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In Blog, Brag 364 (May 31), Brag 366 (June 14) on June 14, 2010 at 3:20 pm

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[Sydney Film Festival 2010] Review: Police, Adjective

In Arts, Blog, Film Reviews, Sydney Film Festival 2010 on June 10, 2010 at 11:52 am

Police, Adjective (ROMANIA)

Next screening: Friday June 11/ 2:15pm/ The State Theatre

New Wave Romanian cinema has hit Sydney Film Festival, marking growing international interest and appreciation of Eastern European films. Along with the official competition pick, If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle (Florin Serban), the program also includes Police, Adjective/Politist, Adjectiv from writer/director Corneliu Porumboiu.

Winning the jury prize in the Un Certain Regard section in Cannes 2009, Police, Adjective follows the case of detective, Cristi (Dragos Bocur), a loner cop who works by his own rules, ignoring or avoiding his Captain (Vlad Ivanov). After the denouncement (a word with huge connotations in ex-communist countries) of one friend Victor, for being a drug dealer, by another- Alex, Cristi puts the boys under surveillance. But finding little more than a bit of recreational hashish smoking and a third female friend, Cristi is reluctant to arrest Victor, who could face a seven year sentence. Instead Cristi continuously trails the trio in an effort to find the real supplier.

The use of time in this film is very different from what we are accustomed to in English-language cinema. Especially in what is essentially a police procedural film. Porumboiu unapologetically uses long scenes of Cristi’s surveillance with no dialogue and often little movement.

It is however the character interactions between long, drawn-out scenes which make this film. Cristi’s conversations with colleagues, his discussion of semantics with his Captain and his witty repartee with his wife (Irina Saulescu) are all cinematic gold. The dialogue is funny, clever and insightful.  You spend the time during the film’s tortuous stretches of silence hoping for more human interaction on screen.

Police, Adjective is both comedic and tragic, with the central character, Cristi’s modern understanding of police work, and the recent history of Romania’s oppressive state firmly in opposition. This is a police drama without guns, violence or urgency- instead a slow-burning tale about the power of words. [BETH WILSON]

Film Review: Iron Man 2

In Arts, Blog, Film Reviews on May 11, 2010 at 5:12 pm

Iron Man 2
Released April 29

Tony Stark’s arrogant wisecracking millionaire is back, now with more characters and a nasty villain in the form of Mickey Rourke’s electrifying Whiplash. Stark’s Iron Man is no longer the only superhero in the ‘verse, with SHIELD’s eye-patched Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) frequently citing the virtues of his superhero boy band (the film’s description, not mine), the Avengers. It’s exciting to know that this sequel to the 2008 surprise hit is part of a universe that also includes Thor and Captain America, even if doing so diffuses its impact as a stand-alone movie.

Screenwriter Justin Theroux (Tropic Thunder) dispenses with the tight, traditional plotting of the original, but excels in charting our superhero’s rut of rebellious self-loathing. He also has a knack for the unrequited sexual tension between Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, which both Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow expertly navigate like a snappy couple from a ’30s screwball comedy. They’re joined by an expanded cast which includes Sam Rockwell (Moon), Don Cheadle and Scarlett Johansson. Rockwell in particular excels as Justin Hammer, Stark’s industrious rival in the weapons manufacturing biz.

The story centres on Stark’s strained relationship with his adoring public and friends. This is partly due to his caustic personality being more visible – and receiving more screen time – than his metallic counterpart. Surprisingly, thanks to some cheeky dialogue and personal stakes (Stark’s arc reactor – the shiny, glowy orb in his chest keeping him alive – is failing), this is not to the films detriment. The action, when it does come, is as exciting as the first, especially in an exhilarating early scene at the Monaco Grand Prix where the wronged Whiplash slices’n’dices some vintage racers.

There’s a lot going on in Ironman 2, but director Jon Favreau infuses each sequence with enough wit, energy and flippancy (like the hysterical perpetual-motion desk toy that literally comes between Pepper and Stark), that he deftly prevents it from becoming like the overstuffed mess of Spiderman 3.

Joshua Blackman

Theatre Review: The Power of Yes (Belvoir)

In Arts, Blog, Brag 360 (May 3), Theatre Reviews on May 11, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Photo: Heidrun Lohr

The Power of Yes
Until May 30 @ Belvoir St

A play by David Hare, about the Global Financial Crisis, is a fairly irresistible proposition for any theatre company, I imagine. Commissioned by London’s prestigious National Theatre in 2008, The Power of Yes holds forth the tantalising prospect of debunking all the jargon and hysteria around one of this decade’s defining historical moments, where capitalism fell to its knees.

The challenge, however, is making The Power of Yes sparkle on stage like it does on the page. Hare has transposed his interviews with various players in the realm of finance into characters (in some cases using their own words as dialogue), and has arranged the resulting information in a roughly chronological timeline, from 80s Thatcherism to the fall of Lehman Brothers in 2008. Hare inserts himself into the script, where he acts as a guide; adopting a position of financial ignorance, he asks questions on our behalf. What, for instance, are these ‘credit default swaps’, or ‘securitised credit arrangements’, that everyone’s been talking about? Ultimately, however, Hare is trying to get to the psychological root of this madness that we call the financial sector.

Director Sam Strong does an admirable job of making this production more than just twelve people talking about finance. For example, balloons become not only colourful counterpoints to the parade of suits, but handy visual aids for illustrating the bundling, slicing and dicing of financial assets (not to mention the more obvious financial metaphors). The set itself feels like a classroom or lecture theatre, in which we and ‘The Author’ (Brian Lipson) are the students, listening to a rotating cycle of lecturers – from politicians to financial journalists, fund managers, bankers, and financial entrepreneurs like George Soros. Apart from the Author, the characters are in more-or-less constant movement on and off stage and across it, maintaining a certain energy and rhythm to the exchanges.

The Power of Yes presents a captivating story, and is far more enlightening than the bulk of journalism about the GFC. At the end of the day, however, the nature of this beast is that it’s very “talky”, so staying tuned-in for the duration does, at times, feel like a struggle – albeit worthwhile!

Dee Jefferson

Theatre Review: Way to Heaven (Griffin)

In Arts, Blog, Theatre Reviews on May 3, 2010 at 1:20 pm

L-R: Marko Jovanovic, Lexi Freiman, Ben Lorshy, Josh Lorshy (photo credit: Heidrun Löhr)

Way To Heaven
Until May 8 at SBW Stables/Griffin

It’s 1942, and a Red Cross inspector is invited by the Nazis to visit a Jewish ghetto near Berlin. He tours the town and sees normality: couples court, children play, vendors sell their wares. Conditions are tough but acceptable, the inspector reports. The inspector is wrong.

Juan Mayorga’s Way to Heaven, co-produced by Griffin Independent and Ride On Theatre, is a darkly-focussed meditation based on the true story of a Czechoslovakian concentration camp called Terezin (or Theresienstadt). Of the 144,000 Jews sent there, it’s estimated just 17,247 survived.

A nervy Nicholas Hope (Bad Boy Bubby) brilliantly depicts the Red Cross inspector, who is wracked by guilt. “I didn’t see anything …” he implores, “what else could I have done?” The stage light falls on the audience too, casting us as involuntary judge and jury of his confessional.

The action switches to the camp, where the chief Nazi Commandant (Nathan Lovejoy) and a reluctant Jewish detainee appointed as liaison between the Nazis and the captive Jews (Terry Serio) are workshopping the scenes of the grand deception. The Commandant plunges with gusto into his role as “director” – repressing his feelings of horror about the task at hand. As he polishes and re-polishes the artifice, shuffling his “actors” around the camp in anticipation of the inspector’s visit, he retreats deeper into the delusion that he is, in fact, creating a splendid work of art.

The play’s pacing suffers slightly from its own theatrical conceit – as the Commandant labours over scenes, the play labours too, weighed down by repetitive rehearsals and an unvarying script. Yet it remains an intriguing, clever, unique piece of theatre with a cautionary, contemporary undercurrent, phrased best by Mayorga: “The invisibility of horror is an ongoing subject in our lives”.

Kate Hennessy

Theatre Review: The End (Belvoir St)

In Arts, Blog, Theatre Reviews on May 3, 2010 at 1:17 pm

The End
Until May 8 (Belvoir St Downstairs)

Samuel Beckett is right up there with Pinter as a frequently-invoked god amongst modern theatremakers, and it seems unlikely he’ll go out of fashion any time soon. In 2007 Dublin’s Gate Theatre brought out a trilogy of Beckett for Sydney Festival; in 2009 we saw Malthouse and Company B’s production of Happy Days tour the east coast; this year Sir Ian McEwan is headlining Waiting for Godot at the Opera House.

For me, the prospect of a Beckett play evokes a certain heaviness of heart, and the feeling of girding one’s loins for battle with the dreaded abyss of existential angst. The End, however, brings out Beckett’s gifts as a storyteller, and his beautifully evocative use of language, full of unexpected descriptive flourishes. Of course, the existential angst is still overwhelmingly present – this is, after all, a work about death.

The End
is one of four first-person novellas written by Beckett in the five years following WW2, around the same time as his trilogy of novels – and before Godot. In The End, an elderly man released from an institution finds himself adrift in a world where he has no function. With a little money in his pocket, and the clothes on his back, he finds lodgings, and waits for the money to run out – and enters the slow physical and mental decline of the end.

Robert Menzies is a fantastic performer, and a good choice for the role of the mentally fractious vagrant. With Beckett’s script in hand, he delivers a poignant monologue that, at its best, takes us on a vivid journey from the rain-soaked cloister to the fetid basement where he lodges, a cave by the sea, a blood-and-semen-soaked woodland cabin, and his final resting place, in a rat-infested boat, covered in his own excrement.

The challenge of this work is making it more than an aural performance – and on the second night of the season, I am not sure Menzies and director Eamon Flack (A Midsummer Night’s Dream – B-Sharp 2009) had quite achieved that. Yet. But until it comes out on CD, I recommend The End as a 70-minute journey worth every penny of the fare.

Dee Jefferson

Film Review: When in Rome (April 22)

In Arts, Blog, Film Reviews on April 22, 2010 at 2:35 pm

When in Rome
Opens April 22

You can almost forgive this off-kilter romcom for its “pizza and pasta” representation of Italy’s capital city, but forgetting the lumpy scripting that makes When in Rome neither romantic nor particularly funny, is a lot harder.

Career gal Beth (Kristen Bell) is appalled when she finds out her younger sister (Alexis Dziena) is getting married in Rome to a man she has only known for two weeks. The youngest curator at New York’s Guggenheim, Beth lives for her work, neglecting her social life.

At the wedding Beth meets cute best man, Nick (Josh Duhamel) and the attraction is instantaneous. However a misunderstanding results in Beth drunkenly fishing five coins from a wishing fountain and returning to NYC with them. Italian magic compels the owners of the coins (one of whom may or may not be Nick) to fall madly in love with Beth. It is from this point, in theory, that hilarity should ensue.

Kristen Bell’s (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) charisma can only do so much with this woeful plot. Bell, who usually takes parts with more bite, doesn’t suit this whimsical romcom. Dax Shepard (Baby Mama) and Will Arnett (Arrested Development, 30 Rock), cast as two of Beth’s suitors, should be praised for providing the film with its funnier moments. These actors deserve better than this Mark Steven Johnson (Daredevil, Ghost Rider)-directed film.

You have to wonder what magical forces compelled so many talented actors, including Anjelica Huston and Danny DeVito, to sign on to this project. When in Rome fails to provide the requisite comedy needed to really enjoy a film. Similarly the necessary romance is missing, making it hard to care if Beth and Nick get together or not. Too concerned with pleasing everyone, When in Rome’s filmmakers may find they have, in fact, pleased no-one.

Beth Wilson

In Arts, Blog, Film Reviews on April 21, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Audi German Film Festival
April 24 – May 2

I’m not going to review Michael Haneke’s White Ribbon or Fatih Akin’s Soul Kitchen, two films that film junkies will have pounced on as soon as the program dropped. They are both getting proper cinema releases after the Festival – but if you want to see them first, this is your chance! If you want to understand Turkish/German filmmaker Fatih Akin – and if you’ve seen Head On and Edge of Heaven, then how can you not? – you should see Crossing the Bridge (2005), his documentary set amongst the street musicians of Istanbul and Thrace. Mixing politics, music and a bunch of real characters, this film is a peek into the city’s teeming cultural life – and the things that move Akin most. Also showing is his debut feature, Short Sharp Shock (1998).

Opening night film Whisky with Vodka is directed by Andreas Dresen, whose Cloud 9 played at last year’s festival. Both films deal charmingly with aging – Dresen’s is a humanist vision. In this latest film, however, the issue that makes the film so poignant is somewhat obscured by the period drama dressings, and the film-about-a-film narrative structure. It’s a clever idea, but I preferred the ultra-realism of Cloud 9 – the sense that you were seeing real, old, imperfect human bodies; people refusing to relinquish lust, refusing to go quietly into their twilight years.

Coming up in week two of the festival is Hans-Christian Schmid’s Storm, which has been on my hit list for a while – he made Requiem (2004), the lo-fi version of the “Haunting of Emily Rose” exorcism story. Storm tackles evil in its more tangible form: war criminals. The drama of this restrained thriller revolves around the trial of a Bosnian Army commander, in the United Nationals Court of the Hague. It’s a lot more self-righteous than Requiem, for understandable reasons, but the subtlety of performances by Aussie actress Kerry Fox and Romanian actress Anamaria Marinca (4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days) make up for the occasionally clunky scripting.

Anno Saul is definitely not a one-trick pony – Kebab Connection and The Door (both showing at the fest) could not be further apart. My main interest in The Door was lead actor Mads Mikkelsen, who I love in anything – and the tantalising program note, that compared it to Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now. To my dismay, no malevolent midgets. As far as I can tell, the comparison is fairy liberal, based on the opening scenes which set up the emotional premise for the film – and of course, the freaky factor. Mads plays a middle-aged man who, after failing in his husbandly and fatherly duties, discovers a door to a better reality. But of course, there’s a catch. It’s good for sci-fi-heads and anyone who likes Mads. Style-wise, it reminded me of Hitchcock – or for a modern comparison, Lemming – genre-happy and psycho-dramatic to the point of being camp. Awesome.

Dee Jefferson

Go Font Ur Self* Chapter 4

In Blog on March 15, 2010 at 1:04 pm

Film Review: Precious

In Arts, Blog, Brag 347 (February 1), Film Reviews on February 8, 2010 at 12:45 pm

Released February 4

The problem with invisible things is that sometimes they’re invisible because we don’twant to know about them. Precious depicts the harrowing story of illiterate, obese, single mother and incestual rape victim Clareece “Precious” Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) and her life in Harlem – a far cry from the average box-office protagonist.

Director Lee Daniels has transposed the1996 novel Push by Sapphire to film inorder to bring an “invisible” class story to the big screen, rather than relegating African-American experiences to typical “black” roles, like zany side-kicks (Rush Hour), hallowed historical figures (Ray), or sage old-timers(Million Dollar Baby).

The result is a film that challenges and confronts us, by showing usa perspective we rarely see. Precious’ life is a constant complication and it’s hard to watch. After bearing one mentally and physically retarded child by her father, she lives with her abusive mother(an incredible and multi-award-winning performance by Mo’Nique) who is jealous of the “attention” her partner bestows on Precious. She force-feeds the already obese girl, berates her stupidity, and pressures her to drop out of school and get a welfare cheque. When she is kicked out of her school for being pregnant again (also by her father) Precious is given a rare chance: her Principal puts her forward for a special school, where “troubled young women” can finish their education. For the first time in her life, Precious is given positive affirmation, and the chance to improve her situation.

Despite an ultimately triumphant message, much of the film feels unrelentingly bleak; however, if Daniels doesn’t let in much light, there is no reason why he should. Precious is based on a harrowing true story, but it’s powerful, moving and true and it’s important that people see it, rather than live in the silver screen dream that mainstream cinema unrelentingly presents.

Amelia Schmidt