Tagged: Sydney Film Festival

High-Rise – review #sydfilmfest


High-Rise is a surrealistic film based on J.G. Ballard’s novel of the same name. It is about the descent into savagery and mayhem of the inhabitants trapped inside a brutalist high-rise block of apartments somewhere on the outskirts of London in the 1970s.

The film is much hyped, possibly because of the stellar cast including Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Elizabeth Moss, Keeley Hawes and James Purefoy and possibly because of Tom’s amazing nude scene. As they say in the movie, he is an excellent specimen! Overall though, that wasn’t enough to carry the film or make the story interesting or that meaningful. The road to their dystopia is rapid and told with a heavy-handed and repetitive method. It isn’t enjoyable for the most part, although there are a few mildly amusing observations of the excesses of modern society along the way.

For me, by far the best part of the film, which underlines the block’s feral nadir, was a long sequence scored by Portishead’s brilliant cover version of ABBA’s S.O.S. I think they played the entire song and I reckon it is better than the original.

My Bruce McAvaney Specialness Rating*: 2/5 (Pretty ordinary really.)

Goldstone – review #sydfilmfest


I saw this at the wonderful State Theatre where the sound system, screen and setting highlighted the brilliance of the multi-talented Director Ivan Sen’s cinematography and music. This mystery and thriller follows on from his previous feature Mystery Road, also staring Aaron Pedersen as the hero, Indigenous detective Jay Swan.

The film starts brilliantly just with some of Ivan’s music and some well selected glass plate negative images from various state libraries and archives. They looked brilliant on the big screen and I was reminded of the same technique being used in Ken Burns’ Civil War series.

The two leads and twin heroes of the film are Aaron as Jay and Alex Russell as Josh the local policeman. Alex takes us on a personal discovery of his true character and Aaron learns more of his past. Almost stealing the first part of the film with a very dignified and mystic screen presence is David Gulpilil as Jimmy, a local elder. One of the film’s highlights for me was the bark canoe journey that Jimmy takes Jay on through what looks to be a sacred local gorge. He seemed to me to be singing the local history to Jay through their journey in that gorge. Gorges like this always look like natural cathedrals to me.

Apart from that gorge, the rest of the scenery is almost all desolate – barren, rocky and dusty, but Ivan arranges some beautiful overhead shots that are perfectly framed to highlight the natural colours. These are almost like one of Fred Williams’ later paintings from a similar perspective.

The film reminds us of the choices we make in life and the costs and consequences they have on others and our environment.

The two key creepy baddies in the film are played by Jacki Weaver and David Wenham. Both seem to almost be reprising corrupt creepy bad character roles from previous films. Jacki is a convincingly strong-willed greedy evil manipulator, but I think it is too close to her matriarch role from Animal Kingdom. And David needs to develop a new creepy look that doesn’t involve an awful hair style, some 1980s glasses and clothes from the era of the safari suit. My only other small gripe is that I think we could have seen and heard more of Aaron’s Jay. Jay seemed to have a much stronger presence in Mystery Road.

Both Aaron and Ivan made brief appearances on stage before the film started and answered a couple of questions. The SFF do this kind of thing very well.

My Bruce McAvaney Specialness Rating*: 4/5 (Most people would think this to be special.)

Being 17 – review #sydfilmfest

Violence, not knowing, so many feels, adolescence, sexual identity and discovery, teenage angst, and sexual tension. No Griselda, I was not binge-watching Home and Away! Quelle horreur! And I say that with some meaning and cleverness because Being 17 is a very French film. Of course I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Being 17 is a long film at almost two hours, but the story is told very well without being heavy handed, and easily held my attention. (This is no small feat!) It is a gently-paced story that focuses on two teenage boys finding their way in life in a small village somewhere in the French Pyrenees. Part of their journey is their gradual sexual awakening that is accompanied by an increasing desire for each other. It isn’t all smooth sailing and nor is it predictable and full of cliches.

The cast are all well chosen and bring a rare authenticity to their respective roles. The acting from the two young boys is consistently great, even in the sex scene, and their attraction to each other seems very realistic. There are a number of touching scenes and these are all handled very sensitively. (I didn’t end up crying.)

The cinematography and scenery is beautiful, especially some scenes in the snow and high in the mountains, but it isn’t self-indulgent and the camera doesn’t dwell anywhere unnecessarily.

Being 17 was my opening film for SFF in 2016 and it sets the bar pretty high from the outset. I guess the film made me think about my own coming of age and brought up some memories of similarly confusing situations that were probably based around some kind of sexual tension or desire. It was good to see that it was probably a full house. What a shame that we don’t get the chance to see movies like this more often in Australia. They leave the pretentious Hollywood dross for dead.

My Bruce McAvaney Specialness Rating*: 4

*The Key

1 – Special, but not in a good way.

2 – Pretty ordinary really.

3 – Not especially special.

4 – Most people would think this to be special.

5 – Especially special, or as Bruce would say “Oh, that’s special!”

 

My picks (I guess) for Sydney Film Festival 2015

SFF2015

Yes, it is that time of year again. As Jack Thomson nearly said last year: “In the dark, we share our germs.”

Well, these are the films I’ve bought tickets for anyway. There were a couple that I’d like to see but couldn’t because they sold out or clashed with something else I had on. I did want to see Holding The Man, but I figure it’ll get a general release soon. It sold out as I was making our bookings. As my program was pretty long I decided not to try to see The Secret River as we will get to see it soon on TV.

I try to organise a big group of people and we bulk purchase tickets to get a good price. It is a bit like herding cats, but worth it in the end. Sometimes I am going with friends, sometimes alone. I generally take a few days off to enjoy the festival too, so whilst it looks a little ambitious, I’ll be on leave for much of it. So here we go with this year’s schedule:

We Are Still Here. Who doesn’t like a decent chiller? And this session is conveniently in Newtown.

Slow West. A western. With Michael Fassbender and Ben Mendelsohn. It won an award at Sundance. And Kodi Smit-McPhee is supposed to be the next big thing.

Results. Because Guy Pearce.

Mr. Holmes. I love Sherlock and a good mystery. Also, Ian McKellen is coming along nicely as an actor.

Vincent. I love many French films and I’m also a fan of the supernatural in film. So mixing the two could be magic. Or it might be a disaster.

99 Homes. A thriller. Even if it is no good, we still get to look at Andrew Garfield for 112 minutes. Although, he does seem to be sporting a silly beard …

600 Miles. Another thriller. I think Tim Roth is always good and a little under-rated as an actor. My kind of story, so it should be enjoyable.

The Tribe. Sex scenes! And violence. No, really I buy it for the articles. Well it has won heaps of awards and there is no dialogue.

Spring. A romantic drama with some mayhem. Who could resist that? Also, it is being screened in Newtown.

Victoria. A thriller set in Berlin. We have one spare ticket and I love Berlin, so I may go to this.

Phoenix. A post-WW2 mystery: another genre that I love.

54 (Director’s Cut). The unsanitised homoerotic version. It is being shown in Newtown.

The Invitation. Because Horror. And its being shown in Newtown.

A Second Chance. Yet another thriller, from Denmark. Stars the Kingslayer (aka Nikolaj Coster-Waldau).

German Angst” (a trio of films: Final Girl, Make a Wish & Alraune). Because sex, death & supernatural forces.

I usually try to write up short reviews, especially if I think the film was worth seeing (or not).

Cold in July – Review

Cold in July was my final film of the 2014 Sydney Film Festival. It is a film full of violence and variously described as pulpy, dark, horror/thriller and funny. I didn’t find it very funny at all. It is a rather odd film that starts with the shooting death of an intruder or “home invader” who appeared to be robbing the owners of valuables as they slept. Then the story becomes much more complex and it touches on subjects like revenge, police corruption, gun violence, snuff-porn and the exploitation of “illegal immigrants”. It was another poor choice on my behalf.

Despite the presence of accomplished actors like Michael C. Hall, Don Johnson and Sam Shephard I could find little to like. There were several plot twists, but I don’t think they were dealt with very well at all. And I may be wrong, but it looked as though the film was shot in a way to show 1989 as a rather colourless time in history through the use of subdued, almost sepia tones in many shots. I visited parts of the US in 1989 and can remember them quite clearly, although maybe Texas is an exception? It certainly wasn’t that colourless or faded to me.

I wasn’t sure whether the film was trying to tell a deeper story about the proliferation of shootings in the US or just relate the story from the original Joe Lansdale novel. It really didn’t do either justice.

Ordinary. 2.5/5

Wish I Was Here – Review

And so we come to a film that I was not expecting to like, but I did. This is Zach Braff’s second film as director, as well as being this film’s screen writer and producer, and it was largely crowd funded via Kickstarter. It is really a very gentle comedy and a feel-good movie that deals with family relationships, the reality of life as an actor for most actors, love and the coming loss of a father and grandfather. After so much violence, grief and depression in most of the films I’ve seen this festival, Wish I Was Here came as a very welcome break.

I thought all the lead characters were great, including Mandy Patinkin, Kate Hudson, Josh Gad and of course Zach himself as the father of the two kids played by Joey King and Pierce Gagnon. Nobody is annoying or takes themselves too seriously.

The dialogue is cleverly humorous without trying to be too clever and there is also some very funny visual humour. The film is shot beautifully too. And about 10 years after Garden State, Zach Braff again uses some great music in the soundtrack including Bon Iver and Badly Drawn Boy. Zach and Kate even do a (thankfully short) version of James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James in their garage.

Enjoyed. 4/5

Fell – Review

Yet another film that I really wanted to like. It is visually really beautiful and mostly set in old-growth natural forests somewhere in Australia. The sound is also spectacular, particularly the sad cries of giant falling trees. The acting too is good, but it really needs more of a story-line and some well-written dialogue to carry it along.

It none too subtly reminds us of the tragic loss of our old-growth forests to wood-chipping and it is also about grief, loss, self-indulgence, fatherhood and a path towards vengeance. Much of the film is spent along that same path and I liked the first couple of times the director seemed to set up a situation in which vengeance may have been had and then pulls away from it. Eventually though, it became repetitive. We’d already learned enough about both lead characters and something else needed to happen, if only to maintain our interest in the story. That has been more than adequately demonstrated in at least three other films that I’ve seen in this festival. This film, however, just became a bit self-indulgent.

Not enough dialogue or story. 3/5

 

The Two Faces of January – Review


This film is billed as a thriller and it is set in early 1960s Greece and Crete. I’m not really sure it is that thrilling, but it is an old fashioned drama adapted from a Patricia Highsmith novel. It is very Patricia Highsmith: lots of greedy people ripping each other off, people enjoying excess (or at least trying to) and perfectly attired actors all over the place. Maybe that is the key problem with this movie: it tries too hard to be perfect and everyone is always almost clinically dressed in beautiful clothes regardless of whether they’ve slept rough, been fighting or have just fallen over drunk as a jug.

Kirsten Dunst plays Kirsten Dunst as Viggo Mortensen’s partner and whilst Oscar Isaac looks convincing in his role I still cannot forgive him for starring in one of the most boring films of all time (Inside Llewyn Davis).

From fairly early on you realise that Viggo’s reckless character is going to get caught and you don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out that this will probably happen just before the end of the film. You just keep wondering whether he will get caught before he dies of throat or liver cancer. Poor Viggo must have smoked at least 90 cigarettes and drunk three or four bottles of whisky in just under 100 minutes.

It is nevertheless an entertaining story that does maintain your attention. Towards the end there is also an excellent realistic foot chase scene in which the heavy-smoking and hard-drinking Viggo thankfully does not suddenly become an Olympic gymnast and athlete, as is the case in so many other films.

Good. 3.5/5

Black Coal, Thin Ice – Review


Set in a contemporary northern industrial province of China, this award winning film is an entertaining and intriguing detective mystery. Our hero Zhang Zili played by Liao Fan starts the film as a police detective, but he is injured in a clumsy fire fight in which two of his colleagues are killed and is retired from the force on health grounds. Some years later as a recovering(?) alcoholic he sets about solving the mystery and avenging the grisly death of another close police colleague. It all makes for a dark and gritty drama, but there is much more to this film as the director Diao Yinan cites the Coen Brothers as one of his influences. I don’t think I’ve given away the ending and it is well worth the journey.

I loved a lot about this film. There are quite a few scenes that are introduced with an almost abstract image on which the camera dwells for a while before panning away to give it context and two of those scenes involve coal and ice. The key characters are beautifully developed as very real and flawed people, portrayed by skilled actors. And Diao Yinan uses a lot of comedy to add life and reality to the story, especially with the lead character Zhang. He has a number of scenes that border on slapstick, again relating to the constant presence of ice as the film scenes all seem to be set in the winter months. Towards the end, there is a police chase on foot that resembles the Keystone Cops (for me at least).

The film also echoes those gritty black and white detective dramas from the 1950s and 1960s, well before the complexities of crime scene investigators and high-tech surveillance systems, and I liked that too. The final scene is just wonderful.

Well done Diao Yinan! 4.5/5

 

 

The Captive – Review

Atom Egoyan’s The Captive is a psychological thriller about pedophilia, kidnappers and voyeurs who are given great advantages today through technology. It is also about how the families of the victims are subjected to terrible stress, and how they too become victims; family units sometimes collapsing under the pressures. Set mostly in white Canadian winters near Niagara Falls, the eight-year story is framed against a beautiful but stark landscape that only serves to highlight the personal stories.

Initially, the film is a little hard to follow as they shuffle back and forth in time setting up the background to the kidnapping and the leading characters. Eventually it all falls into place and we see good performances from Ryan Reynolds (the father), Rosario Dawson and Scott Speedman (cops), Peyton Kennedy and Alexia Fast as the young and then older victim, and Kevin Durand as the creepy pedophile/kidnapper. The best of the lot, however, was the wonderful Mireille Enos as the mother. I loved her in the US version of The Killing and she is superb in The Captive. She could give lessons to most award winning “celebrity” actors.

The film has a clear conclusion, something that is almost rare these days and something that I for one appreciate.

Not edge of seat stuff, but a story well told. 4/5