Thursday, October 28, 2010

Review: Triangle

Dir. Christopher Smith
Year: 2010
Aus Rating: MA15+
Running Time: 98mins

I watched Christopher Smith's Triangle last night. I normally wouldn't have bothered with a film such as this if it weren't for the fact that it was filmed in Australia and that it features a collection of Australian actors that have been watchable in the past. That it had actually received some quite impressive reviews was something I only discovered after the fact. Impressive reviews for a movie that made a pittance at the box office and went direct-to-DVD in most places. Why this didn't get more of a push by its distributor is not something I am going to pretend to know, but I do know that by film's end I was quite stunned at what I had just watched. Triangle is a taut, emotionally riveting, effective and - best of all - surprising horror chiller.

I can't say I was expecting much, and after the first 15 minutes or so my expectations were being met. So much so that when a mate sent me a text message asking what I was doing I replied "watching a quote unquote scary movie." Ouch. I have no qualms in admitting that I was judging Triangle far too prematurely. I knew the film was of the twisty variety - it's hard to ignore when the marketing features its star Melissa George looking at a reflection of herself as a hooded gun-toter - but the initial passages of this movie really don't tell us anything about where the film is going. Triangle is one movie in which I can quite positively say I had no idea at all where it was going. There's no hint within the opening passages that even suggest the quietly devastating places it visits outside of Melissa George's performance, and even that comes off as affected more than anything else. Even once the first twist occurs (and there's a lot of them!) and I thought it was going one way, it piled another twist on top of that and went somewhere else. And then just for giggles it threw on more twists and then the final act is another divergence and, surprisingly, made everything come full circle and make perfect sense. Well, "perfect sense" in its own universe, but sense nonetheless.

To tell you the plot is both ridiculous and unnecessary. Ridiculous because, well, there really isn't much of one until we start getting into spoiler territory (and bigger spoilers than the general "is she going insane" stuff that the marketing and DVD back cover blurb makes obvious), and unnecessary because the plot is entirely superfluous to your experience of the movie. You're either going to get swept up (pun unintended) or you'll balk at the absurdity of it all. If you must know though, it's about a group of good looking people taking a sailing sojourn. Needless to say, bad shit happens and they end up on an ocean liner that appears to be deserted. Oh my, never saw that before! However, it's like Ghost Ship, but, ya know, not terrible and hackish.

The word I keep coming back to is "impressive". You don't see plotting and structure like this very often in modern day horror titles, especially ones that could have so easily fallen back on the good ol' Bermuda Triangle trope that its title seems to suggest it's going to do. If you're paying attention from the opening shot to the very last then I am sure you will be able to make heads and tails of it all in a general sort of way. Much like Christopher Nolan's Inception, Triangle balances it's multiple levels of reality/dream/fantasy and - dare I say - actually does a better job of it than Nolan's sci-fi blockbuster. Inception is the better film thanks to its technical prowess, scope and budgetary bravery, but let's not deny Triangle its plaudits. Watching this movie with an open mind is a fascinating experience, trying to slot all the pieces of the puzzle together and figure out where everyone sits in the grand scheme of the film's architecture. It's something that can only be attempted once the credits are rolling since Smith continues to throw spanners and wrenches and whatever other work shed tools he can find into the mix. There's even a scene in a tool shed where Melissa George pulls out another implement for use!

The film is, to be really reductive about everything, about reflections. How we look at ourselves, what fates we think we deserve for our misdeeds and the levels to which we will go to try and forgive ourselves for our sins. God may be able to forgive if we prey hard enough and go to whatever Sunday traditions he (or she!) sees fit, but will we ever be able to erase the memories from our own mind? Can we ever truly forgive ourselves? Even if it means destroying our former selves, we can't ever truly escape, can we?

This idea about reflections is most definitely shoved in audiences faces due to Smith and his cinematographer Robert Humphreys. Melissa George is routinely filmed looking at mirrors or having her image bounce off of a shiny surface. I lost count of the number of times I noticed it, actually, and at one point I wanted to scream "I GET IT!" Yes, her personality is fracturing, yes she's looking at her image, but is she truly herself? I GET IT! I took some screencaps just to prove it. There were more, probably, but lost track.

Melinda Doring's production design should be praised. Sure, the references to Kubrick's The Shining are so obvious that a cruise ship couldn't miss them if they were floating in the ocean, but that's part of the charm. The corridors of the cruise ship, the creepiness of these 1920s ballrooms and theatres plus the sunny exteriors of the deck. And as far as continuity goes, it does a surprisingly adept job at keeping track of all the pools of blood, bloodied hand prints, piles of bodies (love that shot of Rachael Carpani discovering her corpse multiplied) and fractured mirrors. It's a shame the visual effects aren't up to scratch, since that's the only aspect that really truly could have been improved to match the rather stellar achievements elsewhere.

Melissa George has never been an actress I've found all that engaging, to tell you the truth. Serviceable, but not much more and yet here in Triangle she gets quite a bit to chew on and handles it with aplomb. I wasn't enjoying her damaged sad sack routine in the earlier passages of the film, but once you figure out what the film is doing (which, as I've said, isn't until very late in the picture) I definitely got it. And that shot of her towards film's end where... well, you know the one? Obviously Smith's talent has something to do with that, but as a culmination of everything George had been doing up until then she's partially responsible for its shock value. I wasn't expecting it and I actually gasped. If this blog is still running in ten years and I do another Design of the Decade is a scene that will surely rank somewhere on there.

Don't look at the images below if you intend on sitting down to watch Triangle. They're very much SPOILER territory... although, even then, when you don't know the context with which they appear it doesn't seem like anything of the sort.

End of image spoilers, feel free to keep reading!

In fact, that entire end passage had me sitting there with my mouth agog. The brutal position it showed of a family deeply resentful of a child with special needs, the brutally sudden murder, George's willingness to be such a complete and utter monster (think of it as Mo'Nique in Precious condensed to a brief 2 minute sequence!), the car crash and the "uh huh!" moment that follows... it's all the sort of thing that make me sit up and wish more movies could be like this. Triangle is 90 minutes long and not a single moment of it is wasted. It is a captivating and strong, scary movie that I'd recommend to anyone who wishes horror films were braver and sticky on the brain. It's a small film, for sure, but one that impressed with craftsmanship, complexity, intelligence and ingenuity. B+

Fresh Rabbit Hole Poster

A while ago I mused on Twitter that I suspected the poster for John Cameron Mitchell's Rabbit Hole would be nothing more than this film still of stars Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart in the bottom right corner, surrounded by empty black space and the title written using a very bland typeface. The fact that distributor Lionsgate had such a limited time to come up with the marketing for this film (it's US release is December 17 and was only acquired last month if I remember correctly) only made my hunch stronger. These days not much thought goes into the posters, especially for a film such as Rabbit Hole, which is hardly the sort of film that can be sold to mass audiences on inventive posters and nontraditional trailers.

Turns out I was wrong for the most part.

Via HitFix, click to embiggen.

Yes, the font is simple, but it's subtle and elegant. I like how it's as if we're seeing the sky through a misty windscreen and through the title it is clearer, where we can see through to a deeper hue of blue. And that image of Kidman is lovely. As for the O made from a child's backyard swing? Well, it's a bit precious, and the tagline is on the nose, but a movie like this has got to sell tickets and you don't do that by appearing to be 120 minutes of miserablism. Precious (also from Lionsgate) new that last year; you gotta sell the happy. So, again, I can forgive it.

Also, I just think the movie looks incredible so I don't care. 99% of the internet didn't seem to care that the Inception posters were rubbish, so why should I care about this? I shan't. Click the "Rabbit Hole" tag below to read more about my anticipation for this film if you don't believe me.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

18 Thoughts About the AFI Nominations

In honour of the record breaking nomination haul by David Michôd's Animal Kingdom at today's Australian Film Institute Award nominations, here are 18 thoughts/musings/reflections/etc. The entire list of contenders can be found at the AFI website, so please head over there and save me the effort of copying and pasting like a lazy git typing them all out.

1. 18 Nominations for Animal Kingdom?
As if its status as one of the most acclaimed and important films in Australian history, today it had to go out of its way and nab itself 18 nominations! That's a record as far as I can tell (nobody seems to have corrected me yet). Of course, it helps to get three out of four Best Supporting Actor nominations (Guy Pearce, Joel Edgerton and Sullivan Stapleton) and two Best Lead Actor nominations (Ben Mendelsohn and James Frencheville). Throw in some (shall we say) curious technical nominations like Cappi Ireland's for Best Costume Design and Best Production Design for Jo Ford and that means Animal Kingdom received a nomination in every single category that it was eligible for!

2. The Waiting City is this year's Disgrace
Eyebrows were certainly raised last year when Steve Jacobs' critically acclaimed Disgrace, starring a career best John Malkovich, failed to receive a single nomination and it looks like that honour has been bestowed upon Claire McCarthy's The Waiting City in 2010. Oh sure, Denson Baker received a well-deserved Best Cinematography nomination, but that's it. I didn't expect it to get nominations across the board, but the exemplary work by Joel Edgerton and Radha Mitchell (giving perhaps their best ever performances in my eyes) seems like good solid Best Lead Actor and Actress nominees. Not the case. I wasn't as anti-James Frencheville as some, but his nomination over Edgerton (or Peter Marshall in The Horseman for that matter) is baffling.

3. Bright Star was remembered.
I am so happy that not only was Bright Star remembered in the Best Film category, but Jane Campion and Abbie Cornish, too, in their respective fields. Campion's stunning film about poet John Keats was released late last year (along with The Boys are Back, which also had a solid nomination tally) and could have easily been passed over for more recent fare. Note, Campion is nominated for Best Original Screenplay, not Adapted like the Academy tried to make out that Bright Star was (pish posh, obviously!)

4. Women make up half the Best Direction category
It's true. And it's interesting that they went with Julie Bertuccelli, a foreigner.

5. Don't feel sorry for Kodi Smit-McPhee
Sure, he's the lone representative for any movie that is not Animal Kingdom in the Best Supporting Actor category, but since he is nominated for a film that was a flop and an awards day dud (that'd be Matching Jack), not to mention his second nomination for The Road in the International category, let's not get too sad for the kid. He's already won an AFI and another nomination in his brief time plus he's making critically acclaimed films overseas, so he's going all right!

6. Speaking of those International Awards...
You have to just accept Sam Worthington being nominated for Avatar, but Mia Wasikowska for Alice in Wonderland? When she gave a great performance in The Kids are All Right? That's crazy talk! Meanwhile, Naomi Watts received what will probably be her only nomination for Mother & Child and she should probably win the category, unless voters are feeling partial to Toni Collette in The United States of Tara for a second year in a row.

7. Favouritism
Yeah, Jacki Weaver was great and all and seeing her nominated (and surely win) was great (although I'm more excited about her Oscar prospects right now), the top nomination of the day for me was that left field, but oh so rockin' nomination for Daybreakers in Best Original Screenplay. You can't say that isn't an interesting citation. I'd say a deserved one, too.

8. Tomorrow when Ashleigh Cummings is a star
I was happy to see Ashleigh Cummings got a nomination in the Best Young Actor category for her work as "Robyn" in Tomorrow When the War Began. As I get further away from seeing that film, a good one and one that got several major nominations including Best Film, it is without a doubt she and Deniz Akdeniz that linger as the standouts. That shot of Cummings walking towards the camera as she fires her rifle is one of the finest individual moments from any of the AFI contenders.

9. No The Horseman
I know it was a very longshot, but it would have been great to see Steven Kastrissios' intense revenge horror film The Horseman get something. Peter Marshall's performance is the best male performance of the year, too.

10. Ben Mendelsohn will finally win a Lead statue
He's like Meryl Streep. He won way back 1987 for Best Supporting Actor in The Year My Voice Broke, but despite six nominations in the Lead categories (one was for Lead Actor in a TV Drama for Love My Way) it appears he will finally get that Lead Actor AFI award. I thought he deserved it last year for Beautiful Kate over the eventual winner, Anthony LaPaglia for Balibo, but who can deny him this year? James Frencheville is the Queen Latifah to Mendelsohn's Catherine Zeta-Jones, if you know what I mean.

11. Doubling up
This doesn't happen to often. Not only are two actors from the same film represented together in Best Lead Actor (the aforementioned Mendelsohn and Frencheville from Animal Kingdom), but the Best Lead Actress category, too, as French actor Charlotte Gainsbourg joins her young The Tree co-star Morgana Davis. I was hoping for one, but didn't expect both!

I keep a running "ballot" document for each year as it goes by and I have Davies and Gainsbourg listed together under Best Actress purely because they feel so intertwined in that film that it feels impossible to separate them. No one is going to deny Jacki Weaver in that category at the AFIs, but I reckon Morgana Davies would've won this in a walk if Weaver had have been submitted in the Best Supporting Actress category, but that's not how the AFI Awards work.

12. International names on the list
We've already mentioned Julie Bertuccelli (Best Direction) and Charlotte Gainsbourg (Best Lead Actress), but Clive Owen too snuck in on goodwill for The Boys are Back, a likable if unremarkable film that still wormed its way to nominations.

13. Ernie Dingo?
Did this well known actor's recent string of bad publicity and alleged criminal activity cause him to be snubbed for Bran Nue Dae. I don't know anyone who doesn't say he gives the best performance of that indigenous road trip musical, a Best Film contender, and yet he was absent from the ballot. Was surprised to see Geoffrey Rush not nominated, either, in the Supporting Actor category since he is so revered.

14. John Edwards, but not the psychic one
Is John Edwards the most respected man in Aussie television right now? The AFI TV categories are filled with projects he is involved with. In fact, of the four Best Television Drama series nominees, only one (ONE!) does not list John Edwards as one of the producer nominees. Rush (Network Ten), Spirited (W) and Tangled (Showcase) have all been shepherded by the man, which is a remarkable achievement. That his three shows are all quite good is another matter entirely. How about Claudia Karvan and Jacquelin Perske, too? They have a new show? Nominate it!

15. Network Ten, for better or worse
Whether you like Network Ten's programming - and I wholeheartedly agree with piece by Clem Bastow at The Vine re James Packer's recent purchase of the channel - it's hard to deny, as I look over the TV nominations that without them the list would be... barren, for lack of a better word. Hell, the Best Telefeature/Mini-Series category wouldn't even exist! And I think we can all be thankful that Rush is there to save us from an embarrassing Packed to the Rafters/Rescue Special Ops situation.

16. Five outta six ain't bad!
Back to the films, I wasn't a fan of Beneath Hill 60, but the nominations are all pretty impressive. Sure, the Animal Kingdom love went a little bit overboard like Goldie Hawn, and The Waiting City's egregious snubbing is more than a little sad, but one bad movie out of a bunch (and, yes, I am admittedly in the minority in regards to my feelings about Jeremy Sims' WWI movie) is a good stat.

17. Struck out
Films to receive no nominations at all are Accidents Happen, The Horseman, I Love You Too, Lou, Mother Fish and Subdivision. Nothing too upsetting about those apart from The Horseman, which I've already spoken about.

18. Next year?
We've already seen several contenders in the form of The Loved Ones, which should be nominations across the board, but I'll be specifically cheering on nominations for Best Production Design, Best Costume Design and Robin McLeavy for Best Lead Actress, giving a performance that can instantly be regarded as one of the greatest horror performances of all time. Yes, I am being serious. We've also got Red Hill, which should do well in the technical categories, and - depending on eligibility issues - The King's Speech. That Oscar contender is an official UK/Australia co-production, but is it enough of one to qualify? Well, that's too far away to think about, so let's just stay with 2010, okay?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Scream to Scream, Scene by Scene: SCENE 30 of Scream (1:21:31-1:24:13)

In this project I attempt to review the entire Scream trilogy scene by scene in chronological order. Heavy spoilers and gore throughout!

Length: 2min 42secs
Primary Characters: Gale Weathers, Deputy Dewey and Randy Meeks
Pop Culture References:
  • Halloween (It continues to be played on the TV)

It's this very scene that makes me chuckle with wonder at what Courteney Cox's Friends cast members must have thought of the movie she ha spent her summer vacation making. I like to imagine everyone of the cast returning from their summer vacations and discussing what they did; someone probably holidayed in the Caribbean or the French Riviera while others made failed attempts at capitalising on their newfound TV fame with a dull romantic comedy and then Courteney would have been there saying how she made a horror movie called Scream in which she had to run around from a masked killer who was murdering teenagers. And then she would've told them about the actor she met on the set... :(

I love looking at Gale run in this little shot as she wears her skirt and her heels.

I guess Dewey was very sure that the killer was inside the house, since he just left Gale to run around by herself. This shot kinda feels like a shot from Halloween, which is apt since by this stage the film was using John Carpenter's Scream score outright for its own usage.

I actually think this moment works particularly well. We all know that Halloween is playing in the house, but Craven and co have ramped the tension up so much with that last chase sequence that it's easy to forget and to think the sound coming from the TV is real. As fake scares go, it is certainly a bit better and more original than a cat jumping out from a shadow.

My favourite shots from this ensemble of images are shots #3, #4 and #7. Love the look of "oh shit, where is Kenny?" on Gale's face in that third shot, the imagery of her Hollywood shoots surrounded by pooling blood in the forth and, well, who doesn't love that seventh shot with the blood on the windscreen wipers. I do find it amusing that Gale tried to wipe the blood away from inside the windshield as if it was condensation or something like that.

Poor Kenny though. I like that Stu, in killer mode, was so proud of his unsuspecting kill on Kenny that he decided to take time out of stalking his victims (he easily could have just gone straight back inside the house and given Randy the ol' stabby stabby salute through the skull like he intended before he heard Sidney screaming (which, by the way, Randy did not hear, and yet there he is?) to prop him up on the news van to be violently discovered by someone. Throat slashing just isn't enough!

For some reason this specific shot seems very unfamiliar to me. Like, I've watched this films hundreds of times so I have obviously seen it, but until I screencapped it it had never really registered with me. I like how Randy is there trying to get up and figure out what is going on.

"Oh god, Kenny I'm sorry, but get off my fucking windshield!"

Love this line and Cox's reading of it. It's that wink of comedy and yet it feels so natural and organic. I mean, it would be kinda annoying to have a big ol' dead man on your windshield as you're trying to escape from a serial killer.

Okay, and now I have to call "Shenanigans!" on writer Kevin Williamson. I don't understand this moment. Gale is trying to escape, sees a bloodied Sidney (where that blood came from, I'm not sure, since the very last moment we saw her running away from the killer in the news van she did not have as much blood on her face!), and swerves to avoid her. Gale then goes careening off the road and into a tree, yet what does Sidney do? She runs back towards the house? That doesn't make any sense! You'd think you would try to go get whoever it was and try to escape together.

Furthermore, and this pertains to a later sequence, but we'll discuss it now, when Stu and Billy are surprised by Gale in the kitchen showdown they say she "looked dead" (in a manner of speaking) and yet... how? I've never understood that. The killer wasn't following Gale in her van (as far as we're aware) and the only one who saw her take the van into the bushes was Sidney. It's always confused me and it's the only plot hole that I can find in the first two movies that genuinely bugs me every time I watch them.

Can someone provide a tangible reason for any of this? Please?!?

Intro, Scene 1 Scene 2, Scene 3, Scene 4, Scene 5, Scene 6, Scene 7, Scene 8, Scene 9, Scene 10, Scene 11, Scene 12, Scene 13, Scene 14, Scene 15, Scene 16, Scene 17, Scene 18, Scene 19, Scene 20, Scene 21, Scene 22, Scene 23, Scene 24, Scene 25, Scene 26, Scene 27, Scene 28, Scene 29

Friday, October 22, 2010

Rabbit Hole Trailer

As anybody who follows this blog will know that I have been awaiting Rabbit Hole with very high anticipation. I think it's quite obvious what I think of Nicole Kidman (just the way she goes "hmmm" after her angel speech at the start of the trailer fills me with love for that woman), but my appreciation for the likes of John Cameron Mitchell, Dianne Wiest, Aaron Eckhart, Sandra Oh and so on is so strong that their presence on any film will instantly make me sit up and pay attention. Now comes the trailer for Rabbit Hole and it looks good! I have to wait until February to see it as that's when it is receiving a local release, but you Americans out there get it in December. I've included some of my favourite shots, taken from the HQ Apple version, beneath.

And please bear in mind that I will reject any comment that even mentions Nicole's botox. Really. That discussion is over.