Jun 11

11 June – Woody Allen and lots of rain

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11 June

This morning at the Sydney Film Festival we saw Woody Allen: A Documentary.

Woody Allen: A Documentary

This fascinating documentary examines the creative life of the multi-hyphenate filmmaker from his early years, to his days writing for TV and doing stand up to his recent Oscar® win for Midnight in Paris. Woody’s impressive four-decade career is illustrated with countless clips:1965’s What’s New Pussycat? (an experience that convinced him never to write anything he didn’t direct); early-’70s comedies Bananas and Sleeper; megahit Annie Hall (1977); the Bergman-influenced Interiors (1978); his hometown homage Manhattan (1979); the 1986 Oscar-winner Hannah and Her Sisters; the London-set Match Point (2005); the Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem-starrer Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) – the list is as rich as it is long. Director Robert Weide includes interviews with Woody’s mother, his sister and producing partner Letty Aronson, his managers, a plethora of actors (Diane Keaton, Scarlett Johansson, Owen Wilson) and, of course, the man himself.

I was really looking forward to this one as I thought I was a big fan of Woody. After seeing this comprehensive profile of the great American director, I feel that I’m probably not such a big fan as there is so much to his life story and body of work that I didn’t even know about. Although the doco ran for nearly two hours I didn’t nod off! I found it really interesting, revealing and, of course, funny. This screening was in the spectacular State Theatre, I just don’t feel right if I don’t get to see at least one film festival film in there each year. We were up in the mezzanine but luckily no-one sat in front of us, so we had a pretty good view. I gave it 5 out of 5 stars.

After the film, it was pouring with rain again, so we ducked into Westfield Sydney for a hot drink and snack. This turned into lunch as well. I had a very un-IBS friendly Reuben sandwich from Reuben & Moore. Dave had some kind of hot dog extravaganza from Snag Stand.

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Jun 10

10 June – Visiting dad, more Sydney Film Festival

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10 June

Went to visit dad today, he made a quick lunch of instant noodles with fresh chinese cabbage and some Wagyu steaks from Glenmore Meats. How’s that for a budget gourmet lunch?

Tonight’s Film Festival pick Crazy Horse was a bit of a dud.

Crazy Horse
The self-tagged ‘best nude dancing show in the world’, legendary nightclub Le Crazy Horse de Paris comes under the sharp eye of ‘one of today’s greatest living documentary filmmakers’, Frederick Wiseman. In his first digitally shot film, the cinéma vérité pioneer follows two obsessive perfectionists, choreographer Philippe Decouflé and artistic director Ali Mahdavi, as they create a new erotic revue entitled Désirs. The performance, complete with eye-catching projections and exquisite less-is-more costumes, showcases the outrageously beautiful nudes in an abstract manner reminiscent of Helmut Newton or pop artist Allen Jones. As in many of his films (he’s made roughly one a year since 1967, including La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet and Ballet), Wiseman, unintrusively records the routines and rhythms of performance, the backstage chat, the clash between creativity and practicality, beauty and vulgarity – and the complex mesh of modern-day institutions.
Screens with the short Rauch und Spiegel

I just found it so boring and slow. Sure there was some nice T&A and the girls were were very flexible and talented dancers but it just wasn’t compelling. The performances were nicely shot and the lighting effects were pretty amazing for the dance productions but it just went on so long, about an hour too long! This documentary didn’t really seem to have a narrative. I wanted to know more about the venue, the characters, the two guys tap dancing, did they actually end up closing the Crazy Horse to spend time to improve the show? Was the footage we saw the old show or the new improved show? (OK, in hindsight, it appears that it was the new show). There were many unanswered questions… and yes, I definitely nodded off in this one, even though I tried not to because closing my eyes would mean not being able to understand the dialogue. Have to admit that I didn’t watch the trailer before choosing buying the tickets. oh well.

2 more films to go!

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Jun 09

9 June – more Sydney Film Festival, in-laws etc

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9 June

I got totally excited today when I saw a couple in matching Coogi-like jumpers in the queue for the Sydney Film Festival. They were seeing the same film as us, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Winner of the US Dramatic Grand Jury Prize in Sundance and the Camera d’Or at Cannes, this striking and unforgettable feature-film debut is set in ‘The Bathtub’ – a defiant bayou community cut off from the rest of the world. Six-year-old Hushpuppy is devoted to her father, Wink, who frequently goes off on sprees, leaving Hushpuppy to fend for herself in an isolated compound filled with semi-wild animals. The community is a resilient and joyous one, but there is a sense of inevitable destruction. At school, Hushpuppy is taught about natural selection, global warming and the ecological shifts that have placed them in a perilous position. Things come to a head when Wink comes down with a debilitating illness, a massive storm hits, and the ice caps melt, releasing destructive prehistoric beasts who descend on The Bathtub. Little Hushpuppy has to find in herself the courage and heroism to survive the catastrophe and re-instil a sense of community. Fusing recent history and contemporary environmental concerns with a mythic quality, Beasts of the Southern Wild defies easy classification or description, instead forging a new path that firmly establishes director Benh Zeitlin as a bright new cinematic talent.

Really loved this, the little girl was brilliant, such emotion and intelligence! Great film 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Straight after this we saw High Tech, Low Life. The director introduced the documentary and there was a Q&A afterwards. Now boys and girls, does everyone know the difference between a question and a story.

High Tech, Low Life.
A vegetable seller on the streets of his village in Hunan province, 27-year-old ‘Zola’ is also a blogger, defying the Chinese government’s censorship and disputing its propaganda. His fellow blogger, Beijing-based 57-year-old ‘Tiger Temple’ earned his tag as China’s first citizen reporter when he documented an unfolding murder. Mobiles and laptops at the ready, the duo travel the country reporting on the unreported – from rapes to pollution to homelessness. Zola’s parents disapprove – ‘country comes before individual’ – and they fear for his future. The older Tiger Temple is more cautious, keeping friends and family at arm’s length and avoiding the limelight. As he says, “The Arab Spring made the authorities more nervous.” High Tech, Low Life is an important and timely look at China’s bloggers as they battle the infamous Great Firewall of China.

I found this doco interesting, but did have a little nap in the middle. Around the same time there was a technical difficulty, and the house lights came on… so that woke me up. It was interesting how they focussed on two very different Chinese bloggers, who were both trying to do a similar thing. It was funny to observe Zola, a Chinese Gen Y’er from the “village” and how he managed to get all that tech gear. I guess in Australia his stuff may be basic, but it did the job – got his blogging out to the world. I gave this 3 out of 5 stars. We also had the treat of a short film before the main feature called Catcam, it was a lot of fun, and I don’t like cats. There was a bit of a recurring theme with cats through the two films in this session.

9 June

We had dinner at Danks Street Depot with my in-laws tonight. Really love the food there, it’s not cheap but it’s ethical. The giant veal shank with risotto was yummy! We attempted to get dropped off at the cinemas on George Street but the traffic was so bad! Seemed worse than the usual Saturday night traffic, maybe it was everyone trying to check out the last weekend of Vivid Festival.

The 3rd SFF film of the day was Moonrise Kingdom… I was really looking forward to this one. Caroline & Teresa came along for the ride.

Moonrise Kingdom
Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Rushmore) creates unique worlds within his films, and the utterly charming Moonrise Kingdom is no exception. The opening film at Cannes this year, Moonrise Kingdom is set on an island off the coast of New England in the summer of 1965. Sam (Jared Gilman), an industrious orphan who is frequently bullied, sees a kindred spirit in Suzy (Kara Hayward) and the two 12-year-olds fall in love, make a secret pact, and run away together into the wilderness. Various authorities try to hunt them down, including local sheriff Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) and Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), and Suzy’s parents (played by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) are crazy with worry. Meanwhile, a violent storm is brewing off-shore – and the peaceful island community is turned upside down in every which way.

Yeah, sure this will come out on general release eventually but it’s one of those times, I like to say I already saw that premiere at the Film Festival. I’ve loved most of Wes Anderson’s films so Moonrise Kingdom was much anticipated. I didn’t realise it was co-written by Roman Cappola (I still need to write about his Google+ hangout from the Semi-permanent conference). Anyway, I loved the art direction, the story, the crazy characters and Sam reminded me of a young Sean Lennon. It was a quirky film and I really enjoyed it. The end.

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Jun 20

Sex and the City 2 was good, but I can understand why it has got some bad reviews. As a big fan of SATC, it was enjoyable but probably not as good as the first movie which I just watched a week ago. I would like to give an honourable mention to Dave who tagged along with me to watch SATC2 at the Entertainment Quarter – he was the only straight guy in the cinema! I’ve also inflicted SATC seasons 4, 5 and 6 on him over the last couple of months as well. Note to self: get back into fashion!!! Now that I’ve got that over with, I can catch up on all those Quickflix DVDs on my list.

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Jun 16

SFF2010: I am love

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I forgot to review the drama, “I am love” which we saw in the opulent State Theatre with Dave’s cuz and his gf. Before the film we had a tasty Uighur dinner on Dixon St.
I quite enjoyed I am love. It was introduced by the Italian director Luca Guadagnino. I especially liked the music, art direction, the beautiful food shots, architecture and fashion. There’s also a fair bit of shagging in the countryside! Tilda Swinton is an awesome actress who plays a Russian who marries into a wealthy Milanese family, I’ve always like her work (except The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe).

Director Luca Guadagnino and actress Tilda Swinton rush headlong into the crumbling empire that is classical melodrama, flaunt their shared awareness of Luchino Visconti’s visual splendour and Douglas Sirk’s bristling plotlines and create this magnificent contemporary ode to impossible love.

The Recchis are Milanese royalty. Wealthy and cultivated, their successful furniture business supports a luxurious lifestyle that is both rarified and uncontested. However cracks begin to appear in the walls of the magnificent family edifice at the birthday party of the grand-patriarch, a catalyst event for an unfolding series of startling transgressions.

Swinton is magnificent in the central role as the wife, mother and outsider (in this cloistered world her Russian heritage prevents her from truly belonging) whose carefully maintained order is undone by the unexpected wakening of desire.

The Sydney Film Festival is over for another year. Now I can finally go and see my long awaited Sex and the City 2. Yes, yes the reviews say it’s shit, but as a huge SATC fan I’m sure I’ll like it anyways.

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Jun 14

SFF2010: Teenage Paparazzo

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Teenage Paparazzo was my final Sydney Film Festival pick for 2010.
I chose this one because I like celebrities and photography, so thought it might be interesting. It was really well done, the precocious teenager Austin and Adrian Grenier become accomplices and antagonists in the hunt for celebrity. I didn’t get into Entourage (even though lots of people say it’s awesome), so I didn’t know much about Adrian other than he was Anne Hathaway’s boyfriend in The Devil Wears Prada (another great fashion/celebrity film). I enjoyed seeing a celebrity turn paprazzo and Austin’s “grown up” redemption a the end.
Here’s the blurb:

Director Adrian Grenier is best known as Vincent Chase from the TV series Entourage. In this fascinating documentary he describes what it’s like to be the focus of the paparazzo’s lens and then turns the camera on the photographers themselves – in particular thirteen-year-old snapper Austin. The teenager spends his nights chasing photo-ops and getting tips from his paparazzo mates on who’s hot and who’s where. Austin’s colleagues are at first suspicious, but his palpable interest in their work and precocious talent serve to ultimately win them over.

Grenier sets up his own paparazzo moment with Paris Hilton as well as interviews with colleagues Matt Damon, Alec Baldwin and Eva Longoria Parker. Grenier’s second feature as director is a well-crafted, entertaining production that investigates the phenomenon of celebrity obsession with considerable intelligence and humour.

Australian Premiere

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Jun 12

SFF2010 Genius Within: the inner life of Glenn Gould

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The next film I saw was a doco on Canadian born pianist Glenn Gould called Genius Within: the inner life of Glenn Gould.
This was part of the sounds on screen stream and all the other music docos weren’t really grabbing me. I wasn’t familiar with him or his work but it turned out to be a fascinating and detailed doco. The archival footage of Glenn Gould starting from the 1950s was impressive. Obviously he was celebrated and accomplished enough to have so many recordings and film foootage of him. I quite liked the old footage of Toronto because it’s somewhere I’ve been 3 times.

In the end he becomes more nutty and a recluse but when he was in his twenties, he was quite hot! There are photos of him looking like a cross between Jeff Buckley and Heath Ledger (with a touch of Sean Penn). I’ll have a hunt around and see if I can Here is a link of some pics of him when he was young.
Unfortunately, I had to do a runner to get to the Dendy Opera Quays in time for the next movie, so missed about 5-10 minutes of the end.
Glen Gould - young & hot

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Jun 08

SFF2010 New Beijing: Reinventing a City

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I love it when I bump into old friends at the festival (hello Jodeska, thanks for saving the seat for us).

Another nice thing about attending the film festival is that often the directors or producers introduce their films and participate in Q & A sessions.

This session turned out to be 3 for the price of one, as some of them were entries in a competition.

First up was Suburbia

Based on true events, an unsettling tale from the urban sprawl starring Don Hany as a man trying to make sense of what he’s heard and seen.

Let’s just say, this was not what I was expecting, this short film made me really tense and disturbed by the end of it. It took a while for people to respond with clapping at the end, not sure if it was because the audience didn’t like it or they were all too freaked out.

Next up was The Adjustable Cosmos

A fantastical adventure played out in a jewelled cosmos housed inside a great crystal sphere.

This was an animation, it was quite cute and whimsical with a little bit of unpolitically correct humour and major religious overtones (please remember, I am not a professional film reviewer, I just make this stuff up)

Finally, New Beijing: Reinventing a City

‘Better take a photo now as it will be no more!’ comments a local man, as activist Zhang Jinqi snaps his traditional home in one of Beijing’s narrow lane-ways (hutongs). Zhang Jinqi’s photography project Memories of China documents the remaining heritage districts of the old city, which are soon to be demolished. Swinging from old to new, the documentary switches to a panoramic view of the biggest construction boom in history and charts the modern face of Beijing and its newly iconic buildings such as Watercube, Birds Nest Stadium and the National Theatre. Wallace-Crabbe’s film is a fascinating record of a period of extraordinary change in one of the oldest cities on earth.

I appreciated the need to document old Beijing before the almost complete modernisation of this city. I felt that this doco was a bit disjointed and not explained well enough, it really “swung” a bit much. They kept talking about he hutongs being destroyed but never really explained what a hutong was in the documentary. I still think it was an important piece of work, but felt that if they had a chance to start filming a few years earlier, it would have helped.

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Jun 07

SFF2010 Eye (and Mind)

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Eye

Award-winning indigenous photographer, Bindi Cole, travels from her Melbourne home to the far north of Australia. She’s been invited by drag performer Foxxy Empire, the alter ego of Tiwi Islander Jason De Santis to document the transgender Sistergirls of his community. She plans to create 12 photographic portraits – positive, celebratory images – and soon realises she must also enlist the help of ‘the mother of all Sistergirls’ Crystal Love.

As Bindi struggles with the logistics of the shoot and being an outsider in a remote community, she listens to stories of the girls’ lives, of family acceptance and rejection, of loneliness and the bond of sisterhood.

World Premiere

I don’t think this is one of the better docos from this year’s festival. Dave thought that it was a mockumentary, and not as serious it was intended to be. It was also unnerving because a guy behind me kept laughing at what I considered inappropriate moments. Was he laughing at the indigenous drag queen or was he laughing at what she was saying?? I found the stories of some of the Sistergirls very moving and I really appreciate what they have suffered through and fought against, as well as the struggles they will continue to have. I’d say this doco was allright. (Though I think I’ve been generous and voted/very good or excellent on all my film festival voting slips)

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Mind

An exploration of the nature of identity: from an early age, award-winning writer Tom Cho thought he was different and knew he didn’t match his mother’s expectations of a good daughter.

I read the book Look Who’s Morphing, I borrowed it from the library, I didn’t pay for it. I didn’t really like the book or the doco. Sure I could relate in some ways, being an asian teenager in Australia in the 80s (but not the part about wanting to be a boy) and questions about identity. Unfortunately I didn’t really feel it. Mind gave me some insight into Tom Cho’s background, but I still didn’t enjoy the “fantasy” stories.

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Jun 06

SFF2010 Bill Cunningham: New York

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I chose the doco Bill Cunningham New York because it featured three of my favourite things: photography, fashion and New York City.
Here’s the blurb from Sydney Film Festival website:

Veteran New York Times photojournalist Bill Cunningham has been called ‘The hardest working reporter in New York’ by his own paper. Still peddling the streets at 81, Cunningham’s eye for detail hasn’t diminished with age and his columns ‘On the Street’ and ‘Evening Hours’ which capture New York street style and society events, remain in demand.

He’s a notoriously picky snapper, skipping over Catherine Deneuve because ‘she isn’t wearing anything interesting;’ Vogue editor Anna Wintour remarks that it’s worrying when he doesn’t raise his camera. Cunningham, however, is never knowingly unkind – he’s seeking style and beauty not exposure. His personal life is frugal; he lives in a cramped apartment in Carnegie Hall, eats at delis and dresses in a devoutly practical French workman’s jacket. Cunningham’s wholesale commitment to his work clearly gives him great joy and energy, and makes for an inspiring documentary.

The packed out crowd on Sunday really enjoyed this, there were lots of humorous moments. Bill Cunningham New York was a wonderful portrait of a fantastic photographer and humble man. Yes, he still shoots film (so old school)!! I loved his interactions with his “mac operator” at the NY Times, they were quite funny, driving each other nuts to make his newspaper layout every week. Oh and it name checked Andy Warhol (of course).

Thanks to Josie and Mark for saving seats for us while tucked into a pre-festival quickie lunch at Din Tai Fung with the O’Kwoks 🙂

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