Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Jeremy Saunders - The Poster Man

I had the pleasure of doing an interview with one Jeremy Saunders. In the same five years I have increasingly become addicted to poster artwork, as I'm sure many of you have noticed, and Jeremy Saunders was the first name in the field whose name I knew. His early designs were always good, but it took a while for the man to truly be recognised as the key art extraordinaire that he is. You would have seen a bunch of his designs littered about in my top 50 posters of the decade list from earlier in the year as well as the (outdated, yes, I'd totally change so much about that list now) 100 greatest movie poster list I did back in 2008.

The interview is now up at Trespass Mag and it would be nice of y'all to read it. He gave me a wealth of stuff to write about, which is always good.

Image courtesy of Mark Rogers.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Review: Welcome

Dir. Philippe Lioret
Year: 2010
Aus Rating: M
Running Time: 100mins

The surprising, and quite shocking, laws that revolve around the French illegal immigrant crisis provide the central crux of Philippe Lioret's Lumiere Award-winning drama Welcome. With its ironic title, strong performances and its tale that plays like a harsher and all-around better version of The Blind Side, Welcome becomes one of the most refreshing French titles to reach Australian cinemas in a while, if not necessarily one of the very best.

It's a fantastic and gripping opening sequence where we witness Kurdish teenager Bilal (newcomer Firat Ayverdi) attempting to make his way out of France to get to his girlfriend in England. Along with his travelling companions, Bilal is captured and thus sets of a chain of events that will see him cross paths with former Olympian Simon (an excellent Vincent Lindon) who now gives swimming lessons at a local public pool. Simon's ex-wife, Marion (Audrey Dana) warns the gruff and lonely Simon that helping this boy could result in five-years jail and a substantial fine, something that I was personally quite shocked to discover were actual repercussions for anybody found guilty of helping these refugees in France under Nicolas Sarkozy's government.

It's a stunning facet of French society that lends Welcome a substantial amount of heft in the drama stakes. Helped along by a screenplay by Lioret, Emmanuel Courcol and Olivier Adam that thankfully steers the rather Hollywood storyline from the mundane to the potent. I couldn't help but see the similarities between Welcome and The Blind Side as both revolve around people who are thoroughly bored with their lives and decide to help someone far less fortunate than they, despite the social implications, and all-but adopting their chosen cause. Welcome is obviously the better film and thanks to Lioret's direction, it manages to be warm without whitewashing.

Unfortunately it is this Hollywood arc that allows the film to slip when it shouldn't. Characters other than Simon are rudimentary and black or white, whether it be the saintly ex wife school teacher who feeds the homeless in her spare time, the evil neighbour who glowers and represents the conservative right, or the naive Bilal. I found it quite difficult as a viewer to truly believe Bilal's mission - to swim the English Channel - or that he was stupid enough to attempt it. So much so that the film's end lacked the emotional punch that I suspect others felt. The film's strengths do not lie in its subtleties, but more in the performances, the light that it sheds on such a troubling development for French politics and Lioret's ability to keep the audience fixed on this important issue. It's just a shame that the end turns far-fetched. B

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Review: The Secret of Kells

The Secret of Kells
Dir. Tomm Moore
Year: 2009
Aus Rating: PG
Running Time: 75mins

I'm going to fess up right from the get go: I haven't the foggiest idea what The Secret of Kells is going on about. Minimal research has told me about the Book of Kells, but that still doesn't help me. Throw in the movies' enchanted forests, mystical foreign lands and weird ghost girls who turn into wolves and I basically sat down for 75 minutes without the faintest idea as to what I was watching. Thankfully what I was watching was pretty, so it has that going for it.

The Secret of Kells is an Irish hand-drawn animated film that surprised with a nomination at the recent Academy Awards in the Best Animated Feature category. The film isn't anything particularly exciting - if ancient religious books and Irish lore circa the ninth century is your idea of exciting then by all means, be excited - and manages to be as successful as it is because of its, at times, rapturous animation beauty. So many gorgeous sights to behold within this movie despite the rather simple design of the characters. I particularly found myself in awe of a moment involving a pit of butterflies. At times even flirting with a sort of art deco design, The Secret of Kells wouldn't have been my pick for a token arty nomination, but I can't say that the branch weren't thinking for themselves when they jotted it down on their ballot. B-

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Review: Brothers

Dir. Jim Sheridan
Year: 2009
Aus Rating: M
Running Time: 104mins

As my friend and I walked out of our screening of Brothers we couldn't help but both point a finger on what we felt was wrong with it. Not that either of us didn't like it, much to the contrary actually since we both liked it quite a bit, but it was the ending that left us unsatisfied. Now, I am not a fan of writing reviews in which I express my obvious* wisdom** and let the director know what they should have done, but so strong was our argument that I can't help but bring it up. More on that later.

I have not seen the Danish film by Susanne Bier, Brødre, that Jim Sheridan's film is a remake of - although it was immediately placed atop my DVD queue when I got home - but I am lead to believe that he and screenwriter David Benioff have been incredibly faithful. I imagine many people will be in a similar situation and will be going to see Brothers based on the accumulative star power of Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman and Jake Gyllenhaal rather than their fondness for the original so I don't think that harms one's critical assessment of the film.

Having been sent away for another tour of Iraq, Tobey Maguire's Tommy Cahill is shot down and presumed dead, leaving a grieving wife (Natalie Portman) and recently-released-from-jail brother (Jake Gyllenhaal). Anyone who has seen the original film will know what follows and those who have not will surely be able to guess, but may be surprised at the extent. Once Tommy returns home - this is not a spoiler since Maguire is the first credited cast member and it is all over the marketing - he sets in motion a series of romantic and familial troubles.

While Portman is incredibly miscast - surely she is the hottest young mother of two in a Hollywood movie - the rest of the cast is the main reason you should see the film. Maguire received the bulk of the praise, even receiving a Golden Globe nomination, and he is fine even when Tommy descends into madness, I thought it was Gyllenhaal who came out best out of the three major players. Even then, the best work is left to the supporting players. Mare Winningham is truly wonderful as Maguire and Gyllenhaal's stepmother, while Sam Shepard has some fine moments as their father. A dinner scene late in the movie allows Bailee Madison to shine as the eldest, angry Cahill daughter and in a tiny role is Jenny Wade who makes quite an impression with her limited screen time.

The film generally works quite well and manages to spin a considerable about of drama out of the quite formulaic storyline. However - and I did warn you this was coming - I think Sheridan and Benioff did a disservice to the film by revealing the secret behind Maguire's character and what happened to him in Iraq. The film makes no secret of what goes on and I can't help but think that the film would have packed a more substantial punch if they had have left it a secret and allowed it to be revealed to the audience at the same time as it is revealed to the characters in the movie. As it is the film ends of a relatively flat note. It builds and builds, but then just ends because Maguire's big confession is little more than telling us something we already know, making it land with a dramatic thud. B

Now I need to see Brødre

* Ahem
** AHEM!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Review: The Blind Side

The Blind Side
Dir. John Lee Hancock
Year: 2009
Aus Rating: PG
Running Time: 128mins

It’s not too often that a Sandra Bullock movie causes such debate amongst film-lovers. I am a fan of Ms Bullock and think her performances in fare such as Speed and While You Were Sleeping proved far better than the genres of action blockbuster and rom-com usually warrant. Four years ago she gave a stirring performance in racial-themed Oscar-winner Crash, and now she’s back in the wheelhouse, receiving an Oscar nomination herself for her role as a woman who adopts a homeless African-American teenager.

You can read the rest by clicking over to Trespass Mag.

As I say in the comments, this was a tricky movie to review. As a movie it's not that great - nor is it particularly bad, either, it's just there - but it is not a movie that was made for hardened film lovers. It is a movie made for mass audiences that isn't asking for much more than to have a big grin on their face as they leave the cinema without feeling as if they need to understand that the wheel has been revolutionised, and in that regard I think it succeeds.

Personally, I am quite proud of my line about how The Blind Side is like Slumdog Millionaire, but with polite suburbanites who own beige sweater sets from Target. What are you thoughts? click over and let us know.