Sunday, 29 April 2012


Sydney Film Festival
June 6-17

Coffee, pastries and movies: what better way to start a sunny autumn morning in Sydney? The coffee and pastries were part of the morning tea provided for the announcement of the 2012 Sydney Film Festival line-up this morning at Customs House. And what a line-up it is.

Earlier last month it was announced that Barbara (Germany), Beauty (South Africa), Tabu (Portugal, top left), Oscar nominee Monsieur Lazhar (Canada), and Sundance prizewinner, Beasts of the Southern Wild (U.S. top right), would all feature as part of the 2012 line-up. And based on word of mouth alone, I'd recommend adding those titles to your SFF 'must-see' list if you haven't already.

Now add to that Cannes 2012 opener, Moonrise Kingdom (from U.S. writer-director, Wes Anderson), Berlin 2012 prizewinner, Caesar Must Die (bottom left), Jeff Who Lives At Home (from the Duplass brothers), Miss Bala (Mexico), Michael Haneke's Cannes entry, Amour, Walter Salles' adaptation of the Jack Kerouac classic, On The Road (bottom right), starring Kristen Stewart, and Australian films, Dead Europe, and Lore.

The Festival, under new director Nashen Moodley, also features a focus on the films of the subcontinent (Focus on India), Aboriginal themed films (Blackfella Films), and a retrospective of Italian director, Bernardo Bertolucci, including screenings of classics The Last Emperor and Last Tango in Paris.

While there are plenty of films which will receive a general release in Australian cinemas -- Beasts, Lazhar, On The Road, Moonrise Kingdom, Takashi Miike's latest, Hara Kiri, Andrea Arnold's revisionist Wuthering Heights, and opening night film, Not Suitable For Children (from Australia, and starring Ryan Kwanten) -- if you can't wait until September (at the latest), well, why should you?

And in the case of Once Upon A Time in Anatolia, unless you live in Melbourne, this may well be your only chance to see the film in a cinema.

But you'll find yourself rewarded if you venture of the beaten track, and checkout films you've never heard of, from countries you wouldn't have thought of catching a movie from. Documentaries and short films also feature prominently in the Festival, which is held in various venues throughout the city.

Going to this year's Sydney Film Festival? Let me know what you plan on seeing? Or even ask for suggestions on what to see. I'll happily recommend something to see (MUST: Beasts of the Southern Wild).


Icon Film Distribution
Now Showing

Safe is not just the title of the new Jason Statham action vehicle -- whereby a former secret agent fallen on hard times must redeem himself by saving the life of a young girl -- but pretty much sums up the treatment by writer-director, Boaz Yakin.

While not entirely predictable, Safe is an uninspired action film which features more fire power than fisticuffs as Luke Wright (Statham) sets about rescuing young Mei (Catherine Chan) from both the Chinese Triad and a group of New York Russian mobsters.

The Triad, who have held Mei for more than a year after discovering her mathematical and memory retention skills in Beijing, use her as a human calculator; dispensing with a paper trail by committing all of their illegal business dealings to the 11-year-old's memory.

That's where Triad leader, Han Jiao (James Hong, a.k.a Kung Fu Panda's dad), places the combination to a safe containing $30 million in cash. And that's what the Russians want, staging a brazen kidnapping in downtown New York.

Certain sections of the NYPD also want the girl -- or rather, what she can lead them to -- and when they come calling on the Russians, Mei manages to escape. It's here, hiding on a subway platform, that she comes to the attention of Wright, who's about to throw himself under a train.

Wright, turned-on by his former NYPD partners for turning informant, and having his life made a living hell by the same Russian mobsters chasing Mei -- they killed his wife when he failed to take a previously arranged dive in a cage fight (his post-police career) -- has had his life reduced to vagrancy.

Wright doesn't have a lot to live for but Mei may well be his redemption -- if he can keep her, you know, safe.

Child-in-danger movies are nothing new, and sadly, Safe brings nothing new to the genre. Chan makes Mei a strong-willed young girl but the relationship between her and Wright is never fully developed. He's neither fatherly nor a mentor to the youngster; not quite Bruce Willis in Mercury Rising (1998), or Jean Reno's Leon in The Professional (1994), although Safe is much closer to the former than the latter in quality.

But Jason Statham is no Bruce Willis. The one-time British Olympic diver who made his film debut in Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), has neither the charisma or the acting chops (never thought I'd write that!) of the Die Hard hero.

Like Liam Neeson in Taken, Statham has a very particular set of skills and they're very limited. Statham's fans may be sated by Safe, but more discerning action fans should play it safe and look elsewhere.


Hoyts Distribution
Now Showing

As far as high concept films go, the idea of Nazis on the moon sounds like it should be a blast, well, at least a hoot. And if you happen to see Finnish director Timo Vuorensola's Iron Sky with the right audience, it could be.

A playful satire of right wing politics which swings unevenly between dead-on and too broad, Iron Sky is set in 2018, where Nazis have colonized the dark side of the moon. The Germans have actually been lunar-located since the latter stages of World War II, biding their time and awaiting a glorious return to Earth to establish the Fourth Reich.

Those plans are hastily brought forward with their discovery by two U.S. astronauts, one of which they take back to headquarters and who, much to everyone's Aryan surprise, turns out to be black.

James Washington (Christopher Kirby) is actually a male model, chosen for his good looks and dark complexion as part of a PR exercise to kick-start the re-election campaign of the current Palin-esque U.S. President (Stephanie Paul, who's no Tina Fey).

The Nazis are fascinated with the Earthling -- a computer the size of pack of cigarettes? -- none more so than Renate Richter (Julia Dietze), resident school teacher and Earthologist, whose knowledge of the Third Reich's history is somewhat spotty; she believes the Nazis are a peace-loving people, and Charlie Chaplin's The Dictator is a short film praising the good works of Hitler (the film's best joke).

But when she stows away on future Fuhrer (and husband), Klaus Adler's fact finding mission to Earth, accompanied by the now albino-ized Washington, Renate eventually has her eyes opened to the true nature of her people.

But not before Adler (Gotz Otto) is embraced by the U.S. President as a key to her re-election strategy, and literally embraced by presidential campaign manager, Vivian Wagner (Peta Sergeant). But before long, intergalactic relations sour and it's rocket ships at the ready as the U.S and the Nazis go to war -- again.

The swastika hasn't been used this prominently in film since Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds (2009), or with such reckless abandon and gleeful disrespect for the Third Reich since Mel Brooks' The Producers. Not that Iron Sky is as entertaining as either of those films; it's not even in the same galaxy, quality-wise.

Still, the film looks great. The visual effects, and particularly the models of moon bases and spacecrafts are impressive. The film recalls Star Wars in look and has a deliberate nod to John Williams' score; Ride of the Valkyries also gets a good run (you can't have Nazis without Wagner).

If only Vuorensola, and screenwriter Michael Kalesniko (working from an original idea by Johanna Sinisalo and Jarmo Puskala), had paid as much attention to honing the screenplay, sharpening the satire and finessing the performances, then Iron Sky may have hit more targets than its scatter shot approach allows for.


Madman Films
Now Showing

We were assigned to read Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'urbervilles in high school, and while I certainly remember beginning the book, I don't recall finishing it. Apologies to Mr. Hardy, my more literary-minded readers, and my Year 11 English teacher.

My only experience with Hardy since then has been in film and television, most notably Jude (1996), director Michael Winerbottom's adaptation of Jude The Obscure, as memorable for featuring a full frontal nude Kate Winslet as it was for Rachael Griffiths' slaughtering of a pig.

Winterbottom returns once more to Hardy with Trishna, a sub-continental re-imagining of Tess of the D'Urbervilles set it in modern India. And while it may be the director's third Hardy adaptation (after 2000's The Claim), he continues his trend of never repeating himself; Trishna is as different to any Hardy adaptation as it is to Winterbottom's previous films, The Trip (2011) and The Killer Inside Me (2010).

Trishna (Freida Pinto) is a poor young woman in Rajasthan, supporting her family as a servant in a hotel when she catches the eye of Jay (Riz Ahmed). A handsome and charming England born-and-raised Indian, Jay's on a boys-only holiday with mates before taking up a managerial post in one of his father's Indian hotels.

Jay arranges to have Trishna come work for him, and it's the beginning of her downfall (Hardy loves a tragic heroine). Fleeing the hotel after Jay's affections finally take physical form, Trishna returns to her family, but after she brings shame to her father's household, Trishna is sent away to look after an ailing aunt.

That's where Jay discovers her and whisks her away to Mumbai, dazzling the country mouse with beaches and night clubs, dance classes and film sets, and a world of possibilities Trishna could only ever have dreamed of.

But then Jay is called home to England, and Trishna is seemingly abandoned. His return, which sees both relocating to Rajasthan and Trishna returning to a servant's uniform, witnesses a marked change in Jay's behaviour and sets in motion the tragic end to their always ill-fated romance.

India makes for an ideal setting for a Hardy tragedy given that it's a country where women remain at the mercy of the dictates of both men and tradition. Trishna herself seems like a rather passive heroine but that passivity is culturally ingrained, and Pinto's performance (granted she's not a great actress) perfectly captures that 'between-a-rock-and-hard-place' resignation and the believability of her actions.

And while Trishna's final, desperate actions may go some way to evening the ledger in favour of women following their mistreatment at the hands of men in The Killer Inside Me, that's not the point of the film: it's a good old fashioned Hardy tragedy, regardless of the setting.

Winterbottom's adaptation may be far from perfect -- the set-up is over long and the middle section of the film, despite being in the midst of the vibrant Mumbai, is rather inert -- but Trishna is an oddly beguiling film. And it's final moments make it both hard to ignore or shake.

Saturday, 28 April 2012


Palace Films
Now Showing

Hell is often depicted as fire and brimstone; an inferno of flames to torture the soul. For me, Hell would be cold: freezing temperatures, driving winds and snow, lots of snow. Indeed, not unlike the landscape of Bastoy Island; a rocky isle off the coast of Norway where ‘maladjusted’ boys were once sent to repent for their crimes, and by all accounts an actual Hell on Earth.

That’s where, in 1915, 17-year-old former harpooner, Erling, (Benjamin Helstad), finds himself after committing (we’re lead to believe) murder but who is spared prison because of his youth.

He’s dubbed C19 upon arrival (the boys, aged 11 to 18, are assigned numbers in place of names) and immediately forced into the Bastoy way of life: head shaved, uniform issued; manual labour, slops for dinner, and plenty of corporal punishment. Spare the rod, spoil the child. 

That’s the Christian way, or at least it is under the rule of the Governor (Stellan Skarsgard), a man who believes punishment should be compassionate lest it be deemed cruel.

But he’s also one to turn a blind eye to the transgressions of his employees, in particular Brathen (Kristoffer Joner), whose attention to C5 (Magnus Langlete), a slow-witted boy who arrives with C19, is less than scholarly.

This hypocrisy, coupled with C19’s desire to escape, and the admiration he inspires in his fellow Bastoy boys -- particularly C1 (Trond Nilssen), a six-year inmate imprisoned for stealing from the church money box, aged 11, and about to be released for good behaviour -- brings life on the island to a head. It’s not too long before the boys are revolting. 

Based on a true story, Marius Holt’s film is a powerful indictment, not so much of religion but the abuse of power in the name of God. It's also an examination of the corruptive influence of unchallenged power, for Bastoy was, literally, an island unto itself.

The 1915 incident marked only the second time in Norway’s history that the nation’s army was turned on its citizens. Sadly the film (beautifully shot by John Andreas Andersen but in no way detracting from the harshness of the environment, physical and emotional) doesn’t feature a coda at the end detailing the events and what happened to Bastoy Island afterwards, or if any of those people depicted are real, composites or fictional constructs. 

Still, one can’t help but be moved by the ordeal of the boys or fail to sympathise with their actions. And while the film focusses primarily on C19 and C1 – the pair experiencing a rocky relationship throughout which is beautifully handled – we come to recognise their fellow boys: the bully who becomes an ally, the boy with the rabbit, the chubby-faced youngster willing to take up arms. 

King of Devil’s Island is a stark reminder of times and ways passed but which could just as easily happen again (or be happening now). It's also a reminder that Hell is so often a prison of earthly creation.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012


Icon Home Entertainment
Available now on DVD and Blu-ray

Using the tenets of the French revolution -- liberty, equality, fraternity -- and resultant tri-colour flag, Krysztof Kieslowski's Three Colours Trilogy further explores one of the Polish writer-director's favourite themes: human inter-connectedness in a haphazard world.

Each film is designated a city (Paris, Prague, Geneva), a protagonsist, and a predominant colour scheme in keeping with its tenet, and the director's unique interpretation on said theme.

Blue (liberty) stars Juliette Binoche as Julie, a woman mourning the loss of her husband and daughter following a car accident in the film's opening moments. Grief is a personal and individual process, and Julie chooses to do so by cutting ties with her past; selling her home, her furniture -- her memories -- and moving into a Paris apartment where she knows no one and vice versa.

But Julie is haunted by the music of her late composer husband, who was working on a symphony to celebrate the impending unification of Europe. Julie's 'liberty' will come from not letting go of the past so much as letting go of her refusal to grieve; embracing both the past and her life ahead. And Binoche is, of course, radiant in the role.

Often considered the lesser of the three films (the overlooked middle child, if you will), White (equality) takes place for the most part in a cold, wintry Poland, where Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) has returned following a failed marriage to Parisian beauty, Dominique (Julie Delpy).

She divorces him following his inability to consummate the marriage, but Karol determines to get even (equal), becoming a successful businessman in his homeland, and setting Dominique up for a fall. White, ironically, is a black comedy and Zamachowski makes for an impressively everyman hero. And Delpy, while only in a supporting role, still registers as a believable object of affection.

Red (fraternity) is the final and, arguably, best film in the trilogy. Valentine (Irene Jacob, from Kieslowski's The Double Life of Veronique (1991)) is a model living and working in Geneva, Switzerland. She has a long distance lover and a troubled younger brother, but it's after hitting a dog with her car that she finds a much needed distraction.

The dog belongs to a retired judge (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who spies on his neighbours, listening in on their phone conversations; not for titillation or the purposes of blackmail but to feed his own cynicism.

The judge wants to believe that people are inherently weak and prone to be bad, but Valentine, simultaneously repulsed and intrigued by the judge's actions, also senses a lonely, kindred spirit. Valentine's relationship with the judge influences her immediate future and also brings a surprising close to the trilogy. (Note: Red must be watched last in order for the film's closing scene to have any impact.)

Red earned two posthumous Oscar nominations for Kieslowski (Original Screenplay with trilogy co-scriptor, Krysztof Piesiewicz, and Best Director), the director sadly dying not long after completing Red.

He may have lost out (understandably) to Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction) for Screenplay, and (surprisingly) Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump) for Direction, but Red was, and remains, the perfect way to cap Krysztof Kielsowski's cinematic oeuvre.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012


Walt Disney Studios Films
Now Showing

Don't get me wrong, people, I really enjoyed The Avengers; I rather quite liked it. Granted, not as much Iron Man or Captain America, but equally as much if not more so than Thor, and definitely much more than Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk.

But in the wake of the tidal wave of gush for Joss Whedon's superhero blockbuster based on the Marvel comic books, I've decided rather than write another positive review for the film, I'd stem some of that gush -– let some air out of the tyres, so to speak –- by countering with some of the quibbles I had with The Avengers.

Warning: this post does contain spoilers, so if you have yet to see The Avengers, particularly my North American readers, then I'd suggest you read no further.

Subtitles required: No, not in the scenes where Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is being tortured by Russian weapons dealers but in the film's opening sequence. I couldn't understand a word the bad guys – Chitauri? Loki? Bane? – were saying. Auto-tuned much?

Speaking of Black Widow, her two major fight scenes -- the first with the Russians, the second with Hawkeye -- are edited in such a way that you really don't see what's happening. Not quite Bourne-style editing but frustrating just the same.

The set-up takes far too long. Granted Whedon has to establish all four characters but given that each has had their own film (or two), there's no need to spend that much time on it. And if you haven't seen the preceding Marvel films, why would you want to see The Avengers?

Captain America: I really enjoyed the 2011 film and the character of Captain America, but he seemed to be a bit of a soft cock in this film. Maybe that's what 70 years on ice (literally, not the drug) will do to you. And his line that there is 'only one god' seriously rubbed me the wrong way.

The Hulk's invincible now? Unless I missed something in the previous attempts at a Hulk film, I wasn't aware that the giant green guy with anger management issues couldn't be killed. So if that nuclear missile took out Manhattan, Hulk would be the only thing left standing? (P.S. I loved the Hulk in The Avengers; he gets the film's two best and biggest laughs.)

The Chitauri: when the alien race invades Earth (well, Manhattan) in the film's battle-packed final third, the action is somewhat undermined by the Chitauri bearing a striking resemblance to Spider-man villain, the Green Goblin, or, to be even meaner, the rubbery monsters from TV's Power Rangers.

Um, guys, why not just kill Loki? Too easy? Ruins Marvel's plans for Thor 2? I'm pretty sure Asgard has not signed the Geneva Convention with regards to the treatment of prisoners so there's no reason why the Avengers couldn't just kill the demi-god psychopath. Nothing personal, Mr. Hiddleston.

Like I said, these are minor quibbles and more to keep the gushing in check. I'd highly recommend you see The Avengers on the big screen (though not in 3D, there's no need despite the very good post-conversion), and not just if you're a Marvel fan.

It's smart, fun, blockbuster filmmaking which unlike, say, the recent Battleship, doesn't insult or assault you in the name of entertainment.


Hopscotch Films
Now Showing

When four relatively young Aussies venture to Cambodia for a south-east Asian holiday, hedonism is a given. But party in haste, repent at leisure, and so it is when only three of them return.

What happened to the fourth member of their party on that final fateful night is teased out over the course of the thriller/domestic drama, Wish You Were Here, the directorial debut of Australian actor, Kieran Darcy-Smith.

The Flannerys, Dave (Joel Edgerton) and Alice (Felicity Price), are a middle class couple from Sydney's eastern suburbs, who live just a stone's throw from the beach with their two young children and a third on the way. He makes boats and she teaches English as a second language; life for the Flannerys is typical yet fairly ideal.

But when Alice's younger sister, Steph (Teresa Palmer), invites them along on holiday with her new boyfriend, Jeremy (Antony Starr), a good looking guy with business interests in south east Asia, it marks the beginning of the end of that suburban idyll.

Drinking and drug-taking ensues while overseas and on the night before they are due to return to Australia, Jeremy disappears. A result of a drug overdose? An accident while swimming? Or perhaps it had something to do with his business dealings?

Darcy-Smith's film, co-written with partner Felicity Price, flashes back and forth between the events in Cambodia -- never revealing what happened to Jeremy until well into the third act -- and the slow but damaging fallout from those events for the three who return to their Sydney seaside suburb and try, miserably, to resume life as normal.

Guilt, paranoia and one big revelation sees the Flannerys' marriage begin to splinter, sending Alice in search of answers (often at the bottom of a wine glass) as Dave goes silent, retreating deeper and deeper inside himself. He's not too keen to go to the Federal Police either, perhaps because of the dark-windowed vehicle that appears to be shadowing him?

Some have made comparisons between Wish You Were Here and the earlier 2012 release, Martha Marcy May Marlene, and that's understandable, certainly from a structural point of view.

But where Sean Durkin's film, also a debut effort, was able to create a pervasive sense of dread, Darcy-Smith is unable to infuse his film with that same level of suspense. And the truth when it is revealed, is neither as shocking nor satisfying as the slow build-up has us expecting.

Still, Wish You Were here is a solid directorial debut for Darcy-Smith, and a satisfying enough drama which local audiences should gravitate towards, aided significantly by the involvement of Darcy-Smith's long time friend and colleague, Joel Edgerton (Edgerton's Blue-Tongue Films produced the film).

Edgerton, whose career is very much on the rise, brings some much needed box office clout to this local production (although not the same dramatic heft as he did in last year's Warrior, it must be said). His presence, and the relatively warm response to the film at this year's Sundance Film Festival, should ensure that less wishing than usual is required by local distributors when it comes to getting bums on seats for an Australian film.

Sunday, 15 April 2012


Icon Film Distribution
Now Showing

When a film rests so heavily on a 'big reveal', it is hard to discuss that film without unintentionally – or intentionally, such is the wont of some reviewers – spoiling that reveal. So it is with Cafe de Flore, the new kaleidoscopically structured, parallel narrative feature by French-Canadian writer-director, Jean-Marc Vallee.

Set in modern day Montreal and late 1960s Paris, Cafe de Flore tells the story of seemingly unconnected lives whose connection, of course, cannot be revealed here, suffice to say the third act reveal will leave you either floored or disappointed.

And while I originally felt the latter, having being teased and intrigued throughout, a second viewing – perhaps I wasn't paying close enough attention the first time? – with that twist already known, left me admiring Vallee's treatment and intent, if not completely satisfied with the explanation.

In 2011, Antoine (Kevin Parent) is about to turn 40, and he's happier than he's ever been. A successful club DJ travelling Canada and the world, Antoine has two daughters and a new, younger wife, Rose (the Julie Delpy-esque, Evelyn Brochu).

His ex-wife, and mother of his daughters, Caroline (Helene Florent), isn't in such a happy place. Antoine is the only man she has ever known and loved – the film flashes back to their teen romance – and she believes he'll return to her, they're soulmates after all. Aren't they?

Caroline has also been experiencing bouts of sleepwalking and strange dreams about a little monster. A result of the occasional joint before bed, or a symptom of something deeper?

In the film's parallel Paris-set narrative, Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis) is raising her young son, Laurent (Marin Gerrier), on her own; her husband abandoning the pair not long after the boy's birth and the discovery of his Down Syndrome.

Jacqueline is a lioness of a mother, doing all in her power to ensure her son has the best possible future, one which she hopes will exceed the medically predicted life expectancy of 25.

Paradis and Gerrier beautifully portray this mother-son relationship – walks to and from school, songs on the swing, the constant playing of Laurent's favourite record, Cafe de Flore – which comes under threat with the arrival of Veronique (Alice Dubois).

Veronique also has Down Syndrome, and the two children become fast friends when she enrolls in Laurent's school. Suddenly there is another woman in the young man's life, and Jacqueline is no longer the centre of her little man's world. Strangely, Jacqueline's reaction is less than supportive.

Music is an integral part of the film, just as it is in life -- it's the basis of Antoine's profession; it's what placates Laurent -- and the Cafe de Flore instrumental track, which weaves its way through Vallee's film, is essential to the story on several levels. But I'll say no more on that.

What I enjoyed most about Cafe de Flore, other than the audacity of the film's frenetic first act, were the smaller, more human moments: the eldest daughter's silent dislike of her father's new bride; the best friend of the wronged wife who hates Antoine more than Caroline does; the father-in-law who is visibly upset that Caroline is no longer his son's wife.

It is these moments which stay with me, and allow me to embrace and recommend Cafe de Flore. That third act reveal still didn't work for me second time around, but the emotions -- rather than the mystery -- did.

Saturday, 14 April 2012


Roadshow Films
Now Showing

If you thought that a film about a woman who spends the better part of two decades under house arrest would have limited dramatic appeal, then you thought right.

For although focussing on Aung San Suu Kyi, the inspirational and courageous leader of Burma's democracy movement, The Lady does a disservice to both its subject and the audience by being uninspired and inert.

Admittedly, French director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element) seemed like an odd fit for this material from the outset, but most of the problems with this stodgy biopic lie in Rebecca Frayn's screenplay. Frayn hails from a background of writing for television which explains the simplistic and often obvious treatment of both characters and events in The Lady.

Of course, the subject herself has to carry some of the blame. Aung San Suu Kyi (played by Michelle Yeoh) is regarded as a living saint, having won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. And therein lies the problem: people don't get to be saints by living colourful, exciting or edgy lives: inspirational doesn't always make for interesting.

Suu Kyi was a London housewife, married to academic Michael Aris (a rumpled David Thewlis), and a mother of two teenage boys, before she returned to her native Burma in the late 1980s; visiting her ailing mother and inadvertently becoming the country's choice as leader for a democratic future (Suu Kyi's father having led Burma to independence from British rule, in 1947, before he was murdered in a military coup that same year).

Naturally, the military rulers of Burma (depicted as either bullies or buffoons throughout), weren't so welcoming of this woman, and after failing to dissuade Suu Kyi from her political aspirations, tried breaking her spirit by preventing her husband and children from entering Burma, and curbing her political influence by placing her under house arrest.

Suu Kyi still managed to win the 1990 general elections, and by a landslide, but that was just the beginning of hers, her family's, and her peoples' woes.

The Lady is more hagiography than biography, making the recent Maggie Thatcher biopic, The Iron Lady, look positively hard hitting by comparison. And as aesthetically appropriate as Yeoh is for the role (the film was a passion project for the actress, who learnt to speak Burmese), she's no Meryl Streep; doing little more than acting graceful and dignified. We don't really get to know what makes the heart of this doubtless passionate woman beat.

It's not until the final 15 minutes of the film, with Suu Kyi imprisoned in Burma and her husband dying of prostate cancer in London, that the film finally breaks through its respectful, lifeless facade to give us some real emotion. It's a shame Frayn's screenplay, and Besson's direction couldn't have started at that level and maintained it throughout.

With Aung San Suu Kyi's party winning the most recent by-elections in Burma, now is the perfect time for a film about the lady. But The Lady is not the film which people, with a desire to learn more about Suu Kyi and the Burmese democracy movement, or Aung San Suu Kyi herself deserves.

As it is, The Lady, like Burma's previous attempts at achieving a democratic government, is a slow moving, well-intentioned failure.


Warner Bros.
Now Showing

Arguably, the worst sin any film can commit is to be boring; dull, uninteresting, snooze-inducing. Plenty of films are predictable, and fewer and fewer are original, but so long as they are engaging (or attempt to be) than predictability can be overlooked.

The Lucky One is based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks, a one-man money-making machine whose raison d'etre is love stories; predictable, tear-wringing love stories. The outcome of these romances (which include the films A Walk To Remember (2002) and The Notebook (2004)) are almost never in doubt, and so it is with The Lucky One.

But it's the getting there in Scott Hicks' film, adapted by Will Fetter, which is the problem: the film, the story, the characters and the execution are all deadly dull. I complained earlier this year that The Vow, starring Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum, was a romantic drama which was lacking in both those descriptors; comparatively, The Lucky One makes The Vow look like The English Patient.

Opening in Iraq, US Marine, Logan (Zac Efron), is undertaking his third tour of duty when he survives a bomb blast just moments are finding a photo of a woman, inscribed 'stay safe', amidst the rubble of a raid carried out the night before.

Logan assumes his survival was a result of the photo, a good luck charm which is ironic since a lot of people end up dead around Logan; he survives another attack mid-flight before he's shipped home.

Those scenes in Iraq aren't quite Hurt Locker-calibre but they're as energetic and lively as The Lucky One gets. Upon returning to the US, Logan goes in search of the woman in the photo, and it's a downhill run to schmaltz and boredom from then on in.

The woman is Beth (Taylor Schilling), a divorced single mum operating a boarding kennel with her grandmother, Ellie (Blythe Danner), and her young son, Ben (Riley Thomas Stewart), in North Carolina. Logan arrives and accepts employment as a kennel hand (the next 15 minutes of the film is a series of musical montages best described as 'music to walk dogs to'), unable to explain his mission to find and thank her.

Of course the battle weary Logan and the battle-scarred Beth (her brother was killed in action in Iraq but the US military has been unable to explain how) will fall into each others' arms, no spoilers there. The only obstacle to their love: Logan's reason for being there, and Beth's ex-husband, Keith (Jay R. Ferguson).

Keith, apart from being the town sheriff, is also a jealous son of a bitch with anger management issues and an inability to let go and move on. He's not about to let some blow-in come to town and make his ex-wife and young son happy, logic be damned. The character of Keith is so wicked that [Spoiler Alert] a (cubby)house literally falls on him. Ding dong, indeed.

The most disappointing aspect of The Lucky One is the involvement of Scott Hicks. The Australian director made such a spectacular feature film debut in 1996 with Shine, which wowed critics and audiences worldwide, scored Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Director, and effectively launched Geoffrey Rush's international film career.

Sadly since then, Hicks' directorial output has been varied: the beautiful but remote Snow Falling On Cedars (1999), Hearts In Atlantis (2001), and No Reservations (2007); his return home to direct The Boys Are Back (2009), the closest Hicks has come to directing a satisfying film.

Here's hoping Hicks' pay cheque for The Lucky One enables him to work on a more personal project, one which doesn't come with a built-in formula as successful as it is boring.


Madman Entertainment
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My name is Dwayne, and I'm a chocoholic. From an early age I have loved the sweet nectar produced by the cocoa bean and I'm not at all discriminating (I'm a writer, after all, so the "good stuff" i.e. expensive, is usually beyond my means). One year, my new year's resolution was to give up chocolate: I think I lasted until midday January 1.

I'm also a bit of a sweet tooth -- surprise! -- but even I couldn't stomach the chocolatey, treacly sweetness that is Romantics Anonymous, Jean-Pierre Ameris' rom-com where the ingredients of whimsy, quirky and the often absurd -- and each in great dollops -- do not make for a winning recipe.

Some unimaginative quote whore's line that it's 'Amelie meets Chocolat' has been used to promote the film, and that may get the punters in but be warned: Romantics Anonymous has none of the magic of Jean Pierre Jeunet's Amelie (2001). And while I've not seen Lasse Hallstrom's Chocolat (2000), reading the novel almost gave me diabetes; Ameris' film on the other hand -- and to put it euphemistically -- gave me the runs.

Set in a Lyon chocolate factory, Romantics Anonymous sees Angelique Delange (Isabelle Carre) come to work at the long established business as a chocolatier but is mistakenly hired as a sales rep. A job's a job in this economic climate, but not when you're not very good with people and stressful situations, like Angelique; she has a tendency to faint when the pressure's on.

That's why she attends an Emotional Anonymous support group (and yes, that's a real thing!), something her new employer, Jean-Rene Van Den Hudge (Benoit Poelvoorde) should probably look into.

Jean-Rene is already in therapy for his own hang-ups, which mostly involves intimate interactions with people. He sweats up a storm at the possibility of human contact and as result has never had a relationship. "I love women," he tells his therapist. "But I'm terrified of them".

Spoiler Alert: these two quirky lost souls are destined for each other. But not before Angelique has to overcome her own fears and save the chocolate factory from going under; posing as the go-between for a non-existent hermit chocolatier whose new line of treats will win awards and, ultimately, hearts.

But not mine. For me, Romantics Anoynmous is one of those rare breed of foreign films: the kind that could only be improved upon by a Hollywood remake. Honestly, it couldn't be any worse; it might even make sense.

Indeed, if this was a Hollywood rom-com plenty of critics would only be too ready to tear into it like kids do their chocolate eggs on Easter morning. But add some subtitles and some Gallic charm, and we're supposed to be more forgiving.

Forget that. Romantics Anonymous left me feeling sickly, and not in a good post-chocolate overdose kind of way.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012


In the space of a week we have seen the release of two films – The Deep Blue Sea, and Goodbye First Love – whose attractive heroines suffer for love. And I suffered right along side them – but not in a good way.

In the former, Terence Davies' adaptation of the Terence Rattigan post-WWII set stageplay, Hester (Rachel Weisz), leaves her older, barrister husband (Simon Russell Beale) for dashing RAF pilot, Freddie (Tom Hiddleston), who doesn't reciprocate her affections quite as strongly; while in Mia Hansen-Love's film, Camille (Lola Creton) has her heart broken at age 15, and spends the next decade (and the rest of the film) pining for her first love, Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky).

While I'm a sucker for a good romance, and an even bigger sucker for a doomed one, neither The Deep Blue Sea or Goodbye First Love could capture my heart. Honestly, I could care less about these two women.

There's no denying how lovely Rachel Weisz is – suffering never looked so good – and this is undoubtedly the best role she's had since winning her Supporting Actress Oscar in 2005 (for The Constant Gardener). But suffering for the all the wrong reasons, and for someone who doesn't love you the way you love them (yes, I know that's the point), isn't so much admirable or noble, as, well, insufferable.

In Goodbye First Love, the advice of Camille's mother to her lovesick daughter is to go see a movie and get over it. My reaction was much the same, although my advice would have been preceded by a slap to the face, Cher to Nicholas Cage in Moonstruck-style: “Snap out of it!”.

Another recent film, Drake Doremus' Like Crazy, had its two lovers separated by the Atlantic Ocean and an unsympathetic bureaucracy. But while the pair in that film may have cried and fretted, they also got on with their lives, something which Hester isn't prepared to do (she'd rather end her life than end the relationship), and which Camille does but as though going through the motions; when Sullivan reappears almost a decade later, she's 15 all over again.

But you can't be 15 again, and you can't make someone love you, try as you might. And try as they might, Davies and Love couldn't make me love their films. Call me a heartless emotionless bastard but the only emotions I felt were frustration and boredom.

Goodbye First Love (Palace Films) and The Deep Blue Sea (Transmission Films) are now showing.