Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Review: Mao's Last Dancer

Mao's Last Dancer
Dir. Bruce Beresford
Year: 2009
Aus Rating: PG
Running Time: 117mins

Some readers may be surprised to learn that Mao’s Last Dancer is indeed an Australian film. Being set primarily in China and the USA, and featuring mostly American actors, it would be easy to not realise the Australian connection, but it is funded solely by Australia, and underneath the international sheen is a collection of Australian talent. Hopefully, the tact works, and this film becomes a local and international success, because it would be nice to see audiences respond to this Australian telling of a very worldly tale.

My full review of Mao's Last Dancer can be found at Onya.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Penelope? Is That You?

If Penelope Cruz - if that's really her, anyway - were to become a Dick Tracy villain based on this Vanity Fair magazine cover then I imagine her name would be "Paleface". Or if that's taken, how about "Photoshopped" or "made-to-look-whiter-than-i-really-am"? They'd work just as well, don't you think?

Making skin colour look lighter is a routinely common device used by magazines, or so I've been told. I guess if you're doing it to Beyonce - one of the true worldwide superstars of the decade - then you can do it anyone. But, Penelope Cruz? I mean, she's "white" isn't she? Like, I know she's Spanish, but she's still white in the sense that in Europe, at least, she'd be considered white like Judi Dench.

And yet here they are on the cover of a prestigious magazine and they've turned the contrast up to 13 and made her look like she's been soaking in one of those magical pod machines from Battlestar Galactica. I mean, if it didn't have PENELOPE CRUZ blasted across the front of it I wouldn't have even been able to guess who it was. Some new ingenue that I'm being told to fall madly in love with? And don't even get me started on what the photographer got her to do with her hand at the back of her dress.

Look, Penelope Cruz is stunning, gorgeous, sexy and smoldering hot. Take your pick. Just look at these images from inside the magazine and you can see the smoking hotness that is missing from the cover shot. Sure, the first shot also looks a bit ghost-white, but I'm more inclined to believe that's a result of flash photography than it is photoshopping gone mad (although I am sure that's in play, also), however, that is nowhere nearly as bad as the whitewashing they have given her on the cover.

Images via Awards Daily.

Samson & Oscar

I had been waiting for this announcement to come, but I wasn't sure it ever would. Thankfully Screen Australia has announced that the astonishing Samson & Delilah, from writer/director Warwick Thornton, has been selected to represent Australia in the 82nd annual Academy Awards. Says the press release:

To be eligible for consideration for the Best Foreign Language Film Award, a film must have been released in its country of origin for at least seven days and is defined by predominantly non-English dialogue.


Written and directed by Warwick Thornton and produced by Kath Shelper, Samson & Delilah is shot predominantly in the Aboriginal language Warlpiri. It stars Marissa Gibson as Delilah and Rowan McNamara as Samson.

The only other possibility was Jonathan Auf Der Heide's Van Diemen's Land and let's just be thankful they didn't choose that one! The only other contender I could think of was Granaz Moussavi's My Tehran for Sale, but it's release hasn't been confirmed so it probably didn't make the initial eligibility cut. There's always next year for that film.

I was actually worried that Samson & Delilah wouldn't qualify since there is English language dialogue in the film, and I couldn't recall what percentage it was. It doesn't help that large amounts of the film are dialogue-free, which made it hard to gauge. However, it has passed the test and is in the running so congratulations to everyone involved. Now, we've just got to hope that the Academy sees the film for the stunning achievement that it is!

A nomination would make Samson & Delilah the first Australian film ever nominated for the foreign language Oscar, despite several attempts. Clara Law's Floating Life (1996), Steve Jacobs' La Spagnola (2001), Rolf de Heer's Ten Canoes (2006) and Tony Ayres' The Home Song Stories (2007) were all submitted in years prior, but failed to receive nominations (Ten Canoes being the only real disappointing snub of the three).

An Oscar nomination would cap a near perfect run for the film. A box office hit, rapturous critical reception, the Camera d'Or from the Cannes Film Festival, European commercial release and a surefire AFI magnet (note to self: AFI awards are made of glass, HMMMmm). I can't say I'm confident at it receiving a nomination, but I'm more confident than in years passed. It has universal praise, which to be honest doesn't mean much in the world of Oscar's foreign language category, but it would be a shame if it got pushed aside purely because it doesn't have a high profile director like Haneke attached or because it's not about WWII.

No Offence to Robert Pattinson Intended...

...but he ain't James Dean.

I don't have anything against Robert Pattinson other than he doesn't make good movies - well, not since Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - but this photo shoot that I recently came across at Towleroad sort of irked me. I've made my stance on James Dean known before - one fine actor and the sexiest man of all time doncha know - and I always find it awkward when photographers try and dress whatever new-hot-young-star-that-is-popular-for-the-time-being up as him. Am I the only one who finds it strange to have someone like Pattinson dolled up a tragic gay alcoholic who died too young? Or are they just so uninformed on their cinematic idols that they think "James Dean! He was popular!"? It's very much like the Lindsay Lohan photo shoot when she was done up like Marilyn Monroe. That wasn't "inspired" or "art-imitating-life-imitating-art". No, it was actually sad. Lindsay Lohan equating herself to Marilyn Monroe is SAD!

While this photo shoot of Robert's isn't obviously taking its cues from a specific one of Dean's, I think it's quite obvious that they're putting him in that role of instantly-iconic-yet-misunderstood-young-man that James Dean played. I've seen him do the cigarette thing and that hair and those sideburns? Come on! I can almost hear the photographer saying "There's not enough loneliness in your eyes! LONELY! You're in a harsh and unforgiving world, Robert!" Because Robert's life of constantly being hounded by screaming girls is by far more troubling than being forced to closet yourself after your mother dies and you get shipped off by your neglectful father to live with other relatives.

Of course, it could have been Robert's idea and he's giving us a clue that he's actually a homo and that he wants to bone Paul Newman. I shudder to think that there are actually people out there who think Twilight is better than Rebel Without a Cause. Or East of Eden. Or Giant. "You're tearing me apart!"

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Greatest Team of All

We are Geelong, the greatest team of all
We are Geelong; we’re always on the ball
We play the game as it should be played
At home or far away
Our banners fly high, from dawn to dark
Down at Kardinia Park

etc, repeat


And just because he's my favourite, here is Brat Ottens being fantastic.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Darkness Falls

Have you seen Alex Proyas' Dark City? I had the pleasure of being able to watch it again after all these years on the big screen at ACMI. I don't think I can properly articulate just how much I love this movie. I had never seen it before at a cinema and I think my love for it just grew larger. I didn't think it possible, to tell you the truth. This movie is cinema.

Dark City should be shown to all film students as an example of just what you can do in this day and age (well, 1998) and how well one can integrate art direction, CGI and practical effects, cinematography and a genuine love of cinema and create something truly breathtaking and original. Sure, "original" sounds like a strange word to use when there references to films like Metropolis and M are obvious (albeit, tastefully done and in total spirit with the film), and I imagine many would think it a rip-off of The Matrix, although in truth the latter used sets and designs from Dark City (both were filmed at the 20th Century Fox lot in Sydney, Australia).

What struck me about watching the film on the big screen though - a big upgrade from the VHS and DVD viewings of the past - is the sheer beauty of it all. This is most certainly one of the most stunning films on a pure visual level. And I got that out of watching an original print with the occasional scratch and blemish, something I would much prefer to the simple DVD projection that a lot of places use when screening old films. Indebted massively to German impressionism, film noir (it played during ACMI's season of Aussie Noir, after all) and comic strips (I'm thinking "Dick Tracy" mostly), it is gorgeous to watch. The striking production design, exemplified by the city skyscrapers, canals, jazz nightclubs, tangled road systems and the underground lair, are - at times - breathtaking. It really is like watching Metropolis being successfully updated to the modern era.

"Modern era", that's another interesting term to use, since the film doesn't feel modern at all. It runs parallel to whatever is "hip" and "cool", which is such a shame. The visual effects are kept to a minimum and whatever CGI there is it is done seemlessly. In fact the only big obvious CGI moments - the "tuning" moments - look just as good as any $200million blockbuster.

Dark City is also an incredibly strong story. It's rare to find a science fiction film with such a well-executed story. Wonderfully morphing all of the inspirations into something wholly comprehensible and superbly done. The actors, too, are wonderful. Rufus Sewell (a modern day Robert Powell if ever there was one) has never been better, Jennifer Connelly before she was terminally depressed, John Hurt in one of the more fascinating roles of his last couple of decades and Richard O'Brien from Rocky Horror Picture Show doing his shtick. And it's always fun to play "Spot the Aussie!" There's Melissa George as a hooker, David Wenham and Bruce Spence as Strangers (the villains of the film), Colin Friels as a detective and so on.

As I wrote before, Dark City is cinema. It's everything I wish more films were.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I'll Meet You at Sweet Valley High!

Look right down any crowded hall you'll see there's a beauty standing
Is she really everywhere, or a reflection?
One always calls out to you. The other's shy and quiet.
Could there be two different girls who look the same at:

Sweet Valley, Sweet Valley High (Meet you at Sweet Valley)
Sweet Valley, Sweet Valley High (Meet you at Sweet Valley)
Sweet Valley, Sweet Valley High Meet you at Sweet Valley High

Is it strange that the first (and, until now, only) time I blogged about Sweet Valley High I gave it a tag? It's as if I intrinsically new that I would be talking about it again at some stage... at some moment in time. And voila! Here we are in 2009 and I am quoting from this.

Despite her latest effort, Jennifer's Body, performing poorly upon debut at the US box office last week, screenwriter du jour Diablo Cody remains Mugatu-hot right now. She's possibly just got a little hotter with news that Universal has signed her up to write and produce its adaptation of the Sweet Valley High book series.

I never really read the book, but the TV series? Oh boy! The TV series was where it was at, y'all! I remember those Saturday mornings watching shows like Sweet Valley High, Saved by the Bell, Clueless as well as Nickelodeon shows like The Secret World of Alex Mack (boy, how much did I love The Secret World of Alex Mack? A: A LOT!) I was watching these because I was too young to watch 90210 and Melrose Place. They gave me lasting memories as it so happens (childhood nostalgia will do that to you) and I always sorta wanted to live in California and live their lives. Always so much more interesting than mine. I mean, who wouldn't wanna live a place like "Paradise Valley" and be involved in wacky shenanigans?

Sweet Valley High followed the twin sisters of Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield. Elizabeth is the so-called "shy" one (according to the theme song above) of the pair, of course, in the world of the TV series this "shy" sister parades around in bikinis while roller-blading at the beach. "Shy" is perhaps a bit of a stretch. Hilariously, the theme song also seems to imply that the idea of twins is this bizarre and weirdly scientific mumbo jumbo idea that people are still skeptical about like global warming or the world being flat. Could there really be two different girls that look the same? Surely not!

Nevertheless, a movie version may be immediately questionable, but there are a couple of reasons to look forward to it. The first is Diablo Cody. I am solidly in Camp Cody. I never thought Juno was the greatest thing ever created, but I also never got anywhere close to thinking it was the worst piece of excrement ever created. It's sad that there is some crossover in those groups as people who once thought it was fantastic now think it's shit. Such a shame that the vacuum of internet hype does this to people. While I haven't seen Cody's second produced screenplay, the Megan Fox-starring horror/comedy Jennifer's Body, I lovelovelove the show she created (and has written for) The United States of Tara so she gets props for that. Of course, you'll always have miserable gits like the first commenter in this piece at The Playlist.

I'm not sure why Cody is so reviled these days, but my theory (repeat: THEORY) is that all the writers and critics and bloggers who hate her what to be her. She's living the life they wanted to live (minus the stripper part - they just wanna screw strippers, not actually be one). She's a screenwriter who became famous and gets to meet her idols and generally be rich and famous for WRITING FILMS! The belief goes that all critics want to be directors and all bloggers want to be screenwriters, so I think it makes sense that they now hate her. They admired her at first and now that she's actually a success they loathe her. All because she managed to achieve the rare fate of achieving fame from WRITING! Shocking.

Nevertheless, Cody went on Twitter (@diablocody) and announced that not only will be writing the Sweet Valley High movie, but that "Frankie says relax: Sweet Valley High is set in the '80s." THANK GOD! Can you just imagine a movie of Sweet Valley High set in the modern day and age? I think I'd rather stab my eyes out with a fork. It would end up like Bratz: The Movie or something equally horrific.

Do they even do these sort of series anymore? I'm thinking Sweet Valley High, The Babysitter's Club, Goosebumps (check out this amazing Goosebumps website btw) etc. I wonder what they're life if they do exist or if that world has dissolved into Harry Potter and Twilight style novel series.

Lastly, I just wanted to include this clip of Diablo Cody appearing on Letterman before she was known as the woman who introduced "honest to blog" into the lexicon of modern language. Notice how the crowd, who obviously haven't the foggiest idea who she is, is totally surprised and taken by her humour? Yeah... I wonder if that audience now thinks "wow, she's a bitch" (?!?) for no reason whatsoever. Yeah, I wonder...

There Are Far Worse Things Than This Poster For Persecution

Like the movie itself, apparently. :(

Still, Romain Duris front and centre on a movie poster (and, I don't care to admit, the hint of chest) is enough to make me forget said poor reviews. Hmmm.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

This Week on Australian Screens

Cinema Releases for the Week 24/09/09

Accident - A fun-looking Hong Kong thriller from a protege of Johnny To.

Fame - Nothing about this movie had made me want to see it (except for the casting of Bebe Neuwirth and Megan Mullally) and it appeared as if they'd turned it into a hip-hop based version ala Step Up, removing all of the grit and edge that makes the original so good. An ad I saw on TV the other night actually piqued my interest, but DVD is where this will end up being seen if at all. Oh, and I just realised that Debbie Allen is in it!

Looking for Eric - Ken Loach directs this movie about a poor, miserable sod who starts imagining a famous soccer player appearing alongside him.

Paper Heart - A mildly diverting mockumentary starring Charlyne Yi and Michael Cera.

Seraphine - Was a big winner at this year's Cesar Awards in France, which won awards for Best Film, Actress and Screenplay.

Stone Bros. - An Aussie stoner road trip comedy starring Luke Carroll and Leon Burchill.

Surrogates - Jonathan Mostow is a good action director - his Breakdown is a classic, clear and simple - and the idea behind Surrogates is interesting, but the fact that it hasn't been screened for critics anywhere makes me very wary since, if it was good, critics could help turn audiences away from the sort of b-grade vibe that it gives off.

Van Diemen's Land - Aussie film that I didn't like, saying "it gets nowhere close to being a good movie. It starts out promisingly enough, but soon descends into a dull, tedious mess. Van Diemen's Land is pretentiousness of the highest order." Oh dear.

DVD Releases for the Week 24/09/09

Dragonball Evolution - I don't even know why this movie exists in 2009, truly. Isn't at least five years late?

Fired Up! - Cheerleader "comedy" starring a bunch of 30-year-olds as teenagers. :/ Available in an "Undressed and Uncut Edition". Because that's what we all need.

Gomorrah - Wasn't the City of God-esque hit that people expected.

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist - Interesting that Paper Heart, a flop in American limited release, should receive an Aussie cinema release (albeit, limited) and yet this one that seemed like it could tap into some of the Juno / (500) Days of Summer crowd is going direct-to-DVD.

Paris 36 - French old-fashioned musical.

State of Play - Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams and Helen Mirren star in this quite decent thriller aimed more at adults that sugar high teenagers (so, naturally, it flopped).

"It's like The Town that Dreaded Sundown"

These pictures were taken by a photographer called Daniel Boud (click to be taken to his official site) of the crazy dust storms that overtook Sydney, Australia today. The first thing my mind went to was the line in Scream where poor Sidney Prescott opines that "It's like The Town that Dreaded Sundown", although you'd be forgiven for thinking they were making an outback-set version of The Mist. Set in, er, an outback town with, um, an opera house and a big harbour bridge. Yes, yes.

Where's Tori Spelling?

Oh, there she is (via)! Definitely not a young Meg Ryan. (Click if you can't quite see what's going on there.)

Featuring Keisha Buchanan

By the way, isn't it becoming glaringly obvious that Heidi Range and her vacant face were more involved that previously thought? And never has my blog tag "Sugababes and it's Former Members" been so appropriate. I'm still upset and listening to their catalogue on repeat.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Review: Van Diemen's Land

Van Diemen's Land
Dir. Jonathan Auf Der Heide
Year: 2009
Aus Rating: MA15+
Running Time: 104mins

"Arthouse Horror Porn" (wank-fest), noun, 1. A variety of horror films targeted at the arthouse crowd that allows them the visceral thrill of watching people die in gruesome ways while also providing them with the minimal dialogue, long tracking shots and artful cinematography that they crave, allowing them to nod their head in approval and extol such lines as "yes, it's a film about the human condition" while they simultaneously look down on those who prefer horror films to actually be scary, thrilling and/or fun. 2. A sub-genre of film that allows filmmakers to indulge in gore and violence while masquerading behind a wall of pretentiousness and wankery.

3. Jonathan Auf Der Heide's Van Diemen's Land.

Set during the times of Australia's colonisation, Van Diemen's Land is set in the titular island off the south-west coast of Australia (nowadays called Tasmania) and follows the confessions of Alexander Pearce, a convict who was convicted of murder and cannibalism and hanged in 1824. He and seven other prisoners escaped their Penal Settlement and trekked their way through the Tasmanian wilderness before eventually turning to eating each other to fend off hunger.

Curiously, the story of Alexander Pearce was used as the basis of the dire horror film Dying Breed less than a year ago as well as the TV film The Confessions of Alexander Pearce from earlier this year. I have not seen the latter, but while Van Diemen's Land is much better than Dying Breed it gets nowhere close to being a good movie. It starts out promisingly enough, but soon descends into a dull, tedious mess. Van Diemen's Land is pretentiousness of the highest order.

The film is competently made from a technical standpoint, that's for sure. The cinematography by Ellery Ryan is gorgeous, yes, but filled with shots of things like the sky and trees blowing in the wind. It works here most of the time, until it becomes apparent that they're being thrown in at anytime when the story has nowhere to go. It is filmed in an almost monochrome style punctuated occasionally by the rich green forestry of Tasmania. Sound design and sound editing are also noteworthy, especially the oft-gruesome scenes of munching, biting and chewing. Grisly stuff, there. Performances run from hot to cold though with Mark Leonard Winter and Torquil Neilson proving to be best in show. As Alexander Pearce, Oscar Redding is transparent. Sure, you could say it is the character, but nothing Redding does on screen registers one iota.

The first half of Van Diemen's Land is actually quite good, however, once the nasty stuff begins, it shifts gears and all the tension that had been built comes crushing down. All the best characters either get eaten or simply walk off screen never to return. The atmosphere morphs into boredom as the numbers on screen dwindle and the interactions between them go with it. Dialogue becomes almost non-existent and the only intrigue - who's going to die next - is hindered by the fact that these characters are all deathly dull with no interesting aspects to them at all. Something could have been made out of the Pearce tale that really took a look at the madness that can form in situations as horrific as these, but Van Diemen's Land is not it. To take a pun from Pearce's nickname of "The Pieman", Van Diemen's Land is like a soggy meat pie. It's got the right ingredients, but by this stage it's no good to anyone and you may as well throw it out. C-

Monday, September 21, 2009

RIP Sugababes

Being a fan of UK pop group the Sugababes has often been "tumultuous" to say the least. It all began with Keisha Buchanan, Siobhan Donaghy and Mutya Beuna. "Overload" was the first song I ever heard from them and it was a stunning piece of music, but one that actually improves with age. Pop music, no matter what many of us pop music tragics will tell you, does indeed have the ability to age horribly (but, as any pop music tragic will you too, so does any genre), so it's amazing how well it stands up today.

Starting with the initial surprise of the departure of original member Siobhan Donaghy and the inclusion of former Atomic Kitten member Heidi Range (remember, Atomic Kitten weren't yet quite the joke that they inevitably became), which then lead to their progression from soul pop - see tracks like "New Year" and "Soul Sound" - to out-and-out bonafide electro pop with the Richard X produced, and completely monolithic, "Freak Like Me". Then several years and several brilliant albums later came the biggest shock when news came that Mutya Beuna was leaving.


"How could this happen?" we asked? It was then that the image of the Sugababes slipped. One of the great things about the Sugababes - one of the things that made them so respected in an industry that had been conditioned to reject "girl groups" by default - was that they seemed to have such integrity as a band. These personalities that would normally not make pop stars with voices like liquid and the ability to craft amazing music was such a rare "perfect storm" for pop. And now there was only one tangible link to the past and that was Keisha. Siobhan Donaghy had made it very clear what she thinks of Keisha and it's not very flattering. Mutya went on to forge a solo career that produced on album (Real Girl) that flopped and one of the finest singles of the decade in "Song 4 Mutya (Out of Control)" with Groove Armada.

Into Beuna's spot came Ammelle Berrabah, a brash seemingly very outspoken girl who sounded like she came from the housing estate wielding a deck chair to smash over your head. It became very easy to love Ammelle even if she never really got to record a proper album until years later on Change (she had re-recorded some of Taller in More Ways and recorded the greatest hits track "Easy"). She injected another edge into the Sugababes that made sense, but it still wasn't the same.

It was probably here that things really started to fall apart for the "Sugababes". They were still the Sugababes, but it was more in name only. They continued to make amazing music (tracks like "About You Now" and "You On a Good Day" prove that), but that respectability had worn off. Routinely appearing in the tabloids for various non-music related efforts including Berrabah's violent outbursts, a "feud" with another British pop outfit, Girls Aloud, and jokes about the group's "revolving door" took the shine off of the aura of respectability that the girls had carved.

And now comes 2009. They had already released "Get Sexy", which I thought was a corker of a track. I called Ammelle "just that cool" and the song "very big and very amazing". Another track called "About a Girl" leaked to radio and now they're finished. The writing was probably on the wall, come to think of it in retrospect, since the Sugababes always released their album directly after the lead single. Their latest album, however, was held back and then reports came of Ammelle going AWOL after big fights. However, nobody could have predicted the way the group went about ending their existence.

"I'm sad to say that I am no longer a part of the Sugababes" were the words I expected to hear coming from Ammelle Berrabah. They, however, came from Keisha. The last remaining member of the original line-up and the last tangible thread to an "idea" of what the Sugababes are. Or were, as the case now is.

From PopJustice

Monday 21st September

The current line-up of the Sugababes has disbanded.

Heidi Range and Amelle Berrabah will continue as the Sugababes and will be joined by new member Jade Ewen. They release their album ‘Sweet 7’ on November 23rd through Island Records.

Keisha Buchanan will continue to record for Island Records as a solo artist.

So, yes, the brand of "Sugababes" will indeed continue, apparently, but the Sugababes are dead. They're over. Finished. Done. And it is very sad. No offence to Ammelle and Heidi, and perhaps even Jade although I don't know much of her other than "My Man" and that Eurovision song she did, but if they continue on as the Sugababes then they are just shitting on the legacy of one of the greatest girl groups that ever existed.

My affection for the Sugababes is so incredibly strong. Debut album One Touch came out in 2000 and it was around this time that I came out (to myself, at least). I had always loved music and always loved music that a boy wasn't meant to like, but the Sugababes were, if I am recalling correctly, the first artist of their kind that I didn't hide my affection for. They gave me the freedom to like whoever I wanted to like and I felt their soothing harmonies helping to make life tolerable. So they mean much more to me than just a girl group that had a few really great songs. They were a part of me. Sure, I've joked along with everyone else about the way they ditch and recruit new members at the drop of a hat, but underneath it all was such a strong river of love for them that it pained me to make fun of them.

All three of the original Sugababes will now be solo artists. Siobhan Donaghy's stuff has been extraordinary (think Kate Bush 2.0) while Mutya's was more of a mixed bag (think Hazell Dean 2.0). I know exactly what sort of music Keisha is going to produce; it's not going to be the same. It's never going to be the same. Listening to a new Sugababes song isn't going to feel right knowing that it is Heidi, Ammelle and Jade singing. They'll merely be feeding off a dead corpse.

I guess we had it great though for a while there, didn't we? It's not very often that a group like the Sugababes are around. They released six albums in 8 years, and with Sweet 7 to be released late this year it was to be seven album, which is an incredibly achievement, really, considering how great they all are. "Great" actually doesn't even begin to describe them. One Touch is a completely different sound to the rest of their discography, but it remains one of their most important. Any album with such classics as "New Year", "Overload", "Soul Sound" and "Run for Cover" is worth more than the price of a purchase.

How does one extol the virtues of Angels with Dirty Faces? Songs like "Freak Like Me", "Stronger", "Round Round", "Virgin Sexy", "Shape"... all transcendental. The former, actually, is what I'd call a truly perfect song. It towers over the decade. I remember watching the video clip for the first time and my eyes just lighting up like disco balls. It was sexy and predatory and dirty and incredible.

I've always had a soft spot for Three. Whether it's the truly sublime ballads like "Conversations Over", "Caught in a Moment", "Too Lost in You" and "Sometimes". And then there's the epic electro pop of "Hole in the Head" (who can ever forget those monstrous lyrics about Ricki Lake, selling ass and manicures?), "In the Middle" and "Whatever Makes You Happy". The album ends with a song called "Maya" that truly must be heard to be believed. It's haunting and hopeful all at once.

Taller in More Ways is another stunner, and one that has actually revealed itself over time. Songs like "Ace Reject", "Push the Button" (the 'babes biggest hit here in Australia), "Better" sound a bit lighter than some of the other pop the Sugababes produced, but tracks like "It Ain't Easy", "Obsession" and "Gotta Be You" showed signs of where they were heading, a sound that it seemed like they'd make an entire album out of with Sweet 7. "Red Dress" always felt like a twin sister with "Freak Like Me", which is a very good thing, and to not praise "Joy Division" and "Follow Me Home" is just wrong.

Change was the first album featuring Ammelle Berrabah and it wasn't what I expected. It's very light and frothy and full of summery rays of sunshine. Lead single "About You Now" allayed any fears that Berrabah's inclusion would produce an album of tracks like "Easy" (the song Berrabah recorded on the Sugababes' greatest hits compilation), which is clearly one of the filthiest songs to make the chart since Prince's hey day. "About You Now" sounds like vintage Sugababes so it's no surprise that it proved to be one of their biggest hits. The closing minute ranks as one of music finest moments of the decade. But the entire album was surprising and, for me, easily trumped Girls Aloud's Tangled Up, which was released in the same year. Listen to songs like "Surprise (Goodbye)", "Denial", "My Love is Pink", "Never Gonna Dance Again" and "Undignified" and they will warm your heart.

Catfights & Spotlights seems to get forgotten, which is a shame since it holds some truly fine work. "You on a Good Day", "Every Heart Broken", "Hanging on a Star" and "Beware" all deserved to be much more known and loved. "Can We Call a Truce" proved beautiful then and does so now even more so.

"Back When", however, from Change now has a whole new meaning in the light of everything that's happened in the last week. This song alone is enough to make me want Keisha, Siobhan and Mutya to get back together and do a one-off farewell reunion concert. Getting those three together again, despite their feelings towards each other, would truly bring a tear to my eye. They should do it and say goodbye the name "Sugababes" forever.

I wish Heidi and Ammelle the best of the luck, but they are not the Sugababes. The Sugababes are over and it's a sad day in music. They were instrumental the rise of pop music this past decade and I find it quite fitting that they lasted nine years in an era where they were given a lifespan of two albums. They may have changed faces, sounds and looks, but they were always saviours of great pop music. They'll live on in their music, almost all of which is better than everything in the top 40 right now. Goodbye, Sugababes. It's been great having you.

Unfortunately I'm not able to embed any Sugababes video clips, but I suggest you check out - if nothing else - the video for "Freek Like Me". Their best song, perhaps the best song of the decade (you'll find that out in about 3.5 months time, btw) and a fantastic, creepy clip. RIP.

The Aussies Go Canuck, Part III

The Toronto International Film Festival may be finished, but there's still plenty of Aussie films to discuss. Since the end of the fest three Australian films have won awards. The Loved Ones, directed by Sean Byrne, which we previously took a look at won the audience choice award for the Midnight Madness sidebar. Daybreakers, directed by the Spierig Brothers, and also spoken of recently was the runner-up. Bruce Beresford's Mao's Last Dancer, discussed in the same piece as the others two(!) took first runner up of the general festival's audience award (the winner of that was Lee Daniel's Precious).

Rachel Ward's Beautiful Kate (aka Precious Egg to those in on the joke) has been a surprise hit here at home (and by "hit" I mean a hit in the way that Aussie films can be hits if they make more than $5) and has had some great word out of TIFF. It was the #2 film of the fest of @tomflem as well as saying "I don't speak or understand 'strine so there were times when I longed for subtitles", hahah, aw. "Thumbs up. This is a beautiful film" (@jungledrum), "Def worth going 2 c" (@gloriabox), "a beautiful film" (@aperturecinema),

Over at Tererick they think Ward "clinches it in the end," despite some flaws at the handling of the stereotypical film festival subject matter. The Hollywood Reporter says "Rachel Ward dares to go where many first-time filmmakers would fear to tread with her feature "Beautiful Kate," and "First-class performances from Mendelsohn and Brown bring nuance to deliberately off-putting characters". The Star says it is "brutally affecting" and ScreenDaily is enthusiastic, saying "a handsome and intense love story, a gothic tale ... delivered with relish by her cast."

Ana Kokkinos seems like a director tailor made to a film festival and it's worked a treat for many. "a powerful Aussie film directed by Ana Kokkinos - excellent" (@tednation), "amazing, raw, emotional film. Unbelievable performance by Frances O'Connor" (@brianbaker79), "blessed is just the kind of film i come to #TIFF09 for. sweet little indie from australia that will make you laugh & cry" (@Larry411) and "a very raw and powerful film" (@clsmale). Meanwhile, ScreenDaily calls it "Finely acted by a large cast led by a jagged, desperate Frances O’Connor".

Claire McCarthy's The Waiting City has been a film high on my radar since it was announced last year. For whatever reason, the Herald Sun was incredibly interested in the making of the film, constantly throwing news up about it in their "Confidential" section. ScreenDaily has a review, calling it "poignant" and that "(Radha) Mitchell and (Joel) Edgerton are so convincing". Meanwhile The Hollywood Reporter says "The journey looks like an overly familiar one as "The Waiting City" begins. Westerners confronting, then being rejuvenated by the mysterious East is by now a cliche. Yet Sydney-based writer-director Claire McCarthy proves too smart to fall into that trap."

Over on Twitter it is being called "moving, finely pitched & boasts ace perfs" (@mattriviera), "Brilliant movie" (@georgethemelis), "Beautifully filmed in Calcutta. The storyline touched me. Yup I cried..." (@T_DOTgirl), "heartfelt...An Australian film, shot in Calcutta....fine acting, beautifully shot, well worth seeing!!" (@bjessup4), . I personally found " 'The Waiting City' was brilliant. Everything Slumdog was, should have been and could have been..." (@connorjessup) quite hilarious though.

Director Claire McCarthy and co-star Samrat Chakrabarti at the TIFF premiere for The Waiting City, via

I might do one more of these, but don't hold you breath.

The United States of Toni

It appears that I have never written anything on this here blog about how incredible The United States of Tara (currently screening season one here in Australia) is. Well, it is incredible. If you follow my Twitter feed (@stalepopcornau) then you would certainly be aware since every Wednesday night I go on rampages of tweets discussing it. My actual favourite cast member is not Toni Collette, shockingly, but Brie Larson. She of Sleepover fame, apparently, although I don't remember... and yes, I have indeed seen Sleepover starring Alexa Vega and Jane Lynch(!?!)

However, I am totally in love with Toni winning the Emmy Award for her performance. The show was ripped off in the nominations with only Collette up for anything (not even the writing, courtesty sometimes of Diablo Cody) and nothing for Larson or Keir Gilchrist, nothing. Kinda sad.

Anyway, here is Collette accepting her Emmy for Best Actress in a Comedy. I love hearing that natural accept. Would've been nice to hear her say "Tara" the way we do though. Just for kicks.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Alex O'Loughlin Wishes You a Happy Weekend

I won't be around because I'm busybusybusy, but next week there will be posts looking back on The Return of Captain Invincible, Alex Proyas' Dark City on the big screen, a review of Van Diemen's Land, plus all sorts of other stuff. But because I'm leaving you for a couple of days here is a picture of Alex O'Loughlin that I swiped from My New Plaid Pants. Have y'all seen Oyster Farmer? I'm unaware as to its distribution internationally, but O'Loughlin is damn fine in it if you ask me (both performance wise and... well, surely you have eyes and can see.) Now let's never speak of Moonlight... or that new doctors show he is on... or the movie that this picture comes from, The Back-Up Plan starring Jennifer Lopez.

Never. Again.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Review: $9.99

Dir. Tatia Rosenthal
Year: 2009
Aus Rating: M
Running Time: 78mins

The latest in the very short list of Australian feature animations is called $9.99. Is it worth its title in a movie ticket? Probably not, but those who are willing to go along for this incredibly bizarre piece of stop-motion filmmaking will surely find something within it to tickle your fancy. A co-production between Australia and Israel, $9.99 is the second animated feature to come out of this country this year after Adam Elliot’s superb Mary and Max, and while that title is by far the superior one, it is encouraging to see such a medium being embraced by filmmakers, even if there’s no chance of them ever reaching the box office heights of even the most C-grade American animation.

Read the rest over at Onya Magazine.

Cate Blanchett Stole a Rug and Wore It as a Dress

Via @Fed_Square comes this photo of Cate Blanchett on the red carpet at the new attraction at Federation Square called Screen Worlds wearing one of those colourful crocheted rugs that every grandmother knows how to make. I know it's cold in Melbourne today, but this is taking it a bit too far...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

This Week on Australian Screens

Cinema Releases for the Week 17/09/09

$9.99 - The first Aussie/Israeli co-production is this stop-motion animation title from director Tatia Rosenthal. I'll have a review up later today. It's probably not worth $9.99 worth of tickets, but it's got its charms.

(500) Days of Summer - I'm usually wary of movies in which young characters shop in vinyl record stores (as I've seen them do on the TV commercials, which, by the way, have been everywhere), but I still want to see this movie very much. It's got Joseph Gordon-Levitt, people! He wasn't enough to get me to see GI Joe or Stoploss, but I'm totally keen for this one.

Contact - New Australian documentary about the last Aborigines to not know about English settlement, as recently as 1964. Just won the Best Direction of a Documentary prize from the Director's Guild of Australia.

Encounters at the End of the World - Actually opened last week, but I forgot to mention it. Oscar-nominated Werner Herzog documentary.

G-Force - I hate this movie and I've never even seen it.

Imagine That - Eddie Murphy tries this thing again. Fails.

Shorts - Yup, you can certainly tell its school holiday season, can't you? Robert Rodriguez makes another kids film that isn't the original Spy Kids. That equates to a "skip" these days each and every time.

Valentino: The Last Emperor - Another month, another fashion documentary. The September Issue is still doing gangbusters at the arthouses around the country and now comes this American sleeper hit about Valentino. I think I'll wait for the DVD.

DVD Releases for the Week 17/09/09

17 Again - Pass.

Bring it On: Fight to the Finish - Why was I not aware that there was another film in the Bring It On franchise? Oh wow. Obviously the original is great, but all the sequels have been so incredibly awful in every possible way that they are actually amazing. In it to Win It was particularly hilarious.

The Last House on the Left - The remake of Wes Craven's classic original ("it's only a movie...") is going direct-to-DVD. While I'm not sure if I want to watch it or not (not because it might be "too much", but more because it might be "too shit"), but it's good to see the R18+ rating.

Lesbian Vampire Killers - Ummm... is it about the killers of lesbian vampires or are the vampire killers the lesbians? SO MANY QUESTIONS!

The Merchant of Venice - This film was originally released in 2004(!!!) and only received a cinema release here earlier this year. Now it's on DVD. Yay for catching up with the rest of the world.

Passchendaele - This Canadian version of an epic is directed by Paul Gross who was in that TV show Due South as well as that dreadful film Men with Brooms.

Salvation - One of the worst movies ever made in Australia (or elsewhere, really) is finally out on DVD. Woohoo! I particularly like that Video Ezy have confused it with an action movie. Would've been better if it was one.

The Aussies go Canuck, Part II

In case you missed part 1, I'm just doing a bit of a web/Twitter round-up of how the Aussie films are faring at the Toronto International Film Festival. Part one featured The Loved Ones (with Xavier Samuel), Bruce Beresford's Mao's Last Dancer and the Spierig Brothers' big cast vampire flick Daybreakers.

Robert Connelly's Balibo is a film that I didn't expect to travel well since it deals with a moment of Australian history that strikes such a chord with Aussies, but might fly right over those from overseas. It appears I was wrong as the message has gotten out. On Twitter it has been called "amazing" and a "must see film" (@solotraveler), "powerful in the end" (@ashleybrett), "a stellar film" (@albertwisco), and it made @phishy123 feel "angry, sad and disgusted". That's a good thing. "First excellent film I've seen in the festival" and "Highly recommended" (@diggininthedirt) is mighty high praise, so too is "masterfully crafted portrayal. It was real, raw, tragic and I haven't stopped thinking about it. Well DONE!" (@klyster).

There are plenty of reviews for the film (here's mine) since it was released in theatres here a little over a month ago. Some of the reviews out of Toronto however include Moviehole (an Australian site, but featuring reviews from Toronto of Australian films - yes) says "perhaps one of the most powerful and emotional films of the year" and calls it an "astonishing, accomplished and compelling" and the film received a standing ovation. More Aussie reviews can be found collated at the TIFF website.

Rachel Perkins' Bran Nue Dae probably headed to Toronto to become the next Slumdog Millionaire (just look at the poster there to the right). A Feel good musical with big energy, lots of colours and exotic locals. While that certainly won't be the case, it's getting some great write-ups. says it is "atrocious good fun if you let yourself go with it, and is a sunny way to spend a morning, or evening, or night" and that it's "sloppy, messy, like a big wet kiss from a round girl on a hot summer day."

On Twitter people are saying that it is "good fun" and that "Geoffrey Rush turns in a great comic performance" (@canmark), "Bran Nue Dae may have been the best of my Toronto films this year" (@chicagobliss), "Geoffrey Rush ... was brilliant in Bran Nue Dae!" (@kaiexos) and "such a great film to start the day with! Missy Higgins is a riot" (@scolford). Was good to hear (via @kcobuffalo) that the film's screenings were sold out. Geoffrey Rush was there, although it's a bit disappointing they couldn't fly anyone else over. Not Missy Higgins or Jessica Mauboy? Darn.

I can't say Scott Hicks' latest feature (he's nominated at the upcoming AFI Awards for his documentary on Phillip Glass) has me very excited, but the word out of Toronto for The Boys are Back is very encouraging. Variety has gotten in early and says it is "impressive that director Scott Hicks steers clear of the maudlin and the manipulative" and that "Hicks here delivers an intimately scaled character piece that many will consider his finest work since 1996's "Shine." ScreenDaily is very impressed too, saying "His (Hicks) adaptation of Simon Carr’s memoirs offers a sensitive, expertly crafted exploration of the bond between a father and his sons. It has the same understanding of male emotions as a Nick Hornby bestseller and could be that rare warmhearted weepie with an appeal that spans the genders and generations.

Screen Rant thinks is especially impressed by Clive Owen, saying it "might be the best of his career". While I find that hard to believe (Closer? Croupier?) the reviewer (John Foote) says he "goes places as an actor he has never gone before", so that's good to hear. Meanwhile, Cinematical thinks "his younger co-stars are scene-stealers", but unfortunately " it's not in a perfectly formed package."

The cast and the director at their photo call.

On Twitter it's similarly full of praise. "Great performances, especially by young Nicholas McAnulty" (@OrmigaDesign), " beautifully told story. Well acted by both young and old" (@GJD) and "easily the best movie I've seen at #TIFF09" (@mariaaguilar).

Meanwhile they don't have reviews but Indiewire is stating that Thelma Adams of US Weekly has given it a B and Susan Wloszczyna of USA Today has given it a B-.

So Australian films keep kicking goals (THAT'S A SPORT TERM!) in Toronto. I'll have another roundup soon.