Thursday, April 30, 2009

Review: The Baader Meinhof Complex

The Baader Meinhof Complex
Dir. Uli Edel
Year: 2009
Aus Rating: MA15+
Running Time: 150mins

Uli Edel's The Baader Meinhof Complex appears to be, to it's own detriment, incredibly thorough. It is ferociously directed, well-acted and feels like it's barreling ahead at breakneck speed, and yet in it's desire to become the Forrest Gump of movies about the German RAF movement it suffers from it's own heavy weight and what could have been a blisteringly exciting exploration of history eventually becomes over-wrought.

German cinema is quickly becoming some of my favourites, and for a good portion of Baader Meinhof's 150 minute running time I felt it slotted right in, but while the running time might not suggest anything truly exhausting - there have been far worse movies that ran far longer - Edel and writer Bernd Eichinger have tried to fit every single noteworthy moment of the infamous Red Army Faction's first ten years of existence that it becomes obvious there is just too much. And since the first hour - I checked - is so pulse-elevating, there's only so much of that I could take. There are moments that I felt could have been easily excised such as a sojourn to an army training course in the desert. Nothing comes out of it except to slow the film down.

Reliving the years between the group's creation in 1967 to the infamous "German Autumn" in 1977, that climaxed with the hijacking of a Lufthansa airplane, the film follows the RAF's major creative forces, Ulrike Meinhof (an excellent Martina Gedeck), Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu) and Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek in another of the film's finer performances) as they plot, scheme and carry out acts of terrorism on the German government. Beginning with a claustrophobic and terrifying riot sequence Edel sets a frenetic pace. Much like the similar events that were portrayed in Steven Spielberg's Munich (which has a bit of cross plotting to Complex) it is so interesting to see this period portrayed on screen. Cinematography by Rainer Klausmann is clean and polished while Alexander Berner's editing really shines.

However as so many differing schemes and battle start going on involving characters who know characters who we don't know and it all becomes too heavy for the film to handle. The events begin to confuse and become hard to follow unless you're already aware of the timeline that is transpiring. The lack of any insight into the personal lives of these characters outside of a brief flash or two towards the start is particularly frustrating since the brief moments we do see - especially Meinhof's relationship with her children once she joins the militant group - are fascinating. It's hard to figure out why Baader was so influential over this group of people since he comes off as a horrible wretch of a human being for long periods of the film. Surely these characters - and there are indeed a lot of them - didn't speak radicalism 24/7 with brief interludes for discussions about guns, explosives and the evils of their government.

Edel hasn't made a cinematic drama since Last Exit to Brooklyn in 1989, instead focusing on episodic television and TV movies. By seemingly modelling his film on Hollywood movies he has fallen into the same traps that they do by not realising that just because he has the means to film everything and put it on screen doesn't mean he should. Although, to be perfectly honest, I think that is a problem with the screenplay, based on the non-fiction novel by Stefan Aust, and not Edel's direction, which is very impressive and there is plenty to recommend here from the acting to the technical skills on display. It just would have been far more effective if the fat had been trimmed from it. B-

The Baader Meinhof Complex is released 7 May and is in preview screenings this weekend.

This Week on Australian Screens

Cinema Releases for the Week 30/04/09

Acolytes - Small-scale Aussie thriller from Jon Hewitt that I saw at MIFF nearly a year ago. It's not that much cop, but I've seen worse Aussie films this year (that'd be you Beautiful).

Defiance - Unfortunately, not even Jamie and Mia can get me to see this WWII movie starring Daniel Craig and Liev Shreiber (in his first of two movies this week).

Tenderness - Oft-delayed movie from Aussie director Jon Polson with a small role by Russell Crowe.

Wolverine - Actually opened yesterday, but here is Hugh Jackman's likely last X-Men effort (surely!) and it's a prequel to the original film (I think...) and it co-stars Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Dominic Monaghan, Ryan Reynolds, Taylor Kitsch and... Apparently so. Personally, I love the inclusion of Julia Blake. How delightfully brilliant.

DVD Releases for the Week 30/04/09

Brideshead Revisited - Can Emma Thompson just be inserted into every movie from now on?

The Day the Earth Stood Still - It's terrible, don't bother.

Frost/Nixon - Fairly decent, if unexciting, Oscar-nominated movie from Ron Howard. The whole enterprise just seemed kinda flat. I liked it well enough, just... I can't get excited about it at all.

Slumdog Millionaire - Ya know, I have barely spoken about this movie on the blog and yet I feel I've been talking about it non-stop for a good four months. Can we move on yet?

Also, let it be known that season one Pushing Daisies is released this week so those who do not have access to Foxtel (ie; most of us) can finally view this now-cancelled series starring Lee Pace and Kristen Chenowith.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Oh, Ciara

Ciara continues her trend of releasing albums with only one good song and a whole lotta crap surrounding it. Is there any surprise that the one good song on Fantasy Ride features Missy Elliot and is produced by Danja (Britney's classic "Gimme More" and Cassie's "Official Girl - the best single of 2008)? It's called "Work" and it's a stormer of a club track.

Although it's not even as good as Kelly Rowland's "Work", which is sayin' something. Okay in all fairness there are some other decent songs on the album. I'll give her "Pucker Up" and "Dancin' On Me" (produced by Tricky Stewart of "Umbrella" fame) is decent for a slower song while "Tell Me What Your Name Is" sort of has a mini-epic chorus, but the song in full would be better without the annoying bleeps and boops that unnecessarily fill it. The rest of it is pretty much garbage though, especially "Love Sex Magic", which sounds just like Duran Duran's "Nite Runner" but turned to compost. Christ, that song is awful. Fantasy Ride is clearly a producers album only. You could swap out Ciara's vocals for pretty much anybody else and the results would remain the same. Unlike, say, Rihanna, she can't inject anywhere near enough personality to make dirge like "High Price" - with it's ridiculous faux-operatic vocals - listenable. And yes there is even a featuring credit given to Chris Brown on "Turntables", all but ruining it. Thumbs down Ciara! C-

I'm In Love With a German Film Star

I know that song (by The Passions) isn't about her and I that she is not in fact German, but how good is Louise Brooks in Pandora's Box? Answer: Very. I need to start seeing more of her movies!

And just 'cause, here is a Top of the Pops performance of "I'm in Love with a German Film Star". Lovely.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Well Played, Poster: Antichrist

If you're going to use a movie still as the central image on your movie poster then you better choose a good one and Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg fucking amongst creepy Satanic hands sure is that! It's eye-catching and eye-popping to say the least. Add that to the eerie kiddie font and you got yourself a piece of key art that is far more memorable than anything the main studios are providing for their unoriginal horror movie remakes.

Drop it Like it's Hot

There are remakes that make sense and then there are remakes that just don't. The past couple of days have produced three stellar examples of the latter.

Firstly they are remaking David Cronenberg's Videodrome. Now, I have not seen this movie, but my experience with that period of Cronenberg tells me that it's one of those things that only he could do. And if someone else was to do it then it would become a vanilla gentrified version of it. Kind of like The Ring (team Ringu 4eva!!!!) Of course, if it is a hit then this will signal the studios to move ahead with remakes of everything Cronenberg has done. They'd probably even take yet another stab at The Fly because 1986 is just so ancient.

Speaking of being ancient, how about this piece of news - THEY'RE REMAKING DROP DEAD FRED. I imagine that, like myself, many people grew up with this movie and it is indeed a cult movie. A true genuine cult movie and not one of those ridiculous mass-produced "instant cult!" movies that they make these days as if the marketers and studios have no idea what being a cult movie actually entails (ie; failure). Now, the thing that really gets me angry is the casting - Russell fuckin' Brand. I can't stand him! What a horrible, disgusting beast of a wanker he is. Can't he do everybody on this planet a big bloody favour and just disappear? And, of course, they are "[making] a film in the tone of Beetlejuice, building a universe around the concept of imaginary friends", so really it's not a remake of Drop Dead Fred at all. That concept actually sounds kind of like Paperhouse and Drop Dead Fred mated and gave birth to Tarsem Singh.

And then of course there is this absurd idea to turn Pedro Almodovar's Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown into some Desperate Housewives-esque TV series. The world is a crazy place.

"We do not approve!"

Reliving the Brilliance that is Sugababes' "About You Now"

This popped up on the iPod today and I had almost forgotten how great it is. When it comes time to do my Top 500 Songs of the Aughts (oh yes, 500) expect this to rank very very high.

...the video on the other hand will not.

Monday, April 27, 2009

All Hail the Queen: Celebratin' the Old-School

You know, in my stint as a music critic (unfortunately, the publication isn't online so I can't link) I seemed to develop a niche as the reviewer of hip-hop music. How, I'm not quite sure since I seemed to criticise it far more frequently that I would heap it with praise. Thing is, I L-O-V-E hip-hip, it's just that today's idea of what constitutes good hip-hop is far far removed from what I consider to be good hip-hop. Give me most stuff between 1982 and 1996 and I won't stop yapping on about it.

The same goes for almost all music classified as "urban", whether it be r&b or soul or whathaveyou, it's just not as good anymore. Beyoncé would have been eaten alive if she was around in '92. She would have fallen through the cracks like so many others who tried and failed because they couldn't deliver enough. Hell, even those who could deliver mostly ended up failing because the market is just too ever-changing. If you have read Adem with an E's "Urban Feminism: A Story of Melody" piece (and if you like music at all then you should) then you most surely had pangs of nostalgia and sadness. Who else heard Eternal's "Stay" or En Vogue's "Free Your Mind" and thought they were gonna take over the world? Well, it sadly didn't last. Even Destiny's Child, who were written, cast and bronzed in the same light, unfortunately ditched quality after a few albums and went down the tired tuneless brain dead hip-hop route.

However, there were times when I did indeed feel I was being too harsh. I was in a very tiny minority in my outright hatred of Timbaland's "solo" album Shock Value and there have been copious numbers of albums that I wrote off for being stock standard identikit disposable and tired. Was I just jaded?

And then I listen to something like Queen Latifah's "Just Another Day..." from her 1993 album Black Reign (which also includes the Grammy-winning "U.N.I.T.Y." - how many saxophones do you hear in hip-hop music today?) and I realise that I was perhaps not harsh enough. This song popped up on my iTunes player today after a very long time between drinks and it amazed and startled me once more. I remember hearing it for the first time on Rage and being blown away. It is a stunner in every sense of the word and it is what hip-hop should be. Not just a monotonous beat and lots of yelling about being crunk and bitches and all that modern hip-hop entails. Indeed there once was a time when hip-hop had social relevance and the artists had anger and desire to succeed in their veins. Their songs were about important issues and the production had grooves and tunes, melodies actual MC talent. They used interesting original use of samples - not lazy ones like Flo Rida using Dead or Alive's "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)" and the artists loved and worshipped music of all genres too, taking tips from pop and disco as well as Motown and world music.

Now I'm gonna go listen to this track another 38 times in a row just to cleanse.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Capsule Review: The Square

The Square
Dir. Nash Edgerton
Year: 2008
Aus Rating: MA15+
Running Time: 107mins

Nash Edgerton's upgrade from short film director to feature film director is a familiar course for Australian filmmakers. From Jane Campion to Matthew Saville there is an impressive roster of names - and there are more making the jump this year - and The Square is an incredibly impressive feature debut for Edgerton.

The Square is a thriller written by Joel Edgerton (Nash's famous actor brother who co-stars as a paid arsonist) and Matthew Dabner that takes that good ol' fashioned Aussie film staple - depressed man (David Roberts) having an affair with a younger woman (Claire van der Boom) - and injects it with tension and heart-racing twists and turns. Filled with secrets, double crosses, car chases, mysteries, frights and a fair share of dead bodies, The Square is the sort of film our industry should be making more of. Of course, the movie flopped upon release - all sorts of reasons for that that we won't go into yet again - which is such a shame because it really is a corker of a film. As the press quotes may say, "you'll be the on the edge of your seat." B+

"Well, you can sit in the new driveway and hope an amusing black family drops by."

Never to be forgotten.

Faking It

If you're like me and you lovelovelove Criterion DVD covers (so much more visually dynamic than regular DVD covers and movie posters) then you should check out

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Thank You For Being a Friend, Bea Arthur

Devastating news, folks. D-E-V-A-S-T-A-T-I-N-G-!

The incomparable Bea Arthur has died at age 86. I wasn't aware she was this age, but nevertheless, it's sad news. Of course she had series' like Maude and Broadway roles such as Mame, but I don't think I will be alone in saying my eternal devotion to this woman will forever remain in place because of her role as Dorothy Zbornak on The Golden Girls - perhaps the greatest ever sitcom to ever be. In fact, it was just last week that I listed Dorothy as my favourite ever television character on one of those addictive Facebook Living Social features.

In the last year I have bought most of the Golden Girls seasons on DVD (seasons six and seven have been alluding me whenever i go to purchase them) and watched them additively and Bea's Dorothy is just the best. In fact, if you click this link you'll see that in the past I have posted Dorothy quotes as blog entries because she was always the funniest.

"I don't think Stan and I would ever have gotten together had I known his entire family smell their fingers all day after they eat chicken."

"Why would [the ambassador of Russia] want to meet the same woman who once said 'If the city of Atlantis is lost, how can Bobby Vinton appear there twice a year?'"

"No Rose, I'm nervous because if Sonny Bono is elected Major of Palm Springs he's gonna make all the postmen wear leather bell-bottoms and fur vests."

"Well, at least some good came out of it. It's about time somebody threw up on Gene Shalit."

"You'll have to forgive my mother, she's very upset. She just found out she has the same hairdresser as Whoopi Goldberg."

And so on. I laugh out loud at almost all of Dorothy's one-liners. Of course, Bea's passing comes less than a year after Estelle Getty's death and soon enough Betty White and Rue McClanahan will too farewell us and they will need to call a national day of Golden Girls morning. Man, I'm too sad to think about that right now. Bless ya Bea! I'll be watching some Golden TV in your honour!

Why Can't Matthew McConaughey Stand Up On His Own?

Has anybody else noticed a troubling trend with Matthew McConaughey and his movie posters? Dude can't seem to stand on his own two feed without needing to be propped up somehow.

In these two posters for his romantic comedy Failure to Launch he needs Sarah Jessica Parker to, try as she might, keep him at least partially vertical. In the second international poster he can't even be bothered doing that and must get SJP to wheel him around while he sits in a comfy chair. She's not your slave, Matthew!

A couple of years earlier he was in another rom-com, this time with Kate Hudson. Yet again he needed the women of the movie to keep him standing. Note to Matthew, if you put your weight on your feet then you'll be able to stand all by yourself like a big boy!

And then a few years later he needed Hudson's help yet again, although this time it wasn't all his fault. He was probably going to collapse under all that ridiculous CGI that was slapped on his and Hudson's body.

When it comes to his surfing movie (did this even get released?) Surfer, Dude he has decided to ditch women altogether and props himself up with a big animal-filled tree. Why can't he just stand properly?!

Even earlier on his McConaughey's career he needed assistance to stand up. In this poster for The Newton Boys he is thankfully propped up between three other men. If he weren't maybe he's just collapse right where he stood.

He didn't even get out bed for this one!

And that brings us to the poster for his latest movie, the Jennifer Garner co-starring rom-com Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. Garner must have seen Matthew on other movie posters and figured he'd need a helping hand in staying upright so she uses his scarf as a sort of intricate pulley system.

Matthew, you need help!

Friday, April 24, 2009

How Much Do I Love the New Bruno Poster?

A lot.

Considering how hairy Sasha Baron Cohen is I can only imagine how painful it was to get rid of all of that in the name of gay Austrian humour.

The Sun Will Come Out... Tomorrow

Yeah, sorry. No time today. I've had work and sleep and now I'm off to get ready so I can boogie on down with the fabulous Adem with an E at SORRY GRANDMA for his birthday. I'm sure I'll be more forthcoming with the blogging tomorrow.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cannes: With Famous Directors Come Disappointments

*my internet has been acting up all day and I'm afraid Blogger isn't allowing me to post images. I'll rejigger this tomorrow*

The Cannes lineup has spread like wildfire and despite the presence of world class names like Lars Von Trier, Jane Campion, Ang Lee, Quentin Tarantino, Ken Loach, Michael Haneke and Pedro Almodovar I can't help but feel a pang of disappointment. Apparently unless your name is one of the aforementioned English-language directors (or are just plain buzzy in "certain circles") then you don't seem to get a look in with an English-language film. It's incredibly frustrating to routinely see the Un Certain Regard sidebar filled with titles that look so promising (and in some cases, have already proven their worth) and yet the main competition gets movies like Sin City and any number of soon-to-be-critically-mauled titles.

We'll never know why Samson and Delilah wasn't chosen for the main competition, but I am 100% certain that if it were from a far more fashionable nation for filmmaking then it would have been a shoo-in. But, alas, it is not in competition and the latest movies by Almodovar and Tarantino are. Who's shocked by THAT?!? Don't get me wrong, I am looking forward to their movies so much that I can hardly stand it, but you're not going to find the next 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days by sticking with your favourites. The director of that Palme d'Or winner, by the way, has a film... in Un Certain Regard.

There are some noteworthy inclusions outside of the usual suspects. Andrea Arnold has apparently become one of the selector committee's new favourites. Her debut Red Road was included three years ago - and what a movie it was. if I could re-do my top ten from 2007 it would be a definite placer, such are the perils of watching movies late to list deadlines! - and now her latest, Fish Tank has also been chosen. I loathed Isabel Coixet's My Life Without Me, but am head over heels with Elegy so I will be paying attention to how her Map of the Sounds of Tokyo (what an intriguing title) pans out.

Gasper Noe's latest is Enter the Void and it's in competition. It has a great teaser poster (left) and... that's all I know. Tsai Ming-liang's Faces [Visages] has been on my radar for a while and I included it on my Top 50 Anticipated of 2009 list so I can't wait for that one too. I spoke of Jane Campion before and she's another one I'm glad to see selected. Her UK/Australia/Some Other Countries co-production Bright Star stars Ben Wishaw and Abbie Cornish and will be vying to become Campion's second Palme d'Or after 1994's The Piano.

Here is a list of the titles in competition for the Palme d'Or.

* Pedro Almodovar - Broken Embraces
* Andrea Arnold - Fish Tank
* Jacques Audiard - Un Prophete
* Marco Bellocchio – Vicenre
* Jane Campion - Bright Star
* Xavier Giannoli – A L'Origine
* Isabel Coixet – Map of the Sounds of Tokyo
* Michael Haneke -The White Ribbon
* Ang Lee – Taking Woodstock
* Ken Loach – Looking for Eric
* Lou Ye - Spring Fever
* Brillante Mendoza – Kinaray
* Gaspar Noe – Enter The Void
* Park Chan-wook – Thirst
* Alain Resnais – Les Herbes Folles
* Elia Suleiman – The Time That Remains
* Quentin Tarantino - Inglourious Basterds
* Johnnie To – Vengeance
* Tsai Ming-liang – Face
* Lars Von Trier – Antichrist

The Un Certain Regard sidebar features Warwick Thornton's very good Samson and Delilah, Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Lee Daniels' Precious (MO'NIQUE AT CANNES, Y'ALL!!!) and Bong Joon-ho's Mother amongst many others.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

This Week on Australian Screens

Cinema Releases for the Week 23/04/09

A Film with Me In It - A black comedy from debut filmmakers Ian Fitzgibbon.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas - WWII drama with Vera Farmiga and David Thewlis as the parents of a boy who doesn't realise he's living next door to a concentration camp. Fun times, for sure.

Closed for Winter - Don't you just hate it when you're looking forward to a movie and then BOOM it gets released and apparently it's not any good? Such a disappointment. Such is the story of James Bogle's Closed for Winter (nee Elise), which I even included on my 50 Most Anticipated list for the year. It got a shellacking in the Herald Sun and other reviews have been mixed. Oh well.

Fired Up - Or not. The star of this cheerleaders movie, Eric Christian Olsen, is 32. THIRTY-TWO! I'd feel sorry for him if, ya know, I liked him at all.

Paris 36 - A French dancehall musical from the director of Oscar-nominated The Chorus (remember when Beyonce inexplicably sang one of the nominated original songs from that film?) set in the 1930s.

Tulpan - Kazakhstan is on a role lately. An Oscar-nominated movie and several other high profile entrants. While this one didn't make it, it's gotten rave reviews.

DVD Releases for the Week 23/04/09

Autumn Hearts - A movie from 2007 that goes by the name "Emotional Arithmetic" in it's home nation of Canada (no wonder they changed it). Stars Christopher Plummer, Susan Sarandon, Gabriel Byrne and Max Von Sydow.

Twilight - I recently watched this on my flight from Melbourne to Los Angeles. The only 30 minutes of sleep I managed to get on that longhaul flight was during this execrable waste of time. What a terrible terrible movie this is. Inept filmmaking (and acting - let's not forget the "acting") at its finest.

It's the Next Best Thing to Natalie Bassingthwaighte Showing Up On My Doorstep Waving a Chainsaw, I suppose

I arrived back at my apartment today after work and checked the mail box. I noticed a large white envelope inside with my name and "Stale Popcorn" typed on it. Very odd indeed since I don't seem to get that much mail in general let alone male addressed to this blog. Once I got inside my place I promptly opened it up. What was I to discover? Why, a several barbie doll head, of course!

How very strange I thought. That has most definitely never happened before. At first I thought "She's dead... wrapped in plastic!" but no. I flipped the bag over and voila(!) turns out she's been burnt to a crisp, too!

Charming and with so much grace*

Turns out it is actually just a delightful piece of marketing for the upcoming Aussie horror flick Prey. I've discussed this one before as the movie in which Natalie Bassingthwaighte weilds a big chainsaw in the outback. Crikey!

*Because you can't just have a "little" grace. You either have grace or you don't. Don't ask me why that popped into my mind just now.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Coming Soon: My Little Pony: The Live Action Movie

In 2007 audiences got Transformers, which in it's previous movie inception was an animated movie from 1986 called The Transformers: The Movie.

This year audiences are receiving the live action release of GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, which had also been an animated film. That one was released in 1987 as direct-to-VHS as a response to the poor box office performance of the aforementioned Transformers: The Movie.

Surely that means that in 2011 we will be seeing the re-arrival on the big screen in glorious live action of another 1986 animated toy merchandise machine, My Little Pony: The Movie!

It seems like the next logical step to me!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Jamie Bell Covered in Dots

Well, his face is at least.

A behind the scenes shot from the set of Steven Spielberg's Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (yes, it does still sound silly) has surfaced on Empire. Obviously you can tell where it came from due to the massive watermark. Now I don't usually post images that have big watermarks all over them, but I'm making an exception. Besides, these behind the scenes shots are all we're going to see of Jamie in this movie since he will be replaced by a computer-generated version of the Tintin character he plays. Bah!

"The Gays Took My Lunch Money"

Thanks to the wonderful Warren for bringing this clip to attention. If you don't know what it is a spoof of then you're either a) not paying attention or b) lucky. Take you pick.

"They are shape shifters."


"They're going to turn tampons into rocket ships."

"I'm Asian."


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Review: My Year Without Sex

My Year Without Sex
Dir. Sarah Watt
Year: 2009
Aus Rating: M
Running Time: 96mins

In only two feature film, writer/director/animator Sarah Watt has already proven herself to be one of the most important voices in Australian cinema. After the grand debut of Look Both Ways (which won the AFI for Best Film amongst others) she has given us the effortlessly charming My Year Without Sex. Watt creates such real and wonderful characters that help take away from the themes that many deem unpalatable for audiences. It's going to be incredible hard for another Australian film this year - hell, try any film this year - to put forth as honest and delightfully flawed characters as Watt has here.

Starring Sacha Horler (Praise) and Matt Day (returning from overseas TV work such as Secret Diary of a Call Girl) as an ordinary married middle class suburban couple with two kids (Jonathan Segat and Portia Bradley). When Horler's Natalie suffers an aneurysm her life takes many different turns. Split into twelve separately themed segments - and with the help of inventive title cards thanks to Maryjeanne Watt and Patrina White - the film flies by as the family go on vacation, enjoy Christmas and Easter, deal with a potential loss of job and even a potential diversion into born again Christianity. Yet along the way Watt never loses sight of the indelible truths behind her characters.

It is just so enjoyable to watch characters that one knows in real life portrayed so lovingly on screen. These characters are not shown in a particularly glamourous light, but nor are they mocked for being nothing but normal. It has become a habit of Australian cinema to feel the need to portray suburbia in the traditional Aussie Gothic manner filled with quirky weirdos and social deviants, but Watt has none of that. Even a Priest character, played by the ever-wonderful Maud Davey, is never mocked or laughed at, something Paul Cox could learn lesson or two from. And while it is nice to see realistic characters on screen - a problem that is far too common with Australian films is that the characters are so unrealistically written - that doesn't always make a good film. Thankfully Watt has surrounded them with spirited comedy, delightful supporting characters and injected the main family with true blue Aussie humour and spirit. The film even ends with an all-in singalong to Little Birdy's "Beautiful to Me" and I defy anyone to not sit there and just grin.

The cast is all tops, too. Horler - a three time AFI award winner - continues to go places few actresses do and does so with such cutting delivery. Matt Day, whose last Australian film was Hell Has Harbour Views in '05, makes a fine everyman and plays a bit like a ladies crumpet. The two kids, too, are excellent, especially Jonathan Segat who has a particularly awkward, but well-played, moment at a cinema that plays like a mini tight wire act. The supporting cast, from Maud Davey to Katie Wall right on through to a hilarious cameo by William McInnes (although try and spot it before you read the cast list.)

Sometimes there are movies that just put big ol' smiles on your face and I suspect My Year Without Sex will be one of those movies for many people. Look Both Ways was a surprise word-of-mouth hit and I can only hope that the same fate belongs to Watt's sophomore effort. It has more charm, wit and love in one scene than most films have in their entirety. It's a triumph. B+

My Life Without Sex is out late May.

Thumbs Up

Review: Newcastle

Dir. Dan Castle
Year: 2008
Aus Rating: M
Running Time: 107mins

A couple of years ago there was an Australian film called Tan Lines. It was a fairly dreadful look at homosexuality and Aussie surf culture, a thoroughly interesting topic I might like to add, that treated its queer topic with a strange pitched level of surprising earnestness and poor execution and unrealistic storytelling. It was further hampered by amateur acting and bad writing. It did, however, provide endless opportunities for queer audiences to fawn over shirtless male bodies (although their age sure was cringe-worthy at times) and that seems to be about the maximum depth you will find in many GLBT-themed movies.

Another Australian film that wades through similar territory, released late in 2008, was Dan Castle's Newcastle, which is a far more successful - and yet, at times, just as frustrating - attempt at the surfer-via-homos theme. While the queer angle is clearly not the film's prime reason for existing, it is actually the one aspect that really shines brightest. The film predominantly focuses of Jesse (Lachlan Buchanan of TV's Blue Water High so surfing experience comes with the package), but it is the relationship between his gay twin brother Fergus, played by the rising star Xavier Samuel (September), and one of Jesse's alpha surfer buddies that provide the thrust of the movie.

The character of Andy (Kirk Jenkins in his acting debut) is one of those incredibly unrealistic fantasy character that every socially awkward gay teenager daydreams about. He is sensitive, caring, incredibly dreamy in the looks department and acts all nice to the outcast. It's a character that almost every gay coming-of-age tale has, and yet I didn't feel that it derailed Newcastle. It's never made explicitly clear whether he is gay or not - Fergus most definitely is since he has purple streaks in his hair and, apparently, hangs around at beach toilet blocks - but he sure does come off that way. There is a scene on the dunes of a beach that is actually quite tender and beautiful. It's a fine example of the sort of thing movies like Another Gay Movie just do not understand. Just because your characters are gay doesn't mean a gay audience is going to want to watch them. Here they are well-formed and well-acted. I'm sure plenty of the film's gay male audience will swoon.

The film as a whole, despite not being entirely queer-centric, is very much queer-friendly. Scene after scene shows the pack of lithe and muscular young men (apparently all supposed to be 16 and 17 years old) pictured above sans clothes. Nudity is prevalent as, apparently, skinny dipping is a popular past time in Newcastle's surfing community. There's even one scene involving nude underwater wrestling between the two brothers that will provide some viewers with naughty thoughts. Even a scene in which the straight Jesse masturbates in his bedroom is intercut with as many shots of shirtless surfers as it is with shots of sexy women running along the beach with their tits bouncing about. Further to that point, for a film that I presume was supposed to be aimed at a teenage male audience, there are more shots of male posteriors and flapping dicks than there are shots of attractive women in bikinis.

Of course, the filmmakers have other more predominant issues on their brain and as soon as the third act comes around it all but ditches the queer subplot except for a quick reminder here or there plus a post-credits scene that seems to confirm what the audience surely suspected. Outside of this angle the film doesn't hold up quite as well. It is a fairly routine coming-of-age tale - that horror term that all followers of Australian film have grown to cringe at - about a younger brother emerging out of the shadow of his more successful older sibling (Reshad Strik). Jesse isn't a very likeable character - he's either angry or angry - which is why the subplots seem to be more interesting. The film's climax is sudden and seemingly unfinished. We don't even get to see Jesse's big chance at the surfing competition he's been working the entire film towards achieving. It just ends. Did they run out of money?

The photography by Richard Michalak is impressive as most surfing cinematography seems to be these days. Editing by Rodrigo Balark is equally good and continues his trend of being amongst the highlights of all his work after movies such as Black Water and The Eternity Man. The acting, too, is definitely worthy of mention and is one of the film's high points. Far too often in Australian films of this variety, the acting is as amateurish as the writing, but the actors fill their characters with spirit, playfullness and all have moments of note even if it is just a laugh or a single line of dialogue.

That writer/director Dan Castle is openly gay (his queer-themed short films have won awards) actually makes Newcastle more disappointing. It's obvious that the gay storyline is the film's most powerful asset, but I suppose it wasn't in the financiers best interest to ditch the less interesting Jesse storyline to focus on the Fergus/Andy one. Films that focus solely on a gay romance are all but always pushed aside and resigned to the queer festival circuit. As it stands though Newcastle is an impressive feature debut and a hopeful sign of an interesting new voice in both Australian and queer cinema. B

PS; I'm not just being a perv. There are seriously next to no stills from this movie that aren't of it's cast minus shirts.