Category Archives: film review

Breaking news – 2011 Gloscars delayed ! ! !

BREAKING NEWS ! ! !

EXCLUSIVE ! ! !

THE GLOSCARS  EYE NEW DATE CHANGES.

Babs has decided for the first time to extend the annual movie award wrap up – “The Gloscars” for another month. Usually the cinema year is marked from Jan 1 – Dec 31 but this can sometimes make the annual awards seem dated as some films are last years Oscar winners and therefore last years news. Australian cinema releases differ from the US. By extending for another month it means that some Oscar hopefuls can end up on the Gloscar list. So from now on the cinema year will commence on Feb 1 and end on Jan 31. Not that Babs should be influenced by the end of the year award season, its just that nobody wants to be old hat, and Babs does differ from Oscar results on many occasions.

The nominations and list of eligible films (those seen by Babs in a cinema) will be announced on Feb 1 and the winners announced a week later Feb 8.

It has been quite an ok year at the cinema with some worthy films and excellent performances – I wonder if you will agree with Babs.

Stay tuned.

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Pedro peels back the layers.

Film Review: THE SKIN I LIVE IN

directed by Pedro Almodovar.

Pedro Almodovar is thankfully a prolific filmmaker, every couple of years unleashing another cinematic treat. I always look forward to the next film by ‘Almodovar’ and even when they are not ‘one of his best’, they are far better than most other films on offer. “The Skin I Live In” is no exception. Full of all the usual Almodovarian trademarks – sensational design, sensual cinematography and seductive music, alongside melodrama, mayhem and madness. His themes of yearning and loss are also intact. This time he tackles his first ‘horror’ movie and he relishes the genre, bending it and twisting it and having a lot of fun doing it. Reunited with an actor whom he can lay claim to discovering, Antonio Banderas who portrays Robert Ledgard a mad doctor in the vein of Frankenstein – a hugely successful plastic surgeon with vengeance on his mind. He is deeply affected by the death of his wife and daughter. We meet him as his obsession to create a perfect skin treatment that will revolutionise his field is revealed to his peers. Meanwhile back at his very stylish mansion on the outskirts of Toledo he has a strange young woman (his monster) in captivity, a secret experiment only known to one other, his loyal housekeeper Marilia played wonderfully by Marisa Peredes (a Pedro regular, most famously in All About My Mother) . Who is this girl? (Elena Anaya in a very touching performance) Where has she come from? Why is she here? All will be revealed in a tantalising fashion that will not disappoint any fans of the directors oeuvre. While some may argue that this movie is a lesser film, I disagree and believe that it stands high up there with many others, particularly of the “Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down” and “Kika” period. It may seem a little cold and detached but I think that is intended. Make what you will of the messages – identity being a major player, it is a moving, strange, funny, wicked and at times very creepy film well worth time spent in a darkened theatre.

“The Skin I Live In” opens in Australia on boxing day December 26.

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This Iron Lady has creases.

Film Review: THE IRON LADY

Meryl Streep playing Margaret Thatcher how can one resist?

That will be the only reason the new movie “The Iron Lady” will make any bucks – die hard Meryl devotees and those curious to see how Britain’s ex-Prime Minister’s life is portrayed on screen (they will be the most disappointed).

Meryl has re-teamed with her “Mamma Mia” director Phyllida Lloyd and like their previous collaboration this film is just as clunky and misconceived.

The film opens with an elderly and semi-senile Thatcher attempting to pack up the belongings of her dear departed husband Dennis (Jim Broadbent acting like he has stepped off a Mike Leigh set). It has been 8 years since his death and Margaret still can’t let go of his presence, haunted by his ‘ghost’ she recalls her past glories. Unfortunately too much time is dedicated to these senile moments and not enough time telling the story I wanted to see – the rise and eventual fall of Britain’s first female Prime Minister and her cold hearted no compromise choices that changed a nation and indeed the world! We see these fleeting moments through newsreel footage and the occasional Parliamentary sittings and internal meetings full of buffoons – well that is how they are portrayed here.. It is hard to tell whether we are meant to take all of this seriously, sometimes it felt like I was watching a skit from a French & Saunders episode (Streep made up playing older reminded me of one of those old ladies going on about fuss and nonsense – see clip below). The film is full of strange stylistic choices, odd camera movements and choppy editing, one is not sure what the overall tone of the film is.  There are a few good scenes that work – a trip to her doctor in which she rants about her preference for ideas over feelings, and the scenes with her daughter Carol (Olivia Colman) are equally funny and moving, and some that don’t work but should – a powerful moment in which she humiliates her  foreign secretary is ruined by style and editing choices. Streep is wonderful of course, at times burying herself so deep into her impersonation of Thatcher that you do forget it is her. Jim Broadbent is wasted and gives a performance we have all seen before. The rest of the support cast hardly register aside from newcomer Alexandra Roach who portrays Thatcher as a young girl with the right amount of pluck.

Aside from Streep’s transformative hair and make-up other technical aspects are so-so, Thomas Newman’s score is jarring and overpowering at times and it looks like it was made on a tight budget.

Please Meryl can you next choose a film project that is worthy of your formidable talent, this film sure isn’t.

The Iron Lady opens in cinemas across Australia on Dec 26.

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A journey worth taking

Film Review: MEEK’S CUTOFF

When a film stays with me long after the final credits it is usually a sign that it’s a very good one. Meek’s Cutoff gave me that experience.

A spare story –  a realistic observation of a time in the pioneering history of America.

Kelly Reichardt’s film tells the story of three families travailing across the ardous Oregon trail in search of a new life, guided by a braggart of dubious credentials, a shaggy bearded man called Meek (Bruce Greenwood – excellent), he advises a shortcut off the main stem trail that leads them to doubt his choice and face the possibility of dying for their dream.

The film begins with the striking image of 3 women, one by one crossing a deep river, drenching their shabby calico frocks, heads covered by simple bonnets. It is a slow poetic sequence and sets the tone for much of the films deliberate pace. Often the landscape is filmed in wideshots with the human inhabitants and their covered wagons plodding along, wheels creaking. A mere blot in a vast land.

Once the doubt sets in towards their guide, it is the men who step aside to discuss what to do, with the “womenfolk” eavesdropping for a hint of what is going on. These scenes are filmed with the women in foreground and the men at a distance, establishing that the story may have a feminist point of view. Reinhardt does not push this aspect but it is apparent and thankfully subtle in approach.

At the forefront of the group of wives is Emily Thetherow played superbly by Michelle Williams (her second collaboration with the director after the wonderful and spare Wendy & Lucy). She has no time for Meek and his stories of bear hunts and Indian killing sprees. It is an Indian who provides a turning point to the story, along the way they capture a lone native (Ron Rondeaux) and much to the protestations of Meek they decide to follow his lead, hoping he will lead them to a water supply to save them from death. What I loved about this part of the movie is that the Indian speaks his language (without subtitles) and they speak theirs so neither knows what is being said –  he does seem a better option than the craggy Meek. The film has no action sequences to speak of which is what one would expect of the usual wagon-trail saga. When a disaster does occur it is accepted and the story continues on its way to a conclusion that lets you decide the outcome.

Reichardt has cast the movie with  excellent actors who fill the roles to perfection. Paul Dano & Zoe Kazan play the young couple of the group, Will Patton is William’s husband Solomon, and the last family of 3 are played by Neil Huff , Tommy Jensen and the superb English actress Shirley Henderson (Wonderland, Harry Potter).

Reeking of period authenticity from the costumes to the make-up, hair and production design (yes there is design in wagon trains and household possessions!) it takes you into the world of hardship that must have been. The dry arid landscape is superbly captured by cinematographer Chris Blauvelt. Go with the pace of the film and you will be rewarded by its simple pleasures.

The “womenfolk” of Meek’s Cutoff – Shirley Henderson, Zoe Kazan and Michelle Williams

* Meek’s Cutoff is screening  at ACMI in Melbourne till June 19 as part of a Kelly Reichardt spotlight.

It is also screening at the Sydney Film Festival on Sunday 19 June – 3pm  at the State Theatre.

Unsure if it is to gain a commercial release.

 

 

 

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A sad story is told

Film review:

ORANGES & SUNSHINE

Oranges & Sunshine is a fine film.

A UK/Australia co-production directed by Jim Loach and starring Emily Watson, David Wenham and Hugo Weaving.

Telling the true story of Nottingham social worker Margaret Humphreys who, in the late 80’s uncovered a scandalous event in the history of relations between Britain & Australia – the forced migration of thousands of children from the UK. Deported children were promised oranges and sunshine but they got hard labour and life in institutions, some suffering physical & sexual abuse in the hands of their “carers”.

Director Jim Loach working from a fine screenplay by Rona Munro elicits superb performances from his stellar cast – his minute attention to detail in the performances from the secondary supporting cast – mostly portraying the abused children, now adults, some severely damaged from the experiences they endured, is one of the great pleasures of the film.

Emily Watson as Margaret is a commanding presence, but it is David Wenham as a curious case – Len, a self made man, victim of horrible abuse by the Christian Brothers of Bindoon, who really stood out for me. I am usually very aware of his nuanced-ticky performances but in this film he is understated and heartbreaking.

The film is very simple in its telling, no over the top dramatics, no showy cinematography or period production design ( set a good quarter of a century ago), perhaps it does lack some cinematic oomph and could have been well served as a TV movie, but that is a minor quibble as the scandalous story needs to be told and hopefully will find itself an audience to appreciate its worth. It is a very sad film and most will be touched by the travesty that occurred in the not so distant past.

Oranges & Sunshine opens in Australia next Thursday – June 9.

Emily Watson & David Wenham

 

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House of Horrors

Film review – INSIDIOUS

The creators of the mega success horror franchise “Saw” are back. Writer Leigh Whannell & director James Wan have fashioned a new horror film playing with the old aged haunted house theme.It stars Patrick Wilson & Rose Byrne with an appearance from Leigh Whannell as one half of a of ghostbuster team. This time though it isn’t the house that is haunted………….

Insidious is a scary haunted house flick first and foremost. Old fashioned in its tone and style, calling on lots of classics of the genre. I found it gripping, aside from the conventions bestowed on films made by American major studios. Think Poltergeist, meets The Exorcist meets Amityville Horror, with a bit of Carnival Of Souls thrown in, a tapestry of frights and genres to please most horror film buffs.

No need for plot explanation it is fun and scary, what more do you want.

INSIDIOUS opens in Australian cinemas this Thursday May 12

Leigh Whannell & Lin Shaye encounter the spooks of Insidious

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Birds of a feather….hardly!

The results are in from my Divafest film weekend.

Funny enough both films featured a few feathers and both films have a lead female performer full of ambition. Comparisons stop there!

BLACK SWAN & BURLESQUE.

Film reviews.

First up is BLACK SWAN.

Praised by most critics and high up on the award seasons list of nominations and wins so far. Virtuoso director Darren Aronofsky and his wonderful leading lady Natalie Portman team to reveal the reality (and unreality) of the world of ballet. The result is a brilliantly made grand guignol campfest. Sophistocated psychological thrillers have been few and far between since the 70’s so it is a pleasure to see this one succeed. Portman stars as Nina, an extremely driven ballerina given the chance to dance the lead role in the ballet “Swan Lake”. Technically brilliant in the role of the white swan, it is the part of the black swan which she also has to tackle that causes the problems. Egged on by her tough choreographer (Vincent Cassell) to explore her sexual dark side, the poor frigid Nina, with an over protective mother (perfectly cast Barbara Hershey) goes batty over the prospect of fully succeeding in the part. Paranoid that her understudy (the sexually liberated Lily – a breakout performance from Mila Kunis) is out to take over the coveted role. Her mind conjures up all sorts of hallucinations and mayhem, making for high entertainment and cinematic thrills. From the very beginning the film has you on edge and after a night out with her nemesis the film goes full tilt into a frenzy that never lets up till the final image. I was gobsmacked and loved every minute. The performance of Natalie Portman is a revelation, this talented actress has never been better. Her vulnerability, her fears, her yearnings all register perfectly and you never feel that she is “acting” which would have been very easy to do. It is an over the top role and she underplays it to perfection. All the performances are good, Winona Ryder as a defunct diva registers in a small part. The bold production design of black, white and tones of red (pinks) are thoughtfully realised by Therese DePrez. Costumes are detailed and the cinematography is sensational. All around it is a truly great film experience. Darren Aronofsky, thank you very much.

 

Now for BURLESQUE.

Starring 2 divas, one old and one new, Cher & Christina Aguelira. This cliched load of crap is a borefest, not even a boring campfest, just a b0ring film. Of course I  expected all the cliches of the genre – girl travels from middle America to make it as a singer and dancer in LA. She arrives on the Sunset Strip and enters the door of a down on its luck Burlesque theatre run by a jaded and tired showgirl with the bank threatining to close it down and a property developer on her tail to sell. Of course the homespun sweetheart has a voice of gold and can kick up her heels like a rockette, and of course she saves the day. Along the way there are gay men full of witty lines  (hardly witty in this case), bitchy catfighting amongst the dancers and a cute boyfriend on the sidelines. You get the picture. The problem with Burlesque is that it is dull, even the derivative show numbers are flat as a tack. While you might think that watching grand diva Cher sing a song or two without moving a face muscle could be fun, well that wears as thin as Miss Aguelira’s character’s personality. It is a scandal to see Stanley Tucci walking through his role with barely a spark of fun, and why was Alan Cumming (Broadway’s emcee in the “Cabaret” revival) cast at all?

It has no really camp fun moments to lift it up to become an entertaining bad film (a la “Showgirls”) it is just a bad film trying to be camp. You can see the writer/director Steve Antin rubbing his hands when he thinks he has ticked all the boxes to please both the gay audience and the  female fans who salivate over this crap.

Hated it!

The only hope for me is that possibly it will be nominated for a song award at the Oscars and Cher will perform it on the night which will mean that she will turn up on the red carpet in another outrageous Bob Mackie masterpiece…fingers crossed for that one.

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