Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Review: One Day

One Day
Dir. Lone Scherfig
Year: 2011
Aus Rating: M
Running Time: 107mins

Take one part Same Time Next Year, one part Love Story, add naff accents and obvious anachronisms and you have Lone Scherfig’s latest British romance, One Day. It’s hard not to be disappointed by this sprawling two-hander from Scherfig after the sublime Oscar-nominated An Education, but One Day’s disappointments come more in the form of being so wholly unremarkable in every way, never becoming the great romance that its literary backdrop and expansive timeline might have suggested.

Read the rest at Trespass Magazine

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Big Lebowski and Comedy Without Laughs

It dawned on me the other night as I sat down to watch The Big Lebowski for the first time that the Coen brothers are a filmmaking pair whose films I take on a case by case basis. For every Fargo or No Country for Old Men (a rare instance of the Academy honouring a filmmaker for what is their best work) there is a Miller's Crossing or an A Serious Man. You won't see me getting in a fanboy tizzy over these guys, despite guaranteeing that I'll see whatever they put out. Having never seen their stoner flick The Big Lebowski, despite the years and years of praise heaped upon it, I certainly knew better than to just assume I would like it.

A curious thought occurred to me after watching it and that was that I had barely laughed once and yet I didn't think it was necessarily a bad movie. For a comedy, this seemed like a confusing prospect. Isn't the main aim of a comedy to make an audience laugh? Isn't it? I have no doubt that countless viewers have been brought to riotous fits of laughter due to The Big Lebowski, but I did not. And yet, I didn't think it was a bad film.

But, here I am, debating whether I should think it's a good film without laughter. Much like one can admire a stand up comedian's bravura and ability to craft a long-form comedy show with the ebbs and flows, but if they don't bring the preverbial LOLs then you're not going to recommend it, are you? All the cult merchandise can't convince me that I was simply not in the right mood, but that I in fact just didn't much of it particularly funny. Take last year's Easy A as a counter example; a deeply problematic film that still succeeded in sending me into fits of laughter. Easily more forgivable, I say.

All of the laughs I got from The Big Lebowski - chuckles, more like it - were based on the physical mannerisms that Jeff Bridges gave to his character of "The Dude" and the way Julianne Moore nestled her accented superfluous character into the film's framework. I didn't laugh at the stoner fantasy sequences, although I found them nicely done, nor did I find any of the oft-quoted lines to be all that hilarious. But, then again, I usually do find myself preferring to find humour in the way an actor delivers a line rather than the line itself. It's fascinating to witness an actor throw the most minor of vocal inflections into a line of perhaps otherwise unspectacular dialogue and turn it into something memorable. It's this very reason that my favourite scene of all was the one shared between Bridges, Moore and David Thewlis, since it's more about character creation and intriguing actor work than anything relating to "the dude abides."

I did find the film quite well made and there's no doubt that Joel and an uncredited Ethan Coen certainly have a way with casting (via casting director John S Lyons, obviously). They get a goldmine of a performance out of Jeff Bridges, plus fine work by Julianne Moore, John Goodman (doing just enough to keep his repetitive dialogue from becoming too stale) and a stuffed supporting cast. The screenplay has a nicely snowballing, surprising structure and keen running gags, plus the technical behind the scenes efforts are all classy with particular note going to the production design by Rick Heinrichs and Mary Zophres' specific costume design.

And yet here I am coming back to my initial quandary regarding the film. The Big Lebowski is first and foremost a comedy and yet there I sat not so much laughing as merely modestly admiring it. Is The Big Lebowski then a failure, despite it's other respectable qualities, because I didn't laugh? That's it's ostensibly a stoner flick and I was stone cold sober doesn't mean a thing since I've been in that situation before and not had it be a problem (Smiley Face, anyone?) Even then, though, do a couple of fantasy sequences and some characters smoking pot really make it a stoner movie? Much of the movie is fairly straightforward, I think.

I don't think it's fair to say The Big Lebowski failed in it's primary goal since the Coen brothers are never just "we tell joke! you laugh!" filmmakers, but all the fantastic Jeff Bridges performances in the world can't really shake the feeling that without the laughs something was deeply missing. Like watching a musical without any good music, I guess. Let's slice it down the middle and call it a C+

Monday, August 29, 2011

Texas Chain Saw Blog

Is Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre the greatest ever horror movie? A case can definitely be made for it, that's for sure. Personally, if I was to consider Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho as more of a thriller than straight out horror, and if I were to eradicate (as hard as it is to do) the personal history with Wes Craven's Scream and Scream 2, then I don't see anything in the way stopping from me calling it just that. Oh, except for all the thousands and thousands of other horror films I've never seen, but that's being pedantic, isn't it?

What? Don't look at me like that!

I had a curious urge to watch Hooper's dirty, sweat-stained horror buzzer last night and so, naturally, that's exactly what I did. That's how I roll, apparently. No matter how many times I watch it I am always without fail scared half to death. Just the opening sounds of a camera twang sends shivers down my spine - and whoever had the bright idea to recycle the sound effect in the trailer for the 2003 "remake" deserves eight gold stars! - but also Daniel Pearl's dingy cinematography that knows when to pull back for empty, hope-erasing longshots as well as in tightly for sweaty, tear-soaked close ups is a riveting, captivating experience in photography. It's brilliantly effectively during the early sequences set amidst the parched Texan sun, before turning murky and cold during the long night time chase sequence that remains, perhaps, the greatest ever horror chase sequence. Marilyn Burns' as the "final girl" Sally is so committed that I have to do my darnedest to remember to breathe.

Thankfully, I'm not one of those weirdos - WEIRDOS, i tellsya! - that can't distance themselves from the film and not find interesting (to some) little bits spread about. Like how I find myself ogling William Vail as Kirk for the first half of the film (until he gets dinged on the head, of course)! Just look at him, he's gorgeous! It provides much needed levity to watch Kirk strut about in that open shirt of his. No wonder Pamela wanted to take him to the creek!

Or how about the final chase sequence outside the homestead that is full of forehead slapping moments of silliness from both the hunter and the hunted in equal measure. Why do Sally and the truck driver get out of the cabin? Why doesn't Leatherface simply lunge at Sally when he has the chance? Why can't the hitchhiker catch up to Sally with her injured body limping around at half the pace? These aren't criticism, mind you, just observations that I almost feel like I need my brain to acknowledge so I don't become a cowering shell in the foetal position in the corner of the room after each viewing. Almost like Sally up there in the ute, except with less maniacal laughter and more terrified whimpers.

While the brand of "the saw" has been somewhat diminished by constantly regurgitated sequels, prequels and remakes of varying quality, it's apparent inspiration on hundreds of movies of limited worth, and merchandise like Leatherface bobbleheads, it's still nice to know that the original still has the ability to scare the living daylights out of me. And judging from the various Twitter/Facebook comments I've received since last night, it appears many others' daylights are vanquished by one buzz of the chainsaw. I am intrigued to check out the film on blu-ray since much of the film's power comes from its raw edge. Has anybody watched it on blu-ray? I know at least one person who keeps a VHS player just for this movie and they refuse to entertain the notion of even purchasing it on DVD. Good on 'em, I say!

And, hey, if the film is good enough for Patrick Bateman... I mean, we all know he has excellent taste with "Hip to Be Square" and all that.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Meek's Bluray

As if I needed any more evidence that Kelly Reichardt's Meek's Cutoff was one of the absolute best films of the year (only recently superseded by Drive for best of 2011 honours so far), all I needed to do was look at these stunning screencaps from the recently released bluray that I just noticed at DVDbeaver. Just look at them! gah! My favourite title card of the year, if that means anything to anybody!

A Tall Trailer

Before today, I hadn't heard much about Tony Krawitz's documentary The Tall Man, based on the remote Palm Island following the in-custody death of an Aboriginal man. Having now just seen the trailer, however, and I have instantly raised it as one of my most anticipated titles. The trailer has a pulsating rhythm to it as it tells this devastating tale, and the gorgeous cinematography that belies its roots. Australian distributor Hopscotch doesn't appear to have any information pertaining to a release date, but just watch the trailer below and I am sure you will want to check it out. International readers attending the Toronto International Film Fest would be advised to see it there since I can't imagine this very local tale getting a release outside of the festival circuit.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Senna and A Separation Win MIFF 2011

Far be it from me to raise an eyebrow to these audience poll results from the 60th Melbourne International Film Festival, but... well, that's what I'm doing. I have no doubt in my mind that Asif Kapadia's Senna and Asghar Farhadi's A Separation (formerly known as Nadar & Simin, a Separation) were the best received films of the festival since I don't know a single person who saw either of them - and there were a lot who did! - and disliked. MIFF, like Toronto, doesn't have awards that are given out to films selected as being "in competition", so winning the audience poll is as good as it gets.

Nevertheless, I do find it curious that Michael Rymer's Face to Face was supposedly the second most popular film of the festival. Having just seen this stage play adaptation this morning, I can confirm that it is indeed quite good, but out of 250+ films it's high ranking is perplexing. Or, I guess it shouldn't really, when you consider that it premiered at the festival and that the festival's new voting system (all online via the website or the iPhone app) means people don't have to give their vote out of five right there on the spot. In fact, it means you don't even need to have seen the film to rate, but merely tap your smartphone touchscreen a couple of times. How to know if the makers didn't just get their friends to vote 5/5? I guess we can never know.

The same theory applies to Jon Hewitt's X (#19), which only screened once at the festival and was, as far as I'm aware, not all that well received. It and Ivan Sen's Toomelah (#12) are two Australian films that ranked amongst the top 20 that made me question the results. Kriv Stenders' Red Dog (#4), The Slap (#9, but unseen by me), Fred Schepisi's The Eye of the Storm (#13) and Khoa Do's Falling for Sahara (#14) are less puzzling since I think all three hit their targets quite squarely on the head, especially the latter that had the advantage of screening three times to audiences usually half full of phone-crazy teenagers on school excursions.

I'm not particularly surprised to see Miranda July's The Future (#16) slide in since the crowd I saw that movie with seemed quite enraptured. That there were people wearing thick-rimmed glasses with no lenses inside them surely helped her cause. I was delighted to see Lena Dunham's Tiny Furniture (#15) and Lars von Trier's Melancholia (#7) do well with audiences though, but André Øvredal's Troll Hunter (#5), Jesse Peretz's Our Idiot Brother (#3) and Jerzy Skolimowski's Essential Killing (#18) were not titles I would have expected to land amidst the crowd that they have.

Over on the documentary list, things look pretty much as you would expect. Being topped by Senna, all the popular festival titles seem to appear, but I find it interesting that Errol Morris' Tabloid (#19) ranked so low for what is supposedly such a crowd-pleasing film. I will be seeing the film next week. Interesting to note also that Werner Herzog's The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, one of the festival's most high profile titles, could only reach #14. Could that have something to do with the overwhelmingly negative reaction the film's projection received on only day 2 of the festival? I suspect so, although the film being slower than a wet week surely didn't help it's cause. I'm surprised The Triangle Wars wasn't in the top 20, actually, since the crowd I saw it with were practically foaming at the mouth during it's social uprising. And being la-di-da St Kilda residents, I would assume they all had iPhones. Hmmm.

The one definitive fact that I can ascertain from these results? Documentaries tend to have far longer titles. There are so many colons that you'd think they were Hollywood summer blockbusters!

Monday, August 22, 2011

From Scream 4 to... Little Fockers?

I know these "we also recommend" features of websites like IMDb and, as shown here, Quickflix (a local version of Netflix if you're unaware) are generally quite hit and miss at the best of times, but this one seems a little bit far fetched.

I'm not sure how anybody could possibly assume that because one is watching Scream 4 that they would, naturally, also like Little Fockers or Shrek Forever After. Unless that someone has a known penchant for the fourth films in popular movie franchises, in which case Shrek Forever After gets a pass. Sorta. Not really. Still, Little Fockers? What with it's "choice boner gags" and all! (Oh you know who used that line in his review! What Melbourne critic springs to mind when you think of Scream 4, hmmm? Yes, him!) I guess Scream 4 does feature a quite nasty bullet-to-the-dick moment that could be called a "choice boner gag", but one of the I-need-to-cross-my-legs-then-vomit variety, not the knee-slapping-LOL-so-funny kind.

In other related news, Scream 4 is released on DVD on October 13 aka MY BIRTHDAY. I suspect I'll end up with several copies as a result so if anyone wants one, you know where to find me.

When Bad Confusing Posters Strike: Straw Dogs

Rob Lurie's remake of Sam Peckinpah's classic - albeit, for me, nigh on insufferable - Straw Dogs has been a bit of a, pardon the pun, dog's breakfast in terms of its marketing. I actually quite like the trailer, which takes a unique approach at setting the film up as a regular ol' home invasion horror/thriller in the same vein as The Strangers, but then goes back to show it's much more (for better or worse, we'll find out soon enough I suppose).

The posters, however, are a different story altogether. Take these two earlier released posters that aim to recreate the 1971 edition's poster, which was a stunning piece of work. The 2011 poster was not so much a "stunning piece of work" as it was "a really poor example of Photoshop and illogical design."

At least the second poster, on the right, rectified the first one's confusing design of a face being reflected in... nothing? Who knows what was going on there. You know it's bad when the Madea-does-Straw-Dogs poster (?!?) is better! Either way though, making posters like this was just a little too close to straddling the line of "remaking a film" and "resurrecting its corpse and just having your way with it." It was as if they were going out of their way to a) not do anything at all original, and b) remind people that liked Straw Dogs of why they probably shouldn't bother with this remake.

So I give them credit that for their latest set of posters, first seen At the Cinema, in taking a complete departure. The question this time is why they chose to remake the poster of Taken. The big-text-over-poster design is still in fashion, I suppose, and it's been done plenty of times, but it's hard to not notice the identical nature to Taken with it's stark black background, opaque type with film dialogue quote, red/orange text and general layout. What say you?

Hmmm. I mean, they look good enough, but I can't help and think they just can't get it right.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Newest Academy Member Is...


The Australian Film Institute has been a vital part of the Australian film industry for over 50 years now and the yearly AFI Awards have seen so many big names and iconic films honoured that it's a shame people globally don't pay more attention to them. Almost every Australian to "hit the big time" overseas started out on their home shores and the AFIs. Even Tania Zaetta's Bollywood career was pre-empted by that Who Dares Wins gig! Alas, she never won an AFI so... wow, that non-sequitor really went nowhere, huh?

Last night though the AFI put a stamp on the next phase of their existence and like a caterpillar has morphed into something new. While the "AFI" still exists in some technical form, the creation of the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA: it sounds like "Actor") will be an organisation that will try and act more like the other Academy that we all know so well. The awards will no longer run in November like years past, but instead have been pushed into the international awards season of January. It's an intriguing prospect and certainly makes sense in a "sum up the year from Jan-Dec rather than Nov-Oct" way that they had done before now. It's definitely a curious thought to wonder what could have happened if Jacki Weaver had given that speech closer to the Oscars? Probably not, but it's fun to imagine.

Geoffrey Rush was announced as the first president of the Academy and there will be a new statue (see it up top) to replace the transparent glass one they have had until now. I'm not sure what the award will actually be called since "the AFI Award" won't work, but we can't nickname it "the Actor" due to its phonetic similarity to the word since that's what the Screen Actor's Guild call their statue. Hmmm. The ceremony, too, will move to Sydney and take place at the Sydney Opera House. Ya know, just for laughs. There's a little video I've included below from their website that's all very glam and such.

Announced last night as well were the 23 films that will be eligible for the award. Due to the new extended eligibility date there are titles like The Legends of the Guardians and The Loved Ones that were released so long ago they feel positively ancient. Of course, if Robin McLeavy can somehow overcome the genre bias and get a Best Actress nomination then who are we to complain? The 23 titles are (asterisk denotes films yet to be released, which means they could fail to meet eligibility requirements).

A Heartbeat Away (dir. Gale Edwards)
Big Mamma's Boy (dir. Franco di Chiera)
Blame (dir. Michael Henry)
Burning Man* (dir. Jonathan Teplitzky)
Caught Inside* (dir. Adam Braiklock)
The Cup* (dir. Simon Wincer)
The Dragon Pearl* (dir. Mario Andreacchio)
The Eye of the Storm (dir. Fred Schepisi)
Face to Face* (dir. Michael Rymer)
Griff the Invisible (dir. Leon Ford)
Here I Am (dir. Beck Cole)
The Hunter* (dir. Daniel Nettheim)
The Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (dir. Zack Snyder)
The Loved Ones (dir. Sean Byrne)
Mad Bastards (dir. Brendan Fletcher)
Oranges and Sunshine (dir. Jim Loach)
Red Dog (dir. Kriv Stenders)
Red Hill (dir. Patrick Hughes)
Sanctum (dir. Alister Grierson)
Sleeping Beauty (dir. Julia Leigh)
Snowtown (dir. Justin Kurzel)
Summer Coda (dir. Richard Gray)
Wasted on the Young (dir. Ben C Lucas)

A video montage of all the eligible titles can be found at the brand-spankin' new AACTA website. Unfortunately I cannot embed it, but it's a lovely piece of work despite having to see clips from shit like Big Mamma's Boy and A Heartbeat Away. Yikes.

While the omission of titles like Needle, Little Johnny: The Movie, Primal and other micro-releases are in line with the AFI rules (must play in Melbourne/Sydney/something to that effect), I can't figure out why The Reef is absent from the list. The last film by Andrew Traucki, Black Water, got a couple of high profile nominations so it's like last year's Wog Boy 2 that never stood a hope of being nominated for anything. And what of Hail, X, Bait 3D, Happy Feet Two, Toomelah, which are all supposedly 2011 releases. It will be a real shame if these changes somehow brought about the elimination of such high profile films from the race. Is that a true "Academy"? In fact, why those micro-releases or inventively distributed fare like The Tunnel are excluded in the first place makes me scratch my head. It's curious things like this that befuddle me, but what can I do? I am but a mere messenger. I am happy the make-up people may finally have their own category, though. Very much deserved if you ask me.

I will do a proper roundup of the contenders once I've seen more of them, but I can already take a hearty stab and what the nominees for Best Film will be: The Eye of the Storm, Oranges and Sunshine, Red Dog and The Cup if there are four nominees. Add Burning Man if there are five (to keep it in line with "Academy" standards) and Snowtown if there are six (like the last two years' AFI Awards have had).

Anyway, we'll see how this whole thing develops and whether it results in the Australian and global news cycle's taking notice like they intend. I hope it does, but you can rarely tell, especially with Australia's own media, when or why they decide to cover the local industry. Unless there's a super smash hit (Red Dog for instance) or super flop, Aus media doesn't seem to take much notice. I don't even recall much of anything being said about Sleeping Beauty's Cannes bid. And so it goes...

EDIT: I have since learned that the inaugural year of the new awards will use a similar timeline to years past and will run from October last year until November this year. Next year's awards will presumably have an eligibility period of from November this year until the end of December 2012. So titles like Toomelah and Bait aren't necessarily victims of not knowing what's going on, but should be eligible in the awards being held January 2013. Does that make sense? I hope so! Still, doesn't explain why The Reef didn't get submitted. :/

All Hail

I found this quite gorgeous poster for Amiel Courtin-Wilson's latest film, Hail, at Twitch Film along with a combustive and unsettling trailer (watch at the bottom of this post). However, I note these specifically because the filmmakers are holding a celebratory fundraiser as a means of raising money to send the cast to the Venice Film Festival where Hail was screen in the festival's Orizzonti section, which focuses on "new and redefining world cinema."

The shindig details are listed below and all the stuff to purchase and guests of the night are featured at the Twitch link above. If anybody's in Melbourne tonight (Friday 19 August) and would like to attend then it's open to one and all (er, hopefully!)

Friday, August 19 · 6:00pm - 10:30pm
Goodtime Studios
Basement, 746 Swantson Street, Carlton

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Patrick Lives

The long-gestating remake of 1978 Australian classic Patrick is finally about to become a reality. According to Inside Film, the film - labelled a "reimagining" - will begin shooting by April next year under the directorial eye of Mark Hartley. As the director of Not Quite Hollywood, Hartley certainly brought about a cultural and critical re-assessment of Aussie genre titles, affectionately labelled "Ozploitation", although I saw Patrick before that rip-snorter of a documentary and loved it. It's one of my favourite Australian films and remains one of the rare instances of a pure genre title being nominated for Best Film at the Australian Film Institute Awards.

Patrick is a slick lil horror thriller that borrows from Brian De Palma's Carrie from two years earlier. A man comatose after the murder of his mother begins to be the prime figure in an escalating murder spree. The trailer I have included below doesn't quite do the film any justice as I suspect most people viewing it without having seen the film will only notice the dated tech skills and the like. To dismiss Patrick would be a shame though since it comes from Richard Franklin and, like Roadgames from 1981 and Psycho II in 1983, he knows how to craft a solid, effective chiller.

I actually think Patrick is a perfectly fine film to bring back to a modern day audience. The film was a flop in its home country - it did, however, spawn a disconnected spin-off sequel(?) in Italy(?) called Patrick Still Lives [Patrick viva ancora] - and has been all but forgotten by those who aren't fond of this period of Aussie filmmaker (see also Roadgames, Razorback, Dead End Drive-In, Turkey Shoot, etc). It's story can be easily updated and the film's quality isn't derived in large part to the era it was made in (like, say, Dead End Drive-In, which has an oozing '80s vibe that is impossible to recreate). And, hey, that final shot still has the power to surprise so why not introduce it to a new generation? I just hope that this remake doesn't befall the same fate as Jamie Blanks' (admittedly quite terrible) Long Weekend remake or any other number of genre titles of various quality.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Review: Friends with Benefits

Friends with Benefits
Dir. Will Gluck
Year: 2011
Aus Rating: MA15+
Running Time: 109mins

In 2010 director Will Gluck made the hilarious teen comedy Easy A, Mila Kunis broke out with psycho-thriller Black Swan, and Justin Timberlake showed real acting skill in The Social Network. Half a year later all three converge on Friends with Benefits, the second film this year (after No Strings Attached) to tell the story of friends who embark on a sexual relationship, only to discover it leads to emotional complications. Unfortunately this mingling of talented people has not produced anything of any worth. The idea of “friends with benefits” is hardly rocket science, yet Gluck and his three co-writers seem intent on being as dim-witted as possible.

Read the rest at Trespass Magazine

You know what? I could've talked about what was wrong about this terrible movie for a few hundred more words. The whole enterprise is just completely misguided and disingenuous. I mightn't have liked the film if it were nothing more than Kunis and Timberlake meeting cute and spending the next 100 minutes falling in and out of love and then back in again. Instead, the filmmakers went out of their way to mock the stereotypical nature of rom-coms before adhering to every single one of them. And it doesn't even stick to its (to use an American term) "red band" sensibilities. There's nothing particularly funny about hearing someone say curse words in the place of regular language. The lack of actual jokes would've been damaging beyond repair, but the rest of the movie is just as bad.

There got to a point where I was actually spotting all the bloopers and consistency issues the film had. A scene where the bed sheets shift positions between edits? A close-up of Timberlake appearing on the TV news as he's being rescued from the Hollywood Sign? Did they rig a camera to him? Or how about the scene where she says she didn't have time to shave her legs and he says he did have time to shave his legs and yet a close-up of their legs shows hers are shaved and his are not? And while they're not bloopers, I could not stop noticing the ridiculous toga parties these characters obviously thought they were attending whilst in bed. Take a look at this shot for instance:

And, okay, I'll give them leeway on the issue once or twice, but the entire movie is full of them. She routinely pulls the sheets up to her neck during the sex scenes and does anyone every actually do that? Or how about the magic mystery sheet that somehow found its way in the path of some rather important bodily movements that would've made sex impossible. It's like the improbably pool sex scene where Elizabeth Berkley thrusts against Kyle McLachlan's biceps for a new generation. The whole thing was just remarkably foolish. At least Bad Teacher, which I was in the minority of appreciating, had a go-for-broke lead performance from Cameron Diaz and, for a film that featured a plot about breast implants, actually showed breasts. Something's incredibly curious about Mila Kunis if she's willing to sign onto a film like this and yet wants to protect her modesty. Maybe she actually believes that scene where she tries to convince Timberlake's secretary that she's "perfect for Photoshop" and that she's a dog ugly heifer? Hmmm. And really? A man who runs a blog of six million monthly hits and DOESN'T know what a flash mob is? D- but bordering on F because it really is such a fail in so many areas.

You know what else I find amusing? When websites such as Yahoo make such glaringly obvious mistakes as this...

I don't seem to recall Mila Kunis ever being nominated for the Academy Award.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Phar Lap 2.0

With the current, ongoing success of Kriv Stenders' Red Dog, there certainly feels like there's a buzz back in the Australian film landscape. After half a year of dud after dud - only Sanctum 3D and the UK co-production Oranges & Sunshine seemed to make any dent whatsoever at the ticket booth - Dog has become quite a hit and now we look towards the rest of the year hoping for a few more. One of the most likely contenders is The Cup, a dramatic retelling of Damien Oliver's ride of his life to win the Melbourne Cup after a tragic accident befalls his brother.

The newly released trailer for Simon Wincer's The Cup features a title card that says "FROM THE DIRECTOR OF PHAR LAP", which just seems a little bit too much like pandering. But, then again, they couldn't have put down "from the director of Harlequin", could they? Still, at least Phar Lap is a good movie! As for the trailer itself (below) it all looks like suitably rousing stuff and photographed gorgeously as all horse racing movies seem to be. Alas, also like any horse racing movies it can't eliminate the fact that it is, without fail, about horse racing. It amuses me greatly that Secretariat still hasn't received a release of any kind in Australia! Colour me impressed by Daniel McPherson though, and it will be sad to see Bill Hunter in his final role.

Take a look and let us know what you think?

Friday, August 12, 2011

We Need to Talk About the Posters

While I was away at MIFF - and even after it whilst I was recovering and catching up on MIFF blog entries - some wonderful posters popped up online and I'd be remiss in not mentioning them, wouldn't you agree?

Lynn Ramsay's forthcoming Cannes entry We Need to Talk About Kevin recently had a dodgy stripe poster that did nothing to allude to the film's supposed fluid, silky storytelling. This newer design, however, is stunning and appears to encapsulate so much about the film and also push what we think we know of the project into unforeseen directions.

I mean, is We Need to Talk About Kevin at all comparable to Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby? Because the faded green and black colour scheme sure do seem to be inviting the comparison. My favourite part is the imagery of star Tilda Swinton slinking out of the shadows. For whatever reason, it actually reminded me of the poster for Jacques Tourneur's 1943 classic "Jane Eyre" retelling I Walked with a Zombie, which is a whole 'nother surprising direction for my brain to head down.

Next we have a French poster for Roman Polanski's Carnage (formally "God of Carnage", which was the title of the play it is adapted from). On one hand I love it's glorious, if oddball, Warholian colour scheme and its theme of changing facial expressions by the cast. However...

... those colours are quite confronting considering the plot of the film. I'm almost always for the wild use of colour on film posters because I think, far too often, many posters for dramas suspect dark, muted tones better represent their film with little thought of what those dark, muted tones represent to the filmgoer (ie; depressing). This is a lot of colour! Granted, Carnage is apparently even more of a comedy than drama, but these colours even Almodovar would find excessive. I like that they went a bit ballsy and went with something different and I will most certainly prefer this to whatever car wreck of a design they come up for the American design so for now I'm curiously intrigued.

The most concerning part, however, is how Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet appear to be hysteric by their third frame and yet Christoph Waltz and, especially, John C Reilly's faces are almost unchanged. Is that a sign of the movie? That the women will be loud, hysterical banshees (not necessarily a bad thing) and the men will be more stoic and, well, typically macho? Ugh. I hope not.

And speaking of colour palates, how about Weekend. This independent gay feature could perhaps be condoned for its stereotypical use of the colour pink, but from all reports Weekend isn't just another "look how funny gay people are! gay people will go see this movie because they'll see anything that's about gay people! woo!" flick and so I can appreciate the rarely used pinks and purples far more than I otherwise might for a "gay movie".

I think there's a wonderful feel to this poster of foggy, yet promisingly sun-kissed romance. And this is a much better way of utilising the "big empty space" design concept. By allowing the white space to act as imagery for an uncertain, perhaps brighter, future is rather lovely and sending the over-exposed Polaroid concept throughout the entire poster works a treat. This poster is gorgeous.

Very similar is this poster for Sundance hit Like Crazy. Even if I hadn't have known it was a "Sundance hit" I would have suspected it from the poster alone.

It has many of the same virtues as the Weekend poster, although obviously with a much more sellable message. The large typeface of the tagline is in line with current trends, but comes off as somewhat on the nose. Nevertheless, the beautiful colours and a great choice of imagery to sell the film on make this poster a winner. At least the actors were in the same location and not just Photoshopped together!

Lastly, I want to look at some of the many posters for Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive. We have a UK quad and several international designs.

I find it curious that the most interesting and daring design for Drive is, in fact, the first American one. Aping off of the poster for 1980 sex and thrills blend American Gigolo, the American poster with its sexy up-shot of star Ryan Gosling with his trademark (in the film) toothpick, greasy and tight-fitting white top and destinctive, loud and large hyper pink cursive font is quite delicious. Having seen the film I can definitely see how and why it has been marketed this way - it's certainly the best representation of the film of all the poster so far released - although I can also see how this poster could be a, ahem pun, speed bump on its way to financial success.

Still, I think something as striking and forceful in its message as the American poster design works far better than the lazy international posters that trade off of a gritty slickness that really isn't in the film. The film is slick, most definitely, but the darkness that seethes through it is not what makes the movie so powerful and it is, really, much less an integral part of the film than the stylised, yet somewhat deliberately dated, coolness of the initial US design. I obviously see why it's being marketed this way with those steely blues and menacing imagery, but for me it's all about the crisp white and pink.

How about you?

Review: Green Lantern

Green Lantern
Dir. Martin Campbell
Year: 2011
Aus Rating: M15+
Running Time: 114mins

It’s curious. The thing I kept thinking about most of all after exiting Green Lantern was not how especially bad it was – although it is. Very. – or Ryan Reynold’s marvellous physique – although it is. Very. – but, instead, how uniformly ugly everything is. Whether it’s the poorly-coiffed, heavily-bronzed actors, the dark acid-washed visual effects or the dingy soap opera sequences that make Kenneth Branagh’s Thor look like Shakespeare in comparison. Everything here is ugly. In fact, the only thing here that isn’t particularly ugly is Ryan Reynolds himself, although perhaps I was distracted by his abdominal muscles that are visible through clothing. Perhaps.

You want a plot recap? I honestly couldn’t give you one outside of there being this guy called Hal Jordon who flies jets in the military and he gets “chosen” by “the ring” to become the newest member of an intergalactic police unit. They’ve clearly been playing around in other sectors of the universe if they’d thus far ignored this planet. We need all the help we can get! Then there’s some story about a former something something becoming an evil something something that plans to take over the universe? Oh, and Peter Sarsgaard running around doing his impersonation of a fey Elephant Man and Tim Robbins looking like an outcast of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory doing their own version of Nancy Meyers’ What Women Want. I think it’s impressive I can recall that much.

Unfortunately, director Martin Campbell – a talented man responsible for two of the best James Bond flicks – seems to lack any idea of what is most interesting about his story. We barely get a chance to see any of the alien “green lantern corp” in detail, with only Geoffrey Rush’s fish-faced Tomar-Re (didn’t we already see this in Hellboy?) and Michael Clark Duncan as the actually-sorta-racist Kilowog. The location itself, the far away planet known as Om, is so horrifically lit that its images are barely visible. Maybe it’s just me, but when I go see a movie that purports to send viewers to planets in far off galaxies I’d rather they not look like a coal mine.

Back on Earth, meanwhile, we have to sit through a ridiculous sequence in which Uncle Hal must put his family at ease over a near-fatal plane disaster that – oh no! – had echoed his own father’s death via exploding air flying thingy. The love interest is played with vapid nothingness by Blake Lively who appears to have that unique acting talent of being able to cry without actually crying. My favourite bit in the entire film was when Lively’s Carol Ferris (what an ugly name) wipes a tear off of her cheek when there was, er, no tear to actually wipe away. That’s acting, folks! And then, of course, how about the night party scene where she shows up with her hair looking like a fly girl from In Living Color? Why the filmmakers decided to not give Angela Bassett her own super-power of enunciation is beyond me. She could talk that flying octopus of mud to death!

That someone as white bread as Ryan Reynolds gets to play a well-off, successful man whose inner virtues apparently far outweigh is outer rotten personality is probably the least offensive thing about Green Lantern. How about that ridiculous mid-credits coda that might as well began with “2 years on Green Lantern 2: Legend of the Mysterious Ga’zahoole or whatever”? I mean, there’s leaving the door open for a sequel and then there’s being so arrogant as to expect audiences will somehow show up for a sequel to an obvious dud of a movie just because you throw a yawnsome coda onto the end.

Oh sure, I admit to getting minor kicks out of seeing Ryan Reynold’s good looking mug and even better looking body plastered onto a big cinema screen, but a Google image search is equally forthcoming with the visual splendours. And, hey, at least that way he doesn’t look a ken doll with no genitals! I can’t particularly criticise the 3D since the wizards behind the scenes do well enough with what they were given for the post-conversion effort. Same goes for James Newton Howard whose score occasionally finds some rousing form amidst the cluttered scenery. The screenplay by Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg occasionally comes out with an amusing line – I particularly enjoyed the one about having eyes in the back of your head – but their setup is rote and lacks rhythm. The ending is quite dunderheaded, really, when held up to the light of day for even moment. It’s all just a bit too shabby; not good enough in any legitimate way and not silly enough to truly embrace its ‘80s spirit. D+

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Review: Senna (+ Oscar Eligible?)

Dir. Asif Kapadia
Year: 2011
Aus Rating: M15+
Running Time: 106mins

It can be a funny business watching films as often as someone like myself. Films based on subjects that I find fascinating can routinely be rote and poorly made, whereas sometimes a film can come along that puts an illuminating light on a topic that I have zero interest in whatsoever. Asif Kapadia’s documentary Senna is one of those cases, as he allows his documentary gaze to fall upon the sport of motor-racing in this thrilling exploration into the life of a man who aimed to do as much for those less fortunate as he than he did for the sport.

Read the rest at Trespass Magazine

Along with How to Die in Oregon and Jiro Dreams of Sushi, MIFF 2011 threw up three documentaries that I think deserve Oscar consideration. Unfortunately for Kapadia's rather fascinating documentary, Senna will most surely be deemed ineligible ala Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man. I remember the furor that erupted amongst Oscar-watching circles when Grizzly was ruled out due to an Academy rule that makes films made up entirely of previously existing footage ineligible. Now, the Academy seem to change their eligibility rules every year so, for all I know, they nixed this silly rule plus Kapadia himself seems to have implied that the film is eligible as recently as late July, so I will follow with great interest. Just don't be surprised if it doesn't make the cut for the reasons above.

It would be a particular shame, too, since the film has had bonza box office in the UK and it's quite a high profile entry in the documentary field that too often fails to catch on with audiences. It'd be a definite shame if Senna was ousted and something as dull as - here's that name again - Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams makes it in instead.