Friday, April 30, 2010

Based on Several True Stories

I hope I'm not the only one who is terrible unenthused about this trailer for the latest uplifting Disney animal movie, Secreteriat. The end of the trailer states that it is "based on a true story", and while that may be true (I haven't done the research because I can't be bothered), it's also very much based on many other movie blueprints, too.

Watch the trailer below and tell me that it doesn't just look like Phar Lap crossed with Seabiscuit, The Blind Side and even a bit of John Waters' Serial Mom. I don't know the history of this Secretariat horse, but I already know the film will end in one of two ways: The horse will win all three races or it will lose one, but everyone will realise how "gutsy" the horse was and the legend will enter horse racing folklore. Yawn, yes?

And it's so disappointing to see John Malkovich doing his loud, colourful shtick again after being so very, very good in last year's Apartheid drama Disgrace (Oscar-worthy, really). Diane Lane must be really fuming that Sandra Bullock just won an Oscar for playing a well-meaning, bottle blonde housewife trying to make something for herself in an uplifting sports drama since that seems exactly what she's trying to do here. What do you think?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

New Decade. New Rules.

Wes Craven was interviewed by PopWatch at EW about the newest installment of the Scream franchise (click the tag at the bottom of this entry to read more about said franchise, cause there's a bit of it) and he gave away some juicy tidbits. I hope that bit about it being set in Woodsboro means we finally get to return to Casey Becker's house, which is exactly where the big showdown of Scream 3 should have been sen (albeit in the Hollywood movie set version of the house). He also premiered the teaser poster, which isn't much it's something.

Can you see how much I've thought about this series?

Are Sidney (Campbell), Gale (Cox), and Dewey (Arquette) still going to be the central characters, or are they on the periphery this time?
It’s a total integration of those three and new kids. The story of Sid, Gale, and Dewey is very much a part of the movie.

And Sid’s still having problems with Ghostface?

There have been 10 years of no Ghostface, but there has been the movie-within-a-movie Stab. We have fun with the idea of endless sequels, or “sequelitis” as Kevin calls it in the script. Sid goes through these three horrendous things, and Stab was based on those horrible things. And then they’ve been taken by a studio and run into the ground in a series of sequels. She has been off by herself and living her own life, and she’s even written a book that has gotten a lot of critical acclaim. She’s kind of put her life back together in the course of these 10 years. But, certainly, there would be no Scream without Ghostface, so she has to confront him again, but now as a woman who has really come out the darkness of her past.

Speaking of openings, are you at least going to continue with having a couple killed at the beginning of the film?
That’s a strong possibility. [Laughs] Certainly, you will recognize what Bob calls the DNA of the film: a very complex murder mystery, a shocking action picture, wonderful humor based on character, and lots of surprises, as well as a movie that kind of copies itself. It’s a pretty amazing script.

Are you returning to Santa Rosa, Calif., to shoot?
We’re actually going to Michigan. We found a wonderful small town that looks very much like the town we had in Northern California. Frankly, the tax breaks in Michigan are enormous, so we’ll be able to put a lot more movie on the screen.
But this Michigan town is still supposed to represent (the series’ fictional town of) Woodsboro?
Yeah. I guess I just gave something away. [Laughs]

Add to this, there are also rumours floating about that none other that Adrienne King has been given a role in the fourth Scream. While not as wonderfully nudge-wink as, say, Janet Leigh having a cameo in Halloween: H20, it's still a delicious thought.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

aka Baby Geniuses 7: International Spies

I can't quite explain this. I haven't the foggiest idea as to what it is, but I know I want to stay well away.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Movies in Movies: Jurassic Park in Erin Brockovich

Design of a Decade: The Greatest Hits of the '00s - Part IV

If you haven't read Part I, Part II and part III then you will have no idea what's going on (reading the rules would be beneficial too) so before we continue please do so.

Three Blind Mice
My favourite film of 2009 also had the finest ensemble. Just watch this cast navigate each others' performances and I'm sure you'll agree. Matthew Newton, Toby Schmitz and Ewen Leslie are the three soldiers at the heart of the movie, but alongside them for their last night of shore leave are Gracie Otto (one of the finest discoveries of the decade), Barry Otto, Heather Mitchell, Pia Miranda, Bob Franklin, Tina Bursill, Marcus Graham, Alex Dimitriadis, Brendan Cowell, Eloise Mignon, Jacki Weaver and the late Charles "Bud" Tingwell. If that's not a stellar cast then I don't know what is. Superb.

MUSIC: Original Score
Clint Mansell
Requiem for a Dream
While Mansell's score for Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain is just as good, if not better, it was this work for Aronofsky's first film of the decade (second after Pi from 1998) that is one of the true defining pieces of film score for the decade. If I am remembering correctly, it was the first score soundtrack that I ever purchased (and it was ridiculously expensive too since it was an import) and I listened too it repetitively for months.

DIALOGUE: Open Range
"Men are gonna get killed here today, Sue, and I'm gonna kill 'em"
This just reads (and sounds, as spoken by Kevin Costner in the best western of the decade) as FUCKIN' EPIC, doesn't it? What a classic line of dialogue right there. More Open Range to come, obviously.

EXPERIENCE: Viewing Russian Ark
Perhaps signalling where my desires truly lied within my love of film, in my year 12 Media Studies class we were able to choose between several different projects as our big end of year project. Instead of making a short movie like a few others did, I decided to put together a magazine. Inside were some film reviews and because I wanted to sound intelligent I decided to review Russian Ark, which had come to my town for one week only as part of a special arthouse series of films that had been programmed. Seeing Aleksandr Sokurov's one-take Russian history lesson was truly a sight to behold on the big screen and I have never forgotten it.

Russian Ark ended up staying in my town for several weeks as the film became a minor box office sensation around the country. Who would've predicted that?

TREND: Quentin Tarantino & Sofia Coppola Soundtracks
The Virgin Suicides, Kill Bill Vol. 1, Lost in Translation, Kill Bill Vol. 2, Marie Antoinette, Death Proof & Inglourious Basterds
The trend of "song scores" is definitely one that came to prominence this decade outside of genres that weren't aimed at teen audiences (an audience that has had this trend thrown at them for decades), but it was only with Quentin and Sofia that their soundtrack compilations became must own albums. I can distinctly remember hearing tracks such as Squarepusher's "Tommib" (Lost in Translation) or Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Titch's "Hold Tight" (Death Proof) for the first time. And who can forget the iconic use of Tomoyasu Hotei's "Battle Without Honor or Humanity" in Kill Bill Vol. 1? These soundtracks have become events in themselves.

EXPERIENCE: Alfonso Cuarón and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Words cannot fully express how happy I was after seeing the third Harry Potter film of the decade. I saw it with friends who had all read the books and liked the first two (I haven't read the books, hated the first two movies) and yet after this one I was the most ecstatic out of all of us. The series has been good lately, but never extraordinary like Azkaban.

CRAFT: The Green Dress
Jacqueline Durran
Do any other costumes from this past decade have their own fan dedication shrine on Facebook (and deserved it)? I can't think of any. I could have put down Durran's entire work as costume designer for Atonement, but it really does all come back to the green dress, doesn't it?

"Terry Ann Wolfmeyer"
The Upside of Anger
Just her name alone brings up images of ravenous wolves, tearing apart unsuspecting prey, which is exactly what Joan Allen does in this criminally undervalued performance as the bitter drunk who falls for another bitter drunk in Kevin Costner. Perhaps it was the fact that film is very middlebrow without any Oscar prestige whatsoever to give it that push (like, for instance, Changeling) to get it noticed, but Allen was astonishing. Props also to her performances in Yes and The Bourne Supremacy.

PERFORMANCE: Marion Cotillard
"Luisa Contini"
It's no secret that I hated La Vie en Rose and thought Cotillard was terrible in it, but with Nine she proved to me at least that there was something there to look forward to. If she keeps giving performances like this then I'll gladly join in the Cotillard fandom that people seemed to get swept up in a few years back.

MUSIC: "Future Markets"
Jonny Greenwood
There Will Be Blood
I'm going to just admit it right now: This is the only spot There Will Be Blood occupies on this countdown. Not even Daniel Day-Lewis could get in, unfortunately. Greenwood's entire score is brilliant, but this piece is the one thing my mind goes to when I think of this movie.

TREND: Asian Cinema
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Still Life, Up the Yangtze, Hero, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, Zatoichi, House of Flying Daggers, Curse of the Golden Flower, Thirst, Lust, Caution...
My knowledge of Asian film history may be slim, but I think this decade was the first time that Asian cinema really rose to the forefront of international cinema since Akira Kurosawa in the 1950s, am I right? Whether that's true or not, it was certainly a decade where I sat up and took notice. Even when I hated the movies - much loved Audition and Oldboy come to mind - they were still part of a culture that was screaming out for attention. And they got it.

By the way, I am well aware that Up the Yangtze isn't technically an Asian film, but I loved it so much and it fit well in here with its setting and themes. I'd include it in a Canadian cinema trend placing, alas...

MUSIC: Original Score
Thomas Newman
Road to Perdition

MUSIC: "Flame Trees"
Little Fish
A song like Cold Chisel’s “Flame Trees” can never really go out of the public consciousness, but it was so nice to see this bloody brilliant song get a new lease on life thanks to Rowan Woods’ “Little Fish”. First by the Sacred Heart school in Cabramatta during the film and then again by one of the decade’s best new musicians, Sarah Blasko. The movie wasn’t as good as either rendition, but both led the film extra power at crucial times. You can hear the choir version here and Sarah Blasko's here.

CRAFT: Production Design
Peter Grant
There is another production design selection later and, technically, many others deserve to be ranked above Peter Grant's work on Lars Von Trier's Dogville. I do, however, must ask you - did the production design of a film from within 2000-2009 become as talked about, controversial and effective as the one from Dogville? I highly doubt it. For a film with such a literal bare essential look, it gets so much mileage out of it. The production design became one of the most potent images of the decade.

PERFORMANCE: Catherine Zeta-Jones
"Velma Kelly"
Oh yes, I've gone there. Catherine Zeta-Jones gave one of the greatest performances of the decade. One of the best STAR performances, for that matter, and just perfect. She can sing, she can dance and she acts circles around Renee Zellweger and (especially) Richard Gere. She was so good that even at 8.5 months pregnant and on the Oscar stage she was still being incredible as Velma.

CHARACTER: "Paleman"
Played by Doug Jones
Pan's Labyrinth
Certainly one of the most original creations of the decade. Terrifying too!

CHARACTER: "Regina George"
Played by Rachel McAdams
Mean Girls
Yet another iconic character that this decade is better for having.

DIALOGUE: Donnie Darko
"Sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion."

PERFORMANCE: Julia Roberts
"Erin Brockovich"
Erin Brockovich
More than just a push-up bra. Better than you remember. Not just "Julia being Julia". Not the worst Oscar winner of all time. etc. I'm not sure how many statements I can make about this truly amazing performance in the face of haters before I just have to give up and admit the fact that people hate her and that because, heaven forbid, her movie came out the same year as Requiem for a Dream it's just unacceptable and unforgivable that she won the Oscar.

SCENE: "Highway to Hell"
Final Destination 2
I have no qualms in saying that Final Destination 2 rocks balls, and the high point was this opening sequence in which death visits a freeway. At least I know if even if nobody else agrees with me that this is one of the decade's best moments then Jason will. The first movie's was good too, but the sequel perfected it.

SHOT: "Ennis"
Brokeback Mountain
I wrote a while ago after Heath Ledger's death that this was the shot that I think best exemplified him. If Ledger hadn't have died then I probably would have chosen another moment/scene/something here in its spot, but as it is my mind goes to this shot. don't ask me why, it just does.

SCENE: "Dream Cheer"
Bring It On
The studio has been effective in disabling embeds from Bring It On for some reason, so I can only link. What an introduction to what I have argued is the greatest sports movie of all time. An instant pop culture moment.

PEOPLE: Cate Blanchett
The Man Who Cried, The Gift, Heaven, Bandits, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Aviator, Coffee & Cigarettes, Little Fish, Babel, The Good German, Notes on a Scandal, Hot Fuzz, I'm Not There, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull & The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ms Blanchett was originally much lower in the rankings until it came to typing out all the above film titles and I realised what an incredible list of films and performances she's had this decade.

PERFORMANCE: Shohreh Aghdashloo
House of Sand and Fog
Pick a moment, any moment, found within Aghdashloo's performance and you'll find a moment that'll tear at your heart. We won't go into one of the worst Oscar decisions of the decade, but needless to say Aghdashloo > Zellweger.

EXPERIENCE: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King was such an achievement and just thinking about them and the excitement that came with each new installment makes me go nostalgic (is it considered nostalgic yet? we are into a new decade after all). And to think, I even went to a movie marathon at the cinema with these movies!

DIALOGUE: Vera Drake
"I know why you're here."

CRAFT: Adapted Screenplay
Gus Van Sant
Paranoid Park
If ever you needed a perfect example of teenagers on film from this past decade then I submit Gus Van Sant's Paranoid Park. I do not have the time or the space to go into the many, many reasons as to why this screenplay is just so very good, but it is. It's kinda perfect, actually.

SHOT: "Pink Palms"
Mulholland Drive
Consider this: Mulholland Drive was the best movie of the decade in my opinion. I obviously have a couple more slots assigned to it further up the chart, and yet amongst the copious number of scenes, performances, technical achievements and other shots from the film that I could have chosen I went with this. That shows how much I love this single shot. It's hypnotic.

PEOPLE: Christopher Doyle
In the Mood for Love, Rabbit-Proof Fence, Hero, Dumplings, 2046, Lady in the Water & Paranoid Park
And there are so many more that I haven't seen! The eye behind some of the absolute best images of the decade, without a doubt. Anybody who denies this needs to get their eyes tested.

SCENE: "14ème Arrondissement"
Directed by Alexander Payne
The best thing Alexander Payne did this decade was not Sideways, but in fact this short from omnibus film Paris je t'aime. It's beautiful and bittersweet and the sort of thing that the rest of that movie was not. Margo Martindale is spectacular, too. It's lovely.

PERFORMANCE: Peter Marshall
The Horseman
A performance of such brutality and force. I'd never noticed this Australian actor before until I saw this tiny, independent revenge film and I immediately sat up and took notice. He's incredible and I'm so glad that the film has been getting out there when it could have easily slipped through the cracks. Well, technically, it has - it has never received an Australian theatrical release! - but it's out on DVD and in cinemas in several other countries so have a look if it's in yours.

PERFORMANCE: Sally Hawkins
The best performance of 2008 - male or female - was also the most joyous. As someone who finds the kind of people that "Poppy" is to be insufferable in real life, I was amazed at how much I enjoyed Sally Hawkins in Mike Leigh's movie.

SCENE: "Panic Button"
The Cell
The music, the design, the complete and utter strangeness of it all. This moment kinda terrifies me.

PERFORMANCE: Charlize Theron
"Aileen Wuornos"
It's hard to deny that Charlize Theron gave one of the biggest and definitive performances of the decade as serial killer Aileen Wuornos. Yes she went and "uglified" herself, but the performance is so much more than that. I am, however, saying this as a huge fan of the film as a whole, which I know quite a few others are not.

SCENE: "Tyrone Street"
Me and You and Everyone We Know
I love this movie despite how twee and precious and "indie" it is. I think its explorations of these such sad people is far more fascinating than the faux drama of, say, Little Miss Sunshine. This scene perfectly encapsulates everything that's so good about it.

PEOPLE: Penélope Cruz
Volver, Elegy, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Broken Embraces & Nine
Who saw this coming? If your answer is “nobody” then you would be correct. Sure, people will say that they “knew she had it in her” due to her work in the films of her home nation Spain, but anybody who expected the performances that she would give from 2006 onwards is flat out lying. It all started with Volver and we all know the rest. Her best performance, if you ask me, was in Isobel Coixet’s Elegy. It's been a truly myth-making ascent to the top of her craft. Just where did it come from and making her story all the more wonderful is just how truly terrible I and many others thought she was between 2000-2005 in her English language films like Blow.

SCENE: "Rooftop Battle"
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Do you remember how exhilarating it was to see this movie for the time? This first big battle and just having your eyes pop out of their sockets and you being amazed at what was going on? I sure do and it was incredible. If I really wanted to I could include at least two other of the fight sequences, but this one is my favourite and was such a classic moment.

PEOPLE: Harris Savides
Gerry, Elephant, Birth, Last Days, Zodiac, Margot at the Wedding, American Gangster and Milk.
The partnership between cinematographer Harris Savides and director Gus Van Sant has been one of the most magical of the decade. My favourote of their collaborations - generally and cinematography specific - is Elephant, but Savides also helped give Birth real potency and Zodiac, too.

SCENE: "The Second Plane"
United 93
It's a very small moment - I was surprised to find the 30 second grab that I wanted to single out, embedding not allowed - but there it is. The exclamation of "HOLY SHIT" and the stunned silence thereafter.

PERFORMANCE: Toni Collette
"Sandy Edwards"
Japanese Story
The performance of Toni's career, the pinnacle of acting in Australian features for the decade and a truly breathtaking run of emotions from Toni Collette, particularly in the film's final passages, which are enough to send audiences into either stunned silence or a wreck of tears.

MUSIC: "Lose Yourself"
Performed by Eminem
8 Mile
I've mentioned it here on the blog and said it quite a few times on Twitter, Eminem's "Lose Yourself" is the best song to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song this decade. And probably for a while before that, too. Don't care for the man, but the song is genius.

SCENE: "Chapter 9 and ending: In which Dogville receives the long-awaited visit and the film ends"
In spite of the many, many memorable scenes from Lars Von Trier's Dogville - the china doll scene being the main one - my mind always drifts towards this Dogville's final scenes with its back and forth between Nicole Kidman and James Caan as he tries to persuade her away from the evil clutches of Dogville and into the, well, evil clutches of his mafia gang. It's a riveting sequence of dialogue and acting and Kidman's reading of lines such as "if there's any town this world would be better without, this is it" just cuts through the screen. Those final moments are somethin' else!

"Captain Jack Sparrow"
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
An iconic performance by anyone's measure. Johnny Depp became over-saturated, over-loved and a bit too concerned with following Tim Burton's lead into giant, big-budget movies, but for those of us who were fans before The Curse of the Black Pearl, this was like some fantastic unexpected gift from a favourite.

SCENE: "Alien Video"
Weird fact: I love fake news reports in movies. I think it might be because it adds some sort of "reality" to it, I'm not quite sure. It certainly helps in Signs that the first sight of the aliens is done in this way. I get tingles just watching this scene, it gives me the frights.

MUSIC: "Ferris Wheel Love Theme"
This score piece by electronic artist bt is PHE-NOM-E-NAL. It helps that it's an actual score whereas most of these films set in small town USA use the plucking of a guitar string and call it a musical score. The music doesn't seem like it should fit a movie of this kind, but it does and it's beautiful.

SHOT: "Kiss"
Billy Elliot
I know a lot of people didn't like this movie and its, in retrospect to me, off-kilter gay issues, but when I saw Billy Elliot back in the year 2000 when I was, sorry to make some of you feel old, 15 (the same age as Jamie Bell, it must be said, even if the character was 11) and doing the whole "coming out shuffle" and desperate for anything to cling on to I really took to it. Perhaps if I were to watch it for the first time now I wouldn't like it as much, but I'm sure you all have your own coming-of-age tales that never grow old. I remember watching this farewell moment so many times and being in love with it, which is all this countdown is about.

SCENE: "Playing Games"
Previously discussed here, so you know I really like it!

Femme Fatale
An idea so simple and yet so brilliant. Movie trailers already give away far too much of their product these days as it is so why not go one step further into the extreme and give away, quite literally, everything. Show the entire movie from beginning to end in the span of 2 minutes and hope to entice enough people. It helps that the movie the trailer is selling works around the idea that even when you do see the movie you probably don't know what's happened. And I love those slow motion footstep sound effects. Random, I know.

SHORT/MARKETING: "Don't" Trailer
Dir. Edgar Wright
This was by far my favourite of the GrindHouse fake trailers (and the one I'd rather be turned into a feature before Machete or Thanksgiving). It actually does look like one of those old British films with the strange faded blue film and the strange surreal horror, you can just tell it'd be a "video nasty". Everything about it seems so authentic and then the voice over makes it hilarious ("don't look up").

"Ramona Linscott"
The Black Dahlia
How does one describe this performance to someone who has not seen The Black Dahlia? Hell, how does one describe it to someone who has seen The Black Dahlia? There almost is no explanation for it. It exists and it is clinically insane and then the movie ends. I don't even think I honestly know what the hell she's doing, but I do know that I like it.


Join us next time in which we count down the 50 most memorable parts of my cinematic life for the last decade. Find out what scene, person, performance or shot made my #1. See if I give a definitive answer to "Ellen or Bjork in 2000?" See if Laura Dern pops up to frighten the living daylights out of you and hopefully, much like Frank, I just may be a surprise or two in the pipeline.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Werner Herzog Reads Where's Waldo

There's really nothing more to say. It is Werner Herzog reading Where's Waldo (or Where's Wally for Australians). His thick accent makes wonder of lines such as "Is that a scroll or merely a rolled up towel? After trying so hard to find the scroll, are we sure we can handle the real answer?" and "sometimes it seems like he's barely trying." So droll. My favourite of all is "Oh! There he is. Hello my little friend." Amazing, yes?

Did you find yourself while watching that video? No, probably not.

A Temperamental Woman

Over at The Film Experience I am discussing the one woman wonder that is Judy Davis. Today is her 55th birthday and even though Hollywood - and even the likes of Woody Allen - have seemingly forgotten about her, she's still out there being incredible. How is she not considered one of the greatest actresses of her generation?

Ay ay ay!

Amongst my favourite Davis films and performances are Husbands & Wives, Heatwave, The Ref, Children of the Revolution and My Brilliant Career. Why not go and watch one of them - or your own personal favourite, Passage to India, perhaps? Or High Tide? - and remind yourself of how great Judy Davis is. Do it.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


I've never done a poll, but I assume any film fan in Melbourne - my city - loves Cinema Nova. They may not have the ultra hardcore arthouse vibe like The Lumiere did (it has since closed down), but for a place that can called a "multiplex" - they have 11 screens with more being built at the moment - it has such a wonderful selection of films on play including mainstream hits, popular arthouse fare, one-screen wonders (lest we forget The Jammed began its run there) and even popular cult sessions of films like The Room, which is soon to end its three month engagement as the establishment.

One of the great things about the place are the regular Q&As that are held there. I've had the pleasure of attending a few of them, but one I didn't get to see was the recent Q&A for Accidents Happen, a new Aussie film that was released yesterday. Director Andrew Lancaster and star Geena Davis were here for the release and they sat down with an audience at Nova. For the first time though a video of the event has been released onto YouTube and I think this is a great idea. So many great directors and actors sweep through their doors - Jane Campion was there at Christmas for instance - and it's great to hear them talk. Of course, the clip below has been edited down, but that's what you get for not paying $20 or so to see them in person. I hope they do more of these in the future.

Review: Hot Tub Time Machine

Hot Tub Time Machine
Dir. Steve Pink
Year: 2010
Aus Rating: MA15+
Running Time: 100mins

Two weeks ago cinemagoers had Steve Carell and Tina Fey starring in Date Night, a movie with a plot that came directly out of 1986. This week fans of dopey comedies can, quite literally, go back in time to 1986 with Hot Tub Time Machine, a terminally unfunny piece of nostalgic time travel that throws everything except the kitchen sink into the hot tub resulting in nothing more than a soggy mess. When the title is the funniest thing about a movie, you know there’s trouble afoot.

Read the rest at Trespass Mag.

I had mentioned to fellow Melbourne film man Luke Buckmaster before the screening that I was not looking forward to this movie and, lo and behold, it turned out to be as bad as I expected. I truly, honestly did not laugh one single time. Say what you will about Date Night, I already did, but at least I laughed during that one in spite on how badly made it was. This one is just drab and uninteresting and doesn't even seem to raise a sweat, but here chugs along at its own pace and then ends. et voila. One thing I didn't get space to write about is Lizzy Caplan. She shows up in 1986 as a woman that steals John Cusack's heart, but then when we see her in 2010 (or whatever year it is set since the maths is way off) she looks exactly the same. In those 20 years did she invent a product that stopped aging? It was kinda scary. D-

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Movies in Movies: Beyond the Valley of the Dolls in Rocky Horror Picture Show

The Tigerman

I like how this this Japanese poster for The Wolfman (aka, surely the worst movie of 2010) features Anthony Hopkins wearing a tiger fur coat! Oh man, if only The Wolfman had've had a sense of humour like that to have had Hopkins running around in a series of progressively more ridiculous animal fur coats then it might have been more fun. I'd like to see him walk around in an outfit made from gorilla or zebra, personally.

In fact, I think this poster is kinda cool in general. I'd rather see this version of The Wolfman than the one that inexplicably got released in cinemas earlier this year. I like the hand-drawn aesthetic and the blood red light reflecting off of the ground. I also like that you can see the poster, unlike anything in the movie, which was so poorly lit that I had to sit forward and squint just to make out Benicio Del Toro's face.

Most of all I do just really love the fur coat he's wearing! Not that I support wearing fur, but this is hilarious!


Earlier today I posted my review of Animal Kingdom, a new Aussie film that features a stunning Oscar-worthy performance by Jacki Weaver. Over at The Film Experience I've written a guest entry about Ms Weaver, starting her Oscar campaign 10 months out from nominations. It's never too early, I say, especially for someone who is going to need every ounce of support to even be considered a long shot. Of course, hopefully the film even gets a release at all over there - they have Sony Pictures Classics behind them so it's certainly looking better than for, say, anything else. Never mind all that though, because for now we're indulging in wishful thinking. So click on over.

Review: Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom
Dir. David Michôd
Year: 2010
Aus Rating: MA15+
Running Time: 112mins

Australians love a good crime drama. Hell, judging from the TV ratings they love even bad crime dramas, crime documentaries, crime comedies, crime anything as long as it features people getting themselves in too deep with drugs, violence, sex or the inability to drive properly. And yet crime seems to only pay on the small screen, what with big locally made hits such as Underbelly, Border Patrol and City Homicide sitting pretty alongside international fare like Bones and Midsummer Murders at the top of the ratings heard. Give audiences a body - or, preferably, an ever-increasing pile of them - and they're on board.

For some reason, this predilection to crime hasn't jumped to the big screen in any major way, until now, with David Michôd's debut feature Animal Kingdom. Sure, Matthew Saville ventured there with Noise (the second best Aussie film of the last decade) sort of went there, but not to the level of Animal Kingdom. Lazy people - such as myself, I admit - will describe it as "Underbelly on the big screen" and they're not too far off the mark if you mean a slickly produced, invigorating product featuring a bevy of talented acting heavyweights of the Australian acting industry.

Set in Melbourne, Animal Kingdom begins with teenager Joshua "J" Cody (James Frencheville) being moved to live his grandmother (Jacki Weaver) after the death of his single mother. The mother who had intentionally sheltered J from the life of his grandmother and uncles. He soon becomes indoctrinated into the family business of armed robbery and drugs. The young and easily influenced J is quickly pounced upon by police Senior Sergeant Leckie (Guy Pearce) and is caught between his family and the law. Michôd's screenplay is such a fine, solid base and yet it weaves unexpected sidetracks alongside the intricate plot. Michôd has a knack for dialogue here and each character has such a strong, defined persona, which is something that a lot of films tend to lack. These characters live and breathe, and feel as if they have been for decades.

The movie is impeccably made from a technical standpoint with Adam Arkapaw's cinematography looking so crisp, there are several shots worthy of art. The sound work was, I found, particularly note worthy as was the editing by Luke Doolan who manages to wring so much tension and shock, especially during one scene in which Clayton Jacobson reverses out of his garage. Sounds simply, you will understand when you see it, but it walks such a delicate line of nail-biting suspense. Impressive too is the wonderful cast that Michôd has assembled. Perhaps Ben Mendelsohn is miscast as the elderly brother Pope, and perhaps Frencheville has some strange character traits that are hard to define (is he autistic?), but Joel Edgerton is excellent in a role that I am sure many will spoil, but I will do no such thing. Luke Ford, the brother from The Black Balloon, impresses in what is probably the weakest character while Sullivan Stapleton, Susan Prior and Laura Wheelhouse provide great support too.

The performance of the film, however, is Australian acting legend Jacki Weaver. Instantly recalling recent towering performances by the likes of Mo'Nique, Weaver spends much of the film's first half being quietly creepy and, at times, even gothic, but she proves to be merely biding her time before unleashing a flood of evil in scene after scene leading up to the film's haunting conclusion. The way her lips curl as she tries to keep a motherly smile on her face as she extorts, blackmails and manipulates the walls that are crumbling around her is a sight to behold. It is sure to be remembered as one of the finest displays of acting ever committed to an Australian film.

Unfortunately, I do think that the character of J is what lets the film down during these final passages. His character, not necessarily Frencheville himself, feels messy towards the end and the way the character navigates the twists that the film has in store isn't done as cleanly as one would expect from this otherwise finely crafted film. Sure to become a definitive title of Australian film for what it's trying to - and mostly does - achieve, Animal Kingdom is a superb film that should once and for all get audiences excited about Australian cinema once again (even though they already should be). B+

Animal Kingdom is release 3 June, but I'll remind you about it so don't worry!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Hit This

Kick-Ass came out last week here in Australia - this weekend in America - and I had a review ready to publish, but decided against it since it mirrored so many other voices out there that I kinda just didn't really care. I think Kick-Ass is a fun, entertaining movie that has flaws, none of which involve the character of Hit Girl - the controversial 11-year-old mass murdering superhero - but more so the weird gay subplot, the rough changes in tone and a general case of She's All That syndrome where if the main character would just get contacts instead of wearing his giant grandma glasses and gave himself a buzzcut he'd be the hottest guy in school.

So, no, I won't be reviewing Kick-Ass, but as you can tell I think the hyperbole on both sides of the radical fence is a bit out of hand. No, it's not the greatest movie of all time, nor is it a reprehensible and abhorrent movie that will corrupt society's youth and turn them all into murderous sociopaths.

Esteemed critic Roger Ebert has spent the majority of the last few days defending himself against critics of his one-star review. They have called him "old" and "out-of-touch" and that he "didn't get it". Mr Ebert is free to feel however he likes about the movie, but those people saying those silly things clearly haven't realised that film is subjective. However, the best defense that I have read for the film comes from Scott Mendelson, during which he addresses the three key charges being hurled at Kick-Ass, that it's morally wrong to feature a violent 11-year-old, that other 11-year-old girls are going to copy Hit Girl's MO and that the character and that the violence featured in the movie serves no greater purpose than to get yuk-yuks out of watching a pre-teen girl murder people.

It's made perfectly clear that she's been brainwashed from birth and a victim of what could only be called child abuse. Her father is training her to be a soldier in a war. Thus, she's been trained to view the mobsters in question as inhuman/sub-human, for whom killing of them has no real consequences. ... Sure, the movie didn't obsess on it or her possible PTSD stemming from the events of the film, but that's perfectly reasonable territory for a sequel to deal with.

The issue at hand is the double standard when it comes to female action heroes. Sure, we all say we want empowering female characters who can play in the action sandbox as effectively as the boys do. Yet we collectively cringe when said female heroes (and villains) receive the same kind of brutal violence that is commonly visited upon male action heroes and villains. ... Television may have made great strides in this realm (The Powerpuff Girls, Alias, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, etc), but the movies are still stuck defending the violence visited on female characters even when they are playing murderous cyborgs from the future sent to bring about Judgment Day.

We have no qualms about young boys idolizing murderous womanizers like James Bond or Tony Stark. We never bat an eye when an eight-year-old boy wants to dress up as that genocidal, galaxy-destroying, slaughterer-of-children known as Darth Vader. ... More than once, I dressed up for Halloween as an undead former child molester turned murderer of teens who sliced and diced innocent kids using a glove with knives for fingers. I turned out OK.

To take it to an extreme different angle, it's sort of like the cries of "misogyny" that routinely gets thrown at directors like Lars Von Trier. People want better roles for women in cinema and then when someone such as Von Trier does do it they cry foul because the women in his movie dare to be complex and not easily slotted into traditional gender slots of good and bad. That she is so young, however, is the bigger issue, and even then I think it's nowhere near as bad as some are claiming. As Scott says, it is quite obvious that Hit Girl is a victim of child abuse. Not the typical kind that you find in arthouse movies, but the kind of psychological abuse that warps somebody's mind into thinking they're less than they are. Hit Girl has been trained to believe she is a warrior instead of the regular, everyday, school-attending girl that she should be. Something I think is made clear when she starts to blubber like, ahem, "a little girl" late in the movie. Furthermore, if people are worried their daughters are going to start copying Hit Girl then perhaps they should be more vigilant about their children going to see movies that have been clearly and specifically rated so as to not allow them into the cinema without a parent or guardian. And, let's be honest, any parent who takes their child to a movie such as this deserves a bit of antisocial behaviour.

I am sure that if Kick-Ass was as blindly rah-rah about its violence as people like Roger Ebert are saying then it would have easily received funding from a major studio and had its marketing slathered all over the country instead of having to be independently financed. Part of what made Kick-Ass so much better than any other countless ultra-violent movies though is that you have to use your mind to really consider and apprehend what is going on with the character of Hit Girl. No, 11-year-old girls don't generally go out on missions to kill drug dealers and their henchmen, so how did she get there? I think writer/director Matthew Vaughn and his co-writer Jane Goldman do put enough in there for audiences to mull over. It's all a matter of whether the audience member wants to mull it over or not. Sure, there could have been more - I said the film was flawed, did I not? - but, as Scott says, there's always the sequel.

Movies in Movies: The Wrong Man and The Asphalt Jungle in Zodiac

Friday, April 16, 2010

Confused Boy

Bear with me for a moment here. Is this newly released poster for Nowhere Boy, which is just about to get an American release, trying to tell us something? I think there's a hidden message in here somewhere, what with those MYSTERIOUS and COMPLETELY SUBTLE "Strawberry Fields" and "Penny Lane" references blazoned across it. It's like an enigma. Can you decipher what on Earth Nowhere Boy is about?

Could it be... The Monkees?

That must be it! Nowhere Boy is a movie about American pop outfit The Monkees! It's gotta be. Monkeys like strawberries and throwing pennies at people, right? That's gotta be the link.


Compare it to this earlier design though, and - in all seriousness - which design piqued your interest more?

It's my belief that these sort of movies already have their audience and no amount of trickery is going to get people to go who were never going to in the first place. The people that Nowhere Boy would interest already know of its existence, surely, and I highly doubt that some casual arthouse (which is, let's face it, the only place Nowhere Boy is going to screen) visitor is going to suddenly cotton on to the fact that there is a new movie about The Beatles and go see it instead. Besides, if that person were me - note: it would never be me - then I might think the shoddy Photoshop work would deter me anyway.

It might as well say "Just in case you don't know who JOHN LENNON is, whose name is written on the poster, this movie is about THE BEATLES! Do you see? Do you get it? STRAWBERRY FIELD FOREVER IS A BEATLES SONG!!! I hate you."

Rated R

How refreshing! At a time when the puritans of our society continue to judge, wag their fingers and cry cry cry about how much movies are ruining our values - the latest case being the parent groups who think the Government should be actively patrolling the movie ratings of stuff like Kick-Ass so as to not inflict that movie's morally questionable attitude on audience members who legally aren't even allowed to see it without parental guidance - that sometimes a win for common sense in the same area can come as a complete and utter welcome surprise.

Pier Paolo Pasolini's controversial Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom has had a checkered history with Australian censors to say the least. Fantastic resource site Refused Classification has a thorough breakdown of the multiple times it has been banned, rated, re-banned, re-rated and banned again. Hopefully this is the last time we hear of the controversy now that it has been unbanned and given an R18+ rating.

Explains Refused Classification:

The Director of the Classification Board, Donald McDonald has stated that the R18+ version was rated because of:

.... the inclusion of 176 minutes of additional material which provided a context to the feature film, mitigating its impact.

Similar reasoning was used to allow I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE to be rated in 2004. It was thought that the extra commentary material on the Force Entertainment DVD was enough to allow an R18+ rating.

It's interesting that DVD bonus material is now being used to justify the film's rating. It doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things as to why they chose to do it, but they have and that's good news. A cinema release, which sometimes happen when famously banned films get taken off the naughty list, seems all but out of the question since the only reason Salo has been unbanned is due to this DVD bonus material and, thus, the film cannot be legally exhibited in a cinema without bonus material attached.

I am sure someone will figure out a way to get around it. Advertise it as including the bonus material and then just have everyone leave after the movie is over for instance. Nevertheless, Pasolini's film will finally be available on DVD by SHOCK at some point and I can now go about not seeing the film because I choose to and not because I am being legally denied the right to see it by the wowsers at the Office of Film and Literature Classification.