Tagged: Sydney Film Festival

Review – Listen to Me Marlon (2015)

Director: Stevan Riley

Starring: Marlon Brando

Listen to Me MarlonStevan Riley’s documentary Listen to Me Marlon starts with the voice of Marlon Brando explaining how in the 1980s he had his head digitised, scanned with a laser and captured in a computer. We then see this primitive 3D recreation of his face speaking the words we are hearing as Brando describes a future in which actors like himself will be replaced by these malleable recreations. In a way, this becomes a metaphor for the film we are about to watch. Riley uses old footage, photographs and recordings to recreate Brando in an intimate and personal way, in what almost amounts to a posthumous autobiography.

Marlon Brando is one of the most fascinating figures in film history. Regarded by many as the greatest actor in screen history, he cast a large shadow. But many of the attributes that made him such a special talent caused him to struggle greatly under such an intense spotlight. Always a reluctant star, he was reclusive later in life. Even in his youth when he was at his most charismatic, his engagement with the press always saw him playing a role, different roles depending on the situation and his mood, but always careful not to reveal himself. Continue reading

Review – She’s Funny That Way (2014)

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Starring: Imogen Poots, Owen Wilson, Kathryn Hahn, Rhys Ifans, Will Forte, Jennifer Aniston, Austin Pendleton

She's Funny That WayShe’s Funny That Way is the first feature film in 13 years from celebrated 1970s auteur Peter Bogdanovich. Bogdanovich is known for his love of classical Hollywood cinema, and as he did with his beloved 1972 comedy What’s Up Doc?, here he channels the screwball comedies of the 1930s and 1940s – anarchic and irreverent social satires like The Lady Eve, It Happened One Night, Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday and The Philadelphia Story. He draws on filmmakers like Ernst Lubitsch, Preston Sturges and Frank Capra with more than a little bit of Bogdanovich contemporary Woody Allen in creating this outrageous farce.

Call girl Izzy Finkelstein (Imogen Poots) has her life changed forever when one a client offers her $30,000 to give up her current line of work and pursue her dream. Izzy’s dream is to be an actress, and the very next day her agent sends her along to a Broadway audition for celebrated director Arnold Albertson (Owen Wilson). What Izzy doesn’t know until she gets on stage is that Arnold Albertson is the philanthropic john from the night before. She is so good that Arnold, despite his discomfort, has no choice but to give her the part. Continue reading

Review – The Little Death (2014)

Director: Josh Lawson

Starring: Josh Lawson, Bojana Novakovic, Damon Herriman, Kate Mulvany, Kate Box, Patrick Brammall, Alan Dukes, Lisa McCune, Erin James, TJ Power, Kim Gyngell, Lachy Hulme

Little DeathThe little death, la petit mort, is a French euphemism for an orgasm. Actor Josh Lawson’s directorial debut, The Little Death, a romantic comedy about sexual fetishes, explores some of the weird and wonderful ways people get to that point.

We follow four ordinary couples living in a Sydney neighbourhood, each dealing with their own sexual issue. For Paul and Maeve, it is sexual masochism. She reveals her fantasy about being forced into sex by a stranger, leaving mild mannered Paul to try and fabricate a situation in which he can surprise his wife with an attack. For Evie and Dan, their therapist has suggested role-playing may help them get in touch with their emotions, but the scenarios get side-tracked as Dan catches the acting bug. For Phil and Maureen it is somnophilia. Their marriage is on the rocks, but when Maureen accidentally takes one of Phil’s extra strong sleeping pills, he sees his wife still and silent and falls in love with her all over again, starting an evening affair. For Rowena and Richard it is dacryphilia. Their efforts to get pregnant has taken the passion out of sex, but when Richard receives some bad news, Rowena finds herself strangely aroused by his tears so must continually find ways to make him cry. These stories are all tied together by a man, new to the neighbourhood, who goes door to door, using homemade nostalgic biscuits to distract his new neighbours from his legally required pronouncement that he is a registered sex offender.

The Little Death is not your typical sex comedy. It manages to be frank and explicit without being gratuitous or childish. These are suburban middle-class folk in committed relationships, not randy frat boys, and while the film does get some big laughs out of its exploration of different fetishes, it also explores themes of morals, normality, and communication within a relationship. We see characters who are so ashamed of their fetish that they create elaborate lies and even admit to far worse accusations in order to hide the truth.

Lawson’s screenplay does walk a very fine line. There are some divisive elements which will leave some audiences conflicted. The most obvious of these is the inclusion of a woman’s rape fantasy. While Lawson treads carefully in this area, it is a controversial and confronting concept, and at the very least it would seem a misstep that this is the first couple, and thus first fetish, that is introduced.

As is common in these types of films, some of the storylines work better than others. Despite some beautiful and very funny moments, The Little Death does struggle a bit for rhythm in tying those scenes together. Lawson possibly tries a bit too hard to connect the different storylines together into a neat Love Actually package, with the attempts to intertwine the stories becoming messy when the thematic connection on its own is sufficient.

With so much effort having gone into weaving these four storylines together, it is then a surprise to find one scene, concerning a fifth pairing, which stands alone at the end of the film. Monica works as a translator at a service that makes phone calls for deaf people. Sam, a deaf-mute, Skypes in and requests that Monica call a phone sex line for him. While usually a scene that struggles to find its place would be destined for the cutting room floor, this scene ends up being hands down the best of the film. Riotously funny, the scene strangely becomes a genuinely touching and lovely moment of connection between two people. It is my favourite singular movie moment of the year.

While some audiences will struggle to get on board with the concept, and the film has peaks and troughs, when The Little Death is good it is very good, and there is more than enough in The Little Death to suggest that Josh Lawson could be an interesting comedic voice in the future.

Rating: ★★★

Review by Duncan McLean

Have you seen The Little Death? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.

Review – Boyhood (2014)

Director: Richard Linklater

Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater

BoyhoodThere has never been a film quite like Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. Wanting to make a coming of age film which truly captured the experience of childhood and adolescence, Linklater came up with a bold concept: he would cast a six year old boy, and over the next 12 years follow that character from the beginning of his school life to his leaving for college. While Michael Apted had done something similar with his Up series of documentaries, in which he has revisited the same subjects every seven years since 1964, no one had attempted to tell a fictional story in this fashion.

A unique concept required a unique approach. Shot in 39 days between 2002 and 2013, each year the cast and crew would gather together when their schedules permitted for three or four days of shooting. Rather than running from a set screenplay, they started with a basic structural blueprint, and then Linklater would write the film as they went, year by year, enabling it to grow organically as its cast did.

This approach to production meant that, in Linklater’s words, time became a collaborator on the film. Time brings with it change and uncertainty, not to mention risk. Changes in the young actors had to be taken into account as the screenplay evolved. Each year, Linklater would start the process by having a chat with his young lead, Ellar Coltrane, about where he was in his life, and that discussion would serve as inspiration for the character. Similarly, the world changed over the twelve years the film was in production, and the film navigates those cultural and political changes. So we see the Iraq War and the election of Barrack Obama, events which wouldn’t have been known at the commencement of the project, become a part of the story.

The result is a film which manages to be both epic in scope and incredibly intimate at the same time. With no strict narrative to speak of, Boyhood simply recounts an ordinary life. Mason’s family goes through their fair share of changes and trials, but these events are all presented devoid of any melodrama. Even without a central narrative thread to hook us in, the characters are so well formed that we care about what happens to them. Mason is a dreamer, a curious boy with a thoughtful, artistic temperament. We watch him shape himself into a young man, no doubt in opposition to the string of abusive, alpha-male types that his mother has coupled with since his parents’ divorce. The film is called Boyhood, so obviously is centred around Mason’s experience, but it has just as much to say about girlhood through his sister Samantha, and parenthood through the journeys of his mother and father.

Ultimately, the film works because there is something strangely fascinating about watching these characters actually grow up before your eyes. This ageing process is often subtle. Linklater opts not to telegraph the progress through time with captions letting us know when we have leapt forward a year, instead trusting his audience to work it out for themselves through the little details: changes in haircuts, music styles and personal electronics.

Incredibly ambitious and effectively executed, Boyhood is a unique and at times quite profound cinematic experience.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Review by Duncan McLean

Have you seen Boyhood? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.

Review – Locke (2013)

Directors: Steven Knight

Starring: Tom Hardy, Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott, Ben Daniels

LockeFilmmaking can be very formulaic, so it is exciting when you encounter a film that tries to do something quite different, a film that attempts something truly unique. In its brave rethinking of how to tell a story on screen, Steven Knight’s film Locke is such a film.

The evening before a major concrete pour, the biggest non-military pour Europe has ever seen, Welsh construction manager Ivan Locke gets in his car and leaves the Birmingham construction site, heading for London. He starts making phone calls. The first is to home, where his wife and two sons are waiting for him to join them for the big football game. He tells them he won’t be able to make it. The next is to his subordinate at work. He tells him that he won’t be on site tomorrow so must delegate responsibility for the pour. Where is he going? What is it which requires him to drop everything at such a pivotal moment? As Ivan’s journey continues, and calls are made and received, we come to understand the predicament he finds himself in and watch his endeavour to manage the situation.

A masterful piece of minimalist filmmaking, Locke reimagines the very nature of what is cinematic. Knight’s compelling script is a variation on a one-man play, with the entirety of the film taking place in Ivan’s car in real time as he drives to London. With no flashbacks or cutaways, the film places an incredible faith in the power of dialogue, with all of our narrative information coming through the phone calls Ivan makes and receives on his journey. Despite the seeming limitations of its format, Knight’s film is a gripping and suspenseful thriller.

There are very few actors in the world who can hold you in the palm of their hand for ninety minutes on their own, but Tom Hardy is definitely one of them. It is difficult to imagine this film working without Hardy’s performance. Having played some incredibly intense characters in his career, Hardy here delivers a wonderfully restrained and layered performance as a man trying to stay calm in a crisis. Ivan Locke is a really interesting character psychologically, as he wrestles with notions of culpability and responsibility. A meticulous man, he is determined to fix things. He is determined to control the chaotic situation in which he finds himself, and while we can see the flaws in what he is attempting to do, we also perfectly understand why it is the only thing that he, being the character that he is, can do in this situation.

This unusual film required an unusual shoot. The entire film was shot in six days. Each night, as the car was towed along the motorway, Hardy would perform the film in its entirety, from start to finish, stopping only to reload the memory cards on the three cameras mounted on and inside the vehicle. He had six autocues hidden around the vehicle, and the phone conversations were actual calls, with the rest of the cast located in a hotel by the motorway. With the whole project going from the initial idea to its debut at the Venice Film Festival in only a few months, there is an incredible energy in the production.

While the film is not perfect – there are moments in which Ivan addresses the ghost of his father, who appears in the rear view mirror in the back seat of the car, and these feel a bit forced in comparison to the rest of the film – you forgive those slight missteps because of the overall boldness of the piece. Coming in at just under ninety minutes, a perfect length, this unique, compelling piece of storytelling will have you absolutely riveted from beginning to end.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Review by Duncan McLean

Have you seen Locke? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.

Review – The Rover (2014)

Director: David Michôd

Starring: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy, David Field, Tawanda Manyimo

RoverIn 2010, writer-director David Michôd announced himself as the next big talent in the Australian cinema with his remarkable debut feature, Animal Kingdom. The gritty suburban gangster story earned international critical acclaim and even garnered an Oscar nomination for Jacki Weaver. Now, four years later, Michôd brings us his second feature, The Rover, which he describes as “a dark, dirty, violent fable.”

Ten years after an unspecified catastrophic event, referred to only as “the collapse,” a man, Eric, living in a rural Australian wasteland has his car stolen by a trio of men, seemingly on the run, who have just rolled their truck. Eric sets off in pursuit of his car and along the way he encounters Rey, the younger brother of one of the trio of thieves, who has been left for dead with a gunshot wound. To Eric, Rey is the means to find his car. To Rey, Eric is the means to being reunited with his brother. After tending to Rey’s wound, they form an uneasy alliance, with neither knowing what the other plans to do when they reach their destination.

The Rover paints a bleak, nihilist picture. Argentinian director of photography Natasha Braier brings an outsider’s eye to South Australia’s Flinders Ranges, giving a stark, menacing quality to this barren landscape, this vast emptiness. The film seems to have come from an angry place within Michôd. The temptation is to refer to it as a post-apocalyptic film, but to do so would not quite be accurate. “The collapse” which precedes the events of the film is not as the result of an external force. The implosion of society appears to have been its own doing. The fact that traders in the film refuse to accept anything other than US dollars suggests that there is an economic element to this collapse. The world that remains is a harsh one in which survival is the only priority.

At the heart of The Rover are gripping lead performances from Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson. Pearce’s Eric is an unstoppable force. A man stripped of any remaining personality or morality, his pursuit of his car is single-minded and relentless and it is not until the very final moment of the film that we are given any insight into his motivation. Pearce and Michôd perform a delicate balancing act with Eric being at the same time the film’s protagonist and its most terrifying character. His ruthlessness and seeming disregard for human life is important though, because it serves to humanise Pattinson’s character, and draw us to him. Where we understand Eric as the type of man who can survive and even thrive in this bleak dystopia, the developmentally challenged Rey lacks that hardness. In what is undoubtedly the performance of Pattinson’s career thus far, he gives his character an underlying innocence and vulnerability despite his determination to appear threatening.

The Rover is a confrontingly violent film. This is not a reflection on the quantity of violence, but rather the coldness with which Michôd presents it. This world evidences a complete disregard for the sanctity of life. The first killing is quite shocking, because at that point we have not been prepared for the cutthroat way in which this society operates, but from there on it is a challenging, merciless film.

There have been numerous films in this dystopian wasteland genre, but none quite as nihilistic as this one. An unsettling but engrossing picture, in Michôd’s mind The Rover is a more hopeful film than Animal Kingdom. I would be surprised if audiences agree with him.

Rating: ★★★★

Review by Duncan McLean

Have you seen The Rover? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.