Friday, December 30, 2011

Superheroes, Fairy Tales & a Red Dog: The Top Ten Australian Films of 2011

You may notice a new banner up the top there of the blog. Well, that's a small nod to 2011 and just three of the films that I remember fondly. If you're interested in a traditional top ten list from me then by all means head on over to Trespass Magazine where I bestow my annual best of the year crown on - and I know this may shock you to your very core - Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive.

... Drive is no laughing matter. With liberal lashings of hot pink and neon green, Refn’s quietly explosive film is a candy-coloured, but black-hearted masterpiece.

That particular list goes by Australia release dates only so you won't find titles like Martha Marcy May Marlene or Weekend, but it does mean that you'll be reminded of the beautiful Rabbit Hole, The Illusionist and the hilarious I Love You Phillip Morris. Basically, it evens out. Australians don't get the chance to see all of the big American contenders until various points throughout the next year, so while I've been lucky enough to catch advance screenings of The Artist, Hugo, and others, there are still plenty that I have yet to see and I can't fathom doing any sort of 2011 list based on US release dates without having seen Steve McQueen's Shame or Alexander Payne's The Descendants is beyond me, so it's best to just play it safe and go purely by Australian release dates. I know many of my readers are from America, but I can only work with what I'm given. Sure, we all have out blind spots - that Trespass article mentions me sadly missing Thomas McCarthy's Win Win and Mike Mills' Beginners, but I have since rectified that oversight - but a list a mile long of unseen titles makes the task of making a "best of" list rather pointless, doesn't it? It's why I don't bother doing so for music anymore, because it's hard to write such a thing with a straight face.

I thought, however, that for the blog we'd do a countdown of the best Aussie films of the year. It was a curious year for local films, I think. While none of the below films made it onto my top ten (like Three Blind Mice, Jindabyne, Samson & Delilah, Look Both Ways, The Tree from years past), there were still plenty of titles to fill a list like this without embarrassing ourselves. Running the gamut of genres from superhero flicks to found footage horror titles; exploitation sex thrillers to heartwarming family fare... we kinda had it all this year. There was even our version of prestige period fare and big budget animation! So let's take a look, shall we?

Dishonourable Mentions: Two of the year's very worst films were Gale Edwards' A Heartbeat Away and Franco di Chiera's Big Momma's Boy. Whereas the former was just infamously plain ol' bad (Australia's answer to The Room, surely), the latter was down right offensive in its mining of homosexuality for quote unquote hilarious jokes. I've never walked out of a press screening, but I got damned close when I realised that's where Big Mamma's Boy was going. All class, it has an entire scene that revolves around the fact that the main character has to go to the bathroom BUT CAN'T OMG LULZ! No. Elsewhere, Rosie Jones' The Triangle Wars sunk to new lows for local home videos masquerading as cinema; Simon Wincer's The Cup belongs on a Wikipedia Movie Night with The Iron Lady; Michael Henry's Blame has promising aspects, but fails to thrill; John Soto's Needle is a pathetic excuse for horror with a twist ending that appears out of nowhere; Macario De Souza's Fighting Fear sainted its documentary subjects in between cheap filmmaking flourishes (but did have great surfing footage). Most contentious of all was my dislike for Justin Kurzel's Snowtown, which I found to be yet another case of low class miseraberalism trumping everything and sundry, even if it was exceptionally crafted and acted.

Honourable Mentions: I wished Sophie Hyde and Bryan Mason's Life in Movement had the same filmmaking verve of Matthew Bate's Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure, as I felt both had issues that prevented them from truly soaring; Mrs Carey's Concert was a suitably rousing experience, but some of the key narrative decisions of directors Bob Connolly and Sophie Raymond were questionable; Ben C Lucas proved he was an exciting new talent with his propulsive high school drama Wasted on the Young. Sadly, Jonathan Teplitzky's Burning Man did everything it could to not be seen by me. It's all the film's fault - ALL OF IT!

10. Happy Feet Two
dir. George Miller

Flawed from a storytelling angle - it's main narrative arc feels curiously secondary - but succeeds due to the astonishing animation, ace song selections and a pair of homosexual krill (voiced by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon of all people) that feels truly radical and proves that George Miller's sequel wasn't just one big retread. That the film has flopped at the US box office is not really an indicator of the film's quality so much as it is representative of the film landscape; Happy Feet Two just wasn't all that necessary. Even as a fan I can admit that, but Miller and his team of gifted technicians more than proved their case. It was disappointing to see (er, hear of?) the departure of Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman and, for obvious reasons, the late Brittany Murphy from the voice cast, but Sofia Vergara was a neat addition (let's just not go into the mechanics of why there are Mexican penguins in Antarctica... or at all!) And, of course... those krill! One of the most surprising delights of the year were those gosh darned krill.
Full review

9. Face to Face
dir. Michael Rymer

Stage adaptations can be tricky at the best of times, especially one that is as simply staged as David Williamson's play - a group of people sitting in a room, that's it - but while director Michael Rymer hasn't done all that much to expand the play to a cinematic landscape, he has at least still made a compelling film. Featuring a true ensemble of actors - actors who are forced to not only share a space, but to react and play off of each other like a proper ensemble should, SAG should take notice - giving some wonderful performances, Face to Face is intimate, boutique filmmaking, but filmmaking that speaks to larger issues that shouldn't be ignored. The inadvertent comedy of casting Matthew Newton in this role thankfully doesn't detract from the fine work by Ra Chapman, Robert Rabiah, Luke Ford, Sigrid Thornton and others around him. If the film has one major issue it's the way it all but wraps pretty little bows onto the end of its Serious Issues, but that's a somewhat minor quibble given the dramatic weight that Face to Face carries.
Full review

8. The Tunnel
dir. Carlo Ledesma

One of the biggest and most popular films funded by crowd sourcing, The Tunnel is a "found footage" horror film that works like a blend of The Blair Witch Project and Neil Marshall's The Descent. With a film crew descending into the underground tunnel systems of Sydney there are plenty of opportunities for things - whether they be humans, rats or the inevitable monsters - to come popping out of the darkness. While we all know what's going to happen, director Carlo Ledesma gets great mileage out of his assortment of night vision/dark room/cavernous tunnel setups and there were at least one moment when I screamed. Loudly. The Tunnel looks and sounds phenomenal so it's disappointing no American distributor took a fancy to it like they do to other similar titles. Of course, Ledesma's reward is, I suppose, not making a film that's comparable to Apollo 18.

7. Red Dog
dir. Kriv Stenders

As one of the highest grossing Australian films of all time - it secured a place on the top ten local hits, bypassing the likes of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and The Man from Snowy River - it was inevitable that Kriv Stenders' tale of "red dog" and his American master would find its detractors. I admired Red Dog, however, for the clarity of its desires and the skill with which it achieved them. Sure, there are by far too many overhead shots of cars/trucks/buses/vans speeding down dusty outback roads, but filmmaking this honest is hard to come by within the Australian industry. That Stenders is the man behind Lucky Country and Boxing Day, which are hardly indicative of a career in heartwarming family fare, is an inspiring thought and hopefully his success will inspire some fellow locals to put their considerable, but underused, skills to work on projects that are just as important as whatever Snowtown was trying to be.
Full review

6. The Hunter
dir. Daniel Nettheim

A genuine surprise was the Tasmanian-set The Hunter. Far from the overly grim and grey experience I was expecting, Daniel Nettheim's first feature film since something called Angst in 2000 (he has since been directing local television) is a very handsome production with powerful performances from its strong international cast - Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill, Frances O'Connor, Morgana Davies, Sullivan Stapleton amongst them - and a look that was unmatched in 2011. The greens of the Tasmanian forest pop right out of the screen in Nettheim's low-key boiler thriller about the hunt of the Tasmanian Tiger as he gradually brings out the ethics, morals and issues of Julia Leigh's story. It's quiet, yes, but an unmistakable and surprisingly gripping tale of man and nature.
Full review

5. The Tall Man
dir. Tony Krawitz

This evocative documentary about the in custody death of an Aboriginal man will surely raise blood pressure amongst anybody who sees it. Spectacularly filmed with cinematography that belies its digital documentary roots, The Tall Man plays like a typical Hollywood court drama with an escalating series of maddening events. Some of the stuff that transpires in Tony Krawitz' doco are so truly baffling that it's hard to believe it's non-fiction. Rather than rocking the boat with distracting attention seeking editing that is so popular in documentaries these days, The Tall Man is a simply told, but fascinating look at the injustices perpetrated by the titular "tall man" and the way the system tries to deify him and throw him under the bus in equal measure.
Full review

4. X
dir. Jon Hewitt

Yes, yes, I know! I can't help it that I was completely on board with Jon Hewitt's pulse-raising, electric, neon-soaked sex worker thriller from the streets of King's Cross. It's lurid and completely ridiculous, but that's why I enjoyed it. Perhaps it was because it came at the tail-end of a rather hard slog at the Melbourne International Film Festival when what I really needed was a dose of the silly, but I found myself totally on X's wavelength. With a screenplay full of clunkers and some performances to match, X doesn't exactly scream high class, but with an exploitation twist (this is far more genuine than, say, Hobo with a Shotgun) and some blistering craft skills made X a genuinely - wait for it - Xciting time in the cinema. Oh, har dee hah hah.
Full review

3. Oranges and Sunshine
dir. Jim Loach

I was as surprised as anyone to discover I had ranked Oranges and Sunshine as high as I have. Originally I thought it was a well-made, admirably conceived and nicely acted excursion into Erin Brockovich style filmmaking, but this Australia/UK co-production has grown in my estimation. The mystery at its heart of how and why the British and Australian governments were allowed to get away with the crimes they did - and crimes they most certainly were, even if not recognised by any specific law - is compelling and it's surprising it hadn't been told before now. It's the performances, however, that elevate Jim Loach's (son of Ken) film; Emily Watson finally being given a meaty lead role again after so many years, and work from David Wenham and especially Hugo Weaving that rank as some of their very best to date.
Full review

2. Sleeping Beauty
dir. Julia Leigh

One of the most divisive films of the year - from this or any other country it would see - was Julia Leigh's debut film. A Palme d'Or nominee on the back of a personal Jane Campion citation, Sleeping Beauty has been angering, boring and downright confusing viewers ever since it's premiere at a Croisette. Even if I wasn't initially as taken by it as it's #2 placing suggests, I was certainly on the positive side of the spectrum. However, no other film from 2011 as remained in my mind quite as long as Sleeping Beauty. Sticky like taffy, it has wormed it's way into my favourites of the year so much so that I'm scared to actually revisit it for fear of it actually proving that it's not actually all that brilliant. Ornately crafted, sumptuously filmed and superbly acted (Emily Browning in a true career changing role - casting directors take note, there is a certain Nicole Kidman/Tilda Swinton vibe about her in this role), Sleeping Beauty is a truly radical reinterpretation of the fairy tale (Red Riding Hood would never) and one that proves its worth by being exactly the sort of film that people can argue and debate about for hours. Truly a unique and daringly original piece of work.
Full review

1. Griff the Invisible
dir. Leon Ford

Sigh. I adore this movie. Earlier this year I wrote about Mark Joffe's 1992 Spotswood for an upcoming book on the city of Melbourne and I couldn't help but feel Leon Ford's caped crusader flick, Griff the Invisible, echoed the films of that era. Films set within inner suburbs of the big capital cities (in this case Sydney) that probe the delicate and frequently offbeat lives of people that we might normally think little about. Consider Proof, Death in Brunswick, Amy or Malcolm, but with the genre elements of a Heat Wave. Helped immeasurably by the chemistry of stars Ryan Kwanten and Maeve Dermody, Griff the Invisible is another one of the compelling left-of-centre films, like Melancholia and Bridesmaids, to look at mental health in 2011. It was a touching and yet vividly painted film that takes playful jabs at the genre, but never forgets for one second that it is ultimately about these two connected, deeply troubled individuals. It was the most original Australian film of the year and the one that I suspect I'll remember most fondly in years to come.
Full review

And with that we bid adieu to 2011. We'll have further looks at the year that was 2011 - done in the vein of my "design of a decade" pieces, looking at the scenes, performances and technical achievements that I loved most - but until then, don't disappear on me folks! We need you, we crave you, here at Stale Popcorn. Until we meet on the other side of New Years Eve...

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Something Something New Nicole Kidman Movie Something Something

As evidenced by the title of this entry, it doesn't take much to get me excited for a new Nicole Kidman film. Especially one that looks as intriguing as The Paperboy, her new film for Lee Daniels. Yeah, that Lee Daniels. The same Lee Daniels who was Oscar-nominated for Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire and who let Macy Gray walk around strung out on drugs as zebras walked by in the background as Mo'Nique had sex with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Shadowboxer. The same Lee Daniels who said he wanted to film Miss Saigon! Yeah, that Lee Daniels. At least with him you never quite know what to expect and with a cast like Nicole Kidman, Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey and John Cusack set on Death Row... yeah, the unexpected is to be expected. The images of Kidman from the set look juicy - Kidman as trailer trash with a fondness for loud make-up? Yes please! - and I love the idea of Efron and McConaughay playing brothers, don't you? I can't wait to see what Daniels gets out of those two men (just witness what he got from Mo'Nique and Mariah Carey as proof positive that we should trust his unique casting skills) and to see what he does with an actress of Kidman's stature.

I'm adoring the poster, with its retro stylings and Pink Cadillac motif. It shares more than a little bit in common with the poster for The Bank Job, but we like that design so it's okay for now. Efron's arm muscles have been scarily Photoshopped, but he's actually looking like both an actor and a movie star, so here's hoping...

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

They Really Want Us to Remember Forrest Gump

The yearly announcement by the Library of Congress National Film Registry of what films have been deemed "culturally significant" is always an interesting moment for cinephiles. This year's list of 25 films were selected by "Librarian of Congress" (how's that for a title on your resumé?) James H Billington and covers a wide variety of films from as early as 1912 to as late as 1994 and includes well known classics and titles that I, personally, had never even heard of. In between the wonderful selections of The Silence of the Lambs, The Big Heat, The Kid and Bambi are eye-raisers like El Mariachi and The Negro Soldier. However, it's the inclusion of Robert Zemeckis' Forrest Gump that made me most disappointed. Little more than an extended trip down memory lane with nifty special effects, Zemeckis' film is one of those curious films that so many people seem to remember as being an amazing classic, and yet I can't help but wonder if they've even watched it lately. It has not aged well.

The entire list of films are:

1. Allures (1961)
2. Bambi (1942)
3. The Big Heat (1953)
4. A Computer Animated Hand (1972)
5. Crisis: Behind A Presidential Commitment (1963)
6. The Cry of the Children (1912)
7. A Cure for Pokeritis (1912)
8. El Mariachi (1992)
9. Faces (1968)
10. Fake Fruit Factory (1986)
11. Forrest Gump (1994)
12. Growing Up Female (1971)
13. Hester Street (1975)
14. I, an Actress (1977)
15. The Iron Horse (1924)
16. The Kid (1921)
17. The Lost Weekend (1945)
18. The Negro Soldier (1944)
19. Nicholas Brothers Family Home Movies (1930s-40s)
20. Norma Rae (1979)
21. Porgy and Bess (1959)
22. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
23. Stand and Deliver (1988)
24. Twentieth Century (1934)
25. War of the Worlds (1953)

Still, all of that would be fine if on the same day as the Library of Congress announced their selections the Academy released their annual poster for the upcoming Academy Awards. Witness:

Trust me, dear Academy, movies like Forrest Gump (and Driving Miss Daisy for that matter) are not the ones you should be reminding us of. Hell, to take another Library of Congress title, Silence of the Lambs would be a far better and more evocative film to remind viewers and audiences that you're still capable of making choices that aren't in the typified wheelhouse of "Oscar bait". If this poster is any indication then they're certainly expecting War Horse to take the gold, but if - as the pundits suggest - Michel Hazanavicius' black and white silent romance, The Artist, is the one to beat then I would think a poster alluding to some of the more eclectic, forward thinking winners would have been the way to go. But, then again, you can't be seen as predicting your own awards (unlike critics organisations, ahem). Curious though that they include George Stevens' 1956 epic Giant on there as opposed to the actual Best Picture winner of that year... Around the World in Eighty Days. Retroactive awardage, accident or genuine innocent and simple case of the famous movie taking precedence? Curious to note that Giant was added to the National Film Registry some six years ago, a feat that Around the World... hasn't garnered. Yet.

In Dreams

Have y'all seen this David Lynch tribute video, entitled David Lynch in Four Movements? It has been created by Richard Vezina and is a 20-minute summation of Lynch's spectacular career. It's both too long and too short - too long for a video to watch online due to the internet tending to divert one's attentions easily; too short because Lynch's career is so vast even if the number of films he has made isn't excessive - but remains dreamily evocative and a wonderfully vivid representation of this miraculous man's career. Soundtracked by Julee Cruise songs and Angelo Badalamenti music, the video is enough to remind just how powerful of a filmmaker Lynch is. Just watching a clip reel like this is enough to make me cry as Cruise's haunting melodies drift over images of doomed beauties and misunderstood outcasts. Some gorgeous side-by-side moments like the shot to the left there only strengthen the opinion that David Lynch is one of the most methodical, composed and self-aware directors around. Yes, he reuses imagery time and time again, but that's simply because humans tend to repeat imagery in their dreams, even if the mental plots of our nightly visions are different. And we all know Lynch is all about the dreamscapes.

Here's hoping he comes back soon, although I've said since I first saw it that if he never does make another movie again then at least INLAND EMPIRE is the most confounding rebuke of Hollywood that one could possibly imagine. It was like everything he's ever tried to say in a film, but does so while simultaneously returning to the grungy, industrial aesthetics of his debut and ending his relationship with film in the sense that he will now, apparently, only ever make a movie on digital. Whatever he chooses to do, I'm sure it's for the best. Now, this being a David Lynch video tribute, it is somewhat NSFW, so do be careful where you watch it.

David Lynch in Four Movements - A Tribute from Richard Vezina on Vimeo.

TrollHunter, Hunter of Trolls

What does one make of André Øvredal's "found footage" so-called horror film, TrollHunter [Trolljegeren]. I skipped it at this year's Melbourne International Film Festival, but it's high ranking amongst the audience voting piqued my interest. A recent DVD release coupled with a day of bedridden rest afforded me an opportunity to watch it and I am seriously perplexed. What exactly was it that my fellow MIFF-sters, and other audiences alike, found within this Norwegian curiosity?

TrollHunter is a mockumentary type of scary flick that sees three Scandinavian college reporters stumble across an environmental news story with quite big ramifications. Turns out trolls really do exist and they, ahem, troll across Norway wreaking havoc that a local government organisation manipulates into being labelled "natural disasters" or, more frequently, bear attacks. Right off the bat, TrollHunter is incredibly indebted to the far superior The Blair Witch Project. Everything from the two-guys-/-one-girl dynamic to even the clothes they wear. It's terribly distracting since that 1999 horror classic is so very much better than this bizarre effort from debut director Øvredal. I couldn't even tell whether his film was meant to be scary, what with the frequent scenes that don't attempt to fright and moments of apparent comedy that I guess is what they intended with the scene involving heavy duty flatulence. It wasn't until I looked at the film's IMDb profile and I saw its genre listed as "horror" that I figured I was meant to find some of this scary. Although, perhaps it's just me, but the idea of trolls doesn't exactly get me shaking in my boots. As visually impressive as these beasts are - and don't get me wrong, the visual effects are fantastic - they're not scary creatures.

I think that failing comes down, at least somewhat, to the "found footage" idea. This sort of filmmaking has become increasingly popular, but I can't help but feel it was the wrong creative decision for TrollHunter. It works for things that go bump in the night (The Blair Witch Project), underground sewer creatures (The Tunnel) and even ghost in the immensely successful Paranormal Activity franchise. But trolls? Notsomuch. I think of trolls and I think of "Nilbog", which isn't anything anybody wanting to scare should be reminding audiences of. Maybe it's just me? I find the idea of ghosts and satanic witches far more terrifying than giant, hulking fairy tale creatures that turn to stone when shown the light. Really. This mockumentary motif also flounders when it doesn't give its characters enough time to become fully fleshed out. Consider the early scenes of The Blair Witch Project and how, once they enter the woods, the scares are eventual and not sudden. In a way TrollHunter shows far too much far too early. They're proven to look a little silly and to be killed quite easily so any sense of terror and dread is almost nonexistence and, in the end, quite a bit boring. The film really lost me when they included an estabishing shot, the sort of thing that belies the entire narrative conceit in one fell swoop. Inconsistent sound design, too, doesn't help: why exactly is that lady carrying around a boom mic if their cameras record sound perfectly well without it? I admire the filmmaker's decision to play the material as straight and serious, but it never settles on being enough of one thing. Is it a scary film? Is it a horror comedy? Is it about shady governments? Is it about Norway's position in the world? It's none of those things in any large measure and suffers because of it. I can't see these trolls securing a cult following like those other nasty trolls across the pond. C-

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"Wiggle Your Big Toe!"

I may not be a foot fetishest like one Mr Quentin Tarantino, but I know for certain that right now he wouldn't be too enthused about my own right about now. An accident last night has left my foot more battered than bruised, but worse for wear nonetheless. Unlike Beatrix Kiddo I can wiggle my toes, but I've been bedridden all day near unable to walk. Good thing I received that first aid kit for Christmas a year back or else I'd be without bandages to wrap this thing up. Alternating between liberal excuses of the word "nap" (is two hours a nap or does it verge on sleep?), catching up on Norwegian found footage (somewhat) horror flick, TrollHunter, and episodes of Hart of Dixie, which is like Men in Trees, but swapping out Northern Exposure for Dawson's Creek. Naturally, it's campishly addictive and since it airs on the same channel as Ringer, I think we've found a double feature of ridiculous silliness. Episode four is particularly, ahem, memorable.

We hope to resume regular programming soon enough. But for now I must resume my bedridden duties. Quentin Tarantino can keep his feet.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Unwrap a Christmas Gift

I guess today is Christmas by the time this gets published so I guess I should wish y'all a Merry Christmas. Or not, depending on what your opinion of the holiday is. Nevertheless, there's no reason to not have a little bit of fun with the festive season and so today I present to you "The Twelve Days of Christmas" as sung, and rewritten, by the cast of Twin Peaks. Yes, you read that correctly. Premiering on Los Angeles radio statio KROQ in 1990, this rendition of the song features cast members Jack Nance, Kimmy Robertson, Dana Ashbrook, Frank Silva, Robert Bauer and even Kyle McLachlan singing about all sorts of Christmas appropriate things like one-armed men, cherry pie and dead bodies wrapped in plastic. I can't think of a better way to spend your Christmas morning than giving this song a good ol' spin.

Image via Welcome to Twin Peaks

The Original Bad Santa

It's that time of the year where people inevitably list their favourite Christmas movies. While I like Miracle on 34th Street as much as the next guy, I'm generally more inclined to watch something a little bit less conventional. Films like Die Hard, Batman Returns, A Nightmare Before Christmas, Silent Night, Deadly Night, Mixed Nuts (home of the saddest sentence found on Wikipedia - "It was released to theaters in the United States on December 21, 1994, to neither critical acclaim nor commercial success"), The Muppet Christmas Carol and the majestic, poetic and downright masterful Jack Frost are all more likely to get spins in the lead up to Christmas than, say, White Christmas, Holiday Inn or even It's a Wonderful Life. What can I say, I prefer my Xmas a little bit twisted. I also have a big soft spot for Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, but that's surely more to do with the beautifully filmed setting than anything else.

Most people (myself included) seem to have a lot of time for Bad Santa, the hilariously offensive Terry Zwigoff from 2003 that starred Billy Bob Thornton as, well, a bad Santa. Still, as much as I like that film - which, amazingly, played at the Cannes Film Festival! - I can't help but prefer a film that came out ten years prior, but which gets only a scant amount of the respect. Ted Demme's 1994 black comedy, The Ref, is surely the Christmas film I watch more than any other. Like some some or hilarious convergence of a zippy, electrified screenplay and a collection of actors who know how to deliver it, The Ref is a film that never fails to put me into fits of guffaws. As I rewatched this last night I had to stifle my honking laughs so as to not awake the entire neighbourhood. Hardest of all is at this moment late in the proceedings:

"You know what I'm gonna get you next Christmas? A big wooden cross, so every time you feel unappreciated for all your sacrifices you can climb on up and nail yourself to it!"

While the first half of the feel is a rather tight nit group of actors sparring back and forth - who would've thought that Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey would spark such verbal fires together? - once the extended family comes along The Ref descends into full on anarchy. I love that look of Davis' face every time she hears the whingeing cry Christine Baranski's high-pitched voice, or the way the children look at each other in admiration of their uncle and aunt as they try to out-insult one another with stinging one-liners and embarrassing anecdotes. That it was nominated for a best casting award by the Casting Society of America is testament to this, I suppose.

The Ref was a box office flop, which is hardly surprising but surely disappointing. The Ref is not exactly as tantalising a film name as the simple, yet effective, Bad Santa, but where the former succeeds over the latter is in the degree of difficulty. Bad Santa would have been easy to make a success, what with the very image of a foul-mouthed Santa being chucklesome right off the bat. What The Ref has is an idea that needed work and some heavy lifting on behalf of the cast, which they are all game for. It never ceases to impress me how well they pulled it all together and at a time when this sort of film wasn't the norm. There will surely be plenty other anti-Christmas movies of this type, but The Ref will forever remain my favourite. Pop this on the DVD player and "celebrate the birth of Christ" with good ol' fashioned family bickering. It's the only way.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Musically Inclined

I've been actively following the American awards season, as I am want to do, but haven't been discussing it here at all (Twitter is another thing altogether!) I figure there are so many other websites, written by people far more plugged in to the whole affair (they live in America, generally) writing about it at a far quicker pace than I could ever muster. Take not of how quiet it has been around here the last two week!

I plan on doing some end of year pieces in the vein of the "design of a decade" countdown I did last year to celebrate the '00s and everything I loved about them. They should start up after Christmas, but until then I wanted to direct your attention to this fabulous piece at Indiewire that gives a very comprehensive rundown of the year's best musical scores. Just today the Academy announced the 97 films eligible for Best Original Score so there was synchronicity there. Sadly missing from the list of scores to compete is Cliff Martinez for Drive, but I can understand the omission since so much of the film's revolve around the musical themes. To be honest, I think Drive is the best film of the year and even I don't think Martinez would make my personal ballot, but it's a shame one of the most acclaimed scores of the year cannot compete. Martinez still has his fantastic work on Contagion to battle for so there's still hope for the former Red Hot Chili Pepper!

The Indiewire piece though is a definite must read. Or, should that be must listen. Both, really. Highlighting over 20 of the year's best musical achievements, including personal favourites Jane Eyre (Dario Marianelli), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross), The Skin I Live In (Alberto Iglesias), Rango (Hans Zimmer), Hugo (Howard Shore), Attack the Block (Basement Jaxx) and Rubber (Mr Oizo). I had an Academy member's ballot I would be feverishly scribbling down Contagion, Hanna (The Chemical Brothers), Insidious (Joseph Bishara), The Skin I Live In and either Hugo, Jane Eyre or Attack the Block. My vote would go to Insidious because, I guess, that's how I roll. I look forward to Jed Kurzel being on the list of eligible contenders next year for his claustrophobic sonic landmine score of Snowtown when it finally/hopefully snags an American release in the new year. I know I keep harping on about that Aussie's film's score, but it bears repeating time and time again just how incredible it is. I didn't even like the movie and the score gives me the shivers. Every time I mention it I search on YouTube for a video of it, but to no avail. Now, however, there is at least this video of the music being performed at the APRA Screen Music Awards at which Kurzel won. Listen to it below alongside some of my other favourite compositions of the year.

Review: War Horse

War Horse
Dir. Steven Spielberg
Year: 2011
Aus Rating: M15+
Running Time: 146mins

Steven Spielberg’s latest film, War Horse, opens with picturesque shots of rolling British countryside set to a boisterous John Williams‘ score. You’d be forgiven for thinking Spielberg and his screenwriters, Lee Hall and Richard Curtis working from Michael Morpurgo’s novel and the Tony-winning Broadway play, were desperate to choke sobs out of their audience from the opening moments. Even if you’re not crying yet, they will keep trying and trying until only the blackest of hearts are left un-moved. I guess I should hand in my organ donation card because I clearly don’t have a heart judging from the dismissive reaction I had to this patently artificial film.

Read the rest at Trespass Magazine

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Review: Albert Nobbs

Albert Nobbs
Dir. Rodrigo Garcia
Year: 2011
Aus Rating: M15+
Running Time: 109mins

“Sing to me softly / your tales of woe,” wails Sinead O’Connor in the theme song to Albert Nobbs. It’s a particularly significant lyric from the song that plays over the credits of this drab affair that gently whispers its tale of never-ending woe amid a sea of grey and tweed. Director Rodrigo Garcia has made an unadventurous film that has only the smallest of fires in its belly. Albert Nobbs barely registers on any level whatsoever, with its potentially fascinating subject matter blunted by an adaptation that has taken its protagonist’s buttoned-up personality to heart and been sapped of life and character.

Read the rest at Trespass Magazine

I mean, really. Good grief, could this movie be any more bland?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Kitty Galore

I never got around to attending a press screening of Puss in Boots, and I doubt I'll get a chance to catch up with it upon general release. I find myself being allergic to Dreamworks animation, but I did like How to Train Your Dragon so maybe there really is hope for us yet. Nevertheless, Puss in Boots was one film that I was somewhat curious about checking out purely because it is so very rare for Hollywood to make a film that is pro-feline! I'm sure dog lovers are aware they have a monopoly on Hollywood - this year alone we've seen The Artist, Beginners, Red Dog and so many, many more prove that the movies love dogs while in some cases actively hating cats. It's shameful, really, but I suspect a lot of it comes down to the fact that cats, like Miley Cyrus, can't be tamed and training them is infinitely harder. Of course, the main reason is that people prefer dogs for the same reason they prefer Tom Hanks. They like nice rather than complex and aloof. A cat won't look at you unless it wants to, a dog can be trained to do tricks with finesse and ease. I'm a cat person, obviously, so the idea of Puss in Boots intrigued me to that degree.

Still, if Hollywood are going to continue to make us believe that felines are evil then at least do so in a vehicle such as this, thank you:

Review: Happy Feet Two

Happy Feet Two
Dir. George Miller
Year: 2011
Aus Rating: PG
Running Time: 100mins

Five years after those toe-tapping penguins sashayed into cinemas, George Miller returns to Antarctica with Happy Feet Two. A truly strange animated film that I can’t fathom many people clamoured for, but still manages to succeed at being an inventive experience. While the plot – Mumbles must save his penguin clan after they become trapped by a moving glacier – seems curiously secondary, where Miller succeeds is in the oft breathtaking animation, choice music selections and a truly radical subplot involving a pair of krill that must be seen to be believed.

Read the rest at Trespass Magazine

You may remember that I spoke of this film last week and I still find that aspect of the film to be particularly memorable. Good to know.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Wish It Were Here Now

2011 has some high profile Australian films that are gearing up for release early in the year. We've seen steady and consistent marketing for Stephan Elliot's A Few Best Men, which is released on Australia Day, and Working Dog's Any Questions for Ben? has slowly been rolling out the advertising in time for its February release. And now it turns out the trailer for Kieran Darcy-Smith's local thriller, Wish You Were Here, was quietly released earlier this month and I did not realise! Set to open the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, Wish You Were Here charts the vacation of four friends and the subsequent after-effects when one goes missing and stars Joel Edgerton, Teresa Palmer, Felicity Price (also the co-writer and looking very impressive on initial look) and Antony Starr. Reactions out of Sundance will surely help local distributor Hopscotch decide when and what to do with it, but we can expect it to get at least a limited release sometime next year.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Trash for Treasure

I have been slowly making my way through the Paul Morrissey boxset, "The Andy Warhol Collection". It's been wonderful and weird in equal measure; I liked that Heat was like some warped version of Melrose Place and that Flesh for Frankenstein was their version of a lush, lavish period piece. And in 3D no less! That dinner table sequence with the panning camera was simply divine, and that finale is some sort of cracked out insanity right there! I can't say that any have had the potency and the sticky imprint of Flesh though, which was a rather incredible piece of cinema that is edited through a woodchipper in the same way Lars von Trier does and photographed like the lens has been smeared with grime and sweat. Nick Davis' typically intuitive write-up of that film for his Top 100 Films list has a particularly delicious comparison to Douglas Sirk and melodrama that I can't say I'd particularly thought about before, but now can't do anything else.

Still, it was while researching Trash that I came across perhaps one of the greatest bits of movie trivia ever. Oh sure, some people think it's absolutely wild that Tom Sellick was meant to be Indiana Jones, but I found this bonmot regarding transgendered actress Holly Woodlawn to be the very definition of amazing.

In October she was assigned a bit role in Trash, but so impressed director Paul Morrissey that she was given a larger role. In 1970 she received word from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that George Cukor, supported by others, was petitioning the Academy to nominate her for Trash however, nothing came of this campaign.

Apparently George Cukor, Oscar winning director of My Fair Lady, The Philadelphia Story, and many others, initiated the campaign and got signatures from Ben Gazzara and Joanne Woodward. Doesn't this just blow your mind? Actors and filmmakers of their calibre are not the kind you would expect to go to stumps for a transgendered actress in a no budget independent movie that features intravenous drug use, full frontal male nudity and lots of sex. Woodlawn's performance is electrifying and magnetic, I literally couldn't take my eyes off of her even when she's sharing a scene with a naked Joe Dallesandro (and given he's one of the sexiest actors to grace the screen, that's a tall order). Cukor's initiative was obviously doomed, but it certainly makes me curious as to what other fringe dwellers caught the eye of the Hollywood establishment.

Dracula is a Work in Progress

Sometimes a YouTube video comes along that has the ability to genuinely surprise. I had read what Jason from My New Plaid Pants had to say about this work in progress "trailor" for Dario Argento's Dracula 3D, but not even that could make me anticipate what I was about to watch, really. The following video truly is one of the worst, silliest, most ridiculous and all 'round funniest videos I've seen in ages. I stared at my computer screen with a look of such complete horror from the music alone (it sounds like 1950s sci-fi!), but when the AMAZINGLY BAD CGI BIRD came flying at the screen the lulz were neverending.

Now, I know it says "visual effects work in progress" on the screen whenever a particularly dodgy moment of computer graphics occurs (so, basically, all of it), but I kinda wish they would just quit while they're ahead and allow Dracula 3D to become the camp comedy classic that it is so obviously meant to be. My bellowing laugh was given quite a workout as I watched all these actors (Thomas Kretschmann and Asia Argento amongst them) bark and hiss at one another for two and a half minutes whilst spilling blood everywhere and walking around in particularly cheap-looking thrift store costumes. I mean, my gosh, what is up with the scene of a giant praying mantis gobbling down a man? Or what's with random throwaway shots that have seemingly nothing to do with anything like the horse or the naked lady being thrown to the ground? Oh, the acting! The acting! Is that Rutger Hauer continuing on from his awful Hobo with a Shotgun performance?

My favourite bit in the entire "trailor" is at the 55 second mark when Kretschmann seems to be screaming, but sounds more like he's trying to clear his throat. But then there is, of course, the praying mantis, the hilarious 3D that looks like outtakes from Friday the 13th: Part III, Hauer maneuvering some pullies at the 1:55 mark, and the ridiculous display of acting at 1:36. Truly magic stuff, wouldn't you agree?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

When Bad Posters Strike: Gloomy Superheroes, Aliens at Sea, Rom-Coms and Queen Latifah's Spirit Fingers

As I scrolled down IMP's homepage today after having forgotten to do so for a few days that I come across so many unattractive poster designs. It only seemed logical to lump them all together so that the world can gawk at them and make them feel great shame for inflicting such eye-punching visuals on us. I suspect I will be in the minority regarding two of them, so what better place to begin than with...

The Amazing Spider-Man & The Dark Knight Rises
Okay, let me just get this out of the way: I don't necessarily think these two posters for next year's big blockbusters are bad. Nevertheless, I don't think they're great, but the main reason I am featuring them is because they fill be with deep worry and suspicion. Let's take a look (although I'm sure you've already seen them dozens of times already) and then discuss.

It was inevitable that whatever design the studio behind The Dark Knight Rises threw out would be greeted with cries of "epic", "ICONIC", "awesome", "one of the best posters ever made", and so on. And that's just the comments section at IMP. Alas, the poster is perfectly servicable as a concept, but I am officially on high alert for gritty intensity! I've never been entirely on board with Nolan's vision of the Batman franchise, but if this is where it's headed to then I can't say I hold much hope for The Dark Knight Rises. The Dark Knight did such a great job at working with vivid colours amidst its more muted colour palate, but I really am concerned that this third (and presumably final) instalment will be so devoid of life and colour that it will make for too oppressive an experience.

The same goes for this poster for The Amazing Spider-Man, which at least tries to counter-balance is colour energy with an inventive central image. While Andrew Garfield's shadow transformation into a spider is a good one, sapping all the colour from what has always been such a colourful franchise made me sigh and roll my eyes. I would hope that Marc Webber (the director of 500 Days of Summer, no less) doesn't succumb to lazy grunge and grit as a way of this unnecessary franchise reboot setting itself apart. The less said about that ridiculous "The Untold Story" tagline the better, quite frankly. I'll give them credit in that it involved balls to make such a laughable statement in such a solemn and serious manner.

I guess my initial hesitance with this poster is that I still can't quite fathom why Battleship is about aliens.

Sure, make a movie about the navy going to war with aliens on the open seas, but don't label it as a "battleship" movie and toss it off as a some lame-brained maneuver to garner brand status. This poster, too, suffers from an overbearing case of grittyiness, as if the only way they figured they could lend credence and gravitas to an adaptation of a board game was to desaturate all the colour and make it look as hopelessly miserable as possible. If that is indeed the case then it's still a failure because it's such a botched job. I may have been on board with this if they'd given it a candy-coloured poster that featured Rihanna getting her breasts out in a way-too-tight-to-be-regulation navy uniform and Alexander Sarsgaard with a half-opened (or non-existed, whatever) shirt with Liam Neeson looking on with a fatherly grimace. At least that would've looked like shlocky fun. This? This looks like a third circle of hell.

American Reunion
Turns out this reunion is going to a very sad affair.

Just looking and Chris Klein's coked out face and dated hairstyle is enough to give me the heebie-jeebies. When Tara Reid looks better than you, you know something's wrong and Ms Reid looks better here then all but Alyson Hannigan. I guess that's what a successful career does for one's complexion and hair and general radiance.

The Vow
What's that you say? There's not much really wrong with this poster for Channing Tatum/Rachel McAdams (oh what has happened to her?) romancer? Well, read closer...

I love that the tagline of "inspired by true events" is somehow meant to make us go "oh! how interesting!" and yet I can't for the life of me figure what the hell The Vow is all about. Inspired by true events? Great! But what true events. Did Tatum and McAdams once hook up at some Hollywood party? Is that the true story, because if it's not I just can't read what it's all about. Did the two actors have an unfortunate run in with a Photoshop designer? Really, the tag of "inspired by true events" works when the title of your film is, for instance, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or when your poster features images of a war- torn nation or a natural disaster. It does not work when all your poster features is too pretty actors making googly eyes at one another.

Joyful Noise
So much hand pointing!

He's pointing up there! She's pointing down there! Dolly Parton's pointing over there! Not to be outdone, Queen Latifah is splaying all of her fingers in a defiant feat of spirit fingers. Let's not even get started on the clipart-esque audience mentions waving their hands around like they just don't care that they have to have an early night because they have a big day tomorrow (I suspect they're not the partying type of crowd). This overly wax-like poster for the Sister Act inspired musical Joyful Noise works better if you imagine that Keke Palmer is sending out bolts of light from her forehead at a revival of Dreamgirls (that font!) Really, it does. Still, the most curious thing to notice about this poster is that Dolly Parton's very sizable breasts have been downgraded! For shame, Joyful Noise! I mean, there are jokes in the trailer about how many surgeries Parton's character has had, so why reduce 'em? Enlarge them, I say!

Of course, saying all of that and I'll still be there with bells on.

Monday, December 12, 2011

This Used to Be Her Playground: Madonna's Greatest Soundtrack Hits

The release of a new Madonna soundtrack cut is an exciting thing. Many of her greatest tracks are those she recorded specifically for film soundtracks and there was once upon a time when fans could always expect a new one in between album releases. This past week we got a listen to "Masterpiece", the closing credits song from her sophomore directorial effort, W.E. It's not exactly the strongest song she's ever recorded, but I like that she has recorded a ballad, something that is becoming rarer and rarer as the years go by. Shall we say that a sequel to Something to Remember made entirely of her last decade of music is most certainly not on the cards.

Nevertheless, here are Madonna's ten best soundtrack recordings. For whatever reasons, The Academy have routinely given Madge the snub when it comes to their Best Original Song category. The only original song listed below that wasn't written or co-written by Madonna is "Crazy For You", from the soundtrack to Vision Quest. It's hard to fathom how beautiful ballads like "This Used to Be My Playground" (from A League of Their own) or zesty, vibrant dance hits like "Beautiful Stranger" (from Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me) failed to nab Academy nominations, but that they didn't says more about their prejudices than Madonna's skills as a song-writer. It's not much of a stretch to imagine that if Madonna had collaborated with Stephen Sondheim on his Oscar winner from Dick Tracy, "Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)" which Madonna performed at the Oscars, that the song would have failed to have even been nominated.

"Masterpiece" won't be getting anywhere near the Oscar stage for multiple reasons (it's a credits only song for starters), but it's nice to have Madonna back. Next February is going to be all about her what with her new album being released, a likely tour announcement that will hopefully include Australia for the first time in decades (hey, we got Dolly Parton for the first time in 25 years just last month, why not Ms Ciccone?), and a live performance at the Superbowl that was just recently confirmed. I have not included "Masterpiece" on the list because I suspect it will be a grower, but I've also eliminated anything from Dick Tracy (preferences to "Vogue" and "More") and Evita (it's all about the Miami Mix of "Don't Cry For Me Argentina", isn't it?) because it's a little unfair.

Honourary Mentions:

It hurt to not put these two tracks from the 1987 Madonna vehicle Who's That Girl?, but on a top ten list concessions had to be made. Nevertheless, "Causing a Commotion" is one of my favourite under-valued Madonna tracks. It's so energetic and that lyric of "I've got the movies, baby / You've got the motion / If we got together / We'd be causing a commotion" is ace. I also included the much-maligned "American Pie" cover from The Next Best Thing, which I actually find rather lovely. Then, somewhat cheating, I have included the video of Madonna performing "Express Yourself" from the masterpiece documentary In Bed with Madonna. The video was never released, not even as a promo single, but since we're discussing Madonna, music and film, I wanted to include this incredible sequence. It features perhaps her best choreography of Madonna's career and the film really should have been nominated for all sorts of Oscars like Best Documentary, Best Editing and Best Cinematography.

1. "Live to Tell"
From At Close Range
The Year: 1986
The Song: My second favourite Madonna song of all time - the best is "Vogue" if you really must know - and a hit from the soundtrack to At Close Range, which stars her then husband, Sean Penn. The best, and most evocative ballad of her career, "Live to Tell" was actually originally written for another film entirely. When rejected by Paramount Studios for the soundtrack of Fire with Fire (Duncan Gibbins' romantic drama starring Craig Sheffer and Virginia Madsen), Madonna took the film over to At Close Range and ended up with a hit single far bigger, and better remembered, than the film it featured in. An incredible song.
The Film: I haven't seen At Close Range, which also stars Christopher Walken, but from what I can gather of it this blending of Madonna and Jan Hammer Miami Vice-style synths would be moody perfection.
The Video: The video clip features a gorgeous blonde Madonna bathed in shadows, her sexed up image blunting by a rather homely blouse. Much like every other soundtrack hit from the decade, the video is punctuated by scenes from the film that make little to no coherent sense to anybody who hasn't already seen the film.
The Awards: Two wins as "Most Performed Song from a Motion Picture" from the ASCAP Film & Television Music Awards and the BMI Film & TV Awards. "Live to Tell" probably would have been deemed ineligible for the Oscar, but nevertheless was beaten to a nomination by "Glory of Love" (The Karate Kid II), "Life in a Looking Glass" (That's Life), "Mean Green Mother from Outer Space" (The Little Shop of Horrors), "Somewhere Out There" (An American Tale) and the equally synth-heavy pop ballad "Take My Breath Away" (Top Gun). The film itself was nominated for the Golden Bear at Berlinale, but I can't find any pictures of Penn and Madonna walking the red carpet. Do you think they did?

Girls Girls Girls

I absolutely flipped for Lena Dunham's Tiny Furniture several months back at MIFF and I keep longing for the day that I hear somebody has picked it up for release (even if a direct-to-DVD one). I mean, the film has been chosen as an upcoming Criterion release for crying out loud, why won't anybody pay attention?

Anyway, just now I jumped with excitement when I saw the following video mentioned briefly amongst my Twitter feed. It's a trailer - do TV shows have trailers or are they just considered adverts? promo reel? - for Girls, Dunham's new television series that is set to screen on HBO in April next year. Thankfully she being as embarrassed as ever and has remained blissfully entrenched in New York City. That it's executive producer is Judd Apatow is both appealing and worrying in equal measure, but since a lot of my Apatow frustrating comes from his inability to edit, perhaps the constrictive landscape of episodic TV will suit him well. The video below is very funny and anybody who saw and enjoyed Tiny Furniture will certainly get a kick out of it. It's almost an extension on that film, actually, but will hopefully expand upon Dunham's sadsack, humiliating twentysomething routine: "I think that I may be the voice of my generation. Or at least, a voice of a generation."

Thursday, December 8, 2011

It's Psychotic

This was certainly bizarre news to wake up to today. It turns out that a remake of American Psycho is in the works over at Lionsgate. It's being positioned as a "modern day re-imagining", which is just as terrifying a concept as an out-and-out remake. I was entirely on board for the Broadway musical adaptation, but this is just ridiculous to the nth degree.

I remember being disappointed, but hardly surprised, when the Spider-Man franchise was given the reboot only a few years after the original trilogy concluded (and some ten years after the first film brought about a new wave of box office records), but to redo the eleven-year-old American Psycho doesn't make any sense to me whatsoever. It's not even like Mary Harron's brilliant 2000 horror-comedy was particularly popular - it's place in pop culture relies solely to its cast of Christian Bale, Reese Witherspoon and Jared Leto. It was my number three film of the decade, so to say I haven't the highest of hopes is to put it mildly.

I also can't help but feel that a modern day interpretation would be completely besides the point of both Bret Easton Ellis' novel, and Harron's satire adaptation. Harron's film was hardly the most faithful book-to-film we've ever seen, but it took the novel's heart, it's cold, brutal satire of the late 1980s consumerism, and turned it into a palatable, visually striking affair. Sure, we hardly needed to be reminded of 1989 excess, but do we really need an American Psycho for the "occupied generation"? We all know Wall Street is screwed up, so why tell us again in the guise of this brand-hopping remake?

I weep for the modernised take on scenes that featured the music of Huey Lewis and the News, Genesis and Whitney Houston. What are the modern day pop icons that "David Fincher protege" Noble Jones can twist into recalibrated symbols of decadence? Lady Gaga? LMFAO? Doubtful. What horror movies will this modern day Patrick Bateman watch on blu-ray as he does his crunches and metrosexualises himself? I guess that's where the term "torture porn" really will get its due.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Happy Feet Two & Homosexuality in the Animal Kingdom

I went along to the Melbourne premiere of Happy Feet Two yesterday evening. Writer/Producer/Director/Chilli Button Aficionado George Miller was there (albeit sans chilli buttons for the first time I can recall), as was Robin Williams, who provides multiple voices throughout the animated film. For all of its faults - a rather uninspiring plot and, at times, aimless scripting - the film still more or less works thanks to the spectacular oddness that Miller injects in the proceedings. The original Happy Feet was certainly unafraid to be strange, and this sequel is the same, which is a refreshing change of pace from other animated films of 2011 that have all but had the whirring sound of the assembly line playing on the soundtrack. Happy Feet Two shares far more in common with Rango than Arthur Christmas, despite their similar chilly settings. Some good musical numbers (Pink's "Bridge of Light" should be an Oscar contender) and rather stunning animation and effects work made my initial misgivings about the project somewhat unnecessary. It's certainly much better than that other unasked for sequel to a 2006 animation hit, Cars 2. It's no patch on the original, but I suspect it's quirks will take longer to wedge in the mind.

One thing I didn't expect when I sat down in the cinema, however, was that Happy Feet Two would become the first mainstream animated film to feature an openly gay character. The only other one I can think of is The Spongebob Squarepants Movie, and yet even that didn't feel as blatantly open as Miller's toe-tapping adventure flick. I may be stretching the term "openly gay", but I find it hard to believe that anybody could deny the character of "Bill the Krill" is another other than a homosexual who is in love with his best friend, "Will the Krill". As voiced by Matt Damon, Bill not only expresses his desire to spend all of his time with Will (the voice of Brad Pitt), but suggests they adopt baby krill together. There's even a moment where Will, when he allows Bill to join him on his quest (a secondary plot strand to Happy Feet Two's narrative in the vein of, but much funnier than, Scrat in the Ice Age films), he tells Will "no hanky panky". Will - the alpha male in their little (ahem, pun unintended), special bromance - is clearly aware of his friend's preference and no real issue with it. Bill even sing's Wham's "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go". Hello!

The relationship of Will and Bill is the one aspect of Happy Feet Two that actually works on a three act arc. The rest of the film seems to dawdle about and rarely shines new dimensions on its characters that we didn't get from the original film. By film's end, Will has seemingly realised that he is in love with his best friend and wants to spend his life with Bill. The two crustacean share a literally eye-opening embrace and a speech about what it means to be a part of a community that is frequently looked down upon. The idea that krill are generally ignored by the bigger, badder animals of the Antarctica waters, despite their importance, feels awfully similar to the argument that gay men and women help make this world go around, but when asked to be given equal rights are frequently denied and told they aren't of any real concern. Penguins, whales and seals could, in this hypothetical allegory, be seen as the "every day working families" that the GLBT community are so frequently told by governments are more important; the ones who really matter.

I feel like I'm entering a rabbit's warren of make believe and fantasy, but I genuinely believe that George Miller is the sort of filmmaker who would very deliberately, and consciously, make an otherwise unnecessary subplot of his big budget animated film into a much larger portrait of a social issue he has a desire to explore. Will's desire to separate from the swarm seems, to me, to be a clear sign of his curiosity and desire to explore the world outside of the standardised norms that society has placed on him. He has many experiences - let's just say he ends up in a lot of foreign mouths - but eventually returns home to be with Bill and together they prove that one person can make a difference and an army can change the world. That they enact this by celebrating en masse in a sea of dancing and neon light is just beautifully-animated gravy. A gay nightclub for krill under the sea is not something you're ever likely to find in a Pixar or Dreamworks production, that's for sure.

Happy Feet Two is currently in release in America - sadly flopping, which has resulted in hundreds of people losing their job [EDIT: please read the comment section regarding this bit of information as it seems it is being misreported] - but is out (literally and figuratively) in Australia on Boxing Day. Am I alone in seeing the very obvious gay tones of this movie?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Ladies Who Lunch with The Ides of March

Last Friday afternoon I went along to the movies to catch up with The Ides of March. It's always a good time to go to the movies due to the dearth of horrible movie patrons who would seemingly rather do anything but watch the movie they paid money to see. As I took my seat in walked two nice old ladies who proceeded to sit down behind me. They discussed the delicious lunch they'd just devoured (one had a caeser salad, the other a focaccia) and as the trailers began to play they continued to provide a chucklesome running commentary.

On J. Edgar:
"Oh that Clint Eastwood always makes good movies, don't you think?"
"Oh yes. Judi Dench! She's fabulous."

On The Descendants:
"Another one with George Clooney? It looks like a good one."
"Who is that young girl?"
"I don't know."

On Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy:
"Hmmm. I like British movies."
"Oh I thought it was out soon. That's very disappointing."

On War Horse:
"It's about a horse."

On the "summer school holidays" ad that plays at Village:
"Do you think the kiddies would like The Muppets?"
"Doesn't everybody like the muppets?"

Amen to that!

They thankfully quietened down throughout the actual film, although one did gasp and whisper "Gotcha!" during one of Ides' concluding scenes. I can't say I agree with the ladies' thoughts on J Edgar, which looks interminable, but sit through it I shall, I suppose, at some stage. I'll consider it a success if it's better than Hereafter. Oh Hereafter, you are so very, very shit. Upon leaving the theatre the two ladies discussed the movie - I walked considerably slower than I normally would just so I could continue to eavesdrop - and it turns out they both enjoyed it. They were particularly fond of the "young guy" (I'm assuming they mean Gosling), but who isn't? As they walked past a big foyer standee for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, one of the ladies made the rather true observation that "I don't know who Rooney Mara is, but she is gorgeous!" Piercings and all. As I walked out of the cinema, I happened to spot Shannon "Bazura Project" Marinko who was waiting to go in and see... The Ides of March. Small world.

As for the film itself? Well, it's a very solid piece of filmmaking from George Clooney, who certainly doesn't want for confidence in front or behind the camera. I admired the low-key, but never flat cinematography and the occasionally curious use of music. Performances were generally all fantastic - I particularly liked the trio of Gosling, Wood and Tomei - but, and this is a very big but (ahem), I have to call foul on Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti. I am long on the record of not being a fan of either of these two men. Two actors who almost everybody can't help but stumble over with hyperbole. I have like Hoffman more often than Giamatti (his turns in Capote, Happiness and Doubt are, I feel, particularly strong), but their duelling shlubbery routine has grown incredibly tired. Hoffman has given the exact same performance twice this year in Ides and Moneyball. It's acting with a capital A. And a capital C, T, I, N, G, too. Followed by several exclamation points. Kitchen sinks, they own many. I feel positively exhausted watching these two perform, huffing and puffing their way through loud, shouty scenes. Hoffman proved in Capote that you don't need to shout in order to be powerful, so why does he keep playing these characters that require him to do so? It's tiresome. People have the same criticism about Nicole Kidman and her whispered delivery, but she alternates it enough and adds enough character-defining flourishes to make the performances in, say, Birth and Dogville completely and vividly different. I don't so much get that with Giamatti and Hoffman. Perhaps it's just my personal biases - one-dimensional masculine tropes aren't so much my thing - but I guess I can't change that. I wish I could see what everyone else sees, but I just don't.