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Friday
Jun222012

BRAVE

Voice-cast: Kelly McDonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd and Craig Ferguson.
Writers: Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman and Irene Mecchi.
Directors: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman and Steve Purcell.

Rating: 3/5


There is a fire in the belly of Princess Merida that burns as bright as her wild tangerine mane, but that passion never fully engulfs Brave, the expectedly wondrous new work from Pixar Studios.

Riffing on the notion that the heritage of the Scottish people is filled entirely with feuding clansfolk with horrible teeth who booze and fight as soon as eat and breathe, it is the combined vision of three animation veterans, steeped in both narrative and technical experience. Brenda Chapman’s star rose as part of Disney’s 90s heyday before she joined the start-up Dreamworks team (she last directed The Prince of Egypt); Mark Andrews is Pixar-based (the Oscar-nominated short, One Man Band) but did time at the short-lived WB Animation outfit (Osmosis Jones, The Iron Giant); Steve Purcell hails largely from a video-game and television background. Their last combined work was as script and story contributors on Cars.

This eclectic mix of experience and aesthetics may go some way to explaining why Brave never quite becomes the sum of its parts. Ostensibly a mother-daughter story in which both come to realise the importance of their womanly bond, Brave also weaves in ancient woodland mythology, fight-or-flight action thrills (littlies will get a jolt in some bear-attack moments), two rather perfunctory ‘Disney’-esque musical interludes and some broad comedic shtick (supplied by all the menfolk, none of whom have any bearing on the plot). It is all perfectly engaging, but is let down by characters who feel overly familiar. Largely absent from Brave is the absorbing family dynamic of The Incredibles, for example, which held our emotions as the visuals worked their magic.

If the script is unfocussed, the images that unfold are certainly not – Brave is a beautiful piece of modern animated art. Princess Merida’s corkscrew red hair is mesmerising to watch; one sequence, in which she scales a rock wall to taste of a sacred waterfall as the sun bathes the vast Scottish landscape, is truly breathtaking. Indoor sequences are a little less well-defined; the darkening effect of the 3D glasses reduces the clarity of the many candlelit scenes (some hurried action mid-movie is hard to follow). But overall, as we’ve come to expect from Pixar, the artform moves a further step ahead with Brave.

Highly-touted as the studio’s first female lead, the strength of spirit embodied in Merida (expressively voiced by a wonderful Kelly McDonald) keeps the film afloat when needed. Tweenage girls and their mums who have reluctantly sat through Cars 1 & 2 to appease Dad and the boys will love her energetic spunkiness and blossoming rebellious streak. It is frustrating that Brave does not ultimately honour her; it could have embraced its own moniker and the fearlessness of its lead and taken a few more risks.

Wednesday
Jun202012

SEEKING JUSTICE

Stars: Nicholas Cage, Guy Pearce, January Jones, Harold Perrineau, Jennifer Carpenter, Xander Berkeley, IronE Singleton and Jason Davis.
Writer: Robert Tannen.
Director: Roger Donaldson

Rating: 3/5


Despite growing increasingly preposterous as the minutes tick by, Roger Donaldson’s Seeking Justice is still at the high-end of star Nicholas Cage’s recent output. Though the star struggles to entirely convince as an everyman character, Cage’s current career phase hits a sort-of high with this New Orleans-set potboiler; whatever Guy Pearce or January Jones saw in their characters on the page, however, does not translate to the screen.

Cage plays Will Gerrard, a committed high-school teacher whose life turns upside down when his beautiful wife Laura (Jones) is brutally raped. Whilst sitting out her ordeal in the hospital waiting room, Will is approached by Simon (Pearce), who offers to correct the injustice done to their world. All Will need do is promise to repay the debt at some further point.

When Wil turns the table on his vigilante foes, convenience and circumstance all fall in his favour as they are prone to do in the world of B-movie star-vehicles. And there is an awful lot of B-movie pedigree in Seeking Justice. The premise is similar to the Richard Kelly’s The Box; the ‘secret assassin’ unit device was used in Peter Hyams’ The Star Chamber; and, a straight line can be drawn between Cage’s character here and his younger, tougher self in Simon West’s Con Air.  

But Donaldson and scripter Robert Tannen are clearly not out to reinvent the wheel with Seeking Justice (Clue #1, its blah-ly generic 1990s-style title). Their modus operandi is to give some well-worm tropes a good going-over and they largely succeed in their humble goals.

New Zealand-born Donaldson had a solid lock on undeniably daft but involving thrillers (No Way Out, White sands, The Getaway, Species, The Recruit ) before he peaked in 2005 with his passion project, The World’s Fastest Indian. He whirls his camera around corners and through speeding traffic with the solid but detached eye of an old pro; he appears to be doing his darndest to make sure his film could never be confused with any type of reality.

Which makes Cage his perfect leading man. The actor often seems to exist in a rarefied world, reacting with odd ticks and glowering facial expressions that are at first, incongruous with the scenario but which somehow gel with his director’s vision.

The time has certainly passed when critics can keep blathering on about how Cage’s current work compares to his meteoric emergence (Raising Arizona; Vampire’s Kiss; Moonstruck); that was thirty-odd years ago, and neither he (at close to 50) nor Hollywood make those sort of risky projects that thrive on A-list eccentricity. He seems determined to make the most of his Hollywood standing at present; if that all-too frequently leads to “WTF?” choices (Bangkok Dangerous; Trespass; Drive Angry; Season of the Witch; both Ghost Riders), it also occasionally yields a solidly enjoyable programmer, as is the case here.

Saturday
Jun162012

LIVID

Stars: Chloé Coulloud, Félix Moati, Jérémy Kapone, Catherine Jacob, Béatrice Dalle, Chloé Marcq and Marie-Claude Pietragalla.
Writers/Directors: Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury.

REVELATIONS FILM FESTIVAL Screenings – Sat 7 Jun 10.45pm.

Rating: 1.5/5


Having crafted one of the great French horror works in 2007s Inside, Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury tackle the haunted house/vampire genre with far less apparent alacrity in their follow-up, Livid. Pompous, over-stylised gaudiness and seen-it-all-before frights inspired far more giggles than gasps amongst the late night crowd at the Sydney Film Festival screening; the title may best sum up the reaction of full-price paying patrons.

Whereas Inside was a standard home-invasion thriller amped-up by bravado filmmaking and all-or-nothing physical horror, Livid tarts up a grab-bag of supernatural/kids-in-peril B-movie clichés with an arty pretension that grates. The film’s lofty thematic ambitions are to explore memory, longing, the corrosive effect of secrets and the avenging of cruel injustices, but only the most easily-pleased horror aficionado could claim Bustillo and Maury examine these with any insight.

Young trainee-nurse Lucie (a likable Chloé Coulloud) is taken by her bitter mentor Catherine (Catherine Jacob) to the dusty, shadowy mansion of bed-bound, comatosed crone Madame Jessel (Marie-Claude Pietragalla). The once-grand estate is in disrepair, the ambience of the house filled with remnants of past lives, notably a rather disgusting collection of taxidermied animals (the suit-wearing, tea-drinking giant catfish got the biggest laugh). Lucie learns that the house was not only once a dance studio run by Jessel, but also that her sizable, long-forgotten loot is hidden somewhere in its myriad of rooms.

Spurred on by boozy courage, Lucie’s obnoxious boyfriend William (Félix Moati) and his brother Benjamin (Jérémy Kapone) break into the house to acquire said booty, but don’t bargain on Madame Jessel’s waken state or the ‘children of the night’ that still remain entombed in the home’s walls. The trio become separated; the men act like imbeciles, thereby ensuring their demise (a spoiler? I think not, so predictable is the films plodding pacing). Only Lucie, who has kept her head whilst others loose theirs, can deduce the actions required to calm the spirits of the home and free herself from their grasp.

Flashbacks to dance-hall days when the home was sanctuary to teen-vampire ballerinas (read that again....) are so grandly realised as to resemble modern-day perfume commercials. Scenery-chewing emoting from all but Coulloud, who seems more bemused than frightened, ensures Livid never fully convinces. The bloated seriousness and shallow artifice applied by Bustillo and Maury nixes any hint of the self-knowing irony that the film needed (a flaw it shares with Tony Scott’s 1983 sexy-vampire pic, The Hunger, a film it closely resembles).

In fact, Livid shares much with any number of past horror standards. Euro-horror fans will spot stock-standard giallo references from Argento’s and Bava’s oeuvres; there are hints of gothic haunted-house classics such as The Others and The Innocents. But Livid has nothing to offer of its own, save a suffocating sense overtly art-designed set-pieces and a particularly nonsensical finale. It is film that doesn’t convey great film horror but instead tries hard to manufacture and sell it.

Saturday
Jun162012

EXCISION

Stars: AnnaLynne McCord, Traci Lords, Ariel Winter, Roger Bart, Malcolm McDowell, John Waters, Jeremy Sumpter and Marlee Matlin.
Writer/Director: Richard Bates Jr

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL Screenings - Sun 10 Jun 9.00pm; Tues 12 Jun 8.30pm.

Rating: 4/5

 

To hear the deliberately droll Richard Bates Jr talk down the deeper aspects of Excision, his directorial debut, at a Sydney Film Festival post-screening Q&A, one may deduce that this extraordinary work was all a bit of a lark for him. When, in fact, nothing could nor should be considered further from the truth; his coming-of-age horror opus is positively dripping with slyly intellectual observations of the deeply-rooted link between a girls blossoming womanhood and the urges and rages such changes carry with them.

The opening shot is a clear indication of what we can expect from Excision – sex and violence and the yin and yang that those diametrically opposed halves represent within a young woman’s psyche. It is a dream sequence, in which two versions of our anti-heroine Pauline (Annalyne McCord) stare each other down; one is in the grip of sexual fulfilment, while the other is spewing blood and close to death.

Pauline is the greasy-haired, pimply geek archetype that is usually the butt of schoolyard jokes, both in the movies and real life. But McCord’s Pauline is a portrait of a teenager captured at a time when she is learning to embrace her uniqueness (a quick wit, sexual curiosity, anti-parental control). She brazenly offers herself to the school stud Adam (Jeremy Sumpter) for her first time; she rails against her tightly-wound mom Phyliss (Traci Lords) while learning to appreciate, even love, her sweet younger sister Grace (Ariel Winter), who is suffering from cystic fibrosis.

Pauline’s dream grow darker and detailed, each more violent than the last. They are the visions of an alienated but active mind, one struggling to reconcile between her place in the world and the measures she is willing to take to make things right.

The men in the film are grossly ineffectual. Two sexually-active cheerleaders joke about Adam’s smallness and inability to become aroused, even that perhaps he might be gay; his final insult is an indescribable moment involving menstruation and oral sex. Pauline’s father Bob (Roger Bart) is a shell of a man, beaten down by Lord’s shrill suburban-harpie, whilst the high-school authority figures are Malcolm McDowell as a hollow, ambivalent schoolroom lifer and Ray Wise as a slightly deranged principal.

Excision is a film in metaphoric overload, where Pauline’s every waking moment is consumed by images and thoughts pertaining to sex, blood and conflict. McCord, a mens-mag favourite whose resume to date gave no indication she was capable of crafting such a wondrously disturbed character, conveys the inner-collision of Pauline’s sympathetic reality and psychotic extremes with equal measure profundity and black, black humour. Her final on-screen moments are nightmarishly impactful.

The young director’s trope dissection is cut entirely from the chick flick/teen outcast cloth, but without the airs and graces of the kind that the late John Hughes might have employed; had David Cronenberg and Dario Argento co-directed Sixteen Candles it might have looked a bit like Excision. But Bates’ piercing originality and keen eye for framing and ear for dialogue sets it own precedents, standing tall on the stooped shoulders of Pauline and her teen-dream bloodlust.

Wednesday
Jun132012

THE WARPED FOREST

Stars: Rinko Kikuchi, Fumi Nakaido and Kanoko Kawagachi.
Writers: Shunichiro Miki and Yuuka Oosumi
Director: Shunichiro Miki.

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL Screenings – Mon 11 Jun 9.00pm; Sun 17 Jun 9.30pm.

Rating: 3.5/5

For those who crave auteuristic autonomy, unencumbered by studio constraints or concerned with audience response…well, having watched The Warped Forest, you really ought to be careful what you wish for. 

Entirely self-funded, visionary Shunichiro Miki, a Japanese ad-agency legend, offers up a work of glorious, often impenetrable eccentricity, multiplied by the power of ‘huh?’  You are not likely to see a film like The Warped Forest ever again and it will depend entirely upon the individual whether that will be considered a good or a bad thing.

From what I could gather (and everything you take from this film will depend upon your viewing experience, as no website or PR campaign exists to help one interpret its oddness), The Warped Forest is about a parallel world in which our souls exists to live out our longings, fears and ambitions. It is ruled over by an enormous spinning triangle that acts as a kind of ‘Dream Central’ Overlord.

Inhabitants of this strange land are giants and/or tiny people, who co-exist so as  influence each others  lives. Frustrated souls indulge in ‘dream tinkering’, an ill-advised indulgence with realistic highs but terrible lows. There is also anal/vaginal fruit that grows on naked-lady trees, a penis-gun and a large pink-and-white furry ‘blob-creature’  whose uterus-like inner-sac may hold the cure to one characters outbreak of pulsating open-wounds.

Suffice to say, the chances of The Warped Forest being adopted into a lavish Broadway musical are slim.  The Sydney Film Festival audience reaction ran the gamut; initially, there were lots of giggles at the gaudy visuals and amateurish acting (much feels entirely improvised), then there was some stunned silence, followed by some genuine investment in Miki’s vision and drama.

As programmer Richard Kuipers stated in his pre-screening introduction, The Warped Forest is a film that demands your attention and intellect, if only to decipher the indecipherable. The imagery is, at time, wondrous; at times, giddily naff. There is a sentimental undercurrent that keeps one engaged in the film (the soaring chords employed in the finale suggests the director is a softy at heart), but it is a purely visceral reaction. Nothing about The Warped Forest makes sense in terms of conventional emotionality.

Or does it? The film exists in a dream state, that most primeval aspect of human existence, so perhaps it is fitting that it feels both fleeting yet somehow resonant. Like our sleeping visions, it will be impossible to recapture fully upon reflection nor able to be fully understood. I guess it is best to just let it be what it is. Whatever that may be….

Monday
Jun112012

A ROYAL AFFAIR

Stars: Mads Mikkelsen, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Alicia Vikander, David Dencik, Trine Dyrholm, Thomas W. Gabrielsson, William Jøhnk Nielsen, Cyron Bjørn Melville and Laura Bro.
Writers: Rasmus Heisterberg and Nikolaj Arcel; based upon the novel Prinsesse af blodet by Bodil Steensen-Leth.
Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Running time: 137 minutes.

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL Screenings – Sat 9 Jun 6.15pm; Fri 15 Jun 4.15pm.

Rating: 4/5


Arthouse audiences craving the grand costume dramas of yore will be camping out for A Royal Affair, the gloriously-realized recounting of a short-lived period in Danish social reform as told through the eyes and loins of those in power. Director Nikolaj Arcel takes no great risks in his loosely-fictionalized version of events little-known outside of the region, but he maximises every potent element of the story whenever possible. A Royal Affair is a sumptuous tale of corseted desire, political malfeasance and complex immoralities.

Structured as to be the recollections of Queen Caroline Mathilda (a luminous Alicia Vikander) for the children to which she was denied access, the titular tryst is one that develops between her and German doctor Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen). Introduced whilst doing some pro-bono healing in the dank halls of a community hospital, Dr Struensee is a noble figure though not of the upper class; Mikkelsen conveys movie-star magnetism in a role that all but consumes everything else in the frame with him, which is both a good and bad thing. As soon as his chiselled cheek bones and imposing figure enter the film, there is no doubt he’ll bed the leading lady and exert influence over the young, slightly loopy King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, his high-pitched random giggle and eccentricity reminiscent of Tom Hulce’s Mozart in Amadeus).

As a man of the people, and flush with the confidence one oozes having seduced monarchy, Struensee begins to exert a gentle influence over the laws of the land. Upping taxes on the rich, dismantling serfdom and increasing expenditure on social infrastructure are just a few of the changes he inspires the King to demand of his subordinates. Of course, these are wildly unpopular with the wealthy, who leap at the opportunity to oust the doctor when the secret love between Caroline and Struensee is revealed.

In addition to the photogenic charms of Vikander and Mikkelsen, the production is one steeped in the opulence of the period and the gorgeous, untouched countryside of the day (it features one of the most beautiful title-card sequences in recent memory). The passionate embraces of the two illicit lovebirds are tastefully done, but don’t skimp on detail; the overall portrayal of sex, both good and bad (Christian is grossly ineffectual, even brutish, his first night with Caroline), is typically open-minded in its Euro-cinema way.

Having triumphed at the Berlinale, where it took home thoroughly deserved statuettes for Best Actor and Best Screenplay, Arcel’s classically old-fashioned candlelight-and-carriages take on the bosom-heaving, aristocratic love triangle is a compelling if slightly overlong effort. Not that fans of the genre will mind if the film sags a little in parts; in fact, they may not want it to end at all.

Saturday
Jun092012

BEAUTY

Stars: Deon Lotz, Charlie Keegan, Sue Diepeveen, Roeline Daneel, Albert Maritz and Michelle Scott.
Writer: Oliver Hermanus and Didier Costet.
Director: Oliver Hermanus.

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL Screenings – Sun 10 Jun 8.30pm; Mon 11 Jun 8.15pm.

Rating: 4/5


Repression is a key theme in Oliver Hermanus’ Beauty and one made all the more potent by the production’s homeland, South Africa. The story of a white, middle-class businessman who has structured his life so that he may live out his homosexuality in a private shame, the sophomore feature from the director of the acclaimed Shirley Adams is an intensely-focussed, gruelling drama.

The ambiguously-titled film tells of a human forced to live an unacceptable reality in the eyes of the society he has created. The misguided sense of entitlement that still simmers for much of older white South Africa in the nation’s post-apartheid era infuses Beauty. As the brawny, steely-eyed Francois, leading man Deon Lotz is an archetypal Afrikaan alpha-male; his generation has already experienced a tide of social change that has robbed him of an aspect his people’s defining history, albeit a shameful one. That Francois must also hide his sexuality is a further denial of his true self and soon, the tenuous grip he has of the personal and professional facade he maintains daily begins to slip.

With his bald, bony pate and intense stare, shadowed under a prominent eyebrow ridge, Lotz’s Francois is a Silverback gorilla of a man. The boundaries he enforces over every aspect of his compartmentalized existence is maintained with fierce clarity. His marriage to Elena (Michelle Scott) is one of superficial suburban routine (she has her own sexual secrets); his disdain for his daughter Anika (Roeline Daneel) and her youthful freedom is plainly obvious. His indulgence is a weekly get-together at a remote property with other like-minded closeted men, where they indulge in manly banter and beer-drinking before sessions of rough sex.

Francois’ life changes when he becomes infatuated with dashing law student Christian (Charlie Keegan), the son of a family friend whom he glimpses at a wedding in the film’s stunning opening sequence. As his life becomes entirely about stalking Christian, Francois’ tightly-bound existence and the psychological rigidity that life demands begins to unravel. When his repressed state finally emerges, it is as a sickening act of sexual violence that is certain to leave faint-hearted viewers shaken (several hardened critics looked away at the preview screening that SCREEN-SPACE attended; the film’s hopes of gaining wider, non-festival exposure sans censorship cuts are slim).

Hermanus and his cinematographer Jamie Ramsay find much that is beautiful in Beauty. Long, still shots of Lotz in close-up are unusually serene, or at least until the sense of predation and its inevitable outcome become dominant; the framing reflects the control Francois exerts to maintain his life.

The final scenes suggest a degree of pity for the man, that had he followed a path truer to his real self he may have lived a fuller, happier life. Hermanus is asking a lot of his audience to recognise remorse in Francois and understanding in our view of him, but the young director is clearly not above taking bold risks that demand consideration. Beauty is a confronting work that succeeds as a study of a false life lived badly and as a reflection upon a society grasping at traditional views to its own detriment.

Friday
Jun082012

¡VIVAN LAS ANTIPODAS!

Director: Victor Kossakovsky
Running time: 108 minutes

MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL Screenings – Fri 3 Aug, 4.00pm; Tue 7 Aug, 6.30pm; Sat 11 Aug 11.00am.

Rating: 4.5/5


As debate rages as to who whether the Brothers Lumiere or Thomas Edison should get credit for inventing the movie camera, one thing is certain – their collective hearts would swell with pride if they could seen what Victor Kossakovsky had done with light and image in ¡Vivan las Antipodas!

The Russian-born documentarian has created one of the most visually awe-inspiring films since Ron Fricke’s landmark enviro-travelogue Baraka left audiences breathless in 1992. Be it vast frames made still but for the panting of an old dog or swirling aerial images of violent confrontations between rivers of lava and the chill of the sea, Kossakovsky’s lens captures the beauty and complexities of man and natures shared existence.

The premise is a simple one. Kossakovsky imagined how different life would be between one point on the global surface and its polar opposite. Therefore, we enjoy the company of two droll toll collectors living a life of solitude in Entre Rios in the Argentine countryside, only to have the director flip his perspective 180 degrees to its antipodean counterpart – the grand metropolis that is modern-day Shanghai. And so it goes...from a the majesty of Russia’s Lake Baikal region to a shepherd’s ramshackle hut in chilly Patagonia; from the blackened landscape of Hawaii’s volcanic coast to a dusty Botswanan village; and, from the a rocky outpost in Miraflores, Spain, to a beach at Castle Point on New Zealand’s South Island, where a great whale has grounded itself.

After the initial wonder at the images on-screen subsides (it never completely disappears), intellectualising the narrative-free imagery leads to the conclusion that, like Baraka and Godfrey Reggio’s ‘Qatsi’ trilogy (Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi and Naqoyqatsi), ¡Vivan las Antipodas! is most concerned with painting a portrait of mankind as a single entity. Each of the disparate regions and their inhabitants share such commonalities as weather, the curve of the landscape and various co-habitants (the presence of animals and their relationship to man is common throughout). ‘We are one’ may have seemed like a twee message in the hands of a lesser artist, but Kossakovsky handles it with grace and intelligence.

It may be all too ethereal for some. There were some walk-outs during the SFF screening I attended, patrons no doubt expecting a more traditional documentary approach (ie, narration) that states and restates the filmmakers intention. But that wouldn’t have worked in the case of ¡Vivan las Antipodas!; it is a film concerned with man’s experience on the planet and, as such, is best viewed in that context. It asks its viewers to examine their own place in the world by glimpsing the vast sameness of us all, regardless of time and place.

Oh, and for the record, Sydney was never an option for inclusion in ¡Vivan las Antipodas! The point on the map directly opposite the CBD is....well, look for yourself....

Thursday
Jun072012

NOT SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN

Stars: Ryan Kwanten, Sarah Snook, Ryan Corr, Bojana Novakovic, Laura Brent, Lewis Fitzgerald, Susan Prior and Zoe Carides.
Writer: Michael Lucas.
Director: Peter Templeman.
Running time: 97 minutes.

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL Screening - Sat 9 Jun 4.00pm.

Rating: 3.5/5


A coarse but skilfully told tale of one hedonistic 20-something’s forced appraisal of his mortal legacy, Peter Templeman’s Not Suitable for Children takes the multi-tiered meaning of its title very seriously; this is not the film to choose to resurrect your ‘family-trip-to-the-movies’ tradition. The more open-minded viewer, however, will enjoy a warm, funny, contemporary comedy-drama that will serve the director and, in particular, leading lady Sarah Snook very well as it secures thoroughly-deserving festival exposure and limited release internationally.

Perth-born Templeman and scripter Michael Lucas have taken that most easy-to-dislike modern archetype – the smug, inner-city douche-bag male – and made him the believable focus of a film that trades in crude posturing only to reveal a sweet, romantic essence that is very endearing. Aided immeasurably by a tremendously winning lead performance by Ryan Kwanten, Not Suitable for Children proves that the slick execution of smart, funny scripts is not above the Australian film sector (though, admittedly, it’s been a while between examples).

Kwanten plays Jonah, one-third of a share household in Sydney’s arty, ultra-cool inner-west. With housemates Gus (Ryan Corr) and Stevie (Snook), they organise enormous street-parties that have become events of legend. One of the film’s great assets is the convincing vibe that Templeman captures in his staging of the raves; these look and feel like awesome gatherings at which everyone is having a blast. Jonah’s latest sexual conquest notices a lump on his testicle and, in some deft narrative packaging of key moments in Jonah’s changing reality, we learn of his affliction, the treatment and that the young man’s seed cannot survive storage.

Faced with the prospect of a lonely life sans children, Jonah sets out to woo and impregnate whichever of his acquaintances agrees to carry his child. Gus and Stevie think it a bad idea and go all out to derail it, until Stevie begins to warm to the idea. First she introduces Jonah to a lesbian couple looking for a donor, scenes which deliver some of the film’s biggest laughs; then, she surprisingly finds her own inner cluckiness kicking into gear.

The utterly preposterous machinations of the concept are never an issue in the assured hands of the debutant director. He also owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to his casting team, who have unearthed a truly international talent in Sarah Snook. With her strong onscreen presence tempered by an adorability that is infectious and comic smarts well beyond her years and experience, her Hollywood doppelganger Emma Stone better keep looking over her shoulder; Snook will be stealing roles from her within the year. Some frenzied sex scenes with Kwanten are the culmination of an on-screen pairing rich in an all-too-rare chemistry.

Templeman stumbles a little with a mid-section that disrupts the tempo of his film. The writing and staging of individual scenes work but don’t necessarily strengthen nor progress the narrative. Jonah’s rendezvous with a 40-something prospect, played by the always reliable Susan Prior, seemed extraneous; Snook makes Stevie’s third-act clash with the self-centred Jonah mostly work, but it’s the least convincing moment of character development in the film.

But the generally warm feelings one is left with and the loving camerawork of Lachlan Milne, who colourfully captures some rarely-seen parts of Australia’s East coast metropolis in the terrific widescreen ratio, makes Not Suitable for Children a perfectly justifiable choice for the Sydney Film Festival’s opening night honours. Faith and diligence from distributor Icon, who have every reason to believe they have a sleeper hit on their hands, should ensure it hits big with its target audience.

Wednesday
Jun062012

TATSUMI

Stars: Tetsuya Bessho, Motoko Gollent, Yoshihiro Tatsumi and Mike Wiluan.
Writer/Director: Eric Khoo
Running time: 96 minutes

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL Screenings – Wed 6 Jun 8.45pm; Sat 9 Jun 7.30pm.

Rating: 4.5/5


Singaporean animator Eric Khoo has crafted a stunning biographical portrait of gekiga master Yoshihiro Tatsumi. In this at times jaw-droppingly beautiful work, Khoo has captured the life journey of an extraordinary talent while, at the same time, firmly establishing himself as same.

‘Gekiga’ works, quietly appearing in the late 1950’s, were cartoon stories for adult readers that immediately drew the ire of moral crusaders. Tatsumi’s books was celebrated by underground followers through the radicalized 60s, though rarely given its full credit until well after the artist had reached middle age. Khoo’s film will go a long way to immortalizing Tatsumi’s skill as both a disciplined exponent of a unique artform and a biting commentator on the progress of his homeland as it rebuilt. His dark slices of sad life, of the disenfranchised and the hopeless, of a land and population exploited by the might of a conquering force, are some of the most profound records of a difficult time in a nations rebirth.

Utilising Tatsumi’s autobiography A Drifting Life as the basis for a study of the man and his art, Khoo intercuts short vignettes that capture the formative years of the now 76 year-old’s life with graphic manifestations of some of his most famous works. Of those, the sepia-toned ‘Hell’, an account of a young wartime photographer and his experiences documenting the horrors of Hiroshima in the days after the A-bomb dropped, is perhaps the most challenging.

All the self-contained short-stories possess their own dark charms; the others are based on works entitled Beloved Monkey, Just A Man, Good-Bye and Occupied. They reflect Tatsumi’s years as a young man in a post-war Japan struggling to recapture its traditional honour and social structure. The decline and demise of the unskilled, damaged young man whose life is deemed worthless by the state; a prostitute whose sense of self is so decrepit she beds her father as the final act of defiance against honourable traditions; and, most tellingly, the cartoonist whose work so riles the establishment he is reduced to scribbling his art on public bathroom walls  

In addition to the animation sequences (overseen by Singapore-based ex-pat Phil Mitchell), a coda provides footage of the man today and the methods he utilises to bring his detailed worlds to life; Tatsumi himself narrates key passages of Khoo’s film. The overall impact is one of the art reflecting upon the artist, of characters chronicling the formation and maturation of their creator. Khoo has honoured a true national treasure by masterfully mimicking the stylings by which the artist is best-known; it will be a deeply affecting introduction to the works of Yoshihiro Tatsumi for many whose exposure to manga animation has been limited to countless variations on neo-noir steam-punk themes and white-pantied teen-girl fetishism.