Tuesday, 26 October 2010
Icon Film Distribution
Although a remake of a French film (and aren’t they all, nowadays?), Wild Target is a very British film. An all-English cast, London setting and a sense of humour peculiar to the Brits, which will either delight you or give you the (sounds like Brits).
Victor Maynard (Bill Nighy) is a professional hitman, so devoted to his career – one with a long tradition in his family – that he hasn’t even had time to decide whether he’s gay or straight. That question is raised when he takes on two sidekicks: Rose (Emily Blunt), a beautiful but frustrating thief, and Tony (Harry Potter’s Rupert Grint), an innocent bystander who gets dragged along for the ride.
That ride begins when Victor, hired to kill Rose, decides he’d rather not. Tony happens to be nearby when a set of goons, hired by Ferguson (Rupert Everett), whom Rose double crossed in an art fraud, arrive to take out both Victor and Rose.
So ensues a dash across London in a too small car and an escape to Victor’s country estate where the odd trio regroup and Victor is faced with a choice between Rose and Tony. And no offense but he makes the right, albeit obvious, choice. (I’ve never known what it is Hermoine sees in Ron.)
I’m not a fan of Bill Nighy’s stiff-upper-lip from the lip down style of acting (admittedly a major hurdle to enjoying Jonathan Lynn's film) but I do love me some Emily Blunt. And while Rupert Grint is yet to prove himself post-Potter, he doesn't disgrace himself here.
Martin Freeman, on the other hand, as a rival hitman who seems to have an American dental plan, should be grateful he's already scored the lead role in Peter Jackson's The Hobbit. Eileen Atkins, as Victor's disapproving mother, should also have words with her agent.
I'm not sure how familiar Australian audiences are with the Ozarks, the mountainous region in the southern United States, other than as 'hillbilly country'. But in Debra Granik's Winter's Bone, adapted from the Daniel Woodrell novel of the same name, those mountains are a character unto themselves.
Shot in a greyish-blue palette, the snow-free but no less cold winter environment is only a couple degrees hospitable than the landscape depicted in the post-apocolyptic The Road. Many of the characters in Granik's noirish film are right at home in these surrounds, simialrly harsh and unforgiving to outsiders or anyone who threatens the status quo.
That's exactly what Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) does when she goes looking for her meth-cooking father. He's skipped bail after being arrested for said illicit activity, and having used the family home as bond, he has only days to front up before the law collects on the debt, forcing Ree, her younger siblings and somewhat catatonic mother onto the streets, or, more appropriately, the woods.
Bravely, or foolishly as the case proves to be, Ree approaches family and neighbours to help in her search. But Ree might as well be pleading to the gnarled, leafless trees that surround her small home for all the response she gets. Her uncle, Teardrop (John Hawkes) is borderline violent in his rebuke of his niece, while the women folk of the undeclared patriarch of the area have no problem getting physical with the girl. They don't want trouble and they'll silence anyone who brings it.
Barely 17, Ree has had to grow up fast and she's not about to be deterred by a wall of silence, however menacing. Jennifer Lawrence, hitherto unknown to me, brings this young heroine vividly to life, vivid being an ironic descriptor for Ree is anything but demonstrative or emotive.
Ree has a dogged determination, a strong sense of what's right, and an unwavering love of family and home, however seemingly little they offer her in return. It's a quietly powerful performance that is not unworthy of the awards talk it has been garnering since the film debuted at Sundance in January.
Indeed, all performances in the film are effective due in large part to Granik's bid for authenticity, both in writing her characters and in her collaboration with the locals (the film was shot on location in the Ozarks), many of whom fill minor roles. It all adds to an evocative sense of place and a surprisingly affecting experience.
That George Clooney's latest film, The American, opened at #1 at the US box office with some $16 million comes as a surprise. Not that it's a bad film: it's a well crafted, intelligent thriller. But not the kind that usually has people rushing to the cinema.
Just as surprised, I'd suggest, were a fair chunk of that opening weekend audience who no doubt turned out in response to the presence of a reliable leading man and the marketing of the film as a thriller. But The Bourne Ultimatum it's not.
Dutch photographer-cum-director, Anton Corbijn, has crafted his second feature, adapted by Rowan Joffe from the novel A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth, with a very European aesthetic: minimal dialogue, open-ended scenes, a mature depiction of both sex (pubic hair!?) and violence (matter-of-fact and uncool), and very little action. Not for teenage boys, Corbijn's thriller is a deliberate slow burn.
Jack/Edward (Clooney) is an assassin who wants out; an incident in Sweden, the film's opening scene, the final straw. Of course, as anyone knows, as Jack surely must, you don't retire from this game, you get retired. Hiding out in an Italian village, Jack takes on one last job - to build a custom-designed rifle - at the request of his employer whom he only ever makes contact with via phone.
While he builds the gun, Jack engages in philosophical musings with the local priest (Paolo Bonacelli), and develops a more than professional relationship with a prostitute, Clara (the wonderfully contrarily named Violante Placido).
Some have found The American too cool – as in glacial – but those with patience will find rewards. Similarly, fans of the 'charming' Mr. Clooney may be at a loss but those prepared to see the actor dim his bulb, but not his intellect, will also be pleasantly surprised.
It has taken almost a year for The Messenger to release in Australia, and that may have something to do with The Hurt Locker. Like that film, The Messenger deals with the US involvement in Iraq, a hard enough pitch to audiences at the best of times. Given that The Hurt Locker won the Best Picture Oscar earlier this year, it was probably a good idea not to risk having The Messenger get lost in its wake.
But The Messenger also came in for some Oscar attention (Woody Harrelson was nominated for Supporting Actor; and Original Screenplay for writer-director Oren Moverman and Alessandro Camen), and the film succeeds on its own terms. It also works as a sort of companion piece to Kathryn Bigelow's film: 'Locker' is very much concerned with soldiers in the theatre of war; 'Messenger' focuses on what those soldiers deal with once they return.
It also deals with the impact of war on the families and loved ones. Or as they are referred to here, the NOK (next of kin). Staff Sargeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) survived a roadside bombing whilst stationed in Iraq but his injuries prevent his return. He is enlisted as a messenger, delivering death notices and partnered and mentored in this mission by Captain Tony Stone (Harrelson), a no-nonsense, on-the-wagon officer with a list of rules for engaging the NOK's.
The scenes of these two officers delivering the bad news range from uncomfortable to painful. The most surprising reaction is from Olivia (Samantha Morton) who takes the news calmly and politely. She intrigues Will, and despite instructions to the contrary, he becomes involved with the now single mum.
It's a tentative and sensitive courtship that's more inquisitive than physical, and both Foster and Morton make the most of what's never said. Excellent, too, is Harrelson as a soldier whose demons seem to stem from not having seen any military action. The final scene with the two men is devastating in its depiction of barely contained suffering.
Like the best war films, The Messenger is anti-war without being didactic or belligerent about it. It's also very much pro-soldier – as in hate the war, support the troops. It doesn't make for fun viewing but it's well worth answering the call.
While last year's Best Actress race featured four excellent performances – and Sandra Bullock! - this year has proven to be one of the best for females leads in quite some time. So much so, that there may need to be some category fraud just to honour them all.
ANNETTE BENING/JULIANNE MOORE – THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT*
Both are being campaigned for Lead, a tactic which hasn't succeeded since Thelma and Louise (1991), with neither Sarandon or Davis winning that year. Most believe Bening will get in, and is the slight favourite to win. Here's hoping Moore isn't overlooked as both perfectly portray the film's married couple. Moore in Support, perhaps?
NATALIE PORTMAN – BLACK SWAN
Apparently undergoing 10 months of ballet training before filming, Portman's role, of the ballerina cast as the lead in Swan Lake, in Darren Aronofsky's psychological drama/thriller is said to push the actress to the limits. Think The Wrestler in a tutu!
NICOLE KIDMAN – RABBIT HOLE
Bought at this year's Toronto Film Fest on the proviso it get a 2010 release, Kidman (who is also a producer) is said to give her best performance in years as one half of a couple grieving the loss of their child. Hard to believe it's already eight years since her win for The Hours.
JENNIFER LAWRENCE – WINTER'S BONE*
This little known actress could be the surprise packet of the awards season. Winter's Bone is a film critics adore, and so, too, the performance: a teen girl in a struggle to save her family home with dogged determination. It's not showy or emotive but its quiet power stays with you.
MICHELLE WILLIAMS – BLUE VALENTINE
Said to be one of the most emotionally wrenching films of the year, Williams plays one half (Ryan Gosling the other) of a married couple, one-time high school sweethearts, whose marriage is now falling apart.
HILARY SWANK – CONVICTION
Box office may not be good but mostly good reviews could see Swank (much to the chagrin of Bening) back at the Oscars. It helps that she plays real life mother Betty Anne Waters, who put herself through law school to defend he brother, imprisoned for murder.
LESLEY MANVILLE – ANOTHER YEAR*
Manville could very well go Supporting for her performance which is said to tower over Mike Leigh's film. But given that she is the one everyone is raving about, Lead is also likely.(Note: if she goes Supporting she wins! Nov. 10)
SALLY HAWKINS – MADE IN DAGENHAM*
If the Academy falls for the considerable charms of this film about the fight for women's equal pay, then Hawkins (surprisingly overlooked in 2008 for Mike Leigh's Happy Go Lucky) could sneak in.
Diane Lane (Secretariat), Naomi Watts (Fair Game)* and Tilda Swinton (I Am Love)*, who learnt to speak Italian with a Russian accent for her role, are, methinks, outside long shots at this point.
I'll 'fess up to my pop cultural ignorance by admitting what little I knew of Serge Gainsbourg, before seeing Joann Sfar's film, consisted of two points: he was the father of actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, and he wrote, produced and performed the sexy '60s pop hit, Je T'aime. Sfar's Gainsbourg, a bio-pic of sorts, relies heavily on the audiences presumed knowledge of the subject (why else would he not include a timeline?) but I found myself enjoying this look at the life of a troubled artist regardless.
The film has been described as a 'fairytale' and it was supposedly Sfar's surreal treatment (he hails from animation) of the subject which apparently led the Gainsbourg estate, understandably protective of the man's reputation, to agree to be involved. Even more interestingly, Sfar had originally cast Charlotte Gainsbourg to play her father but for whatever reason, that experiment didn't play out.
Eric Elmosnino, who landed the role Serge Gainsbourg, does a fine job and closely resembles the man, big ears, shaggy appearance and all. Sfar subtly suggests that Gainsbourg was self conscious about his looks as a result of exposure to anti-Semitic propaganda as a child in Nazi-occupied Paris. The film's clever conceit is to have a larger-than-life puppet version of Gainsbourg, with enlarged features, accompany him throughout his life.
Ironically, while the puppet is 'ugly', he is the alter ego encouraging Gainsbourg to pursue his musical ambitions, be adventurous and take risks. Oh, and cheat on his wife and walkout on his children; the film doesn't skimp on the unappealing aspects of its central character, notably the womanising. Not that Gainsbourg's dalliances with Juliette Greco (Anna Mouglalis) and, more vivdly, with Brigitte Bardot (Laetitia Casta), are painted as anything less than fun.
But it's when he meets, falls for and marries Brit actress, Jane Berkin (Lucy Gordon), mother of Charlotte, that Gainsbourg enjoys both domestic stability and a creative flourish, including the recording of Je T'aime. A sad coda to the film is that Gordon committed suicide not long after the film completed production.
Fans and admirers of Serge Gainsbourg will know better than I if Gainsbourg does justice to both the man or the myth, filling in gaps and shedding light into hitherto unknown dark corners. But for the uninitiated like me, it's an enjoyable introduction. Tre bien.
By Guest Reviewer: A.J. Smith
Why have the Saw movies been popular enough to spawn six sequels, a frequency of one every year at Halloween? No, really, why? As an avid fan of horror movies, I was disappointed with the first movie’s lack of humour, but did appreciate the climactic twist just enough to convince me to cough up for the cost of a ticket for #2. But half way through was all I could last before one of only two walkouts in my cinema-going life.
It didn’t take me long to catch-up to the current state of affairs thanks to a brief re-cap at the beginning of Saw (VII) 3D before a gut-wrenching, publicly staged ‘trap’ starts the body count meter ticking. And sadly, the victims are little more than numbers we care little for them.
Jill (Betsy Russell), the wife of the original mastermind, Jigsaw /John (Tobin Bell), now deceased, is doing battle with Detective Hoffman (coldly played by Costas Mandylor). Hoffman has succeeded Jigsaw in devising and executing the gruesome traps and ‘games’, testing those deemed guilty of crimes against morality. The tension between the two adversaries is cast aside as Jill sits idly in police custody, allowing Hoffman to execute revenge on Bobby Dagen (Sean Patrick Flannery), a Jigsaw survivor cashing in on his notoriety.
The manner in which these two stories intertwine feels like an afterthought, as does the 3D. Although filmed in 3D, it looks post-converted with objects lacking volume and shape. At best you get body parts flying at your face, and, at worst, everything resembles a cardboard cut-out, as though in a pop-up book, though not one you’d give your children to read.
Director of Saw VI, Kevin Greutert returns, and reportedly only because Lionsgate exercised a clause in his contract to do so. He was set to helm the Paranormal Activity sequel when producers decided against David Hackl, director of the least profitable sequel, Saw V. That’s interesting given that Paranormal Activity 2 is at the other end of the horror spectrum, relying on characterisation and a spooky atmosphere to deliver subtle thrills that are just as effective, if not more so, than the over-the-top shocks of the Saw variety.
But the sadistic and inventive traps are the reason fans keep returning; devised to push ultra gore, while also giving us a chance to put ourselves in the place of the victims for a ‘what would I do in that situation?’ moment. The trap involving a fish hook, a key and some metal spikes activated by a decibel meter had me shrieking in amusement and repulsion. And the quality of the gore effects is impressive; only a couple of times did an effect look fake.
That’s quite an achievement for a film packed with so many grisly deaths, but repetitive flashbacks and a regurgitated plot will leave fans glad that this is (supposedly) Saw’s final entry. I can only recommend this to anyone who liked a previous instalment, or the horror movie completist.
Note: I have to give an extra special mention of Chad Donella, who plays Hoffman’s ex-police partner, Gibson. Every time he spoke the audience was cracking up and later cheering him on, as if to somehow encourage him to outdo himself. I believe that, in time, Donella’s hammy performance will alone garner a cult following, but heaven forbid, his own film!
Opens November 4
When a film's poster boasts that it's “Pretty In Pink meets Wolf Creek”, well, you've lost me at hello. I'm not good with horror to begin with (I'm a big wuss!) and Wolf Creek was a slain teen too far: I still shudder at the thought of it. I don't walk out of movies but I could have run (screaming) from that one.
Sean Byrne's The Loved Ones, while not as extreme as Wolf Creek, shares some similarities with that film, most notably the torture of teens. There's also that general sense of foreboding awaiting people who dare venture west of the Blue Mountains. I'm not sure where The Loved Ones is set specifically but it's country town Australia and like many an Oz film, something wicked this way comes from the bush.
Brent (Xavier Samuel), still emotionally and physically scarred by the car crash death of his father (the film's opener) six months earlier, is abducted only hours ahead of the school dance. His captor is Lola (Robin McLeavy), an odd fellow classmate who would appear to have a history of abducting local lads (her father willingly does her bidding) in pursuit of her 'prince'.
Brent (and the audience) endures all sorts of torture over the course of the evening, the inflictions growing ever crueller as Brent resists then disappoints Lola, just like every boy before him has: no boy could live up to her vision of the ideal man – daddy (John Brumpton) – which just adds a layer of ick to the already disturbing events.
Some may find Byrnes's film as sardonic as it is violent but I find torture as sport hard to take, even harder to laugh at. No doubt there's an audience for this type of film, and horror generally (the past two weekends at the US and Oz box office testify to that), but feel free not to invite me to the dance.
Proving to be the perfect storm – a top director in David Fincher, a skilled writer in Aaron Sorkin, and rich subject matter (the founding of and subsequent battle for a multi-billion dollar company) – The Social Network is, if not the perfect film, then perhaps the closest thing to it we are likely to see in 2010.
From the cracking opening scene, where Mark Zuckerberg (a never better Jesse Eisenberg) is dumped by his college girlfriend (Rooney Mara, the future Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), following a rapid fire volley of cross-talk and insults, we know we're in good hands.
Fincher and Sorkin use this imagined dumping in 2003 as the impetus for Zuckerberg's creation of the social networking website that would change the world. Thankfully we're spared from too much programming talk as the film flashes forward and back between the two lawsuits Zuckerberg is involved in, both with regards to who really created Facebook.
“If you were the inventors of facebook, you would have invented facebook!” Zuckerberg tells one set of detractors, the Aryan-like Winklevoss twins, Cameron and Tyler (both expertly played by Armie Hammer, a body double and some seamless technology). The twins row crew at Harvard and contend that the idea for Facebook was theirs.
The plaintiff in the other case is Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), Zuckerberg's onetime best bud and the guy who ponied up the dough in the early days of the Facebook enterprise in the dorms of Harvard. Saverin is smarting from his brutal removal from the company, instigated we're lead to believe, by Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), the creator of free music download site Napster. Parker seized on the potential of Facebook, encouraging (seducing, even) Zuckerberg to take it from a dorm room project to a billion dollar company.
Based on the Ben Mezrich book, The Accidental Billionares, Fincher and Sorkin have fashioned a wholly believable scenario of what may or may not have happened in the creation of Facebook and the subsequent legal battles. It's fiction so of course it's not entirely true, but it's one hell of a tale as told here.
Sorkin's writing, so good on TV's The West Wing, cracks and pops here and not just because it's spoken at 100 miles an hour. It's whip smart, pointed and full of quotable quotes. And Fincher, more noted as a visual and technical director, doesn't detract from those words. He gives them full credence whilst also utilising his own distinct style and examining themes his work often returns to: male relationships, power and, ultimately, human nature.
Real life fights for equality – racial, sexual, political – almost always make for stirring cinema, sometimes even truly powerful experiences. Whether Erin Brockovich taking on corporate America on behalf of the underdog or Harvey Milk seeking gay equality, the plight of one person to right the social wrongs is inherently dramatic.
Made In Dagenham, which leans more towards Steven Soderbergh's Erin Brockovich than Gus Van Sant's Milk, and mostly because of its female protagonist Rita O'Grady (Sally Hawkins), may be conventional but you'll be surprised by just how affecting this very British drama is.
In 1968, Dagenham, England is home to one of the largest European factories for the Ford motor company. A recent pay regrading has seen the female workers' status, the majority of them responsible for the sewing of car seat covers and internal linings, labelled unskilled and, essentially, deemed less than that of their male counterparts.
But it's the late '60s and while bra burning may not have found its way to Dagenham just yet, sexual inequality will no longer stand. Rita becomes the ladies' reluctant leader and what begins as a one-day strike soon escalates into an ongoing work stoppage. The menfolk, at first supportive and amused in equal measure, soon begin to take umbrage at their sisters as Ford commences with full-scale lay-offs ahead of a factory closure.
Director Nigel Cole (Calendar Girls) handles all of this in a very British way, never going for grandstanding effect but focusing on the day-to-day trials of Rita and her colleagues and the tensions in the home; even though both man and wife work, Rita is still expected to have all the housework done and dinner on the table every night. But crusaders have little time for domestic chores, and Sally Hawkins gives a spirited performance as Rita, a quiet woman who soon discovers her voice whilst fighting for something bigger than herself.
Good, too, are Bob Hoskins as the factory's union rep who encourages Rita every step of the way, and Miranda Richardson who, as the government's minister for work relations and sympathetic to the womens' cause, manages to stay this side of scene-chewing even as she regularly chews-out the ineffectual men in her office.
Rosemund Pike is also solid but, sadly, her character is underwritten. Further development at the expense of an unnecessary subplot involving a shell shocked husband (a touch of melodrama this rousing, true life tale doesn't require) would have helped. But thankfully the producers had enough intellect to change the title from the original, We Want Sex.
Tuesday, 19 October 2010
By Guest Reviewer A.J. Smith
The original Paranormal Activity was fresh, clever and scary, and was promoted via an ingenious viral campaign. Could a sequel live up to the hype and entertain in a similar fashion? The answer is, thankfully, yes.
Unless, of course, you saw the original and didn’t appreciate the slow burning tension while getting to know and care for the central characters, or found it lacking in gory thrills; this sequel, which follows much the same pattern, is not for you.
We left the first film asking what happened to Katie (Katie Featherston)? Where did she go? The events of the first film are tied into this sequel with such expertise and care that you feel you aren’t watching a rushed job, one eager to cash-in on the runaway success of the first.
Katie’s sister, Kristi, and her family are the victims of ‘bumps in the night’ this time round. They come home to find their house ransacked with no evidence of break-in or robbery which husband Dan responds to by installing an extensive system of security cameras (cleverly but plausibly giving the audience access to the entire home).
Dan is sceptical of both his daughter's (Ali) and housekeeper's (Martine) reports of unexplained noises and the presence of ‘something evil’. Martine is fired for trying to cleanse the house using incense and chants, while Ali is excited and amused at the spooky occurrences. But what secrets from her childhood is Kristi withholding, and what does the demon have in-store for her young son, Hunter? Finding out is a pleasure due to some very well fleshed-out performances from all the cast, including the protective family dog, Abby.
Witnessing the terror from the security camera footage, and Ali documenting with a handy-cam, adds a perverse voyeuristic quality which simultaneously leaves the audience feeling helpless. At the Friday night session I attended, the audience was screaming out for characters to ‘get out’, or ‘look behind you’ much more than a conventional horror film would evoke. The excellent sound design plays a pivotal role in this, delivering highly effective jolts.
Director of the first film, Oren Peli, serves as producer this time round with Tod Williams filling the director’s chair, providing the film with a more structured and polished look. Then again, that’s what a budget increase from $20,000 to $3 million will do for you. Perhaps some of the charm of the low budget first film is lacking, but you sense that Paramount knows it has a profitable franchise on its hands and isn’t about to take too many chances.
I enjoyed the experience, my only gripe: another case of the trailer containing scenes that aren’t in the final cut of the film. And that we are left once again asking ‘what did Katie do next?’
Icon Film Distribution
Following on from The A-Team, The Expendables and The Losers, three earlier 2010 movies about ragtag groups of retired black ops and secret agents re-banding to right some injustice and kick the asses of those who did them wrong, comes Red, a comparatively better executed take on a similar theme.
The main departure from those other three films is the almost literal use of the word retired when it comes to the casting for Red. Morgan Freeman, Brian Cox, John Malkovich and, most notably, Helen Mirren are not the first names that come to mind when you think action heroes. Retirees, yes; bad asses, not so much.
Bruce Willis, on the other hand, is an old hand at these action man shenanigans but when the film opens we find his Frank Moses, one-time CIA agent, already retired to the suburbs. He fills his days calling the pension office to flirt with the operator who mails his cheques, the ones he tears up and says never arrived as a pretense for calling.
The operator is Sarah (Mary Louise Parker). She likes the sound of Frank, and pretty soon she finds herself on the run with him, in various states of consciousness and bondage, when Frank is targeted for termination by his formers employees. That's when Frank gets the old gang back together again and Red (the title is an acronym for Retired and Extremely Dangerous), proves it's far more entertaining than those aforementioned three films combined.
Directed by Robert Schwentke (The Time Traveller's Wife) and adapted from a graphic novel, Red may not have as much wit as hoped for, but it is fun. How could a film where Helen Mirren uses a machine, amongst other weaponry, not be?
Thursday, 14 October 2010
If early buzz were a true indicator then three, possibly four, of the Best Actor spots have already been filled. But the Oscars are still a way off and anything can happen between now and then. For mine, these are the 10 with a real shot. (*seen)
COLIN FIRTH – THE KING'S SPEECH*
Receiving his first nom last year and losing means Firth is in a good position to score a 'make-up' Oscar. But his performance as King George VI is arguably the best of his career. His to lose.
JAMES FRANCO – 127 HOURS
Predominantly the only actor on screen, Franco has to carry Danny Boyle's film and by all accounts done so impressively. Think Tom Hanks in Castaway without a volleyball or the ability to move. The likely spoiler.
JESSE EISENBERG – THE SOCIAL NETWORK*
As the lead in a possible BP contender, Eisenberg is hard to ignore. He breaks out of his geek typecasting by playing one of the most recognisable geeks in the world.
RYAN GOSLING – BLUE VALENTINE
Received his first Oscar nom in 2006 (Half Nelson) so is on the Academy's radar and is said to excel in the role of a man who sees his marriage falling apart despite his best efforts.
JEFF BRIDGES – TRUE GRIT
Finally winning last year may hurt Bridges' chances some but on the flipside, the role of Rooster Cogburn, which won John Wayne his only Oscar, may also be hard to ignore.
ROBERT DUVALL – GET LOW
I had Duvall in my picks last year following the good word from the 09 Toronto Film Fest. But Get Low was released mid-2010 in the US to good reviews, and the veteran factor could see him sneak in.
JAVIER BARDEM – BIUTIFUL
The latest by Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu (Babel) received mixed reviews at Cannes but most agreed Javier Bardem was excellent. A Foreign Language Film nod (for Mexico) could help.
LEONARDO DICAPRIO – INCEPTION*/SHUTTER ISLAND*
While he gives a more demanding perf in Shutter Island, Inception is the most likely BP contender. Then again, The Departed won BP but DiCaprio was nominated that year for Blood Diamond.
MARK WAHLBERG – THE FIGHTER
Was the surprise acting nominee for The Departed and here, playing a down and out boxer on the comeback trail, could well find himself in the Oscars ring once more.
MICHAEL DOUGLAS – SOLITARY MAN*
Probably his best performance since 2000's WonderBoys (which he should have been nom'd for). Call me cynical, but undergoing treatment for cancer only adds to his appeal. But more likely to be nom'd for Support in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.
Sharmill Films/Jump Street Films
Opens October 21
Summer Coda is a film about loss, mourning, letting go and once more opening yourself up to the possibilities of life. They're profound subjects for any first time filmmaker to tackle which is why you can forgive writer-director Richard Gray for sometimes confusing his deliberately languid pacing for serious contemplation.
Heidi (Rachel Taylor) has flown back to Australia from Nevada to attend the funeral of her estranged father in rural Victoria. Her father, who imparted his love of music to her, left Heidi and her mother when she was just six; they soon left for the US and never saw him again. Understandably, Heidi has many unresolved issues.
So, too, does Michael (Alex Dimitriades), who offers the hitchhiking Heidi a ride. We don't learn what Michael's secret is until much later in the film when Heidi, having fallen out with her father's widow (Susie Porter), comes to stay with him on his orange grove. Here she picks fruit with a rag tag bunch of itinerant workers, including Angus Sampson and Nathan Phillips, who know about Michael's past. They're protective of their friend and employer, simultaneously hoping and fearing that Heidi could be the one to 'bring him back'.
Like any first time film, Summer Coda has its strengths and weaknesses. It could certainly do with some tightening; losing some 15 to 20 minutes would help. And a flashback revealing the source of Michael's pain also seems unnecessary. But the performances are good; Taylor's Heidi is prickly but not unlikeable while Dimitriades, who has always had a warm screen presence, allows that warmth to come through Michael's reserved facade.
Tuesday, 5 October 2010
Available now on DVD
One of the first questions I asked myself early on in Every Jack Has A Jill, the slight French romantic comedy, is why would a woman with a litany of quirks and phobias, including a fear of speaking on the telephone (she doesn't trust discombobulated voices), take so fondly to the clothes (smelling, rubbing on her face and wearing) of a stranger mistakenly delivered to her Parisian apartment?
The woman is Chloe (Melanie Laurent of Inglourious Basterds) and the suitcase belongs to Jack (Justin Bartha, The Rebound). Jack's luggage has gone AWOL while he is holidaying solo in Paris, having won a trip to the city of lights and being promptly dumped by his girlfriend on hearing the news; his suitcase somehow making its way to Chloe's.
Much like Sleepless In Seattle, the pair spend the majority of the film apart, their meet-cute delayed until well into the second act by which time Chloe has fallen in love with a man she's never met and Jack has had a horrendous time where, stuck in a hotel sans luggage, he conducts a Cold War with the sibling owner-managers stemming from his initial refusal to tip.
Quirky Paris it aims for but Amelie it is not. Writer-director Jennifer Devoldere's themes of fate, destiny and soul mates, as well as embracing life as it is, is not exactly profound and only intermittently comic or romantic. Still, Laurent and Bartha are both likeable and do well to overcome the 'crazy French' and 'ugly American' stereotypes they've been assigned in a refreshingly brief (80 mins) film.
Chloe could easily be surmised as Fatal Attraction with a Sapphic twist, though I doubt the prospect of girl-on-girl action is what drew Canadian auteur, Atom Egoyan, to remake the French film, Nathalie (2003), or direct a film he did not write; the screenplay here penned by Erin Cressida Wilson. Just as odd is the involvement of Ivan and Jason Reitman, fellow Canucks, as producers.
The “girls” in question are Catherine Stewart (Julianne Moore) and Chloe (Amanda Seyfried); the former a gynecologist who suspects her husband (Liam Neeson) may be cheating on her, the latter an escort whom the doctor hires as bait to tempt her husband in order to catch him out.
Of course, none of that plays out as it should with Chloe seeming to have her own agenda, which involves seducing the good lady doctor. Catherine succumbs but regrets it immediately, but hell hath no fury like a hooker with a mother complex; the third act descends into familiar 'if I can't have you no-one can' crazy jilted lover territory.
That said, both Julianne Moore and Amanda Seyfried are very watchable and not just when they're making out. Moore is one of those actresses I could watch in anything and it's often easy to forget just how good she is. Her serious but paranoid Catherine is completely unrecognisable from the ditzy but lovable half of a lesbian couple she played in this year's The Kids Are All Right.
And Seyfried, a young actress who seems to have appeared in every second film in the last few years (Mamma Mia!, Dear John, Letters To Juliet) gives, for mine, her most convincing performance yet as the alluring but unhinged siren; her large eyes and golden hair giving her an other worldly beauty which understandably draws Catherine in but should also start alarm bells ringing.
Never having seen the French film upon which it is based, I can't say whether Chloe is faithful to, worse than or an improvement upon its source material. But as a psycho-sexual thriller, it's mildly intriguing as opposed to provocative, neither stimulating the mind, or other body parts, as hoped given the talent involved.