Sunday, January 31, 2010

Animal is King

Anybody following the awards from Sundance - and you should be since Precious and An Education both started there Oscar run there - will already know this, but I was happy to hear that David Michôd's Melbourne-set crime saga Animal Kingdom took home the World Cinema Jury Prize. Last year the same prize was won by The Maid, the Chilean film about that garnered minor awards acclaim and a steady international release. Starring Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Guy Pearce and Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom follows one family and their crime dealings as they are pursued by the police.

Up above is the festival poster, which I really like but as designer Jeremy Saunders told me it won't be the theatrical poster since "they want to sell tickets". I've also included the brief teaser trailer below, which has a wonderful use of the song "All Out Of Love". Animal Kingdom is out May 6 in Australia and, if the reviews are anything to go by, should be popping up at festivals and maybe get an actual release in some places over the next year.

Who is Candy Clark?

Watching movie credits can be a fascinating thing. Sometimes hidden gems of wonder can emerge from them. I still get a laugh out of remembering the "waterfowl handler" from The Notebook or confused as to why James Franco, hardly unafraid to appear in bad movies, decided to go uncredited for his large-ish role in Nights on Rodanthe. As I sat down the other night to watch Chuck Russell's 1988 remake of The Blob - I had seen it back when I was a wee tike and thought I would revisit - and was puzzled as to the following shot in the opening credits.

Just who is this Candy Clark person - I assumed they were a woman, turns out I was correct - and why does she get a special "with" credit like she's on a David E Kelley TV production or something. Turns out Ms Clark plays "Fran Hewitt", a lovely waitress in a diner who sees her cook get devoured by the garbage disposal (thanks to our good ol' friend the blob) before herself being trapped inside a phone booth by the pink gelatinous science experiment.

The role is hardly anything special - it's not a sort of Vincent Price in Edward Scissorhands moment - she's just there and then she isn't. I was intrigued as to why, of all people, Candy Clark was deemed special enough to get a special credit. Turns out she is actually an Academy Award nominee. I have not seen American Graffiti, but she's apparently good enough in it to be nominated for only her second film (after Fat City on year earlier). A quick glance at the rest of the resume and one gets the distinct impression that that film was a fluke.

Candy Clark would go on to spend the majority of her career in horror and thriller productions. Whether it be getting eaten by a Government experiment in The Blob or being burnt alive in Amityville 3D, playing Buffy's mother in the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, Stephen King productions like Cat's Eye and slasher flicks such as Cherry Falls. She even played "Grace" in Cool As Ice! Most recently she showed up in David Fincher's Zodiac and Steven Soderbergh's The Informant! so there ya go!

That's Candy Clark, apparently.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Goodbye Miramax

Farewell Miramax. You were always my favourite distributor logo (random, I know) and no matter how many people hate on Harvey Weinstein, you can't deny that he, quite literally, revolutionised cinema, distribution, film festivals and award season. The idea that in 2010 a movie about an IRA operative having an affair with transsexual lounge singer could made over $60mil at the American box office would be laughed at, so that the team at Miramax got one there in 1992 is still stunning. Yes, Harvey became intolerable with his habit of buying, shelving and cutting habits, but is there any doubt that if Harvey was still at the wheel in the later years that Sally Hawkins would be an Oscar nominee? He was savvy, that you can't deny. He made City of God a four-time Oscar nominee for crying out loud!

From big arthouse sensations like sex lies and videotape and Trainspotting to the little-known titles such as Priest and Just Another Girl on the I.R.T and the collective films of Quentin Tarantino, Miramax were such a vital part of my development as a film-lover. I'd sit in my room with my old dial TV, sitting on the edge of my bed with the volume down so my parents didn't hear the swearing and the sex that were prevalent. Even though I was watching them through static, the above films and others by the likes of Jane Campion, Kevin Smith and Woody Allen opened my eyes. I seriously cannot imagine where I or any of us would be without them. You can bet that we wouldn't be discussing Oscars 52 weeks a year and you can be assured that movies like Precious, Slumdog Millionaire, Secrets & Lies and Little Miss Sunshine wouldn't have been the Oscar nominees and winners that they eventually became thanks to the door that Miramax tore down.

However, It is Scream that I am most thankful for. Of all the films out of the Miramax wheelhouse it was Scream that truly kick-started my obsession with film. I've mentioned many times about my affection for that movie and its sequels. I've seen Scream and Scream 2 over 150 times each (EACH! I watched them every day for about 4 months, I kid you not) and without them I wouldn't be here.

Goodbye Miramax, you were good to us even when you made it hard.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Review: The Room

The Room
Dir. Tommy Wiseau
Year: 2003
Aus Rating: M
Running Time: 99mins

Yesterday I had what I think I can say was the greatest cinematic experience of my life. Granted, I’ve only been alive for a quarter of a century and have made the cinema my second home for only half of that time, but last night was without a doubt a truly mind-blowing experience that I will not forget any time soon. I don’t think it’s making too much of a leap to say that Tommy Wiseau’s The Room is anything short of one of the very worst movies ever made in the history of cinema, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t make for one hell of a cinema going treat.

The Room follows the love triangle between three people who are also best friends and all live in the same apartment complex. It’s like Friends, but without the pretty hair and the sarcastic comebacks and “Smelly Cat”. Not to put too fine a point on it, but The Room is trash. Garbage, pure and simple. Horrendously written, acted even worse, shamelessly narcissistic and flat out ugly, and yet it is these very qualities that makes paying for a ticket and witnessing it all the more entertaining.

Last night I did indeed have the pleasure of attending a special advance preview screening – seven years after its release in the US I should add, which says a lot – of The Room before it begins an exclusive limited late-night run on Saturday nights throughout February at the Cinema Nova in Carlton. We had the added extra of having a Tommy Wiseau fan club in the audience, which certainly helped the crowd relax enough to openly mock this disastrous movie. I can’t speak for everyone, but the majority of the audience was certainly getting into the spirit of the event and only the dullest fuddy-duddy could sit there without laughing at the events transpiring on screen.

All part of the “event” of seeing The Room on the big screen was there. Partaking in cult rituals such as throwing spoons at the screen whenever a piece of spoon-related artwork appears, yelling “CANCER!” whenever the cancer-stricken (yet only once mentioned and in a hilarious nonchalant manner) mother appears on screen, chanting during panning shots of the Golden Gate Bridge and cheering when it reaches the other end (or expressing vocal disappointment when it does not), openly expressing one’s outright disgust at the many sex scenes, openly pointing out continuity flaws (a character is played by two completely different actors), bizarre lapses in logic (the engaged lead character never say the word “fiancé”, only “future wife” or “future husband”!?), strange nonsequitors (the aforementioned cancer, or the drug debt that the mildly-retarded Denny character finds himself in) or just howling with laughter at the sheer badness of the movie’s structure, special effects and original songs.

By the end of the 100 minutes that The Room somehow takes to tell its ridiculous story my voice was hoarse, tears had formed in my eyes many times and I had run out of plastic spoons less than half of the way through. John "Outland Institute" Richard and I had a riot. Openly bantering between one another, normally scornful, but here it just adds to the experience. Wanting to hear what other people are saying is part of the fun, realising that you noticed the same strange quirk as others - what was with all those GIANT candles?

The Room is not a movie you can sit down and watch by yourself on DVD. If you don't have the chance to witness it in all of its glory on a cinema screen then gather some friends, pop open a few (or ten) beers and let the experience be had. I can only hope that someday I get to watch movies like Showgirls or Jack Frost on the big screen with an equally appreciative audience. Nothing can quite replicate the experience of The Room, it's truly one-of-a-kind. As a film? F! As a cinema-going experience? A+

I would just like to add that The Room is a perfect example of my argument that you can't create a cult movie. A cult movie needs to be organic and grow out of a filmmaker legitimately thinking they are making a good movie. The Room didn't start out as a cinematic punching bag, but that's how it ended up. However, I can guarantee that there was even the slightest hint of Wiseau or his cast being in on the joke that it wouldn't be funny.


I watched Greg Mottola's Adventureland the other day and found it to be a pleasant and enjoyable movie, but with one big flaw: It just wasn't '80s enough.

Perhaps if I had watched it on a pan and scan TV with washed out colours I would have liked it more, but I couldn't shake the feeling the entire time that it just didn't feel right. The film is set in the 1980s, and yet the film itself doesn't seem to go to any great lengths to replicate the films of that era. I was very much aware that I was watching a movie made in 2009 starring Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg. And if that's the case and you still want to set your movie in the '80s, why not have fun with it?

Case in point would be the character of Mike played by Ryan Reynolds. Despite being miscast, the way he acts, dresses and speaks is just drab and boring. Where is the high hair and the crazy clothes? Elsewhere, where are the crazy sidekicks or the earnestness that usually runs through these films like a river. What are Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig doing here doing their usual awkward stop-start comedy. I'm sure Mottola was going for a more realistic vibe, but if you're going to set a movie in the 1980s why only do it half-arsed? I appreciated the soundtrack including left-of-centre choices like Exposé, Shannon, The Velvet Underground and Animotion and the Eisenberg/Stewart combo works nicely despite their well-known ticks (Stewart's socially-awkward performance style actually does recall Molly Ringwald at times), but I saw almost nothing in this movie that brought back that feeling of discovering a John Hughes movie on faded VHS or late night television. B-

Similarly, Sam Raimi's Drag Me To Hell is a delightful effort filled with frights and laughs aplenty, but is let down by the simple fact that excessive CGI makes the movie less enjoyable. There's no thrill in watching a character get picked up my invisible forces and thrown about a room because we know it's just visual effects. Or when embalming fluids drool over Alison Lohman's face, they're gross and disgusting and funny, but visual effects and that kick that comes from watching an actor get covered in slime just isn't there. I would have thought Raimi would have understood that so much of the charm from similar movies comes from that very home-made aesthetic. It's why so many of these remakes and reboots just aren't as satisfying as the originals. B

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Concentrating on Hugh

I think I am one of the only people in the world who doesn't like Elmo. There, I said it! I find Elmo incredibly annoying, actually. He was never (repeat: NEVER) one of my favourite characters from Sesame Street. However, nothing - not even Elmo - could stop me watching this clip below. It's Hugh Jackman appearing with Elmo on Sesame Street and he is look fine, as always. Granted, he has his clothes on, but at least his hair is sexy! Yummers.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

But It Did Happen

True story: Ten years ago I sat down to watch Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia. After about 30 minutes of it I turned it off and went to a mate's place. I didn't want to put myself through that and couldn't think of anything worse at the time than doing so. I hadn't revisited it, nor had I ever even been tempted, it until a couple of days ago when it arrived in the mail. I was completely oblivious to it being so high on my DVD queue, but there you go. It arrived so I figured I owed it to sit down and watch it again ten years after my first hilariously failed attempt.

In those ten years I had seen all of Anderson's other films except Punch Drunk Love. I liked them all very much, although There Will Be Blood curves towards the bottom of the scale with a grade of B while Hard Eight and Boogie Nights hover about the A- / B+ range, so I figured maybe I had just been having a bad day with Magnolia. Three hours later I don't just "figure" anymore, I know. Lo and behold, it turns out that Magnolia is the best thing Anderson has ever done. It's times like these that I have the ability to admit I was wrong. On the other hand, it gives me no excuse to go back and revisit those movies that many call "masterpieces" that I didn't care for because I saw them when they were, just quietly, way out of my intellectual reach.

I'm not going to get into why it's so good because that could take all day, but I will say my favourite performances were those by John C Reilly, Julianne Moore, Melinda Buttle, Melora Walters, Jeremy Blackman and Philip Seymour Hoffman. It's such a shame that John C Reilly has seemingly decided to ditch being a serious actor and has instead embraced Will Ferrell-styled comedies as his primary source of work. I don't need to explain the rest, but it was nice to see Philip Seymour Hoffman keep his volume down for once.

And how about Rob Elswit's cinematography? Or Jon Brion's score and Dylan Tichenor's editing that, when combined, make the film feel like a big three-hour climax sequence. Or the actual climax? Or the "Wise Up" moment and anything else to do with Aimee Mann? And what about that delicious scene between Julianne Moore and her lawyer? So many scenes, in fact, deserved to be singled out. The Reilly/Walters date scene, Tom Cruise's stare, the Playboy telephone conversation with Hoffman, the "Solomon Solomon" bit with Alfred Molina... as I said before, I could go on all day. A

Monday, January 25, 2010

A List For Australia Day

Today is Australia Day here in, you guessed it, Australia. It's a day where people celebrate by drinking the worst-tasting beer they can find, wearing ratty blue singlet tops with Australian flags as a cape, eating burnt "snags" from the "barbie" and listening to the Triple J Hottest 100 countdown on the radio from the plush confines of a deck chair placed in a kiddie's wading pool. It's all very high class, isn't it?

If you're wanting to spend the day away from the heat and the flies and delicious-but-just-don't-think-about-what's-in-it meat products then perhaps you can stay inside and watch some Aussie flicks. Being that 2010 is now here why don't we take a quick look at the best Aussie films of the last decade. I didn't see all of them - even once I did start trying to see as many Aussie films as I can a year, around 2006, it's impossible to watch them all - but I think I saw most of the movies that were any good. Whether you like crime dramas, romantic comedies, period costume dramas, aboriginal mythologies or gritty movies about druggies, there's something here for everyone. And even if you're not Australia, why don't you do yourself a favour and add a few of these to your respective country's DVD queue.

**You will note that I have not included movies like Moulin Rouge! Despite technically being Australian I thought I'd put them on the bench for this list since it's an Australia Day thing and those movies have absolutely nothing to say about Australia, its people or anything remotely connected to us.**

25. Australia (dir. Baz Luhrmann, 2008)
Baz's epic period romance didn't work out the way anybody wanted, but I sit firmly in the positive side. It has bravura and a magnetic electricity that captivates even when it's floundering about without a clue as to where it's going. Anybody who spent more than one sentence on reviewing Nicole Kidman's botox rather than reviewing the movie really don't have any right to be called a critic.
Available on Netflix

24. The Tracker (dir. Rolf de Heer, 2000)
David Gulpilil had quite a decade and nothing was better than his performance in Rolf de Heer's methodical The Tracker. Featuring a beautiful score and set of original songs from Archie Roach, de Heer would only get better in his dealings with Aboriginal culture, but The Tracker was a wonderful start to the decade for Australia's most prolific director (he also had the sublime The Old Man Who Read Love Stories and Dr Plonk, which didn't make the top 25).
Available on Netflix

23. Wolf Creek (dir. Greg McLean, 2005)
One of the most instant calling cards by anyone this decade was made by Greg McLean and his truly terrifying, visceral horror flick Wolf Creek. Spending what feels like an incredibly tense amount of time introducing us to our outback travellers, McLean quickly shifts gears and takes us on a truly disturbing and horrific journey. Bonus points for providing one of the few true Aussie cinematic icons of the decade in John Jarratt's "Mick Taylor". That's not a knife...
Available on Netflix

22. Chopper (dir. Andrew Dominik, 2000)
Many film lovers may have discovered Andrew Domonik from his American debut The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, but his first film was this crime thriller based on the life of the notorious underworld figure Mark "Chopper" Reed. Featuring a truly astonishing performance by Eric Bana (who has never been better) and a bevy of local supporting talent, Chopper is a firecracker.
Available on Netflix

21. Mary and Max (dir. Adam Elliot, 2009)
Adam Elliot's first feature, after the short films like Oscar-winner Harvey Krumpet, is a touching and sad portrait of two lives. It is, however, filled with such wonderfully human moments and genuinely absurdist comedy that all the doom and gloom is hardly off-putting. A standout vocal performance by Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Bethany Whitmore as the titular sad sacks tops off this monochrome-coloured plasticine cake.

20. The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky (dir. Paul Cox, 2001)
One of the most visually captivating Australian films of the decade was Paul Cox's unconventional documentary on the life of famous Russian ballet master Vaslav Nijinsky. Overflowing with eye-popping images and cinematic frou frou, The Dairies of Vaslav Nijinksy can be a bit of slog if you're not feeling it, but it is unmissable for fans of the genre.
Available on Netflix

19. Macbeth (dir. Geoffrey Wright, 2006)
Probably the title on this list that most people despise. I, on the other hand, found its deranged and absolutely classless take on Shakespeare's tale - featuring the original dialogue, but reset into Melbourne's gangland wars - tickled my fancy. Outside of the immaculate costumes and sets there is probably nothing here worth recommending, and yet here I am placing it on this list. It's clinically insane, and that's why I enjoyed it so much. It features Sam Worthington sans a shirt for a lot of the running time, too, so it has that going for it in this post-Avatar world.
Available on Netflix

18. Looking for Alibrandi (dir. Kate Woods, 2000)
It's such a shame that the success of this movie didn't spring the Australian film industry into action to make more classy movies based on popular teen-lit. This spirited adaptation of the popular high school young adult staple is so well put together that adults will get as much enjoyment out of it as the youngens (Anthony LaPaglis and Greta Scacchi co-star), and while her career has been all over the place since, you can't deny that Pia Miranda most definitely gave her breakthrough everything she had.

17. September (dir. Peter Carstairs, 2007)
This one got ignored in every single way, which is such a shame. It's a beautiful film to look at, superbly acted and directed and a rare look at some oft-ignored parts of Australian life. See it for the magical cinematography and the performances by soon-to-be-huge-overseas Xavier Samuel (Twilight: Eclipse) and Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland).

16. Kenny (dir. Clayton Jacobson, 2006)
It's just funny, is what it is.
Available on Netflix

15. Ten Canoes (dir. Rolf de Heer, 2006)
A landmark moment for Australian cinema, Rolf de Heer's film was the first to ever be filmed in an Aboriginal language. With its comical take on the domestic lives of Aborigines both in the distant past and the very-very distant past, Ten Canoes charmed audiences and proved to be one of the defining Aussie films of the decade, meanwhile Rolf de Heer finally got the mainstream respect he deserved.
Available on Netflix

14. Japanese Story (dir. Sue Brooks, 2003)
If you're looking for the best performance in an Australian film for the decade then you should probably look no further than Toni Collette in Sue Brooks' Japanese Story. While "the twist" ramps up the emotion to levels that were previously undeserved, Toni Collette steers it with a performance that, if given in an American film, would have won every award under the sun.
Available on Netflix

13. Beneath Clouds (dir. Ivan Sen, 2002)
A precursor to Samson & Delilah was Ivan Sen's Beneath Clouds. Two Aboriginal youths trek the countryside highways whilst barely speaking. It is a poignant and moving account of two lives going in opposite directions coming together.

12. Alexandra's Project (dir. Rolf de Heer, 2003)
I know quite a few people who don't like this movie at all, but it hit me like a punch to the gut. Helen Buday gives a searing, angry performance as Alexandra, a housewife who has a truly maniacal birthday present for her husband (Gary Sweet). If this were Korean and featured scenes of Alexandra cutting off her husband's feet with piano wire (or something equally gory) then it would have been praised to kingdom come around the globe, but I have gotten used to that these days.
Available on Netflix

11. Rabbit-Proof Fence (dir. Phillip Noyce, 2002)
I dare you to not be moved to tears by Noyce's account of three Aboriginal sisters trying to make their way home. If the first 90 minutes don't get you with Everlyn Sampi's performance then the final minutes will with the real stolen sisters will be the nail in your teary-eyed coffin.
Available on Netflix

10. Look Both Ways (dir. Sarah Watt, 2005)
A wonderful new name behind the cameras this decade was Sarah Watt, moving up from animated shorts she blew me away with this comic take on the dangers lurking around every corner. Whether it be a man being hit by a train, a woman who imagines being eaten by sharks or her boyfriend with cancer, Look Both Ways plays delicate games with the concept of death and shares a similar vibe to Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know in its exploration of deeply wounded people experiencing life's jokes the best way they can.
Available on Netflix

9. Black Water (dir. Andrew Traucki & David Nerlich, 2008)
The best Aussie horror flick of the decade was definitely this lo-fi killer croc movie, Black Water. Tense from start to finish and with multiple set-pieces that give me shivers just thinking about them (how about that scene set entirely to the rhythm of faraway lightning) and featuring one of the best horror movie performances in a very long time in the form of Maeve Dermody.
Available on Netflix

8. The Horseman (dir. Steven Kastrissios, 200?)
That Steven Kastrissios' violent revenge flick The Horseman hasn't received a local theatrical release yet is shameful. I saw it in 2008 as a part of the Melbourne International Film Festival and my opinion hasn't wavered one iota. The Horseman is an exhausting and truly nerve-racking experience, and featuring one of the best male performances of the decade (from any country) by Peter Marshall. The Horseman got a UK release last year, so I hope it comes out here at some point because people need to see it. It's a movie that dares you to sit through it, ala Romper Stomper, and make it through to the end.

7. The Dish (dir. Rob Sitch, 2000)
It's just so enjoyable and inspiring and gives me a big smile and a lump in my throat every time I watch it. The team at Working Dog really need to make another movie some time soon, please!
Available on Netflix

6. Not Quite Hollywood (dir. Mark Hartley, 2008)
The most fun I've ever had in the audience of an Australian movie - excluding Moulin Rouge!, which I did exclude from this list - was definitely watching Not Quite Hollywood. A lovingly-produced tribute the wild and crazy days of Aussie genre filmmaking. From the sex comedies and biker flicks of the '70s to the uber-gory horror movies of the '80s. Edited at an unparalleled pace, this documentary features a bevy of Aussie and international icons spinning memorable tales - Dennis Hopper discussing how he technically died on the set of Mad Dog Morgan comes to mind - makes this movie a riot.
Available on Netflix

5. Samson & Delilah (dir. Warwick Thornton, 2009)
I have written more than enough on this movie. If you don't know about it by now then I don't even know what you're doing here.

4. Three Blind Mice (dir. Matthew Newton, 2009)
Amid all the talk about Samson & Delilah, the best Aussie film of the year got lost. Not that critics were calling it that, which I think is a damned shame and, quite frankly, truly baffling. Matthew Newton's film plays like a prequel to The Hurt Locker as three young men go about their last night of shore leave before heading back to Iraq. Filled with comedy, drama and perhaps the finest ensemble cast to ever grace an Australian film, Three Blind Mice should be at the top of everyone's must see list from 2009.
Available on Netflix

3. Noise (dir. Matthew Saville, 2007)
A taut thriller that plays with arthouse ingredients, Matthew Saville's debut feature was such a surprise. It deserved better than it got - a recurring theme with many films on this list - but I'm glad that those who did see often cite it as an example of superb filmmaking, even though who usually don't care for Australia's specific form of suburban middle-class woe. A stunning film.
Available on Netflix

2. Jindabyne (dir. Ray Lawrence, 2006)
Mature, reserved and superbly made, Ray Lawrence's adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story (previously adapted in Robert Altman's Short Cuts) was like some exquisite beacon. There are few directors who make such fine films for and about adults as Lawrence and it's just a shame he doesn't work more regularly, but with Jindabyne he got miracles out of Laura Linney, Deborah-Lee Furness and Gabriel Byrne while playing his audience like a violin.
Available on Netflix

1. Lantana (dir. Ray Lawrence, 2001)
A movie that is regularly cited as the best Australian film ever made, from one of the greatest directors we've ever produced and featuring a cast of actors so expert that it makes one forget about the criss-crossing plot structure that was all the rage at that time. Everything about Lantana - Ray Lawrence's first film in 16 years - just works. Whether it be the romance, the chilly thrills, the cop procedural or the domestic drama. With a cast including Anthony LaPaglia, Kerry Armstrong, Rachael Blake, Geoffrey Rush, Vince Colosimo, Barbara Hershey and more, Lantana became an instant icon for what our industry can and should be doing more. A masterpiece through and through.
Available on Netflix

And to think I didn't even get to mention movies such as Forbidden Lie$, Lake Mungo, Crackerjack, The Square, The Jammed, Gettin' Square, Somersault or Walking on Water, which are all wonderful titles too.

If you wanna see something new then Bran Nue Dae is packin' them in at the cinemas and there are worse ways to spend 90 minutes than in the company of that vibrant, colourful musical. The film has sailed past box office milestones that many others don't even get close to and the soundtrack has even made the top 30, a very rare feat for an Aussie film. Or there's still time to check out Jane Campion's Bright Star (note to self: See that immediately!) if you're in the mood for corsets and poetry.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

"An Education: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire"

Over at The Film Experience I am playing movie mash-ups while Nathaniel is away. As inspired by George Clooney at the SAG Awards, "An Education: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire" sounds both fascinating and horrifying. How about Up mixed with Up in the Air or Nine mutating with The Hurt Locker (with a little bit of The Last Station and Elaine Benes thrown in for good measure). All just a bit of fun so click on over if you want to join in on the fun.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Well Played, Poster: The Runaways

Those of you who have read this blog for a while and have paid close attention to my writings on film posters will be aware that I like almost nothing more than a poster that just gives something unique. If your poster is made up on stripes or big empty white space, movie stills or giant floating heads, then you're not doing anything to stand out from the crowd. Take something from the film and make a unique design out of it and you'll be well on your way. Many of the best posters from the last decade did just that; making designs out of horses, cookies, sexual abuse, strippers, melting waxworks and pussycats. Already in 2010 we've seen it happen a few times and now comes the newly released poster for The Runaways, the film about the band made famous by their hit song "Cherry Bomb".

And voila! Instant recognition to those in the know and even if you don't know what "Cherry Bomb" and The Runaways are surely this design will get your attention anyway. Is it really so hard, designers? I shudder at the thought at all the people getting paid good money to slap a film still in a strip with mixed up cast listings done in Arial font. Ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb!

"Who's that Frenchy chick? She was hot!" And Other Nine-Related Musings

I went and saw Rob Marshall's Nine this afternoon. At first I thought I had walked into the wrong cinema since in the second row from the back of the quite small cinema they were screening the movie in sat a row of what looked to be 16-year-olds. Three girls and four boys. I don't know if they knew what movie they were going to see and I imagined similar scenes to when I saw Sweeney Todd and five minutes in a young guy screamed out "WHY ARE THEY SINGING?" before cursing Tim Burton during the closing credits.

Not to sound stalker-like, but I wanted to make sure to follow them once the credits roled because I was legitimately intrigued as to what their reactions would be. Throughout the movie I noticed on the guys was clearly infatuated with Penelope Cruz and her assets - wouldn't you be at 16? sexually confused or not - while one of the girls thoughts Daniel Day-Lewis was "gross!" when he removed his shirt and sat in a spa with a cardinal.

Leaving the cinema one of the other boys remarked "Who's that Frenchy chich? She was hot!" A bit of highbrow taste from our underage moviegoers? Heading out of the cinema though and I overheard this scintillating piece of teen-talk.

"That was weird."
"Yeah. Weird."
"I know, right. So weird."
"I didn't know Nicole Kidman was in it."

And then they started talking about some friend of theirs and how they don't want to go to her house party tonight and I promptly skedaddled for fear of looking creepy.

As for myself? I can't say I'm not disappointed, but I also can't say I wasn't warned and that I didn't walk in with lowered expectations. It met them. Marion Cotillard warrants devotion for this performance and she was almost good enough to make me forget (at least momentarily) how completely retched La Vie on Rose was, and she in it. Penelope Cruz is fine even if she is playing the exact same everything from Vicky Cristina Barcelona, while the rest of the female cast all fill their spot with no major pros or cons. Daniel Day-Lewis on the other hand, as Guido Contini, lands firmly in the con side of the debate. What a bizarre performance. He is an incredibly handsome man so I'm not sure why they made him ugly and greasy. That singing voice wasn't exactly sparkling like a diamond either, was it?

The songs are about 50/50. I had no prior knowledge of the stage show's score. I am aware that they took a few key numbers out, such as the title track, but I found it odd that the best song was one of the new tracks, "Take It All", performed by Marion Cotillard. In fact, Cotillard gets the two best numbers from the film along with "My Husband Makes Movies". The biggest problem with the musical numbers is the way they are edited. Kidman's "Unusual Way" and Cotillard's "Take it All", especially, which cut back and forth from the fantasy stage within Day-Lewis' mind and the real world. It breaks the flow of the songs and is particularly frustrating when the songs could have so easily been situated within this real world as characters breaking into song instead of them appearing in Contini's mind. If Rob Marshall makes another musical in the future, and I hope he does since Chicago is so excellent, then I hope he ditches this idea that musical sequences must be performed on the stage within the mind.

On a technical level the film is ace. Cinematography, Art Direction, Costumes and so on all all fabulous, but the film's lack of an arc makes it all feel incredibly flat. The Guido Contini of the opening five minutes is the same Guido Contini all the way through until the epilogue. An epilogue that felt like it should have been a big musical number ala Bob Fosse's own take on 8 1/2, All That Jazz. Alas, it just ends. And so it goes. B-

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Foreign Language Film: A Solution?

Just earlier today I blogged about the Academy's nine finalists for the Best Foreign Language Film category, whittled down by a devoted bunch of Academy members who watched all 65 submitted films. However, while titles such as The White Ribbon and Un Prophete got people excited, as is the case every year, that small shortlist excluded several submitted titles that had prominence with film followers. Corneliu Porumboiu's Police, Adjective (Romania), Bong Joon-ho's Mother (South Korea) and Asghar Farhadi's About Elly (Iran) being prime examples.

And then there is the even longer list of big foreign language titles that weren't even submitted. How about The Maid (Chile), Broken Embraces (Spain), Sin Nombre (Mexico), Summer Hours (France) and Il Divo (Italy). Countries such as France always have a tricky time selecting a title because they always an overflowing abundance of quality titles. Sometimes they choose something left-of-centre and it doesn't pan out (submitting Persepolis as opposed to the much more Academy-friendly La Vie en Rose) and sometimes they choose critical darlings like this year's Un Prophete and they get the recognition they (apparently) deserve.

Like clockwork though, each and every year people complain about how the Academy handles this category. Nobody seems to like that countries are only allowed to submit one movie when, as I just explained, some countries have multiple titles a year that warrant a nomination. I imagine, however, that these people would be the first people to complain if France took up four the five nominations.

I definitely think the branch has issues, but what can they do? I like that movies without American distribution can be nominated and find themselves being hunted by distributors as opposed to the branch just nominating the five highest profile foreign films of the year, as some people would like, purely because they've seen them. Taking Australia's submission, Samson & Delilah, as an example you have a movie that, if nominated, would most definitely find itself receiving an American distribution deal. Or, if not that, at least DVD. Without it it hasn't a paddle in the rising stream of international distribution.

Then again, limiting the category to only films that received an American release - a release that makes it eligible for all other categories from Best Picture to Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography - isn't a positive thing for the maligned category either. It's unfair to countries that are producing cinema that struggles to receive an American release. If that were to happen the category would be filled with renowned auteurs year-in-year-out, and while that might be good for award watchers, it's not good for film lovers.

I've thought for several years now though that the real solution to this category is to take a little of column a and a little from column b. Yes, definitely keep the one-film-per-country submission part since that list is so vital and is a fascinating look at foreign cinema. Even keep the shortlist idea, reducing the list down to a manageable number like this year's nine. Doing so will eliminate some worthy contenders, sure, but they were never going to be nominated anyway so why not just cut them and get it over with.

I do, however, think that the foreign language branch who then have to nominate five titles from that shortlist for the big nomination should be allowed to also nominate any foreign language film that received an American release. Sort of like an old-fashioned write-in vote that used to happen occasionally. That way Foreign Language Branch Member Joe Bloggs could place the films from Australia, Germany and Israel on his ballot, but also place Summer Hours and The Maid on there. Obviously it would need to be finessed and tweaked to make sure that it works, but I don't see why it wouldn't. The members of the branch have no say in what movies get submitted so they could all think Sin Nombre is the best of the year, but have no choice but to forget it exists. And yet if they were allowed to still put it on their ballot due to it's American release means that they can still vote for it.

Does any of this make sense? Basically what it boils down to is that they get to keep the one-film-per-country idea and the five nominees could very well come strictly from that list in any given year, but it also allows films that achieved the same eligibility criteria for other categories - a one-week release in Los Angeles - to receive a nomination if the branch sees fit. It seems like a win-win situation to me since it would allow movies that nobody has ever heard of before to compete side-by-side with movies that don't need such a citation to get American distribution. Restrict the category to two nominations for any given country - we don't need France hogging the category every year - and we'd have a solution that pleases all.

Or perhaps not. What do you think?

Meryl Streep, Come on Down

The SAG Awards are this weekend in America. A lot of people are predicting that La Streep will win for the second year in a row for her performance as Julia Child in Nora Ephron's Julie & Julia. Considering how much the best actress category has been well and truly destroyed by critics awards and precursors such as these hear SAG Awards - snubbing the likes of Tilda Swinton, Abbie Cornish, Charlotte Gainsbourg and so on for safe choices like Streep, Helen Mirren and Sandra Bullock (as good as they are) - I generally don't care if Streep wins because, well, she was lovely and I like the movie.

However, all this talk is doing is reminding me of this wonderful clip from when she won last year for Doubt.

I hope she knows how much Windex costs!!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Samson Shortlisted

What great news! Warwick Thornton's AFI and Cannes-winning tragedy about two Aboriginal youths that find assimilation into white society harder than dealing with their own rundown outback community has made the Academy's nine-wide shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film. It sits alongside Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon, Jacques Audiard's Un Prophete and Claudia Llosa's Berlinale-winner The Milk of Sorrow. Via IndieWire.

The shortlisted films, listed in alphabetical order by country, are:

Argentina, “El Secreto de Sus Ojos” Juan Jose Campanella, director
Australia, “Samson & Delilah” Warwick Thornton, director;
Bulgaria, “The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks around the Corner” Stephan Komandarev, director;
France, “Un Prophete” Jacques Audiard, director;
Germany, “The White Ribbon” Michael Haneke, director;
Israel, “Ajami” Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani, directors;
Kazakhstan, “Kelin” Ermek Tursunov, director;
The Netherlands, “Winter in Wartime” Martin Koolhoven, director;
Peru, “The Milk of Sorrow” Claudia Llosa, director.

Here's hoping Thornton and producer Kath Shelper can somehow pull off a minor movie miracle and get a nomination. Quentin Tarantino and Pedro Almodovar will be presenting the category at the ceremony in march and we can only dream that they will call it out. It seems that they particularly liked South America this year, too, so it's a shame that Chile didn't have half a brain and submit The Maid. That would have been another particularly inspired choice if it had been submitted and made the list. I was incredibly mixed on that film when I saw it back in August at MIFF, but I have since swung very positive towards it for those interested.

The Romance and the Comedy

Watching a romantic comedy can be so strange. A lot of the time they seem to disregard either the "romantic" or the "comedy" part altogether and it is very rare that the two actually meet and create a great movie. Such was the trouble I had today with two so-called romantic comedies that I caught on DVD today. Where Management had a charming romance, I found it lacking in the comedy, despite there being quite definite "you're meant to be laughing at this" moments. And then I watched The Proposal, which brought the comedy, but botched up the romance. I know it isn't a popular feeling amongst cinephiles, but where's Nora Ephron when I need her?

Management is the directorial debut of Stephen Belber, known before as the writer of Tape and the stage version of The Laramie Project. It's a flawed movie, definitely, but one that works as a nice introduction and features a divine performance from Jennifer Aniston. I have been a defender of Aniston for a long time now, I actually think her supporting role in an earlier 2009 romantic comedy He's Just Not That Into You was particularly fine, but here she is quite something. Her comic timing is still there although it is in service of writing that isn't particularly laugh out loud funny, but it is dented by moments that reveal a truly sad and lonely woman underneath. I might have expected this from a film by a more accommodating director - the performance is similar in ideas and tone as Nicole Holofcener's Friends With Money in that way - but she transcends the material and provides the film with something genuinely special.

Unfortunately, as I've already stated, the film is flawed. Initial scenes position it as a quirk-fest, although that is thankfully ditched for a prolonged series of awkwardness that reminded me of Me and You and Everything We Know in the way it revealed its main characters (the male lead is Steve Zahn) as some deeply self-loathing individuals. Before long it goes on weird sidetracks involving stalking and a Buddhist monastery and then Woody Harrelson shows up as a jacked up yogurt entrepreneur. Meanwhile it does so with an unexciting visual pallet. And yet by film's end there was something lovely about way it resolved itself, doing so in a place that I wouldn't have expected at the beginning. B-

Anne Fletcher's The Proposal on the other hand I found, and I don't mind admitting this one little bit, had me laughing more than I expected. It too begins on a bum note with its The Devil Wears Prada ripoff credit sequence, but once it gets into the story at hand it finds its groove and remains there for the most part. Yes, there are actually people out there who see movies such as this just to tear them apart, but I imagine many who enjoy this sort of thing - watching Sandra Bullock do her shtick, watching Ryan Reynolds be sexy and so on - will indeed like it. I think the quite astonishing box office proves that.

Where the film trips up is the romance side. While it's more than acceptable that these two characters might find themselves understanding each other over one weekend, when the big climax comes around it doesn't feel earned. I still didn't particularly believe that these two would actually be in love with each other. Take Nora Ephron's You've Got Mail - perhaps the last truly great traditional rom-com - and you can see how to do the two-people-who-hate-each-other-but-grow-to-love approach. Still, Bullock is fun on screen (let's not talk about that strange tribal dancing rap bit though) and also has several dramatic moments that show perhaps that upcoming Oscar nomination for The Blind Side isn't all that off base. Ryan Reynolds is a pleasant surprise as her love interest, too. That he's sexy and adorable and all of that is certainly a plus, but watching him navigate the boardroom sequence (above) or the immigration office scene is a pleasure. I'd still take While You Were Sleeping over it any day of the week though. B-

Of course, then you have movies like The Ugly Truth that are neither funny nor romantic in the slightest, and are actually repugnant, repulsive and, yes indeed, ugly. And while it should be common sense for any actor doing an accent apparently Gerard Butler didn't get the memo: if the audience can see you contorting your face to produce an accent then you're not doing a good job. That Butler butchered, mangled and tortured that absurd attempt at an American accent should put an end to casting director hiring him again to do something similar. That accent coming out of that rough - he looks rough and not in the sexy way - and bloated face would normally be enough to give the film a D-, but everything else around him is so willing to go along with the ride. The only thing stopping that grade getting worse is Katherine Heigl. She's so perky.

Speaking of perky...

...doesn't that just make you shudder?