"Art is not a thing; it is a way."

Elbert Hubbard

Sunday, August 1, 2010


Judgment. We're embedded with this lesson from fairly early on through religious education that to judge is to be wrong. Yet there is a hypocrisy in the very sentiment as identifying one as guilty of judging is in itself making a judgment. Observation is merely reporting the facts, which in itself would be describing the behaviour, but to label the behaviour goes one step further and in effect becomes judgment. We're notorious for doing it but is it that wrong? Isn't opinion important? And aren't opinions about making judgments? Yes, perhaps there is a significant difference in judgment of something and someone but is judgment of anything in a sense a judgment of those behind it? This may seem a somewhat circular and pointless series of questions but what it is leading to is the inevitable sense that we do judge and in some cases pre-judge. Sometimes our judgments prove correct whilst at other times they are proven to be false but what it comes down to is the realisation that whether right or wrong judgment is about the take on something. It is how one interprets and deals with a scenario, situation or subject that becomes the significant issue when judgment takes place.

Take the Sandra Bullock vehicle, The Blind Side, for instance. It's a Sandra Bullock movie. It's about a middle-class white woman, Leigh Anne Tuohy, who rescues a troubled and homeless African-American teen, Michael Oher, and offers him a home. Immediate pre-judgment would suggest a saccharine-coated weeper that would see the African-American teen overcome hardship and go onto greatness and in the end it would seem pre-judgment would be correct. As what occurs during the film's two-hour-plus running time is a series of realisations and advertisements for stereotype-breakdown that leaves one with a confirmation of the cynicism with which one may have entered the viewing.

Sure it is an uplifting tale of sorts but it's a tired one. Sure it is an inspirational tale of sorts but it's a seen one. And sure it is an antidote to the barrage of bleakness that seems to have enveloped the screens of recent times but it's an antidote that leaves no lasting immunity. For The Blind Side is a purely by-the-numbers examination of a difficult social issue with far greater implications than what it is willing to acknowledge.

The problem largely lies in the lacklustre screenplay by director John Lee Hancock. He's no real idea of how to bring depth to this story and creates a world so ordinary in its look that one can't always see the true significance of the story being told. Performances are solid without being great and Bullock's Oscar, SAG, Globe-winning performance is testament to the power of the awards machine rather than the acknowledgement of quality. It's a middle-of-the-run turn that lacks the zing of Julia Roberts' performance in Erin Brockovich, a similar sort of turn, that garnered her her awards run back in the early 2000s.

In the end The Blind Side treads so carefully that it ends up really saying nothing. The Oher story is a far more impressive one than the one that graces this version, which is a shame because one would have thought that with a more original take on the story the message may have stuck around far longer. The Blind Side is mediocre at best.

Far from mediocre but not quite great either is the American remake of the Danish film, Brødre, entitled Brothers. Remakes, particularly American ones, of non-English language films generally garner the true ire of film fanatics. It's therefore no surprise to realise that this adaptation comes to the screen with a lot of expectation that it will fail to live up to its predecessor and therefore be justly lambasted with the criticism aimed at arguably unnecessary remakes. It's interesting then when the pre-judgment is slightly amiss.

Focusing on the return of a scarred war veteran, Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire), to his family home, Brothers identifies the trauma one brings home after armed conflict. Returning to his wife, Grace (Natalie Portman), and two daughters, Isabelle (Bailee Madison) and Maggie (Taylor Geare), Jim Sheridan's take on Sam's return in this familial drama brings considerable shades of grey to the narrative originally written by Susanne Bier and Anders Thomas Jensen. For as Sam struggles to come to grips with his family having moved on so too must he as he encounters the damage distance and grief can create when he confronts his brother, Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal), about the relationship he has with Grace.

Showcasing the family dynamic, there is a lot to be moved by here, but the film fails to completely convince and that's largely due to the misfire of a performance from Maguire. He simply doesn't have the presence to convince of this man's troubled past. Apart from his one big scene, in which he convincingly applies himself, there is a lot missing from that baleful blue-eyed stare. Compare him to Gyllenhaal and there is no question that his performance just doesn't stack up. The supporting cast is top-notch with Clifton Collins Jr., Sam Shepard and Mare Winningham all good and the two child actors in Madison and Geare outstanding. In the end though Sheridan somehow drops the ball and Brothers ends up being a good film when it in fact should have been great.

It's perhaps then interesting to look at when pre-judgment allows for films to truly shine. In the case of the Australian film, Cedar Boys, that probably lies in the fact that expectation of low-budget Australian fare is never really beyond that of average. It's interesting that this is the case as Australians are renowned in nearly every field with the film industry, yet, when it comes to films being made at home there is always a sense of doom and gloom as to their quality and success. For what it's worth there do tend to be very few 'bad' Australian films but on the other hand there do tend to be very few 'great' Australian films also. This obviously has a lot to do with the size of the industry but it does tend to bring a certain set of expectations that can allow for films to surprise.

In the case of Cedar Boys it's not a great surprise but rather a mild one that a film of low budget can muster what it manages to in the end. For this investigation into the world of Lebanese Australians comes at a time when racial tension between the minority group and the larger white Australian community continues to broil. And for the most part it's an intelligent investigation into the cultural expectations and cultural misnomers present within Australia today. For whilst the gang culture is investigated it's actually the familial and interracial relationships that spark most interest here. This can be attributed more to the performances in these sections of the film with Rachael Taylor an interesting on-screen presence and Les Chantery a real nuanced addition to the goings-on.

In the end the original lowered expectations probably help Cedar
Boys but having said that there is still enough on show here to warrant a sit-through and a significant sense that there is
something to be said about the racial and cultural tensions present in Australia that filmmakers are really trying hard to investigate.

What can add expectation and a sense of pre-judgment to anything is the collection of praise already heralded upon something by those who have already borne witness. Frozen River came to Australian shores wracked with expectation as a double Oscar nominee. Investigating the world of people smuggling, Frozen River takes hold of a small community and lets the inherent social and economic problems tell its story.

Featuring a forceful and honest turn from Melissa Leo as single mum, Ray,
the film takes us on a journey as a mother is forced to contribute to a significant social problem to solve her own. Supported by a criminally unheralded Misty Upham as Lila, a Native American involved in the scheme, and her moral compass in her son T.J., a very good Charlie McDermott, Ray faces the internal demons of her decisions and repercussions of both her actions and inactions.

As a film, Frozen River works marvellously. It's filmed nicely amidst the freezing locale of the St. Lawrence River and bears no sense of pretension or self-importance that seems to dog so many independent films. Courtney Hunt's screenplay and direction are quite fine and as she lets her story unfold and her actors
flourish, one cannot help but be grateful that, on this occasion, the expectation was more than adequately met.

It's the case too with the Australian film, Last Ride, that the burden of expectation comes thick and in this case two-fold. For whilst it too bears awards expectation - the film saw its star Hugo Weaving AFI nominated - it also carries the very expectation of its star. For Weaving is a familiar name in Australian film on both sides of the artistic fence. From the Hollywood blockbuster The Matrix to the world-wide smash of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy to smaller Australian commercial successes in the likes of The Adventures Of Priscilla Queen Of The Desert to even smaller arthouse fare such as Proof and arguably Little Fish, Weaving brings weight. He's an actor's actor, usually convincingly immersing himself within a role to the point where one forgets who it is that is present on the screen.

So it should be no surprise here either that, in the end, Last Ride also meets and in some circumstances exceeds expectation. For whilst the story is not a particularly original one, the
father-son relationship developed on screen is one of significant depth and understanding. For
the sense of fear of Weaving's Kev is ever present through his menacing and quiet turn. The fact that it works is largely due to the strong supporting performance of young Tom Russell as his son, Chook. The swimming scene alone is enough to identify the trouble within their relationship. The fact that the relationship doesn't even really need scenes like that or the incredibly odd scenery of the nigh-missing Lake Gairdner in South Australia to be utterly convincing is testament to the chemistry between the two actors.

Director Glendyn Ivin uses his actors well with even those in
smaller roles, John Brumpton and Anita Hegh, delivering exceptionally and he embraces the camerawork of cinematographer Greig Fraser - a crackerjack new arrival with his work on the Campion vehicle Bright Star also mindblowingly good - wholeheartedly, which in turn lets this rather small story
unfold quite interestingly amidst this sometimes huge backdrop. Last Ride delivers and it delivers in spades.

Which is also what can be said of the French bio-pic, Seraphine. Another film to hit Australian shores bearing awards-weight burden after it beat out a red-hot field (The Class, I've Loved You So Long, Paris and A Christmas Tale amongst others) at the Cesar Awards to win Best Picture, the Yolande Moreau starrer is a quiet and odd little film embracing both the worlds of silence and sound within the creative process.

Seraphine Louis, a French artist within the naive movement, known also
as Seraphine de Senlis came to prominence after her work was discovered in one of the houses she cleaned. Biopics bring with them their own set of expectations but what sets Seraphine apart from the majority of others is the lack of the vulgarity of the obviousness of the torment that propels her to complete her work. For whilst she suffered from a diagnosed mental illness later in her life the focus of the film isn't this but rather the way her creative process developed.

Moreau, in the lead role, is astonishing in a performance that will likely go down as one of the decade's best. Strikingly odd but amazingly lacking in quirk or an overly mannered sense of delivery this is a truly lived-in turn. The fact that one is kept at a distance from Seraphine's process is even greater testament to Moreau's ability to make the viewer care.

The support is also spot-on with Ulrich Tukur once again proving that apart from perhaps Neils Arestrup he is Europe's best go-to man in cinema and Adelaide Leroux is memorable as the caring Minouche.

What one garners from Seraphine at its conclusion is that the creative process is one filled with pain. For some it is an avenue to let it go. For others it is a way to embrace it. For Seraphine it appeared to be a means to meet both and in the end at a purely superficial level it is her story and this particular telling of it that proves no matter what the weight, the burden will be carried if the heart of the matter is kept protected and left true. No sugar-coating will keep a viewer entranced or convinced even if the expectation and pre-judgement are ones of universal acclaim. It may blind at first but in time the shine dulls and the truth does win out. In the case of Seraphine it is clear the truth is already present.




John Lee Hancock


Sandra Bullock

Tim McGraw

Quinton Aaron

Jae Head

Lily Collins

Ray McKinnon

Kim Dickens

Adriane Lenox

Kathy Bates

129 min





Jim Sheridan


Tobey Maguire

Jake Gyllenhaal

Natalie Portman

Sam Shepard

Mare Winningham

Bailee Madison

Taylor Geare

Patrick John Flueger

Clifton Collins Jr.

Carey Mulligan

105 min





Serhat Caradee


Rachael Taylor

Martin Henderson

Bren Foster

Les Chantery

Daniel Amalm

Dan Mor

Serhat Caradee

Ian Roberts

Waddah Sari

100 min





Courtney Hunt


Melissa Leo

Misty Upham

Charlie McDermott

Michael O'Keefe

Mark Boone Junior

97 min





Glendyn Ivin


John Brumpton

Mick Coulthard

Rachel Francis

Anita Hegh

Adam Morgan

Levine Ngatokorua

Chrissie Page

Kelton Pell

Tom Russell

Sonya Suares

Hugo Weaving

90 min





Martin Provost


Yolande Moreau

Ulrich Tukur

Anne Bennent

Genevieve Mnich

Nico Rogner

Adelaide Leroux

125 min

France ׀ Belgium

Sunday, July 25, 2010

HEAD FIRST (Goldfrapp)

1. Rocket
2. Believer
3. Alive
4. Dreaming
5. Head First
6. Hunt
7. Shiny And Warm
8. I Wanna Life
9. Voicething

The fifth studio album from Goldfrapp, the English electronic duo of Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory, sees them venture firmly into the world of 80s synth pop. What's worked with the 80s pop revival for the likes of Delphic, Chew Lips and La Roux lies firmly in the fact that they've made it their own. Whilst their work is distinctly eighties in feel and sound there is an element that clearly identifies it as modern and of far more substance than the majority of the eighties synth pop, which lay firmly in the initial world of electronic discovery. Melodically, lyrically and vocally each of the aforementioned acts have brought something new to the table, which has meant their contributions to this 80s revival have been noteworthy. For Goldfrapp, the act one might expect to make a better fist of this foray, very little works as Head First amounts to a whole that seems lacklustre comparative to their other work. Head First sounds merely eighties rather than inspired by it and ultimately sounds like a bunch of original covers.

The first single, 'Rocket', is typical of Head First. With the recognisable breathy vocals of Goldfrapp and the eighties beat and distinct synth sound there is a general lack of meatiness amidst the track's 3:53 runtime. It's a whispiness that plagues the whole album, which sounds surprising considering that in fact it was what made their previous album, Seventh Tree, a triumph. Here it merely sounds gutless.

That ethereal quality to Seventh Tree did in fact evoke a quite angelic feel to what was going on but here it leaves the listener wanting more than what is delivered. Lyrically, Track 2 'Believer' sums it up best, "A cupid on the go, no arrow and no bow."

There are enough bits of interest to stop Head First from being a complete waste of time, particularly in the likes of the referential 'Dreaming', which harks to the seventies and eighties hey day of Fleetwood Mac and the Björk-ish sounding 'Voicething', but they're few and far between. Head First is but a blip on the music canon of Goldfrapp and a murmur in the discussion of music in 2010.

Monday, July 19, 2010


Horror films have generally been associated with a niche market. Aimed squarely at the teen audience, they were a cheaper way to make money and lots of it. Quite often forming cult-like followings, the horror films of the seventies and eighties focused on the audience's desire to be scared as they got high on adrenaline and raced for their lives from gun or axe or machete-wielding maniacs. Somewhere in the late nineties and early noughties the game shifted. For no longer was the focus on the adrenaline rush of the chase but more upon the response to the carnage. Torture porn was born and in a search for new audiences so began the race by writers and filmmakers to outdo each other in the area of gore.

Gore is nothing new either but with the developments in make-up design and CGI effects so did the gore intensify. Gone were the days of fake blood and guts. Here was as close to the real thing as one could get and audiences seemed to lap it up. Entire franchises began to spring up, again not a new thing, but where the focus was on the horror villain in the past such as Jason or Freddy Kreuger now it had become on the killing that was taking place.

Saw took horror to a completely different level. Upping the ante on the gore and beginning the torture-fest trend of noughties horror, it made over $100 000 in a two-month release. It also began a franchise that currently sits at six films whilst in turn making it the biggest-grossing franchise within the horror genre. Ever. Whilst it kept up the tradition of having a central character at its core, in this case Jigsaw, other films that followed in its path tended to merely focus on the gore and the finite detail in how the film's victims were killed. The Hostel films followed as did the Americanised versions of the Asian horror films that had so creepily and eerily thrilled audiences in Asia for years.

This shift in tone of horror has been examined by many and identified by some as a direct result of September 11, however, that aside it cannot be argued that audiences aren't still lining up for it with each new film that opens. The barrage may be over but its mark has indelibly been left. For the reality of the gore has seeped its way into even more mainstream and arthouse fare. Television has even been impacted as the crime-scene genre upped the gore relative to their usual fare. Tempered when compared to cinema, it has still, it could be argued, been as a direct result of audiences' willingness to accept the gore that it has become more common fare on the big screen.

So what to make of it when one of the world's premiere arthouse auteurs plays his hand? Lars von Trier, one of the original Dogme 95 practitioners, had up until Antichrist made films about females with edge. From Breaking The Waves to Dancer In The Dark to Dogville to Manderlay, his films given major releases were controversial and for the most part divisive. Whilst the focus was more often than not on the technical side of his films with criticism coming from traditionalists towards the Dogme rules, it wasn't until Antichrist that the controversy shifted wholeheartedly towards his subject matter. Sure, Dogville and Dancer In The Dark raised interesting questions about his treatment of his female characters and numerous rumours about his mysoginistic attitudes towards his female cast members always fueled conjecture about his personal life and attitudes, however, it was not until the sheer graphic nature of Antichrist that people seemed to completely get up in arms. Von Trier was not a foreigner to the potential of graphic film either. The Idiots featured strong depictions of sex and Dogville a quite appalling suggestion of rape, however, the sheer ferocity of some scenes in Antichrist seemed to shock some viewers far beyond the line von Trier had previously led them.

Antichrist tells the story of a married couple, He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) on the verge of irreparable breakdown after the death of their son, Nick. Beginning with a stunningly shot black and white sequence of the couple having sex in the shower, the film shows its hand quite early on with what appears to be actual shots of vaginal penetration. Whilst this isn't shocking in itself what is is the inclusion of the shot within the sequence being shown. Is von Trier trying to provoke? Is he trying to be controversial? These are criticisms all labelled at the film but what those criticisms don't negate is the fact that this scene in effect has significant power. And that's where von Trier seems to get past the controversy. For later on even further acts of sexual activity, including a scene of a hand job after a horrendous act of violence, don't seem to take away from the sense that this is a family in absolute decay. The power is palpable.

But what is he trying to say? Who knows? might be the best answer but as his talking fox divulges, "Chaos reigns," and that may in fact be the biggest clue as to what indeed von Trier is trying to say. For as a whole Antichrist is a horror film of sheer domestic chaos. From the manipulation of He as the psychoanalyst to the infliction of significant violence by She as the patient Antichrist turns into one absolute hell-hole of unanswered questions. For whilst the suggestion is there that She could have stopped the death of their son and that in fact she was behind it all along, the shoes scene is significantly telling, what the hell has the genital mutilation scene got to do with anything? Is the idea of castration punishment? Is von Trier suggesting that the sensation of pleasure being removed is the personal consequence deemed appropriate by She as she nears the film's conclusion?

Whatever was going on in von Trier's head, what can't be argued against is that the man knows how to make a movie. Antichrist is a visual splendor. It's the most beautifully shot film he's made and he illicits two brave turns from his leads. In the end, however, the questions far outweigh any answers he gives and one is left wondering if indeed he is merely pulling tricks left, right and centre to shock for the sake of shocking.

Pulling tricks left, right and centre lies at the heart of the Swedish adaptation of the late Stieg Larsson's best-selling novel, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. The first film of the trilogy arrives ahead of the inevitable American version with all guns blazing and a searing grubbiness that sets it apart from the majority of other crime thrillers.

Following Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) and his fight to clear his name of a libel case against a wealthy industrialist, the story shifts gear and begins to tell that of Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) a twenty-something tech genius who works as an investigator and fights too for her own rights as she battles a welfare system that has kept her in care for the majority of her life. Disturbed and insular, Lisbeth is a firecracker, and as dangerous, as she hides behind a peculiar beauty and a huge potential to explode.

The first of the connections between the two arises when she is hired to investigate Blomkvist who has been chosen by another man of wealth, Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), to investigate the disappearance of his great niece decades earlier. Blomkvist, facing prison time, is convinced to partake and so begins the messiness of the convoluted but utterly gripping plot.

A potential who-done-it thriller sounds far from the world of horror but what quickly becomes clear is that Sweden, in this view, is a dark and sinister place. For Lisbeth is brutally raped in a scene that is incredibly difficult to watch and the griminess and evil at the centre of the investigation that becomes clear, will leave many with acrid tastes in their mouths. Why would we want to see this on screen? Well, the answer is clear and it lies in the heart of the matter and that's the fact that it's a ripper yarn told with clarity and a tight hand and eye of a solid director, Niels Arden Oplev. The narrative is intriguing and the sense of place intoxicating as Blomkvist and Salander journey together on this tale of something far darker than we were perhaps initially made to believe.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a nifty little film that wil leave the Americans behind the remake potentially shaking in their boots. They've a substantial amount up to which to live.

Never once troubling anyone to even consider remaking it, M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening is an absolute mess of ideas and execution that fails on almost every level. Telling the story of Elliot (Mark Wahlberg) and his family as they try to escape from a bizarre environmental payback that causes victims to kill themselves when they come into contact with a particular neurotoxin, Shyamalan opts for that twist-in-the-tale structure and quiet sense of tension he used so effectively in The Sixth Sense. What goes wrong here is his absolute disdain for the audience's ability to follow sensical plot developments in favour of style. It completely lacks substance.

Shot beautifully, the film looks grand up on the big screen but that does nothing to circumvent the fact that stuck in the middle of this picture is a big fat turkey. Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel, two idiosyncratic actors who are just wrong for this tale, struggle monumentally to convince that they are in fact not bad actors and Shyamalan's ending, to suggest it's going to happen all over again in another place, is a kick in the head for anyone who already checked out about an hour earlier.

At only just over an hour and a half the film still feels long, which goes to suggest that perhaps this environmental allegory might have made a significantly better short film. If he hadn't proved it before, he has here. Shyamalan's a one-trick-pony and that pony is lame. The horror here lies purely in the fact that The Happening is as bad as many suggest.

It's a similar horror in Peter Jackson's adaptation of the massively successful Alice Sebold novel, The Lovely Bones. Taking what is a pretty harrowing and evocative source material, he dumbs it down in favour for imagery losing what it is at the very centre of the piece that makes it such an affecting read.

What should be a horror story of the real kind turns out to be a story far from that as he fails to get under the skin of either of the parents (Mark Wahlberg, again miscast, and Rachel Weisz, strangely ineffective) or that of the kidnapper/killer (a wrongly Oscar-nominated Stanley Tucci who has been far better in other places). Hell, he even loses sight of his protagonist, Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) which is a feat in and of itself considering how wholeheartedly Ronan throws herself into the role.

What causes the film to derail so badly is Jackson's complete misread of the emotional side of the story. He stops any traction that might take hold, particularly within Jack's storyline, and whilst humour is important to lighten the mood he uses it inappropriately with the introduction of Susie's grandmother, Lynn (Susan Sarandon).

The visual effects abound as Jackson focuses on the fantasy elements of the film but this too has disastrous impact on the emotional gravitas of the story being told. This should be a harrowing tale and in the end it is not. It's neither an uplifting one or even an interesting one as the story parts are left to flounder singularly amidst a whole that just doesn't gel together very well.

It is frustrating to see a film that should have been great turn out not bad but simply mediocre. At least with a bad film you could blame incompetency or blatant misinterpretation. In this case it just seems to be as a result of an auteur who simply may have got far too big for his boots. The Lovely Bones ain't that lovely even in the horror sense.

Far more shocking than most of what the modern horror genre can produce is what lies amidst the 109 minutes we see of the life of Claireece Precious Jones in Precious: Based On The Novel 'Push' By Sapphire. As played by newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, Precious is a quiet, insular shell of a young woman, illiterate and pregnant with her second child to her own father. The victim of incestuous rape and constant beatings at the hands of both of her parents, her mother ironically named Mary (Mo'Nique), Precious suffers in a self-imposed silence as she lies deep within the morbidly obese frame of her body.

Forced from her school she begins lessons in a learning centre for troubled teen girls where she receives tough love from the gifted teacher employed at the centre, Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), and begins to realise that there is more to herself than what she is told, particularly by her mother.

This isn't a new story. In fact it's a story seemingly built upon what could be viewed as a series of cliches, however, it's the treatment it is given by the cast that sheds new light. For the honesty and sheer courage of the performers is so raw and real that as an audience it is hard to deny that Precious's life is relatively close to hell on Earth.

Sidibe is a revelation in her first ever role as she moves through this horror-filled life and she's supported wonderfully by fierce performances by Mo'Nique, Paula Patton, Sherri Shepherd who again proves she has the potential to be a far better dramatic performer than a comedic one, Lenny Kravitz and a surprisingly effective Mariah Carey as Precious's counsellor, Mrs. Weiss. The supporting cast in the school - Stephanie Andujar, Chyna Layne, Amina Robinson, Xosha Roquemore, Angelic Zambrana and Aunt Dot - also add depth to a section of the film that could have, and in fact sometimes does, delve into far less interesting territory à la Dangerous Minds, Sister Act 2: Back In The Habit, or Mr. Holland's Opus as the treacle is laid on thick. The film turns towards something far less brave and strangely far less honest in this section, which does unfortunately bring a ring of falsity at some points, however, director Lee Daniels never forgets where this story is set and where it is headed and using Sapphire's novel, 'Push', as its source material he somewhat clunkily redirects it in a way we sadly know the film needs to go for it to be truly authentic.

This is a story of hope, barely, but it is a story given power due to the integrity of its components. There is an undeniable belief on screen that this is a story of a young woman that needs to be told and, it's true, it brings forth an element of 'our' lives that sadly seems to be being waylaid for the troubles of celebrity and the false grandeur that surrounds it. What truth is there in something that is at its core fake? Precious: Based On The Novel 'Push' By Sapphire subtly looks at the world to which we have suddenly given creedence and respectfully and wholeheartedly gives it the middle finger. For what more of an honest answer can one give than a telling of the truth? No matter how ugly it is. Precious is tough and at times torturous but it's a pain worth dealing with as is usually the case with any reality-check.




Lars von Trier


Willem Dafoe

Charlotte Gainsbourg

108 min

Denmark ׀ Germany ׀ France ׀ Sweden ׀ Italy ׀ Poland




Niels Arden Oplev


Michael Nyqvist

Noomi Rapace

Lena Endre

Peter Haber

Sven-Bertil Taube

Peter Andersson

Ingvar Hirdwall

Marika Lagercrantz

örn Granath

Ewa Fr

Michalis Koutsogiannakis

Annika Giannini

Sofia Ledarp

Tomas K

David Dencik

152 min

Sweden ׀ Denmark ׀ Germany ׀ Norway




M. Night Shyamalan


Mark Wahlberg

Zooey Deschanel

John Leguizamo

Ashlyn Sanchez

Betty Buckley

Spencer Breslin

91 min

USA ׀ India




Peter Jackson


Mark Wahlberg

Rachel Weisz

Susan Sarandon

Stanley Tucci

Michael Imperioli

Saoirse Ronan

Rose McIver

Christian Ashdale

Tom McCarthy

136 min

USA ׀ UK ׀ New Zealand




Lee Daniels


Gabourey Sidibe


Paula Patton

Mariah Carey

Sherri Shepherd

Lenny Kravitz

Stephanie Andujar

Chyna Layne

Amina Robinson

Xosha Roquemore

Angelic Zambrana

Aunt Dot

109 min


Saturday, July 17, 2010

ACOLYTE (Delphic)

  1. Clarion Call
  2. Doubt
  3. This Momentary
  4. Red Lights
  5. Acolyte
  6. Halcyon
  7. Submission
  8. Counterpoint
  9. Ephemera
  10. Remain

The cover of Acolyte, the debut album from four-piece electro-pop Delphic, suggests quite clearly the airiness and atmosphere that lays hidden within its fifty-odd minutes of playtime. Hailing from Greater Manchester, the quartet - made up of Richard Boardman, Matt Cocksedge, James Cook and Dan Hadley - are an exciting by-product of the noughties electro-synth revival that is severely and unapologetically throwing back to the eighties but with gusto and a clear sense of reform.

What seems to be differentiating the onslaught of the work being produced now is a reliance on tightly written lyrics and an understanding that what is being said is in most cases now more important than ever. Sure, the sentiment of love lost and growing up maybe the same but there's a sophistication present now that really only graced the work of a few during the eighties pop scene, particularly in the UK. As the Internet makes accessibility to work easier the smaller and more alternative artists are finding their work being noticed and whilst there is an absolute deluge of crap soaking the airwaves there are those little gems that seem to be getting the airplay that may have, in the past, eluded them.

Delphic's debut LP is a prime example of that in there really is no scene-stealing, top-charting single amongst the ten tracks, however, what mixes together is a lovely bunch of truly beautiful and atmospheric odes to growing older and to young love in this generation of mass communication and media. From the shifting beat and lovely introduction of the electronic sounds that soak Acolyte in the first track, 'Clarion Call', Delphic do one thing well and that's not to distract from the melodies they've done wonders in creating. The electronic beats only add in the case of track 1 helping build it to its climax. It's a killer start and with an anthemic lyric line running through it, "A call to all. A call to arms. A call to everything you wanted. It's your life. It's your life. It's your life," it's no wonder why Delphic seemed to be getting responses from their fans.

Track 2, 'Doubt', lays testament to the cleverness of their writing too as it begins with the sounding out of the vowels in a prelude to a barrage of energetic questions that really in the end, as they suggest, do leave nothing but doubt. Other tracks that hit the mark, such as 'Remain', 'Counterpoint' and 'This Momentary', rely on their lyrical strength but it's when they combine perfectly with the music as is the case in the album's two best tracks, 'Red Lights' and 'Halcyon' that Delphic hit paydirt. Neither offering an indictment of their generation or of young love, 'Red Lights' is a mere representation of the single-mindedness that seems to be helping their generation to get what it is that they want. If saying, "I wouldn't stop for red lights. I wouldn't come up for air," isn't clear enough, what is?

That leaves other questions to be asked but in this case they're irrelevant. It'll be interesting to see whether Delphic address them in their future. If Acolyte is anything to go by we can only hope that they do and in much the same way they have here. Acolyte is a cracker.


Terrorism is a fact of life. It always has been in some way but it obviously came to everyone's awareness after September 11, 2001. The date is a part of the social vocabulary nowadays with a knowledge of the goings-on on that date perhaps even more than the historical likes of December 25th. It's an iconic part of everyone's modern memories that signified the breakdown in human empathy and a desire to prove one's standing whilst ommitting the right of anyone else to have a differing opinion.

It's beyond the contemplation of a film to begin to even understand the ramifications of the actions of September 11 or to even try to explain them from either side of the argument but what one can understand is the sense of true anguish acts of terrorism cause. From within and without the sense that the act itself is in its warped way a conciliatory event cannot be denied. For whilst there is a danger and complete disregard to life in most acts of terrorism against humanity there is the undeniable breakdown of everyone's humanity involved. It is usually how quickly that humanity recouperates that unites, particularly within the group against which the act has been committed. What though of the group committing the terror?

There have been films and documentaries examining the construct of terrorist groups for decades. From the Munich incident in 1972 to the Symbionese Liberation Army abduction of Patty Hearst in 1974 to the IRA attacks throughout the seventies and eighties film viewers have been given insights into both sides of the story. The Baader Meinhof Complex takes this approach in examining the Red Army Faction (RAF) in Germany from the late 60s to the late 70s. Whilst it spends the majority of its time with those involved with the RAF the film never panders to the fact that perhaps there will be those who see the perspective of terrorists as being glorified when examined. It's a brave stance to take as it will be seen to be a legitimate criticism of a film when the humanity of a terrorist is presented. Many will argue too that that is in itself an impossiblity, however, the question has to be asked that is it not the very humanity within one committing acts of terrorism that needs to be looked at to allow one to understand how the act can be committed in the first place? For is it not as we follow Martina Gedeck's portrayal of Ulrike Meinhof that we truly understand how the breaking down of this person is in itself what has caused her to be able to commit the very acts in which she ends up being a participant? Isn't empathising the only true way to understand? It's not condoning or even understanding. Is it not merely searching for an explanation to minimise the future of carnage in the future?

The Baader Meinhof Complex interestingly steers clear of moralising in any way. Victims from both sides are ruthlessly killed and as the era of the seventies, in particular, is evocatively recreated the sense of unease and unrest is constantly present through this edgy sense of the tangible. At two-and-a-half hours the film is, however, surprisingly, at times, lacking in depth. Beyond merely retelling the actual events, motive and sentiment are left by the way as the too-many characters interweave in this world of hysteria and counteraction. Having said that The Baader Meinhof Complex, deserving of its Oscar nomination, is an intriguing puzzle-piece of a film that without doubt has merit as an inclusion to the canon of film on the topic of terrorism and civil-unrest. The more we talk, it could be suggested, the closer we get to being on the same page at the same time.

It's funny because being on the same page is eventually what the soldiers of the German and British fronts were during World War I in Beneath Hill 60. This Australian film from Australian actor turned director Jeremy Sims tells of the story of the Australian soldiers charged with the digging of a series of tunnels to literally undermine the German enemy. Using a variety of skilled experts, the film tells of the social hierarchy at play during the war and particularly between the soldiers of immediate British descent and those from the colony of Australia.

As the story progresses, the focus shifts to that of Captain Oliver Woodward (Brendan Cowell) and his recollection of the development of the battle as well as of the relationship with his future wife, Marjorie (Bella Heathcote). For a film trying to discover the truth of the sheer isolation of being underground, Beneath Hill 60 lacks a real tension. There is never any doubt as to where this story is headed, which is a bizarre fact considering the actual story of the Hill 60 mob is little known.

Whilst both sides of the story are treated with respect, some of the better performances are from those actors playing the German underground soldiers (David Ritchie, Kenneth Spiteri and Marcus Costello), the film itself does nothing to actually differentiate itself from the huge catalogue of war films already in existence. Performances are uniformly sound though Cowell struggles to convince as a lead and the production values adequate, however, in the end one wonders whether the real heart of the matter is lost at the expense of trying to spin a good yarn. Experience tells us that good storytelling requires little else and in this case that is the core of the problem. The storytelling in the end is far less brave than the soldiers presented on screen. As a whole, Beneath Hill 60 is a major disappointment.

Avoiding the realms of disappointment but belonging firmly to the land of utterly messy is the Tilda Swinton vehicle, Julia. Directed by Erick Zonca, it tells of Julia (Swinton) who is at the precipice of destruction as she battles alcohol and the ramifications of random sex. Through a chance meeting with a fellow AA meeting-goer (Kate del Castillo), Julia embarks on a plan to kidnap the woman's son from the boy's grandson.

What begins as a case in the improbable or at least unlikely soon begins to rattle along as Julia decides to follow through on the plan after originally resisting. This is where the film succeeds because whilst every ounce of common sense within the viewer is questioning all that is going on it is still flagrantly obvious that Julia is a woman in a state far from common sense. As she endeavours to escape with the boy she encounters further problems as the boy is in turn kidnapped by professional Mexican kidnappers. What to do as Julia, so wracked with guilt, begins to question the sense that this may in fact be like what it is to be a mother.

Zonca's film is an utter mess. It's a mess of narrative and plot that fails to question any sense of lack of reality, however, in doing just that it lets that tale of the improbable end up ringing true. This is largely due to the performance of Swinton who proves, once again, what a fantastic actress she is on screen. Absent of the traditional movie-star looks or persona she is an enigma on screen and once again proof of the differential there can be in mothers on screen. We've seen her in this parental-drunk fierceness before in The Deep End and watched the determination present even when representing something borderline between what is morally right and wrong in Michael Clayton, however, we've not seen her so wholeheartedly and honestly disappear on screen. She is uniformly both mother and slut, killer and caretaker, provider and taker and ultimately perhaps the most human we've seen her.

It's not simply the Swinton show, however, as she is given ample support by a career-best Saul Rubinek as her friend, Mitch, and let loose by Zonca who trusts and understands what this story is about. In the end Julia is all over the place as far as movies go but, oh, how glorious an experience it ultimately proves to be by the time it is finished.

Less glorious and more of a mess is the Michael Mann-helmed Public Enemies, telling the story of famed bankrobber, John Dillinger. Reproducing the 1930s, Mann sets a miscast Johnny Depp as Dillinger up against a by-the-numbers Christian Bale as Melvin Purvis, the agent from the Bureau set the task of ending Dillinger's crime spree.

It's interesting that Mann takes on this story in the glossy way he does as his better films, Heat and The Insider for example, tend to lie themselves in a much more earthy and lived-in tone. Here, he fails to find the connection between his audience and the story leaving no one really looking far beyond the surface. It's this failure to get beneath the skin of Dillinger that truly lets Public Enemies down. One only has to look at the modern Animal Kingdom, a crime film similar in narrative, to see how the relationships and thinking of the main protagonists can be equally investigated and felt without giving way to sentimentality or at the expense of plot.

Another fine turn from Marion Cotillard as Dillinger's lover, Billie Frechette notwithstanding, there is very little to recommend from this watchable but, most damningly, forgettable Mann vehicle.

Certainly far from forgettable is Spike Jonze's interpretation of the seminal children's picture book by Maurice Sendak, Where The Wild Things Are. Written with Dave Eggers, Jonze has produced the exact feeling of being ostracised as a child without sentiment or any hint of patronisation. For here is a boy, Max (Max Records), who is at war with his world. It is a world betraying him as he uses what he knows, his anger and his ability to express his anger, to fight back and let anyone and everyone know that not only is he unhappy but he is afraid.

As he fights back against the fear associated with a potential new parental figure in the boyfriend (Mark Ruffalo) of his mother (Catherine Keener) entering the scene, Max finds himself escaping to the world of the Wild Things. Encountering the social interactions of the constantly bickering yet somehow co-existing Wild Things Max begins to introduce rules and suggestions as to how the Wild Things live after they name him king. Voiced beautifully by a wonderful supporting cast (James Gandolfini, Paul Dano, Catherine O'Hara, Forest Whitaker, Michael Berry Jr., Chris Cooper, Lauren Ambrose and Jonze), the Wild Things are perfect creations and the lovely attention to the costuming and the detailing of the sets suggests that the filmmakers were aware how important the reality of the piece was in a world so already unreal. By limiting the impact of the visual effect, Jonze has in effect let Max create his world himself.

The film wouldn't work if the performance of Max Records wasn't up to par but his turn is a beautiful mix of spirited anger and baleful stares. His understanding of Max, the character, appears well beyond his years. Using effective music and voicework from Karen O from Yeah Yeah Yeahs and letting this simple story of loneliness speak for itself, Jonze has created another fantastic work for a small but nearing brilliant personal catalogue of film that already includes Being John Malkovich and Adaptation.. He is a real danger to create a serious masterpiece within his career and that's a danger of which noone should be afraid.




Uli Edel


Martina Gedeck

Moritz Bleibtreu

Johanna Wokalek

Nadja Uhl

Stipe Erceg

Niels-Bruno Schmidt

Vinzenz Kiefer

Simon Licht

Alexandra Maria Lara

Daniel Lommatzsch

Sebastian Blomberg

Heino Ferch

Jan Josef Liefers

Eckhard Dilssner

Hannah Herzsprung

Bruno Ganz

150 min

Germany ׀ France ׀ Czech Republic




Jeremy Sims


Brendan Cowell

Harrison Gilbertson

Steve Le Marquand

Gyton Grantley

Alex Thompson

Alan Dukes

Mark Coles Smith

Warwick Young

Anthony Hayes

Leon Ford

Chris Haywood

Bob Franklin

Anthony Ring

Andy Bramble

Tom Green

Aden Young

John Stanton

David Ritchie

Kenneth Spiteri

Marcus Costello

Gerald Lepowski

Jacqueline McKenzie

Bella Heathcote

122 min





Erick Zonca


Tilda Swinton

Saul Rubinek

Kate del Castillo

Aidan Gould

Jude Ciccolella

144 min

France ׀ USA ׀ Mexico ׀ Belgium




Michael Mann


James Russo

David Wenham

Christian Stolte

Jason Clarke

Johnny Depp

John Judd

Stephen Dorff

Channing Tatum

Christian Bale

Carey Mulligan

Emilie De Ravin

Billy Crudup

Marion Cotillard

Giovanni Ribisi

Diana Krall

Shawn Hatosy

Lili Taylor

Leelee Sobieski

140 min





Spike Jonze


Max Records

Pepita Emmerichs

Catherine Keener

Steve Mouzakis

Mark Ruffalo

James Gandolfini

Paul Dano

Catherine O'Hara

Forest Whitaker

Michael Berry Jr.

Chris Cooper

Lauren Ambrose

Spike Jonze

101 min

USA ׀ Germany