Lavazza Italian Film Festival Opening Night – Palace Barracks, Brisbane – 1/10/15

se dio vuole

FROCKS were thrown on, champagne and espresso coffee thrown back, and giftbags hungrily snapped up at the opening night of the Italian Film Festival at Palace Barracks cinema on Thursday (1st October).

A four-screen showing of box office hit Se Dio Vuole (God Willing) entertained a large crowd of Brisbane’s cinephiles, on an occasion when everybody in attendance got into the Mediterranean spirit, whatever their origin.

An introduction by Masterchef contestant Georgia Barnes was followed by a screening of the comedy drama, in which a respected but arrogant senior surgeon and atheist (Marco Giallini) is devastated to learn his only son (Enrico Oetiker) intends to become a priest. Determined to bring down the young father, Don Pietro (Alessandro Gassman), who he believes has brainwashed his son, he goes undercover while his family falls apart around him. The question is will he manage to block what he sees as the worst path his son could take, or see the light himself?

A funny, quirky, and at times politically-incorrect film, Se Dio Vuole provides a light-hearted look at the generation gap, religion and family in modern Italy.

Satisfied by our movie experience, all that was left was to polish off the rest of the Italian-style wine, beer and ice-cream to the sounds of the in-house band, for 2015’s Italian Film Festival to be declared well and truly open.

The Lavazza Italian Film Festival runs until October 18.

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Film review: The Postman’s White Nights (Russia, 2014)

the postmans white nights

A remote Russian village is the setting for renowned director Andrei Konchalovsky’s latest film; the sometimes melancholy, sometimes funny, but always captivating The Postman’s White Nights.

A cast of almost entirely amateur actors stars in a tale of life in a dying lake community, in which the line between script and real life is frequently blurred. Adrift on a sea of loneliness, poverty and vodka, a hardy band of colourful characters have a single link to the outside world: their charismatic postman (the excellent Aleksey Tryapitsyn). Puttering along in his tiny boat, the reformed alcoholic delivers mail, bread and pension money, and when he’s not struggling with his own loneliness and despair, is feebly lusting after old schoolmate Irina (Irina Ermolova), who is set to sell up and move to the city. As a way to become closer to Irina, he strikes up a friendship with her young son Timka (Timur Bondarenko), but the race is on to win Irina’s heart before she finds a job in town.

After his boat engine is stolen, the postman’s identity is gone, and he sinks lower than before, having been told it could takes for a new one to arrive. Just as a conclusion seems certain to come, the film abruptly ends with a long shot of the main characters sitting together on a boat crossing the lake, the postman having failed to get a new motor. It’s a finish that only confirms what is made clear constantly throughout: subtlety underpins everything about this film. From passing reminisces about an abandoned schoolyard to hallucinations about cats and drunken ramblings about longing for a long-demolished orphanage – instances that pass in seconds each – this is a bleak tale of a time, people and place forgotten by modern Russia, yet exist in countless similar villages across the great expanse of the world’s largest nation.

the postmans white nights

Exquisite shots of lakes, fields and sunsets which make up the remote, northern Russian environment are a major highlight in a somewhat grim tale that still manages to retain a level of humour and beauty in the everyday interactions between its characters.

The film bagged the Silver Lion award at the Venice International Film Festival, but was withdrawn from the running for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film due to what Konchalovsky described as the overrated “Hollywoodisation” of movies. Whether this was a good move or not is open to discussion, but one thing is certain: Hollywood’s loss is the Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival’s gain.

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Film review: Last Cab to Darwin (Australia, 2015)

last cab to darwin

BRISBANE’S finest and trendiest film buffs were present on the red carpet for the city’s premiere of the new film by director Jeremy Sims, Last Cab to Darwin, on Sunday night (12th July).

With Sims and star Michael Caton present at Dendy Portside in Hamilton, there was a buzz in the air to welcome what looked on paper to be a promising new addition to Australian film.

In a brief introduction to a packed house, Caton and Sims discussed making the film, with Caton joking about the quality of motor homes the actors and crew stayed in during their seven weeks on the road. “If you dropped the soap in the shower there was no way to pick it up,” he admitted, to peals of laughter.

Sims acknowledged the long process of getting the film funded and made, before Caton cajoled the audience with “If you enjoy the film tell your friends, and if you don’t, shut up!” Cue lots more laughter.

He needn’t have worried, though, as Last Cab to Darwin is an absolute corker of a movie, and can proudly take its place among the pinnacles of Australian film.

Michael Caton, Jeremy Sims (L-R)

Michael Caton, Jeremy Sims (L-R)

Caton plays Rex, a Broken Hill taxi driver, who, having been told he has stomach cancer and has but three months to live, sets off on an epic cross-country trip to Darwin to take advantage of the Northern Territory’s euthanasia laws. In doing so, he leaves behind his sometime-lover and Indigenous neighbour, Polly (the wonderful Ningali Lawford-Wolf), and his mates, who like him, have never left town.

A touching story, told with humour, compassion and tact; Last Cab to Darwin is based on real-life Broken Hill man Max Bell, who was diagnosed with cancer in the 1990s.

Along the way, Rex not only confronts his fears about death, love, loneliness and family, but meets a range of characters who play a part in his choice of final destination and help him decide if what he is doing is right. Mark Coles Smith is exceptional in his role as Tilly, an Oodnagatta native who dreams of being a professional footy player but battles demons of his own, while Emma Hamilton is superb in her role as an English nurse who has a soft spot for Rex, and screen legend Jacki Weaver plays the Darwin doctor at the end of the line.

Caton, best known for his role as the lovable rogue Darryl Kerrigan in candidate-for-the-most-quotable-Aussie-movie-of-all-time The Castle, is a revelation in the lead role. Scenes which could have been brutal or harrowing are enriched with boyish charm and dry humour solely by his presence. He’s the type of actor who can say more with a flicker of his eyelids than many can in a series of lines, and this performance must be up there with his career best.

Music by Brisbane’s own Ed Kuepper and awe-inspiring wide shots of the inner-Australian landscape are the icing on this particular cinematic cake, meaning Last Cab to Darwin comes highly, highly recommended.

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Film review: Chappie (South Africa, 2015)

chappie movie

WHO’S seen Robocop? How about District 9? Of course you have; they’re both great movies.

Drama, action, rebirth and redemption, a mechanical underdog to root for: that’s what great robot movies are about. Chappie – the latest effort from South-African writer/director Neill Blomkamp – is most certainly a robot movie, but it’s clear from the start that the required ingredients to make it a great (or even a moderately acceptable) robot movie are seriously lacking. It’s got some drama. Action: a little. Rebirth and redemption: meh. An underdog to root for? You’ll be too busy cringing at his cheesy dialogue with South African rap royalty Ninja and Yolandi Visser of Die Antwoord playing Die-Antwoord-as-gangsters-wearing-Die-Antwoord-tops-but-we’re-still-gangsters-honestly-I-promise.

The aforementioned Chappie is one of several hundred robots created by inventor Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) and commissioned by the Johannesburg police force in an effort to reduce crime. Wonderfully-mulleted Australian engineer Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) is Wilson’s nemesis and wants his creations to fail so his own crime-fighting creations can prevail. When Wilson steals a damaged robot in order to experiment with his new AI software, he is kidnapped by the Die Antwoord pair, who need to find a way to make the robots inoperable in order to pull off a heist and pay back a debt. Wilson convinces Ninja and Yolandi that he can create a robot to do their bidding, and Chappie is born into a world of crime and finger-painting. This is where things begin to go rapidly downhill.

The more Visser becomes involved in the dialogue, the more you can practically see the cogs turning behind her eyes every time she says a line. A generally plodding plot, the ridiculous Chappie-talks-gangsta moments, and the fact that we are meant to believe drug-dealing murderers “turn good” in the end, thanks to spending a few days with a childlike robot, are difficult to accept. When Moore attacks Chappie and saws his arm off, what do his new friendly murderous friends do? Just attach another one by pressing it into the socket, obviously; no training in mechanical engineering required here, no sir.

It also feels like a unforgiveable missed opportunity with Hugh Jackman’s character; this guy could have been written as a hugely laughable comedy bogan/bad guy instead of the unbelievable macho bad guy he is – Jackman could have pulled it off perfectly with those tight shorts and mullet. You’ll probably ask yourself how Dev Patel got his role too. Is it because (a) he cheated, (b) he’s lucky, (c) he’s a genius, or (d) he needs to fire his agent. Lock in (d), Eddie; final answer.

With a finale that is almost lifted straight out of District 9, and featuring the inevitable showdown between Chappie, Moore, Wilson and the gangsters in an explosive (literally, not dramatically) few scenes, the movie comes to a close in predictable fashion, but it’s an anti-climactic feeling of missed opportunities when the last-of-many Die Antwoord song plays as the credits role. Do yourself a favour and stick to Robocop; even the remake, if needs be.

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Film review: Project Almanac (USA, 2015)

project almanac feature

THERE are two ways you can go when making a movie about time travel.

The first is to do a bit of research into the science and at least have a stab at including some form of explanation about how it’s done in your movie (see Interstellar). The second is to throw the scientific journals out the window, say “to hell with it” and simply have fun with the whole idea (see Back to the Future, Bill & Ted and a million others).

Project Almanac is most certainly in the second category, but while the idea of a found-footage movie starring four relatively-unknown American early-twenty-somethings playing 17 year-old schoolkids who chance upon plans to build a time machine may seem painful, the reality is somewhat different.

Seventeen year-old David Raskin (Jonny Weston) has followed in his dead father’s footsteps by aspiring to be a scientist and inventor. Needing to get a scholarship to attend a prestigious university, he roots around his father’s old spare parts for project ideas and finds a video camera containing footage of his seventh birthday. Watching it with friends Adam (Allen Evangelista) and Quinn (Sam Lerner), and his sister Christina (Virginia Gardner), he spots his 17 year-old reflection in a mirror on the video. They find blueprints and a mysterious mechanical object in the basement, and in a montage that would do Team America proud, they build the machine (don’t ask – it’s something to do with car batteries and hydrogen).

So far so good. After a few test runs involving sparks, bright lights, blatant product placement and not much dialogue beyond “Woo, yeah! Did you see that?” the fun begins. With the class babe Jessie (Sofia Black D’Elia) along for the ride, the quintet use time travel to pass exams, win the lottery, avenge bullying, get backstage passes at Lollapalooza and generally become the cool kids in school.

However, it’s not long before everything turns to crud when the gang realises that the tiny things they change in the past have huge consequences for events in the future – David and Jessie not getting together, their school football team not winning the championship and a huge plane crash being the main three, seemingly in no particular order of importance. It’s only when David realises he has to go back in time by himself to confront his father, destroy the blueprints and still work out how to get the girl that the climax is reached.

So, does the dodgy plot or unnecessarily cheesy love story ruin Project Almanac? On the whole, no. It’s a harmless bit of fun with decent acting by a young cast, and plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, mainly courtesy of excellent supports Evangelista and Lerner. Just don’t think about the science.


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