Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Samson & Delilah: Oz Oscar entry

Great news for Warwick Thornton's Samson & Delilah:
Screen Australia today announced that the feature film Samson & Delilah is Australia’s official entry for nomination consideration for Best Foreign Language Film at the 82nd Annual Academy Awards®.
Screen Australia 29 September 2009

District 9: aliens love their children too

District 9 could have been just another alien sci-fi movie except for the location and the lead. Johannesburg is an apt place to establish a ghetto for the unwanted, in this case the 'prawns' whose spaceship has been parked over the city for 20 years.

Peter Jackson, of Lord of the Rings fame, produced the film which was directed by Neill Blomkamp. We take the computer assisted special effects for granted these days, but the prawns unusual bodies were cleverly created. Under their hard shells they have soft hearts.

Wikipedia details the parallels with South Africa's District 6, and its forced removals under the apartheid system.

The film has most of the hackneyed plot devices we have come to loathe or love depending on our personal viewing needs. We have the visit, xenophobia, segregation, the experiments, fugitive on the run, the break-in, the chase, the shootout and self sacrifice.

Most of the characters are stereotypes: the greedy capitalists, the Nigerian gang, the misunderstood aliens, the blood thirsty mercenary, even the unlikely hero.

But it is the casting and performance of Sharlto Copley as Afrikaans Wikus Van De Merwe, the dedicated company man from Multi-National United, that saves this otherwise ordinary tale. He carries off the role of the dag (dork) who finds courage, exceptionally well for a very inexperienced cinema actor.

There is an extensive official website that includes games and other fun stuff for those who are that way inclined.

Even if it's not your favourite genre, don't write District 9 off your list of potentials.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Early Oscars Betting: time to make a killin'

Intrade have opened their first market on the Oscars for next year:

Winner of Best Picture 2010

Like one of the contenders for nomination for an Academy Award, it's very much Up In The Air

As Inglourious Basterds' Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) would say, it's time to make a killin'.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Inglourious Basterds: celluloid assassins

Writer/director Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds is more comedy than drama, more suspense than action. That's what makes it worth the effort of a cinema viewing. He rewrites the history of the Third Reich in true comic-book fantasy style. Always the risk-taker, Tarantino teases us with some lengthy dialogue-rich scenes that stand apart from his trademark graphic violence.

The opening sequence,as SS Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), the "Jew Hunter", parries with French farmer Perrier LaPadite (Denis Menochet), is a tingler as they switch between French and English. The 'La Louisiane' bar scene, as actress Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) meets with English spy Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender), accelerates to its inevitable derailment.

There are the usual visual allusions to cinema classics, so beloved by the buffs. IMDb has a list of movie connections. Fittingly the plot's epicentre is a Paris cinema owned by Shosanna Dreyfus/Emmanuelle Mimieux (Mélanie Laurent), a very fatale femme. Laurent and Kruger are highlights, continuing Tarantino's penchant for powerful female leads.

Nation's Pride, a fictional Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth) propaganda film within a film, is the story of hero Private Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Brühl). Tarantino's view: “I like that it’s the power of the cinema that fights the Nazis,” he says. “But not just as a metaphor, as a literal reality.” David Bowie's song Cat People (Putting Out Fire) reinforces the message.

Brad Pitt as Lieutenant Aldo Raine, the hillbilly leader of the assassin squad, shows that his comic display in Burn After Reading was no fluke. It's no Oscar winning performance but he carries off the role with a fine touch of Tennessee fun. "We're in the Nazi killin' business and business is a boomin."

Talent packs the screen. The strong cast are too numerous to mention. Eli Roth who plays basterd Donny Donowitz also directed Nation's Pride with his brother Gabriel. Apparently the black and white Stolz der Nation runs for seven minutes, though only parts are shown in the movie.

While Inglourious Basterds is a long way from Tarantino's best, this modern mixture of The Dirty Dozen and Flame and Citron will appeal to lovers of the heroes versus villains genre.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Eden is West's pedestrian offering

Eden is West (Eden à l'Ouest) is a pedestrian offering from director Costa-Gavras and not just because the protagonist is heading across Europe on foot. The film is a far cry from his early greats such as Z. and Missing.

Illegal immigrant Elias is searching for his Eden after washing up at an Aegean resort. He sets off to Paris on a so-called Odyssey. For the most part his temptresses and monsters are a fairly lack lustre bunch. The villains of modern capitalism and consumersim are stereotypes and most of the lessons of this fable lack any subtly. Apart from the occasional rip-off merchant and refugee exploiter, our gallant hero mostly encounters generosity and kindness.

Perhaps the most poignant moments come from the juxtaposition of rich German tourist Christina (Juliane Köhler) and poor Greek peasant Sophia (Dina Mihailidou).

Riccardo Scamarcio as Elias is a real charmer who does innocence very effectively. He's a curly-haired Tony Curtis. He manages to carry off a lot of very ordinary slapstick and revels in non-verbal interactions. Unfortunately his character's naivete is just one of several weaknesses in the screenplay. Elias is a generic refugee from an unnamed country whose religion and other cultural background are not presented. He is implicitly Muslim since he is shocked at first by nudity, alcohol and gratuitous sex. He's a fast learner.

There is a quirky, self-indulgent series of scenes with film crews in the background that adds little to the story or experience.

Despite the seriousness of its underlying themes, we are presented a cheery, optimistic view of humanity. Sadly the plight of refugees becomes submerged in its 'life is beautiful' message.

As an allegory about modern Western society it lacks punch. The film is a confused mix of comedy, drama, social satire and farce. It just isn't going anywhere.

The ending just doesn't do it either. It will take more than magic to change the inequities of modern civilisation or resolve a directionless plot.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Beautiful Kate: Always on their Minds

Director/screenwriter, Rachel Ward has created a very moving experience in Beautiful Kate. It's a story of a dysfunctional bush family, set in the dry but magnificent country around South Australia's Flinders Ranges. Ward's husband Bryan Brown doubles as producer and actor.

The death of his wife left Bruce Kendall to bring up their young children, two boys and two girls. His macho, tough approach to parenting brought nothing but disaster. A explosive mixture of adolescent sexual awakening and outback isolation was compounded by his choice of home schooling through School of the Air. The young twins Ned (Scott O'Donnell)and Kate (Sophie Lowe) were especially close.

When Bruce is dying, forty-year-old Ned (Ben Mendelsohn) returns to their property with his feisty girlfriend Toni (Maeve Dermody). Writer Ned starts to record his memories as a way of burying his ghosts or closet skeletons. When his sister leaves him as carer for several days, all the old wounds are reopened. The film is a journey towards the ubiquitous closure cliché. Bruce and Ned would find much more colourful synonyms for an ending, happy or otherwise.

This is a remarkably talented cast. Brown gives one of his most convincing performances and Mendelsohn impresses throughout. Rachel Griffiths as youngest sibling Sally is rock solid. Lowe does a fine job steering clear of the potential overkill inherent in her very difficult role. Dermody's scenes with Brown leave us with the certainty that there is much more depth to her character than we meet on the surface. Scott O'Donnell is a capable actor though he lacks the cheekiness and charisma of either the young or mature Mendelsohn.

The father/son confrontations are classics. Wall-flies would no doubt have enjoyed the rehearsals and off-screen banter. Rachel brings out the best and worst in both of them.

Kate is a well paced and structured narrative using unfolding flashbacks very effectively. Despite its themes, it is not a dark or brooding film of the kind that has been criticised lately. At one stage the older Ned cries out, "I'm still here!" in despair. As he drives back to the big smoke, these words herald a new opening.

Her feature film debut as director is a triumph for Rachel Ward.