Monthly Archives: March, 2013

Trailer for your Weekend: Iron Man 3


Iron Man 3 is a difficult one for me. I absolutely loved Iron Man, for me it is about as good a comic book origin story has been made on film. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can recall a more dissapointing comic book movie than Iron Man 2. Smug, shallow and more interested in Downey Jr’s Tony Stark making horrid self-knowing quips than delivering plot or action. So I was a little hesitant about Iron Man 3, until I saw this trailer a few weeks ago. Who knows how it will turn out, but I for one am now excited. So excited I bought a ticket to a midnight screening, even though I can only see it in 3D which is not my preference.

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Road Train

I always try and be as respectful as possible when reviewing any film, and even though I try to be as unbiased as possible, this is especially true when reviewing Australian films. However I think that the greatest disrespect to an Australian film on my part would be to give it an easy ride when sharing my thoughts with you all.

Road Train Poster

It is from this perspective that I have to say Road Train (2010) is one of the most abysmal films I have ever endured. The film was just so disappointing because I thought the premise had a whole lot of potential, even if it did seem to be a little derivative of Spielberg’s Duel (1971). The film sees two young couples on an outback camping trip harassed by and eventually forced off the road by a rogue road train. And then something or other happens. It is not exactly clear what. And it is not at all enjoyable to watch. In fact it is simultaneously mind numbingly boring and mind blowingly rubbish. A quick diversion into Australian terminology here, as I believe Road Train was released under a different title in different markets. A road train is simply a massive truck that drives freight throughout outback Australia. They are literally trains on the road, some of them many carriages long. I think they are unique to Australia, utilised because of the sheer size and remoteness of much of the country. So they are a seriously imposing piece of machinery. That could be put to some seriously wicked use in a thriller/horror film. Needless to say the idea deserves better than this effort which actually feels sort of like a film made by teenagers on a weekend, but you know, with a really expensive camera.


This is not even a film that wastes a lot of really great components. It is a film that basically fails on every level, with all it has going for it a fantastic premise and the beautiful scenery in which it is shot. Aside from that it is inexplicably bad. Worst of all (probably) is the horribly obscure plot. A little intrigue is nice, even integral to a good thriller or horror flick. But you have to at least hint at the malevolence that is at play to get people in. You cannot just leave it entirely obscured. Especially given that it is not as if there is some awesome M. Night twist to blow your feeble little minds towards the end. It is gradually revealed that the truck sends people kinda mad… and there is a mincer where you can put human bodies in one of the trailers. Or some shit like that. I didn’t care and you won’t either. The script of the film is clunky, cringeworthy and terrible, which is not helped by the four young leads who deliver it being decidedly average. The sole exception is Sophie Lowe of Beautiful Kate (2009) fame, but even she can only rise to ok levels, basically down to the material she is given to work with. There are a couple of action sequences that should be really incredible, especially one early on where the road train runs our heroes’ car off the road. But even that cannot raise the collective heart beat of those watching.

It is strange actually, every time that you think Road Train cannot get any worse, it actually does. Tis like some cruel joke and the 86 minute running time drags and feels a whole lot worse than that. No film can overcome a script and acting this terrible. Especially this one with zero scares, zero atmosphere and just zero semi-interesting elements.

Verdict: Schooner of Tooheys New

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I remember really liking Shrek (2001) the first time I saw it back in the day on VHS.  However now when I think about the film, I am not so sure. Who knows if that is because of the actual film itself or the litany of rubbish, pop-culture referencing films that it inspired, including the tepid only sequel I bothered with Shrek 2 (2004).

The main man and Mike Myers who provides his voice

The main man and Mike Myers who provides his voice

Re-watching this first film again, I realised that my recollections of it really have been sullied by the films it inspired, because it is a pretty original animated flick. The pop-culture references, whilst definitely there, are actually not too ubiquitous and give a funny edge to the film, rather than actually being the focus of the entire film. The selective use of them means that when they are used, they are fun to spot and actually enhance the viewing of the film, Princess Fiona doing bullet time for example. Plotwise, Shrek is an inversion of a traditional fairy tale. Shrek is a hated, ugly ogre, who sets out to save the princess so he can get his isolated swamp back the way he likes it – empty of everyone else. So he rescues the princess so that she can be hand delivered to the short statured Lord Farquaard in order to be married. The narrative is a little strange in that this quest is actually completed relatively early on and with relative ease, leaving the rest of the film’s running time to flesh out the various relationships that have been established.   

All the elements of this film are solid. The script is tight, managing to balance a cracking pace but also not to feel too superficial, especially in regards to the interactions between the various characters. And despite my loathing for a certain Smashmouth song, the soundtrack is really excellent, using pop songs to generally great effect (in fact this film directly led to me discovering the music of Jeff Buckley, one of my top 3 recording artists of all time). All of the characters work well and indeed one of the best parts of the film is the character of Donkey, voiced by Eddie Murphy. Donkey is a motormouthed creature who only wants to be loved and accepted by Shrek, who wants no part of him. The banter between the two of them is inspired as they eventually set out on an odd-couple road trip to rescue the princess. In my warped remembrance of this film, I recalled Donkey being rather annoying. But he made me laugh a hell of a lot actually which was a really pleasant surprise. Oh for a decent live action comedy role for Eddie Murphy these days! It is also great to see a different kind of female central character in an animated film, with Princess Fiona a bit of a rockin feminist hero, somewhat reminiscent to the young hero Vanellope in Wreck-It Ralph (2004).

The awesomeness that is Donkey

The awesomeness that is Donkey

Forget about all the craptastic pretenders that Shrek inspired, this is a rollicking, inspired neo fairy tale that still stands up. I had a lot of fun watching this again and laughed a good deal more than I thought I would. I definitely recommend revisiting this one if you haven’t seen it for a few years.

Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny

Trailer for your Weekend: The Place Beyond the Pines


It’s pretty much impossible not to be on the Ryan Gosling bandwagon these days. What with him being utterly dreamy, as well as rocking it in films like Drive. The trailer for The Place Beyond the Pines manages to cram a whole lot in. The Gosling/Mendes plotline looks pretty interesting, if a little familiar. Hopefully it can be combined with the other elements, because this could be pretty fantastic. Thoughts?

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The Angel’s Share

Ken Loach’s The Angels’ Share (2012) was one of my top 5 films of last year. I was lucky enough to catch it again on the big screen tonight as it has just started a brief season at Arc Cinema here in Canberra. So I thought I would take the chance to share some more in depth thoughts on this pretty fantastic film.

Loach and much of the principal cast at Cannes

Loach and much of the principal cast at Cannes

Loach is renowned for the social realism of his films. This is the only Loach film I have caught and it definitely does have that aspect to it, especially in regards the young people who have found themselves in community service and the circumstances that have led them to that place. But the film is also quite hilarious and if anything the straight comedy aspects of the film outweigh the dramatic side of things, though the balance is pretty spot on really. The film focuses on Robbie, a young man who has once again found himself in trouble with the law. The judge spares him jail time and instead Robbie finds himself in community service with a ragtag crew of lovable misfits. He also finds Harry there, the man who takes Robbie (and the rest of the crew) under his wing and sets them on the relatively straight and narrow. And the key to the new found hope for Robbie and his friends? Why the bottle of course.

Robbie and his mentor Harry, who have a great relationship in the film.

Robbie and his mentor Harry, who have a great relationship in the film.

The Angels’ Share is a film that is in many ways soaked in and permeated by whisky. Harry changes Robbie’s life by engendering a passion for the spirit in him. The passion of many for whisky is examined in the film and the rampant pretentiousness that characterises much whisky drinking, buying and collecting is skewered quite intelligently. This newfound passion for whisky that Robbie finds offers him a way out of his life, which has left him a really beaten down and oppressed young father to be. I won’t go into too many details, but rest assured that the eventual path taken is perhaps not a standard cliché one that you will be thinking of. It is a really great swerve in the second half of the film which is one of the things that allows The Angels’ Share to rise far above the conventional ‘coming of age tale’ that my plot synopsis perhaps makes it sound like. Much of the reason that the second half of the film feels quite genuine is that the film takes a fair bit of time early on to establish Robbie’s dark past. This is no heart of gold lovable rogue. There were times in his life when he was an absolute thug and the film finds him struggling to resist his violent tendencies to embrace a new, calmer outlook on life.

Robbie is played by Paul Brannigan, a non-professional actor. Or rather he was a non-pro, but it looks like this film has launched him into an acting career, one that based on this performance should be fantastic. Indeed a number of the roles here are filled by non-professional actors and it works really well. It is a contrivance that I am often not a fan of. Much of this is due to the fact that many directors feel there is something almost sacred about using non-pros and has a result a dirge of po-faced realism is all we get. But Loach is happy to let these guys let themselves go in this rollicking film. There is plenty of really boisterous humour, at times even verging into ‘gross out’ territory, and the latter half of the film is almost a heist film. All that being said they do also enhance the film by lending it a kind of laconic authenticity that I think would have been quite hard to achieve with usual performers.

The 'ragtag crew'

The ‘ragtag crew’

The Angels’ Share manages to be an uplifting and life affirming film without feeling like it is forcing that at all. Rather, by combining a hilarious comic sensibility with creative escape from the trials and tribulations of life, it manages to create it in a more organic way.

Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter

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Few filmmakers have undergone the highs and lows of critical reception as much as M. Night Shyamalan. Praised as a young filmmaker for films such as The Sixth Sense (1999) and Unbreakable (2000) he has just as quickly seen his later works derided with efforts such as The Lady in the Water (2006) and The Last Airbender (2010).

devil poster

Devil (2010) is very much marketed as a Shyamalan production, even though he is not on directorial duties. The idea is for a new series of works where the story will be developed by Shyamalan before being given to another director to bring to the screen. The story in this case involves five people being trapped in an elevator. Oh and one of them happens to be the devil himself. It’s an Agatha Christie setup with a horror payoff. And for me it worked pretty well. It is not game changing stuff, but I thought it was an effective enough piece of high concept genre filmmaking. The film kicks off rather atmospherically with both an onscreen quote and a voiceover about the devil taking human form and walking upon earth. These early sequences show your usual establishing shots of a city, except that the image is inverted, conveying that there is something really off-kilter going on here. This effect is really engaging, because it is a lot more difficult to look away from than the usual standard establishing shots of this ilk. In fact the whole early section of this is really slick looking and uniquely shot. There are a lot of really swooping camera movements and a lot of dynamism from the camera in general. It is all over the shop in a great way. The really original camerawork continues in the lift at close quarters as it manages to convey the increasingly erratic state of those in the elevator as the tension ramps up.

One thing that Devil definitely is not, is scary. Generally that would bring a horror film a fair way down, but strangely I still found myself really engaged. I think that perhaps it was a bit of wonder at where they were going to take this tale. How were they going to satisfyingly wrap up this tale of five folk and the devil in an elevator? And perhaps the ending actually does not even manage to do that, but going on the journey to see where it went was effective and enjoyable enough. Enhancing this is the fact that the movie is really well paced. It takes its time getting going, building back stories and mythology before plonking everyone in the lift. And builds the whole way through, ramping up the tension, slowly at first but getting faster and faster. The film is also helped by having some quite nice performances as well. Logan Marshall-Green who I know mainly from the TV show The O.C.  is really good, as is Bojana Novakovic as another of the elevator inhabitants.


Another reason the film was so successful for me is because it is so easy to imagine what a fucked up situation this is. Most people have a fair fear of getting stuck in an elevator. But imagine how much that fear is multiplied if all of a sudden the lights are flickering on and off and people are getting murdered in incredibly vicious ways. I think the film balances its narrative well too. It might have gotten too intense or repetitive if the film tried to solely stay inside the elevator for the entire duration of the film. But there are welcome excursions outside the elevator car into the building’s security office and into the police investigation which make for a more engaging overall film.

Devil was a really pleasant surprise for me. Perhaps I was just in a really good mood when I watched, but I thought that the fantastic simple premise was delivered on in a really engaging, if not perfect, way. I think this is one worth checking out.

Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny

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I have had Carl Theodore Dreyer’s Ordet (1955) sitting on my DVD shelf for a few months now. For some reason it is one of those films that I would just never get around to popping into the player, perhaps thinking that it looked a little slow and boring.

JohannesWell I finally got around to chucking it on the other day and man am I glad I finally made the effort. This film is a phenomenal exploration of some weighty themes, family and faith chief amongst them. The film takes place on Borgen farm where an entire family resides – the family patriarch and his three sons, one of whom is married, another whom is mad. This mad brother believes that he is Jesus Christ returned to earth. One of the great accomplishments of the film, in particular its script is that there is no single protagonist. Rather, the viewer becomes caught up and utterly engaged with the arcs of a whole bunch of characters. The youngest brother Anders, who wants to marry but is rejected by both his father and hopeful father in law. Mikkel who has rejected his faith. Johannes who believes he is Christ. The caring and heavily pregnant Inger. And finally the family patriarch Morten, the eldest amongst them, but in many ways the one most capable of change.

It is difficult to give a plot synopsis of the film that does the film justice. It is a character study of all of these characters. It is also a really intense exploration of the theme of faith that manages to straddle both a time past where faith was the norm and an increasingly logical world. There is incredible depth and nuance to the themes of faith in the film. Ones that can perhaps not be totally absorbed in a single viewing. The power and frustration of prayer is explored. Johannes is a gifted religious scholar who has seemingly been turned insane by his studies or perhaps the pressure of his father who saw him as no less than a “renewer” of the Christian faith. The possible inherent ‘craziness’ of a belief in God. The relationship if any between the ideas of faith and of ‘goodness’. The difference between a blind and shallow faith in God and a deep thinking, exploratory faith. Perhaps more than all of these is the theme of religious intolerance that runs through the film, especially professed by the subplot of Anders’ love for Anne and their attempts to become engaged.  It is incredible just how relevant today a number of the themes explored here are. I can understand how heavy and boring a lot of this can perhaps sound. But it is not, and it is a testament to the script that you will find yourself never less than enthralled and engaged by it all. There is a lightness of touch in bringing all of this to life and also a great balance between thematic exploration and narrative.


The film is beautiful to look at. It is rural life rendered in phenomenal sharp black and white cinematography. Dreyer’s direction is really great at conveying place through the shots that are chosen. See the opening sequences conveying the rural, the windswept and the dunes. Matching the cinematography is the sound design. The incredible whistling of the wind in the early scenes and some really innovative flourishes throughout the film. Sounds that spill over from one scene to the next for example. The performances are all excellent. Emil Hass Christensen as Mikkel has a stoicness that is more than a little reminiscent of Max Von Sydow in The Seventh Seal (1957). Henrik Malberg who plays Morten Borgen is an absolute stud of an actor, he is grizzled yet deep thinking with his “peasant’s pride”. Perhaps best of all is Birgitte Federspiel as Inger, the female focus of the film who goes through so much but who is an incredibly strong feminine figure.

Put simply, Ordet is one of the greatest films I have seen for a very long time. It may not be for everyone, but if you are into ‘classic’ cinema especially if you have the patience to go along with something slow moving and spiritual, then this one is definitely for you. This is an at times harrowing watch with some crushing moments, but it is well worth investing the time in.

Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter

Progress: 77/1001

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Trailer for your Weekend: Generation Um…


I’m not as big a Keanu hater as many people. Maybe I love Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure to completely dismiss him. But that is not the reason that this trailer caught my eye. Rather it is the presence of Bojana Novakovic who was so exceptional in Burning Man, one of my favourite Australian films, as well as in Not Suitable for Children and The King is Dead.

The trailer itself looks utterly bloody terrible, making the film out to look pretentious and uber annoying. Anyone care to disagree, or can we all agree this looks woeful?

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Of the films that I saw popping up on numerous top 10 lists of cool bloggers I like last year, Chronicle (2012) was the one that had really passed me by. The trailer looked totally uninteresting to me… teens with powers, who cares?

Convinced by all the praise going its way, I thought it was time to give Chronicle a chance, and I am glad I did. Whilst it would not have made, or been particularly close to, my top 10 for last year, it is a pretty interesting take on both the superhero and teen film genres. In fact it was so original, that I am kind of disappointed that I did not like the film more than I did. The set up is pure teen film. Andrew is trapped by his alcoholic father, desperately ill mother and the fact he is a social outcast at school. Clearly he needs to escape. However in Chronicle, the escape is a little left of centre. Along with two other guys from his school, he investigates a mysterious hole in the ground. What they find there in that mysterious hole imbues them with mysterious telekinetic powers. Powers that Andrew masters much quicker than his peers.


One of the successes of the film is that the three protagonists actually do feel like normal teenagers. Not the clearly fake ones that generally populate teen films. As such you can go along with their trials and tribulations, not to mention the angst that they endure. The film also endeavours to bring a certain realism to the superhero origin story by asking seriously, what would a kid do with super powers? Would you just hang around skimming rocks, fight crime or start robbing banks. Great power surely brings the temptation of great corruption and that is something that the film refreshingly does not shy away from at all. Some of the emotional moments in the film do lack a little punch. There are a number of deaths that should really hit home, but for whatever reason do not quite do so. Having said that though, the film is not afraid to embrace a fair bit of darkness along the way of this journey. Another part of the film that slightly disappointed me was the balance of the narrative. I felt that the early, teen scenes could have been a little more dramatic. Whilst the more comic book film style conclusion I felt overplayed things a little, in the sense that it jarred with what had come beforehand.

Flying ppl

Chronicle is a found footage film. This style of filmmaking immediately gets some people offside, due to its inherent shakiness. I am neither here nor there with it, though I do think that it is rarely done all that well. It is done pretty well here though. My issue with it, both generally and specifically to Chronicle is that the narrative justification is always so contrived. Here for example, Andrew just happens to have bought a camera and is “filming everything now”. Well that deals with that then. In addition, I don’t think there has ever been a found footage film where all of the footage could have legitimately come from the ‘found’ source. This film is no different in that regard. I am nitpicking I know. But if these things take me outside of the world of the film, then that reduces my overall enjoyment so I think they have to be mentioned.

For all its flaws, Chronicle is really original. I would prefer something try to be this original and not 100% successful rather than aim for just ‘good’ and get there. This film functions effectively both as a pretty good teen drama and a realism laced superhero film. Take a look.

Verdict: Stubby of Reschs

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Broken City

Broken City has flown under the radar a little. But the trailer suggested that it could be a bit of a sleeper, with police and political machinations perhaps resulting in a taut thriller to blow our minds.


Unfortunately though, the action never reaches the desired level of tautness. It is all pretty ok though. Mark Wahlberg plays Billy Taggart, a New York cop who finds himself off the force due to a shooting incident. Some years later, a mysterious call from the mayor of the city, Russel Crowe, plunges him into some deep, dark, money laden places. The film is definitely attempting to play into some noir sensibilities, with a pretty feeble attempt to position the mayor’s missus as a femme fatale. Whilst this aspect fails, somewhat more successful are the more blurry ethical conundrums faced by numerous characters. Though the film is ultimately not willing to go dark enough in this regard to come up with something genuinely hard hitting. Exploring themes of manipulation of power, the contemporary political environment, alcoholism and vigilante justice, there is a fair bit here. Ultimately though it only manages to fall into the helping to hold your interest realm, rather than being all that thought provoking.

TrioThe opening title graphics are somewhat reminiscent of a mid 90s TV cop show. Which is kind of apt, because in its plot and much of its execution Broken City often struggles to rise above the contrivances of that standard.  What is definitely not mid 90s cop show standard are a number of the performances. Russell Crowe really is one of the best actors of this, or any generation. Even with this middling material, he reminds you that it is between him and Denzel for this generation’s acting King of the Universe. No one else can match them. Matching him here though is Jeffrey Wright, who brings a real intensity to his performance as the conniving Police Chief. The film is far and away at its best when the two of them share the screen and I would have loved to have seen more of them. Especially Wright. Damn he looks fuckin badarse with a shaved head and goatee. I guess unfortunately everything else in comparison to these two is a touch average. Marky Mark and Catherine Zeta-Jones give good performances. But they are not on the same level as the aforementioned two. While the script starts off particularly sharp, especially in its dialogue, the plot spends too much time concerned with disinteresting subplots that do not bring anything to the core narrative – the romance of Mark Wahlberg’s character by far the worst offender. And no mind blowing twist is forthcoming. Actually those that do arrive fall really rather flat, delivering no real sting.

Broken City is good, however always being far too mild to ever approach being great. It is worth a watch if you see it playing somewhere. Though to be honest, there will probably be something else on the cinematic menu that looks a little more enticing.

Verdict: Stubby of Reschs

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