Archive by Author

Film Review: Rango (2011)

15 Mar

By Mike Childs

“The Lizard, he is going to die” states the Mexican Mariachi owl before strumming his guitar. Well, maybe not anytime soon as long as Rango’s got anything to with it. In this wildly inventive, quirky and original animation film from director Gore Verbinski many creatures and critters may want to see our scaly hero bite the dust, but we’ll be cheering him on from the rooftops of the old Wild Western town of Dirt as he rights wrongs, avenges misdeeds and cleans up the corruption perpetrated by the bad old big business guys. Continue reading

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Now Showing: Greenberg (2010)

18 Aug

Ben Stiller is one the most bankable Hollywood actors around, just think NIGHT(s) AT THE MUSEUM and the FOCKER franchise, but it’s a less jocular turn here in his latest big screen outing GREENBERG.

Returning to Los Angeles after fifteen years in New York, including a recent spell in a mental hospital, Roger Greenberg (Stiller) house sits his for his vacationing brother and family and writes long-winded complaint letters to the likes of American Airlines and Starbucks. Ivan (a resigned Rhys Ifans), his one real friend from the old days before Greenberg wrecked their band’s chances of a record contract, does his best to help him reconnect with the old crowd, but past animosities resurface, and a date with his former girlfriend, and now the mother of two small kids, Beth (Jennifer Jason Leigh) goes awry. Continue reading

DVD review: Of Time and the City (2008)

7 Jul

“It’s grim up north” could so easily have been the tagline for acclaimed British director Terence Davies’ documentary ode to Liverpool, the city of his birth. His multi award-winning film, now available on DVD, is a return to his roots, and the superb archive footage of a post WW2 city, ravaged by bombs, grime and poverty shows us the conditions, influences and lifestyles which shaped a generation.

This highly personal trip was a cathartic experience for the director of DISTANT VOICES, STILL LIVES and THE HOUSE OF MIRTH, and we get to know Davies, and the city, through some amazing footage of backstreet slums, alongside the opulence of the Catholic churches which were a strong feature of his youth. His droll, and sometimes very waspish, commentary charts both the city’s rebirth and regeneration in those baby boomer years of the fifties and sixties, as he discovers classical music, and grapples with his sexuality.

If I’ve got a (minor) gripe over this very thought-provoking film, it’s Davies’ blithe dismissal of the effect his hometown contemporaries The Beatles had on the people of Liverpool, and that city’s image in the eyes of the whole world in the decade now known as the Swinging Sixties.

Quibbles aside, this is a very rewarding film, and the DVD also contains a revealing interview with Davies by David Stratton, and an extremely informative 14 page essay and illustrated booklet written by Brian McFarlane, an Adjunct Associate Professor at Monash University.

Mike Childs

–> NY Times review

–> Available through Madman

Film Review: Micmacs (2010)

8 Apr

Some video store clerks (think Quentin Tarantino) spend all their time watching cult exploitation and horror films, but our hero Bazil (Dany Boon) is quite content to watch the Howard Hawks’ Bogie and Bacall classic THE BIG SLEEP over and over again, intoning the (dubbed) dialogue along with the two legendary leads. That is until he goes outside to investigate a shooting and ends up with a stray bullet lodged in his head.

On the toss of a coin, the surgical operating team leave the offending projectile where it landed, although he could die at any time. Finding himself homeless and jobless Bazil falls in with a motley crew of eccentrics who ultimately help him bring about the downfall of the huge arms company who manufactured the slug nestling uncomfortably next to his brain.

Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet has lovingly crafted a truly wonderful Parisian fable which, although light on dialogue, is a showcase for a series of truly inspired set pieces and sight gags which propel the story to its ingenious and explosive climax. Along the way we meet the rubber-limbed contortionist Elastic Girl who can bend over backwards to fit into the fridge, Remington the writer who’s fond of the odd cliché or three, and human cannonball Buster who once appeared in the Guinness Book of Records.

No written review can quite do justice to the visual imagination up on the big screen, along with a lush music score incorporating some vintage Max Steiner and a couple of saw players. If you’re of fan of Jeunet’s (AMELIE, ALIEN RESURRECTION, THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN, DELICATTESSEN etc) and enjoy the crazy combination of slapstick, mime and mayhem then you’ll need no encouragement, but if not please take my word that MICMACS is a real treat.

Cinq etoiles!

MIKE CHILDS

DVD review: The Grocer’s Son (1997)

16 Jan

dir. Eric Guirado 99m. Subtitles.
Nicolas Cazale, Clotilde Hesme, Stephan Guerin-Tillie, Sforza Jeanna Goupil, Daniel Duval, Paul Crauchet, Liliane Rovere.

Le fils de l’épicier est un film français avec du charme qui…oh, hang on, I’d better continue this review in English in case some readers think I’ve gone all pretentious, moi? 

If you’re looking for a fairly undemanding, yet pleasant little film then THE GROCER’S SON well and truly fits the bill.  

Working as a waiter in Paris Antoine (Nicolas Cazale) is reunited with his estranged father after dad suffers a health scare, and he’s persuaded to move back to the delightful Provence countryside to take care of the family grocery store. Reluctantly he drives the family’s mobile grocery van around the picturesque area, regularly stopping to replenish the larders of the mainly aging population, most of whom are played by real people, not professional actors, and who rely on the van for their weekly food supplies.

With sometime girlfriend Claire (Clotilde Hesme) in tow he gradually loosens up, paints the van, befriends a feisty battleaxe, mends a local’s chicken coop, and discovers some home truths on the way to becoming a better person. And yes, he reconciles with his dad.

OK, no surprises here, but the journey is enjoyable, and apart from a sub plot involving his brother’s marriage break up, it’s a fairly light and frothy trip. 

C’est un film agreeable! 

MIKE CHILDS  

DVD Extras: The subtitled Madman DVD release contains deleted scenes (with an illuminating commentary from director Eric Guirado on the reasons, mainly pacing, on why they were removed from the finished film), a few boring out-takes, and the original theatrical trailer.  

—> Paul Byrnes review in the Sydney Morning Herald (****) {link}

—> Margerat Pomeranz and David Stratton review on ABC (*** & ***1/2) {link}

—> Australian distributors Madman (Contains trailer which, bizarelly, is blocked on youtube by Film Movement – Why would you do that?) link

Film Review: Bright Star (2009)

21 Dec

One thing I love about the movies is lurching from one genre to another, [like demented cork in celluloid sea? -Ed]. In the last week I’ve seen Ricky Gervais’ THE INVENTION OF LYING, Johnny To’s Hong Kong gangster flick VENGEANCE starring the charismatic French pop legend Johnny Hallyday, the iconic Melbourne-set ON THE BEACH with Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner, and THE INTRUDER, an early career curio from director Roger Corman starring a young William Shatner as a racist bigot!

And last night I caught BRIGHT STAR, the latest film from the multi-talented New Zealand writer and director Jane Campion. Perhaps best know for her 1993 mega hit THE PIANO for which she won that year’s writing Oscar, she’s back in period film mode after films like HOLY SMOKE and IN THE CUT, and it’s a winner.

Set in London from 1818 it charts the brief yet passionate affair between the Romantic poet John Keats, and his neighbour (and muse) Fanny Brawne [sorry but that is fantastic name -Ed]. His is a major talent which is being encouraged by his friend and mentor Charles Brown, who dislikes the growing attraction between the struggling poet and the creative seamstress [does he also dislike flying kites? ok, i’m done now -Ed]. Miss Brawne is much enchanted by Mr Keats’ poetry and determines to learn and understand the nuances and passionate feelings in his verses, and he in turn finds inspiration from his growing friendship with the feisty Fanny. However, the times dictate that their love affair can’t really progress as the penniless poet isn’t a suitable suitor for the very eligible and beautiful young lady.

It soon becomes clear that Keats is not a well young man, his brother has already died, and as his health deteriorates the affair ramps up as the two young lovers become more reliant on each other. Ultimately the pair are separated when he relocates to Italy, and even though we (probably) all know the facts about his early death at the age of 25 the audience at my screening were sobbing, along with Brawne (Abbie Cornish in an award-winning performance I’m sure), when the sad news is finally delivered.

Cleverly woven around the doomed affair is a secondary story about Keats’ friend Brown’s indiscretions with a young Irish chambermaid which highlights the class differences and morals of the privileged and the below-stairs working class at that time, and the exquisite social graces and customs which governed the lives of those with money. There are also beautiful scenes of lavender fields and snow laden trees for the two young lovers to romp around, and stunning shots of fragile butterflies ‘that liv’d but three summer days’.

BRIGHT STAR worked its magic on me, and full marks go to Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw as Keats for pitch perfect performances (Australian actress Cornish really nails the often difficult posh-end English accent), and special mention must go to the delightful Edie Martin who was an absolute pleasure in her every scene as Fanny’s younger sister ‘Toots’. The lush cinematography and haunting violin and strings-based soundtrack contribute to making this film an ideal ‘date movie’ whether familiar with Keats’ poetry or not. And it you’re not you’ll be rushing out to read more. I certainly did!

MIKE CHILDS

—> Official Website {link}

—> Production scrapbook {link}

—>Guardian review {link}

—> Jane Campion interview {link}

DVD Review: Somers Town (2008)

28 Nov

SOMERS TOWN Independent British director Shane Meadows’ well-deserved reputation as a visionary film-maker is kept firmly on track with the gritty, unglamorous yet ultimately delightful (and relatively short at 68 minutes) SOMERS TOWN.

Set in the decidedly un-trendy inner city London district of the title Tomo (Thomas Turgoose) is a streetwise kid from the north of England escaping his grim surroundings for a possible shot at the big city dream.

Arriving at the huge St. Pancras railway station, he initially gets a bad taste of the capital after being mugged by three local lads before he ends up befriending Marek (Piotr Jagiello), the son of a Polish migrant working on the new Eurostar rail terminal.

The lonely young budding photographer takes pity on the rough Northern kid, and the two boys gradually bond after some petty criminal activity, and their shared infatuation with a French waitress Maria (Elisa Lasowski).

SOMERS TOWN is a small, yet perfectly formed, ode to friendship which here transcends culture, background and language (half the film is in Polish). The two young leads are both superb, and the minor characters all fit perfectly into the mix, especially Graham (Perry Benson), a dodgy Arthur Daly cheeky-chirpy Cockney type who runs a shonky business hiring out deckchairs and flogging off bootleg Arsenal Football Club shirts!

Director Meadows’ previous films include the acclaimed TWENTYFOURSEVEN with Bob Hoskins as the small town boxing coach, and the powerful THIS IS ENGLAND which also starred the charismatic Turgoose. Shot primarily in stark black and white SOMERS TOWN perfectly captures the dead end feel and atmosphere of the working class immigrant areas which are generally shunned by film-makers for the more colourful tourist friendly areas of England’s capital.

DVD extras: Theatrical trailer.

–> Interview with director Shane Meadows here

–> Article in Interview Magazine here

–> Somers Town is being distributed locally by Madman

MIKE CHILDS

Film Review: Beautiful Kate (2009)

2 Oct

Beautiful_Kate_03_gallery__600x400

Sex, death, incest and suicide are just four of the key ingredients in actress Rachel Ward’s powerful directorial debut, which is based on the acclaimed novel by Newton Thornburg.

beautiful-kate-81-301x267-customNed (Ben Mendelsohn) is travelling with would-be actress Toni (Maeve Dermody) to see his estranged dying father Bruce (Bryan Brown) in the family’s drought affected homestead in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges. His younger sister Sally (Rachel Griffiths) is glad for someone to share the chores of caring for their bedridden parent, but in a series of flashbacks we discover the tragic events which led to the deaths of Ned’s twin sister Kate (Sophie Lowe), and their elder brother Cliff.

The secrets of the past gradually unfold as writer Ned puts pen to paper to explain to himself (and unwittingly to others) what has remained unsaid and unspoken for nearly twenty years.

Beautiful-Kate-5BEAUTIFUL KATE is a confronting and challenging film with some remarkable performances from the key players. Bryan Brown (Rachel Ward’s real-life husband) is staggeringly good as the obnoxious family patriarch and Sophie Lowe is simply stunning as the dangerously playful Kate. It’s also pleasing to see Rachel Griffiths back on home ground after her huge success stateside in television’s Six Feet Under; and listen out too for the atmospheric music from veteran rocker Tex Perkins.

Although not to everyone’s taste BEAUTIFUL KATE will stay with you long after the credits have rolled and, on this evidence, Rachel Ward will have a long career on both sides of the film camera. Australian film making at its finest.

MIKE CHILDS

—> Official Website {link}

—> Simone Mitchell reviews in The Vine

“Gee it’s nice to see a clever Australian film.”

—> Sandra Hall review in the Sydney Morning Herald *** 1/2

“This is not a film which invites you to delight in the company of its characters.”

—> Luke Buckmaster review on Crikey

“it’s technically highly adept, decently acted and directed and there are some intriguing concepts – in particular a ballsy but kind of beautiful exploration of incest – that float about in its misty ambience.”

—> An international take from Richard Kuipers at Variety:

“Ward delivers a visually beautiful and emotionally rewarding study of a dying patriarch and his estranged son”

Film Review: GI JOE: The Rise of the Cobra (2009)

17 Aug

GI JOE stand for: Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity. Nice guy, Mike Childs braves another spectacular celluloid display of America’s ability to save us from Super Intelligent Masterminds from Scotland (Just like World War II; except the Scottish bit).

gi_joe_001

Brawn over Brains, America! Fuck Yeah!

Sometimes all that’s needed at the cinema is a giant box of popcorn, a huge coke and an action-packed ninety minutes of fun. G.I.JOE is just the tonic after a hectic couple of weeks of fine film festival fare at MIFF, and although this effects-driven big screen realisation of the immensely popular Hasbro military toy range is not a great film, there is plenty to enjoy among the explosions, destruction and industrial strength soundtrack music.

gijoe3

ye cannae stoap me!

ye cannae stoap me!

Megalomaniac Scottish arms dealer McCullen, played by the dour Christopher Eccleston, has invented a new metal-eating missile which has the potential to change the very nature of war as we know it. After four of these ‘nanomites’ fall into the wrong hands (his!) the elite multi-national Joes, under the command of General Hawk (Dennis Quaid doing his best John Wayne impersonation) must track them down before they eat up the Eiffel Tower! Newly recruited Duke and Ripcord lead the crack squad on a race against time helped enormously by their clever ‘accelerator suits’ which enable them to leap over crashing cars at high speeds.

Will they prevent the destruction? Will Duke find true love again with former fiancée Ana (Sienna Miller)? and will the American President (Jonathan Pryce) be able to placate the French before he’s replicated? (Spoiler alert! Oops. Too late!)

I think that’s the plot in a nutshell, but the fun for me was seeing some classically trained British actors like Pryce, Eccleston and Miller chewing up the scenery alongside the top Joes of hunky Channing Tatum and the wise-cracking Marlon Wayans. And watch out too for an uncredited cameo from Brendan Fraser, star of a couple of director Stephen Sommers previous MUMMY hits.

gi_joe_storm_shadow

MIKE CHILDS

MIFF review: Tea with Madame Clos + White Night Wedding

10 Aug

White Night Wedding

White Night Wedding

Its all over now, but Mike Childs fires this final salvo at MIFF with two fine reviews of some fine films.

Australian filmmaker Jane Oehr got lucky when she happened upon the nonagenarian Madame Clos in the sleepy French town of Lauzerte. Over a period of several years, many cups of tea, she visited and filmed the sprightly, delightful Clos as the world passed by her (literal) window on the world. From her vantage point in the centre of the village, the elderly Madame never skipped a beat as she handed out Vichy mints to many generations of schoolchildren, passed the time with neighbours like the grumpy accordion player next door, or her loyal housekeeper Madame Griffoull. With remarkable clarity, Clos looks back on a fulfilling life and shares her hopes and dreams about the past, and the future as she looks forward to her 100th birthday. TEA WITH MADAME CLOS is a heart-warming slice of life which left many in the MIFF audience in tears. [Sooks. Nah, actually sounds pretty nice -Ed].

WHITE NIGHT WEDDING is one of Iceland’s highest grossing home-grown films, and the mix of comedy and drama travels quite well to other parts of the world. Taking place across one of that country’s long white nights where sleep is difficult and eccentricities and drink come out to play, a planned wedding between a recently widowed college professor and his former pupil may, or may not, take place the next day. Residents on the picturesque but remote island, where cars are banned but golf buggies and tractors abound, speculate on the impending nuptials, while rivalries and romances escalate and recede. Director Baltasar Kormakur calls his updating of Chekhov’s Ivanov a ‘dramedy’, but I did overhear one audience member describing the film as “the funniest Icelandic comedy I’ve ever seen!” And not having seen that many I’m happy to agree!

MIKE CHILDS