Sunday, November 29, 2009

As Blasko Follows Mitchell and Miller-Heidke

Did you see what I did with that title? Didja?

Did you watch the ARIA Awards last Thursday night? No? Neither did I. Although I caught the end where Empire of the Sun's Luke Steele was acting high as a kite as he accepted his Song and Album of the Year awards. What I did miss, however, was this extraordinary performance, below. Lisa Mitchell (very amazing), Kate Miller-Heidki (quite amazing) and Sarah Blasko (absolutely positively fan-bloody-tastically amazing) performing a medley of their songs "Coin Laundry" (a serious contender for my single of the year crown, fwiw), "The Last Day on Earth" (I love it when "strange" performers get a ubiquitous radio hit) and "All I Want" (the definition of Sarah Blasko's cool).

It's a wonderful piece and proves that Australian music's true ingenuity is in the women and not in the pub rock that routinely captures the more attention and awards (I'm looking at Powderfinger, Eskimo Joe, Something for Kate, etc). Blasko, especially, deserves to be winning Grammys and not just ARIAs. She took out the award for Best Female Artist, which is quite something considering how outré she can be, but at least it wasn't Ladyhawke who, as amazing as she is, is not Australian and, thus, should have been ineligible. She won Breakthrough Artist Album and Breakthrough Artist Single over the likes of Lisa Mitchell, Jessica Mauboy, Sia (a baffling "breakthrough", no?) and The Temper Trap despite being from New Zealand. And not even like a Russell Crowe thing where he lives and works in Australia! It was basically a big cock up on their end.

I've been on a real Lisa Mitchell kick these past few days, too, which is fitting. Her album, Wonder will be on any best albums of 2009 list I happen to make (and considering I didn't get around to doing for 2008 I can't be positive!) and her "Coin Laundry" is just sublime. Those howls... THOSE HOWLS! Magical. "The Last Day on Earth" isn't my favourite Miller-Heidke track - that'd be "Caught in the Crowd" or "Australian Idol", her piss take on the music industry and reality TV - but it's a wonderful ballad. And Sarah Blasko speaks for herself, really. She's Sarah Blasko! She doesn't need me to defend her.

If they had thrown in Bertie Blackman (sadly not a Best Female Artist nominee, but a winner for Best Independent Release for the brilliant Secrets and Lies) I think this could have contended for most brilliant thing that is brilliant in the history of brilliance. Alas...


Of course, it doesn't help that Channel 9's production of the event, from what I've seen, was so hopelessly inept. Why they had Gyton Grantley and Kate Ritchie, two actors who have nothing to do with "music" or even "chemistry", hosting is beyond me.

BTW, if you needed any further proof that Sarah Blasko is a true stunner, I just discovered the "deluxe edition" of her As Day Follows Night album includes a bonus disc of Blasko's interpretations of her favourite songs from cinema. It's called Cinema Blasko and features "Seems Like Old Times" (from Annie Hall), "Something Good" (The Sound of Music), "Maybe This Time" (Cabaret), "Out Here On My Own" (Fame) and "Xanadu" (Xanadu). I need to get myself a copy of that, even though I am against the idea of "deluxe" albums.

Does that not amaze you? 'Cause it should!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

This Week on Australian Screens

Cinema Releases for the Week 26/11/09

Antichrist - Lars Von Trier's latest effort to stick it to David Stratton is Antichrist. Is it strange that the review of this movie on At the Movies is probably my most anticipated bit of entertainment this whole week? Their Twitter feed (@abcatthemovies) tells us to "expect fireworks!" Yeehaw!

Nevertheless, I think it's quite great - certainly ballsy, that's for sure - and hope people around the country (it's screening in Sydney and Melbourne only as far as I am aware) get to see it soon. By the way, I love that the Australian movie poster (to the left) by Jeremy Saunders ended up going viral all over the Internet.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs - I've heard it's quite good, will probably get an Oscar nomination and it does feature the voice of my beloved Anna Faris, but I'm going to have to skip this one.

Cold Souls - Paul Giamatti stars as Paul Giamatti in this movie about a new scientific procedure that can store a person's soul. I imagine debut feature director Sophia Barthes was going for an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind thing, but couldn't quite pull of that's movie's tricky success. Still, I've heard it's quite good so maybe worth a spin on DVD?

The Invention of Lying - Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Tina Fey, Jeffrey Tambor and Fionnula Flanigan make up a great cast. Screams DVD to me, but then I've really been a huge fan of Gervais. Make of that what you will.

The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls - I'm so glad a movie like this can find a release here in Australia. This New Zealand documentary follows the Topp Twins, gay rights activists and popular entertainers in their home country of Enzed, has gotten some smashing reviews.

DVD Releases for the Week 26/11/09

Bastardy - Local documentary, nominated for Best Documentary at the AFI Awards.

The Hangover - Much like Bruno a couple of weeks back, the DVD release of The Hangover (very funny, by the way) is getting the original R18+ version. An end-credits moment had to be blurred for the Australian release in order to get the less-restrictive rating in case you weren't aware. It's also available in the standard MA15+ version though.

The Proposal - Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds don't not like each other and then pretend to like each other before realising they actually like each other.

Samson & Delilah - If you didn't see it during it's hit run at cinemas or you didn't watch it when it aired on TV last Sunday night (to around 700,000 viewers, which is great!) then now you can actually watch this great Australian film. Hailed as one of the best ever, it won a swag of awards at the IF Awards last week including Film, Director, Actor and Actress. Will probably win a bunch from AFI too. Here's hoping Oscar glory follows! The DVD includes "Making Samson & Delilah", a behind-the-scenes documentary that played at MIFF.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

2002

Again, same as before. Titles of note that I missed include About Schmidt, Bloody Sunday, 24 Hour Party People, The Good Girl and Spider.


2002 was very much a year of red/orange/yellow designs, wasn't it?

Death is a Good Option

I just spent two hours doing something for y'all and it didn't save. I'm gonna quietly go die now kthnx. I'm not going to be here much of the next few years either so unless I get some stuff up and scheduled it might get quiet 'round these here parts. Gah! This is horrible. I think I need to go watch Battlestar Galactica to erase these feelings of epic stupidity.

When Bad Posters Strike: Nine (& The Weinstein Corporation at Large)

Poor ol' Weinstein Company. They don't have much money in the coffers these days. It seems like they spent a whole swag of it on their Inglourious Basterds campaign and now have resorted to releasing fan posters to cinemas. The posters for John Hillcoat's The Road, which they are releasing in America this coming weekend, haven't exactly been all that good (I think I saw that exact same design on a direct-to-DVD movie recently) and their designs for Tom Ford's A Single Man leave a lot to be desired. A picture in a box surrounded by black? How inventive!


However, now they have gone and released a few posters for upcoming all-star musical Nine and they are... well, they're different, I'll give them that!

Firstly is this one. Clearly the worst of the bunch, wouldn't you say? I can accept photoshopping, but this is like Cher plastic surgery levels of photoshopping. It just doesn't look real. Or even fake-real for that matter. It's just... incredibly fake.


I'm not going to begrudge the paparazzi deciding to take photographs of Daniel Day-Lewis' crotch because, let's be honest here; if I Day-Lewis' groin shoved in my face I wouldn't bat it away. However, it's just that the whole thing looks so haphazardly assembled. Nothing, not even the actors faces, look real.

Another big problem I have is the font. It just looks so chunky and unappealing. It should be elegant and classy, shouldn't it? Especially once you get past the title and the credits are written in the same block font. Blegh! I do like the tagline, however.

Moving on to the second poster.


I don't have anything particularly bad to say about this poster, but... I dunno. It's not really anything, is it? I think it might have been better with a "Penelope is the Mistress" and "Fergie is the Whore" type of thing. I am assuming there will be a second one of these featuring Daniel Day-Lewis, Nicole Kidman and Marion Cotillard. Judi Dench of Sophia Loren seem to be getting pushed aside, don't they?

Which brings me to the third poster. At the same time it is the best of the three, and also the most disappointing.


I like the intent of this poster the most, but yet again it is let down by shoddy craftsmanship. I really like the idea of Guido's women appearing on a movie poster that he is walking past, but the "poster" within the poster is really poorly done in that it looks sparkling and brand new when everything around it is rustic and Old Italian.

What I do love about the poster, however, is the font. Isn't that a far more appealing font than the tough block font of the title? It's so much easier on the eyes, even the colours too. The plum red and the blues work much better than the lifeless red used on the top design.

Would it hurt them to use different cast photos though? It's just the exact same ones re-used over and over again!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Review: Lady GaGa, The Fame Mons†er


Lady GaGa
The Fame Mons†er
C+

Back when I originally reviewed Lady GaGa's debut album I said this: "It is quite fortuitous that Lady GaGa has named her debut album The Fame because, one must assume, she is set to hit it in a big way." Turns out I was to be quite fortuitous, myself. However, I think it's important that once an artist such as Lady GaGa explodes into the world of music that they must be gone over with a fine tooth comb. I don't accept the argument that just because she is, apparently, some beacon of hope within the pop music landscape that she should be given a free pass and I don't believe that people who are claiming The Fame Monster is the single greatest moment in music history (more or less) are being anything but hyperbolic and reactionary.

The Fame Monster is a fine album, sure, but after many listens the initial thrill of it's immediacy has receded and has instead bared itself to be picked at. I think it was the right decision to make it a stand-alone album and not an annoying deluxe edition of The Fame because GaGa has moulded her image so meticulously over the past year that I can barely believe that she sung songs like "Boys Boys Boys", "Money Honey" and "The Fame" with their overt sunniness. However, I wish she had taken more time with The Fame Monster and turned it into a truer marvel.

At only eight tracks long you could say she's going for an '80s vibe, but with tracks at only 4 minutes long - as opposed to the '80s standard of 6 minutes - it feels a bit cheap. Not quite an EP not quite an LP, if you catch my drift. But the problem isn't so much the quantity as it is the quality. There are some truly standout miraculous moments here, but I know an album is in trouble when after only a week I have weeded out several songs and focus on just a few. That the album only had eight songs to begin with doesn't bode well.

"Telephone", which features a spectacularly brilliant guest rap by Beyonce, is my pick of the bunch - despite that fact that she has clearly stolen from the Busy Drag Queen skits - and "Monster" is a song that approaches epic proportions. It truly could have been if she had taken by above advice and extended it to six minutes of earth-shaking "he ate my heart" chants. "So Happy I Could Die" is another winner with its synthesised slow-burn that really gets under my skin while "Dance in the Dark" is enjoyable, but doesn't stick in the mind like it really should. First single, "Bad Romance" is another favourite, but it is a bellwether for problems. While the sound and the production of The Fame Monster by far suits Lady GaGa's extroverted avant-garde style, the loss of femininity in her voice on several tracks is distracting.

The rawness that comes through towards the end of "Bad Romance" is welcome, but what's not is the huskiness that appears elsewhere. It's unattractive and distracting. However, if that is a minor problem on "Bad Romance" then I probably never had a hope with "Speechless". Besides the song being a shameless rip-off of a Beatles production, she slurs her way through the song that is at times indecipherable and other times just plain annoying.

Speaking of shameless rip-offs, what about "Alejandro"? I know many have positioned GaGa as a modern day Madonna - isn't Madonna the modern day Madonna? - and "Alejandro" is ostensibly her version of Madge's "La Isla Bonita". Quite tellingly, "La Isla Bonita" is one of my least favourite Madonna tracks and "Alejandro", despite its addictive "Ale-Alejandro, Ale-Alejandro" refrain, is almost lifeless. It goes nowhere other than being a collection of foreign clichés that make no sense.

Of course, I've left the worst until last and that is "Teeth". A song so dire, worthless and calculated to appear on The Vampire Diaries that it hurts to talk about it. No wonder it's the album closer. If GaGa is the modern day Madonna then she surely hasn't learnt how to conclude an album like Madonna just yet. On the upside I am thankful that there are no stupid ballads like "Brown Eyes" on The Fame Monster and that not once does there appear a "featured" artist of the likes of Flo Rida (crass and obvious much?)

The sad fact, for me, is that The Fame Monster just does not cut it. With only half an album of truly great songs - that's four tracks for those playing along at home - it's a disappointing ratio. And so while some people want to act like this is the second coming of Christ I will happily sit back and watch her develop into a truly exception artist without needing to claim her as one now.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Review: Julia

Julia
Dir. Erick Zonca
Year: 2008/9
Aus Rating: N/A
Running Time: 144mins

A quick search on IMDb for the title "Julia" brings up roughly ten or so other projects with the exact same name, not to mention some called Julia Julia and Being Julia. That one of the Julias stars the likes of Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave and Jason Robards is like giving any movie there after with that title a push backwards. However, for as many films have been called Julia throughout the history of cinema, it's hard to imagine any of them are quite like the one that Erick Zonca presents. And while many pundits are calling for Meryl Streep to win her third Academy Award for playing a very different "Julia" - Julia Child in Nora Ephron's Julie & Julia - having now seen Swinton storm her way through Zonca's film, I can't help but wonder why everyone isn't screaming to high heaven for Swinton to win her second. Julia Vs Julia would be an interesting notion, sure, but one in which there is an easy and predictable winner: Tilda Swinton.

It's hard to properly explain just how fantastic Tilda Swinton truly is in Zonca's two and a half hour sprawling thriller. It, however, ranks as a performance of such ballsy bravura that it can easily rank alongside Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive, Laura Dern in INLAND EMPIRE and Charlize Theron in Monster as such a towering, all-encompassing beast of a performance. Playing the permanently-sozzled lush title character as if her life depended on it, Swinton charges out of the gates at full speed. Dancing up a storm to the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" and Sam Cooke's "Shopping Around" in the opening scene, gyrating on multiple partners and pouring alcohol into her gullet like petrol into a car.


I'm not going to even discuss where the film goes because, quite frankly, half the fun is getting there and not having a single clue as to what it going in (much like Julia herself has no idea what she's doing most of the time, too). Julia is not an "easy" watch, that's for sure, but it's hardly the gritty, miserable experience some may present it as. Sure, Julia is a despicable character for the majority of the films running time, doing everything including drugging children, stealing from gangsters, extorting money from drying tycoons and leaving a kid out in the desert by himself, but even when the viewer's eyes are bulging at the sheer audacity of what Julia has the guts to show, one has to admire it. Where does one, and I'm asking Erick Zonca personally here, get the nerve to write and direct a scene in which a grown woman wearing a mask waves a loaded gun in front of a child's face before tying him up to a pipe and putting masking tape over his face?

Julia isn't just a good film, however, due to Swinton's performance and the sheer audacity of Zonca's convictions. It's a technically efficient film with superb cinematography by Yorick Le Saux, interesting sound design and some sly second fiddle performances from the likes of Saul Rubinek, Kate del Castillo and Bruno Bichir. However, in the end, it really does all come down to Swinton and Zonca who have teamed up to present us with one of the most brazen films of the last few years. It is hardly surprising that the film only a got a four-night engagement at one cinema here in Melbourne. A barely attended four-night engagement, to be exact.


By the time Julia's almost comically perverse trip through Los Angeles suburbia and Mexican border towns comes to an end I felt exhausted and exhilarated and all but jumping with glee. To watch Tilda Swinton act hurricanes in Julia is to watch a master at work giving the performance of a lifetime. And if people do not go and see it because they would rather see New Moon so as to notch up some blog visitor numbers and some sarcastic tweets then so be it, but anybody willing to experience the pedal-to-the-medal bombastic tour de force of Julia will surely be enthralled from start to finish and even if one thinks the dismount that Zonca performs on the character of Julia is a discredit to the her - although I think it sits perfectly in with how the character is presented in early scenes with del Castillo - you surely cannot deny that it's a wild ride getting there and one that is completely and utterly unpredictable in every way. A-

Dogville, a blog entry told in 15 screencaps and a prologue

There are so many moments in Lars Von Trier's Dogville that deserve having a photographic memory just so they can live in your mind forever. These shots, however, are just some of the ones that I decided to pick out. They are, naturally, all of Nicole Kidman since it's incredibly hard to watch Dogville and not just be taken by everything she does (unless you're of the "I hate von Trier" camp or the "Nicole Kidman is the worst actress in the world" camp - in which case I don't like you, but please keep reading the blog!) She towers over everybody and everything.

My personal favourite moment is the showdown between Kidman and James Caan. Kidman's shrugs and smirks and shakes of the head are fascinating in ways that an actress rarely is. I love how watching that scene she acts just like any child does when a parent goes on their usual arguments as if to say "here we go again" mixed with those confused looks and rolls of the eyes. It's a side of Kidman's "Grace" that we hadn't seen in the two and half hours prior and yet seems like the most natural of behaviours. It just proves how great Kidman is. I could watch that scene over and over again and never get tired of it.

I urge you to revisit this movie since it's one you may have forgotten is as powerful as it actually is. And it also helps remind what an invaluable inclusion Nicole Kidman has been in the cinematic landscape this decade. Has there been a mainstream "superstar" actor so intriguing in recent times? Between this and Birth from 2004 she single-handedly cemented her place in cinema history as an actress who will be discussed for decades into the future. Legacies aren't created by box office or being liked by the sort of people who make Transformer 2 one of the most successful movies of all time, that's for sure.
















Now, let's not speak about Manderlay, shall we?

2001

Same deal as last time. Some of the notable titles from 2001 that I have missed seem to be L.I.E (as far as I am aware, it's never even been released here - anybody know if it's available anywhere?), Heist, No Man's Land, Millennium Actress and The Devil's Backbone. Yet again I remind you that I am but one person.


Also, I added to 2000 because I couldn't believe how I had forgotten The Dish and I just needed to include it. I've probably done the same with 2001, too. Let's see how long it takes me to figure it out if I have!

"We ask ourselves, is she black? Is she white? We don't care. She's exotic. I want to see more of her breasts."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dancing over at Another Blog

I just guested over at The Film Experience doing a piece on one of my favourite films from 2001, Dancing at the Blue Iguana. Read it by clicking here. It stars one of the most fascinating trios of women - Daryl Hannah, Sandra Oh and Jennifer Tilly as strippers in Michael Radford's improvised film. It's not a classic film by any stretch, but it's a wonderful actressexual experience and its representation of Los Angeles is another fascinating thing about it. Sandra Oh is particularly fantastic, too.

It's one of the only recent films - the other being The Wrestler, I'm coming up blank elsewhere - that produces a good film out of the act of stripping. Showgirls, Striptease, Zombie Strippers and I Know Who Killed Me seem to have cursed this seedy sub-sub-genre. And it has a great soundtrack too! Bubble's "Sparkle Star" is a particularly inspired choice for a stripper soundtrack.

2000

Bare in mind that there are some notable films from 2000 that I have not seen - Yi Yi, Wonder Boys, Goddess of 1967, House if Mirth (I currently have it sitting here on DVD though!) and Beau Travail seem to be the main ones - and some titles I have seen I don't care for (hello Almost Famous!) I am but one man and seeing everything is just impossible, and even if I wanted to see them they're all listed as being a "long wait" on Quickflix and... umm... I can't be bothered going to the Blockbuster, okay!

Don't look too heard into this though. You'll find out soon enough which of these titles passes into the next round and lands a place on my best of the decade list. Until then (still a while off, I must say) just enjoy the visual splendour. Click and it gets bigger, too!

Akira Colours

Earlier today I briefly spoke about the new Blu Ray edition of Katsuhiro Ôtomo's 1988 anime masterpiece Akira. While I haven't watched it on Blu Ray - obviously since I don't own a player - just looking at some of the screencaps that I've found around the internet (mainly here and here) has me salivating. Just look at these stills and tell me you are not marvelling at the artistry, those colours and how god damn beautiful they are. I actually have the first image shown below as my desktop wallpaper, it's that gorgeous.

(click them to view them MUCH larger)
















Now who wants to buy me a Blu Ray player. And Akira. Yeah?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

This Week on Australian Screens

Cinema Releases for the Week 19/11/09

Amreeka - I have heard such polarising thoughts on this dramady. I can't say I'm too enthused since I didn't go to any of the media screenings that I could have.

My Tehran for Sale - Opened in Adelaide last week and is starting its national roll out. This Australian/Iranian production looks really great and I can't wait to see it. Filmed in the Iran underground, it just won the IF Independent Spirit Award.

A Serious Man - I'm not really that interested in this movie other than it being a Coen Brothers film, but I guess I have to see it if it is going to be such a strong fixture of the awards season. I'm more interested in seeing A Single Man, but will either of them be as good as A Simple Plan? Har dee hah hah.

The Twilight Saga: New Moon - etc.

DVD Releases for the Week 19/11/09

Adventureland - Coming soon, Jesse Eisenberg also stars in Zombieland. Kristen Stewart in New Moon this week, too.

Fanboys - The long-delayed Star Wars comedy got a brief theatrical release earlier in the year and now goes where it belongs, DVD.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - I'm in the minority in thinking Half-Blood Prince is the weakest of the Harry Potter films since the first two Christopher Columbus-directed flicks. Basically because it doesn't stand on its own.

I never mention the copious amount of re-releases and blu ray releases that come through the tunnel because there are simply far too many of them. However, I do want to mention this one - Akira! I don't own a Blu Ray player, but if I did I would totally be upgrading my DVD for this. That movie is stunning to look at and is a very worthy addition to anybody's Blu Ray collection. Buy it! Buy it now!