AFI | AACTA staff go to MIFF: Part 2

We love our films here at AFI | AACTA, and for those in our Melbourne office the culmination of this cinephilia comes during the Melbourne International Film Festival – a three-week feast of film from around the globe taking place tantalizingly close to our South Melbourne office.

Attempting to weave as many film sessions as possible in amongst our regular work is a challenge, to be sure, but it’s one that we embrace with open arms and bleary eyes. In this second of a two-part blog mini-series, three of AFI | AACTA’s staff and one of our treasured volunteers recount their experiences at MIFF 2012. [You can read Part 1 here.]

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD – a standout favourite at MIFF this year.

Rochelle Siemienowicz – AFI | AACTA Editor

Reading, writing, thinking and talking about Australian film and television, I’m editor at the AFI | AACTA, a role I’ve had for the past four years. I write the fortnightly e-News, manage this blog, update our social media, and on the ‘night of nights’ when the Award winners come off stage, I have the privilege of interviewing them while they hold their newly minted statuettes. One of the great pleasures of my job is getting to meet and write about the achievements of the many talented behind-the-scenes professionals involved in our screen industry, as well as helping to spread the word about new Australian screen productions . I also love films of all kinds from around the world, and for the last 12 years I’ve been the Film Editor at The Big Issue magazine – a role I’ve just passed on in order to make a little more time to actually go the cinema, without a pen and paper in hand! 

MIFF is always an incredibly exciting time, but also quite stressful and conflicted, as I’m intensely aware of what I’m missing out on, and how little I’ll actually be able to fit in. It’s a bonus, however, to follow friends and fellow film lovers through their blogs and social media, creating a wonderful sense of community around the festival.

My highlights this year included opening night film The Sapphires, a visually beautiful and emotionally satisfying story that made me feel like dancing out of the cinema and into the the afterparty. A real thrill of the night was seeing Jessica Mauboy take to the stage for a live performance at the Plaza Ballroom of the Regent Theatre. The energy and love in the room was palpable, and that voice sent shivers down my spine! Interviewing the film’s director Wayne Blair the morning after was also a buzz. You can read the interview over here.

The trials and tribulations of beautiful young dancers. The ultimate ballet documentary, FIRST POSITION.

Another standout this year was ballet documentary First Position. Directed by first time filmmaker and former dancer Bess Kargman, the film follows the journey of six talented young dancers of different nationalities, competing in the Youth America Grand Prix, the world’s largest and most prestigious ballet competition for dancers aged nine to 19. Prizes include scholarships and positions in the world’s best ballet companies. These are especially sought in the present tough times of unemployment for many dancers. Beautifully shot and perfectly paced, First Position manages to convey both the small and large moments in the dancer’s extraordinarily tough lives – often with great humour and pathos. It’s been a while since I’ve been quite so emotionally moved by a film’s finale – even as it was almost inevitably and predictably upflifting. Winner of the 2011 DOCNYC Audience Award and San Francisco Documentary Festival Jury Prize, First Position deserves every bit of positive buzz it’s generated so far. Look out for it in release down the track through Hopscotch.

This year I was lucky enough to write program notes for several of the documentaries in the festival. These proved to be highlights and you can click through to my personal blog if you’re interested in thoughts on:

  • Lasseter’s Bones: Documentary filmmaker Luke Walker (Beyond Our Ken) spent three years sifting through the facts to uncover what really happened to the legendary explorer Harold Bell Lasseter, a man who claimed to have sited a 7-mile gold reef in central Australia and died in the desert trying to find it again. Was he deluded, a liar or a genius? A fascinating portrait of obsession, packed with uniquely Aussie ‘characters’.
  • The AmbassadorOutrageous, gutsy and potentially offensive, it’s no surprise that Danish documentary The Ambassador is produced by Lars von Trier’s Zentropa Films. Journalist and filmmaker Mads Brügger won the 2010 Sundance World Cinema jury prize with The Red Chapel, in which he posed as a communist theatre director visiting, and covertly filming, in North Korea. With The Ambassador, Brügger again risks imprisonment, or more likely assassination, by putting himself squarely at the centre of a project that’s jaw-droppingly funny but deadly serious in its intent – posing as a corrupt diplomat in the Central African Republic.

Mads Brugger’s THE AMBASSADOR

  • We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists Is it cyber terrorism, vandalism or legitimate political protest when a loosely organised bunch of computer geeks brings down an official website in order to make a point? Brian Knappenberger’s We Are Legion is a fascinating glimpse behind the handsome, leering Guy Fawkes mask that has become the Anonymous movement’s logo. Who are these people? What do they want, and how do they think? Are they cowardly bullies working from their bedrooms or courageous activists who are the last bastion of freedom of speech in an age of almost total Internet surveillance?
  • Golden Slumbers: As a passionate believer in the importance of national film industries – and the sacredness of all kinds of film archives – the idea that a country’s entire cinematic output could be wilfully destroyed seems horrific. Unthinkable, even. Yet as Davy Chou’s intensely personal and poetic documentary Golden Slumbers recounts, that’s what happened in Cambodia when the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975.

Vanessa McKeddie – AFI |AACTA Awards Coordinator

Vanessa McKeddie

I’m the Awards Coordinator at the AFI | AACTA.Remove the word ‘Holly’ and replace it with ‘Aussie’ to form the word ‘Aussiewood’…a name I like to refer to as the AFI | AACTA office. [Editor’s note: Our name for Vanessa is ‘little ray of sunshine’ as she’s always quick with a smile and a joke despite her enormous workload and the rather sobering job of compiling the annual In Memoriam section of the Awards each year!]

This year I attended eight MIFF screenings, with two stand outs.

The term ‘Side By Side’ is generally used by my husband, when referring to his beloved Collingwood Football Club, although this time, Side By Side represented the film by documentarian Chris Kenneally.

I was completely captivated by Side by Side’s engaging debate regarding 35mm film production versus digital technology and the interviews with renowned directors and cinematographers.  On-screen interviewer Keanu Reeves poignant summing up statement of the new situation, “Immediatelies versus Dailies”, rang true to me, having previously worked in a post production company (in London) managing the movement of dailies, compared to the current ease of arranging digital film movements. Australian cinematographers Don McAlpine and Dion Beebe’s contributions to this topical discussion, proved to be the icing on the cake!

Keanu Reeves and Martin Scorsese in SIDE BY SIDE

CRAZY HORSE

Having visited Moulin Rouge a decade ago, I have always been intrigued by Paris’s legendary Crazy Horse cabaret show.  Frederick Wiseman’s documentary Crazy Horse explored choreographer Phillipe Decoufle’s vision to produce a cabaret show that would “impress the intellectuals” and in doing so, exposes all the frustrations he experiences along the way.  The stage routines were elaborate, technically refined, titillating (pardon the pun, I couldn’t resist) and left me wanting to visit the 61-year-old establishment!

Jane Carracher – AFI | AACTA Finance Manager

Jane Carracher

I have been Finance Manager at the AFI for almost 7 years. I’ve always loved watching movies, and although I have not studied film (apart from the odd film for English in High School!), I’ve learnt a lot about the filmmaking process whilst working at the AFI. This has given me a greater understanding of film as a whole, and has only intensified my passion for sitting in a dark room watching stories unfold on the big screen.

My MIFF wrap-up will be brief, as I (like many) have suffered MIFF-fatigue and am currently under the weather. I saw 35 films, of which three stood way above the rest of the pack.

Beasts of the Southern Wild: Despite its shaky-cam-style cinematography, I was completely engrossed by the story of the little girl, Hushpuppy, and her father, living in a shanty-like Bayou town in Louisiana. The film looks incredible, with amazing performances from the cast, especially Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis), who is surely up for awards come Oscar season.  Even more amazing is the fact that all the actors are in their first ever role, and many actually lived through Hurricane Katrina, as told in the fascinating Q&A session with the writer/director, Benh Zeitlin.

Undefeated: This documentary of a southern US football team, who had been struggling for years to get some wins on the board, is one of the most moving films I have seen in quite some time. It follows the coach and three players with extraordinary stories, which we watch unfold in a season where the team finally finds it feet and starts having some success. A film that reduced me to tears many times, this is one not to be missed.

UNDEFEATED

Marina Abromovic: The Artist is Present: More crying!! Performance art isn’t really my ‘thing’, but this fascinating documentary on the life of artist and filmmaker Marina Abramovic, and her retrospective season at MOMA in 2010, was a great insight into the art world for the uninitiated. The film traces her early beginnings in performance art, and the relationships that blossomed out of her collaborations. The second half of the film focuses on her MOMA piece, where she sat in silence for 3 months (736.5 hours) and patrons visiting the gallery could sit with her, also in silence.

Other films I enjoyed immensely and highly recommend you see: Holy Motors, Safety Not Guaranteed, Your Sister’s Sister, Save Your Legs, The Sound of My Voice, Damsels in Distress, Sightseers, First Position and Charles Bradley: Soul of America.

 Suzanne Steinbruckner – Volunteer

Suzanne Steinbruckner

I volunteer at the AFI | AACTA’s South Melbourne office and usually share my time between Communications and Membership. This could see me researching upcoming titles, uploading and checking blog or website content, or helping with membership overflow and posting out Giveaways. Away from the AFI, I’ve returned to study this year which I’m loving, paying some bills by working in a record store, and fulfilling the remainder of my volunteering bug by hanging out at radio station 3RRR.

MIFF is the start of my favourite time of year in Melbourne and I love the fact that as a city we come out en masse, line up in the wet and cold to see films in the middle of winter, every two and a half hours for two and a half weeks! That said this is my first MIFF in over a decade where my ‘real-life’ timetable has dictated my MIFF schedule, resulting in a lowly 13 sessions. I was still able to squeeze in MIFF volunteering again this year – something I highly encourage as it’s lots of fun!

The middle weekend saw two of my highlights; Holy Motors and Paranorman. Leos Carax’s Holy Motors was already praised by Bradley Dixon in the Part 1 of this piece. The wondrous absurdity of this film still has me questioning my interpretation of each or any of Monsieur Oscar’s (Denis Lavant) “appointments” – a good week and a half after seeing this film. Brilliant.

Paranorman is a new stop-motion animation comedy thriller for kids. It centres on Norman Babcock (voiced by Australian Kodi Smit-McPhee) who is the town freak because he communicates with the dead. I absolutely loved this film. Not only were there fantastic animated zombies, but it recalled the kids’ adventure films of my childhood like The Goonies, except this time in awesome animation.

ParaNorman

Another highlight was Michael Haneke’s Amour – one of the most devastating yet compassionate films I experienced during the festival. With real-time shots, long takes, silent opening credits and the limited music being diegetic, the viewer is left with little room but to feel the emotional struggle and suffocation that the on- screen characters are experiencing. A remarkable and affecting film.

And that’s it for another MIFF. We’ll be back next year with staff wraps. Feel free to comment below and tell us about your festival picks.

AFI | AACTA staff go to MIFF: Part 1

It may come as no surprise that there are more than a few cineastes among the staff here at AFI | AACTA, and for those in our Melbourne office the culmination of this cinephilia comes during the Melbourne International Film Festival – a three-week feast of film from around the globe taking place tantalizingly close to our South Melbourne office.

Attempting to weave as many film sessions as possible in amongst our regular work is a challenge, to be sure, but it’s one that we embrace with open arms and bleary eyes. In this first of a two-part blog mini-series, three of AFI | AACTA’s staff recount their experiences at MIFF 2012.

Lia McCrae-Moore

AFI | AACTA Membership Coordinator Lia McCrae-Moore.

I am an avid cinema-goer and Australian film enthusiast. I completed a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Cinema Studies and Cultural Studies at the University of Melbourne in 2009 and have been working as the Membership Co-ordinator at AFI | AACTA for just over two years. I love voicing my own opinion and engaging in vigorous debates about life, cinema and politics.

What I love most about MIFF is its energy. You can see the dynamism spilling out onto the street as cinephiles and black-clad hipsters queue in groups out the front of Greater Union and The Forum. Unlike some of my committed colleagues, who have attended over 20 screenings, I have seen just nine films in total. Of these nine, two have been outstanding, five good-to-great, and two mediocre.

Not including MIFF’s opening night film The Sapphires, which I thoroughly enjoyed, the documentary Chasing Ice and the Chilean feature NO have been my two highlights of the festival. Chasing Ice is a stunningly beautiful but bone-chilling account of the retreating glaciers in Iceland, Greenland and Alaska. It charts the rapid degradation of these extraordinary ice fields through time-lapse photography and real time footage. Director Jeff Orlowski follows National Geographic photographer James Bolag and his team as they conquer unforgiving weather conditions to implement Bolag’s Extreme Ice Survey, which is the first of its kind and provides constant visual documentation of these changing landscapes over an extended period of time. Bolag claims that these exquisite photographs are physical proof of climate change in action. He uses his images to create a tangible pictorial presentation of how quickly global warming is transforming our natural world. It is utterly fascinating and horrifying. I left the cinema feeling bereft but also inspired. I must see these freezing expansive horizons before they disappear completely.

Chasing Ice

NO recreates the successful “NO” campaign against Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte in 1988. Renee Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal), a hip young advertising man, decides to join the NO campaign to the chagrin of his conservative boss. Saavedra and his socialist compatriots cleverly counteract Pinochet’s YES campaign with catchy jingles, bright colours, intelligent slogans, warmth and humour. After weeks of dodging death threats, surveillance and impending violence, the NO team wins the vote with 55 per cent, and Pinochet is removed from power. NO is filmed on two rebuilt U-matic cameras giving it a grainy, washed out effect. Initially I felt a little assaulted by the images’ lack of clarity, but as I got sucked into the film’s intriguing storyline, the more I appreciated its unrefined aesthetic. Interwoven into the film is actual footage from the period. This matching of aesthetic styles means that the integration of footage and film is practically seamless. NO is a rousing film that is filled with hope, ingenuity and passion.

As usual though, the festival has come and gone with a whirl. I have barely stopped for breath and already it is over. Now, I must eagerly await what next year has to offer.

Bradley J. Dixon

AFI | AACTA Web Coordinator Bradley Dixon.

One of the newest additions to the AFI | AACTA clan, I am a web developer, writer and film lover who has been AFI | AACTA’s web coordinator since early 2012. You can find more of my film writings at my seldom updated blog Cinema Quest or follow me on Twitter at @bradleyjdixon.

My festival got off to a great start with Lynn Shelton’s Your Sister’s Sister, a film belonging to the “mumblecore” school of new American cinema and the first of 33 sessions I managed to catch. As a person with a big family, it was refreshing to see a film explore sibling relationships that actually felt real – in all their depth and contradictions – and test those relationships with an irreverent sense of humour but with a grounding in truth. Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt and Mark Duplass each play their character with a relaxed naturalism which at times makes the dialogue feel entirely improvised. Before MIFF I hadn’t even heard of Mark Duplass, but between Your Sister’s Sister and his turn in the indie comedy Safety Not Guaranteed he’s shot directly into my “people to watch” list – which, curiously, seems to grow longer every year around MIFF time.

Other highlights included the devastating and lyrical Amour, the Swedish comedy Flicker (a quirky blend of Falling Down and Office Space featuring the only sex scene I can recall taking place under the very real threat of static shock), and the Romanian drama Beyond the Hills, which at first glance seems like a hard slog – 150 minutes of Romanian-language drama set in a convent, anyone? … Anyone? – but has one of the most comically disarming and entirely unexpected finales of any film I’ve seen in years.

On the home front, I was pleasantly surprised by The Sapphires – which is a crowd pleaser if ever there was one – and the Age Critics Award-winning Hail, an ambitious collaboration between Amiel Courtin-Wilson and ex-criminal Daniel P. Jones which threads Brakhage-esque abstraction into an intensely realist rumination on love and death.

Holy Motors

But by far the best film I saw was the weird and wonderful Holy Motors from French veteran Leos Carax, his first feature in 13 years. A must-see for any student of cinematic form, Holy Motors is a sublime pronouncement of the vitality of cinema as we steamroll ever closer to a future where artistic creation is as much a product of technology as it is of the spirit. Probably not for the casual viewer, but film buffs and those with open minds will love its demented genius – in particular, an incongruous but delightful interval featuring a lavish piano accordion musical number.

Simon Elchlepp

AFI | AACTA Office and Project Coordinator Simon Elchlepp.

I am the AFI’s Office and Project Coordinator, a role that sees me researching the AFI’s history, processing AACTA Awards entries, writing about upcoming TV and DVD highlights, and many other things.

There are some things that you look forward to every year. There are the usual suspects: Christmas, Easter, and so on. And then there’s the cinematic equivalent of all these joyous occasions wrapped into one, at least if you’re a Melbourne cinephile: MIFF’s program launch. Anticipation over what treasures the festival program will unearth leads into intense study of the program upon release in mid-July. Highlighter in hand, everything that looks interesting / curious / unmisseable is noted down, ordered, and in a complex process of torturous decision-making, finally whittled down to a Mini Pass-compatible list of ten films. After comparing film choices with colleagues (“No one else is going to watch five-and-a-half hours of Bollywood gangster cinema? Fair enough.”), it’s off into the festival’s two weeks.

Even before the launch of the MIFF program, I had already picked my first movie to watch: Takeshi Miike’s adaptation of video game Ace Attorney (yes, I hereby confess to having spent way too much of my youth on video games, so this was pretty exciting news). Since Miike has proven that he can pretty much direct any genre and infuse it with his trademark off-the-wall sensibilities, he seemed like the perfect choice to capture the game’s Anime aesthetic… and maybe even create the best video game adaptation to date! Small praise for a genre that’s given us several Uwe Boll movies and Wing Commander, but Ace Attorney actually does end up a very entertaining film that happily embraces its game and Anime roots and has tons of fun transplanting them the real life setting of a wacky court room/crime thriller movie. Ace Attorney doesn’t have enough madcap energy to turn all of its 130+mins into the wild rollercoaster ride you’d hope for – given the source material and Miike’s pedigree – but I’m happy to pronounce it the new king of the video game movie sub-genre.

Ace Attorney

Just as wild – only even longer – is Gangs of Wasseypur Part 1 & 2, each one running at a whopping 160 minutes. Screening back-to-back at MIFF, it makes for a slightly butt-numbing Bollywood bonanza, but once I leave the cinema after a whole Sunday afternoon has passed, I’m actually glad I watched the whole thing in one go. Gangs of Wasseypur is a gangster film that paints its story on a huge canvas, charting a crime war between several warring factions in the coal mining city of Wasseypur over the course of more than 70 years. There are several dozen characters to keep track of, and the amount of double-crossing and backstabbing (well, shooting) everybody is involved with is head-spinning. Miraculously enough though, it all comes together as one coherent narrative that effortlessly juggles enough storylines for five regular-sized gangster movies, all shot with a keen sense of style that takes inspiration from spaghetti westerns, Peckinpah, and Tarantino-style theatrics. It’s dazzling, ambitious and exhausting.

A different kind of headiness awaits in The Fall of the House of Usher (1928), part of a retrospective of French surrealist Jean Epstein’s oeuvre and my personal “wow” moment at this year’s MIFF. Epstein’s brand of surrealism is a subtle undermining of reality to create an eerie, spectral demi-world that is the perfect visual equation of Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry. It’s a silent film with only a handful of intertitles to tell the skeletal story of Roderick Usher and his dying wife (or is she?), so it’s up to the visuals to fill in the space between the lines. And Epstein proves a master, building a dream-like, otherworldly mood by making full use of the young medium’s range of possibilities. His combined use of slow-motion, superimpositions and deliberate use of improper focus is mesmerising and leaves an indelible mark – one of the many things to take away from MIFF 2012.

Look out for Part 2 of AFI | AACTA Staff go to MIFF, coming shortly.

Reviews Wrap: I Am Eleven, Not Suitable for Children and The King is Dead!

For Australian audiences looking for home grown entertainment on the big screen, there are certainly some great choices right now. The heartwarming documentary I Am Eleven, the romantic comedy Not Suitable for Children and the darkly funny suburban western The King is Dead! are just some of the options.

Here’s our latest Reviews Wrap, where we offer a quick dip into the reviews for recent Australian releases, offering  a broad sense of the critical response they’ve received.

Please note that the reviews referenced here do not reflect the views of the AFI | AACTA. We’re aiming to represent views and opinions from a variety of sources, and you’ll make up your own mind, of course!

I am Eleven

The feature length documentary I am Eleven premiered to sold out sessions at the 2011 Melbourne International Film Festival, and is now making its way around the country, enjoying wonderful word-of-mouth publicity through its ‘ambassador’ campaign and other savvy hands-on promotional efforts by director/producer Genevieve Bailey.

The film profiles a collection of delightful 11-year-olds from around the world who share the qualities of their particular age – being  ‘no longer children, not quite adults’. They discuss the ‘private obsessions and public concerns that animate their lives’ – from their love of animals, their concerns for world peace and their hopes and dreams for the future.

I Am Eleven won Best Documentary at last year’s IF Awards and won an Audience award at the Melbourne International Film Festival. Upon its release at Melbourne’s Cinema Nova, I Am Eleven enjoyed the biggest opening weekend for an Australian documentary in three years, and has since been adding cinemas from around the country to its schedule, including in Sydney, Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Geelong, Castlemaine, Tasmania’s MONA (from 11 August) and many more.

With overwhelming grassroots support and general goodwill from audiences and high profile supporters (including Chrissie Swan, Jane Hall and Claudia Karvan), reviews seem a little redundant to the film’s success, but critics have also been overwhelmingly charmed.

Writing for the The Australian, Evan Williams said, “What gives the film its cohesion and integrity is its triumphant affirmation of a shared humanity. In the deepest sense, these children speak with one voice.”

Philippa Hawker, for the The Age praises I Am Eleven “as a film of great warmth, generosity and optimism… a work that wears its strengths and virtues lightly, without insistence or heavy-handedness.” Hawker also commends the film for its graceful interweaving of its 23 interview subjects and their stories, noting that “Each child comes across as an individual, sometimes strikingly so. Yet there is something they all seem to share: a kind of openness and thoughtfulness, expressed in myriad ways, that transcends other differences.”

Don Groves, reviewing for the SBS Film website, finds the film “illuminating and uplifting” and praises first time feature filmmaker Bailey for her “impressive dexterity as the director, cinematographer, editor, interviewer and narrator.” Groves finds some passages repetitive, but he too enjoys the film’s overall optimism and energy.

Here’s the trailer for I Am Eleven.

Not Suitable For Children

A ‘biological clock comedy’ with a difference, Not Suitable for Children sees its male lead (Ryan Kwanten) racing against the clock to find a woman to bear his child before he becomes infertile due to cancer treatment. Written by Offspring scribe Michael Lucas and directed by Peter Templeman, this energetic modern comic drama has a great deal of heart. Filmed in Sydney’s Newtown, and backed by a zesty soundtrack, the film features wonderful performances from its young cast, including Sarah Snook as Kwanten’s street smart confidante, Bojana Novakovic as his on-off ex-girlfriend, and Ryan Corr as the indefatigable party animal flatmate.

Over on the ABC’s At the Movies, Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton both gave Not Suitable For Children a four star review, with David noting that “What lifts this Australian romantic-comedy above the level of most of its Hollywood counterparts is the reality of the characters and the situations and the honesty of the film’s approach.” Both reviewers thoroughly enjoyed the film.

Filmink’s Erin Free also enjoyed “this smart, soulful and surprisingly darkly-hued comedy” and praises both Lucas and Templeman for their sensitive handling of the material. Free writes that Not Suitable for Children is “a wry, engaging, deeply humanist film with pointed, interesting things to say about personal responsibility.”

In contrast, Variety’s Russell Edwards finds the story “flaccid” and Kwanten’s performance lacklustre, though he praises the film’s technical qualities, describing it as “visually inventive without being obtrusive,” praising the ” HD lensing by Lachlan Milne emphasiz[ing] warm colors that catch the vibrancy of Sydney’s trendy Newtown district.” Edwards also enjoy’s Snook’s performance and her “killer smile” along with the film’s “pumped-up pop soundtrack” which he argues “only throws the yarn’s inherent lethargy into high relief.”

QuickFlix critic Simon Miraudo is just one of many reviewers to single out actress Sarah Snook as the breakout star of the film. He finds Not Suitable for Children to be “a genial and occasionally very funny romantic comedy with the added benefit of being a showcase for one of the best break-out Australian performances in some time.” Miraudo argues that though some of the characters’ quick changes of heart may be hard to swallow, these are plausibly justified by the drastic circumstances of cancer. Andrew Urban of Urban Cinefile echoes similar concerns but is eventually won over, writing that the “impressive screenplay and the fine performances combine with Peter Templeman’s confident direction for a satisfying result.”

You can check out the trailer for Not Suitable for Children below:

The King Is Dead

Rolf de Heer’s latest film is described in the press notes as a ‘suburban western’ but it’s rather more comic and wry than that description implies. Dan Wyllie and Bojana Novakovic play an attractive and unpretentious middle class couple. They buy a house in a nice Adelaide suburb and happily begin to paint and renovate, but quickly discover that on one side of the fence, their neighbour, the scuzzy ‘King’ (Gary Waddell) is playing host to every hoon, drug dealer, and petty criminal in the neighbourhood. As the sleepless nights and burglaries mount up, and the police seem powerless to act, the couple are driven to extreme measures.

Luke Buckmaster of Crikey strongly recommends catching the film during its limited theatrical run, describing it as a “a deliciously dark genre mash-up, coy and explorative but tight and insular, sprayed with wry laughs and a genuinely foreboding undertone.” Buckmaster describes the whole cast as excellent but singles out Gary Waddell who plays King, for special commendation.

Writing for The Age Craig Mathieson situates The King is Dead! within de Heer’s oeuvre and finds it to be his funniest film to date. Giving the film three and a half stars, Mathieson deems it “a very good movie” and “a wry commentary on our national obsession with real estate.”

Variety’s Richard Kuiper’s describes The King is Dead! as a “combo of dark suburban drama, absurdist social comedy and violent crime thriller”, placing it “somewhere between niche and commercial arenas” and describing its offshore prospects as “iffy”. Kuipers enjoys the performances (with Waddell again praised for his multidimensional performance as the not-entirely-despicable King), though he’s offput by the changes in tone as the story progresses. The cinematography by Ian Jones and “slinky jazz-flavored score” by Graham Tardiff, both regulars among de Heer’s coterie of collaborators, are singled out for praise in this review.

Others are not so positive. Peter Galvin over at SBS Film finds the film to be “a kind of comedy of manners, mostly of the very bad, irritating kind.” Galvin’s main criticism is that the comedy is just not funny. He cannot, however, resist the appeal of Gary Waddell “who can make even de Heer’s tired talk sound like it has a funny sting.” Galvin writes that Waddell’s King “has a sturdy comic grip from his first beat and never lets up. It’s a piece of acting so good you spend the movie waiting for him to turn up a lot more often than he does.”

Coming full circle, Louise Keller, of Urban Cinefile, finds The King is Dead! to be outrageously funny, saying, “I haven’t had such a good laugh for ages”. Keller thoroughly enjoys the display as “Intelligence is pitted against rat cunning, logic battles the irrational and the evolved bumps into the barbaric”, concluding that this “is a riot of a film that will make you laugh till it hurts.”

Here is the trailer for The King is Dead! 

Did you see these films? What did you think? Feel free to comment below. Note that comments are subject to moderation. We’ll publish them as long as they’re fit for polite company.

Reviews Wrap

Here’s a quick dip into the reviews of two recently released Australian feature films: Black & White & Sex and Any Questions for Ben?. Please note these do not reflect the views of the AFI | AACTA. We’re aiming to represent opinions and views from a variety of sources, and you’ll make up your own mind, of course!

Black & White & Sex

Billed as ‘an intimate film about sex’, Black & White & Sex was released in March on just a few screens in Melbourne and Sydney by John L. Simpson’s Titan View. The film previously screened at the 2011 Sydney and Brisbane film festivals, and also screened in official selection at the 2012 Rotterdam Film Festival.

Written and directed by John Winter (who has previously produced films such as Rabbit-Proof Fence and Paperback Hero), Black & White & Sex is a film within a film, following a largely unseen documentary filmmaker (Matthew Holmes) who gets more than he bargained for when he interviews a sex worker who goes by the name of ‘Angie’. Intriguingly, this character is played by eight different actresses (Katherine Hicks, Anya Beresdorf, Valerie Bader, Roxane Wilson, Michelle Vergara Moore, Dina Panozzo, Saskia Burmeister, Maia Thomas). Filmed in black and white, and with occasional split screens, this is an independent film in every way.

Here’s the trailer:

Andrew L. Urban and Louise Keller, over at Urban Cinefile, are both extremely positive about Black & White & Sex, with Urban describing it as “bravura filmmaking on a taboo subject.” He praises the performances of the actresses, the ironic choice of black and white cinematography (ironic because the subjects under discussion are anything but black and white), and the manner in which the film questions assumptions and hypocrisies within our culture around sex and prostitution.

Keller also praises the work as “an ambitious, fearless film” and enjoys the “titillating dialogue” and “witty banter” as well as the performances of the eight very different women, who respond to the filmmaker’s questions – “every question anyone ever wanted to ask a prostitute.” Keller finds the film surprisingly sweet and playful.

Peter Galvin, writing on the SBS Film website, agrees that the film is ambitious and experimental, and that the acting is fine, but wrestles with the question of whether the film actually becomes the very thing it aims to counter – a stereotypical representation of the prostitute as cultural cipher. Galvin also finds the dialogue clichéd, writing that “most of the talk has the dry, pre-digested, lifeless feel of a self-help manual – it’s all catchphrases and aphorisms.”

Writing for Variety (login required), Richard Kuipers describes the film as offering “a full-tilt examination of the sex-for-sale biz that effectively challenges stereotypes and is well served by dashes of droll humor.” Kuipers sees only a few “flat dialogue stretches” and praises the “uniformly excellent acting” and the “outstanding black-and-white HD widescreen imagery by lenser Nicola Daley.” He predicts, however, that the film will probably appeal more to festival audiences than to mainstream ones.

Over on the ABC’s At the Movies, Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton agree that Black & White & Sex is “imaginative”, “brave”, superbly acted, and “within its limitations, very stylishly done”. They concur on a three and a half star rating.

Want to read other reviews of Black & White & Sex? More can be found here:

Any Questions For Ben?

A romantic comedy from Working Dog, the team behind previous Australian hit features The Dish and The Castle, Any Questions For Ben? was released in Australia on 9 February 2012 through Roadshow Films. Written by Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner and Rob Sitch, and also directed by Sitch, the film stars Josh Lawson as a smart, good-looking Lothario suffering a quarter-life crisis, brought about by his encounter with a beautiful United Nations lawyer (Rachael Taylor) who makes him question the meaning and purpose of his life.   A supporting cast includes Rob Carlton as Ben’s father, Lachy Hulme as his mentor, and Daniel Henshall, Felicity Ward and Christian Clark as his best buddies.

Here’s the trailer:

Simon Miraudo reviews the film on QuickFlix and finds it has “an easy, low-stakes charm, and is buoyed by its very talented cast of performers.” Miraudo praises Lawson as a likable lead who “deserves much of the praise for making sympathetic a character who could be considered the poster child for ‘first world problems’” – though he wonders if a more understated and less slick style may have been more appropriate to the film’s material. While declining to include it in the same “pantheon of Australian films” as The Castle and The Dish, Miraudo declares it it “a sweet, unassuming and occasionally very funny film.”

Likewise, Matthew Pejkovic of Matt’s Movie Reviews enjoys “a funny and insightful look into Gen X pressures in an increasingly fast paced world,” and has more praise for Lawson’s natural comedic timing and ability to depict Ben as sympathetic despite the fact that he’s “swimming in money, opportunity and women.”

Richard Gray of The Reel Bits  gives another positive review of the film, and finds Ben to be a character whose struggle to find meaning in modern life makes him “just as much of a local hero as Darryl Kerrigan.” Gray applauds Lawson in the lead role, and also enjoys Rachael Taylor’s “most naturalistic performance to date.”

In stark contrast, Crikey’s Luke Buckmaster is scathing of the film, failing to see any effective comedy or any chemistry between Lawson and Taylor. He wishes more effort had been made to capture the subtleties of the Melbourne location and deplores the soundtrack “stuffed to the gills with top 50 bubblegum pop tracks.”

Sandra Hall, writing for the Sydney Morning Herald is gentler on the “bright and shiny piece of film-making,” but is also disappointed, finding its depiction of Melbourne akin to a tourism advertisement, and its music montages “a sign of desperation.” Hall is thankful there are no fart jokes, (as in Apatow comedies), but finds herself “nostalgic for Working Dog’s sharper days when they would surely have perpetrated all sorts of wickedness at Ben’s expense.”

Other reviews of Any Questions for Ben? can also be found here:

Did you see these films? What did you think? Feel free to comment below. Note that comments are subject to moderation. We’ll print them as long as they’re fit for polite company.

AFIcionados – Your Choice, Your Voice…

Now that the six nominees for the AFI Members’ Choice Award have been decided, we’ve been calling all AFI film aficionados* to submit a 200 word max response on why you thought these films were Australia’s best.

*aficionado – a person who likes, knows about, and appreciates a usually fervently pursued interest or activity.

award-nominees-best-film

In the countdown to the announcement of the winner of the AFI Members’ Choice Award this Sunday 15 January at the Samsung AACTA Awards Luncheon, presented by Digital Pictures, we will be profiling two of the six nominated films per week on our blog, along with the best member responses on why you voted for them. This week we’re profiling RED DOG and Snowtown.

Red Dog

RED DOG

RED DOG

“You’ve gotta love a tear-jerker, desert shots and a great underDOG story. RED DOG was the most fun I’ve had at the cinema in a long time!”
– AFI member Jason Rooney, WA.

RED DOG’s fresh and heartwarming take on what its like living in a small mining town in Western Australia has definitely caught the public’s imagination. I’d say there’s nothing like a cheeky kelpie to unite a nation!”
– AFI member Brendan Smythe, QLD.

Snowtown

Snowtown

Snowtown

Snowtown is heartbreaking and hopeless but absolutely captivating. I was glued to the screen. They were some of the most powerful and deeply disturbing performances I have ever seen. ”
– AFI member Rosie Piper, TAS.

“Australian arthouse cinema at its best! Snowtown is evocative, provocative and mind numbingly horrifying. It simultaneously entices and repels its audience by capturing in stunning detail every horrendous moment.”
– AFI member Lucy Fraser, VIC.

Thank you to all members who participated in our AFIcionado’s Audience Choice Award competition. Your responses have been invaluable.

**Conditions apply: in order to have your response published you need to be an active  AFI member and be willing to have your full name and state disclosed on the AFI Blog **
Thanks to Madman Entertainment and Roadshow Films for providing DVD copies of these films for our lucky winners!

AFIciaonados – Your Choice, Your Voice…

Now that the six nominees for the AFI Members’ Choice Award have been decided, we’ve been calling all AFI film aficionados* to submit a 200 word max response on why you thought these films were Australia’s best.

*aficiaonado – a person who likes, knows about, and appreciates a usually fervently pursued interest or activity.

award-nominees-best-film

In the countdown to the announcement of the winner of the AFI Members’ Choice Award on 15 January at the Samsung AACTA Awards Luncheon, presented by Digital Pictures, we have been profiling two of the six nominated films per week on our blog, along with the best member responses on why you voted for them. This week we’re profiling Mad Bastards and Oranges and Sunshine.

 

Mad Bastards

Mad Bastards

Mad Bastards

Mad Bastards…poignant and powerful, set to the playful Pigram Brothers’ lively tunes!
– AFI member Phil Lesley, NSW.

“Dean Dayley-Jones is remarkable as T.J. He brings humour and pathos to this broken character and reaffirms the remarkable power of self-discovery. Mad Bastards is well worth watching!”
– AFI member Jane Deans, ACT.

 

Oranges and Sunshine

Oranges and Sunshine

Oranges and Sunshine

Oranges and Sunshine is a beautiful rendition of a heartwarming story about the vision and compassion of an exceptional woman. Wenham, Watson and Weaving are truly magnificent. It is another priceless period piece from the talented producers of The King’s Speech.
– AFI member Mary Edwards, VIC.

“Putting the spotlight on a rarely discussed aspect of Australian and British colonial history, Oranges and Sunshine tells a horrifying story with sensitivity and avoids all sensationalism.  Emily Watson gives an understated, yet powerful performance in the lead role and she is surrounded by an outstanding support cast. Particularly, Hugo Weaving, who shines in a heart-breaking performance that’s his best in years. The film doesn’t provide an easy catharsis and closure, but it still comes to a conclusion that leaves its mark on the viewer.
– AFI member Simone Richards, NSW.

Next week we’ll be lavishing love on Red Dog and Snowtown. Don’t miss out on winning a DVD pack of the top six Best Film Nominees for the AFI Audience Choice Award, send in your response today!

Entry Details:
Submit your entry (along with your AFI member number, full name and state in the subject line) to competition@afi.org.au
**Conditions apply: in order to have your response published you need to be an active  AFI member and be willing to have your full name and state disclosed on the AFI Blog **
Thanks to Icon Entertainment and Paramount Pictures for providing DVD copies of the films for our lucky winners!