Month: June 2012

‘Brave’ review.

After a strong start introducing the main characters, in particularly the wonderfully animated Merida, Pixar’s Brave stumbles and tumbles through an appalling screenplay.

It was a surprising choice by screenwriters Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman and Irene Mecchi to take the path they chose.  How could 4 people get it so wrong?
I feel the film would had maintained its strength, if the focus had stayed on the drive and determination of Merida to make it in the world, as her own woman.  No ‘spells’ necessary, no ‘animal intervention’ required.

Merida’s animation, it must be said, it really fantastic.  It’s one of the more finer and detailed character creations by Pixar.  The choice of voice artists are pitch perfect, with particular reference to Billy Connolly who completely inhabited the monstrous Fergus (or rather is Fergus inhabiting him), and Emma Thompson always splendidly delivering her lines.

Brave is also surprisingly scary. The audience I viewed the film with found many scenes frightening, mainly because of the loud and ferocious sound elements.  It’s definitely not a film for someone under 8 years old to view.  There were only a handful of laugh out loud moments – mainly when characters fell over or pulled funny faces.

The main issue for me is that I didn’t care if Merida was able to ‘rescue’ her mother.   The initial premise set up that Merida’s mother was overpowering, someone not in touch with her daughter’s feelings or expectations at all.  So to have her as the central device didn’t work for me.   Perhaps with 4 different writers on this film there were too many ideas.  Each wanted their own style, which instead delivered a mess of a film.

Score:  1.5 /5
‘Brave’ directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman and Steve Purcell.


Audio Interview with Steve Rowland

Steve Rowland has had a full life.
Hollywood actor from the 1950s and 1960s,  partner of the late Judy Lewis, friendships with James Dean and Elvis Presley. He is the great- nephew of Louis B Mayer and then began a significant career as a record producer, discovering talents such as Peter Frampton, The Cure.
In 1970 he produced an album called ‘Coming from Reality’ for Rodriguez, who is the subject of the critically acclaimed documentary ‘Searching for Sugar Man’.

Here are 3 excerpts from my phone interview conducted with Steve Rowland from his residence in California on 22 June 2012.

Excerpt 1.
Steve Rowland on his contribution to the musical career of Rodriguez (who is the subject of the documentary ‘Searching for Sugar Man’
‘This is a lesson to anybody who has a dream. Never give up your dream’

Excerpt 2.
Steve Rowland is the great nephew of Louis B Mayer.
‘He and I never get on. If things didn’t go his way, he didn’t like it.’ 

Excerpt 3

Steve Rowland on his friendships with James Dean , Elvis Presley, Robert Taylor, Van Johnson.
‘I always gravitated more to the edgy people.’

Further interview extracts to be posted in the coming week.

– Rhett Bartlett


‘A Royal Affair’ review. 3 stars.

Mads Mikkelsen’s career has reached an apex in the last 12 months.  In May of 2012 he won the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his performance in The Hunt.
Most recently he has been announced for the role of Hannibal Lecter in the television series Hannibal.
The film he completed before The Hunt was A Royal Affair, where he is one of the three main characters.  His performance is the strongest of the three, although Alicia Vikander’s characterisation of the Queen who is mistreated poorly by the King is quite strong.

It is a film which resembles many that have gone before.  The crazy eccentric king (think ‘Madness of King George’) , who treats his queen as nothing more than someone who can father his child (shades of ‘The Tudors’).   It seems that the only person who can really understand and even control the king, is a mere physician from the local town (Mads Mikkelsen).

A Royal Affair centres around the poor decisions of those with power.  Both the mental and physical weaknesses that cloud their day to day judgements.  A strength of the film is the (all but one) unknown cast.    Filmed in Denmark, and containing multiple languages and subtitles it’s easy to find yourself questioning the motives of the king, his queen and the physician.  Haven’t any of them learnt from all previous historical dramas!  It can only end in trouble.

Surprisingly, it was the performance of Mikkel Boe Følsgaard , as King Christian VII, that took home the Berlin Film Festival ‘Silver Bear Award’ for Best Actor earlier this year.  It wasn’t a performance that I liked.  His interpretation of the mentally unstable king was too over the top, seemed almost unbelievable at times.   Others however may find it was just the right pitch (after all I didn’t mind Keira Knightley’s ‘unstable’ performance in A Dangerous Mind, which many people disliked).

I almost found the film implausible.  But some investigating uncovered that yes, all these characters were real, and yes what happens is real.  Which makes A Royal Affair even more fascinating.  It surprised me to read that there has only been one real attempt to bring this story to screen before – the 1935 film The Dictator starring Madeline Carroll-  because it has many ingredients of intrigue, love, lust and secrets that play perfect to a modern day audience.

A Royal Affair is a strong historical drama, with a captivating lead performance by Mads Mikkelsen, which makes you wonder just how royalty managed to reign supreme in the 1700s.

Score:  3 / 5

‘Tomorrow is Forever’ (1946) review

Tomorrow is Forever, plays on the parental fears that existed in the world between 1914 and 1918, and again from 1939- 1945:  young sons/husband, eager and proud, enlisting to fight in the war.

It is a film that doesn’t get much of a run on television, which is a shame, because it is really quite good.

In the main cast we have two strong actors.  Firstly, Claudette Colbert.  By this stage of her career, Colbert had won an Academy Award (‘It Happened One Night’), received a further two nominations (‘Private Worlds’ 1936  and ‘Since You Went Away’ 1945) and around that time refused a Paramount renegotiation contract after realising that freelance work gathered more money.     ‘Tomorrow is Forever’ is a RKO production.

And her performance in this film, as a widow who has to re-evaluate her life after the death of husband, is strong and at times emotional.  Colbert offers a sense of believability to the role,  that her exterior shows a strong, happy wife, while inside she is still fragile, haunted by the past.

Cast opposite her is the ever reliable Orson Welles.   This was Welles’ third acting performance after Citizen Kane.  The makeup and mannerisms of Welles resemble that of Charles Foster Kane, and of a future role Welles performed in ‘F for Fake’.
Welles’ was always careful with his delivery on screen.  He allowed pauses in his speech. His eyes would open or close and he had the rare gift that all his speeches on camera sounded like some profound poem.  Which is important here, because in effect he plays multiple roles, and opposite quite young actors.

The most noticeable of the young actors is 8 year old Natalie Wood.   This was her first credited screen role, and she more than handles her own against the giants of cinema.  Although one could become a bit irritated at some of the lines she has to deliver. Perhaps the effect of Welles’ diction was rubbing off on her.

There are a bunch of good supporting cast to ensure this film never becomes dull.  George Brent had just completed the lead road in The Spiral Staircase (1945) – another RKO picture – and really shares co-billing with Welles in this film.
And what is not to love about Lucile Watson.  You may remember her from Watch on the Rhine – which gave her an Oscar nomination, or opposite George Brent in The Great Lie (1941).   Lucile plays a very strong elderly figure, which I would gather many filmgoers could relate to.

Directing these fine performances was Irving Pichel.   A director who himself lived through World War 1, he was also a performer in earlier roles like Dracula’s Daughter (1936) and Olivier Twist (1933).  He was also a recognised screen narrator – you hear his voice in How Green Was My Valley (1941), and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949).

Tomorrow is Forever is one of my favourite films of 1946.  It keeps your interest, has an impressive cast, and you find yourself wondering what you do in the situations the characters face.

Score: 3/5

‘Step Up To The Plate’ review

Step Up to the Plate is a delicate film.
The power of the documentary is that it forces you to be silent, to observe the way food is prepared and discussed as though we are a student watching our mentors.

There’s an intriguing storyline of a father finally handing over the day to day operations of his restaurant, that he and his family has nurtured for decades.
The recipient, is his son.

The film is divided into seasons, and travels over many lovely landscapes – a sort of ‘Sideways’ for the culinary industry.  Ever present is Michael Bras, French master chef, who despite agreeing to the changing of the guard, still hovers over each dish in such a quaint way, not really wanting to give full control over just yet.  He is a symbol of the old time.

There is a sense of pride from each person in this film.  Pride in their work, pride in their food, and pride in continuing long standing traditions.
It is hard to find fault in this documentary and it is refreshing to experience the workings of kitchens and restaurants in a open collaborative environment.

I really felt as though it was a privilege to observe the discussions made between Michel Bras and his son Sébastien.  ‘Food is for eating’ Sebastien argues to Michel, as the French chef is admiring the dish his son made.  Michel argues ‘But you look at it first you know’.    And there lies the beauty of Step Up To The Plate.

Score: 3 stars
Screening at Sydney Film Fesitval 2012