Saturday, 24 September 2011


Icon Home Entertainment
Now available on DVD and Blu-ray

In 2010, the Australian government apologised to the 'forgotten generation': hundreds of thousands of men and women who, as children of post-World War II Britain, were shipped out to Australia to begin new lives under the "protection" of various Christian charities.

It was the early 1980s when this government sanctioned but clandestine mass migration of children was brought to the attention of British social worker Margaret Humphreys (Emily Watson). Humphreys discovered that these children, who had been made wards of the State, were told that their parents were dead or had abandoned them when they had not.

Travelling between England and Australia to help some of these now-adult children uncover their roots, Humphreys also learns that several of them had suffered a multitude of abuses, from neglect to rape, at the hands of their carers. Suddenly Humphreys' mission becomes not just about reconciliation but one of justice.

Director Jim Loach (son of esteemed director, Ken Loach) takes a rather prosaic approach to this material with Watson providing a strong anchor for the film, successfully avoiding the cliches and pitfalls of the 'crusading woman' film. But the film is not without emotion - how could it be? - provided by the stories of abuse of the children now recounted as men to Margaret.

Hugo Weaving is particularly impressive as a man who has been searching for his mother his entire life, and equally as good but not so easy to read is David Wenham's Len. Having survived his Christian Brothers upbringing and "repaying his debt" to them, Len engages in a somewhat antagonistic partnership with Humphreys to uncover his past and, in doing so, helps her come to terms with not only what she's uncovered but what she's achieved.

In what has been a solid year for Australian film, Oranges and Sunshine is, for mine, the second best local film of 2011; behind Snowtown and, yes, ahead of Red Dog.

Saturday, 17 September 2011


20th Century Fox Films
Now Showing

Three pretty, young things, European locales, mistaken identity and romantic misadventures: while the recipe for Monte Carlo isn't a particularly new or daring one, the results in Thomas Bezucha's film (produced by Nicole Kidman and Forest Whitaker) aren't as bland as you'd expect, and bound to sate the appetites of its intended teen girl audience.

Grace (Selena Gomez) is about to graduate from her Texan high school and embark on a much longed for life changing trip to Paris with gal pal, Emma (Katie Cassidy). But Grace's mum (Andie McDowell) puts the dampeners on when she insists Grace's older step-sister, Meg (Leighton Meester), accompany them.

What's worse, turns out the Paris holiday promised in the brochure isn't as magnifique as Grace had envisioned, with cramped accommodation and rushed bus and walking tours throughout the city; the one to the Eiffel Tower seeing our heroines left behind and caught in the rain.

And it's when the trio take refuge in the foyer of a luxury hotel that Grace is mistaken for British socialite and heiress, Cordeila Winthrop Scott (also Gomez). At first the girls, enticed by large lobster and a big bed, just crash in her suite for the night, before deciding that they'll take on the rest of the heiress's itinerary (Cordelia having abandoned her charity duties to chase the sun) and hop on over, all expenses paid, to Monte Carlo.

So ensues a series of dress ups, parties, and polo matches as Grace attempts, rather successfully, to pull the wool over the eyes of Europe's old and new money; the only one not convinced is Cordelia's aunt (Catherine Tate), who finds her niece to not be her usual mode of spoilt bitch. There's also a series of romantic misadventures for the young ladies, two with millionaires and one with a free-spirited Aussie backpacker (Luke Bracey).

It's all rather harmless and inoffensive, and a much more polished affair than that other recent 'girls abroad' film, Chalet Girl. But what Monte Carlo lacks is the spark of that film's leading lady, Felicity Jones; Gomez, Meester and Cassidy combined can't muster the verve of the pint-sized Brit.

All three hail from television (Gomez from the Disney Channel; Meester and Cassidy from Gossip Girl) and neither has much of a screen presence, although Meester bears a passing resemblance to a young Julianne Moore (she would do well to score a 'flashback' role in one of Ms. Moore's future prestige projects).

But I have a feeling the young, female target audience - know doubt more familiar with and admiring of the works of Mmes Gomez, Meester and Cassidy - will happily go along for the ride.

Friday, 9 September 2011


Walt Disney Studio Films
Now Showing

Much like family, you rarely get to choose who your neighbours are. Unfortunately for high school student, Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin), his new neighbour, Jerry (Colin Farrell), isn't so much a pain in the arse as a pain in the neck - literally.

Turns out Jerry is a vampire, which would explain the blacked out windows on his house and his only appearing after dark. It would also seem to validate the theory of Charley's one-time best friend, Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who has been mapping the recent spate of disappearances and murders in their outer Las Vegas suburb, placing Jerry's house at its epicentre.

Charley comes around to Ed's way of thinking a little too late and when he does, has the same trouble convincing his mum, Jane (Toni Collette), and girlfriend, Amy (the unfortunately named Imogen Poots), that Jerry is a member of the living dead. And why not? Farrell hasn't resonated this kind of sexy heat for some time. Fangs or no fangs, I'd be stopping by Jerry's for a cup of sugar.

Of course when Jerry, having tolerated Charley's accusations and intrusions with good humour long enough, decides to go on the defensive, all hell breaks loose and Charley and Amy go in search of the only person they think can help them: Peter Vincent (a scene-stealing David Tennant), a Las Vegas lounge act who smites sexy female vamps in his nightly stage show.

If all of this sounds familiar, that's because it is. Craig Gillespie's Fright Night (penned by Marti Noxon) is a remake of Tom Holland's 1985 horror-comedy of the same name (minus the 3D). The surprising thing is that, rather than ruining a classic, this '00s update very much keeps the spirit of the original intact, delighting in the humour and horror rather than desecrating the similarly themed source material.

A remake of an '80s film, in 3D, that works? Who'd a thunk it?! (Actually, the 3D makes the visuals a little too dark but never mind.) Fright Night 3D is good fun with Farrell, as the sexy vampire (his predecessor Chris Sarandon makes a cameo), and the leather pants-clad Tennant taking top honours. In fact, the one-time Time Lord seems to relish the absence of his Doctor Who PG rating, taking to swearing like an inebriated duck to water.

Horror fans and classicists may not be so easily sold on this remake (my viewing companion was hesitant to give the film a thumbs-up) but I was converted, or turned as the case may be. Fright Night 3D is proof that, if Hollywood must do remakes (and it seems they must), than they need not all be anaemically wit and style free.

*The original Fright Night, starring Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale and Roddy McDowall, has been released on DVD (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) to coincide with the cinema release of the remake. It's also a fun film, especially if approached with an '80s frame of mind, and a perfect excuse to revisit an old favourite or, like me, discover it for the first time.


Madman Films
Now Showing

Call it ironic or prescient but on my way to the screening of Page One, the documentary chronicling a year at The New York Times as it struggles to remain relevant and commercially viable in the new media world order, I discovered the closure of a(nother) bookstore.

The screening was being held at the Dendy Newtown, and whilst walking along King Street I realised that the Elizabeth's Secondhand Bookstore, which had been a Newtown fixture for as long as I could remember, had been replaced by a(nother) Pie Face franchise.

Not that disappearing bookstores are uncommon nowadays - sadly, it seems to be an all-too-frequent occurrence - but surely there is still a market, even as we venture further and further down the rabbit hole that is the digital age, for pre-loved books, no? Just as there is/should remain a market for print journalism.

Page One, directed by Andrew Rossi, concerns itself with The New York Times doing battle in a world which increasingly goes online for its news, and expects that news to be free. In 2009, in the wake of the global financial crisis and as other long established American newspapers folded, The NYT had to lay-off 100 workers.

Not that the doco depicts the internet as the big evil but its protagonists, namely columnist David Carr, argue rather convincingly that getting it right is far more important than being first. He also points out that even as the likes of Twitter and aggregated news sites become peoples' preferred daily news sources, without traditional media sources such as the NYT, a lot of these sites have nothing.

Twitter might be able to spread the word faster and more immediately than a paper which has to wait until the next day to drop, but the new media won't always have the depth of analysis, or even the professionalism of a broadsheet. And there remains a distinction, however increasingly small it is becoming, between fact and opinion.

Then there's Wikileaks, which fortuitously for Rossi and his team, made their mark during the filming of the doco by releasing hundreds of cables related to the United States' involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. WikiLeaks chose to share some of these cables with The New York Times and other respected international newspapers; an uneasy alliance for the team at the NYT news desk: are they part of the problem or the solution?

Page One should provide the same thrill for journalists and writers which The September Issue did for fashionistas. I enjoyed (much to my surprise) that latter documentary a lot - I'm not the least bit interested in fashion - but Page One is much more in my wheelhouse; I could watch a series on the day-to-day workings of The New York Times (here's looking at you ABC, SBS et al).

And give me David Carr over Anna Wintour any day. The direct, deceptively curmudgeonly but no doubt heartfelt Carr (think an older, emaciated Paul Giamatti) staunchly defends both the NYT and print journalism, challenging the rise of new media (though he does concede his respect for the reach an impact of Twitter) and exposing those who have wreaked havoc on his profession and its institutions from within, namely the financial powers-that-be at The Los Angeles Times.

2011 has been an exceptional year for documentaries, with plenty more still to come in the next three months. And Page One: A Year Inside The New York Times is one of the better ones, specially if you have the slightest interest in journalism, media or the printed word.


Transmission Films
Now Showing

*This interview with Alexandra Schepisi first appeared in the August 2011 issue of Cafe Society magazine.

“I thought it was going to be difficult to give him the same respect I would give other directors on set. I thought he would be really hard on me, too, and that I would have to shut up and just do what I was told,” says Alexandra Schepisi, recalling her preparation for her working relationship with the director of the new Australian film, The Eye of the Storm.

The director? Acclaimed Australian filmmaker, Fred Schepisi – Alexandra’s dad. Her fears proved unfounded. “He was enormously respectful and the relationship was entirely professional. I always made an effort to call him Fred on-set rather than Dad, just to separate the director from my father in my own mind. It was fantastic and quite an honour, actually. He is really a wonderful director.”

And Alexandra’s three big name co-stars – Geoffrey Rush, Judy Davis and Charlotte Rampling – weren’t as intimidating as she’d expected either, despite the initial trepidation. “I think I almost wet my pants at the first [script] read-through. I could barely read my script I was so over-awed with my company. It was incredible. But they were not intimidating at all on set; they were really respectful and relaxed and co-operative. We had a really beautiful ensemble working environment.”

“They were so much fun to work with and so extraordinarily good at what they do; hard working, dedicated and there were lively discussions that were ongoing throughout shooting for every scene,” Alexandra recalls. “We were always improving and finding more detail, and always sharing everything between us. It would have been very easy to be pushed out by these big stars but I wasn’t; they were very inclusive and embracing.”

In The Eye of the Storm, an adaptation of a Patrick White novel, Alexandra plays Flora, nurse to the ailing Elizabeth Hunter (Rampling), whose expatriate children, Basil and Dorothy (Rush and Davis), return to their Sydney home to say their goodbyes and, more importantly, claim their inheritance; Flora enjoying a brief affair with Basil.

“It’s a very complicated script full of extremely flawed, complex characters. And Flora was every bit as flawed and complicated as all the other characters,” Alexandra says. “It’s very easy to make them extremely unlikeable, because they are unlikeable a lot of the time, so I found that a very interesting challenge.”

And watching herself on-screen was another challenge entirely, Alexandra describing the experience as “horrible”. “I’ve seen it [the film] a few times now, so it’s getting easier. I can actually see the film now whereas I couldn’t see the film at all, I could just see all the bits and pieces, and all the machinations, and myself, and it just made me cringe. It’s excruciating watching yourself.”

Audiences will no doubt be more forgiving of Alexandra Schepisi’s performance when the The Eye of the Storm opens in cinemas September 15.

Monday, 5 September 2011


Icon Film Distribution
Now Showing

I'll admit I'm not overly familiar with the samurai film nor the works of Japanese director Takashi Miike, although enough to know that the the two are mutually exclusive. Miike's films, I understand, span several genres although more often than not, involve a violent element. And it goes without saying that in a samurai film titled 13 Assassins, there will be blood.

The story of 13 Assassins takes place in feudal Japan, and the first half is a stately, somewhat slow moving period drama though admittedly with the occasional violent flourish, beginning with the film's opening scene of a ritual suicide.

The evil Lord Naritisugu (Goro Inagaki) has literally cut a swathe through the villages (and villagers), killing and maiming with abandon and purely for sport. That's when retired samurai Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho) is called upon to put a halt to this villainy.

Shinzaemon assembles a team of samurai, the titular 13 Assassins - a Dirty (Baker's) Dozen if you will - charged with the mission of heading-off Naritisugu and his army at the foot of the mountains before they are able to pass through and on to safety.

It's here that Miike's film becomes a full-on actioner with this battle between good and evil taking up almost the entire second half of the film. And while not one for blood, I found these fight scenes refreshingly 'realistic', which is to say without the balletic and almost supernatural gravity defying sequences which have come to define Western-released martial arts films of the last decade, beginning with Ang Lee's Oscar-winning masterpiece, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. (And yes, I'm aware there is a difference between martial arts and samurai films.)

Similarly, and fittingly, 13 Assassins has a far more disciplined aesthetic than those other films; Miike opting for the period detail often found in the films of Japanese master, Akira Kurosawa, rather than the visually sumptuous extravaganzas of Zhang Yimou, such as House of Flying Daggers and Hero.

That is until Miike lets the blood run free and red becomes the film's primary colour. I don't know if 13 Assassins is a poor, good or great example of a samurai (or Miike) film, but I do know that I enjoyed it.

Sunday, 4 September 2011


Madman Films
Now Showing

The coming-of-age/rites-of-passage story is almost as old as storytelling itself. Subsequently, there's not a lot that hasn't been covered thematically in either literature or film, and possibly nothing approaching the excellence of J.D. Salinger's 1951* novel, The Catcher In The Rye.

But what Submarine - the directorial debut of actor Richard Ayoade (he plays Moss on TV's The IT Crowd), which he adapted from the novel by Joe Dunthorne - has in its favour is a fresh and funny voice: that of 15-year-old Oliver Tate. The film's mid-1980s, Welsh setting isn't particularly cliche, either.

Oliver (Craig Roberts) gives a copy of Salinger's book (along with some other approved reading) to his new girlfriend, Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Paige), so they'll have some shared interests other than their penchant for light arson. Not that two-way communication will be a mainstay of this high school romance, for much like Rye's protagonist, Holden Caulfield - and adolescents generally - Oliver, for all his articulate voice over narration, isn't so much self possessed as self obsessed.

Jordana might be his first girlfriend but Oliver's more preoccupied with what's happening in his world (the marriage of his parents, Jill and Lloyd, may be on the verge of collapse) than hers (her mother has a life threatening brain tumour).

Things have been cooling between Jill (Sally Hawkins) and Lloyd (Noah Taylor) Tate for some time (Oliver keeps a record on their lovemaking by checking the setting on their bedroom light dimmer switch) but the arrival next door of an old flame of Oliver's mum sets off all kinds of alarms for our narrator.

No matter that Graham T. Purvis (Paddy Considine) is a long-haired, leather pants wearing quasi spiritual guru and as sexy as, well, that description implies. Then again, compared to Oliver's bordering-on-depression and prone-to-working-from-home-in-pyjamas marine biologist dad, Graham must seem like a Casanova - or a wolf - to an insecure teenager whose home, and thus world, is under threat.

Considine's Purvis may be borderline caricature but it doesn't necessarily jar with the rest of Submarine's comic tone, which is set from the beginning by the very distinct voice of Oliver Tait. And Craig Roberts gives a terrific performance in his first major film role. Jasmin Paige is excellent, too, as the 'treat 'em mean keep 'em keen' Jordana, while Hawkins and Taylor are pitch perfect as Oliver's parents.

It's an impressive debut by Ayoade, who has admitted to being influenced by the works of French directors Truffaut and Rohmer, and using natural light where possible (thanks to cinematographer Erik Wilson), to give Submarine its distinctive feel, look and its sense of 'timelessness': while set in the mid 1980s (Oliver's parents go on a double date with Graham and his girlfriend to see Crocodile Dundee), the story could just as easily be taking place in the 1960s.

And the only songs in the film are originals written and performed by the Arctic Monkeys' Alex Turner; Ayoade being a long time collaborator with the band, shooting some of their video clips and the concert film, Arctic Monkeys at the Apollo.

The Catcher In The Rye it may not be but in the absence of a film version of Salinger's novel (and long may that be the case), Submarine is a perfectly engaging tale of adolescence, fresh and funny. It also announces the arrival in filmmaking of a similarly styled voice in Richard Ayoade.

*Salinger first published The Catcher In The Rye in serial form in 1945-6 (for all the pedantics out there!).