Tuesday, 16 April 2013
Just as youth is wasted on the young, democracy sometimes appears to be wasted on the free. As we Australians prepare for a Federal election -- the choice between a conservative party with no policies and a governing left wing party that moves ever further to the right as it abandons ideals for lowest common denominator votes -- the seemingly trivial issues both parties and the media focus on seem to be lacking in any real substance or urgency.
How refreshing then -- and embarrassing for us -- is a film like No; director Pablo Lorrain's look at the 1988 Chilean plebiscite to determine whether or not dictator Augusto Pinochet would have his powers extended and his rule continued; a rule propped up by the C.I.A. and one of tyranny which saw thousands upon thousands of opponents "disappear".
Rene Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal) is a hot shot account manager at one of Santiago's leading advertising agencies; his pitches for clients' television commercials always focussing on youthful exuberance and an American-like freedom and confidence. So it is somewhat of a surprise -- or no surprise at all, perhaps -- that those in charge of the 'No' campaign in the upcoming vote want Rene to take charge of their message.
At first Rene simply advises the 'No' team, making helpful suggestions, but when his boss starts making thinly and not-so thinly veiled threats, the upstart digs in and decides to make the 'No' campaign his baby: he's no longer out to prove a point, he's in it to win it.
Shooting the film documentary style (using a camera and film stock of the time), Pablo Lorrain makes this political period drama both immediate and intimate. We're there in the thick of the campaigning, and we're on the streets when the Chilean people take action; we get to see Rene work his magic whilst also seeing his vulnerable side when at home with his son whom he raises on his own.
Other stylistic choices, such as having the sound drop out whenever we view political TV commercials, may confuse or annoy at first, but before too long your caught up in the campaign and hanging on the result.
I wish I could say the same about our own Federal election but that result seems inevitable and not one worth celebrating, whatever your political persuasion. Is it really democracy when it's a choice between the lesser of two evils? Sticking with the ineffectual devil you know or opting for the devil you can't abide?
No reminds us of the real importance of democracy. It's too bad that here in Australia, and many other Western democracies, that its implementation falls to the politicians rather than people. It's worth your vote.
Thursday, 11 April 2013
Icon Film Distribution
Forget vampires, zombies are so hot right now! With the end of the Twilight saga of films and television's The Walking Dead taking on a (undead) life of its own, the ascension of the zombie in pop culture is reaching pandemic proportions.
Warm Bodies, adapted from Isaac Marion's YA novel of the same name (itself loosely based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet), is set in a post-apocalyptic world. The twist? It's a rom-com. The further twist? One half of the romantic coupling just happens to be a zombie, proving the dating scene is even more nightmarish when society crumbles.
But those hoping for Walking Dead style gore and carnage, you'd best look elsewhere. Warm Bodies may take place in a world overrun with zombies but it's one viewed through rose-coloured rather than bloodstained glasses. It has heart to go along with its wit, and more humour than horror.
R (Nicholas Hoult), so called because he can't remember his real name (and, like pirates, it's the most common sound to escape a zombie's mouth), is a young-man-cum-zombie who, having made a discarded passenger plane his home, spends his days roaming the airport, searching for food (i.e. humans) and conversing (of sorts) with fellow zombie, M (Rob Corddry).
It's while on a food hunt in the city that R meets Julie (Teresa Palmer), one of the city's surviving humans and a member of its roaming patrol, who sparks something in his presumed dead heart. Rather than eat her (although he has just feasted on her boyfriend, played by Dave Franco), R takes Julie back to his plane, attempting to woo her with his record collection and trying not to scare her -- well, much more.
And soon enough, Julie begins to see that R isn't like all the other zombies. There's something about this pale-faced, once living young man with his slurred speech and his outdated music. And while he may have eaten her boyfriend, he is trying to be a better zombie/man. Besides, nobody's perfect.
Of course, there have been other zombie comedies. Shaun of the Dead (which I regretfully have yet to see) and 2009's Zombieland, which Warm Bodies perhaps comes closer to in tone, being two of the more recent. And while it may lack the bite of Zombieland, Warm Bodies is no less fun and far more sweet.
Monday, 8 April 2013
Much like singing, dancing is something every person feels compelled to do; it's hard-wired into our DNA: when the rhythm starts to sway, so do our our hips. That's not to say everyone can sing or dance; certainly not professionally. There is a great divide between dancing and "dancing".
First Position, directed by Bess Kargman, follows six youngsters, ages 11 to 16, who can not only dance -- they were born to it. They have also chosen to pursue careers in arguably the most demanding of dance disciplines, ballet.
But forget the gentile inference of tutus, First Position reveals ballet to be a bloodsport, where the wounds are self-inflicted and the pressure is intense.
The six dancers -- mostly American; one is an Israeli girl based in Europe, another a Colombian boy living in New York -- are all preparing to compete in the Youth America Grand Prix, one of the world's premier dance competitions, where the best of the best are awarded scholarships to international dance academies and, for the older dancers (16-18), places with dance companies.
And while not all of these dancers' personal narratives are that compelling (17-year-old Rebecca Houseknecht seems to be a typical middle class, middle American white girl cheerleader) you root for them all: Sierra Leone-born Michaela DePrince, 14, who was adopted by middle-aged Jewish New Yorkers and is set to prove that black girls can do ballet; and 16-year-old Joan Sebastian Zamora, who left his village in Colombia to move to New York on his own to study dance and who hopes to become the first Latino to attend the Royal Dance Academy in London.
And then there are the precociously talented 11-year-old Aran Bell, and 12-year-old Miko Fogarty, for whom dance is their way of life. What were you doing at age 12? Whatever it was, these two will make you seem lazy and inferior by comparison.
There's nothing controversial or hard-hitting about First Position; there's no Black Swan-like stories here. Kargman's film isn't an expose of the brutal world of child ballet, of taskmaster teachers and stage parents, or the loss of childhood in pursuit of a dream.
What it is is an inspirational look at these children pursuing that dream, whilst simultaneously celebrating the beauty (and brutality) of the art of ballet.
Thursday, 4 April 2013
WARM BODIES is a hilarious genre-bending take on the zombie tale, told through the eyes of a zombie named ‘R’ (Nicholas Hoult). Grunting his way through a post-apocalyptic world with the mindless hunger that plagues the undead, he is full of wonder and longing for the time that must have gone before. When ‘R’ falls for Juliet, a human girl (Australia’s own Teresa Palmer), their romance sets in motion events that may start to transform their entire world. Also starring John Malkovich, Dave Franco and Rob Corrdry.
Thanks to Icon Films, The LennoX Files has 5 double passes to WARM BODIES to give away. Keep an eye on our Twitter feed (@TheLennoXFiles) for your chance to score tix. Good luck!
WARM BODIES Only at the movies April 11.
Wednesday, 3 April 2013
When your engagement to long-time girlfriend induces bouts of sleepwalking, you might have cause for mild concern. When it has you jumping out of a second-storey hotel window -- in said sleeping state -- in the middle of the night, you might have a serious problem. So it was for comedian Mike Birbiglia.
Sleepwalk With Me is the American comedian's somewhat autobiographical tale (based on his stand-up show) which charts the rise of his stand-up career and the simultaneous decline of his relationship with university sweetheart, Abby (Lauren Ambrose).
Actually, the names have been changed to protect the innocent but Birbiglia (here named Matt Pandamiglio) doesn't let himself off easy. He's a lousy fiance and, early on, an equally lousy stand-up; underwhelming the crowds at the New York comedy bar where he tends whenever he gets the opportunity to perform.
But when he hits on the idea to use his relationship as the basis of his material, Matt strikes a rich vein of comedy gold that wins over the audiences and has him receiving more and more out-of-town bookings.
That leaves Abby (blissfully unaware of Matt's new material) to handle all the wedding plans but doesn't curb Matt's bouts of sleepwalking; distance may make the heart grow fonder but it doesn't put a (sleeping) doubt-riddled mind to rest with Matt's nocturnal problem becoming progressively worse until said window jumping brings everything to a head.
I'd not heard of Mike Birbiglia, a comedian who is also regular on This American Life, a weekly public radio show which I am ashamed to say I've never listened to, before Sleepwalk With Me. He has a warm, likeable screen presence (he often talks to camera, telling his story with hindsight) and a self-effacing sense of humour. And based solely on this evidence, there's nothing abrasive or offensive about Birbiglia's brand of comedy.
That may disappoint those looking for a comedy with edge or bite, but Sleepwalk With Me isn't without (for want of a better word) a message or two, namely don't give up on your dreams, and don't get married simply because it's the expected thing to do. Or as Oprah might say, 'find your passion' and 'doubt means no' (though the film's never that laboured or trite about it).
It takes bravery to be honest and to live your life your way. It's also kind of brave to use your life, however fictionalised, as fodder for entertainment be it a movie or on the stand-up stage; even more so if you're just as critical of yourself as you are of others.
Sleepwalk With Me may not challenge you but it's an amusing account of one's man's journey of self discovery and actualisation. And at just 81 minutes, there's barely time for a micro-sleep. Not that you'll need it: Birbiglia is excellent company, awake or sleepwalking.
Monday, 1 April 2013
20th Century Fox Films
At one point in Inception, Christopher Nolan's dream-within-a-dream-within-a-cinematic melange, Ellen Page's architect character asks, "Who's dream are we in now?". And you may very well find yourself asking a similar question of Danny Boyle.
The director returns to feature film making with Trance, a psychological thriller with the emphasis very much on the psych; the film taking place, for the most part, in the mind and under hypnosis.
That mind belongs to Simon (James McAvoy), an art gallery employee who, following a botched robbery which has also robbed him of some of his memory, is called upon by the bad guys (led by Vincent Cassell) to recall what happened to the painting they attempted to steal.
Having no luck with the old school ways like torture, Franck (Cassell) decides upon a different angle: hypnosis. Enter attractive hypno-therapist Elizabath (the always radiant Rosario Dawson), who, sensing her new client is in danger and that there may also be a great deal of money involved, agrees to help Franck with his extraction mission provided she gets a cut.
To say any more about the plot of Trance, penned by Joe Ahearne and John Hodge, would be to spoil its many secrets (it's a film best enjoyed if you go in cold; I'd suggest avoiding the trailer, too), suffice it to say that like in all heist films nothing goes to plan, and as in all psychological thrillers it's not always easy to determine the good guys from the bad or, as is the case here, the real from the imagined.
And if there's a complaint to be made about Boyle's Trance, it's that it's too clever by half but perhaps not as clever as it thinks it is. But I'll admit that complaining about a film for being (or attempting to be) too clever seems rather churlish, specially in this day of lowest common denominator big budget filmmaking.
Besides, it's good to see Boyle back behind the camera -- his first film since 2010's 127 Hours before taking time out to work on the 2012 London Olympics -- and flexing his directorial muscles. And from a technical viewpoint, the film's a knock-out. Aided greatly Anthony Dodd Mantle's digital cinematography, Jon Harris's editing, and a pulsating score by Rick Smith (of Underworld fame), Trance dazzles and rarely flags during its 101 minutes.
And even if Boyle's spell is broken somewhat during the film's third act, where revelations tumble out like so many repressed memories, it doesn't necessarily spoil the experience of Trance. As with any jigsaw puzzle, the thrill is often in piecing it together and not always the bigger picture.