Thursday, March 29, 2012

Review: Stephen Sondheim's Company

Director: Lonny Price & Josh Rhodes
Country: USA
Running Time: 164mins
Aus Rating: N/A

**CORRECTION: I incorrectly noted that this was a National Theatre Live effort, but it is actually just a one-off effort by Broadway. Apologies for the gaff**

As I sat in the cinema watching this exclusive filmed-on-Broadway performance of Stephen Sondheim’s Company, I couldn’t help but wonder (aside: hi Carrie Bradshaw!) why it has never been adapted into a feature film? The material certainly seems ripe for a big screen adaptation as musical comedy always seems to play quite well. I mean, you could even keep the cast of this exclusive Broadway revival, even if some of the voices aren’t quite as strong as the others. I envision it mounted in a way that it looks like a modern take on the visual style of Down With Love and it would be quite easy to expand upon the material and take it out and about throughout the streets of New York City so as to not simply appear to be a filmed performance. It'd be easy to avoid the mistakes of, say, The Producers with this one if given the right director.

A filmed performance, however, is all we get. Good thing then that it’s so much fun! With Sondheim’s birthday just gone, what better time to acquaint yourself with some of his work whilst being able to ogle gorgeous, talented stars like Neil Patrick Harris, Patti LuPone, Martha Plimpton, Anika Noni Rose, Aaron Lazar, Christina Hendricks and more? The production, aided by the New York Philharmonic, was staged last April for four exclusive performances at Avery Fisher Hall and thanks to Broadway's think tank and local distributor Sharmill Films we get the chance to see it for ourselves, which is just deliciously excellent, don’t you think? With theatre being so expensive these days – I recently caught the Melbourne production of A Chorus Line so there’s my one show per year, I suppose – it’s nice that these sort of things can be seen even if it’s not quite the same as being there in a theatre and hearing those booming voices stretch across the crowd as the orchestra’s delicate music tiptoes around. Still, I really can’t recommend Company enough.

Company, originally staged in 1970 with Dean Jones and Elaine Stritch, follows a man named Bobby (played here by Harris, a man who needs a cinematic musical pronto!) who is surrounded my married and engaged friends, causing him to re-evaluate his love life, which is currently occupied by three women (Christina Hendricks, Anika Noni Rose and Chryssie Whitehead). Insert fabulous tunes, lively choreography, and the giddy kick of seeing these people projected on the big screen – it’s worth it for the near blinding beauty of Aaron Lazar, who I saw on stage on Broadway’s The Light in the Piazza some six years ago on my first trip to New York (conveniently taking over the role from Matthew Morrison of Glee!) – alone, not to mention Martha Plimpton who’s frequent stage appearances mean the rest of us rarely get to see her anymore (childhood favourite Josh & S.A.M., hello!) And, of course, the immortal Patti LuPone who gets to wrap her marvellous pipes around the famed “The Ladies Who Lunch” and absolutely devours it to the rapture of the applauding audience below. I felt like clapping, too! Big props must also go to the divine Anika Noni Rose and Katie Kinneran who ran away with her big pre-wedding number like her life depended on it.

So why no film version? I mean, as fabulous as it is to watch this version, it’d be nice to have an actual cinematic version that could be released on home entertainment and watched any time I choose. The songs are so entertaining and so ripe for visual representation that sometimes a cast recording just isn’t enough. As I sat there watching this two and a half hour vision – there is an intermission, so don't worry – I could picture the film in my head and I can’t fathom why nobody’s done it yet. Company will be playing for one weekend only – this Saturday the 31st and Sunday the 1st (edit: It's also screening on April 3rd in some locations) – and really shouldn’t be missed if it’s playing near you. Hopefully we will get a DVD release some point down the line, but until then I’ll just be sitting here with my soundtrack album humming “Bobby, Bobby, Bobby Baby, Bobby bubi, Robby, Robert Darling, Bobby…”

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Review: Mirror Mirror

Mirror Mirror
Dir. Tarsem Singh
Country: USA
Aus Rating: PG
Running Time: 106mins

With each of his first three feature films, famed music video director Tarsem Singh has gone by a new name. At first it was Tarsem Singh, then just Tarsem, and then Tarsem Singh Dhandwar. For this fourth film, the updated fairy tale (some would call it “revisionist” since that’s the hot word these days, like “reboot”, “prequel” and others before it) Mirror Mirror sees him revert back to Tarsem Singh and whether the man is secretly trying to convey a hidden message by doing so or not, the man has done enough in my eyes to change his name to Elizabeth Taylor Fancypants McGregor and I wouldn’t care one iota. He is such a rare gift in Hollywood, with films so richly decadent and a feast for the eyes that – to take a page from his latest – I routinely find myself falling under the spell of.

Whereas his first and third films were violent otherworldly fantasies (The Cell and Immortals), his second and fourth features have been buoyantly lavish fairy tales. Mirror Mirror sees Singh veering away from the original, globetrotting fairy tale of The Fall, MIrror Mirror takes the much more familiar tale of Snow White and the seven dwarves and spins it into a comical farce, sumptuously designed and hilariously bonkers in equal measure. First and foremost a movie for kids, its pleasures are not bound to one’s age, instead its rhythmic absurdity should prove a delight for those of any age with a penchant for bright-eyed, candy-coloured visual madness. Curmudgeons will surely find its big-grinned magic hard to resist; its somewhat off-kilter marketing campaign hopefully setting many up for a world of surprise.

Mirror Mirror more or less follows the traditional tale of Snow White that we know from the Brothers Grimm as well as the Walt Disney animation of the 1930s. This time Snow White is kept prisoner in the castle by her evil stepmother after the disappearance of her father, The King. Upon daybreak outside the castle walls Snow happens upon a near-naked Prince, the victim of bandits who reside within the forest. Basically, you can guess what happens after that as Snow White ends up living with the famed seven dwarves before enacting revenge on the Evil Queen, reclaiming her father’s kingdom as well as the love of her charming Prince.

What makes Mirror Mirror so special and not just a tired, flat retread done with enough bells and whistles to feel unique is the flare with which Singh has gone about it. When the term “kid’s movie” cans sound like a dirty word for cinephiles, he has turned the dial up to eleven and embraced the inherent zaniness of the plot. Unafraid to capitalise on the artificial idea at its core, Mirror Mirror fills its frame with an abundance of weirdness, the kind of which is rarely found in a mainstream live action movie for children. The sound editing and visual effects are particularly cartoonish and risk ridicule in being so. The cast, too, are game for the challenge and all elevate their performances to a degree of camp rarely seen. Julia Roberts, particularly, as the evil Queen Clementianna is clearly relishing the chance to be so openly playful with her image, and Armie Hammer is truly delightful as the slapstick charmer. The Queen’s rather overt horniness of his frequent disrobed appearance is one of the film’s most kookily amusing running gags.

As Snow White herself, Lily Collins is a lovely screen presence and her porcelain skin certainly speaks to the story’s origins. I expect a grand Hollywood death match between Lily Collins and the Lynn Collins of John Carter where only one wins fame and fortune. If Lily is willing to work on such obviously nutso productions like this then I hope she wins (we’ll forget about Abduction, okay?)

Of course, as all Singh films have been in the past, Mirror Mirror’s true claim to fame will be the enduring fabulousness of costume design Eiko Ishioka. The Japanese design legend passed away earlier this year and just six months after hitting us with Greek mythology chic in Immortals, she has done perhaps her finest work since winning an Academy Award for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The Academy may as well go and engrave her name on a posthumous Oscar right now since the extravagant duds on display here are truly a work of stunning art. The seemingly never-ending parade of overflowing ball gowns, stuffed shirt pomp, frilly lace collars, exquisitely tailored corsetry and stunning jackets (that yellow ribbon jacket is rather to die for) in every colour you could possible imagine – the “color designer” gets their own singular on screen credit! – are a sight to behold and truly a majestic piece of fairy tale couture that will send fans of costume design into frequent fits of giddy joy. There’s even a fashion montage that feels like it was personally put in just for me. A Singh/Ishioka collaboration was always an event and the next film of this man’s will just not feel the same without Ishioka’s miraculous vision.

It takes a lot to truly get me grinning from ear to ear for a film’s entire runtime, but from the weird animated opening, the bizarre yet thrilling mid-film marionette action sequence, the appropriately bonkers make-up and art direction, and, yes, the enjoyable sight of Armie Hammer sans clothes, I couldn’t resist this film’s oddball charms. The upcoming Snow White and the Huntsman may have the gritty pop culture cachet, but Mirror Mirror’s childlike mentality shouldn’t be overlooked. In all fairness, Mirror Mirror is a blast that recalls the best works of Walt Disney whilst living very firmly in the present. A-

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

100 Canadians

I don't normally dedicate a blog entry to one single link, but I felt this one was so interesting that I had to. I'm sure many of you - well, my Australian readers anyway, the rest of y'all must catch up - are aware of Matt Ravier: noted Sydney-residing cinephile and manager of several film organisations including the Canadian film festival named Possible Worlds (here's a nice interview with the man from 2010 at Trespass Magazine). Canada isn't necessary the first nation from the global filmmaking world that you would think to devote a film festival to, but this year's 7th edition of Possible Worlds shows, I guess, that there's plenty of interesting product from any given country if you're willing to actually seek it out. The festival doesn't come to Melbourne so I can't really talk about the films since so many of these titles won't make their way south of the New South Wales border, but I can only assume that somebody like Matt wouldn't align himself with something of lesser quality.

I bring this up though because in the lead up to the festival in August, Ravier is counting down the Top 100 Canadian Films of the past 30 years. The films of this chilly nation frequently find themselves amongst the Academy's foreign language shortlist - the most recent winner, Les Invasions barbares, was 2004 and most recent nominee, Monsieur Lazhar will see a local release something later this year - but outside of established or up-and-coming directorial talents like David Cronenberg, Sarah Polley and Jean-Marc Vallée, Canada isn't a country many cinephiles tend to take much notice of. When a Canadian film does find its way into public consciousness, like, say, Jason Eisener's Hobo With a Shotgun, I rarely notice much of any significance paid to its history within Canada's film industry. The country appears to hold little cachet amongst movie-lovers, unlike France, Italy or emerging powerhouses in Asia. I'd be surprised if many even knew they were watching a Canadian film half the time, especially these days of national co-productions and when even a Cronenberg film feels less like a grungy homegrown effort and more of a calculated American studio effort.

I've long felt that the Canadian and Australian film industries are all too much alike. We both appear to struggle balancing between a delicate tightrope strung up between two posts - one standing for national identity and patriotism and another that wants to be seen as a major player on the world stage making worthy films that can be seen by foreign viewers as an alternative to Hollywood fare. Occasionally films from both countries emerge on the global market and for but a brief moment shine a much needed light on the industry at large, but rarely for very long. Perusing the list of films from the last few years of both country finds a similar spread of films that run the gamut of ultra-arthouse festival titles to bombastic mainstream titles. Both countries are able to woo more American titles to its shores and, presumably, toot the horn of any international success for a film even somewhat connected to our respective shores. I don't aim to speak for Canada, but it certainly feels like we share much in common as our industries play second, third, or fourth fiddle to America's. I've long held the belief that if Australian films were made in another language they would find far more success here and abroad than they otherwise would. That most of Canada's international successes appear to be those made in the French language is hardly surprising when "foreign language" is such a powerful aphrodisiac for arthouse audiences to want to experience something "exotic". I can only assume that Canadians themselves have furious debates over "what's wrong" with their own industry and can never be pleased. I certainly hope they do because then it means Australians aren't alone in that regard.

Still, at only four titles in, I am enjoying the countdown immensely and look forward to daily instalments from Ravier. I have only seen one of the featured titles - Bruce LaBruce's gay-rom-zom-gore-com Otto: or Up with Dead People - but has definitely piqued my interest in the others. My knowledge on Canadian cinema isn't particularly stellar, or even "somewhat adequate", but I look forward to Ravier's take on the films of Cronenberg (Videodrome; Naked Lunch), Guy Maddin (My Winnipeg; Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary), Xavier Dolan (I Killed My Mother; Heartbeats), Atom Egoyan (Sweet Hereafter, Exotica), Denys Arcand (Jesus of Montreal), as well as personal favourites that I hope to see included like Yung Chang's Up the Yangtze, Vincenzo Natali's Cube, Léa Pool's Lost and Delirious, Sarah Polley's Away from Her, John Fawcett's Ginger Snaps, Bruce Beresford's Black Robe (an actual Canada/Australia co-production!), and Bruce LaBruce's No Skin Off My Ass. It's a shame a few nods to the country's slasher past like Bob Clark's Black Christmas, J Lee Thompson's Happy Birthday to Me and Roger Spottiswoode's Terror Train are ineligible due to their release dates. Although, hey, Prom Night II: Hello Mary Lou fits the bill! Finger's crossed for Babar: The Movie, too! :/

Maybe my experience with Canadian cinema is so bad that those films aren't even the good ones! If little else, at least the list will be an excellent resource to direct myself to some good films from a country that sadly goes neglected. How can I complain about people not opening themselves up to Australian fare if I don't do it myself for countries in similar situations? Sydneysiders will get to indulge in Possible Worlds in August - until then we get this addictive list.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Freddy's Angry Inch

Who knew?

I've just started watching 1980s anthology relic Freddy's Nightmares, the television series based on Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street. It ran for 44 episodes between 1988 and 1990 with its first episode airing some two months after the theatrical premiere of A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (a personal favourite of the Elm Street cannon). My knowledge of the series is limited to knowing that it exists and remembering one specific episode - a quick check of IMDb's episode guide informs me it is episode 3 of season 1, the next in my viewing schedule! - but I was young when it aired and I don't recall being allowed to watch it with my brother at some god forsaken time of the evening so it's going to be fun to watch it, especially with my knowledge of the entire franchise behind me. I had to use less than legal methods to acquire Freddy's Nightmares, but given the show has never received a DVD release I don't think I will be losing any sleep over it.

The show is, to be rather succinct about it, just a bunch of nightmare scenarios extended to 40 minutes. The first episode, directed by Tobe Hooper of all people, was actually rather good in the way it showed the creation of Freddy Krueger; his release from prison on a technicality, his subsequent murder and eventual ability to kill people in their sleep. It was actually a good episode if you can get past the bad acting, especially since it positioned Freddy a truly evil villain once again, and not the wise-crackin' stand-up comedian of the later films. After that, from what I can tell, it's just unconnected dream tales involving pretty teenagers getting themselves into nasty situations and then Freddy Krueger himself pops up from time to time to make a really bad pun. I think in episode two, the first episode of the series that actually utilises this storytelling device, he appears on screen for little more than 20 seconds. Quick cash for Mr England, I suppose.

Still, the real surprise came in the second episode. Entitled "It's a Miserable Life", it sees a young fast food restaurant attendant working the late shift and being plagued by visions of a motorbike riding gunman who's out to get him. Halfway through the episode - it's hard to believe this show was allotted an hour in the television schedule, especially since its gimmick would have worked better in 30-minute blocks - the focus shifts to the boy's girlfriend who has been rushed to hospital and has nightmares of escalating intensity. The episode itself is okay, if lacking in any real imagination like many of the films.

Alas, it's most memorable aspect is the actor who plays the fast food attendant, forced to work the very literal graveyard shift. The actor's name? Why it's John Cameron Mitchell, of course! Yes, the very man who would go on to write the book for and star in Hedwig and the Angry Inch as well somehow get ShortBus on the screen and direct the adaptation of Rabbit Hole has a guest role on a Freddy Krueger Anthology series from 1988! I saw the name flash on screen and thought it surely wasn't the actual John Cameron Mitchell that we all know and (I presume) love, but lo and behold when his bright-eyed innocent mug looked up for the first time there was no mistaking. Of course, a look at this IMDb profile afterwards shows that he worked on MacGyver, The Equalizer, a made-for-TV sequel to The Stepford Wives, and even The New Twilight Zone, the original of which the Krueger series was clearly heavily influenced by.

Plus, he's cute so that helps!

Still, funny seeing him run around in his fast food uniform and hat as he has nightmares in 1988 prime time. A look at some of the other episode listings tells me I have appearances by Lori Petty, Mariska Hargitay, Sheri Appleby, Kyle "Coach Taylor" Chandler, George Lazenby, Eva LaRue, Timothy Bottoms, Bill Mosely, and someone called Brad Pitt. So they will be fun, even if the show proves to truly be a relic of its time with little quality. If little else, at least the opening credits are great!

As a matter of fact, I remember that theme intro much more than I do anything else about the series. Will certainly be interesting ("interesting") to see how much of this program I do remember from my days of staying up late when I wasn't supposed to after episode of Warwick Moss on Extraordinary (I feel like Freddy's Nightmares aired in repeats around the same time as this since I highly doubt even the most liberal of parent would allow a three-year-old to watch a show about Freddy Krueger, surely!)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Review: Black & White & Sex

Black & White & Sex
Dir. John Winter
Country: Australia
Aus Rating: MA15+
Running Time: 92mins

“We’re going to get an adult rating!”

For a film built upon such shifting sands of identity and morality, it’s good to know that at least its much-deserved adult rating is a certainty.

If one of cinemas greatest gifts is to confront taboos head on and make audiences contemplate different points of view of something they otherwise might never have considered, then the debut feature of acclaimed local film producer John Winter (Rabbit-Proof Fence, Doing Time for Patsy Cline) will be like Christmas for audiences brave enough to take a chance on Black & White & Sex. A pseudo-experimental feature that Winter also wrote, this film will be a hard ask for many who will balk at the idea of seeing a micro-budget independent feature that raises questions about the sex industry, its workers, and sexuality in general. “It’s a bit of an experiment,” says one of the characters as if pre-empting the negative “WHO WANTS TO SEE THIS?!?” feedback that so frequently greets local films that aren’t aimed squarely at the multiplex. Still, filmed in striking black and white and structured so as to keep the film and its audience constantly on their toes, Black & White & Sex is an adventurous, if occasionally too knowing, look at a world so rarely explored.

Read the rest at Onya Magazine

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Musical Actressexual Interlude

This is basically the greatest thing ever, okay? Thank you to @sambrookbrooks for alerting me to this incredible video featuring some of the greatest actresses and singers to ever grace our screens and our stereos. I mean, is there any denying that Meryl Streep, Cher and Lily Tomlin are spectacular actresses? Because if there is then I don't even think my fragile mind could handle it and I'd demand you kindly disappear. Goldie Hawn and Bette Midler aren't all time greats, but they've given all time great performances (Private Benjamin and The Rose respectively) amongst their very bipolar careers. And, of course, Olivia Newton John? Well, she may not be as decorated as the rest, but she's the star of Grease and Xanadu so, ya know what? She gets a lifetime pass into the hall of amaze.

Still, to see them all on stage at once singing along to "What a Wonderful World"? It's from a part of a program called An Evening with Friends of the Environment (I KNOW!) from 1990 - "in ten years it will be the year 2000!" - which was apparently an annual special event on the ABC featuring celebrities performing and speaking to an audience of, I assume, noddy-necked* so-called environmentalists. Given that seeing the six of these today on stage together (give or take a sun-stroked Goldie Hawn) would still cause a rumble of awe amongst certain segments of the public (the gays and baby boomers, mostly) I can only imagine what it was like to see all of them together back when they were all still quite high on fame. Bette Midler was arguably at the height of her career (two of her songs won back to back Song of the Year Grammys, plus a Record of the Year Grammy), Cher was still on a high from her "If I Could Turn Back Time" comeback and mid-late '80s acting successes, plus Streep was just coming down from her 1980s dominance. Not featured in the videos is Robin Williams, but he was also there. Why Cher wasn't given her own verse to sing strikes me as curious, but maybe she wanted to let her friends have the spotlight.

Cue for laughter, I'm sure.

Anyway, watch the video below and be in awe of the actressexual awesomeness on display. Below are two more clips from the "evening with the friends of the environment" so you can watch Streep crack wise about New Jersey and muse upon "my first hit movie, Kramer vs Kramer" as well as Midler singing her Grammy winning Beaches soundtrack hit, Wind Beneath My Wings. What fun, and so much more entertaining than that An Inconvenient Truth rubbish 15 years later.

*"noddy-necked", of course, refers to the constant state of head-nodding agreement that the audience was surely in throughout. "Why yes, I separate my recyclables from my trash, too!"

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Looking for the Perfect Beat

Yesterday, over at Trespass Magazine, I discussed the newly released Blu-ray edition of Stan Lathan's 1984 hip-hop breakdance musical Beat Street. I tweeted as I was writing the piece that "writing about Beat Street is one of my favourite things to do", and it's true! Something about this movie is so invigorating and exciting that writing about it proves an extremely enjoyable thing to so. Perhaps it is because so few people seem to even know about the film let alone have seen it, but I so got a kick out of "pumping out the jams" (as somebody in the 1980s might say) of the absolutely killer soundtracks and waxing lyrical about a film that so many people would dismiss out of hand as little more than a teen dance flick. Oh how wrong they would be.

It's curious that Beat Street's first Blu-ray release is the Australian region 2 edition that is now a prized possession amongst my newborn Blu-ray collection. More so than its more pop-oriented cousins of the same year, Breakin' and Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo, I've always felt that Beat Street features a very American look at the hip-hop and dance culture of the 1980s. Whereas Breakin's soundtrack was all about Chaka Khan, Ollie & Jerry, and 3V who all permeated the global music charts, Beat Street's soundtrack of Grandmaster Melle Mel and the Furious Five, Afrika Bambaataa, Jazzy Jay, The Treacherous 3 and so many others tend to evoke a sound that never full entered the worldwide consciousness for several more years. I personally love the appearance of latin freestyle pop superstar of Brenda K Starr, whose "Vicious Beat" only exists within the 45 seconds she appears on screen!

What a corker of a song! It actually pains me knowing that we will never get to hear the entire version of the song as it (apparently) currently sits in a vault somewhere in a producer's office.

I routinely find myself trying to extol the virtues of the teen dance subgenre for the way they routinely have more interesting things to say about the nature of community and art, but it seems so few want to listen because, oh I dunno, the music's too loud or something. Beat Street was, I think, warmly met upon its release in 1984, but it has been reassessed by many and is ultimately seen as the era-defining almost-classic that it really is (the central romance involving Rae Dawn Chong is admittedly just a lot of fluff) and I hope its Blu-ray release here, and hopefully elsewhere in the near future, will only further develop the cult of Beat Street. The original title of the film was "Looking for the Perfect Beat" and, gosh darn it, I think they found it.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Not Quite 21 Things About 21 Jump Street

Seeing a film through the filter of its opening weekend can be tricky these days. I wasn't able to attend the media screening of Phil Lord and Chris Miller's big screen 21 Jump Street adaptation (I do use that word lightly) and hadn't really intended on seeing it afterwards except for maybe on DVD, however, the very impressive word of mouth it received got me intrigued. I can't imagine my opinion of the film would have been much different if I had seen it before the buzz or, like I did today, after it, but I feel like I may have been actively seeking out what others had found so good. "Was it this?" "Was it that?" Hmmm. Nevertheless, I found the film to be far more enamoured with itself than I ever could be. So in love with the idea of itself that I felt it failed to really do much with it. While it is certainly not as bad as Friends With Benefits in the "we're-gonna-mock-the-genre-conventions-while-adhering-to-them-anyway" world of revisionist comedies, it's certainly no Scream.

Naturally I tried to write a proper review, but I couldn't quite form it in a way that I was happy with, so I took the lazy way out and decided to write a list of, what else, 21 things I did and did not like from 21 Jump Street.

**This piece does include some SPOILERS so I would suggest not getting angry at me when you read something you didn't want to, okay?**

1. - PRO: Channing Tatum. I've never actively disliked the man, but have never truly been a fan. His "Jenko" was easily the best I have ever seen him - both in an acting and purely physical capacities - and not just because the film around him has a good sense of who they cast. He knows that people have the opinion of him as little more than a thick-necked lunk-head, but here he played both with and against it. Never trying to hide the fact that he's a big hunky man, but also allowing it to inform his humour and to make people's perceptions of him work for the film rather than define it. He was Best In Show.

2. - CON: Jonah Hill. I liked him in Moneyball (that Oscar nomination, however, was rather unnecessary), but I've never truly liked this guy. I'm not entirely sure what it is that rubs me the wrong way about him, but I routinely find myself recoiling from his performances. I find the awkward tension he brought to this role rather... well, awkward. I understand he was instrumental in getting the film made, and so I guess that's a job well done for him, but there was little here that allowed his "Schmidt" to live outside of the cliched roles of High School cliques. Tatum brought such pizzazz to his part when he was being both cool and uncool, Hill on the other hand felt safe and timid when he needed to step it up.

3. - PRO: Brie Larson. If I had a say then Brie Larson would have at least two Emmy Awards for the two seasons of The United States of Tara that I actually watched. She was such a punchy presence on that show and in that brief Scott Pilgrim vs The World cameo that I have been hoping she would find some break out success and it appears she has done so with this film. The performance is little more than her Tara character minus the divine ensemble interactions that were so memorable on the small screen, but she positively lights up almost all of her scenes - if we run out of things to talk about by the end of the list maybe we'll discuss the way the film throws her under the bus by the end - with such an effervescence that really made me almost believe she could fall for Jonah Hill AND Dave Franco. That so little is made of Hill's character, who is in his mid-20s, falling for a girl of about 17 years of age might say something, but I'm not entirely sure.

4. - CON: The concept. The concept of adults going back to school works as a profoundly inoffensive high concept goof and makes a direct counter argument to the joke that movies set in High School always seem to be populated by actors in their later 20s. What I found problematic was the idea that those who were once considered "uncool" are now the new cool and those who were once "cool" are... well, you get the picture. Unfortunately, the film doesn't even seem to fully engage this concept and by making the once uncool Schmidt cool again the filmmakers have essentially made a film ENTIRELY ABOUT COOL PEOPLE! And, furthermore, Tatum and Hill's characters appear to have gone back to a school where the once cool jocks (the kind that Tatum's character personifies in a flashback prologue) not only are no longer cool, but no longer exist. It appears everybody in this school now falls into a clique that has achieved some form of pop culture cachet. Whether it be the goths, the Japanime dolls or the hipsters. Oh, except for the nerds. The nerds are still thoroughly uncool. Well, they're uncool except nobody seems to care, so are they uncool or not? It all seemed like quite a reductive view of high school, and maybe it's just my own experience of going to a high school where people as short and stout as Jonah Hill were just as much bully to me I didn't quite find the almost redemptive angle his arc took to be quite as rousing and entertaining.

Perhaps the very best scene in the entire film was when Tatum enters the science lab and begins an invisible light sabre duel with one of the phone-hacking nerds he has found himself lumped with. That he grows to appreciate the smart kids isn't a revelation, what's entertaining is how much fun his character has in doing so. Hill's integration into the popular group was leaden and completely unbelievable for somebody who is apparently as smart as he is.

5. - PRO: MA15+. I'm glad the film had such a gleeful time with its very unGlee-esque representation of high school - Glee, it should be pointed out, is a target of one of screenwriter Michael Bacall's more direct comedic missiles - and that it didn't skimp on the curse words or even the violence once it finally gets there. The hallucination sequences were also a lot of fun and I liked the way the "phases" were brought back into the film every now and then.

6. - CON: Slim Shady. Was it saying something about Jonah Hill's character that he was hopeless out of date by a good five years in the film's opening flashback sequence? Dying your hair bleach blonde and listening to "The Real Slim Shady" was surely the hip thing to do in 2000 for cool and uncool people (wanting to be cool) alike, but in 2005?

7. - PRO: Gay. Not so much the dick-in-mouth jokes that punctuate the film - inoffensive as they are - but I liked the one scene where a characters homosexuality it directly addressed. There's a funny joke from a misunderstanding and then it's promptly put to the side where nobody really notices, as it should be I guess.

8. - CON: Hello/Goodbye. Characters come and go from this film with such a blatant nonchalance that it's actually distracting. Much is made of Tatum's first encounter with a horny teacher played by Bridesmaids' Ellie Kemper - riffing off of a similar fake chirpy performance by Lucy "Shut the front door!" Punch in Bad Teacher - and yet she promptly vanishes until the climactic Prom scene. The same fate befalls Rob Riggle, which is even more strange since the entire third act revolves around him (and even then they don't do much with him). I guess I should be thankful that Angela Bassett wasn't saddled with the shouty-shouty exposition only role that Ice Cube has, but between Green Lantern and This Means War I suspect Ms Bassett has had enough of that game. Also: Holly Robinson Peete?

9. - CON: I say "climactic Prom scene", but it really isn't. In what appears to be a missed opportunity, the two undercover cops don't even get to experience the Prom that the opening scene dictates - they were both unable to go, but for very different reasons - but instead transfers all the big action to a bland, nondescript hotel room and then a car chase in the streets. I admit I got a giggle from the sight of three stretch limousines careening about through the streets mid-battle, but it fails as an action setpiece due to its reliance on people being unable to use weapons properly and by weird, unnecessary side gags. I surely can't be the only one who thought the film's lack of a "coming out" scene as it were where the two new students are revealed as the cops that they really are was an odd misstep? Maybe that would have been too predictable for a film that so clearly thought it was being really smart with the conventions of all the genres it mash-mashed together, but when its replaced by rather run of the film goofball action I was unimpressed.

10. - PRO: The thing we're not really meant to talk about, but since I included a SPOILER warning at the start I guess I can. So, Johnny Depp? I liked that he was here and had a bit a fun where we least expect it. Still makes me sad that Wes Craven once figured Depp was so busy/disinterested that he didn't even bother to ask Depp to appear as himself in Wes Craven's New Nightmare. Wouldn't that have been a hoot to see! I'm going to neglect that the reveal of Depp's character is all a bit obvious, but what can you expect from a film that had been choosing the obvious jokes almost every single step of the way.

11. - CON: Brie Larson, again. Okay, so remember how I said we might come back to Brie Larson's character? Well here we are. I had liked the way the film had set up her character of Molly. I didn't, however, like the way it scuttled her to the sidelines in a rather cheap and ungainly drug-related fashion. Not only did it seemingly go against her characters convictions, but it provided the rather unattractive sight gag of seeing her limp, unconscious body fly about the interior of a car as it speeds about through a guns-on-wheel chase through the streets. And then, voila, she resumes to her conscious state just in time to call Jonah Hill an "asshole" and kiss him. Young love, folks.

11. - CON: The other girl in the limousine. Who was she and why was she there other than to provide, I guess, a joke about the only woman Tatum's Jenko could get is a drunken one. Oh how hilare. Still, she's promptly - and literally - pushed the curb so I don't think we're meant to think about her very much, are we?

12. - PRO: Jokes. It's hardly surprising that I laughed quite a few times given that the film was flinging gags at the wall and hoping they would stick, but despite the obvious nature of many of the jokes I did indeed laugh. I liked the early scene where Nick Offerman's deputy chief rants about how nobody does anything original anymore and just copies something from 20 years prior. By that stage of the film the filmmakers hadn't punched their premise into the skull so much for it to still actually be funny. I liked many of the references to how teenagers view the world through movies - the slow motion doves were particularly amusing - the aforementioned hallucination bits, and some of Tatum's frat boy mannerisms hit the right note. Nothing uproarious though. But yeesh, how many jokes about sliding over the hood of a car do we need to see? I swear I've seen that elsewhere, too.

13. - UMM: I can't really think of anything else.

14. - PRO/CON: Oh! Dave Franco! He was good, I guess, but the resemblance to his brother, James, was a bit unsettling quite frankly. To tell you the truth, I kept expecting his character to announce that he too is an adult who has gone back to high school in order to corner the student drug market exclusively, but no it turns out he just looks like he's in his mid-20s (he's 26) and has scary eyebrows. Seriously, they frame his eyes so much! In fact, for a film that routinely jokes about the older appearance of its two leads (Tatum is 31, Hill is 28) the filmmakers didn't really go out of their way to surround them with actors that look like actual high schoolers. Only the nerds - including the hilariously named Dax Flame - look their character's age.

15. - CON: Saturday Night Live. This review by Paul Byrnes touches upon an observation that I find so correct that I just have to include it:

The problem with these revisionist projects is that they're not really movies at all, but television sketch comedies with bigger budgets. That allows for some action and car chases and explosions, but the writing is like an extended episode of Saturday Night Live.

This is, essentially, the crux of my issue with the film. The movie of 21 Jump Street doesn't so much feel like a movie that lives and breathes to its own pulse, but instead one that feels like a collection of TV sketch comedy bits having a laugh at popular trends strung together. I can see many bits from this film scattered about an episode of a sketch comedy program - like Dumb Street, but less funny and with fewer Samboy chip references - but then they somehow grabbed the ball and ran with it and in the process ended up becoming a 109-minute film. Nothing particularly wrong with that, but while the filmmakers know they have gone down the revisionist path with more coherent finesse than, say, Bewitched, I'm not sure they should have been so gleefully showboaty about the whole thing. Constantly having to remind that, yes, they are being very clever clever and not just a simple foul-mouthed comedy, but in the process comes off as something altogether different: smug.

16. - CON: I could try and pad this thing out to 21, but I won't. Let's just end this with a grade of C and be done with it. I appreciated the effort, but wished they'd pulled in the reins in on their constant nudging and winking. I'm glad that most people are getting a kick out of this, and if it means Channing Tatum continues to get to improve with each subsequent performance then yay for that, but I found a lot of it rather unappetitising, even if I never was truly angered by the whole enterprise to give it a harsher grade.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Review: Harvest

Dir. Benjamin Cantu
Country: Germany
Aus Rating: N/A
Running Time: 85mins

There are nearly 30 films listed on IMDb with the title Harvest. From such a roundly unimaginative title, however, comes a story that emerges out of a refreshingly unique location as Benjamin Cantu’s film explores the lives to two young men who stumble across each other within the confines of a farming apprentice program in the Nuthe Urstrom valley on the outskirts of Berlin. For all the internet pornography that has fetishised the lives of farmers, it’s a thoroughly unglamorous life and that’s just one of the surprises of Cantu’s debut feature – he has previously made short films and TV – that rarely lets the audience’s expectations come to fruition. That it takes some 50 minutes for the “queer” aspect of Harvest [Stadt Land Fluss] to finally manifest itself in a truly physical way is another, but what it may lack in overt gay DRAMA for audiences seeking little more that titillation, it gains in a slow-burning intensity that makes for fine viewing.

Opening with gorgeously lensed shots of Germany pastures, Harvest is able to very quickly paint a sense of place as it goes about showing the working lives of a class of farming students. The reserved Marko never speaks out of turn, doesn’t indulge in drinking like his fellow students, responds passively (or doesn’t even notice, it’s hard to tell) to the advances of a female student, and simply wants to learn how to be a farmer to make a life for himself that his troubled upbringing may have otherwise not allowed. Newcomer Jacob has recently quit a similar internship with a far more socially acceptable and well-paid institution (a bank). That the two become friends out of awkward necessity – neither of them feel quite right around other people – rather than some instant sex radar is what lends Harvest’s final sequences a rich authenticity. That they fall for each other isn’t surprising, what’s refreshing is that Cantu doesn’t treat their romance as Gone with the Wind.

Being gay and falling for somebody isn’t the only trouble plaguing these guys, Marko especially, but acknowledging these feelings will make them healthier and stronger, and therein lies the problem for Marko. He’s not sure what he wants; love seems like the least of his interests. At least at first. The performances are uniformly superb, with newcomer Lukas Steltner and Kai Michael Müller as Marko and Jacob proving to be quite stellar. The introverted performance by Steltner is particularly fine as his internal securities slowly begin to fade away. And, yes, they’re both good looking men but they lack a distracting prettiness that would belie their situation.

Handsomely photographed by Alexander Gheorghi, Harvest shares a similar brooding energy to the Danish gay romance, Brotherhood and its potency lingers far more than any cheap, crass, candy-coloured American import. Some may think it’s lack of horniness takes the sizzle out of it, but I found its more subdued take on the relations of young gay men was refreshing and all the slinkier. These two men don’t discover each other in seconds of gratuitous sex, but through evolving, fleeting moments. It has a quiet dignity about it that makes Harvest an impressive piece of work. B+

Check the MQFF website for screening details

Friday, March 16, 2012

And The Oscar Goes To...

One week ago today I got to hold an Academy Award.

It was amazing.

Let me explain.

Have you heard of Jim Cameron's Titanic? Yeah, well, it's being re-released for the 100th anniversary of the event that inspired it, and in 3D no less. Because, you know, nothing says respecting the lives of the dead like watching them die in the third dimension! I joke, but I not-so-secretly love this film. It was one of the very best films of 1997 and it's 3D rerelease will make it one of the very best films of 2012. I don't begrudge it any of its success, whether that be grossing over one billion dollars or taking home a mammoth haul of Academy Awards.

Speaking of the Academy Awards... Titanic's producer, Jon Landau, visited our fair shores to do a bit of promotion and while the full 3+ hour screening of Titanic in 3D isn't until next week, they did screen 40 minutes of the final product for us (mostly innocuous stuff like Gloria Stewart seeing herself on the TV, Kate Winslet's big hat, the staircase meeting, followed by a hefty chunk of the stunning sinking sequence) before getting into a Q&A with Landau. Towards the end he produced the golden statue and, hilariously, the Titanic fan who he allowed to hold it was also just kinda allowed to exit the cinema with her hands clasped around it with nobody here nor anywhere looking out for it. They quickly cottoned on that Landau's Oscar had gone walkabouts, but by that time I had already gotten my grubby lil mits on it and it was a glorious feeling.

Then we lined up to have our picture taken with Mr Landau and the Oscar, and boy... it was something. As somebody who actively follows the entire award season circus and who makes no apologies about loving the Academy Awards, getting a chance to actually hold one was incredible. I kinda felt, for those few brief seconds, what the fuss was all about. I'd seen them before - Oscars won by Adam Elliot and Cate Blanchett have a home on show at ACMI in Melbourne - but to actually hold one was something entirely different. It's like the statue has a gravity pull that just drew me in, even if the base was a bit wobbly. Landau needs to send that baby to the Academy's repair shop! It's a wonderful piece of work and I imagine many people who year-after-year bemoan the movie industry's slavish devotion to the Oscar tradition and who spout the same tired "who cares?" arguments would find the experience quite something.

And I love how Leonardo DiCaprio is peeking behind my shoulder there looking all intense and grumbling "I want one of those!"

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Me & Mr Gosling

My date for a screening of Labyrinth (more on that later) was Ryan Gosling. He was the perfect gentleman; kept quiet for the entire film! Well, what would you expect from The Driver?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Kidman's Hemingway

Anything with Nicole Kidman is going to arise my interest, and she's looking (and sounding!) particularly fabulous in this brief teaser for her upcoming HBO miniseries, Hemingway & Gelhorn. I'm getting a particular Diane Keaton-in-Reds vibe from it, which is never a bad thing! Between Meryl Streep winning her third Academy Award, Claire Danes winning the Golden Globe and probably coming close to an Emmy soon for Homeland, Julianne Moore receiving big praise for Game Change, and now Kidman's looking typically strong in this and we can only assume also in Chan Wook-Park's Stoker, it appears the ladies of The Hours are having an astoundingly good year. The category that Moore and Kidman will be competing in for Emmys, Golden Globes, SAGs and all the rest will be fierce! Plus, it's always good having Moore and Kidman in contention because it makes award season red carpets just that more interesting.

Will the Best Original Song Category Live On?

Look, we all know the Academy's music branch is seemingly self-destructing before our very eyes. As if their continued refusal to believe original scores that incorporate a few songs can't truly be classified as original enough to qualify (hello Drive, True Grit, Black Swan, There Will Be Blood and many other incredible scores you've heard in the last few years - hell, this particular trick goes all the way back to The Godfather in 1972), the implosion of the Best Original Song category was one of the truly baffling circus sideshows of this year's season and an indicator of the negative effect that the Academy's constant tinkering has resulted in. 2011 was bad enough, when Diane Warren's Burlesque belter, "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me", was curiously (and unforgivably for some people) left out of the field of four (FOUR!) nominees despite its existence as the exact kind of song the category rules had been changed to favour: It was original, included within the narrative of the film and held specific resonance to the plot - not to mention being rather incredible and prime for a big show stopping performance on the actual ceremony by the one and only Cher. When Randy Newman is calling your voting tactics out live on air you know something's wrong!

Of course, 2012 will probably lay claim to being the year that official broke the category. With its two nominees, none of which were particularly any good (each nominated film, The Muppets and Rio had better, worthier songs in their repertoire), everybody can tell the category is in serious need of help. There could have been a perfectly respectable roster of nominated songs this year what with tunes from The Help, Captain America, Take Shelter, Footloose, W./E. and the aforementioned nominated flicks, but because of the baffling shortlist we got on nomination morning it looks as if the category may not even exist come next year's ceremony.

And that, dear readers, would be a shame.

It would be a shame because every now and then songs do come along that feel so organic to the movie-making process that they warrant the Oscar attention. While it's true that the musical genre isn't the reigning champ in this category that it once was, music and original songs eventually become an altogether different part of the filmmaking process that the category's place still felt necessary (or, at least, as necessary as it always had - we won't go into the many other aspects of filmmaking that probably deserve a category more). Can you imagine a world in which Bruce Springsteen's "Streets of Philadelphia", Eminem's "Lose Yourself" and (despite my ambivalence to the film) The Swell Season's "Falling Slowly" didn't exist and weren't subsequently feted by the Academy? Music has always been so much a part of cinema that, even if some years are weaker than others, original songs do play a vital part from time to time in the way we view films. Yes, the branch throws up some questionable selections ("If I Fall" from 127 Hours?), but so does every category. In the grand scheme of things, the winner of this category ends up a worthier selection than many others.

I only bring this up because I wonder whether the category will live on long enough to honour the original songs of 2012. It's already been confirmed that Les Miserables will have an original song, and Dolly Party has provided several for the Joyful Noise soundtrack, not to mention all the others that will pop up along the way (Rock of Ages, Dorothy of Oz, Brave and many more will surely throw up viable options). One I am already in love with is "La Casa de mi Padre", from the upcoming Will Ferrell/Diego Luna/Gael Garcia Bernal comedy Casa de mi Padre. I wasn't even aware the film existed until I heard the song, performed by Christina Aguilera, and was instantly in heaven. It's a big, operatic Spanish language tune that one Twitter friend described as "free of flaws". Amen! I've basically had it on repeat since I heard it and it has certainly stemmed the increasing anticipation for Madonna's new record, out in two weeks. Written by Andrew Steele and Patrick Perez, it's the sort of track that the Academy may have spotted some genuine craft in and saw fit to nominate. You know it would make for a showstopping moment on the telecast, but performances are even more of a dying breed than nominations for this category so it seems foolhardy to hope for it.

I hope the Academy sort themselves out in regards to this category and maybe the music industry could do their bit by making so much great music that they're forced to pay attention.

[Flash 9 is required to listen to audio.]

  • La Casa
  • Christina Aguilera
  • Casa de Mi Padre

To end on a chuckle, I love the Wikipedia entry for this song. Clearly written by an uber-fan, it is positively dripping with praise!

Christina Aguilera got in touch with her Latin roots on 2000’s Spanish language album Mi Reflejo, and now the chanteuse, who is of Ecuadorian heritage, is singing en espanol once more. Her new song, “La Casa” (aka “The Home”), comes from the soundtrack for the upcoming Will Ferrell movie Casa de Mi Padre, and the bilingual singer practically drowns us the melodrama yet still manages to maintain control over her incredible vocals.


The song has received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics and audiences alike. The song includes roaring horns and Aguilera emoting her trademark soul throughout the track. It is a sexy, yet melancholy Mariachi infused number. Full of passion, raw emotion, and Aguilera’s incomparable, undeniably flawless voice.
So much Passion! Raw Emotion! Roaring Horns! So much melodrama she SHE PRACTICALLY DROWNS, you guys! That's a lot of melodrama.

Review: The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye

The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye
Dir. Marie Losier
Country: USA | Germany | UK | Netherlands | Belgium | France
Aus Rating: N/A
Running Time: 67mins

An exquisitely assembled, if still somewhat haphazardly made, documentary about the life of two industrial punk icons, Marie Losier’s documentary The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye is a spryly economical look at the face – definitely the face - of two identities who would rather be an underground somebody than a mainstream anything. Clocking in at only 70 minutes, there’s something to be said about Losier’s decision not to pad her debut feature directorial effort with needless nothings. Still, there does appear to be much left unsaid, some of which surely could have taken place of some of the more obtuse segments that float about within the documentary narrative like driftwood.

As if assembled from jaggedly cut puzzle pieces, The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye attempts to craft some sort of story out of the lives of Genesis O-Orridge and Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge, but focuses more on that of Genesis. Most famous for his work with industrial punk rock outfit Psychic TV as well as the esteemed William Burroughs, before embarking on a body experimentation in pandrogyny with Lady Jaye, his second wife, that aimed to blur the lines between body and gender. Before Lady Jaye’s death at the age of 38, the two had ventured headfirst into their body-morphing project of creating Breyer P-Orridge, a blending of the two through means of plastic surgery.

Lady Jaye, despite being so integral to the story that her name appears in the (rather nifty – something Marie Losie’s filmography shows she is capable of frequently) title, goes somewhat under-nourished by the filmmaker who prefers to stick with the still rather extraordinary life of Genesis. Losier’s frequent work within the realms of experimentation, having worked with the aforementioned Burroughs plus Guy Maddin and the Kuchar Brothers has leant this documentary a fractured texture. Mixing various types of film and video with art, old home movies, photography, original documentary footage and storybook narration, Losier’s film occasionally has the appearance of an unfinished, perhaps disregarded, art installation, and yet this lends it a messy, flighty authenticity.

The work of Losier on her own role as editor is both extraordinary, hypnotic and baffling. Acting as its own ferocious work of art that encapsulates the anarchic spirit of its protagonists, I nevertheless wished it had gleaned a more focused eye on one of the many tangents it goes on. Flashy visuals frequently smash on screen like the twisting mechanics of a kaleidoscope, capturing moments of bliss and poignancy as often as it does highlight the absurdity of their existence. The tagline claims “love is dedication”, and you certainly can’t say these two weren’t dedicated to each other and to their art. The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye uses its artist subjects to form its own work of art, and that is something altogether fascinating. However, like any unique work of work, the reaction it gets out of an audience will be Losier and P-Orridge’s reward. The final image of Genesis swathed in fabric feels curiously haunting, his image becoming obscured but never disappearing entirely. No matter the identity, there's always a personality, and that is what Genesis is seemingly all about. B-

Check the MQFF website for screening details

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Review: 50/50

Dir. Jonathan Levine
Country: USA
Aus Rating: MA15+
Running Time: 100mins

A friend once humorously observed that of course he cried at a movie about cancer: “Because cancer is sad!” I remembered this after 50/50, a cancer weepie that had given my rarely used tear ducts a workout. Thankfully, Jonathan Levine’s film earns its emotional outpouring by making its characters endearing and their plight entrancing. It’s a film of vivid textures, the prickly edges of cancer are blended with the slippery slope of young male friendship and the sweetness that’s born out of the actors’ spot on chemistry.

Read the rest at Trespass Magazine

Still can't believe this is only showing at one cinema in all of the country!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Review: Private Romeo

Private Romeo
Dir. Alan Brown
Country: USA
Aus Rating: N/A
Running Time: 98mins

Sometimes gay cinema feels like little more than an excuse to watch absurdly good-looking people in various states of undress. Pornography without the sex, if you will. Private Romeo reads like it’s potentially aiming for something more, but ends up being significantly less. Don’t get me wrong, there are many very attractive men walking around in nothing more than a towel, but there are plenty of other avenues for such imagery that don’t require sitting through a mediocre 100-minute movie. Where Private Romeo really fails is by letting its pretty cast carry the weight of its concept, and never truly embracing it in a cinematic fashion. Audiences are, I suspect, going to be far more interested in the beauty than the brawn of Alan Brown’s Shakespeare-meets-Active Duty romantic drama.

Beginning in a class room where buff military cadets read William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with a mocking tone as jokes are made the expense of those reading out the feminine roles. Very quickly the lines are blurred between reality and Shakespearean drama and Private Romeo quickly becomes just another modern day retelling of the bard’s most famous work. Such a concept could most definitely work as members of rival academies work to tear two young lovers apart, but simply rearranging the genders so as the entire cast are gay men doesn’t make a movie. Brown, who also wrote the screenplay, appears welcome to merely let Shakespeare’s words work on their own without any of his own input.

Such are the perils of casting such routinely good-looking actors that they eventually all begin to look like one another. It certainly doesn’t help that rarely seem to have any distinguishing features to help decipher who is a Capulet and who is a Montague. Furthermore, as if the entire film is just one big drama class role-playing exercise, all the actors are credited as “Josh” or “Sam”, rather than the “Romeo”, “Juliet” and “Nurse” that they recite to each other. Sadly, the military academy setting is nothing more than a fetish check list – military, uniforms, locker rooms, high school jocks, authoritative, etc – and isn’t used to its full potential. One would think that setting a gay romance within the walls of a place of education and warfare would be ripe for deconstructing more pertinent issues. Unfortunately, the film fails to navigate any true ideas about homosexuality within school systems, within domains of cocky brute masculinity, and within a private world that has been plagued by “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” for far too long. Private Romeo really is just a bunch of pretty men reciting Shakespeare on a school campus and it’s hard to see what’s so special about that.

Alan Brown has taken much of Shakespeare’s words verbatim and placed them within the mouths of these young men of lithe bodies and boyish looks. The performances are all fine, although it would have been nice to have seen them act without the restrictions of language placed upon them. Only Seth Numrich makes much of a lasting impression as the love struck Sam/Romeo. Perhaps it’s because in the right light he looks like a swoony Chris Evans that I responded to him, but maybe he’s just a fine actor. Mimicking the camera style of a more restrained Dogme film, and occasionally lit as if through a lens of honey, Private Romeo frequently appears as handsome as its cast, but it again comes back to Brown’s reluctance to use Shakespeare’s text as a jumping off point for something bigger. Teenage love is epic and dangerous, powerful and all encompassing, and yet everybody here just seems to be going about their business is their khaki sweats and perfect skin.

The scenes of romance between Numrich and Matt Doyle’s Glenn/Juliet frequently tip into tender, but their love fails to grow by the film’s end, which takes great liberties with the original text. Their initial make cute is actually just that, a rather sweet moment of cute flirting and the two are well matched. Perhaps the fact that both appeared on stage together in Broadway’s production of War Horse helped that, and the very stagey aesthetic of Brown’s film maybe aided even further.

While I have no doubt that some audiences will find the idea of Shakespeare done gay as a particularly novel twist – it’s certainly better than the last one I can recall, the atrocious Were the World Mine – but it lacks something that makes it inherently cinematic. The original text was used far more effectively by Baz Luhrmann in William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, and it is given little reason to be revisited here for any reason other than to say a gay version of Romeo and Juliet with the original text exists. Fleeting and weird YouTube scenes of pop lip syncing fail to add any zest, and instead just confuse. As it stands Private Romeo is a disappointing, but frivolously gratuitous, high school drama production. It deserves better. C-

Check the MQFF website for screening details

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Madonna's Gone Blue

Is there a more appropriate movie to finally be receiving a Blu-ray release than Madonna: Truth or Dare? Known as In Bed with Madonna in Australia, it comes from a period in the "queen of pop"'s career that could most definitely be described as blue. Unashamedly so, too. Set for release in early April, just one week after the 26 March release of her twelfth studio album, it is a release that I have been eagerly anticipating. Unfortunately, I'm unaware of a Region B release so I will actually have to keep waiting. Still, knowing there's an American release out there at least means that somebody, somewhere should be close to releasing one around the globe, surely. I haven't read any confirmed extras, but any bonus unseen material will be greeted with so much excitement I just could not. Eep!

People think being a star is about being fabulous, being in the spotlight, having your picture taken all the time, and having everyone worship and adore you. Being rich, rich, rich, having it all. And you know what? They're absolutely right.

In Bed with Madonna really is a must see for anybody who doesn't quite "get" the whole Madonna "thing". It's simply one of the greatest documentaries ever made, perfectly mixing exquisite black and white backstage footage with radiant colour performance footage. It really is her best performance, too, because Madonna is nothing if not performing all the time as herself. The trailer for the Blu-ray release, below, gives a glimpse for anybody not in the know - and gives a look at most the famous cameo sightings, I guess Pedro Almodovar isn't famous enough to appear in the ad - and, hey, even David Fincher helped direct the Japanese concert footage so there's some cinephile geek cred right there.

Review: John Carter

John Carter
Dir. Andrew Stanton
Country: USA
Aus Rating: M15+
Running Time: 132mins

Where to begin when discussing Andrew Stanton’s (Wall-E) first foray into live-action filmmaking, John Carter? I could start by saying it is a hopelessly muddled, and egregiously confusing film that I have no problem in admitting left me utterly lost. Maybe start by waxing comical on the film’s ambitious, yet ultimately flat visual style with little resembling a unique, original vision. Perhaps I could be simple – something this film never is – and just start at the beginning.

Read the rest at Trespass Magazine

It's usually pretty easy to figure out what side of the critical establishment I will find myself on regarding a film, but I can honestly say that the reaction to John Carter has surprised me. I never would have expected that critics would be liking it as much as they have. I thought it was a disaster! Ah well...

Jeffrey Was Here

Purely by accident, I found myself watching two films within the same evening dealing with the AIDS epidemic. That they do so in such wildly different ways, however, made it a richly rewarding double.

I'm not quite sure where Christopher Ashley's Jeffrey fits into the world of gay cinema, but it was a strange viewing experience nonetheless. Made in 1995 - too late to be revolutionary, too early/small to skirt mainstream (although it's American box office of $3.5m suggests it struck a nerve with audiences, mostly likely New Yorkers) - this film takes a comedic approach to its subject matter, with moments for reflection and pathos. It's a curious film, for sure, and one that has its stage origins flaring at the peripheries, but one that succeeds by being completely its own beast and like no other that I can recall. It stars Steven Weber (you've seen him on television, no doubt) as a gay man who finds himself deciding to abstain from sex until the HIV/AIDS crisis dissipates. It's certainly a plot that would all but begs for wacky high jinks if it weren't for the prickly central issue, but it's still quite startling to see the topic being played with in such a flighty manner. That Weber's Jeffrey - Weber, by the way, looks remarkably like Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman at times and it was quite disconcerting to say the least - falls in love with an HIV+ man forms the rest of the film and the multitude of ways in which Jeffrey can be told he's missing out on a good thing because of his own prejudices.

What struck me most of all about Jeffrey was that it was so over-the-top in almost every way: Colours are vibrant, the characters are loud (oh hai there Bryan Batt from Mad Men), and there are so many funny cameos that it's easy to forget you're dealing with a subject that was and is still a very sore subject. I admit that it's definitely a-okay to watch Weber and Michael T Weiss act like cute lovebirds with one other, just as it's fun to watch everyone from Patrick Steward to Sigourney Weaver and Olympia Dukakis kick up their heals and sashay around with effervescent glee. As many films that err on the side of flamboyant tend to get, it's taste levels are questionable from time to time: a spirit from the afterlife? bizarro half-dressed fantasy sequences that attempt to break the fourth wall? Hmmm. In the end, despite some misgivings, it was quite refreshing how Jeffrey took such a different tact with the material. It never dismisses the tragedy of the events, but defiantly resists in letting the seriousness of the topic dictate its own agenda. Thankfully the actors are all game and it sounds awfully trite, but it certainly helps that it is competently made (which is something I can't say for some of the other queer films I've watched recently). B-

The subject matter gets a far more serious and detailed look in David Weissman's documentary We Were Here. Screening as a part of the upcoming Melbourne Queer Film Festival, this Oscar shortlisted documentary proves that no matter how many films are made on the topic of AIDS, there is always something new to learn. Less a straightforward history of the crisis that hit San Francisco in the 1980s than a series of talking head interviews with survivors of the era, We Were Here is an incredibly moving account of a time that truly does warrant the tag of a shameful moment in American history. We Were Here is both a film that mourns the loss of thousands of innocent people, but also a celebration of the people who unwittingly found themselves vital players in the fight against a curse that not only changed gay culture, but sexual culture the world over for as long as we'll live. Weissman, and co-director Bill Weber, have assembled a wonderful mix of people and simply allowed them to speak so eloquently about the subject that would essentially define their life. As one of the interviewees says, at least she can't look back on her life and she never did anything.

Recalling Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives and The Times of Harvey Milk, We Were Here is economical talking head documentary filmmaking at its finest. So much fascinating video, previously unseen by me, and photographs from the era are a constant fascination. We Were Here will stir up anger, fear, tears and joy; its existence always essential despite a plethora of other titles exploring the same thing and that is a telltale sign of a great film. B+

Check the MQFF website for screening details

Monday, March 5, 2012

Review: Coriolanus

Dir. Ralph Fiennes
Country: UK
Aus Rating: MA15+
Running Time: 122mins

William Shakespeare adaptations will, I suspect, be with us until the last dying gasp of filmmaking. It’s not hard to see why, what with there being seemingly infinite ways to tweak his work so as to appear unique: modern setting with classic dialogue (Macbeth, 2006); modern setting with updated dialogue (Hamlet, 2000); period setting with classic dialogue (Much Ado About Nothing, 1993); international versions (Ran, 1985); plucky teen versions (10 Things I Hate About You, 1999), dramatic teen version (O, 2001); epics (Hamlet, 1996); arthouse (My Own Private Idaho, 1991); animated (The Lion King, 1994); gay (Were the World Mine, 2008); musical (West Side Story, 1955); weird anachronistic amalgamations of all (Titus, 1999)... the list goes on!

Read the rest at Trespass Magazine

And the Devil Makes Two of Us

Earlier today I made the decision, some would call it masochistic, to go and see The Devil Inside. We'll get to that in a moment. First, I'd like to talk about this:

Cinema 6 at Village Geelong, 1.30pm on 05/03/2012

The fact that cinema six of Village Geelong was empty at 1.30pm wasn't the strange thing, but was strange was what happened next. As I sat there alone in an empty cinema waiting for The Devil Inside to begin I dutifully sat through trailers for Ghost Rider 2: Spirit of Something Something, Battleship, American Pie: Reunion and the absolutely ridiculous-looking Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (I honestly can't tell which of those was more desperate) before the lights finally went down and the movie started with what was actually a pretty creepy opening scene. Just me and devil, apparently, inside the cinema. What wicked fun that could have been.

Then, some five minutes into the movie, and about 15-20 minutes after the session was scheduled to begin, in walked a couple. I suspected they were in their late teens. They sat down in the row behind me and continued the conversation that they had been having upon their entrance. The girl began to open a bag of M&Ms or jaffas; I got suitably annoyed. At first I just turned and glared and they gave a little chuckle, but a few minutes later I turned and asked them to be quiet. Being the only other one in the cinema, and being there by myself, I would have thought they could tell I wasn't just there to kill time. How silly I was. Soon after my asking them to stop talking the girl leaned over...

*me turning warily, ready to fume*
"Is this The Devil Inside?"
"Is it a documentary?"
"Ummm... no. It's made to look like one, but it's not real."
"Oh. Thanks."

A minute later the two of them got and left. As they were leaving the girl thought it appropriate to screech out one last time "THANKS!" Manners, I guess, hadn't gone completely out the window. Still, it was a highly bizarre situation, and one that just further cemented the fact that people are idiots. I initially figured they had stumbled into the cinema to see any old film, which is weird enough for me to understand as it is, but then when you think that they would have had to pay some $16 (or however much it is these days) each to get in? I hope they at least went out and got a refund. I do like though that the idea of a fake documentary turned them off so much that they had to leave after only five minutes of being there. Perhaps these two were smarter than I gave them credit for?

I mean, I'd have been mighty pissed off if I'd had to have paid to see The Devil Inside. It's a bad movie, that we can surely all agree on, but it's main problem is that it is just really, really dull. While I give the filmmakers credit for occasionally giving the proceeding a lovely, cold look thanks to the Italian and Romanian filming locations, and several of the exorcism scenes themselves are discomforting in the way a scary movie should be, there was far less going on than any respectable movie should have. A tiresome over-reliance on past exorcist film tropes, repetitive plotting and dialogue, hopelessly ugly, strands of plot are initiated and never go anywhere, and characters rarely seem to act like actual human beings who are seeing what they are seeing. Perhaps most annoying of all is that, despite the "found footage" concept, little effort was made into actually achieving a sense of realism. You have a room full of Italian Catholic priests in Italy and not only do they speak English, but do so without a hint of accent? Come on now!

(The next paraphraph features some spoilers regarding the end, so if you at all give an ounce of care, you might want to just skip it until after the image)

And then, of course, there is the "ending". Not so much ending as it is just stopping half way through a scene, it's not hard to figure out why audiences have famously booed. It makes sense from a logic stand point, as this being a "found footage" movie means it needs the characters to be, well, alive in order to film it, but where is fails - as opposed to, say, The Blair Witch Project, [rec] and Paranormal Activity - is that the end feels lazy and anticlimactic. There's no sense that that is the logical end and that there was no more to say. It literally just stops as if they ran out of money to film a third act and thought nobody would notice.

The Devil Inside is mostly ugly, so here's a shot from The Exorcist
At least Australia, from what I can gather, hasn't gotten the truly audience-hating end of a web address flashing up on scene pre-credits telling audiences to go to for more information. Australian audiences, it seems, get the web address after the credits, which are a mind-bending feat all of their own. The IMDb claims The Devil Inside as being 83 minutes long, and at least ten of those are surely the end credits. I don't mean that as a joke, I mean they actually take up approximately ten minutes of the running time. Either they are a surefire cure for insomnia or Hollywood's idea of a hilarious practical joke, I can't quite tell. Either way, the slowest credits crawl in the history of cinema - surely, at least, of what I have seen - almost has to be seen to be believed.

So, basically, The Devil Inside is poor form. Sadly, it's not even worth getting particularly angry about, either. It lazily limps about doing its mediocre thing and then it ends. It's never so-bad-it's-good (although I was howling during the end credits they were so freakin' slow!), nor is it so-bad-I-wanna-die, it's just really flat and uninteresting and a waste of some good elements surrounded by signs of filmmakers who just didn't care enough. D