2016 Sydney Film Festival - Julieta

Pedro Almodovar's latest film is based on three short stories from the book Runaway (2004) by Alice Munro. It is Almodovar, I will go and see it. His films range from fantastic to still better than anything else being made at the moment. 

So I ended this year's Sydney Film Festival as I began, with a movie about the lives of women, based on three short stories by women writers. Almodovar is a beautiful film maker and his framing of his subjects are like beautiful photographs. I enjoyed the film although I was not completely convinced by the central issue of the breakdown in communication between the characters.  I would also like to find the soundtrack as the score was amazing. This is a good Almodovar movie, but not a great one. 

2016 Sydney Film Festival - Sing Street

Set in Dublin, Ireland in the 1980s, this is a story of a boy who starts a band to impress a girl he likes. It was the darling of this year's Sundance Film Festival and most critics have really enjoyed it. Did it live up to the hype?

This is loads of fun, especially for the 1980s music fan. It is like a combinations of The Committments (with the very same Maria Doyle Kennedy) and Gregory's Girl. The performances are great, the songs are really really good pop songs and you leave the cinema with a smile on your face. This is the second movie I saw in two days that are family friendly coming of age films set in a decade where fashion and music were bright and rambunctious. One more and we may have a trend. We definately need more movies like Sing Street and Girl Asleep.

2016 Film Festival - Everybody Wants Some!!

Named after Van Halen song, Everybody Wants Some!!, Richard Linklater's follow up to Boy is equally as personal to him as it is an exploration of his college years in the 1980s. 

This film has divided audiences. Some completely reject the young jocks at college story, with its posturing and drive to get drunk and sleep with as many girls as they can. Others just went along for the ride, enjoying the ride and watching the freshers at college try on different personas. We have all been there. I think we have expected our stories about the high school or college experience to be wrapped in a genre - a gross out sex comedy, a romance, an acapella competition. What they forget is that it is a time when people talk rubbish, try on new clothes, and in some cases, even learn something. Linklater shows this time and also adds on a layer of commentary about masculinity. He also uses some of the most awesome music to go with it.

2016 Sydney Film Festival - Girl Asleep

Girl Asleep is the debut film from director Rosemary Myers and writer Matthew Whittet adapted from their original play at the Windmill Theatre as part of the 2014 Adelaide Festival. This is the blurb from the Sydney Film Festival which convinced me to buy a ticket:

Navigating puberty in 1970s suburbia, Greta (Bethany Whitmore) doesn't want to grow up. Her mum is embarrassing and her sister disinterested. Geeky Elliott (Harrison Feldman) is her only ally. Greta's surprise 15th birthday party is on track to be the worst night of her life – until she's flung into an odd fairy-tale universe with a warrior princess (Tilda Cobham-Hervey). Filled with wild musical flourishes and moments of colourful theatrics, Girl Asleep resists the adult world as much as its lead character.

This film reminds me of Strictly Ballroom, the other highlystylised, very Australian film that started on the stage and then brought to screen bythe samu creators. Girl Asleep, however, is aimed at a younger audience. It is great fun and a wonderful coming of age movie. I highly recommend it to kids of all ages, the adult ones too

2016 Sydney Film Festival - The American Epic Sessions

One documentary in four parts shown in three sessions. That is pretty much how you get to see The American Epic Sessions, a documentary that captures contemporary American artists lay down songs from the beginning of the twentieth century. The director, Bernard MacMahon focuses on capturing the 'lightning in the bottle' of a raw, unedited live take of a song.

This is a fascinating series of documentaries for the music nerd who likes to know how the original vinyl records were made and the history behind those songs. This was one of the first time these films were seen by a cinema audience and they were well received with a insightful Q&A with the director and the editor, Dan Gitlin. These films track the origins and growth of American pop music and ultimately the growth of a nation of immigrants into a dominant cultural influence across the world. 

The rawness of the one take, three and a half minute song is explored in the fourth movie when the songs are recorded on the original technology by modern artists. As music producer Jack White (of the White Stripes) says in the film, the musicians turn up like they are coming to church, dressed in their Sunday best and prepared to put on their best as there is no dubbing or editing. All live and in one room.

Keep an eye out for these movies on a television or streaming service near you this December and take some time out to witness some history in the making.

2016 Sydney Film Festival - War on Everyone

Again another choice made on the strength of loving the director's previous movies. War on Everyone is from British director, John Michael McDonagh who also made The Guard and Calvary. I am slightly disappointed that this film does not also star Brendan Gleeson, but you know, Michael Pena and Alexander Skarsgard are almost as awesome.

Described as a black comedy that evokes the buddy cop movies  and TV shows of the 1970s and 1980s, War On Everyone certainly has a mixture of some laughs and some violence. However, it did not quite work for me. The tone was uneven, as it seemed to lurch from parody (like Hot Fuzz) to serious. The opening scene sums up the movie well. The two cops are in their car chasing a mime who is running down the street. The one cop, Bob (Michael Pena) says to the other (Terry) something like "do you think a mime makes a noise when he is hit by a car?" They then run the mime over and he doesn't make a sound, he just mimes the exclamation as the car hits him he then lies bleeding out on the street. If you found that humour to your liking, then this movie may just be for you.

There are a couple of elements I really enjoyed, namely the fantastic clothes and style of the characters, and a really great soundtrack. Lovely use of Glen Campbell. Yes, Glen Campbell. It really does fit with the film as it combines with the clothes, location of Albuquerque, and concept of masculinty of the characters, especially Terry. John Michael McDonagh's love for this American style flawed heroes of the 1970s and 1980s is all up there on the screen, however, the film did not always work for me, especially following the wonderfully crafted The Guard and Calvary.

2016 Sydney Film Festival - Goldstone

The opening night film for the 2016 Sydney Film Festival is Goldstone from Australian director, Ivan Sen and lead actor Aaron Pedersen. I caught the follow up session on the weekend. I saw Sen's previous movie Mystery Road at the 2013 Sydney Film Festival which introduced us to Indigenous detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) and loved it. I am very happy to see more of this world.  

This is a beautiful slow burn crime movie that rarely gets made anymore. Drenched in its Australian outback location and embued by wellrounded characters, this film highlights the underbelly of the resource pillaging that has driven Australia's economy in the last few years. It is a like reading a great crime novel. Just go and watch it. Actually watch it in a double bill with Mystery Road and marvel in the fantastic partnership of film maker Ivan Sen and Aaron Pedersen. More films please sirs.

2016 Sydney Film Festival - Janis: Little Girl Blue

Janis: Little Girl Blue is the 2015 documentary from Oscar nominated director, Amy Berg. Watch her talk about making the film during The Hollywood Reporter documentary roundtable. Very insightful.

Biographical documentaries about famous artists are hard to make unique as some to most of the facts about that person's life is known. Especially how it all ends. Berg anchors the emotional elements of her documentary around Joplin's open, raw, powerful and leave it all there stage performances. Joplin's drive for love, acceptance, and honest comunication is all there on stage, and the absence of that love and acceptance when she is off stage is keenly highlighted and gives us insight into possble reasons for Joplin's heavy drug use. What is quite apparent is the huge natural talent Joplin was and that her death cut short what could have been a monumental body of work from a great artist.  Check out the perfornace below that announced her arrival on the music scene, and watch Joplin blow the audience away. 

With Big Brother and the Holding Company, she performed the song at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 to an enthusiastic audience and critical reception. The first performance on June 17 was not filmed, so the band was persuaded to perform the song again on the next day.

This is a well made documentary and a must see for Janis Joplin fans.

2016 Sydney Film Festival - Certain Women

I loved, loved Meek's Cutoff (2010), Kelly Reichardt's beautiful western starring Michelle Williams. So, I signed up for this movie straight off. Here is the blurb from the Sydney Film Festival, which tells you the film is "based on Maile Meloy's short stories, tells three connected stories of independent Montana women trying to understand and shape the world around them." I have not heard of Maile Meloy, but here is a Q&A with her that tells you a bit about her. This movie also boasts a wonderful cast of great actresses - Reichardt favourite, Michelle Williams, Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart and new comer Lily Gladstone.

The cast of Certain Women at the 2016 Sundance Film Festoval

The cast of Certain Women at the 2016 Sundance Film Festoval

Like her previous work, Certain Women is beautiful and languid. It is a study of exteriors and interiors, from the wild winter landscape of Montana to the emotional life of the women in the three interconnecting stories. It is a quiet movie that has a couple of stand out scenes that will linger in your mind days after you left the cinema. The performances are really great throughout, however I must highlight the luminous Lily Gladstone, who says so much with very few words.

One for a lazy contemplative Sunday afternoon.

Film Distribution in Australia - A Problem That Needs to Be Solved

The Amy Schumer romantic comedy Trainwreck was release in Australia on 13 August nearly a whole month after it opened in the US. This is typical as you can see from this great article in The Guardian Australia. I am sure the 'why' is about big corporations making money. But as everyone knows technology is forcing a change in the distribution model. Just not in Australia as yet. I am not going to get into the piracy discussion, you can read about that here, I am going to ask why some films, 22 days after being released in the US,  get a blitz of screenings in Australia that last three months and why some films are off our screens in four days? Basically, there is no formula that I can find. It seems to be a dark arts of distribution and exhibition that is wedded to that old adage that the audience for movies are teenage boys and this will make the most amount of money for the big corporations that run entertainment in the western world. That opinion is clearly made at the end of this wonderful article from the IF Magazine that lays out the distribution crisis of Australian-made films. The choices of what Australians can see on the big screen is getting smaller and smaller and that means the money that is being made is shrinking. This does not seem to be a sustainable business model. Most importantly this model is a disservice to Australian audiences, as this ABC radio article says, " viewers don't choose what they see at the cinema, that decision is made for them by the cinema, which chooses what to book and what to screen." I know that is only part of the problem, but for an film lover living in Australia, it is the main one. Something needs to change.

Sydney Film Festival 2015 - Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Jesse Andrews adapts his own novel in his screenwriting début, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. He teams with a great director, Alfonso Gómez-Rejon, and a bit of a find of a cast (Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler and Olivia Cooke) to bring this lovely story to the screen. It is not a unique coming of age story, and it does have a teenage girl dying of cancer in it, so it will be compared to John Green's Fault in our Stars. But who says it has to be unique to be a good way to spend a couple of hours. You will laugh, and cry, and are given a ready made list of classic films to go and watch once the credits roll. Nice. This is a well made crown pleasing film that can be seen by the whole family. And it is not animated. Well 90% is not animated. Enjoy.

Sydney Film Festival 2015 - Democrats

Democrats is the first feature documentary from Danish filmmaker Camilla Nielsson. I am going to give you the description from the Danish Film Institute website - "Over the course of more than three years director Camilla Nielsson was up close in the inner circles of politics in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. With the process of creating Zimbabwe’s new constitution as the film’s narrative backbone, Democrats tells the story of the political elite in Zimbabwe fighting the battle over the founding principles defining the country’s possible future." As a Zimbabwean I cannot give you an unbiased review of this film. The content cut far to deep. It is a documentary that sits within the in-depth current affairs sub-genre as they delve into life and politics in an African dictatorship.  Filmmakers worked in a country where news crews, photo journalists, well any form of free media, could end up in jail (in the conditions described in the documentary) or dead. Especially if you are a foreigner.  

The co-chairs of COPAC who were tasked with the impossible were Munyaradzi Paul Mangwana of the ruling party, ZANU-PF, and Douglas Mwonzora of the opposition, MDC-T. Their story anchors the documentary over the three years it took for the new constitution to be drafted. But it is evident by the end of the film that the written word is not going to oust a dictator. As Mugabe says in the documentary, the law is not where the power lies. At this moment the power is still with the 91 year old dictator of Zimbabwe.

Sydney Film Festival 2015 - The Secret River

The Secret River is a prestigious TV two part mini-series from the Australian Broadcast Corporation (ABC) that premiered at the Sydney Film Festival last night. It will be shown on the ABC this coming weekend and will be available to all Australians online and on the TV.  It is an important production for a local industry that has funding cuts, a talent drain to the USA and the UK, and public apathy at the box office for local content. It has a lot riding on it for the local TV industry. 

What a burden. In addition, it is a slowly building story based on the novel by Kate Grenville, which is now taught as part of the school curriculum in Australian schools. It has also previously been dramatised as play that was put on as part of the 2013 Sydney Festival. It is a story of Australian colonisation though the eyes of one family who claim land along the Hawkesbury River, just north of Sydney, and their actions in the face of an Indigenous population resisting this invasion.  Thankfully, the production is beautifully shot and acted and it builds towards a literal and emotional massacre that will stay with the viewer. In a white washed Australia it is an important story to tell. It will start conversations and it will help give a voice to the secrets of the past that still scar the Aboriginal communities today.

Sydney Film Festival 2015 - Slow West

British writer/director John Maclean creates a lovely take on the western myth in his debut feature film Slow West. It is set after the American Civil War in the push of white settlers into the west of the continent across the frontier.  This movie is basically a two-handler with Kodi Smit-McPhee's love-lorn teenage Scottish aristocrat, Jay Cavendish, and his guide along the trail, world wearing Silas, played by Michael Fessbender.  A road movie on horse back with a beautifully realised friendship growing between Jay and Silas as they make their way west in search of Rose, the woman Jay loves. 

This is not a grand western with huge personalities and performance in the John Wayne tradition, it is more like a cross between High Noon and Meek's Cutoff. It is more about what is not said and done and the space in between actions than the straightforward plot.  Not all people will like it, but enough did for it to win the World Cinema Jury Prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival. I really enjoyed it and recommend that you check it out on the big screen.

Sydney Film Festival 2015 - Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of National Lampoon

Next up at the Sydney Film Festival was another documentary - Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of National Lampoon. Like Lambert & Stamp, this is a straightforward documentary that follows a similar path of two very different young men creating something in reaction to post World War Two conservative western society. In this case the subject is comedy rather than music, but the trajectory is similar to that of a band making it big, setting a trend, blowing out and having a tragic end to one of the founders. Just like Lambert & Stamp. What is quite astonishing in this documentary as you track the rise of a very American style post war comedy that started out as political and social satire and ended up as frat boy humour. It is a very particular type of humour that started as the brain child of Henry Beard and Douglas Kenney, who met at Harvard University. They took what was then Harvard Lampoon and made it a national magazine. They tapped into the end of the counterculture in the USA at the beginning of the 1970s and gave the establishment the big finger. As it was said in the documentary, US culture from 1946 to 1970 with subjects such as Nixon and the Vietnam War were a rich source for satire. The National Lampoon magazine provided the Second City comedy group of John Belushi, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Harold Ramis, and Gilda Radner a stepping stone to Saturday Night Live and beyond, and launched comedy radio programs, books and finally they made it in Hollywood with Animal House.   And the rest they say is frat boy comedy history. It is an interesting documentary if you are into the history of this type of comedy and the influence it had.  Here is a great review on the documentary below.

Sydney Film Festival - A Talk with Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton

This year at the Town Hall,as part of the Sydney Film Festival, Australian film reviewers and national treasures, Margaret and David talked about films that they felt were under appreciated or underrated. Here are the movies they chose:

Margaret – Running On Empty (1988)
Directed by Sydney Lumet. Starring Judd Hirsch, Christine Lahti, River Phoenix, Martha Plimpton.
Blurb from IMDB: The eldest son of a fugitive family comes of age and wants to live a life of his own.

David – Storm Center (1956)
irected by Daniel Taradash. Starring Bette Davis, Brian Keith, Kim Hunter
Blurb from IMDB: A small-town librarian is branded as a Communist by local politicians when she refuses to withdraw a controversial book from the library's shelves.

Margaret – In The Cut (2003)
Directed by Jane Campion. Starring Meg Ryan, Mark Ruffalo.
Blurb from IMDB: New York writing professor, Frannie Avery, has an affair with a police detective who is investigating the murder of a beautiful young woman in her neighbourhood.

David – Blessed (2009)
Directed by Ana Kokkinos.  Starring Frances O'Connor, Miranda Otto, Deborra-Lee Furness
Blurb from IMDB: Seven lost children wander the night streets while their mothers await their return home.

Margaret – Festen (1998)
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg (uncredited). Starring Ulrich Thomsen, Henning Moritzen, Thomas Bo.
Blurb from IMDB: At Helge's 60th birthday party, some unpleasant family truths are revealed.

David – Across the Universe (2007)
Directed by Julie Taymor. Starring Evan Rachel Wood, Jim Sturgess, Joe Anderson
Blurb from IMDB: The music of the Beatles and the Vietnam War form the backdrop for the romance between an upper-class American girl and a poor Liverpudlian artist.

Margaret – All Is Lost (2013)
irected by J.C. Chandor. Starring Robert Redford
Blurb from IMDB: After a collision with a shipping container at sea, a resourceful sailor finds himself, despite all efforts to the contrary, staring his mortality in the face.

David – In The Electric Mist (2009)
Directed by Bertrand Tavernier.  Starring Tommy Lee Jones, John Goodman, Peter Sarsgaard
Blurb from IMDB: A detective in post-Katrina New Orleans has a series of surreal encounters with a troop of friendly Confederate soldiers while investigating serial killings of local prostitutes, a 1965 lynching, and corrupt local businessmen.

Margaret – 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
Directed by John Singleton. Starring Paul Walker, Tyrese Gibson, Cole Hauser
Blurb from IMDB: Brian O'Conner and childhood friend Roman Pearce are re-united by the FBI to bring down a Miami drug exporter in exchange for clear records.

David – The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2012)
irected by Mira Nair. Starring Riz Ahmed, Liev Schreiber, Kiefer Sutherland
Blurb from IMDB: A young Pakistani man is chasing corporate success on Wall Street. He finds himself embroiled in a conflict between his American Dream, a hostage crisis, and the enduring call of his family's homeland.

Sydney Film Festival 2015 - Lambert & Stamp

My first film at the 2015 Sydney Film Festival is a straightforward music documentary about Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp the managers and creative guides to The Who. The film, directed by James D Cooper tracks the meeting, friendship, subsequent rise and flame out of the son of a world renown conductor, Lambert and the son of a working class East Ender, Chris Stamp with the backdrop of the creation of the band, The Who. There are interviews with Roger Daltrey, Pete Townsend, Chris’ brother, actor Terence Stamp, long-time friends and most importantly Chris Stamp. Unfortunately Kit Lambert died in 1981. The documentary is interesting to anyone who wants an insight into the beginnings of The Who, 1960s London, the Mod subculture and a look at an unlikely friendship. It is not a ground breaking documentary but, like Good ol’ Freda, the documentary about Freda Kelly, The Beatles secretary, it highlights those behind the scenes of some of the biggest English bands of the 1960s.

PRIDE - A film about pits, perverts and Margaret Thatcher

Pride (2014) is Director, Matthew Warchus' second film, and he crafts a wonderful British comedy with a strong political and social message. It is a fine line to walk for this seasoned London theatre director and writer as Pride could be written off as a formulaic British comedy, but like The Full Monty and Brassed Off, the laughs are underlined by the humanity of the people involved. Most of the characters are well rounded, however some do border on caricature and stereotype and are used to punctuate a joke. The film has a terrific British cast of unknowns (outside of UK TV) and seasoned actors bringing their 'A' game. The soundtrack will have you up and dancing and here is hoping that the set designers, hair and costume people get recognised for capturing the everyday look of the mid 1980s in the UK. Uncanny. This is an enjoyable movie that will give you insight to a bit of British history that is still being felt today, not only in the small mining towns in Wales and North England, but also in the lesbian and gay community.  

Pride is in UK cinemas 12th September 2014 Pathé's Pride is about the extraordinary true story of two very different communities who unite to defend the same cause. It's Summer 1984, Margaret Thatcher is in power, and the National Union of Mineworkers are on strike!

Classic Film - The Terminator

The old adage of 'less is more' is proved right with The Terminator. The subsequent sequels, reimagings and reboots seem overblown and self indulgent in comparison and I will say this even of the TV series, The Sarah Conner Chronicles, the reimaging that comes closest to the original in my opinion.  Seeing this movie on the big screen for the first time highlighted how all elements of a film, especially action set pieces, need to support the story and not the other way round. The restrictions of the budget ($6.5 million) and the talent of the production team led to special effects innovation with a combination of stop motion and visual effects, and a focus on character and story over expensive technical flash and bangs. Can you believe it? An action science fiction film where there is an emotional anchor. The key element that most blockbusters today are lacking. This is Sarah Conner's (Linda Hamilton) story and her horror at her situation, the terror she feels as a victim and her courage as she takes charge and saves herself by the end of the movie is the journey we go through as an audience member. In my opinion, the audience always needs a surrogate in an action film and a good action movie makes this surrogate the lead or at least the emotional lead (see Marie in The Bourne Identity. Jason is a mechanism and metaphor, which is why the sequels are pretty but not fulfilling as soon as Marie exits). The Terminator sequels make Arnie the emotional anchor and that is where they go wrong. He becomes a collection of fish out of water scenarios punctuated by quotes, not an audience surrogate that works for me, although it seems to work for some.

Like Jaws before it, the lack of budget for The Terminator forces James Cameron to reveal the machine beneath the living tissue incrementally, ratcheting up the tension with well structured suspense. The imagination is more powerful than the real thing. What really struck me while watching the film was how gritty the action sequences were. Each impact is felt. You feel the exhaustion and sweatiness of Kyle Reece (Michael Biehn) and Sarah as they run until they cannot run anymore. And speaking of the two human leads, they do very well in creating a connection in a very short period and selling the heck out of it. So much so that the ending is quite sad. The glimpses of the future are well done and install the sense of doom that ultimately stays with you after the credits role.  Not a completely happy ending for this film. It was a great film to revisit and to see on the big screen. And as always it is great to see the Bill Paxton cameo.

Predestination - A Robert Heinlein Short Story brought to Film

This film will become a cult classic for science fiction lovers along the lines of Cube, Dark City, Pi Primer and Jacob's Ladder. This is my prediction. Predestination is one of those rare films in this day and age - a film aimed at adults. I know, I had to take a moment as well. It direct contrast to the summer comic blockbusters, Australian writers/directors, the Spierig Brothers have crafted a stylish time travelling story that delves into concepts such as identity and gender. Predestination is an adaptation of Robert Heinlein's short story, All You Zombies. I have not read the short story or had read or seen anything about Predestination before watching it. All I knew is that it was the latest genre film from the Spierig Brothers, it looked like they were focusing on science fiction this time and it starred Ethan Hawke, who was the lead in their second full length film, Daybreakers (2009). It was a rare gift to go and see a film without the heavy marketing blasting at you giving you sneak peaks (or what I like to call - spoiling the movie before you have seen it). I enjoyed it. It is a good, although it slightly drags in the middle. It is a thought provoking story that rests on the shoulders of the two main actors, Ethan Hawke as the Temperal Agent and Sarah Snook as the Unmarried Mother. Ethan Hawke is good as always, however he is the foil to a fantastic Sarah Snook. It really is a great performance. She shone in the Australian romantic comedy Not Suitable for Children with Ryan Kwanten, and it looks like she is building up an eclectic body of work. Definately someone to watch. 

This is the third full length film from twins, Michael and Peter Spierig from Brisbane, Australia.  The first was a take on the zombie story, Undead in 2003 and the aforementioned Daybreakers which is about vampires. It is great to see something different, not brilliant, but interesting and with flashes of greatness, whether it is a performance, a scene or the costume design. We need more movies that dare to do this and give us a wider scope of story telling to change up the action/CGI heavy comic book/sci fi summer blockbusters of today.