Movie Review – The Magnificent Seven

09-september-mag-7

The Magnificent Seven delivers good feelings and professional entertainment value, but does little to distinguish itself from its formidable forebears.

⭐⭐⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

The worst scene in The Magnificent Seven comes right at the end; undoing what the rest of the movie worked so hard to achieve. The point of this story – first envisioned in Kurosawa’s sprawling masterpiece, Seven Samurai (1954), later reimagined in countless other tributes and remakes (including Pixar’s A Bug’s Life) – is selflessness in the line of honour. The samurai were honourable warriors, bound by bushido. Cowboys were bound by their egos. What they shared in common was the rejection of self-gain. The 1960 Magnificent Seven understood this. This new Hollywood remake, directed by Antoine Fuqua, tacks on a closing scene that converts its guns-for-hire into immortalised heroes, effectively gut-punching itself.

And what a pity that is, because the rest of it feels like a solid Western. It’s not limp or dated. Its production values are convincing. It comes meaty, ready for a fight. In an age where filmmakers favour CGI shortcuts, Fuqua has made the right decision to root his film in solid ground. The town of Rose Creek is actually there, built with wood and nails. Explosions are rigged and timed. Stuntmen tumble off rooftops and plough through windows. Physical action gives the movie weight and visual depth, a leisure that’s no longer easy to come by.

Denzel Washington plays Sam Chisolm, the Yul Brynner character from the original remake, and doesn’t so much chew up the scenery as stand back and admire it. Washington is always reliable, but here he seems too passive to be the leader of a troupe of gun-slinging, macho monkeys. I can’t remember a single impressive thing he does in the entire film.

Elsewhere, the cast tries to be as diverse as politically and financially possible. It introduces a Korean knife-thrower (Lee Byung-Hun); a Mexican outlaw (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) in full cabrón mode; and throws in a Comanche archer (Martin Sensmeier) for good measure. The problem is, by the time the big old gunfight thunders its way around the corner, none of these “interesting” characters do anything worth noting. And the gunfight, as impressive as it is, resembles a chaos party hosted by anarchy. It’s hard to tell what’s happening, and to whom. There are so many bad guys for our heroes to gun down that you might begin to suspect they’re growing out of the soil like potatoes.

But for what it’s worth, this Magnificent Seven is a good, harmless time. The interplay between the characters is often electric and the way the screenplay whittles down the ensemble cast shows restraint and diplomacy. It is, however, still a movie that need not have been made. But it has, and we’re neither better or worse off for it. I just wish the final scene had been omitted. It reeks of studio interference. I don’t want to have to wait for a home release to catch an alternate ending.

The Magnificent Seven is available in Australian cinemas from September 29

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures 

Movie Review – Storks

09-september-storks

Following the success of the Lego Movie, Warner Bros. Animation Group continues to soar.

⭐⭐⭐
Chantal Victor

Nicholas Stoller’s most recent film Storks is far beyond what I expected from the man who brought us Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him To The Greek. Under the wing of Warner Bros, Stoller brings us a beautiful animation that shows the true joy a baby brings to a family.

We all know how babies are brought to a family, right? A white stork finds a tiny human and delivers them to their expecting parents in a blanket. As easy as that. Well, imagine a world where the storks decide to become the next local post office and babies are no longer the usual parcel.

Tulip (Katie Crown) was the last attempt at delivering a baby to a set of parents. Unfortunately, her homing beacon gets destroyed, leaving her as the only human in a stork-run business up at Cornerstore.com. She has worked in the factory her whole life, but as her 18th birthday comes near the boss wants to get rid of her. Junior (Andy Samberg), the top delivery stork, struggles to fire her and instead shifts her to another department. Meanwhile, the Gardners are a lovely family with everyday struggles. Their son is always fighting for their attention and his solution is easy: order a baby brother. Tulip finds the order, leading to a great adventure.

At first I was a little concerned with how the storyline would keep all audience members interested for 89 minutes, but the child-filled cinema kept laughing and tearing up right to the last minute. The film balances some great funny moments, with the complications many families face in today’s life; from parents being too busy to spend time with their children, to how siblings can possibly fill the void.

Having not heard of this film until very recently, I went into the cinema with no expectations and was able to sit back and enjoy it. Although not quite the next Pixar craze, Warner Bros has brought us a decent slice of entertainment. It’s a fantasitc film for the kids these school holidays, or just a light-hearted, happy movie for adults, if that’s what you’re looking for!

Storks is available in Australian cinemas from September 22

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – The Confirmation

09-september-the-confirmation

Amidst the modern multiplex madness, it’s refreshing to find a humble little film about quaint father and son bonding.

⭐⭐⭐
Corey Hogan

As his mother and her new husband prepare for a weekend away at a Catholic retreat, eight-year-old Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher) reluctantly readies himself for spending time with his father Walt (Clive Owen), a deadbeat, down-on-his-luck alcoholic carpenter. Walt lands a potential job, but his prospects are complicated when his prized tool kit is stolen and he’s locked out of his house by his landlord. Anthony and Walt set about finding the culprit who nabbed the tools, and begin to form an unexpected bond along the way.

There’s quite a modest and old-timey feeling that courses through The Confirmation, the directorial debut of 60-year-old Bob Nelson (writer of Alexander Payne’s Nebraska). It’s a small film that’s intimate in scope and humbly unambitious, but it certainly has its heart in the right place. Like last year’s Grandma, it’s an unanticipated curveball situation thrusted upon two estranged generations, forcing them together through spontaneous hijinks and incubating a relationship in the process.

A true rarity for entertainment in this day and age, Nelson’s characters are (at least partially) defined by their religious beliefs, be it Anthony’s purity and lack of sin as a result of frequent churchgoing, or Walt’s abandonment of his former moral ways left behind with his ex-wife. Religion serves as a backdrop for the film, but there’s a sense that a lot more could have been made of this now seldom-seen motif; it’s simply there to point out Anthony’s morality. This is huge potential left tragically untapped.

Overall, it’s all a bit too straight-faced, to the point that it occasionally feels like the actors are reading directly from a script page. Then there are the odd, out of place moments of threat and violence that completely rattle the realism at play. This might have worked for a more satirical film, but it’s simply distracting in this unambiguous and clear-cut coming-of-age story.

What Nelson does nail is the father-and-son relationship between Walt and Anthony; it organically forms as the film progresses and we genuinely feel the pair pulling closer together. Clive Owen’s big screen appearances are few and far between these days, and Walt is a far cry from his typical action hero. It’s a restrained performance that shows the subtle gravitas of a man under such pressure that the cracks begin to show on the surface. It’s surprising how much chemistry he shares with young Lieberher (St. Vincent, Midnight Special) who displays a terrific innocence and wisdom beyond his years.

Ultimately it’s a simple series of misadventures between a boy and his pop, but their rewarding magnetism makes this low-key journey worth embarking upon.

The Confirmation is available in Australian cinemas from September 22

Image courtesy of Icon Film Distribution 

Interview: Ruth Borgobello – Italian Film Festival

09-september-italianff-space-between

Josip Knezevic 

Although born in Australia, an Italian heart beats within filmmaker Ruth Borgobello. Her groundbreaking debut feature The Space Between is the first Italian-Australian collaboration since a treaty was established between the countries 20 years ago.

The film follows the journey of former chef Marco (Flavio Parenti), who has long stopped searching for his place in the world. Looking to numb the pain from a sudden loss in his life, he returns to his hometown in Northern Italy. He soon meets young Australian woman Olivia (Maeve Dermody) who slowly begins to spark life back into Marco. They find themselves drifting through the voids between death and rebirth to allow themselves to bridge reality and realise their dreams.

As the headline feature for the Italian Film Festival this September, I got the chance to chat with Borgobello to talk all things Italian-Australian and hopes for the future of women working in the film and television industry.

JK: You’ve invested a lot of time into producing Italian/Australian stories. Can you tell me what made you so interested in establishing these connections and why you wanted your debut feature to be the first Italian-Australia co-production?

RB: Sure, I’m half Italian, half Australian. I was born and raised in Australia, but I guess growing up and discovering Italian films – largely through the Italian Film Festival – I felt a strong connection to that sort of style of filmmaking. Travelling to Italy a lot, I was very inspired by the locations and this kind of energy and emotion that exists in Italy, which was harder to tune into in Australia – it’s a bit more hidden. I think also life in Italy – which doesn’t seem like it from Australia – is much harder. There’s more of a struggle inherent in stories that I’ve been attracted to.

JK: The co-production treaty between Italy and Australia has been signed for quite some time, why do you think it took so long for a feature film to be made between the two countries?

RB: I knew about the treaty, but I didn’t realise it hadn’t been used before. That was something I discovered, and when I first went to Italy to meet with producers to talk to them about doing it, I was quite naïve thinking, “Oh yeah, we’ve got this co-production and it will be fantastic”. They were interested in it, but also because it hadn’t been done, it was a bit of a psychological block. For Australian producers as well, I think there’s a suspiciousness that if it’s never been done before then maybe it doesn’t work or it’s too difficult and filmmaking is hard enough as is. Then we found a producer that was really willing to make it work and there was this growing interest and willingness from Italy and our people that supported the film in Australia. We had philanthropists and private investors that were connected to the Italian community and they really wanted to make it work because it hadn’t worked before, so I think this was the key. So for us it was really about building relationships and forging trust.

JK: You mentioned that life in Italy is harder than it looks. The film looks into the idea that despite being surrounded by immense historical and natural beauty, the characters have become blind to the potential within. Where did these ideas come from and what are you alluding it to in terms of dreams of the past for the Italian people?

RB: I guess like in the 60s, 70s and even 80s, there was so much promise in Italy. My grandparents left in the 50s after the war and it was a very depressed time. Now they actually say it’s worse than it was then. There were all these hopes and dreams created from our parent’s generation. They fought for their rights and created a great standard of living and amazing tourism. But then I think maybe when Europe came to be and the Euro came in, everything began to shift in Italy. I know from my husband who’s Italian and our mutual friends that all studied and are highly professional that they found themselves trapped in jobs where they were getting paid very minimal wages. At some point everything just stopped and when the Euro came in, prices doubled, but the wages stayed the same. I think they’ve just come to learn to live within these limitations and not fight for more, which was what their parents had done. It’s this strange thing in which maybe they’ve had it easy and then had it difficult and just clung to security instead of actually trying to push through and make things better.

JK: Wow, I didn’t even know that.

RB: Yeah, not many people in Australia do because we’re sort of sold this tourism. But the reality of life in Italy is very tough. There’s so many young Italians that have this dream to have the freedom and opportunity and most of them are shocked about how much they get paid here and how much they’re valued here as well.

JK: I love the quote before the film starts “Strange not to go on wishing one’s wishes. Strange to see all that was once in place, floating so loosely in space” How did you come across this and was it a source of inspiration for the film?

RB: Yes, that’s a really good question. The quote is from Rainer Maria Rilke poetry from the Duino Elegies. Every time I go to Italy, I visit this one place called Duino – which actually features in the film – and I always loved this place and felt like it was my favourite place in the whole world, even though it’s this tiny little town that nobody knows about. When I writing the script, I came across the poetry and realised there was a connection there. I’ve never known about the poet, but when I read it I just felt like it really captured what I wanted to say with the film. There was this kind of emotion and sense of loss in the poetry, trying to search for meaning within – that was what I wanted to say with the film.

JK: That’s amazing that you found it while you were writing the script. Seems almost like it was fate.

RB: Yeah I had a very strong reaction to it when I read it. There was something in it that really struck a chord with me. And obviously poetry is something that’s very hard to bring into film so we tried to do it in a subtle way.

JK: The film ends on a bittersweet note and I was curious to see if you thought of writing an epilogue on that happens to our main characters. Would you be interested in revisiting these characters in sequels?

RB: That’s so funny, I was just having this discussion with my editor. I was saying to him that when we finished shooting, I felt like I really wanted to start writing the next part. I really wanted to know what happened to them myself. I talked to the actors just after we shot that ending scene and asked them about what would happen and they both had different interpretations. I wanted to leave it open and I wanted to give it that sense of maybe they stay together, but everyone takes away a different interpretation. Flavio was very strong that they weren’t going to stay together, but Maeve was very strong that they were. My sense is that they would come back. Either way Flavio said he was desperate to do another one.

JK: Was this a personal film to make in terms of the context you’ve had growing up as a filmmaker in Australia and in terms of its subject matter of love and loss?

RB: Yeah, it was inspired by when I did meet my husband. We met in very similar circumstances in terms of him losing someone very important. We spent time together even though that had happened. And we had this strong connection that ended up developing into a relationship down the track. So it was sort of inspired by that, but then I made the characters very fictional.

JK: Being so involved with developing Italian-Australian relations, could you talk about some of your favourite Italian and Australian films that may have influenced you down this path?

RB: Federico Fellini is definitely one of my favourite directors. 8 ½ is my favourite all time film because I just feel like its perfection in cinema. In terms of Australian films, I recently watched and loved Looking for Grace that Katie our DOP shot. I think that’s one of the best Australian films I’ve seen in a while even though it’s kind of been under the radar.

JK: There aren’t many women working in the film and television industry in Australia, is there any reason why that number is low and do you sense we will be seeing more of a female presence in the future?

RB: Yes, it definitely will be. When I finished the film, my partner and I kept saying, “Yes you’re in the 16%”, but I never took notice of just how few women there are in the film industry. There’s very few in Italy. I think it’s well under the 16% in Australia, but I really don’t know why it is like that. I know with Palace Films, they’ve been extremely encouraging with this project because I am female. They really want to support women in film and their audience is mostly women, so it’s really important for them to have a strong female voice in more female films. So I think hearing things like that from a big distributor chain is a good sign definitely for the future.

The Italian Film Festival screens at Cinema Paradiso in Perth from September 22 to October 12

Image courtesy of Palace Films

Movie Review – Snowden

09-september-snowden

Oliver Stone’s portrait of a 21st Century whistle-blower is an overlong affair with brief flashes of brilliance throughout.

⭐⭐⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Hero, patriot, traitor, terrorist… wherever you fall on the spectrum of opinions regarding Edward Snowden, it’s hard to argue that his actions haven’t irreversibly changed contemporary discourse on politics, counterterrorism, warfare and surveillance.

 Curiously, Oliver Stone’s heavily dramatised film is both a biopic of Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and a ‘making-of’ for 2014’s Best Documentary Feature winner, Citizenfour. The film follows Snowden’s entire career from 2003 to present, jumping forward on multiple occasions to a stuffy Hong Kong hotel room in June 2013 where the former NSA contractor is feverishly working with documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) and a duo of journalists (Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson) to leak key top security documents to the press. Flashbacks fill in the blanks as Stone follows the disillusioned former soldier through a string of events that will lead him to make a world-changing decision that could cost him his life and the love of his long-term partner Lindsay (Shailene Woodley).

Stone frames his subject as a remarkable man, but surrounds him with a rather unremarkable film. It’s not the subject matter that fails to enthrall, but rather its execution. You’ll still drive home with your head swirling at the significance of Snowden’s actions, but on reflection it feels like the director doesn’t deliver that final powerhouse blow that this story so clearly needs (and deserves).

You see, Snowden builds toward a shattering finale that we know is coming. It’s never a question of if he succeeds, but which pivotal moments inspire him to make the decision to blow the whistle on his own government. In that regard, the film doesn’t wholly succeed. By following Snowden’s entire career, Stone loses himself in the detail, meandering through assignment after assignment as his titular character ambles from Geneva to Japan and onto Maryland and Hawaii. The pace is achingly slow as the years wind on and JGL becomes visibly more beleaguered by the crushing secrets he uncovers.

That’s not a slight on Gordon-Levitt though; he totally disappears into the role of Snowden, lowering his voice an octave or two and absolutely nailing the mannerisms of the man he’s embodying. Similarly, Woodley has never been better as the dedicated, perplexed girlfriend Lindsay who finds herself caught in the crossfire. The relationship between Edward and Lindsay is thrust to the forefront for most of the elongated second act, and it’s the convincing chemistry between the two leads that keeps this film above water.

Snowden isn’t a towering tour de force that hits you over the head, but rather an understated character study that examines what it would take for an everyman like Edward Snowden to snap and ‘betray’ his country. It’s an infrequently intense piece padded with meandering sections of mediocrity in between.

Snowden is available in Australian cinemas from September 22

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Top 5 Depp-Less Burton Films

09-september-depp-burton-main

Zachary Cruz-Tan

Tim Burton developed a storytelling language in the 1980s that quickly consumed his films. He employed visuals that were immediately striking but also lingered in our minds. His characters, often disempowered and lonely, lived in worlds that sought their demise. To live in a Burton film was to live in constant isolation, entangled in a visual style that sent chills to the bone.

He collaborated with Johnny Depp on eight movies, forging a professional partnership as recognisable as Leone and Eastwood, or Kurosawa and Mifune. As Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children approaches, however, I look back on the Burton films over the years that have found their way into our collective consciousness by leaving Depp out of the picture.

5. Frankenweenie (2012)
Starring:
Charlie Tahan, Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara

09-september-depp-burton-frankenweenie
I would be remiss not to include a Burton stop-motion production. Stop-motion has been around as early as the 1900s, and fuelled the special effects of action classics like King Kong (1933) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980), but Burton’s uncanny marriage of the morose and finely-tuned physical craftsmanship pioneered a fresh flavour of entertainment.

Frankenweenie, his latest stop-motion effort, is both endearing and morbid (a dog actually gets run over by a car). It harkens back to the golden age of Hollywood monster movies and finds the right notes to bring it down to a level comfortable for kids. It may not be as seminal as Corpse Bride (2005) or Burton’s creative brainchild, The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), but Frankenweenie can be admired simply for its dedication to puppetry perfection.


4. Batman Returns (1992)
Starring:
Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeiffer, Danny DeVito

09-september-depp-burton-batman-returns
Infinitely darker and more intense than its predecessor, Batman Returns is also clumsier and more camp, featuring a Penguin (Danny DeVito) who somehow learns English and violence from a colony of waddling birds, who grow up to be terrorists. But this moody sequel is wicked fun, almost bordering on horror territory.

Like Batman (1989), the film doesn’t work as a Bruce Wayne biography – we never learn how or why he chooses to become a superhero – but its images are unforgettable. The towering Christmas tree in downtown Gotham releasing a swarm of bats. The Penguin bouncing and jiving in his remote-control Batmobile. Michelle Pfeiffer’s fetishistic bondage costume and customary whip. If the first film established the arena, this one dumbs the characters down and amps up the atmosphere.


3. Beetlejuice (1988)
Starring:
Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Michael Keaton

09-september-depp-burton-beetlejuice
Beetlejuice
can be considered the genesis of Burton’s vision; a dark, grisly supernatural gimmick combining stop-motion with grotesque imagery, three short years after the suburban whimsy of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. What starts off as a genial romance between Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis quickly degenerates into a series of props, costumes and visual trickery. Heads pop off. Eyeballs fall out. Backyards are replaced with vast desert dunes. It all looks fantastic.

And that, I suppose, is the point with Beetlejuice. Content with a boilerplate screenplay that didn’t favour human emotions, Burton focused instead on creating scene after scene of innovative and screeching designs, aimed, of course, to scorch themselves in the back of our minds. By the end of the movie, we are branded, and not just by the memory of Baldwin and Davis as clueless ghosts, but by Michael Keaton’s astonishingly vulgar turn as one of Hollywood’s most treasured demons.


2. Big Fish (2003)
Starring:
Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Jessica Lange

09-september-big-fish
Quiet. Powerful. Tragic. Big Fish means different things to different people. Either you hold its hand and allow its family drama to drag you down with it (as it did me), or you admire it from a distance and lament Burton’s lack of visual energy. There’s much to treasure in the designs of the characters, to be sure, but Big Fish tells a story that’s broken at the heart and in desperate need of mending. Its visuals aren’t the point.

There’s a hint of Life of Pi (2012) about its ways. The film tries to reunite a son with his estranged father via a string of outlandish – and repeated – fables about the father’s life as a young carnie. Either you believe them, or you choose to put your faith in the whispered words of truth. Big Fish isn’t as ambiguous as Pi, but its firm grasp on the dynamics of family is what punches you hard in the gut. If you allow it.


1. Batman (1989)
Starring:
Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger

09-september-depp-burton-batman
If Beetlejuice was the genesis of Burton’s trademark style, his 1989 adaptation of Batman is the racehorse that breaks for the finish. Before Batman, everyone’s idea of the caped crusader was Adam West waving a finger and instructing kids to remember their geography. The film noir detective of the comics was lost. Batman does away with the geography and the campy underwear and reintroduces a harder, more troubled hero.

Bound by twisted edifices and an overall feeling of claustrophobia, Burton’s Batman is unequivocally damaged. Michael Keaton brings both Bruce Wayne and his alter ego some much needed humanity, and reassures us that under that cowl breathes a man, not a public service announcement. Add to that a sparkling performance by Jack Nicholson as a Joker that’s actually scary and you’ve got a formula that works even today. It lacks a proper origin story, but one could certainly argue that without Batman, Henry Cavill might’ve had to share Batman V Superman’s poster with Adam West.


Images courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Roadshow Films, Chapel Distribution, Sony Pictures 

Italian Film Festival 2016

09-september-italianff-main

Ciao, bella! The Italian Film Festival is upon us once again. Here’s a brief selection of just some of the films that are on offer.

The Space Between
Director:
Ruth Borgobello
Starring: Flavio Parenti, Maeve Dermody & Marco Leonardi

Bellissimo! What a beautiful way to headline the Lavazza Italian Film Festival with the very first Italian-Australian co-production feature film.

⭐⭐⭐⭐
Josip Knezevic 

09-september-italianff-space-between
The Space Between highlights a strong debut for Australian director Ruth Borgobello and sets the scene for falling in love in luscious Italian landscapes.

Returning to his hometown in Northern Italy, Marco (Flavio Parenti) takes care of his aging father and tries to overcome the loss of his mother. In spite of being a talented chef, he now works in a dispirited job as a factory worker and is comfortable being uncomfortable. Marco soon encounters a young Australian in Olivia (Maeve Dermody), who’s youthful exuberance wistfully begins to stir life in him once more. Slowly but surely, a deeper friendship grows and both begin to realise what it takes to bridge the gap between loss and love.

Whilst being a somewhat simple story, The Space Between still managed to shock and surprise me. It’s a film best experienced without as little prior knowledge as possible. The process of learning how to deal with loss and to move on to achieving our dreams is an issue at the heart of many, films but one that is dealt a fresh setting in The Space Between. Borgobello cleverly uses the Italian location to relay a subtle cultural commentary, drawing parallels between how the Italian people are suffering similarly to Marco and this is what elevates the film above a cliché.

As a love story, it’s not as witty or captivating as Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise trilogy, for example, however it still remains charming enough to watch. Flavio and Maeve bounce off each other nicely, with particular praises going to Borgobello once more for her hand in the dialogue. It’s one of the more authentic love stories I’ve seen recently and one I wanted to know more about by the time the credits began to roll.

A simple but beautiful story that echoes in the fine cinematography of the Italian landscapes by Katie Milwright, The Space Between is a perfect start to your Italian film festival watch list.


The Confessions
Director: 
Roberto Andò
Starring: Toni 
Servillo, Daniel Auteuil, Pierfrancesco Favino

Murder, silence and paranoia are at play in Roberto Andò’s lacklustre thriller.

⭐⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

09-september-italianff-confessions
The Confessions has a whiff of complex allegory. As I sat watching, I was overwhelmed with the feeling that I was missing the point of it all; that the characters, both important and redundant, were concealing truths and ideas that the almost poetic dialogue only hinted at. I was afraid I was letting the film pass me by.

But now that I’ve had some time to digest it, I am certain it is merely a movie designed to bore and confuse. What starts as a murder mystery slowly unravels as a suspense thriller without the suspense or the thrill, and by the end, I had either forgotten half of what everyone had said or I just didn’t care. There is an entire scene involving Lambert Wilson that could’ve ended up on the cutting room floor without anyone noticing.

Toni Servillo plays Father Salus, a priest invited to an idyllic hotel that shall act as the setting for an important economic summit. Also in attendance is Claire (Connie Nielsen), a famed children’s author whose presence at the summit is dubious at best, for she does little except swim and snoop. One of the economists is found dead, and now the others are afraid his dying confession to Padre Salus will lead their devious plot to ruin. What their devious plot is I’m sure I don’t know, but every character treats it with the utmost respect.

The Confessions spends a lot of time with Salus, whose vow of silence is the code the economists can’t crack. I couldn’t crack the movie, which is populated with more characters than it knows what to do with and fails to punch through with a mystery worth our time.


Perfect Strangers
Director:
Paolo Genovese 
Starring:
Giuseppe Battiston, Anna Foglietta, Marco Giallini

Paolo Genovese’s Perfect Strangers is the film equivalent of a rich Italian lasagne with multiple layers of character-driven drama.

⭐⭐⭐⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

09-september-italianff-perfect-strangers

This hilarious comedy sees three married couples and a bachelor, all long-time friends, get together for a sumptuous dinner party. As the night winds on, one of them suggests that they play a game to test their trust in one another. Each person is required to place their smartphone in front of them on the dinner table. For the entire night, any phone calls and text messages that arrive must be shared publicly with the group. Of course, not everyone sitting at the table is squeaky clean and it soon becomes clear that the seven friends didn’t know each other quite as well as they originally thought.

Perfect Strangers’ strongest element is undoubtedly its award-winning screenplay; perfectly paced and overflowing with razor-sharp dialogue, we’re gently introduced to each character before being teased with secrets that they may or may not be harbouring.

After this slow-burn first half, the surprises land hard and fast, like a chain of dominoes that speed around the dinner table. It’s an impressive build towards a series of twists that subvert expectations without feeling implausible. Most impressive is Genovese’s ability to traverse both earnest sentiment and crushing pathos in this tricky second half; he certainly doesn’t skimp on the gut-wrenching emotion, but underneath it all is a unifying message of friendship, acceptance and understanding in a thought-provoking final scene that ties everything together.


One Kiss
Director: 
Ivan Cotroneo
Starring: Rimau Ritzberger Grillo, Valentina Romani, Leonardo Pazzagli

A realistic depiction of teenage life doesn’t stop One Kiss from being an unfocused amalgamation of similar movies.

⭐⭐ ½
Cody Fullbrook

09-september-italianff-kiss

Lorenzo (Rimau Ritzberger Grillo), a foster child, moves to a new town and forms a friendly trio of outcasts, consisting of himself, Blu (Valentina Romani) and Antonio (Leonardo Pazzagli), but as they get closer, tensions rise that begin tearing them apart.

Lorenzo and Blu become the first members of the group and the first 30 minutes of One Kiss is solely dedicated to them mucking around together.  Their rebellious antics almost become the film’s entire plot until Antonio is dragged in just because Lorenzo thinks he’s cute.  The connection between the two boys quickly overshadows Blu as a character, and after an unwarranted sexual action, a conflict finally forms with Lorenzo and Antonio.  This occurs well over an hour in, leaving Blu to mope in the sidelines with her own unrelated issues.

It’s clear that One Kiss should have been about a stern sportsman attempting to resist the advances of another boy in school.  The ensuing awkwardness between them feels sincere and could have easily carried the film, and since the title is based on a later encounter with them, that appears to have been the movie’s intention.  It’s a shame the viewer has to wade through so much of Blu and Lorenzo’s shenanigans to get to the meat of the story, and even after enduring that, its melodramatic climax is completely uncalled for.

One Kiss displays great chemistry between the three friends, especially with their concerned parents, but its fuzzy story and egocentric main characters remind me too much of high school.


The Italian Film Festival screens at Cinema Paradiso in Perth from September 22 to October 12

Images courtesy of Palace Films

Movie Review -The Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years

09-september-beatles

Ron Howard’s clear affection for the greatest band in history shines through in Eight Days a Week, an obedient documentary that does precisely what it’s told.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

“We’re bigger than Jesus” were John Lennon’s famous words, and judging by the sheer scale of his fame with The Beatles, he might as well have walked on water. Having grown up with my ears pressed to The Beatles’ catalogue, I’ve gawked at the terrors of Beatlemania at arm’s length, but The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years gathers all the hysteria of the Fab Four’s early years and puts it into horrifying perspective. These weren’t superheroes saving the world. They were a bunch of clueless musicians, barely out of their teens, making the best music of our time. The world simply consumed them for it.

This is a taut and just documentary, honouring its title. There are bits and bobs about the years preceding and succeeding The Beatles’ touring years, but it works firmly within its parameters. If you’re looking for a biographical recitation, you’ve come to the wrong place. Eight Days a Week functions like a compression chamber; it batters you over the head with Beatlemania until it’s about all you can handle, then sneakily reminds you it’s just a film. John, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr are the ones who had to live it.

Their unified career as The Beatles lasted less than ten years. They recorded over three-hundred songs and produced fourteen albums (that’s somewhere in the region of two albums per year). “It wasn’t about the volume”, we are told. “Anyone can write 300 songs. It was the sheer number of great songs they wrote”. Indeed, The Beatles made more than a hundred recognisable tunes, a feat the film compares to the likes of Mozart. It is remarkable to sit through Eight Days and identify deeply with each new song the soundtrack introduces. The entire Beatles collection behaves like a greatest hits compilation.

This is a documentary that’s not concerned with teaching. We don’t discover the influences that fuelled the Lennon-McCartney bloom, nor are we taken on a tour of their Abbey Road sessions. We are told to observe as wave after wave of crying, fainting, writhing teenage girls clamber over each other to get a glimpse of their mop-top heroes.

Basically, it was all mayhem. And The Beatles, weary and exhausted, stopped touring altogether in 1966. They retreated to the sanctity of their writing and, in the years between 1965 and 1969, produced some of the greatest albums in music history. Eight Days doesn’t delve into that, but none of it has been lost to memory. The movie’s more about the feeling of claustrophobia and panic, and of the height of superstardom, reached in the shortest time possible. And all the while the genius of these four uniformed, brilliant young men made its way across the universe.

The Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years is available in Australian cinemas from September 15

Image courtesy of Studiocanal 

Movie Review – Spin Out

09-september-spin-out

Marc Gracie and Tim Ferguson move operations to the outback, which is where everything, including their movie, begins to spin out of control.

⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Spin Out is a woeful, misshapen heap, in which Australians are given a free pass to behave like unchained pigs on spring break while several kindergarten-grade love stories threaten to blossom between them. It’s like watching an old Nicholas Sparks novel adapted by Crocodile Dundee, only the crocodiles are replaced with customised dirt utes that zoom and growl and supposedly entertain by performing loops and figure-eights in a country arena. Thrilling stuff.

One team, composed of Billy (Xavier Samuel), Sparrow (Travis Jeffery) and Lucy (Morgan Griffin), is the crowd favourite, but Billy’s in-the-arena showmanship proves to be too much, and now Lucy wants to move to Sydney. If by now Billy hasn’t realised that swirling around in a broken-down truck for the rest of his life isn’t going to pay the mortgage, he’s a couple of screws loose.

But judging from his present company, I doubt anyone in this movie owns a house. Following the dirt ute championships, all participants are cordially invited to the ball, which isn’t so much a ball as a mosh pit of booze and bodily fluids. The next morning, bodies are strewn about the grounds as if flung by a hurricane. “The ball happens annually”, Sparrow helpfully advises, “because it takes a year to recover”. Uh huh.

Who cares about any of this? What have these characters done to deserve this lifestyle? If, by some stroke of misfortune, they genuinely hold this ute-dashing, beer-hogging ritual in high esteem, I’m afraid they are indeed destined to twirl dirty pickup trucks for the rest of their days. These people aren’t programmed to appear in any other kind of movie.

The central love story revolves around Billy and Lucy, who grew up together and share that back-and-forth romantic tension commonly seen between kids and that toy in the display window. Billy says all the wrong things. Lucy hates him for it, but secretly adores his goofiness. Lucy catches Billy kissing another woman. She’s devastated. Billy gets drunk and professes his true feelings. There’s a frantic last-minute pursuit. Will Lucy make good on her plan to move to Sydney? You know how it goes. Somewhere Nic Sparks is demanding his royalties.

Spin Out is directed by first-timers Marc Gracie and Tim Ferguson, who, I was told, spent nine years trying to get this film made. Nine years. What about this story encouraged them to see it through? Were they completely happy with the final draft? I worry for their next film if they were. It doesn’t tell an accurate love story. It doesn’t observe proper human behaviour. It doesn’t connect with comedy. What Spin Out boils down to is that without their trucks, beer and overall lust for the chaotic, these characters have nothing.

Tim Ferguson reportedly owns the third largest collection of Star Wars toys in the southern hemisphere. He should have made a movie about that.

Spin Out is available in Australian cinemas from September 15

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

Movie Review – Blair Witch

09-september-blair-witch

Just when you thought found footage was dead, we’ve come full circle back to where it all started – and it might actually make you shit your pants this time.

⭐⭐⭐ ½
Corey Hogan

Two decades after his sister Heather went missing while shooting a documentary about a local legend known as the Blair Witch, James Donahue (James Allen McCune) discovers a YouTube video that appears to be new footage of her experiences in the woods. His curiosity finally getting the better of him, James convinces his friends Lisa (Callie Hernandez), Peter (Brandon Scott) and Ashley (Corbin Reid) to meet the uploader of the video and venture into the forest to investigate. Shooting a documentary of their own, they soon begin to regret their inquisitiveness as unsettling occurrences reveal the legend of the Blair Witch to be lamentably true.

Love it or loathe it, The Blair Witch Project has had an astounding impact since it took the world by storm back in 1999. Made on a shoestring budget and marketed as the product of a real event, not fiction, it broke the box office worldwide, popularised the found footage subgenre, and built fear by showing us as little as possible; leaving it up to our imaginations to conjure up the monster lurking in the darkness.

Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett’s (You’re Next, The Guest) surprise sequel Blair Witch is, save for the same story beats, almost entirely the opposite. Aware that the original’s guerrilla style, unglamorous techniques and slow pacing just isn’t going to cut it with modern horror audiences, they’ve glossed it up with an abundance of technology and made the scares considerably more frequent and in-your-face. Wingard and Barrett aren’t the least bit concerned with authenticity, or reinventing the wheel, or much of anything really; they’re simply here to do one thing – scare the pants off you.

Our team of amateur filmmakers assembles itself, learns of some of the sinister tales and legends of the Witch, then bravely journeys into the woods. It mirrors the setup of the first, only this time there’s twice as many teens to expend, and thus half the character development. Sadly, these bland kids are copied and pasted directly from the contemporary horror template, and none are given enough time to form any kind of characterisation; they’re simply there to articulate exposition. The familial link to the first film is flimsy and far-fetched, and begs the question of why James would be stupid enough to follow in the footsteps of his sister.

When things first start to go bump in the night, there’s a disheartening amount of cheap jump scares, but soon the threat becomes real and a supreme dread sets in. There’s been sixteen years of evolution in horror since the original and it’s all unleashed here. The sound department must be applauded for their design; this is the most impressively unnerving earful copped from a horror in years.

It’s frustratingly light on explanation, lacks the subtle smarts of its archetype and is a huge deal of substance short of achieving greatness, but it’s hard to complain too much when Blair Witch is what so many of its peers can only pretend to be – genuinely scary.

Blair Witch is available in Australian cinemas from September 15

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films