September 28, 2011
Film Review

Review: The Whistleblower (Rachel Weisz; Monica Belluci; Vanessa Redgrave)

Always a compelling onscreen presence, Rachel Weisz makes for an intractable UN Peacekeeper in this earnestly well-meaning drama about human trafficking. Based on the true story of Nebraskan police officer-turned-peacekeeper Kathryn Bolkovac, the film by Canadian co-writer/director Larysa Kondracki keenly portrays post-war Bosnia and the horrific sexual slavery that became a booming business alongside the influx of UN “Smurfs”. Initially taking the post to make a quick buck, Bolkovac’s innate investigation skills see her rise in the ranks before the discovery of UN personnel involvement in human trafficking forces her into the dangerous position of whistleblower. Topically and thematically, this is a strong feature debut for Kondracki, who has attracted a masterful ensemble that also includes Vanessa Redgrave, David Strathairn and Monica Bellucci. Kondracki also wisely keeps the camera close to make the most of her terrific leading lady, with Weisz bringing much-needed gravitas to a rather patchy script. Indeed the film seems so concerned with being worthy of its harrowing true story that it often veers away from political-thriller into melodrama. Ultimately, Bolkovac’s extraordinary story deserves a much more incisive script, one that sinks its teeth into the UN nightmare and gets its audiences up in arms. Instead The Whistleblowerpulls…This article is available…

September 15, 2011
Film Review

Review: The Eye of the Storm (Geoffrey Rush; Judy Davis; John Gaden)

Patrick White’s intimidating literary reputation may have formed a barrier to his novels hitting the screen before now. But director Fred Schepisi, screenwriter Judy Morris and a dream cast headed by Geoffrey Rush, Judy Davis and Charlotte Rampling have done such a magnificent job in bringing his 1973 The Eye of the Stormto the screen that it would be no surprise to see further White adaptations in its wake. In this brisk and handsomely mounted tragi-comedy Rampling (made up to look older than she is) plays eccentric and controlling matriarch Elizabeth Hunter, who mischievously holds court over her household – two nurses, a housekeeper (an overly fruity Helen Morse) and her just-arrived offspring, actor Sir Basil (Rush) and cash-challenged princess Dorothy (Davis). The siblings are more interested in their own inheritance and – in Basil’s case – sexual conquests than their mother’s deteriorating health, the ostensible reason for their sudden return from Europe. Parallels with King Lear(explicit) and Bergman’s Cries and Whispersare obvious, only here tart comedy takes precedence over tragedy. The leads make a meal of their roles in the best possible sense, while the director’s daughter, Alexandra Schepisi, makes a major impression as love-seeking…This article is available to Limelight subscribers….

August 23, 2011
Film Review

Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (Vivian Wu; Russell Wong; Wayne Wang)

Lifelong female friendship is the subject of this lush weepie, in which a pair of interlinked tales unfold in two timeframes: the 21st-century Shanghai of skyscrapers and business careers; and 19th-century Hunan province, a world of foot-binding and female subjugation. In the modern frame are Nina (Li Bingbing) and her Korean foster sister Sophia (Gianna Jun) – two laotongor soul sisters, bound together for life even when physically apart. In flashback unfolds the older story in which two equivalent laotong, Snow Flower and Lily, are played by the same actors. Parallel narratives can be tricky to pull off, but Snow Flower’s director Wayne Wang and co-screenwriter Ronald Bass had already mastered the form in their satisfying 1993 adaptation of Amy Tan’s novel, The Joy Luck Club.Here Bass returns, joined by two co-writers, though something has gone awry. Lisa See’s source novel was set entirely in the 19th century. In adding the modern framing story, the writers have added complication without the necessary dramatic clarity or emotional resonance. As a result, while the film is undeniably lovely to look at, it’s somewhat remote. We’re told there’s deep emotion on the screen, but it’s hard to feel it. This article is available to Limelight subscribers….

August 23, 2011
Film Review

Review: Beginners (Ewan McGregor; Melanie Laurent; Christopher Plummer; Mike Mills)

In a remarkable case of art imitating life, graphic artist-turned-filmmaker Mike Mills ( Thumbsucker) returns to feature films with a personal ode to family, love and identity. Unabashedly autobiographical, Beginnersbumbles through the life of lovelorn graphic designer Oliver (Ewan McGregor), whose burgeoning relationship with a delightfully offbeat French actress (Melanie Laurent) forces him to come to grips with his father’s recent death; a passing made more complex by the fact that Hal (Christopher Plummer) waited for his wife of 45 years to die before living his last months as an exuberant gay man. Expertly criss-crossing three timeframes, Beginnersinterleaves Oliver’s giddy present with the gorgeous Anna with flashbacks from childhood and Hal’s Indian summer with his boyfriend Andy (Goran Visnjic). Shot through it all are wry sketches of Oliver’s romantic history, plus a scene-stealing anthropomorphised Jack Russell. This might sound overstuffed and more than a little twee (“quirky” seems to be the go-to epithet), but bolstered by his cast’s masterfully affecting performances, Mills juggles it all with a deftness of touch and tone that results in both a deeply poignant elegy and a heart-fluttering celebration of love in all its messy forms. This article is available to Limelight subscribers. Log in to continue…

August 8, 2011
Film Review

Review: The Illusionist (Sylvain Chomet)

French animator Sylvain Chomet won a lot of fans with his resolutely charming The Triplets of Bellevilleeight years ago. His follow up is based on an unproduced, late 1950s script by the master French comedian and filmmaker Jacques Tati ( Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday; Jour de Fete). An aging French conjuror, finding himself out of step in the raucous new rock‘n’roll era, travels to the UK – initially London – in search of an audience. In a coastal Scotland village he befriends a teenage girl who believes his tricks are genuine magic and follows him to Edinburgh, where they share digs in a boarding house populated by fellow vaudevillians and undergo a series of adventures. The film is best thought of as a fond homage to Tati from a sympathetic admirer rather than a literal attempt at realising his intentions (the original script took place largely in Prague and, of course, Tati never worked in animation). In this it succeeds exquisitely, capturing the spirit and feel of Tati’s understated, silent-era-inspired comedy, with its digs at the modern world, yet reinterpreting in the light of the animator’s distinctively stylised vision. In a film bathed in visual felicities, Edinburgh has never looked lovelier….

August 4, 2011
Film Review

Review: Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Judi Dench)

How to make  Jane Eyre fresh again? Charlotte Bronte’s 1847 classic is one of the best-loved English novels, thanks in part to countless TV adaptations and films, most notably in 1943 with Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles. That’s not even counting the subsequent novels (and their film adaptations) it has wholly or partly inspired, from authors such as Daphne du Maurier, Iris Murdoch and Jean Rhys. One way forward might be through inspired casting, a second through screenwriting that recognises the needs of film above the desire to represent the story in a more literal fashion (the latter being something the TV mini-series will always be able to do more easily because of its greater duration). To its advantage this compelling new version, directed by relatively little known American Cary Fukunaga and scripted by English dramatist Moira Buffini, recognizes both of these imperatives. The moorland setting is beautifully bleak, the cinematography splendid, and the screenplay pitches straight in without plodding through all of the book’s first part. As the self-possessed governess Jane, Mia Wasikowska is perfection – relatively plain, the right age (early 20s) and charismatic, while Michael Fassbender’s Mr Rochester is all glowering vigour. Pure pleasure.   This article is available…

July 12, 2011
Film Review

Review: The Trip (Michael Winterbottom, Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon)

The cult comedy duo of director Michael Winterbottom and actor Steve Coogan ( 24 Hour Party People) – along with their lovable third wheel Rob Brydon – must have decided they needed a holiday. Regrouping after 2005’s side-splitting Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story,the trio have hit the road for a gastronomical tour of England’s picturesque Lake District. Playing semi-fictionalised versions of themselves in this mostly improvised comedy, Coogan and Brydon are work colleagues who pair up rather awkwardly after Coogan’s gourmand girlfriend leaves him in the lurch. And while Coogan’s apparent ignorance of fine cuisine doesn’t bode too well for the commissioned newspaper feature, he and Brydon seem more than happy to while away the days gleefully bickering through a series of celebrity impersonations. Whittled down from its original form as a six-part miniseries, The Triphas been trimmed of its foodie flavour in favour of a focus on Coogan’s midlife crisis. So in between the rip-roaringly funny impressions (featuring Michael Caine, James Bond, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro), Winterbottom and Coogan take a much more reflective look at a man personally and professionally adrift. Ultimately then, The Tripechoes Winterbottom’s keen portraiture in Genovaperhaps more than the…This article is available…

July 12, 2011
Film Review

Review: Pina (Wim Wenders, Pina Bausch, Tanztheater Wuppertal)

In contrast to Hollywood’s fondness for ugly 3D cash-ins, Wim Wenders has approached the new medium as a chance to rethink cinema’s possibilities; using it to more effectively capture the pure physicality of dance, that most visceral of art forms.  The result is a glorious aesthetic breakthrough. This is less a film “about” Pina Bausch, the celebrated German choreographer, who died in 2009 after helping the director plan the project, than it is a film (in his words) “for” her. Instead of being handed facts that could be more readily imparted by a literary biography, we are immersed in her startling dance work (including a lengthy, breathtaking opening sequence devoted to The Rite of Spring) and invited to examine her philosophy and work methods via brief interviews with members of her Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch.  No one tells us that Bausch was one of the greatest choreographers of recent times.  The director’s high-grade 3D cameras make this obvious,…This article is available to Limelight subscribers. Log in to continue reading. Access our paywalled content and archive of magazines, regular news and features for the limited offer of $3 per month. Support independent journalism. Subscribe now

July 12, 2011
Film Review

Review: Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, Brad Pitt, Sean Penn)

Languid, reverent shots of nature shimmering at magic hour – Terrence Malick is back. The auteur behind the impressionistic odes Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Lineand The New Worldhas finally released his impatiently anticipated fifth film – and she’s an absolute beauty. Tree of Lifeis arguably his boldest in scope, as Malick uses the story of a 1950s Texan family as an anchor to quite literally zoom out to capture the majesty of the cosmos, and whisper to God. This visual microcosm/macrocosm duet is echoed in the clear thematic dichotomy between the forces of “nature” and “grace”, each personified by Mr. O’Brien (Brad Pitt) and Mrs. O’Brien (Jessica Chastain) as they are remembered by their eldest son Jake (Sean Penn and Hunter McCracken). Malick’s films epitomise the cinematic experience, and Tree of Lifeis no exception. In fact, many of the film’s impossibly intricate montages would be at home in an art gallery. Questions… This article is available to Limelight subscribers. Log in to continue reading. Access our paywalled content and archive of magazines, regular news and features for the limited offer of $3 per month. Support independent journalism. Subscribe now

June 21, 2011
Film Review

Review: Sleeping Beauty (Julia Leigh, Emily Browning)

It’s easy to see why Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beautywas invited into the Cannes film festival’s prestigious official competition, a rare honour for a directorial debut. Understatedly strange, erotic, quietly surrealistic and slightly disturbing, it’s a striking film that immediately marks out its Australian writer-director as a confident new cinematic voice. The simple though often deliberately perplexing tale finds beautiful university student Lucy, played with magnificent self-possession by Emily Browning, taking on a part-time job where she allows herself to be drugged and sexually used by rich, elderly men for reasons that aren’t completely clear. In content and style terms the film is so unlike 99.99 percent of those released it’s tempting to call it boldly original, though Leigh’s ambiguous co-mingling of reality, the subconscious and sexual desire owes much to the dreamscapes of Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shutand David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. The perverse female sexual parables of France’s Catherine Breillat (whose last film interestingly was also called Sleeping Beauty) are…This article is available to Limelight subscribers. Log in to continue reading. Access our paywalled content and archive of magazines, regular news and features for the limited offer of $3 per month. Support independent journalism. Subscribe now

June 21, 2011
Film Review

Review: Oranges and Sunshine (Jim Loach, Hugo Weaving, Emily Watson)

Based on the heart-rending history of forced child migration and the English social worker who committed her life to uncovering the truth, Oranges & Sunshineis a compassionate and deeply moving account of this controversial period in British and Australian history. Directed by Jim Loach (son of British auteur Ken Loach), the film focuses on the experiences of Nottingham native Margaret Humphries (Emily Watson), who in the mid-1980s stumbled upon unfathomable stories of post-war child deportation, her research revealing this practice claimed 130,000 children and took place up until 1970. Margaret becomes the voice of these “Lost Children of the Empire”, criss-crossing between dank England and dusty Australia in an effort to reunite families and find answers. Hugo Weaving and David Wenham amplify Watson’s big-hearted performance as two of the adult orphans, each haunted by their past and desperate for the truth. Weaving is haggard to Wenham’s bristling rage, while a larger ensemble cast also share hair-raising tales of abuse and deprivation. But…This article is available to Limelight subscribers. Log in to continue reading. Access our paywalled content and archive of magazines, regular news and features for the limited offer of $3 per month. Support independent journalism. Subscribe now

May 19, 2011
Film Review

Review: Mad Bastards (Brendan Fletcher, Dean Daley-Jones, Lucas Yeeda)

There’s a scene near the start of this Aboriginal drama when a muscly indigenous man gets into a vicious bar-room fight. For a moment it looks as if director and co-writer Brendan Fletcher’s debut feature is going to turn into an Australian answer to 1994 Kiwi hit Once Were Warriors– an unflinchingly powerful “social problem” picture focusing on the indigenous underclass. Actor Dean Daley-Jones even looks remarkably similar to that film’s male lead, Temuera Morrison, who played a Maori given to fits of domestic violence. But soon the energy levels relax and the film turns into a gentle road journey in which TJ (Daley-Jones) travels from Perth to the remote Kimberley to see his estranged son Bullet (Lucas Yeeda). In a parallel plot strand, Bullet is arrested for a petty crime and sent to a training camp where juveniles are taught traditional desert survival skills. The film suffers from its too-understated narrative instincts, which see the twin stories often drifting and allows tuneful song…This article is available to Limelight subscribers. Log in to continue reading. Access our paywalled content and archive of magazines, regular news and features for the limited offer of $3 per month. Support independent journalism. Subscribe now

April 27, 2011
Film Review

Review: The Tempest (Helen Mirren, Russell Brand, Ben Wishaw)

Shakespeare’s final play has inspired several films, including the science-fiction Forbidden Planet, Paul Mazursky’s contemporary Tempest, and versions by Peter Greenaway ( Prospero’s Books) and Derek Jarman. Now comes a new version from Amercian director Julie Taymor, known for her visually supercharged productions The Lion Kingon stage and, on film, Titus Andronicusand the Beatles-inspired musical Across the Universe. You could be forgiven for anticipating a visually rich experience. After all this is a play set on an exotic island filled with strangeness and magic. It’s disappointing then to see how bleak Taymor’s vision so often looks, and feels. Breaking cleanly away from her trademark extravagance, Taymor conjures up an island that’s nothing but craggy rocks and wind-swept desert. Balancing up the ledger are some imaginative visual effects and bold casting decisions. The protagonist becomes Prospera, played splendidly by Helen Mirren. Russell Brand makes a lively Trinculo in the comic sub-plot, and the casting of African-born Djimon Hounsou as Caliban…This article is available to Limelight subscribers. Log in to continue reading. Access our paywalled content and archive of magazines, regular news and features for the limited offer of $3 per month. Support independent journalism. Subscribe now