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last update 5.Nov.09
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dir Robert Connolly
scr David Williamson, Robert Connolly
prd Anthony LaPaglia, Dominic Purcell
with Anthony LaPaglia, Oscar Isaac, Bea Viegas, Damon Gameau, Nathan Phillips, Mark Leonard Winter, Gyton Grantley, Tom Wright, Paul Sonkkila, Mark Winter
isaac and lapaglia release Aus 13.Aug.09,
UK Oct.09 lff
09/Australia 1h51

london film fest
balibo This provocative, powerful true story is well-known in Australia but not anywhere else. And it's the expert filmmaking that makes this both an important account of the events and a gripping, shattering thriller.

In 1975 Darwin, jaded journalist Roger East (LaPaglia) is approached with a job offer by young East Timorese official Jose Ramos-Horta (Isaac), whose country has just declared independence from Portugal. Roger's main concern is tracking down five young Aussie journalists (Gameau, Phillips, Winter, Grantley and Wright) who have gone missing in Balibo, on the Indonesian border. As Roger and Jose try to get to Balibo, they meet an Indonesian invasion head-on. And it'll be 24 years before the truth comes out.

The film is framed by a widow (Viegas) in the present day who recounts the tumultuous events leading up to Indonesian occupation, while the story is told in parallel strands with the five young journalists (all in their 20s) charging to the frontline and, three weeks later, Roger and Jose tracing their steps. Both of these strands are fraught with intensity, as they're ambushed by the military and encounter scenes of raw horror.

Filmmaker Connolly balances the strands impeccably, building almost unbearable suspense along the way and then pushing us over into emotional devastation. It's tremendously effective, capturing the black wit and constant fear of journalists in the firing line. Not to mention the unspeakable brutality of an invasion that was ignored by the world.

LaPaglia is terrific at the centre, with an exhausted physicality that fairly screams, "I'm too old for this". This helps us identify with him as he grapples with who he should trust, what he should do and, most of all, his initial feeling that he should turn around and go home. Isaac is also terrific as Ramos-Horta, adding a slightly shifty undercurrent to this bright young spark who's a bit lionised here (although history went on to prove his passionate heroism).

Connolly's filmmaking is cleverly blends film stocks and shooting styles to delineate the story strands. Remarkably, we're never lost in the crosscutting. There's also an inventive mix of earthy Australian humour with both colonial and local traditions, which only makes the impending horror that much more unnerving. And along the way, the film asks some urgent, powerfully relevant questions that simply can't be ignored.

15 themes, language, strong violence
14.Oct.09 lff
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Bunny & the Bull
dir-scr Paul King
prd Mary Burke, Robin Gutch, Mark Herbert
narr James Fox
with Edward Hogg, Simon Farnaby, Veronica Echegui, Noel Fielding, Julian Barratt, Sylvia Sims, Richard Ayoade, George Newton, Madeleine Worrall, Rich Fulcher, Gus Brown
hogg and farnaby release UK 27.Nov.09
09/UK WarpX 1h41


bunny & the bull With its homemade effects and strong emotional kick, this film feels almost like a Michel Gondry movie. Although a deranged sense of humour makes it thoroughly British. It's an odd concoction, but it gets under the skin.

Stephen (Hogg) has locked himself in his flat for a year, refusing to go outside. Then something disrupts his compulsive routine, and he starts reminiscing about a road trip he took with his chucklehead pal Bunny (Farnaby) just before he withdrew from life. Travelling around Europe, Bunny indulged in sex and rampant gambling, and it wasn't until they got to Poland that Stephen met a girl, Eloisa (Echegui). As they drove her home to Spain, they met various colourful people and had some life-changing adventures.

The film is gorgeously shot, edited and designed to highlight the difference between real life and Stephen's memories. Each flashback is rendered in the style of something from his flat--newspapers, clock parts, Post-its, file boxes. And the performances are heightened accordingly, with Farnaby playing Bunny as a goofy lout opposite Hogg's obsessively uptight Stephen. But their chemistry is striking; despite frequent clashes, we believe they have a strong bond of friendship.

There are constant little details that reveal each character to us along the way, with dialog that's snappy, natural and often very funny. There are also running gangs (such as Stephen's cocktail preparation) and hilarious asides (Ayoade as a puntastic museum guide), but underneath it all is a surprisingly involving story of a shy, cute man trying desperately to emerge from his shell while his scruffy, crazy friend tries to push him.

And the people they meet along the way really liven things up, from Syms' glowering Swiss hotelier to Barratt's dog-loving homeless guy. Echegui manages to create a sharp character all her own, while Fielding is very funny as Eloisa's bull-fighting brother. Sometimes it feels repetitive and a little too wacky, with perhaps too much inventiveness on screen, if that's possible. But writer-director King really catches the fact that people view life in very different ways, that recovering from emotional pain is extremely difficult and that a true friend lasts forever, no matter what.

15 themes, language, sexuality, violence
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1 Day
dir-scr Penny Woolcock
prd Claire Bosworth, Amy Flanagan, Penny Woolcock
with Dylan Duffus, Orhan Whyte, Yohance Watson, Tobias Duncan, Monica Ffrench, Carol Chambers, Justice, Lady L, Natasha Holness, Rianna Aldred, Derek Webley, Karime Farrell
release UK 6.Nov.09
09/UK 1h41

london film fest

See also:
One Mile Away (2012)
1 day There's a clever idea behind this film, an urban musical that uses rap songs to convey the energy and passion of its characters. It's fascinating, but not very accessible. And the plot is a bit contrived.

Flash (Duffus) is just out of prison and he's already in trouble. He owes a huge amount of money to his old boss Angel (Watson), also just out of prison. And Flash's three babymothers (Justice, Lady L and Holness) are after him as well. Not to mention his mother (Chambers) and grandmother (Ffrench), who want him to leave his life of crime. But he needs to find this cash before he can go straight. And Angel only gives him two hours to come up with it.

Filmmaker Woolcock packs rather too much of an odyssey into these two hours; the events feel more like two days worth of meetings, dealings and scams, especially when Flash takes rather a lot of time out to mourn the death of a fallen comrade. He also meets a street urchin (Whyte), crosses into rival gang territory with a guy named Evil (Duncan), is offered refuge in a church by a pastor (Webley), has various encounters with the women in his life and sets up a blackmail sting.

Frankly, there isn't much in this narrative that's very believable. But it's a fantasy, not a gritty look at life on the streets. And there are interesting things swirling around, from introspective moments to more general observations about how this violent subculture infuses all of society. Yet while the great-looking actors are full of personality, it's not easy to keep track of who's whom, mainly because the film lacks a strong central perspective. It's also choppily edited and has some bad lapses of continuity.

But Woolcock definitely taps into something urgent, ingeniously using hip-hop and violence to propel the story while vividly portraying the macho gang culture in which everyone knows his place and kids learn very fast. The strong presence of the church in the life of these people is also striking, as it's something we rarely see on screen. And if the preachy yet grim message feels a little forced, at least the film takes us somewhere we've never been.

15 themes, strong language, violence, drugs
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Paranormal Activity
dir-scr Oren Peli
prd Jason Blum, Oren Peli
with Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Fredrichs, Amber Armstrong, Ashley Palmer, Randy McDowell, Tim Piper, Crystal Cartwright
sloat and featherston release US 25.Sep.09,
UK 27.Nov.09
09/US 1h26
paranormal activity While this gimmicky movie creates a superb creep-out atmosphere, it's never actually very scary. There are a couple of good jolts, but the idea itself is more unsettling than any anxiety the filmmaker can generate.

Katie and Micah have been hearing odd noises in the night, so Micah buys a video camera to record things while they're sleeping. These eerie experiences have haunted Katie all her life, so they consult a psychic (Fredrichs) who tells them it sounds like a demon rather than a ghost. Over the next three weeks, there's an increasing amount of night-time activity, starting with loud bumps and swaying light fixtures, then escalating to sleepwalking, sinister footsteps and freaky physical attacks.

The film is set up like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield as a collection of found footage; there are virtually no credits, as if they're fooling anyone. And while this home-made approach is extremely tight, never abandoning the perspective, it's not like we haven't seen it all before. Fortunately, most scenes are shot with a tripod, which minimalises that shaky-cam effect. And as with the previous films (see also Rec/Quarantine), we never for a moment believe it.

Featherston and Sloat are a thoroughly convincing couple, improvising much of their dialog and realistically portraying the strain that comes between them as these events get increasingly frightening. It's also remarkable how well they keep their performances in check, never going over the top with their terrified reactions; like we would, they respond to things with a balanced mixture of humour, curiosity, anger and fear. The problem is that it's not actually that scary for us as moviegoers.

Writer-director Peli creates an eerie mood by setting the story in what looks like every suburban house in America (and there are other nods to Poltergeist as well), although we never have a sense that either Katie or Micah have a job that can pay for it. As we wait (and wait) for something to happen, Peli indulges in extremely clever touches, from the staticky sound mix to shadows, wind and some chilling physicality. But if he wanted to make a movie that was truly horrifying, he needed to set up and build the suspense properly. Ramping things up more quickly would have helped a lot.

15 themes, language, violence
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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall