November 1, 2011

"Sleeping Beauty"

Don't let the title deceive you - this film is not a modern interpretation of the classic fairy tale.  There is a beauty who sleeps in it, but that's as far as the parallels go.

Lucy (Emily Browning) is a university student with a plethora of part time jobs, including science-lab guinea pig and two-bit prostitute.  After replying to a mysterious ad in a newspaper, she enters a world where bizarre sexual fantasies bleed into her

"Sleeping Beauty" is beautiful to watch.  Browning is so breathtaking, and the composition and lighting are so sensual that the film could easily be a fashion shoot (where the model only has three sets of clothes).  It's one of those films that instantly intrigues you, and seduces you with the promise of what you will discover.  Unfortunately, once you get to the end, you realise you've been seduced by a vacuous boob.

Browning ambles through the film as a bleak creature whose motives are never clear, and who responds with passivity to most of the things that she encounters.  The people she meets are cold and unblinking, just like her.  There are no answers, and nothing is resolved.  I get the impression that first time director Julia Leigh wanted to create something subtle and haunting.  A statement about the dark places people will descend to when they are divorced from their emotions?  A commentary on male sexuality without love?  Probably, but the lack of clarity or warmth make it bloody boring to watch. 

All this said, I do think it's an accomplished directorial debut, and Browning, though she doesn't seem to do much except look enigmatically beautiful, gives a very strong performance.  It's one of those films that will divide opinion. Personally I'm into story, and strong characterisation, but if you're into highly-stylised films that are low on plot you might enjoy it.


July 28, 2011

"A Serbian Film"

A film made by a man who doesn't realise he's a pervert.

MiloŇ° is a aging Serbian porn star living with his beautiful wife and young son.  When he is offered an extremely large sum of money to star in a mysterious porno, he reluctantly agrees, hoping to finally make a clean break from the business and secure his family's future.  However, in spite of the director's passionate attestations that they are creating "art", MiloŇ° is troubled by the man's refusal to let him see the script.  As filming commences, it becomes apparent why.

"A Serbian Film" has already gone down in history as one of (if not the) most graphic, violent and disgusting films of all time.  (10 minutes before the end I had to turn it off and take a half an hour break).  What sets this film apart from being a gratuitous piece of trash, and a work of art, is director Srdjan Spasojevic's insistence.

According to him, the film is a political allegory about the plight of the Serbian people:

"When we say “your boss is fucking you,” we would draw your boss fucking you, but we all know he isn’t really fucking you. We’re just depicting how you feel. And that’s what we did with the film. It’s like we feel violated by authority; our authority in politics and art is so restricted and narrow minded that it makes everything impossible.... It’s kind of pornographic because you get fucked for feeding your family".

Okay, I can understand the violence, rape, and "fucking" metaphors, but a few of the others have lost me.  In metaphor speak, what does stabbing an erect penis through a man's oesophagus say about Serbia?  How about having sex with a dead person?  Maybe I just don't get it!

There's also a subtle "Alice in Wonderland" thing going on (spot the white rabbits) but deciphering this intricate symbolism is beyond me.

An allegory for Serbia?  It's more likely that the film is an allegory for Spasojevic himself.  He's written himself into the script as the insane director, insisting that the snuff movie he is making is "art".  And I think he really believes it.  "Pretentious" is one word I haven't heard associated with this movie yet, but I'm sorry - this has to be one of the most self-indulgent wank-fests I've ever seen.

In spite of all this, Spasojevic might not be totally deluded.  He professes that work like this is cathartic, and I can attest to that.  I started watching this film in a bad mood, but felt better when it ended.  I guess there's nothing like rape, mutilation, pedophilia, and multiple murders to make you appreciate your own life.  Now where's my Disney boxset? 

Post Scriptum:  In fairness, the acting is amazing. 

July 19, 2011

"Life in a Day"

YouTube's brain child: a 'Baraka' for this decade?

In 2010 Youtube celebrated its fifth birthday, and wanted to mark the occasion.  After recruiting Oscar winner Kevin MacDonald ("Touching the Void") as director, and Hollywood legend Ridley Scott ("Alien" etc.) as producer, people from all around the globe were invited to film their life on 24th of July 2010, and upload it onto YouTube.  These disparate days-in-the-life would be edited together, and a feature film would be created.

I went into this film with low expectations, but after 10 minutes found myself riding a wave of sound bites and dazzling imagery.  This doco reminded me of another film: the cinematographer's-wet-dream "Baraka".  There's no conventional plot, stunning shots depict life on earth and are accompanied by amazing music.  However, because it's shot by hundreds of normal people, "Life in a Day" becomes an unique twist on the genre that "Baraka" spawned.

On screen, people wake up, brush their teeth, and go about their daily life.  The resulting montage of birth, love, friendship, illness, death, fear, and quirky stories has the visual and anthropological richness of those non-verbal films, but brings humour and emotion into the equation.

For me it was an anthropological study on two levels.  As I viewer I was engrossed in the visual rhythms, but as a film maker I loved observing the different take each participant had on the project, and figuring out how it was all put together.  There seems to have been a detailed brief that had questions like "What do you fear?", "What do you love?", and the competitive creativity of each film maker oozed through their shots.  Some submissions were filmed on a mobile phone, some were on a computer camera, and some were obviously professional film makers probably hoping to be noticed by Mac Donald or Scott (that's what I would've been hoping ;) ).

My only criticism is that the ending was a bit weak, but it didn't take away from the rest of the film.   Having participated in a similar project a few years ago, I recognise how difficult a task Mac Donald was set, and I applaud him for creating something beautiful from lots of random rubbish ;)

The film is being released by National Geographic on the 24th of July 2011 - exactly one year after it was filmed.  Definitely one to watch on a big screen.

See "Baraka" here.

June 10, 2011

'Perfect Blue'

Long before there was 'Black Swan' or 'Shutter Island' there was 'Perfect Blue': a Japanese Manga cartoon which was no doubt the inspiration for many psychological horrors that found their way into Hollywood.

Mima Kirigoe is a pop idol, and fronts a little-known group called "CHAM!".  After landing a small role on a TV show, she decides to pursue a career as an actress.  Some fans appear to be displeased with her sudden career change, but as strange things begin to happen, Mima discovers that she has darker things to worry about.

Made in 1997, 'Perfect Blue' is hailed as one of the best Manga cartoons out there, and I certainly agree that it's captivating and nicely structured.  I would have preferred a more ambiguous ending (or a different ending altogether!) but nonetheless this is a great slice of Japanese Anime.

WATCH IT HERE:   'Perfect Blue'

January 31, 2011

Review: "BLACK SWAN"

Nina is a dedicated ballet dancer, who dreams of being the star of her company.  Her chance comes when she is unexpectedly offered the role of the Swan Queen in "Swan Lake".  The part demands that one dancer play two diametrically opposed characters: the White Swan, and the Black Swan.  Beautiful and frigid, Nina plays the White Swan with conviction, but struggles with the baser nature of the Black.  Fearful of losing the role to another dancer, Nina begins to delve into the depths of her own darkness.

In spite of being a film maker, it takes a lot for me to go to the cinema.  The film has to excite me, or else create so much hype that I go out of curiosity.  "Black Swan" falls into the latter category, and so my (very low) expectations were exceeded.

It was good, I was riveted.  The film is based on Jungian psychological concepts of projection and repression:  Nina (Portman), the product of an overbearing and unfulfilled mother, sees darkness everywhere in the world because she refuses to see it within herself.  If you're not into Jung, Aronofsky keeps your attention by using every shock tactic there is.  Horror sound effects, mutilation, lesbian sex scenes:  this film has it all.  Riveting, like I said.  Until about half way through when it all started to get a bit much.  Aronofsky isn't exactly known for his subtly: but did he really have to make Portman start looking like the monster from "Jeepers Creepers"?  I came out of the cinema feeling like I was on drugs and someone had just hit me in the face.

Nonetheless, I do think it's a film worth seeing on the big screen.  It's visually beautiful, and Portman (who I've never been a fan of) gives an incredible performance, on par with any of the Hollywood greats.  Give that lady the Oscar - she deserves it.

January 20, 2011


"If you haven’t seen this, you don’t like documentaries."  - Ben Steinbauer (Film maker)

The remark above was all it took for me to finally watch "Spellbound" - a documentary about the American National Spelling Bee.

Eight teenagers hoping to win the Spelling Bee trophy are followed from their hometowns to Washington D.C.  Here, they compete to spell their way to victory, glory, and the American Dream.

Trophies and competition are practically synonymous with American culture, and for the competitors, the Spelling Bee represents a first step towards a successful life.  Most of them come from immigrant families, and express a strong desire to make something of themselves.  And where else is this possible but America: land of the free (as we're continually reminded), and country where anyone can excel with hard work?

Apart from the blatant flag-waving, "Spellbound" is an interesting slice of life.  It opens a door into an adorably geeky world, and shows the successes and failures of young teenagers in quest of their dream. Some you root for, some you pity (particually the ones with the over zealous parents), and some you cringe at.*

Despite being a little too long, the journey is entertaing, and you're keen to see who wins.  A feel-good film (particularly if you're American).



*And some should not even be featured in the film - like the boy who blatantly has Aspergers!

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