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Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The Road

Cormac McCarthy’s bleak post-apocalyptic thriller The Road was a surprise bestseller – spare, tender and devastating. Here Australian director John Hillcoat (The Proposition) faithfully recreates that story for the screen. A father (Viggo Mortensen) and son (Kodi Smit-McPhee from Romulus My Father) wander across an America that has been destroyed by some unnamed disaster. Ruined cities and dead forests are devoid of life, and where life survives it’s in the form of cannibal gangs who hunt human meat.

Into this grey world the boy has been born, and now the dying father is teaching to him to survive as they head towards the ocean and perhaps some kind of salvation. The future of kindness, humanity and hope all rest on the boy’s half-starved shoulders. It’s heart-wrenching, and flashbacks to the boy’s dead mother (Charlize Theron) underline the fact that even good people give up on this wretched existence.

At times The Road is almost unbearably tense and yes, bleak. But the experience is a beautiful and rewarding one, heightening our sense of how precious life is, and what we may lose if we destroy the conditions of our existence. And yes, there is hope.

Rochelle Siemienowicz
(This review first appeared in edition #346 of The Big Issue.

Rochelle's Top 10 Picks for 2009

Here's my rather eclectic list, based on the fact that I didn't see nearly as many films as I should have. List compiled for The Big Issue Summer Edition #345. Only includes films that were given an Australian cinema release.

District 9 (pictured)

Most movies about alien ships landing on earth set the invasion somewhere in the vicinity of the White House – or certainly within the US. Much of the thrill of this (relatively) low budget sci fi adventure comes from seeing the action take place in the dusty grimy shanty-towns of Johannesburg, where the accents are all South African and the post-apartheid politics are complex. The aliens themselves are refugees. Their ship ran out of gas 20 years ago and now they live in segregated slums, serviced by Nigerian prostitutes, and with a disturbing penchant for cat food – cans and all. They look like a disgusting cross between lobsters and insects, and they’re nicknamed ‘prawns’. When a rather dim-witted human bureaucrat ,Wikus van der Merve (Sharlto Copley) becomes infected with alien DNA he finds refuge with the aliens and discovers his own heroism.

Directed by Peter Jackson protégé Neill Blomkamp, District 9 may not be the year’s most perfect film, but it’s certainly one of the most startling and original. Combining faux documentary footage, excellent CG effects and a central character whose journey reminds us of The Fly, it’s an exciting riff on themes of racism and xenophia.

Bright Star
True love has rarely been so beautifully evoked on screen as in this tale of the poet Keats (Ben Whishaw) and his romance with the sassy seamstress Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish). Visually glorious, Jane Campion’s return to filmmaking is simply sublime.

The September Issue
This documentary about the production of the September issue of US Vogue magazine is actually a portrait of two women: the legendary ice-queen Anna Wintour and the inspired art director, Grace Cossington Jones. The shallow world of fashion provides surprising insight into the nature of art, truth, beauty and commerce.

A pitch-perfect adaptation of JM Coetzee’s subtle and multi-layered masterpiece, this film sees John Malkovich in fine form as a disgraced middle-aged professor who flees the city to live with his adult daughter on her isolated South African farm. Directed by Steve Jacobs it’s deep, complex and surprisingly entertaining.

Samson & Delilah
This is certainly the most acclaimed Australian film of the year, and a surprising box office hit. Beautifully written, directed and shot by indigenous filmmaker Warwick Thornton it’s a tough love story about aboriginal teenagers in remote central Australia. Winner of this year’s Cannes Camera d’Or.

The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls
Now in their fifties, Jules and Linda Topp are New Zealand’s famous singing, dancing lesbian twins. Involved in social justice and protest movements since their youth, this documentary shows them in all their wholesome home-knitted glory. It’s a joy to witness their cheerful good humour and their palpable sisterly bond.

Star Trek
JJ Abrams picks up the beloved franchise and runs with it, gleefully taking us back to a time when Kirk and Spock first meet as academy graduates. It’s a joy to see the familiar characters reinterpreted by hot young actors. A typically silly space opera plot is loads of fun, with Eric Bana as a seething Romulan villain.

Two Lovers
Joaquin Phoenix is at his best as a conflicted and troubled young man who can’t decide between two women. Tender, funny and true.

The Choir
Set in a harsh South African prison (South Africa seems the theme this year!) this uplifting documentary shows the transformative power of music as a charismatic choir master brings discipline and meaning into the lives of young prisoners.

Rachel Getting Married
Anne Hathaway proves she’s more than a fresh-faced ingénue. She trails tragedy and angst as a young woman who leaves rehab to attend her sister’s wedding. Directed by Jonathan Demme this is a small verite masterpiece.

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

The year in films: 2009

We all know that the whole point of these "Year's best and worst" lists is to get you all annoyed that your fave films didn't make the list while I get even more angry that I wasted so much of my life watching rubbish. So in an attempt to defuse the hate, let's group the year's best and worst into categories rather than singling out individuals for the love - or the hate. So to kick off with the love, 2009 was a good year for...

Clint Eastwood: Damn, but Grand Torino was a great film (caution: view not shared by Rochelle). Well, if you're a Clint fan it was - otherwise, it was just the story of a grumpy old racist.

Films that defy easy category: A classy movie about wrestling? The Wrestler. A crazy World War 2 mash-up? Inglorious Basterds. A serious mockmentary using aliens as a metaphor that turns into a ray-gun shoot-em up? District 9.

Australian film: Because whether you liked them or not, Sampson & Deliah and Mao's Last Dancer did exactly what they were supposed to.

3D films: Avatar might be getting all the press now, but where was the love for the excellent My Bloody Valentine 3D and The Final Destination 3D?

Horror films: Mostly because Paranormal Activities was amazingly creepy. Oh, and Unborn was the best evil kid movie of the year.

Comedy: Some people liked Funny People. Some people liked The Hangover or Observe and Report. Hell, some people even liked Borat. With so much to chose from, how could you go wrong?

Horror-comedies: Zombieland really looked like it was going to be a dud. Guess there's life in the undead yet. And Drag Me to Hell was this close to being the film of the year, it's that good.

Foreign Criminals: The Baader-Meinhof Complex and Gomorrah were both based in fact, and still managed to be more gripping than any number of so so "action" films (as listed below).

Disaster films: Because 2012 might have been dull once it stopped wrecking up the place, but when it was throwing LA into the ocean it was awesome.

And the film of the year... Star Trek. Whether you were a long-time fan or couldn't stand the adventures of Starfleet, this was pretty much the most fun you could have at a cinema in 2009.

Meanwhile, on the dark side of the moon, an awful lot of crap movies were lurking, waiting to pounce. And pounce these ones most certianly did...

Ricky Gervais: Remember when people still thought saying something clumsy and then lingering was funny? Ricky does. Everyone else moved on the second his clumsy twaddle - AKA The Invention of Lying - hit the screen.

Australian films: Because whether you like crime films or not, Two Fists One Heart and The Combination would have gone direct to DVD anywhere else in the world. Others like Last Ride simply proved we like our arthouse a little too much.

Vampires and Werewolves: Two great tastes that taste crap together. Twilight: New Moon was, er, not good - but really, neither was Underworld 3.

Horror films: Mostly because Friday the 13th was pointless. Oh, and Case 39 was the worst evil kid movie of the year.

Horror-comedies: Lesbian Vampire Killers sucked in all the wrong ways. And if you don't think Dance Flick belongs here, you didn't suffer through it.

Chick flicks: Sure, it's easy to pick on them - but that's because films like Bride Wars and He's Just Not That Into You and The Ugly Truth are just no damn good. Confessions of a Shopaholic did have its moments though.

Action films: 12 Rounds got a cinema release but Crank 2 and Punisher: War Zone didn't? Weak.

Spin-offs: They almost always suck. Still, you might have thought Wolverine would have got it right. And you'd have been wrong.

Remakes and sequels: They got The Taking of Pelham 123 right the first time - why do it again? Saw 6? Even the fans stayed away from that one. And don't even mention Terminator: Salvation.

And the worst film of the year? No question or doubt: All About Steve. It's only because she always has at least two movies in the pipline that Sandra Bullock even has a future after this nightmare of a stinker. And even her emergency planning shouldn't be enough to salvage her career after laying a turd this big.

Anthony Morris (this appeared in Forte #470)