Saturday, March 8, 2014

Weekly Film Review Round Up 8th March 2014

My favourite film in a long time is the documentary opening in Perth this week Lygon Street Si Parla Italiano. If it is showing anywhere near you, make a point of seeing it. It’s so enjoyable. There’s also a film that literally sucks. A friend asked me what films I could recommend at dinner last night. My answer: “Not a lot. They’ve been really bad lately.” I’m just hanging out for some of the tried and trues with Captain America and Spiderman. This is the time of year when they trot out fillers more than normal. So other than the couple Australian films that I’ve recommended here, this might be a good time to catch up on some of the Oscar films that are still showing.

(My movie Pick of the week)

Lygon Street Si Parla Italiano ✪✪✪✪✪
Opens in Australia:      6th March 2014
Other Countries:          Release Information
Perth, Australia:           See at Luna Cinemas

I married into an Italian family almost fifteen years ago. Often, I tell people it felt like I’d immigrated without having my passport stamped. Even though they live thousands of miles from the homeland, the Italians still maintain their strong ties and culture well into the first and second generation. My late father-in-law arrived in Perth in 1952, and he and his fellow immigrants helped to build the roads and, no doubt, contributed to the early culture of Perth in Northbridge, North Perth and other areas of the city. My mother-in-law arrived in 1955.

I’ve learned about their culture and my children’s heritage over noisy family gatherings and quiet coffees with my mother-in-law. They had four children, eleven grandchildren, and we even have a great-grandchild in the family. The food is fabulous as you can imagine, and if you want to gain insight into loyalty, family, tradition and passion, marry into an Italian family like mine.

If you want to gain respect for the courage of early immigrants and the hardship of not speaking the language of the new country you call home, or learn of their culture, then just sit down for a coffee with an immigrant from the fifties and sixties. In this age of Skype, email and cheap air travel, it’s difficult to comprehend what it must have been like to leave your family behind, possibly forever, at such a young age with few facilities available for communication back to your home. But if you can't do that, this film is the next best thing.

When I saw the screening invite for Si Parla Italiano in my inbox I decided here was a film I wanted to share with my family-in-laws. Along with my first generation Italian husband, I also took along my mother-in-law, and one of my brother-in-laws. Most of the stories told in this documentary could be the stories of Northbridge, Perth. The same simple humor and view of life shared by the fabulous characters, who created the flavour of Melbourne’s Lygon Street, can be found here in Perth. 

It’s one of the most humorous films you will see, documentary or not, and you will fall in love with these men, and marvel at their determinedness to make a life in this alien country of Australia, whose inhabitants also viewed them as so alien. Casting Anthony La Paglia as the narrator was genius. He adds so much to the telling of the story of Lygon Street.

My family loved this film, as did I, and it made me feel proud and privileged through marriage to be exposed to this wonderful culture. When the kids are just a little older and can appreciate it, we will be watching this documentary together so they can more appreciate their Nonna and Nonno.

Even if you don’t know a single Italian or live in Melbourne, you should see this film. It’s so delightful and so entertaining it will have you skipping from the theatre, shouting viva Italia. If you are in an Italian family, then you cannot miss this. Lo amerete.

Narrated by AFI and Golden Globe winner Anthony LaPaglia, this funny, touching and overall fascinating documentary explores the historic heartland of an Italian community and the unique circumstances that transformed a country's way of living and eating.

After the disaster of World War II, a wave of Italian immigrants found their way to Melbourne – a strange place, suspicious of outsiders and completely devoid of a good cup of espresso. Congregating in a then run-down stretch of Carlton known as Lygon Street, these irrepressible restaurateurs, entrepreneurs and sometime mafiosi would come to define not only a street, but an entire city.

Documentarians Shannon Swan and Angelo Pricolo tell the history of this famous cultural epicentre, combining archival footage, one-on-one interviews and a roundtable of Lygon Street's most prominent figures,  bringing to life the people, places and, of course, pastas that have made up one of Melbourne's most remarkable communities. (Some Italian language, English subtitles)

The Armstrong Lie ✪✪✪✪

Joondalup Pines: 11–16 March, 7.30pm, doors open 6.30pm

Opens in Australia       13th March 2014
Other Countries:          Release Information
Perth, Australia:        11–16 March, LotteryWest Film Festival

The Armstrong Lie doesn’t reveal anything new about this disgraceful cheat and his story, but if you haven’t been following all the details, this will enlighten you.  If you know most of it and have seen the Oprah interview then you know the full story already. I’ve read a couple of books as well on Armstrong and I also read his books pre-exposure as the world’s worst sports cheat, so I am in the nothing-new-here camp. I’d like to see the story from the other side. I’d like to know how the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) allowed it to go this far. And how UCI Union Cycliste Internationale and IOC International Olympic Committee could have missed all the cheating that was going on. Somebody, somewhere wasn’t doing their job. That is an absolute.

I will say this if you haven’t seen an Alex Gibney documentary, then you should see this one and then see some of his others. He is the Spielberg of docos. His style is polished, informative, and he has an ability to make the complicated easy to understand.

And, for the record I don’t care how many people cheat in your sport, Lance, you were the worst, the most savage toward those who attempted to stop you, and the most disgraceful. There is no spin you can put on that to make it okay. You are still a great lesson for my children, though—how not to win at all costs.

The rise and fall of a cultural icon and one of the biggest scandals in the history of sport. Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, Alex Gibney, delivers not only an absorbing account of Armstrong’s vehement denial and subsequent guilt – illustrated with unrivalled access to colleagues, cycling officials and the athlete himself – but also a layered exploration of competition and the culture of celebrity and power.

Vampire Academy ✪✪
Opens in Australia: 6th March 2014
USA: 7th February 2014    UK: 23rd April 2014
Other Countries:          Release Information

The tag line for this film is: “They suck at school.”  Here’s a new tag for them: “They suck at making films.” Can this please be the end of books about wimpy uncertain undead filled with angst being transferred to film? They don’t work. I’m not referring to films like “An Interview with a Vampire,” of course. That film did work. If you enjoyed the books—I’ve heard they’re very good—there were big fans of the book at the preview as guests, and even they thought the film sucked. If you are tempted to go along and see it, do take the book with you and a reading light, in case you get bored. At least then you will have something to do until the film ends.

Rose Hathaway (Deutch) is a Dhampir: half human/vampire, guardians of the Moroi, peaceful, mortal vampires living discretely within our world. Her legacy is to protect the Moroi from bloodthirsty, immortal Vampires, the Strigoi. This is her story. (c) Weinstein

Tracks ✪✪✪✪
Opens in Australia: 6th March 2014
USA: ?    UK: 25th April 2014
Other Countries:          Release Information   
Perth, Australia:           See at Luna Cinemas

You know I often have amusing interactions on social media with my international pals regarding our Aussie laissez faire attitude to our country’s seemingly teeming population of spiders, snakes, crocodile and sharks. We Australians have an image, thanks to the late great Steve Irwin, of being pretty tough characters.

This beautiful film Tracks will go a long way to perpetuating the myth.  But I can assure everyone that this true-life story of Robyn Davidson’s trek across the centre of Australia from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean is not typical of the average Australian woman.  Most of us drive around a supermarket car park several times to find the closest spot to the door.
It’s beautifully filmed and has more drama than a film that basically is about someone walking a very long way.  Australia is a harsh and mostly empty country and, yet, this film shows it is also utterly magnificent.

You will find as you watch this film that you will shake your head constantly; Robyn Davidson appears to be crazy. But I enjoyed that the film did not turn her into some kind of heroic superwoman, nor delve into exactly why she did it. It’s a simple, well-crafted, magnificently filmed story. Do see it. I’m going to read the book.

Starring Mia Wasikowska (Jane Eyre, Stoker) and Adam Driver (HBO's Girls, Frances Ha, Inside Llewyn Davis), directed by John Curran (The Painted Veil, We Don't Live Here Anymore) and from the OscarR winning producers of The King's Speech, Tracks is based on the inspirational and iconic true story of Robyn Davidson. Robyn's phenomenal solo trek from Alice Springs to Uluru and on to the Indian Ocean saw her traverse 2700km of spectacular yet unforgiving Australian desert accompanied only by her loyal dog and four unpredictable camels.

Charismatic young New Yorker and National Geographic photographer Rick Smolan travelled from the other end of the earth to capture, at intervals, this epic and remarkable journey into one of the world's last great wildernesses. Robyn reluctantly agreed to a visiting photographer in return for much needed trip funding and could only see Rick's visits as intruding on her solitude and compromising everything the journey meant to her.
However, this uneasy relationship between two very different people would slowly develop into an unlikely and enduring friendship.

Set against one of the wildest, most dangerous and most breathtaking backdrops on the planet, this unprecedented journey pushed Robyn to her physical and emotional limits and taught her that sometimes we have to detach from the world to feel connected to it. In witnessing this extraordinary journey we realise that the impossible is within reach of us all.

All is Lost ✪✪✪✪ ½   
Opens in Australia wide:        6th March, 2014 
Other Countries:                      Release Information

I’ve already posted this review but its now opening wide in Australia, so I’ve reposted for your viewing pleasure.

This is an impressive solo performance from Robert Redford. The physicality of his performance, of a lone man versing the ocean and the elements, belies his 76 years. Also impressive is that this is only the second film for director and screenwriter, J.C. Chandor. Add this film to his Oscar nominated, “Margin Call,” and he becomes a filmmaker to watch.

It’s an absorbing, hugely smart story that will have you thinking “what next?” for this poor guy lost at sea.  The tension and dread are palpable. It may be a simple concept that we have seen before, but with the skills of Redford and Chandor it is elevated to a thrilling adventure classic.

Deep into a solo voyage in the Indian Ocean, an unnamed man (Redford) wakes to find his 39-foot yacht taking on water after a collision with a shipping container left floating on the high seas. With his navigation equipment and radio disabled, the man sails unknowingly into the path of a violent storm. Despite his success in patching the breached hull, his mariner's intuition and a strength that belies his age, the man barely survives the tempest. Using only a sextant and nautical maps to chart his progress, he is forced to rely on ocean currents to carry him into a shipping lane in hopes of hailing a passing vessel. But with the sun unrelenting, sharks circling and his meager supplies dwindling, the ever-resourceful sailor soon finds himself staring his mortality in the face.

What have you seen this week? Did you find our comments helpful or do you disagree? Share your thoughts with us.