Archive for June, 2010

EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP ****1/2

What to make of this remarkable movie? Well, what to make of Banksy, the graffiti / street artist who made this most incredibly entertaining, illuminating, and, more than anything, hysterically funny documentary? Or is it a piece of art, a hoax? Is it simply a continuum of this most remarkable of artists? Does it exist? Actually, it most surely does, and the swirls of “hoax”-driven speculation can easily be answered through the internet and the fact that there is existing evidence of the events depicted in the film taking place. But those events are mind-boggling! The fact that they actually happened are astounding! Roll up, roll up, for a film that takes your perceived notions of everyday life and squeezes them so finely through a skewer of eccentricity, talent, and the hazy, crazy world of capital “A” Art – and, in particular, the consumers of such. To explain that happens in this film would be to rob it of its grandeur – and trust me, it has grandeur, grandeur to boot. I have never seen a film like this. See it immediately – it will be the talking point of the next six parties you go to.

ROCKET SCIENCE ***

Jeffrey Blitz’s charming, low-key fictional feature follow-up to his gorgeous feature-length documentary Spellbound (about the national Spelling Bee circuit in the USA) has taken three long years to reach Australian screens. Once again, Blitz is concerned with schools and words, here creating a small, very charming tale around the intensity of high-school debating. I suspect the film took so long to arrive in Australia because the subject matter was considered marginal at best; I was a high-school debater – indeed, a next-to State Champion – and I couldn’t wait. The film is lovely, extremely well acted by the amazing Anna Kendrick (Up In The Air, Camp) and newcomer Nicholas D’Agosto, who, I promise, will be the next Jonathan Schwartz. It is also very, very funny for its first two thirds; the last third, unfortunately, is not funny at all, and becomes mawkish and slow. If you were ever a high school debater – or even on the high school chess team, bridge team, or other geek team – this is probably the film for you, but if not, it’s lovely and loving without being truly wonderful. That said, there is no doubt that Jeff Blitz has the potential to be the 2000s John Hughes – in fact, it’s obvious he’s on his way. See it quick if you want to see it, as it’s in very limited release nationwide.

GET HIM TO THE GREEK ***1/2

Spinning off the most entertaining character from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek is a bawdy, ribald and very funny flic that revels in its outrageousness. Jonah Hill (who was also in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but as a completely different character) here plays a junior record executive who is entrusted by the head of his label (hilariously and delightfully played by Sean Puff Diddy Combs) to bring rock star Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) from his home in London to the Greek Theatre in LA in time for a major gig. The obvious trouble here is that Aldous is a supreme hedonist, and would pretty much rather do anything (including any drug or sexual partner) than get on the appropriate planes to make it to the gig on time. The set-up and plot all flow out pretty predictably from there, but there are some extremely funny gags, set pieces and performances – including a delicious send-up of Naughty Brit Pop vacuousness by a completely unexpected Rose Byrne, showing great comic chops. There are some pretty loose connections in the film (sometimes its very choppy, implying that whole scenes that advanced the plot ended up on the cutting room floor), and if you don’t like seeing drug-taking on screen then the film won’t be for you, but overall, it’s a very funny ride.

CITY ISLAND ***1/2

Three words: Andy Garcia comedy. The nice thing is, he’s delightful as Vince Rozzo, the head of a family living on the amazingly exotic City Island, a one-mile square island located just off the Bronx, with views of most of New York’s boroughs yet feeling more like it belongs in New England, full of wooden houses, fisherman and charming taverns. The comic device here – besides the locale – is that every member of the family has a secret or two, and its inevitable that they must come out. The catalyst for the house of cards to tumble and fall is Vince, a corrections officer, realising that a new inmate is his long-abandoned son. If it sounds heavy, it’s not – indeed the whole concoction is as light and breezy as the long summer days in which it is set; the conflicts never feel too sharp, the language remains calm – if loud (this family likes to raise its voice) – and it’ll all wash over you with great pleasantness and some genuine belly laughs, particularly given that Alan Arkin’s in the cast as a grumpy old acting teacher. A quiet pleasure.

Animal Kingdom

Posted: June 13, 2010 in movie reviews

ANIMAL KINGDOM ****1/2

To read some of the writing around town, you would be forgiven for thinking that Animal Kingdom was the second coming of Australian film. In a way, you’d be right. There does seem to be a “new wave” of Australian filmmaking at the moment that is smarter and more relevant than much of the last decade’s worth of content, and Animal Kingdom is being, rightly, seen as leading that charge. David Michod’s debut feature, following on from his exceptional award-winning short Crossbow, is an incredibly assured, confident work that has an epic feel despite being mainly limited to the criminal shenanigans of a single, incredibly warped household. Jacki Weaver gives a career-topping performance as a seriously misguided grand-matriarch overseeing her even more, dangerously misguided grandsons, and Ben Mendohlson, as the most warped, gives us the performance we’ve been waiting from him for years – a laser-sharp portrayal of a man whose mind is completely off the “normal” path but who has no idea that this is the case (which makes him so terrifying). “Early Scorcese” has been bandied about in relation to this remarkable film, and the simile is just, because you can see the influence of that director in many of the film’s set-pieces, as you can the influence (perhaps in a more obvious way) of Paul Thomas Anderson. For any filmmaker, this would be a fine work; for a debuting filmmaker, this is indeed some kind of masterpiece. See it in the cinema – it was made to be seen there, amongst others, straight through, in the dark.

Posted: June 1, 2010 in movie reviews

THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES ****1/2

When The Secret in Their Eyes (El Secreto De Sus Ojos) won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film this year, there was an audible gasp from my film geek colleagues – and I was completely floored. Critical opinion (my own included) had so declared that the Oscar would go to either Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon or Jaques Audiard’s A Prophet, the Palme D’Or and Grand Prix winners at Cannes respectively, that the other three nominees were rendered inconsequential. The trouble was that none of us had seen the other three, and The Secret In Their Eyes was among them, and with very good reason. It is a superb film, an incredibly rich and moving crime thriller telling a story both in the present and twenty-five years in the past, utilising the streets of Buenos Aires to maximum effect and deploying some of Argentina’s finest actors. Ricardo Darin (the elder conman in the very successful 2000 film Nine Queens) plays Benjamin Esposito, a recently retired judicial investigator who decides, in retirement, to write a novel based on the twenty-five year old case that still haunts him – that of a rape and murder. In doing so, he seeks the counsel of his old boss, Irene Hastings (Soledad Villami) who is still employed, now as a judge. To reveal more of the plot would be a crime; what’s important to know is that the movie transcends its crime-novel beginnings (much like the wonderful film version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) and resonates as much emotionally as viscerally. Never sordid, gratuitous or dishonest, this is a thoroughly satisfying, big-meal of a movie for adults to savour.

THE STONING OF SORAYA M. ***

Cyrus Nowrasteh’s film, based on a true story from 1986, seems designed to polarise audiences, and indeed it has been, as it has travelled the world, festival to festival and cinema to cinema. It tells the story of Soraya (an exceptional Mozhan Marno) a wife and mother in a small Iranian town, who is falsely accused by her husband of adultery so that he may get rid of her in favour of a teenage girl. And get rid of her he does (there’s a big clue in the title). Relentless in its depiction of the brutal act (and I mean relentless, though comparisons with The Passion of the Christ are over the top), some will find this film distasteful in the extreme, while others will be tremendously moved by it, and indeed, perhaps, called into some form of action, which is obviously the filmmaker’s hope. Polemical, didactic and aggressive, the film’s flaws lay in it depictions of the men of the village, particularly Soraya’s husband and the corrupt local mayor and mullah, who are all portrayed as scheming, one-dimensional villains who don’t just lack respect for women but despise them. But then, I have never been to a village like the one portrayed in the film, and stonings continue to occur throughout the world on a regular basis, so perhaps these are accurate portrayals. You’ll definitely need to make up your own mind; I was shocked, angered and moved, and found the film’s message and outrage more than made up for its deficiencies.