Thursday, December 1, 2011

Aliens Attack The Block


Before the preview session we were warned that the film was dark and violent but fun. For a Sci-Fi alien film, Attack The Block turned out to be on the light side with less blood and violence than expected. It was fun! The audience laughed a lot - a real plus for a teen flick as there were lots of baby boomers in attendance.

A London housing estate is besieged by extraterrestrial monsters. Writer/director Joe Cornish keeps a fast pace, punctuating the humour with the inevitable but fairly subdued ‘horror’. The script is clever at times, though the frequent references to oppression of the block’s underclass youth by police, government and society is hardly subtle or necessary. Better to let the bleeding obvious… Anyway, it’s a film about a London riot of a very different kind.

The youthful cast proves the depth of acting talent in Britain. John Boyega as gang leader Moses deliveres his heroic lines with suitable deadpan. He has excellent comic support from Luke Treadaway as nurdy Brewis, and gang members Pest (Alex Esmail) and Biggz (Simon Howard). Pre-pubescents Mayhem (Michael Ajao) and Probs (Sammy Williams) add the kind of attitude you’d expect on the block.

The plot is so implausible I won’t even bother with any spoilers. Clearly U.K. government budget cuts have sunk deeper than an alien’s glowing teeth, as the military don’t even seem to notice an attack from outer space.

It’s a Them and Them and Us movie. Like the teens, it turns out that the aliens are just misunderstood. Fittingly Moses apologises to Sam (Jodie Whittaker) by telling her that they wouldn’t have robbed her if they’d known she lived on the block.

 Nearly forgot the drugs warning: There is lots of weed in this movie. It’s a big part of the humour so not everyone will be pleased.

(Thanks to Ned & Co for the free tickets.)

PS. Life imitating art: a guidedog-in-training had to be removed by its trainer after barking at a tense moment late in the film.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Tall Man: Death in Paradise

The Tall Man documents the death in police custody of aborigine Cameron Doomadgee on Queensland’s Palm Island in 2004 and the subsequent inquests and trial of Sergeant Chris Hurley.

From my review of the book in 2010 The Tall Man Story continues:
The background to this tragic story is very bleak:

  • the appalling treatment of indigenous people in Queensland by settlers, government and police;
  • the forced relocation of the unwanted and ‘undesirables’ to Palm Island’s virtual prison;
  • the continuing consequences of the stolen generations and separated families;
  • the culture of apathy and denial within the police, forensic pathologists and the justice system;
  • the code of coverup;
  • the ‘them and us’ attitudes of some in the Deep North towards their Southern cousins;
  • the legacy of Christian missions on indigenous beliefs and values;
  • the sorry state of reconciliation in parts of Australia.
One of the best things about this documentary is that it lets the people speak for themselves. There is no heavy narration or running commentary. Of course that doesn’t necessarily make it objective or without a point of view. As I wrote about the book’s author Chloe Hooper:
It’s easy to feel that she was trying to nail him for the still unexplained violent death of Cameron Doomadgee.
Writer/director Tony Krawitz has been essentially true to the book. He explained his approach and views in this interview:

The audience can draw their own conclusions, just as Chloe Hooper’s readers had to. Some voices are missing, especially Sergeant Hurley and other members of the police force. We have to rely on extracts from his interviews during the investigation and subsequent legal proceedings.

Some aspects are left out such as detailed coverage of the riots and subsequent prosecutions. Some recent developments since publication have been added. It’s hard not reach for clichés such as disturbing and confronting. It’s also hard to leave the theatre with any feeling of optimism about most of the issues outlined above.

If you miss this quality production at the cinema, SBS should be screening it later and hopefully will be available on SBS OnDemand.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Flickcrit: Babies - Speaking for Themselves

No commentary, no dialogue to speak of, just four babies in their first year of life. Ponijao from Opuwo Namibia, Bayar from Bayarjargal Mongolia, Mari from Tokyo Japan and Hattie from San Francisco USA.

Though not my topic of choice, I was won over within seconds. Thomas Balmès'Babies is my kind of documentary maker. He lets the camera tell the story. The structure is straightforward and predictable: from breastfed dependency to toddling independence. You can draw your own life lessons, just enjoy the wonder of infancy or do both. If the global village has any future, it is being nurtured in these communities.

It's a French production but could hardly be classified as foreign language. Wikipedia suggests that some viewers think "it lacks insight and depth". Must be used to docos that do all the thinking for them.

Do yourself a favour - catch this one, preferably on the big screen. I haven't smiled so much at the cinema  for ages.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Flickrit: Get Low

Director Aaron Schneider is on the mark with Get Low. Its mixture of dark humour with darker drama creates a mood reminiscent of the early Cohen Brothers films.

The story is based on a real character from the 1930s who planned to be a live guest at his own funeral. In this fictionalised version Felix wants to have his life recounted and thereby hangs the tale.

It is a classy cast who give very professional performances. The three generations of men deserve a a joint Oscar. Robert Duvall shines as the feared hermit of forty years Felix Bush. Bill Murray as unconventional undertaker Frank Quinn does what he's best at - the likeable rogue.

Lucas Black as his idealistic assistant Buddy enjoys the company of these screen greats. Sissy Spacek as Mattie Darrow and Bill Cobbs as the Reverend Charlie Jackson do what's required and more.

If you don't enjoy this one then stop trying.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Mad Bastards: Raw and Real

Writer/director Brendan Fletcher's film Mad Bastards is a rough and ready depiction of aboriginal life in the remore Kimberley region of Western Australia. No punches are pulled. Poverty, unemployment, violence, alcohol abuse, domestic violence are all there in large doses. But so are the personal struggles to overcome these legacies, and the enduring strength of the people.

The cast are mostly amateurs and this shows throughout the movie. However, there is a heightened honesty and intensity, as many play roles that reflect their own life experiences.

The following is taken from the Press Kit:
TJ is a mad bastard, and his estranged 13‐year‐old son Bullet is on the fast track to
becoming one, too. After being turned away from his mother’s house, TJ sets off across the country to the Kimberly region of northwestern Australia to make things right with his son.

Grandpa Tex has lived a tough life, and now, as a local cop in the outback town of Five Rivers, he wants to change things for the men in his community. Cutting between three generations, Mad Bastards is a raw look at the journey to becoming a man and the personal transformation one must make.

Developed with local Aboriginal communities and fueled by a local cast, Mad Bastards
draws from the rich tradition of storytelling inherent in Indigenous life. Using music from legendary Broome musicians the Pigram Brothers, writer/director Brendan Fletcher poetically fuses the harsh realities of violence, healing, and family.
Dean Daly-Jones as TJ, Lucas Yeeda as his 13 year-old son Bullet, Ngaire Pigram as the mother and Greg Tait as grandpa policeman Tex all give professional performances, though Ngaire is the only experienced actor. Tait is a fair dinkum copper from the area.

If you're not yet a fan of Ngaire's fellow family members the Pigram Brothers, there is plenty of opporunity to meet some of them and their music, plus musician Alex Lloyd.

Mad Bastards is a raw but very real film that is both confronting and touching.

Friday, May 20, 2011


French Canadian writer/director Denis Villeneuve brings Wajdi Mouawad’s dark play Incendies to the screen with the intensity the story deserves. Mouawad is Lebanese but this fable is set in a fictional Middle Eastern country with the intention of divorcing it from a specific political conflict or participants.

The message is about ending anger thorough personal rather than the public reconciliation such as that seen in South Africa. The scale of the violent horrors is immense: rape and torture, cold-blooded execution of ‘innocents’, adult and children.

The cast is first class. Lubna Azabal gives a haunting portrayal as Nawal Marwan, a Christian whose youthful romance sparks this dark mystery.

Her children Jeanne and Simon Marwan (Mélissa Désormeaux Poulin, Maxim Gaudette) are sent on a quest to discover their father and brother with the assistance of notary Lebel (Rémy Girard). The journey to discover their brother Nihad (Abdelghafour Elaaziz) is interspersed with flashbacks to Nawal’s youth.

The surprises and twists in the plot are a little too predictable at times and sometimes beyond belief as well. We have to take it as allegory if the ‘message’ is not to be lost.

A powerful, disturbing film that ends on a note of hope. Not for the faint hearted.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Way Back: Endless Steps

There is a lot to like about The Way Back: great scenery and photography; some fine acting; a boy's own adventure (well almost if you don't count the girl). But overall this is not one of Peter Weir's best films.

The horrors of Stalinism were laboured without revealing anything new or deepening our understanding of the gulag tragedy. Perhaps it will help to educate a younger audience.

The storyline is predictable and clichéd.

The performance of Colin Farrell, as the criminal Valka, is the most appealing but then he has the most to work with. His dark-Irish charisma suits the part. Ed Harris, as the American Mr. Smith, rarely gets beyond wooden or perhaps it's just the enigmatic character he's playing. Jim Sturgess, as the leader Janusz, is too good to have survived as far as Siberia.

The direction and editing are pedestrian (no pun intended). Cinematic devices such as the dream of coming home to the front door are twee to say the least. Perhaps the walking boots at the end are a tongue-in-cheek tribute to Eisenstein.

The script screams out for some insight into the individuals - what made them unique as well as universal.

Nevertheless, if you're into survival sagas, then this two-hour-plus contribution to the genre should suit.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

In A Better World: Beating Bullies

In A Better World (Hævnen) is a morality play where evil and goodness contend. Three archetypal bullies dominate their worlds: a schoolyard thug, a dystopian warlord/godfather and a belligerent sociopath.

They test the principles of liberal adults who abhor violence. The story confronts the ultimate dilemma: how to overcome violence and intimidation without embracing it. How to turn the other cheek without being defeated or giving in. When their children decide on retaliation rather than rationality, the fragile lives of the adults do not seem to offer any answers.

The standout of the highly professional cast is Markus Rygaard who plays Elias, one of the sons.

The plot moves both inevitably and predictably to its dramatic climax and rather trite resolution.

As an allegory, its message is too in-your-face to be the stuff of first class fiction. Nevertheless, In A Better World is a movie with merit that should appeal to all ages. We'll let the ten-year-olds decide for themselves.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Brighton Rock: Trying Too Hard

Brighton Rock has lots going for it: a Graham Greene classic; iconic locations; a social turning point; clashes of generations and sub-cultures; tragic love; and crime. Not to forget that it is also the era of the Second Vatican Council, with its attempt to modernise Catholicism.

Plus a stellar cast.

The original film, based on Greene’s 1938 novel, was made in 1947 the year I was born. This remake is set in 1964, my last year at school, a truly memorable one. At the time the Beatles are kings, angry youth in England side violently with the waning rockers or the trendy mods. At the same time the old local gangs face extinction by sophisticated, national criminal organisations. Both literally and figuratively, guns are replacing flick knives as the weapon of choice.

Young Pinkie (Sam Riley) is an old style psychopath. His idea of romance is to pull the legs off a spider like proverbial daisy petals. The seventeen year-old girl is in fact named Rose (Andrea Riseborough) and her romantic notions are quite the opposite. It’s a case of guile versus guileless. Riley and Riseborough both give excellent performances, though they often seem too controlled with emotions switching on and off.

Both characters have an Old Testament hell-fire view of Catholicism that is not adequately explored. It is just one of the many themes and sub-plots that compete for our attention. This adaptation tries to do too much.

The official website claims that it ‘embraces the classic elements of film noir and the British gangster film’. At times director Rowan Joffe’s style is reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1930s English crime movies or his 50s crime thrillers. However, he doesn’t quite hit the mark. Despite seductive sets and stunning scenery the look of this film is more 1950 than fifteen years later. Perhaps the changed timeframe was a mistake. This adaptation is trying to do too much.

The supporting cast are faultless: Helen Mirren as the relentless Ida; John Hurt as her admirer Phil Corkery; and Phil Davis as washed-out crim Spicer. Yet somehow most of them just don’t seem comfortable in this environment, not even the very typecast Davis. Godfather Colleoni (Andy Serkis) also seems an anachronism.

Perhaps the changed timeframe was a mistake. Brighton Rock revisited is a quality production but writer/director Joffe just tries too hard for this movie to become a classic.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Flickcrit: How I Ended This Summer

"Against the haunting backdrop of an Arctic outpost, 2 men with fiery tempers ignite in a deadly conflict. A handsome newcomer threatens the hostile veteran amidst thick fog, sharp rocks, and the merciless Arctic Sea."

A film of 124 minutes featuring only two characters needs to have something special going for it. Alexei Popogrebsky’s How I Ended This Summer has both first class performances and stunning photography of its remote location.

It is dominated by its amazing physical environment – a meteorological outpost on the Arctic Sea. He has used the Russian Valkarkai Polar Station as the setting for an intense drama between two men and two generations.

Sergei (Sergei Puskepalis) is the middle-aged old-hand, obsessively committed to the routines of reporting daily weather readings. The work also involves monitoring a Soviet era radioactive relic. That task goes to his assistant Pavel (Grigory Dobrygin). He is a twentysomething novice on a summer job who is more interested in video games than keeping meticulous records.

Although Dobrygin is also a novice, his film debut is impressive. He more than matches the intensity of his older colleague.

This movie is classed as a psychological thriller, which suits writer/director Popogrebsky who majored in Psychology at Moscow State University. It is a clash of personalities, values and generations. On top of this, the extreme environment plays a not insignificant part as one of the protagonists.

The slow pace in the first half of the film creates the necessary mood of isolation and establishes the fear that Pavel has for the unbalanced Sergei. When Pavel withholds bad news it is because he dreads that the older man will tip into uncontrolled rage and violence. The decision backfires, of course, and his summer faces a nightmare ending. Pavel starts to join Sergei on the dark side.

Unfortunately, the second half takes too long to build to its climax. The film could have been shortened considerably by tighter direction and editing. It is too mono-paced. Nevertheless, How I Ended This Summer is worth a visit to the cinema.