Month: January 2012

‘Incident in New Baghdad’ review. 3.5 stars

Filmmaker James Spione delivers a compelling short documentary, which pushes you deep within the psyche of an ordinary U.S Soldier, during an unnecessary and tragic moment. 

It is one of five films nominated in the Documentary Short Subject category at the Academy Awards. 

‘Incident in New Baghdad’ expands on the WikiLeaks cockpit video from July 2007, which showed the unprovoked killing of civilians and Reuter journalists by U.S attack helicopters. 

Through the photographs and memory of U.S Army Specialist Ethan McCord, who was in the vicinity at the time, we are taken back to the fateful event, and in particularly, the rescue response by Mr McCord to those who were still alive.
”I didn’t shoot the children”  he says, ”But I am part of the system”. 
The incident changed McCord’s belief of the war; ”I no longer felt that I was doing good in Iraq”.
By war’s end, he was a shattered soldier, mentally shackled by the horrors he witnessed and could no prevent.
He now suffers from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and McCord has become an advocate for better treatment and understanding of mental issues faced by soldiers.

The most intriguing aspect that ‘Incident in New Baghdad’ raises, is the apparent disregard by military superiors towards PTSD. McCord is one of many soldiers who are told to face up to their demons and continue fighting – and that treatment of the condition borders on desertion of your role as a soldier. 

I would have liked this issue to be further investigated in the film. McCord now travels the breadth of America, speaking about the difficulties faced trying to deal with the memories of war.  But there is no footage of McCord’s journey.  It almost feels as though ‘Incident in New Baghdad’ is incomplete.

However, by WikiLeaks releasing the classified footage in 2010, it also unlocked a memory in McCord’s mind that he was trying to suppress. 
The documentary now becomes an important outlet in which McCord can grieve. His memories are now transferred to us.  We now are part of his journey.   

At a running time of 22 minutes, the documentary delivers extremely confronting and violent images. But important images. By adding a further dimension to the famous WikiLeaks footage, James Spione has now lifted the incident from a grainy black and white video, right up to our face. We must not look away. 

Director: James Spione
Score:  3.5 stars



‘The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom’ review. 4 stars.

Directed by Lucy Walker (Waste Land), with the affecting tones of Moby as the soundtrack – ‘The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom’ deserves its Oscar nomination, delivering a profoundly tragic and heartfelt documentary of ruined lives and eternal hope.

In March of 2011, I was on air with my radio segment, when the images of the Japan Tsunami reached the Australian media.  At the same time, frightened residents in Japan captured on camera the arrival of the Tsunami in their home town, destroying their village and residents.

One of those jarring pieces of footage begins this documentary.  The opening 10 minutes is as disturbing as any film I have ever seen.  Shot from high upon a hill,  residents are seen running to escape the wall of water, as they try to scramble up the embankments.  Some go back down the hill to rescue nursing home patients. 

Lucy Walker takes us into the heart of the devastation no less than one month after the Tsunami. We meet residents who each handle grief in their own way.  A couple, who return to the remains of their house each day, to sit amongst the debris.  A man who collect photographs and gravestones he finds, hoping someone will come for them. 

We meet an elderley gentleman, emotionally weighed down by what he saw and the friend he could not save. ‘I dont want clothes’, he pleads, ‘I just want his life back’. 

The closest one has to life returning is through the Cherry Blossom trees.  A constant symbol in Japan,  of hope, of fond memories of better times, of the coming of Spring.
Lucy Walker’s skillful and sincere direction allows her to illicit from her inteview subjects, genuine emotions on how the Cherry Blossoms have affected the Japanese people and how they now look to them for emotional reassurance.

Two completely different forces of nature are woven together in ‘The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom’.   It is heartbreaking on an unimagineable scale.  Through the survivors own words, through the dying of the blossoms to the ground, something stirs within the viewer.
The days won’t be as dark as they were. 

Shakened, I returned to the opening frames of the movie. Disturbed by the Tsunami’s devastation, I never noticed in the foreground of the home movie, the bare Cherry Blossom trees, awaiting a different arrival. 

Director: Lucy Walker
Running Time: 40 minutes
Nominations:   Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Film.
Score:  4 stars.  Must see.




‘A Genesis Found’ review. 2.5 stars

With a budget of around $25,000 – ‘A Genesis Found’ beguiles the audience with a well produced and acted film which, despite its faults, is an impressive low budget historical-sci fi production.

Unfortunately the main mechanism of the story isn’t strong enough for a two hour feature, and with the lack of a genuine sub-plot – ‘A Genesis Found’ can often be hard going.
However , that fault may be simply over-passionate direction and writing from Lee Fanning, whose film credentials are still being developed.  

The story of a skeletal discovery in 1938 is the trigger for a present day investigation to uncover whether the writings of an anthropologist are genuine. 

What is impressive about this film is the cinematography of Stephen Lucas.  The film looks and feels professional.  Combined with outstanding musical cues by Christopher Whitney and Brett Robinson – ‘ A Genesis Found’ should be an influential example to emerging filmmakers on the importance of attention to visual and auditory elements.

The cast are particularly impressive and convincing, although occasionally near the film’s beginning some accents and sound recordings are difficult to understand. 

Wonder Mill Films have been aggressively promoting ‘A Genesis Found’ via social media and should be congratulated with their persistent and passionate advocation of their little low budget film.

Directed by Lee Fanning
Available to view (at the time of writing this review) at 
Score: 2.5



BAFTA silly facts

The BAFTA nominations have been announced.
Here is a snapshot of the more intriguing and surprising facts from the nominations.

  1. Judi Dench has now received a BAFTA in the 1960s, 80s, 90s, 2000s and 2010s (My Week With Marilyn) 
  2. Kenneth Branagh’s first ever BAFTA nomination in the Best Supporting Actor category (My Week With Marilyn)
  3. Christopher Plummer’s first ever BAFTA nomination (Supporting Actor ‘The Beginners’)
  4. George Clooney’s third BAFTA Best Actor nomination in 5 years.
  5. George Clooney’s second ever BAFTA screenplay nomination
  6. Thelma Schoonmaker now nominated for BAFTA Best Editing in every decade since the 80’s (hasn’t won since 1991).
  7. Woody Allen’s first BAFTA nomination since 1996. (Screenplay: Midnight in Paris)
  8. Martin Scorsese’s eighth BAFTA nomination for Director. Has won the award only once – 1991 ‘Goodfellas’.
  9. Martin Scorsese has only ever won BAFTA awards in one year- 1991. (3 awards). Has never won in any other year.
  10. Gary Oldman’s first BAFTA nomination since 1998 (Nil By Mouth)
  11. Tree of Life receives 0 BAFTA nominations.
  12. Meryl Streep’s fourth lead actress BAFTA nomination in six years.
  13. Meryl Streep has not won a BAFTA since 1982 (The French Lieutenant’s Woman). She currently has a losing streak of 9.
  14. HUGO receives 9 BAFTA nominations. (no acting nominations)
  15. Martin Scorsese receives 2 BAFTA nominations. (Director of Hugo. George Harrison doco). + on night he receives Fellowship Award.
  16. The silent film ‘The Artist’ receives a BAFTA nomination in the ‘Sound’ category
  17. Although receiving 9 nominations – HUGO does not receive a Best Film BAFTA nomination.



Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. 2.5 stars

The good thing about this film, is that the action begins straight away.
Thankfully, the exposition at the start is minimal, yet still important, and before you know it, we are off on the journey to the Mysterious Island.

Infact there are a lot of things worth seeing about this film.
Although containing the star power of Dwayne Johnson, Michael Caine, Vanessa Hudgens and Josh Hutcherson , it is Luis Guzman who steals the scene as the money-hungry pilot, who has all the great one-liners and sight gags of the film.

Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson) is on the search for his grandfather, believed to be missing on a mythical island.  His step-father, Hank Parsons (Dwayne Johnson) sees this as an opportunity to try and connect more with his step-son, who is rebellious and resistant to Hank’s parental style.

Hutcherson holds his own in several scenes where Dwayne Johnson’s character borders on daffiness.  We know he is a strong actor, as attested to in ‘The Kids Are All Right’ and he shows he can play the straight man to several comedic characters quite well.

Vanessa Hudgens’s character occassionally seemed to be forgotten in the screenplay, yet a ‘love-interest’ component , plus a nice Indiana Jones homage shows that she can deliver clever convincing performances in an action film. 

Michael Caine somehow manages, amongst the zaniness of the film,  to bring a sense of melancholy to his role as the wise exploring Grandfather, and portrays a genuine warmth with the role.

Journey 2 is a perfect mix of humour and action – and fills its 90 minute running time with clever sight gags and quite exceptional special effects.  Invasions with large island creatures seem convincing enough, panaromic shots and historical artefacts believable.
It is only when we encounter a scene involving bees that it diverts into silliness and feels like a veiled attempt at a homage to a Star Wars fight scene.
The potential confrontation with giant spiders is also, disappointly, unfulfilled.

But Journey 2 delivers a flashy and eye opening adventure product, with each cast member stepping forward to steal particular scenes.  Occassionally even, there are some scary moment, and younger audience goers may feel at times a little frightened of both image and sound.

It is worth noting the screening I was at, was the ‘World Premiere’ held in Melbourne , Australia on January 15 2012.  
The screening, scheduled for 4pm, began 1 hour and 15 minutes late, due to both Vanessa Hudgens and Josh Hutcherson signing autographs on the red carpet.
For those in the cinema, it was a disappointing experience, but that must be balanced out knowing that a significant number of people (several hundred) were given ample opportunity to meet and greet the stars of the film on the red carpet.
Both Hudgens and Hutcherson sat through the entire film, which is a credit to them.  Often, special guests don’t watch their own screenings and leave after a few words to the crowd.
They stayed and genuinely seemed to enjoy the surroundings and 3D aspect of their film.

My interview with Vanessa Hudgens and Josh Hutcherson is located here:

Director: Brad Peyton
Score:  2.5 stars