Film Festivals

Early Bird Film Society’s Films O’ 2013!

Good evening and welcome to the EBFS review of the year (in film). Ahhhh…. 2013…. It seems a different, more innocent time. A time when the Academy saw fit to award Argo its highest honour at their annual, low-key shindig, despite their apparent belief that the film just popped into existence from nothing without any help from a director or anything. Cannes dropped to its knees over three hours of emotionally wrought, sapphic love in Blue Is The Warmest Colour, just to prove how stereotypically bloody French they are. Toronto, in a shameless attempt to hold onto it’s spot as “hot Oscar predictor”, hedged its bets and threw The People’s Choice Award at 12 Years a Slave, which is basically cheating. Venice and Berlin foisted their respective golden animal statues at Sacro GRA and Child’s Pose respectively. Two films so art-house and (eurgh) European that they have yet to see a release in either of the countries EBFS wanders around in. However, all of that backpatting, black tie dinnering, gladhanding was just window dressing compared to the (fanfare/family fortunes incorrect answer noise) annual verbal fist fight that has become the Early Bird Film Society’s Collection of Top Five Films And Some Bad Ones Of The Year! The title will be worked on.

Anyway, all four of us here at the global EBFS offices (Melbourne/Manchester Divisions) have picked our top five films that we saw at the cinema in 2013 based on a less than comprehensive release date schedule spanning two countries and poor recollection skills. It’s our list though, so don’t judge us and you’re welcome:

Top Five @DonDubrow

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (2013)

Joss Whedon threw this Shakespeare adaptation together using his house, his wife, his friends and his deft ear for fast, witty dialogue. Delightfully playful, completely faithful and a little breath of fresh air amongst the towering mega franchises.

– DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)

Tarantino’s best film since Jackie Brown, completely ignoring any political subtext and a more brutal depiction of slavery for that reason. Great performances from Foxx and SLJ but Christophe Waltz’s warmth and DiCaprio’s gleeful evil earned them the plaudits. Extra points for surviving Tarantino’s inexplicable Australian accent which he’ll have to be brought to account for at some point.

ONLY GOD FORGIVES (2013)

Divisive doesn’t even cover it. Nicolas Winding Refn’s desire to “violate” the audience came true with this lurid, neo fable of oedipal urges in Bangkok. Ryan Gosling’s easiest day at the office is a bleak and uncompromising, neon drenched nightmare set within the lowest parts of the human psyche. Maybe.

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013)

Despite Spock’s presence, this embarrassingly colon free sequel was almost totally bereft of logic. Insane pacing and set pieces (and lens flare) and the worst kept secret of the year still made for a rip-roaring dash through a thousand tropes of the Star Trek universe all coated with JJ Abrams’ clever script reverses and cinema savvy. Best line delivery of the year too. Altogether now….”KHAAAAANNNNN!!”.

SPRING BREAKERS (2012)

Harmony Korine aims for the mainstream and thankfully misses with his visceral tale of hedonism and excess where the youth of America stop trying to be the best they can be and realise they no longer live in a country where anything is possible. Warning, contains James Franco saying “blue Kool-Aid” over and over and singing a Britney Spears song. Not for everyone.

Worst Film

After Earth (2013)

Will Smith “thinks” up an idea where he doesn’t play Will Smith but seventies Robert Duvall, his son convinces us that emoting is hard and M Night Shawaddywaddy directs? Ooh, it took a round of drawing straws to get one of EBFS into the cinema to begin with to gape open mouthed at a film with as much warmth, wit and charm as someone who bangs on a van at a sex trial. If this ruins Will Smith’s career (which it won’t), karmic film balance would at least creep back into the black….

Top 5 @stuartnbaillie

IRON MAN 3 (2013)

The award for best rug pull/slap in the fan boys faces goes to Shane Black’s exceptionally funny take on the superhero. RDJ nails it yet again as Tony Stark but the star of the show was Sir Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin/Trevor Slattery. Brilliant fun from start to finish.

GRAVITY (2013)

Adored by critics and loved by the public. Alfonso Cuaron’s marvelous film may have taken some fantastic scientific leaps in logic (seriously, look into it) but who cares, it was brilliant. Innovative and thoughtful this was on most critics top 5 lists. Ghost Clooney is my hero.

ALAN PARTRIDGE: ALPHA PAPA (2013)

The funniest film I’ve seen in ages. Steve Coogan inhibits a character better than any other actor of his ilk, (take note of how it’s done Mr. Ferrell) and does it to consistently hilarious effect. The lip synch to Roachford’s ‘Cuddly Toy’ and ‘the man fanny’ were two of my highlights. Excellent work from everybody involved.

– CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (2013)

Tom Hanks is as good as he’s been since he made me cry over losing  a chuffing volleyball. Special mention to debutant Barkhad Abdi who held his own against a hollywood legend, his turn as Somali pirate Muse was almost as good as Hanks’ titular hero. Intense,thrilling, fast paced and superbly directed (well-played Paul Greengrass) this was edge of the seat viewing. Worth it for the heartbreaking final scenes.

FROZEN (2013)

I’m a 35 year old man who likes boxing, MMA, rugby, NFL, horror movies and the 80’s back catalogue of ‘The Austrian Oak’ and Sly Stallone and yes….a Disney musical made my top 5. The music in this is as good as anything from the 90’s golden era. I’ll put ‘Let it Go’ up against ‘A Whole New World’ or ‘Be Our Guest’. It’s very funny thanks to a brilliant talking snowman and the message that you don’t need a man to feel loved plays totally against Disney’s apparent ethos.

Loved. Every. Second.

Worst Film

Only God Forgives (2013)

I thought long and ard about this. I nearly gave it to Anchorman 2 but as awful as that was it just didn’t make my blood boil as much as OGF. As beautifully shot and scored as this was it felt deliberately obtuse at times and constantly frustrating. I hate this film with a passion that burns with the fire of a thousand suns.

Top 5 by @noonanjohnc

-MANIAC (2012)

Elijah Wood is a maniac, maniac on the floor and he’s dancing like he’s never danced before. D’oh! He is NOT a maniac, maniac on the floor, dancing like he’s never danced before. He’s the puppy eyed, mumbling owner of a mannequin store, with an oedipal love for his dead mother. Oh and he likes to scalp women. Franck Khalfoun’s remake of the 1981 greasy cult classic, has the morals of American Psycho and the sheen of Drive. Shot from Wood’s POV, the film makes you an unwilling accomplice in his apologetic rampage (‘I won’t hurt you.’ He cries to one of his victims, before doing exactly that). Haunting, vicious and with a superb soundtrack, Maniac will stay with you for a long time. I suggest showering in Swafeger afterwards.

THE KINGS OF SUMMER (2013)

This tale of three lads building a house in the forest to escape their respective parents took me completely by surprise. Equal parts Stand by Me and The Hangover (Seriously), The Kings of Summer is brilliantly shot and hilarious. I’ve watched this several times now and it never fails to cheer me up. Pretty much every highlight includes either Nick Offerman’s grumpy sonuvabich father who continually fights with the local Chinese restaurant or Moises Arias as the alien-esque Biaggio; a boy who mistakes Cystic Fibrosis for being gay.

THE WAY WAY BACK (2013)

Another coming of age film. This time from the writers of The Descendants, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who also direct. Duncan is a boy forced on a summer break with his mum and her somewhat dominant boyfriend. Whilst trying to find something fun to do, Duncan ends up working at Sam Rockwell’s rundown waterpark. Everyone is on fire in this film. Patriculalty Rockwell who has never been better as the lethargic Lothario with *all together now* a heart of gold.

THE ROCKET (2013)

I’ve got two Aussie films in my top ten. Ivan Sen’s noirish police procedural Mystery Road and this from documentarian Kim Mordaunt. I’ve gone with The Rocket simply because it’s probably the most accessible. A film that is both heartbreaking and joyful, The Rocket tells the story of a young boy just trying to prove his worth to his family when all those around him consider him to be bad look. I’ve told people it’s like a children’s story for grown-ups, and I think it’s the most succinct way I can put it.

GRAVITY (2013)

What can I say that hasn’t already been said on this page. I’m not going to waste your time. If you’ve seen it and loved it, you know why it’s on my list. If you haven’t seen it yet, stop reading and see if you can find a cinema that’s still showing it. I’ll wait.

Worst Film

– I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 2

I’ve seen a lot of tosh in 2013. Hell, I saw three Dolph Lundgren films alone. However, absolutely none of them, not even Diana, could be considered the worst of 2013 when you have I Spit on Your Grave 2 vying for your attention. This shitpile of a movie is everything that’s wrong with most horror films today. Replacing subtly and scares with vicious and nasty, the film tries to justify the brutal hour long rape and abuse of its protagonist by letting her have the final third of the film to exact her revenge. No movie has ever made me as angry as this Fanta bottle full of piss.

Top 5 by @noonanhannah

– STOKER (2013)

I must confess to having mixed feelings about Park Chan-wook’s English language debut upon first viewing. But Stoker is one of those films whose utter dedication to atmosphere stays with you months after viewing until you begrudgingly admit that actually, that was rather brilliant. Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman and Matthew Goode all put in stellar performances and Chung Chung-hoon’s cinematography is positively lush. But the real star of Stoker is Wentworth Miller’s haunting script, a brilliant love letter to the twisted family shenanigans of Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt.

THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES (2013)

Flawed? Yes. Overlong? Absolutely. But Derek Cianfrance’s follow up to Blue Valentine is a brooding character piece that asks for a gamut of emotional responses from its audience, most of which it successfully achieves. Plus, it threatened to melt the internet by giving us a scene where Ryan Gosling dances with a dog to Bruce Springsteen, and if that’s not what you want out of a film, then we could never be friends.

THE WAY WAY BACK (2013)

Nat Faxon and Jim Rash’s ode to coming-of-age films is beautifully judged, wonderfully directed and supremely enjoyable. Allison Janney puts in a brilliant performance as a fabulously awful drunk, and Sam Rockwell becomes the best friend any kid could want. There’s really not much else to say about the Descendants pair’s summer outing that I didn’t cover in my original review.

FROZEN (2013)

Disney’s wintery delight is a strong step forward for the house of mouse, and a beautifully woven tale of sisterly love, sassy reindeers and singing snowmen. But more to the point, the songs are fabulous and if you’re not singing ‘Let It Go’ by the end then you have a heart of ice.

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013)

The second of JJ Abrams’ Star Trek outings is a two-hour exercise in fan wankery at its absolute finest and, forgive me, I fell for it hook, line and sinker. Benedict Cumberbatch e-nun-ci-aaaates his way into the British bad guy canon of Hollywood, and anyone who says it isn’t entertaining watching just how far those nostrils flare is frankly a liar. Star Trek Into Darkness is a film that fiercely says no to logic, and yes to “LOOK! SHINY THINGS!” so excuse me for being a magpie.

Worst film

– OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013)

Most likely not the ACTUAL worst film of the year (I never got round to that Shyamalan affair with Will Smith and his young clone) but certainly the most souless and tedious film I spent money on. James Franco is sleepy and disengaged in this needless and saccharine A list pantomime. There’s a terrible CGI monkey sidekick, a creepy porcelain girl I swear I met in a nightmare in my youth, and the dullest of Bruce Campbell cameos. I love The Wizard of Oz, I love Sam Raimi, but this was such a disappointment.

So there you have it. Did you think any of us were blisteringly right? Howling wrong? Let us know.

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Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla (2013)

Australian director Stuart Simpson’s last feature was the Russ Meyer infused creature feature, El Monstro Del Mar. With Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla, he takes it down a notch with this bleakly funny tale set in the suburbs of Melbourne.

Glenn Maynard plays Warren; a down trodden loner whose everyday alternates between selling ice cream to a modest crowd of druggies and pimps, and in the evening, swaddling himself in his favourite soap opera, Round the Block. He is a wreck of a man, who has just run over his cat when we first meet him. It’s a tough gig for an actor to be in every scene of a film and even tougher on the audience if there isn’t a hook for us. Eating his packed lunch at his beloved pet’s grave, you just want to protect him. This is in a large part down to Maynard who plays Warren with a gentleness that skewers the potential for buffoonery that other actors may have brought to the role.

The script by Addison Heath wants us to understand the cogs and wheels that turn inside Warren’s head and so introduces him to the world of video diaries. Starting off as banal declarations of love and summaries of the latest soap he’s watched, the diaries – which are weaved throughout the narrative – soon peel away the layers of this poor man’s soul. We’re introduced to a past life of bullying and loss, and like the rest of the film, whilst humour is there, it feels like it’s there to lessen the blow of the tragedy. It’s Warren’s cheerful tones, in particular, that disarm as he merrily tells us about the way he’s been used without really realising.

As the film progresses, Warren’s sanity begins to wane. It’s heartbreaking having to sit back and watch, as a man who can’t even handle his scheduled nightly viewing being interrupted by the footy, struggles to come to terms with the rot of the world outside his front door. There is an easy comparison to Taxi Driver to make here, and some critics already have, but that’s not what Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla is. Warren doesn’t want to go on a Travis Bickle rampage of violence. He just wants what we all want: Happiness and to be remembered. And for people to pay for their ice creams; single scoop with nuts – $3.70.

Simpson, Heath and Maynard have created a film that is equal parts sad, horrific and bitterly humorous. We sincerely hope this gets a decent general release. Lord knows, the cinema needs to see more of this kind of independent filmmaking.

Melbourne International Student Film Festival (2012)

Now entering it’s second year, the Melbourne International Student Film Festival is an opportunity for film students across the globe to promote their wares. It is one of the largest student film festivals in Australia and EBFS caught the evening session on 24th March to immerse ourselves in potential future talent. Here’s a rundown of what we saw.

Envy the Dead – Dir: Isa Swain, New York Film Academy

Directed by Isa Swain, a lone man tries to survive in an unnamed Arab city during a zombie epidemic. What sounds like schlocky entertainment is a well thought out tense drama. When our unnamed succumbs to a zombie bite halfway through, the film’s tone changes from one of survival to acceptance as he begins a pilgrim to a mosque to make one last prayer. Director Isa Swain clearly loves his movies. If it’s not the Goblin tinged soundtrack, it’s the way he crafts whole scenes that nod towards other potential influences. A zombie in a blood soaked burqa leaves trail reminiscent of Patrick Bateman trying to carry a corpse in his sleeping bag. Later on a young man being attacked in a subway tunnel evokes the same uneasiness of Monica Bellucci’s rape in Irréversible.  Swain’s film is dark and closeted and can easily hold itself up against the best of Romero.

Departure – Dir: Ryan S. Camarda, University of Binghamton

One of the more emotional offerings, Departure uses a mixture of animation and live action to tell the story of a man trying to stop his ex-girlfriend from being involved. Whilst short, it left a genuine lump in our throat.

Stigma – Dir: Janusz Madej, Los Angeles Film School

This was the beefiest film of the entire festival weighing in at 29 minutes. Whilst it wears it wears it technological prowess on its sleeve, there’s just too much going on in this tale of a fake psychic receiving visions from Heaven. At its worse it feels like Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. Much of this was down to clunky dialogue, (‘Did you do this to yourself?’ ‘Are you suggesting I did this to myself?’) and uneven characterization.

Secure Your Load – Dir: Adam Polly, Warlayirti Artists

Coming in at only 1 min, this light frothy piece caused the biggest reaction of the night. A simple premise with a good pay off, this clash of modern and traditional Australia was a joy.

The Curse of Grong Grong – Dir: Rob Wright, MAPS

The Audience’s Choice winner of the night. EBFS can do it no better justice than to actually show it to you in full.

Needles – Dir: Alexei Mizin, VCA

This was a confusing piece of work set in Russia. Whilst stylistic, the coldness of the story (a young boy discovers his fellow patients are under threat from a tyrannical doctor) leaves you on the outside looking in for too long.

Lovesick – Dir: Nathan Joe, New Zealand Broadcasting School

In what appears to be heavily influenced by David Cronenberg and 1993’s Body Melt, a woman becomes addicted to her Lovecraftian vibrator. Blood and semen fly everywhere as the demonic dildo takes its hold over her. This is the Marmite of short films. We liked it but we sure as hell couldn’t eat afterwards. Somewhat let down by a lackluster male lead whose intonation for happiness and sheer horror are exactly the same.

#137 – Dir: Frances Elliot, Curtin University

The festival ended on a somber note with this tale of a young woman experiencing possible hallucinations after being unplugged from 18 months in a virtual world. At 14 minutes, this actually suffered from being too short. We wanted to know more about the characters and there was too much in the way of mystery surrounding, well, everything.