Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Accidents Happen to The Crazies Beneath Hill 60 (er, and I'm Still Here)

I had nothing to write about today (I am not on my regular computer so the various projects I have going are tough to do, but I'm going to get all the programs I need sooner rather than later) so I thought I'd flip through some of the films I have watched lately, yet never wrote about, and share my thoughts. That sound you hear is not the collected baited breath of the internet, but the sound of unimpressed readers. I know!

Accidents Happen
When Andrew Lancaster's debut feature opens it does so with an accident. As opening scenes go, it's a good one with a man accidentally lighting himself on fire as a young boy watches innocently from underneath the summertime water sprinkler that the elderly gentleman is so desperately rushing towards, leaving a trail of burning hedges and lawn behind him. Then some more accidents happen, and then some stuff that aren't accidents followed by some stuff that look like accidents, but actually aren't. Then there are some more accidents. And then it ends. Ta da!

There's not much particularly wrong with Accidents Happen, it's just that it lacks a vital energy after that strong opening sequence. It doesn't help that we've seen this all before with its melding of "coming-of-age" and "domineering mother" subgenres that Australian filmmakers seem to love so very much. As the mother, Geena Davis is quite nice but rarely exception, whilst the kids - Harrison Gilbertson, Harry Cook and, especially, Sebastian Gregory - never embarrass themselves and each have fine moments. Unfortunately it's never so funny as to arouse more than a slight chuckle, nor is the drama sufficiently dramatic enough to warrant spending 90 minutes of time with these people. It's all very pleasant to watch, but doesn't end up giving much to mull over and once the credits start to roll I found myself moving on to other things quite quickly. C+

Beneath Hill 60
World wars, both of them, are always going to be potent grounds for inspiring and worthwhile stories, and it's hard to deny that the true tale at the centre of Jeremy Sims' Beneath Hill 60 is a doozy - Australian tunnellers single-handedly brought down an enemy front with the largest ever man-made explosion in history - but, unfortunately, its handling in this stoic, but plain, film is wonky to say the least.

A very traditional storytelling structure gets things off to a bad start and it only gets worse. The Queensland-set flashback sequences involving the romance between Brendan Cowell and Bella Heathcote are truly terrifying stuff. Awkward acting from the entirely miscast Cowell and lightweight in its portrayal of burgeoning love. Elsewhere there are performances that have all been so poorly modulated that the likes of Cowell, Steve le Marquand, Gyton Grantley and Chris Haywood all feel as if they're acting in wildly different movies. Unfortunately Beneath Hill 60 focuses too much of the less interesting characters - Mark Coles Smith's "Streaky" is a far more alluring character to centre a film around - while others' arcs are simplified to excessive degrees. It's a big disappointment since the film is a winner on a technical level, especially the production design by Clayton Jauncey and the costumes by Ian Sparke, although Cezary Skubiszewski's score is occasionally over-zealous and overwrought. C

The Crazies
I came to Breck Eisner's remake of George Romero's The Crazies, which I have never seen, purely because there was nothing else I wanted to see at the video store. I expected some jolts, the delicious Timothy Olyphant in a Sheriff uniform and Radha Mitchell on the back of giving her best ever performance in Claire McCarthy's The Waiting City earlier in the year. The Crazies went direct-to-DVD in Australia as even moderately profiled horror films seem to be doing more and more these days (how Case 39 got a cinematic release last November, a full 11 months before America, is beyond me), and in the end it was nothing more than I was expecting, but thankfully not less, either.

There are some frights - that car wash sequence is a good one, isn't it? - there is Timothy Olyphant looking delicious in a Sheriff uniform and Radha Mitchell shows a bit more fire in her belly here than she has in almost anything from her pre-2010 Hollywood work combined. Eisner's visuals are interesting but some of the visuals he and cinematographer Maxime Alexandre come up with are heavy handed (the Holocaust train references are frightfully out of the place) and it never rises above its ambitions. B-

I'm Still Here
There isn't much to discuss anymore, especially not from a "is it real or is it a fake" perspective, but there's still the film at hand and no matter what director Casey Affleck says about the hoax of Joaquin Phoenix will change the fact that it exists and that people may still choose to see and will have to endure all 103 minutes of it. Are those 103 minutes worth it? I don't think so. Much like another recent release, The Tree, it's metaphors are obvious, but whereas that film had them in service of a story about genuine human beings dealing with actual personal struggles, I'm Still Here is full of loathsome people.

There are moments that lingers - most notably the final sequence through a creek in the Panama jungle - and the performance are nothing if not committed, with Sean "P Diddy" Combs giving a legitimately wonderful one, but at the end of the day I'm Still Here leaves a fading impression despite its impressive scope and worthwhile ideas. C

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