with whom he has worked on various TV projects. That odd detour aside, In The Loop hits more often than it misses and is well worth your vote.

Monday, 18 January 2010


Now Showing
Roadshow Films

It's somewhat of a cliché, and a corny one at that, but sport really is a unifying force. Whether it's a weekend sporting fixture between amateurs, the Melbourne Cup or the Olympics Games, very few things can bring together people from varying backgrounds like the shared thrill of the game.

Nelson Mandela understood this and early in his presidency of post-apartheid South Africa he seized on the nation's hosting of the 1995 Rugby World Cup as a chance to unite his country. Not so easy given that black South Africans preferred soccer and despised the Springboks, the national rugby team, as a symbol of the old white guard. Factor in the Springboks poor form and an audience of a billion people watching the new South Africa, and Mandela was likely on a hiding to nothing.

But if history, and Hollywood, has taught us anything it is that truth is often stranger than fiction. Even those who know a little of sport know how this story ends but it still has you thinking “you couldn't have made that up”. Just like a black man spending 24 years in prison as an enemy of the state only to be released and become that country's first black president.

Clint Eastwood's Invictus opens with Mandela (Morgan Freeman) newly in office and well aware of the monumental tasks ahead of him, racial co-existence if not harmony foremost among them. He soon hits on the idea of the Rugby World Cup and enlists Springbok captain, Francois Pienaar (a buffed-up Matt Damon), to aid in his cause.

Surprisingly, Eastwood's handling of the drama inherent in the politics is not as surefooted as his handling of the rugby. Helping out immensely is the presence of Freeman. Destined to play the role of Nelson Mandela, and there have been several attempted projects over the years, Freeman has seemingly been rehearsing for the role since The Shawshank Redemption (1994). And even if he doesn't appear as joyful as I thought Mandela would be, and his accent tends to waver, Freeman has the gravitas and charm to pull it off. Like Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon (2007), it's an embodiment of the character rather than an impersonation.

Rugby aficionados may quibble about the accuracy of the game's depiction, and All Black fans will be further disgruntled by a complete omission of the food poisoning incident, but for me (a non rugby fan) the film really kicks off once the World Cup does.

And overall the film succeeds, even if it is equally as hokey as it is genuinely stirring. Case in point: during Pienaar's visit to the former prisoner's famed cell on Robben Island, Mandela recites a poem in voice-over; Freeman's voice an echoey whisper more akin to the narrator of the The Lovely Bones.

“I am the master of my fate, the captain of my soul”, he says, and you can't help but be moved by the thought of Nelson Mandela, alone so long in his tiny cell, patiently awaiting his moment in the sun. Despite the on-field exploits of the Springboks, it is Mandela who is a true hero.

Sunday, 17 January 2010


Now Showing
Sony Pictures

According to Roger Ebert, if you've seen Fellini's 8 ½ then you're less inclined to like Nine, the film version of the Broadway musical inspired by that classic Italian film. And Ebert may have a point: I've not seen 8 ½ (for shame) and I enjoyed Rob Marshall's film a lot.

Daniel Day Lewis is Guido, a film director much admired around the world and in his native Italy, where the story takes place. But you're only as good as your last film, as fans and colleagues keep reminding him: “I like you're earlier films, the flops not so much” tends to be the general consensus. Guido is feeling the pressure and despite producers and crew ready to roll on his latest project, the ambitiously titled Italia, there is no script, nor even a story for that matter.

But a film, even a musical, about writer's block doesn't sound all that appealing and that's why trailers for the film tend to focus on the star-studded cast; a bevy of Hollywood beauties who represent the significant women, past and present, in Guido's life: mother (Sophia Loren), muse (Nicole Kidman), prostitute (Fergie), journalist (Kate Hudson), confidant (Judi Dench), mistress (Penelope Cruz) and wife (Marion Cotillard).

The best of these are the latter three. Dench, as Guido's long-time costume designer, effortlessly steals every scene she's in and her musical number, Folies Bergere, is a blast. Cruz, who has been on a creative roll of late, is Guido's temperamental mistress who smoulders and sulks in equal measure; Cruz has been garnering most of the awards attention for the film. But it is Cotillard who is the real star of Nine. A Best Actress Oscar winner for La Vie En Rose (2007), she perfectly captures the wounded heart but resilient spirit of Guido's long-suffering wife, Luisa, who gave up her acting career to support her husband. Cotillard's first number, My Husband Makes Movies, is, for me, the film's highlight.

And what of Day Lewis? Singing isn't a talent one would readily associate with this superlative actor, certainly not after the gravelly tones employed in There Will Be Blood, but he equips himself well as you'd expect. Interesting to note that Javier Bardem was originally cast as Guido but dropped out due to exhaustion. I'm assuming that was at the tail end of his No Country For Old Men trophy collection tour of 2007-2008 and not as a result of the physical demands of this film, for there is little if any dancing required of Guido.

Neither the critics or the box office in the US have been kind to Nine. Perhaps they were expecting another Chicago, Marshall's Oscar-winning musical of 2002. And granted, Nine is neither as fun nor as cynical as that razzle dazzler. But it's by no means a dud. The film looks great, thanks to Australian cinematographer, Dion Beebe, and costume designer, Colleen Atwood, both of whom worked on Chicago and Marhsall's follow-up Memoirs of a Geisha. And you're bound to have your favourites among the actresses and the songs, some better performed and more catchy than others.

And who knows, Nine may inspire a spike in DVD sales of 8 ½ and other Fellini films. Cinema Italiano indeed. I for one have added it to my ever-expanding list of classic films I should have seen but haven't.

Thursday, 14 January 2010


Now Showing
Paramount Pictures

Casting George Clooney, cinema's reigning Mr Charisma, as a terminator for corporate America is the first sign that director Jason Reitman's comedy has more on its mind than frivolous entertainment. And just as he did with his previous film, the sublime Juno, Reitman uses humour to reveal some of life's harsh realities.

Clooney is Ryan Bingham. He works for a comapny that flies him across the US, business class every time, to enter offices on behalf of the company that has engaged his company's services, to inform their employees they've lost their jobs. Few charming visages could make the sinking in of the metaphorical knife less painful than that of Mr. Clooney.

Given the current economic climate, business is booming and Ryan's goal of achieving 10 million frequent flier miles is ever closer. But then his boss (a smarmy Jason Bateman) announces ambitious new employee Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) has developed the means to fire people via the internet, meaning Ryan's high flying lifestyle may soon be coming to an end.

That blow could be cushioned somewhat by Alex (Vera Farmiga), a similarly peripatetic soul whom Ryan connects with whilst on the road. Alex is Ryan's female equivalent, “you with a vagina” she tells him. She doesn't want commitment from Ryan just a good time whenever their schedules happen to align. Farmiga is sexy personified and you can easily understand why Ryan would do a double take.

He connects with Alex in between chaperoning Natalie across country, attempting to prove to her, and his boss, that what he does is far too important to entrust to a webcam. Natalie not only observes how Ryan operates but how he lives - no attachments, no ties; no marriage, no kids - which she finds unfathomable. Natalie herself believes she will find 'the one' and has an exhaustive checklist to identify him.

All of this plays out slickly and Reitman's film, co-scripted with Sheldon Turner from the book by Walter Kirn, could be enjoyed simply as a comic-drama with higher than average smarts. But looks can be deceiving: this is an intelligent film, about grown-ups for grown-ups. It's not played for laughs, though there are some great lines, but each comes with a kernel of truth about not only how we live our lives but how we, and others, view that way of life.

After premiering at the Toronto Film Festival last year, Up In The Air immediately assumed Oscar frontrunner status. It has since been usurped by the influx of critics' awards for Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker (coming late February) and James Cameron's box office behemoth Avatar.

But expect the film, Reitman and his three stars to all be nominated later this month. And with a preferential voting system, don't be at all surprised if Up In The Air scores the Best Picture Oscar. Some will say that a win would be by default; see it for yourself and know it's not.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010


Now Showing
Roadshow Films

The movie musical has experienced a resurgence in the '00s, kicking off with Moulin Rouge! (2001), and topped off by Nine (releasing here next week). Bran Nue Dae was probably produced for the equivalent of Nine's catering budget but what it lacks in razzle dazzle it attempts to compensate with plenty of heart.

That heart will go a long way in charming audiences who will probably be happy to overlook the film's lack of choreography and, in terms of the movie musical, style. The songs are (mostly) light and catchy and the performances by a veteran Australian cast – Ernie Dingo, Geoffrey Rush, Deborah Mailman and Magda Szubanski, all having fun – help distract from the less convincing performances of singers Missy Higgins and Jessica Mauboy, and leading man Rocky McKenzie.

McKenzie plays Willy, an adolescent in Broome WA, 1969, who is destined for the priesthood, a dream more enthusiastically held by his single mother than himself. For Willy has fallen for Rosie (Mauboy), a local lass with dreams of being a singer which she pursues with another man once Willy heads back to Perth and his studies at a Catholic boarding school, overseen by Father Benedictus (Rush relishing his German accent).

But Willy soon runs away from school, and teaming up with permanently inebriated Uncle Tadpole (Dingo) and a couple of backpackers (including Higgins), he heads back to Broome to declare his love for Rosie, with Father Benedictus not too far behind.

Originally a stage musical, director Rachel Perkins has done well to open up Bran Nue Dae, helped immensely by shooting on location in Broome. It still has an episodic feel as it shifts, some times smoothly others not so, from one song to another, and you may find yourself cringing just as often as you smile.


And so another year of film viewing has begun. This list will be updated every time I see a film scheduled for an Australian cinema release. Note: 2010 releases viewed in 2009 will not appear on the list but will be reviewed as they release.

Bran Nue Dae
Separation City
My One and Only
A Prophet
Edge of Darkness
Crazy Heart
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Valentine's Day
Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief
The Rebound
From Paris With Love
Shutter Island
The Wolfman
The Blind Side
Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant
Remember Me
The Men Who Stare At Goats
Alice In Wonderland
Dear John
The Vintner's Luck
Green Zone
Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang
The Bounty Hunter
She's Out Of My League
How To Train Your Dragon
The Last Station
Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky
Date Night
Clash of the Titans
Beneath Hill 60
The Book of Eli
Harry Brown
Iron Man 2
I Love You Too
Animal Kingdom
Food Inc.
Me And Orson Welles
New York, I Love You
Letters To Juliet
Kings of Mykonos: Wog Boy 2
Robin Hood
The Back-Up Plan
The White Ribbon
The Runaways
The Secret In Their Eyes
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
The Losers
The Ghost Writer
Shrek Forever After
The Killer Inside Me
City Island
Sex and the City 2
Rocket Science
Get Him To The Greek
The A-Team
South Solitary
I Am Love
Mother And Child
Matching Jack
Knight and Day
Grown Ups
Father of My Children
The Waiting City
Toy Story 3
The Karate Kid
Twilight: Eclipse
The Last Airbender
The Girl Who Played With Fire
Cairo Time
The Special Relationship
Step Up 3D
The Expendables
Four Lions
Scott Pilgrim vs The World
Please Give
Tomorrow When The War Began
The Kids Are All Right
Going The Distance
Piranha 3D
Despicable Me
Made In Dagenham
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
The Other Guys
Charlie St. Cloud
I'm Still Here
Easy A
Wild Target
Eat Pray Love
Fair Game
Legend of the Guardians
Dinner For Schmucks
Let Me In
The Social Network
Summer Coda
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
The Town
The King's Speech
Winter's Bone
The Messenger
The Loved Ones
The American
Another Year
Red Hill
Griff The Invisible
HP & The Deathly Hallows Pt.1
Morning Glory
Due Date
127 Hours
Blue Valentine
Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Tron: Legacy
The Tourist

Saturday, 9 January 2010


Out now on DVD and Blu-ray
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

In the opening moments of Up, a couple's an entire life together, from childhood to marriage and through to old age, is beautifully rendered in near silence. It's one of the best scenes from any film released in 2009; the rest of the film is also near-perfect.

78-year-old Carl Fredrickson (voiced by Ed Asner), the surviving half of the couple from the opening scenes, lives in his marital home despite the encroaching city developments: he refuses to sell the home where he and wife, Ellie, made their life together. But when circumstances force Carl's hand, instead of giving in he takes flight – literally. The former balloon vendor hitches thousands of helium balloons to his house and launches into the sky, headed for South America and Paradise Falls; Carl and Ellie fell in love over their shared sense of adventure and promised to go their one day but, as they say, life happens while you're making other plans.

Accidentally tagging along for the ride is Russell, a boy scout in need of a 'Helping the Elderly' badge. He's also in need of a father figure, much to the chagrin of the curmudgeonly Carl. Touching down on the cliffs opposite Paradise Falls, Carl and Russell proceed to drag the house to the waterfall, joined along the way by a large bird of colourful plumage, whom Russell names Kevin, and a talking dog named Dug.

Dug is on the outer with his fellow dogs who have been tracking the giant bird for their master, famed adventurer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer), the man who inspired Carl and Ellie's love of adventure. But you should never meet your heroes, certainly not those who have spent years alone in the jungle chasing an elusive goal and have gone quite mad in the process.

While Up has an action-packed climax, it doesn't falter in the same way that Pixar's previous effort WALL-E did. That film also had a wonderful opening sequence but became repetitive in its second half. Still, many believed WALL-E was deserving of Best Picture consideration for the 2008 Oscars. Don't be at all surprised if Up is among the nominees for Best Picture this year, especially with the field expanded to 10; the Producers Guild (PGA) (a good indicator) just last week named it one of their 10 best of 2009.

I've already named it one of my best of 2009 and recommend that if you missed it at the cinema, do yourself a favour and catch it on DVD. And if you're not sold after the first five minutes, perhaps check for a pulse - you may very well be dead.

Friday, 8 January 2010


With the Best Picture race expanded to 10 nominees but Best Director remaining at five, the BD nominees could very well determine the BP winner: it is unlikely that Best Picture will come from the five films that miss out on a Director's nod.

Just today the Directors Guild of America (DGA) has announced their nominees for 2009, and these five should be considered the Oscar favourites:

Kathryn Bigelow - The Hurt Locker: Will definitely become just the 4th woman nominated for BD, but she is firming as the first female winner.

James Cameron - Avatar's box office simply can't be denied. Cameron's use of new technologies is also noteworthy. Trivia: Bigelow and Cameron were once married.

Lee Daniels - Precious: First-time director who has worked wonders with his cast (Mo'Nique, Mariah Carey, and first-timer Gabourey Sidibe) is, I think, the most susceptible to be left out.

Jason Reitman - Up In The Air: Just his third film could earn Reitman his second Director's nod, after 2007's Juno. Father director Ivan (Ghostbusters) Reitman should be proud.

Quentin Tarantino - Inglourious Basterds: 15 years after his first and only Director's nod for Pulp Fiction, Tarantino is back thanks to some Nazi scalping.

Other directors who may sneak in to the 5, especially if their film makes the final 10, are:

The Coen brothers: A Serious Man

Neill Blomkamp - District 9

Lone Scherfig - An Education

Clint Eastwood - Invictus

Michael Haneke - The White Ribbon

Wednesday, 6 January 2010


Now Showing
Universal Pictures

Beginning with The Devil Wears Prada (2006), Meryl Streep, always a critical darling, has been enjoying a second coming of sorts. At an age when most actresses have been assigned to supporting roles at best, Streep has become a box office gold mine: Mamma Mia! was one of the highest grossing films of 2008, and Julie & Julia took more than $100 million at the US box office despite an '09 summer dominated by male-oriented franchises.

Releasing in the Christmas holiday season will no doubt guarantee It's Complicated a healthy box office return, too. It also provides the female demographic something to occupy their time while the boys head to Avatar (again) and Sherlock Holmes. But I suggest the enjoyment level for the ladies' investment of time and money will not be as high as for either MM! or J&J.

But then I could be wrong - or just the wrong audience for this film. Writer-director Nancy Meyers' previous films – What Women Want, Something's Gotta Give, The Holiday – seem to have connected with (female) audiences, and I'd suggest more for their fantasy and wish fulfillment elements more than anything.

Just as Something's Gotta Give, in which Diane Keaton showed post-middle age could be sexy, It's Complicated similarly concerns itself with a woman (Streep) of 'a certain age' discovering a new lease on life. Divorced 10 years and with her youngest of three children off to college, Jane Adler (Streep) has a thriving bakery business and a kitchen extension to occupy her time. But on a trip to New York for her son's graduation, she ends up in bed with her ex-husband, Jake, played by a grinning Alec Baldwin, no doubt because gets the best lines.

This development appalls Jane at first but soon becomes a source of amusement and pride, for both her and her girlfriends, especially as the affair continues and Jane becomes 'the other woman'; Jake having remarried a much younger bride (Lake Bell) who is painted in very broad strokes as an ovulating shrew. So much for sisterhood, Meyers.

At the same time, a potential suitor also arrives on the scene. Adam (Steve Martin) is the architect designing Jane's new kitchen and he's obviously smitten with his client. Sadly for him, Jane is distracted by her ex. And sadly for Martin, Meyers has given him very little to do. The only time the film sparks up is when Jane and Adam do so, literally, at a party.

But my problem with It's Complicated isn't that it's not funny, it does have its moments. My problem was that I didn't believe in it for a second, and that stems mostly from Meyers' screenplay. For as fun as Streep and Baldwin are, it is hard to believe people could carry on like this. And if it is trying to say something about the complications of post-divorce emotions or a woman's midlife crisis, then again it failed to convince me.

Still, I won't be at all surprised when the film becomes a hit and audiences - the audience it is so squarely aimed at - have a positive response to it. And there's nothing wrong with that. In an era where most studio films are pitched at 14 year old males, sisters have to do it for themselves. Chalk another one up for Meryl. Me, I'll just wait for Julie & Julia's DVD release next month.


Out Now on DVD and Blu-ray
Icon Home Entertainment

After more than a decade working in Hollywood with varying degrees of success – props for Face/Off; Mission: Impossible II not so much – director John Woo returned to China (he was born there but lived mostly in Hong Kong) to make this historical epic.

And while some of his idiosyncrasies remained in tact while stateside – his penchant for slow-mo for one – this is, understandably, Woo's most 'Chinese' film in years: epic, sumptuous, balletic battle scenes and just a hint of the mystical.

Recounting an historic battle in China circa 208 AD, between imperial forces and those of a combined but vastly outnumbered provincial army, Red Cliff is a David and Goliath tale or, for an Australian reference, a Chinese Gallipoli, although that doesn't work quite as well since the underdogs there didn't fare as well as their Chinese counterparts.

Red Cliff is being released in both its original two-part four hour plus version, The Battle of Red Cliff, as well as the combined and condensed (133 minutes) version which was distributed in Western countries. While the shorter version is an impressive film you can't help but notice that large sections of narrative have been excised.

Still, not everyone has a spare four hours to set aside to watch a film but then DVD and Blu-ray technology allows one to bend a film to their will and schedule. You'll know if you're best prepared for a short campaign or a battle royale.


Out now on DVD and Blu-ray
Icon Home Entertainment

One could describe Push as a poor man's X-Men and that's certainly true in terms of budget. But the film's storyline, where certain people in the not-too-distant future have developed powers – telekinesis, clairvoyance, mind control – and are hunted down by a secret government agency, the Division, plays more like TV's Heroes but again, without the bucks to make it soar.

Nick Grant (Chris Evans), who has the power to move things with his mind, is hiding out in Hong Kong; his fear of the Division no doubt a result of his father's murder. But Nick is tracked down by young clairvoyant Cassie (Dakota Fanning), who needs his help in locating a briefcase containing $6 milllion. Standing in their way, Division's Agent Carver (Djimon Hounsou, who finally gets to breakout of the saintly black man typecasting and go bad).

I can't remember exactly why Nick and Cassie need the loot, other than the obvious, but then a lot of Push doesn't make sense. When I attended the media screening prior to its cinema release last year, the projectionist accidentally put the third and final reel on before the second, and you know what? It really didn't matter.

I'd suggest the lack of budget kept director Paul McGuigan from mounting a more impressive “superhero” action film but it's the screenplay by David Bourla that's the film's real kryptonite. A film like Push needs to have it's own internal logic in order to succeed and that's one power it sorely lacks.

Saturday, 2 January 2010


2009 was my biggest year at the movies yet: 125 films viewed. That said, it wasn't a great year for movies, so much so that I felt I would not be satisfied by trying to single out 10 remarkable films. Instead, I have compiled a list of 20 films that, for one reason or another, stood out for me this year*.

And for those who think that's a cheat or a cop out, be thankful I'm not following Roger Ebert's lead and doing Top 10's for Mainstream, Independent, Animation, Foreign Language and Documentary.

The list is also in alphabetical and not numerical order. I have not chosen a number one film but if pressed I would offer Milk, The Reader, An Education and Balibo as my clear favourites and well worth seeking out (all but An Education are available now on DVD).

Feel free to offer your opinion on my list, as well as letting me know what movies left their mark on you in 2009.

(*Note: Only those films released in Australian cinemas between January 01 and December 31 2009 were eligible for my list. Films seen but releasing 2010 were not.)

A SERIOUS MAN The Coen brothers continue their purple patch with this somewhat autobiographical tale of a put upon Jewish man in 1960s midwest America. It's a comedy but not Burn After Reading funny.

AN EDUCATION Lone Sherfig's film announced the arrival of Carey Mulligan who, at the very least, will receive an Oscar nomination for her star making performance in this '60s set coming-of-age tale.

BALIBO Not just the best Australian film of the year but one of the best from anywhere. A political thriller about the murder of five journalists by the Indonesian military in East Timor, it will anger and sadden you in equal measure. Anthony Lapaglia has never been better.

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER Applying a defibrillator to romantic comedy, this inventive non-rom-com injected new life into the genre by having the smarts to know that love hurts.

DISTRICT 9 This South African film was a breath of sci-fi fresh air, seamlessly mixing action with political parable and all in a mockumentary style that aided in its immediacy and authenticity.

DUPLICITY A sexy and smart caper film with Julia Roberts and Clive Owen reuniting and reigniting their chemistry from 2004's Closer.

THE HANGOVER These boy's own films are usually not for me but by focussing on the morning after a drunken night in Las Vegas, this one managed to be surprisingly inventive and very funny.

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS Alternate history, Dirty Dozen homage or Jewish revenge fantasy? Either way, Tarantino made an unforgettable film and introduced us to Christoph Waltz, who may well be introduced to Oscar come March.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN Forget Twilight, this Swedish thriller was the best vampire movie of the year. Seek it out on DVD and avoid the forthcoming US remake.

MILK Sean Penn's performance is at the centre of this powerful, political film by Gus Van Sant. Penn plays Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to US office, and assassinated soon after.

RACHEL GETTING MARRIED There was no better sister act this year than Anne Hathaway and Rosemarie DeWitt, the latter as the bride-to-be and the former as the family black sheep poised to wreak havoc in Jonothan Demme's Dogma-like take on the wedding movie.

THE READER Stephen Daldry's adaptation of Bernhard Schlink's novel is a powerful meditation on the nature of guilt but will perhaps be best be remembered for delivering Kate Winslet her first Oscar – and deservedly so.

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD And had Winslet not won for The Reader she probably would have for her performance here. Sam Mendes's wrenching examination of youthful idealism cum suburban nightmare reunited Titanic's Kate and Leo in another doomed relationship.

STAR TREK No one is more surprised than me by how much I enjoyed JJ Abrams's re-boot of the tired sci-fi franchise. Going back to the beginning, Abrams has introduced a whole new generation to the sexy intergalactic crew of the Starship Enterprise.

STATE OF PLAY It didn't matter that it was a remake of a quality British miniseries, Russell Crowe headlined a top cast in a smart political thriller and a paean to the death of print journalism.

SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK Charlie Kaufmann's directorial debut – about life imitating art, imitating life, imitating art - was as trippy as you'd expect from the writer of Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Ebert has named it his 'best film of the decade'.

TAKING WOODSTOCK Ang Lee's wonderfully enjoyable look at how Woodstock came about was strangely ignored by audiences but I'd recommend catching it on DVD. Nostalgic but not cloying, it leaves you on a mellow high.

TWO LOVERS If Joaquin Phoenix really has retired from acting then his performance in this intimate drama is a beautiful swan song. Gwyneth Paltrow is also very good as one object of his affections.

UP Pixar really have no equal in the animation stakes. The opening few minutes of Up, where we witness an almost silent montage of a life together, are alone worthy of an Oscar. This year, they could very well be in the running for Best Picture.

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE Fans of the children's book may have been perturbed by Spike Jonze's take on the classic but not me. I could eat it up, I loved it so.

Sadly, it is much easier to name the worst films of the year. And these five are in numerical order.

5. WINGED CREATURES Aussie director Rowan Woods' American debut was, in spite of its talented cast – Guy Pearce, Forest Whitaker, Dakota Fanning, Kate Beckinsale – a ponderous, much too earnest look at post traumatic stress.

4. COUPLES RETREAT It was a year full of misfiring comedies but this one takes the cake. I'll admit I'm not a fan of Vince Vaughan and this only further convinced me – the guy's not funny.

3. HE'S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU Why does Hollywood continue to make films that deliberately insult its audience? Why do actresses who should know better (Jennifer Connolly, Drew Barrymore) continue to appear in them? And why do women continue to watch them?

2. G.I. JOE While equally as dumb as my #1 least favourite film, G.I. Joe doesn't quite take the top spot. I'm not sure what fans of the cartoon series or toys made of this big screen version but for me, I'd rather have done two hours in boot camp.

1. TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN A worldwide gross of almost a billion dollars is further proof that people will watch anything, just not small, intelligent films, or Aussie ones for that matter. This film is everything that is wrong with Hollywood filmmaking: no substance and not even any style; just an overlong sensory bombardment. I saw it in IMAX which made it even worse. There should be a special place reserved in Hell for director Michael Bay and his crimes against cinema.

Friday, 1 January 2010


Now Showing
20th Century Fox Films

When Time magazine named The Princess and the Frog the best film of 2009 (see below), they also named Fantastic Mr Fox at #3. Separating the two? Pixar's Up. It is testament to the continuing improvement in the excellence of animated films. So, too, is the realisation that the two (Princess and Mr. Fox) opening today are both superior to any of the live action films which opened last week or will do over the next month.

Fantastic Mr. Fox is perhaps the least polished of the two but is no less enjoyable for that. The stop motion animation employed by director Wes Anderson, his first foray into animation features, adds a level of old school charm. And while it's not as charming as the initial trailer had me believe (damn those trailers!), it's a highly enjoyable film definitely worth catching.

Based on Roald Dahl's book of the same name, the Mr Fox of the title (voiced by George Clooney) is a former chicken thief who turned to the straight life when his wife (Meryl Streep) announced she was with cub. That cub, Ash (Jason Schwartzman), is now an angsty teen (in fox years) and Fox's straight job as a newspaper columnist is no longer that fulfilling, so he decides to pull one last heist (cue Ocean's 11 reference). Make that a three-pronged heist, on local farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean.

As in all heist films, nothing goes to plan and the farmers respond by firstly trying to blow-up and then dig out Fox and his family. They then decide to starve out the entire animal population. Fox's response? An even more audacious plan.

Wes Anderson keeps all of this action moving at a brisk pace, thanks in part to a fun and eclectic soundtrack. There are minor detours about father-son relations and familial rivalry (Ash is not happy that his seemingly golden child cousin Kristofferson has come to stay) but it never gets heavy. That said, adults are likely to enjoy this film more than the kids.

Unlike the recent Where The Wild Things Are, I had read Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox as a child and loved it. And unlike those people who found Spike Jonze's version of WTWTA too different for their liking, I found Wes Anderson's take on this story both faithful and inventive, and very much his own; that same first trailer revealed Anderson's very distinct style, from dialogue to dapper dress code – you pretty much knew what you were in for. And I, for one, was not disappointed.


Now Showing
Walt Disney Films

A year after the US elected its first black president, Disney has decided it is time they gave us their first black heroine. Admittedly, Disney have come a little late to the ball, and some curmudgeons have pointed out that said heroine, Tiana, spends most of the film as a frog. It's not the first time Disney has been accused of racial insensitivity, but politics aside, this is a charming film that should be embraced by littlies of all colours (and ages).

Indeed, Time magazine film critic Richard Corliss named The Princess and the Frog the best film of 2009. I wouldn't go that far but I would say that Disney have rediscovered their magic. That may have something to do with their returning to traditional 2D animation; this is the studio's first film in this format since 2002's Lilo and Stitch, and their best since 1994's The Lion King (though it's nowhere near as accomplished as that - in my opinion - masterpiece).

Tiana (Anika Noni Rose), inspired by her late father's culinary gift, is an aspiring restaurateur in 1920s New Orleans. She works as a waitress, hoping to save enough money for a deposit on a property where she'll open her own eatery. A loan from her friend, spoilt Southern princess Charlotte (comically voiced by Jennifer Cody), who has her own dream of marrying a prince, seems out of the question. Then Prince Naveen (an Indian sounding name but voiced by Spanish-accented Bruno Campos) arrives in town. He's out to have some fun and is ripe for the picking by local voodoo man, Dr Vacilier (David Keith), who turns him into the titular frog.

A case of mistaken identity has Naveen request a kiss from Tiana whom he believes to be a princess, resulting in her also transforming into an amphibian. Escaping Vacilier into the bayou, they meet an alligator, Louis, who just wants to play jazz, and Ray, an elderly firefly, who help them find Mama Odie who may or may not be able to reverse the spell.

Recalling Disney's female-centric films of the '90s – Pocahontas and Mulan – The Princess and the Frog is lighter and much more easily engaged than those two and that's thanks in no small part to the music. The tunes here are not of the Broadway musical variety that came to define Disney's animated features post-The Lion King but are more in keeping with the New Orleans setting: jazz, blues, gospel and Dixieland are all influential.

So, too, is the colour of its heroine's skin. But it is not the intention of directors Ron Clements and John Musker (who were also responsible for The Little Mermaid and Aladdin) to bludgeon the audience over the head about race: the objective here is enchantment.

It's been a great 12 months for animation in film, and The Princess and the Frog is one of the shining lights; expect it to be nominated for the Best Animated Film Oscar, as well as to feature in the music categories. Irrespective of that, go along for an enjoyable and enchanting 100 minutes of animation – borrow someone's five year old if you have to.