Archive for May, 2009

DunBLOG – Day Three

Posted: May 31, 2009 in movie reviews

2:16pm and on the road back to Sydney. Saw another session of shorts this morning at the RSL including Tresa’s film My Nan, the Next Cate Blanchett which was very funny and had the packed house laughing. And a packed house it was – for the 10:45am screening. Very encouraging. Other highlights included Stephen Kanaris’ beautiful and ambitious Boundless, Ben Phelps’ dark and literate Nice Shootin’ Cowboy and the massive crowd-pleaser, Glen Hunwick’s excellent animation Mutt.

Last night had many elements but essentially was dominated by the force of nature that is Matthew Newtown. His film Three Blind Mice sold out the James Theatre and was very warmly received (I personally loved it; I got very involved with the characters, all the scenes had tension and truth, and Ewan Leslie’s performance as the main character Sam is outstanding). Unfortunately it started very late (a little over an hour), and, after a Q&A and a live performance of the film’s closing credits song by its author Wes Carr, the session hosting my film started very late too (nearly an hour) and thus lost a lot of audience. But it really lost audience to the big, Saturday Night “ROCK AND REEL” party that began at nine pm… so, the slot of 8:45pm on Saturday night that had sounded so prime ended up being a sparsely populated 9:45pm slot while everyone was at the big party! Big bummer, but these things happen at film festivals… At least Three Blind Mice was good enough that one didn’t feel horribly cheated out of a slot.
The fact that things ran so late, however, will of necessity be something that the Festival will need to look at for next year. Perhaps the programming was just a wee bit too ambitious this year. It wasn’t apparent to FILM MAFIA why things ran so late; the ticketing system seemed smooth, with most people using a five-session “Jumbuck Pass” that simply had a hole punched into it upon arrival to any screening.
So, after my film screened to its wee house, it was off to the Big Party, presented by NSW MINING (a long promo for whom proceeded Three Blind Mice, and who have obviously sponsored the Festival very generously indeed). The party had a ticket price of $40 and didn’t include drinks ($5 each) but there was plenty of food and it was a good time. The band was led for most of the night by Matthew Newtown singing classic hits with support from the aforementioned Wes Carr. I’m told Matt held the stage for most of the night (I left at 12:30pm) with the party winding up at around 1:30am.
So, another late autumn, another DunBLOG. Arriving back to Sydney now, but back in Dungog the fun continues, and tonight the “Miners Marquee” will host yet another party: the Closing Night.

DunBLOG -Day Two

Posted: May 30, 2009 in movie reviews

Raining in DunBLOG. Great after-party to Kriv Stenders’ new film Lucky Country (which we didn’t make it to the town in time for) last night. The buzz in the room was electric – sounds like The Kriv has done it again. He must be challenging Rolf de Heer for the title of “Australia’s Can-Do, and Do It Without Compromise” Director. After-party was great. Film luminaries included Aden Young, The Kriv, Matt Newtown, Ewan Leslie and many, many more. Great staff, a great room and a great buzz. Newtown revealed to Film Mafia that his feature Three Blind Mice (playing in the prime slot of tonight – Saturday – at 6:30pm at the James Theatre) will get a cinema release from John L. Simpson’s Titan View, which was created in response to seeing The Jammed here at Dungog two years ago. Simpson had a great run with that film and at least a critical success with Men’s Group so it’s looking good for Newtown’s home-made flic which has already secured excellent international fest cred and (I believe) some distribution overseas.

Today saw a terrific series of shorts in the RSL! And the place was packed. A full house! Obviously the Festival has really caught the spirit of the locals – and those who live in the greater surroundings. Indeed, I heard a guy on his phone saying “Came in to Dungog for the film festival, seeing some shorts.” So obviously the region, not just the town, has gotten into the game.
Highlights from the shorts included Owen Elliott’s Soft Cop, about a puppet detective (a real crowd-pleaser and laugh-out-loud funny), Emily Bissland’s In The Same Boat, a beautifully rendered animated documentary about the unlikely friendship forged between an Aussie Vietnam Vet and a refugee in a psychiatric hospital, and Luke Eve’s Man’s Best Friend, a terrific dog-comedy from an outrageous – but meaningful – script by Michael Phelan. The audience enjoyed the ride.
The town really filled up today! People everywhere. You can spot the filmmakers a mile away, wearing black, wearing hats, wearing their Sydneyness on their sleeves. But the locals have embraced them, and have obviously embraced the Festival. The Festival also is surely plunging a lot of bucks into the town. Besides the obvious Sydney bucks flowing into the cafes and pubs (not many actual “restaurants” in Dungog) there are seventy-something local houses hosting “homestay” for an average of a hundred bucks a night. When I was here two years ago for the first one I think we were spied as suspicious and weird strangers, but now we’re obviously just those freaks that come every year in late Autumn.
Stavros has shorn off his huge grey beard that he was sporting at the launch and Alannah looks as magnificent as ever. Her energy is ceaseless.
As for the big controversy (the supposed shameless promotion of the mining industry in turn for Mining NSW’s massive sponsorship of the event: I cannot report that it is in great evidence. Perhaps it was on Thursday (Day One) and perhaps, as a result of the page 3 SMH article on Friday, it has been artfully reduced. Or perhaps it was never as huge as that article suggested. Regardless, no-one seems to be going around disgruntled. No-one has as yet pushed any form of pro-mining agenda to me. Interestingly, there is actually a fringe festival going on in town showing environmental / anti-mining films! How well attended it is I cannot say, but the main festival certainly is. The young lady presenting the shorts at the RSL today couldn’t quite believe the packed house!
Obviously this Fest is going from strength to strength. The next stage is figuring out how to accommodate its growth. The Dungog Film Festival Hotel, perhaps?

On the way to the Dungog Film Festival and its started to rain. Report has come from our man Mr. Television, already at the Festival since its opening last night, that the rains have been heavy at the tiny town that is annually turned into an alterna-Sydney Film Industry party for four days and nights. It also shows films… only Australian films. I’m headed up there as a Filmmaker; my nineteen-minute film Do Not Pass Go is playing there tomorrow (Saturday) night as part of a session of short films. It’s a good slot: Saturday night, 8:45pm, in the main venue, the James Theatre, supposedly the oldest continuously operating cinema in the country. It does conflict with the Saturday Night party, but, knowing the Dungog Fest as I do from my attendance there in its inaugural year in 2007, that party will go way late into the night (although – shock horror – you have to purchase tickets to the parties now! Sure wasn’t like that in the first year…) My colleague Tresa Ponnor is also coming up – her short film My Nan, the Next Cate Blanchett is also showing at the Festival. My colleague and great mate Luke Eve is already there – he’s got a short in too, called Man’s Best Friend. I had a blast at the Festival two years ago but word is it’s changed a whole lot… I figured two years ago that it would get too big for the small town and it sounds like it already achieved that last year! But Alannah Zitserman, the Fest’s director, is one of the most capable organisers I’ve ever met so I’m hoping for great things. And certainly great films!

Latest Film Reviews

Posted: May 24, 2009 in movie reviews


Jody Hill’s $25,000,000 follow-up to his $70,000 THE FOOT FIST WAY sort of asks the question, “What if TAXI DRIVER were a comedy?” This certainly bold film will not appeal to all – in fact, it will probably appeal only to a certain 10 percent of the movie-going public, those who are willing to see a story whose central character is almost not only almost completely unlikable but completely reprehensible. Seth Rogan plays a mall cop (not to be confused with the recent movie PAUL BLART: MALL COP) who has delusions of grandeur, terrible social skills and, most disturbingly, extremely violent tendencies and desires. With date rape not out of the question for this central loser – and with his mental illness not examined in proper detail – the movie must be admired for its boldness just as it will despised by some for its lack of heart.
Definitely one for the movie lovers (and those who love movies about the movies), Robert De Niro gives his finest, most nuanced and most charming performance in ages as big-time Hollywood insider producer Ben (based on Art Linson) who has to deal with a spoiled British psudo-Auteur director (Michael Wincott), a VERY spoiled major motion picture star called Bruce Willis played by Bruce Willis (but based on Alec Baldwin) and his yearning for his ex-wife. Based by Linson on his own tell-all Hollywood memoir, this is surprisingly more heartfelt – and less obviously comedic – than one might imagine from its campaign. If you’re reading FILM MAFIA, you’ll probably enjoy WHAT JUST HAPPENED?
Extremely well-acted, sprawling, kaleidoscopic and uncompromising look at the Comorra crime families in the provinces of Naples and Caserta by master director Matteo Garrone from the incredibly popular novel by Roberto Saviano (the publication of which has forced him to live in hiding, and protected) shows, through five intercut stories, just how deeply violent crime and the drug trade is connected to every strata of Italian life. A bold, brave and complex film, absolutely requiring viewing on the big screen.

Brett Gaylor’s entertaining and completely subjective documentary argues for a brave new world free of copyright and the tyranny of intellectual property. Whether you agree with his view or not will probably depend on your age and whether, say, you are a published author or musician who depends on royalties for your income, but regardless, his examination of the new uses of other people’s creative work through re-mixing, mashing, sampling and re-editing will probably open your eyes and cause you to question the notions of intellectual property, especially as espoused by the United States. Also a terrific look at Canada’s master of remix Girl Talk, the film suffers a little through an obviously Michael Moore style – but then, stealing other’s stuff is precisely the argument of the film!

Posted: May 10, 2009 in movie reviews



There can be no faulting the casual German-filmgoer in the non-German cinema for thinking Uri Edel’s new film, THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX, was directed by his compatriot Oliver Hirschbiegel, who made the outstanding 2004 film DOWNFALL. Both films were nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards; both are long (over two and a half hours); both feature immaculate period design and superb acting (including the force of nature that is Bruno Ganz); and both are based on terrible, violent episodes in Germany’s history. Most importantly, however, these films form a union based on their objectivity.

Like DOWNFALL, THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX avoids any judgement. The earlier film carries its own weight: we know Hitler was a monster, and possibly psychotic: we bring to the film our own (fair) prejudices, and, remarkably, Hirschbiegel let us. Edel does the same, but in THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX, he is dealing with a much more delicate question, as the monster is not out in the open at all.

Depending on your political leanings, you may find the activities of the Red Army Faction (RAF) in Germany in the 1970s either laudatory or completely reprehensible. The genius of Edel’s film is that he lets you make that choice. Unlike many of the (sometimes very well-made) films about the IRA that surfaced in the 1980s and 1990s, THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX is about as objective about a difficult and contentious subject as a film could get. The story is told through the eyes of the organization itself – there’s no doubting that – but they aren’t celebrated; neither are the German forces out to stop their operations. All the big issues that the RAF were fighting against are examined (in quite delicate detail) but a stand is never taken: the viewer is left to examine the facts – as presented in this movie – for themselves.

This film could be shown in classrooms. It does not take a side – it takes the opposite. Certainly not a docudrama, THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX nonetheless is a level-headed examination of an important period in recent German history. I suspect part of its immense worldwide appeal rests with that: its audience are learning, without being lectured. It is a major film.

Posted: May 10, 2009 in movie reviews


SAMSON AND DELILAH and the New Australian Cinema


Mark my words: Warwick Thornton’s debut feature, SAMSON AND DELILAH, will win the Camera D’Or (for Best Debut Feature) at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. It will also make, as a per-screen average, more money than any other Australian film this year, and possibly more money per screen than any movie this year (released into Australian cinemas).

 This extraordinary film, about the most marginalised of subjects (petrol-sniffing amongst Australian Indigenous youth) has gripped the Australian public imagination. How do I know this? I just saw a packed 12:15pm Sunday session; as I came out the line for the 2:15pm session went out onto the street, and the afternoon sessions were already sold out. SOLD OUT. This is a sign of a true cultural phenomenon.

 Now, granted, the cinema I was at was the Dendy at Newtown, which would have to be the most leftist intellectual cinema in the country (per “capita”, or head). But this is the type of cinema where this film is playing, and that is partially why it will be such a per-screen success.

Why else, however? Well, the advance reviews have been spectacular, with Australia’s two most visible film critics, David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz, doing the unthinkable and both giving the film five stars out of five on their nationally televised At The Movies. Likewise, in The Australian, Mr. Stratton gave the film the line “one of the finest films ever made in Australia”.

But what else makes a small, marginal film like this – a film with nothing approaching a star, about subject matter most people recoil from, shot on a tiny budget – a hit? WOM. Word of mouth. And why will this movie have WOM in spades? Easy. Heart. This film has heart to burn. It is a portrait of love every bit as tender as ROMEO AND JULIET – the Shakespeare version, the text. It has so much to say about why people love each other – and says it with so few words (there is barely any dialogue in the entire movie) – that people will not be able to contain themselves from saying to their friends, “Yes, it’s bleak. But it’s magnificent. Go.”

SAMSON AND DELILAH is magnificent. Go.

Craig The Man

Posted: May 6, 2009 in movie reviews


Daniel Craig again proves himself the most charismatic actor around as the leader of a group of forest-dwelling Jewish Bellorussian resistance fighters in Mark Doher Zwick’s masterful telling of an almost-forgotten but amazing historical event.



Mark Doherty writes and stars – with Dylan Moran, in this low-key, very black comedy that might have seemed very funny on set but has lost something on its way to the screen.