Thursday, 27 May 2010
Much like the Japanese film Departures caused an upset by winning the 2008 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, Argentina's The Secret in Their Eyes beat out more acclaimed rivals A Prophet and The White Ribbon to do so this year. And much like I was surprisingly moved by Departures, I found myself seduced by the Argentine film.
Set in both 1999 and 1974, Juan Jose Campanella's film is about memory and how one can never really let go of the past, for better or worse. And about passion, for try as we may, we can never give up that which we truly love.
As a court investigator in 1974, Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) worked a case involving the brutal rape and murder of a school teacher. Now newly retired, Esposito reflects back on those events as he writes a novel chronicling the case.
This also reawakens emotions he had for Irene Menendez Hastings (Soledad Villamil), a younger woman who was his superior at the time and whom he could not reveal his true feelings for. Darin and Villamil are wonderful together and both play their younger and older selves. You can decipher which part of the story you are in by the colour of Esposito's hair: black in 1974, grey in 1999.
Touching also is Pablo Rago as Ricardo Morales, the widower who spends his time away from the office waiting at train stations hoping to see the man suspected of murdering his wife. That's Isidoro Gomez (Javier Godino), who knew the school teacher when they were younger, and there is a brilliant sequence in the film, in what looks like one take, where Gomez is arrested at a soccer match by Esposito and his partner, Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella).
Based on a novel by Eduardo Sacheri, The Secret In Their Eyes unfolds much like one as it shifts between past and present. But Campanella has made it very much a cinematic experience, relying a lot on what is unspoken and focusing, understandably, on the eyes of his characters which reveal far more than they could ever say.
It's been a good year for foreign language films - the aforementioned A Prophet and The White Ribbon, the French film Welcome, and the very popular Swedish thriller The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – and we're not quite halfway. Add The Secret in Their Eyes to that list as well as to your 'must-see' list.
Wednesday, 26 May 2010
The general consensus gleaned from the US reviews I read for The Losers seemed to be “not as crap as you'd think it is”. So with that backhanded compliment in mind, I settled in to watch Sylvain White's screen version of an apparently popular graphic novel (and aren't they all nowadays?) with slightly higher than zero expectations.
Admittedly, every time I saw the trailer for this (inadvertently at other Roadshow screenings) I kept thinking it was for the upcoming A-Team film (to be released by 20th Century Fox early June). And at first, you might think that's Javier Bardem but it's not. It's Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who bears a more than passing resemblance to the Spanish actor but he's very much a poor man's version in every respect.
Morgan is Clay who heads up a small US Special Ops team who are doubled crossed in the film's opening action sequence, which ends with the deaths of 25 children. Presumed dead and stranded in Bolivia, Clay, Roque (Idris lba), Pooch (Columbus Short), Cougar (Oscar Jaenada) and Jensen (Chris Evans, the buffest computer geek you've ever seen, and the film's few highlights) are approached by the mysterious Aisha (Zoe Saldana, sans blue Avatar make-up. She is able to get them back to the States and happy to bankroll their mission to exact revenge on the guy who set them up.
That's Max, played by Jason Patric as a super villain wannabe who seems to have grown up on a diet of Bond villains, absorbing the psychopathy and quest for world domination (he's out to obtain some enviro-friendly nukes!?) whilst eschewing any of the panache; the kind of guy who'd shoot his female assistant in the face for not holding his umbrella steady on a windy beach. Like the rest of the film, Max is averse to subtlety.
The Losers is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek and not taken seriously, simply enjoyed for what it is. But if the best you can say about a film is “not as crap as you'd think”, well, why would you bother? Here's hoping The A-Team aims higher than that.
Monday, 24 May 2010
Walt Disney Studio Films
The first clue that Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time would not be an enthralling movie going experience was in learning that it is based on a computer (video?) game. I don't play computer games but then I am an adult. It's not the first time this game-to-movie adaptation has occurred and, sadly, it won't be the last.
Then again, the Pirates of the Caribbean films were based on a theme park ride and the first installment of those films was, for the most part, fun due mostly to Johnny Depp's Capt. Jack Sparrow. Jake Gyllenhaal doesn't bring that same sense of fun to PoP, having spent more time in the gym buffing up for the role than working on the nuances of his character, Dastan.
Adopted by the King of Persia, Dastan is the wildest yet most honest of the royal sons, all of whom we meet as they are preparing to invade the holy city of Alamut, which they suspect of selling weapons of destruction to Persian enemies. But this intel is merely a rouse concocted by the king's embittered brother, Nizam (Ben Kingsley), to get his hands on another of the city's prized possessions. No, not Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) but a dagger that has the power to rewind time.
When the King is killed and Dastan blamed, he goes on the run with the outspoken Princess. Of course, the two will eventually fall for each other, as you can tell from their antagonistic banter which has none of the spark of Iron Man and Pepper Potts. Thankfully there's Alfred Molina who steals every scene and adds some much needed humour to proceedings as Sheik Amar, a prince of thieves and a major player in the ostrich racing industry.
There are plenty of action sequences in Prince of Persia but none of it particularly thrilling. Director Mike Newell, who directed the fourth and, for mine, best of the Harry Potter films, The Goblet of Fire, seems to be going through the motions here. Perhaps computer games are as anathema to him as they are to me?
Film critic Roger Ebert felt the wrath of gamers when he recently published an article on his blog stating that computer games could never be considered art. I'm not well enough acquainted with the medium to judge but I will say they certainly don't make for good films, let alone artistic ones.
Available now on DVD
When young Rita Atria witnesses the murder of her father, Don Michele, by a member of a rival mafia gang, she is galvanized; devoting her life to avenging his death. Biding her time until she can do something, Rita keeps diaries of everything she sees and hears in her Sicilian village related to mafia activity.
At 17, Rita (Veronica D'Agostino) takes her collection of diaries to the police in Palermo where they are able to match dates with known criminal activity, setting in motion a police operation which aims to bring the Sicilian gangs, led by Don Salvo (Mario Pupella), who ordered the hit on Rita's father, to trial and, hopefully, justice.
Marco Amenta's film is a 'fictionalized account loosely based' on the life and writings of Rita Atria, but that hasn't given him license to be overly dramatic or sensational. If anything, the first time director has opted for a low-key, matter of fact approach to the material.
And Rita, as portrayed by D'Agostino, is no saint or ready-made martyr; she is one of the most stubborn and prickly heroine/victims you are likely to come across. Despite being placed in witness protection, and being number one on the mafia hit list, she confounds the police (and the audience) with her contrary actions. It's not until those around her begin to die that she wises up, and it may take you just as long to warm to her.
As a 'one person can make a difference' crusader film, The Sicilian Girl ends on a rather sombre and sobering note. But seeing the early 1990s news footage of the anti-mafia/pro-Rita protests, and knowing the voice over readings throughout the film come from Rita Atria's actual journals, provide some balance and even a sense of hope.
Sunday, 23 May 2010
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Available now on DVD and Blu-ray
The title of this comedy refers to John Travolta and Robin Williams' characters, longtime business partners Charlie and Dan, who, in their post-middle age yet sadly clinging to adolescence (like most men in Hollywood comedies these days), are too set in their ways to change.
That is until fate thrusts change upon them. Well, Dan anyway; Charlie just seems to be along for the ride. A brief island marriage during a post-divorce drinking binge some eight years ago, resulted in, much to Dan's surprise, a couple of kids. The 'wife', Vicki (Kelly Preston), is about to do some jail time (for a noble cause we're assured) and unable to find friends she trusts, burdens Dan with his 7-year-old offspring, Zach and Emily.
Or rather, Dan offers since he has some romantic notion of making a go of it with Vicki, although that was before he learnt he was a father. And given the carry-on by the twins (supposedly cute and funny but obnoxious like most kids are in these kinds of films), if I were Dan, I'd be making an appointment for a paternity test ASAP just to be sure.
Naturally, instant fatherhood comes at the same time that Charlie and Dan are about to close the biggest deal of their careers (something to do with the Japanese), with Dan soon learning that, as a single parent, you can't have it all. Not that he's entirely single, for Dan seems incapable of getting by without Charlie and vice versa (but this is a Disney film, so we won't dig too deeply into that).
There's a litany of celebrity cameos in Old Dogs (Matt Dillon, Amy Sedaris, Ann Margret, Bernie Mac), which suggests that director Walter Beck didn't have complete confidence in his material, or leading men, to pull it through. Travolta and Williams are certainly both capable, and deserving, of better.
Thursday, 20 May 2010
Icon Film Distribution
Harry Brown is being marketed as the British equivalent of Gran Torino and, hey, when that film – about a grumpy, bigoted old man with a penchant for guns – can take $15 million at the Australian box office (and somehow be voted #1 on the At The Movies movie poll for 2009), why wouldn’t you?
There are similarities between the films, beginning with the lead actors: in Gran Torino, it was Clint Eastwood (who also directed); playing Harry Brown is Michael Caine. Both men, now in their 70s, exude a certain kind of cool, a legacy of their younger days and the characters they played, before Eastwood became an Oscar-winning director and Caine an Oscar-winning actor and a knight.
Eastwood’s Walt Kowalski was an elderly version of his Dirty Harry character, whose bigotry was supposed to be taken lightly, especially given his Messianic sacrifice at film’s end. Caine’s Harry is ex-military but he sealed that life in a box labelled ‘never to be opened’ when he married.
But the housing estate where he and his recently deceased wife made their home has gone to the dogs, the animalistic thugs and drug runners who terrorize all who live there. It’s when Harry’s best mate is murdered by these thugs that he decides enough is enough and dusts off his military know-how.
The violence escalates, as Harry goes on a rampage of sorts and the local yoofs retaliate. There’s an inevitability to the ending which one could view as positive (certainly not happy) although it ultimately begs the question ‘what was the point?’ (and you know I’m a stickler for a point!).
Seeing Michael Caine kicking ass certainly has its appeal but director Daniel Barber seems to have constructed his entire film around it at the expense of a stronger story. A bit more for the talented Emily Mortimer to work with would have been nice. She plays DCI Frampton who suspects Harry Brown may not be your average pensioner.
As it is, Harry Brown the movie, is a slightly above average vengeance drama held aloft by Caine's central performance. It's much grittier and violent than Gran Torino, and take that as you will. Not being a fan of the Eastwood film, I suppose it's a compliment; I certainly prefer Harry to Walt.
NOTE: The winners of the 5 in-seasons to Harry Brown, thanks to Icon Films, are: Boswell Designs, Bosh, Jrod, A. Smith and MFlanagan. Congratulations!
Wednesday, 19 May 2010
Wog Boy was a box office hit here in 2000 so a sequel was perhaps inevitable, if seemingly without reason. I'm basing that assessment on the sequel alone for I didn't see that first comedy. But that's not why I didn't get (i.e. enjoy) The Kings of Mykonos; I simply didn't find it funny and don't recall laughing once. But I'm guessing plenty of people will see it and enjoy it. To each their own.
Steve Karamitsis (Nick Giannopoulos) and his best bud, Frank (Vince Colossimo), two middle aged men in suspended adolescence with nothing occupying their time but hot women and hotter cars, head for Mykonos, Greece when Steve inherits some beach front property from a deceased uncle.
Of course, it's not as simple as showing up and living the high life. There are various complications – financial and romantic – for Steve, one being Mihali (Alex Dimitriades), the island's entrepreneurial hot shot who owns most of Mykonos and wants Steve's beach too.
Zoe (Zeta Makrypoulia) is the night club singer who Steve falls for but, of course, she is engaged to Mihali. Frank is also having women problems, that is, he hasn't been attracting any. But he sets his sights on breaking the record of 43 women in one month set by the island Lothario, Pierluigi (Kevin Sorbo of TV's Hercules), starting with ice princess, Miss Italy (Cosima Coppola).
There's all manner of other subplots – police corruption, an annual car race, a couple of Germans, a goat and some kind of treasure – which are no doubt intended to be hilarious but prove to be little more than diversions. Then again, that could have been the point: to divert us from the less than amusing script.
One has to wonder why a sequel, which took a decade to make it to the screen, has so many pointless plotlines and so few laughs? There should have been plenty of drafts of the screenplay. But then the audience for this film probably won't mind and one can't really begrudge the Australian film industry a hit, can it? Hmmm.
Tuesday, 18 May 2010
Having trouble sticking to your diet? See Food, Inc. and you may never eat again. You’ll certainly think twice about what you put in your mouth, especially when it comes to a burger.
Much like Al Gore gave us a chilling wake-up call in the 2006 Oscar-winning doco, An Inconvenient Truth, about the very real threat of climate change, director Robert Kenner aims to inform us (re: scare the shit out of us) about just what goes into – literally and philosophically, for capitalism is listed as a major offender – producing the food we eat. Did you know, for instance, that some variant on corn appears in just about everything, including cola drinks and batteries? And it ain’t the corn your grandparents grew!
Thankfully Food, Inc. is devoid of gratuitous footage from abattoirs, though not entirely free of scenes of animals abused and tortured in the name of food production. It’s one thing not to know what goes into what you eat, it’s another thing not to be concerned about the treatment of the animal that “makes” the ultimate sacrifice. And I’m no vegan/vegetarian militant; I enjoy meat as much as the next carnivore.
But when you hear the story of the two-year-old boy who, after consuming a burger, developed hemorrhagic E.coli and died 12 days later, you are saddened. To hear that his mother and grandmother have been lobbying since his death for the US Congress to pass a bill to name, shame and shut down repeat offenders of health code violations in food production to no avail (because these food companies fill the coffers of the so-called people’s representatives) should make you angry.
Kenner’s film avoids being preachy, adopting a lighter tone without sacrificing his intent; it’s not quite Michael Moore bombast and theatrics but it’s highly entertaining, informative and, yes, chilling. What’s for dinner? Who the hell really knows?!
Watch the first 3½ minutes of Food, Inc. at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=QqQVll-MP3I (Thanks to Ebert for the link heads-up)
Monday, 17 May 2010
The Back-Up Plan opens with Jennifer Lopez in stirrups being artificially inseminated. One could say it is an omen for the audience – you’re about to be screwed without any of the fun! – but that’s not entirely true. For as laboured (pun intended) as most of the comedy is, you can’t help but give a smile.
Granted, those smiles will probably be more for the crippled pooch (belonging to J-Lo’s pet store-owning character), or for every time leading man, Alex O’Loughlin, takes his shirt off (hello, ladies), than for the actual amount of genuine laughs in the screenplay, which is more TV sit-com than big screen rom-com.
J-Lo is Zoe, a post-30 single woman (eek!) in New York who has yet to find Mr. Right (eek!). Taking matters into her own (or rather her obstetrician’s) hands, she opts to get pregnant by anonymous sperm donor rather than have her biological clock’s batteries run dead. Immediately after the procedure, she hops in a cab which Stan (O’Loughlin) also boards. It’s a typical NY meet-cute and while they go their separate ways, fate (and by the numbers screenwriting) will bring them back together.
Zoe and Stan begin dating, neither knowing that she is actually pregnant. But it soon becomes apparent and after the initial shock, Stan decides he likes Zoe enough to stick by her, although every new development in their relationship has him regularly checking for the exit signs (like most men who will be dragged along to see the film).
There’s a lot of jokes in The Back-Up Plan at the expense of single mothers’ groups, how awful kids can be, how unrewarding parenting can be, and men’s discomfit with secret women’s business (“Vagina, vagina, vagina!” the obstetrician barks at Stan at the first ultrasound he attends). But Lopez, making her big screen return following her own pregnancy time-out, and O’Loughlin make for a very photogenic and likeable couple.
Pretty, likeable and warm smile-inducing admittedly don’t sound like ringing endorsements, so no , I don’t recommend you rush out to see The Back-Up Plan. And if you do, don’t blame me if you feel you’re the one in the (metaphorical) stirrups.
Wednesday, 12 May 2010
The trailer for Robin Hood made it look like Gladiator (in tights, as some wits dubbed it), and that didn’t bode well for me. I know I'm in the minority when I say I don’t much care for director Ridley Scott’s 2000 Oscar winner (Best Picture? Whatever!), his first pairing with Russell Crowe. A decade and four films later, they have teamed once more on this sword (sans sandals) epic, a revisionist reboot of the Robin Hood legend.
Essentially this version is a prequel, with events in the film leading up to, and ending, where most other Robin Hood films - from Errol Flynn through to Kevin ‘Prince of Thieves’ Costner - begin. Assuming audiences are overly familiar (and just plain over) that part of the story, Scott and screenwriter, Brian Helgeland, have opted for a genesis story, the beginnings of the legend.
Robert Longstride (Crowe) is a soldier in King Richard’s army, doing battle in the Middle East during the Crusades. But as soon as the King (Danny Huston) is killed, Longstride, and a couple of followers, hightail it out of there and make for the coast and passage back to England. On the way, they interrupt an ambush intended for the returning king which sees them in possession of the crown and Longstride promising a dying Robin of Locksley that he will return his family sword to his father.
Posing as a knight and returning the crown to Prince John (Oscar Isaac, so good in last year’s Balibo), Longstride then makes his way to Nottingham and the House of Locksley. It’s been 10 years since Robin left for war, and his wife, Lady Marion (Cate Blanchett) has been running the estate as proxy to her blind father-in-law, Walter (ever reliable Max von Sydow).
Marion is wary of Longstride, even more so when he agrees to Walter’s plan to pose as his son so, in the event of the old man’s death, the land will not be taken from Marion (women being unable to inherit in the 13th century). We, of course, know that the two will eventually fall in love but they spend most of the film in a slow thawing process.
The other storyline sees a friend of Prince John, Godfrey (Mark Strong, once again typecast as the villain), planning a civil war. He is in alliance with the French and plans to destroy the British from within. It's interesting that the film chosen to open this year’s Cannes Film Festival should not only cast the French as the enemy but have them lose in the climactic battle.
With all of this, there is a mere cursrory introduction for Robin Hood regulars, such as Friar Tuck (Mark Addy) and the Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew McFadyen). And just what the lost boys of Sherwood Forest are doing here I don't know.
Robin Hood is watchable and, at 140 minutes, no slog; I was never bored but then I was never really enthralled or intrigued either. And those fans expecting another Gladiator will be disappointed: there is less action and what there is is less bloody. In fact, the film is less than the sum of its parts.
Monday, 10 May 2010
Out May 13
Amanda Seyfried seems to have a penchant for letter writing. Either that or her agent does. In 2008's Mamma Mia! she played Meryl Streep's fatherless daughter who mailed letters to the three men she believed may be her dad, thus sparking the ensuing musical mayhem. And in this year's Dear John, she maintained a correspondence with her soldier beau (Channing Tatum). Now in Letters To Juliet, she is again at the mercy of paper and pen.
Sophie (Seyfried) is a fact checker for The New Yorker but really wants to be a writer. She heads to Verona, Italy with her fiance, Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal), for a pre-honeymoon vacation (as you do!). But Victor's a budding restaurateur, so spends most of the trip sourcing wine and food. He's a selfish, boorish prat so Sophie should be thankful for all the time she gets alone; there's no discernable reason why she would be marrying Victor, other than that he looks like Gael Garcia Bernal.
In her alone time, Sophie discovers a local tradition where heartbroken women leave letters to Juliet (of Shakespeare's Romeo et al) and a group of local women who reply to them. Upon finding a letter written 50 years ago from a young English girl, Sophie writes to her and within days the now 60-ish Clare (Vanessa Redgrave) arrives in Verona to track down Lorenzo Bartolini, the young Italian man she loved but abandoned half a century ago. Sophie thinks this will make for an excellent story and joins in the search.
But Clare is escorted by her grandson, Charlie (former Home And Away star Christopher Egan), who thinks his grandmother's trip is pure folly and directs his anger at Sophie. Charlie's a grade-A jerk so, of course, the pair will eventually find each other attractive and, inevitably, there will come a point where Sophie will have to choose between the least offensive of the two men.
But until that predictable denouement we are kept involved by Clare's search for lost love, thanks to the grace and dignity Redgrave brings to the role. Her real life husband, Italian actor Franco Nero, also makes an appearance, and it is these segments of the film which are, much to my surprise, quite affecting.
Sophie's story arc is less involving and one has to feel sorry for Seyfried. The talented young actress (she also appears on TV's Big Love) doesn't embarrass herself in her first lead role but she's not given a lot to work with either.
On the flipside, she had the opportunity to work with Redgrave. Add this to working opposite Streep, and Julianne Moore in the upcoming Chloe, and she's receiving the perfect apprenticeship. I guess her agent's not doing such a bad job after all.
Sunday, 9 May 2010
Out May 13
After Paris, New York is the city I'd most like to visit before I depart this mortal coil. Never having been there, I'm not sure if the scenes depicted in New York, I Love You are intrinsically NY moments but the 11 short films - shot by 11 different directors and featuring a host of known, recognisable and relatively unknown actors - certainly convey the people and possibilities alive in the Big Apple.
While there are one or two linking devices – a woman who roams the city with her video camera; a character in one short may appear briefly in another – this is no Love, Actually of intersecting lives or Krzysztof Kieslowski-like meditation on human interconnectedness in a haphazard world (Kieslowski being the late Polish director who made, amongst others, the Three Colours trilogy (1993-94)).
As with a collection of short stories, some narratives are more involving and affecting than others; some work and some don't. Shekhar Kapur's film – which sees Julie Christie as a retired opera singer experiencing a moment in hotel which may or may not be real – has an elegiac, European feel at odds with the other shorts. But as it was written, and intended to be directed by the late Anthony Minghella (The English Patient, 1996), one can hardly begrudge its inclusion.
My personal faves: Brett Ratner's (director of X-Men: The Last Stand, 2006) comedy involving prom night, a wheelchair and Central Park; Ethan Hawke as a motormouth writer trying to pick-up a beautiful woman (Maggie Q); and Chris Cooper and Robin Wright Penn as a pair who may or may not be making a (re)connection.
Another favourite sees Natalie Portman, directed by Mira Nair (2001's Monsoon Wedding among others), as a Hasidic Jew on the eve of her wedding, making a connection with a diamond dealer of the Jain faith (played by Slumdog Millonaire's Irrfan Khan). Portman also makes her directing debut with a piece about a father-daughter relationship post-divorce. Trivia: it features the wonderful young actress who played Portman's youngest child in the recent Brothers.
New York, I Love You is no travelogue or tourist wet dream: there are no gratuitous Times Square, Statue of Liberty or Wall Street settings, although Central Park does make one or two cameos. And surprisingly, and most refreshingly, there are no references to September 11.
I'm not sure that it hangs together as a motion picture but as a film experiment (following on from 2006's Paris, Je T'aime, where the French capital was given similar treatment), it's not without its merits and intrigue. And until I manage to make my own way there, it's not a bad way to get to know New York.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Available now on DVD and Blu-ray
For those who don't necessarily go in for horror (that's me, I'm a wuss!), the bloody edge can be taken off the gore with a few well-timed , well-pitched jokes. So it is with Zombieland, which as the title suggests, takes place in a world where the living dead have taken over and only a few unaffected humans remain.
I have a theory that zombie films are actually vegetarian propaganda: nothing quite turns one off the eating of meat as a member of the undead feasting on human flesh. My theory is supported by Mad Cow being used here by the writers (Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick) as the cause for the outbreak of the zombie virus. Thankfully the writers, and director Ruben Fleischer, have opted for humour over horror, meaning the jokes come much thicker and faster than the blood and flesh chomping.
Jesse Eisenberg plays Columbus. That's his home State not his real name, for recent travelling companion Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) prefers that they not get too attached. Tallahassee's much like Brad Pitt's Lt. Aldo Raine in Inglourious Basterds: he wants as many zombie scalps as he can get.
Surviving on his own up until now by subscribing to a code (he's always been the overly cautious type), Columbus is grateful for the company and protection. Then they meet Wichita (Emma Stone) and her sister Little Rock (Abigail Breslin, no longer Little Miss Sunshine), and, after getting off to a bad start, form a sort of fellowship, eventually deciding to head for Los Angeles after their initial destination fails to deliver any Twinkies, Tallahassee's snack of choice. There's also an amusement park young Little Rock wants to visit and, hey, if you're going to be part of a zombie feast you might as well die with a smile on your face, right?
The journey makes for an amusing road trip and culminates with a great joke involving Bill Murray. Until then, Harrelson, doing a good job of not-quite-crazy, and Eisenberg, who seems to have become Hollywood's 'geek du jour', make for an engaging odd couple. Horror fans may feel somewhat short changed by the minimal gore (though the film's not without its various forms of zombie slaying), but there's plenty to keep us wusses amused.
Wednesday, 5 May 2010
Available now on DVD and Blu-ray
Much like the recent French film Welcome depicted the final stages of a young refugee's bid for a new life in London, having travelled via road and foot from Iraq to Calais, Sin Nombre charts two young peoples' bids for new lives in America, having travelled from the south of Mexico.
Sayra (Paulina Gaitan) is originally from Honduras and having recently reunited with her estranged father, joins him and his brother for the perilous trek, via foot then train top, through Mexico to the US border. They aim to meet family in New Jersey who, presumably, made and survived the same trek ahead of them.
El Casper (Edgar Flores) has no real desire to leave Mexico when we first meet him. He's slowly working his way up the ladder, and in the estimation of the leader, of the Mara Salvatrucha gang, and he has a pretty young girlfriend. But then things change dramatically and El Casper makes a decision which sees him take to travelling the rails to the States, as much for a new life as to literally keep the one he has. His and Sayra's journeys become entwined, for better or worse.
Written and directed by first timer, Cary Fukunaga, Sin Nombre captures both the beauty and poverty of Mexico, a third world nation on the doorstep of the 'leader of the free world'. Like Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001) and Rudo y Cursi (2008) (the stars of which, Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, executive produce here), Fukunaga marries the personal with the political of modern day Mexico, albeit a much grittier, more violent depiction than in those films.
Fukunaga's a talent to watch and my interest has been piqued by his 180-degree change of pace follow-up project: an adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, starring Michael Fassbender and Mia (Alice In Wonderland) Wasikowska. But until then, Sin Nombre is worth seeking out, as much for the talent as for the world it depicts.
Tuesday, 4 May 2010
Icon Home Entertainment
Available now on DVD and Blu-ray
I'm not a pedant when it comes to book-to-screen film adaptations. I understand that plotlines and characters have to be changed and even excised in the translation: they are two very different mediums and what works on the page doesn't necessarily work on the screen. But so long as the essence, the spirit of the original text is maintained there shouldn't be too much of a problem.
But for those who have read, and loved, Elizabeth Knox’s novel, The Vintner's Luck, you’d best avoid director Niki Caro’s adaptation. Caro (she directed Whale Rider) has not only excised characters and storylines, she has removed the central relationship – between the vintner, Sobran, and the angel, Xas – which made the novel the beautiful tragedy that it is. Without this central story, The Vintner’s Luck is just another period film (set in Napoleonic France), albeit one about the art of winemaking.
And try as they might, Jeremie Renier, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Gaspard Uliel and Vera Farmiga can’t even produce a good cask wine let alone a vintage drop from the bare vines of a story they have been given.
Some books are “unfilmable”; their plots and characters don't easily lend themselves to a cinematic rendering. The Vintner's Luck is one of my favourite novels and while I originally deemed it unfilmable (mostly because one of the main characters is an angel with the white-feathered wings, and films with angels usually don't work), I also longed to see the film version. As the adage goes, be careful what you wish for.
I'm not sure why Knox would approve an adaptation of her novel, or why Caro would want to direct it, without that central story. Without spoilng the secrets of the novel, it could be dubbed 'Brokeback Vineyard', and without studio money (and thus interference), Caro really had no reason to baulk at the homosexual themes.
But she has, and her cowardice has reduced what could have been an ambitious failure to a failure of no distinction (although Farmiga's wardrobe makes an impression!). Do yourself a favour and read the book.
Monday, 3 May 2010
Opening May 6
Romantic comedy is not the genre of choice of the Australian film industry. Comedy, yes. Rom-com, no. It is very much a Hollywood genre and I feared that Peter Helliar, best known as longtime sidekick to TV's Rove McManus, had bitten off more than he could chew with his screenwriting debut, I Love You Too, a typical rom-com other than being from the male point of view.
Jim (Brendan Cowell) and Blake (Helliar) are best buds who cruise the Melbourne night clubs in search of sexual conquests. Neither is particularly charming or attractive but Jim is usually more successful than his rotund buddy, and so it is one night when Jim spies Alice (Yvonne Stravinski). Cut to three years later, and Jim and Alice have set-up home in the “bungalow” in the backyard of what was his parents' home but now houses his sister (Bridie Carter) and her partner.
Jim and Alice seem to have the perfect relationship, everything, that is, but a ring. Alice wants marriage and children but Jim isn't even capable of uttering 'I love you'. It's not they he doesn't, it's just that he can't. The deal breaker comes when he offers Alice a commitment ring and she decides it's time she headed back to the UK.
It is in the aftermath of their break up that Jim meets Charlie (Peter Dinklage), a widower (with what must be one of the best apartments in Melbourne!) still mourning the loss of his wife. Jim decides Charlie, based on his knack for romantic letter writing, is the perfect ally in winning Alice back.
But Helliar and director Daina Reid don't go down the modern day Cyrano de Bergerac route, preferring instead to fumble towards the inevitable rom-com denouement with varying degrees of success. Subplots involving the death of Jim's parents and his sister's pregnancy seem superfluous, while the efforts of Blake to maintain his friendship with Jim provide some comedy but don't delve too deeply into the nature of mateship, which wouldn't be unwarranted given that Helliar's screenplay is written very much from the male perspective.
The film's major asset is Peter Dinklage. Australian audiences will recognise the American actor from the popular Brit film Death At A Funeral (2007) (he also appears in the upcoming US remake, reprising the same role), but he also appears in one of my favourite films of the '00s, The Station Agent (2003). He lends a much needed gravitas as well as innate comic timing to the proceedings.
And what of Megan Gale making her screen debut? Given the publicity leading up to the film's release, you'd be forgiven for thinking the model-turned-actress had a starring role. She doesn't but you can't blame the marketing team for using what they had. Gale is involved in a minor subplot with Dinklage's character and as much I would like to dump on her, she doesn't embarrass herself (not that she should be writing an Oscar speech anytime soon).
The same goes for the film. I Love You Too is a valiant attempt at a rom-com which succeeds slighlty more than it fails; a couple more rewrites would have helped Helliar's cause. It's a likeable film but it's not 'the one'.