Friday, April 29, 2011

Book of Melancholia, Hat of Albert Nobbs, Body of Sleeping Beauty

Following on from last year's case of "my what a fabulous book cover you are, but how is this a film poster?" that we had with Never Let Me Go comes the poster for Lars Von Trier's latest, Melancholia. I get that it looks like a wedding invitation (since the film seems to be predominantly set during a wedding), but it's like they decided on the idea and then never really developed it enough. Still, it just looks like a book cover to me. Hmmm.

I unreservedly love the poster for Albert Nobbs. The illusion of flipped gender roles without the obvious imagery of, say, a hair man's leg in a stiletto or something equally stupid. And as if trying to market itself to the tune of Kim Carnes, this poster has Glenn Close eyes. Love it.

Meanwhile, I've left the best of this new batch of arthouse posters for last. It's the poster for recently Cannes-minted Aussie erotic drama Sleeping Beauty. Or is it Jane Campion Presents Sleeping Beauty. Either way, this piece of design is just gorgeous and flawless. Emily Browning looking stunning, surrounded by satin and delicate embroidery. It's a design of pure baiting eroticism that we rarely see and I love the guts it has to just put itself out there. There's no hiding the fact that this film is about sex now, is there? This isn't Disney's Sleeping Beauty by a long shot.

Review: Mrs Carey's Concert

Mrs Carey's Concert
Dir. Bob Connolly & Sophie Raymond
Year: 2011
Aus Rating: PG
Running Time: 95mins

It has been ten years since renowned documentary filmmaker Bob Connolly – not to be confused with Robert Connolly, director of Balibo – made a film. Connolly has kept a low profile after the death of his directing partner Robin Anderson in 2002, but the two made some of the seminal documentaries in Australian history; think of Facing the Music, Rats in the Ranks and Black Harvest. Connolly has now returned with Mrs Carey’s Concert, charting the struggle of Karen Carey, Director of Music at MLC School for girls in Sydney, to get her students ready for a concert at the Sydney Opera House that will hopefully help shape the girls’ outlook for years to come.

Read the rest at Onya Magazine

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Review: American Graffiti & Two-Lane Blacktop

American Graffiti
dir. George Lucas
Year: 1973
Aus Rating: M
Running Time: 112mins

Two-Lane Blacktop
dir. Monte Hellman
Year: 1971
Aus Rating: M
Running Time: 102mins

Having only THX 1138 to his directorial credit, George Lucas’ second film was a radical departure from that science fiction thriller, not to mention the Star Wars franchise that would consume the rest of his filmmaking career thereafter. American Graffiti is a groundbreaking comedy from 1973 that sees Lucas putting the focus on his own childhood of the early 1960s. Lucas’ iconic movie would go on to become a box office blockbuster that would define the independent film movement for decades to come.

Read the rest at Trespass Magazine

This review originally went up at the end of last week in time for the week-long season of American Graffiti and Two-Lane Blacktop at The Astor Theatre. Alas, Trespass Magazine went away for a few days for a makeover. They're back now, but this glorious double feature is only screening for two more days so if you're in Melbourne do check it!


Here's a trailer for a new Aussie film called Swerve. Now that I think about it, I do believe I'd heard of it before, but can't for the life of me remember where. Never mind, the trailer actually looks quite promising, but let's just hope this doesn't end up like another Cactus, which is almost sorta kinda resembles. At least it looks like it'll have some nice car chases, and if there's one thing Australians know how to film it's a car chase!

I will be making an effort to see this at MIFF, how about you?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Secret TV Business

With ABC1's miniseries Paper Giants making the big splash that it did - I didn't get a chance to see it as it aired, but from what I've heard y'all better get used to seeing Asher Keddie win awards - I found it somewhat humourous that Quickflix chose to send me two made-for-TV movies this past week. One is much more famous than the other, but I suspect if more people knew about the lesser-known Australian one that they'd be inclined to check it out due to its cast.

Simon Baker, Jeremy Callaghan, Marcus Graham and Ben Mendelsohn

Secret Men's Business was made in 1999 and stars Ben Mendelsohn, Simon Baker, Marcus Graham, Jeremy Sims and Jeremy Callaghan as five school friends who come together after the death of a beloved teacher. A teacher who, by the way, basically ruined his career by taking the fall for a mistake that was the boys' fault. It's got some trite dialogue and the scope feels sadly stage-bound, but there's something in the way these men interact that is interesting. The idea that straight men are always competing with one another to prove who is the most macho, the most sexually superior and so on has been looked at better in other places, but the overt sexuality to Ken Cameron's direction gives Secret Men's Business a leg up. It doesn't shy away from presenting men as either sexually deviant (the stereotype) and sexually content; they're routinely seen undressed, touching each other and parading about showing off their bodies. We see more of Mendelsohn's skin than any of the women that swan in and out of the proceedings.

Simon Baker was beginning to break out at the time of this, having spent the majority of the 1990s on local soaps E Street, Home & Away and Heartbreak High before a small role in LA Confidential in 1997 lead him to greener pastures. In 2000 he received an AFI Award nomination for his role and was soon cast in The Guardian. Ben Mendelsohn, still looking baby-faced here at odds with his character, on the other hand has always been there in the Aussie film industry and remains to this day, but with his award winning role in Animal Kingdom being seen by a larger number of international viewers it will be interesting to see if people bother to investigate his amazing career. They both do fine work, better than Graham and Jeremy Sims who are working within much smaller character stereotypes, but it's the largely unheralded Jeremy Callaghan who impressed me the most as the meek "Ian Mooney". It's impressive in some aspects, but doesn't quite do enough with its subject (like, say, Men's Group). C+

For the record, Secret Men's Business is all on YouTube if you're unable to find it on DVD.

Whereas Secret Men's Business uses a very tight ensemble to tell it's story, Roger Spottiswoode went in the opposite direction with his Emmy Award-winning TV movie And the Band Played On. With a cast list and unfolding storyline that reads as the definition of "sprawling", this film is set mostly in the 1980s and tells the story of the discovery, and subsequent behind-the-scenes political wrangling, of AIDS. First amongst the gay community, then the Haitian community and then become a full-blown epidemic that knew no sexuality, gender or race.

It's fascinating to learn all the things that went wrong in the fight to control the disease as it swept primarily through America's gay culture. And not just wrong on the side of President Reagan, his government and organisations like the Red Cross (who chose not to spend money testing blood for AIDS "just because" some of the nation's supply had been tainted!), but also on the side of the gay people who refused to open their eyes to the catastrophe that was coming their way.

It stars Matthew Modine - you know, that one from Full Metal Jacket that isn't R Lee Ermey for Vincent D'Onofrio - and Saul Rubinek as scientists, but features all sorts of other actors. There are the respected thespians of Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin, Ian McKellen Steve Martin, Anjelica Huston and Richard Gere. And then there are the character actors that give so much energy to the peripherals of the film, Swoosie Kurtz (stealing best in film honours from Lily Tomlin), Charles Martin Smith, Glenne Headly, BD Wong, Richard Jenkins, Bud Cort, David Marshall Grant and, yes, even Phil Collins.

Curiously, And the Band Played On - I assume it's title is a riff on iconic gay pre-AIDS play/film The Boys in the Band - was released in the same year as Jonathan Demme's Philadelphia and while it's certainly a more brazen film than that one ever was, this was still 1993 and while characters may be more outward in their homosexuality, the film is still muted on expressing affection visually. For a film that tries so hard to expel the myths of how AIDS is passed between people, not one AIDS patient is seen kissing someone on the lips.

I'm lead to believe that Randy Shilts' book was a very big undertaking to adapt and that the screenplay by Arnold Schulman does a good job of condensing the saga down into a easily understandable 140 minutes. What casual everyday audiences made of the film at the time would be fascinating to find out, although I did find that Spottiswoode was... I don't want to say pandering, but definitely put a large focus on the non-gay aspects of the crisis. The scene with Swoosie Kurtz, for instance, feels like a moment to help those straight viewers feel included even if they didn't know what "the gay thing" was all. The best part of the film was the five minute epilogue set to Elton John's "The Last Song" over a montage of people, famous and otherwise, who died from or contracted the illness. It's direct and stirring in a way that hours of medical jargon - a subplot with Alan Alda is necessary part of the history of AIDS, but feels clunky in a film that's already heavy in exposition - simply can't do. Even though it was made in 1993, and much has happened in the near 20 years since then, And the Band Plays On remains a pertinent movie and one of the bravest TV movies I can recall. B

The Saw is Family

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise is a peculiar one in the history of the horror genre in that every almost addition seems to follow a completely different mission statement. Tobe Hooper's 1974 original is a visceral home movie affair that is grungy, cheap and nasty; the 1986 sequel is a much different beast with its focus on comedy and absurdism that reaches its apex in a finale that, well, reaches an absurd apex; the fourth from 1997 is a another cheap and grungy affair, but this time plays like a camp 1980s slasher flick as it focuses on characters who get lost on their way to prom getting chased by Leatherface in drag.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) | The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986)

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1997)

The films can't even get continuity in the titles let alone tone! The original is spelt Chain Saw, the second is Part 2, the third is given roman numerals and adds "Leatherface" before the classic title. And then there's the fourth which ditches any number at all, uses a subtitle and curiously deletes the "The" from the classic title.

The two most recent incarnations are in fact the only ones amongst the entire six-part (so far) series to feel connected. Marcus Nispel's 2003 "remake" (it's more of a direct sequel to Hooper's 1974 original than any of the other so-called sequels) and its 2006 prequel both wallow in a dirty, sun-bleached nihilism that works for some (like myself) and completely repels others. Even then, The Beginning was more of a lazy retread of its predecessor, which - in a meta sort of way - makes it completely unlike any of the other films in the series, so I guess that fits the pattern. Right? Yikes. I'm confusing myself!

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) | The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)

Last night I sat down to watch Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, the final film in the franchise that I had yet to see. I was curious to see where it would sit within the films; would it carry yet another completely different personality or would it be a stylistic companion? Turns out a bit of both. While it and The Next Generation certainly appear to be attempting a modern day redo of the original aesthetic, Leatherface is yet again another Chainsaw film that has its own beats and rhythm. And yet, by saying it has it's own personality is to also say it has no personality at all. It's the least invested of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre films, that's for sure, seemingly made by somebody who doesn't seem to particularly care what movie he's making. Director Jeff Burr seems unable to rouse even the most basic of scares that should come organically from a film in which A MAN WEARING A MASK MADE OF SKIN ATTACKING PEOPLE WITH A CHAINSAW! He seems to be aiming for the original's uneasy force, but the sloppy attempts at humour and lifeless chase-sequences put a kibosh to that.

Perhaps it's due to lead actress - the "final girl" if you wanna use the noted horror phrase - Kate Hodge being so frustratingly passive for the majority of the (brief 80 minute) running time. Burr's direction features none of the gut-churning reality and surprise of the original, nor the finely-tuned parade of grotesquery that made Nispel's retooling so effective and allowed it to stand apart from the mythic 1974 version. Similarly, the Sawyer clan were never the smartest members of the Texan gene pool, but here they seem particularly dim and like poor facsimiles of the earlier film.

And what of Viggo Mortensen you ask? He plays the role of insane, psycho serial killer with all the subtlety that you would expect from a film with "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" in the title. I did like the inclusion of Miriam Byrd-Nethery as "Mama Sawyer" with her throat cancer vocal thingamajig to the ever-expanding wheelhouse of bizarre Leatherface family members. The film's writer, David Schow, has attempted several "only in a Texas Chainsaw movie" things, many of which fall flat, but some do work and feel right at home (the little girl with blonde pigtails pulling what can only be described as a "mallet lever" is particularly noteworthy).

Still, nothing can disguise the fact that this is a rather docile addition to the series, and for a film that hails itself as "the most controversial horror film ever" is curiously gutless (literally and figuratively speaking). Plus it gets progressively sillier as it goes along, and not in the affectionately hilarious way that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 did. No, I mean ridiculous like during the finale when the chainsaw - the actual chainsaw - takes on the life of "Bruce the Shark" as it cuts through a backwoods swamp like the fin in the opening credits of Jaws. And then there's the obviously tacked on happy ending that negates what came immediately before.

Still, at least it gave us this amazing and insane teaser trailer and isn't that something to be thankful for? C-

Monday, April 25, 2011

Garret Dillahunt, just cuz

Because if it's good enough for PopWrap then it's good enough for Stale Popcorn. Plus, I haven't posted anything in a few days and what better way to welcome y'all back after your Easter breaks than this, am I right?

Yes, I am right.

Friday, April 22, 2011

When a Spoiler Calls, Part II

At the start of this week I told you dear readers about the escalating controversy surrounding Melbourne-based (yet nationally published) film critic Jim Schembri. You see, Schembri had written a review of Wes Craven's Scream 4 that revealed the identity of the killer in the very first sentence. A crime of stupidity if ever there was one, especially from a critic as seasoned and high ranking as Schembri. Read this piece from Monday that explains the whole story as we knew it at the time to catch yourself up because, ladies and gentlemen, Mr Schembri has one-upped himself in the "oh no he did not!" stakes.

Throughout the past week the man had promised "the full story" behind the "Scream 4 meta controversy", as seen above, which followed after a truly bizarre series of ridiculous tweets about time travel and Luke Buckmaster of Crikey. He kept promising and promising and never delivering. Naturally, it emerged at around Midnight on Good Friday when he suspected nobody would notice/care because it's a five-day weekend. It's amazing to think that on a weekend in which people celebrate a man who CAME BACK TO LIFE AFTER BEING EXECUTED that this would be the most ridiculous thing you'd read about today?

Yes, Jim Schembri posted up his "full story" and it's the biggest load of bullshit you're likely to read all week! In the piece titled "How I punk'd the Twitterverse" Schembri muses on how he played a big ol' prank on us Twitter users by outing the Scream 4 villain in his review; "I decided to create a online event. I wanted to become the scourge of the Twitterverse as I led the hordes down a merry trail of cryptic messages and misdirection." Except he didn't lead the hordes down a merry trail of cryptic messages and misdirection. He blatantly gave away the identity of the "who" in a "whodunnit". That isn't being cryptic, it's being an arrogant prick.

"I anticipated that the moment Scream 4 opened, sites such as Twitter would be positively brimming with spoilers", he says before later opining "Twitter wouldn't respect Scream 4, surely. Twitter doesn't respect anything." While it's true Scream 4 spoilers were overflowing on websites like Twitter as well as IMDb, YouTube and even websites like, none of the people announcing said spoilers were film critics who get paid by a mega-corporation (Fairfax) to review movies on a professional basis. I'd also hazard a guess that many of them were not grown men who were clearly smart enough to end up as the lead film critic at publications like The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald. You don't get a job like that by being an idiot, but you sure can become one afterwards it seems. Still, this is the newspaper that somehow stuffed up today's paper by headmasting it with "THE SATURDAY AGE". On a Friday.

What it all boils down to is that Jim Schembri doesn't like Twitter ("(T)he Twitterverse, in my view, is largely populated by idle minds seeking to engage in banal, repetitive discourse and revel in the cheap thrills derived from being crude, vulgar, ignorant and abusive",) and felt like playing a prank on us. Except, wouldn't it have made sense to ACTUALLY PLAY A PRANK? Revealing the actual, true, real identity of the Scream 4 villain isn't a prank. Revealing the villain as someone who was not the villain would have been a prank. He would have gotten the vitriol is he craves and we all would have had a laugh when we realised "Oh that Jim Schembri was just fooling with us!"

Except here he wasn't just playing with the so-called "Twitterverse". Schembri's spoiler-laden review sat pretty upon the top of Rotten Tomatoes for several hours before, eventually, newer reviews began to push him down the lead page. Still, anybody who clicked on his review for the first day it appeared (it wasn't altered until 8am on Friday - a full day after the film's release and several hours after the print edition went on sale) would have been greeted with a spoiler that would ruin the movie's big climax. That's ANYBODY WHO CLICKED. I supposed Schembri believed everybody who uses the internet must use Twitter (and thus must be evil?), but they do not. Many do not like Twitter and yet they still would have been "punk'd" by this inexcusable social experiment. As another critic stated on, you guessed it, Twitter: "Once you start using your reviews as a forum for anything aside from your views on the film you're reviewing, it's pretty much over folks." Another states it "That piece insults the intelligence", another "How fitting of @jimschembri, on Good Friday, to depict himself as Twitter Christ. He spoiled for our sins, people", and another "I lost a bit of respect for The Age if it actually runs @jimschembri 's lie in print." And, of course, this one that sums up everything I've been saying: "Even if #Schembrigate was a genius twitter experiment, surely that doesn't justify spoiling the film for people WHO DON'T EVEN USE TWITTER".

And, even if Twitter is evil and full of crude, vulgar, ignorant and abrasive folks who are willing to spoil the enjoyment of movies for others then it's quite easy to find Twitter users who are not. I follow 460 people on Twitter and not one of them revealed the identity of the Scream 4 killer. I am followed by 1175 and I'm happy in knowing each and every one of them could go into Scream 4, if they so wish, and not know who the villain is. Unlike anybody who read Schembri's review. His revelation shows a distinct lack of respect for all of his readers, not just those who use Twitter as a valuable social networking tool.

And, for that matter, the irony of Schembri playing a wicked "punk" on Twitter is surely not lost on the man. Schembri himself has (as of right now) 497 followers and he started off the week with significantly less than that. Schembri, however, doesn't follow a single person; no filmmaker, no fellow critic, no friends. Nobody. And, for that matter, until this past week's clusterfuck of time machine tweets the man had never used the site for anything other than self-promotion of his The Age affiliated blog, Cinetopia. And, even further, as the image below shows, he doesn't even Tweet his reviews in any timely fashion! As ever, he's ahead of the technology curve is Mr Schembri.

None of this would have even been necessary if Schembri had have just admitted his fumble and apologised. Instead, he sent us down a ridiculously convoluted rabbit hole of pranks, punks and spoilers. It was obvious from his 1.5/5 review that he wasn't a fan of the movie, and yet in his article he continues to act petty and pouty towards the film whilst treating anybody who didn't want the ending spoiled with contempt.

Nobody likes being insulted, especially by a lame film. But that's how I felt about 10 minutes into Scream 4. ... No originality, no imagination. And predictable. The identity of the masked killer was obvious from the moment you first saw him. Or her. Or it. Hey, wouldn't want to spoil the film for anyone.

No, you wouldn't, but you did and I won't soon forget. Nor will anybody else who sees through his childish tantrum as anything but what it really is: a last minute attempt to save credibility, peddling a topic that his newspaper and other forms of print media are trying to push to their dwindling readers.

Poisin Pen has already written about it and I am sure you'll read a lot more about this throughout the weekend - freelance writers don't necessarily get five-day weekends - and beyond. Just remember, Jim Schembri played fast and loose with his readers by single-handedly destroying years worth of work by Wes Craven, Kevin Williamson, the cast, crew and producers with one sentence of a review. He thought his readers were beyond contempt, played a gag with no thought of the consequences and then admitted to using his position for an elaborate gag that nobody can make heads or tails of (apart from Schembri himself, of course).

He concludes his article by giving Wes Craven, a filmmaker for 40 years (his debut, The Last House on the Left was released in 1972), condescending tricks on how to truly breath life in Scream 4's tagline of "New Decade, New Rules". It may be a new decade, but the old rules still apply to being a film critic and Jim Schembri broke them. It appears doubtful The Age will hold him accountable at all, which is truly sad, since they published this nonsense drivel of his. I guess it's up to us to let him and The Age know that playing games with readers is a cruel thing to do. Especially if they want us to keep paying that $1.50 every morning, right?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mother's Heartbeat

I'd meant to write about these films much earlier into their season at ACMI, but life got in the way and I just got around to watching them.

I had heard quite a bit about Xavier Dolan, whose short career - two films within two years is impressive, especially when many newcomer directors in Australia can find lapses of ten years or more between features (and they're made on sub-$1mil budgets, too!) - but I was typically cynical. A 22-year-old who wears thick-rimmed glasses, has hipster hair and makes films inspired by French New Wave? These were just ingredients for a maddeningly precocious filmmaker with a heightened sense of himself.

Mere minutes into his debut feature I Killed My Mother my guard was let down, and eventually eradicated altogether. Furthermore, by the end of Heartbeats I felt positively feverish in my adoration of the man. How is it that this 22-year-old has been able to write, direct, star in and procure financing for two films of such carefully constructed beauty? It's curious though, because each of his two films have similar strengths and weaknesses, and yet they don't feel like the work of a one trick pony filmmaker. I Killed My Mother and Heartbeats have such different rhythms and styles, yet are distinctly similar. Like the work of Pedro Almodovar, whose early work was never this polished (more a sign of the times, I suggest), they are easily seen as the work of the same man, but a man who hopefully has enough tricks up his sleeve to forge a career in this cruel business. That his films are only 90 minutes is the cherry on the cake!

I Killed My Mother is both the weaker and the stronger of the pair. It's perhaps too shrill - the screaming matches between Dolan's "Hubert" and Anne Dorvel's "Chantale" that punctuate the film are it's core, but take some time to adjust to - and travels around in thematic circles, but Dolan shows such strength behind and in front of the camera that it's easy to forget and just watch. He does such interesting things with cinematography and editing, plus I especially adored the specific attention he played to the costuming of his characters. Who can't identity with the embarrassment that Hubert feels whenever his mother parades around in one of her new "sexy" outfits or shows up at his school looking like an extra from Doctor Zhivago?

However, the moment where I thought that this guy was for real was the scene in which Dolan and Niels Schneider kiss in a neon-heavy nightclub, in slow motion, to the soothing guitar plucks and cooing vocals of Crystal Castles' "Tell Me What to Swallow". It's a truly stunning combination of visuals and music that proves to be one of the most heartbreaking moments I've seen for quite some time. Dolan attempts to do this again in Heartbeats as two friends watch their wannabe lover dance at a party, but it doesn't work to quite the same effect.

I Killed My Mother (with Crystal Castles) | Heartbeats (with The Knife)

Heartbeats, Dolan's second film, is a much more typical film - I could see it finding a far wider audience that Mother - but never less than the vision of a filmmaker that knows his craft. Obviously taking inspiration this time from the French New Wave (there is no bicycle seat, however) as well as Wong Kar-Wai, Dolan's second feature is a love triangle except the love isn't actually there. Funnily enough, I thought of that line before discovering that Heartbeats' original title translates as "Love, Imagined". Such a better title than the shrug of an English "translation" it currently has.

Still, Dolan does quite magical things with the craft here. Again, I loved the intricate details he made with the costume design and, this time, the production design. I can feel the time and thought that goes into each and every dud a character wears, but I really loved Heartbeats' choice of sets. Whether it be the cool cafe hang-outs of its young twentysomething characters or the personalised apartments they live in with specific markings on the wall and pain ripped off in telltale parts. It's fascinating to watch and see the thinking behind it all.

I was particularly impressed by the resolution of Heartbeats, since it said something both honestly devastating (the way people almost feel like they're begging for their crush to feel the same away about them as they do) and yet humourously cruel (that final scene!) Much like the circles his first film went in, Dolan curiously inserts footage of interview subjects being asked questions about past relationships that never quite work. While there is some particularly spot on dialogue in these scenes, they feel superfluous and like something telegraphed from a different film altogether. If there's an over-reliance on slow motion then, well, at least it's done better here than in anything Zach Snyder's laid his grubby little hands on in the last few years.

Still, with these two superb films Xavier Dolan (and not Caviar as my autocorrect was trying to tell me) he has instantly become a filmmaker to crave the next outting of. It's particularly nice to see an openly gay filmmaker and actor write very gay-oriented parts that don't call attention to themselves. These two films should very quickly become important and popular films amongst GLBT film watchers. They are cinematic as well as entertaining and thought-provoking with glorious acting (for all the praise I've given him, I haven't even mentioned how great of an actor he is!), technical aspects and truthful dialogue. Dolan kinda gets it; he gets how people talk, react, dress, groom, style themselves, interact and live, and it's nice to have a young filmmaker who is out there who does. Plus, the fact that he acts in his own movies and looks like this? Bonus!

I Killed My Mother and Heartbeats are still screening exclusively at ACMI in Melbourne until May 1.

Mixed Messages

I know they've ridiculously CGI'd Ryan Reynold's body in The Green Lantern (or, more specifically, the costume that he wears), but has this new movie The Change-Up actually gone to the next logical step and CGI'd Reynolds' face? Because that would certainly be a technological advancement of completely unnecessary proportions.

When I was in New York City a little over two years back I visited the Guggenheim and one of the works of art was a room that had been painted entirely in gold leaf. I've just got one more thing to say on the matter: Golden Crotch.

Following in the footsteps of two of the worst posters in memory comes another wonky design for X-Men: Bobbleheads. Why can't this movie get a proper poster that doesn't look Amateur Hour at the Photoshop Lounge. Although, I guess, if you'd been to the Photoshop Lounge and had a few beers then perhaps this poster doesn't look so bad.

Maybe that's the new frontier of key art design: If you're drunk then you won't notice how shit it is!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

An Australian in Paris Cannes

An Australian presence at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival hasn't exactly been loud and proud for many years now, although the occasional Samson & Delilah (un certain regard) and Bright Star (in competition) do surface to make local media take notice ever so briefly. So it's great news this year with four Australian productions screening at the festival, including in competition for the Palme d'Or!

Julia Leigh's "erotic fairy tale" Sleeping Beauty takes pole position amongst the Australian contingent having been given a competition slot despite being Leigh's first film as director. The screenplay, also by Leigh, is apparently a masterwork and was featured on the famed "Black List" in 2008 (alongside Easy A, Bad Teacher, Going the Distance, The Beaver and I'm with Cancer) so we could have a potential screenplay winner here? We'll certainly see, but the trailer (below) is a mixed bag. The idea of Jane Campion jumping on the "presented by" bandwagon that Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth have been on for years is certainly exciting, but this sort of incredibly arch-looking arthouse to the extreme film can be hard to swallow. It reminds me a lot of Corroboree, which is not something I care to do very often. Sleeping Beauty stars Rachael Blake doing a knockout Charlotte Rampling impersonation, and Emily Browning. Surely it can already be considered more of a success than Sucker Punch, yes?

Sleeping Beauty from Pollen Digital on Vimeo.

Featuring in Un Certain Regard - the same platform that won Samson & Delilah the Camera d'Or for Warwick Thornton - will be Ivan Sen's Toomelah. I remember hearing this film announced at last year's MIFF screening of Sen's experimental Dreamland, but didn't expect it to arrive to quickly. Especially since Sen and his producing partner David Jowsey are still tinkering away at an official cut of Dreamland to be released in 2012. Toomelah is about a young Aboriginal boy who wants to be a gangster, and it stars all non-actors from the director's community. No trailer yet, but we'll bring it to you when it arrives!

Less exciting, however, is the inclusion of Justin Kurzel's Snowtown amongst the Director's Fortnight selections. Having seen it a couple of weeks back, I can't say I particularly enjoyed the experience. I'll surely have more to say closer to the release date, but I think it's one of the best made bad movies I've seen in quite a while. Wait, does that make sense? Yes. Yes it does.

Australian filmmakers have a strong history with short film success and this year Nash Edgerton will feature amongst Cannes' official short selections with Bear. The film, in which he stars, is Edgerton's followup to award-winning short Spider and his debut feature The Square. According to the press release Bear was co-written by Edgerton and David Michôd, who you will all know as the director of Animal Kingdom. Perhaps the rising profile of Blue Tongue Films, the production company behind Kingdom, The Square and more, gave it a leg up, but it's exciting nonetheless.

Stay tuned to the blog during the Cannes Film Festival to see how these films are being received by the press from France and around the world.

Playing the Blame Game

So, who's to blame for this poster to upcoming local thriller Blame? I'd really like to know because, you know what? It's actually kinda great! Check it out via the film's Facebook page.

The makers of this poster are actually a group called The Penguin Empire who I admit to having never heard of before in this area. Nevertheless, this is solid work that certainly goes a long way to grabbing somebody's attention, which is even harder to do when your film is Australian. I'm sure it's derivative of something else that my mind is simply choosing to forget about right now, but that doesn't change the fact that it's still a lovely piece of key art to look at, don't you think? It's a little bit Mad Men opening credits meets somebody with a particular penchant for the work at Reelizer.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Babies, Crazies and Ladies in Radi...ators: What is Eraserhead?

Damn. I nearly made that title rhyme, didn't I?

Last night I went to see David Lynch's bizarre 1977 debut feature Eraserhead on the big screen in a new 35mm print at the Astor Theatre. A marvellous experience - "experience" being a very apt word to describe any David Lynch viewing, especially on the big screen - to be sure, and one that left me rather speechless. Having seen it once before on DVD, I couldn't have estimated the power that the film has on a cinema screen. Of particular note are the final 30 minutes or so, during which the strange peculiarities that Lynch had been stirring for an hour finally start to sputter and boil out of control, becoming a deranged fever dream of surreal and even spiritual images.

But what exactly is Eraserhead? That, I couldn't possible answer. Is it a grave look at the consequences of bringing a child into the world? Is it a look at the suffocating and depressing lives of the lower class? Is it merely a look at the gradual mental breakdown of a couple, brought to the brink by the cruelness of life? It could be one, all or none of these things.

It rightly secured it's place amongst the original and the greatest cult films ever made, but if you look carefully there is so much to admire from a pure filmmaking stand point. Firstly, surely Eraserhead ranks as one of the most assured directing debuts of all time. The audience would instantly understand what "a film by David Lynch" is and he has, more or less, continued to give audiences just that for decades since to cheers and chagrin of viewers. And while several aspects of this film have been reworked by Lynch into his other films - the discovery of a body part (Blue Velvet), the art design (Twin Peaks), the peculiar bond of family (The Straight Story), the dread-filled sound design (INLAND EMPIRE), even the fade to white operatic final shot (Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, right) - never were they done so authentically and as honestly as here. With his budget of only $10,000 - some of which provided by Sissy Spacek and Jack Fisk! - this is a vision Lynch absolutely had to believe in and while it's not my favourite of his films, it stands up as perhaps his most daring and personal work to date.

In fact, while we're on the subject, while I've always believed Mulholland Drive - my favourite Lynch film - was a "best of David Lynch" type of affair, I'd never really noticed just now much was taken from the 1977 film and supplanted to the 2001 film. The man cranking the levers behind the scenes in Eraserhead could easily be altered as the mysterious homeless man in the alley off Sunset Blvd; the radiator and the blue box are both mystical portals; Laurel Near and Rebekah Del Rio, hello!; the deranged descent into madness of the final scenes; the excruciating meet-the-parents dinner sequences. It doesn't make me think any less of Mulholland Drive mind you, just might make me look at it in a different light upon next viewing. A modern day Eraserhead, perhaps? One without the main character having her brain processed into the little eraser nubs on the ends of pencils, obviously.

Other than Lynch's obvious filmmaking skill, however, there is the performance by Jack Nance. The man who would go on to become a Lynch regular - most famously as Peter Martell in Twin Peaks - gives a performance that somehow manages to emerge clear as day from all that surrounds him. His assortment of confused faces mix perfectly with several moments of inspired, if under-appreciated humour. I particularly love the moment after the chicken has bled on the dinner table and he calmly puts down the carving knife and fork. It's hard to explain, but if you see it I think you'd see what I noticed.

And while Charlotte Stewart (the future Log Lady), Allen Joseph and Jeanne Bates are all macabre and odd as the family X, I want to single out Judith Anna Roberts as the "Beautiful Girl Across the Hall", who I always think looks a bit like Sandra Bernhard. Lynch's camera - cinematographers Herbert Cardwell and Frederick Elmes, presumably two due to the five year filming schedule - frames her gorgeously, constantly emerging and disappearing into pitch black. Those close-ups in the bedroom sequence with Jack Nance are perfection. There's a real old school glamour (to coin a frequently used phrase) and film-noir classiness to the way she is shot, which is surprising giving the rest of the film is not filmed like that at all, instead taking inspiration from the likes of German expressionism.

To say nothing of Laurel Near's "lady in the radiator"... well, even if I haven't the foggiest idea what it means, yet is pure bliss. As has become a regular thing with Lynch, his soundtracks are given just as much prominence as anything else, and while Eraserhead doesn't have much in the way of a traditional score - instead relying more on the omnipresent industrial sound effects and ominous sound design - the moment when Near's heavily made-up, blonde-wigged radiator girl starts to sing a song called "In Heaven", you'd be forgiven for thinking you had in fact been taken there. She's like an older, grotesque Shirley Temple, and it's a rare moment of peaceful clarity in an otherwise terrifying, exhausting and stunning movie. A

When a Spoiler Calls

The Scream franchise is known for several things. Perhaps most notable of all is an opening kill that's as shocking in its violence as it is in its chuztpah (Hollywood stars, franchise stars and meta set-ups are the sorts you'll find there) with echoes of Psycho and When a Stranger Calls. Down at the other end of the film reel, Scream is known for the big reveal of who has been wearing the Ghostface mask for the past 100 minutes or so. It's a well-oiled machine that proved to be just as entertaining now as it had been between 1996-2000. Scream 4 features, surely, the most insane and twisted final act of the franchise!

So you could imagine my surprise and shock when a prominent Melbourne-based, but nationally published in Fairfax newspapers such as The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, film critic - a very big fish in this rather small pond - went and announced who the killer was within the opening sentence of his review! I immediately went to Twitter and Facebook and announced this abhorrent unprofessional act.

Before long people were asking me "surely you're kidding" style of questions, but as someone who had laid eyes on Jim Schembri's review personally I was most definitely not. Those who hadn't seen the film thankfully avoided it thereafter, but those who had already seen it (the local press screening was the Monday night) clicked over and saw it for themselves. As another critic tweeted "Jesus, he really does give it all away up front doesn't he. Should be a sackable offense", quickly followed by other people too numerous to count spouting words like "brutally uncool and cruel", "really arrogant", "utterly jerk behaviour", "appalling" and "Schembri's a prick" as well as many a retweet to people around the globe. Luke Buckmaster of Crikey tweeted "the spoiler in Schembri's review of Scream 4 is the worst spoiler I've ever seen."

Only the sight of [redacted] getting all kill-happy in the frenzied, formulaic final-reel bloodbath makes this totally unwanted, utterly predictable franchise stretcher marginally worthwhile.

Utterly unbelievable, isn't it? Also, "unwanted"?

Buckmaster took it upon himself, when I didn't have the time to, to get proof of this embarrassing move because by later that evening the review had been altered. Schembri and his editors subbed out the offending spoiler and replaced it with a less obvious spoiler, but still a line that would raise an eyebrow if you knew anything about the franchise and its penchant for surprises. And then there is, of course, the picture caption which still makes the killer's identity a cinch to pick. Scream 4 is the fourth instalment of this franchise and Jim has been doing this job long enough to know he shouldn't go about revealing movie twists. Did he do this to The Sixth Sense or The Crying Game, too?

Only the sight of [redacted] getting caught up in the frenzied, formulaic final-reel makes this totally unwanted, utterly predictable franchise stretcher marginally worthwhile.

Luckily for The Age, and so forth, Schembri's review didn't go to print until Friday, by which time that too had been edited to feature the new opening sentence. And while all websites that carried the review were carefully changed, Fairfax do not have the ability to edit Google!

src - Crikey

Surely this would be enough for this critic, a man I see from time to time at media screenings so the awkwardness will not be lost on me, to admit his mistake? A mistake, might I add, that is highly ironic since it was just last year when the man got in trouble by his own paper for saying The Age's ethical standards had become an "optional extra rather than an ethos" (courtesy, again, of Crikey.) But, no, Schembri decided to make this following tweet available for all to see on his Twitter account for all to see, implying that not only was his Scream 4 review spoiler free now, but that it always had been.

An email to the man himself (as someone who he alluded to thinking "abuse is cool" I felt it finally warranted one) was met with a vague illusion to a future article to appear on his blog at The Age, Cinetopia, detailing what happened, something later confirmed by his Twitter account.

That's it! Turn your gobsmacking mistake into a risible claim for fame and web hits! If he calls the spoiler reveal as some pseudo-meta take on the Scream franchise then I think I'll, er, scream.

Meanwhile, apart from the aforementioned Crikey article, Jim Schembri has been taken to task by the likes of Jess McGuire at DefamerAU, Brisbane film critic Matthew Toomey at The Film Pie and a wave of Twitterers. Making the spoiler reveal even worse is that for a long stretch of 14 April - the film's release date here in Australia and a full day before American release - Schembri's review appeared right at the very top of Rotten Tomatoes, meaning anyone from Melbourne to New York, Paris to Rio could have innocently clicked on it not know they were about to have the film's major twist revealed.

Scream 4 is, after all, a movie in which the TV spot claims to feature "a terrifying secret that can't be revealed until the very end!"

"The very end" or "the very beginning of a review", pretty much the same it appears for Mr Schembri. The film's director, Wes Craven, even tweeted this telltale message for every one of his 74,000+ followers:

So while we wait on this so-called "full story" from his side of the controversy, we can all just sit back and wonder how one man could be so silly as to think nobody would notice or care that he spoiled a major release's big twist. No matter what one's opinion on a film is, that doesn't give you the right to ruin it for others. Whatta dope!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Spot the Scream Trilogy Cast Member

Can you see which member of the sprawling cast found within the original Scream trilogy was featured in this 1993 video clip for Dannii Minogue's "This is It"? Aah the things you discover while trolling about Wikipedia. Still, Courteney Cox isn't the only one whose paraded around with music royalty now, is she?

Can you spot her? Find out who it is after the jump!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Give me a C for Cheerleader Camp!

We're not just about the Scream movies here at Stale Popcorn. No sir. We apparently also enjoy watching movies called Cheerleader Camp, and that can't be all bad, surely! Made in the halcyon days of 1988, Cheerleader Camp was the first feature directed by John Quinn. He would go on to direct The Key to Sex, Sex Court: The Movie, Playboy: Girls of the Hard Rock, Hotel & Casino Las Vegas and multiple episodes of Passion Cove; whatta treasure trove! If Cheerleader Camp is famous for anything then it's surely the bonza poster that features a cheerleader with a skull head, bearing her under-cleavage and shouting "GIVE ME A K!" etc. Amazing stuff.

Within 20 minutes of Cheerleader Camp I tweeted that it was nothing more than softcore porn with red paint splashed about (otherwise known as "italian blood"). Little did I know that, judging from his resume, that is exactly what the directed intended. In fact, it reminded me a lot of that Margaret Cho bit where she talks about how the men in straight porn are the most repulsive men on the planet, lest straight men get turned on? Yeah, that's Cheerleader Camp; women in various states of undress and the only men are disgusting and ugly and just repellent. Blech!

Cheerleader Camp starred Betsy Russell as some sort of crazy cheerleader who attends a camp with her team (of five?) to... to do what, I'm not too sure. Apparently they do a routine at some point and then the "Queen" is announced after a frightening beauty pageant event. It's all very strange and the death scenes aren't exactly thrilling stuff until the final half hour where the film finally understands what it is.

How about the fashions? Those are hilarious!

Or Betsy's dream sequences that tend to feature pom poms made of razor blades (the movie's original title was Bloody Pom Poms)!

Vickie Benson is there as a demented camp coach! Who's Vickie Benson? Well, her other roles include "Bikini Girl" in Private Resort, "Party Girl" in My Chauffeur and "Waitress" The Wraith (hey, I know that title!)

Cheerleader Camp really isn't a good movie at all. It's boring chit chat between jealous cheerleaders and lame deaths. I mean, I know it was the 1980s, but... really? This?

It gets better towards the end when it ditches all the boring talk and focuses on what's really important: stupid teenagers heading into the woods by themselves to investigate where their friend disappeared to. And even though I picked the culprit from the opening scene, the reveal was still a hoot. I dunno, let's call it a C- and be done with it.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Review: Scream 4

Scream 4
Dir. Wes Craven
Year: 2011
Aus Rating: MA15+
Running Time: 103mins

**NOTE: This review is spoiler free!**

Some people appear to have mistaken my anticipation for Scream 4 as just geeky franchise worship. And while it’s true that I would most definitely go and see even Scream 8: Ghostface Takes Manhattan, a lot of the reason why this movie feels like such an event is because this is the Scream 4 we never thought we’d get. By the time the fourth film of a horror franchise rolls around the cast and crew that made the original(s) so worthwhile have almost all but moved on, so when it was announced that not only that the original creative team – director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson – were returning, but also the three main principal cast members – Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Courteney Cox – well, that was the tipping point from being an exciting curiosity to full-blown mad anticipation. Did it live up to my own hype? It sure did!

Coming 11 years after Scream 3 reconfigured its story to Hollywood and became one big in-joke (a funny one that I like much more than most, it would seem), Scream 4 returns to the Californian town of Woodsboro from the original Scream where the residents seem equally divided between those who mourn the original tragedy and those who revel in it. The anniversary of the slayings is treated like Halloween by the younger generation, sending mock telephone calls to their friends and dressing public property up in scary costumes. Hollywood turned Woodsboro’s – or more specifically, Sidney Prescott’s – tragedy into a movie named Stab and now the students of Woodsboro High host a yearly “Stabathon”, a movie marathon featuring all 7 of the Stab movies. Even the fifth one that, hilariously, somehow involves time travel.

Returning to Woodsboro is the aforementioned Sidney Prescott, touring a new self help book touting herself as “no longer a victim”. But, needless to say, her return brings about a new batch of killings, committed by somebody – or somebodies – in a Ghostface mask who uses the telephone to taunt his prey. Sidney’s cousin, Jill, and her friends appear to have become the killer’s prime targets, and along with Sheriff Dwight nee Deputy Dewey and his former Hollywood entertainment reporter wife Gale Weathers they must try and hunt down the perpetrator for as long as they can survive.

Some may say I was predisposed to liking Scream 4, but as has been proven time and time again it is usually those who are so closely tied to a franchise that will find the most at fault with a new one - just look at the Indiana Jones and Star Wars series’ for examples of that. And while Scream 4 has its issues, it succeeds through a mix of the old fashioned slasher movie conventions that the original Scream trilogy manipulated so well, as well as new twists and tricks that will surprise anybody who has watched the original trilogy enough. Just when you think nobody else can die, they do. Just when you think the filmmakers will take a break from the murdering mayhem, they don’t. Just when you think the movie has ended, it hasn’t. Long-time fans will find a lot of cherish about this new sequel, which abides by its tagline of “new decade, new rules”. Regular moviegoers who just want a few frights on their Friday night will also find plenty to satisfy, I’m sure. Gorehounds disappointed by the rather bloodless Scream 3 will rejoice.

Where Scream differs so greatly to the vast majority of horror movies is in its characters. Where most have generally anonymous actors playing stock standard roles that equate to nothing more than “heroic boyfriend” or “sassy best friend”, Scream 4, just like its predecessors, goes a long way in establishing its band of new and old cast members as a real group of friends and family. Their interactions with one another, their back and forth dialogue and secrets bubbling beneath the surface make them far more interesting and worthy of investing time in. When one dies – and to pretend they all get out alive is silly – there’s actually feelings there. When the killer (or killers) is revealed, it hits like a punch to the gut. In fact, Scream 4 works much better than Scream 2 or 3 in that regards, by having worked its characters harder and stronger (despite a much shorter, punchier running time). There are several deaths that were met with shock, surprise and near hysterical behaviour (and not just by me, I assure you). The performances are generally strong, with particular notice going to Campbell – looking so mature and beautiful, even if she’s dressed in dowdy outfits for the second half – Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin and Alison Brie. And to say it doesn't feel good to see Arquette and Cox in fine form is a big fat lie. Cox especially gets several great one-liners, relishing the chance to spit foul language out of her mouth that she can't do on Cougar Town.

If I have to be critical then my displeased glare would be focused very quickly upon the opening scene. For a franchise that became famous for its typically violent prologue (remember Drew Barrymore’s untimely end 15 years ago?), Craven and Williamson have taken an incredibly big gamble with it this time and haven’t altogether succeeded. They do, however, include several great gags that go a long way to relieving the pent up pressure that 11 years between franchise instalments can produce. Elsewhere, I have to question the character of Mary McDonnell’s Kate Roberts. Written like an afterthought, acted like she’s in another movie (actually, she would fit right in with the more comically aligned Scream 3) and all but forgotten at long stretches. It’s especially disappointing for a franchise that has always gone to great lengths to make the adults as interesting and important as the teenagers. It’s also sadly quite obvious that some scenes have been heavily tinkered with, especially when you compare it to the trailers and television commercials. It’s like there’s a different film waiting for the DVD release.

And, honestly, the number of times a character places their body against a door with the killer right outside? The number of times a character walks outside to investigate a strange noise? That's a bit silly. Haven't they learnt anything?

Still, Scream 4 succeeds far more often than it falters and that’s most surely because of the direction of horror maestro Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson. Both have done a stunning job of subverting expectations, whilst at the same time delivering on exactly what we wanted. They have given us Scream nerds what we wanted, and given Hollywood what it needed. They have shown how you do a sequel and proven that the fourth film in a franchise needn’t be a simple throwaway grab for cash. It can be relevant and necessary.

Williamson, who wrote with additional work done by Ehren Kruger and Craven, appears to have made Hollywood and this generation’s ever-churning instant news cycle his prime target. One scene in which Hayden Panettiere’s Kirby reels off a seemingly never-ending list of horror remakes is particularly telling and even mustered up an applause or two from the audience. The screenplay also has swift, if increasingly meta, jabs at the horror genre in general as well as the internet’s jagged turn from being a place of film discussion to a place of mass hysteria. There’s even a joke about the use of the word “meta”! Meanwhile, the media, in their bloodthirsty quest for the latest in breaking news get the biggest twist of the knife of all. Emma Roberts gets a moment of such pure and utter classic filmmaking that I have to hand it to Craven for having the guts to do it.

The Scream films have always been known for their references to other films and the latest is perhaps the most referential of all. The jokes on its own franchise with the Stab film-within-a-film-within-a-film-within-a-film(?) as well as footage from Scream 2 (if that makes sense) are just the beginning. Endless horror movie citations from Saw to Peeping Tom, film posters adorning the walls of nearly every room, two police officers that recall Craven’s own Last House on the Left and even recreations of other famed horror movies (one such scene that emulates the original Scream from 1996 specifically had me in fits of “oh shit!”) They never let up and even when Halloween II gets a big shout out, I couldn’t help but admire the bravura. It even gets in jokes about Facebook, Twitter and Jersey Shore without looking desperate for hip points and its handling of modern mobile phone technology is keenly done alongside the old fashioned clunky landline phones that are as iconic to these films as the Edvard Munch inspired mask.

The team behind Scream 4 have gone for broke. They know people stop caring about horror sequels after a while and the only way this was going to be any different was to take everything they had done before and turn it up to eleven. They succeeded in making a Scream for a new generation, one that is more brutal and more gory, yet still funny and entertaining. This could perhaps rank as the greatest franchise revival in cinema history and while even discussing the potential for a Scream 5 seems ridiculous given where this fourth film goes, if they show half as much ingenuity in it as they do here then it will be just as much of a must see as Scream 4. A- (although who knows where it'll sit once I've seen it five times, 20 times, 106 times...)