Sunday, 22 June 2008

Funny Games

Director: Michael Haneke
Country: USA

Two young men (Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet) terrorise a family (consisting of Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, and Devon Gearhart) in their own lakeside cabin.

French director Michael Haneke brings us this (supposedly) frame-for-frame Americanisation of his 1997 movie of the same name. It's a chilling tale that starts off as your average thriller - a family goes to their lakeside cabin and their holiday is cut short by two men who wish them harm. However, the way the plot progresses is very unconventional, and breaks a lot of thriller clichés. I for one enjoyed the movie because of this.

Funny Games is not for everybody; it is a movie that will polarise audiences. I would cautiously recommend it.

Friday, 20 June 2008

American Teen

Director: Nanette Burstein
Country: USA

A documentary that chronicles the lives of five teens in a small Indiana town as they go through their senior year of high school. It highlights the ups and downs of high school life for five different types of teenagers.

"Real life drama" is the best way I can describe this. It was very interesting to see just how close this was to many of the teen dramas, both on TV and on film, that I've seen in the past. As a film, it wasn't a notable one, but I loved the movie despite this fact, probably because I was once a high school teen too, and I remember at least some of the things that these people went through (as well as the "ending" - life after high school). I guess I was just glad to see that I wasn't insane for a few years of my life (or that everybody else was as insane as me).

American Teen is an intriguing study into the lives of American high school students, and I would say high school students in general. It may not be the best documentary you will ever see, but in my opinion it's definitely worth a look.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

J'ai toujours rêvé d'être un gangster

English Title: I Always Wanted to Be a Gangster
Director: Samuel Benchetrit
Country: France

This movie is a collection of four loosely related stories about would-be criminals as they bungle crimes and engage in amusing conversations. There is the robber without a weapon, the part-time kidnappers, the musicians who accuse each other of plagiarism, and the ex-criminals who are a bit too old.

I had a lot of fun watching this movie. It was nice to see a movie that paid homage to the old slapstick comedies (it was shot in black and white and employed a few old school styles) while at the same time being its own film. It made the audience laugh over and over again with its clever script and timing, and never took itself too seriously.

I Always Wanted to Be a Gangster is a great movie, and I would recommend it to anybody. It's laugh-out-loud funny and never degenerates to cheap humour. Great stuff.

The Square

Director: Nash Edgerton
Country: Australia

Raymond (David Roberts) is having an affair with his across-the-river neighbour, Carla (Claire van der Boom), who happens upon a bag containing a large amount of cash. When they decide to run off with the money, their lives begin to unravel.

Brothers Nash (director) and Joel Edgerton (co-writer with Matthew Dabner) are responsible for this suburban noir that is filled with dark humour and very unfortunate misunderstandings. It showcases a classic downward spiral of a man (and, to a lesser extent, a woman) who decides to do something bad and tries to get away with it. What I liked about the film was that it oozed atmosphere, casting a gloomy mood upon the suburb where the events take place. I thought that all aspects of the film were solid, and I'm glad to see that Australian movies aren't taking a back seat to Hollywood in terms of quality.

The Square is a very good Australian noir movie, and I would recommend it to anybody, especially those who would like to support quality Australian cinema.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Appleseed Ex Machina

Director: Shinji Aramaki
Country: Japan

It is the year 2135 in Olympus, a neutral city-nation built after World War 3. Humans, cyborgs and bioroids working for the city's peacekeeping force, ESWAT, must solve a mystery involving cyborgs going rogue. The story focuses on Duenan, a no-nonsense field agent, her cyborg partner Briareos, and newcomer Tereus, a bioroid based on Briareos's DNA as they slowly uncover the true reasons behind the cyborg attacks.

This anime is a sequel to 2004's Appleseed, which features the same director, Shinji Aramaki. While the movie shows off (often gratuitously) stylish action sequences, I found that the accompanying plot was a bit lacking. Everything was predictable, and the character development was far too melodramatic for my liking. Even some of the action scenes seemed a bit too impractical despite the style the movie was going for. Overall, I didn't think much of the movie; it was enjoyable enough, but only just.

Appleseed Ex Machina is a movie that fails to incorporate action and plot in a fluid fashion, and both aspects get a bit too exaggerated at times. I would only recommend the film to dedicated anime fans.

CSNY Déjà Vu

Director: Neil Young
Country: USA

In 2006, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young reunited for their Freedom of Speech tour in protest against the war in Iraq, echoing their opposition to the Vietnam war in the 1960s and '70s. This documentary follows the band around as they are met with mixed reactions from people of varying political viewpoints across the USA. It also interweaves with various stories about people directly affected by the war and how they react to the tour.

Neil Young and Mike Cerre, a journalist who has been "embedded" in Iraq multiple times, bring us this documentary that is as much a behind-the-scenes look into a the CSNY reunion tour as it is a protest itself. It showcases interviews with the principle band members, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, and Neil Young, all of them explaining their reasons as to why they're doing the tour. It also features opinions (both positive and negative) from critics and concert-goers, and sees band members talking to those affected by the Iraq war (all of whom appear to support the band's standpoint). I found it to be a rather interesting documentary as I like their music (though not as a huge fan) and also share their views on the war, though right-wing people may feel a bit differently.

While it may be preaching to the choir a bit, I found CSNY Déjà Vu to be a solid documentary. It wasn't brilliant, but it also wasn't a waste of time. Recommended if you are against the war in Iraq or at least have an open mind about the issue.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Son of Rambow

Director: Garth Jennings
Country: UK

Set in the 1980s, around the time when First Blood first screened in theatres, Son of Rambow is about the odd friendship that develops between Will (Bill Milner), a child in a fatherless Plymouth Brethren family, and Lee Carter (Will Poulter), the school troublemaker. The two creative minds join to film a sequel to First Blood for a short film competition about the adventures of the son of Rambo.

I really liked this movie. I hate to use the words "heart-warming" in a review, but what the hell... this movie was a very heart-warming buddy movie about friendship and growing up. It may star children, but I think it will appeal to adults too - the Brits seem to have a knack for making films like that (About A Boy and Billy Elliot spring to mind). Outside of the story, I couldn't fault the directing or the acting either. Neither was spectacular, but it didn't need to be. It did more than enough to carry the plot, which was what this movie had going for it.

This movie is great. It's not perfect, but it was never made to win awards. What it was made to do was to tell a story that appealed to both kids and adults, and at this it succeeds quite perfectly. Highly recommended.

Saturday, 7 June 2008


Director: Ulrich Seidl
Country: Austria

Import/Export follows two characters, down on their luck, as they try to get out of the rut they're stuck in. The import refers to Olga (Ekateryna Rak), a nurse in the Ukraine, who goes to Austria for a better life. Meanwhile, the export is Austrian security guard Pauli (Paul Hofmann), who goes on a business trip to the Ukraine with his father, selling candy dispensers and other such machines.

I wasn't really sure if I was going to like this film or not, and it stayed that way throughout most of the movie. Shot in old film stock, it follows the misadventures of Olga and Pauli as they try to find a better life for themselves. Some of the content is pretty confronting, from things like webcam porn and prostitution, to ill old people at a hospital and poverty in the Ukraine. I think this added to the atmosphere that the director wanted to create - that sometimes life is just like that, and there's no need to gloss over it. I watched the movie with intrigue, not really swaying me either way of approval, until the very end of the movie. For me, the ending was so powerful that it makes the movie mean something.

Import/Export is by no means a film that will appeal to everybody. Some will probably find it boring, while others will find some of the content offensive. However, because of the message the film carries and the way it is handled, it gets the thumbs up from me.

Los Cronocrímenes

English Title: Timecrimes
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Country: Spain

When Héctor (Karra Elejalde) sees a naked woman in the woods behinds his house, he goes to investigate, leading him to accidentally travel back in time to earlier in the afternoon.

I don't really want to say too much more about this movie, as it would spoil things, but I quite liked it. It's a time travel movie that's not very confusing at all, which is a bit of a double-edged sword; it's good that it can be understood, but it also leaves you a bit cheated if you're a fan of these types of movies because you kind of want a bit of mystery left, and there is none. In fact, the movie is pretty predictable for the most part. That aside, I was entertained by it, which is what counts.

This is a good movie, but not a great one. It's entertaining enough to make it worth the price of admission, so I see no reservations in recommending it, especially for sci-fi fans.

Friday, 6 June 2008

El Orfanato

English Title: The Orphanage
Director: Juan Antonio Bayona
Country: Spain

Laura (Belén Rueda) moves back to an old orphanage where she stayed as a child, along with her husband, Carlos (Fernando Cayo) and son, Simón (Roger Príncep). She plans to convert her new house into a child care service, but soon encounters problems when it becomes apparent that her son's imaginary friends may not be imaginary after all.

Juan Antonio Bayona makes a masterful directorial debut with a tight script by Sergio G. Sánchez, also a first-timer in feature-length films. The movie keeps a tense pace all throughout and doesn't rely on shock factor as many of its modern counterparts so often do, instead carefully creating an ominous atmosphere, which is the kind of horror movie I like to watch. The quality of acting adds to this by sucking you in with the convincing performances. I really only had one issue with the movie, and even then it was more of a pet peeve of mine than a true flaw in the movie.

The Orphanage is quite possibly the creepiest film I have ever seen; my spine hasn't tingled as much as when I watched it. Not only that, but I could find only a few little things wrong with it. Highly recommended for horror fans.