56th Sydney Film Festival
3-14 June 2009*
* If you arrived here after a search,
either scroll down to the film
looking for, or search the text for the name of the film.
Every year since 1997 I have posted on
this website my thoughts about the films I have seen – as I see them –
at each Sydney Film Festival. Apparently I was blogging. Every
year it seems to get harder to get these reviews up quickly, but I
won't give up!
Sometimes I post the raw notes I made
at the time I saw each film - my contemporaneous
thinking, informed by discussions with people in and around row D in
the stalls, and in the aisles and foyer. Thanks to all of you! It
is a bit shorthand, and often poorly typed. But I'll try to work
through it and edit it as
soon as I can...
Oh, and these reviews are copyright. You must not use any part of them
without my permission.
Night - Wed 3 June
For the first time since 1991, I
will not be attending the opening night. For the last few years
the opening night film is shown again for subscribers at 10am the
following day. This year we subscribers were not given the opportunity
to buy opening night tickets in advance, or at a discount, and so my
little protest is not to attend opening night. But the film, Looking for Eric, I will review
when I see it on Thurs 4 June.
Instead, I was at...
The Agony and
the Ecstasy of Phil Spector - USA/UK Dir: Vikran Jayanti
This disorganised & sloppy documentary was nonetheless pretty
entertaining, purely by virtue of its subject, and the great access
they had to him (Spector has a wicked sense of humour).
However, the film's premise was pretty slim: let's link Phil Spector's
songs to the footage of the trial (terrible quality from Court
TV). Few insights there. Then let's put some pompous quotes
about his music at the bottom of the screen from some egg-head - who is
not really identified until the end credits, and let's let the
soundtrack (words and music) run over that so that you miss both,
straining to hear or watch either.
There was also an issue about who acually wrote many of the
songs. This was completely fudged, with Spector mentioning
several that he wrote or co-wrote (Spanish
Harlem, who knew?) and claiming credit for the brilliance of
them all. But there were no songwriting credits at the end - only
producing and performing ones - so sloppy!
The final idiocy was at the end, when they put "THE END" which it
clearly wasn't. It finished at the (2nd?) mistrial. As we all
know, Phil Spector
has since been retried, found guilty, and now Spector has been
sentenced to serve 19 years. Get the facts right, please!
It Might Get Loud
- USA - Dir: Davis Guggenheim - 4/5
What a contrast! A technically superb documentary,
making a new story out of the virtuosity of three musicians ,
on whom the limelight hasn't yet shone too brightly
(Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White - what a delightful surpridse he
is!). Perhaps there were too many cutaways to the countryside,
but mostly this was enlightening, and the music is given its due.
Intelligent and inspiring filmmaking.
Thurs 4 June
Looking for Eric -
UK, France, Belgium, Italy – Dir: Ken Loach - 3.5/5
This entertaining film is, I
think one of Loach's best films for some time. Not to say it is
perfect, but it is charming. I'm not sure Cantona can act, but
he's certainly a magnetic personality, and the footage of his football
feats is just terrific. There's almost more need for subtitles
for the Manchester accents than the French language of
Cantona! This is more like Loach's Raining Stones (1993) than his more
recent films. I knew from very early on that Eric's group of friends
would scrum in to help him out. The way they do it is very funny, but
I'm afraid the resolution is not very likely, and the true story would
have been quite tragic. But it's a fun movie all the same.
Burma VJ -
Denmark - Dir: Anders Ostergaard
This is a
documentary based mostly on cladestinely filmed footage from Burma. A
note at the beginning of the film says that some scenes have been
reconstructed in close co-operation with the actual persons involved.
This film is incredibly important and powerful. True guerilla
filmmaking. Exhausting, because of the poor quality of much of the film
- of necessity (some of it is taken from inside bags, etc) but it must
Four Nights with Anna –
Poland - Dir: Jerzy Skolimovski - 4.5/5
stylish and assured film, as you'd expect from theis veteran director,
with a deceptive beginning and a sly sense of humor. All
the exterior shots are stunningly beautiful, and all the interiors are
dreadfully ugly. There's a fractured narrative that is
simultaneoulsy easy-to-follow and deceptive. It is used to great
affect to manipulate your assumptions, but despite that, I didn't feel
used, I felt that I was gently brought to a great emotional
climax. I had great empathy with the weird leading character,
knowing that there are many kinds of love, but I still felt the
director compared the 3 crimes effectively with each other. Loved that
waterfall tableau night-light with the chirping birds!
Soul Power –
USA – Dir: Jeffrey Levy-Hinte – 4.5/5
treat! Fabulous music, outlandish costumes - and I'm referring in
particular to The Spinners -
and amazing footage of the lead-up to the concerts associated with The
Rumble in the Jungle in Zaire in 1974. A really interesting social
document. A time capsule. And a wonderful celebration.
Great behind the scenes and in front. A fabulous unseen footage
of Muhummad Ali and Don King in particular. Celia Cruz and her band
were just marvellous. And thre's Larry Cartleton, a terrific white
guitarist right there with The Crusaders (not credited though). And
Bootsy Collins doing his thing playing bass - and playing up - with
Friday 5 June
The Maid –
The Queen and I –
In the Loop –
hilarious comedy derived from a TV series
Saturday 6 June
Sun 7 June
Belgium, Germany, Netherlands – Dir: Peter Brossens, Jessica Hope
Woodworth – 3/5
pompous, but also stunningly beautiful, I think this film suffers from
having too may ideas at once. Do we really need an Iraqi Pultizer
Prize nominee going to Peru amongst the indigenous (but devout
Catholic) Indian population to investigate the death of her Belgian
husband in the midst of a mercury spill disaster caused by evil mining
companies? Or is that 3 different films? I thought it was
too much and found my attention lagging, while simultaneously being
I think the point of the film was the phrase said tice by the heroine "
Without the image, there is no story". But what a depressing
thought! As a lawyer and a writer, I just can't agree. And
I don't think they made the point effectively enough, if that was what
the filmmakers were intending.
UK – Dir: Nicolas Winding Refn - 4/5
and powerful, with a powerhouse central performance. But for me, in the
end, overly derivative (or maybe just reminiscent) of films like A Clockwork Orange, Chopper, and even Once WereWarriors (the
credits). Terrific art direction and makeup, but then let down by
things like a stereotypical representation of mental patients. A
disturbing moment was hen the audience laughed when a title card
satated that Michael Peterson is still in prisn in the UK with no date
set for release!
The Beaches of Agnès –
France - Dir: Agnès Varda – 4.5/5
What a woman! What a great storyteller! What a creative person!
What a communicator! Varda's documentaries seem to be
stream-of-consciousness, but she always drives the narrative through a
wonderful journey to a satisfying conclusion. Satisfying filmmaking par
Last Ride -
Australia - Dir: Glendyn Ivin. 3.5/5
A beautiful film about a horrible man
transforms himself again into a criminal on the run, with awful tats
and a dreadful wardrobe, and a beautiful young son who's with him as he
runs from the poice after assaulting and possibly murdering a
friend. This first feature film from Ivin, who scored at Cannes
in 2003 with his lovely, but not particularly novel film Cracker Bag,
is a very professional work indeed.
The landscape is beautiful, but also beautifully used by Ivin, to tell
the tale of the relationship between father and son. The scene on the
slat flats is an absolute knockout.
Probably no one else in Australia will go to see such a sombre film
with such intelligent ideas, so you should look at this one at
the Festival, and spruik it to your freinds.
Winged Creatures - USA - Dir: Rowan Woods - 3.5/5
Extremely capable but never
This first international film by Australian director Rowan Woods (The Boys, 1998, Little Fish, 2005)
is a Crash-like film
involving one act that affects a group of people in different
ways. There's a great cast, and complexity is very well-handled,
but for me, Woods never achieves the poetry that is always close, but
not quite present. He's sensitive and intelligent, but the motif
of winged creatures is a bit heavy-handed, and though Guy Pearce and
Forest Whittaker are both very good, it finally took Dakota Fanning's
performance to bring me to tears.
Despite all the expertise on show here - and the film looks really interesting, too -
Woods blots his copybook. See if you can spot the boom in 2
The other film that this reminded me of was Peter Weir's Fearless (1993). Now that's poetry!
Monday 8 June
Tuesday 9 June
Red Cliff -
China - Dir: John Woo. 4/5
I saw this film in
May at a critics preview. Wow! It is spectacular. If
you loved some of the other great Chinese historical or fantasy
epics, like Crouching Tiger, Hidden
Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000 ) or Hero,
or The House of Flying Daggers
(Jiang Yimou, 2002 & 2004), then you'll love this. Or if you
love John Woo, then you'll also love this. Because it is like
those other films, but much more - muscular. The battles are
bigger, the scenery is more spectacular, the cast is larger and the
whole thing is more visceral.
Woo fans will pick up his usual themes here: the two sides of the one
heroic personality, the twinning of protagonist and antagonist, slow
motion, humour, doves - there's even "dove-cam" which was thrilling!
There's no broken glass - I don't think it had been invented in 208AD -
but there are drops of water
filmed in slow-mo.
Woo has handled immense detail with ease. You must pay attention,
because the cast is so long, and there are so many Generals and
heroes. But your attention will be rewarded. My
personal favourite - apart from Tony Leung in rare action mode, and
Takeshi Kaneshiro (The House of Flying Daggers ),
the charming villain with his fabulous smile - was the General
who can knock over horses. So good Woo showed it teice!
Don't miss this one. 131 minutes that fly by. (The original
Chinese version is 5hrs long, and I'd really like to see it!)
And don't walk out during the credits. The final song is on the
Woo theme as well, and you need to read the subtitles. At my screening,
idiots stood up and blocked the projector, so I missed some of
it. And they hung around and talked in the screening room.
I told them off. They wouldn't get away with that behaviour at the SFF!